D&D 5E 5e consequence-resolution

clearstream

(He, Him)
I pulled this out of another thread and tidied it up as it captures something I've been mulling over. 5e is often thought of as task-resolution. With dead-ends and flat fails. Task-resolution is often contrasted with conflict-resolution, where the focus isn't on resolving the task, but on the reason the task matters. I think maybe 5e ability checks can be better explained as consequence-resolution like this, using the example of opening a safe
  1. It may seem counter-intuitive, but in 5e, you don't really roll to open a safe
  2. Per DMG 237, what you are really rolling for are consequences
  3. Taken together with PHB 174, the results can be
    1. you open the safe (the consequence you want)
    2. you open the safe but with additional consequences
    3. you become engaged with some consequences
For emphasis,
  • Per RAW, outcomes of ability checks in 5e - pass or fail - are ordinarily not inert. I'm not saying a dead-end couldn't ever come up in an interesting way, but that isn't the default.
  • If a task is uncertain, but there are no meaningful consequences, the DMG rule is that they succeed in ten times the time.
  • Following the procedure in RAW, consequences are known going in. They'll be those that are due to player choices and big picture elements: players and DM all get their say. That doesn't rule out unexpected twists, but those can still be principled - constrained by your situation, what's been described, and the game system.
Some might still see that as not really about resolving what matters. The missing piece isn't found in the rules: it's in the player orientation to their game. Why have my players chosen to open that particular safe? We're here now, why? Unless I picture my party going about opening random safes, their desired consequence - find what they are looking for in the safe - is what is resolved. Beyond the events kicking off play in session 1, DM does not have sole authorship over the situation: that's up to the group. DM doesn't choose stakes, they're chosen by the group. DM has their side of the picture, players have theirs. The two sides are asymmetrical, but they can (and in my view should) be equal.

I might wonder - couldn't that safe just be empty? The answer to that depends on my decisions about the kind of play I am interested in. Were I solely focused on immersion, perhaps I would like to imagine empty safes? 5e is a non-comittal game: it leaves decisions like that up to the group. I believe 5e is overwhelmingly DM-curated, so I would put it like this - where it's reasonable to say system matters, in 5e system + DM matters.

In understanding ability checks for 5e, folk normally start with examples like the one in the Basic rules primer. Later, they might read the PHB 174 and see they should take uncertainty into account and can narrate complications on failure. Eventually, they'll get familiar with DMG 237 and see what's possible. Stopping short at primer or PHB leaves the picture incomplete. Because in D&D system + DM matters, even the whole picture won't guarantee that any two groups will play it the same way.

Finally, a hat tip to @iserith who helped me really grasp all this. With any luck they are still around and will link their thoughts (their guide) in this direction.
 

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Maxperson

Morkus from Orkus
I pulled this out of another thread and tidied it up as it captures something I've been mulling over. 5e is often thought of as task-resolution. With dead-ends and flat fails. Task-resolution is often contrasted with conflict-resolution, where the focus isn't on resolving the task, but on the reason the task matters. I think maybe 5e ability checks can be better explained as consequence-resolution like this, using the example of opening a safe
  1. It may seem counter-intuitive, but in 5e, you don't really roll to open a safe
  2. Per DMG 237, what you are really rolling for are consequences
  3. Taken together with PHB 174, the results can be
    1. you open the safe (the consequence you want)
    2. you open the safe but with additional consequences
    3. you become engaged with some consequences
For emphasis,
  • Per RAW, outcomes of ability checks in 5e - pass or fail - are ordinarily not inert. I'm not saying a dead-end couldn't ever come up in an interesting way, but that isn't the default.
  • If a task is uncertain, but there are no meaningful consequences, the DMG rule is that they succeed in ten times the time.
  • Following the procedure in RAW, consequences are known going in. They'll be those that are due to player choices and big picture elements: players and DM all get their say. That doesn't rule out unexpected twists, but those can still be principled - constrained by your situation, what's been described, and the game system.
Some might still see that as not really about resolving what matters. The missing piece isn't found in the rules: it's in the player orientation to their game. Why have my players chosen to open that particular safe? We're here now, why? Unless I picture my party going about opening random safes, their desired consequence - find what they are looking for in the safe - is what is resolved. Beyond the events kicking off play in session 1, DM does not have sole authorship over the situation: that's up to the group. DM doesn't choose stakes, they're chosen by the group. DM has their side of the picture, players have theirs. The two sides are asymmetrical, but they can (and in my view should) be equal.

