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How do you handle a skill check if needed.

How do you as GM handle as skill check if it is needed.

  • They just declare they rolling a skill check

    Votes: 8 30.8%
  • They must give a reason why they are rolling a skill check

    Votes: 14 53.8%
  • They must use the "magic words" for me to allow a skill check

    Votes: 3 11.5%
  • If they use the "Magic words", I give a bonus

    Votes: 1 3.8%
  • No skill checks allowed at all.

    Votes: 4 15.4%

  • Total voters
    26

5ekyu

Adventurer
That would drive me a little bit nuts. If I know about trolls, I know about trolls. I may know additional information based on how high a result I get. But if I want to know how strong they are because that's what I specifically ask for but don't remember that they regen? No thanks.
Yeah, the 20 questions approach I have seen get annoying. Its surprisingly not rare... heck you even see it mentioned for perception on these boards.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
How do people handle other skill ... umm ... ability checks with proficiency bonus such as arcana, history or religion? BTW: the reason I and my table still refer to skill checks is simple. Ability check modified by proficiency just doesn't roll off the tongue. If there's a better way to refer to an ability check modified by a proficiency feel free to chime in.
I just call for ability checks, and ask that my players suggest to me if they have a proficiency (skill, tool, language, even weapon or armor) that they think would help. Based on the goal and approach, I either agree and tell them to add their proficiency bonus, or not.

But take an example. The group is looking at a McGuffin. In my game someone could ask for a history check to see if it had any historical significance. Maybe it should and I didn't think to ask the players for it or forgot that anyone was proficient in history, so I go ahead and let them a roll.

It's obvious what they are doing (wracking their brains for information related to the McGuffin. How? Approach? I'm not sure how anyone would phrase that.
If there is historical information about a feature of the environment that the PCs might or might not know, I just tell it to anyone with Proficiency in History. If the players want to uncover more information about a thing, the are free to take further action to analyze it, study it, investigate it, and I will adjudicate those actions as per the core mechanic.
 

BookBarbarian

Expert Long Rester
How do people handle other skill ... umm ... ability checks with proficiency bonus such as arcana, history or religion? BTW: the reason I and my table still refer to skill checks is simple. Ability check modified by proficiency just doesn't roll off the tongue. If there's a better way to refer to an ability check modified by a proficiency feel free to chime in.

But take an example. The group is looking at a McGuffin. In my game someone could ask for a history check to see if it had any historical significance. Maybe it should and I didn't think to ask the players for it or forgot that anyone was proficient in history, so I go ahead and let them a roll.

It's obvious what they are doing (wracking their brains for information related to the McGuffin. How? Approach? I'm not sure how anyone would phrase that.
The players at my table, all new besides me would ask something like "Should I know what this is?" "Is this important?" or something like that. They haven't really asked "Can I make a History check?" or even "Can I make a skill check?" in those scenarios.

I think "Does my character know what this is?" provides enough for the DM, to say Yes, No, or roll for-it.

Edit: and I just noticed many people made similar replies. I wan't even ninja'd just flat out rolled a 1 on my Wisdom (Perception) check.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
The players at my table, all new besides me would ask something like "Should I know what this is?" "Is this important?" or something like that. They haven't really asked "Can I make a History check?" or even "Can I make a skill check?" in those scenarios.

I think "Does my character know what this is?" provides enough for the DM, to say Yes, No, or roll for-it.

Edit: and I just noticed many people made similar replies. I wan't even ninja'd just flat out rolled a 1 on my Wisdom (Perception) check.
If I think anyone would know it, I'll just give them the info. But while I feel that proficiency should be rewarded, at the same time I don't remember what PCs have which proficiency. This is just a reminder - if someone asked me "Should I know this" I'd ask them what kind of proficiencies they have that might apply.
 

BookBarbarian

Expert Long Rester
If I think anyone would know it, I'll just give them the info. But while I feel that proficiency should be rewarded, at the same time I don't remember what PCs have which proficiency. This is just a reminder - if someone asked me "Should I know this" I'd ask them what kind of proficiencies they have that might apply.
I think that's a very reasonable question to ask a player.

In my own skewed way of looking at things the player asking "Do I know this?" is a statement of a goal, and the DM asking "What kind of proficiencies do you have that might apply?" is kind of asking for more information about the player's approach. It's just more game term specific rather than narrative description.

