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Consequences vs. Lasting Aspects

Consequences in Fate is a fascinating design space and challenge when making a new build of Core or FAE, in no small part to them being a delicate and variable pool of resources. But what I see from many people new to Fate (or new to hacking Fate) is a critical misunderstanding of consequences as just a set of aspects that stick around for awhile.

Let’s break down what consequences are:

  • A set of aspects that stick around for awhile
  • A situation that needs to be addressed before it begins to resolve
  • A limited resource of agency for all forms of conflict
  • A non-uniform set

The first bit draws people into designing rules that mess with the last two, often in the form of stunts that have a cost in the form of taking a consequence. The moment I see “take a consequence” on a stunt, it’s a red flag, and 9 times out of 10 the person making the stunt actually just wants the lasting aspect component.

Here’s the problem: “take a consequence” means four distinctly different things:

  • Write down something colorful that’s going to go away after a few minutes of gameplay
  • Write down something that you’ll have to live with for a full session, at least
  • Write down something that’ll be on your head for several sessions
  • Rewrite a character aspect

So when you put this in a stunt, you have to ask yourself three questions:

  • Is this stunt so weak that the cost of a momentary inconvenience is appropriate balance?
  • Is this stunt so good that it’s worth crippling a character’s ability to stay in a conflict for several sessions?
  • Does the consequence you’re asking the character to take make sense as a mild, moderate, severe, and extreme consequence?

See how those are radically different questions? It’s like saying “I would like to buy an ice cream” at the response being “It’s $5 if you haven’t spent any money today, or $20 is you have. Wait, did you already spent $20 today? It’s $50 now.” Non-uniform costs for a static benefit is poor design. Usually, when someone makes a “take a consequence” stunt, they’re thinking about mild consequences for the most part (as they’re the most available and thus the most played with), without taking into account how the conflict system is build around a surprisingly unstable[1] stress/consequence dynamic.

Lasting Aspects

That brings me to the solution: situation aspects can be lasting in Fate. One of the Fate koans is “aspects are true for as long as they are,” which means that they’re as much statements of fact as they are mechanics, and don’t sweat how long they last in the story unless it’s important. But it also means that you can define how long that that aspect lasts, either as a story element or as a timing one. Your stunt can say:

  • You take the Drained of Power aspect, which lasts until you’re able to rest for at least an hour. (Requirement of fictional downtime, which becomes a cost in the story.)
  • You take the Angered My Deity aspect, which lasts until you beseech your god for forgiveness. (Requires addressing like a consequence does, with the stated trigger, but no duration after that.)
  • You take the In Pain aspect, which lasts until the end of the next scene. (Pacing is directly linked to a mild consequence rules, except that there’s no stipulation for needing to address it in order to let it go.)
  • You take the Cybernetics Gone Haywire aspect; treat it as a moderate consequence, except that it doesn’t take up a slot. (Directly states the consequence analogue, without taking up a slot.)

Furthermore, your stunt can stipulate whether you can do this multiple times to stack free invocations, or if you can’t do the stunt again while the previous aspect is still in play.

When Consequences are the Right Choice

I said consequences are the wrong design choice “9 out of 10” times, but not every time. When are they right? Simple: when the number of shifts the consequence taken is worth matters to the stunt. Even when the answer is “because I want to limit character agency in future conflicts,” that answer isn’t good enough for me these days, because you can achieve that in other, more uniform ways.

– Ryan

[1] By design, not “unstable” as a pejorative.

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8 Responses to Consequences vs. Lasting Aspects

  1. Michael Duxbury says:

    I don’t agree with this personally. The ice cream analogy could extend just as easily to, say, stunts that inflict a two stress hit instead of giving you a boost, or even a stunt that gives +2 on an attack roll. Those two points of stress COULD mean your opponent fills in a stress box then totally ignores it (if they are unharmed and the conflict is about to end) OR they could mean you inflict an extreme consequence (if they have filled in all stress and all consequences and won’t be taken out for some reason). And every possible variance of efficacy in between.

    I think the assumed cost when balancing “take a consequence” stunts is: this will probably use up a mild consequence AND will probably not be worthwhile in situations where you already have sustained a mild consequence BUT can still be used in those circumstances if you’re willing to suffer a severe penalty. I think you can reliably calculate an “average” cost, and devise a counterbalancing benefit accordingly. And in specific instances where the cost is too high… Well. No-one’s forcing you to use the stunt right?

