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D&D 5E Do you use the Success w/ Complication Module in the DMG or Fail Forward in the Basic PDF

Do you use the Success w/ Cost Module in the DMG or Fail Forward in the Basic PDF


  • Total voters
    61
In the early 5e era of 2014-spring 2017 when I was posting on the 5e forums, Success With Complication and Fail Forward were enormously controversial (just like they were in the 4e era).

In that same era, pretty much no one was using the Social Interaction conflict mechanics (when I posted about this on the 5e forums, virtually no one even had a clue what I was talking about!), people were sparingly using IBFTs and Inspiration, and the actual Player Fiat deployment of Background Traits was enormously controversial.

I have no idea if any/all of those things are overturned at this point.

What I'm specifically curious about is (a) if people are using either of the following when they're GMing action resolution in 5e and (b) some relevant info about that (see questions at bottom). As below:




FAIL FORWARD
D&D 5e Basic PDF 61


If the total equals or exceeds the DC, the ability check is a success—the creature overcomes the challenge at hand. Otherwise, it’s a failure, which means the character or monster makes no progress toward the objective or makes progress combined with a setback determined by the DM.




SUCCESS WITH COMPLICATION (CALLED "COST" IN DMG)
D&D 5e DMG 242


Failure can be tough, but the agony is compounded when a character fails by the barest margin. When a character fails a roll by only 1 or 2, you can allow the character to succeed at the cost of a complication or hindrance.




It would be great if people voting could drop a quick post as well, answering a few questions:

1) Why do you use it if you do or why do you not use it if you do not?

2) Is this the first game you've used this GMing technique or did you use it in the past in other games (and when did you first use it)?

3) If you use SWC or FF, do you use it on every instance of action resolution or only certain instances of action resolution?

4) If you only use SWC or FF on certain instances of action resolution, what principles/reasoning underwrite your decision to use it here, but not use it there.


Finally, if you have a quick play excerpt of when you chose to apply it and then when you chose to not apply it, they may help further clarify things.

Appreciate it.
 

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Voadam

Legend
I had not realized the DMG rule was only if you were close. I've been offering it as an option on any skill fail. I think I have had it be used by PCs three times in the last couple of years.
 

Arilyn

Hero
For some reason, even though I really like fail forward and SWC and use them in my non D&D games, I've never bothered in 5e. I'm pretty much just deciding what the dice rolls mean when I GM D&D. I can't even remember to use inspiration most of the time. Maybe because these things feel tacked on? Or maybe I'm just not used to having them in D&D?

I find that alternate rules from the DMG feel like they are tossed in to make a percentage of players happy with little thought on making them mesh well.

I too am curious to read about other people's experiences.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Progress Combined With a Setback - yes.

Success at a Cost - no.

To answer your questions:

1. Aside from being part of the basic rules of the game, certain tasks, when failed, are better resolved with progress combined with a setback than with outright failure. I find a failed Insight check to resolve whether a character can tell if an NPC is being untruthful to be better as "the NPC's mannerisms suggest some amount of dissembling, but the NPC locks eyes with you and realizes what's happening. It's harder to get a read on the NPC now." That's certainly better in my view than "You dunno" or the player rolling low and me telling them something untrue which the player has to square with having made a low roll.

2. I've used it at least since D&D 4e, so 2008. It was a feature of skill challenges.

3. Only some instances for resolution.

4. Whatever's more interesting at the time of the action and the check and likelier to lead to fun for everyone and the creation of an exciting, memorable story by playing.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
1) Why do you use it if you do or why do you not use it if you do not?
I only use those mechanics on rolls that must be made that also cannot be failed, i.e. if the scenario is bottlenecked by the PCs finding this one clue, I have them roll to see if there is any complication attached to their automatically successfully attaining that clue. Otherwise failure is always an option. If the PCs can't fail, there's no point in rolling or playing, I think. Playing the result of a failure can be just as fun, sometimes more so, than playing the results of a success.
2) Is this the first game you've used this GMing technique or did you use it in the past in other games (and when did you first use it)?
Definitely not the first. I don't remember which the first was.
3) If you use SWC or FF, do you use it on every instance of action resolution or only certain instances of action resolution?
Only certain ones, as above.
4) If you only use SWC or FF on certain instances of action resolution, what principles/reasoning underwrite your decision to use it here, but not use it there.
As above.

