25
\$\begingroup\$

I have not seen this question when searching, although someone here might be able to point me to it. I found a related one here

Situation: PC walks into a room and wants to investigate to find any clues or whatever. They roll a 5 and lets say +3, which results in nothing. However, as a real person would, wouldn't the PC want to look again? In real life, if I'm in a room and I'm wanting to find something (imagine an escape room), I am going to continue looking around the same room. IE investigating it multiple times.

However, that seems broken, or at least too gamey. But I can't effectively call if gamey if it's a practice people do in real life.

So: Can you investigate the same room twice per RAW?

\$\endgroup\$
  • 21
    \$\begingroup\$ Related: I failed to open a lock. Now what? \$\endgroup\$ – Sdjz Jan 8 at 13:58
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ Since a real person isn't rolling dice to find anything, your analogy may not stand up. :) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 8 at 13:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. Remember: post answers as answers, not as comments. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jan 12 at 2:36

10 Answers 10

45
\$\begingroup\$

Yes, RAW allows you to investigate the same room twice

Multiple Ability Checks (DMG 237)

Sometimes a character fails an ability check and wants to try again. In some cases, a character is free to do so; the only real cost is the time it takes. With enough attempts and enough time, a character should eventually succeed at the task.

It then goes on with some suggestions on how to speed things up (automatic success by taking 10 times as long), and also that no amount of time can turn an impossible task into a successful one, or that failures can sometimes make subsequent attempts harder, depending on the situation.

So yes, repeats are allowed according to RAW.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Choosing this as the answer since it addresses the specific question asked. Although the others are still useful in their own ways \$\endgroup\$ – Just Another Guy Jan 8 at 17:44
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @J.Wagner My favorite system to use for this is to just "take 20" or "take 10" from Pathfinder. If there's no actual risk, you can take 20 minutes to "roll" an exact 20 on ability checks such as investigation or lockpicking. Similarly you can take 10 minutes to roll a 10. It takes care of most ability checks that do not require urgency. \$\endgroup\$ – John Hamilton Jan 9 at 7:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JohnHamilton Taking 10 didn't take extra time. It was just used to represent easy jobs that you could do without any risk of failure. i.e an excellent climber can always climb a rough wall but only needs to roll for a tougher challenge....while a bad climber might need to roll for both. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim B Jan 10 at 12:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TimB Right, I must've remembered wrong. The take 20 feature takes time (a plenty amount, but usually, as for combat purposes, 20 minutes is plenty) and take 10 feature just requires you to not be in immediate danger or distracted. \$\endgroup\$ – John Hamilton Jan 10 at 12:31
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @JohnHamilton Yep, take 10 for easy things in normal conditions you can do without effort. Take 20 for hard things that you can spend any amount of time on (I think by RAW it takes 20 times as long, so 20 rounds for most skills not 20 minutes - still a lot of time in combat) and roll a dice for anything which is both hard and where time taken matters. It is a good system. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim B Jan 10 at 12:35
42
\$\begingroup\$

Nothing in RAW prevents this, but ...

... the DM isn't required to have them roll again.

Let's get back to basics. From Basic Rules Chapter 1: (I added formatting for clarity)

  1. The DM describes the environment.

  2. The players describe what they want to do.

    • {snip} ...the DM listens to every player and decides how to resolve those actions.
    • Sometimes, resolving a task is easy. If an adventurer wants to walk across a room and open a door, the DM might just say that the door opens and describe what lies beyond. But the door might be locked, the floor might hide a deadly trap, or some other circumstance might make it challenging for an adventurer to complete a task. In those cases, the DM decides what happens, often relying on the roll of a die to determine the results of an action.
  3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions.

Unlike some versions of D&D where the player triggers/initiates the ability/skill check, in D&D 5e the DM is the one who calls for the die roll, or does not.

Ability Checks(Chapter 7: Using Ability Scores)

The DM calls for an ability check when a character or monster attempts an action (other than an attack) that has a chance of failure. When the outcome is uncertain, the dice determine the results.

In the above case, there was already a failure. If the DM is not given additional input from the PC on "what would be different about this second attempt at search" there is no compelling reason to roll again. But they can also allow that.

