Feb 212012

Fred here. The following is an excerpt of a post I made to the FateRPG Yahoo Group, where someone was trying to wrap their head around the whole “On Fire is an Aspect” thing that pretty much comes up every time someone’s talking about aspects with folks who are less familiar with them. High time I get this written down somewhere official, yeah?

Read on.

Man, that “on fire” thing is probably the biggest buggaboo in all of Fatedom.

So, here’s the thing. Aspects are not the core engine of Fate. They’re the most different from other systems, which makes them, I guess, more obvious, but they’re also not the answer to every “problem” and they’re not the sole thing that drives the game. This, I’ve already said. To go further:

The core engine of Fate — for me, at least, from a design perspective — is the Fate Fractal principle. Search for that text here –  http://www.faterpg.com/2011/the-core-of-fate-core/ – but in short, it’s the idea that anything in the system can be treated as a character. That is to say, to model the thing you want, you should look at the pieces parts of a character, think about what they do, and use the parts that are most appropriate to express what you’re after.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. There’s no need to invent new parts when a recombination of existing parts works out well. Think about aspects, yes, but think about stress tracks, think about skills. (Think about more, too, if you want to get into the down & dirties — stunts, powers, whatever — but I’ll focus on those.)

So, let’s talk about “on fire” a bit in light of that.

Aspect: Aspects give you two functions (more or less) — they create constraints on action via compels, and they provide means for advantage via invocations. So if you’re going to have fire create a reason for the heroes to stay trapped/hold back while the bad guy escapes (a compel!), then the aspect makes good sense. If you’re going to get into a fistfight on the edge of the blaze and want to, y’know, knock the guy back into the fire so he gets singed a bit — invoke/tag that aspect and you’re in great shape. That’s the bounds of it: folks have a shared understanding of what something being on fire means — in terms of how it affects the choices made and the actions available — and the aspect is an interface to a few game mechanisms that support that.

Skill: Skills are there to show how things take action. Fire grows, spreads, and burns. That sounds like moving and attacking actions, to me. So give your fire a skill. It can take an action to intensify (increasing that skill, maybe — or maybe it’s a maneuver, putting more taggable shit-be-burnin’ aspects onto things); spread (take the action, move into another zone); burn (attack people in those zones with its skill, dealing stress and consequences). I mean, why not? Fiction talks about fire as a “living thing” all the time.

Stress track: Maybe your fire’s tough to put out — not as easily dismissed as any other scene aspect. Makes sense. So yeah, give your fire a stress track. Let people attack it with fire extinguishers and oxygen-destruction powers. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

Aspects are great. Use them a lot. But don’t let them become blinders. Look around a little. There are other tools in the box.

  16 Responses to “It’s On Fire”

  1. I’ve done that before with investigations. The mystery, instead of being just a straight target number, also has a stress track. Every couple levels is a more significant clue. The players may make a roll against that target number at the end of a scene. Rolling below the highest discovered clue rolls up, as if the stress track was filled up to that point. If they deduce a given clue, they automatically assume that place on the track. Not sure how solid this method is, but it makes sense to me.

  2. Thanks, Fred. Going to share this around, and grok it for myself.

  3. Thanks for this!

    I often give mysteries Stress tracks, and really love the fractal – this summation is awesome!

  4. You know, this makes me want to make each one of my Dresden Adventures a character. With a stress track. And Aspects. But that seems pretty meta.

    However, it does more adequately address the “ON FIRE” topic than, “Oh, well, it’s an aspect” which always felt like a poor copout to me.

  5. I can see how making it a character gives interesting tools, but I don’t see how it can, for example, stop characters following the BBEG across the flames. If we compel “on fire” aspect, we can see from our sheets that the only thing with that aspect – at least at that point – is the fire, so we can only compel the fire itself. Characters are not “on fire” and we can’t compel aspects the characters don’t have to affect them, so the compel mechanic can’t stop them moving across. Or we can handwave and say environmental aspects are automatically inherited by characters in them (instead having to use a maneuver to place an aspect on them).

  6. You can compel people contained within an environment, with the aspects that are a part of that environment. That’s not a handwave; that’s how it’s done.

  7. I’m not sure you have to go all the way to making a fire a character. I understand how that would help in a lot of things, but it really becomes a part of the physical environment.

    If that were the case then the walls of rooms, the floor, the ceiling, they all become characters. You don’t invoke an aspect to exit a room you use the door, and I doubt many players are arguing that they can move through walls.

    Sure there’s a chance they could move through the fire, and there’s a chance they could run through a wall by running into it head first enough times. You just have to speak to the level of difficulty doing this, and what the damage is if you fail.

  8. I like the way this is contructed, and the fractal nature of all pieces of Fate is truly wonderful.
    I have been using the concept that moving is passing through a Barrier – I think this was in SoTC?
    Each zone has a barrier – even if that barrier is simply a decent distance to run.

    So a Fire creates a few things:
    – An Aspect of ‘Oh my god we are going to Burn!’
    – It has a Barrier rating – how difficult it is to cross without balking at the flames or getting turned around in the smoke.
    – A stress track of how much it would take to ‘kill’ the fire – and a corrolary – the reduction of the barrier rating of the fire.
    – As I have linked all stress tracks to Skill before – this sounds like a Skill to me of “Burn everything”
    So if you want to run through it – sure, go ahead – its going to get an attack on you as you try.
    So taking effort to put out the fire would make crossing it easier – particularly if you degrade the Skill in line with the stress it has remaining – reverse fractal.

    Likewise, walls and floors have a barrier rating – which is their skill when someone tries to barrel through it without using the door! to attack them back. You already have basic barrier ratings to these things, simply reverse the fractal.

    Only the rare fire that matters for narrative purpose would bother with taking action in a turn to ‘intensify’ or to ‘attack’ the characters. Just like the average door wouldn’t attack you… but how many of you have sworn ‘that pole lept out at me!’…

  9. A barrier is in essence a “block” handled slightly differently — you’re on the right track here.

  10. I, the iniator of the post, actually COMPLETELY UNDERSTAND ASPECTS. I just wanted to give Fred the opportunity to expand upon it for those of you less forunate. Actually, that’s a complete lie.

  11. True, it could at that point be an attack every round, which is a somewhat elegant solution. However, the real trick happens when players catch wind of that. A maneuver to put someone “on fire” now becomes, “Well, I have an ongoing attack on this guy” instead of “I put an aspect I can tag” on the target. Changes Dresden quite a bit. Normally, spells require added power / stress per exchange for persistence.

    You can just rule “magic doesnt work that way; you have to pay the costs for extra exchanges of damage” but it seems a bit arbitrary and makes a moltov cocktail a bit more efficient than magic, which seems sort of lame. True, you can ignite an entire room with a flash fire using magic but you eat tons of stress (power level depending) and the damage is gone immediately (unless you have specifically placed an Aspect on the scene and are ruling magic “On Fire” causes continual attacks.)

    Guess my mind has completely wrapped around it yet. Still enjoying the system thought 🙂

  12. I actually knew the answer. I just wanted to prompt you so you could look good.

    However, I think it’s true that, outside regular, hard-core Fate players, the rest of the world (me) think’s is all about aspects. Heck, there’s even an “aspects only” fate and, when you ask a question, it’s always about making it an aspect.

  13. I’m not sure I follow.
    Say I want to set a particularly badguy on fire– ie, needs to do something about the being on fire thing or will continue to burn– do I just spend a fate point to trigger his “Highly Flammable” aspect and take a maneuver to spawn a fire as a character clinging to my opponent? While that’s satisfying and elegant, doesn’t it pretty heavily dominate the alternative of just getting a +2 on the roll?

  14. This nicely deals with *how* to pile more detail onto a fire and gives sensible mechanics to deal with it. Kudos on that. What I’m seeing in the remarks so far that’s an interesting wrinkle is the question of *when* to have in-game fiction have more game effects to feed back into the fiction. For example, on one hand letting just anyone set a fire maybe nerfs fire magic. On the other hand, you can let magic have “obvious” physical effects for free–but that makes it potentially “too powerful.”

    Personally it’s fine if Molotov cocktails are “better” than fireballs. The difference is, your fire mage has Molotovs available in many situations where you didn’t prepare or couldn’t smuggle in a big bottle full of kerosene. After all a sniper on a rooftop with a .50 BMG is going to beat a lot of magic, but it requires a lot of kit and prep, not to mention specialized training.

    I haven’t read Dresden so can’t comment fully on it but it seems as if your magic can default to “pay for everything” or “you can use physics.” That could be a modifier too, depending on the default assumption. Hero, for example, lets you use physics, and I *think* there’s a Limitation in it–you could make one, anyway–that says “doesn’t have knock-on physical effects” for a “fire” effect that nonetheless couldn’t burn paper.

  15. And then there was Fight Fire…

  16. […] action. But once you do, the mechanics of it are simple. That is a very powerful idea, related to Fate’s Fractal (everything is a […]

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