Do people still play Fate?

edited January 2017 in Story Games
What have you found that you like or don't like about Fate? From those who have played Fate, what do you think are its strengths and weaknesses? Is the 1st, 2rd, 3rd or 4th edition of fate the most collaborative--meaning that the players help the GM with world building, creating the SIS, etc...I know that FateLess is completely collaborative, just wondering about the others. Also, are there specific elements you like from the different editions? Thanks :)
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  • My personal experience is totally idiosyncratic, so maybe not that useful for insight.

    For me Fate is basically the Simulationist princess play version of The Shadow of Yesterday - the latter being this less popular game with a pretty similar mechanical set-up, but different creative goals. I was very much into TSoY in 2005-2010 or so, which is also when I got to know about Fate. Consequently Fate has always felt somewhat unnecessary for me, personally, especially as I've historically preferred more of a chaotically dramatic, personality-driven narrativist adventure game, as presented by e.g. TSoY (or as a more recent example, Apocalypse World), rather than the staid, carefully performance-balanced point-buy hero building, GM plot railroading adventure game style of Fate.

    That being said, my interest in the type of game Fate offers has been slowly and steadily increasing lately, so it's not beyond the bounds of possibility that I might tackle say Spirit of the Century or Dresden Files or some such at some point. It could be a compromise position for me instead of a more immensely ambitious campaign game with similar creative goals - I've mainly thought about playing something like Ars Magica or Pendragon, clearly heavier and more ambitious titles in that creative ball-park.

    I'm not extremely well-versed with the different editions of Fate, but I've read through several of the more prominent books, and I don't think that I would characterize any of them as "collaborative", not any more than your average roleplaying game. I might not view collaborativeness in as absolute terms as you do, though, so one way to say this is that I think Fate in general is pretty collaborative - it focuses logically on the way the player characters are presented as heroes of their own story, which implies that the players have a large role in the game, even if that role does not involve direct and immediate authority over the setting and situation. It's a lot like Exalted, if you've played that - traditional GMing arrangement, but a clear ethos of celebrating the player characters as central to the plot and narration. For example, in both Fate and Exalted it is entirely normal for a player to invent an entirely new city for the setting just to have a place their character grew up in in their childhood; whether this is "normal" for you determines if it's collaborative or merely business as usual.
  • I'm in a Fate Accelerated game right now, so apparently some people do still play it. :P I'm not really in any position to discuss comparative editions however.

    To me, Fate's greatest strength is its ability to be amorphous to genre - there aren't, for example, a lot of sci-fi RPGs that I enjoy, but Fate can easily be used for a sci-fi setting - so long as it fits in the Fate "style bucket" of "adventures of motivated, interesting and interestingly flawed but competent people." All games of Fate tend to feel like games of Fate because of that "style" but they fit in different settings fairly easily, and I don't actually have that many really "genre agnostic" games.

    If it has a 'Weakness' is that relatively narrow style band it accommodates. That said, what I don't LIKE about it is different - every time I interact with the game, it feels a little bit weird and artificial, and always slightly more complicated than I feel it needs to be.
  • If it has a 'Weakness' is that relatively narrow style band it accommodates. That said, what I don't LIKE about it is different - every time I interact with the game, it feels a little bit weird and artificial, and always slightly more complicated than I feel it needs to be.
    Have you thought about ways to remedy this? Perhaps adjusting the design?


  • Have you thought about ways to remedy this? Perhaps adjusting the design?
    I have not yet, because I keep feeling like maybe there's a reason for it all that I just haven't found yet. I'm not very experienced with the system, and I don't like tampering with things I don't understand very well.
  • Fate says right on page one that you will be playing highly competent people who tend to succeed. I don't think there's a ton you can do about this within the game's framework, and that's OK. It is utterly unworkable if you play to fail, because you can't really fail that much in Fate. You can trust me on this because I have pushed pretty hard and the results are always frustrating and lukewarm as you build a mountain of self-compel fate points.
  • I love Fate. I don't use it for Call / Trail / Whatever of Cthulhu, pretty much for the reasons Jason gave, and that's fine. I don't just play one game. Not ruling out the possibility of a good Fate blend for that -- and I had a blast when John Farish experimented with something of the sort (end result was at least two PCs joining the evil cultists and / or having been looking for that all along) -- but it's not a natural blend the way FAE and Star Wars is.

    I ran Kerberos Fate for two years, and on the one hand, Jason's absolutely right about the flaws there -- mountains of Fate points, which I managed to drain exactly once, I think. I mean, yes, some depends on players and whether they're willing to lose. I have a couple eager to lose, and a couple eager never to lose. But, again, system matters, and Fate defaults to not losing.

    On the other hand, the reason the campaign ended after two years was a player moved away, and we agreed that we wanted to wrap before that happened.

    On the third hand, in that particular Fate blend, advancement had issues, and the only reason the PCs weren't de-facto gods was a gentlegamers' agreement (appropriate in genre, but shouldn't have been necessary).

    I'm currently running a sequel campaign, using rechromed Atomic Robo Fate. Net result: Fun-but-Odd.

    There are parts of the system we've not touched, and I don't know whether we will -- Resources and Brainstorming.

    As GM, I have more Fate points than I did in the original game, but I feel less need to use them.

    I go into each session trying to prep "enough" and then I watch everything spin off anything even resembling rails, which is awesome. I've no idea how much is system and how much players. If it's more the players, well, I need a system I like. I've tried gming with systems that are supposed to be great for their purpose but which I've hated, and that doesn't work.

    Thus far, I think the conflict we spent the most time on was the PCs attempting to prevent street thugs from stealing Dorian Grey's food diary. (He's a PC, and the doctor PC asked him to keep one.)

    They failed.

    This food diary is of utterly no use to anyone except Dorian and the doctor, but the thieves figured it must be worth a lot because of how hard everyone was fighting to keep it.

    This was utterly unplanned, utterly spontaneous, and utterly delightful.

    But, how much of that is due to Fate and how much to our individual quirks? I've no idea.

    I've had a blast playtesting Dresden Accelerated, which is doing some sweet, sweet stuff -- again, within the parameters Jason mentioned, so while great for me, if you don't like what Fate does, you probably still won't like it.

    I think the most successful playtest I have ever run was for Young Centurions. I say this because after the playtest ended, I was informed by the group that I was going to keep running it until we wrapped the story.

    This is the only time that has ever happened in a playtest I ran. I've playtested things we liked and things we had issues with, and this is the ONLY time, ever, the group has said, "We are continuing with this, right here, right now."

    I run it, I play it, I love it.
    (I'm also running Dracula Dossier, Monsterhearts 2nd edition, and a freeform pbem, and pondering running Masks, as my copy of it arrived right after Josh and I finished watching Young Justice. A friend of mine might be talked into running it instead, which would be awesome, because I could play!)
  • edited January 2017
    @Jason_Morningstar
    @Lisa Padol
    Do you think you could make the game at least more challenging for the players if you did the following, (these changes would only effect PCs; the rules for NPCs would be closer to the default rules):
    1. Only allow 3 Aspects
    2. Cap skill bonuses at 2 or 3 max
    3. Have a refresh rate of 1
    4. Dramatically cut the skill points awarded to make skill bonuses lower
    5. Use a fairly long list of skills so that the relative breadth of the starting skill set changes; for example, have more skills so that only about 25% of the starting skills are covered relativie to the available skills.
    6. Limit the amount of invocations that can be stacked so players can't have unlimited advantages; allow players to stack only 1 or 2 advantages max.
    7. Possibility change the bonuses for invoking aspects to only +1 instead of +2.
    8. When overcoming an action, you do not get a "boost" when you "succeed with style"
    9. When creating an advantage, when you tie we do not get a "boost," when you succeed you create only a situational "aspect" and not a "free invocation," when you "succeed with style" you get a situational "aspect" and only 1 free invocation not 2.
    10. Give PCs from 0 to 1 stress boxes to start

    Again, these rule changes would only apply to PCs; NPCs would use rules closer to the default rules, to give the NPCs more power relative to the Fate RPG default NPC v. PC power balance. Admittedly, this would add a lot of complexity to the game (and probably wouldn't be worth it for "crunch" adverse people like myself), but I think it would result in a more challenging game. What do you think? Jason has probably already tried this stuff and found it was unworkable, but I thought I would throw some ideas at it :) Thanks :)
  • Fate is a great game (system) that pretty much achieves exactly what it says it will. It's really good, in short, at pulpy adventure stories. If you want something different, I'd recommend just playing a different game.

