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D&D 5E How to Adjudicate Actions in D&D 5e

Ome

Explorer
Just wanted to say thanks for the work Iserith. Im sure it will help some folks out not only with how certain mechanics can be used, but as inspiration to both players and dms alike.
 

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pemerton

Legend
iserith, an interesting thread.

I hope some questions are OK. And a comment at the end.

DM: The speed of the shark in its natural element and the tumultuous waves make this uncertain. This is a DC 15 Strength (Athletics) check. If Lack-Toes succeeds, he'll make it there in time and the shark will break off. If Lack-Toes fails, the shark will bite Rosemary's backpack and drag her under!
Lack-Toes: *rolls a 16*
DM: The shark breaks the surface of the water, its tooth-filled mouth wide just as Lack-Toes gets to Rosemary - but it diverts at the last second and swims away.
A common GMing pitfall can be setting stakes which make sense and create drama in the fiction, but are hard to follow through on if the player fails the roll. In this case, what happens if the shark drags Rosemary under? Presumably not the PC's death by drowning. Does she just lose her backpack?

DM: Well done. The hunters are looking around and have found their damaged trap, but haven't noticed you. Chuck, however, spots a pair of pliers from his thieves' tool kit laying at the edge of the trail nearby. It must have slipped out - and now the natives are moving toward it. If they see it, they'll know it wasn't a boar that broke their trap. What do you do?
What is the basis here for the GM determination that Chuck didn't tidy up after himself? It does not seem to have been part of the adjudication of the check to disarm the trap.

DM: So you've decided to plunge into the jungle to find the ruins said to lay at the heart of the island. Moving toward the center of the island is an uphill, slippery affair marked by periodic tremors that threaten your balance. How do you deal with this to mitigate the chance of injury while traveling?
Cow: I fashion a walking stick for additional support and use it to keep my balance.
Rosemary: I cover my mouth and nose with a wet cloth.
These sorts of cases, where taking a fairly simple step gives advantage to the check, can give rise to all the PCs doing it. Especially because, in the fiction, we can easily imagine it becoming clear to the others that Cow's walking stick or Rosemary's wet handkerchief are providing a benefit.

How do you impose some sort of cost or other rationing constraint on these sorts of actions, and their imitation by other PCs, within the D&D framework?

Cow: I am carefully observing the salamander's manner of speech and body language to discern its truthfulness.

<< DM Decision Point. >>

DM: It sounds like you're making an Insight check

<snip>

Pro-Tip: When you adjudicate the results of an Insight check, it's important not to tell the players what their characters believe. Just tell them the truth (success) or nothing at all (failure).
The insight check raises the possibility of the other PCs trying too. How do you handle that? Presumably as some sort of group check, but how do you adjudicate the outcome? And handling it as a group check does seem to presuppose that, in the fiction, the PCs are debating among themselves whether or not the salamander is being truthful, which goes somewhat against your "player autonomy with respect to PC belief" directive.

Pro-Tip: There's often an assumption on the part of many groups that the only person who should be engaging in social interaction is the party "face," that is, the character with the best Charisma and/or bonuses in Charisma-based skills. I believe the reason this happens is because the DM is asking for too many ability checks and isn't engaging the other players directly. So remember to only ask for ability checks when the outcome is uncertain (and the result of failure can be interesting). Also, shine the spotlight from time to time on anyone who is relevant to the exchange. Rather than leave it to the "face" to respond, directly ask someone else how he or she responds. Doing this will ensure that everyone gets to participate in social interaction challenges.
I'm not sure about the "too many ability checks" dimension to this, but I completely agree about the "failure to engage the other players (via their PCs)". If you put the pressure on the other players to have their PCs say something (eg an NPC asks them a direct question, or the social situation is heading in a direction that they don't want it to) then in my experience they will declare actions for their PCs even if CHA is not the PC's best stat, just as the player of a wizard will declare actions for his/her PC if you tell him/her that an Indiana Jones-style boulder has just started rolling down the corridor, even though STR and DEX probably aren't that PC's best stats.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I actually appreciate the PC comments both as proactive to describe their actions and reactive as a result of the die rolls the most.

Thanks. That's pretty much how my sessions go (see my Actual Play Transcripts linked in the original post). While I intended this guide for DMs, it might be useful to share with players so that they can see how to state their goal and approach clearly. They can also see what kinds of decisions the DM has to make which may allow them to make the DM's role easier by signalling their intent better.

I do not recommend using passive in any situation where damage or injury might result. The static DC vs static passive problem arises, ie there is no randomness factor (eg the avoid tremor injury example). Wh!ich many players ime find annoying.

Of course, I don't recommend using passive at all. Only roll, but only when it matters.

I don't particularly care for passive checks either, but in the interest of being comprehensive, I included some. I don't have a problem with passive checks against static DCs. If a player has stated that his or her character is doing a task repeatedly and the outcome of that task is uncertain, that's a passive check according to my reading of the rules. I set the DC like any other task, based on their goal, approach, and other circumstances.

Just wanted to say thanks for the work Iserith. Im sure it will help some folks out not only with how certain mechanics can be used, but as inspiration to both players and dms alike.

Thanks for the feedback and for taking the time to read the guide!
 
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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
iserith, an interesting thread.

I hope some questions are OK. And a comment at the end.

Thanks, and sure!

A common GMing pitfall can be setting stakes which make sense and create drama in the fiction, but are hard to follow through on if the player fails the roll. In this case, what happens if the shark drags Rosemary under? Presumably not the PC's death by drowning. Does she just lose her backpack?

I would likely say she's pulled under a certain distance, then ask what she does. The next looming threat could be that she's in danger of being pulled even deeper if she does nothing or fails at something. Or maybe more sharks are approaching.

