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Rewarding failure - a backward idea of increasing skills


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#1 dracopticon

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Posted 05 May 2014 - 08:31 AM

Hello all!

My name is Erik Brickman, I'm from Sweden and haven't posted here for ages. Have been collecting BRP based games and paraphernalia for 30 years now, and am still hooked as I think BRP is the greatest RPG-system ever invented.
Anyhow, I've been pondering over this idea for quite a while, and perhaps it's not so original but I haven't seen it discussed anywhere else, so here goes. It's about the system for skill increase. The usual way, atleast in Call of Cthulhu and lots of other BRP games, is roll under or equal to succeed in a skill and then jot down a note in the box for advancement, and after the session roll over your skill points to get the right to increase it. So far nothing unusual, eh?

But I've been wanting to change that for like 15 years or something. I want the system to notice failure instead of success. As Oscar Wilde put it: "Experience is merely the name men gave to their mistakes." So the idea is to get a chance to increase the skill from the fact that you miss your skill rolls in the game. But only once per session/per skill as usual (debateable). Then I have never really liked the INT stat. As the real intelligence lies with the player not the character.
I have only thought of using this in a fantasy setting.

And I want to replace INT with LEA (Learning) and it's the rate with which the character learns new things within his or her profession (again debateable). The maximum points you can have is LEA 20. And max in skill points is 100%. Then, for each point below 20 that the character has in LEA, the chance to increase the skill is -5%. So, with a LEA 16, a -20% penalty would imply for rolling for increase. Why you perhaps ask? Well, I am of the conviction that not all skills should be able to get to 100% value (or 99% if you have that as max).

Then another thing: the skill rate should only be able to rise by either 1 or two points. If the character has a LEA of 1-14 it rises with only one point, and if the character has LEA 15-20 it increases with 2 points. But the character should have some sort of "talent-area" that is especially affected by the LEA attribute. Let's say that a travelling merchant has a talent in haggling (Bargain). Here skill areas should be used, and Bargain would be within the Communication skill area. The player of the Merchant have chosen the Communication skill area to be the "talent area" for this Merchant. So for the skills within the Communication skill area are all raised with 1D3+1. LEA should also be able to be raised in the long run, "trained" so to speak.

These are all just loose ideas floating around, still not the firm and tested system I want. But perhaps I am about to get the chance soon. But what do you guys think? Is these all bad ideas or could some of them work?

Edited by dracopticon, 05 May 2014 - 11:18 AM.

"I intend to live forever, or die trying" - Groucho Marx

#2 Mankcam

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Posted 05 May 2014 - 09:24 AM

The idea of learning through mistakes has merit, although I'm unsure if I would want characters to advance too quickly this way. Perhaps player characters could do this with skills 50% or less, as novices definitely learn by mistakes as well as success. Perhaps you could have a limit, maybe 1d4 failed skills per session could also have skill checks at half value, say 1d3% increase or something like that perhaps?

I really like the idea of replacing INT with LEA, that is an excellent improvement

Some interesting ideas here...

Edited by Mankcam, 05 May 2014 - 09:27 AM.


#3 Nakana

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Posted 05 May 2014 - 09:36 AM

I would think being able to do experience checks on failed rolls in game coupled with the rules for LEA would ultimately balance out.

(Even if you fail your roll in-game you can do an experience check, but at a penalty based on your LEA.) Seems legit.

Actually.. now that I've typed that and looked at it.. don't they kind of cancel each other out?

You can learn from your mistakes... but you have a hard time learning?

edit: I guess I'm trying to figure the benefit when the rate of increase may be the same. (Aside from just the mindset of it all.)

#4 Mankcam

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Posted 05 May 2014 - 09:49 AM

Yes, I posted too hastily, my previous suggestion would only complicate the process described.
I am all for having some chance to learn from mistakes, as long as it doesn't gimp you from learning from successes.
Interesting concept

#5 dracopticon

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Posted 05 May 2014 - 10:54 AM

Mankcam wrote:

"[...] although I'm unsure if I would want characters to advance too quickly this way. Perhaps player characters could do this with skills 50% or less, as novices definitely learn by mistakes as well as success. Perhaps you could have a limit, maybe 1d4 failed skills per session could also have skill checks at half value, say 1d3% increase or something like that perhaps?"

