D&D 5E At Your 5E Table, How Is It Agreed upon That the PCs Do Stuff Other than Attack?

How Do You Agree the PCs Do Stuff in the Fiction Other than Attack?

  • Player describes action and intention, states ability and/or skill used, and rolls check to resolve

    Votes: 6 5.4%
  • Player describes action and intention, and DM decides whether an ability check is needed to resolve

    Votes: 100 90.1%
  • Player describes action only, states ability and/or skill used, and rolls a check to resolve

    Votes: 6 5.4%
  • Player describes action only, and the DM decides whether an ability check is needed to resolve

    Votes: 33 29.7%
  • Player describes intention only, states ability and/or skill used, and rolls a check to resolve

    Votes: 9 8.1%
  • Player describes intention only, and the DM decides whether an ability check is needed to resolve

    Votes: 36 32.4%
  • Player states ability and/or skill used, and rolls a check to resolve

    Votes: 8 7.2%
  • Player asks a question, and DM assumes an action and decides whether an ability check is needed

    Votes: 17 15.3%
  • Other

    Votes: 12 10.8%

Oofta

Legend
I'm aware of what's in the DMG.

I was asking about what you do, since you said you "require an appropriate check" which seemed to be in contrast to your summary of @Charlaquin's gameplay in which “In some cases you determine their actions will have no chance of failure”. The implication seemed to have been that you never determine actions to have no chance of failure and always test them with an “appropriate” check. I had assumed that by appropriate you had meant something like “using an ability and/or proficiency that corresponds to the fiction in some way”, but perhaps the concept of appropriateness being used also extends to checks only being suitable when nontrivial actions are declared, in which case my example would be a poor one. Notice, however, that in @Charlaquin’s method, a distinction between trivial and nontrivial actions is not needed. The DM simply decides whether the declared action could fail and if that failure would have meaningful consequences. Actions that might be deemed trivial probably wouldn’t meet those criteria, so no check would be called for.

To go back to @Charlaquin's example, an action was attempted "to try to disarm this trap by wedging something (I no longer remember what, maybe it was a dagger or something) through the seam to hold the lever in place while they opened the door, which I determined would succeed without need of a roll." Presumably, this was a nontrivial action insofar as disarming the alarm system was important for the party's plan to open the door without setting off the bell and as the prospect of inserting an object through the door-gap with sufficient force and positioning as to immobilize the lever doesn't sound (to me) like something that could be relied on to succeed on the first try. Multiple attempts may have had to have been made, and yet, the mechanism having already been noticed, and the possible existence of other factors such as an absence of time pressure (so no negative repercussions for repeated attempts), the DM decided to describe the success of this (nontrivial) action.

Now, you as DM might have called for a check in this situation, having a particular DC in mind for the disarming of the door alarm, but my question is do the players in your games ever have their characters attempt a nontrivial, non-mundane action in the fiction for which you don't feel a check is an appropriate way to resolve?

If I think there is a chance for failure or uncertainty, I ask for a check. Typically I'll ask for a specific skill (or the player asks to use it), although a player may have a reason to use a different skill or ability I hadn't thought of. If they find an alternate path to avoid the trap altogether then they don't care if the trap is disabled or not.

But descriptions of how, in @Charlaquin's example, they disable a trap will never be anything other than fluff and has no impact on the target DC because it's not the player physically disabling the trap, it's the PC.

The exception to the general rule is persuasion and intimidation, in almost all cases I need details on what they say. Along the same line if I know they can't fail the check even on a 1 I won't bother making them roll.

I thought I've been clear every time I ask this question. 🤷‍♂️
 

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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
To go back to @Charlaquin's example, an action was attempted "to try to disarm this trap by wedging something (I no longer remember what, maybe it was a dagger or something) through the seam to hold the lever in place while they opened the door, which I determined would succeed without need of a roll." Presumably, this was a nontrivial action insofar as disarming the alarm system was important for the party's plan to open the door without setting off the bell and as the prospect of inserting an object through the door-gap with sufficient force and positioning as to immobilize the lever doesn't sound (to me) like something that could be relied on to succeed on the first try. Multiple attempts may have had to have been made, and yet, the mechanism having already been noticed, and the possible existence of other factors such as an absence of time pressure (so no negative repercussions for repeated attempts), the DM decided to describe the success of this (nontrivial) action.
In retrospect, I probably should have called for a check, because those factors like force and positioning could reasonably create the risk of accidentally tripping the bell in the process of trying to immobilize it. So while number of attempts wasn’t a meaningful concern, I should probably still have recognized that failure could have still been consequential. But it was also years ago and I no longer remember all the details, so maybe the players had covered that somehow. Or maybe I just made an imperfect call.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
But descriptions of how, in @Charlaquin's example, they disable a trap will never be anything other than fluff and has no impact on the target DC because it's not the player physically disabling the trap, it's the PC.
The angry GM recently used a phrase that I think expresses my stance on this matter really well: “players decide, characters act.” In my view, the description of the action matters because the player has to decide what the character is going to (try to) do and express that to me in order to resolve that action. As part of that resolution, ability/skill checks are used in part to account for the fact that the character is the one who has to enact the action the player decided to take.
 

