Consequences of Failure

Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
I think the term “goal and approach” as a description of the set of techniques I, Ovinomancer, and others employ is causing undue miscommunication. And I accept a large part of the responsibility for coining it. Let me try to clear some things up.

Those of us who use these techniques strive to at all times follow the flow of play described in the beginning part of the PHB, wherein the DM first describes the environment, then the players describe what they want to do, then the DM determines the results (possibly calling for a die roll to help in this determination), and then describes the results. I don’t think this particular part of what we do is especially controversial. I think pretty much everyone who runs 5e does this, to a certain extent. There are two major places where I think the two sides differ: how we interpret “a player describes what they want to do” and the methods we use for determining the results of said description. I think where things are getting muddled is in the conflation of these two points.

When those of us on my side of this debate read “the player describes what they want to do,” our interpretation is that this need be a description of the character’s activity in the fiction. “I cast fireball” is a description of the character’s activity in the fiction; the fireball spell exists in the world of the fiction, and casting it is understood to be an activity that involves particular magic words, gestures, and uses of particular materials to produce a particular result. “I make an Insight check” is not a description of the character’s activity in the fiction.

Related to, but separate from this, we strive to eliminate the need for the DM to make assumptions about “what [the player] wants to do” in order to determine the result. In the case of spellcasting, this generally requires very little effort. The rules provide explicit instructions for what mechanics to employ to to resolve the particular effects produced by the particular activities understood to be performed by a character casting the spell. In the case of an attempt to recognize that an NPC is lying, it is more difficult to resolve the outcome without making assumptions about the character’s activity in the fiction. To do so, the DM needs to know specifically what activity the character is performing in the fiction. So, where specific resolution procedures are not provided by the rules, and the DM is expected to use their best judgment to decide which mechanics, if any, to employ, we ask that the players communicate both what they as a player want to achieve, and what their character is doing that they hope will result in the desired outcome, in order to make our determination of the results as easy and assumption-free as possible.
(Emphasis added.) From my perspective the controversy on the bolded part stems from the insistence on striving to follow that flow of play "at all times", and whether or not that exclusivity is mandated/suggested/implied by the rules of 5e or is instead a style preference.

I don't think there is any way to objectively resolve that controversy, but I'm flagging it since you mentioned you didn't think the bolded part was controversial. (Admittedly, the degree to which such exclusivity is supported by the rules is a side issue, and not relevant to the instant discussion of understanding GAA, so my caveat may be out of the scope of your post.)

I had to take a break before I responded to this one, because reading this made me really angry and my first instinct would not have been appropriate.

If you think that this is a difference between you and the “G&A” folks, then you are not understanding us, because we don’t care about extra descriptive details either. “I pick the lock with thieves’ tools” vs, “I carefully insert the pick and lever into the lock, pushing down lightly with the pin to test the resistance of each of the tumblers, then gently apply just enough force to lower and lock them into position, one at a time, until they’re all in place and turn the lever” doesn’t make a difference to me. “I Attack the orc with my longsword” vs. “I lunge at the orc, feinting high, but then turning my blade low at the last moment, trying to get past his guard and jam the blade into the gap between his fauld and his grieves” doesn’t make a difference to me. “I cast fireball at that area” vs. “I give my wand a swish and a flick as I say ‘Incendio’ and point it at that spot, causing flames to erupt in a 20-foot radius around it” doesn’t make a difference to me. What makes a difference to me is “I try to read him to see if he’s lying” vs. “I watch his face for micro-expressions to see if I can figure out what he’s really thinking.” I care about clarity of intent and action, not detail.
From my standpoint, I don't see a qualitative difference between your fourth example and the first three:
  • "I pick the lock with thieves’ tools"
  • "I Attack the orc with my longsword"
  • "I cast fireball at that area"
  • "I try to read him to see if he’s lying"
The clarity of intent and action in these examples seems roughly identical to me, which makes it difficult for me to understand where you're coming from. Could you expand your explanation of why you see the fourth example as meaningfully different from the first three?
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I love emphasizing all of the decisions a player makes including character build. Comes up all the time in my games. What's your point?

And Insight is super useful in my games. Comes up all the time. Used, usually, at least once per session, often more. And you're 100% right -- none of my players ever ask to make an insight check. It's weird how we've told you all of this before, over and over, and yet, here I am, telling you again.

Insight is not a button you press to detect lies in my game. It's a tool I use, as DM, to resolve uncertainty in many social interactions where a PC has declared an action to try to elicit information from an NPC. Which happens all the time for a number of reasons. Why this continues to elude your understanding, I cannot say.
I disagree, that's different.

There is nothing in the description of insight or other knowledge related skills that indicates any action other than mental activity.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I disagree, that's different.

There is nothing in the description of insight or other knowledge related skills that indicates any action other than mental activity.
Again, if you really want to make this skill a button on your character sheet that you press to get the DM to maybe give you some more information so you can get to doing something, go ahead. Have fun. My problem is where you insist that it's only this; that you cannot ever have it be anything other than a button you press to ask the DM to maybe tell you more so you can actually do something.
 

Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
Well, yes. If you, as DM, present an NPC where a large part of the challenge of the scene is determining that this NPC is lying, and you wish to gate that knowledge behind a check because you enjoy the play, then you'll find very little use for goal and approach because it actively fights against your goals of play. We've been telling you this for ages, now, across multiple threads. You set up play in ways that don't work with goal and approach. Cool.

That's not a fault of goal and approach, though.
Again, if you really want to make this skill a button on your character sheet that you press to get the DM to maybe give you some more information so you can get to doing something, go ahead. Have fun. My problem is where you insist that it's only this; that you cannot ever have it be anything other than a button you press to ask the DM to maybe tell you more so you can actually do something.
What if whether or not the NPC is lying is not part of any challenge of a scene presented by the DM, but is instead information sought by a PC for their own purposes? In such a circumstance critical information isn't being gated behind a check, so insight wouldn't be "a button you press... so you can actually do something". Instead, being good at insight in such a context would mean the character has a greater likelihood of being able to detect the NPC's deceitfulness (or other emotional state) and use that information for decision-making (either now or in the future).

I think that should still compatible with Goal and Approach. The character wants additional information about an NPC's emotional state and declares an approach to acquire it. The difficulty I see is that eventually the description of the approach is going to be become standard in circumstances where the DM didn't intend that NPC's emotional state to be important and thus didn't provide a telegraph that the player can use to customize their action declaration.
 
If all you need is one hand free in order to cast in 5e
Yes, that's been the case since 3.0, IIRC.
then my point about spellcasting being easier now than in 0e-1e gains another bit of evidence.
As you have any more bits of evidence of that, you'd have a bit torrent.
In 1e by RAW the caster had to be completely unfettered and able to freely move without obstacle or interruption. You couldn't cast if your feet were tied, or your fingers bound, etc.; or from any position except standing upright.
That's about how I remember it. You couldn't - unlike the iconic illo of Emerikol the Choatic - cast from the back of a moving, let alone galloping, mount, for instance.
Spellcasting is objectively much easier in 5e than it has been in any other edition, save maybe 4e. Why would you need to gather evidence for that? No one disputes that fact.
In 4e range/area spells still provoked AoOs, and sustaining a spell required an action every round. Spellcasting has gotten easier in every edition, it's about the most consistent change from one ed to the next. Aside from doing away with concentration entirely, I can't imagine how 6e will manage to be yet softer on casters.

With respect to G&A, the mere act of casting is 'easier' in the sense that it carries no uncertainty, in itself.

I like the analogy of a lie as the social interaction equivalent of a trap. If the DM doesn’t give the players any indication that it is there in their description of the environment, the DM is not fulfilling their role adequately, and it is unreasonable for them to expect the players to fulfill their role when they lack the necessary information to do so. It is on DM, under goal and approach, to describe the environment in sufficient detail for the players to be able to declare their action. If the inkeep lies, the DM should describe a cue to indicate it, just as (s)he would describe a cue to indicate the presence of a trap.

The usual response to this is: “but then your players will always know when anyone is lying/when there’s a trap, and will never need to make a roll for it. To which I say, lies and traps are not the only social and exploratory hazards and features that I telegraph. Players must pay attention to my description of the environment if they hope to both notice telegraphs and accurately determine what they indicate. As well, even if you think you know what a telegraph indicates, it is smart play to take action to follow up on your suspicions and confirm or deny them with certainty rather than risk having guessed wrong. It has not been my experience that players always see everything coming as a result of my telegraphing.
That seems elaborate (and even a little pre-skill-system old-school).
I thought 5e had retained Passive Insight?

