Consequences of Failure

Xetheral

Three-Headed Sirrush
Although I'm a fervent convert to the goal-and-approach way, I'll admit that years of ingrained (calcified?) gaming habits sometimes makes it hard to implement in the heat of the moment. I still occasionally revert to my old DMing habits. "Um....gimme a Perception check?" I'm just the disciple, not the master, so I'm starting this discussion more to get advice than to impart wisdom. So for those who want to play this way, let's talk about how to do it, especially how to always incorporate a "meaningful consequence of failure."

For those who don't want to play this way, I'm really going to try to restrain from arguing with you about it in this thread, but derail away! I'm going to do my best to interpret any question as a genuine inquiry.

I'll start with a medium-hard one: stealth. (I do also want to discuss the "Do I know about X?" scenario, too. That's a tougher one.)

One question that might arise is whether failing a stealth check, and thus failing to hide, really counts as a consequence. Isn't that the same outcome as not rolling at all? It might be if you think of it as "failing a die roll" instead of "failing at a task." But if the player attempts something with consequence, and fails, they are worse off than if they hadn't attempted it. E.g., if the player takes a risk by trying to sneak past the dragon, then the failure state is alerting (or moving a step closer to alerting) the dragon. The player could have said, "$%@# the dragon! I'm not going in there!"

So I think a key feature is that the player has to actively / knowingly undertake a task with risk. If the party hears something coming and they say, "Let's all hide!" my instinct would be to say "Ok, let's have stealth checks." But in this case the failure state IS the same as not doing anything.

Maybe take an (approximate) average of "passive Stealth" in the party, and then compare to the monster's passive perception? (Or you could have the monster roll Perception...which raises the whole question of whether the "consequence of failure" principle applies to NPCs.)

Alternatively, does this need to be resolved by comparing die rolls or passives at all? What about simply choosing an outcome based on the story. E.g.:
  • The monster comes close enough to give a scare, but sees nothing, however the party gains some clue/information relevant to the adventure.
  • Make it clear the monster is ABOUT to discover them because there isn't really anything to hide behind, and give them a chance to think of a plan. E.g. trying to distract/mislead it. That plan might involve risk.
What would YOU do in this case?
From my standpoint, the purpose of only calling for a check if there is a meaningful consequence of failure is to address situations where retries are possible. In any situation where a retry isn't possible, I would argue that failure on the check is inherently a meaningful consequence: the player had one chance to get it right, and now that they failed they have fewer options.

Stealth checks can't be retried, because you don't know you failed until it's too late. Ergo, in my view, stealth checks have a meaningful consequence of failure, and thus a check is appropriate (assuming the outcome is in doubt). The same applies to perception checks to notice something that isn't static, and knowledge checks to determine if the character knows anything relevant about the situation.

I don't see anything about the goal-and-approach method that requires that "meaningful consequence of failure" be defined as "worse than taking no action at all". I recognize that some people play it that way, but I don't think that requirement follows from the text of the rules. Goal-and-approach works just fine even with a lower threshold for "meaningful consequence".

(Edit due to premature post.)
 
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Elfcrusher

Adventurer
You should... maybe have made this a + thread. I think the valuable discussion that could have been had here is going to get buried under trying to defend your premise.
Mmm...I get annoyed when posters write some variation on, "And you can only participate in this conversation if you agree with me."

I'm just not going to get sucked into debates about the merits, and (gently?) deflect.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
"Meaningful consequence for failure" often gets confused with "something terrible must always happen." That's only sometimes true. It depends on the context. What is meaningful and what is a consequence is determined by the situation. The key thing is to not RACE to an ability check without considering what's going on.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
I've said it before and I'll say it again: It's a good habit for the DM to only ask for the ability check and let the player add the skill proficiency he or she thinks applies based on the description the player offered.

