Posts Tagged ‘fate’
There are a couple things I’ve seen pop up again in the Fate community, which seems to pop up as new people discover Fate. People, you gotta understand two things about Fate:
To the people who say “It can do everything!” no, it can’t. Fate has a particular player dynamic and information economy that lends itself better to some types of play than others, much like how you can use a Leatherman multitool — which can cut things and screw in things and file things down — to bang a nail in, but that’s gonna take more effort and result in something less optimal than using a hammer.
Understand that when Leonard Balsera and I were sitting down to start the rewrite of Fate Core, we took this idea as a feature. We accepted that survival horror (where characters aren’t especially empowered), gritty combat (better executed by systems that give a damn about equipment), intense mysteries (where all the information creation is in the GM’s hands) are not strong suits in Fate. They can be done in Fate, so long as you also understand that Fate’s own sensibilities will twist them.
(Also, as a professional game designer, whenever I hear anyone say “this game can do anything/everything!” I hear “I don’t know what this game is about, and it does nothing especially well.” For of advice for those designing their own games: have a better answer or statement than that.)
To the people who say “Make it an aspect!” I wince every single time. To give a brief history lesson, Spirit of the Century had you go through five story phases of character creation, and come up with two aspects for each. Ten aspects was deemed too many — partly because GMs felt overwhelmed by the perceived (and incorrect) needs to keep all of them in mind for all players, and partly because creative fatigue meant that some of those aspects would either suck or just end up never getting used. The Dresden Files RPG introduced the high concept and trouble aspects, and pared down the five story phases to one aspect apiece. Still, seven was more or less slightly too many, so when we tinkered with Fate Core, we removed to story phases and brought the character aspects down to five.
That gave room for situation aspects (and to a lesser extent, game aspects) to shine. So when I see people say “oh, you want to do X? Just add an aspect!” I cannot do anything except see that as amateur aspect-spamming. This is especially true with people trying to model equipment.
Not everything needs to be an aspect. Some things are about narrative permission — you can’t shoot someone unless you have a gun. No aspect needed. Some things are just cool, like having (an example from a recent G+ post) a double-bladed weapon. And if something is really key to a character concept, then that’s a character aspect, stunt, or just something you note down when you make your character — not inherently an aspect in and of itself.
If something can be used or taken away and it is somehow different from most others of its kind, then maybe it’s a situation aspect — like the Fabled Double-sword of the Haleish or a cursed double-axe. Otherwise, you’re aspect spamming, and you’re breaking the information element of Fate’s economy.
Whenever you think “oh, this is another thing attached to a character, it could be an aspect!” stop, look at how that’s a high concept or other existing character aspect, or a stunt relating to privileged talent or extra (if it makes you better or different all the time, and not just on invocations), or decide if it’s just awesome color that you want to use to describe being interesting and badass. But don’t make it an additional aspect attached to a character except as a last resort. And maybe not even then. Your Fate games will be better for not aspect spamming.
Treat aspects, persistent and not, as their own economy. Having double-edged sword is as useful an aspect as I have arms – which unless having arms is unusual in your game world, isn’t worth taking up a precious slot of this actionable-information economy.
P.S. I realize we’re going to lose this war, but when you capitalize “Fate” as an acronym, it just looks ugly. We don’t do it anymore. Also, if you acronym-ize “Fate” in a third-party product, I’m going to assume that you’re either a joke or someone who isn’t a part of the Fate community trying to leech off of it.
 One of the struggles I had early with Achtung! Cthulhu’s Fate build was reconciling the pulpy nature of Fate’s player permissions with the horror elements of the Cthulhu Mythos. If not for A!C having a pulpy flair to it, that would be genuinely near-irreconcilable.
One thing I do when I’m running Fate, whether on the fly or planned in any capacity, is abstract the skills for NPCs in evocative ways, much like using skill modes form the Fate Toolkit. This is a simple idea, so a short post today.
