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How do you handle insight?

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
There was another thread that linked to a blog by Angry DM that, among other things said that in order to play D&D 5E the "proper" way a player will never state "I make an insight check".

This is something that happens now and then in my game. If it wasn't for message boards I would never give it a second thought. The player is stating (using a bit of shorthand) that they don't know if the NPC they are talking to is telling the truth. I don't see an issue with this so I wanted to go over a specific, simple example using an example similar to what happened in a recent game. I don't really want to debate philosophy here, enough walls of text have been posted on that, I'd just like to know specifically how this scene would play out in your game.

The setup:
  • The group is investigating a dead body found in an alley. There are blood stains on the back door to a merchant's shop.
  • Ned the NPC: the proprietor of the shop. The PCs have never interacted with Ned before, they know nothing about him.
  • PC Brog: Bob's barbarian PC is the suspicious type.
  • PC Suiza: Susan's sorcerer led a sheltered life and is trusting to the point of gullible.
As a DM I don't know how suspicious the players think their PCs would be, and regardless I don't control what they think.

Scene as it would play out in my game:
Suiza: "Good day, sir. We found a body in the alley out back, do you know anything about it?"​
Ned: "I'm sorry, but I didn't see any body or anything unusual last night when I was locking up."​
Suiza: "Okay, thank you for your time, if you think of anything you can contact us at ..."​
Brog: "Wait a minute. You didn't hear anything? You live above your shop, right?"​
Ned: "Yes but I'm a sound sleeper. Sorry I can't help you more."​
Bob: "Can I make an insight check?"​

We'd go from there. Maybe the merchant knows something, maybe they don't and he's already given them all the info he can and the group will have to investigate other leads. Brog is the suspicious type and needs no other justification to suspect the merchant of lying in this particular scenario. How else is Bob supposed to indicate his PC's inner thoughts and suspicions? Suiza on the other hand is naive and trusting so Susan is not going to ask for a check whether or not Susan is suspicious.

So if Bob wants to roll a die, I let him*. I allow the roll because it is reasonable for the PCs to suspect the merchant is lying in this scenario whether or not I know as the DM that the merchant is telling the truth. I don't give the players information their PCs have no way of knowing. If Ned is telling the truth a good roll will get "He seems to be telling the truth" while a really bad roll may result in "He seems to be hiding something".

If the merchant is lying and is proficient at it, I'm not going to broadcast it to the players because I believe in resolving interactions with the game world using PC skill, not player skill. I don't want to rely on my acting skills or lack therein. Unlike their characters Susan may be good at reading people while Bob is not.

How would this specific scenario play out in your game? If you have a strict "only the DM calls for a roll" what would Bob have to do or say to indicate that they are suspicious in order for you to call for an insight check? What would Susan have to do or say to indicate her PC believes whatever the merchant says?

*If Bob is asking for an insight check with every NPC they interact with, or if he tries to resolve every situation with a simple roll of the die, that's a separate issue and we'll discuss play style.
 

Ashrym

Explorer
At the most basic level, characters have their Passive Insight to compare your NPCs' Deception checks against.

Beyond that, a player could ask something like "Does anything strike me as suspicious about his answer?"
^^this

I do the same thing. Insight is generally a passive ability to I treat it like perception. It saves a lot on players asking to make such a roll. On that same note, if a player exhibits the intent to interrogate making mental notes or whatnot in their description then I call for a roll with the understanding it's hard to perform an action to initiate a passive skill.

As for a player asking for a roll, ideally it's not the best. Ideally players perform actions and the DM decides whether a roll is needed or not. DM's are not infallible, however, and there's nothing wrong with the occasional reminder if someone else thinks it might be warranted.

The main difference there is role play vs roll play. A character who says "I watch his body language closely while I ask such and such" is using role play while a character who says "I use my insight" is actually performing the exact same action via roll play. Many tables take a more simplistic approach like that, and there's nothing wrong with a group who is less immersive at the role-play aspect.

