D&D 5E Rolling Without a Chance of Failure (I love it)

BookTenTiger

He / Him
Often I see the following DM advice:

"Don't ask for a roll if failure isn't interesting."

I totally understand this advice.

As a player, though, I disagree. I love to roll. In most situations, I'd choose to roll a check than not roll and automatically succeed. Even when failure isn't interesting.

In my experience, this guideline often leads to my DM saying, "Oh, your character has a high History bonus, so I won't make you roll for it."

Though that makes sense narratively... I've invested in History! I want to roll!

However, I understand that a failed History check really isn't fun. Just saying, "You don't know anything about that" doesn't really lead to interesting narrative outcomes.

In the game I run, I almost always ask players to roll. I've tried to find ways to always make failure a little interesting, even when success is guaranteed.

Here are some examples:

A rogue is trying to pick a lock. It's not a difficult lock, and they have time, so I'll tell them "you are going to succeed, but roll to see how effortless it looks." On a low roll there's a lot of sweat and broken lockpicks. On a high roll they pick the lock with a bent paperclip and a wad of chewing gum.

A barbarian is trying to cut a chain in two. They're a barbarian, they'll get through it in time. I'll have them roll an attack roll to see if it makes a loud noise or not, alerting creatures in the dungeon.

A character with the Soldier background is commanding a lower-ranking guard to move aside. Because of their background feature, they will succeed. But I'll have them roll a Persuasion or Intimidation check to see what the guards think of them after - are they in awe, or suspicious, or annoyed?

Do you ever do this? Rolling even without a chance of failure?
 

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iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Do you ever do this? Rolling even without a chance of failure?
No, and as a player, since part of the requirements of there being an ability check in the first place is that there's a meaningful consequence for failure, I will try to avoid rolling as much as possible. In my games, you don't want to roll. It will hurt (relative to the situation) if you fail. This drives players toward balancing out their reliance upon the character sheet with coming up with creative solutions and characterizations. Being told "you succeed, no roll" is something players like to hear in my experience.
 
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BookTenTiger

He / Him
No, and as a player, since part of the requirements of their being an ability check in the first place is that there's a meaningful consequence for failure, I will try to avoid rolling as much as possible. In my games, you don't want to roll. It will hurt (relative to the situation) if you fail. This drives players toward balancing out their reliance upon the character sheet with coming up with creative solutions and characterizations. Being told "you succeed, no roll" is something players like to hear in my experience.
We had to actively ask our DM to stop saying "you succeed, no roll" because we missed rolling dice.
 

soviet

Adventurer
Yeah, this is pretty common framing in conflict resolution systems: we're not necessarily rolling to see whether you can do the thing, but whether you can do it quietly, or quickly, or without upsetting people. It can be a good technique to port over into D&D skill tests.

EDIT: when those other stakes are meaningful, that is. Just something like 'roll to look cool doing it' wouldn't be enough to justify a roll for me.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
We had to actively ask our DM to stop saying "you succeed, no roll" because we missed rolling dice.
It sounds like the DM was going more toward the "Ignoring the Dice" method instead of the "The Middle Path" (DMG, page 236-237). The DMG says the former has some potential drawbacks whereas the Middle Path does not.

In the Middle Path, players will in my experience tend to do the things the character has a better chance of success at if they have to roll, but work toward removing the uncertainty as to the outcome of the task and/or the meaningful consequence for failure so they don't have to. Sometimes they can, obviating the need for an ability check. Sometimes they can't, meaning they end up rolling in an area where they stand a good chance of succeeding based on their investments and tactics. As long as the group is engaging in the sorts of adventuring tasks where uncertainty and consequence is present, there will still be plenty of rolling. If the group is sluggish in terms of pace and doesn't cover that much adventuring content in a given session, then there may be a perception that they rarely roll, particularly if the DM is leaning toward the Ignoring the Dice method.
 


BookTenTiger

He / Him
It sounds like the DM was going more toward the "Ignoring the Dice" method instead of the "The Middle Path" (DMG, page 236-237). The DMG says the former has some potential drawbacks whereas the Middle Path does not.

In the Middle Path, players will in my experience tend to do the things the character has a better chance of success at if they have to roll, but work toward removing the uncertainty as to the outcome of the task and/or the meaningful consequence for failure so they don't have to. Sometimes they can, obviating the need for an ability check. Sometimes they can't, meaning they end up rolling in an area where they stand a good chance of succeeding based on their investments and tactics. As long as the group is engaging in the sorts of adventuring tasks where uncertainty and consequence is present, there will still be plenty of rolling. If the group is sluggish in terms of pace and doesn't cover that much adventuring content in a given session, then there may be a perception that they rarely roll, particularly if the DM is leaning toward the Ignoring the Dice method.
That sounds like how I run my own game.

The players often come up with really creative solutions, really going out of their way to gain advantage. So I'll have them roll a check to see what the other consequences are instead of failure.
 

jgsugden

Legend
You're misunderstanding the core of the concern, I think. In fact, you're advocating for how most DMs view the advice: Don't have a role unless it has consequences.

