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Consequences of Failure

Kinematics

Explorer
What might be a meaningful consequence of failure here?
What if it the stones might belong to Cult A, or it might be Cult B. And getting it wrong could have consequences later? Like, using the correct greeting would earn their trust, but the incorrect one would make them hostile?

Somehow I'd like to give the player an answer now, but then later, when/if a critical moment comes the player would roll. But the only way I can see doing that is to use quantum dice: at the moment of the roll, the world could change. That is, I tell the player, it's Cult A. Later, they meet the tenders of the stones, and assuming they are from A, use the A greeting. At that moment they roll, and if the roll is failed...nope! They are Cult B! So I have to be willing for the story to branch either way at the moment of the roll.

STANDARD DISCLAIMER: I'm not saying I'd necessarily do this, or that there even needs to be a consequence to trying to remember things about the stones. I just think it's an interesting exercise to explore these pathways.
Honestly, given the action described, I don’t really see one, other than not recognizing the runes, which isn’t really a meaningful consequence in my evaluation. As mentioned before, I think this action would probably succeed or fail without a check. I suppose, if there is time pressure - maybe there is an upcoming great conjunction and the PCs need to perform a special ritual at these standing stones at the appropriate time to prevent Cthulhu from waking up or whatever - then the time it takes to study theses runes in the way described might be a sufficient cost for the attempt, and the consequence for failure would be spending that resource without making progress.
I'm not sure if this fits in with the "exploratory play" format being discussed, but this feels like the roll is in fact quantum, as Elfcrusher describes. The roll isn't to determine success or failure, and the requirement that there be consequences for failure in order to require a die roll don't make sense. Instead, the roll is to establish the state of the universe itself.

For example, when you search a room, the roll isn't to determine whether or not you found the doodad, but whether or not there is anything to be found in the first place. There's an implicit two-step process, though most ignore the non-roll related step when discussing these matters.

1) Is there something to be found? Using approach A, this is decided beforehand, and no roll is needed to establish this. Using approach B, this is unknown, and only becomes 'real' after a roll.

2) Did the player find it? Using approach A, this is what's being rolled for, if there's a likelihood of not finding it, or consequences for not finding it. Using approach B, this is not rolled for (basically using the auto-find aspect of approach A), as the act of making it real in step 1 makes no sense if you can't discover the new truth.

Now, approach A might be the "exploratory play" system (based on further clarifying posts in the thread), and approach B is "something else". I'm not clear on how people are drawing the lines there, or what the "something else" would be formally called. Nor do I know what the various "drama" terms are really referring to.

I'd probably use the terms "exploratory play" and "revelatory play". Exploratory play explores what does exist; the truth is predefined. Revelatory play explores what could exist, revealing and defining the truth in the course of play.


In the case of the standing stone example, the roll might be for whether the character remembers anything important, or the roll might be to determine whether a connection exists at all. It's not a matter of "consequences for failure"; it's a matter of "determining truth". The roll result isn't necessarily binary; it can result in an entire range of changes to the world. For example:

  • A friendly druid taught your younger self some details that are of consequence to maintaining the circles and keeping the forest from being corrupted.
  • You had a bad encounter with an angry druid when you got too close to their group, and examining the stones causes a flashback that leaves you Frightened just as something starts appearing in the circle.
  • The druids were actually a secret cult attempting to summon an evil deity (though you never realized that), and they taught you the proper ritual to use if you ever encountered another stone circle. You're convinced you need to perform this ritual to help protect the forest.
  • Etc.

In this case, rolling low doesn't mean, "You don't remember anything", such as might be the case in the Exploratory style. Rather, it results in something potentially problematic — having the wrong knowledge.

The GM often leaves plot hooks for the players to follow. This type of roll is the GM allowing the players to create plot hooks for himself.


In some systems you can do this deliberately, by spending some resource (eg: fate points, hero points, dark/light side points, etc). However it's always available as just an implicit part of GMing, and is often "accidental" — the player tries to do something the GM didn't expect, and the GM finds the possibility of this new truth interesting enough to let the player make the roll, and possibly change the "truth" of the world.

