The Epic Failure of Perception and Stealth, A Skill Deconstruction Post

Perception is a skill reflecting your ability to notice detail. Stealth is your ability to avoid detection. Perception uses the Wisdom stat as a modifier, Stealth uses the Dexterity stat as a modifier.

Again, I'm going to skip the usual format because of how much of a clusterf&*k these skills are. I'm also going to preface this with the fact that my experience with these skills is with 3.0 using listen and spot and stealth, and Pathfinder with perception and stealth.

These skills are so broad and complicated, I would like to separate out one important thing before focusing on their secondary function. Surprise has been a part of the game for a long long time and is a crucial mechanic. It and the randomized distance between the monsters and the players is one crucial factor in setting  up random encounters, and can change a few weak monsters into a deadly threat. Modern editions did much to neuter the critical game play widget, removing much of its former power.

First lets deal with hiding. Any character in any edition can hide. Everyone has always been able to hide, under a bed, in a barrel, what have you. What thieves used to do is to be able to hide in shadows. This allows them to hide where someone can actually see them and then move to strike an unaware opponent with a back stab. Some of this was offloaded in modern editions on to sneak attack, turning the thief from a poor combatant who was an opportunist to a heavy burst damage dealing striker. A terrible change in my opinion - after all, isn't that what the grey mouser is known for; hitting for heavy damage? No? How about Cudgel? He always cut down his enemies by doing massive damage, right?

Maybe I'm missing something.

Ok, so the problem with stealth is this. There is no facing in pathfinder. And you must have cover or concealment in order to use stealth.

This effectively means you cannot sneak behind a guard unless there is a path of concealment; as soon as you step into a lit square you are being observed and can no longer use stealth. Their perception DC to notice you becomes 0.

Now if you don't think this is accurate, you may be right - it's much more complicated then I have presented here. (That 157 post thread is one of the shorter and more useful ones. Don't go looking for the thief trying to sneak past the chicken).

Some players may have a problem with the lack of facing. Well buddy, you better not be playing Pathfinder, because them's the rules and that's the way it works. Pathfinder has rules, and those rules contain no information about facing anywhere.If you want to play with facing rules, AD&D is a pretty brilliant game.

This isn't even the worst thing about Perception.

Ok, let's assume you rule 0 stealth, or just accept the way it works and find some way to create concealment everywhere or whatever. Then there is the other thing perception does. This is objectively a terrible thing. Why is enumerated in the following points.

First, It's a skill tax skill. Someone is always required to keep this maxed. This usually goes to the rogue or the character with the most free skill slots, but it is so important to avoiding surprise, finding treasure and insuring that you are not killed by a trap that it cannot be ignored. Sometimes multiple characters max it out.

Secondly it is terribly time consuming and difficult to manage at the table. You have to ask for perception rolls when there is nothing to find in order to obfuscate if there is something there. I've seen some solutions for this, such as taking the passive values, or rolling for perception behind the screen. This simply offloads the problem, into the party sitting and staring at the DM until  he figures out which of them see which things.

Third, I ran several games with perception skills and observation skills for years, and upon reflection and analysis of when I called for a roll, it was when I wanted them to have a piece of information. I realized that I wanted them to know it because it was either interesting or enhanced their experience of play in some way.  I never asked for a roll to find hidden information.

Hidden information universally has some way of taking an action in character in order to uncover it. The chance to just discover it because of a random roll literally removes the player skill necessary to discover the hidden information. Rolls that remove game play are bad design. After all, if they can just get it when they roll, then I've taken away their current choice and play and offloaded it on some decisions made when leveling the character.

Since I'm setting all the DC's anyway, what is gained from having a 80% chance of finding something versus finding it for sure. Something might be gained, but I can't imagine what it is (remember, someone is maxing this skill, unless any pathfinder/3.x players want to volunteer an example of someone in a group where no one maxed this skill). If you are using their take 10 perception values then you are just deciding what they are aware of anyway.

Fourth, it is the single worst offending skill at removing player skill and bypassing game play. I've read several arguments that indicate that this would require players to make decisions about what to look at and search and since there is tactical infinity (and baskets and boxes and hallways and junk) they wouldn't be able to search everything.

Well no shit.