I prefer things like Call of Cthulhu's Pushed Rolls. If you fail a roll you can narrate the failure and your redoubling your efforts to attempt the same thing. If that pushed roll succeed, you're fine. If that pushed roll fails, the DM/Keeper brings the horror, advances a clock/countdown, or makes a hard move (in PBTA parlance).

I tend to have the philosophy that you only make a roll if the outcome is interesting either way, success or failure. If there's nothing interesting that can happen either way, don't roll. If the result of the roll doesn't really matter to the emerging story, don't roll. So I tend to call for fewer, more important rolls...where the outcome should be interesting either way, so I tend not to use success at cost, etc all that often. Those mechanics strike me as coming from a weird place of the PCs must never fail. Bollocks. The PCs can and do fail frequently. Gaming would be boring otherwise.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
poll needs a third option for "no but I use something else" type thing. I find the mechanic noted in the title to be lacking too much but do tend to draw heavily on fate when I GM & it has more developed mechanisms in place involving the use & creation of aspects that allow some similar functionality when it fits the situation & feels like it would make for a better story/session/narrative.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
1) Why do you use it if you do or why do you not use it if you do not?
I often use progress combined with a setback, which “fail forward” is largely another term for. I don’t generally tie it to failure by a specific margin though. I like the elegance of the pass/fail nature of ability checks in D&D, but I find it is often appropriate for the fail state to be progress with a setback rather than no progress.
2) Is this the first game you've used this GMing technique or did you use it in the past in other games (and when did you first use it)?
Yes, although I didn’t DM much at all prior to 5e. I think I would likely have found my way to the technique eventually if 4e had kept going.
3) If you use SWC or FF, do you use it on every instance of action resolution or only certain instances of action resolution?
Only certain instances. Sometimes progress with a setback is the most appropriate consequence for failure, other times no progress is more appropriate. Depends on the action and the stakes.
4) If you only use SWC or FF on certain instances of action resolution, what principles/reasoning underwrite your decision to use it here, but not use it there.
When a player declares an action, I evaluate their goal and their character’s approach to achieving it for possibility of success, possibility of failure, and likely cost or consequence of failure, and I ask for a check only if it has all three, otherwise I simply narrate the results. Sometimes the most appropriate cost or consequence is progress with a setback. Sometimes it isn’t.
Finally, if you have a quick play excerpt of when you chose to apply it and then when you chose to not apply it, they may help further clarify things.

Appreciate it.
Consider a locked door, with an ogre on the other side. The ogre is not yet aware of the PCs. Attempting to break the door down is a case where progress with a setback might be an appropriate consequence for failure- you succeed in breaking the door down either way, but on a success you break it open before the ogre has time to react. On a failure, the ogre hears your attempts to break the door down and can prepare for your arrival. On the other hand, attempting to pick the lock might be a case where no progress is a more appropriate result of failure. Each attempt might take time (potentially bringing you closer to the next roll for random encounters), and on a failure you’ve spent that time but made no progress in getting the lock open.
 

Voadam

Legend
Example of using success with complications from a previous campaign I DMd.

Fighter herbalist character fails to ID some potion ingredients that a murderer left behind, takes success with complication and figures them out.

They go to the University and talk to a Jerry Lewis looking alchemy professor who develops military application alchemical drugs for the kingdom's war efforts. Picking up on the not stated Nutty Professor reference the Fighter offers the professor some nuts as a friendly way of aiding the party's persuasion check to get information. The persuasion is successful. As the professor starts talking about the potion ingredients and what they got used for in his work he starts to sweat then have trouble breathing, then go into anaphylactic shock from a nut allergy before he can give all the information he was about to.

While everyone else calls out for a doctor from the medical school, the fighter slips out of the university before the police arrive out of fear he will get charged with attempted murder by poison.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
Another example of progress with a setback I regularly use is the old “recall lore” check. On a success, I tell the player something interesting and useful to the current situation their character remembers about the subject. On a failure I just tell them something interesting their character remembers about the subject, and it’s up to them to make it useful if they can.
 