Note: While @Ovinomancer makes good points about the negative aspects that this approach can have, I think he's missing the point in treating it as purely negative. D&D may not have an explicit mechanic for introducing new world truths, but it's trivial to treat most skill checks as a means of engaging in that style of play.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
You could, but this very quickly (i.e. immediately!) runs into issues with players taking unfair advantage and always just happening to be able to justify having the required knowledge. No thanks.
To me this screams "I don't trust my players."

Or, at least, "My players have a different idea of fun than I do, so I must use rules to bend them to my will."

The way I see it, if a player's idea of fun is to keep twisting things to give him/herself advantage, why do I care? The only reason I could see caring is if I have some pre-written script in my head, and the player is somehow going off-script. But I don't, so it doesn't bother me.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Sure, and the check could be postponed to that point when it does matter.
So you don't lose the drama/uncertainty, and avoid the player drawing conclusions/taking precautions/whatever based on the roll being particularly good or bad.
Some problems here:

1. The player/PC might not ever know or realize when-if it matters. Example here would be that a failure to read the runes on the stones costs the party a clue that would have later provided a nice short-cut to completing their mission. When would this check ever be rolled?

2. Following on from 1, if the check isn't made at the time information like this might/might not be presented, you wind up with a rather crazy situation where the PCs have a level of knowledge that neither the players nor DM are aware of!

3. Real-world time. If there's a six-session postponement between the check-causing event (say, reading the rune-stones) and the rolled check (whwnever that reading would first cause a major change in course) many things such as modifying factors in that specific instance will likely have been forgotten by both player and DM alike; assuming the DM even remembers to call for the check so long after the fact.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
Some problems here:

1. The player/PC might not ever know or realize when-if it matters. Example here would be that a failure to read the runes on the stones costs the party a clue that would have later provided a nice short-cut to completing their mission. When would this check ever be rolled?

2. Following on from 1, if the check isn't made at the time information like this might/might not be presented, you wind up with a rather crazy situation where the PCs have a level of knowledge that neither the players nor DM are aware of!

3. Real-world time. If there's a six-session postponement between the check-causing event (say, reading the rune-stones) and the rolled check (whwnever that reading would first cause a major change in course) many things such as modifying factors in that specific instance will likely have been forgotten by both player and DM alike; assuming the DM even remembers to call for the check so long after the fact.
So design your challenges such that none of these things are likely to happen?

1. If the clue provides a nice short-cut, if they figure it out, just give them the clue. (I put this in the category of secret doors that are only discovered by a die roll. Why bother?)

2. This isn't crazy if you accept the "revelatory play" approach that Kinematics describes above.

3. Not sure I understand how this is different from rolling at the time of the action. Even playing the traditional way, DMs give information to players all the time that needs to be remembered in later sessions.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
To me this screams "I don't trust my players."
I see it as the players' job to, without breaking the game completely, push against and-or exploit the rules to gain whatever advantage they can for their PCs. In TTRPGs this can very quickly lead into playing in bad faith if not curtailed.

Same as team sports - you do whatever you can to gain an advantage, and if it happens to be a bit outside the rules it's fine if you don't get caught.

The referee's job is the same in either instance: to enforce the rules and ensure things are done in good faith as far as possible.

Or, at least, "My players have a different idea of fun than I do, so I must use rules to bend them to my will."

The way I see it, if a player's idea of fun is to keep twisting things to give him/herself advantage, why do I care?
I care because it's going outside the realm of good faith.

The only reason I could see caring is if I have some pre-written script in my head, and the player is somehow going off-script. But I don't, so it doesn't bother me.
This is at best a tangential argument and more likely a red herring: the presence or absence of a script has little if anything to do with playing in bad faith. (in fact, the players doing such twisting would make my life easier if I had a hard-coded script, as I'd always be able to assume they'd find the answers and not have to plan for if they didn't)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
So design your challenges such that none of these things are likely to happen?

