What are your biggest immersion breakers, rules wise?

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Worth pointing out the issue with Knowledge checks and unfamiliar holy symbols is largely an issue because the same fairly small set of gods is generally worshipped across the entire campaign world-- so all the characters should always recognize all of them, as a matter of cultural immersion that all the players don't have.
In your campaign world maybe.

In mine there's a pantheon for each non-Human race and a bunch for Humans, many of which have yet to enter play. Right now, for example, some of the PCs in my game have recently gone to a whole new (for the players as well) part of the world and are being exposed to cultures and peoples they'd never even heard of before.

Like maybe you need to make a Religion check to know what the Cross and the Crescent mean, but everyone knows who they belong to.
In today's real world, yes. But 2500 years ago if a Greek devotee of Zeus or Artemis were to journey to the Far East the residents there 99.5% likely wouldn't have a clue what a Zeus or Artemis was, never mind what their holy symbols looked like (if they had any).
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
In today's real world, yes. But 2500 years ago if a Greek devotee of Zeus or Artemis were to journey to the Far East the residents there 99.5% likely wouldn't have a clue what a Zeus or Artemis was, never mind what their holy symbols looked like (if they had any).
With 4200 or so modern religions does anyone know whose symbol this is

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JeffB

Adventurer
Thinking about this some more- the entire transition of most RPGs when the exploration/story stops and combat occurs- Ok, now let's get ready for our mini wargame.

Probably why I adore Dungeon World so much. Combat is no different mechanically than the rest of the game play. No initiative, no rounds, no action economy. Seamless. I realize its not for everybody, but I love it.
 
For me, healing can be explained through nicks and exhaustion.
But, the one that stops immersion for me is everyone doing a round in initiative order. Obviously, it changes for a player depending on what the previous player did. Going to go swing at that creature, but your ally took it out? No, not going to do that, instead I'll run the other way to attack that creature. A mode where everyone plays at the same time would be nice. But, impossible to do with each character having a standard, move, and bonus action; miniatures complicates the matter too.
 

Garthanos

Arcadian Knight
For me, healing can be explained through nicks and exhaustion.
But, the one that stops immersion for me is everyone doing a round in initiative order. Obviously, it changes for a player depending on what the previous player did. Going to go swing at that creature, but your ally took it out? No, not going to do that, instead I'll run the other way to attack that creature. A mode where everyone plays at the same time would be nice. But, impossible to do with each character having a standard, move, and bonus action; miniatures complicates the matter too.
That one bothered me back when they first introduced 3e yeah it went from being resolved simultaneously with rock paper scissors looking over the shoulder to turn taking. I have been considering a method to bring that back in a way that meshes with the current game.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
For me, healing can be explained through nicks and exhaustion.
But, the one that stops immersion for me is everyone doing a round in initiative order. Obviously, it changes for a player depending on what the previous player did. Going to go swing at that creature, but your ally took it out? No, not going to do that, instead I'll run the other way to attack that creature. A mode where everyone plays at the same time would be nice. But, impossible to do with each character having a standard, move, and bonus action; miniatures complicates the matter too.
Actually, there is nothing I see inherent in action-bonus-move capable characters that stops using action-based-resolution over character-based-resolution.

Roll init.
Declare actions including movement lowest to highest init order - so better init has more knowledge than lower when they make their choices.
Then resolve actions in order of action type - quick- moderate- slow.
Things like strike with weapon in hand are quick, things like move and strike are moderate (as is spell cast or weapons if you gotta draw somethings) and things like move and cast spells

The key comes down to divorcing redolution order from init order and linking it to what is being done not who is doing it.

Depending on your desire for complexity, you could have a turn of strike-move-strike again" start in quick then finish in moderate or even slow.

