So in the weekly game this past session, one of the players took me to task on the fact that I was making him making roll a nature check to identify a type of fungus. He cited a rule about a there being a standard 10 you would use, without a roll. Having no recollection of this, I looked it up after the game, and found indeed there was the following rule on page 179 of the Players Handbook I had missed somehow:
When you’re not in a rush, not being threatened or distracted (when you’re outside an encounter), and when you’re dealing with a mundane task, you can choose to take 10. Instead of rolling a d20, determine your skill check result as if you had rolled the average (10). When you take 10, your result equals your skill modifiers (including one-half your level) + 10. For mundane tasks, taking 10 usually results in a success.
So basically to speed up gameplay, and not have people rolling for things their character would reasonably know, the rule lets you just take the average result and assume it is rolled by default. I can see how this improves the storytelling flow- no more stopping in the middle of describing a scene to tell the players what they know about what they see- instead you just tell them as part of the description. But on the other hand, I think if a player asks me a question about the room, I sometimes make them roll to give me a moment to get caught up and think of what the answer will be. But that is more using the roll for a crutch, and when players recognize it, it would hurt the game.
Thinking it over, I am basically for it. But thinking of myself in the game, I realized I needed a chart to see the highest DCs for each skill covered by the party- so when I am describing them something as a group, I can look down at a chart and know that one person knows X, and call that out. (like, "you enter a clearing, and everyone immediately notices the strange tree at the center. Bob with his high Nature skill recognizes it as a death pine- Bob do you let the party know to avoid it?")
So calculating every party member's result with a 10 in place of the die roll took a little while, but I am sure there is a way to automate it- and then figured out the highest DC for which they would have a success result. This is the chart I came up with, using Google Docs:
As the character's skill levels go up, (due to increased stats, or their 1/2 level bonus, I would need to revisit this chart.)
So now I can have this out behind the screen while DMing, and refer to it when I get to a point where the players gain knowledge, or are trying out of combat actions, and can look and see who succeeds without a skill check. The real advantage is now I can write up richer description text ahead of time, because I now can see what the players will know by default. of course if they want to use a skill roll to investigate further, there is always more knowledge they will be able to discover.