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:
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.

Feb 202011

As is the nature of any open system, Fate has grown a number of branches over the years. Honestly, not even I have managed to keep track of them all. I’d like to change that, at  least a little, and make sure we catalog them reasonably well here at the site.

I’m starting with this post, which is an off the top of my head accounting of the Fate variants I’m aware of. I am going to omit at least one, I’m sure, and my advance apologies for that.

What I need from you is to “check my work” on this. Tell me about the variants I’ve missed. Help me understand if I’m describing these variants incorrectly, incompletely, or unfairly (within the limits of trying to write these up as 1 to 3 sentence accounts).

Once I feel like the conversation’s gone far enough to get this post’s info finalized (I’ll try to update it as I get comments), I’ll turn it into a more permanent page on the site.


Core Fate (also called Fate 3) – This is the name I use for the main trunk of Fate, the version(s) produced by Evil Hat. While this doesn’t mean that Core Fate is standing still — our own understanding and expression of it evolves over time — it is what we’ll be presenting on this site, and using at the core of any Fate products we produce. Inasmuch as there is an “official” Fate, this is it. Implementations: Spirit of the Century, the Dresden Files RPG.

VSCA Fate – This is Fate as extended by the VSCA crew to create Diaspora. VSCA Fate lives pretty close to Core Fate, though it adds a number of modules (various modes of conflict resolution for different kinds of conflicts) and some concepts (aspect scopes, etc) that I personally quite enjoy. It’s possible that we’ll borrow some of those concepts and bring them back to Core Fate, but I still think there’ll be enough distinctiveness in VSCA’s work to consider it as a slightly separate thing. Implementations: Diaspora.

Cubicle 7 Fate – Cubicle 7’s Fate implementation started from an almost complete absorption of the Spirit of the Century SRD when they put together Starblazer Adventures. There, they also adapted into Fate 3 some concepts that Evil Hat had been talking about during the Fate 2 years, manifesting as the organizations system and the idea of plot stress. Their focus is more on d6-d6 as the dice method, and they’ve added a number of fiddly bits in the implementation of stunt and powers that resembles some of what Evil Hat has done, while being its own thing. C7 Fate and Core Fate can probably cross-pollenate mostly successfully, though as each implementation grows over time I suspect the two flavors will become more distinct. They each certainly come from a different aesthetic, I think, in terms of their design approaches, though at the moment that’s a little hard to quantify. Implementations: Starblazer Adventures, Legends of Anglerre.

Awesome FateAwesome Adventures is Willow Palacek’s effort to pare back Fate to a very lightweight engine, cutting away whole pieces of it, even stuff you might consider essential to the Fate chassis. This is definitely its own beast, but probably a good fit for folks who want to play Fate, but use a version that lives somewhere between Risus and PDQ in terms of simplicity. I’m pleased to see (by looking at the link) that since its original publication it has gotten some improved production values (one of the primary strikes against it when it initially showed up). Implementations: Awesome Adventures.

Strands of FateStrands of Fate is an implementation of Fate created by Void Star publishing. Where Awesome Adventures is an effort to pare Fate down to a leaner thing, Strands goes in the other direction, looking to create a “generic” build of the system that speaks to a more traditionally-minded perspective on RPGs. I’ve heard people quip that it’s “Fate+GURPS”, which is a solid enough description if you’re talking at the level mash-up hollywood movie-pitch dialect, but may sell this thing a bit short. I’ve also heard people express confusion about whether or not Strands is “the” Fate 3.0 book they need, and no, it’s not. I’ve talked with the guy who wrote Strands, and we both agree that it is its own branch, distinct and separate, a deliberate effort to take Fate’s concepts and make them more palatable to folks who find Spirit of the Century to be too “out there”. Implementations: Strands of Fate.

Fate Inspired (a.k.a., Not Fate At All) – I’ve seen people characterize both Houses of the Blooded and ICONS as Fate games. They are both certainly, explicitly Fate-inspired, though, borrowing several concepts from Fate and attaching them to their own original systems. This is fantastic (and you should grab yourself copies of both), but I think it really muddies the waters considerably when folks talk about them as Fate implementations. They are not. EDIT: The excellent Chronica Feudalis belongs in this camp as well.

That’s what I’ve got so far, but I’m very sure I’m missing a few (particularly ones that aren’t for sale). So help me out — what’d I miss? And what more should be said about the above?

