Passive skill checks too good?

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I've always had the feeling that the 'taking 10' for passive checks was a bit unrealistic. In my view, passive checks are done when a character isn't really paying specific attention. The most obvious example would be looking for traps. I think it's weird that a player who just walks around, albeit cautiously (they're in a hostile dungeon, after all), has the same chance of spotting a trap than the player who is actively looking for a trap because this corridor is looking suspiciously empty.

Same goes when an NPC tells a lie. If his bluff check is 16, and there's a player with +6 insight, there's a 100 percent chance that the player knows the NPC is lying, even if he didn't suspect something like that at all. Whereas a player who is suspicious of the NPC and listens to his every word looking for signs that he's lying, will only have a 55% chance of discovering the lie. Even though you could say that since the player always has his passive 'on', he would spot the lie no matter what, and the active check is just a chance to see things you normally couldn't. But then an active skill roll would only have a 50% chance of doing anything at all, making it rather situational. On top of that, a specialised character could easily beat the hard DC by a fair margin 100% of the time, and I don't think that's right.

There's no real incentive to actively use skill checks, because half of the time you're better off relying on your passive check. Now I know that the main reason for passive checks is to cut down on the rolling and helping the game forward. But I think that 'taking 10' is pushing it too far, not encouraging the players to take a good look at their surroundings. I think a lot of DM's think the same and therefore don't always apply the passive check rule.

 For example, the DM wants to surprise the party with a nasty trap, so they set the trap's DC above the passive perception of the party. Of course, if the party for some reason (like the DM saying something like 'it's strangely quiet in this room') decide to check for traps, the DM is more than willing to reveal it. But because he had to put the DC of the trap beyond the highest passive perception of the party, there's a good chance they won't find it even when looking, although the DM might want to reward them for it. Other DM's might just ignore the passive checks and only reveal the trap after an active roll, but then the party might feel unfairly treated because they should have passively spotted it.

That is why I'm thinking of changing the rule in my campaign to 'taking 5'. That way, trained characters will automatically pass easy DC, and trained characters with corresponding ability scores will automatically pass medium DC, so they're not totally oblivious of their surroundings and the characters will spot the obvious lie or trap or whatever. But on the other hand, they'll know that there might be much they could be missing and will be encouraged to use their skills when in doubt.

Anyway, let me know what you think of this, all comments are appreciated!

tl,dr: Taking 10 is overpowered, take 5 instead

> In my view, passive checks are done when a character isn't really paying
> specific attention.

You've already taken a wrong turn with this.
>> In my view, passive checks are done when a character isn't really paying
>> specific attention.

>You've already taken a wrong turn with this.

Could you please elaborate? In the Rules Compendium it states that a passive check is used when a creature isn't actively using a skill. I think that 'not actively using a skill' comes pretty close to 'not actively searching for traps', which means that the character is not really paying specific attention to traps. He will look around and see things, but since there's usually plenty going on in the meantime, it's not unthinkable that he distracted enough by the orc charging at him that he doesn't notice a trap unless he takes special care to look for traps.

Also, I don't know if you have read my entire post, but I feel that my point is not lost because of me misunderstanding the passive check rule. I still feel that a player who specifically states that he wants to make a check should receive a benefit versus a player who doesn't, in order to encourage active roleplaying, and since a bonus on the roll would overpower the character, taking 5 instead of 10 on passive checks would be the best way to grant such a benefit.
Passive skill checks are when they have time to actually examine something that is common. Find a religious symbol to the Raven Queen, lying on the ground, passive religion check/take 10, in the city.

I use passive insight only when an NPC isn't trying to hide his intentions. Passive Perception I use to determine if my ambushes are successful with a stealth check from the NPCs. If the NPCs fail the players get a hint that the ambush is set, if they succeed the players won't get much.
Ant Farm
There's a difference between taking 10 and a passive check. Taking 10 is allowed in situations where the character has time to doublecheck his actions, meaning that he can make sure he doesn't slip up. I don't have a problem with this, because the player still has to announce that he will use a skill, but now has the choice of taking 10 instead of rolling because he's not in a stressful situation.