In some loosely played groups I have walked around insighting many people. "I insight you and I insight you and I insight you. I threaten to insight you and roll intimidate instead." Okay, full disclosure, that may not actually be true. It was just the first thing that came to mind at the thought of using the term insight like it's an action. ;-)
 

MarkB

Hero
Honestly, once it gets to the point where your group is developing a standard phrase to cover asking for an insight check, you may as well just ask for an insight check. Either way, you're not actually describing an actual action that your character is taking, so does it really matter whether you fancy it up with flowery language?
 

dnd4vr

Adventurer
No problem with this at all and how our DM (and myself) would handle it. The player relates that his character is suspicious and thus asked for an insight check. If Ned IS lying, you set the DC based on a contested Charisma (Deception) roll vs. Brog's Wisdom (Insight) roll. Or, you roll during the conversation using Ned's Charisma (Deception) vs. the character's Passive Insight as the DC. If you succeed, then the character's believe the story UNLESS the player intervenes and then ask to make his Wisdom (Insight) check instead of relying on the passive score.

Either way, if the insight check beats the deception (or if there was no deception, it automatically succeeds) then the characters know he is lying or certain he is telling the truth.

We don't play that only the DM can ask for a check. Players can ask to make one if they think their characters would know something they don't, etc. The DM can tell them no, but usually only when it is inappropriate or unnecessary.
 

Blue

Orcus on a bad hair day
I use passive and active skills, at the times the character is passive or active.

I act as the interface between the world and the players, and I need to know what to tell the players, where passive perception or insight (and potentially others) can come into play. That includes if they can pick up clues insight would give.

One character may get "The shopkeep says 'I never saw anyone of that description'", while another character gets "Without meeting your eyes, the shopkeep stammers out 'I never saw anyone of that description'. He takes an involuntary half step away from you as he says it."

I don't make any assumptions about a character being gullible or suspicious - those choices are for the player to make. They have the information, they can then decide how to act - or not - on it.

I take things player requests like "Can I tell if he's hiding something/lying/etc" as requests for an active check, which I can decide if that warrants a roll. I treat "I'd like to make an insight check" as just a game-mechanics-centric way to make the same request - as DM I decided if a roll is needed and can allow or not. It's not verboten, it's just another way for the player to communicate with me.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
“I examine Ned’s body language to see if I can identify any signs that he might be lying.”
Thanks for the response. I guess I just don't see a difference between "Can I get an insight check" and "I study his body language..." or similar. I think the end result is the same.

After all I don't say "I swing my sword with the intent of doing bodily harm". I simply say "I attack and get ___". Sometimes we use shorthand to communicate meaning, whether that's typing LOL or saying "I make an insight check".

As far as passive insight (or any other skill for that matter) I do sometimes use passive skills especially if I don't think the NPC is proficient in deception. The only problem with it is that I rarely remember what people's passive values are. So sometimes instead I'll ask for the better of their roll or their passive value, particularly if it's a longer conversation.

If someone is constantly asking to do checks of any kind, we'll have a chat.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
One of my goals as a DM is to make sure that all skills matter, even more so when a player has built their character to have background and proficiencies that emphasize certain skills. There are two reasons, IME, that players ask to make a skill check: (1) they've played in games where they didn't follow the order of play as spelled out in the PHB and that's just how they know how to play or (2) they feel that I'm not giving them sufficient opportunity to use their character's skills.

With number one, I educate them on how I run the game at my table in order to change their behavior.

With number two, I make an effort to change my behavior as a DM to help characters shine.

The first thing I determine with any encounter or challenge is whether success is a given or if it is impossible. So, focusing on insight, there are times where the NPC is just obviously lying. But the player may ask whether there are any tells that would give away further information beyond that the NPC is lying. So even with an obvious success there may be a roll (you catch the guy stealing red handing but he is stupidly refusing to admit that he pocketed your coin purse, I'm not going to call for a roll to tell if he is lying, but maybe an insight check on whether he is afraid of the party, afraid of some third party, or not at all afraid and believes that there is nothing the party can do about it).

