Should the PCs always win?

Should the players always win?

  • Yes. We lose enough in the real world.
  • Yes, they should always succeed in realistic goals.
  • No, they should always have a chance to fail and a chance to succeed.
  • No, they should lose if it makes for a better story/drama (and no plan or lucky roll can change the underlying storyline).
  • No, they should always lose!

0 voters

Should the PCs always "win"? Should they always manage to achieve their goals, no matter the opposition?

Inspired by the Mythic Europe poll, and an ENWorld poll.

The Opposition matters, but as long as the chars wont interfere directly with Luzifiel or God or some beeing/organisation like these two, they should have a fair chance to win, but sometimes the chance could be nearly 1% if they mess with somebody who is realy stronger or trying to achieve things like "Conquer europe" or "Create a "Time" Form" ect.

So I voted number 3.

P.S.: sometimes a GM makes an extrem strong opponent, so that the chars SHOULD lose, because it is realistic and after a long time the chars could be strong enough, but even in such a situation an extrem dice luck or a godlike plan could alter the plot.

Voted no 3 because I feel that the best stories are tales of strife where nothing is certain.

I voted for option four (to nobody's surprise, I'm sure), albeit with the caveat that a good Storyteller should be able to maintain the illusion of meaningful choice.

That's kinda why I put the addendum there. The point of the choice wants to be that the plot spun by the SG is what drives the story, and no dice or plan should get in the way of his storytelling. Players control characters in the plot, but shouldn't get to win if the plot says they lose - their brilliant plans and lucky dice rolls shouldn't interfere with the intended story and drama.

So, for example, the if the story calls for the characters to lose to the opponent then a lucky dice roll should be fudged and a clever plan curtailed so as to keep the story intact.

I meant this both at the tactical level (the fight is lost), and at the major plot points level (the tribunal is overwhelmed by the crusaders).

In my troupe, we seem to have a lot of half-victories, and some defeats.

Most recently some of the magi entered an on-site magical regio to rescue one of their specialists, who had entered it on accident. They did rescue the doctor and get the big box of Mercurian books I had put there, but they didn't manage to even hurt the big nasty monster I had put there; evasion tactics were allowed to succeed, though, so they lived to fight another day. Half-victory.

Next most recently, most of the PCs were embroiled in an imbroglio in which a Jewish companion was accused of murdering children for a Passover rite. Everyone survived, except for some children, some of the town's Jews, and the ghost that was doing the killing. The diabolist who put the ghost up to it, though, got away. Half-victory.

The Jew in question was magicked (by parties yet unknown) so that he assassinated one of the magi. Nobody had ever checked on him to see whether he had been put under any influences. Defeat.

Quite some time ago, some companions were able to slay two demons, but the ghost witch they "served" was able to reincarnate herself and get away. Half-victory.

She's since arranged for the murder of two of the three companions who were involved. Defeat.

Moral of these stories: many of the most compelling stories end ambiguously, and any but the most powerful magi are likely to only be able to fend off, delay, or bother powerful or clever opponents.

I take the actions of the players determine the degree of victory and defeat.

Most of the time with me the results are a mix for the players. Sometimes even the actions of the players may generate further stories which gives the feeling of continuity in the storyline.

For example, I had a L5R campaign. The players fought a vary dangerous creature/oni/demon that resulted in one of the players getting seriously injured to the point of dying at the same time as a Shukenja decided he really did not want the character to die. Normally, healing the dying is considered a great crime in Rokungan because it affects the divine order. I allowed the soul to be returned but with possession.

I then gave the player the option of continuing with the possessed character or giving it up for a new character. The player choose to have a new character and I gained a new NPC villian that was karmically tied to previous player's actions.

This resulted in a totally different direction for the campaign but the campaign was now more personal to the players as they had an active stake in correcting the trouble they had caused in the divine order.

Salvete Sodales!

Usually I opt for otion 3. The characters are confronted with a scenario, and I have some vague ideas what would happen if they decided to ignore the problem. But if they react to the situation, the results should depend on their decisions and a bit of luck. Stupid actions might cause disastrous results, but if the characters insisted on betting all their vis resources on a 1 in a million chance and Prattchett was proven right then I might have to adjust the story to reflect the results of their luck.
In most stories I would accept if the characters ruined the planned storyline by their actions. I might recycle the parts they skipped as long as it isn't obvious, but only in the case of really great major storyline I would be willing
to save it at all costs, even if the players feel railroaded.

