Making the lower levels not matter

While talking about something else, Bryant mentioned something called the “No Myth meme”, which sounds vaguely interesting, especially when combined with task resolution:

The No Myth meme rejects preplotting altogether; a No Myth GM doesn?t know anything about the world other than what the players have seen; a failed task resolution check doesn?t mean the players have failed, it means there?s an additional obstacle in the way of reaching whatever objective the players have chosen. And that?s a reasonable approach.

This gives me something of an insight into how one would logically be able to run certain kinds of games in d20, even with low-level characters: if failure (one a skill check, for instance) actually just results in the situation become one level more complicated, then you have a framework in which a 1st level character can play in any sort of game at all — some situations may be (or become) too complex to be worth the effort of resolving, but you don’t have to worry about a situation where simple low-level skill scores make it impossible to succeed at certain tasks.
GM: “The door’s locked.”
Player: “I pick the lock. I did that last time I was through here.”
GM: “Let’s have a roll.”
Player: [rolls] “Ulp… umm… how about a 5? Total.”
GM: “Well, it was easy enough the last time you worked this door, but this time you get over-eager and snap the lockpicks off in the lock. How will you approach the problem now?”
Granted, I’m not sure this can apply in ‘opposed’ situations (sneaking versus someone else’s listen, or, more obviously, combat), but in most other cases it should be pretty doable.
I can certainly see applications for this in some genres. Pulp is a good example, as is any sort of fantasy setting with lots of intrigue, and of course I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that it works really well in a Spycraft campaign. I can think of any number of situations in, say, Alias where, by failing, the protagonist simply causes the situation to become more complicated.
Sneak in and steal something.
Snag fingerprint to get into door.
> Take too long in the lab (blew the first search roll).
>> Have to talk your way past guard who, since you took so long, noticed you leaving the area.
Eventually, you get to a point where, if you’ve screwed up quite a bit, you find yourself strapped to a chair and getting dosed on sodium pentathol, but really that’s just another level of complication to deal with.
(Or, in a 1st-level Amber campaign, Corwin just built up so many complications in his first assault on Amber that he ended up blinded and stuck in a dungeon cell. 🙂

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2 Replies to “Making the lower levels not matter”

  1. If you’re feeling especially diabolical, you could say, “Hm. Missed your roll. While you succeed in picking the lock, player B sticks his head out of the window upstairs and shouts, ‘You’re breaking into the wrong room.’ You tell him to shut up, but he shouts again, ‘Just thought you should know.’ The guard starts heading your way…
    You should read that Dortmunder book 🙂

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