UNCONSCIOUS




Unconscious



  • An unconscious creature drops whatever it’s holding and falls prone.

  • The creature cannot move, take actions, or perceive its surroundings.

  • The creature automatically fails Strength and Dexterity saving throws.

  • Attacks against the creature have advantage.



Oddities:
If you are adjacent to an unconscious creature, why is an attack roll even necessary? (Especially in the case of magic attacks with a range of touch.)

Why does an unconscious creature retain their Dexterity modifier to AC? (Considering they automatically fail Dexterity saving throws.) 




Danny

That is odd. You should be able to take 20 on the attack. Laughing
Good question.  

Firstly I would say that Armor Class does represent armor as much as it does active defense.  So you would still need to crack through a creature's tough hide or a kinight's full plate. 

Secondly, a player/creature that is adjacent to an unconcious ally is not likely to allow its ally to be so easily dispatched.  Primarily from a player's point of view, if your buddy gets knocked out from a poison dart right next to you, you would make it difficult for an attacker to slit his throat.  

Thirdly, the danger level is already represented by the Coup De Grace action.  If that attack hits, the creature is put to 0 hp.  If it was already at or below 0 it dies.  I would be okay with automatic hits on an unconscious creature, if that rule didn't already exist.  Keep in mind that these rules are really about a combat that is still proceeding, outside of combat the DM could easily just allow a player to grant instant death without any rolls.  In combat this is a reasonable abstraction as is, but I dislike that the conditions for performing a Coup De Grace no longer take adjacent allies into account.  Previously you could not perform a Coup De Grace against a target that had an ally adjacent to it.  Currently, you can attempt to execute a creature that is surrounded by allies.  Again, from the Players' perspective this is a bit rude.  The wizard falls unconscious and his three friends close around him to protect his body... a goblin runs in and slits his throat just as easily as if they weren't there.  This is compounded by the fact that the Help action only applies to actions, not defenses.
Good question.  

Firstly I would say that Armor Class does represent armor as much as it does active defense.  So you would still need to crack through a creature's tough hide or a kinight's full plate.

I don't disagree that AC represents armor as much as it does active defense, but Dexterity's contribution is explicitly representative of your ability to avoid enemy attacks.

The description of Dexterity states that "...characters who wear light armor prefer a high Dexterity score, since it helps them avoid enemy attacks." (How to Play 4)

If you are unconscious, you are unable to move, take actions, or perceive your surroundings. As such, your Dexterity modifier should not apply to your AC. 

Secondly, a player/creature that is adjacent to an unconcious ally is not likely to allow its ally to be so easily dispatched.  Primarily from a player's point of view, if your buddy gets knocked out from a poison dart right next to you, you would make it difficult for an attacker to slit his throat.

By the same token, an adjacent creature is going to make it difficult for an attacker to strike their ally unconscious or not, so allowing intereference here invites interference is all related situations and forces reconsideration of the basic assumptions of melee combat.

Thirdly, the danger level is already represented by the Coup De Grace action.  If that attack hits, the creature is put to 0 hp.  If it was already at or below 0 it dies.  I would be okay with automatic hits on an unconscious creature, if that rule didn't already exist.  Keep in mind that these rules are really about a combat that is still proceeding, outside of combat the DM could easily just allow a player to grant instant death without any rolls.  In combat this is a reasonable abstraction as is, but I dislike that the conditions for performing a Coup De Grace no longer take adjacent allies into account.  Previously you could not perform a Coup De Grace against a target that had an ally adjacent to it.  Currently, you can attempt to execute a creature that is surrounded by allies.  Again, from the Players' perspective this is a bit rude.  The wizard falls unconscious and his three friends close around him to protect his body... a goblin runs in and slits his throat just as easily as if they weren't there.  This is compounded by the fact that the Help action only applies to actions, not defenses.

What if I had no intention of performing a coup de grace? What if I wanted merely to impose a status effect (restrained or paralyzed) for when the creature eventually awakens?

Danny

The reason that they don't lose their Dex bonus to AC is that ther is no such thing as Flat Footed AC anymore. I think the reason you have advantage is to represent their lack of ability to dodge attacks, and that advantage accounts for their AC being higher than it should.
The reason that they don't lose their Dex bonus to AC is that ther is no such thing as Flat Footed AC anymore. I think the reason you have advantage is to represent their lack of ability to dodge attacks, and that advantage accounts for their AC being higher than it should.