For instance, instead of figuring out if some has Good Fight vs Fair Shoot vs Average Athletics and Notice, etc. — which is honestly a bit boring to me as a GM — I spice it up with something like:
- Good “Beating You Up”
- Fair “Eyes in the back of my head”
- Average “Crap With a Gun”
- Average “Not All That Smart”
Which I’d treat “Beating You Up” to cover most rolls in Fight — initiative, attack, defense, overcome, create, all that jazz. Eyes… is good for Notice, and so on. I call this “ad hoc” because I make them up and interpret them as needed, and like to use different names for different characters.
When I use this, I always name the skill, as I found that added a level of enjoyment when I was first introduced to this idea from Unknown Armies. I especially love doing this with monsters, like having a zombie horde with Fair “Devour the Living,” Average “Hit us all you want, wounds mean nothing,” and Good “The Living Cannot Hide.” Nothing quite like saying “I’m attacking with my ‘Devour the Living’ skill, what do you want to do?” to get action going.
And that’s why the idea works — not because it’s easier on the GM, but because it’s fun for the whole table.
Audience participation: Take one of the last NPCs you made for a Fate game. How would you stat up with colorful ad hoc skill modes?
You could also see this as action-based approaches rather than FAE’s color-based ones.
 Expect this treatment in Achtung! Cthulhu.
 I do more with monsters, like tweak stress, but that’s another topic.
This is an idea I’ve been kicking around for years, and solidified itself a bit in the shower. One of the things that is inherent to Fate conflicts is certainty — we know how many shifts we’re going to take once the attack and defense rolls come down, between and after invocations hit the table. This is something that many Fate fans love and some people who aren’t Fate fans see a problem, so it’s very much a feature/bug depending on your perspective.
But I’m always interested in uncertainty dials, so I keep wondering what happens when you decouple attack success and damage inflicted in Fate. Here’s one thought.
First, you turn stress from boxes into a pool akin to hit points. A small pool, maybe 10-ish points. When you attack and succeed, you do whatever damage the situation merits using polyhedral, like (as a totally out-of-my-ass example):
- Baseline: 1d3
- Particularly bruising: 1d3+1
- Dangerous: 1d6 (or 2d3, mathematically more interesting but rather ugly)
- Especially dangerous 1d6+2
(Maybe there are some 1d4 steps in there, depending on how granular a given dynamic needs. Hell, it’s almost ladder-able: Average danger vs Fair danger, etc.)
And whatever weapon you’re using versus whatever sense of protection the other person has merits these things. Maybe you’d have tags a la Dungeon World to better denote these things, I don’t know. This is a riff on the whole “a weapon is either lethal or not depending on narrative circumstance” that works better in Fate than saying “X type of weapon does Y damage.” Gotta respect that Fate isn’t a system of minutia. Hell, maybe something causes an attack that would normally be at one level to be harder. Narrative, baby.
Now, you keep the consequence system as ways of absorbing stress, and the rule of being taken out if damage goes past stress. So, really, none of the other conflict rules change. Just the stress component. (Which also means that a severe consequence can absorb an entire “dangerous” or most of an “especially dangerous” roll, when the results are at their highest.)
So, if the amount of stress you do is decoupled from the shifts of success you have, you can also mirror attacks in the same way that you do overcome and advantages: success or success with style. SWS maybe bumps up the lethality of it or grants an advantage — whatever works, but it’s in line with how SWS works elsewhere.
The reason this might work is that once you let an attack roll go, you don’t know how hard you’ll be hit. It adds some push-your-luck to the game, which sometimes I prefer. Which also means the decisions surrounding invoking to succeed on a defense (or, hell, on an attack)
I know there are Fate folks who will hate this because OMG POLYHEDRALS I FLED THAT NATION IN FEAR, but this came to mind so I wanted to note it down. Any thoughts that aren’t just immediate kneejerk rejections? :)
For the last few…well, since well before Gen Con, I’ve been working on some Fate license conversion, notably the Achtung! Cthulhu Fate Core version. It’s caused me to cement ideas that I’ve had for a long time about converting to Fate, but haven’t articulated until recently. My main (not sole) principle on converting to Fate is simple:
Converting stuff for Fate is simultaneously easy and hard, in that it’s hard to know what you throw about because it doesn’t work in Fate. You have to have a sense of “Screw it, that will make for boring Fate rules as-is. But it’s a part of the world. How do we remodel?” Knowing when that’s true and not just lazy design, as well as how to achieve positive results, is what’s hard.
