5E Intelligence and Wisdom Checks (Skills) as GM Tool for Plot Rationing or Expository Dump

Do you use Intelligence/Wisdom Checks (Skills) as a means to ration plot or as an expository dump


  • Total voters
    46
  • Poll closed .
Very Rarely.

I would rather use proficient Knowledge checks to dispense plot hints. Untrained Intelligence (rather than Wisdom) checks only for those few cases when the whole group might be really stuck with the plot.
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
Interesting responses and interesting spread of data thus far. Thanks for that.

76 % using it

52 % using it with some level of frequency

Those 52 % of you in the "sometimes or more" category:

Are you guys all running Adventure Paths or at least some sort of metaplot-driven-game?

Those 24 % not using it at all:

Are you running hexcrawls or dungeon crawls without an overarcing metaplot driving the game?

Everyone:

Are any of you using 'Success at a Cost' (DMG 242) and could you see the following action resolution handling occur in your game?

Situation: The PCs pass through a Fey Crossroads into the Feywild and must find their way from their unknown point in an enchanted frozen forest of perpetual night to the Dawnmote (lets say its a Winter Fey guarded oasis in this place that doubles as a means to travel to the Summer Fey's domain).

To your South and West, a stand of trees rise to extraordinary heights before the darkness cuts off what lies atop them. The trees sway rhythmically with unseen wind (or something else). To your North and East, a precarious field of ice stretches out before you in all directions, eerily cracking and groaning. There is no breeze. There is nothing.

Let us say the Survival Proficient Fighter figures that maybe the heat of the Dawnmote is creating a pressure gradient which generates the unseen wind upon the stand of trees.

Wisdom (Survival) check of 18 vs DC 20.

GM (success but an obstacle that changes the nature of the situation): "It almost must be so. In the moments you think on this and get your bearings, the groaning ice fractures, sending cracking tendrils this way and that. Its coming apart beneath your feet...and by torchlight, you can see something...moving...beneath the ice...

What do you do?!


Questions:

a) Would this be a case where (i) the Fighter's action declaration and result was allowed to stipulate the location of the Dawnmote in the setting...or (ii) would this be a case where you would simply say "no" because you or your AP or your hexcrawl has a preordained "Dawnmote" location?

b) Is this an obstacle that you would allow to emerge from the Success With Cost/Complication? What do you feel about the "to be determined thing" beneath the ice? The roll generated that bit of fiction along with the icefield hazard. Yes? Too much? What other complications would you envision being appropriate?
 

ad_hoc

Adventurer
Those 24 % not using it at all:

Are you running hexcrawls or dungeon crawls without an overarcing metaplot driving the game?
I just think it's dumb to have players roll dice without purpose.

If the information is important I just give it to them rather than trying to trick them into thinking their abilities are making a difference.
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
I just think it's dumb to have players roll dice without purpose.

If the information is important I just give it to them rather than trying to trick them into thinking their abilities are making a difference.
That is a fair enough point, but I would it likely doesn't apply to those who "aren't using it at all."

Most likely (though I can't be sure because I'm not these people voting), those voting in that category likely don't have "plot mandatory information that must be dumped upon the players or the game stalls out." That could be for a number of reasons (one being that there is no overarcing metaplot that drives play).

That is why I asked that particular question to that particular group of voters "are you running a type of game that doesn't entail a play-driving metaplot?"

EDIT

Just occurred to me, ad_hoc, are you saying that you're one of those people at the bottom of the poll except (a) use metaplot but (b) automatically dump metaplot info onto players (because its required to perpetuate the metaplot's trajectory) rather than having the possibility of crucial metaplot information not being exposed due to failed action resolution?
 
Last edited:

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I just think it's dumb to have players roll dice without purpose.

If the information is important I just give it to them rather than trying to trick them into thinking their abilities are making a difference.
So ability scores and proficiencies of a PC never make a difference in your game? Someone who took a feat to double their proficiency bonus for investigation gets no benefit for that feat?
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Those 24 % not using it at all:

Are you running hexcrawls or dungeon crawls without an overarcing metaplot driving the game?
That is my general preference in D&D 5e. I run the odd event-based adventure from time to time but it is not ideal in my view.

