Consequences of Failure

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
Although I'm a fervent convert to the goal-and-approach way, I'll admit that years of ingrained (calcified?) gaming habits sometimes makes it hard to implement in the heat of the moment. I still occasionally revert to my old DMing habits. "Um....gimme a Perception check?" I'm just the disciple, not the master, so I'm starting this discussion more to get advice than to impart wisdom. So for those who want to play this way, let's talk about how to do it, especially how to always incorporate a "meaningful consequence of failure."

For those who don't want to play this way, I'm really going to try to restrain from arguing with you about it in this thread, but derail away! I'm going to do my best to interpret any question as a genuine inquiry.

I'll start with a medium-hard one: stealth. (I do also want to discuss the "Do I know about X?" scenario, too. That's a tougher one.)

One question that might arise is whether failing a stealth check, and thus failing to hide, really counts as a consequence. Isn't that the same outcome as not rolling at all? It might be if you think of it as "failing a die roll" instead of "failing at a task." But if the player attempts something with consequence, and fails, they are worse off than if they hadn't attempted it. E.g., if the player takes a risk by trying to sneak past the dragon, then the failure state is alerting (or moving a step closer to alerting) the dragon. The player could have said, "$%@# the dragon! I'm not going in there!"

So I think a key feature is that the player has to actively / knowingly undertake a task with risk. If the party hears something coming and they say, "Let's all hide!" my instinct would be to say "Ok, let's have stealth checks." But in this case the failure state IS the same as not doing anything.

Maybe take an (approximate) average of "passive Stealth" in the party, and then compare to the monster's passive perception? (Or you could have the monster roll Perception...which raises the whole question of whether the "consequence of failure" principle applies to NPCs.)

Alternatively, does this need to be resolved by comparing die rolls or passives at all? What about simply choosing an outcome based on the story. E.g.:
  • The monster comes close enough to give a scare, but sees nothing, however the party gains some clue/information relevant to the adventure.
  • Make it clear the monster is ABOUT to discover them because there isn't really anything to hide behind, and give them a chance to think of a plan. E.g. trying to distract/mislead it. That plan might involve risk.
What would YOU do in this case?
 
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Celebrim

Legend
Lol.

I'm not laughing at you, but rather I'm amused by the fact that you are in the process of discovering the answer but you think that you haven't because the answer doesn't look like what you were told to expect.

I'd stop worrying about theory and just run a good game.

Look, in the case of stealth it's not the consequence of failure that is meaningful, but the consequence of success. Sure, failure is the same as not doing anything at all, but success is success and gains you a meaningful advantage in the challenge.

This is the problem with theory: it tries to put everything in a nice neat box and forces everything to fit to the box. But this is reverse of what you want to do. What you actually want to do is get tools out of the box and make them fit to everything. That is to say, your process of play should feel like it naturally arises out of the needs of the moment and generates play that reasonably seems to proceed from the fiction. Whether there are meaningful consequences of failure at every step doesn't really matter. What matters is that the consequences of success or failure seem to flow naturally from what the players are envisioning in their heads.

"What about simply choosing an outcome based on the story." indeed.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
Lol.

I'm not laughing at you, but rather I'm amused by the fact that you are in the process of discovering the answer but you think that you haven't because the answer doesn't look like what you were told to expect.
Deep breath.

I'm glad you are amused by your assumption about what I think, and that you think it is a fact not a (mis)assumption. Amusement is a positive thing, and I'm happy to do my part spreading it.

I'd stop worrying about theory and just run a good game.

Look, in the case of stealth it's not the consequence of failure that is meaningful, but the consequence of success. Sure, failure is the same as not doing anything at all, but success is success and gains you a meaningful advantage in the challenge.

This is the problem with theory: it tries to put everything in a nice neat box and forces everything to fit to the box. But this is reverse of what you want to do. What you actually want to do is get tools out of the box and make them fit to everything. That is to say, your process of play should feel like it naturally arises out of the needs of the moment and generates play that reasonably seems to proceed from the fiction. Whether there are meaningful consequences of failure at every step doesn't really matter. What matters is that the consequences of success or failure seem to flow naturally from what the players are envisioning in their heads.