I tend to prefer action based resolution myself. However, for 5e specifically the killer for me is all the start of turn and end of turn mechanics tied into spells and conditions that kick this into " lot of overhaul" land.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Thinking about this some more- the entire transition of most RPGs when the exploration/story stops and combat occurs- Ok, now let's get ready for our mini wargame.
For me, healing can be explained through nicks and exhaustion.
But, the one that stops immersion for me is everyone doing a round in initiative order. Obviously, it changes for a player depending on what the previous player did. Going to go swing at that creature, but your ally took it out? No, not going to do that, instead I'll run the other way to attack that creature. A mode where everyone plays at the same time would be nice. But, impossible to do with each character having a standard, move, and bonus action; miniatures complicates the matter too.
Both of these issues can be resolved (or at least significantly lessened) with the Speed Factor Initiative rules from the DMG, or Mike Mearls’ “Greyhawk Initiative” variant thereof. In combat, as with at all other times in the game, the DM describes the scenario, the players say what they want to do, and the DM narrates the results (calling for dice rolls as necessary to resolve any uncertainty in the results of the actions.) Since in the chaos of a skirmish it is uncertain who will act before who, you resolve that uncertainty with Dexterity checks (or rolls of dice of various size depending on the action, if using the Greyhawk variant). Then the DM resolves the declared actions in the order determined by these rolls, and starts the process over.

A lot of folks are very skeptical of this initiative style, assuming it will drastically slow down play, but in practice it works better than it looks like it would on paper. The Angry GM has an article about it - an oldie, but a goodie.

 

Yaarel

Adventurer
Mike Mearls’ “Greyhawk Initiative”.
If so, I would rather spell initiative factor by spell level, bonused by the casting ability. Moreover, the ranged attack depends entirely on whether, the arrow is already drawn and ready to fly − even then, accurate aiming requires most shooters some time.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
If so, I would rather spell initiative factor by spell level, bonused by the casting ability. Moreover, the ranged attack depends entirely on whether, the arrow is already drawn and ready to fly − even then, accurate aiming requires most shooters some time.
Sure. I was more talking about the general practice of declaring actions first, then roll initiative, then execute. Which specific modifiers you apply to the initiative roll are just personal preference.
 

JeffB

Adventurer
Both of these issues can be resolved (or at least significantly lessened) with the Speed Factor Initiative rules from the DMG, or Mike Mearls’ “Greyhawk Initiative” variant thereof. In combat, as with at all other times in the game, the DM describes the scenario, the players say what they want to do, and the DM narrates the results (calling for dice rolls as necessary to resolve any uncertainty in the results of the actions.) Since in the chaos of a skirmish it is uncertain who will act before who, you resolve that uncertainty with Dexterity checks (or rolls of dice of various size depending on the action, if using the Greyhawk variant). Then the DM resolves the declared actions in the order determined by these rolls, and starts the process over.

A lot of folks are very skeptical of this initiative style, assuming it will drastically slow down play, but in practice it works better than it looks like it would on paper. The Angry GM has an article about it - an oldie, but a goodie.

I have used Mearls' method as well as several other variations. Frankly the whole concept of initiative and rounds is the immersion breaking issue for me. Its a game within the game. I'd prefer to just do away with it, but modern D&D systems are too tied the initiative check and action economy per round.

If I am going to use Initiative, I prefer fast and simple d6 per side rolled every round or if I am going modern- FFG games SW initiative "slot" system.
 

Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
@Charlaquin Thanks for the detailed reply! I think we mostly have a pretty good handle on the differences between our styles as they relate to the examples of knowledge checks at my table. I've excerpted a few of your statements where I want to follow-up, but if I overlooked something you wanted a reply on, please let me know.

What I see as the difference between our approaches to 3 is that in your approach the player is asking the DM if their character has certain knowledge and if they do, to leverage it to achieve a desired goal, whereas in my approach, they are declaring that they have this knowledge and intend to apply it to achieve a desired goal. Perhaps a subtle distinction, but I think an important one as I believe my approach maintains a better flow of the basic pattern of play. Ideally, in my view, the pattern of play should stick as close as possible to what is described in How To Play:

1. The DM describes the environment
2. The players describe what their characters do.
3. The DM describes the results of the characters’ actions, then starts the process over from 1.