Not needed to roll because success is impossible is far less come with insight check in my experience. I guess if a player asks to determine how a wall feels about being a wall. :) But there could be some creature that is so alien in its thinking that normal insight checks just won't work. Perhaps intelligent plants are impossible to read for emotion, for example. The motives of a far-realm elder thing may be impossible for mere mortals to comprehend.

In the vast majority of situations, if a player is attempting to glean more information simply by intuiting it, I'll call for an insight check. I use passive insight to help telescope that they have a "feeling" about someone or something that may prompt them to pay more attention and perhaps take actions that call for active insight, perception, or investigation checks.

Harder for me is where multiple characters want to use their insight. I'm not a fan of everyone making skill checks for everything. It slows down the game and makes the characters who focus in certain skills less special. It also makes the help action less useful. Not sure if how I handle this is RAW, but what I do is:

1. Sometimes, you have to have proficiency in a skill to get to make a skill check. I do this less common with insight, but if the party is dealing with very different cultures or races, I may simply state a situation is too difficult to read, unless a character is exceptionally insightful (has proficiency).

2. Generally, one character can make the check and another can help to give the acting character advantage.

3. If there is an obvious failure and other players really want to let their characters give it a try, I may let them if they can describe a different tact that their character is taking. Perhaps they have to make a successful intimidation, persuasion, perception, or investigation check before they can make a new insight check. Also if the player comes up with a new line of questioning, I make let them make another check. While I don't want success to be entirely hooked to player skill, I see nothing wrong with rewarding player skill and player inspiration.

4. Speaking of inspiration, I'll let someone spend a point of inspiration for another shot, but they can't be helped with that roll. I.e., help plus inspiration will allow three rolls on the check.

Insight is in danger of receding to background at higher levels as class abilities, feats, and spells become more reliable ways of getting information. How I handle this is I make sure insight gives, well, further insights than you can get from a spell, etc. When I think of a high-level character using insight, I model that on Patrick Jane from The Mentalist. Or those mentalist performers who appear to perform magic feats of mentalism. Or really talented spiritualists who claim to speak to the dead by using a variety of tricks get information from you.

Lastly, I like to find ways that various skills complement each other. Insight can help with persuasion and deception and vice versa. Even in combat, I might let a clever use of insight help a character determine what an opponents next move likely is. That could lead to me awarded that character an AC bonus, and attack bonus, or a move up the initiative order.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
Thanks for the response. I guess I just don't see a difference between "Can I get an insight check" and "I study his body language..." or similar. I think the end result is the same.
It breaks immersion for some. Especially in 5e, there is not a great depth of mechanical variety. The fun is coming up with all manner of interesting actions and the DM having to determine what mechanic applies to resolve it.

After all I don't say "I swing my sword with the intent of doing bodily harm". I simply say "I attack and get ___". Sometimes we use shorthand to communicate meaning, whether that's typing LOL or saying "I make an insight check".
Well, at my table you at least have to say what you attack with. I would not enjoy a players saying "I make a melee attack with my great sword, I rolled 10 and my modifier is...." They simply say "I attack it with my greatsword". They can (and it is better if they do) roll their attack and damage dice at the same time to keep things moving, but I may not ask for whether they hit or how much damage they do. Maybe the monster has immunities. Maybe something else is going on. The DM calls for the rolls. Admittedly, combat is different in this regard than exploration and social pillars. During combat, if it goes on for multiple rounds, to keep things moving, players will just make the rolls and use shortcuts in their speech. No need to specify what you are attacking with each round unless you are changing what you are attacking with.

As far as passive insight (or any other skill for that matter) I do sometimes use passive skills especially if I don't think the NPC is proficient in deception. The only problem with it is that I rarely remember what people's passive values are. So sometimes instead I'll ask for the better of their roll or their passive value, particularly if it's a longer conversation.

