Partial Success: An Introduction

What is Partial Success?  It’s a different way to do skill checks and challenges for D&D 3rd/4th Edition and Pathfinder.  I’m hoping to turn this into a free pdf (and maybe even a zine) so any feedback would be very much appreciated!  Thanks everyone!

Table of Contents

Part 1: Introduction

Part 2:  Basic Mechanic

Part 3: Examples


How often in a game, do you hear the following?

Player: I try and get him to give us information.
DM: Give me a diplomacy check.
Player: 18.
DM: He agrees to help you.

Skills have been an area that always has felt tacked onto Dungeons and Dragons. With each edition, they designers have attempted to unify the use of skills, as well as make them a more vital part of Dungeons and Dragons. However, too often, in game they play out as the above. Sure, I’ve played in many games where the DM and players do a great job of describing the action and the rolls almost become secondary, but that play unfortunately is not really supported by the rules.

Ultimately, I find there to be three different problems with skills as they are currently presented by the 3rd and 4th editions of Dungeons and Dragons, and Pathfinder.

This system that I present uses the dice to help tell the story. If you are a fan of free form role playing, then this will likely be as constraining as the rules as written are for skill checks. However, if you like skills to help inform non-combat encounters and what your characters can do in them, this system will hopefully be better than the one presented by the rules.

1st Problem. Binary.

Player (as a cleric): Do I recognize the religious symbol?
DM: Roll a religion check.
Player: Damn, 12.
DM: No.

Sure, the example isn’t the greatest example of roleplaying, but all too often, that’s what ends up happening in game. And the reason is, the rules as written are very binary. Either a player beats the requisite number with their die roll, or they fail. There is no difference between a 23 and a 13 if they both beat the target number. And there is no difference between a roll that fails by 1 and a roll that fails by 10, except for specific skills. Instead, the system presented will allow for partial successes and total successes, giving the players and DM guidance for how to reward a player for being close or for succeeding well beyond the targent.

2nd Problem. Specialists.

Player 1: I go up to the bartender and ask if he has seen the prince.
DM: Alright, give me a skill check.
Player 1: Damn. I have a 2 in that skill.
Player 2: Ok, I go up and ask the bartender.

The original goal with different skills for different classes was to allow certain classes to shine in different social and skill situations but instead it has created a game where only one player is allowed to talk to NPCs, one player is allowed to track, one player is allowed to know the history of an area, etc. A player with a bad skill will try hard to avoid being involved in any situation where they have to roll that skill. While there are skills that require a certain level of training, for most skills used in adventuring, every player should feel free to participate in a skill.

There becomes such a disparity in skill levels in the party that it becomes hard to challenge one player and not shut any other player out from attempting the skill.

The system that I present will reward players who roll and fail a skill check in which they aren’t trained. On top of that, by allowing partial successes, a particularly low charismatic character can still try to sweet talk the guards and succeed, they just might have as much of a success as the pretty boy in the party.

3rd Problem. Need to know information.

Player: I roll a 7 on the history check.
DM: Oh. Well, does anyone else want to roll a history check?
Player 2: Ok. I roll a 18.
DM: You remember that Van Sonnington is an old noble family that has fallen on hard times as of late.

Sometimes, there is information that the PCs just have to know, but as the DM you don’t want to just give it to them. So what do you do? Make them roll for it. But the Wizard blows the roll and so then you’re stuck wondering how your going to get this information to the players.

With partial successes, you can still get them the information, but now there’s a consequence for failing that can be separate from just not telling them the information.

A note about Skill Challenges.

Skill challenges were presented in D&D 4th Edition as a way to make social encounters more interesting and engaging, while codifying how to award experience for these skill challenges.

I find them to be often creatively stifling and boring. How does one player making an endurance check enable the whole party to catch a crook trying to escape? How do you make a conversation with the King into an interesting skill challenge, one where the players don’t just roll social skill checks over and over again? What about the player that only has intimidate? How is he supposed to intimidate the King? If they had to find a macguffin and they fail the skill challenge, how do we go on with the adventure?

As a DM, I like to react to my players, and follow their interests and desires. I can plan out a combat encounter, because I can control where they meet the castle guard, but how can I plan out how they find out information about a sinister plot without making it seem like a railroad? There have been a lot of really suggestions to fixing skill challenges. I just would rather avoid placing a seemingly arbitrary framework around skill encounters.

That’s why I created partial skill successes, to allow players to be willing to try anything, at least once.

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Filed under Partial Success, Role Playing

2 responses to “Partial Success: An Introduction

  1. Pingback: Partial Success: Examples | North of Nowhere

  2. Pingback: Partial Success: The Basic Mechanic | North of Nowhere

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