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

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
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.
Which definitely works, but is a bit more abstract than I would prefer. A group check on stealth assumes that the characters with the higher Dexterity (Stealth) bonuses are skilled enough at moving stealthily that they are able to help the characters with lower modifiers out it and hand waves the specific details of how they do it. And there’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, but personally I prefer to get a bit more specific than that on what the characters are doing to help. That’s why I prefer to have the character with the lowest modifier roll, and if the other players want to help mitigate that character’s weakness, they can describe specific goal-and-approach actions they take to do so. It’s still somwhat abstracted, as we’re only focusing on what the characters do to shore up their weakest link and hand waving everything else. But that added bit of specificity, for me, helps keep the world from disappearing into the abstraction, and also cuts down on the number of checks that need to be rolled to resolve the group action.
 

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MarkB

Legend
Which definitely works, but is a bit more abstract than I would prefer. A group check on stealth assumes that the characters with the higher Dexterity (Stealth) bonuses are skilled enough at moving stealthily that they are able to help the characters with lower modifiers out it and hand waves the specific details of how they do it. And there’s nothing wrong with that necessarily, but personally I prefer to get a bit more specific than that on what the characters are doing to help. That’s why I prefer to have the character with the lowest modifier roll, and if the other players want to help mitigate that character’s weakness, they can describe specific goal-and-approach actions they take to do so. It’s still somwhat abstracted, as we’re only focusing on what the characters do to shore up their weakest link and hand waving everything else. But that added bit of specificity, for me, helps keep the world from disappearing into the abstraction, and also cuts down on the number of checks that need to be rolled to resolve the group action.
What I dislike about "weakest character rolls" is that it singles out the person who's bad at something and then makes them the reason the entire group fails. And if it's for something that comes up a lot, like stealth, it gives the player that treatment over and over again.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
What I dislike about "weakest character rolls" is that it singles out the person who's bad at something and then makes them the reason the entire group fails. And if it's for something that comes up a lot, like stealth, it gives the player that treatment over and over again.
That’s definitely a valid criticism, particularly if the party regularly engages in such activities as a group. In a “weakest character rolls” situation, the smartest move is generally just to have the strongest character do the thing themselves. And, personally, that’s a positive result of such a rule in my view. But, if your group really hates splitting the party, then this rule probably won’t work as well for you.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
That’s definitely a valid criticism, particularly if the party regularly engages in such activities as a group. In a “weakest character rolls” situation, the smartest move is generally just to have the strongest character do the thing themselves. And, personally, that’s a positive result of such a rule in my view. But, if your group really hates splitting the party, then this rule probably won’t work as well for you.
The whole weakest character rolls thing tends to take adventure types or activities completely off the table - D&D being the game of adventuring parties that it is. Heavily armored clerics and fighters have been putting the kibosh on infiltration scenarios for years because they tend to suck at stealth. The group check puts those adventures and activities back on the table because their deficiencies in stealth can be overcome by the party as a whole.

In the last game session I was in, our 11th level PCs were all sneaking into a city while a force of rebels were causing a distraction. Two of the 5 of us are highly competent at stealth, one is OK, and the other 2 are hampered by disadvantage on the rolls thanks to their armor. We passed the group check either 3-2 or 4-1 with the cleric rolling particularly poorly and the DM narrated it well in a way that emphasized cooperation in passing the check as he described my rogue pulling the cleric into an alcove and keeping him still for a moment while the sentries passed by. It captured the essence of what the group check is about.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
The whole weakest character rolls thing tends to take adventure types or activities completely off the table - D&D being the game of adventuring parties that it is. Heavily armored clerics and fighters have been putting the kibosh on infiltration scenarios for years because they tend to suck at stealth. The group check puts those adventures and activities back on the table because their deficiencies in stealth can be overcome by the party as a whole.
“Weakest character rolls” does still allow for group stealth challenges, the heavily armored characters just need to remove their armor or invest in mithril armor. I actually think shoring up a single character’s weak roll is often easier than trying to get over half the party to pass the check. Of course, sending the stealthiest character alone is still more effective when the option is available, and again, I consider that a positive outcome.