Players asking questions does not fit this pattern, and interrupts its flow, so should be kept to a minimum. Ideally, the players would never need to ask questions, but communication being imperfect, it is sometimes necessary for players to ask clarifying questions about the description. Otherwise, I favor declaration of action with the goal of learning what more you want to know, rather than asking if you know it.
This is definitely a place where our style preferences diverge in practice, even though we both adhere to the pattern of play you describe above. To me the idea that the players should ideally never need to ask questions is entirely foreign, and I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around it.

I can sort-of see a (super-human) DM being able to accurately predict which features of the characters' immediate environment the players will decide are important, and then providing enough pertinent information about those features that the players don't feel like they need any further details to make a plan. I'm skeptical, though, that in practice one can reliably provide sufficient information without simultaneously providing too much unless one has perfect foreknowledge of both what the players will consider important and what they will consider unimportant.

But that only relates to the immediate environment, and in many scenes the immediate environment isn't the focus. As a simple example, in just about any social encounter the focus is going to be on the conversation, but the conversation does not need to relate to the immediate environment. Player questions that are sparked by the dialog may therefore have nothing to do with the up-front description, and thus could not have been avoided by making the description more detailed.

There are also the medium/long-term planning scenes where the players aren't actively interacting with any part of their immediate environment at all (except each other). If the PCs are having an IC debate on which of their competing priorities to focus on next, in my experience there's going to be a ton of background questions for the DM as the players figure out their characters' strategy, none of which relate to the description of whatever room the scene is taking place in.

Finally, plenty of scenes are player-initiated, where the DM simply can't know in advance what will be important or sometimes what the scene is even about. As a trivial example, the DM may be expecting to gloss over making camp one night, but the players turn it into a full-fledged scene, asking detailed questions about the terrain for laying out camp and questions about the varieties of local game available (since different types of game require different hunting strategies).

In all of these cases I see the players' questions as fantastic--they're telling me what is important to them, and showing where they are engaged with the game. And I don't see these questions as outside of the standard play loop--I just see "DM describes the environment" as an interactive process.

Interesting. I guess where my perspective differs is in the idea that a randomly triggered encounter or complication is “created” where it hadn’t existed before. In theory, any such randomly triggered event is one that should be possible in the context it occurs in. There are rats in the dungeon, so randomly determining that the party encounters a pack of rats doesn’t seem to me like creating rats where they didn’t exist before, it’s just randomly determining when and if the characters come across the rats that definitively exist there.

If it helps, I tailor my complication tables to the locations where they are going to be used. I’m not just rolling on a generic random encounter table, and I may not even roll to determine the encounter at all. Rather, I’ll have a list of complications that are appropriate to the dungeon, and when the tension pool indicates that a complication should occur, I will choose a complication I feel is most appropriate to the current context. Maybe I’ll use a dice roll if there are many equally-appropriate options. But to my mind I’m certainly not creating events at random, I’m randomly determining when events that are likely to occur in this dungeon do so.
The tailored tables definitely help. But if I decide to take extra time to try again to pick a lock, and as a result the tension dice pool becomes full, I can see that any unwelcome result was caused by the decision to try again to pick the lock. So if the tension dice dictate that when I get the door open there is an aggressive swarm of rats behind it, I'll know that had I gotten the lock on the first try there wouldn't have been any rats. Thus, the lockpicking attempt "created" the rats. That rats are entirely plausible helps a lot, but I would still personally find it damaging to my immersion.