Additions from the commenters

One of the things that’s interesting as we’ve been getting comments here and elsewhere is the question of whether some of the missing pieces are “merely” homebrews or are bona fide branches in their own right. In this getting-edited-as-comments-are-made section, I’m choosing not to make a distinction between those two things. That said, in my mind, something grows from a “leaf” into a branch through adoption by players and publishers.

  • Free Fate – The name given by R. Grant Erswell to his condensed combination of the Spirit of the Century and Starblazer Adventures rulesets. Downloadable in PDF form.
  • Fate Basics – This is a pamphlet-sized download going over the basics of Fate as told by Michael Moceri and laid out by Brad Murray of VSCA. Worth a look.
  • Tom’s Spirits – Tom Miskey writes: “Well, there is my own Spirits of Steam and Sorcery and Spirits of Chrome and Cyberspace, both of which are free online (at the FATE yahoo site and through google docs: here and here). They are 100% compatible with each other, and both are based on the SotC rules but with a few changes and several major modifications, including rules for non-human races, weapons and armor affecting damage, and most importantly, a full magic system. Cubicle 7 liked what they saw, so they hired me to help write the Legends of Anglerre magic system and races, in large part adapting the rules in SoS&S. They ended up changing what I had written somewhat for the final draft, but you can still see the seed of where they came from fairly clearly.”
  • Wheel of Fate – This is a Fate-inspired homebrew mash-up from Rob Donoghue (at least as I see it — he may correct me) that I believe can be found in the files area of the FateRPG Yahoo Group.
  • Death of the Vele – Bill Burdick’s hack on the Fate engine. Whether his work has rendered a Fate variant or a Fate-like game is an exercise left to the reader!
Feb 022011

Today I’m going to dig deeper into the notion of stress and consequences in Fate, and talk about how the principle of the Fate Fractal can be applied to complicate the model (in a good way).

A Few Words About Stress

When it comes down to it, consequences are the real meat of the system, by dint of being aspects. But in order to get to them, we’ve got to talk stress.

So, what is stress — really?

From a system standpoint, stress is, simply, a pacing mechanism (this is equally true of hit points in D&D). It’s a means of measuring how long a character can stay in a fight, and thus, a measure of how long fights are. 

I can’t stress (ha) that point enough — the length of a combat scene creates a variety of experiences for the player. Systems where fights can be suddenly, brutally over with a single swing of the sword can feel “grittier” or “more dangerous” or “too fast”.  Systems where characters can endure a quite staggering variety of abuses before falling to the ground can feel “more cinematic” or “too slow” (this certainly arises with Spirit of the Century’s five to eight box stress tracks). 

Even when consequences come into play, it’s the length of the stress track that ultimately sets the pace. Run out of stress track boxes, and you’re going down even if you can reduce that 7 stress hit to a 1 stress hit with your consequences. 

Generalized, a stress track counts the number of blows a character can receive before he falls down. There’s finesse there, for sure; if you adopt a weapons and armor system like the Dresden Files RPG, you’ll have some means whereby you can draw out the effectiveness of those boxes — or shortcut them. A bigger blow has fewer places to go on the track than a smaller one as things start to fill up. You can go with the default of those blows landing on a specific numbered box, or you can backfill any lower boxes, or you can simply go for a hit point style track, but at the end of the day those are simply decisions about how much of your time-resource (your pacing) gets consumed when someone lands the blow.

Countdown to Consequence

As such, as a resource, as a countdown clock, the stress track is a prime location where the player will or won’t experience tension during a conflict. This can be a bit of an art, and is absolutely something that should be tuned and play tested until it fits the experience you want to create with your particular implementation of Fate. 

But that clock is pretty boring by itself, all the same. It does one thing: it counts down. It doesn’t have a lot of flavor (even if it comes in a few different types). You have to add in consequences to really get the jazz.

Consequences have a bit of a pacing element to them as well. They’re a finite supply, so you’ll see that resource getting spent down, and they’re differently weighted in terms of the amount of stress they absorb when taken. Go for our standard of -2/-4/-6 and you can still suck up some pretty big punishments — they’ll just hurt real bad. This also sets the maximum amount of stress a target can take in a single blow and still have a chance of walking away. If characters can take only one consequence per attack, then the biggest is their track length plus six, for example. If characters can take multiple, the biggest is a fair bit higher. The bigger this number is, the more durable characters will be in the face of attack — but if they’re taking consequences, they’ll be measurably diminished for a time. Past fights will be able to catch up with the present. All the same, in many respects the bigger the “biggest number” is, the more cinematic the feel (but cinematic in a Die Hard way more than a Three Musketeers way, perhaps).

