Tighter Fate Point Economy

Over the last years or so, I’ve been playing Smallville & Technoir, which have interesting coin economies. Smallville’s Plot Points are infinite from the perspective of the GM, but when people get them, they aren’t immediately available–which is key to making the PvP elements sing. Technoir’s Push Dice is a table-wide closed system, where spending it means it goes to the person affected–player or GM–for them to use in the future. And that makes me think about one way to tweak Fate Points.

Fate Points as Closed Economy

Imagine if, when a game starts, the PCs have their refresh in Fate Points, and the GM has none to use. At the players spend Fate, the GM keeps them (unless you’re talking PvP, in which case the affected player keeps them instead). Later, the GM can use those Fate Points to compel the PCs or invoke aspects for her NPCs. This tackles one common question about Fate: does the GM have any?

Because the GM has none to start, she cannot right away compels. If that’s not desired, either the GM should start with a couple, or some compels (perhaps all) should come from the ether rather than from her pool. This means it’s no longer a closed economy, but semi-closed.

Similarly, the refresh mechanic at the start of a session or crucial point makes the economy semi-closed, since if you have more than your refresh in Fate Points, you keep all you have. Not sure how I’d want to tackle that inflation, but it’s something to consider.

Fate Points Delayed

Fate Points that you gain are not immediately available, but become available after the current conflict or scene. This is a necessary component for a closed system to work; otherwise, you can keep something going by throwing Fate Points freely back and forth.


Now, this isn’t something for every Fate game. My gut says (as I just thought of this and haven’t tried it) that this will be a somewhat grittier game.

What do you think?

– Ryan


9 Responses to Tighter Fate Point Economy

  1. Stephen says:

    The interesting thing about Technoir vs. Cortex+ is that they both use largely different point mechanics to create different gameplay rhythm.

    In Technoir’s closed system, there’s a natural noirish downward spiral: things start out really easy for the PCs (no NPCs have bonus dice or the ability to creating lasting consequences for the PCs), then something finally pops up that matters enough for a PC to spend a die to make it stick, and from that point on things get worse and worse for the PCs as they’re having to work harder to counter the difficulties the GM is creating with the push dice (and getting them back is a mixed blessing, as it generally comes with a sticky consequence). At some point it becomes necessary for the PCs to strive to wrap things up before they get too beaten up to continue.

    In the Cortex+ games I’ve run, there’s been a much more stable boom and bust cycle rather than a race to the finish. The GM wants to increase the Trouble/Doom pool so starts buying up dice with plot points, then his NPCs hit harder but the PCs simultaneously have resources to deal with them. The boom and bust comes from the GM becoming increasingly less likely to buy dice when his pool is bigger, and more likely as it dwindles.

    A closed Fate point pool is unlikely to have a similar rhythm to Technoir, as you can’t really do anything with Fate without spending it (while Push dice are a resource you can use without giving to the GM), GM uses of Fate points are generally less long-term than Push dice, and it’s not actually required to achieve certain game effects in the core way push dice are. My gut is that it would feel closer to the boom and bust cycle of Cortex+, only with the players being the drivers of the rhythm (in that they would be less inclined to spend Fate until they had to, while the GM would want to use it a lot). I think it would definitely make players even more hesitant to spend Fate than usual, with the knowledge that it would likely hit them back. It might be cool to make the process still limited but closer to the asymmetry of Cortex+, where the player’s outgoing Fate points don’t give power to the GM, but their incoming ones certainly do.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      True. Folks spend in Technoir for different reasons than they do in Fate. But the idea of closed system still intrigues me.

      And the Trouble inflation is a good point, one I’ve often thought about. Mainly, though, I’m looking at Cortex+ for the delay. But yeah, there are lessons to learn from all of them. (Especially since Fate Points were a bit of an influence in Cortex+, taken very differently.)

      – Ryan

  2. Arashi says:

    I’ve always contemplated a closed system of the GM having 1FP per player to start off with at the beginning of the game, as well as whatever the players start with.

    After that point, the economy is what the economy is and the points flow where they will.

  3. EZ says:

    I love this line of thinking.

    Here’s how I’ve wanted to do it (not thinking closed system, but it could apply). Players start with few or no Fate points. For a closed system, the GM would get the rest they should have gotten.

    The first scenes are mostly about building compels against the players. You are putting them into the shit, and giving them the pool to get themselves out.

    Could build a natural story arc! Kind of inspired by With Great Power….

    There are risks. Will all the stories be similar if it’s always Aspect based? Might some characters end up with more?

    The risks have kept me from trying it, but I want to (maybe this upcoming minicon). To tackle the risks, I’d want to manage aspect generation to be a bit more controlled. Each PC should have an antagonist (person, group, or other entity) and multiple aspects that imply obstacles or recurring problems.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      This could work, if you have a game where are the characters are at parity. When the point of having a high Refresh rate is rendered moot, that’s a mechanic & character consideration to toss out.

      I would probably go with a high concept/trouble/relationship aspect setup for that, so that the compels come from various vectors.

      You have definitely given me something to think about.

      – Ryan

  4. Ryan Danks says:

    Im not sure how it would apply in Cortex+, but in something like Dresden Files, when a player purchases stunts/powers (thus reducing his refresh by their cost) those points could go to the GM.

    Ex. 3 players equal 15 Fate points (5 each for this example). Two players spend three points on powers and the third keeps his 5 total. The players now have 9 points (5/3/3) and the GM has the 6 points the players spent.

    That opens things very evenly on both sides. It still has the issue of the GM feeling like an antagonist, which I never liked about Cortex. To my mind, GMs should be storytellers and referees, not a veiled pvp component.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      To my mind, GMs should be storytellers and referees, not a veiled pvp component.

      A strong game is one that can support multiply play styles, as there’s no objectively right one, just ones that are right for a given group dynamic.

      That said, I wouldn’t give that bite to paying Refresh for stuff. That’s double-dipping — you’re already needing to accept more compels, and now the GM has more currency? Not something you’ll see in Fate. We’re going a different route that is solely about the antagonists, not about PCs’ refresh.

      – Ryan

  5. Ryan Danks says:

    “…you’re already needing to accept more compels, and now the GM has more currency?”

    I didn’t think of that. Good catch.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      It’s what happens when you live and breathe a game system. :)

      I’m looking forward to showing folks how we’re tackling this in Core.

      – Ryan