Posts Tagged ‘Fate Core’

All four of us in my gaming group are serious, serious gamers, we like the same types of games, and we get along great.  But despite all that, each of us brings very different games to the table.  We all take turns choosing the game and GMing.  Mike is very plugged in to the online indie gaming scene, and brings us the new hotness.  Ryan is on a lifelong quest to discover or build the perfect story-gaming system.  Peter’s tastes run to the crunchy, and he loves superhero games.  And me, well…

When I look at the history of the games that I have nominated and run, there are both expected and unexpected trends:

I’m attracted to settings more than systems.  I know that system is vitally important to the gaming experience, but when I read a new game and go “hell yeah I want to play that,” it’s usually because the fictional content (or “fluff”) has grabbed me.  I find this especially when reading the GUMSHOE games: Trail of Cthulhu, Ashen Stars, Night’s Black Agents, et al.  I don’t even particularly like the GUMSHOE system, but these games have evocative, detailed settings that are ripe for drama and adventure.  Setting-rich games are kind-of a problem with my group, though, which tends to prefer games with a low barrier to entry (i.e. not having a lot of setting material to memorize before the game can begin).  When I run a game, I tend to spend a lot of time developing setting and backstory content, and then trying to figure out how I’ll introduce it all during play (without boring exposition scenes).

But system IS important.  I like systems that aren’t too crunchy; I don’t want to have to keep flipping through the rulebook during the game.  A system should have explicit mechanics for driving the story forward and in unexpected directions.  I want to be surprised, even as the GM.  We end up mixing and matching systems and settings quite a bit.  For example, I ran a game in the Elric! (a.k.a Stormbringer) setting using the Sorcerer and Sword system (with great success).  But paradoxically, reading setting-free system rulebooks (e.g. Fate Core) leaves me cold.  I need some sets and costumes with my rules, even if I’ll never use them.

Sorcery, ghosts and demons.  These are favourite genres of mine that I keep coming back to.  I feel like there’s something about forbidden knowledge and Things That Should Not Be Named that I haven’t successfully invoked at the gaming table yet; but I can’t say exactly what that is.  I’ll keep exploring these genres until I do.

I just finished my turn in the GM’s chair, so my next opportunity to pick the game is probably a year away.  Still, I’m always reading new RPGs and supplements, and of course I want to play just about all of them.  Maybe looking back at my previous selections will help me to narrow down on what I’m really looking for.  Or maybe I’ll decide to try something completely different.

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Speaking of Indiana Jones…

I had just said that I’m always on the look-out for games and techniques that can re-create the fast-paced action and wonder of the old adventure serials, as exemplified (and resurrected) by the Indiana Jones movies.  Well, I found a game that sets out to do just that.  And if the term “award-winning” has any merit, then this game does it very well.

Spirit Of The Century RPG, by Evil Hat Productions.  Yes, one of the very Fate-powered games that sired the Fate Core System book which I’m currently reading and assessing for its Indiana-Jones-ness.  How ironic.

I would love to play this game.  But then, I say that about every game I read.  I put down SotC momentarily to read an article it references, “THE PULP AVENGERS: Game Mastering Pulp Adventures in the 1930s and 1940s,” by Brian Misiaszek, 1994.  The article characterizes pulp adventures this way: “Some features of the pulp genre include its simple morality of good versus evil, masked and cloaked heroes and heroines, devious villains and their schemes, gun-wielding desperados, cliffhanger endings, weird science, and a world still lush with unexplored places and lost races.”

I can think of two people who would have a problem with the “simple morality of good vs evil” part.  One of them is me.  I prefer games (and stories) that explore the meanings of “good” and “evil,” not treat them as absolutes.  We live in a reality in which the the greatest villains seize power, amass fortunes and subjugate millions without ever breaking a law; and meanwhile, common people have to fight the police just to protect their homes and defend their rights.  Fiction with clear-cut good-guys and bad-guys is too much of an escape for my tastes.  I like some meat with my potatoes.

But nothing says that complex moral questions are incompatible with fearless protagonists, zeppelin chases, crazy gadgets, exotic locations and cliffhanger scene cuts.  I think we could take what we want from the pulp-era adventures, and play our kind of game.

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P.S.: If I do get to play  Spirit of the Century, we will probably use the mechanics from the later-published Fate Core System.  Although they’re both Fate games, the latter benefits from years of playing the former, and includes some system improvements.  For example, SotC instructs players to come up with ten Aspects for their characters.  In Fate Core, the author recommends five, explaining that ten proved too onerous and unnecessarily complicating.

Caveat: at this writing, I’m only halfway through reading Fate Core, and about 10% into Spirit of the Century.

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I’m in the middle of reading Fate Core System, the game system (stripped of setting) that was behind Dresden Files and other of Evil Hat Productions’ role-playing games.

Aspects Are Not Bonuses — Okay, Now I Get It

When we played Dresden Files last year, I didn’t like the Aspects part of the system.  I felt that we were all interpreting our Aspects too loosely, re-shaping their meanings to give us bonuses in every situation.

