[FATE] On Frankensteinian Game Mechanics

Sometimes I feel like I’m stitching together some horrible Frankensteinian amalgam… it’s something that Fate lends itself to well, if only because the Fate Fractal makes such things a snap. Most Fate-based games I see on forums or Obsidian Portal follow the same method, so at least I’m not alone.

It’s also a little hard for players to figure out, when I’m using my Starblazer core book, use bits of Bulldogs’ rules, and tell them I’m running “Fate.” The interrelated nature of all the various Fate games means they’re easier to jam together, riff off, and steal from than most other game systems; even mashing up different WoD games or d20 supplements can lead to some uneven balance issues or notable gaps.

  • The Marvel Heroic RPG has a great initiative system I just talked about ripping off a few posts ago. Fate needs a decent initiative system that works, and has the same flow as the game on a meta level, and I think that’s the one to rip off.
  • Plot stress from Starblazer and Anglerre is the greatest thing ever… when used right. Rather, when there’s a good place to use it. Pretty much the only time I’ve used it was as a ticking bomb in a zombie game; each time the players spent Fate points, the plot started taking damage, and after a while something would happen… more zombies would show up, help would arrive, that sort of thing. I’m still a huge fan of the original example in Mindjammer—trying to infiltrate a base, the plot takes damage whe the players mess up.
  • Bulldogs! has this amazing idea of giving everything negative Aspects; it starts out when you’re getting your starting equipment: if you end up with something you can’t afford, slap on a negative Aspect to be compelled in a tough spot. That blaster might be an Energy Hog; that mystical black blade might be Trying To Dominate Me!
  • Hell, take Bulldogs’ new applications for Aspects and turn it to eleven. We have Aspects on organizations, vehicles, equipment, cities, countries, cultures… why not go full-blown with them and start putting them on plots, sessions, or entire campaigns? The game with Band of Backstabbers is going to be a lot different than the one with Cutest Ninja Assassins Evah.
  • I’m growing to like how in ICONS players have smaller Fate Point (e.g., Determination) pools, but need more to make Determined Efforts—thus, compels. After running Starblazer, it always felt like players had too many points, unless they had too little, leading to avoiding compels because there’s no need. Or being forced to take them, after making five re-rolls to avoid blowing the ship up. And speaking of compels…
  • … and I’m still on the fence about forcing players to pay off a compel from their point pool, since it’s an easy way to abuse/strongarm players without any points left. I’ve noticed it’s something left out of some Fate games, and while I realize it’s a mechanical balancing thing, it’s one of the big areas for abuse in the system. If people actually abused it at all. (This was also a problem I had with TORG, and some other games before that: players stockpiling hero/action points, so that there was no need to be epic, or spend cards, or do whatever to gain more at a risk or cost.)
  • Half of the time I end up wanting to compel things that aren’t related to a character’s Aspects at all, either because they’d lead to interesting results, or because it’d fit with a PC’s personality. I’ve shied away from this simply because it breaks the Fate economy down, getting rid of the expected rules and boundaries the players are used to, but I’m thinking of a “bribe” method, a compel that the players don’t have to pay off—either accept or decline—which otherwise follows the compel method.
  • 7th Sea and Exalted have set my mind up to reward players for rule-of-cool, epic cinematic action. The irony in Fate is that rewards work the opposite way—by making things more complex, by taking short-term failure for long-term gains. With smaller Fate point pools, you have the freedom to reward these actions more often without overbalancing things in favor of the players—in other words,they still have to take compels now and then, so the Fate point exchange stays the same.
  • My TORG games, and the way players attempted to abuse the Drama Deck (and backfired), was influential. Well, that’s pretty much compels in a nutshell: complicate the situation in some form or another and earn rewards for doing so. It’s a bit of a learning curve, especially as a GM, to get people used to the idea that setting things up for failure will pay off in the long run. It does run counter to logic—bad things giving you good things, it’s a weird connotation—but I’ve noticed people like to take compel-able Aspects just because it’s fun.
  • Strands of Fate is a bit too GURPS-esque for my Cubicle 7-based Fate mind, but there are a few ideas I love from them. The big one is persistent aspects. In Fate, when you’re sneaking around in a dark building, you have to pay a Fate Point and tag the Aspect “Dark Building” to get a mechanical bonus from the Aspect. Yes, even though it’s dark, you need to pay to… make it dark for you. In Strands, you can tag the darkness for free; things like Under Cover and Pitch Black are persistent, and thus free tags, unless you alter them somehow (e.g., get out from under cover, set off a flare, etc).

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