  • As an example, it may be useful to allow that if the DM is using a 'ticking clock' kind of session where the players have to achieve "X" before event "Y" happens. At this point, the choice to "search again" or not has a consequence, but that consequence may or may not have nothing to do with finding anything in the room.

If the DM feels that another circumstance has influenced the room's condition, or the players perception (I put on my dark vision goggles!) to warrant a reassessment of the chance of success of failure, then a DM calling for the player to roll another check would make sense.

Sometimes a character fails an ability check and wants to try again. In some cases, a character is free to do so; the only real cost is the time it takes. (DMG p. 237)

The DMG (p. 237) has additional guidance for DM's to apply, at their discretion, regarding adjudicating ability checks.

When a player wants to do something, it's often appropriate to let the attempt succeed {or fail is implied if not stated} without a roll or a reference to the character's ability scores. For example, a character doesn't normally need to make a Dexterity check to walk across an empty room or a Charisma check to order a mug of ale. Only call for a roll if there is a meaningful consequence for failure.

When deciding whether to use a roll, ask yourself two questions:

  • Is a task so easy and so free of conflict and stress that there should be no chance of failure?
  • Is a task so inappropriate or impossible- such as hitting the moon with an arrow-that it can't work?
    If the answer to both of these questions is no, some kind of roll is appropriate.

There is some good advice in this Q&A here on multiple ability checks in general.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm just getting into 5e (got the books yesterday), and I remember that one of the previous editions (3, I think) had the concept of 'take 10' and 'take 20.' What happened to that and why couldn't it apply here? \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Jan 8 at 16:28
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @Dave Here's a question on that topic: "Does 5th edition have the equivalent of Taking 20?" \$\endgroup\$ – Medix2 Jan 8 at 16:29
14
\$\begingroup\$

If they can try until they succeed, why is the DM calling for an ability check?

The DM calls for an ability check when a character or monster attempts an action (other than an attack) that has a chance of failure.

If failure has no consequences then it isn’t really failure.

And, no, losing time is not a consequence because time in a RPG is an infinite resource. As the DM I can make as much pass as I want in a sentence: “Later that day, ...” or even “Several decades pass ...”.

Now, time can be a limited resource but it has to be deliberately made one: the demon summoning ritual happens in 2 hours or you actually use time based wandering monsters that are more than a minor inconvenience.

Unless the difference between success and failure is going to force the player to make a decision about managing relevant resources then if it can be done in they way they are trying, they do it, if it can’t be done that way it rapidly becomes obvious that it can’t.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ "Several decades pass ..." Your entire party has died of starvation. \$\endgroup\$ – Darrel Hoffman Jan 9 at 16:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ "infinite resource" - as in spoilertv.com/2015/12/… :-) \$\endgroup\$ – Tom Jan 10 at 10:58
8
\$\begingroup\$

I can't speak for RAW, but in general, it's better to not allow senseless re-rolling of checks. It's meta-gamey and ruins the underlying assumption about probabilities of success associated with a skill level.

If there is no meaningful obstacle to them going over the room over and over, just let them take 20 instead of rolling, meaning you tell them what they can find, as long as they would have a chance of finding it at all. This should then of course take a long time, much longer than whatever you assume as time span for the single check.

If time is not unlimited, so using it to go over the room again is indeed a meaningful decision, then do allow them to re-roll, which of course includes spending that time for searching again. This would for example be the case in the escape room scenario: If you don't find anything on the first try, you try again, but the time lost is lost.

If time is not of the essence, I'd only allow the re-roll if the situation has meaningfully changed in between the attempts, for example, because the investigators have found a clue elsewhere and realized there should be a connecting clue in the first room as well. Or the players explain to you an approach which causes such a change in situation. For example, taking the furniture apart to check for hidden compartments, or flooding the room with water to see if there's any leaks in the floor.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ I recommend Angry GM’s 5 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenaged Skill System, particularly Rule #2. It may give you a different perspective here. (Warning: mild, self-censored swearing of the “$#!%” variety.) \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Jan 8 at 15:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Adding a short explanation of RAW would improve answer \$\endgroup\$ – NeutralTax Jan 8 at 15:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan That article is why I bought Angry's book. True Confession. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 9 at 2:02
5
\$\begingroup\$

RAW allows it, but there are considerations to take as a DM, based on this particular check

The accepted answer is best for the specific question and the RAW clarification, but you may want to consider on a case-by-case basis the re-rolling of ability checks depending on what is being done.

