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RPGBOT.Podcast Episode 1 - DnD 5e's Investigation Skill

Last Updated: August 19th, 2021

Show Notes

In this episode of the RPGBOT.Podcast, we discusse DnD 5e’s Investigation skill, finding stuff in tabletop RPGs, and how to apply tools and other skills to complement or even replace skills like Investigation or Perception.

Materials Referenced in this Episode

Transcript

Randall 00:01

Welcome to the RPGBOT.Podcast. I’m Randall James, your unelected ombudsman and with me is Tyler hamstra.

Tyler 00:08

Hi there.

Randall 00:09

Fantastic and Random.

Random 00:12

Good evening.

Randall 00:13

All right, welcome, welcome. Tyler: What are we doing today in Episode One, our second episode?

Tyler 00:20

Well, we want to talk about fifth edition Dungeons and Dragons’ investigation rules. We’re going to go into the mechanics, we’re going to go into some broad context about how the rules work and how they work in different RPGs. And we’re going to kind of answer some questions and fill in some gaps and rules and explain how things work and how to use them better.

Randall 00:43

Good, good, good. All right, Random. What do you what do you think we’re doing today?

Random 00:49

Well, so I mean, I’m partially the genesis for this episode. And coming from a long time playing 3.x, where search by itself was a separate skill that was keyed to intelligence as compared to spot and listen, has really left me with a desire for explaining why those are there. And in particular, how we can use that to help further optimize, when different classes, different characters are going to be more interested in focusing in either intelligence or wisdom, the skills most traditionally keyed to investigation and perception, respectively.

Randall 01:39

Okay, I think yeah, that’s pretty interesting. So it probably is worthwhile to do right. So what do we have? We have the the 3.x series, you know, how do I look for things? Or how do I spot things in my environment? We have Pathfinder one, Pathfinder two, we have a guess fourth edition, somewhere in there, probably pretty similar to Pathfinder one. And then we finally have fifth edition in all of its glory. So yeah, like what what was happening back then back in the 3.x days.

Tyler 02:12

So third edition, which is where Random and I both learned, both learned tabletop RPGs. So there were three skills for finding stuff you had Listen, you had spot, you had search. They do pretty much exactly what they say on the tin. Listen is for hearing stuff, spot is for seeing stuff with your eyes, searches for finding stuff that’s hidden. And there was always kind of this vague ambiguity between what was the search check and what was the spot check. And amazingly, we’re, what, 10, 15 years from the release of third edition, we still don’t have a great answer there.

Randall 02:49

Okay, well, I’m gonna stop for a second as a person who never played third edition. I guess my intuition would be spot is if it’s in plain sight and searche is if it isn’t. Is that one of the cults?

Tyler 03:03

I mean, yeah, that’s, that’s a pretty good way to break it down. But what about creatures that are hiding from you? Are they in plain sight?

Randall 03:10

Creatures that are hiding? I think I’d have to search for them. Right?

Tyler 03:14

That… that one would be a spot check.

Random 03:16

That one would be a spot check.

Tyler 03:17

Yeah. And that’s where it gets confusing. Because it… because yes, yes. Your first instinct is absolutely right. And pretty much everyone has that thought.

Randall 03:26

Okay, wait, okay. When you say that this is right, like this is what the ruleset says, or this is what a general consensus has

Tyler 03:34

Bit of both, honestly.

Random 03:37

In general, you will go with… there are actual rules. So if you delve into the skill descriptions in, I want to say chapter three, but good lord, it’s been a decade of the 3.5 player’s Handbook, you will find… hide a skill, which along with move silently, got folded into stealth in Pathfinder one and later editions. And hide, it would specify that you could try to hide, and that was explicitly contested by spot. And then they just never bothered explaining why that’s different than searching for hidden things.

Tyler 04:20

Yeah.

Randall 04:21

So if it’s if it’s alive, I have to spot it. If it’s dead or inanimate, I have to search it.

Tyler 04:27

Maybe.

Randall 04:28

Okay. That is the dichotomy I’ve just admitted. I have one more question on this because this is wild to me a little bit. So we managed to split our senses, right? So I walk into a room and I say to my dm “I want to attempt to spot enemies.” And I roll my dice and I spot nothing. But then afterwards, the DM’s like “but if you had listened, you totally would have heard him whistling as they were walking down the hallway.” Wait, okay, you’re both nodding vigorously for those who are at home.

Tyler 05:00

That is absolutely a thing that could happen.

Random 05:02

Absolutely a thing.

Randall 05:03

Okay, that could happen or that did happen, and then you viciously attacked or mock your dm.

