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

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
I never (or almost never) tell my players the specific numbers, but I give them reasonable qualitative descriptions, e.g. "Your hit lands, but it seems to leave the creature barely affected," or "wow, that was a solid hit! Another one like that and it's a goner!"

On the flipside, I try to be pretty transparent with my players about most things. I won't put explicit flags on the moves I make or the like, but I will tell them (usually at the end of session) if I totally improvised stuff or come clean about something if I'm not sure it worked out well. And in the one situation we've had where things almost went truly pear-shaped, I was honest with them (after the fact) that I had intentionally made a fight way too hard to see if I could actually challenge them, and pulled back a bit when I could see that I had finally done so. (They'd steamrolled multiple "this should be just a little too hard" fights, so I was trying to check to see if I even could push them beyond their limits. Turned out I could, but they used a clever strategy that gave me an opening for weakening their opposition in a way that the players could learn about and, potentially, exploit later.)

And when it comes to gear and mechanics...I try to preserve surprises when possible. On the flipside, though, I try to reach out and work with players to give them what they want. It helps, of course, that I run Dungeon World, which is light enough that I can basically house-rule invent whatever I want on a moment's notice. But even within that framework, I try very hard to be supportive of anything my players are genuinely enthusiastic about that isn't exploitative or coercive. They know I have their backs. E.g., our party Battlemaster completed his first personal arc by recovering the semi-legendary lost fourth volume of Struggle and Calm by General Khalifa al-Hamdan,. We worked out that that would grant him access to a new Battlemaster Tactic: Hammer and Anvil, which would be of benefit to him when coordinating with allies (essentially, a "set 'em up, knock 'em down" kind of thing.) I've done other, similar things for the other players (except the new person who just joined, since...they just joined, so I haven't had a chance yet!)
 

log in or register to remove this ad

kenada

Legend
Supporter
It depends. For mechanics that originate from or interact with the players’ character sheets, I try to be as transparent as possible. I don’t think it’s worth slowing down the game to hide the AC of enemies or difficulty of skill checks. The players will intuitive it eventually anyway. There are some exceptions though. I usually don’t outright say that monsters take reduced damage. It’s usually implied by the way the blow is described.

If we’re learning a game, and there’s a question of how something works, I’ll take a moment to explain what is happening. For example, when we first started playing 5e, and I ran Lost Mines of Phandelver, the players were worried about the thugs in town because they did two attacks. They assumed the thugs must be really high-level fighters (since we were coming from Pathfinder where NPCs typically were built like PCs). I took some time to explain how things work in 5e, and that cleared things one.

One area where I typically don’t reveal mechanics is when it comes to GM-side mechanics. I’m not going to reveal the results of my random event checks. I don’t use player-known hexes in our hex crawl. The players know how far away something is (“it’s north about 9 hours through the forest and over the mountain”), but they are not privy to how I track progress. I’m running Worlds Without Number, so that also goes for the faction game. The result of that will manifest in the game world, but they won’t know mechanically just how that came about (though if any are interested in how the faction game works in the abstract, I’m happy to explain it).

The issue I have with the OP’s situation is the rules-lawyering being directed at the DM. The creatures have to be built this certain way because that’s how it works for the PCs. I assume a conversation has been had explaining how monster design works in D&D. If not, having one should clear up any misunderstandings about how creatures and NPCs work. Even if you keep certain things secret or close to the vest, it behooves you as a DM to be willing to talk about how the game works (in an appropriate context, which is usually but may be in the middle of battle).

If the disruptions continue in spite of trying to address the player’s concerns, then that’s probably something that needs to be discussed with the group (to see if it’s bothering anyone else) and the player (to see if some kind of compromise can be struck). It could be that the player is just a really bad fit for one’s style, but I’d hesitate to take drastic action if everyone else is cool with it.

As for what’s on the players’ character sheets, I like to review them because my players have a habit of making mistakes. Like not having all the skill points, feats, or other things they should have. This was particularly bad when I was running Pathfinder 2e because that system is pretty tightly tuned, and several of my players had missed things. 😒
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
The point I was making is that it is unnecessarily, punitively, excessive

And I think this characterization is excessive, so... there you are.
for no discernible reason

I mean, I'm right here - you could ASK the reason.

There's a whole side conversation to be had about internet discourse and things of the form, "I will attribute motives to you instead of asking your motives."
 

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
I'm usually transparent with metagaming stuff unless i have reasons to keep the player's in the dark. So things like spellcasting, i would usually reveal when a spell is cast and what noticeable effect it produce. Wether i play online or in person, it will generally be obvious what the extra D6 is from in the OP scenario.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
You can trust that they've neither made a mistake or cheated, but given that you've stated that you don't know what's on their character sheets, you can't possibly know that they aren't. They might be making frequent mistakes, and you would never know. That they may confer with each other is no guarantee (they might all be mistaken regarding how something works).

And as long as everyone is happy about the game, how is that a problem ?

