Monday, February 18, 2013

FATE Continued

More about FATE! Woohoo!

One of the chapters in the rulebook I have is known as extras. It is at the end of the book and is kind of a broad term for stuff your character can do that gets special treatment in the rules. Magic, gear, special possessions, organizations your character is part of, vehicles you own. Stuff like that. The main suggestion is to only add them if they say something about the game world or add flavor to it. Don't have magic items because fantasy settings have magic items, add them because they say something about your world. For instance, a legendary demon slaying sword says that there are demons, they are bad, that people fight them, and that there are perhaps organizations dedicated to fighting them. The general rule is that the extras have aspects and that is how you use them. One example is a demon slaying sword with the aspect Slayer of Demonkind, and now that is an aspect your character can use, for the normal cost of a fate point. The designers do say that the aspects you create for extras should be a little more focused than normal aspects so the players have a clear vision of how they can be used. There are also guidelines for representing them as skills and stunts, rather than aspects. Skills work like skills and stunts work like stunts. A cybernetic combat enhancement chip might replace your physique, athletics, and fighting skills with its own. The same extra as a stunt might allow you to use shooting to defend against other shooting attacks, as your cyborg enhancement chip can follow the trajectories of bullets.

This chapter also gets into some ideas about weapons and armor if you want to add them in, and there are two ways they do this. The first is to offer different classes of weapons, so that when you attack with them and hit they do more damage based on which class they are. No bonus to rolls, just extra damage when they connect. Armor, on the other hand, prevents damage. The problem with this is creating extra work and essentially creating a null feature, people will want to use the deadliest weapons and best armor and so will the GM's NPCs and you end up with a game where everyone uses class 4 weapons and class 4 armor and the system you've built has no effect on gameplay. The way they suggest to avoid this, if you have to add weapons and armor, is to make either weapons or armor overpowered so the other can't keep up with it. Sort of in the vein of firearms punching through plate and chain.

The other way they suggest implementing armor and weapons is to give each weapon a single aspect.  Stuff like daggers having the Quick aspect or a Tommy gun having the Fully Automatic aspect and a kevlar vest having the Bulletproof aspect. Frankly, I like this system a little more, though the designers of the game do say you can combine the two systems if you want. This system is a little more versatile I think, and it doesn't force you to keep track of how much bonus damage weapons do and how much damage armor prevents while you're in the midst of combat. It makes weapons and armor simple, but versatile enough that they can affect combat as more than a featureless tool.

The other pdfs are mostly setting focused stuff. One is kind of Wild West + superheroes, one is WWII + zeppelin super carrier aircraft where you play fighter pilots, one is about playing a team of firefighters, another is set in the court of Louie XV of France in the 1700s where a race of aliens returns to Earth to eat everyone and inhabit their bodies, and one is Arthurian myth + mecha in space. There are one or two others, but they didn't really interest me in my initial perusing so they didn't stick in my head. The last pdf is a magic toolkit. It includes a lot of ideas and guidelines for instituting a system of magic in your gameworld. I have yet to really delve into it, but the ideas and guidelines seem to be a pretty solid guide for helping you add magic to a campaign for a better reason than because magic.

Alright, so that finishes up the last little bit of the rulebook and some ideas about the concepts behind some of the expansions. Now I'm going to talk about the focus of the game and why I like it.

The focus of the game is the drama of the player's story. Phat lewts and reaching epic level aren't really the point. There is no epic level, and phat lewts at most allow you to hit harder with attacks or overcome opposition better. There's no vorpal blade or wish spell. Not that I have any issues with those sorts of things, but maybe I don't care too much about loot because I've never really been a player beyond level one or two. Anyway, when you sit down to play a game of FATE, you're there to role-play for the most part. You are there to tell and experience a story. Don't get me wrong, you can still crush your foes and drive them before you and hear the lamentations of their women and whatnot, but the main focus of the game is the drama of the story. That's why your aspects often have a dual role and aren't 100% positive and beneficial. There are supposed to be complications and weaknesses that the player has to cope with. The game about firefighters seems particularly brutal in this area. It has some suggestions for prompts for players to help them come up with aspects and troubles. Prompts like "Tell me about what happened at 47 Wilshire Lane and the children you found there." or "Tell me about your disintegrating marriage and why you and your wife can't save it." or "Tell me about your alcohol/illegal drug problem." FATE Core is a little lighter in tone, as the iconic NPCs of the game have troubles called The Manners of a Goat, Tempted By Shiny Things, and Rivals in the Collegia Arcana.