Which is why I don't get to concerned about doing it the "Right way" if both routes lead to same destination.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
With regard to recalling lore, I'm basically looking for a fictional justification for recalling a specific thing. Generally I'm sufficiently thorough in my description of the environment to give the players enough information to have their characters act. If at that point they're seeking some additional information, I want to know specifically what they want to do. "I want to know more about trolls..." just isn't enough for me to go on. Are you trying to recall strengths and weaknesses? Something about troll culture? What this particular troll's history is in the region, or perhaps its goals? What trolls generally eat? This is the player stating a goal.

Once I have an idea of what they actually want to know (presumably because they will then make use of it for some sort of advantage), I will want some kind of reason why they might recall it. "I've read every book in the world's greatest libraries - or I like to boast that I have," the player of the sage wizard might say. This is the player effectively stating an approach in that he or she is drawing upon that experience. Great, now I can decide if that is sufficient to just give him or her the knowledge that is sought (or not) or whether we roll for it. (And in this particular example, it sounds like the player is fishing for Inspiration using the sage background's personality trait - ding!)

If there is a check and the player blows it, I'm generally going to rule something like progress combined with a setback which in this case is typically giving you some information, just not what you specifically wanted. Maybe you can make it useful, maybe you can't. The meaningful consequence for failure here is not being able to act on the advantageous information you desired (or, rather, not acting with certainty because you might then act on an assumption). That's certainly not as "meaningful" as a trap blowing up in your face, but it works in my view.
 

robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Once I have an idea of what they actually want to know (presumably because they will then make use of it for some sort of advantage), I will want some kind of reason why they might recall it. "I've read every book in the world's greatest libraries - or I like to boast that I have," the player of the sage wizard might say. This is the player effectively stating an approach in that he or she is drawing upon that experience. Great, now I can decide if that is sufficient to just give him or her the knowledge that is sought (or not) or whether we roll for it. (And in this particular example, it sounds like the player is fishing for Inspiration using the sage background's personality trait - ding!)
While I don't insist upon it, I do prefer this way of dealing with those kinds of situations. Just because it brings a bit of life (and character history) into the story. It's nice when the players get a chance to contribute an interesting backstory tidbit (and who knows, perhaps the chance to bring that back again in a later adventure). So I encourage my players to think of a reason why their character might know something (if it's not obvious that they should already know) but I don't demand it if they feel put on the spot.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
While I don't insist upon it, I do prefer this way of dealing with those kinds of situations. Just because it brings a bit of life (and character history) into the story. It's nice when the players get a chance to contribute an interesting backstory tidbit (and who knows, perhaps the chance to bring that back again in a later adventure). So I encourage my players to think of a reason why their character might know something (if it's not obvious that they should already know) but I don't demand it if they feel put on the spot.
I am sure that is good for some. We see a bit of that in the early campaign and into but to me it is like Stephen Colbert's dancing.

When he first started his CBS late night show, he danced for about 30s at the intro when he came out. Different dance each night.

I looked over at who was with me during the third ep and said "that sounded good on paper, a unique opening, but it wont last a month."

Sure enough, it was maybe 3 weeks in when he just sorta shuffled out and waved and got to the monologue.

Cuz the "another unique dance routine" gets old, runs out of ideas, or starts repeating real quick and just waiting time.

I can imagine (after now 6 levels of play over like 6 months and dont know how many times the bard of lore with all the knowledge skill has wondered "what do I know about..," ) how fun it would be to again hear a couple times a night "at the feet of so-n-so as he serenaded us with ballads of..." while one player's character is bleeding out etc.

I wonder in these discussions if there would be a discernable split if we broke it down by responders based on "length of campaign and time shared with these guys" vs say "frequent pick-ups, often with strangers, mostly short campaigns run-and-done then new stuff".

I certainly do some things different for public one-shots with strangers vs "my ongoing campaign."
 

BookBarbarian

Expert Long Rester
While I don't insist upon it, I do prefer this way of dealing with those kinds of situations. Just because it brings a bit of life (and character history) into the story. It's nice when the players get a chance to contribute an interesting backstory tidbit (and who knows, perhaps the chance to bring that back again in a later adventure). So I encourage my players to think of a reason why their character might know something (if it's not obvious that they should already know) but I don't demand it if they feel put on the spot.
Same here.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
While I don't insist upon it, I do prefer this way of dealing with those kinds of situations. Just because it brings a bit of life (and character history) into the story. It's nice when the players get a chance to contribute an interesting backstory tidbit (and who knows, perhaps the chance to bring that back again in a later adventure). So I encourage my players to think of a reason why their character might know something (if it's not obvious that they should already know) but I don't demand it if they feel put on the spot.
Yes, this either introduces new information about the character to the group or reinforces aspects of the character that is already known. Over the course of the campaign, the characters get more and more fleshed out and become more memorable to everyone at the table. Few people want to read another PC's backstory in my experience. But you can insert that backstory in little drips as the campaign winds on in a way that has better uptake by the rest of the group.

