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The Perception Paradox

Altheus

Not a nice person
Banned
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Paradox #1 - Have the players roll 10 or so perception checks (with the option of not telling them what they are rolling for) at the beginning of the session. Make notes and cross them off as they are used,
 

gribble

Registered User
Validated User
I'm a fan of the Adventures in Middle Earth approach, which breaks down "journeying" into a number of different roles (I might be getting the exact names wrong): guide - the leader of the expedition and responsible for the long term / high level route; scouts - responsible for finding you the best path to your immediate destination; hunters - responsible for feeding and sheltering you; and lookouts - responsible for detecting threats on your journey.
Using that approach, only the lookouts are ever making perception checks to detect encounters - everyone else has their eyes open for other dangers/opportunities - which pretty much eliminates paradox #1.
 

randlathor66

Registered User
Validated User
Paradox 1: PCs roll Perception to see if they spot the Encounter (to prevent being surprised, to gain an upper hand, etc). The more PCs there are, the more likely a PC will make their Perception check (statistics, rule of large numbers) and announce to their mates to "At Arms." This runs counter to the IRL concept that the larger a group is, the more likely they are to be surprised because they can't "Perceive" (see/hear/scent) past all the "noise" (and I'm using noise as a catch all, so in both its literal and figurative sense) of their mates.
OK, this can easily be dealt with by increasing the difficulty of the perception check depending upon the situation. It is also a good way for the GM to train the players in dungeoneering tactics. Eled mentioned the prey animal theory above, though they are not quite right. Most prey animals that group in herds do so in order to make it less likely that any one individual will get picked by the predator. I mean, if you are 1 wildebeest in a herd of 100,000 you are very unlikely to be the one the lions choose. It is different for those in smaller groups, like a group of 8-10 deer in the woods. Sure, as they graze the likelihood of there being at least one of them actively listening/looking, but there is a huge difference between a small herd of deer and a group of PCs with all their gear. That is not to say that having at least one member on "alert" and actively checking for danger isn't a good idea, just that it isn't as effective as the aforementioned deer, who has a much quieter group and much better senses (especially hearing). In early editions of D&D some classes and races had the ability to surprise others more often and be surprised less often due to their superior training and/or senses. But, this would generally only work if they were a good ways away from the group. So, the rules took into consideration the "noise" factor of the group. But, really, either increasing the difficulty or using one of the methods mentioned by various replies to the thread above would be an easy fix. Not perfect, nothing is, but workable.

Paradox 2: PCs roll Perception to see if they see an Encounter (or perhaps a portion of it). Those that succeed act immediately, those that fail have to miss out on the first Turn. Paradox arises when someone really close to the Encounter fails a check and someone around the corner "sees" it. EG Warrior in front cannot see the enemy standing right next to him, but PC at the back of the group two rooms back makes their Perception roll and runs into the room and stabs baddie before the Warrior even realizes what's happening. I'm sure that GMs can "fix" this by putting heavy modifiers on Perception checks based on where the PCs are in the group but being honest, I doubt we (fellow GMs) do this.
I would say that this has more to do with how actions work in combat than the perception - as well as how the GM runs their game. I am not a fan of the on your initiative you do 100% of everything, but I haven't found a viable option that isn't too complicated in play yet. The GM could, in these situations rule it to be or just describe it to be a sort of surprise situation. Heck, maybe this is how you could end up determining surprise. Basically, the closer character is surprised and unable to act, while the further character isn't, so they can act. As others have mentioned, having the difficulty of the perception checks differ between the PCs could help out a bit, though it is by no means a perfect fix.

Paradox 3: Player: "I designed a Character that is a specialist in ranged/missile combat. Why is it that every encounter starts at spitting distance?" GM: "Because my map/our table is only this big."
This is why I don't like using maps on the table, except as visual assistance, general guidance for the PCs - certainly not as detailed and exacting distances, because they won't know those unless they have some sort of superpower, magical ability, psionic ability, etc... that lets them know. (Also why I like the idea of a spell attack roll for spells like fireball and lightning bolt, it lets you know how well they placed them. And that is in place of a saving throw - I like to get rid of those as much as possible, leave the bulk of the rolls to the active action/party not the passive.) Maps artificially force a scale on the GM (and players). Also, why have ranges in the hundreds of feet if you cannot ever use them? I once made a sniper character in D&D 5E and damn-Skippy I would shoot from 200, 300, 400 or more feet away then move and hide if needed.

The way to use ranged characters in a mixed group has been shown in numerous movies and TV shows: while the rest of the group gets up close and personal, the "sniper" sits back, oversees the whole battle and shoots the most appropriate enemy from round-to-round. Of course, in a game like D&D where each individual arrow really doesn't mean much they are only of limited use, but can still be helpful.