I strongly disagree. The rules of D&D 5e, as I read them anyway, define skills as specific applications of abilities, and define ability checks as tools for resolving uncertainty in actions. It is my belief that, if an activity is not an “action,” then it is not appropriate to resolve by way of an Ability (Skill) check.
Nod. That's a fair interpretation. It does mean the DM will be making some skill checks behind the screen - because the 'action' is not being taken by the PC, and may involve determining whether the PC is aware of something - and there may even have to be some obfuscation about it, especially if you're goin' for an immersive player experience.

That 'action' orientation of G&A is why I think it'd be nice to use in a player-always-rolls paradigm, with rolls taking place when they matter to the action, not necessarily in perfect temporal unison.

I see them as akin to Insight in the sense of not really being “actions,” and find his attempts to resolve this discrepancy by asking that his players describe attempts to recall lore as an action (such as “I think back to my military training to try and remember how best to kill trolls”) as a poor fit with the way I prefer to run the game.
What sort of action declarations do you prefer players to use when trying to portray their knowledgeable characters? Or are you just careful to describe the setting & situation in terms of how each character understands it based on their perceptivity and knowledge?

I'm curious, because I've occasionally found it awkward on the DM side, and often disappointing on the player side.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Again, if you really want to make this skill a button on your character sheet that you press to get the DM to maybe give you some more information so you can get to doing something, go ahead. Have fun. My problem is where you insist that it's only this; that you cannot ever have it be anything other than a button you press to ask the DM to maybe tell you more so you can actually do something.
It's not "pushing a button". It's using dice to resolve uncertainty. Can the PC get a read on the NPC? Did they happen to ever learn this tidbit of information and can they recall it.

If they succeed, great. They make progress towards their goal. Fail? Another path can be taken.

It seems like you want to redefine something that has no action so that it fits GAA. Square peg, round hole.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
It's not "pushing a button". It's using dice to resolve uncertainty. Can the PC get a read on the NPC? Did they happen to ever learn this tidbit of information and can they recall it.

If they succeed, great. They make progress towards their goal. Fail? Another path can be taken.

It seems like you want to redefine something that has no action so that it fits GAA. Square peg, round hole.
I think he means "pushing a button" in that it (like saying "I search for traps") doesn't actually require any interaction with the environment. It's a phrase that...supposedly...works with any NPC, in any situation. It doesn't matter what the DM has narrated, or how he has described the NPC, or what the stakes are, or anything else. "I roll Insight to see if he's lying" doesn't take any of that into account.

It's a button you push.

Now, the DM (assuming he/she allows this sort of thing) might take all that other stuff into account when giving the answer. But the player hasn't done so. They have just (drumroll...) pushed the "detect lie" button.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
What if whether or not the NPC is lying is not part of any challenge of a scene presented by the DM, but is instead information sought by a PC for their own purposes? In such a circumstance critical information isn't being gated behind a check, so insight wouldn't be "a button you press... so you can actually do something". Instead, being good at insight in such a context would mean the character has a greater likelihood of being able to detect the NPC's deceitfulness (or other emotional state) and use that information for decision-making (either now or in the future).

I think that should still compatible with Goal and Approach. The character wants additional information about an NPC's emotional state and declares an approach to acquire it. The difficulty I see is that eventually the description of the approach is going to be become standard in circumstances where the DM didn't intend that NPC's emotional state to be important and thus didn't provide a telegraph that the player can use to customize their action declaration.
I'm not following your argument here at all -- it appears you're arguing for a different approach based on the the idea that the DM may fail to present a scene adequately, and so asking for rolls is a way to protect against DM failure to properly present the scene?
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
It's not "pushing a button". It's using dice to resolve uncertainty. Can the PC get a read on the NPC? Did they happen to ever learn this tidbit of information and can they recall it.

If they succeed, great. They make progress towards their goal. Fail? Another path can be taken.

Pushing a button is probably a bit too dismissive, but it is an accurate description. It doesn't matter what's happening in the fiction, I can say, "Can I roll Insight to tell if they're lying?" There's no interaction with the fiction here, it's a stock ask that gets the result of being able to roll dice in an attempt to get the DM to tell me more stuff. It's functionally equivalent to pressing a button, like in a video game where you have an extra-sense to detect things. You press the button, and get a ping. Same effect here.

And, this is how a lot of D&D has been played for a long time. It's not bad, in and of itself. I, myself, played D&D for a long time using these methods and thought nothing of it -- it was expected and how those skills worked. I press my Insight skill button and, if I roll well, the DM tells me secret stuff.

