Impractical Applications (Two Shining Failures)

Yesterday’s piece about failure got a lot of bad reactions from people who’d been on the wrong end of failure-plots. I was probably more surprised than I should have been; I’ve had decent luck with failing on both sides of the GM screen. (Including playing a woman who spent so much time falling into enemy hands that “Any plan that begins with me getting captured always works. Even if I haven’t come up with it at the time” became a campaign running joke.)

For me, failure as a plot element requires several defining characteristics—I will be going into more detail on these tomorrow, but the short version is that unless this is something the players brought on themselves, or just a case of very bad dice rolls, there should be some sort of way to rise from the ashes.

My campaign, particularly in the first arc, was actually riddled with failures. A few were deliberate. One, amusingly enough, wasn’t.

What set the main plot arc off was the latter. See, the group had this friend, one Kiara by name. And she had something that made her a bit of a target as far as their enemies were concerned. Particularly a rather amusing and very powerful akuma (for those not familiar with the system, imagine someone who should have been one of the heroes… and then sold out to Things That Were Kicked Out of the World) by name of Jalil. Now, I’d known he was going to go after her, probably several times over the course of the storyline. What nobody, least of all me, was expecting was for him to succeed. He’d had an effect that was supposed to target those with low Valor, getting them to freeze up or panic. I’d originally chosen it because I didn’t think it’d have too much of an effect on the group, but I forgot to take into account the effect it would have on the rather easily spooked Kiara. …and, well, being in a panic-freeze isn’t particularly conducive to things like running away. So he got away, with his prey, but in the process he took a more than decent amount of damage.

Seemed to work pretty well. The group certainly liked it.

Then again, within two sessions they ended up in a fight against an opponent they couldn’t possibly beat, and they knew it and had the sense to stand down. (This one was deliberate, and had been planned and set up even before their prior failure; I couldn’t exactly drop it at this point.) Much of what it set up was character development and plot-stuff.

The first arc actually involved a ratio of about one failure to every three successes. They’d manage a few things, then something would happen. One time it was sheer stupidity (or an excess of courage; both would have given the same result). One time it was nothing they really could have helped; the enemy slipped in and swiped three of their teammates, and they could only do something about one. (That one—remember Ruby, anyone?–was considerably less than amused by her own role in the situation, though it did lead to my realization that character development in NPCs could be interesting.) One time the entire group was captured, but they rectified it pretty quickly. In my opinion, that’s what a chain of failures on the way to a success should look like: spaced out, with plenty of opportunity to recover and come back stronger.

After all, what fun is failure if it doesn’t set up success?

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