One of the golden rules of roleplaying games is, "Thou shalt pick a role and stick with it." Spread around points, and you'll typically end up with a watered down character incapable of taking on the adventure's larger challenges. Careful planning is the name of the game.
— Kat Bailey, Associate Editor, GamePro
Kat’s talking about the video game Skyrim, but one only has to look at the extensive character optimization threads in the D&D forums hosted by WotC to see that min-maxing is the name of the game for many players. But in the context of an RPG played on the tabletop, you’re usually not flying solo. You have a team around you, a supporting cast. It’s OK to have a weakness, or a quirk, or a blindspot. Some other member of the team likely has it covered.
…failure serves the deeper function of making players readjust their perception of a game. In effect, failure adds content by making the player see new nuances in a game.The Elements of a Good Story that complications, and overcoming the challenges of complications, were key pieces to a good story. So, it seems like it would be more fun to have a character that might, at times, not be able to pwn the monsters, challenges, and any NPCs the GM happened to roll out. It’s one of the reasons that dice are a part of RPGs. You roll the dice. You risk failing. That sensation of wondering which way the die will fall… How enjoyable is it really when you roll a two on a d20, and announce, “Uh, two. That’s 36 versus AC. Does that hit?”
In one game in which I play, one of the players has built a nigh-unhittable character. He’s studied the rules, combined the most advantageous of them, and as the combat gets underway, he begins activating bonuses and maneuvering about until he’s added near double-digit bonuses to his defenses. It’s all within the rules of the game. And, my suspicion is, that for him it is a sort of commentary on the state of that particular game. I don’t have a problem with a well-built character. And, I don’t have a problem with a rule set that allows such min-maxing to occur. What I find myself wondering though is what the players are really getting out of the game?
Is it really satisfying to take the risk of failure out of the game? When complications and failures are the time-tested and proven elements that authors have been using for centuries to hook readers into caring enough about their characters to turn the page and keep reading?
So, I’m challenging you to consider that the next time you sit down to generate a character for an RPG. Understand that you will be “adding content” to your gaming experience by embracing failure and seeing where it leads. And for GMs, what about exploring the possibilities by presenting a carefully-crafted unwinnable encounter? Can you plunge your players into the pit of despair, yet leave a trailing, frayed end of rope of hope dangling just within their reach? Or, are you willing to accept their crazy MacGyver solution to the problem? A solution that you’ve driven them to create because you cast them into that pit? I think both players and GMs would benefit from adding a little bit more failure to their games. What do you think?