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

Seramus

Explorer
I really don’t like rolling d20.

I think the number range is far too variable, especially when your characters are low level, and want my games to cleave to the average (with exceptional high/low results being rarer).

I also don’t like how long it takes players to count their shit. I will always use a dice rolling program when and where possible (as DM or player). I encourage my players to do the same. I recently started watching Critical Role and I absolutely cringe at how much time I have to spend listening to “6...6...4....1... that 15. No, wait. 17. Plus 1d6... is...”

I want to pull my hair out.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
No it doesn't. My effectiveness as a DM is unchanged by good players, bad players or indifferent players. If the game grinds to a halt or gets clunky due to things bad players do, that's a reflection their effectiveness as players, not mine as DM. The game was presented as effectively as I could make it and they screwed it up. Similarly, if I'm a bad DM and great players are making the game more fun and enjoyable, that is not a reflection on my skill and effectiveness, which remains unchanged. It's a reflection on their great effectiveness.
Or one could also say the DM's effectiveness could be improved by adjusting oneself to the group's preferences in which case my assertion holds in that it's in the DM's control.
 

Wiseblood

Adventurer
D20 is like the Goldilocks of dice. D4-d12 maximum roll is too common. D100 is too rare. That’s why I like it. Plus D&D means d20 and d20 means D&D to me.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
D20 is like the Goldilocks of dice. D4-d12 maximum roll is too common. D100 is too rare. That’s why I like it. Plus D&D means d20 and d20 means D&D to me.
To me, I think d20 is Goldilocks because
1 I feel like the scenes I describe and factors that create "meaningful differences" are not more accurate that 5% swings. I find need 1-2% categories for a scene that's st best "rough sketch". Its like measuring salt to the milligram in a recipe where the other ingredients are "some beef, maybe 4-6 lbs and maybe 6-8 potatoes". Its false precision. If it's less than 5% or more than 95% I move it into fiat not mechanics.

2 I want linear modifiers - so that I know +1 is 1 more time in 20 everytime I give it and not maybe a half of 1 percent or nearly 10 percent depending in where on the bell we happen to be.

3 for off the cuff odds divorced from the standards (rarely done in my game), it's easy to dial in any odds I want. Easy to figure the roll from Mirror Images without memorizing.

That's about it.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
I give. A DM can't possibly understand what a player wants to do when it's always been blatantly obvious to every DM I've ever played with. I can ask to see if an NPC is being deceitful but if they're just scared or phrasing things oddly as if hypnotized I won't pick up on it. If I look in the basement for rats I'm not going to see stabby the clown. I'm supposed to describe what a purely mental activity looks like. We don't use code or magic words or phrases but "Can I make an insight check" is not acceptable while "I study them closely, paying attention to body language and how they're speaking to see if I can pick up signs of deceit" probably would be.

Everything I just typed will be dismissed as "you just don't understand us".
Well, what did you expect?

Do you truly believe that if you were playing a game DM'd by iserith, or Charlaquin, or myself, and you looked in the basement for rats, and Stabby the Clown was standing there, we would NOT tell you about it, since you only said you were looking for rats?

If you think we wouldn't tell you about the clown, then yes you don't understand us.

But if you think we would tell you, then why did you use that example?

So I suspect that you are somewhere in the middle: your Stabby the Clown example is meant to illustrate the absurdity of what we seem to be saying, even though you probably know we don't actually play that way.

Doesn't that paradox lead you to conclude that you still don't understand our point?
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Here's a thought. Let's put things to the test with a real play example.

I'm playing in a Dungeon of the Mad Mage campaign. In the campaign we have discovered that some of the monsters (it appears to be mostly bugbears IIRC, or at least goblinoids), are infested with Intellect Devourers.

Now, I, the player, know that a Protection from Evil/Good will hedge out those monsters. I know that, but, it's very unlikely that my paladin would. That's a pretty esoteric piece of information. And, honestly, I asked the DM directly if my character would know that and he agreed with me that it was pretty unlikely, so, no.
Ooh! I like this question. Ok, so first of all, if I was the DM and you asked me this, I would tell you that I appreciate you double-checking, but I have no problem with your character knowing that if you would like him to. That said, if the idea that your character would know that breaks your suspension of disbelief, I would be happy to work with you to come up with a backstory reason your character might know it, or if you would prefer, you are welcome to decide that your character doesn’t know it.

