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Recently, whilst playing the 5e starter set with a fairly novice group, a player correctly guessed an NPC's motivations. She passed a wisdom check that gave her an inkling the NPC was hiding something.

The exchange went something like this: [Spoilers for Lost Mines of Phalvender, 2nd/ 3rd act]

NPC: "We can´t thank you enough for capturing Glassstaff. It's a shame you couldn't bring any of the Redbrands back in one piece."

ROGUE: I want to make a perception check (succeeds).

DM: You sense that Halia is hiding something from you.

At this point the group had become fixated that Halia was the Black Spider and so their questioning ran around her background. The rogue remained quiet for much of this and then after some time:

ROGUE: I think Halia wanted to control the Redbrands so she could take over the village.

So, the rogue guessed pretty much what the background information to the campaign said about the NPC´s motivations.

At this point I was unsure whether to award any XP or give her any feedback because although her intuition was correct there was nothing to confirm that she was right, nor did she directly question the NPC on her theory.

What is the criteria for awarding experience points in situations like this?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Would the check to sense an NPC's motivations not be an Insight check, rather than Perception? \$\endgroup\$ – Peeps Apr 9 '16 at 16:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @peeps that's usually a DM call, but I'd tend to agree with you were it at my table. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 10 '16 at 16:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Generally the player should declare what they want to achieve, and let the DM ask for a roll, if necessary, rather than just declare they 'want to make a perception check' (which, as @Peeps says, should probably be an insight one). Obviously, this depends on a group by group basis, but unless it's something mutually agreed upon from the start, it could lead to misunderstandings/problems. \$\endgroup\$ – Olorin Apr 12 '16 at 15:21
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Awarding XP outside of combat is always a DM option. The Dungeon Masters Guide (p.261) presents a method for doing that, basing the XP on the encounter level and whether or not there is a meaningful risk of failure.

If your player guessed but didn't confirm this hidden plan, you as DM need to assess the following:

  1. Was there a risk of failure?

  2. Was it a successful encounter?

  3. Did this move the story forward or help the party in achieving an objective?

Had your player further engaged and followed up on the guess with this NPC, and gotten resolution, you can make a better case for awarding XP for the encounter. This is similar to solving puzzles, disarming traps, or otherwise successfully resolving an encounter or challenge without combat.


FWIW, as @Peeps noted in a comment under the question, the Rogue's attempt to understand what's going on with Halia fits better with a Wisdom(Insight) check per PHB Chapter 7.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Another thing to consider: Giving a player experience for guessing the answer to a puzzle tells they player that their proposed answer is correct. That's fine sometimes, but under other circumstances you might want to preserve the ambiguity. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Apr 11 '16 at 0:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe Good point, it is one of those judgment things. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 11 '16 at 3:25
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Don't award XP, and don't give them (out of character) feedback

Predictions are not necessarily accurate. At this point the PCs have guessed correctly,and that's all. The PCs can always investigate further if they want to, but you shouldn't tell them "yeah you guessed right", that will encourage them to guess more, and roleplay less.

How will the players continue to act now that they suspect Halia's true intentions? Can they thwart Halia's plans? How can the players confirm their suspicions? Should they act now without the facts, possibly accusing the wrong person? How will Halia react?

Good and interesting gameplay will result of these guesses, but not if you start giving them rewards for guessing. This interesting gameplay is the reward for playing intelligently.

Consider awarding XP for progression

Whenever the characters have made a chunk of tangible progress towards their goals, reward them with XP. This will encourage them to keep moving forward, and not necessarily take every combat they face. They will quickly realize that playing smartly and efficiently will benefit the party more than fighting every monster they see. Accurate predictions help the party to this end.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your first part seems to be based on "incentivize the desired behavior and don't incentivize non desired behavior" as an XP awarding philosophy. (Lots of answers recommend something like this as a general GM approach across a variety of RPGs). Am I understanding your point correctly? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 20 at 13:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ It also sounds like OP was looking to do something nice for the players to reward their decision-making ,maybe you can discuss the use of Inspiration vs XP for things like this? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 20 at 14:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Sure. It's called operant conditioning btw, and it's not unique to DMing. In general, reward things you like. \$\endgroup\$ – pllpnakjlx Jan 20 at 23:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch As I said, I think that the good and fun gameplay is a reward, you don't need to tack on external factors. I'm not sure I really agree with using inspiration when a player makes a good guess. Actually, I'm pretty sure I disagree with that idea. \$\endgroup\$ – pllpnakjlx Jan 20 at 23:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ OK, got it, wanted to make sure I was getting your point. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 21 at 1:16

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