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5E Are there actions not covered under a skill?

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
One of my favorite things about the Black Hack is how it treats traps and secret doors, which I think is at least somewhat pertinent here. The BH treats both traps and secret doors as mysteries to be solved. Each has three clues, indexing Location, Trigger, and Action. The BH has the DM roll a d6 the first time a character moves nearby (which is a range band in BH) to a secret door or trap, and on a 1 the character notices something off. In addition, a targeted search based on an attribute test will also reveal a clue.

I tend to view challenge and stakes as two separate but related sliders for determining the need for an ability check. The task itself can be challenging, like the above cliff climbing example, or the stakes and context can be high stress, like trying to pick a simple lock while a zombie gnaws on your leg. Once either slider reaches what I feel is an appropriate difficulty level, I call for a check. I also use those two dials to set DCs. That cliff climb might be mostly easy, say DC 10, but in the middle of an ice storm it might be DC 20. If the PC has climbing gear and the time to use it, I might set the ice storm difficulty lower, or conversely, I might just use the gear to adjust the consequences of failure but not the DC. It's all about what makes sense in the fiction at the time.

The notion of what makes sense in the fiction is also my guiding light for the kinds of investigate checks we're talking about. It can be hard to extrapolate broader concepts from specific examples sometimes. I can talk about how I generally treat the key hidden in the drawer, but the reality is that in the moment, I'll do what makes sense in terms of the fiction. By which I mean based on specific action declarations, prior PC actions and knowledge, and everything that characterizes and contextualizes the narrative to that point. I might very well treat two identical instances of hidden keys in two very different ways. The problem I see with having a rigid idea of what is necessary to achieve X, in this case finding the key, is that it can be very tough to say exactly what a group of PCs will do in a given situation. I'm not going to just give them the key, but I'm also not going to hold it back because someone didn't utter the magic words, if that makes any sense. I prefer to leave room for a broader swath of possible PC actions and ideas to be able to achieve that X.
 

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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Oh, as an aside, I think this may be why you and I frequently have trouble understanding each other in these discussions. You seem to be thinking of these things much more broadly, where I tend to be speaking very concretely. I tend to favor specific, actionable DMing advice and find more broad, conceptual discussion unhelpful.
Yep I view useful discussion in entirely the opposite way. Sticking to concrete examples is, IME, counter-productive. Which may be in part because my particular ADHD memory issues make concrete examples in any detail literally next to impossible for me to ever provide. I’ve no control over what details my brain retains and what it only retains the gist of.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Maybe the hidden thing is intended as another non-guaranteed path. If they don't find the secret door, they might figure out that the books are all the same age; likewise the other way around. Multiple paths to get to a goal, none guaranteed. If those things make the world and/or the NPCs seem more real or more realistic, that's at least a bonus.
I’d consider that part of a challenge then.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
This is the opposite of the statement to which I was responding with confusion. In your previous post you said it doesn’t need to be a challenge for the stakes to matter, now you’re saying the stakes don’t need to matter for it to be a challenge. I understand the latter, but not the former.
That’s fair. To me, the first statement is too “obvious” to be easily explained, but I will try in a bit when I’ve eaten and had coffee.

The two statements are two sides of the same idea, though.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I’d consider that part of a challenge then.
Which is why they had to roll to find it, and why they had to roll to figure out the books clue, and why (eventually) the BBEG's clone made enough noise that the party figured out there was a room they hadn't found, yet, and they looked again.
 


Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Which is why they had to roll to find it, and why they had to roll to figure out the books clue, and why (eventually) the BBEG's clone made enough noise that the party figured out there was a room they hadn't found, yet, and they looked again.
Ok, so we’re back to my original point that, as the person designing the challenge, I would include some kind of time constraint or other consequence that made “spend as much time as we need thoroughly searching the room” not a viable option.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Ok, so we’re back to my original point that, as the person designing the challenge, I would include some kind of time constraint or other consequence that made “spend as much time as we need thoroughly searching the room” not a viable option.
For the sake of clarity, do you actually mean less viable?
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
If the DM had already decided that one of the kobolds had the gem in the secret compartment, I can see a definite issue with style 2. - It would seem to require that the player specify that their character is searching the kobold's boots.
If they specify searching boots of the kobolds, then presumably the compartment is obvious and they will automatically see it and get the gem.
If the player does not specify searching boots on the kobolds, then the character will not find the gem, despite having access to knowledge that the player does not.
The problem I've seen in games with that style is that it can become player vs DM. The players specify exactly what they were doing and after the game the DM tells you that because you didn't specifically look for a false bottom in that barrel you missed out on some fantastic loot.

That teaches the player that they have to be obnoxiously detailed. The players now feel like they have to measure the depth of every container to ascertain if it has a false bottom. Scenes like that slow the game down to a crawl and everyone is frustrated and bored.

