5E How to skill check (and why 5e got stealth wrong)

ad_hoc

Adventurer
They very much could have picked the lock. Once they rolled and failed, that lock was revealed to be unpickable.

But if they had succeeded they would have picked the lock, thus revealing it to be a pickable lock.

Call it schrodingers lock if you will ;)
I don't think that houserule adds anything to the game.

I hated that the rule existed in 3e, it both doesn't make sense to me and feels too gamey (and punitive).

Is the lock now unpickable by everyone? What if a more skilled character attempts to do it? What if the Cleric casts Guidance increasing the character's skill?

What if a previous adventurer had once tried to pick the lock? Is the lock forever unpickable?
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
I don't think that houserule adds anything to the game.

I hated that the rule existed in 3e, it both doesn't make sense to me and feels too gamey (and punitive).

Is the lock now unpickable by everyone? What if a more skilled character attempts to do it? What if the Cleric casts Guidance increasing the character's skill?

What if a previous adventurer had once tried to pick the lock? Is the lock forever unpickable?
if one wants to draw from existing possible rules - make it like Speak with Dead - it cannot be unlocked for 10 days.

:)
 

DM Dave1

Adventurer
They very much could have picked the lock. Once they rolled and failed, that lock was revealed to be unpickable.

But if they had succeeded they would have picked the lock, thus revealing it to be a pickable lock.

Call it schrodingers lock if you will ;)
Better yet, use success with a setback (in the other thread, you mentioned wanting to utilize this more). Then you don’t need to invoke that dang cat.
 

Harzel

Explorer
I may be misinterpreting, but it seems to me there are two separate (?) things going on here.

I want to provide an alternative framework to the goal and approach method that's gotten so much attention the last few days. I'm going to call it the situation - action method.

Skill checks are inherently about resolving uncertainty. That's why when there isn't uncertain there's no point in rolling. That said, skill checks are not about resolving uncertainty relating to your goal, but rather uncertainty brought about through whatever action you took to achieve your goal. A simple example might help.

Goal: You want to the Lord Mayor of the Town to not increase hostilities with their neighboring town. Action: You attempt to persuade him. Resolution of Action: The DM determines there's no chance you can persuade him, Consequences of Action: but there is uncertainty about whether your attempt to persuade him will anger him. So he calls for a persuasion roll to determine whether the Lord Mayor is angry at you.

When should the DM demand an approach to go along with the action? When the approach might change the outcome or the DC he will set.

Approach: In the above example, the action to attempt to persuade the Lord Mayor could have been met with the DM asking the player to clarify "what he says or does to persuade him", because the DM knows that if you mention something about Blithe the sorcerer desiring the increased tensions that the Lord Mayor has a real chance to heed your advice. In this case the approach becomes important even though it isn't always.
I generally interpret the term "action" as connoting something more specific than "approach". You seem to have the opposite take ("action" being more general than "approach"). So that's a little confusing. But aside from that, you seem to be saying that there should be a roll anytime there is uncertainty about the outcome of whatever the PC does as opposed to uncertainty about whether it achieves the stated goal. The problem that I see with that is that I am pretty sure one can always come up with something that is uncertain about the results produced by an action. So that doesn't seem helpful.

A secondary comment is that you have positioned this as "alternative" to goal-and-approach. As has been noted several times goal-and-approach is a description of a style for players to communicate to the DM. You seem to be explaining an adjudication approach. Not the same thing.

So far I've explained the Action Framework. What do I mean about situation? Well this part is simple as well. Currently in D&D we pit players against individual NPC's. For example, consider a rogue attempting to sneak up to a camp of orcs we measure the pc vs each member's passive perception in the camp of orcs (assuming it's uncertain in the first place). That resolution method doesn't make sense other than under a heavy simulationist framework. The current method would be to resolve the Rogue's Action of sneaking up to the camp of orcs by comparing the pc's stealth check to each individual orc's passive perception. The better method would be for the DM to set a DC that takes into account the whole situation. In this case a camp of orcs on the lookout might be assigned a DC 20.

Going back to the Lord Mayor persuasion example, the DC may depend on who else is present for the persuasion attempt, or if you chose a particularly busy time to bring this before the Lord Mayor etc.

Anyways, this is my preferred resolution methodology. Determine if a check needs made by considering both the action and the consequences of that action, and only asking for additional approach information as needed and then if either of them auto succeed or fail and what consequences the action may have for failure or success. If a check gets made assign a DC that takes into account the whole situation.

Hopefully this helps put some thought and definition into the more traditional styles.

In this second part you've described in particular an approach to setting DCs. I think you have a really good point. It's something that I think I've done on an irregular basis without realizing that I was doing something different, so it's good to have it explicated.

However, I don't agree that this really contradicts what the PH says about stealth because I don't think the description in the PH is intended to be limiting or comprehensive. The PH describes a simple procedure for simple situations; it doesn't say that procedure covers all situations. I understand that in other editions (and some other games) rules are assumed to be comprehensive unless otherwise stated. In 5e, it seems to me it is the other way around.
 