While this is not, strictly speaking, in keeping with the process laid out in the rules, it is a natural extension of what is in the rules. The section on Ability Checks says players may ask if a skill proficiency applies to an ability check. I suggest just skipping the question and using an assumption that the players are acting in good faith to apply their own skill proficiency. The key thing here though is they cannot ADD description after the call for the roll just to get a skill proficiency applied. That is taking advantage of the assumption of good faith. All description must occur BEFORE the call for the roll. (Obviously, it's not good to be a hardass in all cases, but let the players know the expectation and seek their buy-in, then hold them to their agreements. They'll learn.)

This method neatly sidesteps the very common issue of the DM and players not being on the same page with the ability check. "Deception? Oh, I was actually being truthful. Can I use Persuasion?" The more of that sort of interruption that can be skipped the better in my view and just asking for the ability check and not the skill proficiency is a good way to achieve that in my experience.
I actually hadn't seen (or noticed) you describe that specific approach. But I like it. Sure, it MIGHT get abused by a player who always wants to use their best stat, but as long as they describe an approach that uses that stat it's ok. I mean, if it's really outlandish I can rule auto-failure. But really the points you make about "good faith" and "not being a hardass" cover pretty much everything.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
I don't see anything about the goal-and-approach method that requires that "meaningful consequence of failure" be defined as "worse than taking no action at all". I recognize that some people play it that way, but I don't think that requirement follows from the text of the rules. Goal-and-approach works just fine even with a lower threshold for "meaning consequence".
Yup, that's true.

I personally think it's more fun when there is a meaningful consequence, so I try to both craft the challenge and handle the adjudication in a way that accomplishes that.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I actually hadn't seen (or noticed) you describe that specific approach. But I like it. Sure, it MIGHT get abused by a player who always wants to use their best stat, but as long as they describe an approach that uses that stat it's ok. I mean, if it's really outlandish I can rule auto-failure. But really the points you make about "good faith" and "not being a hardass" cover pretty much everything.
It's reasonable behavior for a player to engage largely in tasks that the character has the best chance in which to succeed (best ability score, proficiency or expertise in relevant skill proficiency, plus any additional features that may modify the roll). The key thing is they need to establish that BEFORE the call for the roll. No saying, "Oh, yeah, I was using my thieves' tools on that..." after you've called for the Dex check. That should be part of them describing what they want to do which precedes the call for the check.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
Sorry for the side track, but I don't see how we can address the issue you pose without addressing the fact that the only reason you have a problem is because of the straight jacket you put on yourself.

As others have probably stated more elegantly than I - if the rogue hadn't tried to sneak past the dragon they could have tried something else. Maybe they should have tried a distraction. Maybe they should have taken a different route. Those decisions all have an impact.

So failing the check is it's own penalty. It's the same with most knowledge checks. Trying to remember the history of the McGuffin and fail to recall anything with an intelligence history check? You don't remember anything.

I occasionally throw in a cost for failure if I've indicated that what they're trying is particularly dangerous, but that doesn't apply to all checks.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Sorry for the side track, but I don't see how we can address the issue you pose without addressing the fact that the only reason you have a problem is because of the straight jacket you put on yourself.

As others have probably stated more elegantly than I - if the rogue hadn't tried to sneak past the dragon they could have tried something else. Maybe they should have tried a distraction. Maybe they should have taken a different route. Those decisions all have an impact.

So failing the check is it's own penalty. It's the same with most knowledge checks. Trying to remember the history of the McGuffin and fail to recall anything with an intelligence history check? You don't remember anything.

I occasionally throw in a cost for failure if I've indicated that what they're trying is particularly dangerous, but that doesn't apply to all checks.
Agree...

My points would be the following...

1 5e itself does not require a meaningful consequence on every failed ability check (or as stated in reverse - diasllow rolls which dont have meaningful consequences)
2 5e itself doesnt require "meaningful consequence to be "a penalty"
3 5e fitself doesnt require waiting until there is bad stuff about to happen before making a check.

So, if a GM decides to for his game make it necessary to have these and then they run into problems on how to always adhere to it - my advice is "stop doing that."

