Having Players Roll the Dice

Last night I ran an experiment. I think it turned out remarkably well. I have another test group on tap for tonight, and we’ll see how that goes.

About a month ago, Greywulf posted a theory over on his blog about having the players roll all the dice. There was an incident at the table two weeks ago that had me looking for a bit more player investment at the table, so I started searching the intertubes for some suggestions by my fellow bloggers. And, as usual, I found one that suits my fancy.

My players are fantastic. They are engaged, involved, and roleplay with the best of em. But sometimes, when it’s not their turn during combat, they can kinda wander off mentally and aren’t paying attention unless I’m telling them they’re taking damage or something from the Far Realm is trying to eat their face. I decided to try Greywulf’s idea and see if it increased player engagement at the table.

Turns out, Greywulf is a friggin genius and the plan works amazingly well. I modified his system slightly, but it still works really well.

Greywulf’s blog post has a simple premise. Turn the static defenses of 4E into active defense rolls identical to 3.X’s saving throws. Thus, every time an enemy is attacking the PC, the PLAYER rolls 1d20+ their defense modifier against the static difficulty of the enemy’s attack.

Example: Trifus the Fighter has an AC of 23 by standard 4E rules. In the “player-roll” paradigm, any time an enemy rolls an attack against Trifus’ Armor Class, Trifus’ player rolls 1d20 and adds his defense modifier of 13 (23-base 10). Likewise, if Trifus’ Will defense is a 17, if an enemy attacks his Will, he rolls 1d20+7. If Trifus rolls a nat 1, the enemy scores a critical hit on him.

The target numbers for the characters to beat with these Defense Rolls are also simply calculated. Simply put, the Difficulty Number = 10 + the monster’s attack modifier. If a bandit is trying to hit Trifus (see above) with an arrow, and the bandit’s attack roll is +8, Trifus has to beat an 18 with his Defense Roll. If a Mind Flayer is trying to eat his brains and has a +11 to attack vs Will Defense, Trifus is in a lot more trouble because he only gets to roll 1d20+7 vs a difficulty of 21.

Greywulf’s idea lets the player choose the way they want to defend against the attacks targeting them, but I’m not THAT lenient a DM. I like the idea of a PC having weaknesses, so if an attack targets Will Defense, the player is rolling their character’s ability to withstand that mental onslaught. I don’t think that Trifus’ shield and armor will protect him against a magical attack against his brainmeats. That’s what he HAS a Will defense for, after all.

Having the players roll all the dice–because they’re still rolling their own attacks AGAINST the monsters, too– had two primary effects I saw at the table last night. We’ll see if it holds up with my other group tonight as well, but I think it is going to. First, it forces players to pay attention to what is going on, and it dramatically increases the number of dice the players are rolling–but not in a bad way. Also, it completely levels the playing field– because you CANNOT hide a die roll in this system, the dice are the final arbiter of the PCs fate, and they know it.

1) Increases Player Engagement. In base 4E, your character defending himself against a monster attack is similar to finding out from Regis Philbin if you got the Who Wants To Be a Millionaire question right– the only drama is in the GM’s  presentation of that attack. The player most likely never sees the dice rolling, watching the numbers tumbling by, and has little engagement to the process of their character defending themselves– which is what the 4 defenses represent. When you put the dice back in the character’s hands, all that flip-flops, and now the PLAYER is directly responsible for whether the monster is eating their face or not. They are paying VERY close attention to how those dice fall, and frankly, so is everyone else at the table, regardless of whether or not it’s their turn– because they know they are next on the chopping block.

2) Players Roll More Dice.  Some might see this as a bad thing–and there was some initial frustration last night as the players commented they had more to remember now– but as soon as the dice started rolling in earnest, the opinions changed dramatically. In standard D&D, the number of dice the players roll is dramatically less than the GM because the GM is in control of far more creatures than the players are. But the dice-rolling part is something that many roleplayers love, and putting the dice in their hands more often increases the fun for many. It certainly seemed to have this effect last night. Like I said above, they are more invested in the goings-on of combat if there are more dice in their hands, and the randomness of it makes everybody sit up and pay attention. And frankly, rolling dice is fun.

3) Player-rolling = GM Taking the Gloves Off. I admit– I took it easy on the players for the first 5 levels or so. They were learning the system, learning their characters, learning how to work together as a team. When they hit 6th, though– I stopped being nice.  I told them so before it happened, but the comment still came across, “Damn. You weren’t kidding. You’re handing us our asses.” And I was– smart monsters fought smart and hit hard. But they rose to the challenge and they’re doing fine now. But putting the dice in the player’s hands is a whole different level of potential lethality. Even if I WANTED to flub a dice roll or lie about a saving throw, I can’t. And the players know it. They are completely in control of their character’s dice-rolling destinies. Likewise, because the number of dice the players roll is increased, statistically the number of critical hits and/or fumbles is increased as well. This had the completely unexpected effect last night of the characters (except Grunthar… sorry, man) feeling extra-super-heroic because the number of awesome dice rolls increased, too.

So in the end, I really think this is a great House Rule to put into effect for your games. If you want to shake things up, try it for a couple sessions and see how the players react. I think you’ll end up with a positive effect overall. I think I’m going to keep it. 

