Category Archives: Fate

Twisting Fate: Zero to Hero

This is part of a series of posts looking at some questions about Fate Core – usually questions I’ve had and seen repeated by others – and some of the underlying topics that may lead to these questions in the first place.  Take a look at the first post – Twisting Fate – for a better explanation of why I’m writing this.  Also take note of the obligatory disclaimer that I am not trying to “fix” Fate – it’s not broken.  I’m just trying to expand my own understanding and apply it towards my game.

I also want to acknowledge Rob Hanz.  I’ve encountered him a number of times on Google+, and his explanations have been invaluable to helping me understand Fate better.  Somehow I only came across the Book of Hanz and began reading it.  Not only are Rob’s posts a great resource for those of us still learning more about Fate, but they have also made me feel much better about the questions I have about the system.  There are definitely a lot of elements of the system that “click” for me now that didn’t before I read Rob’s advice, and many of the underlying “issues” I’ve had with things have at least been validated by some of his posts – as well as others.  So at least I’m not completely crazy.  (Or if I am, at least I’m in good company.)

Zero to Hero

I came across a post recently in which a player wanted to create characters that were “lower level” than the typical starting Fate character.  He was planning to run a long-term game in which the characters went from no-name average characters to eventually becoming world-saving heroes.  He had an idea of how to accomplish this and was asking for feedback.

I’ve seen questions similar to this numerous times, and I myself am also looking at different ways the character creation process could be modified to produce characters that are closer to what might be “average”.  In typical awesome fashion, the broader Fate community usually provides some insight and feedback, throws around some different possibilities, and answers follow-up questions.

That being said, in discussions like this, I have often seen two particular responses that got me thinking.  The first is an immediate reference to D&D and its style of character advancement.  (I’ll save a discussion of that cognitive leap for my post focusing on progression.)  The other discourages using Fate for this type of game.

Competence

Give a forum thread talking about “low-level” Fate characters enough time, and you are extremely likely to find a player post a quote from Fate that the game is “about competent, dramatic, proactive characters”.   The implication being that if you are seeking to run a game about more average or weaker characters, Fate might not be the best system to use.

It may very well be the case that the player in question might be better served by another system, but as Fate is often said to be designed to simulate fiction, it seems odd to suggest that Fate cannot be used to tell a story about normal, everyday characters that become something more extraordinary (a not uncommon trope in a variety of media).  I’ve asked questions about this in the past, and based on the ensuing discussions I’ve come to believe that there are a few reasons that veteran players sometimes jump to this conclusion.

In short, I think players place too much emphasis on the competent part of “competent, dramatic, proactive”.  When you start comparing what types of characters do and do not work well in Fate, being proactive is by far the most important element in this concept.  Characters that stand around and wait for things to happen don’t work well.  Being dramatic is also important to varying degrees depending on the genre – think of dramatic as being interesting or non-boring, and you’re on the right track.  Now, being competent is important in that only a very particular style of game will work if the player characters are stumbling around in a perpetual state of incompetence.  However, as long as the characters are passably good at something (or at least are likely to succeed periodically) the game can still work.  There are two important reasons why a game with less-skilled characters can still function just fine (and be lots of fun), but both require effort on the part of the GM – which isn’t to say that they require any effort beyond what is usually expected of a GM.

Lower Level Conflict

First, we have to remember that there are plenty of ways to make the characters seem normal, especially at first, and many of them require little or no mechanical difference.  Want to play more “average” characters?  Then just focus the game on a more “average” playing field.  Instead of tackling political corruption in a capital city or averting empire-wide catastrophe, just deal with the problems in your neighborhood.  Keeping the characters grounded in a smaller scale, everyday environment can go a long way to making them feel “normal” – especially in contrast to when they do eventually start taking on bigger issues.  Scale the conflict (little c, not talking Conflict mechanics here) down to an everyday level, and gradually scale the stakes and scope of the conflicts the characters face as they grow in power and influence.

