The Transparency of Damage Dice Irrelevance

Frequent readers of The Id DM likely know the site started as a result of my interest in analyzing data related to combat speed in Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition. To satisfy that curiosity, I coded episodes of the Dungeons & Dragons Penny Arcade & PvP Podcast Series and presented the results. One of the more intriguing results was the findings related to the behavior of the DM, Chris Perkins. Here is what I wrote back in March 2011:

I analyzed the behavior of the DM. I was unable to break down the DM’s actions in the same two categories (Roleplaying & Tactical Decisions; Rolling/Calculating & Results) because the DM – quite frankly – moved too fast for me. The DM does not appear to be rolling for his attacks, and may be using an automatic dice roller . . . [and] takes significantly less time to take the monsters’ actions when compared to the PCs. Considering the DM is managing the actions of up to seven monsters, this is impressive.

And here is an excerpt from Mr. Perkins’ latest The Dungeon Master Experience column series:

As much as I like rolling dice to achieve random results, as a DM working behind the screen, I prefer to roll as few dice as possible. In fact, I usually keep only two dice behind my screen. That’s two dice total . . .

Two dice behind the DM screen, you say?

Why the heck not. I know how much damage (on average) a monster’s supposed to deal — I have a spreadsheet that tells me (with numbers derived from a fairly straightforward formula). Should my players care that I’m rolling 1d6 + 25 instead of 4d8 + 10, like the Monster Manual says I should? Why should they care? The only measurable difference is a narrower damage range with results edging closer to the average (26-31 damage instead of 14-42 damage), and my players have more important things to worry about than whether or not a monster’s damage range is wide enough . . .

If I have a choice between rolling 3d10 + 11 damage or 1d6 + 24 damage, I’ll take the single die and the big modifier. It seems like an insignificant thing, but it’s the kind of no-brainer shortcut that keeps overworked DMs like me alive and kickin’.

I informed you thusly. I so informed you thusly.

“The dragon breathes a hellacious plume of fire. You all take [rolls 3d10 + 4d6 + 2d8 and adds modifier] . . . hey, wake up! You’re fighting a dragon!”
I have considered alternatives such as pre-rolling attack and damage dice to reduce the number of rolls a DM needs to complete while running an encounter. But one person like myself offering alternative mechanics through an independent blog seems vastly different from the DM of Wizards of the Coast– the company that designed and published D&D 4th Edition – writing on the company’s website that dispensing with the damage-dice mechanic is a “no-brainer shortcut.”

The column by Mr. Perkins – regardless if you agree or disagree with him on the importance of damage dice – is noteworthy. Below, I attempt to explain why I find his column so intriguing and – in some ways – pleasantly shocking.

Why Do DMs Roll For Damage?

The core of Mr. Perkin’s column is that calculating monster damage through complicated roll with multiple dice and modifiers is unnecessary – and to summarize it even more bluntly – a waste of the DM’s and players’ time. I mentioned this on Twitter and it started the ball rolling on a wonderful conversation, leading Scott Rehm to question:

The DM rolling a first time to determine if an attack hits a character and a second time to determine the amount of damage the hit inflicts upon a character seems to be the SOP in all editions of D&D. Why is the game built this way?

First, I believe all players including the DM enjoy rolling dice. It adds randomness to the proceedings and it is simply enjoyable. Second, rolls add drama and unpredictability to the events in a campaign, such as a normal monster going nova and almost killing the entire party with numerous critical hits with a high crit weapon. A potential consequence of reducing the amount of rolls is the events become more scripted. A potential benefit of maintaining rolls is everyone at the table does not know exactly what will happen next. In summary, it seems the two most obvious reasons to keep damage rolls are players like to roll dice and it increases the element of unpredictability.

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There are numerous alternatives to having two separate rolls for attack and damage. In fact, 4th Edition D&D features monsters that inflict a static amount of damage – Minions. Each minion in 4th Edition comes with a static damage amount instead of a damage dice formula. During the flow of conversation on Twitter, I asked why it was acceptable to have static damage for minions but not other monsters:

The feedback above suggests that rolling damage for many minions would take up too much time. But how is rolling damage for six or more non-minion monsters during an encounter any less boring or time-consuming? If the static damage used for minions makes the game flow better, then would not the same concept apply to all monsters as suggested by Mr. Perkins?