Tyler 05:08

Both.

Random 05:09

So there’s an interesting case for this, right. So if you are a reasonable scout, there may be a time when you decide “I am going to walk up to a door and listen to what’s on the other side of it, to see if I can hear, you know, enemy camp conversation or whatever.” Now, it was worth noting that in the same way, that fifth edition, you have a limited number of proficiencies to split. In 3.x, you had a limited number of skills, skill points to spend. And you could choose for instance, to go for the much more common, I want to put all of my points into spot and not bother with putting my points into Listen, to make it so that I have room to put those skills in other places. Well, if you go up and put your ear to a door, and you’re not trained in it, you have a not great chance of hearing conversation on the other side of the door, even though you can spot a you know, swarm of bees at 1000 feet, because that’s how that mechanical difference manifested.

Randall 06:18

Okay, okay, I follow this. And I know we’re going to come back to two more recent additions. Okay, actually, let’s maybe hit it. So Pathfinder one, 4e, yhat all changes, right? Yeah, stop this dichotomy. And…

Tyler 06:33

So fourth edition comes out. And all of… all three of those skills are condensed down to just perception. There’s no more listen, there’s no more search just if you want to if you want to find something or notice something it’s just perception. Fourth Edition has the the world’s largest edition war. Pathfinder first edition comes out to appeal to the 3.x adherents and Pathfinder also just has perception and… you know, that’s it, there’s no search you just use perception for finding anything. Years pass, years pass, and then fifth edition comes out. And we have perception and investigation

Random 07:18

And insight view should we lump those together? Or no?

Tyler 07:23

Insight’s its own separate thing. Inside has stayed mostly separate.

Randall 07:29

No one’s confused over it at least…

Tyler 07:31

Kinda, yeah, insight is mostly just like, get a sense of people.

Randall 07:35

Okay.

Tyler 07:36

So it’s less about finding hidden things and more about just understanding people. So… so we’re up to fifth edition. Fifth Edition has perception and introduces investigation, which is essentially search from three point x. And then a couple of years later, Pathfinder second edition comes out. Pathfinder second edition is still just perception. And if you if you go outside the dungeon fantasy genre and look at some other RPGs pretty much every RPG just has one skill for perception. Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars game has just perception. I believe the Dark Heresy franchise has just perception. I’m drawing a blank on a couple of other RPGs. I know I looked this up, but generally, it’s just perception for finding stuff. So why is fifth edition the odd one out with an extra skill?

Randall 08:36

Tyler? Why is fifth edition the odd one out with an extra skill?

Tyler 08:40

Boy, I wish I had a good answer.

Randall 08:44

It was worth a shot, I figured.

Tyler 08:45

I know. The best answer I’ve come up with is perception is the best skill on the game already and it needs to do less things. But, honestly it’s not a great answer.

Random 08:57

And I wonder if part of this does sort of loop back around to what I was talking about where you want character diversity. I mean, if you think about this in an actual real world context, not that there is a great correlation to “I am very wise and therefore I’m good at seeing things.” But regardless, while you can sort of turn some of this into what proficiency means, there is definitely a difference that is intuitive between “I am good at looking around at a room quickly and noticing what’s shiny or out of place” and “I know things which are likely to indicate something that I can figure out.” So if we look at… and I’m looking here at the first line up the investigation skill in D&D Beyond’s basic rules, when you look around for clues and make deductions based on those clues, you make an intelligence (investigation) check. You might deduce location of a hidden object. So… if, for instance, I wanted to, and you know, what’s a super classic dungeon crawl trope? I’m going to search a door for traps, right? Okay. If I walk up to a door and I tell it… I guess I’ll be the DM in this perspective. If I’m DMing if someone walks up to a door and says to me, “I want to search the door for traps,” I’m gonna say “great, roll perception,” because they’re just saying, “I want to look for a thing.”

Tyler 10:28

*Tyler’s dog barks*

Random 10:29

If instead, they walk up to me, and they say, I want to check the doorframe for screw holes that might indicate that there’s a tripwire, I want to check and see if the flagstone immediately in front of the door, slides down a little bit when I push on it. If I want to use a hand mirror to look under the door and see if there is something that is going to trigger when I push the door open. That is not looking for a trap. That is trying to use, like it says, look for clues and deductions based on those clues. You’re not looking for a trap, you’re looking for specific things, and you are thinking to yourself, I understand that if this stone in front slides, that probably means it’s a pressure plate that’s going to trigger a trap. I understand that this wire likely means that something is going to be triggered by this door opening. Right? And so that’s where you can introduce some player creativity in order to turn it into rather than just a straight perception, which is very good, but it’s wisdom-based into a more intelligence check.

