D&D General What's wrong with Perception?

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Again, I never said anything about players reading the adventure. How did they know? Because they asked me after the adventure was concluded, and I told them.

I don't believe in hiding game mechanics from the players, otherwise, they can never learn about the game. If they ask, I'll explain at the end of every adventure I run.
Well there’s your problem. Pulling back the curtain like that only ends badly. No wonder your players feel bad about missing stuff and think they need to be perfect. You're pointing out every mistake they make.

Players: "What did we miss?"

DM: "You guys missed so much stuff. Here's a list of the 30 things you completely skipped."

Damn. Maybe don't do that.

You're not "concealing game mechanics" by not revealing DCs or things they miss. The game mechanics are: roll 1d20 + relevant ability modifier + misc modifiers. The players already know that.

"If you'd only rolled a 15 instead of a 12, you'd have found another 1000gp..."

That's rubbing the players' noses in their failure. Just a suggestion, but maybe stop doing that.
 

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Micah Sweet

Legend
Not in 5e. Athletics is more basic. Running fast, marathon running, climbing, jumping farther than normal, etc. Acrobatics is explicitly what acrobats do.

"Your Dexterity (Acrobatics) check covers your attempt to stay on your feet in a tricky situation, such as when you're trying to run across a sheet of ice, balance on a tightrope, or stay upright on a rocking ship's deck. The DM might also call for a Dexterity (Acrobatics) check to see if you can perform acrobatic stunts, including dives, rolls, somersaults, and flips."

They seem to want acrobatics to primarily be balance, since that comes up more than flips would, but flips would still be acrobatics and not athletics.

It isn't used much, but I think it would be very effective if it were. Someone who knew when to dive, roll, etc. in combat would be a force. For instance, if two enemies were blocking a passage and you normally could not pass through them, I would give a DC and allow an acrobat to do a dive roll in-between them and get to the other side.
That used to be called tumbling, and it remains very cool.
 

Vaalingrade

Legend
"Huh. Wonder why we kept getting low PER rolls and then nothing happened. Oh well, I'm sure it's nothing. Good thing none of the rest of us DM and see this in basically every adventure so it' pretty clear that's what's happening here."
 



Micah Sweet

Legend
In my opinion, most of the rolls in that list should have been Investigation anyway. I'm inclined to go with the "Perception is a passive skill only" interpretation, and leaving actually looking at stuff actively for Investigation. WotC made an error on having so many rolls hinged on Perception. Like a lot of other things, it's on us to correct it.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Having a middle ground requires more work. As in many, many other areas, WotC isn't going to do that work, because the new players that are all they care about don't care about that.

Look at Level Up. They did the work, and there's an active Kickstarter right now selling it.
Justin Alexander has a quick video on how to handle this.


As someone who's run a ton of investigation games, let me say that Justin knocks it out of the part in this regard. Anyone scratching their heads about perception and investigation should check out his blog, The Alexandrian. Especially his posts on the "three clue rule" and "node-based design."
 


James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Yes, it's obvious that what they did was make every Spot check a Perception check, and every Search check an Investigation check when they (lazily) converted Sunless Citadel. But that's the adventure they printed, and that was the adventure I was asked to run. And I'm pretty sure most people who ran the adventure (as well as the other adventures in the book) realized there was a problem here- it's an official adventure, isn't it?

As I said, it was my first 5e adventure, and I had several misadventures attempting to run it, Forge of Fury, and Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan as they were written.

Some of my earliest posts on ENWorld were questions regarding these adventures (and my complaints). And uh, lol, basically all I got was people saying "those aren't problems" or "you're doing it wrong", which is why I left for several years.
 


Micah Sweet

Legend
Justin Alexander has a quick video on how to handle this.


As someone who's run a ton of investigation games, let me say that Justin knocks it out of the part in this regard. Anyone scratching their heads about perception and investigation should check out his blog, The Alexandrian. Especially his posts on the "three clue rule" and "node-based design."
The Level Up book i referenced explicitly uses node-based design.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
The Level Up book i referenced explicitly uses node-based design.
Cool. Justin's blog is free and quite likely way more in-depth.


 

Micah Sweet

Legend
Cool. Justin's blog is free.
I'm sure it limits me, but I really prefer not to watch videos on the internet on a regular basis. Too easy to fall into a black hole of infinite madness. I'm cool with podcasts, as they don't have to occupy all my intention. Can't watch a video while I'm driving to work.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
I'm sure it limits me, but I really prefer not to watch videos on the internet on a regular basis. Too easy to fall into a black hole of infinite madness. I'm cool with podcasts, as they don't have to occupy all my intention. Can't watch a video while I'm driving to work.
The last two I linked are to text-based blog posts. The video has a big ol' play button in the middle.
 

