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Author Topic: Hidden die rolls and hidden player decisions  (Read 4119 times)
fodazd
Member

Posts: 12


« on: May 27, 2012, 08:26:39 AM »

Greetings.

Since this is my first thread here, I'd like to give some information about myself and my previous experience with roleplaying: My clear name is "Nico", and I'm from Austria (so sorry if my english is not perfect, my native language is german). I've been roleplaying for about six years now, with some different systems. Here is a list of the systems I have experience with, edition numbes are in parantheses if I know them:

-> Das schwarze Auge (1, 3, 4). I think this is called "The dark eye" in english.
-> D&D (1, 3.5, 4)
-> GURPS (4)
-> The Riddle of Steel
-> Streetfighter
-> oWoD, nearly all gamelines there are.
-> nWoD, mage.
-> Legend of the five rings (2, 3)
-> Star Wars D6 (2)
-> Star Wars Saga
-> Shadowrun (3, 4)
-> Ratten!. I don't know of an english version of this.
-> Rolemaster
-> Pendragon
-> Dresden Files

Over time, I have been playing in different groups with different styles of play. Right now, I am playing a GURPS-campaign where the characters are "normal humans" from earth and visit various other worlds through portals. A little bit like Stargate.

---

So, now about my actual question:

If I am the GM, I like to do all my rolls out in the open, so the players can see the results too. This helps me to convice them that I am in fact not "cheating" them by ignoring the results of the dice whenever I want (as some GMs I've played with did). However, the GURPS-rules explicitly state that the GM should hide his information rolls from the player (and our current GM does). The reason for this is that an open roll on perception, research, investigation or whatever would just kill the feeling of doubt and uncertainty these rolls are trying to evoke. I generally agree with that. It is kind of boring when you always know your character is right. Despite of that, I always get this uncomfortable feeling when the GM rolls the dice secretly.

A similar situation exists with hidden player decisions. We enjoy it when our characters are sometimes scheming against each other secretly. Of course, this requires that the players announce their actions to the GM without the other players knowing. This can also generate this great feeling of uncertainty, when you simply don't know who you can trust. Every character is pursuing another agenda, and some of these agendas may conflict with each other. However, this can create a very similar problem to the hidden dice: How do you know that the GM stays fair and neutral (that is, doesn't arbitrarily favor one character over another), if you can't be there to check for yourself?

So the real question is this: How do you balance the need for fairness with the need for a feeling of uncertainty? Have any of you been in similar situations in the past? Are there any known, smart ways to approaching this problem? Or do I just have to choose one and forget about the other?
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My name: Nico
Callan S.
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Posts: 4268


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« Reply #1 on: May 27, 2012, 04:34:28 PM »

Hi,

I've been GM'ing some AD&D recently and I've felt similarly about the rogues sneaking and trap finding rolls. Also it bugs me that the player merely barks 'I sneak, I check for traps' and I have to jump and start rolling at their command - I'd prefer they have to do a task rather than just command. Yet if they roll, they know if they failed to find a trap. A recent idea (I haven't tested) is that the player rolls, but the GM has a secret D10 he rolls every so often. If it's a 1, then skill is -20%. If it's a 10, the skill is +20%. Granted within a range the player still knows if they failed or passed. But within +/-20% of their skill, they will not know, because the modifier could change the result.

More focused on your situation, you could have a box where as GM you secretly roll the dice into the box, close the lid, then sit it on the table. Latter the players can actually open the box and see the result. This probably lends itself to using D6's (with a lid that presses down on one side), as a D20 might roll around and show a different number once opened (creating a creepy Shrodinger effect). But if the die can be stabilised, it could work for any die.

Hmmm, I guess a GM could still roll and switch the result - perhaps the box is tall (with a wide, stable base) and as GM you have the box outside the GM screen and drop them down, see the result, then close the lid. That way you know the result, it can't have been tampered with, and it can be seen latter. Probably really can only be done with D6's, though.