So, now, in your game, what narration could I make to determine whether or not I knew that piece of information? How would you want your players to phrase things? In my group, I just stepped out of character, asked the DM directly and had a sidebar about it. But, I'm thinking that's not what you folks would want.

So, how can my paladin determine that Protection from Good/Evil is the way to hedge out Intellect Devourers.
Well first of all, I would be telegraphing the hobgoblins’ behavior, to indicate that they are acting very differently from normal hobgoblins. It would be perfectly reasonable, in my opinion, for your character to take their odd behavior as an indication that they might be possessed or otherwise controlled by some other consciousness, and to try casting protection from evil and good on them, or dispel magic, or remove curse, or splashing a bucket of water on them, or what ever else you might think of to try to get them to return to their senses. If you want to confirm your character’s suspicions that the hobgoblins’ behavior is an indication of external influence (which would be smart play, in my opinion) then there are all manner of ways you might try to do so. There are lots of spells that might be able to help you confirm or deny your suspicions - detect magic, detect thoughts, detect evil and good, divine sense... You could try sprinkling holy water on them if you suspect fiendish influence. You could try some sort of social interaction and try to judge their reactions. It’s ultimately up to you what tests you might want to try, I don’t have any particular “win button” in mind. But what your character thinks is going on with them and what your character does about that is 100% up to you, and that includes casting protection from evil and good. I’m never going to question why you decided to do that, nor tell you you can’t do something because your character “wouldn’t know that” or “wouldn’t think to do that.” And I would be happy to confirm all of that in an out of character sidebar if you asked.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Haha oh wow, I missed some s*** in the time that I was actually playing this game we spend so much time talking about... Gimmie a minute to catch up.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Let's get to the heart of the criticisms shall we?
Oh, good, we can finally stop beating around the bush.

1. Magic Words. You have stated, repeatedly that if the player narrates an action in a particular way, that the DM will grant automatic success for that action. And, you have repeatedly stated that this is a good thing. How is this not, by definition, magic words? How do you avoid the player simply gaming the DM and ignoring the character? These narrations are based on the DM using bonds,flaws and whatnot as well as telegraphing to the player to guide the player to making action narrations that will bypass the skill system.

I would define that as "magic words". If the player can come up with just the right phrase, the DM will ignore the game and grant success. Not only that, but, this behavior is actually encouraged.
Maybe we’re using the term “magic words” differently. To me, “Magic words” implies that there is a specific set of words or phrases the DM already has in mind that, if said, is a magic win button. It also implies that nothing but the Magic Words the DM has in mind will be successful. That is not what we do. We set the challenges, and leave it to the player to come up with solutions, which we will evaluate and narrate the results of. That’s why when you ask us directly, “what words do I have to use to be allowed to make an Insight check?” or “what action can I take to find out this monster’s weakness,” we can’t give a direct answer. Because we don’t have a specific set of words or specific action in mind (and in my opinion, it would be bad DMing form to do so, because that really would be what I’d consider “magic words”.)

But maybe thats not what you’re using the term “magic words” to mean? It seems from this comment that you’re just using it to mean that it is possible for a PC to achieve a goal without having to pass a check based on the approach they describe. And if that’s what “magic words” means to you then yeah, I guess our play style does make that possible? But I don’t see why that’s a bad thing. That’s a good thing, in my opinion. If an action a character takes doesn’t leave any room for failure, it should succeed without a check. Otherwise you’re left with a situation where the dice clearly indicate failure, but failure contradicts the narrative.

I suspect this is our first major point of divergence in taste: I prefer to begin from the narrative, and use the mechanics when necessary to determine what happens when the outcome of a narrative action is in doubt. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I suspect you prefer to start with the mechanics and form a narrative based on the outcomes the mechanics indicate. I believe these are two equally valid ways to approach the game, but I personally do not care for the latter.

Criticism: This allows the player to ignore their character sheet, forces the DM into the front and center of the game since the player must "read the DM" in order to make action declarations, rather than engaging with the fiction.
I can agree that it makes success and failure without reference to the character sheet possible, and requires the DM to play a very active role and the players to pay attention to the DM. I do not consider that to be a bad thing, and I’m not sure why anyone would. I also disagree that it discourages engaging with the fiction; on the contrary, in my experience it encourages engagement with the fiction first and foremost, rather than allowing players to disengage from the fiction in favor of engaging only with the game rules.

2. Separation of Character and Player Knowledge. By and large, most gamers see the need to at least attempt to separate character and player knowledge. We usually call it getting into character. However, this style forces the player to directly act on player knowledge - how the player interprets the DM's at the table actions - rather than interpreting the game through the lens of their character.

