Forgive the loaded thread title, but the refined version is less concise:
Does fictional positioning become less relevant when players are operating with fewer constraints?
I haven't fully thought this through, but it seems to me that perhaps adjusting the possibilities in a very limited space is more impactful than adjusting them in a very open space.
On my action, I can use my character to open up new possibilities for myself. Currently, my character is at the bottom of the stairs with no weapon in hand. If I use my action to draw my sword and climb the stairs, I can now hope to injure the badguy atop the stairs, whereas before I could not.
On my action, I can narrate anything fair (i.e. that doesn't undo what the last player said) and non-stupid (i.e. that doesn't violate our genre and aesthetics) to open up new possibilities for myself. Currently, my character is at the bottom of the stairs with no weapon in hand. If I use my action to describe the second floor crumbling and dropping the badguy at my feet in prime kicking position, I can now injure him... just as I could have already by narrating the crumbling differently. The specific color of the possibilities has changed, but that's a smaller difference than in the Limited version above.
I often get this feeling -- that the steps leading up to ultimate resolution aren't consequential -- in games where everyone GMs, or where there's zoomed-out conflict resolution, or where a single roll resolves complex stakes that demand and allow multi-step explanation. Whenever I have the opportunity to just talk from wherever the fiction is at to wherever I want it to be, then the starting point doesn't really impact my options.
Here's some actual play:
In my In A Wicked Age group, when we narrated successful rolls (and Answers to successful rolls), we would establish new truths of magic, or dictate the arrival and disposition of NPCs, or anything else that satisfied our sense of the story's drama and tone. We came up with some cool stuff, and it was great fun! But we didn't get much out of the multi-step conflict system besides a chance to talk more before ultimately resolving.
I was told that the early Answers in a conflict were supposed to introduce risks, which might be threatening enough to make me consider forsaking my objective! "Sounds fun!" I thought. But in practice, not once in 3 sessions did any player experience that. Risks were introduced, to be sure! But given our level of narrative freedom ("The hordes of the dead wither before sunlight!" "The governor arrives and sees you!"), no one risk was ever able to change a player's overall position significantly.
If you used your second narration to have the guards rush in and threaten to imprison me, thus putting that on the table for Round 3, what had really changed? I mean, I dig the foreshadowing, but it's not as if you couldn't have just had guards rush in and imprison me on Round 3 without it.
There are many issues involved here -- brand new facts vs changes to established facts; mechanical weight to facts vs none; zoomed in vs zoomed out; costs (spending an action in the above stairs & sword example); probably more. I just hope the freedom issue is central enough to get some discussion going. What do y'all think?