5E low level monster skill checks

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
Monsters are meant to fail and die.
Pc are heroes. They are meant to have success most of the time.
Sure totally agree with that
But if I am now fighting 20 orcs instead of 5 the fact that they are interfering with my attacks against their allies much better and my odds are similar to what they used to be doesn't bother me much. (especially when I can still drive them off killing them) - I like swarm mechanics big time.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
Yes, and parties are invariably led by a high-Wisdom Perception-trained character, since players are not stupid.

So the DC monsters need to beat is 16 or 17. At first level.

Good luck finding a monster described as "super sneaky" that does not stand an overwhelming chance of failing miserably at doing the one thing it's there for: executing an ambush of the PCs...

About the stealthiest MM monster I could find at CR 2 or lower was the Shadow and its +6 modifier. That still means it fails more than half the time against a zero xp character. And its a frikkin' shadow. And even that assumes the party isn't bringing a lantern.

Tl;dr: the skill scores of MM monsters (mainly their Athletics and Stealth, but also Perception) is downright pathetic.
Are you remembering to impose disadvantage in dim light? That's -5 to passives.
 

Ashrym

Adventurer
Are you remembering to impose disadvantage in dim light? That's -5 to passives.
It affects the PC's and NPC's alike a lot of the time. Parties tend to also get hampered by armor causing disadvantage on the stealth check so the armored guys are bringing down the group check, or the stealthy guys are separating to split up the group.

Characters distracted by other activities such as tracking, foraging, mapping, etc are also denied their passive perception checks. That's one of the pluses of a ranger -- they can do those and still remain alert.

Or both parties see the lanterns from far away. Or there is no place to actually hide. There can be quite a bit of consideration going into determining surprise.
 

clearstream

Explorer
With your Ranger example, giving more bonus to monsters won’t help that much.
Proficiency and advantage makes a big difference in my campaign.

Reviewing all monsters is a big task, be sure it will really help your cause.
For me, there was no need to do them all at once. Only those I was about to use.

would prefer give abilities to monsters, like tremorsense, blindsight, detect lie, pass without trace, etc
There is value in those rules, and we are not faced with a dichotomy. Can you explain why abilities would always be better?
 
Last edited:

clearstream

Explorer
I can clarify what I mean by "big difference". It's not about one specific orc succeeding one time (which could be covered by making that one orc special as suggested). It is about what happens across multiple orcs and other such creatures on the many occasions the Shield Master shoves them.

I find it plausible and workable to use proficiency as a tool across multiple cases. For me, that was made easier because in Fantasy Grounds I can just edit the base creature and all instances inherit the change.

Not without exception, but generally, it is proficiency rather than a special ability that is doing what I want in this fashion. I could no doubt think of cases where an ability is better, such as when I want an absolute rather than stochastic consequence.
 
Last edited:

CapnZapp

Adventurer
If I plop down a lurking monster, I do so because I want to showcase it's awesome ambush routine or whatever. Not to see it being instagibbed before it can act.

So.

Assume at least one party member rolls high. Doesn't have to be the perceptive Wisdom character, and so let's not assume DC 27 for the Stealth attempt.

But let's say DC 20.

Now, I need my lurkers to actually be lurky. That means they should succeed more often than not; let's say at least a 60% success rate.

Which brings us right back to the +12 from earlier.

Back then I kind of made it up. Now I realize I was more right than I thought.

Tldr a lurking monster that's supposed to lurk a 1st level party should have closer to +12 Stealth than a pathetic +3.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
Now I know the devs thought about this another way - they wanted to coddle the players by saying, if you roll high you should likely succeed no matter what.

A +3 modifier makes "sense" if the purpose is for a dimwitted Fighter to defeat it when rolling high. Say you roll 16 and have a -1 modifier.

Now that +3 score is sufficiently low to give the fighter more than a 50% shot at success.

However I loathe and despise that approach. If I want clumsy monsters that are spotted a mile away, I'll use Ogres or something.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
When I use a lurking monster I need it to lurk.

Not against half-blind Commoners or Fighters, but against parties of adventurers.

And they are (assuming the players know what they're doing) led by someone with a high Perception.

AND the fact that party rolls 4-5 times and picks the best result.

THAT'S what the lurking monster needs to beat.

Anything less is just babysitting the players and I won't have it.
 

clearstream

Explorer
"So the DC monsters need to beat is 16 or 17. At first level."

Huh?

Point buy and str array gives you a 17 cap on abilities at 1st level. For +3.
Proficiency is +2.

That is passive percrption of 15 assuming that's the lead guy at first level.

So, a wolf being sneaky needs to roll 15 - not 16-17 - since contests like this have ties go to the prior status- the wolf was unseen before the check, so tie does not reveal the wolf.

With stealth +4 that's z toll of 11 needed do 50/50.