Yeah perhaps you're right there Mankcam. One of the main ideas with being able to learn from mistakes is that it can shorten the process of increase. You know, the basic system is: first roll for success, then (if successful) jot the box and afterwards roll over for increase. That's the two parts of the increase mechanism. With this you roll and get a bigger chance of "rolling over" from the beginning. Your inexperienced character has such a much greater chance of increasing than with the old system. But just as you say, it has a risk of letting the pc's advancing too quickly. Though I said it would only be allowed once per session and skill. The spread of skills making progress is of course greater, but I think that is as it should be, but also with the lower actual increase. Instead of D6 or even higher it should most of the time be just one or two points I think. And also keeping the skill cap lower in areas your character isn't well versed in from things like background and culture, or the profession of your parents.

But I think the "talent area" should perhaps be dropped, as it's more in line with reality that people can be promising in totally different areas. The talents should be sprinkled more across all areas. Makes for more interesting characters.


"I really like the idea of replacing INT with LEA, that is an excellent improvement

Some interesting ideas here..."

Thank you!

Edited by dracopticon, 05 May 2014 - 11:09 AM.

"I intend to live forever, or die trying" - Groucho Marx

#6 dracopticon

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Posted 05 May 2014 - 11:06 AM

Nakana wrote:

"I would think being able to do experience checks on failed rolls in game coupled with the rules for LEA would ultimately balance out.

(Even if you fail your roll in-game you can do an experience check, but at a penalty based on your LEA.) Seems legit.

Actually.. now that I've typed that and looked at it.. don't they kind of cancel each other out?

You can learn from your mistakes... but you have a hard time learning?

edit: I guess I'm trying to figure the benefit when the rate of increase may be the same. (Aside from just the mindset of it all.)"

Yep, you have valid points there Nakana!

This topic touches that old discussion "should we have links of shorter adventures where the players have a chance to see if the characters survive and also if the game itself is fun to play OR should we start up a whole lengthy campaign and try to plan our characters for the long road ahead (in spite of the most common result that most newbie characters dies early)?".

Nowadays I mostly choose the earlier stance as a GM. I like strings of shorter adventures instead of campaigns. But that feeling really differs from group to group. The restlessness with most roleplayers todays makes for more of these indie games with emphasis on real roleplaying instead of number crunching system mechanic rules lawyers campaining, which in my experience is a good development. Then again, me and my buddies often return to old school systems (even AD&D), but I'd really like to continue with BRP even in dungeon crawling.
And, for the record, we're now playing a classic random dungeon game in AD&D but with much more weight on real roleplaying and by that building the story of why the characters are there, continuously.

Edited by dracopticon, 05 May 2014 - 11:21 AM.

"I intend to live forever, or die trying" - Groucho Marx

#7 Nakana

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Posted 05 May 2014 - 06:10 PM

I must have completely missed the [ONE skill PER session] caveat that this rule would apply to. Here I was thinking (and it was late at night) this would apply to everything as normal. I actually really like this concept. Learn from your mistakes but with a penalty to learning so it makes it a hard lesson learned. :P

Like I said before, seems legit. ;t)

#8 dracopticon

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Posted 05 May 2014 - 09:26 PM

I must have completely missed the [ONE skill PER session] caveat that this rule would apply to. Here I was thinking (and it was late at night) this would apply to everything as normal. I actually really like this concept. Learn from your mistakes but with a penalty to learning so it makes it a hard lesson learned. :P

Like I said before, seems legit. ;t)



Sorry for the late reply Nakana! Many thanks for your views on this. And yes, I do thinks it's useable, we'll see if I get the chance to play it out during BRP gaming. Would be nice to see if it works. Thanks again!
"I intend to live forever, or die trying" - Groucho Marx

#9 Chaot

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Posted 05 May 2014 - 10:46 PM

What roll is LEA augmenting? is it 100% -20% for the PC with LEA 16?

I think in general the system sounds like it will give you what you want, slow skill progression. I also like that you've made space for a skill category which the PC excels in.

I'm going to suggest that you actually don't need LEA. Without it, the nerd will still have higher scholarly skills, the jock will be physically skilled and the face will be charming. Instead, it could be a failure to be able to make a check at the end of the session, and then the player has to roll higher than the PC's skill. The 100% limit is now hard coded in and it's much less likely that a PC is going to be hanging out at the celling but rather remain at a healthy skill with some chance of failure.

I've actually been awarding skill checks on failures for years and I think it works great, but my aim is high skills and my systems a bit different. I'll expand on it when I have a moment.
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#10 dracopticon

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Posted 06 May 2014 - 05:55 AM

What roll is LEA augmenting? is it 100% -20% for the PC with LEA 16?