Stealth

I allow stealth checks on approach...
I dont require it to wait until its hide or caught...
In part it covers how close you can get before it's an issue and a failed check can really mean "its dry leaves and twigs ahead, not much cover, - you made it in some distance but farther in is more difficult."

A failed check on a low roll might say "you are making more noise than usual, do far so good but it's obvious dome of your gear is out of sorts or loose. Do you press on, stop here, or fall back to adjust?"

There's no reason to pretend you dont know if you are quiet or not. There no reason to wait until its do or die to resolve it.

So, since I do not give myself those non-5e restrictions as part of some universal methodology, I dont really run into stealth problems in resolutions. You get some progress and a setback or no progress and that gives me a wide latitude to fit the result to the scene.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
Sorry for the side track, but I don't see how we can address the issue you pose without addressing the fact that the only reason you have a problem is because of the straight jacket you put on yourself.
I see it as a "challenge" not a problem, and it's due to a "high bar", not a straight jacket.

But your mileage may vary.

As others have probably stated more elegantly than I - if the rogue hadn't tried to sneak past the dragon they could have tried something else. Maybe they should have tried a distraction. Maybe they should have taken a different route. Those decisions all have an impact.

So failing the check is it's own penalty.
Um, yes? That's exactly what I was trying to say. Maybe I phrased it poorly.

It's the same with most knowledge checks. Trying to remember the history of the McGuffin and fail to recall anything with an intelligence history check? You don't remember anything.
Here I disagree, unless there was some sort of opportunity cost of to trying to remember. E.g., during combat: "Ok, you can think back and try to remember all the examples of that you've seen, but you're going to have to focus and won't be able to take any other actions for the round. In fact, you're free to repeat that each round until you succeed, if you like."

I occasionally throw in a cost for failure if I've indicated that what they're trying is particularly dangerous, but that doesn't apply to all checks.
I get that. And what I'm saying is that I think the game is much more interesting when the game state changes regardless of whether there is success or failure, so the question is how to accomplish that in some of the less-obvious cases.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
Agree...

My points would be the following...

1 5e itself does not require a meaningful consequence on every failed ability check (or as stated in reverse - diasllow rolls which dont have meaningful consequences)
2 5e itself doesnt require "meaningful consequence to be "a penalty"
3 5e fitself doesnt require waiting until there is bad stuff about to happen before making a check.

So, if a GM decides to for his game make it necessary to have these and then they run into problems on how to always adhere to it - my advice is "stop doing that."
Great! Thank you for your advice.

Stealth

I allow stealth checks on approach...
I dont require it to wait until its hide or caught...
In part it covers how close you can get before it's an issue and a failed check can really mean "its dry leaves and twigs ahead, not much cover, - you made it in some distance but farther in is more difficult."

A failed check on a low roll might say "you are making more noise than usual, do far so good but it's obvious dome of your gear is out of sorts or loose. Do you press on, stop here, or fall back to adjust?"

There's no reason to pretend you dont know if you are quiet or not. There no reason to wait until its do or die to resolve it.
Oh, that's interesting. Do you think it's unreasonable for somebody to overestimate their own stealthiness? Does stealth mean absolute silence, or just "silent enough", but you underestimate what "enough" is? Is it possible to be doing great, and thinking "I got this", and then make a mistake at a critical moment?

So, since I do not give myself those non-5e restrictions as part of some universal methodology, I dont really run into stealth problems in resolutions. You get some progress and a setback or no progress and that gives me a wide latitude to fit the result to the scene.
Oh, yes. When I used to play the other way I had no problem resolving all sorts of situations. Don't know what to do? Pick a skill and let the dice answer it for you. We rolled lots of dice, and forged ahead.

The thing is, I got tired of that.

Your mileage may vary.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
I see it as a "challenge" not a problem, and it's due to a "high bar", not a straight jacket.

But your mileage may vary.



Um, yes? That's exactly what I was trying to say. Maybe I phrased it poorly.



