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Ancient History
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 29, 2017 1:36 pm    Post subject: Secret Rolls Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

A game design question for a change...

It is very common in many RPGs to have "secret rolls," that is, the gamemaster rolls the dice behind the screen, and only informs the PCs of the result. This is usually the case when the nature of the roll would tip off something to the players about their situation - they failed a Spot or Listen check, for example, so they know there's probably ninjas or something nearby.

Do people like this, or not like this? What are the alternatives?
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hogarth
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 29, 2017 2:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I've played in play-by-email games where the GM does all the rolling. I thought it was fine (rolling dice doesn't give me a gigantic boner and it does allow the GM to preserve a little mystery on some matters), but it's certainly more work for the GM.

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spongeknight
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 29, 2017 4:03 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

GMs who roll everything behind their screen are almost certainly cheating all the time. We have an "open roll policy" at our table, where everything always has to be visible to everyone else. It works out fine. Sure, after a few rolls players can determine how good the monster is at saves/attacks/whatever, but their characters should be picking up that information at about the same time so it actually works out advantageously. The only real reason for a GM to roll in secret is to "fudge" dice. Calling for a spot check that everyone fails could mean a hundred different things, and players are indeed capable of having their characters keep going and not using out of character knowledge to set up for a fight.
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Chamomile
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 29, 2017 5:38 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

If your players gear up for a fight after failing a spot check, your problem is with your players.
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Zaranthan
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 29, 2017 6:09 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

If you only call for Spot checks to notice an ambush, your problem is your encounter design.
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Harshax
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 29, 2017 6:21 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

spongeknight wrote:
Sure, after a few rolls players can determine how good the monster is at saves/attacks/whatever, but their characters should be picking up that information at about the same time so it actually works out advantageously.


This. There is just not enough good advice about what to keep secret. It would be great if it made sense to have class abilities that required the MC to roll attacks in public when engaging the fighter, Will saves when resisting the wizard's spells and spot checks when the rogue is looking for secret doors or ambushes. Such rules helps the MC convey the right information to players as well as focus attention on the real secrets like plot.


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Wiseman
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 29, 2017 6:53 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Things like spot, listen and sense motive make the most sense to keep hidden. Not much reason for anything else.
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shlominus
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 29, 2017 11:12 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

do people like this? most people i know do, as it usually adds a bit of suspense. was it just a wandering monster check? are we being ambushed? did we fail to spot a trap? did something important happen behind the scenes (always good when time is an issue)? something is up, but you're not sure what exactly.

a gm should always have the relevant stats handy, so they don't give anything away. "what's your perception?" is bad.

alternatives? i can't really think of any. roll in the open or don't, there's little middle ground. can you be more specific about what you look for when you ask for alternatives?
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Roog
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 29, 2017 11:34 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

shlominus wrote:
do people like this? most people i know do, as it usually adds a bit of suspense. was it just a wandering monster check? are we being ambushed? did we fail to spot a trap? did something important happen behind the scenes (always good when time is an issue)? something is up, but you're not sure what exactly.


The players are also the audience. As such, knowing that "something" is up improves the experience.
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Prak
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PostPosted: Sun Jan 29, 2017 11:52 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

One gm I played with would ask everyone for X perception rolls before the game, and record them. Instead of a secret roll, he'd just use the next roll/a random roll from your list.
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K
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 12:07 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I use dice-rolls like Spot rolls to give the players flavor and plot details far more often than to detect hidden enemies, so rolling them in open is not a big reveal.

It's bad design to make the mere presence of a roll some big reveal.

Choosing to accept that bad design or to work around it is your choice.
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hogarth
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 12:09 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

spongeknight wrote:
GMs who roll everything behind their screen are almost certainly cheating all the time. We have an "open roll policy" at our table, where everything always has to be visible to everyone else. It works out fine.

I presume it works out fine because your GM isn't a cheater in the first place. If your GM is a control freak, all of the "open rolls" in the world won't fix that because he can just fudge hit points and endless reinforcements and you-name-it.

To put it in ursine terms: If your GM truly wants the party to get eaten by bears, your PCs might as well start dipping their balls in honey because they're in for a bear-world of pain.
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Starmaker
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 12:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Prak wrote:
One gm I played with would ask everyone for X perception rolls before the game, and record them. Instead of a secret roll, he'd just use the next roll/a random roll from your list.

I hate this. I feel I might as well just not show up for the game, like when I was five and realized Snakes and Ladders wasn't actually all that fun.
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Neurosis
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 1:03 am    Post subject: Re: Secret Rolls Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Ancient History wrote:
A game design question for a change...

It is very common in many RPGs to have "secret rolls," that is, the gamemaster rolls the dice behind the screen, and only informs the PCs of the result. This is usually the case when the nature of the roll would tip off something to the players about their situation - they failed a Spot or Listen check, for example, so they know there's probably ninjas or something nearby.

