A heroine scans the horizon, searching for the army that is pursuing her and her friends. Failing her Spot check, she does not see them in the darkness of night. A hero attempts to convince a king of his party’s noble goals, but botches his Etiquette roll. While battling a nefarious deathknight, a whole group of adventurers is wiped out.

Failure is common feature of RPGs. Most RPGs include the option of failure (and those that do not often provide other avenues for expressing similar results.) The potential for failure creates investment in the story being told. But not all failure is the same, and the way failure is treated changes the feel of the game.

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When a character dies, it can be a real buzzkill in a lot of games. Some games make this not so—in Fiasco, you can continue to exert influence over the story, in the name of a dead character, just as easily as a live one. In Dogs in the Vineyard, you don’t die unless you’ve had a dramatic death scene, and figured that the conflict was worth staking your life on. But in many other games? Death can happen all too easily, once anything comes to blows.

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