I'm not saying that anyone posting to this thread does that, just that I've seen it happen and you need to be careful to not overdo it. As an example in a module, IIRC LMOP had some treasure at the bottom of a water barrel in the bandit's hideout that you had to specifically search. Except that there was nothing special at all about this barrel, there was no reason for any player to specifically call it out. I don't want my players searching every piece of furniture or fixture.

There also seems to be this assumption that these things are 100% binary. I don't think they need to be. Some people may enjoy a completely descriptive approach (for a better term), others just want to minimize this type of activity and ask for rolls. I would assume most people fall somewhere in the middle or vary depending on the current situation.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
For the sake of clarity, do you actually mean less viable?
Umm... Kind of? Like, very broadly speaking I guess any searching they do will take time, and if they find the key, then clearly the amount of time they spent searching was as much time as they needed. So in that sense, yes, taking as much time as they need to find it is viable, but difficult, under time constraints. But I was talking about “we thoroughly search the room, taking as much time as we need” as an approach to the goal of “find the key.” In any scenario I’m designing to be challenging, that isn’t going to be a valid approach, because some time pressure or other consequence for failure will be preventing them from spending an arbitrarily long time searching.
 
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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Ok, so we’re back to my original point that, as the person designing the challenge, I would include some kind of time constraint or other consequence that made “spend as much time as we need thoroughly searching the room” not a viable option.
And I didn't. Different GMs design things differently. The space was large enough and there was enough stuff (remember, the only thing things that weren't automatic were the secret door and the books) that it wasn't as though the entire party was searching the entire place that thoroughly; I gave them two different ways to find out or figure out there was something weird (and the clone chamber had been foreshadowed prior); the time constraint was that the clone made noise in the secret room and got the party's attention. It didn't feel unfair to me, and I don't think it felt unfair to the players (who, to be fair, are probably not so conversant with the text of the DMG as some people here, so they didn't have the "it makes a possible task automatic" text in their brains).
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
The problem I've seen in games with that style is that it can become player vs DM. The players specify exactly what they were doing and after the game the DM tells you that because you didn't specifically look for a false bottom in that barrel you missed out on some fantastic loot.

That teaches the player that they have to be obnoxiously detailed. The players now feel like they have to measure the depth of every container to ascertain if it has a false bottom. Scenes like that slow the game down to a crawl and everyone is frustrated and bored.

I'm not saying that anyone posting to this thread does that, just that I've seen it happen and you need to be careful to not overdo it. As an example in a module, IIRC LMOP had some treasure at the bottom of a water barrel in the bandit's hideout that you had to specifically search. Except that there was nothing special at all about this barrel, there was no reason for any player to specifically call it out. I don't want my players searching every piece of furniture or fixture.
Yeah, as good as LMoP was, it had some flaws. Been a while since I’ve read it, so I didn’t remember this but with the barrel, but I would agree that requiring the players to specifically search the barrel without giving any indication in the description that there would be reason to do so is one such flaw. Good use of this technique requires good telegraphing.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
And I didn't. Different GMs design things differently. The space was large enough and there was enough stuff (remember, the only thing things that weren't automatic were the secret door and the books) that it wasn't as though the entire party was searching the entire place that thoroughly; I gave them two different ways to find out or figure out there was something weird (and the clone chamber had been foreshadowed prior); the time constraint was that the clone made noise in the secret room and got the party's attention. It didn't feel unfair to me, and I don't think it felt unfair to the players (who, to be fair, are probably not so conversant with the text of the DMG as some people here, so they didn't have the "it makes a possible task automatic" text in their brains).
But... you did have a time constraint then...
 

FrozenNorth

Adventurer
If the DM had already decided that one of the kobolds had the gem in the secret compartment, I can see a definite issue with style 2. - It would seem to require that the player specify that their character is searching the kobold's boots.
If they specify searching boots of the kobolds, then presumably the compartment is obvious and they will automatically see it and get the gem.
If the player does not specify searching boots on the kobolds, then the character will not find the gem, despite having access to knowledge that the player does not.
The whole point of the example is that there was no gem in the boot until Player1 rolled a 16 Int(Invest) check.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Sure, fine, success at a cost is a useful tool. Again I think we’ve gone way off track from where we started. This particular line of discussion sprung from folks talking about keys hidden in sock drawers and whether or not “thoroughly searching the room” would be a valid path to success, and I took a step back to ask if scenarios where an object is hidden in a room and players have ample time to do a thorough search is actually a regular occurrence in anyone’s games. Cause I don’t see myself designing such a scenario basically ever.
I think we’ve lost the plot a bit here. I’m not advocating for never including missable content in the game. I’m saying, as the person designing the scenario where the key is hidden, I’m either hiding the key as part of a challenge, in which case I’m going to build some kind of time constraint or other consequence for failure into the scenario, or I’m just having it be hidden because it makes sense to be hidden, but it’s not really important. In the former case, the PCs don’t have the luxury of “taking all the time they need to search the room,” so of course I’m gonna call for a check. On a failure they search for 10 minutes, find nothing, and we get one sixth of the way closer to the next time I roll for complications. In the latter case, I’ll just narrate them eventually finding it because how long it takes is immaterial and the game isn’t served by the possibility of them failing to find it.
I’d consider that part of a challenge then.
Those are all related quotes, so I'll respond to them together real quick. For one thing, I think you are using a different definition of challenge than I and some others here are using. Can you maybe describe the parameters of what a challenge is and isn't, in your usage of the term? You've given clues to the answer, but I at least am still kinda left wondering what exactly the word means to you.

