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

Fanaelialae

Legend
Good. We are agreed then that in vanilla-PHB, failing an ability check comes with a consequence. That's why we called for a check in the first place.


My word, but this is splitting hairs. Yes, if your rope could be consumed or will become unavailable for several sessions, then it can become a cost as well as a requirement.


Solid criticism. What that points to is that it is correct to have drawbacks on odds for both failure and success. Else all that happens is we dilute the cost of failure (roughly halving the wager).


Something is at stake. I mean, one does not say in gamlbing that nothing is at stake because I might not lose. Roughly, the method can be said to halve the wager. Where loss on a fail was guaranteed, now it is guaranteed half the time. On the other hand, sometimes I now pay a price with success. There is no abandoning of stakes, only a rearrangement of how they fall.

I understand that coming to this from vanilla-PHB, one feels like "success with a cost" isn't "failing forward" even though the outcomes are isomorphic. And that we're used to success being unadorned succes - I got what I wanted, no drawbacks - and failure to always have a drawback. In intent, that is what the DMG options do. "Fail" by 5 or less? No drawback. "Fail" by 2 or less? Actually that's a success, but here's a drawback. The list of outcomes implementing the DMG options puts on offer, is the same as the list of outcomes with this method. Even while the methods and probabilities differ.

I don't dismiss the importance of semantics, but in designing mechanics I am thinking about what the mechanic genuinely does. Success at a cost == success at a cost even if in the past we might have called that a "failure" that turns into a success with a cost.
That's true, the stake in this proposed system is equivalent to a half wager (in terms of risk analysis). However, risk analysis isn't the be all end all.

If you look at what the mechanic genuinely does, you see that on a failed even roll it does nothing.

It would be as if you and I were playing a hand of poker. You win the hand, but then we have to flip a coin to see whether you actually get to keep the pot, or whether we play a second hand to decide the outcome. If you keep winning and the coin flip keeps saying we play another hand, we might have to play a third, fourth, fifth, or even more hands. That's not fun or interesting. It's just stalling out the game and rendering the previous hands meaningless.

I could maybe see this having an application in very specific scenarios. You're already climbing and I want you to have both a chance of failing to make progress (because there are hobgoblin archers aiming at you) and a chance of falling. That said, I would either use the total result of the climb check to determine that, or ask for a second climb check if the first failed. The benefit of both of these is that, rather than being up to a coin toss, they both take into account the character's actual skill at climbing when determining whether they stall out or fall on a failed check.
 

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clearstream

(He, Him)
If you look at what the mechanic genuinely does, you see that on a failed even roll it does nothing.

It would be as if you and I were playing a hand of poker. You win the hand, but then we have to flip a coin to see whether you actually get to keep the pot, or whether we play a second hand to decide the outcome. If you keep winning and the coin flip keeps saying we play another hand, we might have to play a third, fourth, fifth, or even more hands. That's not fun or interesting. It's just stalling out the game and rendering the previous hands meaningless.
A substantive criticism here is a concern for stalling or protracting. I can fail to achieve what I attempted while paying no cost, so the situation is static. That is (only) where there is no up front cost.

Another poster cited Progressive Failures and Rising Tension.
  • 1st Failure: No progress
  • 2nd Failure: Unable to advance without help or change.
  • 3rd Failure: Consequences
An underlying rule I have in my campaign that I had not reflected on until now, is "If a check fails, it usually can’t be reattempted until conditions change—such as with a new approach, improvement in modifiers, or increased proficiency". That is similar to 2nd Failure in Progressive Failures.

I could maybe see this having an application in very specific scenarios. You're already climbing and I want you to have both a chance of failing to make progress (because there are hobgoblin archers aiming at you) and a chance of falling. That said, I would either use the total result of the climb check to determine that, or ask for a second climb check if the first failed. The benefit of both of these is that, rather than being up to a coin toss, they both take into account the character's actual skill at climbing when determining whether they stall out or fall on a failed check.
Working through the example. Failing has a possible cost, which is the probability of being hit by the archers. Say they all miss? Then the outcome turned out to be static. It is worth reflecting on why we don't object to that? Is it that the chance of the situation ending static in that case seems small, so we are okay with it? If yes, then the criticism not so much leaving costs down to chance, but to too high a chance? Or if not, then what is the practical difference in outcomes that concerns us?