I guess part of why I like the game system so much is because it is so story focused. The main rulebook is about 300 pages long, but reading it doesn't feel like paging through the Pathfinder rulebook. I mean, yeah, the skills and stunts sections feel a lot like the skills and feats sections of Pathfinder, but that chunk of the FATE book is vastly shorter than Pathfinder's. The game just reads and feels rules light to me. Plus, every few pages there is an example of how an action or skill or whatever would be implemented in game using the iconic NPCs and their players and the group's GM. If Pathfinder did that, I can easily imagine it tripling the length of the main book. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of text describing how to come up with aspects and how to create a character and handle combat and skills and create NPCs. It's just that it feels less like rules to me and more like a conversation with the designer. I think there is one, two column table in the entire 300 pages of the FATE book, though I suppose you could call the visual examples of how the skills pyramid/column is set up as tables of a sort, so four tables I guess. I dunno. I love Pathfinder, but the game's rulebook feels like a rulebook and like I said, the FATE rulebook feels like a conversation with the game's designers.

Using aspects to define a character and what they're about, as opposed to a definition stemming from a combination of statistics from race and class and purchased ability scores, seems like a more story focused approach to character creation. Looking at a Pathfinder character sheet seems very, I dunno, clinical I guess. Like you are reading a report on statistics or something, which you essentially are. Looking at a FATE Core character sheet is a little more like reading one of the first few pages of a book that lists all the chapters and their titles, aside from the skill pyramid/column section.

Now, the main thing about FATE that I like is the aspect, invoke, and compel system. I mean, when you get right down to it, making a dice roll (even if the dice have weird faces) and using a skill is using a skill and attacking an enemy is attacking an enemy, whether you're using a skill or an attack roll to do it. Let's face it here, attack rolls are skill checks in DnD, it is just that you don't get to choose how many skill points go into your attack skill. You class determines that for you. Same thing with saving throws.

When you use an aspect, it isn't the same as just totaling your situational bonuses and adding them to a roll. You have to justify it. You have to make a case for it and tell the GM and other players why it is applicable to the situation. When you invoke a scene aspect you need to show how it could be an applicable benefit in the situation. This is obviously a system that has a fair amount of wiggle room in it, and that is a bit of a departure from the Pathfinder/DnD style of heavy rules complexity that I am used to, and I kind of find it a little refreshing and interesting. The compels are interesting because it isn't just a concrete mechanical penalty of some kind like your character has the ADHD flaw, so he gets a -4 penalty on all Perception checks and you gain a bonus feat. It is a little more free form and the GM (or the player, players can compel themselves for free by the way) has to justify why a compel is appropriate in the context of the situation and you all have to agree on the complications that arise from accepting the compel. Then you get a fate point. It is essentially a free form flaw/bonus feat system.

Now, this game does have one problem that I kind of like but dislike, and that is the somewhat abstract nature of it. Now Pathfinder has abstract features like attacks per round and hit points and armor class. But the whole aspect system is kind of abstract. Say your sorcerer wants to use Lore to create an advantage on a particularly deadly enemy called Blinded By Sorcery and he succeeds his Lore check versus his foe's active opposition Will check. So now we have this image of the deadly warrior stumbling around blinded by magic. Now, if everyone has fate points to spend and this is the last fight of the session, no problem. Everyone can use the aspect as an advantage in their attacks or defense and can compel it to cause him to attack or defend ineffectively or stumble about.

But if this blinded guy is a miniboss and the Big Bad Evil Guy is on the other side of the door this guy is guarding, they might want to conserve their fate points and no one compels or uses the new aspect to more effectively bring him down. So this guy blinded by sorcery operates just fine from a mechanical standpoint. In Pathfinder if you're blinded you're blinded and there are penalties associated with being blind that apply to everyone with the blinded condition. I like aspects and creating advantages with them, but this feature of them kind of bothers me. I can imagine it frustrating a player without fate points that has to take a consequence to survive an attack he could have completely avoided if he had a fate point to use to enhance his defend roll. The guy is blind, but it only affects him if the players can afford to take advantage of this. To be fair, if the GM is doing his job and throwing out compels like nobody's business, the players should hopefully have a ton of fate points to spend being awesome.