Criticism: How does this style avoid the bleed over between in character and out of character knowledge?
Here is our second major point of divergence in taste. I do not see any problem with the player utilizing player knowledge, at all. Perhaps you could explain to me why you think this is a bad thing? I honestly don’t see any reason to want to take player knowledge out of the equation, and in fact, I have seen a great many problems arise specifically as a result of trying to do so. Not the least of which is the problem of trying to navigate deciding what actions you need to take in-game before it is considered acceptable to act on knowledge the player undeniably has, which you illustrated quite eloquently in your question about Intellect Devourers. You solve this problem by asking the DM out of character what they want you to do. I solve this problem by not trying to separate player knowledge from character knowledge in the first place.

3. The DM has to juggle so much at the table. There is the adventure the DM is trying to run, plus the four or five players who are all interacting to various degrees, plus various other distractions. In order for this playstyle to work, the DM must communicate virtually all the information to the players as fast as possible in order for the players to actually be able to take actions that have a chance of working.

Criticism: How do you get that information into the players hands quickly enough? How do you avoid forgetting details and how do you deal with mistakes?
I dunno, skills to pay the bills, I guess? Have I ever accidentally left out an important detail because I have given myself too much to keep track of? Of course. But I learn from that mistake and I do better next time. At this point I’ve had a lot of practice and I’ve gotten pretty good at keeping track of a lot of stuff, and also at knowing my limits and not making my own job harder than I can handle (or, not too much harder, anyway. If I don’t push myself, I won’t continue to improve). That’s an important part of being a DM in my opinion.

4. Since the players must never declare direct skill or ability checks, there will be times when the player has no idea how to frame an action in order to succeed. See the Paladin vs Intellect Devourer example.

Criticism: What happens when the player is stuck? How do you keep the game moving when the players don't know how to frame their actions?
Honestly? If the player can’t think of a way to frame an action, there’s a good chance that what they are trying to accomplish would be better executed by means other than an action. This is one of the points where my style diverges from Iserith’s. Where he would have you phrase your desire to know more about a creature, or recognize a lie, as an action so that he can resolve it as per the core mechanic, I feel that is unintuitive for most players, and clunky for me, and I prefer to handle such things by way of the player’s passives. If the NPC lies to you, I’ll make a check against your passive Wisdom (Insight), and I’ll make it clear if he fails. If you want to know a particular fact about a creature, tell me what you want to know, and there’s a good chance you’ll know it. Especially if you have a relevant Proficiency. If you don’t, you’ll need to take action steps to find out, maybe by researching the creature when you have an opportunity to do so, or by trying things and seeing how it reacts.

5. ((My personal criticism)) Time. All this back and forth between players and DM's is time consuming. The DM must convey all the pertinent information before the player can make an informed action declaration. The DM must then wait for the player to frame his action declaration without referencing game mechanics. The DM must then determine if the declaration qualifies as an autosuccess or a roll is needed and then calls for a roll if necessary. Player rolls and then DM narrates. This is far more time consuming than if the player simply leverages a game mechanic. ((Again, see the Paladin vs Intellect Devourer example - it's now, as I'm writing this, been four or five posts on the subject, rather than a single check initiated by the player)) I play 3 hour sessions. I don't have time for every player action to take this much time, nor am I interested in having player actions consume this much time.

Crtiticism: This play style drags out the game and kills momentum. How do you keep pacing high?
Again, I think this is just a matter of being jozu enough. My games used to get slowed down by this, for sure. They don’t as much any more. I’m still not as fast at it as Iserith reportedly is, but my game doesn’t run noticeably slower any more than it did before I adopted this technique. I don’t think it’s any slower than most games I’ve played in under DMs that let players initiate checks any more either.

Or, conversely, it's like someone cherry picked and then gently massaged a string of quotes from the game in order to "prove" their one true way is the best way to play and then repeatedly quoted those same quotes while at the same time ignoring the fact that folks are flat out reinterpreting the rules (as in ignoring the direct quote about being able to discern lies in Insight) in order to support their own pet project.
Yo, man, I am not ignoring the direct quote about being able to discern lies in Insight. I’ve explained to you twice now that what I meant by “a successful Insight check doesn’t allow you to discern lies” was not that discerning lies isn’t a thing that is possible with Insight, but that a check doesn’t allow you to do anything, it determines whether or not the thing you did do was successful. I’m getting pretty fed up with you trying to misrepresent my comment in order to try and use it as ammo against Iserith, who by the way, agreed with the comment in question.

