Fail Forward


Pathfinder Second Edition General Discussion

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Cyouni wrote:
So...the same as Jason uses for the orc example? If you define success as a proper tracking at normal speed where you're going in the right direction, then "I ended up on the wrong side of the valley" is a failure.

There really isn’t enough information to judge Jason’s orc example. I provided 2 interpretations here. 1 interpretation I think is great adventure writing. The other one I think is awful adventure writing. Which interpretation are you using?

Cyouni wrote:

Or in Mirrored Moon, where "getting your allies to help you" is considered a success, so the chart is basically:

Crit Failure: The encounter runs as-is. The encounter is virtually impossible.
Failure: The group’s allies draw off two of the cultists. It’s an extreme encounter.
Success: Allies remove all mummy retainers and two cultists. This is a severe encounter.
(Add on that Failure or worse also means that there's an additional encounter before that, draining your resources even more.)

It's still doable, but the additional consequences from failing those skill checks might get you killed.

I have no idea what your talking about here. How you keep structuring these scenarios with your crit fail lines actually makes it harder to understand what your saying.


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Here's what I understand Failing Forward to mean:
1) Failing should not stop the action
2) Failures have consequences.

We recontextualize the roll to succeed as "a roll to succeed without consequences" but that doesn't mean that a failure necessarily results in success with consequences, just that it results in some change in the game state that is meaningful to the PCs, but never "nothing."

Essentially there are five basic ways to do this:
1) Make success come at a cost- you get across the river, but you got dragged into some rapids and got scraped on some rocks, take 2d6 damage
2) Charge for success- you climbed the wall, but the rope has fallen to the ground, and you can't retrieve it without climbing back down.
3) Create a story complication - your faux pas has outraged the mayor who wants you out of his city.
4) Create a game complication - you create some cracks in the frozen river that make it harder for anyone else to get across safely, increase the DC for the next person.
5) Raise the stakes so future failures are more fraught with peril - the bureaucrat declines your bribe and calls for a guard.

Only thing you need to do as a GM here is to ensure that failing never means "nothing." Never say "no" as a GM, but "no, but" or "yes, and/but" are all fine. Remember that the "forward" is about advancing the experience for the players, not necessarily the plot.


John Lynch 106 wrote:
Cyouni wrote:
So...the same as Jason uses for the orc example? If you define success as a proper tracking at normal speed where you're going in the right direction, then "I ended up on the wrong side of the valley" is a failure.
There really isn’t enough information to judge Jason’s orc example. I provided 2 interpretations here. 1 interpretation I think is great adventure writing. The other one I think is awful adventure writing. Which interpretation are you using?

In every example shown, it's the first one. The second one is basically the exact opposite of what Jason says, and I really have no idea how you got to that.

The first example is the exact example Jason gives - since the PCs took longer, or went in the wrong direction, there are the listed consequences for failure.
The second example is exactly what he means when he says "then why are you making a check if there's no penalty for failure" in his river example. That's the definition of handwaving them across.

John Lynch 106 wrote:


Cyouni wrote:

Or in Mirrored Moon, where "getting your allies to help you" is considered a success, so the chart is basically:

Crit Failure: The encounter runs as-is. The encounter is virtually impossible.
Failure: The group’s allies draw off two of the cultists. It’s an extreme encounter.
Success: Allies remove all mummy retainers and two cultists. This is a severe encounter.
(Add on that Failure or worse also means that there's an additional encounter before that, draining your resources even more.)

It's still doable, but the additional consequences from failing those skill checks might get you killed.

I have no idea what your talking about here. How you keep structuring these scenarios with your crit fail lines actually makes it harder to understand what your saying.

Ok, so the whole section of Mirrored Moon is an attempt to get allies to join you. It's pretty much established early on that that's the goal.

Now, if you fail to get enough allies, you can still do the assault. It's not going to go "you didn't have enough allies, you're not allowed to go forward". However, it is going to get meaningfully harder - and in the worst case 'virtually impossible - because of that failure, but the plot still proceeds.


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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Okay: I agree that John Lynch's definition of fail forward is bad game design, as does I think everyone else because of how extreme his definition is.

Can we now use this thread to talk about how everyone else's definition of fail forward could be implemented in PF2e in interesting ways?


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PossibleCabbage wrote:

Here's what I understand Failing Forward to mean:

1) Failing should not stop the action
2) Failures have consequences.

We recontextualize the roll to succeed as "a roll to succeed without consequences" but that doesn't mean that a failure necessarily results in success with consequences, just that it results in some change in the game state that is meaningful to the PCs, but never "nothing."

Essentially there are five basic ways to do this:
1) Make success come at a cost- you get across the river, but you got dragged into some rapids and got scraped on some rocks, take 2d6 damage
2) Charge for success- you climbed the wall, but the rope has fallen to the ground, and you can't retrieve it without climbing back down.
3) Create a story complication - your faux pas has outraged the mayor who wants you out of his city.
4) Create a game complication - you create some cracks in the frozen river that make it harder for anyone else to get across safely, increase the DC for the next person.
5) Raise the stakes so future failures are more fraught with peril - the bureaucrat declines your bribe and calls for a guard.

Only thing you need to do as a GM here is to ensure that failing never means "nothing." Never say "no" as a GM, but "no, but" or "yes, and/but" are all fine. Remember that the "forward" is about advancing the experience for the players, not necessarily the plot.

I think I'd amend point 2 to be "Failures have interesting consequences. Otherwise, agreed.


PossibleCabbage wrote:

Here's what I understand Failing Forward to mean:

1) Failing should not stop the action
2) Failures have consequences.

We recontextualize the roll to succeed as "a roll to succeed without consequences" but that doesn't mean that a failure necessarily results in success with consequences, just that it results in some change in the game state that is meaningful to the PCs, but never "nothing."

