Friday Favourite: D&D Math – Adding the Numbers

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on May 10, 2013

On Friday we comb through our extensive archives to find an older article that we feel deserves another look. From June 20, 2011, Dungeon’s Master once again presents: D&D Math – Adding the Numbers.

Player – I rolled a 15, plus 7. Do I hit his AC?

DM – What’s the total?

Player – Um, hold on. 15… (Counts under breath) 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22. (At full volume again) 22! Does that hit?

DM – Yes it does. His AC is 14.

I’ve been playing a lot of public-play D&D over the past year; mostly D&D Encounters but also a fair amount of LFR. This is of course in addition to my regular weekly game. Playing in all of these games allows me to see how other people play and lets me learn from the experience. It also highlights problem areas in my game and in the game of the other players and DMs.

One disturbing trend that I’m seeing more and more is players that don’t (or possibly even can’t) do the math. They roll a d20, call out the result and then give me their modifiers and ask if they hit. In many cases the roll is high enough to beat the monster’s defences, so I know they hit even without the modifier added in; however, I always ask for the total before confirming a hit or miss. And it’s not only happening with attack rolls. It’ happens with damage rolls too.

As the DM I always try to keep the gaming moving. I have a lot of tricks and shortcuts I use at my table to ensure that the game run smoothly. But I feel that taking the time to get the players in the habit of doing the math is worth any minimal delays it may initially cause.

Before going on, I must admit that I have two exceptions to my “give me the total” rule. The first is when a player rolls a 20. After all a 20 always hits so the only reason to call out the total is when the monster has a really high defence and there’s an outside chance that it’s just a regular hit and not a crit. However, in the games I’ve played since 4e was released I’ve only ever seen a natural 20 not result in a crit once. The other exception is after the monsters defence score is known (usually because I’ve announced it to the table) and you’ve done the math in your head. In these cases I accept it when a player rolls, calls out the number, and simply tells me they hit.

Even though I always ask for totals, whether it’s an attack roll or a damage roll, a lot of players still don’t do it. In all fairness, we do have a few younger players participating in D&D Encounters – but this is simple math. I can’t believe they don’t give me the total because they can’t add two or three relatively small numbers in their head. What I think it comes down to is laziness and poor gaming protocol.

In most cases when there are a few players that don’t do the math themselves, other players at the table will often do it for them when I ask for the total. This presents me with difficult dilemma. On the one hand I’m glad that someone can do the math and give me a total quickly. However, the person giving me the number isn’t the player who rolled the dice. So my attempt to get them into the habit of giving me the final result clearly isn’t working. And when they realize that the other players will help them, they have no incentive to do it themselves.

When the other players help the lazy ones by doing the math, I know they’re just trying to help speed things up. I also know that the more I keep asking for the totals, especially when it’s apparent that the roll hits, the more I’m beginning to look like a jerk DM. But I believe that in the long run I’m helping the lazy players become better players, and I’m helping them speed up any game they’re going to play in down the road, whether it’s my game or someone else’s.

Do you have this problem at your gaming table? When players in your game (especially in public-play games) don’t add the numbers themselves, do you do it for them? Am I blowing this whole thing out of proportion and making a big deal out of nothing or do you see this as a common and growing issue?

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1 Wendy McLaren May 10, 2013 at 9:30 am

I’m a mother of 5 kids. Yes, I raised my own gaming group. 😉 So, since I have to do this sort of thing all the time at home, I don’t do it in games I run for others. I will do it at family games for the very reason you do — to make them better at simple math. It’s a life skill I feel is important. At the same time, because I’m doing this all the time, I don’t want to do it for non-family members. Would it make them better gamers? Maybe. But so will remembering to run their own character, to speak up if they want something and respecting others at the table. There’s only so much DM patience to go around and picking my battles is important. I’ll let the math one go. (And this is pretty much the same reason I don’t play healing classes in games. I like to get a break from reality when I play. I don’t want to kiss boo-boos in game.)

