Offloading Consequences

So, if you’re curious about how to handle something like Superman’s invulnerability in Fate, go read this – it’s well thought out and quite clever.

The takeaway from it, which I’m chewing on, can be paraphrased as such – Superman’s invulnerability does not prevent “taken out” results, rather, it offloads those consequences onto his environment[1]. This is a fun trick, but what intrigues me about it is that there are many more subtle forms of invulnerability than Superman’s, specifically the narrative invulnerability of named characters from TV[2]. You know they’re going to survive, largely intact, so how can you tie their actions directly to the tension in the story?

This idea of offloading consequences promises to be an interesting path to doing this, but I feel like it requires a next step. When you have only one Superman, it’s not hard to play the offloading by ear, but when the whole team is invulnerable, that can get weird and undifferentiated very quickly, so the question becomes how you make these things distinctive, and it strikes me that the answer is to give players some control over the direction that their offloading goes. It may not be 100% in player hands – situational offloading may also be common – but it can be a great way to differentiate the things that are important to a character.

This also might allow for one of Fred’s favorite ideas to get new legs, since it might also be a way to measure a hero’s scale. Hawkeye’s offloading is smaller and more personal than the Hulk or Thor because they’re larges “scale” heroes.

That said, I’m not yet sure how to create player-directed offloading that is evocative but easily comprehensible. I can think of some broad categories (Peopel around you, home cities, crime stats) but they’re a little bland. More, I need a good way to differentiate them from things that normally go wrong over the course of play. If all these things do is change the uniforms of the thugs I’m fighting then it might feel a little toothless.

So, chewing.

  1. Deep nerds may recognize this as an inversion of the idea of “punching Spiderman in the girlfriend” from Truth and Justice.  ↩
  2. And, of course, every major comic book character  ↩

5 thoughts on “Offloading Consequences

  1. Ryan M. Danks

    I hadn’t thought of narrative invulnerability, but now I can absolutely see how Batman has that in spades – he does run with Superman (and survives!) after all.

    I think the answer might be in what a character’s aspects tell you are important to him. For instance, Batman should have aspects denoting his loyalty to Gotham City and the Bat-family. He gets taken out, Jason Todd gets kidnapped and beat by the Joker (that’s not going anywhere good!), Barbara gets shot by the Joker and paralyzed (that damn clown is everywhere!), someone has framed Batman for a murder he didn’t commit and the police are after him.

    This works for Spider-man, too, and is a great way to bring in the character’s rogue’s gallery.

    I believe, this mechanic should be one of importance to the character. A random city getting trashed means nothing to the Hulk (depending on his mood and current level of cognizance), but Betty Ross being in danger does. It’s important to remember that heroes have all these supporting characters for two primary reasons: to ground them in relatable fiction for the reader (give them something to do besides beat people up) and to create tension for a character who would otherwise be too powerful to worry about (give them a reason to beat people up).

  2. Lugh

    On a related, though tangential, note, I posted on the FATE Yahoo list a while ago about secret extreme consequences. For me, the key example was Harry Dresden becoming a daddy. It’s not foreshadowed in his Aspects. It’s definitely character changing. It *feels* like an extreme consequence to me.

    So, suppose that Dresden is getting hammered in a BBEG fight (as he does). He’s out of options, but can’t concede yet. Amanda looks at Jim and says, “I have an idea. Are you willing to accept an extreme consequence that has nothing to do with the fight?” Jim says okay. Dresden picks up “Unknown Bundle of Joy” as an extreme consequence. Which nails him in Changes, and he converts to an Aspect by the milestone at the end.

    Obviously, there are issues here. For one, that kind of consequence might sit there without really inhibiting the character for a while. But, I think that most of those issues are solvable by falling back on the intelligence of the players, rather than mechanizing them.

    This discussion just reminded me of that, due to the point that consequences don’t *have* to be directly related to the attack being absorbed. Maybe the punch from Bizarro just turns Supes’ head in such a way that Lois sees Clark in his features. Or maybe it gets caught by a photog and turned into an internet meme. Or maybe it knocks him through a wall, and the owner decides to sue.

  3. Jonathan "Buddha" Davis

    Hi Rob! I’m working on an OSR hack, and I replaced the idea of Hit Points with Dooms (and took PC death off the table as an assumed idea). The basic idea is that the players provide one to three Dooms for their characters, “bad” things they think as players would be fun to see inflicted on their characters. Then HP become Doom points, which measure the character’s closness to fulfilling one of their Dooms. When you run out of HP, either something bad happens as appropriate to the situation, or the GM can choose to fulfill one of your Dooms. I’m hoping this will allow for a combination of player-directed offloaded consequence and “surprise” for the players in that they can’t be absolutely sure what will happen when they are taken out of the conflict (a Doom or a situation-specific consequence), but they know the GM has the options they have given for consequences they think would be fun to see.

    Would something like that work for you? Letting the players put their own consequences on the table?

    1. Lugh

      There was an early version of this presented in 7th Sea. As a high-action swashbuckling genre, death was supposed to be rare, but important. As such, each player was asked at the end of character creation to describe how they wanted their character to die. Do you want to die in a final charge against impossible odds? Executed by a corrupt official for a moral crime, becoming a martyr for a cause? Holding the bridge while your allies make their escape?

      For each player, no matter what you did, death was off the table in any conflict. UNLESS it fit with your stated death scenario. And the GM was encouraged to frequently tease players by setting up conflicts to look like their stated scenario whenever she wanted to increase the tension.


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