Unlucky Hesitation

So, the PC in this solo campaign I’m running has the Unlucky trait. Poor guy’s been through the wringer with one set of unfortunate events after another. It’s awesome. I do have one questionable situation that arose in play, however:

Since the nature of the Unlucky trait requires the player to purposefully make the WRONG choice whenever a obvious decision must be made, would this also apply to choosing a Hesitation result on a failed Steel test?

So far, we’ve ruled that it does. The PC has failed three Steel tests already, and the player purposefully chose whichever Hesitation result would be the absolute worst choice for the situation at hand. The results have been rather amusing; the first time he swooned out of a tree. But he is set to make another Steel test now, and I’m starting to wonder if my ruling should be reconsidered. The poor guy keeps failing Steel tests left, right and center! I’m still rather interested in seeing this scaredy-cat PC evolve, and enjoy the forced swooning and all. Just feel sorry for him I guess.

So, what’s the official ruling on Unlucky Hesitation? A quick answer would be awesome. The upcoming Steel test will be rolled in about 4 hours or so. (online campaign, and that’s when he’ll come online)

Thanks! ~ Dean

Wait, huh? That sounds more like some kind of “Hapless” trait. Being Unlucky isn’t about making bad choices; it’s about chance circumstances not going your way – this including non-obvious, might-as-well-flip-a-coin decisions turning out poorly. An unlucky character is the person who picks the wrong way at a fork in the road, lets his horse drink from the one non-potable spring in the entire region, just happens to resemble a famous robber, or gets impressed into military service twice in the same week. When you have out-of-character knowledge telling you which one of a set of seemingly-equal choices is actually the terrible one, you should most certainly play it up and pick that one (at “random”, as far as your character can perceive). When your character can actually make an informed decision, though, it’s not “Unlucky” to make a poor one.

In the case of hesitation, I don’t think there is a decision at all, in the fiction; you as the player are making choices about your character’s instincts, but at “in-character” it’s all just a visceral reaction the character is powerless over. I think there’s still some room to pile on extra consequences for Unlucky, but that’s in the added consequences (e.g. you chose to run – you trip!), not in forcing a bad hesitation choice.

I’d let him make whatever choice he wants.

If he picks something clearly unlucky and it makes trouble for him, award him a Fate point at the end of the session as per the Artha rules. If he consistently chooses options that seem lucky, the group should consider that when it comes time to decide whether to vote the trait off or not.

I haven’t picked up BWG yet, so I’m going from memory of BWR - isn’t Unlucky about “random choices”, as opposed to “obvious decisions”? I mean, picking the wrong fork in the road, choosing a bad horse when you have no eye for horses, that’s all random. Running the hell away when something is trying to munch your face off? That’s not a random choice that’s pretty obvious.


I say no. By your logic, the player should choose to use his fist when he’s at advantage with a missile, thus giving him a massive Ob penalty to his actions.

And it doesn’t cover obvious decisions - the trait covers arbitrary decisions. That is, decisions made when there is no way to figure out the obvious answer. The “Fuck it, let’s go this way” sort of stuff. THAT is what Unlucky is for.

Thanks, Thor. I think I’ll go with that.

In regards to the other responses, I’m a bit confused. It seems everybody is interpreting this Trait differently from us.

The way we’ve interpreted the rules for the Unlucky trait, it’s the character who makes an arbitrary decision. The player purposefully makes the wrong decision, such that the character’s arbitrary decision is the wrong one. If the player does not know OOC which decision is the wrong one, he passes the buck and the GM narrates the outcome as being the wrong decision.

arbitrary |ˈärbiˌtrerē| adjective
based on random choice or personal whim, rather than any reason or system.

Hesitating due to a failed Steel test is an arbitrary decision. You’re panicking for a few seconds. Reason does not apply, and the Hesitation action your character performs is chosen entirely on a whim, and is immediate. Visceral reaction, yes, but the character is still acting on a whim (whim: a sudden desire or change of mind, esp. one that is unusual or unexplained. From the dictionary.). The player, however, is able to make a more informed choice of the Hesitation action. Most players would try and refrain from swooning out of trees, for example. But the player of an Unlucky character would choose to swoon out of a tree, as this is how the Unlucky trait manifests itself.

