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I haven't been playing D&D for too long, maybe a year, but the DM of the main campaign I'm in always hides his dice rolls. I don't have an issue with it, but when I play with another group the DM leaves everything in the open, so I'm wondering if this is nothing more than a personal stylistic thing or if there's a standard way to do this.

My only hang up about hiding dice rolls is that it allows the DM (as it has plenty of times in our campaign, by his own admission) to flub dice rolls, for both good and bad, effectively removing the randomness that should be innate to the game in exchange for allowing them to tell a story that they'd rather hear.

Obviously this is largely opinion-based, and I don't know if you treat that like Stack Overflow does, so I'll leave an objective question here: is hiding DM dice rolls from the players a standard practice according to game rules?

I'm curious primarily how this applies for D&D 3.5e and D&D 5e.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Miniman, Oblivious Sage, Kyle Willey, DuckTapeAl, SevenSidedDie Jul 27 '16 at 14:43

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I have voted to close since this is going to be opinion based. That said, it may be that the two choices will get some solid Pro and some solid Againt answers and so the voting will sort it out. Since you are not the DM, in a lot of ways it's the DM's call ... but we'll see what the answers offer you. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 25 '16 at 3:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes I did. Let's see how the answers or VtC's line up. I thought I'd let you know why a VtC showed up already. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 25 '16 at 3:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @jaska Are you looking for answers to cover all editions of D&D (which is what the dungeons-and-dragons tag is for), or just dnd-3.5e? \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Jul 25 '16 at 3:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ 3.5e, sorry. If it's applicable to 5e too, though, that'd be nice... \$\endgroup\$ – galois Jul 25 '16 at 5:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you are currently playing 3.5e with your group, and you asked about the rules, it might be best to confine the question to 3.5e. A suggestion for scoping the question. VtC was retracted after Dopplegreener's edit. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 25 '16 at 13:24

11 Answers 11

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DM Lies and Fudging rolls

To begin I want to cover the idea of fudging a roll. It may be considered controversial and all to many people, but it's both advised and explained in the 3.5e DMG on page 18:

DM Cheating and Player Perceptions

Terrible things can happen in the game because the dice just go awry. Everything might be going fine, when suddenly the players have a run of bad luck. A round later, half the party’s down for the count and the other half almost certainly can’t take on the foes that remain. If everyone dies, the campaign might very well end then and there, and that’s bad for every-one. Do you stand by and watch them get slaughtered, or do you “cheat” and have the foes run off, or fudge the die rolls so that the PCs still miraculously win in the end? There are really two issues at hand.

Do you cheat? The answer: The DM really can’t cheat. You’re the umpire, and what you say goes. As such, it’s certainly within your rights to sway things one way or another to keep people happy or keep things running smoothly. It’s no fun losing a long-term character who gets run over by a cart. A good rule of thumb is that a character shouldn’t die in a trivial way because of some fluke of the dice unless he or she was doing something really stupid at the time.However, you might not think it’s right or even fun unless you obey the same rules the players do. Sometimes the PCs get lucky and kill an NPC you had planned to have around for a long time.By the same token, sometimes things go against the PCs, and disaster may befall them. Both the DM and the players take the bad with the good. That’s a perfectly acceptable way to play, and if there’s a default method of DMing, that’s it.Just as important an issue, however, is whether the players realize that you bend the rules.

Hiding a Roll

I want to call special attention to this next half of the excerpt as it has bearing on the initial question.

Even if you decide that sometimes it’s okay to fudge a little to let the characters survive so the game can continue, don’t let the players in on this decision. It’s important to the game that they believe their characters are always in danger. If the players believe, consciously or subconsciously, that you’ll never let bad things happen to their characters, they’ll change the way they act. With no element of risk, victory will seem less sweet. And if thereafter something bad does happen to a character, that player may believe you’re out to get him if he feels you saved other players when their characters were in trouble.

This is a clear example as with many other places where the DM should hide the roll.

