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What is Fortune in the Middle

Started by Jeffrey Straszheim, August 09, 2001, 07:35:00 PM

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Jeffrey Straszheim

Hey folks,

I've been reading the archives on this site
and I've noticed many references to "Fortune
in the Middle".  This seems to refer to
the types of resolution mechnaics found in
Hero Wars and Sorcerer (for example), but
what is the exact definition of the term?
What is it contrasted to?


Jeffrey Straszheim
Jeffrey Straszheim

Ron Edwards

Whew. I think I articulated it first in my review of Hero Wars, so that might be a good starting point. But I'll try to get it here, too. I'll start with the converse.

Basically, Fortune-at-the-END means that all player and GM contribution to a character's action is established prior to rolling (or picking a card or bead or whatever), and the "final word" on the success of the action is given by the Fortune outcome.

Let's see ... in Champions, we have the combat tactic, the skill levels in question, the range modifier, any appropriate damage mods, and so on ... then add the offensive combat value to 11, subtract the target's defensive combat value, and try to roll equal to or under that value. If you do, the action succeeds. Period.

What matters is that EXACTLY what the character is attempting to do is established BEFORE the roll, all considerations are made, and the roll is the final step of the process.

Whereas in Hero Wars, in either Simple or Extended Combat resolution, the player is urged to announce ONLY general intent prior to rolling, and that's not intent about the ACTION, but about the entire conflict. Not, "I shoot my arrow at him," but, "I put him out of action with my arrow shot." Not, "I swing at him with an elbow-strike," but, "I clobber him with close-in technique."

The roll is made (your ability score or less on d20, after considering offensive and defensive mastery levels) and the result is examined - but look, now is the time to take into consideration the Bump mechanic and whether you'll spend a Hero Point to bump.

Not only is there a mechanic to "revise" the roll to a degree, but there is also the philosophical difference in being able to describe your character's specific actions in light of the mechanics outcome. If you fail, you don't have to accept that your character threw an inept elbow strike - no, he simply didn't get in close at all and took a boot to the gut as he tried. Much more dignified; a miss is not a specific whiffed attempt.

The difference is exaggerated in the Extended Contest system of Hero Wars, in which, for instance, I could be looking at a really horrible roll which hoses me down to negative Action Points, putting me out of the fight for good. But after that, completely post hoc, a fellow player can loan me a hefty wad of Action Points from his own pool. In game terms, this means that he tossed me a sword, or said a crucial and inspiring thing, or ANYTHING that justifies me staying in the fight. So I'm not at negative Action Points after all - and the actual in-game events have been completely altered, retroactively, following the roll.

It goes further than that, even. Say I took a huge loss of Action Points at one point, but still won the fight. That damage is (usually) simply evaporated - it looked ugly at the time but I'm OK after all. Rewind - same thing, but I lost the fight. Well, now that means I must have taken very serious damage at that moment of Action Point loss.

So the exact same rolled-mechanics event - losing a bunch of Action Points - is retroactively defined in game terms LONG after it occurs mechanically.

That's Fortune-in-the-middle: the Fortune mechanic provides a template or foundation for subsequent decisions and mechanics to modify, for the purposes of defining not only the outcomes, but the specific actions themselves, of the event.

Hero Wars is currently the champion system for the technique, along with The Dying Earth in a totally different way (boy that Robin Laws is clever, ain't he?). Sorcerer uses it to a lesser extent, more in terms of magic than single physical actions. Zero uses it for combat sequences and outcomes, and I was heavily influenced by Zero combat in Sorcerer's combat system. Castle Falkenstein uses it in its magic system.

My claim is that Fortune-in-the-middle is the main reason why Narrativist RPG design may still make excellent use of Fortune mechanics at all.



Hello Ron,

On 2001-08-09 15:08, Ron Edwards wrote:

Basically, Fortune-at-the-END means that all player and GM contribution to a character's action is established prior to rolling (or picking a card or bead or whatever), and the "final word" on the success of the action is given by the Fortune outcome.

This is something I've never fully understood about Fortune-In-The-Middle.  Above you describe Fortune-In-The-End, which I'm assuming is the 'standard' RPG resolution mechanic.  You say that basically it comes down to, I state what I'm doing, roll dice, dice tell me what happened.  But can't this be turned into Fortune-In-The-Middle using raw descriptive ability?

