[D&D] The Insight Check (and other social skills)

edited February 11 in Play Advice
My experiences playing the new D&D - as well as watching Critical Role online - have shown me that D&D5 still has some rather... interesting "social skills". In my opinion, these can create problems (or at least dilemmas) in terms of how they should be adjudicated at the table.

Here's the rule for "insight":
Insight. Your Wisdom (Insight) check decides whether you can determine the true intentions of a creature, such as when searching out a lie or predicting someone's next move. Doing so involves gleaning clues from body language, speech habits, and changes in mannerisms.
"Predicting someone's next move" seems fairly interesting and gameable to me - in a tense situation, for instance, taking the time to 'read' someone can be its own risk, and that's interesting. It is also possible to give an interesting and useful answer in most situations without completely tying your hands behind your own back, either as the GM or as a player.

However, most uses of this ability in D&D games seem to be of the former: "searching out a lie".

Most players seem to read this straightforwardly as a "walking lie detector", available to the player/character at all times. Someone is talking to you, and you wonder if they are telling the truth, so you roll for Insight. Roll well enough, and you should be able to know whether they are lying or not.

Hopefully you can see all the problems with this. First of all, unlike other social skills (like Intimidation or Diplomacy or some such), there is no real "fictional trigger" for the roll: the player can just announce that they are doing so, and expect to be able to roll. There is no fictional positioning necessary, unlike something like Intimidation, so it's available at all times. (I suppose you could argue that it can't be used against really bizarre creatures, but certainly it's hard to see why it wouldn't be available for use at any time against your companions, say.)

The scope of the roll is also very unclear, which often leads (in my experience) groups into a pretty terrible habit of rolling for every statement someone makes:

-"I would recommend you take the high pass on the way to Caradhras..."
-"Wait! Is that a lie? I'm rolling an Insight check! Darn, failed."
-"...because the low pass is guarded by a monstrous creature..."
-"Oh, is that true? I'm rolling again!"
"...hiding at the bottom of a lake near the Gates of Moria..."
-"Oh, that sounds important! I want to make an Insight check, too."
-etc.

In addition, we have to wonder about whether the roll can be contested when it's PC vs. PC, and that never feels terribly comfortable - at best, it can get in the way of two players enjoying an in-character conversation together.

On top of that, we have to wonder at the meta-information we get from the roll. (For example, if you roll a natural 1, and the GM tells you the character is telling the truth, can you reasonably assume that they are lying?) Rolling in secret can "fix" this problem, but then we run into problems with various D&D rules and abilities, like Luck, which rely on the player knowing the value of the roll.

It's not an easy thing to use, in my opinion, at least not the way it's written in the rules. There are all kinds of other possible issues, as well.

(For instance, it's not entirely obvious how to handle a situation where multiple PCs all want to "get a feel" for the NPC they're talking to. If they all roll, they will almost certainly succeed in every situation. But even if that's OK - perhaps the "walking lie detector team" is net positive to move the game along, after all - how do you handle the differing opinions among the team? Does the GM just dictate what the characters feel and think, and the players must then play that out? Lots more variables here.)

(If your game relies on lies and subterfuge - perhaps some kind of "conspiracy thriller" campaign - then having a "lie detector" ability at all can really be at odds with the very point of play. After all, you want the players to piece together information and figure out which statements are lies by comparing them to what they've learned so far, not by rolling well on a d20 in the very first dialogue. Handling "Insight" in this kind of game is far from obvious. The last time I played D&D 3rd Ed., I was eventually asked to redesign my character, because high social skills made the GM's intended plot and adventure structure more-or-less impossible, since NPCs lying to the PCs were a central feature of the game.)

So:

Are there ways to use this kind of "ability check" which works reliably and leads to good gameplay? Those of you who are playing modern D&D regularly, how do you use this kind of ability in your game?



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Comments

  • I don't understand why you don't use the passive value (take ten) to just determine if they can spot the lie or not. A higher value would give better information if the other person is trying to hide something, or you just play the NPCs as bad lyers if someone has extreme high values in Insight.
  • edited February 11
    In a scenario you could have a table for each NPC stating what you can learn according to your margin of success. Insight is just another Social skill at this point.
    Insight check in sandbox play may not be very practical for the GM. I'd consider it like any other Social skill, only with a distinctive flavour (WIS instead of CHA).
  • The way I use abilities like this in my games is as a Detect skill for social cues and tells. I just report what tells the players sense (generally hinting at intent).
  • When I run 5e, I try to do this:

    When a player tries to use Insight as a lie detector for a particular statement, they're really just reading the person at that moment in time. That person, at that very moment, might be 'planning to lie about something else, might feel guilty about something they just did, or might be letting fear drive them in this encounter. I give the player vague insight into all of that, but I don't give them the specifics.

    DM: "I would recommend you take the high pass on the way to Caradhras..."
    Player: "Wait! Is that a lie? I'm rolling an Insight check! Darn, failed."
    DM: "...because the low pass is guarded by a monstrous creature..."
    Player: "Oh, is that true? I'm rolling again!"
    DM: "...hiding at the bottom of a lake near the Gates of Moria..."
    Player: -"Oh, that sounds important! I want to make an Insight check, too."
    DM: "Fine, you're not sure if any or all of that is true, but you sense that the guide is nervous about something."
  • -If the entire team wants to know if someone is lying or otherwise hiding their intentions, then only the person with the best score can roll. (Alternatively: everyone rolls, but treat it like a group check, so success is not nigh-guaranteed.)

    -Let It Ride: none of this multiple rolling shit (this is fairly well supported by the 5E text, bu as we've seen, but most people who run 5E are fucking idiots).

    -Metagaming / dramatic irony + sportsmanship FTW: the players may know an NPC is lying to them, but the characters don't necessarily know. This also allows the GM to just say, "No, you can't roll Insight right now, this person isn't trying to hide anything."

    Passive Insight is good and works well. It allows the GM to roll an NPC's Deception and then just tell the PCs they're lying, unless they roll well. This is as it should be.
  • Insight seems like an odd social skill compared to the others because it's essentially a defense instead of an attack. There are skills for Intimidation, Persuasion and Deception, but only the last one has this kind of counter-skill. If you're trying to Intimidate someone, the other guy doesn't have a Resolve skill that they're constantly rolling to try to continue to stand up to you.

    Would the game suffer if you simply dropped the lie-detecting part of Insight and instead just used it as a once per creature or once per scene "read the room" check? To resolve one person trying to fool another, just stick with Deception and whatever modifiers seem appropriate to reflect how incredibly un-foolingable your guy is.

  • I have them make three rolls and I record them. When they ask if someone's lying, I randomly use one of those rolls.
  • Insight seems like an odd social skill compared to the others because it's essentially a defense instead of an attack. There are skills for Intimidation, Persuasion and Deception, but only the last one has this kind of counter-skill. If you're trying to Intimidate someone, the other guy doesn't have a Resolve skill that they're constantly rolling to try to continue to stand up to you.
    The game could really use an anti-Intimidation stat, since it's really not clear how to set DCs for it. For Resolve / anti-Intimidation, I think what I'd do is make the DC of the Intimidate check 15 + Wisdom save modifier. If the target is particularly resolute, either inherently or due to fictional positioning, make the DC 20 + Wis save, and inversely 10 + Wis save if they've just seen a leader decapitated or whatever.

    Persuasion, I think, I would just never have an NPC use against PCs. And, honestly, even Intimidation is questionable. I think they just take away too much agency.
    Would the game suffer if you simply dropped the lie-detecting part of Insight and instead just used it as a once per creature or once per scene "read the room" check?
    Not at all; that's essentially what I do.

    ***

    Regarding the issue of PCs using skills on each other: except in games that explicitly allow for such things, I have what I call the "hug it out" rule. PCs have to roleplay through their arguments, with the social level agreement being that if they can't quickly and satisfyingly resolve it, we will break out of game and discuss it as actual people, then continue.
  • I think the failure point isn't when using Insight, it's when the GM decides to make a story about lies, intrigue and betrayal but then decides to use D&D as the rules system for that story. That's a mistake right there: D&D does some things well and some things poorly. And it isn't made for conspiracy thriller gameplay. It's made for dungeon exploration and action-adventure.

