D&D 5E What happens when you fail?

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
This is a persuasive interpretation, but I'm not sure why that the second bit is buried in the DMG. Trying to divine what the designers were thinking from the layout of those books is a path that leads to madness, though...
The second bit is not a rule, which is why it's in the DMG. The first bit is a rule, because it's in the PHB which contains the rules to play the game. The DM is encouraged to only call for a roll when there's a meaningful consequence for failure(and I personally follow that guidance), but it's not a hard rule to do so.
 

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prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
But in my example of Chuck the butcher, who despite his name is not the murderer and has nothing to hide, if the DM does not call for an insight check the players know Chuckie is innocent, right?
Or he's guilty but has some feature that makes it impossible to tell that's the case. That's arguably crappy design, but it's rules-legal DMing, innit?
 

Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
So if you follow that strictly, why do the players not automatically know if someone is telling the truth? I'm not going to get into how they indicate they want an insight check - asking "Insight check?" or "Can I tell if they're lying or hiding something?" is the same thing to me. There are other examples of course, but this is a simple and common one.
I study his face for clues that he is deceiving me. Or more simply, I study his body language and see what I can pick up.
But in my example of Chuck the butcher, who despite his name is not the murderer and has nothing to hide, if the DM does not call for an insight check the players know Chuckie is innocent, right?
Why would they? The PC doesn't know if Chucky was telling the truth or if he has a higher deception opposed roll. Nor does the PC know if a roll happened or not. The DM should not be telling the player that Chucky is telling the truth. The DM should tell the player that his PC picks up nothing that indicates that Chucky is lying.
 

So if you follow that strictly, why do the players not automatically know if someone is telling the truth? I'm not going to get into how they indicate they want an insight check - asking "Insight check?" or "Can I tell if they're lying or hiding something?" is the same thing to me. There are other examples of course, but this is a simple and common one.
The players are free to think anything they like. They don't "automatically" know anything, however - that is why it is good practice for them to test their assumptions in the game world via their PCs. Once they do so, and depending on their approach to doing so, the DM might just give them the information they are seeking, granting them auto-success. Or, the DM might determine that there is no possibility of them knowing: auto-fail. Or, the DM might determine that there is uncertainty in whether they know or not and that there is a meaningful consequence for failure - now the DM calls for a roll, ideally letting them know the difficulty and what might be at stake.

But in my example of Chuck the butcher, who despite his name is not the murderer and has nothing to hide, if the DM does not call for an insight check the players know Chuckie is innocent, right?
If the DM chooses to grant auto-success and tell them that Chuckie is innocent, sure. Otherwise, no roll might simply indicate that their approach to discovering the truth has no chance of success: "Chuckie is really hard to read. What would you like to do next?"
 


A question for 5e DMs out there (and, I suppose, players of 5e DMs). When a PC fails at something, what happens in your game?
Typical parameters for failure are important to define at the start of play. Most of the time a failure is often a partial success at levels 5+, unless modifiers to the roll cause the result to be negative.

Actual play examples:

A thief can pick a standard lock in 10 minutes at worst. At best, they can pick it in a round. If the roll is failed it is opened in a minute, sometimes 10 minutes, depending on the degree of failure. Breaking picks usually only happens on negative rolls, 5- for low level thieves.

I rank knowledge and trade skills at four ranks; apprentice, fellowcraft, master, grand master. The minimum competence level is defined for those rankings. If a roll is called for it is for something at the edge of competency or typical exposure. Example; a cleric and a magician have fellowcraft rank in Magical Lore. The party comes across an extra-planar creature. The cleric fails. They are able to determine that they are looking at an extra-planar creature, not an explicit foe of the church, pretty sure on a list of "dangerous entities" at the temple. The magician succeeds. They know that it is an extra-planar creature, it is called a "slaad", they are from the Ylem Sea, they are dangerous due to power and unpredictability, but they don't know any particular vulnerabilities as it is one of the rare entities in the prime material.

So, either of them can determine if something is extra-planar and if it is an entity that is consider sapient, sentient, or reflexive. Success leads to priest's knowledge of the entity in their dogma, a magician's knowledge of origin, and either's knowledge of vulnerability.
 

cbwjm

Legend
Rogue failed by 5 or more, and I said "one of your lockpicks breaks off in the lock, jamming it and preventing further lockpicking attempts."

They had to find another way to open the door, and they went down from 10 lockpicks (house rule that thieves' tools have 10 lockpicks) to 9 lockpicks. In this case, it was also relevant because they were trying to "leave no trace."
I like this house rule, I feel like that should be the case for many of the kits, like a herbalism kit might be able to hold 10 herbs and it takes 5 to craft a healing potion, so you can get 2 potions out of one before needing to refill it. The kit itself costs 5gp, I reckon that's the empty version, but it comes with things that help you make the potions.
 