See, @iserith, if all you said was, "I play this way" and left it at that, no one would argue with you. It's that you keep banging the "just written in the book" drum, all the while ignoring any and all criticisms that gets you all this push back.
But people keep asking him why he runs the game the way he does. What, you want him to lie and say it’s for some reason other than that it’s the way he understands the rules in the book? You don’t have to interpret the rules the same way he does. It’s fine, you do you.

From my personal perspective, the primary reason I'm arguing with you @iserith? You want the blunt, honest truth? It's that the worst DM's I ever played with all used identical arguments that you use. Almost word for word verbatim. In every edition. The DM's whose tables were the most dysfunctional pieces of wasted time all looked EXACTLY like what you are advocating. The DM's defended their practices by nearly directly quoting you (granted, it wasn't because it tended to predate this argument by a decade or two). So, yeah, when I see someone banging this drum, and it's a drum that's been banging for decades, I really want to push back because this play style has led to nothing but failed games and so, so much wasted time.
Look, I’m sorry for whatever those DMs did to you, but we ain’t them. Have you considered the possibility that maybe those DMs were so bad, not because they used a particular approach to action resolution, but because they were bad at DMing in general? That maybe they’d have been just as bad at it if they used the action resolution style you prefer? Cause I’ve got news for you: you’re not the only one who has had terrible gaming experiences at the hands of terrible DMs. And for some of us, those DMs did use your style of resolution, and made the exact same arguments you make in support of it. But I don’t hold that against you. I know you’re not those DMs. Hell, a lot of those DMs probably aren’t those DMs any more. Most of our worst RPG experiences have a lot more to do with the fact that we were teenagers at the time than they do with what ever method of task resolution was being used.
 
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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Again, I think this is just a matter of being jozu enough. My games used to get slowed down by this, for sure. They don’t as much any more. I’m still not as fast at it as Iserith reportedly is, but my game doesn’t run noticeably slower any more than it did before I adopted this technique. I don’t think it’s any slower than most games I’ve played in under DMs that let players initiate checks any more either.
Speed in the game has almost nothing to do with adjudication process anyway. The most amount of time is saved by having everyone pay attention and being ready to act immediately when the spotlight hits them. And by act, I mean do stuff, not ask questions while you think about what to do.

Then huge time savings come from not having pointless debates between the players about courses of action. That's handled by simply accepting serious ideas and adding to them ("Yes, and...") and then moving forward quickly.

To some degree, grabbing the appropriate dice, rolling them, doing the math, determining hits and misses, and whatnot also takes up a chunk of time. Almost all of that is done electronically in my games, whether the game is in-person or online.

All of that adds up to mean we get more done in 4 hours than some groups I've seen get done in twice that time. If they ever leave the damn tavern at all.

And, what's disconcerting about typing this for the umpteeth time is that Hussar knows this because I've said these very things to him in the past. Yet he keeps raising it as an objection as if I haven't already addressed this several times. I hope at least some other folks are reading it and benefiting because it's clearly not sinking in for him.

Yo, man, I am not ignoring the direct quote about being able to discern lies in Insight. I’ve explained to you twice now that what I meant by “a successful Insight check doesn’t allow you to discern lies” was not that discerning lies isn’t a thing that is possible with Insight, but that a check doesn’t allow you to do anything, it determines whether or not the thing you did do was successful. I’m getting pretty fed up with you trying to misrepresent my comment as ammo against Iserith, who by the way, agreed with the comment in question.
It's just more conflation of actions and checks which aren't the same thing. There's a handful of people that just don't understand this fundamental concept and so anything that stems from that is similarly a mystery.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
It's just more conflation of actions and checks which aren't the same thing. There's a handful of people that just don't understand this fundamental concept and so anything that stems from that is similarly a mystery.
Which is especially strange to me, because I feel like it’s such an easy concept to understand. There’s the action - the thing your character does in the fiction, and the check - the thing you do in real life to find out if the action worked or not. Even if you allow players to initiate their own checks, the check is still a physical act of rolling a die and doing some math in the real world to find out what happened in the fictional as the result of something your character did. At that point you’re just leaving the specifics of what your character did unstated, usually until after you find out the results so you can come up with a fictional explanation for them.
 

Hussar

Legend
First of all, check out my new forum title.

