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


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  • Poll closed .

pemerton

Legend
Wizard Player: "Hmm. What does my character know about yellow musk creepers? Can I make a Nature check?" (asking for a pile-on check)

DM: (instead of saying No outright, I present stakes) "Sure you can, but your Nature check will represent hands-on study of a yellow musk creeper which you dissected during your arcane studies. If you roll low, that means during your studies you accidentally cut open its musk sac and have suffered a low-grade infection and chronic cough since then, meaning you'll be more susceptible to its attacks and musk than normal. Would you like to roll?" (I was thinking disadvantage vs. musk WIS save and vulnerability to psychic damage delivered by the yellow musk creeper)

Wizard Player: "Uhhh, no. It's not worth the risk. I listen to my lizardman friend."
This is very close to an example in the GM's book for Burning Wheel (which is called the Adventure Burner) - that is an example of testing Trial-by-combat-wise to establish that there is a custom of drinking a toast before a duel, thus making it possible to put poison in one of the cups - with a failure being that each also drinks from the other's cup, making the poisining trick much harder.

The difference is that, in the BW example, it is the player who puts forward the suggestion about a toasting practice being associated with duels, because it is the player who wants to poison one of the duellers. Whereas in @Quickleaf's example it is the GM who is tasked by the player with on a success, tell me something good/useful about yellow musk creepers.

While those differences of allocation of narrative responsibility are not trivial, I don't think we would want them to obscure underlying similarities of resolution process.

***

A separate question to @Quickleaf - the wizard player faces stakes, the other player doesn't sem to have done so. Is this being done on a "first in, best dressed" approach (which I have no objections to provided there's not a dominant personality who's always first in), or on a "spoltlight sharing" approach, or some other way? (Or am I just misreading the example?)
 

tetrasodium

Explorer
This is very close to an example in the GM's book for Burning Wheel (which is called the Adventure Burner) - that is an example of testing Trial-by-combat-wise to establish that there is a custom of drinking a toast before a duel, thus making it possible to put poison in one of the cups - with a failure being that each also drinks from the other's cup, making the poisining trick much harder.

The difference is that, in the BW example, it is the player who puts forward the suggestion about a toasting practice being associated with duels, because it is the player who wants to poison one of the duellers. Whereas in @Quickleaf's example it is the GM who is tasked by the player with on a success, tell me something good/useful about yellow musk creepers.

While those differences of allocation of narrative responsibility are not trivial, I don't think we would want them to obscure underlying similarities of resolution process.

***

A separate question to @Quickleaf - the wizard player faces stakes, the other player doesn't sem to have done so. Is this being done on a "first in, best dressed" approach (which I have no objections to provided there's not a dominant personality who's always first in), or on a "spoltlight sharing" approach, or some other way? (Or am I just misreading the example?)
I'm not @Quickleaf , but I 1000% understood the problem he was addressing & see it with depressing regularity. The d20 contributes more to success or failure of knowledge checks than your skill in a way that works out to being the equivalent of someone who enjoys baking making a pie, cake, or loaf of their favorite bread from memory (or even a recipe) having a not insignificant chance of accidentally making potroast while someone from the uncontacted Sentinelese tribe has an equally good chance of seeing a commercial grade kitchen for the first time & flawlessly baking/decorating a wedding cake. All of that combined leads to a situation where the most skilled & likely to know something like an astronomer will ask to make a roll about (inter)stellarmechanics get a result, and have 5 flat earthers who could not even tell you the number of planets ask the same question & have an only slightly worse chance of suddenly knowing every planet the astronomer couldn't remeber.

Using the yellow musk creeper example, the lizardman asks & gets a result, the wizard asks & ok sure maybe it's justified.. but that justification starts to wear thin when the fighter, bard, monk, pally, rogue, cleric, & barbarian all chime in "I want to check what I know too". All combined it devalues the knowledge skill & overvalues the dice.
 
