D&D General Hot Take: Uncertainty Makes D&D Better

hawkeyefan

Legend
Not for me it isn't -- not in the sense that it is trying to tell a story. Stories emerge out of play -- often with the help of weird ass die rolls -- but they aren't the point.

Sure, that's the kind of D&D you're advocating for, I get that. I don't think that "story games' in the way you've applied the term are about trying to tell a story any more than D&D may be. Some examples may be more geared that way... but certainly not all of them, and not the ones you seem to be invoking by mentioing Scum & Villainy. "Story games" is a really crappy label in that regard... and I mean that overall, not about your use of it here. It implies things that it shouldn't.

But within D&D, I can see the difference between games that adopt an adventure path approach, and ones that are more randomly determined than that. And I can see how shifting focus to what the players show interest in can help make a less predictable game. There's some flexibility there within the overall D&D umbrella, and different ways to do that.

I know you listed some optional rules as examples. Do you have any others?

I have one that I use to help make things less predictable, and it's actually in combat, one of the most regimented elements of the game. I use a kind of side initiative. We roll in the beginning for each side in a conflict, and then the winner gets to decide who on their team goes first. Then the other team does that, and then back and forth until everyone on each side has taken a turn. This breaks up the very regimented turn order and offers the players (and the GM) new ways to cooperate or synergize efforts among multiple participants. It gives flexibility where it would not otherwise exist.
 

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kenada

Legend
Supporter
The reason why I come in so hot on these threads is because as time goes on and the D&D community gets larger and younger, I actually see the direction of dungeon mastery advice online moving away from fudging die results, dungeon master screens, and even theater of the mind play, as a sort of weird moral directive. The dialogue gets pretty ugly.

This deeply concerns me, because I think systems abstraction (or, if you prefer, fudging) is a fundamental responsibility of the dungeon master. Now that ChatGPT can walk a player through an adaptive original version of "Zork," it's become ever more important to illustrate how important an empowered dungeon master is to the rules-dice-human adjudication tripod.
How appropriate it is to fudge depends on the game. For games that leverage integrated mechanics and principles (like PbtA and FitD), fudging fundamentally violates the design of the system. For D&D? Not so much depending on how the group wants to play (as discussed in session zero, etc).

I disagree that it is a question of drama vs. consequence. One doesn't fudge every die roll. One doesn't even fudge most die rolls. It's a considered, handcrafted approach that should only be used when it is the right thing to do for the enjoyment of the table, because the rules and dice do not take this factor into account. Determining when it is right, and when it is not, and what "enjoyment" means for each table, is one of the things that separates good dungeon masters from great dungeon masters.
This reads a lot more into my post than what I wrote. I’m not saying that every roll should be fudged. I’m noting that the “story” game described in the OP had more in common with the style of D&D play that uses fudging. There have been comments here in this thread that have mentioned the drama and excitement of rolling the dice—and not wanting that ruined by an unfortunate roll.

From the 1979 Advanced Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Master Guide, page 110, "Conducting the Game":
It is your right to control the dice at any time and to roll dice for the players. You might wish to do this to keep them from knowing some specific fact. You also might wish to give them an edge in finding a particular clue, e.g. a secret door that leads to a complex of monsters and treasures that will be especially entertaining. You do have every right to overrule the dice at any time if there is a particular course of events that you would like to have occur. In making such a decision you should never seriously harm the party or a non-player character with your actions.
This ain't a new-school idea.
I moved this up because I wanted to address it along with the prior point. This quote seems doesn’t seem to disagree substantively with what I was saying above. It even has an example of “giving an edge” to make sure a clue is found that may lead to something especially entertaining. That seems to be the sort of thing the drama/excitement folks want.

Rolling in secret has been a part of the game since the very beginning, for exactly this reason. The dungeon master must be honest with their table upfront whether or not they fudge die rolls, and players have to come to trust their dungeon master's management of the game and understanding of their needs enough to permit it, in order for everyone to have the full experience of the game.
I almost mentioned secret rolls, but I wanted to keep my post brief. I would include them in the above since the secret roll has a different role from just determining the results (hiding information, DM tasks like wandering monsters, etc). To be clear, I’m not maligning secret rolls but including them as additional contrast with the idea of rolling everything in the open and taking the result where it lies.

On occasion, the best way to honor trust is to break it.
This seems questionable to me. If the DM said they would not fudge and then did it anyway, I think people would start looking for other violations of the social contract.
 

DMZ2112

Chaotic Looseleaf
A distinction without a difference. You declare the power is absolute. The person I replied to said they'd never seen anyone do so. That you claim it, regardless of context, is the only relevant fact here.
If you need to take your opponents' arguments out of context to support your case, your case is pretty weak. Absolute with caveats is not absolute, it's just bad use of vocabulary.