In the last game session I was in, our 11th level PCs were all sneaking into a city while a force of rebels were causing a distraction. Two of the 5 of us are highly competent at stealth, one is OK, and the other 2 are hampered by disadvantage on the rolls thanks to their armor.
So take the heavy armor off. I would think that would be the obvious first step in any group stealth mission.
We passed the group check either 3-2 or 4-1 with the cleric rolling particularly poorly and the DM narrated it well in a way that emphasized cooperation in passing the check as he described my rogue pulling the cleric into an alcove and keeping him still for a moment while the sentries passed by. It captured the essence of what the group check is about.
Ah, yeah. I’m not a fan of the DM narrating what the PCs do, so this would be a no-go for me. Glad your group enjoyed it though!
 

The whole weakest character rolls thing tends to take adventure types or activities completely off the table - D&D being the game of adventuring parties that it is. Heavily armored clerics and fighters have been putting the kibosh on infiltration scenarios for years because they tend to suck at stealth. The group check puts those adventures and activities back on the table because their deficiencies in stealth can be overcome by the party as a whole.

In the last game session I was in, our 11th level PCs were all sneaking into a city while a force of rebels were causing a distraction. Two of the 5 of us are highly competent at stealth, one is OK, and the other 2 are hampered by disadvantage on the rolls thanks to their armor. We passed the group check either 3-2 or 4-1 with the cleric rolling particularly poorly and the DM narrated it well in a way that emphasized cooperation in passing the check as he described my rogue pulling the cleric into an alcove and keeping him still for a moment while the sentries passed by. It captured the essence of what the group check is about.

I'm on board with what you are laying down here - with the exception of the DM telling you what your PC did. At our table, the DM would describe some external factors that contributed to the success and/or ask the player to describe something cool their rogue did to help the clanky cleric.
 

So take the heavy armor off. I would think that would be the obvious first step in any group stealth mission.
More likely it'll be "don't attempt stealth, because if the guy with a +0 fails the roll (which they probably will) they'll have an 8-point penalty to AC and get ganked quickly, since every attack will hit. Better to just fight our way through, that way we can use the whole party."

Or, if you know this is how the dm runs stealth, only play dex-based warriors.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
More likely it'll be "don't attempt stealth, because if the guy with a +0 fails the roll (which they probably will) they'll have an 8-point penalty to AC and get ganked quickly, since every attack will hit. Better to just fight our way through, that way we can use the whole party."

Or, if you know this is how the dm runs stealth, only play dex-based warriors.
I've never heard of a player refusing to take an action because they lack proficiency in a skill, or because they have Disadvantage on the roll. It just means the stakes are higher, that's all.

I've seen plenty of lightly-armored, high-Dex, Stealth-proficient rogues roll worse Stealth checks than the heavily-armored fighters and paladins in the party. No matter what your bonuses and penalties to that roll might be, everyone always has the same chance of rolling a 2 as they do of rolling a 19. That high modifier sure looks nice, but it's never a guarantee of success.
 

I've never heard of a player refusing to take an action because they lack proficiency in a skill, or because they have Disadvantage on the roll. It just means the stakes are higher, that's all.

I've seen plenty of lightly-armored, high-Dex, Stealth-proficient rogues roll worse Stealth checks than the heavily-armored fighters and paladins in the party. No matter what your bonuses and penalties to that roll might be, everyone always has the same chance of rolling a 2 as they do of rolling a 19. That high modifier sure looks nice, but it's never a guarantee of success.
I've seen a people opt not to sneak into the dungeon because the paladin is guaranteed to fail eventually. It just becomes a thing the party doesn't do, until they get a magic option to re-add it to the list of options (which could be as easy as *pass without trace). I think this thinking was more common in 3X games because the difference between high and low stealth were much bigger, but I've seen players who started in 5e follow the same line of thought.

I mean, why take the high-stakes option (sneaking in full plate) when there's a low-stakes option (fighting in full-plate)?
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I've never heard of a player refusing to take an action because they lack proficiency in a skill, or because they have Disadvantage on the roll. It just means the stakes are higher, that's all.