Flat-footed was a condition in and of itself, essentially. It wasn't representative of any and all situations where your Dexterity bonus is inapplicable (although its definition describes the imposition of those situations).

I think you're correct in surmising that advantage is the appropriate balancer in this particular scenario. The rules governing advantage state that "Sometimes, you have an edge in a situation. ...an enemy might be unaware of your attack... In such situations, you have advantage." (How to Play 2)

Taking it all into consideration, advantage accounts for Dexterity's contribution to the AC of 'unaware' opponents (i.e. unable to avoid enemy attacks).



Danny

Good points.  I am always wary about anything that grants an automatic hit.  I prefer to leave automatic successes in the hands of the DM. If you knocked out a bad guy and then wanted to tie him up, I wouldn't require rolls as the DM.  Maybe I would ask for a Use Rope check to determine how well you tied him up, but I wouldn't need attack rolls.  Similarly, in a non-combat situation (where there are no other active combatants nearby) I would just let a player do whatever they wanted to an unconscious enemy.

So, what if we changed it to this:

Unconscious:  



  • An unconsious creature drops anything it is holding and falls prone.

  • The creature cannot move, take actions, or percieve its surroundings

  • The creature automatically fails any Strength or Dexterity Saving Throws, loses all Contests, and loses its dexterity bonus (if any) to armor class.

  • Attacks against the creature have advantage.


Coup De Grace


You can use your action to Perform a Coup De Grace against an unconscious foe that is within 5 ft of you.  Doing so requires you to make an attack against the creature.  If the attack hits, and creature is not within the reach of a conscious ally it is reduced to 0 hitpoints.  Otherwise the attack deals damage as if it were a critical hit.  If a creature with 0 or fewer hitpoints is struck by a Coup De Grace, it dies.

Pointing out that dexterity no longer applies to AC would cover one issue, and the point about contests covers another.  Actions like grappling, restraining etc. etc.  are generally covered under the rules for Contests, which an unconscious creature could not resist.  So that should cover a lot of the other issue.  Coup De Grace changes are purely about my own reservations.  Of course a DM doesn't need to be brutal and kill players that way, but I think adding in a condition is an easy fix.  It means that lots of non-lethal actions become automatic, but dealing death still has a slight barrier.


Good points.  I am always wary about anything that grants an automatic hit.  I prefer to leave automatic successes in the hands of the DM. If you knocked out a bad guy and then wanted to tie him up, I wouldn't require rolls as the DM.  Maybe I would ask for a Use Rope check to determine how well you tied him up, but I wouldn't need attack rolls.  Similarly, in a non-combat situation (where there are no other active combatants nearby) I would just let a player do whatever they wanted to an unconscious enemy.

I agree. There is context to be considered, and the Dungeon Master is free to collaborate with the narrative for the most sensible outcome.

So, what if we changed it to this:

Unconscious:  



  • An unconsious creature drops anything it is holding and falls prone.

  • The creature cannot move, take actions, or percieve its surroundings

  • The creature automatically fails any Strength or Dexterity Saving Throws, loses all Contests, and loses its dexterity bonus (if any) to armor class.

  • Attacks against the creature have advantage.

There's no need to add the addendum that an unconscious creature loses all contests because an unconscious creature cannot move or take actions, which automatically disallows them the opportunity to engage in a contest.

Danny

@mrpopstar

I think the addendum is useful.  If you attempt to grapple, for example, it is a contest.  Nothing in the RAW says that an unconsious character doesn't get to resist that contest.  It isn't a saving throw, and it isn't an action.  Grapples are simply resolved as contests.  Besides, I think that its better to overstate than understate in these types of rules.
I think the addendum is useful.  If you attempt to grapple, for example, it is a contest.  Nothing in the RAW says that an unconsious character doesn't get to resist that contest.  It isn't a saving throw, and it isn't an action.  Grapples are simply resolved as contests.  Besides, I think that its better to overstate than understate in these types of rules.

The rules governing a contest state that "Contests arise when two creatures attempt to do the same thing and only one can succeed... In other cases, you might attempt an action that another creature actively opposes." (How to Play 1)

An unconscious creature cannot actively oppose what the grappler is attempting to do, so there is no contest. 


