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

Quickleaf

Legend
I agree that 5e's "knowledge" skills can benefit from reimagining their mechanics. One thing to look out for with your fail forward approach is that the hard-and-fast line between "positive knowledge" and "negative knowledge" can quickly get blurred in D&D. Using your two examples....

GM: Maybe Ivor the Gray has a pet giant that he lets smash his enemies.
Player: Great, let's prepare dominate/charm monster and get that pet giant to smash for us!

GM: Or maybe he's wielding a legendary sword that kills with one touch.
Player: Oooo, can't wait to steal that legendary sword!
 

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EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
I saw the title and thought, "Oh, that sounds a lot like Dungeon World."

And guess what? Ironsworn is pretty heavily based on the PbtA structure. It alters the resolution mechanic (1d6+MOD vs two separate 1d10 rolls, as opposed to 2d6+MOD vs fixed difficulty ranges), but the Moves are very obviously PbtA moves with modifications.

So yeah, I have no problem with doing this, and I think it is a huge improvement over the way D&D usually handles information-gathering rolls. Because lies or "you don't know" etc. just encourage metagame behavior from players--or, worse, encourages them to constantly ask for rolls all the time because there's no consequences.

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.
Why call it "changing the world on the fly"?

It is revealing something the party did not know was true before, but does know is true now. This sort of thing happens constantly in ordinary play. If you were already doing just fine with revealing new information as the party goes despite not having the entire campaign world perfectly nailed down to millimeter precision from before session 1, I don't see how this could cause any conflicts that you wouldn't have had from just ordinary play anyway. That is, we're all human, we forget things, we change our minds, we accidentally leave in contradictions because we didn't think things through perfectly, etc.

"Changing the world on the fly" makes it sound like the world is some airy nothing, mere play-dough that reshapes itself for every player action. "Revealing the world as it is discovered" clearly indicates that nothing in the world is changing; it always was whatever we learn, we just learned that by playing, rather than by someone plotting it in advance and waiting for the moment it is revealed. Some amount of preparation is of course good and useful, but leaving room for actually discovering answers, rather than always having every answer long before any questions could be asked, leads to a much richer experience for everyone involved. The two--planned-in-advance and discovered-through-play--enrich one another. As seen here, where disadvantageous knowledge makes knowledge checks much more interesting and even risky, while exclusive reliance on pre-planned knowledge leads to various issues.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Thinking about this further, I think what I like about this idea is that it really fits my play style as a DM.

Again, I've really loved Ironsworn because I don't know what's going to happen each session. The characters' rolls might make their friend a secret villain, might give them a castle to take care of, might curse them or bless them. Now that I've returned to D&D, I'll admit I am somewhat bored once the plot is securely in place.

These kinds of Knowledge checks add a little more excitement and unpredictability for me, as a DM.

I think I'm going to change Knowledge Checks to just a flat DC:

16+ : The knowledge you gain has an added benefit.
10 - 15: The knowledge you gain is useful and true.
9 - : The knowledge you gain complicates your goals.

I'll also be inviting player ideas into the good rolls. What's something that would help you in this quest?
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Why call it "changing the world on the fly"?

It is revealing something the party did not know was true before, but does know is true now. This sort of thing happens constantly in ordinary play. If you were already doing just fine with revealing new information as the party goes despite not having the entire campaign world perfectly nailed down to millimeter precision from before session 1, I don't see how this could cause any conflicts that you wouldn't have had from just ordinary play anyway. That is, we're all human, we forget things, we change our minds, we accidentally leave in contradictions because we didn't think things through perfectly, etc.

