This article was first broadcast in Episode Five on 27th December, 2017.
Ostron: Yeah, somebody’s been stealing lunches, so she’s taken to keeping it the vault.
Lennon: …the vault?
Killer DM: Yes, you know, down the hall to the left, through the trap-filled corridor, over the pits filled with rabid vorpal weasels, in the mimic-filled chamber. Where you left your belovéd Killer DM hat, for “safe keeping”.
So, continuing from last week, we’ll be looking at six more bonuses you can consider giving to your players… or applying to your own dice. We’ll look at the bonus, where it’s used, and look at the benefits and disadvantages of each one. So, without further ado…
The 7th bonus is “Maximize”. Simply put, take whatever the maximum number your dice could potentially roll and that’s your result. In 5th edition, it’s used to determine starting hit points. Another place it’s used is in the Cleric Life domain’s Supreme Healing ability. The benefits are obvious: the minimum and mean rolls become the same as the maximum roll. What more could you want?
Killer DM: Still, it takes the chance to roll away from the player, and they DO whine so when you do not let them roll. I gave one player a maximized d4 once, you have never heard such snivelling, “B-but I was supposed to roll a d20!” Pathetic.
For our 8th bonus, we have “bonus dice”; where Maximize takes away your roll, with Bonus Dice you take your dice and roll more of them. This bonus shows up many times among various spells when they’re cast at higher levels; another example can be found in the Bardic Inspiration dice, allowing the recipient to roll another die and add it to their total roll.
So, when you add bonus dice, the minimum, the maximum, and the average all go up…but something else interesting also happens if you’re going from a single die to multiple dice: you find that results in the middle of the range become much more common, while results at the extremes become much less common. There’s a reason for this, and that reason is the “mode”. This next bit gets a bit mathsy.
When you roll 1d12, every number is equally probable; you are as likely to get a one as a seven as a twelve. When you roll 2d6, there’s 36 possible combinations of numbers on the two dice, giving results from 2 to 12, but they’re not all equally likely. There’s only one possible combination each that gives you a 2 or a 12, but there are SIX possible combinations that add up to seven. You have a 1-in-6 chance to roll a seven, but only 1-in-36 to roll a 12. 7 is the mode of the set, the result that appears more often than any other. Of course, a 7 is more than any single d6 can roll, so going from 1d6 to 2d6 certainly a benefit, but the more dice you add, the less likely it becomes that the player will get a roll near the maximum and more likely they will get one near the mode. The rolls, in effect, become less random the more dice you add.
Killer DM: As I said last time, allowing players to roll more dice makes them so unreasonably happy. While it is hard to break that instinct, I try to train them to fear it by occasionally letting THEM roll the 15d8 of falling rock damage they are taking.
Our next bonus is the “fixed minimum” bonus; if you roll below a certain value, the roll is considered to be that value. 5th edition uses this in a pair of class abilities, the rogue’s Reliable Talent and the Barbarian’s Indomitable Might.
As you’d expect, the maximum roll remains the same while the minimum is brought up, similarly bringing up the average. This bonus is very useful for guaranteeing a certain minimum level of performance without risking power bloat by also raising the maximum.
Killer DM: On the other hand, I certainly hope you like whatever the minimum value happens to be; you will be rolling it quite often. If you have 1d20 with a minimum roll of 10, any roll of 1 through 10 will BE 10, which means half your rolls will be the new minimum. Remember the mode? The result that occurs most often? Now it is working against you.
If you’ve had enough of the mode, the 10th bonus is the the one for you. With the “multiply” bonus; simply take the result, and multiply by some number. This one is not currently used in the official D&D rules, although a lot of people have been known to use this to quickly calculate crit values by simply doubling the damage output roll. This bonus has has an interesting effect, which is generating potentially large rolls with a single die, avoiding the side effect of the mode.
Compare 4d6 versus 1d6 times 4. Both have a minimum roll of four, a maximum of 24, and an average of 14. With 4d6, you have a mode of 14 as well, and rolls are going to tend to cluster around that, but with 1d6x4, while you only have six potential results, each result is equally probable. Because of that, the multiplied roll is more random than rolling multiple dice. If you need larger numbers than a single die can provide, but want truly random results, good or bad, a multiplication bonus is the way to go.
Killer DM: I find this very useful when I use firearms against my players; it helps reinforce how deadly they can be on a bad hit. With multiple dice, I get middling rolls that lets them soak a hit or two; with 1d12 times 8, getting shot in the heart really DOES mean death for them.
…continuing on the topic of firearms, against our better judgement, our next bonus is “exploding dice”, introduced in 2nd edition to roll damage for an arquebus, and then quickly abandoned, much like the arquebus. With exploding dice, when a certain number is rolled, usually the highest, the die “explodes” and can be rolled again, adding to the total. If you continue rolling the magic number, the die keeps exploding, allowing additional re-rolls. Some other game systems make use of exploding dice, but it fell out of use in D&D.
While the minimum roll remains the same, the important part of the exploding dice bonus is that there’s technically no maximum roll; as long as you keep rolling well, you could hypothetically get over 1000 on 1d6. Another interesting aspect is that different die sizes will tend to balance out with exploding dice; d4s and d6s will tend to explode more often, but will contribute a smaller bonus die, while larger dice will give larger bonus dice, but have a smaller chance to explode. This makes it another good way to represent firearm damage, since the rolls can reach potentially lethal levels for any character, although high numbers will be much less likely than with the multiply method.
And finally, the 12th bonus is the “increased die size” bonus, where you substitute your die with a larger one, such as going from 1d8 to 1d10. We find this used with versatile weapons in 5th edition, where one die size is used for one-handed damage, and the next-larger die is used for two-handed damage.
This is probably the least glamorous of bonuses; the minimum remains the same, the maximum goes up slightly, as does the average. The impact of this bonus generally isn’t felt until enough rolls have been made that a few of them have gone over the old maximum. If you’re looking for a subtle bonus that provides a cumulative impact over time, this might be the way to go.
Killer DM: This bonus is so amazingly dull, I have used it occasionally as a sedative to lull myself to sleep. If you get this bonus, consider it to mean that your DM does not like you, but has not yet grown enough spine to kill your character. Are we done now?
Lennon: Well, there’s still more of the show to record.
Killer DM: Very well. Ryu and I will consult after the show on how to deal with the min/maxer problem. Make sure she brings something to write with so I can leave you my min/max munchkin soufflé recipe for dealing with the leftovers.