Rolling for skill check questions.


Beginner Box


Hello everyone , I am new to the Pathfinder RPG but not new to RPGs, so i do apologize if this questions seems simple, but having a tough time making sure I understand using skill checks correctly :

As it is I understand when a player wants to see if his character succeeds at doing a certain task he or she must make a skill check. To do so they would roll a d20 and add all appropriate modifiers. This part is common between RPGs that I have played and grasp that part, but here is where I am a little thrown off, certain skill checks such as Disable Device , perception ( as in players searching for traps) and stealth the GM makes. So i guess the questions I have are , 1st off do I understand that correctly ? the GM rolls for these checks?, and 2nd when do you decide when the player or GM would roll for the check? I know it says when you don't want the player to know that they didn't find any traps because there isn't any , or because they rolled too low , or because they don't know how stealthy they are being , but wouldn't you achieve the same effect by using the DC ?

I might be putting way too much thought into this and over analyzing the rule , but if any vets out there could shed some light into this that would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks you!


The idea is that the player says he searches for traps, and the GM rolls a d20, and the player doesn't know if he rolled low or high. Did he not find traps because they're well hidden? Because there weren't any? Or because he messed up?

But I'd advise letting the players roll for themselves unless you can see a good reason not to. Most players like rolling dice.


Matthew Downie wrote:

The idea is that the player says he searches for traps, and the GM rolls a d20, and the player doesn't know if he rolled low or high. Did he not find traps because they're well hidden? Because there weren't any? Or because he messed up?

But I'd advise letting the players roll for themselves unless you can see a good reason not to. Most players like rolling dice.

ah ok thank you , i kind of was going to lean that way , but wanted to make sure i did understand the rule . the line of thought behind it make sense though , it just threw me through a loop lol.


Hi Rich, welcome to Pathfinder.

It sounds like you have it right the GM rolls perception and disable device checks.

The goal is to make player knowledge and character knowledge align better to facilitate roll-playing. On a failed perception check the character doesn't know that they failed, however if the player rolled a 2 they are pretty sure that they failed so now there is a conflict between what the character and the player know.

A variable DC does not accomplish the same effect. If the player rolls a 10 they might not know if they succeeded or not because they don't know the DC but if they rolled a 2 or a 19 then they can be pretty confident of the result.

As a rule of thumb if failure (or success) is not immediate and obvious then the GM should make the roll for the player.

You can allow characters to make their own stealth rolls since that is an opposed roll (vs the perception). Even if the player rolled a high number there is still a possibility that the Goblin guard also rolled a high number and therefore they have been seen.


Bardarok wrote:

Hi Rich, welcome to Pathfinder.

It sounds like you have it right the GM rolls perception and disable device checks.

The goal is to make player knowledge and character knowledge align better to facilitate roll-playing. On a failed perception check the character doesn't know that they failed, however if the player rolled a 2 they are pretty sure that they failed so now there is a conflict between what the character and the player know.

A variable DC does not accomplish the same effect. If the player rolls a 10 they might not know if they succeeded or not because they don't know the DC but if they rolled a 2 or a 19 then they can be pretty confident of the result.

As a rule of thumb if failure (or success) is not immediate and obvious then the GM should make the roll for the player.

You can allow characters to make their own stealth rolls since that is an opposed roll (vs the perception). Even if the player rolled a high number there is still a possibility that the Goblin guard also rolled a high number and therefore they have been seen.

Thank you for the welcome. I have been enjoying going through system , and looking forward to running my first game.

Thank you for writing that clarification as it really helps me make sense of it now. I feel that I better understand the whole GM skill check roll and feel that I can finally get my brain on the right track. thank you for the insight.


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Pathfinder Adventure Path, Campaign Setting Subscriber

While no one's said it outright, I'm obnoxious enough to do so:

GM rolls are for players who are too invested/attached/whatever to ignore the result on the die.

If you have a good group of players, a player will roll a 2 while searching for traps, shrug, say, "Oh, well, I don't see any traps," and cheerfully open the chest anyway. That's the kind of player you want at your table.

That's not always the kind of player you get at your table.

Instead, you get the player who sees that he rolled a 2, and proceeds to prod the chest with a 10' pole, throw rocks at the chest, have someone else open the chest, etc., in spite of the fact that last time he rolled a 19 and was perfectly happy to just open the chest himself.

My recommendation is always to give players the benefit of the doubt. A good game is based on trust between the GM and the players, so trust the players to ignore the number on the die and roleplay their characters accordingly.

Once a player violates that trust, you can be very obvious. "Well, because xxx behaved very poorly after making that terrible Perception roll, I'm afraid I'm going to take over making critical Perception rolls for all of you for a while."

DO NOT roll for just that player. Either you roll for everyone, or you roll for no one. I strongly prefer not to roll for anyone, but occasionally you have players at the table that force your hand.


While I agree with NobodysHome that good players would play off the die roll not what they know it is not a natural thing. New players in particular may find it difficult.

Personally despite playing with the same folks for eight years I still roll for characters when they make perception and disable device checks and I think it makes the game more fun, more suspense & excitement.

Additionally as a Gming philosophy, particularly for new groups, I think it is better to use the rules to set up the players for successful role play and avoid potential conflict. It doesn't take much to sour a campaign.

Of course the most important thing is to have fun with your friends playing the game so whatever you decide if it works for you it was the right choice.


NobodysHome wrote:
If you have a good group of players, a player will roll a 2 while searching for traps, shrug, say, "Oh, well, I don't see any traps," and cheerfully open the chest anyway.

If I checked for traps and the GM rolled in secret and said I didn't find any, I'd probably check again a couple more times to be sure. Or I'd use the Take 20 rule.

To roll a 2 and then act like my character was 100% sure there were no traps seems like intentional self-sabotage.


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Matthew Downie wrote:
To roll a 2 and then act like my character was 100% sure there were no traps seems like intentional self-sabotage.

It's keeping in character. Your character doesn't know they were unlucky when looking for traps (at least not until someone opens the chest). You can assume there are traps before making the check, but you shouldn't base that decision on your roll.

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