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

Quickleaf

Legend
I don’t see a reason this discussion needs to be limited to 5e.
Yeah absolutely.

In d20, knowledge checks had much more structure. For example, you could NOT "Try Again" with a knowledge check, so there was at least some limit on pile-on checks built into the game. Similarly, how much you learned from a knowledge check was more codified, e.g.
"For every 5 points by which your check result exceeds the DC, you recall another piece of useful information."

The combination of those two things makes the move toward designing a unique fail-state for a knowledge check less pressing. I'm not saying it couldn't be done well and improve things in a d20 game or PF1e game, but that there's less urgency for it due to those two factors.

Whereas with 5e, there is no guidance on pile-on (knowledge) checks, and there is no guidance on how much you learn from a check. In that context, I think there's more urgency in 5e for defining what failure means on a knowledge check – implementing those things goes further in 5e due to its lack of codification on the limits/powers of knowledge checks.

For instance, in my own 5e games, I learned to often say something like "yes, you can roll History here, but if you roll under 12, then that indicates some kind of bad blood between you and the subject you're rolling about."
 

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mamba

Legend
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.
that assumes the player makes the roll, depending on the case I prefer hidden rolls for that reason
 


iserith

Magic Wordsmith
For instance, in my own 5e games, I learned to often say something like "yes, you can roll History here, but if you roll under 12, then that indicates some kind of bad blood between you and the subject you're rolling about."
For me, I ask the player to state specifically what they are trying to recall (the goal) with the understanding this imparts some kind of advantage to them, if they can leverage the information. They must also make the case why they might have been exposed to this information in their past (indirectly, the approach).

At that point, as with any other action declaration, I can decide if the character recalls it, doesn't recall it, or whether an ability check is called for. If we go to a check, success means they recall what they said and failure means they don't recall it, but they recall something else which isn't what they wanted but might be useful in some other way.

This keeps it in line with the basic adjudication process and ensures that failure isn't just a boring "You don't recall anything."
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
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.
I never said the people who made it intended it to be used this way. I wasn't talking about the intended playstyle at all. I was talking about what one can do.

And I don't even see this as a "house rule." It's literally just choosing to adjudicate a different way. Failure is still failure. Success is still success. That would be like saying that someone saying "if you fail with advantage it isn't as bad as it could be" (and vice-versa for success with disadvantage) is somehow "a house rule" because they're altering how they decide the consequences of a roll, not whether the roll did in fact succeed or fail. I thought the whole point of "rulings, not rules" was to emphasize that such things aren't house rules, they're just rulings.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I never said the people who made it intended it to be used this way. I wasn't talking about the intended playstyle at all. I was talking about what one can do.

And I don't even see this as a "house rule." It's literally just choosing to adjudicate a different way. Failure is still failure. Success is still success. That would be like saying that someone saying "if you fail with advantage it isn't as bad as it could be" (and vice-versa for success with disadvantage) is somehow "a house rule" because they're altering how they decide the consequences of a roll, not whether the roll did in fact succeed or fail. I thought the whole point of "rulings, not rules" was to emphasize that such things aren't house rules, they're just rulings.
I think you're making a mountain out of a molehill here, chief.
 

Quickleaf

Legend
For me, I ask the player to state specifically what they are trying to recall (the goal) with the understanding this imparts some kind of advantage to them, if they can leverage the information. They must also make the case why they might have been exposed to this information in their past (indirectly, the approach).

At that point, as with any other action declaration, I can decide if the character recalls it, doesn't recall it, or whether an ability check is called for. If we go to a check, success means they recall what they said and failure means they don't recall it, but they recall something else which isn't what they wanted but might be useful in some other way.

This keeps it in line with the basic adjudication process and ensures that failure isn't just a boring "You don't recall anything."
For your style, do you have a deterrent to "I roll knowledge again" or "I also want to roll that knowledge"? Or is that something your players self-regulate?
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
Yeah absolutely.

In d20, knowledge checks had much more structure. For example, you could NOT "Try Again" with a knowledge check, so there was at least some limit on pile-on checks built into the game. Similarly, how much you learned from a knowledge check was more codified, e.g.
"For every 5 points by which your check result exceeds the DC, you recall another piece of useful information."

The combination of those two things makes the move toward designing a unique fail-state for a knowledge check less pressing. I'm not saying it couldn't be done well and improve things in a d20 game or PF1e game, but that there's less urgency for it due to those two factors.
I still think there's plenty of room in d20 for such things, same with Perception checks and several others. When the only cost is a few seconds in-game, you may as well make the attempt. Four people rolling is about 18.5% (one in six) chances of a crit, and I'd imagine that even an 18 or 19 would still get something in most cases for characters that have at least +0 to the roll. Bump it to five people rolling, and it's around 23%, just shy of a quarter of the time. Allow a 19 to count, and it's more than one-in-three for a four-person group (34.4%) and more than two in five for the five-person group (41%.) Even if one person can't attempt again, the whole group can--and you might as well do so.

I mostly found the "for every 5 points" thing...rather weak tea, if I'm being honest. That usually just meant "you have to be at least this ~~tall to ride~~ skilled to know anything actually useful," with a frequent side of "and no guarantees that the higher stuff adds anything."

Whereas with 5e, there is no guidance on pile-on (knowledge) checks, and there is no guidance on how much you learn from a check. In that context, I think there's more urgency in 5e for defining what failure means on a knowledge check – implementing those things goes further in 5e due to its lack of codification on the limits/powers of knowledge checks.

For instance, in my own 5e games, I learned to often say something like "yes, you can roll History here, but if you roll under 12, then that indicates some kind of bad blood between you and the subject you're rolling about."
Yeah, that's a fairly typical (if a bit out of order) form of "fail forward."

Nothing says you can’t run D&D like Ironsworn. Drop the notion of a pre-defined plot. Play to find out, instead.
I mean, you can (and, per DW rules, should) do a bit of both. You can't "exploit your prep" if you don't have any prep to exploit--but having prep is necessarily having some amount of "myth," no matter how small. This is one of the reasons why I'm always confused by the rather strident claims regarding "no myth" gaming with PbtA. Yes, it can be played that way, but it seems to me rather better when you...well, per the Principles, Draw maps, leave blanks. There is a world, it has known contents, and it also has stuff waiting to be found.
 


Quickleaf

Legend
I still think there's plenty of room in d20 for such things, same with Perception checks and several others. When the only cost is a few seconds in-game, you may as well make the attempt. Four people rolling is about 18.5% (one in six) chances of a crit, and I'd imagine that even an 18 or 19 would still get something in most cases for characters that have at least +0 to the roll. Bump it to five people rolling, and it's around 23%, just shy of a quarter of the time. Allow a 19 to count, and it's more than one-in-three for a four-person group (34.4%) and more than two in five for the five-person group (41%.) Even if one person can't attempt again, the whole group can--and you might as well do so.

I mostly found the "for every 5 points" thing...rather weak tea, if I'm being honest. That usually just meant "you have to be at least this ~~tall to ride~~ skilled to know anything actually useful," with a frequent side of "and no guarantees that the higher stuff adds anything."


Yeah, that's a fairly typical (if a bit out of order) form of "fail forward."
Absolutely agree.

One of the reasons why the example I gave was "out of order" was because it's from actual play where I was trying to break players accustomed to 3e/PF1e out of the habit of jumping to roll Knowledge and Perception (that latter is a separate topic that @BookTenTiger brought up in a different thread, but the two are closely related in my own thinking). So I was doing it "out of order" to help them realize that I was handling knowledge checks differently than they were used to, to create a new baseline.
 

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