D&D General Should players be aware of their own high and low rolls?

CreamCloud0

One day, I hope to actually play DnD.
This is a concept that keeps resurfacing in my head every now and then, should the players be made aware or not of their own and each other’s dice rolls in certain situations? Are there certain situations that by all logic should remain a mystery to me if I actually succeeded or not but that 19 showing on my D20 all but confirms I’ve got it well in hand, that the dice tells us more about the results than by any rights they should.

TL DR; are there situations where players shouldn’t be made aware of the results of their own dice because even just knowing they rolled high or low reveals information they shouldn’t have and might affect their decision making?

Consider the classic scenario: I’m trying to bluff a guard at the gates, “we’re just a group of humble travelers seeking refuge for the night” you roll your dice and...it’s a 3, but now you know it’s a 3 you know you flubbed, The guard is turning back inside to call someone else probably, crap! Quick get the wizard to cast charm person on them!

But should you really know that the guard wasn’t fooled in that situation, and if you didn’t know you failed why did you cast charm person? How many times would people just stand there and let the results play out?

It’s metagaming, but i think it’s such a minor and commonplace form of it that we often don’t recognise it as such, We’re so accustomed to knowing all our own rolls that the idea of not knowing them seems entirely alien.

Did we fail our investigations in this office or was there just nothing to find? Did you disarm the trap with your thieves tools or is it still active? Did you correctly identify these flowers as either medicinal or poisonous? Did the rogue just succeed their death saving throw or roll a crit 1?

So should there be more situations where players aren’t clued in to their own rolls for more natural reactions? What are your thoughts?
 
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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I prefer the dice to resolve uncertainty, not to create it. I want players to know what the DCs are and the stakes for success and failure prior to the roll, so they can make informed decisions.

As for situations where the roll itself gives something away to the player, this is an opportunity for the DM to use what the rules call "progress combined with a setback" when narrating the result of the adventurer's action. They succeed in some sense, but not totally. To build on your example, the guard at the gates leans in close and says, "No humble traveler I've ever seen has a sword that nice - for 50 gp, I'll look the other way." Progress. Setback. "What do you do?"
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
When not cluing them in requires hoop-jumping, or other complications, then it doesn't serve the purpose of getting natural reactions.

This is where Passive Perception is a boon, in that it allows the GM to get a reasonable result, without alerting the player that there's any checking going on at all.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
This is a concept that keeps resurfacing in my head every now and then, should the players be made aware or not of their own and each other’s dice rolls in certain situations?
No. Anything the character wouldn't know the player shouldn't know. This is because it prevents metagaming.
But should you really know that the guard wasn’t fooled in that situation, and if you didn’t know you failed why did you cast charm person?
Exactly. Metagaming. Using out-of-character knowledge to make in-character decisions, i.e. not roleplaying.
How many times would people just stand there and let the results play out?
I've been playing and running D&D for almost 40 years. This comes up regularly and the player has chosen not to metagame exactly zero times. So, the players don't get to know the results of the rolls unless it would be obvious in-fiction to the character. Secret doors, nope. Bluff checks, nope. Searching for traps, nope. Because inevitably someone metagames. Suddenly the expert rogue who flubbed the role is mysteriously backed up and you get a dogpile of skill checks "just to be sure." It's tedious and lame.
It’s metagaming, but i think it’s such a minor and commonplace form of it that we often don’t recognise it as such, We’re so accustomed to knowing all our own rolls that the idea of not knowing them seems entirely alien.
That's an entirely recent phenomenon. It was standard practice in older editions for the referee to roll those kinds of things for the player or for there to simply not be any rolls associated with those things, like bluffing the guard. This is also why when rolls are involved in longer term things like sneaking into some place or climbing walls it became standard practice to not make a roll until the character was about half-way through whatever the task was. To avoid the player metagaming their way out of the consequences of a bad roll.
Did we fail our investigations in this office or was there just nothing to find? Did you disarm the trap with your thieves tools or is it still active? Did you correctly identify these flowers as either medicinal or poisonous? Did the rogue just succeed their death saving throw or roll a crit 1?

