17 April 2011


I'm not talking about wet t-shirts or those fancy sheets of plastic you show off on an old-fashioned overhead projector. No, I'm talking about the transparency demonstrated by a GM to his players.

I got to thinking about this last night as we were playing the last Warhammer Fantasy game I'll be able to run until we're safely nestled in our new house in Rhode Island. I've taken to making my to-hit and damage rolls in full view of the players. I'm fairly brazen about it, and I hadn't given any thought to how it might make them feel.

Let me preface this by saying: The chances of hitting, for anyone playing a first-career character in WFRP, are highly dependent on how crappy your Weapon Skill attribute is. Generally, it's pretty crappy, so unless players make liberal use of specific combat actions (which are relatively simple to incorporate), they're not going to be hitting very often. In fact, it often feels like you're rolling to miss, with the happy chance of a hit being a reason for celebration.

(Let me say that I really enjoy WFRP. Yes, starting characters are oftentimes inept to the point of comedy, but they *do* improve in the long run, and I think that's something that any player with a long-lived WFRP character can be proud of... especially when you consider the inherent lethality of the combat system.)

Keeping this in mind, I tend to make my NPC's to-hit rolls for all to see. Last night's posse of stinking, maggot-riddled zombies probably hit the players a grand total of four times throughout the entire combat. The players did manage to re-deadify the zombies in the long run, but they had to work at it... and there was much rejoicing.

On reflection, I started to wonder: Do my players actually want me to be this transparent? By making my rolls in the open, I have no recourse for fudging said die rolls. If I hit a player in his head and then roll a decapitation crit on him, there's no way for me to take it back. The player can, of course, spend a Fate point to avoid his messy and untimely demise, so there is a safety net of sorts worked into the process.

When I first started GMing games, back in... erm... well, in antiquity, I was quite attached to the GM screens I used. I hid my dice rolls, for the most part, because I knew that I'd annihilate my players if I didn't. I could fudge rolls as I saw fit, scaling back damage on lethal blows to make the fights that much more suspenseful. "Oh, wow, dude... he hit you for ten points of damage. You've got one hit point left? Sucks to be you!" And all that when my actual damage roll was closer to twenty than it was to ten.

(Another note, this one to the players I've played with in the past: Yes, I fudged dice rolls on occasion. I didn't do it all the time, only when it seemed appropriate to do so. Hopefully this doesn't ruin the enjoyment of the games we used to play (assuming you enjoyed them in the first place).)

As time's gone by, I've become less concerned with the GM screen as a method of secretly hiding my rolls. In retrospect, I think I liked using screens to hide my game notes from prying player eyes more than to hide dice rolls. Given that I tend to run my games from a laptop these days, which only I can read with any degree of clarity, the only real reason to use a GM screen is to reference the information they contain. Since I don't like rolling my dice on my laptop's keyboard, I make my rolls on the table.

But how do players feel about this sort of thing? Is it refreshing that a GM can be so open with the rolls he makes? Does it make the game more suspenseful knowing that my next roll might result in your character tripping on his own intestines? Does it aggravate you because you'd rather not know what I rolled? Or do you not care one way or the other?

Call me curious, but tell me what you think. That's what the comments are for on this here blog.

Oh, and I will get back to my dissertations on the games I want to play. As it is, I'm not really in the mood to write reams of nonsensical gaming jibber jabber after a long day at work followed by an hour's commute home. Once I'm settled in my new place, I'll definitely pick up the slack. I promise.

1 comment:

mat black said...

i usually make most of rolls behind a screen. not to hide them, but because since i use a screen, it's easier to roll behind it than reach over and roll them in the open. however, if there's a very tense combat situation with a lot of player anticipation as to the outcome, i roll out in the open. even if i can't take back a crit at a moment like that, i haven't run across a player who took it badly. and if the roll goes in the players' favor, there's usually a great round of cheering that really reinforces the camaraderie and invigorates them.