When the players roll all the dice

DM: “The Orc Shaman utters the cursed syllables and flame erupts from his hands!”
Rogue: “I dive out of the way!”
Wizard: “I use a counterspell!”
Fighter: “I raise my shield!”
DM: “… it’s +8 vs Reflex. Sorry guys, you’re all ducking for cover.”
All: “But that makes no sense!”

DM: “The Orc Shaman utters the cursed syllables and flame erupts from his hands! DC18, take 3d6 if it hits.”
Rogue: “I dive out of the way!” (rolls Reflex and makes it)
Wizard: “I use a counterspell!” (rolls Will, fails and takes damage)
Fighter: “I raise my shield!” (rolls AC, fails and takes damage)

Now, I don’t know about you, but to me the second setup works so much better. The onus is put on the players to react to events rather have the rules dictate how they respond. In a good scenario events should revolve around the heroes in much the way that the central characters in a novel are just that – right at the centre. What happens off-scene (for example, the Evil Necromancer summoning his Undead Legion) might be impressive in the GM’s mind’s eye, but it’s really just window dressing in preparation for the PCs fighting said Undead Legion further down the line.

When the heroes are centre stage (which should be pretty much all the time) it is their tale, and the GM’s role is to act as narrator and instigator of stimuli. This is where having the players roll all the dice comes in. Their character’s fates are (literally) in their hands when the players roll to see how much damage they take.

Here’s how it works.

  • When the players attack, this works as normal. They roll to hit, and roll damage.
  • When their opponents attack, give them a DC of (10+to hit value) and tell them the damage effects. The players roll against their Defences (or a skill, if they’re being especially creative). For example, the Fighter in the example above would roll d20+(AC-10) to use his shield and armour to absorb the blast.
  • Opponent Saving Throws against ongoing effects are rolled by the player who caused the ongoing effect. For example, if an attack by the Wizard leaves a monster Immobilized(Save Ends) then the Wizard’s player rolls on the monster’s turn to see if the effect continues. If he forgets, the effect has ended (he’ll only forget once :D)
  • Skill checks, etc work as normal. If the DM should roll a dice (for an opposed check, for example), use a level appropriate DC value or 10+the NPC’s skill rank.

Obviously, the players will play to their PC’s strengths in a system where the dice (and what to roll) are under their control. The Rogue with the obscenely high Reflex defence will always want to dodge out of the way, and the high AC Fighter will let his armour take most of the impact. On the one hand this makes the game easier, (but this is balanced by the risk of low rolls), but also reinforces the nature of their characters. A Rogue will dodge where possible, and a Fighter will raise his shield. It’s the nature of the beast.

The key as GM is to mix regular attacks with ones which limit their options (without looking like you’re limiting their options, of course). Bad guys use Poisoned Blades (DC check versus Fortitude or take Ongoing 5 damage) and mind-controlling magic (you can’t dodge that) for a reason. Use Acid attacks which puts the Fighter at risk of reducing his precious AC until he finds an armoursmith, or narrow corridors with no room to dodge out of the way. Just don’t do it all the time – they are the heroes and deserve to shine, after all.

This might sound like the poor GM is being short-changed, but once the dice move over to the other side of the table it frees the GM to focus more on the story, NPCs and action.

They become an Unconstrained GM. I’ll talk about that, next time.

16 Comments on “When the players roll all the dice”

  1. Great article

    You don’t mention critical hits in the article, but the easiest would be count a defensive roll of 1 as a crit

    1. I was saving that for another post :)

      We use degrees of success. Succeed by 5, 10 or more and better things happen (gain combat advantage, shift as a free action, etc). Fail by 5,10 or more and worse things happen (the opponent scoring a critical hit, gaining combat advantage next turn, etc).

  2. Where is it said that Reflex attacks (or any kind of attack) can only be avoided in a certain way? Int improves Reflex & representing it as counterspells makes perfect sense. Shields provide a Reflex bonus, so raising one makes sense.

    1. True, on both counts. 4e goes some way toward supporting different ways of avoiding attacks (using a Shield to gain a Reflex bonus as you say, for example), but it still dictates which defence is used per the rules. Putting the control of the PC’s actions directly into the hands of the players (rather than letting the rules set the response) is just one more step in that direction.

      1. I think you missed the point of pdunwin’s reply, which was the third alternative:

        DM: “The Orc Shaman utters the cursed syllables and flame erupts from his hands! DC18, take 3d6 if it hits.”
        Rogue: “I dive out of the way!” (rolls Reflex and makes it)
        Wizard: “I use a counterspell!” (rolls Reflex, fails and takes damage)
        Fighter: “I raise my shield!” (rolls Reflex, fails and takes damage)

  3. To each their own, but I’d be uncomfortable with doing things this way in 4E as a player and a DM — whichever side of the screen I was on.

    Maybe it’s just who I’ve gamed with, (and it’s not a freeform thing, I mean, my favorite games are diceless) but I perceive this as the source of quite a few arguments at the table.

    I mean, my immediate though with your example of the poisoned blades was “hey, if I’m being attacked by blades, why can’t I use my Reflex to dodge, or my shield to block just like any other weapon?”

    But I think the problem goes even deeper than that. As a GM, I’d be disappointed to be such a passive part of the game (and I realize you intend to address this again, but…) and as a player I’d hate to have to keep up with all that extra stuff — especially in 4e where the players are already burdened with a bundle of stuff to keep up with.

    1. Lol! That would work if you’re Mr Dodge, acrobatic thief extraordinaire :) Like I said, PCs can play to their strengths. Imagine that thief frantically trying to find something to dodge behind. The nearest cover is an upturned table 30′ away. Does he make it? Roll them bones!

      Of course, a wicked GM would knock the thief prone first to make sure he can’t dodge out the way, or use an area effect attack larger than the distance he can dodge. But not too often. The key is to remind the player that dodging isn’t always the solution, not to punish his PC. Much.

  4. Another thing to consider: Reflex doesn’t need to (and often probably can’t) mean “dodging out of the way.” If it did, you’d reasonably take penalties to Reflex due to a lot of common conditions that don’t impose them. Sometimes it might just mean looking away, closing one’s eyes, taking a breath or even remaining perfectly still.

  5. OK so what your saying is allow the character to use his strongest Defense and using it as an active save vs a passive defense against an attack. But how are you doing this in 4e Land where AC, Fort, Will and Reflex are calculated to be passive defense numbers? Your example really doesn’t show that. Are you just taking the numbers, subtracting 10 from it and applying that as a bonus to the roll, I’m assuming that’s the case since the opposite of that is how you calculated the DC. This leads to my next question, are you allowing the monsters the same opportunity to beat a players attack? I hope I’m not coming across as a naysayer because I like this idea (even though I think its very Un-4e). Our last session we got our butts handed to us because these creatures were pounding us with reflex based fire attacks. I’m a half-orc Pally in Full Plate. The DM could practically roll a 1 and beat my reflex save. It was a very frustrating evening to say the least. Your system at least makes me the capt of my own barbecue.

  6. here you go, from the Reimaging Skills and Ability Scores seminar at D&DXP…

    Rob: Right now, Cha is linked to saves for fear and charm effects. However, if you describe it well, you could use different stat. For example the big monster is grappling you, you might use dexterity to save and get out. But you can also have some other ways of getting out that grapple. Maybe there’s a gem on that creature’s head and you can make an intelligence saving throw to realize that if you mess with it, the creature would die and let you go.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.