D&D 5E Assaying alternative rules for Success at a Cost and Degrees of Failure

clearstream

(He, Him)
I'd like more nuance in the outcomes of ability checks, and am dissatisfied with needing to deduct 2 or 5 from the DC and compare that with the result as suggested in the DMG. I've tried the DMG method and for me it's fiddly to apply during the heat of play.

Success at a Cost, Failure with a Drawback

When an ability check fails or succeeds, the parity of the die rolled matters
  • if parity is odd then
    • a hard move follows a failed attempt
    • a soft move follows a successful attempt
  • if parity is even then
    • a soft choice is offered to retry a failed attempt
    • a success is free from drawbacks
    • an opportunity follows a success on a natural 20

Enhanced Success

A roll of a natural 20 that is a success, becomes an enhanced success. The DM will describe an opportunity to gain an added benefit.

Repeat Attempts

If an ability check fails, it usually can’t be reattempted until conditions change—such as with a new approach, improvement in modifiers, or increased proficiency.

Examples when parity is odd: you fall from the wall you were climbing (failed) or dislodge stones and leave obvious marks on the wall (successful); you spring the trap you hoped to disarm (failed) or the mechanism makes a distinct ‘twang!’, that could be heard in the next room (successful); the guards are infuriated and attack (failed) or they abandon their post to get reinforcements (successful).

Examples when parity is even: you can retry by returning to the foot of the wall and looking for a new route (failed), you make progress (success) and can either leave no traces or get to the top in half the time (natural 20); you can retry if someone will just hold this lever – exposing you both to the trap (failed) or you disarm the trap (success) and can reset it behind you (natural 20); perhaps a demonstration of power will convince the guards? (failed) or they are intimidated and cower back (success) or one guard placates you by offering to show you a secret side door (natural 20).

I plan to playtest this shortly in my campaign. I'd welcome criticisms, refinements or alternatives if you have any?


[EDIT Added 'enhanced success' based on feedback. Also improved example, and identified need for guidance on complications.]
[2nd EDIT Tweak of text to make it that the parity check is on roll, not result.]
[3rd EDIT To respond to a criticism regarding possible static outcomes.]
[4th EDIT Improve the possible outcomes using the language of hard and soft moves, and provide what I hope are better examples.]
 
Last edited:

log in or register to remove this ad

aco175

Legend
I'm not sure I quite understand the concept. If I have a +7 to a check and the DC is 15, I need to roll an 8 to succeed. Success with failure wants to give a success for rolling a lower number, but give a penalty in order to keep the story moving forward. Instead of saying you fail if you roll a 7 or less, I would just take 5 off and now you flat out fail on a 2 or less and fail forward on a 3-7. I'm not getting the odd/even part. It removes the static number of missing the DC by a couple and adds more confusing rules that the players may not get as simple.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I'm not sure I quite understand the concept. If I have a +7 to a check and the DC is 15, I need to roll an 8 to succeed. Success with failure wants to give a success for rolling a lower number, but give a penalty in order to keep the story moving forward.
So the problem I want to solve is that when I used the DMG suggestions in play, we constantly forgot to confirm if our roll was worse than DC-5 or better than DC-3. The few times we did remember, doing so interrupted the flow of play. I feel the DMG suggestions are not fit for purpose (notwithstanding that the DC-5 threshold is sometimes used in published adventures.)

Considering parity is novel to D&D, and for sure there is a potential for dissonance as you describe. My hypothesis is that it will be transitory.

Instead of saying you fail if you roll a 7 or less, I would just take 5 off and now you flat out fail on a 2 or less and fail forward on a 3-7.
This encapsulates my problem with the DMG methods. Say I need a 9, then fail with drawback is 1-4 and success with cost is 8-9. If instead I needed 13, fail with drawback is 1-8, and success with cost is 12-13. Unlike PbtA's highly successful 2d6 method, the numbers you are looking for constantly shift.

I'm not getting the odd/even part. It removes the static number of missing the DC by a couple and adds more confusing rules that the players may not get as simple.
This method is I believe in use far simpler. Roll your d20. Is the result odd? Done. Apply a drawback. Your likelihood of each outcome scales smoothly without extra effort.

