RPGBOT.Podcast S2E47 banner - Success

Success – RPGBOT.Podcast S2E47

Show Notes

In this episode of the RPGBOT.Podcast, we discuss dice mechanics and representations of success across RPGs. We look at simple systems like DnD’s d20 system, dice pool systems, and more elaborate systems like Fantasy Flight’s Star Wars RPG.

Materials Referenced in this Episode

Image by Tumisu from Pixabay.


Ash Ely  00:00

The dice hit the table with more weight than they should and they roll well, too well. I narrow my eyes as my opponent scoops up their winnings, but I hold my tongue and gesture for them to roll again. A suspicious thud precedes another winning role. My patience wears thin. This description is I Spot Cheating during a Dice Game a scene from dScryb. dScryb, describe your world, go to dScryb.com/rpgbot and use coupon code RPGBOT5 for $5 off your first payment.

Randall James  00:55

Welcome to the RPGBOT Podcast. I’m Randall James. You’re deceiving dice roller and with me is Tyler Kamstra.

Tyler Kamstra  01:02

Hi, everybody.

Randall James  01:03

And Ash Ely.

Ash Ely  01:04

Hey, guys.

Randall James  01:05

All right, Tyler, what’s happening?

Tyler Kamstra  01:06

Today we’re going to talk about success. And not by cheating at dice rolls. We are going to talk about success. We spoke about failure on a previous episode with Colby from crit fails podcast, which is also where we met Ash. So we’re going to talk about success and dice mechanics in tabletop RPGs. Like, what does success mean? How do you do it? How do different systems handle it? And what do other systems or what do various tabletop RPG systems do to make success interesting, often beyond just the binary of success and failure?

Randall James  01:42

Yeah, I think for folks who have spent most of their time in five E. Like, folks are used to this idea of binary success. Either I succeeded, or I didn’t if there was a dot, you know, there was a skill check, there was a DC that I needed to hit. Either I did or I didn’t ensure we can reverse this by saying, Well, you know, it’s an attack, or it’s saving throw, so who rolls changes. But I think we’re really missing an opportunity to appreciate the wide world of degrees of success. Because so many things in real life are not binary like you don’t, you don’t either win or lose. Like sometimes you absolutely get stomped on the ground. Sometimes you’re the person doing the stomping. And so I’m actually really excited to talk about this because I think a lot of these concepts, if we liked them, we can occasionally bring them into other games that we’re playing.

Ash Ely  02:25


Tyler Kamstra  02:26

Yeah, absolutely.

Ash Ely  02:27

There are different systems that use degrees of success or succeed at a cost and stuff like that. And I think those can be more interesting than just binary.

Tyler Kamstra  02:37

So let’s talk about what we mean by binary success first. So systems that use binary success, D&D, famously Mork Borg, basically binary successes, you roll, and you either pass, or you fail. And what is interesting about that resolution is you want to succeed, you do not want to fail, and the consequences are just failure if you fail, and the benefit is just success if you succeed. So if I attempt to unlock a door, I either succeed or fail at unlocking that door. And that is all. Typically you will roll versus a target number. And if you meet or exceed that target number, you will succeed. This is pretty common in a lot of systems, because it is very simple. D&D uses binary success, because it is a simple resolution system. Like you had faco in second edition, which was a mathematical nightmare. Very unapproachable, very difficult to use. And then third edition said just D 20. Add modifier. Roll high, you’re good. Very simple, very accessible. Cons, it’s kind of boring.

Randall James  03:48

And it doesn’t leave like a lot of opportunities. So we’re all used to the idea of like, you know, I have my save or suck spells. I have this like, Okay, I’m gonna do my half damage. So that I’m not wasting this gigantic spell slot on something that potentially can just completely fail.

Ash Ely  04:04

Yeah, exactly.

Randall James  04:06

But other systems give us degrees of success.

Tyler Kamstra  04:10

Yeah, so degrees of success are a thing in various systems. I’ve never seen two systems do them the exact same way, which isn’t to say that, that doesn’t happen. I just don’t know of two systems that use the same mechanism. So a degree of success is beyond just I have succeeded, or I have failed. There’s a linear, how much. Pathfinder second edition was probably a very simple version of degrees of success. You have critical success, success, failure, critical failure.

Randall James  04:42

Right, and so just those four distinct possibilities and several features, several abilities will explicitly call out like what is going to happen if you get a crit success, and it’s usually put in terms of success, and also, this awesome thing. Same thing for failure. It’s like Okay, on failure if this happens on critical failure, it gets worse.

Tyler Kamstra  05:03


Ash Ely  05:04

Yeah. So while not every system I think uses degrees of success in the same way, they tend to have similar kinds of ways of approaching the most common that I’ve seen are those four different types. There’s like, really great success. There’s just success, then there’s failed, but not too bad. And then you really, you really messed up. And I feel like the best way to describe it as like, a sick, the crit crit success is you just flat out succeed. A one level below that is you succeed, but bad thing happened. And then below that, you fail, but not all bad. And then the last one is you just fail. That’s a really inelegant way of putting it. But the basic concept.

Tyler Kamstra  05:53

Yeah. So the trades here, with compared to binary success, failure is that degrees of success are more complicated. And they require you to do more math than that simple, like, which of these numbers is bigger operation, like humans are very, very good at which of these numbers is bigger? Most people are very bad at subtraction. So like, you’re playing Pathfinder, first edition, you roll a 23 against a dc of 11. How many? Like did I succeed? Did I critically succeed like that, that one’s pretty easy, but the number scale and Pathfinder can get super high. So it’s like, okay, I rolled the 47. The DC is 29. Like, where did I roll enough to critically succeed? A lot of people just use a calculator, and that’s perfectly fine. But it does take more effort.

Randall James  06:43

I want to pause for a second so in Pathfinder to crit successes Did you roll plus 10 above the the DC that you needed to hit? Crit failures? Were you minus 10? There’s some modification of this, and we’ll talk about that in a second. A Pathfinder one What was it?

