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Failing in RPGs

Yeah, that's where I'm confused too, Cai. Have things changed so very much in the last ten to fifteen years of tabletop gaming that PCs are actually expected to live now? To survive? That's madness

It isn't about realism. At least that is the point I get from Beta. He has a very story/narrative centric game view.

lol, well you could have the players make characters one session and kill the characters the next session, then rinse and repeat.

Encounters are never to kill the characters. That's why you use CRs. They're problems to be solved... with their swords and fireballs.

Is it me or is there no easy way to do easy, normal or hard mode in rpgs?

Originally Posted by Raistlinmc View Post
Yeah, that's where I'm confused too, Cai. Have things changed so very much in the last ten to fifteen years of tabletop gaming that PCs are actually expected to live now? To survive? That's madness
As flippant as the comment is meant to be, the answer is right there in the post:
Originally Posted by cailano View Post
I throw CR appropriate-ish combats at them
If you throw CR-appropriate(-ish) encounters at the players, you are expecting them to win the encounter because the system is made up in that way. At best you are providing the threat of defeat, but neither you not the system is actually expecting it as a realistic result.

CR (and level based systems to a lesser degree) themselves contribute to the problem a bit, to be honest. Because CR-appropriate challenges are the norm, the players can easily get into the mindset of encounters being specifically tailored for them in terms of difficulty, and that the base assumption of an encounter they are faced with (not an encounter they seek out "off rails"*, so to speak) is that they'll be winning, thus all but eliminating a meaningful chance of failure. And even if they do fail, the punishment is usually death (further reinforced by the fact that many systems lack interesting consequence-mechanics altogether, defaulting defeat to merely being reduced to 0 in hit points which means dying).

As for the "running away is bad" argument, like many things running away isn't inherently bad, it's just that it's misused. Lets take war as an example: in war, when you retreat you are giving the opponent ground. You don't want that to happen. You minimize further losses when you realize you can't win, but at the same time the enemy isn't just going to hang around and wait for you to come back: no, they take something you want (or didn't want them to take). Running away is a valid way of being defeated, but as Beta already said so aptly: "Failure should be interesting". Running away by itself isn't interesting. It's the consequences of running away that are interesting.

Beyond that, Beta said everything I've been trying to say, but better. Though at the specific comment I do believe he meant that for showwriters it's hard to threaten the characters because they're not expected to die in the middle of an episode or the like (since there's no real climax).

*Even in a "full sandbox" game the GM is the one who provides the challenges and creates the more overarching story, and in a vast majority of cases will nudge the players towards more CR appropriate encounters.

Sure, I'll admit that the whole concept of the CR system is to have a reasonable challenge that provides for a chance of defeat if things go bad, but in general the PCs are expected to stand a better chance of winning than the reverse.

In general, I find it helpful for encounter design. Pathfinder (my favored system) is a little more weighted towards the PCs winning, but that's easy enough to work around. In Pathfinder I find CR works like:

CR -1 or -2: PCs will mow through this challenge. This is sometimes fun.
CR at PC level: PCs will handle this without too much difficulty. Probably a 3 round fight.
CR +1 or +2: This will be a tough fight. Probably no PC death, but they'll get knocked around some and deplete their resources.
CR +3: This is going to be a very tough fight. PC death starting to be likely.
CR +4: Only bosses should be this tough, if that. TPK possible.

I use a mix in my games. So far the highest I've gone was a CR +2, but really it should have been +3 when all the variables were accounted for. It was very tough, and I bet each of the players and I wondered if it were going to be a TPK, at least for parts of the battle. I know I did.

So that's what I mean by CR appropriate-ish. Provide some variety but keep the players on their toes.

I like your post about running away, Actana. A good GM could make that very interesting.

Originally Posted by Chaiboy View Post
Hmm... so you are the second or third person to not like making players retreat, Beta. It's not something I usually do. I think this was the first game where the players got themselves into a bind that left them trapped with few options.
The players are never entirely responsible for what they "get themselves into." Someone had to put the thing there in the first place.

Originally Posted by Chaiboy View Post
What would you do in such a situation. Or do you avoid encounters that are above the players ability to handle.
If, while constructing some aspect of the game world, whether ahead of time or on the fly, if I find myself imagining or assuming what the players "should" do, I know I've got a problem. The players "should" have left the town as soon as they had a bad feeling. Why? What if they don't? The players "should" retreat. Why? What if they don't? If a GM doesn't know the answers to those questions, or they do and have a feeling the answers aren't going to fly at their table, they might want to reconsider their idea.

If a GM still gets themselves into this kind of situation, and doesn't want to follow through on what seems "logical," one thing (as far as I can see, the only thing) the GM can do is talk to the players. "People, I didn't see this coming and now I don't know how to follow through with it in a consistent but fun way. What do you think?" Maybe that breaks immersion, but a little immersion breaking is worth saving the overall enjoyment of the game.