    Fate remains very popular among the various gaming communities I participate in and know of.
  • Yeah, my instinct says that those changes sound frustrating, Jeff.

    What's the objective? To make characters feel less competent? I guess they would do that, but why would you want to in Fate? There are lots of games out there with characters who are bad at their jobs.
  • edited January 2017
    Yeah, it's basically just a thought experiment. It would definitely be overly complicated and wouldn't make a lot of sense to make these adjustments. It would obviously be best to use another model.

    I always kind of have trouble understanding what people mean by pulpy, even when I look up the definition. Are there some examples of genres that are examples of pulp? Are there any movies or books in popular culture that would be examples of pulp? I don't think Pulp Fiction would work, because all of the characters aren't super capable. People talk about noir, but again I don't think the characters are super capable. Also, Lisa said she was using it to play Monster Hearts 2, isn't Monster Hearts 2 about hearts about capable characters and can't enter PVP territory? Of course, superheroes would work...what are some other examples? Thanks :)
  • I always kind of have trouble understanding what people mean by pulpy, even when I look up the definition. Are there some examples of genres that are examples of pulp? Are there any movies or books in popular culture that would be examples of pulp? I don't think Pulp Fiction would work, because all of the characters aren't super capable. People talk about noir, but again I don't think the characters are super capable. Also, Lisa said she was using it to play Monster Hearts 2, isn't Monster Hearts 2 about hearts about capable characters and can't enter PVP territory? Of course, superheroes would work...what are some other examples? Thanks :)
    My kind of question, this :D

    Most of the time when people say something is "like pulp" or "pulpy" they mean a specific genre of pulp fiction, namely adventure serial storytelling. Stuff like Tarzan, basically - read a few Tarzan novels, and that's your "pulpy". In fact, read lots of entertainment from the pulp era (the first half of 1900s, in a nutshell), it's good for you and as we know, doing the work is the only way to actually master a subject matter.

    (See that word 'adventure' in "pulp adventure"? It's important because there's other kinds of "pulp fiction" that is not adventure fiction. People do not generally mean these kinds, such as romance, crime or horror stories, when they talk about "pulpy", particularly in the context of roleplaying games. "Pulp fantasy" and "pulp scifi" are basically a subgenre of "pulp adventure", too - they're adventure pulps set in exotic locales. As for the word "pulp", it's just a snide general reference to trashy softcover literature of the era - it comes from the kind of paper that used to be used for printing this type of low-class reading material. Properly speaking, describing something as "pulp" merely says that it's trashy commercial schlock, without describing much about the genre or kind of story it is.)

    The movie "Pulp Fiction" is ironically not very pulpy. Even if it were, it'd be crime fiction, which has little to do with the kind of pulp adventure fiction that rpgers tend to be interested in. I can only imagine how confusing it is when the two most prominent uses of the word for someone are in that movie's title and in rpgs that use it to describe their gameplay - "How's this game like Pulp Fiction, again?"

    That being said, if you want a quick sense of what "pulp adventure" is like and don't like reading, just watch an Indiana Jones movie - those are basically straight pulp-style adventure stories in a movie format. Very vanilla in many ways compared to the breadth of the field, but then the whole aesthetic was so obscure by the time they did those movies, it felt fresh simply for being such a throwback to an earlier style of adventure fiction.

    Note that pulp adventure stories range all over regarding character competence, it's not a very good measure of how pulpy something is. However, in the rpg culture pulp adventure games tend to position themselves as "less lethal than old school D&D, but more down to earth than high fantasy", which colors the expectations of many roleplayers. Original pulp stories range from grim and cynical to heroically optimistic, and it is not strictly necessary for the protagonist to be a powerful and competent figure, even if the best remembered pulp heroes are just that nearly without exception. I guess that they got to be well-remembered because they featured in a lot of stories, and they featured because they were awesome - and thus there is a natural tendency to forget all the pulp stories with weak protagonists while remembering Conan and Doc Savage and so on.
  • Jeff,

    Lisa's comments about Monsterhearts 2, etc., are all about OTHER games, not Fate. I'll let someone else answer the questions about the pulp genre! (But "old-fashioned adventure comics" gives you a hint of what it's like. And I suppose Indiana Jones is kind of the "archetypal" example of pulp adventure.)

    My sentiments match Airk's and Eero's:

    The game is solid, but doesn't do anything particular *interesting* for me, beyond creating its desired genre reliably.

    Meanwhile, there are a LOT of moving parts, which all must be engaged. Some are fun (e.g. how Aspects can be used to create variety in scenes), others are not so fun (manipulating all those Aspects and points just so you can get the same outcome - success - we all knew was going to happen anyway).

    Overall, it's a bit predictable, while using a LOT of tools to get there (too many, for my tastes). So, I have little interest in playing it. But I think it's a good game/games, just not for me.

    People who really dig Fate, in my experience, like this specific kind of genre very much AND love to engage all the fiddly bits and game the system. (And I think that may be a lot of gamers!) However, I don't know any people who play Fate these days.
  • edited January 2017
    I'm with Eero, TSoY is just light-years more interesting. My experiences with Fate and most Fate-derived systems is just finding the mechanics incredibly boring and unfruitful. They can sometimes support an interesting framework (Danger Patrol, say), but the mechanics themselves appear to do nothing - Aspects are fun to write and frustrating/boring to use, and Compels/Self-Compels sound great on paper and seem to do almost nothing in play -- or perhaps more accurately, do exactly the same thing everything does.

    There just never seems to be any room in the system for anything to happen, for the game to breathe. I am sure you could make that space somehow -- as evidenced by lots of people playing Fate games -- but I have never understood how the core mechanics would help.
  • It's still one of my go-to games, but I don't use it for everything. After running Tianxia for 6 months, I've come to the conclusion it isn't as useful for long term games as some systems, and sometimes I want systems that are a bit more Sim when running SF. Not a fan of it for Supers, either. I do like it for like quick fantasy, heroic modern, and/or short term gaming.

    I do like the way that conflicts can have very flexible consequences, and have actually thought about grafting that on to other systems.
  • edited January 2017
    The way I look at it is that as there is no one true way of roleplaying (as others of a certain generation of roleplayers, I really believe in this), Fate is probably just doing its own thing which perhaps isn't explained with a very technical distinction, which may make it seem boring to people who don't intuitively grok it.

    My own pet theory (and this is just me reading the game texts, no an attempt to assign motivations to others actually playing a game) is that Fate is supposed to be like Fudge and GURPS and Heroquest and such, creatively speaking: an adventurous princess play vehicle. ("Princess play" is this snappy name I like to use for character-centric action Simulationism, it's not intended to be derogatory to machismo.) The usual issues that much concern people playing these types of games tend to obscure the similarities, as it's often very important for the technique of play whether the game has a lot of crunch or a lot of streamlining, and you absolutely have to buy into the dicing mechanics and such. This is why a person who likes e.g. Fate often has very definite opinions about GURPS; it harshes their flow, it essentially tries to do the right thing, but it does it with the wrong techniques. However, to understand what these games are trying to do, provided you're looking at them from the outside in, it may be useful to figure out how essentially the same the creative agenda is for them all, despite all the differences in mechanics.

    In this interpretation the reason for why Fate has lots of mechanics that are meticulously balanced to do essentially nothing (an extreme opposite of TSoY, which is balanced to break often and wonderfully) is that the point of a given rules mechanic is not to "play to see what happens"; rather, the point is to see Wolverine use his claws - see, he just activated them, and now he's spending the points, and here the claws come, and oh they hurt badly, and the bad guy goes down, and it was all very well paced and the narration was lively, thanks to the game mechanics that have been very carefully structured to make it easy to run the mechanics alongside the narration, making for a strong and lively picture of an action sequence. All those compels and bumps and supports and such aren't in there primarily as cleave concepts or questionable beauty or illusions to be challenged (as in TSoY); they're a machine made to tell you when it is time to talk about Wolverine's claws. It's not that Wolverine might win or lose (I don't think that winning is that interesting an issue in Fate, of course the good guys will win sooner or later), it's that the rules help regulate and structure when it's time to talk about Wolverine's claws, when about his regenerative abilities, and when we're not talking about Wolverine at all.

