Success? Failure? Take Your Pick!

I was digging through some old notes I’d made to myself, and came upon this snippet.

What if you could always choose whether your character succeeded or failed at any given thing in your RPG?

And I’m not just talking about when you have narrative authority, or shifting the game mechanics to the level of gaining/losing that narrative authority. This idea doesn’t really make sense in games where character success isn’t a goal or currency–this is not for games like Fiasco (and Fiasco already does something a lot like this–but, even then, it’s tied up with narrative authority, so you only sometimes get to decide whether your character succeeds or fails).

No, this idea is very much for games that are about character skill and competence and success. Games in the vein of D&D or Fate Core.

This is an old idea. Epidiah and I were having a discussion back in January 2008 about some new games we had recently played–I don’t remember specifically, but I think In a Wicked Age and Primetime Adventures were part of the conversation. Part of the genesis of this idea was the difference in how success is handled in story-authority games vs. character success games.

I also don’t remember how we got to this point in the discussion, but at some point I had an epiphany: what about being allowed to choose whether to succeed or fail at any given task in an RPG? All the time, not just by spending tokens, or allocating skill points or whatever. Probably not even by balancing out successes and failures (i.e., for ever success you choose, you have to choose a failure).

The catch? You can’t choose the degree of success or failure. That’s randomly determined. Probably ranging across something like 4 or 5 degrees of success/failure, ranging from “just barely” to “phenomenal”, or similar. So, you could choose to succeed at a task/goal/scene (whatever the unit of action resolution is–this idea should make sense in any game where you’re measuring success, rather than narrative authority), and you’d be guaranteed of, well, succeeding. But you wouldn’t know whether it would be just scraping by, or a miraculous success that saves the day. And if you chose to fail, you wouldn’t know whether you’d just miss it, or completely screw the pooch and leave everyone in a horrible situation.

That’s all I’ve got–I’d completely forgotten this idea in the intervening five-and-a-half years, and haven’t done anything with it, nor did I develop the idea any further at the time. Has any game actually implemented this, or something similar? 

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