A separate question to @Quickleaf - the wizard player faces stakes, the other player doesn't sem to have done so. Is this being done on a "first in, best dressed" approach (which I have no objections to provided there's not a dominant personality who's always first in), or on a "spoltlight sharing" approach, or some other way? (Or am I just misreading the example?)
The answer is a bit complex. Yes, there is definitely an aspect of "first in", but I'm also actively curating lore checks based on character niches and player interest level.

Rewinding back to the moment the Lizardfolk Rogue/Warlock Player asked: (party is encountering a yellow musk creeper for the first time, having just rolled initiative when it surprised them) "What do I know about yellow musk creepers based on my herbalism and Survival proficiencies, and maybe lizardfolk lore?"

There's a couple pieces of info that I didn't share, but were definitely on my mind:
  • The lizardfolk was a native of the environment. The wizard was not.
  • The lizardfolk player invested in Survival and herbalism, and had previously been asking a lot about flora.
  • The wizard player invested in Nature (and had expertise in all lore skills), but wasn't especially interested in flora, and had a tendency to try and make pile-on lore checks.
  • The lizardfolk was in immediate danger and in close proximity to the yellow musk creeper. This was because the tabaxi monk sneaking along with him failed a check.
I interpreted this situation as the lizardfolk already confronting stakes by being surprised by the yellow musk creeper. So I didn't feel the need to attach stakes to the knowledge check.

This was clearly more urgently important to the lizardfolk who was in immediate peril.

Also, in the heat of the moment when transitioning to combat, I'll sometimes either forget to attach stakes to knowledge checks or simply ignore that principle to keep the pacing moving.

There was also an element of wanting to maintain PC niches about lore, in the face of one PC who was built as a know-it-all lore powerhouse. Down the road, this lead to the wizard player using Help on lore checks more often, and some entertaining role-play about how that looked.

Because I'm actively trying to discourage pile-on checks – but not lore checks themselves – when dealing with the "first in", when I attach stakes to the "first in" check, they are usually less than the stakes for those wanting to make pile-on checks.

The "automatic information" (that I just narrated to the lizardfolk based on his backstory) is something that I don't only give to the "first in." In this instance, it didn't make sense – based on wizard's backstory – for him to know something about yellow musk creepers automatically. However, had it been something pertaining to his archaeologist background and/or arcane study (e.g. a stone golem), I surely would have provided him with "automatic information" as soon as he asked what he knew.
 
I'm not @Quickleaf , but I 1000% understood the problem he was addressing & see it with depressing regularity. The d20 contributes more to success or failure of knowledge checks than your skill in a way that works out to being the equivalent of someone who enjoys baking making a pie, cake, or loaf of their favorite bread from memory (or even a recipe) having a not insignificant chance of accidentally making potroast while someone from the uncontacted Sentinelese tribe has an equally good chance of seeing a commercial grade kitchen for the first time & flawlessly baking/decorating a wedding cake. All of that combined leads to a situation where the most skilled & likely to know something like an astronomer will ask to make a roll about (inter)stellarmechanics get a result, and have 5 flat earthers who could not even tell you the number of planets ask the same question & have an only slightly worse chance of suddenly knowing every planet the astronomer couldn't remeber.

Using the yellow musk creeper example, the lizardman asks & gets a result, the wizard asks & ok sure maybe it's justified.. but that justification starts to wear thin when the fighter, bard, monk, pally, rogue, cleric, & barbarian all chime in "I want to check what I know too". All combined it devalues the knowledge skill & overvalues the dice.
Yeah, one table rule I've used is "let it stand" (or at least that's what I call it). The example I usually use is a barred door which a human barbarian and a gnome illusionist are trying to break down. The barbarian slams into the door, fails the Strength check, and hits it with a thud and a groan. The door shakes but doesn't budge. Maybe he takes some token damage. The gnome runs at the door, rolls a 20, just reaching the break DC, and the door is busted open.

