These answers allows the player to take something of what the DM says and continue the story from there. These "Build" answers are more interesting than "Block" answers like "no", and even though you will sometimes have to block an idea from a player, it is better to try to work with the players idea.
Recently I've been thinking about failed skill checks or ability checks:
- Youve found a dead body, but your investigation check fails, so guess that's the end of that murder investigation.
- You try to lift the bars, but fail. Sorry, that was the only way into this dungeon.
- You chase after the Thief, but you fail your Dex. Sorry, the Thief got away.
However, what we sometimes do is create a "No, but..." situation:
- Your murder investigation check fails. This means you fail to notice the bloody tracks that would have allowed you to find the killer. However, you do find the strange knife used to kill the victim. The Blacksmith might know who would sell such an odd knife and who might buy one.
- Your strength check fails and you cannot lift the bars. However, you notice a slight draft from a nearby wall. Is that a secret door leading to an alternate entrance?
- You chase after the Thief, but he gets away. However, while running, the Thief's cloak rips and you see a symbol on the ripped piece. Could this be a clue to tracking down the Thief's Guild?
What do you think? Is this something you think about when designing adventures?
Can you think of other ideas for interesting results of a failed skill or ability check? I am looking for more ideas!