Another example of progress with a setback I regularly use is the old “recall lore” check. On a success, I tell the player something interesting and useful to the current situation their character remembers about the subject. On a failure I just tell them something interesting their character remembers about the subject, and it’s up to them to make it useful if they can.

So mapping it to AW/DW except your failure is the 7-9.

Why did you choose that model vs failure being “Reveal an Unwelcome Truth?”

“Yes, you recollect correctly about thing x. But here is thing y that makes things suck. Deal with it.”





Good responses all. Keep them coming.

@tetrasodium and any others regarding poll. If you don’t like the SWC mechanics (either the math or the fact that there are no means to resist a complication or sonethubg) in 5e, that’s fine. Still, just choose “yes” and then clarify in a post. Basically what I’m looking for here is are you using FF or some instantiation of SwC.
 

Wow voting is really not going the way I was expecting - I was expecting solid no, but we're getting more yeses so far.

1) Why do you use it if you do or why do you not use it if you do not?

I don't feel the need for it in D&D, and I tend to use other mitigating systems, and generally have never been keen on catastrophic failures (I don't do critical failures - ever).

2) Is this the first game you've used this GMing technique or did you use it in the past in other games (and when did you first use it)?

I've seen games with this technique for a very long time. I have no idea which the first was, but the ones I've played most with similar ideas are all PtbA and Resistance (i.e. Spire/Heart).

NA to the others.
 

CrashFiend82

Explorer
This may not be exactly what your asking about, but I thought I'd share. Early in D&D 5e I was running a game for some younger new players and added the rule, however I misread it. Instead of a 1 being a critical failure I turned it into success at a cost. The players really enjoyed it and it made for some interesting stories. For example the fighter attempted to jump a large gap (maybe 20 feet, its been a while), he rolled a natural 1, instead of him falling to his potential demise (they were low level) he hit the side and was grabbed by the other characters, however his sword came free and tumbled to the bottom of the chasm. The characters had to find a way to descend safely to retrieve it. Similarly the rogue rolled a 1 unlocking a door, the door was unlocked but his tools broke in the lock (he had to improvise tools later in the adventure). Lastly, was a bard (if I recall correctly) on a persuasion check, he convinced the NPC to help but accidently let slip a secret he didn't want known.

I haven't used this since but may bring it back with my older players to see how they feel, but letting the player choose the "cost" if they want the success bad enough. While failure can be a great way to move the story along, this way they have some narrative control and still succeed.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen
So mapping it to AW/DW except your failure is the 7-9.

Why did you choose that model vs failure being “Reveal an Unwelcome Truth?”

“Yes, you recollect correctly about thing x. But here is thing y that makes things suck. Deal with it.”
I don’t want the result of the roll to change the fictional scenario. In Dungeon World, the information the GM reveals after a player Spouts Lore is true, even if the GM had to make it up on the spot, so there’s always relevant information or an unfortunate truth to be revealed. That works well for that PbtA “play to find out what happens” paradigm, but it isn’t the sort of play I want out of D&D. In D&D, there might or might not be relevant information or an unfortunate truth to reveal, as that information is predetermined and static, rather than created on the spot in response to the result of the roll. So, if there isn’t relevant information or an unfortunate truth to be revealed, I wouldn’t call for a roll. I’d just tell the player something interesting their character remembers about the subject.

I also kind of think that revealing an unfortunate truth would be a more appropriate result for success than failure in D&D. Because the information is true whether the players reveal it with the results of their check or not, it’s preferable to know it so you can adjust your tactics accordingly than to go on not knowing it. An unfortunate truth is therefore relevant information that could be revealed on a success, rather than a consequence of failure.
 

tetrasodium

Legend
Supporter
It would be great if people voting could drop a quick post as well, answering a few questions:

1) Why do you use it if you do or why do you not use it if you do not?

2) Is this the first game you've used this GMing technique or did you use it in the past in other games (and when did you first use it)?

3) If you use SWC or FF, do you use it on every instance of action resolution or only certain instances of action resolution?

