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Author Topic: Random failure.  (Read 391 times)

Ratman_tf

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Random failure.
« on: May 03, 2021, 08:28:43 PM »
I like to think that my scenarios are challenging but fair. The player characters can figure a way through, and I definitley don't begrude them their victories.

But sometimes I think things get a little too easy, and I wonder about random failure. Not TPK silliness, but say, for a hypothetical example, the characters best efforts still only puts them at a 50% chance of success. The map was a fake, the guards randomly decide to check the closet they're hiding in, whatever.

What think you? This really bugs my "player agency" part of my thinking, but then sometimes you just don't get a fair shake no matter what you do.
The notion of an exclusionary and hostile RPG community is a fever dream of zealots who view all social dynamics through a narrow keyhole of structural oppression.
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Charon's Little Helper

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Re: Random failure.
« Reply #1 on: May 03, 2021, 09:15:09 PM »
I think that it largely depends upon how it's set up.

If the session(s) were, "If you accomplish A, B will happen" then if B fails to happen it feels like the GM pulled a switcheroo - which is mostly just frustrating.

But if a character gives an opinion that "If you do A and B, then C may happen" then it's not so annoying if C doesn't happen - especially if you explain that you're rolling for it. You could even have the objective be based on some kind of skill/attribute check that the players make - such as convincing the king to move the army - just make the difficulty high enough that it's impossible without some big bonuses by doing A/B first.

An even better solution (albeit requires more work) is that there are 3-5 objectives to get the goal done, and it's practically/entirely impossible to accomplish them all - either due to time constraints or due to being mutually exclusive etc. If they could theoretically accomplish every objective then the goal WILL happen, but in the more likely event that they accomplish some of them, they get a chance based upon each objective's % added up (all combined equaling 100%).

This last might not work if you have players who have that completionism vibe - as they will get very frustrated that they can't do all the things.


I've done things in the vein of the 2nd before when the job-giver isn't a great person and doesn't give the players all of the details. They ask them to do X, but they REALLY want them to do shady thing Y - which they assumed would happen along with X. If the PCs avoid doing Y, then the job-giver doesn't want to cough up the $ until they go back and do Y, but I've had the players intimidate/convince him to give them the $ without doing Y - or giving more $ for going back and doing Y (either if it's not super shady or the PCs are fine with shady jobs). This doesn't work as well in a high-fantasy heroic quest-giving, but does work for heists and settings with more shades of gray etc.
« Last Edit: May 03, 2021, 09:19:59 PM by Charon's Little Helper »

Steven Mitchell

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Re: Random failure.
« Reply #2 on: May 03, 2021, 09:47:04 PM »
An even better solution (albeit requires more work) is that there are 3-5 objectives to get the goal done, and it's practically/entirely impossible to accomplish them all - either due to time constraints or due to being mutually exclusive etc. If they could theoretically accomplish every objective then the goal WILL happen, but in the more likely event that they accomplish some of them, they get a chance based upon each objective's % added up (all combined equaling 100%).

This last might not work if you have players who have that completionism vibe - as they will get very frustrated that they can't do all the things.

This is what I routinely do.  It does frustrate players a little until they get used to it.  It helped that when we started doing it that way, it was part of the initial discussion for the campaign. 

It is a good idea in this setup to have an easy win in the mix.  It's hard to completely fail--short of getting killed and maybe not even then depending on the order.  It's more likely that players paying attention and/or lucky ones get better than 50% success--sometimes considerably better--while missing things and having an unlucky streak can leave them scrounging for even a little more success than the easy stuff.  Every now and then the players get inspired and get incredibly lucky and almost pull off a complete victory.  And the stuff that is incomplete is maybe something they can handle later on another adventure, if so inclined.

It's not always a lot of work to do this, either.  It's even a natural effect of some adventures, right?  If you dive into the dungeon, rescue the princess, scatter the goblins, but need to flee the ogre, that's leaving something undone.  I guess there are some situations that it would feel kind of contrived, but I either don't run those or run them in tandem with an unrelated situation.

I think it might be a little bit "bait and switch" to put a random chance of failure right at the end.  Sure, something makes it so hard that the players decided to bail when victory was almost in their grasp, that's fine.  At least it is a decision.

FingerRod

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Re: Random failure.
« Reply #3 on: May 03, 2021, 09:52:42 PM »
If I am a player at the table and you are asking me to roll, I sincerely hope there is a chance of random failure. Fake maps and being found while trying to hide is part of what I signed up for.

