I'm just getting into Pathfinder, as my first foray into RPGs. Of all the videos, tutorials and podcasts I've listened to, the GM tells the player to throw (for example, a perception check) and continues the story based upon that outcome. The GM makes no mention of the value of the throw he's expecting.

For example, there's something hidden in the room, the GM would expect a perception roll of 15 to uncover this, he doesn't communicate this expected value to the player, but he instead adapts his story to what the player did roll.

To me, as a new player, this makes the dice rolls feel redundant. I know they're obviously still effective, but as there's no communicated cause and effect to this, it feels as though the dice rolls aren't influencing the game.

Is is normal for the GM to say something like: "You hear something in the dark room, roll a 15 in Perception to find out what that is"?

I was trying to teach the game to my wife, and she brought this up. When I said (in our practice scenario), that the throw she made for 'climb' wasn't good enough and she unfortunately fell to the bottom of the pit, she immediately called foul play. I pleaded that I wasn't playing against her, nor with her, that I was not changing my expectations based upon what she rolled, but she remained unconvinced.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It strongly depends on the roll, too. A perception check they should probably NEVER know the DC of. A Climb check they should always know the DC of. Heck, I don't know the DCs of Climb checks, I tell the players to look them up and just tell them which modifier applies if they ask ("Hey, is this ice slippery or very slippery?" "Just slippery." "Are the sides close enough to support on one while climbing the other?" "Sure.") \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 3:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps one way round this is abstract the values away by saying (for instance): 'The climbing manoeuvre is mundane / moderate / hard / very hard / insane / ridiculous'. Or even by using real climbing grades. \$\endgroup\$
    – Paul
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 11:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Paul I like the approach of giving grades of difficulty. I think this is even something the wife could get on board with. Maybe not the real climbing grades though. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dan Hanly
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 12:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @gatherer818, something like hiding the DC of a perception check also depends on how well the players can separate player knowledge from character knowledge. \$\endgroup\$
    – Brian S
    Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 20:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Julldar: Still, though, you need to give the player some indication of how difficult the manoeuvre is going to be. \$\endgroup\$
    – Paul
    Commented Sep 11, 2014 at 12:50

6 Answers 6


It depends on your style

When I first ran my first game, I kept all the rules transparent. Barring some things that could reverse-engineer the NPC's I didn't want them to be able to gauge, I let every last thing be entirely known to them.

"You need 3 successes (we were playing Shadowrun) at TN 6 to sink all the damage"

There is nothing wrong with giving information to your players. It's a great way to build trust. It encourages risk taking, and helps them make a character.

However, it does undermine your sense of control, and it can also cause a bit of flaw in the narrative. And that bit where I said it encourages risk taking can function in the opposite direction; if players are particularly risk averse they may choose to miss out on opportunities their character would take because they're worried about the numbers.

Really, giving numbers is like training wheels. It gives a sense of safety and helps people learn, but eventually it should come off.

Note that this is different than telling people the numbers they needed after events; this is done almost as frequently, though I tend to prefer not doing it except in rare cases (like an after-action report "You rolled a 1 on your Perception roll, so you thought the smugglers were in the warehouse when they were really on the street"). It can speed up play a little, and ease some of the concerns, but it doesn't really have the learning benefits that telling people numbers before play happens does.

As a GM, it is your prerogative to do stuff in secret, but it's also the only thing that has made people leave any of my games of their own accord.

Don't be a slave to the dice.

Now is as good a time as any to begin fudging results. You mentioned that your wife's character tried to climb out of a pit and failed. Was that expedient for your narrative or game? Feel free to say "We're skipping this because it's not interesting; you climb out of the pit." or even say "Well, this happened, but I don't like that, so you climb out fine." whenever it fits your purpose.

Just be sure to make results meaningful; if failure wouldn't be meaningful, then perhaps you should even skip the roll entirely. If it is meaningful, but it's not expedient to the plot, have something that matters to the plot happen on failure, like a piece of gear being damaged or the like (but don't be too brutal). Remember that this goes over better when you're doing it in the players' favor than when it hurts them.