Fate Core does caution players on trying to simulate every little negotiation, and rightly so, but keeping the conflict at a small scale doesn’t mean you have to deviate from that guidance.  Just make sure that the stakes of the conflict are meaningful to the characters and that the results of rolling the dice are always interesting.  Which brings me to…

Failing Forward

The other issue with assuming a high level of competence is necessary for Fate to work is largely rooted in traditional tabletop games: an aversion to failure.  If the players keep failing rolls, and the characters aren’t successful at anything, no one is going to have any fun.  To some extent, the could certainly be true.  Of course, if you scale the conflict to fit the characters, that shouldn’t happen too often.  More importantly, it ignores one of the the elements of Fate (and many narrative games) that make the system so effective at telling great stories: failure can be just as interesting as success (often even more so).

Fate Core presents this idea largely in terms of Success at a Cost.  One possibility is that the character doesn’t get what he wants, but it’s also possible he gets the result he was hoping for – it’s just that something else happens too.  Traditional games can pose problems when the characters really need to succeed at something in order to move the story forward, but that is easily remedied by the concept of failing forward.  The story moves forward no matter what, it just becomes a little more complicated.  Not only does this mean that a game about everyday characters can still be interesting, it also gives the GM all sorts of ways to propel these average people into decidedly more unusual circumstances.

I’m not going to go into a long discussion about how awesome failing forward can be or how to use it (run a quick search and you’ll find plenty of advice), but the point is that if failure is not that significant a problem in Fate, then neither is competence.

Maybe Not Zero… But One…

There are certainly approaches to using low level characters in Fate that can cause serious issues.  You can’t have a system as elegant and interconnected as Fate and not expect some ripples when you start tinkering with mechanics.  That said, given the flexibility of Fate, there are almost certainly at least a handful of ways to handle this kind of game that should work just fine.  If this kind of game interests you, there are plenty of posts out there with ideas of how to do just that.  Just don’t get discouraged if someone suggests maybe Fate isn’t the system for you.  You may have to check some preconceptions at the door and step outside of your comfort zone, but there’s a better than fair chance you can find a way to use Fate for your game if that’s what you decide you want to do.

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Twisting Fate

I’ve been working on a tabletop RPG on and off for years now.  A couple of years ago I started taking a serious look at Fate Core, and I quickly realized that using it for my game would provide a lot of advantages.  Since then I’ve been working through the system I had already developed in conjunction with Fate to determine what adjustments need to be made to align Fate with the game’s setting and the styles of gameplay I’m looking for.  Needless to say, I’ve ended up spending lot of time scouring the web for how Fate players handle different situations, and I’ve learned a lot.

Fate Core is a very flexible, powerful system – the core actions underlying the mechanics combined with aspects and the fate point economy create a certain elegance.  The way the system is geared to simulate fiction, as opposed to how some systems simulate reality, opens a lot of doors.

Of course, learning Fate Core can be challenging to lots of players, new and long-time gamers alike.  Even Fate veterans often have difficulty coming to grips with certain elements of the system.  Some of this may be due to idiosyncrasies in how the system is presented.  A seemingly simple concept can have a very profound impact in how you use the system, and sometimes the deeper implications of a rule can be easily overlooked.

As I’ve learned more about the system and how to get the most out of it, I’ve seen some questions or concerns come up repeatedly by players.  Usually these questions are answered by members of the Fate community with great explanations that help players grasp how to apply the system, but some of these topics seem to point to circumstances where most players are unsure of how best to leverage Fate.

There are also a few fairly common responses from veteran Fate players that appear to have been repeated so often they have become more or less standardized.  In some of these cases, I think some closer examination of the underlying assumptions could prove useful.  Just because the Rules As Written (RAW) do not explicitly point to (or allow) a particular approach, doesn’t mean that a minor tweak cannot allow for some potentially awesome results.  Fate Core is very flexible (and hackable, if necessary).  Given its focus on simulating fiction, there really should be very few fictional situations it cannot easily handle.

