D&D 5E Ability Check origins at your table

How are Ability Checks handled at your 5e table?

  • The DM gives the players checks when they ask to make them for their PCs

    Votes: 20 26.7%
  • The DM asks the players to make checks when PCs attempt certain actions in the fiction

    Votes: 64 85.3%
  • The players, when they feel it makes sense, announce a skill and roll dice, unbidden by the DM

    Votes: 11 14.7%
  • Other (explain below)

    Votes: 7 9.3%

Well, here comes the pushback. You're already using some more immersive and clearer language here than alternatives. Consider "I look around the room, Perception 18" vs "I use my Perception. 18." The former IS better than the latter because, as a DM, I have to do less guessing what "I use Perception" means. It isn't exactly a deal-breaker for me to ask the player "OK, what do you mean by that?"
here is an example from a few weeks ago.

We were in a cave not a room, and something was off and we all knew it. The rogue/Druid asked to use perception or insight, the DM said use perception... he made a high roll but not like a nat 20 or anything. The DM told him "You smell something that at first you can't place, but then realize is a highly flammable gas, and as you do you notice the click click click of what you think is water, but is sol liquid near by"
If the player said "I look around" that isn't using his full perception of scent and sound. If he said "I want to feel around this wall and look for hidden passage ways" again he would be calling on the wrong senses.
on the other hand we are all breathing. If we really were concentrating on finding something we MIGHT be able to pick up those scents and noises... the might in this case is the roll.

People keep saying things like "Oh you enter a room with a desk and a rug and a bed and a dresser and a throw rug" then the player has to pick out what to search and how they do it. Yup that is great for room 1... but in our last campaign we found an old manor/keep with most of it still intact, and a GM created race of hobgoblin/kobold hybrids living under it... one of them was a necromancer so there were undead around, but they didn't live in the main house itself, so it was still mostly 'as is' somewhere about 30ish rooms each with nice descriptions that took between 1 and 3 minutes for the DM to describe... a handful of them had undead in them. It took us 2 sessions on the house and 1 on the caves under it (where most the fighting took place). I can't imagine if we went into detail on every room search "I want to look under the bed, she wants to look at the book case, he wants to look at the fireplace" how many more weeks of game it would have taken.
 

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In other words, I don’t really need or want the dm to narrate my actions.
Yeah that's the other thing that weirds me out. The "Dm narrates how you fail/succussed" can be cool once or twice, but isn't it if done repeatedly going to make THEM decide on how your character does something.

Something as simple as jumping down and making an acrobatics check, does your character flip and roll, does she do a super hero landing, or does she flop down but catch her balance... all three of those show your characters personality a bit, but if the DM narrates success/fail THEY get to make that part of her personality.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Yeah that's the other thing that weirds me out. The "Dm narrates how you fail/succussed" can be cool once or twice, but isn't it if done repeatedly going to make THEM decide on how your character does something.

Something as simple as jumping down and making an acrobatics check, does your character flip and roll, does she do a super hero landing, or does she flop down but catch her balance... all three of those show your characters personality a bit, but if the DM narrates success/fail THEY get to make that part of her personality.
The DM narrating the results of the adventurer's actions is part of the DM's role in the game. It's the 3rd step of the play loop outlined by the rules. That doesn't mean the DM needs to describe your character doing anything in particular, however, and my preference is that they don't. You, the player, describe what you want to do and how, and I, the DM, say how that worked out, possibly after a roll. My narration can be something as simple as "You do it..." before describing anything new about the environment in which you find yourself and asking "What do you do now?"
 

here is an example from a few weeks ago.

We were in a cave not a room, and something was off and we all knew it. The rogue/Druid asked to use perception or insight, the DM said use perception... he made a high roll but not like a nat 20 or anything. The DM told him "You smell something that at first you can't place, but then realize is a highly flammable gas, and as you do you notice the click click click of what you think is water, but is sol liquid near by"
If the player said "I look around" that isn't using his full perception of scent and sound. If he said "I want to feel around this wall and look for hidden passage ways" again he would be calling on the wrong senses.
on the other hand we are all breathing. If we really were concentrating on finding something we MIGHT be able to pick up those scents and noises... the might in this case is the roll.

People keep saying things like "Oh you enter a room with a desk and a rug and a bed and a dresser and a throw rug" then the player has to pick out what to search and how they do it. Yup that is great for room 1... but in our last campaign we found an old manor/keep with most of it still intact, and a GM created race of hobgoblin/kobold hybrids living under it... one of them was a necromancer so there were undead around, but they didn't live in the main house itself, so it was still mostly 'as is' somewhere about 30ish rooms each with nice descriptions that took between 1 and 3 minutes for the DM to describe... a handful of them had undead in them. It took us 2 sessions on the house and 1 on the caves under it (where most the fighting took place). I can't imagine if we went into detail on every room search "I want to look under the bed, she wants to look at the book case, he wants to look at the fireplace" how many more weeks of game it would have taken.

I agree with you here. As a player, I don't want to have to search a uninhabited room that has nothing of interest in terms of treasure or clues towards the quest.

If there are meaningless environments in an adventure, and it is not going to be interesting/fun for the players to interact with them, that's on the DM to either spice them up or just hand-wave the search of said areas to get to the good stuff.
 

Oofta

Legend
I agree with you here. As a player, I don't want to have to search a uninhabited room that has nothing of interest in terms of treasure or clues towards the quest.

If there are meaningless environments in an adventure, and it is not going to be interesting/fun for the players to interact with them, that's on the DM to either spice them up or just hand-wave the search of said areas to get to the good stuff.

There's a lot of different approaches. I may describe a room as a richly furnished bedroom and throw in a few flourishes but I'm not going to describe every piece of furniture, rug, painting or lighting sconce. So I'd rather just have the players say they're searching and then go into details on the armoire or whatever else is interesting.