If someone is constantly asking to do checks of any kind, we'll have a chat.
Same issues here. But in my current campaign, I've made an effort to have a cheat sheet on my DM screen with each players passive values--not just for passive perception. I find it improves the game if for no other reason than it prompts me to make NPCs come across differently to different characters and parties. Passive insight helps me make the world react to the characters in a manner that feels more immersive. As I type this, I'm even thinking that it would be cool to make up some passive reaction cards to hand to players that give general insights (e.g., you fell that the NPC is hiding something, you don't trust this NPC, you feel this NPC is good at heart) etc.

Note, a bit off topic, but don't forget about offensive intimidation and persuasion. The player with hulking barbarian may enjoy you playing everyone cowering from him or avoiding him or looking afraid of him...and when someone doesn't, it may pique his interest and you may find him asking for insight checks and engaging more of the game outside combat. Same with persuasion. Some folks are so charismatic that people want to do things for them, help them, trust them, (or perhaps less positively) become infatuated with them, even when the character is not actively trying to persuade them.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
There was another thread that linked to a blog by Angry DM that, among other things said that in order to play D&D 5E the "proper" way a player will never state "I make an insight check".

This is something that happens now and then in my game. If it wasn't for message boards I would never give it a second thought. The player is stating (using a bit of shorthand) that they don't know if the NPC they are talking to is telling the truth. I don't see an issue with this so I wanted to go over a specific, simple example using an example similar to what happened in a recent game. I don't really want to debate philosophy here, enough walls of text have been posted on that, I'd just like to know specifically how this scene would play out in your game.

The setup:
  • The group is investigating a dead body found in an alley. There are blood stains on the back door to a merchant's shop.
  • Ned the NPC: the proprietor of the shop. The PCs have never interacted with Ned before, they know nothing about him.
  • PC Brog: Bob's barbarian PC is the suspicious type.
  • PC Suiza: Susan's sorcerer led a sheltered life and is trusting to the point of gullible.
As a DM I don't know how suspicious the players think their PCs would be, and regardless I don't control what they think.

Scene as it would play out in my game:
Suiza: "Good day, sir. We found a body in the alley out back, do you know anything about it?"​
Ned: "I'm sorry, but I didn't see any body or anything unusual last night when I was locking up."​
Suiza: "Okay, thank you for your time, if you think of anything you can contact us at ..."​
Brog: "Wait a minute. You didn't hear anything? You live above your shop, right?"​
Ned: "Yes but I'm a sound sleeper. Sorry I can't help you more."​
Bob: "Can I make an insight check?"​

We'd go from there. Maybe the merchant knows something, maybe they don't and he's already given them all the info he can and the group will have to investigate other leads. Brog is the suspicious type and needs no other justification to suspect the merchant of lying in this particular scenario. How else is Bob supposed to indicate his PC's inner thoughts and suspicions? Suiza on the other hand is naive and trusting so Susan is not going to ask for a check whether or not Susan is suspicious.

So if Bob wants to roll a die, I let him*. I allow the roll because it is reasonable for the PCs to suspect the merchant is lying in this scenario whether or not I know as the DM that the merchant is telling the truth. I don't give the players information their PCs have no way of knowing. If Ned is telling the truth a good roll will get "He seems to be telling the truth" while a really bad roll may result in "He seems to be hiding something".

If the merchant is lying and is proficient at it, I'm not going to broadcast it to the players because I believe in resolving interactions with the game world using PC skill, not player skill. I don't want to rely on my acting skills or lack therein. Unlike their characters Susan may be good at reading people while Bob is not.

How would this specific scenario play out in your game? If you have a strict "only the DM calls for a roll" what would Bob have to do or say to indicate that they are suspicious in order for you to call for an insight check? What would Susan have to do or say to indicate her PC believes whatever the merchant says?

*If Bob is asking for an insight check with every NPC they interact with, or if he tries to resolve every situation with a simple roll of the die, that's a separate issue and we'll discuss play style.
In my game, asking for insight check is fine. The player can add more - asking a question like "does he seem suspicious or like he is hiding stuff?" or even make reference to specific tells ior parrot the last line of the insight descriptions f they want, it's fine either way - the player doesnt have to know and describe his character's skills or know what the signs of deception are.