It sure as hell is when you present it as you did. It's very clear what you were saying.
Obviously not clear enough for you to be correct about my intentions, so I apologize for that.

Yes, it absolutely would, because that's not absolute power if you actually include them. And if you don't actually include them, it's not equitable results and player inclusion.
I never claimed absolute power, and the reality of play is that it is a living, human process that is benefited by a flexible approach that permits different priorities in different situations. It's not black and white.

I tried. There wasn't much to read. Nice jab though, "trigger words" is another incredibly loaded phrase. Guess loaded language is only a problem when I use it?
I didn't say that either. I'm happy to punch back when I'm being punched, especially against an easy target. :)

(Emphasis added.) Well then, you clearly don't actually believe in including the players. Because consensus IS how you include them. To call it a joke is to straight up deny that there is anything of worth other than you and your decision. That's why I push back so hard on this. Your derisive hostility to the very concept of actually including other people in adjudication is what I am so opposed to! (Well, that and the deception thing, but that's a different side of this discussion.)
It's not black and white.

And you cannot do that unless you actually know what will do it. You cannot know what will do it without communicating and giving people the chance to make decisions for themselves, not merely meekly submitting to your word because you say it and you obviously know what's best for them and the game.

It has to be a two-way street. Anything less is simply not capable of using this power "only to improve everyone's experience."
It absolutely is a two-way street. Ignoring the warmongering crap about "meekly submitting" and "obviously knowing what's best," I simply disagree that "anything less" is wrong. It's not black and white. My players trust me to make the occasional delicate call for their benefit, based on my experience with them and my access to information they cannot know without it being additionally detrimental to their enjoyment.

Except it isn't. For a huge number of reasons. Just as how trusting a corporation—say, with a license they tell you is irrevocable and then turn around later and say it isn't—is nowhere near as easy to back out of. Or trusting a government, or any other sort of thing where one side has all the power and the other side has nothing but soft, social/reputation power to exert any influence at all. Pretending it is that easy is one of the ways abusers get away with their abuse, in all sorts of relationships.
Now we're getting personal and escalatory. I'm not Harvey Weinstein, you jerk, I'm trying my best to do a job that has had its core responsibilities laid out in text for 40 years. You can disagree with the contract as written, and you can write your own contract with your players, but don't come at me like I'm changing the deal and my players should pray I do not change it further.

Because the players are not the ones claiming authority. That is where the asymmetry lies. I'm not at all saying that DMs are somehow inherently wicked (that would be hilariously self-incriminating, given I only DM these days); I'm saying that the way you demonstrate your "with great power comes great responsibility" reference is itself by showing deference to those who aren't claiming authority. In this context, players. Much as (for example) Superman could just kill people whenever he wanted, but he doesn't do so, because holding himself to a higher standard, a standard even ordinary citizens wouldn't hold themselves to, is all that stands between him and doing things because they are convenient to him, not because they are the right thing to do. (Notably, Clark Kent is much more willing to bend the rules than Superman: yet another proof that Kent is the actual person and Supes is a mask he wears to be able to help others.)
Agreed on all points. Dungeon mastery requires a high ethical standard. Preaching to the choir.

I don't understand the relevance. I'm not talking about selfishness. I'm talking about elitism, deception, absolutism, the belief that "consensus is a joke," etc. One does not need to be selfish to be elitist. Indeed, some of the most selfless people are dangerously elitist as a direct consequence, and that is exactly the kind of dangerous sentiment that C.S. Lewis wrote about when he said that the most oppressive tyrannies are those exercised under the sincere belief that they are of benefit to their victims.
Well, I don't apologize for being an elitist. Being elite isn't something to be ashamed of. Being elitist at someone else's expense is selfishness, and I always make a conscious effort not to be selfish. C.S. Lewis was a fantasy author and a Christian apologist, not a political science expert.

For perspective on my position on consensus, I studied and worked for six years at a Quaker institution that relied on consensus for essentially all of its major decisions. I rarely saw the process leave more people happy than not, and much of the time it meant institutionalized bullying, silencing of the busy or nonconfrontational, much wasted time and effort, and a result that saw everyone in strong dissent simply standing outside the consensus in order to get out of the room. Consensus is a joke. It's a beard for autocrats.

The fact is that there are probably situations where the technique is useful and even ideal. Personally, I will never trust it on paper again, and I don't use it in my personal dealings.

I am a big believer in representative democracy. The dungeon master is an elected executive, and they can be recalled.

I'm not apologizing for players at all, so I don't underarand what you are referring to.
Apology in the sense of defending, not expressing regrets.

