Rolling to make it real: The Final Chapter (hopefully)

A lightbulb went off over my head last week and I thought I’d share it. It’s probably a “no kidding, you simp” type of insight to everyone else out there.

Anyway, probably a solid third of my first couple hundred (!) posts featured my sad thrashings as I came to grips with the collapsing-waveform effect of making a Wise roll. The main issue was squaring the difficulty of the roll with the utility of the thing you’re trying to make “true” via a Wise roll.

So it occured to me, while jotting up thoughts for Jon’s Prometheus game, that making a Wise roll isn’t really rolling to make something true. It’s rolling to make something true to your character’s benefit.

Roll or not, the fact is true as soon as you propose it and nobody vetoes it. It just may not be useful to you.

In my notes for his game, I suggested Jon’s technological explorer PCFON seek something specific out (the Moebius Nullspace Generator example) via a Wise roll. But regardless of the Wise roll there’s still a Macguffin. The existence of the Macguffin isn’t in question, it’s what the Macguffin does (or what the character believes it does).

I think what clicked was that Wises follow the same “regardless of the outcome, something happens” rule as everything else in the game. “No, there’s no such thing as a Moebius Nullspace Generator” is a dead-end answer. A simple “No” to any Wise roll seems like a dead-end for both the player and the GM. Right now I can’t think of any case in which the GM is better off with a flat “nope, ain’t so” rather than taking narrative control over the thing being introduced to the setting.

So this doesn’t become me just babbling about something that’s probably obvious to everyone else, my question to the board is: Do you have anecdotes were a simple “nope!” result for a failed Wise was the right choice? Because the more I think about it, the less I see that ever being useful.


I think the only time to just shoot down a proposed Wise test is when it blatantly, disgustingly breaks genre. And that’s not so much a Wise-related reason, either, that’s more about social contract.

Otherwise, IMO, a flat-out “no” constitutes a failure of your improvisational skills.

I think that if you can’t think of an interesting result of failure it’s time to open it up to the group. “Um… guys, I can’t think of anything cool. Any ideas?”

That may not work for everyone, though.

This little insight of mine has appeared in my game a few times and I didn’t even realize it.

In our last session, my badass Anvil Lady had taken the (psychic codebreaker heretic) Cotar Fomas hostage as a result of a battle the previous maneuver. She hands him over to another GMFON, the only character in the game with a spaceship, for safe keeping off-planet while she decides how to leverage her prisoner. So the player is furiously thinking through escape strategies. He finally settles on Circling up a fellow heretic within the ship’s crew (Ob10; he made it with one to spare after dropping 3 Persona and opening up a very good roll with Fate) and escaping through a hatch upon landing.

A very easy Wise came up: Ships-wise to find an escape hatch somewhere in the ship, so he and his new heretical cohort can escape unnoticed. My first instinct was to just say “if you can’t summon it up it doesn’t exist.” Then my lightbulb moment occurred. My second instinct was to turn the tables and accept that the escape hatch indeed exists – now the stakes aren’t the existence of the hatch, but to whom the hatch is useful. He wants to get out of the ship; I want to catch him doing it. So the counterstake was that the hatch would dump them directly into a well-guarded area where they would be seen and caught.

The player didn’t accept the stakes and elected a different path (melt the GMFON’s brain), but the story clearly progressed more directly than a simple roll to see if the hatch did or did not exist.

Maybe all this ultimately comes down to better analysis of what’s actually at stake: The PCFON wants to escape, and I don’t want him to. Whether there’s a hatch or not isn’t the issue; the usefulness of that hatch to either the PCFON or the GMFON was.

I know. I can be slow sometimes.