Posts Tagged ‘Narrativist’


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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