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What are the Players and the DM supposed to be permitted to know in regards to rolls/defenses during combat?

I've only played 4th Ed. D&D, so I don't know how it's handled in other editions. However, I've seen it done a couple different ways in 4e games and I'm wanting to know what is commonly accepted as the "right way".

My preferred method is that all attack rolls (Player & DM) are announced. No matter who is making the roll, the attacker asks the target "Does [total roll] hit your [targeted defense]?" and the target answers "yes" or "no".

However, some DMs will instead ask "What's your [targeted defense]?" without telling what they rolled for the attack. Of course, the DM is effectively god in his game, but am I the only one who considers this bad form? Are there any official rules/guidelines to support this?

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In earlier editions it is more-or-less de rigueur for the DM to keep the PCs in the dark about DM rolls—and pretty much everything else mechanical not on their own sheets (and often even that stuff, such as magic items). And the DM knows everything about the PCs. In fact, going back to AD&D (first edition), the rules for what roll the PCs need to hit a given AC aren't even in the PHB, they're in the DMG! But then, those are very different games than 4e. – SevenSidedDie Oct 26 '10 at 2:29
up vote 14 down vote accepted

As far as I know, there's no official way to do it. The Players Handbook simply says "Make an attack roll. Compare your attack roll to the target's defense... to determine whether you hit or miss." (Page 269.) That leaves a lot of scope to the players and GMs to decide how to make that comparison.

I've seen GMs do it both of the ways you mention. I've seen GMs write down monster defenses on a card and show them to the players, allowing the players to just say if they hit or miss -- sometimes at the beginning of the combat, sometimes as the players hit the monster and learn what the defenses are.

Fairly often, I see both players and GMs say "OK, I rolled an 18 on the die, that hits, right?" without doing the math, for that matter. Speeds things up a bit.

None of these strike me as either right or wrong. If the way your GM is doing it bugs you, the best thing to do is to talk about it, and be open to the possibility that he or she might not change. And remember, if you're worried about the GM screwing you over... they can do that no matter what just by dumping more problems on your character than they can handle.

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To your final question: "Are there any official rules/guidelines to support [DM asking for defense?", in the basic game, no. I don't know about official tournaments, or sanctioned events, but for casual gameplay, they strongly encourage you to do whatever is best for your group/situation.

I agree with you, that in many situations, just saying what the [total roll] is, and asking if it hits makes a lot of sense. It also gives the players the comfort(?) of knowing that the DM isn't "cooking the books", so to speak, by changing individual rolls. It can make players feel like they're not being railroaded.

That being said, there are times when the DM may want to not make it obvious what is happening. A roll that looks like it should miss might hit because of something that the characters don't realize (a localized effect that they haven't noticed, a powerful magical sword, an enchantment, etc.) There can be powerful storytelling reasons to do this...and even just hiding the dice at times can tell the players that something different is happening.

Therefore, I lean against setting down hard and fast rules for this. As I said, I lean towards everything being open, but could see reasons to change it up in special cases to set tone, hide specific events, purposely mislead players in confusing situations, etc. If done in moderation, I think that can also be effective.

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Show them the numbers for faster combat

When I have time to set it up, I create little tent cards for each monster showing its name and four defenses. A picture matching the mini or pog would be even better.

This never seems to ruin anyone's "flow." It just saves them time asking me if they hit and speeds up combat. Faster (and less discussion about it) might actually improve the flow.

Really, if I were clever, I'd make pogs with the numbers right on them, A13 F13 R12 W16, in a ring of tiny characters around the outside. If you're a minis person and not a pog person, you could still make little miniature bases with the numbers on them (as cards or pogs).

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Do you find that players meta-game a bit more when they know a monster's weak spots right away? (For instance, Wizards not even trying a Will attack and going straight for the Reflex?) – Allen Gould Jun 17 '11 at 17:04
I find that recent editions of D&D (3E, 4E) are so meta-gamey already that I just want to get the combats over with quickly and get back to the other stuff. ;) – Adam Dray Jun 18 '11 at 5:49

I think with the nature of 4e, the best solution is for everyone to know the relevant stats. The game is tightly balanced based on these things, and expects you to act in a certain way according to how it's balanced. It's difficult to do if you don't know. Plus, everyone has access to the majority of enemy stats anyway, so it doesn't make sense to screw over the few people who didn't bother reading the MM.

Earlier editions keeping it secret made more sense (although I've found leaving everything in the open works quite well in AD&D, assuming the right type of player), by now, with how the d20 mechanic works, and how saves have been replaced with fixed defenses, and passive perception scores have been introduced, for the most part everything should be open.

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Basically it is up to you but skills such as search for traps might be made behind the screen or ahead of time. I generally as DM roll for hit for monsters in front of players and let them roll attacks and skills that would not give away secrets whenever possible.

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As everyone else has pointed out, you need to do what makes sense for your group. Different groups have different priorities and find different things fun.

That being said, here's what my group does:

We're more simulationist than a lot of groups, and we want everything to make sense and reduce metagaming. So, players can only make a roll if it would make sense for their character to know how well they did. The DCs (including defenses) are always secret.

For example, players make attack rolls. You can tell when you just let loose with a mighty swing or just whiffed it. It's not a secret. If a monster keeps dodging despite your great efforts, you'll realize it is hard to hit (has good defenses).

On the other hand, however strong a gut feeling you may have, you never actually know if it's accurate until after the fact. So players never roll Insight. The DM rolls and says what they think and how confident they are.

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