Tyler Kamstra  06:56

It was just binary success failure, just like D&D third edition and beyond.

Randall James  07:01

Okay, okay. Gotcha.

Ash Ely  07:02

Yeah. Yeah. And then I think, so when you’re talking about degrees of success, the kinds of degrees of success that I think are most effective, are those kinds of ones like Pathfinder 2e where you succeed by a numerical amount, not just like what you wrote on the die. Because I think when you succeed a check by like 20. And it’s the same result as if you rolled like five above it. That doesn’t feel good. It feels like, Well, then why did I put so much effort into this? If it’s just, you know, I do as much success as the guy who’s not trained in it just because he rolled really well. And I think that the systems like Pathfinder 2 Power by the Apocalypse does something like this as well. Where there’s, there’s different degrees of success based on how high your modifier is and how high above the target roll that you rolled, which I think that’s a good way of approaching it.

Tyler Kamstra  08:02

Yeah, and… Of course, that’s not to say that degrees of success is somehow magically a perfect system, I have seen some RPGs do it super badly, like first edition Dark Heresy. It was a D 100 based resolution systems, you would roll a d 100. Every time you do something, you roll it against your your character of relevance stat, plus modifiers. And then subtracted so like, my character has a weapon skill of 23, I rolled like a 72. I clearly failed, but by how much. And like, you have to subtract that and like no matter how far away you are from the number, you still have to figure out how far away you got it from that your target number to figure out your degrees of success or degrees of failure. Even worse, if you were within 10 It was zero degrees of success or failure, which wasn’t super clear and a lot of people got wrong. And like they had multiple RPGs in the same core ruleset they had dark heresy. They had Rogue trader and then Deathwatch which was you play Space Marines. And in Deathwatch, they changed the math so like that zero to 10 was one degree of success and like that wasn’t made super obvious so when you change systems and you’re like why do all the degrees of success feel wrong?

Randall James  09:28

Wait okay? So zeros zero degrees of success in other words, like it’s a neutral result, or like your flatline successful?

Tyler Kamstra  09:35

If flatline successful and then like additional degrees of success could get you additional thing so like if you fired on automatic weapon, more degrees of success would get you more hits on the target.

Randall James  09:46


Tyler Kamstra  09:46

So you’re like your best case scenario was like I’m gonna get really close to someone with a gun and then shoot them with an automatic weapon and hit them a whole bunch of times because it’s, it’s Warhammer. Everyone dies very easily. So yeah, you go for broke. But the…

Randall James  10:02

Meanwhile you’re sitting there with an abacus, like sliding the beads over is like wait, just give me a second. I’m almost there.

Ash Ely  10:08

My head hurts.

Tyler Kamstra  10:10

Yeah, so that wasn’t a super great interpretation of like the degrees of success. Yeah, it wasn’t a super great interpretation of the degrees of success mechanic. And a lot of times the, the benefits quote unquote, of greatly succeeding were actually huge pain, like dark heresy had really elaborate critical wound tables. Like if you drop something below zero hit points, it wouldn’t die, you would like do a thing on the critical injury table. And depending on how far they were down the track, different things would happen. Like a lot of the critical wound things were very flashy and spectacular and exciting, but they could also hurt you. So like, I shoot a guy with a laser weapon, I get a bunch of degrees of success. So he takes a bunch of bonus damage, falls way down the critical hit chart, and gets the one where the person’s entire body catches on fire. They run in a random direction. They ran towards me, and everyone that they walk past takes fire damage, I have now taken a critical injury. I am now on fire and do the same thing. And like my entire entire party is now dead because I succeeded so well.

Ash Ely  11:21

I hate that. I hate that so much.

Tyler Kamstra  11:23


Randall James  11:24

That sounds great. Like what are you talking about? Because that’s how it would go like in the immediate moment that that person catches fire. You’re like, I have one I have succeeded. And then the body starts coming towards you. And you’re like, Oh, no.

Tyler Kamstra  11:38


Ash Ely  11:39

Let me rephrase. It’s good from a comical standpoint. Oh, no.

Tyler Kamstra  11:45

Yeah, dark heresy was a it was a game of Warhammer. It was a game. The Warhammer 40k universe is very exciting to inhabit and play in. And every game of dark heresy I’ve ever run has been a huge amount of fun. But the mechanics have some very sharp edges. One of them is the core resolution system, which is not a ringing endorsement of an RPG. I never read a dark heresy second edition. But boy, I hope it was better.

Randall James  12:16

We’re just going to do d20s. That was the conclusion we came to.

Ash Ely  12:20

So there’s also a special type of success that I’ve really only seen so far in one game. It’s what I would describe as choosing to succeed, which is Vampire the Masquerade. So in vampire, when you fail a check, they use D 10s. For those who aren’t aware, but if you fail a check, you can, the DM will allow you to succeed, but at a cost. So let’s say I’ll allow you to succeed on this check. But I am going to say that going forward, you’re gonna you’re gonna gain a hunger or maybe you hurt this person in a way you didn’t intend but you still achieve your goal, something like that. And I think that is all that can also be really flexible in a system where it doesn’t just rely on roles, it relies more on players choices, and how they want to play their character.

Randall James  13:10

Yeah, I feel like a similar thing that we’ve talked about. So the One Ring second edition has this idea of a hope pool, where if you, you know, you go to do some activity and you fail, you have the option of burning hope in order to potentially increase it to the likelihood that you would succeed. But the hope pool is a finite resource. And if you run out of it, bad things begin to happen to your character. And there’s specific actions you have to take to rebuild that pool. And so it isn’t as cut and dry as binary success because you might do something you’re not very likely to succeed, but you might. And then you might choose to spin your hope in order to make it happen.