Cruentus

Adventurer
A DC 20 secret door? Yeah, only a 1 in 4 to spot it.

Then along comes a Rogue with expertise in Perception, and it's not long before he trivializes all these checks, and if you use higher DC's to challenge them, the rest of the party suffers.

So what's the right answer? Invest wisely in Perception to not have these problems, or...don't?
I agree. But here also highlights an overall problem with the way the game (and I guess every game, if you really tear into it), is that whether its through 'heavy investment', Feats, Magic, natural species or class abilities, you can trivialize large portions of the game: healing, darkness, secret doors, traps, poisons, disease, resources, light, etc. All the icky stuff that people don't want to bother with. Then what's left? Combat and getting all the things. That, to me, is incredibly boring.

I have that same problem in my games where that one guy will craft his character, whether Barbarian or Warlock, to be nigh unhittable, unwoundable, or able to Nova in such a way as to trivialize almost every encounter. So now, not only is the non-combat stuff borked, cause, why roll; but now combat is in the same boat. I have to put things that are 2x or 3x the DC of the party to even threaten them, which then rides the razor of TPK. I haven't been able to find a middle ground at all in 5e, for any of the pillars...
 

I'm not saying that you're saying this, but if this is the case, why include ambushes? Why include traps? Why include secret doors? Why include clues at all? Why include surprise?

I think there's an argument to be made that for most players, they'd be just as happy if most or all of those went away. Those are really great things for people who want to engage with them, and range from annoying to actively offputting for those who don't.

So the question you have to ask yourself is: do you care?

I find that players in 5e, IME at my table, want all of the above to go away. They want complete control of the situation, don't want to be under any threat, or uncertainty. They certainly never want to take damage, and even under 5e games with no optional rules, will undergo 5 minute work days to be at maximum health and nova ability.

I mean, what is the point of even playing a "game" when you want to remove the game element from it? No danger? No chance of being ambushed?

You're connecting things I don't think are connected here. Even many people who have a problem with the above are not always averse to danger--but that comes in different forms, and forms where a failure of one die roll will leave you at a significant disadvantage are not everyone's cuppa. But playing this like its all-or-nothing is misrepresenting others, and making yourself look disingenuous in the process.

Assuming that everyone is going to appreciate ever element of a game that you do is asking to be frustrated. I have no personal problem surprise, depending on how hard it is to avoid and other elements of the game system at hand--but I'd cheerfully watch most of what a lot of people consider investigative and mystery solving elements go away, because I find them frequently tedious and frustrating. That doesn't mean other people do or should, but if they're going to game with me, they're going to have to accept that.



Everything laid out? What's the point? And that is what I see a lot of the arguments around Perception falling into: I don't want to ever fail. I want to see everything. I don't want to auto-fail, and I certainly have built my character to have as close to a 95% chance of success as possible, 100% if I take Lucky!

We switched from 5e to Basic for this exact reason. No Perception skill. No skills at all. You want to figure something out, you figure it out. Sometimes the DM will call for an ability roll, but that's not always the same ability, depending on what you do and situation. So its not as easy as just maximizing certain things.

And it also pushes everything off on the real-world interactions between the players and the GM. No thanks, I considered that a flaw in D&D 45 years ago, and nothing about the intervening time has changed my mind. I could go into why, but I doubt seriously you'd care--because its not how you feel about it.
 

No, you're leaving the majority of players with a much larger potential player base of people to game with, by not abandoning the quintile or quartile of players who struggle the most.

And potentially chasing off some of the others because the setup you've made bores them or otherwise puts them off. Any rules design decision doesn't end up doing just one thing.

There are plenty of games that cater to more hardcore tabletop gamers at the expense of a broader player base. The flagship, gateway game in the hobby should not be one of them.

At which point you've summarized the argument always made to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Its a valid argument. But its not a neutral one.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
D&D especially is a game where not noticing something can end up with your character getting in serious trouble, so it seems to me that everyone would want the ability to not blunder into traps or be snuck up on by Bugbears.
I notice that most of the players I play 5e with imagine their characters as "good at noticing things", and this is usually reflected in Perception proficiency. Those players who play against this type are a very small minority, again IME.

