Can a player cheat when the GM rolls on the table?

I’m going to pre-empt my already written post for today to respond to a thread that came up on twitter with @newbiedm (blog), @chattydm (blog), and my intrepid DM, @sarahdarkmagic (blog).  They all seem to be in favor of the GM rolling combat dice in front of the screen, which is not my style.  When I was a very young GM I liked rolling behind the screen to allow for fudging rolls, usually to keep my players alive but also sometimes to punish them when I felt my monsters weren’t doing enough damage.  As a more experienced GM, I remained in favor of behind the screen rolls in order to guard against the whim of the die unfairly killing a player. It’s tough when a player rolls low five turns in a row and the monster rolls high every time.  Fudging rolls is a tool in the GM toolbox to control the pace of a combat.  Despite not yet GMing 4e, I can see from the other side of the table that fudging is not as necessary.  There is less chance of unintentional out-of-balance encounters; players have a lot more powers and more ways around different types of defenses, and more hit points.

newbiedm tweeted this great rebuttal:

I’d rather “guide” the story through narration than by fudging. If I smell a TPK, I’ll narrate them out of it, rather than lie about a roll.

He backed it up by suggesting removing monsters or adding allies; and I’m sure we can think of lots of ways to do this that aren’t obnoxious or deus ex machina.  As a nominally story-driven player, this is exactly how I’d want the GM to think.  But that’s why I still think rolling behind the screen allows for story to have more weight than random chance.  I do want to state without any confusion: I don’t mind when the DM does roll in front the screen.  It’s just not my personal style.

However, as player I also don’t like when the DM rolls in front of the screen.

  1. I’d like for him/her to have the option of fudging the rolls to keep things exciting and well paced.
  2. I’m too tempted to “cheat.”  As professional somewhat-math-guy I can can figure out that if the DM rolls a 12 and asks if a 20 hits my AC, the monster has a +8 to hit. Furthermore, I can guess that since the monster attacked me with a long sword (+3 proficiency bonus), that his “strength + 1/2 level” is 5, which means he has at least a 15 Fort defense. 

    With this knowledge I can choose powers and position my character on the battlefield accordingly to where I think he’ll be most effective, which is not necessarily in character.When the wargamer part of my brain takes over the roleplayer part of my brain, my character that should be afraid of a big-ogre looking thing with a rusty, bloody sword instead stomps right up to ogre.  All because I’ve inferred the odds.  This is no fault of the GM, I should be well-trained enough at this point to ignore that kind of stuff.  My character should act in accordance with the information presented to him instead of the information available to me, the player.  It’s difficult to do late at night with the gamedrenaline pumping.

    [as an aside, Fear the Boot episode 167 deal with RPing in combat, and I’ll get around to posting about that]

  3. If I see the GM rolling really well and yet the combat is going suspiciously in our favor, even if the monster starts making some real bone-headed mistakes or a robot centaur swoops in and save us, it feels like a failure. It feels as if we just weren’t good enough, even if it was because the dice were not in our favor. I am in the camp of “failed combats shouldn’t necessarily means everyone dies” and that failure leads to interesting and fun RPing: i.e. getting out of a sticky situation. But when that failure was just because of unlucky rolls instead of bad decisions, it somehow feels shallow.

What do you think? Especially you other players out there? Should the DM be rolling in front of or behind the screen?

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Playing a Psion

I’m going to start this new blog by violating the golden rule of rpg blogging– talking about my character. Well, actually about my character’s class: the Psion. I decided to retire my Revenant Invoker in exchange for a character much more suited to the adventure and to The Party. My main constraint in choosing a character was keeping Controller role, while choosing a class that fit with combat style of the rest of the party. The problem with the Invoker was that most of his powers wound up either damaging his allies, which was  dangerous to a party without any high-hp Defenders. Also most of the powers pushed allies and enemies into less than optimal positions. I used the DDI tools to scroll through all the Controllers and settled on the preview PHB3 Psion based on the fact that its powers are as precise as any post-season baseball pitcher.

The nice thing about 4th edition is that each character now has a wide array of special powers, making one more class with a unique set of powers not feel as out of place as they have in the past. PHB2 already had a number of powers with the Psychic keyword, and “psychic” works in 4e just like any other keyword such as “fire” or “radiant.” One problem in 3/3.5 was that the standard array of items and powers did not help protect players from psychic attacks. Here psychic attacks are like any other attack against Fort or Will, so they fit in nicely with the feel of the rest of 4e and our established campaign. The big difference between the Psion and previous characters is that instead of encounter powers, the Psion is has a number of augment points to spend on beefing up his at-will powers. I think the system works pretty well and provides for flexibility in choosing powers I think a nice at-the-table touch would be to use physical counters to represent the the power points.

Playing a Psion will provide lots of topics for future posts as I figure out how to fit in him in a traditional fantasy world.

Retooling this blog

Previously, I didn’t have a purpose for this blog other than to rant about various Wizard’s activities.  I always meant to turn out sage advice for DMs in the same way so many of the blogs I respect. Unfortunately for those plans my next chance to master the dungeon keeps moving further and further away, taking with it ability to test my advice and theories. So… instead I’m going to write advice for players, as a player. Since my DM keeps abreast of all the major blogs on DMing, I can use this as rebuttal, counterpoint, or thumbs up to how all that new advice and theory stacks up against the player perspective.