Ash Ely  13:44


Tyler Kamstra  13:45

Well, elves are a really good example. Because they have just as their heritage trait thing, they can just choose to take a magical success, quote, unquote, which is just I spend hope, and I succeed on this thing in a way that defies logic. But you look at that and think, wow, that’s super overpowered. I can go into the game with like, 13 hope and just like anytime something is hard, I just choose to magically succeed. But the problem with elves is they’re really, really bad at recovering hope. So like, if you burn through that very quickly, your characters in for an early retirement and then it’s going to live out for the rest of their, like 1000, multi 1000 year lifespan being very melancholy.

Randall James  14:29

It says this is kind of what I was gonna say it’s like for a race that lives that long, like they’ve learned a lesson not to have hope, and certainly not to build it up.

Ash Ely  14:37

Yeah. Yeah. That does sound kind of like hero points, which is an optional system that you can bring into from the DMG, like, it’s an option that they present to you or inspiration kind of…

Tyler Kamstra  14:51


Ash Ely  14:52

Not really. But it’s more just advantage rather than like just a flat like bonus.

Randall James  14:57

It’s like It’s like bardic inspiration, basically. You have your own pool of bardic inspiration. But then you need to find a bard to refill it.

Ash Ely  15:05

That makes a lot of sense.

Tyler Kamstra  15:06

Yeah, this is a metacurrency, quote, unquote. And we’ve done an episode on that. But yeah, basically, it’s a pool of points you can spend to improve your dice rolls. A lot of systems have it. They’re cool.

Ash Ely  15:16

Well, one more thing that I just want to share, I want to shout out Colby, because you guys mentioned Colby, at the beginning, this episode did failures, they actually create a character that manipulated created a class that manipulate success from failure, it’s called the full class, they just have a certain amount of fate points that they can do that guarantees them a critical success. But the more they use their fate points, because it is a finite resource that you cannot get back. Bad things start to happen to them, which I also think is a cool way of approaching success.

Randall James  15:52

Just burn that character hot.

Ash Ely  15:54

Yeah. It’s super fun, and really weird. But I think that I think that would be a cool concept for certain characters.

Randall James  16:02

It’s like, why don’t we bring this fool into a dungeon? Just wait, it’s gonna be great.

Ash Ely  16:06

Exactly. That’s exactly what that class is, like.

Tyler Kamstra  16:09

It worked for Darkest Dungeon. There’s a class called the jester and their entire thing is you just shuffle the order of your party. So you get four jesters in your party. And just you can never remember which one is standing in which order. It’s very confusing.

Ash Ely  16:22

Yeah, it’s a pretty common archetype throughout like fiction, the fool character, the person who is improbably lucky and fails with style.

Randall James  16:35

Peter Quill. One of the things that gets me in 5e, and I want to talk about this compared to how it actually works in PF2, is in our D 20 systems, What happens when I roll a one? What happens when I roll a 20? Because I think people get confused about this all the time. We’ve all heard the jokes. And I think everybody at least folks who listen to this podcast understand, like, you cannot roll a natural 20, add your persuasion modifier and convince the king to give you the kingdom. You know, rolling a 20 does not guarantee success. You do not have a one in 20 chance of your wildest dreams coming true. That’s it.  Yeah. A lot of people get the effects of ones and 20s in fifth edition wrong. A lot of people have inherited that knowledge from previous editions in in three X a natural 20 and  anatural one both counted on saving throws and attacks, which are very important because even at exceptionally high level, you still had a one in 20 chance of failing a saving throw from something like first level Wizard who’s causing you trouble. In fifth edition, the natural one and 20 only apply on attack rolls. One is an automatic miss no matter what 20 is an automatic critical hit no matter what. So your level one character shooting at the Tarrasque still has a one in 20 chance of scoring a crit. They’re never going to hit otherwise. But they still have that one in 20 chance.

Ash Ely  18:11


Randall James  18:11

But it doesn’t count towards saving throws. It doesn’t count towards ability checks.

Tyler Kamstra  18:15


Randall James  18:15

And it’s actually interesting, because we were talking about the fact that there’s no idea of a critical success in five E. This is the one place where there is because on a on a crit hit, you get to double your damage dice.

Tyler Kamstra  18:28

Yes. Yeah, and there are a handful of unique effects. In fifth edition, we’re rolling super, super low, we’ll have some additional facts. Like if you’re, if you’re subjected to a Medusas petrifying gaze, if you fail by five or more, you get petrified faster. There’s a couple things like that.

Randall James  18:49


Ash Ely  18:49

So in comparison, and I think where a lot of people get this idea of a critical success is from Pathfinder one E, where you can critically succeed on a skill check, like it doubles your ability score modifier when you do that, it’s still not a guaranteed success, but it’s still counted as like a critical success. And there is from my understanding, this could just be my number because I don’t I haven’t played Pathfinder one year enough so you guys can correct me. But from what I’ve heard is that in Pathfinder, when you critical when you roll a natural 20 on save it is an automatic success. Am I right about that?

Tyler Kamstra  19:27

Yes. I don’t remember about the like doubling your ability score thing. Maybe that’s a rule. I just never noticed.

Ash Ely  19:34

Yeah, no, apparently that’s that’s a pretty core rule. That’s, that’s also what makes critical. I think you still have to roll to confirm like you would do with the attack. Yeah, that might just be my homebrew my particular campaign so people can feel free to at me on that. I’m wrong, but…

Randall James  19:56

We’ll get it fixed an added to the list.

Ash Ely  19:58

Yeah. But I do know like in Pathfinder one E, when you would roll a natural 20, you would roll again to confirm, and to see if you hit naturally. And that’s what makes. The reason they did that is because critically hitting in Pathfinder is incredibly brutal. Because you not only double the dice, you double your ability score modifier for that.