Oofta

Legend
Or he's guilty but has some feature that makes it impossible to tell that's the case. That's arguably crappy design, but it's rules-legal DMing, innit?
There's nothing I know of that can make someone 100% deceptive. Even Glibness, an 8th level spell, only gives you a minimum 15 on charisma based checks and prevents magical detection of lies. DM can always do what they want, but assuming the DM isn't house ruling that the culprit can get away with any and all lies I know of nothing.

So yes ... if your DM is a ass it might not be possible to get a read on someone. Assuming the DM is not an ass it's an issue. If the PCs can't get an insight check, they know the person they're talking to is telling the truth. It's even better than Zone of Truth because that could be foiled by the aforementioned Glibness spell.
 

Oofta

Legend
I study his face for clues that he is deceiving me. Or more simply, I study his body language and see what I can pick up.

Why would they? The PC doesn't know if Chucky was telling the truth or if he has a higher deception opposed roll. Nor does the PC know if a roll happened or not. The DM should not be telling the player that Chucky is telling the truth. The DM should tell the player that his PC picks up nothing that indicates that Chucky is lying.

So if you indicate that you want an insight check and the DM doesn't ask for a roll, you what. Play dumb? If this happened in a game I would know, guaranteed, that the NPC was telling the truth. It's metagaming but at a certain point it's incredibly difficult to separate the two.

What could it possibly hurt to have the player roll an insight check even if the DM knows it will fail to reveal anything?
 

Oofta

Legend
The players are free to think anything they like. They don't "automatically" know anything, however - that is why it is good practice for them to test their assumptions in the game world via their PCs. Once they do so, and depending on their approach to doing so, the DM might just give them the information they are seeking, granting them auto-success. Or, the DM might determine that there is no possibility of them knowing: auto-fail. Or, the DM might determine that there is uncertainty in whether they know or not and that there is a meaningful consequence for failure - now the DM calls for a roll, ideally letting them know the difficulty and what might be at stake.


If the DM chooses to grant auto-success and tell them that Chuckie is innocent, sure. Otherwise, no roll might simply indicate that their approach to discovering the truth has no chance of success: "Chuckie is really hard to read. What would you like to do next?"

Same answer. You may be able to separate metagame knowledge from PC knowledge, most people cannot and likely would not.

What does it hurt to ask for a roll?
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
Or… you don’t view the metagame knowledge as some kind of problem, and instead incorporate it into play, saying “you believe him without a doubt.”

And you allow for something like this exchange:
1665267498200.jpeg
 

Oofta

Legend
Or… you don’t view the metagame knowledge as some kind of problem, and instead incorporate it into play, saying “you believe him without a doubt.”

And you allow for something like this exchange:
View attachment 263549

I can play dumb. I use metagame RP aspects for my PCs. But if we're trying to solve a mystery, it takes all the fun out of a who done it if I, as a player, can eliminate Chuck as a suspect.

So still no answer my question. What does it hurt to ask for a roll to know if Chuck is telling the truth if the DM knows he is telling the truth but the PCs don't?
 

Same answer. You may be able to separate metagame knowledge from PC knowledge, most people cannot and likely would not.
You misunderstand. There is no need to separate metagame knowledge. (Indeed, that is impossible, but also another thread altogether). A player, after all, is free to determine how their PC thinks, speaks, and acts. If they want to pretend their PC does or doesn’t know about trolls and fire, for example, they can have at it. Acting solely on player knowledge, however, can sometimes lead to unpleasant outcomes for their PC: "oops, that troll with the orangey-red hide and smoke billowing out its ears? Yeah, it seems to grow larger and meaner when you firebolt it..."

What does it hurt to ask for a roll?
It doesn’t hurt for the DM to ask for a roll. Indeed, it is the go-to option for adjudicating a PC’s action when the outcome is uncertain and there is a meaningful consequence for failure.
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
I can play dumb. I use metagame RP aspects for my PCs. But if we're trying to solve a mystery, it takes all the fun out of a who done it if I, as a player, can eliminate Chuck as a suspect.

So still no answer my question. What does it hurt to ask for a roll to know if Chuck is telling the truth if the DM knows he is telling the truth but the PCs don't?

Well I’d say that if it’s a mystery and there is a compelling reason… like interesting stakes… then sure, go ahead and ask for a roll.

But very often there’s no interesting reason to not just give them the info, or there’s more interesting stuff to get to… so why bother asking for a roll?

Now, I’m not saying the way you do it is wrong. That’s your preference and if that’s what works for you, then keep on doing it. I am instead explaining the reasoning of those of us who prefer another way.
 