FrogReaver

Adventurer
I may be misinterpreting, but it seems to me there are two separate (?) things going on here.
I'm sure there's more than 2 separate things going on here. But I'll settle for two as it sounds much better ;)

I generally interpret the term "action" as connoting something more specific than "approach". You seem to have the opposite take ("action" being more general than "approach"). So that's a little confusing.
Maybe not as much when you understand the context that in previous discussions I've suggested approaches before that were shot down due to not being specific enough.

But aside from that, you seem to be saying that there should be a roll anytime there is uncertainty about the outcome of whatever the PC does as opposed to uncertainty about whether it achieves the stated goal. The problem that I see with that is that I am pretty sure one can always come up with something that is uncertain about the results produced by an action. So that doesn't seem helpful.
I think the following are the basic game states to do with actions and goals:

You succeed at your goal and face no setback
You succeed at your goal and face a setback
You fail at your goal and face no additional setback
You fail at your goal and face an additional setback

If checks can only determine whether you succeed or fail at your goal then there is no success with a setback . It can't exist. I firmly believe success with a setback is a great tool. I bring this up because it seems to me that your criticism also applies the same to it.

That said, I don't believe it's a valid criticism for what I'm describing. Why? Because while the check is there to resolve uncertainty, we only need to resolve "meaningful uncertainty". I think there's 2 tests that must be met before something is considered to be "meaningful uncertainty". The uncertainity must rise to a sufficient level - so something like a 1/1,000,000 chance of something happening isn't meaningful. The uncertainty must also be of that nature that it's fun to resolve or important or interesting to the scene or story. This will always be a subjective call based on what you are looking to provide in the play experience and what your players expect to gain from it. For example, some tables may find it totally uninteresting and unimportant to roll to see if you can help your ally up the stairs after being drunk. Others may have a great deal off fun in that scenario. If they do then it's meaningful uncertainity. If they don't then it is not.

I think that's the way around your criticism, but if for some reason you think it isn't, can you explain how that same criticism doesn't apply to success with a setback and if it doesn't how it gets around it?

A secondary comment is that you have positioned this as "alternative" to goal-and-approach. As has been noted several times goal-and-approach is a description of a style for players to communicate to the DM. You seem to be explaining an adjudication approach. Not the same thing.
As used on this forum by many posters it's much more than a description style for players to communicate with the DM. It encompasses that as well as an adjudication approach.

In this second part you've described in particular an approach to setting DCs. I think you have a really good point. It's something that I think I've done on an irregular basis without realizing that I was doing something different, so it's good to have it explicated.
Thank you.

However, I don't agree that this really contradicts what the PH says about stealth because I don't think the description in the PH is intended to be limiting or comprehensive. The PH describes a simple procedure for simple situations; it doesn't say that procedure covers all situations. I understand that in other editions (and some other games) rules are assumed to be comprehensive unless otherwise stated. In 5e, it seems to me it is the other way around.
Sure, it may not be stated that it's the only way to do it, so I can't really argue that RAW forbids this thing. What I can say is that it doesn't actively encourage it and a cursory read through of the PHB can easily lead to the belief that stealth is handled by comparing to passive perception in most every situation.

So if it leaves open the possibility for more then that's great! It should have actively encouraged handling stealth that way except in a 1v1 pc vs npc situation because as we have seen in this thread, there's still many handling stealth without the understanding of how to set DC's for it - and so they base it almost entirely off the passive perception value. (and some even use multiple rolls to resolve the situation... ick!)
 
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Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Concerning success with a setback, just a couple of examples with different degrees of failure.

For stealth, the guards may see something but not sure exactly what. There's not a full blown search going on but everybody is on yellow alert. The next scene (with different circumstances and different DC) are going to be more difficult, but you didn't get caught this time.

Then there's the ubiquitous trap. If the rogue misses the target DC by enough, the trap goes off. It's a setback that your rogue is now dead but at least he went out a bang, right? Oh, and the trap is gone.
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
Whoa, don't jump ahead of yourself. You want to attack said orc. That's fine. We will roll initiative. You win and attack the orc. Your first attack hits and injures the orc but fails to kill him (a very likely scenario). The orc instead of firing back, ducks behind the wall of the watchtower and starts shouting, alerting orcs in the other towers and possibly on the ground that something is going on, but at least he's pinned down and not sounded the actual alarm yet.

What do you do?
Oh, that bugger is dead meat now. I'm going to do everything I can to kill him.
 

Yaarel

Adventurer
The original post raises interesting issues for skill resolution.

If orcs have a vigilant lookout, then I might consider the possibility of approaching undetected to be autofail, unless the player can come up with a convincing way to bypass or distract the lookout.

If the player implements a convincing tactic, such as under the cover of night and fog, then I might consider it no longer autofail, and instead prefer the contest to be between the character and a collective roll for the orcs, using the highest perception check plus ‘helping actions’ from other orcs − possibly giving advantage or disadvantage, depending.

The possibility of a flat autofail (DC ‘40’ sotospeak) alternatively raises the possibility of a flat DC 20 for the ‘situation’, before any orc skill checks come into consideration. This possibility being the point of the original post, is an interesting issue.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
I don't think that houserule adds anything to the game.

