Thursday, December 13, 2018

Push Off

I've been thinking about push mechanics in role-playing games, and I'm a bit baffled by the concept. Maybe someone out there can explain what I'm missing.

I have encountered push mechanics in Call of Cthulhu 7 and Mutant Year Zero, and I wasn't convinced either time.

The basic idea is that if you fail a roll, you can try again and if that roll is also a failure then something interesting -- and probably bad -- happens.

My question is: why doesn't something interesting happen with the first failure? What's the benefit to putting the interesting stuff behind a second roll? It seems to me to be inefficient design, rolling for rolling's sake. It reminds me of those versions of D&D in which you score a critical hit, but then have to roll again to see if the critical hit was an actual critical hit, or who knows what.

It seems to me that this sort of mechanic is hiding the fun -- that's not to say dice rolling isn't fun, but it's a different sort of fun -- behind a superfluous dice roll, but perhaps I'm just not getting it.

The other possible issue is that every time I've seen a GM ask "Do you want to try again, bearing in mind that if you fail a second time, something bad will happen?" no player has ever gone for it, but maybe they weren't getting it either.

(Shrug emoji.)


  1. Maybe the idea was that if you try again, you're doing so when you're momentarily fatigued or off-balance, and so there's greater risk associated, and more likelihood something will go wrong. You try a hit them with an arrow, you miss, you try to rush a second shot, you might pull a muscle or your aim might be crap because you hurried.

    Admittedly, I'm basing this mostly on Heroclix, where you could push to attack two turns in a row, and you would take damage because you basically overexerted yourself. That happened whether the attack was successful or not, and if you critical missed, then you took that damage on top of the pushing damage. I guess you were that much more vulnerable because you kind of bet it all on a risky play and got hung out to dry.

    1. That makes a sort of sense in the Heroclix context; it's not how the idea is presented in the two examples I've seen, but it could be explained that way.

  2. Unless I'm misunderstanding, lots of games involve degrees of success /failure and many of those make one degree of failure mean 'you succeed, but...'

    I suspect that games where degrees of success/failure aren't a factor would struggle to make the first failure interesting. If you really screw up the role and have that mean something it might take the meaning and risk out of the failure.

    1. That also makes a sort of sense. If the first failure is presented as "you succeed, but..." then it makes a failure on the second roll more reasonable.

      It does seem that it would make a success on the second roll a bit vague though; would you treat that as a full success, or as a success-but result? Something else to ponder!

    2. It's probably more like a fumble table - you hit but roll a die for minor consequences