It may be that we simply want the narrative to progress, but then nothing prevented a DM from progressing the narrative. Jay attempts to disarm the trap. They fail. The trap is not disarmed, but nothing bad happened to Jay. "What do you do now?" asks the DM. Is this really a static situation? Or just one in which the players will need to find another approach.

If you look at what the mechanic genuinely does, you see that on a failed even roll it does nothing.
In my DMing experience, an unadorned fail is never static: it never "does nothing". The players are just forced to think of another approach. It feels worth spelling out that if there is truly no cost - no up front cost, no consequential costs, or repeats are permitted without changing approach - then a DM shouldn't be calling for a check in the first place.

What I think was left unexplained, and needed explaining, is that repeats are not envisioned to be permitted without changing approach. OP edited!
 

Fanaelialae

Legend
A substantive criticism here is a concern for stalling or protracting. I can fail to achieve what I attempted while paying no cost, so the situation is static. That is (only) where there is no up front cost.

Another poster cited Progressive Failures and Rising Tension.
  • 1st Failure: No progress
  • 2nd Failure: Unable to advance without help or change.
  • 3rd Failure: Consequences
An underlying rule I have in my campaign that I had not reflected on until now, is "If a check fails, it usually can’t be reattempted until conditions change—such as with a new approach, improvement in modifiers, or increased proficiency". That is similar to 2nd Failure in Progressive Failures.


Working through the example. Failing has a possible cost, which is the probability of being hit by the archers. Say they all miss? Then the outcome turned out to be static. It is worth reflecting on why we don't object to that? Is it that the chance of the situation ending static in that case seems small, so we are okay with it? If yes, then the criticism not so much leaving costs down to chance, but to too high a chance? Or if not, then what is the practical difference in outcomes that concerns us?

It may be that we simply want the narrative to progress, but then nothing prevented a DM from progressing the narrative. Jay attempts to disarm the trap. They fail. The trap is not disarmed, but nothing bad happened to Jay. "What do you do now?" asks the DM. Is this really a static situation? Or just one in which the players will need to find another approach.


In my DMing experience, an unadorned fail is never static: it never "does nothing". The players are just forced to think of another approach. It feels worth spelling out that if there is truly no cost - no up front cost, no consequential costs, or repeats are permitted without changing approach - then a DM shouldn't be calling for a check in the first place.

What I think was left unexplained, and needed explaining, is that repeats are not envisioned to be permitted without changing approach. OP edited!
Yes, that is a relevant detail. It means that you actually don't have failure without consequences. Being forced to mosify your approach is certainly a consequence. You might not be able to come up with an alternative, and be forced to alter course entirely, or the alternative might be a less desirable choice. So you actually do still have a consequence on failure, although you might or might not have a complication in addition.

As for why it matters that you stalled even if the archers miss? It matters because it changes that later exchange. The archers would probably have advantage to attack you while climbing. If they had hit you, you might have needed to make a check to avoid falling. Whereas if you finished the climb and reached the top, those stakes would be completely different (you might even be out of range). I mean, if you're really going to posit that this is meaningless, then we may as well hang up our dice bags and play diceless, because then little or nothing of chance matters. I don't believe that, and I'd be rather surprised if you did.

It's kind of like asking what's the point of the fighter knocking the orc prone if the rogue then misses with advantage? Well, he still had advantage. It made the rogue's attack much more likely to hit. Without advantage, the rogue might well have done something different. Just because something has a chance of failure doesn't make it pointless.

