Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Failure is the Spice of Life

As luck would have it my search for a blogging topic was jump started by this article I found through the wonderful RPG Blogger's Network, of which I am a junior grade member.

I'll wait while you go and read it. Go ahead, it's short.

I really got kind of excited trying to think of a creative answer to his post. His campaign world just got a lot more complicated. While complication does not always directly correlate to excitement, in this case, and in a lot of cases, it can. I began to realize that this is not the only situation where failure was a good thing...

Star Wars

While the original series is full of triumphs for the PC's, it also has it's failures. Half of The Empire Strikes back, my personal favorite, is a direct consequence of Han Solo failing his Mechanics roll and stranding the Millennium Falcon in normal space. The heroes still win in the end.
The biggest failure, however, the one that makes the series possible, is Anakin Skywalker's fall to the dark side and betrayal of the Jedi.

On the surface, this is not a good example for a role playing hook, but consider the string of failures, starting from Episode I, that I can think of right now:
- Obi-Wan and Qui Gonn fail to defeat the droids and get to the bridge, forcing the trade federation to sign a treaty and forestalling the war.
- Yoda failed in his battle against the Emperor.
- Leia failed to deliver the Death Star plans to Obi-Wan.
- Luke failed his rescue of Han and Leia, and loses a hand.
- The rebels fail in their assault of the shield bunker, and are only saved by the introduction of several key NPC's.

I am only highlighting failures that could arise in a similar situation in a role playing game. Did your players fail an encounter that was a lynch pin of the storyline? Perhaps they will need to take the story in a different direction.

Lord of the Rings

Gandalf's failure to recognize the ring for what it is does not really apply to this discussion, nor does Isildur's failure to destroy the ring waaay before the events of the 3rd age that we are familiar with begin.

The largest failure is the encounter where Boromir dies. Admittedly the sheer number of orcs makes me think it is above their level a bit, but regardless it derailed the story somewhat, and split the fellowship. This is the kind of consequence that can destroy a party. The group most likely to be PC's (thanks Shamus!) goes on an entirely different quest to rescue their friends captured in the attack. A perfect resolution for a failed encounter.

The other group fails their skill challenge in traveling through the wilderness and gets captured, and has to succeed in a more difficult skill challenge where they lose one of their PC's. Assuming Gollum is a PC. He is actually representative of a few PC's I have seen...

To avoid this post becoming too long to read I'll stop the movie examples there. Failure is a great opportunity to change the tone of the game, and to bring in an element that you might feel is missing in your games. In our own game which is well documented here, failure could have drastically changed the direction of the game at several key times:
- The first adventure was a success with the defeat of the Necromancer. Had he escaped, the party would have one more powerful enemy in their Rogues Gallery.
- Our fight with the necrotic essence in the strange catacombs under the Giant's Temple could have unleashed a dark presence on the region, had we failed, or exacerbated the problem.
- Our most recent adventure could have ended with a war.

What about you? Any failures that ended up becoming the beginning of a new adventure?


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