Also, remember that Fate is, at its core, a dramatic (in the classic sense of the word) adventure game, one where the players are more on par with the GM in narrative authority than is typical. Don’t fight against that.
To break it down some, it happened as I was reading over the rules for learning Mythos spells from Realms of Cthulhu, since it’s less granular than Call of Cthulhu. The rules state something like (my iPad is charging, so forgive the inaccuracy) “2 + d4 weeks.”
Warning: what I’m going to write isn’t in any way whatsoever guaranteed to be final rules for any product. I’m just spitballing.
Problem #1: Fate only has Fate/Fudge dice. Using other polyhedrals is (a) lazy and (b) tells Fate players to piss off.
Problem #2: Fate works in a sense of story/dramatic time, so even if something should be variable, that is a potential wrinkle.
Chicken-scratched on my steno pad is “How about [6 - Mythos rating] weeks.” And, eh, that mechanically might feel like it’s doing the job, but it misses one key point: Fate is largely about consequences and story arcs. So, shortly thereafter, I added “And in that time, you can’t spend time doing any intentional mental recovery.”
At the end of a period of learning a Mythos spell, you in other systems roll to see if it sinks in. If it doesn’t, you start over.
Problem #3: Fate doesn’t do well if failure merely continues with the status quo unless there’s an action economy element to the situation (a.k.a. a conflict). This is because it’s trivial to do things like create advantages or otherwise spend fate points to buy into success.
So, simply rolling to see if you learn it doesn’t work in Fate, when it does in other games. Aspect invocations give powerful character agency, and in non-complicated situations you need to assume that said agency will cause success. Therefore, you either have to (a) remove the need for a check or any sort or (b) make it interesting.
Let’s make it interesting.
At the end of said learning period, you cement the knowledge by casting the damn spell. You learn by doing, so if you don’t actually do it, no learning. And casting a spell (which I’m not going to go into in this post) is, well, let’s just say that my notes involve things like “You are so fucked if you fail” and “Hey Keeper, here’s all the shit you can decide to do, it’s all in your house.” (I use a lot of profanity as shorthand for remembering the right tone.)
If you fail, bad things happen. If you survive them, well, you still haven’t learned the spell right, so you need to study another week and try again. Even if said failure is success with cost (also, bad things happen), it isn’t success enough to cement the spell in your mind.
Sure, that isn’t accurate to the classic Mythos model, but is a dramatic interpretation suitable to Fate. And a Fate conversion can’t just be a literal translation; we see how well Google Translate does for languages, and we as Fate designers need to do better, and actually translate just as a linguist would.
Now, to jump elsewhere, regarding the Sanity rules I’m drafting up, there’s the point in other games where you randomly roll to see what mental affliction a character gets when the time comes.
Problem #4: Compounding problem #1, random tables don’t really work in Fate, because those dice create a bell curve, and there’s no good way to tell one apart from another if you’re trying some crafty way to create a linear distribution with them.
Which means those tables are a bad play in Fate. So, we go to the Fate ethos of being a dramatic adventure with on-par narrative authority. So, the solution there is easy: when Sanity would cause a character to take a consequence, that consequence is some form of mental debilitation akin to other Cthulhu games. Talk it out; the final says is more or less the GM’s, but taking into account what would suck for a player to play (either because he wouldn’t enjoy it or would just be terrible at it).
Now, that’s more agency that in your typical Cthulhu game, but that’s what you gotta do in order to make it a game that respects both Fate’s system and Fate’s fan base.
Problem #5: Impact (like damage) is not separate from success.
This gets to be a huge problem when it comes to emulating another game’s physics. You throw a grenade — what does it do? You shoot someone with a high-powered rifle — what’s likely to happen? How does that compare to being shot with a .22? Stabbed with a knife? Sneezed at particularly hard?
The answer to this varies, but starts with a question: in this world, what should happen to PC-type characters? Maybe it’s a world where guns totally fucking kill, so you say “screw it, hits immediately mean consequences.” Or it’s one where guns hit hard, but heroic characters have a chance to deal with it, thus solutions like Weapons ratings. Or guns merely allow for ranged attacks, but aren’t any worse to deal with that fists. Whatever feels right is what you go with…
Problem#5: Fate isn’t granular.
