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

Not a Hobbit

Explorer
Personally, I also like Jeremy Crawford's personal feelings on Passive Perception - Passive Perception/Investigation/etc is the base floor for your roll, a minimum. So, even if you roll a 2, you're not less-aware than you would be if you hadn't had to roll.
So, since every skill check has a passive equivalent, everybody basically gets Reliable Talent? (actually better, since it would apply to all ability checks and not just ones with proficiency)
Nice.
 

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Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Most certainly, and there's nothing wrong with that!


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.
If there's no chance of success, why roll at all?

The middle way assumption is that you are calling for checks only when the outcome is uncertain and when there is a consequence for failure.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
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.
It looks like in some of your examples, we shouldn't even be rolling at all. One reasonably needs the clues to make the deduction and if they are several rooms away, the deduction can't be made. Lacking mental ability to do thing at all also precludes there being a check.

As for recalling lore, you can or you can't. My go-to resolution (if there is a roll at all) is that on success I give the player what he or she wants. On failure, I give them something other than that or less than what they are looking for. So you always get something, never nothing. Recalling lore is different than making a deduction based on clues. Much like an investigator pouring over the details of a case or someone trying to solve a Rubik's cube, given enough time, they may be able to figure it out, provided they have what they need to solve it. If they lack clues, however, then they can't solve it so there's no roll. They simply fail.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
If there's no chance of success, why roll at all?

The middle way assumption is that you are calling for checks only when the outcome is uncertain and when there is a consequence for failure.
I understood @Shiroiken as addressing the case where the character has made the attempt and failed, and does not qualify for a repeat attempt. I believe that is envisioned in the guidance on checks. It's possible I mistook their argument.

EDIT DMG 237 "In other cases, failing an ability check makes it impossible to make the same check to do the same thing again."
 
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Azzy

KMF DM
I want to thank all of you—from those that outlined the existing, but scattered, rules and reiterated them in a single space as well as those that offered their interpretations and houserules that differ from RAW. You've all given me a lot to think about and a lot of options to ponder. Thank you, this is what I like about ENWorld the best. :)
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I understood @Shiroiken as addressing the case where the character has made the attempt and failed, and does not qualify for a repeat attempt. I believe that is envisioned in the guidance on checks. It's possible I mistook their argument.

EDIT DMG 237 "In other cases, failing an ability check makes it impossible to make the same check to do the same thing again."
The post I responded to was talking on an impossible check, not a possible check that was failed and not allowed a retry.

On that, though, I find that it's best form to make sure this is represented in the fiction and not just an unexplained game element. Usually, a check can't be retried because the situation that allowed the check no longer exists.
 
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Starfox

Adventurer
One of the things I do not like about the game using Investigation to "deduce" how things work is that it runs completely counter to the idea of the DM putting things in place for the players to figure out.

If I put in a secret door and I think up some hidden mechanism for the way it is meant to unlock and open... why would I want to have a skill in place that players would use instead of them figuring out how the mechanism works? Why bother thinking up the way to open the door if the skill check pretty much gets around needing to think about how to open the door by the skill "deducing" the answer?
To me, this is the difference between old school and other play styles. In strict old school play,. the players state action their character does in detail, and the GM then adjudicates the result. In an extreme version of this style, there is no need for the characters to have skills; that is on the players. In strict "new school" (never seen that term thus used) the characters have skills and every action is determined solely by the character's abilities. The players job is to move the playing piece. Obviously, these are extremes and almost everyone uses some kind of hybrid, which I feel is how it should be. So, in your example, a hybrid might work like this: The GM presents the puzzle and let the players attempt to solve it. If they are stymied, the GM lets them roll Investigation (or whatever) and hands out extra clues. Repeat until the situation is resolved in one way or another. In many cases, the game would come to a standstill if the players fail entirely, so the GM continues handing out clues until they succeed or force them to pay some price - use a scroll of knock, spend 2 days hacking the door away (fail forward). To me this is a part of the illusionism you use as a GM - you give the players enough clues that they can feel clever because they solved the problem "themselves". Others may perfer other styles, perhaps more confrontational.
 

