When to Win With a “Loss”, Part 2
By Cape Rust
So now we get to the heart of the matter, and what better way to drive this point home than to share yet another gaming story. So there we were; we had done all of the things you do when going through an adventure. Almost died a few times, killed kobolds, orcs, skeletons, and even tangled with some drow. We had reached the “final” battle. Everyone in the gaming group knew we were at the end of the adventure. The beginning of the gaming session felt like closing night of a theater production, or the last day of school. Everyone didn’t want it to end, but were 100% ready to be done.
Through a combination of the luck of the dice and some heads-up thinking by players other than I, we had the bad guy blinded and reeling. Our GM tactically played the bad guy within his abilities, but throughout the entire adventure our GM had subtly shown that he wanted to win. There were two opportunities where the characters could have finished off the bad guy in a way that would have been pleasing for everyone involved; well everyone except the GM. I will repeat that the GM didn’t “cheat” when it came to how the bad guy acted or fought, but his desire to win wouldn’t let him lose.
Rather than letting the players get the kill and win on two separate occasions, the GM decided it was more important to win and in doing so everyone, even the GM, lost. The bad guy disappeared and at that point the players didn’t care. Sure we searched for the bad guy a bit, but our hearts were not into it, and one of the characters even had a really good search check. In his desire to “win”, the GM didn’t fudge the DC and allow the characters to finish the fight. Three separate opportunities to allow the game to end in a way that not only would the players be happy, but rather than inspiring an article about what not to do, it might have been that gaming story that was happily told over frothing glasses of Mountain Dew.
Most of the GMs reading this will say, “I’ve never done that”, and a few might even be right. But if you think about all of the games you’ve run, you might find a few situations where you wanted to win; maybe even a few situations where you really should have lost. Fear not, you are not alone. As GMs we put so much time into the stories we are trying to tell and even the encounters or scenes we set up to to tell those stories. We labor for hours on end to have our players completely skip over areas that contain our best work or thanks to the luck of the roll, defeat a well-crafted bad guy in seconds. Subliminally you can’t help but want to get back at your players or at the very least win. You’re are a GM, but you are also a human.
No matter how often things have gone the players’ way, no matter how many epic encounters your players have bypassed, you have to remember that some of the players’ most memorable experiences will come at a cost to you. You have to be willing to lose for the greater good. If you can’t stomach “losing”, rationalize what it means to win as a GM. As a GM you win when your players can’t stop talking about a game you ran for them, even a decade or more later. As a GM you win when you create an adventure that challenges your players. As a GM you win when everyone has fun. When you change the conditions for a “win”, you’ll never really lose