What is a Fail Forward?
Here's a callout from my upcoming Numenera adventure, The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady:
When you fail forward, a bad die roll means things go wrong instead of the PC isn’t good enough. This way the game doesn’t stall because a player rolled a 2, but there is a consequence.
So What Went Wrong?
Anything that complicates the situation. If you are running out of time, you might have succeeded, but you lost quite a bit of time doing so. You opened the locked door, but the alarm went off. You found the clue, but the clue implicates you in the crime. And so on.
Note: You use Fail Forward in non-combat situations. Combat is a string of successes and failures. Outside of combat, often a single bad roll is all it takes to block progress.
The GM can make up the consequence, or, better yet, she can ask the player.
"You're a hero, you obviously didn't miss your stealth roll because you're not stealthy. That's just not what your character does. So what went wrong?"
Then you run with the player's complication and let the story continue.
Isn't that like a GM Intrusion?
Yes. But instead of getting two xp, one to keep, one to give away, you get a success. You find the secret door. You open the lock. You find your way to your goal. The story continues.
As the GM, you can choose. Give them a a GM Intrusion, let them fail, or Fail Forward. A GM Intrusion is great fun in combat and is key to giving your players experience. If failure is interesting in and of itself, you might want to let it stand. When failure bogs the game down, that's the perfect time to Fail Forward.
If a player missed a roll and you give them both a success and xp, make sure the consequences are dire. If your players have regularly been spending xp to reject GM Intrusions, this makes their decision that much harder.
"You can't open the door, unless you wouldn't mind setting off the trap?" You wave two xp cards and smile at the player.
"It wasn't easy, but you open the door. Unfortunalty, you trigger the trap and fall down into the pit with the hungry creature. Speaking of creatures, the rest of you see a swarm of nasty ones leaping over the pit right at you. Everyone roll for initiative."
Tell Me More!
No. But listen to this 13th Age podcast from Iconic Podcast on how to Fail Forward in 13th Age. It's the same idea in any game.