What should be avoided is:

"[Hmmm, they want to climb a rope. That should be pretty easy... DC 10!] The DC is 10! Roll! [Oh crap, they rolled a 1] What was the total? 2? Really? [Oh %@# - they should fall ... and the rope they're climbing is hanging over a 200 foot fall into lava]. Uhhhh, you start to slip. Roll another athletics check! [Phew ... another smooth save by the Wrold's Greatest D...] ANOTHER 1? [There is no way that should by anything other than a fall. But if he dies now, that totally sidetracks the game ... ugh] You start to fall, but one of the natives on the cliff swings down and catches you just before you fall!"

There, the DM refused to accept the dice roll results and overrode them with Dues Ex Machina.

"[Hmmmm, I need them to know this information so I'll make them roll to see if they know it.] Everyone roll an Arcana Roll to see if you understand the Arcane Script! What'd you get? 4,5,2,3,1? Really? Well, it is hard, but you're able to translate the script. It says, "Frogs in Winter."

Here, the DM never intended for the PCs to have any chance of failure. No matter the role, the core of the information was always going to be revealed. Even if the DM has it take longer because they rolled low, it leaves a bad taste.

If there is an obvious consequence to a failed roll, it has to be allowed to exist. If it won't, don't make them roll - or better yet, be prepared to have an alternate route to success.

Th
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
I've no problem either as player or DM with rolling when the only consequence of failure is nothing changes, as long as success is meaningful. (ditto in those rare situations where the only consequence of success is that nothing changes but failure is meaningful)

As long as at least one of success or failure is meaningful, then roll away! :)
 

payn

Legend
I only have the players roll without failure if its driven by them. In the examples above, if the barb player tells me they want it to look badass and break a chain like they can do it effortlessly, then I'll ask for the roll. I know players like rolling, I like rolling too, but I dont want to fart around rolling all night for everything thats not important.
 

Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I think the intent behind the advice “don’t call for a roll if failure doesn’t have a meaningful consequence” is not to say you should call for rolls less often, but to say you should make sure failure is consequential more often. Using progress combined with a setback is a good technique for this, as is putting time pressure on the PCs. Rolling dice is fun… when the outcome of the dice roll matters. When the outcome doesn’t matter, it’s a neutral action that doesn’t add anything to the game.

I would also add that “you have a high History score so you don’t have to roll” isn’t really following the advice not to call for rolls when failure doesn’t have a meaningful consequence. The implication of “you have a high score so you don’t have to roll” is that there would have been a consequence for failure, but you got to skip the roll and avoid the possibility of that consequence because of your awesome stats. Which I agree is boring. I want to avoid or incur consequences by my actions; I only want my stats to affect how likely I am to succeed when the outcome is in question.
 
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Charlaquin

Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
I've no problem either as player or DM with rolling when the only consequence of failure is nothing changes, as long as success is meaningful. (ditto in those rare situations where the only consequence of success is that nothing changes but failure is meaningful)

As long as at least one of success or failure is meaningful, then roll away! :)
Failure is always meaningful in your game because you go by the one roll represents your best attempt rule. Failure in your games means success becomes unattainable without a change of circumstances, which is de facto meaningful as long as success is meaningful.
 

soviet

Adventurer
Failure is always meaningful in your game because you go by the one roll represents your best attempt rule. Failure in your games means success becomes unattainable without a change of circumstances, which is de facto meaningful as long as success is meaningful.
I'd say it might be meaningful but it generally isn't very interesting.
 



The best solution to wanting die rolls for things that shouldn't fail is to have DCs to determine level of success. While some things won't have any reasonable tiered benefits (such as climbing a rope) unless there's a time element, but others can, especially the mental traits. If a character should know something historical (e.g. a local legend), then by rolling you can provide extra information if they roll well. They'll still get the basic information, no matter how badly they roll, but the extra information might give them hints or ideas on what to do next (or sometime in the future). A social check might give an increased level of friendship, or an insight check might give clues about something unrelated to the issue at hand. I'd set the DCs to 10/15/20/25, and if they want to use anything that's "on a failed roll," they can choose to attempt to reach the next tier with it if they want, but they know it's not a "true" failure.
 


iserith

Magic Wordsmith
Under the rules, if players want to roll more, all they have to do is not do a very good job at trying to remove uncertainty as to the outcome and/or the meaningful consequence for failure. So the DM need not do anything here. The players can just make this happen on their own.
 

Hussar

Legend
I've noticed that my players will roll without me asking - for example, "I'm going to make an arcana check to know something about X" rolls - tells me the result. Which I have no problems with. It's active on the players part, doesn't really take any time and, even if the roll doesn't really matter (success was guaranteed, or there was no consequence of failure) everyone comes out happy.

My advice would be to encourage your players to roll without asking. They know their characters, they know the rules of the game. Let them do it. I try to climb this wall, 15, do I climb it - is to me a perfectly fine way of doing things.

Then again, I always encourage DM's to dump as much workload as possible off onto the players.
 


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