Best Handlings of Failure in CoG/HG

Bit of a preamble, but I have a fairly substantial fear of failure to the point that if I fail a choice or make a mistake in a Choice of/Hosted Games text, my initial instinct is to skip past its consequences or restart the game depending on the severity of said failure. With my own Choicescript idea cooking in my head, though, I know I’m going to have to confront this fear eventually so I can write effective, satisfying fail scenes for readers. This got me thinking, what are some CoGs or HGs you folks think handled failure the best?

For context, I’m talking about failure derived from a reader’s choices rather than scripted failure demanded by the plot. These could be small or big, value-based or purely choice-driven. For example, one of the most common demonstrations of failure I see comes from a selection of options that align to the MC’s skills or traits, and if you select a choice where the associated value isn’t high enough, you fail that action. The consequences can end up imposing penalties, blocking a path, or–in worst cases–result in the MC’s death or a “bad ending.”

Further Musings on Failure

The possibility of failure is scary, but as in many stories, failure could also drive the story to interesting places. So how can Choicescript writers make failure satisfying enough for reader’s to not be me and restart the game whenever they make an oopsie?

The aforementioned skill-based decisions, for example, have their pros and cons. On one hand, having an array of options that let my MC interact with the story in a way that makes sense for them is great. On the other hand, it can potentially reduce the game to “match choice with high skill,” and can be frustrating if a story arc is paused or even ended because “number too low” or I misunderstood what skill was aligned with a certain choice. This is less irritating if you’re given a limited number of options and your MC is not good enough for any of them and is simply outclassed. If that ends up stopping a story arc I’m really enjoying, however, that can be annoying.

“Bad endings” can also go both ways. If they’re the result of compounding decisions made throughout the story, then I deserve whatever fate worse than death is coming. Having it dependent on a single decision at the very end of the game that ignores whatever came before, however, can be especially frustrating, especially if it boils down to “number too low.” That said, it can also be frustrating if they result from previous decisions, but it’s unclear what those decisions are.

One game that had an interesting take on failure in my opinion was Cliffhanger: Challenger of Tomorrow, where in the spirit of pulp fiction, the story and action continued even if you failed from time to time. Sure, you might have missed out on a piece of info or got captured, but there would always be a chance to correct that mistake or move on shortly afterward. I liked this when I first read the story as it kept the momentum of the story going, although I can also see others being frustrated if they see their failures don’t matter so much.

All this comes from a person who currently reels away from failure like a vampire fleeing the sun, so take these thoughts with a grain of salt. :wink:

What do y’all think?


Have you read CoG’s writer’s guidelines? There’s some good stuff in there on failure.

Just bookmarked it. Thanks!

I’d say the original Heroes Rise trilogy is my favorite bunch of games to fail at due to how utterly hilarious the resulting playthrough is. There is nothing like having the game inform you that “everyone who heard your story hates you” before handing you an achievement for being an absolute failure and then wiping out all life on the planet if you were particularly terrible… then letting you try again, because the actual story still needs to happen for Sergi’s canon to stay intact. But I guess you wanted a more serious answer than this, in which case…

I guess the Infinity Saga is good at conveying failure if you’re into actually failing. These games (especially Sabres) have no qualms about making your death a harsh, undignified, miserable experience that you may very well go through despite having tried your best. Even though there is a checkpoint system in place, it never feels like the game’s going “you screwed up, try again” since the narrator is wholly invested in describing your bitter end like a definitive ending.

I think that’s a good approach to have, even if you’re writing a more “carefree” game where defeat doesn’t matter as much. Just have the player go with the flow and make failure a part of the narrative rather than something which takes away from the story and punishes the player and their enjoyment rather than just the character. Otherwise, you end up with readers who treat their mistakes as something that must be fixed for them to keep enjoying the story and come to this forum raging about how we need a “return” button at this instant. Which is not a sight I’m particularly fond of, and so I always try to make player failure in my projects organic, just in case I end up actually releasing something that is.