I also don't require people to go into details of how they search of course. But having a DM list all the objects in the room and then expecting players to explain how they search each object ... boring. At least for me. After the first room I'd write down every object and then develop a standard search pattern that I could practically put on flash cards as I check items off the list.

Maybe I'd have to watch a game where people did this to see how they find it interesting. Of course I also find bog standard champion fighters fun to play even if every round is basically attacking the bad guy with my sword so there's no accounting for taste. 🤷‍♂️
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
People keep saying things like "Oh you enter a room with a desk and a rug and a bed and a dresser and a throw rug" then the player has to pick out what to search and how they do it. Yup that is great for room 1... but in our last campaign we found an old manor/keep with most of it still intact, and a GM created race of hobgoblin/kobold hybrids living under it... one of them was a necromancer so there were undead around, but they didn't live in the main house itself, so it was still mostly 'as is' somewhere about 30ish rooms each with nice descriptions that took between 1 and 3 minutes for the DM to describe... a handful of them had undead in them. It took us 2 sessions on the house and 1 on the caves under it (where most the fighting took place). I can't imagine if we went into detail on every room search "I want to look under the bed, she wants to look at the book case, he wants to look at the fireplace" how many more weeks of game it would have taken.
I run, play in, and observe a lot of different games. Not a one is faster, so far, than mine in terms of covering content in a given session, even though we have a standard of reasonable specificity when it comes to declaring actions. Time savings are chiefly around everyone being engaged in the game, acting immediately when prompted (by either DM or another player), engaging in "Yes, and..." collaboration, and using a VTT for dice rolling.

I would add that 1 to 3 minute descriptions of the environment are also not something we do. At most I'm going to throw out 2 to 5 sentences that set the scene and present the basic scope of options that are apparent to the characters so they can act meaningfully. Anything more than that and the players are in my experience likely to forget the details before I'm done talking. I then add more details as they explore, as needed and prescribed by the play loop. Being succinct and keeping things moving is the order of the day for everyone at the table.
 

I agree with you here. As a player, I don't want to have to search a uninhabited room that has nothing of interest in terms of treasure or clues towards the quest.

If there are meaningless environments in an adventure, and it is not going to be interesting/fun for the players to interact with them, that's on the DM to either spice them up or just hand-wave the search of said areas to get to the good stuff.
okay, now we are on the same page...

the way the DM handled it was to describe the room, our note taker took basic notes (that let us figure out what happened, it was cool but I will not babble on about...she says after backspaceing 100 times) then we would ask if we should search (a term we use when we are unsure what of the 3 skills we will use Insight, Investigation, Perception) and the DM would either hand wave or have 1 of us roll 1 of those skills.... normally with advantage assuming we were all helping. Then if we rolled high he would add a clue, if not he would say nothing much and we would move on.

I was unfairly imagining your games slowing to a grinding halt each room as each player described a search to see if the DM called for a roll.
 

here is an example from a few weeks ago.

We were in a cave not a room, and something was off and we all knew it. The rogue/Druid asked to use perception or insight, the DM said use perception... he made a high roll but not like a nat 20 or anything. The DM told him "You smell something that at first you can't place, but then realize is a highly flammable gas, and as you do you notice the click click click of what you think is water, but is sol liquid near by"
If the player said "I look around" that isn't using his full perception of scent and sound. If he said "I want to feel around this wall and look for hidden passage ways" again he would be calling on the wrong senses.
on the other hand we are all breathing. If we really were concentrating on finding something we MIGHT be able to pick up those scents and noises... the might in this case is the roll.
For the sake of discussion, I'm assuming the smell was not noticeable at the entrance of the cave in this scenario.

Now, if a player wanted to "look more closely" at something in the cave by moving further in and I determined that it required a Wisdom(Perception) check which they then passed, I wouldn't then hide the smell from them just because they said "look". Senses don't shut off at our table although subtle smells might be hard to detect.
 

There's a lot of different approaches. I may describe a room as a richly furnished bedroom and throw in a few flourishes but I'm not going to describe every piece of furniture, rug, painting or lighting sconce. So I'd rather just have the players say they're searching and then go into details on the armoire or whatever else is interesting.
Same as at our table. Give them a few brief details and let them have at it.
 

For the sake of discussion, I'm assuming the smell was not noticeable at the entrance of the cave in this scenario.
based on how it happened and what it meant I don't think it would have been noticeable when we entered.


We entered a cave thinking we were following a thief. We encountered a very obvious make shift trap by passed it and kept going, but in the next area (I almost said room but these were caves) 3 creatures that had the ability to shift between being shadows (as per the MM) and being wights (modified from the MM) This was our first clue something was wrong. We how ever pushed on (I mean come on what adventurer wouldn't) When we hit a fork that one way almost immediately (within Darkvision range) split again. We called magical light and found somehow this thief went down BOTH paths. We started down the one that didn't split and came across a bunch of webs and decided he didn't really go this way, so we went back and down the other path and at second path chose at random... this is when we came to a strange dead end that the walls looked like they were flat and carved not natural. also the rest of the cave was cold but this area felt warm... this lead to the rogue/Druid asked to use perception or insight, the DM said use perception... he made a high roll but not like a nat 20 or anything. The DM told him "You smell something that at first you can't place, but then realize is a highly flammable gas, and as you do you notice the click click click of what you think is water, but is sol liquid near by"

so it was a trap but not the kind you are thinking of, the trap required you to light a fire (use a spell carry a torch smoke something ect) and since we had dark vision and magical light we didn't. However the way it was letting the gas in and what the liquid was clued us in to what we would find in the other passage way (this was all a trap laied by the kobold king and his wraith/necromancer bride)
 

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