I might wonder - couldn't that safe just be empty? The answer to that depends on my decisions about the kind of play I am interested in. Were I solely focused on immersion, perhaps I would like to imagine empty safes? 5e is a non-comittal game: it leaves decisions like that up to the group. I believe 5e is overwhelmingly DM-curated, so I would put it like this - where it's reasonable to say system matters, in 5e system + DM matters.

In understanding ability checks for 5e, folk normally start with examples like the one in the Basic rules primer. Later, they might read the PHB 174 and see they should take uncertainty into account and can narrate complications on failure. Eventually, they'll get familiar with DMG 237 and see what's possible. Stopping short at primer or PHB leaves the picture incomplete. Because in D&D system + DM matters, even the whole picture won't guarantee that any two groups will play it the same way.

Finally, a hat tip to @iserith who helped me really grasp all this. With any luck they are still around and will link their thoughts (their guide) in this direction.
It's not just a meaningful consequence. It's specifically a meaningful consequence for failure. So if someone wanted to break into a safe to get the gold inside, failure means no gold which is a meaningful consequence for failure. That added to the outcome being in doubt will cause a roll. If the outcome is not in doubt OR there is no meaningful consequence for failure, you don't roll.

So if the safe is empty and there's no real meaningful consequence for not knowing what's inside, the roll auto succeeds or auto fails. If on the other hand the party is looking for the hidden recipe to krabby patties, then not knowing if the recipe is inside will alter the way the party continues exploration which is a meaningful consequence for failure.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
It's not just a meaningful consequence. It's specifically a meaningful consequence for failure. So if someone wanted to break into a safe to get the gold inside, failure means no gold which is a meaningful consequence for failure. That added to the outcome being in doubt will cause a roll.
That's true. I make the assumption (result bullet-point 1.) that the player-characters have intentions behind attempting to open the safe, i.e. that opening it will have consequences that matter to them. Mabye their hungry for gold and missing out on that gold will put them in a pickle. Maybe an incriminating document is in the safe.

If the outcome is not in doubt OR there is no meaningful consequence for failure, you don't roll.
My take is currently that - per the rules just further down on DMG 237 - uncertainty alone ends up not really at issue. When the only cost is time, a character succeeds by spending ten-times the time. That results in cases where the outcome is in doubt, but you still don't roll because there is no meaningful consequence.

That is what led me toward characterising it as consequence-resolution. I've seen folk stop at the PHB 174 text and understand uncertainty to be what is most at issue. The way it lands taken together with DMG 237 is on consequences.
 

Of course the safe can be empty!
To postpone the end of the plot is common in fantasy.
With some imagination effort, the DM should always be able to justify the empty safe.
 


Aye. It's a common mistake for DMs to utilize the action resolution mechanic as a means to determine what is possible rather than setting appropriate consequences based on the risks involved. You never rolling to see if you can open a safe you're rolling to see how long it's going to take you. if you don't have the necessary tools or ability to open it in the first place you don't roll.

I don't like the term failing forward but it's apt here. Unless a failure specifically prevents further attempts you're still going to achieve the task in some form.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
It is a flaw in 5E the idea that you simply can't do something. Sometimes, you just can't open the safe-- you just aren't good enough. Sadly, the DC would have to be ludicrously high for a 20 to not succeed eventually. Again, bounded accuracy rears its ugly head.

Personally, our table only allows a retry if you fail by 5 or less. If you fail by more than 5, you just can't do whatever it is you are trying to do.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Of course the safe can be empty!
To postpone the end of the plot is common in fantasy.
With some imagination effort, the DM should always be able to justify the empty safe.
Agreed, and I parse that this way
  • Safe empty, no traps, possible to open? No roll. (It opens.)
  • Safe empty, but trapped? What does player describe?
    • Player describes opening safe? No roll, it opens and trap triggers. (There can be various arrangements of this.)
    • Player describes checking for traps? Roll for checking for traps!
As you see, we don't really roll for opening that safe, we only roll for consequences.
 


clearstream

(He, Him)
Why not roll to open the safe? Sometimes you can't do it, or do you just assume you always can???
If it's possible, and there are no meaningful consequences for failure, per DMG 237 you can just open it (taking 10x the time).