It's only pointless if the chance of failure is meaningless.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
Yes, that is a relevant detail. It means that you actually don't have failure without consequences. Being forced to modify your approach is certainly a consequence. You might not be able to come up with an alternative, and be forced to alter course entirely, or the alternative might be a less desirable choice. So you actually do still have a consequence on failure, although you might or might not have a complication in addition.
It feels like we've reached a good point of agreement here :)
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I think the '20 is a great success' (crit basically) is OK. Given that the GM decides how many and when checks happen, this isn't really doing much work anyhow. You may get to avoid another check due to big success, but there's some undefined number of more checks to accomplish your goal either way, so it is hard to say it was really beneficial. Obviously that will depend on the GM and how he feels about the situation, but this is kind of a general flaw in the way 5e's check system and GM adjudication works, but that is a whole other discussion...
I would say it's exactly the strength of the 5e system, but mileage always varies.

What is germaine to this discussion in this paragraph, though, is that part of the benefit of using degrees of success is putting things more into the hands of the player. I would never propose a system that makes dnd into a system that isn't a conversation*, but I think that the desired outcomes of the OP can be generated a little differently to put more of the resolution process into the player's hands.

Firstly, attacks are the only checks in 5e that would be difficult to switch over to a success ladder. How would that work?

You roll d20+mod, and on a total result of 2-9, you fail, but can still get something out of the action (fail forward). 10-19, you succeed with consequence or complication. 20+ is a total success. 20+ due to a natural 20 is success with a bonus.

What about more complex situations? This is where you can take a page from Xanathar's Guide, and apply it to a different part of the game.

Crime​


Sometimes it pays to be bad. This activity gives a character the chance to make some extra cash, at the risk of arrest.


Resources. A character must spend one week and at least 25 gp gathering information on potential targets before committing the intended crime.


Resolution. The character must make a series of checks, with the DC for all the checks chosen by the character according to the amount of profit sought from the crime.


The chosen DC can be 10, 15, 20, or 25. Successful completion of the crime yields a number of gold pieces, as shown on the Loot Value table.


To attempt a crime, the character makes three checks: Dexterity (Stealth), Dexterity using thieves’ tools, and the player’s choice of Intelligence (Investigation), Wisdom (Perception), or Charisma (Deception).


If none of the checks are successful, the character is caught and jailed. The character must pay a fine equal to the profit the crime would have earned and must spend one week in jail for each 25 gp of the fine.


If only one check is successful, the heist fails but the character escapes.


If two checks are successful, the heist is a partial success, netting the character half the payout.


If all three checks are successful, the character earns the full value of the loot.



Loot Value​


DCValue
1050 gp, robbery of a struggling merchant
15100 gp, robbery of a prosperous merchant
20200 gp, robbery of a noble
251,000 gp, robbery of one of the richest figures in town

Complications. A life of crime is filled with complications. Roll on the Crime Complications table (or create a complication of your own) if the character succeeds on only one check. If the character’s rival is involved in crime or law enforcement, a complication ensues if the character succeeds on only two checks.


Crime Complications​


d8Complication
1A bounty equal to your earnings is offered for information about your crime.*
2An unknown person contacts you, threatening to reveal your crime if you don’t render a service.*
3Your victim is financially ruined by your crime.
4Someone who knows of your crime has been arrested on an unrelated matter.*
5Your loot is a single, easily identified item that you can’t fence in this region.
6You robbed someone who was under a local crime lord’s protection, and who now wants revenge.
7Your victim calls in a favor from a guard, doubling the efforts to solve the case.
8Your victim asks one of your adventuring companions to solve the crime.

*Might involve a rival
Now, the three checks in the above do rely on the DC mechanic, but we can work around that, or we can embrace it, and just say, complex tasks use a different mechanic.

To work around it, we simply have to make three checks with three skills or other proficiencies, and compare number of successes, and then use degree of success to determine complications. Each check is with a particular skill, and skills can have known complications and consequences, and benefits, that the player can have printed out in front of them during play. So if you get a 9 on the investigate check to scout the scene, the complication isrelated to you not catching something. If you get a nat20 on the stealth check, you might find something you weren't even there to find, that is useful or profitable to you, or get in and out so smoothly that no one notices the theft for long enough that you can easily create a viable alibi and/or set up a rival to take the fall, etc.

In a fight, nat20 stealth might have a benefit option that is "you move at your full speed, and can dash, without penalty to stealth, while you are hidden."