The unspoken assumption is that player characters shouldn't need any personal skill in order to avoid missing something. I don't agree with that entitled assumption.

Fifth, the roll can be used against the players. When it is written that a lockbox has a secret bottom that requires a DC 25 search check to find, and then I tell the DM that I pick up the lock box and search the bottom for a secret compartment by tapping it and looking for a way to open it, he is completely within his rights to tell me that I can't roll high enough to find it! In fact, if he doesn't, then he's screwing the player who did put the points into perception, because I'm getting the benefit of having the skill without spending the points!

Lastly and most damming, the process of 'we search the x', 'roll search', 'you don't find anything' is one of the most mind-numbingly boring things one can attempt to do with friends!

What's the fix?
Well, for the last year and a half, I've been running with no perception skill at all. A large portion of that time I ran Labyrinth Lord and never felt the loss of any skill check at all.

It was some of the best dungeoneering I've ever done. It was more fun then I could have remembered having, and I found that the players remained engaged in spite of themselves at times. How did I address the lack of rolls?

First, rooms were designed as encounters as described in my Empty Rooms, Tricks, and Trap Design Document. Every room was either empty, contained a monster, a trick, a trap, or treasure or some combination of the above.

If so, traps were designed to not be bad traps there was always some sign of their effects. Secondly secret doors were no longer designed in the abstract. Each door had a mechanism that physically existed in the room that the players could activate. The same with traps and locks, using mini-games to simulate their opening and disarming.

Then I filled all the rooms, with the stuff that goes in rooms.

Suddenly there was no more dice rolling or looking at the sheet, just selections of choices - that looks dangerous should we touch it? Why is this statue in the alcove facing the wall? Is there anything in that chest? How much do we think this tapestry is worth?

And when the game became a collection of interesting choices, rather than just rolling dice for pass/fail results often when there was no 'pass' to be found, everyone started having a lot more fun.

Interestingly enough, the common vehement complaint of limited time versus tactical infinity is nicely handled by the fact that they are in a literal dungeon which provides a unique environment for limiting that infinity. Often there were areas where they could exhaustively search, at the cost of wandering monster checks of course.

But the feeling of lowering the visor on the statue and describing the slow rumble as a secret door opened into a room filled with treasure was infinitely more satisfying for them and for me than the other option of them simply stating they search for secret doors and telling them they found one, no matter how flowery the description that accompanies the roll.

If you're interested in more thoughts on the subject, I've talked a little bit about this before.

Hope this post wasn't too long. Thanks for reading this far.


  1. I think this topic sums up the changes in the hobby.

    When I started my “back to basics” thing, I was having a really hard time remembering how we handled perception back in my early D&D and Traveller days. How did we get by without those skills? It’s weird that I had come to see them as so vital. Especially now that I’ve rediscovered how to play without them.

    I remember wanting some kind of general perception-check back-in-the-day, though. It was in very limited circumstances, however. Circumstances which I think are perfectly analogous to surprise. It was only fairly recently, however, that the connection between surprise and perception was made for me.

  2. 3.0 didn't have a stealth skill it had Hide and Move Silently.

    perception as a skill tax doesn't make much sense to me if one accepts it as a part of the game.

    as for a waste of time: Have the DM make the roll for the player and you don't have to bother with extra skill rolls or simply don't consider it a waste of time, it's a game. Players making too darned many spot and search rolls? increase the chance of random encounters or planned encounters spotting them becasue all that bumbling about they are doing.

    A DM also isn't screwing players by giving them bonuses and penalties to their rolls based on their clearly stated actions or even simply skipping the rolls now and again. In the DC 25 locked box example I'd give the player a bonus to the roll in a situation of stress or simply let the player open the box if there is time to burn. Taking 20 is part of D20 isn't it? That's what the player taking a long time to describe his actions is doing.... problem solved and less game jargon thrown about with same end result.

  3. My only concern with removing the mechanics (i.e., the dice rolling) to Perception or Spot check is that it removes the advantage some characters should have for taking feats or assigning ranks to the appropriate skills. If my Rogue is a master trap finder, has training in Perception and took feats to make him the best trap finder in the business, he should have knowledge and advantages that me, the player, wouldn’t have.

    I’m all for getting the players to role-play their character, but there needs to be some way to provide players running characters that should be really good at something (like finding traps) to do so even though the person running that PC is oblivious.

