5E low level monster skill checks

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
What I'm saying is that the book isn't perfect. But it does clearly state in multiple places that most groups use a mix of styles I disagree with the whole "goal and approach" as being the driving force behind all interaction between DM and players. Much like it says in the DMG section on traps, it's the characters, not the players that are interfacing with the world and it's traps.

I'm saying that one person's "clear reading" is another person's "that's an interesting take on it, but I think you're reading too much into general advice and you seemed to skip this and ignore that". Which is fine. Different strokes for different folks.

But if "goal and approach", broadcasting traps, relying on player knowledge instead of character knowledge was the de facto standard of play then I missed that errata. The DMG directly contradicts it*. The mods don't mention it or even really support it. The streamed games by the likes of Chris Perkins and Matt Mercer don't use it religiously. Much like it mentions in the PHB where it's talking about whether you speak in character or using third person that most people use a mix, they seem to use a mix of styles depending on the situation. I do the same. Doing persuasion? You need to at least tell me what you're talking about. Opening a lock? In most cases, just roll a die. Which works for me and may not work for anyone else.

I don't think anything is self evident other than different people have different styles.

*For most people the newer book is considered more accurate representation of what the rules are, the DMG was published several months after the PHB.
 

S'mon

Legend
What I'm saying is that the book isn't perfect. But it does clearly state in multiple places that most groups use a mix of styles I disagree with the whole "goal and approach" as being the driving force behind all interaction between DM and players. Much like it says in the DMG section on traps, it's the characters, not the players that are interfacing with the world and it's traps.

I'm saying that one person's "clear reading" is another person's "that's an interesting take on it, but I think you're reading too much into general advice and you seemed to skip this and ignore that". Which is fine. Different strokes for different folks.

But if "goal and approach", broadcasting traps, relying on player knowledge instead of character knowledge was the de facto standard of play then I missed that errata. The DMG directly contradicts it*. The mods don't mention it or even really support it. The streamed games by the likes of Chris Perkins and Matt Mercer don't use it religiously. Much like it mentions in the PHB where it's talking about whether you speak in character or using third person that most people use a mix, they seem to use a mix of styles depending on the situation. I do the same. Doing persuasion? You need to at least tell me what you're talking about. Opening a lock? In most cases, just roll a die. Which works for me and may not work for anyone else.

I don't think anything is self evident other than different people have different styles.

*For most people the newer book is considered more accurate representation of what the rules are, the DMG was published several months after the PHB.
Yes that fits my impression. I don't see a coherent approach with 'mistakes', I see much more of a mish-mash and a general attitude of "do what works for you".
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Yes that fits my impression. I don't see a coherent approach with 'mistakes', I see much more of a mish-mash and a general attitude of "do what works for you".
I prefer "This book's full of mistakes, so flumph it, do what works for you because you're going to do that even if it wasn't."
 

clearstream

Explorer
I’ll say again that the first step in any of these contests is being overlooked. First the DM has to determine whether the outcome is uncertain. When shoving for example, if the creature is larger than the PC then I’ll either say that the attempt fails outright or give the creature advantage to resist the shove.

We can’t go straight to the dice to resolve every action (even in combat). Garbage in: Garbage out.
Monster proficiencies will apply consistently across a wide range of circumstances, whenever we decide to roll.

Advantage is another useful tool. IIRC a character can't shove something two sizes bigger. We might decide to give things one size bigger advantage. That leaves a burly orc to rely on Athletics (or lack thereof.) I think a character with Shield Master will find it jarring to be regularly denied a roll to shove creatures like orcs in combat. Yet as DM I think in most cases a combat will epitomise a case in which there should be a chance and consequence of failure.

This isn't a dichotomy. Monster skill levels can be too low and I can do the things you describe. The truth of one doesn't entail the falsehood of the other.
 
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S'mon

Legend
Advantage for monsters works great to create a feel of versimilitude while still enabling focused PCs to show off their powers. The STR 19 Ogre with Advantage on grapple rolls vs human sized foes feels tough, and the STR 8 Rogue probably shouldn't bother trying to shove or trip it, but the Raging STR 20 Barbarian PC is going to do a lot better.

