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

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Then I'm not sure why you brought up your personal goal in Vegas. Can you explain why it was relevant?
I can only speak and have only spoken for my goals and they are, in some ways, largely the same at the blackjack table and the D&D table - to be successful. In the case of D&D, that includes (but is not limited to) my characters achieving what I put them in the position to achieve. Avoiding the swinginess of a d20 wherever possible is my strategy for achieving that, just like certain betting strategies might be how I avoid losing more money than I win at blackjack.
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
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 adversarial My was enough to fuel my anxiety and send me running for the perceived fairness of the random number generators.
What changed?
 

coolAlias

Explorer
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 adversarial My was enough to fuel my anxiety and send me running for the perceived fairness of the random number generators.
Then there is kind of the opposite issue, where a player rolls a natural 20 on their ability check and thinks that means not only automatic success, but critical success of some sort.

PC: Rolls Wisdom (Animal Handling) check.
PC: "Natural 20 baby! That dinosaur is now my permanent follower and obeys all my commands."
DM: -.-
DM: That's not really how this works... but sure. Chompy is now your loyal follower because why the hell not.

The problem with a shared fantasy is it's all in our minds, and our minds are not necessarily imagining the same things. What one person thinks should be obviously possible or auto-success, someone else might not, because they are imagining different constraints on the situation.

In my experience, this is the most common root cause of disagreements at the table between a player and DM.
 
DM: That's not really how this works... but sure. Chompy is now your loyal follower because why the hell not.
Player characters in a campaign that I ran also had a dinosaur named Chompy that followed them around. It mostly like to wait until the wizard fell asleep and then chew on his robes.
 

BookBarbarian

Expert Long Rester
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.
This is one of the reasons I try to demonstrate fairness, consistency, and generosity early on. (I say try for a reason)

On the earliest checks in the game I'll lay out stakes before a die is rolled. For example.

"Roll a DC 13 Wisdom Survival check. If you succeed you'll be able to discern the direction the gnolls are going immediately. If you fail it will take you one hour of moving in circles to figure out their trail." So that a player hopefully knows that when I ask for a check I've thought it through.

I'll also try to rule one thing in the first session an autosuccess (even if in my heart the approach doesn't quite deserve it): "Because of your background as an outlander, you succeed at tracking the gnolls without having to make a check" to demonstrate that this is possible to players.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
What changed?
I started DMing 😆

Seriously though, getting to see the game from the other side of the screen was a revelation. At first I tried to be the DM I wished I’d had as a player, and I quickly realized that it made the game extremely boring. Everything was abstract, which made it very difficult to form any kind of narrative out of. I also found myself all too often having to fudge DCs because failure would mean killing what little momentum a scene had. So not only did the narrative not matter, neither did the mechanics. I felt like I wasn’t really running a game at all, I was just giving players the flimsiest of excuses to roll dice.

Then I started reading advice from the likes of you and Iserith (this was around the time of the 5e playtest). The Angry GM was also a big influence. I found that following this advice required a bit of a paradigm shift for me, but once I shifted gears it was a night and day change. The vast majority of my common DMing problems were caused by the way I was adjudicating actions. Now, as a player, I just describe actions and let the DM call for checks. As a result, my characters are generally very successful.
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
My theory is that the thought process is something like this:

"It's not obvious what to do next, so maybe if I do well on a skill check the DM will give me some information that will point me in the right way."
Yeah. I had a DM that used to ask us to roll “inspiration checks” for our characters to think of things.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
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.
Tend to agree with this.

Whether or not I roll the d20, it's my expectation that the "chsnces" stay the same whether it's with me calling for a check or the GM and that if at the moment of action its "automatic" then my asking for a check eont change that. I dont buy into the cause-effect reversal of somevthst if the player calls for a check then there has to be failure possible.

Now, obviously, if there are things that help the task, then its bring used and brought up likely before the check. Sometimes it may be just obvious "ladder, climb" and included in narrative.

Now, I try and instill in my players that as a DM I am not hostile or yo be feared, but them using dice and adding their scores in resolving their stated actions is part of showing them their character stats mattering. It tends to amplify slightly the chsllenge overcome feeling more when they roll and succeed more than when it's just narration "you make it to".

So, especially in their strengths I try to let them show off.