I've seen plenty of lightly-armored, high-Dex, Stealth-proficient rogues roll worse Stealth checks than the heavily-armored fighters and paladins in the party. No matter what your bonuses and penalties to that roll might be, everyone always has the same chance of rolling a 2 as they do of rolling a 19. That high modifier sure looks nice, but it's never a guarantee of success.
When you're wearing heavy armor and have an 8 dex? Having to make a stealth check feels like you're being punished because you get tired of all those dex builds. 🤷‍♂️
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
I've seen a people opt not to sneak into the dungeon because the paladin is guaranteed to fail eventually. It just becomes a thing the party doesn't do, until they get a magic option to re-add it to the list of options (which could be as easy as *pass without trace). I think this thinking was more common in 3X games because the difference between high and low stealth were much bigger, but I've seen players who started in 5e follow the same line of thought.

I mean, why take the high-stakes option (sneaking in full plate) when there's a low-stakes option (fighting in full-plate)?
Yeah, that way of thinking is definitely more of a 3.5E and Pathfinder thing, I think. Back then, it wasn't uncommon to have a modifier of +15 to the roll, which can take a lot of the "swing" out of that added random d20 roll. Even if you roll a 2 or a 3, you're still getting a result of almost 20.

But in 5E, you are doing excellent if you have a +8 to an ability check, and that won't do a whole lot for you if you roll a 2 or a 3 on that random d20 roll. Failure is more common than it was in earlier editions, especially in low- to mid-level, and especially without low-level spells like pass without trace, bless, guidance, invisibility...
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
More likely it'll be "don't attempt stealth, because if the guy with a +0 fails the roll (which they probably will)
Only if you refuse to take any steps to improve the character’s chances. Do they not have Inspiration? Does no one in the party know Bless, or Guidance? Do they not have a bard for Bardic Inspiration? Can no one come up with any actions their characters might take to help?
they'll have an 8-point penalty to AC and get ganked quickly, since every attack will hit. Better to just fight our way through, that way we can use the whole party."
Isn’t the entire point of a stealth mission that a straightforward assault isn’t a viable option? If you’re unlikely to survive a straight-up fight anyway, removing your armor isn’t really a downside. There’s also ways to help out a poorly armored character in a pinch, such as mage armor.
Or, if you know this is how the dm runs stealth, only play dex-based warriors.
I mean, sure, that’s a valid option. Or, like, invest in some mithril armor. Or count on your high HP to help make up the difference. Or on offense as the best defense. There’s a lot of ways you can use tactics to mitigate a weakness. Encouraging such tactical thinking is a feature of this approach, not a bug.
 


MarkB

Legend
I've seen a people opt not to sneak into the dungeon because the paladin is guaranteed to fail eventually. It just becomes a thing the party doesn't do, until they get a magic option to re-add it to the list of options (which could be as easy as *pass without trace). I think this thinking was more common in 3X games because the difference between high and low stealth were much bigger, but I've seen players who started in 5e follow the same line of thought.

I mean, why take the high-stakes option (sneaking in full plate) when there's a low-stakes option (fighting in full-plate)?
Extended stealth challenges where the players have to roll again and again are guaranteed to fail at some point anyway, because of the swinginess of the d20.

This was a known issue in Spycraft games, where some parties wouldn't even bother planning for a stealthy exit, as nobody ever actually made it that far without something going wrong. Far better to just plan on getting out the noisy way, with lots of distractions and covering fire.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
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?
If it’s a simple situation, it’s everyone rolls, 1/2 or more must succeed for the check to succeed.

If it’s more complex, then I figure out and enumerate a scale of success based on number of individual successes, and go round the table.
 

If fighting in full plate is the low stakes option compared to taking a stealthy approach… why is the party considering a stealthy approach in the first place?
Because the rogue has expertise in stealth and would like to use it. But the paladin didn't go for rapier, so they can't.
 