What else is the purpose of damage dice formulas in monster stat blocks? Some have suggested it is included to assist with balance. For example, monsters with static damage would inflict more damage over time to the characters in the party and thus tilt the game in favor of the monsters. Monsters would never land a “glancing blow” but deal an average amount of damage each round. Static damage eliminates the lower end of damage outcomes. I am in the process of learning the other ways damage dice formulas affect the game, but that is not the most interesting thing about the column.

The Party Line

Wizards of the Coast spends money employing talented staff to design and maintain the D&D franchise. Since 2008, WotC has printed numerous rule books, manuals, modules and supplemental material for 4th Edition with the same monster stat block format. Within every stat block, there is an area for the attack roll modifier and another area for the damage-dice formula. The only difference in this structure is damage inflicted by minions, which was covered above.

The column by Mr. Perkins basically says a substantial piece of the format and design of monster stat blocks as presented in 4th Edition D&D is a waste of time for the DM and players. That initially staggered me. My early attempts to find an equivalent of an employee of a company directly promoting ideas contrary to the company’s intellectual property failed. It would be like a high-level executive at McDonald’s writing on the franchise’s website that the Big Mac should be made with different ingredients. To take this example to a ridiculous level, imagine Mr. Perkins remarks from the same damage dice column paraphrased in a new context:

The lost of the Big Mac’s Special Sauce seems like an insignificant thing, but it’s the kind of no-brainer shortcut that keeps overworked store managers like me alive and kickin’.

Would McDonald’s ever publish such content on their own website? Why would Wizards of the Coast allow it?

Instead of making uneducated guesses as to why WotC would do such a thing, I consulted with Mike Shea, who has written for WotC on several occasions and has much greater experience related to the industry side of D&D. He responded:

I like that WotC gives their writers the freedom to talk about how they break their own rules. I know exactly what you mean, though. When I heard Greg Bilsland radically changing his house rules for his game, I had to wonder why they didn’t just roll in their rules into the core. These are the designers after all.

Chris Perkins never said that his way is the way D&D should go. That guy breaks the rules all the time. But he’s replaced the rules with a ton of experience to know how to break the rules and still keep the game fun. I find myself doing this more and more. Once you have the core designs and concepts in your head, it’s a lot easier to break them at the table to keep the game fun.

Roleplaying game rules are assumed to be tweaked and fiddled with by customers of the game system. Even those instrumental in designing the game system create their own unique house rules for experimentation and improved play. Perhaps Mr. Perkins’ alteration of the damage dice formulas for monsters is an “insignificant thing,” but it feels like his column illustrates a significant thing that applies not only to 4th Edition but to the development of D&D Next as well.

No game system is truly ever complete.

Dungeons & Dragons 4th Edition has been available to the public for over 4 years now and employees at WotC and players in home campaigns continue to edit, adjust and experiment with changes to the rules. A house rule – such as adjusting the published damage dice formulas – may be a fantastic fit for several employees at WotC and perhaps 30% of the DMs in the general public while the majority of employees at WotC and the other 70% of DMs prefer the published rules. Everyone who plays 4th Edition has permission to change the rules, even those who work for the company that created the game system.

That is an extremely liberating message to DMs and players, and WotC should be congratulated for allowing their staff to speak openly about how they adjust published rules to fit their personal tastes. Imagine if an employee from Parker Brothers commented that she and her friends play Monopoly by always moving in a counter-clockwise direction; that gives permission to customers to think outside of the rules to experiment with the game and make it their own. Are you not at least a bit more curious now to play Monopoly to see what it is like to move the pieces around the board in the opposite direction as it’s always been played? In discussing why this openness was so valuable, Mike Shea stated the following:

I would hate it if we had no access at all to the internal thoughts of the designers. I much prefer the openness of their own self-exploration as they test the rules they put out years ago.

The awareness that no RPG game system is ever truly complete should give everyone pause as they nash their teeth over the proposed rules so far for D&D Next. Whenever the next edition is released, be aware that those who had a prominent role in designing the game will continue to tweak the rules for their home campaigns four years after the date of the game’s release to the public.

Navel Gaze, Engage!

