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


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.
I was thinking adjusting the player’s roll (like some DMs may do with hidden DCs in D&D). Since everything is open and player-facing, that would be harder to do. The ways I’ve seen thing go wrong were arguably mistakes rather than intentional (e.g., having the consequence on a 4–5 result in Scum and Villainy negate the success).

Second, literally everything about proper gamemaster adjudication of these games would be considered fudging in the context of D&D.
This seems like an expansive definition of “fudge”, though I expect digging into the details would be getting a bit off topic for this thread.

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.
That was also my impression, but I thought it was worth clarifying.

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Morkus from Orkus
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.
That's where I fall as well. It's more random, but less uncertain due to the way the mechanics work.

While I haven't played them, I've seen a lot of talk about other systems and the methods by which the DM gains the ability to mess with what is going on are by and large process based. The process determines when he can do things and to what extent, but it doesn't control or fully control what he does, so there is a lot of uncertainty there.

D&D on the other hand is very swingy, but you generally know what success and failure are going to look like or have a very good idea, so less uncertainty.
I don't think anyone is arguing D&D is less swingy in the sense of producing consistent numbers.
Someone upthread arguing with @Reynard said D&D was less random as well. I'm pretty sure of that. And that was the portion I wasn't agreeing with.
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.
This is where I disagree with you. It can lead to farce and silliness, but with a bit of effort you can narrate the successes and failures in ways that make sense and are not silly/farcical.

In past editions we also had some house rules that helped there. For example, in 3e we reduced the fumble chance as you gained levels. IIRC, what we did was for levels 1-5 you still fumbled on a 1. For levels 6-10 if you rolled a 1 you got a DC 10 dex save to avoid fumbling. For levels 11-15 you had to roll 2 1's in a row to fumble. And for levels 16+ you could not fumble. A 1 was just a miss. That way you didn't get more prone to fall over or whatever as you got more skilled.


Isn't it just fumble/critical rules that are producing these swing outcomes were talking about? There have been editions where those didn't exist outside of attack rolls, and had relatively small effects there (particularly with simple guaranteed miss on a 1 and critical confirmation rules). How constrained player bonuses vs. the size of the RNG is has changed significantly over the last couple editions as well.


I don't think that is a compelling argument since 99% of play is cooperative. There isn't really a "moooooom" moment as you describe it. The GM is ultimately cooperating with the players, even when pitting monsters and other hazards against them. And if that weren't the case, no amount t of dice could make it even approach "fairness".
So why doesn't D&D resolve combat just by having the parties cooperate and decide who is hurt by whom, like a collaborative writers' room?

It seems fairly clear that the function of the dice, in the context of classic D&D hp-attrition combat, is (i) to decide who has to accept a narration of loss for their "team", plus (ii) a type of wargame-style minigame on the way through to work out what happens.


Victoria Rules
Thanks. That was good reading.

Very much this. But there are two things I'd add.
  • The stakes under the rules as written can too often amount to "roll to see if you have to roll again" ("I failed the climb check. I want to roll again.") which is the opposite of uncertainty.
Easily stoppered by not allowing rerolls or retries unless there's a material difference (including the PC(s) trying a different method or approach) or change in the situation. Your one roll represents your best attempt.

3e and 5e really get this wrong IMO.
  • Low stakes high volumes of rolls is sloooow. Slow is fine if you fill in a lot of detail (4e was the only D&D to really try with strong tactical combat and with skill challenges) but if not is just slow with minimal uncertainty. There's a reason we play Dungeons & Dragons not Penpushers & Paperwork
There's a third type of roll, where each individual roll has low stakes but the sum total of those rolls can get into very high stakes. The most obvious example is combat - the stakes on each individual to-hit roll are usually pretty low but those stakes slowly accumulate to determining which combatant(s) lives or dies...which seems pretty significant to me!


Follower of the Way
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.
Except, and again this is a matter of public record, that isn't what Maxperson actually said. I pushed back, hard, on that not actually being "absolute" power. He refused, insisting that that term was the one and only correct description. Repeatedly and with great emphasis.

I am not ignoring context. The poster themself made the context irrelevant.

