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Author Topic: Help request - Fortune in the _______?  (Read 811 times)
Harlequin
Member

Posts: 284


« on: November 24, 2003, 04:28:22 PM »

Disclaimer: The primary game I am working on is (if contracts happen before completion - else this disclaimer may vanish as I self-publish) not indie.  A major game publisher wants to pick it up and run with it.  Naturally I'm ecstatic, but it disqualifies me from accessing the Indie Design forums directly.  Ron and I already discussed as much.  This disclaimer appears because this topic lies on the theory-or-specific-design border, and I would probably post it in Indie Design if, well, it qualified.

However, there's still a very heavy element of theory, so I'm not at all shamed to be putting it here instead.

My conundrum is this: I have a core engine with which I am, in general, extremely happy.  It has undergone several major rewrites and seems to now be stable.  Unfortunately, one element of the design which seems unwilling to settle down and stay put is the FitB/FitM/etc question.  It occurred to me today that I ought to ask for suggestions, hence this post; I'll try to sketch out the situation as clearly as I can to make that possible.  Please bear with me until I can get to where the theoretical questions become dominant.

The game is intentionally Narrativist-heavy, in what would best be described as a theological/cyberpunk postapocalypse.  The mechanic is scaled to resolve Tasks, which in context means a definable goal and the attendant trials pursuant to this goal - "Steal the contents of the safe in that house" would be an excellent example (though not appropriate if this were in fact the entire story, a la Killing Zoe).  However, resolution is what I can only call time-delayed... small increments of Fortune resolution occur at intervals throughout the narration of the scenes leading up to this goal.

Detail: When the Task is begun, the GM assesses the difficulty of it relative to the character's ability and assigns it some number of "Setbacks."  He sets that many dice (any size, all rolls are 50-50, "high is good") in front of the player, on a placeholder card.  The card remains in front of the player as a kinesthetic aid/reminder and a place to keep the dice, given that resolution of this Task may take several scenes and even break across sessions of play.  Simultaneously, the player chooses which of his core statistics (his Conviction scores, range 0-5) is driving this action, and puts a dice pool of that many dice on his character sheet.  This is a pool which refreshes fully per Task, and thus may also break across sessions, which he'll use to help complete it.

After that startup they are encouraged to step back from the mechanic for a while and handle the intro scenes of the Task.  The default is cooperative narration between the GM and the player to tell the events of the PC working toward this goal, with any and all unimportant obstacles handled (successfully) as scenery.  The spotlight can pass to another player now or at any other point in the process, "mid-roll" as it were.  Where warranted, however, the GM may pause this process, point to one of the Setback dice, and describe (non-cooperatively) a significant obstacle - frequently something unplanned-for, always something which has the potential to derail the Task if not handled properly.

The Fortune element defines how successfully the character overcomes this Setback and proceeds toward their goal.  One success (die in top 50% of its range) is required to do so.  The Setback die is available to the player for free; he always rolls that one.  He may add some dice from his pool if desired, and has some other options (slower-replenishing metagame resource, other tricks) as well.  If the roll succeeds, the Setback die has been eliminated, is removed from the card, and play proceeds; once the last Setback is gone, the goal has effectively been achieved (even if further narration is required first - not encouraged for tension reasons, but mechanically OK).  If one success is not generated on the roll, then the player's approach to resolving the Setback was unsuccessful and it makes his goal more difficult to achieve; the player may convert one Conviction die into a replacement for the Setback die that was rolled, and persevere, or he may call it failure time and abandon the objective.

That's the heart of the approach.  Comments on the system proper are welcome, PM please (I'm working on getting a discussion forum elsewhere to point people to, and would love the feedback); that's not the point of this post.  The point is that, although the mechanical resolution of each Setback attempt is clear, the mesh of narration and die roll - the IIEE of the thing - is not.  To be clear, I'm talking here about the IIEE of each single roll of one or more dice, aimed at one Setback - the whole construct could also be considered an extended play with IIEE forms, but that's not the question at hand.

The system seems open to several options.  Absolute Fortune at the  Beginning would dictate that the die roll controls whether or not the character even comes up with his idea.  I'm averse to this because I think there's good interplay in his creating an original response to the GM's sudden challenge, and I don't want to sap that; FatB isn't the tool I'd use for something so specific as a single Setback-attempt.  [Separate question for another thread: Is there a correlation between the scale of resolution (action-scale vs. gestalt, etc) and how well FatB/FitM/etc work with that scale?  Seems like it, here.]

On the other hand, though here my terminolgy slips a little and I'll drop into simple parlance, we have a couple of possibilities in terms of FitM:  
- Player defines his overall response/methodology but not the details; rolls; details are generated to fit the roll result, play result generated as continuation.  
- Player defines response including details of all of his own actions, then the die gets rolled whenever his own actions no longer cover the events of the game-world.  Closest to a classic "skill roll," this would still mesh well with another game element present, very very strong player authority over his own character (including nonstandard elements like if/how he is wounded, etc).
- Deliberate vagueness in the book on this subject, hoping that playgroups will settle on whatever suits them best here.  Many examples of each style, to show their use in play.

