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FAE Approaches & the Trouble Die

When I run Fate Accelerated at conventions, I invariably come up with situations where someone’s best approach is just a little weird or feels wrong to me for that action beat—like someone describing being Flashy while other people are trying to Sneak around. The common wisdom is to, as a GM, always make that approach decision impact others whenever you think it’s off (which I wrote about some time ago). But I’m not always comfortable with making that absolute declaration, especially in a convention game where social dynamics are being figured out while the game is going.

Here’s what I want out of handing these things:

  • A way to flag to the player before rolling “hey, what you’re doing could have some risk regardless of success”
  • Something totally decoupled from the roll result, because pinning it to Success at a Cost doesn’t work so hot when using your best approach anyhow
  • A way to take some of the pressure off of the GM from making arbitrary calamity, for social and creative fatigue reasons
  • A tool to use in some moments, but not every moment—something that doesn’t break if not used with consistency

To make all that happen, here’s a thought: I have a Fate die that looks significantly different enough from all the other dice (like the inset photo), which I’ll call the Trouble Die. If you do an approach that could “cause trouble regardless of success,” I hand you the die. That’s a clear flag with a physical token, and most of you know how much of a fan of physical tokens I am.

When you roll for your action, you roll the Trouble Die as well. If it comes up a minus, your approach definitely causes a problem for you or someone else. (The other sides aren’t a guaranteed reprieve, because you might still take the Success at a Cost option, but it’s not certain.) If you invoke to reroll dice, you also reroll the Trouble Die. It’s pretty simple.

Now, if I decide “screw the die, your action’s definitely going to have a consequence,” then I don’t need to use this optional element. But it’s there in my back pocket, for when I need something that shifts the responsibility as the GM back to the dice.

Clark Valentine Hacking This Further

I shared this with Clark, head designer on Fate Accelerated, to get his take. He digs it, and came up with going a little further on the hack that turns it into something different: replacing one of the four Fate dice rolled on an action with the Trouble Die, and treat Trouble Die +s as +3 and –s as –3. That way, it’s a high-risk/high-reward mechanism. That would also push invocation for rerolling rather than for the standard +2.

That’s the sort of thing that’s easier to play with if you prototype such a die by getting some blanks and taking a marker to them. That way, you aren’t doing any extra awkward arithmetic outside of counting the die faces, as Fate intends. That opens up doing other weird Fate dice, like [+, +, +, 0, 0, –3].

I also think there’s some cool intersection between this overall concept and Clark’s corruption in FAE article in Fate Codex.

Taking This to Cortex Plus Action

Rob Donoghue and others toy with putting FAE-like approaches into Cortex Plus Action/Leverage RPG. Taking the spirit of this hack into Action is pretty simple: instead of a Trouble Die, declare that the approach is “Troublesome,” and the first Complication generated by the dice is free because of it—the player doesn’t earn a Plot Point.

– Ryan

Photo: Q-Workshop’s Ancient Fudge die. I really love the black/white color scheme, and the way the corners work out.

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2 Responses to FAE Approaches & the Trouble Die

  1. I’d had a thought in a slightly different, but similar direction. I was thinking about how to make weapons like lightsabers different or more potent than the common weapon. I didn’t like the feel of any of the weapon rules in Core or the Toolkit, so I was thinking about subbing in SJG’s Zombie Dice. The green and red dice are weighted, but otherwise similar to Fate dice. If one wanted to weight a result in favor of the player, he gets a green die to substitute for one of his regular die, and vice versa for against, subbing in a red die (or maybe, for extreme situations, multiple dice). Unfortunately, I don’t know how the weighted dice would affect the probabilities, and my math skills aren’t good enough to figure it out.

    • Ryan Macklin says:

      Never, ever, ever let the math get in the way of trying something. Math is super bullshit when it comes to anything regarding testing games. :)

      So give your idea a try and see how people feel at the table! That’s the only test that matters worth anything in games. I do hope you’ll give it a try!

      (As far as criticizing Weapons and Armor Ratings… I have a critical opinion of them now, thanks to a recent epiphany. But I’m not sure how to express it in a useful way yet.)

      – Ryan