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Perception...when there's nothing to see

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I know this has come up before somewhere, but I couldn't find the thread.

What are people's preferences for Perception checks when there is nothing for the PCs to detect.  So, for example, if the PCs suspect they're being followed, they decide to roll a Perception check.  If someone was following them, that would be an Opposed check, but if there's nobody there then what difficulty do you use?  (Obviously you could just not roll the check, but that then means the players know if they are being followed the moment they have to make a check, irrespective of whether the check succeeds.)

Not come up a lot in my games so far, but just curious.

Thanks in advance.

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Nothing harder to find than something that isn't there....just make something up and make it hard to keep them paranoid....they say they wanna check because they think someone is following them and you tell them to roll against RRRR, they'll likely 'lose' and really be spun up....

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2P51's suggest works well.

IF the PC's suspect they are being followed but actually aren't being followed I wouldn't make them roll. If they suspect they might end up being followed and naratively describe an extended state of vigilance then I would grant a boost die to any eventual perception or vigilance checks.  In these cases, an opposed perception check isn't usually instigated by the PC's but rather triggered by the actions of the NPC.  An NPC starts to follow them, the PC's roll a perception opposed by the NPC stealth (or whatever skills you deem necessary) because of the NPC's actions.

However, if the PC's are in an area with the NPC that will eventually follow them and PC's want to make a check because they suspect something amiss. I would likely have them make a streetwise (or perception of you prefer) check opposed by the NPC's cool (or skullduggery or whatever) to see if the PC's can spot someone in the crowd exhibiting shady characteristics. After all, the NPC isn't following them yet, but he intends to and his behavior might reflect his preparations to do so.  Make sense?

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First question, is player paranoia helping or hindering the enjoyment of the session? Do you as the GM want the players to be concerned that they're being followed, or is this just overly careful players dragging down the pacing of the game by making sure they verbalize every little thing so as to ensure you don't surprise them (because they forgot to say it that one time; think searching for traps in games like D&D or Pathfinder).

Either way, I'm inclined to say keep the roll behind the screen. They really don't need to see the results. In fact I'd be extremely slow to share the exact result of the net success/failures (advantage/threat/triumph/despair should still be shared of course, but the true success vs. failure of detecting something that may be stealthily sneaking up on them should be hidden). For the calculation of the dice pool, I would determine a difficulty score based on how difficult it would be to locate someone following you in a given environment. Wide open area with no obstructions = 1 difficulty, the dense jungles of Felucia = 4 difficulty, that sorta thing, as well as setbacks for modifiers as normal. I would strongly consider using the threat to generate strain, if at least to get them to knock it off and discourage fishing for triumphs.

Anyway, back to my first question: if a degree of paranoia is in order, I would not share the result of exactly how much net success/failure they rolled. Instead just say along the lines of "you don't see anything." If this is just slowing down the game and you're sick of the players asking, then do just tell them the amount of successes on the check (and if they failed it, I would just stick with saying "you don't see anything" and not tell them net failure, unless this is absolutely annoying for them to keep asking, at which point you might want to consider talking to the players on the matter and just advise that you can handle the perception checks, and if they want to actually be better about spotting these things, they should just boost the skill, not say every 5 minutes they check to make sure they're being followed).

Edited by Kommissar

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I'd make it Average Opposed vs Skullduggery, add a Setback or two depending on crowd size, with 1 upgrade. Whether successful or not, low threat indicates someone coincidentally following, high Threat someone purposefully following, Despair indicates eminent danger. Let the dice determine whether they're being followed. Paranoid players are their own worst enemy. Have them followed by a lost toddler. The angry drunken Herglic mother mistakes the PCs for kidnappers, big public scene, stormtroopers get involved...and discover something "fishy" (pun not intended) and NOW they're being followed.

