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  1. - Top - End - #1
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    ElfWarriorGuy

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    Default Fail-forward combat

    So, here's a paradox I've noted:
    PC Death, in theory, raises the stakes of a game. It also, unless very carefully timed, brings your narrative to a grinding halt and generally makes players have Not a Good Time. As a result, as a GM, I want to structure encounters in such a way that I know the players will win, thus avoiding character death.

    Ergo, I've been brainstorming possible consequences for PC's losing a combat encounter besides "you all die, the game is over now."
    I've become a really big fan of the concept of 'failing forward' on skill checks (a la most Apocalypse World games), and I'm thinking about how that concept can be applied to combat in general.

    What I've got so far:
    -The heroes are left for dead. They wake up in a gutter somewhere, or being nursed back to health in a peasant's cottage, or something of that nature.
    -Someone else dies. They failed to beat the dragon, and as a result, it burns down the village.
    -The heroes are publicly humiliated. They lost a rumble with a rival gang, who left them strung naked in a public square.
    -The heroes are taken prisoner. This is a pretty solid one for moving the story forward, as it usually re-deposits the heroes directly in the villain's lair.
    -They -do- die, and the next session or arc is about escaping from the underworld and returning to the world of the living.

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    BardGuy

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    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    I think a lot of these are good ideas. However, to maintain verisimilitude, it requires them not-dying to make sense. Sure, random bandits or thugs might just beat you senseless and embarrass you, but the Big Bad shouldn't be that dumb (though maybe he is that overconfident, or his minions are), and some monsters would just eat you. The 'wake up in a peasant hut', because they thought you were dead, makes sense to an extent, but could stretch suspension of disbelief. At least, if your players care a lot about an internally consistent setting. I personally care a lot about that, but I realize it's not needed for fun and sometimes you gotta handwave some stuff for the sake of a good game.

    You could have something whereby death is temporary. Dying definitely sets you back as 1) embarrassment and 2) enemies continue their goals as you are out of commission. A game that handles this well is In Nomine, where you generally play celestial beings inhabiting human vessels. Die on earth, and in most cases you wake up a few days to a couple weeks later. Get a new body and try to pick up the mess you left.

    Harder to fit something like that in most games, unless you are the Chosen One(s) that the gods/McGuffin revive when they die.

    Quote Originally Posted by Thundersteel View Post
    -The heroes are taken prisoner. This is a pretty solid one for moving the story forward, as it usually re-deposits the heroes directly in the villain's lair.
    -They -do- die, and the next session or arc is about escaping from the underworld and returning to the world of the living.
    These two are dangerous in different ways.

    The first could potentially put the PCs somewhere they are nowhere near strong enough for yet. It's fine if you plan things out (or your system is such that) power levels don't change too much between areas and thus you'd be okay, but I reckon in a game like D&D this sets you up for unbeatable foes. In other words, it takes careful planning for this to be a good option.

    The second changes the theme and flavor of the game a lot, and presumably side-tracks the party from the goals they already care about. Some players could be turned off by this. If you go this route, I definitely advise letting the players know such can occur. (It's also helpful since some players like to design backup characters in games where resurrection is rare. If such isn't an option, they should know.)
    Also, if it happens 2+ times, it probably gets boring. If just 1 PC dies, that means the party is split and it's hard for everyone to play at the same time.

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    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    13th Age (itself written by people who are big fans of the "fail forward" concept) floats the idea of a "campaign loss" - i.e., rather than suffering a TPK, the party manages a daring escape but suffers the loss of things they care about and/or fails at certain narrative objectives. More or less in line with your second, third, fourth, and maybe fifth ideas. This can make for good drama, although how effective it is will depend on player investment.

    The potentially tricky thing about this approach is, I think, making it feel like you weren't setting things up to happen this way. If your response to a party wipe is, "ah, yes, but I have a plan for that," some players are going to assume that you hit them with an impossible fight in order to railroad them into a dramatic loss (ironic, since DMing this way usually requires a willingness to adapt and shake up you own plans). Trust required - but when isn't it?