I think I get it. It sounds to me like what you want is for those random encounters to be drawn from the ranks of the dungeon’s inhabitants, such that if you encounter 3 wandering Kobolds now, there are 3 fewer Kobolds in the barracks when you get there later. A lot of old-school dungeons worked that way. That I can totally understand, although to me it seems like there’s no way as a player you would be able to tell the difference.
If I can't tell the difference, great. :) But not being able to tell the difference also means I can't know that an immersion-damaging (to me) mechanic is in use. Random encounter clocks are often advocated as a pacing tool, and they're ineffective in that role if they simply make an upcoming encounter happen earlier. Heck, if the clock doesn't "create" new monsters, a party could game a random encounter clock by fortifying a position and then running out the clock deliberately to make the monsters come to them. So where such clocks are in play, I've seen then explicitly advertised as having the potential for "new" encounters in order to create the incentive not to dawdle.

Where you’re losing me is with the implicit assumption that because the tension pool was used to determine when an encounter happened, that the tension pool must have been used to determine whether or not the creatures involved in the encounter exist. Clearly those creatures must exist in the dungeon, otherwise you wouldn’t be able to encounter them there.
Does my example above with the locked door with a rat swarm behind it as a result of the tension dice provide more clarity? All I know is that the rat swarm would not have been behind the door, but for the roll on the tension dice. The presence of the swarm is abstractly related to decision to take each of the actions that led to the accumulation of tension dice. I'd find that problematic immersively because it wouldn't make any sense to me why each of those actions led to rats where there otherwise wouldn't have been any rats.

By contrast, I'd be totally fine if you said that taking more time to pick the lock might result in a higher likelihood that the patrol (that we already knew about) would stumble across the party, and then accordingly increased the odds when determining whether the patrol actually finds us. It wouldn't cause any difficulties for me with immersion.

(And just to be clear, I'm only explaining why your tension-dice mechanic would make it more difficult for me, personally, to maintain immersion. It sounds like a great mechanic even though it isn't to my individual taste.)
 
Druz, essentially a tribal spiritual heritage that still flourishes today. In university, I had a Druz roommate.

(I think English sometimes spells it Druze.)
I'm no shocked you knew that - not because I figure your player rolls a loaded die, or you have 18 INT & expertise in Religion, but because it's right in your field of interest.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
@Charlaquin Thanks for the detailed reply! I think we mostly have a pretty good handle on the differences between our styles as they relate to the examples of knowledge checks at my table. I've excerpted a few of your statements where I want to follow-up, but if I overlooked something you wanted a reply on, please let me know.


This is definitely a place where our style preferences diverge in practice, even though we both adhere to the pattern of play you describe above. To me the idea that the players should ideally never need to ask questions is entirely foreign, and I'm having a hard time wrapping my brain around it.
Yeah, I should clarify, my point was not merely that I follow the pattern of play described in the PHB - I think most DMs follow it in a general sense. Rather, I was pointing out that I try to adhere to it as closely as possible as often as possible.

I can sort-of see a (super-human) DM being able to accurately predict which features of the characters' immediate environment the players will decide are important, and then providing enough pertinent information about those features that the players don't feel like they need any further details to make a plan. I'm skeptical, though, that in practice one can reliably provide sufficient information without simultaneously providing too much unless one has perfect foreknowledge of both what the players will consider important and what they will consider unimportant.
When I say an in my ideal game the players wouldn't ever have to ask questions, that's an ideal that I recognize is not possible to live up to, but the closer I can get to it, the better. I find that being reasonably specific and concise in my descriptions helps in this endeavor. I try not to make assumptions about what the players will or won't find important, and stick to describing what is present in reasonable detail. I also try to focus my description on opportunities for players to interact with the environment.

But that only relates to the immediate environment, and in many scenes the immediate environment isn't the focus. As a simple example, in just about any social encounter the focus is going to be on the conversation, but the conversation does not need to relate to the immediate environment. Player questions that are sparked by the dialog may therefore have nothing to do with the up-front description, and thus could not have been avoided by making the description more detailed.
Hmm... I get the sense that social interactions probably look quite different in your games than they do in mind, because I'm having trouble following what you mean here. Why would the players be asking questions of me in a social interaction? I would think they would be interacting instead with the NPC(s) involved in the encounter.