  4. @JDJarvis: I'm interested in hearing, rather than ways to mitigate the problems involved, a reason to add the skill checks to the game in the first place. I play AD&D; what advantage would adding stealth and perception skills to the game bring?

  5. @Ameron: That is the explicit purpose of the thief/specialist class no? A chance above and beyond player skill to discover traps - including magical traps which can't be found by any other class.

  6. @JD Jarvis: In addition to the answer to John's question, which I am also interest in. . .

    Re: wasting time, How is the DM making the roll saving any time?

    How am I "Just supposed to" consider 10 minutes of just rolling and checking search skills and results "not a waste of time"?

    Re: Not screwing players - so if I put no ranks in perception, and you dumped all your points in it and took skill focus feats, how are you not disadvantaged if I can use player skill to overcome the limits of my character sheet?

    All that aside, It's pretty clear that the response to a square wheel isn't just 'put up with the square wheel because it's the way it is'. That kind of thinking is why WotC is doing so poorly with the D&D license.

  7. These issues seem like simple things that can be rememdied with common sense or simple house-ruling if you find them too complicated.

    Need facing? Ask a player which direction their facing. Want Rogues to be able to hide even if there's light? Rogues can hide even in light, done...

    The fixes aren't really fixing a problem but give an option to GM's and Player's with different personal tastes. You like spending 20 minutes of game time figuring out how a secret door opens up mechanically? Great, have at it. Don't care to spend 20 minutes? Well, you found a secret door, done.

    Flavor text and the visored statue. Flavor description is a definite plus. It doesn't matter if your in the 20 minutes secret door group or the insta-find secret door group or what edition your playing, flavor description is a plus all around. I have the "Empty Rooms, Tricks, and Trap Design Document" and like it a lot. Another nice resource table is in the Microlite20 Random Adventure Creator on page 3, "Chamber, Room and Passage Dressing" found here...;sa=view;down=136

  8. The stealth bit also touches on what I’ve found to be a general problem. Skill checks seem to fail much more often than they should.

    If you’re using the old Hide in Shadows as hiding in shadows, then it’s failure rate is fine. In games where stealth checks are generally used, just about any covert mission is guaranteed to fail because a single failed roll by a single PC spoils it. (And, ironically, it often seems it is the PC with the best stealth skill who ends up failing that critical roll. ^_^)

    There are ways to address that, but you have to realize the issue exists first. I’ve played—and run—a lot of games that were spoiled by the fact that the GM didn’t realize there was an issue to be addressed there.

    I’m all for getting the players to role-play their character, but there needs to be some way to provide players running characters that should be really good at something (like finding traps) to do so even though the person running that PC is oblivious.

    Why? You may want that in your game, but I think plenty of us have experience that shows it isn’t needed. It’s OK if the PC’s are on equal footing here, and it’s the players that make the difference.

    There’s also a middle ground where the DM simply makes up the difference based on their rulings. They straight-up tell the “master trap finder” something that another player would have to ask specific-ish questions to get. Yeah, I know that a lot of people don’t like that idea, but I’ve seen it work just fine quite a lot. It isn’t perfect but mechanics aren’t either.

    (Although I question whether “master trap finder” is actually a speciality that someone would have.)

    For me, I’ve come to the conclusion that strict policies against metagaming aren’t a good idea. At least for the way I like to play. Everyone at the table should be able to give a player advice on how to play their character, even if the other PCs aren’t present or incapacitated. One way to simulate a PC having capabilities that the player doesn’t is to leverage the wisdom of the group.

    Note too that we still might end up saying that X would be the best course of action but that this particular PC probably wouldn’t know that, so the player doesn’t have them do it.

  9. I wept after reading your post. A succinct endictment of everthing that is wrong with character-skill based games.

    Not that all character-skill systems are bad. But with everything distilled to a dice roll, the color and wonder of the game is flushed down the toilet.

    What we need in the OSR is a resurgence of player-skill based systems and adventures. Let's demonstrate to the uninitiated how the game is supposed to be played!

