Winning conditions in RPGs

rules

#1

I have just finished playing an RPG with a ‘winning condition’, i.e. the game text states at the end that you won the game if you have more tokens of something than anybody else.

In this game, 10 days without sunlight, you play androids shortly before their shutdown discussing philosophical questions bothering them. You win if you depress the others (in-character) more than they depressed you (somehow, this is shortening the game’s intentions a little bit too sharply). It’s a bit like weed smoking teenagers discussing existentialism.

What examples do you have in mind where you liked such a design? In which cases didn’t it work?

What’s your general opinion on ‘winning’ in RPGs?


#2

For me its always been about good story.

Even back in 2e AD&D I had a character that sacrificed herself (shielding her love from a fireball) and the other players were like bummer but I was like no this is a good story.

I guess the danger is the game can be too pointed, people avoid hobbies/deep discussion/world development and just go for the goal.


#3

I personally really like the winning conditions in Murderous Ghosts. They offer an interesting way to reflect about what’s going on (do I feel too scared) and offer permissions (to win I need to scare).


#4

If the winning condition is in clear service of a design goal, I think it’s ok. I will say that off the top of my head, I can’t think of any ttrpgs where you “win,” so you might be onto something there.


#5

Same.

I can think of TTRPGs where you can lose, and those aren’t the same but they imply a type of winning, “not loosing”. The ln the elephant in the room is the whole dying as losing, including the total party kill (TPK). Winning in games where the threat of character death and/or a TPK is real and constant, is simply not loosing.

That being said my favorite “lose condition” is the “kimchi rule” in A Long Drive Back From Busan (from the Golden Cobra Page)

if any player says the word “kimchi,” they automatically lose

That being said this topic was about winning conditions, if people want to respond to lose conditions, a moderator can split this and responses to a new topic.


#6

I actually made a 1 shot, diceless, GMless rpg that has 1 of the 3 players winning. The idea revolves around a mediator between two conflicting factions in a kingdom having a dispute and players take the role of each side and the role of the mediator who is essentially the judge.

The two sides go in rounds of a debate and discussion, making their case as to why they should win the dispute, with the mediator injecting questions to get into the root of the problem. In the end, the mediator makes the decision as to who wins and players describe the outcome.

It is fun because it encourages to tell flashbacks and describe their side of the dispute and using a communal, yet conflicting style of storytelling with the mediator ultimately as the judge.


#7

Carolina Death Crawl has a winner - basically last man standing.


#8

Psi*Run kind of has a “winner” in that the end of the game triggers when one person answers all their questions, and then they get first pick of epilogue prompts. Less a win condition than an incentive to push toward answers over safety, though. :man_shrugging:t2:


#9

I feel like My Life With Master is similar to Psi*Run in how the first character to do x triggers an end game situation. But that seems different than winning unless you really wanted to defeat/kill the Master and were or weren’t able to do so.


#10

I have no examples of ever having really enjoyed such a design.


#11

In Caper, a heist game, if you physically steal one of the coin tokens in play without that being noticed by the other players, your character tricks their fellow criminals and gets to keep everything for themselves at the end. I think that’s clever design and there’s a clear fictional reason why you would want to try and do this.

The same goes for Kagematsu, where you vie for Love points from Kagematsu although that’s not as competitive because the most important thing probably won’t be to become his most loved but the common goal of saving the village.

Both aren’t explicitly framed as winning the game, though.

There is also While the World Ends that has two ways in which the world might change at the end of the game associated with two main characters each. Characters can earn change tokens by successfully going after personal goals and whichever side has the most change tokens at the end wins and sees their possibilty of change come true. But importantly “the main characters do not necessarily actively work for their possibility of the change. Perhaps they are not even aware that the change is coming.” So there isn’t really too good a reason why you would want to win this except I guess, if you feel really strongly about one of the possibilities?

In Hollowpoint and 10 days without sunlight winning is presented as more of a joke, expressly not to be taken too seriously.


#12

From a design perspective, consider how the explicit competition a win condition provokes can be used as a lever to encourage behavior. There’s a win condition in The Shab Al-Hiri Roach, for example, and it does its job of making everyone paranoid and competitive, but it isn’t there so that someone can actually win the game.


#13

Thanks to everybody for their input and thoughts!

