D&D General "I make a perception check."


Morkus from Orkus
Sure. I concede that I was talking about attack rolls. I feel like that was obvious from context, but apparently not.

So, given that, what was your argument?
It wasn't apparent from context and I hadn't gotten to the other post yet. I answer posts as I go along.

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The High Aldwin
heck I'm still amazed that there was 'no uncertainty' in finding a false bottom or secret chamber/compartment.
Yeah, me, too, but I've given up on that--those people just want that false bottom found come hell or high water. 🤷‍♂️

For me it would depend with that example. Most false bottoms would be found without a roll, but if there was a hidden small section that was false, that could be overlooked and I'd have a roll with probably a DC 10.
In case you missed it, when I first posed it was DC 20--so, IMO well concealed and "Hard" to find.

Oh my. I am really trying not to get frustrated because I don't think you are asking out of bad faith, but it is hard.

The difficulty of the roll may or may not be at issue -- asking the king for a million gold versus asking for his help defeating the dragon ravaging his lands -- but the outcome is always dependent on the context of the position (physical, rhetorical, or otherwise). That is literally the job of the GM, to adjudicate outcomes.

I feel like maybe you expect more binary outcomes? I don't want to make assumptions tho.
again by removing context we break it down to binary pass fail


Ok, let me ask you the same question I asked @GMforPowergamers earlier. If instead of a passive check, I had asked you to roll a perception check, and you got a 10 on the die (so same result as a passive check), would you then say “I want a different result. I look again?” And if I said “sorry, you got the result you got. If you want a different result you’re going to have to try something else,” would you have the same objections to that ruling?

No. I wouldn't even ask for the second roll. I rolled, I got what I got. I may try and find anything I may have missed to boost that roll, such as guidance, bardic inspiration, Inspiration from the Inspiration rules, or something else, but I gave it my best and I accept the results.

But there are two fundamental differences between "I make a roll and got a 10" and "defaulting to passive"

1) I could have rolled higher than 10. This is important for the feeling of agency. I had a chance.
2) Those other factors I mentioned. There are abilities that trigger only when the die is rolled. Luck, Guidance, Bardic Inspiration, normal inspiration, The Psy Knack feature. By rolling, I have a chance to utilize these elements, which I cannot use on a passive check.

I don’t know, ask the hypothetical players.

Presumably they are searching for clues because the hypothetical DM has clues in the room for them to find. If there are no clues, just tell them that and they can move on. Searching an "empty room" with nothing notable, interesting, or relevant is just wasting everyone's time.

Yes, I am. I said so several pages back.

I must of missed that. If we were talking investigation, then that is a completely different ball game and I would agree the players need to provide an action to investigate, at a minimum telling me what they are investigating. Because Investigation is different than perception.

This does raise the issue for me of how you handle searching for hidden creatures. If the party was in the woods, and a hidden goblin was mocking them, they can't "look" or "listen" for the goblin's position, because those are passive perception and actions they have already taken. So, would you expect them to begin beating the bushes to try and find the goblin?

And please don't say "I wouldn't expect them to do anything, they would take the actions they want to take" because that is fundamentally unhelpful to figuring out what is going on at your table. If it helps, imagine you were a player at your own table.

Edit: I forgot I'd asked a very similar question below. So we can just go with that example below.

Actually, I don’t ask. Player says “I try to break the door open by shoulder charging it,” I say “that’ll require a DC 10 strength check, and trigger a roll of the tension pool.” They roll a die and tell me a number. Did they add their proficiency bonus for Athletics? For Arcana? For their ukulele proficiency? Did they add their proficiency bonus at all? Did they actually add their strength bonus, or did they add another, higher number instead? Did they even add any numbers together, or did they just tell me 17 because they thought I would believe it? I don’t know the answer to any of these questions, and I don’t really care to look into it. I trust that my friends are playing in good faith unless given a very good reason to suspect otherwise.

This isn't about good faith play, in anyway. This is about what mechanics are in play. Players don't always know whether or not their ukulele proficiency applies. Sometimes it is obvious, sometimes it isn't.

And especially when discussing with other DMs about the skills in question being used, it is far more helpful to discuss them in terms of the skills than in terms of "I trust my players to apply the correct proficiency when appropriate" because that doesn't help us understand your game situation.