Quote
However, this can create a very similar problem to the hidden dice: How do you know that the GM stays fair and neutral (that is, doesn't arbitrarily favor one character over another), if you can't be there to check for yourself?
Well, I'd say this is what dice and rules are for. Everyone has biases. If you have it that play can drift away from rules and 100% into the GM's decision and whatever biases he has, you better see that as a feature, because if you see it as a bug, you aught not be doing it. If you keep with rolling, the GM could record rolls and show them to the other player (they'd have to collude to cheat then - I'm assuming the problem is not cheating, but people who GM and like to indulge their own whims (which is basically everyone!))
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fodazd
Member

Posts: 12


« Reply #2 on: May 27, 2012, 06:22:48 PM »

More focused on your situation, you could have a box where as GM you secretly roll the dice into the box, close the lid, then sit it on the table. Latter the players can actually open the box and see the result.

Yes, something like that would be great! Maybe with a little less "die occupation", because I don't have all that many D6's to put into boxes for extended periods of time. So, what I am looking for is a technique that can do the following:
-> The GM can roll without the players seeing the result.
-> The players then get some information based on this roll, but can't be certain about it's accuracy.
-> Once the accuracy of the information is revealed, the GM can prove to the players that the result of the roll hasn't been tampered with.
-> The players can then verify that the accuracy of the information they got really corresponded to the original roll.
-> ...Ideally without using too much real-life resources (dice and boxes everywhere).

Maybe this can be achieved by taking a picture of the roll? Most of us have a mobile phone with the capability to do that. Altough that still seems to be a little too much overhead... I am pretty sure there is a way to do this more effectively. As an IT-Student, I know some cryptography protocols that do something very similar to what I am looking for... Maybe I can cook something up based on those.


Well, I'd say this is what dice and rules are for. Everyone has biases. If you have it that play can drift away from rules and 100% into the GM's decision and whatever biases he has, you better see that as a feature, because if you see it as a bug, you aught not be doing it. If you keep with rolling, the GM could record rolls and show them to the other player (they'd have to collude to cheat then - I'm assuming the problem is not cheating, but people who GM and like to indulge their own whims (which is basically everyone!))

I am seeing it as a bug, at least in situations where the characters are working against each other. In most other situations too, because if I know that the GM doesn't care about the rules, then I feel like my decisions as a player have no meaning anymore. This is acually why I am looking for a mechanic like this: I want my decisions to matter, and to be sure about that, I have to be certain that the GM follows the rules... And as a GM, I want the players to believe me when I say I follow the rules. So you're right: The problem here is not really "cheating" but GMs indulging on their own whims. Note: I don't suspect our current GM manipulates the dice. This is probably just me overreacting because I had some bad experiences with GMs who use the manipulation of hidden rolls as a railroading method.

About the recording of the rolls: Yes, if all rolls are recorded in some way, then it should be easy for the other players to determine if the rules were applied correctly. Maybe the actions of the player could be announced in secret, but the rolls for these actions could be subject to the same mechanic that applies to other "secret" rolls?
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My name: Nico
David Berg
Member

Posts: 997


« Reply #3 on: May 28, 2012, 12:51:40 AM »

How do you balance the need for fairness with the need for a feeling of uncertainty?
Here's a formula I've gotten some mileage out of:

Public rolls for character performance, hidden target numbers for task difficulty, and revealed information from failure.

P1: "I try to break down the wooden door!  I roll my d20... 18!  I give it a truly mighty bash!"

GM: "The door gives, but does not break."

P1: "What?!"

GM: "You see some cracks in the wood, with the glint of something shiny underneath."

P1: "Oh!  This door is something more than it appears!"

The key is the GM communicating that there is in fact a fictional reason for the surprising roll outcome.  If the GM gets in the habit of always doing this, then fears of cheating the rules tend to fade, in my experience.  (Cheating the spirit of play by randomly reinforcing all your wooden doors with adamantite is another issue.)

Hope this helps!
-David
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way
Member

Posts: 10


« Reply #4 on: May 28, 2012, 11:52:11 PM »

Why don't you just roll when the information is needed? Like, don't roll for a find traps or stealth when the rouge enters the dungeon. Roll it when the trap is about be activated or the rouge is about to be spotted! It's an instant action generator instead of a boring set-up roll.

If it's investigation or research you have to be a bit more creative. But then again, what's the point in a research roll that either lets the story to continue or blocks that path entirely? You can try to set the situation up so that the roll is needed later, in a heated situation. Or: make those rolls in the open, give them false information and be explicit that it is false information. But give them XP if they choose to pursue that path anyway. Tempt them!