The problem you are having is in a way overthinking it. The character's chance of success and failure is unchanged. All we have to check is parity. Perhaps think of it this way: odd numbers are bad. In combat, a 1 is bad. 1 is odd. Odd numbers are bad.
 

aco175

Legend
This method is I believe in use far simpler. Roll your d20. Is the result odd? Done. Apply a drawback. Your likelihood of each outcome scales smoothly without extra effort.
I assume that the drawback is only if you fail the DC of say 15.

So, if I need to roll an 8 to succeed, I fail forward when I roll 2,4,6 and fail on 1,3,5,7.
If I need to roll a 15 to succeed, I fail forward when I roll 2,4,6,8,10,12,14 and fail on 1,3,5,7,9,11,13

The harder the DC, the greater chance of outright failing and also succeeding with a drawback. I can see where it would work. Not sure if this takes away from the difficulty of the skill check in that it gets easier to succeed with drawback as the DC goes up. Also, not sure how much me having a high bonus in certain skills is affected other than just having a better chance to outright succeed.

I may be stuck with the 3e concept that rolling high is always good and low always bad.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
I think a 50/50 chance of a complication is too high.

Also, why just bad things? Why can't a "good complication" occur?

Maybe have a complication die that's rolled alongside the d20. On a 1 something bad happens, and on a max roll something good happens.
 

ART!

Legend
Personally, I would find the constant reading of the result for odd or even numbers annoying - but that's one of those things that's very different from one person to the next.

I lean more toward a "degree of success" and "degree of failure" approach, which I might implement the next time I run 5E. It's very intuitive, and probably doesn't need explaining, buuuuut....

Let's use the picking a lock example. You needed to roll a 15 or better, but you rolled a 14: your character thinks they almost have it, but you need everyone to be quiet so you can take another [increment of time]. If those conditions are met, you have advantage on this 2nd check. If your result was 5, you missed it by 10: you have no idea how to pick this lock, and if you tried again you'd be at disadvantage. That kind of thing.

Honestly, I want to do this with combat and damage, too. Like, if you miss by 5 or less, you still do your STR or DEX bonus in damage.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I think a 50/50 chance of a complication is too high.
Perhaps. In PbtA the chance of a complication is >80%. Playtesting will give a better sense of where the ideal balance lies. My working hypothesis is that were 50% too high, PbtA with 80% would be less successful, and we'd see readily find complaints about it online.

Also, why just bad things? Why can't a "good complication" occur?
Partly because I haven't figured out a good way to engineer it in! Also, I prioritise serving up problems to my hapless adventurers over bennies. Bottom line though, I agree with you that there should be some result that delivers an enhanced success.

Maybe have a complication die that's rolled alongside the d20. On a 1 something bad happens, and on a max roll something good happens.
I like that. For sure my players always look at me expectantly when one of them rolls a 1 or 20. Perhaps a 20 on an ability check should be a simple fail (in those cases that even a 20 fails for you!) or an enhanced success (when your 20 is also a success). There's no 1 auto-fail on 5e ability checks, but perhaps 1 should always come with a drawback, even if it succeeds?
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Personally, I would find the constant reading of the result for odd or even numbers annoying - but that's one of those things that's very different from one person to the next.
This feels like something that needs close monitoring when my group playtests these rules.

I lean more toward a "degree of success" and "degree of failure" approach, which I might implement the next time I run 5E. It's very intuitive, and probably doesn't need explaining, buuuuut....

Let's use the picking a lock example. You needed to roll a 15 or better, but you rolled a 14: your character thinks they almost have it, but you need everyone to be quiet so you can take another [increment of time]. If those conditions are met, you have advantage on this 2nd check. If your result was 5, you missed it by 10: you have no idea how to pick this lock, and if you tried again you'd be at disadvantage. That kind of thing.
So for sure - and I have tried it - looking for ever-changing numbers is disruptive to play. I would urge you to try the DMG Success at a Cost and Degrees of Failure rules as written. And then come back to this question.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Perhaps. In PbtA the chance of a complication is >80%. Playtesting will give a better sense of where the ideal balance lies. My working hypothesis is that were 50% too high, PbtA with 80% would be less successful, and we'd see readily find complaints about it online.


