Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Win/Loss Conditions

So, it must be self reference week here or something as this is yet another topic that is more a continuation of previous posts as it is something new. I'm also taking a bit more from the AngryDM post I referenced yesterday. Today though, I want to talk about Win and Lose conditions and how they are a wonderful thing to have planned out before any encounter in your game.

So, starting off, what are Win and Lose Conditions? Quite simply they are the conditions, that once met, essentially end the encounter with one side a victor and the other side a loser. You'll see them in tactical RPGs on consoles a lot of the time, where they'll have things like "The Main Character can't die" . So why do you want them in your game, even the non tactical ones?

Well, quite simply, you want them because they add depth, meaning, and variety to otherwise simple encounters. Sure, some conditions may be more fun than others, but they really open up the door for you to have a lot of fun with the encounters you are running. Think about it, which do you want to do? The game where every fight is a fight to the death where victory is only achieved when the other side is completely wiped out? Or one where sometimes you have that, others you just have to survive for X rounds, in a third you have to grab an item and escape, while in a fourth you need to get the NPC ally to point Y before they get killed.

This is all just the PCs side of things as well, the variety that can be added in those situations is incredible. If the PCs just have to survive for 5 rounds, you don't need to worry about the fight being too massive, you want the desperation. So you can throw in more guys than they can conceivably kill and have fun with that. The same with grabbing an item and escaping, the objective is not for the PCs to kill everyone, it is to escape with the object. The focus of the fight shifts, and suddenly everyone has to think just that little bit more about their actions.

On the NPC side it lets you give victory to the NPCs and defeat to the players without killing everyone. If the NPCs need to get a box and escape, then for them that is winning. They have the box, the PCs don't. The PCs can still be alive, hell, the PCs might not even be scratched, but they still lost. The game can continue off of that as well, and take a turn for the interesting as the PCs have to recover from their loss.

This is something I, sadly, forgot about recently. In the most recent M.A/C.C game the PCs were trying to grab a mob boss, and it broke into a fight. Now the PCs were defaulting to "we win, when they're all down and we get the guy", this is not unfair on their part. They needed to zip line off of the building, and do you want to be suspended 20 stories up with active enemies behind you? No, the failure here was me. I defaulted to "victory here is repelling the PCs" instead of, what it should have been, "Victory here is getting the boss to safety". The option was there, someone could've grabbed the down boss and ran. It could've changed the whole flow of the session too. Turning a straight up fight into something a whole lot more interesting. The fight was still fun, but as I look at it now, it could've been more.

So, this is as much to me as it is to you. Try and set up win conditions for your fights before hand. Having it be a simple "kill everyone" works, but really, you should spice things up a bit on occasion. Oh, and for those wondering how to do it, it is simple. Just put something like this in your notes:

PC Win Condition: Get the Chariot into the Castle, Kill the Orc General, or Survive for 15 rounds

PC Lose Conditions: The Chariot is destroyed, the Chariot is captured and taken to point X

Then something like it for the opposition. Often, the Win conditions for the opposition are the same as the Lose conditions for the other group, but they may have additional options. It could, in this example, be considered a win for the opposition if they keep the Orc General alive. Now, both the PCs and the NPCs have won and accomplished a goal.

This also gives you guidelines for the fight, the priority for what should be done. PCs looking to win should protect the chariot, and hold out for as long as possible. Alternatively, they can go after and kill the Orc General. The NPCs should be trying for the chariot, and defending their general.

I am intending on doing this from now on in all my games. Sure, sometimes the fight will be simple things like "Kill them all" but I'm also going to add in other conditions for them as well, things to spice the game up. I'll let you know how it goes.

Though, out of curiosity, anyone have any interesting stories about Win/Loss Conditions in their games they'd like to share?


  1. The trick in my mind about win loss conditions is that if they are secret they can quickly get VERY frustrating for the PCs. I'm not saying they should always be known (Especially if the PCs don't prepare), but they should be fairly clear or stated usually I think. The obvious exception to that is if you want the PCs to suffer a loss and not wipe the table. In that case having a secret win condition for the NPCs, and achieving it is a plot hook and can be fun. It also allows for the recurring NPC much more easily than a lot of cases where PCs home in on the biggest, nastiest dude and win or die quickly.

  2. Generally speaking the PCs should know their win conditions. I mean, in the example above, if the PCs don't know the chariot is the win condition then something is off in the set up 9 times out of 10 in my opinion.

    The secret win conditions (allowing for the 'everybody wins' scenario) is a good way to help establish a villain you want the PCs to respect. The PCs win, they won the fight. The villain wins, he got the Sceptre of Omoscorarorium. PCs can feel good, while still knowing that the villain played them.

    But yes, in general at the very least the main (or most likely/obvious) win/loss conditions should be clear to the players. Either through the set up, the actions of the NPCs, or flat out telling the players. Otherwise, like you said, frustrated PCs.

  3. Alternatively, you can use a "sandbox" technique and let the PC's set their own win/loss conditions.

    For example, in my online 4e game, I frequently create very large encounter locations, like monster camps or forts that contain waaay more than an "encounters" worth of monsters. But the characters get to decide how they approach them - in one they had allies launch a diversion attack, then attacked from the flank.

    In another, they snuck into the camp at night, eliminated the patrols silently and killed most of cultist in their sleep - finally making off with prisoners while holding off the remaining cultists.

    Also, allowing monsters to act intelligently, retreat, communicate with each other, surrender and generally not be morons makes it a lot easier for dynamic win/loss situations to emerge.

  4. That is a valid approach, though I would point out that it is more allowing the players to have an open approach than win loss conditions.

    They choose how to approach, but the win condition seems to be (from what you've said) the defeat of all monsters/npcs in the area. As opposed to say, rescue the princess being held in the fortress.

    It is a good way to spice things up as well though.

    I also like the idea of (and use) the smart monsters. Surrendering, running, using tactics, all let you have fun with the battlefield when need be, or just put players in strange situations.

  5. Actually, the players only sometimes defeat all the monsters/npc's in an area. In the example of the cultist camp, they killed many of the cultists, but their primary purpose was to rescue the hostages, which they did. When they returned to the camp later, they found the cultists had been finished off by goblin raiders - a consequence of losing many of their warriors and leaders against the PC's earlier.

    By simply presenting situations, like a monster fort that is sending out raids into the PC's friendly territory, and then allowing the monsters to react intelligently to what the PC's do, you're giving the players the ability to decide on their own win/loss conditions.

    Because, as any parent knows, giving people a choice is better than telling them what to do - even if there are only 2 options to chose from (eat your dinner or sit there a while).