Tyler Kamstra  20:19

Yeah, Third Edition, three-five, Pathfinder one, they all do the same thing, it’s, you have to roll to confirm all critical hits, because you can crit on more than just 20. Just by changing your weapon like a scimitar or crits, on 1819, or 20, you can get a magic, you can get a magic achievement for your weapon that doubles that so you can create on sick. So that you can create on 15, 16,17,18, 19, 20. So like, Yeah, six of your 20 numbers, you can crit. And then like the you can also increase the multiplier so you can have weapons that multiply your damage by like up to four or five times. So yeah, crits can get real nuts in three X a lot more impactful than fifth edition.

Ash Ely  21:08


Randall James  21:08

And it sounds like it would also not be like a rare occasion where maybe it happens once per session. But actually, every combat you expected, maybe you have at least one credit.

Ash Ely  21:16

Yeah, well, like for instance, I’m playing mesmerist Right now, in Pathfinder, and it’s built around, he has a site, and sides are so broken in Pathfinder because that on a credit, it’s times four, not double times four, on all your dice rolls, which is insane.

Tyler Kamstra  21:39

You just have to actually roll a natural twenty to make it happen.

Ash Ely  21:42


Tyler Kamstra  21:44


Randall James  21:44

A small thing to ask. So in Pathfinder 2e the way critical, or let’s say this differently, the way a natural one or natural 20 effects something is that a natural 20 will raise the level of success no matter what. So let’s say you’re you’re you’re fighting something, it’s God awful, you’re level one, you roll a natural 20. But you actually still would fail because you had a minus three modifier. It turns into a success. If you would have succeeded that natural 20 turns into a critical success. Flipping it the other way around, let’s say you’re this high level thing. And like, I don’t know, a rabbit attacks you out of nowhere. There’s no chance it’s going to hit at all, except for you know, you you rolled a natural one. Now, what was a success moves to a failure or what might have been critical, critical success at least moves to success.

Tyler Kamstra  22:37

Yeah. And that does allow you to put certain things mathematically out of reach of other creatures. It’s like your level 20 character who has insanely high AC, like, let’s say I have an AC of 50 at level 20. And some level one chooses some level one, nobody runs up, tries to hit me with a stick and rolls a 20 with their modifier that 20 would still be a critical failure. So grits upgraded to a failure. So they still miss. Like, yeah, so the importance of the number scale being very, very different than PF2.

Randall James  23:15

And I think one more thing that’s worth mentioning here is like we talked about and five E on attack rolls, you can get automatic success. Exactly as Tyler said a second ago and PF2 there is no guarantee of success on a 20 for anything.

Tyler Kamstra  23:30

Yes, it’s much more likely, but technically not guaranteed.

Randall James  23:34

So we spent all the time talking about right, we’re the D 100 System. We’re all very familiar and comfortable with our D 20. systems. But in past episodes, we talked about a lot of games that don’t follow any of this. There’s a lot of great dice pool games out there. And I think their mechanics are worth talking about too.  Yeah, dice pool. If you’re not familiar with dice pool, it’s called dice pool because you pool together a bunch of dice and roll them all at once. So famous systems that use this Alien, One Ring, Shadowrun. I’m sure there are tons and tons of others that I am not familiar with enough to talk about this fantasy of Star Wars, Yatze is arguably at dice pool system.

Tyler Kamstra  24:17

The Yatze RPG is very simple.

Ash Ely  24:19


Randall James  24:21

It’s a 1960s setting. I don’t know if anybody…

Tyler Kamstra  24:25

Look there.  Super quick tangent there. There were a couple RPGs that use a Jenga tower is the resolution mechanic and I think I’ve mentioned this on previous episodes, but…

Ash Ely  24:35

Fear, right?

Tyler Kamstra  24:37


Ash Ely  24:38


Randall James  24:39

Yeah. It’s it’s like Fear.

Tyler Kamstra  24:41

Yeah, so…

Ash Ely  24:42

It’s fear adjacent.

Tyler Kamstra  24:43

To succeed, you move a Jenga piece. If you knock over the Jenga tower, you die, you can intentionally knock over the Jenga tower to succeed and then immediately die. But like speaking of using old games, as a resolution mechanic there you go. Yatze, Jenga towers. I’m sure at some point someone will find a way to make monopoly a resolution mechanic.

Randall James  25:08

Yeah, maybe if anybody’s going to do it, it’s going to be your your capitalist.

Tyler Kamstra  25:15

Capitalist, spell it.

Ash Ely  25:18

Money use money as a as a way of money a success.

Tyler Kamstra  25:22


Ash Ely  25:22

Either you have it, or you don’t.

Randall James  25:27

By being the DMs, which really brings us back to our cheating rolling dice.

Tyler Kamstra  25:31


Randall James  25:34

Okay. Dice pools are great.

Ash Ely  25:38

They’re awesome.

Tyler Kamstra  25:39

Yeah. So there’s, there’s basically two versions of how to handle dice pool. So there’s the the edition version and the hits version. Edition is like I roll, I roll all of these dice, and add up all of the numbers and then compare that to a target number. So one ring does this, like I’m gonna roll my D 12 feat die, and then all my D 6 skill dice, add up all the numbers like that, that determines whether or not I succeed. And then there are some dice pools that have a concept of hits, which is like the die has one or more surfaces on the die, that are a success for me. I believe Shadowrun it’s five and six.

Randall James  26:24

Yeah. So then you also have the opportunity for glitches where if you roll a one, it’s a glitch? Um, I think, yeah, let’s talk about that in a second. There’s some interesting things there.

Tyler Kamstra  26:34

Okay. You might, you might know that system better than me at this point. But basically, you add up the total number of hits to try and meet or exceed a target number. But instead of just adding up, like, here’s all of the pips on my dice, you have to hit.

