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%

SteveC

Doing the best imitation of myself
Here's how I do it. I play the game 95% of the time as a conversation: I describe the situation and then ask the players what they do. They tell me, and then that changes things. I tell them what it looks like now, and ask "what do you do."

The 5% of the time I step in is when they want to do something...
  1. That isn't impossible with their abilities, nor trivial.
  2. Has consequences for failure.
  3. Has stakes that we actually care about.

I that happens, I'll be more specific and ask them what they're doing and how they're doing it. If that doesn't invalidate the above then I ask for a check based on an ability score, and with a skill if that's appropriate.
 

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Hussar

Legend
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.

But here’s the part I’m confused about. They said that the Druid requested the perception roll.

That is strictly off the table isn’t it? More than a few people here have said that asking for a skill check is off the table.

And, if the state they look around, and you give them a smell, how is that not telling the player what they are doing? Which is off the table. If the gas was poisonous and you called for a saving throw, couldn’t they claim they weren’t taking big deep breaths but would have held their breath as soon as they smelled something funny?

Just like the earlier lock picking example and setting off a trap.

That’s what I’m criticizing.
 

But here’s the part I’m confused about. They said that the Druid requested the perception roll.

That is strictly off the table isn’t it? More than a few people here have said that asking for a skill check is off the table.
That's right - at our table, players don't request to make Ability checks. (ETA: and they don't really want to... see @iserith's post below)

And, if the state they look around, and you give them a smell, how is that not telling the player what they are doing? Which is off the table. If the gas was poisonous and you called for a saving throw, couldn’t they claim they weren’t taking big deep breaths but would have held their breath as soon as they smelled something funny?
I mean, I'm not controlling the character, though, I'm telling them what they've perceived as a result of their interaction with the environment, right? No different than when I describe a scene before I ask them what they want to do - I'm telling them all about the scene using as many senses as make... sense. At some point, the DM has to paint the picture of what is going on in a scene and paint the picture of how the scene has changed as a result of the PC's actions.

If the player didn't say their character was holding their breath, they weren't holding their breath. At some point you have to assume a default unless the player specifies otherwise. Default things include that the PC is carrying their stuff and has their eyes open and is breathing and is walking on their feet. Do you imagine our playstyle is so onerous that the players need to define these default things all the time? If so, that's... an odd take to me.

Just like the earlier lock picking example and setting off a trap.
Refresh my memory about that one, if you don't mind. And describe how that is similar to the "smelling" conundrum above, if you still think it is.

That’s what I’m criticizing.
Ok.
 
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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I get the impression that a lot of the objections come back to "What do I need to say so I can roll?" and, really, rolling an ability check is about the last thing you want to do at my table. Or at least it's certainly not the first. My players often have Inspiration in their back pocket for these occasions because they know that if they fail, the Meaningful Consequence of Failure will make an appearance.
 

Hussar

Legend
Refresh my memory about that one, if you don't mind. And describe how that is similar to the "smelling" conundrum above, if you still think it is.


Ok.

On my phone so it’s a bit tricky to swim upthread for quotes but the example was something along the lines of the player checks for traps, the dm declares that touching the trap set it off and the player crying foul because they never said they were “touching” the object.

Or something to that effect.

Here the player asks to look around and you give them a smell result. Which, since it was positive, the players don’t complain. But, just like the trap example, if the result was bad, then the player complains that you’re “playing their character”.

See the thing is I totally agree that dms can and will call for rolls. That’s obviously true. And dms will interpret those rolls. Again perfectly fine.

Where I disagree is with this idea that the dm and ONLY the dm may call for these rolls. And that a player is actively penalized for wanting a roll with the bludgeon of “meaningful consequences “ which the player can avoid if they just find the right magic words.

I truly believe that this is terrible advice.
 

Hussar

Legend
Something to add here that I think is a very important point that is being glossed over.

My character is not me. My character has knowledge and skills that I do not have. My high level rogue (or frankly even my 1st level rogue) knows more about how to pick a lock that I do.

Fair enough. Everyone knows this. Not a problem.

But, there's another side to this. Not only does my character know more about how to pick a lock than I do, that character also knows more than you do too. I'm pretty sure that my rogue character knows more about picking locks than everyone reading these words. Which includes the Dungeon Master.