    The problem is that the mistake the GM made (mismatching the scenario and system) doesn't become apparent until the scenario is underway.

    I think Insight can work just fine, if you keep D&D's strengths and goals in mind. Yeah, it cuts right past all NPC lies and prevents complex plots. That just means the PCs can get quickly into the activity that D&D is made to actually focus on: killing things and taking their stuff.
  • I think the failure point isn't when using Insight, it's when the GM decides to make a story about lies, intrigue and betrayal but then decides to use D&D as the rules system for that story. That's a mistake right there: D&D does some things well and some things poorly. And it isn't made for conspiracy thriller gameplay. It's made for dungeon exploration and action-adventure.

    The problem is that the mistake the GM made (mismatching the scenario and system) doesn't become apparent until the scenario is underway.

    I think Insight can work just fine, if you keep D&D's strengths and goals in mind. Yeah, it cuts right past all NPC lies and prevents complex plots. That just means the PCs can get quickly into the activity that D&D is made to actually focus on: killing things and taking their stuff.
    I am not as familiar with 5E but prior editions had similar types of skills. I think as long as you don't read them as a mind read ability it can still work fine. One other thing I'd note, there tends to be tremendous drift from the text of skills in D&D and how they get used. I remember that every table I played at using 3E and 3.5, and pretty much most people I saw online, used Diplomacy and similar skills as very powerful tools for controlling NPCs. But if you look at the actual text (and granted it has been a while), it is much less powerful and more constrained. Obviously though, you can use drift as a strength here as well and move the skill away from the literal text if it is getting in the way of a proper intrigue campaign.
  • edited February 12
    Lots of interesting viewpoints here. I think that passive scores and hidden rolls improve on some aspects of the rules - at least, you don't have deal with strange information flow happening, like a player not believing someone and then the dice telling us that the characters does, which leaves them annoyed that they asked to roll in the first place... (something I've seen a couple of times) still, it's a good fix for some of these issues.

    However, they do present an occasional challenge in the way that some effects are resisted and some are not (do we roll once or twice, in this case?), and the way that they interact (or fail to interact) with various rules which assume rolls are out in the open (like Luck). There are lots of rules bits in D&D which simply assume that rolls or out in the open, and don't function all that well if we hide the dice.

    It looks like most of you are using some version of Let It Ride, which is a good idea, and limiting it to either one person rolling or making a group check. (Group checks in 5e are a little weird to me... like, I'm normally really perceptive, but today I've got Grog the Dummy and his stupid sidekick by my side, I can't tell if anyone's lying anymore? But that's a whole 'nother thing.)

    The issue of "what is it for?" is a bigger one, though, in my opinion. In a game which is full of intrigue and mystery and conspiracy, having abilities that easily bypass that seems counterproductive, for the same reason that we don't want to simply roll dice for every social encounter and skip the roleplaying: if the whole point is to enjoy the mystery and to use your wits to figure out who's lying and who's telling the truth, having a binary pass/fail mechanic available at any time seems to work against the whole point of the game.

    On the other hand, if the point is to 'get to the adventure', then why bother with the whole ritual in the first place? Seems better to adopt a DitV-like approach and just tell the players, "the guy is totally lying to you. What are you going to do about it?", at every turn, and move on to the interesting choices.

    This mechanic looks to me like the kind of thing that's put into the rules because it's expected to be there, but doesn't serve a clear purpose in play.

    (Although I could see the argument that, yes, in D&D we DO want to skip ahead, through the lies and intrigue, and the way we do that is by making the Insight check available to everyone. In practice, it means we can have everyone roll all the time - it's an empty ritual in one sense (since we'll basically always succeed, as a group), but it also acts as a strong reminder to the GM to spill the beans in pretty much every scene or encounter, while still "feeling" like D&D. The requisite player skill becomes simply remembering to ask to roll, and the adventure moves ahead no matter what.)

    What I'm getting from this thread is that people use a bunch of techniques to make it work:

    * Passive values and secret rolls (turning it into a check for the NPC, against a static value, for example)
    * Let It Ride (although, perhaps, as Deliverator says, we could argue that's supported by the text - if so, though, that's definitely not common practice)
    * Picking who can roll and when carefully (e.g. just having the most perceptive character roll, waiting until the end of the exchange to say what the characters picked up on, and so forth)
    * Etc.

    In addition, the way the information is shared by many of you, it seems, is by making the response unclear or ambiguous. In other words, instead of "he's lying about X and Y", you'll say...
    "...you're not sure if any or all of that is true, but you sense that the guide is nervous about something." [...] "report what the players sense [...] generally hinting at intent" [...]
    That solves many of the issues nicely. It's not a lie detector; it's just a reflection of your character's general ability to pick up on subtle details.

    But doesn't it also devalue the whole thing? Isn't it like saying, "Yeah, your 'detect magic' ability doesn't tell if this particular stone is magical, but you get the sense that whoever built this dungeon was probably influenced by the culture of the arcane somehow..."?

    Isn't this making the answer vague enough to make the roll more or less meaningless? I can only really see that being useful in situations where the GM's roleplaying of the NPCs failed to convey nervousness or whatever tell, and the players were looking to confirm it.

    Why wouldn't you tell the players that "the guide is nervous about something", even on a failed roll, in other words?

    I'm curious now how many of you feel that your game would suffer if you removed the Insight skill, and how it would suffer. What are some great moments you've had in your games which wouldn't work without such a skill? What kinds of interesting scenes or moments does this skill help provide?

    @Deliverator , you've spoken a few times (and correct me if I'm wrong) of how you try to apply skill checks in the spirit of conflict resolution as often as you can, as part of making D&D work for you. What kinds of conflicts have you seen in your games which Insight works to resolve? I'd love to hear an example. And how often do such moments or conflicts come up?

    I like @DeReel 's idea to link the level of the Insight check to specific information about particular NPCs or situations; that's very prep-heavy but also makes the checks much more gameable and interesting - perhaps even so much so as to incentivize players to maneuver for advantage when making them.

    Having prepared info to spill based on the level of the check brings us closer to something like PbtA's "reading moves", which are very effective at delivering information from the GM to the players in a very specific way. That kind of thing seems promising for D&D adventure design. You could specify different key "tells" or bits of information for different NPCs and situations and let the dice fall where they may, giving the players useful clues but holding back information which might work against the structure of the adventure. Maybe with a good check you can figure out that the Duke's in love with his wife's lady-in-waiting, but finding out that he's lying about his son is one of the key mysteries of the scenario, so we don't include that as an option.
  • Lots of interesting viewpoints here. I think that passive scores and hidden rolls improve on some aspects of the rules - at least, you don't have deal with strange information flow happening, like a player not believing someone and then the dice telling us that the characters does, which leaves them annoyed that they asked to roll in the first place... (something I've seen a couple of times) still, it's a good fix for some of these issues.
    For anything like Empathy/Insight, Fortune Telling, Detect, etc, I usually roll secretly for the players. One thing to keep in mind, a lot of us play where the GM asks for the rolls. Like it may casually arise that a player asks to make some sort of roll in one of my games but the norm is for them to describe their actions and for me to say something like "okay can you roll X".
  • What kinds of statements lead you to ask for a roll (or to make a roll)? Is it always questions like, "Can I tell if he's being deceitful?" "Does anything seem off?", etc?

    (However, I don't think that would fix the example I'm thinking of. Player Julia feeling pretty sure that NPC Bob is lying to her, and then receiving a result from a roll which tells her that her character thinks he's trustworthy, is probably even worse if it's the GM who calls for the roll, after all.)
  • What kinds of statements lead you to ask for a roll (or to make a roll)? Is it always questions like, "Can I tell if he's being deceitful?" "Does anything seem off?", etc?
    Kind of. It varies. Often times with something like this, I will automatically just make a roll in the background for the player's Empathy. But on the player side the way it might come up is they directly say they are actively trying look for any dishes of deception. It does depend on the player of course. Like I said, I will have players casually request a roll. But most of the time they are asking for specific details ("does he do anything odd when he tells me this?")

