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  1. - Top - End - #1
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    Greywander's Avatar

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    Default Failing with style

    TTRPGs can be really abstract sometimes. You try to do a thing, so you make a roll... and you fail. The thing is, your stats say you should be really good at that thing, so it creates a kind of dissonance between what your stats say and what actually happens in-game. In one story I heard about recently, the party needed to swim across a river, and everyone passed their check just fine, except for the guy with the really good swimming skill. Usually the end result is that, in that moment, the PC is laughably incompetent at that task. For some reason. And while this is fine if your game has a more comedic tone, it can get frustrating, especially if it keeps happening over and over again.

    So I was thinking about this, and realized that failing the roll only means that for some reason you are unable to complete the task. There should be a rather large narrative space within which this could be explained. One way of thinking about stats is that they demonstrate how well you can perform in a typical environment, when there aren't any extraneous circumstances. For example, for an "off-screen" check, you would just use an average result, assuming there were no complications in the task. Of course, adventuring is full of complications and extraneous circumstances, so perhaps instead of incompetence, the reason you failed the check is because something unexpected happened that made things a lot harder than they normally are.

    So, for example, when failing a swim check, instead of the supposedly experienced swimmer floundering in the water like an idiot, maybe a crocodile suddenly attacked the party. For bonus points, maybe it actually went for the party member with the weakest swimming ability, and it was only through the quick action of the experienced swimmer that they were saved and able to safely swim across the river. He didn't fail the swim check because he was incompetent, but rather because he had to wrestle a gosh dang crocodile. This doesn't need to have a mechanical effect, either; it can be pure fluff. This doesn't start combat against a crocodile, the PC just needs to make the swim check again and roll high enough this time, which means he's able to sufficiently beat up the crocodile and get to shore. Failing the check again means the crocodile is putting up a serious fight, and he might need some help or be at risk of drowning. Some game systems have a mechanic whereby an ally can assist you on a skill check, which could be fluffed as taking pot shots at the crocodile with a bow or throwing rocks.

    Point is, if someone who should be competent at a task rolls poorly and fails, it shouldn't necessarily be because of a lapse in their competence, but rather it could be because of an unexpected complication that occurs. Rather than feeling frustrated, the player should feel like their character is pretty awesome for being able to handle such a challenge, such as having to wrestle a crocodile in the middle of a river. Even if they can't repeat the check until they succeed, if they fail then it's because things got much worse than they expected, and yet they still managed to extricate themselves from such a difficult situation (because they are very competent, and a lesser person would have done much poorer).

    It could be interesting to allow a PC to come up with a reason for why their character fails a task. Or maybe allow the players to take turns explaining why another PC fails at something. Being nice to a fellow player by making their failure more awesome will encourage that player to be nice to you back. It also gives some freedom for the players to be as comedic or epic as they want, and takes some of the burden off of the DM/GM.

    This isn't just for making the PCs more awesome, either; it can be used for NPCs as well. Did the normally super accurate archer PC miss a shot? Well, instead of it being because their aim was off (which is lame), maybe their aim was perfect, but the orc they were shooting at spun around at that exact moment and split the arrow in half with their axe. Sometimes villains get to be awesome, too, and it makes it that much more epic when the players do manage to defeat them.

  2. - Top - End - #2
    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    BlackDragon

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    Default Re: Failing with style

    Quote Originally Posted by Greywander
    TTRPGs can be really abstract sometimes. You try to do a thing, so you make a roll... and you fail. The thing is, your stats say you should be really good at that thing, so it creates a kind of dissonance between what your stats say and what actually happens in-game.

    It could be interesting to allow a PC to come up with a reason for why their character fails a task. Or maybe allow the players to take turns explaining why another PC fails at something. Being nice to a fellow player by making their failure more awesome will encourage that player to be nice to you back. It also gives some freedom for the players to be as comedic or epic as they want, and takes some of the burden off of the DM/GM.

    Sometimes villains get to be awesome, too, and it makes it that much more epic when the players do manage to defeat them.
    Greetings !!

