Xavid (kihou) wrote,

Dice and Interesting Failures

So, thinking about dice in tabletopping while dicelessly HGing Chuubo's has got me thinking about what I like about random dice roles in tabletopping. And I think it mostly comes down to interesting failures.

As I talked about a while back, outside of combat, D&D has this failure mode where, if at first you don't succeed, try try again. A lot of that is because failing to find something in a search, or climb something, or whatever, doesn't tend drive the story forward. Other games like Burning Wheel and Fate respond to this by limiting your ability to retry things. I feel like that's only a partial solution, though. It's still pretty boring to roll and have nothing happen, even if you're forced to change tactics afterwards. Which is why I like the Apocalypse World approach: you basically get either major success, partial success, or dramatic failure with every roll. On a missed roll, the MC makes "as hard and direct a move as you like", and the book encourages you to make it irrevocable. Give failure consequences that are interesting, relevant, and not easily undone.

Obviously, not every game is Apocalypse World, and not every game wants that that same feeling of being on the edge. But I also feel like "interesting result on a failed die roll" doesn't have to mean "failed action". Several games, such as Fate Core, talk up an option for failure that's "success with complication or cost". (This also helps avoid the "you failed at something that would've let you follow the plot, and now you're stuck away from what's interesting", something that "saying yes" can also avoid.) Looking at it more, actually, many of Fate Core's suggestions for "succeed at serious cost" aren't actually that different from Apocalypse World's irrevocable MC moves, with a more general presentation, though some of the options like "it takes a long time" are pretty weaksauce without situational support.

(I feel like other aspects of Fate make this less effective, at least when I've played it. With Fate points, players have a lot of ability to ensure they succeed on important rolls, which are also the rolls that have the most potential for interesting failures. Having repeated rolls for combat with well-defined failure consequences means that combat doesn't really have room for such failures. It also has the competing "compel an aspect" mechanic for adding complications, which I've never gotten good use out of and feels like takes away space for character-based failure complications.)

In thinking about what failure might look like for a Chuubo's-y Invoke the Miraculous move, I really didn't like conventional failure being an option. Mortal magic randomly failing might be fine, but miracles just failing isn't the right feel. An obvious way to handle a failed die roll is to increase MC cost or time to activate, or to exhaust the power for a while. That'd be fine as far as it goes, but it focuses on player-level resources rather than the narrative, and it would only make the story interesting in certain situations.

I feel like what I'd really want is more narrative/story-driving consequences. Some wish-type powers already have "be careful what you wish for/this might backfire" built-in. Some other powers fall back to the mundane intention system, though I feel like that doesn't necessarily give you a ton of useful guidance as the HG. I think the easiest way to spec this would be to just have a failed roll mean that your power works, but there's something that adds a complication: you attract attention, there's an unforeseen side-effect, there's a revelation of something you didn't know that makes your solution incomplete.

But looking at this again, that's all stuff that could be handled without dice, by HG fiat based on the narrative or by NPCs acting in the context of the miracle. Having such thing be random doesn't fit feel-wise the way it does Apocalypse World. So, while I like interesting failures and the the narrative feel of solutions bringing complications and other forms of plot depth, that's less about dice vs diceless and more about perspective. So, something for me to keep in mind in future Chuubo's sessions.
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