    Some games work this into their fundamental formula. Eclipse Phase and IIRC Planet Mercenary both use cloning/consciousness uploading to allow for player death on a relatively frequent basis. Ars Magica gives each player multiple characters, some of whom are more fragile than others, in a sort of mixed approach. Can't think of any others offhand, but I'm sure they're around.

    Quote Originally Posted by Thundersteel View Post
    -The heroes are left for dead. They wake up in a gutter somewhere, or being nursed back to health in a peasant's cottage, or something of that nature.
    I think in general this approach is not great for the tabletop. It's seen in some video games, and it can be fine there, but it impresses upon the player that the challenge is the point, rather than the narrative stakes of the battle itself. This also applies a bit to the fifth idea: you want to be careful not to trivialize important things, like loss and death.
    Quote Originally Posted by KKL
    D&D is its own momentum and does its own fantasy. It emulates itself in an incestuous mess.

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    RangerGuy

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    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    Not sure if it was intentional, but you have limited your solutions to just changing the results of deadly combats. Change the scope of the combat instead, while keeping the combat meaningful.

    The combat itself is easy, but can you
    - kill the guard fast enough that he won't have time to raise the alarm?
    - kill both guards before they have time to shut the gate?
    - kill all of the patrol members without anyone escaping?
    - stop the enchanter without hurting the innocent commoners he mind controls?

    etc

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    DrowGuy

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    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    While I understand where you're coming from, and I have played almost every variant you've listed, I strongly believe that characters can/should die if/when it's appropriate.

    You are a group of lvl 1 newbies who stumble across a black dragon's lair...sure you'll make it out alive. Stripped of all possessions and made to trudge through the swamp to get back to town. Killing them off that early is just going to leave a big black cloud over the rest of the game. On the other hand, if you've got a group of lvl 6 players who've been introduced to the extreme dangers of a dragon, and they choose to walk into the dragon's lair, and they choose to poke it with sharp metal toothpicks...they risk death.

    A player sees a pit, in this pit there are about two dozen rusty spears planted in the ground to meet anything that falls in. In this pit, hung on an impaled skeleton, is a platinum necklace with a large gem in it.
    -Player "I'm going to jump in and grab the spear!"
    -DM "...Are you sure you want to do that...there's a lot of rusty spears down there..."
    -Player "yup, I jump in and go for the necklace"
    -DM "You going to do anything else before you jump in?"
    -Player "Nope, I want that necklace, I'm going for it."
    -DM "Roll athletics to see if you can avoid the spears as you jump in. *rolls some d8s for the spears *rolls another d6 for the surprise round because a dire rat was hiding in the pit"
    -Player "Wait, why am I taking all this damage?"
    -DM "You jumped, not climbed down, jumped into a pit full of rusty spears, you didn't look for any other dangers, and you didn't tell your friends what you were doing...You take 15 damage from the spears and another 7 points from the rat swarm."
    -Player "I'm at 0 hp"
    -DM "The rats attack again, that's 2 failed saves"

    By the time the players could save the fool he's probably going to be dead, and he was given multiple chances to change his mind. I'm not going to give the player a "win" for being silly enough to choose to do something deadly when there were much safer ways to do it.
    ~I have never met a man so ignorant I could learn nothing from him~ Galileo

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    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    Probably the first thing you have to do is to start to think about combat not as a means by which a life and death grievance is brought to resolution, but as a way to seize control of a given moment, location, person, etc which is more important to all parties involved than their relationship to each-other. If combat almost never occurs in a circumstance where the participants have as their goal 'kill the other side', then it's much easier both to make it so that death is an incidental risk rather than a guarantee associated with failure, and so that failures on the part of one side move some sort of agenda forward in a way such that play can continue.

