Double Disney

maleficent-2014I’m joined in the reaction chamber by Petra and we take on a double dose of Disney films. Maleficent is the box office darling right now, but our reaction to the film is less than enthusiastic. By the same token we finally get around to watching The Lone Ranger with Johnny Depp and Armie Hammer – a film that was nearly universally panned. And we got really excited about it. The short version of the podcast is: skip Maleficent and go see The Lone Ranger.

Don’t forget, this is the final week to get in on the Opposing Forces Kickstarter, so jump in!


Fateful Concessions

Curt and I fire up the reaction chamber to talk about some of the documentaries we’ve watched recently. We review “Rewind This”, about the VHS tape collector’s community, “The Game Masters”, profiling the lives of several people who are into pen and paper RPGs, and “The Dungeons & Dragons Experience” a general treatment of the hobby. Following the movie reviews we discuss the mechanic of Concession in the Fate System, a counter-intuitive method of conflict resolution that has still made its way into our games. The Kickstarter for Opposing Forces is still funding, so don’t forget to check out the project and help make an awesome game book!


Stress Track Over 9000!

618px-Over_9000The Fate System measures health, willpower, composure, structural integrity and even the progress of a scene using the Stress Track mechanic. This measurement tool flexes to adjust to the current situation; it is not meant to emulate the absolute durability of an object, but the relative importance of the subject to the dramatic potential of the scene. The Stress Track interacts with every skill usage in exactly the same way, but the dramatic intention of the skill dictates the way in which results are applied. In Fate Core, the four actions used to affect the Stress Track are Overcome, Create Advantage, Attack, and Defend.

Nitpicking the Stress Track

Before addressing the four actions and their usage, it is important to understand the way in which Fate qualifies results. Fate always favors the successful roll; we’ll call this rule “Fortune Favors the Bold” or FFB. To quickly review some terminology, every point by which an action succeeds is called a “shift”. After a Stress Track is full, the first shift is used to declare an action successful and every two shifts after that creates a Consequence. For example: in combat, Player One uses an Attack action and Player Two uses a Defend action.

Case 1: Player One beats Player Two by 2 points. Because P1 used an Attack action, those 2 points are applied directly to P2’s Health Stress Track. This is a familiar situation.

Case 2: Player Two beats Player One by 3 points. Most tactical simulators simply declare the attack a failure and move on. But Fate always favors the successful roll. P2 inflicts 3 points of Stress using the Defend action. The Defend action targets the Stress Track associated with P1’s Attack skill, inflicting 3 points of Stress. The first shift is used to declare the Defend action successful. Every two shifts after that creates a two-point Consequence. Fate Core refers to this Consequence as a “Boost”, a bonus that may only be used one time.

Aside from the terminology, there is no difference between this outcome and the outcome described in the “Actions and Outcomes” chapter of Fate Core (FC 140-143). So why get nitpicky? By applying the Stress Track terminology to everything, it allows us to treat every instance of a die roll in exactly the same way. We no longer need to artificially differentiate between Defend, Attack, Create Advantage and Overcame once we realize that all of these actions attempt to create Stress, differing only in target and intention.

After we acknowledge that every Aspect and Skill has a Stress Track, and that most Stress Tracks have zero boxes, we can scale difficulty by adding boxes. For a character this may take the form of a Stunt like “Kung Fu Like Water: your Fighting Skill has a Stress Track of 2 boxes; opponents may not gain a boost from a Defend action until all boxes are full.” An Overcome or Create Advantage action may be extended or divided among players by adding boxes to the Stress Track in order to represent a more difficult or longer-lasting problem. That same Create Advantage action may be used to reinforce an Aspect, making it more difficult to overcome by adding boxes to the Stress Track.

A final definition is needed. We must now differentiate the Stress Track that can cause something to be Taken Out as separate from all other Stress Tracks. We will call this the Functional Stress Track. Depending on the nature of the scene, it may be Health, Composure, Willpower, Sanity, or anything else suitable to the action. All other Stress Tracks are referred to as Transient Stress Tracks, because they are viable targets for actions but will not yield a Taken Out result.