A big part of it is what the character could assess from the situation. A character knows their own ability and understands the world around them.

For instance, climbing a wall, you can assess the building material, the abundance of footholds and the effectiveness of your equipment. Your character could see that it is a DC 15 and then decide whether their ability is up to the risk. The GM should announce the apparent DC in these cases.

However, if the top of the wall is coated in a translucent grease, you'd better hope your character notices this in time because the DC will suddenly jump to 20 or 25.

When you're looking for something that's hidden, the character has no idea how hidden it is. A lot of the time, you don't even know if something is hidden. Until they actually find what's hidden, they have no information to assess how difficult the task is, at which point it's too late.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1, this is an excellent answer. I try to train my players so that in situations where it is obvious there is a chance for failure that may result in their progress being hindered (like the pit trap in the original question) they roll to determine information about their situation. So they might make relatively easy Intelligence or Wisdom checks to determine how difficult a particular pit might be to get around, how deep it is, how much injury they might expect to suffer if they fall in, etc. Of course they can choose to do none of this and suffer the consequences of minimal information. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 10, 2014 at 2:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ In OPs situation, this would be even worse than the actual outcome. If you specifically tell the player something incorrect, no matter what the reason, you damage the trust you as GM need more than anything else. (Of course, once the players know you won't abuse their trust, this is a good solution). \$\endgroup\$ Commented Nov 28, 2014 at 17:55

It depends on whether or not the players should have that information, or not.

And that depends on the game you are playing and/or the contract you have with your players about that.

In general, in a role-playing game where you are the game master (GM) with more knowledge than the players about the situation, you may want to mainly decide this based on whether or not knowing what they are trying to roll, will give the players information that they would not logically have. In general, many rolls to detect or notice or identify or interpret something correctly, are rolls the players may gain some information from by knowing what they needed to roll, or even who is rolling or what skill they are rolling against. In these cases, if it is significant not to give them that accidental information, you may consider rolling for them and not telling them what you are doing, because it would not make sense for them to know they were rolling to detect an ambush or clue, but failed...

If players start to react to you rolling (e.g. GM rolls hidden dice, and players announce they are drawing weapons or taking cover and/or searching the area they are in), you may want to get in the habit of rolling hidden dice a lot, often when it's just for trivial things or as red herrings, or in situations where going into combat/adventure mode may be really embarrassing or a disadvantage, so they get out of game-winning mode and into role-playing mode, and relate to their character's situation and not to what the GM is doing with dice. Mysterious rolling can also give the impression something interesting is going on and provoke curiosity. Rolling to decide various random issues can also be a healthy way to let go of control as a GM, and to have things happen based on likely outcomes in a situation, rather than just deciding yourself.

On the other hand, in non-mysterious situations, you may want to be up-front about what the players need to roll. In the example of your wife's character climbing, you could let her know the chances if nothing unusual about it is going on. However, notice that even then, knowing what you need can give away whether something fishy is going on or not. If usually you can climb a wall on a 15 or better, and you see your roll is that good but the GM says you fall anyway, then it might be an appropriate clue that someone has been doing sabotage or something. An expert GM can be sensitive to this, and decide how much to reveal about the required roll or not.

When GM's and players are first starting out, it may take a little getting used to. And, some groups may decide to agree on certain styles for when to roll and what information about rolls to give out. It might be best to be more open about it at first, and then more secretive later as players get used to the reasons behind it.


It's entirely appropriate to tell them.

It's also entirely appropriate not to tell them.

Some games (particularly ones with a more tactical emphasis) are run with all dice out on the table and all difficulties announced a head of time. That allows players to make informed tactical decisions.

Other games focus more on the role-playing, the mystery, the suspense. In many of those cases the DM will make all their rolls behind the screen, targets will not be revealed ahead of time and even the results may vary.

For example by the rules a wall may have a DC of 15. A failed climb roll means you fall, a successful one means you make it out.