Starfox

Adventurer
So, since every skill check has a passive equivalent, everybody basically gets Reliable Talent? (actually better, since it would apply to all ability checks and not just ones with proficiency)
Nice.
This does indeed seem to be what the rules say. I too find it odd.
 

Starfox

Adventurer
There can be totally appropriate and legitimate overlap with Perception and Investigation. It's a case-by-case, dependent on the situation basis...
The problem with taking this approach to extremis (and not going into your further argument, just this part) is that it becomes impossible to build a character who is good at certain things you want them to be good at. Say I am making a dwarf who is a skilled stonemason, and I want them to be good at noticing unusual stonework, including traps and secret doors. If you use a simple rule like "Perception notices creatures, Investigation notices things" it is very clear; my character should invest in Investigation.

This is also why I dislike systems where the GM arbitrarily assigns an attribute+skill combination for each task; its impossible to design a character and know they are actually good at something. A sensible approach to my mind is to say that you notice secret doors using one specific skill, say Investigation, and investigation is based on Intelligence. So the roll is Intelligence + Investigation. But, in a specific situation, the GM may give the player the option to use other combinations of skill+attribute. Say this is a secret door the PC knows is on a certain wall, but the wall is a mile long - allow the player the option to roll Con+Investigation to represent the energy to look over every little bit of wall and not lose focus. But don't take away the standard option.

This leads me to the claim I made in 4E as a joke. Let me play a dwarf, and I can make very roll in every skill challenge ever using Stamina (or whatever the skill was called), as long as the task is measured in time longer than rounds. [I mention this as a joke more than as a challenge. :)]

I need to convince the king? I hold a loooong oration, quoting every generation of my clan since time immemorial until the king simply gives in due to fatigue. To interrupt a dwarf is inexcusable!

I need to win over the kings diplomats at dinner? I drink them under the table.

I need to disarm a trap? I very carefully and above all methodically line out every possible option for how the trap could work, never losing my concentration.

I need to travel the wilderness? I just never give up.

And so on, ad nauseum.
 

Starfox

Adventurer
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? I
This is another fail forward technique, a very simple one. When you really want the players to succeed, but you want them to feel they earned that success, this is a technique you can use. It has its flaws, but used in moderation it can work. I like to call this "roll until success".
  • There is a secret door here, roll Investigation to see if you understand how it works. [fail]
  • You work the door roughly, and risk making excessive noise. Roll Stealth. [fail]
  • The doors is now overbalanced and might crash to the floor, making a huge noise! Roll Strength to catch it! [fail]
  • And so on, and on, and on...
The opposite "technique" is "roll until fail" and is really bad but easy to fall into as a GM.
  • There is a secret door here, roll Investigation to see if you understand how it works. [succeed]
  • You work the door properly, see if you can also work it silently. Roll Stealth. [succeed]
  • The doors is heavy. Roll Strength! [success]
  • And so on, and on, until the character fails, likely sooner than later
A wiser option might be to negotiate GM to Player on what skill (+attribute) to use, and let the player use one the character is good at if they make a decent argument for it. [Sorry if these options and examples are trite to you, dear reader. ]
 

If there's no chance of success, why roll at all?

The middle way assumption is that you are calling for checks only when the outcome is uncertain and when there is a consequence for failure.
The post I responded to was talking on an impossible check, not a possible check that was failed and not allowed a retry.

On that, though, I find that it's best form to make sure this is represented in the fiction and not just an unexplained game element. Usually, a check can't be retried because the situation that allowed the check no longer exists.