Randall 11:57

Okay, so I want to ask you like as a DM, how do you play that? So let’s say my plan is I’m going to put a pressure plate trap in front of a door. And my, my player says, you know, “I’m gonna check the the screws to look for like a mounting bracket for a trap on the other side.” Do you let them make their roll? And if it’s a good roll, like “Yep, you nailed it, you found the trap”? Or do you still like, “Hey, no, you don’t find anything like that. But while you’re checking that, you trigger this pressure plate and bad things happen.”

Random 12:31

So, personally speaking, I am rarely going to punish somebody for trying. Right? That feels bad. That’s terrible. With that said and again, looking at the the basic rules… If we go to perception, it’s… there’s a little sidebar call out: “In most cases, you need to describe where you are looking in order for the DM to determine your chances of success. For example, a key is hidden beneath a set of folded clothes in the top drawer of a bureau. If you tell the DM you pace around the room, looking at the walls and furniture, you have no chance of finding the key regardless of your wisdom perception check result, you would have to specify that you’re opening the drawers or searching the Bureau in order to have any chance of success.” Now that is pulled straight from the basic rules, right? So even WoTC Wizards of the Coast, even once he is here saying if you’re not specific enough, you just don’t find it right. Now. If someone if someone is doing the sort of like, I am going to take the time to investigate this door, if they call out that they are investigating in a way that let’s that says yes, I’m going to have you roll investigation. Am I necessarily going to nitpick a pressure plate versus a screw hole? Probably not. Right? You know, mechanically, is there precedents for it? Sure. But that feels bad from a player perspective and I am much more interested in my players feeling satisfied that their character build is doing well.

Tyler 14:05

Now… Now let’s say I’m a player in your game, and you have described to me a door. Like, I come down a hallway and you tell me “at the end of the hallway you encounter a door.” Now I might not necessarily have all of the details, like you and I in our heads have very different picture of what that door looks like most likely. So if I just say “I searched the door for traps,” do you consider that enough to tell me… give me an actual answer about whether or not I find traps as opposed to saying “you weren’t specific enough. You don’t find anything”?

Random 14:41

Absolutely, and again, in that, you know, if you say I searched the door for traps, I would ask you to roll perception because that’s just searching, right? Now… You know if you and again Wizards of the Coast being real nitpicky here, you know if you asked me to search the door for traps, and I say “there’s no traps”, but I, you know, three feet to the left of the door is a secret panel full of treasures beyond imagining, you’re not going to find that because he didn’t search the wall, which is what they’re talking about. Right?

Tyler 15:16

That seems reasonable.

Randall 15:18

Okay. And I… I think from like a… the role of the DM and the right thing to do. I think I’m with you. But I feel like to me, this is further just making it feel like there isn’t much of a difference between investigation and perception. Because it… I feel like what we’re really saying is we’re going to give credit to somebody properly role playing, and their words are going to dictate, like how they phrase what they do, is what’s going to dictate whether I asked them to perceive or investigate. Okay?

Random 15:54

Yeah, absolutely.

Tyler 15:55

Yeah.

Randall 15:56

So if I look down on my character sheet, well, if if Random is my DM, and I look down on my character sheet, and I think, “ho… I… I am not a smart man, but somehow I am wise,” then I’m… I’m going to find a way to make it about perception. Is that too metagamy? Like, is that not?

Random 16:16

No? Are you kidding? So if you look at and feel free to cut me off at some point, but if you think about humans in real life, right? I know that I am maybe not super strong, but I’m decently smart, right? So would I, the person say, I’m going to try and lift this box? Or am I going to try and like, get a rock and a board and use leverage to lift this box? Right? And that’s a reasonable thing that humans do in real life. And so, you know, is a character going to try and pigeonhole themselves into… what, like, most people do for thing? Not necessarily people figure out workarounds that work better for them all the time.

Randall 17:04

Okay, but I think the real question is: how are you going to find the box in the rock? \

Random 17:11

That depends on if it’s hidden.