That is the premise of the game after all, being awesome. It is the job of the GM and the players at the table to do their best to make everyone look awesome. The rulebook says that the heroes of the game are good at what they do, whatever it is. They aren't newbs, they are professionals and they should never be made to look stupid or inept, because if they were stupid or inept no one would tell this story about them. This doesn't mean they never lose or are always right or their actions never have unintended consequences. It just means that if they fail, it isn't because they forgot their lock picking tools at home when they headed out to rob the baron's treasure vault or didn't bring their spellbook when they went traveling.

One thing that also kind of entices me is the free form nature of campaign construction. The designers of the game suggest that you go into the game with a few concepts and ideas, but don't flesh out the entirety of the campaign plot and carve it into stone detailing how the players are supposed to go from point a to b to c, all the way to z. They say that humans are pattern makers, and as you and your players play, the plot and connections of a campaign will figure themselves out because you'll all start making patterns and connections out of them. They suggest having an idea where the scenario/arc/campaign will start, having an idea where it will end, and having an idea about the middle as well. They suggest keeping it a little relaxed and loose, as no plot outline really survives contact with the players and comes through unscathed.

Case and point, The Rebellion Arc. Final battle. Nakmander has his ritual in full swing and is pulling meteors out of the sky to obliterate Kusseth City to break Kusseth's power to free his people from their oppression. Whether Kusseth lives or dies is on the players and whether or not they'll allow this. Wardens bust in and start killing Nakmander's thugs but the forces are too balanced and the ritual members are protected by a sorcerous shield. The players have to decide to keep working with Nakmander and destroy Kusseth, or join the wardens of Kusseth and stop Nakmander to save the lives of all the citizens and innocents in the city. It is no question for my NPC, Kethranmeer, he can't abide such a callous genocide in the name of fanaticism to a cause, even if it is to free Hell from Kusseth's oppression. Jeremy, John, and Eric follow his lead for similar reasons (I think, John never expressed any sort of moral outrage about anything, and the guys did murder a bunch of teenagers one time, and they did weld a door shut in an underground fortress with living people on the other side with no hope of escape except through the now sealed door). This is one of the greatest moments of my career as a GM. I watched Fred struggle with his choice. The lead warden was an Elduman and Derf, Fred's character, hated Eldumans because he is crazy and because of their persecution of sorcerer types. Derf was a sorcerer. I watched the battle rage across his face, the choice to role-play his character to the hilt, or the choice to follow the party.

Fred chose to role-play. Now the result of the battle is up in the air. The faceless thugs and mooks, sorcerers and wardens, cancelled each other out. The people that were going to determine the battle were Nakmander, the lead warden, my npc, Jeremy, Eric and John. So now Derf is pretty much crippling the warden (a powerful psychic warrior) with his spells, John is trying to take down Derf with non-lethal means, and Eric and Jeremy are fighting Nakmander while Kerthanmeer tries to use a blackstone hammer to pierce the sorcerous shield to kill the ritual members to stop the ritual. Nakmander was a very very powerful sorcerer with lots of magical gadgets and gewgaws on his person. One actually misfired during the fight and injured him.

My plan for the battle and campaign was not for them to save Kusseth, but merely to choose one side or the other to aid. I had never guessed that the party would split their focus like that, which could/would have potentially TPKed them. Nakmander got real lucky with a lot of his misfire rolls and was laying out fingers of death like nobody's business (mostly at the lead warden) with lightning bolts and such for everyone else until finally he misfired on a spell that would have killed the lead warden and ended up knocked out because of his own sorcery. Jeremy's character then coup de graced him and the good guys (ha! the PCs were a collection of sociopaths) won (?). Kethranmeer died and Nakmander survived via contingency spells in place and became obsessed with my players, which led to The Psychogenic Fugue Arc.

So yeah, plans and plots don't tend to survive contact with the players very often. Which I guess is part of why I am obsessed with the whole sandbox style campaign these days and why this kind of unfocused method of plot creation in FATE kind of interests me. I mean, nothing says you can't plan every detail and side quest and NPC out in excruciating detail, but it is not suggested.

I dunno. A lot about FATE appeals to me and I'd love to try it out someday.

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