I think it's important to examine a technique for its practical effects at the table. To some, this approach might seem cumbersome or repetitive but in practice it actually has a lot of side benefits that one might not otherwise expect.
 

BookBarbarian

Expert Long Rester
Yes, this either introduces new information to the party to the group or reinforces aspects of the character. Over the course of the campaign, the characters get more and more fleshed out and become more memorable to everyone at the table. Few people want to read another PC's backstory in my experience. But you can insert that backstory in little drips as the campaign winds on in a way that has better uptake by the rest of the group.

I think it's important to examine a technique for its practical effects at the table. To some, this approach might seem cumbersome or repetitive but in practice it actually has a lot of side benefits that one might not otherwise expect.
I think it's pretty easy to steer newer players toward it too. The simple question of "Cool, what does that look like?" has been great for figuring out approaches.

Ask it often enough and players start to anticipate it and have their answer ready, then they start answering before you ask.
 

Campbell

Relaxed Intensity
From where I am standing it is not my job to decide what is and is not relevant. I have no meaningful way of knowing what will be relevant because I have no meaningful way of knowing what players will have their characters do until they do them. I prepare a situation and it is up to the players to decide how and to what extent they want to engage. I am not trying to put them in a bind because I have no agenda for how things should turn out.

Without knowing what you are looking to find out I have no hygienic way to set a DC or provide the answers you are looking for. I really do want to provide relevant information, but I cannot like judge that because it is not up to me to decide where things should go.

It's not like if you need more information you cannot attempt to recall it. That's often the case in my games where players work together to piece out the situation. I really like seeing this play out on screen. It feels a lot more like a conversation like you would see on Buffy where players feed off each other, basing what they try to recall on what other players have.

What it comes down to for me is I have no means to read a player's mind or to determine what would be salient to them. They might not even know. Asking questions helps us find out together. This is true regardless of the situation.
 
I've realised recently that my biggest gripe is when players don't say what their characters are actually trying to achieve, let alone how.

I've seen this in three sessions over the last couple of weeks.

Player: Can I make a Persuasion check?
GM: Why? What are you trying to do?
Player: i want to persuade the guard to let us see the mayor.
GM: Why didn't you say that in the first place?

Player: Can I make a Deception check?
GM: Why? Who are you lying to? What lie are you using?
Player: I'm trying to convince the witch I'm her relative.
GM: Why didn't you say that in the first place?

I feel like I need to tattoo this backward on players' foreheads: Tell the GM what your character is trying to achieve AND how they are attempting it!
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
The use of "magic words" in the poll also means I will not answer the poll. That is loaded language that has a bad history of use in discussions on these forums in my view. I'm happy to discuss this topic, but that sort of thing is not helpful as I see it.
The use of "BS" in his first post loaded(hehehehe) it further. :)
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I've realised recently that my biggest gripe is when players don't say what their characters are actually trying to achieve, let alone how.

I've seen this in three sessions over the last couple of weeks.

Player: Can I make a Persuasion check?
GM: Why? What are you trying to do?
Player: i want to persuade the guard to let us see the mayor.
GM: Why didn't you say that in the first place?

Player: Can I make a Deception check?
GM: Why? Who are you lying to? What lie are you using?
Player: I'm trying to convince the witch I'm her relative.
GM: Why didn't you say that in the first place?

I feel like I need to tattoo this backward on players' foreheads: Tell the GM what your character is trying to achieve AND how they are attempting it!
I agree, but I don't lump all checks together. In my game, checks used to gain information or knowledge generally involve a roll if it's not automatic. If there's no particular time stress, I usually use the better of the roll or passive.

Occasionally there's a time crunch/stress and it's just a straight roll.
 

Hussar

Legend
/edit snark. Sorry, it's 37 degrees here today. I'm a bit on the bitchy side.
 
Last edited:

Hussar

Legend
With regard to recalling lore, I'm basically looking for a fictional justification for recalling a specific thing. Generally I'm sufficiently thorough in my description of the environment to give the players enough information to have their characters act. If at that point they're seeking some additional information, I want to know specifically what they want to do. "I want to know more about trolls..." just isn't enough for me to go on. Are you trying to recall strengths and weaknesses? Something about troll culture? What this particular troll's history is in the region, or perhaps its goals? What trolls generally eat? This is the player stating a goal.
Do you not see how this can be interepreted as the DM setting up hoops for the magic word approach? I'm honestly asking here. The player may very well not know what specific thing he wants to know. He just wants to know about, well, in this case, trolls. Playing 20 questions with the DM like this would drive me around the twist.