In case it helps, my definition is; Anything the players encounter that is difficult, and has a potential cost even for success (ie may cost resources to get through). More on that at the end, where I'll try to explain the thing from earlier.
I see it as a square/rectangle thing, but I’ll be interested to read your thoughts on it.
So, basically, to me stakes and challenge are separate considerations. What I was trying to get across with my reply on your confusion about my statement that "[there] Doesn't need to be a challenge for the stakes to matter." is that the two are separate, and I hoped that showing it from the other angle would help.

So, to try again with a different approach, and make a new roll...

If I present a choice between two paths, and the course of the game will be very different depending on which path is chosen, that isn't a challenge. It's just a choice with consequences, and thus stakes. But there isn't any effort, cost, or challenge in the choice. It's just left or right. It matters, but it isn't a challenging scenario. It needn't be overcome with effort, it isn't even something overcome by any reasonable definition of the term.

Again, to me, what defines challenge is effort, difficulty, and/or cost to overcome. It it isn't natural to say that you overcame it, it probably isn't a challenge. But that doesn't mean it doesn't have stakes. Flipping a coin between two equal choices has stakes, but it isn't something you've overcome in any way.
 


prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
But... you did have a time constraint then...
Arguably, but I'm not sure it was clear to the players or the characters. They had time to take a short rest while they were searching, so maybe they thought they'd taken "as much time as necessary." Maybe that's bad-DMing, but it seemed to work.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Yeah, as good as LMoP was, it had some flaws. Been a while since I’ve read it, so I didn’t remember this but with the barrel, but I would agree that requiring the players to specifically search the barrel without giving any indication in the description that there would be reason to do so is one such flaw. Good use of this technique requires good telegraphing.
See, and I really don't like that. It feels very meta and weird to go out of my way to point out a barrel so that the players will know they should search it, when I wouldn't describe the barrel other to say "there are some barrels in the eastern corner of the room, and XYZ other things in the room" if there wasn't anything of interest in the barrel.

If I make the mistake of putting something important in the barrel, and they don't search the barrels, the important thing moves to somewhere they do search, or there is a way around having the important thing. I mean, I don't tend to design adventures in a way where any given item or clue is necessary to move the game forward, but say if the thing is something I just really want them to have.


I also wonder, how many of us in this thread use dungeon delving as a model of adventure, and how many of us for whom the "dungeons" part of the name is just alliteration. I think it might have something to do with preferred approach to resolution, especially in terms of exploration.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Yeah, as good as LMoP was, it had some flaws. Been a while since I’ve read it, so I didn’t remember this but with the barrel, but I would agree that requiring the players to specifically search the barrel without giving any indication in the description that there would be reason to do so is one such flaw. Good use of this technique requires good telegraphing.
When there's a gap between the GM wanting specificity and the player expecting their character to see the scene and know the setting better than they do and behave appropriately, there can be ... frustration. Certainly on the player's end, and I presume on the GM's. I've ended up playing a rogue in a campaign where the GM wants this sort of specificity and it can get tiresome--especially gaming over text-chat.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
That's adorable.



I don't dispute that, depending on the situation, and even alluded to this by referencing the rules in DMG, p. 237. My position, backed up by the rules that I originally paraphrased and you later quoted, is that reasonable specificity allows a player to avoid making ability checks by removing uncertainty as to the outcome and/or the meaningful consequence for failure. And that engaging with the game in this manner is smart play because it means a higher chance of success, if the DM is adjudicating according to the rules.

Now find the rule that says players ask to make ability checks in D&D 5e.
You know what, between the moving goalposts here, and the condescension throughout this entire thread from you, I'm just gonna avoid further interaction with you for a while.

You didn't just paraphrase the rules, you were wrong about what an advice sidebar said in a way that completely undermines the "I'm right because the rules say so" attitude you've been waving around this whole time.

Nothing in the rules suggests that the DM should be going from "you find XYZ" to "you rolled low so you find nothing" because the player wanted to make a roll. That's just 100% a you thing.
 

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