D&D 5E You Roll Low, Nothing Happens. Can this/should this be changed?

Brute

First Post
Recently I was playing in a group with two brand new players. A couple of times during the session one of the players rolled low and missed during a combat. She asked me later why the game was set up that way (she's played a few boardgames, but nothing like D&D). I guess I didn't have a good answer for her. I've done some reading on the subject since, looking at how different games handle "failure" and I wondered what approaches/thoughts you guys had.

So - what should happen when a player rolls low? In combat and out of combat?

PS - I tend to run groups of 3-5 players, we have a quick pace and it doesn't take long to get around the table in initiative order. We do narrate misses just as we narrate hits, but mechanically a low roll is often a "null" effect in combat. Out of combat failing a roll rarely has a "null effect", I use "let it ride" from Burning Wheel (in which a player makes say one stealth roll to infiltrate a keep rather than multiple as they approach) and never ask for a roll that doesn't have an interesting result for failure - but in combat that's not so easy in D&D.

Cheers!
 

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BoldItalic

First Post
You could narrate misses to add excitement, if that's what your players would prefer.

"Your sword notches the goblin's shield but it just laughs"
"Your blow staggers the orc for a moment but it recovers with a snarl"
"The kobold ducks under your sword and kicks you in the shins, squeaking 'Bur zad!', which is something rude in Kobold"

They are all misses, just more fun. You can even roll dice behind the screen to make it seem as if you are reading them from a table and it's all part of the game mechanics. In other words, something does happen on a miss, it just doesn't involve hit points being deducted.
 
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Brute

First Post
You could narrate misses to add excitement, if that's what your players would prefer.

"Your sword notches the goblin's shield but it just laughs"
"Your blow staggers the orc for a moment but it recovers with a snarl"
"The kobold ducks under your sword and kicks you in the shins, squeaking 'Bur zad!', which is something rude in Kobold"

They are all misses, just more fun. You can even roll dice behind the screen to make it seem as if you are reading them from a table and it's all part of the game mechanics. In other words, something does happen on a miss, it just doesn't involve hit points being deducted.
As I mentioned, we absolutely do narrate misses as we do hits, and often the miss descriptions can be quite entertaining. The problem is that nothing actually occurs mechanically (the enemy loses HP or takes on a status affect) and crucially, nothing interesting can really happen narratively (unlike say, with the optional Fumble roll in which case something big can happen). Simply put, a low roll out of combat can often be interesting (Player rolls Thievery, gets a modified 5 ("Alas! Nicodemus finally manages to pick the lock and open the safe but the patrol has returned and are almost upon him!) but if the player had rolled higher than the lock would have been picked faster) whereas a low roll in combat is, aside from a brief narrative description, simply less interesting.

I think I've got an ok handle on low rolls in the "exploration" area of the game, but I'm having difficulty with low rolls in combat. Thoughts?
 


Leatherhead

Possibly a Idiot.
Damage on a miss is kind of a hot topic. Some classes, monsters, and abilities depend on missing being 0 damage, just to extend survivability to a reasonable level.

You would need to rework the system extensively to make it work. But if you are going for incremental success, why not go whole-hog with it and adjust damage to match how well you connected?

Personally though, I am OK with a "simple failure" state for combat, not everything needs to advance you or blow up in your face when you try it.
 

Paraxis

Explorer
To me it is just how D&D does it and I am cool with that.

Some options you might want to think about that come to mind though.
1. Damage on a miss, you do X amount of damage even with a miss or a miss by 5 or less. If this envolves a roll all the better people like to roll dice so even a d4 might be enough.
2. Give your monsters/npcs special reaction based abilities that trigger on a missed attack, try to make it match the flavor of the creature. It can only use one reaction per round but it is something.
3. I am not a fan of fumbles, but recently came up with a house rule where if you roll a natural 1 you may choose to reroll the die if you want, a success on the second roll is great and works just like normal, a failure on the second roll is a fumble and those are bad they change the situation in a negative way (weapon breakage, damage to yourself, damage to cover granting allies, grant enemies advantage on attacks against you) that kind of thing.
4. Sad to say but look into a different system, there are more story driven narrativist games out there like Dungeon World, where this is built into the system. A roll always does something to the story and moves it forward, but in that game the DM never really rolls any dice, the players get attacked when they fail in their own attacks for example. There is a free SRD available online for the game. Not my cup of tea, but if story is the most important thing to your group Dungeon World just might be right for you.
 

delericho

Legend
So - what should happen when a player rolls low?

In combat...

In combat, it's probably best if a low roll is indeed just a 'null' event. You're making lots of rolls in quick succession, so probably just as well to move on to the next event.

and out of combat?

Out of combat, I would generally recommend having some consequence for both success and failure - even if the consequence of failure is simply that you can't try again. (Though it's generally better if it's a bit more than that.)

The reason being that you're making relatively few rolls, so each one can be considered a bit more of an event, and thus redirect the story - success means you proceed down the 'A' path (which is interesting), while failure instead takes you down the 'B' path (which is also interesting, just different).
 

Uchawi

First Post
It is just like a board game where you lose a turn, land on a square that does nothing, etc.? I believe the discussion should be what can the character do the next time to increase the odds, or help the group. Even if you miss, the proper placement of the character can influence the battle, or roleplaying opportunities still exist. But the player must do something more then just roll dice. That is where a RPG is different from a board game.
 

Ruzak

First Post
What if you let a character do something else on a miss, such as move or take some sort of defensive action? A lesser, but still useful, alternative to hitting.
 

ad_hoc

(they/them)
How much tension is there during combat? How many encounters advance the plot and how many are just there to eat up resources?

The miss should ideally be associated with getting hurt more. The player should feel that they need to hit or it's going to hurt when the creature gets its turn.

Do the players feel that they are going to win the combat no matter what? If so, there won't be tension so a miss isn't a potential failure, it is just delaying the game. Just like an ability check that doesn't have a consequence.

Just some ideas to think about.
 

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