Tag Archives: Fate

FAE Classes

I doubt I will ever stop noodling on FAE. I was thinking this morning about what I would do if I wanted to write a self-contained adventure for FAE, something in the vein of a classic low level D&D module. That specifically got into the realm of character differentiation. Setting aside magic stuff for the moment, I still kind of like the idea of differentiating the fighter from the rogue from the bard and so on. So here’s a quick thought on how to throw that in.

  • A “class” is added adjacent to the list of approaches. When the character does something within the scope of the class (fighting for a fighter, fast talking for the bard and so on) they receive a +2 bonus.
  • While there need not be a fixed list of classes, the classes and style of classes are something to discuss and think about. Fighter, Rogue, Bard, Paladin and so on are a valid list, but so is Hitter, Hacker, Grifter, Thief & Mastermind.
  • If something loosely fall under the auspices of a class, instead of arguing, take a +1 bonus instead of +2. So, rogues might get a +1 to fight instead of +2. These will often be situational – if the “fight” is stabbing someone in the back, that’s absolutely a +2 for the rogue.
  • If you settle on a magic system, then the +2/+1 becomes a potential hook for “semi” magical characters. What the cleric does at +2, the Paladin might do at +1.
  • You can keep using stunts as written, in which case they stack on top of classes, and that is cool and badass, but classes give a different possible approach. Stunts could become a way to broaden the scope of a class. That si, for a stunt, add a category of activity to the +1 level, or raise a category of activities to the +2 level. So might fighter might take the “Scholar of war” stunt to treat academics as something that loosely falls under my fighter class (so I get a +1)
  • If you need “true” advancement, then it might even be possible for the class to start at +0 or +1 and increase as high as +4. In those cases, loosely associated activities are at –1 from the class level.

Anyway, just a wacky idea, but it appeals to me a bit because I could pretty easily express it in a page or two for a self-contained product.


anchorI make occasional reference to Anchors as a piece of technology that I use when I run Fate, but I genuinely am uncertain if the idea has ever been articulated fully anywhere, except in bits and pieces.

Anchors are a very simple idea, loosely inspired in part by an old idea from Over the Edge where each of the freeform skills of your character had to be reflected in your physical description. It was a very small thing, less notable than the requirement that you draw your character, but it stuck with me because it told a little story about your character. Better, it did it in a way that I nowadays recognize as akin to good brand building. There was no need to tell the story (though perhaps you might) because the richness came from the fact that there was a story.

There is a magic to meaningful things which make them stand out against the backdrop, and this magic is magnified by fiction. It is also magnified by play. I could probably go on about all the reasons why this is so – showing and not telling, microcues, hidden information, symbols and so on, but that would probably be its own post.

Anchors are an attempt to capture that magic.[1]

Practically, anchors are super simple. They are a person, place or thing which you declare to be associated with an aspect. How exactly this is implemented can depend, but the simplest approach is that you create one anchor for every aspect on your character sheet.

For Example, let’s say I have the aspect Always Looking For the Next Big Score. Possible anchors might include:

  • A good luck coin (Something from my Dad’s biggest score, the job I live in the shadow of)
  • The Bank of Interaad (Someday…)
  • The Lightfingered Guild (Frequent rival, sometime ally for big jobs)
  • Jimmy McKnickles (Best locksman in the empire, if you can pull him out of the bottle. Old friend, and frequent crewmember)

I pick the one which I want to see come up in play. They might all be true things in the game, especially if I spin the tale for the GM, but the key is that I’ve called out one thing in the game that carries deeper meaning for me. I then do that for each of my aspects.

Anchors represent a concrete way to leverage an aspect, especially an abstract one, into play for both the GM and the player. They provide physical things to hang compels and invokes off of. Aspects can still be used as normal, but the anchor expands that domain in a very specific way.[2]

For players, this is an obvious avenue for some setting authorship[3] but, importantly, not a mandatory one. An anchor can be as small as a piece of personal equipment or as large as a 13th Age Icon.

For a GM, it creates a host of signifiers to stand in for player’s aspects in the setting. This is incredibly handy when you sit down and start thinking about how to make adventures matter to the players – in addition to the conceptual hooks that aspects offer, you now have a host of physical hooks that you can draw into a game that you know have meaning.

Anchors are a great way to get more out of aspects in their most basic implementation, but once you grasp the core idea, the idea can be expanded in a few ways. For example:

  • There’s no reason you can’t ask for 2 anchors, especially if one is of a specific type. For an Amber implementation I wrote up, the trick was that every aspect had 2 anchors – the first was a person (specifically, a member of the Amber family) and the second was any kind of thing. As a result, every aspect had a built in relationship and a hook. And as a bonus, I could write all the anchors down on cards and deal them like a Tarot deck, knowing that every card tied to a player.
  • You can use common elements for anchors, either by GM fiat or player collaboration. That is to say, more than one player may have the same anchor, creating a nice second order connection between the characters.
  • Theoretically, you could even have players take other characters as anchors, which gets interesting if its asymmetrical.
  • Changing anchors is a kind of fun play driver that lets you advance a character’s story without changing their nature.

