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Research Aspects

As promised, I’m talking about Research Aspects. Or, really, Research Assessments.

I’ve now run Emerging Threats Unit twice, and the second time I solidified some thoughts about how research works in this game, specifically field research. The opening for both games so far has been finding the leg of a first-line responder chewed up, and to set the tone for the, I ask the player playing Tome, “Would you like to roll Unnatural Sciences to research this?”

The roll is against Good, with the base time at 15 minutes. Both times, Superb or better was rolled, which meant that Tome’s player got to “assess”[1] two aspects about the Threat.

The first time, there was a blank. So I said:

Okay, here’s what you do. Write down “(Research: leg in the park)”. It’s an undefined aspect right now. Later, at a dramatically-appropriate moment, you can reveal what you’ve “found” by turning this into an aspect, as long as it’s something you could have pieced together thanks to whatever you discovered in the park.

He got two such aspects. And suddenly the game started to sing. People could do “research” beats without having to declare exactly what’s found, if that would impede play. If I were to take a stab at writing up rules for it, I would say[2]:

Research Assessments

Often (and especially with the Unnatural Sciences skill), characters will want to research clues about the Threat they’re facing. Great! Those take the form of assessments. The skill roll against that depends on the quality of the clue. Starting at Average, increase the difficulty by at least one for each of the following situations:

  • If the clue is stale or not well-preserved
  • If the lighting is bad or other situations where researching here is rather non-optimal
  • If there’s an external pressure, like a monster stalking you

When you succeed on the roll, you get to assess an aspect against the Threat, the Mission, or on whatever scope is appropriate. The GM chooses:

  • Reveal an aspect about the Threat, Mission, or whatever is relevant.
  • Ask the player to declare an aspect about the Threat, Mission, or whatever is relevant.
  • Allow the player to hold a research declaration for the future. Write down the details of this research assessment. At an appropriate moment, that player can turn the hold into an aspect.

When you fail a research assessment roll, the GM chooses[3]:

  • To create a new aspect on the Threat that can be used to its advantage.
  • To offer a concession, akin to Taking Extra Time (DFRPG YS316)
  • To give you the temporary aspect “Busy and Distracted” or something similar. And then compel that immediately.

Brilliant Successes

If you have a surplus of shifts, you can use them to reduce the time spent or to gain more aspects. For additioanl aspects, the first takes three additional shifts to assess. Each after that takes two more to assess. The GM has the same options for these has he has for the initial assessed aspect. (See Assessments, DFRPG YS314.)

Vulnerability Aspects

If the GM or player creates an aspect that is focused against the Threat, such as some sort of weakness or vulnerability, the GM gets a Fate point in the Threat’s pool. This is effectively a future compel. (It also encourages players to come up with aspects that aren’t always one-sided in their favor.)

– Ryan

[1] I don’t do straight Assessments normally. That would involve me knowing what aspects stuff I run actually has. This plays out closer to something like InSpectres with more player declaration in the guise of narrative assessments. So, I’m in the “stealth Declarations” camp, which won’t surprise anyone who plays Fate with me.

[2] Like most everything else on this blog, this is a rough draft.

[3] Inspired by the fail-forward concepts in InSpectres.

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One Response to Research Aspects

  1. codrus says:

    For action horror, a very common trope is that the player’s first guess is always wrong (or if correct, it is only part of the answer). The players have to fight the creature, get their asses handed to them, regroup, and then have The Revelation.

    When I did some brainstorming on this last year, I came up with a couple of different ideas, most of which were centered around an act break or scene break in the game. The players present their profile of the killer, fight the monster and lose, etc.

    Here’s an old post that talks about some of this at length:
    http://codrus.livejournal.com/323946.html

    Some shorter brainstorming:
    1. Monsters with abilities to tweak or subvert a vulnerability aspect (vampires burn in sunlight, but this vampire has a magic ring to protect him).
    2. When the player succeeds, but not completely, the player declares an aspect, but the GM declares an aspect that modifies or explains why that aspect isn’t completely correct. That is, there’s something else the players need to discover.
    3. Some aspects can only be discovered or declared after the players have directly interacted with the antagonist or hit the right act break. That’s a great spin to put on your “future declaration”. The character already knows it, but it doesn’t crystalize until he sees the one final clue.
    4. The players get the vulnerability right, but one of the items they need to act against that vulnerability is wrong. (Supernatural TV show example: Salting and burning bodily remains sends ghosts to their rest and that’s well established. To get around that, a common convention is that some remains were not found by the brothers — lock of hair being pretty common)

    Mortal Coil has a nice spin here: typically one person makes a declaration of how something works, while another describes its weakness. Flip that. The player describes a vulnerability, but the GM sets an additional condition.

    Player: “Vulnerability: Ghosts can be banished” GM: “and you need the remains to do so”
    Player: “Salt injures ghosts” GM: “but it isn’t permanent”

    Anyway, that’s longer than I thought it would be, so a short version that’s probably pretty obvious: The declarations should say some things about the villain, but never be everything about the villain or perfectly accurate. The surprises make for a great reveal.