Another example is the skill Disable Device Here is an excerpt from the beginning of the check explanation

Check: Your DM makes the Disable Device check for you secretly, so that you don’t necessarily know whether you’ve succeeded.

The reason for this is similar the to above rule on DM roll fudging. It's designed to both add and maintain suspense as well as keeping metagaming to a minimum.

Many players can have difficulties separating what they know vs what the character knows and forcing people to distinguish at all times between the two cam be both tiring and stressful. Some players simply can't. Not because they are bad players but because they don't have the experience to do so reliably. I myself prefer my DM keep things from my character doesn't know so I can't be tempted. At other times I feel like I've meta-gamed had I done something with detailed knowledge and I feel I might have chosen differently had I not something my character shouldn't know.

While there is no rule explicitly stating the DM should hide all rolls, there are many references throughout the dungeon Masters guide and the players handbook that tell the DM to hide a roll and lie to the player. Keep information secret and don't let this or that be revealed without a proper roll.

Many DMs hide their rolls entirely because this is easier than trying to remember what should be hidden and what shouldn't. (Though some are obvious. Yes, the player knows he failed to climb that wall. Especially when he hit the ground.) This also makes it easier to fudge a roll that might cause the party to wipe completely.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Great answer! Maybe add a Bold tl;dr at the top ? Because as it stands it looks like a wall of text, without an easy entry-point \$\endgroup\$ – Falco Jul 25 '16 at 10:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Great answer. I would just point out that even for rolls where the characters know immediately if they failed or succeeded it might be a good idea to hide a roll. Since rolls are numbered seeing what you failed or succeeded on can tell you information about the situation that you might not always be privy to as your character and most certainly other characters might not be privy to. Specifically it tells you something about how hard the given task is, and that is not always something you are able to judge. \$\endgroup\$ – DRF Jul 25 '16 at 12:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ The DM can also hide die rolls to conceal the fact that the die rolls are actually irrelevant. A pre-arranged encounter can be disguised as a random encounter, for example. \$\endgroup\$ – barbecue Jul 27 '16 at 0:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ I updated it to look less Wally. Thanks to whoever helped with the edit. \$\endgroup\$ – Zakier Oct 29 '16 at 5:02
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Some of the games tagged on your question do specify in their rules, adventures and supplements that certain rolls can or should be made in secret. However, in practice, whether any given roll is made secretly or openly is a matter of playstyle choice and varies from table to table.

There are a number of reasons to keep the results of rolls secret. The ability to fudge results is a controversial example, but even GMs who don't fudge may want to keep information secret from the players for the purposes of building tension, permitting surprise, or preventing players from having access to information their characters don't.

There are also reasons to keep dice rolls open. For example, some groups believe it helps maintain trust between the players and GM, and some groups find greater immediacy of excitement if they can see the dice themselves rather than having to wait for the GM to report the outcome.

Some tables even make the decision on a roll-by-roll basis.

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The problem with this question is the fact that there simply is no standard.

Some DM's make all their rolls in secret and just announce the results. Sometimes it's for suspense, sometimes it's to 'fudge' the rolls a little. It's terrible disappointing, on both sides of the table, if the characters are taken out right at the start of the session just because the cheap minion monsters seemed to have bathed in Liquid Luck right before meeting the PC's. Equally disappointing for both sides when the epic final boss fight is promptly cut short, and the campaign's BBEG goes down in the first round because he couldn't roll his way out of a wet paper bag for some reason. Who wants to end an epic adventure with "What, that was it?"

Zakier went into much more detail on it, but fudging a roll isn't cheating. Most DM's are actually not out to get you, and unless it's a setup that was already agreed upon with the player to make room for a new character or something, even fewer DM's will fudge rolls to actually take a character out. Even in a case like that, the purpose is to improve the story and suspense.

