Finding a place for Fortune at the table

Fortune at the TableYesterday I found an interesting question that Rob Donoghue had posted at the Story Games forum back in February. Basically he asked “what makes a game different from sitting around, collectively telling a story?” This was thrashed out pretty thoroughly on his thread but, since I found myself mulling it over, I thought I’d post some of my own thoughts here. After all it’s my blog, I can do what I like with it!

The boundary between some games and collective storytelling is pretty thin these days, but it seems to me that the main difference is that most games have some random element (rolling dice, drawing cards etc) which brings Fortune into play. And Fortune is like this really cool dude who you want to have influencing your game. Think of him as an extra GM who’ll shake things up a bit and do the unexpected. In fact it’s placing your fate in his hands that makes the game interesting, because you never quite know what he’s going to do. That’s the beauty of uncertainty.

Take the following for example. Which is more exciting?

1. On his last legs the valiant hero stands firm against the ferocious demon that assails him. After a short debate it’s decided that it’s best for the story if the hero survives and the demon is slain.

2. On his last legs the valiant hero stands firm against the ferocious demon that assails him. As the player in question you only have a one in ten chance of survival, you’re pretty much doomed. You bring Fortune in and roll the dice and… My god! You’ve done it! The demon is slain!

There seems to be a pretty big problem with this though. Option 2 might be more exciting, but in this case the added adrenalin stems from the risk of an unwanted outcome. We don’t really want Fortune to kill off the hero and bring the story to an end. But he might. He’s crazy and unpredictable, after all. And in this case he’s got a 90% chance of wrecking things. Perhaps we should just keep him out of it?

Nah. Actually there’s another option. Our problem isn’t really with the wild unpredictability of loveable old Fortune, it’s with the choice we’ve given him.

Outcome 1. WIN CONFLICT: Hero wins, demon is slain.
Outcome 2. LOSE CONFLICT: Demon wins, hero is slain, story ends. (Note: Nobody wants this)

What kind of choice is that?

So what if we change things up so Fortune really does have a choice between two acceptable outcomes that allow the story to continue in interesting ways.

For example:

Outcome 1. WIN CONFLICT: Hero wins, demon is slain.
Outcome 2. LOSE CONFLICT: Demon wins, hero is wounded and fails to stop the princess being carried off to the demon’s lair.

We’re still heavily invested in this conflict but now losing it isn’t the end of the story. Old Fortune can be given free rein over this decision and allowed to take things where he wills. We can only wait and wonder what his choice of outcome will be…

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