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Fate - Mechanics initial thoughts

Started by Brian Leybourne, August 02, 2006, 04:52:54 AM

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Hy Gentleman,

Brian... you can't really measure the fright you gave me when I read your post.

I have been toiling with a system really close to the most basic concepts of your Fate for the last six months. We have ran no less than a 100 hours of playtesting and the document is running the intellectual property proccess on my country's national library.

Luckly, I have a pretty big network of players and friends able to give me feedback around here, and they all posted the same criticisms and doubts. (That's why I didnt post the concept on The Forge). Through careful research, trial and error, we overcame all such criticisms and developed a system that only resembles Saga system due to the use of cards. But all the rest is pretty original, as far as I can tell.

I thought for some minutes if I would post it or not, but I really believe that a trend may be developing and designers like you and me may be wandering and striding to the same destination, each one at their different pace... but steadily. I would love to say 'drop it, I am further ahead the road', but I cant say anything less than 'work hard, it isnt a fancy and silly project'. I would feel unmannly, crass, and very much into the feeling of paranoia and greed of our time. It would also be completely against the mindset of the community...

So, it would be my pleasure if you want to exchange ideas in order to make our products differ as much as possible and to help in what I can.


Brian Leybourne

Hi Doug.

Well, I certainly wouldn't drop anything I was working on just because someone else developed something similar! As I said in an earlier post, there's only so many ways you can use cards for this kind of thing so there will always be similarities between card-using systems (how different are many of the die using systems out there, really?) and someone else working on something similar just means to me that it's not a stupid idea and there's potentially extra people to share ideas with!

Even if I ever did publish Fate (and that's a huge if) and you publish yours, I can't see that there's any conflict at all - although it's a niche market, the RPG audience don't choose their games based on the system alone (and that's all I have so far anwyay) so there's more than enough room for us to co-exist.

I would love to see your stuff if you're in the mood to share it (you've already seen mine, and I'll have the next draft of the rules finished in a day or two, which I will post here, so you can see that too). I don't see that we need to actively work at differentiating our products; I'm sure each will have it's own flavour and nuances. Instead, I would love to work with you if you're interested.

Brian Leybourne

RPG Books: Of Beasts and Men, The Flower of Battle, The TROS Companion

Brian Leybourne

Here's the second draft of the Fate rules.

I have enough now that I am going to start playtesting and nutting out some of the finer details. Genre' isn't really that important right now, so for testing I'm going to try a variety of genre's (space opera, fantasy, old west) and see if anyhting has a nice fit (although I think I already know what the final genre' will be, but I'm still fleshing it out in my head).

If anyone has any spare time and the inclination to help out, I would love to hear any playtest reports and/or further ideas.

My main concern pre-playtest is the difficulty of non-opposed tasks, specifically balancing that difficulty when players can play or or two cards on an action.

"In life, you have to play the hand that fate deals you"

Concept: I'm trying to blend random resolution with strategic selection. By randomly drawing cards but then getting to choose how to play those cards, I am trying to fulfil both sides of that. The GNS feel of the game will be somewhere between Sim and Narr, I think - probably leaning slightly more towards Sim.

Characters: Characters in Fate are those special individuals for whom Fate itself has a plan. These characters are able in some small (and varying from individual to individual) way to actually manipulate the forces of fate to assist themselves or others, or hinder their foes. Of course, some of those foes may themselves be chosen by Fate... (ok, that sounds wanky, but you get the idea)

Characters have 4 attributes, each of which is associated with a card suit

Brawn (Clubs) – Represents a characters physical strength, hardiness, health and general well being.
Agility (Spades) – Represents both the manual dexterity of the character, as well as his reaction time
Intellect (Diamonds) – Represents a characters intelligence, mental acuity and strength of will
Personality (Hearts) – Represents the charisma and general allure of the character, as well as his ego and self assuredness

The human minimum in an attribute is 1 and the maximum is 5 (scores higher than 5 are possible, but not fir humans). All attributes start at 1 and character's have 7 points to spend with no attribute being able to be raised above 4 at character creation (I expect the usual spread will be 3/3/3/2 or 4/3/2/2)

There are also two derived attributes:

Body (Average of Brawn and Agility, rounded down) – Reactionary attribute used when resisting physical injury that is a result of being tough and maybe avoiding some of the effect
Mind (Average of Intellect and Personality, rounded down) – Reactionary attribute used when resisting mental injury such as stress, mind attacks and so on


Skills are subdivided up into 4 categories, each linked to an attribute. Skills have a value that is capped by the attribute they're linked to, so an Agility skill cannot have a value any higher than the characters Agility score.