There are also the medium/long-term planning scenes where the players aren't actively interacting with any part of their immediate environment at all (except each other). If the PCs are having an IC debate on which of their competing priorities to focus on next, in my experience there's going to be a ton of background questions for the DM as the players figure out their characters' strategy, none of which relate to the description of whatever room the scene is taking place in.

Finally, plenty of scenes are player-initiated, where the DM simply can't know in advance what will be important or sometimes what the scene is even about. As a trivial example, the DM may be expecting to gloss over making camp one night, but the players turn it into a full-fledged scene, asking detailed questions about the terrain for laying out camp and questions about the varieties of local game available (since different types of game require different hunting strategies).
Oh, I would definitely not want the players asking questions of me to inform their mid/long-term planning. They are free to talk to each other as needed, and if they require more information to formulate their plan, then it would be better for them to describe actions their characters take to try to gain that information. If they want to know what varieties of local game are available, they should search for tracks that might give an indication of that, or make educated guesses based on the terrain and climate. I suppose this would probably be a situation where "From my training in Nature, would I be familiar enough with this kind of terrain to make a good guess about what kind of game we might find here?" would be pretty appropriate.

The tailored tables definitely help. But if I decide to take extra time to try again to pick a lock, and as a result the tension dice pool becomes full, I can see that any unwelcome result was caused by the decision to try again to pick the lock. So if the tension dice dictate that when I get the door open there is an aggressive swarm of rats behind it, I'll know that had I gotten the lock on the first try there wouldn't have been any rats. Thus, the lockpicking attempt "created" the rats. That rats are entirely plausible helps a lot, but I would still personally find it damaging to my immersion.
Well, keep in mind, the dice being added to the pool represent the passing of time. It's not that choosing to try to pick the lock made the rats show up, it's that the rats happened to blunder into you during the 10-ish minutes you took to try and pick the lock. When you declare that action, I'll also go around the table and ask what the other players' characters are doing during those 10 minutes. Might be a good opportunity to cast a ritual spell, or to simply stand on guard in case any monsters wander by during that time (smart play, in my opinion, if you're at 5 dice in the pool or 50-ish minutes past the hour.) Sure, if you had succeeded on picking the lock on the first try you wouldn't have encountered the rats... But you also wouldn't have been there 10 minutes later when the rats theoretically showed up. Instead, you'd have gotten through the door, and there's a good chance that some time in the next 10 minutes you'd run into something else.

If I can't tell the difference, great. :) But not being able to tell the difference also means I can't know that an immersion-damaging (to me) mechanic is in use. Random encounter clocks are often advocated as a pacing tool, and they're ineffective in that role if they simply make an upcoming encounter happen earlier. Heck, if the clock doesn't "create" new monsters, a party could game a random encounter clock by fortifying a position and then running out the clock deliberately to make the monsters come to them. So where such clocks are in play, I've seen then explicitly advertised as having the potential for "new" encounters in order to create the incentive not to dawdle.

Does my example above with the locked door with a rat swarm behind it as a result of the tension dice provide more clarity? All I know is that the rat swarm would not have been behind the door, but for the roll on the tension dice. The presence of the swarm is abstractly related to decision to take each of the actions that led to the accumulation of tension dice. I'd find that problematic immersively because it wouldn't make any sense to me why each of those actions led to rats where there otherwise wouldn't have been any rats.
Yeah, that definitely helped illustrate where you're coming from, and I can see why you find it un-immersive. Does it help re-framing it in terms that, it's not the actions you took that lead to that encounter, but the time that it took to execute those actions? Assuming that you are not taking any reckless actions, it doesn't actually matter what those actions are. It's the passage of an hour, as measured by the accumulation of 6 tension dice, that triggered the encounter, not the actions. Heck, you might not even have taken any time-consuming actions over the course of the hour, the roll still happens once per hour. The only actions that actually trigger a roll of the tension pool in and of themselves are noisy or otherwise attention-grabbing ones, which trigger a roll of however many dice are currently in the pool without resetting it. And I'd think it's clear what that represents in the narrative. You were loud, the monsters heard you, they came to investigate the noise. In that instance the action didn't create the encounter, it just brought it down on you. Am I making sense?