Danny

The rules for contests are murky in this regard. The rules never explicitly address that there are any conditions for resisting a contest. This is further compounded by the rules for grappling, disarm etc. My ruling would be that anything that prevents you fron taking an action would also forbid you from resisting in a contest. But again, this isnt really explicit in the RAW currently. The addendum could be injected into the rules for a contest but I like double statements for exceptions.
The rules for contests are murky in this regard. The rules never explicitly address that there are any conditions for resisting a contest. This is further compounded by the rules for grappling, disarm etc. My ruling would be that anything that prevents you fron taking an action would also forbid you from resisting in a contest. But again, this isnt really explicit in the RAW currently. The addendum could be injected into the rules for a contest but I like double statements for exceptions.

I find the rules to be lucidly explict.

A contest pits two or more characters or creatures against each other, with the outcome determined by each contender’s luck and talent. Contests function like checks, with one major exception: Instead of matching your roll against a DC, both you and the creature you are opposing make a roll. (How to Play 1)

If you are unable to take an action, you are unable to roll the dice. Dice are never rolled passively, they require you to take an action of some kind. 


Danny

The rules for contests are murky in this regard. The rules never explicitly address that there are any conditions for resisting a contest. This is further compounded by the rules for grappling, disarm etc. My ruling would be that anything that prevents you fron taking an action would also forbid you from resisting in a contest. But again, this isnt really explicit in the RAW currently. The addendum could be injected into the rules for a contest but I like double statements for exceptions.

I find the rules to be lucidly explict.

A contest pits two or more characters or creatures against each other, with the outcome determined by each contender’s luck and talent. Contests function like checks, with one major exception: Instead of matching your roll against a DC, both you and the creature you are opposing make a roll. (How to Play 1)

If you are unable to take an action, you are unable to roll the dice. Dice are never rolled passively, they require you to take an action of some kind. 





Not as such.  It is implied but never explicitly stated that you forfeit all contests when disabled.
And dice are not always active.  If you are targetted with a spell that requires a constitution save you still get to roll even if you are unconscious.  The rules for noticing hidden creatures, for example, talk about the DM initiating a Wisdom check opposed by the hidden creature's stealth.  It does not require active searching.  So a stunned creature is not forbidden from "noticing" a hidden creature (in fact there isn't even a penalty).  

So there is an example that explicitly describes a contest that does not involve "actively searching" or any type of action at all.  

The same is true for the Grapple rules as per RAW.  Intuitively you would say that an unconscious creature would simply lose the contest, but the RAW do not state this. It does not require an action to defend against a grapple, it does not take an action to notice a hidden creature.  

Now, things like disarm, grapple, knock down etc etc are already covered because they are based on Strength or Dexterity checks, which an unconscious/stunned character automatically fails.  So even though there is no rule preventing them from making the check in the contest, the condition makes them fail automatically.

But I think you cover the same ground more thouroughly by explicitly stating that characters that cannot perform actions cannot compete in contests.  I keep saying explicitly... because that is what it needs to be.  It needs to be definitive, absolute, RAW....not just implied.

You can't find a rule that is never written down and is only implied to be "lucidly explicit". 

From a storytelling, and a logic point of view, you should be able to have a chance at winning a contest while unconscious and disguised.  A guard could still be fooled, same for passersby.  So, while it should not be automatic, say rather an advantage to seeing through the disguise. 


Other rules in the RAW set, or even future modules should also be given consideration.  There should be a chance of passing particular contests even when unconscious.

Not as such.  It is implied but never explicitly stated that you forfeit all contests when disabled.
And dice are not always active.  If you are targetted with a spell that requires a constitution save you still get to roll even if you are unconscious.  The rules for noticing hidden creatures, for example, talk about the DM initiating a Wisdom check opposed by the hidden creature's stealth.  It does not require active searching.  So a stunned creature is not forbidden from "noticing" a hidden creature (in fact there isn't even a penalty).  

So there is an example that explicitly describes a contest that does not involve "actively searching" or any type of action at all.

It does take an action to notice a hidden creature.    

The same is true for the Grapple rules as per RAW.  Intuitively you would say that an unconscious creature would simply lose the contest, but the RAW do not state this. It does not require an action to defend against a grapple, it does not take an action to notice a hidden creature.

Why are we willfully disregarding our intuition, as well as our information literacy?

The RAW does not state that I can't fly...

Now, things like disarm, grapple, knock down etc etc are already covered because they are based on Strength or Dexterity checks, which an unconscious/stunned character automatically fails.  So even though there is no rule preventing them from making the check in the contest, the condition makes them fail automatically.