Actual skills selection I have not decided on yet. I will probably go with a fairly freeform skill selection where players can choose any skill that seems to make sense (with the GM arbitrating any that seem too broad or too narrow). Even if I do go with some form of list of skills, that can't be worked on until I have nailed down the Genre, of course.

Action Resolution

Whenever a character attempts any action, the result is determined by a combination of the characters' talents and abilities (skill or attribute score) and random chance – or in other words, Fate.

In most RPG's, random chance is determined by the throw of one or more dice, through negotiation, or even by the flip of a coin. Fate uses cards. A standard Fate card deck is made up of all 40 cards numbered A-10 in each of the four suits. The face cards (Jack, Queen, King) and Jokers are set aside and only used in special circumstances – more on this later. Aces are treated as having a value of 1 when they are flipped from the deck, but can occasionally have special values (see Aces, below)

When a normal person or animal attempts to perform any action, the process is simple: The character determines the most relevant skill they posess to the situation (if tey do not posess a relevant skill, the GM may allow them to use the most applicable attribute, or more commonly they are stuck with a skill level of zero) and they flip a card from a Fate deck. The numerical value of the card plus their skill level is compared to the difficulty of the task as set by the GM (more on difficulties is discussed below). If they have achieved or bettered the difficulty number, they have succeeded in the action.

James is a simple peasant attempting to catch a chicken for his dinner. The GM tells James that this will use his Running skill, so James flips a random card from a fate deck. The card is a 7 of diamonds, and James adds his running kill of 2 to make a total of nine. Because the GM had determined that the difficulty of catching the chicken was 10, James has not succeeded. He eventually slumps to the ground, exhausted, while the chicken flees into the barn.

Sometimes however, things work out even better than you expected them to. This is the raw manifestation of Fate, and it occurs whenever the card drawn is of the same suit as the suit governing the action (the suit assigned to the attribute the skill being used is attached to). When this happens, the character should draw a second card and add it to the first (plus his skill level) to determine his failure or success.

James is still trying to catch that chicken. After a suitable period for rest, he runs after the chicken again, trying to grab it. James flips a random card – a 6 of Spades. Because Running is an Agility action, which means it is governed by Spades, James draws a second card – a 4 of clubs, and adds it to his first card. Adding them together and adding his Running skill score, James gets a total of12, which is enough to catch the chicken. It loks like James will be enjoying chicken wings tonight!

Whenever an action is attempted, the relevant suit is referred to as the Trump suit. In the previous example, Spades were trumps, and so James got to draw an extra card because his first draw (the 6 of Spades) was a Trump. Note that even if James had pulled another spade as his second card, he would not have drawn a third card – only two cards can ever be played for an action.

How Difficult?

For any action, the GM determines the difficulty in the following manner:

Simple actions
Simple actions involve any action where the character is not actively working against another person or animal. The difficulty in these cases is determined by the GM as a static number that the character must equal or exceed in order to succeed. The GM should use the following guidelines

Static difficulty table (needs playtesting)
Simple task:      6   Better than 50/50 chance even with no skill
Moderate task:      8   50/50 with average skill
Tricky task:      10   Slightly under 50/50 with average skill
Challenging Task:   12   Tricky with one card, relatively easy with 2 cards
Hard Task:      14   Very hard with a single card, 50/50 with 2 cards and average
Extremely hard task:   16   Impossible with one card, tricky with 2 cards
Heroic Task:      18   Impossible with one card, very difficult with 2 cards

The maximum achievable play is 25, but the odds of this are unlikely. As a general rule, difficulties over 14 should be used sparingly.

