Thursday, 26 January 2012

Facing the Grim Reaper: Death/Failure in Tweet RPG

There's one thing that's troubled me throughout the three Tweet RPG adventures that have taken place so far – the 'death/failure' mechanic. Today, I have finally had to face this nemesis. It hasn't been an easy experience, as I've had to face the fact that what I thought was a good idea was essentially flawed. However, through some humbling discussion and consideration, and with the help of the Tweet RPG players, I think I've made some steps in the right direction. I won't go as far as to say that I've worked it out, but I think I know how to improve the current situation.

Why has death/failure been an issue? I knew there should be an element of risk involved in these adventures – if it's certain that you'll succeed, then what's the point in playing? Combat and stat tests needed to have a negative consequence if unsuccessful, and death/failure seemed like the best option. However, there are big issues with this approach. The passage of time was a big concern. If I sent the players back to an earlier point (or if I was really mean, the start), it would mean losing days of voting action and replaying old options. This seemed like a bad choice – I could see many players 'unfollowing' due to frustration and boredom. What to do?

Before 'Time to Die' began, I decided to adjust the 'death/failure' mechanic to it's current state – if you run out of HP or choose a dead-end story pathway, you pay the penalty of missing one voting session and are returned to a recent decision, albeit with slightly altered options (no point offering the choice of fighting if it's impossible to win). I had purposely avoided putting this concept into action in earlier situations, probably because I subconsciously knew it was flawed. Earlier today, the dice throws in Weldon Locke's fight against some CygNet Research thugs led to him being defeated, and the death mechanic went into action. I felt fairly happy with my choice, but a part of me knew I was about to receive some challenging responses...

The feedback I've had today has confirmed my fears – the 'death/failure' mechanic is not up to scratch. The general consensus was that a 'rewind' to an earlier point is a cheap way to deal with this issue – it may work in video-games, where you can employ a 'saved-game' feature, or in gamebooks, where you can keep your finger in the previous page, but not in Tweet RPG. If death or failure is involved, there should consequences that make logical sense. With that in mind, here are a few options that could be employed:
  • The hero dies or is defeated, meaning that the story ends. The ultimate conclusion is withheld or revealed through a brief summary, letting the players know what could have happened.
  • Another protagonist steps in and continues the story in the dead/defeated hero's place e.g. a relative, associate or other significant character.
  • The story works so that death or failure fits logically within the structure i.e. losing combat causes you to be captured, with escape becoming your new quest, or death sends you into an afterlife quest, where you have to fight your way back to the physical world to continue.

I think the key issue is using death/failure in a way that a) has a significant consequence e.g. losing items or skills, and b) that logically fits the make-up of the story. With that in mind, I'm going to make some changes to plan I put in action today. Firstly, the 'miss-a-go' concept will be discontinued. Secondly, tomorrow's 8:00am GMT vote will not be a 'rewind'. I've decided on a new story progression which takes into account Weldon's defeat in combat, and has consequences for the character and the players.

It's quite ironic that death has been the most worrying issue in Tweet RPG. Guess that says something about the human condition. I'm not saying that I've got it sorted now, but I think I'm heading along the right path. I want to say a big thank you to all the Tweet RPG players for bearing with me in the issue, and especially to @DaddyDM, @EricMPaq, @JamesMEWilson and @richardstheone (sorry if I've missed anyone out) for providing some really interesting viewpoints and improving my GMing skills! If you have any opinions on death/failure in role-playing games, or ideas for how it should be done in Tweet RPG, feel free to comment below.

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