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D&D General DM's: How transparent are you with game mechanics "in world?"

WizardOfFrobozz

Accardi-by-the-Sea
I'm curious where the rest of you DM's tend to draw the line between in-game observations and OOC info? For example, I have a player in my group who is laser-focused on combat mechanics, and generally assumes that every die rolled in combat should be unambiguously identified to players along with its associated game mechanic. Here's a fictitious-but-typical exchange from our table:
  • Me: "The bandit archer stands up from behind the barrel. He points his finger directly at <PC-1> and mutters something before drawing back his bow and firing."
  • Roll 1d20 => 17 "He hits!"
  • Roll 1d8+1 (arrow damage + DEX bonus) => 2+1
  • Roll 1d6 (Hunter's Mark) => 3
  • Me: "<PC-1> takes 6 points of piercing damage."
  • Player5: "Wait, how is that 6 points? Why did you roll another die? Is he a rogue? <PC-1> isn't flanked, so there shouldn't be sneak attack damage."
  • Me: "Right, <PC-1> isn't flanked. It looked like that shot was extremely well-placed, though. <PC-1> takes 6 points of piercing damage."
  • Player5: "It's all piercing damage? So it's not an elemental buff. Is he a Ranger? Oh, <PC-1> was already wounded, is it extra damage from Colossus Slayer? Isn't that a d8? Wait, did you roll a d6 or a d8?"
  • Me: "You did notice him doing something right before he fired. Does anyone want to make an Arcana check?"
  • Player5: "Why should I have to roll Arcana? Clearly he took more damage. We should know where it came from, we all saw what happened."
You get the idea. Obviously we have different ideas about how transparent the game mechanics are to in-game characters. To him, we're playing a wargame with certain rules and there's a bias towards "perfect information" so players can adapt to the strengths/weaknesses of the pieces in play. To me, there's no reason the characters would automatically have that information. As far as the characters are concerned, that bad guy did something, maybe you recognize what happened, maybe you don't.

We've had OOC discussions about this a couple of times outside of session, and it's not like those have been hugely adversarial . But every time I think I've explained how I want to run the game, it crops up in some very slightly different context. Like, we put the issue of bonus damage dice to rest, but then when an NPC has Haste up and takes an extra action, there's a five-minute holdup at the table ("That's two actions!! He can't take disengage as a bonus action unless he has cunning action or something, so he wouldn't be able to attack.") and we're back to square one.

I know there's no silver bullet that will put this all to rest, but this constant back-and-forth has got me curious about what is the "most common" way of handling this stuff? Just wondering if I'm out on the fringes here, or more near the median. ;-)
 

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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I would check if the bandit hit, then tell the PC the damage. If they ask questions, I'd just shrug and confirm the damage. Details may or may not be clarified later if it's appropriate for the story. Same with haste, etc.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I don't usually tell them while the encounter is ongoing, but I might deconstruct it a bit for my players afterward in the interests of getting people to know and understand the system. But for other ones, I'll say what it is like legendary actions or legendary resistance - just so they have some feedback on what's going on. Otherwise, it can be frustrating to have no clues why something is happening.

If I had a player nagging at me about why a hasted enemy was getting an extra attack or dash, I'd tell them, "Yeah, they did get another attack. That's interesting. Now it's up to you to figure out how!" I also might describe how quickly the NPC seems to be moving, again, so there's some clue on why there's a difference.
 


I've had a player who could be like that. I got into the habit of responding to him saying things like "How did NPC just do X?" with "Because they can." If he pushed for more info at the table I'd say "I don't have to explain it." Away from the table I'd take just enough time to explain the thing. NPC with an extra action? I'd just say "Haste." Then I'd point out that I don't appreciate being called on every action in the game as there are sooooo many odd little powers that an NPC can have that it is just slowing the game down and kinda rude. Eventually he got the message.