…provided you understand that there really isn’t a middle ground in Fate, making this one of the biggest contentions when doing a conversion. Which is where this problem falls. The difference between shifts is non-trivial, so even a single +1 bump is huge. (There was a time when I pondered a fantasy hack of Fate that used polyhedrals for damage, which maybe I’ll screw with in the future if I ever get back to my Halfling Nations setting. Just to see what would happen.)
If a knife gives you, say, a +1 to stress, and simply succeeding at an attack roll means a minimum of 1 stress, then the 1-stress box isn’t going to get used. Which prompts the question: why the hell would anyone ever *not* fight with a knife?
If the answer is “duh, they wouldn’t,” this on the surface it looks like a decent hack. But I’m still going to heavily question anything that creates uninteresting forms of non-optimal play, at least with regards to Fate. In a game system that supports verisimilitude, that works; Fate does not by its very nature support verisimilitude or physics modeling.
Problem #6: Fate doesn’t inherently do mechanical nuance.
In Call of Cthulhu, you learn the Mythos skill by inches, representing that your mind is being slow-cooked by the unnatural horrors.
Fate has no “slow-cooker” mode. There are nine numbers that four Fate dice can generate. There are (by default) four ranks for skills, five if you count Mediocre. Increasing a die roll or a skill by even 1 is a statistically big deal, in comparison to incrementing a percentile skill.
Now, the rest of the skills are easy. To start, you just say “that skill is now a Fate skill,” and then you combine skills that makes sense, since skill bloat is very non-Fate. (Not that Fate mechanically can’t handle it; that’s about Fate fans having disinterest in large skill lists. I’m pushing it in A!C at 27 right now, though I’m happy with what I’ve got.) But skill ratings in a percentile game that have incremental impacts on your character’s agency? At best, you have to model that in big, less frequent jumps, if you’re to model it at all.
Since this is a Cthulhu game, naturally I’m picking the former, to model it in big jumps. But that means there isn’t any “oop, you accidentally learned a massive chunk of the Mythos at once!” mechanic, because the accidental and the incremental nature of learning the Mythos is intertwined. My solution to this is, I think, pretty cool, but it’s filed under “stuff I shouldn’t talk about right now because development reasons.”
(This problem, incidentally, is also why you can’t just hack Unknown Armies into Apocalypse World without a lot of work, because many of the spells in UA fit in a percentile nuance space, which AW also doesn’t inhabit.)
Problem #6a: Because of this, Fate is crappy at gear-porn.
It’s easy to model gear in Fate. It gives fictional positioning (you can’t use Shoot without a gun), maybe it has aspects (like Experimental Tech or Broken), and other things (lately I’ve been putting “equipment stunts” on some things).
But if you have a setting that’s rich in what gear does, or one that classically is obsessed with gear — cyberpunk, for example — Fate will let you down. That’s because gear-fetishizing is about nuance. My rifle has slightly more stopping power, but yours has a higher rate of fire. My hacker program cuts through ICE, but yours is twitchier and buffs your initiative. Now, you an easily model the fiction of such things with aspects and the like, but you cannot model the innate pleasure of gear-porn a player feels. So if your conversation has a gear-porn element, you’ve got to just be frank and say “hey, Fate does gear like this.”
Of course, the gear-porn element is also why Fate doesn’t do monetary resources well — there’s little point to it in Fate.
Problem #7: Fate emulates some genres and tones well, and some…very poorly. And that comes down to Fate being the RPG-with-a-GM with the most player agency and authority.
I’ve written before about how, if you’re looking for a game strong with survival horror, Fate is the last game to try. Survival horror is about denial of player agency, but Fate has tools that are counter to such play–things like creating advantages and invoking aspects to get you out of shitty rolls or to boost a result beyond what the dice could normally do.