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Oofta

Legend
You misunderstand. There is no need to separate metagame knowledge. (Indeed, that is impossible, but also another thread altogether). A player, after all, is free to determine how their PC thinks, speaks, and acts. If they want to pretend their PC does or doesn’t know about trolls and fire, for example, they can have at it. Acting solely on player knowledge, however, can sometimes lead to unpleasant outcomes for their PC: "oops, that troll with the orangey-red hide and smoke billowing out its ears? Yeah, it seems to grow larger and meaner when you firebolt it..."


It doesn’t hurt for the DM to ask for a roll. Indeed, it is the go-to option for adjudicating a PC’s action when the outcome is uncertain and there is a meaningful consequence for failure.


If running a murder mystery half the fun is the players debating who's guilty and who's hiding something and why. None of what you respond answers the question: what value does it add to the game if the players can eliminate Chuck as a suspect simply because the DM doesn't ask for an insight check?

Can we avoid metagaming? Sure. I could explain the entire plot, every secret, every hidden gem? Of course! After all the PCs don't know anything, right? Just hand them the mod, let them read through it all and off we go! :hmm: It would destroy the fun for me, I can't imagine how it would not for most people.

The entire "roll only if there's uncertainty" mantra hard core must follow rule comes from a single sentence in a section of the DM devoted to how to handle this stuff. I think it's taken out of context and applied way too broadly as a strict rule.

It comes from Using Ability Scores
When a player wants to do something, it’s often appropriate to let the attempt succeed without a roll or a reference to the character’s ability scores. For example, a character doesn’t normally need to make a Dexterity check to walk across an empty room or a Charisma check to order a mug of ale. Only call for a roll if there is a meaningful consequence for failure.​
When deciding whether to use a roll, ask yourself two questions:​
  • Is a task so easy and so free of conflict and stress that there should be no chance of failure?
  • Is a task so inappropriate or impossible — such as hitting the moon with an arrow — that it can’t work?
If the answer to both of these questions is no, some kind of roll is appropriate. The following sections provide guidance on determining whether to call for an ability check, attack roll, or saving throw; how to assign DCs; when to use advantage and disadvantage; and other related topics.​
The part that people ignore (even selectively remove when quoting) is the bolded qualifying example that explains what the entire paragraph is talking about. They're obviously talking about normal mundane tasks that you simply don't fail.

That's qualified by the bullet points under "When deciding whether to use a roll, ask yourself two questions:"

Is a task so easy and so free of conflict and stress that there should be no chance of failure?
- Detecting whether someone is lying is not easy nor is it automatic. If you roll low enough on an insight check, you have not determined that the person is telling the truth.

Is a task so inappropriate or impossible — such as hitting the moon with an arrow — that it can’t work?
- This obviously doesn't apply, if Chuck was prevaricating it would be possible to detect that they were hiding something with a high enough level check.

Determining someone's true intent can always fail - if someone is telling the truth but the insight check is low enough you get "They seem to be telling the truth but you can't be certain".

In any case I just disagree with the strict reading of one line taken out of context. 🤷‍♂️
 

If running a murder mystery half the fun is the players debating who's guilty and who's hiding something and why. None of what you respond answers the question: what value does it add to the game if the players can eliminate Chuck as a suspect simply because the DM doesn't ask for an insight check?
I think this has been answered quite succinctly by @hawkeyefan in post #54

Can we avoid metagaming? Sure. I could explain the entire plot, every secret, every hidden gem? Of course! After all the PCs don't know anything, right? Just hand them the mod, let them read through it all and off we go! :hmm: It would destroy the fun for me, I can't imagine how it would not for most people.
Hyperbolic statement receives a "no comment".

The entire "roll only if there's uncertainty" mantra hard core must follow rule comes from a single sentence in a section of the DM devoted to how to handle this stuff. I think it's taken out of context and applied way too broadly as a strict rule.
Your opinion is noted.

It comes from Using Ability Scores
When a player wants to do something, it’s often appropriate to let the attempt succeed without a roll or a reference to the character’s ability scores. For example, a character doesn’t normally need to make a Dexterity check to walk across an empty room or a Charisma check to order a mug of ale. Only call for a roll if there is a meaningful consequence for failure.​
When deciding whether to use a roll, ask yourself two questions:​
  • Is a task so easy and so free of conflict and stress that there should be no chance of failure?
  • Is a task so inappropriate or impossible — such as hitting the moon with an arrow — that it can’t work?
If the answer to both of these questions is no, some kind of roll is appropriate. The following sections provide guidance on determining whether to call for an ability check, attack roll, or saving throw; how to assign DCs; when to use advantage and disadvantage; and other related topics.​
The part that people ignore (even selectively remove when quoting) is the bolded qualifying example that explains what the entire paragraph is talking about. They're obviously talking about normal mundane tasks that you simply don't fail.
If a DM chooses The Middle Path from The Roll of Dice section of the DMG, that DM will certainly grant auto-success on more than just mundane tasks.