So should there be more situations where players aren’t clued in to their own rolls for more natural reactions? What are your thoughts?
Absolutely. It's a game, yes, but the point of the game is roleplaying a character. To do that you need to make decisions based on what the character knows, which is limited to the info the character would actually have in that situation, not what they couldn't possibly know (i.e. game stuff). If it's not part of the fiction it shouldn't be part of the decision making process for the player, therefore it's better to keep that game info away from the player so they don't metagame.
 
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DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
So should there be more situations where players aren’t clued in to their own rolls for more natural reactions? What are your thoughts?

I have used a rule which helps this a lot and maybe you can try it?

When the player rolls something like bluffing the guard, I also roll a d6. If I roll even, the roll stands. If I roll odd, I reverse the roll. I don't do this until after I describe what is happening and the players have to choose.

To use your example:

DM: (GUARD) "What are you doing here?"
Player 1: We'll try to bluff him! "We’re just a group of humble travelers seeking refuge for the night."
DM: Ok, roll your Charisma (Deception) check.
Player 1: Ahh... hmm... well, I rolled a 3, and with my +5 bonus that is just an 8.
DM: The guard turns around and starts to call out to someone in the gatehouse. What do you do?
(At this point, I roll the d6, getting a 3, meaning I reverse the 3 on the player's roll to a 18, for a total of 23! Easily a success against the DC 10 I had applied for bluffing the guard.)
Player 1: Crap! Ok, I think I failed everyone. Wizard, cast charm person quick!
Player 2 (Wizard): Alright, I cast charm person then...

With this idea, you can give additional information without directly revealing whether their roll was a success or not.

The other option I do sometimes is just have the player roll behind my DM screen so they cannot see the roll. Using passive scores is also a good compromise if everyone is comfortable with it.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
The dice represent things, right? So a high roll represents a strong attempt to persuade the guard (or whatever action). It represents the guard’s reaction and all the other cues that the character would have, but the player does not.

The GM is never going to be able to be as thorough in their descriptions to inform the player as much as the character would be informed. Mechanics such as dice rolls can help bridge that gap.

Avoiding that is a fool’s errand.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Ah, the days of "roll behind the screen", how I miss thee.

I agree with @Umbran though - this isn't a simulator, it's a game. Hiding the results doesn't really add enough to be worth the effort. Better to let players look at the results and move on.
Keeping things behind the screen adds verisimilitude and honest roleplaying by helping the players who can't help themselves to not metagame.

I'd be fine with the players knowing 100% of the rolls if they would simply move on when they fail something. It's the bit where they think they need to win everything or mysteriously double check just to be sure (but only when they flub a roll of course), stop the forward progress of the game, and roll until they succeed that causes the problem. If they didn't do that, it wouldn't be a problem. Things like let it ride, failing forward, success with costs, and various other tricks also help with this.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I have used a rule which helps this a lot and maybe you can try it?

When the player rolls something like bluffing the guard, I also roll a d6. If I roll even, the roll stands. If I roll odd, I reverse the roll. I don't do this until after I describe what is happening and the players have to choose.

To use your example:

DM: (GUARD) "What are you doing here?"
Player 1: We'll try to bluff him! "We’re just a group of humble travelers seeking refuge for the night."
DM: Ok, roll your Charisma (Deception) check.
Player 1: Ahh... hmm... well, I rolled a 3, and with my +5 bonus that is just an 8.
DM: The guard turns around and starts to call out to someone in the gatehouse. What do you do?
(At this point, I roll the d6, getting a 3, meaning I reverse the 3 on the player's roll to a 18, for a total of 23! Easily a success against the DC 10 I had applied for bluffing the guard.)
Player 1: Crap! Ok, I think I failed everyone. Wizard, cast charm person quick!
Player 2 (Wizard): Alright, I cast charm person then...

With this idea, you can give additional information without directly revealing whether their roll was a success or not.

The other option I do sometimes is just have the player roll behind my DM screen so they cannot see the roll. Using passive scores is also a good compromise if everyone is comfortable with it.
Seems like it would be way easier to not change their result and keep the roll behind the screen. However upset the player might be because they don't get to see their result I imagine they'd get even more upset if you flip the result they saw behind the screen.
 

DND_Reborn

The High Aldwin
Seems like it would be way easier to not change their result and keep the roll behind the screen. However upset the player might be because they don't get to see their result I imagine they'd get even more upset if you flip the result they saw behind the screen.
Both work and I let the player choose. But I only do this if I feel they are metagaming the results before hand...
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Keeping things behind the screen adds verisimilitude and honest roleplaying by helping the players who can't help themselves to not metagame.
"Metagaming" isn't a terribly reliable way to play since a player's assumptions about what will happen may not be correct. So, in my view, it's self-correcting since it's generally more optimal to rely on what's going on in the fictional setting than fall back on what you know of the rules or the like.

As I tell my players, "metagame" all you want, but understand that you could very well be wrong and it's smart play to verify your assumptions through in-game actions before acting on them. Then it's up to them. The added benefit is I don't have to do anything at all to prevent it such as taking the dice from the players or what have you since I don't care at all about it occurring, and players do it at their characters' peril.

Setting aside my concern about "metagaming" was probably one of the best things I've ever done when it comes to DMing and playing.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I prefer the dice to resolve uncertainty, not to create it. I want players to know what the DCs are and the stakes for success and failure prior to the roll, so they can make informed decisions.

As for situations where the roll itself gives something away to the player, this is an opportunity for the DM to use what the rules call "progress combined with a setback" when narrating the result of the adventurer's action. They succeed in some sense, but not totally. To build on your example, the guard at the gates leans in close and says, "No humble traveler I've ever seen has a sword that nice - for 50 gp, I'll look the other way." Progress. Setback. "What do you do?"
This. I think the player should always know the difficulty and the stakes before going into a roll, and they should always know if they succeeded or failed. This has several benefits: first, it allows players to act with confidence, which helps curtail waffling. Second, it can help a DM who may instinctively want to call for a roll simply because an action has been declared to stop and think through what the difficulty and stakes of the action are - if you can’t think of what to tell the player will happen on a failure, or if you think the DC should be really low, it’s probably not worth calling for a roll at all. Thirdly, it helps eliminate mismatched expectations - when a player thinks something is going to be easy and/or have low stakes but the DM thinks it’s going to be more difficult and/or have higher stakes, simply stating the difficulty and stakes out loud can avoid unpleasant surprises. This also feeds back into the first benefit, allowing players to act more confidently without fear of secret “gotchas.”

Usually the counter-argument is that “the player shouldn’t know things the character couldn’t know,” and to folks who care about such things, I say, stating the DC and consequences represents the character’s ability to assess a difficult task and make a prediction about their own capability of succeeding at it. That’s something the character should be able to do to a reasonable degree of accuracy, and DM description alone can easily fail to convey that information. Granted, it should also be possible for the character to make an incorrect assessment, and that is one of the factors that is covered by the random nature of the die roll. And, the player seeing the result of their roll represents the character’s after-the-fact assessment of their own performance, again something the character should know. An argument can be made that there are some edge cases where a character shouldn’t be able to make an accurate assessment of their performance. I think such cases should be few and far between, so it may be acceptable to roll secretly in such cases, but I still think the benefits of keeping that information in the open significantly outweigh the drawbacks. If for some reason I felt it was really important that the roll be kept secret, I would use a passive check, as advised in the PHB. But I struggle to imagine a scenario where I would feel that was necessary.
 
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beancounter

(I/Me/Mine)
No, not always. The example that comes up frequently in our games is finding traps. The layer will roll, but the DM will not reveal the DC, so if the DM says " you don't find any traps" the player doesn't know for sure if it's because there are no traps, or if he failed the roll. Otherwise that would be meta.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
"Metagaming" isn't a terribly reliable way to play since a player's assumptions about what will happen may not be correct. So, in my view, it's self-correcting since it's generally more optimal to rely on what's going on in the fictional setting than fall back on what you know of the rules or the like.

As I tell my players, "metagame" all you want, but understand that you could very well be wrong and it's smart play to verify your assumptions through in-game actions before acting on them. Then it's up to them. The added benefit is I don't have to do anything at all to prevent it such as taking the dice from the players or what have you since I don't care at all about it occurring, and players do it at their characters' peril.

Setting aside my concern about "metagaming" was probably one of the best things I've ever done when it comes to DMing and playing.
While this applies to some metagaming, it doesn’t apply to all. You’re talking about things like assuming weaknesses of monsters, I’m talking about making or changing decisions based on die rolls. Like calling over an extra set of eyes to search for a secret door only because of a flubbed roll. I homebrew and reskin most of my monsters so players can’t metagame that. I roll behind the screen for the players in certain cases because they apparently can’t stop themselves from metagaming. Your approach works for one but not the other.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
While this applies to some metagaming, it doesn’t apply to all. You’re talking about things like assuming weaknesses of monsters, I’m talking about making or changing decisions based on die rolls. Like calling over an extra set of eyes to search for a secret door only because of a flubbed roll. I homebrew and reskin most of my monsters so players can’t metagame that. I roll behind the screen for the players in certain cases because they apparently can’t stop themselves from metagaming. Your approach works for one but not the other.
In the case of secret doors or situations similar to what you describe, that's not a problem in my games because if someone else wants to search, they're free to do so, just like they were free to do so from the jump. They don't need any particular reason to decide to do it, and it's none of my business why a player wants to have their character do a thing. I'm just there to adjudicate and narrate the result. However, it takes another 10 minutes, which means we're that much closer to a wandering monster check or the doom clock running out. Again, as I mention above, it's the player's risk to take or resource to spend.

And if I'm not running a classic dungeon crawl like that where time matters a lot, then it goes right back to "progress combined with a setback." You find the secret door with a failed check, but [complication]. "What do you do now?"
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
No, not always. The example that comes up frequently in our games is finding traps. The layer will roll, but the DM will not reveal the DC, so if the DM says " you don't find any traps" the player doesn't know for sure if it's because there are no traps, or if he failed the roll. Otherwise that would be meta.
This is a common go-to example, but in my experience it doesn’t actually come up. If a player is actively searching for traps in my game, they almost certainly already know there’s a trap to find. This is because I telegraph the presence of traps because I want players to interact with them. Of course, sometimes the players won’t pick up on the telegraphs, in which case they won’t likely think to check for traps, and will have passive perception to fall back on.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
This. I think the player should always know the difficulty and the stakes before going into a roll, and they should always know if they succeeded or failed.
I couldn't disagree more. It's not possible for the character to know those things so there's no reason for the player to know those things. Unless they're obvious in the fiction. You want to swing across a bottomless pit on a makeshift rope swing, you clearly know what the stakes are. You're prowling around an unknown location, you couldn't possibly know what's lurking there. You can guess it might be guards, sure. But you don't know. There's no certainty. And there shouldn't be any. For me one of the goals is getting the game out from between the player and their character. Not centering the game.
This has several benefits: first, it allows players to act with confidence, which helps curtail waffling.
So it removes the realism and verisimilitude of uncertainty. That's not a benefit. The characters should be uncertain.
Second, it can help a DM who may instinctively want to call for a roll simply because an action has been declared to stop and think through what the difficulty and stakes of the action are - if you can’t think of what to tell the player will happen on a failure, or if you think the DC should be really low, it’s probably not worth calling for a roll at all.
I agree with the not calling for too many rolls, and not bothering with low DC rolls, but as the characters cannot possibly know the stakes with certainty, the players shouldn't either to prevent metagaming and so they're roleplaying more authentically.
Thirdly, it helps eliminate mismatched expectations - when a player thinks something is going to be easy and/or have low stakes but the DM thinks it’s going to be more difficult and/or have higher stakes, simply stating the difficulty and stakes out loud can avoid unpleasant surprises. This also feeds back into the first benefit, allowing players to act more confidently without fear of secret “gotchas.”
In some cases that's great and I'd agree. You need to be on the same page for a lot of things. If the player didn't hear you say it's a fancy, obviously magical lock or misheard that there's a thousand-foot drop off...then that's worth pausing and making sure everyone knows what's going on before any rolls or consequences are presented. But doing that all the time utterly obliterates all those moments where there's no way the character could know something. It's not worth giving that up.
Usually the counter-argument is that “the player shouldn’t know things the character couldn’t know,” and to folks who care about such things, I say, stating the DC and consequences represents the character’s ability to assess a difficult task and make a prediction about their own capability of succeeding at it.
The trouble is the character isn't perfect but you're providing the player with perfect information. The player will inevitable act on that perfect information in game, i.e. metagame. That's bad.
That’s something the character should be able to do to a reasonable degree of accuracy
That phrase is doing all the lifting. And again, a reasonable degree of accuracy is not perfect knowledge. "The DC is between 10 and 16" is a reasonable degree of accuracy "The DC is 15" is perfect knowledge.
and DM description alone can easily fail to convey that information.
Of course. That's why you do the best you can in describing things and everyone gives each other slack and mulligans on things that should be obvious.
Granted, it should also be possible for the character to make an incorrect assessment, and that is one of the factors that is covered by the random nature of the die roll.
That's not how it works. The incorrect assessment is the DC not being accurate. The character's attempt is the random roll.
And, the player seeing the result of their roll represents the character’s after-the-fact assessment of their own performance, again something the character should know.
Again, no. The character cannot possibly know the result of some of their actions. Finding secret doors, for example. They have no way of knowing if they missed something or if there's nothing there to find. That distinction is obliterated if you do things your way.
An argument can be made that there are some edge cases where a character shouldn’t be able to make an accurate assessment of their performance.
Not edge cases, standard things in D&D...like sneaking and searching for secret doors.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
This is a common go-to example, but in my experience it doesn’t actually come up. If a player is actively searching for traps in my game, they almost certainly already know there’s a trap to find. This is because I telegraph the presence of traps because I want players to interact with them. Of course, sometimes the players won’t pick up on the telegraphs, in which case they won’t likely think to check for traps, and will have passive perception to fall back on.
Yes, and this is similar to the secret door example I mention in my last post. Sure, go ahead and look for traps some more. That seems like a prudent thing to do. It'll be another 10 minutes. Can you afford that time?
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Yes, and this is similar to the secret door example I mention in my last post. Sure, go ahead and look for traps some more. That seems like a prudent thing to do. It'll be another 10 minutes. Can you afford that time?
Unless there's an actual ticking clock and the players care about that ticking clock, yes they can. There's effectively infinite food, water, light, and other resources for PCs so those will almost never be an issue. Depending on how you read the resting rules and combat, getting attacked while trying to rest effectively doesn't matter. Then there's things like Leomund's Tiny Hut, the genie lock's vessel, etc so getting a long rest is guaranteed. So none of those things matter. Leomund's Tiny Hut is a ritual so even if you're not taking a long rest, if the referee is enforcing the one long rest per 24 hours thing, the PCs can simply sit in their indestructible bunker and wait. So time is irrelevant unless the referee pushes time as a limited resource, and then only if the players actually care. In my experience, they'd rather let the entire world die in fire than go into a single easy fight with less than full power.
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
Ah, the days of "roll behind the screen", how I miss thee.

I agree with @Umbran though - this isn't a simulator, it's a game. Hiding the results doesn't really add enough to be worth the effort. Better to let players look at the results and move on.
I agree. Back during 1e I tried hiding the results and rolling the rolls myself. It turned out to be both more of a pain in the rear for me and less satisfactory for the players. I quickly dropped those ideas and haven't looked back.
 

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