This contrasts with 3e's (AIR) +4 to Grapple per size category, which made big monsters unbeatable even by focused PCs. IMO that was poor design.

Likewise, if an ambush predator is stalking I'm very likely to give it advantage on Stealth roll - it's unlikely to get a '4' but the PP-focused Rogue is still likely to spot it.
 

Ashrym

Adventurer
Okay, so a long walk-through of the rules, but what is the relevance to the discussion at hand.
Understanding the rules is important in understanding how to apply them.

Do you think a monster described as lurky should have a good chance of successfully ambushing a party?
I do not. Lurky is fluff, which doesn't dictate mechanics.

If we look at a monster the burrows in the ground and hides in ambush as lurky then PC's automatically fail any check that relies on sight because they cannot see it. That's the relevant rule to such a lurky creature. It's from the heavily obscured rule equals blind to that creature equals auto-fail those checks. A bonus to an auto-fail roll is irrelevant.

When checks are made (hearing it attack or noticing it burrowing out of the ground) doesn't change the behavior. It's already lurked and tried to ambush. The only difference is a higher perception enables reacting to the lurking ambush more effectively by not being surprised when it happens. Being attacked while surprised or being attacked while not being surprised is still being attacked from ambush or lurking.

The bottom line is 5e based ability checks off a d20 roll with no bonuses. If a monster is meant to have a bonus it would be there. Justifying the bonuses are incorrect based on description assumes an error not listed in the errata and would change some of the monsters' rules going from the basic rules or SRD to the full monster manual based on fluff that's more filled out in the MM but not the others. It makes no sense to do that,

So the ankheg example...

Ankhegs detect prey via tremor sense. The PC's fail stealth regardless of bonus unless they are flying or something. Tha ankhegs have total cover and concealment in the ground. The PC's fail any ability checks based on sight automatically regardless of bonus.

Ankhegs are lurking because that is their behavior. They have no bonus to stealth because that's typical of most monsters, including commoners and animals on whom they might prey (who have a small bonus to perception at best).

The party nears the ankhegs (who are totally obscured) and the DM determines if there is any surprise. The ankhegs are not surprised (tremor sense). The DM applies passive perception to the party members. Ankhegs are CR2 so going with 11th level characters a CR2 ankheg is not particularly challenging. The typical STR fighter, WIS cleric, and DEX rogue in my table above can add an INT wizard. Wizards don't get perception as a class proficiency and it's not included in recommended or typical backgrounds. The wizard also prioritizes INT, CON, DEX, and possibly CHA (enchanters) over WIS.

So passive perceptions are 20, 16, 15, and maybe 12. The rogue isn't surprised, the fighter and cleric might be surprised but are more often not, and the wizard has a solid chance of being surprised. The ankhegs could roll a 1 on stealth, fail to surprise anyone, and would still be lurking in ambush. The only difference perception makes is whether all of the party can act in the first round if the encounter. Give the ankhegs +20 stealth and the only difference it's going to make is the party doesn't act in the first round of combat.

Perception isn't some miracle skill that changed the auto-fail rule on visual checks or somehow prevents the ankhegs from lurking underground.
 

Ashrym

Adventurer
Yeah, I'm pretty familiar with that section on traps. As I've discussed on the forum before, there are several parts of the DMG that I find to be sloppily written and inconsistent with the language of the rules for passive checks or ability checks in general. This is one of them. It's honestly like someone else wrote them with a totally different understanding of how the game works that was particularly influenced by their experience with D&D 4e.

For example, in addition to what you point out, it has a line that says "A character actively looking for a trap can attempt a Wisdom (Perception) check against the trap's DC. But characters don't make checks. It says the same thing with regard to the character attempting an Intelligence (Arcana) check to detect or disarm a magical trap and in a couple other places I've noticed in the DMG. It's conflating actions and ability checks. Lost Mine of Phandelver has some similar language and I do wonder if there was some editing problem around that time of the game's production. Because if you read the D&D 4e Rules Compendium, the language in the skills section is very much like "Characters using the X skill..." Further, if you compare the rules for passive checks in D&D 5e and D&D 4e, the latter specifically says "When creatures aren't actively using a skill..." a passive check comes into play. D&D 5e says nothing like that in the rules for passive checks. So the section on traps in the DMG is a mess. I'm not surprise they revisited it in Xanathar's.