I find Mr. Perkin’s column – and the fact that it appeared on the official WotC site – delightfully fascinating. His report about ignoring recommended damage dice formulas does provide validation to the analysis I conducted last year on combat speed. And it also raises numerous interesting questions; I’d enjoy reading responses from designers, players and DMs regarding the following:

  • What do damage dice do for the game?
  • Why are we as DMs spending precious time calculating complicated damage rolls that can take over eight dice plus a static modifier to compute?
  • Why not build monsters that deliver specific damage based on whatever attack they use against the player character(s)?
  • Why is the SOP in D&D one roll for attack and another for damage?
  • How is it helpful to read about unique home rules by WotC staff who were prominent in building, designing and playtesting the game system?

Author: The Id DM

The Id DM is a psychologist during the weekdays. He DMs for a group of fairly loyal and responsible PCs every other Friday night. In the approximate 330 hours between sessions, he is likely anxious about how to ensure the next game he runs doesn't suck.

49 thoughts on “The Transparency of Damage Dice Irrelevance”

  1. Great article. As a player, the type and quantity of dice used add a sense of scale and feel to the damage source. For instance, in 3.5 a greataxe did d12, but a greatsword did 2d6 (if I recall correctly). The extra 1 minimum damage was generally insignificant, but made the weapons feel distinct. Similarly, the extra d6 per level on a fireball gave it a visual and tactile increase. When a DM rolls a handful of dice, even if I don’t know what they are, I know something serious this way comes.

    1. Yes, I think the size of the die used is an interesting design choice. Daggers are d4s and so on . . . I know of several players in my group that have based character creation on being able to wield a d12 battle-axe. I always wondered why they didn’t have a d20 weapon. Now THAT would be swingy (no pun intended)!

  2. Well for starters I always roll attack and damage at the same time… If the attack misses I just ignore the damage dice. Doing this means I don\’t roll more times, but the dice are heavier and make more noise when they hit the table. 🙂

    As a designer, one thing I seem to struggle a lot with is determining what damage an attack should make. Is it medium, high or limited damage? Is it a d6, d8 or d10? I know what the damage is normally, but what is the die roll when I deduct ongoing damage? Those kinds of questions are the reason I ended up writing my own calculator app to figure it out, and I\’m now considering modifying that app to support automatic increase for brute damage and handling ongoing damage.

    And for that reason I considered at one point making damage static: taking the average amount of damage and just listing that. But doing so in a published module felt awkward, especially considering that – like I said above – rolling damage doesn’t make me spend any more DM.

    In any event, I think the primary concern here is that people look at someone like Chris Perkins describing how he DMs and suddenly assume that his way *must* be the ”right” way to DM. I mean, if Lebron James described how he played basketball, believe you me I’ll take his word for it, assume his way is the ”right” way and play as close to the way he does as possible. Well, that’s what my son does anyway… 😉

    Maybe Chris should include a disclaimer in his posts…

    1. I’m not sure a disclaimer is warranted, but your last paragraph relates to my initial reaction, which was closer to, “Why are they letting him do this?” But upon thinking about (and talking with Mr. Shea helped), I gained a new perspective, which I attempted to include above. It’s a good thing that staff at WotC are allowed to talk about their personal preferences, which may run a bit counter to the published product. And your Lebron James comparison made me think of Seinfeld when Jerry asks George to teach him how to lie. 🙂

  3. As a DM, I’d rather not have the players figure out I’m using static damage. Using that meta-gaming knowledge, they could calculate out to the exact moment they needed to break combat. However, I’m all for reducing the variability of damage for most monsters.

    In my experience, the most time is spent by the DM during combat is trying to apply their monsters’ abilities to the current scenario. Of course, this can be mitigated by having a high level plan as to how the encounter will flow. But, the players always can throw a monkey-wrench into it. 🙂

    1. Yes, for many monsters – it’s almost required for the DM to know what all of the powers do ahead of time. When you throw in Auras, Traits, Interrupts, etc., it gets complicated quickly. I have designed monsters for a column series and I’m always pulled to do MORE with the design of each monster. But it’s good to have a simple monster that does two or three things very well instead of six or seven things depending on the situation.