1. If the clue provides a nice short-cut, if they figure it out, just give them the clue. (I put this in the category of secret doors that are only discovered by a die roll. Why bother?)
Key words there are "if they figure it out" - a major uncertainty, and thus why the roll happens.

2. This isn't crazy if you accept the "revelatory play" approach that Kinematics describes above.
Yeah, I've gone around the circus with pemerton on similar ideas more often than I probably want to think about, and my main issue with it always comes back to that exploratory play becomes irrelevant if there's nothing there waiting to be explored (i.e. if the game world isn't predesigned).

3. Not sure I understand how this is different from rolling at the time of the action. Even playing the traditional way, DMs give information to players all the time that needs to be remembered in later sessions.
Yes, but it then falls onto the players-as-their-PCs to remember it. Player knowledge = character knowledge, and often player memory can roughly equal character memory.
 
Some problems here:
1. The player/PC might not ever know or realize when-if it matters.
As long as the DM knows when to call for it...
Example here would be that a failure to read the runes on the stones costs the party a clue that would have later provided a nice short-cut to completing their mission. When would this check ever be rolled?
When the clue would matter?

2. Following on from 1, if the check isn't made at the time information like this might/might not be presented, you wind up with a rather crazy situation where the PCs have a level of knowledge that neither the players nor DM are aware of!
Nothing crazy about it. Happens in fiction all the time. In RPGs, it's just another abstraction, the players (& DM) are never aware of the imagined world to the degree or in the detail that they are aware of the real world, for instance.

3. Real-world time. If there's a six-session postponement between the check-causing event (say, reading the rune-stones) and the rolled check (whwnever that reading would first cause a major change in course) many things such as modifying factors in that specific instance will likely have been forgotten by both player and DM alike; assuming the DM even remembers to call for the check so long after the fact.
All the more reason, really, as any information imparted on the players weeks/months ago, but to the PC moments/hours ago is going to be problematic in the same way.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
I've no use for 'GSN terminology' either, hence the small 'g' on gamist.
Do you mean it in a different way than GSN theory does?

You could, but this very quickly (i.e. immediately!) runs into issues with players taking unfair advantage and always just happening to be able to justify having the required knowledge. No thanks.
I don’t see a problem with that. The action is still subject to the normal action resolution rules, and it’s not like the player is always going to know an approach that won’t have a chance of failure. I don’t do it that way for other reasons, but I don’t think this particular criticism of that technique is a strong one.

Yeah, to me this is a problem with 3e-and-forward's overly-elaborate skill system.
I don’t think “roll a d20, add a modified reflecting your training, try to beat a target number reflecting the difficulty of the task” is particularly elaborate.

And yes, sometimes a strong person can fail on a relatively easy strength check just by bad luck or not getting the leverage right or whatever, and then have the not-so-strong person nail it in one and make the strong guy look like a fool. It happens - I mean, how many times have you struggled and failed to open a jar and then had someone who you know to be weaker than you come along and pop it on the first try?
My issue isn’t with capable characters randomly failing, my issue is with characters’ maximum capability being constantly subject to random fluctuation. Sure, I might fail to open the jar. I might fail repeatedly at it, and decide it isn’t worth my time. Someone less strong than me might have a go at it and succeed instantly. But what doesn’t happen is the jar doesn’t somehow become beyond my capability to open. If I kept at it long enough I would have gotten it, but my time, unlike that if D&D characters, is always a limited resource.

Not quite. The d20 roll sets the limit of how well your character can possibly do in this situation, against a set difficulty that just sits there.
Sure, if you prefer to phrase it that way. Point is, the die roll isn’t reflecting the character’s performance in the moment. Whether it’s the character’s capabilities or the difficulty of the task that’s determined at random, it’s still bizarre.

The difficulty of a particular task doesn't change, but the PC's ability to overcome it isn't set in stone.
Right, and that’s weird.

(and yes this means PCs fail far more often than if take-20 was in effect, but I've no problem with that). Put another way, a PC might blow through some DC 17 task (e.g. opening a stuck door; roll adds to 23) and then two hours later completely fail on a very similar DC 17 task (roll adds to 10) and need to find a plan B.
Right, yeah, that’s all fine. What’s weird to me is that the character can’t just attempt the latter task again, given that a DC 17 task is clearly within that character’s capabilities to succeed at.

That does match with general 3e design philosophy, though, in that they intentionally tried to turn more mechanics over to the player side. Not that edition's best selling feature, IMO. :)
It’s probably a strong selling point to a particular type of player. Those players are probably all playing Pathfinder these days.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
Key words there are "if they figure it out" - a major uncertainty, and thus why the roll happens.
Wait...are you talking about rolling the dice to see if they find the clue, or whether they figure out the clue?

If it's truly an optional short-cut, I would give them the clue, but leave it to the players to figure out.

Of course, it might be gated behind an objective. E.g., kill the orc chieftain, find the clue in his treasure chest.

But I'm really totally completely over the whole, "Everybody give me a Perception check." "18!" "Ok, you spot...."
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
You could, but this very quickly (i.e. immediately!) runs into issues with players taking unfair advantage and always just happening to be able to justify having the required knowledge. No thanks.
The failsafe is DM still decides if the attempt to recall lore succeeds or fails or needs a roll. And why do you contemplate playing with people who would take unfair advantage of you?
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
As long as the DM knows when to call for it...
When the clue would matter?
Perhaps - if there's one specific time or situation where it would. But I still prefer rolling up front and in effect holding the results in abeyance on one outcome or the other.

A flip-side example: what if success in reading the rune-stones actually sets off some effect far away (now) that the PCs won't and can't know about until much later, if ever at all? Failure, however, means the stones animate right now and try to beat up or chase off the PCs. On success all you do here is narrate whatever the runes say, and nothing changes for the PCs.

All the more reason, really, as any information imparted on the players weeks/months ago, but to the PC moments/hours ago is going to be problematic in the same way.[/QUOTE]Yes, I'll make allowance for this, and it's relatively frequent. But if something was told to the players 3 months ago real-time and 3 months has also passed in the game world, it's on them to remember. :)
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
The referee's job is the same in either instance: to enforce the rules and ensure things are done in good faith as far as possible.
I gotta admit, I'm really not following the logic of "players are expected to push against the rules as hard as they can without getting caught, as long as it's in good faith, and the referees job is to enforce the good faith part."

What?

My version is simpler: I trust my players. If I don't like how they play, I won't play with them.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Wait...are you talking about rolling the dice to see if they find the clue, or whether they figure out the clue?
Find it.

In my mind I've been kind of building in the figure-it-out stage with finding it at all: if you find it now, its relevance will become apparent either now or at some point downstream.

If it's truly an optional short-cut, I would give them the clue, but leave it to the players to figure out.

Of course, it might be gated behind an objective. E.g., kill the orc chieftain, find the clue in his treasure chest.
Here it's gated behind being able to read (or decipher, if in code) the runes.

But I'm really totally completely over the whole, "Everybody give me a Perception check." "18!" "Ok, you spot...."
Fair enough. I know I use this (or similar) far more than I should, but knowing how often in real life I miss seeing things that are right in front of my face I never put it past anyone to be able to miss something that should be nigh unmissable. :)
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
Fair enough. I know I use this (or similar) far more than I should, but knowing how often in real life I miss seeing things that are right in front of my face I never put it past anyone to be able to miss something that should be nigh unmissable. :)
Yes, that's totally true about real life, but I'm not sure it makes the game more fun to simulate it. (Translation: I'm pretty sure it doesn't.)
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I gotta admit, I'm really not following the logic of "players are expected to push against the rules as hard as they can without getting caught, as long as it's in good faith, and the referees job is to enforce the good faith part."

What?

My version is simpler: I trust my players. If I don't like how they play, I won't play with them.
Chances are that I come from a background featuring a bit more adversarial DM-player dynamic than you have, so to me that's just how the game is played: the DM, as far as the rules and fairness allow, is more or less out to get you; and you're out to not be got.

In other words, very old-school.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Fair enough. I know I use this (or similar) far more than I should, but knowing how often in real life I miss seeing things that are right in front of my face I never put it past anyone to be able to miss something that should be nigh unmissable. :)
But can you see how that method leads to then needing to implement table rules like "no metagaming" to avoid players acting as if there is something in the room to find when they roll poorly? Or rolling that check in secret for them? Or saying that retries are impossible when there's nothing about the situation that makes that true?

This can all be avoided.
 

Elfcrusher

Adventurer
Chances are that I come from a background featuring a bit more adversarial DM-player dynamic than you have, so to me that's just how the game is played: the DM, as far as the rules and fairness allow, is more or less out to get you; and you're out to not be got.

In other words, very old-school.
Fair enough. That's how I played in the 80's. As a teenager. But not anymore.
 

Kinematics

Explorer
But I'm really totally completely over the whole, "Everybody give me a Perception check." "18!" "Ok, you spot...."
Recent game:

<At a celebration festival>

[Everybody roll perception!]

My human barbarian is the only one to make the check. (20-something total)

"You hear wings flapping in the sky above you."

Since I have no darkvision, I can't see anything. I nudge the half-elf next to me. "Hey, do you see anything?"

<half-elf rolls a nat 1>

[The half-elf is busy trying to keep her plate of food on her lap after you nearly knock her off the bench. She glares at you, somewhat spoiled by the rib bone clenched in her teeth.]

<Backs off from the half-elf. Nudges another character on the other side> "Hey, do you—"

<rolls a 2>

<talking to another guest> "Hey, I'm busy here! Quit bugging me if it isn't important!"