Oofta

Legend
The angry GM recently used a phrase that I think expresses my stance on this matter really well: “players decide, characters act.” In my view, the description of the action matters because the player has to decide what the character is going to (try to) do and express that to me in order to resolve that action. As part of that resolution, ability/skill checks are used in part to account for the fact that the character is the one who has to enact the action the player decided to take.
There are a lot of ways of doing things and different people will find different things interesting. I fall on the side of "things like disabling traps are not a focus of my games so I practically skip over it" to people that only describe how things are done and never touch dice outside of combat.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
There are a lot of ways of doing things and different people will find different things interesting. I fall on the side of "things like disabling traps are not a focus of my games so I practically skip over it" to people that only describe how things are done and never touch dice outside of combat.
Yeah, personally I favor what the DMG calls “the middle path.” Though, obviously there are whole spectra within and between those three highly simplified categories.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
If the table consensus determines the plausibility / likelihood of success in a specific narrative scenario, that is great. I prefer when D&D is a collaborative process.
That's not quite what I said though. As DM, I consider it my job (I don't get paid :)) to determine whether the player accomplishes the character's goal outright or if a check is required and at what DC. I just don't determine failure based on unrevealed information about the fiction that hasn't been established with the group as a whole.

The thing is, if everyone at the table is adjudicating the outcome, then everyone knows what is going on, meaning there are no narrative surprises, no mysteries to solve.

To keep a sense of the unknown, we take turns DMing.

Maybe the unknown matters more for games that have more social encounters. The DM knows which NPCs have desperate needs or unusual motives, to determine the likelihood of cooperation or other responses. The rest of the table wouldnt be aware of these specific considerations.
It doesn't follow that if the DM doesn't know things that the players don't know that there can't be mysteries and surprises. There can be things that nobody at the table knows that can be mysteries and surprises to everyone, the DM included.
 

Voadam

Legend
In being more actively conscious of this lately (specifically in last night's game) I am noticing that as a DM I do end up calling for rolls a lot. There is a big focus on characterization and player choices and approach, but I do often throw in a check at the end to gamify it a bit where some randomness seems appropriate and to encourage tag team actions over soloing (for the aid another advantage).

A lot is just narration back and forth between the players and me, but I find when we are doing second person roleplaying (describing character actions instead of first person roleplaying out a conversation) asking for checks slides in fairly naturally a bunch.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
In being more actively conscious of this lately (specifically in last night's game) I am noticing that as a DM I do end up calling for rolls a lot. There is a big focus on characterization and player choices and approach, but I do often throw in a check at the end to gamify it a bit where some randomness seems appropriate and to encourage tag team actions over soloing (for the aid another advantage).

A lot is just narration back and forth between the players and me, but I find when we are doing second person roleplaying (describing character actions instead of first person roleplaying out a conversation) asking for checks slides in fairly naturally a bunch.
I mean, I call for checks a lot too. From the way I talk about only calling for them when the outcome can’t be determined without them I’m sure one could easily come away with the impression that I only call for rolls very rarely, but the reality of adventuring is such that characters end up needing to take a lot of actions that have uncertain outcomes.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
In being more actively conscious of this lately (specifically in last night's game) I am noticing that as a DM I do end up calling for rolls a lot. There is a big focus on characterization and player choices and approach, but I do often throw in a check at the end to gamify it a bit where some randomness seems appropriate and to encourage tag team actions over soloing (for the aid another advantage).

A lot is just narration back and forth between the players and me, but I find when we are doing second person roleplaying (describing character actions instead of first person roleplaying out a conversation) asking for checks slides in fairly naturally a bunch.
I mean, I call for checks a lot too. From the way I talk about only calling for them when the outcome can’t be determined without them I’m sure one could easily come away with the impression that I only call for rolls very rarely, but the reality of adventuring is such that characters end up needing to take a lot of actions that have uncertain outcomes.
I also call for a lot of checks. But that's also because in a given 4-hour session, we are Getting Stuff Done. We cover a lot of ground. Bold adventurers are confronting deadly perils and often they can't remove the uncertainty of outcome and/or the meaningful consequence of failure. So there's a roll! But they do try because that's the smart play. Leaving your fate to the swinginess of a d20 is a recipe for disaster. Avoid it if you can. Inspiration helps mitigate risk, and has the add-on effect of getting players to portray their characters consistently. Win-win!
 

SteveC

Doing the best imitation of myself
The angry GM recently used a phrase that I think expresses my stance on this matter really well: “players decide, characters act.” In my view, the description of the action matters because the player has to decide what the character is going to (try to) do and express that to me in order to resolve that action. As part of that resolution, ability/skill checks are used in part to account for the fact that the character is the one who has to enact the action the player decided to take.
I can't agree with this more. I recommend The Angry GM as reading about running games to just about everyone. I don't always agree with what he writes, but it makes me think about things. "Players decide, characters act," explains why you do the intent + method when describing an action. And Angry typically includes mentioning the Consequences for the action before the dice are rolled. I know that part particularly is controversial, but I think it makes the players take action with a greater sense of agency (oh, another controversial word...).

For what it's worth, listening to the Knights of Last Call on Youtube discuss running a game is another excellent way to get insight into how you want to run a game. Again, I don't agree with everything they have to say (particularly, I don't like "oracle tables" in play) but I think I've learned something about running a game from them.
 

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