Monday, 15 June 2015

Spot Check! how often do you spot check?

I can't remember when I began to notice, that people don't notice things.. a lot of things, Maybe its the "mobile staring walking into things" people that brought it to my attention, but is it possible that slowly each generation is losing its ability to see the creeping tiger? and in roleplay they don't care to point it out?

How often do you make spot checks?

Think to yourself, you walk down the street, you walk past maybe 100 people, each of them has an agenda, unless you're "looking" at every single person with interest, and you're well trained in the art of spotting intent, it'd be highly unlikely that you'd spot someone that's thinking something maliciously toward you.. until they pull out a sword..  

Tracking all 100 people is incredulous, 

How often should they be made?
How often should you be aware of them being made?

In earlier Versions of D&D, the DM would determine what you could or should see, Often the text box provided the right clues, and the players would listen for key phrases that matched what was needed to figure out the puzzle or defeat the creature

"You kick in the door, it bursts open, a wizard, evil looking, puts down something he was holding, in a box as you decide what to do, he starts waving his arm around casting a spell"


Why? Why would a player calls for a spot check here? the GM has already read out the flavour text box, and revealed the information. yet its becoming more apparent that either DMs are not giving the players enough information and the idea of making a spot check would somehow give them more? Or too much, players get bored and wont listen then do a spot check to get just the details?,

There is a movement of players, going to games that throw out the dice, get rid of rules and just wing everything, Getting the story underway is more important than the game being fair. I can understand why, now that I've been researching how DMs are spoiling the hobby I've been playing for over 20 years..

Being a DM is not simple. Running a game, with rules that you are familiar with, in a boxed adventure you have read several times and learnt off by heart, with players you know well. This still means a lot of note taking, being the eyes and ears of the entire group, making sure to word things in such a way that the players perception of events is what is revealed, and not (the virtual) reality.

Throw a green DM, sandboxing a group of strangers.. and you're going to have chaos.. and thats why spot checks exist.. so the players have some agency in a (real life) setting that is far less than ok, let alone ideal.

What do you mean by this?

Lets look at the concept of why the dice roll exists.

If I swing a metal pole at a wall, I have enough strength to do so, there is no need to determine if I am going to hit.. only how well I'm going to hit, to see how much damage I will make. If the variables are all known, I have more than ample time to aim my shot, I have perfect reflexes & dexterity, there is no question. I should hit it, at the maximum allowance of damage based on the weapon, and my strength & accuracy.

But, if any of those factors are not perfect (and when would they ever be) those variances, cause what we perceive as a random chance of failure (if we had a supercomputer, it could study the maths and tell us why we got exactly what we got, but we don't so we use 'chance')

The Dice represent that chance, the variance based on mathmatical certainty vs probability vs possibility.

So it becomes the GMs job, (as often as not) to determine this probability, within the rules of the system given.

In the case of combat, D&D at least, uses the attackers skills + weapon + base to hit (skills again really) vs the enemies skills, speed and armour (yes, but whatever) to determine the chance of hitting the opponent. these variables alone present so many mathmatical models, its obvious we need dice to determine the outcome.

Furthermore, this should and usually results in modifiers for the damage, how hard the blow hit, etc etc

So we have out "chance" to hit.. and variance of damage, and that's a given for roleplay systems.

But when its something a lot more defined? something not so grey? This is where many systems fall down.

Back to spot checks...

I walk into a room. I'm searching, I have my eyes open, there is more than enough light, the object is in the room on a table, right in front of me.. and I should be able to see it.. Yet (I roll the dice and fail, fumbled) it is invisible to me.


I walk into a darkened room, I'm not declaring that I'm looking for anything, the object is inside a chest, under a cloth, behind some furniture, I make a spot check.. AHA! I exclaim (as I crit roll) I "spotted" it.

Now, sure, these are extremes, and you could argue that in the first, I have domestic blindness, and the second I have second sight..

Yet, domestic blindness occurs because we are looking for an image in our mind that matches what we're looking for, and our mind dismisses the obvious choice, because it doesn't match the mental image.

There is little to no chance of a player looking for red keys, and seeing red keys, of failing a spot check and not seeing red keys. Just as there should be no chance of spotting keys in a box under a rug.

Stealth vs Perception

I run a system that (apparently) is unlike any other, we have something I took from Dragon Warriors which has worked well and I will always use: Stealth & Perception.

The Description for Stealth and Perception is that 90% of the time, players are concentrating on a specific task or event or opponent, and might likely not notice anything else at the time, So a GM checks the stealth of a creature (like attack vs defence) against the perception of its target, and if passed, goes unnoticed. This is because of the subtle differences, variances in lighting, movement, the creature making the stealth roll, and the player either being aware or not.

Stop what you're doing, don't turn around.. can you describe exactly what is behind you right now? 90% of us would claim to know so many things about what's behind us (if you are in a familiar place when you read this) and would get 90% right.. but if I moved something, just before you sat down.. would you truely notice? maybe part of your mind would see the object out of place, and ask the question. hey... is my blue cup where I left it? did someone do something to it?

Only if you ask the question, is my blue cup in the same place, would your mind try to recall its previous location and the differences.. and that's IF you are thinking about it.

Asking to do a spot check, is like asking to turn around and notice every single change.. impossible. Yet asking if the blue cup seems out place might trigger some memory response, So the player uses their Memory Bonus + Perception to determine if they indeed notice the moved blue cup (the GM would of course add in a modifier, the player has never mentioned that they memorise the location of all objects -6 and that the blue cup is not a regular item to be checking -6.

Without adding in the type of check that is being made, a generic check has no base (Perception) so the player would be rolling against just Memory, with the -12.

Back to your Favoured System

So for the rest of you, GMs should really just reveal the information, if the player specifically points out what they are expecting to "spot" and a roll could only point out to their mind that something not directly related, but somewhat similar is apparent (if the story would come to a stand still otherwise?).

The players ask the GM, what do we see, the players get a basic description, "The Heroes enter a dungeon, they look around, they see the generic background stuff" One player, (probably the Thief) asks, "I look specifically for anything that looks out of place", the GM needs more clarification, "Like?", "Like dust that has been moved or disturbed". The GM has no reason to make a spot check, the player has requested to see if any dust has been moved, "indeed, the table has been moved, and a dust trail has been disturbed".. if the story line needs a roll, possibly more information about that dust could be revealed.. "looks like the dust was moved recently".

I Understand that possibly more than a lot of DMs already do this, but what's being posted in forums & reddit suggests that its not the standard.

What's your take on spot checks?

1 comment:

Josh Pearce said...

Often I just have players roll only when I think the result is going to be interesting. If it is a yes/no question which could be interesting either way, I have them roll. If seeing something is necessary for things to move onward, I don't bother.

No reason to punish everyone because dice refuse to cooperate I say.