Why Perception Checks are so Important

Here’s a great story I came across on a DM blog about how one forgotten Perception check caused a party to be devastated—don’t make this mistake! Always use your Perception, Dungeoneering, and Insight!

D&D—Death Traps 101

Tonight I ran another tabletop session of 4th edition D&D. Level 3 Party was:

  • Dwarf Cleric
  • Drow Fighter
  • Dwarf Paladin
  • Shadar’Kai Ranger
  • Eladrin Rogue*
  • Human Wizard

*Player wasn’t able to show up until about halfway into the session.

Officially, nothing more than two encounters happened all night. Unofficially, much more than this happened.

The first encounter went simply enough. There was a door in the dungeon. No one rolled Perception or Stealth. The fighter, who has the least Perception of anyone in the group, opened the door. All five hobgoblins got a surprise round on him, and he dropped during the surprise round from two arrow shots and a couple of flail hits. The party managed to take out the hobgoblins after a great deal of trouble, and resuscitate the fighter.

The second encounter was far more diabolical.

The fifteen-foot wide hallway contained two traps. One, set off by a nigh-undetectable trip wire, caused poisonous darts to shoot out of the walls, hitting 2d4 targets every round. The second, set off by a fifteen-foot wide and ten-foot long group of pressure plates at the beginning of the hallway (immediately after the trip wire) triggered a series of pendulum blades that swept out of the ceiling at random intervals.

The party saw the pendulum trap easily, as was more or less intended, while they accidentally hit the trip wire. So, without being afforded the peace necessary to carefully handle the pendulum traps, each and every character had to pass through the danger-infested hallway, to one of the three possible exits on the other side. The move across was a total gamble, since the darts would almost certainly hit, and every time a character hit a pressure plate, the blades would randomly cut across two of four possible rows of squares. This was in addition to the blades doing this again on their initiative count.

The left exit contained nothing but goblin foodstuffs and was essentially a “safe room.”
The central exit was a garbage room, in which six goblins (three blackblades and three headcleavers) were patiently hiding and waiting for dart-covered adventurers to come in through. The goblins also knew how to de-activate the trap system, if necessary.

The right exit contained thirteen skeletons–ten decrepit skeletons, two “regular” skeletons, and a more powerful boneshard skeleton. Because they were magically bound to a single room (in order to prevent them from mindlessly entering the trap room), they would not leave the room to pursue fleeing enemies.

The first character to successfully brave the blades and darts at the same time was the ranger. He opened the skeleton room, saw the skeletons materialize, and immediately closed the door, to his credit.

Then he ran to the other side of the trapped room (relatively easy at this point, since he was past the blades) and opened the “safe room.” This is the point where he should have stopped, and it’s also the room where the rest of the party should have B-lined to in order to give themselves time to re-organize.

None of these things happened.

The paladin and the cleric both rushed into the skeleton room, two characters against an encounter rated for five.

Simultaneously, instead of staying in the only safe area (or helping the cleric and the paladin), the ranger was obsessed with finding a control panel for the trap system (regardless of whether or not such a panel actually existed), and entered the goblins’ room. . . Without making a Perception check in the trap room for a control panel (which existed, though hidden).
The goblins, a bit more astute than the skeletons, immediately descended on the ranger when he perceived them, just in time to prevent a surprise round on their part (which likely would have dropped him on the spot, not unlike the fighter). However, he was still gravely outnumbered.
The cleric, meanwhile, dropped a Turn Undead first thing, and destroyed most of the skeletons immediately, but the tougher ones were mostly out of range. In any case, even with half the skeleton minions left and a wounded “regular” skeleton, they were now committed, whether they liked it or not, to the skeleton room, and not the goblins.

I was now keeping track of three different rooms and thirteen separate initiative counts (one for each hero, one for each type of monster, two for the traps). This was manageable, but got irritating whenever a player delayed his turn.

Now the fighter, rogue, and wizard, each of whom had been repeatedly wounded by darts, had to choose their fates. Seeing as how it looked like the paladin and cleric were actually winning on their own (both are made to smash undead and the paladin’s AC was near-impenetrable), they all went into the goblin room to aid the ranger in his hopeless battle.

About the time they all got there and into position, the ranger dropped. The fighter made it in with 11 hit points, and the rogue was in good shape, but the wizard was still hanging back in the trap room, taking darts. The battle was still more or less hopeless on that front.
The rogue used Fey Step to jump into the room, and immediately got himself surrounded by goblins. Severely wounded in one round, the fighter saved him (and himself, and the wizard) by using his racial power, Cloud of Darkness, to confuse most of the goblins and disrupt their offense, while the rogue used Bait and Switch to run out of the room. The wizard and the fighter got the hell out of Dodge soon after, running into the “safe” room (after managing to kill all of the blackblades and wound several of the headcleavers), leaving the ranger to continue making saves vs. death. Meanwhile, the rogue went into the skeleton room to see what help he could be there.

The ranger permanently expired not long after (while a headcleaver was standing in the square that he dropped in).

The paladin and the cleric were still hacking away at the skeletons when the three remaining goblins busted into their room, chasing after the rogue that had just come in. The rogue narrowly dodged their first round of attacks, and was helped from the rear by a returning fighter and wizard. However, a curious thing happens to headcleavers when they become bloodied–they do nearly twice as much damage. As such, on the next chance they got, both headcleavers scored a hit, combining for 40 points of damage and knocking the rogue to -27, killing him instantly. On the wizard’s turn, which was immediately afterward, he killed both goblins with a Thunderwave. Almost immediately after, the paladin and cleric destroyed the last skeleton, ending the encounter.

That was the end of the session, as the players had been alternately killing hobgoblins, toying with traps, and getting themselves into way too much trouble for five hours at that point, and we go from 7 PM to Midnight (later if we are all up for it).

Why Perception Checks are so Important

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