EDIT For clarity, you can have a safe that is impossible to open. Again, no roll. It can't be opened.

Consequences follow actions, after all.
Agreed, but I think that is a good but separate observation.
 


It is a flaw in 5E the idea that you simply can't do something. Sometimes, you just can't open the safe-- you just aren't good enough. Sadly, the DC would have to be ludicrously high for a 20 to not succeed eventually. Again, bounded accuracy rears its ugly head.

Personally, our table only allows a retry if you fail by 5 or less. If you fail by more than 5, you just can't do whatever it is you are trying to do.
That's...a really bad idea. You are reinforcing the idea of hyper specialization on checks. The point of bounded accuracy is so you don't need to take every single opportunity cost to be competent at a task. The D20 is random enough with adding a save or forever fail effect to it.

If the task is impossible it doesn't have a DC. Period. That's how it works in 5e to prevent inflation of DCs. Heck the DC range are probably set too high as is without trying to gate progression behind them. Doesn't matter if you roll a 20 and have a+1000 to persuasion you not going to get a demon lord to give you it's throne willy nilly.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
If it's possible, and there are no meaningful consequences for failure, per DMG 237 you can just open it (taking 10x the time).
I guess I just always see failure itself as a meaningful consequence. For instance, even if the safe is empty, the PCs won't know that until it is opened, but if they fail to open it, they won't know--and not knowing could have impact on what they do next.
 


clearstream

(He, Him)
I guess I just always see failure itself as a meaningful consequence. For instance, even if the safe is empty, the PCs won't know that until it is opened, but if they fail to open it, they won't know--and not knowing could have impact on what they do next.
Infinite are the arguments of mages :) What I think you are getting at there is what your group has decided to count as "meaningful".

If doubt is meaningful for your group (and I think you are saying it is), then you are indeed rolling for meaningful consequences.
 

DND_Reborn

Legend
That's...a really bad idea.
It might seem that way to you, but it isn't in practice. It works well and it enforces character not to be hyperspecialized, but to at least be proficient if they want a chance to do something remotely difficult.

Thanks! I realised I'd implied but failed to outright state that you can of course have a safe that is impossible to open. No roll (it can't be opened, so what are you rolling for!?)
Because it shouldn't be impossible until you have tried, and failed, and realized it is not possible. The odds might be 1 in a billion, but there is still a chance. Heck, you could take the most complex safe in the world and a chimp with a stick could still have a chance, however remote, to open it. But once tried and failed, the attempt might lock down the safe or you just realize in the present situation, it can't be done.

Now, can there be circumstances where something is impossible for a character? Sure, but that is usually because they are not capable (such a safe that is only opened by magic and the PC in question literally has no magic to open it with...), lacking something required.

If doubt is meaningful for your group (and I think you are saying it is), then you are indeed rolling for meaningful consequences.
Sure, that is a good way to put it. Since the outcome determines what happens next, it is (nearly) always meaningful. Now, if the consequences aren't meaningful, i.e. failure really means nothing, we don't roll--it is a waste of time.
 

