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First of all I want to say that I know it's just pure bad luck but that doesn't diminish the frustration I am experiencing right now.

I play a ranger in a campaign with my friends and we are all level 3 (switched from DSA to D&D recently). Recently my rolls just suck and it takes all the fun from me since everytime I try to do something special or try to obtain vital info to continue the plot I roll bad and fail.

For example yesterday me and 3 other PCs wanted to infilitrate a bandit camp. Since I have the highest stealth value (+5) we decided it might be a good idea to let me sneak near the camp to look for guards and count how many people there actually are.

I failed my stealth check and the guard outside the camp sees me. To prevent him from calling his mates I tried to shoot him in the throat to which my GM told me that I would have a penalty of -5 on this shot (In the end my shot still has +2 since I normally have +7). As expected I failed my roll again and when we roll for iniative the bandits go first. Our cleric backs me up so the melee guys can't attack me. After that I miss 3 of 4 shots before the enemy archer gets a natural 20 on me and instantly drops me to 0 hp (I rolled low hp increase so I have 14hp max.)

I know it's just a bad luck spree but except for one or two rolls I was not able to contribute with my character to the whole campaign plot.

How do you guys cope with such situations? I love D&D and pen&paper but there is simply no fun constantly failing the important rolls and feeling underwhelmed by your own contribution to the game.

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closed as too broad by daze413, nvoigt, LegendaryDude, GMJoe, J. A. Streich Aug 19 '16 at 5:23

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Possible duplicate of How to Manage Player Frustration and Disengagement \$\endgroup\$ – nvoigt Aug 18 '16 at 8:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm sorry, do you really mean you were "not able to contribute... to the whole campaign plot," or rather you weren't able to contribute to the session.? If it's the first, I think I'd need a lot more to understand how, over the course of many sessions, you've been narratively sidelined by the dice. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Aug 18 '16 at 13:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ "How do you guys cope with such situations?" is at once too broad and too opinionated, in my opinion, to be an acceptable RPG.SE question. I am voting to close as too broad. This sounds more like a discussion board post/prompt than a problem that can have an objectively best solution. \$\endgroup\$ – LegendaryDude Aug 18 '16 at 18:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nvoigt I think it's related, but that question and its answers are pretty heavily from the GM point of view and not the player point of view, which is the frame of this question. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk says reinstate Monica Aug 18 '16 at 21:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is tagged 5th edition. Why is your DM giving you a -5 penalty instead of disadvantage? \$\endgroup\$ – chif-ii Aug 19 '16 at 2:48

10 Answers 10

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Talk to your DM about making failure awesome.

The priority in any RPG is that it should be fun first, storytelling second and mechanics a distant third. D&D 5e makes this explicit in its how to play section (PHB p.6):

  1. The DM describes the environment.
  2. The players describe what they want to do.
  3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions.

Of particular note is:

the DM decides what happens, often relying on the roll of a die to determine the results of an action.

Often not always!

Before calling for a die roll there needs to be a clear difference between success and failure and both of them should advance the game! If there is no difference or failure is just boring don't roll the dice; the character just does what they want to do. However, it is much better if failure is at least as interesting as success and leads to a new environment where the players have new options.

Specifics:

we decided it might be a good idea to let me sneak near the camp to look for guards and count how many people there actually are.

This is what you want to do - success means you get this information, failure means you don't. Both of these are interesting in that they allow the players to make different choices, in one circumstance with adequate information, in the other without.

The failure state should not (necessarily) involve you in an unwanted combat.

This is how it goes down at my table:

You are creeping up on the camp when a stick beneath you cracks with a loud snap! "Who goes there?" shouts a guard "Charlie, there's someone creeping around out there, get the sergeant!"

You haven't been seen yet but the guard is now on high alert. You can quietly back away or press on. If you press on you will be making your Dexterity (Stealth) check against his active Wisdom (Perception) with advantage.

