In defense of botches
I recently got into a discussion on reddit about our favorite dice mechanics in roleplaying games. I’ve been GMing a lot of Blades in the Dark recently, who’s mechanics break down like this, Players get a dice pool based on their number in a skill. Players roll their dice and you take the highest roll as the result.
1–3: Failure with a serious complication
4–5: Success with a complication
If the player has 0 in a stat you roll two dice and take the lowest result. Double 6’s are a crit and double 1’s are a botch. Botches and Crits over-ruling anything else.
The last part of that there is a house rule, there are no rules for Blades in the Dark on botches. There’s just nothing in the rules about them. People called this out on reddit and went so far as to point out that it means that the more you put into a skill the higher the chance you have to botch is, which is true. However Blades in the Dark is a narrative based game, instead of Dungeons & Dragons, Blades has the player tell the GM what they’re rolling when they come to a challenge, the players are able to pick what skill they would like to use, the GM then decides if that’s a controlled action, a risky action or a desperate action and the narrative plays out from there.
The possibility of something going completely sideways adds to the drama of the game, pushes the story along with complications and makes the world of Blades in the Dark come alive. You’ll notice the roll table only has one specific point where nothing gets complicated a 6 which translates to a complete success. 4 and 5s are successes but there’s a complication, a tool breaks, the player’s character makes some noise while trying to be stealthy, etc.
Botches here and in many other roleplaying games add to tension and that balance between pulling something off and having a catastrophic failure. Without the risk of something going terribly wrong the game becomes stale and there’s little to no balance to the risk/reward mechanics behind many dice pools.