Regards, way
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fodazd
Member

Posts: 12


« Reply #5 on: May 29, 2012, 04:03:01 AM »

The key is the GM communicating that there is in fact a fictional reason for the surprising roll outcome.  If the GM gets in the habit of always doing this, then fears of cheating the rules tend to fade, in my experience.  (Cheating the spirit of play by randomly reinforcing all your wooden doors with adamantite is another issue.)

Well, in situations where the player knows the cause of the surprising outcome immediately after the roll, this is a pretty good and straightforward way of doing it. However, on a research or investigation roll, the causes for unusual target numbers will have to stay hidden until the validity of the information is confirmed. Otherwise, the players would immediatly know that their information is faulty. The basic problem is this:
-> If a player rolls very good on his research roll, then the given information is much more likely to be believed. There is just no uncertainty there... And if the GM gives faulty information on such a roll, the players will understandably not think this is particularly fair. Except of course when the subject of the information is really, really obscure.
-> If a player rolls very bad on his research roll, then everyone immediately knows that the information will be faulty. Also no uncertainty. Here, the GM could just randomly give out some pieces of correct information, but that doesn't change the basic problem: If correct information on bad rolls becomes commonplace, then the players could wonder why they even bother with learning these skills or doing these rolls.

I just see no way of eliminating this without hiding the dice.



If it's investigation or research you have to be a bit more creative. But then again, what's the point in a research roll that either lets the story to continue or blocks that path entirely? You can try to set the situation up so that the roll is needed later, in a heated situation. Or: make those rolls in the open, give them false information and be explicit that it is false information. But give them XP if they choose to pursue that path anyway. Tempt them!

Ok, some more things about our group: We usually don't make research rolls to further the plot, and therefore a failed research roll doesn't usually block the path. Instead, we do reasearch rolls that are of the form "Hmm... We know that we are going to fight this type of monster soon. I try to find out its weaknesses!" or "We currently plan to move to area xy. What kinds of dangers can I expect there and how do I prepare against them?". So a successful roll increases our chances of succeding, but is not strictly required to solve the plot.

Also, I doubt that XP-rewards for willingly following the wrong leads is the right thing for our group. We like it if we as players are uncertain, not just the characters. And within this uncertainty, we can then try our best with the information we have. I don't know if I like the concept of a reward for deliberately not trying your best...
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My name: Nico
David Berg
Member

Posts: 997


« Reply #6 on: May 29, 2012, 10:16:25 AM »

Yeah, rolling for things where you have no idea how well you did is awkward.  Hiding it certainly sounds better than what you described.  Better still might be to scrap Research rolls entirely.  It sounds like you are getting exactly zero bang for your buck on those.  If it must be determined whether or not the characters turn up correct info, you could instead:

a) Just let the GM decide.  It ain't cheating if you agree to it.  Agree on some constraints for what's fun, to help guide the GM's decisions.  If the GM is stumped, they can secretly flip a coin.

b) Roleplay it out.  Show us what you're doing to find the info, step by step.  The GM will respond step by step.  At the end, you'll have some info, and a very good idea of why it might or might not be correct.

These approaches lose the difficulty-modeling simulation of "how likely is this character to be able to research this topic?"  Is that okay?  Even if it's not perfect, is it worth it, considering the current costs of the simulation?
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fodazd
Member

Posts: 12


« Reply #7 on: May 29, 2012, 07:36:24 PM »

Better still might be to scrap Research rolls entirely.  It sounds like you are getting exactly zero bang for your buck on those.

Hmm... Yes, actually we could do that. The GM could just give us the commonplace info for free, and everything beyond that would be resolved through roleplaying it out, so we could use your method b. The primary problem with that would likely be that we as players (including the GM) don't know a thing about researching unusual topics reliably, but if we consistently stick to playing it out, maybe that obstacle would go away after a while.

Another problem that might arise is that the roleplaying would slowly gravitate back to the short version over time. So, in the first session we do this, we would play it out in a very detailed way. Talking to all the NPCs who might know something about it, looking for the right books to consult, including checking the right cross-references, etc. However, this procedure could get boring after a few times. Then, the players would likely just say "Ok, I want to research about that topic. I will go about that the same way as last time.". Then, we would effectively just have method a, without a random element to spice it up. However, if our characters have no explicit research-skills anymore, that might in fact not be such a bad thing.



These approaches lose the difficulty-modeling simulation of "how likely is this character to be able to research this topic?"  Is that okay?  Even if it's not perfect, is it worth it, considering the current costs of the simulation?