Second, "I use Insight..." doesn't tell me what your character is doing, even if I know what your goal is. Without that, I don't know if an ability check is needed. See my post to Frogreaver on this matter.

If you really want to "actually use the skills on [your] character sheet," all you have to do is come up with an an approach to the goal that is likely to have an uncertain outcome and a meaningful consequence for failure. That doesn't sound like very smart play to me as I've laid out in the very first post in this thread, but that's in your control.
But, for the umpteenth time you STILL HAVEN'T GIVEN ME AN EXAMPLE OF WHAT THAT NARRATION COULD BE. It's easy enough to say, "I don't know what your character is doing" but, since I'm asking you REPEATEDLY for an example of WHAT CAN I DO? and you STILL refuse to answer, it become extremely frustrating.

So one more time, what narration can I do to determine if my paladin knows if a specific spell would affect a specific monster.

Everyone has avoided actually answering that question. Not one of you has managed in several posts now to actually answer a simple question.

Since you've determined that he doesn't know, and it wouldn't be an issue if anyone else in the party knew, I'm going to assume nobody does. In that case, go ask someone. Other people do know. Go up to a sage or a library and do research. Look for ways to get rid of intellect devourers. It's pretty easy.
No, I have not determined that. That's what happened in MY GAME. But, I'm asking you, if I'm playing in YOUR GAME, when YOU ARE DMing, and I want to know if my paladin knows a piece of information, what can I do at the table to determine that?

------

See, I think this is largely the heart of the problem here. @iserith has molded the conversation around this idea that checks can only be made when there is significant risk of failure. But, that's not all checks can be used for. Checks, particularly things that aren't really actions like knowledge checks and Insight checks, are made when no one at the table can really answer a question. They are a neutral arbiter. I don't want to simply declare that I know this. I don't want the DM to tell me what I do or do not know. I want to use the mechanics of the game to determine that. I want that as a DM and as a player because the dice are entirely neutral.

Does your character know this information? Roll the dice and let's see shall we? And then we play from there. It's no different than "Can I hit the monster with my sword?" Well, roll the dice and let's see shall we? Or, "Can I parkour up this wall?" Again, let's roll the dice and see. The DM doesn't know the answer. The player doesn't know the answer. So, let's leave it up to the dice. The dice will tell us one way or the other.

This interpretation that ability checks can only be used for one thing, and one thing only - to determine the outcome of actions with significant risks in failure - is a very limited and limiting interpretation of how dice are used in the game.
 

Hussar

Legend
/snip

But maybe thats not what you’re using the term “magic words” to mean? It seems from this comment that you’re just using it to mean that it is possible for a PC to achieve a goal without having to pass a check based on the approach they describe. And if that’s what “magic words” means to you then yeah, I guess our play style does make that possible? But I don’t see why that’s a bad thing. That’s a good thing, in my opinion. If an action a character takes doesn’t leave any room for failure, it should succeed without a check. Otherwise you’re left with a situation where the dice clearly indicate failure, but failure contradicts the narrative.
It's the fact that you are looking, and expecting, the player to come up with that narration that gives me pause. Since the DM is always on the look for the players to "describe their actions" but, when actually questioned about it in a real circumstance, I get nothing but the run around and no one can seem to actually give me an example of what would constitute a "narration".
I suspect this is our first major point of divergence in taste: I prefer to begin from the narrative, and use the mechanics when necessary to determine what happens when the outcome of a narrative action is in doubt. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I suspect you prefer to start with the mechanics and form a narrative based on the outcomes the mechanics indicate. I believe these are two equally valid ways to approach the game, but I personally do not care for the latter.


I can agree that it makes success and failure without reference to the character sheet possible, and requires the DM to play a very active role and the players to pay attention to the DM. I do not consider that to be a bad thing, and I’m not sure why anyone would. I also disagree that it discourages engaging with the fiction; on the contrary, in my experience it encourages engagement with the fiction first and foremost, rather than allowing players to disengage from the fiction in favor of engaging only with the game rules.
Fair enough. For me, I see it as simply driving the players away from the skill system entirely and into the hands of the casters since the players don't need to satisfy any requirements from the DM in order to use their spells.