    I really liked this.

    I agree with (and try to encourage) my players to do the "helpful description" for others, especially if they are having trouble with Unlucky Dice. I love seeing people doing this.

    To me: Without cool Villains and "powerful" Monsters, being a Hero is harder to achieve. Sure, being the kind hearted traveling Missionary all your life can (eventually) cause people to think of the PC as a hero, but that's the Path of the NPC.

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    When the PC with the lowest possible total to a Skill (1) out-rolls the Expert (2) in it.

    (Like in 5e D&D, when the DC isn't supposed to exceed 20: Proficiency and Expertise plus 5 Ability is 17 and still has a 10% chance failure, and a Natural 20 almost always succeeds)

    In this case, I have Player 1 do thier best to explain how their Character did the Skill, while letting Player 2 come up with In Character reasons/excuses for why they didn't do so well.
    (I'm going to try and use your Crocodile Idea)

    I'll toss in Suggestions if they are having trouble. Like: maybe the Expert didn't sound Convincing when telling the information from a Knowledge Skill; or went into too much Detail; or over explained the subject?

    I'll ask leading Questions:
    "How the heck is the Wizard (with 8 Str) untrained in any Physical Skill somehow able to outdo the Expert in Acrobatics (or the 20 Str Martial at Athletics)?"

    Some of the answers I get are hilarious.

    I also don't exclude PCs from any of the D&D Play Pillars:

    I want Fighters without Persuasion talking to Royalty.

    I'll give them a bonus with other Martials, and if they have the Soldier Background - they get Advantage with Military type NPCs. Same for PCs with the Sailor Background with Navel people.

    I want Noble Paladins engaging with "Regular people" or (gasp) Criminal types.

    And so forth.

    Makes things a lot more interesting, and allows Players to use their background for more than a couple of extra skills.


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  3. - Top - End - #3
    Ogre in the Playground
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    Default Re: Failing with style

    Quote Originally Posted by Greywander View Post
    TTRPGs can be really abstract sometimes. You try to do a thing, so you make a roll... and you fail. The thing is, your stats say you should be really good at that thing, so it creates a kind of dissonance between what your stats say and what actually happens in-game. In one story I heard about recently, the party needed to swim across a river, and everyone passed their check just fine, except for the guy with the really good swimming skill. Usually the end result is that, in that moment, the PC is laughably incompetent at that task. For some reason. And while this is fine if your game has a more comedic tone, it can get frustrating, especially if it keeps happening over and over again.
    I don't think that is neccessarily a dissonance between character ability and rules-adjucated results.
    Other possibilities are:
    - wrong check: swimming across the river is not the DC 25 swim check the DM called for
    - disconnect between what you thought the task was and what the task acutally was: the task wasn't swiming across a small slow-moving river; instead the river was deep, fast-moving and treacherous. That's why the check had the high DC in the first place.
    - mistreating what "success" and "failure" mean: succeeding at a check does not mean "succeeding without any difficulty", and failing does not mean "not even getting close to succeeding"
    - making sure you actually use the options provided by the ruleset (the of course depends on the system you are using): for instance in D&D 3.5 there is the "take 10" rule. Knowing when to roll and when to take 10 will count for many situations you charakter "should" not fail the check.
    - disconnect between your understanding of the numbers on the character sheet and their actual implication: you think your character is good at something but by the way the game works the character is actually not. For instance: a 3.5 character has +10 on Open Locks and +10 on Hide. Would you say this character is "good" in opening locks and hiding? Would you say that the character is equally good at opening locks and hiding? You would be wrong on both accounts. Open Lock +10 is quite good (allowing you to open "good locks" given time), while Hide +10 is rather mediocre. In any case, understanding how the game works in necessary to make sense out of the numbers on the character sheet.

    If you start to take these points into account many instances of character skill / rules result disconnects disappear

  4. - Top - End - #4
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    Psyren's Avatar

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    Default Re: Failing with style

    Quote Originally Posted by Greywander View Post
    TTRPGs can be really abstract sometimes. You try to do a thing, so you make a roll... and you fail. The thing is, your stats say you should be really good at that thing, so it creates a kind of dissonance between what your stats say and what actually happens in-game. In one story I heard about recently, the party needed to swim across a river, and everyone passed their check just fine, except for the guy with the really good swimming skill. Usually the end result is that, in that moment, the PC is laughably incompetent at that task. For some reason. And while this is fine if your game has a more comedic tone, it can get frustrating, especially if it keeps happening over and over again.
    If your PC is really good at a thing and there are no extenuating circumstances, you always have the option of not rolling at all. This is codified into 5e, and true even in games like 3e/PF that have static DCs. For me, if the failure chance is rolling a 1 or 2, I don't bother.

    Quote Originally Posted by Greywander View Post
    Point is, if someone who should be competent at a task rolls poorly and fails, it shouldn't necessarily be because of a lapse in their competence, but rather it could be because of an unexpected complication that occurs. Rather than feeling frustrated, the player should feel like their character is pretty awesome for being able to handle such a challenge, such as having to wrestle a crocodile in the middle of a river. Even if they can't repeat the check until they succeed, if they fail then it's because things got much worse than they expected, and yet they still managed to extricate themselves from such a difficult situation (because they are very competent, and a lesser person would have done much poorer).
    See above, but also - the roll represents two things:

    1) A range in effectiveness (having a high modifier means that your floor for a given check is higher than most, but you still don't perform a task - like swim - in exactly the same way every time.

    2) Luck plays a role as well. You don't need a magic crocodile to pop up necessarily, it can be something as simple as an underwater vine snagging a limb, swallowing/breathing in some water due to an unexpected eddy, a sudden bit of sediment getting in your eye, pulling a muscle slightly etc. All of those are things that can happen even to experienced swimmers.

    Quote Originally Posted by The Giant View Post
    But really, the important lesson here is this: Rather than making assumptions that don't fit with the text and then complaining about the text being wrong, why not just choose different assumptions that DO fit with the text?
    Quote Originally Posted by gogogome View Post
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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
    DruidGirl

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    Default Re: Failing with style

    In most cases, a character failing at something they should not logically be able to fail at is likely due to bad DMing, i.e. demanding the dice be rolled even though the task is easy.

    If you don't have an entertaining and plausible way of explaining a failure, (and actually don't want the task to take up much time) don't demand a skill check from the characters who should be able to do it without problem.

    And the rest of the time, well, the dice are there to add the element of luck.

    The river scene, you don't need a crocodile (which the party would need to fight) or a party member in need of help (which implies the character would decide to help, and I don't think the DM should decide that).

    Just "Fortunately, our weaker party members manage, by chance, to avoid the treacherous waterlily vines, but the expert swimmer is caught in one, and only her expertise in swimming saves her life" would be sufficient.


    I have had DMs explain social skill fails by saying something along the lines of "You say something horribly offensive", which, in a character who has a very high skill, is rather silly. (And also involves the DM playing the player character, which is something I despise)

    So, a better approach would be: "The bard smoothly hits on the barmaid, and she is flattered, but rejects him because he just isn't her type." And if the party member who "shouldn't succeed", does: "The socially inept wizard of the party also tries his luck, and she finds his clumsy attempt at flirting totally endearing."

    Or, with diplomacy: "Your argument is perfectly made and would surely convince the king. But, whooops, he is old and hard of hearing and misunderstands something you said for something offensive." Unlikely party member succeeds: "The barbarian warrior notices the problem and yells the word you actually said, thus solving the problem."


    So, plain bad luck that could happen to anyone rather than "Your character for some reason forgot all they have learnt and did something completely stupid (and you don't get to decide what)"

    The DM plays the NPCs and environment, so if the DM decides how the failure looks, it should be due to NPCs and/or environment.