Randall 17:15

Yeah, can you find it? Or do you search for it? Or wait? No…

Tyler 17:17

Yes, yes. But you’ve… you’ve hit the nail on the head with the big problem of where do you… where do you draw the line between investigation and perception? Random… Random has it absolutely right. Almost all of the time, when you’re searching for something hidden, it’s going to be perception. But it gets real confusing, because if you read the text of the investigation skill, one of the sentences is “you might deduce the location of a hidden object.” Now, that’s probably the sentence that causes most of the confusion between the two. The key word there is “deduce.” It’s not find. You don’t find the object, you figure it out. So you might use investigation and like, maybe you search through a bunch of documents, and in the documents, you get some ideas, and you’re like, “Ah, now I know where the hidden safe is based on what I found in these documents.” But perception is the… the act of looking around, just finding the thing. Okay, but so with investigation, it’s the whole like, you know, you find the count’s journal, and in the journal, he talks about how he hates these three kids, but he really loves this one kid, and the one kid’s birthday is x, and lo and behold, that’s the safe code. It’s weird that you refer to yourself as a count, but yes.

Randall 18:42

Okay, here we are.

Random 18:44

And in fact, that’s, that’s one of the things that’s very nearly called out specifically in the text of the skill is poring through ancient scrolls in search of a hidden fragment of knowledge might also call for intelligence investigation, right? So if we go back to the way that I’m discussing traps, if you… if someone says “I want to search for clues that would tell me that there is a pressure plate,” right? They might understand that there is a pressure plate there. Is that necessarily going to tell them that it’s this particular square, it’s all 10 feet? I mean, that could be worth exploring. This is that which is perhaps a way to make it… less impactful than perception, although again, part of this is that we’re trying to make it so that there is possible diversity. One thing that’s worth mentioning, there are a lot of cases… in fact, it’s most of the cases where investigation is not going to help you where perception will, right? You know, if you want to say “I am going to look around the room for treasure” that’s perception 100% of the time. Now, If you want to get creative with even that, you can say, “Okay, I want to look for places in the room where the absence of dust tells me that this is a place that is frequently used, even though there’s nothing nearby that is necessarily of interest.” Right? And maybe that might indicate the presence of a hidden door in the wall. And, again, it really does come down to what can you make a good case for because, well, it’s not meant to be competitive, it is meant to be a lot of cooperative storytelling. There are definitely ways in which you have built your character, and sometimes you will need to convince your dm, that the thing that you are trying to do should maybe be governed by a particular set of rules.

Randall 20:52

Okay, I think I follow that I… I have maybe one more follow up, like, you know, I’m thinking through what you’re saying. So let’s say I’m chasing somebody, I run into a room, and there are no obvious exits, and my quary has escaped. Okay. So I say “I look for additional exits.” Or I say, you know, “I look for scraping of stone creases in the wall, or seams where the stone all lines up.” Okay, you as a DM, are you, you know, do you have a table in your back pocket where you’re pulling it out? And say it’s like, oh, well, this was gonna be 17 skill check. And you know, that description right there bought you six points for going all the way down to an 11?

Random 21:36

You’re not gonna… I mean, I personally wouldn’t do that. Nor do I think that that’s necessarily a reasonable thing to ask of yourself. However, I think absolutely a thing that you can grant is advantage.

Randall 21:48

Awesome.

Random 21:49

If someone is, you know, if they’re saying, “alright, I walk into this room, this person’s gone, I want to explicitly look for this very relevant sign of the way that they disappeared,” great advantage. On the other hand, if they call up, “I want to explicitly look for this particular sign of a way they disappeared,” roll at disadvantage. And if you don’t necessarily want to let them know that they’re looking for the wrong thing, you can just ask them to roll twice and tell you both numbers, which is a really interesting way to handle advantage/disadvantage without letting the player know which version they’re getting.

Tyler 22:26

That’s clever.

Randall 22:27

I do like that. But knowing my luck as a DM, the character or the player is then going to roll a 1 and a 20. Well, no, that wasn’t that direction. Yeah. No, but I do think yeah, that is a nice idea. Which I guess actually, I mean, this gets back to a whole nother thing, right? We do have, and I constantly forget as a DM, like, I never have it in front of me. We have passive perception. And so I can even imagine, like, letting like leveraging that in some way, in the conversation that we’re having. You know, how often the let’s say, same story, I’m looking for quarry, but it’s a crowded… it’s a crowded space, you know, someone got a glance of what they were wearing and so we’re chasing them down. It… it would be boring to like every every town block. Say, roll perception again for me, roll perception again for me. You know, I think the right thing to do as a DM is to leverage that passive perception. But yeah, how do you… how do you think about that?