Essentially there are five basic ways to do this:
1) Make success come at a cost- you get across the river, but you got dragged into some rapids and got scraped on some rocks, take 2d6 damage
2) Charge for success- you climbed the wall, but the rope has fallen to the ground, and you can't retrieve it without climbing back down.
3) Create a story complication - your faux pas has outraged the mayor who wants you out of his city.
4) Create a game complication - you create some cracks in the frozen river that make it harder for anyone else to get across safely, increase the DC for the next person.
5) Raise the stakes so future failures are more fraught with peril - the bureaucrat declines your bribe and calls for a guard.

Only thing you need to do as a GM here is to ensure that failing never means "nothing." Never say "no" as a GM, but "no, but" or "yes, and/but" are all fine.

This has so many buzzwords I don’t know where to start.

If someone rolls a 10 against a DC 15 climb check, they don’t get to still climb over the wall with that roll of 10. They either try again (after suffering the consequences for failing the first check) or they find a different way over the wall. If that’s bad GMing then I’m happy to agree to disagree.


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Cyouni wrote:
] In every example shown, it's the first one.

Then we agree and have nothing further to discuss :)


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Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

Ah, I think I begin to see the disconnect. John, correct me if I am wrong, but you seem to be an absolutionist. That is, you feel the game world should be absolute and static. If the party falls off a cliff and the GM adds a secret tunnel on the fly so that they can get back up, or if the GM originally set the DC of a wall at 30 but decides to lower it to 20 after seeing the first round of rolls and realizing the party can't get near that number, that's "cheating".

In my experience, good GMs try very hard to give the appearance of absolutionism, but absolutionists make very poor GMs. A good friend of mine struggles with this and we've had lots of conversations about it. "Dude, that fight dragged on forever and your players clearly were not having fun. Why didn't you just quietly cut 50hp off the boss?" "Because that's not how much health the boss has!"

At the end of the day, the players having fun is paramount and should take precedence over the consistency of the world.

I can see that being a matter of opinion, but it's an opinion I'm pretty strong on because my whole worldview as a GM is that my number one job is for my players to have fun.


I think this thread demonstrates the problem with using buzzwords. Why dont I just tell you how I GM and you can tell me if I'm a bad GM or not. How does that sound?

DC 30 Cliffs
This perfectly demonstrates the problem with setting level specific DCs. In my games there is no such thing as a DC 30 cliff.

There are rough cliff sides slick with ocean spray (DC 30). But that DC has been set because of the in game realities that define how DCs are set. I cant change that DC no more then a rook can move diagonally in chess.

Which leads to my next point.

The Impassable Cliff
IMO good adventure design never has a single point of failure. If the author messed up and required the PCs overcome an impassable  cliff as the only way to continue, the GM's job is to identify this problem during prep and fix it.

But GMs are only human and sometimes they mess up. Dynamically changing the DC wont work because the GM has already described the cliffs so that DC is set by the in game reality. Now if the players continue a bit further along, perhaps they'll find a cove sheltered from the ocean (reducing the DC by 5) or a beach (removing all need to climb thr cliffs at all). Or perhaps there's a cave with an adventurer who got killed by the poisonous jellyfish in the cave and he has a full climbing kit allowing the PCs to increase their skill check.

Not all of this has to be set out ahead of time. There's nothing wrong with improvising stuff at the table.

Monster HP
As for fudging monster HP. I dont like doing that. But if it becomes clear the PCs cant fail the combat and no meaningful resources are being chewed up, then the GM should definitely narrate the rest of the fight.

Having Fun
As for having fun, that's such a useless benchmark as to have no meaning. What's fun for one group is time wasting for another.

I run games the way I run them. People ask me to GM because they enjoy the way I GM. Not everyone will have fun at my table. That's fine. I likely wouldn't have fun at a table where they do have fun. Not everyone can have fun at all tables. Based on the laughter I regularly get at my table though I must be doing something right.

Out of interest, am I an absolutist?

Silver Crusade

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Pathfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

You might be a poor GM who is just so fun and likeable. I've known at least a few such people, their games were craptastic, but there was so much joking and humour at the table that we've all just played for s%*! and giggles despite the story being weak or the rules being all over the place. Laughter is such a useless benchmark, what's funny for one group might be dead on arrival for another.


Gorbacz wrote:
You might be a poor GM who is just so fun and likeable. I've known at least a few such people, their games were craptastic, but there was so much joking and humour at the table that we've all just played for s$#~ and giggles despite the story being weak or the rules being all over the place. Laughter is such a useless benchmark, what's funny for one group might be dead on arrival for another.

Sure. But you can't ask people for feedback either. Because people (especially gamers) often don't like to be honest in a situation that might create confrontation. So ultimately it's pretty difficult to determine whether or not someone's a good GM.

I've had people I trust to be honest tell me they enjoy my GMing. But maybe my trust was misplaced and they were lying to me the whole time.

I'm not really sure what the point of this line of discussion was.

Liberty's Edge

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So, I'm pretty sure this whole thread is a semantic argument where people are arguing past each other because they're using different definitions. I think failing forward is fine by most definitions of it I've heard, but certainly not by John Lynch 106's.

As such, the core discussion in many ways doesn't seem very productive to me.

For the record, on an interesting side issue, I'm fairly absolutionist by MaxAstro's standards, but I'm pretty sure my players would agree I'm mostly a good GM anyway.

This is because I try very hard to design worlds the PCs will have fun in. I'm pretty good at it and put a slightly too high amount of effort into it a lot, but the end result is that I can do a consistent world where the PCs have fun because the world is designed that way, rather than because I adjust it on the fly (to steal an example, I think through 'what happens if the PCs fall down the cliff?' and have an interesting option in mind, rather than needing to add one later). That's when running games, of course. I've played games with GMs who were clearly coming up with everything on the fly and that was fun, too.

I don't think this is inconsistent with most definitions of failing forward, since most of the good fail forward options are, in fact, logical in-world consequences of screwing up on the action in question. In order for them to not be the equivalent of fudging dice (which I also hate, for the record, though I don't have a problem with other people doing it as long as they make that clear to their players), you have to set it up in advance...but if we're talking about Paizo doing it, it's in the adventure. That's the definition of in advance.


