Critical failures and level modifiers give weird results to outclassed characters


General Discussion


This is just an interaction I happened to think of today, although I haven't actually playtested in a few weeks.

The level modifier and the constant DC escalation essentially facilitate a strong rules-feeling of the players becoming more competent and facing much harder challenges (which is desirable).

But combined with the critical failure rules it has an odd corollary. If a person attempts a task which is levelled way beyond them, they will almost certainly fail - that's fine. But as it is, if it's far above them they will also almost certainly critically fail, which doesn't seem fine.

For example - if a significatly high level spell caster throws a fireball at a peasant, they will probably not be able to dodge (fine). But actually, if they even try to dodge they will almost certainly make the damage twice as bad as if they'd stayed still (huh?)

If a random drunk dude happens to wander around a certain pirate town, asking questions about the local religion, they have at the very least a 50% chance of ending up cursed by the goddess.

A regular village musician who plays around the fountain is likely to suddenly play completely incompetently if a PC or other high level character joins the crowd watching.

So.. what I'm pondering is, keep critical failures only on 1s and only have critical successes.


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Critical failures are what make the +/-10 system interesting for me. It means that as a GM I have 3 different levels where the same effect can be meaningful.

I can have a high level NPC caster use a lower level spell on the party when they are still low level, to give the party a scare where they are essentially fighting to not critically fail, but later, when they face the same caster when they have leveled up, it will feel like they have really grown. Seeing the Evil Wizard killing peasants with a fire ball that the party can more easily dodge helps the party feel important. Since spells like fireball have no attack roll, the targets' save is the only thing that really creates a sense of power for the spell and it is nice to have 4 layers of that.

As far as the random drunk dude getting cursed for asking questions about the local religion, I love that! If it is a thing that happens in the town, it probably means that most locals know better, and hush the stranger that starts to ask about it unless they are more affraid of the person asking the question than of the curse.

The last example is the only awkward one and is probably better resolved by making performances have complexity levels and static DCs. So that a low level musician may play a simple tune well, but that simple tunes, even played well can only be so impressive to refined audiences. Add a layer of proficiency gating to the complexity level of what complexity a performance can be attempted (untrained = simple, and then the other levels named after their proficiency level), and you also avoid a lot of the other complaints about untrained performers outdoing expert+ trained musicians.

As a PC, I want others to critical fail against my spells and abilities, which means I need to accept the possibility that I might critically fail as well, incentivizing me not to dump and important defenses.


I think the +/- 10 system is pretty good though I think it would work better with a 1/2 level scaling so it's a bit less automatic with level but overall with your examples those mostly feel right to me.

Peasant cannot dodge high level wizard fireball they will probably take double damage.

Random low level drunk dude won't manage to get any lore. If there is a critical failure effect because the gods are jealous of their secrets then yes that poor sodden sap is doomed.

As to the last one I don't think that's how its supposed to work. The musician plays as good as he always does he just fails to impress the high level character.

Also just because a critical success/failure mechanic exists doesn't mean it should always be used. A lot of checks (such as attack rolls) don't have a critical failure effect.


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I'm not sure any of these are actually problems.

hyphz wrote:


For example - if a significatly high level spell caster throws a fireball at a peasant, they will probably not be able to dodge (fine). But actually, if they even try to dodge they will almost certainly make the damage twice as bad as if they'd stayed still (huh?)

That isn't how "choosing not to dodge" works. Choosing not to dodge means you automatically critically fail, just like you auto crit fail if you are asleep.

Quote:
If a random drunk dude happens to wander around a certain pirate town, asking questions about the local religion, they have at the very least a 50% chance of ending up cursed by the goddess.

Yes, a random drunk dude who accidentally says something bad about Besmara is going to get cursed. She's a petty goddess, and that's why it is hard to get people to talk about it her. (Whether this is a fun mechanic for the adventure, I won't argue, but it is a perfectly plausible premise.)

Quote:
A regular village musician who plays around the fountain is likely to suddenly play completely incompetently if a PC or other high level character joins the crowd watching.

That's not how it works. First off, DCs for perform checks are set based on how ambitious your performance is, not just the people listening. If you are attempting to impress a more discerning audience and make money off them, it is a harder check. (It also grants more money.) If you attempt to perform a harder piece, that is a harder DC.

A random high level bard walking up while you busk in the town square doesn't make you play worse. It doesn't even make your DC harder-- the bard probably doesn't care and keeps going. Your audience setting the DC are the random commoners tossing you copper.

The one exception is if the bard feels like being a dick-- at which point they have a higher capacity to heckle you. They can critique you with more sharpness, and use their charisma to get the crowd against you. But that scenario basically ignores how the "Stage a Performance" activity works as written-- which is that you decide how discerning an audience you play for.


