In baseball it’s three strikes and you’re out. But in tabletop RPG’s, it can be three strikes, plus 8 more strikes before you hit the ball.
Let’s face it, we’ve all had days where the dice just don’t roll in our favor. In our opinion, failure leads to some of the best roleplay experiences at the table, but there is a flip side. While failing a few rolls at opportune moments adds to the narrative of the game, continually failing rolls tends to have the game stagnate, even under the best circumstances.
It’s a uniquely soul-crushing experience to have a character, created for combat, that doesn’t hit once in an encounter due to poor luck. And it gets even worse when failures happen outside of combat. Enter the Fail 3 Rule.
Fail 3 Rule
If any player fails 3 reasonable rolls in a row, the next reasonable action that the player takes is guaranteed to be successful. On the fourth roll, the player still rolls the dice, and if this roll were to fail, it instead succeeds.
The premise is simple enough. If the player fails three times in a row, they can’t possibly fail on the next action! What happens if you fail twice, then succeed? Then reset the counter! Failures cannot be saved, it must be consecutive failures in order to count.
While this goes entirely against the conventional rules of RPG’s it use exists for the most important part of the game. Fun. It simply isn’t fun to get bad roll after bad roll without giving your character a chance to shine. While a healthy mix of failure is good in tabletop, so is the mix of success.
I’m sure that some of you can already see this loophole coming. Players can easily use this rule to meta game, failing 3 unimportant, yet ridiculously difficult, skill checks to gain an auto-success. This is why the actions must be reasonable to count towards the Fail 3 Rule.
Reasonable actions are ones with a decent chance of success. Failing to convince the Grand Vizier that you are the actual Sultan, and the one that sits on the throne is an impostor, would not be a reasonable action. It is inherently risky, difficult and succeeding in this action would be legendary. Likewise, trying to summon a phoenix by whistling like the Lone Ranger, or rolling to stumble upon a grand relic would also be ridiculous in nature and not count towards the Fail 3 rule.
If any player fails 3 reasonable rolls in a row, they will gain advantage on all reasonable checks until they succeed on a roll.
An alternate way to work with this is to grant the player advantage on all reasonable checks until they succeed. This increases the player’s likelihood of rolling a critical success. Rolling the success themselves is more rewarding for your players in that they will actually roll their success as well, instead of just having it handed to them. While this alternate rule works great for d20 systems, like D&D, we wouldn’t recommend it for any Dice Pool systems.
Do you love the Fail 3 Rule? Hate it? How do you handle multiple failures at your table when someone has terrible luck? Let us know in the comments below!