Friday, July 12, 2013

PCs Can Fail. Action Movie Characters Can Not

Confession time: I love action movies. Now, by that I don't mean that I like good action movies. I mean I really enjoy the genre. It is a lot of fun, the action can be quite entertaining, and I'm generally able to tune my expectations so that I can judge the movie solely on what it is trying to be. This means that there are some movies that I could never call a "good" movie that I really do love. Why? Because they are entertaining.

Now, with my love of movies it shouldn't come as much surprise that I love when table top games start getting cinematic. The impossible odds, the pulse pounding action, the desperation for success. It is amazing. I'm also lucky in that one of my players excels (yes, italics are necessary for this) at creating interesting and odd situations that can quickly turn into just this kind of set piece.

There is only one problem. See, in the movies - whatever the odds - the main character can survive and will generally succeed. If they don't succeed it is because they aren't supposed to and they'll end up as a prisoner. In RPGs though, the characters can and will fail at times.

Take my last Shadowrun session as an example. In a movie, Krush would have made the escape. He'd have made it into the subway, run down a tunnel, and managed to get away. Maybe he'd have lost some of the explosives. Maybe he'd have to injure a cop or two in a fist fight. Heck, maybe the helicopter would've exploded causing collateral damage and getting him flagged as a terrorist. But he would have made it. Skin of his teeth, sure, but made it.

Only, in the game this isn't what happened. The dice came up and while they weren't unfavorable towards Krush they didn't bring the amount of success needed. He got shot and badly hurt, and then he had the helicopter crash right over him. He went down, and he went down hard.

Now, as the GM, I don't feel bad about this. Krush chose his actions - including going alone to do something dangerous. I think I was fair at every turn, and the situation only really got out of hand because of a critical glitch. I hope and I am confident that Krush's player had fun and doesn't feel targeted, but that is different from thinking I did something wrong. Could I be convinced I had? Maybe, but right now it feels right to me.

So why mention this? Because it is an important thing to remember. Cinematic sequences are awesome because of the very real danger of failure that you are supposed to feel as a viewer. Unfortunately, the players in a table top game don't have a writer penning what happens. They have dice that determines if they succeed and how. They have a GM who has to set difficulties - difficulties that have to reflect the danger of the situation. This combination means the results aren't certain. On the good side that makes things more exciting. On the bad, it means that sometimes excitement turns to disappointment as the PC fails and falls.

In a lot of ways calling for a dice roll is much the same as pointing a gun at the situation. You have to be prepared for it to get destroyed. You have to be willing to let it be destroyed. Otherwise, what's the point?

1 comment:

  1. As Dm, when the roleplay/description of my players was to cool for it to fail and/or i did not to deal with the consequence of a total failure, I would say the attempt was successful then ask a for a die roll. This would determine how successful it was. It's basically a "yes, but.." . From a partial success with multiple implecations to a total success without any "snafus".