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rpg diceI played the original Advanced D&D for several years while in high school, but abandoned tabletop D&D years ago when I graduated. With the release of Fifth Edition D&D, I decided to buy the Starter Set and try it out with my family. My two younger children love it. My wife tolerates playing. My oldest only wants to play with his friends, not his family. (Teenagers.)

So, I thought I would post ruminations on our gaming sessions, and this first one is going to be about using dice. When running a game, I follow two basic rules for dice rolls:

  1. Always make the players roll dice.
  2. Never tell players the target score.

Dice rolls lend an air of mystery and uncertainty to the game. Any time the players attempt to do anything, you should tell them to roll a die—even if you have already determined the outcome or there's no choice of outcomes. To help keep the players guessing, you should never, or rarely, tell them the target score.

For example, the players choose to search the room for trap doors. There are no trap doors in the room, but, instead of telling them, “You find nothing,” make them roll a die. Don't tell them the target score (which is completely irrelevant, since there's nothing to find). Then, after the roll, you have three possible outcomes:

  1. The player rolls a natural 1, in which case you can invent some catastrophe, such as, “You don't find a trap door, but your probing causes the rotten floorboards to give way, leaving one leg stuck hip-deep in the floor."
  2. The player rolls a natural 20, in which case you can say, “Your careful search reveals that not only is there no trap door, but the construction is so tight, you couldn't even slide a feather between any planks. Truly a remarkable achievement.”
  3. The player rolls anything else, in which case you say, “You find nothing.”

The effect of this on the players is to always keep them guessing. They will frequently try multiple times with multiple characters, vainly searching for something they just KNOW is there, even when it isn't. Keeping your players guessing means they never quite trust you as DM, which means you have even more control over their actions. They will respond positively to even a minor suggestion, since they think you're finally giving in and letting them in on your secrets.

Of course, the one “downside” to this is you must have something for the natural 1 or natural 20 rolls. This will lead you to want to avoid die rolls for pivotal story points, but this should be the time you get the most creative.

For example, the players are questioning an NPC that has important information. As DM, you absolutely must have this information passed to the players. The inclination is to just have the NPC open up and talk. But you can still make this interesting for the players.

  1. A roll of 2 – 19 results in the NPC talking, just as you intended.
  2. A roll of 20 results in the NPC gushing over the players, frequently interrupting himself to compliment the players, or constantly asking to go along, and otherwise annoying the players.
  3. A roll of 1 has the NPC grudgingly giving out the information only under repeated questioning with the most charming of the players. Force the player to properly role-play the wheedling necessary to draw knowledge out of the NPC.

Over on YouTube, LindyBeige has another interesting take on dice rolls and how they affect the world. I may try to incorporate some of that into my games as well.

(Dice image courtesy of WikiMedia.)