Fail Forward


Second Edition

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MaxAstro wrote:

"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

But that isnt lowering the DC of the cliff the players tried to climb. That's lowering the DC of a different part of the cliff and I already said I'm ok with that (although that particular example would need a bit more setup then that. Typically the PCs describing how they're inspecting the cliff to see if there is an easier part to climb).


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Unicore wrote:
I think this conversation has been very useful to me as a GM and a game designer

I'm genuinely glad to hear that. Thank you for posting that :)

MaxAstro wrote:
@John Lynch: I apologize, by the way, I didn't mean to throw shade at your GMing style.

No need to apologise. If I was upset I wouldn't have responded how I did. Out of interest, do you consider me to be an absolutionist GM?

PossibleCabbage wrote:

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."

Let's say I'm a player in this example. The DC to pick the lock was set by the quality of the lock. The GM got me, the player, to roll a disable device check because the lock is the challenge I'm overcoming. If I fail to pick that lock, the lock should not unlock anyway. If the challenge was for me to pick the lock QUIETLY then the GM would have framed the challenge in that way and I likely would have rolled a stealth check instead.

The difference is that the in game fiction isn't impacting what the player is doing. Your making it impossible to fail to pick that lock by having the lock unlock regardless of what I roll. If I cannot fail to pick the lock, you shouldn't be making me roll the pick lock check in the first place. That's just wasting time.


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Max Astro wrote:

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?

Can you please explain at what point in the game the HP is being changed. Is it before the fight started? Or after the fight started? How much HP did they have to begin with? And how many HP have they lost when you reduce their HPs?

And finally: Why are you reducing the HP? (please be more specific then "It will make the game more fun." HOW will reducing the HP make the game more fun?)

Tristan d'Ambrosius wrote:

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?

You've misunderstood me.

I do find the critical success, success, failure, critical failure format to be a non-intuitive way to describe what happens as the result of a skill check.

The way it's been used in this thread has not helped in clearly communicating information to me.

As for the "I don't recognise what game that outcome comes from" what I meant by that was: That outcome would simply not happen in any game of D&D or Pathfinder I've ever played. Perhaps it was simply a communication issue or perhaps the outcome really is just that alien to the games I've enjoyed and played with Pathfinder for the last 10.5 years.

I wasn't criticising the format with that statement. I was criticising that particular example Chetna Wavari used and which she has now deleted. I was critical not because "it's bad GMing" but because it is so far removed from any game of D&D I've ever played then I cannot imagine a scenario where that outcome would occur in a fun game.


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Claxon wrote:
I disagree that fudging rolls, at least for the GM is always bad.......My ultimate goal is to have fun (and create a fun game if I'm the GM).

I can unequivocally say I would not have fun at your table. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind based on what you've posted. So you will have failed to achieve your goal of making the game fun for everyone if you fudge dice rolls when I'm at your table.

Why do I dislike fudging dice? Because it removes what I enjoy from playing the game.

I play D&D with my friends because I enjoy spending time with my friends. Playing D&D is the activity we use to pass the time. But we could easily play a different game, or not play any game and go out for dinner, and still have fun. "Having fun" isn't achieved by playing D&D. It's achieved by spending time with my friends.

I play D&D/Pathfinder because I enjoy playing a game where we are presented with a challenge and I use strategies and tactics to overcome that challenge. If I wanted a game where the dice don't matter, I would play a game without dice. I am okay with a GM narrating the outcome and not using dice. If my strategy is so well thought out and planned that there is no chance for failure, I embrace the GM who lets me carry out that plan without making me roll a flurry of d20s that ultimately don't matter.

The second the GM determines that there is a chance for failing and a meaningful consequence for failing and that rolling a die is the appropriate resolution method to determine whether or not the action succeeds, then I expect the GM to abide by the outcome of the dice.

Determining that the resolution of a situation should be resolved with dice and then choosing to ignore the outcome of the dice is the equivalent, in my view, of someone stealing money from the bank in Monopoly. You do that and refuse to stop doing it? You will have removed my ability to enjoy playing the game with you and I will simply stop playing that game with you.

Liberty's Edge

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

Well, nobody can agree 100% of the time, but I'm not sure we disagree all that much in practice.

MaxAstro wrote:
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.

I'm not saying I don't improvise, I absolutely do. But I improvise within the bounds of the world as created. The enemy will certainly improvise in-universe, and any NPCs the party has on their side as certainly happy to give advice on alternate courses of action and the like (or go out searching for lost PCs, or other similar things), but an NPC's total HP don't change mid-fight, and tunnels aren't suddenly there when they weren't before.

I will sometimes introduce new and unestablished details (or roll with it if players do so, my descriptions of places are probably my weakest point as a GM so this happens), but I don't ever contradict existing details, whether the players know them or not.

So less 'never improvise' and more 'there are limits to what I'm willing to improvise in a pre-established world'.

PossibleCabbage wrote:
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.

This is fundamentally the same argument as fudging rolls being okay since nobody will know. It's wrong in both cases, because players will in fact eventually figure out that you're fudging things if you do it enough. It's also wrong in some cases because any moral argument that relies on 'people not finding out' is flawed at its core.

In both cases this behavior is fine if the players are aware you do it, and are cool with that. It's not fine if they wouldn't be, since it amounts to lying to your friends about the essential nature of the game you're running (which is where the moral argument bit above comes in).

PossibleCabbage wrote:
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."

This is why there should be a plan for that in advance in any game where the above fudging isn't okay. Which is admittedly a specific style of game, but worth noting nonetheless.


Well, I did not expect such a thread to evolve when I first started it.

I am thankful things seem to have cooled with some clarity.
Especially with Unicore getting information about GM and design.

Also, semi-derail or clarity, I have never heard of Absolutist style.

I think Simulationist would be more apt. And comes from the GNS model of games. Which stands for Gamist - Narrativist - Simulationist btw

It is interesting in the abstract but a somewhat deprecated model as ALL games use all 3 things. They may vary in emphasis in system to system, table to table, gamer to gamer. But largely all use all. And D&D/Pathfinder tends to be centrist about its GNS.


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MaxAstro wrote:
The biggest risk with F>F (totally stealing that) is damaging verisimilitude, which is critical to maintaining fun.

This is why I see “failing forward” in the sense of the GM arbitrarily changing the results after the fact that of realizing that an intended challenge was actually a must pass event, ie no die roll necessary, as adventure design failure, rather than a desirable, intentional practice. Which is ok. GMs fail too sometimes, but if you want to avoid appearing to design adventures that look like a railroad, it is best not to design adventures that work that way.

Grand Lodge

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Can someone explain to me how "failing forward" is different from "failing"?

Succeeding at a check doesn't always entail good outcomes, failing at a check doesn't always entail bad outcomes, and sometimes neither entails a substantive outcome.

If you're the type of GM who likes to provide a very open environment where player actions (successful or not) often don't result in substantive outcomes, then that's more about the type of player experience that you are trying to create and less a function failed checks. If you're the type of GM who's trying to make a very cinematic RP experience that relies on a fast paced narrative tempo, then this would probably be a bad technique because your characters will spend time without making much progress. That's the kind of experiences that a lot of gamers are looking for, but some people find the realism of a more mundane world and drawn out narrative paths to be immersive and satisfying.

tl;dr isn't this argument mostly about how GMs create different role playing experiences for players by altering the balance of opportunities for PC actions that result in substantive narrative outcomes with those that don't result in substantive narrative outcomes? And if that's the case, then aren't we just having a "your fun is wrong" argument?


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Hurká wrote:
Can someone explain to me how "failing forward" is different from "failing"?

From what people have said in this thread "failing is when you fail to overcome a challenge and the adventure then comes to an immediate halt and there is no more advancement possible in the adventure and everyone can either talk about sports or (more likely) go home early."

Anything other than the above seems to be called failing forward by those in this thread ;)

Hurká wrote:
if that's the case, then aren't we just having a "your fun is wrong" argument?

At no point did I intend to tell anyone how they enjoy Pathfinder (or any other RPG) is wrong.

If we want to talk about wrong. Clearly my definition "failing forward" was wrong and is so extreme that no-one (except the authors of the Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition Dungeon Master's Guide 2 and the nerdologist blog I linked to plus a couple of people in this thread) would ever actually use that definition.


Hurká wrote:
If you're the type of GM who likes to provide a very open environment where player actions (successful or not) often don't result in substantive outcomes, then that's more about the type of player experience that you are trying to create and less a function failed checks.

Has anyone in this thread said this is how they prefer to GM? If so, who? Because I missed that.


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John Lynch 106 wrote:
Hurká wrote:
If you're the type of GM who likes to provide a very open environment where player actions (successful or not) often don't result in substantive outcomes, then that's more about the type of player experience that you are trying to create and less a function failed checks.
Has anyone in this thread said this is how they prefer to GM? If so, who? Because I missed that.

I offer a very open environment (I don't even know where in my setting the players will operate before session 0) but still try to make most roll substantive. Perhaps it comes from my Legacy as a Mage player first, but I somewhat see PCs making rolls as trying to impose their will on the gameworld/state and I try to honour that.


I have come across the concept of “you fail but something interesting happens” or “you succeed but also...” in Dungeon World rules, and it seems like an awesome way to increase agency (both players and the GM) AND keep players on their toes/keep the GM improvising. Not all Players nor GMs will respond to this positively.

“Fail Forward” as nomenclature must be the least appropriate term I have ever come across, and I have studied Accounting, Project Management, Marketing, Bush Regeneration, Latin, Japanese, Screenprinting, German, French, Visual Art, Permaculture and completed a Traffic Offenders Intervention Program. A heady, heady list. Which leaves out games like Traveller, Gamma World, Talislanta, Ahlmabrea, Rüs, Tunnels and Trolls, DnD, PF1 (!), AGTFOS or computer games like Legend of Blacksilver, early Ultima or Bard’s Tale etc.... I can make sense of those systems and languages. Not “fail forward”.

Liberty's Edge

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Hurká wrote:
Can someone explain to me how "failing forward" is different from "failing"?

Failing forward is not a form of failing, strictly speaking. It is a practice that codifies a pretty standard thing many adventures and GMs do in regards to failure. It is terminology about a specific response to failure by the PCs.

