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Author Topic: FATE: the El Dorado game?  (Read 3529 times)
Doyce
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Posts: 442


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« on: June 15, 2004, 10:50:43 AM »

[Hopefully, this is the forum to present and discuss this idea.]

One of the questions I've been trying to answer when pondering a new campaign is "What do I want out of the game?"  This is a key question, because the answer I come up with is also going to be the answer to "What 'thing' do I want the system to be able to do as a central function?"

To reverse engineer this so I can evaluate the system in those terms, the question to ask about a game system is "What does this game facilitate as a central or key mechanic that interests me?  What kind of game does that create?  Does that interest me?"

The Forge (or at least Mike Holmes :) often rephrases this question as "What is special about the system that simply couldn't be done in your generic-game-of-choice (GURPS, D20, BESM, FUDGE, et cetera) without rewriting the whole thing?"

Illustrating example: http://www.sorcerer-rpg.com">Sorcerer.  The central mechanics of the system focus on (1) Descriptive, contextually relevant action from the players to fully realize their character's ability. (2) A conflict focused-by-the-system on the characters nurturing/maintaining/squandering their personal connection to whatever makes them 'human' in that particular setting, without dictating character behavior in any way (Humanity system).  (3) A huge portion of the storylines are player-created (Kickers).  If that's not what I want, for whatever reason, then I want to avoid this game, because all of those elements are BUILT INTO THE SYSTEM and are essentially unavoidable.  I certainly wouldn't want to try to staple these mechanics onto D20 or GURPS.  Ugh.

What struck me upon initial reading of FATE was that it was basically a cleaned up, much-improved version of Fudge with a variable crunchiness level that is quite appealing.  Hardly a bad thing but on the face of it, it really runs dead on into the big question of why couldn't you run any Fate game in another generic system.  I initially supposed the answer was 'no reason', but upon re-reading and (most importantly) playing the game, I realised that the game does introduce some very special elements to play at a meta-level that really don't exist in those 'other' generic systems.

The central Fate mechanics (character Aspects and their use to affect die rolls and cause rerolls) results in play in which the players have a lot of story control over their character and scenes the character's appear in (using a 'non-traditional' (in other systems) order of resolution that lets the players decide how important the scene is to them even somewhat retroactively), but at the same time aren't put in a role -- as they are in a game like Sorcerer (covertly) or InSpectres (overtly) -- in which they necessarily decree entire plots.  That role is generally (sans drift) left to the GM, a very comfortable place for it for many GMs (and gamers).

Perhaps this may be seen as some kind of weird abashed play by some, but in my experience it results in a very interesting 'blended' style of play in which the players can have real control over their scenes and the GM can retain plot control (if they want) at a level that a lot of folks are more comfortable with... a much higher chance for a win-win situation between the often-head-cracking conflicts between Narrativist and Simulationist creative agendas (with lots of Gamist risk-taking thrown in as well in the resource-management of Aspects and Fate points).

Thoughts?  I know Mike Holmes has run/is running some Fate stuff, and I'd like to hear people's thoughts and experiences with the system in this context.
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--
Doyce Testerman ~ http://random.average-bear.com
Someone gets into trouble, then get get out of it again; people love that story -- they never get tired of it.
Andrew Norris
Member

Posts: 253


« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2004, 07:19:25 AM »

Hi, Doyce --

Wow, I'm torn. On one end, I want to give an infodump backing your idea, but on the other hand I came dangerously close to writing up a whole Actual Play thread as a response. Instead, let me give as short a version of what I'm thinking as I can.

The game I'm running now (started in January, tenth session tonight) began as a D20 Modern campaign about urban occultism and conspiracy in the theme of Unknown Armies. I wanted to go High Concept Sim ("cinematic", for want of a better term), but play in the first two sessions tended towards straight Sim in the way that D20 Modern is set up to do. The players had high contact with System, and "the way I wanted things to be" came out primarily in Color.

The one rules change I included from the beginning was Plot Points, a metagame resource that allowed a brief narration of victory when spent. As play continued, and the players decided they liked the bass line I was playing, so to speak, we moved much more towards High Concept Sim in the vein of "A Tarantino film, plus the supernatural." I applied a little drift towards addressing a Premise (which worked out to be "What will you pay to get what you want?") but it was secondary.

Play continued to go High Concept to the extent that except for maybe one  combat scene per session, the only time people looked at their D20 character sheets was to check off a Plot Point. Play became about the clash of colorful personalities in the party and about learning to control developing supernatural abilities, neither of which contacted the System much.

At that point, I announced a transition to FATE, and did character writeups for all the PCs. The difference between doing this and just converting from D20 was that the new character sheets didn't address much of what was on the old ones -- rather, I took the elements of each character that were addressed the most in play and assigned them as Aspects and Skills. (For instance, one character went from Smart/Fast Hero in class/level terms to "FBI Agent", "Out-of-body Projector", and "Angry".) A number of the aspects and skills solely addressed personality issues.

So in my experience, moving to FATE didn't change the way we played per se, but it meant that play actually contacted System rather than rendering it mostly irrelevant. When two PCs clashed over what to do in a given situation, and their various eccentricities and relationships were relevant, we used System to get a rough idea of who might win out, with a single Fortune-in-the-Middle die roll modified by character attributes. (This saved me a lot of headache, because in earlier sessions we were getting dangerously close to the social/emotional equivalent of Cops-and-Robbers conflict resolution, because the things that mattered to us weren't addressed by the D20 system at all.)

The way we've played hasn't exactly matched what you've described in the first post (as I allow a lot of Author stance in this campaign) but it certainly helped me find a happy ground between High Concept Sim and Vanilla Narrativism. The system described character personality in a way that reinforces playing towards simulating "a film that really pounds on its Premise", if that makes any sense. I think in the players' minds there's a split between those that want to address Premise for its own sake, and those who enjoy doing it as part of playing a deeply troubled character. The two work together in my experience, though.

That was my short answer -- you wouldn't have wanted to see the long one. ;) My take is that FATE works well as a middle ground because of the flexibility of Aspects. You can make a list, and use it for Sim, or you can give the players a strong idea of what you'd like the game to be "about", and let them make up attributes that fit.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2004, 01:44:58 PM »

Doyce, my simple answer is that what I've found is that FATE does provide the tools for both sim and nar, and what happens is a tiny drift to one or the other. The version that I play produces narrativism. The drift involves mostly using only conflict resolution, and none of the more crunchy methods.

I do agree that this is actually a pretty good place to be in these terms. OTOH, I've seen people struggle with what is, essentially, a small problem of rules that do not make quite clear which way to play. I've been thinking about this for a while, and I've mentioned it to Rob and Fred. But, basically I think that they should at the very least put some comments in on how to drift to one of the other mode support.

Mike
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