On Random Number Generation

Blaugust is over, but that doesn’t mean my posting is going to stop. I’m aiming for Tuesday/Thursday, with maybe an extra post on the weekends at times. This week is a bit weird due to Labor Day.

This past Monday was the first D&D session with the new group, starting with being captured by a very powerful wizard and then escaping from the bandits and trapped dungeon she left to guard us. The party is now headed to Watchwall for various reasons, united primarily in the goal of figuring out why we were captured in the first place.

My virtual dice primarily failed me: I did not manage to hit anything with my Paladin’s giant stick at any point and rolled a 2 on survival (a skill I’m allegedly proficient in) in trying to figure out where we’d been taken. My track record with physical dice isn’t much better, I still remember rolling a 9 on a 6d6 Flame Strike. There were some successes: I rolled max damage on dragon breath and a very high persuade roll, earning us a break in the fighting until someone else put a dagger in the back of the person we were attempting to get information out of. (Even as a Paladin, you can’t save everyone.)

Like the Mountains of Illinois

D&D 5 is very flat, and the difference between being good at something and not good at it is not very large, especially at low levels. Previously (in 3.5) full ranks in a skill meant level+3, or +4 at level 1, going all the way up to +23 at level 20 (but probably much higher than that from synergies and magic) which meant that some skills had unusual rules interactions at high levels, and the difference between trained and untrained was impossible to overcome on any dice roll. By contrast, proficiency bonus is +2 at level 1 and only goes up to +6 at level 17, which means that even an untrained character can make certain rolls (albeit with a flat 30% lower chance of success). Rogues and bards can get double proficiency to certain rolls, so they can get up to +12, but they’re intended to have outlandish values on skill rolls as part of their class design.

In general, I like this approach, but I can see how some people would not. It does lead to a lot of chance inherent in most actions, as it’s next to impossible to have anything be a “sure thing” (although you can get close in some special cases). The trade-off for this is that untrained actions have an actual chance of success without rolling 20. (As a side note, this edition doesn’t give 20 or 1 special effects on skill checks or saves. They’re just numbers.) The highest suggested DC for anything in the player’s handbook is 30 for tasks that are “nearly impossible”. A non-bard/rogue with a 20 in the relevant stat at level 17 or higher would only hit such a target number when rolling 19 or better, so that description is fairly accurate.

I was going to discuss how I use anydice to sort out numeric things, but I think I’ve rambled on long enough. Maybe I’ll get to that next week.

2 thoughts on “On Random Number Generation”

  1. I think the ability to have a slight chance to make absurd odds makes for great storytelling, as that moment the completely physically inept Cleric managed to successfully swing from a chandelier from one balcony to another against all odds is great (or alternatively, when your silver-tongued bard accidentally coughed up a hairball when attempting to explain the party’s motives to an insulted king).

    I’m still on the fence, however, for abilities where you need to roll like 12d6 on. It’s a bit annoying to find that many dice, and while it can feel great to roll really well or not really well, the odds of rolling anything but average are so low that it’s almost worth it to just save the time and make a higher base damage with fewer dice (which, incidentally, is how 4th Ed approached things).

    I suppose nothing prevents us from implementing such a rule, though!

    1. As a player, I like rolling a lot of dice. Also as a player, I have an unreal number of d6s already (I think it’s about a third of my total dice). It’s only when asked to roll a large amount of something else that I have trouble.

Leave a Reply