  4. What about using one die roll to give a range of damage. Roll 1d10. A 1 or 2 = 36 damage, 3 or 4 = 42 damage, etc, you keep the statistical range and the unpredictability but minimize the number of rolls which is what Chris seems to be saying he likes

    1. That is an interesting idea. In the Stat Block, instead of the damage dice formula, a list of options would be presented for damage on a d4, d6, etc. Perhaps stronger powers would have a bigger dice to account for more range. It would be a time-saver as it onlly requires one roll and no math. Hmm, interesting!

      1. And would keep the randomness factor of rolling damage in the first place. I like

  5. Interesting. I’d always read the creators of D&D (*all editions*) saying “It’s your game, DM – change it to suit your needs.” It has been stated explicitly in every DMG I’ve owned. I’ve read every personality associated with the game say it, and say it repeatedly, from Gygax to Mearls. Perkin’s article looked to be in a long tradition to me.

    Something about 4e’s “complete and balanced rules” and shifting the balance to the players (perhaps through the publication of so many books?) has lead to a strange zeitgeist where rules have been elevated beyond their proper in our minds. I’ve watched several aspiring DMs fold under the belief that they have to keep this all this detail in their heads – when they should have just been having fun.

    Honestly, Perkin’s article on 6d is going into effect my very next campaign. I’m respeccing nearly all my monsters for speed dice rolling so I can focus on the tactical situation, not looking for the correct count of dice. Maybe I’ll keep the handful-of-dice powers in original form, just for drama, but it will be for that only – I’m the DM, and it’s my/our story.

    1. I can not speak to the earlier editions, but it does seem that the written word has a great deal of power in 4e, “Hey, it’s written on page 128. THIS is how it works.” I think that can be tough to break away from in the moment of a gaming session. House-ruling things ahead of time is easier because the players can be properly prepared. It gets more complicated with the DM makes a call that is counter to the rules. Let us know how the change in damage works out in your campaign!

      1. I’ve already respec’d all the monsters in my upcoming run of The Sellswords of Punjar to be 1d6+xx [2d6+yy for brutes] in Adventure Tools Monster Builder. I’ll come back in a few weeks and report on how I (and the players) liked it. I’m going to roll the d6 along with the d20 – I’m hoping this simplification allows me to pay more attention to the situational use of monster powers. Honestly, I forget special powers all the time – an indication of excessive complexity – so anything to simplify running creatures should help.

  6. Mr Perkins is carrying on the tradition as old as the game. The rules are a guide feel free to alter, ignore or replace them to your hearts content. Gary Gygax said that in 1st edition. A game which relies heavily on imagination is not analogous to a hamburger. It’s great the company is being more open about how they play and alter the game, it’s better for the game. The party line approach in early 4e combined with the very tight rules stifled creativity.

    1. And that is a unique aspect of roleplaying games; the players are encouraged to make it their own. The rules are meant to be a starting-off point, but as I just mentioned above, it can get tricky when the DM strays from the rules without consultation with the players. When the player attempts something “not in the rules” or attempts to bend a rule, the DM can make a judgement call.

  7. A further simplification would be to reduce or eliminate hit points. They are an abstract concept anyway, so there is no need to have hundreds of hit points.

    For example, a fighter might have 5 “stress” levels while a wizard might only have 2. A typical monster might only inflict 1 level of stress on a hit, while a dragon might be able to do more.

    Obviously this isn’t a new concept and has been done in other systems, but it’s worth considering. We aren’t computers running a simulation or MMORPH after all. Why should we be calculating hit points in the hundreds and damage of tens or more.

    1. I played a Torg game online and they had stress points instead of hit points. It was interesting. I had the same design in a play-by-post campaign but it fizzled before we got into much combat. It is another form of measurement – moving from a ratio scale to an interval scale. That would be a radical change for D&D; I doubt they’d move to that system.

      1. At the risk of opening an entirely different can of worms (“What do Hit Points Represent?”) if you accept the argument that Hit-Points roughly correspond to the player’s ability to both survive damage, and to minimize the damage from an attacker, while damage points correspond not only to increasing attack power but lethality and precision, then you end up with this model where (for a given level) each character can basically survive N hits from an equivalent monster. In other words, when both monster damage and player damage scale at a regular rate, it’s kind of equivalent to having a “5 hit point” system design-wise, except that it’s got some fuzziness at the edges due to small-scale variability. On the down-side, it seems a little weird that the same goblin who could kill you with three or four blows at level 1 now has to hit you 10 or more times (presuming can even connect, given AC scaling!) but it does mean you can mix monsters of various levels in an encounter and have a roughly predictable difficulty level.