"What about simply choosing an outcome based on the story." indeed.
Hmm. I suspect you're misunderstanding my motivation. I'm not "worrying about the theory" and trying to comply with it for the sake of being a hipster. Rather, I've been noticing two things:

  1. When "goal and approach" unfolds well, it's really fun. Players like weighing the risk*, and everybody at the table is interested in the outcome of the roll.
  2. When I don't do it well, it just feels...like a board-game. I've really become aware at how uninteresting most dice rolls are. "I'll check the door for traps." "Ok, give me an Investigation check." Blech.

I'm trying to get better at turning the #2's into the #1's.

*EDIT: And coming up with plans/solutions.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
So, one thing I’ve noticed about Stealth is that most DMs handle it in a way they don’t handle any other action - they have the player make the check long before any potential consequences are in play. Usually, what do you do when a player says they’re scouting ahead stealthily? I’d wager most folks would answer that they have the player make a Stealth check then and there, and the result becomes the DC for any Perception checks (rolled or passive) that hostile creatures make to find them.

I would argue that this is not consistent with Goal and Approach action resolution. If there are no hostile creatures present when the player says they are scouting ahead stealthily, there is no possibility of failure, and no consequence for failure (and if there are hidden creatures watching, there is no possibility of success).

What I do instead, is I have the player succeed at hiding themselves without a roll. Then later. once they are in enemy territory and there is a real possibility and risk of them being detected, that’s when they might need to make a check. Give the player some narration that equates to the red exclamation point above the NPC’s head in Metal Gear, then ask “what do you do?” and resolve the action then, when it’s relevant, instead of pre-rolling that Stealth check.
 
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Elfcrusher

Adventurer
Here's another one I've been thinking about:

You're in a room where you want to find something. Maybe it's a library and you need to find a book. And there's time pressure: the guards could come in at any moment. So the players state: "We each take a section, and look through the books as fast as we can, looking for anything that (meets the criteria)."

The way I would typically handle this is to ask for Investigation rolls, and you fail (or everybody fails) then you don't find the book before the guards come.

But....

Failing the roll leaves you in the same state: either way you don't have the book.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
So, one thing I’ve noticed about Stealth is that most DMs handle it in a way they don’t handle any other action - they have the player make the check long before any potential consequences are in play. Usually, what do you do when a player says they’re scouting ahead stealthily? I’d wager most folks would answer that they have the player make a Stealth check then and there, and the result becomes the DC for any Perception checks (rolled or passive) that hostile creatures make to find them.

I would argue that this is not consistent with Goal and Approa
Yeah. I very much agree with this.

My preference...although again I sometimes forget to present it this way...is "Ok, you are sneaking through the palace..." and then give them a situation to handle. For example: "All is going well, until you find yourself in a long corridor, with suits of armor in niches along one wall, stained glass windows on the other, and you see lantern light approaching the intersection ahead. At the same moment, you hear heavy footsteps approaching from behind."

How do you handle it?
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Yeah. I very much agree with this.

My preference...although again I sometimes forget to present it this way...is "Ok, you are sneaking through the palace..." and then give them a situation to handle. For example: "All is going well, until you find yourself in a long corridor, with suits of armor in niches along one wall, stained glass windows on the other, and you see lantern light approaching the intersection ahead. At the same moment, you hear heavy footsteps approaching from behind."

How do you handle it?
Yeah, I do the same, I just accidentally hit post reply before I had finished writing my comment 😅
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
There's this thing DMs a lot in my experience do where if a player describes an action that seems like it fits categorically with a skill proficiency, they reflexively call for an ability check without considering the situation. Oh you're trying to hide? Stealth check! Never mind that there's nobody even there to notice you in the first place. Oh you're lying? Deception check! Even if the credulous NPC has no good reason to suspect you're lying. It doesn't help that many players push to make ability checks without being reasonably specific what they want to do and hope to achieve. It reinforces the DM's behavior in this regard.

If you can prevent yourself from doing that and encourage your players to be reasonably specific as to their goal and approach without asking to make checks, you're almost all the way there. I'll add more later perhaps afters others have had a chance to respond.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Here's another one I've been thinking about:

You're in a room where you want to find something. Maybe it's a library and you need to find a book. And there's time pressure: the guards could come in at any moment. So the players state: "We each take a section, and look through the books as fast as we can, looking for anything that (meets the criteria)."

The way I would typically handle this is to ask for Investigation rolls, and you fail (or everybody fails) then you don't find the book before the guards come.

But....