For some groups, this kind of humor is great. For others, it shakes the verisimilitude of the game.

The idea behind "let it stand" is that the barbarian should be the best at breaking down doors in this party (let's assume there's no other high Strength character), and certainly better at it than the gnome. There's no conceivable situation – unless circumstances change – where the gnome could break down a door that the barbarian could not. It's common sense. So if the barbarian rolled an 11 to break the door, then that roll binds the gnome PC too. The key clause is unless circumstances change.

What this does is encourages creative thinking. Sure the door is barred from the other side, but maybe the gnome looks at the door and asks the party rogue to remove the hinges. With that out of the way, the gnome illusionist attempts a Strength check, and rolls a 20. The door collapses. Now the DM can narrate that as the gnome's cleverness lifting the door up enough so the restraining bar on the other side pops out of its binding and the hinge-less door simply falls backward.

"Let it stand" is really just a zoomed in view of a general 5e rule – the DM determines when a check is possible, and if so, is the one to ask for a roll.
 

Ilbranteloth

Explorer
Yes, and I rely on passive scores extensively which greatly simplifies the process. That is, it allows me to reward players that have higher passive scores and reinforce the fact that they do, in fact, know more.
 

ad_hoc

Adventurer
I'm not @Quickleaf , but I 1000% understood the problem he was addressing & see it with depressing regularity. The d20 contributes more to success or failure of knowledge checks than your skill in a way that works out to being the equivalent of someone who enjoys baking making a pie, cake, or loaf of their favorite bread from memory (or even a recipe) having a not insignificant chance of accidentally making potroast while someone from the uncontacted Sentinelese tribe has an equally good chance of seeing a commercial grade kitchen for the first time & flawlessly baking/decorating a wedding cake. All of that combined leads to a situation where the most skilled & likely to know something like an astronomer will ask to make a roll about (inter)stellarmechanics get a result, and have 5 flat earthers who could not even tell you the number of planets ask the same question & have an only slightly worse chance of suddenly knowing every planet the astronomer couldn't remeber.

Using the yellow musk creeper example, the lizardman asks & gets a result, the wizard asks & ok sure maybe it's justified.. but that justification starts to wear thin when the fighter, bard, monk, pally, rogue, cleric, & barbarian all chime in "I want to check what I know too". All combined it devalues the knowledge skill & overvalues the dice.
5e is not trying to create a simulation.

The baker bakes the cake automatically because it isn't interesting.

The non-baker can't even try to bake the cake because they don't have proficiency in the required tools.

The astronomer is similar, only without tools.

You're asking the game to model something that it doesn't care about. The game only cares about adventuring PCs exploring dungeons (or their equivalents). It is designed to do that well.

The d20 creating a big range isn't a problem as they are designed to be made as part of adventuring. They are not for run of the mill events.

Yes, everyone has a shot at medium checks. These are not common things to know but someone might have picked up info on it somewhere. If you've got a bunch of characters around someone will probably know something worth a DC 15 check.

A DC 20 check though? If a character has an 8 Int and no proficiency they don't even get to try. Other characters will only succeed very rarely. Game working as intended.
 

ad_hoc

Adventurer
Yeah, one table rule I've used is "let it stand" (or at least that's what I call it). The example I usually use is a barred door which a human barbarian and a gnome illusionist are trying to break down. The barbarian slams into the door, fails the Strength check, and hits it with a thud and a groan. The door shakes but doesn't budge. Maybe he takes some token damage. The gnome runs at the door, rolls a 20, just reaching the break DC, and the door is busted open.

For some groups, this kind of humor is great. For others, it shakes the verisimilitude of the game.

The idea behind "let it stand" is that the barbarian should be the best at breaking down doors in this party (let's assume there's no other high Strength character), and certainly better at it than the gnome. There's no conceivable situation – unless circumstances change – where the gnome could break down a door that the barbarian could not. It's common sense. So if the barbarian rolled an 11 to break the door, then that roll binds the gnome PC too. The key clause is unless circumstances change.

