Failure Cheat Sheet

Has anyone gone one? I’m looking for a consolidated, semi-generic brainstorming tool to use on the fly to come up with good failure consequences.

I know there’s been some great work done in specific categories, especially circles.

If not, I’ll whip something up, but I’d love pointers to your favourite posts or threads from history.

I’m particularly fond of the Practical Failure section of the Adventure Burner (starting on page 255).

You succeed, but: someone/something/the environment/an organization breaks/is pissed off/is warned/is lost/runs away/gets drunk/catches fire/falls asleep/can’t sleep.

Something like that? A list of nouns that could be affected, and a list of effects?

As another random ingredient, when I was all wrapped in group skirmishes, I had a list of possible consequences that looked like this (organized in tiers, representing roughly how ambitious a goal it is to inflict this state):

I: Confused, Constrained, Delayed, Exposed, Exhausted, Repelled
II: Dislodged, Depleted, Demoralized, Injured
III: Routed, Captured, Slaughtered

Yes, something like this.

Man, I need to dig this out more frequently, this is very useful. (Duh.)

So… question. Do you ever use pacing as a failure consequence? For example, Siggar was trying to chat up Princess Medel at a meeting of the town council that finds him way above his station. Chatting her up went very poorly (0s on 5D Persuasion). It occurs to me now that I could have just whisked him forward. “The council passes in a blur. Afterwards, Dorak corners you, demanding, ‘What were you thinking?’”

In this case, dealing with Dorak’s anger is a ‘New Test’ failure consequence, but separate from this, the player would have lost the opportunity to do anything else at the council meeting itself.

All right, I think this is what I was after. Thanks, both of you.

[b]You fail..
     .. and that’s it.
    .. and/unless you face a new test or situation
You get what you want..
    .. after dealing with an unexpected problem.
    .. but an enemy.. made.
        ..sees everything.
        ..somehow benefits.
        ..twists how it turns out.
     ..but it costs - you / someone you love / the innocent / the powerful..
        ..all available time / the initiative / the advantage.
        ..socially (standing, new enemy, authority, power, relationship, reputation, affiliation).
[/b][b]        ..something of value (gear, money).
[/b][b] injury.
[/b][b]        ..psychologically.[/b]

I have in fact made such a list, though I do not know if it’s exactly what you’re after. It’s quite long and I apologize for the lousy formatting (it’s still a work in progress). Some of these complications I cribbed from this forum, others from the Adventure Burner itself - you know who you are!

Craftsman: Ruin tools/clothes/workshop/materials, convinced it’s a masterwork yet crumbles when put to the test, angry at your incompetence, took too long and now not needed, must make resources test b/c need more materials, flawed work (+1 Ob to use), injure yourself or someone else (tool, bad cooking etc.), needs special ingredient/material to finish, commit a faux-pas (use non-agreeable style or fashion, paint client’s daughter in the nude, write name of the wrong house), weapon breaks on first superb hit, someone accuses you of stealing his work (+brought his friends?), client badmouths you to local community (Reputation?),

Performance: hostile reaction, ridiculed, banished from court, break equipment, master of the art schools you, target is not impressed but wife is seduced (target is jealous!), hit bystander, accused of local crime (if a foreigner), commit faux-pas (offend gravely),

Social: bad reputation (rapist, troublemaker), make enemy/cause a scene, demands bribe/favor first, a friend/family takes notice and develops grudge/rivalry for you, target is blamed and gets in trouble, feigns compliance/turncloak, incompetent, too competent, grave insult leads to duel, kicks you out and tells you to leave them alone, believes you’re working with his enemies, thinks you’re trying to manipulate his loved ones, convinced he has a better plan (and wins over your henchmen), feigns compliance and leads you into trap, runs away/attacks,

Soothing platitudes/Etiquette: accused of being a lickspittle, other character sees you as manipulating, infuriated by your pleasantries, paranoid and thinks you’re working with enemies, gets delusions of grandeur from your compliments, lulled into thinking there’s no danger at all, convinced you’re his only friend and sets out to persecute both his own former friends and yours,

