D&D 5E Turning Perception into a Saving throw?


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toucanbuzz

No rule is inviolate
Making all Perception a save denigrates the Expertise feature, and I'm not sure what we're gaining if we make it a saving throw other than to reduce the ridiculously high levels that some characters can get Perception to.

Personally, I don't like using Perception a lot anyways, so your example reflects our gameplay.
GM would just share details like "this torch sconce appears to be canted at an unusual angle compared to the others" or "there are slight scratches in an arc at the base of the brick wall" without ever conferring with Passive Perception nor asking for a Perception check.
Unless the party is in a hurry, I hand out most details because they're going to find them anyways (similar to 3rd edition's "take a 20"). I loathe using flavor text and then hearing "I'm rolling a Perception check...." Boring. I want them to roleplay the info I dish out in flavor text, use their brains to explore. I could arbitrarily assign a passive perception DC15 for the torch details, maybe 17 for the scratches, if the party is in a hurry.

Let's build and say the room also has a poison gas trap and a skeleton near the scratched wall (the poor chap triggered the trap but couldn't find how to open the secret door in time). The trap triggers when someone rotates the torch sconce in the wrong sequence to open the secret door. I prefer to give players clues and I prefer old-school class specialty. I house-rule only Rogues have a chance of noticing and disabling traps of DC20 or greater. If this is a DC20+ trap, I'll give the Rogue a Perception check to notice the miniature gas holes permeating the ceiling, and an Investigation check to notice the torch seems affixed to a mechanism. If they brought their thieves' tools, they have a chance to disable (perhaps they have a tiny cup that amplifies sound that they can put against the wall, so they hear the click of a correct/incorrect rotation).

In any event, Perception only gets used, practically, once, whether it be a save or check.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth (He/him)
Would you ever play in a 5e game where Perception is no longer a skill that you actively use, but instead it is a Saving Throw vs. hidden threats that helps you either (a) avoid being surprised during an ambush, or (b) notice a trap going off at the last minute to allow you a reaction before it catches you?
I'm not sure what you mean by "actively use". Players don't "use" skills. Players declare actions for their characters, and the DM calls for an ability check if there's an uncertain outcome and a meaningful consequence of failure.

The idea being that the GM would just share details like "this torch sconce appears to be canted at an unusual angle compared to the others" or "there are slight scratches in an arc at the base of the brick wall" without ever conferring with Passive Perception nor asking for a Perception check. Would that be an enjoyable style for you to play 5e? Would you feel like something was missing? Are there other "domino effect" rules you'd need to see before deciding?
This is how I already play.

-----

I'm heavily house-ruling my next D&D game, putting together my house rules document at last (put this off for years), and I've just never liked the way "rolling to notice secret doors" / "can I make a Perception check" / traps in general play at the table when run RAW. I've always experienced a disconnect in that moment between the flow of the game and what the rules tell me.
I don't like it when players ask to make checks either. Other than that, can you be more specific about the problems you're having with secret doors and traps?

ETA: The OP has me blocked, so I needed to remove the attribution for the quotes to display.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
In general I like the idea, but to clarify: if there’s like a hidden trap, the DM would describe any visible telegraphs automatically, and characters who still accidentally trigger the trap get a perception saving throw to avoid it? Is that correct?

It seems like an interesting idea. In your examples, when you have them roll a perception saving throw?

Not sure I understand this… when the DM says "this torch sconce appears to be canted at an unusual angle compared to the others" isn’t that basically a successful perception check already?

Of course I investigate this now, if there were nothing to find, it would not have been pointed out.

To me a successful perception check is not ‘you notice that the torch opens a secret door if you turn it clockwise’, it is what you described

I should have given an example! I'll give 2: one for ambush and one for trap.

The idea is that the Perception Save = Danger Perception specifically and exclusively. And that the GM would already be narrating the threat, so there would not be a case of a blind "Roll a Perception save" out of nowhere and everyone going "uh, what? why?" IOW, just like other saving throws, you'd only roll a Perception save once the poopoo hit the fan.

