Over on Google+, Christopher Ruthenbeck asked a question about handling absolutes in Fate Core. Read the thread for full context. Here’s an edited/expanded/altered excerpt of my response to it.
Absolutes are tricky. They’re the least gameable thing we might adopt from our inspirations in fiction. And they’re often something that can’t really be trusted. “This here’s absolutely true,” our television or book series tells us in one episode. Then a few episodes pass, and suddenly we find out there’s an “except…” The cloaking field is absolute, except when a particularly clever opponent figures out a way to look at secondary signs of the presence of a cloaked vehicle. Etc.
But let’s proceed with the notion that an absolute is desirable in our game.
What is an absolute? It’s an unavoidable outcome, something that in a success vs. failure scenario either eliminates the possibility of success, or eliminates the possibility of failure. Ah, yes. And there’s the crux of it, that “vs”.
Absolutes for me typically reduce into the same ur-example: the fall to the death. The players must make their climbing roll successfully, or they fall to their death. Except that sucks and is anticlimactic and as such should actually never be on the table in the first place. There is no success vs. failure there. This is an absolute for our purposes: crossing the chasm must be a success, full stop.
Fate Core already gives us a tool for handling this situation: success vs. success at a cost. If you don’t succeed, you still succeed, but you pay a price to do so: You make it across the chasm, but you’ve lost valuable time, your important widget fell into the lightless depths below, whatever.
So for our “100% no-fail cloaking device” absolute, how do we apply that tool? We apply it to the attempt to hide: successful hiding vs successful hiding at a cost. Essentially, working like this: if the enemy WOULD detect you — thereby implying failure of your attempt to hide — you can instead treat your failed attempt as success at a cost.
Working out what the “at a cost” is is the real sticky wicket. Failure’s off the table, so don’t let it distract you at all.
When an absolute is considered palatable for your game — it won’t be for everyone — this suggests a class of “absolute-validating stunt” that you can work into your extras or power set or what have you. Like this:
Absolute Cloaking Field: You can’t fail at attempts to hide. If the rolls indicate you would have failed, you may instead choose to succeed at a cost. Costs could include: draining all power from the ship’s systems; losing valuable time that you can’t afford to lose; etc.
Depending on your taste, this sort of stunt could be completely off the table; on the table as a standard option; on the table but only for certain kinds of skills; on the table but at a higher than one refresh cost; etc. I leave the pricing as an exercise for a specific table and its tastes.
What other absolutes could we apply this to? An invulnerable foe who always succeeds at defense rolls, only the cost of that success is sometimes quite nasty? Perhaps. It’s probably best applied to circumstances that would normally be a succeed/fail Overcome Obstacle roll, but depending on how far you’re willing to push the system it could potentially work its way into the other of the four actions too.
What absolutes do you want to put in your Fate game? And how would you build them, given this?