Passive checks are only used in opposed checks and use the taking 10 rule because then you don't have to roll, saving time. My point is that taking 10 in passive checks is a bit much because the whole premise of taking 10 is compromised. The character does not automatically pay unusual amounts of attention to everything and I feel that a player who does want his character to pay specific attention, does not get enough of a bonus to encourage doing so.

I've always had the feeling that the 'taking 10' for passive checks was a bit unrealistic. In my view, passive checks are done when a character isn't really paying specific attention. The most obvious example would be looking for traps. I think it's weird that a player who just walks around, albeit cautiously (they're in a hostile dungeon, after all), has the same chance of spotting a trap than the player who is actively looking for a trap because this corridor is looking suspiciously empty.



If a character is more perceptive than another one, I don't see why this is a problem. They're just better at it, even when they're not trying.

How much do you feel D&D should strive toward simulating reality?

Same goes when an NPC tells a lie. If his bluff check is 16, and there's a player with +6 insight, there's a 100 percent chance that the player knows the NPC is lying, even if he didn't suspect something like that at all.



Good! If a character doesn't know an NPC is lying then there likely isn't an interesting complication in the interaction scene. Take this away and the scene you wrote gets a little more boring. If your plot is hinging on the fact that you trick one of your players, then there shouldn't be a chance they can succeed on an Insight check. (But then, that just exposes the weak nature of the plot anyway and it should be revised.)

Whereas a player who is suspicious of the NPC and listens to his every word looking for signs that he's lying, will only have a 55% chance of discovering the lie. Even though you could say that since the player always has his passive 'on', he would spot the lie no matter what, and the active check is just a chance to see things you normally couldn't. But then an active skill roll would only have a 50% chance of doing anything at all, making it rather situational. On top of that, a specialised character could easily beat the hard DC by a fair margin 100% of the time, and I don't think that's right.



Same as what I said about Perception above. Some people are just better at it than others, even   when the person who's not as good isn't trying very hard.

There's no real incentive to actively use skill checks, because half of the time you're better off relying on your passive check. Now I know that the main reason for passive checks is to cut down on the rolling and helping the game forward. But I think that 'taking 10' is pushing it too far, not encouraging the players to take a good look at their surroundings. I think a lot of DM's think the same and therefore don't always apply the passive check rule.



The style of your game should dictate the amount of detail that is necessary for PCs to find clues. A good passive Perception check will let you spot the urn, sure. But it won't tell you its History. And you won't know it was recently stolen from a museum in the Big City (Streetwise). And you probably won't know it's magical (Arcana), unless you make the right checks. If you want them to take a good "look" at their surroundings, don't limit discovering clues to Perception. Perception finds the thing of interest, the other skills let them figure stuff out about it. And if you think about that carefully, this means you'd prefer the PCs to find stuff using passive or by taking 10. Otherwise, they won't get all the cool clues you wrote up which adds layers to your story and provides hooks for future adventures.

But again, this should be dictated by your game's style. If the PCs are marauding mercenaries, poking around nooks and crannies trying to find every fingerprint and eyelash is the wrong scene to write because that's not what their characters are about. Now if the PCs are inquisitives or tomb robbers, then yeah, go CSI style with the details.

 For example, the DM wants to surprise the party with a nasty trap, so they set the trap's DC above the passive perception of the party. Of course, if the party for some reason (like the DM saying something like 'it's strangely quiet in this room') decide to check for traps, the DM is more than willing to reveal it. But because he had to put the DC of the trap beyond the highest passive perception of the party, there's a good chance they won't find it even when looking, although the DM might want to reward them for it. Other DM's might just ignore the passive checks and only reveal the trap after an active roll, but then the party might feel unfairly treated because they should have passively spotted it.



This is just bad legacy design and is probably where you're really having your issue. D&D has moved away from "gotcha" traps. Make the trap part of a larger encounter and put creatures in that can force the PCs to interact with the trap (forced movement for example). Problem solved.

