Jun 022011

The idea that Fate’s consequences are a kind of currency isn’t new. Many of you are already familiar with the -2/-4/-6 consequences approach we use and recommend, as seen in the Dresden Files RPG and other places. Along with the stress track, they add a tiny resource-management aspect to Fate, and they tie into the larger Fate point economy by way of being aspects themselves.

That said, they’re also a bit of an oddity. Fate is not a game chock full of subtraction. In general if we want to reflect the effect of a penalty in Fate, we instead try to shift the perspective on it such that something is getting a bonus instead (factors that increase difficulty rather than penalties to your roll, for example). It’s an odd quirk of the design, but it’s couched in the feeling that doing a series of additions feels, well, more positive. It’s an escalation, a case of something pushing to more awesome heights, rather than reaching for those heights but getting yanked back. The math is ultimately the same, but the experience of that math, at least for us, feels better this way.

So why didn’t we do this for consequences? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you for sure. I suspect we came to them thinking strictly in terms of damage mitigation — as assets which would reduce the stress you’re already going to be taking otherwise. Phrasing them instead as “armor bonuses” or something like that would, in this case, feel a bit tortured. There are times when subtraction is the better option because it’s just simpler.

But let’s push at that a little: if we step away from a model of mitigation, and start with the idea that our consequences are +2/+4/+6 (or +1/+2/+4, to take a cue from Diaspora, or whatever other progression suits you), what does that do for us?

For starters, consequences would become boosters to the defense roll that would simply eliminate the idea that you’re otherwise taking the hit at all. I might have rolled a Good (+3) defense against your Great (+4) attack, but if I’m willing to spend my +2 consequence, my defense goes to a Superb (+5) and your attack doesn’t (technically) land. Sure, I had to give myself this nasty limp to get there, but at least I’m not taken out.

It strikes me that this model would support a no-stress-track implementation pretty well, where you’re taken out simply if you fail to defend yourself adequately, but for the benefit of consequences. That could be extended a little further to Fate 2 style exchanges, I imagine, where attack and defense are the same action, and the win goes to the person whose roll comes out on top — but it’s certainly likelier both parties would get there a little bloody due to some back and forth consequence-spending. That’s intriguing for sure. There’s some middle ground there, too, where it might not take a single victory to take someone out, unless that victory was big enough (a margin of 3 or better), with lesser victories giving the victor “the advantage” (a +1 on the next roll, say). Fights would be super quick and, depending on the rules and strictures placed on “taken out”, potentially very lethal.

Outside of the familiar defense scenario, what other implications come from this?

If you’re sticking with +2/+4/+6 as your progression, that ties into the +2 from invocations by way of equivalence (-2/-4/-6 does this too but less obviously). Consequences are a way to save yourself some fate points, then. No need to spend a fate point and invoke that aspect to boost your defense if you’re willing to take a mild consequence for the same +2 boost. Extra useful if you don’t have any fate points to begin with, big spender.

If that (effective) equivalence exists, though, maybe you could let it flow both ways. Don’t have a fate point? Spend a consequence, and get 1, 2, or 3 depending on the magnitude. It’d be like an on-demand micro-refresh of sorts, with a price attached, and I know any number of players who’d cheerfully hose themselves with a consequence in order to grab a few extra fate points in an hour of need.

Those fate points are, in this case, just an exchange medium, though. They’re going to be spent to buy off a compel, invoke an aspect, declare a detail, what-have-you. But it might be simpler instead to bypass the fate point economy and instead let the bonus from a consequence apply to any part of any roll.

You may have caught in my discussion of defense, above, that I was also implying that the attack side of the equation could get the bonus from a consequence, too. And how cool is that — the guy who takes a Moderate “Deep Shoulder Wound” consequence to get a +4 that takes down the bad guy? But there’s no need to stop at combat once you’ve started down that path.

Need to get that crucial piece of research, but your Academics roll is falling short? Pull an all-nighter, and take the mild consequence “Groggy as Hell” for a +2 on that roll.

You absolutely need to get that piece of information out of that mob boss? Get a +4 on your Rapport roll and you will — but it’ll cost you that “Overplayed My Hand” moderate  consequence, which is sure to bite you on the ass when the mob boss comes to make you an offer you really can’t refuse.

Positioned this way, consequences can become even more central to your play, and importantly, a tool that’s usable in every circumstance rather than just in conflicts. And by my lights, that’s pretty damn cool.

  20 Responses to “Consequences as Positive Currency”

  1. I really like this! We’re looking at playing some Diaspora in the next couple of weeks, and I think I’m going to try running consequences this way to see how it goes.

  2. Oh, Hell Yeah! That looks very cool. I’m so much enjoying the system noodling going on here.

  3. Damn it. Every time you post something on this blog, I have to seriously rethink everything I thought I knew about FATE. Thanks!

    On a side note, I think it is a testament to the quality of the basic ideas in FATE that things like this fall out occasionally when you poke at it. It is a very elegant system in that regard.

