Delver Evolution: Wasted Turns

One potential source of frustration during play is wasted turns. A wasted turn happen when the character’s actions have no noticeable effects.

A common source of wasted turns is failing action checks. While the chance of failure does add tension, repeatedly failing to contribute tends to be more frustrating than fun.

This becomes more of an issue at higher levels. In most versions of D&D the difference between an expert’s check modifiers and those of non-experts as character level increases. This means at higher levels, any check the non-expert stands a decent chance of passing, the expert automatically succeeds at. By the same token, anything that the expert may fail at becomes an automatic failure for non-experts. This puts the DM in awkward position of tailoring the difficulty to the expert and having everyone else sit on the sidelines or focusing on non-experts and letting experts succeed at every check.

Today I’d like to look at a few ways around this problem.

Spending Skill

One option is giving characters the ability to burn check modifiers on other effects. That means you can tailor the difficulty at non-experts and let experts spend their extra bonuses on perks and stunts.

This approach does keep the expert from feeling like their high skill is wasted. However, you will still see expert automatically succeeding on most checks, as they’ll rarely spend enough to lower their chance of success by much.

Partial Success

Another option is granting limited benefits at at check value that’s reachable by non-experts. Then you can set the target value for full benefits to something that still challenges experts.

This does address diverging modifiers as you can give benefits to both groups. It does take a little extra design work, though less that a more extensive system redesign would.

Limit Modifiers

Finally, we could keep the modifiers from diverging in the first place. This means putting a tighter cap on how far ahead a specialist can go. However, these limits can be beneficial as they free the specialist up to shift their resources to other areas of expertise.

Ability Score Example

Here’s an idea I’ve been toying with that combines partial successes with limited modifiers.

Let’s start by taking WotC linear scaling of ability score modifiers. Now let’s say instead of shifting the number a score of 10 maps to a modifier of 0, we just let the modifier be 1/3rd the score. In addition to being simpler math, it opens up an interesting trick.

Now let’s say attacks and opposed checks work something like this:

  • Attack roll = d20 + base attack + attack score bonus
  • If attack roll >= 11 + base defense, gain a partial success.
  • If attack roll >= 11 + base defense + defense score bonus, gain a full success.

For example, let’s say a fireball is an Intelligence vs Dexterity attack. If the attack beats the target’s base defense it does a little damage. If it beats their Dexterity defense (1-6 points higher) it does extra damage.

If we keep base attack and defense roughly equal for most character, this give us:

  • Worst Case (+1 vs +6): 55% chance of partial success, 25% chance of full success.
  • Matched Case (+3 vs +3): 65% chance of partial success, 50% chance of full success.
  • Best Case (+6 vs +1): 80% chance of partial success, 75% chance of full success.

That means even a character using their weakest ability vs their opponent best defense has a better than even chance of having at least some effect. More often, they’ll be looking at only a 1 in 3 or lower chance of having a wasted turn.

Published in: on August 10, 2011 at 10:40 pm  Leave a Comment  
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