/snip for brevity

Yo, man, I am not ignoring the direct quote about being able to discern lies in Insight. I’ve explained to you twice now that what I meant by “a successful Insight check doesn’t allow you to discern lies” was not that discerning lies isn’t a thing that is possible with Insight, but that a check doesn’t allow you to do anything, it determines whether or not the thing you did do was successful. I’m getting pretty fed up with you trying to misrepresent my comment in order to try and use it as ammo against Iserith, who by the way, agreed with the comment in question.
Yes, you are ignoring a direct quote from the PHB. The PHB SPECIFICALLY CALLS OUT using Insight to determine if someone is lying. It's RIGHT THERE in the book. So,, yes, you are ignoring the direct quote from the PHB and YES @iserith is still ignoring that.

Look, I’m sorry for whatever those DMs did to you, but we ain’t them. Have you considered the possibility that maybe those DMs were so bad, not because they used a particular approach to action resolution, but because they were bad at DMing in general? That maybe they’d have been just as bad at it if they used the action resolution style you prefer? Cause I’ve got news for you: you’re not the only one who has had terrible gaming experiences at the hands of terrible DMs. And for some of us, those DMs did use your style of resolution, and made the exact same arguments you make in support of it. But I don’t hold that against you. I know you’re not those DMs. Hell, a lot of those DMs probably aren’t those DMs any more. Most of our worst RPG experiences have a lot more to do with the fact that we were teenagers at the time than they do with what ever method of task resolution was being used.
Yeah, see the problem is, every time this subject comes up, you folks sound EXACTLY like those DM's. The DM's who feign obtuseness in order to "engage with the fiction", who insist that the game should be run THIS way because THAT'S WHAT THE RULES SAY. The DM's who, when actually questioned, cannot actually answer anything specific, but, instead throw up walls of bafflegab and misinterpretations in order to avoid ever actually coming out and saying anything.

If it looks like a duck and it walks like a duck...
 

Kinematics

Explorer
This reminds me of a game where I'd made a socially-oriented character. The intent was a character who was a "people person", involved in intrigue, etc. (Notably, I myself am not a people person.)

For a while I was very frustrated with the lack of traction on my character. I tried to interact with people, but nothing seemed to be happening. Was I not getting any emotional reactions to my behavior? There were no hints of behind-the-scenes plots? There are no rumors to pick up on in the marketplace?

And when I wondered about that out loud during a session where the group was airing out complaints, the GM's response was, "Well you never told me you were making an Insight check, so of course you didn't get anything."

A different GM made a similar comment about searching for hidden doors. Simply being in a room and "checking things out" wasn't enough. We had to actually say we were "searching" before we were allowed to roll, and only after the roll was the secret door revealed.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Well, what did you expect?

Do you truly believe that if you were playing a game DM'd by iserith, or Charlaquin, or myself, and you looked in the basement for rats, and Stabby the Clown was standing there, we would NOT tell you about it, since you only said you were looking for rats?

If you think we wouldn't tell you about the clown, then yes you don't understand us.

But if you think we would tell you, then why did you use that example?

So I suspect that you are somewhere in the middle: your Stabby the Clown example is meant to illustrate the absurdity of what we seem to be saying, even though you probably know we don't actually play that way.

Doesn't that paradox lead you to conclude that you still don't understand our point?
It is an exaggeration but there have been various statements that you have to specify your goal explicitly. If that's not necessary then why force people to specify an explicit goal? It just becomes "Do I see anything in the basement?" There is no stated goal, it's only implied. I don't know how to describe an approach that could change anything or meaningfully add to the game. It's the same as "Can I make a perception check?"

But don't take that example. Somehow I'm supposed to tell the DM that if I want to remember everything I know about trolls, I'm supposed to "describe what that looks like". WTF? What do you think it looks like? It looks like my PC trying to remember what they know about trolls. Goal? I'm trying to freaking remember everything I know about trolls, what other goal do I need? Why wouldn't I ask for a history check that I'm trained in, not a nature check that I'm not? I'm just reminding my DM what I'm good at.

But it's also my PC trying to remember what they know about trolls in my games. A first level PC would know exactly the same thing (trolls and fire are common knowledge and don't need a roll) whether that PC is being played by a 30 year veteran of the game or someone playing for the first time.

On the other hand let's say that troll is bloated looking, covered with bubbling, puss filled boils. The players have no clue because this is my own homebrew monster, a plague troll. They explode when they die. If they ask about weaknesses or what they eat or their habitat do I not tell them about the fact that they go boom? If I do tell them that, why ask for specifics? They aren't common knowledge. There are vague references to them in the history books. As a DM I'm not sure if they would know about it or the fact that they were last manufactured by a wizard that supposedly died 250 years ago.