Some DM's make all their rolls in the open, and "Let the dice lay where they fall." (Except for that one that fell off the table. Can you grab that for me?) For whatever reasons, the DM wants to leave everything up to fate. It also implies that the DM trusts you to avoid metagaming. The player might be convinced beyond doubt that there's a secret door here, but when they roll a 2 on that Search check, they're expected to play as though their character believes they've done a thorough search of the area.

Some DM's mix and match, depending on what kind of roll is made. Walking down the hallway and suddenly the DM makes a handful of rolls behind the screen. "No no, that was nothing, carry on." Was it a trap? Or something hidden you might have noticed? Maybe something else that might have noticed you. These are events you can't know the outcome of, and so rolled in secret. However events that are immediately resolved, like attacks in the middle of combat and so on are rolled in the open because there's little secret as to whether that giant axe flying towards your head hits or misses at the end of the attack.

All that said, if hidden dice rolls are a problem for you and the rest of your group, discuss it with your DM. "Let them fall where they may" might result in your party being arbitrarily killed by what should have been a trivial encounter. My regular DM has had the entire table jokingly yell things like "loaded dice!!" at him on a number of occasions, when the luck just went bizarre and rolled a number of 20's in a row. But if that's the way your group prefers to play it, then run it by your DM.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Relationship advice 101: communication, communication, communication. \$\endgroup\$ – AWinkle Jul 25 '16 at 15:24
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No*

I have not read that the DM ought to hide all die rolls in D&D 3.0e and 3.5e. This comes from reading the SRDs, the player's guide, and the DM's guide (albeit not recently). There are some spells or mechanics which do require a "secret" roll, such as reputation, disguise checks, and some spells.

However, there is strong evidence that all the rolls should be secret. For instance, some modules instruct DMs to roll some dice secretly. Also consider the product called a "DM's Screen" Hide the Dice in Hoard of the Dragon Queen

Obviously, such a barrier prevents die from being easily read, but is not a requirement to play.

One purpose of a DM screen is to prevent meta-gaming, or players trying to use out-of-character knowledge with their characters. Another purpose is to have useful charts ready, but that's not really important to your question.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yep! Our DM uses a screen like that. \$\endgroup\$ – galois Jul 25 '16 at 5:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ At the same time, an argument could be made that if explicit hidden rolls are only sometimes mentioned, then that means that the others are assumed to not be hidden \$\endgroup\$ – user2813274 Jul 26 '16 at 21:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your claim that "there is strong evidence that all rolls should be secret" is unsupported and, I believe, incorrect. "Some modules instruct that some rolls should be secret" is far from evidence that all rolls should be secret, and even GMs who use screens frequently roll openly, beside or in front of the screen. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Sherohman Jul 27 '16 at 11:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DaveSherohman Welcome to Asterisk Land! \$\endgroup\$ – PipperChip Jul 27 '16 at 15:50
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There is no reason at all that a GM should be expected to show dice roll. It is entirely a choice for the GM.

The whole point of being a GM IS that you have control over the story. Transparency is not your friend as GM. You don't show the players the adventure details so they can check you are not adding extra orcs to the encounter so why should you feel like you need to show the dice.

It is normal to hide dice rolls.

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The rules we've always followed were that the DM is the storyteller, and the dice (within the odds that the DM sets up) are part of the tension of the unknowns in the story. If the results of the roll would interfere with the storytelling, then they're secret. For instance:

Player: I use my stealth skill to move from [x] to [y].

DM: [rolls dice secretly] You successfully moved.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ How well did this work, and was this based on written game rules? \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 Jul 25 '16 at 19:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel like it kept the players engaged in the story instead of the dice rolls. Its relationship with the rules? Can't really speak to that: it's been a while. If memory serves, it was D&D 3.5 and Shadowrun we played most. \$\endgroup\$ – FMM Jul 25 '16 at 20:36
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If concerned about players taking cues from the DM rolling dice at certain points ("He rolled some dice and smiled while we looked down this dank corridor"). Then do it at random intervals when you know that nothing is around, perhaps even when you want your players to be concerned.