Let's take the Classic D&D example.  D&D has ALWAYS stated from first edition on that the die roll did not represent a single swing of your blade but rather whether you managed to do anything significant with your blade within a given time span.  In first and second edition that time span was one minute. In third edition it's six seconds.  With this in mind and without changing the nature of the mechanic at all can we not change Fortune-In-The-End into Fortune-In-The-Middle in the following way:


"I swing." roll dice "You miss."



"With a series of quick swipes I try to fake out my opponent and land as many lethal lunges as I can." roll dice "Oh, he spots your fake out and with some careful parries he keeps your blade at bay."

Obviously there's something I'm missing here since my understanding of Fortune-In-The-Middle is: "State General Intent" use fortune mechanic "Work Out Details Retroactively."  I can't see how this formula can't apply to the 'standard' resolution mechanic.  

I can see your Hero Wars examples as being long range much more specific versions of what you are describing but I don't see anything different from my D&D example above and what you described as the 'I try to take him out with a series of close-in manuevers' example.


joshua neff


I've found that the core d20/D&D 3rd ed mechanic, especially regarding combat, is so abstract that you can totally run it as "fortune-in-the-middle" (Ron noted that this was true of what's now called 1st ed D&D, but I'd forgotten about it, it's been so long for me). I've made a number of examples of it on GO & RPGnet. Basically, it could go like this--

Bob the Player's character Rognar the Fighter is battling an NPC hobgoblin.
Bob the Player gets initiative, so Bob says, "I attack the hobgoblin." Rolls & gets a miss, so Bob says, "Rognar moves in, but the hobgoblin is swinging wildly & Rognar sees he can't get a good hit in, so he pulls back."
The DM no declares the hobgoblin is attacking Rognar. Rolls & gets a natural 1--a fumble! The DM says, "The hobgoblin swings his huge axe, but Rognar sweeps up with his sword & slices the axe's wooden handle in half, cutting off the axehead."
Next round, Bob again declares an attack. Rolls a hit, rolls for damage, & takes the hobgoblin down to 5 hit points. "Rognar attacks the hobgoblin, but the hobgoblin's armor deflects Rognar's sword."
The GM rolls for the hobgoblin, gets a hit, rolls for minor damage. "The hobgoblin swings the axe handle like a club, but Rognar expertly avoids getting hit."
Now, both times here, a hit has been rolled & hit points have been reduced. But as the Player's Handbook states, hit points don't necessarily equal specific damage. So, it's perfectly reasonable to state that within the gameworld, no damage has been done.
Next round, Bob rolls for an attack & gets a natural 20--a critical hit! He rolls damage & takes the hobgoblin down to negative hit points. "Rognar fakes the hobgoblin out & then drives his sword through the hobgoblin's heart. The hobgoblin slumps against the blade, dead." Here's where damage is finally declared within the gameworld.

I think there's a lot of narrativist potential within that mechanic (or at least, it's fortune-in-the-middle, which doesn't necessarily make it narrativist, but it helps). & this may go towards Ron's idea that Narrativism & Gamism have a lot in common.

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes

Ron Edwards


The basic answer to your query is "Yes." If the combat system is sufficiently abstract (which is definitely the case in AD&D c. 1980), then you're all set with Fortune-in-the-Middle if you want to use it. Same goes with Tunnels & Trolls, which had an incredibly abstract combat mechanic. However, in both these cases, the tendency was for players simply to ignore ANY interpretation of what happened and merely follow the numbers.

The vast majority of rules systems for combat permit no such shenanigans at all. From RuneQuest on, you SAY what the character is doing, and you ROLL to find out how it went, and that, baby, is that. Fortune-at-the-End rules the roost, currently.

The games I've mentioned are those which mechanically put Fortune-in-the-Middle into existence. At present, I consider this to be a strong indicator of Narrativist goals, although clearly it might adapt well into Gamism. Getting the mechanic aligned with Simulationist goals seems almost impossible, and historically, I don't think it's happened, but Mike Holmes has surprised me before. Who knows what he might come up with.


