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Dealing with Players Fear of Failure

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  • Dealing with Players Fear of Failure

    Hello dear Forum

    I greatly enjoy the WoD an CoD, but I’ve come to notice something that really ruins the game/mood for me as a ST: the players knowing how difficult something is.

    Say the players want to do something, I say its -X for that (leaving them with a low dice pool), and the players then go; “aaahm, lets not do that then”. This has happened many times for me when running the modern d10 systems.
    Some systems don't have this problem since the players don't know the "difficulty" of a action. So either they just try or they have their character inspect the situation to get a better idea of how difficult the task is.

    Any suggestions on how to tackle this?
    Is there a house rule floating that address this without compromising the systems simplicity?
    Should I just enforce a: "You said it, you do it"-policy?
    Is there a way to encourage players to take risks more risks despite the obvious difficulty?

  • #2
    You could declare the effective malus/difficulty AFTER the player declare the action, before that give only generic hints on the difficulty level


    • #3
      Maybe ease off on how often you're adding penalties? I admit I tend to not use them outside of extreme circumstances; failure is more difficult to make interesting.

      What kind of situations are we talking here? I mean, in most circumstances you just fail to do something, there's not really a risk.

      Also, how intuitively do they know the system? It can be helpful to point out the tricks of the system. Like, spending willpower is not intuitive, it can take a while to persuade players to not stockpile it.


      • #4
        Like Michael said: Failure in a skilltest is not always a bad thing. especially if action X was actually kinda a bad idea.

        That´s the reason why i normally don´t use penality to dicepools - and mostly pool vs pool.
        In my current Vampire: the Requiem game i use hunger the V5 hunger mechanics.

        For example: One really stressed young vampire tried to sucker punch a colleague of hers. she failed. And the dude was: WTF Why the fuck did you try to punch me? She broke down and explained that she was stressed and didn´t think anyone would help her. luckily she aced that roll even though it was tough as her colleague was not very empathic after she tried to punch him.

        Emigrated successfullly from the "old" to the "new" sandboxy World of Darkness. Mostly playing Requiem, Awakening and the Lost.
        Likes cheesecake


        • #5
          I think it was on the podcast where one of the hosts mentioned that the best games were ones were "you succeed but only just". To that end, whenever a player tries an avenue to solve a problem that doesn't work out or faces a set back, the group gets a die added to a community pool that can be called on at the group's discretion. These "resolve" dice help smooth over some bumps.


          • #6
            Thanks for the answers..

            That is usually what I do (I believe). They tell me what I do, they build their dice pool, and then I tell them the penalty for the action. It is mostly when the player already have a small dice pool this happens.

            I don't think I am giving more penalties than what the rules suggest. The players who have a 6+ dice pool usually try it, even with a heavy penalty. But when a player has 3-4 dice, it takes very little for them to just say "nope.. gona try something else."

            We are talking about situations were the player has a small dice pool and penalties come into play. Like trying to unlock a door under stress.

            Some of my players have been playing for quite a while and allot. And some others are currently just trying it out. So the other group is very reluctant to use Willpower, and the other not used to it. It is the second group however, that shows less "fear".

            Its kinda how I see it to. Especially in CoD where they really try to say "failing is part of the story".

            Don't know what V5 is.
            But stress can do that to a person... Make them all... Punchy, punchy.. Poor girl :P

            ​What podcast? I do like the concept of "resolve dice" though.. Sounds neat.


            • #7
              Originally posted by Neros View Post
              Thanks for the answers..

              ​What podcast? I do like the concept of "resolve dice" though.. Sounds neat.
              The Onyx Pathcast. It was just a one-time mention, there wasn't too much detail on.

              Another option would be that when someone blows a willpower point, they role two sets of dice and take the results of the better dice set. This is analogous to the D&D Advantage/disadvantage system. You could pick something where after a failure a character has advantage and takes the better of two sets.


              • #8
                You could study the Conditions or even create your own that seem suited to the situation at hand, turning failure into an opportunity to gain Beats. Certainly that will encourage more experienced players to take more chances, even risking too much as they might seek out opportunities to fail in order to gain Beats.

                It's not easy, especially in the beginning when they won't take risks, but to me the best way to deal with their fears is to make failure's consequences more interesting than damning. Once players realize that failure adds to the story instead of just killing their characters they will take more chances.

