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During Waterdeep: Dragon Heist, there are a number of faction missions, one of which is:

“The Zhents are courting a Red Wizard of Thay named Esloon Bezant, trying to add his gang of thugs to their ranks. All we know about him is that he fled his homeland a few years back and is too smart to get caught doing anything illegal. He and his gang of bullies prowl the Dock Ward. Scuttle the deal, and do it fast!”

With a suggested solution:

The characters can create a rift between the Zhentarim and Esloon’s gang by sowing rumors of betrayal. They must spend 25 gp in bribes and succeed on a DC 16 Charisma (Deception or Persuasion) check. Conversely, they can confront Esloon Bezant (LE male Thayan human mage) and his gang of five thugs and either defeat them or bribe them with at least 500 gp. Reward: Each Lords’ Alliance character gains 2 renown. The characters can also deprive Esloon of his spellbook, which contains all the spells he has prepared.

Given that a suggested solution involves the party spending money and checks of a given DC.

The party's solution was:

Attempt to use minor illusion to lure Esloon to get him on his own in an alley and murder him. Two level 4 PCs against a wizard of Thay. Unwise. I was happy to run that, mitigating a TPK with a mugging, not killing, but the PC wasn't close enough to kick that off. So they ended up regrouping and trying using message to send a message as "a Zhent", when asked which Zhent? with what voice? with what name? what details of the deal/meeting are you using? and realised how little information they had, trailed off. They then recognised Davil and messaged him. The whole plan was a mess, but really, Elsson and Davil both wouldn't trust each other based on the amateur hour show from the party, so both went their separate ways.

So, while fun, roleplay not rollplay, but without paying or using checks, the party seem to have solved the requirements of the mission.

What are the issues with not charging/challenging the players in this case? Are there any compelling reasons to force the party to follow the suggested, published solutions closer?

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    \$\begingroup\$ What do you mean by "DC checks", as stated in your title? Do you simply mean allowing parties to resolve encounters with creative roleplay rather than the method suggested in the adventure? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jun 12 at 21:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast I mean: a) resolving encounters without using the specific skill checks at the specific DCs. b) using skills checks of a similar DC based on the players' plans \$\endgroup\$ – StuperUser Jun 12 at 22:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @kanoo: Please don't answer in comments. That would be the basis for a good answer :) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jun 13 at 2:39
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The only possible issue is that it could be unfun for you or your players.

There is no requirement for players to stick to the book, especially considering that players aren't expected to have access to or otherwise know the book. If an adventure module presents something as an option this is just a guideline for you to use to judge what it'd take to accomplish the task; Something you could plug in if players do actually attempt something similar to the suggested solution or potentially - if you're worried about where the combined creativity of the party might lead - something you can use to set up hooks to draw players to that solution.

But in general, it is normal and expected that players will not exactly stick to the adventure as written. As a DM it is entirely within your purview to decide what happens as a result of the PCs actions.

If your concern is that your players are succeeding where in your estimation they shouldn't have... don't let them succeed! They may well fail at a task that's laid out before them. Dealing with this can be quite fun in its own right, although it may well be more work for you as DM. Just make sure that the reason they're not succeeding is because what they're doing actually just doesn't work, not that their actions don't adhere to some previously laid out path they're not even supposed to know about.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That was my intuition. That the DCs were guidelines for how challenging the example solution is and then use them as a guide for setting any checks based on the party's plan. The fun is in the party solving it their way and playing with that, also not being afraid to make a step in a direction that looks like it could be a TPK - jumping and then figuring out a plan on the way down. \$\endgroup\$ – StuperUser Jun 12 at 16:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, if the players succeed "by accident", it's probably important to let them know that, so they don't expect a similar approach to work in the future. \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan Thompson Jun 12 at 16:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @StuperUser Note that a DC is strictly tied to a course of action, not necessarily to the effect accomplished with it, and not everything the characters do necessarily needs to result in a skill check. It might take a skill check to find a hidden door and take a shortcut on that route, but it won't take a skill check to go the long way round. And any two NPCs may respond very differently to attempts at persuasion, seduction, bribery or intimidation in combination of whatever course of action that's supposed to induce. \$\endgroup\$ – Cubic Jun 12 at 16:37
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The Rules

PHB (p.6)

  1. The DM describes the environment.

  2. The players describe what they want to do.

  3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions.

To paraphrase:

  1. The DM provides the challenge.
  2. The players try potential solutions.
  3. The DM decides if they work or not.

While its perfectly fine for the DM (or module designer) to have some idea of some of the things the player's might try in a table-top role-playing game the player's are not constrained by only those solutions that the DM (or module designer) considered in advance. The DM has a brain and should use it to decide:

  1. Can this work? If no, then they fail - job done.
  2. Can this fail? If no, then they succeed - job done.
  3. If it fails once does this change the world in some way so they can't just keep trying over and over until they succeed? If no, then they succeed - job done.
  4. If you get here you need to decide how hard the task is and assign a DC and choose the ability score that the player's approach relies on (and if any proficiencies apply).

For your scenario:

  1. Can this work? - yes.
  2. Can this fail? - no. At least, not as you have described it; while the concept, the plan and the execution were a complete Charlie-Foxtrot the overall effect was that the player's could not fail - job done.
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