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5E How do you roll, DM?

When you DM, do you roll dice in front of the screen or behind it?


  • Total voters
    142

Benjamin Olson

Adventurer
These days I'm only ever DMing online, and since I use real dice they are, by necessity, hidden. I used to roll in the open for some of my groups though. It depended on the vibe of the table.
 

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There's nothing to indicate in any of the rules that anyone, player or DM, hide rolls. As a matter of fact, some PC abilities specifically call out that you can see the roll before using an ability, but you must use it before you know what AC it hits. Since some of the rules specifically call out a player seeing the rolls, I don't see how one could logically deduce that the rolls should be hidden.

I am not saying that the game is unplayable with hidden rolls, just that rolls are not supposed to be hidden by design.
 

I never hide dice from players - but then again, I run Perception and Stealth in a non-standard way:

  • I almost always allow PCs to auto-succeed Perception checks except in surprise situations.
  • Stealth is only rolled the moment (and each time) a sneaking character could be spotted and failure has immediate consequences.
 

Hawk Diesel

Adventurer
90% of the time I roll in front of the players. This way it keeps me honest. I don't want to fudge rolls, because then why even roll? I could just say it happens the way I want it to? But there are times I do secret rolls for stuff going on in the background that the player characters aren't aware of.
 

There's nothing to indicate in any of the rules that anyone, player or DM, hide rolls.

DnD 5e DMG pg 235 "Rolling behind the screen lets you fudge the results if you want to If two critical hits in a row would kill a character, you could change the second critical hit into a normal hit, or even a miss, Dont distort die rolls too often, though, and don't let on that your doing it. Otherwise your players might think they dont face any real risks-- or worse, that you're playing favorites."

Page 237, 5E DMG "Remember that dice don't run your game - you do. Dice are like rules. They're tools to help keep the action moving."
 

pming

Adventurer
Hiya!

I would say that 97% (re: "ALMOST always") roll behind the screen. Mostly because sometimes I need to use the tension of an unknown dice roll to help set the scene and manage the games, well, tension level and pacing. When I roll behind the screen...the players don't know the result and don't know WHY I just rolled. This isn't as much of a problem with BECMI/1e/2e...where I could roll a d20 and get a 17, and the Players would STILL not know if that was good or bad, because they don't know why I rolled. With the 'codification' of 3e onward's "high is always good", that doesn't work anymore.

And when I say "need to use the tension of an unknown dice roll..." I mean that literally; they might not even know WHY I'm rolling dice. Sometimes I roll dice and flip a couple pages of notes, then say "Huh...ok...interesting". Sometimes I will preface the roll with asking some supposedly pointless question "Hey, does everyone have a cloak on...or not...?"...then I roll some dice, and say "Hmmm...ok...". Or, if a player is becoming a bit disengaged with the game, I say "Zoltan, pass me your character sheet for a second...", then I look it over, all sides...then roll a dice...hand back the sheet, and say "Ok. So, what were you guys doing again?".

Using those little "DM Tricks of the Trade" don't work NEARLY as well when you roll dice in full view of everyone using a system where "high is always good".

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

ccs

40th lv DM
Technically I roll in the open.
I haven't used a screen in 20+ years, & my dice are bright yellow with black #s. Very easy to read (& chosen for MY convenience).
Typically I roll my dice only as far as my arm can reach while seated. Now & then I'll roll near where the minis are if I'm moving things about, but not often (I'm lazy & just tell the nearest player where to move model x)

However.... Tables either 6x4 or 8x4 depending upon where we're playing, & I sit at one end of it.
So the people on my immediate L/R can see my rolls (if they care). The others? I guess it depends upon how good their eyes are & if they care. No ones ever stood up to check.
 

ccs

40th lv DM
DnD 5e DMG pg 235 "Rolling behind the screen lets you fudge the results if you want to If two critical hits in a row would kill a character, you could change the second critical hit into a normal hit, or even a miss, Dont distort die rolls too often, though, and don't let on that your doing it. Otherwise your players might think they dont face any real risks-- or worse, that you're playing favorites."

Page 237, 5E DMG "Remember that dice don't run your game - you do. Dice are like rules. They're tools to help keep the action moving."

If I weren't good with things being determined by die rolls (good/bd/otherwise) I wouldn't roll to begin with.
Once the dice are rolled though, that's the result.
 

If I weren't good with things being determined by die rolls (good/bd/otherwise) I wouldn't roll to begin with.

You're missing the point of showmanship.

Sometimes it's entirely appropriate to roll some dice, ignore the result, pretend to look something up, put a worried look on your face, and sigh while slowly shaking your head from side to side.

I'll have 'random' encounters that arent (they were planned from the beginning). The 'roll to trigger them' simply keeps the players guessing.

Other times, I'll roll some dice just to quiet table talk, and get the players focussed back on the task at hand.

Other times, it's simply to keep the players guessing -what- exactly I'm rolling for.

That's all simple showmanship and entertainment - keeping the session fun and engaging for the players. You're using the dice as as prop. It's a tool in my arsenal and I see no reason not to use it.