What this does is encourages creative thinking. Sure the door is barred from the other side, but maybe the gnome looks at the door and asks the party rogue to remove the hinges. With that out of the way, the gnome illusionist attempts a Strength check, and rolls a 20. The door collapses. Now the DM can narrate that as the gnome's cleverness lifting the door up enough so the restraining bar on the other side pops out of its binding and the hinge-less door simply falls backward.

"Let it stand" is really just a zoomed in view of a general 5e rule – the DM determines when a check is possible, and if so, is the one to ask for a roll.
The Barbarian is better than the Gnome though.

Here are some situations:

1) It doesn't matter how long it takes to break down the door. So the Barbarian just tries until they make it. As long as someone can hit the DC 20 they're going to do it.

2) It is vitally important that the door be broken down now or at least swiftly and both the Barbarian and the Illusionist are available to do so. The best chance they have of breaking down the door is for the Illusionist to Help the Barbarian.

3) The Barbarian is not able to try to open the door. There is a very tense moment at the table where the Illusionist hopes to get lucky to break through the door. This isn't taking anything away from the Barbarian as they can't help anyway and if they could they would be much likelier to succeed.

The only way your scenario comes up is with:

4) The Barbarian is raging (or similar) and has Advantage to their check to bust down the door, thus not needing the Illusionist's Help. After failing the Illusionist then comes in and tries. Now, the Barbarian is going to succeed here far more often than the Illusionist. However, all kinds of things could happen in a fantasy story, which 5e is designed to tell. Most likely, the Barbarian weakened the door for the Illusionist. Perhaps the door was weak in the place that the Illusionist hit it or whatever. Or maybe the Illusionist simply had a great run at it and really got their whole weight on it. The Barbarian had something bad happen to them too, such as loosing their footing at the last second or what have you. So the Barbarian needs to mess up and the Illusionist needs to do very well, and you have a very unlikely situation which creates a memorable moment.

I don't see any problem with this.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
5e is not trying to create a simulation.

The baker bakes the cake automatically because it isn't interesting.

The non-baker can't even try to bake the cake because they don't have proficiency in the required tools.

The astronomer is similar, only without tools.

You're asking the game to model something that it doesn't care about. The game only cares about adventuring PCs exploring dungeons (or their equivalents). It is designed to do that well.

The d20 creating a big range isn't a problem as they are designed to be made as part of adventuring. They are not for run of the mill events.

Yes, everyone has a shot at medium checks. These are not common things to know but someone might have picked up info on it somewhere. If you've got a bunch of characters around someone will probably know something worth a DC 15 check.

A DC 20 check though? If a character has an 8 Int and no proficiency they don't even get to try. Other characters will only succeed very rarely. Game working as intended.
Yup...

But the issue I have is that to create these examples, the GM seems to be just overly simplifying the options they will allow.

First, DMG, allows two separate auto-success options- one for high ability score and one for proficiency. These both give your higher skilled user the ability to bypass DC10-ish rolls or higher. That is a levrl of certainty your unskilled, low ability guys wont have.

Second, a GM can apply advantage or disadvantage for circumstances or plans- so maybe the gnome gets disad on his attempt if his effort is the same brute force rush-slam while the big lizard strongman gets advsntage - because the size differences matter. On the other hand, maybe tinker gnome futz with the hinges or catch to weaken them first.

Third, a failure to meet the roll DC does not mean just fail, it can also be some progress with setback. So maybe the failed gnome slam gets nowhere but the lizard strong-guy bashes a boardbthtu but not the full door smashed in with a setback appropriate like jamming the foor even more stuck but allowing you to see through the busted part.

Honestly, it seems to me more often than not its over-simplification and ignoring the basics of 5e skills that seems to me to be st the heart of most " problems.."

For knowledge checks, if you add advantage or disad (for background in appropriate subject or lack of knowledge for rare dubjects), if you allow the auto options, if you use the setback basics etc you find a lot of tool to get what may to you see as more appropriate results.
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
Thank for clearing that up, it makes things easier to comment on knowing it's not too confusing. I think the example is a bad application of using a skill. Partly because getting to the dawnmote seems to be the main goal& too nebulous, but also because it's boring "Lets go this way" might as well be a coinflip & doesn't need or really benefit from a knowledge check without wayy too much information to make the example useful. So lets turn it around & add some spicy action :D
Sorry for the delay in getting back on this.

I don't want to engage with your example just yet, because I want to push back/clarify on some things here a bit to try to distill where we aren't in agreement.

So here are my thoughts surrounding this decision-point (forget for a moment your thought that this is "boring"...that doesn't tell us much...I'm going to try to do some forensics on this hypothetical moment of play).

1) We're talking about how Knowledge Skills might be used in play.

2) Survival is very specifically called out in both the PHB and DMG to be used for (i) "guiding through a frozen wasteland" and (ii) "Tracking" (whereby you look for environment-driven cues and make a surmise - the Knowledge check - based upon those cues).

Now let us take (1) and (2) for granted and discuss the following play archetype that 5e may try to produce (the others being a heavy GM curated and Force-driven Adventure Path game where the metaplot and the GM drive the action - my guess is this is the most common form of 5e play, another still being a sort of "Poor Man's Dungeon World"...let us stay away from those two for now and focus on the below):

HEXCRAWL SANDBOX

Here we have a game with a high resolution setting map that is scaled and stocked with preconceived obstacles/conflicts/threats, tables or obstacles/conflicts/threats, some form of timeline (both time and space are mapped and tracked), and triggered events.

So all of (a) the Fey Crossing location within a hex in the material world, (b) the trigger for the Crossing, (c) the nature (topography etc)/location (hex) of the Feywild at that Crossing, (d) the nature/location of the Dawnmote, (e) the events going on at this particular moment in time...all of these things would be preconceived in the mapping process.

So if the GM describes the environment:

  • An expanse of barren icefield flanked by a frozen forest.
  • The frozen forest has some unseen force playing upon it (a windfield above ground level?).

So the player wants to to study the environmental clues (in game terms - deploy Survival as a Knowledge Skill) to make an archetype-coherent surmise (for a survivalist/ranger-type) that helps "solve the puzzle" and propel play forward. Its sort of a combination of Tracking (in the sense that an object/phenomenon interacts with its environment and, in-so-doing, creates clues to its whereabouts) and "Guiding Through a Frozen Wasteland." In this frozen wasteland, would a mote of magical light generate the temperature and pressure differential necessary to manifest a wind-field. If so (in the same way that one might determine the location of a chimney/vent in a dungeon by watching the flickering torchlight), what direction are the trees being pushed (eg if North to South, then we know to head Northward).

Now this would all be preconceived by the GM's notes for this particular Hex and all of the granular information related to this Hex (time and space).

The GM is using Success at a Cost (DMG 242). The player rolls a Survival check and misses the hexcrawl obstacles DC by 2 triggering a Cost/Complication/Hindrance.

Given all of the above:

* Why would the above instance of gamestate inputs meets action declaration output be a problem?

* Why would the gamestate being changed in the way conceived (yes, the Dawnmote would interact with the extreme cold to create such a windfield and now you've winnowed its location to a direction..but your deductive timeframe has triggered an ice-hazard and possibly a denizen encounter, threatening or non-threatening remains to be seen) be a problem)?
 
The idea behind "let it stand" is that the barbarian should be the best at breaking down doors in this party (let's assume there's no other high Strength character), and certainly better at it than the gnome. There's no conceivable situation – unless circumstances change – where the gnome could break down a door that the barbarian could not. It's common sense. So if the barbarian rolled an 11 to break the door, then that roll binds the gnome PC too.
But, it's a cooperative game!

What if the barbarian picks up the gnome and uses him as a battering ram? Shouldn't the gnome be able to use the Help action?
 
But, it's a cooperative game!
Sure. And part of cooperation is knowing when not to be the star, to pass the ball to a teammate who is great at goal shots, and let them enjoy the glory.

What if the barbarian picks up the gnome and uses him as a battering ram? Shouldn't the gnome be able to use the Help action?
The context here is knowledge/lore checks. That was just my actual play example to answer another poster's question. In an effort not to deviate from the OP's topic, I'd say yes, if it makes sense for a PC to know something about a topic (based on their background & area of specialty) and that PC has a way to meaningfully contribute, then totally they should be able to take the Help action.
 
...tough room...
In an effort not to deviate from the OP's topic, I'd say yes, if it makes sense for a PC to know something about a topic (based on their background & area of specialty) and that PC has a way to meaningfully contribute, then totally they should be able to take the Help action.
Sure. Like Pippin probably 'used the Help action' when Gandalf finally guessed the password to Moria. You might not know anything, but you just might spark an idea - happens a lot in fiction, really.
 

tetrasodium

Explorer
Sorry for the delay in getting back on this.

I don't want to engage with your example just yet, because I want to push back/clarify on some things here a bit to try to distill where we aren't in agreement.

So here are my thoughts surrounding this decision-point (forget for a moment your thought that this is "boring"...that doesn't tell us much...I'm going to try to do some forensics on this hypothetical moment of play).

1) We're talking about how Knowledge Skills might be used in play.

2) Survival is very specifically called out in both the PHB and DMG to be used for (i) "guiding through a frozen wasteland" and (ii) "Tracking" (whereby you look for environment-driven cues and make a surmise - the Knowledge check - based upon those cues).

Now let us take (1) and (2) for granted and discuss the following play archetype that 5e may try to produce (the others being a heavy GM curated and Force-driven Adventure Path game where the metaplot and the GM drive the action - my guess is this is the most common form of 5e play, another still being a sort of "Poor Man's Dungeon World"...let us stay away from those two for now and focus on the below):

HEXCRAWL SANDBOX

Here we have a game with a high resolution setting map that is scaled and stocked with preconceived obstacles/conflicts/threats, tables or obstacles/conflicts/threats, some form of timeline (both time and space are mapped and tracked), and triggered events.

So all of (a) the Fey Crossing location within a hex in the material world, (b) the trigger for the Crossing, (c) the nature (topography etc)/location (hex) of the Feywild at that Crossing, (d) the nature/location of the Dawnmote, (e) the events going on at this particular moment in time...all of these things would be preconceived in the mapping process.

So if the GM describes the environment:

  • An expanse of barren icefield flanked by a frozen forest.
  • The frozen forest has some unseen force playing upon it (a windfield above ground level?).

So the player wants to to study the environmental clues (in game terms - deploy Survival as a Knowledge Skill) to make an archetype-coherent surmise (for a survivalist/ranger-type) that helps "solve the puzzle" and propel play forward. Its sort of a combination of Tracking (in the sense that an object/phenomenon interacts with its environment and, in-so-doing, creates clues to its whereabouts) and "Guiding Through a Frozen Wasteland." In this frozen wasteland, would a mote of magical light generate the temperature and pressure differential necessary to manifest a wind-field. If so (in the same way that one might determine the location of a chimney/vent in a dungeon by watching the flickering torchlight), what direction are the trees being pushed (eg if North to South, then we know to head Northward).

Now this would all be preconceived by the GM's notes for this particular Hex and all of the granular information related to this Hex (time and space).

The GM is using Success at a Cost (DMG 242). The player rolls a Survival check and misses the hexcrawl obstacles DC by 2 triggering a Cost/Complication/Hindrance.

Given all of the above:

* Why would the above instance of gamestate inputs meets action declaration output be a problem?