It seems like you want to redefine something that has no action so that it fits GAA. Square peg, round hole.
No, this is on you. You play with Insight being a button-press and are arguing that it should be for everyone. I'm absolutely saying you can use it that way, but I don't. There's only one of us trying to declare how you're supposed to play.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
From my standpoint, I don't see a qualitative difference between your fourth example and the first three:
  • "I pick the lock with thieves’ tools"
  • "I Attack the orc with my longsword"
  • "I cast fireball at that area"
  • "I try to read him to see if he’s lying"
The clarity of intent and action in these examples seems roughly identical to me, which makes it difficult for me to understand where you're coming from. Could you expand your explanation of why you see the fourth example as meaningfully different from the first three?
The fourth doesn’t tell me what the character is actually doing. Picking a lock with thieves’ tools is a very specific action. I know exactly what that looks like. Attacking someone with a sword, again, pretty clear-cut. The fireball spell involves specific gestures and incantations. But “trying to read someone” is vague and unclear. I don’t know what’s being done by the character in the attempt to read the other person. Are they watching for micro-expressions? Are they listening for changes in speech pattern or cadence? Are they observing body language? There’s a lot of things “try to read” might mean. To me, it’s like saying “I try to unlock the door” instead of “I try to pick the lock with thieves tools,” or “I try to kill the orc” instead of “I Attack the orc with my longsword,” or “I use magic” instead of “I cast fireball.”
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
I decided against replying to Ovinomancer because I didn't want to get baited into a flame war. However this post goes a long way towards resolving at least some of the issues. It is the first truly clear communication (ironically) of the intended meaning of the term by those supporting it.

In particular, based on how I've seen it used, "goal and approach" is not a GM resolution methodology (despite what people conflate it with). Rather, it is, as you describe, a communication methodology. The GM resolution methodology is separate from, but dependent on (which is not the same as "determined by"), the communication methodology.

Goal and approach, as it appears to be defined by you, removes ambiguity on the input side of the GM resolution method. The GM uses the input to determine what resolution method to employ (eg: whether to roll dice, and if so, which skills to employ, etc), and from thence, the output.

The GM prefers the input to be as clear and unambiguous as possible, because that both makes his choices easier, and reduces the likelihood that the finalized resolution contradicts what the player was intending to do. This helps the game run more smoothly, and everyone is happier.

There are a variety of ways to make the input clear and unambiguous. Aside from explicit descriptions, use of the predefined structures of the game mechanics is a way of handling it (eg: the Fireball spell). Having the player indicate that she is casting the Fireball spell is using implicit, but unambiguous information. So my understanding that you were insisting on explicit information only is not true, at least for the version you present here.

However you still require explicit presentation where such requirements are problematic, such as Insight or knowledge checks.

Side Note: I will note that this is a particular sore point for me because of how certain GMs have dealt with Insight-type interactions involving characters whose entire shtick was built around social skills. So there is a fair bit of anger towards GMs that would dismiss certain player approaches as "not good enough", particularly when it seems like cover for the GM not doing his job at all.

In any case, a primary issue in this particular skill is that Insight is internal. It is a gut reaction; it is feelings; it is experience. It is not, "I hearken back to my days as a student and remember how the upperclassmen behaved." That's as nonsensical as requiring the fighter to recount his days studying under the fencing master Benetti before every swing he takes.

Rather, it is the ongoing analysis of everything you notice about a person. Eye contact. He's fiddling with his ring. The distance she's maintaining (too close? too far?). Subtle tones of vote. The limp that occasionally vanishes. A thousand and one details that the player will never know, and thus be unable to make use of. This actually compares remarkably well to combat, as any of these sorts of details could be relevant to a fighter attacking and defending in a fight. However the fighter doesn't need to justify the approach made with every single swing; he just says, "I attack." However the social character is apparently not allowed to say, "I use Insight."

It is relatively rare that there is a realistic "in the fiction" narrative that can supplant the simple request to invoke one's skill using the roll, mostly because GMs fail to provide the ongoing passive information that a character's Insight should be providing. Thus, in order to actually make use of a skill that her character is supposed to have, she must constantly pester the GM for Insight checks.

I usually shouldn't need to ask for an Insight check; if I do (aside from a specific thing I'm puzzling over), it feels equivalent to saying that the GM isn't doing his job. If I need to not only ask for permission to roll, but also come up with some convoluted gibberish to justify it, that feels like an unpleasant play experience.


