I know how to make failures interesting. Though recently I have a hard time making the events following a successful roll interesting.

For instance, the party is exploring a tomb, where a trap is rigged up so that poison gas will leak into the area if it is tripped, requiring the party to hurry up and locate whatever it is in the tomb. However, if the thief made a good roll - or a great roll, the trap is not triggered, and there are less tension in the scene after that.

Or the party, in order to infiltrate an enemy camp, and succeeds so well that they could make it up to the enemy commander and have an overwhelming advantage against him.

How do make things interesting for the players in such cases, without nullifying the fact that they have rolled well? We start the game in the understanding that this will be a heroic game, with over the top scenes happening, but when the PCs are doing well with their rolls, it's hard to inject something that is 1) challenging and 2) also take their good rolls into consideration.

The system is 13th Age, for context.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I've added the [13th-age] tag. If there's any particular reason this shouldn't have your system's tag, bearing in mind stuff like this meta question, feel free to remove it again. Given that you've provided your system for context, I presume you want answers that are helpful within that context. In addition, your system provides definitions and options highly relevant to success, rewarding it, and interesting events, so it should almost certainly be an integral part of answers. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 12, 2014 at 5:47

5 Answers 5


Your problem isn't in making a successful roll interesting; it's slightly more fundamental than that:

Never ask for a die roll you don't want to see succeed.

(This is the counterpart of the equally important rule, "never ask for a die roll that mustn't fail".)

You've created obstacles which go away if the right skill rolls overcome them, instead of still being interesting. This is a mistake of design, because it means your adventure is only dramatic if the party are failing. Instead, create obstacles which provide tension regardless, and let skill rolls defeat them.

Example: Time-limit trap

To take your first example: if the only source of dramatic tension in the scene is the time before they succumb to poison, why on earth are you allowing that to depend on the thief's die roll?


  • Design the tomb to be full of poison gas regardless, and let the thief roll to notice it quickly.

  • Substitute another timed threat (the tomb is flooding rapidly), and some one off-traps (arrows, darts, pits) for the thief to spot instead.

  • Skip forward once there's no longer any drama.

    (The gas is disarmed and the party have ample time to loot the tomb? Don't waste time describing every tunnel on the way; jump straight to describing the interesting results at the end and move on to a scene which does still have tension.)

Make liberal use of "yes, but" and "yes, and" here - don't devalue the successes, but use them to add new complications.

Your second example is fruitful for this, so I'll add detail here.

Example: Infiltration mission

Situation: The party wish to infiltrate the enemy camp and assassinate the commander.

Well, that certainly calls for some sneak-and-avoid obstacles. Guard posts, bodyguards on call, random camp followers, enemy officers talking to the commander.

So do any or all of the following:

  • Create adaptable enemies, that will use planning and skills of their own to change the game.

    The party infiltrate so well that they have overwhelming advantage against the commander. Great. So the commander flees down an emergency escape route. Now it's not a boringly easy fight scene; it's a tense chase scene. Reward the high skill roll by skipping the obstacle entirely... then give them a different problem.

  • Obstacles that can't be avoided, only dealt with.

    The commander is in her tent conferring with junior officers. Infiltrate all you want; they're not leaving until they've finished work. They must either be fought, or distracted with something noisy - which will also alert guards. Or waited out... creating more time for things to go wrong.

  • Invoke overwhelming odds, so that the players being awesome makes things even.

    The commander has an elite corps of bodyguards, and is a skilled martial artist. Now they need that surprise attack to give themselves an even chance. If they do well, they can bring the odds down to even - if not, they'll have to abort and come up with a different plan entirely.

  • Change the situation.

    They're sneaking through the camp when the camp is attacked... by a mutual enemy. Do they go ahead and complete their mission (but the third party is bound to get a major victory out of it)? Or help their enemies defend their camp (and let the commander live)? Or help defeat the new threat, then kill the commander?

  • Turn their successes into new sources of drama, based on different skills.

    If the players disguised themselves as enemy soldiers and rolled to sneak in so well that they're not spotted - then don't try to limit this, use it. Invite them to the meeting. Get their opinions on the battle plans. Tense roleplay scenes ensue, with many opportunities for entertaining success, clever deceptions, or new disasters.

  • Make them awesome, then skip to the drama.

    As with the tomb above, if the roll makes the outcome certain, don't waste time - tell them how awesome they are, and move on. The party infiltrated the camp so well they got in to the commander's tent while she slept? Fine. They assassinate her without trouble. Describe how skillfully they've solved the problem.

    Only: she wakes and struggles, covering their disguises in blood. Or her lover was sneaking in to be with her, and screams in shock at what he sees, alerting the camp. Or her command tent is set on fire during the struggle, attracting the guards.

    Now, how are they planning to get out again?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Infiltration ahs always been a really hard thing to do, awesome advice \$\endgroup\$ Jan 12, 2014 at 21:02

Tension Build Up - when to roll

A thing I see happen a lot is people roll dice first, then describe after. It's more fun to freely narrate things, build up the tension, only roll the dice when it would be the worst possible time to fail, AND then see what happens.

"Ok, you've made it to the enemy commander's tent. It takes 10 long, agonizing minutes of waiting hidden under a cart until the squad that decided to start gambling near by decides to go down to the river. As you flip open the tent's flap... roll the dice."

Even though the success isn't changed, it's the fact that by the time you roll the dice, the stakes are significantly higher. If you get caught sneaking in at the edge of camp, you can run away. If you're caught in the middle of camp, you're in it deep.

