D&D 5E Randomness and D&D

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Something Reynard said got me to thinking. When I first started playing D&D, random chance was king. What ability scores did you roll? Did you get a 17 instead of a 16? These things could make a world of difference when determining what you could play, and how effective you would be.

If your DM rolled treasure randomly, a humble treasure chest could pay out in potions of healing or a longsword +3; the original "loot boxes", if you will.

Even some magic items and spells were slot machines; what did I get from my Bag of Beans? What card did I draw from the Deck of Many Things? Did my Prismatic Spray nuke the dungeon boss, or was it a colorful dud? Even the basic game mechanics, did I hit? How much damage did I do? Did I make my save?

Often, it proved that it was better to be lucky than good.

Over time though, D&D campaigns evolved to have ongoing plotlines and became much more than the Rogue-like and Diablo-esque games that it inspired. Some groups began to shun randomness, because it could turn an enjoyable story into a total disaster. Not only did some players reject pure randomness, but even some games did (I'll shill Amber Diceless Roleplaying here as an example).

I often see people who desire more randomness and less at loggerheads about what they feel is "fun". The arguments about monster critical hits a few months ago touched up on this, with a majority of voices seeming to feel that the game would suffer immensely if there wasn't a constant (if low level) threat of being instantly knocked down by a powerful monster's lucky hit.

5e, from the very beginning, however, catered to a "less random" approach to the game. Monsters were presented with average damage totals to speed play. Players could opt to not roll hit dice, instead taking a set amount of hit points on level up. Even rolling for ability scores has changed; while still the first option presented, most groups seem to have switched to point buy, and, of course, ever since the year 2000, the difference between a 16 and a 17 has become largely academic. You no longer need certain ability scores to qualify for a class (even though you are still rewarded in other ways for higher ability scores), with the notable exception of multiclassing.

Feats no longer have ability score requirements (though some armor and weapons do demand a certain amount of Strength to use, but at the same time, you can build a perfectly viable character without a high Strength just as well).

A lot of debates have occurred not just on whether or not D&D should be random at all, but to what extent it should be random. How likely should players succeed at die rolls, for example. Many of the complaints about the game's math really come down to "it's too random" vs. "it's not random enough".

So how do you feel about this? How much randomness do you want in a game? Do you hate it when a named, powerful NPC goes down due to a lucky crit or a flubbed save? Do you groan with dismay if a Wild Magic Sorcerer sits down at your table?

Or do you feel that the game has become too predictable, and want even more chaos, like exploding dice or more d% tables to roll on?

How do you feel WotC will move the game in the future, towards one extreme or another?
 

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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Given that the core goal of 5e's math was to not have bonuses outstrip the d20--features like Expertise notwithstanding--it'd seem reasonable to expect them not to get much less random. The averages in the books are mostly for ease and convenience, they don't seem like a philosophical thesis statement or anything.
 

TerraDave

5ever, or until 2024
D&D was all about non-monetary randomized rewards long before Silicon Valley.

There was been a shift from strategic randomness--something that carries across sessions--to tactical randomness, and yes the latter has also been tapped down a bit.

But you can roll. For ability scores, for treasure, for encounters, for a random dungeon room. Its all still there, and people still do it.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
First off, great post! Loved it! Two thumbs up! (y)(y)
So how do you feel about this? How much randomness do you want in a game? Do you hate it when a named, powerful NPC goes down due to a lucky crit or a flubbed save? Do you groan with dismay if a Wild Magic Sorcerer sits down at your table?
First, the d20 is too swingy. IMO I think skill should trump randomness, so using something non-linear like 2d10 (even for attacks) would be better.

Keeping the current bonuses in the game, I would even prefer a 2d8 or 2d6 system, so bonuses count for more. Being +11 on a d20 is great, but you can still suck--and frankly if you are +11, you shouldn't really ever suck.