I have seen gms in the past who stopped presenting ABC once the character(s) could just go thru it - best it in their strength. That seemed to discourage it.

But, then again, my lawyers also see that I use failure as progress with setback in ways that are often adding memorable fun and story hooks - so they dont tend to fear failing a roll.
 

TwoSix

Lover of things you hate
I think one of the general reasons both players and DMs look to roll checks so often is to reinforce character building decisions. When you've spent proficiency, expertise, and a high Dex on boosting your Stealth check, most interactions become a chance to hide in a corner. :) Proficiency in Diplomacy plus a high Cha becomes "I walk up to the NPC and roll Diplomacy while saying hello."

One thing I do to combat this is to tie success very obviously and concretely to concept and proficiencies, rather than rely on roles. I explain magical concepts specifically to characters who are proficient in Arcana, no rolls required, and inform the table that "Since your character is proficient in Arcana, you know this automatically." I also don't gate any kind of environmental exposition behind Perception checks, which I've found to be a common flaw of DMs who played a lot of 3.5.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Yeah. I had a DM that used to ask us to roll “inspiration checks” for our characters to think of things.
Actually, I had something similar happen in the saltmarsh game I’m currently playing in. We killed the bandits in the basement, saw the skeletons in the room marked danger. We had not yet found any of the secret doors in the basement. (Side note, there was 0 telegraphing of the fact that there might be secret doors in the basement, apart from the DM asking us to make Perception checks when we first entered through the trapdoor, and saying nothing when we all rolled low.)

Once we had made the decision to head back to town and update Anders on our progress clearing the slavers out, the DM asked us to all make Wisdom checks. We all rolled low. She said, “Yep, you’ve thoroughly searched the house, no reason to explore any further,” to which I responded, “I mean, I didn’t forget about those stairs in the kitchen. I just figured it was a good time to check in, and we would come back in the morning.” Good thing we decided that too, cause she “let us” make Perception checks again when we returned to the basement. Not sure what would have happened if we had all failed again.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
I'm perfectly fine with letting my players ask for checks or tell me what they want to do, or anything in between. However they want to do it. I can easily interpret what their intentions are, so I'm not going to make an issue of it if they say "Can I make a Perception check" instead of "I listen intently, do I hear anything of note?"

For some people I'm sure they'll say that this "breaks the immersion"... but really, how much immersion is anyone really in when they sit around a table with a bunch of plastic figurines on it, cracking jokes, drinking soda, munching on snacks, talking out of character about stuff happening in the encounter? If someone then talks to me using "game mechanic" language, rather than flowery language... there's no noticeable change in the "immersion".

And truth be told, I actually like it when they ask to make checks, because quite frankly I often have little to nothing actually written down. Other than maybe an encounter idea or two that I could plop in whenever I thought it made sense, the area where the PCs are is empty of stuff... until I am forced to improvise something there. And what I improvise and where I improvise its location usually comes directly out of what the players ask of me based on what interests them in where they find themselves. Some other DMs might have a list of like 10 different things to find in a location and the DCs of noticing all those things already established... but I don't waste my time doing any of that. I describe the area, maybe an item of import or two... and then see where they want to go. And if that happens via a question of "Can I roll Survival to see if there are any track around here?", I'll nod and say "Sure, go ahead!". And depending on what they roll, I may or may not improvise something there that they find.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I think one of the general reasons both players and DMs look to roll checks so often is to reinforce character building decisions. When you've spent proficiency, expertise, and a high Dex on boosting your Stealth check, most interactions become a chance to hide in a corner. :) Proficiency in Diplomacy plus a high Cha becomes "I walk up to the NPC and roll Diplomacy while saying hello."
I think of skill proficiencies a bit like insurance - I paid for it in case I need it, but try not to use it. I then usually set about the sorts of things the character is good at, as determined by my character creation and advancement choices, to further optimize my chances of success. The choice in task is the thing that "reinforces character building decisions" not whether I roll associated ability checks with skill proficiencies.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
(Side note, there was 0 telegraphing of the fact that there might be secret doors in the basement, apart from the DM asking us to make Perception checks when we first entered through the trapdoor, and saying nothing when we all rolled low.)
Strikes me as the sort of approach that @TwoSix mentioned above where environmental information is gated behind an ability check. I'm certain I did that as a D&D 3.Xe DM and probably D&D 4e, but in D&D 5e it annoys me to no end to get asked to make an ability check when I haven't described what I wanted to do. It's like, man, I'm trying to avoid making those, so unless you're hitting me with a saving throw, please just stop.