This rolls back to the issue of "goal and approach". It requires that the communications be unambiguous, which is usually expected to be presented as explicit narrative, but may reference unambiguous mechanical elements. The problem is that this cannot work with respect to elements of play for which the player herself does not have the information necessary to make an unambiguous statement (or a mechanic that allows everyone to agree not to ask hard questions, such as combat or spellcasting), or for situations wherein the GM's resolution is necessary before any such narrative communication could be created in the first place.

In general, it would seem that goal and approach would work well for resolving actions, because actions are a thing that is done, and thus can be described as doing a thing. Certain activities and skills, however, are not "actions", and thus goal and approach is not suitable for interacting with them. The problem that I continue to see in the discussions surrounding this is the refusal to admit to scenarios where goal and approach is either not appropriate, or the problems that it would normally introduce are ignored. This may also be related to the assumption that "goal and approach" is a resolution method in and of itself, and thus considering it a fault of the player when the system does not work out as such.
You’re mostly ON POINT here.

I believe that there are corner cases wherein invoking mechanics to declare activity in the narrative is appropriate and welcome. “I use my bonus action to dodge,” “I’ll dash to the orc,” are examples. Those are actions but they don’t require any adjudication - their outcomes are already set.

Insight, you have presented, is a non-action. And I disagree. At my table, I have asked my players to make declarative, action-oriented statements whenever they would ask a question. So whenever I get someone ask me “Is this guy lying?” I respond with “what do you do to find out?” “Is there anything hidden under the floor?” “What do you DO to find out?”

I try to avoid as many non-actions as I reasonably can. So in my game, the players tend not to ask but to act. I now get “I think he’s lying. I study his manner for signs of deception.” And “I’m comparing what he’s saying to what we already know. The story doesn’t match. I look for signs of deception or if he’s honestly ignorant about the info we know.”

In the same sense that you’re always hearing things, you’re also always observing someone else’s behavior. But when you have an objective, and you take an action to complete that objective, you may need an ability (skill) check. If there’s no action at all, there’s usually no check. And as discussed above, some actions don’t require checks to resolve (and some may not have any reasonable chance of failing).

To your point about DMs foreclosing on some approaches that “aren’t good enough” I can say I’m not out to do that. Most commonly, when someone declares something I consider an automatic failure, I’ll let the player know - their character would know that too - and see if we can renegotiate the action. I assume good faith on all parties, and blame myself for asymmetric (or insufficient) info.

(This is a statement about my own games at my own table and not a criticism of other peoples’ Games which I am sure are delightful).
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
It seems to me that I make an Extra Attack and I use Action Surge (just to pick the most obvious two examples) are not descriptions of the character's activity in the fiction. These have meaning only in the context of gameplay - they are metagame abilities that play with the mechanical framework around action economy.
An attack is an in-fiction activity. Declaring an Extra Attack is just describing that same activity a second time. “I Attack the orc with my longsword,” and “I Attack him again,” or “I move over here and Attack this other orc with my longsword.”

Action surge does represent something being done by the character - specifically, they are “pushing themselves beyond their normal limits for a moment.” That is admittedly pretty vague, but since the rules clearly describe the exact mechanical effects of the action, it’s not really necessary for me to ask for clarification to adjudicate it properly.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
I try to avoid as many non-actions as I reasonably can.
The reality is that sometimes this is hard. There are gray areas...particularly for those new to this approach, and with players who don't understand it...where it's not obvious how to apply this approach.

Unfortunately, too many posters seem to take delight in carefully designing examples of those moments, and then using it gloat, "See! GAA fails!"

When really, for those of us genuinely interested in playing this way, the discussion should be around how to use it more and more broadly.
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
The reality is that sometimes this is hard. There are gray areas...particularly for those new to this approach, and with players who don't understand it...where it's not obvious how to apply this approach.

Unfortunately, too many posters seem to take delight in carefully designing examples of those moments, and then using it gloat, "See! GAA fails!"

When really, for those of us genuinely interested in playing this way, the discussion should be around how to use it more and more broadly.
It can definitely be hard.

But it absolutely doesn’t matter one wet fart whether any other posters disagree or gloat.

So if you’re not having the discussion you want to have, ignore the bits that aren’t conducive to that and refocus on using the method more broadly.