    The kind of play I describe would be hellishly boring if you weren't excited to talk about Wolverine's claws, note; you need to like the character you build at the beginning of the game, and you need to look forward to getting to talk about their claws to the other players. The others will also bring their own talking points, and your talking points will interact, and fun will be had, but only if you are initially into the idea of creating a cool character and then talking them up and hamming it when they fall prey to their foibles, or whatever.

    A game like TSoY or Apocalypse World or such, which do not attempt to guarantee game balance between character concepts, can be problematic for a player wanting to play this kind of game because of the way attention and creative reward flow in these different sorts of games: in TSoY you're playing well and accomplishing things if you make your character a willing cleave to the status quo, and express this opposition to the supposed plot strongly. In Fate you're playing well if you wait for your turn, express yourself within the constraints of the genre and campaign premise. It's got much more decorum in where the "story" comes into the "story game". It does not surprise me that players who desire this type of game will complain about two things in the narrativist sort of adventure game: game balance and showboating co-players. The Nar adventure game doesn't really - cannot really - guarantee your spotlight, and it will basically expect you to play the role that organically develops for you, even if it's as an antagonist or sidekick. From the perspective of princess play these are classical fail states, the sort that were discussed extensively throughout the '80s and '90s. How to make the game balanced and support the quiet players against the natural showboats, those are the kinds of questions that Fate's design attempts to answer. (And answers well, I think - as I said before, I take the prospect of playing it one of these days completely seriously.)
  • I play more FAE that Fate, but it is still in rotation with my gaming group.
  • @Jeff_B_Slater if you want to see how I approached this problem, my setting in Worlds on Fire might be of interest to you. I agree that your suggested changes don't feel like they will make Fate more fun to play.
  • Eero - You use the term "cleave" a couple of times, and I'm not familiar with this usage. Can you elaborate on what you mean?
  • "Cleave" is a confusing word, since its modern usage is quite the opposite of its archaic usage ("To break asunder" vs. "to adhere closely to"). However, it's also possible that Eero has made his own usage here (in particular when he seems to use it as a noun). :) Eero is known for colourful and non-idiomatic uses of English, and, indeed, some of them even catch on and become beloved phrases in this community.

    If I can take a guess, Eero is using it here to mean that in Narrativist play (in this context, we're discussing TSoY and Apocalypse World as examples), a character's priority in play is to make their own way, to disregard - and often willing *break* - any developing plot. This is quite at odds with what a game like Fate pushes for, which is often to continue to enforce dramatic expectations, and celebrate a character's role in that context. We know, for instance, that Wolverine will get angry and do everything to rescue the poor girl from the bad guy (and we're certain, or almost certain, that he will succeed). This is satisfying in a very specific way.

    The type of play Eero is contrasting it with here involves a character who will want to "break" the developing plot. This is not for social reasons - it is not the player who is willingly trying to ruin another player's contributions - but for story reasons. In this context, the "plot" will tend to be something quite hostile or undesirable for the character, and, in many ways, we play to see how the character chooses to cut the Gordian knot and escape from their perceived fate. We expect the unexpected, in a sense; we want to be surprised by what the character chooses, rather than know and celebrate it from the get-go. We know who Wolverine or Indiana Jones will be by the end of the movie; we came to see them do their thing. Fate seems perfectly set up for that.

    Eero, please correct me if I misread you! Meanwhile, I'd love to hear a little bit about what you see as 'classical fail states', and how you feel games like Fate address them.

    "From the perspective of princess play these are classical fail states, the sort that were discussed extensively throughout the '80s and '90s."

    Are you willing to discuss this in a little more detail?

  • @Jeff_B_Slater if you want to see how I approached this problem, my setting in Worlds on Fire might be of interest to you. I agree that your suggested changes don't feel like they will make Fate more fun to play.
    Awesome Jason, I own that book. I just didn't realize that you had contributed to it. It actually makes me much more excited to check it out, as I very much like your work :) Thanks for letting me know :)
  • Thanks, that's very kind of you! I hope you like it.
  • Sorry for the idiosyncratic design jargon - I'm not native in English, which means that I do my thinking and design in another language (Finnish); when discussing this stuff in English I sometimes just translate my Finnish terminology on the spot, and it might not end up making any sense. Worst is when I can't stick to one term long-term, so one week I call something "A" and next week "B" in English.

    Paul intuited my meaning from the rambling. I'll elucidate a bit more specifically on the weird term I was using:

    Certain types of literature and drama games, particularly Narrativistic ones, make use of what might be called "disruptive" facts or events: this is not as simple as having a "plot twist" in narratological terms, because a plot twist merely complicates a plot and prevents it from reaching its conclusion quite yet, while the introduction of a disruptive event calls the actual thematic accumulation of the story so far into question - there is, in a sense, no natural story arc left to follow after the introduction of a story-disruptive event. For some reason I started calling these types of disruptive facts "cleave facts", as they "cleave" into whatever may be the consensual truth of the story so far and leave a disruptive cleft in their wake, metaphorically speaking. Could call them "wedge events" or something like that just as well; I don't have any intuitive sense as to which might be the more natural word.

    The question of whether a story involves thematic cleaving (see, I'm using it again) at all is an interesting one for static dramatic arts, but it's doubly so for drama games, because it's the players who disrupt their own collective thematic understanding while playing the game, and this is probably not something you want to do without a good reason. A high-level overview of story games concludes that cleaving is common, even essential, to one class of story games, while it is non-desirable and rare in another type; it appears that this particular technique is a powerful indicator for whether the game is supposed to be a Narrativistic or Simulationist one. This is understandable when you think about what disrupting the storyline does to the proceeding of a story game: in certain types of games the story is, essentially, already in existence in advance of play, and the act of play exists merely to actuate the more-or-less known story by giving it a concrete plot and thespian detail. In other types of story games we "play to find out what happens", in which case there is not nearly as much commitment to a certain pre-determined thematic reality and an expected plot line. In the former kind of game disruptive cleaves are poison, while in the latter they are valuable because they preserve what an existentialist might call the "essential freedom" of the characters and plot: when you cleave the story, all that you have left are the characters and setting with their essential natures, free to act as they would, uncaring of what is "supposed" to happen next.

    Practical examples of cleaves are easy to think up, because it's such a core element in the dramatic tool-set. For example, when George Martin first kills his protagonist in the first book of the Song of Ice and Fire series (I forget the guy's name off-hand, the tragic hero northerner baron guy), that act is strongly disruptive to the expectations of the fantasy genre; the reader particularly notices, as rarely does an author raze down the thematic value of their own work with such abandon. (I'm not going to say whether that literary choice is a good or bad one from Martin, that's beyond the scope of this explanation. I will say that the cleave comes in the wrong place in the book for the first book to stand very well on its own, and that it is the only cleave in the first three books that I remember, making it stand out.)

    In narrativist roleplaying games cleaves often come in the form of self-contradicting settings and ambivalent or setting-disruptive player characters. For example, a fantasy hero who refuses to be a hero and instead becomes a shepherd would be a cleave to the expectations of the conventional high fantasy adventure game, particularly if the game reacted to this by morphing into a small-town rural drama (as opposed to exiting the unwilling hero stage left and introducing a new one, more amenable to their allotted role). Likewise, a setting like say Glorantha or Near from TSoY often drips contradictory elements, precisely because it is desirable to see these internally true things attempt to form stories, only for them to encounter each other and cleave destructively, dissipating and leaving behind mere existence.
  • "Cleave events" is such a great, succinct way of summing up the entire Rule Zero / GM Fiat / dice fudging argument, too! If a dicing outcome would be narratively unacceptable to you / your group, *don't roll for it*!!

    Matt
  • Yes - if you don't want cleaving, don't introduce cleaving with broken play practices. In general, I've found that my enjoyment of the "traditional" rpg has increased immensely once I've really managed to jettison the illusion that the plot is supposed to be "in play" in some concrete way in this type of game. It's a big, fat taboo of the traditional discourse, of course, because of the way the rpg ideal has been understood as being this perfect holodeck where you can do anything and be anything and it's always going to be fun and functional because the perfect GM will always have the appropriate answer to everything you do, and the other players will never, ever be hostile to the game you desire as long as your every initiative is faithfully couched in in-character language. Understandably the traditional discourse, coming as it is from this kind of utopian viewpoint, has been pretty unable to outright state the facts as they are: the normal adventure game does not desire disruptive creative choices, and it is imperative for the success of the literary goals that everybody plays along to the genre. Your choices are not limitless, you very much need to go "But the Prime Directive, Captain!" at the appropriate moment, as without those safety rails the traditional Simmy adventure game has little to ensure a happy ending.

    When I figured this out (around 2005-ish, I'd like to say), I restarted playing this type of game after a years-long break, and have been doing it on and off since then. The key to my new approach has been an explicit social contract between the players and the GM: the players accept that the GM has absolute control over the plot (not necessarily meaning an absolutely fixed plot, but rather that any deviations that may occur happen with his explicit cooperation and fully supported by his techniques and prep) and that the GM is creatively invested and excited about the literary merits of his plot (implying: you don't sass him about the railroading, and you are a caring audience to it), while the GM accepts that the players have fundamental choice regarding focus (what we talk about, moment to moment) and pace (when we move on to the next plot station), and everybody works towards a singular thematic vision, celebrating instead of destroying it. Apparently this is some sort of a braindamaged Forgite's way to really figure out how to have fun playing a "normal" rpg, as this recipe has worked for me quite consistently - I'm not immune to games with difficult literary pretensions (looking at you, Call of Cthulhu), but your average adventure game like Exalted or something like that works really well for me with my new-found Sim-satori :D

    All of the above applies to Fate the way I understand it, by the way: I'm sure you can play it differently, too, but when I say that I might be interested in trying it out, the game I'm thinking of would be something like what's described in the Spirit of the Century game text: a highly cooperative initial character/setting creation phase with maximal support for unique character vision from each player, followed by adventures that are essentially GM railroads, but with plenty of micro-level choreographic freedom for each player character to express their unique style and ethos; they shall resolve the problems and save the day, but it'll be up to them to decide how fast, what's important in the adventure to them, and what they look like while they do it. Same as Exalted, really.
  • Also, I forgot to answer Paul here:
    Eero, please correct me if I misread you! Meanwhile, I'd love to hear a little bit about what you see as 'classical fail states', and how you feel games like Fate address them.

    "From the perspective of princess play these are classical fail states, the sort that were discussed extensively throughout the '80s and '90s."

    Are you willing to discuss this in a little more detail?
    Sure, but I didn't mean anything particularly special - you know all of this already.

    The RPG historiography I mostly subscribe to (one could call it the "Forgite" narrative in that it emerged around the early '00s in and around the Forge; there are other, contrary interpretations of the cultural history of rpgs) characterizes the long '80s to '90s era (roughly from the release of Dragonlance to the death of TSR, if one desires specific watershed events) as the time of "traditional" roleplaying: it is a relatively long span of time during which the design and thinking around roleplaying remained relatively stable - not static, but the development was evolutionary and organic, and the designers agreed with one another about a superficially monolithic vision of what roleplaying games are, what rpg texts are like, and so on. This is the One True Way era, one might say. Rebel thinking was, compared to e.g. today, not very prominent, and most creative rebellion still occurred within a relatively moderate framework. Paranoia is the perfect example of the lock-step: it utterly disrespects and satirizes the Gygaxian vision of what a roleplaying is in social terms, but in terms of play practice it's still an absolute picture of the conventional roleplaying game when viewed by modern eyes.

    So when I mentioned "classical fail states", I referred to the discussions internal to this traditional culture of roleplaying: the trad era was by no means devoid of debate, after all. However, the relatively calm evolutionary pace of roleplaying during this time meant that the same themes continued for a long time as central to rpg discussion, entrenching or re-emerging for 15 years. These classic debates and disagreements include almost all the old canards we encounter and address to this day, such as "roll vs role" and "railroading" and "min-maxing"; they're all issues that are inherently important to the traditional roleplaying game, which is why they will never grow old as long as the traditional form of the game remains relevant.

    (Contrast and compare to the stuff we argue about nowadays: nobody complains about min-maxers, while everybody has lots of opinions about "conflict resolution". I think this is because the kinds of games we play influences the kinds of issues we find pressing and pertinent to our enjoyment of play. A change in how the games are constructed has influenced what we talk about.)
  • In my earlier post I mentioned two particular classical difficulties attested early on, as soon as the traditional form of the roleplaying game had been established: "game balance" and "showboating". These are connected issues for the traditional game because of how the game's mechanics are intimately connected to a player's spotlight capabilities and how the group affirms a player's attention-grabbing: if your character has Dominate 4 or whatever, and this translates into you totally over-powering everything and being the center of attention in every scene, then it's not you being a disruptive player, but rather that you're playing well and it's the game that has a problem with being unbalanced. Everything would be all right if those game designers did their jobs and ensured that everybody's characters were equally cool.

    Much of the game development in the traditional strain of design has historically been about addressing the classical fail states of the traditional game, I think. (This shouldn't be a controversial claim, it's nearly a syllogism; why else would a designer make iterative changes to the recipe, if not to address perceived problems?) For example, when the high-points-of-contact engineering design came into vogue in the mid-'80s (games like GURPS, Rolemaster, later editions of Hero System, etc.), it was to address "realism" and "game balance" and "emphasized action" (an issue relating to the way task resolution systems bring emphasis and equity to fictional action by equaling it with mechanical gameplay activities; logical development of this approach ends up at Rolemaster and similar games). Another example is how early '90s games answered the then-pertinent classical issues of "showboating", "min-maxing" and "character uniqueness" with character splats and exception-based power design.

    As for how Fate answers the classical fail states, I think it's pretty obvious - the things that make it a good game are its solutions, because the way it tries to be a good game is to be the game that the tradition has been trying to put out since '85. Namely, consider the following traits that the game has:
    Concerning min-maxing: The ability pyramid ensures that everybody has both a central focus and a sufficiently wide variety of strengths; as the point of the game is not to build the better mousetrap, it's best if the designer simply figures out the optimal amount of character focus and enforces it on everybody.
    Concerning game balance: The generic conflict resolution mechanic makes it easy to gauge narrative impact of different character builds, and thus ensure game balance: this guy gets to shine when it's about driving a car, this one when it's about talking to the president, and it's easy to ensure that they're equally good at their specialties by simply giving them the same skill value, because the difficulty scale is identical. Contrast and compare to something like say early Runequest or WFRPG or whatever - we've come a long way here.
    Concerning flawed protagonists: Compelling aspects is a superior solution to modeling character flaws and acknowledging character-faithful roleplaying. The older solution of giving out character build points is worse (for this purpose), because it front-loads the reward and essentially frames the later act of playing your character's flaws as a punishment or debt-acquittal instead of the happy celebration of character vision that it's supposed to be.
    Concerning tactical finesse: The strictly formal way the game models environmental variables of action kills tactical finessing dead, which is perhaps the most radical departure of Fate from trad games (and the single biggest reason to consider it a "hybrid" design, borrowing in fundamental way from progressive styled design). The traditional adventure game never quite managed to take the step of abandoning the wargame skirmish as its action model, where in principle a character could always just happen to bring along some friends to even the odds, or step up to the fireplace and grab an improvised weapon, or hit the light switch and kill the lights from the room - and the consequences of such always were, theoretically, up to the physics model of the game. Fate throws this entire source of aggravation overboard without removing the task-by-task mechanical action choreography by formalizing the heck out of environmental variables.
    Much of what goes into those is direct historical heritage, Fate is in no way the first game to feature any of those solutions. This is natural in an evolutionary cultural development environment: the game stands on the shoulders of other games, its uniqueness being in part due to incremental finessing of prior ideas, conscientiously integrating multiple influences, and changing tastes in the particulars.