    One way to sort of force that issue is to make sure that most factions which might participate in combat have strong mutually assured destruction fallbacks if their entire position appears to have become untenable. Then, combat is never about long-term resolution of the power balance between the factions but rather it just has to do with escalation in the vicinity of things with high opportunity costs and values - e.g. the factions all want at most a cold war as their continued state of being, but there are other things that are locally sufficiently important that a temporary state of violence might break out. If that's the case, then there's motivation for all sides to use non-lethal measures when possible, because it leaves open the door for returning to the cold war status after the conflict ends.

    An example of this might be something like a World of Darkness type of setup where, collectively, each supernatural faction is more afraid of being exposed than they are of failing their goals. If everyone in such a setting could go nova but in doing so would breach the secrecy of the supernatural world, then logically no one should want to push anyone else into such a corner that they might as well pull the trigger and use a big ability in public. E.g. if they know they would certainly die/suffer a fate worse than death if they don't pull the trigger, then even if pulling the trigger guarantees lethal reprisals from the supernatural community they might as well do so since the alternative is equally bad. So such a setting could have an etiquette of combat designed around that risk, even to elaborate levels such as 'it's okay to use overwhelming lethal force, but only once and only from surprise; if it fails, the one who attempted it must forfeit their involvement'.

    Anyhow, if you can think of what combat is for when none of the parties have the luxury of killing each-other without a great cost, then the rest should follow.

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    ElfWarriorGuy

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    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    Quote Originally Posted by DMThac0 View Post
    While I understand where you're coming from, and I have played almost every variant you've listed, I strongly believe that characters can/should die if/when it's appropriate.

    You are a group of lvl 1 newbies who stumble across a black dragon's lair...sure you'll make it out alive. Stripped of all possessions and made to trudge through the swamp to get back to town. Killing them off that early is just going to leave a big black cloud over the rest of the game. On the other hand, if you've got a group of lvl 6 players who've been introduced to the extreme dangers of a dragon, and they choose to walk into the dragon's lair, and they choose to poke it with sharp metal toothpicks...they risk death.

    A player sees a pit, in this pit there are about two dozen rusty spears planted in the ground to meet anything that falls in. In this pit, hung on an impaled skeleton, is a platinum necklace with a large gem in it.
    -Player "I'm going to jump in and grab the spear!"
    -DM "...Are you sure you want to do that...there's a lot of rusty spears down there..."
    -Player "yup, I jump in and go for the necklace"
    -DM "You going to do anything else before you jump in?"
    -Player "Nope, I want that necklace, I'm going for it."
    -DM "Roll athletics to see if you can avoid the spears as you jump in. *rolls some d8s for the spears *rolls another d6 for the surprise round because a dire rat was hiding in the pit"
    -Player "Wait, why am I taking all this damage?"
    -DM "You jumped, not climbed down, jumped into a pit full of rusty spears, you didn't look for any other dangers, and you didn't tell your friends what you were doing...You take 15 damage from the spears and another 7 points from the rat swarm."
    -Player "I'm at 0 hp"
    -DM "The rats attack again, that's 2 failed saves"

    By the time the players could save the fool he's probably going to be dead, and he was given multiple chances to change his mind. I'm not going to give the player a "win" for being silly enough to choose to do something deadly when there were much safer ways to do it.
    Eeeeeeh a lot of those examples feel like they're coming from a very 1980's "Player vs GM" mindset.

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    ElfWarriorGuy

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    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    Quote Originally Posted by JeenLeen View Post

    The second changes the theme and flavor of the game a lot, and presumably side-tracks the party from the goals they already care about. Some players could be turned off by this. If you go this route, I definitely advise letting the players know such can occur. (It's also helpful since some players like to design backup characters in games where resurrection is rare. If such isn't an option, they should know.)
    Also, if it happens 2+ times, it probably gets boring. If just 1 PC dies, that means the party is split and it's hard for everyone to play at the same time.
    Yeah, "journey through the underworld" is a pretty hard move as far changing the course of the game goes, and I agree that it's definitely the type of trick a GM should only play once. Your post immediately calls to mind the God of War games, and how journeying through Hades was pretty cool the 1st time around, but by the 3rd time, had really lost it's sting.