Opposed Actions
Opposed actions involve any action where the character attempting to perform the action is in conflict with another character. Attempting to catch a chicken or kick down a door is a simple action, but attempting to bribe a guard or dodge a rock someone has thrown at you is an Opposed action.

Opposed actions are performed by both parties performing a draw for their action, and the person with the higher total is declared the winner. If both receive the same total, the winner is the person with the higher total card draw (fate likes them a little better). If both parties have drawn the same value card, then the winner is determined by the person who had trump over a person who did not. If neither drew a Trump (or both did) then the contest is declared a tie, the results of which are adjudicated by the GM.

James has moved on from Chickens, and is now chasing his girlfriend, who is playfully resisting his attempts to kiss her. James flips a card and gets a 6 of diamonds, which he adds to his running skill of 2 for a total of 8. James' girlfriend draws a 3 of Spades (which is Trump, because she's also running) so she draws another card which is a 5 of hearts. She has only 1 point in her running skill, but this is enough to give her a total of 9, so she nimbly avoids James' clumsy advances. If she had no points in the running skill, she would have tied scores with James, so the card values could have been compared – James had a card total of 6 while his girlfriend had a card total of 8, so she still would have won the contest.

Favoured by Fate

Some people are a little more special than the common run of folk, and are favoured by Fate itself. Such folk get a hand up when dealing with the vagaries of Fate, and (to a limited extent) can select how favourably Fate treats them. However, the more they draw on Fate and try to force it to be favourable, the more likely it is that Fate will abandon them when they most need it.

To represent this, each player or major NPC has a hand of cards. The minimum number of cards a player can hold is equal to his lowest attribute, while the most cards he can hold is equal to his lowest plus his highest attribute (characters begin play with their minimum number of cards +1). Every player has his own deck of cards, unique to that player, and constructed as outlined above (every card from Ace-10 in each suit, totalling 40 cards).

Bob has 4 Brawn (Clubs), 2 Agility (Spades), 3 Intellect (Diamonds) and 2 Personality (Hearts). He can only ever have a minimum of 2 cards and a maximum of 6 cards in his hand. Bob starts with 3 cards.

Whenever a player attempts an action, he may select a card from his hand to play a card and adds his relevant skill to the total as usual. After the action has completed, the player draws a new card so his hand returns to the size it began at.

Bob the PC is attempting to scale a wall, he has three cards in his hand. His climbing skill is 3. Bob lays down a card with a value of 7 and adds his climbing skill of 3 making the total 10. After the attempt has been resolved, Bob draws another card, returning his hand to three cards - the size it was before the action.

As describe above, if a character plays a trump card for his first card on an action, he can flip a second card (from his draw deck, not from his hand) and add it to the first card. Because the player has selected the first card, he has control over this – he chooses to play a trump rather then relying on chance to flip one as his first card.

Alternately, the character may choose not to flip a second card – this is a valid choice if he feels that the card he has played is high enough to succeed without needing a random second card to be flipped on top of it. If the player elects not to flip a second card, he may instead draw a second card into his hand after the action has resolved. In this manner, he actually increases his hand size, because he has played one card but draws back two. This option is unavailable if the extra draw would take the character above his maximum hand size.

While attempting to Climb, Bob plays a 7 of Spades and adds +3 for his climbing skill, making the total 10. Because Climbing is a Spade skill and he played a Spade, Bob can now choose to randomly flip a card from the deck and add it to the total, or instead draw 2 cards at the end of the action rather than the usual 1.

When playing their first card, if the card is not a trump or if it was a trump but the player elected not to flip a random card to add to it, the player has the option of laying a second card from his hand at the same time, adding the values together. However, this second card will not be replaced after the action so the characters current hand size will go down by 1. This option is unavailable if the players hand size would be below their minimum after the redraw. Of course, if the player has played a Trump as his first card, elected not to flip a random card, and played a second card from his hand, his hand size will remain stagnant because he has played two cards from his hand, and at the end of the action will draw two cards.