The big thing is, the player knows the list of complications and benefits, and on a success gets to choose what happens. On a failure (even partial), the DM chooses, but the player still knows what the options are, and thus has some idea what to expect.



*(even 4e features this dynamic, as the DM frames the world, the complexity of skill challenges, etc. My group also treats 4e skills as having descriptive examples of the types of things you can do, rather than them prescribing exactly what you can do in a relatively exhaustive list, but I can't recall if that is RAW or not)
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
What is germaine to this discussion in this paragraph, though, is that part of the benefit of using degrees of success is putting things more into the hands of the player. I would never propose a system that makes dnd into a system that isn't a conversation*, but I think that the desired outcomes of the OP can be generated a little differently to put more of the resolution process into the player's hands.

Firstly, attacks are the only checks in 5e that would be difficult to switch over to a success ladder. How would that work?

You roll d20+mod, and on a total result of 2-9, you fail, but can still get something out of the action (fail forward). 10-19, you succeed with consequence or complication. 20+ is a total success. 20+ due to a natural 20 is success with a bonus.
I would likely want to bring AC in as an additional modifier, so that you have
  • Roll d20+mod-(AC-10)
  • <2 fail with a complication, 2-9 fail, 10-19 succeed with complication, 20+ total success, 20+ with nat 20 success with bonus
Say in tier 2 our fighter has +3 from Str or Dex and +4 prof. for +7. Foe has AC 15. Rolling 10 they have 10+7-5 = 12, succeed with complication. They roll damage and...

...when it comes to complications, what might those include?
 
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clearstream

(He, Him)
You roll d20+mod, and on a total result of 2-9, you fail, but can still get something out of the action (fail forward). 10-19, you succeed with consequence or complication. 20+ is a total success. 20+ due to a natural 20 is success with a bonus.

What about more complex situations? This is where you can take a page from Xanathar's Guide, and apply it to a different part of the game.
I will respond about the XGE 'SC' method, but first following on from the attacks suggestion. For ability checks say we have
  • DC is set as a modifier
  • Roll d20+mod-(DC-10)
  • <2 fail with a complication, 2-9 fail, 10-19 succeed with complication, 20+ total success, 20+ with nat 20 success with bonus
So in this case our rogue has +3 from Dex and +4 prof. for +7. Lock has DC 5. Rolling 10 they have 10+7+5 = 22, total success. (DC-10=-5, and subtracting a negative integer means add.) Another day, they face a tougher lock, DC 18. Rolling 10 they have 10+7-8 = 9, fail.

Thus AC and DC are handled the same way, and results are converted to our constant scale for nuanced outcomes. Summoning @AbdulAlhazred can you take a look at the above. Does it work?! Note that AC and DC can work in exactly the same way i.e. AC-10, DC-10, so the method could apply to combat and ability checks equally.
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
I would likely want to bring AC in as an additional modifier, so that you have
  • Roll d20+mod-(AC-10)
  • <2 fail with a complication, 2-9 fail, 10-19 succeed with complication, 20+ total success, 20+ with nat 20 success with bonus
Say in tier 2 our fighter has +3 from Str or Dex and +4 prof. for +7. Foe has AC 15. Rolling 10 they have 10+7-5 = 12, succeed with complication. They roll damage and...

...when it comes to complications, what might those include?
I’d definitely try to find a different way to make AC matter. Maybe translate it to a DR value instead?
I will respond about the XGE 'SC' method, but first following on from the attacks suggestion. For ability checks say we have
  • DC is set as a modifier
  • Roll d20+mod-(DC-10)
  • <2 fail with a complication, 2-9 fail, 10-19 succeed with complication, 20+ total success, 20+ with nat 20 success with bonus
So in this case our rogue has +3 from Dex and +4 prof. for +7. Lock has DC 5. Rolling 10 they have 10+7+5 = 22, total success. (DC-10=-5, and subtracting a negative integer means add.) Another day, they face a tougher lock, DC 18. Rolling 10 they have 10+7-8 = 9, fail.

