In the midst of my drive to continually challenge my players and create tension and drama by exacting costs out of their characters it is important not to forget a basic point: people like to win. No matter how dire things appear for the PC’s underneath it all the odds of them actually losing are close to zero over the long haul. The miracle is that they manage to suspend their disbelief well enough that they actually fear losing given their near perfect batting average.
Once in a while it is important to throw in a little setback, to help them keep that enjoyable fear going, but it is equally crucial to serve up a big slice of victory now and again. I don’t just mean the usual “we survived, the monsters didn’t” sort of victory. I mean a genuine old-fashioned ass-handing destruction of a recurring antagonist. After all, this is why we went to the trouble of creating the antagonist in the first place – so it could be painfully dismantled.
When it is time for the PC’s to have a meaningful victory it is time to tee it up for a nice homer. Now is not the time to throw some crazy curveball that confuses and frustrates them. The players should have seen the surprises and be able to anticipate them. They should, in fact, know how to counter the antagonist’s strength and exploit their weaknesses to get the most joy out of winning in a convincing fashion. Lavish their successes with evocative description and pass over their failures with barely a comment to leave the impression that they’re too cool for school. Create moments that scream for cheesy one-liners.
Like most aspects of storytelling there is a rhythm to this. Decisive victories can’t happen too often or you rob them of their power. Nor are they really climactic material. At the climax everything is at stake and the cost is high. The kind of winning I am talking about here is good clean fun – nobody gets hurt that doesn’t deserve it. Used correctly winning is one of the most addictive rewards in gaming. Who doesn’t like kicking ass and taking names?