    (It should probably be obvious that I'm not suggesting that Fate is a perfect game - there surely is much to improve upon both objectively and subjectively on the way towards the perfect traditional roleplaying game, particularly when one acknowledges that the trad dream is self-contradictory and thus one can take it many different ways. However, I think it's pretty obvious that Fate does express how the "new school" of trad design has successfully continued improving upon the '90s recipe.)
  • This is understandable when you think about what disrupting the storyline does to the proceeding of a story game: in certain types of games the story is, essentially, already in existence in advance of play, and the act of play exists merely to actuate the more-or-less known story by giving it a concrete plot and thespian detail. In other types of story games we "play to find out what happens", in which case there is not nearly as much commitment to a certain pre-determined thematic reality and an expected plot line.
    I know people who play Fate, Ars Magica, Dungeon World and many 90s mainstream simmy adventure games specifically in a "play to find out what happens" way. I guess you could say that the thematic nature of the story is, to a certain degree, predetermined at character creation if you create a group of thematically static characters to celebrate during play, but I don't think that's the whole truth. How can the story exist in advance of play in this case, even in a strictly thematic sense, if you don't know how the different characters and their static themes will interact during the game and the players are really committed to open-ended play?

    This is the real world example that made me abandon the GNS line of thinking and shift to "each game has its own object". I'd say that it's clear Sim play if the players are there to celebrate their characters, not to make thematic statements or focus on character growth. In actual play with the right techniques, for example Dungeon World's fronts and the play to find out attitude, the end result is far from preconceived even in the thematic sense. The adventuring party could die during the climax, or they could be betrayed by an evil cleric PC (whose player is still just celebrating his character) and no one would know beforehand whether the good guys or the betrayer will pull through.

  • One could even say that not just "each game has its own object", but that each gaming group actualizes a gaming culture that, when brought into contact with a given game text, interprets and utilizes it to produce an instance of play that is, more or less, unique in its creative agenda. So yeah, I do not disagree about the inherent vagueness of talking about what a given game text supposedly "means". The best we can do is produce incisive interpretations and utilize them to get what we want out of the games we play. That's why I've returned several times to the point that I cannot tell how Fate is actually played, I can only say what it looks like to me as a game text - what seems like the natural way to use it, were I to play it myself. For all I know people have latched onto it as the ultimate Narrativist toolset, and are so busy playing that they mostly can't bother to come set me straight here :D

    That being said, there's a difference between a highly dramatically cohesive game with a stratified plot structure like say Call of Cthulhu or Spirit of the Century, on the one hand, and other games that may be just as Simulationistic, yet express this in a focus on setting instead of the plot, such as Ars Magica. Not having preconceptions about dramatic theme is totally natural in Ars Magica, I think; it's much less a "GM's story + player's unique snowflake character" type of game, and much more a "let's celebrate medievalness, and look at how cool our dollhouse is" game. It's much less so in Call of Cthulhu, where the narrow set of genre-acceptable outcomes pretty much boils down to either dying horribly or killing all the monsters. (And let me just say that the fact that the game has even two equally appropriate outcomes already makes it a mighty difficult game for me; Spirit of the Century is much easier, at least I know what the plot is supposed to be.)

    That's all ultimately quibbling, though, for I think that your real point is very interesting and true: even when we posit a game with high genre fidelity and a narrow set of acceptable characters, there is real discovery in putting those playing pieces into a setting and letting them go on their merry way. It is not always so obvious how they are going to interact; when played earnestly, nobody can predict whether these characters will actually get along, who will be the leader, will the players like the villain the GM presents, and so on. We can stack the deck to keep things mostly consistent with expectations, but it would be a false description if one understood "railroading" or "princess play" to mean that everything about the experience of play has been somehow pre-determined; it's not, the only thing that generally exists is a shared genre and plot structure expectation.

    The way I generally explain this expressive freedom is, as I mentioned earlier in passing, by drawing attention to the focus and pace of play: it is generally the case that functional and fun Sim railroad games will allot the players plenty of control over these issues. So much so, in fact, that it is possible to interpret the game superficially as not being on a linear plot railroad at all. It's like playing a well-designed point-and-click adventure game: the fact that you can pick what order to look into the rooms, and what objects to click, and which NPCs to talk to, may at best obscure the fact that you still have to do things A, B and C to advance to the next phase of the game.

    Due to these inherent freedoms that exist in the much-maligned plot railroad games (especially in those; your average conflict-oriented Forgite blood opera game does not usually allot enough loosely structured free-play time to make such freedom in these aspects possible), it is very possible for emergent and important story elements to arise, elements that do not have much to do with plot, but have everything to do with the focus and pace of play. For example, what if there are two PCs who spend all of their time bickering with each other and competing for party leadership? That may, provided their characterization is entertaining, become the most memorable aspect of the campaign, all without ever impacting the plot. Even if it's not "play to find out what happens" in the Narrativist sense, it is still emergent and interesting, and one of the matters of curiosity that drive this kind of play. I know that I am interested when playing a game like this (GURPS Dungeon Fantasy last winter, for example) in stuff like this: how will I portray my character, how will he get along with the other characters, and so on.
  • Yes - if you don't want cleaving, don't introduce cleaving with broken play practices.
    Nooooooo, that's the opposite of what I meant! :-D

    What I meant was something along the lines of, "You may not want cleaving, but if your game system leaves you clumsily quashing anything that cleaves, then fuck you."

    Charts-and-tables, heavy, physics engine games are much more likely to have the problem of "accidental cleaving" than FATE. Which actually makes the former better than the latter for sincere "play to find out what happens," I think. Maybe?

    In any case, I feel like there's something very odd going on in the discourses above, but I can't quite put my finger on it. I'd be very curious, Eero, to hear your definition of the word "plot" as it pertains to this discussion.
  • In any case, I feel like there's something very odd going on in the discourses above, but I can't quite put my finger on it. I'd be very curious, Eero, to hear your definition of the word "plot" as it pertains to this discussion.
    Huh. That gets deep into the theory of literature:

    "Plot" is an emergent analytical property of a narrated story, as well as, in some forms of storytelling, an analogous "blueprint" utilized in advance of the telling to structure the storytelling act. In both cases the plot consists of a sequence of events perceived (or intended to be) by the audience to be causally connected, and meaningful as a structuring agent that focuses attention and prepares the audience to receive more input as they follow and pay attention to the plot. It's one of the properties of the story art medium (I feel like that's not correct English, but I forget if there is an equivalent of "sanataide" in the language) that does not have an analogue in other art forms.

    This perspective on plot basically equates it among other, parallel strategies of artistic structuration that support an audience in taking in and understanding information effortlessly; other examples of qualities that help do the same are (nonexhaustive, in no particular order) memorable characters, meter, typography, topical overviews and breakdowns, and appropriate grammar. Plot is very important as a structural agent for light entertainment literature, less so for some types of fine literature. A story lacking a clear plot (and not making it up by some other means of linearizing organization) is generally experienced as taking more effort to follow, which is caused by the extra work the audience needs to put into paying attention and sorting the reading material into a meaningful whole for themselves.

    Specifically for a roleplaying game, the plot tends to either exist in advance or not; if it does, it usually exists as something the GM concocts and uses as a blueprint for their scene delivery: the traditional form is to create a queue (or a flowchart for a more ambitious prep) of scenes that are connected together by the plot. In games where the plot does not exist in advance, the game's procedures may still reliably come together to create a story with a strong plot; for example, games with goals, focusing on specific characters and advancing linearly in time often result in a strongly plotted story as one of the outcomes of play. There are, of course, games that feature no plot in advance, and do not tend to produce plot-structured stories, either, although they are perhaps rarer than the other kinds.

    Fate is interesting in that it's one of those games that is somewhat ambivalent about the plot's pre-existence, and the significance of such pre-existing plot; different Fate game texts tends to assign more or less importance to GM plotting, while the game system itself has a slight cultural preference to plot-based play (shown in small ways by the texts I've seen; it's entirely possible that there are Fate texts that are rapidly anti-plot, too). When I say that it is natural for Fate to perform as a traditional plot-based "railroad" game, I'm thinking particularly of Spirit of the Century with its genre-stratified pulp adventures that pretty explicitly expect play to conform to a broadly defined plot decided upon in advance by the GM. I've never yet read a Fate game text that offers a serious alternative to plot as a structuring agent, though; how would the Fate GM know what scene to present next, if they did not have a prepped plot to draw upon? I don't feel that the game is very ideal for freestyling it, for instance, and I don't remember seeing a Fate game with a consistent program of developing strong NPCs and locations in lieu of a plot (the way e.g. TSoY gets out of having to pre-prepare a plot).