Thus AC and DC are handled the same way, and results are converted to our constant scale for nuanced outcomes. Summoning @AbdulAlhazred can you take a look at the above. Does it work?! Note that AC and DC can work in exactly the same way i.e. AC-10, DC-10, so the method could apply to combat and ability checks equally.
Yeah that is way more complex than I’d want it to be. I’ll look more at it when I’m not at work, though.
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
I’d definitely try to find a different way to make AC matter. Maybe translate it to a DR value instead?

Yeah that is way more complex than I’d want it to be. I’ll look more at it when I’m not at work, though.
It's simply approaching the ideas of the DMG options and the Level Up degrees from an angle that may be more streamlined. All aim to deliver more differentiated outcomes from a d20 roll. Ease of use is a concern, and your suggestion offers a straightforward rubric:
  • 20+ total success
  • 10+ success with complication
  • 2+ fail
  • 1- fail with complication
  • Natural 1s and 20s have extra significance
DCs and ACs might be rewritten in the form -5 (easy), 0 (normal), +5 (hard) etc. A breastplate gives +4 AC. A shield still gives +2. That allows:
  • Roll d20+mod-DC
  • Roll d20+mod-AC
What is gained is something PbtA does not have, which is more range in the inputs. I am leaning toward it being preferable to my OP. Seeing as the die-mechanic for DCs and ACs is identical, neither seems more complex. (I might misunderstand what you find "more complex".)
 
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doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
It's simply approaching the ideas of the DMG options and the Level Up degrees from an angle that may be more streamlined. All aim to deliver more differentiated outcomes from a d20 roll. Ease of use is a concern, and your suggestion offers a straightforward rubric:
  • 20+ total success
  • 10+ success with complication
  • 2+ fail
  • 1- fail with complication
  • Natural 1s and 20s have extra significance
DCs and ACs might be rewritten in the form -5 (easy), 0 (normal), +5 (hard) etc. A breastplate gives +4 AC. A shield still gives +2. That allows:
  • Roll d20+mod-DC
  • Roll d20+mod-AC
What is gained is something PbtA does not have, which is more range in the inputs. I am leaning toward it being preferable to my OP. Seeing as the die-mechanic for DCs and ACs is identical, neither seems more complex. (I might misunderstand what you find "more complex".)
Ah, okay. I think that I needed more coffee earlier. My brain is also full of probabilities for my own system right now.

Yeah I like that. The PC has a range of bonuses, the opposition can reduce their roll, and you compare the result to the success ladder.

I like calling the penalty from difficulty a DC, keeping the same basic terminology.

You may have just solved a problem for me with my system…
 

clearstream

(He, Him)
From my post in another thread. I take a step back and think about the features of dice resolution methods.
  • Number of cognitive steps (to really get into this, one could size the burden of each step)
  • Avatar input into success rate
  • Environment (including foes) input into success rate
  • Understanable probabilities
  • Pleasing feel
The PHB method has
  • 1) locate DC, 2) read d20 roll, 3) add modifiers, 4) compare with DC
  • -3 to +11 & advantage/disadvantage
  • -5 to -30 & advantage/disadvantage
  • each +/-1 is 5%
  • subjective; many attest to enjoying advantage/disadvantage

The DMG optional method has
  • 1) locate DC, 2) read d20 roll, 3) add modifiers, 4) compare with DC (for success), 5) compare with DC-2, 6) conceive drawback, 7) compare with DC-5
  • Rest as above

The method in the OP of my thread has
  • 1) locate DC, 2) read d20 roll, 3) add modifiers, 4) compare with DC, 5) check d20's parity, 6) conceive a drawback
  • Rest as above

The method discussed in the body of my thread has
  • 1) locate DC, 2) read d20 roll, 3) add modifiers, 4) subtract DC, 5) compare with rubric, 6) conceive a drawback
  • Rest as above

A method where a dFudge is rolled alongside d20
  • 1) locate DC, 2) read d20, 3) add modifiers, 4) compare with DC, 5) read dFudge, 6) conceive a drawback
  • Rest as above

A d12 + d6s dice pool method has
  • 1) locate #dice, 2) read d12 + d6s, 3) compare with rubric, 4) conceive a drawback
  • +0-5 d6s
  • none
  • generally not understandable
  • subjective; many attest to enjoying throwing a bunch of dice (I know I do)

I want to expressly compare cognitive steps, guessing size using Fibonacci values in [].