On the other hand, if they check with you, then you know whether or not they are handling it correctly, but you are also aware of those capabilities. You can then plan accordingly with your tactics, unlike the players (who require the DM to be transparent in order to strategize effectively in respect to their opponents' capabilities).

You might have missed that, but my view is that monsters don't have their capabilities displayed on their foreheads for the player to strategise. If the players want their character to strategise, they will do it with what their characters know and see from my descriptions, not from metagame information as to how the rules approximate what is happening in the world

And the other way around, the PCs don't have their abilities tattooed on their foreheads for the DM's monsters to optimise their tactics. And finally, we don't play as the DM vs. the Players.

Even if they don't ask, you likely see their characters in action enough to have a good assessment as to what they're capable of.

Not necessarily. We don't do that many combats, and I honestly have no idea what their choices were in the last levels.

Whereas the monsters in a D&D game are disposable, and tend to be used in variety, meaning that without transparency the players may have difficulty coming up with meaningful tactics.

The tactics are perfectly meaningful for characters adventuring into the unknown. Encounters are not necessarily tailored for them, so they have to be careful. We are not playing a combat game at all, we are playing a story game.
 


Fanaelialae

Legend
And as long as everyone is happy about the game, how is that a problem ?



You might have missed that, but my view is that monsters don't have their capabilities displayed on their foreheads for the player to strategise. If the players want their character to strategise, they will do it with what their characters know and see from my descriptions, not from metagame information as to how the rules approximate what is happening in the world

And the other way around, the PCs don't have their abilities tattooed on their foreheads for the DM's monsters to optimise their tactics. And finally, we don't play as the DM vs. the Players.



Not necessarily. We don't do that many combats, and I honestly have no idea what their choices were in the last levels.



The tactics are perfectly meaningful for characters adventuring into the unknown. Encounters are not necessarily tailored for them, so they have to be careful. We are not playing a combat game at all, we are playing a story game.
It's not a problem if everyone is happy, but it is nonetheless a fact.

If you think that I'm advocating that monsters have their abilities tattooed on their foreheads, you've misconstrued my intent entirely. I haven't suggested anything remotely like that. What I have said is that a DM should be transparent with respect to their description of what monsters are doing, so that players can make informed decisions.

If a character is sneak attacked, for example, I do think it's important to describe the enemy as taking advantage of the distraction caused by an ally. Similarly, if a spell is cast, the players should be told as much (rather than the NPC muttering, which could simply be muttering). This way the players are able to understand the world similarly to how their characters could.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
Sure, he isn't likely saying that. But, what I'm trying to understand is where you draw the line between the players receiving technical information and them asking to clarify technical information.

They are not receiving any apart from the bare minimum (damage received, conditions applied). The rest id description.

A DM could totally choose to tell the player how many attacks and whether or not sneak attack was applying, but a player is wrong for asking if that was the intent behind the massive spike in numbers?

He should get it from the description (which is what the game is about, see the PH introduction). I'm not saying it's wrong for a player to ask at any table, it's just that at our tables, we usually don't provide explanations, at best further descriptions if something has not been understood.

Didn't you also say you haven't looked at a player's sheet in years? You might have forgotten something about the defenses of the player.

I might, and if something really shocks the player (like he is hit for a massive fire damage while being resistant to fire), he might ask whether the DM is sure, or if his fire resistance was actually taken into account, but this happens really rarely.

For example, I actually was playing on a VTT game where the DM was rolling a lot of attacks, dealing a lot of damage, and the had a character take some big number, and we asked "wait, isn't that poison damage?" when we saw the roll. Because the player had gotten a Periapt of Proof against Poison months before, and it had never come up, but he was immune to poison damage.

In any case, poison damage is not described the same ways as piecing damage, if poison is involved, it is part of the description, so it's time for the question above.

Or, a my tables, I tend to math quickly, and tell the players their damage total after resistance. But, sometimes my players don't know if I did after resistance or before, so they have to ask me. And knowing whether or not the extra damage from an attack qualifies for resistance is important information for the player.

It should be clear for the description, and it usually is.

Mistrust and making sure there is clear communication are two different things. I trust all my DMs. That doesn't mean I think they are incapable of making mistakes. Especially with how often I make mistakes as a DM.

If mistakes are really damaging to the game, I would agree with you. Our perspective is that a few hit points mistakes now and then is not damaging to the game, so it's better for the game not to burden every resolution with details, that's all.

I'm sorry man, I don't buy it. Everyone messes up occasionally. Forgetting rules, mixing rules up, ect. It happens.

So what ? I've not said that, technically, no mistakes are made, but the game is not a technical game, and for us it is a worst mistake to cripple the game than to have small technical mistakes go unnoticed. Who cares ?

And since some fights and games can get down to the entire party in single digit hp with no resources remaining... taking a little bit more damage than you were supposed to can be a big deal. Yes, a big enough deal to stop the combat for a moment and double check. It isn't like the combat is a narrative cut-scene, you are dealing with technical information constantly in combat

And with the minimum of it to make it cinematic, quick and exciting, instead of bogged down into technical details.

