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5E Are there actions not covered under a skill?

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
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.
Hmm. The approach of "taking as much time as we need" is only really applicable to situations where the players already know of the key's existence and location (Edit: general location, i.e. in the room, not in the drawer, which would be silly), and in that situation the action makes sense. They still might not have time of course, and consequences for time spent are pretty much always appropriate. However, I think that example is very different from investigate actions taken with no foreknowledge of the presence or absence of anything in particular. In that case the declaration makes no sense at all.

Those two types of examples seem to have been conflated a little bit in this thread, as examples move back and forth from one fictional state to the other.
 
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FrozenNorth

Adventurer
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.
Having just run that module, the treasure was in a waterproof satchel inside a open cistern, the cistern being the most prominent feature of the room.

A player who examined the cistern would find the satchel, and the treasure was a perk for those who wanted to check out the cistern, but was not required to continue the adventure.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
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 think it’s kind of an “I know it when I see it” thing, I don’t have a particular definition of challenge in mind beyond the plain English meaning. Your definition here seems pretty good though. The even for success part gives me a little pause. Not because I disagree with it, but because I think it may speak to a difference in how we’re using the word failure. When I say “cost or consequence for failure” I mean failure at the check, not necessarily failure to achieve the goal. So, success at a cost would still be what I’d consider a cost or consequence for failure. I suppose success might also be said to have a cost if merely making the attempt costs a resource. Time, for example. But time needs to be constrained to be a meaningful resource. So, yeah, I think this definition works for me.

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.
Ok, here’s the problem. I would not consider the difference between the left and right path stakes. The word stakes implies an element of risk to me. There’s nothing risked in the left-or-right path choice, so while it may have different possible outcomes, I wouldn’t consider it to have meaningful 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.
Yeah, I’d say a thing having stakes (something being risked) qualifies it as a challenge by this definition.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Hmm. The approach of "taking as much time as we need" is only really applicable to situations where the players already know of the key's existence and location, and in that situation the action makes sense.
Or at least knowledge that there’s something to be found, if not necessarily what that something is.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
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.
My position is consistent. I don't move goalposts. I don't need to. But we've been talking collectively about several topics. It's likely you've conflated some of them.

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.
That I misquoted the player's action declaration in the example changes nothing about the point being made in both the sidebar or in my posts. If you're reasonably specific, you have a greater chance of success. That is true, according to the rules.

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.
Except I don't assert this. That's you just misunderstanding the point being made and this was addressed upthread. Which is kind of puzzling because I know you read my post on this and you even gave it a Like. You subsequently responded to said post. So what's going on here?
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Having just run that module, the treasure was in a waterproof satchel inside a open cistern, the cistern being the most prominent feature of the room.

A player who examined the cistern would find the satchel, and the treasure was a perk for those who wanted to check out the cistern, but was not required to continue the adventure.
Thank you - I didn't remember any barrel with a false bottom in this adventure and have been flipping through it trying to find it.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Or at least knowledge that there’s something to be found, if not necessarily what that something is.
This is specifically where this whole thing gets sticky too, IMO, and where players are most likely to make action declarations like we search until we find something. Really, it amounts to meta gaming, although I'm not attaching any particular negative connotation to that phrase in this case. Much like examples where the players interpret the length of exposition focused on one thing as a direct index to that things importance - you spent a long time describing that desk, I'm going to search there first. I'd rather that decision making wasn't overt and verbalized, but I can't fault it. RPGs are by their nature a shallow information environment, and the players only have the DM description to work with.

I'm trying to think of a specific example where knowing there is something to be found is the case, as opposed to the strong suspicion that something is to be found, which I suspect is far more often what the case is, and in some ways a very different thing to adjudicate.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
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.
Telegraphs don’t have to be that direct. For example, if lots of things have been hidden in barrels throughout this dungeon, the mere existence of a barrel becomes a sufficient cue to the players that it may be worth searching. In general, the further into a dungeon, the less direct a telegraph needs to be to be effective. You can establish the parameters early on with clear, direct telegraphs and then make subtler, more indirect use of the same tools as you go. This is like level design 101.

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 think that’s kind of a different topic.

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.
I use dungeons. They’re not always literal underground complexes, but like. Various site-based adventuring locations, yeah. Even in urban and wilderness adventures can use the same design principles as dungeons.

I do think it’s telling that the folks who argue that 5e is designed with a particular adjudication style in mind also tend to say that 5e lends itself to site-based adventure best.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
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.
For sure. Sufficiently describing the environment so that the players can clearly understand the parameters is an essential part of the DM’s role. Failing to adequately perform this role will definitely lead to frustration for the players.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I use dungeons. They’re not always literal underground complexes, but like. Various site-based adventuring locations, yeah. Even in urban and wilderness adventures can use the same design principles as dungeons.

I do think it’s telling that the folks who argue that 5e is designed with a particular adjudication style in mind also tend to say that 5e lends itself to site-based adventure best.
Agreed. Run a dungeon (or some kind of location-based adventure) and all the D&D 5e rules snap right into place, make sense, work together, and are easy to implement. Do just about anything else and it's a little "off" in my experience. It can still be fun, but it just doesn't work as well in my view.

For D&D 4e on the other hand, I really didn't think that worked for dungeons very well at all. So most of my games involved set piece type challenges. In those situations, the rules really supported that kind of play in my experience.

I find molding my game, DM approach, and player approach to the rules as a whole really works just a whole lot better than the other way around. Which is not to say I don't house rule or use variants or think it's bad to do so, but typically that is to correct for certain issues that arise when I'm not running a location-based adventure. (Though in some cases, as with encumbrance rules or variant resting, it can support particular kinds of location-based adventure such as hexcrawls and megadungeons.)
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I think it’s kind of an “I know it when I see it” thing, I don’t have a particular definition of challenge in mind beyond the plain English meaning. Your definition here seems pretty good though. The even for success part gives me a little pause. Not because I disagree with it, but because I think it may speak to a difference in how we’re using the word failure.
When i say even for success I mean that there is a cost to complete the action, or at least the chance of a cost, regardless of the binary result of the check. You might have to spend a resource no matter what, or you might have to spend a resource unless you succeed by a certain margin, or unless X number of rolls in a group check succeed (where basic success on the task only requires X-2), etc.

For instance, when my players were performing a very complex improvised ritual to stop a necromancer's contingency "if I die i'm taking everything within a dozen miles of my corpse with me and becoming a lich" spell from going off, killing them and everything within 13 (bc Eberron) miles of their location, they had some resources they had to spend (hit dice, as the ritual called for blood), some resources they could spend to boost success or chance of success (spend spell slots or magic item charges to do XYZ or give someone advantage on their next check), and resources they'd have to spend if they failed more than 1 check in the ritual (more HD, levels of exhaustion, or other limited resources based on what made sense in the moment).

The Bard used their inspiration dice liberally, and cast a few different spells. The Paladin of Blood of Vol used a few extra HD to boost the ritual's power. The Monk burned through the rest of his ki, which he'd only used 2 of in the fight, helping everyone align their ki and get a resonating ohm going after the bard and an NPC knight made the "crystaline arcane latticework of the ritual architecture" resonate like crystal glasses being played, the wizard used several spell slots to dismantle or suppress the enchantments of the necromancers magic items that were boosting her contingency.

That was a challenge, not because the stakes were high, although they were, but because it cost them resources, it was hard, and it was something they had to overcome.


Ok, here’s the problem. I would not consider the difference between the left and right path stakes. The word stakes implies an element of risk to me. There’s nothing risked in the left-or-right path choice, so while it may have different possible outcomes, I wouldn’t consider it to have meaningful stakes.


Yeah, I’d say a thing having stakes (something being risked) qualifies it as a challenge by this definition.
I'm not gonna agree on your definition of stakes, tbh. The paths choice has stakes. Something is lost either way. One path might turn out to be better either in terms of greater reward, less risk, or both. The players will never know exactly what the stakes were, but there are stakes. Also, the choice might have known stakes but no way to know how the choice will impact those stakes, such as not knowing which path is quicker, but knowing that you have to quickly get to the destination.

Regardless, there are stakes, but no challenge.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Telegraphs don’t have to be that direct. For example, if lots of things have been hidden in barrels throughout this dungeon, the mere existence of a barrel becomes a sufficient cue to the players that it may be worth searching. In general, the further into a dungeon, the less direct a telegraph needs to be to be effective. You can establish the parameters early on with clear, direct telegraphs and then make subtler, more indirect use of the same tools as you go. This is like level design 101.


I think that’s kind of a different topic.


I use dungeons. They’re not always literal underground complexes, but like. Various site-based adventuring locations, yeah. Even in urban and wilderness adventures can use the same design principles as dungeons.

I do think it’s telling that the folks who argue that 5e is designed with a particular adjudication style in mind also tend to say that 5e lends itself to site-based adventure best.
I really, really, think that the "5e lends itself to site-based adventure best." perception comes from the fact that 5e handles that style well, and that style is something the person with that perception enjoys, moreso than 5e actually being best used to run that sort of adventure.

It's a perfectly cool way to run dnd, but 5e runs really, really, really, well, and IME better, in a non site-based adventure model. I say that because the balance issues that still exist in 5e aren't actually as much of a problem when you don't run the game that way. Site-based 5e games, IME, need the game to be balanced over the course of an adventuring day more than non site-based 5e games. As a result, having 3 encounters on a busy day is a balance issue in a site-based campaign or adventure, but simply isn't in a non site-based campaign or adventure.

But, my perception is also almost certainly biased by my preferences.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Having just run that module, the treasure was in a waterproof satchel inside a open cistern, the cistern being the most prominent feature of the room.

A player who examined the cistern would find the satchel, and the treasure was a perk for those who wanted to check out the cistern, but was not required to continue the adventure.
Barrel/cistern toe-may-toe toe-mah-toe. It's still one object of many in the entire keep. It doesn't stand out, it's not special. It's just set dressing. If you're using one of the prepared maps, the DM may not even mention it.

I don't want my players second-guessing that every time there's a desk in a room they have to carefully search the desk or miss out on treasure.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
When i say even for success I mean that there is a cost to complete the action, or at least the chance of a cost, regardless of the binary result of the check. You might have to spend a resource no matter what, or you might have to spend a resource unless you succeed by a certain margin, or unless X number of rolls in a group check succeed (where basic success on the task only requires X-2), etc.

For instance, when my players were performing a very complex improvised ritual to stop a necromancer's contingency "if I die i'm taking everything within a dozen miles of my corpse with me and becoming a lich" spell from going off, killing them and everything within 13 (bc Eberron) miles of their location, they had some resources they had to spend (hit dice, as the ritual called for blood), some resources they could spend to boost success or chance of success (spend spell slots or magic item charges to do XYZ or give someone advantage on their next check), and resources they'd have to spend if they failed more than 1 check in the ritual (more HD, levels of exhaustion, or other limited resources based on what made sense in the moment).

The Bard used their inspiration dice liberally, and cast a few different spells. The Paladin of Blood of Vol used a few extra HD to boost the ritual's power. The Monk burned through the rest of his ki, which he'd only used 2 of in the fight, helping everyone align their ki and get a resonating ohm going after the bard and an NPC knight made the "crystaline arcane latticework of the ritual architecture" resonate like crystal glasses being played, the wizard used several spell slots to dismantle or suppress the enchantments of the necromancers magic items that were boosting her contingency.

That was a challenge, not because the stakes were high, although they were, but because it cost them resources, it was hard, and it was something they had to overcome.
Yeah, I agree with you there. A thing can be challenging without necessarily having high stakes (though this scenario does have both), and I think your definition of challenge was a good one.