I like it when a player can decide to play a character who is good at finding information... And if a player wants this decision to have any meaning, then the system must provide a way to answer this question about "how likely is it for a particular character to get information through research?", dependent on some research-skill of that character. The issue here is less about the accuracy of the simulation (which is still important to us by the way), but about what character choices are open to the players.

...That being said, we currently have no characters in our group who specialize in just research. They all have other areas where they are good at too. If we decide to scrap research rolls, than we could just free up any points spent in research related skills and allow them to be spent somewhere else instead.


---

So, now for something different: I have in fact come up with a mechanical way to achive what I want, although it is still a bit complicated. Here is the procedure:
-> Both the GM and the player roll 3d6 and note the results of each die on a piece of paper (so if you get 3, 1, 4, you write down "3, 1, 4", not "8"). The player can't see the roll of the GM and the GM can't see the roll of the player.
-> The player then gives his note to the GM (after the GM has written his roll down), who does the following: For each die (first, second, third), the numbers from the GM and the player are added together. If the result is bigger than 6, 6 is subtracted. Then, these three numbers are added together to get the real result of the secret roll. Example: Player rolls "4, 1, 1", GM rolls "5, 5, 6". The actual roll would then be "3, 6, 1", which means a roll of 10.
-> The GM then compares the result of this "combined roll" with the research-skill of the character and gives out information based on that.
-> The two pieces of paper are now stored somewhere where no one can see them, until the accuracy of the information is revealed.

This achieves the following:
-> Neither the GM nor the player can manipulate the result in a particular direction, despite all the rolls being secret. For example, if the player wanted to achieve the best possible outcome ("1, 1, 1", a critical success) by lying about his roll, the result of the GM would be needed before writing down the result of the own roll. If a player just lies and says "1, 1, 1" was rolled, and the GM rolls "5, 5, 5", then the result is a critical failure instead of a critical success. "2, 2, 2" would be the result the player needed to have written down for the desired outcome. So the player can't gain any advantages by lying about the outcome of the roll, and since the GM also can't see the roll of the player before writing his own roll down, neither can the GM.
-> Since the player doesn't know the roll of the GM immediatly after the information is given, there is still uncertainty there. What did the GM roll? The player doesn't know that, and therefore can't draw any conclusions about the information the GM gives.
-> Once the accuracy of the information is clear, the two pieces of paper can be brought out again. The players can easily calculate the secret roll from that, and can then verify that that the validity of the information corresponded to that roll... And because the GM didn't know the exact result before receiving the note from the player, the players can be absolutely sure the GM didn't manipulate anything.
-> Note: This mechanic could easily be applied to other systems. In D&D for example, the player and GM would just roll 1d20, and the final result would be the sum of the two rolls, minus 20 if it is greater than 20.

So... The main disadvantage of this method seems to be that a lot of notes and some additional calculations are needed, as well as the fact that both the player and the GM need to roll instead of just one of them. It would have to be tested if this is a better solution than simply leaving research-rolls out completly.
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My name: Nico
way
Member

Posts: 10


« Reply #8 on: May 30, 2012, 12:36:48 AM »

There is a method that is used in D&D 4E to speed up things: prerolling results. This might be used here as well: preroll a bunch of numbers with the usual dice setups (with 4E for example, only d20s). The GM writes down the results, but keeps the list away from the players. Any time a hidden roll is necessary, the GM just takes the next one in the list. He might also write the task next to the number, so everyone can see that after play. It's not perfect but very fast and does not disrupt play.
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fodazd
Member

Posts: 12


« Reply #9 on: May 30, 2012, 09:51:30 AM »

There is a method that is used in D&D 4E to speed up things: prerolling results. This might be used here as well: preroll a bunch of numbers with the usual dice setups (with 4E for example, only d20s). The GM writes down the results, but keeps the list away from the players. Any time a hidden roll is necessary, the GM just takes the next one in the list. He might also write the task next to the number, so everyone can see that after play. It's not perfect but very fast and does not disrupt play.

Hmm... You still can't verify that the GM didn't manipulate anything with this method. If the GM knows when a particular secret roll will be made (which is usually the case), then the outcome could be statically determined without anyone noticing. Not really much better than just the basic method of hiding the rolls without the players being able to check.
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Daniel B
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Posts: 196

Co-inventor of the Normal Engine


« Reply #10 on: May 30, 2012, 03:18:08 PM »

Nico, here's an idea that is a modification of Callan's suggestion; I'll give it in D&D 3.5/4 terms because I'm most familiar with those systems.

