In a game of D&D 5e, my PC was trespassing when an NPC noticed me. They started slowly backing away to leave, with intentions to call guards. So I tried to persuade him, but the DM didn't call for any rolls, and the NPC ran away and we got in trouble as a result.

I asked the DM afterwards why he didn't call for any rolls, and he said that I need to call for rolls, like the rogue does when he opens locks. I thought that the DM was supposed to call for rolls when needed.

Who calls for rolls, the DM or the player?

I want to specify that DM did say that I would have been able to persuade him, if I had called for a roll and succeeded on it.


It's the DM's job to call for rolls

Players can call for rolls, but that's just because it's sometimes more convenient or useful to avoid a misunderstanding. As a matter of whose job it is, it's the DM's job to call for rolls, and even to decline a player's request for a roll if it's not appropriate for the situation.

The basic division of jobs in D&D 5e is this, and calling for rolls is within the DM's job (PHB, p. 6):

  1. The DM describes the environment. The DM tells the players where their adventurers are and what's around them…

  2. The players describe what they want to do. […] the DM listens to every player and decides how to resolve those actions.

  3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers' actions.

Deciding how to resolve what the players' PCs are doing is the DM's job. Resolving those activities might require rolls, so deciding that and calling for the rolls is part of the DM's job.

So the DM should not be waiting for players to call for rolls.

That said, players can call for rolls. If you are in a situation and you're expecting that your character's activities would be resolved with a roll, and the DM hasn't called for one, it's appropriate to pause for a moment and ask “Should I roll for persuading them?” or something similar. After all, you and the DM might have different understandings of what is happening, and it might not be obvious to the DM that you are trying to persuade an NPC.

But in general, this is a matter of convenience for the player, to get clarifications on what is happening. It's certainly not the player's job to call for all their own rolls.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – mxyzplk
    Oct 28 '16 at 21:44

At my table, it's the DM who decides what you roll, and the player who decides when

Generally, this seems to strike a pretty good balance, assuming both sides are acting in good faith. This seems pretty in line with PHB p.6. In short, I aim to:

  • Present the environment
  • Listen to what the players would like to do. I encourage them to stay away from mechanical descriptions. They'd like to 'jump the gap', for example, rather than 'roll athletics to jump the gap'
  • Tell the players how, mechanically, they can attempt their actions. This oftentimes is telling them what skill they roll to attempt a check.

That's not to say that there's no overlap

It's not uncommon for a player to say "I'd like to jump the gap -- I think an Athletics check would be appropriate."
In a case like this, they'd be absolutely right. Just because I get final say doesn't mean that they're automatically wrong. When first playing with my current group, I'd occasionally hand out Inspiration for players correctly typing their checks -- it gets us away from distracting discussions about skills, and keeps us in the game.

On the other side, I sometimes realise that I haven't included enough information to communicate to the players that something's up, even though their characters would be aware of it.
It's not uncommon for me, as the DM, to prompt appropriate ability checks from time to time. If I haven't portrayed a character quite as shiftily as I'd intended, I'll tell the player that it'd be a good time for an Insight check.

In the past, I've experienced issues when the players state when and what they're rolling.

  • Players try for rolls where it's not really applicable
    And in cases like this, it's oftentimes just a distraction. Immediately upon entering a room, maybe, the barbarian will shout the result they got on their perception roll, even though there's nothing to notice. Sometimes a rogue will roll lockpicking knowing that it's not applicable, in the hopes that "maybe something will work if I get a 20".

By having the DM determine if a roll is required, or applicable, it can cut out a lot of little 15-second side jaunts. If the barbarian wants to see what's inside the bar, there's not really a need for a roll. I can just describe what's there without requiring math. If the rogue really wants to try 'picking the lock' on what is actually a featureless slab of stone, there's nothing to even try -- they just fail automatically.

  • Players try to roll inapplicable skills
    Occasionally I'll have the bard state that they'd like to walk up to guard, and threaten to "set him aflame" if he doesn't cooperate, followed by -- "That's a 23 on persuasion."
    The problem here, of course, is that it's an obvious threat -- Persuasion doesn't come into it.

This comes up when a player wants to roll what they're good at, not what's applicable. If the rogue wants to do a running long jump, adding in a backflip isn't going to change it to an acrobatics check. In the past, though, they've definitely tried. By having the DM decide what's rolled, it keeps the game a bit more in line.

  • Players miss something important, and it's my fault
    And when it happens, I feel terrible.
    It happens to every DM at some point, though. Maybe you don't present yourself as lying well (or have gotten used to hiding it). Maybe you forgot to include an important detail in your description of the room 5 minutes back, and it's too late now.

Sometimes it's possible to skip over the detail and just move on, but... maybe it's really, really cool. It would lessen the game to drop it, and it'd be unfair to make the players fail a check that they really can't know about. It might not be 'best practice' for a DM to tell a player when they're making a check, but it's sometimes a good way to recover from your mistakes.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I would say it's partially the DM's fault; you were trying to persuade the NPC -- if it were possible, the DM should ask you to roll the relevant skill. I would've seen the asker's situation as the DM handwaving the persuasion away for plot purposes (e.g. even with a 50 in CHA and 100 ranks in Persuasion I wouldn't have had a snowball's chance in hell). In situations like this where players are roleplaying something the DM feels requires a roll, my DMs have always asked for a roll for success. \$\endgroup\$
    – Doktor J
    Oct 28 '16 at 20:40

This is kind of a case by case topic. Some groups can have the players call for rolls when appropriate, some the DM only, some both.

In my group, the DM generally calls for all rolls, since he pays careful attention to how we perform and get bonus experience for succeeding with high results. Sometimes he does miss chances for rolls, and we remind him.

In your case, the DM should've definitely asked for a check. An exception to this would be if the NPC had specific instructions to call for guards if anyone was found in the area (though I still would've given a check).

Basic point is: each DM and group plays differently.


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