csroy
 member, 100 posts
Wed 15 Mar 2017
at 14:42
The price of defeat
Consider the following scene:

Baron a mighty warrior roars lifting his axe and charge the pair of orcs.

*dice clatter cries of happiness from the players*

With one mighty swoop Baron split one of the orcs in half... outraged the second orc lift his mean looking scimitar and slash at the barbaric warrior.

*DM dice clatter... critical hit ... rule-book shuffling*

The scimitar slice at Baron, amputating his left hand at the elbow...

At this stage Baron player goes OOC talking about how his character has just become unplayable and start talking about a new character.





Over my thirty years of RPing this is the phenomena I observed: when come to a major setback or obstacle (permanent maiming of a PC, major failure etc) many players would rather reboot (switching character or campaign).

On one hand no one like to play the outcomes of real failure and consequences of defeat (especially in a black/white gaming world where failure translate into the end of the world) but on the other hand, the greatest stories in RL are the stories about overcoming one failures of climbing out of the ashes of defeat and rebuilding one life.

Has anyone else encountered this phenomena and has anyone has any idea how to make the bitter pill of defeat sweeter for players so they'll not abandoned their characters/game?

This message was last edited by the user at 14:43, Wed 15 Mar.

badpenny
 member, 337 posts
 eats shoots and leaves
Wed 15 Mar 2017
at 15:38
Re: The price of defeat
csroy:
Has anyone else encountered this phenomena and has anyone has any idea how to make the bitter pill of defeat sweeter for players so they'll not abandoned their characters/game?


I don't think you can.  At least not with a system that more or less has objective failure hard baked in.

Failure isn't fun.  Setbacks are.  You need a system that recognizes this.
Tyr Hawk
 member, 270 posts
 You know that one guy?
 Yeah, that's me.
Wed 15 Mar 2017
at 16:28
Re: The price of defeat
So... this might get a little long. And by "might" I mean "will 100%, without a doubt, and absolutely." You have been warned.

Before anything else, let's consider what might be going on in the mind of the player. They've built a warrior. A person who has (presumably) dedicated their life to combat, and in this case it sounds like combat with a weapon that requires two hands. At this point, they've just become the futbol (or soccer, for those of you who call it soccer) player with only one leg and no such thing as prosthetics. What you've dedicated your life to is over. Done with. Period. Yes, you might be able to get by doing something similar in the case of the warrior, but in a general way your life as you knew it is over. And it's not just the life you knew. It's your future plans. It's your immediate character goals. Everything has to change, and it has to change immediately. There's no going back, and you're not even on the same path you started on so going forwards is an entirely different thing than it was before.

This is, to go to your own example, what people in real life face too. Some of them make something of it. They overcome their challenges and their hardships. They make the change and it's difficult, but they do it. Most people, however, don't. Many go on because they have to. They can't just abandon their life and start over fresh, but if they could? You bet your sweet patootie they would in a heartbeat. Even some of those people with the most inspirational stories you can imagine would've traded in their broken life for a brand new, fully healthy one if offered the option. Not everyone, no. There are people who want the challenge in their lives or who think it's necessary for them to become the best they can be, but they're the few, not the many.

But why? Well, not to get into much of the social psychology or real-world political issues, but disabilities (as they're most commonly called, not that I think the term is the best to use) are generally viewed as something terribly negative about the person. There has been a lot of effort to overcome the stigma, but when it comes down to it there's a reason TV shows and movies still capitalize on the shock factor of finding out someone's in a wheelchair, or missing a limb. And there are biological components to that, because we as humans know how another human is supposed to look (which is not to make a judgment call on what's normal in terms of race, or gender, or height, or weight, or whatever, just that there's a general definition of the human form). We can tell, without measuring, if a head is proportionately too small, or fingers too long. Within a certain amount of variation these things are fine, and the more you're exposed to the differences the more you begin to adjust your personal definitions of what we're supposed to look like, but we still have this innate definition.

Moving forwards from there (or perhaps backwards) we make it to the player who just encountered this life-altering deformation of not just their character's physical self, but their ideas and their dreams. It's a big pill to swallow, and bigger still when you have the easiest out in the world. Just walk away from that character and that life, anytime. No consequences, no penalties, just walk away, and often be allowed to walk back as something brand new.

As badpenny mentions, some of this is the fault of the systems we play. In DnD, the name of the game is heroic adventure, and the penalties one takes for losing a limb are pretty severe. As a fighter, you lose a ton of efficiency, and there's not really a mechanical way to get rid of all the Levels and EXP you spent on being a fighter. You might lose some of the feats that specialized you in your particular way of combat. You might have gained a prestige class you're no longer qualified for, and that's killed your chances at going into anything else for a while. And this isn't unique to DnD. Shadowrun doesn't refund your Karma because of a lost leg (though Shadowrun obviously has plenty of gear to make up for it), Anima definitely doesn't care without supernatural intervention, and L5R basically punishes you on top of that for needing to switch schools. The systems don't handle the loss well, so expecting the players to do so is a little bitter to swallow.

