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Make Failure Interesting
Say Yes Or Roll The Dice

The two concepts in the title and subtitle have been important parts of narrative-driven RPG design and GM play for a good while now.

"Make failure interesting" comes from Fate.

"Say yes or roll the dice" didn't originate with Apocalypse World and PBTA games, but is probably most notably associated with them.

I bring this up as a response to a recent Ideas topic where "mixed response to IC failures" is being discussed.

We at Sindome talk a lot about consequences. There seem to be a lot of players who perceive consequences to have discouraged taking risks. As a game-master, I personally always did my very best to dole out a consequence which opened doors rather than slamming them shut. For example - instead of removing a privilege as a consequence, imposing a responsibility gives more and better RP. For example - instead of firing someone for a misdeed, using the offense to manipulate them into additional compromise gives more and better RP. For example - Pushing someone caught having the brass to break rules into breaking them MORE gives more and better RP.

It's up to the player, at that point, to do what they will with these sorts of reactions. These examples provide way way more choices and opportunities than just lashing back with a wall of punishment. I think GMs get this, and I want to ask players and staff two things:

First, players, can you try to look for this? When a NPC gives you some kind of consequence for some kind of mis-step, can you put effort into seeing whether it really is just a cockblock or is something else going on? Too many times I've seen people give up on something when they really had a LOT more latitude to proceed, or continue, or escalate what they got caught doing in the first place. Or when they were really being given a brand new avenue of RP as the result of daring and being bold but getting caught. Or when they were really getting a slap on the wrist rather than a career and spirit breaking permanent record punishment. Can you try to look at things from this point of view and "Illegitimi non carborundum" so to speak? This seems to be something that some players "get", intuitively or have learned, and others seem to have no clue that there might be multiple layers to an interaction or multiple ways to interpret it or multiple legitimate, non-blocking ways to react to it.

Second, can we use this topic to have a conversation about this? Obviously IC specifics can't be shared but: Players who have been given a leash-yank and taken a mile, and turned it into an IC boon of some kind - can we hear from you so that others can know this is real and not just "something everyone says but I never see?" GMs who have tried offering a player a lifeline or sideways direction from an ostensibly negative interaction, can you provide any advice to players who might need to be shown that you're not out to get them no matter how obligated your puppet is to appear to be not letting them get out unscathed? Can you consider trying to make it as obvious as you can without being harmful to theme or hammy with the RP when you're crafting ways for the PC to exploit or work around the NPC's obstacle?

Let's begin this conversation and while it's going on I'll do my best to relate one or more situations I GM'd where a PC was fucking up and getting caught, and I was crafting multiple outcomes for them and they took all the rope I extended, for better or for worse. These would be LONG-ago situations involving LONG-absent PCs and players, and could be illustrated generically rather than specifically if I do it right, within the @rules.

Reefer's guide to making failure interesting...

Step One) FUCK UP. The bigger the better. Preferably in such a fashion that puts you in direct opposition of someone.

Step Two) Ally yourself. Either by identifying your oppositions natural enemy/predator/scorned lover/rival/etc OR by pledging loyalty to the person you fucked up with - putting yourself in their service.

Step Three) Obtain Revenge, Demonstrate Valure or proceed back to Step One.

Good thread.
Its tough to pin this down, because the problem could be the GMs or the players or both.

I also think players' activity, affects this in a way. Where the more active you are and the more RP you generate for the game, that somehow grants you a kind of leniency whiles if you aren't, its less tough to just cut you off for the GMs and the players might care less because they aren't as invested either.

Also in some places the threshold for error seems pretty slim, mostly corporations and certain factions, unless you've been years in that role and then you get some slack (this has been my personal experience). There are other factors at play of course, maybe too many to mention.

I'd say roll with it and keep going, regardless of the consequences (don't care if they are deserving or not) and if you can, try to make a silver-lining out of it that will take your RP in a different direction. You may not be able to control the consequences, but you can control how you react to them. Win or lose, you need to try to have fun.

That being said, being a fuck-up protagonist is pretty CyberPunk. People with seemingly perfect track records are boring in my books (non-risk takers) and I usually don't interact with them as much or at all.

I think the big-time PCs of 2105 were pretty good at being like, "I caught you doing a thing, now I'm going to 'protect' you while I make you do more of it."
I had a PC caught breaking a rule his faction took very seriously. He fessed up to it during a meeting with his boss and the bosses of his rivals. He paid the cost. After, his boss told my PC that he could and maybe even should have lied as nobody would have known. That the only rules truly broke are the ones that are reasonably PROVED to have been broken.

I had another PC who's NPC boss had just orchestrated a masterful plan to get a PC from a rival group executed by their own husband. The NPC boss then told their PCs about it and about how to do similar things with the support of the group. Later, when some of the team members were slacking off and just coasting, they were not fired. They were told to go do some kind of operation, even a minor one, or get fired.

I had an NPC boss claim a fellow PC was doing things to make them look bad and cost money. They did not boot them. They told them to change the perception or they might get booted. Gave them an idea of how they could do this. It was super reasonable ICly and you could see the GM was also being thoughtful OOCly.

Those are three examples I can think of off the top of my head so I know it is happening to some extent.

I can't say that every GM really gets the idea of "failing forward" but I do think that most, in the last few years, TRY and make failures interesting and not just slam doors on players. Though I also think that sometimes getting fired or stomped IS the best response. But even then it's just a matter of one door closing while may others are open or can be opened with some role play.

I also have seen a lot of players be easily intimidated by NPCs or give up at the first sign of adversity. I am not saying that ever conflict needs to be chased until death but it's easy to read a 'no, never' when it's really, 'do better' or 'impress me' or ' no until you change the situation'.

I also get that sometimes the paths provided aren't something the Player feels comfortable having their PC pursue and that is fine too in my mind. It's okay to walk away from an attempt to give your PC a way out of things because it's not something you like but I do encourage you to at least CONSIDER them and how your PC might be able to play ball - even if it's not doing the thing the NPC suggested but something similar or a compromise or something. In my experience GMs are open to alternatives that are in the spirit of what they are doing.

it's easy to read a 'no, never' when it's really, 'do better' or 'impress me' or ' no until you change the situation'.

Sometimes it's "I'm obligated to say this but don't really give a damn, just don't make me have to address it again by getting caught."

Sometimes it's "I don't even really have this authority at all but I want to feel like I do so I'm telling you no, let's see if you bow to me."

The motivations of NPCs are just as nuanced and self serving as the motivations of PCs.

Also, very nice post, Grey0.