And a lot of this debate, absent semantics, seems to come down to how often you should use it and whether you should fudge the situation as presented to do so.

John Lynch 106 wrote:

From what people have said in this thread "failing is when you fail to overcome a challenge and the adventure then comes to an immediate halt and there is no more advancement possible in the adventure and everyone can either talk about sports or (more likely) go home early."

Anything other than the above seems to be called failing forward by those in this thread ;)

People also seem to generally feel that failing forward is superior to 'Well, try the roll again until you succeed.'

But other than that...sort of? It's less that anything other than this is always failing forward (though it is sometimes) and more that situations like this are the only ones people think there needs to be a fail forward system set up for.

John Lynch 106 wrote:
If we want to talk about wrong. Clearly my definition "failing forward" was wrong and is so extreme that no-one (except the authors of the Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition Dungeon Master's Guide 2 and the nerdologist blog I linked to plus a couple of people in this thread) would ever actually use that definition.

The issue is not quite that clear cut. You seem to be arguing that if you fail forward you must do so in a particular manner and do so relatively often, which are both assumptions.

The blog you linked certainly uses an example that can have diminishing player agency as a consequence to some degree, but it's an example, not the entirety of the post, and that's not even necessarily true of that example, absent context.

I'm fairly certain I actually mostly agree with you on the substance of this issue minus the terminology, but your definition has been a tad extreme compared to that of most others this whole thread.


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Quote:
People also seem to generally feel that failing forward is superior to 'Well, try the roll again until you succeed.'

Is there a cost to trying again and failing? If yes, then failing forward is removing that cost. If no, I don’t understand how “failing forward” is superior to “After a few more attempts you manage to unlock the door.”

What’s so wrong with simply narrating the outcome? That way you don’t have a world comprised of locks that ANYONE can unlock at ANY TIME. And if I go “oh. I fail? And I can try again? Naaah. Screw that. Wizard cast dimension door and get us to the other side.” then I’m able to.

Silver Crusade

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John Lynch 106 wrote:
MaxAstro wrote:

"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

But that isnt lowering the DC of the cliff the players tried to climb. That's lowering the DC of a different part of the cliff and I already said I'm ok with that (although that particular example would need a bit more setup then that. Typically the PCs describing how they're inspecting the cliff to see if there is an easier part to climb).

This really feels like a distinction without a difference.


What you seem to be describing is

Quote:

DM: You find before you a tall cliff of rough hewn rock slick with the spray of the ocean behind you.

Player: I try to climb the wall and get a 25.
DM: You climb a couple of feet and then lose purchase and fall back down.
Player: I got an 20 on my d20. Let me try again I guess. This time I got a 15.
DM: You scramble to the top. A 15 is exactly what you needed.

Would that game be a fun one for you?

Silver Crusade

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Unless the climbing environment changed or this was a total number of checks challenge then no, but that wasn't what I was talking about.


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Rysky wrote:
Unless the climbing environment changed or this was a total number of checks challenge then no, but that wasn't what I was talking about.
Then please explain what your talking about. Because I don’t understand what you mean by
Rysky wrote:
John Lynch 106 wrote:
MaxAstro wrote:

"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

But that isnt lowering the DC of the cliff the players tried to climb. That's lowering the DC of a different part of the cliff and I already said I'm ok with that (although that particular example would need a bit more setup then that. Typically the PCs describing how they're inspecting the cliff to see if there is an easier part to climb).
This really feels like a distinction without a difference.

Because you seem to be hitting on the exact point I was making which was the fiction of the game has to change in order for the DC to change. Without the fiction changing, the DC cannot change.

Liberty's Edge

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John Lynch 106 wrote:
Is there a cost to trying again and failing? If yes, then failing forward is removing that cost. If no, I don’t understand how “failing forward” is superior to “After a few more attempts you manage to unlock the door.”

If yes, that is failing forward by the definition most people here are using. If no is the part where people sometimes feel like there should be some relevance to succeeding or failing, and thus consequences.

Or that you shouldn't roll at all when there are no consequences, of course. Many people would agree with that.

John Lynch 106 wrote:
What’s so wrong with simply narrating the outcome? That way you don’t have a world comprised of locks that ANYONE can unlock at ANY TIME. And if I go “oh. I fail? And I can try again? Naaah. Screw that. Wizard cast dimension door and get us to the other side.” then I’m able to.

Nothing is wrong with any of these options in the right type of game. But there is also nothing is wrong with a narrative game where the fact that PCs can unlock a door at the speed of plot does not imply that other people can do so in the same way.

That's not my favored style of game (at least not for things like Pathfinder), but you keep using this example and it's not really applicable, since anyone who's doing this kind of thing is going for something narrative rather than simulationist. It's the equivalent of saying 'No NPC can ever die in one blow in PF2 since they all have Hero Points.' It's untrue because of the anture of narrative mechanics.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Companion, Starfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Roleplaying Game, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

By revealing a different part of the same cliff for the PCs to scale, either because they've made another check to find it or because you added it after the fact (or both) you've lowered the DC of the cliff.


