Saturday, August 29, 2020

Seeking Some Insight into Insight & Perception Checks

 Every week I listen to 3 or 4 new podcasts.  I'm still hunting for those shows that put game first and comedy second.  They are extremely tough to find - and the ones I do find are often plagued with other problems (bad sound, bad or no editing, etc) and so the hunt continues.  But I enjoy the search... and in doing it, I find I am finally 'getting' 5e D&D (nope - still haven't played it, though I would like to).

A couple of things have stuck out to me about 5e that I continually fail to understand, though: Insight & Perception Checks

Perception checks are often used in post combat loot collection in a way I don't 'get'.

"I search the brigands' bodies"

"OK. Make a perception check."

"Um. Sure.  Um... I got a 13."

"OK. With a 13, you find 30 gp in his belt pouch)

This kind of exchange makes no sense to me unless the brigand has a hidden cavity in his boot heel.  Otherwise, why roll to go through someone's pockets.  I hear this kind of thing all the time and it drives me nuts that I can't figure out what's going on.

Insight (or Sense Motive) is equally, though differently problematic. Consider this:

"I question all the half orc guards to see if they know who stole the jewel."

"They all deny any knowledge of it."

"Can I do an insight check?"

"OK.  Roll Insight."

"Bam! Natty 20, my dude!"

"You are pretty sure they are telling the truth."

In the above exchange, the PC now has the same info normally only attainable through high level spells. That's a lot of power for anyone to have and to use at will.  A nat 20 isn't usually necessary for success, either - typically the PC would have about a 20% chance of success with this action.

A better solution is for the DM to roll the insight check and not share the number.  But an even better solution is to eliminate this skill check altogether, unless it's a trained and special ability.

Am I missing something?  Somebody please explain these aspects of 5e to me ... I just don't get it.


  1. Just started binging your show and I love it! Thought I'd start going through your blog to see the behind the scenes commentary and I can't help but comment on this post:

    Honestly the two examples you state (and I've heard it before) seem to be from people that don't really get DMing 5e. One of D&D's big takeaways from the OSR movement was "rulings, not rules" or to rely on DM common sense instead of having a rule for every possible circumstance but I hear about people wanting to play 5e like it is 3.5 all the time. My (admittedly minimal) experience of 5e is that a lot of veteran players insist on playing like we're still in 3.5/Pathfinder land where you roll for skill checks constantly.

    Also, something explicitly stated (in the DMG I think) is if time is not an issue and there are minimal consequences of failure that skill rolls aren't needed. In the case of the bandit's purse, that should have been an automatic success unless as you say they had that gold hidden somewhere.

    As far as the second example goes, I guess they're technically following the rules except for a Nat20 doesn't mean anything on a skill check (which a lot of people seem to miss for some reason) and I would probably make that an opposed roll (their insight vs the npc's deception skill which I would make secretly).

  2. Hey Ed,

    Thanks both for the kind words and for the insight into ... er ... insight (oh man that one really got away from me). Anyway, my total experience with 5e is from listening to podcasts and watching APs on Youtube. I'm looking forward to trying it out, but, well, Toronto is still in lockdown. I *will* try it though, and with an open mind. Believe it or not, I never even got to 3e. I bowed out to pretend to be a cool person for a few decades back when I was in my late teens and only just got back. I have a fair amount of experience with 2e and then - poof! - nothing! But I am curious about all of it. Once again, I appreciate your commentary!

  3. Most of my experience is with the BECMI system.
    I rule that a perception check is for instances when the player is not specifically looking for something, eg. noticing the concealed passage (secret doors are different) when just walking down the corridor, whereas the Find Traps is more for searching when you suspect something is there.

    How I do perception with BECMI is a wisdom skill check, roll under your ability score. I use 3d6 on simple tasks, 2d10 for easy, 1d20 on average, and 4d6 for harder.

    Insight should be about understanding something complicated like an ancient tome or descerning if someone is lying, like interpreting tells in poker. Again, intelligence or wisdom ability check, depending on the circumstances.

    One thing I don't like is the DM rolling everything, but I also don't like the player knowing if they have succeeded at somethings. A real person doesn't really KNOW if they have the interpretation correct at the time or not. So, in some circumstances, let the player roll, but your d6 roll will determine if they are going high (even) or low (odd). If the ability score is 16 that would call for a success on 16 higher, but if my d6 was an odd number calling for a under roll, a 3 or lower would be a success. The player won't know if they succeeded or not.

    Somtimes you want the player to know the target number, sometimes not.

  4. Interesting use of the different dice for a sliding difficulty scale. I could definitely see that working well. I am still surprised how seldom this mechanic has been necessary to use on the show. In APs I hear it constantly, but I think I have only needed it twice so far.

  5. Hi, just found the show a little bit ago and have been binging it the last few days. Keep it up, amazing work. So I hope I can help you understand perception a bit better if you still don't understand how it works in 5e. Here is how they desribe it;

    Your Wisdom (Perception) check lets you spot, hear, or otherwise detect the presence of something. It measures your general awareness of your surroundings and the keenness of your senses. For example, you might try to hear a conversation through a closed door, eavesdrop under an open window, or hear monsters moving stealthily in the forest. Or you might try to spot things that are obscured or easy to miss, whether they are orcs lying in ambush on the road, thugs hiding in the shadows of an alley, or candlelight under a closed secret door.

    There is also active and passive perception, a active perception check would be anytime a player is specifically looking for something, ie; if your character is actively on guard, keeping an eye out or otherwise and you state this as a player, that would warrant a active Wisdom (Perception) check. Passive However, if you’re just going about doing whatever I would measure your passive Perception against the DC. Passive perception is measured 10+ wisdom score modifer

  6. Thanks for your support and kind words, Cdb23. I can see how perception makes sense in the game - I think for me it needs to be a DM roll though. This is the only way to avoid metagaming. To use of of your examples, if a PC scan the road looking for orcs waiting in ambush and rolls high, when the DM says 'You're pretty sure there aren't any" then that player would know *for sure* there aren't. But a hidden roll with the same comment... well, that works for me. :)