I quote Trollsmyth from the closing paragraph of their recent excellent post--Investigating Resource Management:
"On a very related note, I am somewhat intrigued by this capers game. The dice rolls appear to be less about success or failure, and more about interesting complications. That seems to me to be a more interesting way to go, especially if your assumption is that the PCs are hyper-talented and extremely competent individuals who nearly always succeed. The notion that the PCs should always be skirting the ragged edge of disaster in every exercise of their skills is another of those ideas that I think has become a bit too pernicious in game design these days."
I definitely agree with most (if not all) of the points Trollsmyth raises in his post. It isn't about the dice rolling, or the random numbers, but actually playing the game itself. A lot of game mechanics and frivolous crap get in the way of a good game, or destroy any desire to adhere to the implicit motivations heaped upon characters like how the success/failure thing is sorted out by a random roll that includes a chance for massive failure in the basic roll, no matter how much skill, expertise, or talent one has.
You should get what you paid for, as a player, and your character ought to get more than a few measly points added to their dice rolls to avoid abject disaster. Perhaps they should instead receive a number of additional rolls in case of initial failure, to reflect their training and their ability to catch and correct mistakes. The penalty could come in the form of lost time, more materials cost, or a need to focus more intently, not having the whole mess go boom in their face automatically. Failure is always an option, yes, but a seasoned professional with real expertise in a particular skill or ability ought to at least have a chance to be able to catch themselves when they are about to make a big mistake. They also ought to have a shot at correcting a slip or oversight before it cascades into a Buster Keaton style epic failure. And even if they do screw up, they ought to at least have a chance to rectify things--not without at least some consequences, of course, but not abject total failure, unless they manage to mess that attempt up as well. You get a Saving Throw for death rays, dragon breath, petrification, poison, etc., so why not something similar to handle this sort of thing?
I'm going to give this matter some serious thought over the Holidays and see what I can come up with in terms of some way to handle success/failure for ability/skill use and how to handle the pay offs and penalties stemming from it. Maybe I'll have to chack out this capers game, Leverage. I like how they desribed their approach to handling success/failure rolls...
I also appreciate Trollsmyth pointing out the recent B/X Blackrazor post on Marion Zimmer Bradley and non-combat oriented adventuring that doesn't automatically suck rocks. We've been developing an XP system based on exploration and other preferred activities and moving it away from the unfortunate, thuggish prediliction for murder and thieving in Riskail, mostly because those activities are handled with very different techniques and repercussions in a post-nanotech society. They haven't gone away, but you don't gain power by murder, theft and vandalism, necessarily, either. But that's something we'll leave for next week.