4) If you only use SWC or FF on certain instances of action resolution, what principles/reasoning underwrite your decision to use it here, but not use it there.


Finally, if you have a quick play excerpt of when you chose to apply it and then when you chose to not apply it, they may help further clarify things.

Appreciate it.
Your questions are a bit um... "off" from my reasoning & it feels like trying to explain with the questions as written would just make a hash of things & obfuscate meaning. As others have already mentioned, there is always some truth to be discovered. That truth can be anything from "the player had no reason to think they should ask if this very specific thing was a factor" to "character bob is not a moron & things just don't play out in neat 6 second chunks one after the other so would have seen where things were heading & taken steps to change tracks before crashing into that wall" . In both cases those are an issue because players are imperfect observers of their PC's view of the world but a good gm can use these kind of tools to create a more interesting narrative that leaves players feeling more like participants than spectators even when I the GM effectively take control over their PC for an instant.

I picked it up from running fate & regularly got people asking us what we seemed to be so animated playing & continued using it to some degree even while running AL with even the most ardent "but AL rules say!!!" types seeming to favor it over "yea you fail and blah" since I've not gotten any complaints. The first game I really used it in was an early fate game (dfrpg), but thinking about it I guess we used it in 3.5 too since players doing things to setup +2/-2 type stuff proactively would often destroy/consume the things creating those bonuses in the process of using them

My uses of it are far from every instance (even in games that support this kind of thing by default). The important question to consider is what will be more interesting & potentially lead to a more interesting narrative or session. It's also important to make sure the players don't feel like mere spectators that occasionally get to hit things, doing this kind of stuff can make them more likely to engage with the world since they don't wind up feeling like attempting to is ultimately going to be pointless due to that being out of scope from GM plans or a trap waiting for a bad roll to spring. It's also not always in PC favor but NPCs & the worl makin use of it tends to make the players aware of things they might nt otherwise known

It's hard to give an example of how I use it without going into wayy too much detail for it to be meaningful but I can describe it with an analogy. If you look at my fate play example from elsewhere
Players break into an office building after hours to steal a macguffin, we don't care how or why for this but assume there is reason to the players & campaign. During the breakin players find out that the bbeg is there tonight gm tosses fate chip in the pot gm:"well obviously he would have the same idea as you guys given that tonight is the big company anniversary party & everyone is across town at the event"... This is reasonable & everyone agrees but players really have very little way of stopping a GM declaration but can try to negotiate some changes if it seems to clash with established aspects & things in play. After encountering the BBEG a fire starts & players are frantically trying to put it out so they can get the macguffin instead of having it burn to cinders. Things are not going well with the fire right off the bat for whatever reason so Bob tosses a fate chip in the pot to declare there was one of those mop buckets filled with water in the hall back there. Fire is handled & the bbeg uses n action to tag bob's mop bucket off camera so comes back with the janitor bob effectively wove into plausibly existing when the players think they are good with the macguffin. GM slides a fate point at Alice & says "doesn't that janitor look a lot like that one homeless guy your mother teresa character has been helping as part of [whatever character aspect]". Alice can spend one of her remaining fate points to accept the compel & put herself/the team behind the 8ball in the hostage situation to gain herself a fate point that can make a huge difference. Alternately alice can spend one of her remaining fate points to refuse it & give up possibly using it later to make a bigger difference when it matters most.
It's a common scenario used to show how aspects work in fate but maps not so well to d&d once you start exploring it. Players don't have any way to create them & it might be problematic introducing fate style aspects into d&d but I as the GM can do things like declare that bucket of water is something that could reasonably exist because the building burning down over a bad roll would be bad for the narrative/session because the blaze would leave the players feeling & actually kinda getting railroaded in a pointless fail state they nor I can easily work around. Obviously different complications & solutions would be in play during d&d but the example works well enough as an example to compare to.

I forgot where the gm's best friend stuff(I linked it above) was in the 3.x books & never went digging for it till someone pointed out the location recently so I might try leaning more on that the next campaign I run so the player can do things to proactively set themselves up for success more often. Ideally it & bonus/penalty types should be the flip side of a SWC/FF type mechanic as the two really go hand in hand or its justsome flavor of fiat plot armor & roll fudging the players are helpless to draw on.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
FAIL FORWARD
D&D 5e Basic PDF 61


If the total equals or exceeds the DC, the ability check is a success—the creature overcomes the challenge at hand. Otherwise, it’s a failure, which means the character or monster makes no progress toward the objective or makes progress combined with a setback determined by the DM.