But now I realize that the Aspect is not the bonus: the Fate Point is the bonus.  Fate Points are the hard currency of bonuses and penalties.  To get a bonus, you have to spend a Fate Point; and to earn more Fate Points, you have to take penalties.  The Aspects are the narrative keys that bring these Fate-Point transactions into the fiction.  For example, you might spend a Fate Point to get a +2 bonus in combat; but what does that bonus represent?  Military training, huge muscles, a two-by-four?  It is your Aspect “Karate Blackbelt” that tells us exactly how you kick ass in this fight.  Therefore, loosely interpreting your Aspects doesn’t unbalance the game.  Whether or not it serves the fiction is another issue, but one more easily controlled I think, at least with my group it is.  We all want to tell a good story, foremost.

I Tackle Him. No Wait, I Missed. Except, I Didn’t Miss

I don’t like the order of operations that Fate proposes for resolving actions, which is as follows:

  1. Declare the action
  2. Roll the dice, determine success or failure
  3. If failure is indicated, invoke an aspect and apply bonus
  4. Success.

So in the fiction, an attack would sound like this:

  1. I tackle The Mandarin to the ground!
  2. (Rolls dice) Oh, but I rolled badly; I guess I missed him.
  3. Except, I am a Disciple Of The Ivory Shroud (invokes Aspect, spends Fate Point), so…
  4. I do the Dance Of The Crane to sweep his legs out from under him, and then I tackle him!

This kind of instant ret-conning (creating narrative continuity retroactively) interrupts the cinematic action that we’re all seeing in our minds’ eyes.  And you’d be doing it on every other action in a scene.  I don’t like it.  But, changing the order of operations would change the game’s economics: i.e., having to decide whether to spend a Fate Point before you roll is more risky than being able to spend to modify a roll after the fact.  It would be far better to either declare all the actions irrevocably, apply all the mechanics, and then describe the outcome; or, to apply all the mechanics up front, and then proceed with narration, knowing who has the upper hand.

Maybe one could bend the Fate mechanics to avoid the instant ret-con, maybe not.  The Fate Core System book recommends declaring actions with an ellipsis.  For example:

  1. I try to tackle The Mandarin to the ground…
  2. (Rolls dice) …but he dodges at the last second…
  3. (spends a Fate Point) …but through my learnings as a Disciple Of The Ivory Shroud, I anticipate his clumsy evasion…
  4. …and sweep his legs out from under him using my Dance Of The Crane move, and then tackle him!

This order of operations satisfies the Narrativist in me: there’s no ret-conning.  But there are other problems with it.  Every action has to be explicitly declared as an attempt, and the dice determine whether the desired action happens or not; instead of the more preferable declaring of an action, and the dice determine the consequences.  And it just sounds clumsy, with a lot of pauses and “buts.”

Free Invocations: More Stuff To Track

Normally, you pay a Fate Point when you invoke an Aspect for a bonus.  But, certain game outcomes (such as “creating an advantage” or giving an opponent a “consequence”) will give you a “free invocation” or two, meaning that you can invoke a certain Aspect later (once or twice) for free.  So now we have to track these free invocations that are like invisible Fate Points, but that are tied to specific Aspects and usually a specific situation, and can be used later by a one or some of the characters in the scene.  Unlike normal Fate Points, which are tracked using beads or poker chips or whatever, there is no suggested means of tracking free invocations.  I can see myself (as a player or GM) either having to quickly scribble down all the details of new free invocations, or just forgetting that they’re “out there.”

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Even when I’m not the designated GM (and so have no prep to do between game nights), I still spend a lot of my free time on gaming stuff: sometimes writing down and working out ideas, but mostly just reading: reading gaming blogs and forums, reading gaming news and articles, and reading games.

Right now I’m reading Fate Core, which is simply the FATE rules abstracted from any setting and published as a stand-alone system.  Next I plan to read Savage Worlds (finally).

Probably my favourite movies of all time are the Indiana Jones films.  How could I best create such high-flying adventures at the table, and what system would I use?  That’s the question that’s always at the back of my mind as I’m reading new game systems.  I know it will take more than just the right system; probably the prep, the players’ approach to the game, and the GMing techniques, will be just as important as system.  I read games as much for the GMing advice as anything else.

Other questions on my mind as I read games:

  • Who authors the story: the players, the GM, or does everybody play to find out what happens?
  • How does this game make failure interesting?
  • How does this game help us to create surprising and intricate scenes, people, and plot twists?
    • Somewhere between “memorize this encyclopedia about this fictional world” and “make up the setting yourself!” is the sweet spot in which the game provides plenty of provocative setting elements, and inspires the players to mould their own game-world out of it.  Does this game lunge for the sweet spot?  Does it strike a bullseye?


Random tangent:

  • It would be instructive to play Microscope a few times in a row, and generate a bunch of very different game worlds.

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