Everyone:
Are any of you using 'Success at a Cost' (DMG 242) and could you see the following action resolution handling occur in your game?

Situation: The PCs pass through a Fey Crossroads into the Feywild and must find their way from their unknown point in an enchanted frozen forest of perpetual night to the Dawnmote (lets say its a Winter Fey guarded oasis in this place that doubles as a means to travel to the Summer Fey's domain).

To your South and West, a stand of trees rise to extraordinary heights before the darkness cuts off what lies atop them. The trees sway rhythmically with unseen wind (or something else). To your North and East, a precarious field of ice stretches out before you in all directions, eerily cracking and groaning. There is no breeze. There is nothing.

Let us say the Survival Proficient Fighter figures that maybe the heat of the Dawnmote is creating a pressure gradient which generates the unseen wind upon the stand of trees.

Wisdom (Survival) check of 18 vs DC 20.

GM (success but an obstacle that changes the nature of the situation): "It almost must be so. In the moments you think on this and get your bearings, the groaning ice fractures, sending cracking tendrils this way and that. Its coming apart beneath your feet...and by torchlight, you can see something...moving...beneath the ice...

What do you do?!


Questions:
It's not clear to me from your example what the fighter was doing. He or she "figures" something. Okay. He or she can figure whatever he or she likes.
 

ad_hoc

Adventurer
Just occurred to me, ad_hoc, are you saying that you're one of those people at the bottom of the poll except (a) use metaplot but (b) automatically dump metaplot info onto players (because its required to perpetuate the metaplot's trajectory) rather than having the possibility of crucial metaplot information not being exposed due to failed action resolution?
Yeah, if I'm understanding you correctly that is correct.

So ability scores and proficiencies of a PC never make a difference in your game? Someone who took a feat to double their proficiency bonus for investigation gets no benefit for that feat?
What?
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I just think it's dumb to have players roll dice without purpose.

If the information is important I just give it to them rather than trying to trick them into thinking their abilities are making a difference.
So let me try again.

I'm just trying to understand how other people who voted "never" run their games. Given that there is no right or wrong...

Do you ever call (or allow) intelligence or wisdom knowledge checks in your game? Because it seems like your answer is no.

If a DM never utilizes intelligence or wisdom knowledge checks, as a player I would never invest anything in them.
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
@iserith

The framing of the situation and the player of the Fighter's proposition is basically distilling that moment of play into the question:

"Will the Fighter suss out the direction of the Dawnmote via natural environment-based deduction?"

The success triggers a "yes", the cost/complication triggers a new fiction of "but deal with obstacle x first."
 

ad_hoc

Adventurer
This was the question:

Do you use Intelligence/Wisdom Checks (Skills) as a means to ration plot or as an expository dump
My answer is No.

That is not the same as not using intelligence or wisdom in general.

The plot is not the challenge. It's the thing that sets up the challenge. The audience needs exposition so they know what it is they're trying to do.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
@iserith

The framing of the situation and the player of the Fighter's proposition is basically distilling that moment of play into the question:

"Will the Fighter suss out the direction of the Dawnmote via natural environment-based deduction?"
So the goal is to figure out the direction of the Dawnmote using the approach of observing the environment and making deductions. Assuming there's an uncertain outcome and a meaningful consequence for failure, this could be an ability check.

To answer your previous questions
a) Would this be a case where (i) the Fighter's action declaration and result was allowed to stipulate the location of the Dawnmote in the setting...or (ii) would this be a case where you would simply say "no" because you or your AP or your hexcrawl has a preordained "Dawnmote" location?
The player has no ability to declare the location of the Dawnmote in D&D 5e. That is for the DM to decide. If I did not previously establish in some way where the Dawnmote was, then I'm usually inclined to just say "Yes, and..." But if I'm setting up a specific challenge, I will have framed this already in a way that the player's action declaration would not be appropriate as it would contradict existing fiction.

b) Is this an obstacle that you would allow to emerge from the Success With Cost/Complication? What do you feel about the "to be determined thing" beneath the ice? The roll generated that bit of fiction along with the icefield hazard. Yes? Too much? What other complications would you envision being appropriate?
I'm not against it per se, but I don't need someone to fail a check to make that thing happen. It's a little more disconnected from the action declaration than I would prefer in this game.
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
This was the question:



My answer is No.