In the tactical game the DM would say "The wall looks fairly easy to climb, DC 15". The player would roll, a 15 they climb it, anything less they fall.

In the role-playing game the DM would say "The wall looks fairly easy to climb". The player would roll, the DM would then give the appropriate response, which may also vary from binary success or fail. For example:

  • 1-10, they fall and take damage
  • 11-14 they slip and fall slightly, just managing to grab onto a crack in the rock and are left hanging by one hand.
  • 15-20 they climb the wall
  • 21+ they swarm easily up the wall and flip over the top in an impressive display of acrobatics, surprising the goblin that was trying to sneak up to the edge.

Neither of these playing styles is right or wrong. It's a matter of finding the right style for both you and your players.

One thing I will say though is that there is a fundamental mindset mistake being made here which is a bigger problem than whether to state DCs or not. If the player is thinking "us vs them" then unless you want to go to a fully tactical game and play it "us vs them" then you have a communication issue.

You need to get them used to thinking of you as a neutral arbitrator, or as a collaborative storyteller, or as the computer running the world, or whatever else makes it click in their head that they are playing with you not against you. Role playing is a fundamental shift from a competitive to co-operative mode of playing and it may take some players time to get that.


Just to add my twopenneth; A couple of things to consider:

  1. (As I wrote into my comment above) Try using descriptive terms for the difficulty of the manoeuvre (e.g. Mundane, Moderate, Hard, Severe, Insane, Ridiculous)
  2. Remember that in reality your own ability to assess the amount of skill required to perform a manoeuvre clouds as the task becomes more difficult, so that you may be able to identify (for instance) that a particular climb will be difficult because the hand/foot holds are smaller and further apart, but you probably wouldn't be able to grade that climb yourself. To that end vague descriptions could be developed if the skill required is well above the player's ability. This prevents meta-gaming but also provides the player with information they can use to assess whether they'll take the risk or not.

Keep in mind that a DM can have players roll dice or make any sort of check they want AT ANY TIME. So that Perception check? It's possible there's someone hiding in the room that the DM will decide has or has not been detected based on the check. It's also possible, particularly if the DM wants to mess with the players' minds, that there's nothing at all in the room. [Nothing is quite as paranoia-inducing as rolling a medium value on a Perception check and having the DM act/react like the PC just missed detecting something, unless it's having the DM roll dice behind the screen and then say nothing at all when the players ask.]

Or there could be something harmless in the room, like a rat (non-giant) that will scurry across the floor immediately after the party members attempt their checks regardless of the checks. What would giving a DC mean in that situation? "You beat DC 15, so you see the rat a second before the rest of the party"?

You also wouldn't (IMO) want to only give a Perception DC when there IS something to detect or only give a trap DC when there is a trap. As soon as you do that, PCs will be quick to state "I'm drawing my weapon!" or "Yeah, I'm not in the room." before the DM can describe the consequences of the event. Metagaming? Yeah. Uncommon? I don't think so.

In the particular scenario you described, hopefully there's a section describing the pit and the Climb DC. If so, AFTER THE SESSION IS OVER, show her that section. During the session itself, players can argue their case but once the DM has decided, the DM's word is law. To (mis)quote an old saying, the DM is Judge Judy and Executioner ;)

And if you DID change the Climb DC for the pit, hopefully you have an explanation about how that increased the fun for everyone involved. "Because you fell in that pit, you found the +1 dagger that you used to beat the boss, remember?" Even famous authors change their stories at times; to name two famous examples, JK Rowling did it with Harry Potter and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had Sherlock Holmes miraculously survive Reichenbach Falls (due to intense public pressure) though he intended for the detective to die (the story is titled "The Final Problem" after all.)

  • \$\begingroup\$ Your "Judge Judy and executioner." (mis)quote can be found in the movie Hot Fuzz (2007) released 7 years before this post. Still funny though. :) \$\endgroup\$
    – niekell
    Commented Aug 27, 2020 at 0:18

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