Win by losing.

I wrote this post about Odyssey a few years back (Edit: the Wayback Machine says it existed in March 2013). I’ve since found it’s been done at least once elsewhere, and nowadays I prefer “Play to lift” but hey… This is past me’s view.

Sing like no one is listening.

Love like you’ve never been hurt.

Dance like nobody’s watching,

and live like it’s heaven on earth.

Still, it was on the design blog there, and before that goes the way of all flesh, I dragged it off edited a bit and here we are….

“At every turn, we’ve tried to reinforce the style of game we want with the rules and setting. As discussed in posts elsewhere – discouraging multicultural groups, discouraging camp-rolling to settle PvP conflict, etc.

“Win by losing” is an idea that Rupert Redington introduced me to years ago. He might even have invented it. It’s about what winning is, and what losing means. I doubt we’ve discussed it properly in a decade or so. As I recall, it says that in LRP you win by having a great story to tell, or by having great experiences. I think that’s pretty widely agreed. Rupert’s contention was that that story may not be about your character winning.

I’ve been thinking this throughout the design of Odyssey. Especially while watching 300 again. And specifically, when I was casting around for a way of giving some good reason for a side to take the arena floor when it was pretty obvious they’d “lose.” Why would you do that? The 300 gives a fabulous example of winning by losing – they’re part of one of the greatest stories of all time. And I expect to see players taking part in a “losing” fight to be part of a story of defiance, of sacrifice, of heroism. I wanted to encourage this behaviour in Odyssey, hence when someone (Simon, I think) proposed the renown mechanic I was all over it like a rash. Because players would be more likely to do it if the loss had an element of victory in it. If you take the field outnumbered, knowing you are about to lose, but still there to honour your nation and the gods. You get renown. Which translates into the favour of the gods later.

300 may be an example of “win by losing” where it’s not necessarily any design of the players’ to do so. It’s just the way it turns out. Or it may be a result of protagonists with flaws doing what they do, and “losing” because of it. In LRP, that’d be about designing a character with attributes which mean that character doesn’t always take the option most likely to lead to “victory”. Just by playing a foolish character, with less than the player’s natural intelligence, or by something more interesting. I’m sure there are lrpers who would never, ever do that kind of thing, who are always struggling as hard as they can to “win”. I’m pretty sure a character designed to have real flaws is more likely to be more interesting to play and to interact with. I’m also pretty sure that when you can rationalise a “loss” as a result of a character’s flaws, because of a conscious design decision, you the player is likely to find “losing” more palatable. I have a feeling that’s less likely to end in the kind of OOC rancour that can make PvP action pretty unpleasant. And there’s more to life than winning anyway…

…and more to LRP too. Or at least, more to LRP than your character winning. There are those that say there’s no winning in LRP – but I tend to disagree. I feel I’ve won a game if, for a chunk of it, my character, and my story, has been the centre of attention. Given there’s a lot of competition for attention, trying to get front-and-centre is hard. Particularly if you’re struggling for scarce attention by “winning” IC with a lot of folk who are _also_ trying to “win” by being the most successful character. Now, if you flip this around and play for attention by being unsuccessful, there’s a lot more space. Recently, I went to a game where I played in a group of pretty dumb criminals. The amount of attention we got by being there to be investigated, tried, punished by all the characters who wanted to play successful law enforcement roles, amongst some lovely other characterisations who picked on us, robbed us, extorted from us, bullied us, defended us… Was pretty significant. I reckon that if you were measuring “winning” by “attention”, then we won that first night by streets. Simply by choosing to be flawed, and not maximising our chances of IC success by playing to the hilt of our OOC capabilities.”

(Most of this originally published at with bits inspired by too.)

That quote? It’s a fake.

This post? Engraved on my larper heart.

Post script: A bunch of folk get proper riled up about the idea of win by losing: that the idea of someone not playing to their limits is offensive, and cheapens the victory of those who are. Whatever floats your boat, really. But if you prefer to think of this a different way: it’s _also_ winning by losing to my mind if you ditch the idea of pragmatism entirely, and play so very very hard you are bound to lose eventually. Absolutely no compromise. Absolutely no backing down. Try that instead. There’s fame to be had there too. Just ditch the grey.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at

Up ↑

%d bloggers like this: