There is some required prior reading for this article: What is Resolution? and What is DFK? If you have not read those articles yet, I would recommend doing so. Otherwise a lot of what I have to say here will lack proper context. I’m writing with the assumption that the reader has, indeed, read those articles.
All Fortune mechanics have the same four basic components: Declaring Actions, Narrating Actions, Rolling Dice and Applying Resources such as currencies, modifiers, escalation techniques, rerolls and so on. The order of these four steps, though, matters a great deal and can completely change how a game is played. There are four Fortune methods I’ll be covering here today: Fortune at the Beginning (FatB), Fortune in the Middle (FitM), Fortune in the Middle with Teeth (FitMw/T), and Fortune at the End (FatE).
Fortune at the Beginning (FatB): Fortune at the Beginning has only been experimented with. I am not aware of any large scale game production that has found a way to effectively use it. Not to say it hasn't been done at all. Daniel Solis' games "Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple", "The Leftovers", and "Happy Birthday, Robot!" feature FatB. Currently, I am experimenting with it myself. You can find an example of what I’m doing with the G.A.M.E. system over on 1km1kt.
Fortune at the Beginning works like this. First, before declaring anything, a player adds up all modifiers and resources that might affect the roll. Second, he rolls the dice. Then, after the results of the roll are revealed the player gets to decide what to do. Based on the result, the player may decline to have his/her characters act, may assign any number of successes to any number of actions, or declare what his character won as a result of the rolls. Basically, in Fortune at the Beginning, the player is rolling blind.
The advantages of this system are mostly tactical. In a dice pool system where multiple successful results are possible with the dice, the player can prioritize the actions or tasks he wants his character to complete. He or she knows which actions/tasks will be successful or which prizes he will win. FatB almost becomes a Karma system at that point. It’s not as much of a guess like it is with the other resolution systems.
FatB as opposed to Fortune at the End (FatE), decreases the amount of opportunity costs for acting. If a result shows up in the dice that the player is unhappy with, he can decline action and thus avoid outright failure. If the results are unexpectedly fortuitous, he can react by taking advantage. The order of operations basically looks like this: Apply Resources (if available)->Roll Dice->Declare Actions->Narrate Outcome. In a way FatB resembles FatE in that the dice do get to decide pass/fail, but unlike FatE the player is not locked into a specific action prior to rolling.
I feel that FatB is best suited for tactical games where characters are trying to execute a number of maneuvers in order to win against an opponent or obstacle. Games with the play philosophy of Dungeons and Dragons lend themselves well to FatB IMO. It really supports well many Gamist tendencies.
The problem with this system is, it can be a little unnatural. Rolling prior to declaring anything in the fiction or at the table is strange. You initiate a conflict or trial, but don’t talk about the results, what’s at stake, or what the characters are trying to do until the dice are rolled. It’s very strange. And honestly, I don’t think there’s a well played, widely used functional example of it yet. However, I've just recently been made aware of Daniel's games, so I'll have to give them a whirl.
As a quick aside, a FatBw/T would order its operations like so: Roll Dice->Apply Resources (if available)->Declare Actions->Narrate Outcome. More on the whole “with Teeth” idea in a bit.
Fortune in the Middle (FitM): A bare-bones Fortune in the Middle resolution system places the rolling in (surprise!) the middle of the operations. Players declare what their characters are trying to do, roll the dice, and then narrate the outcomes based on the dice. The narration in this resolution system is really key. In order for a resolution system to really be a FitM system, the narration has to have a mechanical effect on the in-game fiction. This is not saying, “I strike my opponent with my sword” after rolling a natural twenty in D&D. Hitting with a Nat-20 was something decided waaaaaaaaay before anyone said anything. In fact, it’s pre-supposed in the rules. The 20 would hit regardless of whether or not the player said anything. FitM narration is retroactive and can override anything that was said prior to the roll. Players are free to adjust their actions and tactics based on what the rolls’ results are. The dice (or cards or dominos or chicken bones or whatever) are not the final arbiter of what happens in the game’s fiction.
Bare-bones FitM systems operate like this: Declare Actions->Apply Resources(if available)->Roll Dice->Narrate Outcome.
