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I'm playing Hero Kids with my 5 year old and am brand new to TTRPGs.

I'm a bit unsure what to do when an ability check fails? Do I penalize the player, give them some disadvantage for the rest of the encounter or something else?

Here's one example (from a section of an encounter):

Burning Embers

The strong breeze blows embers onto several buildings. The hot embers spark small fires in hay piles and thatched roofs.

If the kids choose to help stamp out the burning embers, they need to succeed at this ability test:

  • Dexterity (Acrobatics) test at difficulty 4 to stamp out the spot fires caused by the embers

You stamp out the little fires on the ground and throw water up on the roofs to put out all of the spot fires.

While it's super clear what happens if they succeed the ability check, what happens if they fail? Does it hurt their feet and they fail? So the embers get stronger and engulf more buildings? I find this part a bit confusing.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I’m really concerned with a game that suggests to a 5 year old that fighting a fire is a good idea. I employ plumbers and their instructions in case of fire is to evacuate safely and call the fire brigade. I’m all for encouraging imaginative play in children, but fire (unlike magic and dragons) can happen in real life and this is demonstrating really, really dangerous behaviour. \$\endgroup\$
    – Dale M
    Jan 28, 2023 at 22:56

1 Answer 1

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This is a good question in any TTRPG. There are several ways to handle a failed check and which you choose is up to the GM and strongly depends on your players and the situation.

You have listed some options in your question and they are all valid.

From my experience I'll discuss a couple of options:

  • It doesn't work - try again. This is kind of the default in many RPG video games. It's simple but it's just disappointing for the players and stalls the action.
  • Penalize the players and they fail. As above, but even more disappointing.
  • Penalize the players and they succeed. They manage to stop the fire but hurt themselves while doing so. This is a minor setback but the story can go on.
  • Ignore the failure. Just carry on. Describe how much effort it was but they eventually succeed. This may be useful when you think your players are already stressed to the breaking point. After all, they don't know what the consequences of a failed or successful check would have been.
  • It doesn't work - what else can be done? They stamp out small fires, but new ones pop up even faster. The approach isn't working, is there some implement they could use for greater effect? A fire hydrant to open for water, a tarp to suffocate the fire, people nearby to call in to assist with the stamping? A new approach, a new check, and then perhaps go with one of your latter three ideas if the new check fails as well. (Suggested by @From)
  • Make the situation more interesting. They fail and then something happens and changes everything. A gust of wind blows out the small fires but a nearby building goes up in flames. Or a thunderstorm starts and the rain stops the fires but thunder and lightning cause confusion. Or a friend arrives and helps them but afterwards he tells the players of another problem they need to take care of. Anything can happen. Just make something up. Most games reserve this for critical failures but why deprive yourself of the fun?

Keep in mind, your goal as GM is to keep everybody entertained. As I said, it depends on the situation. If you think your players can take some more complications, you may add them. After all: the show must go on.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I’ve downvoted because it isn’t clear that any of these apply to the game OP is playing because you haven’t cited any rules or experience related to the game OP is playing. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 28, 2023 at 13:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch no, I don't know this specific game. I was answering from a system-agnostic point of view and I hope I made that clear (enough). Personally, I'm convinced that RPGs are more about the shared experience and less about the rules. Other opinions are equally valid. \$\endgroup\$
    – Friedrich
    Jan 28, 2023 at 13:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch - There is no specific guidance in the rulebook. I read it multiple times and couldn't find anything. I'm not sure if they left it out intentionally or they assumed the GM would know. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 28, 2023 at 13:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Friedrich - Thanks for the suggestions! This is very helpful! I guess my inexperience with RPGs is making it harder for me to understand how to approach this. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 28, 2023 at 13:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PlastyGrove The producers of the game probably made the implicit assumption the target market is veterans who want to bring the hobby to the next generation, not people "brand new to TTRPGs". Understandable assumption, though a limiting one. Feel free to bring any future issues here! \$\endgroup\$
    – From
    Jan 28, 2023 at 13:57

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