You know what players love? Hitting monsters. Whenever I wind up with my favorite two-hander and swing for the fences, seeing those big numbers come up feels like hitting the sweet spot in baseball. It’s just fundamentally satisfying to roll damage, contribute to party success, and feel like you’ve affected the combat.

You know what players don’t love though? Not hitting monsters. As Thief so ably demonstrates in today’s Handbook, runs of bad luck are damnably frustrating. When you’re swinging and missing round after round, it’s only natural to get discouraged. Of course, there are worse things than simply not hitting.

That brings us to our third and final rhetorical question: Do you know what players absolutely hate? Hitting the monster, then being told actually-no-it-was-really-a-miss. I am of course referring to the 3.X version of displacement, wherein percentile dice and a flat 50% miss chance are in effect. I sympathize with the players on this one. The play loop is infuriating: Roll Dice > Hit Monster > Asshole GM Says Roll % > Retroactively Miss Monster > Hurl Dice at Bystanders. This can be avoided by rolling % simultaneously with your to-hit, but people tend to forget to do that in practice. And even if you do remember to roll simultaneously most of the time, there’s still that initial round to consider. If players are unaware that thing they’re fighting gives a miss chance, there will be that maddening moment of discovery when they find out: “You rolled a 27? Nice job! That would be a hit, but sinister laugh….”

Mirror image offers a similarly obnoxious play experience, tempered only by the fact that you can eventually club all the images to death. I remember a high-level encounter with multiple vrocks in my megadungeon, and it was one of the few times I’ve seen a party full-on retreat. Facing a flock of murder birds is bad enough, but dealing with their oops-you-actually-missed nonsense was more than the party could stomach. As memory serves they rolled the unconscious fighter out under the slowly descending stone door and agreed to tell him they’d won when he came to. Can’t say I blame then.

What do the rest of you guys think? Is there a better way to craft this particular play experience? And in a broader sense, when your players are getting frustrated with a bad bout of swinging-and-missing, what can you do to help them find their fun again? Let’s hear it down in the comments!


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