Ambush Example:

GM: "A cacophony of sneering voices echoes from the canyon walls of the forest above you, followed by the twang of bowstrings. The goblins throw off their cloaks made of willow leaves and attack! And attack!"

Ranger Player: "Ahhh! I knew there was something off about bushes made of willow leaves, I was just so focused on making sure the druid could find mistletoe to harvest..."

GM: (roll 13 for the Stealth of the goblins) "Everyone roll a Perception save DC 13 to determine which of you are surprised."

Ranger Player: "Does Natural Explorer help me out here? Forests are my happy place."

GM: "Yep, you double the proficiency bonus added to your Perception save. Since you're 3rd level, that means you get +4 from your proficiency bonus to Perception instead of just +2."

Trap Example:

GM: "All of the torch sconces you've seen have metalwork dragon mouths from which the flames lick out. However there are a pair of torches at the end of this hall which are canted out more than the other sconces, and the 'jaws' of the dragon maw are closer together so it's screening or reducing their brightness."

Wizard Player: "I'm going to use mage hand and see if I can move either of those two torches. Like lift them out of the sconce or twist them."

GM: "Sure, looks like the should be able to be pushed back toward the wall to be more flush like the other torches - but your mage hand only lifts 5 pounds? It's not enough force to seriously move them."

Fighter Player: "Do the flagstones still have that weird half-inch seam in between them like we saw in the last room?"

GM: "Yes."

Rogue Player: "Let me try to lasso one. Basically, I want to create a rope leverage system so that I could lasso one of the weird sconces, and then yank from a distance so I don't have to be between the torches when I try this."

GM: "Ok, well, you'll need to be a little forward from the rest of the party right now, right at the entrance to the hallway. Is that good?"

Rogue Player: "Sure."

GM: "When you take just that one step forward you feel the flagstone beneath your foot drop just a sliver, but enough to send a shiver up your leg. All of you hear a roaring sound like a fireball or a dragon's exhalation coming from all sides of the hallway. Everyone give me a DC 15 Perception save to determine which of you can take a quick reaction to the trap begin triggered."
 

Quickleaf

Legend
Making all Perception a save denigrates the Expertise feature, and I'm not sure what we're gaining if we make it a saving throw other than to reduce the ridiculously high levels that some characters can get Perception to.

Personally, I don't like using Perception a lot anyways, so your example reflects our gameplay.

Unless the party is in a hurry, I hand out most details because they're going to find them anyways (similar to 3rd edition's "take a 20"). I loathe using flavor text and then hearing "I'm rolling a Perception check...." Boring. I want them to roleplay the info I dish out in flavor text, use their brains to explore. I could arbitrarily assign a passive perception DC15 for the torch details, maybe 17 for the scratches, if the party is in a hurry.

Let's build and say the room also has a poison gas trap and a skeleton near the scratched wall (the poor chap triggered the trap but couldn't find how to open the secret door in time). The trap triggers when someone rotates the torch sconce in the wrong sequence to open the secret door. I prefer to give players clues and I prefer old-school class specialty. I house-rule only Rogues have a chance of noticing and disabling traps of DC20 or greater. If this is a DC20+ trap, I'll give the Rogue a Perception check to notice the miniature gas holes permeating the ceiling, and an Investigation check to notice the torch seems affixed to a mechanism. If they brought their thieves' tools, they have a chance to disable (perhaps they have a tiny cup that amplifies sound that they can put against the wall, so they hear the click of a correct/incorrect rotation).

In any event, Perception only gets used, practically, once, whether it be a save or check.
This proposed house rule is actually doing four things at once.

(1) You're absolutely right that one of those things is reining in very high Perception scores. Of course, when you look through the monster books, they generally don't have super high Stealth scores or super high Perception scores... so denying players astronomical Perception is not a huge loss in my book, especially considering my 3rd point below.

