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The origins of fail forward

effkat

Registered User
Validated User
I really like the concept of failing forward in RPGs and I've been wondering about its origins recently. I know it's originally business speak, but I can't find much about when or where it started being used in RPGs. So, my fellow rpg.netters, I turn to you and your collective wisdom for help. When did people start using the concept in their games? What game first put it in its rules? When did people start calling it 'fail forward'?
 

remusclaw

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Validated User
I would put an argument forward that it likely saw it's birth the first time a DM ever put into practice that old chestnut of crime novel design just to get his/her players out of a rut. IE Whenever you don't know how to move the story forward, have a couple of armed men burst into the room. Conveniently of course, said armed men will either talk, or necessity provide, have physical evidence on their person as to where the party needs to go next.
 

Spikey

Mean Mm-Mm Servant of God
Validated User
Whenever you don't know how to move the story forward, have a couple of armed men burst into the room.
If you're giving it that broad a reading, the locus classicus for that move in RPGs is the wandering monster: an encounter that occurs if you spend too much time doing nothing.

Personally, I think 'fail forward' is a bit narrower than that and, conceptually, has to postdate all those awful published scenarios where the party has to succeed on a certain roll or the story grinds to a halt.
 

remusclaw

Registered User
Validated User
I would certainly agree it would not have been referred by the name fail forward, but, in general, any out for the group that allows the story to move forward despite the dice or decisions made is that in spirit if not in name. Fail forward is a codification of those practices. A good codification by my estimate, as it gives validity in rule to what was previously the realm of fiat alone.
 
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Bankuei

Master of Folding Chair
Validated User
The first formal discussions of "Fail Forward" I saw came out of the Forge Forums, in the early 2000s, in discussions around setting stakes.

One of the ideas people were talking about was "Whiff Factor" - you roll a test, you fail, you roll again, you fail, you keep rolling until you succeed. Out of this, a couple of ideas came out:

1) We shouldn't be doing mechanical tests for success if the outcomes won't matter (if either success or failure wouldn't be interested, why is the test revolving around this)
2) Failure shouldn't stop continued play ("being stuck at the door you can't unlock").

A lot of this became a key part of Burning Wheel's discussion at it's forums and evolving set of play rules as well.

It remains a common phrase just because a lot of games combine a) linear or branching linear play with b) mechanical resolution to advance possible events. If you take out either one from that equation, the issue of having to "move forward" stops being a problem.

- Chris
 

Litpho

Wandering stranger
RPGnet Member
Validated User
I think fail forward as "yes, but..." makes for a very strong combo with Let it Ride. Without it, you still have to contend with the whiff factor Bankuei mentioned.

I think Vincent Baker's Dogs in the Vineyard may have been the earliest. It predates (and is quoted in) Burning Wheel at least.
 

Lysus

Unbelievably Fancy Ostrich
Validated User
I think fail forward as "yes, but..." makes for a very strong combo with Let it Ride. Without it, you still have to contend with the whiff factor Bankuei mentioned.

I think Vincent Baker's Dogs in the Vineyard may have been the earliest. It predates (and is quoted in) Burning Wheel at least.
Dogs was actually published in 2004 compared to BW Classic's 2002.
 

Civil Savage

Proud Lifetime Member
RPGnet Member
Validated User
It can be "no but" or "no and" or "yes but," but really it's just that "no" never means "nothing happens." It's not I fail to pick the lock and we're still standing there. It's I fail to pick the lock before the guards show up and now we're on the run from them!

I'm not the best historian of games. I'm trying to remember if Shadow of Yesterday had anything along these lines.
 
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