Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Sometimes you get both. Success at a Cost is a mechanic in some games that let’s a player turn a near-miss into a success, if the player accept a consequence or drawback imposed on them by the GM.

The mechanic exists in Vampire the Masquerade, so let’s use an example from that. Let’s say my Nosferatu wants to jump from rooftop to rooftop. Maybe I’m faced with a long jump, and need to roll 3 successes or better to clear this wide gap. Let’s say I roll 2. Normally that’d fail, but the GM could offer that I succeed, but in doing so I drop the gun I was carrying as I scramble to grab the ledge and just barely make the jump. Maybe hanging onto the gun is more important to me, and so maybe I’d rather fall and keep my gun. But maybe I *really* need to make that jump. I take the offer, and make it to the other side, but now I don’t have my firearm.

Another systems that has a similar mechanic is Call of Cthulhu. In this version, we have something called a pushed roll. With a pushed roll, you can opt to re-roll a failed roll if the GM allows, but they’ll outline the consequences if you should fail the second roll. You can take the roll or not, the choice is yours. If you take the pushed roll and pass, everything goes great, just as if you had passed the first roll. However, failing the second roll would be worse than if you had failed just the first roll. You get additional consequences for failure, but also more of a chance at success.

If your game doesn’t actively include some mechanic for this, it might benefit you to take steps to include it yourself. A lot of games stall out when faced with failure, since many of us aren’t good at failing forward or embracing loss. Doing things like this can lessen the amount of these failures, and thus keep the game moving forward, and all while keeping the players happy because they still don’t feel like they’re losing, or at the very least they feel like they’re getting a better shot at success. I haven’t yet ported it into other systems, but I plan to. It definitely strikes me as a good idea.

How do you handle success at a cost?

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