Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Should Players Know Their Character's Saving Throws?

One subject that has popped up while discussing the Planet Algol Character Sheet (that new campaign participant Lester is designing) is the subject of saving throws.

In the past, when a player has been using an actual D&D character sheet instead of a piece of paper, the question of "What are my saving throws?" has come up when they get to the appropriate section.

My response, "You don't know your saving throws." My reasoning being: they are listed in the Dungeon Master's Guide for a reason. Not knowing them helps keep "the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain"; and it keeps the players from playing the probability game with their actions.

In 3.5 and especially 4E I had had it with the probability calculations, especially in 4E where you basically have to track numbers in order to have a chance of succeeding. (Note that as a 3.5/4E player I was a terrible abuser of meta-game calculating probabilities.)

Same goes with the "To Hit/THACO" sections of the character sheet "You don't need to know, just tell me what you roll.."

Part of this approach on my end is to make the world more chaotic and mysterious and to hide the mathematical workings of the game from the players. Knowledge of the numbers can contaminate your choice of actions, one example being that as a DM I don't like knowing a player character's current Hit Point total. I find myself pulling my punches knowing that a beloved character is almost dead. Although that is a weakness on my end, with my current "let the dice fall where they may and may the lucky and smart survive" philosophy, I don't want to know your current hit point total. It's a nice reversal of roles when the DM is the one surprised when a character dies!

So any of you that are old-school DMs, players, or just have an opinion on the subject: should players know their character's saving throws, THAC0, etc.?

13 comments:

  1. "You do not truly know someone until you fight them." - Seraph, Matrix Reloaded

    Good quote, mediocre movie. ;)

    A character in combat should know more about their opponent than the meager descriptions we GMs give the players. For this reason I think that once in melée the players should know a monsters Hit Dice, AC, Hit Points, etc.

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  2. As a player, I prefer the mystery.

    Keep it chaotic! Keep it real!

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  3. I agree with you, there is an element of welcome uncertainty when a player does not know his saving throws. I am also in full agreement with you when you said:

    "Knowledge of the numbers can contaminate your choice of actions, one example being that as a DM I don't like knowing a player character's current Hit Point total. I find myself pulling my punches knowing that a beloved character is almost dead. Although that is a weakness on my end, with my current "let the dice fall where they may and may the lucky and smart survive" philosophy"

    Having gone back to old school gaming full time, I now embrace the "let the dice fall where they land" philosophy and quite surprisingly, my players (many of them who are coming from a new school background) hardly grumbled as they saw how I applied this philosophy fairly and uniformly.

    I remember playing an AD&D game back in high school where the DM even hid our to hit rolls from us. Instead, he kept up a running commentary and narrative on how combat (and our character's health) was progressing. I wouldn't go this far though.

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  4. @Fat Cotton: I like your statement: 'Keep it chaotic! Keep it real!' Something I try to capture in my games these days, but with varying levels of success at this point...

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  5. Speil: You know, it's one of those elements that really got me back into the game actually. I wasn't a fan of the bogged down 4ED. Yeah, you could shoot fireballs out of your ass while you gutted a goblin with your sabre at the same time, but hell, at what cost? At what cost!

    Give me fresh, fast, and friendly AD&D

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  6. As an Algol player I'm fine with the mystery. I agree the mystery discourages focusing on the rule set, when you should be focused on free wheeling exploration and experimentation.
    I'd like to bring up a point Stuart brought up; "You can't know someone till you fight them".
    Though I personally wouldn't want to know every bit of game data of an opponent, I think there is room for a bit of deduction by a clever player that very much falls into the ethos of the original fantasy game.
    Let me provide an example.
    I'm attacked by a sorcerer and the GM asks me to make a save without revealing what my target is. I roll and succeed. I consult my saves and see I've failed vs. Spells, but succeed vs Wands.
    As an observant player I deduce the sorcerer is wielding a magic item (let's say a small gem) concealed in his palm. This really isn't a game breaker, nor does it fly in the face of old school play, as I learned this from the experience of being attacked AND I used my noodle.
    Using the Wizard Of Oz analogy, Dorothy and her trio of companions were able to deduce, in encountering the Great Oz, that things were not as they seemed.
    I believe, philosophically, if you encounter a mystery, it begs a chance of deduction.

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  7. I like for my players to know their saves and THACOs for the simple, possibly selfish reason that's it's one less thing for me to worry about. The less time and energy I have to spend to deal with rules(Saves, THACO,etc.), the more time and energy I have to run the game (Funny voices for NPCs, setting creepy atmosphere, judgement calls on PC's actions, etc.). YMMV, of course.

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  8. Players not knowing what they need to save or hit is very much in the tradition of Dave Arneson, so you're in esteemed company on this score.

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  9. In regards to roll playing nothing breaks character like having to work out the math involved in my next attack roll.

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  10. I let them know the numbers, but the players are usually so worked up over the encounter that they just roll and let me work it out anyway.

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  11. Now I don't run any sort of D&D, so my experience may not be relevant to the matter at hand, but I'm quite bad at remembering and running rules, so I try to give the players as much of the number-crunching so I can concentrate on the, for lack of a better word, storytelling.

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  12. Both as a player and a DM I am really enjoying the obscured To Hit and Saving Throws.

    Mystery and fear of the unknown are far more exciting to me.

    I would never tell a character AC or HD, but a clever player may be able to extrapolate it quickly from paying close attention to what numbers hit.

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