Im also not a fan of having PCs die for no other reason than a series of bad dice rolls. That said, quite often I'll throw the dice down in the middle of the table and let them fall where they may.

When I do that, all eyes are on the dice.

Dice are more than just random number generators, just like DMs are more than just addition machines. They're a powerful tool for engagement, enjoyment and storytelling purposes, and a DM is there to do more than just roll them to determine a number.
 

When I played IRL, I always rolled behind the screen. Started that way back in 1E, and it's just habit I guess. Been doing Roll20 for years now, and I keep attacks, saves, and most ability checks public (things like stealth and deception are hidden). I do Passive checks the way Mearls suggested, where I roll against the passive score of the players, and so I have a macro for these checks that also show the passive scores, with these checks hidden.
 

ccs

40th lv DM
You're missing the point of showmanship.

Sometimes it's entirely appropriate to roll some dice, ignore the result, pretend to look something up, put a worried look on your face, and sigh while slowly shaking your head from side to side.

I'll have 'random' encounters that arent (they were planned from the beginning). The 'roll to trigger them' simply keeps the players guessing.

Other times, I'll roll some dice just to quiet table talk, and get the players focussed back on the task at hand.

Other times, it's simply to keep the players guessing -what- exactly I'm rolling for.

That's all simple showmanship and entertainment - keeping the session fun and engaging for the players. You're using the dice as as prop. It's a tool in my arsenal and I see no reason not to use it.

Im also not a fan of having PCs die for no other reason than a series of bad dice rolls. That said, quite often I'll throw the dice down in the middle of the table and let them fall where they may.

When I do that, all eyes are on the dice.

Dice are more than just random number generators, just like DMs are more than just addition machines. They're a powerful tool for engagement, enjoyment and storytelling purposes, and a DM is there to do more than just roll them to determine a number.

I don't need to rely upon fake dice rolls to keep a game moving, interesting, or to curb table talk. And I have better things to do than pretend to look things up & mutter cryptically to myself.
Dice get rolled when the outcome is uncertain or there's some sort of risk involved. If I desire some particular outcome I'll just skip the rolling.

So you use dice your way, & I'll use them mine.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Technically I roll in the open.
I haven't used a screen in 20+ years, & my dice are bright yellow with black #s. Very easy to read (& chosen for MY convenience).
Typically I roll my dice only as far as my arm can reach while seated. Now & then I'll roll near where the minis are if I'm moving things about, but not often (I'm lazy & just tell the nearest player where to move model x)

However.... Tables either 6x4 or 8x4 depending upon where we're playing, & I sit at one end of it.
So the people on my immediate L/R can see my rolls (if they care). The others? I guess it depends upon how good their eyes are & if they care. No ones ever stood up to check.

That's largely my situation when we're playing face to face. My players are generally not too curious about what my dice say when I roll them. They're more interested in what I say the dice tell me and that means.

It doesn't stop me from occasionally choosing not to add a modifier or turn yet another crit into a normal hit if the dice are being really unlucky for the players.
 

jayoungr

Legend
Supporter
I chose "Roll in view of the players," but it actually depends on the platform.

When I'm playing in person, I roll behind the screen if I've set the screen up, which I don't always do, depending on table size and layout. But when I'm playing online, I always roll in view of the players. And lately, it's been all online.
 



iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I roll in the open because it supports a principle of DMing that I hold which is that the players should never have a reason to doubt the honesty of the DM. As a mediator between the rules and the players, in additional to being reasonably consistent with rulings, transparency when it comes to the application of rules and the results of dice helps with this. I will therefore never fudge, never roll the dice when there's no need to roll them, or engage in other such flourishes for any reason.
 


iserith

Magic Wordsmith
It's not his honesty they should never have reason to doubt. It's his commitment to being fair, reasonable, knowledgeable and entertaining.

Those two things are not the same.

If players can't see the DM's dice, there may be reason to believe the DM is fudging. A lot of people aren't okay with that. Some people are, which may be why the DMG puts rolling in the open or rolling behind a screen at the level of table rules rather than rules of the game.

A DM can be fair, reasonable, knowledgeable, and entertaining without rolling behind a screen.
 


DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
Whether I roll out in the open (when we're all at a table obviously) usually depends on whether I'm standing up at the time.

I have a low DM screen so if we're having a fight that involves minis and the grid I usually will be standing up in order to be able to reach the board. When I'm doing that, usually I'll be rolling out in the open since I'm already leaning over the screen. But if a combat is being run Theater of the Mind or it's an exploration or social pillar set of rolls (where no grid/minis are used)... then I'll usually roll behind the screen while I'm sitting down. Both of these situations are fungible however, if I feel the drama can be enhanced by going the opposite way.

I run with a set rotating crew of players that I've played with for years and they all know how I run the game. Thus there are no trust issues to determine the need to roll / not roll in the open, or fudge / not fudge the dice. I do whatever I think is in the best interest of the game and the players go with it and enjoy it.
 

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