I think in general the system sounds like it will give you what you want, slow skill progression. I also like that you've made space for a skill category which the PC excels in.

I'm going to suggest that you actually don't need LEA. Without it, the nerd will still have higher scholarly skills, the jock will be physically skilled and the face will be charming. Instead, it could be a failure to be able to make a check at the end of the session, and then the player has to roll higher than the PC's skill. The 100% limit is now hard coded in and it's much less likely that a PC is going to be hanging out at the celling but rather remain at a healthy skill with some chance of failure.

I've actually been awarding skill checks on failures for years and I think it works great, but my aim is high skills and my systems a bit different. I'll expand on it when I have a moment.


LEA is meant to work like the INT stat, but without reflecting on the thinking power, instead be a degree of experience. How scholarly and generally educated a person is, by both books or transferred knowledge and life itself. The Idea and Knowledge rolls of BRP is very helpful sometimes, this is where LEA comes in.

And yes I'd want the progress of skill rates to be really slow, so much so that I'm thinking of expanding on the idea of how to lose knowledge over a length of time, when not using the skill(s). I know there's already some mechanics done on this, but I don't really know how it works.

Really nice to hear that you've been using the failure as a means of progress. I'd like to hear in more detail how it works in your games, if and when you have the time.
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#11 Chaot

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Posted 06 May 2014 - 01:32 PM

You could leave it up to the players to decide. At experience time tell them to pick a skill they haven't used recently and reduce it by 1.

For myself, I've been using success and failure to trigger checks because I think we learn by both. I tied it to a very rudimentary experience system, which kind of simulates what the PCs are paying attention to. So in a given session a PC may have used seven or eight skills. These skills could have been successes, failures, criticals, whatever. They get marked on the sheet. At the end of the session, the players get 3 checks. They can assign these checks to any of the skills they attempted to use and have subsequently marked. Or they can bank the checks and use them to increase a Stat.

Granted, I like games where the PCs have very high skills and are really dicing for criticals. Therefore I don't make them roll to see if a skill increases. If they commit a check to it then it's going to increase. I do let them divide whether they want to roll to see how much it increases or take the average of the die type (sometimes I use a d6 for experience, sometimes a d8).

Banking the points creates a pool of experience that they can use to increase stats. If the PC has a Strength of 12 they need to bank 13 points to raise the Strength to 13. If they wanted to raise it again they would have to save up another 14 checks.

How it works in play:

I think it relieves a bit of stress from the player. They know that their character is going to develop mechanically speaking as a result of play. There's a sense of fairness about it since they know that the dice won't cheat them from gaining skills. It also cuts down on players who look for opportunities to use skills just to gather a bunch of skill checks. I've been doing it for years now and overall I'm exceedingly happy with it.
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#12 dracopticon

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Posted 06 May 2014 - 10:57 PM

You could leave it up to the players to decide. At experience time tell them to pick a skill they haven't used recently and reduce it by 1.

For myself, I've been using success and failure to trigger checks because I think we learn by both. I tied it to a very rudimentary experience system, which kind of simulates what the PCs are paying attention to. So in a given session a PC may have used seven or eight skills. These skills could have been successes, failures, criticals, whatever. They get marked on the sheet. At the end of the session, the players get 3 checks. They can assign these checks to any of the skills they attempted to use and have subsequently marked. Or they can bank the checks and use them to increase a Stat.

Granted, I like games where the PCs have very high skills and are really dicing for criticals. Therefore I don't make them roll to see if a skill increases. If they commit a check to it then it's going to increase. I do let them divide whether they want to roll to see how much it increases or take the average of the die type (sometimes I use a d6 for experience, sometimes a d8).

Banking the points creates a pool of experience that they can use to increase stats. If the PC has a Strength of 12 they need to bank 13 points to raise the Strength to 13. If they wanted to raise it again they would have to save up another 14 checks.

How it works in play:

I think it relieves a bit of stress from the player. They know that their character is going to develop mechanically speaking as a result of play. There's a sense of fairness about it since they know that the dice won't cheat them from gaining skills. It also cuts down on players who look for opportunities to use skills just to gather a bunch of skill checks. I've been doing it for years now and overall I'm exceedingly happy with it.


Wow, I am so impressed with your ideas. A great read here, I must say. Thanks Chaot.
We have had, for years, a little added extra function on the increase roll concerning crits. If you roll a crit you simply get two consecutive tries to roll for raising the skill rate. That is tries, not automatic increases. So if the first try succeeds the seconds isn't used, otherwise one gets two tries. I am thinking of changing that to fumbles instead.

