Fail Better

Hobbitomm on the Discord Server suggested I write about ‘Politics, and how the fallable bastard has a role’. So, I argued with him and spell-checked his suggestion, and he put up with it, because he has to, because he’s my GM. He puts up with a lot from me, because we both know where the bodies are buried, and he’s pretty sure I’ve suborned his lawyer.

However, let’s explore the fallable bastard first.

Let’s say I have an NPC who is a bastard. He’s great covering fire for the things you want to do but cannot get away with. In fact, I do currently have one of those in a plot I am running. His name is Asdel. He’s not a particularly deep character, but he is politically useful.

The PCs1It is a bit more complicated than that, but just assume it’s a PC thing for the sake of this post. are trying to marry off Yehna, a very sweet widow, and the sister of the party Humakti. Berra, the Humakti, is a spiky, difficult sort, who will fight anyone if she feel she she has to, and who finds it hard to back down. Asdel is much the same, but more of a supporter of Leika, where Berra is in Kallyr’s camp. Asdel is an outspoken sort and the only thing that is keeping him from causing trouble is that Berra is also a Colymar. Even then, it’s touch and go.

However, Yehna is rich, because she is her sister’s heir, and being related to Berra would have a lot of advantages, including but not limited to her support if it comes to violence. Yehna’s a good catch, and the party has convinced Asdel and a couple of other NPCs that marrying her is what they want to do.

This is good because Yehna herself is not really convinced she needs a husband right now. However, she’s open to persuasion, and there’s Asdel right there, being too proud and quarrelsome, and next to him is Mehrim, who mucked in to help them move house when he barely knew the group, and compared to Asdel he looks even better. Asdel helps to make Yehna think Mehrim isn’t a bad deal. (He isn’t a bad deal at all. He’s a decent man whose mother is important in the Clearwine Earth Temple.) Having someone to fail normalises the actions of the other people, and one of those looks like he will succeed. There’s only the problem of whether Asdel will cause even more trouble if and when he gets rejected. If I’m GMing at the time, he probably will…2I rolled some things, and there was a brawl, and Berra broke his arm, and now he’s even more upset with them.

On, then, to fallible bastard. We have one of those as well. He’s one of the GM’s very special inventions. My GM is good at creating complex and interesting characters. Eril, High Sword of Humakt, is a genuine hero type; brave, honourable, magnificent in battle, and worthy of Humakt.

He is also arrogant, petty, and inflexible. He makes certain that he has credit for any success, and works very hard never to be associated with failure, to the point of bullying the innocent ‘to find out the truth’, when the truth is simply that Eril messed up. He is a self-serving politician, and yet his self-service is in itself entirely dedicated to Sartar. He knows what needs to be done, and will not suffer others to interfere. What looks like ambition from the outside can equally be seen as Eril judging that nobody else can do what he can do, and stamping out attempts from lesser people to show him he is wrong.

A lot of the time, he is right. However, him being fallible has led to the PCs doubting him. One has a Hate passion on her sheet. One has decided that even with his flaws, he is worthy of her service, and has begun to set up his Hero Cult. His fallibility has made a memorable character of high believability, and it’s interesting to interact with him.

The thing these two stories have in common is that humans fail all the time, and can still be great, powerful, or impressive. There is no buffoonery in Asdel, despite how he has appeared so far. He could be dangerous if angry, and he is about to fail at getting the wife he wants. There is a potential problem there, because bastards don’t necessarily lose nicely.

Both of these men are good GM tools, although they fulfil different functions. One is a stalking horse for the real husband, and although we didn’t know that when we started, having the fall guy be the bastard is satisfying and seems to have worked out. The other is the cause of politics, and seldom the victim, and he’s all the more real because we’ve seen him fail. We know that even our best can fall short, and we know that we have to try harder. The best use of a fallible bastard is to show us how anyone can fail.

  • 1
    It is a bit more complicated than that, but just assume it’s a PC thing for the sake of this post.
  • 2
    I rolled some things, and there was a brawl, and Berra broke his arm, and now he’s even more upset with them.

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