I'm honestly unsure how well each IIEE variant would mesh with the construct I've got, and would like help with this element.  Where have you seen each type of Fit_ used effectively, and what similarities to the above would appear?  Is it madness to even consider leaving the IIEE sequence to be determined by the group and open to each option depending on case?

An example might help: You're breaking into the aforementioned house, knowing it to be abandoned.  The GM says, pointing to a Setback die, "and as you reach the bottom of the stairs, the door at the top opens, and a figure is silhouetted in the light.  You're plainly visible."  Where do we fit the player's roll into what follows?

- Eric
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Jason Lee
Member

Posts: 729


« Reply #1 on: November 25, 2003, 10:02:00 AM »

Quote from: Eric
An example might help: You're breaking into the aforementioned house, knowing it to be abandoned. The GM says, pointing to a Setback die, "and as you reach the bottom of the stairs, the door at the top opens, and a figure is silhouetted in the light. You're plainly visible." Where do we fit the player's roll into what follows?


My personal preference would be to place the roll right at the end of that statement, assuming the setback die already has a value attached to it, and then have narration follow.

1) The setback die is rolled and assigned at some earlier point.

2) The GM invokes the setback die and describes the complication.

3) The player rolls dice and compares to the setback die.  Success or failure isn't necessarily clear at this point.

4) The player decides what to do (relocating that staring at the sheet phase to after the roll).  The player will choose a trait that allows him to succeed if he has one high enough.

5)  Events are narrated based on the trait chosen, and whether or not he succeeded.  I'd choose the player for narration, because it's quicker and the GM got to narrate the first half.  However, who narrates really isn't important (at least not for my example).


That's how I've been playing, and it tickles me ('cept for, ya know, the system being completely different).  I would consider this FitB, albiet in two stages.
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- Cruciel
Harlequin
Member

Posts: 284


« Reply #2 on: November 25, 2003, 04:04:17 PM »

You slightly misunderstand the system, and I wouldn't fret about it except that I think it changes things enough to matter - specifically when it comes to the "choose a trait that makes them successful, if any" phase.  Given that, I wouldn't have too much trouble with FatB either, but it's not present in this case.

Clarification one: the Setback die isn't the number to beat; it's actually a free die on the PC's side, which he gets without spending resources.  The number to beat is always (N/2) on any die, where N is its size.  (Important NPCs get dice which do function as you thought the Setback die would - you have to beat N/2 and beat the NPC's highest die - but that's different.)  So the initial "roll" of the Setback die, when they're placed on the card, isn't at all relevant; you may as well set it down as you see fit until it's picked up to roll, and it would break the system to roll it off the bat and have that result visible.  (I get a free die, and it's a success, so why allocate resources or get emotionally engaged?)  That's not all that important to your point, though.

More importantly, clarification two: when the player rolls his dice, there is no "choose and add a trait" step.  Take one free die plus zero to some resource dice, roll them all; you just need one of them to land in the top half of its range in order to pass the Setback.  The only interaction with the player's traits has already happened, at the beginning when the number of Setback dice and the number of Conviction dice available were established; at this point the dice are fairly "colourless."

And this latter, I think, changes my reaction to your suggestion.  Because it's a different act: Roll, have an influence over success/failure by choosing a trait, and then narrate the result, versus roll, success/failure is immediately clear, narrate the result.  Even if the act of choosing a trait at this juncture conveyed only illusory control, it would still make the FatB you suggest more palatable than what I've got.

In general theory terms, I do wonder if this helps clarify something about FatB methods, at least as I see them - that they require, in order to be fun, some degree of control in order to generate emotional investment in the roll, before the Fortune method is applied.  I use the term "fun" deliberately as a very personal indicator; this doesn't necessarily obtain for others, I can't tell.

Two hypothetical systems, to highlight the contrast I'm seeing here:

A) In "Red Light," as soon as a complication arises, the GM describes the complication and then stops.  The player, in silence, rolls the dice immediately, drawing on allocatable resources if desired.  Success or failure is apparent at this point, or perhaps the GM has to say, "Success" or "Failure" if the target number was hidden.  Either way, the player then gets to narrate the outcome of the roll, as a success or failure as appropriate, including good idea/bad idea on his own part in his basic approach to the problem.

Versus:

B) In "Green Light," as soon as a complication arises, the GM describes the complication and then stops.  The player chooses a die from a pool available to him - let's say he has a bunch of different die sizes available, as per the idea seen in this thread on Indie Design; it's relevant to him which one he chooses, because it reflects both his likelihood to succeed now, and his likelihood to lose this die and not have it later on.  Let's say that in Green Light this die doesn't have anything "tagged" to it other than size, just to keep this maximally FatB; it's not "his Swordplay die" it's just the d8 from his pool.  Now he rolls, and success or failure is again immediately clear, as above.  He narrates the result as success or failure accordingly, again as above.

