No matter how roleplaying heavy or interactive a game is, it usually contains conflict that the characters engage in. I can’t remember ever having played in a game where there was no challenge for the characters to overcome. Even in the most non-combat oriented games I’ve played in or run, there was something for the characters to set themselves against. In a game of Bunnies & Burrows  that had no combat, we had a food shortage and pilgrimage that needed to be undertaken and played out. What I’m getting at is this: Every game you play is going to involve Win Scenarios. More than just the goal of the party, a Win Scenario is what happens when the characters overcome a challenge and get a sense of success. In my next sentence, I’m going to be that dick who makes a generalized statement that is full of logical holds in order to prove a point.
If you think you know all of the Win Scenarios your game has, you are missing out on a lot of places where you could be enabling player fun.
Sure, the Win Scenarios for a game seem pretty obvious when you are the Game Master. You probably even have them written down in your notes as party goals or things the group needs to do to succeed. They probably seem like simple, easy to define things about your campaign, such as:
- Beat The Big Bad Evil Guy
- Retrieve The Stolen Artifact
Maybe you break them down even farther into chapter goals like:
- Get Into The Castle
- Retrieve The Information From The Evil Corporation’s Database
- Acquire A Spaceship At The End of The Third Session
And maybe you even think of player and character goals as Win Scenarios that need to be enabled. Things like:
- Make Sure That Gatran Is Able To Find His Kidnapped Sister
- Incorporate An Assassin’s Guild For Jeff’s Character To Take Over
These are all Win Scenarios, but thinking of a Win Scenario like this is missing the point and might make you gloss over hundreds of better ones in each game.
A Win Scenario really boils down to just one thing. It makes the player FEEL successful.
The word feel is important and it conveys a lot about this particular paradigm. Win Scenarios are anything that gives the players a sense of achievement. It might not change the game or provide a reward in the traditional sense, and it might not get them any closer to their main goal. However, if the player feels they’ve come out on top or gained something from the situation, then it is a Win Scenario.
Making The Most Of Win Scenarios
At this point, you might be thinking that good ol’ John has lost it a bit. Of course anything that the player accomplishes can be a Win Scenario. Beating down the monsters is a Win Scenario, or making a roll and successfully bypassing a challenge is one. Well, duh. There are a lot of moments that go on in games that can be so much more fulfilling than that though. Mechanical aspects of a game are just that. They are mechanical. They are achieved by dice rolling and character building, not necessarily the player engaging in the game. Let me throw some examples out there to make this concept clear:
- One player engaged an obviously pathetic goblin captain in dialogue for 8 minutes real time, just so he could trick the captain’s gun away from him and start combat on his terms. The group knew they outclassed the encounter, but the player wanted to exercise his idea and use his talking skills. I went along with it, the goblin captain got iced because of the player’s trickery, and everyone had a blast. The player got to engage his character’s abilities to gain one small advantage, but that made all the difference in the fun level for that player.
- Another player decided his character wasn’t going with the group to try to get information from a contact. Instead, he was going drinking at the bar and trying to cause a distraction. In doing so, he kept hinting that his character got progressively drunker and louder, wanting free drinks. While this had no impact on the events going on elsewhere (the distraction being unnecessary by the way the other players were handling it), I made sure to play out the bartender cowering and ceding to the character’s requests. The character spent most of the rest of the game carrying around his free bottles of booze and crying when they were broken in subsequent combats. This didn’t change or help the group get info from the contact, and it didn’t even help or hinder the overall goal. It did give the player an element to build into his character, something he had more fun with than kicking ass in combat.
- In one game I ran, I had a young kid NPC who was meant to get attached to the party and be killed as a way of building up their outrage at the BBEG. In the scenario where the kid was going to die, the players realized this and fought tooth and nail to prevent it from happening. One player kept having his character jump in front of the damage, nearly killing himself to save the kid. To be clear, the character was a selfish thief with no moral implications or roleplaying hooks that would make him the self sacrificing type. The group tried everything and were really invested in saving the NPC, so in the end I made sure they were successful. The group adopted him and kept him around until the final fight with the BBEG, where they sent him back to his village where he would be safe. The group decided that their non tangible connection to the throw away character that they had known for four hours in game time was more important than character death.
Find Out What Win Scenario The Players Want And Make It Happen
Win Scenarios can be pre scripted events or success over mechanical situations, but they can also grow organically in response to the players’ actions. As the Game Master, you should keep your eyes open for situations that could provide incredible Win Scenarios. When you find one, you should ask yourself two things. First, what does the player seem to want to get out of this? Second, can I make that happen without seeming like I’m giving it away?
Remember, a Win Scenario still relies on overcoming a challenge. Whether the player is giving you subtle hints about their desired outcome by how engaged they are in the situation, or whether the situation is pre-scripted with an easy to determine Win Scenario, it relies on their being some challenge that is overcome.
I’m sure that this felt like common sense to a lot of you, but what you do think about Win Scenarios? Do you have any examples of unexpected situations that ended in Win Scenarios that the players really felt great about? What did you do to facilitate those situations?