Because cards are redrawn at the very end of an action, a character who has played a trump cannot elect to draw instead of flip, and then play the card he has drawn as his second card - the second card would have had to come from his card as it is only after all resolution has ended that the player draws cards back to his hand.

If a player chooses not to play a second card on an action, he may do so after he finds out if the action was successful or not (in an attempt to convert a failed action to a successful one) but can only play a trump as the second card. This trump does not generate a flip or an extra card draw at the end of the action.

When attempting to climb the wall, Bob played a 7 and added his climbing skill making the total 10. If Bob had wanted to, he could have added any other card, perhaps a 6, before announcing the total (which would have now been 16). If Bob had not done this, and had stuck with the 10 but discovered that it had not been high enough, he could now add a second card from his hand but only if it was a Spade, as Spades are Trumps for this action (Climbing is a Spade attribute skill). The GM announces that 10 is a failure, so Bob adds a 6 of Spades and the total is now 16 (which he hopes is now high enough). Of course, Bob can only do this if he has enough cards that after the redraw he will be at his minimum hand size or above.

Special Cards

Jokers do not exist in a players deck at all. An occasional special reward from the GM may grant a Joker which the player will add to his deck but only gets to use once – as soon as it is played, the Joker is returned to the GM. Jokers are worth 12 and are always considered Trump cards.

Aces are only worth 1 point if they are flipped or played as a second card for an action, but when played as a first card from the hand they instead have the following attributes:

An Ace played as a first card always counts as a Trump card regardless of its actual suit, and its value is equal to 1 plus a randomly flipped card. This card adds its value to the ace but doesn't count as an extra card. In effect, what the Ace actually does is draws a random card and changes it to a trump card while adding +1 to it. Thus if a player plays an ace he flips another card to add to the ace, and then because the ace+flip is considered a single Trump card, he may then elect to flip a "second" card or draw an extra card at the end of the round.

For Bob's climbing attempt, Bob plays an ace. It doesn't matter what suit the ace is - Bob flips a free card and that card is added to the ace and considered a trump (Spades in this case, because climbing is a Spades action). If Bob flips a 9 of clubs it is added to the ace and together they are considered a single 10 of Spades. Because Bob has "played a trump card" he can choose to now flip another card to add to the total or instead draw a second card at the end of the round. If he elects to draw instead of flip, Bob could also play a card from his hand onto the "ten of spades" as described above.

Court Cards
The Court cards (Jacks, Queens, Kings) are not included in a players deck by default (and never exist in decks used by common folk, hmm, I guess I need a special name for those who are favoured by fate enough to have a hand of cards, and those who don't and who just flip a random card every action as described way above). Instead, they are added to a deck as player advantages that can be purchased or awarded by the GM.

Advantages are purchased somehow (with whatever form of experience awards etc I eventually decide to use). Each advantage falls into one of four categories (Brawn, Agility, Intellect, Personality) and has three levels of effect. Buying the first effect gives the character a Jack of that suit to add to his deck, buying the next level replaces the Jack with a Queen (and allows the Jack to be used to buy a first level in another ability under the same suit, if desired), and buying the 3rd level replaces the queen with a King. For obvious reasons, a character can only buy 3 advantages for each suit, as it is not possible to have 2 of the same card in a deck. A character may never have more than 6 advantages (which could be KQJ in 2 different suits, or KKKKQQ, etc).

When a court card is drawn into the hand, it may be played face up on the table, and it's benefit remains for however long as is stipulated for the advantage (most advantages last for the current scene, or until the next reshuffle, or until they have been used a certain number of times). The card may instead be played as a regular card, in which case it acts as a ten of its own suit but provides no other benefit. If flipped, court cards also are valued as ten of their own suit.

