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D&D 5E How Do You Handle Group Skill Challenges?


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Quickleaf

Legend
I'm curious how you (or your DM) handle group skill challenges. You know, situations in the game where success or failure depends on the entire group contributing. Things like:
  • Everyone trying to sneak past a sleeping monster (Stealth).
  • The group trying to hunt and forage for nearby food and fresh water (Survival).
  • The party spending an afternoon at the market, listening for rumors (Investigation).
  • Everyone hanging out at the docks, on the lookout for a wanted criminal (Perception).
  • And so on and so forth. Basically, any situation where the entire group is using combined effort to overcome a singular challenge.
How does your table handle that?

Do you have everyone in the group make the same Skill check, and then average the results? take the highest/lowest?
Do you only ask characters who are proficient with that skill to make the roll?
Do you ask one player to make the check with Advantage (which assumes someone else in the party is using the Help action)?
Do you combine all of the results, against a higher DC?
Do you do something else entirely?
What everyone said about the group check rules is 100% true. Those will work in at least half or more of the situations players tend to find themselves in. I treat those as the quick and dirty rules.

When I want something more curated, tailored, boutique, or in-depth, that's when I start to draw on other approaches. A couple examples from my games using those 4 scenarios as a basis...
  • Everyone trying to sneak past a sleeping monster (Stealth).
In a recent game, my players were traveling through a canyon (in a miles-spanning necropolis) to reach a tomb. They found skeletal giant vultures resting in a dormant state on several rocky protrusions and canyon walls. The players wanted to sneak past, but it was clear they didn't have sufficient cover or invisibility to sneak the whole way – in other words, it would come down to a sprint, the only question was how far of a sprint. So I used an average of everyone's Stealth rolls to determine how many squares away from the closest skeletal vulture they would start. I think the formula I used was 20 - average Stealth roll in squares (5-foot). IIRC they started 7 squares away.
  • The group trying to hunt and forage for nearby food and fresh water (Survival).
I've only ever had two players express interest in food gathering simultaneously, so it became a Help situation where one player rolled with advantage. In the greater context of exploration, for instance during Tomb of Annihilation, I assembled/created several fun random flora & fauna tables, as well an unexpected discovery tables – so besides the Survival check, I'd also have players roll on one or more of those tables. At one point there were 3 PCs with herbalism kit proficiency, but we tended to resolve each independently because they wanted a maximum diversity of herbs.
  • The party spending an afternoon at the market, listening for rumors (Investigation).
Last time I did this, there was no ability check. Instead I had each player roll on a Rumors Table, and then narrated each of them acquiring their rumor in a way suiting that PC's background / story / character. It's extremely rare in my games for "listening for rumors" to have a meaningful consequence of failure, so I prefer not to attach an ability check. The only time I recall asking for a check was when the PCs were trying to ask around discretely to avoid attracting unwanted attention – but there were actually multiple abilities/skills involved in that case.
  • Everyone hanging out at the docks, on the lookout for a wanted criminal (Perception).
Last game my players were tracking a criminal to the docks. I seeded multiple clues. The way I handle clues has a lot in common with the GUMSHOE role-playing game – I don't typically "gate" them behind an ability check; instead you go to the area with the clue, or you ask the person with the clue? You get the clue. It's the interpretation of the clue where you need to put on your thinking cap. For example, they were able to learn from witnesses that the dead criminal was loaded onto a funeral barge, however they clearly found his footprints and no sign of blood, injury, or combat. One minute he was standing, next he was on his back.

That's when one player examined the scene more closely (Perception check) and found a bit of dark dirt scattered around the spot the criminal laid down.

Another player made an Investigation check to realize this dark dirt was slightly salty and had high clay content – like the grave dirt they'd encountered in a nearby necropolis across the river. So it was grave dirt.

Another player made an Arcana check and realized that grave dirt was used as a component in create undead & feign death.

Thus they hypothesized (correctly) that the criminal had feign death cast on him so as to be able to get on a funeral barge and cross the river into the necropolis. They still are wondering WHY go to all the trouble, but they also know the spell only lasts 1 hour and they are approximately 30 minutes behind the criminal...
 