If she lets go of her backpack (which likely contains her spellbook?), she can get away. Or maybe she tries to stab the thing with a dagger or the like (a roll) which would probably have the result of the shark letting her go. Others who haven't yet been in the spotlight might also try to intervene at this point.

What is the basis here for the GM determination that Chuck didn't tidy up after himself? It does not seem to have been part of the adjudication of the check to disarm the trap.

Part of the DM describing the environment. If I needed to justify myself, I could say that in his haste to disarm the trap and in Lack-Toes rage in destroying the trap, it was dropped, left behind, slipped out of his kit, or whatever. Maybe it's not even his upon closer inspection - it belongs to Poncho Cloak (who is found dead later). Plenty of fictional justification to be had here to set up a dramatic moment.

These sorts of cases, where taking a fairly simple step gives advantage to the check, can give rise to all the PCs doing it. Especially because, in the fiction, we can easily imagine it becoming clear to the others that Cow's walking stick or Rosemary's wet handkerchief are providing a benefit.

How do you impose some sort of cost or other rationing constraint on these sorts of actions, and their imitation by other PCs, within the D&D framework?

After the players have described what they want to do and I'm setting the stakes, they're effectively locked in - they've already taken the action. The roll follows so I can narrate the results. There is no "space" between action and result to modify their action... in most cases. In some cases, it might be reasonable.

The insight check raises the possibility of the other PCs trying too. How do you handle that? Presumably as some sort of group check, but how do you adjudicate the outcome? And handling it as a group check does seem to presuppose that, in the fiction, the PCs are debating among themselves whether or not the salamander is being truthful, which goes somewhat against your "player autonomy with respect to PC belief" directive.

In this case, it was one player describing a goal and approach to sussing out the salamander's truthfulness. I established in the stakes that upon failure, the salamander is inscrutable. That would apply to everyone, unless they can change up their approach to the problem. If someone approached the situation the same way as Sacred Cow, they'd just fail automatically, no roll.

I've never had a situation where a group Insight check came up, but I think that it's certainly possible. In this case, if the group check succeeds, I will state the truth without reference to anyone's beliefs as I did above: NPC is telling the truth or NPC is lying. A player who botched his or her check might then decide to believe the opposite even though he or she goes along with the group's decision (which might be worth Inspiration). If the check fails, then either the NPC is inscrutable or perhaps, if progress combined with a setback is in order, they determine the NPC's truthfulness, but the NPC suspects that they know and takes appropriate action.

I'm not sure about the "too many ability checks" dimension to this, but I completely agree about the "failure to engage the other players (via their PCs)". If you put the pressure on the other players to have their PCs say something (eg an NPC asks them a direct question, or the social situation is heading in a direction that they don't want it to) then in my experience they will declare actions for their PCs even if CHA is not the PC's best stat, just as the player of a wizard will declare actions for his/her PC if you tell him/her that an Indiana Jones-style boulder has just started rolling down the corridor, even though STR and DEX probably aren't that PC's best stats.

Agreed. With regard to "too many ability checks," I've seen a lot of players expect that any dialogue they offer is going to result in some kind of roll and since they're playing with the fighter with the dumped Cha and no social skills, they clam up. I try to create an expectation that it's entirely possible that you can engage in social interaction and never have to make a roll. Or that if you want to act in support of the lead character in the scene, you can potentially give that character advantage when he or she does have to make a check.
 
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First off, gotta say this is a very entertaining read. I LOVE the characters.

I have a question about a key point during the adventure.

Between this:
DM: Scurvy Pete does a jig to celebrate his victory. This crazed man won't tell you how to get to the secret entrance. You'll have to find it yourself which will take time or go through yuan-ti territory which is more dangerous.

and this:
Later, after a dangerous skirmish with yuan-ti pureblood hunters and a giant constrictor snake, the adventurers are being pursued by a dozen or more snake-men...

Scurvy Pete WAS nailed to a tree right? If not, why not? :lol:
 


pemerton

Legend
After the players have described what they want to do and I'm setting the stakes, they're effectively locked in - they've already taken the action. The roll follows so I can narrate the results. There is no "space" between action and result to modify their action... in most cases.
I think this could cause controversy among some conventional D&D groups, who would be more accustomed to a "continuous passage of time" style of resolution.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I think this could cause controversy among some conventional D&D groups, who would be more accustomed to a "continuous passage of time" style of resolution.

It's pretty clear from the framing that it's a montage-esque scene. I'd be certain I had buy-in from the players on that score, of course. That's part of why I like to go over the stakes prior to the roll. If someone really wants to "renegotiate," I'm okay with that as long as they're doing so in good faith.
 

RaashBorg

Villager
I enjoyed reading these scenarios quite a bit! Very inspiring.

I am wondering if the convention in these scenarios (specifying what both success and failure entail) was for the reader's benefit, or is how you actually play the game. I feel like it could play very well, but it seems quite different from my experiences. What if you want failure to lead to something surprising?
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I enjoyed reading these scenarios quite a bit! Very inspiring.

I am wondering if the convention in these scenarios (specifying what both success and failure entail) was for the reader's benefit, or is how you actually play the game. I feel like it could play very well, but it seems quite different from my experiences. What if you want failure to lead to something surprising?

Thanks for reading and for the feedback!

Yes, I go over the stakes before each roll. This has a few nice benefits. First, it helps me double-check to make sure this action needs a roll in the first place. After all, if I can't think of an interesting failure condition, then why roll? As well, it is a way of asking for player buy-in on the stakes. If they aren't on the same page with me as far as what's on the line, they can tell me and we can hash that out. Finally, it creates good tension before the roll, especially when failure is particularly dire (but interesting!).

As far as surprises go, I tend to get that from other places that don't rely on checks - reveals, plot twists, collaboration, and the players themselves mostly.
 

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