Could you elaborate a little on the player agency part? I would think random failure also comes with random success, but I am curious to hear more.


Ratman_tf

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Re: Random failure.
« Reply #4 on: May 03, 2021, 10:17:47 PM »
An even better solution (albeit requires more work) is that there are 3-5 objectives to get the goal done, and it's practically/entirely impossible to accomplish them all - either due to time constraints or due to being mutually exclusive etc. If they could theoretically accomplish every objective then the goal WILL happen, but in the more likely event that they accomplish some of them, they get a chance based upon each objective's % added up (all combined equaling 100%).

This last might not work if you have players who have that completionism vibe - as they will get very frustrated that they can't do all the things.

Yeah, that's the kind of thing I was thinking of. It kinda sucks to get to, say, 80% and then leave success and failure up to a dice roll.

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Ratman_tf

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Re: Random failure.
« Reply #5 on: May 03, 2021, 10:23:17 PM »
If I am a player at the table and you are asking me to roll, I sincerely hope there is a chance of random failure. Fake maps and being found while trying to hide is part of what I signed up for.

Could you elaborate a little on the player agency part? I would think random failure also comes with random success, but I am curious to hear more.

The idea is, if the players do well, accomplish the tasks, beat the enemies, what ever that the goal is accomplished. Charon's Little Helper gave a great example in that accomplishing X tasks might still only result in Y percent chance of failure. Say the bad guys are summoning a demon. Instead of pass/fail, it's a dice to see if the summoning is successful, and the characters can increase or decrease the odds by accomplishing whatever, knocking over braziers, peeing on runes, etc. But it still comes down to a random dice roll.
What I'm saying is, say you knock over all the braziers, and pee on all the runes, but that still only gets the odds of disrupting the summoning up to, say, 80%. Roll over an 80, and the PCs fail despite doing everything they could.
« Last Edit: May 03, 2021, 10:26:46 PM by Ratman_tf »
The notion of an exclusionary and hostile RPG community is a fever dream of zealots who view all social dynamics through a narrow keyhole of structural oppression.
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Charon's Little Helper

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Re: Random failure.
« Reply #6 on: May 03, 2021, 10:28:29 PM »
What I'm saying is, say you knock over all the braziers, and pee on all the runes, but that still only gets the odds of disrupting the summoning down to, say, 80%. Roll over an 80, and the PCs fail despite doing everything they could.

You could go with partial successes. Maybe there was a total of 150% of the demon summoning working in the first place - with the top 100% being summoning a big demon, and 50% summoning a lesser (but still scary) demon.

So even if you drop that by 115% - there's still a 35% chance of a demon summoning going off - but only of the lesser variety.

FingerRod

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Re: Random failure.
« Reply #7 on: May 03, 2021, 11:07:58 PM »
If I am a player at the table and you are asking me to roll, I sincerely hope there is a chance of random failure. Fake maps and being found while trying to hide is part of what I signed up for.

Could you elaborate a little on the player agency part? I would think random failure also comes with random success, but I am curious to hear more.

The idea is, if the players do well, accomplish the tasks, beat the enemies, what ever that the goal is accomplished. Charon's Little Helper gave a great example in that accomplishing X tasks might still only result in Y percent chance of failure. Say the bad guys are summoning a demon. Instead of pass/fail, it's a dice to see if the summoning is successful, and the characters can increase or decrease the odds by accomplishing whatever, knocking over braziers, peeing on runes, etc. But it still comes down to a random dice roll.
What I'm saying is, say you knock over all the braziers, and pee on all the runes, but that still only gets the odds of disrupting the summoning up to, say, 80%. Roll over an 80, and the PCs fail despite doing everything they could.

Perfect explanation, thank you. I would be disappointed for sure, but also appreciate that you are building a better game. It would make the next time we knocked crap over, peed on some things, etc. but was successful, that much better.


SHARK

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Re: Random failure.
« Reply #8 on: May 04, 2021, 12:45:36 AM »
Greetings!

I'm always inspired by real-life heroes and events, and I am amazed by how some groups or units somehow *created* a kind of success or victory, even in the face of everything going wrong. Sometimes, just escaping alive is *plenty* of a victory. At other times, being defeated in area "A" causes the group to retreat or wander off the beaten path, where they discover maps or plans or something that doesn't directly help them to win in the struggle NOW--but serves a crucial role in helping them achieve victory in the next battle, in the next dungeon, or what have you. I like that kind of tension and multiple dynamics.

