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Does anyone use hidden die rolls?


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It's been a while since I've posted, but I miss those long gameplay discussions with lots of great bits of advice. So here goes:

 

I've been fiddling with the idea for a while to use hidden or secret die rolls for certain types of situations. I've never really liked having the GM do all the rolls behind a screen because it takes away, at least on the surface, from player agency (some of us remember the bad old days of D&D using this tactic). But sometimes you don't want your players to know if they've succeeded, or by how much.

 

Some examples could be: 

  • a stealth roll while trying to hide from a pursuer. Did he see you hide around the corner? Are you sure?
  • you set an explosive to go off at a certain time after you leave. Will it succeed? 
  • you want that guy at the bar to give up some information. You try to use a Persuasion roll, but did it work?
  • you're absolutely positive that you take a right at the fork in the road to get back to the rendezvous point. You roll an Intelligence check, but did you succeed, or was it a critical failure?

 

You get the idea. I want to avoid meta-gaming the rolls and to leave some doubt in the players' minds. There is a lot of potential value in these sorts of results remaining secret from the players. But how to conduct the rolls without leaving them feeling scammed?

 

My thought was to use a box, throw in the proper dice, and let the players shake it without seeing the results. They get to make their own rolls, so they don't feel cheated, but they also don't actually know the result. 

 

Has anyone done this before? Am I missing some obvious drawbacks to this approach? Are there better ways of doing it? 

 

I'd like to pull from the collective experience of everyone here. Let me know what you've tried, what's worked, and also what hasn't.

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In the world of VTT this becomes less of an issue. If you need a roll that you don't want the players to know if they succeeded at, just roll it or worst cases, mute the mic for a second and roll it. The general reason I would do this would be critical failures, which are pretty rare honestly, or if I don't want the players to know how much they need to succeed by. Most of the time the rolls in combat are all open, even outside of combat many rolls are obvious from the results although some social situations may not be as cut and dry.

 

When I did this in person I would do the same thing really, since I am prone to fiddling with dice when players are figuring out what to do that works out fine.

 

- E

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15 minutes ago, Brian Stanfield said:

Has anyone done this before?

 

I use them for several things.  First and foremost, I use them for things where the character likely wouldn't _immediately_ know the outcome:  Using your own Stealth as an example:

You peer ever-so-slightly around the corner, keeping yourself to the shadow and trusting that the light bulb behind the guard's shoulder is affecting his ability to see into the darkness on this end of the warehouse.

"Okay; I wanna slip carefully over to those crates you mentioned.  I'm going to low-creep, so I can stay in front of the dividing wall an in its shadow, and take my time, making sure I don't trigger him with too much motion or that I don't bump something noisy.  You said it was only ten feet, right?"

 

In this case, I'd have him make his Stealth roll.

 

Why?

 

Because he's going to know the results immediately, both as player and as character: should he succeed, he has effectively spent an entire Phase making a half-move.   If he fails, the guard will either challenge or move to investigate.  Either way, he can see that the guard has become alert.  If the guard challenges due to a failed roll, it's easy enough to say "he spots you as you happen to move past a break in the railing, which caused your shadows to go squirrelly, and the character still has his half-Phase to do _something_.

 

 

When would I roll it?

 

There is a pair of floating guards, along with the stationed guards.  The character (and perhaps the player, but it doesn't matter) is unaware of the floating guards but does know where the guards are stationed.  He wants to make a multi-Phase advancement through the facility with a particular destination in mind.  According to the route he announces  and the movement of the floating guards, he will pass through their perception at point P.  The floating guards have been tasked with investigating the intruder, but do not capture him unless it is necessary.  We must ascertain if he is working alone, or if there are others.  See if he meets up with anyone.

 

_I_ will make that roll.  It's not a matter of "don't trust the players;" I feel I need to state that up front.  I will allow him to continue to make his other stealth rolls (seriously: only the floating guards are aware that there is an active intruder, and have been tasked with letting him roam about while they study his activities.  Ironically, now _they_ are making Stealth rolls against the character!  :rofl:   (yes: I find pre-generated 3d6 rolls to be most helpful in non-combat situations for NPC activities).  It is simple psychology:  for even the _best_ player, it's hard to not have the character act on player knowledge.  In this instance, had the player made the roll or had I made it openly, and he _failed_ the roll...  Well, a good player-- that player we all want to be-- would have his character continue to creep his way through the facility, looking for Thing X.