        I don’t think reducing the number of hit points to a hand-full (5-15 instead of 20-200) would necessarily be that radical in a system like D&D Next, provided that it follows through on its intention that monsters continue to be a threat throughout the level range. In that case, the number of hit points a character has would have to be fairly constant for a level 10 character to be even moderately threatened by a level 1 Kobold’s attacks. I think the biggest change would be the “feel” of encounters, and how quickly they can turn if players ignore the minions and cannon fodder. You’d probably end up discouraging the “DPR is the best Defense” mentality, simply because ignoring small threats to focus-fire the big foes would be much more likely to get you killed.

  8. I wrote a response and my own thoughts up on my blog:

    Basically, I think that narrowing the range of variability like that has the upside of speed and predictability (both for the player AND the DM) while having the downside of removing some degree of drama and suspense. For a highly tactical style of campaign that’s not necessarily much of a loss. it’s also worth pointing out that it might be the case that having players roll damage still leaves enough to chance that combat can have unexpected ebbs and flows, even if monsters use static modifiers.

    Personally, I’ll keep my bag of dice as I don’t find rolling monster actions to be a big slowdown for me, but I’ve definitely known DMs who use “average expected damage” across the board — both NPCs and players.

    1. Thanks for posting the link; looks like you’ve written a few times in the subject recently! I will personally continue to roll dice most of the time, but will experiment with Perkins’ method to see how it fits. I think the damage rolls for players take even longer to figure, but that is an entirely different column! heh

      1. I don’t know if you saw the follow-up post I did, but I’d be really interested to experiment with an altered version of the Perkins Method that I suggested — using 1 die for damage, but scaling that die with monster level (d4 for 1-5, d6 for 6-10, etc). This might keep variance more constant and preserve more of the desirable properties of the current system. For encounter powers you could use the 2dN form to make their output a little more predictable, while still using just one die.

  9. I really don’t feel like rolling damage slows down my game. I agree with others that rolling an average takes away from the unpredictability of combat. There’s a huge difference between rolling low with a huge modifier and rolling low with the normal modifier on all of your dice. And I love dice, the game wouldn’t feel right if I wasn’t rolling handfuls of dice. While this may work for Chris Perkins it would never work for me. I just can’t lose that. I can’t lose that moment where I look a player in the eye, holding a 3 or 4 dice before I roll the damage they take.

    1. The great thing about the game is that you don’t have to lose that. I will still roll dice as well, as it has produced some memorable moments. But it will be interesting to experiment with in the future. Just thinking about the various options for how to calculate damage is an example of how different DMs and players can make the game work for them individually.

  10. I think WOTC includes rolls like 4d8 + 18 in their published materials because it’s more fun to roll lots of dice. For a player, getting to roll more dice is a a sign of power and strength. There is a certain intimidation factor that comes along with rolling large amounts of dice. A wizard in 3rd edition could do 20d6 damage at high levels, now tell me that’s not impressive. It just so happens that Mr. Perkins finds it more enjoyable to roll less dice, spend less time adding numbers and thinking of ways to make the story of his game better. To him (and to me and many others) any given encounter will benefit more from witty remarks and interesting twists in the narrative then rolling lots of dice just for the sake of rolling lots of dice.

    1. Alas, I forgot to add:

      The new “advantage/disadvantage” thing in D&D Next plays off the same principle. The more dice the better. Interesting that people really like it in that context, but are divided on it for damage expressions.

    2. I think More Dice = More Fun is a simple equation most people agree on! 😉 But it’s intriguing to consider alternatives that may result in Less Dice = More Fun.

  11. I have never found rolling dice to be the issue. More so the Paralysis by Analysis. To many options extend the amount of decision time. For the DM, a proper amount of prep with creatures/encounters fixes most of the PbA issues.

    1. That is a key issue that Mike Shea touched on in his DM Preparation survey. How much time is needed to prepare creatures and encounters? What is a reasonable amount of time for the DM to be “required” to adequately run the monsters in the game? The more complicated the information (calculations, power options, etc.), the more time it takes to prepare. There is already a heavy burden on DMs, so the design of the game has to keep this in mind to make things related to monsters manageable.

