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I ran into this problem in a session I had earlier today. My characters were going through a dungeon and after a fairly lengthy fight with a person who lived there, they decided they would question her about the place. The party was just fine at extracting information, and the hostage was actually quite willing to speak, but despite this they still didn't believe her (she was an illusionist and a prisoner, so it is natural they should mistrust her).

Everything she told them was actually the truth, but because they were skeptical, one of the characters decides to make an Insight check to see if she was lying to them. (We're playing D&D 4e.) He scored very low with a 9 on his check. I told him "You are inclined to believe everything she is saying is true". Now because he knew that he rolled incredibly low, he assumes that this means she is not telling the truth.

I suppose this is technically meta-gaming since he knows his dice roll, and the character is just to oblivious to know if she actually is lying or not. My questions are

  1. How do I discourage players using the knowledge that they have a low roll to influence character decisions?
  2. Should I tell my players if somebody is actually telling the truth even if they have a very low roll to avoid them thinking they are being lied to and their characters are too stupid to figure it out? And if so, how should I tell them?
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    \$\begingroup\$ It sounds like your player expects false information on low rolls; It might be worth clarifying to your players whether that assumption is true or not in your campaign. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Feb 17 '14 at 6:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ This feels like it can link to a question I asked before. How to Determine *Honest* Sincerity \$\endgroup\$ – CatLord Feb 17 '14 at 14:28

12 Answers 12

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1. How do I discourage players using the knowledge that they have a low roll to influence character decisions?

Be up front and honest with them about not Meta gaming. It is meta-gaming using the knowledge of a low roll to influence your in-character actions/reactions/thoughts/etc. I usually say just what you said, something along the lines of, "You think she seems to be telling the truth." If my player then goes on to think she is lying, I do one of two things:

  • Either gently remind them, "Your character thinks she is telling the truth and would not remain suspicious."
  • Or, allow them to roll insight again, but on a different bit of information hoping for a higher roll so it's definitive that the NPC is truthful (or not).

The first option is always better, and usually in the long run makes for more engaging role playing when players can accept the cards their characters have been given. One major tip, when they roll low and you tell them they believe the NPC, try not to act devious or suspicious, your tone and demeanor can influence player thoughts tremendously.

2. Should I, and if so how, tell my players if somebody is actually telling the truth even if they have a very low roll to avoid them thinking they are being lied to and their characters are too stupid to figure it out?

This is a bit tougher... first I refer you back to the first part of my answer to the first question. Players acting on the knowledge of low or high rolls in a way that is discordant with the information you give them is Meta gaming. So, if the 2 options above don't work, then you have to ask yourself one question.

"How will having this player remain suspicious of the information affect the narrative?"

This situation is good for on the fly story development!

  • The player remains suspicious, doesn't heed the warnings of the NPC and their actions either result in an extremely challenging fight, or worse may even lead to the death of the NPC. This could cause the player to be more careful in the future or become deeply regretful of his stubbornness.
  • The player remains suspicious but the NPC pleads with them, "I can tell you don't believe me, and if I were you I might not believe someone like me either... but please good sir knight, proceed with caution!" This could also lead to the outcomes in the previous example if the Player still ignores the warning. Or they may uncover, incrementally, that the NPC was truthful, after which they might go back, apologize and make a new friend.

If the story really is better served with the character believing 100% that the NPC is not lying and there is no in game way to work around the suspicious nature of the player... as a last resort (and I personally would not do this), just tell them out of character that the NPC is being truthful. I can't think of a reason that you would need to have the character believing that the NPC was honest given the ad-libbed scenarios above, but if you find it imperative, it's your call to make.

...and nothing says the player won't suspect you of lying just because you are the DM. ;) Some players will always be suspicious no matter what as they will always believe the DM is "out to get them".

(And to quote another answer here after reading the stuff posted as I was typing this novel length answer... do be up front with your players that anything you say as a DM to the player will always be the truth. Lies might come from NPCs, but never the DM. And always make sure you are consistent in upholding these promises to your players.)

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Explicitly define "What's at stake?"

Well, it sounds like part of your problem is that you two don't necessarily see eye to eye on the meaning of that roll.

In my experience, the best way to approach this is to actually explicitly define the "stakes" of the check before the roll. That means you spell out the consequences of success and failure, then give the player a chance to commit to the test or suggest an alternative (e.g. to clarify the goal of his action). This solves a number of commonly recurring communication problems.