Sample Court Cards (more to follow, these have NOT been playtested)

Fast Talker (Personality; Hearts)
This card is added to your play deck and may be played face up on the table from your hand. This is not an action and the card is not replaced (but max/min hand size doesn't change so you can re-increase your hand size as usual). The benefit granted lasts until your next reshuffle (the card is discarded and shuffled with everything else).
Jack: Add +2 to all action plays involving convincing someone of something
Queen: Add +4 to all action plays involving blah blah
King: You may add +6 OR a free flip to all action plays involving blah blah

Swift (Agility; Spades)
This card is played from the hand onto the table. At the time it is played, flip a random card and place it beside it. The value of the flipped card is the number of times this card's benefit may be used. Each time it is used (successful or not), cover up one of the symbols on the flipped card with the court card, when they are all covered, discard both cards.
Jack: You may add +2 to all 2nd cards played as long as they are trump for that action.
Queen: You may add +4 to all 2nd cards played that are trump or +2 to non-trump 2nd cards.
King: As Queen, but you may also use up one "use" of this ability to view the top card of your play deck (i.e. the one you will next pick up or flip).

Brian Leybourne

RPG Books: Of Beasts and Men, The Flower of Battle, The TROS Companion

Brian Leybourne

I didn't know the forum had a posting size limit now! :-)

Here's the rest of the 2nd draft (only a little more)

Combat and Injury

I thought long and hard about including this but hell, it practically wrote itself and, let's face it, there's probably going to be combat/conflict of some form involved.

At the start of any combat, all involved parties determine their initiative. This is an Agility action, so a card is played, the Agility is added to it, and that is that characters initiative for the entire combat. The character then redraws as usual. If the character had played a Spade, he could have been able to flip or add a second card, etc etc.

Combat is divided up into rounds. Each round, each character gets to make one action and as many reactions as they like.

Actions involve attacking another character, moving, casting a spell (if there's magic) and so on. A valid action would also be playing a new initiative card, forfeiting the action for this round but acting (presumably) faster the next and subsequent rounds.

An attack against another character is an action, performed by playing a card and adding the relevant fighting skill to it. Martial skills are probably all Agility, but there could be some Brawn ones like wrestling. The total is the characters attack value.

The person being attacked then makes a reaction, which is done the same way – he plays a card and adds his relevant defensive skill (parry, dodge, whatever they are) and again they are probably mostly Agility based skills.

If the defender gets the higher total then the attack has failed. If the attacker wins then the difference between the attack value and the defence value is the margin of success. To this is added the attackers Brawn and any bonus for the weapon if weapons work that way. Subtract the defenders Brawn and any bonus for armour if there is armor etc. The result is applied to the defender as wounds. Every time the defender takes total wounds equal to a multiple of his Body derived attribute, he takes a major wound and his maximum hand size drops by one. When his maximum hand size has dropped to equal his minimum hand size, he is critically wounded (and obviously, at this point he can't ever take extra cards or play extra cards since his hand size must remain static). Further wounds keep reducing his hand size until it reaches 0, at which point he is the same as a regular character and can only perform actions by flipping random cards. At this point, one more major wound will kill him. Characters who are not "favoured by fate" are already at this point, so one major wound is all it takes to knock them out of a fight.

Multiple opponents who are basically mooks will be treated as a group. They will have common attributes and skills, and a hand size for the group with a minimum of 1 and a maximum equal to the size of the group (they start with half this number). Each member of the group takes his own actions and may use any card from the hand as usual. Each member can only take one major wound, at which point he is knocked out of the fight and the group reduces it's size (and thus maximum hand size) by one. Once all the cards are gone, they have all been defeated.

Magic and Spells

If this turns out to be a fantastic setting, magic will be handled by adding together spell components and attributes to get to a difficulty number to cast the spell (kind of like TROS). The mage will then have to play a card/cards to achieve this number in order to cast the spell. I think magic will be hard enough that the difficulty will almost always require a second card, so mages will only be able to cast spells when they have Intellect (diamond) cards in hand. Not sure yet.
Brian Leybourne

RPG Books: Of Beasts and Men, The Flower of Battle, The TROS Companion

Darcy Burgess

Tres cool.

I'll be very interested in seeing how genre influences the JQK abilities -- I'm suspicious that it will.

Here's a suggestion on resolution (it's about resolution in general, but it's geared to both reduce handling time and to also streamline unopposed resolution), predicated on the following notion: the only time we're interested in performing said resolution is when one of the parties is a 'named' character (favoured by Fate).  Ergo, we're always dealing with someone with a hand of cards.