* Why would the gamestate being changed in the way conceived (yes, the Dawnmote would interact with the extreme cold to create such a windfield and now you've winnowed its location to a direction..but your deductive timeframe has triggered an ice-hazard and possibly a denizen encounter, threatening or non-threatening remains to be seen) be a problem)?
We are pretty deep into fate style stuff, you can download the core rules free from evil hat, I used "boring" in the same sense that it gets used in there(just ctrl-f boring in it :D ) In a nutshell it kinda means that something interesting happens to be a source of dynamic acition/drama either way. Part of why coinflip type decisions like we should go this way are bad for letting players "declare" is because d&d lacks the kind of tools the GM has in a system like to say yes/no but other than simply invalidating the original declaration & removing the illusion of narrative control in the process. d&d is built around the idea that the gm has already decided where the macguffin is, Given your questions, I think you might be massively underestimating just how insanely powerful narrative control in PC hands is & as a result just how irrelevant the GM becomes without the tools needed to push back against it when not used responsibly.
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
@tetrasodium

Hmmm...

I don't understand how you're arriving at your point at all.

I also think you're probably not familiar with my posting history (In the last 15 years, I've probably logged 2500+ hours of GMing the sorts of games that I think you're citing).

In the hypothetical instance of play above, there is nothing resembling the equivalent of "player fiat" that would emerge out of the play of Fate, Cortex+, Strike(!), Blades in the Dark, D&D 4e, Wises in the Burning Wheel family of games or even the "ask questions and use the answers" ethos of Powered By the Apocalypse Games (or the actual player fiat moves in most playbooks in those games).

I'm not sure where you're deriving your position from. Could you maybe distill precisely what you're seeing from the proposed excerpt of a Hexcrawl moment of play where the action declaration by the player resembles the sort of narrative fiat that you would expect to find in the above games?

I mean, I was going to do a "Poor Man's Dungeon World" form of 5e as an example...now that would have crept into that domain...but I'm failing to see how this example does.
 

Fanaelialae

Adventurer
WRT interesting but non-important info, sure. Assuming that it's something the characters wouldn't readily know, but might possibly know.

For important info, I generally have it that an Intelligence check might give them the info earlier than "planned" but that there are ways that they can eventually learn the info even if they fail the check (such as books or knowledgeable NPCs). This generally falls under campaign pertinent info without which they won't be able to make informed decisions in the late game.

Of course, there's also info that I won't normally allow any check to succeed on. Things the characters couldn't possibly know. Those pieces must be obtained from outside sources.
 

pemerton

Legend
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?
So all of (a) the Fey Crossing location within a hex in the material world, (b) the trigger for the Crossing, (c) the nature (topography etc)/location (hex) of the Feywild at that Crossing, (d) the nature/location of the Dawnmote, (e) the events going on at this particular moment in time...all of these things would be preconceived in the mapping process.

So if the GM describes the environment:

  • An expanse of barren icefield flanked by a frozen forest.
  • The frozen forest has some unseen force playing upon it (a windfield above ground level?).

So the player wants to to study the environmental clues (in game terms - deploy Survival as a Knowledge Skill) to make an archetype-coherent surmise (for a survivalist/ranger-type) that helps "solve the puzzle" and propel play forward. Its sort of a combination of Tracking (in the sense that an object/phenomenon interacts with its environment and, in-so-doing, creates clues to its whereabouts) and "Guiding Through a Frozen Wasteland." In this frozen wasteland, would a mote of magical light generate the temperature and pressure differential necessary to manifest a wind-field. If so (in the same way that one might determine the location of a chimney/vent in a dungeon by watching the flickering torchlight), what direction are the trees being pushed (eg if North to South, then we know to head Northward).

