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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8 thoughts on “Can a player cheat when the GM rolls on the table?

  1. I’m probably not your target audience as I don’t mind if the monsters are rolling high and the players are rolling low. They have the opportunity to flee and survive another day – sometimes the monsters may get the upper hand for awhile! (One thing I’ve learned is that players will get their revenge… oh yea… and it’s great fun when they do.)

    I don’t mind if players “know” the AC or other mechanics of the monster because it’s how I play the monsters combined with the random dice rolls that will determine how well they do. One thing I’ve learned to do is vary the AC by 1 above/below to reflect shield, or poor armor or some other bit. If the player is counting dice and calculating numbers, that is part of their fun. That’s not cheating in my book. Now admittedly, if you are playing editions where that might give the player the upper hand, well, so be it. If it really becomes a problem, then I’ll speak to the player separately about metagaming.

    If I’m rolling well and yet the combat is going in the players favor, then that means they are doing the right things to defeat the monsters despite the monsters’ good luck. That’s also part of the fun.

    I think it’s how you cast those unlucky rolls and what you do with them. My players accept a great level of lethality in my game, but they also know they can become slicers and dicers as well, so it goes both ways. They know I give them every opportunity to succeed or fail, as I’m ultimately a referee first.

  2. #1 Dice fudging makes it less exciting.

    It removes the randomness from the game. It might make a better “story” but that’s something else.

    #2 Isn’t cheating. If you were in combat with someone/thing you would know how tough your opponent is and how the combat is going.

    #3 Dice fudging isn’t the only way to deal with this. Straight narration is an option. So is ‘unconcious only’ at 0hp.

  3. @chgowiz my point wasn’t about so much about highs and lows and danger of death so much as about giving the dm control. I do enjoy wresting victory from the jaws of defeat, an of course I expect to miss often and take hits. What sucks is a campaign derailed due to dice.

    @Stuart thanks for that. Even though we’ve been playing 4e almost since it came out, there things that I am still grappling with how much the players should know. For instance, I was against announcing of a monster’s “minioniness” until I listened to the d&d podcast

  4. >> my point wasn’t about so much about highs and lows and danger of death so much as about giving the dm control. I do enjoy wresting victory from the jaws of defeat, an of course I expect to miss often and take hits. What sucks is a campaign derailed due to dice.

    The dice don’t take away my control, rather they free me. The dice tell stories. I can’t think of a single time that dice would derail my campaign unless my campaign was so tightly coupled that there could be no room for error. I blog alot about how the dice contribute to the game and even bad rolls don’t derail it.

    I’m curious, and this is said with real curiosity – I’m not an edition warrior and I don’t look down on people’s game – but I’m curious how dice could derail your campaign?

  5. I think if a die roll can derail a campaign, you are doing it wrong 🙂 That issue has been discussed a fair bit in relation to skill challenges and even I know you shouldn’t create elaborate campaigns based on characters going in a certain direction or a character (pc or otherwise) surviving.

    I completely agree with Stuart’s second remark. If I’m in an actual fight, I’m going to know pretty quickly whether or not a guy can throw a punch (and approximately how well). Regarding how much information to give out, I’m with you. I’m not a huge fan of the types of randomness in previous editions of D&D and I try to give you guys hints when things might be a fair bit above your pay grade but given 4e’s emphasis on balanced encounters, I sometimes have to get fairly explicit in regards to my hints.

    If it helps at all, I’ve basically decided that I’m not out to kill any PCs but, unless I made a mistake, I am not going to feel too bad about player character death. I want you guys to succeed but I also want to provide an interesting challenge as well and few things are as interesting as “real” risk.

  6. Pingback: To Fudge or Not to Fudge, That is the Question « www. Newbie DM .com

  7. @Chgowiz, one personal example that comes to mind: The intrepid mid-level party is up against a group of ogres and ogre-mages, four rounds in everyone in the party missed and the ogres did not, with a few well placed fireballs killing a player and putting in danger the prince who was supposed to save the world.

    In my defense, I ran that campaign when I was 16, and if I did the adventure again today, I would have made sure there was another way for the PCs to win other than have the prince survive to the end, and the encounter would have been more balanced.

    Interestingly an earlier session of that campaign held one of my most favorite moments. The party was fighting off a litch and with 3/5 PCs out of the fight it was left to the wizard and a ranger. For three straight turns, my die (affectionatley called “party killer” for its uncanny ability to roll 18s) failed for the litch, including on critical fumble. Whereas the mage and ranger had made their hits, and the wizard, out of spells, scored a critical hit (the only way he could make an attack) with his +2 dagger and killed the beast. All that high drama and the fact that I’m still talking about it 14 years latter was because the dice were left to fall where they may.

    So… my advice to DMs is do what they and their players are most comfortable with.

  8. >> @Chgowiz, one personal example that comes to mind: The intrepid mid-level party is up against a group of ogres and ogre-mages, four rounds in everyone in the party missed and the ogres did not, with a few well placed fireballs killing a player and putting in danger the prince who was supposed to save the world.

    Why was it bad that a player died?

    So what would have happened if the prince bought it? Dude, that’s AWESOME stuff to play with. Now the players have to figure out ANOTHER way of saving the world or surviving the cataclysm. Man, that makes me want to shove him over a ledge to just to see what will happen!

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