  6. - Top - End - #6
    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    NecromancerGuy

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    Default Re: Failing with style

    Quote Originally Posted by Themrys View Post
    In most cases, a character failing at something they should not logically be able to fail at is likely due to bad DMing, i.e. demanding the dice be rolled even though the task is easy.
    I would like to add that the problem could also be a very swingy system, e. g. one where the result of the dice is much more important than the stats. It helps to you use a bell curve system (e. g. 3d6 instead of d20).
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    Telok's Avatar

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    Default Re: Failing with style

    Most of the time I've seen this happen is with DMs who don't have a good grasp of probabilities, are following an official module/adventure, and aren't prepared for characters trying things beyond combat and the simplest checks.

    Without information about probabilities and the expected success rate of PC actions DMs tend to follow any charts provided in the books. If those charts have details calibrated to the game and a variety of situations that can work ok. More often its a "DC by level" chart or something without real guidelines. Then the DM just tends to take the suggested or average number and the PCs end up only succeeding 50% or less.

    Official modules just always seem to have a "WTF?" every few pages. Although since I don't run those they're always the ones that someone else bought, and they always seem to be the bad ones. I don't have any answers on that one.
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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
    RangerGuy

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    Default Re: Failing with style

    One solution that I use for botches is to give the player a metagame benefit for describing how they screwed up. This give the player a benefit for later use, gives them a bit more narrative control, and usually the player hurts their character worse than anything you would come up with - often with a built in reason for the screw up.
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  9. - Top - End - #9
    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Failing with style

    In Japanese there is a saying “saru mo ki kara ochiru”, which translates as “even monkeys fall from trees”.

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    Troll in the Playground
     
    OldWizardGuy

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    Default Re: Failing with style

    This is default advice in Fate.

    Also, don't roll if there's not a reasonable (and interesting!) chance of failure. Crossing a reasonably calm river and know how to swim? Just do it - no roll required. Chasing someone, and need to see if you're fast enough to catch up to them? That's the time to roll. Or if the river is dangerous, etc.
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    Default Re: Failing with style

    Some notes from how I play:
    If a player has a high enough score, or high enough skill in a check, they don't have to roll. They automatically succeed, and...

    A play may always choose to fail. They may also choose to roll, and then decide they failed anyway. Why? To give them control over the scene.

    Fail forward is a thing. Many times checks are made out to be practically a SoD. Fail to swim? You're drowning. Fail to climb? You're falling. Fail a handle animal? It wants to kill you. Short of choosing to fail or missing by a mile, rolling a 14 on a DC 15 check doesn't (to me) mean abject failure in a task. You're swimming, but badly. You're climbing, but your grip is shaky. You're petting the cat the wrong way. These are things you can correct. I like to use 5E's "3 failures before 3 successes" with almost any check. If you succeed the first time, you're good. Fail? Get a second chance. Fail again? Third time's the charm. Fail three times in a row, okay now you're really boned.
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  12. - Top - End - #12
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    SamuraiGuy

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    Default Re: Failing with style

    If you don't want them to fail don't let the roll.

    Rolling leads either to success or failure and if you are not ready for that then don't roll.

    Often I just ask if a PC has the skill and if he has then the scene plays out accordingly. I don't require the player to roll savoire faire when dealing with the nobility in his homeland, that roll I reserve for when he is in a culture he's not familiar with.

    If the rogue type has a good streetwise skill and needs to find a fence to sell some goods I just tell him he finds a fence, that's why the player invested points in the skill.

    I remember this GM who made us roll to get on our horses..... Ugh
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  13. - Top - End - #13
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Flumph

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    Default Re: Failing with style

    The better idea is to just not use RNG when a character has all the skills, resources, and time needed to succeed. That is to say, when you are certain of the outcome, and any other would be nonsensical or violate immersion.

    Basically, you already know what the outcome should be (i.e. the expert swimmer should always cross the river without incident), so random numbers are not needed to decide it. Just have the outcome unfold and move on.
    Last edited by Slipperychicken; 2019-09-25 at 07:18 PM.

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