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5E My one and only houserule: consequences & opportunities

PabloM

Explorer
I like games, a lot. I try to read and play everything within my reach. I usually run a weekly D&D campaign, and some short adventures using other options, of which I highlight Fate, Blades in the Dark, and some PbtA games (Burning Wheel is kind of my white whale).
This past year, because I paused D&D campaign due to quarantine, I had a chance to dig deeper into other games.
When I returned to run the D&D campaign I came up with a rule to make things more interesting. Well, it's not really a rule, it's a new perspective on a rule. From the most basic D&D rule:

A player rolls 1d20 + something vs a DC to determine the success of a PC over a given conflict.

And it occurred to me that, from the same game mechanics, we can make things narratively more interesting. Here's the new approach of the same rule:

A player rolls 1d20 + something vs a DC to determine the success of a PC over a given conflict.

If the roll passes DC, the PC is successful, but there is a consequence.
If the roll exceeds DC by 5 or more, the PC in addition to being successful can avoid a consequence or find an additional opportunity.
If the roll exceeds DC by 10 or more, the PC in addition to being successful can avoid a consequence and find an additional opportunity.


What is a consequence or an opportunity? what the circumstance requires to add tension to the narrative.

It is a simple protocol that does not add any additional complications to the game but adds depth.

The best thing is that the players will not even notice this new rule (ruling?), because they will only perceive it through the descriptions of the DM: "The DC to climb that wall is 15, make an Athletics check. Did you get 22? perfect! You manage to climb the wall, but up on the wall you see a guard. I give you a choice: the guard sees you but your spot the keys to the door to the castle on her belt or the guard does not see you but you see nothing. What do you do?"
 

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GlassJaw

Hero
Pretty standard degrees of success mechanic. Lots of other games have it built-in to their core mechanic. I do it all the time on the fly.

I've also started giving priority to those that have proficiency in a skill. Depending on the nature of the check, if two players roll the same result but one has proficiency, I might give them more info or a better result.
 

I'm a big fan of PtbA games, but not necessarily a big fan of this rule for two reasons:

1) You're going from pass/fail on every roll to pass/fail, then if pass is it 5 or 10 above the DC - which is the DM may well have to determine - the players probably don't know the DC for most stuff. That's going to drastically slow things down, and that's before the consequences and so on have even been invoked.

2) This strongly favours really seriously stacking up modifiers if you can get them. Right now, there's no difference between passing a roll, and passing by a huge amount, which means things like expertise, large stat mods and so on are mostly helpful in negating the extreme variance on d20s, but here you can accrue an actual benefit. This means expertise is vastly more valuable, as is anything that lets you roll an extra die - like Bardic Inspiration, Guidance, and so on.

3) Also presumably if a low/equal pass means success and a consequence, a fail also means a consequence (or "hard move" as they'd say in PtbA). That's also not currently the case in D&D, and the high randomness of d20s is going to make outright fails on things your PC is supposed to be good at quite common (whereas they are quite rare in PtbA games - more often it's success and consequence). This will have an impact on the game. Possibly a positive one, because it'll mean people who are unlikely to succeed at something won't attempt to roll it, because of the potential consequence. But unless you handle it with a lot of care, it'll also make players who are good at things very cautious about doing any kind of skill roll, because the odds of outright failure are good, and if you're adding a hard move on top of that... I could see a lot of more cautious players kind of wanting to get Guidance and someone "helping" them (i.e. giving Advantage) before attempting to say, search a library. YMMV whether this is good or bad.
 

MNblockhead

A Title Much Cooler Than Anything on the Old Site
I like it for skill tests during social encounters and exploration. For combat, I still with using critical hit decks. Beyond that I wouldn't want to complicate combat any further.

I note that many adventure, both WotC and 3rd party, have tests where if you fail by more than X something particularly bad happens. So this is already pretty standard. However, I like your idea of making it a core mechanic. Some DMs may not be comfortable improvising consequences on the fly, but I think most people can come up with something to add a bit more flavor to non-combat rolls.
 

