Tabletop Roleplaying in a Different Era

Fear of Failure: Session 2

Before I begin in earnest, I’d first like to apologize for the dearth of content on the site for the last week. It’s been busy out in the real world, but that’s no excuse. I’m going to try and make sure there is at minimum one post every 5-7 days, even if I don’t have time to write something legitimate and just post a link. Fortunately, the overarching theme for this entry works well with my hiccups in regular posting; just because I try something doesn’t mean I will succeed all the time. And that’s OK. The same goes for your players.

In roleplaying games, there is a distinct dichotomy between success and failure. This seems to be due in part to the relative simplicity of the traditional “dungeon crawl” plot, but also the relative simplicity of narrative in general. Most GMs have an idea of how they want a game to turn out, and they want the PCs to win (not a bad thing). But in the process of helping the PCs win, the opportunity for real failure is trivialized or eliminated entirely.

My best example of this comes from a game one of my friends ran, which receives the backhanded compliment of being the best railroaded campaign I have ever played in. You see, my friend Luther was deft at hiding his rails, but at the end of the day, we went where he wanted. And the result was that, even if there was significant danger and the potential for character death, at the end of the day, resolution was reached just like he wanted it.

The other problem with failure in games is that it tends to be a blunt instrument when used: character death. This is part of the nature of the stories, I mean, when does James Bond fail a mission and survive to tell the tale? Nonetheless, I want to introduce failure into my games like it was introduced into the Bond franchise with Goldeneye. At the beginning of the movie, Bond cocked up a mission in Arkhangelsk, and barely escapes with his life. But that cock-up sets up the whole movie, and creates the film’s villain, rogue agent Alec Trevelyan.

In my current campaign, the players just cocked up an operation. It’s actually the first serious screw-up that my players have done all by themselves, without any real orchestration in the background. This isn’t a bad thing, especially considering the timbre of the campaign up until now. Now things can be set in motion, and the action will start. And it’s given me exactly what I wanted in my sandbox: cause and effect. The results of the little expedition that occurred ingame have already had ripples that affected the players, but my ideas for what I can throw into the game are now part of a much longer list. Ultimately, success gives you one option: proceed to the next step of the plan. But failure gives you many. And that is why I feel the need to seriously include both in my campaigns.

 

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