But I think you cover the same ground more thouroughly by explicitly stating that characters that cannot perform actions cannot compete in contests.  I keep saying explicitly... because that is what it needs to be.  It needs to be definitive, absolute, RAW....not just implied.

You can't find a rule that is never written down and is only implied to be "lucidly explicit". 

I don't understand how clear implication fails the test of explicitness.

If we're arguing semantics, let's go with implicit instead.

Danny


From a storytelling, and a logic point of view, you should be able to have a chance at winning a contest while unconscious and disguised.  A guard could still be fooled, same for passersby.  So, while it should not be automatic, say rather an advantage to seeing through the disguise. 


Other rules in the RAW set, or even future modules should also be given consideration.  There should be a chance of passing particular contests even when unconscious.


Logic dictates that an unconscious character cannot take actions, thusly they cannot take part in a contest.

Danny

I) An unconscious character cannot take actions. TRUE
II) Thusly, they cannot take part in a contest. FALSE

It would be a false claim that interactions in the game world1 require all checks or contests3 to be action based. Checks may predominantly be action based2 that leaves room for those checks that are not action based.  Logically, a creature should be able to have a chance at winning a contest while unconscious and disguised, as it is not action based.  A creature logically should also have a chance to remain hidden when invisible and unconscious, as it is not action based. There are probably some other logical situations where a creature should have a chance at winning a contest while unconscious all non-action based.

1 "You use your ability scores and their modifiers to interact with the game world in three basic ways: checks, attacks, and saving throws" How to Play, Page 1, Basic Rules
2 "Most of the time, you must make a check because the DM has determined that an action you want to attempt has a chance of failure"  How to play, Page 1, Checks
3 "A contest uses the same rules as a check, except that more than one creature makes a check." How to Play, Page 1-2, Contests

Not as such.  It is implied but never explicitly stated that you forfeit all contests when disabled.
And dice are not always active.  If you are targetted with a spell that requires a constitution save you still get to roll even if you are unconscious.  The rules for noticing hidden creatures, for example, talk about the DM initiating a Wisdom check opposed by the hidden creature's stealth.  It does not require active searching.  So a stunned creature is not forbidden from "noticing" a hidden creature (in fact there isn't even a penalty).  

So there is an example that explicitly describes a contest that does not involve "actively searching" or any type of action at all.

It does take an action to notice a hidden creature.    

The same is true for the Grapple rules as per RAW.  Intuitively you would say that an unconscious creature would simply lose the contest, but the RAW do not state this. It does not require an action to defend against a grapple, it does not take an action to notice a hidden creature.

Why are we willfully disregarding our intuition, as well as our information literacy?

The RAW does not state that I can't fly...

Now, things like disarm, grapple, knock down etc etc are already covered because they are based on Strength or Dexterity checks, which an unconscious/stunned character automatically fails.  So even though there is no rule preventing them from making the check in the contest, the condition makes them fail automatically.

But I think you cover the same ground more thouroughly by explicitly stating that characters that cannot perform actions cannot compete in contests.  I keep saying explicitly... because that is what it needs to be.  It needs to be definitive, absolute, RAW....not just implied.

You can't find a rule that is never written down and is only implied to be "lucidly explicit". 

I don't understand how clear implication fails the test of explicitness.

If we're arguing semantics, let's go with implicit instead.




So, I guess every group will always be surprised by ambushes unless they declare that they are looking for hidden creatures every six seconds right?

I don't know where you are coming from.  Where exactly did you read that any roll of the dice requires an action?  You know that an Action is a game term that has concrete meaning right?  You also read the part in "Noticing a Hidden Creature" where it discusses the difference between passively noticing something and actively searching right?

And no... you can't fly because your move speed is land based and pretty clearly laid out.  I am also not suggesting that the rules should talk about everything you can't do all of the time.  The rules lay out exactly what you can do already.  So when a condition makes exceptions to those regularly allowed activities (you cannot move when restrained etc.) they need to be explicitly discussed.  This is especially true when they use descriptive language like "semi-conscious" which, I would argue, is not a possible state of being.  Intermittently conscious? Sure.  Disoriented? Yes.  Semi-Conscious?  No.  You can't be semi-unconscious.  You either are or aren't.  I know what they are getting at, I think.  But the onus is still on the writers to clearly spell out exactly what that means in game terms.  

