#INDIEGAMEaDAY2016 How many friendships have you terminated because they confessed they kind of like to play Fate games sometimes? It’s okay. Fate players have to hear the truth.

None. I can’t even wrap my head around the idea of terminating a friendship because of someone’s taste in games. But some people apparently want all aspects of their lives arranged along a single axis, i.e. their friends are their political allies are their gaming peers are their fellow music fans, etc., so maybe it would make sense to someone like that? I tend to assume that people are complex and multidimensional, and too much “colinearity” in your friend group / circle of acquaintances / society might be unhealthy.

I have a love/hate relationship with Fate. It was the game that got me into actually playing RPGs. Aside from a little bit of MERP in grade school, I had never played a tabletop RPG, but I was a fan of the Baldur’s Gate computer RPG and the other games that used the same engine, so I got curious about the underlying rules. However, the commentary I read at the time was that the advantage of tabletop play over a CRPG was a live GM, who could fudge rolls and pull other tricks to give you a “story”. This seemed really dumb to me — why should I learn rules, make character-build decisions, etc., if they ultimately didn’t matter because the GM was going to handwave everything anyway? That’s not a game. But I kept minimally engaged because the video game series I liked was taking cues from tabletop D&D and I wanted to keep informed.

I forget the exact sequence of events, but I know I eventually stumbled across the Forge and really resonated with the idea that when these games said something was a rule they meant it — the rules weren’t just page-filler so the company would have something to sell to GMs and players who would be doing something only tenuously related to the rules. I also took note of the Ennie (nomination? win?) for Spirit of the Century, which sounded cool to me, so I started doing some research. I found some recordings of SOTC sessions online, and it sounded like a lot of fun (which also sparked my eventual interest in AP podcasts). I bought a handful of indie games, including SOTC, but I wasn’t able to interest any of my local friends / acquaintances in playing, so they mostly sat on my shelf.

Eventually I ran across the Gutterskypes AP podcast (their inaugural game was SOTC), which introduced me to the idea of playing online via Skype. Eventually I was intrigued enough that I posted to a discussion forum and found a few other fans and we started our own group. Spirit of the Century was the first game we played. We did a few series of that, and also a few series of the Dresden Files RPG. So Fate games deserve a lot of credit (blame?) for getting me interested in RPGs and actually playing RPGs. Also, my most immersive RPG experience ever was playing the Dresden Files RPG — my pure mortal “extreme sports monster hunter” character was in a desperate fight for his life with a Black Court vampire and his goons, and it was awesome.

But I have a lot of problems with Fate as a game. The one that aggravates me most is Compels, for this reason: after almost every game of Fate the GM will say something like “that was pretty good, but I should have compelled more”. Hey compel mechanic: when you have friction with every person you run into, maybe you’re the problem. Like a lot of things with Fate, I think the compel mechanic sounds cool when you read it, but in practice it’s much harder to pull off than the rules imply. The vast majority of quality compels I’ve done in the game were things I prepped ahead of time and had ready to go, I don’t think it’s realistic to believe you’re going to come up with a lot of them on the fly. (Also, the game is really ambiguous about how the GM is supposed to decide who to compel — if you target them to people who are low on Fate points isn’t that effectively punishing people who were trying to conserve a valuable resource and probably doubling down on the spotlight time devoted to people who have presumably already been doing a lot of flashy stuff when they spent their Fate points?).

I could go on and on. A few days ago I used the problems with the DFRPG subsystems as an example of disappointing-in-play mechanics. I’ve written blog posts with explicit or implicit critiques of other aspects Fate’s mechanics. But there are elements of the games that seem really good. The character creation tends to create thematically rich characters, I dug the scenario creation guidelines in DFRPG (although I think it kind of falls apart when you need to mechanically stat out bad guys, since it’s pretty arbitrary and difficult to gauge how tough something is), there are elements of the aspect and skill systems I like, and I’ve had a lot of fun sessions playing these games. But my conclusion is that, as with most “hybrid” games, the beating heart of the game is GM showmanship, not the systems the players ostensibly interact with. Part of me really wants to cobble together what I think would be a more functional game from Fate (basically giving the GM guidelines for what to do, kind of like GM moves in AW — “compels” are the “when the players look to you expectantly, make a move” type of move). But nobody really cares about my flavor of Fate, and why would I spend a lot of time and effort trying to develop and playtest a Fate variant when I have games that are 100% mine that still need work?