At my table the player then rolls, adds appropriately, and I then give him a description that tends to also provide some measure of confidence. Whether that answer is a success, failure or some success with setback is not known to the player.

Whether the "target" was attempting persuasion or deception is also not known.

Since the DC is also unknown, it adds up to providing info but not being a panacea. I mean, he could show signs of deception if he had been out last night going something sketchy and still not know about the body.
 

dnd4vr

Adventurer
One of my goals as a DM is to make sure that all skills matter, even more so when a player has built their character to have background and proficiencies that emphasize certain skills. There are two reasons, IME, that players ask to make a skill check: (1) they've played in games where they didn't follow the order of play as spelled out in the PHB and that's just how they know how to play or (2) they feel that I'm not giving them sufficient opportunity to use their character's skills.

With number one, I educate them on how I run the game at my table in order to change their behavior.

{snip}
While I can respect every table has a different style of play, I can tell I would not enjoy playing your style, but I am glad it works for your group.

It is odd, we have done a lot to speed up game play, but we don't make attack rolls and damage rolls at the same time. We had a player join us for a few months who did that, and the DM found it so annoying--I'll admit, so did I.

At any rate, it is always interesting to hear how different tables run things. :)
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
There was another thread that linked to a blog by Angry DM that, among other things said that in order to play D&D 5E the "proper" way a player will never state "I make an insight check".
While this would be very in-character of Angry to say, it is definitely not what the article in question said. Just, for the record.

(main body of example omitted)
So, to answer this question directly, I would say something along the lines of, “I’m hearing that you are hoping to glean some information about Ned’s intentions or emotional state, but I’m not sure what you hope to learn or how. Can you tell me what you are hoping to accomplish and what your character is doing to try to accomplish it?”

We'd go from there. Maybe the merchant knows something, maybe they don't and he's already given them all the info he can and the group will have to investigate other leads. Brog is the suspicious type and needs no other justification to suspect the merchant of lying in this particular scenario. How else is Bob supposed to indicate his PC's inner thoughts and suspicions?
Bob is free to be suspicious of Ned or not, as he sees fit. If he wants to express that suspension, he is welcome to do so verbally, though that might have a negative impact on Ned’s opinion of him and by extension the group. Or, he could act out or describe some kind of nonverbal cue, or simply say, “my character is visibly suspicious of him,” which Ned might or might not be able to pick up on (likely resolved with a Wisdom check on Ned’s part). Or I suppose he could say out of character, “my character doesn’t trust him,” or something to that effect. I personally don’t love out of character expressions of in-character internal thoughts and feelings, but I wouldn’t stop a player from doing so.

Suiza on the other hand is naive and trusting so Susan is not going to ask for a check whether or not Susan is suspicious.
Ok. That’s Susan’s perogative.

So if Bob wants to roll a die, I let him*.

*If Bob is asking for an insight check with every NPC they interact with, or if he tries to resolve every situation with a simple roll of the die, that's a separate issue and we'll discuss play style.

The fact that neither I nor my players have to worry about how many insight checks is “too many” is, in my opinion, one of the advantages of the way I prefer to resolve these situations.

I allow the roll because it is reasonable for the PCs to suspect the merchant is lying in this scenario whether or not I know as the DM that the merchant is telling the truth.
It’s absolutely reasonable, but suspicion per se does not constitute an action, and does not require a dice roll to be expressed in the game.

I don't give the players information their PCs have no way of knowing. If Ned is telling the truth a good roll will get "He seems to be telling the truth" while a really bad roll may result in "He seems to be hiding something".
I suspect this is one place where our opinions are too divergent to reconcile. Generally, I believe the more information the player has, the better, as it empowers them to make informed decisions, which for me is the most interesting part of the game. I am not interested in trying to keep information from players because “your character couldn’t know that.” It’s just not something I care about at all.