Players know that they rolled poorly, but their characters do not always know. It's easy to have observable failure on, say, an athletics check to kick down a door. It's less so obvious to a character that they failed to perceive something.

Often times when considering permitting a player to retry an ability check, I ask myself, "If I had rolled the ability check for the player and given the results without telling them the roll, would they still try again?"

Taking your question of searching a room, I would consider the goal of the character and the knowledge they have of what they are searching for.

  • If the player is simply searching a room for "hidden doors or treasure" for the sake of it, the character would, on a failed check, simply assume their search was sufficient but there was nothing to be found.
  • If the character was informed that the secret entrance to the bandit's lair was assuredly in that room, then it would be reasonable for the character to assume they need to search more thoroughly, and I would permit another check.

This concept extends to other scenarios as well, sometimes including several individual checks from other players:

  • If the party asks the rogue to search for traps, and the rogue's player rolls terribly, the party's characters would not reasonably have a sudden distrust in the skills of their designated "trap guy" and start searching themselves.
  • If the cleric's player rolls terribly during their interrogation of a suspect on an Insight check, the rest of the group's characters would reasonably accept the cleric's assessment of them "being truthful" and, while maybe still retaining an air of suspicion, would not continue to aggressively press the suspect until they pass the DC.
| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ "If the character was informed that the secret entrance to the bandit's lair was assuredly in that room" -- indeed, knowing what you're looking for is actually there is half the battle, maybe more than half. I would not even require a check, if the PC(s) already know that the secret entrance exists and is in that room. I would instead determine how long it would take for them to find it, and make that much time pass. (Unless of course there's some other type of challenge or skill check that might apply, e.g. defeating a puzzle, something like that, in which case the challenge would trump.) \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Duniho Jan 9 at 1:27
4
\$\begingroup\$

Why would you?

I mean, I know why the player would: because they rolled a 2, and they want a better roll.

But what the roll represents is the character doing whatever search they think is reasonable under the circumstances. Otherwise they'd keep searching, right? So if they roll a 2, they not only didn't find the thing, they also don't know they've missed anything.

The circumstances may constrain what a "reasonable" search looks like. If they're searching the room while the building is on fire, maybe they should have disadvantage. Conversely, if they have unlimited time and the freedom to completely tear the room apart, then they shouldn't even roll, because the outcome isn't in doubt.

Don't fall into the trap of thinking one die roll represents one "attempt" by the character to do a task (that if they roll an Investigation check for searching for 10 minutes, they can search for another 10 minutes and roll another Investigation check).

  • The die roll establishes a fact: that you found the thing, or you didn't.

The only case where rolling multiple Investigation checks makes sense is if they don't get to search until they're satisfied, say because someone kicks them out of the room, and they later get the chance to come back and search it some more. But how much does it matter if they find it on the first attempt or the second? If they're that desperate to find the thing, you're probably making the mistake of hiding a plot-critical item or clue behind a failable skill check. In that case I'd let the Investigation check determine whether they find it before having to leave, or they have to sneak or fight their way back in to continue searching--at which point they will find the thing, without having to roll again, because seriously?

For more on this subject, see Justin Alexander's article "Let It Ride".

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ "if they roll a 2, they not only didn't find the thing, they also don't know they've missed anything." while correct, what they do know is that they rolled a 2 (and the PC knows that their search wasn't very good). The antithesis to "one big check" is "many small checks" - investigate the bookshelf, the drawers, the wall, spend 2 minutes searching, etc. Falling flat on your face 5 seconds in to hours of searching isn't fun. \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 Jan 9 at 5:43
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @jgn I don't see what you mean. If you roll a 2 then your character searched until they were done, and found nothing. If they reasonably believe that they haven't done a thorough search and need more time, then why did they stop? I also hope you're not proposing giving the players a list of possible hiding places in the room and having them roll a check for each one. That's unbearably tedious. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Jan 9 at 16:34
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ +1, so much this. I can't stand players who think that just because somebody rolled low, we should start making dice rolls all over the place. "Oh the wizard failed on this roll on ancient lore he's been studying for years... wait, let everybody else roll too!", "Oh, the rogue searching for traps rolled a 1. Everybody else is going to roll as well! Wait, everybody rolled low, we're just going to assume there's traps, just to be safe!". That kind of weird-metagamey "lemme go again" nonsense gets shut down real fast at my table. \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Jan 9 at 21:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Theik Without going into excessive detail, frustration at that behavior has greatly influenced my thinking about skill checks. What I try to keep in mind is that the character is trying to do something, and success and failure both have consequences. \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Jan 9 at 23:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$ – Theik Jan 10 at 14:21
1
\$\begingroup\$

This may apply, I believe you can use the Action: Help too.