I hated that the rule existed in 3e, it both doesn't make sense to me and feels too gamey (and punitive).

Is the lock now unpickable by everyone? What if a more skilled character attempts to do it? What if the Cleric casts Guidance increasing the character's skill?

What if a previous adventurer had once tried to pick the lock? Is the lock forever unpickable?
While I wouldn't do this for an ordinary lock, I would have no qualms about it for a unique lock.

The way we would handle it is basically using the "Let It Ride" rule. Each character (who is proficient with lock picking) could attempt it once. If they failed, they'd need a significant change in circumstances, such as leveling up (representing an improvement of their overall skill). Guidance wouldn't cut it, and ought to be used on the initial check, not saved for a "reroll".

Years ago, a friend of mine ran a campaign that contained a megadungeon. We made regular forrays into that dungeon, and one day came across a heavy vault door with a very complex lock at its center, a marvel of gnomish engineering. We happened to have a pair of rogues in the party, so we both gave it a go, but no dice. The DC was high.

Over the course of a number of sessions, we'd give it another go whenever our characters had leveled up and were passing by. Our luck was terrible though, and we never managed to pick it. That door haunted our dreams, taunting us with the vast hoard we imagined it must be guarding.

Finally, unable to wait any longer, we pooled our funds and had an alchemist brew up a large batch of acid. Burning through the lock, the vault finally opened and we discovered within a device that we were able to figure out with a bit of trial and error. We dubbed it The Evolution Machine because it forced a being inside it to undergo a harsh and painful evolutionary process. Unsurprisingly, we jumped at the chance to use it and became a party of feral halflings who would enter a berserker rage at low hit points, and dwarves with displacer beast tentacles and fire breath. Despite that we now looked like a bunch of scary freaks, we we're thrilled with our new powers and considered it well worth the effort.

Of course, burning through the lock had its own consequences. During a later delve we discovered evidence that others had been using the machine, and further on began encountering evolved versions of monsters in the dungeon!

My point being that the final twist would never have occurred if we'd been allowed to just Take 20 until we popped the lock. Hence, I think there certainly is a place for that sort of challenge, even though I wouldn't use it for every lock.

Regarding random encounters, I like them for the same reason. Not the old "an ogre jumps out from behind a bush and attacks" but rather a more nuanced approach. In a recent game, where it was just me and a henchman due to the other players being unable to make it, my character went out into the desert on a vision quest (with some psychedelic herbs). On his way back, the DM rolled a very dangerous encounter with a cyclops. Though my character saw him at a distance, he was suffering exhaustion from laying out in the sun all day, so I doubted my ability to outpace him, so I simply waited for him to reach me and acted very friendly, which confused it (as its goal had been undoubtedly to Rob and/or kill us). We spoke for a bit, during which time the vision quest came up, which the cyclops interpreted rather literally. The idea of improving his vision appealed to him, so I convinced him to smoke the herb in order to help him undergo his own vision quest. For better or worse, it wasn't enough to cause him to hallucinate, but it did mellow him out enough that we were able to leave while he waited for it to kick in. Hopefully we don't run across him again...

In case you're thinking that the DM went easy on me, think again. He TPK'd the party just a few weeks earlier with an encounter of similar lethality.

Emergent gameplay can be a lot of fun. I'm not suggesting that it's for everyone; simply that these techniques can bring a lot to the table, surprising not just the players but the DM as well. I can attest that I've enjoyed the style from both sides of the screen.
 

Kinematics

Explorer
For the orc encampment stealth scenario, I'd use a decaying effect, dropping the rogue's stealth check by 1 point for every minute or two it takes him to work through the encampment. I'd still use FrogReaver's notes about the overall difficulty of the camp, rather than the PP of an orc, since that's what the stealth check is really against.

Maybe the camp difficulty is 19, and the rogue rolled a 25 for stealth. Rather than a complete win, that would be worth about 10 minutes' of sneaking, with near-misses happening as the effective stealth drops to 21, then 20. How close is he to his goal? Is he close enough to try to rush through on his existing roll, or does he want to take the chance at making another roll, which might make the rest of the trip a breeze, or might have him run headlong into an orc commander?

The single roll having a fixed effect kind of prevents that. If you roll badly at the start, you're caught at the edge of the encampment, and probably just run away and try again later. No real risk. If you succeed, you get through the camp without further issues, which is kind of boring. If you start rolling even a handful of dice for the orcs in the camp, probability makes the entire exercise futile, which robs the game of the fun of trying.

The decay effect seems a nice compromise all around. The player doesn't know the camp's DC, so doesn't know how long any given roll will last him. If he rolls well, he wants to milk that roll as far as he can, but if he tries to milk too much from it, it's worse than the risk of another stealth check. There's a challenge that's associated with the dice that isn't completely bound by the dice; you're kind of playing chicken with the DM. And depending on how close the rogue wants to cut things, his actions might raise the general wariness of the camp or have other side effects.
 

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