Hello everyone, due to joys of moving, I’ve decided to take a step back from my weekly flavour filled ranting this week to share with you all a little mechanic that has improved my game tremendously. I am going to assume you are aware of Chatty DM’s “Say Yes, But…” philosophy. With this notion in mind I have been letting my players run amok and off course for a long time. Everything they have asked to do, and everything they have verbally dreaded has been accepted and used in the game. Although even with this freedom I started to feel restricted with the pass or fail outcomes I had available to me when dealing with the players crazy plans or heroic actions. That is when I decided to employ a risk reward mechanic within my game. The Risk/Reward mechanic requires d% (2d10’s or a d100), a little improvisation and whole lot of fun.
Your Risk, Everyone’s Reward
If you have ever thought that Pass or Fail was not a broad enough scale to cover the amount of scenarios that might occur from your players actions. The Risk Reward mechanic offers a total of 6 categories into which your player’s actions may fall:
Spectacular: A miraculous achievement, through either undoubted skill or blind luck, so spectacular that it not only improves the character’s situation, but also the situation of the entire party.
Amazing: Completing an objective so easily and with such skill that there are no possible negatives in the outcome.
Pass: Achieving the objective with ease and without hassle, in just the right way that nothing detrimental or overly rewarding will happen to the party.
Fail: Achieving the objective even after a series of mishaps and stressful situations, the task may be completed, but it was done very poorly.
Awful: Failing to achieve the objective through a mistake or unforeseen circumstance that hinders or alters the party’s progress.
Horrible: Failing an objective so badly that the outcome negatively affects the entire group.
With these 6 categories expanding upon the initial Pass or Fail scenarios, I have been able to allow my players to achieve heroic and unbelievable actions (Killing a Elder Dragon in a single blow comes to mind), as well as watch them fail so miserably that it changed the whole course of the game in a single roll. The most enjoyable part for both my players and myself is knowing that no matter what idea they have at the table, this mechanic can adjust to accommodate it. With this freedom of action instilled in their minds, I have had the joy of watching some of my most cautious and withdrawn players speak up and offer their ideas with the confidence that no matter what their idea is; there is possibility it will not only work, but they know that I, the DM will accept their idea and let the dice decide the severity of the outcome.
How To Use The Risk Reward System
To use the Risk/Reward mechanic, you simply assign the 6 categories into a bracket within the range of a d% (I prefer d% for my own inexplicable reasons, but a d20, d12 or even a d6 could work for you).
The Risk/Reward brackets are as follow:
Spectacular: 00 – 14 (15%)
Awesome: 15 – 29 (15%)
Pass: 30 – 49 (20%)
Fail: 50 – 69 (20%)
Awful: 70 – 84 (15%)
Horrible: 85 – 99 (15%)
You might have noticed that the lower the d% score the better the result, feel free to swap this around but I find with 100 represented by 00, it is easy to just use lower scores as better results. Feel free to swap this around if it suits you.
When a player asks me if they can do something not covered by the rules, something seemingly impossible or even something that seems ridiculous and whimsical, I apply the Risk/Reward system. I make some quick adjustments to the starting 50% pass/fail mark, and then get them to roll. Personally I like to inform my players of their chances before they roll so they have an idea of the risks they are taking.
The adjustments I make are as follows:
The initial starting point of 50%, plus or minus a percentage that represents the difficulty of their task, plus a percentage amount if they are using any Skills, Powers or Feats, then finally I add on a percentage amount if I find their idea particularly cool. If the final percentage, lets say 65% is the adjusted starting point for their Risk/Reward roll they make, they enter the pass bracket at 64% and fail at 65%.
For example, my warrior says he wants to scale a the three story tavern and then jump from the roof to tackle the Young Red Dragon mid-flight, making it crash to the ground. The starting point is 50% but the task itself is pretty much impossible so I take off 20% (bring it down to 30%). The warrior says he is using his Acrobatics and Athletics plus a daily power to help him in his task, so I add 15% (up to 45%). I think the idea is cool and outside the box so I add an a “cool” bonus of 10% (up to 55%). The player rolls his d% and depending on the result the outcome is determined.
A Spectacular result (00 – 19) would see the Warrior leaping wildly from the building, tackling the dragon mid-flight and crashing to the ground with a thunderous explosion of soil and cobblestones, bloodying the beast and dazing it until the start of the dragons next turn while the warrior emerges from the dust and debris without a scratch.
An Awesome result (20 – 34) would see the Warrior leaping from the building, tackling the Red Dragon and sending them both crashing to the ground below, leaving the beast bloodied but not dazed, while the Warrior quickly returns to his allies.
A Pass result (35 – 54) would have the warrior jump from the building and collide with the dragon, dealing normal damage and sending the beast to the ground while he lands next to it.
A Fail (055 – 074) would see the Warrior landing upon the Dragons back with normal damage and being stuck upon the beasts back while it stayed in the air.
An Awful result (75 – 89) would see the Warrior leap wildly from the building only to miss the Dragon completely and land awkwardly upon the cobblestones, and the Warrior would be dazed until the start of his/her next turn.
Finally a Horrible result (90 – 99) would see the Dragon catching the falling warrior within its talons, dealing normal damage from the Dragon’s melee attack, followed by the Red Dragon throwing the warrior at his allies and launching a searing burst of flaming breath straight behind the flailing body of the Warrior as he collides with the rest of his allies.
All Roads Lead To Rome
One of the problems I initially faced when I implemented this system was that with their creativity at max and armed with the knowledge that they could achieve anything they wanted, my players would often overcome detailed and meticulously planned battles before they even started, or bypass a series of obstacles, plot points and difficulties through unique ideas and lucky rolls. Instead of stifling their ideas or removing the mechanic they all seemed to be enjoying so much I implanted a fiendish solution. The ‘All Roads Lead To Rome’ solution. If my players skip something important or overcome a battle before it even starts, I rename the monsters and repackage the events they would have seen then place them further on in the story. I do this instead of dragging them party back kicking and screaming to where I want them or fudging the roll so I can see my hard work and cool monsters actually get some use. This way, by simply changing the flavour of my monsters and locations of my plot points my hard work is still useful and the story can continue to move forward. Besides, if the players don’t know what they missed they won’t realize you did anything at all.
Well that is my Risk/Reward mechanic; I hope it is as useful and helpful for you as it is for me. There really is nothing quite like the face of a player after they have just run across a block of city roofs, leaping over alleys and danger, only to slay the big bad with a single arrow through his study window. Let me know how the Risk/Reward mechanic works out for you if you use it and I’ll be back to my normal flavour filled ranting next week.