Each skill is rolled against a target DC. Generally, the players can discover the approximate range of the DC by asking questions. "How hard is it to break down the door?" is a pretty obvious question and the GM can almost spell out the DC by describing the door material, whether is it reinforced with metal, etc.

The penalty for failure comes well after the roll, and the GM doesn't want to tell the players the result. When sneaking past the sleeping dragon, were the PCs successful or is the dragon just really good at pretending to be asleep?

Here, the GM can again give a description of the DC, but secretly bump the DC with another die-roll. In this example, the DC for sneaking past the dragon may be DC 40. With bumping, the new DC is 36 + d8.

Of course, the DC and the die-size are still up to the whims of the GM, so bias may sneak in here, but the number showing on the die-roll may provide the GM with more force. "What?! You rolled an 8?? No wonder we failed."

Dan
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Callan S.
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« Reply #11 on: May 30, 2012, 05:40:36 PM »

Quote
So you're right: The problem here is not really "cheating" but GMs indulging on their own whims.
Just on this, I said nothing along those lines. A GM following their whims is all you ever have - the vaunted 'neutral GM' is a myth. If you want neutral, use a machine, not a human. Only use a human if you enjoy using something/someone that will indulge whims rather than be a machine. That's what I'm saying - if PC's are plotting against each other, it needs to be in regards to points or something that rules can and do deal with, or else if it's something only a GM can judge, then the players themselves have made it about something that will involve a GM indulging his whims.

Quote
Hmm... You still can't verify that the GM didn't manipulate anything with this method. If the GM knows when a particular secret roll will be made (which is usually the case), then the outcome could be statically determined without anyone noticing. Not really much better than just the basic method of hiding the rolls without the players being able to check.
Have the random dice rolls numbered. The players call out numbers at random. This determines what roll is used (GM can even note next to the number what it was used for in play)

Actually I wonder if I could use that for my rogue situation - might be fun to have the player call out a number, hoping it's the right one...hehehehe
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Erik Weissengruber
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Designing "In this Sign, Conquer:


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« Reply #12 on: May 31, 2012, 05:34:07 AM »

I have seen hidden die rolls used to great effect in The Mountain Witch.

Duels are resolved with such rolls.
The duelists roll a die and hide it.
If either wants to press the attack the two results are exposed and compared, high wins.
If both parties hold their action, they get to roll another die, and again choose to press the attack or hold again.
A third round of rolling is possible.

The tense expectation of when the blows will start to fall exists in the fiction.  It also exists in the resolution procedure that the players are engaging.

That parallel between fictional situation and player behaviour is rarely accomplished in RPGs.  I love it when it does happen.
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fodazd
Member

Posts: 12


« Reply #13 on: May 31, 2012, 11:34:27 AM »

Here, the GM can again give a description of the DC, but secretly bump the DC with another die-roll. In this example, the DC for sneaking past the dragon may be DC 40. With bumping, the new DC is 36 + d8.

Well, with this mechanic alone I would run into a very similar problem. How could I check that the GM really rolled an 8?



Just on this, I said nothing along those lines. A GM following their whims is all you ever have - the vaunted 'neutral GM' is a myth. If you want neutral, use a machine, not a human. Only use a human if you enjoy using something/someone that will indulge whims rather than be a machine. That's what I'm saying - if PC's are plotting against each other, it needs to be in regards to points or something that rules can and do deal with, or else if it's something only a GM can judge, then the players themselves have made it about something that will involve a GM indulging his whims.

Split: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=33123.0

Have the random dice rolls numbered. The players call out numbers at random. This determines what roll is used (GM can even note next to the number what it was used for in play)

Actually, that's a really good idea! The players could just remember which number they called, and then they could check the number after the information is revealed. There is also very little overhead involved in this method.



The tense expectation of when the blows will start to fall exists in the fiction.  It also exists in the resolution procedure that the players are engaging.

That parallel between fictional situation and player behaviour is rarely accomplished in RPGs.  I love it when it does happen.

Well, since we are playing GURPS we have very little representation of the fictional situation in the mechanics... But the way this is handled in The Mountain Witch sounds really good.
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My name: Nico
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