But it runs deeper than that. The stories we tell within our systems are a big part of this mentality. In a story of able-bodied heroes and villains, the one with the defect is seen as a weight pulling down the whole group, possibly even the whole story. I am reminded, however briefly, of the story of Batgirl as she became Oracle. Her entire role had to change. Her entire life had to change, and without a team of folks dedicated to making her useful still (both in-universe and out of it), she could've easily gone the way of the dodo. Luke Skywalker loses his hand and immediately gets a replacement. Without that immediate change to "just as useful," and without examples of how it's done within your story, the player has only their personal examples to go off of, and those rare examples mean it's not just difficult to think of how to overcome their particular challenge, but it might be impossible if they're only heard of such things in real life, and not in a magical fiction.

So, what are the solutions? Essentially it boils down to a lot of conditioning. You need to introduce enemies and allies and whomever else you can with disabilities they've overcome. If "I took an arrow to the knee and now my life sucks" is the example they see, it's the example they'll stick to. You, as a storyteller, need to bring in the villain who lost 30 years of being a fighter and still came back to become a decent opponent socially, or as a different kind of fighter. Maybe they're not at the level one would expect, or maybe they are despite all the shortcomings. Maybe that means you have to show them the sheet after the villain is through, letting your players see how the Level 6 Barbarian became an effective Barbarian 6/Thief 4, or whatever it might be. You need to be willing and able to effectively show that this is possible, or else your players are never gonna believe it.

You can switch systems to. Switch to a system where the failure is built in, and overcoming it is part of the challenge and the fun. Systems like Houses of the Blooded are, more or less, designed around failure and the beauty that comes from it. But those systems are few and far between, so it might just be finding (or inventing) the beauty in the failure in the system you're working with. It might also mean punishing players in the same way their amputation does if they bring in a new character. Don't let them run from the problem. their new character starts at Level 1, even in a group of Level 6's. Their new character must have a certain disadvantage that's not exactly a lost arm, but something similar. Make them face it down, or they'll just keep running for as long as you'll let them.

These things will scare away players. Some people aren't willing to give up the heroic fantasy of their dreams for the heroic fantasy that might be. Others will think you're being unfair because of how other games have played out. Some will even just quit because it's too hard, and they can't do it, just like folks in real life do with their own challenges. You will almost always lose players until it all comes together because until a lot of GMs are doing these things, those players who understand and are exposed to such things is gonna be a small number. You can advertise that your game is that way, but then you mostly have to expect the folks who are already comfortable with it.

So... there's no easy answer, but it's pretty much all gonna start with you. Start doing the things that make your players think it's possible, and recognize that it's gonna be a long, long road.

That, or require people read "The Killing Joke" and similar stories after a few sessions. ;)

Either way, best of luck.
Ameena
 member, 162 posts
Wed 15 Mar 2017
at 16:35
Re: The price of defeat
Maybe it would help if the playes knew in advance that they were getting into a system where that sort of thing was possible? If they know there's a chance their character could end up getting one of their limbs chopped off it might make it a little less difficult to deal with if it actually does happen. If it's not a system that has rules for that kind of thing but the GM wants to include the possibility anyway, they should warn the players about it before the game starts.
Sir Swindle
 member, 167 posts
Wed 15 Mar 2017
at 17:17
Re: The price of defeat
I had to retire a character in Edge of the Empire because he was maimed to the point that he could not reasonably adventure (several permanent stat reductions so not even an option to use a robot arm).

Exalted 3rd has a pretty reasonable system for this (which is functionally cribbed from FATE) basically you can use taking a crippling injury as last resort damage reduction. It's your choice so you aren't supposed to feel like it was forced on you (since incapacitated isn't necessarily dead) basically if players feel like they are in control of their characters it makes things easier to take.

Of course in exalted, losing a hand is just an excuse to get a magic robot hand, so no big loss there.
csroy
 member, 101 posts
Wed 15 Mar 2017
at 17:44
Re: The price of defeat
Great feedback guy :)

Let me broaden the discussion, my point is not just about personal loss the affect a certain PC (lose of ability physical or mental) but on large scope setbacks such as:

  • The town you guarded was burned down.
  • The princess died when you tried to rescue her.
  • The invaders break the defense line break and the army is routed.
  • The king is dead and the pretender gets the crown.



The events doesn't need to be so monumental of course. Any setback the seriously threatened the player view of his character can cause such a crisis.

Please note, I am not talking about a planned event, I am talking about an outcome of events that the GM did not foreseen. His plan was for the king to be saved, the princess be saved and the invader defeated but luck of dice, bad choices or other event transpired to create a negative outcome.

The same could be said about the amputation example, that specific game was MERP and thus such nasty critical are known to happen (even for PCs at times).

Thinking about it I tend to agree with Tyr Hawk, IRL we can't reboot or switch we are stuck with what we have and we need to make with what life gave us but in the game, we can just change campaign switch character or even use the dreaded RETCON.