Step 1 - locate DC [2] or locate #dice [1]
Step 2 - read d20 [1] or read pool [2]
Step 3 - add modifiers [2] or compare with rubric [3]
Step 4 - compare with DC [1] or subtract DC [2] or conceive drawback [2]
Step 5 - check parity [2] or compare with rubric [3] or read dFudge [1] or compare with DC-2 [2]
Step 6 - conceive drawback [2]
Step 7 - compare with DC-5 [2]

PHB method = [6]
DMG method = [11]
OP method = [10]
Alt method = [12]
dFudge method = [9]
Dr's method = [8] albeit, I think Dr's method if modified to have DCs will add about [2] so call it [10]

If I exclude the DMG and alt methods as too costly, and allow for 2 points of fuzziness, the prices paid are
  • OP method gains differentiated outcomes [2-6]
  • dFudge method gains differentiated outcomes [1-5]
  • Dr's method gains differentiated outcomes [2-6] at the extra cost of giving up understandable probabilities
What is a fair price for differentiated outcomes?
 
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clearstream

(He, Him)
For completeness, PbtA in DW
  • 1) locate move [2], 2) read 2d6 [1], 3) apply mods [1], 4) consult move [3], 5) conceive outcome [2]
  • -3 to +3
  • -3 to +3
  • Probabilities understandable with mild effort
  • Subjective
So possibly a cognitive burden of [9].

I feel like locate move could be [1], but it feels comparable for me with locating a DC so either both are [1] or both are [2]: I left it at [2] because there is scope for doubt (multiple options with equal justification) and some memory demand (or referring to books). Each move has a rubric, so here again I felt either consult move and compare with rubric are both [2], or both are [3]: I left at [3] because of the diversity of rules within moves.

In play, DW is shedding a number of mechanics that are preserved in PHB, so there are efficiencies there that can deliver a faster flowing conversation (at the cost, of course, of the guiderails and crunch those mechanics might have offered).
 

Numidius

Adventurer
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.


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.


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.

Just chiming in to say that on Dfudge the chance is 33% of complication, nada, or boon.

To me is especially useful when assessing 1 and 20, so a 1 with a plus on Dfudge is still a botch, but either Dm is lenient in describing, or Player comes up with something to alleviate the failure.
Otherwise a 1 with minus is a terrible failure, eg: in combat the barbarian hurts herself and loses the weapon for good.

Bear in mind I use this for B/X OSE, to spice up things in combat with maneuvers/deeds and when casting spells.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Fail forward doesn't mean "success with complication," although it might include that. What it means is that failure doesn't stop everything -- that, even in failure, there is still a path forward. A hard use of fail forward would be that the intended goal of the PC is either no longer achievable or is deeply complicated now, but there's still options available, eg that you have failed to stop the ritual and now demons are pouring through the BBEG's rift, but now you have the less optimal options to try to close the rift or deal with the demons directly. This is fail forward. Alternatively, a softer version would be success with complication -- you fail your check/action/whatever to stop the ritual and so the ritual is disrupted but not before X demons come through and now you have to deal with them. This lets the PC achieve their goal, but adds a cost. This is also fail forward.

The idea that fail forward MUST include success is not correct -- it's right there in the name "fail" forward. You can use lots of techniques to absolutely enforce a failure state but still have a path forward for the game to follow. Forward here doesn't mean towards the players' intended goals, but instead means that the game can still progress -- it isn't stopped. This applies from finding clues to mysteries to campaign high points, like the rituals above.

Fail forward is just the concept that play doesn't stop on a failure -- a closed door leads to an open window. It isn't never failing, or just succeed at cost. Those are just possible tools in the kit. I don't know where this widespread concept of fail forward being success with complication came from, but that's like saying that tall people are always men.
 

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