  10. "a resurgence of player-skill based systems and adventures"

    I think we're negotiating around a "Harrison Bergeron" type of situation. We have players who want to have fun and be part of a story, but ar perhaps not well-spoken enough to roleplay social encounters, or aren't tactical-minded enough to negotiate a purely narrative combat challenge, or aren't incisive enough to deduce the implications of a given situation or room description.

    At one extreme, we make all of the players roll, no matter what, and discount all other player skill: tactical planning, conversational gambits, or probing questions about the environment.

    At the other extreme, we make all of the players "game" the GM, angling to find the best rationalization for success in each situation, running each conflict as a narrative justification.

    As GMs, it is our role to moderate between these two extremes based on the needs of the group. This may change between tables, it may even change between groups. Maybe you run a game for a group of people who all pride themselves on their puzzle-solving skills. Maybe you run a game for a group who really just prefer the tactical combat side of things. And if both groups want to play the same rules system, the GM has the latitude to allow the first group to get bonuses on rolls based on their deductions or probity (or to sidestep rolls altogether), while sticking to the rules for the second group.

  11. I want to see more on how you handle surprise situations which are essentially a stealth vs. perception test.

    I also want to speak up for the concept of rolling to see if players find something, but less from a "take points in this skill" view and more from a "Let me surprise myself, the DM" view. The roll is for the difficulty of the environment, not the success of the player, although certain characters can have flat-out bonuses to that roll.

  12. Basic D&D does have a mechanical search skill, though it is possessed by every class. Players can choose to "specialize" by creating elf characters, which have a slightly higher search chance.

    I'll quote from Labyrinth Lord, but I'm pretty sure B/X works the same way:

    Secret doors can only be spotted if characters are specifically looking for them. The Labyrinth Lord rolls 1d6 when a player declares that his character is looking for secret doors. A result of 1 on 1d6 is a success, except that elves have better vision and succeed on a roll of 1 or 2 on 1d6. A character can only attempt to look for secret doors once in any given area, and it takes 1 turn. A second attempt cannot be made in the same area. Since the Labyrinth Lord rolls the dice, the player never know if the roll failed or if there simply is no door in the area searched.

    I'm curious as to how you integrate the narrative method described in your post with the above mechanical system. Did you ignore the LL rule? Or did you give PCs a mechanical chance first, followed by a chance using player skill and description?

    One thing I have noticed when reading older modules (I'm reading the original Temple of Elemental Evil right now) is that many things that would be handled as skill checks in later editions are instead given flat situational chances. For example, when there are bats fluttering around: "In the confusion, any light source will probably (75% chance) be dropped and extinguished" (page 23). In later games, that certainly would have been an ability check or saving throw. There are many search examples like that as well. In any case, I think it is interesting because it avoids the player skill that many of us in the OSR are so fond of, but also avoids the mix-max trap and skill complexity of the D20 system and later.

  13. @ Devon & Brendan

    The narrative / mechanical dichotomy is a (ridiculous) false one.

    Player skills isn't about 'gaming' the GM, and it isn't about rationalizing your success. There is no ambiguity such as 'convincing' the GM good enough or 'talking' the GM into something.

    Just because you minimize using dice to avoid game-play does not mean we're discussing a narrative method.

    Player skill is about gathering information and making choices.

    As mentioned above, Surprise is used, as is the 'search' @Brendan pointed out, understanding of course that the cost is a wandering monster check for a 18% chance to find something you missed, again explicit player choices with well laid out consequences.

    It is not a mechanical game, and it is not a narrative 'story' acting game, but rather something like choose your own adventure where you have the ability to gather as much information as you are smart enough to get before you make your choice.

  14. Player choice is not the same as player skill. I have friends with developed skillsets in mathematics, engineering, firearms, historical recreation, etc. Each of these players has access to a problem-solving toolbox which can be used in any number of RPG scenarios. The structural engineer (who happens to be playing a barbarian with wilderness survival skills and martial prowess, and nothing akin to engineering skill) will have a big edge trying to solve a given secret door puzzle than will his friend, the English major, who opted to play a Dwarven stonesmith?

  15. God, it would be fun to play in one of your games -C. I can see my brain being so much more stimulated by having to take in everything you describe and then try to decide what to "try" or investigate, rather than make a roll and get a yes/no answer. I've been finding that the skill rolls in our weekly Pathfinder game are sleep inducing and really kill immersion for me.