That is why I'm thinking of changing the rule in my campaign to 'taking 5'. That way, trained characters will automatically pass easy DC, and trained characters with corresponding ability scores will automatically pass medium DC, so they're not totally oblivious of their surroundings and the characters will spot the obvious lie or trap or whatever. But on the other hand, they'll know that there might be much they could be missing and will be encouraged to use their skills when in doubt.



What is the benefit to your game? It sounds like you're trying to solve a simulation issue or logic problem you have with a game mechanic. But that won't add anything to how your game plays at the table. It has the added feel of penalizing the players rather than encouraging the DM to be a little more creative with scene writing and encounter design.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

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"Gotcha" traps are still appropriate in certain situations. If you're abstracting a larger action such as travelling through an area, you can spring a trap on them and have the skill checks be about escaping it. I'm thinking in terms of a skill challenge here, in which Perception isn't a primary skill. It's a little bit cheap, but it's legitimate. I don't think the intention of Perception was that the character could never be caught off guard.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

"Gotcha" traps are still appropriate in certain situations. If you're abstracting a larger action such as travelling through an area, you can spring a trap on them and have the skill checks be about escaping it. I'm thinking in terms of a skill challenge here, in which Perception isn't a primary skill. It's a little bit cheap, but it's legitimate. I don't think the intention of Perception was that the character could never be caught off guard.



Sure, that's okay. But the suggestion was that bumping the DC to beat a high passive Perception for a specialized PC was acceptable and I don't feel it is.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

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"Gotcha" traps are still appropriate in certain situations. If you're abstracting a larger action such as travelling through an area, you can spring a trap on them and have the skill checks be about escaping it. I'm thinking in terms of a skill challenge here, in which Perception isn't a primary skill. It's a little bit cheap, but it's legitimate. I don't think the intention of Perception was that the character could never be caught off guard.

Sure, that's okay. But the suggestion was that bumping the DC to beat a high passive Perception for a specialized PC was acceptable and I don't feel it is.

Yeah, I agree. Stick with the DCs for that level (or around that level) and focus on traps that are effective even if they're seen, while giving the PCs some traps that they can see and avoid to justify their character choices.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

> There's a difference between taking 10 and a passive check.

There's no difference. A passive check is a Take 10.

> Taking 10 is allowed in situations where the character has time to doublecheck
> his actions, meaning that he can make sure he doesn't slip up.

Taking 10 does not require additional time, only that there be no direct interference or distraction. If you have all the time in the world to do the job right then you Take 20.
> There's a difference between taking 10 and a passive check. There's no difference. A passive check is a Take 10. > Taking 10 is allowed in situations where the character has time to doublecheck > his actions, meaning that he can make sure he doesn't slip up. Taking 10 does not require additional time, only that there be no direct interference or distraction.

Right. What constitutes distraction is up to the DM. I recommend keeping them distracted as much as possible.

 If you have all the time in the world to do the job right then you Take 20.

I never understood why that was left out of the 4th Edition rules.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

I never understood why that was left out of the 4th Edition rules.



Probably because not having to make a roll for every little thing when there's no danger is self-evident. You just succeed in most cases. But then, I guess I've been in some games where that wasn't evident to the DM...

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While passive checks use the take 10 rule, the take 10 rule itself is devised for when players are not in a rush, encounter or skill challenge, or so it says (basically) at page 127 in the rules compendium. So while passive skill checks USE take 10, the two are certainly different. Every passive check uses take 10, but not every take 10 is a passive check.

Anyway, the real issue is not whether the PC's find a trap or not, but the fact that when a player tells me that he wants to actively search for traps (because an NPC told them to watch out for traps, or because they just ran in a trap and are now cautious of springing another one), he doesn't get a real bonus for being actually on the lookout for something since, on average, rolling and taking 10 is the same. And that is why I propose to use a take 5 rule for passive checks instead of a take 10 rule. To reward players who want their character to be extra cautious with a bigger chance to actually find something.

