The best laid plans of mice and men, often go astray. – Robert Burns
For this third installment of the Bring the Awesome series we are going to look at what to do when things go wrong. Because in a role-playing game they will go wrong, and spectacularly wrong at that. So what do we do to keep the game from failing spectacularly and the players losing interest?
To review, the basic ideas of bringing the awesome:
As a GM, rule in favor of the awesome instead of the perfectly consistent BUT try to make it clear that “awesome” is not the same as “insanely gonzo” (unless your game is meant to be insanely gonzo).
And as a player you should seize the moment and be awesome whenever possible BUT try to look for ways to share that spotlight with the other members of the party. Awesomeness shared is awesomeness multiplied!
It is with these in mind that we look at what to do when things go wrong, how do we react in the face of failure. Our intrepid band of adventurers continues to chase the cultists through the caverns, cornering the head cultist outside the summoning room, where presumably the idol that needs destroyed awaits:
As you cross the threshold the sound of the door closing startles the robed figure at the far end but then a menacing chuckle emerges from somewhere deep in its hood. The soldier, who led the party into the cavern, tried to get a shot off before the cultist could turn and bring forth the doom he intended.but his rifle misfired and the shell jammed as it ejected.With a cry of alarm the soldier bent over his rifle to begin clearing the jam.
Not a Disaster
Rolling a critical failure at the beginning of the penultimate encounter can be a disaster for the players, or it could be opportunity. The traditional way of handling this event would be to fudge the die roll, either a reroll of to allow the crit not to be that bad (i.e. it might take a single combat round to clear, instead of several). Following our Bring the Awesome principles let us use this to resolve the combat.
With a frustrated scream the soldier bent over the rifle and began to ratchet the bolt to clear the jammed shell casing. fail this he hurled the whole rifle at the cultist and reaching for his pistol. The photographer in the player’s group, extended his “weapon” his ready tray of flash powder for his camera and hit the button triggering the flash. The cultist was caught off guard again and could only call out for help from his minions.
Since the rifle itself is jammed, the damage if it does hit is not as important in terms of numerical damage as the havoc it causes. In a way this is similar to the distraction technique used in the first column, but the result is going to be much less catastrophic than in the first example, Because this is the final encounter we want the chief cultist to present a more formidable foe than a run-of-the-mill minion and we want the encounter to last longer than a turn or two.
Stepping from the Shadows
The chief cultist closed his eyes for a moment and rubbed his eyes to rid them of the flash. From the shadows next to him his bodyguard stepped into the torchlight, pulling a kris knife from its holder and grinning wickedly as he advanced on the party.
Their fast thinking and cooperation helped avoid the potential disaster of a critical failure for the players and kept the chief cultist off balance for longer than he otherwise would have and allowed his henchman to make a dramatic and timely appearance. The basic idea of cooperation and out-of-the-box thinking is preserved and the focus is on the drama, not the numbers.
Any improv play should be outside the numerical grind of hit points (or whatever your system uses). Think dramatically, make your improv like an action movie and give everyone a chance to respond to what is happening as opposed to simply going in turns.
What do you do now?
As a GM at this point, turn to the remaining players and describe what has happened so far and let them react to it directly, You can keep the action order the same, but make sure to describe what has happened each turn and give each player more narrative to react. Encourage players by the narrative. let them shoot the rope holding the candelabra;. grab the machete dropped by a fallen minion, pull a lighter from their pocket. the more description there is of the environment and situation the more they can react to and play off of.
The professor sidled away from the combatants using the shadows as cover maybe he could sneak into the next room as the fighting distracted everyone. His debutante daughter pulled her derringer pistol from her purse and took aim at the bodyguard, his was too far away to risk a shot but if he moved close enough she could get a good shot at him.
The stage is set and the tension is high for this final encounter, Which is what we want, for the game to be memorable and fun.
In the next part of the series, we will look at what to do when your villains “fail”, how do they give give the players a challenge while not overwhelming them? Stay tuned …