Partly because I haven't figured out a good way to engineer it in! Also, I prioritise serving up problems to my hapless adventurers over bennies. Bottom line though, I agree with you that there should be some result that delivers an enhanced success.


I like that. For sure my players always look at me expectantly when one of them rolls a 1 or 20. Perhaps a 20 on an ability check should be a simple fail (in those cases that even a 20 fails for you!) or an enhanced success (when your 20 is also a success). There's no 1 auto-fail on 5e ability checks, but perhaps 1 should always come with a drawback, even if it succeeds?
I mean, I am a fan of tweaking rules to suit preferences, but do keep in mind that D&D is not PbtA and the two play significantly differently. Dungeon World exists for a reason. PbtA is built around constantly introducing new complications. D&D, for better or worse, isn't.

I presume that you would be a bit more creative than this, but let's just presume you're not feeling well and your creative juices are on empty. There are a bunch of locked doors I have to pick, and each time I get a complication my tools break. Around the second or third time that happens, I'd look at you and calmly ask if there's anywhere in your campaign world where I can purchase a set of tools that isn't made by Fisher Price. Because, IMO, it could easily get ridiculous pretty fast. PbtA partly gets around this by not requiring that the complication have any direct relationship to what you are doing (you're trying to pick the lock and something happens!) but, depending on your players, that might not go over as well in a D&D group. The expectations are different.

Yeah, a very simple (and classic) house rule would be to have a complication on a natural 1 and an exceptional success on a nat 20. Although what I was actually recommending was rolling something like a d6 along with the d20 and checking the d6 to determine whether something extra good/bad happens. You could even drop the good part and just have something bad happen when you roll a 1 on the complication die (then you can change the complication die based on risk - a d4 is high risk, while a d12 is low risk of complication).
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I mean, I am a fan of tweaking rules to suit preferences, but do keep in mind that D&D is not PbtA and the two play significantly differently. Dungeon World exists for a reason. PbtA is built around constantly introducing new complications. D&D, for better or worse, isn't.
The goal isn't to go all the way to DW, but rather to pull in a few changes that might make D&D better. It might be that the rate of complications is too high: potentially as low as 1 - a botched result - will turn out to be right.

I presume that you would be a bit more creative than this, but let's just presume you're not feeling well and your creative juices are on empty. There are a bunch of locked doors I have to pick, and each time I get a complication my tools break. Around the second or third time that happens, I'd look at you and calmly ask if there's anywhere in your campaign world where I can purchase a set of tools that isn't made by Fisher Price. Because, IMO, it could easily get ridiculous pretty fast. PbtA partly gets around this by not requiring that the complication have any direct relationship to what you are doing (you're trying to pick the lock and something happens!) but, depending on your players, that might not go over as well in a D&D group. The expectations are different.
Agreed that one wouldn't really just want to always break their thieves' tools. Alternatively, one might decide that a set of thieves' tools contains a dozen lockpicks, and it is a single lockpick that breaks.

Yeah, a very simple (and classic) house rule would be to have a complication on a natural 1 and an exceptional success on a nat 20. Although what I was actually recommending was rolling something like a d6 along with the d20 and checking the d6 to determine whether something extra good/bad happens. You could even drop the good part and just have something bad happen when you roll a 1 on the complication die (then you can change the complication die based on risk - a d4 is high risk, while a d12 is low risk of complication).
Others have suggested using a DFudge. It could well be that a 50/50 of a complication is too high, albeit there is a confound that this perhaps depends on what the complication is. The work to do might well be to give better guidance on that.

Regarding enhanced successes, perhaps the following -
A roll of a natural 20 that is a success, becomes an enhanced success. The DM will describe an opportunity to gain an added benefit.
 

aco175

Legend
I presume that you would be a bit more creative than this, but let's just presume you're not feeling well and your creative juices are on empty. There are a bunch of locked doors I have to pick, and each time I get a complication my tools break. Around the second or third time that happens, I'd look at you and calmly ask if there's anywhere in your campaign world where I can purchase a set of tools that isn't made by Fisher Price. Because, IMO, it could easily get ridiculous pretty fast. PbtA partly gets around this by not requiring that the complication have any direct relationship to what you are doing (you're trying to pick the lock and something happens!) but, depending on your players, that might not go over as well in a D&D group. The expectations are different.
Now we are introducing masterwork picks or mithral picks as a mechanic. Players would want it to get around the penalty and other penalties would have the same thing like, instead of picks keeping breaking, maybe hinges make a lot of noise to alert the bad guys. Not I have oil and tell the DM every door that I'm oiling them.