                As for encouraging Willpower expenditure, go out of your way to provide opportunities to recover those precious points and then tell them that they just earned one, even when they are still full up and can't earn any more. Remind them that Willpower will recover.


                • #9
                  Check out the Storypath System for Scion 2e. It has a wonderful way of handling failure.

                  The short version is: If a character fails with some successes they can take a consolation, they either succeed with a complication (e.g. you get over the fence, but drop your wallet on the way up and your pursuers find it) or a momentum, which is much like the resolve dice mentioned above.

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                  • #10
                    I don't think I am giving more penalties than what the rules suggest.
                    I was more or less suggesting ignoring them, or at least downplaying how much you use them.

                    Originally posted by Neros View Post
                    We are talking about situations were the player has a small dice pool and penalties come into play. Like trying to unlock a door under stress.
                    You could always impose mandatory time limit on decisions. I've had a GM use a hour glass as a timer and if you don't decide before the time runs out, the characters just stand there indecisively.

                    It's generally better to take an obvious but hard option than do nothing.


                    • #11
                      Thanks for all the suggestions. Been very helpful

                      I've never done a "You have failed this, now you die". Doesn't make for good story, unless what the players do are suicidal.

                      But I really like the idea of giving them a choice of getting a success but recieve a complication. That way if they really do want to succeed, then it will be possible but more in their power. But I will run the suggestions by them and see what they will be most comfortable with.


                      • #12
                        Often the issue isn't that failure leads to bad things, but that failure leads to loss of agency and impact.

                        Consider a scenario where the players are overlooking some kind of criminal deal going down in an old warehouse. There's a general indication that the players are going to have to stop this from happening. One of the players decides to try using an old chain to swing down and grab an important looking briefcase. He fails, overshoots, and lands on the floor of the warehouse. Everyone starts reaching for their guns...

                        Result: The player gave up an important advantage (the element of surprise), got himself in a bad situation, and the bad guys are doing exactly what they'd do if the group had just confronted them.

                        Alternative: The player fails, overshoots, and lands on the floor of the warehouse. One side, assuming this was a setup, surround one of their members and start rushing him out the door. One or two take up a rear guard position. The other side starts acting out in confusion. Some of them grab for the merchandise, others start pulling guns and diving for cover, and one starts barking orders.

                        Result: Well the player still gave up an important advantage but he also significantly changed the situation. He's still in a bad place, though probably a bit better than in the original scenario. He also got the NPCs to reveal information about themselves by how they reacted to him. Most importantly, he changed the entire direction of the scene; however it was going to play out before, it's going to go a lot differently now. Failure was interesting.

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                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Neros View Post
                          I say its -X for that (leaving them with a low dice pool), and the players then go; “aaahm, lets not do that then”.
                          My table doesn't allow that bolded part and we don't have this issue.


                          • #14
                            @Inodiv That would certainly fix it. But I am a "don't want to bother people"-personality, which has its perks and downsides when it comes to roleplaying


                            • #15
                              To me, once we start calculating exact dice pools we're no longer in decision mode. We're resolving a declared action and it's a mechanical task there, the only choice there possibly being is some resource expenditures.
                              If players at my table want to know how hard something is, they are free to evaluate it with a Wits+Relevant skill roll.

                              For example: You got a rifle and you're observing a drug deal. It's raining. Something's wrong, guns are getting pulled, the head of the opposing gang ducks behind a car (gets cover), his right hand is still in the open. What do you do?
                              You may declare that you're shooting at the boss, and then you learn that cover and weather penalties give you a bad pool. Too late, after all, you are already pulling the trigger.
                              You may declare that you're shooting the right hand, obviously, he's not in cover, so easier target - you learn the penalties and you have a low pool, but a decent chance to hit.
                              Alternatively, you could declare "I'm evaluating the situation here." a Wits + Firearms roll will reveal you exactly what the weather bonuses are, and how hard it is to shoot at them and then you can decide if for next turn you're still up for it.

                              Example is slightly contrived, but just showing that not allowing for such backsies can give meaningful choices as well.

                              In the end, it comes down to what style of a game you want. If this bothers you, bring it up with your players. Talk with them what this takes away from the game for you. Hopefully, you'll find common ground and they'll just agree that "yeah, let's not do that anymore".

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