A Matter of Perception

Cook's Legend & Lore debut involves him essentially recreating the Passive Perception wheel, ie the system we have now, except that instead of using Passive Perception as-is with numerical DCs he proposes a rank system (novice, journeyman, expert, etc). That is it, and it just feels like he is arguing semantics. The fact that the rules for Passive Perception have existed for years, including in part in 3rd Edition's take 10 rule, has lead some to believe that perhaps Cook was trying to make a (bad) joke.

Currently if a character's Passive Perception meets or beats the DC to find something, then they notice it. Easy. Otherwise they can declare that they are searching a room and make an actual roll, giving them the chance to find something that a cursory examination missed. You can adjust DCs up and down to account for player actions and methods, or even for having other trained skills (for example, you might consider giving a character a bonus on Perception checks to find hidden doors if they are also trained in Dungeoneering).

Cook's system gives things a rank, which is used to determine if characters automatically succeed, have to make a roll, or just cannot succeed. The difference between the trained and untrained characters is that a rank that you cannot succeed at can be rolled against, and one that requires rolling is an auto-pass. Additionally players can describe their actions and methods, potentially reducing the rank, which can give a character that otherwise could not roll a roll, or a character rolling an auto-pass.

It sounds very similar, but there are some issues that crop up on further examination.

One issue is a lack of granularity. Currently Cook cites only five labels, while DCs can be any number you like. This allows you much better control over fine-tuning a DC, as well as the modifiers that items and circumstances provide, as opposed to simply saying that you pass, can roll, or are fucked. It also vastly increases the opportunities characters have at succeeding at tasks, even if the odds are stacked against them, without having to resort to "Zorking" or pixel-bitching.

I do not want my players to have to result to zorking just because they lack a sufficient rank to make a roll to try and succeed at something. Cook uses a statue as an example of this method, describing a situation where  a player can ask if the teeth can be moved in order to "make the impossible possible", and honestly the only difference I see between allowing a roll by default and requiring them to ask me 20 questions in order to get a roll is wasted time.

Cook claims that this method will avoid the purported issue of players assuming that a low roll--or the DM rolling in general--means that they must have overlooked something and trying to rationalize another roll or continuing to muck about anyway, but I do not think it will change anything; if the DM simply tells them that they do not find anything, it could be that it was an auto-pass or auto-fail, and if they have to roll they could still jump to the same conclusions.

I do not need to have labels. If I want--or need--the players to succeed, then I can just make the DC really low, or better yet, not require a roll at all. Sometimes I even allow characters to automatically succeed on some skill checks if they are trained in the skill (something I saw in an adventure that I cannot remember). If I for some reason want to peg it at an area where only some characters can auto-succeed, I can make it so that the DC can be passed on a low number, even a 1. I think that really the only thing I can not do (or at least not easily/reliably do) is generate a DC that untrained characters just cannot pass, while trained characters can still roll; there almost always seems to be a slim chance that even untrained characters can succeed.

Cook's proposed "changes" to the skill system seems to hinder more than it helps, and again I think it is important to note that you can easily do what Cook is "suggesting" using the current system without giving it an overhaul: just give out bonuses to the character if they suggest something clever, which is something that DMs honestly should have already been doing.

1 comment:

  1. While I like Cook's system for lighter RPGs, I think D&D needs something more substantial. I think it's odd that Cook chose to tackle this topic on his first column. The passive perception system works really well, and I almost never hear anyone bitching about it. Is this what he thinks is a priority for the game?

    Actually, a system that has more problems is the "active perception" system. Players are constantly asking for active checks for really stupid reasons, as if they can just keep hitting the perception pinata until candy comes out. I'd like to see some hard and fast rules to tell you when a perception roll is in order instead of passive, how long the roll "lasts" (like Burning Wheel's "Let it Ride"), and how often you can check Perception during a scene.


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