From my standpoint, the purpose of only calling for a check if there is a meaningful consequence of failure is to address situations where retries are possible. In any situation where a retry isn't possible, I would argue that failure on the check is inherently a meaningful consequence: the player had one chance to get it right, and now that they failed they have fewer options.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.:
What would YOU do in this case?
- 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.
Stealth checks can't be retried, because you don't know you failed until it's too late. Ergo, in my view, stealth checks have a meaningful consequence of failure, and thus a check is appropriate (assuming the outcome is in doubt). The same applies to perception checks to notice something that isn't static, and knowledge checks to determine if the character knows anything relevant about the situation.
I don't see anything about the goal-and-approach method that requires that "meaningful consequence of failure" be defined as "worse than taking no action at all". I recognize that some people play it that way, but I don't think that requirement follows from the text of the rules. Goal-and-approach works just fine even with a lower threshold for "meaningful consequence".
(Edit due to premature post.)