|A party of adventurers making a group survival check|
The PHB tells to use Group Checks when a number of individuals are trying to attempt something as a group and they will either all fail or all succeed. In the rules, it says that to do a group check all involved must make the check as usual. If half of the group succeeds, then all the group succeeds. I would like to expand on these explanations a little bit analysing the possible uses of Group Checks and, in the end of the article, propose a variation of roll using the average of all characters' skills instead of rolling for each of them separately.
When to use Group Checks? Case by case:
- Lifting and pushing (Athletics): When all group is trying to push something heavy, or maybe bring back the spoils of a great hoard, you may roll a group check to see if they are able to. If they fail, either their encumbrance must be lowered, or they will have to leave the heavy object behind. This is also a good option when rolling contests similar to a "tug-of-war".
- Endurance (Athletics or Survival): When the group needs to go one step beyond forced march or do strenuous physical actions. Making this check would mean that the group is trying to go even faster than usual or push their effort to the limit. However, this should be a rare check. Most of the time, all you need to do is follow the travel rule for marching and the exhaustion rules.
- Stealth: Probably the most recurring kind of average check, roll when the group needs to pass through enemies without being detected. Just follow the rules as written in the PHB.
- Knowledge and Lore skills (History, Religion, Nature): This check happens when the group is debating about a subject. For example, when they find an ancient religious tome and are trying to trace its origins, a religion group check might be needed. Group lore checks have some particularities. Most of the time, only a fraction of a party's characters will try the check. For example, only spellcasters might try to use their Arcana. Making a Group lore check means that characters are discussing the possibilities and that misinformation can make the group misidentify a particular object. For example, even though the group's cleric with Religion +6 rolled good, the Ranger and the Wizard failed. This could mean that the ignorance of them both thwarted or misguided the cleric's overall correct assumptions.
- Exploration skills (survival, investigation): When the whole group is trying to travel through the wilds or delve into a dungeon, rolling a group check is very useful. In my games, I make such tests determine how likely it is for the group to find random encounters. A success gives them better options in finding good encounters, while a failure increases the chance of hostile encounters or natural hazards.
- Social skills (persuasion, intimidation, deception, performance): This is a very interesting situation to roll a group check, specially for roleplaying interactions. If the whole group decides on how to approach a particular social interaction, they all may try to persuade, deceive or intimidate. Alternatively, you can make an ongoing scene where every character is trying a different approach - one may try to intimidate, while the other is trying to deceive and a third one tries to persuade. After all rolls, if you have more success than failures, the situation goes in favour of the party. This creates a cool back and forth - the first character may fail, creating an awkward social situation, just for the next two party members to succeed and turn the tables. As a final note, this group check allows for a group performance where characters try to impress a crowd, a situation that can lead to some very funny (or catastrophic) hijinks.
- Awareness skills (Insight, Perception): Although you may use the passive skill option, you may instead opt to use a group check for perception and insight to determine if a group is able to see the true intentions behind a creature's words, or if they are able to notice some hidden detail in the landscape.
Variant Option: Group's Average Check
This a DM's option to use for Group Checks. Instead of making every participating creature roll, calculate the Group's average. Add together all modifiers and divide by the number of creatures, rounding the number down. So, let's suppose you want to make a Group stealth check and you have 4 creatures whose combined stealth score is 11. When you divide it by 4 (the number of party members), you find that their average stealth modifier is +3. Using this modifier, roll a single check for the whole group.
This rule option tends to make group checks much faster. All you need to do is write down the main average modifiers, like the ones for Stealth, Perception, Survival and Investigation, and use them whenever it's needed. In games that rely a lot on such tests - for example, games that use survival and investigation a lot - it becomes much better to roll a single time for the group instead of pausing for each and every character to roll.
I hope I could clarify the many uses of Group Checks. In your games, I'd suggest trying to use these more: they create a sense of unity for the party. Characters fell more as a group of adventurers working together instead of a band of people working with each other just for convenience. Also, try the average checks if you, just like me, tend to use a lot of group checks in your sessions.
Until next time,