Proficiency bonus should trump ability modifiers by at least x2. My ideal (if you want to keep the total around +11) would be proficiency ranging from +2 to +8 and ability modifiers capping at +4 instead of +5.

I don't mind when luck comes into play at all, even against my big boss that I love, but there is so much variability in a d20 that often your bonuses are immaterial.

Or do you feel that the game has become too predictable, and want even more chaos, like exploding dice or more d% tables to roll on?
5E is very predictable IME. With my new group, I basically told them if they roll 15 or better on the d20, assume they succeed. On 9 or lower, assume they fail. From 10-14 we'll check the actual numbers...

Now, our group has been using critical damage instead of critical hits for months now and everyone loves it! It is so much more exciting! Just this last Saturday I had a bladesinger score 25 points of damage with her WHIP, with NO magic! It was awesome, like over 1 in 1000 chance of happening. Such things are way more memorable when they happen than just rolling a 20...

How do you feel WotC will move the game in the future, towards one extreme or another?
They will probably move even more towards predictability. Hitting is roughly 65% in most cases. You might as well just roll a d6 and assume you hit, succeed, whatever on 3-6.

You could easily re-write 5E with this concept. Identify whether your PC is good, fair, or poor at something:

If you are good, you succeed on 3-6.
If you are fair, you succeed on 4-6.
If you are poor, you succeed on 5-6.

Done.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Often, it proved that it was better to be lucky than good.
Well, that's how the real world works, so why not?

I often see people who desire more randomness and less at loggerheads about what they feel is "fun".
I'm definitely in the randomness is fun category. That's one of the main reasons why I enjoy gaming, to see what happens. I want to be surprised by the dice and the outcomes. If everything is preplanned, it's boring.
The arguments about monster critical hits a few months ago touched up on this, with a majority of voices seeming to feel that the game would suffer immensely if there wasn't a constant (if low level) threat of being instantly knocked down by a powerful monster's lucky hit.
Sure. 5E PCs are already effectively immune to setbacks and death. Removing monster crits would just be another nail in that coffin.
Many of the complaints about the game's math really come down to "it's too random" vs. "it's not random enough".
If it's not meant to be random, why have dice?
So how do you feel about this?
Randomness is awesome.
How much randomness do you want in a game?
More than 5E, a little less than AD&D. Save or die kinda sucks.
Do you hate it when a named, powerful NPC goes down due to a lucky crit or a flubbed save?
Not at all. It makes the game more gamelike and more interesting. That's what the random rolls are there for. Otherwise the referee can just decide how many rounds the fight lasts. That's not fun, that's lame.
Do you groan with dismay if a Wild Magic Sorcerer sits down at your table?
Nope, I squeal with joy. Wild magic sorcerer and wild magic barbarian. The more randomness the better.
Or do you feel that the game has become too predictable, and want even more chaos, like exploding dice or more d% tables to roll on?
More chaos. I hope they do a chaos cleric in 5.5.
How do you feel WotC will move the game in the future, towards one extreme or another?
Definitely towards less randomness. They've already done just about everything they can to reduce randomness and failure. Piled every kind of skip it or I win button on PCs they can. Kinda surprised there's still death in the game.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Well, that's how the real world works, so why not?
Luck is a key factor, certainly, but I would like noted that "luck takes many forms".

There is a book I love which demonstrates how random things like when you were born can increase your changes of becoming a professional athlete.

"Timing" is probably the most common "luck" factor that attributes to success in many endeavors.
 

Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
I think the notion of smoothing the rough edges so we can have a good “story” is a struggle for me to accept.

I am old fashioned in the sense that I want achievement to be earned. Not all characters should have a 20 level story arc. More importantly, how can I tell the world how to react to my choices?

I think the possible loss of crits and other factors “hey, no fair! His character is better than mine!” Taps into something I cannot feel good about or identify with.

But here is the dirty secret: if you played 1st edition very long, I am betting your dm did some fudging but did not want you to know!

