Friday, July 19, 2013

Success & Failure

Art by Mike Krahulik
Imagine the following scenario. You are playing the stereotypical dungeon crawl and your party has reached the final room of the dungeon and are face to face with the big bad which happens to be a dragon. The ensuing fight is arduous and both sides have suffered serious wounds. It is the fighter's turn and if his attack roll hits, the dragon will be slain and the party of adventurers will be victorious.

The player scoops up his lucky d20, gives it a vigorous shake, and tosses it to the table. The die bounces across the wooden surface and the player crosses his fingers, hoping his roll will be successful. Finally, the die rolls to a stop and sadly, the player has rolled a dreaded 1. 

The mighty beast laughs as the fighter fumbles his attack. The dragon takes his turn and finishes off the party and the session sadly ends. 

I think everyone has experienced a moment like the one I just described. Your character only had a few hit points left and had everything riding on one, simple roll. However, Fate decided to be a troll and your lucky die landed on a 1, causing you to fail horribly. As a player, this can be downright annoying. You were trying to do something awesome, but you feel like the dice robbed you of your success. 

However, I don't think failure has to be a bad thing. For an example, let's take the situation I described above. The fighter fumbles his attack and the dragon retaliates, killing the party. However, instead of discarding their character sheets and creating new characters, the party finds themselves in the Afterlife and are brought before the deity of death so their souls can be judged. However, not wanting to give up just yet, the party tries to convince the deity to return them to life. After hearing their pleas, the deity agrees, but only after they complete a special quest. 

While I could have let the players make new characters and start a new campaign, I give them a chance to save their characters with the possibility of taking both the characters and the campaigns in a new, interesting direction. The deity of death's quest might send them to the Abyss to collect a few souls that a group of demons have kidnapped on their way to be judged or to capture a soul that is trying to avoid being judged. After completing the quest and returning to life, some extra-dimensional forces might have their eyes on the characters now which could lead to new adventures. 

Failure can be annoying at times, but it doesn't have to be. It can lead to an interesting twist in the campaign or adventure that you didn't think of before. Failure doesn't have to be the end of the story. It can lead to a new beginning.