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    DrowGuy

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    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    Quote Originally Posted by Thundersteel View Post
    Eeeeeeh a lot of those examples feel like they're coming from a very 1980's "Player vs GM" mindset.
    How so? If the player is given the information, given a choice, and given agency to do as they please, how is the DM going against the player?

    If the information was withheld, the fact it was a dragon's lair or that there were spikes in the pit, that is DM vs Player. If there were no options to avoid death, such as run away or use a rope to climb down, that is DM vs Player. I get that there are DMs who do this, and they are doing their position an injustice.

    As the DM, is it their job to go "Hey, guys, this is a dragon's lair, he's got a CR of 15, your total party level is an average of 6, you probably can't win. Don't go in there."
    or
    is it's the DM's job to go "You walk into the cave and the first thing you note is the walls have gouges in them, like some large and very sharp object tore through the stone as if it were nothing. There are bones of creatures littered about, many of them seem to be from creatures as large or larger than a horse. There's a smell in the air, it's an acrid odor, it makes the back of your throat itch and your eyes burn."

    The first one will save the players and not hide any information from them, guaranteeing that it's not DM vs Player. Where as the 2nd one gives a description from the eyes of the characters and could, potentially, be misinterpreted and cause a death at the hands of a black dragon. Is that Dm vs player or is it giving a narrative?

    Giving the players information doesn't always come in the black and white regurgitation of the information from the books, it's a colorful narrative from the PC's perspective (or close to it). What the players do with that information could, and should, lead to their deaths if they do not take the time to realize what's being given to them, or simply choose to do something irrational.
    ~I have never met a man so ignorant I could learn nothing from him~ Galileo

    My Homebrew Class: Bard College of Etymology

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    GreataxeFighterGuy

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    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    Quote Originally Posted by DMThac0 View Post
    How so? If the player is given the information, given a choice, and given agency to do as they please, how is the DM going against the player?

    If the information was withheld, the fact it was a dragon's lair or that there were spikes in the pit, that is DM vs Player. If there were no options to avoid death, such as run away or use a rope to climb down, that is DM vs Player. I get that there are DMs who do this, and they are doing their position an injustice.

    As the DM, is it their job to go "Hey, guys, this is a dragon's lair, he's got a CR of 15, your total party level is an average of 6, you probably can't win. Don't go in there."
    or
    is it's the DM's job to go "You walk into the cave and the first thing you note is the walls have gouges in them, like some large and very sharp object tore through the stone as if it were nothing. There are bones of creatures littered about, many of them seem to be from creatures as large or larger than a horse. There's a smell in the air, it's an acrid odor, it makes the back of your throat itch and your eyes burn."

    The first one will save the players and not hide any information from them, guaranteeing that it's not DM vs Player. Where as the 2nd one gives a description from the eyes of the characters and could, potentially, be misinterpreted and cause a death at the hands of a black dragon. Is that Dm vs player or is it giving a narrative?

    Giving the players information doesn't always come in the black and white regurgitation of the information from the books, it's a colorful narrative from the PC's perspective (or close to it). What the players do with that information could, and should, lead to their deaths if they do not take the time to realize what's being given to them, or simply choose to do something irrational.
    I absolutely agree with you generally, but I'm not sure your specific example is great. A CR-appropriate black dragon for a 6th level party could still very well fit most, if not all, of that description. I also think that colorful description can very easily mislead the party, unless the DM is very careful to emphasize the details that the players would naturally take away if they could see what their characters saw.

    On the general point of the thread, it's always been my view that strictly avoiding PC death makes the game less enjoyable. But if you really want to cut down on death, one option you have is to make it clear to the players that retreat is an option. Unless their enemies need them dead in order to win, the PCs should be able to run screaming from the field of battle with their lives, though not, perhaps, their dignity. Players generally have a knee-jerk reaction against this, I've found, but it could be worth a try.

    Players, of course, will never let their enemies retreat, because those enemies have loot.

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    DrowGuy

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    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    Quote Originally Posted by Tajerio View Post
    I absolutely agree with you generally, but I'm not sure your specific example is great. A CR-appropriate black dragon for a 6th level party could still very well fit most, if not all, of that description. I also think that colorful description can very easily mislead the party, unless the DM is very careful to emphasize the details that the players would naturally take away if they could see what their characters saw.
    I get the misleading part, I had my party run away from an Ettin when I described the scenario. The party could have won with little trouble, but I played it up just to force them into considering that fighting was a bad idea. However, for me, I will use every narrative cue I can muster to help my players avoid dead rather than mislead them into a situation they shouldn't be in.

    Quote Originally Posted by Tajerio View Post
    On the general point of the thread, it's always been my view that strictly avoiding PC death makes the game less enjoyable. But if you really want to cut down on death, one option you have is to make it clear to the players that retreat is an option. Unless their enemies need them dead in order to win, the PCs should be able to run screaming from the field of battle with their lives, though not, perhaps, their dignity. Players generally have a knee-jerk reaction against this, I've found, but it could be worth a try.

    Players, of course, will never let their enemies retreat, because those enemies have loot.
    Everything you can do to help the players realize they don't need to kill everything that they encounter is beneficial. From monsters that run, to repercussions for being murder-hobos. If you can turn a failed scenario into a learning experience then it's a win. If the players continue to take nothing from a failed exercise, then it's time to bring out the bigger guns.
    ~I have never met a man so ignorant I could learn nothing from him~ Galileo

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    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    The conflict here is due to the requirement that deadly combat must exist in the same game as pre-ordained victorious heroes.

    You can do things old school, and have normal mortal PCs who live & die as the dice-gods dictate. The victorious heroes are the PCs at the end of the campaign, who might not have existed at the beginning.

    OR you can do things literary-style, where the main characters of the story survive all tribulations through to the end. The main characters faced off against the appearance of risk, but there was no actual risk because their ultimate success was written in advance.

    If you try to have both at once, you encounter the OP's conflict.


    Both styles are viable, though the former is more easily available in a game with deadly combat rules, and the latter is more easily adapted to a fixed story (like a book or a video game).

    The questions you need to ask are:
    - Do I want a game with PC death as a risk?
    - If not, what am I willing to put at risk?
    - If so, how specifically should the risk of death be signaled?

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    Flumph

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    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    Quote Originally Posted by Thundersteel View Post
    What I've got so far:
    -The heroes are left for dead. They wake up in a gutter somewhere, or being nursed back to health in a peasant's cottage, or something of that nature.
    -Someone else dies. They failed to beat the dragon, and as a result, it burns down the village.
    -The heroes are publicly humiliated. They lost a rumble with a rival gang, who left them strung naked in a public square.
    -The heroes are taken prisoner. This is a pretty solid one for moving the story forward, as it usually re-deposits the heroes directly in the villain's lair.
    -They -do- die, and the next session or arc is about escaping from the underworld and returning to the world of the living.
    -Weeks or months of recovery time for any serious injuries sustained during the fight (can happen on any result, depending on the game's rules), during which the antagonists gain significant ground in the long-term struggle; collecting infinity stones, butchering towns, getting closer to El Dorado, whatever they're trying to do
    -Baddies take stuff from the PCs. Definitely all liquid assets on their person (money, jewelry, gold-plated firearms, lightsabers, super-science gadgets, items of obvious value), items of clear value to the overall conflict (i.e. envelope labeled 'for the senator's eyes only'), possibly also equipment or provisions too, depending on their needs
    -Baddies complete whatever their objective was at the time; stealing a princess, robbing someone, looting a temple, and so on
    -Baddies dump them into a ditch or elaborate death-trap
    -Baddies perform a cosmetic mutilation on the PCs; cutting off an ear, toe, finger, drawing "loser" on their cheek, or branding them with a mark relating to their faction
    -PCs' luck stat permanently decreases, to indicate that they got lucky that time but cannot keep losing forever

    Letting them outright crawl out of hell just strips the game of stakes. When you mess with the finality of death, it presents a lot of issues. And if the PCs are butchering people themselves, then I'd want a good explanation for why the bad guys don't return the favor. It's better to do something which either sets the players back in a significant way or results in a lose-condition.

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    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    Quote Originally Posted by Thundersteel View Post
    So, here's a paradox I've noted:
    PC Death, in theory, raises the stakes of a game. It also, unless very carefully timed, brings your narrative to a grinding halt and generally makes players have Not a Good Time. As a result, as a GM, I want to structure encounters in such a way that I know the players will win, thus avoiding character death.
    I don't think that character death ''brings and end to the narrative" or makes the game ''not a good time".

    If you want to avoid character death, you might as well take away combat, hit points, weapons and all the rest too. What is really the point if it's just ''some times lose a couple points, but it does not matter"? You might as well just switch to a pure non-combat game. Then when you have ''conflict" the two sides can have a debate or something (''well your side made the more convincing argument so the demons go home").

    But, note character death only stops the narrative for the effected characters: but not the players. The players have a outside narrative view point. And this can be fun like:

    Reboot 2.0-the idea here is the characters were not meant to die by fate/destiny. So someone, assembles a close copy (that is each player makes a close copy of their previous character but with tweaks and differences) of the characters and has them try again.

    Reincarnation-the idea is the souls of the old characters are reborn in new bodies, but with their full memories .. This can be a real fun one if the players switch characters too (Player Bob with dwarf fighter character Dun, now plays elf wizard Zimala; while Player Tina with elf wizard Zoeta, now plays dwarf fighter Bork).

    Legacy -kids, or other family members of the PCs take up the failed quest or job...with each having a journal from the original PC.

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    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    I favor having the dead PCs wake up chained to an oar in the hold of a slave galley bound for an exotic land.

    Time to organize a revolt, and the potential rewards are a ship and its contents (but not their old magic items).

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    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    It's really hard for me to say anything more constructive than "no" to this thread, but I'll try.

    If you want a consequence other than death, and you care about your world having stakes, then you need to design your encounters with different stakes.

    Personally, I'm not a fan, because, in constantly trying to avoid the possibility of death, you almost invariably get stuff that feels contrived, and it devalues the game.

    Curiously, unlike some of the people I game with, I'm fine with Fate Points / other metacurrency you can spend avoid bad things happening. Or, at least, I am, so long as "being lucky" is an observable, recognizable fact in the world.

    Anyway, to return to a "me" standard, know your players. Know what they'll accept, and what will turn them off of your game. We can only tell you what we - and the players were have observed - seem to like or hate. For myself, I hate unrealistic death only slightly more than unrealistic survival. But unless we happen to be your players, that's of but so much value compared to the likes and dislikes of your actual players.

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    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    Some players will purposely play recklessly in order to die because the are bored of a character. Implementing these 'features' will just frustrate them.

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    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    Quote Originally Posted by weckar View Post
    Some players will purposely play recklessly in order to die because the are bored of a character. Implementing these 'features' will just frustrate them.
    Eh? Do your players not talk to you?
    Like, if you want to quit a game, or write a new character, you can just.... talk to your group about doing that.

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    HalflingWizardGirl

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    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    I'm with some of the other folks. A mix of 'what do the enemies actually want that they are willing to fight for it' and signaling that combat can be ended with surrender/negotiations or fleeing early on, so the PCs pick up that such things are tactics they can use. As a GM, I want the players to know the difference between a minor setback ('if we don't stop these bandits, they will rob us and may kill us... but we can offer to surrender and give them money if it looks like we might die in the fight, and they might just knock us out and leave us in our underwear in the woods if we lose') and a major setback ('if we don't stop the cultists from opening a gate to the Abyss, the entire area will be overrun with demons so dying to stop them is reasonable, and a loss means we'll die').

    Which means I need to signal. If a player keeps charging into combat every time like it's the final boss, eventually I'm going to break the hints-in-narration and remind them that, while I design encounters to be survivable, I'm not going to give the enemies the Idiot Ball to keep PCs alive.

