Monthly Archives: November 2010

Fate Inspiration

Not everyone is comfortable with Fate, and with aspects in particular. This is natural enough – no game is going to be to everyone’s tastes, but in the case of Fate, there’s a specific hangup that I think merits a little bit of attention, if only because it’s easily addressed.

Aspects (and the use of fate points) serve a number of purposes in play, which means they cover a lot of different ground. A fair portion of that ground involves things that are normally considered within the GM’s purview, like dictating the occurrence of coincidences, the arrival of connections and the convenience of gear.[1] For many players, this kind of flexibility is liberating, but for some it breaks their suspension of disbelief. They are comfortable with clearer lines of division that put the GM in control of the world and the player in charge of his character. For that kind of arrangement, giving the player authority beyond his bounds is as disruptive as giving the GM authority over the character.[2]

If so, that’s fine – you can actually drop a lot of that material without disrupting the game in any real way. The simplest way to do this is to limit aspects to being literal and descriptive rather than abstract. The first step to support this is to replace Fate Points with “inspiration”. Rather than representing the player’s role in the game and their ability to help steer the narrative, inspiration is a combination of willpower, drive and sheer dumb luck. It’s that reserve of capability that a hero can draw upon in the worst of situations. As a result, the things it can be spent on reflect tapping into that reserve to try a little harder or push a little further.

To support this, aspects should reflect training, background, something intrinsic (like a stat) or things that the character is inspired (for good or bad) by. Mechanically, nothing changes: Spend inspiration along with an aspect to get a bonus or reroll, or gain some inspiration when the aspect makes trouble for you. Under this model, compels are all about character behavior – accepting a compel means accepting a limitation (like being too tired to go on) or yielding to a temptation rather than making the “optimal” choice.[3] More abstract compels don’t have a place under Inspiration rules.

This same thinking applies to other aspects in the game. They should be limited to purely to descriptive things like “Dark” or “Dazed.” When they are tagged or compelled, the effects should have a clear cause and effect.[4]

Now, there are still plenty of borderline issues, but that’s more or less the point. The inspiration model works because it’s a discrete subset of the Fate system. Everything done with Inspiration could be done in generic Fate, but the reverse is not true. So while a generic Fate character might have a hard time in an Inspirations game, an inspirations character can play in any Fate game without missing a beat. Compatibility is king!

1 – This also shows up in certain skill uses, like using knowledge skills to make declarations
2 – If this doesn’t apply to you, then don’t sweat it.

3 – The thinking here is similar to some modern understanding about willpower as a limited reserve. Effort spent resisting one temptation makes it harder to resist another. What this means is that yielding to temptation can help make you more able to face a later challenge, must the same way that doing something unwelcome but which you know is the right thing can make you feel better about yourself.

4 – For example, if an enemy has the “Off Balance” aspect on him, a player can’t compel to have him slip at a convenient moment, but he could compel it after a successful attack, describing the attack as successfully knocking him down. While the result may be the same, the former example depends on the player narratign events his player cannot control, which is exactly what we’re avoiding here.

Friday Night 4-Fight

Hit Points are weird. This is hardly news, I know. Entire volumes have been dedicated to providing some sort of logical justification for them as an abstraction of health, luck, mobility and anything else that comes along. They might literally represent progressive injuries, but more often they represent you slowly getting tired and generally roughed up until things get really bad.

We’ve trained ourselves to be comfortable with this in a lot of games, but it always hits a little resistance when we add in guns. We have a harder time abstracting away the effect of guns for a number of reasons, the biggest being that it’s very hard for us to reconcile the idea that a hit with a gun can be casually shrugged off.[1] That cuts to the core of the “health” component of hit points and makes it difficult to sustain. We can imagine the occasional grazing hit, but those quickly strain credulity. On the other hand, using hit point purely as luck or agility[2] to produce retroactive misses is pretty dull, and especially frustrating when players have guns to tell them their hit is a miss, but it’s really a hit, you see.

One solution to this (beyond making guns stupidly high-damage weapons) is to decouple the scariness of guns from HP damage and instead reflect it with effects or conditions[3], and that definitely works well, especially if you want to introduce guns into an existing game.

But if you want to do guns from scratch, as in to just do a simple firefight with 4e, a more drastic departure might be in order, one that’s been on my mind.

The idea on my mind is to turn Hit Points into a more generic pool, perhaps just called luck, reduce them, and make them a component of _defense_ rather than damage. The trick for this is the addition of Defense actions, At-Will interrupt actions available to all characters to represent things like diving out of the way or making a block. These actions do something descriptive, and also raise the character’s defense by the number of “Hit Points” spent.[4] In the fiction, the _action_ creates a miss.