    (However, I don't think that would fix the example I'm thinking of. Player Julia feeling pretty sure that NPC Bob is lying to her, and then receiving a result from a roll which tells her that her character thinks he's trustworthy, is probably even worse if it's the GM who calls for the roll, after all.)
    I don't have the player make the roll. I make them secretly in cases like this. But I wouldn't tell her that she thinks he is trustworthy or untrustworthy (I generally would avoid telling players what their characters feel or think). I'd say something like "as he tells you his wife is away for the weekend, you notice he glances at one of the floorboards". If she failed the roll (and he was untrustworthy), because it is a secret roll I made, I just wouldn't comment. Or if the player knew I was making the roll, which can happen, I would say "he seems calm and you discern no visible tells of deception when he responds". I am basically just using the skill to give the player information on what they are sensing. But it wouldn't be anything beyond what a normal person could sense. I mean just think of how this works in the real world. You cannot tell if someone is lying with certainty. You can get a gut feeling or spot things about them that seem off. You can't just know instinctively something is a lie. So allowing a skill to do that, that isn't magic or some form of psychic ability, seems like it goes beyond what the skill ought to allow.
  • Yeah, I think that's how a lot of people make this kind of mechanic work. Do you find it useful, or helpful? From a game design standpoint it seems like a waste of time, to me - as I said earlier, either you, as player or GM, are trying to put across some sense of the character's demeanour, in which case why hide it behind a roll (if you didn't manage to telegraph the NPC's nervousness, for instance, then that's a failure on you and your group, and should be remedied), or you want the character's skill to really matter, in which it seems it would be better for the check to have some more definite impact, the ways most other checks and skills do.
  • Yeah, I think that's how a lot of people make this kind of mechanic work. Do you find it useful, or helpful? From a game design standpoint it seems like a waste of time, to me - as I said earlier, either you, as player or GM, are trying to put across some sense of the character's demeanour, in which case why hide it behind a roll (if you didn't manage to telegraph the NPC's nervousness, for instance, then that's a failure on you and your group, and should be remedied), or you want the character's skill to really matter, in which it seems it would be better for the check to have some more definite impact, the ways most other checks and skills do.
    I find it adds a lot. It helps as a way of encouraging people to examine those things in the setting and gives a concrete way to reflect character skills. At the same time it adds an important level of uncertainty to play. I don’t know if the players will notice details. I like when a game can pivot on something like that, which is a reason I don’t always think it is optional to automatically give or convey clues. The possibility of not noticing is important to me. I guess opinions on impactfulnes will vary but sensing tells still has a big impact in my view.
  • as player or GM, are trying to put across some sense of the character's demeanour, in which case why hide it behind a roll (if you didn't manage to telegraph the NPC's nervousness, for instance, then that's a failure on you and your group, and should be remedied), .
    Just to take this point, I value immersion but I am not an actor. I have a very dry delivery (you can listen to my session podcasts to see what I mean here). I think it isn’t s failure if this isn’t conveyed through acting. It is just not easy to convey (especially if you want it to be subtle). And if a character has established traits like being good at reading people, letting them make a roll sense subtle cues is reasonable.

    From a design standpoint I don’t like social skills in games. But I include them in the games I make because at this point in the hobby like 70% of players simply expect them and want them. What I do instead is include them and run them in a very specific way. I’ve just taken the design philosophy of picking my battles and avoiding uphill fights for mechanics. My preference is to trest social skills as knowledges, which works really well but isn’t terribly popular.
  • Oh, yeah, I'm not concerned about *how* something is being conveyed - only that, if you're interested in conveying it, you should do so. In most games, if a certain character seems nervous about something, then that should be made clear, in whatever way you do that. (I like to use a fair bit of narration, myself, as in, "He is fidgeting as he talks to you, fingers teasing at a hole in his vest, and his eyes dart this way and that, with the intensity of a caged animal.")

    I'm a bit confused by your last post there, though. At first, it sounds like you're arguing *for* these skills (you find they "add a lot"), but then you say that you "don't like social skills", from a design standpoint, and only include them because players "expect them and want them".

    How does one "treat social skills as knowledges"? I'm not sure what that means.

    Here's a question for you: is there a reason why every player shouldn't be constantly making Insight checks in every single conversation or interaction they have, in a game run this away? (Every conversation or interaction they care about, anyway.)
  • edited February 12
    Oh, yeah, I'm not concerned about *how* something is being conveyed - only that, if you're interested in conveying it, you should do so. In most games, if a certain character seems nervous about something, then that should be made clear, in whatever way you do that. (I like to use a fair bit of narration, myself, as in, "He is fidgeting as he talks to you, fingers teasing at a hole in his vest, and his eyes dart this way and that, with the intensity of a caged animal.")
    I don't think there is a better or worse approach here. but I think if you believe there is a chance something would be missed, calling for some kind of roll to see if it is observed can make sense. If it is obvious you can just point it out. But I like the idea of not everything being obvious or certain.
    I'm a bit confused by your last post there, though. At first, it sounds like you're arguing *for* these skills (you find they "add a lot"), but then you say that you "don't like social skills", from a design standpoint, and only include them because players "expect them and want them".
    My personal preference, if I were the boss of everyone, would be for games to avoid having social skills because I think this encourages more direct interaction with the setting. But my goal is to have a table of people who want to the play the game, and to reach as broad of an audience as possible with my games (I am not trying to make a super focused game that only caters to my vision, I want people to like and play the thing too), so I am just acknowledging the reality that social skills are an expectation for a large number of players at this point. While it isn't my preference, I think I can still point to the upsides of using them. Every mechanical decision has an upside and a downside in my view (if not, people wouldn't like social skills, they'd be uniformly disliked). And because I use them in my games, I have come to see some of the benefits they add.

    What I was added a lot to play was the possibility of something not being noticed. This has less to do with social skills and more to do with adventure structure, adventure approach. Just to use a concrete example, when I run mysteries, whatever the system, I am find with rolling for clues that are not super obvious. My general approach is the players who interact with the crime scene, they can get the clues automatically for looking in the right places, but I will make a general Detect roll or something otherwise. I was responding to the idea that it is a failure if these things are not clearly presented to the players. I don't think they need to be. I think there is room for players missing details.
    How does one "treat social skills as knowledges"? I'm not sure what that means.
    Second Edition AD&D Etiquette functioned as a knowledge skill. You didn't roll etiquette to talk to a character or use the right fork, you rolled so the GM could tell you if you knew how the Baron should be addressed or which was the correct fork to use. A social skill that functions like this would be purely about giving the players information to inform their roleplaying.
    Here's a question for you: is there a reason why every player shouldn't be constantly making Insight checks in every single conversation or interaction they have, in a game run this away? (Every conversation or interaction they care about, anyway.)
    They could, just like they can walk into a room and say I check every square inch of it. Is this really a problem though? They would need to remember to do that in every social interaction and most people don't (which kind of reflects the reality). But if you are good at sizing people up, you are good at sizing people up, and it makes sense you might do that a lot. I think the bigger issue would be spamming the skill use multiple times on the same moment or interaction. That would be a problem. Also, if it really is an issue, you can always turn it back on the player. If they are looking people up and down to see if there are any tells, it is reasonable the person might be able sense that and act accordingly. It has never been an issue in my games that I've experienced though so I haven't ever had to address it in this way.

    But if you don't like using these kinds of skills, I'd say don't use them. A lot of games have them, but they are pretty easy to ignore if you dislike them.
  • I don't have an issue with information being hidden, and there being a chance to discover that. Rolling for that discovery is probably the least interesting way to handle that, but it can be valid, if the striucture of rest of the game supports that and makes it interesting.

    The problem is that the way most people handle Insight is that it either becomes a lie detector test (with all the problems that brings), or it is so vague as to be completely unclear - I can roll the dice and have absolutely no idea of what is going to happen or whether it will benefit me, and the GM is similarly on their own (especially on a failure).

    Furthermore, there is no clear sense of when rolling is or isn't appropriate, it's not based on anything the character does in the fiction, and, as a result, no clarity of whether anything is at stake or not.

    In comparison, "searching a room" is useful, clear, and has implications for what is happening. We know exactly what comes with a successful roll: you're looking for something specific - a trap, an item, a treasure, valuables, etc - and, on a success, you're going to know whether it is there or not. The GM, similarly, knows what to say in response: reveal the contents of the room fully to the player.