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An "Absolutionist", so that's one clean way of describing people like me in a single word? Hmm, that's not bad. Yes, I'm the type who tries the best when having to slaughter quantum ogres and the other unsatisfactory aspects of "Narrative" style games...

Anyway, it's depressing every time I see battles stirred up on the Internet because of definition problems. Like, alll the time, though...


John Lynch 106 wrote:

The Impassable Cliff

IMO good adventure design never has a single point of failure. If the author messed up and required the PCs overcome an impassable  cliff as the only way to continue, the GM's job is to identify this problem during prep and fix it.

But GMs are only human and sometimes they mess up. Dynamically changing the DC wont work because the GM has already described the cliffs so that DC is set by the in game reality. Now if the players continue a bit further along, perhaps they'll find a cove sheltered from the ocean (reducing the DC by 5) or a beach (removing all need to climb thr cliffs at all). Or perhaps there's a cave with an adventurer who got killed by the poisonous jellyfish in the cave and he has a full climbing kit allowing the PCs to increase their skill check.

Not all of this has to be set out ahead of time. There's nothing wrong with improvising stuff at the table.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like the point of contention here is that you feel a GM who set up a scenario with only one means of success and then has to improv an alternative when the party messes it up made a mistake? An understandable mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. I think I'd agree with you on that notion, and I think it's a useful philosophy to have since it encourages the GM to think about these problems before they happen. Most GM's are going to come up with more interesting alternative solutions during prepwork than if they have to scramble to carve out a new path when they realize they sent the party into a dead end.


PossibleCabbage wrote:

Here's what I understand Failing Forward to mean:

1) Failing should not stop the action
2) Failures have consequences.

We recontextualize the roll to succeed as "a roll to succeed without consequences" but that doesn't mean that a failure necessarily results in success with consequences, just that it results in some change in the game state that is meaningful to the PCs, but never "nothing."

Essentially there are five basic ways to do this:
1) Make success come at a cost- you get across the river, but you got dragged into some rapids and got scraped on some rocks, take 2d6 damage
2) Charge for success- you climbed the wall, but the rope has fallen to the ground, and you can't retrieve it without climbing back down.
3) Create a story complication - your faux pas has outraged the mayor who wants you out of his city.
4) Create a game complication - you create some cracks in the frozen river that make it harder for anyone else to get across safely, increase the DC for the next person.
5) Raise the stakes so future failures are more fraught with peril - the bureaucrat declines your bribe and calls for a guard.

Only thing you need to do as a GM here is to ensure that failing never means "nothing." Never say "no" as a GM, but "no, but" or "yes, and/but" are all fine. Remember that the "forward" is about advancing the experience for the players, not necessarily the plot.

That's an odd list. 1 and 2 seem like irrelevant bookkeeping costs, nothing to do with player experience, 3 seems like a hard block or irrelevant, depending on the situation (if they can just go to the next town, what does it matter, if they can't, then, oh well, I guess) and 4 and 5 seem an exercise in powerlessness. If things have to progress, these are empty threats, like a parent making up absurd punishments they'll never carry through with if the kids don't go to bed.

Just having them fail and having to cope seems far more interesting than any of the above.


Arachnofiend wrote:
]Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like the point of contention here is that you feel a GM who set up a scenario with only one means of success and then has to improv an alternative when the party messes it up made a mistake? An understandable mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. I think I'd agree with you on that notion, and I think it's a useful philosophy to have since it encourages the GM to think about these problems before they happen. Most GM's are going to come up with more interesting alternative solutions during prepwork than if they have to scramble to carve out a new path when they realize they sent the party into a dead end.

I don’t know about point of contention. But yes, if the adventure writer (which is often the GM) only allows 1 method of success to overcome a problem then yes, they have not followed what I would consider good game design. I’d say based on the fact most Paizo adventures follow this principal I’d say Paizo also agrees.


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I think this conversation has been very useful to me as a GM and a game designer, because I think that the term "Fail Forward" does have multiple possible interpretations and that GMs that some of those interpretations will yield very different game experiences, some of which will be fun for some players and some of which will not.

I don't know that it has to go so far as to say x interpretation is right and y interpretation is wrong, but recognizing whether your players will notice if the central story line of the adventure changes to meet their needs or if they have to change their characters' focus and approach to challenges feels like a very important skill to develop as a GM (yes I realize that this is not exactly what people are talking about with failing forward, but it does seem to be where there are two major points of divergence on whether failing forward is a useful GM philosophy). It also doesn't have to be as extreme as saying it must always be one way or the other, but knowing which one you prefer, which one your table prefers, and prepping your GM tools around that knowledge seems like a good idea.

What this looks like in practice for me is easier to discuss in an example.

The party is trying to get an item out of a small keep within a city that is their home. The general inhabitants of the keep are decent folk doing their day to day, but there are some number of villainous creatures inside the keep, holding the item, and manipulating the rest of the staff. There are guards at the front door, walls that are very difficult to scale, and a back door to the kitchen, which is usually kept locked, and the kitchen is almost never empty.

For me, as a GM I see four major strategies players could employ in getting into the keep:
Social interactions
Stealthy subterfuge
Forced entry
Magical bypass (this one could depend upon level or willingness to spend gold on one time use resources).

GMing that I would avoid (i.e. me being a bad GM) would be thinking any one of these tactics are going to be a one off skill check that determines the success or failure of the entire adventure.

For example, climbing the wall or picking the lock in the back are probably going to require successful stealth checks as well, or else an investment of magical resources like silence and probably invisibility as well. They will require more than one character having invested in athletics or disable device to be viable strategies for completing the whole mission. Likewise, The social interaction is not going to be something that one character is going to be able to handle with a single diplomacy check to bring the entire party through the front entrance and to the room where the villainous creatures sit, hoarding their important item. It will take the whole party participating in a plan together to make any of these options work.

Now if the party decides to go stealthy and have the rouge pick the lock at the back, attempting to do so quietly, and fails. One GM might just be thinking about the door and the lock and say, you fail to open the lock and require a separate stealth check to see if they were noticed. Another GM might be factoring extra difficulty into the disable device check for attempting to do it stealthily and have an increased DC, with success being getting the door open quietly and failure being "the door opens loudly." Neither one of these are the right approach universally, and each have different consequences.