That's qualified by the bullet points under "When deciding whether to use a roll, ask yourself two questions:"

Is a task so easy and so free of conflict and stress that there should be no chance of failure?
- Detecting whether someone is lying is not easy nor is it automatic. If you roll low enough on an insight check, you have not determined that the person is telling the truth.

Is a task so inappropriate or impossible — such as hitting the moon with an arrow — that it can’t work?
- This obviously doesn't apply, if Chuck was prevaricating it would be possible to detect that they were hiding something with a high enough level check.

Determining someone's true intent can always fail - if someone is telling the truth but the insight check is low enough you get "They seem to be telling the truth but you can't be certain".
Not necessarily. In a fantasy game world, an NPC can be a truly terrible liar while another NPC might be supremely earnest. Heroic adventurers sometimes will get an auto-success on determining whether someone is lying or not. That said, even when granted auto-success, the players are free to have their PCs react to that information any way they wish.

In any case I just disagree with the strict reading of one line taken out of context. 🤷‍♂️
Out of context or not, it provides for a smooth game experience for many tables, as evidenced by many posters here. Are you arguing otherwise?
 

hawkeyefan

Legend
If running a murder mystery half the fun is the players debating who's guilty and who's hiding something and why. None of what you respond answers the question: what value does it add to the game if the players can eliminate Chuck as a suspect simply because the DM doesn't ask for an insight check?

Why is that a problem? Is Chuck the only suspect? Couldn’t a roll likely also result in the players knowing he’s not guilty? chances are he’ll get eliminated as a suspect at some point, right? So what does it matter of it’s done by a roll or not? If that’s the extent of the mystery, then it’s a poorly presented mystery scenario.

Now, that’s not to say that the only way to handle it is by not rolling. But it depends on the context, and it’s up to the GM how to handle it. There are benefits to both rolling or not rolling, depending on what you want.

If the entire scenario rests on the players being unsure of Chuck, then I’d say having one binary roll that rules him out as a suspect is poor design. I’d rather have rolls that potentially reveal more information to the players without confirming or denying Chuck’s guilt. So if Chuck has some stuff to hide, but isn’t the ultimate culprit, but whatever he’s hiding may shed new light on the investigation, then that’s what I’d want to highlight, rather than just his guilt of the “main” crime.

If the entire scenario doesn’t depend on the players being unsure of Chuck, then I don't really see the significant difference between just letting them know he’s innocent versus calling for a roll with a good chance they learn exactly that.

Again, it depends on the context. Taking my Princess Bride meme as an example… Inigo invoking his father’s name in his promise to Wesley, and Wesley immediately accepting it tells us a lot about each of them, much more than a bunch more back and forth would accomplish. It also moves us along to their discussion (which again reveals more about Inigo) and on to the swordfight, which is what it’s all building to.

Sometimes a roll will help crystallize all the buildup into this one moment… how does it go??? We roll and find out and that tension that's built up gets released. Things are resolved in some way and we move on into the new situation.

Other times, calling for rolls just slows things down. It doesn’t accomplish as much as it should, or it delays other things of interest. Very often it’s done by GMs who simply think that’s what’s necessary… they’re following the steps of play and don’t realize how much that may be impacting play.

Like what if Chuck is just some ancillary character the GM had no intention of mattering to the scenario much at all. But for some reason the players have locked onto him. They say he’s suspicious and one of them says his character observes Chuck to see if there’s any cue the backs that up. The GM says okay roll Insight, and sets the DC appropriately low… but the roll fails! Now the players think this Chuck guy is involved and the GM either has to make up a bunch of crap on the fly about Chuck so they can investigate this guy, or he has to try to actively steer them back toward the stuff he has prepped. Now, even this situation may or may not be bad; some GMs will revel in the players going off on such “tangents”. But these are all the kinds of things that need to be considered.

Part of this is, I think, because the book doesn’t go into this kind of analysis. It gives very basic advice that essentially seems more about making sure no one thinks they’re “doing it wrong” than about actually talking about what decisions GMs will need to make and why. Writing to placate an audience is a bad idea, and I think the 5e DMG is full of examples why. They seem more worried about telling 45 year old DMs that it’s okay to fudge dice than they are about talking about what that can mean for play to DMs of any experience level.

This is where strong examples paired with analysis of those examples comes in handy. And that’s not something offered by Critical Role and many other videos. There’s certainly nothing wrong with watching Actual Play streams to get a sense of the game… but it’s not like Matt Mercer calls a timeout and explains his reasoning for deciding not to call for a roll. So such streams tend to be examples with no guided analysis. You see a GM in action, but without being privy to his decision making.
 

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