Perception-like checks too transparent? | add an ‘uncertainty/opacity die’ ?

Trends in modern gaming:

  • People like to roll in the open (transparency)
  • Players (not DMs) roll when possible

I can live with both of these (you probably sense a but), but I don’t like this when this is done for perception-like checks e.g. checks for traps, listen at doors etc.

The problem (for me at least) is that the player rolls and then immediately KNOWS the result.

Yes, players can (in theory) put aside their meta knowledge and act only on their ‘in game knowledge’. But, of course they can’t really, and I think the suspense is still lost in any event

Personally, for perception-like checks I think it is better to roll behind the screen and the DM to relay the apparent result to the player. Then, the player can then simply, unfettered, act on the knowledge their PC actually knows.

Below is a possible compromise …
Add an uncertainty/opacity die to the roll.

That is, ask the player to roll two dice, where one is real and one is the uncertainty/opacity die. Only the DM knows which is the real die and which is the uncertainty/opacity die.

Does that really add anything (… a bit) and aren’t we just behind the screen again (… not quite).

Player makes a test with one die and includes an uncertainty/opacity die, and the result is (only the DM knows if the green or orange die is the real die and let’s say the target is 10 or lower):

FandFPass & Pass – player knows and I’d say the PC also knows they passed the test, because they know they did a good job (the uncertainty/opacity die is almost a self-evaluation roll – in real life we have all done a examination/test etc. that we know we have failed and vice versa. Knowing you failed can be useful even if it is not the desired result).

PandForFandPPass & Fail – this is where it gets more interesting, the player and PC do not know if they passed the test – they are getting mixed information:

> > If the DM says “you think the chest is trapped” the player and PC can’t be certain if that is a false positive (you might want to include false positives in your game – e.g. when the test is failed badly, just don’t tell the players the criteria by which false positives arise); or can they safely assume the chest is trapped. That is, the PC thinks it is trapped, but they are not certain if they did a good job in their evaluation to be certain.

>> If the DM says “you think the chest is not trapped”, then what? The player and importantly the PC know that they did not do a good enough job to be certain.

PandPFail & Fail – The player and the PC know that they bungled the attempt and so cannot make any meaningful conclusion.

So in the top (Pass & Pass) and bottom (Fail & Fail) scenarios it is a bit like rolling in the open, but there is a reason why the player does not need to set aside in game knowledge, because the PC shares the same knowledge (well a bit anyway).

Maybe I should have gone with a Move Silently check (perhaps a better example, but I’m not re-writing this blog post, well not yet at least). In a Pass & Pass scenario the PC knows they aced it. In a Fail & Fail scenario the PC knows that they stepped on that cat’s tail it let out a massive yeolw, knocked over a glass bottle which then rolled noisily down the cobble steps. In a Pass & Fail scenario – the PC stepped on the twig snapping it, but was it heard by the guard; should they press on or not?

Just an idea for your consideration … maybe someone has already suggested this.

** EDIT: As always, I’m not the D&D police, please feel free to ignore this mechanic and not use it in your game ***

4 thoughts on “Perception-like checks too transparent? | add an ‘uncertainty/opacity die’ ?

  1. Max

    This is an interesting idea. I’m not totally sure how I feel about it lol, but it’s definitely interesting.

    So it’s almost like “degrees of success”-type mechanics, except it’s “degrees of confidence in a probabilistic situation” or there’s probably a better way to phrase that lol.

    Because ya, things like hiding the roll or not revealing the difficulty value or whatever; a Player can use the knowledge of their PC’s stats as a baseline probability depending on the particulars of the system and situation, but this adds one extra level. Under certain circumstances they can be absolutely sure they succeeded or failed, but there’s still the middle-case of uncertainty.

    I just wonder if the juice is worth the squeeze here, but it’s worth trying out or thinking about, cool idea!

    Liked by 1 person


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