Do people like this, or not like this? What are the alternatives?


I think it's a good technique, if an age-old technique, and frankly I wouldn't throw any shade on it. The main downside of it is it's a little more work for the GM. But I think it's of great benefit in any game where suspense is a major factor of player engagement, even and especially when the GM is rolling dice for no real reason but to make the players nervous. I enjoy the subterfuge.

Making the players wonder what their characters have missed or if they've missed anything at all is good fun, but based on my casual observation, I would say you'll run into maybe one or two players out of ten who either chafe at the secret rolls, or more likely, immediately use the limited metagame information of dice being rolled surreptitiously to jump to aggressively wrong conclusions and then chafe at the aftermath of that.

I um, generally think that most rolls should be open for the reasons spongeknight said. I'm generally in agreement. (The only reason I hide a roll besides the situations AH is talking about is if I have a bad feeling it's going to kill a PC I really want to keep alive a little longer. But I consider this a bad GMing habit I've yet to kill.)
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Voss
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 1:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Roog wrote:
shlominus wrote:
do people like this? most people i know do, as it usually adds a bit of suspense. was it just a wandering monster check? are we being ambushed? did we fail to spot a trap? did something important happen behind the scenes (always good when time is an issue)? something is up, but you're not sure what exactly.


The players are also the audience. As such, knowing that "something" is up improves the experience.


Bah. I'd rather risk a DM cheating (which has happened to me- made a high AC fighter and got hit all the time, and the player right next to the screen peeked a lot. We were experimenting with 4th, and switching classes a lot so I said fuck it and just switched to an abusive temp hp build. You can hit me, but it no longer matters)

But yeah, I'd rather deal with a cheating DM than a drama whore, players are an audience DM, with all the requisite railroading, fuckery and powerlessness.

In general I'd rather keep the mystery and risk roll fuckery. The other problem with open rolls is it leads to evidence and accusations of things being done incorrectly, at which point the game bogs down.


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Roog
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 3:14 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Voss wrote:
But yeah, I'd rather deal with a cheating DM than a drama whore, players are an audience DM, with all the requisite railroading, fuckery and powerlessness.


I don't mean the players are the GMs audience. I mean the players (and the GM) are the audience for their joint activity.
Secret rolls are like secret backstory or events that occured 1000 years ago in the setting background. The players can only be engaged by things they are aware of.
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Voss
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 3:35 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Roog wrote:
Voss wrote:
But yeah, I'd rather deal with a cheating DM than a drama whore, players are an audience DM, with all the requisite railroading, fuckery and powerlessness.


I don't mean the players are the GMs audience. I mean the players (and the GM) are the audience for their joint activity.
Secret rolls are like secret backstory or events that occured 1000 years ago in the setting background. The players can only be engaged by things they are aware of.


...
Yeah, no. They're going to be engaged by the results of the die roll, regardless of they get ambushed or spot the ambush, or see that an attack misses with a 5 or hits on a 15 (or don't see that). If you want a group engaged by the act of rolling dice, go play fucking yahtzee.

The results are what matter, and unless something weird is going on, there isn't much point in the DM spinning out rolls that have zero effect on the game, and that is the only equivalency with 'secret backstory...'

whatever it is supposed to mean. The effects of events 'a thousand years ago' certainly aren't equivalent, because that shit turns into major fantasy plot points all the damn time, to the point of being cliche.


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Hiram McDaniels
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 5:18 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

spongeknight wrote:
GMs who roll everything behind their screen are almost certainly cheating all the time. We have an "open roll policy" at our table, where everything always has to be visible to everyone else. It works out fine. Sure, after a few rolls players can determine how good the monster is at saves/attacks/whatever, but their characters should be picking up that information at about the same time so it actually works out advantageously. The only real reason for a GM to roll in secret is to "fudge" dice. Calling for a spot check that everyone fails could mean a hundred different things, and players are indeed capable of having their characters keep going and not using out of character knowledge to set up for a fight.


I roll behind a DM screen - not because I'm cheating, but because the screen is a handy reference sometimes and it's physically easier to roll right in front of me than standing and leaning over it to roll in the middle of the table. If my players ever asked me to roll in the open I would; I don't fudge rolls.

Sometimes though, I do like to arbitrarily roll dice behind the screen just to keep from telegraphing my planned encounters. Also, if they think they're missing something, players will go looking for it. They'll start playing 20 questions with you, and at that point you just let them find the very thing they think they're going to find. It's a great way to save a session when you haven't had time to prepare.

