RPGaDay2019 Day 11 – Examine

Let’s Examine. That’s the inspiration for day 11 of #RPGaDay2019, following Focus yesterday.

“I examine under the bed. What do I find?”

How often do you hear players saying that sort of thing nowadays? When I started with BECMI it was just the way things worked – there were no Investigation or Perception checks, you had to look for things.

Nowadays it seems completely alien to players. Certainly based on my experience in the last couple of years playing 5e.

Is this my fault? I can see it could be that I am not providing enough clues in my descriptions? If I forgot to mention the bed, no-one will know to examine under it. But I don’t think it can be that.

Do people expect to be spoon-fed? My group has missed out on treasure because after killing a Frost Salamander, they didn’t then examine the room. If they had done even a cursory examination, they would have discovered that some of the frost-covered mounds were actually treasure, but they just wandered off and didn’t do any poking around. Was I supposed to say “and you find 500gp and a bracelet under one of the mounds of frost” without any effort on their part?

Have the skills checks in 5e, in particular Investigation and Perception, replaced the need for the players to do the thinking in their minds? Does the thinking go “well, my character is more intelligent than I am, so they would be better at spotting things than I would be, so I shouldn’t be limited by what I can think of, but should be able to roll to find out whether my character has the appropriate nouse”?

Or have I been providing too much background colour, and led them to investigate things which are just ordinary (for example they were investigating the area around their very first campsite, and I described a crack in the earth nearby with a disgusting smell, and they assumed because I was describing it there was something incredibly important and spent half an hour trying to work out what was down there before realising I just meant that previous campers had used it as a toilet and rubbish dump). Am I guilty of violating Checkov’s Gun? Am I too much like Ernest Hemingway, who “valued inconsequential details, but conceded that readers will inevitably seek symbolism and significance in these inconsequential details”? As a result have I trained them out of investigating on the grounds that they don’t turn out to be relevant often enough?

I have to say I still find the whole thing frustrating and surprising. I want the players to get more involved. At least I’ve pretty much trained them out of “can I do a Perception check”? I tend to answer something like “sure. The guard is a bit bemused at you rolling dice. Now what are you going to do.”

From other things I read on the web, I don’t seem to be the only one with this gripe. It seems to be quite a common theme on the Facebook group “Grognards who play 5th edition Dungeons and Dragons” so maybe it is something to do with how things are presented in 5e. Or maybe it’s just that the people who are still going after 30 years are the opinionated ones…

Time for action. I need to try to address this somehow. I’ve had quite a change in group makeup recently – I’ve got 3 new players out of 5 – so I’ll have the chance to find out if this new group has the same recticence, and to work on encouraging them to actively imagine and interact with the scene. So, what can I do?

I tried the “you need to ask questions” in my first campaign intro, but I didn’t put it in the latest one, so maybe it’s time for a reminder. Maybe I should prepare a 1-page “Campaign reference” sheet, describing my alternate healing, the limited criticals (this isn’t so much a house rule as a statement that I follow RAW, not the common interpretation…), a quick summary of the calendar and other general rules their characters would just know, and then I could also add this “ask questions”. I’ll then have this sheet on the table at every session.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

Tomorrow we have “Friendship”.

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