Sunday, September 29, 2013

Some More Fate Dithering... Ignore If You Can

So I've got a tentative test run of a one-shot Fate adventure set for late October, possibly the 29th. But the more I dig into the system, the more I worry.

There's a lot I really like about Fate, in theory at least. The characters are fairly fast and simple to create. Task and combat resolution is really flexible, and for a non-tactical game, offers a lot of interesting and creative strategies. Although it's hard to imagine how it would actually play out, you can do "combat" on an intellectual or even social level. So that instead of inflicting physical wounds, you could inflict a Consequence on someone like "Humiliated in front of his peers" or "Revealed to be a fraud," which can be invoked to create an advantage against them.

But then there's that word, "Consequence." There is no real damage system in Fate, just as there are no statistics to form the basis of one. You have no Strength or Constitution score, and therefore no hit points against which to inflict damage. Instead, you inflict Consequences, which are basically negative aspects against a character. Ironically, this can create a combat that's more like the kinds of fights you see in books and movies, and I dare say more "realistic" than a more traditional hit point-based simulation. A character receiving a Consequence will have something like Fractured Rib or Cut Over the Eye, instead of saying, "Ouch, I lost 10 points." Although there's no fixed mechanical penalty in the rules for such conditions, the character is required to honor those consequences in further play.

That's a hard hurdle for me to get across, though. Although intellectually, I can see the value in such a system, I also see how it can be abused by players looking to exploit advantage over the table. I've played with a lot of power-gamers who would look for every exploit they could find in the rules to "beat" the Game-Master, or the scenario, and I can foresee lots of debates over the table from people looking to make a Severe Consequence not so severe, or looking to take a Consequence that's really no hindrance at all. And even people who aren't power-gamers could find it confusing not to have firm rules in place--"Okay, so I'm Groggy. What exactly does that mean in this fight?" Its fuzziness makes it flexible, but can also make it frustrating.

And then there's the issue of concession. Fate has rules for conceding a conflict, which, again, to me seems like a cool mechanic. Not every fight should end in a complete slaughter of your opponents. But there is a certain level of "heat of battle" that comes into play at the table, where players will make their characters fight until they drop. Not only that, but there are some players who hate the entire concept of surrender on either side. If their opponents surrender, the players will just kill them while they're helpless. Avoiding a fight by negotiation or allowing a helpless opponent to live is simply not in their gaming vocabulary.

But concession is a pretty big part of Fate, mostly as a way to allow the PC's to survive an encounter they're losing. Problem is, why should the NPC's accept a surrender or a negotiated cease-fire if the PC's would not? Once again, it's a mechanic I think is pretty cool, but I don't know how it would play at the table.

What else? Oh, there's also the mechanics that allow characters to change the game world by declaring new aspects on scenes and characters. On the one hand, I think it's a neat mechanic to allow collaboration at the table, and it's something I've actually done a few times in our non-Fate campaigns, where I've made a suggestion that some condition outside my character apply in the scene and the GM, not seeing a problem, agrees.

But it's hard enough keeping a campaign on track when players' actions so frequently try to push things somewhere else. In a campaign world like the one I'm setting up, which will have major secrets and revelations, how do you keep that under control if players can, on a whim, suddenly decide to declare a change that undoes a secret that they haven't yet learned? I suppose the answer is, "As the GM, you simply say 'no.'" But once again, I foresee arguments from players who say, "This is in the rules, and you let X do Y, so why not me?"

But this is why I want to playtest, to see if the problems I anticipate might be overblown, and to see if the fun factor overrides those concerns.

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