Up until a few years ago, I’d never played with a GM who rolled all of his dice in the open. After a few sessions with one who did (Mark Serrahn, in his Banewarrens campaign), I was hooked — and I’ve made nearly all of my rolls in the open ever since.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach, as you might expect. Let’s dig into some of the pros and cons of rolling your dice in the open.
First we’ll look at the advantages and disadvantages, then at ways to get the best of both worlds — and lastly, some advice on which approach might be best for you.
No fudging rolls allowed
Gets everyone involved
Adds drama to important rolls
Players know they’re getting a fair shake
As a player, nothing kills the drama of most RPGs for me than knowing that the GM fudged an important roll — any important roll. This is doubly true in games where the threat of PC death is part of the excitement (like D&D). And as a player, I get much more nervous and excited about the GM’s rolls when I can see them — and I know that she’ll be letting the dice fall as they may.
As a GM, even though rolling in the open takes away one of my tools to influence the game (fudging rolls), I love it. I generally find that the whole table watches key rolls, and I get to share in the drama of particularly good or bad results. Plus it lets the players know that while I’m going to try to deliver a fair game, I’m not going to cheat on rolls to do it.
I’ve also found all of the above to be even more important with a new group. The folks you’ve played with for years may know that if you say “I’m not going to fudge any rolls,” you mean it — even if you’re rolling behind the screen. But a new group won’t know that, so you have to show them.
No fudging rolls allowed
Players gain metagame knowledge quickly
Kills the drama for some players
Fudging rolls can be a pretty handy part of your GM’s toolkit, as it allows you to subtly — or not-so-subtly — guide the game in certain directions. PC gets killed by a lucky roll in a random encounter? Fudge the roll. Sounds like more fun if the big bad monster hears the PCs walking by its lair? Fudge the roll. There are lots of situations where this can be useful, and by rolling in the open you give up the ability to alter them.
When you’re rolling in the open, it’s easy for the players to figure out what kind of bonus monsters get to hit, how good the starship captain’s saving throws are and so forth. For some GMs — and some players — this can be a big deal: sometimes the drama hinges on not knowing what one’s enemies are capable of. For folks who are used to keeping player knowledge and character knowledge separate, it’s not a problem at all.
I’ve also found that rolling in the open reduces the level of drama for some players. For them, the drama comes in waiting to hear how I, as the GM, describe what happens — and not in watching the actual roll.
Splitting the Difference
In the intro, I mentioned that I roll nearly everything out in the open — the “nearly” is important, because it lets you sidestep some of the disadvantages to this approach. As a general rule, I roll all of my combat dice and saving throws in the open, as well as most skill checks and miscellaneous rolls. But if I don’t want the players to know something is about to happen, I’ll quietly roll behind the screen. The same goes for keeping, say, an NPC’s mental powers or keen hearing a secret from the players.
Which approach you use — rolling everything in the open, keeping all of your rolls a secret, or something in between — depends on your game, of course. If you’ve got several players who hate having the dice rolled in front of them, don’t do it. (You can always decide not to fudge rolls anyway — although I’ve found the temptation is much higher when I’m rolling behind the screen.) Similarly, if you don’t like the loss of control that comes from rolling in the open — whether due to keeping secrets or retaining the ability to fudge die rolls — don’t do it.
Rolling your dice in the open is also an approach that works better for some styles of game than others. It’s great for traditional D&D, with its focus on characters vs. the environment, but perhaps less appealing in a game with a strong narrative focus, where telling a good story is more important than impartiality. Give this some consideration before you decide how you want to handle your die rolls.
And if you’re on the fence, or if you’ve always used one approach but think another method sounds interesting, just give it a try! Let the players know what’s going to change before the session starts, and then sound everyone out about it afterwards (see “Getting Player Feedback” for some suggestions on this).
This is just my experience — your experience is probably different, maybe even wildly so! Do you roll your dice in the open? All of your dice, or just some of them? Do you love or hate this approach, either as a GM or as a player? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post in the comments.