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Author Topic: Examples of Fortune-in-the-Middle?  (Read 8439 times)
J B Bell
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« on: January 08, 2002, 01:33:55 PM »

Hello all,

I've had one character-making session with my players for our spanking-new Sorcerer game, and it went really swimmingly.  The players surprised me with their innovativeness, not to mention with just how really disgusting they were willing to make their Demons, without much prompting from me.

But, that's not what I want to discuss; Actual Play looms large on my horizon, and I find that my years of Simulationist play have left me with a deep habit of "roll to hit, roll defense, roll damage, mark it down" as the Way to Do Stuff.  I often hear Fortune-in-the-Middle talked about, and it's a favored mechanic for Sorcerer, but that book and the mentions I read are not very detailed about what this looks like in play.  The "whiff factor" in FUDGE's usual dice mechanics has been a major cause of my being dissatisfaction with it and finding a happy home with Sorcerer, but I'm anxious that my description not reify it in a game that doesn't encourage it.

Could someone post examples, or pointers to them, of Fortune-in-the-Middle in combat, magic, and more ordinary tasks?  They can be quite brief, I just want a handle on it before I go inflicting it on myself & my players.

With thanks,

--TQuid
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Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #1 on: January 08, 2002, 02:01:50 PM »

It's pretty simple.

Instead of task-oriented resolution (do I pick the lock), go for conflict-oriented resolution (do I get past this door).

Then, to use FitM, figure out how/why the conflict was (or wasn't) dealt with.

So I pick the lock and I fail. Rather than a "You fail" result, the GM allows me to pick the lock, but makes it a trapped lock -- the door opens but I feel a sharp sting and look down to see a needle coated with green ichor.

Or I swing my sword at the troll and rather than missing, the troll grabs my sword arm and sinks the blade even deeper into its chest, making it really tough to pull out.

That kinda thing.
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« Reply #2 on: January 08, 2002, 02:05:22 PM »

My Alyria game makes use of a Fortune-in-the-Middle mechanic.  (BTW, folks, the first draft is done and I hope to be finished transcribing by the end of the week!)  I know that you don't know the system, so I'll speak in generalities.

Let's say that two characters are going to fight.  They both pick the Attribute that they want to use and do other fun system things.  Finally, both make a roll against a target.  The three basic possibilities are these:

Character A makes his roll, Character B fails.
Character B makes his roll, Character A fails.
Both make their roll.

Obviously, these translate to Character A wins, Character B wins, tie.  However, that is (almost) all the system tells you.  The details are up to you to narrate.  So let's say that Character A wins.  What does that mean?  Did he chop off Character B's head?  Does he disarm him?  The possibilities are wide open.  However, the system has indicated the direction of narrative flow (Character A wins).

Obviously different systems have different inputs.  Alyria does include some more details that provide guidance, but I didn't want to muddy the water too much.

Is this helpful?
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Seth Ben-Ezra
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #3 on: January 08, 2002, 02:26:05 PM »

First I'll say that waht Jared responded with seems to be more the conflict resolution and modified failure tactics than FitM per se. Both strong tactics that work well with FitM, consider using them. What Seth describes is more the classic FitM technique, though.

A lot of FitM seems to me to be a feel thing. Instead of just stating what the outcome of a success will be in complete terms, you leave it hanging somehow. Then you decide on the specifics afterwards. What this prevents is the standard, I try to hit, you succeed/you fail description of the result that can be anticlimactic. See also whiff-factor.

So, in implementation, simply encourage players to say I'm trying to hurt him, or I'm trying to disarm him. Then on a success the player can embelish within the limitations of the result, and on a failure can describe how the failure occured (which can be protagonizing itself), instead of just getting a result that it didn't happen.

Mike
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #4 on: January 08, 2002, 02:32:20 PM »

To clarify even more (because both of the previous examples read like Sumerian to me - no offense, guys), here's two examples:

Combat
GM: Ok. You're in a cave, and you see a large troll up ahead. What is your goal for this scene?

Player: Hm. (Some example goals would be get away, sneak past the troll, kill the troll, reason with the troll, etc.) I think I'm going to have to kill the troll and get past him.

GM: Fine by me. Roll. (They roll dice, and the player wins by a moderate margin. Degree of success is usually quite important in FitM systems.) What did you do?

Player: I ran at the troll, unsheathing my sword and leapt upon his chest. He managed to slam me against a wall with one arm, but I drove the sword through his eye, killing him.