Paradox 4: GM calls for Perception but ignores Stealth/Player tries to claim their Character is "Stealthing" the entirety of a 200-mile journey (2 Sides, 1 Coin).
Well, unless you want that journey to take 50-times as long, you cannot stealth the whole way. Certainly, when arriving at certain junctures where you might feel stealth is appropriate, sure toss the dice and lets see how well you do. Otherwise, sorry not stealthing, especially if you are in among the rest of the group who are not stealthing themselves.

In most cases I believe that Perception, the day-to-day, minute-by-minute awareness individuals have, is a passive attribute and should be treated as such (basically a modifier - good or bad, depending - to whatever stealth or hiding that they may come across). Only when they are actively searching (using a skill like search or investigation), meaning they are taking time to seek out details that escape basic observation, should they roll any dice. If the GM doesn't want to give out meta information that something is up, then they could just make the roll themselves.
 

soltakss

Simon Phipp - RQ Fogey
Validated User
I am a GM who is the opinion that if you have decided to have an encounter, or if there is an encounter in the module, that you have the encounter. There isn't a risk that the encounter might not occur because PCs and/or the encounter NPCs didn't roll a high enough "Perception Check" or whatever your ruleset calls it. So to be clear, we're having an encounter.

The Perception Paradox begins with the idea of what does Perception do for the individual [PC], and what does it do for the Party [all PCs]. I am talking here about mechanics from a number of games - glittering generalities as my English teacher would say.
Personally, I don't think there is a Paradox, really.

Paradox 1: PCs roll Perception to see if they spot the Encounter (to prevent being surprised, to gain an upper hand, etc). The more PCs there are, the more likely a PC will make their Perception check (statistics, rule of large numbers) and announce to their mates to "At Arms." This runs counter to the IRL concept that the larger a group is, the more likely they are to be surprised because they can't "Perceive" (see/hear/scent) past all the "noise" (and I'm using noise as a catch all, so in both its literal and figurative sense) of their mates.
If all the party is alert, then they have more chance of noticing things. If there is a lot of noise, just apply a Penalty to the Perception roll.

Paradox 2: PCs roll Perception to see if they see an Encounter (or perhaps a portion of it). Those that succeed act immediately, those that fail have to miss out on the first Turn. Paradox arises when someone really close to the Encounter fails a check and someone around the corner "sees" it. EG Warrior in front cannot see the enemy standing right next to him, but PC at the back of the group two rooms back makes their Perception roll and runs into the room and stabs baddie before the Warrior even realizes what's happening. I'm sure that GMs can "fix" this by putting heavy modifiers on Perception checks based on where the PCs are in the group but being honest, I doubt we (fellow GMs) do this.
Apply Penalties to those who are in other rooms, or who can't see what is happening. I don't know of any GMs who don't do this, except, perhaps now, you.

Paradox 3: Player: "I designed a Character that is a specialist in ranged/missile combat. Why is it that every encounter starts at spitting distance?" GM: "Because my map/our table is only this big."
So, don't use a map for missile combat. If someone has specialised in long range missiles and has a good Perception, then they should be able to see things from a way off and have at least one round of missiles, maybe 2, before normal combat starts. This has different effects, depending on the game system. In RQ, missiles can be very effective, in D&D not so much. You can stop a party in RQ with missile fire, in D&D it is an annoyance at best.

Paradox 4: GM calls for Perception but ignores Stealth/Player tries to claim their Character is "Stealthing" the entirety of a 200-mile journey (2 Sides, 1 Coin).
Not sure what this means. If someone is sneaking for a 200-mile journey, I'd just say no, or have them a distance away from the party, with all the dangers that means.

I'm actually most interested in y'all's responses to the above. Did I get it right? Am I missing something? How do you handle these? Is there a rules out there that addresses these really well? I'm going to put my thoughts below, but do you agree these are issues, or is it something to hand-wave, like encumbrance (*ducks*)?
I think you are over-thinking it and a lot of these problems just go away if you use Penalties.

At the end of the day, how an encounter goes can be so much based on how far the PCs were from the Encounter when it began (can they take cover before engaging, do they have a chance to withdraw, do they have a chance to buff before melee, is there time to try a flanking maneuver before engaging) and who goes first or even gets surprised. I think the fact that a lot of the games - at least those I'm playing - only touch on these but don't go in depth is a gap across RPGs. And I do think it should be in the rules, not in the adventure modules, because this is something that applies to all encounters.
In our RQ games, we have had encounters where the PCs see the enemy in advance and hide, allowing them to pass by without a combat. We have also had the PCs set up an ambush when seeing the NPCs a long way away. Sometimes, they don't see the enemy and the two groups blinder into each other.