The way out of these kinds of situations is to take a liberal view of what is true in the setting and what could "logically" happen. In a fantasy setting, a LOT of stuff could happen "logically." Okay, the town of werewolves has the PCs dead to rights and no one at the table can see any other possibility. Well, maybe the werewolf lord actually needs the help of some non-lycanthropes. See, there's something he needs, deep inside a nearby silver mine. Or, he needs human representatives at a conclave that will run longer than his cycle lasts. The PCs can help, and will be rewarded. Now, for this to work, you need player buy-in, because no one likes being forced into a mission. They'll either decline and force the GM's hand, or agree and try to get out of it. This sort of solution is for when the GM is asking for help and players are open to ideas other than the one "logical" one.

Originally Posted by Chaiboy View Post
I am running a Mummy's Mask campaign and I could see chaotic players deciding the skulls and imminent death warnings across half the map as a sign for better treasure, which would put 1st and 2nd level character up against gangs of ghouls. Thats seems another case of escape the danger or risk becoming a ghoul, or dead, both just as bad.
A lot of these kinds of issues can be avoided by direct conversation. Miscommunication is the root cause: the GM sets up a threat, expects it to be dealt with in a certain way, the players assume something else is meant and take a different approach. Boom.

In this case, I'd tell the player straight up that the warnings aren't just for NPCs, like the warnings from the quest-giver at the tavern, added for flavor. Explain, though, that he could go to those regions, but the challenge wouldn't be fighting the creatures there, but avoiding them, and failure of that challenge would mean something other than death. Suggest that it means he either loses an item, or winds up in a random spot on the edge of that region. Listen to his suggestions.

The problem with retreat is that it's deprotagonizing. It makes the players feel like cowardly failures, instead of successful heroes. The times when we, as audience members, find it cool, is when there's still some success for the hero. Sure, the heroes are desperately trying to escape the Death Star, but they're doing it as successful rescuers, not as cowardly failures. Sure Indiana Jones is trying to escape from the temple of Kali, but he's doing it to return the sacred stones and rescue the slaves. It's not "retreat," it's really more about "escape," but also with an element of success.

So, in the werewolf example, the players could come across some third party that needs to be brought out of the town. An important book or tool, or someone who wants to leave but can't for some reason and has avoided the werewolves for a while but wants the PCs' help to escape. Now it's much less like "retreat" and a lot more like "victorious escape."

Make sense?

Originally Posted by cailano View Post
Why isn't it believable that we'll kill the PCs? Heck, I try to do that all the time. I throw CR appropriate-ish combats at them and play the bad guys to win, according to their character and intelligence at least. It's on the PCs to survive.
That's all fine. But what if they don't survive? That's the question, and one I've never seen adequately addressed in any game.

Originally Posted by Raistlinmc View Post
Yeah, that's where I'm confused too, Cai. Have things changed so very much in the last ten to fifteen years of tabletop gaming that PCs are actually expected to live now? To survive? That's madness
No, they're just expected to have an enjoyable game at all times. That's possible to do when the game is very deadly, but a lot of approaches to the game aren't prepared for that, primarily by not providing an enjoyable way for players to continue playing after character death.

If you haven't encountered this issue, great. Perhaps you'd like to share what a player in your game does once they're deprived of their character. For example, how long do they spend not playing the game with the others?

Oh, not long at all. However long it takes them to make a new character sheet up, honestly. I throw folks right back in as soon as they submit a sheet. I never expect players to wait to get back into a game. As soon as they're ready, I'm ready.

On top of that, a few of my players have back up sheets ready and raring to go. I don't ask that of them, but they seem to enjoy it anyway.

I haven't read the whole discussion in detail, but in my mind, there are basically two lines you can take this topic along:

First, there is "losing in combat = death" and whether that's a good or bad thing. I think that there's multiple ways that you can interpret that, but even supposing that death to combat is a bad thing (and I tend to think that it can be, depending on the style of game), I don't think that's actually a system's fault one way or another. Because the system is not entirely in control of the DM's style, any system you use has to present a reasonable system for how to allocate that a person can die. It largely falls upon the DM to decide whether death is a good consequence for the situation at hand and whether to use the system saying "this is when a character dies" without fudging it. I mean, there are systems where death is actually literally impossible (see Legend of the Wulin), but they are extremely rare, to the point where I think you can't really blame a system for an industry standard.

The second way to look at this argument is whether preventing failure states at all is acceptable. Now, I think that players should be allowed to fail. If they aren't allowed to fail, then what point is there to success? BUT, and this is a big but, the failure of a player should not override the enjoyment that a player gets out of the game. And because death ultimately causes a lot of different negative repercussions, it should not generally be a constant failure state. It is similar to how some players play with continues on in a video game; some people just don't enjoy having to restart from the beginning and, depending on the group, that should ultimately be weighed against the natural balance of "success vs failure".

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