So, while yes it does say that in the DMG, and a game could be run just fine that way (though I argue you do lose something in the doing and in some ways it leads to "gotchas"), it's so inconsistent with the rules on passive checks in D&D 5e (and so consistent with the rules in D&D 4e) that I assume it's an error on the DMG writer's part.
Whether a character performs an action to make a check or simply makes a check is just debating semantics. It's clearly the same thing. It also tends to fit into the "plain reading" method.

I don't think it makes sense to assume an error in the rules as opposed to accepting it's the two are not incongruous.

The 5e rules on passive checks don't need to repeat what I quoted in multiple locations to be correct. The passage I quoted show the rule exists. Believing it is an error because of an absence of confirmation in another section when there's no contradiction either doesn't create contradiction to indicate an error.

Passive checks are just more closely related to their roots in 4e than you realize. I don't think there's anything wrong with the way you play. I just think it's the old style and isn't current. Deciding the rules I quoted from the books are simply errors doesn't change that. Otherwise errata should have included it, which it does no (yet anyway). Until such a time as errata shows a correction, the rule quoted is valid.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Whether a character performs an action to make a check or simply makes a check is just debating semantics. It's clearly the same thing. It also tends to fit into the "plain reading" method.
That's really not the case. That an ability check was made necessarily means that a task has been attempted. An action, however, may not require an ability check. They are NOT the same thing. Task =/= ability check. It is an important distinction in this game, not merely "semantics."

I don't think it makes sense to assume an error in the rules as opposed to accepting it's the two are not incongruous.

The 5e rules on passive checks don't need to repeat what I quoted in multiple locations to be correct. The passage I quoted show the rule exists. Believing it is an error because of an absence of confirmation in another section when there's no contradiction either doesn't create contradiction to indicate an error.
Given that humans wrote it and the mere existence of errata proves they made multiple errors already, I'm going with an error on this one. It's sloppily written. This section conflates key concepts fundamental to the game design and treats it as if it was the previous edition. Whoever wrote that was thinking of how they run a different game. At least, that's my assertion based on my understanding of all the other rules.

Passive checks are just more closely related to their roots in 4e than you realize. I don't think there's anything wrong with the way you play. I just think it's the old style and isn't current. Deciding the rules I quoted from the books are simply errors doesn't change that. Otherwise errata should have included it, which it does no (yet anyway). Until such a time as errata shows a correction, the rule quoted is valid.
Passive checks as a concept do have roots in D&D 4e and the rules for passive checks in D&D 4e were largely based on D&D 3.Xe and, later, D&D 4e's "Take 10." There is no such mechanic in D&D 5e. I'm not playing "the old style." I'm using an approach lifted straight out of the rules. When I run D&D 4e, I run passive checks like those rules say to do. When I run D&D 5e, I run it the way the D&D 5e books say to do, discounting what I think are obvious errors in the traps section of the DMG.

And to be clear, I'm not one of these D&D 4e haters that haunt the forums. It's a game I really like and still play and I know it well. If you haven't already, I encourage you to read the D&D 4e Rule Compendium section on passive checks and then re-read the D&D 5e section on passive checks and tell me if you see the same differences I do, then examine the section on traps in the D&D 5e DMG, and tell me if said section fits more with D&D 4e or D&D 5e based on the rules for passive checks in the two separate, distinct games. Then think about my assertion about the person writing it just conflating the two mechanics from different editions as they opined on how to present and resolve traps. If you're still not convinced, fair enough, we can just disagree on this.

That it has not been corrected doesn't mean it's not incorrect, as further evidenced by errata being released more than once on the same products.
 

Ashrym

Adventurer
That's really not the case. That an ability check was made necessarily means that a task has been attempted. An action, however, may not require an ability check. They are NOT the same thing. Task =/= ability check. It is an important distinction in this game, not merely "semantics."