The GM keeps a face-up 'drafting' line next to his deck.  This replaces any NPC hand.  This line is X-1 cards "long" (X=maximum # of cards possible in a character's hand).

When the opposition is an npc, the NPC's "hand" is considered to be the first Y cards adjacent to the deck (Y=npc's hand size -1).  In addition, once the player has selected their card (but before it's been revealed), the GM also flips over the top card of the deck to "complete" the NPC's hand.  GM now chooses as desired from the completed hand.

When the opposition isn't an npc (unopposed), the GM determines the hand size instead of a TN.  The GM needs to consider the fact that the PC will also have a skill when setting hand size.  (I'd like to point out that this idea isn't new -- it's just a reworking of Sorcerer's system, but geared for cards.)

After resolution, the drafting line is shunted towards the deck to occupy the vacancy, and a new card is added to the end of the line.

A final thought -- Stats don't do much of anything once gameplay starts, other than in taking and dishing damage.  Since Brawn is especially important in combat, you're setting up a real potential for a "good stat".

Perhaps stats need to do something else -- and let it be something that opens up the possibility for all of them being engaged in play.
Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.

Dan Svensson

Brian: Definitely looks playable as is... except for a little clarification that might be needed.  Good luck with the playtesting.

It's abit unclear in the part that describes resolution where it says

"When a normal person or animal attempts to perform any action, the process is simple: The character determines the most relevant skill they posess to the situation (if tey do not posess a relevant skill, the GM may allow them to use the most applicable attribute, or more commonly they are stuck with a skill level of zero) and they flip a card from a Fate deck. The numerical value of the card plus their skill level is compared to the difficulty of the task as set by the GM (more on difficulties is discussed below). If they have achieved or bettered the difficulty number, they have succeeded in the action."

Say you want to jump up and reach something but you dont have the skill jump according to the text the GM might allow the player to use an attribute instead. Imagine the PC has 5 in agilty at that moment. Later on if he buys the skill jump it will start at 1 and he will in effect be worse at jumping than before since the PC always use the most applicable skill.

As Darcy suggest the attributes should do more.
Indulging in everything is like indulging in nothing.

Brian Leybourne

Yep, completely valid point.

I've been thinking of how to utilise the attributes more. At present, the two physical attributes get used a fair bit in combat but the other 2 very little (although intellect would be used if the game features any form of magic/psi/etc), but it's uneven, you're both right.

I've been thinking that to utilise the attributes more, a possible change is to remove the skills-capped-by-attributes feature, and instead let them be purchased up to 5 as attributes can be. Next, attributes will be a little harder to improve. Skill checks would then use attribute+skill+card instead of skill+card. This means slightly more math (albiet minor) but allows some cross-use of skills such as a long and exhausting climb using Brawn instead of Agility, or knowledge of a skill using Intellect instead of the usual related skill attribute, etc.

This would push out the difficulty chart for unopposed checks by an average of 2.5 points and raise the average and maximum draw values, but that's not really a problem and playtesting will point to the right numbers anyway.

Hmm... now I have to find some time to playtest. Maybe my manager will let me slack off on this global user migration project... (unlikely *grin*)

Brian Leybourne

RPG Books: Of Beasts and Men, The Flower of Battle, The TROS Companion

Brian Leybourne

And yes, as Dan said, it also means unskilled checks don't break when you use an attribute and 0 skill as in hs example.

Brian Leybourne

RPG Books: Of Beasts and Men, The Flower of Battle, The TROS Companion

Darcy Burgess

I promised myself I'd shut up in this thread until some AP happened.  But I just can't.

Brian -- before embarking on "stat+skill+fortune", take some time to think about it.  IMHO, it's more trouble than it's worth, and you're just opening another can of worms.  Ralph's comments in this thread do a really good job of illustrating my point, and I think that some of his suggestions on combining stats & skills are also worth mining for inspiration.

I'm looking forward to your AP from playtesting, whenever the gods of commerce allow the important work to occur...
Black Cadillacs - Your soapbox about War.  Use it.