I'm not sure if a chart of failures would help with rolling a d10 and reroll for each failure that has been negated. I do not think that a masterwork pick tracking failures chart is good, but maybe advantage to a save from breaking. Not sure how big the rabbit hole would be.

Is there a simpler way to fail forward? Do you ask the player what happens? Is it just a time penalty to keep simple such as 10 minutes per point missed by.
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
Now we are introducing masterwork picks or mithral picks as a mechanic. Players would want it to get around the penalty and other penalties would have the same thing like, instead of picks keeping breaking, maybe hinges make a lot of noise to alert the bad guys. Not I have oil and tell the DM every door that I'm oiling them.

I'm not sure if a chart of failures would help with rolling a d10 and reroll for each failure that has been negated. I do not think that a masterwork pick tracking failures chart is good, but maybe advantage to a save from breaking. Not sure how big the rabbit hole would be.

Is there a simpler way to fail forward? Do you ask the player what happens? Is it just a time penalty to keep simple such as 10 minutes per point missed by.
It's not really a fail forward system (unless I missed something). If you roll below the DC you still fail, it's just that if the roll is odd you also get a complication.

Fail forward would be to allow the failure to be a success, for the price of a complication. For example, you fail the DC to pick the lock but rather than failing outright (and being unable to pass the door) you instead succeed at picking the lock just as an enemy patrol spots you (which wouldn't have happened had you actually passed the DC).

Something like masterwork picks doesn't really help. Okay, you dropped your masterwork pick in a crack and it fell to who knows where. Now you're out even more gold than you would have been with a regular set of tools. But moreover, it's that using those kinds of complications regularly isn't ideal IMO. It can easily get silly. It's certainly not how I've ever seen PbtA games run. Ideally, IMO, you want to have the flexibility to run it as a disassociated mechanic (you roll a complication doing X and unrelated thing Y happens!). However, that can be a tough pill to swallow for some D&D groups, because D&D doesn't work this way normally so it can feel like the DM is cheating and making stuff up to make your life harder. Which is exactly how a PbtA game is supposed to run, but a player who is only familiar with D&D isn't going to know that.
 


clearstream

(He, Him)
It's not really a fail forward system (unless I missed something). If you roll below the DC you still fail, it's just that if the roll is odd you also get a complication.

Fail forward would be to allow the failure to be a success, for the price of a complication. For example, you fail the DC to pick the lock but rather than failing outright (and being unable to pass the door) you instead succeed at picking the lock just as an enemy patrol spots you (which wouldn't have happened had you actually passed the DC).
That depends on your view of success with cost, right? What I mean is - isn't success with cost the same as failing that turns out to be success with cost? How do those differ?

Success with cost = fail forward. Or can we articulate the difference?
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
This is pretty cool. I generally tend to go with a system of Progressive Failures and Rising Tension because I feel like the variability of a d20 makes scale on a single roll too chaotic. I also find those systems run the risk of devolving either into a yes to everything (in which case, what's the point) or players always expecting to succeed.
Progressive rolls look well worth trying.

I felt his stealth example doesn't work so well, as stealth so far in my campaign has worked best following the advice that the roll rides until broken. He must be thinking about rolling against a specific guard, but what if there are multiple creatures with differing passive Perceptions? You don't have a straight fail to work with. The climb example makes more sense.

I'll have to think more on this idea. Currently in my campaign, fail is fail until you come up with a new approach, or somehow change your odds (levelling up will do, for e.g., or casting a spell like guidance).
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
That depends on your view of success with cost, right? What I mean is - isn't success with cost the same as failing that turns out to be success with cost? How do those differ?

Success with cost = fail forward. Or can we articulate the difference?
Perhaps I missed something. What about this makes a failure into a success with a cost?

I see four possible states in your original proposal:
Success (even roll that is at least the DC)
Success with complication (odd roll that is at least the DC)
Failure (even roll lower than the DC)
Failure with complication (odd roll lower than DC)

Fail Forward is interpreting a failure as a success with a complication.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Perhaps I missed something. What about this makes a failure into a success with a cost?