Locks in general are a bad example because by nature they are designed to have at least some possible way to open them so saying it's impossible is contextual. If it has a verbal component as the only way to unseal a tomb then it's only situationally impossible depending on what the PCs know. Where the dwarf flapping his arms to reduce fall damage or fly is an exaggerated example of what truly impossible can be.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
I pulled this out of another thread and tidied it up as it captures something I've been mulling over. 5e is often thought of as task-resolution. With dead-ends and flat fails. Task-resolution is often contrasted with conflict-resolution, where the focus isn't on resolving the task, but on the reason the task matters. I think maybe 5e ability checks can be better explained as consequence-resolution like this, using the example of opening a safe
  1. It may seem counter-intuitive, but in 5e, you don't really roll to open a safe
  2. Per DMG 237, what you are really rolling for are consequences
  3. Taken together with PHB 174, the results can be
    1. you open the safe (the consequence you want)
    2. you open the safe but with additional consequences
    3. you become engaged with some consequences
For emphasis,
  • Per RAW, outcomes of ability checks in 5e - pass or fail - are ordinarily not inert. I'm not saying a dead-end couldn't ever come up in an interesting way, but that isn't the default.
  • If a task is uncertain, but there are no meaningful consequences, the DMG rule is that they succeed in ten times the time.
  • Following the procedure in RAW, consequences are known going in. They'll be those that are due to player choices and big picture elements: players and DM all get their say. That doesn't rule out unexpected twists, but those can still be principled - constrained by your situation, what's been described, and the game system.
Some might still see that as not really about resolving what matters. The missing piece isn't found in the rules: it's in the player orientation to their game. Why have my players chosen to open that particular safe? We're here now, why? Unless I picture my party going about opening random safes, their desired consequence - find what they are looking for in the safe - is what is resolved. Beyond the events kicking off play in session 1, DM does not have sole authorship over the situation: that's up to the group. DM doesn't choose stakes, they're chosen by the group. DM has their side of the picture, players have theirs. The two sides are asymmetrical, but they can (and in my view should) be equal.

I might wonder - couldn't that safe just be empty? The answer to that depends on my decisions about the kind of play I am interested in. Were I solely focused on immersion, perhaps I would like to imagine empty safes? 5e is a non-comittal game: it leaves decisions like that up to the group. I believe 5e is overwhelmingly DM-curated, so I would put it like this - where it's reasonable to say system matters, in 5e system + DM matters.

In understanding ability checks for 5e, folk normally start with examples like the one in the Basic rules primer. Later, they might read the PHB 174 and see they should take uncertainty into account and can narrate complications on failure. Eventually, they'll get familiar with DMG 237 and see what's possible. Stopping short at primer or PHB leaves the picture incomplete. Because in D&D system + DM matters, even the whole picture won't guarantee that any two groups will play it the same way.

Finally, a hat tip to @iserith who helped me really grasp all this. With any luck they are still around and will link their thoughts (their guide) in this direction.
This is poorly framed.

To set this up as actual conflict resolution, there needs to be a conflict but you've skipped that step. You present the safe, but not the conflict. That conflict, for this to make sense, has to be that what the players want might be in the safe, or it might not. Then the check will be to determine if the want is in the safe, or it is not, or if it is and there's some additional consequence or cost. That's conflict resolution on a check.

What you've described here is really just a slicked up version of "rocks fall." It's the GM using fiat to arbitrarily increase the cost for failure with no corresponding increase in success. As the range of options for the GM to level "consequence" is vast and not at all constrained by the presented concept, it'll just be individual GM whim. This doesn't even really meet up with Fail Forward, because it's just consequence levelling and not moving the fiction into a new pathway.
 

It might seem that way to you, but it isn't in practice. It works well and it enforces character not to be hyperspecialized, but to at least be proficient if they want a chance to do something remotely difficult.
I don't see it. By nature off adding a do or die to checks you are going to make sure you have the highest possible modifiers and avoid attempting anything outside of the stuff you specifically built for. The D20 is just too random otherwise.

I like the idea of players making decisions in response to the world and the world responding in kind rather than trying to filler the world through their sheets of buttons to mash.
 

Oofta

Legend
For me, rolling to open the safe is still viable even if I, as DM, know it's empty. It reflects the action taken and does not automatically reveal to the player that the vault is empty.

In some cases, the roll is to see how quickly or how well the PC opens the safe. Perhaps they're successful and it can be reclosed with no one being the wiser. If they fail, perhaps it takes them longer (how long depends on their roll) and they have to destroy the safe to accomplish their task.

Sometimes the safe just can't be opened by the rogue. But until they try, I'm not going to reveal that information. After they fail, I'll use their result to determine if they know it's impossible.

Obviously there are times when I don't call for a roll. As the DMG states, you don't need a check to walk across a room. In other cases, they will eventually succeed and there's no time pressure.

I'm not going to tell them they can't attempt something unless it is, or should be, obvious to the PC that it's impossible. I don't believe in telling the player what they can or cannot attempt, although I will clarify the scenario if I think the player doesn't understand what's going on.

Of course there is no one true way. But I'm not going to confirm the safe is empty based on information the PC cannot know.
 

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