Dice Rolling, Why It’s Important, and How You Can Change It Up In Your Games.


This is a bonus article, one that i wrote originally for the ROTDOG website, but i thought it was worth re-posting here as it has to do with Roleplaying, and lets face it, dice rolling will go hand in hand with the new DMB Games Dungeon Tiles!

– Andy @ DMB


Now some of you might think that this is a bit of a silly Article, as pretty much everyone knows how to roll dice… but it’s not actually the art of rolling dice I’m going to be talking about, because everyone who knows me, knows I’m in no position to be giving advice on rolling well, I’ll leave that up to the experts you know the ones that can roll any number they want whenever they want…mentioning no names….Brendan..

No this Article is about when to do particular types of Dice Rolling and how generally players react to the way you handle your dice rolling as well as the Pro’s and Con’s to rolling dice in particular ways. First of all rolling dice is done by players and by Games Masters, not by characters, I know this sounds a bit of an odd thing to say but I have sat at many a table where I have heard “I rolled a 19, so I hit him.” No, No, No that kind of attitude is not good enough!

You as a character rolled a 19, so you beat the AC or toughness or whatever it is you need to roll to hit. Your character on the other hand shot his gun, swung his sword or punched the other guy in the face.

There is a big gap left between what you as a player or GM roll on the dice and the action your Character performs.

Think about putting a little bit of description in there, you can do it before you roll the dice or after, but a sentence such as,

“I swing my Warhammer at the Orc, hoping to bypass his shield and hit him in the chest In this sort of thing in my opinion never goes amiss.

Think of it this way, if you where a stage entertainer, perhaps a magician of some sort, then if you didn’t talk to the crowd or embellish your tricks with lots of “look up this sleeve, nothing there, how about this one?” while palming the coin or card around your back, your act might last 15 – 20 minutes pretty boring if you ask me.

If you think about this kind of behaviour when you are running a game and rolling dice, you can use dramatic tension to make your rolls count, anyone can roll a dice and say hit, miss, hit, miss, 15 points of damage….

Not particularly entertaining is it? Next time you roll the dice, consider yourself a stage performer, add some description and a little bit of melodrama, see what a difference it makes when your fighter is down to his last few hit points, and you say

“The Orc charges over towards you axe raised above his head he brings it down in a murderous arc and “insert dice rolling noise here”…………

Anyway this article wasn’t supposed to be about metagaming or the art of roleplaying its self but about dice rolling, but it’s an important point to remember PC’s and monsters never role dice…

To this end there are several ways you can roll your dice during your games some of them are for GM’s some are for players, and some are for both have a read and see what you think.

  1. Open Dice Rolls.
  2. Secret Dice Rolls.
  3. Mixed Rolls.
  4. Open Rolls Mixed and Hidden dice.
  5. Roll behind the screen and make the dice heard.
  6. Intimidate the players: Roll as many dice as you can at once!
  7. Pick up your Screen every now and then.
  8. Reveal Players Secret Rolls when it’s time to and not before!

Open Dice Rolls.

A lot of GM’s I know already use this technique, and it has advantages and disadvantages. It creates a level of tension in the game, as well as taking it away. If you roll your dice in the open, there is no chance for fudging rolls, no way can you not kill a PC, no way you can take back that nasty damage roll.

Obviously this also counts for the GM, no making the rolls you would have failed, no passing a check to keep the game going, as GM’s we all like to fudge every now and then for the sake of the story, but  open dice rolls don’t allow that.

The second thing that open dice rolls do for a group is to create or in some cases restore trust. Some GM’s fudge far too much, in fact I know a few that really don’t pay attention to the dice at all, they just roll them because that’s what the PC’s expect them to do.

Sometimes players can get really upset and angry if you say you rolled something and it affects their character but you don’t show them the dice.

Open dice rolls stop arguments of this like. So consider using them if you have a player in your group that has the tendency to question everything you do. The other issue with open rolling is that some clever and downright sneaky players can work out what the enemies skills and bonus’s are and plan according because of this.

Some of you might say good players, clever player, I say BAD PLAYERS! It ruins the fun of the game when you work out that the GM needs a 16 or more on the dice to hit you, that’s good odds in your favour, let’s not worry too much about that monster and go for the others.

Again that’s metagaming and should be frowned upon! Just because you as a player can do it, does not mean your character knows it, see the upcoming article about Player Vs Character Knowledge for more about how to handle this.

Secret Rolls.