Being a ruthless but sometimes fair-minded DM helps to create a kind of environment where the Player characters learn that they cannot always expect to gain the victory--sometimes, they just have to accept getting hammered, and escaping with their lives. Such dynamics also contribute to making victories extra-sweet for the Players.

Semper Fidelis,

SHARK
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Kyle Aaron

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Re: Random failure.
« Reply #9 on: May 04, 2021, 12:50:48 AM »
say, for a hypothetical example, the characters best efforts still only puts them at a 50% chance of success.
Then their efforts are not their best, and they need to be better.

Quote
What think you? This really bugs my "player agency" part of my thinking, but then sometimes you just don't get a fair shake no matter what you do.
The dice are always right.

In the words of the great Dungeon Master Ivan Drago, "if he fails, he fails."

S'mon

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Re: Random failure.
« Reply #10 on: May 04, 2021, 01:49:02 AM »
That's what dice are for.
I like sandbox games where PCs can pick their battles, so they can influence the chance of success both by their tactics, and by what they chose to take on.

Omega

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Re: Random failure.
« Reply #11 on: May 04, 2021, 03:20:50 AM »
What think you? This really bugs my "player agency" part of my thinking, but then sometimes you just don't get a fair shake no matter what you do.

Player agency is taking an action and then seeing what happens success or fail. The players decide to hide in the closet. Theres now a chance someone finds them. How is that not player agency?

Opaopajr

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Re: Random failure.
« Reply #12 on: May 05, 2021, 05:45:12 AM »
Yeah, the random chance expressions help give an idea on how to mitigate this issue:
Pass/Fail (the % is a one-time shot)
Degree of Success/Fail (bolean expression: yes, yes and, yes but; no, no and, no but)
Contested (two parties vie for best)
Cumulative (any of the above over time)

If you want to show how player character efforts add to their efforts you use the above to explain the complexity you desire:
Pass/Fail (simply add % to their chance of success. however even 99% has potential for total failure)
Degree of Success/Fail (bolean expression mitigates total failure, and if you wish total victory too)
Contested (degree of success of success/fail in pass/fail is revealed, like revealed of blackjack results)
Cumulative (adds tension to in-game the struggle showing gradual progression)

Basically Pass/Fail is for simplicity, Degree of Success is for mitigation of results, Contested is for revealed odds & opposing results, and Cumulative is for extended tension during progression.

As a GM any result provides an answer, the question is what emotive benefits you want to convey to your table  and how much mechanical processing you want to deal with as host. Some players (as we've seen in this very topic) are perfectly fine with the simplest Pass/Fail and without knowing all the odds. Others, including you as a GM, find it does not provide enough evocative experience.

Given what you've said, I think you may want to try Cumulative Goals (as Charon's Little Helper explained) along with Degree of Success. It would provide the tangible progress and tension during the experience along with mitigation of the results thereafter. :)
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HappyDaze

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Re: Random failure.
« Reply #13 on: May 05, 2021, 06:34:07 AM »
Does this include times where the outcome of battle is dicey? I've had games where the final fight scene is--with best preparation--perhaps 70/30 in the PCs' favor. If the (random) dice go cold for them, they'll lose despite their best efforts. I expect this is fairly common, but I don't think it's as difficult for most gamers to accept since losing in combat usually requires several rolls to go bad rather than just one.

Reckall

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Re: Random failure.
« Reply #14 on: May 05, 2021, 07:55:56 AM »
If your characters know that if they do A and B they will get C, then C can be the revelation that they are in very deep trouble (this, BTW, is the archetypal CoC adventure).

So, the more they breezed through A and B, the more they conserved resources (spells, potions, ammo, sanity...) to deal with C.

Then there is what I call "a narrative trope". The best example is when I, willingly, as the DM, throw everything at them, forcing them to never act but always react, with growing desperation (watch the last third of "Aliens" for an example). If done well, this will leave the players exhausted, maybe in a dire general condition, but happy - because the whole point was to survive.

(As a general rule, while DMing I hate the "Intro, progress, time for a battle, progress, time for a battle, more progress and so on" structure. That's for videogames, not for a game where a, hopefully, intelligent mind can weave an interesting plot structure. Battles, IMHO, should almost always be set-pieces tied to narrative plot points, and their nature should represent the meaning of that plot point - with the random wandering monster encounter sometimes thrown in for flavour).
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