Everyone Should Just Roll Dice All The Time

The title of this post, aside from just being a cool motto, is also the simple version of my answer to a question I saw in a Facebook group that was basically this: “How do I keep everyone at the table from wanting to roll a perception check when I ask one player to roll a perception check?” An even simpler answer to this question would be to just tell the other players that they can’t roll a check because you didn’t ask them to, but let’s extrapolate on the “roll dice all the time” answer instead.

However, before I continue with that I would also like to acknowledge the fact that I haven’t posted an update in about a month and a half. This was never really my intention, but sometimes these things happen. Due to scheduling changes and having a new baby around and a few other things I just haven’t been gaming as much and so haven’t been focused on writing about gaming as much. Hopefully after the holidays things will pick up again in the gaming department. In the meantime I’ll continue to update things here sporadically and stay active on Twitter. Moving on…

When I say that everyone should just roll dice all the time I mean just that. The catch is that often they won’t know what they are rolling for, because you won’t tell them what they are rolling for. Sometimes they will just be rolling dice because you are bored, and the result won’t mean anything, and sometimes they could even be rolling for things that the GM would normally roll for like random encounters. Plus you as the GM should be periodically rolling dice behind your screen for no reason at all.

Why? Obfuscation.

If each person at the table is rolling dice all the time then you don’t run into the problem of players thinking that their characters should know something just because someone rolled a die. This system works really well for passive checks like seeing if an elf notices a secret door or certain knowledge checks (because sometimes if you don’t know something you don’t even know that you don’t know it). If you use this technique at your table then you should let your players know that sometimes they will be rolling for things that you as the GM would normally be rolling for, like random encounters. If you are using something like passive perception, you could even have players roll the hide skill check for the monsters they may or may not passively detect (if you do this I recommend inverting the d20 roll – i.e. an 18 would be a 3 – just to reinforce the internal consistency of “rolling high is good”). Under no circumstances should you let them know that sometimes they could be rolling for nothing.

But wait! I can already hear some of you asking: “What if they roll a die and it means nothing but they roll really well, or even roll a twenty? Won’t they expect something to happen because of this result? What are you going to do now? Hmmm?” You’re absolutely right. And here is what you should do: make something up. Just make something up! Say they notice the glint of a gold coin wedged into a crack in the wall, or feel an odd draft or smell a weird smell. If your playing 5th edition D&D then pick a result from the “Something Happens” table on your DM screen, or else use some other “dungeon dressing” table to make some minor thing happen. Or don’t make anything up at all but instead use the dice roll as a pretense for revealing some interesting information about the environment or the dungeon they are in (you can tell these passages are very old, and bear the mark of dwarven masonry). And hey guess what? If there is always a chance that something minor like this could happen or be revealed whenever you have players “just rolling dice,” then in reality they aren’t ever just rolling dice – because something might happen!

So, to review: everyone should just roll dice all the time.

Happy Holidays, and Happy Gaming.

UPDATE: Check out the comment below from The Rolemaster Blog for some more great points and ideas along these same lines.

2 thoughts on “Everyone Should Just Roll Dice All The Time

  1. Most groups also have players that ‘switch off’ when their character isn’t directly involved. We used to have a fighter in the group and the player would often say something like “Wake me us when there is something to kill.”

    Asking them to make rolls can bring them back to the table, focus-wise.

    I would add that if you as GM know what the characters skill bonuses are you can reverse engineer a roll to get back to the original number even if you didn’t see the actual dice. We play on sofas scattered around a room not around a table. Once you know the characters skills rather than asking the players to roll a dice you can instead ask them to roll specific skills but ones that add to the atmosphere of the game.

    If the characters are prowling around an ancient temple asking for Arcana or Religion rolls are in keeping even if in reality they are making you wandering monster check for you or passively checking to spot a hidden door. Out in the forest then Nature or History checks work well and can make the woods feel alive.

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