  12. I’ve been playing RPGs for over three decades, on and off, and I must say I prefer to roll a whole pile of dice than just have enormous static numbers like that. Yes, it may only differ in result by a little bit, but if that’s what you want out of a game, you’re playing with the wrong system. Why not pick a game that only has four states: Boundless Energy; Beaten and Bruised; Bloodied and Bedraggled; and Beheaded?

    I like the finer granularity of a system that allows me to know exactly how much damage could be rolled, and how little. 1d6+25 doesn’t allow for the crazy, messed up results on either tail of the bell curve: “how did I manage to scrape by with only 14 damage?” and “42?!?”

    1. I fall in the middle of those options. The vast range in damage can make things *too* unpredictable, which is why there are no weapons that are based on a d20. That would be wild though: 4d20 + 15 damage. The resulting range is 19 to 95!!

  13. So, 4e, low level monsters have 1dX+Y, higher level monsters have ndX+Y, where n is typically between 2-4-ish. If one rolls attacks and damage at the same time, that’s at most, what, 10 seconds to find the dice, pick them up, and roll them. Then 5-10 seconds to add up the damage. So round up for error and or slow counting DMs for 30 seconds to roll, determine hit, add damage. Then the average DM round length of the first three rounds of that first Penny Arcade session you analyzed being: 98 sec + 90 sec + 68 sec…~85 seconds, or from my 3.5 data, averaging ~185 seconds per round for the DM, so rolling hit + damage (with damage taking up the most time) takes up around 35% or 16%, averaged at ~26% of the DM’s time vs static 10-15 seconds to roll and confirm hit, ~11% of the time…while over twice as long to roll damage, the difference of 15 seconds per DM round (multiple enemies attacking) doesn’t seem like a huge and marked difference (though without one-for-one comparison of Perkins rolling vs. static, it’s difficult to tell).

    As for the general idea of a DM, let alone an official of WotC, using static damage…eh, what ever floats the DM’s boat. But I know that, as a player and a DM, I want to know what the rules are. If the DM doesn’t tell me he/she’s using static damage and over and over the enemy is doing the same amount of damage then what are the player’s to think? Cheating or static and without being aware of the static damage idea, cheating will be the default. Plus there is no difference between a lucky hit enemy and an enemy with good attacks. Where under standard damage rolling the lucky hit could be “well placed” (double average damage) or “glancing” (minimum damage)…but under static damage all creatures hit all the time equally well.

    I’d rather have the DM taking extra time to roll damage so that he/she can then add flavor text about how well or badly the combat is going than static damage that hits “just as good as the last time” … after all, there’s something to be said about improvising the descriptions of events in a role-playing game (my latest blog post subject).

    1. Your calculations are interesting, but don’t take something into account: Cognitive Switching Costs: After I roll a monster hit, then have to look up the dice needed, find them in my pile, roll them, add them, double check and then reveal the results, often including status effects. That is a lot of overhead when I’m trying to deal with with other things, like immediate reactions…

      Sure, I can optimize the switching cost by reading the dice needed before I throw, but if that die is always a D6 that’s one less thing I have to lookup every single time I swing for one of my up-to-a-dozen monsters in play…

      It isn’t the number of faces on the die, or how many, it’s having to look lots of crap up every single second of every single combat round – honestly, I need the extra cycles to be able to manage monster effects/powers/immediate actions, which I am ALWAYS forgetting.

      Unlike many folks here, I don’t 2D8+3 being inherently any more “fun” than 1D6+9. You’ll feel the monster’s sting either way.

      1. I should have clarified that by “find the dice…” I meant that the DM reads off (in their head) the attack and damage and grabs the needed dice for both attack and damage. Then that plus shaking them and letting them drop would, I’m hypothesizing (not tested), take about 10 seconds (2-3 seconds to roll and drop, 7-8 seconds to find and pick them up).

        “Sure, I can optimize the switching cost by reading the dice needed before I throw, but if that die is always a D6 that’s one less thing I have to lookup every single time I swing for one of my up-to-a-dozen monsters in play…”

        This is where, I’m assuming, the 15 second difference between the one Penny Arcade data set and the two encounters run by my DM that I analyzed is largely occurring.