Here I disagree, unless there was some sort of opportunity cost of to trying to remember. E.g., during combat: "Ok, you can think back and try to remember all the examples of that you've seen, but you're going to have to focus and won't be able to take any other actions for the round. In fact, you're free to repeat that each round until you succeed, if you like."



I get that. And what I'm saying is that I think the game is much more interesting when the game state changes regardless of whether there is success or failure, so the question is how to accomplish that in some of the less-obvious cases.
I think you're dismissing opportunity cost. If I do remember the history of the McGuffin, I can bypass and expensive, potentially dangerous side mission. The campaign thread won't end because I didn't remember anything, the cost is that now I have to go to The Narrows and hunt down Jimmy the Nose. Jimmy doesn't like me too much after our last encounter and bribing him is going to be expensive.

The cost of failure, IMHO, does not need to be immediate.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Mmm...I get annoyed when posters write some variation on, "And you can only participate in this conversation if you agree with me."

I'm just not going to get sucked into debates about the merits, and (gently?) deflect.
Fair enough. The way I see it, the point of a “+ thread” is not to say “you can only participate if you agree with me,” but rather, “I would like to have a discussion assuming X as a baseline, not arguing whether or not X is a good baseline.” But if you’d rather leave all avenues open, that’s cool too.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
I think you're dismissing opportunity cost. If I do remember the history of the McGuffin, I can bypass and expensive, potentially dangerous side mission. The campaign thread won't end because I didn't remember anything, the cost is that now I have to go to The Narrows and hunt down Jimmy the Nose. Jimmy doesn't like me too much after our last encounter and bribing him is going to be expensive.

The cost of failure, IMHO, does not need to be immediate.
It's not really a cost in that case, though. You're not in a worse situation for having tried to remember.

And just to insert the boiler plate: it's not wrong to play without a cost. The goal of this thread was to discuss interesting ways to include such costs, for those who want to.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Great! Thank you for your advice.



Oh, that's interesting. Do you think it's unreasonable for somebody to overestimate their own stealthiness? Does stealth mean absolute silence, or just "silent enough", but you underestimate what "enough" is? Is it possible to be doing great, and thinking "I got this", and then make a mistake at a critical moment?



Oh, yes. When I used to play the other way I had no problem resolving all sorts of situations. Don't know what to do? Pick a skill and let the dice answer it for you. We rolled lots of dice, and forged ahead.

The thing is, I got tired of that.

Your mileage may vary.
Regarding the unreasonable bit, the player knows what they rolled and gets a narration appropriate to it. They can use the narration and the "roll" in their decisions as a sort of "degree of confidence".

Since they dont "know" the DC specifically, they can obviously overestimate their own stealthiness, think "that twig probably wasnt loud enough to attract attention" and press on. Or they can wait, listen, see if they detect any changes. Or they can back out, change directions, in case someone heard it.

Its all up to them.

Edit to be clear if it's not- no stealth is not absolute silence. That requires a spell and in most cases is very noticeable.


I am glad to see that you used to have a "got tired of thst" issue with the way you used to play and then switched to something that apparently gives you different troubles that I guess you prefer.

Sounds like a positive change for you so that is great. We dont really run games the way you say you used to, so we dont have that problem and we dont need to take on these new problems you have found.

So, sounds like good all around, mostly.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I actually hadn't seen (or noticed) you describe that specific approach. But I like it. Sure, it MIGHT get abused by a player who always wants to use their best stat, but as long as they describe an approach that uses that stat it's ok. I mean, if it's really outlandish I can rule auto-failure. But really the points you make about "good faith" and "not being a hardass" cover pretty much everything.
I do this too, and I like it a lot. It makes my job easier, only having to decide which of the six abilities I feel is most appropriate, and leaving it to the player to determine if one of their Proficiencies is applicable. If I ask for a Perception check to find the secret door hidden among the masonry, a player who isn’t trained in Perception will probably just roll straight Wisdom. But if I just ask for a Wisdom check, and it’s established ahead of time that it is up to the player to suggest applicable Proficiencies when an ability check is called for, they might say, “I’m trained in Mason’s Tools, would that help?” to which I would be happy to say yes.
 

