Hiding in Plain Sight

Saw someone on Reddit ask about a house rule where players don’t see the results of perception check rolls so that they don’t know whether or not the PCs succeeded. These types of rolls are a lot more common in newer versions of the games, but they aren’t unheard of in oldschool games, either. Finding traps and searching for secret doors are the first two that come to mind.

It seems obvious to me that players should NOT see the rolls for these sorts of checks. It’s self-evident.

After years of fudging rolls in my younger days, I’ve switched to rolling in the open. This has been accompanied by an increase in PC mortality, but it adds an element of excitement to the game that I feel is missing when players have a sense that the DM is guiding things by fudging. It’s also more fun as the DM, as I can never be quite sure what’s going to happen next.

The problem with rolling in the open, of course, is the above-mentioned perception-style checks. The players should not know whether their attempt to detect whether a rope bridge over a bottomless chasm is an illusion was successful or not. The obvious solution to this is for the DM to make the roll and simply tell the players what their PCs perceive.

Another option, though, would be to make the roll in the open, but obfuscate the result by rolling several dice. This would work best with a single-die roll, such as a d20 attribute check or a d6 roll while searching for secret doors. Roll two or three different-colored dice and use the result from the one determined beforehand. This roll could be made by the players, which would add to their feeling of being in control of their characters rather than at the mercy of someone else’s luck with the dice.

For example: Bob the Barbarian is searching for secret passages. The player rolls 3d6, each of a different color, and the DM chooses which one to count beforehand. The results are red 1, white 4, blue 5. The DM says, “Bob doesn’t find anything.” The player doesn’t know which die counted or if the lack of found doors means that there aren’t any secret passages or if they just failed to find them because it wasn’t the red die that counted.

This can have the added factor of giving the players a better idea of things. Say, for example, that Bob the Barbarian’s player rolled three 1s and the DM still said “Bob doesn’t find anything.” Now the player can have a high degree of confidence that there are no doors to be found. This could be especially applicable if players make the rolls, as they are rewarded for rolling “well.”

Some may argue that letting the players see these rolls will detract from the mystery, and I can see that viewpoint. But it may not be a bad thing. For instance, players already see the results of to-hit rolls. When they roll a 16 and miss, they get a sense of how tough their opponent is. Much more so than if the DM rolled behind the screen and just said “you miss.”

This element could be a way of adding knowledge that is tough to convey. If the PCs were real, they’d have all sorts of input, conscious and subconscious, on which to form opinions. But in the game, the player is basically limited to the words the DM speaks. Players know that their PC searched for secret doors and didn’t find any, but they don’t really have a sense of whether they could have missed one. Seeing the rolls, even when uncertain of which die counted, could help them determine whether or not another search is in order.

It seems that I’ve used this idea a few times in the past for various things, but never as a standard mechanic. I might have to try it to see how it goes. Just a thought.

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