Given that humans wrote it and the mere existence of errata proves they made multiple errors already, I'm going with an error on this one. It's sloppily written. This section conflates key concepts fundamental to the game design and treats it as if it was the previous edition. Whoever wrote that was thinking of how they run a different game. At least, that's my assertion based on my understanding of all the other rules.



Passive checks as a concept do have roots in D&D 4e and the rules for passive checks in D&D 4e were largely based on D&D 3.Xe and, later, D&D 4e's "Take 10." There is no such mechanic in D&D 5e. I'm not playing "the old style." I'm using an approach lifted straight out of the rules. When I run D&D 4e, I run passive checks like those rules say to do. When I run D&D 5e, I run it the way the D&D 5e books say to do, discounting what I think are obvious errors in the traps section of the DMG.

And to be clear, I'm not one of these D&D 4e haters that haunt the forums. It's a game I really like and still play and I know it well. If you haven't already, I encourage you to read the D&D 4e Rule Compendium section on passive checks and then re-read the D&D 5e section on passive checks and tell me if you see the same differences I do, then examine the section on traps in the D&D 5e DMG, and tell me if said section fits more with D&D 4e or D&D 5e based on the rules for passive checks in the two separate, distinct games. Then think about my assertion about the person writing it just conflating the two mechanics from different editions as they opined on how to present and resolve traps. If you're still not convinced, fair enough, we can just disagree on this.

That it has not been corrected doesn't mean it's not incorrect, as further evidenced by errata being released more than once on the same products.
So you are playing lifting straight from the rules except the ones you state are errors? Lack of errata certainly doesn't prove an error exists based on the assumption the error does exist and the errata will appear someday, lol.

I'll say the reason you see that language is because it's common for players to use "I'll roll" and accepted to the point even the writers do it.

I'll let you get back to your games, anyway. It's been interesting. Thanks for your take on it. :)
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
So you are playing lifting straight from the rules except the ones you state are errors?
Yes. Those rules in particular are inconsistent with how to play the game as the rules lay out. They appear to be in error in my view.

Lack of errata certainly doesn't prove an error exists based on the assumption the error does exist and the errata will appear someday, lol.
My only assertion is that the books contain mistakes. They aren't perfect and errata is proof that they contain mistakes. It doesn't mean I'm right about the trap section, but that the errata so far does not contain corrections for what I say are errors is also not proof I'm wrong.

I'll say the reason you see that language is because it's common for players to use "I'll roll" and accepted to the point even the writers do it.
Yes, it's common for people to play that way. But I don't think it's well supported in the D&D 5e rules. That's not a criticism of playing that way, just a statement that the approach is better supported in previous editions of the game as I see it. When I play D&D 4e, where it actually says players will often initiate skill checks by asking to make one and the DM "almost always say 'Yes," that's how I play it. But it doesn't say that in D&D 5e, so I don't.

I'll let you get back to your games, anyway. It's been interesting. Thanks for your take on it. :)
Still interested in your comparison of the passive checks rules in D&D 4e and D&D 5e if you ever have a chance. Feel free to PM me.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
You are basically justifying the rules with the argument they're there. A load of crap that's most unconvincing, so I'll just summarize:

  • you don't have to tell me how the rules are working thank you very much.
  • stealthy monsters aren't stealthy unless they actually are able to stealth, and to do it to adventurers, that's my whole argument
  • don't use monsters with special modes of movement as examples. Monsters don't need the stealth if they can travel through walls or dirt.

The gem is "the monsters would have had the bonus if they were meant to have it" takes the price. It essentially says that the devs can do no wrong. That's rich in a discussion predicted on the theory monsters have piss-poor skill scores, that this an active detriment to enjoying the game, and that the blame for this should be squarely put at the devs' feet.

Anyway. This tells me there's no point listening to you, since you apparently treat the MM as holy writ: the words are true because they're in the book.
 

Ashrym

Adventurer
You are basically justifying the rules with the argument they're there. A load of crap that's most unconvincing, so I'll just summarize:

  • you don't have to tell me how the rules are working thank you very much.
  • stealthy monsters aren't stealthy unless they actually are able to stealth, and to do it to adventurers, that's my whole argument
  • don't use monsters with special modes of movement as examples. Monsters don't need the stealth if they can travel through walls or dirt.

