D&D 5E House Rule Idea: Knowledge Checks Never Fail (they just might make things worse)

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I've been playing a lot of Ironsworn, and one thing I like about it is that "failed" rolls make the world more interesting. For example, if you fail a Gather Information roll, you do learn information... just information that makes your quest more difficult! Let's say you're asking around the village about this mysterious warlord Ivor the Gray. If you roll well, you will learn something helpful in your quest to defeat him- like maybe he's deathly afraid of horses. But if you roll poorly, you still learn something. It's just something that is bad for you. Maybe Ivor the Gray has a pet giant that he lets smash his enemies? Or maybe he's wielding a legendary sword that kills with one touch.

Now Ironsworn is designed entirely around not planning out the adventures, and just playing to find out more about the world. But I'm thinking of doing something similar in my D&D games.

When a character rolls an Ability Check to find out if they know something, be it Arcana, History, Nature, Religion, whatever, and they roll well, I'm going to try to give them information that's really helpful. Maybe I'll even have the players brainstorm what it could be, and take their best idea.

But if they roll poorly, I'm not going to just say "You don't know anything." I'm going to give them information that makes the world a little more dangerous... even if I have to change the world to make it so!

To do this effectively, I'll probably borrow from the Ironsworn Oracle, which is basically a bunch of random tables. They have two tables for Actions and Themes that give results with wide interpretations, like "Transform Idea" or "Persevere Ally" or "Challenge War." If the characters roll high, I can use the table to figure out something in their favor ("You find out that Ivor is only going to war because he received a vision from his god, challenging him to take on the most difficult battles he can find."), and if they roll low I can use the table to figure out something that makes their quest more difficult ("You find out that not only is Ivor a skilled warlord, but your settlement is only the latest of a dozen felled towns in his bloody path. He seems unstoppable.")

I know this goes somewhat against D&D's style of "the players uncover realities about the world already set by the DM," but I think it could also be a lot of fun!
 

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mamba

Legend
When a character rolls an Ability Check to find out if they know something, be it Arcana, History, Nature, Religion, whatever, and they roll well, I'm going to try to give them information that's really helpful. Maybe I'll even have the players brainstorm what it could be, and take their best idea.

But if they roll poorly, I'm not going to just say "You don't know anything." I'm going to give them information that makes the world a little more dangerous... even if I have to change the world to make it so!
I am more along the lines of giving them accurate / false information rather than information that makes things easier / harder. Of course that assumes you know what the world looks like, which does not sound like what you are doing
Now Ironsworn is designed entirely around not planning out the adventures, and just playing to find out more about the world. But I'm thinking of doing something similar in my D&D games.

Either way I agree success / fail is less interesting than the alternatives
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
I am more along the lines of giving them accurate / false information rather than information that makes things easier / harder. Of course that assumes you know what the world looks like, which does not sound like what you are doing


Either way I agree success / fail is less interesting than the alternatives
The only issue I have with false information is that the player knows they rolled poorly, so it puts the player into an odd position of having to roleplay their character with false knowledge. That can be fun once or twice, but it's never been something I've enjoyed as a player.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Instead of changing the world on the fly or asking the player to pretend not to know the information supplied is false, it might be easier to just have the failed check effectively impart disadvantage to some future roll (ability check, attack roll, saving throw) that the DM can apply when appropriate. It represents perhaps some level of misapprehension or misinformation that comes back to bite the character in the future when it comes to dealing with whatever they failed to recall lore about. All the DM would need do is keep a tally of how many of those disadvantages accumulate.
 

jgsugden

Legend
I do something tengential to this idea:

When a character attempts a check that involves gaining information (intelligence skills, insight, perception, survival, etc...) I set a DC. Then they roll against it.

If the roll is far below the DC, I tell them they just don't know anything.

If the roll is at or above the DC, they get the beneficial knowledge (with more details being provided depending upon how much they beat the DC).

However, if the check approaches, but does not meet the DC, then they get bad info. The closer they get to the DC without meeting it, the worse the misinformation will be.

Example: Tim the Wizard asks what they know about Cosmic Dreadnaughts after hearing about them from an NPC. I aske what Intelligence skills he has, and based on that I ask him to roll a proficient intelligence check. As he is doing so, I am setting a DC in my mind. I select 18.

If his result is a 5, I tell him he knows nothing about them and doesn't recall ever even hearing of them before.

If his result is an 18, I'll tell him he doesn't know much about them, and then use about 25 words to describe Cosmic Dreadnaughts in a useful way.

If his result is a 30, I'll volunteer a decent amount and then ask him what else he would want to know about the creatures.

If his roll is a 15, I'll tell him he doesn't know much about Cosmic Dreadnaughts and give him 25 words to describe them - but it will be a mix of useless and incorrect information.

If his roll is a 17 - just beneath the DC, I'll tell him that he has heard of them and recalls some useful information - but what I reveal to him is incorrect and potentially dangerous. Maybe I'll tell him that they can't see motion, so as long as you're stationary they can't see you ... which is entirely false.

If the player knew the DC they'd be able to spot the misinformation. However, as they do not know if the DC was 15, 18, 20, or 23 they won't be able to tell whether they are getting good, or bad, info.

This system works well to allow PCs to not know when they are being misinformed ... but that is problematic as well. If you tell the PCs something after they feel like they got a decent intelligence roll and then it ends up biting them, the players can have a negative reaction. TO limit this impact, I am VERY clear that this is how I run these types of checks and I remind them of it often. Still, when a PC acts on bad information and it gets them (or another PC) killed, it can be very frustrating. To that end, I would not recommend this approach to all DMs, and certainly not to all groups.
 

ezo

Hero
As a player I wouldn't like the OP's idea. Not just because I rolled poorly, things become harder? No, no thank you.

I have no issue with a DM telling me, "You don't know (or learn) anything." But I firmly believe that D&D should have a range of success and failure. A significant failure (5 or more, etc.) might reveal incorrect information, a slight fail could reveal nothing or correct information, but omitting some detail, and so on.

If you and your players enjoy it, more power to you, but it wouldn't be for me, personally.
 


Interesting discussion. Far miss being “you know nothing” makes to me. I do the same for near misses. I do give a bit more on a higher result.

I don’t think a near miss should be wrong. But perhaps irrelevant.
”What do I know about the Orc chieftain Gronk?”
Fail = When the NPC mentioned him, that’s the first you heard of him.
Fail but almost = He’s actually a Half-Orc.
Success but close = He’s a half-Orc and he collects paintings.
Full Success with high result = He’s a half-orc and his mother was a half-Orc who was a famous painter at X village. He wanted to be a painter too, but was refused admission to the Royal art school by racist elves. Now, he’s said to collect paintings, particularly those by gnome artist Y..
 



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