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

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
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?
As with the rest of the game, a player can only describe what they want their character to do, and the DM always gets to decide if it succeeds or fails or a roll is appropriate. If multiple people want to make the case for why their character may be able to recall something specific, they are free to do so in my view, no different than stating an approach to the goal of attempting to climb a slippery wall or convince the king to lend his aid. Typically a player is not going to make a case for recalling lore that is farfetched from their character's perspective in my experience. And in some cases, it might be quite appropriate and play into a personal characteristic sufficient enough to earn Inspiration.
 

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cbwjm

Seb-wejem
I think it would be kind of funny to have two people roll a knowledge check, both rolling low, and so you give them opposing information then let the players figure it out. It could be as simple as "You think that it's vulnerable to lightning, but you on the other hand are fairly certain it's not."
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
As with the rest of the game, a player can only describe what they want their character to do, and the DM always gets to decide if it succeeds or fails or a roll is appropriate. If multiple people want to make the case for why their character may be able to recall something specific, they are free to do so in my view, no different than stating an approach to the goal of attempting to climb a slippery wall or convince the king to lend his aid. Typically a player is not going to make a case for recalling lore that is farfetched from their character's perspective in my experience. And in some cases, it might be quite appropriate and play into a personal characteristic sufficient enough to earn Inspiration.
Just seems to me like an awful lot of bookkeeping then. I can readily see even genuinely well-meaning players getting into lengthy and unnecessary rulings-wrangling on that, especially if you've been generous with them at least some of the time.

Always falling back to "well the DM decides" just seems...I dunno. Like a lot of unnecessary work.
 

EzekielRaiden

Follower of the Way
I think it would be kind of funny to have two people roll a knowledge check, both rolling low, and so you give them opposing information then let the players figure it out. It could be as simple as "You think that it's vulnerable to lightning, but you on the other hand are fairly certain it's not."
Ooh, I'm gonna have to use that the next time one of my players misses a Spout Lore check. That fits perfectly with "split the party" in a rather more creative sense.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Just seems to me like an awful lot of bookkeeping then. I can readily see even genuinely well-meaning players getting into lengthy and unnecessary rulings-wrangling on that, especially if you've been generous with them at least some of the time.

Always falling back to "well the DM decides" just seems...I dunno. Like a lot of unnecessary work.
The DM deciding is how the game works. I'm not sure what you mean by bookkeeping. Make your case, DM decides, roll if necessary, resolve, move on. Same as everything else.
 

Hriston

Dungeon Master of Middle-earth
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!
I do something similar in my games but not quite what you describe here. I ask the player, if they haven't already said so, to state the lore they want their character to remember and how they came by the information. If they make the Intelligence check, then they have established that lore as true. But if they fail, then I describe that the information they came by was actually different in a way that's immediately disadvantageous.

Here's an example from my game: A couple of PCs, one of which was a druid, were tracking some giant toads that had fled from a fight with the party earlier that day. The rest of the party had made camp to rest after the fight. When the druid and the other PC finally caught up with the toads, they were a few hours away from the camp and the toads were asleep. The druid's player stated that they thought back to observations they had made in the past of the toad's sleeping behavior to recall if the toads would be asleep long enough for him to go back to the camp and return with the rest of the party and have the toads still be there. I asked for an Intelligence (Nature) check which failed, so I told the player that their observations were actually such that the toads would be awake and active before he could return with the rest of the party.
 

BookTenTiger

He / Him
So I got to try this out tonight and... It went great!

A character's awesome Arcana Check gave a big clue to a puzzle they were solving, and another character's high Religion Check revealed a secret door hidden behind a frieze.

The players also really appreciated that their characters would never "know nothing" when making the check- they really preferred the idea of complications as a consequence instead.
 

overgeeked

B/X Known World
So I got to try this out tonight and... It went great!

A character's awesome Arcana Check gave a big clue to a puzzle they were solving, and another character's high Religion Check revealed a secret door hidden behind a frieze.

The players also really appreciated that their characters would never "know nothing" when making the check- they really preferred the idea of complications as a consequence instead.
Awesome. Sounds like a success.
 

Because the rules have players roll their Intelligence checks (and Wisdom (Perception) checks), the players always know how well they roll, so I always give my players some basic information the public thinks is true, even if it is affirming something they suspect. The lower the roll, the more basic the information. (As a house rule, some DMs chooses to roll perception or knowledge checks so players don't know if they succeed or fail, and that helps the mysterious side of things.)

I handle Intelligence checks with scaling success, so the more someone invests in that skill and the higher their modifier, the better chance of them getting even better and more accurate information. That said, if they roll poorly, I may add something less accurate to cause a little confusion. That said, it's not usually that that impactful to offer bad information if someone else in the group rolls well and knows the truth.

A person who fails an Intelligence check to know about a troll approaching them may get the answer: "Trolls are large bipedal monsters that rend with tooth and claw, eating everything they can, and are near impossible to kill because they are immortal. They do have one weakness that if you hit them with fire, they will burn up like kindling." This is slightly incorrect, like it was heard in a bard's story, but it is based on a kernel of truth.

A PC that rolls very well, may get the answer: "Trolls are a type of Giant and speak that language. They are cruel and hungry and eat everything they can. They are not only strong and hardy, but they are famous for having a natural regeneration ability that can be slowed by energies that sear their flesh, like fire and acid. As long as you are able to sear them regularly, you should be able to prevent them from healing. That said, trolls are a highly mutagenic species whose nature can change based on environment, and they can have different resistances and weaknesses. Towards that end, its fur suggests this is an ice troll, which is far more tougher and dangerous than even a normal troll. Not only is it immune to cold damage, it emanates an aura of cold that snuffs fire and hurts nearby enemies, so you and your friends should be very careful."
 

GrimCo

Adventurer
Depending on the tone and style of campaign, i tend to have two approaches, but in all games i tend to use "fail forward" mindset, so even if players fail check, it moves forward story.

First approach is binary. Players tell me what information they try to recall and i set DC based on how obscure it is in the world. If they succeed, they get the answer. If they fail, they get - you can't seem to remember hearing/ reading anything about it. Just like in real life, sometime you cant remember something, even if you are positive you read it or heard it somewhere.

Second approach is degrees knowledge. I use table for ability checks. FE if player tries to find out if he remembers anything useful on some creature and rolls knowledge. So 5 on knowledge check will give you basic knowledge (or what is accepted as common widespread knowledge) while 30 on a check will tell you basically entire stat block but descriptively.

Catch 22 in second approach is that some common knowledge is utterly false, but it stuck for so long that people believe it to be true.
 

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