Partial Success: The Basic Mechanic

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

The Basic Mechanic

Find the partial success DCs. DC stands for difficulty check, and is the number that a player needs to roll to succeed. In order to allow for partial successes, we need to create a DC for partial success and a DC for complete or total success.

1. Take the DC by RAW. Subtract 3 from it. This is your Partial Success DC.
2. Now add 4 to the DC by RAW. This is your complete Success DC.

So, if the DC is 15. The new partial success DC would be 12, and the new complete success would be 19.


The reason behind a range of 7 for partial success is because that means for an average PC, they will have a partial success around a third of the time. Obviously, if they are significantly bad and it’s a hard DC or they are very skilled and it’s an easy DC, it won’t be quite 33%, but for most rolls, it’ll happen about a third of the time.

Complications can be fun. Most actions movies are about putting a character in sticky situations and seeing how they get themselves out of it. It makes for a more interesting game when the DM can say “yes, but…” The players get their way, but the DM gets to put the screws to the players. The partial success helps the DM


If a player suffers a failure in a skill check, the suffer the normal effects of a skill check failure, as is appropriate from a story and game perspective.

The Partial Failure

In order for the partial failure to be interesting, you need to draw more out of the player than just “I roll a history check. 19.” They need to be very specific in what they are trying to succeed at. The more specific, the better the failures. So before they roll, have them explain in as much detail as you need what they are trying to do.

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