D&D 5E Randomness and D&D

Jaeger

That someone better
Now sure, obviously, D&D is not meant to simulate reality. But at the same time, insisting on huge margins for failure for PC's, when we have to assume this doesn't hold true for NPC's (or the world would quickly come to a crashing halt) really detracts from the "role-playing" side of the role-playing game.

This is a non issue in skill based games. I think that it is largely a matter of conflicting expectations due to the way D&D scales combat damage and HP, vs. its skill progression.


Now, many DMs might say unless there is a reason why a check would be needed: driving at high speeds, bad weather, high traffic, or whatever which might cause you to perform less than your normal levels, you shouldn't call for a check.

^This^

You do not roll unless the PC is having to perform under stress of some kind, and failure is meaningful.

Skill based RPGs make this very clear. These kind of discussions about "huge margin of failures" for PC's in "everyday tasks" never really come up...

The Phb also tell that the DM call for a roll when the outcome is uncertain. If the DM consider the action obviously a success or an impossible thing, he can skip to ask for a roll.

In my opinion; the PHB and DMG set GM's up for failure here.

Yes, roll if the outcome is uncertain, but the base DC 10 is called "easy"... GM's are being sent contradictory messages on how to set task difficulty, and when to roll.

DC 10 should be - Standard acting under stress (SNAFU) roll. The basic roll when a PC has to perform on demand, yet there are factors that can cause them to fail. Your training should be enough for you to do it, but there are factors that can cause you to screw up.

DC 15 - Difficult - Acting under stress and there are other factors that makes the task harder. Only trained professionals can reliably pull this off...

DC 20 - Hard - The situation or obstacle is exceptionally difficult. Only a trained pro has a chance at success... Or you need to get lucky.

DC 25 - Only with great difficulty. A coin flip for even the most well trained adventurers.

DC 30 - May your gods be with you...

Etc.... This is all just off of the top of my head - in reality more thought needs to be put into this kind of delineation.

In my opinion; WotC D&D has had skill systems that have always had a tacked-on feel to their class/level based game, and they do a bad job of explaining how such skill systems should work in actual play.
 
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Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
This is a non issue in skill based games. I think that it is largely a matter of conflicting expectations due to the way D&D scales combat damage and HP, vs. its skill progression.




^This^

You do not roll unless the PC is having to perform under stress of some kind, and failure is meaningful.

Skill based RPGs make this very clear. These kind of discussions about "huge margin of failures" for PC's in "everyday tasks" never really come up...



In my opinion; the PHB and DMG set GM's up for failure here.

Yes, roll if the outcome is uncertain, but the base DC 10 is called "easy"... GM's are being sent contradictory messages on how to set task difficulty, and when to roll.

DC 10 should be - Standard acting under stress (SNAFU) roll. The basic roll when a PC has to perform on demand, yet there are factors that can cause them to fail. Your training should be enough for you to do it, but there are factors that can cause you to screw up.
Great post.

I think part of the issue for a lot of folks who find the d20 too swingy is that they want D&D to be more of a reality simulator than it is presently intended to be. But the rules for D&D are not written or intended for that purpose. The rolling systems are meant to be used in dramatically appropriate moments. When the outcome is uncertain, as you say. When there are consequences for failure. This is not a mechanic intended to be used to, say, simulate a Chess Grandmaster playing against a newbie. That's not within its remit. Not part of what the design is intended to cover.

GMs calling for rolls in mundane situations for trivial tasks are simply misusing the rules.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
Great post.

I think part of the issue for a lot of folks who find the d20 too swingy is that they want D&D to be more of a reality simulator than it is presently intended to be. But the rules for D&D are not written or intended for that purpose. The rolling systems are meant to be used in dramatically appropriate moments. When the outcome is uncertain, as you say. When there are consequences for failure. This is not a mechanic intended to be used to, say, simulate a Chess Grandmaster playing against a newbie. That's not within its remit. Not part of what the design is intended to cover.

GMs calling for rolls in mundane situations for trivial tasks are simply misusing the rules.
I feel like the d20 being too swingy and there being too few ways to mitigate that is actually more pronounced when it's only coming up when there are consequences because you keep getting smacked with consequences randomly instead of based on your choices.
 

I've highlighted a couple examples:

+5 bonus vs. DC 10 "easy" task. Should someone with either vast experience or training and natural talent granting +5 bonus really have a 20% chance to fail at an "easy" task??? IMO that should a resounding "NO!!!!" It isn't even a "medium" task, it is EASY for crying out loud.

