Spot Hidden

Removing the chance of failure, in whatever context, is the easy answer. I posit that the more interesting answer, the answer that makes the better game, is to make failure interesting. Only if you are unable to do this should one eliminate the chance of failure. This is in response to Spot Hidden, but could be for character death, picking locks, whatever. As you said, we like to roll dice. Great, let us roll dice. Then make it interesting if we fail. That’s the high road.
If there’s a group of folks that prefer telling stories where the dice don’t interject, that’s all good, but I think it’s a different sort of question.
Despite your claim, we very often see consequence of failure of spot hidden in movies. Horror stories. Mysteries. Action stories. If the characters never fail, it’s a boring film.
How about an episode where, rather than question the rules ('cause then you could, you know, play a different game), you talk about how to make use of them to make the game interesting. Tips and tricks for making failure fun.


TV and movies are interesting to mention because there is a third party viewer. I used that in my example and realized afterwards that it would miss the mark.


I would also add in Luke’s landing on Dagobah. A failure, but not a fumble. He landed in a swamp and his ship sank, after all. It also led to something interesting.

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Is that how you interpret that scene?

(Let’s go WAY off topic. :grin:!)

I always thought that Dagobah was simply “unlandable.” It’s a huge swamp. If anything, Luke failed a Knowledge (Planetary Systems) check or something similar. :wink:


In general, this was a frustrating podcast…I kept yelling “No!” at my phone. Luckily I was by myself.

If something is needed, they don’t need to roll. If they can get additional information, that’s interesting. Not anything that’s really necessary, but something that might open up a new avenue of investigation. If the roll is to spot something vital, I might have everyone roll to see who notices it. Maybe it implicates that PC’s mentor or another party member. Something that can lead to interesting roleplaying. Or, sure. They hear the murmur of voices…but maybe they can’t make out the words. What if the speakers aren’t in the room with the open window, but another room over.

I won’t address your Ranger example, because we never use random roll generation, or wouldn’t make Intelligence a dump stat. If the player does that deliberately, then he can’t complain about having a sucky Ranger.

You mentioned Trail of Cthulhu, and you nailed it. You always get what’s needed to progress, but if you roll you might get more. (I personally dislike ToC because I really don’t like that kind of resource-management. “My detective is great at finding those extra clues…but then he gets tired of finding them and can’t anymore.”)

But basically, yes, as a GM I make extensive use of perception and skill rolls. I don’t mean by requiring a lot of them, but I use them strategically when failure is interesting, or if some players succeeding and some failing could be interesting. It opens up possibilities that aren’t really available by just giving them everything, and lets them know that their characters’ abilities DO matter and can actually impact the story.

I will mention the older game CORPS by BTRC. In that game, any modifiers (for darkness, fog, taking extra time, rushing, or anything that might make something easier or harder to succeed at) are applied to the difficulty. If that final adjusted difficulty is equal to or lower than the character’s relevant skill or ability, then they automatically succeed. Only if it’s higher do they need to roll. It’s a nifty mechanic that I apply in principle to any system. If it’s an average lock, and the thief is of average or better ability, he won’t have to roll to open it, as an example.


Gabe, I interpret it as a landing skill check with a very high level of difficulty. There were open spaces, but they were rare. It might involve, for example, lowering almost to water level and then moving forward before touching the X-Wing down. Luke tried to land it like it was an open field…so I saw it as a failed skill check. Maybe if he’d rolled better on Knowledge (Planetary Systems), he could have gotten a bonus to his Landing check…or negated the penalties, depending on the game system.

Yes! 3x Yes!

That’s generally my complaint about most of the Gumshoe games. I don’t like the nature of the resource management because it makes the characters weaker by the time they reach the climax.

That said, I absolutely LOVE the philosophy behind, “Never prevent the PCs from getting the clue.” If a thing is related to the advancement of the plot, it shouldn’t exist behind a potential fail state. At the very least with a failed roll, you still give them the damn clue, but you make the situation get more complicated.


Sounds like we agree.


Sure. Guessing in this instance you’re having them roll the dice to actually decipher the murmur of voices. But I’m sure you agree it has to be the pc that actually hears the murmur and not some other player away doing something else within the area, out of ear shot.


If it doesn’t matter who notices, then no. I wouldn’t have them roll. If the clue might have special significance to one of the characters, though, I might…just to see what they do with the information. That’s encouraging roleplaying. If the information is vital, that player has to decide whether or not to reveal the info…but the info is there.

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Oh, and sure. It would have to be someone in a position to hear the murmuring. Nobody else.

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[Talking about D&D]

When talking about game mechanics such as ability checks, I’d really prefer to hear about good examples, instead of constant complaining about bad examples (such as trying checks over and over, or critical clues missed because of bad design…)

Here are some counterpoints to the podcast:

  • Not all WIS (Perception) checks involve critical information. Let’s not assume they always do.
    It’s ok to have someone miss a distant footfall or not be able to make out the details a conversation through the door.

  • D&D Encounter design supports up to three (3) information states:
    P) Pre-check information - default information that you get for free i.e. boxtext
    F) Failed-check information - partial information
    S) Successful-check information - the most detail

There is a distinction between P and F in any case where there is an active check. There may be other circumstances that would reveal F, or even S information.