One thing I really dislike are checks where everyone rolls, but a single success (such as a knowledge check) means, effectively, the whole party succeeds, or a single failure (such as a Stealth check) means the whole party fails. Same goes for the 20 goblins example. Do we want Stealth to actually be possible for groups or not? Do want the party to have a reasonable chance of not knowing something or not?

In situations like that (best or worse result is effectively party result), I only roll one d20 for the whole group, and everyone individually adds their modifier (not all combined) to get their personal result. This means the best or worst party member carries the day, but there isn't super Advantage/Disadvantage from a bunch of rolls.

If more than one person in the group is proficient in the check (or no proficiency applies), then two people can roll (for purposes of visualizing individual results, I randomly assign each other party member to share one of the d20 rolls), or Advantage can be applied. (This only applies when it's the single success = party success scenario, since those are mutually exclusive with single failure = party failure.)

I also use RAW group checks in situations where they could help each other. In Stealth situations where the group is sneaking together, I give them the choice of which system to use.

I also require increasingly greater amounts of time for rechecks. So picking a lock might require 1 action for the first try, 1 minute for the next, 1 hour for the third, then a day, week, month, and then that stupid lock is your bane and you just can't figure out how it's built.

If the situation substantially changes, you can also make a new check.

I like the way these systems work together for skill/ability checks. It gives me results that create a consistent and believable world, and works game-wise.
 

Morrus

Well, that was fun
Staff member
One thing I really dislike are checks where everyone rolls, but a single success (such as a knowledge check) means, effectively, the whole party succeeds, or a single failure (such as a Stealth check) means the whole party fails. Same goes for the 20 goblins example. Do we want Stealth to actually be possible for groups or not? Do want the party to have a reasonable chance of not knowing something or not?

In situations like that (best or worse result is effectively party result), I only roll one d20 for the whole group, and everyone individually adds their modifier (not all combined) to get their personal result. This means the best or worst party member carries the day, but there isn't super Advantage/Disadvantage from a bunch of rolls.

If more than one person in the group is proficient in the check (or no proficiency applies), then two people can roll (for purposes of visualizing individual results, I randomly assign each other party member to share one of the d20 rolls), or Advantage can be applied. (This only applies when it's the single success = party success scenario, since those are mutually exclusive with single failure = party failure.)

I also use RAW group checks in situations where they could help each other. In Stealth situations where the group is sneaking together, I give them the choice of which system to use.

I also require increasingly greater amounts of time for rechecks. So picking a lock might require 1 action for the first try, 1 minute for the next, 1 hour for the third, then a day, week, month, and then that stupid lock is your bane and you just can't figure out how it's built.

If the situation substantially changes, you can also make a new check.

I like the way these systems work together for skill/ability checks. It gives me results that create a consistent and believable world, and works game-wise.
Are you not a fan the core rules group checks (more than half need to succeed)?
 

Are you not a fan the core rules group checks (more than half need to succeed)?
Yeah, that's what I meant by the RAW group checks. I usually use them in situations where it feels like the ability of the party to cover for each other and drag each other down are both present, and it really is something they are working together on as a group, while I use my other system when a single best or worse roll really should get the job done (such as a group check to recall lore--why would the wizard be less likely to know the answer because of what others rolled?)
 

Yeah, that's what I meant by the RAW group checks. I usually use them in situations where it feels like the ability of the party to cover for each other and drag each other down are both present, and it really is something they are working together on as a group, while I use my other system when a single best or worse roll really should get the job done (such as a group check to recall lore--why would the wizard be less likely to know the answer because of what others rolled?)

Seems like recalling lore is typically something that is not appropriate for a group check in the first place. That said, your solution sounds like it works fine - although, for our table, I prefer to let the players roll their own ability checks. Having everyone roll could work, too, with each being adjudicated separately. Or only calling for a roll from those that have the possibility of knowing the lore due to background/class/race also could work. Varied DM options depending on the situation/preference.
 