I played a Centaur with a magical telescopic sight that removed range penalties, he had it on an Arbalest and could reasonably take out a foe at 300m with a skill over 100%, so if he spotted an enemy from afar, he'd go into sniper-mode and have a damn good chance of doing so, especially if he used poisoned bolts.
 

Skaorn

Registered User
Validated User
I am a GM who is the opinion that if you have decided to have an encounter, or if there is an encounter in the module, that you have the encounter. There isn't a risk that the encounter might not occur because PCs and/or the encounter NPCs didn't roll a high enough "Perception Check" or whatever your ruleset calls it. So to be clear, we're having an encounter.

The Perception Paradox begins with the idea of what does Perception do for the individual [PC], and what does it do for the Party [all PCs]. I am talking here about mechanics from a number of games - glittering generalities as my English teacher would say.

Paradox 1: PCs roll Perception to see if they spot the Encounter (to prevent being surprised, to gain an upper hand, etc). The more PCs there are, the more likely a PC will make their Perception check (statistics, rule of large numbers) and announce to their mates to "At Arms." This runs counter to the IRL concept that the larger a group is, the more likely they are to be surprised because they can't "Perceive" (see/hear/scent) past all the "noise" (and I'm using noise as a catch all, so in both its literal and figurative sense) of their mates.

Paradox 2: PCs roll Perception to see if they see an Encounter (or perhaps a portion of it). Those that succeed act immediately, those that fail have to miss out on the first Turn. Paradox arises when someone really close to the Encounter fails a check and someone around the corner "sees" it. EG Warrior in front cannot see the enemy standing right next to him, but PC at the back of the group two rooms back makes their Perception roll and runs into the room and stabs baddie before the Warrior even realizes what's happening. I'm sure that GMs can "fix" this by putting heavy modifiers on Perception checks based on where the PCs are in the group but being honest, I doubt we (fellow GMs) do this.

Paradox 3: Player: "I designed a Character that is a specialist in ranged/missile combat. Why is it that every encounter starts at spitting distance?" GM: "Because my map/our table is only this big."

Paradox 4: GM calls for Perception but ignores Stealth/Player tries to claim their Character is "Stealthing" the entirety of a 200-mile journey (2 Sides, 1 Coin).


I'm actually most interested in y'all's responses to the above. Did I get it right? Am I missing something? How do you handle these? Is there a rules out there that addresses these really well? I'm going to put my thoughts below, but do you agree these are issues, or is it something to hand-wave, like encumbrance (*ducks*)?

At the end of the day, how an encounter goes can be so much based on how far the PCs were from the Encounter when it began (can they take cover before engaging, do they have a chance to withdraw, do they have a chance to buff before melee, is there time to try a flanking maneuver before engaging) and who goes first or even gets surprised. I think the fact that a lot of the games - at least those I'm playing - only touch on these but don't go in depth is a gap across RPGs. And I do think it should be in the rules, not in the adventure modules, because this is something that applies to all encounters.
It's hard to really give concrete answers to this as many games have very different systems for handling things like perception and stealth. Some systems might want you to make one roll just to see if you notice an encounter where as a system like DnD 3.X can allow you to make a roll the closer you got as penalties to your Spot skill dropped off. About the most I can do is say how I'd run with these scenarios as someone who generally wants to give the PCs a chance to notice danger and see how they react or try to avoid it if they can.

1) You have one PC notice there is an ambush but the rest of the party is unaware of what is about to happen. That PC gets to react to the threat while the rest can only react to what their party. A warning of "to arms!" Will likely have them draw their weapons and spend the first round looking for danger, leaving them sitting ducks for the bandit archers or diving griffon. They aren't caught completely unprepared but they still should be penalized for not making the first roll. Alternately the person might try to pretend that they didn't notice it and roll to see if they can convey the situation to their allies with out alerting the threat that they were made and kicking of the party before the rest were prepared.

2) Enviroment should always be a major factor in what you can perceive, and I think this is a major factor in #3. How far can you see in a forest, a crowded city street, or inside a building. How would you be able to tell that someone broke into your friend's hotel room and lying in wait to attack them if you are in your own room two doors down? You shouldn't. Any perception checks you make should be to see if you can detect that your friend is in trouble when they get jumped.

3) ranged attacks can be problematic in settings that focus mostly on melee. Of course the same can be said about melee those that focus on range (charging a machine gun nest with a sword is not recommended). Enviroment plays here as you probably will only be engaging at short ranges in a dungeon. I think the important thing to keep character traits like this in mind when you make encounters. I generally don't hear players of ranged characters complain when they get to feather the healer or the necromancer hiding behind the lines.