At the end of the day, you don't owe the guy an explanation for every little thing. That's a micro managing PITA. Let him know this. Hopefully he'll catch on sooner rather than later.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I've had a player who could be like that. I got into the habit of responding to him saying things like "How did NPC just do X?" with "Because they can." If he pushed for more info at the table I'd say "I don't have to explain it." Away from the table I'd take just enough time to explain the thing. NPC with an extra action? I'd just say "Haste." Then I'd point out that I don't appreciate being called on every action in the game as there are sooooo many odd little powers that an NPC can have that it is just slowing the game down and kinda rude. Eventually he got the message.

At the end of the day, you don't owe the guy an explanation for every little thing. That's a micro managing PITA. Let him know this. Hopefully he'll catch on sooner rather than later.

Yeah, basically double check and every single time simply shrug and say "yep, that's correct". If they ask say "you don't know".

I had a guy that would do this as well. It slowly diminished over time but it didn't really ever go away unfortunately.
 



J.Quondam

CR 1/8
Nah... it's not that bad overall. He's supportive of inexperienced players at the table, makes an effort to pick up on and develop interesting plot hooks, and generally tries to let everyone have a turn in the spotlight. But once initiative is rolled... look out, baby!
You could try switching to "flip a coin" combat resolution. It's a lot more streamlined, and has fewer fiddly numbers to argue about.
 

WizardOfFrobozz

Accardi-by-the-Sea
I don't usually tell them while the encounter is ongoing, but I might deconstruct it a bit for my players afterward in the interests of getting people to know and understand the system. But for other ones, I'll say what it is like legendary actions or legendary resistance - just so they have some feedback on what's going on. Otherwise, it can be frustrating to have no clues why something is happening.

If I had a player nagging at me about why a hasted enemy was getting an extra attack or dash, I'd tell them, "Yeah, they did get another attack. That's interesting. Now it's up to you to figure out how!" I also might describe how quickly the NPC seems to be moving, again, so there's some clue on why there's a difference.
Totally agree wrt dropping in-game clues as to what's happening ("You're quick, but he's... extraordinarily fast. It's hard enough to keep him in view, let alone hit him.") But I've been trying to keep the OOC discussion out of it as much as possible, at least in the moment. It really snuffs out the excitement for most of the table to turn everything into a spreadsheet, so to speak.

One takeaway I have from your post, though, is that it might help if I explicitly defer it rather than just trying to sidestep it. I can definitely lean into that, e.g. "Let's debrief on the mechanics at the next break, OK?"
 

I am very transparent with mechanics, but for a different reason.

Combat in 5e is so short! Most combats last only 2 - 3 rounds. If I try to keep mechanics hidden until characters figure it out, it will never happen. So I upfront just tell the players the narrative and mechanical reason something is happening. I find it a lot more satisfying.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Sounds like a player who would prefer a game like 3.Xe or Pathfinder 1e, where the monsters follow the exact same rules as the PCs. In 5e, monsters often have abilities that PCs don’t have access to, such as Multiattack. Generally I would answer this player by saying “Rest assured, this monster has an ability that’s allowing them to do this. Your character might not necessarily be familiar with this ability, but if you would like to you’re welcome to describe what you want to learn about the monster and how your character tries to learn it, and I will resolve that action as I would any other.”

That all said, I also subscribe to a philosophy that public information should be public. I’ve never had a player ask to know exactly what damage dice I rolled or anything like that, but if they did I would happily tell them. I also always tell players the DCs of their checks and the ACs of their targets.
 

ad_hoc

Hero
I support players telling me that they have a special ability I may not have taken into consideration. I tell them X happens and they say oh I have power Y does it still happen? And I might say, oh yeah I forgot, you're awesome and it doesn't affect you. Or I might just say yep it happens. Then we move on.

I'm very transparent with how their actions are going to be resolved by mechanics. We just started RotFM at level 3. I told them when they complete 3 quests they will get to level 4 and then 3 more gets them to level 5 and there are over 10 quests to choose from in the starting area. Once they get to level 5 (or earlier if they are feeling esp. bold) they may venture on to the next area where there are more quests to choose from.