Have we been playing this correctly?

Sounds like mostly yes. I agree with Thor though that the player can choose whatever he likes and gets artha only if he chooses the worst one.

The Unlucky trait means whenever in the fiction the character is presented with the sort of choice that luck would have to do with—calling a coin flip, deciding which of two doors to open, or picking lotto numbers—it is the wrong one. The moment they apply a system to what is going on, this no longer applies. It is the sort of thing where if you were to say, “OK, you lose sight of him in the market square, which way do you head?” and the player doesn’t consult a skill, just says, “I head off towards the West.” it is automatically and spectacularly wrong.

It is certainly worth a Fate point to make player level decisions that hose the character and call it a product of poor luck—like swooning.

As a tangental point, I don’t think that hesitation effects really represent choices on the character’s part. As a player you can pick what is tactically superior, what illustrates your character best, or because what you think would be most amusing. The character is revealed to be a certain way by any of these choices, but I don’t think the character is really choosing in the same way as the sort of thing that Unlucky hoses automatically.

the conceit is that the character is trying his best, but is unlucky, not that the character is purposely choosing poorly. The character does not choose to swoon, or stand and drool. That’s a player decision. If the character is at bow range, choosing to use his hands is not unlucky, it’s nonsensical.

Have we been playing this correctly?

BWG, pg 352:

“Whenever the player makes an arbitrary decision about something in game, it’s always wrong.”


That’s a player decision.
This is true. It’s not an arbitrary one, though. In other words, the trait does remove the ability of the player to make an objectively “correct” decision or to lobby in their character’s interests.

EDIT 2: Also, I completely disagree that your Hesitation constitutes a “decision.” It’s a reaction, an impulse, an instinct. And you can’t parse out the definition like that, because multiple things can be “arbitrary.” The trait very specifically refers to arbitrary decisions. Both of those words matter - it has to be arbitrary, and it has to be a decision.

Simply “acting” on a whim can arise from a number of places. Hesitation is certainly such a case, but the character doesn’t decide that they will suddenly run screaming. They just do suddenly run screaming - no choice is made on the part of the character.

But it isn’t arbitrary in this case. The player is making a decision based on a trait. The ability of the player to choose to have a trait complicate the character’s life is a cornerstone of the game and is worth Artha.

Choosing to use your hands would be arbitrary, since it was not presented as a situation where luck was involved.

Ahhhhhh, we have been interpreting it wrong. We’ve been interpreting it as an arbitrary decision for the character, not necessarily for the player. That makes a big difference.

Thanks everybody. I think I’ve got it now. Other than the failed Steel tests, we’ve been playing the trait correctly anyways. For failed Steel tests in the future, I’ll give the player free choice, but with unlucky hesitation being an option that will award Artha.

I really think too much thought went into this. The trait’s about being unlucky. Not stupid, not having all the wrong instincts, just unlucky. Would you call someone unlucky for fleeing when they should freeze? No, that’s cowardice. Freezing when they should run? No, that’s paralysis by panic, and maybe a different form of cowardice. Bad luck is things completely outside the character’s control go wrong. Faced with two identical doors, one leading to disaster and one to treasure, the poor guy will always get the pit trap with poisoned spikes at the bottom. Why? Because he loses every coin flip. There really should never be a time when anyone can judge the character for not doing the right thing.

This trait can be a great artha mine, because almost every arbitrary decision is at least potentially avoidable. Faced with those two doors, pull up any and every wise to make the choice non-arbitrary by bringing in more information. Search for clues, details anything that will give you a reason for your choice, and it’s not arbitrary anymore. The trait really works for players who want some quality haplessness. And you can get really interesting results from a character who becomes extremely competent, diligent, and regimented in an attempt to minimize the effects of luck!

The Unlucky trait also could provide loads of opportunity for failure consequences…