Help: You can lend your aid to another creature in the completion of a task. When you take the Help action, the creature you aid gains advantage on the next ability check it makes to perform the task you are helping with, provided that it makes the check before the start of your next turn.

A player may ask for a re-roll, but using Action: Help from another team member gains advantage on the ability check if declared to aid for a task.

I do have to admit, form me, like all things, the more crawlspaces, mines, basements, caverns, and caves I've been in, the less I look around. Once you've seen one, you've seen them all. It would take a special kind of person to hang around in them for 10 to 30 minutes while the rest party had no interest in them and moved on without you.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
1
\$\begingroup\$

Use a passive check

Passive checks are designed for this kind of situation, where a PC is attempting something over and over:

A passive check is a special kind of ability check that doesn't involve any die rolls. Such a check can represent the average result for a task done repeatedly, such as searching for secret doors over and over again, or can be used when the DM wants to secretly determine whether the characters succeed at something without rolling dice, such as noticing a hidden monster.

Time may be important

Keep in mind that in an escape room there is usually a time limit. If played in D&D, players may have other things to do that sit there searching the room over and over again - they do not have unlimited time. Each Search attempt is time that could be spent sharing and comparing clues, discussing solutions, looking more closely at specific objects, etc. Examining existing clues and developing theories will aid in further investigations.

Investigation needs context

Remember that investigation is not perception. Even though the character sees that there are two pens on the desk, they may not realise they are suspicious or important until they find out that the killer wrote a note in ink. They need the context to understand what kind of clue they are looking for. The pens can be found with perception immediately, but until the players realise the pens are important, investigating them won't turn up anything. Once the killer's note is found, an invesitgation check may deduce which pen is the right one.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ How do you "use a passive check" here? Either your passive score is high enough to find the thing or it's not. What does using a passive check look like at the table? \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Jan 9 at 17:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells Correct, either your passive score is high enough, or it isn't. That is the intention of passive checks. The DM makes a passive check and compares it to whatever clues the DM thinks the player could spot. The player cannot make multiple attempts to re-search the same room. As situations change the DM may require a new roll or reduce the DC of clues. \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 Jan 10 at 1:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Again, how do you use it at the table? What is the protocol you're envisioning? Player rolls a 2 on their Investigation check, says "I search the room some more" and picks up the die to roll again. What do you say? \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Wells Jan 10 at 6:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkWells Read this and see if it answers your question: dndbeyond.com/sources/basic-rules/… \$\endgroup\$ – user-024673 Jan 10 at 6:41
0
\$\begingroup\$

I consider an Investigation check a thorough process after which the character is certain they tried their hardest to search. Even if the player rolled a natural 1, the character thinks they did their best, so why would they investigate it again? I only allow these sorts of things after a certain amount of time has passed in which the character would reasonably think "Maybe I missed something... I should try again."

Think of the same question about a History or Arcana check. If the check fails, they don't know the information given. Thinking about it anymore probably wouldn't yield any more information.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ What about a history check being done in the library by searching through the books there? What about an Arcana check where you're trying to remember something, you know you remember it...what was it, damn it's at the tip of my tongue. Baly something. Arghg. Do you never remember something half an hour later? \$\endgroup\$ – Tim B Jan 10 at 12:23
-2
\$\begingroup\$

RAW never makes an specifications on searching a room more than once. This is something left completely up to the DM's discretion for how to do it. Each DM has their own rules on how many times and how rooms and items can be checked, so always ask your DM.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
  • 6
    \$\begingroup\$ You may wish to refer to DMG p. 237. Your answer is by and large correct, but adding/citing that would be useful (perhaps to any DM) \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jan 8 at 14:08

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.