Which is where I find it really hard to buy this idea that I just "narrate what I want to do" and the DM adjudicates. The example before that I reacted to was "kneeling in front of the lock". Here's the thing. Does that actually make it easier to unlock a lock? I don't know. I have no idea. But, by the same token, I'm fairly certain that you don't know either. The you being any you who is reading this. So, when the DM claims that if I state that I'm kneeling in front of the lock, that this will make any difference to the chances of my character successfully opening that lock, it's pretty much a complete fabrication.

The DM believes that kneeling in front of the lock increases my chance of success. So, if I want to increase my chance of success, I have to kneel in front of the lock. Whether this is actually true or not, doesn't matter. The DM believes it to be true, and thus, it is true in the game.

So, it becomes a game of gaming the DM. The DM has flat out told me that I should not want to make rolls (despite the fact that my character is FAAAAR more skilled than I can ever hope to be) because I will have negative consequences for rolling. But, my only way to avoid rolling has nothing to do with the game itself. It's all about satisfying the DM. Add that narration. phrase it in a certain way, avoid referencing mechanics and hopefully that will add up to me succeeding on something.

For me, this is the furthest thing from immersion. I'm not immersed in the scene at all. I'm negotiating with Bob the DM all the time in order to perform tasks.

All because I am never supposed to say, "I check the door for traps. Investigation 17". :erm:
 

TarionzCousin

Second Most Angelic Devil Ever
Almost all of the above, but I don't let them roll unbidden. As someone once said "Despite rolling a Nat 20, you do NOT seduce the dragon."
 

On my phone so it’s a bit tricky to swim upthread for quotes but the example was something along the lines of the player checks for traps, the dm declares that touching the trap set it off and the player crying foul because they never said they were “touching” the object.

Ah, right. Thank you. So that is why we expect the player to be reasonably specific with their action. The player wants to check for traps... ok, how? Tapping with your dagger? First a visual inspection? Using the swiss-army-ten-foot-pole? Something else?

We also try to telegraph that something is off with the scene - so, in the case of trapped chest, there might be drag marks leading away from the chest (where the last guy to attempt it died of poison then was dragged away by some dungeon denizen...) That way, the player makes an informed decision for the PC - although they might miss the clue entirely, but at least it was there.

Or something to that effect.

Here the player asks to look around and you give them a smell result. Which, since it was positive, the players don’t complain. But, just like the trap example, if the result was bad, then the player complains that you’re “playing their character”.
Got it. So, at our table, as mentioned above, telegraphing is used to minimize "gotchas" like you describe. Even if they miss the clue, we're still not "playing their character", we're just describing the results of their actions.

See the thing is I totally agree that dms can and will call for rolls. That’s obviously true. And dms will interpret those rolls. Again perfectly fine.

Where I disagree is with this idea that the dm and ONLY the dm may call for these rolls. And that a player is actively penalized for wanting a roll with the bludgeon of “meaningful consequences “ which the player can avoid if they just find the right magic words.
I mean, that's our interpretation of the rules as laid out in the PHB and DMG. An interpretation that seems to resonate (at least partially) with 85% of the respondents (even higher if you go to the other poll with more specific wording).

Why you (and others) keep insisting that when "ONLY the dm may call for these rolls" is a playstyle predicated on "magic words" truly baffles me. We're just asking for the player to say what their character is doing and how they're going about it. Goal and approach. It's been explained ad nauseum now. Please drop the "magic words" pejorative. Please and thank you.

I truly believe that this is terrible advice.
Again, the advice is right there in the books.

Notably, you don't hear me telling you that your way of playing, letting players announce rolls, is terrible, do you? Or that you explaining how you play is "terrible advice" to share with other here on the forum? And, you know why? Because, while I prefer our method for our table, neither way is terrible. Either way is fine if the table agrees upon that style and is having fun with it.
 
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Oofta

Legend
Almost all of the above, but I don't let them roll unbidden. As someone once said "Despite rolling a Nat 20, you do NOT seduce the dragon."
My response to a nat 20 attempt to seduce a dragon would be something along the lines of "The dragon seems to swoon an looks at you lovingly leaning in for a kiss. [roll to hit with advantage] Does a 28 hit?"

Unless of course, your PC is a talking ass. ;)

Even a 20 doesn't guarantee success.
 

SteveC

Doing the best imitation of myself
One thing to add here: the GM provides all the information the players have about the world and what the characters know/perceive/understand about their environment. As a result I go out of my way to avoid them making stupid decisions that come from not understanding my description. There are so many horror stories from "pixel hunting" with GMs that I just say "no" to that and try to make sure the characters are acting with the information they have. It makes the game a lot less comic/tragic that way.
 

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