If the merchant is lying and is proficient at it, I'm not going to broadcast it to the players because I believe in resolving interactions with the game world using PC skill, not player skill. I don't want to rely on my acting skills or lack therein. Unlike their characters Susan may be good at reading people while Bob is not.
This whole player skill vs character skill thing is a nonsense division in my opinion. The character is a pure game mechanical construct and is not capable of doing anything without the player’s input. Trying to take the player out of the equation would be futile, even if it was something I had any interest in doing. Furthermore, no player needs to be good at reading people to be able to recognize a telegraphed tell, and no player needs any kind of acting skill to simply state what they hope to accomplish and how their character is going about trying to accomplish it.

How would this specific scenario play out in your game? If you have a strict "only the DM calls for a roll" what would Bob have to do or say to indicate that they are suspicious in order for you to call for an insight check? What would Susan have to do or say to indicate her PC believes whatever the merchant says?
If Ned was lying, I would roll deception for him against the highest Wisdom (Insight) DC of the group. If he failed the roll, I would narrate a telegraph, such as Ned sweating, or his eyes darting about nervously, or stammering, or something. Most often, that is sufficient for the players to make up their minds about whether or not their characters trust Ned, but if they wish to follow up on that tell in some way, they are welcome to tell me what they hope to learn and what their character does to try to glean that information (perhaps “watch carefully for other signs of nervousness,” or “press him further on the subject that made him nervous” or something) and I will resolve that action as I do all actions - by narrating the result if it has no reasonable chance of success or failure, or no consequence for failure, and calling for an appropriate ability check otherwise.
 

aco175

Explorer
I was playing this week in the Princes of the Apocalypse game. The PCs are attacking the first keep and manage to make it to the rooftop where the BBEG is waiting. The players decide to talk to him about the missing delegation and what he knows about it. The BBEG tries to play it off like it is the river keep and the pirates there, but the payers are not sure. They think he knows something and is part of it but do not come out and say it.

I call for a Insight check instead of the player. What is the difference? Not sure how others play it, but if the player asked if he could make an Insight I would most likely let him. I don't tell the player the DC i'm thinking, but they tell me the roll and usually make assumptions about the outcome based on the roll. This may not always be true.
 

Hriston

Explorer
Thanks for the response. I guess I just don't see a difference between "Can I get an insight check" and "I study his body language..." or similar. I think the end result is the same.
I’ll try to explain what I see as the difference. One is a player describing what their character does in the fiction. The other is a player describing what they themselves want to do at the table, i.e. roll a die.

After all I don't say "I swing my sword with the intent of doing bodily harm". I simply say "I attack and get ___". Sometimes we use shorthand to communicate meaning, whether that's typing LOL or saying "I make an insight check".
“I attack” is a description of what a character is doing in the fiction and describes the same fictitious action that the first sentence does, just with less detail. An equivalent to your Insight example would be, “I make an Attack roll.”
 
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5ekyu

Adventurer
I’ll try to explain what I see as the difference. One is a player describing what their character does in the fiction. The other is a player describing what they themselves want to do at the table, i.e. roll a die.



“I attack” is a description of what a character is doing in the fiction and describes the same fictitious action that the first sentence does, just with less detail. An equivalent to your Insight example would be, “I make an Attack roll.”
Funny, but in the end, both are communications between player and gm, they are the bridge between choice and resolution. One is expressing it as z description of the character in tier world, the other as the description of it in ours.

For dome that is a meaningful or even vastly important thing of almost dogma import. For others, its just two different routes between the same start and finish.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
The difference between “I examine Ned’s body language to see if I can identify any signs that he might be lying” and, “can I make an Insight check to see if Ned’s lying?” is that the former gives the DM information about how the character is attempting to discern if Ned is lying, and leaves the decision of whether or not the outcome of that approach is uncertain up to the DM. The latter asks the DM for permission to proceed with the approach left abstract, and simply assume that its outcome is uncertain. As I don’t like to make assumptions about PC actions, I would always say no to such a request, and ask for more specificity as to the approach so that I can determine the outcome without making assumptions.
 