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Well. No-one’s forcing you to use the stunt right?

      Everything wrong about this idea lives in that statement. You’re assuming everyone looking at your stunt as enough mastery to know what they’re taking. You’re assuming a method of playing Fate that isn’t universal, and situations that are weak. And when characters only get a few stunts, saying “no one’s forcing you to use it” is a massive dick move as a designer. It’s one thing to have the occasional faustian bargain offered in play, and a far other one to have it be constantly on the character sheet in a weak fashion.

      You don’t have to agree with what I’m saying. Years of play and of watching happy and disappointed faces in reaction to rules does. If you don’t like what a game creator says about a game they made, go out and generate your own data — make stunts like those and get even a half-dozen different playgroups to try them.

      – Ryan

    • Regarding this part: “I think the assumed cost when balancing ‘take a consequence’ stunts is: this will probably use up a mild consequence AND will probably not be worthwhile in situations where you already have sustained a mild consequence BUT can still be used in those circumstances if you’re willing to suffer a severe penalty.”

      The issue with this perspective is that it’s unintuitive. Ryan’s metaphor of the variably priced ice cream is one way to describe this unintuitiveness.

      In my mind, a penalty for a stunt is fairly predictable. Let’s say using a stunt scratches you. Okay, now you have a Scratched mild consequence. Now you use the stunt again. It is intuitive that the second scratch gives you a Really Super-Duper Scratched moderate consequence IN ADDITION to the Scratched minor consequence you already have, and so on for more uses? Considering the intensity of consequences seems to increase non-linearly (e.g., Bruised Hand -> Deep Cut -> Guts Hanging Out), I would argue it’s not–and I believe that’s part of Ryan’s point when he said “non-uniform costs for a static benefit is poor design” in this case. (Correct me if I’m wrong, Ryan.) It would be more intuitive in most cases for the stunt to give a predictable, non-variable penalty in the form of a situation aspect.

    • Michael Duxbury says:

      For context: my data comes from 2 to 3 groups of quite seasoned Fate players, who enjoy creating their own stunts much more than choosing from a list of stunts created by a designer, and are capable of understanding the consequences of their choices. Which I freely admit may not be applicable to other groups. Everyone plays the same game slightly differently, right?

      Any stunt that comes with a cost to activate requires a decision on the player’s part about whether the benefit is worth the cost. And sometimes, when the player determines the cost is too high, that means not using the stunt today. I don’t think that’s a dick move. I think that’s an opportunity for challenging decision making, which I think is good design.

      I don’t see how a stunt with a cost that varies with circumstance is different. More challenging, maybe, and harder to use (maybe even less interesting to use, for inexperienced players), but not intrinsically bad. And I also don’t see how it’s different to a stunt with a *benefit* that varies with circumstance, which there’s a lot of in Fate Core.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      The plural of anecdote isn’t data. Data comes from playing with 100s of different people and playtesting a half-dozen Fate builds.

      I don’t see how a stunt with a cost that varies with circumstance is different.

      Limited experience doesn’t make that a refutal, it means you don’t have the experience to understand and feel like arguing about it. Play more. Play with more people.

      – Ryan

    • Michael Duxbury says:

      Another way of looking at this:

      Some powerful stunts require you to spend a fate point to activate them.

      If I am five minutes away from the end of a session and about to refresh, then the cost of using the stunt in this instance is low.

      If I am at the start of a session, and only have one fate point, and expect a compel of my “Beserker Rage” next scene, and really need to pay it off… then the cost of using the stunt in this instance is high.

      Is this variable cost different from the variable cost of “fill in a consequence” stunts?

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      That is a fallacious argument, one that misunderstands the impact of play, the point of the fate point cycle, and how currency systems work in general. So yes, that you’re talking about is entirely different from consequence costs. “I can spent this $5 because I’m getting paid tomorrow” isn’t the same as an actual cost hike based on circumstance.

      – Ryan

  2. Ryan Macklin says:

    As usual, the G+ community is coming up with some great ideas here:
    https://plus.google.com/u/0/+RyanMacklin/posts/BwsACtMtyZ3