I'm GMing a group of almost novice players, using my own (house-rules) game system. One has played some D&D, the two others only a previous initiation one-shot adventure of mine in my system. I'm preparing a second one-shot, and I'd like to introduce them to my system's character creation.

I'm stuck on how part of how to handle group rolls though.

When my players face some situations, they'll have to take in account their stats and skills. Failing to bust a door open because of a bad roll or low strength can result in a minor injury, failing to hack an electronic device can also have bad repercussions etc., and I expect that my players will act according to their strengths and weaknesses, each of them shining at what they can do best, providing fun for everyone. A problem arises when, as a group, they have to explore a room to find something in particular. I'll go with a hidden door example:

The players are locked in a big room and failed miserably to hack the main door switch. In order for them to progress, they'll have to find a hidden door somewhere. Since everyone can observe their surroundings, they all make a roll.

Of course, even with bad rolls they have to find the door (it's the only remaining way to escape this room), but since their skills should matter (in this case, perception/observation), I would like to:

  • Make something bad happen if the rolls are poor (more likely to happen if everyone has decided to be poorly-sighted).
  • Reward the character who notices the door (the one having the highest result regarding his roll + skill bonuses).

(Keep in mind that this is an example, and I'm not seeking a solution for this situation precisely).

In short: When all players roll for perception, how to reward the best roll and/or punish an overall bad result, while still making the party find the clue?

As for the "punishment" part, I'm fine with "rerolling until the clue is found" as long as each reroll has a consequence (like trying to bust a door open multiple times, wearing it down but also dislocating your shoulder in the process). What consequence there can be on simply checking your surroundings... this is the issue.

Possible solutions I thought of for the consequence:

  • Time constraint (e.g., "You found nothing? Too bad, autodestruction advances by 1 minute!")

    Not acceptable since I don't want to pressure my players into going too fast. It's still an initiation, they should have all the time they need to explore, fiddle with my world and draw their conclusions.

  • Throw enemies at them

    Not acceptable; my pool of enemies is limited and they can't just pop up anywhere.

  • Random injuries (e.g., "While searching that drawer, you cut yourself on a knife")

    A bit better, but seems too... random to use often.

And as for the reward :

  • Experience points

    Nope, this is a one-shot, in a situation that should last from a few hours to a day max, players can't really improve themselves.

  • Extra loot (e.g., "You find the door, plus a nice flamethrower just next to it!")

    Quite like random injuries, but reversed. They are searching for something in particular, it would seem strange to reward one with another nice optional item if one performs well right? Plus, I can't really say "You did not found this, too bad" in the opposite case...

If this is considered a multiple question, please focus on the consequence part. After all, players are not rewarded specifically when slaying a foe, so I could be ok with just "Alice found the door, nice!". Also, feel free to edit any spelling/grammar mistake, as english is not my first language.

A bit more on the setting...

My players will awake without memory from their cryosleep caskets in a Fallout-style vault with a close to current days technology. They want to get out, it's not that easy, and a rogue AI wants to put them back to sleep (first) then prefers to kill them (after sufficient mayhem has been caused in the vault). Adding giant rats, an outsider, Atlas style robots repurposed to kill, a fellow frozen madman etc.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @Keelhaul perhaps the [homebrew] tag shouldn't be there. The description says "For questions about homebrewing rules material for an existing system. (Note that soliciting ideas for homebrew is off topic for the site.) Not to be confused with the [house-rules] tag. For homebrewing entire games, use [game-design]." \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jun 21 '17 at 16:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor if you're pretty sure the tags should be elsewise, change them and leave a note explaining what you did/why. You're empowered! :) \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Jun 22 '17 at 2:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @enkryptor Thank you, I missed that point. I'll edit this immediately. \$\endgroup\$ – Keelhaul Jun 22 '17 at 7:55

Some of the punishments you've listed seem...arbitrary--the one where they cut themselves on a drawer or something especially. I'd nix that one.

This is a perception roll. It's ONE roll generally, and it's mostly luck and stats--and you're considering an XP award (but you won't because it's a one shot)?

Consider that in D&D and other systems experience is awarded mainly for things that are MULTI STEP processes. Killing a monster for instance, is not ONE roll. It's combat, with lots of decisions made, including strategy and working together so that you can share in the reward.

My thinking as far as XP is concerned can be applied to most of your rewards. It's one step, and it doesn't need an immediate reward or penalty, at least not every single time.

The reward is already inherent in the ability to move forward and survive.