For a passive check, the DM will give out either P + F or P + (F?) + S.

Therefore, if there is critical information that is required to proceed it should be presented in group P or F, anything else is bad encounter design.


Critical information to learn: There are people in the next room, but they are distracted.

  • P: ”You think you saw a shadow move under the floor crack of the door.” More information requires an active check.
  • F (listen): “You hear two voices, but you can’t tell who or what they are talking about, but it isn’t sounding friendly. You don’t want to push harder as you might be discovered.”
  • S (listen): “You recognise the voice of Mistress Mary, and an unidentified male, and they seem to be having an emotional spat of some kind.”

I always think of WIS(Perception) check success as BONUS information - a reward for investing in your character and play at the table with a bit of luck. But you always get something in the attempt (even if that ‘something’ isn’t always good.)

And that’s all before you even start thinking about alternate ideas, such as level-of-success, which just adds more information states (and is included in many existing official adventures.)


1st off Sean - Great show!

Now - let me get my soap-box.
Climb up here…ugnhh…


I recall at lot of old school modules (1e) and even 3rd edition modules always had a through line where by default you could always find the information you needed about the villain, and/or find your way through the dungeon WITHOUT any searching/listening etc. However if you did search for secret doors or hidden clues you could often find cool extras - perhaps some secret info about the villains & how to stop them, or a shortcut through the dungeon, or some extra magic items that help out.

That’s how I’ve always played that sort of thing and most of the adventures I own have used that formulae - NOTE - I’ve only run 5e adventures that were updates of 1e, so your mileage may vary on the other adventure paths out there.

I also want to note that none of the examples Sean was reading from covered anything that contradicts what I mentioned above. All of the examples from the book are either necessary (Sneak/hiding/spotting an ambush) or “special circumstances”.

Listening through a door, listening outside a window, spotting candlelight under a secret door - all of those are situational - and MAY require a check - they are special circumstances.

If the conversation is loud enough to be heard then no roll required - but if people are talking quietly - then the GM calls for a roll - it seems very straightforward.
The candle under the secrets door - come on - of course that’s a roll!
Secret doors should be a bonus DISCOVERY, not the only way to move the plot forward - they should be a reward for exploration - if the module you are running makes it a requirement - that’s a failture of the design - not the ruleset.

Bad guys sneak up on good guys / good guys sneak up on bad guys - you need a perception mechanic to handle that - 1e had surprise rules, and the hide in shadows/ move silently rules. Certain monsters and classes were more alert (Duegar & rangers spring to mind), certain monsters were sneakier (elves & bugbears) raising or lowering the surprise chance.

Even in Brent’s no-skills AS&D game - he’s still probably using a check to see if monsters are surprised when his players sneak into the villains lair, his rogues are going to “move silently”.

I blame a lot of this on “actual plays” and the number of 5e DM’s who watch them & read advice from people watching them. Arguably the largest AP - Critical Role - is super guilty of this.
it seems like every time the players come upon a room Mercer calls for a perception check before even describing the place - and I’ve seen him struggle when the player rolls a 1 and tries to figure out what to say. Then the dog pile starts as everyone else tries to get a description of the room.

I’ve seen a player ask - what does the guy we see look like - and a “perception check” is required - I mean come on - that’s just bad DMing (I like his story/world & enjoy the players - but man that guy needs to figure this shit out).

“what books are on the shelf” should NOT require a search check UNLESS you are being chased by Vampires and your question is “do a see a copy of the Necronomicon on the bookshelf I can grab as we flee the library”.

I’ve never had an issue with skills and I ran a lot of 3e and pathfinder as well as AD&D 2e with skills over the years. I DO have a problem with pathfinder skills (ok - 1st level rogue, you’re hiding, give me a d20 - 27?? what the F?? and you rolled a 12!!???) but that’s a different issue.

Oh - find out their bonuses and roll perception checks behind the screen - that was how moving silently, listen & hide checks worked back in the day - How could the players possibly know that they searched the room & didn’t find anything because their roll was poor.

Ok - climbing down - that’s easier…
Putting away the soapbox.

As you were…



In agreement with most of these posts.
At their core, aren’t all die rolls there to reduce or eliminate obstacles in the game, but not stop play? Would you ever think of eliminating a combat encounter because failure (TPK aside) would bring the game to a halt? I got so frustrated listening, but in a good way.
Look at the way secret or locked doors were used in 1st edition published modules. They usually only led to additional items or shortcuts that would benefit the players but were not needed. The story should never hinge on a single die roll.
PS: My statement about early modules does not hold true for the adventures designed for tournament play. Those writers were jerks.


Drugal summed up my thoughts in 1/3 the word counts. Nicely said sir!

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Note to Sean: I am also becoming a critter - slowly working my way through Season 2 - And of late I’ve noticed Matt is getting better at the checks - but when I first started I rolled my eyes at the number of Perception checks called for.

I want Pumat Sole to branch out & have a shop in every city in the world so they can visit him every time they go shopping…