Friday 30 April 2021

Bastionland Editorial #8 - Firestarting

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I drafted this update with the subtitle "Failure" before realising I'd already used that title for an unrelated topic. Perhaps that's something I should worry about.

This morning I began a short project that I'm doing as part of a collaboration (details to come in the next few weeks) and it's the first time that I've worked with another person on an RPG from scratch. It was easy enough, because I already know the person, we share a lot of the same design tastes, and they're a lovely and consummate professional. In fact, better than that, I found the process downright fun and productive.

Who would have thought that having two brains could be an advantage??

The fruits of that project will revealed to the world shortly, but I wanted to go into one of the topics that we found ourselves drawn to.

What happens when your character fails at something?

Now that's a topic I've spoken about before, but for this game we ended up with a bit of a different approach. I have to be careful not to give too much away, so apologies if this is vague to a useless degree.

The vanilla RPG format is "you fail when you roll badly, and lose something in return".

Plenty of games chop off either half or all of that idea, but we settled on having failure be triggered by something specific to that character. For this project we're really leaning into the idea that failure essentially "starts a fire".

So now you're still trying to achieve your character's increasingly complex objective, but your shirt is on fire, or perhaps the curtains, or maybe the smoke alarm is going off downstairs. It's just a small fire for now, but it's there. And maybe another player starts another burning.

And obviously the fire is an analogy here. You can see how the framework could apply to all sorts of interesting fail-states.

It's not a million miles away from the "It Gets Worse" method, but it's really more "It Gets More Complicated".

Like Fail Forward with plate-spinning and time-bombs.

Sounds like it might be a nightmare in play, but I'm excited to try it out.

Bye for now,



  1. It sounds similar to Wine or Cheese. I'm interested to see what you've got.

  2. Sounds a bit like the success with complications outcome you have in Apocalypse World, but with the emphasis on the complications.

  3. The issue of failure in games is one I ponder frequently. One game I made that changes it in fun way is to empower the character to definitely succeed on a single thing, then roll for the possibility of 4 other things to happen in the same time frame (based on dice). If the group cannot establish 4 interesting extra things, we either brainstorm more or press forward without any dice rolling.

    I've had super positive feedback from it. Players love being able to declare what they want with certainty they'll get it.