Covenant Game Design: Failing Forward

(Don’t forget to tune in to the latest episode of the Radio Free Covenant podcast!)

Bids aren’t simple pass/fail affairs in Covenant. Instead, it follows the recent roleplaying trend of allowing characters to fail forward – that is, to let them succeed even if they’re incapable of doing so, but with consequences. Characters can usually only fail forward with fixed bids, but the winner of an opposed bid can choose to let the loser of the bid fail forward, too.

There are six ways to fail forward:

  • Setback: The character’s actions cause a problem with which the character must deal. Examples include:
    • The character sneaks into an office and finds secret documents, but alerts the guards.
    • The character evades a missile in their starship, but strains their ship’s systems and burns out a critical system.
  • Silver Lining: The character fails at their task. However, they gains something unexpected or succeeds at a related task. Examples include:
    • The character is captured while sneaking into an enemy camp, but overhears their guards talking about an upcoming attack.
    • The character fails to find a cure for a disease, but discovers a technique that gives halves the cost of their next crafting bid.
  • Improvement: The character fails this time, but gains 1 advantage the next time they attempt this task against the same target. Examples include:
    • The character misses when shooting a machine gun, but then “walks” her shots into the target.
    • The character fails to crack a safe but figures out part of the combination that they need.
  • Opening: The winner of an opposed bid can allow the loser of the bid to succeed in exchange for a tactical advantage. This is usually represented by the winner gaining 1 advantage on their next bid against the loser or by a free use of one of the winner’s abilities. Examples include:
    • The character manages to hit their opponent but overextends theirself and is tripped.
    • The character is so busy chasing a starship that they don’t see its wingman slide onto their six.
  • Ablative Gear: The character succeeds, but loses a piece of gear selected by the FM. Examples include:
    • The character jumps over and barely manages to clear a space between two buildings but drops their backpack into the alley between them.
    • The character’s starship fails to dodge a missile. They eject a module from their ship, which takes the hit.
  • Condition: The character succeeds, but the FM places a condition on them that lasts until the end of the scene. Examples include:
    • The character climbs over a wall but strains their back, doubling the cost of physical bids.
    • The character sneaks past the guards but makes too much noise doing so, doubling the cost of bids to sneak past or fast-talk opponents.
  • Drain: The character succeeds, but the FM places a drain on them that does ongoing damage to their Discipline. Examples include:
    • The player climbs over a fence but rips their arm open on a piece of exposed metal, leaving their bleeding.
    • The character manages to concoct a cure for a poison, but their chemicals react unexpectedly and explode, setting their clothes on fire.

Characters have other ways to control the results of their bids and the story, as well. We’ll talk about those next time, though.

Published by radiofreecovenant

A podcast about the science-fiction roleplaying game "Covenant" and the urban fantasy novel "Crossing the Line", soon to be published by Black Opal Books.

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