In SOTC, we wanted heroes to stay on their feet in a variety of circumstances unless the odds were really stacked against them. Frankly, we overdid that: at a base of 5, extensible up to at least 8, stress tracks in SOTC just ran too deep. We also hadn’t embraced the -2/-4/-6 consequence method yet, instead making it a steady progression from Mild to Moderate to Severe to Taken Out. In doing this, we missed out on driving folks to the fun part (consequences), and we devalued the magnitude of hits when the stress boxes ran out. (“I hit for 5!” “Well, he has no stress left, so that’s just a mild consequence the first time.) Once Lenny put the -2/-4/-6 method out there (he is the very original source on that), we quickly saw that was the way we should’ve gone, and recommended folks go for a base track length of 3 or 4, with what’s now our standard for consequences.

In Dresden Files, we wanted the fights to be scary, sudden, and brutal. But we also didn’t necessarily want the heroes to drop in the first round; Dresden Files is a curious blend of a gritty feel alongside some cinematic durability. Testing showed us that meant making the stress tracks shorter, but keeping the -2/-4/-6 ratings on the consequences. We gave means to shortcut the track further when the lethality dials got cranked — and made sure the characters had enough consequence slots available so they could really feel the hurt, but avoid the “instant drop”. We also had the stress track lengths top out at a certain point (extensible only through superpowers), with characters at high stress-track-granting skill levels getting additional minor consequence slots instead. And we added in the idea of a permanent consequence at -8 that could redefine your character when it landed. And taking multiple consequences in a single blow was a-OK. In aggregate this got us scary+gritty+cinematic thanks to a short stress track but a large (really large) maximum hit number, which was just about right. Fights didn’t run too long and players could make some choices about whether to fight and hurt for it, or run away prudently. 

While we didn’t directly work on Diaspora, the guys there made some decisions that fit their sensibilities but I believe also helped uphold more of a hard SF feel (this may have been intentional design). I’ll be saying this off the top of my head, so forgive me if I have some inaccuracies: there, consequences land in a -1/-2/-4 progression rather than our more broad one; I forget if you could only take one consequence at a time, but it wouldn’t surprise me; and if I recall correctly their stress track backfills lower boxes when a blow lands. This gets you a quicker pace through the length of the stress track, and a low maximum hit number. Diaspora ain’t cinematic, but the experience of play as felt through stress and consequences should certainly feel authentic to a hard SF fan.

When designing your Fate implementation, don’t be afraid to try a few different configs. If it’s in the middle of campaign you’re running, fess up to it and explain why you’d like to make a change — we certainly did once we realized SOTC’s config was a bit too far in one direction. Also, play other games and keep tabs on yourself and your fellow players. How many times around the table before interest starts to flag? You probably don’t want your stress tracks to be much longer, and probably a bit shorter, than that number. Get suggestions from the Fate community and be clear about the experience you want your conflicts to produce. The dials are yours to spin.

Compound FracturesFractals

So that’s an exploration of stress, consequences, and some of the thinking that goes into setting the dials. Is that good enough for your purposes? I think it’ll work well for most people, and at the very least I think it’s the right kind of starting point. But, being Fate, there are always places you can hook in something more detailed or (YMMV) more evocative by involving the fractal.

Here, I’m thinking about consequences. Consequences are aspects, and to a fractal-hacker, an aspect being on or representing something is a bit of a flag that “hey, this could be treated like a character”. So here’s a grab bag of thoughts about that. If you’re looking for consequences to have more depth or teeth, any one of the ideas below might give you what you’re looking for.

Consequences are like characters, therefore…

… they’re represented by aspects. 

This is the core already-established function, our springboard for the rest. It means that consequences can be compelled and invoked (usually by someone else, in acting against the possessor, but not always).

… they have a skill rating. 

Maybe a consequence could have an adjective rating tied to it based on the number of shifts it absorbed, so a 4-shift consequence would be rated at Great (+4). (Or maybe you’re doing away with the stress track entirely, with rated consequences replacing that function.)

