In my most recent session where I was DM, I hid a door in a small side room that the players found. However to get in to the room, the groups large warrior PC simply kept attacking the door until the door finally fell apart, he managed around 4 terrible rolls until a somewhat decent roll where I just said that the door broke.

Since it took a few minutes and everyone else basically stood around waiting for a decent roll to happen, I felt it really broke the flow of the session. Since it was out of combat I could not think of anyway to stop the PC from being able to continue to try to break the door down, since realistically you could just keep smashing something until either the weapon or the door broke.

Is there any way in this situation to hurry it along or limit the amount of rolls that the player can try?


7 Answers 7


If there are no consequence for failure, just let it happen

Consider giving them one roll to see how long the task will take, or just simply not rolling and narrating the task. If they roll a 1 or 20, something interesting might happen, like breaking their weapon, or the door going down in one fell kick. Otherwise just approximate how long it might take based on their roll.

If no creatures will come to inspect him bashing down the door, and there's no urgency to move quickly, eventually they will destroy the door if it's made of something they have the tools to destroy. This is similar to "taking 10" or "taking 20" in previous editions of D&D, and in fact a similar rule appears in 5e as well:

DMG p 237

Sometimes a character fails an ability check and wants to try again. In some cases, a character is free to do so; the only real cost is the time it takes. With enough attempts and enough time, a character should eventually succeed at the task. To speed things up, assume that a character spending ten times the normal amount of time needed to complete a task automatically succeeds at that task. However, no amount of repeating the check allows a character to turn an impossible task into a successful one.
In other cases, failing an ability check makes it impossible to make the same check to do the same thing again.

Simply let them know how long it will take before they attempt it, and if they go through with it, just let it happen and narrate the time passing.

If there could be consequences, have them happen

Creatures could come to the loud noises of the player bashing down the door. It could set off a trap. Given all the noise, perhaps the denizens of the dungeon are warned, and flee with their valuables, or the quest objective they are seeking. Perhaps they hurt themselves on a poor roll and gain exhaustion or lose some hit points as they pull a shoulder muscle, or sprain their ankle.

Taking a lot of (very noisy!) time to break down a door, should, and often will, have consequences. That being said, if they've dealt with all the hostiles, and have nothing but time, don't punish them needlessly.

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Fail Forward

This is a common method of dice interpretation in games like 13th Age. Taking it as a mentality when GMing means that you no longer "whiff" a dice roll. If someone fails, there are consequences, because you should only be rolling if there are consequences for both success and failure.

Specifically, you should interpret failure one of two ways:

  • Success at a Cost, e.g. you break the door down but you injure yourself in the process, or make a whole bunch of noise in the process (possibly summoning the closest monsters)
  • You fail but the story moves on, e.g. you try to pick the lock, and you break your lockpicks, possibly jamming the lock. The team will have to think of another way to get through the door, or maybe go back some other direction.

The central question is do you, or the story, require that the door be broken down? If so, are there interesting consequences that could come from rolling a die to see what happens (e.g. possible injury). If yes, roll dice. If not, then declare automatic success. In the case that you knew they would eventually beat the door down, why not just say "through your combined efforts, you've destroyed the door."

Now, some people interpret "Fail Forward" to mean that when you fail a Climb check, you don't fail to climb the cliff, but there're gonna be Griffins at the top as a consequence of your failure. This makes zero sense to me. I think if there were Griffins there, they should be there whether or not I failed my roll. So, I interpret Fail Forward as always being directly related to the roll.

  • 11
    \$\begingroup\$ To add, just because the player's aren't rolling doesn't mean bad things can't happen. If you know they have the ability to break the door - you can let them without forcing a roll, but still decide guards find the shattered door and prepare to ambush the players on their way out. Bad decisions can be met with bad consequences, without a dice saying so. \$\endgroup\$
    – Bilkokuya
    Commented Jan 24, 2018 at 16:50
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ It's worth noting that this is a 5e question and 5e has the exact same system; "If the total equals or exceeds the DC, the ability check is a success--the creature overcomes the challenge at hand. Otherwise, it's a failure, which means the character or monster makes no progress toward the objective or makes progress combined with a setback determined by the DM." \$\endgroup\$
    – user73918
    Commented Feb 18, 2022 at 0:10

There are multiple ways, historically, to interpret a d20 check in D&D.

The first is "this is how well I tried this". In this interpretation, DCs are objective facts about how hard something is. Anything with no consequences to failure that is easier than 20+Modifiers on the player's part can be defeated by repeated attempts.

The second is "this is how hard the task really is". A DC of 25 isn't an objective fact about the difficulty of opening this door, but rather a description of how hard doors vaguely like this are to open.

When you roll your d20 plus your strength modifier, you are seeing "are you strong enough to break down this door in particular". If you fail, the answer is "no, you aren't strong enough". And if you aren't strong enough, attempting again doesn't make you stronger.

This second interpretation is the "you get one try to pick a lock, and if you fail, you cannot try again until you gain a level" one. Similarly, someone can try to break a door again if they find a way to make themselves significantly better at knocking down doors (get a better tool, a strength buff, whatever).

A third way has come to D&D from other games. The idea is that every check should have stakes and consequences, either explicitly told to the player, or in the mind of the DM.

Before you call for a check, determine the DC. Then determine what happens if the check fails or succeeds.

If the answer to a failure is "nothing happens, and the player can try again", then don't ask for a roll. The rolls do nothing of interest.

Instead, you can do this; first, you determine that it is possible. Then you set a DC. If the player beats the DC, the door is bashed open. If it fails, they are told "it is taking a while and it is noisy, but you can do it ... eventually. Do you want to continue until it breaks?" If they say yes, you might (throw a wandering encounter at them) or (do a check for a wandering encounter) or (increase alertness in some foes nearby); this should be planned before you ask for the roll, at least vaguely.

Then don't ask for another roll; instead, they break down the door and the fiction continues.

In some game systems you tell the player the stakes ahead of time: "DC 25, if you fail you will take longer and make a lot of noise and hostile creatures may respond. If you succeed, it is noisy but fast." In others, you just track the consequences yourself.

This can also be known as "fail forward"; a failure should advance the plot.

Now, failure doesn't have to be successful. An option of failure is "bashing the door causes the archway to collapse on top of you, take XdY damage and the entrance is now buried under rubble". The point is failure should cause something to happen to change the state of the game.

Under 1, ask them to roll once. If they succeed, it opens immediately. If not, check 20+modifier vs DC; if it wins, they break it down eventually. Don't bother asking for more rolls; maybe roll to determine how long it takes.

Under 2, they roll once. If they fail, they may not try again until they boost their chances.

Under 3, you don't let them roll until you know what happens when they fail. Then they roll, and either the success or failure result happens.

Under all 3 of these cases, having someing roll repeatedly doesn't make sense, especially out of combat. In combat, seeing how many rounds it takes can be extremely interesting, so you might want to still use repeated rolls.


Randomorph's and Doctor Kill's answers are both great answers IMO.

I would add that if there are no consequences, just describe it and move on. You may roll a few secret dice to add tension.

"Bob smashes the door after a few swings BANG! BANG! and then the door gives."

This does two things: first off it tells the party that they are making a lot of noise and that after the first Bang! they can interrupt the action.

If they do not interrupt, the game flows and we move to something more interesting than watching Bob roll dice after dice... Since the story does not hinge on the state of the door, move on without dice.

That does not mean the bad guys on the other side are not aware of the PCs or that they don't have a random encounter while breaking the door. Move on to the best parts and the cool elements of the adventure.


Everyone else seems to be answering from a perspective of how to handle the rolls, but that feels like just one aspect of the question. So I would like to propose another solution I have used in games to make sure that every player has a chance to act outside of combat:

Constant Turn Order

Most of the time people play D&D at either a very granular level (in combat with very tight economy of actions) or at a very coarse level (out of combat where anything goes). This can lead to the problem OP asked after, where someone wants to repeatedly try an action until it works, but it can also lead to other instances of the same general class of problem: one player dominating play time out of combat. To mitigate this in my personal games I used a system of very loose turns out of combat to keep things fair and moving.

The idea is simple enough: outside of combat every player takes their turn in table order. During their turn, players get a "move" and an "action". The quotes there are because, unlike in combat, those two things don't have to have a strict definition when players are just interacting with the world. You don't need to measure distances and make a player take two turns to get to an door 40 feet away if they can only move 30 feet a round, or limit them to what kind of actions they take. The main thing to focus on is making sure that every turn is a discreet set of actions, and that everyone at the table gets a chance to do something.

Running my game this way was really successful. It helped prevent things like what OP describes, where one person gets focused on their task and doesn't think about passing the spotlight over to everyone else. In that example you could either say that each attempt to batter the door counts as an action, or say that it succeeds after X rounds and give everyone else that much time to do their own thing.

Speaking of, not every player is always going to have a contribution to the current scene. If a player wants to pass their turn or spend the whole scene doing some minor task as a way of sitting out, then that is perfectly fine. The important thing is that that player gets to decide for themselves without feeling like they "can't" contribute because someone else is taking the lead on the scene.

Keeping the game moving in loose turns makes sure that every player has a chance to contribute, encourages collaboration between scenes, and makes each scene feel more natural by keeping the action happening concurrently.


Personally, when I DM, if a task doesn't have a negative side affect other than time spent, I ask the character how long they are willing to try to (search for traps, pick a lock, investigate a room for loot) before asking for a roll. Afterwards I base the level of success on the roll and the time spent. This gives them an option to hedge their bets if they don't roll well enough, but they will also be wasting time, which I always have some reason that that isn't a good idea.


There are 3 options;

Straight check

The ability score rules state:

To make an ability check, roll a d20 and add the relevant ability modifier. As with other d20 rolls, apply bonuses and penalties, and compare the total to the DC. If the total equals or exceeds the DC, the ability check is a success--the creature overcomes the challenge at hand. Otherwise, it's a failure, which means the character or monster makes no progress toward the objective or makes progress combined with a setback determined by the DM.

The bolded portion is the key to this situation. If the characters are going to keep going until they succeed, then you are rolling to determine the setback. The simplest setback is time, they bust down the door but it takes a while. Other setbacks might include damaging their weapons or accidently getting injured.

If one person wants to bust down the door, you can use a normal ability check. This would go something like this;

  • Alice: I want to bust down the door
  • DM: Ok, roll a str check
  • Alice: 2
  • DM: After much huffing and straining you smash through the door, but it's taken 2 minutes

Remember you can also use the help mechanic to have someone else assist the door-breaker.

Group check

You can also resolve it with a group check:

When a number of individuals are trying to accomplish something as a group, the DM might ask for a group ability check. In such a situation, the characters who are skilled at a particular task help cover those who aren't.

To make a group ability check, everyone in the group makes the ability check. If at least half the group succeeds, the whole group succeeds.

This goes something like this:

  • Alice, Bob, and Charlie: We want to break down the door
  • DM: Ok, each of you roll a str check
  • Alice, Bob, and Charlie: 2, 4, 2
  • DM: Try as you might you can't break down the door

Remember you can also use the "succeed with setback" in conjunction with the group check.

Passive check

If it's a mighty door that will take a long time to chop through, you might find it appropriate to use a passive check:

A passive check is a special kind of ability check that doesn't involve any die rolls. Such a check can represent the average result for a task done repeatedly


Here's how to determine a character's total for a passive check:

10 + all modifiers that normally apply to the check

If the character has advantage on the check, add 5. For disadvantage, subtract 5. The game refers to a passive check total as a score.

This would play out along these lines:

  • Alice: I want to chop down that door, I don't care how long it takes I will keep chopping until it's done
  • DM: Ok, what's your passive str?
  • Alice: 3
  • DM: You chop and chop and after 5 minutes the door is a splintered mess

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