Ash Ely  26:48

Yeah. Some other systems that use that concept are, again, vampire and powered by the apocalypse. Vampire does a interesting thing with this one, so is like so like they do a D 10. So I believe success on that is a six or higher. And they do still have criticals, which is if you get like two 10s. But they also have a different kind of critical called a messy critical. So in vampire, you have your normal pool that you bet, like each of your abilities and your skills, have a pip. And when you’re rolling a skill check, you combine an ability score with a skill, and those pips represent the amount of dice you’re rolling. But you also have to factor in your hunger. So for every hunger that you get, you replace one of those die with a hunger die, a special hunger died. So if you get two or more crits, if you get a crit, and one of them, one of those 10s is a hunger die, you get a messy critical, which is like you crit succeed, but you do it a little too well, it’s sort of like, the beast of the vampire has taken over, like, you attack, that you you, you hit this guy really hard, so you’re gonna do a lot of damage. But you also ripped his throat out in front of everybody and broke the masquerade a little bit.

Tyler Kamstra  28:12

So I think that’s an interesting way to add complications, even to crit successes. And it’s not something that I, I’ve seen other games really do. Now that that is a really good example of one of the things that can make dice pool systems interesting. So in addition to the binary success and the sliding scale of degrees of success, you can also have messy successes and failures. So Shadowrun is just hits, failures, and then glitches apparently, One Ring, if you roll enough successes like you, you get… if you roll elven symbols on your skill dice, which is the sixth face, you can spend those for additional effects, and they’re all beneficial. Fantasy Flight Star Wars is, in my opinion, the most interesting interpretation of this because all of the dice have like different symbols on them, not all of the dice, I guess. There’s successes, failures, boosts, flaws, triumphs, and I’m forgetting the last one catastrophes, I think, like so there’s all these different symbols that you can roll on the dice and this is this is why we frequently describe Fantasy Flight dice resolution system as chicken entrails is because there’s all these complicated symbols until you play the game for a while. Like you can look at these dice and be like, I think I succeeded. But I don’t know what these symbols mean.

Randall James  29:46

I think it’s like a it’s a reference to like the Voodoo right like, you know, anybody who is a novice at it would come in and see you looking into it and saying, Ah, I succeed but at a great cost to the party.

Tyler Kamstra  30:00

Exactly, yeah. So like you can, you can dramatically succeed. Like, I’ve got a ton of successes like this was, this was hardly a challenge for my character, but like, I had a red difficulty die and I roll a catastrophe. And again, I’m forgetting what those are called. I rolled a catastrophe. So like, something terrible happens like, like best case scenario is your weapon runs out of ammunition. Like worst case scenario is like one of my party members who has been grievously injured or something like that. So adding in those additional possibilities with different kinds of dice, different symbols that can be on the dice adds a lot of complexity to the roll that can make things a little more interesting. And like I succeeded really well or it failed really well.

Randall James  30:49

So so your memory for this, right? We have one axis, which is the actual action that we were trying to take and our level of success against that action. And that we have another actually, which is something else, right. And this is what the dice pool is giving us as the opportunity to, okay, look, you might succeed, you might fail, I’m saying you were trying to do, but something else of impact is going to happen. So a good example could be, you know, you, you shoot to the character you were trying to shoot, and the laser goes straight through and puts a hole in the hole. That’s a catastrophe. And now everybody’s gonna have to deal with that. But it also moves the story for you for it in a way that the the party is now going to have to resolve that. And it’s going to become a critical part of what everyone is dealing with.

Tyler Kamstra  31:34

Yeah, and those additional possibilities are one of the reasons people like the Fantasy Flight Star Wars dice system so much and why they spun that out into the Genesis System, which is their generic setting agnostic system using this essentially the same dice mechanic. Yeah, the like, there’s always possibilities like I failed, but I ruled a bunch of the like, success adjacent symbols on the blue dice. So something good happens to me. So like I tried to shoot the Stormtrooper I missed, but it hit a pipe and steam blows everywhere. So the stormtroopers can’t see us and we can run away. And now like, there’s all these great things you can do with the storytelling based on the complexity of the dice system. But it’s chicken entrails. Like, in exchange for that complexity in exchange for that flexibility in exchange for the assistance with telling a story and making the outcomes of dice roll so much more interesting. You have to do all this addition, you have to learn all of these archaic symbols that like if you’re going to play this RPG once it is kind of a pain, if you’re going to play it a bunch of times, you’ll get it down eventually. And in a lot of cases, resolving these mechanics requires you to go look at a table and figure out what do I do with all of these symbols?

Randall James  32:51

What we need is a chicken entrail reader. Okay, so I have an offer for you. Let’s actually talk about glitches in Shadowrun. So I think this might even be what you’re looking for. Okay, I do my math, I figure out how many dice I need to my dice pool. I roll them. My hits, and my dice pool are my fives and sixes. If I roll a one, it goes towards the possibility of having a glitch. If over half of my dice are rolled as ones, it causes a glitch. And these can be maybe not so terrible. You know, it could be as bad as like your bionic eye, he explodes and you’re gonna have to get that repaired or something like this? Oh, yeah, no, it’s terrible. Yeah, I mean, so some of the awkward glitches, you’re like, I don’t I don’t want to do that to my party. I don’t. What if we didn’t? How about that. But I think it’s a pretty easy thing to understand. You’re throwing away the idea of an order, you know, 123456 instead, to just say, these are these are just sides of a face. And I know these numbers, so I can add how many fives and sixes I get, I can add how many ones and their, you know, for each die, it could be a hit, it could contribute to the likelihood of a glitch, or it could contribute nothing. And now you’re rolling your dice and you’re adding everything together. The one thing I think this is missing that you do have in in Fantasy Flight Star Wars is on that second axis, which is the glitch, the opportunity for something good to happen. I think if you wanted to have that the way to do that might be to say like if you roll no one’s and you might even go as far as it’s like no ones and twos. Yeah, that will take some fine tuning because like as you add more and more dice, the likelihood of you rolling no ones and twos gets less very, very small.

