Monthly Archives: February 2019

Generous Play is Everyone’s Job

These four modes are far from all-encompassing, but I wanted to talk about generous play because it is what I, personally, strive for and seek. This is not the only way to play, an I am absolutely not pushing it onto anyone who wants other types of fun (including undepicted ones, like competitive play or tangential play or the like).

(Though I think selfish play sucks)

This is probably the tip of a future iceberg because in naming generous play, it becomes something I can speak to in terms of best practices, tips and tricks. These are not all-purpose suggestions, but rather they are things which might be useful if you also seek generous play.

This is on my mind due to some strange conversations afoot about the role of GM. I don’t want to delve into them too deeply because I think the specific conversations have gone pretty far off the rails, but the underlying topics regarding the GM’s role at the table and their relationship with fun are important. There are absolutely cases out there where the nature of the role in a game has a warping effect on the social rules surrounding play, and you can end up with tyrant GMs who use their position as a blunt instrument to maintain authority.

This is a bad thing. And games are not going to solve it. When this happens, there is a much deeper social breakdown going on, and games are just the arena of choice. That is not going to instantly become a healthy group if they switch over to cross country skiing.

But games might help keep us from getting to that space. Often is it born from a model of received play – the players are there to be entertained, and the GM is there to provide the entertainment. This seems benign enough, but it sets up a scarcity-based model where the players rely on the GM for their fun, and thus the GM may give or withdraw that fun as a tool of power. This is obviously messed up, but if it’s your only exposure to a play dynamic, it may not be obvious how brittle a threat that is.

Most GMs I know are personally inclined towards generous play, even if they’re the only person at their table who is. I would go further to say that this tendency is essential to GMing being a healthy, engaging pastime rather than something more like a job or authority role. If the GM is not finding her fun in her player’s fun, then she needs to find it somewhere else, and those somewhere else’s are kind of sketchy.

Critically, most of my favorite players also subscribe to this model. They’re there to have fun, and they engage the rest of the table to help drive that fun. If you get a table full of people playing this way it can be a joy to watch as the fun-ball gets passed around with vigorous enthusiasm, and the desire to elevate each other elevates the whole table.


(Because of course there’s a but)

This is MUCH MUCH easier to say or intend than it is to *do*. If you turn to someone and say “Hey, play more generously!” they will be rightly puzzled as to what exactly you’re asking and how that could even be done. Generous play requires trust, confidence and bravery as foundations, and even if you have those things, it then requires practice to do well. it’s a skill. a hard skill. But as a skill it can be learned.

So when I talk about the tip of an iceberg? The rest of that iceberg is going to be about learning that skill. Partly for my own sake – talking through this stuff is good for me – but hopefully it will be of use to others.

Flip Fate

There’s a rules variant I use for Fate Points when running It’s Not My Fault which a friend asked me for the writeup on today and I said “Sure, i wrote that up somewhere, one sec.”

Yeah, well, it turns out, I had written it, but had lefts it in my ‘to be posted” file for a very long time. Oops. So, having found it, I how share this very belated post. Credit where it’s due – the original idea for this came from the really cool way that FFG’s Star Wars game handled force tokens.

Flip Fate

A variant rule for using Fate Points

  1. Grab some double sided tokens. Exactly what doesn’t matter much, but the sided need to be EASILY distinguishable at a glance. Othello/reversi tokens work very well for this. Coins can work in a pinch, but the lack of color difference is sub-optimal. For purposes of conversation, I’m going to assume tokens with a black and white sides.
  2. At the start of play, take a number of tokens equal to the number of players +3. If that’s an even number, add one more. Then, drop them on the table (to randomize) which side is up, then set them up in a line, grouped with like colors.
  3. From this point forward, whenever someone (GM or Player) would spend a fate point, they flip one of the tokens. Players flip from white to black, the GM flips from black to white.
  4. If a player earns a fate point in some way, such as through a compel, the GM makes a flip from back to white.

Optional Rule: Dramatic Reset

One thing that can happen in this system is that the chips can go all black or all white, meaning that one “side” can no longer use Fate points. This is an intentional outcome, since it gives each side incentive to keep the Fate Points moving, but also makes it clear when it’s safe to do so. Getting a “lock” is an invitation for one side or the other to push very hard to leverage their advantage.
However, that may be a bit too dry for some tables. A dramatic reset happens when the chips are all one color, though it should wait until whatever action triggered it is resolved. Once that happen, there is a dramatic change in the situation, narrated by the “winning” side – the players if the chips are all white, the GM if they’re all black.
This is a moment of strong authority, and can resolve or drastically change the game. For players, it’s an opportunity to take full GM authority for a moment. For the GM, it’s kind of a chance to make an unkind move without feeling bad about it. Usual suggestions about “don’t break the game” remain in play, but I trust you.
Once the reset is resolved, the tokens are randomized (AKA “dropped on the table”) again and play continues. If they come up all one color? Honestly, go ahead and do another dramatic reset. The odds are so far against that you might also want to go buy a lottery ticket or something.

Variant: Fate Dice

Rather than tokens, you can do the same thing with a number of Fate Dice equal to the number of players. A “flip” increases or decreases the face value of one of the dice, with the GM moving towards – and the players moving towards +. Dramatic reset happens when the dice show all plusses or all minuses.