Another example: This will be a group persuasion check to convince the NPC to do the thing you want them to do. There are 4 of you so your check will be the 2nd lowest roll. What do each of you say to the NPC to persuade them? If you say nothing you get disadvantage, if you say something they like you get advantage.


All that said I did play with a DM in 3e where I walked out of his game (might be the only time I've done that). It quickly became clear that he was just narrating the fight the way he wanted to regardless of our abilities or actions. When I asked him what mechanics he was using he just got irate. That's an extreme example though and I had joined his game without knowing him.

This kind of behaviour from your OP reads to me as adversarial and I would be uncomfortable playing in that game.
 

Hex08

Explorer
I recently booted a longtime player from my group who engaged in similar behavior to what the OP posted. I generally don't like giving those kinds of explanations in game, it takes away from some of the "mystery" of an encounter and slows down the game. It certainly may be possible for the characters to figure it out in game and then if they do I would probably give an explanation of the mechanics.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Sounds like a player who would prefer a game like 3.Xe or Pathfinder 1e, where the monsters follow the exact same rules as the PCs.
I don't see that specific issue as the problem; and I think this player would cause the same headache - if not worse - in a system like one of those.

Rather, I see the greater problem being that the player is continually questioning DM-side rolls etc. that are really none of a player's business. If a player has that little trust in the DM, why even be there?
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
This does seem like some kind of trust issue to me perhaps combined with an adversarial outlook (as in the game is vs. DM, not that he's hostile to you) as well as some kind of need to get things "exactly right." While the DM is tasked with mediating between the rules and the players, the DM is not required to follow the rules at all - the rules serve the DM, not the other way around. The players should be made to understand this through open, honest conversation in my view.

Transparency and consistency go a long way to building trust and reducing the sense of the game being players vs. DM. Rolling in the open, particularly with a VTT if you're using one (since it can show a lot of detail in mechanics in the chat window), helps with this. As does incorporating some mechanics post-description to explain if you're doing anything out of the norm, if nothing else to preempt the inevitable question or objection from the player.

It's also useful to set up an expectation that players should limit talking outside of their turns except as absolutely necessary. In your example, Player 5 is interrupting while you're trying to resolve something happening to Player 1. That is stepping all over someone else's spotlight for no good reason and that is not cool in my view. Player 5 can wait for their turn and have the character take specific action to get the information the player wants to know at that time. It's not appropriate to do that when it's the monster's turn or another player's.
 

"Do you want to use your Action to make an Intelligence check?"

More seriously: "Do you keep asking these questions because you are just curious, or because you think I keep making mistakes? If it's the former, please wait until after the game then we can talk about it. If it's the latter...piss off."
 
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Fanaelialae

Legend
I tend to be fairly transparent, although I usually describe it in non-mechanical terms. I think, in general, such things should be fairly obvious to adventurers.

In the case of the bandit, I would describe it as him casting a quick spell, unless he had the metamagic that lets him cast unobtrusively. After all, the players might want to counterspell or respond in some other manner. I don't tell them the spell, unless it has some obvious effect that is readily identified, or they make an arcana check.

In the case of sneak attack, I'll describe it as the bandit taking advantage of the distraction caused by another opponent. In the case of hobgoblins, I describe it as them coordinating their attacks. If the players ask me whether it's a sneak attack, I tell them (or say its something like that, in the case of hobgoblins).
 

cmad1977

Hero
Fortunately NPCs in 5e don't have to be built following PC class rules. I'd just say "It's an ability this opponent has that your character is unaware of."

Yup. A couple times this has come up
“Wait., how did the thing do the thing as well as attack? Isn’t that two actions?”
“NPCS don’t follow the same rules”

I will reveal things like… AC or DCs sometimes.
 

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