 

_However_, it also makes sense for a character to think "Man, I can't believe I've been this lucky for this long!  Something's going to give.  I better just draw out my weapon, just in case.  And hey, while I'm at it, I should double-check behind me to make sure I haven't been spotted."   It might be a Phase or two _after_ the blown roll.  And it _does_ make sense; it _is_ a reasonable action.

 

But would it have happened at all if the player didn't know he had blown a roll?   I like to think it would have-- my own motto is "if I can't trust them, I won't let them sit in to begin with," but how do any of us-- not just _me_, but the player himself-- know that he would have done this otherwise?

 

So you see, it's not a matter of "don't trust the player," at least for me.  It's a matter of "don't _tempt_ the player."  Let him tell his own story the way he wants to, with as little outside influence (on the player) as possible.

 

 

So, variations on that sort of thing-- where the character would immediately know if he was successful-- I will roll.

 

I will also use hidden rolls when I want to double-check myself.  I want to be as fair and honest as I expect my players to be, and if I have any doubt about the fairness of something I am about to do-- was _I_ influenced to institute a change based on the Character's action, or is this _really_ a reasonable outcome?  if I am not sure, I will let a die roll decide.  It doesn't completely absolve me (would that situation have even had a chance to exist had the character not X ?), but if I have any question as to the reasonableness or fairness of something I am considering, hidden die roll.

 

 

 

 

 

15 minutes ago, Brian Stanfield said:

Am I missing some obvious drawbacks to this approach?

 

I also try to do no-real-purpose die rolls randomly, just so players don't go all pavlovian on me.  Remember wandering damage in D&D?  Uhm, I mean "random encounters" and "wandering monsters?"  

 

"We travel through the forest.  We will rest for an hour at noon, and prepare a meal.  Then we will continue on, and try to gain the foothills before sundown."

 

"okay, you've been traveling two hours...."  GM rolls a die behind the screen

 

"I call for an arms check!  Everyone dismount and inspect your weapons!"

 

Okay, you've been traveling for two more hours

 

We need to stretch our legs!  Everyone, dismount and run for your weapons!

 

 

 

That sort of thing. Random, pointless die rolls really help to prevent that.

 

15 minutes ago, Brian Stanfield said:

Are there better ways of doing it? 

 

 

Probably.   :lol:

 

 

 

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For some rolls, like Stealth rolls, what you really have is a skill roll contest, so the player makes a Stealth roll and the GM makes a PER roll for whomever they are trying to sneak past.  If they roll really well, they know they probably won the contest, but they are never quite sure.  Plus, I think the character would have some idea of how well they did (they can hear their own footsteps after all).

 

For rolls that need to be secret, I will sometimes roll those myself.  Mostly my players are okay with that.  But I have also had players make a bunch of rolls and write down the results ahead of time.  I will then use those rolls for whatever action they are doing that needs to be secret.  Once I use a roll, I cross it off, and then go to the next one.  I always start with a random spot in the list so they don't try to figure out if a good roll is coming up or not.  This system lets the players make all their rolls, but keeps them from knowing the exact results of any given action.

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54 minutes ago, Ockham's Spoon said:

For some rolls, like Stealth rolls, what you really have is a skill roll contest, so the player makes a Stealth roll and the GM makes a PER roll for whomever they are trying to sneak past. 

 

 

That, for me, depends on who/what they are trying to sneak past. If it is standard goons/security I usually go with the player's stealth roll. If it is someone of some importance, I'll throw the PER roll.

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I do a lot of rolls in secret.

 

I can read upside down across a table so I sort of assume everyone else can too. That means I need some sort of shield between my notes and my players.

 

It's a pain reaching around the shield to make rolls (and genuinely painful these days). So I don't unless I specifically want the players to see a particular roll. 

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Players make their rolls and the GM makes their rolls.

 

When I GM, if we have new players at the table, either new to roleplaying or new to the game system, then I usually have all rolls made on the table with each person rolling, including myself, explaining the roll and how I, or they, calculated it. 

 

If I am playing with experienced players or players that have gotten the hang of things, then I only ask the players for the results and as GM I do a lot of hidden rolls.  I run a LOT of games that have mystery/investigative themes which means that there are events/rolls that the players cannot know about if those plots are to be preserved and lead on to the big reveals.  A whodunit is not a whodunit if you read the last page first.

 

For the die rolls themselves.