    We know exactly when to do so: it's when the character takes time to search the room. This has all kinds of interesting implications: it takes time, it likely makes some noise, and it probably means handling things physically, which can leave traces, fingerprints, disturb or break things, or expose you to danger (e.g. if there is a trap).

    That's an interesting and useful thing to do, especially in games where taking the time to search is a meaningful strategic variable (most classically in dungeons with wandering monsters).

    Absent those factors, I'd similarly argue that searching a room shouldn't be rolled for: if you have unlimited time, and there are no dangers, just describe what you're doing and have the GM tell you what you find.

    There are far better ways to do something like an Insight check, in my opinion.
  • I think we just have different preferences. For me it is just as important what is going on on the GM as the player side. The player may have no clue there is a detail to be missed, and that is the point: the player doesn’t but the GM does. Just to use an example, if the player wanders into a trapped dungeon hall, there may be a subtle sign of it in (like a narrow groove where a blade trap comes out). I think the GM making a secret Detect roll for this adds to the game, especially if the trap is particularly deadly. If you don’t like it, you don’t like it. I think it is a little much though to say this way or that is superior. I’ve run games using a wide variety of methods and mechanics with this stuff. They all have their advantages and disadvantages. They all add a different feel to the game, deal with fairness and plausibility differently. As long as the underlying numbers work out, it is really just a matter of taste.
  • In terms of when rolling is appropriate, I think that is a judgment call on the GM’s part. If a person is being deceptive and you think there would be clear tells, calling for an empathy roll makes sense. Again, if it doesn’t work for you, it doesn’t work for you. But it is a tried and true approach that works for many.
  • I l

    The problem is that the way most people handle Insight is that it either becomes a lie detector test (with all the problems that brings), or it is so vague as to be completely unclear - I can roll the dice and have absolutely no idea of what is going to happen or whether it will benefit me, and the GM is similarly on their own (especially on a failure).
    .
    I think the floor board example shows shows there is plenty of excluded middle here. That is a substantive clue but it isn’t mind reading. I find that trying to handle it this way works well in practice. But if you don’t like, I wouldn’t use it. I do think though it is possible to be overly determined in criticisms of mechanics. Is it a perfect mechanic? Absolutely not, but it also isn’t as hopelessly confusing or useless as people are suggesting.
  • It probably won't be a huge surprise to you to hear that I disagree with all of that. :) And, more specifically, I don't think it has anything to do with a playstyle: I think it's outdated game design that only works when an experienced GM carefully massages its application in practice. Yes, with all of the tips and adjustments we've talked about in this thread, it's possible to get something functional out of the Insight rule. However, given a group of new players and a new GM, simply learning the game from the book, I would wager they will struggle with the Insight check 90%+ of the time.

    Sure, you've found ways to make it work for you, with time and experience. So have I - if I ran a D&D game right now, it would hardly ruin everything. But that's because of our skill and experience; our ability to minimize those problems by knowing when to roll in secret, when to make an opposed roll, when to say "you notice nothing", when to call for the roll in the first place, how many times to roll, and how many players to ask to roll, to know to give indirect observations instead of direct answers, to be very careful with the rule when running an intrigue or investigation-centric adventure, and so forth.

    It really has very little to do with play preferences: it's objectively a very hard rule to apply in any positive way. It's hard to see that from the perspective of an experienced GM, perhaps, but put this in front of some beginners and it's immediately apparent. (And watch the rule in application in online streaming play, even with very skilled GMs and players, and all these problems pop, even there - for example, over the course of Critical Role they've had to adjust and readjust how they apply Insight checks at least twice, and it still turns into strange situations sometimes (like, in an session I recently watched, one player rolling Insight to find out whether an NPC is lying, and then another player rolling to see if that PC is lying about the NPC's disposition, and then them all having to figure out what that means).
  • Obviously I disagree but I don't think there is any real point in restating my position. I think things that you see as problems or failures of the mechanic, I just don't.
  • Hmm! Ok, let me ask you this:

    What is your confidence level that a group of newbies playing will get good mileage out of this rule, apply it correctly, and avoid all the pitfalls we've discussed, compared to say, understanding how to handle an attack roll or a saving throw to avoid being affected by a spell?
  • Hmm! Ok, let me ask you this:

    What is your confidence level that a group of newbies playing will get good mileage out of this rule, apply it correctly, and avoid all the pitfalls we've discussed, compared to say, understanding how to handle an attack roll or a saving throw to avoid being affected by a spell?
    I don't think that is a good measure of bad or good design. Something taking time to handle well in play, might just mean it is naturally less straight forward than other aspects of the system. Combat is pretty direct, clear, and tends to have mechanics that function in very clear ways. I don't necessarily want the rest of the game to function like combat. If i did, I'd use social skill rules with social hit points. I think it isn't as difficult for new players to develop the skills as you have suggested. And I think the problems and pitfalls we've talked about are not huge deals. Obviously there is room for all kinds of games. If you want games that avoid these pitfalls, by all means, I think that is great. But I don't think we should design around a problem that not everyone has.

    Part of the issue is we are talking about a part of the game where RPGS really break away from other mediums. Lots of games have combat. Not many games have the level of exploration and social interaction with characters that RPGs have. And there is a lot of nuance there. That nuance makes it very hard to come up with consistently useful mechanics that are not overly restrictive. You can make very restrictive or limited mechanics that work easily, consistently, etc. But I do there is going to be a trade off because it starts to intrude on the natural flow of this aspect of game play (which is part of my initial reluctant to even use social skills in the first place). But if I am going to use social skill rules, I don't want the weight of a whole subsystem intruding on my role play. I want a tool I can artfully deploy as game master, as needed.

    That said, good GM advice can help with this. But ultimately these are tools and people need to handle them in play and figure out for themselves how best to use them. There is nothing wrong with a game having a learning curve. And I don't think it is an issue if every table isn't 100% the same in the way mechanics get deployed.

    Again opinions vary. I just don't see this as being as objective as you are making it. I think there is an enormous amount of subjectivity when it comes to this stuff.
  • Yeah, I find it hard to agree with that perspective - and I also don't know why you are so committed to defending it only to point out that you're not a fan of such mechanics yourself.

    I've been watching a bunch of D&D play online lately, with skilled, experienced players, and I regularly see people stumble over this kind of thing. It's silly and unfortunate, when a bit of guidance (as we're doing, and have done, in this thread) would go a long way to create smoother and better games. As it is, every group ends up searching for and then some of them - but not all! - end up finding these solutions slowly over time. That's entirely unnecessary, in my opinion.

    There are lots of subtle, complex things in roleplaying... this isn't one of them.

    Thanks for engaging with me in discussion, in any case. It can be frustrating to be on either side of such a debate, especially when it feels like the other person just doesn't understand your perspective. I appreciate you sticking it out!

    Perhaps what would be helpful, then, are some examples of great things you can do with such a tool - how do you "artfully deploy" it, as you so nicely put it?

    I would say I've seen two or three helpful uses of Insight checks (or similar mechanics):

    1. The GM can use it as a prompt to help guide players when they seem to be missing out on an important detail or observation.

    For example, the PCs are talking to an NPC who the GM intends to portray as a liar, but the players clearly aren't catching on. The GM can then ask for an Insight check, creating an excuse to give the players more information on what is happening or why (like the NPC looking meaningfully at the floorboards, in the earlier example).

    I don't see why the GM couldn't just say that, without the check (e.g. "as he talks, the NPC looks meaningfully at the floorboards..."), but perhaps for some people the ritual of the dice-rolling is in some way helpful.

    2. The players can use it as a prod to ask the GM for more information. They are lost or unsure, so they can ask for an Insight check. This tells the GM they think there's more here they don't know.

    3. In games like D&D, with a unified party and everyone making rolls, making those rolls on a regular basis would mean that the GM basically always has to give them a little extra information. That's not a bad thing for some groups, especially if they're used to playing the cards close to their chests.

    From a design perspective, it's dreadfully inefficient, but I could see the argument that for some groups it's necessary.

    4. There is also the potential concern of a hardcore "simulationist" approach to roleplaying, where these mechanics are intended to form the basis of "realistic" interactions in the game world, and simulate how some characters are more perceptive than others.