Tyler 22:29

My general rule is, if the player says that they’re actively looking for something, make them roll. So if a player walks into the room, if… let’s say… let’s say you walk into a room, and you as the DM know there are hidden enemies in that room. You check their passive perception, you use that. But if the player walks in and says, “I… I look around the room to see if anything’s hiding in the room”, then you let them roll. And then one very important thing to remember about passive skills is passive skills actually provide a floor on your skill check. So if you roll and your… the result of your role is below your passive score, your passive score still applies. So… So let’s say you’re incredibly perceptive, and you walk into a room, you roll a natural 1, and the DM says, “Oh, yes, you, you look off in one corner, and you don’t notice and then satisfied that you see nothing in the room, you turn back to the room”, and then your passive perception kicks in and you notice a bunch of guys in the corners. And that that one has been specifically addressed in sage advice and Jeremy Crawford has talked about it so that one’s legit. It’s not some weird, weird shit that we made up.

Randall 24:42

Okay, I you say that that has been spread far and wide. I did not know that.

Tyler 24:48

Yes, um, disadvantage…

Randall 24:49

So, I’m sorry.

Tyler 24:53

As someone who has DMed for me, I forgive you. Yes, that one… That one’s pretty easy to overlook. It’s… it’s really not clear from the text of the rules and unless you’re… unless you’re like, scrutinizing Jeremy Crawford’s Twitter feed, it’s pretty easy to miss these things. Honestly, the… the Sage Advice PDFs, and then Jeremy Crawford’s Twitter feed, great resources for rules answers, but not super discoverable.

Randall 25:22

Okay, and actually, maybe this brings… So, you know, maybe spoil the surprise, right? Right before this conversation, it was pointed out, I learned a thing, I’ll confess that, that on the character sheet, there is actually a passive insight and passive investigation. I was not aware of that. I want to go back, Random, to your rubric, which is like, depending on how you describe to me the action that you want to takem I’m going to use that to determine whether I want you to make an investigate, or a perception. Almost said persuasion. Convinced the other to come out, and then we’ll talk, okay. I’m in the passive scenario… how do you determine which passive that you want to look at? What should be the rubric here?

Random 26:09

And I would say that, while I appreciate them putting a passive investigation on the character sheet, there aren’t going to be many times when that’s important. Because so much of the way that you would use investigation, even the way that they wrote it, is in a very active sense. You know, and if that’s just to remind the player, exactly what Tyler just talked about that, even if you roll a 2 your floor is still whatever’s listed in passive, right. So you know, if I am a… an incredibly smart, well trained individual looking for the signs of there being a trap somewhere, I’m not going to just suddenly go, mmm, yes, that soup we had last night, oh, my God, it’s so good. And just miss something, right? Now, getting into, like, how perception or how investigation can be used. And getting into one of the things that kicks this off: Tools. Tools can we…

Tyler 27:29

Yeah, let’s talk about tools.

Random 27:32

So the artificer armor handbook that I wrote, and is available on RPGBOT.net calls out using your thieves tools, to aid in your investigation checks. And a couple ways that you might do that, using shims to prod around the side of a stone, which might be a pressure plate, using your little dentist’s mirror to look inside, perhaps a keyhole for a trap that might be triggered by turning the key one way and not the other. That’s a real thing written into a 3.5 module that I’ve encountered. I’m not just pulling that out of thin air. That sort of thing. So, again, I think that really goes back to what are you able to make convincing? And on the one hand, that’s as a player, you know, I want to tell a good story about how I play to my strengths. And on the other hand, is a DM that’s am I going to allow this person to be super strong and all of these things? And, if so, is that serving the story well, or do we need to tone that back in some fashion?

Randall 29:02

Nice, okay, and then remind folks, so I… I have tools, what is that going to do to my… my role? What’s the modifier?

Random 29:11

So the character that I am talking about, I call out that you never bother taking proficiency in investigate, because it is your job to figure out how to use your thieves’ tools to perform the investigation checks that you care about, like searching for traps and searching for hidden treasure. Now, in fifth edition, you can only get your proficiency to a single roll once no matter how you do it. So if for instance, you are proficient in. uh… Well, I mean, here’s here’s a good one: So if you’re proficient in sleight of hand, and proficient in thieves tools, and you go to pick a lock and your dm calls for a dexterity (thieves’ tools)/sleight of hand check, right? Even though you have proficiency in both things, you can only apply that once. By the same token, you only need to become proficient in one of those things if that’s all you expect yourself to do most of the time. So rather than spending the proficiency on becoming proficient in investigation, you take your proficiency and then later expertise that you will get in thieves tools and use that to become the driving force on your rolls for searching for traps, and hidden things.