"Changing the world on the fly" makes it sound like the world is some airy nothing, mere play-dough that reshapes itself for every player action. "Revealing the world as it is discovered" clearly indicates that nothing in the world is changing; it always was whatever we learn, we just learned that by playing, rather than by someone plotting it in advance and waiting for the moment it is revealed. Some amount of preparation is of course good and useful, but leaving room for actually discovering answers, rather than always having every answer long before any questions could be asked, leads to a much richer experience for everyone involved. The two--planned-in-advance and discovered-through-play--enrich one another. As seen here, where disadvantageous knowledge makes knowledge checks much more interesting and even risky, while exclusive reliance on pre-planned knowledge leads to various issues.
The OP calls out that D&D is not really set up to be played this way since it's more about "the players uncover realities about the world already set by the DM." I agree, and my comment was in reference to that. There are other games better suited to generating setting content on the fly in my view. The OP references Ironsworn, for example.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
The OP calls out that D&D is not really set up to be played this way since it's more about "the players uncover realities about the world already set by the DM." I agree, and my comment was in reference to that. There are other games better suited to generating setting content on the fly in my view. The OP references Ironsworn, for example.
I don't think D&D is specifically about that or not about that. It's one of the ways to play. It's by far not the only way to play, and nothing in the actual rules of D&D--5e or otherwise--makes it so specifically about exclusively uncovering what the DM had laid down to begin with.

I'm not saying that D&D is a no-myth game, it's definitely not made for that. But you can't tell me that DMs don't build answers to questions, sometimes even questions that were only just asked, as the game is played. Improvisation is as much a fundamental skill of DMing as it is of roleplaying.
 

I try to boost from Gumshoe for my D&D games.

First, the party will always find a clue that moves the story forward. Example: they find a matchbook for a club in the city left at the crime scene

Second, generally I'm open to whoever using a skill to try to get more information, but also sometimes you need to have a specific skill to understand what it is. Example: the party in my game had found a strange small birdcage, it seemed. The artificer rolled Arcana, and rolled very well. I explained to him it was known as a Theosophist's Cage - he knew that it was theorized it could focus very powerful (ie above 9th level) spells, but he had never heard of anyone creating one because... why? There was no magic that would need it.

Third, again to benefit people actually having a skill, I will just let players who have History, for example, have the clue.

I keep a cheatsheet of the PCs and who has what skills beside me so I know how to handle these cases.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I don't think D&D is specifically about that or not about that. It's one of the ways to play. It's by far not the only way to play, and nothing in the actual rules of D&D--5e or otherwise--makes it so specifically about exclusively uncovering what the DM had laid down to begin with.

I'm not saying that D&D is a no-myth game, it's definitely not made for that. But you can't tell me that DMs don't build answers to questions, sometimes even questions that were only just asked, as the game is played. Improvisation is as much a fundamental skill of DMing as it is of roleplaying.
Yes, they do. The DM can't plan or prep everything. But the fact a house rule is needed to actually support that should be ample evidence in my view that the OP is correct in their assessment about how D&D is designed.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
Again, I've really loved Ironsworn because I don't know what's going to happen each session. The characters' rolls might make their friend a secret villain, might give them a castle to take care of, might curse them or bless them. Now that I've returned to D&D, I'll admit I am somewhat bored once the plot is securely in place.

These kinds of Knowledge checks add a little more excitement and unpredictability for me, as a DM.
Nothing says you can’t run D&D like Ironsworn. Drop the notion of a pre-defined plot. Play to find out, instead.

Expand your PbtA-style success ladder to include all rolls. That’s the beating heart of those games after all. Finding the nearest % chance of a PbtA roll and mapping that to a d20 shouldn’t be hard. You might already be close enough.

Use the principles, agenda, etc in your D&D game as you would in Ironsworn.
 


BookTenTiger

He / Him
Nothing says you can’t run D&D like Ironsworn. Drop the notion of a pre-defined plot. Play to find out, instead.

Expand your PbtA-style success ladder to include all rolls. That’s the beating heart of those games after all. Finding the nearest % chance of a PbtA roll and mapping that to a d20 shouldn’t be hard. You might already be close enough.

Use the principles, agenda, etc in your D&D game as you would in Ironsworn.
Honestly I have so much fun playing / running Ironsworn that I can see myself moving more towards that. But I think adapting am piece at a time will work better for me than going all-in.
 

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