Collateral Effects and Rider Clauses
All this thinking about extracting additional layers of meaning from a roll has wormed its way pretty deep under the skin. This time, however, the thinking’s directed toward much more sane and practical applications.
I’ve always been fond of the classic attribute testing mechanic of “roll equal or under a stat”, if for nothing else because it allowed better differentiation between characters. Bearing Dexterity 15 really was different from Dexterity 14, rather than a player being condemned to beat all those nonconformist numbers on the charsheet into round shapes, so as to squeeze the most modifier juice from out of them.
Now, I admit calculating “roll under attribute minus two” rather than a straight up DC can be fiddly and I wouldn’t want to return to it. But there are other ways and more things to consider than first meets the eye.
Picture a basic d20 roll, for any given task. Now, in your mind’s eye, muddle that task, making it complex or made amid other weighty or even dangerous conditions, maybe a character is firing a bow from horseback or fighting on treacherous footing, things that cannot be fully explained by just *one* of the character’s attributes. This sets the stage for the referee to ask for a dual purpose roll, one made to beat a DC while simultaneously being equal or under one of the character’s attributes.
The prize to be aimed for, of course, cannot be for success or failure, as that’s what the original target number is already gauging and such would unduly shrink the window for success, oftentimes shutting it completely and rendering the task impossible. But there are plenty of collateral rider clauses that can be affixed to a roll on a given complex action. For a referee who wants to clamp down on excessive rolls, this can come into its own as an unobtrusive way to account for things like terrain hazards or other effects that avoid or produce secondary consequences not meriting a roll by themselves. If tactfully applied, it could mean plenty of design space opened and potentially a few rolls saved.
It doesn’t necessarily matter if the original roll succeeds or not in order to activate a collateral effect. An attack can hit plenty hard and still have as consequence the agressor slipping and falling into the mud from lack of footing.
The “secondary” attribute can perfectly well be the same one fuelling the primary roll. Such is completely immaterial to the mechanic at hand.
This post does not in any way account for skills, which at the end of the day are just another numeric modifier layered atop attribute checks, so it should be fine.
Lastly and most importantly: if the character has any notion of what he’s getting into, then the player likewise must be given a clear warning of any acessory consequences in advance of rolling. Many of the collaterals could turn out important enough to warrant the player procuring some alternative or passing up on making the roll entirely.´
Leading from the rearguard - theoretical examples
Here are some examples of what is being suggested:
Roll under Strength – For martial uses, most naturally, or for occasions where strength may falter, despite the main task itself possibly being delicate.
- A character is hanging from a rope, ledge or rock face while engaged in combat or taking some other distracting non-climbing action, such as rifling through the inventory or picking a window latch while suspended. The referee warns that if the roll, attack or otherwise, exceeds the character’s Strength this will result in his hold slipping and him plunging down (or a save being called to avoid such a fate).
- The protagonist squares off against a beastie with a hardened shell that only brute force can bypass, integrated into the thing’s stat-block comes the rider clause: the creature will take only half damage unless the blow is rolled under an attacker’s Strength.
Roll under Dexterity – For when performing complex tasks that also require a steady hand, ranged precision or balance.
- As interaction with a terrain hazard, it can be ruled that while fighting over an area of slippery surface any attack roll that exceeds the striker’s Dexterity will mean that character falls onto the floor.
- A mounted character attempting a missile attack while riding can be required to make the attack roll under the Dexterity score, on pain of a confirmation roll being called for.
Roll under Constitution – Physical resilience as part of ongoing action, of course. What follows are some very prosaic examples, but thoughts around how to better streamline exhaustion mechanics were the seeds from which this whole idea sprouted.
- As a character does something physically demanding, the referee indicates a point (preferably defined by the rules) past which exhaustion taking its toll becomes a possibility. Every roll thereupon starts being measured against the Constitution score, signaling that the character succumbs to exhaustion if it is exceeded (or, for the more roll-intensive approach, triggering a CON save against the condition).
- Engaging in combat amid the swirling of a fire’s noxious fumes can imply that each roll also be compared to the characters’ Constitution, with every roll that exceeds deducting hit points.
Roll under Intelligence – Situations requiring memory or mental processes of reasoning, assimilation and problem-solving apart from the main task.
- While disarming a trap or picking a lock, as a standard Dexterity check is called for, the character’s Intelligence can be called into action to model the failure tolerance: should the Dex check fail, the character can try again to tackle the mechanism as long as his roll was equal to or under his Intelligence. If it exceeds it, the mechanism is determined to be beyond the character’s ability.
- Crafting, meditating, training or any other form of prolonged effort can yield additional tiers of secondary rewards triggered by succeeding while rolling under the Intelligence stat.
Roll under Wisdom – Also dealing with mental processes, but focused more on mundane experience and sensorial aspects rather than cold logic.
- When conducting a verbal probe for information through idle banter – which is to say, a Charisma roll – rolling under Wisdom can be used both for triggering positive collaterals (even if failure occurs in extracting the information the character desires, the mark can be kept talking as long as the player rolls under his Wisdom total) or flagging negative ones (if the character’s effort fails and rolls in excess of his Wisdom he unwittingly raises suspicions as to his motives).
- For sensorial collateral riders: a clean lockpicking attempt that doesn’t leave any traces of a break-in might require both the successful DEX check as well as rolling equal or under Wisdom. Same for tracking quarry in the outdoors without simultaneously leaving a trail oneself.
Roll under Charisma – Dealing with actions with accessory needs in terms of persuasion, courage or showmanship.
- Of a character that has already fallen prey to intimidation it might then be required that all of his rolled actions and attacks against the creature causing the condition thenceforth be rolled under his Charisma, lest he succumb to fear and a confirmation roll become necessary.
- While squaring off with a merchant over prices (contested Charisma rolls), pass or fail, as long as the character also keeps on rolling under his Charisma, the other party won’t shut down additional haggling attempts by making the current offer the final one.
I’ve just whipped these up within an hour, it is natural that some will work out better in practice than others. But even with experience I’m thinking inventing these in the spur of the moment would be a bit taxing, not to mention uneven in quality so its use might work best if they’re laid out ahead of time on a terrain’s hazard key, a creature’s stat block or, in a more encompassing fashion for certain cases, codified into the general table rules themselves.
As the reader will doubtlessly notice, this mechanic can contextually substitute for Advantage and Disadvantage (by granting or demanding confirmation rolls) or to a given extent work alongside with them, though being a step in the direction of the complexity that their inception was aimed at mitigating. Also, the mechanic can in some cases fill the same design space as the ‘degrees of failure’ method (failing or passing a check by 5 or more bringing about consequences), but it isn’t strictly the same thing, as it keys on a fixed number diverse from the d20 roll itself, again meaning both mechanics can be used in conjunction.
What does set it apart is that it engages more than one part of the charsheet, which is something I like as it breaks away from the specialized character mold, insomuch as the character with the better chances for primary success won’t necessarily be the one best suited to activate or prevent the collateral consequences. The harder hitting fighter can have the weaker footwork, after all.