    I think this type of game requires a very very good DM, someone with some good practice at guiding players, describing things in a certain way, and on the fly thinking. I suppose you can never get enough practice as DM of OSR games.

    By the way, I'm OK with someone in the group being better at searches or puzzle solving than myself, seeing as how it is a cooperative game they will be benefitting me as well. That doesn't stop me from trying - I enjoy the challenge of trying to find traps or secret doors myself, even though I am not naturally a talented narrator or sleuth.


  16. I think that an important element of fixing this is always always having time constraints (hell, wandering monsters and the beautiful attrition that you bring!) so that there's always a trade off that hurts players who spend too much time dicking around searching everything.

  17. Hm. I added Perception as a stat in AD&D back in the day, and my group found it a helpful addition; it didn't cause us any problems. Did anyone notice that guy get his pocket picked? Does anyone see the cave lizard before you're up on it? Is that stand of trees moving in the wind, or just moving? Having one simple mechanic rather than 100 half-assed mechanics (like the secret doors, thief skills, surprise, etc.) made us happy.

  18. @Devon

    The skill is in asking the right questions and picking the right choice.

    I don't care how much you actually know about architecture. The Dungeon and Encounters are constructed so that you don't need that knowledge.

    Now if you do know a lot about something and can come up with a unique solution, I support that too.

  19. I think this type of game requires a very very good DM, someone with some good practice at guiding players, describing things in a certain way, and on the fly thinking.
    I don't think it does! I'm far from a great DM but I can and do pull this off. I have to assume most people who play pre-2E do the same, since it's the only method available in those games. And of course you get better at it the more you practice. Don't be discouraged!

  20. This is one of the best posts you've done in awhile. Not that any of your recent posts have been bad, mind you. But this post is phenomenal.

    I'll be spreading this around.

  21. @David

    I think time as a resource can be an important component no matter what resolution system you use. Descriptive searching or skill check searching could both cause a wandering monster check (or have some other sort of ticking clock effect).


    Perhaps I misused a buzzword when employing the term narrative. I didn't mean to imply some sort of theoretical abstraction. I just meant descriptive. Which is different than rolling a die for a skill or ability and then figuring out post-hoc what it means in terms of the game world. That's what I meant by mechanical.

  22. One of the first games I ran playing 3.5e featured the main entrance to a hidden cult being a hidden-ish door with a mechanical way of opening the way, furthermore the party was given some indication to the purpose behind the room without giving too much away. When everyone started whipping out their d20's for search check I had instead asked them how they were searching the room, given them some notable objects and features of the room, and instead, wasted about 20 minutes of them figuring one specific feature was the way to unlock the door. And then when we finally got through I was given flak for not letting them just roll to figure out that the stone table needed a combined weight of 500lbs.

    I guess it just varies from group to group. Some are more clever than others, and for those less, this is why these arbitrary rolls exist. Because for some, it might just be more enjoyable in more open-ended adventures if they can proceed faster instead of bumbling about for an hour. Even the rule of three can fail.

    But I agree and enjoy your post, as do I the whole series.

  23. @Joshua

    The problem with your example is that there was no other option then to get through the door. If you railroad the players (because I doubt the game had anything to do with anything but finding that hidden cult) and put a problem like that in the way then it's kind of a jerk move.

    However, if they have six other viable options of things to do and places to go, then you're not holding up anything, they are choosing to discover it. What you are describing isn't a failure of skills, it's putting a wall up in front of the only way they go. The complained because they wanted to get on with the adventure, which you were stopping them from having.

    Nobody wants to be forced to climb up a wall.

  24. To use a mechanic or a narrative role playing ad hoc device triggered by player's actions is arbitrary game ruling definition. No one is better that the other, it is just a question of tastes.
    After all, you need to arbitrarily define what actions must be mechanically resolved, and what are resolved due player's actions. People complains about the stealth mechanics, but not about attack rolls, and both are examples of the same concept, the simplification of an uncertain, hard to adjudicate situation due a game mechanics.
    After all, you could home rule that attacks rolls are defined by GM's fiat influenced by players narrations about how their PJs attacks the vitals of an enemy.

