Choose Failure

I’m not sure if I’ll end up coding this into a quick game or just keep it as a thought exercise.

I was wondering if rather than including stats and stat tests, it would be possible to provide a player the option to choose failure, as well as success.

I was thinking would it make an interesting, better story to do so, or would it destroy immersion.

Let’s take a typical fantasy story. You’re the nameless hero. There is an evil dark wizard who is a problem.

Now, you can just take the boring path of being the noble Chosen One, gifted with the best gear from the gods, blessed with the skills and talents of a hero. You’re immortal, invulnerable, no challenge is too big for you. The evil wizard attacks your family and you defeat him, driving him back to his castle. You wage a one man war, fighting your way past his armies, easily avoiding his traps, needing help from no one. You break into the castle, and stab the wizard, killing him. All with absolutely no problem at all. That’s the straight way through. The easy way.

It’s not the most interesting story though.

The interesting story comes when you choose to be born the peasant. Are you the chosen one? Maybe, or maybe not? Did the gods bless you or are they a problem in your life? Maybe one of them has a grudge against you and makes things difficult, or maybe it’s just annoying having them telling you what to do. How do you acquire your gear? How do you improve your skills? The dark wizard has kidnapped your dog, and you failed to protect your family from his wrath. Now, you’ve lost something and you’re out for revenge against him. Now, you could choose to fight your way through. Or you could choose those failure options, being aware that failure doesn’t mean death or the end to the story. Failure just means a different path.

Hmm. Anyway I’m thinking about it. Of course the clearest thought exercise would be a game when choosing the success option would immediately take you to the ending, whereas choosing to fail over and over again would provide an interesting story, although perhaps not the most compelling of protagonists and there would need to be balancing complete failure with some degree of success otherwise it ends up with a protagonist who’s just wading through with sheer luck and who’s not in control.

I wouldn’t call that choosing failure though. Its choosing a background/origin. But I do understand failure shouldn’t always end the game.

Well… Now I’m somewhat confused as to what you mean by “failure”, since any option which says “Click here to win” or “Click here to lose” is a pretty poor choice. But if “Failure just means a different path”, then how does it constitute a failure by any objective criterion?

Well it depends on how it’s done. If it was part of the gameplay it’s not actually a background/origin choice.

The evil wizard attacks your home.

Do you:

  1. Attack him, successfully driving him off.
  2. Attack him, failing to drive him off.

Normally that would be handled with stats. If you have a high attack skill you can successfully drive him off. If you have a low attack skill you’ll fail. But, if you offer that choice to the players to make instead of having it rely on their stats? Let them choose?

Failure is when you do not succeed at an action. Where you attempt to do something and it does not work.

Usually, in games, failure is because you do not have enough skill as a player to accomplish a task. (Such as not being fast enough to shoot the bad guy before he shoots and kills you). Or not having enough skill as a character, such as failing that check to see if your shooting skill is high enough.

Frequently, but not always, failure is punished, it puts you back to the start of the game, or the level.

But, we’re writing story-based games here and failure is as much a part of stories as successes are. But just now, we tend to rely upon stats to decide upon whether an action succeeds or fails (or is even available).

Well, it would certainly be an atypical game where the success or failure of an act isn’t determined by unseen machinations, but I think the only reason someone would deign to fail would be in expectation of compensation. Normally, this would be due to some principled qualm: Standing down from the pursuit of a certain goal to protect one’s honour, or sacrificing one’s ambitions for the sake of another. But failure to advance the story? That would be interesting. It would certainly make it more of a story than a game, however.

@ FairyGodfeather

So basically you mean a choice like this without the need for stats (I’m wording it differently for pure text purposes)

Wizard attacks your home.

  1. Attack the wizard with your sword (Will lead to failure)
  2. Hide then sneak attack the wizard when he isn’t looking (Will lead to success)

Yes, this can be done very easy. You obviously just don’t say which one is going to lead to failure or success.

Choice one, while it ends with your house getting destroyed and the wizard beating the chicken soup out of you, it doesn’t have to end in death. You can make it so the wizard is very arrogant and keeps you alive, but curses you.

Then this branch will lead to you having to seek out to destroy the wizard in order to break the curse which will obviously play a part in the entire story branch.

Choice two, while leading to success, it doesn’t result in the wizard’s death. Perhaps you just wound him enough that he manages to escape and vow revenge. Not wishing to sit around for him to show up one day and pop you with a fireball, you seek out to destroy him.

This will play out very different mainly because your character wasn’t saddled with a curse, but perhaps the wizard will have a few more minions around his castle/tower whatever when you arrive because he was actively building up to get his revenge (as opposed to the cursed branch where he’d probably forgotten about you, having moved on to other evil plans.)

I think I hear you, but imma try to summarize it in my own words, to see if im on the money.