A GM that makes the Player make two rolls, one for DD and one for Stealth, is pushing a gritty game where covert game play is going to require many success on possibly difficult checks to accomplish. This GM is probably trying to push a style of game play where having many skills at decent levels is important if the party wants to avoid fighting their way through situations. This GM still probably needs to make sure that the consequences are not overly punishing for individual failure on one of the many skill checks they expect the party to make, and thus slower consequences that build up make sense (having the keep have an Alertness subsystem where failures add up to increased guard presence and hostility as they feel they are under attack).

Whereas the GM that wants to fold many checks together, probably needs to adjust their consequences so that the degrees of success represent a lot of the smaller consequences folding into each other. Having a kitchen staffer open a door that sounds like it is getting picked doesn't feel satisfactory as a consequence of failure to me, but having them alert the guards who send a patrol around back, while stationing another guard in the kitchen sounds more interesting to me as a dire failure, while just going and getting one guard to open the door might be a legitimate failure.

It seems like both styles would fit under many people's umbrella of fail forward, but it is important to decide if the goal of skill challenges for your group is quick resolution and moving on to the next encounter, or an important part of the problem solving game play that you are trying to foster.


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Pathfinder Card Game, Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Charter Superscriber
swoosh wrote:
PossibleCabbage wrote:
I think this is kind of a bad faith reading of what failing forward means.

Isn't that the whole point of this thread? "As long as your character exists you'll succeed no matter what you do, so your choices never matter" is not in any way shape the definition of the term being talked about or what any game designer talking about this philosophy has ever proposed.

It's not a thing, but as long as people like Magus Black and John Lynch can pretend that's what other people are arguing, they can keep acting outraged about it.

It's the most rudimentary strawmen you can concoct and those are great because you never have to actually worry about defending your positions or countering someone else's argument, you just make up whatever you want to argue against and call it a day.

Seriously, if John Lynch can find me a single designer of a major narrative driven/fail forward game system that has argued that a good tabletop is the GM writing a story where the rest of the players have absolutely no say in anything that happens because everything happens automatically, I'll log off my paizo account and never come back. One.

Well said.


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Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

So its a matter or whether the solution was prepped before hand or improvised when needed? If the result is the same I'm not sure what the problem is. Solid prep always helps the game, as does being confident to make changes as required.

It isn't practical to decide every single thing before the game. Or if it is, I'd argue that there is more railroading going on than failing forward. In my games it is basically impossible to plan that level of detail in advance. Before Session 0 I don't even know what geographical location the players will be in because I create an interesting world and then say "where to you want to zoom in?" Due to lack of railroading I've had to make dungeons from scratch in the tea break.


Malk_Content wrote:
So its a matter or whether the solution was prepped before hand or improvised when needed?

This is literally the first time I’ve seen someone say that in this thread. Can you quote the person your responding to?


Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
John Lynch 106 wrote:
Malk_Content wrote:
So its a matter or whether the solution was prepped before hand or improvised when needed?
This is literally the first time I’ve seen someone say that in this thread. Can you quote the person your responding to?

You and Arachnofiend. I may be misreading but this exchange

"I am bad with the quoting system sorry wrote:

Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems like the point of contention here is that you feel a GM who set up a scenario with only one means of success and then has to improv an alternative when the party messes it up made a mistake? An understandable mistake, but a mistake nonetheless. I think I'd agree with you on that notion, and I think it's a useful philosophy to have since it encourages the GM to think about these problems before they happen. Most GM's are going to come up with more interesting alternative solutions during prepwork than if they have to scramble to carve out a new path when they realize they sent the party into a dead end.

[QUOTE ="Still bad sorry] ut yes, if the adventure writer (which is often the GM) only allows 1 method of success to overcome a problem then yes, they have not followed what I would consider good game design. I’d say based on the fact most Paizo adventures follow this principal I’d say Paizo also agrees.

That seems to imply that if the solution was prewritten its okay, but if it was decided upon as need arises it is not. I could be wrong of course, as peoples prep/improv ratio is rarely all one way or the other.


I don’t know how you could think I was saying improv is bad and everything must be determined during prep when I literally said a couple of posts earlier

Quote:
Not all of this has to be set out ahead of time. There's nothing wrong with improvising stuff at the table.

Let me know if you still think I’m saying that its a matter or whether the solution was prepped before hand or improvised when needed.


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Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber
John Lynch 106 wrote:
I don’t know how you could think I was saying improv is bad and everything must be determined during prep when I literally said a couple of posts earlier
Quote:
Not all of this has to be set out ahead of time. There's nothing wrong with improvising stuff at the table.
Let me know if you still think I’m saying that its a matter or whether the solution was prepped before hand or improvised when needed.

I missed that. Fair enough. I'm thus struggling a little with what I consider a contradiction. Some solutions seem to be okay to improv but others are railroading and I can't parse a qualitative difference between some of the scenarios and outcomes discussed.


Malk_Content wrote:
I missed that. Fair enough. I'm thus struggling a little with what I consider a contradiction. Some solutions seem to be okay to improv but others are railroading and I can't parse a qualitative difference between some of the scenarios and outcomes discussed.

I may be getting it wrong, but as far as I can tell:

The party fails to pick a lock to sneak into the servants quarters of the evil noble.

Bad solution:
GM: Hearing odd sounds, a maid opens the door, a curious look on her face.

Good solution:
GM: You've failed, what do you do?
Player: I knock.
GM: A maid opens the door, a curious look on her face.


Malk_Content wrote:
I missed that. Fair enough. I'm thus struggling a little with what I consider a contradiction. Some solutions seem to be okay to improv but others are railroading and I can't parse a qualitative difference between some of the scenarios and outcomes discussed.

Ignore whether something is improv or prepped ahead of time. It is completely irrelevant.

A bad situation would be:
Player: I try to climb the cliff and roll a 2.
DM: The cliff is a DC 30. Regardless you get to the top but fray your rope so badly against the cliff that it is completely unusable.

