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Old 05-27-2016, 01:58 PM   #1
johndallman
 
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Default [Basic] Skill of the week: Observation

Observation is the Per/A skill of covert observation, noticing interesting things without being obvious about it, even if it's visible that you're present. The defaults are Perception-5 or Shadowing-5, and Shadowing is the only skill that defaults to Observation. The skill appeared at GURPS 4e.

Observation is enhanced by Hyperspectral Vision and Ultravision, and is part of the Detective! Wildcard skill. It can counter Camouflage, Disguise, Filch, Pickpocket, and Sleight of Hand, and Intelligence Analysis reminds us that Observation is the skill for gathering intelligence by small-o observation. Gathering information close up is Forensics or Search; Observation is always at a distance.

With a successful roll, you get information about things and people that have not been deliberately hidden. If they have, you need to win a contest against the skill (usually Camouflage, Shadowing or Stealth) that has been used to conceal, which is done by the GM, rather than the player. That argues for the GM making all Observation rolls. Understanding whatever you observe may require another skill, such as Intelligence Analysis. On a failure, you miss something important. On critical failure, someone notices you casing the joint, and does something about it. There's some overlap with Traps skill, since security cameras are traps, and thus spotted with Per-based Traps skill (B226-7).

There are lots of modifiers: applicable Accute Senses, usually Vision, modifiers that would apply to Perception rolls, penalties up to -10 for really advanced concealment, and bonuses up to +10 for appropriate surveillance equipment, which may require a skill roll to use successfully. More applications of Observation are under Sense Rolls on B358.

Kromm made a significant clarification to Observation here (scroll down a little). Its "strategic" use is in information-gathering, as explained in the skill description, where you need actual Observation skill, or to use a default. Its "tactical" use is for countering Stealth, Camouflage, etc., where you use full Per unless your Observation skill is better, which is mostly explained under the skills it counters.

Observation is a common skill on templates for guards, investigators, reporters, scouts and spies, often as an alternative to Search, although a party will want both skills. Action 2: Exploits calls it out as the broad skill for noticing stuff, and AtE 2: The New World uses it for spotting minefields, ambushes, and giving an ally guidance in combat. DF2 has it as an option for spotting secret doors, and DF16 has too many applications to list. Observation is a prerequisite for Precision Aiming in Gun-Fu and Tactical Shooting, and High-Tech points out that it's needed for comprehensive mapping, and a countermeasure to intrusion detection systems and drug smuggling. Pulp Guns 2 describes flashless ammunition, as a counter to an observer trying to spot a sniper. Monster Hunters 1: Champions uses it for spotting disguised weapons. Power-Ups volumes 2, 3, 6 and 7 have examples that use this skill, and Powers, Enhanced Senses and The Weird have abilities that boost it. Psionic Powers uses it for realising that someone has been affected by psi; Social Engineering for searching for people and assessing the mood of a crowd, and Back to School for learning a skill by watching people use it. Supers uses Observation for spotting concealed bases, and possibly in spotting crimes to fight. Tactical Shooting uses it for general tactical awareness, walking a burst, assessing enemies, making range cards, helping a sniper by spotting their fall of shot, spotting someone shooting at you, and spotting concealed weapons.

What have you spotted that was awesome in a game?

Last edited by johndallman; 07-14-2017 at 06:21 AM. Reason: Clarity
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Old 05-27-2016, 02:44 PM   #2
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Observation

To me the canonical use of observation is "casing the joint" as in Asterix and the Cauldron, pp. 37-39. (Sadly no legal public version I can find to link to.) Finding out how many guards there are, when they change shifts, that sort of thing. My players are generally fond of lying up some distance from the target and finding out as much as they can before charging in, which helps keep their characters alive so I'm not complaining.

It's an odd skill - I'd normally expect GURPS to separate "notice the thing" from "interpret the thing". But I can see it makes sense this way.
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Old 05-27-2016, 04:16 PM   #3
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Observation

The movie I always remember when discussing Observation skill is Ronin. Robert de Niro puts on a textbook demonstration of passive and augmented Observation when setting up the operation.
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Old 05-27-2016, 04:37 PM   #4
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Observation

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Originally Posted by RogerBW View Post
It's an odd skill - I'd normally expect GURPS to separate "notice the thing" from "interpret the thing". But I can see it makes sense this way.
It does that. Observation's companion is Intelligence Analysis. But guard schedules are directly observable enough that you don't need Intelligence Analysis to figure them out unless the opposition is being very tricky.
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Old 05-27-2016, 06:07 PM   #5
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Observation

My GM called for the higher of trained Observation or straight Perception for rolls to notice stuff. This was apparently incorrect rules-wise, but it doesn't matter a lot.
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Old 05-27-2016, 06:22 PM   #6
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Observation

My group recently did a mission that was all about observation.