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.
And the one and only way to address that in a small group environment is to achieve actual consensus. Not fake consensus, not bullying, not deception, actual consensus, as in "the group agrees." If the DM cannot get the group to agree, the group shouldn't exist.

It's not black and white.
Who said it was? Consensus is all about recognizing the shades of grey. "I can do what I want whenever I want if I think it is better for the game" IS black-and-white. There is one rule: "Do what I say." Everything else is window dressing.
I didn't say that either. I'm happy to punch back when I'm being punched, especially against an easy target. :)
Funny. You're the one who trotted out phrases like "player entitlement" first. I was punching back. I have no idea what you we're doing.

It's not black and white.
Certainly. See above.

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 that is literally never necessary. Ever. It is 100% possible to never break the rules, never tell the players things that are not true about the gameplay or imagined space, and let the dice fall where they may, all without harming the players' experience in the least. So why do it? Why use tactics that are unnecessary and deceptive?

Now we're getting personal and escalatory. I'm not Harvey Weinstein, you jerk
I never said you were. I don't even know why you mention him, and I wasn't even talking about you. I was referencing the OGL debacle, a breach of customer trust that put a large number of engaged participants in an extremely difficult position of accepting a crappy deal or losing their business. Because that is an excellent demonstration of a situation where it is not trivial to extricate yourself from a relationship with a figure that has absolute authority (in this case, over D&D copyright), and is in fact incredibly fraught and difficult. Hence also the reference to government; governments claim monopoly on the use of force and it is incredibly difficult to simply extricate yourself from where you live even if it becomes overtly hostile.

Again: I have no idea why you think this got personal, and I don't think calling me a jerk was even remotely warranted.

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.
Okay. Hence why I keep asking how you and others avoid that. Because without actual consensus-building (more on that below), it's all you. Your players are as much suggestions as the rules are. That's why I push so hard on this.

Agreed on all points. Dungeon mastery requires a high ethical standard. Preaching to the choir.
And you demonstrate your adherence to that standard by giving your players actual authority. That authority comes from not doing something if your players are opposed to it. The players cannot oppose something you cover up. You can only know what they oppose by talking to them, accepting their criticism (and, hopefully, their much more common praise), and reaching a true agreement with them. Which is what we call consensus.

Well, I don't apologize for being an elitist. Being elite isn't something to be ashamed of.
Sure it is. "I am simply a better person than you, and thus I have more worth and value than you" is a shameful belief.

Being elitist at someone else's expense is selfishness,
There is no definition of elitism which does not claim that the alleged elite (a) belong to a superior class or stratum by some metric, making them simply better than other people, and (b) because they belong to this superior class, they deserve authority over those who are not among the elite.

It is not, strictly, a matter of selfishness (it is quite possible for someone not among the elite to believe the above is true), but it is always a matter of seeing others as lesser. It is, by definition, the antonym of egalitarianism.

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.
He was speaking on moral philosophy, a subject which he was quite qualified to discuss.

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.
That is extremely unfortunate, I'm sorry you had to endure that. I hope, for whatever it's worth, that you were able to hold your own despite this travesty "consensus." Based on your description, howvwer, it was by all reasonable definitions nothing of the kind: "consensus, n. 1. majority of opinion, 2. general agreement or concord; harmony." What you describe is quite clearly neither of these things, with the elites (powerful, influential figures) ostracizing anyone who dissented and/or inducing dissenters to disengage (self-ostracize) until only the pliable remained. That's bullying at best and closet tyranny at worst...and neither of those is compatible with the meaning of "consensus," no matter what word they claimed to use for it.

Consensus is a joke. It's a beard for autocrats.
Seriously? Actually achieving general agreement or concord is a beard for autocrats? Absolutely not.

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.
So...you avoid achieving general agreement with others? How on earth do you get anything done with anyone? How do you have relationships? Unless, of course, you don't actually mean that you avoid general agreement or concord and harmony, you just avoid the horrible mockery you witnessed at that Quaker institution. You avoid the thing which they pretended was consensus but was, literally by definition, not consensus.

