How to handle a fail state

I have a bit of a conundrum on the gamebook I’m currently working on. And that is how to handle player failure in scenes.

My intention is to give the player a few meter-based stats, as well as a list skills that will slowly grow over the course of the story as their character’s get stronger.

These skills and stats are generally used during a section of the game I’ve described in my notes as the ‘Adventure’ phase. This involves the PC taking on a paid contract to go do some adventuring stuff on behalf of a client. Because these adventures involve the player making choices, balancing limited resources, and is dependent on their skills and stats, it may be possible for the player to fail one of these adventures.

I have a couple of ideas of how something like this could be handled.

Option one: the player cannot fail contracts, but they can fail bonus objectives that have their own payoffs. An example of this would be the player needing to clear a farmer’s field of some sort of pest-like monster. Just scaring the monsters away would be enough to finish the contract. But… the player would receive a bonus if they could actually manage to kill the monsters outright, rather than just send them packing.

I feel this has certain advantages. The player would get some money (which you’ll need to acquire certain things between Adventures) no matter what the outcome for completing the contract. The story would continue where their failure left them off. And the situation puts the stakes in a very positive light. You’re not risking failure during an Adventure per-say, but rather struggling to get the cherry on top.

I am worried that this method would reduce dramatic stakes in a way. Players would eventually catch-on to the fact that they literally can’t outright fail no matter what they do or what choices or builds they get.

The second option is a checkpoint system. If you fail a contract… no problem. You just start over from the beginning. This keeps dramatic stakes of a sort, since your player can actually die, or suffer a story ending loss of some sort. At the same time though… you basically get a reset button if you screw up, which kind of undermines those stakes if the player dies too many times and starts to internalize the lack of consequences.

Obviously, I could just make a total failure possible, where you get nothing. But this kind of throws a monkey-wrench into my planned plot as I’d have to figure out what happens if the player keeps screwing up over-and-over again.

(also I could just… end the story and make the player start over too. But I feel that’s probably a terrible way to handle this sort of game.)

Do any of you have thoughts on this subject? Maybe you’ve seen something different and better?


I would suggest not being able to get a contract unless the player has sufficient skill to complete it.


What if you broaden the scope of the story to create interesting consequences when failure happens? An annoying rival swoops in and gets credit, or an upstart duke’s power grows. Or whatever. You can track a stat that measures these various consequences.


Well, my take on basically every failure is to make them fun. Though in your “adventure”-like phase, it probably going to double the effort just for my take on it since you’ll have to expand the narration.

In case of your farm-monster, not eliminating it will make the monster return to another farm. And if you actually failing it (say, got beaten by the monster), the next “adventure” you took may have someone commenting on you that you’re a pack of dirtbag.


If i notice I can’t fail a mission I will literally stop caring and just skip it. For me a mission has to have a opposition,a opportunities to fail. And consequences in prestige or whatever.
If mission who is supposed be dangerous are just fake and everything the same residual cosmetic differences were is the point of the mission it become pointless. Imagine play Dark souls with a immortal character the game turn pointless.


What I’d go for is that if you fail an adventure you’ve failed the adventure, better luck next time, move on to the next adventure. Refresh starting supplies in some manner to make sure no adventure ever gets flatly unwinnable no matter how badly the previous ones have gone but let stuff carry over so doing well on a prior adventure leaves you with more breathing room on the next adventure.

I recommend a checkpoint system any time you have a condition that’s just losing the game, where the story is left without a satisfying resolution because the main character died. The only deaths that should stand are ones that close out the story, like being defeated in the decisive final battle; that’s a way the story ends.


It’s an interesting idea, but the game has a certain formula it goes through, and taking contracts isn’t optional. Players may wind up in a situation where there aren’t any contracts they can complete when it comes time to pick them up.

Hm. I kind of like that idea. It wouldn’t be an upstart duke, but there is a threat I’m planning to have growing in the background. I could make a stat for it that grows as the story progresses, but also noticeably grows when you fail a contract relevant to it.

It’s an idea I’d have to workshop, but tying your failures primarily to this one stat would give me an interesting way to keep the story from spinning out of control.

I do like the general philispohy beyond this as an idea. I’ll keep it in mind, though as you said yourself, it may be a bit much to implement and still keep the story’s focus sane.

I get what you’re saying here, and its definitely my main concern with making missions impossible to fail. (Though I would argue your character in Dark Souls is in fact immortal, but I get what you mean).

Way ahead of you on that one. My plan is to make it where your characters grow in strength regardless of whether you completed a contract or failed it, specifically to avoid creating an unstable equilibrium that players wouldn’t be able to get out of.

If the story does contain any character deaths, it would definitely be this sort. I’ll probably avoid a checkpoint system in general, and try to find other ways to make it work.


I think the second option would feel the better with me. If a fail is just a fail, i always reset anyway, mainly on games where stats are key, like Choice of Wizard or The Lost Heir, and if i just can’t fail, i feel like i am being handholded. A checkpoint makes that way easier, and still leaves the stakes there. Also, in many of these stat-managing games, i may even choose to accept a fail somewhere so i can succeed elsewhere in the game.

A checkpoint system would be good, as would making paths where the player has opportunities to make up for their failures. I would advise against just letting a failure mean a game over, because those games tend to get frustrating and tedious very quickly, especially if you can only complete the task with a certain build, since this is indirectly punishing the player for their choices.

I don’t like the idea of ‘failure’ in these sorts of games. Most people these days just don’t have the patience (they’ll claim they don’t have the time) to run through the whole thing again and again testing out different routes. Maybe, instead of outright failure, there could be different versions of success. If that’s not practical, you could always give the player some sort of tongue-in-cheek achievement for failing, that’ll lessen the impact a bit and might persuade them to give it another go, to look for more achievements.