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ccs

39th lv DM
It breaks immersion for some.
Thankfully those people aren't playing in the games I'm in/run.... And if they do join us they'll just have to adapt.
See, it's a laid back environment where we all admit that we're playing a game. And throughout the evening as we feast on pizza/Taco Bell/Chinese takeout we'll be BSing about the week, the football game, work, other games, the latest action movie, families, vacations/GenCon, etc etc etc. So we're always breaking immersion.
And yet somewhere in that 4-5 hour span fun will be had as monsters are killed & looted, princesses rescued, XP awarded & new gaming stories (that will be BSed about in future sessions) formed.

So it's not terribly important to anything who asks for the insight check. Or how they phrase it.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Thankfully those people aren't playing in the games I'm in/run.... And if they do join us they'll just have to adapt.
See, it's a laid back environment where we all admit that we're playing a game. And throughout the evening as we feast on pizza/Taco Bell/Chinese takeout we'll be BSing about the week, the football game, work, other games, the latest action movie, families, vacations/GenCon, etc etc etc. So we're always breaking immersion.
And yet somewhere in that 4-5 hour span fun will be had as monsters are killed & looted, princesses rescued, XP awarded & new gaming stories (that will be BSed about in future sessions) formed.

So it's not terribly important to anything who asks for the insight check. Or how they phrase it.
I don’t know if this is your intent, but you seem to be implying that games where the players are expected to declare actions in terms of what their character does and roll when the DM asks them to can’t be casual, “beer-and-pretzels” games. I can assure you this is not the case.
 

Harzel

Explorer
There was another thread that linked to a blog by Angry DM that, among other things said that in order to play D&D 5E the "proper" way a player will never state "I make an insight check".

This is something that happens now and then in my game. If it wasn't for message boards I would never give it a second thought. The player is stating (using a bit of shorthand) that they don't know if the NPC they are talking to is telling the truth.
To me, this seems like a rather big leap. Insight has a much broader application that just whether an NPC is telling the truth.

I don't see an issue with this so I wanted to go over a specific, simple example using an example similar to what happened in a recent game. I don't really want to debate philosophy here, enough walls of text have been posted on that, I'd just like to know specifically how this scene would play out in your game.

The setup:
  • The group is investigating a dead body found in an alley. There are blood stains on the back door to a merchant's shop.
  • Ned the NPC: the proprietor of the shop. The PCs have never interacted with Ned before, they know nothing about him.
  • PC Brog: Bob's barbarian PC is the suspicious type.
  • PC Suiza: Susan's sorcerer led a sheltered life and is trusting to the point of gullible.
As a DM I don't know how suspicious the players think their PCs would be, and regardless I don't control what they think.

Scene as it would play out in my game:
Suiza: "Good day, sir. We found a body in the alley out back, do you know anything about it?"​
Ned: "I'm sorry, but I didn't see any body or anything unusual last night when I was locking up."​
Suiza: "Okay, thank you for your time, if you think of anything you can contact us at ..."​
Brog: "Wait a minute. You didn't hear anything? You live above your shop, right?"​
Ned: "Yes but I'm a sound sleeper. Sorry I can't help you more."​
Bob: "Can I make an insight check?"​

We'd go from there. Maybe the merchant knows something, maybe they don't and he's already given them all the info he can and the group will have to investigate other leads. Brog is the suspicious type and needs no other justification to suspect the merchant of lying in this particular scenario. How else is Bob supposed to indicate his PC's inner thoughts and suspicions?
The obvious answer seems to be that he could just articulate them. It also seems like you certainly would have thought of this answer. Trying to understand what is behind this - if Bob said, "Brog is suspicious that Ned is not telling the truth." and you thought that it was uncertain whether Brog could tell, would you not call for an insight check? (Admittedly, that statement by Bob is still not as clear about Brog engaging in an intentional process as some would insist on, but it's probably good enough for me most of the time even though I would prefer a clearer statement of intent and method.)