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I am having trouble matching the examples to the rules.

hyphz wrote:
For example - if a significatly high level spell caster throws a fireball at a peasant, they will probably not be able to dodge (fine). But actually, if they even try to dodge they will almost certainly make the damage twice as bad as if they'd stayed still (huh?)

I didn't know that standing still was an option. That might count as deliberately critically failing, so double damage anyway.

hyphz wrote:
If a random drunk dude happens to wander around a certain pirate town, asking questions about the local religion, they have at the very least a 50% chance of ending up cursed by the goddess.

That is not any of the Religion skills--Recall Knowledge, Identify Magic, Learn a Divine Spell, or Read Scripture--since at worst those give false information and not a curse. The only mention of "curse" in the Skills chapter is identifying magic on cursed items.

hyphz wrote:
A regular village musician who plays around the fountain is likely to suddenly play completely incompetently if a PC or other high level character joins the crowd watching.

Okay, that is the Perform or Stage a Performance activity on page 155, so I know the rules for the example. The village musician at the fountain is Staging a Performance, i.e., Practice a Trade via Performance. His goal is to earn coin. The wandering high-level character is going to be unimpressed and won't donate coin, but since he was playing to a crowd of peasants with familiar sing-along villager songs, that high-level character is not in the target audience anyway. It would be like if a wounded high-level character staggered into a Treat Wounds session after it began. He is not part of the DC since he is not one of the people being treated.

But if after the first Performance, that high-level character yells out, "Can you play Mozart?" (or some equivalent composer in the fantasy world), then the village musician would be humiliated. The wording on Perform's critical failure is harsh, "You demonstrate only incompetence," and perhaps needs a little softening, "Your music is clearly short of the mark," to reflect that maybe the mark was set too high for a regular village musician. Though in actual roleplay, what is the difference between "Failure Your performance falls flat" and "Critical Failure You demonstrate only incompetence"?

Dark Archive

I don't think the critical system works as you are explaining at all. Doing something far beyond one's level would end in critical failure 99% of the time. For example, if an obese, 480 lb man tried to break the world record of a 600 meter sprint, he would critically fail, possibly only sprinting a short ten meters and possibly causing himself a heart attack. That is kind of like a critical fail as written in the playtest. In addition, according to the skills table, each level has a tier of checks depending on difficulty (as in a check for a level 20 should be impossible for a level 1). As for your examples, I'll address them.

When casting a fireball at a peasant, the peasant would take just as much damage if the peasant stood there as if he/she tried to dodge. Critical failure in this situation means the inability to move in a manner to protect oneself. In the same manner, a character at level 20, who decides not to dodge, who intentionally allows a fireball to hit him/her (for whatever reason) will critically fail.

As for asking about the local religion, I can find nothing that states a character will be cursed by a god. The three possible checks I can think of are diplomacy (gather information) in which a critical failure results in gaining incorrect information, religion (recall knowledge) in which you remember incorrect knowledge for a critical failure, or society (recall knowledge) which is the same as religion for a critical failure. I mean, I could also see diplomacy (make an impression) in which the character's impression of the random drunk will deteriorate further. Nothing sounds anything like being cursed by a god, even with a high level's check.

Now, I the musician is the closest I can see to a possible problem; however, if you use the table of difficulty, addressing the crowd should not be very difficult. While some in the group may not find a musician's music to their liking, that should not too greatly affect the overall crowd. I do not see anywhere that states a performance check is against the highest DC within a group; at most, it should be on an individual basis, and for a group as large as in a town's fountain area, I would think it would best serve to give the group an average DC based on the general disposition of the group, not just for the greatest individuals in said group.

As such, I do not think the critical and critical failure system should be changed. It makes the system more enjoyable for me.


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The curse is in reference to the (frankly mind boggling) situation in Adventure 6 in the playtest. If you dare try ask around town about a big gala that everyone for miles should have heard about, you have to pass a crazy high DC check or get cursed. It should be basically common knowledge, DC 10, but they scaled it to the party's level. Adventure 6 is actually the source of a lot of fears about PF2 just setting all DCs based on party level instead of what would actually make sense in the world.


Fuzzypaws wrote:
The curse is in reference to the (frankly mind boggling) situation in Adventure 6 in the playtest. If you dare try ask around town about a big gala that everyone for miles should have heard about, you have to pass a crazy high DC check or get cursed. It should be basically common knowledge, DC 10, but they scaled it to the party's level. Adventure 6 is actually the source of a lot of fears about PF2 just setting all DCs based on party level instead of what would actually make sense in the world.

