Sly Flourish, one of my favorite gaming bloggers, tweeted the following today:
More specifically, if a player misses attacks three rounds in a row; what can the #dnd DM do to make their game more fun at that point onward?
— SlyFlourish (@SlyFlourish) November 19, 2017
The many replies seem to fit one of these three ideas:
- adjusting difficulty: fudge things on the fly, behind the GM screen
- breaking the rules: give their character bonus options and actions
- doing nothing at all: tell the players to get over it and be tougher
None of those answers felt satisfying to me.
- Adjusting difficulty on the fly feels like the wrong solution. It comes across as condescending or patronizing. From my experience, I hated it when the GM ignored a failure or backtracked the narrative on my behalf. I can’t really explain why I felt this way.
- Breaking the rules means more management and record-keeping of house rules. If a ruling was made for one player, then it should be for anyone else in the same situation, right? This could lead to inconsistencies and even perceived unfairness.
- Doing nothing at all and macho posturing about gamers getting “tougher” or more “macho” is completely ludicrous to me so I won’t even address it.
So how can we fix it?
Well, here are some ideas:
Bonus experience points on a failed dice roll
This is from Apocalypse World-derived games, such as Dungeon World. It softens the blow a lot! I’ve seen it first hand with many different groups. You could even be consistent about it: give them some base amount multiplied by their level. Example: 10 x level. So 10xp at level 1, 100 at level 10, etc…
Let them expend “effort”
This is from the Cypher System. Basically, after a failed dice roll, let the character spend some kind of in-game resource to nudge that failure into a success. This could be:
- A point of inspiration
- One or more hit dice
- Or a number of hit points equal to the difference (if the character failed their roll by 3, let them spend 3 hit points to succeed)
Each player gets their own “escalation” die
This is inspired by 13th Age. The idea is that each player gets a special d6 called an escalation die. When they fail a dice roll, they set their escalation die to “2” and places it on their character sheet. Their next dice roll gets a bonus of 2 to it.
If they fail their next dice roll too, then their escalation die goes up to 3, granting a bonus of +3 to their next dice roll.
For each successive failure, the die goes up, granting the bonus on its top face to the next roll. Up to a maximum of +6.
Once they actually succeed at a task, then their escalation die “resets” to 1 and gets removed from their character sheet.
Why not grant a bonus of +1? Because a 5% increase of chance is so minimal that I wouldn’t even bother. +2 is 10% and it “feels” more substantial.
So what do you think? Have you ever tried something like this? Do any of these options appeal to you?