The Wrath of the Dice

Yes, I’m still riffing on failure.  In fact, I’m likely to be failing all week.

The first rule of a failure is that if at all possible, it should be more IC than OOC if at all possible, and as removed from the GM as is feasible. The former is, of course, for the sake of player enjoyment, while the latter is to avoid being chewed out by angry players more than is absolutely necessary; the appearance of GM malice tends to be a unifying characteristic of the most widely discussed bad failures.

Another important factor to keep in mind is that there are far more ways of having fun than “succeeding” in the game, and any one of them can be used to make an in-character failure as enjoyable as a success. This factor is also why most of what I’m about to say really isn’t going to be that useful for a game that revolves around an adversarial relationship between the GM and the players, as that part is half the fun for those groups right there.


As far as player impact goes, dice failure is usually neutral to good, since it is inherently free of GM malice due to being ruled by chance. Unless, of course, the dice are loaded, but who’d do that? Since odds are part of the game, most people would shrug and move on, or occasionally find humor in what karma’s dishing forth.

It gets a bit more annoying when it happens in anticlimactic situations, though in that case, the GM’s likely to be grousing just as much as the players. Permanent death in a random battle—really, who’s going to take pride in that? It’s not a credit to the GM’s skills, nor particularly deserved, nor anything but extra book-keeping and rationalization for no reason as a new character tries to work into the group.

Prevention is pretty much impossible; most of dealing with dice failure comes in mitigation. The prevention that exists mostly revolves around finding ways to ensure that bad dice rolls won’t completely destroy the session or the game. There is nothing more irritating than a point where succeeding at one roll is what will make the story advance, or ensure the group’s survival, and the dice say no. Avoiding situations like these is pretty straightforward outside of combat, as we use the Three Clue Rule. Within combat… I’m still looking for ideas.

Mitigation of dice failure usually doesn’t involve decreasing the impact—that defeats the purpose of having dice! Instead, it tries to find other ways to make the situation enjoyable. I think this may be one of the reasons why critical failures have become an art form in some groups, as they either add a certain humor to the situation or give a chance for the player to take a role in creating the failure. Often both. You’d be amazed at how much this helps; being able to claim intent or at least participation turns a massive botch from an annoyance into fodder for the next “Epic Fail Moments” thread.

So there goes our chaos. Tomorrow, player failure!

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