If you don’t want your failures to have too serious(in a negative way) consequences, but still make a difference and, above all, be fun, I think the way Jolly Good-Cakes and ale does this very well. If you fail, you’d get really funny descriptions because of this and the failures will also make a difference for the end state of your MC, such as what sponsor your club will get and whether the MC gets elected as the new leader of the club or not Tally Ho also had similar funny failures and also had those failures having an effect on what endings your MCs could get, but also included a few bad endings for your MC, which, though still(at least for most of them) described in at least kind of humorous ways, may feel a bit harsh to some readers. I personally felt that Jolly Good-Cakes and ale was better served with a somewhat softer approach, than Tally HO was with its harsher approach but YMMV here.


I’d second Tally Ho and Jolly Good. Kreg Segall puts a huge amount of thought and effort into making the failures satisfying. Especially if your game has comedic elements, he’d be a great example to follow.


As both reader/player and writer I can say this:
People may accept your idea of faillure but no one will ever accept to be mocked, lectured or taken for an idiot.


Fail states can be punishing, but above all they must still be interesting to read. The person took the time to get there. Making that failure interesting is a salve that will not only honor their time spent but also likely help mollify low rating scores that can result from folks getting hit with a premature end state or suboptimal run.


I like the idea of failure in the Infinity Saga, with failure not always meaning death but the execution was… exhausting. Like, I know you might want to for roleplaying purposes, but just playing through normally, it feels like each failure snowballs and even if you can continue, you might not want to since it feels like early mistakes can ruin your chances later on.

The most obvious example is failing to meet certain checks or getting certain results and missing out on prize money. You can kind of struggle on, just feeling a bit poorer, but it prevents you from investing in Garring’s guns and, in Lords, makes managing debt all the harder (although impossible).

Idk, its an interesting idea, but I didn’t really enjoy it when failure made everything going forward harder, so one failure almost always became two, three, etc until it was either unfun to play or you met an actual death. I guess it feels worse in this series because its so stat check heavy.


For me the key is that the PLAYER should generally not be punished for choices they make. When their character fails at something, it should ideally be written in a way that punishes the character, but rewards the player with some interesting text that is funny, gives them insight into the characters, or gives them a hint about what went wrong in case they want to try again.

I’d second Jolly Good as a great example of the former. One of my favorite scenes in the whole game is a sequence where you are explaining to a club member how you got a bunch of money. If you fail the chapter really hard, this framing story winds up being a wind-up to admitting that you got the money by stealing from that member, which is much funnier than any of the successful options. Jolly Good is one of the few games where I wpuld whole-heartedly recomend doing a playthrough specifically as a lovable idiot.


Tally Ho and Cakes and Ale are delightful to me in the way they open up totally different scenes if you fail (and the comedic tone makes it very funny either way). On the less comedic end of the spectrum, I’m not super familiar with its ins and outs but I know in Fallen Hero failure opens up different scenes and nuances.

In Heart of Battle, a lot of the failures don’t necessarily mean you fail to do a thing altogether - often you get injuries, which get noted on your character page and by other characters, or you succeed with a caveat, which is more fun than “it’s failed, you just didn’t manage to do it, everyone hates you now”.


Yes, I dare to say that FH is, so far, a good example on how handle the “success/failure spectrum”. Malyn found a way to write different results that have different consequences on the story without make the reader feel punished or throwing them a bone with an interesting twist to the plot, like changing the characters behavior in response to certain events. Sidenote: after playing it, I can assure you that the perfect results are boring, if you want to see the most interesting subplot you must do “not quite right/perfect” on purpose.
The downside of that approach is… good luck finding them out without a guide.


