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D&D 5E Perception, Passive Perception, and Investigation

Sure if there is some special key or pattern sequence that searching the rest of the dungeon would reveal and cause an “aha” moment, exploration-oriented players love that. But unable to open it based on a failed skill check when they have plenty of time...?
Can you solve complex quantum physics problems given plenty of time? I'd guess not (if so, please pick any other complex topic you have no knowledge of). The PCs are not super-geniuses that can solve any problem given enough time. In the case of a secret door, you could have overlooked the trigger, or manipulated it incorrectly, and not be able to figure it out.
 

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robus

Lowcountry Low Roller
Supporter
Can you solve complex quantum physics problems given plenty of time? I'd guess not (if so, please pick any other complex topic you have no knowledge of). The PCs are not super-geniuses that can solve any problem given enough time. In the case of a secret door, you could have overlooked the trigger, or manipulated it incorrectly, and not be able to figure it out.
I guess we’re looking for different forms of entertainment :)
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Why not? Haven't you ever lost your car keys or something else, damned no matter how long you look?
Yes, and yet, somehow I did eventually find them again. If I hadn’t needed to get to work, there would have been no meaningful consequence to finding them eventually instead of immediately.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Can you solve complex quantum physics problems given plenty of time? I'd guess not (if so, please pick any other complex topic you have no knowledge of). The PCs are not super-geniuses that can solve any problem given enough time. In the case of a secret door, you could have overlooked the trigger, or manipulated it incorrectly, and not be able to figure it out.
A task also needs a possibility of success for a check to be called for to resolve it. I lack whatever a prerequisite proficiency to even have a chance at succeeding at complex quantum physics problems.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
Not the original commenter, but IMO the interesting consequence is being unable to open the door. Most people hate that, but there are some puzzle you just can't solve.
That's generally not the sort of thing that's meant by "consequence of failure" because the door remaining unopened is the same result as if an attempt to open it had not been made in the first place.
 

Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
So if I search repeatedly, I can't do better than my passive. But if I search once, I might beat it?
No, because if a task is being attempted repeatedly and a passive check is involved I, as the DM, am rolling against the player's passive score (after converting the DC into a bonus). Unless advantage/disadvantage are in play, the odds of success are identical regardless of whether I call for a passive or active check. (And when adv/disadv are involved, the odds are very similar at typical combinations of bonuses and DCs, and close enough at the more extreme ones.)
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
It's in discussions like these where it's easy to see which DMs use progress combined with a setback on certain failed checks and which ones don't. Failed the Intelligence (Investigation) check to figure out how the secret door works? You figure it out, but make noise in the doing and have drawn unwanted attention to yourself. Now we have a new interesting situation to resolve.

One can also assign a resolution time to common tasks in adventuring locations (say, 10 minutes), then put a wandering monster check at particular intervals (maybe every 10, 30, or 60 minutes). At that point, every failed check becomes wasted time (a meaningful consequence in this context) which pushes the PCs closer to having monsters show up to bother them. This also works with any sort of time pressure e.g. save the prince before midnight or he is sacrificed by the cultists.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
It's in discussions like these where it's easy to see which DMs use progress combined with a setback on certain failed checks and which ones don't. Failed the Intelligence (Investigation) check to figure out how the secret door works? You figure it out, but make noise in the doing and have drawn unwanted attention to yourself. Now we have a new interesting situation to resolve.

One can also assign a resolution time to common tasks in adventuring locations (say, 10 minutes), then put a wandering monster check at particular intervals (maybe every 10, 30, or 60 minutes). At that point, every failed check becomes wasted time (a meaningful consequence in this context) which pushes the PCs closer to having monsters show up to bother them. This also works with any sort of time pressure e.g. save the prince before midnight or he is sacrificed by the cultists.
You can also combine these techniques - pass the check, succeed at the task in X amount of time; fail the check, succeed in Y amount of time (where Y > X).
 

steeldragons

Steeliest of the dragons
Epic
There can be totally appropriate and legitimate overlap with Perception and Investigation. It's a case-by-case, dependent on the situation basis.

The party enters a room in which a locked secret door with a special trigger/opening lever secretted on the bookshelf (let's say an statuette of some unremarkable material...we'll just say, some polished grey stone in the shape of a bull. shrug Why not?).

You walk into the room and wander around, Passive Perception checks for all. You might notice something about the section of floor or wall that gets your attention. You might notice a small unremarkable stone statue on the shelf among some old musty tomes and what appears to be a rotted wooden box. You might notice a vague salty odor or mildly damp feeling in the air that is different from the corridor you just left.

Player 1: [typical ask] "Do I notice anything?" or "I am perceiving." or something similar. = Activates an "active" Perception roll. Is there a sliver of light along the floor? A nearly imperceptible draft or waft of odor from something beyond the door? Does the wall material feel different than the surrounding wall? Some muffled sound to be heard? A scuffed area on this particular section of the floor? You find no way to open this section of wall, but you're positive there's something beyond this part of the wall. Seems to be locked.