I don’t have secret set of options they’re allowed to take in mind. They just have to try something and I will adjudicate the results as best I can based on my understanding of the rules and my own judgment.

Okay, but we;ve tried that. And for the last couple of days, multiple times, you've given the same response. So, pretend you were a player in your own game, but help us understand how you are picturing this beyond "They just have to try something" because we've been trying, and it has gotten us nowhere.

I mean, this is a pretty tough situation for these hypothetical characters. The goblin must have rolled pretty well on its Dexterity (Stealth) check to have beaten their passive perception. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of much they can do to find it without entering the room. Does their light source fill the whole space? If not maybe they could try tossing it in. If it does, maybe they need to revise their strategy. They can’t find the goblin without going into the room but maybe they can avoid getting ambushed some other way. Maybe try to lure the goblin out instead. Maybe toss something else in to make a noise?

It really isn't that hard for a Goblin to beat the Passive Perception of low-level PCs. They have a +6, so they can easily get a 16. Passive Perception for a character is likely 14 (+2 wisdom, +2 prof)

But, this is a perfect highlight of the issue I have with regulating perception to only Passive Perception. The players have spent a resource (bardic inspiration) and while it wasn't wasted, they now are in a situation where the only thing the fighter can do is to try and draw out the goblin. They cannot achieve their original goal, and in fact they never got the chance to attempt their original plan. The bardic inspiration could have never been used.

And since the Goblin ran from these PCs, I'd say it is harder to trick it, because it is aware its best chance is to attack from ambush. And I know many players who would be quite frustrated at having no recourse to attempt to find this goblin, and their only viable plans would involve either tricking it or hoping they beat its initiative when it attacks.

I understand that’s how you rule. What I just told you is that at my table, if consequences don’t make sense for the action, then there is no check. It just succeeds. Whether you think that’s what the rules say or not is irrelevant to this discussion, just understand that it is how I rule, and assume it’s a houserule if you have to.

The DMG suggests progress combined with a setback as a potential consequence for a failed roll, which is how I think of knowledge checks. If you fail the roll, I’ll still tell you something interesting about the subject that your character remembers (another reason I need to know where you’re trying to remember it from, because that will inform what I tell you about the subject on a failure), it just won’t be the thing you were hoping to remember (another reason I need to know what that is).

But... aren't you contradicting yourself here? Learning different information isn't a consequence of a failed roll, so you would have just had them succeed the check to begin with with no roll.

How do these two statements not contradict?

In combat the consequence of any failed action is the opportunity cost. You used up your action and accomplished nothing. This is part of why I find 10-minute dungeon turns (and 4-hour overland travel turns) super useful, because they lend a similar opportunity cost for failure to most actions.

I don't like those 10 minute turns for two reasons. 1) I rarely run large enough dungeons for it to matter. 2) They also give an opportunity cost to roleplaying and goofing off, which discourages people from having fun with the game.

Now, I imagine you are going to tell me that it doesn't discourage that sort of thing. But, in my expeirence, the moment you start asking people "what do you do on your turn" They aren't going to "waste" their turn by messing around.

And you are more than welcome to that opinion, and to run your own games in accordance with that. Me, I am 100% ok with players missing telegraphs sometimes, in fact I expect it. It’s just a normal part of the game for me, just like how sometimes I don’t notice the pressure plate in a legacy dungeon in Elden Ring. That’s just how it goes sometimes.

Sure, but again, if a player is trying to take actions to avoid traps, but those actions trigger the traps they were trying to avoid with no roll, then what was the point of the player's declared intent? It clearly didn't matter that they were attempting to find and avoid traps, so why should they bother telling you that was what they were trying to do?

Ok, so this kind of thing is, I think, why you sometimes get accused of not reading people’s posts. In response to me saying repeatedly that I don’t know if the idol is important or not, you say, “well if it’s so unimportant, why not just tell the players that?” Like… literally, I just said like four times, I don’t know if it’s important.

Maybe you would know it doesn’t matter if you put an idol into your game. That’s not how I prep or run games though.

I don’t prep plots. That was an assumption you brought to the table.

Ok, well do you understand now?

