Thursday, 3 June 2010

Artefacts of Fortuna

We love and loathe our gaming dice. When they roll well they become lucky, almost sacred. We remember the time when they maxed out three times in a row and made the game into the stuff of legend. But when they roll poorly they are a curse, as though they were a millstone hung around our necks to drag us down into failure.

The ancient Romans believed in many deities, and one of them was Fortuna. She represented the fickleness of life. When she smiled on a mortal good things happened, but when she didn't... She was responsible for the fortunes of life. No matter how skillful or deserving the individual, Fortuna could still swing the result any which way.

In our games, the dice are the artefacts of Fortuna. We roll them when we realise that there is uncertainty in the story. The outcome is not guaranteed, regardless of what's written on the character sheet, so we turn our story over to Fortuna and her meddling. The uncertainty of the result adds to the highs and lows of our experience of the story, just as much as the Romans knew she was responsible for the highs and lows of their lives.

Machiavelli, in his much-maligned little book The Prince, wrote about the interference of Fortuna for an entire chapter. In language that betrays the misogyny of his time, finishing with,
"I conclude therefore that, fortune being changeful and mankind steadfast in their ways, so long as the two are in agreement men are successful, but unsuccessful when they fall out. For my part I consider that it is better to be adventurous than cautious, because fortune is a woman, and if you wish to keep her under it is necessary to beat and ill-use her; and it is seen that she allows herself to be mastered by the adventurous rather than by those who go to work more coldly. She is, therefore, always, woman-like, a lover of young men, because they are less cautious, more violent, and with more audacity command her." - Machiavelli, The Prince
In other words, Fortuna favours the bold. When faced with uncertainty, you must act! If we invoke Machiavelli over our games today, we could only say, "It is better to be adventurous than cautious. Take up your dice without caution, but with violence and audacity command them!"

Written for The Bones blog carnival.

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