Fiction Follows

Before I get into what I mean by Fiction Follows, let me talk about the opposite: Fiction First.  Fiction first is what most people think of when they think about RPGs.  You describe the action you plan to take, and how you plan to do it.  Then, you determine your success or failure based on a resolution mechanic.  An example would be: “I try to convince the prince to let my sister out of prison by telling tales of her heroism.”  If the GM knows the prince is particularly susceptible or not to this type of action, the GM might even affect the roll in some way (bonus or penalty) based on your choice.

The other way about this is a Fiction Follows method.  There’s been a lot of good discussion about this methodology on a few blogs, but I think the first main post about it was over at Hack & Slash here.  There’s a lot of interesting debate (I think) to be had on this topic, so it’s worth getting some background to the discussion I’m about to launch into over at -C’s blog.

In a fiction follows style game, you tell the GM what you’re trying to accomplish, and then you use the resolution mechanic BEFORE you narrate how you’re going to do about it.  If you succeed, you then narrate the fiction about how you succeeded.  If you fail, you narrate the fiction about how you failed.  In either case, the how of the action follows the resolution.  This prevents strange disconnects where players describe in detail how they’re going to accomplish something, only to have it fail as soon as they roll.  It saves time, and it firms up the mechanic of the game, making it more meaningful.  How often have you seen someone argue into a +2 bonus on their attack roll because of the “how” in which they are attacking?  On the other hand, how often have you seen someone argue themselves into a +2 bonus on their Diplomacy roll by being convincing as a player to the GM, rather than as their character to the fictional target.  Fiction follows removes this imbalance.  

In thinking about the idea of Fiction Follows, and the debate that is surrounding it, I started thinking about Triggered Powers that I’m planning to use in Lost Worlds.  In my mind, triggered powers are very much a fiction follows mechanic.  The resolution mechanic tells you whether there was an opening for your special attack, or whether your god powered a holy strike on your enemy.

I’ve also said that I want to avoid disassociated mechanics.  On their surface, I can see how a fiction-follows method can make everything start looking disassociated.   As a reminder, a disassociated power is one that you as the player can use but isn’t something your character could actually choose to do.  The example I like here is the “one-handed-catch” ability of a wide receiver in an RPG football game.  You the player could, once per game, use your one-handed-catch ability to gain a bonus to a roll.  However, as the character there is no concept of being able to make a spectacular one-handed catch once every game.  This means the mechanic is disassociated, since it’s having you make decisions as the player, and not as the character.  I had the same internal debate with myself when I began using triggered powers.  The conclusion that I’ve come to though is that these are NOT disassociated.  You make the decision as the player to make an attack against the enemy.  If your resolution mechanic comes out with a specific result, you were able to do something that requires you to have attacked particularly well, or have gotten a specific opening.  It’s like a critical hit, which really is just like a triggered power.

The other thing that fiction follows does is give you a framework for characters to make attempts at things in which they don’t have a skill listed.  So, if you’re a thief and trying to hide, you could use your hide skill, and if you pass – you can use a fiction follows explanation of why you weren’t found – you didn’t have to say where you hid, or how, so the fiction you provide gets to overcome the action the searcher made.  If the searcher looked under the bed, you were hiding in the closet.  However, if you don’t have the hide skill, you don’t get a chance to “roll” for that skill – but that doesn’t mean you can’t hide, instead you have to use a fiction first method where you describe where you hide.  If you hide under the bed, and the person searching looks under the bed – well then you’re found.

So, I’d like some feedback.  In general, would you as players rather narrate the fiction before your roll, or after?  How does that impact the way you play the game?  Should the result of the resolution roll, whether extremely high or low, etc impact in your mind what exactly your character did, and how they did it, or is that taking away too much agency from the player?

5 thoughts on “Fiction Follows

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  3. wylliamjudd

    I never even thought of that. It’s a good idea. D&D Next is doing something cool here. There is talk of an optional reward system for good roleplaying called inspiration. You can get advantage on an action in a scene if you describe what your character does with detail and personality. There are a few other ways to use inspiration. I like systems that seek to reward roleplaying, but I think this solution (fiction follows) is also interesting.

    1. JackOfHearts Post author

      I like a Fiction Follows method conceptually – because it solves the question of player skill vs character skill. My only real issue with it is that it feels a little bit like skills become a cheat code for players to no longer have to engage in the problem solving aspects of the RPG, which many of us, especially the GMs, enjoy to see in a game session.

      Actually, I have one other minor quibble with it, which is that it can feel a little unnatural to roll and THEN describe what you’re doing, but I admit it’s logical to do just that, since the narration of what you’re doing is much clearer if you know how well you’re accomplishing the task. Much like an attack roll in D&D, where you state your intention to attack, roll the attack, and then narrate the result of the action.

      1. wylliamjudd

        My step brother, the best DM I know, always described what was going on after a roll. So the player would describe what they were attempting to do, and the DM would describe what actually happened based on the roll. It never felt unnatural.

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