Dungeon World (DW) really got the idea of success with complications through my head. For those of you who haven’t played DW before the basic mechanic is you roll 2d6+modifier. A 6 or less is a miss/fail. A 10+ is a success. A 7-9 is a success with complications. This is where things can get really fun/interesting. Let’s say that the thief is sneaking into an orc stronghold. On a miss the thief is spotted and captured. On a 10+ the thief is in and no one is the wiser. So what happens on a 7-9?
Well first off we need to look at what the thief was trying to do.
- Enter in the stronghold
- Not be seen
Now there are all sorts of ways you can take this. I’ve seen some GMs give the player one of the things they wanted, but I’m not really happy with this. The thief getting in but being seen is a sorta fail. The thief not being seen but not getting in is boring and a sorta fail. So now what? Well there are plenty of things you could do that don’t stop the two objectives. Just off the top of my head you could:
- Have the thief leave evidence of his entrance.
- The thief has to duck into the orc out house to keep from being seen and the orcs are talking about having beans again tonight
- The thief knocks over a oil lamp and starts a fire (some players might look at this as a bonus)
- The thief has to think fast and in doing so loses a piece of equipment in the process
All of the above keep the two objectives successful. The thief got inside and is not seen. This makes the thief still a bad ass even though he got a 7-9. This idea can be added to just about any RPG. Some already have mechanics for partial success in them, like FATE, but others, like D&D, is more so pass/fail.
Last week I was running 13th Age (which plays a lot like D&D) and the book suggests that the DCs to hit at low levels are 10/15/20 for easy/medium/hard tasks. I decided to instead use that as a scale for success. If the player rolled a twelve, they would do what they want but I’d complicate the matter (PC finds monster they are hunting but got separated from group). On an eight the would be some very negative consequences based on the action (PC gets separated from group then jumped by monster). On a 16 they would succeed on what they wanted to accomplish (PC leads group to where monster is lurking) and on a 21 they would get an extra boon (PC and group gets the drop on the monster). Mind you if what they are trying to accomplish sounds super difficult/impossible I’ll adjust numbers on the fly, but generally you can get away with this scale for most actions.
This kind of GMing really helps the players to feel good about trying new things because even if they get screwed by the dice they can still accomplish what they want and make the story even more tense. This line of thinking can also be applied to full on failure, it’s called failing forward. Thief botches his sneak roll to get into the orc stronghold? Well he did everything right, but no one told him that the orcs have a wizard in their ranks and trapped the wall with wards. I’ll talk more about failing forward next time. Thanks for reading.