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.

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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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