PbtA die result table in OSR/NSR games?

Ok. Another question. This one is a direct port from storygamesville, of which I am an unapologetic fan of.

One of the key features of a PbtA game is the dice resolution model of:

A) success, partial success, failure or

B) success, success with complication, complication (which may or may not mean failure, depending on the fiction and specific game design.)

This question is specifically about the middle option as it might relate to OSR/NSR games; partial success (PS) or success with complications (SC). When I first came across this mechanic it was a revelatory experience. I was all, “holy shit! This is brilliant!”

Now, I totally see y’alls take on success and failure. But, what role, if any, does PS or SC have, or could have in an OSR/NSR game? Why would or wouldn’t it work?


A few OSR games do this: Vagabonds of Dyfed, World of Dungeons, Obscure Adventures, and the more recent Realms of Peril.

I actually do this with binary resolution systems, but based on GM Fiat: basically, how successful were the players in setting up the roll? Did they account for every eventuality, but the risk was still there? If so, I’ll push for a partial success/failure.


Yeah… GM Fiat is a no go for me. In my experience (I’m 50, so not a little) GM fiat tends to be a popularity contest and, given that I’m autistic, I never win popularity contests. Sure, say what you will about good vs bad GMing, it still becomes a thing. Personally, I need mechanical support to deal with this issue. This is also true, moreso true, with social interactions. In game, I’m not limited with social skills, I can roleplay with the best of ‘em, so this isn’t so much an issue for me. But, I’ve seen others struggle and than be “punished” for their challenges. I don’t like seeing that, a lot!


Everything is GM fiat. Deciding how many monsters, what kills them, what is around the next corner… It’s all fiat. The key is finding the level you’re comfortable with! Which you’re trying to do, obviously.

I ran PbtA games for years (even made a semi successful one) and PbtA leans into fiat more than most, the very nature of mixed success requires deciding what to give, and what to take!


Everything is fiat, yes and no. Sure, the GM plays the role of the setting, as the players interact with it. And, hopefully, the GM responds according to how the players interact with the setting. This is fine.

Where I’m at is give the player the power to ensure that they aren’t ignored or overlooked because of the popularity contest intrinsic to all RPGs. Sure, you can start creating rule after rule that “guarantees” this or that, at which point this or that gets lost. So, creating mechanics for the sake of mechanics isn’t the solution. But, tweaks here and there can be. At least, hopefully.

I’m not one who GMs with the notion that GMs should have absolute authority. This another thing that I hope to bring into my design. I think PS and SC is one step in that direction. And, I recognize that this can go overboard really quick.

Perhaps this should be another thread, but what do you think about the GM not rolling dice, as is a PbtA standard?

Here’s a diagram by Sam Doebler that explains what @yochaigal described in his first reply.

This model is popular in NSR games that don’t provide any method of numerically adjusting difficulty. Here’s an article that explains why Into the Odd is designed without numerical adjustments to Save difficulty: BASTIONLAND: Difficulty in Bastionland

I would have to disagree with you that there is a “popularity contest inherent to all RPGs.” I’ve never had an issue with GM favoritism in any game I’ve played. As for “the players roll all the dice”… it’s fine? I think there are some O/NSR games that do that. Personally I don’t see the appeal.

P.S. It might be good if, instead of making a bunch of different threads, you made one big thread introducing yourself and saying “here’s who I am, here’s my background in RPGs, can you teach me about the OSR and NSR?” And then you can ask all your questions in that thread.


That’s an interesting chart. I appreciate you bringing it to my attention. I’ll think about it, for sure.

Re: Popularity contests in RPGs,
I understand that they may not be your experience, but it is something is very real in mine and those “weirdos” who don’t fit in, for whatever reason. I’ve struggled with this my whole life and RPGs are no exception. In fact, in RPGs it’s more obvious, to me and those of my cohort(?).

Where this has not been an issue, at least, lesser of an issue, has been in those games that have unintentionally addressed it. Those games can also be a bit rules intensive for me, if you will.

I’m autistic and this, for me, comes with certain limitations that would seriously challenge my if I had to ask all of my questions in one thread.

I’m sorry if this is an inconvenience for you, and, if this is standard and expected practice, I will happily bow out of this forum. I do not wish to impose my hang ups on y’all.