Bawylie

A very OK person
It's reasonable behavior for a player to engage largely in tasks that the character has the best chance in which to succeed (best ability score, proficiency or expertise in relevant skill proficiency, plus any additional features that may modify the roll). The key thing is they need to establish that BEFORE the call for the roll. No saying, "Oh, yeah, I was using my thieves' tools on that..." after you've called for the Dex check. That should be part of them describing what they want to do which precedes the call for the check.
I like to keep “costs and consequences” in mind when I involve dice.

To me, rolling for something without a risk attached is like gambling for nothing.

That said “consequences” often does mean “something bad happens,” so I have to think in terms of “costs” too.

Opportunity costs: the loss of time, positioning, advantage.
Actual costs: spell components, ammo, hit points, hit dice, spell slots.

Things like that. What are the stakes involved in sneaking past the dragon? That seems like “Don’t wake it,” or “bypass it unnoticed.” Failure here doesn’t have to be the negation of the goal. I mean it doesn’t have to be “the dragon wakes and notices you.” It might be an opportunity cost. “You make your way past, but it takes absolutely forever. Before long you’re tiptoeing on an unstable mound of coins. Any false step spells disaster, but after a good 30 minutes, you make it through.”

Or maybe the opportunity cost is - you find a good path, sneak by, but unfortunately your path leads away from the dragon’s hoard and you can’t so much as sniff a gold coin without risking detection.”

So I guess my advice, when it comes to areas where it seems like failure means “nothing happens” is to look for possible lost opportunities and set them as the stakes.
 

Oofta

Title? I don't need no stinkin' title.
It's not really a cost in that case, though. You're not in a worse situation for having tried to remember.

And just to insert the boiler plate: it's not wrong to play without a cost. The goal of this thread was to discuss interesting ways to include such costs, for those who want to.
Then I go back to the fact that you're being overly-restrictive in your approach for no reason. I'd have to hunt through the PHB to get the exact wording but it explains there that sometimes a failed check just means you make no progress.

Not getting information that could be useful can be it's own penalty. Getting noticed even though you were trying to be sneaky is bad. Not being able to tell if someone is lying is not helpful.

In combat if I swing my sword and miss, there is no penalty other than that I didn't do damage. Same here.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
and then switched to something that apparently gives you different troubles that I guess you prefer.
I would distinguish between boredom with the old way, and challenge of consistently using a different (and I think better) way.

You and Oofta both made an argument like, which I find puzzling. If this were, say, a forum on mountain biking, and I said, "I got bored riding on bike paths, and I'm trying to get into downhilling, but I'm having trouble with the big drops..." I would be surprised by the response, "Then why don't you just stick with bike paths?"

I like challenges, and getting better at hard things.
 

Celebrim

Legend
But I think you're confusing my interest in discussing this topic with some kind of cry for help.
I don't know about a "cry for help" but this thread certainly seems like asking for help to me. There is nothing wrong with that. Many of my posts to Enworld have been asking for help as well.

I'd also add that I have no idea what kind of DM you are; the degree to which I take you seriously will depend on the value of what you have to offer.
I would assume nothing else. However, what I will tell you is that you asked for help, and immediately qualified it by the sort of help you expected to receive. That is, you are asking, "How can I ensure that there are always meaningful consequences of failure to a dice roll?", and there is implicitly to that question the addendum, "...for every fictional situation that might occur." And you are noting that for many fictional situations, finding meaningful consequences is hard and strains your imagination.

The answer you want to get from me is some sort of guidelines for providing meaningful consequences to propositions in the fiction that transcend the fictional state. But what I'm telling you is that you have it backwards. Instead of worrying about the process of resolving the fictional state, instead creating meaningful situations in the fiction. There is no one size fits all answer.

I almost agree with you on this one. There's nothing preventing the players from hiding AND getting their weapons ready (that's what "surprise" is, right?)
Yes, there is! And I can explain it in the terms of your "goal and approach" methodology.

