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

While actively playing, especially in combat? I don't HAVE to explain anything mechanically. If players have an obsessive desire to know to an absolute certainty where an extra 3 points comes from... it's good to want things. When combat is over, and especially when a game session is done, I don't mind explaining how, mechanically, the opponent was doing an extra 3 points as long as it doesn't pointlessly spoil other information about the ongoing game. VERY little information needs to be kept secret from players in the long-term. However, there is a time and place to reveal secrets and hidden information of various kinds. I don't have an issue telling players that if they don't STFU about it now, I will never tell them about it later. And I usually make die rolls behind a screen, so real-time mathematical deconstruction isn't practical, or really worth the effort even if it's possible, nor will I CONFIRM their deductions even if they get it right unless there's reasonable in-game causes for the PC's to figure it out.
 

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GMMichael

Guide of Modos
  • 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
  • Roll 1d10 = 6
  • Me: "<PC-1> takes 6 points of damage. What happens? "
The exchange would be a little shorter with Modos RPG...

Player5: wait, did he get a d10 for damage? Doesn't a short bow do d8 damage?
Me: he's not using the one from the gear list. You can go ask him.
Player5: yeah, but is it a perk or a spell causing the buff?
Me: Player6, it's your turn. Don't worry Player5, you still have your remaining actions. Until the next turn begins...

As for D&D, I keep as much behind the curtain as I can, so the players just see Oz. I'll listen to short rules inquiries though, because there is always a chance that I missed something in favor of game flow.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
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. ;-)

Honestly? Things like the enemy casting spells I just tell players. Sometimes I dress it up in flowery language, other times I just state the spell, but in general for me the PCs know what is going on. For example, I likely would have done this instead of your opening post.

DM: "The bandit archer stands up from behind the barrel. He points his finger directly at <PC-1> and says 'The eyes of the Hunter are upon you!'. You feel a tingling sensation as a stylized eye forms over your chest. The bandit draws back his bow and fires." probably add a "the eye burns and sears into you as the arrow strikes" to make clear the connection

Do they know exactly what the spell is? Not from this, and if they ask I'll probably tell them, because it being secret information doesn't add anything.

And actually, that is a good rule of thumb for me. If "What did he just DO?!" is a plot element, I'm more likely to keep it secret. If it is just a standard enemy ability that I dressed up for better storytelling, I'll pull aside the curtain and let them, know.
 

You know, if he is an inexperienced player, he may just be aggressively trying to learn the rules of the game. Just try explaining that NPCs don't use the same creation rules as PCs, and he shouldn't worry about them.
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
Wow... there is a lot of hostility towards this guy.

Look, I get that since the OP said this is a continuous problem, and that they have talked and not a lot came out of that. I get that can trigger people's red flags. But, reading the exchange? Guy doesn't sound like he's doing it maliciously, he doesn't sound like he thinks the DM is making mistakes. He sounds like an analyzer whose head is moving faster than his mouth.

I get that. When I get really into the game or discussing things, I can start asking questions and hunting down assumptions without really considering whether or not it is "socially acceptable" to be asking. I'm trying to understand, thinking out loud, and then when I hit upon a potential answer, I ask. In part, because what the DM just did might be a clue.

If the DM describes a thin, willowy mage who is casting magic, but who then punches the barbarian hard enough to send them flying through a wall, I'm going to ask questions. I'm not doing it maliciously, but because the DM just signalled to me "something weird is going on" and maybe instead of fighting this guy we are supposed to be figuring out who he really is. This again plays into me as a DM being more than willing to lift the curtain. Sometimes they think there is a mystery, when there isn't. I don't want players to feel like they wasted energy trying to figure out the special brand magic of these bandits when I can tell them the guy was a ranger and had Hunter's Mark.
 

Transparency and consistency go a long way to building trust and reducing the sense of the game being players vs. DM.
This. All this. This +1.

From the OP, this sounds like a player you talk to afterwards and explain that for some other players, there might be a mystery about why the bandit did that amount of damage. In this way, you are explaining the rationale for the table, not just that single player. Then, from that point on, be consistent with saying, "I'll explain later" and keeping expectations the same.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
If the DM describes a thin, willowy mage who is casting magic, but who then punches the barbarian hard enough to send them flying through a wall, I'm going to ask questions.
I think the contention is that those questions are better asked in-character by your PC "How did he just DO that?!" rather than out-of-character by you-as-player.

It's also on the DM to describe in-fiction elements properly. For example, if a d6-damage shortsword hits you for 9 points due to the foe's impressive Strength bonus, the DM probably ought to mention that this guy packs a punch - there was some serious force behind that blow.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
We are extremely clear at our tables that seeking justification for numbers is strongly discouraged, for multiple reasons:
  • It gains a huge amount of time not to explain anything technical, which leaves us much more time for imagination, story and roleplay.
  • Trusting the DM is for me the very basis of playing the game. If you start doubting every single thing that he tells you, you might as well not play with him.
So when a DM tells you that you take are hit by a flurry of blows and 9 points of damage, you just put it on your sheet and tell him what you do next, you don't start losing time and trust by challenging him. We are there to tell a collective story, our perspective is that if you want to game the rules it's fine, it's just not what we want to do at our tables.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
We are extremely clear at our tables that seeking justification for numbers is strongly discouraged, for multiple reasons:
  • It gains a huge amount of time not to explain anything technical, which leaves us much more time for imagination, story and roleplay.
  • Trusting the DM is for me the very basis of playing the game. If you start doubting every single thing that he tells you, you might as well not play with him.
So when a DM tells you that you take are hit by a flurry of blows and 9 points of damage, you just put it on your sheet and tell him what you do next, you don't start losing time and trust by challenging him. We are there to tell a collective story, our perspective is that if you want to game the rules it's fine, it's just not what we want to do at our tables.
I do agree that trust is important.

However, I think it's also important for the DM to describe things such that they make sense, and the players can easily infer what is going on. If the DM can use tactics based on knowing that the rogue can sneak attack, then I think it's only fair that the players can also figure out when an enemy is sneak attacking them. Trust is a two way street.

After all, I doubt your DM would hesitate to ask what's going on if your fighter rolled a hit and then suddenly grabbed 10d6 for damage.
 

MarkB

Legend
Certainly, if the opponent has cast a spell, it's reasonable to make that clear unless the opponent has a way of hiding it. At higher levels, someone in the party may want to counterspell it, and even at lower levels there's the possibility of disrupting the caster's concentration on subsequent turns.
 

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