2 Madfox11 May 10, 2013 at 9:57 am

It is not my job to teach people basic maths and when running a public game I am not going to slow things down just to teach people math. In fact, most of the time I have people quickly estimate first before spending time on calculations. After all, in 4e when you roll a 12+ things must be different from normal if that is a miss, and bothering calculating damage for 6 dice + 15 if something has only 20 hit points left is also pointless. Things go slow enough as it is 😉 Mind you, in case of attack rolls it is usually not slowing down the game much unless a PC has all kinds of conditional modifiers to the roll. Damage rolls though can get rediculous.

3 Kirk May 10, 2013 at 1:39 pm

I have a player with a Master’s degree that still struggles with math at the table. I think the cause is more of “which numbers do I add?” but he still struggles when adding. I probably haven’t given him the patience he deserves but other players do jump in and help.

4 Pen May 10, 2013 at 4:30 pm

I was just thinking about this at last nights game.
The player next to me, a grown man, was just horrible at simple arithmetic. I think he would have counted on his fingers if not surrounded by the group.
I found myself correcting his math. Then looking over at his character sheet to see what his bonuses were.
(side rant – one of them was 10. Come on, you really need 20 seconds to add 10 to a d20 die roll)
I did opt to keep quiet though after the first correction. I find it disturbing when others jump in during another persons turn, and I didn’t want to be “THAT” guy.

5 Svafa May 13, 2013 at 10:51 am

I often do the math in my head (or simply ignore it if I know the roll’s high enough to hit) when DMing, but our group also likes to do the math even when they know it’s a minion and any damage will kill it. They’re big on the “how much overkill” factor.

What I find myself occasionally peeving over (not really, but what I could peeve over) is when the players give a number and then I have to ask if that is the total, the raw roll, or the base total (before extra modifiers like combat advantage, situational damage, etc). Too often I find players giving a number while they’re still totaling their modifiers or damage die. It’s not terribly annoying, but it can be problematic, and remaining silent (or mumbling to yourself if needed) is better than talking through the math and having the DM try to guess whether the number you just gave is final or not. Too often I’ve heard, “ok, that’s 34…”, so I write 34 down for the damage, “and 17 plus another 2, so 53 damage,” and now I’m having to add the difference and recheck bloodied/dead/resistance/etc.

6 Peter B May 14, 2013 at 1:19 am

I’ve got to be honest: I have been the bad person on the table that just does the math for other people. Now, I try to just whisper or quietly tell the other person the total, but occasionally I do pick it up and just do the calling.

As a DM for Encounters, I’ve gotten into the habit of asking for players for their character sheets so I can check them over for any inconsistencies, as well as so I can grab other important numbers (HP, AC, NADs, trained skills). More than once though, I’ve also grabbed to hit for commonly used abilities, because I know the player has a bad habit of flubbing his numbers or of just forgetting.

So yeah, I’m guilty of being one of those people who is good at D&D Math and just does it for other people.

7 Ameron (Derek Myers) May 14, 2013 at 9:14 am

@Peter B
It’s a fine line between helping those bad at math for the sake of keeping the game moving and forcing them to do it themselves so they’ll learn. When a nights of Encounters looks like it might run 2+ hours I’m more inclined to start helping them to speed things up. Alternatively, if they just roll a number that looks good (say 12+ on the d20), I’ll just say “It hits” and not worry about the math.

8 Ameron (Derek Myers) May 14, 2013 at 9:20 am

I encourage players with characters who deal extra dice damage (Rogues, Rangers, Warlocks) to pre-roll all damage or at least pre-roll the extra dice to avoid double counting.

When someone calls out damage “I hit for 17 points” I clearly reply with “OK, I’ve scored the 17” that way if there’s more to come they (hopefully) just give me the extra damage. It also alerts the other players so if the next number the players announces is “25 damage” I’m not the only one who asks “How do you deal 25 MORE points?” Players will police themselves. If they think someone is doing too much damage they’ll usually call them on it. IF it’s just bad math, they’ll call them on that too.

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