 

If a player is actually cheating as in they are not making a mistake or misunderstood some game mechanic, but are actually rolling one thing and claiming another.   Then why am i bothering to play with them?  I'll be courteous,  but once you have cheated in my game, I'll never invite you back.  And if the rest of the table insists, I will just walk away from the game all together.  I've done it in the past and do not see myself changing in the future.

 

If a player distrusts me enough that they cannot trust me to roll a set of dice or run a game even evenhandedly, then they don't trust me.  Since they don't trust me, why are they in my game?  I am up front in the kind of games I run and what the intended feel and rule restrictions the game will have.  You have a choice, play or sit this one out.   If not enough players like what I have planned, I am more than glad to be a player instead.  If no one else is ready to run I have no problem building a different adventure.  

 

But an RPG game is a game not a forced participation with guards. 

You don't like the way I run, don't play.  It really isn't going to darken my world.

 

I love to create stories that allow the players to solve mysteries, resolve ancient curses and be heroic.  If you know the answer from the beginning it is not a mystery. 

I tend to use die rolls for NPC decisions, will they A or will they B.

I have loose event flow charts that incorporate some random results such as "how long until the Thieves Guild becomes aware of X?" 

These are secret rolls that can directly impact the entire game and no, I am not going to trash an entire plot line because one player had a crappy GM in the past. I have had hundreds of very crappy players in the last 30 years and I don't treat every player at my table as crap because of that. 

RPG's are game and you play or run them as a choice for entertainment. 

 

If you don't like the way I run my games, then don't play them.  I mean seriously why would anyone subject themselves to that?  Playing something they don't like. 

 

I have a friend that is a seriously good GM, but I do not play in his games and vice versa.  Why?  While we can talk for hours about gaming and have a lot of common beliefs, his games have a lot of PvP intrigue and backstabbing.  He and his players love the White Wolf betray everyone games.  I don't.  I love games that actually have good guys.  But I am straying from point.

 

Yes, as GM I frequently make hidden rolls especially if the die roll could reveal something that is hidden.  I never put in a threat of obstacle that is beyond the players abilities.  There is always a way.  I tell new players that at the beginning, there will always be a way.  Just because you cant knock it down by force doesn't mean there isn't a way around.  I also do not make people roll for every skill.   Just asking the question is enough for me to reveal a clue, especially one that the PC would know.  The player may not have that knowledge, but the PC they are playing does.

 

But a player having an issue with me making hidden die rolls in a game that I am running?  That is not my problem, it is theirs. 

If that means that particular game doesn't happen, well that is life.

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Speaking of hidden rolls, my older son ran a short Basic Fantasy Dungeon crawl. And I saw somewhere that back in the day the DM would roll the thief’s skill on the account that you would think you disabled the trap but that may not be the case.  Anyways since I was running a thief I said let’s try it this way. Well it was fun and I even survived falling in the pit trap! 😂 I called that character the bungler instead of burglar. 

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  There is also the evil GM reason for hidden die rolls. If your players start getting a little too complacent about things like sneaking into a villain base for example, nothing amps up a players real world paranoia like seeing their GM rolling dice and writing down numbers...

  A little adrenaline does wonders for keeping things moving and people focused.  Asking players to roll dice without telling them why does the job even better.  
  But keep these tactics on reserve for when it’s really needed for optimum effect.

    And yes I am a mean son of a mother.

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7 minutes ago, Tjack said:

  There is also the evil GM reason for hidden die rolls. If your players start getting a little too complacent about things like sneaking into a villain base for example, nothing amps up a players real world paranoia like seeing their GM rolling dice and writing down numbers...

  A little adrenaline does wonders for keeping things moving and people focused.  Asking players to roll dice without telling them why does the job even better.  
  But keep these tactics on reserve for when it’s really needed for optimum effect.

    And yes I am a mean son of a mother.

I use this method too!

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17 hours ago, Christopher R Taylor said:

Yes and no.  Sometimes I do, sometimes I have the rolls out in the open, depending on what the character is aware of.  Its a role-playing tool.  

What he said.

As for villain attack rolls, I always roll them in secret. Let's face it: in every gamer's life, there are days when the dice are just set against you. You blow your block roll, your attack rolls, everything. It happens. I'm not going to add to the player's misery when he's rolling lousy and I'm on a streak of fantastic rolls. I did that just this past weekend - I changed the attack dice roll of a villain (more than once) from a 'hit' to a 'miss'. I don't do the DnD killer DM stuff: "You missed? Ha! Wow, are you going to get it!"

