Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Who rolls damage, the GM or the Players?

On Sunday's GURPS Gamma World session, our GM rolled the damage dice for our gunfire. We didn't engage in any melee, but maybe he would have rolled that as well.

I actually like the effect, especially with guns - you have an idea of how many shots probably hit, but no idea what you did to the target except from what you can observe (he screams and falls, his head partly disappears, he doesn't even flinch.) You really have no idea, and being in the dark about results can really add some tension - save these bullets, or make sure? Maybe he's just stunned . . .

For or not, it's been my near-universal experience with gaming that the players roll the dice for pretty much all the things they initiate. Skill rolls, damage rolls, to hit rolls, spell effects, etc. - and the GM rolls for the NPCs, and for things beyond the control of the PCs (damage to PCs, resistance rolls for NPC victims of your spells, etc.)

But GMs rolling has some serious roots.

OC: [. . .] here the player [. . .] rolls a d20 to see if his strike was successful. A 20, and a beaming player shots: "I got it!"
DM: "You're right, and you do . . . (with these words the DM rolls a d6 to determine the amount of damage) SIX POINTS!"

- DMG, p. 98


"DM: Good throw, Morri. You do (rolling dice) 6 points of damage"
- Dicing with Dragons, p. 13

In that book, the GM rolls for spell effects too, in the example.

I recall old schoolers who predate even me describing games where the player rolls nothing, and it's all descriptive.

Does anyone play this way? I wonder - although I bet no one or nearly no one does, not for a long game anyway.

But rolling damage - any GMs keep all of the damage effects hidden behind the screen, even those of the players?

I kind of think I'd like to do that, when I ref my next gun-heavy game.


  1. I much prefer having my players roll everything in games I've run - including monster attack rolls, saves, and damage. I love watching their faces scrunch up as they pray that their high roller doesn't hold true.

    It's way more fun than you'd imagine.

    1. That does sound fun. I conceal a lot because I want fog of war - and letting the players roll for the monsters means handing them lots of extremely valuable intelligence about their foes. Some of that may be game dependent, though - if you already know all the stats, the rolls matter more than the FOW effect.

  2. I like rolling the damage that the players deal to keep them guessing about the state of their opponents. Often it is not necessary - for example if there is damage reduction (by armor, natural armor) or an uncertainty of the opponents HP total. Then they can roll their damage - and have a general idea how well their characters performed their attack but leave a certain doubt about how effective the end result really was.
    Against humanoids the players have a pretty good guess, but against constructs or elementals? How effective is their attack really, how much gets absorbed by their unique physique? What does it take to KILL this thing?

    Also letting the players roll the damage dealt to themselves can be quite fun. Keeps them something to do while it is not their turn. During the monsters turn the GM usually has enough to do already.
    Though, when I like it most is when I have the PC roll for their damage out of combat - for traps, hazards, environment. Because then it feels like passing them the initiative along with the dice. "Something bad happened, here are the dice to see how bad it really is. And I am done describing what happened, it is up to you now to react to it."

  3. In my early days as a DM, rememeber my players rolling only initiative and damage during combat. I rolled just about everything else.

    It was something my brother, who introduced me to hobby, did. I'm still not sure why. I guess it was easier for me to roll the attack die and look at the attack charts behind the DM screen. (This was AD&D)

    I think when the players and I grasped THAC0 in AD&D 2e I started letting them roll the attack die--still not certain though.

    @ Charles Atkins & Lars L: Those are great ideas.

  4. I let the players roll their own "to hit" and damage dice. I only roll for them when they wouldn't know right away if they were successful or not, such as searching for traps, hiding in shadows, or moving silently.


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