Only if you refuse to take any steps to improve the character’s chances. Do they not have Inspiration? Does no one in the party know Bless, or Guidance? Do they not have a bard for Bardic Inspiration? Can no one come up with any actions their characters might take to help?
Possibly. How long do they last? Is this the right time to use them? Do you have enough to sneak past all the enemies? Are they reliable enough to overcome low base modifiers and still reliably beat enemy passive perception?
Isn’t the entire point of a stealth mission that a straightforward assault isn’t a viable option? If you’re unlikely to survive a straight-up fight anyway, removing your armor isn’t really a downside. There’s also ways to help out a poorly armored character in a pinch, such as mage armor.
If an assault isn't an option, and you're gonna get heard as soon as you start rolling, stealth isn't an option either.

I mean, sure, that’s a valid option. Or, like, invest in some mithril armor. Or count on your high HP to help make up the difference. Or on offense as the best defense. There’s a lot of ways you can use tactics to mitigate a weakness.

#1 Assumes that you can buy magic items. #2 and 3 assume you would be fighting weak enemies that don't do a lot of damage, or that you can kill before they get a chance to hurt you - but in that case, why not just kill them? No one can sound the alarm when they're dead.
Encouraging such tactical thinking is a feature of this approach, not a bug.
But just being a strength-base heavy-armor wearing1 character removes a range of options. They'll look for third ways (back doors, deception, etc) but not stealth.

edit for footnote: this really is only an issue when a party member uses heavy armor, which is a minority of games I've been in - a party where everyone dumped strength, or the only strength-based character is a barbarian, are pretty common and then they can absolutely try sneaking whenever. Heavy armor characters just kill it as an approach for the party to use.
 
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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
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.
Right. Determining surprise, while fictionally similar to a group of PCs sneaking past some monsters, is resolved individually instead of with a group check. Effectively this means surprise is harder to achieve (unless the party is well situated to do it) and I think, given how powerful surprise can be, that's just right.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Because the rogue has expertise in stealth and would like to use it. But the paladin didn't go for rapier, so they can't.
So send the rogue to scout ahead. Or let them hide in combat like they’re supposed to be able to do. Preferably both.
Possibly. How long do they last? Is this the right time to use them? Do you have enough to sneak past all the enemies? Are they reliable enough to overcome low base modifiers and still reliably beat enemy passive perception?
Respectively: it says in the description, yes, hopefully, and usually.
If an assault isn't an option, and you're gonna get heard as soon as you start rolling, stealth isn't an option either.
So take off your armor and use the abilities at your disposal to make sure you don’t get heard as soon as you start rolling.
#1 Assumes that you can buy magic items. #2 and 3 assume you would be fighting weak enemies that don't do a lot of damage, or that you can kill before they get a chance to hurt you - but in that case, why not just kill them? No one can sound the alarm when they're dead.
#1 is a good reason to allow PCs to buy magic items. #2 of course will vary, but it’s fairly reliable when you’re fighting level-appropriate monsters, and when it isn’t an option you use other tactics. Again, encouraging tactical thinking is a feature, not a bug. And you may not be able to sound an alarm when you’re dead, but you can sound an alarm before you’re killed, if you hear you opponents coming in their heavy armor.
But just being a strength-base heavy-armor wearing1 character removes a range of options. They'll look for third ways (back doors, deception, etc) but not stealth.
I mean, those are also good options, ideally ones to be used in addition to stealth. If you’re worried your armor will give you away, take it off or find another way to contribute while the stealthy characters do the sneaking - perhaps create a diversion. Of course, all of this is good advice even if your group uses RAW group checks.
 

Wheelercub's post in this DNDBeyond thread is, personally what I consider, to be the best example, use, explanation, whatever of how to do Group Skill Challenges for 5E properly. It goes over the rules, options that other players can take that isn't just skill usage (meaning that perhaps a player who is not skilled in any of the chosen skills listed for the challenge can still contribute/help towards it), and still allows for the use of creativity. For me, I use it as the basis or example for the Group Skill Challenges in my game. (said post is a couple of responses down and is last post in said thread.)

 

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