Tyler 30:39

Now to, uh, to take another example on combining tools and skills. A really common case is characters who are proficient in both persuasion and an instrument. Like, say you’re playing a bard… or sorry, not persuasion: performance. Performance and an instrument. Now, that… basically every board is going to be proficient in performance. And by default, they get I think, three instruments. Now, let’s say you go to do a performance or something, and you have proficiency in both, let’s say the flute and performance. So as Random said, you don’t get to apply your proficiency bonus twice unless you have a feature that lets you do that like expertise, so… So a typical Bard, let’s say your level one you don’t have expertise yet, your proficiency in the flute and performance you go to perform, you just add your ability score modifier and your proficiency bonus. Now, there is one kind of caveat on that. Xanathar’s guide to everything introduced a new kind of optional rule. It’s on page 78. It addresses combining skills and tools. The dm may allow you to make that check with advantage if you have proficiency in both a tool and a skill which apply to the same situation. Which if you apply that to the Bard case, it means performing with an instrument is always better than performing without an instrument.

Randall 32:15

Yeah, I guess that makes a ton of sense to me, because otherwise, like take the ignore Xanathar for a second.

Tyler 32:21

You can’t ignore the Xanathar.

Randall 32:23

Okay, I looked the other way, he looks the other way. It’s fine. All eyes turn. Um, I have proficiency in performance, I have proficiency on these three instruments. And that’s useless because I could perform with any instrument and have just as good of a roll.

Tyler 32:41

Exactly.

Randall 32:42

Okay. Now, I don’t think we need to commit an episode to that, but I just let it linger for a second.

Random 32:50

Yeah. And then it becomes this weird question of Okay, then what is the point of having those item proficiencies in the first place? And you could say, Okay, well, now, for instance, what if I wanted to write a song that was going to accomplish some particular harmonic effect? Right. And then or, let’s say, I want to take my flute and try and play the particular pitch that’s going to break glass. Now, if you were to know what pitch that would be, that would be intelligence. That’s the thing. You know, that’s not the thing that you perform, right?

Randall 33:34

Yeah, okay.

Random 33:34

So there could definitely be a case where a DM calls for an intelligence check to play that and you say, let me add proficiency from my flute. Is it common? Absolutely not. And I think that the Xanathar’s is rule is a good way of… of trying to adjudicate that. But there is definitely points, and in fact, I will call up an example a… a less preposterous edge case example from my own play, right? So the soldier background lets you pick proficiency in one of three board games, essentially, it’s like playing cards, dice, or three dragon ante, because what do soldiers do in downtime? They play games, right? I ended up in a contested roll where one of my party members was cheating, playing cards with me, and used stealth to hide what they were doing. And, you know, my dm said, “Alright, great roll a perception.” And I said, “I’m proficient in playing cards. Can I use that for your proficiency to modify this perception check?” And he said, “Absolutely, go for it.” And that was a lot of fun, right? Calling out the little bits of stuff is a great way to make reference to parts of things that are often overlooked. It’s almost like that’s a theme of this podcast.

Randall 35:00

Nice, nice. Okay,

Tyler 35:02

So to go back, go back just a tiny bit. So the… the… the existence of tools since the release of fifth edition, like, tools were kind of overlooked for a really long time because it was difficult to find ways to bring them into play. Xanathar’s did a lot to make tools more interesting. It fleshed out specific mechanics for different sets of tools. The section on tools and skills together, the… the second sentence is “thus, why would a character who has the opportunity to acquire one or the other want to gain a tool proficiency instead of a proficiency in the skill.” Like, Wizards of the Coast literally understood that tools weren’t interesting and added rules to the game to make them more interesting. So, yeah, tools have some trouble. Combining them with skills, or using them in place of skills like Random suggested, that is a great way to make tools both interesting and meaningful in your game. 100%. 100%. I’m actually, yeah, you’ve got like, I’ve got the crank turning now I’m thinking about other tools that we should be introducing… New tools! But anyway, awesome. Tyler, I think you had something special. I did! Okay. So this is kind of a pop quiz. Alright, so we’re gonna… we’re going to play a very, very fast game of d&d. And the entire mechanic is going to be I will describe what is happening and you to tell me, do you roll perception or do you roll investigation or do you roll something else? Right? So that… that is the basic scenario.

Randall 36:46

Alright, so it’s a real like David versus Goliath of tabletop. I’m putting all that pressure on.

Tyler 36:54

Sure. Yes, which one am I, cuz I remember which one wins?

Randall 36:58

I think you’re the rock.

Tyler 37:03

I’ll take that as a compliment?

Randall 37:05

Random’s Goliath.