I feel what you mean in almost all games your always this ‘choosen’ person who has some secret talent or gift that puts you above others, and your predisposed to usually always come out ontop but what happens when your not this ‘special’ person that is gifted what happens when your just normal average person who is mortal and frail and not always in control of fate and you go up against something or a group and the odds are against you, and your more likely to be handed an unwanted outcome which would be deemed under a failed attempt?

“It’s not the most interesting story though.”

I can see why, to be frank.

So this will be a game where the player is guaranteed a victory, but is given a shorter story if they choose the more successful option? Isn’t this just the reverse of what we now have? Except you replaced premature death with premature victory. It’s certainly a neat idea. I wonder if such control over their character’s success and failure would take away from some of the suspense and fun in the story though.


Actually no. What I mean is

  1. Attack the wizard and succeeding. - This leads to you winning. You cause him to retreat. You lose nothing. Your house, your family, your village, all of it fine. You’re a hero in name.

  2. Attack the wizard and failing. - This leads to your family being killed, your dog being kidnapped, your house being burned down, take your pick.

Of course with just 2 options success/failure it’s a very basic game, with no option to hide, or to talk to the wizard, or to sneak attack, or to cause a distraction while your family and dog escape.

@2Ton Yes. Well it is fun to be the chosen one.

@hahaha01357 Yes, precisely. I’m wondering too if it would remove some suspense. I don’t know if it would or wouldn’t.

Yah, but I like the idea of doing new because everyone does the whole ‘chosen’ thing. I have too… actually I think all my stories are like that…

In the game I’m working on, which is all about leading a rebellion against an evil empire (sorry, Drazen), you start out by choosing your strength and weakness from a list of combat, intellect, charisma.

Shortly afterward, you find yourself at one of the evil empire’s regular blood harvesting events, where it looks likely that a friend/lover of yours is likely to end up on the menu. You have the choice of trying to get the oppressed helots to rise up against the blood mage, using strategies that major on combat, intellect, or charisma… and you have the choice of backing away.

There’s no reason to choose to play to your weakness here, and backing away would require a serious commitment to role-playing a MC who’s realistically nervous and not ready to get all heroic. The player knows the game is about the rebellion, and it’s pretty clear that this is where it all gets started. Deciding that you’re going to chicken out or fail is not a choice I’ve seen anyone playtest yet, because it does look pretty obviously like “click here to lose.”

But if you do – and accordingly find yourself temporarily in a dungeon, rather than leading a band of rebels out of your village – there are pros and cons. You’ll start the next chapter with fewer followers and less reputation, but you’ll have made at least one powerful friend who will return usefully in Ch 5. And you’ll have more data for the interesting question of whether that friend/lover of yours is actually a traitor, because you (the player) will now know how they respond when it looks like you’re going to die, or when it looks like they’re going to die.

Sound like an interesting choice of failure?

@ Fairygodfeather

Okay so instead of failure leading to instant death, you have success leads to instant win and the end of the story.

Whereas failure leads to the continuation of the story and the hilarious continuation of the hapless protagonist’s further possible failures. I can imagine at some point with enough failures the protagonist is dragging himself to kill the wizard on crutches, disfigurement, and a semi-loss of their sanity.

I still say you don’t advertise which choice is going to lead to success or failure though. Even with a simple two choice story, you have to at least give the impression that both choices will lead in the successful direction (or in this case the failure direction)

Hell, I say don’t even make success a certainty, maybe at some point the protagonist’s failures are so numerous that they really can’t win no matter what they do, at best they can give up and move on with their lives elsewhere OR if they do persist it WILL lead to a failure that ultimately results in death (or perhaps at least a pyrrhic victory where you die in the final battle).

Of course that’s just me and I have sadistic streak. Ha ha.

@Havenstone Oh! Really? I think it’s because we don’t tend to trust options to fail, not when we can be the hero instead. That’s an interesting example. Actually that’s a fantastic example.

@Endmaster Well! If it was a comedy game you could end up like Monty Python’s Black Knight.

I was more thinking, Spiderman chose to let a robber go, and so Uncle Ben was killed, and so he found within himself the ability to become a hero.

Failure’s generally a part of the hero’s journey. Few heroes start out with success, most of them are driven by something, somewhere they failed in their past. Bruce Wayne couldn’t save his parents.

There’s almost always a failure that then drives them on to success. If you meet the villain in the first chapter, the hero is almost always going to lose to them, it provides a more interesting story, one of growth, than if they already know they can defeat the villain.

Note to self: Experiment!

I think I may create two versions of the super-short project I’m working on.

One with stats where they determine whether you succeed or fail. Then one which just gives you the choice to succeed or fail. My main issue is the failure choices tend to lead to far more fun results than the successes.

Hmm actually I may push myself, see if I can get a tiny snippet of the scene and put it up in all three forms. One is random results, one is stat dependent, one is choose your own result.