However, there is some danger in having a puzzle with just one solution. I highly recommend reading The Three Clue Rule. While this applies to mysteries in a setting, I have found it's a good idea to actually have MULTIPLE ways for a PC to move forward. You say that "even with bad rolls, they have to find the door" I say you need more than one solution for the players, because otherwise the danger is that they sit around and roll for 1/2 an hour while they wait for you to tell them the solution.

And this is where the reward comes in.

Give them details based on their perception roll, but not the total solution. It is incredibly rewarding to feel like you've figured something out. Let them figure it out for themselves, using the three clue rule (having more than one solution to a problem) you can do that, and the person who actually finds it will be the one who figures it out. It is incredibly rewarding to me as a player not to just be told:

DM: You find the switch and the door slides open.

and instead:

DM: Under the cobwebbed desk, there's a bit of wood in the left corner that just looks added on, wrong somehow.

Me: I take a closer look

DM: It's not actually wood. It's a plastic of some kind, painted the same color as the desk.

Me: I push down on it, like I'm pressing a button.

DM: You can feel it shifting to the left as you do.

Me: I shift it to the left.

DM: You hear a loud click on the other side of the room, and the scream of metal against metal, as a panel in the far corner slides away, into darkness. OR you can have them notice the wire to the switch, which they can then decide to follow.

Now, this is homebrew and I don't really know what you are basing your system off of, but I've really enjoyed the sliding scale of reward/failure in Doctor Who (new game, Adventures in Time & Space not the one from the 1980s). You can use a sliding scale of reward and failure to make it interesting and rewarding.

If you fail by a little it's "No but you happen to find some sort of code written on a scrap of paper" (something that will be used later on).

If you fail by a lot it's "No you don't find it, but while you are searching, under the desk, you feel something snap." (This happens to be the toggle, which is now broken. Players now have to find a way to repair it OR you have to have another solution in place, using the 3 clue rule, so that they can get to where they are going).

If you succeed by a little it's "Yes, you find the switch"

If you succeed by a lot it's "Yes, AND you find their caps stash."

I do not advocate using this system every single time for a roll-heavy game. It works for Who because, at least when I run, it's more role playing than roll playing. In game where mechanics are used more often, this can slow game play--so this is something I would trot out every once in a while, for specific rolls that are NOT combat-based (though you could do this, and it can work, there's a lot of thinking that goes into the gradient and having to think something up for every situation as the GM/DM).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your answer. As for the punishment and xp issues you arose, I mentioned these as bad examples of what I didn't want, so... it was not necessary ^^. As for the multiple solutions, it's already the case. This example is only valid as a last resort way out, in case they fail at the other ways (broke the switch, failed repair etc...). Your last point on finding but damaging the clue in case of roll failure is really helpful though. \$\endgroup\$ – Keelhaul Jun 22 '17 at 8:09

Perception rolls should generally be hidden. There are very few groups which are able and willing to separate player-knowledge and character-knowledge. When your group isn't one of these, either have the DM rolls behind their screen, or if the players insist on doing their own rolls, have them roll in a way that only the DM can see the result (for example by using a tumbler). That way players never know if they can actually trust their perception. When the DM says "there is nothing", there is either really nothing to perceive, or the characters just rolled too low.

When they roll spectacularly well in a perception roll, give them extra information. Don't just tell them where the door is. Also tell them that looking at the dust patterns someone used it a while ago and that the fingerprints of their arch-nemesis are on the handle.

When they spectacularly fail a perception roll in a way which deserves punishment in your opinion, give them misinformation. In the door example, they might make out a spot which looks very much like there should be a secret door. But whatever they try, they won't be able to open it, because actually there is no door in that place.

But be very careful with that. Giving misinformation like that will get the players to waste your precious session time by following clues which lead nowhere. This usually doesn't make for very interesting game sessions. Especially when your game sessions already suffer from the "I examine the [irrelevant scenery detail]" syndrome (common problem for newbie groups). You should generally only give misinformation if acting on that misinformation has an immediate payoff (like triggering a trap).

Of course, even with bad rolls they have to find the door (it's the only remaining way to escape this room)