Flip the situation, PCs sneak up on wolf. Wolf gets advantage due to keen senses and so has passive per of 18.


That's gonna require that first level sneaker with +5 net bonus yo roll 13+. So, a little tougher.

Now, the outlier might be s variant human taking like observant at first or one of the dex+1 to get to 18 dex. But nowxwexare into very specific outliers, not routine play.


By tier-2 and lateer tier-1 with magic, this changes of course.
With experienced players interested in crunch, I would see PC specialisation and stacked buffs. Ignoring Variant Human, one might see +3 stat +2 prof +2 guidance +4 inspiration +advantage from help. Level 1 flies by so the bulk of play could assume expertise, observer etc. Agreed not a flat, always on +12 as you say, but much higher as experienced at the table than one might guess.

I found that giving most monsters proficiencies, and in a few cases special abilities, worked well across a two year campaign.

I also changed it so that in most cases only the character with the highest score rolled. And instead of giving advantage, the helper rolled too (dilutes buffs). Although that might seem pronounced, many cases (such as the notorious shove) are unchanged. It catches some of the more egregious situations.
 

S'mon

Legend
If I plop down a lurking monster, I do so because I want to showcase it's awesome ambush routine or whatever. Not to see it being instagibbed before it can act.
We are definitely different.
I remember when a lurking giant constrictor snake dropped from above a doorway down onto the pointman PC -this should have been a Surprise situation, only the PC had Alertness and won init. He was also an Assassin Rogue I believe. He killed that poor snake before it could get an attack roll!
What I remember about that was the bathetic end of the monster and the extreme delight of the player. The sad demise of 'my' monster didn't bother me at all.
 

S'mon

Legend
When I use a lurking monster I need it to lurk.

Not against half-blind Commoners or Fighters, but against parties of adventurers.

And they are (assuming the players know what they're doing) led by someone with a high Perception.

AND the fact that party rolls 4-5 times and picks the best result.

THAT'S what the lurking monster needs to beat.

Anything less is just babysitting the players and I won't have it.
In 5e the party use their unrolled Passive Perception vs the monster's Stealth roll. On a tie the situation remains unchanged. A Tier I party tends to have highest PP around 15 (eg WIS +3 Prof +2, or WIS +1 Expertise +4), and the unseen monster succeeds on a tie ("situation remains unchanged"), so a +3 Stealth score = success on a 12+, or 45%.

Edit: You might get a PP of 16 at level 1 from a Rogue with WIS 14 & Expertise, but anything higher is very unusual IME. Rogues tend to have DEX 16 +3 which means WIS no higher than 14 +2 tops, and often they want a CON 14+ and CHA 12+, so WIS +1 is probably more common.
 

clearstream

Explorer
In 5e the party use their unrolled Passive Perception vs the monster's Stealth roll. On a tie the situation remains unchanged. A Tier I party tends to have highest PP around 15 (eg WIS +3 Prof +2, or WIS +1 Expertise +4), and the unseen monster succeeds on a tie ("situation remains unchanged"), so a +3 Stealth score = success on a 12+, or 45%.

Edit: You might get a PP of 16 at level 1 from a Rogue with WIS 14 & Expertise, but anything higher is very unusual IME. Rogues tend to have DEX 16 +3 which means WIS no higher than 14 +2 tops, and often they want a CON 14+ and CHA 12+, so WIS +1 is probably more common.
I find that level 1 flashes by, so my comments are oriented more toward the lengthy span from 2nd to 12th. Notable characters included a druid with Observant, for a passive for the great majority of sessions on the order of +12.

The fact my players identified critical skills, and coordinated and specialised in those, had the consequence that the moderate values one might hope for were not the values I saw in play. Instead, far greater bonuses were achieved at each tier than seems to have been accommodated by the designed game balance.

As I noted, a linchpin of that seems to be a straightforward omission of proficiencies as standard for MM creatures. Some creatures have both proficiencies and expertise, and in cases advantage. Most do not, and I think nearly none with breadth.
 

Krachek

Explorer
Proficiency and advantage makes a big difference in my campaign.


For me, there was no need to do them all at once. Only those I was about to use.


There is value in those rules, and we are not faced with a dichotomy. Can you explain why abilities would always be better?
When you add pass without trace, guidance, bardic inspiration adding +2 or +4 to monster won’t help that much. Pc will win their check.

Abilities are like a kind of immunity to certains skill. Blindsight combine with tremorsense provide almost immunity against stealth. A home brew detect lie ability provide immunity to deception, or at least render the task very difficult. Wizard face immunity against its spells all night long, skill monkey can face the same thing also.
 
