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Posts Tagged ‘Fate’

It’s funny how, once you become aware of an idea, you notice it everywhere.  Some people call it “The Secret,” but there’s nothing supernatural about it, it’s just statistics and psychology.  Anyway, now that I’m thinking about pulp adventure gaming, it keeps coming up.  The latest 2 episodes of 2 GMs 1 Mic’s podcast (2013 Ep.17 and 2013 Ep.18) have been partly about pulp adventure gaming using Savage Worlds.  And they got me thinking…

The big thing that I have to figure out before I run a pulp campaign is: What makes a pulp plot, and how can I achieve that at the table?  There is some information in Spirit Of The Century, some in the above-mentioned podcasts, and really I have only just begun my research.  Pulp plots are a lot of things, including fast-paced.  So I was just thinking: could we do one complete adventure (“episode”) per session?  With a hard deadline, I/the GM would be driving towards a climax when there’s about 30 minutes left in the session.  Scene-setting and “editing” would be necessarily quick and snappy.  But I think maybe one 3-hour session is not enough time for a decent adventure, if there is to be any tactical content at all.

Well then, how could we do it in say three sessions?  We would still need a meaningful deadline for each session.  The three-act structure fits nicely into that schedule.  Something like:

  • Session 1:  The PCs face an unexpected danger, escape, then investigate and discover the real cause (ie. Villain!).
  • Session 2:  Pursuit.  Things get worse, leading to Certain Doom (Cliffhanger!).
  • Session 3:  PCs escape the Certain Doom, there is a Plot Twist, leading to the Final Showdown (Climax!)

So, every session, you’re driving towards either a big revelation, a cliffhanger ending or a climactic showdown.  That sounds doable!  Now, would it achieve the desired effect, or just make us all feel harried?

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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.

– – –

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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