Perhaps part of the reason for this is exactly what you say above – the consequences of failing to notice something (i.e. failing a Perception check) tend to be very significant to potentially lethal, whereas other failed skill checks may not be so obviously significant or lethal.

For example, failing a History check might be interpreted by the DM that "you simply don't know which noble that heraldic crest belongs to", or failing a Persuasion check might be interpreted by the DM as "the guard doesn't let you pass the gate." However, there may be other ways to accomplish these things, such as casting legend lore or striking up a conversation with a NPC and asking them about the crest, or casting friends or sneaking in.

Consequences for a failed Perception check might range from "you are ambushed by the bugbears" (which could lead to being dropped to 0 hit points before getting to act, or potentially killed at lower levels or at lower HP) to "you don't notice anything" (which, depending on DM and adventure design, could mean losing out on treasure or failing to find a secret door necessary to complete a quest).

I wonder – and I don't know, cause I'm mainly a GM and haven't asked any players this – is the reason for favoring Perception proficiency is due to a perception that the consequences of failing Perception are more grievous / more lethal / more immediately obviously bad than other skills?
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
Regarding the high DCs for things in published works:

1. Failing a check often doesn't mean you can't keep trying. Failing most of those checks just means the PC needs to keep searching. Failing the roll can also mean success with a setback. Perhaps you found the trap, but will have disadvantage in disarming it (your next check) because you hit something while searching. Perhaps it took you four times longer to find the secret door?

2. Multiple PCs can do the same task. If the party is convinced there should be a secret door at the end of that corridor they can each take turn search, or can work in pairs and you grant them advantage.

For example, DC 20 is 5%, so lets say your 1st level party has the following modifiers for a Wisdom (Perception) check: +3, +0, +1, +4

That means you need to roll a 17 or a 20 or a 19 or a 16. The odds of them all failing is just over 50%.

So, while a single PC might find it hard, if they each are doing the same task, even those DC 20 are likely close to 50/50 IME.

FWIW, I assumed only ONE of the PCs in the group above actually had proficiency in Perception (the +4). The +3 was the cleric/druid/etc. high WIS, and the others are no WIS and decent WIS. Even the one PC with +4 could either be a Rogue with Expertise or a PC with WIS +2 and proficiency. 🤷‍♂️
 

James Gasik

Legend
Supporter
Regarding the high DCs for things in published works:

1. Failing a check often doesn't mean you can't keep trying. Failing most of those checks just means the PC needs to keep searching. Failing the roll can also mean success with a setback. Perhaps you found the trap, but will have disadvantage in disarming it (your next check) because you hit something while searching. Perhaps it took you four times longer to find the secret door?

2. Multiple PCs can do the same task. If the party is convinced there should be a secret door at the end of that corridor they can each take turn search, or can work in pairs and you grant them advantage.

For example, DC 20 is 5%, so lets say your 1st level party has the following modifiers for a Wisdom (Perception) check: +3, +0, +1, +4

That means you need to roll a 17 or a 20 or a 19 or a 16. The odds of them all failing is just over 50%.

So, while a single PC might find it hard, if they each are doing the same task, even those DC 20 are likely close to 50/50 IME.

FWIW, I assumed only ONE of the PCs in the group above actually had proficiency in Perception (the +4). The +3 was the cleric/druid/etc. high WIS, and the others are no WIS and decent WIS. Even the one PC with +4 could either be a Rogue with Expertise or a PC with WIS +2 and proficiency. 🤷‍♂️
The problem is, if someone says "I look around the room" and I say "roll Perception", and they fail to hit the DC, they rarely say "I keep looking!". They assume that there's nothing to be found.

And really, if they did otherwise, then you'd be spending way more time investigating rooms, slowing the game down. And if all it takes it 10 times the time to always succeed on finding things, then why are we rolling unless there's a serious chance of failing an adventure goal or getting distracted by wandering monsters?

And before anyone says "well, you shouldn't need to roll all the time", then why have DC's set?

As for multiple people being able to roll, it depends. In the Sunless Citadel example, I snipped out a few instances of "if players do X, then they can roll a Perception check". Now maybe adventures shouldn't be written that way, but if they are, it's highly unlikely each player, in turn, is going to decide to look at a particular feature, or make the same action that would trigger the roll, so it's not always a group exercise either.

And even if everyone gets to roll, it's not always a group success- say for example, determining whether a Bugbear surprises you (which he's likely to do, since his Stealth is +6, and having a Perception higher than +5 can be kind of tough in a point-buy game (which so many 5e games I've played in are).
 

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