My thinking is that perhaps as players/GMs we are denying ourselves from great RP experience by not trying to deal with such setback and switching to a path with less obstacles.
facemaker329
 member, 6896 posts
 Gaming for over 30
 years, and counting!
Wed 15 Mar 2017
at 17:57
Re: The price of defeat
I don't think you can make that "bitter pill of defeat" easier to swallow.  It all comes down to how invested the player is in that particular character...if they feel enough attachment to 'soldier on' after that kind of a setback, they will, and if they don't, you can't really make them...if you force the issue far enough, they'll just leave the game.

As pointed out above, some people face these kinds of challenges in real life...and most either give up or just go into endurance mode...it's a rare handful that really strive to rise above it, which is why we find those kinds of stories so inspiring.  And it may be well within the character's background to say, 'Well, I'm a cripple...guess I'm all done..."  Other characters will see it as juwt another challenge to overcome...and only the player can decide which is which.

So, I'd encourage them to try and make something of the character...but I often make characters with significant physical flaws, anyway.  Trying to force them to keep going with a now-flawed character could be seen by some as similar to forcing them to play a character with non-viable stats, and can crwate a sense of antagonism and resentment...if you're gonna go that route, be sure you tell all your players up front that the game could be brutal and you expect them to play it out to the bitter end, or suffer significant penalties if they go back to the drawing board.

But unless you've got players that would likely go that route anyway, I thinkyou're setting yourself up for more headaches than you're solving.  After all, when a GM feels a scenario has run its course, the game ends or moves on, most of the time, regardless of the players' wishes...if the player feels their character has run its course, don't they deserve the same consideration?
Sir Swindle
 member, 168 posts
Wed 15 Mar 2017
at 18:14
Re: The price of defeat
csroy:
  • The town you guarded was burned down.
  • The princess died when you tried to rescue her.
  • The invaders break the defense line break and the army is routed.
  • The king is dead and the pretender gets the crown.


Oh in those cases your players are just being brats or at the very least there was a miscommunication about the tone of the game. If you screwed something up and a bunch of people died then a bunch of people died, deal with it. It's not like the world was perfect before that happened, otherwise you wouldn't be adventuring.

Heck, most of those are standard hooks for getting a campaign going.
*The town you guarded was burned down. Start of Wheel of Time
*The king is dead and the pretender gets the crown. Plot of G.I. Joe 2 (been saving that one)
engine
 member, 255 posts
Wed 15 Mar 2017
at 19:19
Re: The price of defeat
Great topic.

There are easy solutions, but not ones everyone enjoys.

The players are not necessarily being "brats" and they're not necessarily missing out on good roleplaying. Not everything is equally enjoyable for everyone, even if they are capable of doing it.

Ameena has the foundation of it: Players have to know what they're getting into and want to be getting into it. Most GMs seem to understand this and make it clear. This makes it more likely that their players will go along with a failure situation. It doesn't guarantee it, because people might still have different ideas about what is meant (maybe the player expected an outright death, but didn't expect maiming) and people sometimes think they're cool with something and find out when it happens that they're not.

If you don't let players know what failure could look like, then there's some chance that they'll go along with anything that happens, but I find that to be fairly unlikely.

You talk about a "plan." If failure of the plan is possible, then either the plan has to include what happens as a result of failure, or the table has to have an approach for dealing with it. If there is no plan for a particular failure mode, and people might not be able to deal with it, then that outcome has to be off the table.

Here we are at the first thing people tend not to like about this: taking things off the table. If the dice say it happens then it happens, is the approach many people want. Okay, but not everything is in the dice. Often, there's really only a narrow range of outcomes. For instance, in D&D, there isn't (outside of some specific monster abilities) a way to cause amputation, as described in the example. That outcome, while plausible, just doesn't happen without fiat. That option is "off the table," and no outcome of the dice (in normal combat) will result in it.

A GM can make this artificial, or realistic, and it helps that there be other ways to fail other than those that would be hard to deal with. For instance, the town wasn't burned down, but its protective artifact has been stolen/destroyed. Either the town never could have been burned down (because the GM simply decided that wasn't going to happen, i.e. the "artificial" way) or because the enemy didn't see it as necessary to their plan for the artifact and never intended to do it (a somewhat more realistic approach). The players can still fail, but it's not a failure they can't cope with.

But how do we know they can cope with it? Well, here's the next part that I find turns GMs off: Ask the players. "You're guarding the city from the enemy onslaught. If they punch through, what do you think would be cool to have happen?" The GM needn't leave it entirely open, but can offer some options: burned down, robbed, NPCs killed, city occupied, etc. If the GM is able to wing it, the outcome could be anything the players suggest.

The trick is that it has to be something. The players have to be up for some kind of consequence to failure. Now, as I said, people don't always know what they want, so they might get what they asked for and not like it. That might be an issue, but asking and getting buy-in up-front reduces that. It reduces other things too, such as the intensity of rules-lawyering to avoid the outcome. They said they'd be cool with it, so it's not the end of the fun (for the players) if it happens.

