Did that title confuse you?
Mouse Guard is one of the best RPGs out there, hands down. The unique method of combat, the Player vs. GM turns; all of it works together to create a unique and enjoyable experience.
One of my favorite aspects is the idea that you can find interesting story in your failure. A lot of players have trouble wrapping their heads around that, but it’s a core concept to the game. The way a session is set up is that with 100% success by all players during a session, the game will last all of 15 minutes. No one wants that, so the most fun is found in failure. When the players fail their Pathfinding, they stumble upon a snake’s nest. It’s time for combat!
Or alterately, they fail a Weatherwatcher check, and arrive in the town they were on their way to, just cold, wet and sick.
The game doesn’t grind to a halt due to failure, it makes things interesting.
I’m in the middle of a 4e campaign right now. In 4e, the general idea is that a failure is just that. A failure. “You want to pick that lock? Roll a d20. Oh, you got a 1? Well, you didn’t pick it. The door’s still locked.”
What if, instead, everything the players ever did was successful in some way, but introduced more complications. You use Wall of Iron against a monster, pushing it back over a cliff, but miss the roll? “Sure, you push the monster off the cliff, but he’s grabbed onto the shield as he’s pushed back. Make an Athletics check to grab onto the root attached to the side of the cliff.” Now you’ve got an orc hanging from one arm, and you’re hanging onto the cliffside with the other.
As you may recall, I have a complete list of travel times around the Nentir Vale. If you want your players to travel from Winterhaven to Fallcrest, but don’t want to spend a lot of time, why not have the Ranger of the party make a Nature check? On a failure, he failed to navigate the path very well, and the players find themselves arriving in Fallcrest cold, wet, and missing a few Healing Surges. Ouch.
This has endless possibilities. Dragonborn breathes fire on the enemy, but rolls badly? Well, he lit part of the building on fire. Rogue performs a Sly Flourish and misses? He deals half damage and falls prone, tripping up on his boots. Note how the character still deals damage there? If you’re going to add additional screw-over-the-player moments, you really should give them a little something for their trouble.
And that’s how my games are going to go from here on out, I think. Failure is so much more fun than success, don’t you think?