I see four possible states in your original proposal:
Success (even roll that is at least the DC)
Success with complication (odd roll that is at least the DC)
Failure (even roll lower than the DC)
Failure with complication (odd roll lower than DC)

Fail Forward is interpreting a failure as a success with a complication.
Huh? Fail forward means that you "fail", but lo! In fact, your "fail" is interpreted to mean you succeeded and have a complication. What is the real difference in outcome between failing that is 'interpreted' to be success at a cost, and success that is interpreted to be success at a cost?

What does change is what we take the roll we need to hit the DC to mean. Prior, the roll I need to hit the DC is my threshold between success and the drawback of failing. After, the roll I need to hit the DC is still my threshold for success, but it is not my threshold for avoiding drawbacks.
 
Last edited:

clearstream

(He, Him)
Let me arrange it this way

Fail Forward == Parity Outcome
------------------------------------
Success == Success (even roll that is at least the DC)
Fail Forward == Success with complication (odd roll that is at least the DC)
Fail == Fail with no complication (even roll lower than the DC)
Botch == Failure with complication (odd roll lower than DC)

Example, climbing
S == progress
FF == progress, with complication - we're spotted scaling the treasury wall
F == no progress
B == we fall (or it could be something else, but the most obvious is fall)


EDIT Contrast with

Fail Forward == Parity Outcome
------------------------------------
Success == Success (even roll that is at least the DC)
Succeed Forward == Success with complication (odd roll that is at least the DC)
Fail Forward == Fail that is interpreted to be success with complication (odd roll that is at least the DC)
Fail == Fail with no complication (even roll lower than the DC)
Botch == Failure with complication (odd roll lower than DC)

You can see that SF and FF are identical.
 
Last edited:

dave2008

Legend
I'd like more nuance in the outcomes of ability checks, and am dissatisfied with needing to deduct 2 or 5 from the DC and compare that with the result as suggested in the DMG. I've tried the DMG method and for me it's fiddly to apply during the heat of play.

Success at a Cost, Failure with a Drawback

A result that is an odd number on an ability check indicates that your success comes at a cost or failure comes with a drawback.

Enhanced Success

A roll of a natural 20 that is a success, becomes an enhanced success. The DM will describe an opportunity to gain an added benefit.

Here are some examples, Rolling a 7, the rogue springs the trap they failed to disarm. Rolling a 6, the rogue avoids springing the trap even though they failed to disarm it. Rolling a 9, the rogue makes some tremendous clatter while disarming the trap. Rolling a 10, the rogue disarms the trap and they're good: no costs or drawbacks.

To give a sense of the odds, say a tier 2 rogue has +4 PB and +3 from ability scores, for +7. Our trap DC is 15. They fail with drawback 20% of the time. Straight fail 15% of the time. Succeed with drawback 30% of the time. Straight succeed 35% of the time. My reading of the advantage/disadvantage rules suggests they interact neutrally with this (you must discard lowest/highest roll.)

I plan to playtest this shortly in my campaign. I'd welcome criticisms, refinements or alternatives if you have any?


[EDIT Added 'enhanced success' based on feedback. Also improved example, and identified need for guidance on complications.]
I don't know about the DMG variant, but PF2 is built around degrees of success / failure at -10/+10 of a successful roll. I haven't heard any issues with people having difficulty to implement it in PF2. Perhaps the issue is values used. It is easy to remember +10/-10?
 

OptionalRule

Adventurer
Progressive rolls look well worth trying.

I felt his stealth example doesn't work so well, as stealth so far in my campaign has worked best following the advice that the roll rides until broken. He must be thinking about rolling against a specific guard, but what if there are multiple creatures with differing passive Perceptions? You don't have a straight fail to work with. The climb example makes more sense.

I'll have to think more on this idea. Currently in my campaign, fail is fail until you come up with a new approach, or somehow change your odds (levelling up will do, for e.g., or casting a spell like guidance).
Works for me. I think this is more a testament of having multiple tools on your toolset and picking the right one for the right situation. I'm all for it.
 

Level Up!

An Advertisement

Advertisement4

Top