SUCCESS WITH COMPLICATION (CALLED "COST" IN DMG)
D&D 5e DMG 242


Failure can be tough, but the agony is compounded when a character fails by the barest margin. When a character fails a roll by only 1 or 2, you can allow the character to succeed at the cost of a complication or hindrance.
As written I would never use either of these as both are geared towards turning "fail" rolls into some sort of mitigated success.

I'd prefer it if mitigated success came on a barely-made "success" roll, with fail always meaning fail.
 

Campbell

Legend
I like Success With Consequence mechanics in fiction first games. In games where we have things like action economies, NPC stats, movement rates and mechanically defined adversity it just feels off to me. Especially when things like opposed rolls come into play it can be hard to handle consistently. Having so much leeway about what a roll could mean when we have PCs rolling and NPCs rolling while tracking movement rates and all the jazz that goes along with games where NPCs and PCs are represented mechanically and the GM is expected to know exactly where NPCs are and what they are doing is just too much cognitive overload for me outside of fiction first games like Apocalypse World or Blades in the Dark.

Failing Forward is somewhat easier to integrate, but still really tough to do consistently in situations where we're calling for tests on NPCs as well.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
1) Why do you use it if you do or why do you not use it if you do not?

2) Is this the first game you've used this GMing technique or did you use it in the past in other games (and when did you first use it)?

3) If you use SWC or FF, do you use it on every instance of action resolution or only certain instances of action resolution?

4) If you only use SWC or FF on certain instances of action resolution, what principles/reasoning underwrite your decision to use it here, but not use it there.


Finally, if you have a quick play excerpt of when you chose to apply it and then when you chose to not apply it, they may help further clarify things.
Good to see you on here Manbearcat!

So, I do not use fail forward or success with complication as outlined in the DMG.

(1) Why? Because I prefer other elements of the game interacting with each other to generate that sort of layered result, whereas with single checks I prefer a gradient between "no, and..." (i.e. natural 1 or fail by 5+), "no" (fail or fail by 1-4), "yes" (succeed or succeed by 1-4), and "yes, and..." (succeed by 1-4 or nat 20). I reserve "yes but" for skill challenge type scenarios & scenarios that are more complex than a single check & special homebrewed monster abilities. However, this happens in the context of fewer rolls (I use lots of auto-success, just giving them the info, or outright saying "it's not possible, unless X, Y, or Z") with more importance placed on those rolls, and failure generally meaning something changes, rather than stays the same.

(2) I'm not sure how to answer, since what I do is a bit different than what you've described.

(3) I would say only certain instances, but "instance" is a bad word for how I do it, since I reserve Success With Complication for very specific situations, which generally are more complex than a single roll can account for.

(4) Creative sorcery that blends (a) reading the mood / engagement / interest level at the table, (b) how complex the scenario is & whether it merits application of Success With Complication, and (c) whether I've accounted for such in my notes for the monster or trap.
 


I answered 'No' but I have never really GMed a 5e game, so.... OTOH I have not seen any of these optional rules, nor hero points or other DMG options actually deployed in any 5e game I've participated in. It is a limited sample, I don't go out of my way to get into 5e games, though I will play if I'm in a group that decides they are using those rules...

So, IME, 5e ability check/conflict resolution is pretty much handled in the by-the-book default "whatever the GM says is what happens" way.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
1) Why do you use it if you do or why do you not use it if you do not?
I don’t use either when running D&D (whatever edition/version). I’m not running a story-arc/trad/whatever game, so I don’t feel a need to worry about preserving progress towards a particular outcome. Sometimes you just don’t get what you want, or you end up going down some other path.

2) Is this the first game you've used this GMing technique or did you use it in the past in other games (and when did you first use it)?
No. I’ve run other games (Dungeon World, Fate, and Open Legend) which use that technique.
 

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