Claws & Effect: Fortune, pt 1 [Realms of Pugmire]

Fortune Markers for Pugmire by Jeff Laubenstein

Today I want to dig into a specific mechanic: Fortune.

If you’ve played either Pugmire or Monarchies of Mau, you know how this works. Each story, you start off with two Fortune in the Fortune bowl. Players experience setbacks or play into their personality traits to add Fortune to the bowl, and anyone in the party can ask to take a Fortune from the bowl. If no one says “no,” the Fortune is removed and the person using Fortune can reroll the die or modify the world in some small way.

I like Fortune because it’s a good example of a mechanic that works better through use than through explanation. Let me digress a bit: As a designer, I prefer to underwrite rules instead of overwriting them. “Underwritten” rules are rules that don’t spell out every possible permutation nor heavily explain why they work the way they do, whereas “overwritten” rules explain everything and often force the players into specific, channels. Whether a rule falls on one side or another is fairly subjective, and both approaches have their problems and benefits. I’m just putting out there that I generally err on the side of leaving players room for interpretation, instead of spelling everything out.

As an example of the dangers of underwritten rules, let’s look at Pugmire, p. 88. Right at the top, it says “At the start of every adventure, the fortune bowl has two points in it.” Some players have mentioned that they’re confused whether that means every session or every story, and whether Fortune carries over from story to story. Since I don’t mention points carrying over, they don’t, and in the section on story, I do mention that “adventure” is a synonym. Thus, the intent is that every story starts with two Fortune, which is built up over the course of the story. It’s clear, but you have to read exactly what’s written, which sometimes can be unclear when bringing in knowledge and techniques from other games. (In this specific case, it also doesn’t help that I don’t do it that way myself — in my home games the Fortune bowl is reset every session — but having the bowl tied to the story makes more sense for the ebb and flow of adventure design.)

Regardless, I don’t spell out the design intent for the mechanic, but most people get it very quickly: It’s designed for team-building. I’ve run Pugmire at conventions with strangers over a dozen times now, and each time they’re working like a team within a few hours of using Fortune. The thief that steals something at the worst possible time isn’t “ruining” the game — they’re just generating Fortune for use down the road. Players ask if it’s okay to use Fortune, and sometimes groups encourage them to spend it. I’ve rarely seen anyone give a hard no on spending Fortune except when they’re down the last point or two. Every game ends up having one conversation about “is this the right time to dip into the Fortune bowl?” and one example of “You know, if you do something character-appropriate here, you can get Fortune.” But by players discovering that for themselves, they feel like they really get it, instead of being told “this is why this mechanic exists for you.”

Next blog, I’ll talk some more about how to award Fortune as a Guide, and why the systems for Pugmire and Mau are slightly different.






2 responses to “Claws & Effect: Fortune, pt 1 [Realms of Pugmire]”

  1. Bluegrass Geek Avatar
    Bluegrass Geek

    Oh, this is a great idea of some articles. I think the Fortune mechanic in Pugmire & Mau is one of the best implementations of “action points” I’ve seen. Nice to see some insight into the decision-making & advice on using them.