Player 2: "I am poking around/rifling/examining the room." or "I search the room." or something similiar = Activates an Investigation roll. You are actively looking and checking for anything notable or amiss. There are scuff marks on this section of floor. Carefully going over that section of wall above the scuffs, you notice an intermittent draft of cool, vaguely sea-scented air. There's no discernable way to open or release this section of wall. Rifling the desk drawers reveal no keys or notes regarding the secret door. Everything on the shelf is notably dusty except this fist-sized stone bull statue.

This door can be revealed by a successful roll of the 3 kinds. Once detected, one might Perceive, but can not Investigate, what is beyond it. One might Investigate, but can not Perceive (passive or active), to find the opening mechanism (moving the bull statue or picking it up or whatever) and determine how to open it.

I would say there is no such thing as "passive investigation." You can't be, I would say for my games/rulings, "investigating" something without being deliberate about it.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
It's in discussions like these where it's easy to see which DMs use progress combined with a setback on certain failed checks and which ones don't.
A valuable guide is DMG 237 - "Only call for a roll if there is a meaningful consequence for failure". The advice on subsequent pages - Resolution and Consequences - offers some benefits; taking a different approach offers others.

Failed the Intelligence (Investigation) check to figure out how the secret door works? You figure it out, but make noise in the doing and have drawn unwanted attention to yourself. Now we have a new interesting situation to resolve.
A positive here is that even on a failure the characters can still proceed through the game world, because the meaningful consequence is framed in other terms (unwanted attention). However, when the setback is instead that the characters can't proceed through the game world on their intended route, that too can propel the narrative along interesting lines.

In play, a major difference might often be who the work to develop the narrative falls upon. Progress with a setback puts the work on the DM to decide what the setback might be. Stymieing progress puts the work on players, to think of another approach.

One can also assign a resolution time to common tasks in adventuring locations (say, 10 minutes), then put a wandering monster check at particular intervals (maybe every 10, 30, or 60 minutes). At that point, every failed check becomes wasted time (a meaningful consequence in this context) which pushes the PCs closer to having monsters show up to bother them. This also works with any sort of time pressure e.g. save the prince before midnight or he is sacrificed by the cultists.
This is standard in many published adventures. For example, the city of Omu in ToA and the Darklake in OOTA both offer time-based encounters. The choice here overlays choices about how to handle the meaningful consequences of failure. A DM might well use both.

I feel a DM should just be clear on what some of the useful modes are, and why they would - or would not - use them. A clear benefit of progress with a setback is that characters still get to proceed down their planned route. It also provides an excellent chance to introduce new factors into the narrative. On the other side, I enjoy putting the burden directly onto players rather than introducing further elements of my own devising. I also notice that efforts to come up with setbacks sometimes feel like a bit of a reach.

It is worth noting that a major cost of allowing characters to flatly fail - where the meaningful consequence is (at least in part) blocked progress - is the effort to flexibly expand the game world out in directions off the planned path. As players are forced to invent other approaches.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
A positive here is that even on a failure the characters can still proceed through the game world, because the meaningful consequence is framed in other terms (unwanted attention). However, when the setback is instead that the characters can't proceed through the game world on their intended route, that too can propel the narrative along interesting lines.
Going back to what you quoted of mine, why not just keep at trying to deduce how the secret door may be opened until you do?
 


pming

Hero
Hiya!

A couple people have mentioned the "What if the PC fails?".
The interesting part you’ve not addressed is, what was the possible consequence of failure in the investigation?
It is usually obvious. In the secret door example I used, if the PC hadn't slowed down, their Passive Perception would have been too low. They just walk right on by.

If the Passive had been enough, but then their roll was too low, they wouldn't have found the secret door. I could have described any sort of thing to fill the narrative. Three dead rats arranged in the form of a triangle in front of it, the slight smell of rot being stronger here, or even just 'you find an old rusty dagger with the tip broken off'. Anything to indicate that SOMETHING caught the PC attention (...dead rats arranged as indicator with tip pointing to secret door... rot from behind the secret door wafting into the corridor... rusty dagger with no tip that someone tried to use to pry open the secret door and failed...with the tip maybe still being jammed into the stone wall/door, etc).

Same with Investigation. If they succeed, great. If they fail...they fail. It's NOT my job to make sure the PC's "can advance". Quite the opposite. My job is to present things to try and oppose/stop/hinder the PC's (all within the believability of the campaign setting and situation, obviously). If the Players find a secret door...but don't find the means to open it...that's on them. THEY are the ones that have to come up with some work-around. In the case of the secret door... bash it down, like any other door. Or maybe cast a Knock spell? There are SOOOO many ways for a group of PC's to still "advance/overcome" something that blocks their progression it boggles the mind!

So, in a nutshell... if the PC's fail some check and the story/progress/advancement is stopped... Not. My. Problem. :) I'm the DM, not their mommy. If they fail to figure out how to open a secret door and immediately cross their arms in a huff and say "No Fair! Now we can't go through it!"...well, all I can say is "You suck as a player. Go back to Candyland or Shoots n' Ladders". ;)

PS: I do think that some of 5e Skills are.... superfluous. In fact, the whole Skill system could have been done differently. But hey, it works, even if it's not very "accurate" or "intuitive" in many cases. When it gets down to brass tacks, the entire point of a Skill is to have the Player roll some dice and add some numbers in order to instill a sense of excitement.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

6ENow!

The Game Is Over
I guess I don’t find that to be an interesting outcome in a game of make believe?
Pfft... whatever, play your game as you want but I like the fact that the players never know any outcome is guaranteed. THAT is boring as all get out IMO.

Yes, and yet, somehow I did eventually find them again. If I hadn’t needed to get to work, there would have been no meaningful consequence to finding them eventually instead of immediately.
Well, good for you, but other people never find them--ever, and have to order new keys while using a spare set (if they are lucky enough to still have them). And for the people who didn't find them, there obviously could be meaningful consequences. ;)
 

guachi

Explorer
Perception is based on Wisdom. Investigation is based on Intelligence. Non-intelligent animals have decent Wisdom but terrible Intelligence.

Therefore, if it's something most non-intelligent animals could perceive/notice it's Perception. Otherwise it's Investigation.

I leave defining Passive use of skills to everyone else.

EDIT: I see @robus said almost exactly what I said but 40 responses earlier. Clearly, he is really smart and we should all agree with him.
 
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Perception is to find and discover hidden details and clues. It would be something close to the naturalistic intelligence.

Investigation is the right interpretation and analysis using the reason and logic to understand the reality but also to plan the right strategy to search possible clues.

Investigation is to know what to ask for an interrogation to find some possible contradiction in the testimony.

Perception is to notice the no-verbal languange warning when the other is lying.

Perception is to notice the masked criminal has lost a finger and he has a local accent. Investigation is to write a list of suspects with those description.
 
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clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
It's not a reach when the DM foreshadows the threat or consequence beforehand. Do that and you're good.
Reading back I can see I put my concern in a vague and perhaps unpalatable way. I'll try and correct that.

What concerns me is that on a mechanical level what seems to be advocated is this - pass an Intelligence (Investigation) check or be attacked by wandering monsters. It feels to me like I am not making an Investigation check to figure out the secret door - I did that automatically - my check is really to do it quietly. Say I have great Dexterity (Stealth)? I am wondering why I'm not using the skill I invested in that is specifically aimed at doing things quietly? If a wide range of skills are really just forms of stealth - again at the mechanical level - that seems to me to have narrowed the game. As you can see, that mechanical concern can't be addressed by foreshadowing.

I suspect what is happening is that I'm more concerned to immerse my players in the game world, so I lean more into game-as-simulation elements. I want setbacks to have tighter valency with the abilities and skills used, and the player goal. I aim to use both sides of the rubric - a palpable risk of failure, and a meaningful consequence of failure. Players decide what the aim to do and how they approach that goal, and their choice impacts what is at stake. They get some control over that. If they decide climbing is their way forward, they've chosen failing to climb or falling as their consequence. If climbing is automatic, the risk and consequence feels to me less natural... a weakened valency.

What I like about more diverse setbacks is just that - diversity. For my mode of DMing it works well to prioritise other factors. Bottomline, I think we agree there should be risks and consequences that propel the narrative in interesting directions. I suspect we also agree on empowering our players to have input - to make meaningful choices - regarding those interesting directions :)
 

I guess we’re looking for different forms of entertainment :)
Most certainly, and there's nothing wrong with that!

Going back to what you quoted of mine, why not just keep at trying to deduce how the secret door may be opened until you do?
Because you can't always succeed. I could give my aunt an easy sudoku puzzle and explain how to do it, but she'd never actually be able to finish it. This is a small frame puzzle with known rules, yet she couldn't solve it the problem because she lacks the mental ability to do so. Now consider that you have a hallway made of stone walls. You have hundreds of stones that might trigger the door, and the trigger might not even be that close to the door, making it effectively infinite possible choices. Now add in the fact that a one-way secret door won't have an trigger on one side (possibly the side of the players) and some secret door triggers might not be anywhere near the door (I had a dungeon where the trigger was solving a puzzle 2 rooms away). I could see a character putting in a lot of time to solve it, but in reality not everything can be solved.

Out of curiosity, how do you use the intelligence skills to recall lore? Can you just "keep thinking about it" until you remember? IMO it's the same thing.
 

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