Failing the roll leaves you in the same state: either way you don't have the book.
I think that’s still a meaningful consequence, because you’ve spent that time without gaining anything. You’re not in the same state - you have expended a precious resource (time) and gained nothing. Same as firing an arrow from a bow and missing.

This is why I prefer to say “meaningful cost for the attempt or consequence for failure” rather than just “cost or consequence for failure.” It hi-lights the fact that no change in your situation can still be a meaningful consequence, if affecting that lack of change cost you something valuable.
 

Celebrim

Legend
@Elfcrusher

Grr. New interface issues.

Yes, I know I'm frustrating but you really are over thinking this and heading down to dead end. You are wrong about what I assume your motivation to be. I assume you are trying laudably, to be a better GM.

And there really is a nugget of truth that is very important to be found things like ""goal and approach" and I'm glad that it is helping you develop your game.

But it's not a straightjacket, and the real underlying issue is good encounter design.

But ok, let's look at your scenario where the bugbear hears the party and they decide to hide. You are suggesting that since the consequence of failure is that they are seen and now have to deal with the bugbear, that this is the same as doing nothing. And that is one of the several ways your wrong about this. Because the consequences of failure of that plan is that the didn't try a different plan. Hearing the bugbear coming down the corridor, they could have tried, "We all get out our bows and ready to shoot whatever it is that is coming down the corridor." And that plan puts them in a better position than having gone off to hide and failed. Moreover, that plan has meaningful consequences of failure that potentially have nothing to do with dice rolls, like if the thing that comes around the corner isn't a bugbear, but the princess they've been trying to rescue.

Consider the problem of checking the door for traps and an investigation roll. It's not fun. But it also doesn't take up much time at the table. The question I would have is why are the players checking for traps in the first place? If it is a main thorough fare in the bugbears lair, it probably doesn't have a death trap on it, and if you have put a death trap on it, then you've got an encounter design issue - you've just described something to the player's that strongly suggests no traps. So if you have players checking for traps where the chances of a trap is really small, then you're not setting up scenarios well. On the other hand, if this looks to be some sealed treasure vault, now the check for traps thing might be part of an meaningful scenario. Not finding the trap leaves the player without an important clue about how to get the door open safely.

But what's important here is not the mechanical approach to the process of play, but that the whole room leading to a trap and the trap itself be engaging. A good trap should be engaging, and when sprung get the party involved. I'm not a fan of traps that are just big blobs of damage that maybe at most inflict some amount of attrition on the party. Traps that are just that tend to be grindy and boring, and in your terminology tend to not lead to "goal and approach" play. But traps that place party members in ongoing jeopardy do tend to lead to what you call "goal and approach" play.
 
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Monayuris

Explorer
Just so I understand - Goal and Approach: Does this mean you ask the player what their goal is and how they approach a situation before you ask for a check? Then you frame the check within those parameters?

I do something similar in my games. I consider it a tool to use. I don't use it universally, but I use it when I feel it is needed.

To me, running a game is as much as possible about player choice and consequence. I'm also no expert, but I'm learning, but I make a point to ensure that anytime there is a choice to be made and/or a check to be made there is a consequence. Sometimes it involves a discrete goal and approach, but sometimes it is handled by some other procedure.

For example: The sneaking past a dragon in the lair... To me this is pretty clear. The choice is to attempt to sneak or not. Success in sneaking means you get past the dragon without waking it and even maybe grab a trinket or some coin on the way. Failure means the dragon wakes up and must be dealt with. The choice is to attempt to sneak and be exposed to the risk/reward element or do not attempt to sneak and pass up on the risk reward. I may explicitly explain this to the group, but it may also be taken as obvious.

The situation where stealth is used in my games is as a substitute for the old school surprise mechanics. The group may choose to be stealthy at any point. The consequences is that stealth requires moving at a slower pace which takes more time than moving normally. The stealth roll is merely a gauge by which whether monsters notice the adventurers. Players who have invested in stealth can choose to leverage that ability at the expense of moving more slowly through the dungeon.

Usually, my dungeons have some manner of time pressure (most common being wandering monsters… but sometimes other - one dungeon I have remains open for only 5 hours a month). As a result, the choice to move slowly with stealth has meaning.

If you handwave movement rates and time tracking, you remove those consequences. In this case, I would recommend eliminating stealth as a meaningful choice and taking a more goal and approach method.