A good situation
Player: I try to climb the cliff and roll a 2.
DM: The cliff is a DC 30. You fail to climb the cliff and realise it is beyond your skill. You will need to use a different approach to reach your goal.

All IMO. And before someone tells me no-one would ever advocate the first situation, I redirect you to other posts in this very thread where people did advocate for the first situation.

Dataphiles

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So let me give my interpretation of fail forward with the outrider scenario...

Outrider Scenario:

PCs are tracking a group of orcs who have taken some villagers captive. The ranger rolls a Survival check to track the orcs to their camp.

Critical Success: PCs are able to track down the orcs before they get back to their camp with more orcs. (thus letting the players break one large encounter into two smaller ones). All of the villagers are still alive.
Success: PCs are able to track down the orcs, but they're back at their camp with reinforcements. All of the villagers are still alive.
Failure: PCs get a little lost along the way and lose time. They track down the orcs at their camp with reinforcements, but at least one of the villagers is now dead.
Critical Failure: PCs get a little lost along the way and run into an owlbear (whose tracks they didn't pick up) which they have to fight or get away from. They finally catch up with the orcs at their camp with reinforcements, but at least one of the villagers is dead.

Then there's the dangerous river scenario...

River Scenario:

Each player rolls an Athletics check to attempt to swim across the river.
Critical Success: The player fords the river without incident.
Success: The player is swept a little down the river due to the current which burns a little time.
Failure: The player is swept a ways down the river due to the current which burns some time. When they get out they can't find one of their items and/or they take some non-lethal damage as they were battered against the rocks.
Critical Failure: The player struggles in the current and is swept well down the river burning a lot of time. Their backpack is sodden and has lost several items and/or they take a bunch of non-lethal damage as they were beaten against rocks.

Let's do climbing a cliff...
Climbing a cliff has been redacted due to me being silly.

In each of these scenarios the game still makes progress. They still make it past the obstacle, but failure has real consequences. As a result, the players would start treating obstacles with care. Skill feats to help each other or avoid failure become important.

This is how I interpret failing forward.


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Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

If there is an existing rule for something, I think I'd go with it.

In the Climb example the rules are pretty clear.

Roll a 20, you fall.
Roll a 21-29, you fail to make progress.
Roll a 30-39 you make progress.
Roll a 40+ make loads of progress.

Now I personally would leverage Win at Cost in a 25-29 situation (if I have talked to my group before hand and we've voted on implementing it) to allow a player to make progress with a disadvantage, such as the rope being not usuable again.

But I agree in general, Falling Forward should not be about not failing. It should be about failing being interesting. E.G if that failed climb roll was for the first 10 feet with no repercussions I'm just going to hand-wave it until we get to the point where a fail actually matters. I think this comes into play a lot more with more narrative focused rolls such as diplomacy.

Dataphiles

Malk_Content wrote:
If there is an existing rule for something, I think I'd go with it.

Yeah, sorry. I don't have the book on me and climbing a cliff was one of the things someone mentioned in the thread so I improvised something.

Malk_Content wrote:
But I agree in general, Falling Forward should not be about not failing. It should be about failing being interesting. E.G if that failed climb roll was for the first 10 feet with no repercussions I'm just going to hand-wave it until we get to the point where a fail actually matters. I think this comes into play a lot more with more narrative focused rolls such as diplomacy.

That's where I was trying to go with this. You can make failing suck, but still allow the group to make progress.


Chetna Wavari wrote:

Let's do climbing a cliff...

** spoiler omitted **...This is how I interpret failing forward.

And this is exactly why I don’t like it when people advocate for these sorts of scenarios and throw the term “fail forward” onto it. I don’t even recognise the game that critical fail scenario came from. Maybe Fate or Powered by the Apocalypse? It certainly wouldn’t belong in any D&D game or Pathfinder game I’ve played in. I really hope they don’t put that sort of stuff into Pathfinder 2e.

Also on a side note: swoosh (and others) tried to dismiss my arguments against this sort of thing as simply being a straw ma argumentn. To them I say HA!

;)

(Yes. I’m having a bit of fun with the side note. If your taking that last bit too seriously you need to relax a little)


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For a classic literary example of failing forward, we don't have to look any further than the efforts of the Fellowship of the Ring to cross the Misty Mountains.

They first attempted to cross via the Caradhras Pass. That attempt failed, and they realized that they were never going to be successful that way. That left them with two unpleasant options: go around the mountains (which would have taken too much time) or go through the Mines of Moria (which they knew would be very dangerous). So they opted to do the latter.

When they got to the entrance to the Mines, they were faced with a locked door puzzle. Their failures to solve the puzzle led to a combat encounter by the time they finally got the door open -- presumably, they would have been able to skip that encounter had they been able to open the door more quickly.

But even if the fellowship had been totally unable to enter the Mines, they did still have a third option of going around the mountains, which would have driven some rather radical changes to the way that the rest of the adventure played out but could have been made to work in an RPG as opposed to a tightly scripted series of novels.

Dataphiles

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John Lynch 106 wrote:
Chetna Wavari wrote:

Let's do climbing a cliff...

** spoiler omitted **...This is how I interpret failing forward.
And this is exactly why I don’t like it when people advocate for these sorts of scenarios and throw the term “fail forward” onto it. I don’t even recognise the game that critical fail scenario came from. Maybe Fate or Powered by the Apocalypse? It certainly wouldn’t belong in any D&D game or Pathfinder game I’ve played in. I really hope they don’t put that sort of stuff into Pathfinder 2e.

It came from narrative. I've taken hard falls from decent heights. You're a bit rattled afterward. It takes a moment to get your head clear in order to get back up. It hurts. Looking back up at trying to climb again can be a bit scary.

And honestly, I went a little too hard into narrative for that one. Thus why I cut it out if you'll scroll back up.

Speaking of strawman arguments... You also picked on the one that went too far. You didn't comment on the other ones.


Chetna Wavari wrote:
Speaking of strawman arguments... You also picked on the one that went too far. You didn't comment on the other ones.