Another poster’s disagreement with, or criticism of, how you want to play is as relevant as their opinion of your favorite ice cream flavor. You never have to justify to me if you like bubblegum ice cream (the worst possible flavor of ice cream).

Edit: I fat-fingered the quote button.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
It can definitely be hard.

But it absolutely doesn’t matter one wet fart whether any other posters disagree or gloat.

So if you’re not having the discussion you want to have, ignore the bits that aren’t conducive to that and refocus on using the method more broadly.

Another poster’s disagreement with, or criticism of, how you want to play is as relevant as their opinion of your favorite ice cream flavor. You never have to justify to me if you like bubblegum ice cream (the worst possible flavor of ice cream).

Edit: I fat-fingered the quote button.
But...but...but....

 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
That seems elaborate (and even a little pre-skill-system old-school).
I thought 5e had retained Passive Insight?
5e does have something it calls “passive checks,” but by my reading they are meant to work differently than passive Perception and Insight did in 4e. The PHB describes passive checks as being used to represent the average effort of a task performed continuously, or at the DM’s discretion, to make checks in secret. One could certainly argue that a character is repeatedly observing the body language of the people they are in conversation with to try to determine their intentions, or that it is appropriate to make a secret check to see if the PC notices when the NPC lies, and for a long time that was how I handled these situations. But I found it to be unsatisfactory. It requires me to assume PC behavior, which I don’t like to do, and the result is just that sometimes the dice tell me not to give the players the information they would need to be able to engage with the hazard. I’d rather not hide the game from my players.

It certainly is very old-school, at least by my understanding of old-school D&D.

Nod. That's a fair interpretation. It does mean the DM will be making some skill checks behind the screen - because the 'action' is not being taken by the PC, and may involve determining whether the PC is aware of something - and there may even have to be some obfuscation about it, especially if you're goin' for an immersive player experience.
Yep, though as I said above, I do this less than I used to, cause the only effect it seemed to have was locking players out of being able to interact with the game based on the random result of a die roll.

That 'action' orientation of G&A is why I think it'd be nice to use in a player-always-rolls paradigm, with rolls taking place when they matter to the action, not necessarily in perfect temporal unison.
I more or less do this. There are some times when the NPCs roll, such as when attacking PCs in combat, but most of the time it’s the players making rolls in my games, abs they’re always being made when they’re relevant to the action (the classic example being stealth - I don’t ask you to roll when you first declare sneaking off, I ask you to do it when you’re at risk of being discovered).

What sort of action declarations do you prefer players to use when trying to portray their knowledgeable characters? Or are you just careful to describe the setting & situation in terms of how each character understands it based on their perceptivity and knowledge?

I'm curious, because I've occasionally found it awkward on the DM side, and often disappointing on the player side.
I endeavor to do the latter. In particular, I look to characters’ backgrounds and Proficiencies to inform what additional details their characters might be aware of. When a player wants to learn something about a feature of the environment that they don’t already know as a result of their prior training, they need to take some sort of investigative action, perhaps by closely examining something, or interacting with it. To give this a more concrete example, let’s imagine an idol found in a dungeon. A character proficient in the Religion skill might know that it depicts the Dwarves goddess Mordra, who presides over the dead (I’m making this up as I go, but presumably this information would be determined ahead of time in an actual game), and that statues of her are often reliquaries. A character proficient in History might recognize that it is made from a rare mineral that was mined in the underdark before the dwarf/duergar schism. A character proficient in Arcana might recognize that this mineral has unique resonant properties that make it ideal for use as an arcane focus. A character with the stonecunning feature would probably know both of those details. If the players want to find out if it has magical properties, they could handle it during a short rest, as described in the rules, or cast Detect Magic and/or Identify. If they want to find out if it has any secret compartments or mechanisms, they could examine it for any seams, feel it for catches or moving parts. etc, etc.
 
Pushing a button is probably a bit too dismissive, but it is an accurate description. It doesn't matter what's happening in the fiction, I can say, "Can I roll Insight to tell if they're lying?" There's no interaction with the fiction here, it's a stock ask that gets the result of being able to roll dice in an attempt to get the DM to tell me more stuff.
To be fair, it's also like asking for more detail when the DM leaves something out of his description that you figure should have been visible to you. When running TotM, that kinda thing can become pretty significant, likewise G&A, because the player needs to match his approach to the situation to maximize his shat at favorable ruling, so needs to be on the same page as the DM about that situation.
 

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