See how much more interesting this is than: "He sees you, roll initiative." You still have control of the situation (which is as it should be) and you can take a big risk for success or back away and accept failure.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Although I don't often like presenting binary options to my players, in this instance, asking the DM, "What do I think will happen if I fail my Stealth check?" also seems like a good start. It also encourages the DM to think of something other than, "Well, he'll see you and shoot you." \$\endgroup\$ – Neil B Aug 18 '16 at 11:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Making failure awesome" is a main part for me as a DM. If a player fails horrendously, describe something hilarious that happens as a result. try to make it less about 'playing to win' and more about 'playing for fun' \$\endgroup\$ – Aric Aug 18 '16 at 11:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Since OP said the failed rolls were so consistent I'm imagining one of the missed shots to silence the guard striking a lantern at the camp and starting a fire, maybe some loot gets torched to balance the failed roll but it causes chaos in the camp and OP feels like he contributed. \$\endgroup\$ – Cand3r Aug 18 '16 at 13:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ I disagree slightly on the idea that dice should only be rolled if failure is interesting. Dice should be rolled when failure is possible; it's then the GM's job to design situations in which it is interesting. If for whatever reason failure would obviously be boring (you fail to unlock the chest, it's obviously too difficult for you), you should still roll the dice, but just gloss over the result quickly, and get to the good stuff. \$\endgroup\$ – Ladifas Aug 18 '16 at 22:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DanHenderson That's exactly the system I follow. I think we are in agreement, just wording it slightly differently. When I wrote "failure", I meant failure with no further chance of success. If, after failing a roll, the player can reasonably say "I try again", then there is no reason to roll, unless there is some sort of serious consequence for the length of time the action takes. \$\endgroup\$ – Ladifas Aug 19 '16 at 21:15
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What I've personally witnessed in the last two weeks:

  • Throw your dice clear across the room.
  • Talk soothingly to them and reassure them that it's not their fault.
  • Make pointed comments about replacing them with the other bag of dice you have in your bag.
  • Threaten then with microwave time.

In my experience, comments and threats don't work. You have to follow through. Line up all your dice on a concrete step so they can all watch you use a hammer to smash the worst performer into coloured plastic dust. :-)

Seriously though, we've all been there. Sometimes the random number generators just aren't with you. Don't sweat it, just keep playing.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I recall players in table-top strategy games used to have a "bad-dice" glass. Most of those games use millions of d6s, so you could afford to throw quite a few into that pot. \$\endgroup\$ – Ladifas Aug 18 '16 at 22:28
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Being notorious for having bad rolls when it counts, I can speak from experience that this provides a better RP environment than good rolls do. One campaign I played a rogue who was great at opening locks, and so forth.. But the dice hated me thoroughly throughout the campaign. My explanation was that my character was sneaking drinks here and there, and that he was cursed with stress-induced flatulence.

The group howled every time I rolled bad because they imagined this rogue trying to sneak up on someone, when suddenly he just rips one and the jig is up.

Point being, let the rolls be part of your character and just play the game. You'll have a lot more fun that way, and so will everyone else. =)

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For you: Get new dice.

Dice are not perfectly balanced and over time they do wear away, the cjeaper ones faster than most. You don't end up rolling a 1 every time but the probability can be skewed to lower or higher numbers.

A test of this is to put a dice in a glass of water and tap it, see what number it comes to and repeat. Plenty of videos on google of this. It is a well known cheating trick to create weighted dice, its possible yours are weighted negligently.

I personally get new dice for a new campaign, not necessary but who doesn't like shiny new dice :)

For your GM: Use extreme rolls to add tension

When I GM I treat natural 1 and 20 as epic rolls, something epic happens not double damage.

In the scenario you mention I would have had the bandits critical shot shoot the bow from your hand and scatter it D20 feet from you. Yes your unarmed but your alive, now you have a to make a choice, draw a blade and go melee or ... pull an arrow from your quiver, dive for the bow thinking this is your moment and take that all or nothing shot.

Maybe you miss yet again and he shoots you dead while your prone on the floor but at least its a cool death. Now you can laugh with your friends about you ridiculous luck instead of feeling jaded about that critical.

I once had a player with the same issue as you, after the second session of this the party decided he was cursed and dragged him off to the local cleric who confirmed he had in fact offended the gods, cue side quest of atonement.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If you use Salt Water, the dice will likely float, making it much easier to see if it's weighted or not. \$\endgroup\$ – aslum Aug 18 '16 at 16:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ I picture you wearing special "die rolling gloves" as well. Can't have oil from your hands spoiling the balance after all... \$\endgroup\$ – T.E.D. Aug 18 '16 at 22:46
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An ounce of prevention can help reduce the frequency of bad rolls at important times

When there is "an important action" it is worth your while to skew the odds in your favor as much as you and your party can. The following may reduce the number of these untimely rolls.

For Ability Checks

While this won't help for attack rolls, for key ability check rolls consider the cleric (or a druid?) in your party. Does either one have the Guidance cantrip? If so, have the cleric cast Guidance on you before you try a stealth or a hide check. (Basic Rules p. 92)

Duration: Concentration, up to 1 minute
You touch one willing creature. Once before the spell ends, the target can roll a d4 and add the number rolled to one ability check of its choice. It can roll the die before or after making the ability check. The spell then ends.