Who says that? Your session notes? You wrote them, so you can rewrite them on the spot if you want to. And even if you didn't (i.e. you are using a published module), keep in mind that the material you are using is just a suggestion from which you can divert whenever you feel like it. If the players got themselves in a situation where all the planned routes of progression are blocked, just improvise and create a new one. Or just see what plan the players come up with to improve their situation and roll with it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Regarding misinformation, that's a good one, although I share your doubts about the issues that could arise. About "others ways I didn't though of" well... I'm totally happy with the players coming up with others solutions (I encourage it), but only if this is realistic. If my players are in a deep bunker room with only one door to get out, I don't expect them to come up with an alternative. If they do, great ! But I must prepare for the fact that they don't come up with a solution that may not exist and still offer them a way out. Plus, the hidden door is alrady an alternative in my example. \$\endgroup\$ – Keelhaul Jun 21 '17 at 16:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Keelhaul If the usual RPG player failed to hack the switch of a door they need to pass, they will come up with plenty of alternatives. Smash the door open with force. Blow the door open with explosives/magic. Dissolve the door hinges with acid. Dig a hole through the wall/floor/ceiling. Oh, and aren't there any ventilation shafts? It will take a while until your players run out of options. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Jun 21 '17 at 16:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ I know, and that's the part I enjoy the most as a GM, when my players override my plans :). However, this setting in particular has a certain realism, some constraints (not to railroad, but to be consistent with itself). The door is armored. They don't have (yet) explosive or acid. The walls/floor are solid concrete and all they can have at this point is a hammer and a screwdriver. Or maybe some metal bars they can rip from other stuff, but still : concrete. Even if there exists a way nobody though of, I should still prepare a classic way out for them. Just in case. \$\endgroup\$ – Keelhaul Jun 21 '17 at 16:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ The problem I have with this answer is it assumes from the outset that players are unwilling or unable to keep player and character information separate. This is an incredibly broad, unjustified generalisation. In my games, ALL rolls are open and I have found that getting players involved in what a botched perception roll means and how bad it is for their character helps to get them invested in the story. They tend to be much more creative in coming up with awful stuff to happen to them. \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Jun 21 '17 at 16:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Wibbs I updated the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Philipp Jun 21 '17 at 16:32


Perception... The source of so many problems in the game. I wrote a post on this years ago and it is still very applicable. VERY applicable. (For Pathfinder but I see the same issue in other games).


One type of penalty I have been applying when there is a clue the PCs just HAVE to find to continue: time. If the PCs make the check, it takes them a short time to find it. If they fail, it takes them a long time to find it. How long depends on the situation but if they know they are in a time crunch, losing an hour will add pressure on them. Movies do it all the time!

Extra Rewards

Reward them for creative thinking, good ideas, and playing within the setting. Be more permissive in what you allow them and even allow them to come up with ideas to solve the issue.

I would not add extra rewards for luck of the dice. Dice rolling is fun but having an idea that solves or help solve the adventure is even better and players WILL REMEMBER.

Long ago I played in a Rifts/Aliens crossover. I was the fixer in a group of heavy warriors. I remember that time I used my one power to obtain a schematic readout of the complex that allowed us to find a quicker route than the one we had planned. It was great. (For the record, out of the twelve players, only two of us survived)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't worry, I'm not planning on overusing perception. Most of the time they will see all there is to see of a given scene, and get everything they can from searching a dead body. Considering penalties, I prefer to avoid the pressure of a time constraint on my players. Considering rewards, I agree with you, and as I said in a previous comment on my question, I'll always favor a player's alternative idea if it is realist. But sometimes you just have to roll :p. \$\endgroup\$ – Keelhaul Jun 21 '17 at 16:11

“Try searching again” is not a fun game

The situation you describe, where the party needs to keep rolling perception rolls until they find something, sounds like as much fun as a game about looking for a lost wallet.

You can accomplish what you're looking for with one die roll (per player). The lower they roll, they longer it takes them to find the way out.

Dice are supposed to be fun

“Magician’s” 2013 blog article, Goblin Dice, give excellent guidance on using dice. We roll a lot of dice in combat, because “it’s still fun to roll those dice, just as it is fun to fight the scrambling goblins.”

On the other hand, dice rolls that just get in the way should be avoided. In your case, the party must find a secret exit for the story to progress. Forcing multiple dice rolls just puts a pause button on the action — there’s no way to make, “Well, we’d better try searching again,” exciting.

Please don’t give your PC’s stubbed toes and paper cuts

Adding hazards to looking for a secret door (or your wallet) would be pretty contrived, and it would be a rare player indeed who would enjoy a game about their hero getting getting beaten up desk drawers, or about them tripping over their own feet looking for something.

Lost time can be its own punishment. Limited-time effects may expire. Food and water may need to be consumed.

Slow slogs for characters should be quick asides for players

When the characters have to spend a long time trying to do something tedious, it should not take much of the players’ time. Handle it quickly, and move on to something more fun.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you, this confirmed what I thought. Time constraint seems to come by a lot in the answers even though I don't want to put pressure on my players this way, but I realised most of the time that time constraints can be limited to a particular setting (a "limited-time" time constraint ?), which is far better. \$\endgroup\$ – Keelhaul Jun 22 '17 at 8:16

One of my favorite systems, Fate Core, has an explicit handle for this type of problem:


When you roll the dice, either you’re going to fail, tie, succeed, or succeed with style.