That is not the same as not using intelligence or wisdom in general.

The plot is not the challenge. It's the thing that sets up the challenge. The audience needs exposition so they know what it is they're trying to do.
I agree that there are styles of play where "the apex play priority is not the challenge of dealing with the GM's/AP's preconceived metaplot."

I agree that there are styles of play where "(preconceived meta)plot is not a thing at all."

I agree that there are styles of play where "the apex play priority is not overcoming combat/exploration/social challenges."

But there are plenty of other play priorities out there still. Things like:

* Overcoming the hex/dungeon challenge (or a series of them, connected or not)."

* Generating emergent (not preconceived) story and finding out who these characters are and what this world is in the course of play.

So I know your input to the poll was "no, I don't use this stuff as a GM tool for plot rationing/expository dump."

Now I'm trying to correlate it to a type of play. How would you define your play? Is there a metaplot that drives play (GM-conceived or AP)? Are you running a hexcrawl or a loose sandbox without a metaplot that propels play? Are you doing something else?
 

ad_hoc

Adventurer
Now I'm trying to correlate it to a type of play. How would you define your play? Is there a metaplot that drives play (GM-conceived or AP)? Are you running a hexcrawl or a loose sandbox without a metaplot that propels play? Are you doing something else?
I've done adventure paths. The current one is both an adventure path and a sandbox (PotA). All the set up was given to them. That set up leads them to the doorsteps of several adventure sites.

If they did a good job of information gathering and/or are able to recall information regarding things in play, that will help them deal with those adventure sites (For example, maybe they know enough about the NPCs there to get past the guards.)

So the exposition is all given to them. The challenge is not.

When I play sandbox games I have a number of self contained adventures ready to go. Adventure hooks are freely given to the players. They have options through downtime such as research or using community contacts to try to glean more information about the adventure before they decide to go trek to it (so to be better prepared). Once there recalling information can be helpful for a vast number of potential challenges.

The information to get them started and have a basic starting point to choose each adventure is freely given.

(In sandbox play it is possible to get thrust into a new or side adventure depending on where they are in the world, what is happening, etc. But that doesn't pertain to the exposition question.)
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
So the goal is to figure out the direction of the Dawnmote using the approach of observing the environment and making deductions. Assuming there's an uncertain outcome and a meaningful consequence for failure, this could be an ability check.
Yes, that is the gist of it. I didn't go deeper than that because (a) this is a quick hypothetical for conversation and (b) I figured the procedural elements were intuitive.

The player has no ability to declare the location of the Dawnmote in D&D 5e. That is for the DM to decide. If I did not previously establish in some way where the Dawnmote was, then I'm usually inclined to just say "Yes, and..." But if I'm setting up a specific challenge, I will have framed this already in a way that the player's action declaration would not be appropriate as it would contradict existing fiction.
So there are multiple components to this.

1) If this was a reasonably high resolution, map-driven hexcrawl, then the Dawnmote would be a preconceived point on the Feywild map. Therefore, the default answer to the question outlined (regarding the Survival check) would already be answered prior to the player's action declaration. So the GM would have an answer to the question the player proposed. If the answer is possibly "yes", then the test would be about (a) can the survivalist suss out the correct direction to the Dawnmote at all (pass/fail result) or (b) can the survivalist suss out the correct direction to the Dawnmote without triggering some form of obstacle (due to time expended or being a presence in a dangerous area or something else).