And that's part of why asking bugs some people: they (claim to) want not to know what failure looks like, and to be able to handle it, and they want to get into character and be upset just like their player is. In that case, I don't think a GM needs any of these solutions, because their players will probably actually be okay with whatever you do. In that case, none of this is about you.

So, basically, you have to find failure the players are up for. It's a good conversation to have, maybe more than once. If the players would bail out after any kind of failure, then maybe a roleplaying "game" is not what they're really interested in. That's fine, but a GM needs to know that upfront.

I know the idea of "fun" or "interesting" failure strikes a lot of people as odd. Okay, ignore this then. But for lots of people, there are ways they can fail that take the game in a cool direction for them. I often find that players are up for much worse failure than I'd ever dare impose, and their ideas improve the game in that way.

I have more to say, but I'll end it here. Please don't tell me this doesn't work, because it does work. If it doesn't work for you, or you don't have the issue it addresses, then we don't need to talk. If you are intrigued and have honest questions, I'd love to hear them.
silverelf
 member, 200 posts
Wed 15 Mar 2017
at 19:20
Re: The price of defeat
While I also see where everyone is going here, there is also the other part of Player Enjoyment. Since yes this happens in a game, and yes if we want to bring IRL into it, but we suspend reality to become these roles. To step into a place where we can combat dragons, cast magic, Etc.

So to me it's the question of how unhappy the player is, and what can be done to restore his arm ?

You see people loose limbs throughout games,
Theros Ironfield (dragonlance), Johnny Silverhand (cyberpunk) you know there are options, what are his ?

This message was last edited by the user at 19:21, Wed 15 Mar.

engine
 member, 256 posts
Wed 15 Mar 2017
at 19:35
Re: The price of defeat
In reply to silverelf (msg # 10):

Agreed. The exact reason for the dissatisfaction needs to be understood, and a method for addressing it laid out. If the only option is to deal with it, then explore whether the potential (not guarantee) for a great RP experience is worth the player's time playing that character. It might not be, in any given case.
swordchucks
 member, 1354 posts
Wed 15 Mar 2017
at 19:54
Re: The price of defeat
engine:
Not everything is equally enjoyable for everyone

This is possibly the most important thing about this.  There are at least eight types of fun, and games engage with them in different ways.  There have been academic papers written on it (check here for details: http://www.gnomestew.com/gener...-eight-types-of-fun/ ).  Different people have desires for different types of fun and different games offer different types in different ratios.  Even the same system can offer widely different fun-types in two different games.

Fundamentally, that just means that people enjoy different things.  Challenge is a type of fun, but it's only one of the eight.  Some people don't enjoy challenge much but still enjoy RPGs for a variety of other reasons.  This is, in part, why you see people crunching math equations to optimize characters and find the "best" character builds.  They enjoy other aspects of the game more than they enjoy challenge, and thus attempt to limit the actual challenge they will face.



To add an aspect to it, one of the items of advice you see frequently in newer games is that you should only roll dice if failure is interesting.  To expand on that idea, failure should only be a possibility if including it in the game makes it more interesting in some way.  To be even more specific, for outright failure to be possible, it has to be more interesting than having various degrees of success.

To use one of the examples, the PCs are guarding a town being attacked by monsters.  There's nothing wrong with, as the DM, presupposing that the town is going to not be destroyed.  What the PCs get to determine is how much damage it's going to take along the way.  Will the town be down to 20% of its population and eventually fold as people move away for safer places?  Will the town pull through perfectly and becoming a regional bastion?  Will it be somewhere in between?  By confining outcomes to "degrees of success" rather than a pass/fail situation, you make sure that the story is about the thing that it's supposed to be about.

To use a different example, the game Delta Green is about the human cost of fighting the supernatural.  As a part of that, terrible things are going to happen to characters up to and including insanity or death.  Characters will get chewed up and spit out.  That's what the game is about.  Even in a session where the PCs pull off a good ending, it still ends up eroding their sanity and their relationships with the people around them.  That's fine, too.  That's what the game is about.  If that kind of theme suddenly got injected into a typical epic fantasy game, it wouldn't work the same way and would probably upset quite a few people.
nuric
 member, 2926 posts
 Love D&D,superhero games
 Not very computer savvy
Thu 16 Mar 2017
at 02:58
Re: The price of defeat
I agree with many of the comments above.

I've said for years that different people game for different reasons.

I tend to want to relax, have fun, and forget the stress of Real Life.
So unless a game with terrible losses and defeats is portrayed just right, it'll be no fun for me.  I'll just be depressed and frustrated.

I was running a superhero game years ago and two of the players were at each other's throats for the whole session.  One liked to cause the chaos and turmoil that he couldn't get away with in Real Life, and another just wanted to forget the turmoil and chaos of the outside world.
It was a miserable experience.
Tyr Hawk
 member, 271 posts
 You know that one guy?
 Yeah, that's me.
Thu 16 Mar 2017
at 03:25
Re: The price of defeat
I'll admit, while I had some of this in mind, I obviously forgot to put in into my post (which was rushed, believe it or not). So, in a semi-reversal of my propensity for lengthy posts...
engine:
Agreed. The exact reason for the dissatisfaction needs to be understood, and a method for addressing it laid out.

