The new gaming movement: Failure is not Failure! or Am I a Game System Snob?

No, this is not a statement on our societies need to claim that no one is a failure, everyone is good and should get a participation trophy….then again, perhaps they are related. “Little Johny, you didn’t fail! You made an interesting twist!” Yeah you still suck at baseball, take your participation ribbon kid.

Instead, this is some commentary on another blog. A friend posted a statement on his blog:

I once had a GM tell me privately that he used the approach to “equalize things with the guy that had min/maxed his character.” *sigh*

I have seen this numerous times as well, but I think this is a result born from the systems we used in our RPG upbringing. Is it not a failing of the system AND the players as much as it is a failing of the GM? Too often I think I see people grasping at this new trend of “Don’t think of failure as a failure” but instead think of it as simply another path the story has taken. I think this is born of the idea of the game movement that checks do not show the results of a single action and instead show the result of a larger contest.

This is really interesting if you think about it. Remember the debate regarding D&D combat a good twenty years ago? When you roll to hit, they said it doesn’t describe a single action  it describes feints, dodges, thrusts, etc. I remember this debate very fondly because I have never prescribed to this. How many players said to you “Ok, my turn. I am going to leap to the left, feint a strike with my dagger, spin around and dip to avoid his attack, then roll back to the right, parry his attack, and then with my rapier strike at his gut.” Yeah, right. Player most often said “I am going to leap to the left and attempt to run him through with my rapier.” You roll to see if you succeeded in opening a safe (ok, make the dumb argument that safe cracking is a long an laborious process, go ahead, I will wait…..out of your system? good, no I will continue) but now when we are doing a combat check suddenly it encompasses a huge string of actions? wtf?

Now that I feel my own gaming has matured and I am grasping the full story-telling mantra I have always strived for via Risus, I see these attempts to get players to conform to this idea, well, it makes me chuckle a bit. This entire idea of taking failure and not calling it failure but calling it something else that sounds not so bad and inspires other branches of story-telling I think is just shit. Total shit. This is some sort of politically correct movement in gaming.

We have always been doing that, just without fancy titles and actual written rules. Any GM worth his weight in gold can tell you they rarely if ever killed off a player’s character simply because he failed some single, silly roll…unless it had a dramatic effect on the story. If a moment came in a game where the world’s fate was held in the balance, the die falls badly, and now it appears the PCs are doomed…did you kill them off? Hell no, you bent the story to your will and diverted to a better, more interesting outcome. Perhaps not the outcome the players would have wanted or you intended, but one in which chance had thrown the a bad hand and now the players were going to have to work their way out of it. I am pretty sure most good GMs have been doing this all along, within whatever system they happen to be using. We do not need a game system to help us with this. Well, ok, perhaps a novice GM might, but they all play D&D 4 anyway.

Maybe I am a game system snob….well, yeah, now that I really think about it, I am pretty sure I am. I have always ran any system the way I want it, not the way it is described explicitly in the manual. This allowed me the freedom to manipulate the story as it happened and (hopefully) made it more engaging for the players. I do not need a system to provide me with rules on how to do this, in fact, providing rules to do just that I believe would actually stifle the creativity you are trying to encourage!

This is why I have moved to Risus as my primary game system. It is essentially nothing more than a way to describe the characters in a mechanical way (oh lord what a loaded term). Using these slight mechanical descriptors, you are free to construct a story as you want, with very little limiting the horizons of your creativity in any way.

So, am I a Game System Snob? Yeah, I think so. I do not want your rules, your pages and pages of tomes telling you how to better steer a failure into something creative. Heck, maybe I failed to do this post correctly, maybe someone will take my failure and make it an interesting twist in a story. 😉

I am currently looking for someone to run me through a demo of Burning Wheel, or better yet, Mouse Guard so I can see one of these Failure is Good™ systems. Any takers?


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