    This last one is odd, because it would probably be the most often referred to argument from people playing in an extremely "traditional" style, but I don't think I have EVER seen a group actually, really try to achieve that ideal. Usually, whether this argument is used or not, it ends up being used in scenarios like those above (for example, I've never seen a group insist that Insight be rolled in every social interaction, even unimportant ones, even though that would certainly "improve the simulation" and remove human bias).

    Anyway:

    What have you seen?

    What are the best ways to "artfully deploy" this mechanic?

    (That's for anyone reading, to be clear, not just Brendan. I think some examples would be really helpful!)
  • Yeah, I find it hard to agree with that perspective - and I also don't know why you are so committed to defending it only to point out that you're not a fan of such mechanics yourself.
    This is long winded so please forgive me. But I think it is important for me to say this. I was reluctant to answer your initial question, and I am even more reluctant to answer your artfully deploy question (because it feels like a set up for rhetorically taking down my position). I am just not as into this deep and constant drilling down that you seem to enjoy. I see you having a list of four points, trying to establish its use. That simply isn't how I think about games at all. All I know is this is a tool, and when I use this tool, with certain kinds of groups, it works well. But I don't walk around with those kinds of checklists in my head as I am running a game. I have much more intuitive approach. And the tools I use either work for me or they don't. We could probably have the same conversation about encounter tables for example (I make very extensive use of those, and I also happen to be a big fan of them).

    But this brings me to an important point and why I am so reluctant to engage this discussion further than giving you my take.You seem to want a give and take discussion, where you make a point, I respond, and we have a kind of Hegelian synthesis. I think that is a terrible way to develop gaming concepts for play at the table.All I am interested in doing is reporting to you, what i like and see work in play. I have very little interest in changing your mind or you changing mine. I only hope we can expand one another's perspective. I am not trying to be a jerk and dismiss your questions, but I've engaged in internet debates on style and mechanics for years. And I feel these kinds of discussions, while they can be interesting, lead us very far away from what actually works at the table. You are skilled debater and very intelligent, and it would be very easy for me to cede points to you on rhetorical ground along. I've done this plenty of times myself in other debates at immersionist heavy sites. The problem is, that eventually leads me toward a tight philosophy that plays well on an internet forum, but does not work well when you have real players at a table. So for me, I just know from experience that using these skills, and using them in this way, maximizes my ability to have functional regular games. There was a point in my gaming for example where I was overly rigid about immersion. That was a direct product of discussions like these, where I had encounters with strong debaters like yourself. It shaped in me a gaming philosophy that played well online, because it was easy to defend, because it was consistent, neat and fit it into a clear philosophy of play. In short, it was honed around the rhetoric of the debate. But real play isn't that consistent or neat. Real play doesn't care about the rhetoric. You have to be flexible to keep players interested and they don't care about your internet gaming philosophy. This became painfully apparent to me when my business partner died and I became the primary play testing GM (up to that point, I ran games once every week or every two weeks, and he ran all the others, but now I run up to three games a week in regular ongoing playtests). So I just developed this tendency to not shift my viewpoint simply because a person online makes a good case (because in my experience, a good argument often just means you are dealing with a clever person, not with someone who has arrived at anything more truthful---in fact I would usually find the issue was time: it is easy to fail to see where an argument's flaws are in the moment, but six months later, you might start to realize where the person's points and assumptions broke down).

    So I will respond to this, and I a may respond further as I think on this a bit. But I feel like I've expressed my opinion pretty fully already, and I am not particularly invested in convincing you this mechanic is good, if you don't feel it is. When I say artfully deployed, all I mean is use the skill in a way that sidesteps any issues I personally have with it. But that doesn't mean another way of deploying it would be wrong or bad. I know people who don't care one bit about speaking in character for example, and they use social skills almost like buttons. I don't personally like this approach. I think navigates around a part of the game I find the most compelling in RPGs, but it does enable you to simulate a character, rather than play yourself (personally I kind of like playing myself in a game, but there is a big difference between solving mysteries like you are Sherlock Holmes, and having mechanics than enable you to be Sherlock Holmes, both are fine as long people enjoy themselves).

    But the reason I am committed is because I can see the value in something I don't personally keep as a main preference. I understand this confuses people sometimes. It is possible to not have a preference, but if you have three players at your table who do have that preference, to cater to it as best you can. Social Skill rules are just something I realized long ago, most people expect. And if you want to have an easy time finding players, it can help to be open to them, and not be a jerk when they come up.

    And just through using it in three different campaign groups each week, regularly for years now (and having seen such mechanics used for ages in the d20 era when I played 3E regularly), I just feel you are overplaying the downsides, and being overly critical. It is very easy to just keep leveling a critique at a mechanic, and not letting up. I was once intensely critical of this kind of mechanic. But sometimes if you sit back and just listen to other types of players, hear out why they enjoy this mechanic that to you seems impossible to enjoy, inefficient, or outdated, you'll get plenty of valid responses. I am just trying to be fair in my assessment of it, and if I am honest, I can see the value it brings to the table. I'd honestly prefer for the opposite conclusion (that the only good method for handling social skills is to role-play them without resorting to rolls) to be the case. But I just think human experience at the gaming table is too varied, for that to be the case.

    This was much longer winded than I intended. So I apologize. I just wanted to be clear that my refusal to answer the question or engage wasn't intended as a slight or because I was growing irritated, but because I think the conversation has reached that point where I probably can't keep contending with the arguments you are raising, but I don't think that means I am wrong.

  • In my experience, a good argument often just means you are dealing with a clever person, not with someone who has arrived at anything more truthful ... I just wanted to be clear that my refusal to answer the question or engage wasn't intended as a slight or because I was growing irritated, but because I think the conversation has reached that point where I probably can't keep contending with the arguments you are raising, but I don't think that means I am wrong.
    Good job. Noticing this is super valuable. On both sides. It's very important to know that "someone clever sounds convincing" does not mean "thus I should be convinced", and it's also very important to know that "they didn't refute me" does not mean "thus I am right". And it's really hard to actually apply either of those skillfully since there's so much social pressure against it and since they're not iff: sometimes you should be convinced, and obviously sometimes you are right.

    Whether you're right or wrong in this particular instance I have no opinion about, just wanted to kudos you for high level social awareness and courage.

    (That's not true, of course I have an opinion. ;) It doesn't bear on what I wrote above, though. But this is the internet and so I must? get to? express my opinion... I think you, Bedrockbrendan, are right that having this mechanic is better than anything else you've tried, and that you've probably tried a lot. But I think PaulT is right that this mechanic is fairly problematic compared to a hypothetical different, cleaner social mechanic which to my knowledge has not been discovered and might not even exist to be discovered, but which it's worth some folks pursuing the discovery of, because it'd be valuable if known.)
  • edited February 13



    (That's not true, of course I have an opinion. ;) It doesn't bear on what I wrote above, though. But this is the internet and so I must? get to? express my opinion... I think you, Bedrockbrendan, are right that having this mechanic is better than anything else you've tried, and that you've probably tried a lot. But I think PaulT is right that this mechanic is fairly problematic compared to a hypothetical different, cleaner social mechanic which to my knowledge has not been discovered and might not even exist to be discovered, but which it's worth some folks pursuing the discovery of, because it'd be valuable if known.)
    I am always interested in more tools, so if he or you can arrive at a mechanic that is better, by all means share. I can say though one key criteria is I need something very simple that can be handled differently depending on my style. With social skills this is very important because I adapt it to the group's taste. I like that the social skill mechanics I use are just single rolls of a dice. I don't want additional steps or complexity. Just something that can be reduced to a single thing that crystalizes the outcome when I need it crystalized. Keep in mind, I am middle aged GM (42 I believe, if I am keeping accurate track of the years in my head). I am at a point in life and gaming where it is increasingly difficult for me to adopt new sets of procedures that doesn't fit cleanly to how I naturally run a game. With a new mechanic, that is always going to be the hurdle for me. As an example, fictional positioning came up in another thread. It seems like a useful term to many people here. I just can't wrap my head around it for the life of me and apply it to gaming in a way that doesn't make me pause and wonder what the heck I am doing. That isn't critique of the term. It is just an acknowledgement of where I am with running and playing games. Long way of saying, provided this mechanic doesn't introduce a whole new vocabulary, add additional steps, etc I should be able to incorporate it.


  • I've been watching a bunch of D&D play online lately, with skilled, experienced players, and I regularly see people stumble over this kind of thing. It's silly and unfortunate, when a bit of guidance (as we're doing, and have done, in this thread) would go a long way to create smoother and better games. As it is, every group ends up searching for and then some of them - but not all! - end up finding these solutions slowly over time. That's entirely unnecessary, in my opinion.
    )
    '
    I had meant to comment on this and forgot. I would just say here, be wary of online play. People who record, know they are recording and that can impact things (the pressure can lead to more stumbling, but also lead to oddly stumble free presentations). It obviously depends on the exact online play you are watching, but there is a difference I think between stuff that is filmed and recorded a typical session (and I say that as someone who recorded and posted a bunch of play sessions online). I can't say enough about the added pressure. The first time I did a youtube session, I literally felt the pressure in my body. It definitely had an impact on my performance (I wasn't relaxed and when you are not relaxed, I think you mess up way more). Another point I'd make, if you are going to take this level of analysis to online play surrounding these mechanics, you should also take it to the alternatives and to approaches that you believe are free of problems. I think any play approach under a microscope can look warty. A typical session of D&D looks painfully boring from the outside, but to the people involved it feels like they are in a movie where their characters are ducking dragon's breath and leaping over jagged cliffs into lakes of mercury. The big question I would have here is if the people were enjoying themselves and if they seemed excited when those rolls were used. Whether it is providing a consistent experience, fits into an overall play style goal, I think that stuff is less important than whether the people are simply being entertained by the mechanic.
  • Insight may be problematic as written without that causing widespread problems. In my experience, D&D is tradition much more than RAW. The days when islets of players struggled with RAW are over. This makes the quality of internet discussions and videos important. Social skills and skill buttons are wider topics. If social skills remain a question, skill buttons is to me a clue that the player is probably not enjoying the game as much as they could, looking for direction (or agency) on their character sheet.
  • Insight may be problematic as written without that causing widespread problems. In my experience, D&D is tradition much more than RAW. The days when islets of players struggled with RAW are over. This makes the quality of internet discussions and videos important. Social skills and skill buttons are wider topics. If social skills remain a question, skill buttons is to me a clue that the player is probably not enjoying the game as much as they could, looking for direction (or agency) on their character sheet.
    It is always worth asking. One thing I've learned though, is some people do like buttons. It took me ages to get that (since I was always put off by skills as buttons). But if people are having fun with it, I am all for it.
  • edited February 14
    Some good points being made here! I appreciate that.

    Skills as buttons are unsatisfying for modes of play which really want us to engage with the game "as ourselves" or otherwise seek to intrigue and engage the players. I think one of the things some like an "Insight" rule should cover is how to best navigate that kind of issue - for instance, having some alternative for using it as a "lie detector check" in any playstyle where the players figuring out who's lying and who's not is part of the fun (or any adventure which depends on the players being fooled by clever NPCs to function - as much as those are not my cup of tea, that's a failure point that should be addressed).

    @Bedrockbrendan, I really appreciate you spelling out where you're coming from. That's actually very helpful, because I was sensing a hesitance on your part to engage with me, but I didn't know where it was coming from, which made it hard to know how to continue the discussion.

    I appreciate where you're coming from: there are lot of people on the internet who are merely looking to "score points" or win debates, and fighting with them for the sake of enjoying dispute is really not your cup of tea. Neither is it mine!

    I probably came off far more confrontational here in this thread than I intended to. I tend to do that when I'm curious and passionate about a topic, and I often want to know what lies behind a preference so that I can expand my own sense of "what's fun".

    Asking pointed questions often helps me get to the bottom of what we're really talking about, but, in this case, clearly is coming off as "pushing too hard" from your perspective. I apologize! That's not how I intended to come across; I'm writing these messages very quickly during work breaks, and I don't always put as much thought into them as I would like.

    In this particular discussion, what I'm looking for, ultimately, is to learn how other people are getting good mileage out of such a rule, so that I can understand it, and then put it into use myself. (Either as a designer or as a player.)

    If I'm not having fun with a rule, in other words, it's strange to hear someone else say, "Well, ok. But I enjoy it, I find it useful. To each his own." I want to then ask, "OK, how? Tell me more! When I do this, it doesn't work well. What do you do?"

    That probably would have been a better way of saying that, then, right? :)

    Well, my preferred outcome - what I would love from this thread - is for some examples of how these rules fail and how they succeed. (I'm still hoping @Deliverator might grace us with an example of how Insight checks can be turned into conflict resolution gracefully, for example. I would find that quite illustrative! I'm sure it can be done, but I have yet to see it in an actual game.)

    What I got from your most recent posts, Bedrockbrendan, is that you value the flexibility you get from a rule which is stated in as vague a fashion as this one. I can respect that; the view that a good GM can take advantage of an unclear ruleset in order to use the rules in a different way, as accords the players and the particular game that's happening, makes sense to me. (I have objections to that, in terms of my personal preferences, but I used to run games in this style, and I understand how it can be seen as an advantage.)

    If the rule doesn't specify whether it can act as a "lie detector", for example, I can use it to convey more indirect information when playing my intrigue campaign, but also straight-up tell the players that an NPC is lying when they're failing to figure things out or I need to speed up the game to finish the session on time. I assume that's the kind of thing you mean by "artfully deploy". Is that close?

    I'd still love to hear some examples of cool things you can do with such a rule. That gives me tools as a GM and player as well as a designer, and helps me understand where you're coming from. It's not a trap, I promise! I want to learn cool new tricks, basically. :)

    I'm also willing to discuss some variations on the rule which, in my opinion, might be more effective. My concern is that the D&D-based subculture/tradition is biased against clarity in rules and advice, which, in my experience, is an advantage for experienced GMs (who appreciate the freedom and flexibility) but causes all kinds of problems in play for everyone else.

    D&D5e seems to have embraced this approach to writing their books, making many of the rules just vague enough that the reader can interpret them as they wish. It seems to have worked from a marketing perspective - most D&D fans love 5E! - but I don't love the variety of problems it brings with it (for example, every D&D group I've played with regularly plugs "holes" in the rules with other rules from earlier editions, without even noticing... normally, this isn't an issue, but once in a while it contradicts a newer rule or ability, and the game comes screeching to a halt, requiring everyone to figure things out before play can resume).

    The simplest example of a fix would be to address the "lie detector" issue in some way in the rule text. (Although, to be fair, maybe there's something about that in the DMG I just haven't read.) I see that a) the description of the rule at least strongly implies that detecting a liar is part of the function of the roll, but b) most experienced GMs know that it's better to give "general impressions", instead a clear yes/no (e.g. see answers in this thread, up above), because of all the problems the "lie detector" approach can cause.

    Rephrasing the rules text to something like this would already be a huge improvement, I think:
    "On a successful check, the GM should describe to the players a few significant details they can observe about the NPC and their current demeanour and emotional state. The character is considered to be gaining some 'insight' into the NPC's attitude and situation. The GM should pick some important and interesting detail to highlight. If doing so seems like it would be positive for the current situation, scene, adventure, or encounter, the GM has the option of making it crystal clear whether the NPC is lying or being truthful, but isn't required to do so."

    "On a failure, the GM should indicate that the PC is unable to determine anything from the check, rather than giving a false impression.* The player is free to conclude that their character is utterly convinced of the NPC's veracity in such cases, if s/he wishes, and feels it would suit their character's disposition and enhance the game, but isn't required to do so. They can decide for themselves what they think, instead, at any time."

    "*: This is important, in part, because it makes it clear that the GM is not being misleading in the case of a successful roll, avoiding confusion about potential "false positives": this way, every time the GM tells the players that an Insight check reveals an NPC is being honest with them, they players will know to trust her."
    I think this kind of text would go a long way to forestalling a lot of these common issues.

    Can you see any uses of the skill that would be invalidated by this rephrasing of the rules? (Keep in mind that this is off-the-cuff; I didn't give this too much thought, it's just off the top of my head, and could be horribly misguided in some way! So it's very much an honest question. I'm also not trying to say that my text is GOOD; I would hate to read a rulebook written that way. But hopefully it adds a little bit of clarity, and gives someone who doesn't know what they're doing a better chance of actually having a good time at the table.)
  • I think your text is fine, it doesn't invalidate anything else in the game, and does steer play clear of some of the pitfalls.

