Monthly Archives: June 2013

Approaches as an Add On

Bruce Baugh was pondering the idea of using FAE’s approaches as spheres in Mage, which is a great idea and really got me thinking. In the specific, there’s probably a little song and dance that you might want to do to handle combination, but the idea totally works, and I might want to drill into it sometime. However, it lead to a second idea which kind of excited me.

Another great use of FAE’s approaches is that because they are simple, clear and reasonably intuitive, they are an easy way to attach a subsystem onto an existing fate game with a minimum of effort. It is as simple as saying “within this particular sphere, you use these approaches” and you’re ready to go.

This is incredibly useful for games where some element is ubiquitous (like martial arts in a wuxia game) or something that really takes the game in a different direction (like netrunning or some types of magic). You just need to figure out what the approaches are (genre sensibilities should inform that) and how big the bonus set is.

So, let’s say for example we want to do a netrunning system, since those are always a bear. We could probably argue for some time on the ideal set of netrunning approaches, but for purposes of example, let’s use the following:[1]

  • Equipment – Use your deck or programs
  • Exploit – Find loopholes or back doors
  • Disrupt – Mess thing sup and take advantage of the chaos
  • Brute Force – Patience, time or lots of processing power
  • Circumvent – Route around a problem

Let’s say we’ve added a hacking skill to our Fate Core game, and we use that for everything but Equipment, which is probably defined by gear. For the other four approaches, you get a number of points to distribute based on your Hacking skill X2 (so, Fair gets you 2 points, good 4, great 6 and so on). Let’s say we adhere to a rough pyramid distribution just to limit spiking.

We might allow a few other sources to add to the pool. Certain stunts might increase it. If your vision of the net rewards strength of will, you might grant an extra point to someone with a Will of great or better.

But the net result is now you have, effectively, a secondary character sheet that handles all netrunning which is easy to set up, plays nicely with the rest of the system, but still feels very much like its own thing. That’s super satisfying.

The benefit for ubiquitous skills (like, say, fighting) is that it allows you to get a lot of differentiation without needing to lean as heavily on stunts. It can be a fun way to handle duels with a fine grain (as the two masters go to their respective approaches for the fight) that easily collapses back into the Fight skill for broader conflict.

For magic – well, for an easy example, imagine how easy it would be to do a magic system based on the Stormcallers system[2] where there’s a magic skill, and the storms are approaches. Easy peasy.

Approaches remain a really robust technology, and what’s most fun is that we’ve still only scratched the surface.

  1. This list adheres to the general metaphor of breaking into computers. If you’re playing with lots of hallucinatory landscapes, the approaches would probably be very different (and with more specific visual cues).  ↩
  2. If you haven’t seen the magic system toolkit preview, it’s a form of elemental magic, where each “storm” corresponds to an element.  ↩

FAE’s Best Friends

Gregor Hutton’s Best Friends RPG is an amazing little game (which is no great shock, Gregor’s stuff is all amazing) with a petty, malicious, brilliant little chargen technique which is trivially ported to FAE.

Best Friends has a list of stats like tough, pretty, rich and so on, all of which are effectively the approaches that matter to a high school group of frenemies. As with Leverage, it’s a list that’s pretty easy to map directly to approaches, but that’s tangential to the appeal.

What’s most marvelous is that for each stat (or for our purposes, approach), you write down which character your character hates because they’re better than you. Literally. “I hate Betty because she’s prettier than me”. GM gathers those up, and the value of the stat (approach) is equal to the number of people who hate you for it.

There are a few rules to make sure that everyone is reasonably equally represented, but that’s an easy bit of math based on the number of approaches and the number of players. Slightly trickier is making sure the total number of plusses comes up to a competent total. If need be, you might start everyone at +1 everything, and layer the additional points on top of it, but only if you really feel the need.

Anyway, it’s a wonderful trick, and so trivially easy to port to FAE that I had to share.