The process looks something like this:

Player: Can I have an Insight check to see if she's lying?
GM: Okay. DC 15. If you succeed, I'll tell you whether she's lying or not. If you fail, I'm not saying anything else.
Player: Sounds good. Oh, uh, 9. I guess I really don't know, do I?
GM: Nope. Might as well be a coin-flip.

Or like this:

Player: I want to use my Knowledge skill to read the ancient runes.
GM: Okay. If you succeed, I'll tell you two things. If you fail, you can't read the runes.
Player: I dunno, that seems boring. Can't I at least glean some information?
GM: Okay, I'll tell you two things regardless. But if you fail, one of them will be false.
Player: Exciting!

Or like this:

Player: I want to grab the magic orb before it falls into the black vat!
GM: Okay, but you've gotta be fast. Dexterity check. But if you fail, it shouldn't be a freebie.
Player: Like, maybe if I mess it up, I lose the orb but I'm also dangling on the edge of the pit, holding on for dear life?
GM: Sounds perfect. Roll?

In some sense, explicitly discussing rolls and consequences makes it harder to mislead or bamboozle the players, but you really don't need to. You still have plenty of ways to manage information (note how the first example allows you to withhold information completely, while the second allows you to lie while making it hard for the players to actually use the knowledge that it was a lie for their strategic benefit). And, as your situation demonstrates, holding back what the rolls mean tends to just encourage "metagaming" to figure it out anyway.

Also, there's a pattern that GMs can get into where they kinda make a lot of rolls irrelevant behind the scenes. It's not cheating or railroading per se, but just kinda handwaving away failure because you don't want the game to hit a roadblock. Explicit stake-setting encourages you to actually spend some time thinking about failure — what might go wrong as the result of a failed roll, and how to make it something interesting that'll actually propel the game forward. In my experience, RPG players are much more likely to accept their characters being in a precarious situation when they can clearly see how the danger was a result of their own choices.

It also makes it easy for the players to step up and define their own dramatic failure consequences, which is pretty awesome stuff — now you've got the whole group architecting their own doom!

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    \$\begingroup\$ As an aside, I like this answer because it describes what really should have happened when the player failed the Insight check: they did not receive any additional insight into the situation. They did not suddenly become less suspicious, or believe that everything is truthful. They simply have no insight into the situation. From this light, the player's decision to not trust the NPC is a perfectly acceptable conclusion. \$\endgroup\$ – jdmichal Aug 1 '16 at 22:24
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It sounds like your players and you have different expectations of the expectations of the game. Use the Same Page Tool to come to a consensus.

Functionally, neither you nor your players are behaving wrong for the game that you or they are playing. Unfortunately, you are not playing the same game. This problem is not an "in character" problem, it's an expectation management problem.

Your players believe you to be an unreliable narrator, with their skills acting as their confidence in a statement of truth. (This sounds like a sense motive legacy from 3.5). While insight is useful... the "expecting false information from the DM on a 9" isn't particularly apt for the skill or the game.

Personally, I've had the most fun in a game when the GM and I (as player) conspire against our characters. Set out, up front, that you'll always be truthful to the players, and that you would like their assistance in modifying their characters actions. Therefore, preface people lying with "The merchant looks up to you, and lies to your face, 'Of course this is a +3 sword of awesome.'" (don't actually lie about magic items in 4e. It just... breaks everything.)

You can then resolve the mechanical-functional consequences in collusion with your players if that's the sort of game they want to play. They can roll Insight against the merchant's bluff and play up themselves getting suckered in. On the other hand, if they don't want to play that way, then work with them to figure out the consistent rules for how social interactions should work. Do players want to express their confidence in an Insight check as a function of their unmodified die roll? Let them, so long as that house-rule is on the table, it's fine.

At the end of the day, the objective here should be consistency of rules for maximum fun/satisfaction. If all of your players agree that metagaming is valuable, it's a waste of time to shout "you're having fun wrong!" Having a rational discussion about the taboos of the table is your least worst outcome here.

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There have been several answers that have bits I agree with and I've +1'd and commented accordingly. However I did have a spark I wanted to share and shall do so below.