Tyler Kamstra  34:41

But yeah, nothing good supposed to happen to you and Shadowrun though so the better you get, the less likely you are of getting lucky. Yeah, like the there’s definitely room to experiment with that. Yeah, I think just like you can have systems where critical failures can come at a cost, you should also have critical I mean, critical successes can come at a cost. critical failure should also come with some sort of benefit. Like for instance, with powered by the apocalypse. One of the ways one of the few ways that you can gain experience is every time you fail, you gain an experience point because people learn from failure. And, yeah, I think that’s a good way of approaching it kind of lose it kind of, what’s the word I’m looking for? It kind of lightens the sting of failing, which nobody, none of us like to fail in our D&D games, it always sucks. But if I get experience out of it, I’m like, Okay, well, at least I can advance my character. So I don’t fail as much in the future.

Randall James  35:43

Yeah, the silver lining in all of it.

Ash Ely  35:45


Randall James  35:46

Well, and there’s also a balancing there. Because if you find that the current level of difficulty that you’re playing that you’re failing quite often, that’s going to help you advance that character more quickly.

Ash Ely  35:54

Yeah. Yeah, exactly.

Randall James  35:57

It’s almost like they did game design.

Ash Ely  35:59

I know. It’s almost like game designers really, like powered by the apocalypse.

Tyler Kamstra  36:03

Well, there’s a reason there’s so many good power by the apocalypse hacks.

Ash Ely  36:11

Yeah, it’s really easy is a really easy system to just make whatever game or concept that you want.

Tyler Kamstra  36:17

So we talked a little bit about bringing the bringing the cool, additional dice things into systems like Shadowrun and stuff. And we’ve talked about how that’s kind of missing from binary success systems. Let’s talk about critical success and failure decks. Because this is this is like a very popular supplement for games like D&D and Pathfinder. It’s a deck of random outcomes, which occur when a character roles a natural one or natural 20. And the intent there is to add some spice to the binary resolution system.

Randall James  36:57

Okay, now, I want to ask you, am I carrying a deck for failure and a deck for success? Or are these things shuffled together and we’re just gonna see what happens on 2020, which was great. A unicorn popped out of nowhere and gored me and that was terrible.

Tyler Kamstra  37:14

Call it personal preference.

Randall James  37:15


Ash Ely  37:16

So I haven’t actually heard of crit failed decks, but is I assume it’s similar to crit fail tables. Yes.

Tyler Kamstra  37:23

Yeah, pretty much. Yeah. A lot of games have those tables. And this essentially adds that as an extra system.

Ash Ely  37:30

Gotcha. Gotcha. Yeah. What is the deck but a folding table? That’s fair. That’s a valid point.

Randall James  37:35

That was a look of concern.

Ash Ely  37:47

Concern and utter confusion and a little bit of contempt.

Tyler Kamstra  37:53

I hate that but I can’t say you’re wrong

Tyler  37:59

All right. Okay.

Ash Ely  38:05

We broke Tyler.

Tyler Kamstra  38:06

We’re going to move on, or I’m gonna I’m gonna have to lay down for a minute. Okay, so decks.

Ash Ely  38:15

So decks.

Tyler Kamstra  38:16

So decks Yeah, so yeah, it’s a deck of cards. It has different effects on them. A lot of people are really excited about them because they add that extra spice to the binary system. So like let’s say Bob the Fighter is fighting a dragon, rolls a natural 20 like haha, extra damage. Great kind of anticlimactic. But you’re DM has brought a critical success deck to the table. plops it down, you draw a card. The card says the target creature is stunned for a round. Everyone celebrates, Bob’s like yes, I stunned a dragon. I’m the big hero. Very next person takes their turn, shoots the dragon. Dragon is dead didn’t matter that it was done.

Ash Ely  39:06


Randall James  39:07

That feels like a sad story now. Yes, yes. Yes. I do like the idea of this though. Right? Um, where I want to talk about monopoly for a second, so chance and community chest right. Those were the exciting things so I finally landed somewhere where nobody’s gonna charge me rent, but I have to draw a card and depending on which deck of cards I’m drawing from, it’s probably going to be terrible. Right and this is another opportunity for that where like you said crit success Oh deal extra damage, you know, sure I deal with damage all the time. I’m really good at dealing damage. It’s kind of my thing. And so maybe I’m not that excited about doubling damage dice. I mean, I’m always excited. But the idea that there’s a yes, and. And now there’s anticipation and everybody’s looking to see like what’s it going to be? Okay, push that to the side for a second. Especially in D&D, where usually with a one, the worst thing that’s going to happen is you’re going to fail. Some DMS do do the optional role of like, oh, well, yeah, you fail and you drop your weapon. So you have to spend your free item interaction next turn picking your weapon back up. Oh, okay, that didn’t matter. Thanks for bringing it up. With this, now maybe there is a card that is you drop your weapon and you’re fumbling attempt to catch it, you kick it, you know, 15 feet over to a random cell, or your weapon breaks or, you know, you fall prone trying to pick up the weapon like, there can be a spice to it. That the anticipation of hitting it will make it like that much worse. I rolled the one and now I’m sitting here like, Oh, no.

Ash Ely  40:46

So I don’t know if you guys have used these tables before. I have. And I will say that they are better in theory than they are in practice. Because like, they seem like a cool idea. But when I have used them before, no one really cares about the crit successes that sometimes happen like that, like people will celebrate. But the thing that they hate are the crit fail tables, because that some some debate on the Crit fail table that your game, they can be real bad, like, oh, you lose an eye or something like that, or, Oh, you’re now hobbled. And you can only move at half your speed for the rest of the the combat and stuff like that. So because we’re human beings, and we tend to focus on the negatives, focus on the positives. Every time I have used these tables, they have gotten an overwhelmingly negative reception from my players. So I think if you were going to go with it, maybe only do the crit successes. But the problem there is that the crit successes need to go both ways. So when the players are also going to be less happy when that dragon crit succeeds on them, and now they’re stunned.