No, I don't understand now. I get that you are saying you don't know if it is important, but to me that doesn't makes sense. Once they pick it up, you know whether or not it ties into anything. You know what the idol is. Maybe you didn't know before they picked it up, but you can't have described it without knowing what it is and what condition it is in. And you know where it was, so... how can you not know if it is important or not?

I can understand not pre-plotting an adventure, but how can you run if every item is a mystery box you have no idea how it fits into the world? How can you describe an item if you have no idea what it is and what it is doing in that room? How can you even answer the player's questions if they ask them?

I'm not trying to be rude, I'm legitimately flummoxed how you can run a game this way. You have to know something about this idol.

I mean, I know what’s in the room. I know what’s plain to see and what’s hidden, and how it’s hidden. It’s not up to me what among that is or isn’t important. The players will make it important, or they won’t.

Okay, but you know what is hidden, so when the players ask to try and find hidden items, you know what they are looking for. Because you know what is there. "Important" doesn't neccessarily mean "plot relevant" it is just "notable". So since you know everything in the room, you know what is notable and what isn't.


They still have to DO something -- specifically something different than they were doing before (looking around).

"I don't like the looks of this hallway. I stop and kneel down and see if I can spot anything weird about the floors or wall."
"That foul breeze you mentioned worries me. I sniff and see if I can pinpoint where it is coming from."
"Cold spot? Uh oh. I take off my gauntlets so I can feel changes in temperature better."

These are how you get an active Perception roll, not by saying "I roll perception ::clatter::".

So, "I look for something weird" isn't good enough. But "I kneel down and look for something weird" is?

Does that not seem incredibly pedantic to you? I'll have my character doing squats in every room if that's what you need, but I seriously don't what value that adds to your game.

Also, how is "I sniff" different than "I look"? As I understand the conversation to date, you already described that foul breeze in detail, they already smelled it and tried to pinpoint its location, and now they have to do something different. That's how it works for visual information, why is olfactory information somehow different?


It’s possible you could have seen the sigil while studying magic in sigil; it’s also possible you could not have seen it. Knowing that, I have the information I need to determine that it is appropriate to call for an Intelligence check here (to which you could certainly add your arcana proficiency). It also gives me something to work with so that if you fail, I can tell you something you do remember from that experience in Sigil, that’s related to but doesn’t directly satisfy your query: progress combined with a setback.

I think you missed the more important part of the example.

The sigil is from the city of Tyr. If the player doesn't know that, then they won't say "I think back to my childhood in Tyr" where they are GUARANTEED to know about this sigil. Instead they ask about if they saw it in the City of Sigil, which is a MAYBE.

This is what we mean when we talk about "asking the wrong question". Because of things they didn't know, and that supposedly was not mentioned in the description, they went from a guaranteed success to a maybe, because they asked the more general arcane studies question instead of the specific non-magic related Tyr question.


Since it's shifted from something that take some physical action like searching a room or something to some kind of knowledge check that takes some kind of link to your character's history the reasons for why it's required change a bit. Those reasons have to do with if your character is the quantum ogre when convenient but a verifiable fact when having a quantum ogre PC would be inconvenient. You've gone from a quantum activity needing to be collapsed into an action to a quantum history needing to be collapsed into one with established facts. I'll use @Charlaquin 's example reasons to know something & what I think is your "can I arcana that?"
  • “I try to remember if I saw this in my arcane studies
    • Great!.. your character engaged in arcane studies. Possibly at a school, under a tutor, or self directed. Facts about your character have been established deepened or reinforced. Those facts can be used to influence the DC of this check now create hooks later or any number of other things.
  • “I think wistfully back to the days when I was but a wee lass and my dear, loving grandfather would take me upon his knee and tell me such wonderful stories of his adventures in his own youth as a traveling scholar; oh if only I could recall, did he ever mention seeing something of this sort?”
    • same as above but more & different facts are established about your background & history
  • "can I arcana that"
    • nothing is established. As GM I don't want to write your PC's backstory whole cloth & have no tools that can be used to force you into sticking to it rather than discarding it any time it becomes inconvenient for it to not be something else.

But the player isn't trying to establish their backstory. The player is trying to make a knowledge check, and their backstory is being demanded in exchange for being allowed to roll.

If you want a backstory for the PCs, establish it in the first few sessions or away from the table, not every time I try and make a knowledge check. Especially since this means PCs without knowledge skills have less backstory, which is ridiculous.

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