All I am asking for is a clarification.  Clarity should always err on the side of overstatement.  The fact that we are even having this discussion, and disagree on what the rules are means that clarification is needed.

It would be a false claim that interactions in the game world1 require all checks or contests3 to be action based. Checks may predominantly be action based2 that leaves room for those checks that are not action based.  Logically, a creature should be able to have a chance at winning a contest while unconscious and disguised, as it is not action based.  A creature logically should also have a chance to remain hidden when invisible and unconscious, as it is not action based. There are probably some other logical situations where a creature should have a chance at winning a contest while unconscious all non-action based.

The rules are not legalese, they are written conversationally, and it is inappropriate to argue the semantics of single terms when context is understood more broadly.

There is no contest in the scenario you are proposing. A check would be made by the viewer of the disguised and unconscious creature against a set Difficulty Class.

The rules governing contests state that "Contests arise when two creatures attempt to do the same thing and only one can succeed... In other cases, you might attempt an action that another creature actively opposes." (How to Play 1)

There is no contest if you are unable to take action.


So, I guess every group will always be surprised by ambushes unless they declare that they are looking for hidden creatures every six seconds right?

The rules governing surprise state that "The DM determines who might be surprised." (How to Play 11)

The Dungeon Master, in collaboration with the narrative, determines who is surprised -- there are no rolls made to determine awareness.

I don't know where you are coming from.  Where exactly did you read that any roll of the dice requires an action?  You know that an Action is a game term that has concrete meaning right?  You also read the part in "Noticing a Hidden Creature" where it discusses the difference between passively noticing something and actively searching right?

The passage you are quoting and leveraging in this discussion has been acknowledged as unclear and further clarified. Unless the players specify that they want to look for hidden creatures, they do not get a check.

All I am asking for is a clarification.  Clarity should always err on the side of overstatement.  The fact that we are even having this discussion, and disagree on what the rules are means that clarification is needed.

We're having this discussion because your approach to the rules assumes that the dice are intended to drive the narrative, which they aren't.

The Dungeon Master and the players drive all happenings in the game by virtue of their shared story. We only roll the dice to adjudicate the outcome of things that are contested, or that otherwise require a test of capability.

Danny

"When a creature is hiding from your character, you normally contest that creature’s Dexterity check witheither a Wisdom check or an Intelligence check. The DM usually asks you for a Wisdom check if you have no idea that a creature is present and thus no reason to be actively searching...A lurkinng for might give itself away with a muffled cough, a trail of disturbed dust, or  some other sign"

 
Yeah, I would say that is pretty clear.

Even if the rules for surprise:  
"The DM determines who might be surprised.  Creatures that were unaware of their opponents' approach or presence are surprised. A creature can be surprised even if its allies aren't.
Of course they don't discuss how one might become aware of their opponents' approach or presence, because that is already covered under "Noticing or Finding a Hidden Creature".

Again, this passage comes after the passage about noticing a hidden creature.  The sum total of these two statements is:  
If the party is walking along a road, and there are hidden creatures ahead planning an ambush, they contest the Hidden creatures Dexterity check with a Wisdom check because they have no idea that the creatures are present and thus no reason to be actively searching.  After the check, the creatures spring forth from the sides of the road.  The party members who succeeded in noticing the hidden creatures are not surprised.  The party members who were unaware of their opponents' presence are surprised.

This isn't even anything new for D&D.  If you really think the Devs are trying to bog down the game with constant active search declarations, you are nuts.   Furthermore, it would make stealth the best skill in the world.  Need to sneak past some guards?  Well it will automatically be successful because they have no idea that a creature is present and thus no reason to be actively searching.  So I guess they won't get to contest the rogue's stealth check, right?  In fact, a fighter in full plate could sneak through your house right now, and you would never know because you weren't looking for him.  Senses and perception are not things that you turn on and off.  This is the whole reason they differentiate Wisdomm based and Intelligence based checks!

I would love to see a link to whatever clarification has been provided.  Where are the Devs saying that you cannot passivley notice something?

Formatting. 

"When a creature is hiding from your character, you normally contest that creature’s Dexterity check witheither a Wisdom check or an Intelligence check. The DM usually asks you for a Wisdom check if you have no idea that a creature is present and thus no reason to be actively searching...A lurkinng for might give itself away with a muffled cough, a trail of disturbed dust, or  some other sign"

Yeah, I would say that is pretty clear.
I would disagree.