2) If this was a sandbox with a very low resolution map and this Dawnmote thing was just recently adlibbed (meaning the GM was sorting out, but not firm on, the precise location of the Dawnmote in this Winter Fey domain the PCs have emerged in) then, effectively, the player's input into the situation is a form of vetoable content introduction. In 5e, the GM can "say yes", "say no", or "disclaim authority to the dice."

As we should always do in these cases, we're taking for granted that the outcome of neither (1) nor (2) contradicts prior established fiction.

I'm not against it per se, but I don't need someone to fail a check to make that thing happen. It's a little more disconnected from the action declaration than I would prefer in this game.
Of course you "don't need someone to fail a check to make that thing happen." That isn't the point of the exercise.

The point of the exercise is "this moment of play happens....what now?"

I'm curious about your thoughts on it being disconnected in 5e though. This is always an interesting one (which is why I asked people about their thoughts on the complication).

This touches upon my 3 year old thread (very interestingly and unfortunately destroyed due to the board's disintegration and deus ex machina) "DC 30 <etc>" where we discussed the nature of GMing 5e, genre logic vs internal causality logic, etc etc.

When I look at that hypothetical play excerpt above, I think its pretty mild in terms of the tension between genre logic vs internal causality logic and should satisfy both.

1) Sussing out a thing takes time (even if a marginal amount). Time on the ice means the danger of the substrate becoming unable to load bear the PCs and, therefore, it possibly failing.

2) Time + the presence of new environmental inputs (the PCs and the sounds of their interaction with the ice) = local denizens (benign or predatory) might be attracted.

By my estimation, both forms of logic are satisfied.

Which do you think isn't satisfied and why?

What would be more satisfying (or "connected" as you put it)?
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
So there are multiple components to this.

1) If this was a reasonably high resolution, map-driven hexcrawl, then the Dawnmote would be a preconceived point on the Feywild map. Therefore, the default answer to the question outlined (regarding the Survival check) would already be answered prior to the player's action declaration. So the GM would have an answer to the question the player proposed. If the answer is possibly "yes", then the test would be about (a) can the survivalist suss out the correct direction to the Dawnmote at all (pass/fail result) or (b) can the survivalist suss out the correct direction to the Dawnmote without triggering some form of obstacle (due to time expended or being a presence in a dangerous area or something else).

2) If this was a sandbox with a very low resolution map and this Dawnmote thing was just recently adlibbed (meaning the GM was sorting out, but not firm on, the precise location of the Dawnmote in this Winter Fey domain the PCs have emerged in) then, effectively, the player's input into the situation is a form of vetoable content introduction. In 5e, the GM can "say yes", "say no", or "disclaim authority to the dice."

As we should always do in these cases, we're taking for granted that the outcome of neither (1) nor (2) contradicts prior established fiction.
To the extent I understand your jargon here, I believe I agree with all of this. How abstract I prepare things and what I've established previously will determine my response as DM.

Of course you "don't need someone to fail a check to make that thing happen." That isn't the point of the exercise.

The point of the exercise is "this moment of play happens....what now?"

I'm curious about your thoughts on it being disconnected in 5e though. This is always an interesting one (which is why I asked people about their thoughts on the complication).

This touches upon my 3 year old thread (very interestingly and unfortunately destroyed due to the board's disintegration and deus ex machina) "DC 30 <etc>" where we discussed the nature of GMing 5e, genre logic vs internal causality logic, etc etc.

When I look at that hypothetical play excerpt above, I think its pretty mild in terms of the tension between genre logic vs internal causality logic and should satisfy both.

1) Sussing out a thing takes time (even if a marginal amount). Time on the ice means the danger of the substrate becoming unable to load bear the PCs and, therefore, it possibly failing.

2) Time + the presence of new environmental inputs (the PCs and the sounds of their interaction with the ice) = local denizens (benign or predatory) might be attracted.

By my estimation, both forms of logic are satisfied.

Which do you think isn't satisfied and why?