Approaching Approaches

Now that FAE is out in the wild, people are getting a good sense of what approaches are, but for the unfamiliar, here’s the quick version: approaches replace skills, and represent the style with which you solve a problem rather than the manner in which you do so. Sounds pretty abstract, but it’s easy to illustrate. In FAE, the approaches are:

  • Careful
  • Clever
  • Flashy
  • Forceful
  • Quick
  • Sneaky

So, if I get in a swordfight, we’re not rolling my skill, but rather we’re rolling based on how I’m approaching the swordfight. If I’m hammering away at my opponent, I’m being Forceful. If I’m dancing around, launching quick attacks, I’m being Quick. The basics are pretty straightforward[1].

Once you’ve got a grasp on the basic idea, the next question that springs to mind is whether that list really covers everything, and the answer is “no, of course it doesn’t”. But it’s not supposed to – it covers enough of a range to support the kind of play that makes for the baseline for FAE but, importantly, it also teaches the concept in a quick, very absorbable fashion.

Why is that important? Because one of the easiest ways to hack FAE is to come up with your own set of approaches, ones that reflect the specifics of your particular game. The general list works well for many things, but different games have different priorities, and by delineating approaches, you are explicitly calling out the areas where things happen in your game.

How do I mean that? Consider how easily FAE can be used to hack the Leverage RPG. In leverage, the 5 core stats (Hitter, Hacker, Grifter, Mastermind & Thief) can just as easily be seen as approaches. It’s pretty much a direct port[2], which is handy.

Too easy? Ok, let’s step into the realm of super spies. When I think about James Bond, I feel like he doesn’t quite line up with the approaches as listed, and I might try something like:

  • Violence
  • Stealth
  • Intellect
  • Charm/Sex
  • Resources (Gadgets, money)
  • Contacts (other people)

Easy to debate the specifics of the list (and I encourage you to make your own) but it illustrates the way that James Bond solves problems from my perspective. And if I run a FAE game with those approaches, I’m making a statement about the shape of the game.

Note that that list also reveals two interesting things about approaches:

First, they’re exclusionary – There’s no “violent” approach in the core list because violence could be approached in any of the ways listed. By making violence an approach, it’s called out as its own focus of spotlight and, more importantly, as something that CANNOT be accomplished with another approach. In effect, the Bond list says “violence is its own thing, and it caries weight.” That is to say, if there is a most important thing in your game, then you explicitly don’t want it on your approach list – thus, there is no “spying” approach for James Bond.

Second, they can also be external – the FAE core list is solidly traditional in that it talks about expressions of the character, but there’s no reason that approaches need to be that way. Can you solve a problem by throwing money at it? Then perhaps resources are a valid approach, if you expect to see that a lot (I could totally see it for the Richie Rich game). This point is important when you start thinking about plugging in things like magic systems into FAE, and deciding if magic should be an approach. It also matters a lot when you start thinking about GM approaches.

But that’s a whole other topic.

  1. And should also be familiar to anyone who remembers my Amber hack (Grace, Force, Resolve and Wits) as well as somewhat reminiscent of Robin Laws’ Dying Earth RPG.  ↩
  2. speaking broadly, you will find similar portability in any system where it is expected that characters have ALL of the possible skills at some level of capability.  ↩

Testing Out the New Digs

I admit, I’m a bit of a fool for technology, and the opportunity of changing blog platforms also means an opportunity to change how I write blog posts. I have a few apps that could theoretically allow me to edit then publish to blogger, but the results were always a bit unsatisfying. But in a fit of serendipity, it seems that my preferred minimal writing app, byword has added the ability to publish directly to a number of platforms, wordpress among them. Since Byword also lets me use markdown to generate smart footnotes [1] as I write, this seems like a total win for me.

Which is to say, this first post is really just me testign to see if the technology all works the way I would expect it to, or if there are some more hoops I need to jump through

  1. Like this!  ↩