I'll give an example: Two situations, different NPC's with the same bluff check result. One NPC, Tom, has always helped the party and there's a bond of trust between Tom and the party members. But for some reason, Tom tells them a lie. The players trust the NPC and hence wouldn't be paying much attention to him telling the truth or not. The second NPC, Brett, is a shady character who has double crossed the players many times before. The players need some information from him but Brett lies. Of course, the players are wary of Brett and are prepared to spot anything that could betray Brett's lie.

When talking to Tom, the players tell me nothing, so I use their passive checks. However, because my players don't trust Brett, one of them tells me he wants to make an insight check to tell if he's lying. With the current rules, they have an equal chance of discovering either Tom's or Brett's lie. If you use take 5 for passive checks, Tom would have an easier time fooling the players than Brett, because they trust him and he uses that trust.

Another simple real life example: When playing Metal Gear Solid 4 (or any other game that has mines or traps), I almost always run into the first mine that's set in a level, because I'm not expecting it (passive check). But once I know that there are mines around, I move much more cautiously and manage to avoid the other mines placed around the map, even when chased by enemies (because I am actively looking for them => active check). With the current rules in D&D, there would be no difference.

it isn't about surprising the players with traps, it's about using a system that's more fair to the players and rewards contextual thinking and immersion.
While passive checks use the take 10 rule, the take 10 rule itself is devised for when players are not in a rush, encounter or skill challenge, or so it says (basically) at page 127 in the rules compendium. So while passive skill checks USE take 10, the two are certainly different. Every passive check uses take 10, but not every take 10 is a passive check.



From the standpoint of getting on with the game without a bunch of mechanics, you can just assume that PCs "Take a Gazillion" when there's no threat. They just succeed. Mechanics only really matter in charged situations or when the results of success or failure are interesting. Otherwise, just tell the story.

Anyway, the real issue is not whether the PC's find a trap or not, but the fact that when a player tells me that he wants to actively search for traps (because an NPC told them to watch out for traps, or because they just ran in a trap and are now cautious of springing another one), he doesn't get a real bonus for being actually on the lookout for something since, on average, rolling and taking 10 is the same. And that is why I propose to use a take 5 rule for passive checks instead of a take 10 rule. To reward players who want their character to be extra cautious with a bigger chance to actually find something.



The actively searching player does get a bonus of sorts - he gets the chance to roll above a 10. You could also give him a situational bonus if an NPC told him to look out for something in particular, but I don't see why that wouldn't also benefit a player relying on passive.

When you reward a player for doing something, what you're saying is you want them to do that more often. Is being "extra cautious" more interesting or less interesting in the context of the story? Because if I had to watch my fellow players spam Perception checks all night because they were being rewarded to do so, I'd go crazy. I'd rather just run down the corridor and set the damn traps off myself so something interesting happens.

I'll give an example: Two situations, different NPC's with the same bluff check result. One NPC, Tom, has always helped the party and there's a bond of trust between Tom and the party members. But for some reason, Tom tells them a lie. The players trust the NPC and hence wouldn't be paying much attention to him telling the truth or not. The second NPC, Brett, is a shady character who has double crossed the players many times before. The players need some information from him but Brett lies. Of course, the players are wary of Brett and are prepared to spot anything that could betray Brett's lie.

When talking to Tom, the players tell me nothing, so I use their passive checks. However, because my players don't trust Brett, one of them tells me he wants to make an insight check to tell if he's lying. With the current rules, they have an equal chance of discovering either Tom's or Brett's lie. If you use take 5 for passive checks, Tom would have an easier time fooling the players than Brett, because they trust him and he uses that trust.



It's always passive unless the PC asks to make a roll. Just do that and save yourself worrying about such trivialities. The PCs don't have to believe what an NPC says even if he's lying and rolls a natural 20 on the Bluff check and the PCs roll a 1 on the Insight check. So it's not worth wasting intellectual capital on.

Another simple real life example: When playing Metal Gear Solid 4 (or any other game that has mines or traps), I almost always run into the first mine that's set in a level, because I'm not expecting it (passive check). But once I know that there are mines around, I move much more cautiously and manage to avoid the other mines placed around the map, even when chased by enemies (because I am actively looking for them => active check). With the current rules in D&D, there would be no difference.