    1. Yes. A mechanic is boring. A "narrative role-playing ad hock device triggered by the players actions" is interesting.

      This series has already discussed the reasons why the mechanic is boring. When we did, we discovered exactly why people complain about stealth rolls, and not about attack rolls.

      Always nice to see Forge-ites show up here. You're welcome to peruse the other articles in the series that speak to your confusions.

  25. How do you simulate a character that is EXTREMELY observant, than, without the use of the skill? Prime example, Sherlock Holmes. What you're suggesting is for players to be more like Sherlock Holmes, but the truth is a minute number of people actually are that talented and "SKILLED" at being that observant.

    What about Japanese anime characters? You always have that one or two characters in an anime that just manage to "sense" a nigh-impossible enemy to detect or are so honed in on their environment that they're able to sense danger or an enemy nearby (or even at a distance!). You mean to tell me that no one can be skilled at being able to tell when an owl is gliding in through the night right past them or when a spider is creeping up from behind? Or are you suggesting EVERYONE can do that now? Sounds pretty cheap, if you ask me.

    As much of a headache the skill is, it really does help flesh out a character's personality. Someone with low Perception just really likes to take things at face value and doesn't put much time into taking everything into perspective. Someone with extremely high Perception is, well, the Sherlock Holmes character we all are familiar with from the movies. Everyone else falls within that spectrum (and even higher than Holmes possibly)

    1. A Skill or "Character build" is not personality.

      A person 'simulates' being extremely observant by being extremely observant. They ask the DM questions. And then they think about what the answers to those questions mean.

      This is literally how you play the game well.

      The unspoken assumption here is that because you make the astounding choice of "I put some points in perception" that it somehow obviates you from having to play the game. The players are the ones playing the game, not math.

      Your comments don't seem to be an argument against what is posted above. It very much seems to be a complaint against removing player entitlement.

      "I would have to be skilled at observation in order to be skilled at observation in the game."
      "In fiction someone did something cool, so I deserve to do something cool too."
      "If I make a numerical choice, it determines a personality."

    2. I find Spot & Search skills a tool which can simplify a sense of perception and help a player, who is either too young or slow, become someone else. Intelligent players always have the advantage of their IQs when playing; sometimes average (or lesser) intellects just want to be Sherlock Holmes.

    3. I would think that this is best handled by just being explicit about everything that is seen. It seems to me that what you are doing here, by making it a 'skill' is in fact, giving them a chance to not feel like they are smart.

      I don't use these skills, and I don't obfuscate useful or important things during play. In your case I would use fewer traps and red herrings.

  26. I'm a bit late to the party here. I general I love your analyses but your view on Perception is one I can't get behind.

    I feel like your treatment blurs the distinction between character and player ability. In extreme cases, that's a problem. For example, we have a pretty socially inept guy in our group who's playing the party face. He CANNOT faithfully roleplay a character with 20 CHA. Similarly, one might expect our maxed-INT wizard to be better at solving puzzles and mazes than we are, so we have him roll for that (unless we specifically want to solve them ourselves). I feel like these are reasonable -- I certainly wouldn't ask the barbarian's player to do a bunch of push-ups to see if his character can knock down a door!

    This works both ways, of course; just like an awkward guy has trouble charming the town guard in character, a very savvy player might be really good at finding your hidden doors and traps despite the fact that they dumped WIS.

    I don't like that Perception is a skill tax, and really I'm pretty disdainful of the skill system in general. But it does serve to enforce a connection between your attributes and the abilities that follow from them which I think your way lacks.

    One solution I've read about (possibly even here?) is to roll first then roleplay the justification, possibly with hints from the DM. If you bomb your Diplomacy roll, maybe you should "accidentally" make an unfortunate mistranslation; if you roll high on Perception but can't figure out where a switch is hidden, it might be appropriate for the DM to say "hey Sally, your character notices that one candlestick is much shinier than the rest."

    1. Well, Charles, I think we have an assumption clash here.

      I, personally, am not particularly interested in character ability. I don't particularly enjoy games that focus on building characters, and I don't really enjoy running those types of games. I like computer games where that happens, but if my job is to simply play the role of the computer to resolve some build choices and statistical likelihoods resolved by rolls, factoring in player choice on where to move and who to attack I'd rather not.

      I'm not interested in character skill. My games are exclusively focused on player skill. This is not the same as social skill. For instance, a player with poor social skills can still play a very effective social character in my game.