Intimidation/Extortion/Interrogation: summons his huge friend, attacks outright or challenge to duel for insult, bears a grudge, you cause a scene, likes your style and suggests you work for him, feigns compliance, demands bribe, so insulted that all further social tests are at +2 Ob,

Oratory: someone in crowd turns everyone against you, comes across as snobbish and looney, reputation as troublemaker, crowd overreacts and becomes violent, crowd dissolves (no one wants to listen), guards disperse crowd, accused of being in league with X and becomes even more agitated, ignored and trampled by mob,

Command/Tactics: mutiny from suicidal orders, men get captured, strike at wrong time, men walk into ambush, forced to set an example on an unruly minion,

Orienteering/Cartography: arrive late, wander off course, take shortcut into dangerous territory/animal lair, Forte test to avoid exhaustion or further delay, bandits/knights wants you to pay a tax before letting you cross a bridge, outlaws/orcs/robbers, barrier must be overcome with test (river, rockslide, ravine, swamp, entangling vines), run out of supplies and must Hunt/Trap/Forage, weather must be sheltered (storm, cold, floods, wildfires, sandstorms), must build fire to keep away wild animals at night

Survival/Weather: test firebuilding or freeze/get sick, get hungry/sick/exhausted (+1 Ob until proper rest), leave behind gear because it’s too hot/bulky, nasty monster or animal (crocodile/bear) snags a backpack or kills a horse, Husbandry test or pack animals run away, run out of supplies and must Hunt/Trap/Forage, forced to resupply at old stingy hermit, bad morale among followers, gear dropped/broken/damaged (useless/+1 Ob/Poor Quality until Mended)

Forage/Trap/Hunt/Fish: go hungry (+1 Ob), forced to kill pack animals for food, BV wild animal (or simply injury), lost in the woods, accidentally ‘steal’ water/food from oasis/hunting ground belonging to hostile tribe, forced to resupply at old stingy hermit, arrive completely out of supplies (must make Resources test), build fire/cook grubby meal or get sick/poisoned, ammunition lost

Riding: arrive late, fall off horse (injury), horse is injured, saddle breaks, have to abandon horse (it won’t go into an area/dies of exhaustion)

Navigation/Ship management/Pilot/Seamanship: storm/reefs (Pilot/ship damage), beached on foreign island, sailors/supplies go overboard, crew attempt to mutiny (Command), blown off course, out of supplies (Resources test in harbor/crew gets sick), pirates!, sail damage (Rigging), get seasick (Pilot),

Physical/Climbing: slip and fall, dangling from a precipice (Agility test), injury, sickness, separated from rest of party, fall to the ground in front of guard dog, fall and hear a guy sounding alarm, gear broken/damaged (Mending), gear lost/drops to hard-to-reach place (test to recover, failed: you fall for real), ammunition lost

Knowledge/Wises: opposite of what you believed/hoped it would be, get partial information (requiring further research to uncover the missing detail?), misinterpretation (wrong date, passage misquoted, tenet misinterpreted), too obscure: needs to borrow/buy a book/services from a foul scholar/rival/cloister, spend too much time researching and is now out of options, when presenting an academic point to an audience/court you get it wrong and come across as a pompous dick/ignoramus, humiliated for getting it so wrong, seen as bookish know-it-all outsider, a ruling is inadvertently interpreted as harsher/softer than intended, +1 Ob to action using this (false) knowledge, get accused of deliberately misinterpreting the law/history (heresy/power abuse), research leaves trails

