Dear DovahQueen – What is a Playtest? A Miserable Little Pile of Secret Checks!

The 2nd Edition playtest is here, and we’re all still getting used to some of the new mechanics. Old habits die hard, and secret checks are easy to forget. Here’s a few ideas for how to make them easier to incorporate into our sessions.

Dear DovahQueen: The Pathfinder Playtest introduces more hidden rolls for the GM, a practice I’m not accustomed to – do you have any advice on using secret rolls without slowing play? Furthermore, say a group decides secret rolls aren’t a good fit. What are some tips (for everyone at the table!) for managing player vs. character knowledge, say for the Dubious Knowledge feat, or just as a general good play habit?—Power Attack Pugilist

Dear PA Pugs: I think I’ve been asking my players to “make a spot check” or “make a perception check” since the early 2000’s. Saying that breaking that habit will be tough is an incredible understatement. As a GM, I honestly love the feeling and the look on my players’ faces when I ask those rolls. But, that’s not how 2nd Edition do, and that’s ok. Only time can tell for certain, but I’m willing to wager that “secret” checks are better for the game in the long run. When you ask for a perception check, they roll a 2, they’re GOING to metagame their next few decisions no matter what. It’s not their fault; that’s just how psychology do. The same goes for Knowledges, Survival, and especially Sense Motive. Getting used to any change is always going to slow things down a bit, and in time, you can trust that your games will be back to regular speed (or faster) in no time. That said, I can think of a few things that might help get yall there with a bit less headache.

I can’t remember the last time I sat at a time with a GM that didn’t come with some set of notes. On top of that, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a game where the GM didn’t write down the orders of initiative in some way. Hell, some GMs even have really cool initiative trackers like the ones you see on Pinterest. The point I’m getting to here is that these secret checks are really just a matter of more book-keeping for the GM.  We’re already writing down initiative orders every time we get into combat; I think a little bit of extra preparedness before the dice start rolling outta help quite a bit. This is what I plan to do: write the character name, player name at the top of an index card in a certain color marker. Then, put the Perception bonus next to them and also at the top. After that, two columns of 5 skills underneath should give me a convenient place to write that character’s Arcana, Craft, Diplomacy, Lore, Nature, Occultism, Religion, Society, Stealth, and Survival values. If I’ve got 4 players, I’m gonna do this 4 different times and with the names in 4 different colors. Now, when I need to find out what my players see or know, I can roll 4d20 (coordinated with each name/color of course) and find out fairly quickly. Granted, it’s not gonna be as fast as “roll perception and tell me if you get over a 20,” but I think after a few sessions, it shouldn’t be too hard to get used to. If you’ve already got a fancy initiative tracking system, you could just add these values onto that to really make your job easy.

Personally, I kinda like the new system, but I know I’m not everyone. If your group decides that it’s just not for you, page 293 of the Playtest specifics states that the GM can make any check secret or not secret if they wish to. The game should run just fine even if folks never make a secret check. I think the reason they’re the norm now and not the exception is to make it easier for players to not meta-game. So really, it’s just something you and your group have to have a conversation about. If you’re doing official playtest feedback, I’d play at least a few sessions using the secret checks as written so that you can provide better feedback about them. But even then, if yall just find that you hate it, don’t use it. Pretty sure the purpose of the playtest is more about the math and the fun than it is about micromanaging players’ behaviors. I honestly never thought I’d put “math” and “fun” in the same sentence. Thanks for making me do that, and good luck!



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Loren Sieg

Loren has been writing and playing in tabletop RPGs for over 15 years. As both a GM and player, she pours heart and soul into producing new content and helping shape the way tabletops are experienced. She's worked with companies including Paizo Inc., Legendary Games, Swords for Hire, and Encounter Table Publishing to publish material for Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Dear DovahQueen began early in 2016, and Loren has been helping GMs and players fully realize their stories and game concepts ever since. When she's not knee-deep in characters sheets and critical hits, she can likely be found studying Biology at Indiana University and/or doing research on different types of marine life.