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Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them.

“Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. "

LUK15:11-13 NIV

Basic Information

A failson is (a derogatory term for) an incompetent scion of a wealthy family. A man who can afford to do some or all of the following, repeatedly:

  • burn through his inheritance,
  • drift from one half-assed hobby or project to another,
  • give up easily and switch goals at the first sign of real difficulty,
  • stubbornly refuse to give up on some unattainable goals despite all indications pointing to their own incompetence and lack of talent,
  • take month-long (or longer) globe-trotting vacations at the drop of a hat,
  • totally drop the ball or bugger-off any time someone is counting on them.

As the name implies, failure is no big deal to the failson. They live a life of luxury and privilege, and have a multi-million-dollar safety-net. They probably have an important family name, and all the world served to them on a silver platter. Arrogance and a shocking lack of self-awareness are common traits for the failson. The female cognate is probably the aristocratic bimbo - the term dilettante is also widely applied, not necessarily carrying quite the same stigma of universal failure, but definitely indicating an inability to stick to anything of note.

The failson may have a mostly notional job at the family corporation, possibly as a "vice-president of special projects" or some similar rubbish. Or they might have a "career" in some artistic field that they utterly lack talent in, such as self-produced music or self-published literature. Their wealth, connections, and/or fame might allow them to get a publisher or agent despite lack of artistry. Art auction fraud directed at their successful parent(s) may be a factor in this sort of career as well. In the modern era, being a professional online influencer is very possible as well. It's also possible they work real jobs, but just keep "failing up" or quitting when they get bored. It's easy to walk away from a job you don't really need.

Speaking of walking away from jobs, there are also those failsons who do just that - abandoning any pretence of doing anything useful for a living and becoming at best a parasite and, in many cases, an anti-social nuisance. What are they rebelling against? What have you got?

Alternately, they may have one really-good hyper-developed skill: the ability to shift the blame to anyone else for all their own failures.

Failson as Villain

Many failsons are likely to be very lacking in empathy. He, after all, has bounced back from numerous failures and adversity. He might well assume anyone who has not been able to do the same must not be trying hard enough, or must be of lesser quality than himself. (This assumes the failson is oblivious to all the systemic advantages that his wealth and family name have brought him, and how that have enabled his personal failure-recovery cycle. This may not be the case for all failsons. Some may recognize that they are the black sheep of their family, or they may know how lucky they are and how good they have it. Many, however, will be wilfully ignorant of how the other half live.)

Likewise, the typical failson might also assume that the laws of normal people don't apply to themselves. For example, most people know it's not right to park in a way that blocks access to a fire hydrant. Even if your sense of empathy or altruism is underdeveloped (as the Failson's might well be), you'll at least learn a hard lesson the first time you get that $200 ticket. But now imagine if you were so wealth that $200 isn't even a blip on your financial radar. The penalty is less than you spend on dinner most nights. Not only would it fail to be a deterrent, but it might actively give you the (inaccurate) perception that it's no big deal. If it really truly mattered, wouldn't there be meaningful consequences? The commoner's law does not get to tell the rich man what to do. Accustomed to a life of skating along with never more than a slap on wrist, the failson might well think he can get away with murder.

Such traits, combined with enough wealth, power, and backup to pose a threat, mean the failson archetype has the potential to be an entertaining villain.


2. Daily Beast (Warning: The article at the link is pretty politicized.)

Game and Story Use

  • The failson can be a colorful minor character used as comic relief.
    • Can also be used as a male damsel in distress as the PCs are sent into action by a long suffering father to "get my son out of whatever bloody mess he has got himself into this week".
    • Might also work for an interesting dynamic to be the highly competent assistant to a man whose only heir makes the village idiot look competent. If the failson has a sister, then the PC's route to inheritance is obvious, otherwise the best he may be able to hope for is permanent trusteeship of the failson's trust fund.
    • Where the sister is not herself an idiot, she may also be found struggling for recognition…
    • Conversely a competent woman may find herself married to this sort of idiot - as long as she can manage him effectively, she may have de-facto, if not de-jure control of his estate.
  • A villainous failson can embody the corrupt upper-class leadership of an evil corporation, or class-struggle more generally.
    • Evil + Incompetence = a Villain that's doomed to be eventually defeated by the PCs.
    • Much of his effort may well be focused on preventing evidence of his incompetence reaching those with the power to cut him off - or at least on making others look bad so that he can look at least adequate in comparison. Unmasking him may well be the route to victory, although the PCs may well not be thanked for doing so by anyone involved.
    • Since they are such a failure, they are probably not the Big Bad Evil Guy. They may work better as either a minor villain, or the true villain's main thug that the PCs defeat in the early campaign. If the true villain is one of the failson's elder family members, that defeat may logically lead to a grudge and a plotline where the real villain targets the PCs with escalating dangers.
      • Leading mook is often a good position - who either flings waves of goons into the PCs guns or calls off the search just before a breakthrough is made because his attention span has been exhausted or his uniform soiled. Also prone to kicking dogs in various ways.
      • "That yellow bastard" from Sin City is one of the more competent examples of this - as an O'Roarke, he's a failure… but he is still an O'Roarke and defeating him brings down the revenge of the greater evils of the family.
    • Their style of villainy is likely to be the manipulative bastard type.
    • Potentially a good non-evil villain: well-meaning but his incompetence produces problems that the heroes have to solve.
  • On the other hand, such a playboy might make an interesting, but flighty, faceman for the PCs.
    • Or it could all be an cover for the PC's alter ego secret identity. Bruce Wayne puts on a pretty good failson act in some Batman stories.
    • One who recognises his own incompetence could also make a decent patron, happy to fund competent help so that his father doesn't notice the trail of failure he leaves and cut him off.
    • One who doesn't makes for an archetypal bad boss if he achieves any level of authority - notably the (mostly unjustified) cliché of the incompetent Great War officer.
  • Luke's quotation goes on a bit further - the PCs could well be put about the business of setting a failson straight when the head of the family gets tired of the embarrassment.
    • Or, like Kipling's Gentleman Ranker a PC may himself be a failson in progress of reform (or at least conscious of the disgrace that he has caused and anxious to hide from it in exile.
      • Speaking of Kipling characters, consider also Richard Gloster from The Mary Gloster - a man who, if not an actual failson, is certainly a grave disappointment to his father Sir Anthony.
    • Failing that there is the hyper-competent valet - Bertie Wooster is something very close to a failson, kept mostly afloat by the near mystical competence of Jeeves.
    • The dilettante is a common Call of Cthulhu character - possibly not that good at anything, but rich and unoccupied enough that they can be free to go haring off after things man was not meant to know at the drop of a hat.
  • A particular nuisance where strict primogeniture applies and the failson is also the firstborn.
    • Someone been playing Crusader Kings have they?

We had intended you to be
The next Prime Minister but three:
The stocks were sold; the Press was squared:
The Middle Class was quite prepared.
But as it is! … My language fails!
Go out and govern New South Wales!"

(from) Lord Lundy Hilaire Belloc

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