Magic
GM: You see a large crowd up ahead, and they seem quite angry. Your friend is up on a stage, and it seems they are thinking of hanging him.

Player: I think I need to get past this crowd without having them rip me to shreds. I'm going to use magic to do that.

GM: Ok. Roll your Magic stat. (Player gets a high degree of success.)

Player: All right! Hm. What do I want to do? Ok. I cast a spell, "Puffin's Ineffable Contention," on the crowd, causing them to argue with each other. While they're distracted, I walk right past them, leap on the stage, and steal the prisoner from under their noses. (Note the player could had the character cast a flying spell, or invisibility, or whatever else he felt like.)
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Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games
Mike Holmes
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« Reply #5 on: January 08, 2002, 02:55:36 PM »

That's FitM again all right, but like Jared I think that you're also confabulating it with scene resolution. Ron! You made up this term! What's the definition, dammit!

Mike
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Clinton R. Nixon
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« Reply #6 on: January 08, 2002, 03:00:36 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes

That's FitM again all right, but like Jared I think that you're also confabulating it with scene resolution. Ron! You made up this term! What's the definition, dammit!


You're right. Of course, I think FitM works better with scene resolution, so I was biased.

A non-scene resolution FitM example of combat
Player: I'm going to hit the bastard.
GM: Roll. (He rolls and succeeds.) What happened?
Player: I pistol-whipped the guy across the nose, stunning him.

This is different from Fortune at the end because the action and effect were stated after resolution. In traditional Fortune at the End, you would state the action first, roll, then state effect.
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Clinton R. Nixon
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: January 08, 2002, 03:10:12 PM »

Hey,

Damn, I go off and do some real work for a while, and y'all start yellin' for me.

The key to this concept is that you do not have to announce the character's specific, actual, choreographed action prior to the Fortune mechanic (e.g. the roll). You do state the general intent, but you do not state the actual, physical, detailed action. That waits until after the resolution.

Let's take my favorite example, the elbow strike. OK, Fred is the character, squaring off against Fritz.

TRADITIONAL
Fred's player announces the precise move in question: "I [Fred] try to hit him with an elbow strike." Note that this announcement carries with it the actual move, so Fred is really and truly in action, throwing that particular attack.

If the roll succeeds: the elbow strike hits!

If the roll fails: the elbow strike goes "whiff."

FORTUNE IN THE MIDDLE
Fred's player says, "I [Fred] close with him, I really want to mess him up and knock him straight out, no frills." Note that this announcement is goal-oriented, not action-oriented.

If the roll succeeds: the player picks whatever technique appeals to him, say, an elbow strike.

If the roll fails: Fred does not have to whiff his strike! The player and/or GM decide that the opponent simply fended him off with a weapon, or a push-you-off move, or something similar. Thus the strike never got attempted, thus it never missed.

Therefore, this method permits the precise action to be generated following the roll, which allows the player and/or GM to choreograph the events using the roll as raw material, not as the finishing/concluding clincher.

MORE
Now, you will be correct to note that Sorcerer does not enforce Fortune-in-the-middle. It permits it, at best. Check out some threads in the Sorcerer forum about this. Games that enforce Fortune-in-the-middle are rare; Hero Wars is probably the best example.

I also recommended my answers to Manu regarding Intent, Initiation, Execution, and Completion, somewhere in the GNS forum.

Hope this helped.
Best,
Ron
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jburneko
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Posts: 1351


« Reply #8 on: January 08, 2002, 03:13:13 PM »

Alright I'll take a stab at this.  As I agree there is seems to be a confusion between granularity of resolution and FitM.

Fortune-In-The-Middle works like this: State general intent.  Apply resolution mechanic.  Describe details of action based on mechanic result.

Specific Example:

The PC and a Ninja are facing off.

GM: The Ninja is going to try to restrain you.  What do you want to do?

PC: I want to try and disable him somehow.

Roll Dice.  PC wins with high success.

PC: I duck and weave attempting to stay clear of the Ninja's grasp.  Then at an opportune moment I scoop up some sand and throw it in his face.

GM: Okay, the Ninja is blind.  He takes a moment to center himself but is still coming after you using only his hearing.

PC: Alright, I'm going to try and render this guy unconcious.

Roll dice.  PC wins but only by a little.