PabloM

Explorer
I'm a big fan of PtbA games, but not necessarily a big fan of this rule for two reasons:

1) You're going from pass/fail on every roll to pass/fail, then if pass is it 5 or 10 above the DC - which is the DM may well have to determine - the players probably don't know the DC for most stuff. That's going to drastically slow things down, and that's before the consequences and so on have even been invoked.

2) This strongly favours really seriously stacking up modifiers if you can get them. Right now, there's no difference between passing a roll, and passing by a huge amount, which means things like expertise, large stat mods and so on are mostly helpful in negating the extreme variance on d20s, but here you can accrue an actual benefit. This means expertise is vastly more valuable, as is anything that lets you roll an extra die - like Bardic Inspiration, Guidance, and so on.

3) Also presumably if a low/equal pass means success and a consequence, a fail also means a consequence (or "hard move" as they'd say in PtbA). That's also not currently the case in D&D, and the high randomness of d20s is going to make outright fails on things your PC is supposed to be good at quite common (whereas they are quite rare in PtbA games - more often it's success and consequence). This will have an impact on the game. Possibly a positive one, because it'll mean people who are unlikely to succeed at something won't attempt to roll it, because of the potential consequence. But unless you handle it with a lot of care, it'll also make players who are good at things very cautious about doing any kind of skill roll, because the odds of outright failure are good, and if you're adding a hard move on top of that... I could see a lot of more cautious players kind of wanting to get Guidance and someone "helping" them (i.e. giving Advantage) before attempting to say, search a library. YMMV whether this is good or bad.
Fair points, especially 2) and 3). They will have to be tested in game to see if you are right.

Anyway, if there is no consequence in a failed check, why do it?
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
It sounds like a reasonable-ish way to run many ability checks, but I wouldn't want to use it for saving throws or combat. There might be ability checks where there's not enough range of consequences for the rule to apply, and it seems as though it's going to encourage not-rolling (aiming for auto-success) maybe more than you want. I think @Ruin Explorer makes good points about some knock-on effects, and I'll point out that the rules are written (and example DCs are set) with the idea that beating those DCs is an uncomplicated success--if the players are at all familiar with that, they might well notice as all these consequences start to accrue with what feel like good rolls.
 

Anyway, if there is no consequence in a failed check, why do it?
That's a totally valid approach, but it's not, in my experience, actually how people run D&D. Beyond personal experience, I don't think I've ever seen a stream of D&D run that way, or heard a podcast that worked out like that.

I mean, there's a huge difference in that some people call for no-consequence checks all the time, which I think is pretty silly, but what is much more common is that a decent percentage of checks won't really have any consequences.

I mean, I kind of like your idea on a certain level because there's little I dislike more than people who just shout that they're rolling X skill or whatever, and this would make them both think twice about doing that, and think more about the situation, because then they could gauge the consequences.

I'll point out that the rules are written (and example DCs are set) with the idea that beating those DCs is an uncomplicated success--if the players are at all familiar with that, they might well notice as all these consequences start to accrue with what feel like good rolls.
Yeah and I'd consider lowering the skill-check DCs by 2-3 points with this system, because a success becomes a semi-fail now.
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
I mean, there's a huge difference in that some people call for no-consequence checks all the time, which I think is pretty silly, but what is much more common is that a decent percentage of checks won't really have any consequences.
I do it sometimes. Usually it's in a situation where some success is assured and I'm gauging the extent of it. How much do you find out about [thing]?


Yeah and I'd consider lowering the skill-check DCs by 2-3 points with this system, because a success becomes a semi-fail now.
Yup. It's the semi-fail feel of success-with-consequences that can seem like a bit much if you don't adjust the DCs (and is why I think it's fine with ability checks but not saving throws or attack rolls).
 

77IM

Explorer!!!
Supporter
I often don't tell players the DC and then do stuff like this behind the scenes. It works especially well for social interaction, where often the other person will want something in return for doing what you want; or will not do what you want, but still do something else beneficial.

