370 When Good Dice Go Bad

What happens when you’re a player and the dice just aren’t going your way? What can you do besides melt those little bastards into a toxic puddle of goo?


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For games where higher results yield a greater chance of success, I tend to keep two sets of dice in my bag at all times: one to use as a player and another for when I’m GMing. Because one tends to roll higher (ideal for killing monsters) and the other rolls lower (less chance of killing PCs).

Where it gets tricky is when games use their bell curve to create things like success with complications and things like that where kicking ass isn’t the most interesting way to play (such as PbtA games). In that case, the median range is ideal and two dice added together no longer care which is your “best” and which is your “worst.” They smash together to create which the fuuuuuck they want.

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Messages redacted.
I shall endeavor to keep humor and complements out of my posts (giant fucking eyeroll)

Ooh! It was strange to hear @Fafhrd be the voice of conciliation up against @sean playing the part of the exaggerated “5e-checks suck” position.

Clearly, I have some thoughts. The good news is that I’ve shared many of them here before, so they’ll just be links… :slight_smile:

First, @sean - I call BS on the “A failed check means you get nothing!” trope. It CAN be like that [as is typical for combat/saves], but that isn’t the only option, RAW. Here’s an excerpt from the D&D 5e Players Handbook:

…if the total equals or exceeds the DC, the ability check is a success — the creature overcomes the challenge at hand. Otherwise, it’s a failure, which means the character or monster makes no progress toward the objective or makes progress combined with a setback determined by the DM.

The RAW clearly state that the DM can do whatever they like with a roll that doesn’t meet the target number.

I wrote previously about how there are three states of information when related to ability checks:

Are there some DMs that run all Ability Checks too much like combat? I was like that a long time ago, but saying “There are so many bad DMs out there!” is beyond unhelpful, but an unforced foul on your part @sean. IMO, it violates your very own motto: “Be a Positive force for TTPGs.”

The positive version might be something like “How can we help DMs use the SECOND option for failure that’s in already the RAW?”

Turning back to the player-facing options when your dice-go-cold (or for any other reason you don’t feel like rolling or taking a forward-facing posture) there are many dozens of support actions available, again RAW which I detailed here:

So far, I’ve mentioned nothing other than 5e RAW (sources included.) But I’d like to applaud @Fafhrd’s talking extensively about player actions that aren’t covered in any rulebook, and encouraging players to petition their DMs for creative interpretation. This isn’t a strange or unusual thing, but has been core to D&D game design at least as far back as 1e! That’s how we have always played the game! I hope G&BS continues encouraging this level of creativity, no matter what the conflict resolution mechanic.

Lastly, I’ll put one more link here related to the one house-rule that I use that seems to combat the bulk of problems related to cold dice:

It grants a token for a natural-1 rolled and encourages sharing of resources for success-when-it-matters.


Awesome and on-point here @OldSchoolDM . Frankly, I’m at a point where I tend to just ignore folks who do the “it’s all pass or fail!” stuff with D&D. It’s so played out and annoying I just roll my eyes and moved past it. I should have anticipated that and had the RAW detail that you called out here to help cover it.

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I should qualify what I mean by crappy GM’s. Those that have been doing it a while…as opposed to a first timer, or one that is just starting their journey. I’m talking about GM’s with the same tenure as yourself, or more, that present/introduce some major rpg faux pas because their ego doesn’t allow them to self-reflect. They’re the ones that GM for a first-time player and produces such a horrible experience as to have the player think “this is not what I expected. Screw this.” and they decide rpg’s are not for them and ultimately leaving the hobby never to return. The stories I’ve heard or read about really stand out in my mind, more so than the praise and compliments that should be more publicly prevalent.

I thought we touched on this. No?

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Talking about DM quality is an interesting topic of it’s own and probably deserves an episode or two itself, though likely fraught with peril and controversy if entered into ad-hoc. :slight_smile:

Clearly, whatever the distribution of bad-DMs are out there in my “tenure” group - this group is rapidly shrinking in size based on D&D Demographics from 2020:

That shows more than 1/3 is 15-24, and over half is under 30! Presuming that DMs are coming up at a proportionate rate, new DMs and those with only a few years experience will soon be the majority, if they aren’t already! My demographic group is < 13% of the total and has been shrinking. Huzza! Let us teach them the ways of the Light Side.

A bad experience like this isn’t limited to so-called ego-centric grognard DMs, it happens with all less-practiced DMs as well. The care and feeding of new players is a major topic of it’s own - and positive support for both the new players and less-practiced DMs though things like this podcast are some of the tools to improve our beloved hobby.

BTW, doesn’t this apply to all game systems? It only seems to come up when discussing D&D - perhaps that’s the effect of being the first and largest, but rules of the game aren’t the cause.

Sounds like this is what it really comes down to: Horror gaming stories stick better than happy results. This isn’t unique to RPGs at all, and is quite a problem with social media, and it’s only gotten worse, since negativity-based feeds have become quite profitable. But that’s another rant…

This all makes me think of the “Bad Apples” saying inversion:

My final response is - let’s focus on supporting our hobby by presenting and reflecting the practices that make it what we want it to be.

More looking at the DM in the mirror.

Keep up the good fight @sean and @Fafhrd and everyone here!


What a nice conversation, with all kinds of solid points. I was surprised by the “bad GMs” rant, but chalked it up to Sean not having yet saved v. the “Had a shitty day” condition. The save happens at the end of the podcast, see, so its effect carried through.

It is great to see that demographic info. I see a lot of D&D (and some other RPGs) at my university, and I would guess that in our little microcosm there are more young players and GMs than older. Although I do keep running into other faculty that play as well… I think the podcast has talked about GMing for young players, but I don’t recall if there’s been one focused on aiding young GMs.

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