The gem is "the monsters would have had the bonus if they were meant to have it" takes the price. It essentially says that the devs can do no wrong. That's rich in a discussion predicted on the theory monsters have piss-poor skill scores, that this an active detriment to enjoying the game, and that the blame for this should be squarely put at the devs' feet.

Anyway. This tells me there's no point listening to you, since you apparently treat the MM as holy writ: the words are true because they're in the book.
Stealthy is subjective. There are plenty of creatures in the MM who are moderately stealthy around +4 bonus and some extremely stealthy like pixies (+8) or invisible stalkers (+10). The problem is you are treating outliers with expertise and high wisdom as a standard that doesn't exist. The context of a description as "lurky" or "stealthy" doesn't imply "against rogues with expertise in perception". The standard is d20 no bonuses and +5 is moderately good while +10 is great.

Refer to page 238 of the DMG.
The ask yourself, "Is this task's difficulty easy, moderate, or hard?" If the only DCs you ever use are 10, 15, and 20, your game will run just fine. Keep in mind that a character with a 10 in the associated ability and no proficiency will success at an easy task around 50 percent of the time. A moderate task requires a higher score or proficiency for success, whereas a hard task typically requires both.
That's why we don't normally see DCs higher than 20. The expectation has always been either high proficiency or high score for moderate ability and both for hard. Beyond that is exceptionally hard or nearly impossible. It seems like you have a perception issue just because high numbers are possible with a couple of classes at extreme levels. A +4 intellect devourer is moderately stealthy.

Ankhegs were a previously mentioned example and I demonstrated it why that bonus doesn't matter. A person can place any two groups together and the result is the same -- high perception only impacts acting on the first round of combat or not (and varies among the groups as well), and checks are made by each PC so not everyone succeeds in the check. The only real difference is they might see each other from farther away or the party might possibly surprise the NPC's.

This gets into one of the serious flaws of your premise on using stealth against high level rogues (because it's not parties, it's a class or two).

A +17 stealth character, monster, or NPC cannot sneak up to a -2 (8 passive) perception fighter. The fighter does this by looking down a well lit hallway on watch. It's not possible to hide if the hider can be seen. Hiding requirements prevents it. Preventing stealth is as easy as destroying any place to hide most of the time, or keeping to clear open areas. The conditional requirement is more restrictive than the actual skill bonus differences.

I found your response rather hostile, tbh. I was offering help because it appeared to be in perspective issue. It still does. It looks like you are setting the bar with expertise and high ability scores, which is impractical when the goal was to be inclusive of all classes. Being inclusive to all classes means keeping the bar where they can reasonably achieve success too. Bigger numbers because your opinion is that it's required to be stealthy doesn't make the rules or devs incorrect. I'll leave it at that.
 

S'mon

Legend
Stealthy is subjective. There are plenty of creatures in the MM who are moderately stealthy around +4 bonus and some extremely stealthy like pixies (+8) or invisible stalkers (+10). The problem is you are treating outliers with expertise and high wisdom as a standard that doesn't exist. The context of a description as "lurky" or "stealthy" doesn't imply "against rogues with expertise in perception". The standard is d20 no bonuses and +5 is moderately good while +10 is great.

Refer to page 238 of the DMG.


That's why we don't normally see DCs higher than 20. The expectation has always been either high proficiency or high score for moderate ability and both for hard. Beyond that is exceptionally hard or nearly impossible. It seems like you have a perception issue just because high numbers are possible with a couple of classes at extreme levels. A +4 intellect devourer is moderately stealthy.

Ankhegs were a previously mentioned example and I demonstrated it why that bonus doesn't matter. A person can place any two groups together and the result is the same -- high perception only impacts acting on the first round of combat or not (and varies among the groups as well), and checks are made by each PC so not everyone succeeds in the check. The only real difference is they might see each other from farther away or the party might possibly surprise the NPC's.

This gets into one of the serious flaws of your premise on using stealth against high level rogues (because it's not parties, it's a class or two).