This is in contrast to the dragon example, which is goal and approach. Also, I handle room investigation this way.I ask what they want to accomplish and how they attempt it. Based on that response I tell them what happens and if a roll is needed, what the DC is and what the results of success and failure are.
 

dnd4vr

Adventurer
Here's another one I've been thinking about:

You're in a room where you want to find something. Maybe it's a library and you need to find a book. And there's time pressure: the guards could come in at any moment. So the players state: "We each take a section, and look through the books as fast as we can, looking for anything that (meets the criteria)."

The way I would typically handle this is to ask for Investigation rolls, and you fail (or everybody fails) then you don't find the book before the guards come.

But....

Failing the roll leaves you in the same state: either way you don't have the book.
While I agree this would be Investigation, the time pressure element (to me) would maybe make a Dexterity (Investigation) check. And you aren't in the same state I would think since you are discovered by the guards? So is the risk discovery by the guards or not finding the book? I suppose this depends precisely on how the situation is being run at the table.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
@Elfcrusher

Grr. New interface issues.

Yes, I know I'm frustrating but you really are over thinking this and heading down to dead end. You are wrong about what I assume your motivation to be. I assume you are trying laudably, to be a better GM.

And there really is a nugget of truth that is very important to be found things like ""goal and approach" and I'm glad that it is helping you develop your game.

But it's not a straightjacket, and the real underlying issue is good encounter design.
The new, more congenial Elfcrusher is just going to ignore the condescension dripping from this intro, and instead respond to the rest of it. But I think you're confusing my interest in discussing this topic with some kind of cry for help. I'd also add that I have no idea what kind of DM you are; the degree to which I take you seriously will depend on the value of what you have to offer.

But ok, let's look at your scenario where the bugbear hears the party and they decide to hide. You are suggesting that since the consequence of failure is that they are seen and now have to deal with the bugbear, that this is the same as doing nothing. And that is one of the several ways your wrong about this. Because the consequences of failure of that plan is that the didn't try a different plan. Hearing the bugbear coming down the corridor, they could have tried, "We all get out our bows and ready to shoot whatever it is that is coming down the corridor." And that plan puts them in a better position than having gone off to hide and failed. Moreover, that plan has meaningful consequences of failure that potentially have nothing to do with dice rolls, like if the thing that comes around the corner isn't a bugbear, but the princess they've been trying to rescue.
I almost agree with you on this one. There's nothing preventing the players from hiding AND getting their weapons ready (that's what "surprise" is, right?)

So I think a better way of presenting this is by giving the party two options:
1) They can prepare for a regular ambush and potentially get the drop on the monster.
2) They can really try to hide and avoid combat completely, but now if they fail they should be "worse off" than if they had tried #1.

EDIT: There's an aspect of "good, fast, and cheap: pick two" to this. The party may want to both try to avoid combat and get a surprise round if they don't, but they have to choose. So maybe one way to resolve it is...and this is what @Charlaquin was saying...is to let them hide, let the monster approach, and then at the critical moment make them choose which way they are going: do they try to spring their ambush, or wait to see if the monster notices them?

Consider the problem of checking the door for traps and an investigation roll. It's not fun. But it also doesn't take up much time at the table. The question I would have is why are the players checking for traps in the first place? If it is a main thorough fare in the bugbears lair, it probably doesn't have a death trap on it, and if you have put a death trap on it, then you've got an encounter design issue - you've just described something to the player's that strongly suggests no traps. So if you have players checking for traps where the chances of a trap is really small, then you're not setting up scenarios well. On the other hand, if this looks to be some sealed treasure vault, now the check for traps thing might be part of an meaningful scenario. Not finding the trap leaves the player without an important clue about how to get the door open safely.

But what's important here is not the mechanical approach to the process of play, but that the whole room leading to a trap and the trap itself be engaging. A good trap should be engaging, and when sprung get the party involved. I'm not a fan of traps that are just big blobs of damage that maybe at most inflict some amount of attrition on the party. Traps that are just that tend to be grindy and boring, and in your terminology tend to not lead to "goal and approach" play. But traps that place party members in ongoing jeopardy do tend to lead to what you call "goal and approach" play.
Totally agree about trap design, and I avoid putting un-telegraphed traps into my own adventures. Sometimes it takes new players a while to get used to that, and they still want to "check for traps" on every door and container for a while.
 