+11 bonus vs. DC 15 "medium" task. Someone whose bonus represents the maximum ability 20 and 17th level (tier 4!) experience has a 15% chance to fail at a medium task??? Ridiculous.
I consider it reasonable if there is time pressure- the walls are closing in a crush trap, unlocking the door before the guard patrol comes by, &c. +5 is obtainable at first level, so I wouldn't consider it "vast experience or training". That said, I'm in accord with you on your second example. A person of high level just blows through "medium" difficulty obstacles. That I consider more a bounded accuracy issue than that of the dice, however.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
I feel like the d20 being too swingy and there being too few ways to mitigate that is actually more pronounced when it's only coming up when there are consequences because you keep getting smacked with consequences randomly instead of based on your choices.
I don't think it's "instead of". Your choices lead to rolls. Or NO rolls if the DM judges that your plan is one where success would be functionally guaranteed. The consequences of a roll may be MORE random than a lot of us would prefer in some situations, but that's mostly a matter of degree- maybe I think my character's realistic odds of success at a given task would be 95%- maybe the mechanics make it 75%. Unless I'm a stickler I probably only care if I fail by rolling a 2-4.

Yes, the odds on quite a lot of checks are probably lower than they would "realistically" be, but as Gygax kept harping back in 1E, and has continued to be the case, the point of D&D isn't realism. It's excitement and drama. And exaggerated chances for failure allow more opportunities for drama.

If we take as a maxim "all bad consequences should be because of a choice you made, NOT a random die roll", we get into a game mode I don't think would be as appealing to most players. There's a reason I loved fantasy wargaming with tactics PLUS dice and made it a major hobby for 15 years, but chess has never held my attention.
 
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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Yes, the odds on quite a lot of checks are probably lower than they would "realistically" be, but as Gygax kept harping back in 1E, and has continued to be the case, the point of D&D isn't realism. It's excitement and drama. And exaggerated chances for failure allow more opportunities for drama.
This sounds as though you feel that in D&D the system is putting its thumb on the scale to make failure more probable, in a way similar to how some games make "partial success" the most probable outcome. I suppose I can see that, but it hasn't felt that way to me, in practice.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
This sounds as though you feel that in D&D the system is putting its thumb on the scale to make failure more probable, in a way similar to how some games make "partial success" the most probable outcome. I suppose I can see that, but it hasn't felt that way to me, in practice.
I think you're right, yes. Though I think whether it feels that way in practice often comes down to how the DM runs it. How many rolls they choose to omit/let players skip, and what DCs they set for the ones they do call for.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I think you're right, yes. Though I think whether it feels that way in practice often comes down to how the DM runs it. How many rolls they choose to omit/let players skip, and what DCs they set for the ones they do call for.
Seems reasonable and plausible. In my experience the DM in D&D has a lot more say in the frequency of failure than the GM in games that lean on "partial success." Some people will see that as good, others as bad.
 


prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Just like there's no drama when you win all the time, there's also no drama when you think the outcome of every decision is an utter crap shoot unless you're a rogue or a bard. Then it's a slightly better crap shoot.
In the 194 sessions of 5e I've run across two campaigns, I haven't found things to be total crapshoots, even in the party with neither a rogue nor a bard. Just an example of how experiences will vary.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Great post.

I think part of the issue for a lot of folks who find the d20 too swingy is that they want D&D to be more of a reality simulator than it is presently intended to be.
Odd - I'm something of a simulationist but I still want it to be swingy.
But the rules for D&D are not written or intended for that purpose. The rolling systems are meant to be used in dramatically appropriate moments. When the outcome is uncertain, as you say. When there are consequences for failure. This is not a mechanic intended to be used to, say, simulate a Chess Grandmaster playing against a newbie. That's not within its remit. Not part of what the design is intended to cover.

GMs calling for rolls in mundane situations for trivial tasks are simply misusing the rules.
This assumes the rules are perfect as written (hint: they're not). If they can't simulate a chess grandmaster playing a newbie it's well within the DM's rights to tweak the system such that they can.
 

Mannahnin

Scion of Murgen (He/Him)
This assumes the rules are perfect as written (hint: they're not). If they can't simulate a chess grandmaster playing a newbie it's well within the DM's rights to tweak the system such that they can.
Ah, no. Lanefan, are you mistaking me for Gary Gygax? :ROFLMAO:

Certainly nothing I wrote there implies that the rules are perfect. I wrote that they're not written or intended to be a reality simulator*. If you want them to be, yes, you're going to have to change and add a great deal to them.

And yes, obviously, if your game has a situation where a Chess newbie and Grandmaster are going to play for meaningful stakes and you want a chance for the newbie to win (but not as high a chance as in the default 5E rules), you'll have to tweak and expand the rules to accommodate that situation. A series of contested rolls, for example.

(*part of what makes 1E challenging to understand and run well is that Gary conflicted with himself a great deal in writing it. In most places being quite clear that it wasn't intended to be a simulator, but in other places clearly trying to, like the helmet rules).
 

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