It looks like in some of your examples, we shouldn't even be rolling at all. One reasonably needs the clues to make the deduction and if they are several rooms away, the deduction can't be made. Lacking mental ability to do thing at all also precludes there being a check.
There's been a miscommunication here. My point is that someone isn't always mentally capable of solving a problem, even given unlimited time, not something necessarily impossible to begin with. The game rules can allow for the DM to call for a check if there's a possibility of success. If there's a secret door and you fail to locate the trigger mechanism, you shouldn't be guaranteed success simply because you take longer at it. The idea of it being in a different area (or one way door) shows how the character can't even guarantee they know what they're looking for. They could have simply overlooked the trigger, or even tried the trigger the wrong way, eliminating it from their future attempts.

As I mentioned in my original comment, this isn't something that many prefer as a playstyle, but a lot of us do. The key to allowing failure is to make sure that the adventure cannot fail due to a single die roll. The PCs might have to find a way around the secret door, figure out a way to bypass/destroy it, or simply not get whatever treasure/reward might be hidden inside. In any case, there's a consequence for their failure.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
There's been a miscommunication here. My point is that someone isn't always mentally capable of solving a problem, even given unlimited time, not something necessarily impossible to begin with. The game rules can allow for the DM to call for a check if there's a possibility of success. If there's a secret door and you fail to locate the trigger mechanism, you shouldn't be guaranteed success simply because you take longer at it. The idea of it being in a different area (or one way door) shows how the character can't even guarantee they know what they're looking for. They could have simply overlooked the trigger, or even tried the trigger the wrong way, eliminating it from their future attempts.

As I mentioned in my original comment, this isn't something that many prefer as a playstyle, but a lot of us do. The key to allowing failure is to make sure that the adventure cannot fail due to a single die roll. The PCs might have to find a way around the secret door, figure out a way to bypass/destroy it, or simply not get whatever treasure/reward might be hidden inside. In any case, there's a consequence for their failure.
This really is just an error in reading the stakes in my view. The stakes aren't figure out how to open the secret door versus figure out how to open the secret door. In such a situation, no roll is necessary because the win and loss conditions are the same - success. Rather, the stakes are to figure out how to open the secret door without drawing unwanted attention versus figure out how to open it while drawing unwanted attention. It isn't "no matter what you roll, you succeed!" Far from it. Choose a setback that is a meaningful consequence in context and you're good. We're not disallowing failure as you suggest here. It's still a failure - progress combined with a setback (PHB, pg. 174).

Alternatively, if all the clues are present for the character to reasonably figure out how to open the secret door, but the outcome is still uncertain, then the meaningful consequence for failure can also be time spent on it, provided time matters. The character can keep at it in 10 minute increments, for example, and every increment or few increments the DM will make a wandering monster check. Or the clock is counting down to some kind of doom the characters don't want to occur. It's up to the player if it's worth spending time on it and how much.

If the clues are not present for the character to reasonably figure out how to open the secret door, perhaps because as you say the trigger is in some other room, then they spend the time on the task and fail, no roll. A generous DM might hint that the effort reveals that more clues need to be found and they just aren't here. They might then decide as you suggest to just crowbar the thing open or skip it altogether.

But roll the dice and nothing happens? Nah. Not in my game.
 


clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
This does indeed seem to be what the rules say. I too find it odd.
Reliable Talent is more beneficial than the passive, because the guidance on using passives is when a task can be done repeatedly or for a secret determination. Say a rogue applies their proficiency with thieves' tools to disarm a trap, where failure will trigger that trap. Reliable talent will hedge against failure. Passive wouldn't apply.
 

Raith5

Adventurer
I mean, Wisdom is functionally the perception attribute in 5e. It encompasses interpersonal awareness as well as sensory awareness, but that’s what its uses cover.
I work in a university and I can say with a high degree of confidence that any relationship between Wisdom (or Intelligence for that matter) and perception is really low!
 

Dragonsbane777

Explorer
We use Perception is like Spot and Listen, Investigation is like Search.