Yes. I commented on the one that best demonstrated my dislike for what you posted. I’m not going to necessarily respond to every sentence you post because then I get accused of nit picking.

But if you feel me responding to the other examples will advance this discussion in a meaningful way I’m happy to oblige.

Orc example: You’ve failed to describe how the PCs go from fighting an owl bear to finding the orcs. I can try to guess the answer but it’s probably better if you explain it to me.

River example: this is completely different to your orc and cliff example. I have no issue with this example as written.

Grand Lodge

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John Lynch 106 wrote:
TriOmegaZero wrote:
John Lynch 106 wrote:
I find Paizo, for the most part, writes really good adventures for Pathfinder. Can you please give me an example where this occurred in a Paizo written Pathfinder adventure?
Sure thing, PFS Scenario #6-23 The Darkest Abduction. It's even worse than the rest as there's no check, you just have to follow NPC instructions to the next railroad station.

Awesome! I had a feeling it was going to be a PFS adventure and I was really worried it was going to be one I didn't have access to (paying $4 just to discuss something on the internet isn't really that appealing). But I was still playing PFS when this came out and I have it. So let me reread it.

Okay, I've skimmed the first few pages. I'm not seeing where 1 failed skill check means that the adventure doesn't occur. Can you elaborate at all on how you think that could occur with this adventure?

[edit]: Just saw this wasn't about 1 skill check being required to START the adventure. Can you do me a favor and let me know which encounter has the entire adventure halt if 1 skill check is failed? I don't feel like reading the whole thing.

Bolded the part you missed. If the party doesn't understand the NPC's instructions, they don't progress. It would be the exact same if they had to roll a Linguistics check to get the information and failed.

Since I don't disagree that your definition of Fail Forward is bad, I have nothing further to add.

Dataphiles

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John Lynch 106 wrote:
Orc example: You’ve failed to describe how the PCs go from fighting an owl bear to finding the orcs. I can try to guess the answer but it’s probably better if you explain it to me.

Easy. The path the orcs took goes through an area where an owlbear lives. The orcs were able to avoid it because they know the area or just weren't noticed by it. The PCs didn't notice owlbear tracks or wandered slightly off of the orc's path and got into a tussle with the owlbear.

That particular scenario essentially does what I think someone else mentioned about crit failing putting you into situation which will require the burning of player resources. I happen to agree with that method.

In the orc scenario if you crit succeed you split up a large group of orcs into two easier encounters. If you crit fail you get the normal orc scenario, but also have another secondary encounter to deal with first.


Chetna Wavari wrote:
John Lynch 106 wrote:
Orc example: You’ve failed to describe how the PCs go from fighting an owl bear to finding the orcs. I can try to guess the answer but it’s probably better if you explain it to me.

Easy. The path the orcs took goes through an area where an owlbear lives. The orcs were able to avoid it because they know the area or just weren't noticed by it. The PCs didn't notice owlbear tracks or wandered slightly off of the orc's path and got into a tussle with the owlbear.

That particular scenario essentially does what I think someone else mentioned about crit failing putting you into situation which will require the burning of player resources. I happen to agree with that method.

In the orc scenario if you crit succeed you split up a large group of orcs into two easier encounters. If you crit fail you get the normal orc scenario, but also have another secondary encounter to deal with first.

So was the check to follow the orc’s trail or to avoid any trouble when following the orcs trail?

Dataphiles

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John Lynch 106 wrote:
So was the check to follow the orc’s trail or to avoid any trouble when following the orcs trail?

To jump the gun and go to where I believe you're leading this particular line of logic:

They took the wrong turn at some point and are dealing with the consequences. In the fail scenario that consequence was losing time as they doubled back. In the crit fail scenario that consequence was finding an owlbear at the end of that wrong turn and then having to double back.

Change owlbear to a wolf, bear, owl, a completely different group of bandits (forests are full of them), a witch (also a tried and true forest-dweller), dire flamingos (very cunning), or whatever you'd like.

The point is to burn some player resources because they screwed up. Time is one resource, but spells and hit-points are another.

An alternative is they just lose the trail and the hostage villagers all die before the PCs eventually blunder onto the camp. It's a little darker, but that's up to the story you're telling.


Right. So your saying that following the trail did require a check. Once they suffer the consequence of failing the check, there are no more consequences and so instead of requiring dice rolls you simply narrate the retries.

Is that a fair assessment? If so I agree with you that this is good GMing. If you really want to call that failing forward then I’m not going to try to stop you.

It wasn’t at all clear that’s what you were saying with your weird stat block. But it is clearer now.


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Deadmanwalking wrote:

So, I'm pretty sure this whole thread is a semantic argument where people are arguing past each other because they're using different definitions. I think failing forward is fine by most definitions of it I've heard, but certainly not by John Lynch 106's.

As such, the core discussion in many ways doesn't seem very productive to me.

For the record, on an interesting side issue, I'm fairly absolutionist by MaxAstro's standards, but I'm pretty sure my players would agree I'm mostly a good GM anyway.

This is because I try very hard to design worlds the PCs will have fun in. I'm pretty good at it and put a slightly too high amount of effort into it a lot, but the end result is that I can do a consistent world where the PCs have fun because the world is designed that way, rather than because I adjust it on the fly (to steal an example, I think through 'what happens if the PCs fall down the cliff?' and have an interesting option in mind, rather than needing to add one later). That's when running games, of course. I've played games with GMs who were clearly coming up with everything on the fly and that was fun, too.

I don't think this is inconsistent with most definitions of failing forward, since most of the good fail forward options are, in fact, logical in-world consequences of screwing up on the action in question. In order for them to not be the equivalent of fudging dice (which I also hate, for the record, though I don't have a problem with other people doing it as long as they make that clear to their players), you have to set it up in advance...but if we're talking about Paizo doing it, it's in the adventure. That's the definition of in advance.