    I also think that at the level of precision of wording that's in the spirit of D&D 5E there's no appreciable difference between the original text and yours. Most D&D players I know would take either and internalise it as "on a success, you might sort of read them if they're lying or something".
  • edited February 14

    Can you see any uses of the skill that would be invalidated by this rephrasing of the rules?
    Ah, I thought of one or two:

    If you're the kind of person who likes to roll dice, and then be able to "fudge" the outcome anyway, that formulation distinguishes success from failure, which could be a problem for that playstyle.

    For instance, you wouldn't always be able to do this:

    -[Player rolls very poorly on Insight check.]
    -GM: "Well, you can't tell if he's lying, but you do remember that he keeps looking down at the floorboards..." (which is the same thing she would have said on a successful roll)

    Since my rewrite distinguishes failure from success clearly, you'd have to hide the roll itself if you wanted to do that reliably (e.g. even on a natural 1).

    Second, if your game relies on the Insight check dictating character responses (e.g. the GM wants to be able to lie to the players on a failed check, without them knowing that's the case), you'd have to hide the roll and change the rule, removing the part where the GM is only supposed to give correct answers to the Insight question.

    As written, the GM couldn't do:

    -[Check is failed.]
    -GM: "Yes, you're absolutely sure he's definitely telling the truth." [In reality, though, the NPC is lying.]

    Are these two methods some useful that it's worth keeping a less clear form of the rule on the books? I don't know. I have no interest in either of those forms of gaming, so that may be a bias on my part. (I have strong arguments for why people shouldn't play in this way, but, from the perspective of personal freedom, I could see the argument that enabling those modes of play is a benefit to people playing the game. Maybe.)

    What do you think?

  • edited February 14

    I also think that at the level of precision of wording that's in the spirit of D&D 5E there's no appreciable difference between the original text and yours.
    I can see your point here. However, that's the very thing I'm objecting to - this willful lack of clarity which leads people astray, even when a better alternative is available - so that's not a positive, in my book! To me, that's a serious pitfall and lazy design/writing. They are clearly doing it because it gets them to sell more books, but that doesn't make it a positive, for me.
    Most D&D players I know would take either and internalise it as "on a success, you might sort of read them if they're lying or something".
    Clearly, my experience is different from yours. A player reading the text will get that impression, sure, but GMs and groups screw this up all the time, in my experience. (And some people, earlier in the thread, also confirmed that they've seen the "Roll Insight after every sentence an NPC speaks, to see exactly which ones are lies and which are true" style of play, which is really not fun for anyone. A lot of D&D players fall into that pitfall!)

    Edited due to an unfortunate mis-click!
  • that's not a positive, in my book!
    I'll largely agree here.
    Most D&D players I know would take either and internalise it as "on a success, you might sort of read them if they're lying or something".
    Clearly, my experience is different from yours. A player reading the text will get that impression, sure, but GMs and groups screw this up all the time, in my experience. (And some people, earlier in the thread, also confirmed that they've seen the "Roll Insight after every sentence an NPC speaks, to see exactly which ones are lies and which are true" style of play, which is really not fun for anyone. A lot of D&D players fall into that pitfall!)

    I'm not sure where you're saying our experiences differ? I wasn't suggesting the above issues aren't fairly common.

    I was suggesting that even with your rewrite, a large proportion (can't honestly judge whether it'd be the majority) of players who run into issues with the original text, would still run into much the same issues, because it's not just about the vagueness of the text, it's that a large proportion of players aren't really into carefully following procedures, especially for interaction skills.
  • Some good points being made here! I appreciate that.


    If the rule doesn't specify whether it can act as a "lie detector", for example, I can use it to convey more indirect information when playing my intrigue campaign, but also straight-up tell the players that an NPC is lying when they're failing to figure things out or I need to speed up the game to finish the session on time. I assume that's the kind of thing you mean by "artfully deploy". Is that close?
    Sort of, except this specific example is one where I actually take a very strong stand against lie detection as a skill. So I don't think I could ever bring myself to use them that way. In fact in all of recent books I've tried to make a point with all the social skills like Empathy, of saying things like they are not lie detection. But generally yes, I mean something like this, and also that it is a really simple, easy tool to deploy in any number of instances. I like mechanics that function as tools and are useful to draw on as rulings (in the rulings over rules sense).

    But I don't play D&D much anymore. I run my own games. Here is a skill from my Ogre Gate RPG. This is a skill that has been in the system since me and Bill made it in 2008, but by the release of Ogre Gate, I had developed a lot more thoughts and ideas about how to use this stuff just from running it at the table. This is pretty much how I approach this sort of mechanic. Mind you I wrote this in 2014 and since then I have evolved somewhat in how I apply i (the underline is added here for emphasis)):

    EMPATHY
    This reflects how well you can read other peoples’
    intentions or Emotions. It can be used to decipher
    the motives of another character or to detect hostility.
    This is not a Mind-Reading Skill, but merely a
    Skill for interpreting social cues. GMs should not
    reveal what the NPC or creature is thinking when
    this Skill is used. Rather the PC will see signs or
    symptoms of the NPC’s internal thoughts (a twitch,
    a downward look, and so forth). A GM can say what
    this likely suggests but it is absolutely not lie detection
    or thought reading.

    To make an Empathy attempt, roll against your opponent’s
    Wits. On a Normal Success, you achieve
    partial insight, sensing social cues that point to the
    person’s mood or state of mind. On a Total Success,
    you sense subtle signs that point to the target’s emotions,
    intentions or motives. The GM should describe
    what cues the player picks up on and not simply give
    a list of things going on in the NPC’s head (for instance,
    “She glances at the curtain behind you when
    you step closer to her”).

    This is the boxed text that appears right next to Empathy, Persuade and Command in the book. This explains how I approach social skills in general (or at least was my best way of phrasing it in 2014):

    MANAGING MENTAL SKILLS
    Mental Skills should be handled with care. While many
    of these skills enable players to influence the behavior
    of NPCs, this should always be reasonable and feasible
    within whatever conditions happen to exist. That is, the
    circumstances surrounding the characters, their positions
    in the world, their inherent disposition, should always
    be considered by the GM when he gauges what a successful
    Command, Persuade or Deception means. For
    this reason, the GM should set the outcome, not the
    player. A player can describe what he hopes to achieve
    with a particular skill use (for example, “I slap the
    emperor and tell him to tell him to stand up to the Yangu”)
    but a Success does not automatically result in what the
    player desires (and slapping the emperor should almost
    never result in what the player desires). The GM has to
    decide how the particular NPC would react to a successful
    Command roll in the situation. Furthermore, the GM
    calls for Mental Skill rolls when they are appropriate,
    players should simply state what they intend to do. If
    there is some doubt over the outcome the GM will ask
    for a relevant Mental Skill roll.

    It can be difficult to know when to ask for a Command,
    Persuade or Deception roll. As a general rule, do so
    when the outcome is not clear or when the Player’s
    actions fall short of his character’s Skill Rank. If the
    Players walk into a tavern and buy a round of drinks,
    you do not need to roll unless there is some doubt over
    whether they will get their drinks. But if they happen
    upon a group of bandits and demand the bandits step
    aside, and it is unlikely the bandits would respond to
    such a request, then a Command roll would be called
    for. However, do not roll if the players ask questions
    or make requests that would reasonably get a result.
    Essentially, do not roll if the players are already being
    persuasive, commanding or deceptive. Only when there
    is some doubt should you roll, when they fail to make
    a persuasive argument or issue a stern command.