PC: I pick up a nearby board and whack him hard on the back of the head.

GM: Okay, you've hurt him but you weren't successful enough to fully render him unconcious.  Instead he grunts in pain and falls to his knees on the ground.

And so on....

Jesse
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: January 08, 2002, 03:19:06 PM »

Hello,

Reading Jesse's post and some of the other ones above, I want to emphasize that Fortune-in-the-middle is more noticeable, and has more operational differences from the traditional method, in regard to failed rolls. We all might do well to remember that in generating examples.

Best,
Ron
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J B Bell
Member

Posts: 267


« Reply #10 on: January 08, 2002, 03:50:50 PM »

Quote from: Clinton R. Nixon

You're right. Of course, I think FitM works better with scene resolution, so I was biased.


(Previously on Buffy, Mike Holmes chastized Clinton for confabulating FitM with scene resolution)

Quote from: Clinton R. Nixon

A non-scene resolution FitM example of combat
Player: I'm going to hit the bastard.
GM: Roll. (He rolls and succeeds.) What happened?
Player: I pistol-whipped the guy across the nose, stunning him.

This is different from Fortune at the end because the action and effect were stated after resolution. In traditional Fortune at the End, you would state the action first, roll, then state effect.


Hm.  Now, I am thinking particularly in terms of Sorcerer, but it seemed like a more general issue, so I posted it here rather than on that forum.  Perhaps it's a distraction from what the topic ought to properly be, but to continue selfishly serving myself, how does this work when the combat system has players rewarded for a detailed description?  It seems as if FitM favors a bland initial description, followed by the fortune bit, then followed by a detailed description.  This doesn't seem that different from Fate at the End, except that the player is more likely to author the effects of a failure.

I guess I'm more concerned about examples specifically of whiffs, because the "whiff factor" is a significant part of what put me off Simulationism.  I am thankful for the scene resolution and "failed fortune == extra trouble/complications" discussion, as they both can fight the enemy that most bothers me, deflationary whiffing, because they can put an extra dollop of power at the end, the first by means of more authorial and directorial control to the player, and the second by more choice-making for the player.  (As another aside, that would seem to make "failed fortune == extra trouble/complications" option ideal for Gamist players, whereas scene res. has "Narrativist" written all over it.)

I digress, and I beg forgiveness for those jargon-packed paragraphs.  This kind of thinking is what got me wanting examples.  So, to be specific with some more fun jargon, what does FitM look like in a vanilla-Narrativist whiff?  A nice example I remember from the Socerer forum was a plot-advancing trick.  The scene's a bit complicated, but suffice to say a failed roll to shoot someone was interpreted by the GM as another person leaping in the way of the blast because she thought it was aimed at her child.  Now that was one hell of a feat, but in GMing a reasonable-sized brawl, coming up with stuff that intricate on the fly seems daunting.

--TQuid

P.S.  Geez, you guys covered all this while I was typing.  I love this place!  I'll leave the post here and read more thoroughly, and delete it if it's totally irrelevant.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: January 08, 2002, 04:23:53 PM »

Hey,

Regarding how Fortune-in-the-middle applies to Sorcerer, check out http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=386">this thread in the Sorcerer forum.

Best,
Ron
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #12 on: January 08, 2002, 08:29:00 PM »

Hey TQuid,

I guess I'm more concerned about examples specifically of whiffs, because the "whiff factor" is a significant part of what put me off Simulationism....
So, to be specific...what does FitM look like in a vanilla-Narrativist whiff?


For the longest time, the definitive post on whiff syndrome and FitM was on the "Augmentation" thread in the Gaming Outpost Hero Wars forum. Ron wrote it more than a year ago, and he's written better stuff on the topic since then, some of which appears in his brand new Sorcerer & Sword supplement for Sorcerer, but I'll paste and annotate his original post a bit for you right here:

Historically, Simulationist event-resolution in RPGs has always been to resolve game events at the table in the same order they are resolved in the game-world. (I am discussing event RESOLUTION, not ANNOUNCEMENT, although you'll see announcement necessarily figures in to what follows.)

For instance, the player announces, "I'm going to attack that guy with a knee-strike," rolls, and then hit/not hit is determined, then how-much-damage is determined. There are lots of ways to tweak this (how many rolls are involved per step, e.g., or the way announcements are handled around the group), but the LINEAR quality remains consistent: (1) full intent, negating all other intent; (2) resolve success/failure; (3) resolve full and complete effect. Only then do you move on to the next event resolution.