Its presentation has the reader assuming that awareness is something that the dice determine, which isn’t the case.

Even if the rules for surprise:

"The DM determines who might be surprised.  Creatures that were unaware of their opponents' approach or presence are surprised. A creature can be surprised even if its allies aren't."

Of course they don't discuss how one might become aware of their opponents' approach or presence, because that is already covered under "Noticing or Finding a Hidden Creature".

The narrative determines awareness.

Action initiates contest.

Again, this passage comes after the passage about noticing a hidden creature.  The sum total of these two statements is:

If the party is walking along a road, and there are hidden creatures ahead planning an ambush, they contest the Hidden creatures Dexterity check with a Wisdom check because they have no idea that the creatures are present and thus no reason to be actively searching.  After the check, the creatures spring forth from the sides of the road.  The party members who succeeded in noticing the hidden creatures are not surprised.  The party members who were unaware of their opponents' presence are surprised.

It would seem that way, yes.

It’s important to remember that the rules are a work in progress, and I will again assert that you are leveraging a passage that has no justification or weight for existing anywhere else within the ruleset.

You do not roll to determine awareness unless an action has been taken.

This isn't even anything new for D&D.  If you really think the Devs are trying to bog down the game with constant active search declarations, you are nuts.   Furthermore, it would make stealth the best skill in the world.  Need to sneak past some guards?  Well it will automatically be successful because they have no idea that a creature is present and thus no reason to be actively searching.  So I guess they won't get to contest the rogue's stealth check, right?  In fact, a fighter in full plate could sneak through your house right now, and you would never know because you weren't looking for him.  Senses and perception are not things that you turn on and off.  This is the whole reason they differentiate Wisdomm based and Intelligence based checks!

I’m not nuts -- and that’s not nice.

You’re missing the point.

By removing passive checks, the developers are freeing the game from constant dice and adjudications that force the narrative. Now, unless you actively engage with the narrative by contributing to the story, you do not get the opportunity to roll dice or otherwise impact the collaborative premise of the game.

I would love to see a link to whatever clarification has been provided.  Where are the Devs saying that you cannot passivley notice something?

In the rules.


Also:

Me
If skills work passively, how does the current ruleset expect me to handle ability checks and skill training in a scenario where I as the Dungeon Master call for a check that is not initiated by the players?

Example: How does training in Spot or Listen apply if I call for a Wisdom check to notice a hidden creature if the characters have no idea that a creature is present and thus no reason to be actively using either skill?

Mearls
Stealth is a little unclear right now and needs to be fixed up a bit. Typically, unless the players specify that they want to look for hidden creatures, they don’t get a check. However, that can lead to some weirdness, like a half-orc in full plate always hiding unless someone looks for him. 
 


 



Danny

So a DM describes a hallway, and without a player actually saying that they listen for sound of peg legged ogres behind them. Or actively saying that they turn around and look behind them to spot peg legged ogres. The player gets no ability check to see or hear the peg legged ogres?!

That is odd. You should be able to take 20 on the attack. 

i agree, Coup de Grace should ( if its not already) be allowed in that situation.

"Trying to run gritty gothic horror with 4e is like trying to cut down a tree with a hammer, likewise trying to run heroic fantasy with 1e is like trying to hammer a nail with a chainsaw."

 
 

 This is what i get when i hit the Quote button:  http://community.wizards.com/%23

 

  

So a DM describes a hallway, and without a player actually saying that they listen for sound of a peg legged ogres behind them. Or actively saying that they turn around and look behind them to spot peg legged ogres. The player gets no ability check to see or hear the peg legged ogres?!

Narrative would dictate that the peg-legged Ogres are noisy, so I assume the Dungeon Master would describe that to the players.

The game assumes competence, and the Dungeon Master is the eyes and ears of the characters. Whatever he explains or describes is what the characters know and understand of their world. Whatever he leaves out requires a descriptive action on the player's part to reveal.

That's how Dungeons & Dragons works.

Danny

Oh, I found out what the confusion was about in next. 


“You make a check or an attack roll when you decide to take an action. You make a saving throw in response to an event that happens to you.”1  


So when an event such as being pickpocketed (sleight of hand) is happening to you, that results in a saving throw.  If you did not take an action (in situations that you are unaware of) it is not a check but a saving throw.  An event that is happening to you, such as unknowingly being stalked by an assassin, you roll a saving throw to hear or see him approach.


1 How to play, Page 2, saving throws