Fortune in the Middle (both with teeth and without) really support Narrativist tendencies. It’s not exclusively so. It can support Gamist play as well, but the types of conflicts Narrativist play tends towards are very well supported by FitM. Simluationist tendencies are not so much. Simulationist play really wants things to be well defined and dedicated to supporting the reinforcement of the area of exploration. I’ll get into the distinctions between the creative agendas at a later date. For now, this information may be useful to designers who are already familiar with them.
Fortune in the Middle with Teeth (FitMw/T):
FitMw/T is where you’ll find a lot of indie game design. Hero Wars, Dogs in the Vineyard, The Shadow of Yesterday, Prime Time Adventures, and so and so on have Fortune in the Middle with Teeth systems. The key feature and key difference between with Teeth and without Teeth systems is where the Spend Currency/Apply Resources operation is located. Instead of applying modifiers, bonus dice, hero points, or whatever before the roll is made, that stuff comes after the roll is made. This is very important because it allows players to escalate the conflict, make better tactical decisions, lend a hand in someone else’s fight, or adjust their character’s actions to better suit the result.
In FitMw/T results are fluid and more subject to what the players want rather than what the rules or dice dictate. For instance, if a player in Dogs in the Vineyard is unhappy with his roll, he can escalate the conflict. If a player in Hero Wars is unhappy with her roll, she can spend a Hero Point to reroll. FitMw/T allows for ways to get around or obviate the initial roll and replace it with something else.
Fortune in the Middle with Teeth systems arrange the resolution operations basically like this: Declare Actions->Roll Dice->Apply Resources (if available)->Narrate Outcome.
The problem with this system is it can be labor and/or time intensive. If the resolution of conflicts or tasks is not what you want your game to be about, then FitMw/T may not be the best choice for your game.
Fortune at the End (FatE): This is not to be confused with the FATE engine used with Spirit of the Century. IMO, Fortune at the End is the simplest and was the most commonly used resolution system for the first three decades of RPG design. D&D/AD&D, Rolemaster, RuneQuest, CoC, Tunnels and Trolls, Boot Hill, MERP, GURPS, WoD, Rifts, Shadowrun, Deadlands, and so on and so on all used a Fortune at the End mechanic*.
In Fortune at the End, a player first declares what his character wants/is trying to do. Second, all tweaking of values, modifiers, dice pools, et cetera is done prior to the actual rolling of the dice. You figure in your attack bonus, defense modifier, saving throw, THAC0, and all that sort of stuff before the dice hit the table. Third, the player rolls the dice (reveals the cards, flips the pennies, or whatever). After the dice reveal their values, the fortune system is done. Normally, you’ll compare the values to a chart or some target number, and read your results from that.
There are two important features of a Fortune at the End system. The first is that once the dice are thrown, the players (including the GM if there is one) are unable to alter the results. The results stand and you deal with the consequences there. The second feature is that what you are rolling for is decided before you roll. There is no going back and changing your mind once the dice are counted. You can’t take your swing of the sword back after you rolled your d20. Players can’t change their minds. Fortune at the End, much as its name suggests, is final. It arranges the order of operations as such: Declare Actions-> Apply Resources (if available)->Narrate Outcome->Roll Dice.
Fortune at the End excellently supports Simulationist play and is practical for Gamist play as well. Narrativist play tendencies seem to be stifled under this system. The idea that a conflict is wrapped up independent to player-input after the roll is antithetical to most Narrativist players’ priorities.
Well, that’s just about all I have to say on this for now. Just for reference, here are the order of operations for each system in shorthand:
=FatB: Apply Resources (if available)->Roll Dice->Declare Actions->Narrate Outcome.
=FitM: Declare Actions-> Apply Resources (if available)->Roll Dice->Narrate Outcome.
=FitMw/T: Declare Actions->Roll Dice-> Apply Resources (if available)->Narrate Outcome.
=FatE: Declare Actions-> Apply Resources (if available)->Narrate Outcome->Roll Dice.
As you design your games, I hope that you experiment with all of these at some point. Each has its advantages and disadvantages. Play with them and decide which one is right for your vision of how your game should work.
*Technically, many of the games have resolution mechanics that are abstract enough that they are easy to drift towards FitM or maybe even FatB; however, the intent of the designs strongly indicate that they are FatE.