Major confusion over effort



I need help wrapping my brain around effort/hearts and the use of it outside of combat. Why would I give something, such as a lock, 1 heart worth of effort? The PC will just keep rolling effort continuously until that lock is picked and they have slowly chipped away all 10 points…why not just make it pass or fail? Do they have to roll for the target everything single time as well? If so, again we run into this perpetual, they keep rolling until they get it. I’m really curious confused on this.


Oh hey, didn’t we just do this? To copy-pasta my Reddit response:

If there’s no drama to assigning effort for that lock then don’t bother, just make it pass/fail.

But keep in mind that a major point in ICRPG is constant action. Even when not in combat there’s continual time, with everyone taking turns. And ideally there should be something pushing the players to act or react.

That’s the idea behind things like timers: in X TURNS something bad will happen! Will the rogue get the door open in time? Would it be better to let the fighter try to break the door down with his MAGIC sword? When there’s tension it’s a much more interesting scenario.

And yes, they have to meet or beat the target each turn. And that target can change, you don’t need to keep a static target for each room/scene/battle/etc.

The whole idea is to keep the players under pressure. ICRPG is meant for dramatic, memorable play.


I’ll second what @Strider said. It’s all about choices and drama. If your players have all the time in the world then what’s the point? Let’s get moving! Just let them succeed and get to the action. But if there is a choice between picking a lock and helping your friend face down the brute squad, what you choose to do suddenly becomes way more impactful!

The one caveat that I would add (which is a do-whatever-works-for-you comment), is that once a player has beaten the target, if they want to consecutively chip away at it, don’t make them roll against the Target. Just let them roll Effort. But, if they decide to do something else and come back to the same task, have them roll against the Target again. Either way!


Here’s my standard spiel on Effort. It’s a great tool, but like any good tool, it’s only the right tool when you need that tool. If you’re trying to drive a nail with a screwdriver, you might be able to do it, but a hammer will be so much more efficient. Likewise, you can’t bust out the hammer for every job.

What folks seem to forget is that Effort is a temporal tool. It’s primary use is elongating time: when you want to force a player to take extra turns accomplishing a task. In the normal course of play, that’s a terrible tool. If nothing is pressing the players, do not use Effort. In fact, if the players aren’t in any danger, maybe you don’t even require a binary check; just let the task succeed. For example, why even have a locked door or chest if players have all the time in the world to address the problem? If you require Effort for no reason, that elongation of the game is just going to bog everything down and piss off your players.

On the other hand, if players are stuck between a rock and a hard place, then requiring Effort might be your best tool for heightening danger and drama. The example I always use is the tin man chopping down a door in the witch’s castle. If nothing is pressing him, it would be silly to require Effort; the tin man is a woodsman who can easily chop down a door with his axe under normal circumstances. But if the room is on fire, and he and Dorothy are going to succumb to the flames in D4 rounds, now he has a little time pressure to get the door open, and that’s the perfect time to require effort. If you just have him roll a check, well, it will be anti-climactic if he rolls an 18, and they both pop out into the hallway. Instead, now is the perfect time to force the tin man to have to hack the door down to save their lives. The flames are rising! You will both die in D4 rounds!! The door has one heart of Effort to get through!!! Now, it’s a race, and it’s up to the dice whether Dorothy and the tin man live. When you force him to elongate time with that task, it heightens the drama and makes the game exciting. If adding Effort doesn’t do that, then don’t require it.

Other good examples for when Effort is the right tool include: the hallway is caving in! Use your lockpicks to get the door open or we all die!; the lava is rising!; the ritual is about to complete!; the hostages are being killed; the horde is coming, wave after wave of enemies!; we have to bend these bars and the guards are coming!; etc. See how a lot of these are used in conjunction with a timer and time pressure? Whenever you have a task like that, consider using a temporal tool like Effort to slow your players down and challenge them.

Sometimes, when you require Effort, you can have players make the initial Attempt roll and roll their Effort, but then on successive turns, you can have the players skip the Attempt roll and go straight to rolling Effort. I use this mechanic sometimes when I have required Effort for a task, but miraculously, the players have somehow negated the time pressure, so it’s time to move on, OR sometimes when I only want to slow the players a little (maybe to give time for a wave of enemies to crash into them), then I’ll require an Attempt but no successive Attempt rolls — only the straight Effort each turn. In these scenarios, part of when to use the tool and when to use the stripped down tool comes with a little DM experience. Usually, I’ll let the events and the moment in the fiction decide which tool is right.

On this last point, don’t be afraid to experiment. I have used Effort in the wrong spot and had play slow down for no reason. I think that’s a bit of a DM’s badge you earn, but the key is to learn from that mistake and try to remember to use Effort only when it’s necessary.

In any event, I hope that helps. :slightly_smiling_face:


Lol yes @Strider, I wasn’t sure how active either posts were so I thought I’d try both!
Thanks for this! I understand much better now.


I don’t blame ya! I’ve found this forum and the Discord server are the most active places, with the latter being more active but also has a bit less… substance for lack of a better descriptor.


Well…It all makes sense when that pissed off dragon is going enter that space in two rounds to discover the character picking the lock to its beloved treasure room.


Not much to add here…but there are other threads on the topic.

Here are things I don’t typically require any roll at all for…

  1. Healing HP out of combat. (assuming there is a healer type, or they have a couple of hours of rest)
  2. Doing anything with no risk. (deciphering that coded message while resting)

Things I am the only one I know that requires an effort roll for.

  1. Searching
  2. Spotting
  3. Stealth
  4. Certain Saves

That said, I don’t usually require a heart for any of these. 1~5 might give better detail on spotting something (especially in complex and fast-paced combat). A combined effort of 2x (party members) might be enough to sneak past guards playing a card game.

As I write this, the more I realize with some adjustments the game can be played with effort and no (attempt roll) easy roll= go up a die type… hard roll = go down a die type…

The only question comes to traps…opening the trapped door…disarming a trapped chest…
This would require some changes (roll a total of less than 5 on any effort roll) anyway it’s where my mind is at the moment.

Timers with consequence should always be Running. Even when a timer die is not on the table, there is a clock in the GMs head of what the enemy is doing! Or there is a slow-moving indestructible Zamboni coming for the PCs!!!
Attempt and Effort should always have consequences. If not, skip them!

There is a lot of nuances and knowing when and when not to require a roll…that requires practice and player trust…I don’t think I will ever run a campaign without effort or without timers…they might look different but those concepts are just Part of RPGs for me at this point!