In the Waterdeep: Dragon Heist adventure, there is a faction mission for the Harpers to:

Interrogate several doppelgangers to gauge their trustworthiness, with a Insight DC 16 check.

However, the Harper in our party has failed in a way that is not obvious to them (the player or the character).

How can/should the faction punish the character failure? Unforeseen consequences, the removal of privileges, being set on notice?

Is there a way to punish the character but reward the player(s) in this case?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Generally, we use the system tag that correlates to your problem, and in this case, that would be the dnd-5e tag. \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Jul 1, 2019 at 10:55

3 Answers 3


How do you get punished when you fail a task at work?

Well, if you are a professional athlete, if you lose a game they sack you and never let you play the sport again. However, I see from your profile that you are a programmer so I know if there is a bug in your code they just shoot you dead because no software ever has been released with a bug, right?

Failure happens.

What you should do is fall back on the basic rules of D&D (PHB p.6), specifically, "The DM narrates the results of the adventurers' actions". These results need not be immediate, or consequential or even (immediately) known to the players. The players have changed the world by their failure (or success) so: what happens?

That is not to say there shouldn’t be consequences, but punishment is not (necessarily) one of these. An efficient organisation doesn’t punish people for failing, only for not trying. Or betrayal. Or consistently failing. Or to make an example, Or if they feel like it.

By the way, who is deserving of and who receives punishment are not (necessarily) the same people. Punishment typically flows from politics rather than failure itself.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is useful, I'll make sure any remedial action is "in character" that fits the motivations of the faction. A good organisation doesn't punish people for failing, what about bad organisations? What about bad/incompetent people in organisations? I can see a particular Zhent dealing with this very differently to a particular Harper. \$\endgroup\$
    – StuperUser
    Jul 1, 2019 at 10:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't get punished for failure, but I do experience the effects of failure (not even always mine)--for example, if I'm up all night on a troubleshooting call. In this case there would be direct effects, but also maybe indirect ones when people find out you botched it and then don't trust you later on. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 1, 2019 at 20:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the consequence vs punishment is the most important aspect. Direct punishment/remedial efforts from the organisation are fairly straight forward, but failure of these checks gives scopes for consequences further down the line. Invite someone into the organisation that isn't pulling in the right direction? Then the help you request from them won't be what you expect. Fail to prevent rival factions from working together? They will be harder to deal with in the future. \$\endgroup\$
    – StuperUser
    Jul 2, 2019 at 9:58

They should still get the mission specific reward, but what the consequences of them failing are depends on how badly they failed

If you are going by the book on this faction mission, the Harpers have already gotten a recommendation from a long time member to

recruit the doppelgängers into the Harpers.

They have told the characters :

[...] We need an unbiased opinion. Track down and speak with each of the doppelgangers, and gauge their trustworthiness.

i.e. they want a second opinion on a group that has already been verified by a long standing member.

The DM text of the specific faction mission contains the following detail:

The characters must speak with five doppelgangers, starting with their leader, “Bonnie,” who works at the Yawning Portal.


Characters must interview each doppelganger and succeed on a DC 16 Wisdom (Insight) check to ascertain its trustworthiness. Only “Bonnie” is trustworthy. Reward: Each Harper character gains 2 renown. Every contributing party member receives 50 gp.

So, the character should get 5 chances to ascertain trustworthiness, one for each


If more characters get involved, each could potentially get a chance to ascertain trustworthiness for each


interviewed. Your question suggests you only gave your players one chance for the group...but I may have gotten the wrong end of the stick there.

It's important to note, failure to ascertain trustworthiness or untrustworthiness doesn't necessarily mean the character believes the opposite of the truth. It also doesn't mean they have "failed" the mission and don't get paid.

For example, after interviewing


the character makes a DC 16 Insight check to ascertain her trustworthiness. They get a 12. As the DM you now have two choices:

  • The character is unable to ascertain trustworthiness (i.e. she is hard to read)
  • The character believes the opposite of the truth and believes that


is untrustworthy.

Which of those options you assign to the PC will affect the failure state of the mission.

Their task was to ascertain trustworthiness. The Harpers don't necessarily already know the truth of the matter, that's why they want a second opinion from someone who has been in their organisation for a while.

If the character doesn't identify the untrustworthy


and as a result they are admitted to the Harpers, the price of that failure to identify untrustworthiness may not be felt for years.

For example the untrustworthy doppelgänger admitted may, bide their time and at some point in the future replace Mirt. At that point the doppelgänger has gained a significant amount of control of the Harpers and is a Masked Lord to boot! At that point their failure is immense, but by then there may be nobody around of sufficient rank to care.

Alternatively it may be found out immediately

The untrustworthy doppelgänger may be admitted, and betray the Harpers on their first a relatively unimportant mission but be found out. In this case the failure state of your PCs mission is small.

A note might be made not to assign "character verification" type missions to that PC in the future...if it's noted at all.

The immediate reward for carrying out the mission should still be paid to each participating character. They did what they were asked to do, they may have been wrong in their conclusion...but they still did the assigned task.

Note: my experience for this answer is that I've DMd the full campaign of Dragon Heist, and while I haven't run this specific faction mission, I have given my players others where the failure state of the mission is...unclear.

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This is a good answer for this specific mission. I'm going to invite particular of these people into the organisation and when the players are sent assistance in the future, how useful it is, will be a direct consequence of these outcomes. \$\endgroup\$
    – StuperUser
    Jul 2, 2019 at 10:04

The harpers might have a different job for them next time, one that is more difficult and pays less, since you failed to complete your assigned task, that or they are told outright, you failed to pay your dues to the guild, this is your first warning.

As a gm, i generally give characters in good standing at least one mess up, depending on size and other circumstances.

I would still award XP for the encounter, which rewards the players and not strictly the characters.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Why would you assign someone who's failed a task a more difficult task? Are you imagining your fantasy organisations to be made up of mostly terrible managers? \$\endgroup\$
    – Cubic
    Jul 1, 2019 at 12:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Cubic is right - perhaps it should be more tiresome, laborious one. Unpleasant, maybe. But if anything it should be a bit easier. \$\endgroup\$
    – Mołot
    Jul 1, 2019 at 15:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Things can be perilous and yet tedious, wading through swamps filled with crocodiles is not necessarily a less dangerous task. Danger to the interests of the organisation is not the same as danger to the individual performing the task. \$\endgroup\$
    – JeKaWo
    Jul 2, 2019 at 9:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ If they wanted to get rid of their failed subordinates, couldn't they just fire them? \$\endgroup\$
    – kviiri
    Jul 2, 2019 at 12:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @kviiri Depends on the faction, depending on how badly they messed up and how much they know, I think the Zhents would just make someone "disappear" \$\endgroup\$
    – StuperUser
    Jul 2, 2019 at 16:53

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