The only thing I have said even remotely in that direction is that "player entitlement" is largely a fiction, and doubly so for the alleged sudden rise thereof. Are there entitled players? Sure. But player entitlement, as some kind of philosophy or movement or pattern, is a pernicious myth used as a cudgel against anyone actually speaking up for player interests. As we have seen here.
Convenient semantics! If there are entitled players, then player entitlement exists as point of fact.
 

I fundamentally disagree with your assertions. All of them.
Then back it up! Frankly it's hard to credit the assertion that you have experience with them when your description does not match up with ANY such game IME. I am totally willing to yield the point but you gotta back it up. Just name the game!

EDIT: I see you have added an example, cool! I don't want to sidetrack the D&D conversation so I'll leave it there. Plenty of ink spilled elsewhere on the topic anyway 😆
 
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Specifically, uncertainty in potential results. Swinginess. Random happenings because the dice get a mind of their own. That sort of thing.

I have played and like some "story" games, but one thing many of them lack is uncertainty. Their mechanics tend to favor participants being able to say things that become true in the fiction (even if they don't call it that).
Yeah no.

I've played the same games for 34 years and D&D's swinginess is a purely bad thing unless you love farce.

If you do love farce, you'll love D&D's swinginess. But that's literally all it does - drag D&D into being farce.

Also, the "D&D vs 'story' games" comparison is pretty weird. You don't define what games you're talking about, and frankly, it seems like pretty much all games, with no exceptions, are less swingy than D&D, yet you've to what, the extreme other end of the spectrum?
 
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DMZ2112

Chaotic Looseleaf
How appropriate it is to fudge depends on the game. For games that leverage integrated mechanics and principles (like PbtA and FitD), fudging fundamentally violates the design of the system. For D&D? Not so much depending on how the group wants to play (as discussed in session zero, etc).
I'm of two minds about this.

First, the gamemaster never rolls in PbtA or FitD, to my recollection, nor do they control any numerical unknowns, so fudging in the D&D sense is impossible.

Second, literally everything about proper gamemaster adjudication of these games would be considered fudging in the context of D&D.

Regarding the remainder of your post, I don't get the impression that you and I are in disagreement on most of what is being said in this thread.

This seems questionable to me. If the DM said they would not fudge and then did it anyway, I think people would start looking for other violations of the social contract.
Yeah, I'm eating crow on this one. Shouldn't have tried to be clever.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I've played the same games for 34 years and D&D's swinginess is a purely bad thing unless you love farce.

If you do love farce, you'll love D&D's swinginess. But that's literally all it does - drag D&D into being farce.

Also, the "D&D vs 'story' games" comparison is pretty weird. You don't define what games you're talking about, and frankly, it seems like pretty much all games, with no exceptions, are less swingy than D&D, yet you've to what, the extreme other end of the spectrum?
I think one of us is totally lost(and not sure that it isn't me). I've been understanding @Reynard to be arguing that D&D is more random(swingy) and uncertain than all of the other games on his shelf, and then having others argue that D&D is less random(swingy) and less uncertain than other games. :unsure:
 

Reynard

Legend
I think one of us is totally lost(and not sure that it isn't me). I've been understanding @Reynard to be arguing that D&D is more random(swingy) and uncertain than all of the other games on his shelf, and then having others argue that D&D is less random(swingy) and less uncertain than other games. :unsure:
I've lost the thread myself.

But I can only blame myself for a throw away comment that wasn't fully thought out. I should have known it would have smelled like blood in the water.
 

I think one of us is totally lost(and not sure that it isn't me). I've been understanding @Reynard to be arguing that D&D is more random(swingy) and uncertain than all of the other games on his shelf, and then having others argue that D&D is less random(swingy) and less uncertain than other games. :unsure:
D&D is both more swingy and less uncertain, because of the binary design of the resolution mechanic (which makes things less uncertain - it's just pass-fail) and it's wild swinginess and very very limited ability to mitigate that swing in most editions.

I don't think anyone is arguing D&D is less swingy in the sense of producing consistent numbers.

My point is that the only consistent thing D&D's extreme swinginess achieves is to push the game hard towards farce and silliness. The binary resolution approach also reinforces this push towards farce.
 

Reynard

Legend
D&D is both more swingy and less uncertain, because of the binary design of the resolution mechanic (which makes things less uncertain - it's just pass-fail) and it's wild swinginess and very very limited ability to mitigate that swing in most editions.
I'll say it again for folks obviously not reading the whole thread: the action resolution mechanic is not the only roll in the game. There are many options and opportunity for uncertain outcomes to enhance the game.
 

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