(2) Secondly, it's pulling apart 2 gameplay elements that 5e has both living within Perception: Noticing Stuff & Danger Perception. This house rule retains a mechanic for Danger Perception only. Whereas Noticing Stuff is left up to the GM and players to actually play the game and communicate in a more OSR way. I'm trying to have some New School in there (you'll notice the trap reaction thing is lifted from AngryGM) and some OSR, playing side by side.

(3) Thirdly, to touch on your question @HomegrownHydra about how is this house better than Passive Perception and your comment @iserith about Perception being used to gate info, it completely removes the possibility for gating basic information behind Perception whatsoever (active or passive). The GM just gives the information that makes sense. So @mamba what you said about "isn’t that basically a successful perception check already" is spot on. If it's something that would logically be noticed, they notice it. If it's something that would logically take 10 minutes of searching to find, then it takes 10 minutes. If it's something that requires touching to realize, then that's what it requires. What this does is (a) the GM no longer needs to track Passive Perception, and (b) theoretically would make the flow of the game play a bit faster. I was definitely influenced by the Gumshoe RPG when it came to realizing how much I wanted a different way to handle Perception.

(4) Fourthly, while I totally get what you're saying @iserith about players not declaring checks... I'll speak for myself when I say that un-training some players of that habit is like trying to push a broken down Ford F-150 by yourself up a sloped road... at a certain point, I've just found the habit is so entrenched in a segment of players that I'd love to have a way to circumvent it entirely – and that's the fourth thing this house rule is doing with the most common type of check I see players ask for (Perception).

I'll be the first to admit that this is a radical change, not just mechanically, but also in terms of the culture or paradigm around the game. That's why I was asking about your reactions to it – trying to get an early pulse on how much pushback this sort of house rule might get.
 
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Laurefindel

Legend
Yes, I like that.

I also like that perception is taken out of the picture as a skill, and active search for information becomes clearly defined as a use of the investigation skill. Helps defining the active/passive part that has been inconsistently used in adventures and around many tables

The Observant feat could then become straight advantage on both investigation skill checks and perception saving throws.
 

dave2008

Legend
This was very helpful - thank you. I think I like the idea. However, do you think PCs just might replace Perception with Investigation when asking for a skill check?

I should have given an example! I'll give 2: one for ambush and one for trap.

The idea is that the Perception Save = Danger Perception specifically and exclusively. And that the GM would already be narrating the threat, so there would not be a case of a blind "Roll a Perception save" out of nowhere and everyone going "uh, what? why?" IOW, just like other saving throws, you'd only roll a Perception save once the poopoo hit the fan.

Ambush Example:

GM: "A cacophony of sneering voices echoes from the canyon walls of the forest above you, followed by the twang of bowstrings. The goblins throw off their cloaks made of willow leaves and attack! And attack!"

Ranger Player: "Ahhh! I knew there was something off about bushes made of willow leaves, I was just so focused on making sure the druid could find mistletoe to harvest..."

GM: (roll 13 for the Stealth of the goblins) "Everyone roll a Perception save DC 13 to determine which of you are surprised."

Ranger Player: "Does Natural Explorer help me out here? Forests are my happy place."

GM: "Yep, you double the proficiency bonus added to your Perception save. Since you're 3rd level, that means you get +4 from your proficiency bonus to Perception instead of just +2."

Trap Example:

GM: "All of the torch sconces you've seen have metalwork dragon mouths from which the flames lick out. However there are a pair of torches at the end of this hall which are canted out more than the other sconces, and the 'jaws' of the dragon maw are closer together so it's screening or reducing their brightness."

Wizard Player: "I'm going to use mage hand and see if I can move either of those two torches. Like lift them out of the sconce or twist them."