Competency/Circumstance Bonuses

The intimate knowledge of this NPC is quite valuable especially since it's true. The believers should get a bonus (+2 or +3 sounds sufficient) to all Perception, Insight, and Dungeoneering checks for things the NPC has already divulged. On the other hand if a player deems that the information is untrustworthy, give them a penalty of the same amount. The player's competency could save them but it's a way to show them that the truth was told and maybe (although possibly a metagaming solution) the doubter would come around.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A meta solution for a meta problem, I can see the merit there. I also really like the boon for those that do believe the NPC. However, I am a bit confused as to the penalty for the stubborn PC. They would have heard the same information... are you thinking the in-game reason they are performing worse is because they are specifically doing things in opposition to the NPC's advice? still gave +1 I'm likely confused because I am probably misinterpreting something :) \$\endgroup\$ – MC_Hambone Feb 17 '14 at 20:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ "NPC said that the reset lever is under the fourth stone. Nah I can't believe that, it can't be the lever... But I think I see where the mechanism runs from it. Nope this is just more trickery. I'll try to tie off the tripwire." \$\endgroup\$ – CatLord Feb 18 '14 at 0:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @CatLord Can you work that into the answer, if it's important as a clarification? \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 17 '15 at 18:12
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As I see it, the main questions are for the long term. As such, my main suggestion is that some rolls you'll roll hidden from the players. Rolls such as this one, or stealth check or the like should always leave the players somewhat guessing in the dark, trying to figure out if they succeeded or not. This usually makes them follow what you told them in this regard far more often.

But, in order to answer your 2 question, here are my 2 cents:

Discouraging them from using the knowledge

First of all, I should ask if this is quiet necessary, as going with them might create a new and unique story that you haven't anticipated.

But, the main solution here is to make sure that whatever she told them is exactly what happens. If she told them that there's a hidden trap in the far east of the dungeon (for example), then when they come to that place they should see that it's there.

Another solution is to not tell them anything if the roll is too low to give the right answer but too high to give a false one. Usually, only a natural one is a critical fumble, and as such making a normal failure to give as little as possible (if at all) will solve this problem from the head start.

To tell or not to tell?

For me, the answer is not to tell. For me, unless it's really important in order to finish this dungeon crawl (or another), the answer should always be to let them find by themselves. They may fail sometimes or even more than sometimes, but they are the heroes of the story. As heroes, giving them the solution is just like cheating them ("I know that you're failing to see the point, so I'll give it to you...").

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The DM should be describing information about the character's environment, not telling the players what their characters think, which is entirely the prerogative of the players.

Telling the player "you don't see any evidence that the illusionist is lying or telling the truth" is a better solution because then the player simply cannot metagame based on that information.

Better still, have a consequence for failure whenever you call for a skill check. If the PC fails their insight check, maybe the NPC becomes suspicious or more taciturn, even hostile?

Final point: players should be describing their characters actions, not asking for skill checks. The DM decides whether a skill check is necessary when they adjudicate the action.

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It's possible that I'm sticking my nose in where it's not merited here, but here's my take on it, specifically regarding knowledge/insight/discern motive-type checks: -

Chris Perkins once said that the players should know that everything the DM says is true - that is, if the DM says "You feel like she's telling the truth" or "You can't read the writing, but you think it might be something to do with pineapples..." then they're telling the truth. What an NPC says may or may not be true, and the insight checks should be translated into what the DM says, and in the spirit of good roleplaying the player should go along with it. Failing that, there's always rolling behind the screen, or having the "Don't Meta-game" talk, as covered above.

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How do I discourage players using the knowledge that they have a low roll to influence character decisions?

Make them roll a hidden skill check (inside your DM screen) so they know only the final result of their check without knowing how the dice "performed". I suggest to apply this to all these skills, too:

  • stealth
  • perception
  • disguise
  • deception
  • insight
  • in general all the Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma checks

Should I tell my players if somebody is actually telling the truth even if they have a very low roll to avoid them thinking they are being lied to and their characters are too stupid to figure it out? And if so, how should I tell them?

Yes you should, but they are free to mistrust you, so you can make them roll an insight/wisdom check with a very low DC anyway (like 5).

Extra:

Roleplay like a first class actor: she's defeated and totally broken? say the truth crying in front of them, and tell them to go to hell with all those stupid questions when they insist, you already said that!

Behave like a genuine and credible human being in that situation; If the things make sense they will believe her without throwing any dice at all.

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Just tell him "The NPC may have got a fumble, have you thought about that?" and then let him being paranoid if he wants. Maybe this time the PCs won't trust their interlocutor, and so what? You played fair, he failed his check and didn't get his information, nothing to worry about there.

Make sure they eventually learn that their interlocutor was telling the truth, whether in game or in an after-game debriefing. That way next time they will be more likely to think twice before making those kinds of assumptions.

Also make it clear that failing an Insight check doesn't mean you got the opposite of the truth, but rather information you can't trust. It should be obvious for most of the players, but they may have missed that.