Tell me how you do it

Let the players narrate how they succeed. Sometimes it's the little flourishes and description which lets you see how awesome the character is, or gives you some important idea about who they are.

"I got an 24 on Intimidate!" "Well, that's definitely a success, tell me how you do it." "Since I had already pulled out the knife and got in his face, that happens. But then I show an expression of realization! My eyes widen, I back up and smile. I look over my shoulder and say, 'Oh, yeah. That's right. You were supposed to protect the Don's belongings. And that SURE IS a rare painting he has. He'd be REAL mad if something happened to it, wouldn't he?'"

Future Advantage

This can be information, a tool, etc. that the PC gets after succeeding.

"You've disarmed the poison gas trap. You've now got a sealed clay jar full of poison which, if opened, will spray forth a noxious mist. Be sure not to break it..."

"Well! Now that you've figured out the locking mechanism to the gate, you realize all the other doors probably use the same system. It'll be 5 to 10 minutes each one, but you can definitely get them open with some patience."

Punishing Success

Don't do this often, but sometimes success brings it's own complications.

"You've done it, you've killed the Grand Assassin, right in front of the meeting of the Thieves Guilds of the West City. Everyone is silent and nervous for a minute, before one of them stands up and shouts, '200 gold a month. That is what we'll pay for your services.' Another jumps up, '250!' and before you know it, it's a bidding war. They've assumed you are, in fact, a corrupt paladin seeking to be the new Grand Assassin."

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I like this answer. I'm not sure I'd call that last one "Punishing Success," though. You seem to be doing something more subtle there. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex P
    Jan 12, 2014 at 5:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AlexP is right. That last part is exactly what I meant by "Make them awesome, then skip to the drama", except that your example is better than mine. \$\endgroup\$
    – Tynam
    Jan 12, 2014 at 10:17

(I'm using the general language of "test" and "conflict" here. A "test" is a quick-to-resolve action, like a single skill check in most games. A "conflict" is extended resolution, like a battle scene.)

Building Momentum

After they succeed, prompt the players for a short bit of additional detail.

Generally it's better to get the how and why of an action out before you roll for it (so that everyone's on the same page about what's happening and what's at stake), but this little bit of description after a test or conflict is a great way to put the focus back on the fiction and get everyone thinking, "What's next?"

It's also a great opportunity to describe your character being awesome, or inject a note of humor into the game.

Moving Forward

Then, move on. Success is success. The best way to honor success is to push forward with it. They've rolled to sneak all the way into the enemy commander's tent? Great! So now they're sneaking up on him with their gleaming, wicked knives. This is what they've been waiting for, isn't it? Clearly they have a plan for what happens next.

As far as figuring out what's next, I think the best advice is "Be obvious." What was the first thing you thought of? Okay, go with that. Don't sandbag the game trying to come up with some clever twist.

In particular, don't sabotage a successful action after the fact. If you feel like an action is too much, too soon (e.g. a single test obviates multiple challenges that you kinda assumed would take up most of a session), that's something to address when setting up stakes for the test or conflict in the first place. If it's a dire situation you can go back and "retcon" the stakes. I wouldn't just steal success away from the players. (Don't steal failure away from the players, either. Though that's a different issue.)


Congratulate them on their success, and move on swiftly to the next point of tension.

Don't bother trying to restore tension in this scene. Players like to carve out moments of safety with wits and skill—let them:

  • Let them have the stunning victory that gets them all the way to the commander and get the drop on him. Good! They couldn't beat him in a fair fight in the first place, so now they actually have a chance, and it's going to be a tough fight even with the advantage, right? (Not to mention: How in the world do they get out of the camp alive?)

  • Let them defuse the trap. What happens next? There are always new dangers.

Anything else is just frustrating, not tense. Don't get fond of your dangers and your tense scenes. Learn to kill your darlings and let them be disposable. They've done their job: they asked the question "is this a challenge for the PCs?" and the PCs answered it. The actually tense scenes and challenging challenges will surprise you, if you let them. Don't try to artificially stretch out the challenge of this piece of the game, just move on to the next challenge to find out what happens next. Congratulate them, and then make their lives interesting again.


Don't just run the roll as a hurdle in an obstacle course. Give them something to do with their victory. Here are some ideas.

Gas trap

  1. The rogue gets the vial of gas out of the trap and keeps it for later use. Since you said you like tension, let's say the vial is cracked. The rogue can keep it, and risk setting it off on himself. He can ditch it and risk someone else finding it. Or he can try to destroy it in fashion he hopes is safe.
  2. The trap can't be disarmed, but the rogue knows precisely which squares trigger it and what its radius is. 5 minutes later combat starts in that room.
  3. Disarming the trap reveals connections to three other traps the rogue missed. Now he'll be second guessing himself for the rest of the tomb.


  1. The players go to ambush the commander and *dramatic reveal* one of them was once close friends with the commander. Enter diplomacy.
  2. The players discover something about the enemy that makes them second guess attacking. Maybe the enemy force has bad intel and is marching in the wrong direction. Maybe they're also fighting a third party who is a known enemy.
  3. The players discover something about their own side that makes them second guess who they're working for. Maybe they overheard that their own side mind controls small children into acting as human shields just to make their enemies hesitate. Do the players leave to investigate this rumor? Is it enough to make them change sides?

Apparently my idea of tension is giving the players tough decisions, for varying values of tough.


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