Once I have an idea of what they actually want to know (presumably because they will then make use of it for some sort of advantage), I will want some kind of reason why they might recall it. "I've read every book in the world's greatest libraries - or I like to boast that I have," the player of the sage wizard might say. This is the player effectively stating an approach in that he or she is drawing upon that experience. Great, now I can decide if that is sufficient to just give him or her the knowledge that is sought (or not) or whether we roll for it. (And in this particular example, it sounds like the player is fishing for Inspiration using the sage background's personality trait - ding!)
As was mentioned before, that's great the first two or three times. After that? Yeah, it's getting a bit thin. I should not have to justify my actions to the DM. As a DM, I have zero interest in judging whether or not the player has made a good enough reason for having this knowledge. I simply do not want to do that. Full stop. I hate it as a player, I loathe it as a spectator, and as a DM, I find it overly intrusive.

If there is a check and the player blows it, I'm generally going to rule something like progress combined with a setback which in this case is typically giving you some information, just not what you specifically wanted. Maybe you can make it useful, maybe you can't. The meaningful consequence for failure here is not being able to act on the advantageous information you desired (or, rather, not acting with certainty because you might then act on an assumption). That's certainly not as "meaningful" as a trap blowing up in your face, but it works in my view.
Or, in the interests of keeping the pace up, "Sorry, you don't know anything" is a heck of a lot faster. To me, you've taken what, at my table, would be a 10 second interaction (possibly longer for the DM to impart the information on a successful check) and turned it into several minutes of tortured play that, to me, services nothing.
 
Part of the reason for insisting on specificity of action and wanting to know more about what a player is trying to accomplish is to make certain success and failure are meaningful. If a player wants to know how strong is a troll in comparison to us a successful Nature check will reveal how potent a creature it is. If they want to know about weaknesses a successful check will let them know that it is weak to fire. I want to avoid the scenario where a successful check results in a massive info dump that does not meaningfully answer the player's question.
I'm not sure if you're framing this in a "step on up" context or more generally. I don't play much of the former and so will try and speak to the latter.

When I actually reflect on how action resolution unfolds in my game I can see that specificity of action is a very variable thing.

For instance, in Classic Traveller when the PCs were trying to jury-rig communicators to increase their broadcast range the player narrated inversions of flux capacitors and connections to ATV power sources - but this was really all just colour, as none of as has any working conception of how the Traveller technology works (they can make interstellar journeys but can't built communicators as small or powerful as 90s-era mobile phones?). Key to the framing of the check was the skill-set the PCs brought to bear, their possession of the requisite skills, and (when it came to setting a DC) me being guided by some pretty generic examples found in the rulebooks. As far as consequences were concerned when they succeeded but not super-well, I made something up about overloading the device so they got the longer range for the scene (where they wanted it) but then the communicator was burned out (so they lost that bit of their gear).

In the same Traveller campaign, when a PC was wrestling with a NPC for control of the latter's sub-machine gun we had a detailed sense - at the table - as to who had a grip on the gun at what point and who was able to fire it. This created some implications as to (say) who was on top and had what sort of hold on the other, but that stuff wasn't spelled out in detail. It was left implicit.

Reflecting on these examples, but many others, I suspect that I give player's intention for the outcome of the PC's action a pretty high degree of importance in adjudicating outcomes. Specificity can be a means to that end, and also can be relevant to framing, but that depends quite a bit on the system (how much specificity is needed for framing - eg consider combat positioning in 4e compared to Prince Valiant) and on how the system handles outcomes (in Burning Wheel injuries need to be to a location; in Prince Valiant it's mostly just a bit of narration over the top of temporarily-depleted Brawn).

And back to 4e: this is where I have the most experience of "monster knowledge" checks, and I tend to just follow the rules and dump information based on the degree of success. I think that 4e combat works best when the players have a general sense of what their opponents can do but there is the odd surprise combined with fear of what it can do.

I've only used a handful of monsters in BW: zombies, a mummy, a sphinx and a dark naga. The approach to learning stuff about them is very different from 4e, as it turns on the use of Wises and failure can always yield unhappy consequences. (I can't remember the details, but I think at one stage a failed attempt to learn more about the mummy - by reading symbols on a scrap of bandage it had left behind - established a curse in the fiction.)
 

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