Rolling where players can’t see the dice rolls, behind a DM screen, book, separate table, even behind your hand is what secret rolls are all about.

This can cause tension in the same way as the Open Dice Rolls can but of a different sort, as the players don’t know what you have rolled. Players have to wait for you to tell them what you have rolled and how it affects them rather than seeing the number on the dice and working it out for themselves, did they get hit?

Do they fool the guard in to thinking they should be snooping around where they are? Only you know, well until you tell them the answer of course.

Part of your job as a GM, as I mentioned before is to be an entertainer, to keep your players attention focused on the game, and the tasks at hand. Rolling dice behind your screen helps achieve that air of mystery.

Players know that there are secrets behind your screen, maps, monster stats, plot lines, dice rolls, perhaps hand outs or the minis for the monsters you’ll be using.

This all make it worth their interest and attention. Remind them there is stuff behind it that only you can see and that only you know about until they encounter it in the game.

You can perpetuate this air of mystery by making dice rolls, that you don’t say what there for, and making notes or muttering “ahh ok then” or “oooo” or chuckling to yourself at a dice roll. You can’t very well do that when you roll out in the open.

Mixed Rolls.

Most of the time when running games I use a mixture of the two methods above. Most of the time I will roll behind my screen to keep the tension up, but if it’s a critical point in the game,  perhaps a character is on their last remaining hit points or they have done something to force me to re-roll my dice, I’ll make the roll out in the open so they can see it. You can also bring a bit of showmanship here to increase the tension.

You can state the number you need to roll higher than for example: “I need to roll a 7 or more on this dice to knock you out” This might seem a bit obvious but it gets everyone focused on the dice as it leaves your hand and rolls across the table.

Open Rolls with Hidden dice.

Sometimes you can’t roll dice hidden behind a screen but you still don’t want the players to know what dice you are rolling.

The easiest way to do this is to roll a large amount of dice and look at the results from a particular pre determined dice.

I don’t recommend doing this to often as the players might think you’re cheating and just picking the highest dice that you roll, but if you use this technique sparingly it can help in some situation.

Roll behind the screen and make the dice heard.

This technique is used to capture player’s attention. When you have an important dice roll to make or you want them to feel tension, make sure you roll your dice on a noisy surface, a table top a metallic tray, whatever you have to hand.

This will capture the player’s attention and make them wonder exactly how many dice you rolled. There are several things you can use to generate the required level of noise:

  • Table Surface
  • Baking Sheet
  • Glass Bowl
  • Ceramic Plate

All of the above things create a different noise but it’s normally enough to get someone’s attention, or a whole group of someone’s in this case

Intimidate the players: Roll as many dice as you can at once!

This one not only intimidates the players and makes them do their best Scooby doo Impression “Ruhh rohh” but it speeds play up considerably.

Whenever you have to roll multiple dice make sure you roll them all at once, this is the same for attacking as well as damage.

For example if you’re attacking someone for 10d8 damage, roll all ten; don’t roll two or five at a time.

Equally roll your attacks at the same time as your damage to speed up play, or if you have multiple creatures attacking the same character roll different sets of colored dice at the same time.

This creates the mass effect roll with the noise of the dice and you picking up huge amounts of dice but it also stops the action from slowing down, if you look at your to hit dice and don’t hit disregard the damage rolls, it really does help.

Pick up your Screen every now and then.

When you make a hidden roll that’s particularly good or particularly bad, don’t be afraid to show it to players by lifting your screen up.

Players will see whatever you rolled be it 100, 20 or 1, and they will either cheer of you failed or groan if you succeeded, whatever the reaction it all adds to the fun of the game.

It also gives them a peak in to the secret world behind the DM screen, perhaps spotting the troll or dragon you have stashed behind there for future encounters, or seeing a map briefly, or even your notes.

Obviously you should never give them more than a brief glimpse in to what’s there, just long enough to see the dice then put your screen down again, but it should be enough to keep them interested!

Reveal Players Secret Rolls when it’s time to and not before!

Sometimes you need to make secret roll for the Players, perhaps to spot something or to see if they managed to bluff the guard properly, to see if that knot the y tied to the castle battlements really is strong enough to take the fighter in full plate…

Only reveal these rolls to the players when it is the proper time to do so.

For example don’t reveal that use rope check until the fighter is half way down and the knot either holds or doesn’t…

That’s it for dice rolling tips at the moment, check back soon for more!

As always, leave your thoughts below in the comment section, and I will see you on the Flipsdie!

– Andy @ DMB


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