The other week, I sat down to test our the Sanity system, which involved seeing if I could turn off those dials in certain circumstances, namely if when you’re in a “oh shit, Sanity check!” moment, if you’re temporarily denied being able to invoke aspects. That didn’t work for two reasons: first, I forgot to use the rule for some of it (and that’s a sign of a potential rule problem); second, by completely removing the aspect economy, it didn’t feel like a Fate game anymore. This was something I was spitballing with Leonard Balsera about, whether that would work or not; we weren’t sure. But now I know that the mechanics of the idea are sound…but it’s just not a Fate game at that point.
Luckily, A!C is a pulpy Cthulhu game, so it doesn’t need to emulate survival horror. It does need to hold a sense of scale against horrific things, but not to the extreme that you can have with games that have more nuance and less player agency.
None of these are showstopping problems, but they are things to be aware of and work with when doing a real, earnest Fate conversion. After all, anyone can just shout “ASPECTS AMIRITE,” but actual conversion work takes thought, to bridge a game’s underlying fictional beats together with the beats and rhythm of Fate.
For you other Fate hackers out there doing big conversions, what issues have you stumbled into? How did you fix them? What did you learn from the experience, and have you come up with your own sense of Fate conversion principles?
 Or what’s commonly referred to as “is boring,” though I don’t like that dismissal because it typically shows someone’s misunderstanding of beat dynamics.
 Like someone who thinks “schizophrenia” means “multiple personality disorder,” or even just “I have conversation with people who aren’t real.”
 Not “begs.” Man alive.
 Was more to it than that, but no sense in writing up all the rules that didn’t work.
In the normal Fate character creation, you have the phase trio. It’s one of the elements that survived from Spirit of the Century all the way through Fate Core. (Yes, SotC had five, but we’re mainly talking about the adventure-guest-guest construction.)
Of course, in Core, we say that this isn’t the only phase trio setup you could do. (Fun fact: in one of our older ideas, we thought to have two in the character creation chapter, before sanity prevailed and we stuck to streamlining it and leaving hacks elsewhere.) And in truth, these days I throw out that schema entirely for something I call “adventure-boost-boost,” or “the boost trio.” This is a part of the Extra Secret Service demo skeleton for Fate I ran for Wil Wheaton, which I promised to write up at some point. Consider this part of that promise.
I take inspiration from the original phase, but when I’m running a very quick game, no one writes anything down on paper. So I instead ask some leading questions and it’s all done verbally:
- Remember that mission in Kansas? Where you almost turned into a scorpion-god? How’d you get out of that?
- So, ninjas, am I right? How’d you deal with the famed Ninjas of Portland? (Note: the Oregon and Maine branches hate each other to death.)
- What happened on your last mission? [Give a minute to talk.] Right, and that’s when the vampire king arrived, apparently for no reason. How the hell are you alive today?
Then I ask: “So, [other character] totally helped you out of a jam. How?” And that response, which I encourage collaboration on, becomes an aspect on the other character, not the one answering. But said other player gets to interpret and form the aspect has she wishes.
Example: I ask Fred “how the hell did Rob’s character help you out when the Statue of Liberty stormed Jersey? Rob’s character has the high concept “By-the-book hardass,” and Fred says “By the book, huh? Well, I think given that we’re the Extra Secret Service, there’s something in said book that covers this. So he immediately goes into action and deploys Contingency 134.52.8c.” Rob laughs, and adds “There is ALWAYS a contingency plan” as the aspect for this phase.
For this bit, once we’ve gone around and established how awesome people are, I like to change up the second boost to be more about character dynamics (unless someone seems to be less awesome than the rest of the group). I like questions like:
- So, you and [other character] were in a love triangle. What was the other man/woman/other like? And how did that blow up in your faces?
- [Other character] ended up complicating the hell out of your last mission. How, and how did they make it up to you? (This is, by the way, some advanced shit, because you need to read the people to feel that you can ask a “describe how someone else isn’t awesome” beat without souring that person.)
- You saw [other character] get savaged by a werewolf and an hour or so later, they didn’t have a scratch? (Hey, [other player], is that cool?) You saw something else along with that — what?
The more awkward the construction here, the harder it can be to make an aspect, so sometimes this second boost technique doesn’t quite work without some more discussion than I’d like.
That’s how I like to do things today, because it starts the game off by people boosting others, not about people talking about how individually awesome or interesting they are.