Impractical Applications (For Values of Loss)

I freewrote this week about the idea of the story-oriented GM’s perceived responsibility being to lose gracefully, and the alternatives to character death that might in the short run render this responsibility somewhat less relevant. My groups have done this a lot, though for every time they’ve done it, I’ve seen two more occasions on which I’ve wanted to know what loss could, potentially, equal.

For my old primary GM, loss generally equaled capture, whether it was through being battled to the end or, more often, through fighting to the point of surrender. (This became such a running thing, and usually presaged such impressive turnarounds, that one of the group’s running lines became “Any plan that begins with one of us getting captured works”.) As this usually led to interesting character interactions, gains of information, fights with unusual and challenging restrictions, or a need to go through plans at the same rate at which many groups go through combat encounters… it may not have happened quite so often with the rest of the group, but I was certainly not averse to throwing a couple fights where the stakes didn’t seem too unreasonable, particularly during a brief spate of solo storylines one summer. The rewards were definitely worth it.

I’ve seen loss simply equate to failure: being too little too late, not managing the objective or the rescue mission or whatever was on the plate for that particular session, and having to limp off into the sunset rather than shout insults as the other party did the same. This has been a secondary result in one of my more recent games on a pretty frequent basis; in that one, though, it’s an issue of secondary objectives, and I’ve been frequently wondering why we even bother considering them as opposed to “survive, crush opponent, count collateral damage afterward.”

Similarly, sometimes loss just equaled, well, loss—the loss of an ally, of a privilege, of an object, I think we even managed loss of face a time or two when it really mattered. For instance, one of my earlier GMs slipped an Obligatory Martial Arts Tournament plot arc into his game, and while the reward may not have particularly interested a decent number of the group, it definitely got my character’s attention—until she got trounced by one of her teammates, anyway. Then things got complicated.

One of the coolest take-home lessons I’ve gotten from all that is this: when loss gets more interesting rather than just being the end (or practically the end), winning isn’t nearly as important.

Leave a Reply