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Deadmanwalking wrote:
If yes, that is failing forward by the definition most people here are using.

I’m going to simply try to avoid arguing any definitions (and have been in my previous posts).

Deadmanwalking wrote:
there is also nothing is wrong with a narrative game where the fact that PCs can unlock a door at the speed of plot does not imply that other people can do so in the same way.

If someone enjoys playing that sort of game, more power to them. I don’t play those sorts of games myself so I don’t really have anything meaningful I can contribute to a discussion about that sort of game.

Deadmanwalking wrote:
It's the equivalent of saying 'No NPC can ever die in one blow in PF2 since they all have Hero Points.' It's untrue because of the anture of narrative mechanics.

Why don’t we wait until the core rules are out before we start arguing over why hero points are stupid and shouldn’t be used in the game?

Based on that, I don’t think we have anything further to discuss. At least until we get the core rules ;)


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Rysky wrote:
By revealing a different part of the same cliff for the PCs to scale, either because they've made another check to find it or because you added it after the fact (or both) you've lowered the DC of the cliff.
That feels like pretty much what I said.
John Lynch 106 wrote:
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).
I still don’t understand what you mean by
Rysky wrote:
This really feels like a distinction without a difference.

but given we seem to agree on the subject I’m happy to just move on :)

Grand Lodge

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Deadmanwalking wrote:


And a lot of this debate, absent semantics, seems to come down to how often you should use [failing forward] and whether you should fudge the situation as presented to do so.

Cool. So some GMs use fail forward more or less often. Some GMs fudge and improvise more or less, including in "fail forward" situations. Some players enjoy these tables; some players don't.

Some people like Chainmail scenarios, which rarely (if ever, if I'm recalling correctly) employs fail forward. Some people like PFS where there is no opportunity for substantive narrative improvisation for the GM. Other people like Lady Blackbird, where every failure (apart from certain death) is a fail forward and there is no opportunity for substantive narrative improvisation for the GM because the narrative is solely determined by the players.

I think it's cool to share these techniques and preferences, but I've read 150+ comments here and it seems like people are more concerned with defending their way of gaming rather than learning about how other employ techniques to better their tables.


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Hurká wrote:
Deadmanwalking wrote:


And a lot of this debate, absent semantics, seems to come down to how often you should use [failing forward] and whether you should fudge the situation as presented to do so.

Cool. So some GMs use fail forward more or less often. Some GMs fudge and improvise more or less, including in "fail forward" situations. Some players enjoy these tables; some players don't.

Some people like Chainmail scenarios, which rarely (if ever, if I'm recalling correctly) employs fail forward. Some people like PFS where there is no opportunity for substantive narrative improvisation for the GM. Other people like Lady Blackbird, where every failure (apart from certain death) is a fail forward and there is no opportunity for substantive narrative improvisation for the GM because the narrative is solely determined by the players.

I think it's cool to share these techniques and preferences, but I've read 150+ comments here and it seems like people are more concerned with defending their way of gaming rather than learning about how other employ techniques to better their tables.

Well I think we've moved past it, but when words like "failing forward is bad" are thrown about as the opening premise of the thread it puts people on the defensive.


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John Lynch 106 wrote:
If we want to talk about wrong. Clearly my definition "failing forward" was wrong and is so extreme that no-one (except the authors of the Dungeons & Dragons 4th edition Dungeon Master's Guide 2 and the nerdologist blog I linked to plus a couple of people in this thread) would ever actually use that definition.

The DMG2 doesn't say anything like your definition of how you believe "Fail Forward" works. It has advice on how to design branching trees of character decision points and how to avoid making some of those branches into dead ends, but that's all.

And since PbtA and Fate have been brought up as possible places where the PF team could have got the idea from, I'll point out that none of the versions I'm familiar with (though given that both systems have extensive hacks I can't be sure there's none deviating from their norm in that way) have advice on "fail forward" that matches your original definition either. It seems more like a definition that would be invented by someone who wants nothing like it in their RPGs, as a way of claiming that Fail Forward is inherently bad without having to address how it's supposed to be applied.


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Bluenose wrote:
The DMG2 doesn't say anything like your definition of how you believe "Fail Forward" works.

Damn. You caught me out. I’ve been lying this whole time. Lucky you were here to show me for the charlatan I am. Otherwise people might have believed me.

If anyone wants to discuss anything further with me, you are welcome to PM me. I feel any further contributions I make to this thread will simply be me arguing.

Thank you to everyone who did discuss this topic with me. I do genuinely appreciate it.

Dataphiles

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John Lynch 106 wrote:
Bluenose wrote:
The DMG2 doesn't say anything like your definition of how you believe "Fail Forward" works.
Damn. You caught me out. I’ve been lying this whole time. Lucky you were here to show me for the charlatan I am. Otherwise people might have believed me.

Well, at least you admitted it. Good on you.

So, anyone else want to talk about Fail Forward?


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Chetna Wavari wrote:
So, anyone else want to talk about Fail Forward?

In the most recently uploaded Paizocon Glass Cannon event, Jason shows off "failing forward" in the exact way that people have been pointing out is the proper way to handle it (i.e. Taking a bottlenecked part of the adventure and allowing for failures to hinder, but not halt the progress of, the players.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4Bcpz05PlM&t=68m40s

Timestamped for people who haven't heard.