I am a big believer in representative democracy. The dungeon master is an elected executive, and they can be recalled.
And I assert this is nowhere near as easy as you claim if the DM has in fact abused their powers...just as it is extremely difficult to unseat a representative from government even when they have probably done something illegal. I am not saying you or any other specific person do abuse your powera so. I am saying that the alleged protection of "recall" is in fact extremely difficult to use in practice because this is a social activity and both "recall" and disengagement have costs, sometimes major ones. There is a perfectly symmetric problem with players, to be clear: a long-time friend or group member who is revealed to have done something untoward (cheating, reading adventures ahead of time, harassing other players or just generally being a creeper, etc.*) can be very difficult to remove, because (for example) he's dating one of the other players and is best friends with a second player and one of the DM's coworkers. Suddenly the social costs of simply cutting off a relationship are sky-high, and what should be the obvious and straightforward solution ends up being anything but.

And that's just to get rid of one player, whose absence may be an annoyance but the game goes on. The vast majority of groups, if you "recall" the DM, the game ends. That alone is a tough sell for many groups and requires egregious problems to get them to pull the proverbial trigger. Add in the common social dynamics (telling a DM they're metaphorically fired when everyone in the group is friends who meet outside of game regularly) and you have an incredibly high wall to climb before anyone will consider a "recall."

*This actually happened in one of my gaming groups. Longtime friend of the Storyteller and most of the other players was harassing a female player in the group. Extricating him was a whole ordeal, took months, soured the group mood on the game for months thereafter, and generally was just a real downer overall. We got through it, but it was rough.

Apology in the sense of defending, not expressing regrets.
Yes, I'm aware. Nothing I said was a defense of players. It was a claim that the person who asserts that they deserve power is the person who bears the burden of proving that they deserve it. As opposed to the idea that the people who are not claiming power are somehow indebted to the person who claims power over them, regardless of whether that power is on the tiny scale (like DMing) or the grand scale.

The taking on of responsibility is the price extracted for the DM to be allowed power, not a justification for why others become indebted to them for doing it.

Convenient semantics! If there are entitled players, then player entitlement exists as point of fact.
Whereas to me, that sounds like convenient semantics. You are able to claim the specter of a movement corroding the game which must be opposed no matter the cost or consequences. This is not so.

Some entitled players exist. "Player entitlement" as a scourge besieging D&D (or TTRPGs in general) is a myth, a Boogeyman conjured up to demonize opposition to abuses of authority.


The player has (IIRC) +1 WIS (Wisdom modifier.) Wisdom is the attribute which applies to Discern Realities. As a result, a "bad" roll happens whenever the dice plus that modifier are 6-, aka when the roll is 5 or less. P(2d6≤5) = 15/36 ≈ 41.67%. Yet full success (roll+MOD is 10+) happens some 27.78% (10/36) of the time, so even though the character isn't great at Wisdom things, he still has a good shot at better results and a good chance of stumbling. With maximum ordinary modifier (+3), it becomes 16.67% chance to miss/fail, 41.67% chance of partial success, and 58.33% chance of full success.
There are some issues with your maths.

The chance of a 5 or less on 2d6 is 10/36, or a bit less than 30%. The chance of a 9 or more on 2d6 (for 10+ with a +1 stat) is the same (as you have posted).

For a +3 character, the chances of 6- is 3/36 or 1 in 12 (about half of what you have posted). The chance of full success, which requires 7+ on the dice, is 21/36 or 7/12, which is what you posted. So the chance of an intermediate result is 12/36 (ie a 4 to a 6) or one-third.


So why doesn't D&D resolve combat just by having the parties cooperate and decide who is hurt by whom, like a collaborative writers' room?
Like S&V, you mean? Careful...
It seems fairly clear that the function of the dice, in the context of classic D&D hp-attrition combat, is (i) to decide who has to accept a narration of loss for their "team", plus (ii) a type of wargame-style minigame on the way through to work out what happens.
None of that counters the point that it's still a cooperative experience. The dice can't create fairness in an encounter that was designed without it. The dice are there is provide uncertainty and therefore tension in an otherwise fair encounter. That's the whole point of the thread.

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