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Monayuris

Explorer
Here's another one I've been thinking about:

You're in a room where you want to find something. Maybe it's a library and you need to find a book. And there's time pressure: the guards could come in at any moment. So the players state: "We each take a section, and look through the books as fast as we can, looking for anything that (meets the criteria)."

The way I would typically handle this is to ask for Investigation rolls, and you fail (or everybody fails) then you don't find the book before the guards come.

But....

Failing the roll leaves you in the same state: either way you don't have the book.
When I think of this situation and want to apply the investigation check, I would consider a trinary state of consequences:

1. Attempt to search the library and succeed - you end up with the books you need before the guards discover you.
2. Attempt to search the library and fail - you do not find the books before the guards arrive. You must now deal with the guards.
3. Do not attempt to search the library - you do not find the books, but you also avoid any encounter with the guards.

The choice is to decide whether to take the risk of searching the books and encountering the guards. The mechanics may help in determining the success of their attempt and players may look at their sheets to determine whether it is worth it. In this situation, I would tell them the DC they would need to succeed or fail as well.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
While I agree this would be Investigation, the time pressure element (to me) would maybe make a Dexterity (Investigation) check. And you aren't in the same state I would think since you are discovered by the guards? So is the risk discovery by the guards or not finding the book? I suppose this depends precisely on how the situation is being run at the table.
That actually raises another good point: the ability score applied can vary depending on the approach used. The rogue may say, "I'm going to pull books of the shelf as fast as I can and look inside" which might be Dex, and somebody else might say, "I'll scan the bindings and see if I can find ones that look like they might be written in language X." and use Int.

(Which is another reason I prefer specifying the approach to a simple "Can I roll Investigation?")

And maybe (with a nod to Celebrim's point) a trade-off can be made explicit: "Ok, but if the guards burst in you won't be ready, and will roll Initiative with disadvantage." That way instead of it being a "I may as well roll" kind of thing, some players will say, "I suck at Investigation...I'll be ready for the guards instead."

In general I like there to always be choices and trade-offs for tasks.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
When I think of this situation and want to apply the investigation check, I would consider a trinary state of consequences:

1. Attempt to search the library and succeed - you end up with the books you need before the guards discover you.
2. Attempt to search the library and fail - you do not find the books before the guards arrive. You must now deal with the guards.
3. Do not attempt to search the library - you do not find the books, but you also avoid any encounter with the guards.

The choice is to decide whether to take the risk of searching the books and encountering the guards. The mechanics may help in determining the success of their attempt and players may look at their sheets to determine whether it is worth it. In this situation, I would tell them the DC they would need to succeed or fail as well.
Yeah, this is a great example of what I meant by multiple choices and trade-offs.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Although I'm a fervent convert to the goal-and-approach way, I'll admit that years of ingrained (calcified?) gaming habits sometimes makes it hard to implement in the heat of the moment. I still occasionally revert to my old DMing habits. "Um....gimme a Perception check?" I'm just the disciple, not the master, so I'm starting this discussion more to get advice than to impart wisdom. So for those who want to play this way, let's talk about how to do it, especially how to always incorporate a "meaningful consequence of failure."



For those who don't want to play this way, I'm really going to try to restrain from arguing with you about it in this thread, but derail away! I'm going to do my best to interpret any question as a genuine inquiry.



I'll start with a medium-hard one: stealth. (I do also want to discuss the "Do I know about X?" scenario, too. That's a tougher one.)



One question that might arise is whether failing a stealth check, and thus failing to hide, really counts as a consequence. Isn't that the same outcome as not rolling at all? It might be if you think of it as "failing a die roll" instead of "failing at a task." But if the player attempts something with consequence, and fails, they are worse off than if they hadn't attempted it. E.g., if the player takes a risk by trying to sneak past the dragon, then the failure state is alerting (or moving a step closer to alerting) the dragon. The player could have said, "$%@# the dragon! I'm not going in there!"



So I think a key feature is that the player has to actively / knowingly undertake a task with risk. If the party hears something coming and they say, "Let's all hide!" my instinct would be to say "Ok, let's have stealth checks." But in this case the failure state IS the same as not doing anything.



Maybe take an (approximate) average of "passive Stealth" in the party, and then compare to the monster's passive perception? (Or you could have the monster roll Perception...which raises the whole question of whether the "consequence of failure" principle applies to NPCs.)