How often should your PCs be making active Perception checks in a dungeon?

Also, the more you try to simulate reality with D&D, the more unhappy you'll be. It's not meant to simulate reality. It's meant to be simple and allow you a fairly consistent framework with which to adjudicate success and failure in the context of a story. The second you start thinking about it in terms of what's more realistic, you're already going off the path.

it isn't about surprising the players with traps, it's about using a system that's more fair to the players and rewards contextual thinking and immersion.



The system as-is is fair enough. But, okay, now I see where you're going with this. It's "immersion," the DM's holy grail. It's a myth.

Some of the best DM advice I ever got: You can't control the thoughts and perceptions of other people and that's what immersion is - how they perceive your world and your story. If you can't control something, you should not spend your time worrying about it. Just make your game the most interesting you can (hint: it's not through Perception checks) and each player will walk away with a feeling of immersion that is appropriate to their level of interest in the game.

Contextual thinking is going to come from more than just Perception and Insight checks as well. It's more about putting things in front of the players that are important and compelling to their characters' goals. Everything else is superfluous because that's all they're really going to remember anyway. You're better off redirecting that effort to story or encounter complexity.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

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I don't think the intention of Perception was that the character could never be caught off guard.


On the contrary -- and I'm just spitballin' here -- I think it MAY be exactly that. These are heroes after all. Examples: see Aragorn, Roland Deschain, and Batman... Rarely if ever taken by surprise, unless it's by a criminal mastermind or magically hidden surprise.

It seems to me that, in order to take a PC by surprise, a trap or lie has to be pretty darn well-hidden. In a situation where it's someone who wouldn't notice anyways, they're either very low-level or they're the kind of person who wouldn't see it (-1 to perception), like in the marauding mercenaries example used above.

Realizing Tom, the beloved friend of the heroes, is lying to them is a common and dramatic scene in lots of media. If someone has the passive perception to see it, I say give it to 'em. Meanwhile, the half-orc warlord with bad eyesight who suspected Tom the entire time STILL can't tell the difference between the truth and a lie

Here is how I do passive/take 10. It may not be exactly in the rules but I think it works well.

No one ever figures anything out with passive checks. They only learn that there is something to figure out. So if there is a room with traps, a passive perception lets the players know there is something suspicious about the room. But they always have to do a non passive check to learn the details.

Take 10. A player can take 10 only when they have some time to think/prepare. This generally means that exciting, important (and especially combat) check are never allowed to take 10. I also don't allow it for checks where I think extra time wouldn't help, so you will basically never see my players take 10 for diplomacy, acrobatic, or stealth (to name a few). Instead I try give my players skill check bonuses for smart decisions and good roleplaying. 

Well, first of all, thanks for all the replies so far.

I think I like SirLancelittle's approach more than mine. I now see that my proposal does have it's flaws, like the advantage of spamming perception and insight checks. And I think that 'You enter a dimly lit room, there are three strange holes in the wall and one of the tiles seems out of place' sounds more intriguing than 'You enter a dimly lit room, there's a trap'. Also it still makes the players think as opposed to listen me talk and see what happens.

I guess I just wanted to make a rule out of something that should be solved by the DM by creative storytelling, probably because I'm not really good at that since I'm still pretty new to DMing and D&D in general.

And I think I finally get the why and how of passive skill checks now. It may be only a small part of the whole, but I think it can be very frustrating for the players if the DM doesn't get a certain concept or misuses the rules.

Well, first of all, thanks for all the replies so far.

I think I like SirLancelittle's approach more than mine. I now see that my proposal does have it's flaws, like the advantage of spamming perception and insight checks. And I think that 'You enter a dimly lit room, there are three strange holes in the wall and one of the tiles seems out of place' sounds more intriguing than 'You enter a dimly lit room, there's a trap'. Also it still makes the players think as opposed to listen me talk and see what happens.

I guess I just wanted to make a rule out of something that should be solved by the DM by creative storytelling, probably because I'm not really good at that since I'm still pretty new to DMing and D&D in general.