When I have no earthly clue how to set a DC, I default to what I call the "10/20 split." On a 10-19, the PC gets a rudimentary, basic, or partial success, or success-with-consequences. On a 20 they get a complete success. I find this works well for knowledge checks: on a 10 or better the PC knows a little something; on a 20 or better you tell them all about it.
 

Bihlbo

Explorer
I'm absolutely not at all in favor of adding penalties to a successful die roll. A DC is what you have to get to succeed. It's not what you have to get to slip and fall while trying to serve drinks. If you want consequences, let it apply to a failure instead of to not hitting the real DC, 5 higher.

If you're making it clear that the PCs are suffering consequences (nearly) every time they make a check, that just tells them to stop trying to make checks. I don't get why you can't just introduce complications qua complications, on your own, whenever you want, instead of as a penalty for trying to roll dice. If you think it's cool for the game that Kelly had a slip while serving drinks, just tell her it happened. She doesn't need to fail a roll for you to DM the game. That's why this is a bad rule in other systems too. I don't need a rule telling me to quantify and measure events happening to the characters. Bears fall when I want bears to fall.

I'm fuzzy on what you intend to use as consequences. Since this is your rule, your rule needs to explain what a complication is and is not, and when it's appropriate. There are situations where a consequence isn't fitting (with the exception of the Charisma skills), and there are a lot of checks that leave me scratching my head as to how I would complicate them as a result of an ability check.

Here are some rolls a player would call for, and you can either give answers or just think about them, I don't care. Assume the player hits the DC +1 and so they succeed with a consequence; what is that consequence?

1. What does my character know about vampires? I want to make an Intelligence check.
2. I'm the first to jump across the gap over the endless chasm, because my Athletics modifier is the best. I only have to roll a 3 to succeed, even though it's a 10' jump.
3. I make a Medicine check to stabilize her.
4. I make a shove attack, my Athletics was 16. Roll Acrobatics or Athletics to beat my roll.
5. When I get behind the wall I use Cunning Action to make a Stealth check. I want to go through this pantry to get behind the zombies.
6. Can I make an Insight check to see if she's telling the truth?
7. Since no one is around, I'm not trying to be that quiet while I make a check to use my tools to open this lock.
8. Oh good, I got an 11 on my Concentration check.
 


dnd4vr

The Smurfiest Wizard Ever!
Well, I guess it's not an approach for everyone...
Even if only narratively, it adds a level complexity to the game that doesn't appeal to me.

That being said, there is a precedent to it. There are times if you fail a save by 5 or more, something "worse" happens, etc.

As for it making players want to stack up bonuses, that already happens a lot IME so I don't know how much of a factor that will be.
 

Bihlbo

Explorer
Well, I guess it's not an approach for everyone...
This isn't an approach. You wrote a rule. Rules get applied when conditions are met. If you'd stated that you think it helps a game to sometimes introduce complications when you feel like it's appropriate, then that would have been an approach to DMing. But you wrote a rule that dictates how you adjudicate ability checks.

"This is how I spice things up" is just good DMing. That's not a house rule at all.
"Sorry, but you only got a 12. Yes, that's a success, but I have to introduce a complication now because you didn't get a 15 on this DC 10 check," is a governing rule. See the difference?

I'm curious though, could you come up with satisfying complications for the 8 scenarios I listed? I had a much bigger list, but those were the only ones for which I couldn't think of a complication. You can just say, "If you aren't creative enough to think of complications, then it's not for you," but that's lazy. If you think it works as a rule, I'd like to learn how that actually works at the table. Because while I might not like it, I could accept that it works if it's explained.

Even if only narratively, it adds a level complexity to the game that doesn't appeal to me.
There's a certain amount of variability we already naturally work into the game when DMing. Some situations are just complex. When Rodax rolls 8 higher on his Persuasion check versus the shopkeeper's Insight, we naturally treat that as something a little special. If his roll had been 1 under, we naturally would want to let that sorta work, but not quite. Complications are a good tool that are already suggested in the DMG, and work great for situations like the adventure of Rodax at the Mouth of Market Street. As a DMing practice, occasionally using complications rather than binary win/loss can be really fun.