Wow, something I disagree with Deadmanwalking on. Wasn't expecting that. :P

Well, I only sorta disagree. I agree that it's possible to plan everything in advance and still run a fun game. It is in fact even desirable for it to go that way. I just tend to think that eventually, something is not going to go to plan, and the ability to improvise a way to salvage the players' fun is a critical skill for a GM to both have and be willing to employ. I guess put another way, I feel GMs should strive to be absolutionist, but be willing to drop that the moment it impedes the fun.

@John Lynch: I apologize, by the way, I didn't mean to throw shade at your GMing style. If it makes sense I was more trying to address you as a player rather than as a GM.

Regardless, my opinion on fail forward remains the same: You have defined it in such a way that it is by definition bad game design, so I agree that your definition is bad game design. I am a little frustrated by your unwillingness to recognize anyone else's interpretation of the term as valid, though.

I am also, as others, confused about your apparently contradictory stance on improv. It seems like you are saying "changing a monster's HP on the fly is wrong, but improvising material on the spot is fine".

How is suddenly deciding that a monster has less HP than you originally planned not the same as suddenly deciding there is a secret passage where you didn't originally plan it?


It also seems like a lot of the difference in opinion here rests upon whether these scenarios are being broken down into an encounter type scene or a longer bit of exploration exposition.

For the lord of the rings example the first attempt at getting past the mountains was not done in scene, even though there were some monsters present directly trying (and succeeding) in blocking their path, it wasn't through a typical encounter, it was some form of skill challenge (maybe survival, maybe athletics, maybe a combination of the two or more). As an adventure and not literature, the GM is probably going to have to think of some pretty significant rewards for letting this skill challenge allow the party to bypass an entire dungeon, rewards that should be planned out in advance, even if the GM was expecting the skill challenge bypass to be too hard. Maybe an experience point reward equal to the dungeon and some extra time on the other side of it to allow for downtime activities that would make up up some of the treasure lost in that dungeon as well.

Many GMs would not want to adventure build this way. It would mean making an entire skill challenge and an entire dungeon with the expectation that the party is going to skip out on one of these options. Alternatively, it can be looked at as only a single option, through which the party will have to be able to fail forward through, no matter what the party originally set out to do, they were always going to end up in the mines of Moria, it was just a question of how much time the party wasted before getting there. For a lot of players, that would be an incredibly frustrating situation to be in, because the set up was to make the mines of Moria feel like something to avoid at all costs.

Does the GM want to build the expectation that the party always identifies the most dangerous and combat filled path forward, and actively chose it from the beginning to avoid wasting time since they will inevitably be lead there? occasionally with a small boon from having succeeded at a number of skill checks before hand or heavily punished for having failed them? Or is the GM comfortable with the idea of spending a lot of prep time on things that definitely wont happen, because having multiple points of entry to an adventure will mean that some of them don't get used?


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One difference between the fail forward example cited by John Lynch 106, and those used by Jason in the GCP game, is the improvised nature of the failure.

In the blog post Lynch cites, the maid appears as a negative consequence of the player’s poor roll. The existence of the maid was either improvised by the GM, or was conditional on the negative roll of the player. If they had rolled positive, the maid would not have appeared at all.

In the game Jason ran, although the player framed the task as tracking down the hydra, the GM decided that what the roll actually signified was the amount of time it would take the player to find the hydra - a significant consequence due to the time crunch the players were in.

One of the critical differences to me between these two examples is how they are presented to the players, and the opportunities for decision making they allow the players. In the lock picking example from the blog, the players have no chance to alter their actions based on the existence of the maid - they can’t choose to find another way in to avoid her, or prepair to attack her should she notice them, as two examples, because she only exists as a consequence of a bad roll. I would argue that this takes away players power to influence the game world in favor of advancing the story. I can imagine why it might be necessary sometimes, but also recognize it is perhaps not an optimal solution to the problem of bogging the game down with a failed roll.

Tracking the hydra seems to be a bit different, because the players were already aware they were in a time crunch and could logically presume that tracking would take some amount of time if it was possible in the first place. The way the obstacle was presented already offered them some decision making points, and although the conflict with the time crunch was not outright identified, it was easy enough to assume and therefor allowed the players the opportunity to make decisions based around that consideration.

I would point out, however, that Jason did not reveal to the players that the survival check was an auto-success in terms of tracking down that hydra, and so (to me at least) it came off as slightly arbitrary in the same way the existence of the maid from the lockpicking obstacle would have been. If he had reframed the encounter from the beginning, I think that would have been much more smooth.

Dataphiles

@Delnoro82 The maid provided the way around the situation. Also, it was from another post in this thread and not from a blog. See quoted post below.

jquest716 wrote:
I've played in games where the idea was to fail forward and never really felt that the players lost agency. I was in a Dungeon World game and the rogue failed to pick a lock that we needed to get into a Barron's home to steal some paper work. The DM described how the moment the thief failed to pick the lock the door suddenly opened and standing there was a maid. TLDR basically we paid off the maid and we got the papers. That in my head is a really smart way to fail players forward, it was funny and could have escalated if we played it all differently.


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I feel like expecting that the players can know the location and disposition of all NPCs in their vicinity is just unreasonable on the part of the players.

Like it's impossible to know that this wasn't a situation where a maid was cleaning the baron's chambers, but was just leaving. In case the PCs roll poorly, she hears a noise and turns left to investigate instead of turning right and going her normal route which avoids the PCs.

If fundamentally, there is no way to tell the difference between "this was planned" and "this was improvised" I think there is no difference as far as the players are concerned. It's not really different from how the illusion of choice can be just as meaningful as actual choice, if done well.

After all, the important part is "almost anything is more interesting than leaving the party standing on the wrong side of a locked door while one person tries to pick the lock again."


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PossibleCabbage just said what I am trying to say better than I could have said it.

I do think the important thing with fail forward mechanics is that they be either invisible to players or fully codified.

In other words, either have a chart that says "this is how I run lockpicking: if you fail by this much, it takes you this long to open the lock; etc..." or never tell your players what the DC actually is. The biggest risk with F>F (totally stealing that) is damaging verisimilitude, which is critical to maintaining fun.