Mathwise, the result is very similar – HP slowly ablate from hits – but descriptively it creates a much clearer sense of when a hit connects and does damage.

Speaking of damage, this would of course call for a slightly different damage system, some sort of injury model. Perhaps an injury threshold – if an attack that hits rolls damage in excess of the threshold, you’re out. If not, reduce threshold by the # of dice rolled, representing an issue.

It’s still a kind of loose idea in my head, but some part of me has been wanting to take the quick play of Gamma World and drop it into something closer to Feng Shui (except, perhaps, with Planescape cosmology). This is a bit too much of a departure for straight D&D, but for a departure in the same style as Gamma World, it might be reasonable.[5]

I may have to try out a firefight or two soon to see how this fleshes out.

1 – And, in fact, a cinematic shorthand for things being out of the ordinary is a target that shrugs off bullets.
2 – Which would also demand HP not be tied to Constitution.

3 – Including @Wm_Bounty‘s brutal “Shot” condition – make a death save at +4 each round, Heal check DC15 to end.

4 – Maybe fixed values. Maybe some # of dice. Need to play test what’s fastest.
5 – For straight D&D, @gamefiend pointed out the the Star Wars Damage Threshold (You have HP, but a single attack doing X or more damage has certain effects) probably works well.

Cool Monday: Gamestorming

As a gaming guy who has to work in a day job, I was utterly drawn in by Gamestorming by Dave Gray, Sunni Brown and James Macanufo. Dave Gray has written a lot of interesting things about sketching and data visualization in the past, and this particular book is dedicated to using games in a business context. These are games designed to inspire creativity, build teams, brainstorm and otherwise do the things that are supposed to happen at meetings but very rarely do.

I admit, I’m an easy sell when it comes to the idea of finding utility in games, and this book makes a great case for that, with almost three quarters of the book dedicated to specific examples. That said, the fist section is actually a broad analysis to games which I found utterly fascinating. Specifically, there’s a lovely analysis of games as creating a range of ideas, kicking those ideas around, then narrowing down the range of ideas until you have a winner. This struck me in large part because of something that has a lot of utility in Dresden Files city creation. The system’s very good at creating a bunch of ideas and kicking them around, but I think the narrowing step could probably use some work. It’s a great example of how a good model can give insight into an existing system.

Now, I think this is a great book from a business perspective, but my appreciation is a lot nerdier. See, a lot of the games that are useful for business could also be a lot of use when brought back to gaming. Specifically, a lot of situation, scenario and character design and collaboration can be acquired through these games.

Even better, a lot of the game techniques can be used to solve long-standing game problems. Specifically, a lot of the games are designed with checks to keep the more talkative members of the group from directing everything while at the same time working to draw out contributions form people who might normally be hesitant to speak up. For me, at least, this is a situation I’ve seen at many gaming tables, and any way to address it is welcome.

To illustrate, I’m going to pull out a couple of the games that really struck me as ones that could apply to RPGs, but I’m just scratching the surface here. If this is even faintly interesting, I strongly encourage you check out the book and the blog.

Start with a topic, (such as a setting element). Each player takes an index card and writes down an idea or object related to the topic. Redistribute the cards (pass to the write) then add to or enhance the idea on the card. Repeat several cycles of, possibly starting fresh. The result will be the equivalent of a loud brainstorming session, but you’ll have gotten input from everyone.
As a twist, I note this one can be done entirely by email, if the GM is willing to administrate. Has the advantage of hiding handwriting or groups in which that matters.

Context Map
The context map is a visualization game to study and reveal the influences on an organization, such as the trends affecting a business. It can be applied equally well to fictional organizations and situations, and is a great situation builder.

Heuristic Ideation Technique
Fans of Shock or the 5×5 adventure design system will recognize this method. will recognize this one, and a mention it mostly for that. Basic Idea is a 5×5 grid, with 5 elements on each axis, and the grid used to review how those elements intersect.

Like a post-mortem for a problem, but done in advance, to consider the things that might/will go wrong. Struck me as a great way to design adventures by starting with a goal and building the problems from that.

5 Whys
Start with a problem, and ask everyone to write down why it’s a problem. Line up those answers as the top of several columns, then go down each column 5 times, asking why the the thing above is a problem. This is a great way to boil down bigger issues, but in gaming it’s a great way to build the backbone of a campaign with problem like “The Dark Lord Rising” and such.