Gygax would have let you die for poor choices “let the dice fall where they may” but I also think he would have smoothed things out if a random encounter took the party down. The first half of that is in the dmg if I recall and the latter I gleaned elsewhere.

But I do think the trend is one of avoiding bad things, adversity, inefficiencies, the suboptimal. Floating ASIs are an example too.

I think newer generations do indeed prefer more control and less danger. This is no less true of some of us longer term players were only in love with the idea of danger and ignorance of our DMs help.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Something Reynard said got me to thinking. When I first started playing D&D, random chance was king. What ability scores did you roll? Did you get a 17 instead of a 16? These things could make a world of difference when determining what you could play, and how effective you would be.

If your DM rolled treasure randomly, a humble treasure chest could pay out in potions of healing or a longsword +3; the original "loot boxes", if you will.

Even some magic items and spells were slot machines; what did I get from my Bag of Beans? What card did I draw from the Deck of Many Things? Did my Prismatic Spray nuke the dungeon boss, or was it a colorful dud? Even the basic game mechanics, did I hit? How much damage did I do? Did I make my save?

Often, it proved that it was better to be lucky than good.
That's just the way I both like the game and want it to be.
5e, from the very beginning, however, catered to a "less random" approach to the game. Monsters were presented with average damage totals to speed play. Players could opt to not roll hit dice, instead taking a set amount of hit points on level up.
Didn't those things come in with 4e?
So how do you feel about this? How much randomness do you want in a game? Do you hate it when a named, powerful NPC goes down due to a lucky crit or a flubbed save? Do you groan with dismay if a Wild Magic Sorcerer sits down at your table?
In sequence: sad, lots, no, and no.
Or do you feel that the game has become too predictable, and want even more chaos, like exploding dice or more d% tables to roll on?
With 4e-5e, it's yes and yes to these. As a corollary, it also seems to have lost some of the sense of whimsy and silliness that ran through 0e-1e.
How do you feel WotC will move the game in the future, towards one extreme or another?
If history is any guide, they'll probably listen to the players complaining the game is too hard and nerf it even further via reducing randomness. The risk there, however, is if they make the game too easy the main player base will quickly become bored with it and move on.

Which means nerfing it is the exact opposite of what they should do.
 

bloodtide

Adventurer
Old School D&D was all about the Randomness. The whole point of the game was ANYTHING could happen at random. This made the Classic D&D game unique. In a way unlike anything else. Roll some dice, anything could happen.

The problem comes with Storytelling. Randomness will ruin a story in just one roll of some dice. Way too many GMs and players don't like that and don't want that in a game. Even if they rolled it, they would just change it.....they don't want the special character to die. And if you just change rolls you don't like....why bother rolling at all?
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Old School D&D was all about the Randomness. The whole point of the game was ANYTHING could happen at random. This made the Classic D&D game unique. In a way unlike anything else. Roll some dice, anything could happen.

The problem comes with Storytelling. Randomness will ruin a story in just one roll of some dice. Way too many GMs and players don't like that and don't want that in a game. Even if they rolled it, they would just change it.....they don't want the special character to die. And if you just change rolls you don't like....why bother rolling at all?
Exactly. Randomness and story don’t mix. If you want a story, you can’t have random rolls. One has to go. I’ll keep story in novels where they belong and keep the random rolls in RPGs where they belong.
 




prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
That’s the trick and how my group rolls.

The game happenings become the story and the dice affect the game.
You might have like backstory worked out--what happened to get to here, and why and how--before you start rolling the dice. That can work fine. Trying to fit random results to a story you already have written, though ... that trick never works.
 

Warpiglet-7

Cry havoc! And let slip the pigs of war!
You might have like backstory worked out--what happened to get to here, and why and how--before you start rolling the dice. That can work fine. Trying to fit random results to a story you already have written, though ... that trick never works.
Correct.
 



prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Most of the people here, however, are.
The people here that I see referring to story that way are almost always trying to run their table through one published adventure or another. Published adventures are their own error state, IMO.
 
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