Additionally, I use passive Perception, Investigation, Insight (like Sense Motive), and Survival (Tracking) as needed to prevent PCs from metagaming. It works really well, I have a little chart players keep updated with passive scores.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
This leads me to the claim I made in 4E as a joke. Let me play a dwarf, and I can make very roll in every skill challenge ever using Stamina

This is another fail forward technique, a very simple one. When you really want the players to succeed, but you want them to feel they earned that success, this is a technique you can use. It has its flaws, but used in moderation it can work. I like to call this "roll until success".
  • There is a secret door here, roll Investigation to see if you understand how it works. [fail]
  • You work the door roughly, and risk making excessive noise. Roll Stealth. [fail]
  • The doors is now overbalanced and might crash to the floor, making a huge noise! Roll Strength to catch it! [fail]
  • And so on, and on, and on...
It's not so much that the technique is inobvious, but I have other motives, and am concerned for relevance.

So far as motives go, I am not aiming to fail-forward. I'm happy to fail-think-of-another-approach, or fail-the-BBEG-wins-and-this-is-your-world-now. Fail-forward seems to imply that the characters must progress down the planned path. I'm not aiming for that.

Relevance is trickier. Our game system contains declarations of relevance, for example Strength (Athletics) is relevant to perpendicular climbs. What if I characterise a perpendicular obstacle as an ascent? I think we still say Strength (Athletics) is relevant because in language ascent might be a synonym of climb. We recently had a lengthy debate on what a Strength (Athletics) check would be relevant to, so evidently views can differ around the edges. But this is the set up - skill X is declared to be relevant to descriptions Y.

What about the consequence of the check? Is Strength (Athletics) relevant to "take 8d6 bludgeoning damage"? Relevance here is threaded through the falling mechanics. Is Strength (Athletics) relevant to "creatures notice you"? Again, around the edges, views are going to differ. One way of assessing relevance could be simply, the count of players who, once in possession of a rule and a description, believe that rule should give them leverage over that description. Leverage here means something like, ability to modify the narrative - to decide stochastically how it turns out. On that grounds, my premise is that many players (myself included) expect Strength (Athletics) to give them leverage in connection with a described perpendicular obstacle, and expect bludgeoning damage as a relevant consequence of failure in a describe ascent.

In fact your chain of skill checks might meet relevance quite well, without being justified on grounds of needing to fail forward for groups who aren't concerned to fail forward.
 

clearstream

Be just and fear not...
Supporter
One of the things I do not like about the game using Investigation to "deduce" how things work is that it runs completely counter to the idea of the DM putting things in place for the players to figure out.
I thought of a wording -

Perception is to notice creatures while Investigation is to deduce the implications of designs.

What I like about this is that "designs" is sufficiently vague that a DM might just offer clues, and it could cover plots and plans ("cunning designs" etc) as well as secret doors and traps ("architectural designs" etc).

What do you think?
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
I thought of a wording -

Perception is to notice creatures while Investigation is to deduce the implications of designs.

What I like about this is that "designs" is sufficiently vague that a DM might just offer clues, and it could cover plots and plans ("cunning designs" etc) as well as secret doors and traps ("architectural designs" etc).

What do you think?
Yeah, the wording works fine.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
It's not so much that the technique is inobvious, but I have other motives, and am concerned for relevance.

So far as motives go, I am not aiming to fail-forward. I'm happy to fail-think-of-another-approach, or fail-the-BBEG-wins-and-this-is-your-world-now. Fail-forward seems to imply that the characters must progress down the planned path. I'm not aiming for that.
It's really not about a planned path. It's just a tool for adjudicating failure in ways that don't create other problems. It's particularly useful in some situations, but not all situations. Take for instance the DM's call for a check revealing something about a situation simply because there's a check. The player fails the roll, but knows that by virtue of there having been a roll, something is hidden in the scene or the like. Some DMs will look at this situation and either insist that the player "stop metagaming!" or use a secret roll or phantom rolls to throw players off. If the DM narrates progress combined with a setback instead, none of this is necessary because the character finds the thing, but some kind of setback occurs as well. No need for browbeating players about "metagaming" or making secret or phantom rolls at all.
 

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