  4. A conversation on twitter has made me realize I need to say a little more, here:

    This implementation won’t necessarily just “drag and drop” into any Fate build without some amount of fallout. The conversation I had was talking about the Dresden Files RPG in particular.

    Consider that if consequences let you boost a defense roll, then things like Recovery powers (which massively speed up how fast your consequence slots free up) can be a big problem.

    Secondarily, it means that attacks have a stronger chance of whiffing, which nerfs damage-boosting powers like Strength a bit and gives Speed powers even more of an edge — they don’t connect because the defense roll got boosted by a consequence, and yeah, that guy took a consequence, but he also didn’t have to face that Weapon:4 badness you were driving at his head.

    Not to mention, the ability of the attacker to boost his *accuracy* when he’s got a big pile of additional stress from a high Weapon rated weapon coming is nothing to sniff out.

    This MIGHT be something that could be addressed in Dresden by adjusting the costs and effects of Recovery, but for right now I might suggest leaving that system’s implementation as is, or at least putting in a rule like “consequences spent outside of defense are not eligible for accelerated recovery”. And even then the whole of the problem isn’t addressed. I definitely wouldn’t allow a consequence-into-currency conversion either, etc.

    As with any system change, when you bring it into an implementation built atop a different set of assumptions, there will be plenty of ripple effects throughout. For something like SOTC, however, there’s not much in the way of boosted healing, and I think the method would work pretty solidly for Diaspora as well.

  5. This is a very cool idea; I like the idea of taking Consequences to gain Fate Points more than the flat bonus, partially because, as you pointed out, it causes a big shift in the combat mechanics, but also because a Fate point is a lot more versatile than an immediate +2.

  6. After a bit of thinking, I don’t know if this will actually work well as listed. Basically it comes down to this: unless the defender rolls so poorly that even taking a +6 for a severe consequence will not make the attack miss, no large attack (i.e. – a spell with a reasonable amount of power behind it) will hit unless it is to take out the defender.

    This is because for any attack that does more than 1 or 2 stress, it is almost always going to be better to take a consequence and not get hit than to take the full stress from the hit (which often will require a consequence with DFRPG’s short stress tracks).

    That would make for not a lot of fun in combat. For instance, I don’t want my power 5 fire spell to force the ghoul to dodge out of the way and take a minor consequence for my trouble: I want to burn it to ash.

    So, I think this works best if it is not an option for a defense roll; attack rolls, maneuvers, and non-combat rolls all still work quite well, I think.

  7. Yep, in a combat model like Dresden’s, I would probably stay away from adder consequences on the defense side of things. If doing something more simultaneous like Fate 2.0 exchange combat, though …

  8. It works well with No-Stress FATE, though, where getting hit means getting a consequence. Do you want your consequence now, offensively, or later, defensively?

    I’ve thought about doing something like this in the past, but ultimately decided I didn’t want to step on Fate Points’ and aspects’ toes. I mostly run FATE as one-shots at conventions, and often enough for people new to the system (although these days, not so much), so I’m loathe to potentially confuse the issue for them. Some of them have a hard enough time with aspects as it is. Getting them to grok the idea that they’d get a bonus from deciding that their enemy had hit them even though it’s not that enemy’s turn and I (the GM) didn’t say anything about that enemy attacking them right now might be… difficult.

    Conceptually, though, I like the idea of getting a bonus for giving yourself a new aspect. It’d work better for some genres than others, IMO.

  9. Well, one way to handle it in a one-shot would be: when a player lines up a big hit, misses, and is out of FATE points but is staring at their character sheet desperately trying to find another +1 or +2, you can just say “well, you can ‘take one for the team’ and take a minor consequence for +2 on that roll, but you’ll have to describe what happens”.

  10. One thing I think that’s really cool about this idea is it also (I hope I’m using the term right) fractalizes Conflicts.

    Up until now from everything I’ve seen or read, Conflict in FATE meant Stress and an extended resolution process. Consequences only came into existence from them. Using Consequences as a more fully-developed Currency opens up the possibility of resolving minor Conflicts with a single roll yet still seeing them have long-term effects.

    This is *fantastic* for settings like Supers campaigns for example where the heroes can battle hordes of minions with a single roll (and possibly get a little “scuffed up” if they need to take a Consequence) and allow them to get to the big fight against the Super Villain in “Comic Book Time” 😀

  11. Following up on this a little (and also addressing Recovery a little bit) would it be worthwhile for Consequences to have *both* Scope and Magnitude?

    …and maybe Scope isn’t the right word – I’m thinking in terms of Duration. Once again going to a Supers example: Prof X can drop one heckuva strong Mental Consequence on somebody, but it might be implemented as (6|Fragile) if a momentary attack, or (8|Scene) if he’s gone crazy again and the Conflict is to overcome him, or (2|Permanent) if he got truly annoyed at someone and implanted a powerful suggestion that they now crave turnips or something?

    Put another way, would separating and fractalizing the duration and magnitude of Consequences be a cool thing?

  12. When Fred originally posted this, I thought it was brilliant. So, for combat in a FATE fantasy game, I came up with:

    In combat, everybody declares their actions, the skills they’re using, and what they’re trying to make happen.

    Resolution (dice rolling) is simultaneous, but results happen in order from highest roll to lowest. Meaning if you get taken out before your action goes off, it’s interrupted.

    If you don’t like what’s being done to you, you can abort what you’re doing and use your roll to defend. If it’s not high enough (and you’re out of Fate Points), you can take (positive) consequences to add shifts to your defense, effectively moving your defensive action up the queue.

  13. This idea becomes lots of fun if you combine it with a Financial stress track for making Resources rolls: Different Flavors of Consequences

  14. I love these discussions, and it’s just amazing to me how often they seem to come up. “Hey, ever thought about this seemingly innocuous subsystem in *this* way? Blew your mind, eh? Sure, take your time, digest it a bit. We’ll be here.”

  15. We used consequences as positive currency without a stress track yesterday. It worked like a charm. Conflicts boiled down to a few rolls. But we kept the rhythm of offense versus defense. It was a home brew game originally based off Malmsturm.

  16. One implication of this is that Aspects potentially do have ratings: Consequences are rated for severity (e.g., 2, 4, 6), and the same notion of “how much of an impact does the Consequence have?” can be adapted to other cases. The thing is, an Aspect’s “rating” isn’t the sort of thing that fits the basic Ladder of the game: the standard Ladder essentially measures quality, and can (in theory) be extended indefinitely in both directions; but the “Aspect Ladder” starts at “the Aspect doesn’t exist” and scales up from there.

  17. Fred wrote: “Yep, in a combat model like Dresden’s, I would probably stay away from adder consequences on the defense side of things. If doing something more simultaneous like Fate 2.0 exchange combat, though …”

    I think this could be partially mitigated by handling “Consequences as Positive Currency” (quite a cool idea, by the way) not as straight +2/+4/+6/+8 bonus but – similar to DFRPG’s stunt creation system (“Building Mortal Stunts”, Vol. 1, p. 147–149) – as 2/4/6/8 shifts of effect instead, actually allowing a far more versatile approach to Consequences as kind of a currency. Why reinvent the wheel, when the stunt creation guidelines could already handle it?

    So, a Minor (2-shift) consequence could for example…
    – reduce the stress taken by an attack by two (the standard application of consequences in FATE 3.0).
    – add a +2 bonus on any out-of-combat skill use.
    – add a +1 bonus on any attacking or defending skill use.
    – add a +2 damage bonus.
    – reduce the time used by two shifts.
    – add a +1 bonus on two different out-of-combat rolls.
    – maybe allow an immediate Invoke for Effect, Compel or Tag of an Aspect somehow directly related to the character’s action and/or the Consequence taken.
    – and so forth.

    On the one hand, this approach would allow Consequences as Positive Currency more flexibility. On the other hand, halving the bonus for in-combat skill rolls the same way DFRPG stunts do (2 shifts give +1 combat bonus) could allow in-combat applications of Consequences as currency while at the same time avoiding extreme implications for combat balance.

    The thing with Recovery powers: I don’t think this as a too bad thing. On the one hand, using the above mentioned proposal would probably reduce in-combat implications to a bearable level. On the other hand, the character still suffers the ill effects of his Consequences as long as he has them – which is at least a free Tag for his opponent. I think this is a fair trade-off: for taking a Consequence for an urgently needed +1 combat bonus, the opponent gets a free +2 bonus when later Tagging it. And above all, the character has payed for quickly recovering his physical Consequences, so this is no “freebie”, and it doesn’t help him when taking mental ones.

    FistfulOfDice wrote: “This is a very cool idea; I like the idea of taking Consequences to gain Fate Points more than the flat bonus, partially because, as you pointed out, it causes a big shift in the combat mechanics, but also because a Fate point is a lot more versatile than an immediate +2.”

    I’m not sure, I think actually handing over a fate point would be a quite huge reward for taking a consequence, especially since you would get another one if you later Concede.

    Maybe you could take a Consequence to receive a fate point at the end of the scene, similar to Invoking Other Aspects outside of conflict..

    Looking forward to reading your feedback.

  18. […] Fred Hicks presented a way on how to use a Consequence as an additional bonus to your roll on the FATE blog some time ago, and that’s exactly how I use them […]

  19. Sorry for the very late reply…

    but, doesn’t this sort of also establish a currency of “2 stress = 1 FP” (since the minor Consequence is worth 2 stress)? So, if I need to invoke an Aspect or empower a Stunt, I can take 2 stress to do so?

  20. Soon as I get a chance to re-figure out what I wrote and intended 2.5 years ago, I’ll answer that. 🙂

    That said I’m pretty sure it’s a “no”.

    A mild consequence is worth 2 stress, yes, but only once. You (mostly) don’t have more. So the equivalence doesn’t cross over to stress in general.

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