I am fairly particular about how the dice are rolled in a role playing game. A DM or a player that doesn’t agree with my preferences can make or break a gaming session for me. One of my big pet peeves when it comes to dice are secret rolls. For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, secret dice rolls are instances where the DM rolls the dice, often on behalf of a player, and doesn’t immediately reveal the results. Secret dice rolls can create a needless barrier between the players and the DM. That’s why I usually avoid them. However there are instances where secret dice rolls make the game more realistic. Here are three examples.
Checking For Traps
Imagine a situation where a first level thief walks into a dungeon room and sees a treasure chest sitting smack dab in the middle of the floor. “I check it for traps!” says the player. He rolls against his proficiency score and the DM says “You find no traps.” There are two possible scenarios here. One is that the player failed his check so he didn’t find the traps. The second is that the player succeeded on his check, but there were no traps. In a real scenario, a novice thief might not actually know which was the case. This makes a secret dice roll in this situation more realistic to the game. As the character gains more experience and raises his proficiency in finding and removing traps, he would gain the knowledge necessary to eliminate the secret dice roll.
Saving Against Poison
Let me give you another situation. A party is walking through the forest when they are attacked by giant spiders. The ranger in the party is bitten by one of the spiders. A saving throw versus poison is made. This is another situation where a secret dice roll makes sense. Poisoning is not instantaneous. It would take a while for the spider’s venom to spread through the blood stream and cause any effects. If the saving throw is successful, then that is the end of it. If the throw is failed, there would be no immediate effect the round the attack occurred or even the next round. Eventually the DM would announce that the player feels a symptom of poisoning and the failure is revealed.
A secret dice roll also keeps it a mystery of whether there is even a danger of poison. A spider bite is not the best example of this because the players know that a spider is poisonous. What if the players are attacked by kobolds who are using poison tipped arrows. The players would realistically have no idea that there is a danger of poisoning and wouldn’t guard against it. As soon as the DM announces for a player to save against poison, it gives the whole thing away.
Hiding In Shadows
A thief creeps though a castle courtyard quiet as an evening breeze. A guard rounds the corner and the thief quickly melts into the shadows. The thief freezes as the guard approaches. The guard pauses right in front of the thief and whispers “I can see you.” Unlike moving silently, there is no way that the player would actually know if they are successful hiding in shadows. The only view where this can accurately be judged is from outside the shadows! So a character would only realistically know that they failed this roll when the person they are hiding from shoots them with a crossbow. I guess a more experienced thief would have a better perspective of what shadows are adequate for hiding in, but a low level thief probably wouldn’t.
So there you have it; three examples where secret dice rolls actually make the game more realistic.