Randall James  42:05

So yeah, and with, you know, combat coming only so often, with us expecting the average combat to last on the order of three rounds. Being stung for one of those three rounds is incredibly punitive.

Ash Ely  42:20


Randall James  42:21

Especially if it wasn’t even your fault.

Tyler Kamstra  42:23

Yeah, absolutely. And to really highlight how much of a problem this this is a party of four characters walks into a cave, DM pulls out the critical hit deck initiative for his world, 20 kobolds pop out and all start throwing rocks at the party, the kobolds individually, not a great threat, not going to do a ton of damage, because they’re just throwing rocks for like one damage. But there’s 20 of them, some of them are going to crit. So you’re just drawing cards off that table, and bad things are happening to the players like this encounter, which is very much not a serious threat for this party of four. Functionally superheroes just became an exercise in frustration because everyone in the party is like, one character stunned, one character is temporary and temporarily blinded, one character is like has a bleeding injury and is taking continuous damage, like the decks or like the, the individual effects are very exciting. But the problem is they get applied to the players more and they last longer on the players. So like, you apply an effect to an enemy with a critical hit deck. They’re dead in a round or two the players. And hopefully,

Ash Ely  43:36

Yeah, and when you have these debilitating effects, they are more severe when they’re applied to the player than they are against enemies unless you’re dealing with like a singular entity. But most of the time, you’re not most of the time, you’re dealing with small enemies. And, you know, studying them for a round, like you said, isn’t going to matter if they just go down the next round. But on the flip side of your example, when you get to higher levels, certain classes attack more often. So the way statistics work, they’re also going to crit fail more often. And so essentially, you get into the situation where a person who is better, like who has grown and gotten better at their class, and like a seasoned veteran, is now getting more debilitating attacks and stumbling over their sword than they were when they were a novice, which doesn’t feel good. And feels counterintuitive. And…

Randall James  44:33

But I mean, that character would also be getting more critical successes and if the critical successes are really adding an advantage. Yeah, it shouldn’t be the case that like the good is outweighing the bad.

Ash Ely  44:42

You would think so, but no.

Randall James  44:45

Okay, mechanically that should be.

Ash Ely  44:47

Oh, yeah.

Tyler Kamstra  44:49

Well, so it’s a flat probability curve on a D 20. You’re equally as likely to roll a natural one as you are to roll an actual 20 Unless you have advantage or disadvantage, which skews it in either direction. So yeah, like very much it even if you go with the very simple like you roll a natural one you drop your sword and have to spend your free item action to printer a to pick it up. A level 20 Fighter like he had four attacks, you can take action surge to make an like, four more. Let’s say your your dual wielding. So you get one more your hasted. So you get one more, you’ve got a total of 10 attacks that you’re going to make in this turn, it is entirely possible that you will roll a natural one more than once and be like, well, I guess I’m unarmed now.

Ash Ely  45:34

And I’m blinded. Oh, and I also cut off my foot.

Randall James  45:39

Like, how did I cut off my foot? I dropped my weapon three actions ago.

Ash Ely  45:45

Exactly. But like that was ultimately what it came down to was people again, we’re human beings, we remember the negatives more than we remember the positives. And yes, while you are more likely to crit succeed, you’re also more likely to crit fail. And that’s what I think where people struggle with because they’re like, I’m more powerful. I shouldn’t be like, completely useless. Just because I attacked six times in a round. And like they end up you know, screwing themselves over. But through no fault of their own just the luck of the dice. Like I don’t think people mind as much when they just miss on a crit fail. They’re like, well, you know, you can’t be in a mall. It’s worse when missing causes you to get weaker. That’s where people start to have a problem. Okay, I’m gonna make an offer.

Randall James  46:32

What if some large proportion of our crit fail deck Are blanks?

Tyler Kamstra  46:44

Yeah, I could see arguments for and against that. Like, the argument against that is like, well, then at that point, why bother having the deck?

Randall James  46:54

Because every two times you get a crit failure, the bad thing is going to happen.

Tyler Kamstra  47:00

Okay, yeah, I could see it.

Randall James  47:02

You know, I, what was the system where there was like a common pool and the players could hoard it, or the GM could hoard it.

Tyler Kamstra  47:10

The Fantasy Flight Star Wars. That’s the the force points.

Randall James  47:14

Okay, cool. Like, maybe something like that, where like, you actually know the state. Maybe an easier analogy, if anybody likes NCAA basketball, is there’s actually a turnover pointer, or excuse me, a tie a pointer. So basically, in the NBA, you’d have a jump ball into play. It’s like, okay, well, you got the ball last time. So I get the ball this time. So you can even have something like that where like, you know, the next time anyone could fails, they’re gonna fail, and like, the bad thing is actually going to happen. But then, you know, you get a freebie thereafter, I think I like the idea of like, the 60%. Dead deck better. Because there’s a likelihood, you might still get like three bad effects in a row. But overall, the trend is going to be that net, this, this deck system is going to benefit you more than it hurts you.

Ash Ely  48:01

Yeah, I think that’s one way that you could go about it. I don’t think there’s a perfect solution. Like one of the solutions that I saw was that you have a threshold. As you level up, like you’re less likely to roll on the table, the higher like you can still crit fail, but you roll a table less as you go up, like, Oh, you have to roll several dice in advance or something like that.

Randall James  48:26

Actually, you know what? Okay, you got me excited. Now, this makes this makes a lot more sense for Pathfinder two Yeah, where it actually is the delta between what it took to hit or what it took to save, and what you actually rolled. Yeah. So instead, if we did, you know, first of all, you have to roll the nat one. And we’re not going to consider this unless you roll the nat one. But it has to be a nat one. And it has to be a failure, which granted, if it was already a failure, then nat one’s gonna make it or critical failure. But for high level characters, the nat one might not actually make it a critical failure, you might have succeeded, even with a one. So which case in this case, you wouldn’t be penalized?