Dataphiles

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Ruzza wrote:
Chetna Wavari wrote:
So, anyone else want to talk about Fail Forward?

In the most recently uploaded Paizocon Glass Cannon event, Jason shows off "failing forward" in the exact way that people have been pointing out is the proper way to handle it (i.e. Taking a bottlenecked part of the adventure and allowing for failures to hinder, but not halt the progress of, the players.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4Bcpz05PlM&t=68m40s

Timestamped for people who haven't heard.

Which makes sense. The party is at the table to have an adventure together and not just watch the ranger roll a half-dozen failed Survival checks to completely lose the trail.


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John Lynch 106 wrote:
Claxon wrote:
I disagree that fudging rolls, at least for the GM is always bad.......My ultimate goal is to have fun (and create a fun game if I'm the GM).

I can unequivocally say I would not have fun at your table. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind based on what you've posted. So you will have failed to achieve your goal of making the game fun for everyone if you fudge dice rolls when I'm at your table.

Why do I dislike fudging dice? Because it removes what I enjoy from playing the game.

I play D&D with my friends because I enjoy spending time with my friends. Playing D&D is the activity we use to pass the time. But we could easily play a different game, or not play any game and go out for dinner, and still have fun. "Having fun" isn't achieved by playing D&D. It's achieved by spending time with my friends.

I play D&D/Pathfinder because I enjoy playing a game where we are presented with a challenge and I use strategies and tactics to overcome that challenge. If I wanted a game where the dice don't matter, I would play a game without dice. I am okay with a GM narrating the outcome and not using dice. If my strategy is so well thought out and planned that there is no chance for failure, I embrace the GM who lets me carry out that plan without making me roll a flurry of d20s that ultimately don't matter.

The second the GM determines that there is a chance for failing and a meaningful consequence for failing and that rolling a die is the appropriate resolution method to determine whether or not the action succeeds, then I expect the GM to abide by the outcome of the dice.

Determining that the resolution of a situation should be resolved with dice and then choosing to ignore the outcome of the dice is the equivalent, in my view, of someone stealing money from the bank in Monopoly. You do that and refuse to stop doing it? You will have removed my ability to enjoy playing the game with you and I will simply stop playing that game with you.

You are entitled to your opinion. I just happen to think such a view point is bad for the game.

I'm never going to let something like dice rolls get in the way of players and myself having fun. The dice are a tool. I'm not going to completely ignore them. But sometimes the game is better if you do. I will roll them, to give the illusion that whats happening isn't a narrative action, but as a GM I already made the decision. Personally I think it can make the game better, but you have to apply such action with a light touch.

As for you not enjoying my games...well I don't think I would enjoy yours either based on your posts. I'm not going to argue with you about why "fudging dice" is a good and useful tool any further.

In any event, good luck and happy gaming.


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This discussion reminds me of the Rambo video game from 1987. It starts with the player in prison, and they are given a choice to escape or not. If the player chooses no, they get the message (paraphrased): "That's great Rambo, but the game cannot begin until you select yes." I guess that's how some see Fail Forward, perhaps after squinting hard enough. While amusing, it's not remotely what most here advocate for in GMing. I will certainly be using Fail Forward in my Age of Ashes game, sparingly of course, and only when the party (and thus the story) is otherwise stuck.


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Paizo Superscriber; Pathfinder Companion Subscriber; Starfinder Superscriber

The example that Jason called out in the GCP stream isn't that great of a fail forward mechanic -- yes the failure meant they still succeeded, but it cost them some extra time. Yes they knew they were on a time schedule, but the time schedule was kept too abstract. The loss of N hours didn't cause them to have to make different decisions that they would have, had the succeeded. They didn't need to try a riskier ploy/spend more resources to catch up/etc.

I'm a fan of fail forward when its used sparingly and intelligently, but the example being brought up isn't one of them....

I felt in this case, the roll didn't matter and shouldn't have been needed. However we don't know the success matrix that was being used, so perhaps there was a point we just couldn't see it. However that's when Fail Forward feels railroady. (If a crit success meant the party got an ambush on the monster, or a free result of a recall knowledge, or some bonus, than the upside of the roll had promise. If the crit-fail result had been the hydra ambushes you, again possibly useful.) The time penalty on the fail w/ time being stressed but still unimportant is what I object to.


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

Well, nobody can agree 100% of the time, but I'm not sure we disagree all that much in practice.

MaxAstro wrote:
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.

I'm not saying I don't improvise, I absolutely do. But I improvise within the bounds of the world as created. The enemy will certainly improvise in-universe, and any NPCs the party has on their side as certainly happy to give advice on alternate courses of action and the like (or go out searching for lost PCs, or other similar things), but an NPC's total HP don't change mid-fight, and tunnels aren't suddenly there when they weren't before.

I will sometimes introduce new and unestablished details (or roll with it if players do so, my descriptions of places are probably my weakest point as a GM so this happens), but I don't ever contradict existing details, whether the players know them or not.

