The "Cliffhangers" section in Masters of Umdaar says that the difficulties for rolls should be concealed until rolled against:

Of course, GMs, don’t reveal a difficulty for a specific approach until a player attempts it—let them stumble around to see which methods are more effective. (MoU 28, Cliffhangers: Running the Cliffhanger)

That stands out because it's contrary to standard practices in Fate. On the one hand, that makes it feel like an optional playstyle preference note; on the other hand, it can be read as a deliberate and noteworthy departure from Fate norms to introduce a different sort of experience to the game.

Are concealed difficulties a crucial part of the cliffhanger concept or is this just a playstyle preference of the author? What difference does concealing difficulties make to the table experience when using cliffhangers?


I believe concealed difficulties are a crucial part of the concept.

Choosing different difficulties for different approaches would be pointless if the characters automatically knew which approach gives them the best chance of success. It would be of great value in pointing them to the right solution.

I believe the motivation behind the hiding of the difficulties is to have the players feel the tension behind a Cliffhanger. They don't know what will work. They put effort into describing a solution and then get discouraged as they see it collapse, and they have to think of something else (though their failure should inform their next choice, to point them in a better direction). This matches the dramatic position of "You are trapped! Quick! What do you do?"

The choosing of an unwise (highly rated) tactic also gives the players a call to make that aligns with the main question in Fate: "How much are you willing to pay for success?". They could choose the most difficult tactic, and burn through a lot of Fate Points to just make it work. They could also give up and try something else. Either way makes for good narrative drama.

Yes, it's different than the usual FAE assumptions, but I think that's why it's laid out as a separate mechanic, because it brings a new experience to the table.


"Concealed" difficulties aren't actually different from how Fate operates in general.

As they're mentioned in Masters of Umdaar, they're not concealed during the roll, just concealed before the roll. But that's not that strange. Here's an example of play from the SRD:

Landon stalks around the siege tower of the Red Emperor's fortress, trying to sabotage the ballistas. If he succeeds, the army who hired him has a much better chance in the field when they attack tomorrow morning.

Amanda says, "Okay, so you make it to the top of the tower, and you start working. But then, you hear footsteps echoing below you in the tower -- sounds like the next guard patrol got here just a bit early."

"Damn," Lenny says. "Figures I'd get the one guard squad with real discipline. I need to disable these and get out -- if they find me, General Ephon already told me he'd disavow my existence."

Amanda shrugs a bit and says, "Work fast? You’re looking at passive opposition here—crunched for time, and dealing with intricate machinery bits, so I’ll call that Great (+4)."

Landon has the Crafts skill at Average (+1). Lenny grumbles and says, "Should have convinced Zird to do this." He rolls, getting a +2, for a Good (+3) result. Not good enough.

Lenny knows how hard it is to finish the sabotage when he's making the Crafts roll, but when he knows how hard the Crafts roll will be, he doesn't have the option of going back and deciding that Landon will do something different. He also can't just propose a bunch of courses of action to Amanda and see which one has the lowest difficulty before deciding what to do.

What is different is the larger number of pre-committed actions.

Instead of demanding success as a challenge would, or involving rolled opposition as a contest or conflict would, the pressure in a cliffhanger is "time", represented by the limited number of rolls available to you. You have five total rolls to get three successes on Overcomes, including rolls to Create an Advantage. (This is one reason why successful Create an Advantage rolls during a cliffhanger also get a hint as to the success rate of an approach, even if they're not revealing a cliffhanger aspect.)

In a conflict, everybody gets to say what they're doing when their turn comes up, and as a result they know the difficulty of the thing the last person in the conflict tried. They can pile on if it was easy or try something else if it was hard. However, to manage the tension of a cliffhanger when multiple characters are involved, the GM is encouraged to batch up the initial actions, such that the PCs all declare what they're trying at once, when none of them have any information about the difficulties of the various approaches:

If several players want to make attempts, listen to what they want to attempt and put them in the most logical order. Or, if you want to increase the tension, order them from least likely to succeed to most likely to succeed.


The GM decides to "lock in" these first three exchanges, leaving the last two open; the players can decide what they’ll do after seeing the first three.

-- Masters of Umdaar, p.30, "Cliffhangers: Multiple Characters"

This encourages them to "spread out" and try different approaches, or spend time Creating an Advantage to get information. They'll still find out how hard the approaches are when they try to make Overcome actions using them, but nobody in a batch of actions can change what they decided to do in response to that information. (This is another point in favor of resolving actions in order of highest difficulty to lowest, so that nobody makes their roll knowing for sure how poorly they chose.) After the initial actions the PCs are better-informed, and can choose approaches to get the successes they need more confidently.

If you have a large player group, you probably want to limit these pre-committed actions to an initial batch of two or three, so that the remaining actions can set the group up to succeed, or at least to fail less completely.


I can't speak directly to Cliffhangers so I can't tell you if it's crucial but my first time running Dresden I hid target numbers so I can give some insight into what the practical effects are in terms of FATE in general. It's not the best to extrapolate from, being a single anecdote with new FATE players and GM, but it's something.

The biggest difference to the table experience was to the fate point economy. Players were in general far more reticent to spend FATE points on a plus 2 if they didn't know whether it would work or not. In addition if the spent and failed it seemed to be a particularly jarring anti-climatic note.

In addition players seemed less likely to take ridiculous risks where the target number would be extremely high, i.e. 7+ It seems almost backwards but players in later games were far more likely to try things that seemed impossible if they knew the risk, ie difficulty. It is possible this was more because a change in understanding of the game or me presenting things as more impossible when I hid them, but I think it's more when they knew how they can achieve something(ie what they would need to roll + spend to make it happen) it made it more attractive.

However cliffhangers will be different as they have (mostly)set difficulties the players just don't know what they apply to. So I would imagine you won't have to worry as much about people trying different things, but I would wager spending of Fate Points might drop.


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