And, I'm really not terribly comfortable with this idea that the player has to be polite and not accusatory (not saying that they should be accusatory, but it is being presented as a requirement) and if the DM feels like it they can explain what happened.

Unless you really believe that the DM would make the technical mistake on purpose, then what purpose does it serve not to be polite ? What is the purpose of trying the DM to feel guilty ? Will it make the game better ? My experience is that it can only make the game worse.

This just comes across as... a bad power dynamic. Sure, if there is a good reason not to tell them, maybe because it is a plot secret, then don't tell them. Hint at the fact or outright say "it matters for the plot, so you;ll need to figure it out" but we are talking figuring out that an NPC used a spell instead of a PC ability. That's not something that is a big mystery. So why not tell them? Why act like you are doing them some big favor by being kind enough to explain the rules of the game to them?

Why not tell them ? Because it slows down the game, because it has no interest to the other players, and because it fosters a bad competitive ambiance at the table, deteriorating the relationship between friends just trying collectively to create an interesting story.

Yeah, if I make a mistake that negatively impacts the PCs, I want to know about it. I want to know about it now, not after the session when it is too late to fix it. Because I want to challenge the PCs fairly, not challenge them because I failed to run the encounters without errors.

And where in the purpose of the game is it written that the aim is to challenge the PCs ? Where is it said that the rules are absolute and that not following them is a mistake ? There are many ways to play the game...

Again, people make mistakes.

I actually was playing with a friend in a one-shot not too long ago. He's played a rogue for years in various games. We were in a fight and his character hit, and he grabbed a bunch of D6's. So I asked "Dude, why are grabbing all those dice?"

And he looked at me, looked at his dice, looked at his character sheet and said, "Oh, right. I'm playing a paladin. I don't have sneak attack."

And that is why I wanted to pull attention to your post, because in the quote you were responding to, Fanaelialae specifically mentioned mistakes and that they have happened. But, your response, and even your response here, isn't about making mistakes. It is about cheating or powergaming.

Actually no, its not. It's about honest mistakes and the fact that if they are minor and not impacting the game too much, they sure can be glossed over without pointing it out, especially during the game.

Look, I'm happy for you if you and your players never make mistakes or confuse things or misunderstand a rule, but not everyone has that experience.

Never said we did.

And since the discussion is about asking for clarification in general, I feel it is really harmful to the conversation to immediately assume cheating on either side. The point Fanaelialae was trying to make I think is that since the DM asking for clarification when something weird was going on is fine, it seems strange to hold the players to a different standard. Since we don't assume the DM is cheating in creating the scenario that is strange, why would we assume the player is cheating?

Never pointed out one more than the other. I specifically wrote "Either cheating or making a mistake of that size." Of course, if it's a huge mistake like a paladin trying to sneak attack, it will be obvious. But small mistakes, who cares?

And if we are fine with the DM calling out the player on potential cheating, and DMs can cheat, isn't it equally fair to call out the DM on cheating if they are doing so?

By definition, a DM cannot cheat, as he can decide at any moment to apply exactly the rules that he wants to apply. Moreover, as he is not playing against the players, what exactly is the point of cheating for him ?

I don't want to assume cheating in either direction, because that isn't conducive to the discussion, but if we are, then I'd say the same standards apply both ways.

And see above, they don't the rules are not the same for the DM and the players.
 

Lyxen

Great Old One
It's not a problem if everyone is happy, but it is nonetheless a fact.

I'm not even exactly sure what is a fact ?

If you think that I'm advocating that monsters have their abilities tattooed on their foreheads, you've misconstrued my intent entirely. I haven't suggested anything remotely like that. What I have said is that a DM should be transparent with respect to their description of what monsters are doing, so that players can make informed decisions.

And that is fine, if you describe what is happening in the game world, which I have always said is the basis for the DM communication. What is not mandatorily included is the technical communication of the details of the rules and how they broke down into the result given.

If a character is sneak attacked, for example, I do think it's important to describe the enemy as taking advantage of the distraction caused by an ally.

And I gave that example earlier, it's part of the description.

Similarly, if a spell is cast, the players should be told as much (rather than the NPC muttering, which could simply be muttering). This way the players are able to understand the world similarly to how their characters could.

I completely agree, although in a number of cases, the PCs will not see or hear the spell cast, for example (too far, subtle spell, too many distraction).
 

turnip_farmer

Adventurer
I've never had to deal with a player like the OP's, but I've recently started becoming more transparent anyway, for several reasons. Partly, because I do sometimes screwup when I'm running a big complex battle with multiple NPCs, and my table's rules lawyer knows the rules better than I do. If I'm transparent about what's going on, he politely corrects my errors, and I get to cackle in maniacal glee when I explain that this monster is eating his face off due to a special ability rather than an error.

More importantly, though, I realised that I spent too much time trying to craft these forced sentences that didn't really make any sense for no good reason. All I really wanted to say was 'the firebolt did half damage because he has resistance to fire'. Why not just say that, instead of saying the same thing in a tortured way that the player probably interpreted as the same thing, but potentially misunderstood for no reason other than the quality of my prose?
 

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top