Why allow that chance? Why not just hand people a piece of paper with all that info? Because I want to reward that guy playing a historian. I want him to feel like he made a good choice when he invested limited proficiency on history. Because rolling a dice is fun whether or not the die roll is low or high. If they roll low they just don't remember anything. Maybe everyone looks at them for info and he makes stuff up. Maybe he rolls high enough to beat a DC 15 and he remembers fire makes the explosion worse if applied while their conscious because it turns the explosion into a gas cloud. DC 20? Agnarok the wise devised the best tactic which was to knock them unconscious and then apply fire from a moderate distance. DC 25? They know about the wizard which gives them a clue as to what's happening. They'll figure it out eventually, but for this game everybody is cheering and patting him on the back for knowing such obscure bit of trivia.

Yes it's just random luck. But random luck modified by a choice the player made. It's also a lot of fun.


EDIT: Why not just ask for a history roll? Well, maybe someone wants to make a medicine check. As a DM I hadn't thought of that, but it would kind of make sense. The troll is obviously diseased so sure. They know it's related to a [insert made up disease here] with boils that can infect others if they "pop" so people being treated have to be handled with great care. Oh, and don't use a heated lance because it turns the puss into steam which can be inhaled. All of which I just made up on the fly because it was kind of fun to think what they might know with a medicine check.
 
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Fanaelialae

Adventurer
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?
I agree.

I've had many streaks of bad luck with the dice, to the extent that I have had numerous characters die in their first session. I generally dislike having to roll the d20 because I assume that if I can only fail on a natural 1, I'm more likely than not to roll a 1.

Back in 3e, a DM ran a high powered campaign with generous homebrew level adjustment rules. I made a Maug Bard, so I had an absurdly high strength and hp for a 1st level character. The premise was that we had all been captured by duergar slavers, but shortly after the start we escaped and reached a statue over a pool of molten rock. We had to climb down the statue (a simple DC 10 climb check) to continue. We were fairly certain that the slavers were following us, so turning back wasn't an option. I really tried my darndest to come up with a way to get down there without rolling, but we didn't have rope or much in the way of equipment (having just escaped). One by one, each of the PCs climbed down without issue, and I was getting looks from the other players that said they were getting impatient with my hesitance. I grabbed my d20 and reassured myself that with my bonus, the only way I could fail was on a nat 1. Of course, I rolled a natural 1. The DM offered me a chance to grab the statue while falling and save myself. The odds were within the realm of possibility. Nope. My character plunged straight into the fiery death pool. Since I had unusually high HP, the DM rolled the damage, even though it was a long shot. He rolled high. Instant death.

That was far from the only time that such a thing happened to one of my characters, but it was one of the most illustrative.

Admittedly, my luck has been much improved overall the past few years, but I still have an aversion to rolling dice if I can avoid it. Which is why I'll usually try to come up with a foolproof method of execution if at all possible, or try to devise safety measures to minimize risk.

This is because I always assume that Murphy's Law applies to the d20, at least when it comes to me. "If anything can go wrong it will, and usually in the worst possible way."

That said, I've known players with great or just average luck who will happily throw the bones. I feel like a lot of the time when players ask to roll a certain skill it's either for the sake of expedience or because it's a leading question - can I do X with Y (because I have a really good bonus with Y). Additionally, rolling can certainly be exciting.
 

Hriston

Explorer
This reminds me of a game where I'd made a socially-oriented character. The intent was a character who was a "people person", involved in intrigue, etc. (Notably, I myself am not a people person.)

For a while I was very frustrated with the lack of traction on my character. I tried to interact with people, but nothing seemed to be happening. Was I not getting any emotional reactions to my behavior? There were no hints of behind-the-scenes plots? There are no rumors to pick up on in the marketplace?

And when I wondered about that out loud during a session where the group was airing out complaints, the GM's response was, "Well you never told me you were making an Insight check, so of course you didn't get anything."

A different GM made a similar comment about searching for hidden doors. Simply being in a room and "checking things out" wasn't enough. We had to actually say we were "searching" before we were allowed to roll, and only after the roll was the secret door revealed.
It seems that for some DMs, “I make an X check,” is the magic word.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Maybe we’re using the term “magic words” differently. To me, “Magic words” implies that there is a specific set of words or phrases the DM already has in mind that, if said, is a magic win button. It also implies that nothing but the Magic Words the DM has in mind will be successful. That is not what we do. We set the challenges, and leave it to the player to come up with solutions, which we will evaluate and narrate the results of.
This, this, this.

