15 August 2021

Perceive It

Perception rolls are fine in certain circumstances, but I find it's best to use them rarely.* When player characters are actively using their senses, describe it. If they say they are searching the north wall and there is a secret door, describe the secret door (although they might not recognize it as such). If they say they are listening at the door and someone is talking in the room on the other side of it, tell them what they hear. If they are casually walking through a room, describe the room generally. If they take a closer look at anything in the room, describe it in greater detail. If the party includes a being with especially keen senses, describe things beyond the normal human capacity. In fact, nearly the only occasion I call for any kind of perception roll is when player characters are not actively using their senses. As I see it, perception rolls are a last chance to spot a clue, not a first resort. If you tell me you are scanning the floor, I'll tell you if you notice something suspicious like a tripwire. If you just stride across it without any precautions, I'll give you a chance to notice it with a perception roll (possibly made in secret by me).

So, will I give that perception roll to spot a secret door to anyone who casually walks by it? I will if the player character has a special ability to detect secret doors (like elves in D&D) or if clues are present, but otherwise no.

Description is one of the key elements of a role-playing game. It enables us to imagine everything in the game, and it gives us our tools for making decisions in fictional worlds and situations. Don't withhold opportunities for player characters to interact with their imaginary environment. Tell them more, not less. Let perception rolls be another chance for interaction, not an obstacle to it.

* A perception roll, in this context, refers to any skill, ability check, or other rule that governs a player character's ability to perceive something in any role-playing game.

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