Tyler 37:07

Alright, kill Tandom. Got it. Okay. All right. So the two of you are pursuing a pair of murderous thieves. You have pursued them to their hideout and stand outside what you believe to be the door to the hideout. You know that they are prone to leaving traps behind them wherever they go. And you know that they’re willing to attack you if they see you. You stand at the door. And with your with one of your passive skills you notice around the door there are some red splotches splattered on the wood of the door. Which passive skill do you use?

Random 37:51

Are you talking about which passive skill found that read information from red spots information?

Tyler 37:56

Which passive…

Random 37:56

Perception

Tyler 37:57

Perception? Okay, Randall. What do you think?

Randall 38:00

Yeah, just to see the red splotches, I would also say perception.

Tyler 38:03

Okay. All right now, what skill would you use to figure out what those red splotches are?

Randall 38:12

I, I’m gonna go with investigation because it feels like you would have to do a deducing

Random 38:19

That’s certainly one possibility. I would actually say that it depends on what the substance is. If it’s blood, I might give it investigation or medicine. If it’s something alchemical, I would probably give it arcana. If it’s something else entirely… I mean, well, Arcana covers a lot, but I would say that it definitely depends on what the composition of it actually is.

Tyler 38:44

Okay, I like that you brought in the other skills there. I would agree with you. Both of you actually. Investigation would be my first good go to. If it’s blood, I would allow medicine. Now, in my imagination, it’s blood and also something else. And with a decent investigation, you discover that some of it’s blood, some of it’s just wine. So you notice that there is some kind of combination of blood and wine splattered below the door handle on the door. Knowing that the thieves you’re pursuing are prone to leaving traps behind them, you suspect that there’s some kind of trap on the door? What do you use to look for traps?

Random 39:30

The previous half an hour of conversation. I mean, it… it, again, like me, personally, I’m gonna go to that experience of playing that artificer that I just did. And again, it’s gonna depend a fair bit on… am I like, am I certain that they’re still inside this building that I have the time, right, if I have the time to break out my toolkit and go poking at it, absolutely. I’m going to want to investigate that if that’s what the character is built for. If I’ve just like, I want to look for things which are suspicious. Things which might indicate a trap. I would roll perception.

Tyler 40:12

Okay, Randall.

Randall 40:14

So here’s the deal, my initial instinct would actually be to… more of like, I look for long tree limb to poke handle, you know, I look for a window to get in, like, I’d be looking for alternatives.

Tyler 40:26

I like that creativity.

Randall 40:27

Yeah, for fear of handle.

Tyler 40:30

Okay, all right.

Randall 40:31

What you’ve told me is handle is scary. And I’m not sure if I’m gonna be able to get through that.

Random 40:35

I’m sorry. This is this is like, exactly the thing that I was very happy about where this is like, you know, the two 20 year veteran software developers arguing about which particular way to tweak the code and somebody walks in and, you’re like, some non-coder walks in and says, okay, but how about you just do that thing? Everyone just throws up their hands?

Tyler 41:00

What’s funny in that analogy is Randall and I are both software developers, Random. And you are not. Yes, so but great analogy. I have been in many of those conversations. Alright, so, so we’ll say, you find a trap and also climb through a window to avoid it. You are now in some sort of warehouse. The room is dimly lit, but you can see stacks of boxes towered around you. You believe that the thieves could be lying and… lying, waiting to ambush you. What skill do you use to look for them?

Randall 41:40

I believe it’ spot.

Random 41:44

Nailed it! Time travel!

Tyler 41:45

Ye olden days of 2005.

Random 41:50

Absolutely, yeah, I would call that perception. And in fact, I would probably not even asked my players to roll because the act of searching… If there are people there waiting to actively ambush you, I would just straight compare it to passive and if you beat it, you see them. And if you don’t, they get a surprise. Not that there’s a whole lot of mechanical benefit for surprise in fifth edition. But there it is.

Tyler 42:13

We should do an episode on surprise. Yeah, perception. Great answer. Okay, so the thieves pop out. You trained adventures quickly defeat them. Having defeated them, you know that each of them is carrying a key to the vault where they hide all of their ill-gotten goods. How do you find the key?

Randall 42:35

I just hope this doesn’t come down to medicine.

Random 42:41

Yeah, if it’s come down to medicine, we’re searching the insides of the thieves and that’s not a pleasant thought.

Tyler 42:47

Oh, no.

Randall 42:49

You said it out loud.