The rules aren't too clear on what Perception is able to see, and what it isn't. It's really a DM's call, which can be a problem for players who think it lets them see everything. But I think there's good precedent for a successful check not giving the whole story, it's just not that easy to find. For instance, there's an encounter in Dungeon Delve in which a Perception check tells you that a figure is hiding, but not exactly what kind of creature the figure is.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Well, first of all, thanks for all the replies so far.

I think I like SirLancelittle's approach more than mine. I now see that my proposal does have it's flaws, like the advantage of spamming perception and insight checks. And I think that 'You enter a dimly lit room, there are three strange holes in the wall and one of the tiles seems out of place' sounds more intriguing than 'You enter a dimly lit room, there's a trap'. Also it still makes the players think as opposed to listen me talk and see what happens.

I guess I just wanted to make a rule out of something that should be solved by the DM by creative storytelling, probably because I'm not really good at that since I'm still pretty new to DMing and D&D in general.

And I think I finally get the why and how of passive skill checks now. It may be only a small part of the whole, but I think it can be very frustrating for the players if the DM doesn't get a certain concept or misuses the rules.




An easy rule of thumb to keep in mind is that, outside of when the rules specifically call for one, the DM should only ask for a check if (1) the PCs are in a charged situation - a fight, tense scene, or otherwise when the outcome is in doubt - and (2) when success or failure are both interesting. If the circumstance is neither, just narrate the outcome as a success (or sometimes a "soft" failure if it's interesting in context).

Example: If the PCs are not in combat, but there's a 50' ledge to climb up to, do you ask for a check? No. Given enough time, preparation and assists, the PCs will climb up there with no problem. Otherwise, you'll be asking them to keep rolling until they succeed and there's no point to that and certainly no fun to be had. If, however, they're looking at that ledge and an artillery monster walks out onto it and starts raining down arrows upon them, then, yes, you ask for Athletics checks to climb that wall.

Another one DMs get confused about and players tend to capitalize on: Skill checks don't allow you to do things. Actions do. The result of the skill check just determines the relative success of the action. So you should enforce that notion in how you tell the story. A PC can't make a Diplomacy check to talk to the king. The PC must talk to the king and then if success or failure on the check is interesting, the DM calls for a Diplomacy check. Same thing goes for Perception checks to find a trap. It isn't enough to just ask to make a Perception check. The PC must take the action, then you call for a roll. That action might entail getting closer to the trap to check it out. If you make sure you're following this tact, you'll likely see more interaction and thinking which appears to be your goal.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

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In my home game, the rule I use is that only active perception checks can find things that are hidden with exceptional care (like traps or hidden doors). However, if their passive perception beats the DC, I give them a clue that there may be something amiss. For me, this is a good compromise between automatically discovering a trap and having arbitrary "gotcha" traps.
Well, first of all, thanks for all the replies so far.

I think I like SirLancelittle's approach more than mine. I now see that my proposal does have it's flaws, like the advantage of spamming perception and insight checks. And I think that 'You enter a dimly lit room, there are three strange holes in the wall and one of the tiles seems out of place' sounds more intriguing than 'You enter a dimly lit room, there's a trap'. Also it still makes the players think as opposed to listen me talk and see what happens.

I guess I just wanted to make a rule out of something that should be solved by the DM by creative storytelling, probably because I'm not really good at that since I'm still pretty new to DMing and D&D in general.

And I think I finally get the why and how of passive skill checks now. It may be only a small part of the whole, but I think it can be very frustrating for the players if the DM doesn't get a certain concept or misuses the rules.




An easy rule of thumb to keep in mind is that, outside of when the rules specifically call for one, the DM should only ask for a check if (1) the PCs are in a charged situation - a fight, tense scene, or otherwise when the outcome is in doubt - and (2) when success or failure are both interesting. If the circumstance is neither, just narrate the outcome as a success (or sometimes a "soft" failure if it's interesting in context).

