This is not strictly a post about D&D. It’s not strictly about climbing either.
It’s about failing. And falling.
I picked up climbing a few months ago, because Cas brought me there. My bad vertigo went away after one session.
Then everything started hurting, but after a while you learn to cope with muscle pain, finger pain, feet pain, getting cramps on the muscles you’re using to cling to a wall 40′ off the ground. Catching a breath precariously balancing in an uncomfortable position to cope with cramps better. Stop worrying about getting cramps all over the place, because it’s usually only painful. Learning that if you move your body weight the right way, sometimes a hand on a hold and a foot on a half a cm ledge is enough to swing, jump off and grab another hold there.
And if the ledge is not there, pinning your foot against the wall might be enough. Even if your muscles are shaking because of sustained effort, your head starts to spin a bit and you are in pain all over.
And when you’re trying to go up, sometimes you can do a potentially silly move, and sometimes it works. And sometimes you fall. And since you’re not a D&D thief, you only get bruises because you have a belayer. Safety first.
But often you can try to do something less awesome and safer and slower. And when you fail, you don’t progress, but only get more tired. Because sometimes every second you spend there is tiring.
And then you get to the end, and you’re lowered down, and maybe you’re useless for a few minutes.
In RPGs, instead, we roll, and we succeed or fail.
* * *
This is not a call for non-binary resolutions. It’s a call for tradeoffs.
It’s an invite to let PCs burn the candle faster to get there sooner.
Let them go easy, spending more time or taking a penalty to mitigate or counter their failures.
Let them exert themselves, improve their rolls by spending temporary hits to recovered at a quick rate through rest.
Let them get strained, exchanging a small bonus now for a big, lasting penalty in the future.
Talk to your players. Give them choices. Let their choices build a better experience at the table.