Make failures more interesting: degrees of success in ICRPG



I was listening to an episode of Adventuring Academy where Brennan Lee Mulligan talked with Connie Chang, who said that they incorporated the degrees of success from PbtA into their D&D-games.
It works like this. When characters make and fail their saving throw they get to choose from a list of three options:

  1. taking damage
  2. destroying gear/taking a condition
  3. answering a really hard question

Taking damage is the really straightforward option here.
Taking a condition could be something temporary but also something permanent like scarring or (if that’s the type of game that is played) loss of body parts.
The question players have to answer, establishes a fact about the characters in the world that somehow changes that character.
When players fail a check, they have to choose one, if they critically fail they have to choose all three.

I think that can easily be ported to ICRPG as well. The design goal here is not to somehow translate probabilties or try to map PbtA-probabilties onto ICRPG-probabilities.
The goal is rather to make failure more narratively exciting while at the same time encouraging player autonomy. Some attacks (not all) will come with options to choose from if a character fails a save against them. The player chooses the outcome of the failed check and can control in what way they want their character to change.

Example: The cleric Saenna is attacked by the king of the bullywug. The bullywug’s tongue lashes out and Saenna has to roll DEX to not be hit. She fails and has to choose from the following list:

  1. take damage (the tongue does GUN damage)
  2. loose random loot
  3. The situation is disgusting. In what way do you think your PC will be impeded from now on?

Instead of telling Saenna what the outcome of their failed check is, they can decide if they simply want to take the damage, loose some loot or maybe develop a phobia against bullywugs making future checks HARD. The important thing in preparing those lists from a GM-perspective is to make each option equally hard, otherwise players will just choose the option without consequences.
I am going to test this idea of having degrees of success in my upcoming games to see if this only sounds good on (virtual) paper or if it is a really cool and low-key way to introduce more narrative into combat. Take care y’all! :slight_smile:

PbtA elements in ICRPG
Power your Index Cards by the Apocalypse

I really like that it’s not about changing the odd of success and failure, but bringing the player into building the fiction of what failure looks like. Very cool!


The whole “player contributed lore has a mechanical effect” was a nut I’ve been trying to crack for a while in my own setting/system. I really like your implementation, simple and elegant.


All the praise should really go to Connie Chang, from whom I blatantly stole the idea. :smiley:


Ahhh, yes, no shame in that game!

Side note: there’s a documentary about the recording of Peter Gabriel’s fourth album. At one point he explains that he tunes in to radio stations from different parts of the world and when he hears something cool he records it for later inspiration. But… he uses the word “steal” for that process. I think there’s an honesty to that that is good. We all do it, whether it be inspiration or directly lifting a mechanic to use elsewhere. Something about “steal” just adds an earnestness and humility that I find appealing.


This seems a great middle ground between actually running PBTA games and d20.
I may only have options 1 and 2 for most failed attempts, have the player pick one, but add the third one whith a Crit Fail, choose two of three.

Getting all 3 in a single crit fail seems like a bit too catastrophic, considering we are using a d20, it´s swinginess makes it a bit too “common” for my taste. Regrdless, the implication for this in non-combat encounters seem also quite juicy. Trying to open a door but crit failing


I actually didn’t want to apply degrees of success to all checks a PC makes but only to certain checks (maybe even only to “saving throws” when trying to dodge a fireball or some type of AOE-damage), because I liked the idea of making combat more interesting and player-focused.
Sure, I let my players narrate how they defeat an enemy or how they die in battle, but giving even more narrative control to the players to let them decide if e.g. the petrification ray turns them to stone, destroys the medicine for their father or erases all memories of their loved one seems just way cooler to me from a narrative standpoint.

You could of course apply this trinary structure to other checks as well, but then you would have to write outcomes for every little thing. I feel “mundane” checks like opening a door can be adjudicated by failing forward and coming up with stuff on the fly rather then refering to a list of consequences.

One could of course write moves tied to the attributes and have general ready-made lists when the need arises, but I don’t know how they would look like and if they would work. What do you think?

Okay, now I thought and wrote about it: Power your Index Cards by the Apocalypse :smiley:


NICE idea. ‘Failed’ rolls are always interesting if something narrative happens…ANOTHER thought…you could try the ‘Pay the Price’ rules/tables from ‘Ironsworn’ as an alternative.


depending on the feel of the session or roll made i do varying levels of partial success to complete a roll. it can make a tense situation more interesting or a good negotiation a little spicy. but the use of degrees of success i fell should be based in the difficulty of the roll.

example. hard roll of 14. partial success on 11, costly success on an 8, total failure on 7 or lower.


I have not yet looked at Ironsworn or Ironsworn: Starforged for that matter, but I think there’s some really good stuff in there. Thanks for the tip! :slight_smile:


There is a huge amount of ‘good stuff’ from a GMing point of view in the basic Ironsworn. Cannot say for Starforged as have never seen it. Also, the basic Ironsworn has an amazing ‘Oracle’ system which lends itself to ICRPG play to the max.