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    Ogre in the Playground
    Join Date
    Nov 2010

    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    Quote Originally Posted by Thundersteel View Post
    Eh? Do your players not talk to you?
    Like, if you want to quit a game, or write a new character, you can just.... talk to your group about doing that.
    That does not really work in our group. No replacements unless by death or reasonable retirement - like losing limbs. It is to create that epic narrative feel. It is also a matter of awkwardness because it tends to be the same players who always want the new guy.
    Last edited by weckar; 2018-11-10 at 09:23 PM.

  21. - Top - End - #21
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Yora's Avatar

    Join Date
    Apr 2009
    Location
    Germany

    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    Quote Originally Posted by Tajerio View Post
    Players, of course, will never let their enemies retreat, because those enemies have loot.
    And that's the inherent problem of D&D, which carries over to the whole d20 system. It's not a problem for a high-risk dungeon crawler with frequent and quick character replacement. That's what it's designed for. It does become a problem when you try to use the system to play out the PC's dramatic life story. The story tells you to do one thing, the mechanics tell you to do another thing. There is an inherent mismatch and conflict.
    The Fallen City States of the Forests of Kaendor - Mythic Bronze Age of Weird Wild Wonder

  22. - Top - End - #22
    Dwarf in the Playground
    Join Date
    Oct 2016

    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    Consequences of failing an encounter, as previously stated depends on the type of encounter and the baddies. Some other consequences other than TPC
    - saved by a high level wizard (or equivalent) who puts them under a geas and makes them his slaves to achieve a purpose.
    - characters being defiled (physically or religiously) and then needing to be cleansed. Being physically defiled needs to be handled very carefully
    - permanent injury that restricts their abilities - loss of a limb or an eye kind of injury.
    - In a d20 environment being permanently level drained, in sci-fi setting a memory wipe. Normally half the character’s levels being lost is appropriate.
    - reversible aging/youthening effects. Turn the characters into children or doddering elders and let them try to find a cure. They keep their XP but their physical skills are reduced and tasks requiring concentration have a 50-50 chance of failure due to an inability to maintain concentration.

  23. - Top - End - #23
    Troll in the Playground
     
    OldWizardGuy

    Join Date
    Aug 2010

    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    They key is really to have defined stakes for the combat - a question that the combat answers. And "do they live or die" is really kind of boring.

    Movie focused, but useful: https://io9.gizmodo.com/why-you-shou...tent-511712234

    Combat is deadly (or should be). Why are people fighting? Why don't they run away? In most cases, if your choice is between "run away" and "maybe die", you should run away - unless there's something important enough that you're willing to stick it out. Those are your stakes. Once that's settled, it's reasonable to assume that either side will run away once it becomes obvious that they will lose.

    Combine these, and players can start losing combats all the time, without having to endure TPKs. This is great for adding tension, as the players will legitimately not know if they will succeed, and if the question that is asked will go their way or not.
    "Gosh 2D8HP, you are so very correct (and also good looking)"

  24. - Top - End - #24
    Titan in the Playground
     
    Knaight's Avatar

    Join Date
    Aug 2008

    Default Re: Fail-forward combat

    Quote Originally Posted by Yora View Post
    And that's the inherent problem of D&D, which carries over to the whole d20 system. It's not a problem for a high-risk dungeon crawler with frequent and quick character replacement. That's what it's designed for. It does become a problem when you try to use the system to play out the PC's dramatic life story. The story tells you to do one thing, the mechanics tell you to do another thing. There is an inherent mismatch and conflict.
    The mechanics stopped being consistent about what they were telling you several editions ago. A high risk dungeon crawler with frequent and quick character replacement is a functional design type. A high risk dungeon crawler with frequent and staggeringly glacial character replacement isn't so much, and D&D started moving in that direction with 2e, reached that point with 3.5 (where you have people talking about spending days planning their character), and is moving away from that point currently but is still not particularly near "quick".
    I would really like to see a game made by Obryn, Kurald Galain, and Knaight from these forums.

    I'm not joking one bit. I would buy the hell out of that.
    -- ChubbyRain

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