There’s more, but let me pull this together into a practical example. Let’s say you want to capture the idea of the 13th Age’s icons in Fate. You tell the players that they need to choose an Anchor for their aspects, and they have the option of picking a second anchor. However, the second anchor must be one of the icons of your game[4]. There might be some limit on how many times a given icon can be used by one character (say, 3) but at the end you have a full spread of icon relationships and, sneakily, a bunch of second-order relationships through the character’s aspects. That is, if your anchors for Master of the Night Wind are “Academe Mystere” and “The Stormcaller” then the GM may very reasonably ask herself “What do the Academe and the Stormcaller have in common?”[5]

This is, I will admit, a very long post for an idea that can be boiled down to “After you choose an aspect, name a person, place or thing which is connected to it”, but I consider this one of those very simple ideas that can go a long way, so I wanted to frame it out properly.

  1. it was also necessitated by the fact that my players are goddamned poetic in their aspect selection, something which alternately delights and frustrates me to no end.  ↩
  2. At first glance, this may seem like it makes aspects more powerful, but that’s sleight of hand. There is already so much leeway in invoking an aspect that the extra space an anchor provides is really not that big a deal. But what it can do is make invokes and compels more concrete and clear. If you’re Insecure, that is easy to invoke, but bland (because it’s largely internal). But if your anchor is your parent, who you always disappoint, then that gives a specific hook for what that means in a scene.  ↩
  3. Though again, that’s sleight of hand. Players already have powerful authorial abilities with their aspects, even if they don’t use them. Anchors just offer an opportunity to use that authority with aspects that are less explicitly setting elements.  ↩
  4. Extra points if you haven’t defined your icons yet. This would be a really neat exercise in collaborative setting design if you came at it from scratch. Eve moreso if you use the idea of scaled down Icons as drivers of a smaller part of a setting, like a City.  ↩
  5. And because someone will ask, here’s how you bring the “icons” into play. Before play, every player picks one aspect/icon, and the GM picks 1 aspect/icon per player. The GM can add more by paying the player in question a fate point, and the player can do the reverse. GM puts three columns on a piece of paper, labeled “Making things better (+)”, “Making things Worse(-)” and “Waiting in the Wings(0)”. A dF is rolled for each icon (more than one if the icon is brought in more than once) and the Icon’s name is recorded in the appropriate column, and the GM now has a clear sense of who is in play, how they impact the situation, and how things may be further complicated (because the GM is basically free to pull icons out of the Wings column whenever it seems appropriate). And note, the GM has also just seeded the adventure with ways to touch on player aspects, so it’s a win all around.  ↩

GM Intrustion, Compels and Aspects

So, there has been some mixed response to GM Intrusion in Numenera, and I want to speak to that a little. I genuinely think it’s a great mechanic flawed largely by a terrible name that might benefit from a little tweaking[1].

If you missed the bigger posts, the GM Intrusion (GMI) is basically this – the GM can declare something to go wrong and the player has two options. First, he can spend 1 XP to refuse it. Alternately, he can go with it, and receive 2 XP, one of which he hands to another player.

Fate players will see the immediate comparison to compels, and there are other games out there with similar mechanics, so when I look at this, I do so with an eye on lessons learned from similar mechanics, but obviously, I’m going to lean most heavily on lessons learned from compels.

I actually really dig this topic, because it does a fantastic job of illustrating what aspects do and don’t do, because here’s a dangerous idea: Aspects are not strictly necessary. It is entirely possible to play a sort of “Zen Fate” where aspects are simply inferred from what has been described in the fiction so far. The net result (for compels) would look very similar to GMI, and this is one of the reasons that I think that GMI is a very powerful technique. Zen Fate is not something I would recommend that anyone try until they’ve reached a point where they have internalized the ideas behind aspects so thoroughly that play would unfold the same way it would if there were aspects.

The problem is that it is not trivial to get to that level of intuition, partly because it’s about practice, but also because it’s about communication. It depends on a shared understanding of the situation and, perhaps more importantly, of the characters. That kind of sharing requires communication. Now, that communication can take many forms – a table that has played together for a long time has almost certainly developed lots of tools for this communication that feel utterly instinctive, but that is hard to replicate and becomes a problem when the situation changes.

With that problem in mind, it becomes clear that the hidden purpose of aspects it to serve as a device for communicating these ideas. Learning the idea behind a compel is easy, but the presence of aspects provides guidance as to where compels can be applied to greatest effect. Put another way, things will always go wrong in play, but not everything that goes wrong is equally compelling. If my character is a fast talking but ugly charlatan, if I’m refused an audience with the queen, then it’s much cooler if it’s because I’m hideous than because her schedule is full. It feels like my story.

This, in turn, hopefully illustrates the strength and weakness of GMIs. By jumping right to the technique while forgoing communication of sweet spots, you can end up in a situation where the tool might be used to full effectiveness (if the GM has the right skills, ability to read the table and luck with her players) but there’s very little to help insure that this happens. Worse, it means the examples in the book are going to be fairly bland; not because the writing is bad but because they must address generic situations, and generic leads to blandness.

So, that’s a problem, but it’s also an opportunity. The technique is a powerful one, and if it opens the door to conversations about how to make better GMIs, then it could be quite fruitful. And when I look at the GMI rule, I see this potential, and I find it very exciting.

  1. So, I hate spending XP to refuse a GMI, just take that as a given. The other oddity is that as much as I like giving the extra XP to another player, it can create weird disconnects in what it means to be giving that XP. Lots of ways to solve that problem, but it’s a shame that none of them are int he book.  ↩

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.  ↩