I actually have a game with a winning condition: in Tuk Fast Tuk Furious you win the game by making it first over the finishing line (obviously) and you do so by player skill. The game encourages you to do your best to be the winner.

However, the strategical input required from player side is low: Once in the game everybody assigns a bonus and a penalty to two other players while the rest plays out as snakes and ladders pure randomness. At the end of the game a bluff element plus luck decides about the winner.

The design goals were:

  • Play to Win,
  • Luck and simplicity instead of tactics,
  • Tension until the end (no early winner),
  • Focus on collaborative story telling
  • Tight connection between story and mechanics.

I have written a longer article about my design goals at the Erzählspiel-Zine but the article is only available in German:


#14

I suppose The Final Girl has a win condition but since the characters are shared, it is the character that wins by surviving to the end as opposed to the player. Yet a player “wins” the right to narrate the final confrontation by losing the most characters.


#15

I think the word “win” is off-putting in the context of RPGs, which we’ve always been told (or we’ve always told ourselves) are games you don’t play to win. It makes it sound like you’re playing to win, rather than playing for the experience of play, playing to spend time with friends, playing to find out what happens in a story, etc. I think that wariness is worth pushing back against, though: Just like you can play a board game with a clear win condition and have goals that supersede winning—an excuse to have fun with friends being a prominent frontrunner—I think we should be able to recognize that RPGs can and do allow for this too. If by “win” we just mean either “end the game when someone achieves a predetermined goal,” or, “play for a set period of time, number of turns, or number of sessions, and then assess who best met predetermined goals,” I feel like we do that quite a lot.

One of my favorite campaigns of all time, in fact, was a Cold Ruins of Lastlife game on Gauntlet Hangouts. That game is a soulslike variant of Dungeon World, including special advancement tracks for when your amnesiac PC either reclaims the lost knowledge of a dead world, or inspires hope for a bright new world. After you advance along one track or the other a certain number of times, the game text advises you that you should start wrapping up the game. The way we discussed it in play, though, was definitely in terms of “winning”—but maybe we were more comfortable with this because it was more like when you win a cooperative game than when you win a competitive game. (And the fact that it was inspired by a video game series that is very much about winning may have something to do with it, but I got the impression most players didn’t have much experience with that series.) When we achieved that final advancement, we took turns narrating an epilogue of how we changed the world.

I also think D&D more generally has moved toward a model of being “winnable” in later editions, especially the 4th edition that’s clearly inspired by World of Warcraft and tactical minis games. Every adventure/module that sees you facing (even if not fighting!) a “final boss” is one that can be won. I have loved plenty such scenarios.

I might even go so far as to say that RPGs do win/loss games better than board games. If you play a cooperative board game for hours and then lose at the end, while it doesn’t undo the fun you had along the way, it can feel pretty deflating. When you “lose” in an RPG, it can be just as exciting or affecting as when you win. The setting for Blades in the Dark and Ghost Lines started, after all, when John Harper’s players “lost” at Dungeon World. And in a similar situation, a failed skill challenge in D&D 4e led to a tragic but fascinating variant of the published setting we played, turning our “town hub” into a tent city surrounding a massive sinkhole to hell. At least it left us adventurers with plenty of work for future sessions.

Perhaps I’m being too loose with terminology, but I think if we can think charitably about what “winning” means, and not necessarily think of it as connected to social dominance (and all the toxic masculinity stuff that comes with it), we can probably think of a lot more examples of RPGs we’ve enjoyed winning at.


#16

My game Cut to the Chase has a winner. It’s a game of chase so the situation almost demands a winner. One player can be playing to win and the other might be playing for the narrative, both serve the narrative regardless.


#17

Quietus has a Hope score that you build towards, and if you max it out you escape, but it’s not competitive, so much as it is a pacing mechanism.


#18

There are some folks making D&D and Pathfinder modules where you get a score at the end, mostly based on specific objectives, monsters, goals, and treasures. I think that’s a fun way to play those crunchy/tactical RPGs.


#19

Becoming has a win condition too - although it’s about which GM made the player’s life most interesting with their bargains, so I feel like it’s a secondary thing to encourage memorable situations for the group, rather than the overall aim, if that makes sense?


#20

Murderous Ghosts was the first game I thought of as well. With no-prep games sometimes I’ve had players get overwhelmed trying to figure out what they “should” be doing at any given moment during play, but the win conditions very quickly communicate the one big thing they need to focus on.