And! I want to answer you more extensively tomorrow. Right now it's late here in Sweden. So I'll get back to you tomorrow. /Erik.
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#13 MatteoN

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Posted 07 May 2014 - 05:32 AM

I am thinking of changing that to fumbles instead.


A crit is its own reward!

#14 Alex Greene

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Posted 07 May 2014 - 09:44 AM

Of course, the whole point of high INT is to learn from your errors more rapidly. Slow-witted people commit the same errors and gaffes over and over and never advance; but the characters who fail, and often fail spectacularly, but who learn not to commit the same error twice, rise in capability like those Velociraptors in that dinosaur movie series.

I'd encourage the characters who invest in INT to learn from their missed rolls, and particularly from their fumbles - if they survive those fumbles. Don't nerf the smart ones. If their skill ratings race ahead of their less mentally-endowed peers, that's the price the others must pay for making INT their dump stat.

I'd like to point out that Legend has at least one Heroic Ability which increases the rate of learning a specific kind of skill class - Linguist, specialising in learning new languages with speed and ease, for the Dr Daniel Jackson fans. Also, Legend makes use of Improvement Rolls during down time, and the amount of Improvement Rolls a character can obtain depends on CHA, not INT - so high-CHA characters in Legend can also learn more rapidly by dint of having more connections around who are willing to train them.
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#15 Questbird

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Posted 07 May 2014 - 12:25 PM

My group uses a rule that if you roll a fumble you immediately get 1 point added to the skill. Works quite well for us. Otherwise I use normal skill rolls, except that I use Elric! so skill gain is 1D10 if successful, which can advance skills quite fast.

#16 dracopticon

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Posted 07 May 2014 - 03:04 PM

Thanks MatteoN, Alex and Questbird.

Yep, Matteo, the crit is its own reward. But do you mean it should be enough with the benefits it already endowes or what?

Alex: Legend, I haven't played that one. Is it the anime based RPG? Legend of the Five Rings? I played Bushido back in the days, and I think I like to keep my view of medieval Nippon from that game. But thanks for the game mech tips. It's always interesting to hear about. The whole process of learning should of course be augmented by high INT (LEA in my system) but I think I'd like to "un-jinx" the game from a lot of people having problems with that. More often than not, there's repeatedly some special guy or guys who gets the most skill rate increases and the pressure of seing this happen time after time should be alleviated IMO.

Questbird: that sounds like an interesting view on the fumble roll. And I've played Stormbringer/Elric since the mid eighties and thinks it has a Little bit too fast skill rate advancement. Then again it makes good playing for shorter adventures. And I love the setting.
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#17 Chaot

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Posted 07 May 2014 - 05:47 PM

We have had, for years, a little added extra function on the increase roll concerning crits. If you roll a crit you simply get two consecutive tries to roll for raising the skill rate. That is tries, not automatic increases. So if the first try succeeds the seconds isn't used, otherwise one gets two tries. I am thinking of changing that to fumbles instead.


It sounds like it would work fine. Out of curiosity, what would you estimate the average skill increase at your table per character per session?

I would imagine that beginning play under these rules would show characters gaining skill points often until they hit the 60-80% range. Then things will slow down significantly. It seems like your rules fit in well with what you are trying to model.

Of course, the whole point of high INT is to learn from your errors more rapidly. Slow-witted people commit the same errors and gaffes over and over and never advance; but the characters who fail, and often fail spectacularly, but who learn not to commit the same error twice, rise in capability like those Velociraptors in that dinosaur movie series.


One might ask about learning modalities here and question the difference between the bookworm and the person who learns best in the field (for example). I agree with you though. If you're going to have a stat, make it do something.

My group uses a rule that if you roll a fumble you immediately get 1 point added to the skill.


I totally dig this!
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#18 MatteoN

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Posted 07 May 2014 - 06:53 PM

Yep, Matteo, the crit is its own reward. But do you mean it should be enough with the benefits it already endowes[...]?


Precisely, nothing more complicated than that!;D

#19 Questbird

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Posted 08 May 2014 - 09:32 AM

Thanks MatteoN, Alex and Questbird.
Questbird: that sounds like an interesting view on the fumble roll. And I've played Stormbringer/Elric since the mid eighties and thinks it has a Little bit too fast skill rate advancement.


Maybe it is too fast, but since my group only plays monthly it works out just right for us. You can always use the more conservative 1d6 skill increase from the Big Gold Book...




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