I know that tables that i've attended (which tended to have 'some dice hidden, some dice open', depending on DM taste and critical nature of the dice. If for an example, it was a dice roll that had an obvious chance of killing a player, it was open), the DM have been prone to randomly rolling the dice because they felt like it, and was quite up front about it being so the players couldn't divine if it was because he rolled some skill checks, rolled tables or were simply pulling our legs or being mildly bored at that point.

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I'm going to opine here, but lets lead with the actual answer

D&D 3 and 3.5 explicitly specified Rule 0, "The GM is always right", which overrides other rules and allows a GM to roll dice in secret whenever they like.

There is no standard for how to GM. Everyone has their own approach.

It is OK to make all, some or none of your rolls in secret. The grand secret of GMing is that you're actually on the players side. Just remember: If he wanted to kill players off, he doesn't need to cheat. That's not what GM cheating is for.

I have cheated in several campaigns, and the reason I did is that I find it easier to create an engaging story if I'm able to lie about what I rolled. Avoiding killing an interesting or important character, giving a monster a break in a fight that looks like it might become an uninteresting curbstomp, or making sure the interesting environmental hazard you made comes up at least once all help the game and are, to my mind, valid reasons to cheat as a GM.

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I just want to add that the whole purpose of dice tables and rolls is to indicate a probability of something happening. It's a tool, not an integral part of the game.

Unless your milieu is one where the gods really do roll dice (in game) and the players role-playing expect to experience that, then dice are just a tool for a GM to generate probabilities. The players shouldn't expect any interaction or insight into how that works. They should just expect that on balance something that is 1 or 2 on a d6 happens about a third of the time.

The idea that they get to see exactly how this probability is determined doesn't make much sense when you look at it this way. How did you know why it is that this sword bounced off this shield this time? It just did, even though mostly it goes straight through...

If the GM had a brain like a computer, and could make things happen roughly at the probabilities indicated, they wouldn't even need a dice roll. Dice just help the GM create the probabilities.

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  1. It's a DM choice
  2. To enforce trust (and fun) it should be kept to a minimum
  3. To avoid meta-gaming it should be used on some checks (ex. rolling your hide check without knowing the result could be much more thrilling)
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So, as a DM, i do tend to hide many of my rolls, but there are times I forget, or other times I intentionally show my rolls for reasons.

The first thing I want to mention is that, as a DM, its my job to obfuscate, to fool, and to create the illusion that you are a grand adventurer on a grand quest. Its my job to provide a challenge that is both challenging, but not impossible.

Two main reasons I hide my rolls:

  1. I can fudge the dice. Creating "challenge but not impossible" is sometimes incredibly difficult. If I notice you are breezing through things with ease, ill fudge some numbers to up the difficulty. Same thing if I accidentally create a scenario that's too challenging. I tend to play with mixed skill parties, so I need to constantly read where each player is at to make sure I can provide an adequate challenge to the experienced players without discouraging new ones with constant murder.

  2. To throw you off my trail. If you play with the same DM for a while, and he doesnt try and hide his intents, it can become much easier to guess the story, to guess if a secret door is around, to guess if traps are around, or to guess the DC of a lock. Sometimes I just roll a d20, and mutter something and look like im scrawling things down to make players think "Something is happening". So many times I have rolled a d20, looked down, looked up, and then heard "I WANT TO MAKE A SPOT CHECK". It keeps that balance of fun and unknown in the game.

Scenario Adventures These are the only place that dice really matter to me as a DM. If you say "Hey lets do the Demon Web Pit" adventure, then the game turns into "try and make a balanced aprty" and I use die rolls, and dont fudge.

but more often than not, I made a campaign, its with new players, and its focus is more about "make them have fun" rather than "hope to god they read the books inside and out"

This in mind, I also sometimes intentionally roll in view because dramatic effect. The bad guy is boasting or something.

There is a great effect when the big bad comes out, says a big bad thing, and then critically hits someone. There is an equally funny effect when he comes out, says a big bad thing, and then whiffs his attack.

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