The unhelpful hand of fate

In Wizard’s Academy I wrote a rule called the helpful hand of fate. It’s a simple rule: Whenever the rules are ambiguous the players may choose what happens. Rules like this are pretty common in cooperative games. The much lauded Gloomhaven will allow the players to choose where a monster goes when its AI generates ambiguity. This sort of rule allows the designer to cover a host of situations that emerge from more complex rule sets without needing a lot of edge case rules. They also give the players an extra decision point, which can come with the opportunity to demonstrate skill if which outcome will benefit the group is ambiguous enough.

I’ve never seen the alternative used. I cannot think of one game that uses the ‘unhelpful hand of fate’ which asks a group to pick whichever outcome will benefit the group the least.

I can imagine how a game might benefit from it. It could be used to establish an hostile atmosphere, which suits games like Dark Souls. It could narrow the difference between the high-skill and low-skill experience, as a more experienced group would more successfully identify the resolutions that would harm them the most.

I have ideas about where it might go wrong. I think players might attribute mistakes differently – in “pick the best” if someone winds up picking something that makes the game harder then at worst they’re bad at the game. Conversely in “pick the worst” if someone winds up picking something that makes the game better they might be cheating.

I suspect players judgements of themselves will be more relevant here than the judgements of others. Few players are willing to make an accusation of cheating, they are even reluctant if someone at the table flagrantly is. On the other hand relatively many players may punish themselves asking “Did I really resolve that in the manner that was worse for me or on some level did I make it move East because I knew it would work out?”

There may also be problems if it asymmetrically affects different players. If you’re picking the best then “A bad thing happens to me or to someone else” can be talked about. You can argue why it’s best for it not to hit you and how you will benefit the group. On the other hand trying to argue that you could easily deal with it and it’d be worse for it to hit the other person just seems…mean? It seems like something that might undermine the spirit of a cooperative game and group cohesion. In “pick best” confidence leads to sacrifice for the group, in “pick worst” confidence leads to saying you have to kick the less confident player when they’re down. And argue the case for that. That feels like it might be off.

That said, I have to say “I suspect” and “feels like” because I’ve never actually playtested an unhelpful hand of fate rule. Instinctively I feel like it wouldn’t work. More I feel like I’d find myself uncomfortable playing such a game, cursing the designer for not making a less ambiguous resolution method. On the other hand I’m perfectly happy playing games with the opposite rule and objectively I can’t think of a reason that picking the best should be any less difficult or ambiguous than picking the worst.

I’d be interested to know if anyone has ever heard of a game using such a rule or if anyone has ever had direct experience of playtesting one

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