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

Laurefindel

Legend
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.


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.


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 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.
A few questions I can see coming…

If perception becomes a saving throw, is proficiency coming from class or choice of skills? If class-based, which ones? What about elves? What of Resilient feat? Or Expertise? Any way of acquiring proficiency at a later point? How should it interact with observant feat? Do Skulker and Dungeon Delver(?) feats interact with perception, can’t remember.
 

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Clint_L

Hero
Hmmm...I don't know if I like the saving throw solution - I need to chew on it more. I agree with the OP's premise, though. Perception is a problem in that it does A LOT and players are often building up ridiculous scores in it. No skill should be that much more useful than the rest.

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.

This is my thinking, as well.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
A few questions I can see coming…

If perception becomes a saving throw, is proficiency coming from class or choice of skills? If class-based, which ones? What about elves? What of Resilient feat? Or Expertise? Any way of acquiring proficiency at a later point? How should it interact with observant feat? Do Skulker and Dungeon Delver(?) feats interact with perception, can’t remember.
There will definitely be unintended consequences that'll have to be worked out. I don't see that as pushback. But I do see it as more annoying to deal with than just fixing the issue upstream.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Hmmm...I don't know if I like the saving throw solution - I need to chew on it more. I agree with the OP's premise, though. Perception is a problem in that it does A LOT and players are often building up ridiculous scores in it. No skill should be that much more useful than the rest.
Although there are a couple of pillars that draw on it (combat where surprise or Search action is concerned plus exploration), it's really the way the DM presents the environment and challenges that incentivizes it even further. I recall having this discussion with another poster who is no longer on the forums. When you dug into how he runs the game, every monster tried to surprise the PCs because "that's what every monster would do!" and so OF COURSE players are going to pump their Perception. To do otherwise would be foolish. So when this issue comes up, I always say to examine how the DM is running it first before looking to the system.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
A few questions I can see coming…

If perception becomes a saving throw, is proficiency coming from class or choice of skills? If class-based, which ones? What about elves? What of Resilient feat? Or Expertise? Any way of acquiring proficiency at a later point? How should it interact with observant feat? Do Skulker and Dungeon Delver(?) feats interact with perception, can’t remember.
Appreciate you running with the idea!

What if all PCs get to apply their proficiency modifier to the Perception saving throw? Danger perception is so fundamental that everyone has a baseline degree of competence. However... what if it has no associated ability score? So a 1st level PC typically has +2 Perception.

That would address the Resilient feat question.

If you would get the Perception skill from your race/background/feat, maybe instead that lets you apply your Wisdom or Intelligence modifier to your saving throw? You've learned to apply your ability to read subtle cues in the environment OR your memory about details and ability to reason quickly to your instinctive response to danger. This might be comparable to someone doing deep study of bird language/sensory awareness training OR detective/police/agent training to identify what's changed in a room after a glance.

I know that's funky from how saving throws usually work... but it's going to get funkier...

If Expertise can be applied to the unique Proficiency save (this would be breaking the rules a bit), that would double your proficiency bonus as normal.

Normally, dim-light would impose Disadvantage on the Perception save, but Skulker would negate that Disadvantage.

Observant might grant Advantage to Perception saves made in well-lit/clear conditions and Advantage to Investigation checks, instead of the flat +5 bonus. This way, you could be Observant but still have Disadvantage on your Perception save in dim light, which makes Skulker relevant even if you have Observant already.

The first part of Dungeon Delver – "You have advantage on Wisdom (Perception) and Intelligence (Investigation) checks made to detect the presence of secret doors" – would need to be revised as this is removing the roll-to-find-secret-door aspect of play. I might instead go with:
"You have advantage on Perception saves against traps, and you have advantage on Investigation checks to determine a secret door's mechanism of action."
 

Quickleaf

Legend
There will definitely be unintended consequences that'll have to be worked out. I don't see that as pushback. But I do see it as more annoying to deal with than just fixing the issue upstream.
Yeah, I gotcha. I'm definitely not that "all the monsters surprise all the time" GM. That would suck.