Not just subplots some of the more interesting endings for book 2 also comes from screwing up not in stats but in story choices made. Even better what is coming in book 3 from those endings are even more interesting


For “failures without creating branches” I’ll say I like Creme de la Creme and Royal Affairs handles it. Like, whenever your character fails, you kinda cringe a little, but it doesn’t feel terrible. Its a situation where success feels amazing, but failure is the lack of good feels, rather than bad feels.

The school competitions are a good example of it. Its decently easy to win, but its also decently easy to pick a competition that doesn’t quite suit your stats and you lose. If you lose, however, it feels pretty ok? Like you choose how to accept your loss, and accept the loss graciously, and it still feels good in a sort of “even though we lost, everyone still tried their best!” kind of way.

I think the low stakes setting kind of helps make it not feel out of place. Even if its a school for the elite where “ooooh this will decide your future”, the idea that its a school makes the loss feel more acceptable. You’d still prefer to succeed but it doesn’t feel like the end of the world if you don’t.


Aw, thanks - I really appreciate that!

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I’m pleased that you enjoyed the way failure was handled in Cliffhanger. One of my goals in that game was to make failure feel as fun, dramatic and rewarding in its own way as success. Here’s the relevant section from my original pitch:

Note: On Failure

One of Cliffhanger’s goals will be to make failure, when it comes to stat checks, as interesting as success. This is, after all, very much in keeping with the dramatic twists and turns and thrilling reversals of fortune found in the source material. Sometimes failure will raise the stakes on an already tense situation (an attempt at quiet infiltration turns into a gun-battle), or open up more story (the PC gets captured and enslaved and must mastermind a slave revolt). Failures of this kind will sometimes even hold rewards of their own (perhaps the PC befriends one of their fellow slaves and makes a staunch ally for life). In any case, failure (and success!) will never dead-end the plot but rather accelerate it.


My position in Fallen Hero is: Failure is where the fun starts!


Other titles worth mentioning for inspiration on handling failure are: Tin Star, the Zombie Exodus: Safe Haven series and the Daria series.

While writing, the challenge for me is to make every choice’s outcome matter. The consequences of a stat-check, no matter its outcome, should be engaging and hook the reader into the narrative that follows.

With that said, readers that game also, are conditioned by their game experiences to “save scum” if they do not get the outcome they desire.

CoG for a very long time, combatted this by not having saves of any nature. Hosted Games, such as Tin Star used “check-point” systems to alleviate this “need” but they too had no real way to address the fear of failure that some readers will have.

So, with the acknowledgement that failure will be a game-breaker for some, regardless of what I do, after inserting the check-point save system, I place the emphasis on making each choice as engaging as I can to encourage the reader to continue with the narrative.


Choice of Rebels 1 has my favourite failures by a long shot. I failed all the time and ultimately my MC died and I loved every second of it.

I think it all depends on the tone - if you’re writing a wish fulfilment heroic fantasy for example I’d keep the failures mild and with a promise of getting back; if you’re writing a grimdark piece, the reader probably expects getting emotionally obliterated, so leaning into the failure strongly is fine. If you’re writing a romance or a comedy the failure is not really a failure but an opportunity for some humour or an adorably awkward scene.


I appreciate all the responses here! Lots to think about! Reading through all these helped me remember that any writing strategy largely depends on the story you’re trying to tell, failure included. @Rettahdamm raises a good point about tone/genre influencing the stakes.

I guess that’s partly why I liked Creme de la Creme and Royal Affairs. Sure, there are crucial points where the stakes are higher, but most of the time (as @dreamofeden said) I felt comfortable failing every now and then because it made sense for my MC. Not to mention the school setting, its various activities, and the machinations around it all and such meant there was no one way to “succeed.” Sure, I’m playing an impulsive noble who doesn’t bother to pay attention in class, but there are plenty of choices and endings that don’t rely on straight A’s.

And I know I already voiced by appreciation of Cliffhanger’s approach to failure, but damn I like the bit in @wbrown’s pitch about raising stakes or opening more story branches. Pardon the weird response but it just tickles my brain! :stuck_out_tongue: