If I spend so much time at the task that I iterate through every possible roll, I will at least roll a 20 once in those tries and succeed.So you trade time for certain success. With taking a 10, you choose to take an average roll. You can check out the rules here on the d20 SRD. We have always had a couple problems with the entire take a ten or twenty mechanic, so here it goes.
Statistics 101First off, assuming you will get a 20 in this period of time would have driven my statistics professor crazy. He would have come right back at me and said "you could roll 100 times, or even 200 times and you are never guaranteed a 20 in that sequence, the probability goes up, but it is never a certain thing." With taking a 10, there is no such thing as an 'average' roll on a single test. The average on one test is the roll, whatever that may be. Again, my statistics professor would have called BS on both these mechanics.
But Really, in Play...I don't have the same problem my statistics professor has, because I know these rules are shortcuts to simplify and speed up play. Take a 10 though, yeah, I still have a problem with that since it feels so nonsensical.
First off, taking a 20, the real reason this bugs me is because D&D 3 and all variants accept the fact that you can retry all skills indefinitely. Forever. You can buffalo your way through any skill check by rolling again, and again, and again until the end of time. If you imagine this with a social skill check trying to convince a king to lend you his magic sword, it goes something like this:
"Can I have your magic sword, my king?"Like any interaction with a three-year old, it assumes the DC you set for any task is merely an annoyance for the players to brute force their way past. We grew up with atomic "pass-fail" skill checks. If your thief blew his lockpicking roll, that was it, that lock could not be picked until the thief raised their lockpicking skill and knew some new tricks to try again. The concept of taking a 10 or a 20 to get automatic success felt alien at the time 3E was released, and truthfully, it still feels strange to us today.
"I need it to defeat the dragon, may I have it sire?"
"My chances of rescuing the princess would be greatly increased-"
"Can I have it?"
"Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I? Can I?"
"Okay, take it."
Roleplaying, the Great Second ChanceYes, there are certain times you should be able to make a second attempt. Let's say you are trying to make a persuasion roll and blow the first one. Normally, that should be it, the person refuses and you need to find another way. However, the player is clever and changes their tack with a second offer, roleplaying out a great 'other reason' why the person should go along with the plan. As a referee, I would allow a second check, but at a penalty since this person is already negatively inclined against this persuasion attempt, and second chances should be rare. But it was a great reason and fit within roleplaying, so it should be allowed for fairness. A third try? At that point you are begging, and I would disallow it, or put such a penalty on the attempt you would have to be a saint with a blessed d20 to succeed.
The king would give you a funny look though. Really?
But yes, great roleplaying should be the basis on which second tries are allowed. There is a limit, of course, but this feels right to me.
Pass-Fail ImprovPass-fail tests. I love them. If players fail at something, they need to have backup plans or think of another way around, or use another skill. As a good referee, I am not going to tell them to pack up their character sheets, the adventure is over, goodbye and see you next week if the party can't pick a lock. There will be another way in, or the players may be clever enough to figure a way around it. Knock on the door. Climb on the roof. Smoke em out. Something. Just please be more creative than giving up and telling me you take a 20, because I won't let you. that one shot you had was the sole cumulative effort of all you knew, and that was the once shot you had. You rolled a 3 and blew it. Try something else.
As a DM, don't put your adventure in that situation either.
I find players are more creative, start buying backup skills, and become more involved when I use pass-fail tests with them. They understand that moment will not come again, and they make plans in case it fails. They can't sit there and burn time for automatic success, because that's not the way the world works. You can't take a chemistry test until you pass it.
In a movie, when a hero attempts to pick a lock and fails, that is usually never revisited again. The brute in the party kicks it down. The smart kid hacks the computer. Someone tries the window and finds it open. Someone asks, "Is there a back door?" Another character pulls out a welder. Dramatically, it feels right.
Everybody Wins but Nobody CaresSomewhere, I believe rules like this slipped in because a dungeon master somewhere let his or her players bully them into making successive rolls until they caved in. The player, whoever it was, sat at the table believing that roleplaying was just like a videogame, and you could press that "use skill" button and roll the virtual dice in the CPU again and again until they succeeded.
Player: "What? Come on! I keep trying!"No. Seriously? Life isn't like that. you can't show up at the job interview the next day after they told you to get lost. Your skill roll at this one task was it, and your character gives up trying because it isn't possible. No matter how you feel as a player, you need to figure out another way forward. maybe you shouldn't have skimped on the skill, maybe the task was to tough, or maybe it was just bad luck. Regardless, in that game world, your character failed, and you as the invisible hand of the player must chart a new course and find a new way.
DM (sighing): "Okay, roll again."
If you roleplay a second chance, I'll give you that. Don't expect it to be easy, and you better have a new angle to come at this problem, but I am fair and love creative play.
Death, the Great ExceptionDeath is always a great exception to the rule. If your party is fending off a goblin horde, and your thief is trying to pick that lock so everyone can escape, I will let you try again and again until you all fall to goblin blades or get that blasted door open. There may be increasing penalties as each attempt fails. This also feels right. I generally allow in-combat checks as long as there is a chance of grave danger ever present and threatening to strike every turn. In a movie, one character picks the lock while the rest hold off the horde, and everyone is screaming at the thief to get it open.
Out of combat, there is no pressure to succeed, and no life-or-death consequence (yes, even in the grand sense where the princess is behind the door and needs to be set free). With a constant and real threat, yes, I generally allow second chances, and really, this falls under the above "roleplaying" exception for second chances. You are under fire, and need to get the door open. Your character gets second chances because the pressure is on and the adrenaline is pumping. The danger of failure is real. You will succeed. Maybe.
It feels right. It feels dramatically correct and it also reflects real life experiences. Once the threat passes, the pressure is off, and whatever that last check was stands.
Another Exception, Skill-UpsLet's say your thief fails and comes back to that same lock later with a higher skill level. Yes, I would allow a second check since you learned some new tricks. Or maybe a long amount of time passes, like weeks, then yes, a fresh try could be allowed. This is also being fair, while still staying strong on the pass-fail result of the original check.
This has Always Been How We PlayedReally, this has always been how we played roleplaying games. We let the original skill check stand, fail or succeed. We only allowed second chances though creative roleplaying. Players always found another way around, or understood they needed great skills and redundancy of skills and plans to avoid being put in a bad situation by an unlucky skill check.
Taking a 20 felt so lazy to us. It felt like skills checks were inconveniences to play. To us, skill checks were play. Taking a 10 meant nothing, I mean, in what sense could you say "I do an average job" in the chaos of the universe and dungeon crawling where anything could happen?
Even when we play Pathfinder, we disallow taking a 10 or a 20. I would rather just DM fiat "no roll needed" for those simple tasks than to allow a buffalo-through assumption of videogame-inspired try-fail-repeats at my table. If a skill check is that simple, really, why roll? Yes, 3E and Pathfinder say "roll if failure is important and has consequences", but to us, every roll is important and has consequences - because any roll important enough to make at the table should be that important.