Surprise doesn't involve hiding. It involves the guard not knowing you were there before you acted. So, while there is nothing that prevents the player from hiding and getting their weapons ready, if they phrase this in terms of a goal, then absolutely they cannot both hide and get off a successful ambush. They either can do one or the other.

Suppose they give the goal and approach, "We hide and get out our bows. As soon as whatever is coming down the corridor arrives, we shoot it." Now, they have given a goal and an approach. This is what they want to happen - "shoot the surprised bugbear" - and how they plan to accomplish it is quickly hide to facilitate that plan. But now, things can go wrong. They could fail the stealth check. Depending on how badly they failed it, trying to hide might have been a worse plan than just standing still, so that the Bugbears hears them moving around and so is not surprised. But if the succeed, perhaps they gain additional advantages compared to have standing still. Whatever happens, they are now shooting at whatever comes around the corner, bugbear or not. (Generously, you might allow some sort of test to avoid doing that if it isn't a bugbear).

But now, lets suppose they give a different goal and approach, "We hide and get out our bows." - same approach, but "If we are seen, then we will fire our arrows." Different goal! Different consequences. Now, the issue on the stealth check is whether or not they get seen. If they are, they can fire their bows, but the bugbear knows now that they are there so he's not surprised. The bugbear may also pretend not to see them, forcing a new opposed check. And the good thing is that if it is the princess that comes around the corner, well they aren't blindly firing at her.

All of this naturally comes out of the fiction and the different goals and approaches involved.

So I think a better way of presenting this is by giving the party two options:
1) They can prepare for a regular ambush and potentially get the drop on the monster.
2) They can really try to hide and avoid combat completely, but now if they fail they should be "worse off" than if they had tried #1.
And here we get to the problem of you try to shove your preferred approach on the scenario. You are playing the PC's for the players as soon as you give the party two options. Because there are not only many more than two options available here so that two options is limiting party agency, but honestly I think presenting them options is not actually listening to their goals and approaches. There are times sure when you need to prompt the party to clarify what it is actually doing, especially when the player proposes a mechanic instead of a proposition such as - "I roll stealth." But too much prompting and too much giving options and you might as well be playing a 'Which Way' book.

So maybe one way to resolve it is...and this is what @Charlaquin was saying...is to let them hide, let the monster approach, and then at the critical moment make them choose which way they are going: do they try to spring their ambush, or wait to see if the monster notices them?
Yes, but ideally you are getting this goal BEFORE the critical moment. If they wait to the critical moment to decide what the goal is, you reasonably should interpret this as chaos as each player decides how to act on their own, potentially thwarting other players plans. And of course any table talk is at that point in character, which is rather harmful to your stealth.

Totally agree about trap design, and I avoid putting un-telegraphed traps into my own adventures. Sometimes it takes new players a while to get used to that, and they still want to "check for traps" on every door and container for a while.
Untraining players of bad habits is a long process. On the other hand, don't discourage players from interacting with the fiction. Just discourage them from primarily interacting with the fiction in uninteractive ways like, "I make an Investigation check." Yes, but what do you actually do?

The real value in what you are calling "goal and approach" - well one of the real values - is that it engages the players with the fiction. But don't let the good results of engaging with the fiction turn you heavy handed in how you run the game. Rather, write engaging fiction that naturally lends itself to interesting and fun scenarios.
 

5ekyu

Adventurer
Then I go back to the fact that you're being overly-restrictive in your approach for no reason. I'd have to hunt through the PHB to get the exact wording but it explains there that sometimes a failed check just means you make no progress.

Not getting information that could be useful can be it's own penalty. Getting noticed even though you were trying to be sneaky is bad. Not being able to tell if someone is lying is not helpful.

In combat if I swing my sword and miss, there is no penalty other than that I didn't do damage. Same here.
Standard phb under ability checks defines failed check redult as no progress or some progress with setback.

It's the basic definition.
 

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