Jun 072011

This may have been covered already in some prior posts on the site, but I’ve found myself typing something like it in an email again, so I thought I’d put this out there in a post of its own:

That’s the “secret” of assessment, declaration, and maneuvering, in fact — they’re all the same action, in essence, a skill roll that gives rise to an aspect, which offers a free invocation (tag) out of respect to the successfully skill roll. The only difference between them is in terms of how the authority model appears to work.

Assessment is a discovery of something the GM thought of, uncovered by a successful skill roll. Because the aspect is presumed to exist prior to its discovery, you can look at the possibility of “getting it wrong”, as we do with some of the Empathy/Deceit interactions in SOTC and DFRPG, but that’s not a necessary feature.

Declaration is the establishment of a player-invented/introduced fact, backed by a successful skill roll. The fact is presumed to exist prior to its introduction, as far as the characters are concerned. The player’s character, typically, is the smart/alert one who’s on the ball enough to take advantage of the fact first.

A maneuver is a character-imposed change in circumstance, successfully established if the player makes a (often contested) skill roll on his behalf.

But outside of those authority models, it’s the same basic game move.

 Posted by at 12:27 pm  Tagged with:

  16 Responses to “The Grand Unified Theory of Maneuvers”

  1. That’s a good, concise way of putting it. It took me a few reads of the relevant passages in SOTC to figure that out.

  2. Thanks

    Explains that idea really well, the kind of explaination I’ve tried to make for a while now.

  3. So if maneuvers are character-imposed, and declarations are player-imposed, then what what “imposes” an assessment? A mix of the two?

  4. The GM imposes the reality, the assessment merely uncovers it. 🙂

  5. Interesting…it kind of highlights the relationships between the GM, the players, and the characters. The GM sets up the “skeleton” game itself (like Aspects that can be assessed), the players bring definition to the game (by Defining parts of it), and the characters are the ones who actually affect and interact with the world (via maneuvers).

  6. Bingo. Great way of putting it.

  7. I like the fact that, although each works the same way, they satisfy different types of gameplay for the players: maneuvers are actiony, assessments are investigatey, and declarations are a sort of “character spotlight/player narrator” sort of thing.

    And, honestly, I don’t think I would want to draw aside that veil for my players. Even though the distinction is artificial, it helps maintain the balance between “immersive role-playing experience” and “shared authors of a narrative.” (This seems to be one fault line that runs through my group.)

  8. So, just to put it in the Great Archive:

    For my money, one of the best GM tricks that Fate has is the ability to “stealth” a declaration in when the player is attempting an assessment.

    ‘Cause, I don’t know about you, but frankly, I try to say “no” as little as possible at the table. And frankly, when a player tells me s/he’s looking for an aspect, it almost always sounds pretty damn cool to me. So even if I hadn’t planned for that aspect, I say yes to it anyway.

  9. I’m 100% on board with that technique, Lenny. That’s where the mechanical equivalence between these actions serves the GM as a handy toolbox feature, while the authority model addresses concerns about packaging and perception.

  10. I’m curious, what advice do you folk have for scenarios where a player attempts to make an assessment or a declaration that you as the storyteller really dig, but the roll fails? I sometimes feel bummed when a player comes up with a really awesome idea, but doesn’t roll well (something that’s not unique to FATE–D&D’s skills/proficiencies system could have the same problem).

    My MO is to allow the roll to fail (“Sorry, no secret door in this room . . .”) but to find an alternate way to bring it about with some slight disadvantage to the player(s) (“Just as you’re about to give up the search and move on to another room, a creaking sound draws your attention back to the wall you just left. It seems to be sliding outward, and behind it flows the stink of rotting flesh and the sound of slow, clumsy limbs . . .”). *They* didn’t find the door, but it was opened all the same, and I didn’t even know there *was* a door.

    That option isn’t always available, though, and I’m a full supporter of the “try not to say no” camp. Any other thoughts? I feel I chose an easy example to use above, but am suddenly hard pressed to come up with another on the spot.

  11. Jeff: The best advice I can give you, you already gave in your example: look at the part of DFRPG where it talks about failing a roll as “Success, but…” rather than as a complete failure. It’s in Your Story, page 310. The idea is, you can still make it a success, but the failure means you add a complicating detail to it. “You find the door, but holy shit, zombies!” is a fine way to handle that.

    If you honestly can’t think of anything, I’d turn the question over to the players. “Okay, so you do find a secret door… what does it cost you?” Get them involved in the process – three or four minds are better than one.

    Consider, also, that assessment and declaration are subject to the same general guidelines for all rolls: if failure is not interesting, don’t roll. Ask for a fate point, or just say, “You know, that’s awesome,” and just add it anyway.

  12. To add to Lenny’s point about involving the players in “the process”, you can even look at it a little like Fred’s post a bit back about “Consequences as Positive Currency”. Ask the players if they’re willing to suffer some kind of “Yes, but…” situation and then scale it like a Consequence by how badly they failed the roll.

    If the PC needed a much better roll to make the declaration stick, maybe throw something on the scale of a Serious Consequence – even if that just translates into one nasty minion battle with undead rather than an actual Consequence.

    But if they only failed it by a little, then give them the option to take a Minor Consequence or face a smaller threat.

    Ultimately, you’re turning failures into plot twists or excuses for more action.

    Any suggestions on how to use this Consequence-analog to scale the resulting threat?

  13. I’m new to Fate; so please bear with me if I’m stating the obvious.

    As a rule, a Consequence exists somewhere between a regular Aspect and a temporary but sticky Aspect: it lasts until it is healed, which generally doesn’t happen until some time after the conflict has been resolved. As well, as I understand it, a Consequence always applies to your character; you cannot get away from it merely by a change of scenery.

    A “Yes, but…” failure shouldn’t impose a Consequence; instead, it should impose a Temporary Aspect akin to what a Maneuver would impose – but it’s one that works against the character’s interests. Informally, I tend to use the term “Complication” to refer to any Aspect that is intended to act as an obstacle, distraction, or, well, complication to the character’s intended course of action. Consequences are always complications, but not vice versa. But that’s strictly an informal label with no mechanical effect.

  14. Well, each to his own tastes, of course.

    But I wasn’t exactly saying that “Yes, but…” should become an actual Consequence. I was suggesting scaling the level/threat of a “Yes, but…” as if it were a voluntarily-taken Consequence of the same kind that Fred has discussed on another part of the blog.

    So the greater the degree of failure of the PC’s attempt, the greater threat/problem/obstacle that must be faced to turn the “failure” into a “Yes, but…” success.

    And, of course, my suggestion allows the GM to cede control of whether or not to push a failure into a “Yes, but…” onto the players. Essentially allowing them to decide if a given skill-check is important enough to suffer (a.k.a. generate story) for.

  15. I came across this post because I was reading Dresden’s section on maneuvers and had the exact same thought – “what the heck is the difference here between these things they are describing?” So, of course I asked Google and viola, here I am!

    My problem is, what keeps the system from becoming TOO arbitrary. What keeps it from being so “Fudgy” it’s not worth having a 300+ page rulebook? I’ll admit, the ideas are great, but while reading Dresden I often think “well yeah, I do that in my DnD game all the time” – I just don’t have a rule describing it.

    So here someone has provided a vocabulary and a bunch of terms for how to run a story based campaign. But in truth, the heart of that portion of an RPG always seems to be “whatever works best for the story and group” anyway. Further, as per the subject of this blog post – the rules just boil down to simple things you probably do anyway and the distinctions are just for illustration.

    The only problem with FATE/Dresden, since there is an explicit separation from simulationist rules, you don’t have those less arbitrary notions to fall back on when you want to. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the system entirely. I’m just trying to see how any of the rules are even necessary as loose of a treatment they are given, if that makes any sense. I mean I can do collaborative fiction all day with my group where dice/book is optional, but that’s not what we sit down to do when we play RPGs.

  16. It’s really good to see this spelled out in print – I’ve been running it this way for quite a while, and there’s one interesting wrinkle that tends to catch my players by surprise: An Assessment is a maneuver, so when you use Lore (or Mysteries) to Declare, “The fey are highly allergic to were-fox blood” in the middle of a conflict (and roll it), that was your turn; essentially your character just announced the new fact in thought or speech, and then the camera cuts to someone else.

    And speaking of rolling everything into maneuvers: I don’t run Fate using zones anymore. Instead, I treat movement as a maneuver, and position characters using “relational aspects.” A “relational aspect” is an aspect that establishes a relationship among different characters, like “In melee range,” “siblings,” or “soul mates.” These little suckers are transitive. If A and B are “in melee,” B and C are “in melee,” and D and E are “in melee,” then A and C are “in melee,” but A and D aren’t (established as) “in melee.”

    During physical conflicts, establishing a relational aspect is just a (contestable) maneuver, and non-thrown weapons or fists both require an “in melee” relationship between the actor and his target. (This also turns *escaping* melee combat into a maneuver). I generally play with the rule, “if you don’t have to roll to do it, it’s just a supplemental action, so if you say “I want to close into melee with him,” and he says, “ok,” then it was just a supplemental action. I also treat “at range” (essentially being 2 zones away) as another relational aspect.

    What’s really great is the way this plays out with blocks: I can establish blocks to prevent people from entering or leaving melee combat with myself or with other players. Also, it allows you to seamlessly transition from a fight sequence to a “chase” sequence (using the excellent SotC car chase rules).


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