Help for Combat and Ability Checks

(Basic Rules p. 72)

You can lend your aid to another creature in the completion of a task. When you take the Help action, the creature you aid gains advantage on the next ability check it makes to perform the task you are helping with, provided that it makes the check before the start of your next turn.

Alternatively, you can aid a friendly creature in attacking a creature within 5 feet of you. You feint, distract the target, or in some other way team up to make your ally’s attack more effective. If your ally attacks the target before your next turn, the first attack roll is made with advantage

For some actions, help can come from another party member. A Wizard's or a Warlock's familiar can provide help to you on an attack, but that will probably depend upon the situation.

Inspiration if you've earned it

If your DM has awarded you an Inspiration point (or if the other players have using that variant of how to award Inspiration (DMG p. 240-241)) then using this scarce resource (a re-roll) might be best saved for those "important rolls" that make a significant difference in the adventure.

Calling all Bards

If there's a bard in your group, getting bardic inspiration die (PHB. p. 33) before crucial rolls is usually a benefit to the party. How and when the bard expends this limited resource is something for your group to think about/talk about before a session. A bonus to the die roll can sometimes make the difference.

...you {the bard} use a bonus action on your turn to choose one creature other than yourself within 60 feet of you who can hear you. That creature gains one Bardic Inspiration die, a d6. [...] the creature can roll the die and add the number rolled to one ability check, attack roll, or saving throw it makes.


There are sufficient other fine answers about dealing with the awful rolls any of us experience that I've nothing to add on that score.

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The primary mechanic 5th edition offers to help with crucial rolls is Inspiration.

The halfling racial feature Lucky, the divination wizard's level 2 Portent feature, and the Lucky feat are additional ways to get around poor rolls when it really matters.

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From the player’s perspective, the thing to do is to always work to increase your odds. (Especially in a “swingy” system, every bit counts.) Any gear, situation, Inspiration, help from others, or extra planning you can do to increase the odds are always worth it.

In fact, ideally, you come up with a plan that doesn’t require a roll. As someone smarter than me once said, “The first time I read D&D the most obvious thing is that you want to avoid rolling dice at all costs.” (Which was a lot easier back when DMs called for rolls less often than is typical these days.)

And have contingency plans and alternatives already prepared for when a roll fails.

I know this question was about the player’s side of the equation, but I also want to address the flip-side...

From the DM’s perspective, avoid calling for rolls for “essentials”. Either make it a sandbox where nothing is essential or just have the essentials auto-succeed.

You can also make auto-success more interesting by having the player roll to determine if it was a exceptional/ordinary success rather than success/failure.

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The situation you describe is one where it was not unreasonable for the GM to be relying on rolls, nor did the GM make unreasonable calls on results of failure. Discovery and hostility are fine (if boring) consequences to stealth failure, and to-hit rolls are explicitly the core of how the system determines combat outcomes and should not be disregarded lightly.

When a string of bad rolls happens frustration is natural. I feel for you here, and it looks like most of the other answerers do too. I'd advise practicing acceptance; D&D is a game particularly prone to roll streaks, positive and negative. Sometimes you're going to shine and it will feel great, sometimes not. Try to accept both what happened and the natural frustration you feel, while also not letting it ruin your game experience.

Importantly, remember that your fellow players will also have these bad streaks, even if it feels right now like it's just you. When that happens they'll need you to carry the party through the session, just as you needed them here. If you play with cool people they'll appreciate your help when that happens, just as you should appreciate theirs when your dice hate you.

In other words, we all need somebody to lean on.

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Use a non-physical random number generator like a die-roller phone app.

Upsides:

  • True (pseudo)RNG
  • often configurable to auto-add bonuses e.g. roll init + init mod, attack + damage mod
  • no longer have to carry around a bag of dice
  • much fairer than dice which could be naturally biased

Downsides

  • not as satisfying as a die roll
  • phone will die faster
  • much fairer than dice (if you have a positively biased die, this could end up in fewer high rolls)
  • easier to get distracted by your phone (I mean, c'mon, it's right there, I'll just check Facebook....)
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This used to happen to me all the time when rolling for Init (on Roll20 random die generation). No matter when I rolled it always came up low (almost every encounter for several games). So I decided that for init rolls I would always roll twice and take the 2nd roll no matter what. Sure it happens that the first roll is higher than the 2nd, but the low init roll streak stopped and I feel better.

So maybe you take a warm up roll on really important rolls (just make sure you make it clear to everyone/DM what you are doing).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ There is no reason for that to make a functional difference to your outcomes unless you are being dishonest or have some very weird luck! \$\endgroup\$ – Phlyk Aug 19 '16 at 16:01

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