GM: "Sure, looks like the should be able to be pushed back toward the wall to be more flush like the other torches - but your mage hand only lifts 5 pounds? It's not enough force to seriously move them."

Fighter Player: "Do the flagstones still have that weird half-inch seam in between them like we saw in the last room?"

GM: "Yes."

Rogue Player: "Let me try to lasso one. Basically, I want to create a rope leverage system so that I could lasso one of the weird sconces, and then yank from a distance so I don't have to be between the torches when I try this."

GM: "Ok, well, you'll need to be a little forward from the rest of the party right now, right at the entrance to the hallway. Is that good?"

Rogue Player: "Sure."

GM: "When you take just that one step forward you feel the flagstone beneath your foot drop just a sliver, but enough to send a shiver up your leg. All of you hear a roaring sound like a fireball or a dragon's exhalation coming from all sides of the hallway. Everyone give me a DC 15 Perception save to determine which of you can take a quick reaction to the trap begin triggered."

This proposed house rule is actually doing four things at once.

(1) You're absolutely right that one of those things is reining in very high Perception scores. Of course, when you look through the monster books, they generally don't have super high Stealth scores or super high Perception scores... so denying players astronomical Perception is not a huge loss in my book, especially considering my 3rd point below.

(2) Secondly, it's pulling apart 2 gameplay elements that 5e has both living within Perception: Noticing Stuff & Danger Perception. This house rule retains a mechanic for Danger Perception only. Whereas Noticing Stuff is left up to the GM and players to actually play the game and communicate in a more OSR way. I'm trying to have some New School in there (you'll notice the trap reaction thing is lifted from AngryGM) and some OSR, playing side by side.

(3) Thirdly, to touch on your question @HomegrownHydra about how is this house better than Passive Perception and your comment @iserith about Perception being used to gate info, it completely removes the possibility for gating basic information behind Perception whatsoever (active or passive). The GM just gives the information that makes sense. So @mamba what you said about "isn’t that basically a successful perception check already" is spot on. If it's something that would logically be noticed, they notice it. If it's something that would logically take 10 minutes of searching to find, then it takes 10 minutes. If it's something that requires touching to realize, then that's what it requires. What this does is (a) the GM no longer needs to track Passive Perception, and (b) theoretically would make the flow of the game play a bit faster. I was definitely influenced by the Gumshoe RPG when it came to realizing how much I wanted a different way to handle Perception.

(4) Fourthly, while I totally get what you're saying @iserith about players not declaring checks... I'll speak for myself when I say that un-training some players of that habit is like trying to push a broken down Ford F-150 by yourself up a sloped road... at a certain point, I've just found the habit is so entrenched in a segment of players that I'd love to have a way to circumvent it entirely – and that's the fourth thing this house rule is doing with the most common type of check I see players ask for (Perception).

I'll be the first to admit that this is a radical change, not just mechanically, but also in terms of the culture or paradigm around the game. That's why I was asking about your reactions to it – trying to get an early pulse on how much pushback this sort of house rule might get.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
This was very helpful - thank you. I think I like the idea. However, do you think PCs just might replace Perception with Investigation when asking for a skill check?
The idea is growing on me, but I will need to give it another pass for fiddly rules bits I haven't considered and ofc playtest it.

Yeah, that's definitely a risk. But I was thinking along the lines of what @Laurefindel said about clearing up the confusion between Perception/Investigation. "I investigate it" doesn't sound like much improvement, but at least it's a verb. 🤣 But I think investigate implies more risk inherent in the ambiguity than Perception currently does.

Like if a Player asks what do I notice or asks (yes yes we know it's not the rules, but it's habitual) to make a Perception check... and the GM says "ok, you start touching---" ...I've seen that player go "woah! i'm NOT touching anything!" Whereas with Investigate... I think a player not engaging the narrative creates more of a risky grey space for the GM to play with by virtue of the language involved.