MarkB

Legend
Yeah, that's what I meant by the RAW group checks. I usually use them in situations where it feels like the ability of the party to cover for each other and drag each other down are both present, and it really is something they are working together on as a group, while I use my other system when a single best or worse roll really should get the job done (such as a group check to recall lore--why would the wizard be less likely to know the answer because of what others rolled?)
If they're doing it as a group, it might be that two or more people come up with different recollections, and the group can't decide which one is accurate.

But for knowledge checks I try to limit it to the person with the best modifier rolling, and getting advantage on the check if someone helps them.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
If they're doing it as a group, it might be that two or more people come up with different recollections, and the group can't decide which one is accurate.

But for knowledge checks I try to limit it to the person with the best modifier rolling, and getting advantage on the check if someone helps them.
Same here. The primary person can discuss it with others (if proficient) and get advantage.

There are quite a few checks I only allow once. Knowledge checks can occasionally be an exception if you can get to a library or some relevant reference material.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I'm curious how you (or your DM) handle group skill challenges. You know, situations in the game where success or failure depends on the entire group contributing. Things like:
  • Everyone trying to sneak past a sleeping monster (Stealth).
  • The group trying to hunt and forage for nearby food and fresh water (Survival).
  • The party spending an afternoon at the market, listening for rumors (Investigation).
  • Everyone hanging out at the docks, on the lookout for a wanted criminal (Perception).
  • And so on and so forth. Basically, any situation where the entire group is using combined effort to overcome a singular challenge.
I guess ultimately it depends on the challenge like so:
  • If it is something everybody has to do like sneaking past a sleeping monster, I use the group check as in the rules. Everybody makes the roll and if half or more succeed, the group succeeds.
  • If it's something that can be done by one or subset of a few PCs but everyone wants to help like foraging or spotting a criminal, it's easier to pair them up and have the ones with the higher skills roll with advantage.
  • If it's listening for rumors, no roll necessary - I want them to have rumors. If they're looking for specific information, then it's the immediately preceding bullet point.
 

Jaegermonstrous

Swamp Cryptid
On a related note, I'd love to know more about Matt Mercer's group checks for the Raise Dead spell. It's obviously some kind of ritual, and some kind of challenge, but that's all that I can really say about it without seeing his notes.

I really like the rules Mercer uses for resurrection, and I've been using those rules in my home game for a while. They add tension to the scene, allow your PCs to contribute in both a storytelling and mechanics way, and take some of the pressure off your cleric.

You can find an article which details how they work here.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I'm curious how you (or your DM) handle group skill challenges. You know, situations in the game where success or failure depends on the entire group contributing.
Depends if the task succeeds if anyone succeeds, or if it fails if anyone fails. In the former case I ask the character with the highest bonus to make the check. If anyone in the group would have advantage on the check, the character making the roll has advantage. In the latter case, I ask the character with the lowest bonus to make the check. If anyone in the group would have disadvantage on the check, the character making the roll has disadvantage. In either case, other players can help by giving the active player buffs like Bless, Guidance, Bardic Inspiration, or whatever other abilities they have at their disposal.
  • Everyone trying to sneak past a sleeping monster (Stealth).
That’s a case where the whole group fails if anyone fails, so the character with the lowest bonus rolls.
  • The group trying to hunt and forage for nearby food and fresh water (Survival).
That’s a case where the whole group succeeds if anyone succeeds, so the character with the highest bonus rolls.
  • The party spending an afternoon at the market, listening for rumors (Investigation).
Highest bonus rolls.
  • Everyone hanging out at the docks, on the lookout for a wanted criminal (Perception).
Highest bonus rolls.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
On a related note, I'd love to know more about Matt Mercer's group checks for the Raise Dead spell. It's obviously some kind of ritual, and some kind of challenge, but that's all that I can really say about it without seeing his notes.
Oh, he has published them. Use Critical Role’s Resurrection Rules in Your Own Campaign | Geek and Sundry

In brief, when you use a resurrection spell with a casting time of 1 action (so, Revivify) the caster rolls 1d20 + their spellcasting ability modifier against a DC of 10 + the number of times the character has previously been resurrected. On a success, it works, on a failure, the character isn’t resurrected but the DC of all future resurrection rolls increases by 1 as if they were, and they can only be resurrected by a spell with a casting time greater than 1 action.