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The really important assumption the players have is that no matter their roll, they're going to get information regardless. The risk when you fail a check is not that you need to negate the information you get and still end up with accurate, reliable information (in fact, if that were the case a 1 would be the next best thing to a 20 because it'd be the most reliably wrong), it's that you get no information at all. Reminding the party of that would likely help, especially if for rolls like insight you remind them that check is to know whether something already said is true.

There's a few ways you could make it clear that you aren't giving any information on a failed roll:

  1. Don't give information on a failed roll. "You have no idea if she's telling the truth." That's it. The players' expectations are set right at the moment, so there's no chance for them to be misled.
  2. Give information, but roll its accuracy separately and not in eye shot. Could be useful if you want to reinforce characterization or draw attention to something. "You (rolls die)... think she's telling the truth because she keeps looking at the fighter's sword". This is the one I'm probably least fond of, but is worth keeping in mind if the players really dislike getting nothing.
  3. Give information, just don't actually give information that gives the answer away. "You notice that she's sweating a bit and keeps looking at the fighter's sword, but have no idea if she thinks it's worth it to tell a lie to get through the next hour". Nice thing there is you can hint towards things the party can verify to see whether or not she's lying.

As an example of the last, imagine the party's trying to get information out of a merchant captain about whether he'll be transporting an artifact the big bad's trying to get their hands on. Unfortunately, they roll poorly when asking about it, and get that he's a shameless braggart who says he got something matching the description in as part of a big shipment from Valia that he's carrying for a Lord Tarth. Then the party could make an objective of checking up on whether anybody's heard of a big shipment from Valia, or getting gossip about whether Lord Tarth's been doing some expensive interior decorating.

All of these methods benefit from full disclosure, because otherwise the players may feel sure that they are getting some information and feel misled.

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I don't think this particular encounter requires an insight check.

But, if a player absolutely wanted to roll insight I would ask him to justify a need for the check. If he did justify the need with sufficient plausibility that relates to the encounter I would let him roll against a DC of my choosing based on the encounter.

If the player rolled successfully, I would only give him insight to the NPCs observable mannerisms and behavior.

Here's an example:

If the player rolls successfully, tell him some observable information like:

"She has made intermittent eye contact throughout most of your interrogation, but it's obvious she has been bested in combat and now has a submissive demeanor. She's a bit nervous, but you've seen this in other prisoners when they are uncertain about their fate."

If the player rolls a failure, tell him some observable information like:

"She is a stranger to you and all you know about her is from your recent fight. She appears a little nervous, but other than that it's difficult to tell if she is lying or being truthful."

None of those examples leave a player in a state where he can metagame. Once you allow insight or other similar rolls, don't leave a player in a state (based on your response) where they can use the roll to metagame, because they usually will.

A lot of players tend to want to use insight as their own personal version of Detect Lie. Insight should never be used to metagame that way. It should also never be used to determine what an NPC is thinking, or what his hidden motivations are.

If a player asks you: "Can i make an insight check to tell if she is lying." That should be your cue to ask? How are you doing that? Hopefully your player will give you a plausible reason.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ How a particular skill is used is system-dependent. In D&D 4e, which the asker says they're using, Insight is used to counter attempts to Bluff. Bluff is used to tell lies. So yes, by the rules, Insight is used to determine if someone is lying. It can also be used for getting a read on a person or situation in more general ways, so either way, it's perfectly valid in the described situation. \$\endgroup\$ – Michaellogg Aug 17 '16 at 21:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ Despite how the skill is used in 4e or any system, the asker had two questions about how to keep the players from metagaming based on the dice result for the insight skill, and how to use the insight skill to better prevent metagaming. My suggestions were to try and answer those questions in a way that helped curb metagaming when using the insight skill. If he followed the rules as written then metagaming may be unavoidable. The GM is the final authority on how rules are interpreted in his campaign. \$\endgroup\$ – Naleax Aug 18 '16 at 3:08
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If it were me, I would avoid a skill check here.

What is the roll checking? If it is checking if the character remembers something, should the players have encountered the knowledge previously in the campaign? Should the player have remembered / made a note?

Skill checks take the place of feats you cannot do at a table (like jumping a chasm). Conversation and recollection of knowledge certainly are things you can do at a table.

If you absolutely must check (perhaps the knowledge is to do with a characters backstory) then use a blind roll - don't tell the player what they are rolling for and follow with one of 3 dialogues with the quality of information based upon the quality of the roll. You shift the check from the PC's skill to the NPC's skill. Does the NPC think you are up to no good?

Either method eliminates ambiguity and 2nd guessing. Imposing rules upon your players is tricky and can break game flow. Instead avoid the situation (in this case, meta-gaming) altogether.

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