I will add further that unless the player is an idiot or deliberately trying to do something horrible, they aren't going to be penalized, so the worst that will happen will be to get the roll you are asking for. Unless the task has no chance of success, in which case just asking for a roll is going to get a no as well. That means that it can only be to the benefit of the player to be specific.

That’s why when you ask us directly, “what words do I have to use to be allowed to make an Insight check?” or “what action can I take to find out this monster’s weakness,” we can’t give a direct answer. Because we don’t have a specific set of words or specific action in mind (and in my opinion, it would be bad DMing form to do so, because that really would be what I’d consider “magic words”.)
He knows that I think, but he also has DM trust issues and doesn't seem to be able to handle this sort of thing.

I can agree that it makes success and failure without reference to the character sheet possible, and requires the DM to play a very active role and the players to pay attention to the DM. I do not consider that to be a bad thing, and I’m not sure why anyone would. I also disagree that it discourages engaging with the fiction; on the contrary, in my experience it encourages engagement with the fiction first and foremost, rather than allowing players to disengage from the fiction in favor of engaging only with the game rules.
Yep.

Here is our second major point of divergence in taste. I do not see any problem with the player utilizing player knowledge, at all. Perhaps you could explain to me why you think this is a bad thing? I honestly don’t see any reason to want to take player knowledge out of the equation, and in fact, I have seen a great many problems arise specifically as a result of trying to do so. Not the least of which is the problem of trying to navigate deciding what actions you need to take in-game before it is considered acceptable to act on knowledge the player undeniably has, which you illustrated quite eloquently in your question about Intellect Devourers. You solve this problem by asking the DM out of character what they want you to do. I solve this problem by not trying to separate player knowledge from character knowledge in the first place.
Because the PC is not the player and vice versa. If the PC exists on a world with no dragons and in the middle of the campaign once somehow makes it in from elsewhere, do you really expect that the PC will know all about dragons just because you do?
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
No, I have not determined that. That's what happened in MY GAME. But, I'm asking you, if I'm playing in YOUR GAME, when YOU ARE DMing, and I want to know if my paladin knows a piece of information, what can I do at the table to determine that?
Lots of things. Point to something in your background that might give you the info. Point to a skill you have that might give you the info. Point to something that has happened in game play that might give you the info.
Even something as simple as where you're from might do it.
 

Seramus

Explorer
So one more time, what narration can I do to determine if my paladin knows if a specific spell would affect a specific monster.

Everyone has avoided actually answering that question. Not one of you has managed in several posts now to actually answer a simple
I am not @iserith, and I do not run my table the way he does. But based on previous conversations with him (which you were also present for) I believe the answer is:

None. There is no narration needed. YOU decide if your character knows something about a specific spell. There is no roll to make. Your character can know everything you know, or nothing you know, because that is up to you.

If you want to ask the party wizard because that makes you feel better as a player, you can do that. But it’s really not necessary. You know what you want to know.

What's disconcerting about typing this for the umpteeth time is that Hussar knows this because I've said these very things to him in the past.
Memory is a funny thing. I remember inviting a player in from another table, and after his first session with us he asked if we were going to do a recap. My players raised their brows, and one of them asked why we would do that. The new player said it would help everyone remember what happened last session.

Then without the slightest bit of malice or guile, one of my autistic players said “We remember what happened.” :ROFLMAO:
 
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Fanaelialae

Adventurer
Regarding the topic of "rolling an Insight check" I would normally ask for clarification. Not for approach (a trained PC may know a lot more on that topic than a socially inept player) but rather regarding the player's desired outcome.

You might be looking to see if the NPC is lying, but you might alternately be trying to read their general emotional state or determine whether they are being influenced by mind control. All of the above is also an option, though it might be a harder check. For a specific purpose, such as if the NPC is wearing their emotions on their sleeves (and the player was just looking for verification from the DM), they'd likely not even need to roll.

On the other hand, if you're trying to call for an Insight check to determine whether the NPC is really a doppelganger in disguise, I'm going to inform you that you can't really do that with Insight. Hence why clarification of intent is important.

I don't enforce declaring an action versus asking for a roll. As long as the intent is the same, I will adjudicate the request the same way regardless of how it was phrased. That might be an automatic success, automatic failure, or asking for a roll. All that said, I prefer when players phrase their requests as an action, but only for the sake of personal asthetics. As I said, it isn't something I enforce.
 

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