Alternatively, does this need to be resolved by comparing die rolls or passives at all? What about simply choosing an outcome based on the story. E.g.:

The monster comes close enough to give a scare, but sees nothing, however the party gains some clue/information relevant to the adventure.
Make it clear the monster is ABOUT to discover them because there isn't really anything to hide behind, and give them a chance to think of a plan. E.g. trying to distract/mislead it. That plan might involve risk.
What would YOU do in this case?

Short answer: the cost of failing a check is frequently that it just doesn't work. A rogue trying to sneak past the dragon* may be noticed. That's penalty enough.

But there are several philosophical issues I have with this question for multiple reason. Basically you are assuming that that there must be "a significant failure" or that someone who doesn't play that way is playing wrong. This edition is all about flexibility and finding a style that works for you and your group.

Let's look at what the DMG actually says

Using Ability Scores​
When a player wants to do something, it’s often appropriate to let the attempt succeed without a roll or a reference to the character’s ability scores. For example, a character doesn’t normally need to make a Dexterity check to walk across an empty room or a Charisma check to order a mug of ale. Only call for a roll if there is a meaningful consequence for failure.​

The "meaningful consequence of failure" is obviously referring to the section I bolded. If that's not clear, they go on to further clarify what they're talking about.

When deciding whether to use a roll, ask yourself two questions:​
  • Is a task so easy and so free of conflict and stress that there should be no chance of failure?
  • Is a task so inappropriate or impossible — such as hitting the moon with an arrow — that it can’t work?

There is no mention whatsoever of consequences. The first paragraph is just talking about the task being so easy that you automatically succeed.

*How do you do that if you don't call for a stealth check?
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
Short answer: the cost of failing a check is frequently that it just doesn't work. A rogue trying to sneak past the dragon* may be noticed. That's penalty enough.
I think that's true in this particular case, because (as I said earlier) the rogue could have not tried to sneak past at all. But in other cases (e.g. failing a knowledge check) it's not clear that failing is any worse than not trying. You can end up with "I might as well roll; it don't cost me nuthin'" which is something I want to avoid.

But there are several philosophical issues I have with this question for multiple reason. Basically you are assuming that that there must be "a significant failure" or that someone who doesn't play that way is playing wrong. This edition is all about flexibility and finding a style that works for you and your group.
No. I thought I made it clear up front that the purpose of this is to explore how to do this for people who want to. Please re-read. This isn't about what the rules say.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
You should... maybe have made this a + thread. I think the valuable discussion that could have been had here is going to get buried under trying to defend your premise.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
That actually raises another good point: the ability score applied can vary depending on the approach used. The rogue may say, "I'm going to pull books of the shelf as fast as I can and look inside" which might be Dex, and somebody else might say, "I'll scan the bindings and see if I can find ones that look like they might be written in language X." and use Int.

(Which is another reason I prefer specifying the approach to a simple "Can I roll Investigation?")

And maybe (with a nod to Celebrim's point) a trade-off can be made explicit: "Ok, but if the guards burst in you won't be ready, and will roll Initiative with disadvantage." That way instead of it being a "I may as well roll" kind of thing, some players will say, "I suck at Investigation...I'll be ready for the guards instead."

In general I like there to always be choices and trade-offs for tasks.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: It's a good habit for the DM to only ask for the ability check and let the player add the skill proficiency he or she thinks applies based on the description the player offered.

While this is not, strictly speaking, in keeping with the process laid out in the rules, it is a natural extension of what is in the rules. The section on Ability Checks says players may ask if a skill proficiency applies to an ability check. I suggest just skipping the question and using an assumption that the players are acting in good faith to apply their own skill proficiency. The key thing here though is they cannot ADD description after the call for the roll just to get a skill proficiency applied. That is taking advantage of the assumption of good faith. All description must occur BEFORE the call for the roll. (Obviously, it's not good to be a hardass in all cases, but let the players know the expectation and seek their buy-in, then hold them to their agreements. They'll learn.)

This method neatly sidesteps the very common issue of the DM and players not being on the same page with the ability check. "Deception? Oh, I was actually being truthful. Can I use Persuasion?" The more of that sort of interruption that can be skipped the better in my view and just asking for the ability check and not the skill proficiency is a good way to achieve that in my experience.
 

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