Monthly Archives: May 2013

A Big "Duh"

Being that sort of nerd, I have always tried to find a way that someone who has achieved philosophical mastery of a skill (the iconic example being Musashi and swordsmanship) to be able to reflect how that mastery affects the other things they do.  This is one of those ideas that’s either really obvious or makes no sense, depending on how you think about it.

I’ve spent an unreasonable amount of thought on this, but the other night realized I’ve made my life too complicated. It’s as simpel as this: Make the skill an aspect.  Invocations kick in when you can spin the tale of how the mastery transcends.

Cannot believe it took me this long to see something this obvious. Overthinking is a real threat.

Who Earned The Win?

So, Avengers has been out long enough that I am comfortable spoiling minor bits of it. That said, I recognize that a little warning is in order, so here it is – I’m about to discuss a minor plot twist from The Avengers.


Ok, Loki has a magic stick. If he touches your heart with it, you serve him loyally. Late in the game, Loki and Tony Stark have a fantastic scene which culminates in Loki attempting to use the stick on Stark. This is a good plan on Loki’s part, but it fails because Stark has the arc reactor gizmo over his heart. This isn’t really explained within The Avengers, but anyone who’s seen Iron Man knows this.
In many senses of narrative, this is a HUGE cheat. If this had worked, Loki’s plan would have almost certainly succeeded, and it was dumb luck that it didn’t work.

Success through dumb luck makes for pretty lame narrative, and this bit bugged me at first, but I realized something – it wasn’t about the narrative. That was a moment of satisfaction for the audience. From the very start of that scene, many nerds were already wondering about the interaction of stick and reactor, and even if you weren’t, when it failed, it was a moment that let you, as a member of the audience, get it, and that’s a pretty powerful reward.

This is on my mind because in RPGs, players have elements of both protagonist and audience, but it’s very easy to focus purely on their role as protagonist when thinking about narrative and fiction. Doing so can be very rewarding, but it’s easy to forget that you may get more punch from crossing the fourth wall (so to speak) and violating the rules of narrative in order to deliver a reward directly to your players. Help them feel smart or awesome.

And yes, there are ways to do this within the narrative, but they strain things. Avengers suggests to me that it might sometimes be worth cutting out the middleman and jumping right to your players.

Limited Aspect Sets

Random thought while on the treadmill today that entails a drastic change in how aspects work in Fate, but which reflects a slightly different emphasis. Breaks down as follows:

  1. There are only scene aspects. Yes, you have aspects on your character sheet, and those matter (more on that in a second) but you can’t use them the same way. Basically, an aspect must be on the scene to be useful.
  2. There is a limit to how many aspects can be on a scene, possibly as low as three[1]. If the scene is full up, then you must remove an aspect to open it up. Removing an aspect is mechanically similar to adding one (and with s sufficient success, you can replace it).[2]
  3. You can make a personal aspect into a scene aspect (effectively copying it onto the scene), and if you do, take a +2 bonus to place it AND the difficulty of removing it is +2. However, there are three limits on this. First, each “side” of a conflict can only have one personal aspect in play, and second, this speaks directly to the stakes of the conflict. By bringing in a personal aspect, you are making a statement regarding what the fight is about to you. Third, the bonus applies only the first time you bring an aspect into play.
  4. The fight may start with anywhere between 0 and 3 aspects in place. For a duel, this will often be one aspect from each combatant, plus one for the environment or situation.
  5. Boosts still work normally, but need to be used by the next time you act, or they go away. No boost stockpiling.

This totally needs testing, but the potential I see in it is that it could drive more back and forth in the fiction centered around changing the factors in play to things that the player can take better advantage of. If the other guy has brought his “strong” aspect to play, then the fact that you can potentially take it off the table (rather than just let him hit it for as long as he has FP) totally intrigues me.

  1. This is even more drastic than it seems, and it reflects a certain sort of cinematic sensibility that only so many factors are in play at any given time, but those factors really, really matter.  ↩

  2. This works particularly well with Marvel Heroic style initiative, since it provides a real setup for teamwork, with one player creating an opening for the next.  ↩