This whole idea has seen some major changes in the last few years. I think that only really hard-core Narrativist games have explored the possibility of the following sequence: (1) announcing general intent or outcome of an exchange; (2) rolling or otherwise applying Fortune, often for everyone involved; (3) working out the details or fine-tuning that outcome by NOW figuring what specific actions happened, up to and including altering certain outcomes.

So in Hero Wars (or several other games), the announcement is not anything so specific as "knee-strike," but rather "take him down with close-in, brutal power techniques." The rolls then designate general degrees of success for everyone. Finally, IF you end up on the successful end of things, ONLY NOW do you (player + GM, usually) decide that it was indeed a knee-strike or head-butt or whatever.

See, in the old way (which I think is basically a Simulationist way), the knee-strike DID get attempted and DID go "whiff." In the new (Narrativist) way, the knee-strike didn't even get attempted (retroactively speaking) unless the general intent was successful.


And that's where I think a lot of unhappy players are, they've had their characters systematically deprotagonized by resolution mechanics. Their characters have been undermined and made stupid. And it's not just combat. Ron has a great example in Sorcerer & Sword of a suave character fumbling a seduction roll. The traditional "whiff" outcome is him spilling his glass of wine on the girl or something equally pathetic. I wrote a http://indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1095">post recently about how I think players keep making the same kinds of characters over and over again because consistently, each and every incarnation of the character gets conceptually ruined, and fails to emerge as a serious protagonist, and I think this is often in large part due to the whiff syndrome.

One of my friends, worse than anyone else I've ever gamed with, has been the most frustrated by the whiff-whiff-whiff-whiff syndrome associated with simulationist combat mechanics. It's telling that when he ran a few sessions of Werewolf a couple of years ago, one of the players acquired the nickname "Get of Wuss". It makes you think just how much table humor during RPG sessions is an outgrowth of the whiff syndrome. So I'm not surprised to hear you have some players with the same whiff syndrome frustrations. Consider the example that Ron uses about the knee strike, and imagine that the player is dramatically not successful. The awesome thing about the fortune-in-the-middle method is that there's never a knee strike that goes whiff...the dramatic failure is interpreted as the opponent grasping the character's wrist, twisting his arm behind his back, and disarming him...or whatever resolution seems appropriate. It's still a dramatic non-success, but it advances the narrative in a way that the whiff definitely does not.

And with the seduction attempt, the suave character doesn't drool or spill his wine. The GM, or GM plus player, decides that the target of the seduction talks in private about the come-on to the host of the party, who happens to be a suitor of hers, thereby creating conflict and consequences for the player character that advance the story, without undermining and deprotagonizing the character.

Make sense?

Paul
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #13 on: January 08, 2002, 11:13:07 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
Reading Jesse's post and some of the other ones above, I want to emphasize that Fortune-in-the-Middle is more noticeable, and has more operational differences from the traditional method, in regard to <i>failed</i> rolls. We all might do well to remember that in generating examples.


Actually, that's where I first realized Scattershot (<-- careful, that's actually five links) actually was a Fortune-in-the-Middle mechanic.  Strangely (at least to me), it is also not terribly general, as are most of the above examples.

You see for Scattershot, we noticed the significant difference between when a participant has their character act upon something not 'belonging' to any other and when they act on something that does, because we wanted the mechanics to 'enforce' much more (what was the term?) 'directorial' control over things which did not require 'sharing.'  So how does that apply to FitM mechanics and combat?  How can it be 'not general?'

Simple, what is not really mentioned in all the contrasted examples above is the fact that in Fortune-at-the-End resolution, the aggressor actually takes control of their subject on some level even before the dice come out.  It's not "[Fred tries] to hit him with an elbow strike," it's actually 'Fred tries to hit Fritz in the midsection with an elbow strike.'  That's where we felt a fair amount of the 'deprotagonization' took place.  (A number people have complained that our 'both sides get a roll' mechanic has too much 'handling time,' but without it, we felt the defender has no say in whatever is being attempted.)

So what we do in Scattershot (at the 'advanced' stage of mechanics use most noticably) is let the player describe their action as specifically as desired, 'Fred makes a horizontal, mid-level elbow strike.'  What Scattershot does not allow is defining where the opponent is, 'to the soft belly of Fritz.'  That's where the dice come in.  Fred's player takes his go, '...strike.'  Both combatants dice off (with the other defining what Fritz does) and compare their tallies (and let's say Fred's player wins).

