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

Laurefindel

Legend
I found that my game mechanics transparency (lets call it that) changes with the tone of the game i'm DMing. My last campaign was a high stake FR game. Two of the players were teenagers so the game wasn't particularity dark, but it was serious, for lack of better words. Decisions, alliances, combat outcomes had significant consequences. That game was pretty opaque when it came to game mechanics vs narrative.

My present game is a more light-hearted Eberron game with a bit of a comedy feel. The stakes are just as high but the tone is very different, and the game mechanics are much more apparent, down to in-game notions of spell slots, spell levels, character classes, and to a lesser extent, hit points. In this game, the mechanics are often part of the narrative, on purpose, often in a tongue-in-cheek way. (I think a NPC once referred to a +3 sword as a "trice-magical sword" or something)

In the example of the OP, this game would have gone something like...

  • Me: "You take 6 points of piercing damage."
  • PC: "Wait, how is that 6 points? Why did you roll another die? Is he a rogue? I'm not flanked, so there shouldn't be sneak attack damage."
  • Me: "No, you are his enemy, and he has favoured you among all others! Mouhahah!
[edit] boooo! Bad DM, wrong ability! Take 2d4 psychic damage! It should have been something like : « No, he is on the Hunt, and he has marked you! Mouahaha! »

That would have not happened that way in our other game. It would have gone something like:

  • Me: "You take 6 points of piercing damage."
  • PC: "Wait, how is that 6 points? Why did you roll another die? Is he a rogue? I'm not flanked, so there shouldn't be sneak attack damage."
  • Me: "Indeed there must be something more to it, but you can't identify what it is. Now the next enemy hit you for [roll] 9 damage..."
 
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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
The most recent time that has happened to me was when my players questioned why an NPC they were fighting could disengage as a bonus action (it was an assassin NPC). I simply said, "It is an ability he has that circumvents the normal rules. It is just different than the ones you guys have." My players are all essentially newbies (either totally new or not played since HS/college days, i.e. decades) And that was enough for them. Later, we talked about how different classes/monsters have different abilities and PCs don't have access to all them (there are no rogues or clerics in the group, for example - so some of those abilities might seem new to them) and that you can't always know which abilities an opponent has until you observe them.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
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.

Descriptions are important, and are part of the story too, so I agree that it has to be good from that angle, and they are many good ways to describe the fact that it's a precision strike taking into account some advantage or distraction. But that should be enough for the players.

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.

You know what, I don't even read my player's character sheets, haven't done that in at least 5-6 levels, because I trust them exactly as they trust me...
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Descriptions are important, and are part of the story too, so I agree that it has to be good from that angle, and they are many good ways to describe the fact that it's a precision strike taking into account some advantage or distraction. But that should be enough for the players.



You know what, I don't even read my player's character sheets, haven't done that in at least 5-6 levels, because I trust them exactly as they trust me...
I can only speak for myself, but if a fighter grabbed 10d6 for damage, I would ask, assuming that was out of the ordinary. Not because of any lack of trust, but because if it doesn't sound right, I want to make certain they aren't making a mistake (which has happened). Similarly, if they have a misunderstanding of their mechanics which might be to their detriment, I point it out.

Also, just because you haven't looked at their sheets recently, doesn't mean you don't know what's on them. I don't typically look at my players sheets at all, but for some of them I still know their character's capabilities better than they do.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
I can only speak for myself, but if a fighter grabbed 10d6 for damage, I would ask, assuming that was out of the ordinary. Not because of any lack of trust, but because if it doesn't sound right, I want to make certain they aren't making a mistake (which has happened). Similarly, if they have a misunderstanding of their mechanics which might be to their detriment, I point it out.

My players have not pulled anything like that in a long while anyway, and the example was not mine anyway.

Also, just because you haven't looked at their sheets recently, doesn't mean you don't know what's on them. I don't typically look at my players sheets at all, but for some of them I still know their character's capabilities better than they do.

I really don't know the capabilities that they have, to be honest, I'm not that kind of player myself. And when I'm a player, I know my characters capabilities, I'm not studying those of the other players, in some cases I don't even know what archetypes they are...
 

Chaosmancer

Legend
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.

This is where I will disagree with you, because the character is immersed in the world, but the player is not. There are things, I believe, that the character would know, because they are familiar with the world and things that are possible in it, that the player might not know or immediately recognize. So, there are plenty of times I think where out of character information (such as the hp damage of an attack) is appropriately met with out of character questions. After all, the player has seen something strange, but the character doesn't have AC or HP numbers floating in front of their eyes.

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.

This I will 100% agree with you on. On-Point explanations solve many problems by giving the player enough information. Sometimes that leads to them asking out of character to confirm in character, because the language of translating between the two worlds is hard, but it is certainly an important step
 

Chaosmancer

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.

See, I don't fully disagree with you, but I find it weird that the DM giving out numbers and technical information is fine, but the players seeking to confirm those same numbers and technical information isn't.

I just don't get where "trust" is coming into this. It doesn't sound like the player thinks the DM is lying, they are just trying to understand what they are being told. If they didn't trust the DM... why would they bother asking? They wouldn't trust him or her to give them a real answer.

I also have had a lot of DMs, even experienced ones, mess up the rules. Misremembering something like Charm being a one I've encountered a lot, and while I know a lot of people prefer to project the DM as infallible, or that correcting them ruins the game because they might be doing something they homebrewed... sometimes a mistake is a mistake. And it isn't wrong to make sure if it is homebrew or an honest mistake. DMs shouldn't feel attacked by that.
 


Oofta

Legend
See, I don't fully disagree with you, but I find it weird that the DM giving out numbers and technical information is fine, but the players seeking to confirm those same numbers and technical information isn't.

I just don't get where "trust" is coming into this. It doesn't sound like the player thinks the DM is lying, they are just trying to understand what they are being told. If they didn't trust the DM... why would they bother asking? They wouldn't trust him or her to give them a real answer.

I also have had a lot of DMs, even experienced ones, mess up the rules. Misremembering something like Charm being a one I've encountered a lot, and while I know a lot of people prefer to project the DM as infallible, or that correcting them ruins the game because they might be doing something they homebrewed... sometimes a mistake is a mistake. And it isn't wrong to make sure if it is homebrew or an honest mistake. DMs shouldn't feel attacked by that.
It's one thing to ask once in a while. It's another thing to question constantly and repeat the question after the DM double checks.

If you really think it's an issue, discuss it with me after the game or during a break.
 

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
There are things, I believe, that the character would know, because they are familiar with the world and things that are possible in it, that the player might not know or immediately recognize
This is highly campaign dependent, though. In bog-standard D&D in FR, sure, characters are all somehow familiar with meta concepts like "class abilities", etc, so they might well have a good in-world idea what all mechanics look like*.
On the other hand, in a "mysterious magic" or weird or especially gonzo setting, that is not a solid assumption. At all.

* Of course, PCs in wolrd would also understand that lots of beasties don't follow in "the rules", so they shouldn't be surprised when something weird shows up.
 

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