Applying the Four Actions

Once we acknowledge that due to FFB all actions create Stress, we can also acknowledge that actions differ only in target and intent. There is really only one action, Create Stress, which is governed by the use of Skills. Skills may then be defined by their targets and intentions, creating greater differentiation and a more clear delineation of usage that opens up a range of tactical choices for use as Consequences, Aspects, and Boosts.

AttackAttack: target an individual’s or object’s Functional Stress Track for the purpose of Taking Out the target and inflicting a permanent or semi-permanent Consequence.


DefendDefend: target the Transient Stress Track of an incoming Attack Skill for the purpose of preventing Stress and gaining a temporary Boost.


Create AdvantageCreate Advantage: target a Transient Stress Track within an individual, object, or the scene itself for the purpose of creating a permanent or semi-permanent Consequence or Aspect. In a duel, you attempt to Blind your opponent by throwing sand in his eyes. In a rap showdown, you attempt to Infuriate your opponent by dissin’ his momma.

OvercomeOvercome: target the Functional Stress Track of a permanent or semi-permanent Aspect in order to Take Out the Aspect and create a Boost. The classic example is of picking a lock. A door has the Aspect “Locked.” Until this Aspect is Taken Out, the door may not be bypassed. If the Aspect has a Stress Track of zero, a single roll may be sufficient. More boxes means the task could take longer; not a problem unless you’re being pursued by Cultists of Kali-Ma!

Remember that Fortune Favors the Bold! Even when a player is rolling against a static difficulty number, that static difficulty is considered to be taking the Defend action. If you fail in your attempt to Create an Advantage or Overcome an Aspect, the target succeeds in their Defend action possibly gaining a Boost. This can result in the lock becoming Jammed, the rapper Flipping the Script, or the duelist Catching You Off Balance.

The Stress Track represents so much more than simple Hit Points or Willpower ratings. This measurement of difficulty is the touchstone around which the entire Fate System scales. Correct application of the Stress Track creates more intense dramatic moments, opens up more tactical choices, and reins in power mad players by presenting a more complex challenge.

For more where this came from, help me produce Opposing Forces: a tactical manual and gallery of opponents for Fate Core, now funding on Kickstarter!


Adventure Journals

silidormap500I’m joined in the reaction chamber by Tom and Cathy Thrush of Urban Realms. Their current Kickstarter project is running concurrently with my own and I think there’s a lot of shared interest. Urban Realms publishes fantasy maps and related material. The Adventure Journal project is a set of journals specifically designed for recording your adventures and filled with thematic design work. They’re very cool; check them out! The Opposing Forces Kickstarter is still running, providing ready made characters and gaming advice for your Fate Core games.

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Taking Zero

FUDGE_4dF_probabilityMost RPGs are predicated on the 50% success rule. Heroes will succeed half the time they attempt a task. Fate Core takes a quantitatively different approach by predicating on the 100% success rule. Heroes are equal to any task which they attempt to undertake. The static skills test throws the differences between the two approaches into stark contrast and highlights the effectiveness of each.

The 50% rule is seen most clearly in skill tests against a static difficulty. Pathfinder and the d20 games even have an option for players to automatically succeed at tasks within a certain difficulty range. This is known as Taking Ten or Taking Twenty because it assumes an average die roll. This type of mechanic evolved from the roots of the game as a tactical simulation, under the philosophy that success should be based on tactical choices rather than luck. When adapted for dramatic simulation, the die roll represents the effort of the characters in a very real way.

Fate Core also includes the option to bypass the die roll in order to assume success of any static difficulty which is equal to or less than the character’s skill. We will call this rule “Taking Zero”. Like Pathfinder, it also assumes an average die roll. The Fate Core book instructs players that dice should only be rolled when the outcome is in question or degrees of success or failure will make the game more interesting. It is, in effect, the same rule.

How does this change our approach to the game?

IdealIf this were an exam, Pathfinder would be Pass/Fail, and Fate Core would grade on a curve. When you Take Ten or Take Twenty, your character may succeed at progressively more difficult tasks without undue stress. The opportunity is limited by the circumstances under which a character may choose to Take Ten or Twenty. If your skill is insufficient, you simply fail at the task. Another solution must be found.

The key difference lies in the way that Fate Core penalizes failure. By Taking Zero, your character succeeds at a task, but there is a minor cost. That cost may be expressed as a small penalty to a future action or as a complication within the story. But in Fate Core, success is always an option. Did your character fail the skill test by three shifts? No problem. He succeeds, but the price is progressively higher the greater the extent of failure.

This changes our approach to the game by allowing the characters to always succeed at static tasks but at the cost of future complications. Because the Fate Core system relies primarily on dramatic simulation rather than tactical simulation, the penalty for failure is seldom as straightforward as the loss of Hit Points. In this way, characters accrue penalties and complications to be leveraged against them during the course of the game. Because later penalties are directly related to previous success, this form of resolution creates stronger storytelling by using a callback to previous events. It is one of the tenets of circular storytelling.

Application in Action

In the early game, characters trade initial success for a more difficult challenge down the road. The easiest way to do this is to apply the cost of Taking Zero as an Aspect against the characters that opponents can tag for free in the late game, we’ll call this Stacking Consequences. But this is Fate, and players may well wish to bank negative Aspects which they can tag for Fate points when they start to run low.

In the mid game, Taking Zero keeps the characters on track and prevents derailing due to unexpectedly difficult challenges. It works the other way around as well. When prepping for the endgame, players can accept higher difficulties when Creating Advantages too be used later. In this case, a die roll is still required, but a quick glance at the probability chart shows that even when the target difficulty number is zero the chance of success on the die roll is about 60%.

In the endgame, this principle prevents the action from getting bogged down when a single task becomes critical. Fate Core has a related mechanic built into the system; characters may concede a conflict and retain some control over their fate. Extending this concept against static skill checks lets players essentially “concede” to the difficulty of the task and continue to participate in the story even when their skills have failed.

Taking Zero and conceding a conflict both manage the difficulty of an adventure as it progresses. If the point of the game is to move the action forward and keep the party from getting bogged down in the details, you will find them to be essential tools in your GM toolbox.

“Opposing Forces” is a tactical manual and bestiary of foes for Fate Core. Now funding on Kickstarter! Check it out!

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Monster Scale

godzilla move posterGodzilla 2014 stomps its way into theaters and I’m there at the earliest showing I can possibly sneak out to see. The movie is pretty much everything I wanted from the King of Monsters. It’s moody, atmospheric, tense, overwhelming, and destructive on every level. This is very much the Godzilla film I have wanted all my life.

Curt and I take on the CW’s spring season closing. We have quite a lot to say about our hopes and fears for Arrow, The Flash, and Supernatural. Most of the rest of the lineup isn’t on our radar, but there are a few shows that are shaping up to be well worth the ride.

Finally, we look at the issue of disparity of scale in RPGs and discuss the way that different systems handle discrepancies between characters and things that truly outmass them. We look at number-heavy systems like Palladium and the d20 family, lighter fare like Savage Worlds and the D6 System, and a few random others such as DC Adventures and R. Talsorian’s Fuzion. Fate Core is the last one on the list, and we take on a few different ways to handle giant monsters and heavy equipment using variations of the core rules.

A podcast this week wouldn’t be complete without a shameless plug for Opposing Forces, the Kickstarter project funding a tactical manual and bestiary of foes for Fate Core. The first week is drawing to a close, and every person that joins the crowd gets me more excited!

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Godzilla Through the Ages

The new Godzilla film is almost upon us! As the King stomps his way into New York and a confrontation with unidentified Muto opponents, Curt and I touch a little bit on the things the Godzilla franchise has been since its inception. We do a review of “Ecstasy of Order”, a documentary about the Tetris Championship Circuit. And finish things off with a discussion of character creation in Fate, and just how hippy-dippy backwards it seems to a couple of old-school gamers. Still, I think the payoff is worth the flower petals and barefoot guitar playing. Plus, the Kickstarter for Opposing Forces is live! Check it out! Tell your friends!

Watch “Ecstasy of Order” on Crackle

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