Last edited:

S'mon

Legend
I find that level 1 flashes by, so my comments are oriented more toward the lengthy span from 2nd to 12th. Notable characters included a druid with Observant, for a passive for the great majority of sessions on the order of +12.
Yeah, I once had a campaign with an Observant Monk with similar PP. My view was that he had invested a lot into Perception so it was fine that he almost always spotted ambush attempts, secret doors & such. I didn't feel any need to raise DCs to challenge him - I think that would have annoyed him. Although players do love it when I say stuff like "coming down the stairs, you notice a secret door in the west wall - DC 25, so with your PP 27 you auto-pass".
 

clearstream

Explorer
When you add pass without trace, guidance, bardic inspiration adding +2 or +4 to monster won’t help that much. Pc will win their check.
That is true, and expending two uses that recover on a rest feels about right to me, to circumvent a CR 1/4 creature.

Abilities are like a kind of immunity to certains skill. Blindsight provide immunity against stealth. A home brew detect lie ability provide immunity to deception, or at least render the task very difficult. Wizard face immunity against its spell al night long, skill monkey can face the same thing also.
I think you are right that there is a role for special abilities. In being fairly binary, I found that they often introduced a need for imaginative tactics such as a Silence spell to circumvent some kinds of sight.

It's not a dichotomy: I use both. Responding to the OP I believe that in many campaigns it will be effective to give MM creatures proficiencies and expertise. That doesn't mean never give them special abilities. Immunity to deception will play out differently from proficiency Insight. Probably more often the latter is right, but sometimes the former will be.

One risk with special abilities is that they can feel heavy-handed. Our Battle Master never questioned orcs having Athletics, but he did question the one time I gave a quadropedal demon a special ability making it very hard to shove.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
I find that level 1 flashes by, so my comments are oriented more toward the lengthy span from 2nd to 12th. Notable characters included a druid with Observant, for a passive for the great majority of sessions on the order of +12.

The fact my players identified critical skills, and coordinated and specialised in those, had the consequence that the moderate values one might hope for were not the values I saw in play. Instead, far greater bonuses were achieved at each tier than seems to have been accommodated by the designed game balance.

As I noted, a linchpin of that seems to be a straightforward omission of proficiencies as standard for MM creatures. Some creatures have both proficiencies and expertise, and in cases advantage. Most do not, and I think nearly none with breadth.
Precisely.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
When you add pass without trace, guidance, bardic inspiration adding +2 or +4 to monster won’t help that much. Pc will win their check.

Abilities are like a kind of immunity to certains skill. Blindsight combine with tremorsense provide almost immunity against stealth. A home brew detect lie ability provide immunity to deception, or at least render the task very difficult. Wizard face immunity against its spells all night long, skill monkey can face the same thing also.
Don't get me started on absolute abilities. :)

A thing like "cannot be surprised" might sound innocuous, but really, it's only result is to wreck stories.

Any dev that suggests abilities that trade in absolutes ("you cannot be tracked" is another) should simply be fired.

Just as I want specialized monsters to be actually good, I want there to be a chance of failure as well.
 
Last edited:

clearstream

Explorer
Yeah, I once had a campaign with an Observant Monk with similar PP. My view was that he had invested a lot into Perception so it was fine that he almost always spotted ambush attempts, secret doors & such. I didn't feel any need to raise DCs to challenge him - I think that would have annoyed him. Although players do love it when I say stuff like "coming down the stairs, you notice a secret door in the west wall - DC 25, so with your PP 27 you auto-pass".
In a similar vein the party bard was delighted by what he could accomplish with his crazy bonuses :)

My interpretation of 5e native balance is that it was consciously set to easy mode, and I believe that is the correct setting for the default. For one thing it is better for new players and some rp focused groups. If right, MM creatures are as intended.

For me and people I play with, system mastery makes easy mode feel not quite right. Possibly that is part of what the OP is experiencing. Game difficulty is subjective and it is not at all more virtuous to play on a hard mode (which may be subjectively equivalent to easy in any event).

Thus as DM I can suggest a way to respond to a feeling of monster skill values offering insufficient challenge. But I would not say that a group is any more or less admirable for chosing to play or not play that way.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
Yeah, I once had a campaign with an Observant Monk with similar PP. My view was that he had invested a lot into Perception so it was fine that he almost always spotted ambush attempts, secret doors & such. I didn't feel any need to raise DCs to challenge him - I think that would have annoyed him. Although players do love it when I say stuff like "coming down the stairs, you notice a secret door in the west wall - DC 25, so with your PP 27 you auto-pass".
Most secret doors in published campaigns are more like DC 15.

The worst case was from Out of the Abyss, where the designer tried to describe a DC 10 door as "secret".

That really tells me that dev was on another planet. DC 10 means any random Commoner will detect it.

DC 10 is more like a regular door partially behind some old furniture - you COULD miss it, but only if you were distracted or drunk.

Your DC on the other hand tells me volumes: it means you have left the official guidelines behind and fixed what was broken.

I only wish you didn't have to, and that the game's skill scores wasn't borked in the first place.
 

Advertisement

Top