And now I realize that arbitrarily slinging dice to trick players into sidetracking the adventure because I was too busy binge watching Orange Is The New Black to draw up a dungeon map or a random encounter table IS in fact fudging rolls.
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Dogbert
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 6:51 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

The best system ever won't save you from a crap GM and, by the same token, great GMs can make even bearworld enjoyable.

Having said this, "he who wants power should never have it," and systems that grant complete, unilateral power to GMs tend to attract exactly THAT kind of GMs. "Secret rolls" is one of the telltale signs that tell me I might be better off avoiding GM Rando Calrissian's table.
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Jason
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 8:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Secret rolls are a consequence of mechanical design, specifically opposed rolls. I think the only solution around that "problem" is to change the nature of "opposed rolls" to a roll by the acting party against a fixed average of the passive party (think stealth rolls vs. passive perception).
Since I find it weird if a system handles the same thing differently, depending on circumstances, I would use the rolls vs. passive for all kinds of opposed rolls.

Of course, as others mentioned already, it boils down to the quality of your players. If your players can handle failed perception rolls without meta-gaming their response, there is not problem in the first place.

Nevertheless, in my opinion a good system never even runs into that problem.
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Blade
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 12:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

An elegant solution is to rely on fixed scores: either you make the players roll once for a whole scene, or you use some stat (possibly with the options to boost it at some expense, so that players can have the option to be "extra cautious" without it being the default mode).
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PhoneLobster
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 6:43 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

You don't ever actually need to roll in secret, even bad systems do not absolutely force you to do so. It is an OBVIOUS bottomless trust pit made out of pointless petty cheating. And quiet frankly if I even see an archaic DM screen deployed in an upright position at a table let alone some hunched fucker grinning into his hand as he constantly rolls behind it I know that there is a table to avoid.
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Blicero
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2017 8:48 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

Secret rolls in a gaming context where you don't know the people you are playing with super well would be a red flag for me, particularly in a SoD-heavy system like 3.x. If you know and trust the people you are playing with, hidden rolls by the MC can often add to the suspense and tension of the game. As MC, I have had positive responses to hidden roll-related actions on my part. But I knew the people I was playing with fairly well.
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 31, 2017 2:36 am    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

spongeknight wrote:
GMs who roll everything behind their screen are almost certainly cheating all the time. We have an "open roll policy" at our table, where everything always has to be visible to everyone else. It works out fine. Sure, after a few rolls players can determine how good the monster is at saves/attacks/whatever, but their characters should be picking up that information at about the same time so it actually works out advantageously. The only real reason for a GM to roll in secret is to "fudge" dice. Calling for a spot check that everyone fails could mean a hundred different things, and players are indeed capable of having their characters keep going and not using out of character knowledge to set up for a fight.


Eh. In 3rd edition days of yore I used to keep a list of characters' perception skills as part of my notes. I roll everything publicly, but I don't have to tell you *why* I'm rolling.

The main time I'd ever error on the side of secret rolls is when I didn't want the players to know if their character's effort was at the high or low end of their capability.

If the thief is searching for something and rolls a 19 and you say "you find nothing" the thief can basically learn from the die roll there's either nothing there or the DM's boner for impossible challenges made the thing effectively not there by making the search DC too high.

And even then I wouldn't do it for all, or even most of the search checks. I'm fine with "you went through that 5 foot space with a fine toothed comb and didn't find anything".

Edit: Okay this isn't entirely true. There are times I fully admit to cheating like a motherfucker. Basically, my default position is to try to say "yes" to the players whenever possible at this point. Or even "yes but..." and just let them run hog fucking wild and get as creative as they possibly can. The more batshit the idea and the more ballsy or inventive the plan the more I"m going to run with it because I'm there for a great story and a good time.

Sometimes I'm on the fence though and I'll let the dice decide. There are times when the dice *almost* work out, and I'll not be in the mood to overrule the dice and invalidate the roll and retroactively just go with it. In my experience those times are less fulfilling than just going with it. And in those cases, I'll lie or cheat on behalf of the player. Because as good as it feels to come up with some completely awesome idea, coming up with the idea and *then* having the gods of probability smile on you is an even sweeter feeling.


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Ice9
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PostPosted: Tue Jan 31, 2017 7:41 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote Add User to Ignore List

I don't have a problem with secret rolls for some things (spotting an invisible foe, Will save against scrying, other stuff like that).

In fact, I often don't want to know info that my character doesn't, because by being told I lose the chance to try and deduce it.

For example, if there are a bunch of enemies, and I know some of them are illusions, but not which ones, that's an interesting puzzle. I can try to figure it out from their actions, from seeing how different things affect them - it's a fun challenge. If the GM used different markers for the real and illusory ones, that challenge is gone.

There is a balance - revealing too little information can make things less interesting as well. In the example above, if we never find out any of them are illusions, then it's just a normal fight.


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