[OK. Well, boulders start falling from the sky as gargoyles attack.]

~~~

In this case, I know meta-wise that the sound of wings means there's an attack incoming. Heck, I knew that before the GM even called for the perception check. However I don't know this for sure in-character, so I don't immediately react to something I can't see, and instead try to get confirmation from nearby characters.

Each of those characters had darkvision, so could be reasonably expected to be able to see the fliers up in the dark sky. The roll isn't to determine if they can see anything, but whether they do see anything.

The rolls informed the truth of the state of the world at that time. It wasn't a roll to determine, "Do you see anything?", it was a roll to determine "What are you doing right now, and are you in a position to pay attention?"

Failure meant status quo in the Exploratory sense — the gargoyles attacked just like they intended, without interference. However failure also helped create part of the scene — what were the characters doing other than being part of a filler scene that no one is going to remember? It tells us a bit about the half-elf gorging on food, which showed a bit of shift in her behavior related to other events that have been driving her crazy. And the other character finding someone she was interested in at the gathering provided an optional hook for another event later on.

If the rolls were only about whether the characters were capable of seeing anything, this would be a situation where the GM just skipped the rolls and told them about gargoyles flying in overhead. It's clean, antiseptic, and... lacking (though only in hindsight). It's Exploratory. The GM knows exactly what's there (the gargoyles), and knows that the characters could see them if they looked up. Using the goal-and-approach method, no Perception roll would be needed. Just roll initiative for combat.

However making the roll shifted it to Revelatory. The roll itself creates parts of the world, and how the characters are interacting with it. The gargoyles attacking are less important than the characters actually feeling like they're a part of the world. Failure provides something for the players that goes beyond the status quo/"You don't see anything" response.

I suppose that falls under the "consequences of failure" category — not in the sense of the action itself, but in the sense that something else could be going on which can interact with the chosen action.
 

Beleriphon

Totally Awesome Pirate Brain
However making the roll shifted it to Revelatory. The roll itself creates parts of the world, and how the characters are interacting with it. The gargoyles attacking are less important than the characters actually feeling like they're a part of the world. Failure provides something for the players that goes beyond the status quo/"You don't see anything" response.

I suppose that falls under the "consequences of failure" category — not in the sense of the action itself, but in the sense that something else could be going on which can interact with the chosen action.
I don't think this is one of those things that gets covered by Goal/Approach processing. In part because the GM has already determined what they expect to happen as a roll being needed. This is one of those "Did you notice..." situations. And probably one of the few where there isn't an option of not rolling, in a DM called for roll the consequence IS failure because whatever the roll was about can't be avoided at that point.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Recent game:

<At a celebration festival>

[Everybody roll perception!]

My human barbarian is the only one to make the check. (20-something total)

"You hear wings flapping in the sky above you."

Since I have no darkvision, I can't see anything. I nudge the half-elf next to me. "Hey, do you see anything?"

<half-elf rolls a nat 1>

[The half-elf is busy trying to keep her plate of food on her lap after you nearly knock her off the bench. She glares at you, somewhat spoiled by the rib bone clenched in her teeth.]

<Backs off from the half-elf. Nudges another character on the other side> "Hey, do you—"

<rolls a 2>

<talking to another guest> "Hey, I'm busy here! Quit bugging me if it isn't important!"

[OK. Well, boulders start falling from the sky as gargoyles attack.]
Ugh. There is so much of the DM telling the players what their characters are doing in that example, that would drive me up the wall as a player.

In this case, I know meta-wise that the sound of wings means there's an attack incoming. Heck, I knew that before the GM even called for the perception check. However I don't know this for sure in-character, so I don't immediately react to something I can't see, and instead try to get confirmation from nearby characters.
You know that the sound of flapping wings indicates an incoming attack? That sounds like quite a conclusion to jump to. Or is it that you know that a Perception check means an incoming attack?

Each of those characters had darkvision, so could be reasonably expected to be able to see the fliers up in the dark sky. The roll isn't to determine if they can see anything, but whether they do see anything.

The rolls informed the truth of the state of the world at that time. It wasn't a roll to determine, "Do you see anything?", it was a roll to determine "What are you doing right now, and are you in a position to pay attention?"

Failure meant status quo in the Exploratory sense — the gargoyles attacked just like they intended, without interference. However failure also helped create part of the scene — what were the characters doing other than being part of a filler scene that no one is going to remember? It tells us a bit about the half-elf gorging on food, which showed a bit of shift in her behavior related to other events that have been driving her crazy. And the other character finding someone she was interested in at the gathering provided an optional hook for another event later on.
Yeah, this is pretty typical of games where checks are made with the specifics of the action left abstract and/or determined retroactively based on the result. I am not a fan of this style of action resolution at all, as it gives the dice too much power and often leads to the DM dictating actions taken by the PCs, which is a big nope for me.

If the rolls were only about whether the characters were capable of seeing anything, this would be a situation where the GM just skipped the rolls and told them about gargoyles flying in overhead. It's clean, antiseptic, and... lacking (though only in hindsight). It's Exploratory. The GM knows exactly what's there (the gargoyles), and knows that the characters could see them if they looked up. Using the goal-and-approach method, no Perception roll would be needed. Just roll initiative for combat.
I don’t know what you think it’s “lacking.” Maybe lacking in slapstick antics where the characters fail at tasks that should be trivial for them for silly reasons. If you ask me, the game is much better off for the lack of that. What you describe here seems immeasurably preferable to the initial example to me.

However making the roll shifted it to Revelatory. The roll itself creates parts of the world, and how the characters are interacting with it. The gargoyles attacking are less important than the characters actually feeling like they're a part of the world. Failure provides something for the players that goes beyond the status quo/"You don't see anything" response.

I suppose that falls under the "consequences of failure" category — not in the sense of the action itself, but in the sense that something else could be going on which can interact with the chosen action.
Yeah, this technique where the roll is made to determine the state of things - not “does your character see the gargoyles?” but “can the gargoyles be seen by your character under present circumstances?” is pretty common. I get it, but I’m not a fan.
 

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