When you use a resurrection spell with a casting time greater than 1 action, the caster still rolls against a DC of 10 + the number of times the character has previously been resurrected (or had Revivify cast on them unsuccessfully), but the caster doesn’t add their spellcasting ability modifier to the roll. Instead, up to three other characters can try to help. The player describes what their character does to try to help, and makes a check against a DC set by the DM based on how helpful they think the action will be - for example, a character who prays to the dead character’s deity to send them back might need to make a moderate Intelligence (Religion) check, a character who yells “don’t you dare die on us!” might need ro make a hard Charisma (Intimidation) check, etc. Each successful check to help decreades the DC of the caster’s resurrection check by 1. Each failed check to help increases it by 1.
 
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CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
I really like the rules Mercer uses for resurrection, and I've been using those rules in my home game for a while. They add tension to the scene, allow your PCs to contribute in both a storytelling and mechanics way, and take some of the pressure off your cleric.

You can find an article which details how they work here.

You folks rule. Thanks for the links!
 

I think the skill system in and of itself just doesn't work in some cases. What I happen to see is, one player tries to intimidate an NPC, then after the first check fails every other player wants to try. If I weren't too lazy Id develop an initiative system of some sorts for skills but many times they're so spontaneous its hard to adjudicate.
The simple solution to "I wanna try too" is simply using the Working Together rule. If someone tries, and anyone else wants to help, you now allow another roll as advantage for the first one. If you're permissive, you can allow someone else to make the second roll, assuming they're better.
 

ad_hoc

(he/they)
Everyone makes the check. In a party of 3-4 the group's check result is the 2nd lowest roll. In a party of 5 it is the 3rd lowest.

I make group checks for anything that everyone is involved in. This includes all charisma checks as long as the entire party is present.
 

Plaguescarred

D&D Playtester for WoTC since 2012
The thing with group checks is that it rest entirely on the premise that 50% is enought for success.

For Stealth checks, if any they should be made by all party members and a single failure means the enemy detected a threat, which can make or break Surprise. If the DM determine that enemies are distracted Stealth could be automatically successful. Afterall the Surprise rules require that we compare the Dexterity (Stealth) checks of anyone hiding with the passive Wisdom (Perception) score of each creature on the opposing side and any creature that doesn’t notice a threat is surprised at the start of the encounter.

So i don't use group Stealth check for this reason.
 

The simple solution to "I wanna try too" is simply using the Working Together rule. If someone tries, and anyone else wants to help, you now allow another roll as advantage for the first one. If you're permissive, you can allow someone else to make the second roll, assuming they're better.
Honestly, and Im sure theres a book out there, "When the only DM in Your Neighborhood Took Crib Notes From Time-Life Books - The West", you know the one, "He once shot a man for snoring too loud". So as a DM I just dont build skill challenges into my games unless they really count. And even then they seem clunky.
 

The simple solution to "I wanna try too" is simply using the Working Together rule. If someone tries, and anyone else wants to help, you now allow another roll as advantage for the first one. If you're permissive, you can allow someone else to make the second roll, assuming they're better.
I do use the working together rule sometimes. But I think the skill system, although great in its day, needs an update and is antiquated. But to be honest, I dont have a solution or a suggestion but just a "complaint", (and I use complaint loosely), I like w;ere the skill system came from, where it is now, just needs someone to look under the hood and give it a tune up.
 

MarkB

Legend
The thing with group checks is that it rest entirely on the premise that 50% is enought for success.
The premise is that they're working together to achieve a better result than they would if each of them made the attempt unsupported, the more proficient providing assistance to those who are less skilled. Thus, the successes of some compensate for the failures of others.
 

for our table, I prefer to let the players roll their own ability checks.
I actually do have the players roll (I was a bit unclear), usually the one or two who are best at the task, but since anyone else trying it is getting the same d20 result to add their mods to, it doesn’t really matter who does the rolling mechanically.
 

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