But as a house rule for all ability checks? There I agree that it's complexity is unappealing.
 
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GSHamster

Adventurer
Well, I guess it's not an approach for everyone...
You could tweak it slightly:

Fail by more than 5 - unqualified failure
Fail by 5 or less - success but with a consequence
Success by 5 or less - unqualified success OR success + consequence + opportunity
Success by more than 5 - success + opportunity

Though I do think 'success + consequence + opportunity' is a little bit complicated, especially when you combine it with a choice.
 

PabloM

Explorer
You could tweak it slightly:

Fail by more than 5 - unqualified failure
Fail by 5 or less - success but with a consequence
Success by 5 or less - unqualified success OR success + consequence + opportunity
Success by more than 5 - success + opportunity
Yes, I am thinking that too, after what was said in this thread. But, respecting the ratio between consequences and opportunities that I had originally proposed. Putting together what you propose with the O&C rule, it would be something like this:

Fail by more than 5 - unqualified failure
Fail by 5 or less - the PC is successful, but there is a consequence.
Success by 5 or less - the PC in addition to being successful can avoid a consequence or find an additional opportunity.
Success by more than 5 - the PC in addition to being successful can avoid a consequence and find an additional opportunity.


Answering other concerns, the point of all this is that consequences and the opportunities provided are only an excuse for the narrative to advance. If a DM feels comfortable doing it without these mechanisms, she doesn't has to use them.

Also, the rule doesn't have to be a burden. If as a DM you can't think of anything concrete as a consequence, just don't provide any and go on.

I understand that, as stated above, the basis of this rule (or approach) is that if there is really no consequence to a check it should not be done.

I'm curious though, could you come up with satisfying complications for the 8 scenarios I listed?
I thought you had put the situations as a way to prove your point, not with the genuine objective of knowing more about my perspective, I apologize for that.

Unfortunately, English is not my mother tongue and right now I am at work, so I cannot answer one by one of the situations you asked for.

I can give you two consequences or generic opportunities that occur to me on the fly:

-When a PC does a nature or history check to see what she knows about the Secret Valley, she can find out where the entrance is and that the entrance has a guardian, but not know who the guardian is (consequence).

-When a PC does an insight check to see if the king is being honest with her, she can see that the king is distressed, that he is hiding something from her but does not know what (consequence). Or, she can realize that the king is distressed, that he is specifically hiding from her the subject of the disappearance of his counselor and also realize that one of the members of the court witnesses the entire conversation with nerves (opportunity).
 

Something else this would tend to do is cause unnecessary checks. If there's no possibility for failure or success, then no die roll is made (standard game rule from the PHB). With this system, you could succeed automatically, but still need to roll the die to determine consequences or extra benefits.
 

NotAYakk

Legend
Variant: always roll 2 dice.

-1 success: botch (fall off cliff)
0 successes: fail, offer a price to avoid botch (can't advance; make a noise or fall off cliff)
1 success: offer a price to succeed (if you let the guard see you...)
2 successes: succeed, sometimes offer a price for extra (you can kill the guard and get her key, but she'll probably yell)
3 successes: extra (you climb behind guard, and grab her key, and get away)

Advantage: +1 success
Disadvantage: -1 success

In a normal case there are 3 outcomes.
1. Fail. Player picks between 2 bad things (botch, or pay price)
2. Single success. Nothing happens, or player pays a price to succeed.
3. Double success. Player given option to pay extra for extra bonus.

I am a bit unhappy with 2. If player rejects offer, narrative stalls. How can we make that better?
 
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PabloM

Explorer
I am a bit unhappy with 2. If player rejects offer, narrative stalls. How can we make that better?
Works for me. That a PC is successful implies that things happen as she wanted and therefore the plot progresses.

I have second thoughts with the adv/disadv mechanics. Maybe they are too much?
 

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