Here's the special part: (and it becomes compulsory when you exceed your game's Critical Juncture Threshold) the defender narrates the result, not the attacker (the player of Fritz picks a kidney shot as his action was to 'spin away').  This allows the action to be 'shared' by both participants and maintains the defender's sense of 'protagonism.'  Their sense of the 'my story' part of the game is not surrendered and they can add as much character to the result as they care to.  (In fact, in playtest, Scattershot's experience die mechanic has lent to a high degree of 'hamming it up' at some of these points.  It really can feed the atmosphere and tension.)

Now, when Scattershot is used in uncontested die rolls (meaning the subject of the die roll, usually in Specific play, has no Proprietor), it also works in a FitM fashion¹.  Let's say Fred is trying to [smith a sword, fix a car, climb a tree, catch a hedgehog] and his player fails the roll.  The player has a few options: 1) they can take it as is and describe what lead to the failure, 2) they can decide that their story is important enough that 'failure is not an option' and they can spend experience dice on the action after the fact (even if they have to 'take out a loan') again and again, until they change it, or 3) they can 'buy a success' by changing the terms of the die roll (takes longer, uses more parts, gets help, catches a boar instead), also after the fact, until it reaches '0,' a success.

Each of these solutions works from a rather non-'general' statement of action and yet has 'a lot of work' after the die roll.  That's what clued me in to the idea that Scattershot might actually be more FitM than I previously thought.  You don't 'get a whiff' of the werewolf because there are not as many uses of mechanics, the suave reconteur saves himself by 'buying a success,' and it does not have the subtle feeling of ambiguity (and inconsistency) upheld by more general resolution systems.  In all these ways Scattershot "puts you in the driver's seat" when it comes to your character (or, said differently, keeps the mechanics from 'deprotagonizing' your character) which allows what has been described as a Simulationist system to offer Narrativist Transition.

(You'll have to look up all the References yourself; it's late, and I gotta get some sleep.)

Fang Langford

¹ I say when because there is a fair amount of text about keeping games mostly in General play (where success or failure is largely at the speaker's discretion and not dice rolling) because over-use of mechanics can be seriously deprotagonizing (read that: more die rolls means more chances to fail) similar to the 'Get of Wuss' example).
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contracycle
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« Reply #14 on: January 09, 2002, 02:00:33 AM »

Another approach ot the "ehiff" factor is that adopted by Theatrix, although I'm not sure how to classify it.  The idea is to seek dramatic outcomes to actionsaccording to plot needs - this puts a loty of power in the hands of the auteur GM, but their breakdown of results need not necessarily be used that way.  They break down possible results like this:

For task resolution, the GM decides whether the plot demands success or failure and then what sort of outcome it is:

IF Failure THEN Realease the tension or let them struggle?
 IF no THEN give them false hope
 ELSE Inflict real damage?
      IF yes THEN limit damage to suit lesson
      ELSE Let them know they were lucky


Success -> Release the Tension and tell them now?
 IF no THEN let victory be uncertain
 ELSE give them breathing room?
      IF yes THEN let them know they've done well
      ELSE keep the pace, present a new dilemma

Essentially, this is a guide to scene framing, especially when employed with scene resolution mechanics.  It helps the GM have in mind what sort of outcome they want to engineer, which they can employ during the actual description of in-game events, and the full version also includes some stuff on what KIND of success or failure it was.  On the down side its pretty heavy-handed, although hopefully not conspicuous.

Theatrix also has a marvellous single page outlining four outcomes of scene/task resolution in 4 panels of illustration (I reaslly like this sort of thing).  This shows a western style gunfight with 4 possible results:

skilled success: shooter hits opponentes gun, belt and hat
skilled failure: shooter ambushed by new opponent
unskilled failure: shooter does not clear the holster in time and is winged
unskilled success: shotter fires wildly and a lucky ricochet kills opponent

In none of these cases is the character actually at risk of death through the immediate resolution, although of course this is at GM's discretion.  But it demonstrates pretty clearly how the GM can influence a resolution according to their intent; even the skilled failure was not a whiff - the character was ambushed.  By contrast, the unskilled success almost was a kinda whiff.  I like this whole concept and would like to see more use of this sort of technique.
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