By contrast, I'd be totally fine if you said that taking more time to pick the lock might result in a higher likelihood that the patrol (that we already knew about) would stumble across the party, and then accordingly increased the odds when determining whether the patrol actually finds us. It wouldn't cause any difficulties for me with immersion.
I mean, that's effectively what I'm doing, apart from the "that we already know about" part. I guess I'm not sure why that makes a difference?

(And just to be clear, I'm only explaining why your tension-dice mechanic would make it more difficult for me, personally, to maintain immersion. It sounds like a great mechanic even though it isn't to my individual taste.)
Oh, for sure! That was definitely the impression that I got. I also definitely recognize that the tension pool has the potential for breaking some people's sense of immersion, because there are definitely things I'll include on my complication tables that some simulation purists would protest don't make sense to be triggered by a noisy or reckless action (such as hazardous environmental effects). I was just surprised that the passage of time triggering a random encounter would be immersion-breaking for you, as I feel like that's pretty standard practice.
 

Sabathius42

Explorer
Oh, I would definitely not want the players asking questions of me to inform their mid/long-term planning. They are free to talk to each other as needed, and if they require more information to formulate their plan, then it would be better for them to describe actions their characters take to try to gain that information. If they want to know what varieties of local game are available, they should search for tracks that might give an indication of that, or make educated guesses based on the terrain and climate. I suppose this would probably be a situation where "From my training in Nature, would I be familiar enough with this kind of terrain to make a good guess about what kind of game we might find here?" would be pretty appropriate.
I have to say...after reading many of your posts on this thread...that you seem to have a very formal style of GMing that is almost alien to me. You don't seem to have any game mechanic in use at your table to essentially let the players use you as a sounding board to figure out what their characters know that the players themselves do not not know.

I would think there would be an almost endless amount of information that the characters would have picked up but that the GM never explicitly declared during a boring non-described day of travel. Did we walk through a field of wildflowers in the last day? Were there bees? Did I get some ticks on me? How many times did we stop to tinkle? How often did we scare off a deer? A turkey? A skunk? All of these are questions that seem (and almost always are) unimportant to the plot in any way. There is the rare time, however, that planning might involve the need to know these little unsaid details.

Lets say the players hatch a plan to catch live skunk for a caper. In my game they would most likely ask "Are there skunks around here?" I am going to give them a Yes, You aren't sure, or No answer based on the information they have already acquired up to that point. They don't have to explicitly take an action and "Go hunt for signs (most likely a smell) of a skunk" because those signs would have been noticed the entire time they have been travelling in that environment and the question is really a way of us retroactively describing scenes from the previous days.

In our games...the "at camp plotting the next step" portion of the game is when all of those questions start to come out and tons of questions that players didn't think of to ask at the time are now examined. Yes, sometimes the answer is lost to them because they didn't pay attention at the time, but many other details like "What insignia did those bodyguards have on their cloaks" and "Were there archers on the castle walls?" get filled in at a later date. I can't imagine as a GM ever not answering these questions, and i'd probably lose some of my players trust in me as a GM if I stopped giving out the information that I reasonably thought their characters should already know.
 

DM Dave1

Adventurer
When I say an in my ideal game the players wouldn't ever have to ask questions, that's an ideal that I recognize is not possible to live up to, but the closer I can get to it, the better. I find that being reasonably specific and concise in my descriptions helps in this endeavor. I try not to make assumptions about what the players will or won't find important, and stick to describing what is present in reasonable detail. I also try to focus my description on opportunities for players to interact with the environment.
Hear hear!

@Sabathius42 - I think this passage might help clear up your confusion, or make this style less alien to you.

To paraphrase: adherants of this style prefer players stating actions that their PCs are taking in the fiction versus players asking questions as players.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
To paraphrase: adherants of this style prefer players stating actions that their PCs are taking in the fiction versus players asking questions as players.
Thing is, in theory oftentimes these observations wouldn't need specific actions in order to be made; as the information would already be obvious to the character(s).

And while there's nothing at all wrong with being concise, there's no way a concise description can ever provide enough detail to in effect give the players a photograph-quality view of what they see (and hear, smell, etc.). So, you give the basics and let the players (as characters) ask about what matters to them.

And it might just come down to different ways of phrasing the same thing.

"From where I'm standing I look at the desk to see what it's made of" is just a long way of saying "What's the desk made of?".
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I have to say...after reading many of your posts on this thread...that you seem to have a very formal style of GMing that is almost alien to me. You don't seem to have any game mechanic in use at your table to essentially let the players use you as a sounding board to figure out what their characters know that the players themselves do not not know.
I mean, communication being imperfect, there are naturally times when it is necessary for the players to ask clarifying questions. I don’t forbid them from doing so, but I do attempt to keep the need for such questions to a minimum with my description, and make it clear that when possible I prefer players describe actions their characters take to try and find out what they want to know, rather than asking me out of character.

I would think there would be an almost endless amount of information that the characters would have picked up but that the GM never explicitly declared during a boring non-described day of travel. Did we walk through a field of wildflowers in the last day? Were there bees? Did I get some ticks on me? How many times did we stop to tinkle? How often did we scare off a deer? A turkey? A skunk? All of these are questions that seem (and almost always are) unimportant to the plot in any way.
Yeah, those things are unimportant. I have never had a player ask about any of these things, because they don’t really matter.

There is the rare time, however, that planning might involve the need to know these little unsaid details.

Lets say the players hatch a plan to catch live skunk for a caper. In my game they would most likely ask "Are there skunks around here?" I am going to give them a Yes, You aren't sure, or No answer based on the information they have already acquired up to that point. They don't have to explicitly take an action and "Go hunt for signs (most likely a smell) of a skunk" because those signs would have been noticed the entire time they have been travelling in that environment and the question is really a way of us retroactively describing scenes from the previous days.
Seems like tomato/tomahto to me. Either way, the players are making it known that they want to find skunk, the DM is deciding if they succeed without a check, fail without a check, or need to make a check to see if they succeed or fail, and then the DM is narrating the results. The only real difference I see is that in the way I handle it, it’s framed in terms of the in-fiction action, which I find preferable to merely talking about the fiction from a removed perspective.

In our games...the "at camp plotting the next step" portion of the game is when all of those questions start to come out and tons of questions that players didn't think of to ask at the time are now examined. Yes, sometimes the answer is lost to them because they didn't pay attention at the time, but many other details like "What insignia did those bodyguards have on their cloaks" and "Were there archers on the castle walls?" get filled in at a later date. I can't imagine as a GM ever not answering these questions, and i'd probably lose some of my players trust in me as a GM if I stopped giving out the information that I reasonably thought their characters should already know.
Woah, who said I wouldn’t answer player questions if asked? Of course I’ll answer. But I make it clear ahead of time that I prefer declarations of action over questions. I also find that this way of running things leads to a better flow of gameplay. We get a lot more done in a session than we used to, because a lot less time is wasted playing 20 questions - the vast majority of table time is spent on action rather than planning.
 
"From where I'm standing I look at the desk to see what it's made of" is just a long way of saying "What's the desk made of?".
"Yer gonna hafta fight me to find out!" the desk sneers back at you! "C'mon, let's find out what yer made of!"

Surprised me ;)
"Our chief weapon is surprise & fear!
I.. I mean... our two, two chief weapons..."
 

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