In a specific gaming system called Powered by the Apocalypse, there is an idea called the hard move. It’s the idea that failure leads to the most interesting parts of a story, and the question after every failed action is “and what do you do now”. For example, in one game we had a player who tried to attack someone while riding his motorcycle. He failed and his enemy pulled him off the motorcycle and started to drag him on the ground, “what do you do now”. He grabbed his weapon and tried to break out, he failed so the attacker grabs him and holds him at gunpoint “what do you do now”. At this point, another player took out their gun and tries to shoot the guy holding his friend at Gun Point. They succeed the guy breaks out and then proceeds to be more amazing, “what do you do now”. The scene worked as a story because the character failed, lost, got hurt, then gained success and was amazing, but the consequences for that were interesting and engaging.

Every time the character failed to succeed more interesting things happened to the character. They didn’t mind that their character got hurt because failing didn’t mean they were losing. In many RPGs failing means you lose hit points or you get weaker. In this game losing just put you in a more interesting situation that you had to get out of. It made it more challenging, instead of just a loss. This is an amazing idea in a game that I would like to implement in classes. It’s powerful when exploring literature and writing because it helps students learn that what makes a character interesting and engaging is their adversity. It encourages students to think about adversity as something beneficial and teaches a student to appreciate struggle as a part of character growth and success.

This idea of bad things happening, “what do you do” is a mantra I want to try to involve in games with students, but I’m having trouble. In many cases to do this properly, it requires a Game Master. Someone who understands that the purpose of a game is to just have fun. Their job is meant to give a good experience to everyone at the game not just win. They are people that want to make sure it’s a good story and not just their way versus the players. I want to create a way to make a Game masterless understanding of the Hard Move. In this mode, everyone collectively at the table wants the best story and so when one character fails others at the table think of a good fate for the character that makes their life worse but doesn’t hurt them in a way that they can’t recover from.

It can be done if everyone agrees to this idea but I’ve seen many students in groups not think this way. They think harm is static, that when a player is hurt that’s all they are… hurt. If they lose an argument that’s it they failed. It’s a success or failure mode. I instead want failing to be like the hard moves in this process that escalates and escalates to see what happens. Where each failure is another opportunity for success or intervention and help. This a great story mechanic, but it also goes deeper and I hope can teach students that through failure we can and will succeed. Failure can drive stories in this way and inspire us in this way. However, it takes great story telling to make it work. It took me a while to learn how to do this. I’d love to mechanize failure mechanics in a game that works this way.

This is my open call for advice. Anyone have ideas how we can mechanize failure in this snowball effect, or easily convey it to students? If so it might be a great bridge to start more RPG long form games in classrooms with developing stories and characters. All advice is welcome and appreciated.