^^ This.
engine
 member, 258 posts
Thu 16 Mar 2017
at 05:47
Re: The price of defeat
nuric:
I tend to want to relax, have fun, and forget the stress of Real Life.
So unless a game with terrible losses and defeats is portrayed just right, it'll be no fun for me.  I'll just be depressed and frustrated.
Entirely understandable.

When you play, do you want to have a feeling of some risk (if perhaps not much) of some kind of failure (though perhaps not terrible)? If so, do you feel like you get the amount of risk you want in your sessions? If so, is that risk "real," in that there's some series of bad rolls that could bring it about, or do you feel that your GM would let there be suspense but not ultimately allow the failure?

I ask these questions honestly, and not a judgment on your preferences. I have seen a lot of players appear to get very nervous about, say, their character dying, when there's a) almost no chance of that happening as a result of dice rolls and b) almost no chance the GM wouldn't fudge things. I am given to wonder how often people in those situations are nervous because they really think failure is possible, or if they are just trying to get into the spirit of things.

Tyr Hawk:
^^ This.

Thanks!
icosahedron152
 member, 730 posts
Thu 16 Mar 2017
at 07:07
Re: The price of defeat
I'm with Nuric. In RL you can get injured, get old and infirm, your home can be burned down and you can lose all your possessions, but these things are 'not fun'.

They are exactly the sort of thing I want to avoid in a RPG. When I play a game, I want to be in a world I have some control over, and I want to do things I can't do in RL.

If I were the player of that fighter in the OP, I'd want to reboot too.

Why? Because I chose a fighter for a reason. I wanted to be a good fighter, I wanted to swing my weapon and kill orcs, I wanted to defend the weak and helpless - I specifically didn't want to become the weak and helpless! A fighter who can't fight is a pretty pointless entity.

Could I play the character through? RP his life as a trainer of new warriors, perhaps? Yes, of course I could. Would I want to? No, definitely not.

If I wanted to play a one-armed Barbarian I would have generated one at the outset. I chose a fighter because I wanted to fight. If the GM doesn't let me fight, I'll go get another GM.
nuric
 member, 2927 posts
 Love D&D,superhero games
 Not very computer savvy
Thu 16 Mar 2017
at 07:36
Re: The price of defeat
In reply to engine (msg # 15):

I get into playing my characters, perhaps too much so, so I get nervous about losing them very easily, I'll admit.
To me, moderate risk feels like edge of your seat excitement, because I lose myself in it.   I just get very attached to my characters, I suppose.

That being said, I don't mind a challenge, but situations that are too hopeless can feel less like playing a game and more like trying not to lose one.  The latter being no fun at all.

I was in a Dragonlance game years ago, and while it had the makings of an excellent game, the DM was distracted for long periods by Real Life, and evidently wanted to hurry things along when he was active.
Not once, but twice we were about to start a battle when he said "After a brutal battle, you were all overwhelmed and captured" and then restart the next chapter with all of us being prisoners and having to escape or be rescued.
Twice.
Sure, it might have gotten us closer to his bigger plot (which, sadly, we never got to because the next Real Life distraction caused him to end the game), but I felt like there was nothing I could do to change things, and it took all the fun out of the game for me.
Novocrane
 member, 326 posts
Thu 16 Mar 2017
at 08:36
Re: The price of defeat
quote:
In RL you can get injured, get old and infirm, your home can be burned down and you can lose all your possessions, but these things are 'not fun'.
I can find the bouncing back from loss or disability fun in a game, but if it's going to take weeks or months in which the character is mechanically invalidated (a distinct possibility in the slow pace of pbp), then it's probably going to take long enough to be a stress on enjoying a game focused on being awesome. If the purpose of the game is to play at a lower level and focus on aspects other than combat efficiency, that can be fun, too. Jarring from one to the other is not fun, though.

Character death, on the other hand, is relatively quick. Doubly so if each player character is part of a larger squad, and a new PC can be brought into play as soon as you write it up. This is something I've tried to find a GM for here, and I was surprised at how poorly the request fared; both in terms of GMs willing to produce that level of brutality, and players not undermining the stated goals.
badpenny
 member, 338 posts
 eats shoots and leaves
Thu 16 Mar 2017
at 12:18
Re: The price of defeat
RPGs and fiction are different critters.  I like to RP the fiction, so a game like Fate is right for me.  I also like to RP in the superhero genre, where death isn't a thing.  (It might be a major plot point that you see in fiction to shake up the book, but it's hardly "final".)

With Fate, failure isn't a thing.  It's "success at a cost."  That's not the same thing as wandering through the plot always getting your way.  On the contrary.  It's about what you have to pay to accomplish the thing.

Say a spy breaks into an embassy.  Stealth has to be used to sneak past a guard.  You could roll and "fail."  What does that mean?  You're spotted and the alarms go off?  That might blow the entire caper from the get go.  That wouldn't happen in the fiction.  Secondly, that would make your spy look like a chump.

