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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

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
1) It is not necessarily true that the GM's role is of "impartial arbiter between the rules and the players." That's one playstyle choice. Please let us leave room for other playstyles in the discussion.

That's the role the DMG defines (pg. 5) and is as a result one of my DMing principles as outlined in my second post in this thread. Stating what the DMG says and saying what I do is in no way shutting out discussion for other "playstyles."

The DMG doesn't say impartial arbiter though it says mediator...

Pg. 5 - "Dungeons & Dragons isn't a head-to-head competition, but it needs someone who is impartial yet involved in the game to guarantee that everyone at the table plays by the rules. As the player who creates the game world and adventures that take place within it, the DM is a natural fit to take on the referee role.

As a referee, the DM acts as a mediator between the rules and the players."

And now I'm pondering the choice of mediator. Can you have a mediator without two feuding parties (the rules and players) in this case? That seems odd.

In any case, it feels like page 5 should be read in light of what precedes it:

Pg. 4 - "And as a referee, the DM interprets the rules and decides when to abide by them and when to change them."

and, given a choice in how it is read, a reading which does not contradict what comes later would be preferred. In particular page 235 separates player and DM die rolling, and as others note allows fudging.
 

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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
The DMG doesn't say impartial arbiter though it says mediator...

Pg. 5 - "Dungeons & Dragons isn't a head-to-head competition, but it needs someone who is impartial yet involved in the game to guarantee that everyone at the table plays by the rules. As the player who creates the game world and adventures that take place within it, the DM is a natural fit to take on the referee role.

As a referee, the DM acts as a mediator between the rules and the players."

And now I'm pondering the choice of mediator. Can you have a mediator without two feuding parties (the rules and players) in this case? That seems odd.

In any case, it feels like page 5 should be read in light of what precedes it:

Pg. 4 - "And as a referee, the DM interprets the rules and decides when to abide by them and when to change them."

and, given a choice in how it is read, a reading which does not contradict what comes later would be preferred. In particular page 235 separates player and DM die rolling, and as others note allows fudging.

I addressed this already upthread. The DMG lists rolling behind a screen or not as a table rule. I choose the latter.

As well, arbiter and mediator are synonyms, but you are correct that it says "mediator."
 

Cadence

Legend
Supporter
As well, arbiter and mediator are synonyms, but you are correct that it says "mediator."

I thought so too, and it might be in this context, but the slight difference just had me pondering.

"The main difference between arbitration and mediation is that in arbitration the arbitrator hears evidence and makes a decision. ... In mediation, the process is a negotiation with the assistance of a neutral third party. The parties do not reach a resolution unless all sides agree."

I would fully believe the authors didn't choose one over the other for any particular reason.
 


Monayuris

Adventurer
IME, truly great DM's use the dice as a tool. Bad ones let the dice dictate the reality.

I don't necessarily agree with this.

Sometimes when you let the dice dictate the reality, you end up with situations and results that are unexpected. Sometimes they are bad... the whole party dies due to a string of bad rolls. Sometimes they are good, the orcs you encounter are friendly and aid you in your mission.

What makes a good DM is how they deal with the results of the dice to drive the game forward. Interpreting the results of the dice to create an exciting narrative takes as much skill (if not more) than conforming play to a predefined outcome.

Sometimes a TPK is good for the campaign. Let it happen.
 

I don't necessarily agree with this.

Sometimes when you let the dice dictate the reality, you end up with situations and results that are unexpected. Sometimes they are bad... the whole party dies due to a string of bad rolls. Sometimes they are good, the orcs you encounter are friendly and aid you in your mission.

What makes a good DM is how they deal with the results of the dice to drive the game forward. Interpreting the results of the dice to create an exciting narrative takes as much skill (if not more) than conforming play to a predefined outcome.

Sometimes a TPK is good for the campaign. Let it happen.

There is always a time for that I agree. Like I said above, sometimes I'll toss those dice down on the middle of the table for all to see. There has to be risk (or at least the perception of risk).

It's picking and choosing your moments that is the key.
 

I roll almost everything out in the open, because I have nothing to hide, and I want my players to see that I play fair, so they can learn from my fine example. :p

I also want my players to share in the joy and horror of their DM rolling crits and fumbles. I find it helps build suspense as well as provide entertainment.

I'm also in favor of letting the dice fall where they may. There have to be stakes after all. Let them dread the dice.
 

cmad1977

Hero
Playing on roll 20 i asked if my players wanted public or private rolls. Seems that my players like seeing when they get crit. Or seeing the DC and total damage of Finger of Death...
“DC: 17??! 62 DAMAGE??!”
Rolls 18 on his con save...
Group: “ooooooooohhhhhhhhh!!!!”
 

Zaukrie

New Publisher
I always roll the opposite of my current DM, in secret. For me, I'm more interested in the players having fun (even dying can be fun) than the dice rolls deciding everything.
 