Actually, you're conflating two different Gather Information checks. Asking about the party is it's own thing with different DC and no critical failure condition. Asking about the goddess is what gets you cursed.

Also seems worth noting that you need a 15 to critically fail the goddess check, and at level 14 you literally only do that on a 1 assuming you're trained in diplomacy. (And the adventure tells you to be good at diplomacy.)

Liberty's Edge

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Starfinder Superscriber

I'm sad in general about critical failures. Even if they're just on a roll of 1, that's still 5% of the time. It makes the game not about heroes, but about the Three Stooges.


rknop wrote:
I'm sad in general about critical failures. Even if they're just on a roll of 1, that's still 5% of the time. It makes the game not about heroes, but about the Three Stooges.

It's dangerous to be sure but at least attacks have no critical failure effect, that's what really turned everything into three stooges in my experience. I think critical failure makes sense for spell saves and for a lot of skills but needs to be used sparingly and only when it makes sense.

Silver Crusade

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Critical failures on information checks discourage players from interacting with the world around them, IMHO.

Liberty's Edge

PCScipio wrote:
Critical failures on information checks discourage players from interacting with the world around them, IMHO.

So do liars and gossips IRL but people stiiiillll talk!


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Themetricsystem wrote:
PCScipio wrote:
Critical failures on information checks discourage players from interacting with the world around them, IMHO.
So do liars and gossips IRL but people stiiiillll talk!

Yeah, despite being fully aware of crit fails being a thing somehow none of my players are suddenly and inexplicably afraid to actually try things like knowledge checks.

Fun fact, due to Inspire Competence and some great luck, the party I ran for Red Flags actually crit succeeded on 3 of the 4 gather information topics for that adventure. They succeeded on the last one.

Players in my party have only crit failed knowledge a couple of times, one of which actually led to a hilarious and memorable moment (one player accidentally identified some Gnolls as being from a friendly tribe and so most of the party approached with weapons sheathed. They quickly regretted it). So if the GM does their part, really even crit fails, rare as they are, can be used to enhance the experience of a session.

I really just don't get the idea of "I might mess this thing up so I don't even want to try". (I mean in PF. I get it all too well IRL but that's different) I felt it was more of a problem in PF1 where you couldn't fail at anything if you knew how to optimize in it. In PF2 success isn't a granted if you're doing stuff at your level, which by definition is how stuff AT YOUR LEVEL should be. If something is well below your reach you may not even crit fail on a 1, let alone anything higher. So it's not like every question you ask has a 5% chance to screw you over, it all depends on what specifically you are doing.


Pathfinder Companion, Maps Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber; Starfinder Charter Superscriber

The weirdness occurs when the players know that their knowledge bonus vs. the DC is so low that any information the GM gives for such a check is more likely to be false than true, so they would either assume that any information given by the GM false or refuse to make the check because complete ignorance is better than being forced to roleplay belief in false information.


My players roll their own Recall Knowledge rolls and thus they know when they rolled low. My rolling in secret would not help, because one is my wife and two are old friends. They can read my reaction to secret rolls. The delay when I dream up false information is obvious.

However, we have a social contract about the game. Our mutual purpose is to tell a good story. And when the dice roll that the characters believe false information, that becomes part of the story. Therefore, they roleplay those characters as believing the false information. Plus, I try to invent colorful false information that could lead to silly and embarrassing consequences rather than tragic consequences.

I asked my wife for advice on helping less experienced player roleplay that their character believes false information, but she is too tired to think about it today. My other players say that it is a matter of separating themselves from the character. In my own case, I believe that receiving false information is a consequence of the game and not roleplaying it would be like forgetting to record hit point damage on my character sheet or using my real intelligence on a low-Int character.

Also I looked up the Besmara's curse. It does not come from a critical failure. And under most situations, it is not a deadly curse. A deadly curse would sink the storytelling. Instead, the curse is a one-week punishment, a divine command from a harsh goddess. Trying to finish a mission while crippled by a punishment could be deadly, but that is also a story.


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I feel like in general the only people in the setting who are attempting checks way out of their depth are either A) doomed or B) Player Characters, so this doesn't bother me.


Mathmuse wrote:
Also I looked up the Besmara's curse. It does not come from a critical failure. And under most situations, it is not a deadly curse. A deadly curse would sink the storytelling. Instead, the curse is a one-week punishment, a divine command from a harsh goddess. Trying to finish a mission while crippled by a punishment could be deadly, but that is also a story.

Are you sure you looked it up? "and on a critical failure, a PC suffers from Besmara’s curse" is literally the line.

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