So, success at a cost.  A single guard spots you and you have to take the guy out.  The cost might be his death (which you have to live with).  It could be that he's discovered later and your caper wasn't entirely sanitary.  Etc.

Some people are just locked into what the game proscribes, e.g. the d20 system and its hardcoded failure.  You fail a Climb check by 5 and you fall.  To a lot of GMs they're going to run the scene just that way--with you falling.  Maybe you can catch yourself, maybe not.  There's a lot of YMMV.  But to me, that wouldn't be interesting--ever--to just have someone fall and take damage.

When it comes to combat, I like to think in terms of setbacks.  Since Arrow/Flash aren't going to die week to week on their respective shows, their plans to defeat the villain are simply set back and they get another shot at it next week.
engine
 member, 259 posts
Thu 16 Mar 2017
at 15:26
Re: The price of defeat
nuric:
I get into playing my characters, perhaps too much so, so I get nervous about losing them very easily, I'll admit.
That's understandable. How much (if at all) are you also concerned about sitting out of the game, either with a character "in the hospital" or while a new character is being created?

For a long time I tended to be more of the opinion that I wanted to stick with a single character. D&D, my gateway game, presented the concept of the character reaching all of these amazing levels, which I assumed were amazing mainly because of the journey it would take to reach them. And my game group seemed to take that line of thought too, with the GM wanting to see us grow more powerful.

But I've since learned that I came to the game (in the late 80s) at a time during a bit of a shift from the idea of disposable characters in a somewhat generic world, to long-lasting characters intended to be part of an unfolding plot. There's probably always been a bit of both in the hobby, and probably still is, but I know now that there are players who, though they try to keep their characters alive, will just shrug at character death and make a new one, or start playing one of the henchmen. I was once boggled by the idea of Traveller, in which characters could die during character generation. I get it now, sort of.

Nowadays, while I try to make characters I enjoy and could see developing, I try not to get too attached to them. I only partially succeed at this, but it weakens the hold that failure or potential failure has on me. In theory. I find that most GMs don't really seem to want to kill characters anyway, even when I tell them that I don't mind. Actually, I think some GMs and fellow players get a bit put off at my admission that I wouldn't mind losing my character, like I'm not really playing along with the concept.

nuric:
To me, moderate risk feels like edge of your seat excitement, because I lose myself in it.   I just get very attached to my characters, I suppose.
What if, as alluded to above, the risk was not to your character at all? What if the game was going to involve monstrous termites who would defend themselves, and knock the PCs aside, but really only wanted to devour the town? There would be a risk of the termites succeeding at this, but never a risk of your character dying. Could that be enjoyable to you?

More generally, could you see enjoying a game in which your characters could fail, but wouldn't die unless you took extreme steps to make that likely?

nuric:
That being said, I don't mind a challenge, but situations that are too hopeless can feel less like playing a game and more like trying not to lose one.  The latter being no fun at all.
That's an interesting phrasing. I think I see what you're saying, but with most games, one is "trying not to lose," at least from a certain standpoint. RPGs differ in that part of the point of the game is not to "win" but to see how they unfold. Is that what you're getting at? That if it's hopeless then you know where the game is going to go, unless you somehow stop it, as opposed to it being about just what happens next?

In any case, the issue of hopelessness is why I am very much a fan of alternative failure modes, devised around how the players "want" to lose. I can crunch the numbers to make a situation as fair or as biased toward the players as possible, but unless I am prepared to fudge things, a long enough string of bad rolls could result in the situation becoming essentially hopeless. I think we've all been in games in which the GM misjudged things, or the luck was just superbly bad, and then suddenly the enemies start missing, or go from being murderous to merely wanting to capture the PCs. I'd rather not fudge, so I'd rather start out with the enemies having a goal that brings them into physical contact, but doesn't require PC deaths or even captures, so that if I misjudged the enemy strength, they can just slap the PCs out of the way and then turn to their real task.

I'd also rather that the enemy's task be something the players, as "audience members," would be interested in seeing happen. Like when you are sort of rooting for the antagonist to succeed in a movie or show: man, bummer for the characters, but that was awesome.

nuric:
Sure, it might have gotten us closer to his bigger plot (which, sadly, we never got to because the next Real Life distraction caused him to end the game), but I felt like there was nothing I could do to change things, and it took all the fun out of the game for me.
It's telling, I think, that this was a Dragonlance game, because I'm told that Dragonlance was a definite milestone in the shift toward plots and long-lasting characters and away from quick and easy death: people really wanted games that developed like books, with their character as a long-lasting main character.

At the risk of saying stuff people already know: At some level, there's always going to be GM fiat. Something has to exist or happen that presents a problem for the players to solve or overcome. The classic is the captured princess, right? Something happened, mistakes were made, and then the PCs are asked to help make things right. They can fix the situation, but they couldn't have prevented it - and even if they could have it would have meant a completely different plot, or no plot at all. That's really all that is happening in the scenarios you described, except the people the PCs are saving are themselves.

