Resolution and Consequences

The DM determine the consequences of attack rolls, abilitychecks, and saving throws. In most cases, doing so is straightforward. When an attack hits, it deals damage. When a creature fails a saving throw, the creature suffers a harmful effect. When an ability check equals or exceeds the DC, the check succeeds. As a DM, you have a variety of flourishes and approaches you can take when adjudicating success and failure to make things a little less black-and-white.

Success at a Cost
Failure can be tough, but the agony is compounded when a character fails by the barest margin. When a character fails a roll by only 1 or 2, you can allow the character to succeed at the cost of a complication or hindrance. Such complications can run along any of the following lines:

  • A character manages to get her sword past a hobgoblin’s defenses and turn a near miss into a hit, but the hobgoblin twists its shield and disarms her.
  • A character narrowly escapes the full brunt of a fireball but ends up prone.
  • A character fails to intimidate a kobold prisoner, but the kobold reveals its secrets anyway while shrieking at the top of its lungs, alerting other nearby monsters.
  • A character manages to finish an arduous climb to the top of a cliff despite slipping, only to realize that the rope on which his companions dangle below him is close to breaking.

When you introduce costs such as these, try to make them obstacles and setbacks that change the nature of the adventuring situation. In exchange for success, players must consider new ways of facing the challenge. You can also use this technique when a character succeeds on a roll by hitting the DC exactly, complicating marginal success in interesting ways.

Degrees of Failure
Sometimes a failed ability check has different consequences depending on the degree of failure. For example, a character who fails to disarm a trapped chest might accidentally spring the trap if the check fails by 5 or more, whereas a lesser failure means that the trap wasn’t triggered during the botched disarm attempt. Consider adding similar distinctions to other checks. Perhaps a failed Charisma (Persuasion) check means a queen won’t help, whereas a failure of 5 or more means she throws you ir the dungeon for your impudence.

Critical Success or Failure
Rolling a 20 or a 1 on an ability check or a saving throw doesn’t normally have any special effect. However, you can choose to take such an exceptional roll into account when adjudicating the outcome. It’s up to you to determine how this manifests in the game. An easy approach is to increase the impact of the success or failure. For example, rolling a 1 on a failed attempt to pick a lock might break the thieves’ tools being used, and rolling a 20 on a successful Intelligence (Investigation) check might reveal an extra clue.

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Resolution and Consequences

The Blade of the Raven Queen Vargkrigare