Something I grew tired of in roleplaying games is to roll to succeed. If I look at the skill/ability roll from another perspective, it means that the default state for actions … is to fail. Characters are basically walking around with a fail state looming over them, if anything challenging were to happen to them, and they can only break that state by rolling against their skills.
The first twenty minutes in this video touches this topic, and the next thirty minutes talk about how to avoid “avoid failure” in a boardgame.
Yes, I have played and read both, but you still roll to avoid failure in both games. There are other games with a fail forward mechanic, but “fail forward” is in these games just a game master technique, and I don’t have much for these “soft” mechanics anymore. I’ve grown to dislike systems with “layered mechanics”, where you, for example, got rules, then atop of that you got techniques, and then another layer on top of that with safety mechanics. These should all, in my opinion, be on the same level, presented as part of the game’s (hard) mechanics, i.e. game rules, because it’s easier to understand the system if you do it in that way.
It’s, for me, weird to have game mechanics presented and then, 200 pages later, you got techniques for how you should use the mechanics. This is my biggest beef with roleplaying games nowadays, where the game master is presented with three chunks of information - mechanics, setting and techniques - and then have to create something from it. The roleplaying games are therefor not to be looked upon as games per se, in my definition, but as game engines. Some roleplaying games stray away from this pattern, and are presented as games; I personally strive to have the manual present the game much like boardgame does, but instead of focusing on winning or mastering the game, we tell stories instead.
I have made two games where you don’t roll to break the fail state (i.e. roll to succeed). Imagine is a free pdf game (and conflict free) and This is Pulp is … coming … when I figure out how I can write that game. The game is finished. I can’t wrap my head around how to present it, because roleplaying games have such a lousy structure in how the text is conveyed, generally. Fortune Cookies and Nuclear War is a great example of a boardgame like presentation with no “layered mechanics”.
In the three pager game This is Pulp, which is inspired by Indiana Jones, King Kong, Die Hard, Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow, Rocketeer, and the latest animated Tintin movie: You are thrown into dangers, but you never roll to fail. You always succeed with what you intend, but you roll to avoid consequences - either hurting someone, destroying things or taking more time than intended.
It didn’t feel right to fail in a pulp game, and “player vs game” or “player vs game master” is not the tone that I’m after. Instead, I want the group to tell a fast paced pulp story in 1,5 hours, and I did partly that by removing the “win strive” that is typical in for roleplaying games, and—with the mechanics—give guidelines to the players in how to describe their actions.
Another thing I noticed is what sometimes happens when I play the intrigues in the fish tank, where there are no fail states - you can’t fail in the scenario - but the emergent story takes instead a different route. That’s why it’s so hard to predict how long a fish tank scenario is going to take, because there are no ends. It’s just a constant flow of actions, where the players act and the game master react. It’s up to everyone to decide when to end.
Please, do note: I talk about my perspective here. It’s not much use if you try to convince me that I’m wrong or present other perspectives. I don’t think I’m wrong in my opinions, just as I don’t think you are wrong in yours. I rather you instead ask questions if you’re interested in my point of view, or if you want me to clarify some parts of what I wrote.