But the really crucial difference I see is that the mistakes that resulted in that situation were, ultimately, made by the characters, even if it was "offscreen." They weren't brought in to correct someone else's failure, but are forced to deal with one that's their own "fault." Do you think this has any bearing on how you felt about those scenarios?

Thanks for responding to my initial questions, nuric. I hope you'll consider my latest questions.

Novocrane:
Character death, on the other hand, is relatively quick. Doubly so if each player character is part of a larger squad, and a new PC can be brought into play as soon as you write it up. This is something I've tried to find a GM for here, and I was surprised at how poorly the request fared; both in terms of GMs willing to produce that level of brutality, and players not undermining the stated goals.
That's interesting. I'm a big fan of 4th Edition D&D but one of the more frequent complaints I heard about it (true or not) was that it was now impossible for the characters to be killed. The people complaining felt like there was no risk. This was part of what made me realize that there were and are gamers who really enjoy the game when their characters can and do die.

At least in theory. I've had trouble pinning down people on how often they think character death should occur, and how often it has occurred for them, and what exactly they enjoy about their character actually dying. In a lot of cases I get the impression that the person wants death to be possible, but primarily only if a player is "foolish," which can mean always charging into combat, or taking on excessively powerful foes, or not taking basic precautions. They themselves would never do those things, but if they did their character would die and they would all but rejoice in that, because things would be as they should. Death is for other people.

I feel like I regularly see offers for games in which the GM talks about how death is a definite possibility for PCs. When I ask those GMs what the procedure will be in the event of a character death (will the player take up an NPC, or should they make a backup, or what?) a lot of GMs seem taken aback, as though they hadn't thought that far ahead, or they tell me not to worry about it at the moment. I'm left with the sense that these GMs only want to induce feelings of tension and impending doom and have no real intention of killing characters, other than to snap to attention a player they feel isn't engaging properly with the game.

So, it's an open question as to what degree players and GMs "really" want lethal failure in their games.

badpenny:
RPGs and fiction are different critters.  I like to RP the fiction, so a game like Fate is right for me.  I also like to RP in the superhero genre, where death isn't a thing.  (It might be a major plot point that you see in fiction to shake up the book, but it's hardly "final".)
I think the superhero genre and serialized shows like, say, Star Trek, are instructive when it comes to interesting failure. We know, at some level, that the main characters are not going to die, because that would massively disrupt things. DC isn't going to cashier Superman, just because "death is a definitely possibility" and actors sign contracts for a whole season. (Yes, many shows try to subvert things by killing off people we assumed were going to be regulars, or by taking advantage of real-life changes in jobs or health. Still.)

But Superman and Captain Picard have to be able to fail somehow, or there's no story. They probably have to fail a few times before the end of the story or episode, just so that they have somewhere to go, narratively. Picard might lose some security guards or an ensign, or might fail to save another Federation ship from the fate that will soon threaten his. There have been occasions, I believe, in which he has failed entirely and irrevocably, but in a way that didn't involve the death of any main character. Can we adapt that kind of thing in a fun way for our games?

badpenny:
Say a spy breaks into an embassy.  Stealth has to be used to sneak past a guard.  You could roll and "fail."  What does that mean?  You're spotted and the alarms go off?  That might blow the entire caper from the get go.  That wouldn't happen in the fiction.  Secondly, that would make your spy look like a chump.
Great example. Heists are, I find, a perennial problem with games. A single failure, or just a few failures, out of the many chances to fail, can bring the whole thing crashing down in a frustrating way - or, if they fail to, make the whole scenario improbable. If it fails, you don't get to the cool scenes with the vault, and the chase, etc., and the players don't get to feel like their characters are very capaple.

So, when I wanted to have a heist situation, I skipped most of the way to middle of it. Failure before that point wasn't going to be interesting, so it wasn't something we went into detail on. We narrated a bit about what their plan was, and then I decided that it was going to succeed and started them off in the vault with the item. Now, arguably, the players don't get to see their characters actually being cool, because they don't have the validation from the mechanics that their characters definitely can do the things we described them doing. But we get to the part of the caper that makes it a caper and get to have a fun and interesting time with that.

Now, some people do find flubbing a caper to be interesting, and it's an outcome they want to explore. More power to them, and I wouldn't have skipped what I did in my game if my players really wanted to play out the infiltration. Heck, we probably could have come up with ways for them to fail interestingly that didn't blow the whole plan or may the security seem improbably lame. So, I'm not saying that one should always skip certain failures, or take them off the table. I'm just reiterating that not every failure is always interesting or interesting to everyone.

badpenny:
When it comes to combat, I like to think in terms of setbacks.  Since Arrow/Flash aren't going to die week to week on their respective shows, their plans to defeat the villain are simply set back and they get another shot at it next week.
Yep. I dig those shows, but they often strain what little credulity they have in how they allow the main character to survive. If it were a game, I'd say the GM and players weren't on the same page about what to place at stake.
badpenny
 member, 339 posts
 eats shoots and leaves
Thu 16 Mar 2017
at 15:43
Re: The price of defeat
engine:
badpenny:
When it comes to combat, I like to think in terms of setbacks.  Since Arrow/Flash aren't going to die week to week on their respective shows, their plans to defeat the villain are simply set back and they get another shot at it next week.
Yep. I dig those shows, but they often strain what little credulity they have in how they allow the main character to survive. If it were a game, I'd say the GM and players weren't on the same page about what to place at stake.


