Failing Forward

Poll: How do you feel about Fail Forward mechanics?

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  1. #1
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    Failing Forward

    I was curious how folks felt about this concept? I'm a fan.

    Essentially, it's a mechanic, fairly common these days, which ensures that the game doesn't grind to a halt on a failed skill check. Instead of the task at hand failing and stopping the game, the task is successful but with an attached disadvantage.

    So, if the way into a dungeon is to pick the lock, and failing to do so would mean the party could not continue, the lock gets picked but a trap is set off. Or something. That was a terrible example; don't use it as a basis for judging the concept!

    Some people love this; some games adopt it whole-heartedly. Other people dislike it, saying that the players should just think their way around to another solution and that the GM should be able to handle that. I'm in the former group; I think it's very useful, and use it for travel in my own RPG design.

    So what do you think?

  2. #2
    It is an essential technique for more narrative games, but some situations make more sense (either narratively or contextually) for a failure to force a regroup/reevaluation.

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    I think in 4e a friend of mine posted rules for this somewhere on this very site

  4. #4
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    When the game comes down to these stallable moments it can be a powerful tool and I've used it.

    Though I would prefer the players try to figure something else out, and if I've been good I've provided for other ways or can think of them on the fly. Even within an unchanged fiction.

    Like anything I think it can be overused and I think it works best if those failing consequences were already present in the game.
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    I'm generally in favor of it, in theory, even if I don't always remember to practice it as a GM.

    My only issue with it is that, sometimes, failure really is part of the deal. While I've never had a TPK and only a few actual PC fatalities, I absolutely despise playing where death or some equivalent (forced retirement, gone crazy, whatever) is impossible. I just find success to be unfulfilling when it's guaranteed.

    Worth calling out: That's a far, far cry from saying that I like meat grinders or that death and despair should be boon companions.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
    Essentially, it's a mechanic, fairly common these days, which ensures that the game doesn't grind to a halt on a failed skill check. Instead of the task at hand failing and stopping the game, the task is successful but with an attached disadvantage.
    I think that it makes for a silly world, if outright failure is never a possibility. If you're testing whether someone can pick a lock, and there is no chance of failing to pick that lock, then the game mechanic is not providing a reasonable model of the activity.

    A further consideration is that defining one direction as "forward" would imply that the GM is trying to direct the course of action of the player characters, which violates the GM's role as neutral arbiter. As the GM, I should not become attached to the outcome of any action. Whether they succeed or fail in opening that lock, either path is equally valid.

    If you insist on meddling with the PCs and enforcing certain outcomes, there are subtler ways to do it. You could have the NPCs decide to use a cheaper lock, or a type of lock which one of the PCs is so familiar that no roll is necessary.

  7. #7
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    I generally like fail forward, though I'm not sure if you're describing what I'm used to considering "fail forward".

    Specifically, "fail forward" is not, as I understand it, "Succeed, but at cost," as FATE games often put it. It is "Fail, but there is a pretty clear path to try something else." And, as such it isn't so much a mechanic, as a bit of advice for the GM to not have all progress in an adventure blocked by a failure.

    For example - Say the PCs are exploring a tomb, hunting the BBEG, who is in his secret lair, behind a super-secret door. The players go through the dungeon, search for for secret doors, but they botch the roll, and fail to find it.

    In "standard" play, this is basically a blocking issue. The PCs cannot continue forward unless they find that door. There's no clear path to moving forward. The PCs don't even really know where they failed, as they don't know for sure there was a door to begin with. All they know is they were told the BBEG was here, and they didn't find him. Oh, well...

    In "fail forward" the PCs fail to find the secret door. Oops! So, shortly, a minion comes up from the area of the dungeon they have cleared, that should be empty. If they are smart enough to not kill the minion outright, the minion may be a source of information on where the BBEG is. The PCs still have a chance to find the enemy, even though they failed the basic way. Perhaps this will be a bit harder, or more complicated, as their guide is untrustworthy, or perhaps not.

    In "succeed, but at cost," you find the door alright - just as the hairy troll steps out through it! In order to use that door, roll for initiative!

    We might say that, "Succeed, but at cost" is one way to get a fail forward, but it is not the only way.
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    I think part of good "failing forward" is picking out what mustn't be failed at. To take the original example, must the lock picking succeed, or must the party just get past that door? If it's the former then maybe some deus ex machina might be required, but if it's the latter then maybe the door has a mishap ("you were only supposed to blow the bloody door off!"...)

    Given suitable "goal selection", though, I'm a fan.

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by Morrus View Post
    I was curious how folks felt about this concept? I'm a fan.

    Essentially, it's a mechanic, fairly common these days, which ensures that the game doesn't grind to a halt on a failed skill check. Instead of the task at hand failing and stopping the game, the task is successful but with an attached disadvantage.

    So, if the way into a dungeon is to pick the lock, and failing to do so would mean the party could not continue, the lock gets picked but a trap is set off. Or something. That was a terrible example; don't use it as a basis for judging the concept!

    Some people love this; some games adopt it whole-heartedly. Other people dislike it, saying that the players should just think their way around to another solution and that the GM should be able to handle that. I'm in the former group; I think it's very useful, and use it for travel in my own RPG design.

    So what do you think?
    I'm not a fan of it. But I also think games don't have to grind to a halt simply because of a failed skill roll. Life moves on, so the game can move on too. I get why some people like it, and if fail forward works for you, I say go for it. It is just something that always rubbed me the wrong way as a player.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mercule View Post
    I absolutely despise playing where death or some equivalent (forced retirement, gone crazy, whatever) is impossible. I just find success to be unfulfilling when it's guaranteed.
    Well, "fail forward" is not usually applied to combat and character death. It is more usually applied to tasks or events the PCs have to get through to move onward in the adventure.

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