Example: If the PCs are not in combat, but there's a 50' ledge to climb up to, do you ask for a check? No. Given enough time, preparation and assists, the PCs will climb up there with no problem. Otherwise, you'll be asking them to keep rolling until they succeed and there's no point to that and certainly no fun to be had. If, however, they're looking at that ledge and an artillery monster walks out onto it and starts raining down arrows upon them, then, yes, you ask for Athletics checks to climb that wall.

Another one DMs get confused about and players tend to capitalize on: Skill checks don't allow you to do things. Actions do. The result of the skill check just determines the relative success of the action. So you should enforce that notion in how you tell the story. A PC can't make a Diplomacy check to talk to the king. The PC must talk to the king and then if success or failure on the check is interesting, the DM calls for a Diplomacy check. Same thing goes for Perception checks to find a trap. It isn't enough to just ask to make a Perception check. The PC must take the action, then you call for a roll. That action might entail getting closer to the trap to check it out. If you make sure you're following this tact, you'll likely see more interaction and thinking which appears to be your goal.

Iserith makes some very good points, especially about how skill checks are different from actions. However, I may run things a little different from him when it comes to his number 2.

I agree it is important for there to be both success and failure for every check (or what is the point of doing a roll). However, based on his examples I think I end up doing more skill checks than he does. Yes with enough tries the players can climb up 50', but if they fail this check they might take fall damage or make a noise that causes someone to hear them coming.

I think knowledge checks (do I know/see something; perception, arcana, history, etc) are the most easily abused. Players might try: "Do I know the history of the item, , ok I don't remember. Wait how about now, ." The way around this is simply to say you can't reroll a knowledge check until something changes.

One other thing that helps with knowledge checks is to add levels of success to the check. A very high score and the players learn everything. A medium score and they still learn somethings but not everything. A poor score and they learn nothing. A terrible score and the might learn the wrong thing (they misremember, or with perception maybe the mistake one thing for something else). You don't want to abuse this last option because this case is really the DM lying to the players. However, using it every once in while especially if the players make a stupid check (Example: "Will I burn myself if I step in this fire?" Rolls a 1 on a perception check: "No it is magical cold fire?") adds some flavor and realism to the game.
The advanatage of this tiered system is that the players can't straight up assume "I suceeded at this check" vs. "I failed this check." Instead they can use the die roll as kind of a confidence gauge. In real life you might think "I'm pretty sure she is lying but I'm not positive" and this might coorespond in the game world to getting a medium value on your perception check (you are pretty sure that was good enough to figure it out, but it might not have been and as a result the DM gave you false information).
Iserith makes some very good points, especially about how skill checks are different from actions. However, I may run things a little different from him when it comes to his number 2.

I agree it is important for there to be both success and failure for every check (or what is the point of doing a roll). However, based on his examples I think I end up doing more skill checks than he does. Yes with enough tries the players can climb up 50', but if they fail this check they might take fall damage or make a noise that causes someone to hear them coming.



In practice, our approach probably doesn't look much different. But I would consider the climbing example to be a stylistic choice. I would only have PCs make a check outside of a charged situation if it somehow played into a thematic element. If I wrote an adventure that purposefully included a lot of climbing (say, a mountain) and I wanted to highly emphasize the climbing experience, I might have them in a scene where climbing was the challenge and falling was the threat. But even that can fall flat without some other challenges sprinkled in. At which point it starts to look like a skill challenge if you want a more narrative structure or a combat encounter that's a mix of narrative and tactical when you add some monsters. And both of those are charged situations where checks are called for anyway.

In your example, falling as a consequence of failure probably isn't very interesting because it's likely a simple transaction - "Make your Acrobatics check if you have it trained, take half that and subtract if off the falling damage dice. Stand up from prone. Roll Athletics check to climb again until you get it right." That's why I wouldn't have that be a roll unless the PCs were under fire. Now, the fact that someone hears you as a consequence of failure - that's certainly more interesting and would call for a roll because there's potentially a good complication to be had.

For any decision or adjudication, ask yourself, "Is this going to be fun for everyone?" and "Is this going to lead to the creation of an exciting, memorable story?"

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