No, we disagree quite a lot. :) In fact, my philosophy is that "details only exist when the players know them".

To give an extreme example, one time my players were theory-crafting what they thought the motivation of the main villain was based on what they currently knew. Eventually they came up with a theory that was way more interesting than the motivation I had originally come up with.

So I retroactively changed the villain's entire plan, threw out everything that didn't fit, and adjusted the rest. My players had a blast and were able to pat themselves on the back for figuring out the villains plan, and the game I ran was better for having a villain with a more interesting motivation than what I originally came up with. Never told my players I'd changed anything, and they never noticed - after all, I only changed details that they hadn't seen yet, so those details didn't exist from their point of view.

As an aside, I agree with the person who suggested "simulationist", I think that is a better term for the "world is set in stone whether the players interact with it or not" style of GM.

I'm not sure what a good name for my "world only exists when observed by the players" style would be.


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Superposition GMing


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Saint Evil wrote:
I think Simulationist would be more apt. And comes from the GNS model of games. Which stands for Gamist - Narrativist - Simulationist btw

I assume that you would be a "Narrativist" based on the basic layout of the naming convention Max, although it might be "Gamist", I'm not QUITE sure what those two mean

EDIT: I found this, you are def a "Narrativist" by it's standard by the sounds of it


Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

Probably, but I like GM OfAnything's suggestion. :P

Liberty's Edge

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MaxAstro wrote:
No, we disagree quite a lot. :) In fact, my philosophy is that "details only exist when the players know them".

That's certainly different from my own GMing style, but to be clear, I have no problem playing in games like this. Where I tend to get annoyed is actually with the middle ground. People who act like they plan everything out and it's a static world but it's only like that until the GM changes it.

Which, I suppose, is what I mean by we may not disagree as much as you think. I'd be cool with playing in a game you ran, I just don't personally run them that way.

MaxAstro wrote:

To give an extreme example, one time my players were theory-crafting what they thought the motivation of the main villain was based on what they currently knew. Eventually they came up with a theory that was way more interesting than the motivation I had originally come up with.

So I retroactively changed the villain's entire plan, threw out everything that didn't fit, and adjusted the rest. My players had a blast and were able to pat themselves on the back for figuring out the villains plan, and the game I ran was better for having a villain with a more interesting motivation than what I originally came up with. Never told my players I'd changed anything, and they never noticed - after all, I only changed details that they hadn't seen yet, so those details didn't exist from their point of view.

Sure, and that's a great story and I'm totally fine with all of this (right down to not telling the players)...as long as your players are aware you do things like this.

MaxAstro wrote:

As an aside, I agree with the person who suggested "simulationist", I think that is a better term for the "world is set in stone whether the players interact with it or not" style of GM.

I'm not sure what a good name for my "world only exists when observed by the players" style would be.

I'd probably say it's some variety of narrativist, valuing story over simulating an artificial world.

EDIT: Ninja'd on the last one.


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For what it's worth Max Astro, you sound like someone I would enjoy playing with.

Your style of GMing sounds a lot like my style.

I agree with others that based on the descriptions of Gamist, Narrativist, and Simulationist that it most closely fits with Narrativist.

I consider myself to focus on Narrative most, Gamist (in the form of Game Balance) second, and almost eschew Simulationist stuff.


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Considering PCs basically never get to test things under a variety of different conditions (i.e. once the door is unlocked, the PCs don't lock it again to come back later to unlock it again), I don't think the GM finagling things behind the scenes in order to arrange coincidences (both fortuitous and otherwise) is not at odds with a simulationist approach.

Honestly things like "you are breaking into an active manor house and none of the staff is around" make the world feel not-lived-in which breaks verisimilitude for me more than anything.


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Deadmanwalking wrote:
Sure, and that's a great story and I'm totally fine with all of this (right down to not telling the players)...as long as your players are aware you do things like this.

To be fair, I am lucky that I seem to consistently have awesome players and I have a good enough reputation that my players trust me with things like this. I can understand feeling sketchy about this GM style with a stranger; it really only works because of how well I know my players.

I actually once had my players come to me and basically say "We had this idea where we all have amnesia about the same time frame but we think it's more interesting if we don't even know the truth out of character; can you just write this section of our backstory for us and have us find out mid-campaign?" I feel blessed, because I don't think there are many players who are comfortable enough with their GM to pull a stunt like that. :)


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MaxAstro wrote:
In fact, my philosophy is that "details only exist when the players know them".

In the very rare instance that I DM, I fall in between you and Deadmanwalking. I have major points set but parts between those are fluid and can change depending on circumstances. Monsters generally have a hp range vs set totals, maps are rough and can change, ect.


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I personally let the players set a great number of the details themselves when they opt to, even if doing so gives them an advantage, provided they are being at all reasonable. Since one of the main jobs of a GM is to describe the world in a way that creates a mental picture that is shared by all. If we change "imagining the world" from a passive task (i.e. "listen to the GM and try to follow along") to an active one (i.e. "try to think of what sort of thing could exist here which would be helpful") I find it works much smoother.