The advantage of letting the dice decide, is that a DM can be surprised as well. Plus, as a DM you still get a say when dice rolls are needed, so it's not like you abandon all control. If a monster rolls a crit on an already dying player-character, so be it. I like not knowing it in advance, so both my players and myself are equally shocked and surprised when it happens.
 

Rhenny

Adventurer
Most games/campaigns I roll in the open, but once in a while my players say they like hidden rolls so I’ll switch. I do whatever the players prefer.
 

Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
Question to the tables who do all open rolling...

How do you handle the metaknowledge a player gains by knowing if they rolled high or low for a skill?

For example...there is a HUGE difference in feel at the table when Sarah rolls a 17 with a +5 perception and announces a 22 followed by the GM saying "You don't notice anything out of the ordinary" and the GM rolling for Sarah behind the screen and announcing the very same thing.

I like to GM roll some things like this for just this reason....and it allows me to change up the verbiage to suit the situation.

You are certain there isn't a trap.
You are fairly sure there isn't anything in the casket.
You don't hear anything odd.
You think you may have heard footsteps, but they might have been yours.
You are certain there isn't a trap (when there is!).
 

When playing face-to-face, I roll in the open.

While all games are online only, both I and my players are effectively rolling in secret. Not because of a desire to obfuscate, but just because of the setup. (Incidentally, pretty much all of us are still using physical dice despite the remote play.)
 

Question to the tables who do all open rolling...

How do you handle the metaknowledge a player gains by knowing if they rolled high or low for a skill?

Same way I handle the metaknowledge gained from them having read the books, having played for years, or having listened in to a conversation their character wasn't there to hear - I trust my players to play in good faith, and beyond that I don't worry about it. If they get the occasional benefit from that, it's not a huge deal - there's always another monster out there to balance the scales. :)
 

Question to the tables who do all open rolling...

How do you handle the metaknowledge a player gains by knowing if they rolled high or low for a skill?

For example...there is a HUGE difference in feel at the table when Sarah rolls a 17 with a +5 perception and announces a 22 followed by the GM saying "You don't notice anything out of the ordinary" and the GM rolling for Sarah behind the screen and announcing the very same thing.

This is the classic example of knowing that a trap is there, because the GM asked for a perception check. The obvious solution to this is to not ask for a perception check, unless the player declares an action first. When the players enter a corridor that contains a trap, I'll foreshadow the trap first with the description of the corridor. This is the most important part. Something may seem off to them, such as unusual drag marks on the floor, or a blood stain on the wall. This will prompt the players to be suspicious, but they don't yet know of what. It might be a trap, but it doesn't have to be. They will need to investigate to find out. It motivates the players and their characters to take an action to find whatever is there. As they declare an action to search the walls and floors, that is when I call for a perception check.

The foreshadowing is very important. It means that players never have to search every corridor they go through, because I always give them a clue when something is amiss.

Now, if they roll low, they still don't know that they missed a trap. They just know that they failed to find whatever might be there, based on my description. But they would get the same outcome if the GM rolled instead, because it would be the same description of the situation either way. The players don't have to pretend that the corridor is safe just because they didn't find anything. I already gave both the players and their characters enough reason to suspect danger and they are allowed to act on it. Meta knowledge thus becomes a none-issue.

I don't give my players false information when they fail their roll. If they are looking for a trap, and don't roll high enough, I tell them that they were unable to find anything. I don't tell them there is no trap, because there is, but they simply were unable to find it.
 
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Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
This is the classic example of knowing that a trap is there, because the GM asked for a perception check. The obvious solution to this is to not ask for a perception check, unless the player declares an action first. When the players enter a corridor that contains a trap, I'll foreshadow the trap first with the description of the corridor. This is the most important part. Something may seem off to them, such as unusual drag marks on the floor, or a blood stain on the wall. This will prompt the players to be suspicious, but they don't yet know of what. It might be a trap, but it doesn't have to be. They will need to investigate to find out. It motivates the players and their characters to take an action to find whatever is there. As they declare an action to search the walls and floors, that is when I call for a perception check.

The foreshadowing is very important. It means that players never have to search every corridor they go through, because I always give them a clue when something is amiss.

Now, if they roll low, they still don't know that they missed a trap. They just know that they failed to find whatever might be there, based on my description. But they would get the same outcome if the GM rolled instead, because it would be the same description of the situation either way. The players don't have to pretend that the corridor is safe just because they didn't find anything. I already gave both the players and their characters enough reason to suspect danger and they are allowed to act on it. Meta knowledge thus becomes a none-issue.

I don't give my players false information when they fail their roll. If they are looking for a trap, and don't roll high enough, I tell them that they were unable to find anything. I don't tell them there is no trap, because there is, but they simply were unable to find it.
Your setup isn't any different than how I do it. When we get to the part of the game where players are actively making perception rolls (versus me using their passive perception scores) they already have a reason to be suspicious.

