Handling failure with simple intents?

Hi there, most of the examples of dealing with failure in an interesting way in the books deal with players who have stated nuanced intents e.g. “pick a lock before the guards come”, “poison someone at a party in such a way as to go unnoticed and frame my enemies” etc. These are nice and easy to allow the players to proceed but with complications e.g. “you get the lock open but you took too long and hear the patrol closing on on you”…

but what do you do when players just state simple intents like “I pick the lock” or " I pick the lock to get access to the room beyond" … the rules state that you cannot give the player their intent, so I’m not left with much aside from “looks like you’ll need to find another way in”…

is it considered bad form to allow players intent but with a complication even when they stated a simple intent, e.g. is it acceptable if they say simply “I pick the lock” and fail to then narrate “you get it open but take too long guards are approaching” etc.

Sort of inferring / adding your own nuance to the intent?

Any thoughts / advice?


Sometimes, nuance in intent can be inferred without being directly stated. If a player’s intent is to assassinate someone, it’s understood that they don’t want to be caught. If players are trying to hide from the authorities and there’s a locked door in their path, then it’s understood they want to pick the lock quickly, without the guards finding them.

There’s also the option of adding such complications without any success. E.g., you’re trying to pick the lock when your rival, the Captain of the Guard walks up behind you. You certainly didn’t get the lock open, and now you have to deal with the complication. Or, your picks break and jam inside the lock. That lock’s never going to open again, you need new picks, and now it’s obvious that someone tried to break in.

Also, don’t be afraid to make the players clarify their task/intent. If you’re not sure what to do for a failure result, you should ask the player to clarify their intent (or task), and also ask yourself if you should just Say Yes to the intent.


“I pick the lock” isn’t a valid intent. It’s more of a task.

A valid intent answers the question “Why?” So before you test, you need to know why the PC wants to do the task. When you get the why from the player, even if it’s a simple reason, then you can create a failure result.

“I pick the lock so I can steal the gold.” Failure is that someone else already stole it (or maybe they’re inside in the act of stealing it?), or the coins are some crazy currency that no one can use or else get arrested, etc.

Answering your question is easy if you make the player answer first.

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Yup. Intent, per page 24

What do you want do and why do you want your character to do it?

Adding to what has been said by others. I will frequently embellish and enhance failure consequences to enliven the consequences of failure. My only rule of thumb is to keep the consequences within reason of the action being performed–example: I try to pick the lock (Ob2) : Failure and your mother explodes in a freakish black hole singularity. Context is everything.

With that said it is easier to come up with fitting failure consequences when the players provide half the reasoning. See examples from other posters.

Finally, don’t be afraid to say YES-- no dice roll necessary. . “I want to pick that lock”. Yes. After a few moments the door clicks open. What now? Say yes until something interesting happens. With enough rope…


From reading all the advice and thinking back to when I ran this last, years ago, the point seems to be ignore the part of the rules that say the player can’t get their intent and instead rephrase it to “they can’t get their intent without complication”

I think it’s more that in pretty much every Intent, there’s an implicit, “…and nothing bad happens to me,” at the end.

There’s nothing wrong with saying that the player doesn’t get their intent on failure. It’s just only one option.

Just make sure everybody is clear on what exactly the intent is before you proceed. Ask your players “so, what exactly do you want to achieve?” There’s almost always some unspoken assumption. Get that out in the open and twist it into a complication, as per the Failure section.

To get back to the canonical examples – if your players say “I want to stab the Duke (or pick the lock)”, the obvious failure result is “no, you don’t, you fail.” But what do they really care about? Really nothing more than that the Duke is stabbed or the lock picked? If you ask them what exactly they want to achieve, you’ll get the full intent: “I want to stab the Duke to death without getting caught and without anyone recognizing me (or pick the lock before the guard comes and without triggering the alarm bell)”. Those are some interesting complications right there. Now, if they fail, the intent does not come to pass as stated – they stab the guy, but with his last breath he tells his vengeful brother who did it, or they pick the lock, but the squeaky lock draws the guard, and so on.

In my experience, the more general and hazy the intent and task, the more difficult it is to come up with a good complication without just saying “no”. The more specific, the easier it is to twist it into something interesting that also advances the game.

Yeah many times as a gm I’ve let a roll go without a completely known intent and what do you know I have trouble with figuring out failure but ehen a player is clear with everything including the unspoken atuff like not get caught I always have the perfect ideas for failure.