One key difference between a story and a game is that a game has victory conditions. There has to be a way to win. This means that there also has to be a way to lose. In most tabletop roleplaying games, this means that the character can die. It’s a holdover from the medium’s wargaming roots. The trope has become ingrained in the zeitgeist because because of video games. Triumph is overrated. When you win all the time, nothing really matters. Winning at any cost means placing victory ahead of plot, character development, and all of the other cool stuff that can happen in a story.
That’s not to say that stories don’t have goals. I’m big on beating people over the head with that point. If there’s no goal, then there’s no way to know that you’ve reached the end of the story. Other than character death, I mean, because that becomes that only consequence. At least, the only consequence that matters. After a while that becomes lazy. Everything just becomes a big, rambling sandbox where characters wander aimlessly without a purpose or a point. It’s nice to focus instead on something the character has to accomplish, and letting their failure to do so be the problem.
Triumph is Overrated, Here’s Why
Not everything in the world centers around violence. Stories don’t all have to be about murder sprees. While every genre contains the potential for fight scenes, stories aren’t required to be built around the concept. By making all stakes life-or-death, triumph becomes a necessity. You fail, you die, and your story ends there.
Some of the best stories, and some of my best life experiences, have come out of failure. It’s how we learn. When you win all of the time, you don’t appreciate things. You don’t get to savor the sweetness of that hard-earned success as much, because it feels inevitable. Triumph is overrated, because it’s underappreciated.
About Dancing Lights Press
Dancing Lights Press publishes story games that embrace a minimalist aesthetic in design and presentation. Our print books are affordable, at $10 or less. The 6×9 digest format makes them convenient to carry around. The spotlight belongs on the creativity of the players as they converse and collaborate on plot, worldbuilding, and character development. Roleplaying is an activity, not a book. Our titles are merely part of the delivery system.