It's rather like the comic books: these things have been in monthly print for decades upon decades and you just have to keep coming up with crazy shiznat!

The TV shows have a weekly show to produce and you need to keep the rising action climbing until you're ready to pay it off.

From a game mechanics POV, I see a lot of Concessions (Fate term).  Either the PC would end up saddled with a lasting injury (Severe Consequence) or Collateral Consequences are at stake (bystanders).  Take the Supergirl scene where she could capture Mama Luthor -or- rescue the civilians from the crashing construction equipment.

Or the Arrow episode where Spartan looks like he's gunned down by Vigilante, but gets up at the end of the scene and talks about how he's lucky to have had super body armor on.  That's a clear use of a Setback (loss of agency to act; he was stunned until the end of scene).  The super body armor is just fluff to account for the Concession.  I'd argue this is how most of the characters shake off their injuries from scene to scene: they're never really taking extreme damage, but Conceding to avoid it.
engine
 member, 260 posts
Thu 16 Mar 2017
at 16:04
Re: The price of defeat
badpenny:
From a game mechanics POV, I see a lot of Concessions (Fate term).  Either the PC would end up saddled with a lasting injury (Severe Consequence) or Collateral Consequences are at stake (bystanders).  Take the Supergirl scene where she could capture Mama Luthor -or- rescue the civilians from the crashing construction equipment.
I don't see "collateral consequences" as distinct from consequences in general. Others might be hurt, but the consequences of this that have direct bearing on the character: loss of personal morale or confidence, a lost of trust from their allies. A nitpick on my part, but I get edgy about how "Consequences" are often taken to mean physical injury. What I like about Fate is that characters can be drastically disadvantaged without ever taking a wound.

badpenny:
That's a clear use of a Setback (loss of agency to act; he was stunned until the end of scene).  The super body armor is just fluff to account for the Concession.  I'd argue this is how most of the characters shake off their injuries from scene to scene: they're never really taking extreme damage, but Conceding to avoid it.
Loss of agency to act is a pretty icky consequence for a lot of players. That's really the foundation of this whole thread, in fact.

I don't think there's any question that that's what "Concessions" are about. The player decides to have the character lose and take a consequence at one level, rather than risk taking a much worse consequence (or perhaps a specific consequence that they'd prefer to avoid). But the character does lose, and does take a consequence which, yes, could be physical injury, but could also be damaged equipment, complications with the police, a mistaken impression of the situation, or anything else.

But I think I get and agree with your overall point.
Shannara
 moderator, 3718 posts
 Keep calm, drink more
 COFFEE!!!!
Thu 16 Mar 2017
at 16:23
Re: The price of defeat
I once played in a tabletop game where my GM decided to bring my character into an existing party at a much lower level than the rest of the characters.  He gave said character a potion of 9 lives, 3 of which had already been used, to 'compensate'.

My character died 3 times in rapid succession, pretty much before he could scream and run away.  This was early D&D, people, and a monster that offers challenge to a 10th level party could kill someone half the level or less simply by sneezing in the general area.

After the 3rd death, my character refused to get off the ship.  "Sorry, no.  Wish I could help you, but ... no. If you need me, I'll be in my cabin.  Under the bunk."

Consequences cut both ways, and it's hardly surprising that when something happens that makes one have to reinvent the character they wanted to play and make it something they didn't sign on for, they say 'forget this' (or words to that effect).  Maybe their character goes and gets drunk for the next several years, until the game is over -- that's sometimes part of the heroic storyline, too.  (Caramon Majere in DragonLance?)

We're all here to have fun -- and if you don't have good reason (beyond 'I'd like this so they should too') to know that your players will have fun with it, then I'd say that you might want to sacrifice a bit of IC surprise to keep OC reaction from being a surprise that nobody likes.
engine
 member, 261 posts
Thu 16 Mar 2017
at 16:50
Re: The price of defeat
Shannara:
After the 3rd death, my character refused to get off the ship.  "Sorry, no.  Wish I could help you, but ... no. If you need me, I'll be in my cabin.  Under the bunk."
Interesting.

Was there any out-of-game discussion on this? Seems like none of that was the GM's intention, so I'd think the GM might say "Hm, I didn't figure that right, let's try something else."

Shannara:
I'd say that you might want to sacrifice a bit of IC surprise to keep OC reaction from being a surprise that nobody likes.
IC surprise has led, in my experience as both player and GM, to so much OC displeasure and boredom that I try not to bother with it at all anymore. I find I get just as much, if not more, surprise from open collaboration, believe it or not. That's a much different and rather more contentious discussion, though.