Now this would all be preconceived by the GM's notes for this particular Hex and all of the granular information related to this Hex (time and space).
In the hypothetical instance of play above, there is nothing resembling the equivalent of "player fiat" that would emerge out of the play of Fate, Cortex+, Strike(!), Blades in the Dark, D&D 4e, Wises in the Burning Wheel family of games or even the "ask questions and use the answers" ethos of Powered By the Apocalypse Games (or the actual player fiat moves in most playbooks in those games).

I'm not sure where you're deriving your position from. Could you maybe distill precisely what you're seeing from the proposed excerpt of a Hexcrawl moment of play where the action declaration by the player resembles the sort of narrative fiat that you would expect to find in the above games?

I mean, I was going to do a "Poor Man's Dungeon World" form of 5e as an example...now that would have crept into that domain...but I'm failing to see how this example does.
Manbearcat, I've highlighted via Bold + Underline what I think are the three passages across three posts that (I believe) are generating the response you're surprised by:

* The player seems to be stipulating that it is the Dawnmote is creating the wind-generating pressure gradient;

* The unseen force being (in fact) a wind generated via such a pressure gradient does not seem to be pre-established in the GM's notes;

* Thus there does seem to be some sort of player fiat occurring.​

If the example is not meant to be understood in this way then I would be focusing on my three points as the target of further explanation and confusion-alleviation!
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
@pemerton

Thanks for aggregating that and the 3rd party clarification.

1) So in the initiating post, I was leaving the actual GMing ethos in the mediation of the action resolution up in the air in order to have (i) (possible player stipulation - basically soliciting input on if there were any GM's out there who would allow "knowledge checks as player stipulation") and (ii) (GM preconception of all things due to Hexcrawl or AP) serve as the filter for conversation about handling Intelligence/Knowledge Skills in 5e. I wasn't sure if anyone out there was using (i) or if everyone was using (ii) due to Hexcrawl procedures or as AP plot rationing.

2) In my last post about it, I took (i) out of the equation (which would have been the "Poor Man's Dungeon World" ethos in mediation) and constrained the conversation by (ii) (GM preconception of all things due to Hexcrawl).

It seems to me that the subsequent conversation skipped the filter of my 1) above, instead assuming (i) (possible player stipulation) and focusing on that without explicitly conveying that was happening.

I guess that is why the later bit became more difficult, because I intentionally constrained things to (ii) (GM preconception of all things due to Hexcrawl) to take player stipulation via Knowledge check off the table to focus solely on the Complication/Cost/Hindrance handling of that hypothetical moment of action resolution.
 

pemerton

Legend
@Manbearcat, I think I worked out your (1) filter in the course of putting my post above together. But your new post makes it clearer. So rather than saying the Survival-proficient fighter figures can we get greater clarity - in the hexcrawl case - by saying the player of the Survival-proficient fighter conjectures?

The check result then (i) leads the GM to confirm the conjecture by reference to his/her notes, and (ii) leads the GM to impose the consequence of something coming through the ice as the "penalty" for falling short of full success on the die roll (result of 18 vs DC 20).

Have I got that right? If so, that seems fine to me, and consistent with orthodox 4e skill challenge adjudication (and obviously other systems too, but I mention 4e because it's part of the D&D family). But I imagine some, maybe many, D&D-playing posters will balk at the lack of in-fiction causal connection between the fighter wracking his/her brains and the monster breaking through the ice. The passage of time while the fighter ponders - which you pointed to upthread, I think - may not be enough in this respect.
 

Manbearcat

Adventurer
@pemerton

100 % on the mark (the whole post).

1) Conjecture is a fair enough exchange for figures, if the former works better to convey the situation.

2) Procedurally, your 2nd paragraph is precisely what I had in mind.

3) I agree that this is exactly akin to micro-situation handling in 4e Skill Challenges (without the macro conflict resolution framework and procedures mechanically cementing success/failure and the attendant narrative fallout of the scene). Its also

4) I also wonder, like you, what people's thresholds are for complications. If my complication (time-driven ice hazard and possible encounter with a denizen) doesn't work...why? And what would be a substitute.
 

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