Narrative play: Embrace FailureSeptember 25, 2018
Try again. Fail again. Better again. Or better worse. Fail worse again. Still worse again. Till sick for good. Throw up for good. Go for good. – Samuel Beckett (Warhammer World Ho!)
Narrative play is the finest experience one can have whilst gaming. Nothing beats the joy of unexpected twists. We all recall that Grot who took out our Terminator squad with a fish knife. The dice may be master of our destiny; but nothing constrains the imagination. Therein lies the essence of Samuel Beckett’s words (probably) as eventually the rulebooks close, the table folds and our models pack away. All that persists are joyous tales of disaster.
Once in handy boxes, or global events, narrative campaigns are excellent sources of Grand Failures. The horrific stalemate of Konor, the eternal war on Armageddon; we were there and still feel the pain of Tycho’s passing. Age of Sigmar players may recall campaigns like Idol of Gork or Perilous Quest with maps, terrain, and special characters. Before your next game, take the briefest of moments to build a reason for the clash and let that inform your strategy. Do you wish vengeance upon the enemy general? Perhaps your Khadron Overlords will forego tactics to charge someone they have old grudges with?
The best failures are ones that evolve. You start with a gamble, the risk doesn’t pay off; suddenly a comedy of errors has erupted on the table. Necromunda is a great source of cumulative failure. The charge seemed sensible. That Orlok juve didn’t stand a chance. Unfortunately he was carrying explosives, unfortunately you stabbed him whilst he was setting them, unfortunately they blew up creating a hole through which both gangers disappeared, unfortunately that corridor is now a death trap and your cunning flank attack is doomed. We could hardly breathe from laughing so hard.
Inquisitor was the true queen of cumulative failure. Game balance was thrown out the window, actions were declared before seeing if you would get to make them. Often the heroic leap from cover to cover resulted in your Inquisitorial agent stood awkwardly in the open. At least the opposing agent was likely to set off another sequence of failures. Cumulative failures all leading to a memorable narrative.
The modern Warhammer Quest games are beautiful and well crafted adventures; dripping with story that brings the mortal realms to life. As highly as I regard them they cannot hold a candle to the original failure fest. In the unlikely event your heroes actually make it out alive you roll to see what happens on the journey home. If you still had all your gold, hit points and equipment after the walk home it was time to face the further dangers of civilisation. A systemic culture of failure that you could play again and again and again and again and…
Build your narrative, roll your dice and embrace the failures that drive the story. Fail better, fail with joy.