Ash Ely  49:04

Yeah, I think that’s that’s a good way of approaching it. Yeah. So like, if you would have if you would have hit the creature with your modifier, even though you rolled a one, I think, yeah, I think that’s a that’s a good way to do it. And I think that’s why crit failed decks, probably, in success effects work better for degrees of success systems rather than binary success systems.

Randall James  49:28

Yeah, I think that makes sense. All right. I want to I want to ask the question, so we talked a little bit about the two dimensional success. So FFG offers this this in a way Shadowrun offers us this in a way. I think the deck is kind of giving it giving us this. Do you see a role for that in five e?

Tyler Kamstra  49:51

In my opinion, it is fun to use in a one shot because of the novelty. Like if someone shows up with like, here’s a critical hit deck. Here’s critical fail deck, we’re gonna play a goofy one shot where like no one’s invested in their characters or the outcome or whatever. We’re just gonna have fun with this crazy deck that’s been thrown down on the table. But like, I ran a Pathfinder game briefly where we experimented with the crit success crit failed decks. And after like two or three sessions, everyone you knew, unanimously agreed. This is bad. We would like this to go away now please.

Randall James  50:30

At least you were able to talk about it.

Ash Ely  50:31

Yeah, I think unless you’re going for like a hardcore campaign. And everybody’s clear, have at the top that like, this is like a hardcore game. There’s survival mechanics, there’s lingering injuries. You know, rests are few and far between and you’re only going to be able to do hit die, then yeah, if everybody’s on board for that. Cool. But for just like a regular casual game, I don’t know. I don’t know if people get sick of it after a while.

Tyler Kamstra  50:31


Randall James  50:59

It’s like when you signed up to play this game. You came with two character sheets. You know what character you’re playing next.

Ash Ely  51:04

Yeah, essentially, like, I would only use those in games where I’m like, don’t get too attached to your character, because they’re more than likely going to die.

Randall James  51:14

Yeah, Mork Borg. Yes. Exactly. Yes. Perfect. Yeah, so I’ll say like my, my tastes on all of this. I really liked the Shadowrun system for dice pool games. And I really liked the Pathfinder two four single dice games. Yeah, I agree. All right, we did it. We did a whole episode. We have a question of the week this week. Our question of the week this week comes to us from @onedietime. Are there any obnoxious character builds you’d love to do but don’t because of group cohesion? For obnoxious I mean, like devil side plus darkness combo or the summoner, who summons the max total?

Ash Ely  51:48

Two things. Elven accuracy. Just just in general, pretty obnoxious, especially if you pair it with a very strong dexterity build, or a samurai where you can just give yourself advantage whenever you want. And the other one is a luck build that I’ve wanted to play for a while but it’s very obnoxious. Just halfling lucky feet. bountiful luck, Lucky stone. And Oracle’s just all the luck. Very obnoxious.

Tyler Kamstra  52:20

Yeah. I generally don’t play wizards. Just I know what I am. I know where my problems lie. I don’t bring wizards to other people’s games. As much as I love playing a Wizard. I know I have a problem. So I just stay away from it.

Randall James  52:42

Okay, so that’s interesting is it’s not that your wizards are obnoxious. It’s just that they break the game. Yeah. Which is obnoxious. Now. The DM everybody else is just excited about winning.

Tyler Kamstra  52:54

Well, so the problem is, it gets to the point where people look at me and say, like, why did we show up today? That’s actually the point where you say, I have caused a problem. I need to never do this again.

Randall James  53:06

That’s very Yeah, that was the joke I was gonna make. It’s like, well, we have we have three breadmakers at level zero. And Tyler.

Ash Ely  53:14

Alternatively, you could just play a Cleric and do everything for your party.

Tyler Kamstra  53:21

I don’t have as much of a clear problem with clerics.

Ash Ely  53:25

Fair enough

Tyler Kamstra  53:25


Randall James  53:31

So I read this 100% is like mechanically obnoxious. Yeah. And I, honestly, I don’t have anything that I can offer as far as a general obnoxious character. I enjoy being the face. And so if I played a character that was traditionally the face of the party, I would worry that I would try to like steal too much in conversations. It’s something that like, even in my regular games, I’m always trying to be conscious of like, does it actually make sense that my character would be the one speaking up in this moment? Which is not classically obnoxious, but yeah, everybody deserves a chance to you know, actually play the game. Yeah, exactly. All hail the Leisure Illuminati. I’m Randall James, you can find me @amateurjack.com and on Twitter and Instagram @JackAmateur.

Tyler Kamstra  54:22

I’m Tyler Kamstra. You’ll find me at RPGBOT.net Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at RPGBOT D O T ne t. We have a new subreddit. r/RPGbot.net same spelling as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and patreon.com/rpg bot.

Ash Ely  54:40

And I’m Ash Ely, you can follow me on Twitter @gravenashes.

Randall James  54:44

If you’ve enjoyed the show. Please rate and review us on Apple podcast and rate us on Spotify or your favorite podcast app. It’s a quick free way to support the podcast and helps us to reach new listeners. You can find links in the show notes. You’ll find affiliate links for source books and other materials linked in the show notes as well as on RPGBOTbotnet following these links helps us to make this show happen every week. If your question should be the question of the week next week, please email podcast at RPGBOT.net or message us on Twitter at RPGBOT D ot N et. Please also consider supporting us on Patreon, where you’ll find ad-free podcast episodes early access to RPG bot dot content polls for future content and access to the RPG bot dot Discord. You can find us at patreon.com/rpgbot. I think we’re successful.

Randall  55:31

Absolutely. Absolutely.

Ash Ely  55:34

We broke Tyler I would call that a success

Tyler Kamstra  55:38


One Response

  1. Tymek June 18, 2022