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Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Dice Rolls: Are They Secret? Are They Safe?

Dennis Laffey has a post on his blog (What a Horrible Night to Have a Curse...) about keeping dice rolls a secret (or not.) I'm sure regular readers of my blog know that I agree with what he says. Except I would go even further: almost all dice rolls should be secret.

Not super secret, mind you. Some rolls you'll roll without intending to reveal the result, but if someone accidentally sees the result, it's no big deal. I'd classify monster attack rolls this way.

But most rolls should be secret. Not just because of suspense, although that's very important. But because, as I'm sure you've heard me rant before, players and play should not be focused on mechanics. Mechanics are for GMs. They aren't important.

So players get to roll their own saves, because they may already know their target number anyways and keeping the roll a secret is pointless, since it won't reveal any information. They can roll their own attacks, although I'm in the "roll high on 1d20" camp rather than telling players target numbers. They can roll for many situations, where they know what's happening and know the approximate odds, like "The narrow ledge near the waterfall is damp. If you cross it, roll a d6. On 5+ you slip."

But reaction rolls are secret. Turn undead is secret (especially the way I interpret it, since two Very Bad results on Turn Undead means the cleric has angered their god or had their faith shaken.) Monster saves are secret (they are clues to monster level.) And definitely, any search for something that might or might not be there, like secret doors or listening at a door, has to be secret.


  1. The arguments in favor of all-open seem to me to represent a different format of role-playing entirely. Closed roll seems closer to the sort of thing D&D was designed around: Letting players become immersed into the game, with a living and growing world around them. Putting all rolls in the open, and especially with the rules as well, brings with it an implication that you are using those rules as a crude physics engine for running a character through.

    The latter might have had more appeal a few decades back, but frankly, you can accomplish the same experience with a modded video game in the present day; make it an RP guild in an MMO, for the social aspect. And you know, it's probably still fun at the table-top. But as far as actually running the games? I agree with you, and with the Gygax behind the filing cabinet.

    1. I think all-open is a preferred handling method for the system mastery crowd. If players are supposed to learn all the mechanics, get "good" at them, build optimized characters, and beat the GM in a fair contest, they will become concerned with GM fairness and transparency. GM trust issues are a constant theme with that crowd.

      Since I'm not interested in that kind of play as either a GM or a player, I don't have a need for all-open rolls.

    2. I am not a fan of secret rolls, and I don't prefer system mastery. I like the honesty that comes from everybody seeing the roll. I like the challenge of having to accept the result of the roll. Most importantly, however, is that some of the most dramatic moments in my RPG life were situations where everybody at the table knew exactly what was needed on a die roll and having everybody on their feet waiting for that die to drop. The instantaneous emotional response by everybody (whether in victory or defeat) is not something that can be duplicated with secret rolls.