Just early thoughts, but I dunno, will have to see what happens.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
(2) Secondly, it's pulling apart 2 gameplay elements that 5e has both living within Perception: Noticing Stuff & Danger Perception. This house rule retains a mechanic for Danger Perception only. Whereas Noticing Stuff is left up to the GM and players to actually play the game and communicate in a more OSR way. I'm trying to have some New School in there (you'll notice the trap reaction thing is lifted from AngryGM) and some OSR, playing side by side.
This is one of the things that's always bugged me about perception as a skill. Interacting with the environment is the game. Making a check instead of interacting with the environment is skipping the game.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
This proposed house rule is actually doing four things at once.

(1) You're absolutely right that one of those things is reining in very high Perception scores. Of course, when you look through the monster books, they generally don't have super high Stealth scores or super high Perception scores... so denying players astronomical Perception is not a huge loss in my book, especially considering my 3rd point below.
It might be worth examining why your players think they need to optimize their Perception. It could very well be with how you are presenting exploration challenges or how often monsters are trying to surprise the PCs. In my games, it's a good choice, but it's not the best one - it depends. And that feels about right to me.

(2) Secondly, it's pulling apart 2 gameplay elements that 5e has both living within Perception: Noticing Stuff & Danger Perception. This house rule retains a mechanic for Danger Perception only. Whereas Noticing Stuff is left up to the GM and players to actually play the game and communicate in a more OSR way. I'm trying to have some New School in there (you'll notice the trap reaction thing is lifted from AngryGM) and some OSR, playing side by side.

(3) Thirdly, to touch on your question @HomegrownHydra about how is this house better than Passive Perception and your comment @iserith about Perception being used to gate info, it completely removes the possibility for gating basic information behind Perception whatsoever (active or passive). The GM just gives the information that makes sense. So @mamba what you said about "isn’t that basically a successful perception check already" is spot on. If it's something that would logically be noticed, they notice it. If it's something that would logically take 10 minutes of searching to find, then it takes 10 minutes. If it's something that requires touching to realize, then that's what it requires. What this does is (a) the GM no longer needs to track Passive Perception, and (b) theoretically would make the flow of the game play a bit faster. I was definitely influenced by the Gumshoe RPG when it came to realizing how much I wanted a different way to handle Perception.
It doesn't actually remove gating information. Gating information in this way doesn't really exist in the rules, so that's all on the DM, perhaps a habit learned from previous editions of the game. So the DM doesn't really need a house rule to fix this. They can just stop doing it at any time.

(4) Fourthly, while I totally get what you're saying @iserith about players not declaring checks... I'll speak for myself when I say that un-training some players of that habit is like trying to push a broken down Ford F-150 by yourself up a sloped road... at a certain point, I've just found the habit is so entrenched in a segment of players that I'd love to have a way to circumvent it entirely – and that's the fourth thing this house rule is doing with the most common type of check I see players ask for (Perception).
If there is (1) no gating of information that should be fairly obvious in the environment and which telegraphs threats or opportunities, (2) not every monster is trying to gain surprise, and (3) the DM asks players to establish a goal and approach when they ask to roll, then I find this all goes away. I tell players straight up that I cannot and will not assume what their characters are doing during a challenge and that without a goal and approach, I can't determine whether a check is needed at all. I add that if the approach to the goal given the context is efficacious enough, then they won't need to roll which is a WAY better outcome than trusting a d20. So it's to their own benefit to be reasonably specific, in addition to being easier and more entertaining, generally speaking, to everyone trying to build a story together.

I'll be the first to admit that this is a radical change, not just mechanically, but also in terms of the culture or paradigm around the game. That's why I was asking about your reactions to it – trying to get an early pulse on how much pushback this sort of house rule might get.
I wouldn't expect you'd get much pushback at all. My objections are purely around it looking to me like a downstream solution to a problem that is happening upstream. And I'm the sort of guy to want to fix the problem at its source than apply a patch that may have unintended consequences.
 

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