I’m still working on the next segments running through skills. In the interim I thought I would take a brief detour to look at degrees of success and failure. This idea has been bouncing through my head for a while. With D&D 4e and the advent of skill challenges, success and failure can be sort of bland. I have thrown together a very basic rubric for adding a little flair to the binary system.
The core concept is five separate degrees of failure and success, in descending order: Success And,A Success, Success But, Failure, and Failure And. The raw binary, Success and Failure still remain but sometimes it is important to know the relative success and failure. Personally for me it is the 4e Bard. I often refer to the bard as “Captain Social”. When there’s a bard in the party it can be frustrating from a DM perspective as DC checks can be laughably bested. A first level bard can easily obtain a +10 to most social interaction skills. With easy DC 12 checks a bard has a 95% chance of success. Short of rolling a natural one, making crude gestures, and talking about what he did to the NPC’s mom last night it’s guaranteed he will succeed. A bard, mechanically, can turn commoners into a crowd of drooling, slack-jawed morons at level one with his gilded tongue. So you can jack up the social DC checks, making all other players in the party obsolete. The level one fighter with a 10 Charisma score only has a 45% chance of success on a DC 12 as it is. To use the rubric the GM needs to have a DC set. For this example I assume DC 15.
30+: Success And*
16 – 30: Success
15: Success But
8 – 14: Failure
7 or less: Failure And*
*Additionally a Natural 1 is always a “Failure And”, Natural 20 is always a “Success And”
As you might have noticed this rubric’s mechanics can be changed for any system. Success And is twice the DC/CR/TN. Success comprises results between Success And and Success But. Success But is the DC/CR/TN. Failure are results between Success But and Failure And. Failure And is half the DC/CR/TN.
What the results mean:
Success And: The character gets what he is attempting to get plus something extra. Usually this will be a boon. A rogue disarming a trap in a dungeon can disarm the trap and learn some of the design principals to make disarming future traps in the current dungeon easier. Conversely this can be also overconfidence. The same rogue may later pull on the red wire (because all the previous traps were disarmed with the red wire) only to set the trap off. It allows a DM to re-invite some danger and suspense to the proceedings when things have that “this feels too easy” vibe. It may also result later in NPCs refusing to deal with the bard for fear of the infamous silver tongue. You can treat him as the car salesman people want to avoid dealing with.
Success: Things went as planned, no more no less.
Success But: For most social interactions the character needs to “sweeten the deal”. The NPC(s) might need a bribe, some collateral, the party to provide a small service, or the PC gets most of what he wants but not everything. A thief may disarm a hallway lined with poison dart traps, but one is still working and takes a pot shot at one of the party when they pass by. If you end up liking this grey area you can expand the singular result number. It is a great way to add tension or spin the party off on a side quest.
Failure: Straightforward. For many challenges a simple failure holds te status quo, the situation is no worse, no better.
Failure And: The bard does reminiscent out loud about last night with the NPC’s mother. Things devolved, in a none too graceful manner. Short of a physical fight social situations may resolve with an NPC refusing to aid a PC, general slander and a wound to their reputation. A silver lining does exist though, NPCs who don’t like the person may be more open and friendly to the PCs. Failure And may constitute setting off a trap and alerting nearby enemies. If particularly sadistic the thief may be knocked unconscious and needs to make a saving throw to wake up.
Adding dynamic degrees of success and failure will help everyone stay immersed in the game. It will also keep players from the impression they wasted a crit on a skill check. This rubric is simple enough to keep in mind for a DM or to quickly scribble down what double and half the DC is during prep.
As a final note don’t be afraid to test this in combat. The success and failure degrees are particularly interesting for grappling, combat maneuvers, and attacks of opportunity. You can also pair it with critical hit and critical miss accessories to make combats particularly messy.