Posts Tagged ‘Buffy: The Vampire Slayer’

Fun with Failure

Do you allow your players to declare that their characters automatically fail?

Let me tell you about my character. Trooper Shiv came from rural Georgia. He joined up with the 3:16 because in the unbearable lightness of the far future there were only so many jobs. So Shiv signed on the dotted line, went through basic on the moon, and promptly got shipped off to a war nobody could possibly be prepared for.

Shiv had a lot of bad luck. He was blinded on an early drop, and the replacement eyes the 3:16 gave him never actually worked. The best thing that ever happened to him was when he got stuck with an alien brain parasite. At last he had a friend.

He wasn’t a bad soldier. He just wasn’t the kind of guy things worked out for. A lot of the time, I’d roll the dice for him, and I’d be hoping for a failure. Not really to torment him, just because I didn’t really think that his story was a happy one.

In 3:16, there’s no upside to failing conflicts or even individual tasks.1 It’s not Buffy the Vampire Slayer, where you get points for taking one for the team or the story. I just hoped my character would fail.

One of the themes of Cavaliers of Mars is that characters’ fortunes swing wildly. While they’re generally competent, sometimes they’re just going to be down on their luck… and sometimes the dice are going to bring them low. But players can also choose to blow a task check. Specifically, they can choose to critically fail. In exchange, they get a point of Luck, so that things will swing back their way at some point in the future.

The Luck point is there to encourage certain kinds of drama, but the main reason characters are allowed to just fail is that I think that players should be able to shape the hardships their characters face. It’s really just an extension of allowing players to choose impossible odds.

Does a player deliberately screwing their character up break your immersion? Do you feel that your favorite rules cause failure often enough that letting a GM or player inflict more of it damages the tone of the game? I only addressed games with a roughly traditional player/GM divide here… are your preferences different when it comes to games like Fiasco?


  1. Although taking a Weakness can spare your character from getting killed.

The Deadly Years

Lev Lafayette’s RPG Review interviewed me recently, in my capacity as Vampire: The Requiem developer. The interview has some tidbits about the creative process behind the clan books and Rome series that I don’t think have been dropped before.

A younger Russell Bailey

Me, younger and better dressed

It’s odd to reflect that most of the work I was interviewed about, I did at least three years ago. The rate at which time passes seems to change as you near Carousel. Growing up, maybe, I don’t know.

Speaking of which, I’m flatteringly referred to as “young and prolific,” though reading it, you might think I’m a little younger than I actually am.

I let them have the pick of photos off my Facebook page. Amusingly, the one they used is about seven years old. It’s kind of like an old yearbook photo or something, except that it actually means something to me.

That particular photo was taken in the University of Maryland Performing Arts Center after a Buffy: The Vampire Slayer game I ran. The PAC was great for a lot of things: being divided into four large sections with a massive central area, it kicked ass for lazer tag.

The upper lounge, though, was a great gaming space. Big couches, large, low tables. That particular game was a bit of an odd one; I was running for three women who’d never done traditional tabletop gaming before. Since they were all really experienced with freeform online RP and LARP, I’d planned my end of the session to let them do what they did best (in-character scenes) and showcase what a live GM does best (create a living environment).

Okay, yes, I milked it

The game was fun, but not really what I was expecting. I’d been figuring the players would want to direct a lot of the plot themselves, since that’s what they did in their other games. In fact… I found them waiting on me to introduce the plot, and being very afraid of messing up my (presumed) carefully planned script for the game.

We played for a couple of hours, and got to maybe half of the stuff I figured we would. The mystery, such as it was, revolved around spontaneous student combustion. Again, the players all assumed I had some deep, complex agenda here, which would require them to adhere carefully to a planned sequence of actions.

Really, it was just a story about a funeral, and coke cut with vampire blood. Regardless, it was a lot of fun, though not as fun as when I dipped into their Harry Potter by way of Wuthering Heights game.

Anyhow, the picture was taken right before we went to dinner, and features me more or less dressed as Spike. That circle were always wanting me to dress as Spike… or Draco Malfoy. I think I pretended to be naive about why.

I think the ultimate result of that was the Mary Sue Buffy Fan Film, the footage for which is still languishing on someone’s desk somewhere. I both fear and hope for its eventual appearance on YouTube.