That skill could then be used as a block on actions that you’re trying to take that would be affected by the consequence. Or it could even launch attacks of its own if the consequence represented something ongoing, like a festering wound or a nasty scandal. Or maybe those are too heavy-handed; even then, the skill could be used as an opposing difficulty when  trying to do away with the consequence.

… they have stunts.

Stunts might resemble special conditions imparted by specific kinds of attacks or weapons. To reference the above, maybe your festering wound consequence gets the “Ongoing Damage” stunt, granting the ability for the consequence to make its own attacks. Or maybe it’s an “Entangling” stunt that says “this consequence will prevent your movement” (or maybe just add a border value of 2 to moving out of your current zone).

… they have a stress track.

For real! The consequence might have a stress track of its own, for tracking your progress in getting yourself rid of the consequence. “I attack the Ongoing Scandal with my Politician skill!” Which takes us back around to…

… they HAVE aspects.

If you’re going really nuts, consequences might possess aspects of their own (aspects inside of an aspect! aaaaagh!) — at least temporarily. A doctor might maneuver/assess/declare a temporary aspect on the consequence as part of his diagnosis, which he later invokes to help in the operation to fix the condition. If a stress track is in play, a particularly tough consequence might take consequences of its own before getting taken out. (For that matter, if a consequence can be taken out, what’s to say it can’t concede? What sort of concessions might be offered, then? “The treatment sends the cancer into remission, but there are complications…”)

Old School Stress Tracks

Stress tracks in Fate 2.x had a different vibe going to them. Ultimately it was the Fate 2 implementation of stress at that got split into two parts to get us the stress and consequences model we have today in Fate 3.

In Fate 2, a stress track was a series of boxes organized into “tiers”, each of which had a range, and each of which would cause a side-effect when a box on that level first got checked off. It looked something like this:
1 [][] Take a -1 to your next action
2-4 [][] Take a -1 to all actions this scene
5-6 [][] Take a -1 to all actions per box checked until healed
7+ You are taken out

This was fun  and had some nifty crunch to it (you could vary the number of boxes at each tier, vary the range of stress needed to hit each tier, etc), but as we moved into Fate 3 we realized that minuses weren’t as much fun as plusses (and provided less incentive for the recipient to remember to account for them), and moved several parts of the system on to a +X rather than -X footing. Plus we realized that lasting wounds could be aspects (that’s the fractal in action: using an existing piece of the system rather than adding something new). So we moved to the current model.

Still, there’s something to be said for that older method. Those who prefer it could set things up such that the tiers are instead: 
1 [][] Your opponent gains spin
2-3 [][] You take a mild consequence
4-5 [][] You take a moderate consequence
6-7 [][] You take a severe consequence
8+ You are taken out

… and get the best of  both worlds. I say this, but haven’t had a chance to play test it. If you do, let us know how it works out.

Jan 292011

So, Fred’s post talks a lot about what Fate Core has been. My main interest is in where it’s going. That’s what this post is about, as a supplement to Fred’s post. In that sense, the title might be misleading – I’m thinking out loud a lot throughout, more interested in asking questions and exploring potential than finding answers. I don’t know if this is really “Core” material or not. But, who cares? It’ll be fun. I’m assuming you read the other post and that this isn’t your first rodeo with Fate as a system.

I think the best way to proceed is to go a subheader at a time, in roughly the same order Fred did, and just follow all the way down through the document. Again, minimal editing, so if I go off into left field weirdo designer territory… well, just go with it. Continue reading »

 Posted by at 10:54 am  Tagged with:
Jan 252011

I’ve seen folks describe Fate in a variety of ways. Collect them all together and it becomes a big jumble of paradoxes. It’s rules light and it’s heavy, etc. And it’s true, we’ve certainly “overwritten” our Fate 3 based games out of a great love for explanation, examples, guidance, and advice. But at the end of the day, is the system all that heavy?

If I’m right, there are two things that lead to the Big Tome Effect. The first is the above “great love” I’ve already mentioned. The other is additional scaffolding provided in service of a particular implementation.

With that in mind, I’m going to write up Fate Core without the overwriting tendencies — so, minimal explanation and advice, no examples — and see if it’s really all that big. My suspicion, not so much. This will be largely off the top of my head, with an occasional reference to the books when I’m doublechecking something. When I’m done this should read like a brisk version of The Basics chapter from either of our games, plus condensed versions of a few system components outside of that content.

This is a rough draft, written with minimal revision and editing.

When you’re done reading — what did I forget?
Continue reading »