We're definitely aiming at the same goal, just have different ways that we're getting there.

My success at breaking player habits (from past GMs/modules) just with a pre-game conversation hasn't been as successful as it sounds like yours have been. So I'm looking to give it some rules reinforcement. But I totally agree that the real conversation is "how am I doing as GM? can you trust me to be forthcoming and smart with the info you need to make informed choices? and can I trust you to fight that tendency, as best you can, towards 'lazy' play habits?" (I know lazy might sound judgmental, but really not intended as I understand how difficult this is for some folks to break out of, just best word I could find for it)
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Yeah, I gotcha. I'm definitely not that "all the monsters surprise all the time" GM. That would suck.

We're definitely aiming at the same goal, just have different ways that we're getting there.

My success at breaking player habits (from past GMs/modules) just with a pre-game conversation hasn't been as successful as it sounds like yours have been. So I'm looking to give it some rules reinforcement. But I totally agree that the real conversation is "how am I doing as GM? can you trust me to be forthcoming and smart with the info you need to make informed choices? and can I trust you to fight that tendency, as best you can, towards 'lazy' play habits?" (I know lazy might sound judgmental, but really not intended as I understand how difficult this is for some folks to break out of, just best word I could find for it)
For me it was more than just saying it once before the game. For some, this required ongoing conversations during play. "Okay, I'm hearing by asking to make a check that you want to look around, but can you tell me how you do that and what you might be looking for? I need to know that first..." and also having meaningful consequences for failure. A friend of mine is playing in a new game and she has noted that it doesn't really matter all that much if the roll fails because nothing really happens. So of course the players want to roll because there's no significant downside. In my games, if I'm asking you to roll, it's going to cost you something if you fail and you know that very clearly, so you don't want to do that if you can avoid it! This incentivizes the sort of play you're trying to achieve via rules changes and has the add-on effect of getting players to hold up their end of the conversation of the game.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
@iserith Absolutely. (y)

It's always been tricky for me to come up with interesting consequences for failed Perception checks. Actually, the whole idea behind a Perception save is sort of going right into there's a clearly defined consequence if this fails – get surprised or suffer the trap without a chance to try something first.

Do you have any examples of interesting consequences for failed Perception checks that you can recall from your games? Would love to hear about them!
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
@iserith Absolutely. (y)

It's always been tricky for me to come up with interesting consequences for failed Perception checks. Actually, the whole idea behind a Perception save is sort of going right into there's a clearly defined consequence if this fails – get surprised or suffer the trap without a chance to try something first.

Do you have any examples of interesting consequences for failed Perception checks that you can recall from your games? Would love to hear about them!
I should probably note that I can almost see doing surprise as a save, but as I said I don't really like saves in general, and there may be some unintended rules interactions that would just create more work I wouldn't want to do. I'm at least open to that idea.

For exploration challenges, the easiest consequence is time, when time is a limited resource (which it almost always is in my games). You fail, you spend 10 minutes and turn up nothing. We're 10 minutes closer to the doom clock chiming or to a wandering monster check. Want to keep searching?

Depending on the context, other consequences can be setting off the trap or making noise sufficient to draw unwanted attention. If you want to avoid a situation where simply rolling tips the player off about something maybe being there (I don't care, but some people do), there's always progress combined with a setback - "you find the trap, by standing on the pressure plate... if you move, the trap will go off. What do you do?" Or, the PC finds the secret door and accidentally triggers it, making a loud grinding sound that echoes through the dungeon as it opens. A nearby monster is alerted and moves to investigate.

The way I present the environment is that there's the level at which anyone can notice anything. Embedded in that description are clues that suggest there's more to it. If you want to uncover what those clues mean, you'll have to Do Stuff, and that's going to take time and/or other resources and have some risk or cost. So declare your actions well because they matter!
 

Laurefindel

Legend
Appreciate you running with the idea!

What if all PCs get to apply their proficiency modifier to the Perception saving throw? Danger perception is so fundamental that everyone has a baseline degree of competence. However... what if it has no associated ability score? So a 1st level PC typically has +2 Perception.

That would be my approach as well
 

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