Like RPGs are fundamentally "asymmetrical improv" with a bunch of systems grafted on, but there's no reason they can't be less asymmetrical. So if my players want to posit the existence of a convenient dark alley, secret tunnel under some ruins, a nearby hamlet, a chandelier rope, a scullery maid, etc. then I'm happy to confirm they are correct.

Paizo Employee Organized Play Developer

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PossibleCabbage wrote:


Like RPGs are fundamentally "asymmetrical improv" with a bunch of systems grafted on, but there's no reason they can't be less asymmetrical. So if my players want to posit the existence of a convenient dark alley, secret tunnel under some ruins, a nearby hamlet, a chandelier rope, a scullery maid, etc. then I'm happy to confirm they are correct.

This can be a really cool way to GM. I've even written mechanics in PF1 3pp products for players that allow them to establish things that are "true" of the game world with a structure that they have some control over. Secret Ways is kind of an all-in example of that. I really like it when the players get invested in the game world and get to feel like they had a hand in crafting it beyond just reacting to the story I present them.

Shadow Lodge

Pathfinder Rulebook, Starfinder Accessories Subscriber
Michael Sayre wrote:
PossibleCabbage wrote:


Like RPGs are fundamentally "asymmetrical improv" with a bunch of systems grafted on, but there's no reason they can't be less asymmetrical. So if my players want to posit the existence of a convenient dark alley, secret tunnel under some ruins, a nearby hamlet, a chandelier rope, a scullery maid, etc. then I'm happy to confirm they are correct.
This can be a really cool way to GM. I've even written mechanics in PF1 3pp products for players that allow them to establish things that are "true" of the game world with a structure that they have some control over. Secret Ways is kind of an all-in example of that. I really like it when the players get invested in the game world and get to feel like they had a hand in crafting it beyond just reacting to the story I present them.

That is similar to something my home groups have called "Mug on the table rule". It started in 7th sea and has spread to other games. Basically, a GM doesn't have detail EVERY object in a scene. If a player asks "Is there a mug on the table?" the GM may decide or roll a luck die or something. If the player just assumes the mug to be there and says "I pick up the mug and throw it" the GM goes "roll to hit". If it's something that doesn't make sense for the scene a GM can say no, but it typically stands.

Liberty's Edge

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MaxAstro wrote:
To be fair, I am lucky that I seem to consistently have awesome players and I have a good enough reputation that my players trust me with things like this. I can understand feeling sketchy about this GM style with a stranger; it really only works because of how well I know my players.

For the record, that's not actually the reason for me feeling this way, or not mostly anyway. I'd be perfectly content to play in the game of someone I just met who announced this as their preferred style of GMing.

I just feel strongly that this is a good thing to know about a game going into it. Understanding the kind of game you're playing in is necessary for good decision making.

I still have vivid memories of that one guy who I played with whose games oscillated wildly between simulationist and narrativist and also in what genre they were based on his mood and what video games he'd been playing recently. One week grabbing the chandelier and swinging into battle with monsters was a great move, the next it got you dead in short order...all in ostensibly the same game with the same character. That was pretty terrible.

Having a GM who's consistent, but not in the ways they claim they are, isn't as bad as that, but it can be close since it has a lot of the same 'wait, what?' factor right up until you figure out what kind of game they're really running.

MaxAstro wrote:
I actually once had my players come to me and basically say "We had this idea where we all have amnesia about the same time frame but we think it's more interesting if we don't even know the truth out of character; can you just write this section of our backstory for us and have us find out mid-campaign?" I feel blessed, because I don't think there are many players who are comfortable enough with their GM to pull a stunt like that. :)

That's awesome. I'm glad your players trust you, that's always the ideal to strive for in player/GM interactions. :)


Pathfinder Rulebook Subscriber
Michael Sayre wrote:
PossibleCabbage wrote:


Like RPGs are fundamentally "asymmetrical improv" with a bunch of systems grafted on, but there's no reason they can't be less asymmetrical. So if my players want to posit the existence of a convenient dark alley, secret tunnel under some ruins, a nearby hamlet, a chandelier rope, a scullery maid, etc. then I'm happy to confirm they are correct.
This can be a really cool way to GM. I've even written mechanics in PF1 3pp products for players that allow them to establish things that are "true" of the game world with a structure that they have some control over. Secret Ways is kind of an all-in example of that. I really like it when the players get invested in the game world and get to feel like they had a hand in crafting it beyond just reacting to the story I present them.

I have a general rule. A player can come up with something so long as it doesn't immeadiately solve their problem. E.G they can't say "legends tell of a secret passage right here" but they can say "Merig Hold contains a special lens that reveals a secret passage" and they can then go get that." I then make a secret knowledge roll (dc based on how major/outlandish the roll) to see how accurate the pcs claim was.

Silver Crusade

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I use fail forward mechanics all the time. I think a lot of people have some misconceptions about what Fail Forward means.

I mentioned this the other day on twitter, but the lack of academic study on tabletop RPG design is to the detriment of the community, as discussions get derailed and mired in semantics and definitions rather than the far more interesting discussion of affect, effect art and culture.

But here I go delving into a discussion that has devolved into semantics and definitions.