This entry was posted in Afghanistan Gaming, Applying Theory, GM Advice, Group Dynamics, Rules, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Having Players Roll the Dice

  1. greywulf.net says:

    Glad it worked for you too. What I like most of all is that it lets me, as GM, focus on the story and pushes much of the rules themselves over to the players’ side of the table, thus keeping them engaged. It’s a win all round.

  2. That system seems very intresting 🙂 What version of D&D do you play?

  3. pdunwin says:

    I might give this a try, but I’ll probably just have them roll normally instead trying to invert everything.

  4. ghettowedge says:

    Hi, I’ve been using the “players roll all the dice” option since I first saw it in Unearthed Arcana (3.5) and I’ve had all the same results you’ve had. I love it, and would add that it frees me up to focus more on what’s going on than doing math. That said, you should know that the odds as you’re using them favor the player. You have to add +2 to all defense DCs in order to make them the same.
    Standard – A monster with +10 to hit a character with a 20 AC can hit on a 10 or higher. That’s eleven numbers on a d20, or 55% chance of a hit.
    Players Roll – The same monster only hits when the player rolls a 9 or lower. That’s only a 45% chance of a hit.

    • brindy says:

      Good call – I ran the some examples through anydice.com to confirm:

      • My geek-fu does not lie in computers. Can you explain that table for me so I can understand it, please?

      • brindy says:

        Sure – it’s just showing the odds based on whether you roll to hit or have players roll to save.

        So the first line shows that for that particular scenario (+8 vs AC 23) the decimal odds of the monster hitting are 0.46. The second line shows that when you flip to player rolls so long as you add +2 to the DC you get the same odds.

        Subsequent lines show it for different scenarios; +10 vs AC 20 and +11 vs AC 16.

        Here’s the same scenarios without the +2 modifier – the odds are somewhat different:

        So for +8 vs 23 AC the odds are 0.46 to hit for an attack roll, but only 0.40 to hit when the player makes a save check.

      • brindy says:

        I guess the question is – do you want it to be statistically the same as rolling to attack? Or do you want to give the players a better chance to hit (to make up for their crappy rolling)? 🙂

  5. cj ruby says:

    Pretty cool, I think I’ll try it.

    I’ve begun having the players describe their own fumbles/botches, this has worked surprisingly well. The rp level and imagination of the players has raised. I think they are beginning to see the critical failure as exciting as the stupendous success. I do reserve veto power when they try to make their fumbles beneficial, but they’ve learned and often impose steeper penalties than I ever would.

  6. drow says:

    if i see any downside in this, its that not all of my players are particularly good at doing maths quickly. i’ll probably also change it to 20 + attack bonus vs. defense + d20 to remove one more operation.

  7. This is an awesome house rule. I’m actually running a game tonight so I’ll have to talk to my group and get their feelings about it, but they should feel the same I think.

    • NJ– I think you might need to be more demonstrative about it in order to keep the quibbling down. Like, “Hey, guys. I want to try something new. Let’s give it three solid game sessions of trying it out and giving it a chance, and then we’ll talk about it. “

  8. Symatt says:

    This is damn fine i shall implement as soon as possible. The whole idea of players rolling dice. the concept is almost unimaginable.
    My brother and i was talking about the times to roll dice and the more dice and the more chances you can roll them the better

  9. Draxxus says:

    Since all the comments here are from a DM perspective, I will first give my player perspective:

    I was the initial negative voice in the above mentioned game. Yes it is more to remember, yes it is more rolling, and yes it became a pain in the ass (at first) but mostly because I am the blogger for Gold Team, therefore between stabbing faces, and roleplaying a Dragonborn noble, I am constantly taking notes, maintaining the list of monies/items we have, and maintaining the map. So for me, one more thing took away from all the others. But shockingly enough, the world doesnt revolve around me (not a word Jason). However, I am on the fence in regards to this rule. I wont deny that it does everything that is mentioned in the original blog, but never knowing when you might have to roll again does distract (newer) players from watching the field and planning thier next tactical onslaught, and the “bad-at-maths” topic was already broached, players that struggle with all the pluses during the attack phase with mostly like fumble here as well, making this take (albeit slightly) longer.

    So, I remain a nuetral party on this rule, but am open to it.

    • Two things I noticed in Sunday’s game.
      1) “never knowing when you might have to roll again does distract (newer) players from watching the field and planning thier next tactical onslaught”— I think this is a player issue, not a rules issue. The players who don’t look at the game board until someone says, “Hey, it’s your turn” aren’t going to focus on the board regardless of the rules. Having them roll defense for their character did manage to keep then engaged in the *game*, however. I am not sure there is anything short of new players that can change that particular quirk, though.
      2) ” the “bad-at-maths” topic was already broached, players that struggle with all the pluses during the attack phase with mostly like fumble here as well”— what I noticed Sunday on this topic is that just like in the military, repetition is the key. The “bad-at-maths” player did a great job of staying engaged and by the end of the night had a noticeably increased response time.

      I think I’m going to keep the rule in effect for at least a couple weeks and see how it pans out in the longer term.

      • brindy says:

        I’m thinking I might even give my players the choice – if they are busy planning ahead and want me to roll for them I can, but if they want to roll a save instead of having the monster make an attack roll, they can do that instead. Maybe. 🙂

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  12. Malthol says:

    Still using this? It sounds interesting, if I can ever get in a gaming community again.

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