Of course, I try to be understanding about this because I don't imagine most people think too deeply about this stuff and just sort of go with what they know from other games or what they learned from watching other DMs.
 

TwoSix

Lover of things you hate
I think of skill proficiencies a bit like insurance - I paid for it in case I need it, but try not to use it. I then usually set about the sorts of things the character is good at, as determined by my character creation and advancement choices, to further optimize my chances of success. The choice in task is the thing that "reinforces character building decisions" not whether I roll associated ability checks with skill proficiencies.
I agree, but it certainly helps if the DM reinforces it by specifically NOT calling for a skill check. Part of the reason I emphasize why I'm allowing auto-success due to proficiency or concept is so the players will stop trying to make checks all the time. :)
 

TwoSix

Lover of things you hate
Actually, I had something similar happen in the saltmarsh game I’m currently playing in. We killed the bandits in the basement, saw the skeletons in the room marked danger. We had not yet found any of the secret doors in the basement. (Side note, there was 0 telegraphing of the fact that there might be secret doors in the basement, apart from the DM asking us to make Perception checks when we first entered through the trapdoor, and saying nothing when we all rolled low.)
Yea, I agree that's the sort of thing I find annoying. I tend to gate those behind high DC Passive Perception checks (to reward characters who have invested in Observant/high Wis), but an actual declaration of "I look for anything that might be hiding" will just turn up the door, no check required. I'm not a huge fan of detailed exploration play, but if I'm going to do it, I want explicit interaction with the environment, not a series of checks. I find nothing more frustrating as a player than knowing that there's something there, but because I rolled a poor Perception check, I'm not allowed to act on it.
 

Bitbrain

Explorer
Reply to OP.

Long version: Because nothing is funnier than watching one of the players flub an Intimidation check with a roll of 1, only for my NPC to mess up their Insight check even worse and get a roll of -1.
And the whole thing started because the Druid had burned his last spell slot of the day, but still had an enemy on top of him, so with nothing better to do, he yelled “CRACK!”, hoping the bad guy would think the Druid was about to barbecue him with another Call Lightning and run for the hills.

Short version: because nothing is more awesome than watching two fighters (9th level Eldritch Knight and a 6th level Champion) take down a Challenge 10 home brew dragon by themselves while the Bard and Druid focus on freeing the prisoner the party was hired to rescue.

The heart of the matter: because it’s fun. At least, I find it to be so.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
I see this mostly because players are human. When someone says "Can I make a survival check to track the wolf", they are assuming there is some uncertainty, not asking for uncertainty to be added if it wasn't there.

I would hear their request as "I want to track the wolf, I'm ready to roll survival if you think it needs it, should I do it now?".

For some of the more general ones, like "I'd like to roll insight", I take that as "what are all the clues I can pick up about their mental state." In other words, I'm not just looking for one emotion. Perhaps they got angry when I mentioned one name during our conversations - that's something the character could notice but the player might not have any reason to specifically ask about.

Now, I prefer hearing what the character is doing, and we do most of that in first person. "I study Brandar as I ask the questions, looking for any eye movements or shifts of weight at my words" would indicate the same thing.

But at times I'm sure I would make others cringe if I tried to mimic my character's proficiencies where I don't share them and am more confrtable using mechanical shorthand. And at other times I'm just not thinking or tired and speak mechanics instead of in-character. It happens from me; I accept it from others.

No problems being open to communciation in multiple forms. If I need a clarification because it isn't specific enough, either in character or mechanically, I ask for clarification. "When you said you were looking at the books in the bookcase, do you examine the left or the right first?" No problems.
 

Hriston

Explorer
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.
I recently joined my first PbP game over in dndbeyond’s forums, and this seems to be the general practice over there from what I’m experiencing. So far I haven’t given in, but it’s a little frustrating because I keep getting the feeling that the DM is going to ignore my character’s actions unless I attach a roll. So far, the only roll I’ve been asked for was a Survival check to find some tracks for which I hadn’t even said I was looking.
 

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