4)Stealth should never be a passive skill, it should always be something the player initiates by stating something like "I want to sneak up on X to get a closer look". Don't be afraid to let a player know that if they want to try to sneak the entire 200 mile way then they will get left far behind. If the party wants to try this then it will take them twice as long. I would also let them know that they will get penalties after a while for being tired and bored. On the other side of this, I do think a lot of GMs I've gamed with often make guards too alert than what is realistic. Eventually the mind will wander as boredom sets in over their shift. Slipping passed guards that are just looking for suspicious activity would be a fairly average difficulty. If they were alerted (experienced recent attacks or ordered to hunt for fugitives) then it would jump up a level. Vanishing from guards actively chasing you is where it would get hard.

This is how I might adjudicate these situations.
 

FoolishOwl

Registered User
Validated User
This reminds me of something that's always bugged me: the contradiction between the principle of not splitting the party, and having character archetypes who are good at being stealthy and perceptive -- i.e., who you'd expect to send ahead and scout.
 

Vincent Takeda

Chilllin in Rifts Denmark
Validated User
This reminds me of something that's always bugged me: the contradiction between the principle of not splitting the party, and having character archetypes who are good at being stealthy and perceptive -- i.e., who you'd expect to send ahead and scout.
The Bardbarian of course. That's who we'd send.
 

Ulzgoroth

Mad Scientist
Validated User
This reminds me of something that's always bugged me: the contradiction between the principle of not splitting the party, and having character archetypes who are good at being stealthy and perceptive -- i.e., who you'd expect to send ahead and scout.
For the player-facing, tactical-advice "don't split the party", a competent scout going out is fine. Their core role is to spot threats first, allowing them to withdraw and rejoin the rest of the party without ever engaging. Of course, an incompetent or overconfident scout may get themselves killed before anybody else even knows they're in trouble.

The more GM-oriented, game-management "don't split the party" has a more intractable problem there, since the scout is basically playing a solo mini-adventure while everybody else watches.
 

Dog Quixote

Registered User
Validated User
Not so much a paradox as a dilemma, but I've noticed that stealth / long range capabilities are only of limited use in a group where not everyone has them.

A few campaigns ago, a hunter seemed thematically fitting, so I made one. Good at stealth, accurate with a rifle out to several hundred feet. For the first several games, this was mostly just flavor, since fights occurred in reasonably close quarters. Then we had a siege situation, theoretically perfect for my capabilities ... and it ran hard into OOC logistics.

Engaging foes at long range means the other players just have to sit there for several rounds at the start of each fight. Worse, if the enemies can shoot back from that distance then melee types might not be able to get involved at all. And if the enemies are causing trouble, like smashing up the walls, then my involvement actually made things worse - they'd get several rounds extra to cause damage while the rest of the group ran over there. Now theoretically, if the GM was tracking the entire situation round by round this wouldn't be the case, but c'mon - we all know that 90% of the time the trouble will start "just before the PCs arrive".

So from an OOC perspective, I'd say that long range only pays off as an entire-group capability. To an extent that's true with stealth too - I think most of us have run across the "solo ninja taking all the screen time" issue.
This is a bit of a bug bear of mine.

This really shouldn't happen. It's a problem with a lot of game designs that they force characters into overly specific specialities. This is a good example of how, if everyone was capable of meaningfully contributing to ranged combat it would actually benefit the specialist. It would also encourage the party to give more opportunities for the specialist to do their thing (they may actually make plans which involve engaging enemies from a distance and forcing the enemies to close the distance.)

Stealth is really a variation of the same problem. In the case of stealth I allow someone to lead, which makes it a lot easier for everyone else to be stealthy. But you still sometimes have the problem of characters who may be a liability because game design has forced them into positions such as the need to wear exceptionally heavy and obvious armour in order to be functional.

Perception on the other hand has the opposite problem. Design rarely forces PCs to not be perceptive and this makes it much more difficult for someone to actually specialise in.
 
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Ulzgoroth

Mad Scientist
Validated User
Perception on the other hand has the opposite problem. Design rarely forces PCs to not be perceptive and this makes it much more difficult for someone to actually specialise in.
You're often not outright blocked from being perceptive, but for most roles any resources spent on enhancing perception will do nothing for their core competencies. In a specialist-oriented game, that's likely to be enough reason for people to not crowd the scout or sniper or whatever's strength in that area...unless they regularly wind up in situations where they can't count on the specialist to carry them through perception-based problems, of course.
 
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