Suiza on the other hand is naive and trusting so Susan is not going to ask for a check whether or not Susan is suspicious.

So if Bob wants to roll a die, I let him*. I allow the roll because it is reasonable for the PCs to suspect the merchant is lying in this scenario whether or not I know as the DM that the merchant is telling the truth.
I don't understand the connection between thinking that it is reasonable for the PCs to suspect the merchant is lying (a matter of the fiction) and how you handle the conversation between the DM and the players (a matter of game play). It is perfectly possible for the DM to think that it is reasonable for the PCs to suspect the merchant of lying, but want the players to declare actions, not ask for checks.

I don't give the players information their PCs have no way of knowing.
Neither do I, but again I don't understand the connection between that and how you handle the DM-player conversation.

If Ned is telling the truth a good roll will get "He seems to be telling the truth" while a really bad roll may result in "He seems to be hiding something".

If the merchant is lying and is proficient at it, I'm not going to broadcast it to the players because I believe in resolving interactions with the game world using PC skill, not player skill. I don't want to rely on my acting skills or lack therein. Unlike their characters Susan may be good at reading people while Bob is not.

How would this specific scenario play out in your game?
How would it play out? Well, I think no matter whose table it is, the party will end up killing Ned and/or destroying his shop because players. I mean, it could be an accident as in, "we just summoned the balgura to intimidate him into telling us the truth, and things got out of hand," but really when the PCs come knocking the only safe thing for an NPC is to just not be home and, preferably, not on the same plane of existence. Buuut maybe that is not what you meant by "play out"...

At my table, I would treat Bob's query as more or less equivalent to the assertion, "Brog is trying to figure something out." So I would ask questions to find out what Brog is actually trying to do. I understand that in constructing your example you already had in mind what Brog would actually be trying to do, but I don't think that there is actually enough information in Bob's utterance to tell. As noted, Insight has much broader application than just whether an NPC is telling the truth. To me, it seems just as reasonable that Brog might want to ascertain whether Ned is hostile toward the party, or whether Ned seems afraid.

If you have a strict "only the DM calls for a roll" what would Bob have to do or say to indicate that they are suspicious in order for you to call for an insight check?
Um, having said that you don't want to debate philosophy, you have asked a question predicated on, and questioning, a play style, which seems pretty close to philosophy. Maybe I misunderstand what you meant. Anyway, first, I don't have strict policies for stuff like this, but I do have general BKMs, one of which is that generally the players say what they're trying to accomplish and how, and the DM calls for rolls when needed. There are a few common situations, weapon and spell attacks in combat being the most common, in which some of this can be shortcut, but that is because the rules and our practices at the table are such that in the same situation, the same game mechanics are employed the same way in the overwhelming majority of instances.

This question seems to assume that getting the DM to call for an insight check is a reasonable goal. If I take that literally, it makes no sense - making checks is not a goal of game play. It also seems to assume that how a PC feels is cause for a response from the DM; that seems off also. So I'll assume that Bob's actual goal is to get the DM to narrate the result of Brog trying to determine whether Ned is telling the truth. Put that way, the answer seems pretty straightforward: Bob should say that Brog is trying to determine whether Ned is telling the truth.

The only objection that I can see to this is that some might feel this forces Bob to be too specific, so that maybe, "Can I make an Insight check?" is sort of a stand-in for, "Brog attempts to discern anything that might be covered by the Insight skill." Is that the effect that you are after?

In more general terms, asking for a check just seems like a suboptimal choice since it forces the DM to infer the player's intention. I don't see how it improves the game to be indirect about communicating what your PC is doing.

What would Susan have to do or say to indicate her PC believes whatever the merchant says?
Again, she could just articulate that, but I don't see how that leads to anything that requires a response from the DM and how it is germane to the issue being discussed

*If Bob is asking for an insight check with every NPC they interact with, or if he tries to resolve every situation with a simple roll of the die, that's a separate issue and we'll discuss play style.
Certainly.
 

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