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5E Players: Why Do You Want to Roll a d20?

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Plenty of players will ask the DM if they can make an ability check or, in some cases, just make the check unprompted. "Can I make an Insight check to see if he's lying?" a player might ask. Or "I roll Perception - Natty 20, what do I get?" While that's not strictly speaking supported by the game's rules, it's a common enough way to play in my experience and certainly a feature of previous editions of the game. So it's easy to see where this approach comes from - either it's learned from other games and assumed to be part of D&D 5e or just part of a given group's culture, perhaps used as a shorthand.

Truly though, it doesn't seem like a good strategy to me if the group is playing by the rules. The rules state that the game is played like this: The DM describes the environment. The players describe what they want to do. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers' actions, sometimes calling for a roll when there's an uncertain outcome and a meaningful consequence for failure. This is paraphrased from PHB page 6 and 174, plus DMG page 237. Taken together, these rules tell us who gets to say what and when and the criteria by which the DM should call for a roll.

The d20 is fickle. It has a very big swing that can mean, depending on the DC the DM has established, even highly capable characters fail. This is, in part, what makes Inspiration, guidance, and resources like the diviner's portent so valuable - you get to mitigate or in some cases eliminate the swing of the d20, to hopefully prevent it from killing you and everyone you've ever loved. Because it will, given half a chance.

In the context of the rules I paraphrased above and given the reality of the d20's swing, there's nothing in there that suggests to me that players should be asking to roll or declaring that they are rolling. In fact, it's fairly easy to see the best path to success is to avoid rolling if you can. That path to success is to take reasonably specific action to remove uncertainty as to the outcome and/or the meaningful consequence for failure. Those are the criteria by which the DM decides there is a roll of some kind. If you have a particular goal in mind, how might you establish an approach that is certain to succeed through removing uncertainty as to the outcome? What can you do to take away any meaningful consequence for failure? Without one or both of those things, the DM doesn't ask you to roll a d20 and you are not subject to its mercurial nature and all the painful outcomes that may follow.

Because I often play online, I have the good fortune of joining a lot of different groups to see how they do things. One thing remains the same though - I describe what I want to do in a reasonably specific manner which takes into account the environment the DM has described and I never, ever ask to make an ability check. What I've noticed, anecdotally, is that my characters tend to be way more successful than players at the table who do ask to make checks. I've paid attention. I've given some measure of thought about how to remove uncertainty and/or the meaningful consequence of failure, and I am reasonably specific about how to do that. And, unless the DM is one who uses the "Rolling With It" method (DMG, page 236), I am often granted automatic success. Does that mean I never have to roll? No - sometimes despite my best efforts, there are elements in play over which my character has no control and so I'm going to have to roll. That's alright. This is when I hopefully can spend some resources to mitigate the swinginess of that d20 and increase my odds of success.

In a practical sense, this strategy for success means that I am paying more attention when I play which benefits the group as a whole. It also means that I'm seen as a "good roleplayer" because I'm picking up on and engaging with details in the game setting and interacting chiefly without referencing game mechanics. Now, I don't necessarily think that makes me a "good roleplayer" in the sense that most people mean it, but I'll take it if everyone else thinks it makes the game experience better. It also means that I'm getting more out of the resources my character has and, in a game that has a strong resource management component, this makes me more efficient and increases the party's ability to boldly confront deadly perils. An interesting side effect is that this efficiency also permits me to sometimes be even bolder than usual and take extreme risks when it will have the biggest dramatic impact since I have plenty of resources in reserve to get myself out of trouble. It allows me to do that One Cool Thing in the session that will be memorable.

So, that's my position on this issue. I'm interested in hearing why you want to roll a d20? Or, if you don't, do you have other reasons why you don't?
 
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Bawylie

A very OK person
Counter-point: my players have purchased multiple expensive dice sets, including metal and crazy stones, special dice rolling boxes, and some have hand-crafted leather dice-rolling cups, my daughter has a dice roller papercraft dragon sitting on a volcano - IOW they just want to play with their pretty toys.

I get that. I like minis and fiddly bits.

But to your point about murderous d20s - I agree wholeheartedly. I don’t know how many of you play tabletop blood bowl, but my god, the dice actually do seem capable of hatred. And once you experience those merciless terminators bearing down on you and your ancestors with the intent to eliminate your future, you get a lot more paranoid about leaving things to chance.

I mean, you don’t have to play blood bowl to get burned this way. That’s just my own personal tragic tale. I wonder if anyone else has one. (I had an elf wardancer fumble when picking up the ball, self-injury, and the injury table was a fatality, as was the medic roll. It was then that I realized those dice hated me and wanted me, not just to lose, but to suffer).
 

lowkey13

I'm sorry, Dave. I'm afraid I can't do that.
So, that's my position on this issue. I'm interesting in hearing why you want to roll a d20? Or, if you don't, do you have other reasons why you don't?
I think you might be discounting the psychological aspect.

To paraphrase an MLB player, "I don't get up there to rest my bat on my shoulder, I go up there to swing." Rolling the bones is a big part of the D&D experience.

(Also? Variable reward, man. Ever been to Vegas?)
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Because I want to actively participate in the game. It's just a way of communicating to the DM what I'm thinking. Because most DMs I play with don't punish people for bad rolls. For example, if I make a stealth check and roll poorly the guards may see me. But they would have seen me anyway if I hadn't tried.

