Sunday, November 10, 2013

Experience by Critical Fail

So no post in a while.

Study work, yada yada.

Something that I thought would be worthy of a blog-post would be the idea of gaining Experience from rolling critical fails. This is currently my preferred method of advancement in my homebrew campaign.  I like it because it goes a step to modelling the idea that characters advance in the areas they use, rather than the areas they don't use.  For me at least it helps to combat the orc-who-does-nothing-but-cut-people-with-axes-but-somehow-learns-to-multiclass-as-a-wizard problem (other than dealing with this outside mechanics with GM's discretion to say "look buddy I know you want to be a wizard, but you really gotta roleplay that before I'm going to let you multiclass.")

The essential premise is that you could supplement normal experience or replace normal experience gain  (and I think supplement is best in this case) from combat or looting or whatever your system uses, with experience gain from critical fails, critical fumbles or whatever you want to call them.

By this I mean quite simply when a character rolls a natural 1 something horrible happens to them. The GM fiats something nasty and the player has to deal with it, AND they gain experience. Monte Cook plays with a similar idea in Numenera of the GM Intervention granting experience if accepted, and from my wikipedia and web gained understanding of the Burning Wheel something similar might be at work there.

Anyway. Down to the specifics of this idea and I'm going to try and keep this as system agnostic as possible, which is kind a difficult to do because this assumes several factors about the game your playing, but I'm sure if your game is that fair removed you can lift the general premise from this. This will all generally revolve around d20 systems that use experience, and has similar advancement thresholds to DnD.

My homebrew uses a buy-whatever-ability-or-advancement-you-want-for-experience-cost model of advancement (it has no levels) so for that when a character critical fails they gain experience directly towards the next level of whatever ability or skill they were checking on.  I think this idea of experience from failure can still be hacked into a level based system, you just need a little more math.

What I would suggest is that when a character rolls a natural 1, and fumbles or critical fails the GM comes up with something bad to happen to them based on the check (falling over, falling off the cliff, angering the noble, dropping their sword, fainting) and they gain experience. This idea of critical fails is already quite salient and lots of people/games use it so adding experience to it shouldn't be hard. It also has the brilliant effect of kinda-being-how-we-learn-in-the-real-world, in that we don't get experience from killing monsters or looting treasure, but rather from fucking-up-and-learning-how-not-to-do-that-again.

After telling the player the effects of the natural 1 you should then dish out some experience to them. This should be some sort of appropriate amount. I think that based on some quick d20 calculations that the number of experience gained should be:

10 x DC or Target Number of the Check

Thus rolling a 1 on a DC 15 check gives 150 experience, and rolling a 1 on a DC 30 check gives 300 experience.

Hmm good so far but not enough experience gain, particularly at higher levels, this would slow to a crawl.

I would then modify this by adding some edition experience based off the target's skill/modifier on the check they are making. This doesn't make intuitive real world sense, but works well in the structure of d20. Thus I would run the full experience gain as:

(10 x DC or Target Number of the Check) + (100 x Relevant Class Ability or Skill Modifier for the Check*)

or more simply

Experience = 10 x DC +100 x Modifier

* I wouldn't include ability score bonus here, just things like Skill Ranks, Feats, Abilities, Base attack Bonus, if it's a save then the save bonus is fine, if its spell check perhaps Caster Level is appropriate. What exactly applies to this modifier is I guess entirely up to GM discretion, but I would be inclined to include everything but ability score bonuses, or if you are running a earlier than 3.5th system maybe you would want to also include ability score bonuses  I leave this up to you because you are more than capable of figuring it out. Equipment bonuses should definitely not count though.

This means that your Fightorson son of Fightor will gain more experience from rolling a natural 1 on his attack roll, than your Magessia daughter of Mageon will.  It also means that as characters level up the experience gained from natural 1s also increases at a small rate, to account for the dramatic shift in level experience. Things will still be quite slow going however. For example:

Fightor rolls a natural 1 on his attempt to skewer the knight in plate. The AC of the Knight is 18 and Fightor has a BAB of +6. The GM declares that Fightor has been disarmed and lets the Knight make a free attack (or whatever they think is appropriate) and he awards Fightor with experience. This is equal to 10 x 18 (10 x AC of the Knight) + 100 x 6 (100 x BAB of the attack roll) and Fightor gains 680 experience !

Similarly Sneakthief the halfling attempts to disarm a trap DC 20 and he has a +10 to disarming traps with his relevant skills and feats. He rolls a natural 1 and the GM declares that the trap goes off and resolves the trap's potentially dismembering effects on Sneakthief and awards experience, the Halfling gains 10 x 20 + 100 x 10 experience yielding 1200 experience.

Whilst the amount gained from modifier may seem quite large (being 100 x Mod rather than 10 x mod) this means that characters who fail spectacularly in their respective professions and specialities gain more experience than if they had failed spectacularly at something that is unrelated to their class. This has the benefit of modelling characters advancing according to skills and specialities actually used. A Fighter who doesn't make many attack rolls under this system will advance more slowly than one who does.

In a different system simply change the amount of experience gained and the exact modifier and presto. Also systems which are level-less can track this experience gain against certain upgrades if you like, meaning that critically failing a test gives you experience directly towards whatever you checked on, rather than anything else.

There are definitely tweaks this system needs for your own game (I'm thinking crazy numeric modifiers from synergy and skill and ability in 3.5) but should fit with a little creativity.  It is also important to note that this system is not entirely designed to replace experience via slaying monsters, or from adventure rewards or from loot but rather to compliment it. The potential issue with gaining experience from critical fails is that some people are lucky and never roll 1s. Also some people are horrendously unlucky and always roll 1s. If this balance issue causes you concerns, you use your common sense and balance this out but giving experience at the end of the session or whatever you normally do, just decrease the amount slightly over-all to account for the new experience gain from horrendous failure.

The only other thing to be said would be, if they roll a natural 1 and you can't think of something horrendous to inflict on them for their critical fail / fumble then maybe don't award experience, or vastly reduce the experience gain!

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