        I agree that Cognitive Switching is a time sink and that the more critters the DM has in combat and/or the more complex they are to run then that time sink will increase dramatically. And I too will often review a combat I’ve run after the fact and realize there’s some facet of the critter(s) that I didn’t implement due to being overly focused on streamlining the combat.

        But I would offer the caveat that Cognitive Switching is always going to be there, regardless of which damage dice system one makes use of. If the players are using interrupts; that’s independent of the dice rolling time (it may interrupt it and make it more difficult to determine how much time it actually takes, but if I were running the tests I would stop the stop-watch as soon as the player interrupted and only resume if, after the interrupt, the attack and damage of the creature still succeeded). If the DM is running multiple critter types it’s still going to take time to make the switch between one critter’s attacks and damage vs. the other. But in distilling it to just look at dice rolls and their calculations alone the time difference between “rules as is” rolls vs. “streamlined” is going to be about the same, maybe around 15 seconds difference. But again, an untested hypothesis and just founded on loosely teased out data between only the first Penny Arcade data and two encounters in 3.5 by one of my DMs.

        But I’m not hard-core rabble rousing that one system is the end all be all superior of the other. I’m just rambling through the thoughts on the subject. I do prefer the wider ranges of the “as is” damage rules but I also prefer a log to the damage values (if the creature has a claw attack where the size of the attack is on par with a dagger then it should do dagger + strength damage, 4 claws each the size of a dagger then 4 x dagger + strength, and so on). But again, that’s a mild “prefer” and not a “my way is the only way.”


      2. @Fizzygoo: “But I would offer the caveat that Cognitive Switching is always going to be there, regardless of which damage dice system one makes use of.”

        We agree that cognitive switching costs are huge and there are some forms not being discussed here, but, reducing the *number* of switches is my goal. It isn’t about time, it’s about attention, of which a GM’s is limited.

        Food for thought: The D&DNext playtest [so far] has eliminated interrupts in the core rules…

  14. I have gone with a similar style to Mr. Perkins, averaging damage and initiative rolls. It’s all for speeding up play. I have an amount of damage for each attack a creature makes, and a crit amount for each attack also. My players care about seeing to hit rolls, not dage dice. I found assigning players things to do to help me during combat keeps them More engaged also. One handles initiative, another npc damage, our priest tracks pc damage and surges. Giving players things to do, reducing my amount to track. It’s like having a computer running 40 programs at once and wondering why it’s so slow.

  15. Has anybody checked out the 3e Unearthed Arcana?

    It’s basically a big book of house rules from the designers and developers, including some really cool side bars about how those rule changes affected their game and what DM’s can expect if they adopt any of those optional rules for their own games. Not so dissimilar from Mr. Perkins column, and it was a professionally produced and sold at game stores product.

  16. For the record, now the article is here:
    (If anyone knows where the whole archive is, please let me know. I’ve only found individual articles, by searching.)

    What I used to do was to roll damage die along with the d20 attack roll. If I missed, I just disregarded them. But it felt faster (I didn’t clock it) when I did hit.

    Now in 5e the stat blocks has the average damage listed along with the die roll in parens. For example, one monster has 5 (1d6 + 2) and another has 5 (1d4 + 3). (In both of those cases the actual average is really 5.5, but…)
    Same goes for hit points.

    So when I DM, I follow the rule as written: “As the DM, you have the option of taking average damage or rolling the damage”. So far, I’ve only used the static number (for both damage and hit points). Life is brief. But if this starts to happen: “For example, if Player X knows that my hill giant is dealing 27 damage every round and his character has 28 hit points remaining, then Player X also knows that the giant won’t pound his character into mulch with one swing.” I can use the dice in that situation.
    As soon as I hear “We know that they only have 7 hit points, so we should use this-or-that attack” or “We know that it deals 5 damage, I can take that for one more round”, out come the dice.

    I don’t use a screen so this wouldn’t be something hidden from the players. Nor would it be just to antagonize them. The purpose is simply to keep the variability in there and keep the average as just that — a short cut. An often used shortcut, but not the law.

    I think the new rule as written is an elegant solution, and I guess it might even be inspired by Chris’ article. The static damage and hit points have worked fine so far.

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