Uncle Dark

Fortune-in-the-middle is crucial to how I want to run games.  So much so, that when I run my next Sorcerer game (hopefully to start this month) I am going to make a point of doing a couple of demos of how it works during the PC brainstorming session.  I might suggest that anyone running FitM resolution with players not already familiar with it do the same, as old habits will surface without explicit communicaiton.

This happened in the last Sorcerer game I ran, with people just looking at me blankly when I tried to be subtle about it.

Reality is what you can get away with.

Ron Edwards


Sadly, most of Sorcerer was written before I understood and named the Fortune-in-the-middle issue (yes, it's a clunky name, so what). Therefore Sorcerer's resolution system is kind of a hybrid, although it's abstract enough to get tweaked toward the middle.

The most "middle" elements are the combat sequence (which as you know is mainly a matter of admiring imitation, of Zero), the use of Cover (of course FBI agents can do that), and the entire approach toward Contact and Summon (the character is retroactively established to know a given ritual and demon if that's what the player wants to get into the game).

The plain old action-resolution roll, though, is not EXPLICITLY in the middle, even though I tried to nudge it there verbally in the re-write for the book format. In practice, the system works fine whether you want to describe the action first or later. It's not FIXED in the middle as in Hero Wars and The Dying Earth, and now I kind of wish that it were.


Uncle Dark


I've tried to play it as if it were, but my players just haven't gotten FitM yet.  These are some sharp gamers, but they're so used to FatE that their "play reflexes" are geared to "Well, I rolled the dice, so what happens next Mr. GM?"

Hence the "remedial scene resolution" part of the next character creation jam session.

Reality is what you can get away with.


QuoteAt present, I consider this to be a strong indicator of Narrativist goals, although clearly it might adapt well into Gamism. Getting the mechanic aligned with Simulationist goals seems almost impossible, and historically, I don't think it's happened, but Mike Holmes has surprised me before.

Ron, many times you've stated that FIB (fortune-in-between)is not compatible with simulationism. But I can't recall a causal explanation of why that must be the case. Do you have one?

Also, if FIB is "more narrativist" than FATE (fortune-at-the-end), is FATS (fortune-at-the-start) the most narrativist of all?


Unqualified Offerings - Looking Sideways at Your World
20' x 20' Room - Because Roleplaying Games Are Interesting

Ron Edwards


FitM (to adopt horrible acronyms) is a technique of play. Narrativim, Gamism, and Simulationism are goals of play. Techniques, as I see them, may facilitate specific goals - but they cannot BE them. Your post frustrates me, because it's predicated on considering a technique to be a goal (or ascribing that consideration to me).

Therefore the only possible question at hand is whether the technique lends itself to, dictates, or otherwise is related to any of the goals.

HISTORICALLY, FitM is nearly absent from role-playing design, and I don't think it's reaching far to associate that lack with generally Simulationist goals - especially the historically most-common kinds of Simulationist goals. (And before you get the knives out, how many times do I have to say it, there are other sorts of Simulationism.)

FUNCTIONALLY, FitM facilitates any sort of play that does not treat a Fortune method as the final arbiter. Clearly, this has been a great boon to Narrativist play, especially considering the bank or spectrum of RPGs in existence in the late 1980s. It has especially been helpful to those of us who disagree with the notion that Drama-method = Narrativism.

POTENTIALLY, FitM seems very well suited to any goal of play in which the player is required to "adjust" or "react with" a Fortune method. This seems eminently appropriate for some Gamist designs and any Narrativist design that uses Fortune. It does not fit well at all with HISTORICAL approaches to Simulationism, and I stand by my claim that the mechanics-heavy Sim of the 80s and the mechanics-light, LARP-style Turku approach are united by their emphasis on FatE.

As I said above (he said wearily), whether FitM may be a useful technique in future Simulationist design or goals is unknown.

FINALLY, I don't see the "Fortune/beginning" question you pose as being substantive, and in some ways it seems very wrongheaded. I'd rather make sure that we are all understanding one another about the current issue first, and then return to that one in a thread for that purpose.


P.S. It suddenly occurs to me that in reading "goal of play," people may misunderstand it to mean "intent of the designer." This is not the case. By "goal of play," I have always and will always be referring to the living humans engaged in the act of role-playing.