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3 hours ago, Tjack said:

  There is also the evil GM reason for hidden die rolls. If your players start getting a little too complacent about things like sneaking into a villain base for example, nothing amps up a players real world paranoia like seeing their GM rolling dice and writing down numbers...

  A little adrenaline does wonders for keeping things moving and people focused.  Asking players to roll dice without telling them why does the job even better.  
  But keep these tactics on reserve for when it’s really needed for optimum effect.

    And yes I am a mean son of a mother.

 

Don't forget to smile and shake your head at the result.

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20 hours ago, Duke Bushido said:

When would I roll it?

 

There is a pair of floating guards, along with the stationed guards.  The character (and perhaps the player, but it doesn't matter) is unaware of the floating guards but does know where the guards are stationed.  He wants to make a multi-Phase advancement through the facility with a particular destination in mind.  According to the route he announces  and the movement of the floating guards, he will pass through their perception at point P.  The floating guards have been tasked with investigating the intruder, but do not capture him unless it is necessary.  We must ascertain if he is working alone, or if there are others.  See if he meets up with anyone.

 

_I_ will make that roll.  It's not a matter of "don't trust the players;" I feel I need to state that up front.  I will allow him to continue to make his other stealth rolls (seriously: only the floating guards are aware that there is an active intruder, and have been tasked with letting him roam about while they study his activities.  Ironically, now _they_ are making Stealth rolls against the character!  :rofl:   (yes: I find pre-generated 3d6 rolls to be most helpful in non-combat situations for NPC activities).  It is simple psychology:  for even the _best_ player, it's hard to not have the character act on player knowledge.  In this instance, had the player made the roll or had I made it openly, and he _failed_ the roll...  Well, a good player-- that player we all want to be-- would have his character continue to creep his way through the facility, looking for Thing X.

 

_However_, it also makes sense for a character to think "Man, I can't believe I've been this lucky for this long!  Something's going to give.  I better just draw out my weapon, just in case.  And hey, while I'm at it, I should double-check behind me to make sure I haven't been spotted."   It might be a Phase or two _after_ the blown roll.  And it _does_ make sense; it _is_ a reasonable action.

 

But would it have happened at all if the player didn't know he had blown a roll?   I like to think it would have-- my own motto is "if I can't trust them, I won't let them sit in to begin with," but how do any of us-- not just _me_, but the player himself-- know that he would have done this otherwise?

 

So you see, it's not a matter of "don't trust the player," at least for me.  It's a matter of "don't _tempt_ the player."  Let him tell his own story the way he wants to, with as little outside influence (on the player) as possible.

 

I'd like to attach a rider to that Bill!  This approach can also really help out the good player.  The one who might be thinking "it feels like I have been pretty lucky so far, and my character is pretty cautious - maybe he should stop and check around.  Or am I only thinking that because I rolled that 15 - my character does not know he rolled a 15."  Since the player does not know he rolled a 15, he is not forced to second-guess whether he really is playing the character, or is being influenced by metagame considerations and player knowledge.

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2 hours ago, Tech said:

What he said.

As for villain attack rolls, I always roll them in secret. Let's face it: in every gamer's life, there are days when the dice are just set against you. You blow your block roll, your attack rolls, everything. It happens. I'm not going to add to the player's misery when he's rolling lousy and I'm on a streak of fantastic rolls. I did that just this past weekend - I changed the attack dice roll of a villain (more than once) from a 'hit' to a 'miss'. I don't do the DnD killer DM stuff: "You missed? Ha! Wow, are you going to get it!"

Absolutely. 

It's hard to be heroic without close scrapes and thrilling escapes.

 

Sometimes a GM needs to make adjustments to keep the game flow exciting and fun.  What that entails is different for each game and genre.  But it is necessary.

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Thanks everyone. I didn't mean to ghost my own topic. I had to start chemotherapy again with very short notice and my time and energy has been taken up with that.

 

I always forget about the list of pre-rolled results made by the players themselves. That seems like an obvious solution to the mechanical problems I was having a hard time with. Lots of good input on when to do it as well. Thanks for the suggestions!

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45 minutes ago, massey said:

I tried using hidden rolls, but after the sixth critical hit in a row the GM started yelling at me.

I don't comprehend this one.

 

The purpose of a hidden roll is for the GM to maintain mystery and prevent the players from seeing information that the character wouldn't know.  There is no reason for a player to conceal anything from the GM.  Other players maybe.  But not the GM.

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