Specifically I noticed a trend which, now that I'm looking at it, I should have seen before. Simply put, the older the edition a gamer started with, the more likely that player is to trust the DM. The newer an edition, the less likely a gamer was to just take the DM's word for it.
|You triggered the trap. No I'm not showing you the die. Take 25 damage.|
The Issue of Player Trust
I'll give you an example. A little less than a year ago, I wrote a post titled Should You Use A DM Screen? There were two types of responses to that post, with almost nothing in between. The people in the first group said, "of course you should, the screen is there to help you keep the story going." The second group said, "no, any DM who tries to hide his die rolls from you isn't someone you should play with."
|So much fear, over such a little thing.|
This break down in trust, I think, comes from how the DM's role has altered over time. In older editions, the rules were pretty fast and loose, which meant that the DM was a much more hands-on influence in the game. As games evolved, though, they became more codified. While there are a lot of games out there which are light on the crunch, games like Pathfinder and Dungeons and Dragons chose to spell out the rules for practically everything in specific terms.
That means if a player wants to tumble past an enemy to get on his weak side, he doesn't have to ask the DM to randomly set a difficulty; it's already in the book. If a player wants to climb a wall, intimidate a foe, or craft a specific magic item, those things are all in place already. While the DM still has the power to make things harder, or to do things differently, the mechanics in the book have already been carefully balanced and tested. In many situations, it would be like building your own bike from scratch when there's a perfectly functional BMX already sitting in your garage.
Because players know so much of how the game functions (if they read the manual, at least), there's also this idea that they're on a more even footing with the DM. Sure, the DM can still choose the monsters, the weather, and the terrain, but there's a sense that the rules apply to every character on the board, and that everyone should be held to the same standard. So, when the DM rolls dice behind a screen, there's no guarantee that the DM isn't just making up numbers. When a player puts in the crunch time to build a powerful character by the rules, there's something galling about the idea that the DM can just say "no, it hits you," or, "no, you miss," regardless of your efforts as a player.
The Advantages of The Unknown
On the other hand, the DM screen is a valuable tool for creating tension, and for keeping a story going. Even something as simple as making the rogue's Perception checks behind the screen can keep the party guessing. Even if you never once fudge the dice, either for or against your party, not letting the party see the number on the die takes away their ability to extrapolate what a monster's AC really is, and it cuts off any metagaming when they roll a natural 1 on the die, and are told they don't see any traps.
|I check again... for no particular reason.|
The same is true of almost any situation. If you're in the middle of combat, and you roll a die behind the screen, your players are focused on how the dragon's claw slammed into the ground bare inches in front of the fighter, glancing off his shield. The implication there is that the fighter's shield bonus to his AC is all that saved him from the beast's claws. Even better, there's no 5 on the D20 for players to see and think "oh god, it nearly hit our tank on a 5... we're so screwed!"
And, while not required, there is the ability for a DM screen to change the way the story is going. If, for instance, random orc #4 rolls a natural 20 against the party wizard, then the DM can just say it was a regular hit. Or, if he's feeling generous, that it was a near hit, but the ax tore through the mage's robe, glancing off his protective barrier of magical force at the last second. That isn't an option you have available when the entire table saw you roll that natural 20, and you're at a "let the dice fall where they may," sort of table.
Can You Get Your Players To Trust You?
All too often a DM's attitude is, "it's my game, so it's my way or the highway," but if there's a trust issue between the players and the DM, that's just going to throw kerosene on the blaze. So, instead, it's important to discuss how you want to do it in your game during your Session 0.
If you're unfamiliar with this idea, Session 0 is basically where you lay out what you want to do as a DM, including the game you're playing, house rules you're putting into play, restrictions you want, and of course, how you intend to roll your dice. For more about this, in case you haven't been doing it at your table, check out The Importance of "Session 0" in Your Tabletop Games.
|Some groups will simply never agree.|
If you have players who want you to roll your dice out in the open, and as a DM you'd rather keep them to yourself, that's something you should talk out. Ask, for instance, why your players want that. Is it just during combat they want to see the dice? Or is it all the time? And is it just because that's the way they've always played, or because they don't trust you to give them the straight dope on what actually happened?
There's a lot of ways that conversation can go, but it's something you need to have settled before you start your campaign. Additionally, there's nothing that says you can't start one way, and then change it if the table agrees they don't like it.
And if you're the sort of DM who can't get his or her groove on with/without a screen in front of you? Well, then make sure your players know that's part of the deal when you extend the invitation. That way you know, up-front, whether it's going to become an issue.
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