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The Douchey DM » Alternate Views » A Challenge: LOSE!

A Challenge: LOSE!

We all play games for different reasons, for some of us, it’s about the story, for others it’s doing awesome stuff, building a powerful character, gathering wealth, etc.

But even among the most role-play-heavy players you’ll see a drop or cessation of role-playing once combat starts. Players — even good ones — may trade tactical advice, point out particular dangers, etc. This often won’t be in character. It’s simple table talk between players who are cooperating to win a combat encounter.

But it IS metagaming. Amongst the many crimes of metagaming, this is probably a minor infraction, so insignificant that many GMs wouldn’t bother admonishing players for it.

And it’s understandable: combats in RPGs are always a win-lose event, and everyone likes to win.

But consider this: what would happen to your character’s story if you lost a combat? I’m not talking about the typical dungeon crawl combat. You lose to a jibbering mouther, you become jibbering mouther shit. I get that.

But what if you lost a fight with some highwaymen?  You’re stripped of gear, maybe they were nice and left you your boots. You’re stranded. Maybe imprisoned. It’s a horrible setback.

And it’s an interesting twist in your story.

Choose to Lose

How do you, as a player, lose a combat? That depends on your character. Do you have certain personality flaws? Use them. We all have flaws, and they hinder us all the time.

Maybe you’re overconfident or impulsive — so rush headlong into the enemy, tactical considerations be damned.

Maybe you’re overcautious — so wait and stall until you discover the enemy has got you flanked and surrounded.

Maybe you REALLY hate goblins, and you’re fighting goblins! Lose your mind in rage! Avenge your brother who was murdered by goblin when you were little.

Don’t do the smart thing — do what your character would do.

Have You Lost Your God-Damned Mind?

Maybe.  But that doesn’t mean I’m wrong.

Role-playing is not collecting stuff — unless your character is greedy or miserly.

Role-playing is not fighting, though role-playing may lead to fighting, and certainly many fights could do with more role-playing.

Role-playing is not character advancement — unless your character obsessively trains.

Role-playing is portraying a character who isn’t you. If you’d move one square to the left to make sure that goblin doesn’t flank you, that doesn’t mean that’s what your character would do.

A Little Warning

You might want to give your GM a heads up about what you’re up to. GMs get trained by players, just like players can get trained by GMs.

Written by

Stu Venable is the producer of Happy Jacks RPG Podcast and writer and editor of He is founder and director of the Poxy Boggards and a member of Celtic Squall. He holds a degree in Journalism and Public Relations from California State University, Long Beach. He is a husband and a father. He hates puppies.

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3 Responses to "A Challenge: LOSE!"

  1. Jim RyanNo Gravatar says:

    I agree. However…

    I do think that out of character tactical talk during combat – while it IS metagaming – isn’t necessarily BAD metagaming, because it helps the players to more accurately portray characters who know more about fighting than the players, themselves, do. In a D&D-like setup, PCs SHOULD have the advantages of being able to read body language and being able to draw on their years of experience and training to know when to lunge in what direction at the right time – but of course they don’t because they’re pieces of plastic on a square grid. So, the best the players can do to make up for it is to put their heads together about what they’re planning to have their characters do. It’s by no means perfect and it certainly can be abused, but it’s the most the players can do to try to respond appropriately in the situation. The PCs don’t have to behave like tactical geniuses, but it’s probably safe to say that in most cases the average dungeon-crawler will have seen more combat in his life than the guy playing him at the table has.

    That said, I am totally with you on the issue of the player trying to respond the way the character would whether it’s the smart thing to do or not. I don’t know that the player should have “winning” or “losing” in mind ahead of time, though. In traditional games (in which the mechanics have nothing to do with narrative power) I prefer to respond in character regardless of how I as a player want the story of the campaign to go (whether that means the character does well or does poorly).

    Of course, then there are games whose mechanics involve directly affecting the narrative. If you ever want to see a game that makes losing AWESOME, I have one word for you: Fiasco. I’ll admit, whenever I play that game, I play to lose! 🙂

  2. ClockhorkNo Gravatar says:

    There is something to be said for this Fight Club-esque assignment. One of the characters that I have had the most fun playing this past year is a brash, loudmouthed, immensely overconfident, and mindnumbingly stupid “soccer hooligan meets the Rockateer” superhero named The Sentinel. He has made piss poor combat decisions, horrendous judgement calls, and at times has survived only by the shear luck of the die roll. He has nearly blown up the party by firing off a jetpack in a tunnel lined with explosives. He has sauntered into a gathering if molemen holding the dynamite and plunger with no thought of whether he would survive. He has crashed through flower shop windows because he didn’t take the time to fact check whether it was a speakeasy (it wasn’t). These fails and foibles have made him one of the most fun characters I have ever played. Have fun with your failures…you don’t know what you have been missing.

  3. JonMcNallyNo Gravatar says:

    I heartily with the premise here, that failure can be as interesting as success. However, I agree with Mr. Ryan’s assertion that this requires extra elbow grease within the conventional simulationist RPG, which doesn’t naturally encourage this style of play. By definition, the simluationist game is built to serve as physics for the game world, not to actually advance plot/story or to make failure fun. It’s very easy for players and GMs alike to lose the “macro” to those “micro” moments for which the rules are intended.

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