A +17 stealth character, monster, or NPC cannot sneak up to a -2 (8 passive) perception fighter. The fighter does this by looking down a well lit hallway on watch. It's not possible to hide if the hider can be seen. Hiding requirements prevents it. Preventing stealth is as easy as destroying any place to hide most of the time, or keeping to clear open areas. The conditional requirement is more restrictive than the actual skill bonus differences.

I found your response rather hostile, tbh. I was offering help because it appeared to be in perspective issue. It still does. It looks like you are setting the bar with expertise and high ability scores, which is impractical when the goal was to be inclusive of all classes. Being inclusive to all classes means keeping the bar where they can reasonably achieve success too. Bigger numbers because your opinion is that it's required to be stealthy doesn't make the rules or devs incorrect. I'll leave it at that.
I think part of the issue is 5e's 'bounded accuracy' approach which keeps monster numbers low, in contrast to 3e/PF/4e where it was expected they would scale to challenge the best reasonably buildable PCs and so auto-win vs the unskilled PCs. If you expect 3e type numbers, 5e looks odd and maybe defective. It's not hard to fix though if you want a game that feels like 3e - give the monsters Proficiency & Expertise. I quite often do this in my Epic-20 5e campaign, so the Rogue can feel smug about auto-winning against DC 22 or DC 26 instead of DC 15. But I don't do this all the time or the PCs with a 'mere' +9 to Perception would get tee'd off. Playing at E20 I often have Very Hard (25) & Nearly Impossible (30) DCs - but I still try to include plenty of Hard (20) and Moderate (15) DCs, too.
 

CapnZapp

Adventurer
That +5 should be considered great is a delusion wholly unconnected to reality. It just means you're the same as the MM writers, who come across as completely ignorant of what abilities the PHB actually hands out to heroes.

I don't want to play a game where monsters might come across as scary to some non-existent assumed baseline character.

I want monsters to be scary to the player's characters.

That means taking actual PHB abilities into account. As well as basic probability theory.

If you are to sneak up on a party of five, and at least one character can be assumed to have a +6 modifier for Perception traing and high-Wisdom, I fully expect and demand that the devs do the number crunching:

What sneak bonus is needed for this monster to usually succeed, given that it's sole purpose of existence is as a lurker monster that gives players the thrill of getting ambushed?

I can't say off hand what that number is, only that it sure as hell ain't anywhere as low as +3.
 

S'mon

Legend
What sneak bonus is needed for this monster to usually succeed, given that it's sole purpose of existence is as a lurker monster that gives players the thrill of getting ambushed?

I can't say off hand what that number is, only that it sure as hell ain't anywhere as low as +3.
Hardly difficult maths - +6 mod means the highest PP in the group is 16. That sets the DC for the monster Stealth roll. To succeed 55% of the time (roll of 10+) it therefore needs a +7 stealth mod, for a low Challenge monster that would likely be +3 stat mod & +4 for stealth expertise. Although I think (not knowing the math) if it had Advantage you'd get a similar probability with +3 stealth and 2 rolls, needing 13+ on 1 roll.

Edit: I think though players with high PP PCs are not seeking the 'thrill of being ambushed', they're seeking the thrill of NOT being ambushed!
 

Paul Farquhar

Adventurer
The thing to remember about skill rolls is they only apply when success or failure is uncertain. Walking towards a guard down an empty corridor? No roll. Seeing a Shadow in a shadow? no roll.

A Mimic does not need to make a skill roll to look like a chest. It automatically looks exactly like a chest, and no amount of perception or investigation will reveal otherwise.

Now, a Shadow does not actually have the "False Appearance" trait in it's stat block, but stat blocks are just a guide, it's up to the DM to dictate the actual situation in the game world.

Overall, it's unlikely that monsters will ever get the drop on players simply by sneaking (there is even a Sword of Warning in the DMG that makes it impossible) - always assume the party will spot the monsters unless they have some special ability or magical assistance. But that supports the notion that the PCs are heroes - you wouldn't expect to sneek up on Aragorn would you?

It's quite common for success or failure to be automatic in 5e. For example the "researcher" feature allows the character to automatically find any book in the library - no skill roll needed.
 

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