If I make an insight check and roll poorly, the status quo doesn't change (in my games or with most DMs, it may at your table). The DM doesn't tell me what I think, just that I can't pick up on any hint of deception or get a read on the NPC's attitude.

Just relating how it works in 5E games I've played with multiple DMs whether or not that matches up to your philosophy of how it should be run.
 

coolAlias

Explorer
Rolling dice is fun. It's exciting. They could roll a natural 20! Or they could roll a 1.

I agree it's not the most optimal, but it can be a large part of the fun. Many a tale has been altered due to the fickleness of dice, and those are the stories that tend to be remembered and re-told years after they've passed.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Counter-point: my players have purchased multiple expensive dice sets, including metal and crazy stones, special dice rolling boxes, and some have hand-crafted leather dice-rolling cups, my daughter has a dice roller papercraft dragon sitting on a volcano - IOW they just want to play with their pretty toys.

I get that. I like minis and fiddly bits.
Rolling the bones is a big part of the D&D experience.

(Also? Variable reward, man. Ever been to Vegas?)
Been to Vegas lots. My goal is winning, so I employ the best strategy possible (to the limits of my knowledge and skill).

As for rolling the dice, sometimes that's unavoidable as I mention above. If you make an attack and the enemy is defending, you're going to roll. When the villain successfully lobs a fireball at you, you're going to roll. If there are elements of the situation that you can't control that gives your task an uncertain outcome and a meaningful consequence of failure, you're going to roll. So even with this strategy you can't avoid all dice rolling, even if you really wanted to. But, if the group is operating in the parameters the rules set forth, you'll roll a bit less and that has some big benefits in my experience.
 

Rhianni32

Explorer
because in some player's minds it removes the decision from the arbitrary whims of the GM and frames it into perspective. You roll a 20 or a 1 and it will "force" the GM into an answer that gets confirmed.

its also "forces" the GM during any begging and pleading when the players want to do something and the GM says no "Well let me just roll a d20" really means "let me see if I roll a nat 20 then you have to let me get what I want."
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
I think you might be discounting the psychological aspect.
Also, there's the GM to consider - in theory, the GM may let many things happen without a roll. Theory is a lovely tourist destination, but few actually get to live there. So, the behavior may be an adaptation to the GM.

So, before you complain of players doing this, ask yourself about what opportunities you offer without die rolls, and ask them about previous GMs who may have trained them to the behavior.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
because in some player's minds it removes the decision from the arbitrary whims of the GM and frames it into perspective. You roll a 20 or a 1 and it will "force" the GM into an answer that gets confirmed.

its also "forces" the GM during any begging and pleading when the players want to do something and the GM says no "Well let me just roll a d20" really means "let me see if I roll a nat 20 then you have to let me get what I want."
Yes! I have definitely seen DMs like this. Asking to roll effectively becomes a defense against how the DM runs the game, a way to get agency that the DM is not otherwise supporting.
 

Rhianni32

Explorer
ok my cynicism aside. Why do I personally like to roll a d20?
Because I don't always like to get my way. I want to have surprises in my plans and then to adjust to them.

The fickle d20 can bring surprises and challenges when you roll that 1 or several of them. I get the argument that a player playing the master thief should just be able to automatically be a maser thief because it fits their character and let them have fun. If that is the goal then why have rules just do some storytelling.
Note: I'm not saying this is the right or wrong way to play. If you like this then absolutely play how you want!
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
Based on my experience with play-by-post and other messageboard games, players often put a roll in their posts in an attempt to boost efficiency. They don't want the game to be held up for hours (even days) because they did something only to have a GM come back with "Make your Wisdom (Insight) check," which then necessitates another post by the player for the roll, followed by yet another for the GM's adjudication of that roll.

I've seen similar behavior at tabletop convention games as well where there is often a time limit on the event.

I did once have to tell a messageboard player in my game,"You don't really need to make a Diplomacy roll every time you talk to someone," because it was getting a bit tedious to see it. But it's not all that problematic a behavior because, even in a game in which I'm encouraged to only call for a roll when I think it's necessary, I can ignore the roll he made in favor of the adjudication I was going to make anyway if it was going to be an auto-success or auto-fail.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
I'm interested in hearing why you want to roll a d20?.....because my dice talk to me in my sleep if I don't roll them often. Rolling the dice gives Jasper nice long rest. Not rolling the nice pretty dice results in short rest with little sleep and dice telling me to ..... do not nice things.
It is by sweating palm and whimpy muscles I set the dice into motion
It is the thought of be alone with DIE four I set the dice into motion
It is the plastic of Gynax that Cheesex acquire stains, stains are a warning.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
because in some player's minds it removes the decision from the arbitrary whims of the GM and frames it into perspective. You roll a 20 or a 1 and it will "force" the GM into an answer that gets confirmed.

its also "forces" the GM during any begging and pleading when the players want to do something and the GM says no "Well let me just roll a d20" really means "let me see if I roll a nat 20 then you have to let me get what I want."
I used to feel this as a player very much. The dice were objective, and therefore safe. The DM was subjective, and therefore untrustworthy. Didn’t really matter if the DM was generous with their adjudication, the fact that the could slam me with a gotcha or otherwise rule adversarially was enough to fuel my anxiety and send me clambering for the perceived fairness of the random number generators.
 
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