Searching/Scavenging: witness shows up while rummaging, boots are ruined, get bitten by snake/scorpion, find an item the GM wants inserted (clue), get lost in the depths/wilderness, Perception test to avoid being stabbed by enemy not really dead after all, spend hours searching in vain (it’s now night and you’re alone in the woods), a smug henchman finds the sought item instead (or he breaks it in front of you), find item but it’s guarded by a monster/animal, poison ivy causes a rash a few days down/lays you sick for rest of day, stumble into ambush, [use Wilderness table], lead to trapped corridor (Speed test), set off alarm, get really dirty/bloody, trigger trap

Urban/Streetwise: they’re not keen on outsiders, wrong building that looks a lot like it, waylaid by robbers, pickpocketed, arrive at night (+it rains!), someone offers to help but gets you into a mugging, unfortunate shortcut through a guarded district/rough neighborhood, arrive looking terribly out of place (+1 Ob to social tests),

Subterfuge: A friend/innocent is blamed, BV against guards, lockpicks are jammed (Mend to retrieve), faced with trap (Speed test?), guard dog shows up, a child/wife/innocent catches you in the crime, you leave irrefutable evidence, succeed but afterwards a guard squad hunts you, target wounded but gets away, injured while breaking & entering, drop the loot while escaping

Circles: wronged in the past (slept with sister, won his horse in a bet, other family member wronged them), not disposed to helping right now (domestic troubles, robbed, in debt, has been asked questions about the PC), requires coaxing first (bribe/favor/blackmail/DoW/threaten), turncloak, incompetent, mutually incompatible ideologies, unrevealed enemy of a friend, politically dangerous, attracts undue attention (loudmouth), group must agree to give up on a venture, charges double for being dragged out at night, too competent (takes over your operation/leadership), attract attention to yourself for asking around (under arrest?), promise to help but fail to show up when needed, find NPC on the run from angry mob/thugs/guards, NPC is forced to set trap for you by enemies
Circling enemies: ambushed by enemies, stumble on them while they’re actually doing something to help others, they brought reinforcements, an even bigger enemy (third party) has taken an interest, a family member is one of the enemy’s lackeys (or the head honcho)

Resources to 0: +1 Ob to next health test (sickness/malnourished), property and gear is pawned or confiscated or breaks down from lack of repair, reputation/affiliation suffers, thrown into debtor’s jail, thugs come to beat you up over not paying, a relationship turns antagonistic because you’re schmoozing off them, forced to steal or rob to survive (play it out)

Faith: Tax priest or ally (Forte test with Ob = Faith test, take damage if below 0), Steel test (add MoF to Hesitation, only Fall prone and beg for mercy or swoon), infamous reputation, enemy NPC get MoF Persona (he shares your faith), god’s messenger appears and says “I will give you what you ask but you must swear this oath to me” (quest!), curse allies/relationship, foreign deity answers prayer, heal wound but take it yourself, god destroys your worldly possessions in anger for your lack of faith (weapon, staff, precious jewels (cash)), god answers your selfish prayer but harms your companions, awful revelation (steel test, only in combat), infamous reputation as a fake power-hungry priest, must atone for sin until he can work miracles again (use Ritual skill at Ob of failed test minus 1, link with Resources or Doctrine), receive ill omen (dream or physical), soft glow and the target thinks he’s blessed, god utterly destroys enemies you wanted alive

Lost fight: Something causes enemies to quickly depart from scene (new orders, a third party, rain, witnesses are approaching, wild animals), Tortured to reveal information (then go into DoW to make them do something despicable while their Will is low), Taken prisoner, Robbed of possessions then left to die/thrown into a ditch, Thrown into jail, PCs ransomed for a peace treaty/other important hostage, Taken to see their king/captain, Forced to join their band, Someone is held for ransom while another is sent to raise money, Turned into a slave


Michael, do you have Apocalypse World? The hard moves the MC makes upon player failure have given me a lot of grist for the Burning Wheel mill.

I don’t, only Dungeon World… interesting.

Check out page 38 of this PDF, “Your Moves” and “Threat Moves.” To me, that’s a great starting place for a failure cheat sheet for Burning Wheel. I’m sure you’ll be inspired similarly.