What would be more satisfying (or "connected" as you put it)?
The devil is in the details of what's going on in play. I won't add to your example as that is problematic on these boards, but given just the context we have right now, I would say the action undertaken by the character and the result of the adventurer's action does not follow as well as it could. I'm taking it as granted that something about this situation comes with a meaningful consequence for failure, otherwise there would be no check in the first place. Apparently that's a monster approaching from beneath the ice, but in the example these stakes were not made clear to the player (or the reader). If this example played out at my table, there would be some effort at establishing - prior to the player committing to it - that dilly-dallying on the ice draws trouble and that failing the check meant to resolve the action of deducing the location of the Dawnmote would mean dilly-dallying. Without that, we go from "trying to deduce something" to "attacked by monster" and that requires something of a leap.
 

MarkB

Hero
I've sometimes asked players to make Intelligence checks for their character if there's something their character would be aware of which the player has either forgotten or doesn't know.

However, it seems like about 90% of the time they then roll something like a 5, and the knowledge goes un-imparted anyway. So these days I try to either hold my peace if it's less-than-obvious information, or straight-up tell them if it's something their character would definitely be aware of.
 

ad_hoc

Adventurer
I've sometimes asked players to make Intelligence checks for their character if there's something their character would be aware of which the player has either forgotten or doesn't know.

However, it seems like about 90% of the time they then roll something like a 5, and the knowledge goes un-imparted anyway. So these days I try to either hold my peace if it's less-than-obvious information, or straight-up tell them if it's something their character would definitely be aware of.
I do the latter too.

We don't play every week.

People forget stuff when their characters just wouldn't.

It's a judgement call. Sometimes I won't if I feel I'm not reminding them of the information but rather solving a situation for them by telling them what the answer is.

In neither case will I call for a check.
 

Fenris-77

Explorer
It's not an all or nothing proposition, or at least doesn't have to be. The exposition, let's call it X whatever it is, is the bare bones info and I won't gate it behind a roll.. A knowledge check would, in my game anyway, then represent more of a "hmm, what else do I know about X" (as opposed to "roll to see if you know X and if you fail too bad). I tend to dole out additional info about X based on the level of success above whatever the DC I set (not precisely 5e, but it works for me).
 

Don Durito

Explorer
As the person quoted in the OP I want to say that I feel a lot of this thread is missing (what I at least) considered the main point.

I wasn't interested in the game grinding to a halt because a PC fails a skill. I'm just going to assume that most GMs who run into this issue are going to resolve it somehow - if only because a halted game obviously has to start again. In any case, as several posters have pointed out, this isn't necessarily a issue in sandbox games (Although if the GM wants to give exposition about their setting they've prepared it would still be silly to withold it because everyone rolled low).

The point I was making is that, given that, these skills aren't really all that important.

I mean yes, they can help reinforce the role-play of the learned character who knows a lot of stuff - but this is really more colour. (And is actually better done by the player having some source of knowledge they can feed through their character. If you're playing in the Forgotten Realms and want to show your knowledge of history it's better if the player knows stuff about Netheril. It's a bit weird if the player is rolling so the GM can exposit and then the character can pass that along. - Yes the GM may insist that if the PC wants to spout knowledge about Netheril than they have to take the skill but that's the tail wagging the dog - it's because the skill exists in the first place).

Similarly, in a Sandbox game a player who has the skill may be able to get info that wouldn't otherwise be available and allows them options, but like the plot driven game it's a bit of a game of chicken - the GM is giving options anyway - if the GM doesn't give the PCs meaningful choices than again the game halts. Lore works better in a sandbox game if players are acting on knowledge they uncover over the course of the game anyway. (Or at least if the knowledge the PCs have is shared by the players).

But to get back to expertise - the most important thing it does is reduce your chance of failure. The penalty for failure on knowledge skills is...?

The penalty for failure on stealth or disguise or deception could be much more severe. These proficiencies also open up whole new active avenues of approach. The master of disguise has far more opportunities to make a proactive impact on the game (to a degree - 5E's skill system does a poor job of rewarding proactive skill use - and Expertise is merely the poorly improvised band-aid put on top to partially fix this).

Also: I wouldn't try and run D&D like Gumshoe. Gumshoe already exists and is better at being Gumshoe.
 

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