Thursday, 3 July 2008

Passive? Aggressive!

One of the things I was most looking forward to about 4th Edition was the baking-in of passive perception checks into the game. We never really internalised the 'Take 10 on Spot and Listen to make it passive' pseudo-rule in 3rd Edition, which resulted in a lot of needless and aggravating die rolling outside of combat (and in, who am I kidding). Cue 4E, the new Perception skill, and a passive score for both that and Insight noted right there on the character sheet. Sounds great!

Or not.

Cue Keep on the Shadowfell. Kobold ambush. Third paragraph:
Have the players place their miniatures on the road near the western edge of the map. Allow each character to make a DC 25 Perception check.

Argh! What the hell? This is the very definition of a passive check. The PC's are strolling down the road. Sure, they might be alert, as usual (they're adventurers after all, and paranoid about their loot being nicked), but they're not actively searching every boulder, shadow, bush and twig along the way in case there's a kobold waiting to put the kaibosh on them. Why, Wizards? Why is there an active roll here?

DMG, p.36:
Compare the [Stealth] check result against the passive Perception checks of the creatures that might notice the hiding group, or the active checks from alert creatures

Oh for heaven's sake. What is 'alert'? Are adventurers alert if they're travelling along a road? How about in a dungeon? A city street? Why even allow the option? Isn't the point of passive checks to cut down on tedious die-rolling? The game appears to have just allowed meticulous players an out, returning us right back to chez-3rd-Edition.



Justin said...

But die-rolling isn't necessarily needless, aggravating, or tedious for everyone. I can't argue for the first paragraph, but for the second, isn't having an out for players that want to be meticulous a good thing? Supporting multiple play-styles and all, after all.

Wedge said...

Fair to say, yeah. If rattling the dice across the table floats your boat, then the game seems to support you in that. But this is really about my experience as a DM and I would much prefer that the game put passive checks in the forefront rather than, in practically the second combat encounter of the first adventure, calling for players to roll Perception in a situation that seems tailor-made for the new rule.

I would even have been happier if the text had made a point of saying, "Given what they now know, if the players declare they are being more cautious on the road, allow an active Perception check." But it doesn't. :(

James said...

I've seen this one come up a few times in other threads.

Personally, I don't think it's unreasonable that the party would miss an ambush when they're really just walking to their destination. The way I see it, this will give the party's "scout" a chance to shine, depending on how your group plays. And, could be a learning experience if they get hit by a couple of ambushes. Specifically, it'll give someone a chance to scout ahead of the party, giving them a chance to use stealth, and make an active perception check. You wouldn't *always* have an ambush or trap ahead, but the behavior should be occasionally rewarded.

As for specific texts to point out that the party should be allowed an active roll... I don't know that *I* would specify that in the module. It leaves it up to the DM a little more to judge whether or not the party should be allowed a roll. And that will come with a higher level of comfort with the rules.

Of course, it's a matter of taste, style, etc, so your mileage may vary.

Wedge said...

We seem to be violently agreeing in some respects. :D

I want parties to be hit by ambushes every now and then... and would expect to use passive checks on the road (as an example) thereby making it more likely to happen. I can't really see a group having their active radar pinging away all day that they're travelling down an innocuous-looking road. The dungeon? Maybe. Overland travel? Doubtful.

And to the module text, I also agree... I'd prefer the adventure to empower the DM rather than specifying an active check, hence my comment about giving the DM the choice by suggesting a condition where the passive check (default) could be replaced by an active check (exception).

We will see. It's early days yet. Thanks for your comments!

James said...

So, you'd rather that passive DCs were a bit lower, and that passive checks only came up in certain circumstances?