Unplanned failures on the other hand tend to be a great source for future stories ("I'll be back!") - and without the possibility to loose a victory is allways shallow.

So I opt for three, but in some exceptional cases I might act on the line of four.

Alexios ex Miscellanea (aka Lars Gerlach)

I voted for #3, since this isn't Paranoia, after all. As a player, if I have no chance of losing, I'm bored. I played in a game of Mage that a friend was running. It quickly became apparent that (a) we had no choice in anything and (b) we couldn't actually be hurt. My mage took out one of the bad guys by punching him repeatedly about the face (and it's not like he was an Akashic Brother, either, he was a Cult of Ecstasy member). The game ended with a bit of deus ex machina, which made it even less satisfying than it already wasn't.

In the Ars Magica game I'm currently playing in, nine characters, including three and a half wizards, took on a small dragon. We lost a grog and were almost decimated. We stood a very good chance of losing, as few of us could penetrate its Might (a whopping 15). It was a near thing, and far more exciting as a result.

Assured victory is boring. Assured defeat is a sure sign that your character should have made other choices along the road that lead them to this point.

That said, there was a D&D game with a DM who has no trouble killing characters (the same guy runs our Ars Magica game, btw), when two of us emplyed our usual tactics against roughly 90 horsemen who were camped in the area. We weren't high level, but through some luck, some tactics, and a massive amount of bravado (and a Con save to prevent my character from puking as he ate the leader's heart), we managed to pull it off.

The strategy we employed is our favorite for D&D: CHARGE!!!

Doesn't work nearly as well in Ars Magica, though.

I voted #3, though I lean somewhat more toward the "succeed with realiastic goals" statement, at least when it comes to relatively minor stuff. After all, the PCs are center-stage, and so if they have a reasonable chance to succeed, they (probably) should, particularly if it moves the story along better.

It's that "probably" that started to bump my vote from #2 to #3. What cinched it is that any real victory isn't worth much if there's no chance of defeat, and so anything worthwhile should have some chance of failure.

I've also found that sometimes a group of players will totally ignore every warning flag the guy running the game throws up for them. WARNING: THERE BE DRAGONS HERE! TURN YE BACK OR THOU SHALT BURN!

If the players continue past the pile of charred bones to the dragon's lair, they get what they deserve. Of course, if they can pull it off, more power to them.

I voted #3. Like real life, there is a chance to succeed, and a chance to fail. I've played in other RPGs where it was "Story Uber Alles", to the detriment of the character's aspirations and goals. I permanently magnetized a casette tape with the expletives uttered (at great volume) from the fallout of the mess.

I'm far from a lethal storyguide; If the characters are acting stupidly, thier own actions get them hurt. If they take reasonable precautions, they can reasonably be assured of survival. And, if they use a relatively good plan or tactics to outwit me, it makes thier victory so much the sweeter (like when they tore a demon in half with a few low level spells, coincedently cast in the right order...)

After all, one of the main reasons to play is to have fun, right?


Some stories end with the heroes losing. Simple as that. I usually make sure there are a couple of different paths available for the characters to take:

A rival Maga won't allow the Magi to pass through to the site of a Faerie Regio. I'd assumed up front that our heroes might:

a) Back down and go away with their tails between their legs
b) Back down... but find a sneeky way back in
c) Issue Certamen and lose and the follow a or b
d) Isse Certamen and win and get the prize that way

(They took option d, by the way)

In other cases, I simply don't know how the heroes are going to get out of a situation and I just let it play as it will:

A town, lost for a generation, is rediscovered. In that time it has become infested with Demons and Demonic spirits who have corrupted almost the entire town. While the Magi were inside a Divine Regio in the chapel on the hill (the last bastion of the Dominion) discovering the extent of the corruption, the Grogs in the town also realise the danger they were in.

They packed their bags and started to leave the town, taking the cart through the main street, cool as you like. Unfortunately, the Demons were by this time not shy about revealing themselves. At each step, more Imps and familiars nipped at the grogs and the cart hors.

The grogs knew they weren't getting out without a fight and drew their weapons. The inevitable happened. They were overcome by weight of numbers.

On that small level they had no chance. It would have been unrealistic to have given the chance to escape (although, to be fair, one of the grogs did botch so...)

The death of those two grogs was a major low point but I think entirely necessary to add depth to the saga.

For the wider story, the Magi found a way to drive the Demons from the town. It wasn't a resolution I'd planned (as I hadn't looked for any way out) but I was happy to oblige.

They'd lost someone important and frankly, drama dictates that the sacrifice wasn't for nothing.