My Unknown Ponies: Failure is Awesome

Over the weekend I…


Dear Princess Celestia…

This past Sunday I played a roleplaying game run by Erin Palette, whose ideas I used as inspiration for my webcomic, Friendship is Dragons. She made a pony modification for the Unknown Armies system which she calls Unknown Ponies: Failure is Awesome, and invited myself and several of her other friends to test it over Skype.

Is that enough links? Nope, gotta mention Erin’s own after-action report, too. There we go. Now where was I?

Unknown Ponies focuses on younger ponies and their efforts to find their Cutie Marks (and fulfill the puberty analogy from the show). That means there’s not much in the way of combat and more focus on roleplaying. It also aims to promote the themes from Friendship is Magic more than encouraging the usual tabletop roleplaying behaviors.

In hindsight, we didn’t do very well at picking up on that.

The session was really cool in its subject matter. It became a Doctor Who crossover (starring Doctor Whooves, natch), with our group using the TARDIS to prevent a cataclysmic event from taking place in Equestria. We spent hours tackling the problem and… failing a lot. Because failure is awesome.

There was a specific solution in mind (or at least a specific manner of solution), and all of us kept missing it entirely. Instead of trying to solve the problem all by ourselves, like a normal RPG group, we needed to follow the example of the show and go for a solution that required teamwork and community on a much larger scale than just us.

It took us about three hours to realize that.

The session was enjoyable, cute, and fun, but we also had a three-hour dry spell of frustration that was the result of our collective not-getting-it. It’s hard to point fingers in that kind of situation (not to mention wrong), since you could argue it any which way: GM could be more blunt, players could be more perceptive or in the right mindset – all of it valid. Best to just take it as a general learning experience.

On the other hand, the plot of the adventure would actually work very, very well as an episode. Especially since FiM respects the three-act structure.

There’s a prologue, in which our group gets roped up into spending the evening at Twilight Sparkle’s learning about astronomy. The first act is us learning about the impending disaster and taking our first steps to prevent it… which, since it’s a fixed point in time, turns out to be the exact steps that cause the event. The second act involves a lot of four little ponies coming up with crazier and crazier solutions, ending with one that nearly gets us blown out into space… but we eventually keep our group alive with newfound friendship and teamwork. Then, with those lessons in mind, we finally find a solution bigger than ourselves and work together to end the disaster.

I’m avoiding a lot of specific details here, but what I mean is: Our not-getting-it in the second act was frustrating in the game, but would fit perfectly into selling the “community and teamwork” moral in TV show format.

Okay, that’s not very helpful. Sorry, Erin.

The game’s got some kinks to work out, and it demands a very different mindset than what I’m personally used to. But it was entertaining, it got my interest, and I definitely want to see more of it. Would play again.

7 thoughts on “My Unknown Ponies: Failure is Awesome”

  1. Interesting. You know I live for the roleplaying, and I’d be very interested to try something that’s clearly different than the standard adventure formula. I’d like to try one of these sometime.

  2. I personally would love to try an Unknown Ponies RPG myself sometime in the future. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, man. I look forward to hearing more when you play again.

  3. Heaven knows I don’t do much roleplaying, but…

    One of the “Sunday Night Gaming Night” guys has run RPGs for us on occasion, and he has a particular quirk: He looks at all of our character sheets and comes up with with a situation which requires that we all work together in precisely the way he has in mind, or we can’t beat the scenario and/or villain.

    Of course, since our group (outside of said GM) consists of a gung-ho loner, a crafty loner, a befuddled loser and a total n00b (that’d be me)… this tends not to go very well. As the Mythbusters like to say, “Failure is ALWAYS an option.”

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