28 thoughts on “#INDIEGAMEaDAY2016 How many friendships have you terminated because they confessed they kind of like to play Fate…

  1. Oh, and I’ve said this before, but let me reiterate:

    IMO Cortex Plus is the system that out-Fates Fate. Seriously, I feel like it accomplishes all of Fate’s goals — mechanics that are mostly plain language and not math, reveling in genre, letting PCs be awesome — but with none of its problems.

    It took me a session or two to grok Cortex Plus, but I tell you, once I did, every damn session of that system I have played has been great. Marvel Heroic, Leverage, Firefly, all of these games are wonderful and accomplish what they say on the tin.

  2. < ![CDATA[Oh, and I've said this before, but let me reiterate: IMO Cortex Plus is the system that out-Fates Fate. Seriously, I feel like it accomplishes all of Fate’s goals — mechanics that are mostly plain language and not math, reveling in genre, letting PCs be awesome — but with none of its problems.
    It took me a session or two to grok Cortex Plus, but I tell you, once I did, every damn session of that system I have played has been great. Marvel Heroic, Leverage, Firefly, all of these games are wonderful and accomplish what they say on the tin.]]>

  3. Robert Bohl Seriously, so much has been written on how to do compels “right”, yet somehow it’s still always an issue.

    IIRC, the awesome games of SotC that I ran did not involve a lot of compels, because I simply didn’t know how to do them. And yet those were the most fun I’ve has with Fate.

  4. < ![CDATA[Robert Bohl Seriously, so much has been written on how to do compels "right", yet somehow it's still always an issue. IIRC, the awesome games of SotC that I ran did not involve a lot of compels, because I simply didn't know how to do them. And yet those were the most fun I've has with Fate.]]>

  5. In our eager fan-drool excited but ultimately aborted after 2 sessions attempt to run Dresden two comments were made that pretty much define Fate for me.

    One occurred when a player received a Fate Point for accepting a Compel:. “why do I need a cookie to do what I was going to do anyway?”. She’d created a character whose central feature was an insatiable curiousity that kept getting her into trouble. That’s how she was going to play the character, why else should she have designed it like that…

    And after, during our “wow…why did that suck so bad” debrief: “Maybe Fate is meant for people who need training wheels to teach them how to roleplay”

    And that nailed what I’ve never cared for about Fate…it’s like roleplaying with training wheels. And while that sounds really harsh, I think it’s actually a thing that’s useful to have.

    If you manage to fight through to understand how to use Aspects and Compels properly, you’ll have mastered skills that will improve your roleplaying for the rest of your life. How to embrace character failure, how to do crosses and weaves effectively (because figuring out how to squeeze an aspect into a scene where it doesn’t obviously belong in a way that isn’t totally lame…is pretty much the same skill you need to figure out crosses and weaves — that being, staying aware of all the other things that are going on and keeping an eye out for opportunities to call out to them in a fiction enhancing way.

    But in the end…man we didn’t want to go through that much work to get to where we already knew how to get to.

  6. < ![CDATA[In our eager fan-drool excited but ultimately aborted after 2 sessions attempt to run Dresden two comments were made that pretty much define Fate for me. One occurred when a player received a Fate Point for accepting a Compel:. "why do I need a cookie to do what I was going to do anyway?". She'd created a character whose central feature was an insatiable curiousity that kept getting her into trouble. That's how she was going to play the character, why else should she have designed it like that... And after, during our "wow...why did that suck so bad" debrief: "Maybe Fate is meant for people who need training wheels to teach them how to roleplay" And that nailed what I've never cared for about Fate...it's like roleplaying with training wheels. And while that sounds really harsh, I think it's actually a thing that's useful to have. If you manage to fight through to understand how to use Aspects and Compels properly, you'll have mastered skills that will improve your roleplaying for the rest of your life. How to embrace character failure, how to do crosses and weaves effectively (because figuring out how to squeeze an aspect into a scene where it doesn't obviously belong in a way that isn't totally lame...is pretty much the same skill you need to figure out crosses and weaves -- that being, staying aware of all the other things that are going on and keeping an eye out for opportunities to call out to them in a fiction enhancing way. But in the end...man we didn't want to go through that much work to get to where we already knew how to get to.]]>

  7. In our eager fan-drool excited but ultimately aborted after 2 sessions attempt to run Dresden, two comments were made that pretty much define Fate for me.

    One occurred when a player received a Fate Point for accepting a Compel:. “why do I need a cookie to do what I was going to do anyway?”. She’d created a character whose central feature was an insatiable curiousity that kept getting her into trouble. That’s how she was going to play the character, why else would she have designed it like that…

    And after, during our “wow…why did that suck so bad” debrief: “Maybe Fate is meant for people who need training wheels to teach them how to roleplay”

    And that nailed what I’ve never cared for about Fate…it’s like roleplaying with training wheels. And while that sounds really harsh, I think it’s actually a thing that’s useful to have.

    If you manage to fight through to understand how to use Aspects and Compels properly, you’ll have mastered skills that will improve your roleplaying for the rest of your life. How to embrace character failure, how to do crosses and weaves effectively (because figuring out how to squeeze an aspect into a scene where it doesn’t obviously belong in a way that isn’t totally lame…is pretty much the same skill you need to figure out crosses and weaves — that being, staying aware of all the other things that are going on and keeping an eye out for opportunities to call out to them in a fiction enhancing way.

    But in the end…man we didn’t want to go through that much work to get to where we already knew how to get to.

  8. < ![CDATA[In our eager fan-drool excited but ultimately aborted after 2 sessions attempt to run Dresden, two comments were made that pretty much define Fate for me. One occurred when a player received a Fate Point for accepting a Compel:. "why do I need a cookie to do what I was going to do anyway?". She'd created a character whose central feature was an insatiable curiousity that kept getting her into trouble. That's how she was going to play the character, why else would she have designed it like that... And after, during our "wow...why did that suck so bad" debrief: "Maybe Fate is meant for people who need training wheels to teach them how to roleplay" And that nailed what I've never cared for about Fate...it's like roleplaying with training wheels. And while that sounds really harsh, I think it's actually a thing that's useful to have. If you manage to fight through to understand how to use Aspects and Compels properly, you'll have mastered skills that will improve your roleplaying for the rest of your life. How to embrace character failure, how to do crosses and weaves effectively (because figuring out how to squeeze an aspect into a scene where it doesn't obviously belong in a way that isn't totally lame...is pretty much the same skill you need to figure out crosses and weaves -- that being, staying aware of all the other things that are going on and keeping an eye out for opportunities to call out to them in a fiction enhancing way. But in the end...man we didn't want to go through that much work to get to where we already knew how to get to.]]>

  9. Mark Delsing Well thank you. To be fair I came from the same place as the Evil Hat folks because we’ve all known each other for about half our lives. So it’s not a total surprise that the Cortex Plus system looks the way it does.

  10. < ![CDATA[Mark Delsing Well thank you. To be fair I came from the same place as the Evil Hat folks because we've all known each other for about half our lives. So it's not a total surprise that the Cortex Plus system looks the way it does.]]>

  11. Mark Delsing I wish to hear more about this – I feel like I haven’t done NEARLY enough with Corex+ yet. You know, at one time a friend of Ariana Ramos and I was hacking it to do melodrama really well… I should check up on that.

  12. < ![CDATA[Mark Delsing I wish to hear more about this - I feel like I haven't done NEARLY enough with Corex+ yet. You know, at one time a friend of Ariana Ramos and I was hacking it to do melodrama really well... I should check up on that.]]>

  13. < ![CDATA[Shoe Skogen I know search on G+ isn't great, but I've written up AP posts about all of the Cortex Plus games I mentioned. I think Smallville (aka Cortex Drama) was designed for melodrama.]]>

  14. So, I wasn’t gonna respond to any of these today. But, Ralph Mazza, you changed my mind, as you often do.

    “If you manage to fight through to understand how to use Aspects and Compels properly, you’ll have mastered skills that will improve your roleplaying for the rest of your life.”

    For obvious reasons, I take exception to “fight through.” But, barring that, I’ll say this: for everyone who goes through that process and discovers those skills, and who for various reasons doesn’t have access to / feels alienated from a deeper dive into the world our corner of gaming tends to orbit, I consider my work here closer to done. Thanks for noticing. 🙂

  15. < ![CDATA[So, I wasn't gonna respond to any of these today. But, Ralph Mazza, you changed my mind, as you often do. "If you manage to fight through to understand how to use Aspects and Compels properly, you'll have mastered skills that will improve your roleplaying for the rest of your life." For obvious reasons, I take exception to "fight through." But, barring that, I'll say this: for everyone who goes through that process and discovers those skills, and who for various reasons doesn't have access to / feels alienated from a deeper dive into the world our corner of gaming tends to orbit, I consider my work here closer to done. Thanks for noticing. :)]]>