  • I'd still love to hear some examples of cool things you can do with such a rule. That gives me tools as a GM and player as well as a designer, and helps me understand where you're coming from. It's not a trap, I promise! I want to learn cool new tricks, basically. :)

    I have three minutes to type this. My campaigns are character driven, and that means I usually have a very clear idea of NPC motives, recent history, immediate goals, etc. So I find skills like this (in the case of the game I use Empathy) are enormously helpful in conveying clues about characters. It isn't just for stuff like investigations, though it can be. It can also be used for reading people, sizing people up, etc. So if a player asks me something like, what kind of person does she seem like. It gives me an easy mechanic to draw on to help establish what they might be able to glean. I run wuxia campaigns and have expanded this to get into things like assessing Kung Fu (though I usually fall on other skills in the system for assessing this). That can be really great. If someone tries to pick out a person's style, I can say something like "You can tell by the way he steps into a back stance, that he belongs to the Viper Sect, and is probably skilled in Four Fang Style."
  • I almost never call for Insight checks for various reasons as detailed above. However, should a player request an Insight check, I typically allow it, but I use it much more like "studying someone to understand his character." The dice roll grants knowledge of certain traits not unlike Fate's Aspects: oh, this merchant is is really eyeing up your coin purse, he's surely a penny-pincher and not likely to budge an inch if you haggle with him unless you can convince him that it will help his bottom line.

    Failure typically involves treating it like a 6- in Apocalypse World, or the trait works against the PCs in some way, often adjusting DCs disfavorably.
  • I do have a great example, actually, but it's a little complex and hard to explain precisely. There are other, simpler examples, but this is the one that stands out to me.

    I had an out-of-game agreement from my players that, during their journey from the Whiteplume Mountain section of the game to the Against the Giants section, they would engage with the few adventure hooks I was going to throw at them. They could choose how to respond, but they had agreed not to just ignore those hooks entirely. This is important.

    So, a seemingly-friendly NPC asks them to undertake a dangerous mission, in a way that dovetailed with a scholar character's Ideal. This NPC was actually an enemy they had killed, resurrected and back for VENGEANCE, and trying to lead them into a trap. The player I was targeting rolled Insight against the NPC's Deception, and succeeded. He then made a Deception vs. Insight roll of his own, to avoid giving away that he'd realized the lie, and succeeded in that as well, I believe.

    (Note that the Insight roll didn't tell him exactly who the NPC was, just that he was keeping something important back about this task, and that his motives weren't as pure as they seemed. This is key to the thread topic as well: it simply didn't make sense under the circumstances that a PC could realize exactly what the guy was lying about, since he had a perfect disguise and a plausible story with a fair amount of truth embedded in it. Leverage / scope / propriety and fiction-first, blah blah blah.)

    The scenario would have gone down noticeably differently if the player had failed that roll. He and the entire party would likely have walked into a trap completely unprepared. A bunch of other NPCs might have been put in jeopardy as a result. Etc.

    While it's true the Insight check didn't completely alter the course of the adventure, it did impact the framing and the flow of information. Knowing the NPC was lying gave them some agency and a chance to prepare for the worst, which saved their bacon in the actual confrontation.

    In a more sandbox-y setup, where there was something to do other than engage with this one issue (which, remember, my players were fine with), the Insight check could have caused them to simply "Nope" on out of there and seek adventure elsewhere! All without using Insight as a "lie detector," and following my usual story-game-ish procedures for skill use in 5E.
  • The cost of hiding punishing information to players can be distrust and overcaution. Insight rolls can also be a symptom. Some players come to the table fireshy. I suppose it's fun.
  • The cost of hiding punishing information to players can be distrust and overcaution. Insight rolls can also be a symptom. Some players come to the table fireshy. I suppose it's fun.
    But this is a massive playstyles division issue, not an issue of good versus bad design. I personally love the spice of hidden dangers that a lack of caution or a bad roll could untap. Missing the clues of a deadly blade trap, that is one of the hazards that, for me, ads an important flavor and excitement to a game.
  • edited February 16
    Yes this trap finding style, it's not my kind of fun anymore but I think it can be fun.

    What would be bad design is to have a rule that doesn't at least enable players to know what side of the divide they are playing in I think is the problem pointed out in OP.
    (Darn is this sentence convoluted.)
  • Yes this trap finding style, it's not my kind of fun anymore but I think it can be fun.

    What would be bad design is to have a rule that doesn't at least enable players to know what side of the divide they are playing in I think is the problem pointed out in OP.
    (Darn is this sentence convoluted.)


    Okay, but just looking at the text of the ability (and keep in mind, I don't 5E so I am just going by text here), it doesn't look like the rule creates this problem. Or at least if it does, I think it is intentional and done to accommodate a range of play styles (not to keep players in the dark about what kind of game they are playing). The rule does say it can be used to detect lies, but in the very next sentence it says how this is done is by reading body language, speech habits and changes in mannerisms. I would interpret that to mean almost exactly what I posted about Empathy earlier. I can see other interpretations though. Could they be more explicit than that? Sure, that is possible, and maybe they do in portions of the entry that are not in the quote, but 5E was designed specifically to bring together a fragmented market. In order to do that it needed to appeal to broadly. One way to get broad appeal is leave a rule somewhat open to interpretation, which easily allows people to interpret it with their play style in mind. This could be read as "yes the player can in fact mind read and the flavor for how that is done is pointing to social cues" or it could be read as "it isn't literal mind reading, rather the player is provided the social cues and needs to interpret them". I am sure there are other ways to implement the rule. Allowing both interpretations does mean there will be variance from table to table, but again if you are trying to get the most number of players across numerous different play styles to buy the game and play it, then that ambiguity isn't such a bad thing. It allows both groups to easily play the game. Where it could become an issue is when there is disagreement over the rules. But honestly I've played very comprehensive rules systems, very light, very clear and very ambiguous, there are always rules disputes that will arise. Something like this seems very much about style and what the consensus at the table is about how it ought to work. I think for more focused games that have more of a niche corner of the market, this doesn't make as much sense (because people seek out those games looking for a very specific thing). But with D&D you always have to see it in light of it being the game that needs to appeal to the whole hobby.

    I've actually been baking ambiguity into some of my rules systems lately intentionally. There are a number of reasons. One is weight, the more caveats and clarifications you add to anything, the more information that is for people to memorize prior to play (and it all adds weight). The more important reason is I want the GM to have the ability to interpret the rule according to play style. Sometimes I see a point of ambiguity and depending on how it is read, it could make the game more or less lethal for example. I kind of like leaving that in the hands of the GM. One of the things I look for when I make systems now, is if all of the GMs (and even co-designers) in my playtest groups are able to interpret the rules in a way that works for their play style.

    Again, it has been a while since I read through the 5E core books, so I could be missing other details that would shed light on things.

    Quoting the rule again:
    Insight. Your Wisdom (Insight) check decides whether you can determine the true intentions of a creature, such as when searching out a lie or predicting someone's next move. Doing so involves gleaning clues from body language, speech habits, and changes in mannerisms.
  • edited February 17
    I don't understand your point. It is perfectly possible to have rules with ambiguity that work well, with the condition that the space they open is "coherent". If this space is fractured (like PC death vs we are heroes, or dialogue bypass vs innuendo and intrigue), it could be good marketing, not good design, because it will lead to problematic situations where you don't get what you were sold, and the rules don't put an end to (a function you neglect in your argument about) rules disputes.
    If the GM rulings are more important than the rules, then you don't need good rules to have fun playing. That don't make all rules with room for rulings good design. Far from it.
  • I don't understand your point. It is perfectly possible to have rules with ambiguity that work well, with the condition that the space they open is "coherent". If this space is fractured (like PC death vs we are heroes, or bypass dialogue vs innuendo and intrigue), it could be good marketing, not good design, because it will lead to problematic situations where you don't get what you were sold.
    In the end, it sounds like your players are playing GM as much as games.
    Provided I understand what you are saying correctly, I would disagree with this. I think if coherence is part of your design goals, sure, that what you should achieve. But I think there is a strong case to be made that a game whose design goals include remaining the top RPG, you need to have a system that can be turned many ways style-wise. I just don't see anything wrong with having a mechanic that could be interpreted more lethally, less lethally, more dialogue based, less dialogue based, depending on the group and GM. That is flexibility that can really make a game work across multiple groups.

    I am not sure what you mean by my players are playing GM as much as games. I don't know. I think there is room in the hobby for different kinds of design and I think it is a bit arrogant to assume that coherence is the be-all-end all of design. There is a place for it, but it isn't the only measure. And some times it is not even something desirable.
  • Let's agree to disagree, the line being clearly drawn.
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