Do you see the difference?  I think that the act of generating those two made some of my issues with FatB clear to me: it risks a lack of engagement.  "Absolute" FatB would mean the die is cast before anything is determined (plan, methodology, whatever), and then the flow is matched to the result... but the risk run by the die roll is then entirely abstract, it is not affixed to the imagined space proper.  There's no emotional engagement.  The more the scale runs over toward the FitM, the more of the situation is determined before the die is cast, and the more emotional engagement is possible (up to a point - I'd hold that a system like D&D3E tends to lose some emotional engagement by the time you can calculate all modifiers and actually get to roll the dice, but that's clearly a separate issue).  I think this is why I like the Intrigue system from FVLMINATA, as Ron describes it in his review; it requires emotional engagement in the consequences before you're allowed to touch the dice, despite giving you a lot of narrative space as to the outcome.

Extending the thought, this generation of emotional engagement is the tradeoff for - what?  How would we express the key advantage of FatB over FitM?  It seems to me [noting again that part of the point of this thread is that I'm still shaky on FatB/FitM/etc] that the advantage has to do with seamlessness and control... it enables a player or players to have the situation flow naturally into its conclusion without a "stutter" out of narrative mode to handle Fortune.  It also allows one person to handle both attempt and effect in one go, rather than passing authority back and forth (to the dice if nothing else).  This makes some sequences possible which usually wouldn't be, using FitM - ones where you were already hosed before you began, and everybody else could see that but you, for example.  

Could we distill that down to "control of the consequences of the roll," as our tradeoff against emotional engagement in the roll?  The more FatB, the more you control the consequences of the roll; the more FitM, the more you're emotionally engaged in the roll when it occurs.

That seems apt, and (if correct) would serve as a good rubric for answering questions like mine.  Which do you need more, at this juncture in the design?  And I think that in my case the answer is a pretty heavy dose of "emotional engagement, please," because there's a lot of player control elsewhere - I'm even still toying with the more extreme mode where, instead of shared narration, the player narrates 100% of the events during a Task except when the GM steps in with a Setback die to put a monkeywrench in his plans.  [It's almost certainly too extreme, but man, is it tempting.]

Is that a reasonable way to phrase things?  Or am I missing part of the boat on FatB, and expressing the tradeoff inaccurately?  I've used it, I'm just hitting analysts' block trying to figure out how and why.

- Eric
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Jason Lee
Member

Posts: 729


« Reply #3 on: November 26, 2003, 12:24:50 PM »

Well, you're right about me misunderstanding the system.  I think I got it now - we'll see.

Quote from: Eric
Could we distill that down to "control of the consequences of the roll," as our tradeoff against emotional engagement in the roll? The more FatB, the more you control the consequences of the roll; the more FitM, the more you're emotionally engaged in the roll when it occurs.


I would agree with this statement.

As FitE constrains narration compared to FitM, FitM constrains narration compared to FatB.  Likewise, player tension (emotional engagement) once the die is rolled increases from FatB to FitM, and increases from FitM to FitM.  Also, when you have fortune split into stages, you get various grey areas.  I guess I see a sliding scale where you trade tension for reduced wiff-factor.

Which, is of course, me just rewording your point that I quoted above. ;).

Quote from: Eric
That seems apt, and (if correct) would serve as a good rubric for answering questions like mine. Which do you need more, at this juncture in the design? And I think that in my case the answer is a pretty heavy dose of "emotional engagement, please," because there's a lot of player control elsewhere - I'm even still toying with the more extreme mode where, instead of shared narration, the player narrates 100% of the events during a Task except when the GM steps in with a Setback die to put a monkeywrench in his plans. [It's almost certainly too extreme, but man, is it tempting.]


So, it sounds like you know where you want the trade off to be - what is the best for play flow.  

I'd like to add that tension in the roll is quite different than investment in the narrated events, though I might use the wording 'emotional engagement' to describe tension or investment.  The more invested you are in events, the less you want to hand the decisions over to a randomizer.  For example: when you have investment in the narrated events, and FitE deprives you of the desired outcome for the narrated events, you get the wiff-factor feeling.

And just for my opinion on FitM (maybe useful, maybe not):
In my experience, when a character is acting (actively doing something, taking the initiative, not a response) FitM systems let you abort what you declared to a null action of some kind.  Which always makes me feel like the first declaration is just wasting time.

FitM
"I beat him down!"
<roll>, "Crap, I failed."
"I don't find an opening."


FatB
<roll>, "Crap, I can't do anything cool with this roll."
"I don't find an opening."


However, when a character is reacting (acting is response to something), he can't abort to a null action, so I don't feel like the initial declaration is wasted time.
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- Cruciel
Harlequin
Member

Posts: 284


« Reply #4 on: November 26, 2003, 12:42:35 PM »

That last is an interesting observation.  It may confirm why I'm feeling now that FitM is apt for my setup... because the proactive stuff is always handled narratively and at conception of the Task, and the Setbacks are always reactive in nature.  Which is also something I hadn't realized about the design...

- Eric
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