Monthly Archives: February 2013

My Kind of Stunts

I do not take a terribly mechanistic approach to stunts. It’s a taste thing, but by and large I want stunts to be big, sweeping things which say something big and meaningful about the character, not just to serve as a fine gradation between two characters.  With this in mind, I’m going to post up some stunts I’ve written up for another game (an Amber Game)  because they illustrate something important – these stunts were literally created for specific characters to support a specific theme that the player had chose (mechanically called an “Affinity”). 

Technically, this is for a Tempo game, but Tempo and Fate stunts are basically interchangeable, so feel free to think of them as Fate stunts.  That said, there’s something important to note about most of these stunts. Let’s see if it stands out. 
First, there’s Cassidy, who’s affinity is “Broken Things”

Because Friend’s Help
When alone in a scene, Cassidy may spend a Fate point to declare she is getting help from a friend.  That friend has a skill of her choice equal to Cassidy’s lore skill, and can help her out in any way reasonable.  The first time a friend is used, they are named, and they accrue one point.  Each subsequent time they are used, they gain another point.  After a friend has accrued enough points to equal Cassidy’s scholar bonus (+9) they can no longer be called on, though a new friend may be available with a similar skill. What happens to them is an interesting question

Cassidy can spend a fate point for a flashback of any time within the past 24 hours, wherein she can be doing anything that she could have done, even if she wouldn’t have the knowledge to do it at the time – she is just that prepared.

The Missing Piece
If Cassidy has a substantial piece of something, she can find the rest of it, given time and attention.

Through The Cracks
Cassidy can always find a way out.  Keeping her prisoner is a delay at best.

The Shattering
Cassidy never does more damage than she intends.  She can wield a sledgehammer with the precision of a scalpel.  In addition to more or less guaranteeing that she always has all the tools she needs, it allows her to make impossibly precise called shots without penalty.

Cassidy can keep any piece of magic or technology working as long as no one notices.

What is Lovely Cannot Stay
Cassidy spend a fate point to use a broken thing as if it were fully functional provided she has at least a recognizable piece of it.  She may only do this once per thing, and if she does, then she will never be able to fix it (though someone else might). “Thing” in this case is very broadly defined. It applies to objects, certainly, but also to ideas and large scopes.  From the Coliseum, she could give the last order to the Roman Empire, if she saw fit.

State is a State of MInd
If Cassidy spends a fate point and breaks something, she may destroy it utterly, save for piece small enough to carry. So long as there are no witnesses, she may restore the broken thing from its piece. 
Next is Fion, whose affinity is Treachery

The Price of Service
– Fion is a useful ally.  If his offer of service is accepted by someone, he grants them a new aspect (Fion’s Service) which they can tap as a normal aspect, but which Fion can also spend fate points through, even when he’s not present, representing the long term impacts of his actions.  However, If Fion ever chooses to betray that aspect, he can remove it and more or less declare a consequence.

Ear for Secrets
– In conversation with an NPC, Fion’s player can hand the GM a fate point and ask what one thing this person is trying NOT to talk about.  if there’s no answer, he gets the fate point back. Otherwise, the GM tells him.

It Takes One to Know One
– Fiona can spot a spy or a snitch with superhuman acuity.  It takes Fion approximately five minutes of conversation with someone to see if they serve a master other than the obvious one. This ability doesn’t tell him  who the actual master is, though there may be hints.

Ok, so there they are.  Notice a trend?

These are, by and large, almost entirely system agnostic.  With one or two exceptions, they don’t hook into any mechanics in particular (except spending a fate point, which is a pretty portable idea).  This is a result of the kind of thinking that constructs them – I don’t think in terms of mechanics, but rather, I think in terms of play.  Specifically, I think about how I would imagine doing this cool thing, then have the stunt reflect that.  If that description doesn’t suffice (as in the case of The Price of Service), *that’s* when I turn my thoughts to mechanics. 

I also tend skip to the end.  I used to build stunts in trees and stacks with the idea that you could buil dup to cool things, but I’ve grown tired of that. Instead, I just zoom in on the question fo what a player is REALLY trying to do when they buy three stealth stunts, and try to provide the answer to that.

This approach has some downsides.  It takes exactly zero considerations for balance, but that’s not a real problem.  What *is* a problem is that there’s so much taste involved in this approach that you risk missing the tone you should be going for.  That is, the success of this model depends on being in tune with what your players like.  This is the reason that it’s harder to put this approach in published material and it is to simply implement it at the table. Or, at least that’s my usual thought.

I’m less certain of the truth of that these days.  Certainly, such a product would automatically narrow its own audience, but there is a case that ANY mechanical decision can do that too.  And going largely systemless does offer opportunities that other approaches don’t have.

So, I’m not sure.  I might be considering sharing more stuff from my table to see if it is more useful to the world at large than I’ve usually considered.

What’s in a Book?

If you have never done so, stop and think about what goes into a good RPG book.  Not the RPG, but the book itself.

There are a lot of challenges a designer faces when it comes time to design the book.  An RPG potentially needs to do 3 things –
1. Teach a game,
2. Provide and engaging read,
3. Serve as a reference

This is the project management triangle of game publishing – at absolutely best you can pick two, but on many days you’ll be lucky to get just one.  If there’s a game that has ever successfully done all 3, I have not seen it.[1]

But it’s not the only choice that needs to get made – completeness is also a spectrum.  To illustrate, look at Evil Hat’s two big games – Spirit of the Century and The Dresden Files RPG.  Fate is a fairly lightweight system, but those are *huge* books, because we made the decision to really talk everything through.  They’re iceberg books – the amount that actually comes up in play is much smaller than the body of information presented, but that large body is what supports the tip.

The problem is, this is daunting for many.  The idea that Spirit of the Century is a pick up game seems preposterous if judged purely by page count. So there is an impulse to step away from that level of completeness in order to provide something easier to digest.  Rules that add complexity get trimmed, edge cases get smoothed down, complex sets get standardized, all in favor of striking a balance that serves a different set of priorities.

And this is an important thing – something really critical to understanding Fate and the role of Fate Core – these are not the *right* choices, they are the choices which *best serve* the goal.  The Fate Core book is, effectively, the 101 on Fate.  It covers the basics, teaches you how to use it, and gives an implementation that works very well for a core set of activities. But like most 101’s, it is a foundation that will largely get discarded in detail (though not in spirit) as you proceed along the path of mastery.

We talk a lot about “dials” in the rules, as a way to adjust certain rules to certain effects, but even that is a streamline.  When we say everything in Fate is a dial, we really mean *everything*.  The four outcomes? Dial.  Stress and consequences?  Dial.  The fate point economy? Dial.  I can change every one of those things in substantial ways and still have a game that is recognizably Fate.  And that’s the point.

The secret of Fate Core is that there really is no core, or rather, what core there is is so small that it wouldn’t even cover a piece of paper. Fate is a tool to create and resolve interesting situations and respect what’s important.  But like most such simple premises, it spawns a thousand questions which – if answered – result in some really big books.

Why does this matter?  Because it means that Fate Core is going to be flawed.  Not just because it’s a human endeavor, but because it’s a snapshot of a certain set of priorities, and those priorities are not going to suit every gamer and every game. Hell, many of them do not suit *me*.  But despite that, it is critical that there *be* a baseline, for without that discussion is difficult to pursue and, by no coincidence, if that baseline is accessible, then it is easier to discuss.

So, read Fate Core.  Learn from Fate Core.  And when you reach the point where you want to change things to fix them?  THAT’S where the journey really begins.

1 – If you think a game has, and that game just happens to be your favorite game, then it is possible that you are a tiny bit biased.