      Interactions with NPC's don't rely on social skill, they don't rely on character skill, they rely on player skill.

      Player skill is about gathering information and making choices that affect the play of the game.

      So in the games I play, Charisma, Wisdom, Strength, etc. do have an effect, but it is very minor. You can play a fighter with a strength of 5 and be about as effective as a fighter with a strength of 16. The statistic (or character abilities) just don't make that much difference to the play of the game.

      You are correct. It enforces that distinction. But what does that actually lead to in play? What actually happens when you take your limited time on this earth and sit in a room with friends. You need perception to detect traps, ambushes, secrets, pretty much where-ever you go. You set the DC of these. So you roll. and roll again. I find it dull to listen to on a podcast. I find those computer-like statistical calculations mind-numbingly tedious in real life.

      So what do we really gain by enforcing that connection between point buy of 18 wisdom and perception? How does it improve the game, our enjoyment, our fun?

      That is to say, you are absolutely correct. Why is that what you want?

  27. I agree, but all of these issues can be resolved merely by adjusting the way skills are used.

    I always use Perception/Stealth as a simple "surprise round" or "no surprise round" for traps and ambushes. And I always have my traps trade a bit of attack bonus for extra sneak attack damage so that being caught unaware is worse than merely failing a Disable Device check or Reflex save.

    I did choice-based room interaction for hidden items but I scaled treasure value acquired per player based on their Perception. Essentially, anyone wasting points in useless skills got a bit of extra gold to counteract that combat-oriented characters were obviously more useful in a combat-oriented game.

    1. The fact that there are games that use these skills differently or that you can fix the rules so that it isn't a problem is something called the Rule 0 Fallacy.

      I can also invent ways to make these skills function. That doesn't change that the problems above exist with the skills as written.

  28. I realize this is something of post necromancy, but it seems to me that a compelling argument for the existence of a stealth/perception mechanic can be found within the illustrations of this very post, specifically the random anime fanservice gal who wants not to be seen. Without a mechanic, how do you resolve this?

    Softie DM Method: The player says, "I sneak away." The DM says, "Okay, you get away." Not much challenge or tension there.

    Jerkwad DM Method: The player says, "I sneak away." The DM says, "The guys spot you and begin harassing you." Not much challenge or tension there, either, just some resentment.

    Arbitrary Method: The player says, "I sneak away." The DM says, "There's a 50% chance you get away. I pulled that out of the air," and rolls the dice. The universe is capricious.

    Skill-Based Method: The player says, "I sneak away." The DM says, "Make a Stealth check, and the guys will make an opposed Perception check." It may very well be the same 50% chance of success, but at least now it's grounded in something more concrete than an arbitrary choice.

    If the character's skill is not important, only the player's, then why have saving throws modified by stats? How is a skill check any different?

    -The Gneech

    PS: Apologies if this double-posts, the form seems to be behaving oddly.

    1. Indeed, the author seems not to value player/character separation. But if you're not playing a master thief, then your search for that secret compartment in the bottom of that box shouldn't be any more thorough than experience allows. If you've seen such a compartment before, the system does have a provision for that; it's called circumstance bonuses. Otherwise, just because you can do something doesn't mean your character can.

      And the opposite applies, as well. In the end, yon PCs are often experienced adventurers in a fantasy world. Even if they're not a master thief, they'd probably think to check a few places novice players wouldn't when searching the room. As such, a check is used to simulate the character's skill. The only time you don't need it is if the player and character are both equally skilled.

      Except that's not true, either, as Perception and Stealth are vital attack and defense stats. One character is trying to defend herself from being seen, and another is trying to attack by seeing through that stealth. Or one character is trying to "attack" by doing something unnoticed, while another is trying to defend themselves from that action. I wouldn't allow stealth-based tactics in a game without die rolls any more than I'd allow characters to swing their swords at each other without attack bonuses and armor classes. Facing and cover can't handle everything. Surely you're familiar with the sensation of looking right at something and not quite noticing it. And it's not simply about not being seen. In Pathfinder, 3.x's Move Silently and Listen have been folded into Stealth and Perception. These are important, because even if you're behind cover, there's still a chance to blow it if someone hears you moving around.


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