Every roll you make in a Fate game results in one of four outcomes, generally speaking. The specifics may change a little depending on what kind of action you’re taking, but all the game actions fit this general pattern.


If you roll lower than your opposition, you fail.

This means one of several things: you don’t get what you want, you get what you want at a serious cost, or you suffer some negative mechanical consequence. Sometimes, it means more than one of those. It’s the GM’s job to determine an appropriate cost.


If you roll the same as your opposition, you tie.

This means you get what you want, but at a minor cost, or you get a lesser version of what you wanted.


If you roll higher than your opposition by 1 or 2 shifts, you succeed.

This means you get what you want at no cost.

Succeed with Style

If you roll higher than your opposition by 3 or more shifts, you succeed with style.

This means that you get what you want, but you also get an added benefit on top of that.

One of the primary concepts that the Fate rulebook tries to drill into you is that a roll should only happen if there's an interesting outcome for both success and failure.

Generally, when there's only one useful course to progress in the story, failure isn't interesting. One way to make it interesting is to add time pressure.

So, a successful roll means they find the hidden door immediately. A failure means it takes them several hours or several days to find it. Or perhaps a failure means that they find the hidden door, but as they're opening it, a guard comes to check up on them. Or they find the door, but they fail to notice the wire connected to the alarm system on the door. Maybe it's an audible alarm, or maybe it's silent (Nothing is more terrifying than knowing you failed the roll and still getting the outcome you want. There will be strings attached).

At no point is it possible for them to not find the door, because that's not an interesting outcome. Nobody wants to play an game where everyone sits around in a prison for a month and then die when the villain wins.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes! If they are homebrewing they can make it specific +1 for "Nothing is more terrifying than knowing you failed the roll and still getting the outcome you want. There will be strings attached." \$\endgroup\$ – Erin Thursby Jun 21 '17 at 21:11

I'll take this in two distinct parts

Group action

More than one player is involved, so you need a game mechanic to handle the overall success/failure. Two general purpose approaches I have seen are:

  1. Everyone rolls to see if they succeed individually. Usually one successful roll is enough to get the desired result, but failing results may cause side effects or consequences, which may be suffered by any or all of the group, or individually by the owner of the failing roll.
  2. One character rolls for the desired effect (the best, the worst or group choice). The others' contribution is included as a bonus to that roll. (alternatively, helping characters act and roll to generate bonuses for the actual roll. Success=bonus, failure=no bonus/penalty)

In your case, option 1 seems appropriate for searching a room because everybody is doing the same thing individually, and just one of them finding the door is good enough, however;

Perception failure & consequences

The most boring thing in the history of gaming may be the perception roll. Of course they are going to find the door (or whatever). Your story requires that they find the door. There's nothing interesting in peeking and poking around in a room trying to find it.

It only becomes interesting if there's some kind of pressure to find it, or if there's some risk or danger involved in searching.

The only inherent consequence in "Can you find the door?" is "You can't find the door yet". All other consequences will feel forced. IMO you should avoid that.

So my recommendation is, skip rolling for perception entirely. Focus on the pressure/risk/danger and roll for that. Make the consequence inherent in the question.

Ask questions like:

  • Can you avoid triggering the alarm while searching for the door?
  • Can you keep your wounded ally alive until that door is found?
  • Can you hold the swarm of rats at bay to let your friends find that door?

Then everyone will know the cost of failure.

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Well, since you're running a Fallout-esque scenario, the random injuries don't have to be so random. You could say that the room is irradiated, so they'll gradually take damage (or radiation points, if you've got a mechanic for that) the longer they stay in there. Even if there hasn't been a nuclear war in your setting, you could say that the vault's nuclear generator has a leak.

As for a reward, I think the simplest thing to do would be to put a locker on the other side of the door, and replace the switch they're searching for with a hidden key (or some other item they can use to open a door, like a crowbar.) If the room is slowly killing the players, then they'll probably leave as soon as possible, so the first person to find the key item will be the person who opens the door. Then they'll be the only person who can open the locker and collect whatever goodies you've left for them (some Potassium Iodide, maybe?)

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Nights Black Agents (and Gumshoe, on which it's based) has a nice approach. If what the PCs are looking for is a clue required to advance the plot, then they'll automatically succeed. They can spend points (or in this case, succeed at a roll) to learn more. I find this helps keep scenarios rattling along at a good pace.

If the issue isn't to do with advancing the plot, but say finding a hidden door that's a shortcut, rather than the only way forward, then I'd suggest only one roll. Let the most talented PC make it, let others with suitable skills provide support.

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