    I hope that answered the question. I feel like the plot is a pretty intuitive concept, but I can see how it can be confused with e.g. the entire story (which also includes lots of things that are not plot).
  • I don't have time for a lengthy reply, so very quickly:

    Matt, I'm curious where you see the potential quibbles in this discussion, particularly since (as far as I know) you are a skilled and experienced player of Fate or Fate-based games, and understand the moving parts very well.

    Your position on less formalized mechanics being better for unpredictability is something that I often hear in the OSR scene. ("We don't want games with 'story rules', because we don't want to have a predetermined story - we want things to be discovered as we play them.") It's not hard to see how, from a certain perspective, random tables are a far better tool for "emergent fiction" than, say, My Life with Master's Love vs. Reason comparisons leading to a preset endgame.

    Eero,

    That's a fantastic overview. Makes me want to play in a game with a "protected plot" in the way you describe (which I have for some time, anyway), and gives us all some tools to discuss the idea.

    I'll say that "story art medium" is not an existing English term, but I think its meaning is very clear to any English speaker. Your usage of "cleave" is grammatically confusing, on the other hand ("cleave" is normally processed as a verb). "Wedge" works well in this respect (although I don't like the word choice as much, it's much clearer in terms of grammar, and won't cause readers to jump out of the text and wonder "what's going on in that sentence?" to the same extent). Something like "disruption" would be even clearer, but in exchange for not being as colourful. :)
  • Aside: "Crux" has the benefit of both capturing Eero's usage of "cleave" as well as being an actual term used in literary studies that happens to have a similar meaning.
  • I'm not sure that I buy Fate as primarily a plot-in-advance game. In particular, players generate a lot of flags for their characters (aspects, etc.) that, in my experience, make it fairly amenable to an improvised style. In fact, I've only ever played it that way!
  • If I'm understanding Eero right, the issue isn't "plot in advance" in the sense that we know ahead of time who will die at the end of the movie. It is, rather, that we sign on to playing a particular kind of story. "These are a bunch of heroes, and we're playing to see how they will defeat their nemesis." "This is the Tortured Soul character, whose Aspects tell us we will see being moody and giving in to his Alcoholism problems on a regular basis."

    It doesn't so much "we know the entire plot in advance" (it may well be improvised), but, as players, we very much know *what kind of story we're in*, and what roles the characters play in it. That's, perhaps, what makes it well-suited to improvisation: the boundaries of the genre tend to be well-defined, as do the characters.
  • Good point about the flags, Stephen - I agree that this feature of the game does make it easier to do without a plot. Then again, other features (such as clearly thematically defined hero and villain roles, and a strong presupposition towards party-style adventure play) support plotting and plot management (railroading), too.

    As I said before, I don't think that Fate is nearly as absolute about the plot-in-advance as some other games out there. I happen to think that it's closer to that end than not, but I also think that it's not that unreasonable to play it in some other manner. I can imagine that for somebody not so steeped in weird Forgite games religiously opposed to advance plotting it's positively anti-railroad, compared to what they'd expect of a rpg.

    I will also say that to the best of my recollection, Spirit of the Century (I come back to this because it's the Fate game that's made the biggest impact for me, and therefore the one I remember best from reading it years ago) advices the GM to set up a villain, a villainous plot (as in, something the villain is trying to accomplish) and scenes where the PCs get an opportunity to foil said plot. Sounds like plot-in-advance (or "railroading", to use the common term) to me. The game also advices adding plot twists as necessary during play, so it's not like it wants you to stick to your script religiously, but the general thrust of that type of adventure design is all about plotting: the GM knows for an absolute certainty what the story will be about, in that the plot will follow the efforts of the heroes to defeat the villain. The fact that it's difficult to even imagine SotC having some other type of plot (what would they do, have tea parties?) is my very point when I characterize Fate as a plotting-friendly system: a typical Fate game set in an adventurous genre, such as SotC, can only barely be imagined resulting in anything but an adventure story. Were I playing SotC, I wouldn't feel the need to worry about the plot much; once we know who the heroes and villains are, it's not like the plot matters much, you know? The setpiece locations, snappy banter and the action choreography are where it's at. No reason not to let the GM do the heavy lifting of figuring out the plot coupons.
  • @Eero: OK, I think I'm starting to get it. Let me make sure I understand correctly, though: In a truly *not* plot-oriented game, we don't even necessarily know the boundaries of what is possible within the scope of play, since players are empowered to make decisions for their characters that are truly unexpected.

    *If* that's a correct summary of your position, then great, though I'm not sure I entirely agree. But if that's not correct, I'd like to know what I'm misunderstanding.

    One quick, specific question, though: Do you consider the PbtA-engine games' Fronts to be a tool for plot-centric or non-plot-centric play? Because, AFAICT, there's no difference between the way Fronts are instructed to work and the way SotC says to have the villain trying to do something bad and give the PCs the opportunity to stop it.

    @Paul: "Formalized," like "plot," is one of those terms that I think is very problematic and could potentially lead us down a deep, dark rabbit hole. I certainly agree that both FATE and MLWM formalize certain things that trad games would not.

    What I mean is really nothing new: I'm simply observing that if you play a traditional physics engine game strictly by the book (but without fudging or GM Fiat), you're quite likely to have trouble preventing Ye Olde PCs-one-shotted-the-villain Thinge, *and* you also don't have any rules for enforcing "what kind of story we're playing." Obviously, a strong social contract can get around that, which seems to be what Eero is advocating when it comes to GURPS Dungeon Fantasy and the like.

    I guess what's bothering me is that, for me personally, the difference in mindset required to play GURPS from that required to play FATE is *enormous*, so I'm confused at the lumping of the two together. Genuinely confused, though, not upset or anything. :-)
  • edited January 2017
    @Eero: OK, I think I'm starting to get it. Let me make sure I understand correctly, though: In a truly *not* plot-oriented game, we don't even necessarily know the boundaries of what is possible within the scope of play, since players are empowered to make decisions for their characters that are truly unexpected.
    Yeah, that's a reasonable statement to make. Of course "plot-oriented" could mean anything at all, which is why I would use a more precise term such as "plot-utilizing" to signify a game where a plot prepared in advance is part of the tool-set of play.

    Significantly, I do not think that the "plot" needs to be an infinitely specific description of a story to qualify as its plot; what makes the plot a plot, specifically, is its function of structuring audience perception of a narrated story. The plot in this sense can, indeed, be so vague as to consist of "we shall next be viewing a number of action scenes, all related in that they will depict our heroes battling their way into the big bad's lair". This is already a reasonable description of a plot, of a structural strategy that puts a bunch of story events into an overall context that the audience can follow.

    Many roleplaying games utilize a pre-chosen plot in this sense, and for adventure games specifically it is nearly exceptional for them not to; the mission-based, teleological playstyle (I mean the fact the players spend most of their time playing towards the mission's completion) has an inherent default plot structuring the proceedings. Contrast and compare to a game that does not have a consensual plot encoded into the game, such as old school D&D or various narrativist games that merely throw stuff at the wall and see what sticks.

    One quick, specific question, though: Do you consider the PbtA-engine games' Fronts to be a tool for plot-centric or non-plot-centric play? Because, AFAICT, there's no difference between the way Fronts are instructed to work and the way SotC says to have the villain trying to do something bad and give the PCs the opportunity to stop it.
    The Fronts in Apocalypse World are interesting in that they have an internal plot, but externally they exist in a non-plotted relationship to the overall narrative that is created by playing the game.

    The plotted part is in the way each of the Fronts comes with an agenda and an implicit or explicit arc of activities that pushes the Front's agenda forward; this is, in a sense, a pre-designed plot, although it is not so much a plan for the story as it is a plan for what the Front is attempting to do in the fiction. It's a "plot" in the sense that NPCs are plotting, as much as it is a "plot" that the GM is planning to perform.

    However, whether one considers designing a Front to be story plotting in a philosophical sense when taken in isolation, it's pretty clear that the way the Front interacts with the greater whole of the play is not at all plotted; what the game instructs you to do with Fronts is essentially to spin Bangs off them at regular intervals as suggested by other events in the game, so as to depict the Front's activities to the players and give them an opportunity to interact with the Front. This is not using a plot in the sense that a causal sequence of events would be acting to structure play; it is, rather, an elegant, streamlined GM-run simulation of independently acting NPC parties in the setting of the game, dramatically coordinated to ensure that the PCs will have opportunities to interact with the simulation (no point in having a cool faction if the players ever learn about it, after all). If anything this is a wargame solution, and it is in fact exactly the same as how I run complex NPC factions in my D&D campaign.

