Perception Skills and the Problem of Data vs. Information

For Brave New Heroes I intend to adapt the Marvel Heroic Roleplaying style action order system which takes a trapping away from the Alertness skill which made me think that maybe the Alertness skill isn’t really needed any more. Why not combine Alertness and Observation into one skill, call it Perception.

This all lead me to thinking about the role of perception skills in a roleplaying game. There’s two main ways that perception abilities interact with a game. They can be purely sensory, meaning they only provide a character with raw data. You heard a noise, or your didn’t hear a noise. It doesn’t tell you anything about the noise, or it’s meaning. The other type of interaction builds off the sensory but is more informational. It’s more along the lines of, “you hear a scream for help,” or “you hear a gun shot.” The information type of interaction assumes recognition and understanding on the character’s part and it tends to be the far more interesting type for a story.

Consider these alternatives: your character makes a successful perception check to be told only, “you hear a squishing sound.” That’s interesting but it doesn’t give you an opportunity to decide on a character action. It is a colorful detail but narratively thin and leaves you wondering why you bothered rolling. The same problem but from the perspective of the story is when you are forced to roll perception to find an important clue, which you will inevitably fail to do. Your character is now left without the information needed to decide an action. Action requires information. Without information characters cannot take action. They will make no decisions and accomplish nothing and you will all be bored.

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