Random 42:51

Oh, that’s what I do. I mean, so you said that we know that each of them carries a key. So I mean, I don’t know. Like, if… if you’re… if you just take one of them, and strip him down to component clothing, and sift through it. If you do it the way that I just described, I’d probably call that an investigate because you know that there is a thing which you are looking for. And you are doing it in a methodical fashion. If you’re just going to pat down the body, that’s probably perception. Okay,

Tyler 43:30

So… So you’re saying there’s a line based on method. So… So going back to the text of the rule, so investigation specifically uses the the phrase “deduce the location of the hidden object.” So would you consider taking all of the person’s belongings and going through all of them… Would you consider that deducing the location of the hidden object? Or would you consider that just a really thorough perception check?

Randall 44:00

I mean, I can see I could see arguing that you’re, you’re making some deduction like so for instance, let’s say the first thing you do is you just strip them naked. Alright, and then you split the clothes in half, and you search in one pile and you search through another pile. And if you don’t find it, then you split it again, and you look deeper. And so what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna do a binary search to the clothing, we touch each piece of clothing in further and further detail, the more… the more we don’t find it, similar to if you lost your keys in your house, what do you do? You walk in a quick circle, take a peek at everything. Okay, that didn’t work out. But now I’m going to look harder. And now I’m going to look harder, which actually, this is what I wanted to say: like as a DM in that scenario. So the danger is over. I know that they carry the key on them. What scenario is there where you are going to deny your party finding the key?

Random 44:52

And that’s an interesting point and actually I so I would not deny them if they know it. If they know that each individual carries a key unless that’s a lie that I have built in and someone has lied to them, right? There’s a little reason to deny them or even force a roll, right? What you’re talking about that with your binary search goes back to a mechanic from 3. x that is no longer present, taking 20 in three point x, for any skill, which had no penalty for failure, and where you were not threatened, you could simply take 20 to simulate that you did the action 20 times and rolled every number one through 20 on a d20 year skill check. And it took 20 times as long. And there were actual mechanical rules about how long it took to search something taking 20, right? Now, in fifth edition, obviously, you know, if you say that I want to just be very thorough, and you describe being very thorough, maybe that gives you an advantage. But yeah, I mean, we have for this particular instance, I put I personally wouldn’t roll if I was going to have them roll. I would really allow either.

Tyler 46:11

Okay, I like that answer: allow either. So… So on the subject of not having the key on their person. So we should do an episode on failure and skill checks sometime. But one thing that you as the DM could do, if you call for a roll on that check, instead of simply have it be like, “Oh, you don’t find the key,” if they roll, maybe the key is somewhere else. Part of what rolling the dice is supposed to account for is outside factors, randomness, things that you can’t predict. So maybe a low roll isn’t the player making or isn’t the character making a mistake. Maybe the key is just somewhere else.

Randall 46:52

Actually I’ll throw in: what I really loved the idea of is you find the decoy key or you find like, you know the key to their front door, which is not the key you were looking for. So yeah, you know, you totally find a key. Skull, Crossbones, It’s got all those things on it. Do they match? Of course they match, they’re best friends. Nice. Okay. Good talk. Are there other things we wanted to hit?

Tyler 47:18

I think we’ve beaten this one to death.

Randall 47:20

Nice. Nice.

Random 47:22

Good deal.

Randall 47:22

All right. Well, thanks, everybody for joining us on episode one, the second episode of the RPGBOT.Podcast. Again, I’m Randall James. You can find me at AmateurJack.com, amateurjack on Facebook and jackamateur on Instagram and Twitter.

Tyler 47:43

I’m Tyler Kamstra, author of RPGBOT.net. You can find me online at RPGBOT.net on twitter at RPG Bo t do t Ne t and on facebook@facebook.com slash RPG Bo t d o t n e t because RPG Bach was taken on both of them.

Randall 48:06

Womp, womp.

Random 48:10

And you won’t really find me much on social media. I do occasionally contribute to RPGBOT.net. If you look in places where people play games, you might find me as Harlequin because that or Hartlequint with a T on the end, because Harlequin is fairly common. So you will find me on one of those on Steam, Discord, a few other places. But in general, mostly you’re going to find me here.

Randall 48:35

Like the Random is at all the cool places. All right. Well, thank you all and thank you to our producing Dan.

Tyler 48:44

We got a polite thumbs up and that was all.

Randall 48:47

It was more like a finger. I don’t know. It was an index though, so I think it was friendly. All right. So uh, yeah, I think all right. Join us next time. I think we’re gonna have a conversation about Mounted Combat.

Tyler 49:02

We sure are.

Randall 49:03

And that will be spicy. Alright, thanks, folks.