Their orders were to monitor traffic along the Da Houai river and Highway Route 20 in a province in South Vietnam. If they saw anything interesting they were to report back by radio. Initially they were going to split their group and have one trio watch the river and another watch the road, but then reconsidered and they decided to stay to together and so they set up an observation post atop a hill looking over where the river and road crossed at a permanent wooden bridge. In a nutshell what it meant was they sacrificed visibility of the river and road for improved security, which I thought was a smart move.

Nothing much happened at first and then they noticed a large VC force gathering and laying an ambush around the bridge. They also saw three American POWs. I thought for sure they would make contact but instead they deduced correctly that the VC were preparing for a prisoner exchange. Sure enough a large American patrol arrived from the south. There was a tense moment while they watched the exchange happen, but they all held their discipline despite one of the VC accidentally letting a shot off (everyone had to make skill rolls and a natural 18 meant an accidental discharge).

Once the exchange was over the PCs correctly deduced that the VC must have had a hidden base close by. They explored the nearby jungle and eventually located where it was then called in an air strike. The mission was spread over two gaming sessions and amazingly there was very little combat.

Last edited by Boomerang; 05-27-2016 at 06:41 PM.
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Old 05-27-2016, 06:26 PM   #7
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Observation

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Originally Posted by simply Nathan View Post
My GM called for the higher of trained Observation or straight Perception for rolls to notice stuff. This was apparently incorrect rules-wise, but it doesn't matter a lot.
The distinction seems difficult to me, really. Any of the things Observation lets you see should also be possible to see with an appropriate sensory check. And there are other skills that could be used to make sure you're unobtrusive about it.

So what do you actually need Observation for? I don't know.
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Old 05-27-2016, 06:31 PM   #8
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Observation

Quote:
Originally Posted by RogerBW View Post
To me the canonical use of observation is "casing the joint" as in Asterix and the Cauldron, pp. 37-39. (Sadly no legal public version I can find to link to.) Finding out how many guards there are, when they change shifts, that sort of thing. My players are generally fond of lying up some distance from the target and finding out as much as they can before charging in, which helps keep their characters alive so I'm not complaining.

It's an odd skill - I'd normally expect GURPS to separate "notice the thing" from "interpret the thing". But I can see it makes sense this way.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Phil Masters View Post
The movie I always remember when discussing Observation skill is Ronin. Robert de Niro puts on a textbook demonstration of passive and augmented Observation when setting up the operation.
Yeah, pretty much this. I'll also add that it's the skill that could let you locate security cameras, how good the security measures are on a building (e.g., pressure plates), general physical security (e.g., fences or reinforced doors), etc. The former wouldn't include anything that's been specifically hidden away, while the latter is pretty obvious unless you pay a lot extra. You can, for instance, see most reinforced doorframes just from the way they are constructed.

You can also use it to discern access and egress and estimate how long it might take you to get there (this would be an IQ-based roll though - or that's how I've done it). (Finding your way around the building would probably be an Urban Survival roll though.) You could also use this skill to observe an area and figure out when it's the most or least crowded.

Where it gets tricky is when you use Observation to spot hidden details. I've found that it almost always bogs a game down with the "Please roll to see if my character notices anything else about the [target]." What I usually like to do is use their original margin vs. the target's original margin to conceal [X]. This way you don't get the weird situation "Yeah, you spotted the machine gun nest in the wall, but forgot about the cameras." That of course is not RAW, but a GM trick that makes my life easier.
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Old 05-27-2016, 06:38 PM   #9
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Observation

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Originally Posted by Ulzgoroth View Post
The distinction seems difficult to me, really. Any of the things Observation lets you see should also be possible to see with an appropriate sensory check. And there are other skills that could be used to make sure you're unobtrusive about it.

So what do you actually need Observation for? I don't know.
Same for me. I let my PCs use whichever is higher out of perception and observation in most cases.
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Old 05-27-2016, 06:51 PM   #10
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Default Re: [Basic] Skill of the week: Observation

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Originally Posted by Boomerang View Post
Same for me. I let my PCs use whichever is higher out of perception and observation in most cases.
It seems like Observation might be sort of a tactics+execution roll for when you want to case the joint, but don't want to dwell on the specific actions?
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