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"Here Is How I Failed."

Jive Professor

Trying to fly
Validated User
What if the control of the narration is handed off to one party or the other depending on an arbitrary element of the die? Assume a standard D&D resolution of d20+ modifiers. If the face of the die lands on an even number the active party narrates, if the face of the die is odd the passive party narrates.

For example, a fighter swings their sword at an ogre controlled by the GM. If the d20 is a 16 the fighter's player would narrate the result (success or failure), but if it was a 17 the GM would narrate the result (success or failure).


RPGnet Member
Validated User
I've considered a more structured mechanic which seems to approach the same philosophy. Basically, in a combat context, you get to choose what happens when you take damage, and skills and equipment give you more options. For example, while the basic option is "lose health", you might get other choices like "get knocked back if there's room" or "your shield is destroyed".

There's also a more upfront mechanic, where all conflicts are basically wagers, and you need an ante to go in. "If I lose, I lose this precise thing." You can also get a do-over by raising the ante instead of paying the price, but it's got to be higher stakes. This can be pretty abstract: a fight against guards might wager your freedom against their employment, for example, and you might ante up to physical impairment, death, and the future of your entire clan if you aren't winning. It encourages less life-or-death stakes at every turn, because a lesser objective will often get the job done and give you a fallback if it doesn't work.


Registered User
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The whole Fate concept of "concede the conflict, but narrate the result" seems very very relevant here!

Rook S.

scritches make me floof!
RPGnet Member
Validated User
If I'm not misremembering, this is what Ron Edwards did in Trollbabe.


Validated User
Just this second, browsing the threads and not thinking about anything in particular, an idea popped up unbidden. What if the resolution mechanic in a game split up narration and success? Specifically: You're trying to hit me, and I'm trying to hit you, and the dice say you won. Now I have to narrate how you got past my guard and landed the hit. Or, we're arguing in court and the dice say you lose. You now have to explain to the group what I did that convinced the judge, and what you did that failed to do so.
While I've toyed with the idea of more flavorful descriptions of failures by players, making failure the basis for narrative control/duties would probably end up putting a lot of all that into the hands of the GM, considering how most RPGs are angled towards the players succeeding.


RPGnet Member
Validated User
A couple of thoughts; one is that I always do this for social and knowledge skills, and encourage my players to do it also when I GM. I roll a dice and then in-character narrate the result. Failures look like this:

[Knowledge: Dragons] "Dragons are well known to fear water and many people believe that their flames are suppressed by it" -- other characters often also make checks and we try to judge what to do based not on the rolls but on the description. This works well especially on online gaming where we don't see each other's rolls.

[Persuade the King] "You should do as we say to prove you're not as stupid as everyone thinks you are" -- it's usually easier to show a social failure in description. Failed seduction attempts rarely fail to amuse.

A second thought is that several games I play have the "succeed at a cost" mechanic, and often (PtbA) they require the player to describe the cost. This works well in practice as it gives some idea of the badness of the failure. So when i attack something and succeed with a small cost, I might say that I am thrown off-balance and so much easier to hit.


Registered User
Validated User
And do stuff with failure like gain xp. Maybe some bonus going forward if similar/same contest arises? Another twist I’d think could be cool is possibly a flashback mechanic—“I fail, except, <flashback> I was sort of prepared for this failure </flashback>...”.


Master of Folding Chair
Validated User
There's a good number of indie RPGs going back to the early-mid 2000s that do this. Primetime Adventures and Bliss Stage are two of my favorites. Vincent Baker's Otherkind, Jared Sorensen's Inspectres and octaNe both play with success/narration trading.

- Chris


Registered User
Validated User
The only thing I see wrong with your idea is that I think its going to run into the twin issues that some players are going to be unhappy focusing on their failures, and some others will get into it too, too much.
I may be of the second category, the players who enjoy it too much. ^^

I accidentally tested this during a Warhammer game. My character was pretty weak, and I failed pretty much every dice roll (a common occurence for unexperienced PCs in WH V2), to the point it had become a running joke in our group. So, as my frustration grew over never having anything happen as I hoped it would, I started to embelish the narration of my numerous failures, and the GM rolled with it.
For example, if I was struggling ineffectively with a beastman and the brute headbutted me for a few HP, I described the way my bounty hunter was thrown against the wall, groggily wiped the blood running in her eyes, then blocks at the last moment the follow-up cleaver strike that would have finished her. If I missed my sixth crossbow attack in a row, I described the way a cultist fighting my comrades shoved me at exactly the wrong moment, messing my aim and spilling my bolts' quiver on the ground. Failed climb check? An outcrop crumbled under my grasp, I grabbed for another rock but hit the cliff face hard and saw my crossbow tumbling into the darkness beneath.

So basically I still failed frequently (and quite often, I failed harder than what the rules or GM mandated), but I didn't care anymore because failing felt pretty awesome. Maybe the elf wizard with "lucky dices" did one-shot the chaos sorcerer while I spent 5 rounds getting rid of a single cultist, but I still felt I was playing the gritty heroic character I wanted to play. Failing reinforced the caracterization of the PC, rather than detracting from it like it would have happened if the GM had taken away the description of the consequences.

To date, that transformed what would have been a pretty frustrating experience and an average campaign into one of my most memorable RP experiences.

That's also the moment I started playing more frequently in "third person mode". Since I described more and more the actions themselves rather than simply my intents, it felt natural to take an "outside GM" voice and telling what happened to "her" rather than "me". Easier to describe bad stuff happening to my character this way (and it felt less ridiculous too)

Only downside : I may have enjoyed it too much, and I was the only one doing so, so I was sometimes a diva who hogged the spotlight with my badass failures. Ooops
(But since I mostly wrenched the spotlight away from Mr "Elves do it right" and his "magical dice that fail only if another player checks the roll", and the other players seemed to enjoy my comedy... Well, I confess I feel very little remorse about it


Social Justice Witch
Validated User
At some point, I may completely rebuild parts of PROGENITOR, so that's the context for this--big conflicts between extremely high-powered superheroes. Currently it's based on the WILD TALENTS mechanics, which are very canted towards emulating physics. I'm just trying to come up with a more interesting way, especially since the PCs could (potentially) wind up losing a LOT, and I'd like for them to have a parachute to prevent premature PC death.

The flip side, of course, is that when the GMCs lose, it's the GM narrating, so you can skew it towards "The PCs won the day but they didn't straightup murder this dude who is positively drenched in plot potential."

Oh, of late I have tried to be more reasonable in my life, and not foolishly pine with aching desire for games that have not yet been written, but I want this new Progenitor and would like to subscribe to the needed newsletters, kickstarters, and so ons. It just sounds good to me.
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