Fail Forward is not the following:

- Players succeed, or succeed at a cost no matter their roll. I saw this one bandied about a bit. That's not what failing forward is. Of course the dice and mechanics should be meaningful, otherwise what's the point of playing a game that has mechanics and dice.

- The GM moving the goal posts in the background. Again setting a secret DC and then adjusting it based on the player's rolls, it's functionally identical to the above.

What I feel Fail Forward is, and what it's for:

When players make a dice roll, no matter what they roll: SOMETHING INTERESTING MUST HAPPEN. If there is no interesting outcome on a successful, or a failed roll, then there was no reason to make a roll. (In PF1e this was what Take 10 and Take 20 were actually for).

Fail Forward means that on a failed roll: SOMETHING HAPPENS. The situation escalates, or there is a real cost that makes the difference between success and failure.

The issue is people assume "Forward" means to the end of the adventure, rather than the next bit of the narrative. Player characters are adventurers, by definition everything they do is an adventure.

They fail to scale the cliff:
"Cool, some of the rock crumbles away in your hand you start sliding down the cliff face, more rock is following you down! Oh god, that's a rock-slide, what do you DO?"
Maybe they try and push off the cliff and activate their ring of Feather Fall so the rockslide will fall safely under them (Acrobatics), find an outcropping that could provide some cover (Perception/Climb), or they just fall and roll and hope for the best (Reflex). Now they've spent some resources to survive, or have taken some damage, the cliffside is certainly easier to climb now that it's a rubble ramp.

Or a previously sealed cave entrance is revealed, and the players have a new way into the adventure with a side trek through an ancient sealed tomb (which you're going to have to make up, take 10 minutes to put together 2 or 3 interesting rooms).

Either way you've gone "Forward".

If the players spent some time with some one with a fly spell, some pitons and rope, the DC would be like 5, so the characters probably don't even need a roll at all. They can only succeed through their careful planning.

If you are going to narrate: "Nothing happens", "you fail, but you can try again", or "you don't know" as a consequence for failing a roll, then you should not have asked for a roll.

I as a GM will use Fail Forward mechanics in other ways too.

I use something called Cumulative Skill Challenges. The goal of a cumulative skill challenge is to over time reach a very high DC with multiple checks. The players are lost in a Maze, rather than map the entire Maze I set a cumulative DC of 200. The lead player can make an Intelligence or Kn. (Engineering) check to try and navigate the maze, other characters can assist with the same, or Survival, or other knowledge checks relevant to the maze (perhaps History, or Dungeoneering, or Arcana for a magical maze). After a round of checks one hour is considered to have passed, and there's a 20% random encounter chance. At certain benchmarks (50, 100, 125, 150 and 200) there are set rooms or encounters the players will face. So now the players have an incentive to roll high, as the higher they roll the less random encounters they'll face, and the faster they'll get through the maze (important if they have hours per level spell buffs). It is inevitable they'll eventually exit the maze, (everyone knows the follow the one wall trick) but it's a matter of how many of the traps and encounters they face on the way. Every check, no matter how low is progress chipping away at that cumulative DC.

Another useful fail forward mechanic: On a failed knowledge roll, you don't know the specific information you want, but you know either something else useful about the subject, or know the name of the sage or book where the knowledge is. Not great for identifying monsters, but great for when players get stymied by an investigation and need another lead to follow.

Basically any failed roll should never be a Stop sign. It should always lead to a diversion.

Don't ask for rolls when nothing interesting happens on a failed roll.


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^ That about summarises it for how I'll be using Fail Forward.


Jesikah Morning's Dew wrote:


This is pretty much why I have grown to like a lot of the narrative-based games of recent years. It changes the dynamic. Binary pass/fail isn't as interesting to me as, say, FFG's Star Wars games, where you can fail but with some advantage, or succeed but with a complication, and the narrative that unfolds as a result makes the character's actions matter just that much more. It's a way of saying, "Your character has chosen to undertake this action, so it has meaning, whether you succeed or fail."

FFG Star Wars for most part is binary pass/fail, with dice sometimes suggesting that GM should make something up arbitrarily to spice up the things (because having advantages on a no-success stealth check will totally sweeten the fact that you're now in combat with a whole company of of vibroaxe-toting Gamorrean mercs and assassin droids, or something). Only for the combat system and a few of the skills advantages have an actual tangible effect.

Speaking more generally of failing forward, I've yet to see an example of it that did not amount to the GM railroading the party towards a designated outcome by hook or crook. Examples in this thread no exception (except perhaps for those where "failing forward" is entirely indistinguishable from your regular failure). Which strikes me as a way to make the game boring on the either side of GM's screen. Sure, it is a reaction to an actual problem (binary skill checks being irrelevant and de-facto set by GMs to automatic success in certain circumstances, because stopping the adventure due to one failed skill check is not fun), but that problem was not particularly significant to start with. Games where it was prevalent and could not be avoided by either having plenty of methods to bypass the skill system entirely, or stack modifiers to "you succeed 100% unless directly countered by someone more badass" had worse mechanical issues.


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Thanks for the wrap up DM! Dashiell Hammett would be proud,. Something interesting should happen else why are the dice being rolled. You rolled a number. Some numbers shouldn’t just mean...nothing happened.

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