    This differs from the SotC adventure design framework in a fundamental technical way, I think, because the grand totality of the Apocalypse World "plot" consists of "I the GM have some setting stuff prepped, and shall be introducing it in a natural manner as play proceeds, or not, depending on what we will be focusing on and what you do about the things as they are introduced", while SotC gives you "the villain X will attempt dastardly deed Y this session, and the PCs will stop him by confronting him at locations Z1, Z2, Z3. I'll also have locations Z4 and Z5 in reserve in case the pacing needs some extra material, and then of course there are ninjas if all else fails".

    This is again one of those things where whether these two models are similar depends on what you're gauging the similarity on. I don't think that they are similar in the way they handle plot, specifically, although in other ways they are similar - both have the GM prepare characters and locations, for example. Only one of them has designated dramatic roles (heroes and villains), a presupposition on the course of action (save the day) and a causal order of planned scenes (we start with Z1, segue into Z2, etc.).
    What I mean is really nothing new: I'm simply observing that if you play a traditional physics engine game strictly by the book (but without fudging or GM Fiat), you're quite likely to have trouble preventing Ye Olde PCs-one-shotted-the-villain Thinge, *and* you also don't have any rules for enforcing "what kind of story we're playing." Obviously, a strong social contract can get around that, which seems to be what Eero is advocating when it comes to GURPS Dungeon Fantasy and the like.
    I agree on this observation. Physics engine games have fundamental issues with executing railroads naturally because of how unexpected events cleave into the planned structure of the railroad. They also encourage players to think that they have potentials and authorities they do not; it does not help that the game texts are full of lies about it, too. Fate does the plot railroad thing much better, as it goes a long way towards disallowing unexpected events, and although it's not very honest about the plot thing (it is difficult for rpg writers to be entirely honest about the plot taboo, I get it), the general ethos of the game at least does its best to focus the attention of the players away from the plot and towards issues like character depiction, which they actually can and should influence.
  • edited January 2017
    I guess what's bothering me is that, for me personally, the difference in mindset required to play GURPS from that required to play FATE is *enormous*, so I'm confused at the lumping of the two together. Genuinely confused, though, not upset or anything. :-)
    I've been lumping them together here due to their similarities, not their differences. I've mentioned GURPS specifically to illustrate the long-term historical tradition that Fate is part of. If the two games seem very dissimilar to you, then that's cool with me as well, and you may wish to ignore that bit in my ponderings - it's not important to me in any fundamental way.

    My view on GURPS is based on reading the 4th edition core rulebooks, and playing a dozen sessions or so. It's clear to me that the game is incoherent and could be used for a variety of things, but what we did with it (successfully, too) was essentially the same kind of thing you would do in a Fate-based dungeon fantasy game. The physics simulation provided the game with colorful action adventure detail, essentially the same as Fate's mechanics would; potential cleave moments were interpreted constructively within the genre by the GM, utilizing the wide leeway the game provides him for leadership in interpreting the rules. (I will emphasize that this is not fudging the dice that I'm describing, it's more of a selective and tendencial interpretation of outcomes, occurring in the minute gaps that all rules systems include, as well as tacitly agreed-upon fruitful voids where the group plays the rules less as they read and more in a way that supports the creative concord.)

    As a concrete example of how a potential cleave was averted, here's what happened in one session: the party had encountered a large floating city out on the plains, seemingly hijacked by rogue magic. After climbing up a long rope into the levitating city we discovered it to be an ordinary town, creepily empty of denizens. During our hijinks there my character stole a blood stone, a valuable magical item from a vampire priest apparently ruling a congregation of survivors. The blood stone ended up in the hands of the party mage, who got mixed up in an attempt to summon a demon or something like that in the rear end of the session (I forget the particulars, but it was vaguely based on the LotFP adventure Tower of the Stargazer).

    The magical working attempted by our mage was well over his skill level, and he failed in a disastrous manner, dying from the magical backslash. So that's apparently a thing, characters can die in this game - who knew, I'd been playing with complete abandon, ironically uncaring about my character's life and death because I believed that the GM would never, ever dare to kill one of these characters we'd spent several hours designing. So quite a cleave, right? Everything would be different now that he'd proved that this is an old school challenge game, and characters could die. (That's a particular element of the social communication about the creative agenda in this campaign: we'd been playing a lot of old school D&D with these guys, and the GURPS fan GM wanted in on the fun. The campaign had nothing to do with hardcore gamism, despite his protestations to the contrary, as we'll see soon - in case it wasn't obvious when the first ten sessions brought not a single fatality.)

    So that moment could have disrupted our developing consensus that the game's about building up characters, calculating their carrying capacities and talking smack at monsters. However, the GM decided to uphold the campaign premise: he gave the mage's player the option for his character to save himself from death by becoming a vampire. The blood stone he had been using to empower his spell was full of vampire essence after all, so by high fantasy logic that's sort of obvious, right? The player took the opportunity, added the vampire template to his character, and continued on his merry way. We got a quite funny sequence out of this, too: my character discovered his body before we escaped the floating city, so we got to have a funeral and all - I was highly amused by getting to calculate how deep of a ditch I could dig for the body, and how many rocks I could amass for a nice little mound, just to fuck with the soon-to-be-awakened vampire. (I was playing a Monk, so absurd and not-so-absurd physical feats carefully calculated according to the rules were sort of my on-going amusement while playing - I was constantly demanding the GM to calculate this or that action carefully by the rules, when I was not doing it myself.) After the "surprise" resuscitation (I mean, we the players knew the plan, but the more roleplaying-minded of us obviously played our characters as ignorant) my character would be highly suspicious of the new vampire, of course, in the ironic way that Sim adventure game characters might squabble without anybody ever intending it to amount to anything plot-wise.

    I hope that clarifies something about how I see GURPS and Fate as similar. GURPS in my experience is not nearly the unmanageable physics simulation that some games actually are, what with its immense amount of genre-enforcement rules, and the few times the game may strongly suggest genre-inappropriate turns of events, it is not difficult at all for the players to invent bridges for the gaps, turning the creative challenge suggested by the system into a plot twist instead of a plot cleave.
  • Paul, I agree that Fate is strongly genre-supporting!

    Eero, I've not played (only read) SotC. In the Fate games I've played and ran, we've almost always started play itself with something like a Situation Bang (usually GM-authored, but closely based on the pitch, which also established genre more or less loosely), and from there have played to find out--sometimes a villain naturally arose from that initial bang, of course, but many other times, the narrative took unplanned turns, often based on the inclusion of the many player-authored details from character creation. In other words, I've found vanilla Fate to naturally encourage a situation + factions/fronts sort of approach, which is highly amenable to "cleavage" of plot, even if not of genre. (If that's too abstruse: player-authored content, as it is reincorporated and developed by the group, generates narrative without any use of preplanned sequence of set-pieces or events.)

    Obviously, this depends a great deal on the local play culture (and especially techniques of player-authorship, reincorporation, and improvisation), but no more so, I'd think, than a successful railroad-style plot (which, as Eero had pointed out, itself uses a set of particular devices within its scope of freedom).
  • @Matt and Eero: In other words, I think of Fate as a genre-sim game, which is fairly distinct from physics-sim, e.g. GURPS. (Though fair point about that comparison being relative!)
  • That's all entirely reasonable, I think. As we're discussing interpretations of text and experiences in playing games, it's not like there is a particular objective truth to attain. I find it entirely credible that considering the play culture and historical moment that Fate finds itself embedded in, it surely gets played a lot in just the way you describe. Being a very successful generic system with an open license, Fate naturally attracts all sorts of gamers, so it's in no way astounding if there are a variety of playstyles for it. Being the way it is mechanically, it's probably quite feasible to prep scenarios for it in different ways. (I cannot, in fact, remember a single mechanical feature that would actively militate against a classical Forgite Bang-based playstyle; it's just the assumed procedures, creative goals and genre expectations that militate against something like that for the most part.)

    Trying to claim otherwise would be like trying to argue that 3rd edition D&D is not and cannot be played with old school techniques, or trad techniques for that matter, when it has in fact been played a lot with both over its history. Just like Fate, it happens to be positioned in a kind of creative confluence where the same game text can be drifted towards some dramatically different actual play practices without doing any willful twisting of the text itself. It's probably intentional in both cases, too - both of those games strive to be widely palatable, after all.

    Besides, I've never played Fate, and as a matter of polite discussion practice I have no wish to claim that my half-remembered reading of a couple of game texts somehow trumps other people's actual play experience.
  • The way @Eero_Tuovinen discussed Fate here is exactly the way I feel playing it. Somehow it successfully embodies the narrative form while simultaneously disengaging you from it, more like a story simulator than story game, at least for me. It's one of those things far easier to demonstrate than describe though.
    parallel strategies of artistic structuration that support an audience in taking in and understanding information effortlessly;
    This is what a good game design should provide, but so many seem to increase the cognitive load instead. So I'm wondering, what kind of information does Fate enable players to understand effortlessly, how does it go about that, and is it successful?

  • Isn't Fate pretty good about "telling you" things like
    - what your character is good at, in evocative terms that can be applied creatively on a case-by-case basis
    - when your character should bust out a special move, either something pertaining to their unique skills or something pertaining to the environment
    - when it's time to fall prey to your own weaknesses (and what, exactly, those weaknesses are)
    - how many times we need to roll before the fight should be over

    So, basic elements of action choreography. I'd need to review the game text to figure out what's going on with more precision, but I do remember having a basically favorable impression (once I got over the annoyment about how Sim it all is, anyway).
  • edited January 2017
    To answer the original question (is anyone still playing FATE): not right at this moment. The most recent incarnation I've played is FAE (Fate Accelerated Edition). Before that, I've run Fate 1.0 and 2.0 based games quite a lot, using it as a toolkit to tailor it to the games I was running at the time (a couple of modern-day "urban fantasy" games, and two more straight Fantasy games.

    I liked those earlier versions because they were generally light-weight and more aimed (to me) narrative play: collaboratively building characters with Aspects as flags to show what the player is interested in, coupled with a lightweight-enough skill/ability system (and mostly freeform magic/power/stunt system, where needed).

    The current version feels a bit too weighty at times, or maybe my interests have moved. I used to play a lot of AD&D (1st/2nd ed), D&D 3/4, and still play Traveller, but my preference at this point is more in games like AW/DW/World of Dungeons/Lady Blackbird/etc.

    Reading up, it's interesting to see "Princess Play" mentioned. The original FATE was derived from FUDGE to play in Zelazny's Amber universe, with the characters portrayed being family members ("princes and princesses") of the Amber cosmology's ruling family, usually all highly competent individuals, certainly compared with us mere "shadow" mortals. See http://www.iago.net/amber/kings/ and adjecent pages for more details.
  • My response to Jeff's question:

    - Yes, I still play Fate and FAE. It remains my go-to system for GMing one-shots and con games, though I'm also enjoying an ongoing Bulldogs! campaign I started in the past year.

    My favorite things:

    - It is hardwired for collaborative play. I love watching players work together to stack bonuses and crush the opposition.
    - It is easy to learn and run. Once you're comfortable with the basics, you can GM and play it without cracking open the rule book. This is a very different feel from my GURPS games where you can't get through a session without multiple dips into the books.
    - It is an open system that allows generous character interpretations and actions, in contrast to rules-heavy games like GURPS or menu-driven PBtA games (which I also enjoy, for a different experience).

    My least favorite things:

    - Character advancement doesn't feel as satisfying as in other systems.
    - If you're not careful, Fate can feel too meta and mechanical, with its Aspects and Invokes and Compels. In my campaign-length play, I'm enjoying cutting back on the jargon and procedural trappings. I don't feel a need to put every Boost on a card in the middle of the table or announce that now we shall have a Challenge. Bulldogs! is also easy to run because there are free invokes on players' individual pieces of gear and a pool on their spaceship, so there's less of a need for Compels. This is all liberating.

  • - If you're not careful, Fate can feel too meta and mechanical, with its Aspects and Invokes and Compels. In my campaign-length play, I'm enjoying cutting back on the jargon and procedural trappings.
    This sounds pretty key! Has there been any discussion of this before, here, elsewhere, on a blog?

  • edited January 2017

    This sounds pretty key! Has there been any discussion of this before, here, elsewhere, on a blog?
    I have thought about this quite a bit, being that I noticed that this might be an issue when I read the book.It is all in how you frame the language. Basicaly, you never say that you invoke or compel an aspect; you just say what you do and don't use any game terminology. The GM knows what the players aspects are after a couple of games and can use a cheat sheet during the first couple games. If the result of an action is unknown you just start with "I try to X," and then say what you are going to do. If the GM thinks that the invoke doesn't fit the aspect they can simply say: "try something else." It really is possible to play the game without using the terms in all, if not almost all, situations. Instead of saying: I "I try to create an advantage," you can just say something like "I insult his brother and try to get him upset." Etc.
  • My players in this campaign -- my college age son and his three friends -- came to the table new to Fate. I'm lucky in that they are more interested in telling a gonzo story than breaking the system. I taught them the basic vocabulary of Fate, but I haven't put any pressure on them to use it themselves. I describe obstacles, review choices when necessary, and then ask them what they want to do. I then translate what they say into Fate mechanics in my head. In most cases beyond attack and defend, this involves sorting out whether they are creating an advantage or overcoming an obstacle. The punchline they're waiting for is the target number to beat. I don't make a big deal about writing the scene aspects on cards at a change of scenes or even as they create advantage aspects. In my mind, there isn't enough of a mechanical difference between creating a new aspect and taking advantage of an existing one to start scenes by putting down aspect cards. I'd rather focus on describing the scene well and then see what aspects they pick up on.

    This is different from my convention games, where I ask players to name the aspects, encouraging creative names for them and taking time to appreciate them, and ask the players to write down the aspects on the cards themselves. Perhaps I do this because I typically have 5-8 players during con games and there's more to sort out. Maybe I do all this card-jockeying because that's what I think my players expect of a Fate game. But I must admit, the card-and-jargon light playing style feels more natural and less intimidating to me. I went through a phase with Fate where I felt stupid because the rules are written so elegantly. I thought I was missing something because my interpretation of the reading seemed so...simple. But I think at its heart, Fate is a simple system to manage.

  • Do you think you could make the game at least more challenging for the players if you did the following, (these changes would only effect PCs; the rules for NPCs would be closer to the default rules):
    1. Only allow 3 Aspects
    2. Cap skill bonuses at 2 or 3 max
    3. Have a refresh rate of 1
    4. Dramatically cut the skill points awarded to make skill bonuses lower
    5. Use a fairly long list of skills so that the relative breadth of the starting skill set changes; for example, have more skills so that only about 25% of the starting skills are covered relativie to the available skills.
    6. Limit the amount of invocations that can be stacked so players can't have unlimited advantages; allow players to stack only 1 or 2 advantages max.
    7. Possibility change the bonuses for invoking aspects to only +1 instead of +2.
    8. When overcoming an action, you do not get a "boost" when you "succeed with style"
    9. When creating an advantage, when you tie we do not get a "boost," when you succeed you create only a situational "aspect" and not a "free invocation," when you "succeed with style" you get a situational "aspect" and only 1 free invocation not 2.
    10. Give PCs from 0 to 1 stress boxes to start

    Again, these rule changes would only apply to PCs; NPCs would use rules closer to the default rules, to give the NPCs more power relative to the Fate RPG default NPC v. PC power balance. Admittedly, this would add a lot of complexity to the game (and probably wouldn't be worth it for "crunch" adverse people like myself), but I think it would result in a more challenging game. What do you think? Jason has probably already tried this stuff and found it was unworkable, but I thought I would throw some ideas at it :) Thanks :)
    Just got back from a filking convention, so apologies if this has been covered.
    My gut instinct: If you want to do all that, play a Powered by the Apocalypse game, because that sounds more like what you want. But I've not tried this, so I don't know how it compares either to more standard Fate or PbtA.
  • Also, Lisa said she was using it to play Monster Hearts 2, isn't Monster Hearts 2 about hearts about capable characters and can't enter PVP territory? Of course, superheroes would work...what are some other examples? Thanks :)
    Er, I'm using Monsterhearts 2 (and 1, where the sneak peek pack doesn't cover something) to play Monsterhearts 2. I am NOT using Fate for that. Sorry about any confusion.

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