The meta knowledge comes when the player knows they rolled a 3 when they searched a door for a trap. Maybe a great player will then roleplay that correctly and play as if they assume the door is safe, but in my experience that's when players start doing things "just in case" that they normally wouldn't do if the roll had been a 17.

For my table, a secret roll and appropriate descriptions lends to anymore natural reaction by the players.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Question to the tables who do all open rolling...

How do you handle the metaknowledge a player gains by knowing if they rolled high or low for a skill?

For example...there is a HUGE difference in feel at the table when Sarah rolls a 17 with a +5 perception and announces a 22 followed by the GM saying "You don't notice anything out of the ordinary" and the GM rolling for Sarah behind the screen and announcing the very same thing.

I like to GM roll some things like this for just this reason....and it allows me to change up the verbiage to suit the situation.

You are certain there isn't a trap.
You are fairly sure there isn't anything in the casket.
You don't hear anything odd.
You think you may have heard footsteps, but they might have been yours.
You are certain there isn't a trap (when there is!).

First, the DM should only call for an ability check when the task (goal and approach) described by the player has an uncertain outcome and a meaningful consequence for failure. If those two conditions do not exist, then there is no roll.

If the check succeeds, the goal is achieved. For example, "There is a trap on the door. What do you do?"

If the check fails, the rules provide two ways to narrate the result of a failed check: The task fails. Or the task succeeds but with a setback. For any failed check wherein there might be a disconnect between the number on the die and what the DM says, if the DM instead narrates the result as progress combined with a setback, then there is no issue. For example, "There is a trap on the door and your efforts have set it in motion. What do you do?"
 

nevin

Explorer
My job is to keep the narrative flowing. I make mistakes just like anyone else. If I do and my rolls are hidden I can "miss, reduce damage or even fumble if necessary" to keep from wiping my party or having to do a reset. I'll also be honest I sometimes fudge rolls to make the game more fun for players having bad luck. Only a very few players can have fun when random luck completely turns on them. The Narrative and Fun trump the dice
 

The meta knowledge comes when the player knows they rolled a 3 when they searched a door for a trap. Maybe a great player will then roleplay that correctly and play as if they assume the door is safe, but in my experience that's when players start doing things "just in case" that they normally wouldn't do if the roll had been a 17.

For my table, a secret roll and appropriate descriptions lends to anymore natural reaction by the players.

There is no "correct way to roleplay it". The player failed to find something, but the corridor is still as suspicious as before they started searching it. I did foreshadow the threat after all. I don't tell my players the corridor is safe, when it obviously is not. I tell them that they couldn't find a trap and that's it. How they act upon that knowledge is entirely up to them. They could proceed, or they could avoid the corridor. Both are valid choices.

My job is to keep the narrative flowing. I make mistakes just like anyone else. If I do and my rolls are hidden I can "miss, reduce damage or even fumble if necessary" to keep from wiping my party or having to do a reset.

Why would you want to keep a party from wiping?
 

nevin

Explorer
This is the classic example of knowing that a trap is there, because the GM asked for a perception check. The obvious solution to this is to not ask for a perception check, unless the player declares an action first. When the players enter a corridor that contains a trap, I'll foreshadow the trap first with the description of the corridor. This is the most important part. Something may seem off to them, such as unusual drag marks on the floor, or a blood stain on the wall. This will prompt the players to be suspicious, but they don't yet know of what. It might be a trap, but it doesn't have to be. They will need to investigate to find out. It motivates the players and their characters to take an action to find whatever is there. As they declare an action to search the walls and floors, that is when I call for a perception check.

The foreshadowing is very important. It means that players never have to search every corridor they go through, because I always give them a clue when something is amiss.

Now, if they roll low, they still don't know that they missed a trap. They just know that they failed to find whatever might be there, based on my description. But they would get the same outcome if the GM rolled instead, because it would be the same description of the situation either way. The players don't have to pretend that the corridor is safe just because they didn't find anything. I already gave both the players and their characters enough reason to suspect danger and they are allowed to act on it. Meta knowledge thus becomes a none-issue.

I don't give my players false information when they fail their roll. If they are looking for a trap, and don't roll high enough, I tell them that they were unable to find anything. I don't tell them there is no trap, because there is, but they simply were unable to find it.
In the few very high level games I've run I've occasionally thrown in traps that can't be detected unless someone decides to use a ring of xray vision or something. I set the activation parameters and if they trigger it they trigger it. While you'll get some grumbling it is kind've fun after playing at that level for awhile to shock the party with a surprise trap. I had one party completely unravel on me. It took them the entire game session to get thier groove back. So much fun...

perception rolls are a pain for one reason. If you roll them all the time to keep the players numb to you asking them then it bogs the game down. If you only ask when something is going on event the best players are going to meta game at least a little and look for more than they intended. I've flirted with rolling my players perceptions myself unless they specifically say they are looking for something, I've just never pulled the trigger because I'm not sure about it.
 

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