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graystone wrote:
MaxAstro wrote:
I certainly recall the adventure where the plot assumed the PCs pass a DC 30 Linguistics check in order to find the plot, and I had to frantically figure out what to do when no one in the party was able to make it.
Linguistics is a skill you can take 20 in so a 30 isn't too unreasonable: either for the PC's or if none have the skill an NPC skilled in languages. So IMO, you drop a hint that there's something that can't quite put their finger on in the text and let them find a friendly NPC that can help in that situation.

That's exactly how failing forward can work.


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John Lynch 106 wrote:

I think this thread demonstrates the problem with using buzzwords. Why dont I just tell you how I GM and you can tell me if I'm a bad GM or not. How does that sound?

DC 30 Cliffs
This perfectly demonstrates the problem with setting level specific DCs. In my games there is no such thing as a DC 30 cliff.

There are rough cliff sides slick with ocean spray (DC 30). But that DC has been set because of the in game realities that define how DCs are set. I cant change that DC no more then a rook can move diagonally in chess.

Emphasis mine.

If you're running a home game then yes, this absolutely makes you, if not a bad GM, then certainly one with whom I wouldn't want to play. In a home game, nothing should be set in stone, save perhaps that the entire point of playing the game is for people to have fun.


John Lynch 106 wrote:
Failing forward is bad for the same reason fudging dice rolls are bad. I know a lot of people defend fudging dice rolls, but it means the PCs actions no longer matter.

I disagree that fudging rolls, at least for the GM is always bad. But I will agree that the 2nd concept of "failing forward" that the OP suggested goes too far in removing player agency within the story line.

To illustrate, a GM during combat has rolled poorly on all attack rolls in a combat. It was supposed to be a challenging combat, and instead has been steamrolled due to not rolling above a 5. The GM decides to alter some of the rolls so that they become hits. Not all of them. Not enough to alter to total course of combat, but some to make the combat feel more like it was intended to be, a challenge. I accept this and expect his as both a player and GM. Sometimes RNG makes the game really boring and unfun for both players and GMs. My ultimate goal is to have fun (and create a fun game if I'm the GM). Allowing combat to be completely one sided because of dice rolls isn't really fun in my experience.

However, if the player characters, against all warnings and competency, decide to jump in the volcano of death because they've been misled to believe it's a portal to the elemental plane of fire and cause themselves to have a TPK...well at a certain point, thems the breaks.

However, as others point out you can have the plot progress despite failure.

The party fails to pick a locked door. (Did the fail because a bad roll? Or did they fail because the simply can't roll high enough to pick it? If it the second, that's bad GMing. You shouldn't have put an impossible obstacle in their way.) In the case they can't pick the lock or even if its impossible for some reason, that doesn't mean that access to the inside of the area should be stopped.

Perhaps their is a secret door. Perhaps there is a more direct door. Perhaps the lock would let them bypass several rooms of observant people that would call for guards and force the party into several fights or diplomacy (or perhaps stealth to avoid notice in the first place).

In short if the goal is "to get to the nobleman inside the house and deal with him" and the lock is blocking one way, you should have other ways to reach the nobleman. You needn't necessarily plan all paths in advance, but it can be helpful to at least come up with ideas.

Personally I don't consider this failing forward, but it sounds like some people would consider it that.

To address the example of crossing the river. IMO there should be potential for someone to drown. If the waters are rough and the fail the check they start drowning the party has to save them. If no one in the party feels they can swim across the river successfully (and no one jumps in and tries) then a GM could have the party search around to find a shallow fjord. Or perhaps a bridge. There can be lots of possibilities.


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Pretty sure there's implicit common sense in play for suicidal/stupid/cheeky PCs (No, trying to jump the mile long chasm only results in you falling to your death Steve...).


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Fumarole wrote:
John Lynch 106 wrote:

I think this thread demonstrates the problem with using buzzwords. Why dont I just tell you how I GM and you can tell me if I'm a bad GM or not. How does that sound?

DC 30 Cliffs
This perfectly demonstrates the problem with setting level specific DCs. In my games there is no such thing as a DC 30 cliff.

There are rough cliff sides slick with ocean spray (DC 30). But that DC has been set because of the in game realities that define how DCs are set. I cant change that DC no more then a rook can move diagonally in chess.

Emphasis mine.

If you're running a home game then yes, this absolutely makes you, if not a bad GM, then certainly one with whom I wouldn't want to play. In a home game, nothing should be set in stone, save perhaps that the entire point of playing the game is for people to have fun.

Not if you have already described the cliffs. This is the difference between arbitrary DCs and DCs set by the fiction of the game. The cliff has a DC 30 because of its composition, not because you wanted to throw a level appropriate challenge at the PCs. If you hadn't described the cliffs, then you could change the DC. But once the fiction is established so is the DC.


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"Upon closer inspection, you notice that although it is rough and slick, one section of the cliff side is covered in dense moss that provides easy handholds."

Any GM who can't explain their improv in-game isn't trying hard enough, IMO. :P


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Late comer here to posting but I've read the whole thread and I have a question for John Lynch 106. Every time somebody makes a post containing
the stat block for crit successes and crit failures, for example

Critical Success: Blah blah really good stuff happens
Success: Blah blah you succeed but that really good stuff doesn't happen
Failure: You fail bad stuff happens that continues the momentum of the game
Critical Failure: You fail and really bad stuff happens that continues the momentum of the game

you then question the validity of where this comes from. Even asking/ stating

John Lynch 106 wrote:
I don’t even recognise the game that critical fail scenario came from. Maybe Fate or Powered by the Apocalypse? It certainly wouldn’t belong in any D&D game or Pathfinder game I’ve played in. I really hope they don’t put that sort of stuff into Pathfinder 2e.

My question is are trying to make a point or are you being willfully obtuse? Or are you unaware? Because that format was in the Playtest. Cyouni even quoted the crit fail, fail, and success outcome from Mirrored Moon, one of the sections in the Playtest Adventure Doomsday Dawn. This appears to be the format moving forward into Pathfinder 2e. So what are you saying when you question that? Are questioning the format? Or what other individuals have used the format for in this discussion?

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