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I think he did in the beginning of his posts? I don’t mind this, liking both story-games and OSR/NSR type play. I think this question/discussion is fascinating and would, even if in a main post, deserve a spinoff in its own thread. Also, I like seeing activity on this forum :slight_smile:

now @Alejandro, about the moves. It’s something I like a lot that has come out of the PbtA style games. I use it in games I run with a simple unwritten rule. If plainly failing would be boring, offer the option of succeeding at a cost. Or, don’t even make it an option, turn a failure into a success at a cost.

It seems, from the above posts, that you do not GM at the moment. Have you ever tried it? I think, because GM’s use a lot of tricks, that it often seems to players that GM’s have it all figured out and that everything is prepared in advance, but as @yochaigal said, very often, it’s just GM fiat, especially in PbtA type games, which require you to interpret possible moves to take, what it would look like, etc.

I hope this helps.


I am currently not a playing in any game, but I do GM and I am comfortable with my style. I actively make sure that I don’t single anyone out. However, these days and over the past few years, I’ve really only played storygames. I enjoy them and don’t regret that choice. However, they tend to be very focused and I would like an open ended experience that allows for exploration and world development.

What I’d like to see if OSR/NSR games could do is create an element of player empowerment that allows players to drive play to what they’re interested in, without compromising the spirit of OSR/NSR design. Why? I don’t know. I’m currently enamored by the OSR/NSR form factor and want to see how far it can be pushed before it breaks, or, most likely, becomes something else.

I’m asking about this here, because I have been impressed by y’all’s designs, thus, I am in pursuit of y’all’s input. I’m not asking in the discord because discord breaks my brain. It’s an autism thing.

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I’m autistic and this, for me, comes with certain limitations that would seriously challenge my if I had to ask all of my questions in one thread.

Oh, then making separate threads is fine! I just thought a single thread might be more convenient for you, but if it’s not then forget what I said. I’m on the autism spectrum myself, for what it’s worth, so I get it.

I would like an open ended experience that allows for exploration and world development.

What I’d like to see if OSR/NSR games could do is create an element of player empowerment that allows players to drive play to what they’re interested in

Exploration is a huge part of the OSR/NSR-style, but it is a very prep-focused style (unlike storygames). Typically the GM prepares an adventure location, whether that’s a single dungeon or a huge world map or something in-between, and players sign up for the game based on whether they’re interested in exploring that location.

Players are definitely the drivers of play but they can only drive play toward what the GM has prepared. So, if you want players ensure players can drive play toward something they’re interested in, I would consider using elements of collaborative worldbuilding or simply asking your players what kind of locations they’d be interested in exploring before you prepare them.

Here’s a post on how Yochai does collaborative worldbuilding: Build Your World


For PbtA style results in an OSR/NSR game, roll 2d20. A failure plus success is a partial success/success with complication.


I generally like Chris McDowall’s advice on this sort of thing. The most recent (that I know of) iteration from Mythic Bastionland puts it like this:

When the players take action the Referee works down this list.
1: INTENT - What are you trying to do?
2: LEVERAGE - What makes it possible?
3: COST - Would it use a resource, grant a Burden, or have a negative side-effect?
4: STAKES - What’s at risk? No risk, no roll.
5: ROLL - Make a Save or a Luck Roll.
6: IMPACT - Show the consequences, honour the Stakes, and move forward.

When the players succeed at a significant action the Referee does one of the following:
ADVANCE - Move in a good direction.
DISRUPT - Lessen a threat.
RESOLVE - Put a problem to rest.

When the players fail at a risky action they might still complete the action, but always suffer negative consequences:
THREATEN - Create a new problem.
ESCALATE - Make a situation worse.
EXECUTE - Deliver on a threat.

Whether a success or failure, ensure that the players’ actions have an observable impact on the world. The best types of impact have both immediate and lasting consequences, always moving things forward.

The failure section is probably most applicable here.

Keeping things moving forward is the biggest part of these ideas that vibes with me. Just saying “you failed” is boring and brings everything to a halt, in my experience.


@sonofthe , oh. That really does put it in perspective. From these lists, the need for a partial success is moot. Excellent. Thank you.

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This is such an easy ruling. I use this all the time in situations where I cant easily decide on position and effect and want to instead improvise a PbtA style move.

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