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


Victoria Rules
Do you limit player actions when they are at odds with their character?
Yes, if the player is acting on knowledge or info the character wouldn't and couldn't have.
Would you allow a player controlling a backwoods raging barbarian to gain a bonus researching vampires in a library because the player came up with a good plan?
No, but I'd have no problem with the Barbarian suggesting the idea in-character to someone more suited to carrying it out: "Hey, Smarty, you want learning 'bout sumping? Grog trashed a liberry once. Then people yelled at Grog 'cause now they couldn't do learning, so I can't go in liberries no more. But you can."

If this ended up happening all the time I might have a quick chat with the Barb's player, however.
We tend to self-censor our characters from such scenes but there are some players that have to be involved in every scene, even if they characterwise have no business being there. This is doubly aggregious when they start mixing in real world knowledge.
Yeah, I've got that too, and occasionally the smackdown hammer has to come out (though more often it's the other players who smack it down before I can even get involved).

log in or register to remove this ad


Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
That was a good post, but I don't think the bolded portion is entirely accurate.
You’d be correct about that, though like I said, I think they’re still onto something.
@Charlaquin gave me an example where if I search under the drawer, but don't check the trapped drawer handle, I auto-fail and get no roll.
No, you gave me the example and insisted I answer you. I will find the quotes again if you keep pushing the idea that it was my example.


Morkus from Orkus
You give a lot of weight to PC competence, which is fine; but going overboard on this risks ignoring the fact that even the most competent person can and will mess up sometimes, particularly under duress. (with rare exceptions I generally assume adventurers in the field to be under constant duress simply due to all the inherent risks involved in the lifestyle)
Sure. If you roll low, you fail with all the risks that come with that failure.
Further, allowing "PC competence" to paper over a lack of player-side detail can (and IME probably would) quickly lead to a "I search the room. Roll is 15, plus 2 for skill." style of play, which - while admittedly fast and efficient at the table - sure isn't very exciting. :)
No, which is why if they do give details, they will often get bonuses or even auto-succeed. I encourage details, without forcing PC incompetence.


Personally I don't have a detailed picture of the trap mechanism in mind. I have only a brief note that there is a needle trap in the lock or a contact poison on the lid. It's up to the player how they wish to approach the chest and any even vaguely sensible approach will get an auto success. Only an obviously wrong and silly approach (picking the lock with a sandwich, licking the lid clean first) will get an auto fail. A wrong but still sensible approach (ie the knife in the drawer thing) will get the skill check as a last minute saving throw.

I am NOT looking to turn the trap into a real life puzzle the player has to solve, or catch the players out with a sneaky gotcha. I'm really just trying to prompt a line or two of descriptive text, with an autosuccess bonus if the player's guess matches the situation exactly. The 'knife in the drawer' issue is unlikely to come up simply because my trap prep is not that detailed.


Similarly I do ask players to describe their attack, and which weapon they are using, but not to catch them out or check up on their maths. I just want us all to share a brief image of what the character is doing in our minds.


Goblin Queen (She/Her/Hers)
Similarly I do ask players to describe their attack, and which weapon they are using, but not to catch them out or check up on their maths. I just want us all to share a brief image of what the character is doing in our minds.
I am fine with a player simply saying they “attack the [specific target] with their [Weapon they’re using],” and even those can sometimes be dropped; for example if there’s only one target they can reach, I don’t care if they specify it, and if they‘be been using their spear every turn so far and haven’t drawn another weapon, I don’t care if they say they use their spear or not. I welcome more descriptive detail, but I don’t require or really expect it. However, I do a bit of narration after each action in combat, and I take the target and weapon into account. I don’t say what the PC does (e.g. “you slip past his shield and slash him across the gut!” is a no-go for me), but rather narrate the results of the action (e.g. “he takes a sizable gash from your sword, leaving him bloodied!” would be fine).


Mod Squad
Staff member
Mod Note:
I see a lot of folks getting pretty edgy in here, and not a lot of changes in understanding. That's a recipe for the thread closing soon. Just FYI.


Last session, the party was confronted with a cavern below them filled with huge and lengthy protrusions of crystals. The fighter/rogue ex-sailor with the Athlete feat asked if he could climb it. I said "absolutely". Of course, the heavy-armored dwarven cleric is the one that fell into the cavern, trying to hang down and smash a crystal with his hammer. He had to make a number of Athletics checks to even reach the height where the party's rescue-rope was hanging down. (And he failed twice, once falling over 20'.)

(I wouldn't have made the fighter roll, given his background and his Athletics skill bonus. Sounds like a lot of people would have had him roll for "coolness" or "time taken"... or maybe looking for that "nat 1" craziness injection. Instead, I felt it highlighted the character's experience and skill to not require the roll. Note, though, that I would absolutely have narrated the event, to not deny him his "screen time".)


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?
Never. If the skill modifier is so high, that even when rolling a 1 success is certain, please just provide a few words to describe what was done and move on, No rolling. For me, that is the payoff for investing in the skill. I keep that same perspective as a GM.

Level Up!

An Advertisement