Edited by Alekzanter

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So they are in a constant state of paranoia? What did you do to them!? :lol: (I joke...I know it's hypothetical)

Players need to be able to trust you to run a good game, and part of that (IMO) is to cue them as to when Perception checks might be useful. Otherwise, if they are constantly going around with a "bad feeling about this," it should...

  1. Slow down the gameplay as you narrate, with exceeding detail, the painstaking process they are taking to check around corners. It's all in the verbiage :) 
  2. Cause RP consequences. The passersby on the street give them odd looks because they are acting so shifty. The contacts they talk to stop wanting to deal with them because they are always looking over their shoulders. They make themselves more memorable for when the ISB comes through looking for a group of troublemakers. "Yeah, I remember those guys...looked like they were expecting to sky to come crashing down on them and everything. One of them was wearing an oddly colorful set of armor that covered his face in a T-visor, and the another was wearing a brown set of traveling robes with some knee-high boots, and had a goatee."  
  3. Cause strain, or disallow strain recovery, as they remain in constant "alert" state. For example, don't allow them to recover strain during "downtime" if they spend the downtime being all paranoid. 

After all this, if they keep wanting to make Perception checks, just start assigning them a random (high) difficulty, with a liberal amount of difficulty upgrades. Maybe every now and then make it an Impossible difficulty, and require them to spend a Destiny Point to be able to make the check! After all, they're looking for something that isn't even there. Play up their paranoia until they get the picture.

 

Or, y'know, just talk to 'em about it. 

:ph34r:

Edited by awayputurwpn

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I'm not a fan of unnecessary rolling.  If you have nothing planned, sometimes it's simpler to just say there's nothing there, you're all good, let's move on.  (If the players don't trust you, then this suggests a different issue.)  Besides, it's not up to the player to decide when a roll is made, that's entirely your call.

However, sometimes it's fun to give the players a chance to inject something, or give you a chance to flip a DP...heck, they asked, and they shall receive.  In that case, just make something up.  Personally I keep the difficulty "neutral", maybe one less difficulty die (or two if the PC is good) than the player's Perception just to facilitate their agency, with setback for conditions as normal, and likely a DP flip.

I roll everything openly.  Failure and threat are definitely going to work against the PCs, causing Strain for their pointless paranoia, setback on future rolls due to distraction for their pointless paranoia, or on a Despair maybe they were right all along, but they're looking in the wrong direction when the ambush comes.  Success and Advantage are up to the player, with a simple success confirming they're in the clear, maybe with Advantages they find a better path or notice someone who can help them (being more actively alert pays dividends).

But I've noticed that because of the way the dice work (even odds tend toward Success+Threat, or Failure+Advantage) these player requests come less often than they used to.  Every dice roll should have consequences because it has the potential to change the story direction.  With D&D there were no consequences for a Perception check, other than the obvious "missing something that is there", so players have a habit of Perception-spam.  But now, even success can create unwelcome complications.

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3 hours ago, 2P51 said:

Nothing harder to find than something that isn't there....just make something up and make it hard to keep them paranoid....they say they wanna check because they think someone is following them and you tell them to roll against RRRR, they'll likely 'lose' and really be spun up....

And a Despair has them confronting an innocent guy who just thought they  looked interesting and happened to be going the same place they were going...

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7 minutes ago, Daeglan said:

And a Despair has them confronting an innocent guy who just thought they  looked interesting and happened to be going the same place they were going...

I was thinking they look so nervous and suspicious the authoritay's come chat em up.....

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For checks where the players/PCs shouldn't actually know if they failed or succeeded, I roll the bad dice behind a screen while they roll the good dice. This way they get an idea of how well they did per their dice, but they don't know for sure as I tell them the net results.

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2 hours ago, Daeglan said:

And a Despair has them confronting an innocent guy who just thought they  looked interesting and happened to be going the same place they were going...

 

Love this idea.

 

2 hours ago, 2P51 said:

I was thinking they look so nervous and suspicious the authoritay's come chat em up.....

