Hey there StatRollers! Let me play Dungeon Master for a moment and set the scene for you. Your D&D party has been adventuring for months. They have uncovered deep and intricate plot hooks, dealt with nefarious ne’er do well NPCs, tracked through miles of desolate wasteland and delved down into the deepest, darkest, most dangerous dungeons (Whew! now that’s some alliteration right there!) and all of it is culminating in the last battle, the final battle with the BBEG (big bad evil guy). The fate of your entire Dungeons & Dragons campaign rests on the outcome of not just this battle, but this dice roll, this single dice roll will decide the fate of the world! The entire party is riveted to the table! They’re anticipating the outcome! They’re hanging on the result…
Do you roll that dice behind a Dungeon Master’s screen?
Today I want to talk about DM (Dungeon Master) screens and dice rolls. Do you roll your dice publicly, or do you roll your dice privately? I have a feeling that I know what most of you are going to say. My guess is that most of you roll behind a DM’s screen, and there are great reasons for doing that. Trust me, I’m not knocking it, and quite frankly I used to use a Dungeon Master’s screen as well. I don’t think I needed to. I honestly don’t think there’s any real need to use a Dungeon Master’s screen. I think I did it more because it was expected. It was how I learned to DM, so I used a DM screen by default.
But since coming back to the game, since starting to play Dungeons & Dragons Fifth Edition, I haven’t used a Dungeon Master’s screen at all, and I think my D&D game is better for it! My game is more exciting, my players are more immersed, and I’m having more fun!
I’ll tell you why I stopped using a Dungeon Master screen. I noticed at my table that some of the most exciting and compelling moments of the game were when a player was rolling an important dice roll (think important attack roles or death saving throws) those dice rolls where the fate of either the player character or the entire party hang on the results. The other players would be literally riveted to the results of that dice roll! I mean their eyes were just glued to the table, and everyone was waiting for that result. If it was a success there would be a huge HUZZAH! If it was a failure there is a huge groan! But I think (as a Dungeon Master) I was missing that! Truth be told, I was a little jealous. I wanted that type of reaction to my dice rolls and I don’t think that I was able to achieve that type of reaction rolling behind a DM’s screen.
So, I stopped using a Dungeon Master screen and I started rolling publicly. My players are much more involved in the game. They are certainly more immersed in the game. But, I’m having more fun as well! It allows me that same type of excitement even as a DM! And, I would encourage you to give it a try too!
Now, I know what you’re thinking!
You’re thinking: “I can’t fudge dice rolls if I don’t use a Dungeon Master’s Screen!”
And, that’s a valid point! You don’t have the ability to fudge a dice roll. But, in all honesty, you shouldn’t be fudging dice rolls in your Dungeons & Dragons game anyway. I think it takes away from your fun if you remove the element of chance. If you’re truly acting as the puppet master and pulling all the strings behind the DM screen, if you’re determining outcomes regardless of the element of fate it takes away the fun for you. You’re simply telling a story, it becomes a monologue as opposed to a collaborative story-telling effort. It’s much less exciting for you because you already know what’s going to happen.
So now you’re thinking: “If I leave everything up to chance my campaign could get completely derailed. I’ll end up with a TPK (total party kill) or my storyline will fall completely apart and I don’t know where to go next!”
And, yes, that could happen. And believe me when I say I’m not here to tell anybody how to run their game. I don’t claim to be the best Dungeon Master in the world (in fact, that’s why I want to talk to you all about this, to get your input and your thoughts on public versus private rolling) but, I maintain that if your entire Dungeons & Dragons campaign, if your storyline hangs on the outcome of a single die roll, then I think you’re doing it wrong. And again, this is not judgment! I swear to you this is not judgment! What I’m saying is, if your party has to uncover a specific plot hook in order to move your story forward, then don’t make the discovery of that plot hook dependent upon a die roll. Give your party multiple ways to discover that plot hook and continue the story. Make sure that things that are crucial to your D&D campaign, things that are crucial to making sure that your Dungeons & Dragons campaign moves forward aren’t dependent upon a die roll.
Dice rolls should be sacred in Dungeons & Dragons! You shouldn’t ever have to fudge dice rolls in D&D, and the way to make sure that you don’t ever (as a Dungeon Master) have to fudge a die roll, is to make sure that you’re not asking your players to make a die roll for something that is crucial and critical to your D&D campaign. Figure out another way, or create multiple ways for them to achieve or uncover whatever it is that moves your story along. Hell, tie it to their D&D 5e background or back-story! Subtly let them know that now is a good time to use the inspiration you awarded them! (You’re using the D&D5e inspiration mechanic, right? If not YOU SHOULD BE!) At the very least figure out a way to use the D&D5e advantage mechanic on the dice roll.
So, that is my opinion on DM screens and Dungeons & Dragons. Again, I do roll publicly, but I’ve done both. I’ve rolled dice behind a DM screen and lately, I’ve been rolling dice publicly and I enjoy the public dice rolling so much more than the private dice rolling. I don’t think that I will ever go back, and I really don’t see any reason to. I’m having more fun at the table, and my players are too!
But I want to know what you all think, so hit me up in the comments below! Let me know which you prefer and why! There are many valid reasons to roll behind a Dungeon Master’s screen (some I haven’t even thought of, I’m sure)! But, I think there are just as many valid reasons why you should roll publicly! So, hit me up in the comments below and we can discuss. You tell me why you think I should be rolling dice behind a DM screen, and I’ll tell you why I think you should be rolling your dice publicly!
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Thanks for reading, and until next time, may the dice roll ever in your favor!