I'm not gonna agree on your definition of stakes, tbh.
Risk is part of the definition of stakes though. When something is “at stake” it’s at risk of being lost. When you “stake” something, you are betting it. When “stakes are high,” there’s a lot at risk of being lost.

The paths choice has stakes. Something is lost either way. One path might turn out to be better either in terms of greater reward, less risk, or both. The players will never know exactly what the stakes were, but there are stakes.

Also, the choice might have known stakes but no way to know how the choice will impact those stakes, such as not knowing which path is quicker, but knowing that you have to quickly get to the destination.

Regardless, there are stakes, but no challenge.
No, those are just different outcomes. The players aren’t betting anything, they’re not investing anything, they’re not losing anything, they’re just gaining one of two unknown things.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
False bottoms was from a favorite trick of a DM I played with for a while back in the day. I never stated the LMOP was a barrel with a false bottom, but a cistern you have to specifically search is just as bad IMHO.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I really, really, think that the "5e lends itself to site-based adventure best." perception comes from the fact that 5e handles that style well, and that style is something the person with that perception enjoys, moreso than 5e actually being best used to run that sort of adventure.
I don't have a preference for either location-based or event-based adventures because I can run and play in both well. They just represent trade-offs to me. A location-based adventure is typically more prep, but easier to run at the table. An event-based adventure is much easier to prep, usually, but harder to run at the table, particularly if the DM is hiding the plot and needs the players to stay on it. Then we have to look at what the system supports better and my practical experience with both shows that location-based adventures win out in D&D 5e. Event-based adventures win out in D&D 4e.

It's a perfectly cool way to run dnd, but 5e runs really, really, really, well, and IME better, in a non site-based adventure model. I say that because the balance issues that still exist in 5e aren't actually as much of a problem when you don't run the game that way. Site-based 5e games, IME, need the game to be balanced over the course of an adventuring day more than non site-based 5e games. As a result, having 3 encounters on a busy day is a balance issue in a site-based campaign or adventure, but simply isn't in a non site-based campaign or adventure.
I'm not aware of any "balance issues" in D&D 5e in general, particularly as this isn't a board game, nor anything specific to location-based adventures. I have noticed that PCs in event-based adventures are more likely to nova since there are typically fewer combat challenges than in a location-based adventure. Of course that's going to vary a bit, but I think it holds as generally true.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
No, those are just different outcomes. The players aren’t betting anything, they’re not investing anything, they’re not losing anything, they’re just gaining one of two unknown things.
I think @doctorbadwolf is proposing a scenario where the choices are mutually exclusive, so choosing one eliminates the possibility of the other. In that case, they lose whatever was down the path they didn't take (and that makes all the difference).
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I really, really, think that the "5e lends itself to site-based adventure best." perception comes from the fact that 5e handles that style well, and that style is something the person with that perception enjoys, moreso than 5e actually being best used to run that sort of adventure.

It's a perfectly cool way to run dnd, but 5e runs really, really, really, well, and IME better, in a non site-based adventure model. I say that because the balance issues that still exist in 5e aren't actually as much of a problem when you don't run the game that way. Site-based 5e games, IME, need the game to be balanced over the course of an adventuring day more than non site-based 5e games. As a result, having 3 encounters on a busy day is a balance issue in a site-based campaign or adventure, but simply isn't in a non site-based campaign or adventure.

But, my perception is also almost certainly biased by my preferences.
Well, first of all, I don’t agree that having too few encounters in an adventuring day doesn’t cause balance issues in non-site-based adventures. And second of all, if you’ve observed that the number of encounters in an adventuring day is an important balance factor for site-based adventures, the existence of guidelines surrounding how many encounters to include in an adventuring day should be an indication that 5e was designed around site-based adventures, no? Of course you can still use it for other things, and it might work well for those things. But it was clearly designed around site-based adventure.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I think @doctorbadwolf is proposing a scenario where the choices are mutually exclusive, so choosing one eliminates the possibility of the other. In that case, they lose whatever was down the path they didn't take (and that makes all the difference).
They don’t lose it though, because they never had it in the first place to lose. They just never gain it.
 


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