Also love this idea.

 

2 hours ago, Daeglan said:

I was thinking that giving into the darkside in their fears will have them jumping at shadows. but both options are appropriate.

And this one!

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So... here's my two cents. 

This is a narrative game, and ideally the players and the GM are supposed to work together to tell the story. If the players are wanting to check the trail to make sure they aren't being followed, my assumption is that the players think they should be being followed. 

I would let them roll, and set the difficulty according to the situation - a crowded location with lots of alleys, offshoots, and crowds would be hard or maybe even daunting. An empty rural sort of lane in the dark would probably be easy with a setback. I'd upgrade to add red die if there were security or criminal elements who would take notice of someone who looks suspicious (or if there actually are people following along). 

A success means they spot something useful or interesting, even if it's not someone following. Maybe they see a pickpocket in action, or a drug spice deal going down, or a merchant who'll have rarer gear then they've found so far, or a shortcut to wherever they're going, etc. A failure is just a failure, and they don't see anything that hasn't been described already. 

This is a tricky game, because it works best when everyone trusts each other. GM's shouldn't pull the type of crap that makes players want lots of unnecessary perception checks ("you didn't ask if there was a dragon in the room"), and players shouldn't metagame and make lots of extra rolls just because they think the GM will start being easier on them because of it. 

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1 hour ago, Genuine said:

This is a narrative game, and ideally the players and the GM are supposed to work together to tell the story. If the players are wanting to check the trail to make sure they aren't being followed, my assumption is that the players think they should be being followed.  

This is an excellent point!

Never be afraid to let the PCs speak into the adventure with their own fears. Sometimes they'll come up with better ideas than you had originally planned :)

Then when their own worst fears are realized, they'll have a sense of triumphant vindication ("I knew it!") and everyone will have had fun, regardless of how the situation actually pans out.

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9 hours ago, awayputurwpn said:

Never be afraid to let the PCs speak into the adventure with their own fears. Sometimes they'll come up with better ideas than you had originally planned :)

It's one thing that every GM should always remember. Work with them and play the session according to how they want. While I am a big fan of the pirates suggestion of harder than required rolls some times just to give them a little anxiety and to think there's more than there is on occasion but the "players tangent" can follow up in an interesting direction that you never saw and lead to more memories and fun at the table top, since we're using the perception rolls in this example, maybe as they work through the city streets/space station/sith temple they want to try again or lead an as yet unknown follower into an ambush and it could possibly link in to an obligation, a previously pee'd off NPC sending a bounty hunter, a random street gang trying to ambush this bunch of weird outsiders, mistaken identity, a lead in the case of whatever it is the party are there for or whatever the first thing that pops into your head is. It can become a big tangent or just a quick thrown together encounter, does it lead in to an adventure or do they cunningly lead a small domesticated creature into a trap that was only following them because the wookie was accidentally spilling rations out of his backpack?

Okay so as a GM I might have planned for a cunning underworld investigation leading to a big confrontation with the mob villain of the episode but if the party start to be convinced of corrupt authorities and work undercover within the force to undermine them and expose the corruption why not run with it? It's a narrative system and the stories can go anywhere, in an overall picture you might want to steer things towards something, maybe the mob boss is actually in some way linked to Big Bad Hutt the main nemesis of the campaign and so it turns out that although their ARE some maverick officers who might go their own way about things they do still lead to the guilt and confrontation with the boss but how we get there is always open to flexibility.

I will admit I am fortunate in that myself and a couple of members of my regular group are fairly experienced with improv theatre and can roll with the punches a little easier but the openness of the system can lead to stories having a life of their own. You can keep control of the big picture but don't be afraid to let things take a different direction than planned. As an aside the adversary decks can be great for throwing in a character or situation you didn't forsee without the need to go through books to find someone that fits the bill (not an issue if you're comfortable making up stat blocks on the fly of course!)

 

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