Saturday, November 7, 2015

Rerolling for Success

How one handles additional attempts to succeed with a skill affect the feel of the game. Note that here I am not talking about combat skills. Combat in most RPGs is intended to be pretty variable or swingy for any one roll, relying on the multiple rolls of the combat to even out the variability. Multiple rolls creates a non-linear normalesque distribution.

When the roll is for something like climbing the outside of a tower or picking a lock most systems don't approach determining success like combat, instead success is determined by one or at most a small number of die rolls. This frequently results in players rerolling in the event of initial failure. THe rerolling may be done by the same player/character or may be attempted by a different player/character. But in either case, the allowing rerolling without any limit means that succeeding at any task is merely a matter of making a sufficient number of die rolls so that the laws of probability eventually result in a successful roll.

Typically I have limited this by adjusting the chance of success. This may be done by applying a penalty, possibly a cumulative penalty to rerolls. Another method for dealing with multiple characters attempting the same skill, is to require that successive attempts must be better than the roll of the best failed attempt. The goal here is to allow characters with a higher skill to attempt the task that a lower skilled character has failed at, while still making additional attempts more difficult. I haven't found any of these methods to be satisfactory.

The blog Explore Beneath & Beyond suggests a different approach that I think might work for my Honor+Intrigue game. First I'll quote from the post. Afterwards I'll comment on what I like and what I think this will do.

No Successes: Complete failure. No retry. Possibly a bad consequence.

1 Success: Failure. Can retry.

2 Successes: Succeed.

3 Successes: Complete success. You completed it quickly and with panache. No more rolls needed for this skill today until you face a more difficult task.

Three Rolls are Better than One
It is true that if we’re rolling in non-stress situations then it should add interest to the game.

By rolling three times, you get a build up to the final result – a building sense of dread up to the third roll where you know you have to succeed or you fall.


If you get a complete failure you cannot retry until you improve the skill.

If you get a failure you can retry, but it takes 10 times as long (1 rnd=>1 min=>10 min=>2 hrs=>all day). You can retry tomorrow but starting threshold is 10 times as long (up to max of 10 min).

My comments.

Three Rolls: By using multiple rolls we get a non-linear distribution. This will decrease the variability between outcomes for a single character and between characters. For a lot of non-combat skills I don't really want a low skilled character to often succeed when a high skilled character has failed. This is similar to what I did for the Brussels Shooting Tournament that I ran for the PCs. I liked the way that worked and this should behave similarly.

Retries: This is where I see a large benefit for H+I. By increasing the time required we limit the number of attempts without needing to make the difficulty higher. It isn't that the lock is becoming more difficult to pick, it's just that you ran out of time. I think this is better ontologically and it also better fits the dramatic tropes of the swashbuckling genre that H+I is based on. It isn't that you couldn't pick the lock on the treasure room, it is that you ran out of time and the guards spotted you.

In addition, by increasing the time for successive attempts, there is an incentive for the players to save time by having the character with the highest skill make the first attempt.  While ontologically there isn't a good reason why M. Low Skill failing at the task increases the time required for Mlle High Skill attempting the task, the metagame benefits are sufficient for me to ignore the ontology,i.e. to give the lack of causation a pass.

I'll try this method out next time we play.

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