April 7, 2008

3.7: Active and passive checks

When you enter a room, do you cover your ears? When meeting someone, do you close your eyes? When you crawl into a dungeon filled with traps, do you pay no attention to what you're doing?

Hopefully the answers to the questions above is always no. In the standard 3.5 rules, to use "normal" skills such as listen, search, spot, you have to roll dices to determine the outcome of the action. This can generate some funny situations like adventures with 20 ranks in Listen that once out of 20 completely fail the check (rolling 1's), not perceiving the ogre running towards them because they are humming country songs (or something like that).

This is unrealistic, dangerous and, after the first times, not funny at all.

When a bunch of adventurers descends into a dungeon or escapes from a prison or does the things bunches of adventurers usually do, they are aware that they are risking their own lives. So, if they want to live (and level up) they must be careful about what they do.

There is although a difference between active actions and passive actions. For example when a PC enters a room, he automatically hears noises around him, but there is a difference between hearing noises and listening to them.

If the action is done without active concentration, like listening to the surroundings or noticing to the furniture in a room, you are supposed to take 10 on the appropriate skill check.

Let's have an example.

Pip the adventurer has 5 ranks in Listen and enters a room in a dungeon. The room has a wooden door beyond which 5 goblins are playing dices. The DC to hear the gobs is 13 because they are drunk and noisy.

When Pip enters a room, not pressed in any way (e.g. not followed by an enraged ogre) he automatically listens to his surroundings and the player does not have to roll a die, but is considered to take 10 to the listen roll.

The DC to hear the goblins is less than the passive listen roll (10+5), so Pip hears them.

Easy, isn’t it?

On the other side, if you make an action like examining a room in search of a hidden passage or trying to identify a distant noise, it is assumed that you make your best effort to do so. To simulate this, you are supposed to take 20 on the roll.

Let's continue the examples covering the active roll

After getting rid of the goblins above, Pip is separated by another wooden door from a sleeping tiger. The DC to hear the tiger snoring is 23.

Pip's passive roll to hear the tiger is only 15 (10 base passive value + 5 ranks) so he does not hear anything, but Pip is a lucky guy and he decides to put an ear on the door and try to listen if there is anybody in the next room.

The active listen roll is 25 (20 base active value + 5 ranks), more than enough to hear the kitty snoring.

If instead of the sleeping tiger, the next room had contained an hidden assassin with a DC 30 to be heard, Pip will have learned the value to spend points in listen ranks.

The mechanics behind Spot and Search rolls is a little different, because Spot is always a passive roll and Search always an active one.

Entering a room a character notices everything up to things hidden with a DC of 10+his Spot ranks. If he searches the room for hidden things (e.g. secret doors) he finds everything hidden with a with a DC of 20+his Search ranks.

Using the examples above, when Pip (Spot: 7 ranks, Search: 3 ranks) defeats the goblins and look himself around, the DM describes to him everything is in plain view plus everithing that has a DC to be noticed up to 17 (10 base passive value + 7 Spot ranks), because everything with a DC of 17 or less, for Pip is in plain view.

After hearing the tiger snoring Pip decides to search the room for hidden passages, in hope there is a way to avoid the tiger.

The value to compare to the DC of hidden things is 23 (20 base active value + 7 Search ranks), barely enough to discover a DC 22 hidden closet with a leather hat and a whip. Hoping they are powerful enough magic items, Pip put them on and prepares himself to face the tiger.

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