This will likely be the first in a series of posts examining some of these topics, with the goal of understanding Fate a little better.  Hopefully, this will allow me to figure out how best to apply the system to my setting and get the style of play I’m looking for.  With a little luck, maybe this will generate some discussion that will help other players as well.

DISCLAIMER: To be clear, Fate Core works just fine as it is.  I’m not implying it needs “fixing” – just looking at the best way to achieve the goals for my game, which may just be altering how specific rules are presented.  Fate Core is largely system-agnostic and is often described a set of dials that can be adjusted.  Trying to dial in the right settings for my setting.

Here are some of the topics I plan to look at, in no particular order:

  • “Competent” aka Zero to Hero
  • Social Conflict
  • Required to use certain mechanics e.g. Conflict
  • Progression – D&D vs. Star Wars
  • Long-Term Play
  • Stakes and Physical Conflict
  • Underlying Issues – Game Creation, Failure Aversion, Implicit Stakes, Death as the Only Stakes

A Fateful Exercise in Flexibility

I’ve started adapting my setting and existing Proteus material to Fate Core while I continue to learn more about the system and how it has been utilized by the community. One thing that is very apparent with Fate is that there are almost always multiple ways to accomplish the same objective within the rules. There is no one right way to handle a given situation. At the same time, there may be a best way to handle a situation to get what you want out of that particular scene in your game. For me, this comes down to understanding what the character’s intent is and where you want your narrative focus.

I’m still working to refine my understanding of when to use different actions, both for myself and so that I can provide clear guidance as I continue to convert things over to Fate. Attack and Defend are easy, and I’ve already decided to include Discover – in addition to being conceptually helpful, I think it can add something to certain situations and styles of play. Of course, as I continue to read posts and comments from around the community, I still encounter situations when I’m not sure which action would fit. Sometimes this is just due to lacking information on the intent and context of the action, but I think there is still room for significant improvement in my understanding of where the lines are drawn between Overcome, Create an Advantage, and Discover.

A related topic is that of zooming in and out within the story – essentially deciding how you want to handle a situation based on where you want the narrative focus. Frank Hanz discusses this concept here, and Malcolm Reynolds touches on it in his comments about creating advantages to impact different layers of play. Malcolm refers to the Fate fractal in his comment, and I agree that this idea is very much a fractal – but I don’t think it’s the Fate fractal.

Typically, the fractal refers to the application of the Bronze Rule – the idea that anything in the game can functionally be treated as a character (though there are limitations). But that’s not necessarily what this is; this is a second fractal. This one holds that any action in the game can be handled with varying levels of detail by adjusting its complexity and the number of rolls required to achieve the character’s intent. This is handled primarily by varying the number of tasks which must be required to accomplish a goal, the scale of those tasks, and the use of pacing mechanisms (challenges, contests, conflicts, etc.).

In other words, any event or action in the game world can be handled by a single roll, a series of rolls, a scene or two, an entire scenario, or even a whole campaign. It all depends on where you want to focus the story, and that focus can vary from one event to the next. Fate likes to name some of its rules, which I think helps players remember, apply, and refer to them. (Technically, this concept is not limited to Fate, but Fate’s scalable mechanics make it extremely well suited to applying this concept.) So I’ve taken to calling this the Glass Rule – as in you use a magnifying glass (or telescope) to zoom in and out of the action in order to change your focus and level of detail.

The rest of this is just a few examples of how to handle the same situation with different levels of focus and different actions. It’s something of a “thought exercise by way of hypothetical gameplay scenarios” just to help me work through this and codify it in my mind.


General scenario: The PCs are agents or operators of some kind and are currently attached to a military battalion. That battalion is preparing to assault and take control of an enemy research compound, and the characters decide they want to recon the compound to give the battalion an edge in the battle to come.


Example 1: The players and the GM are more interested in the battle to take the compound, so that’s where the scene will focus.

Scouting the compounds defenses is handled with a single roll to create an advantage. Success creates a Defenses Identified and Mapped aspect on the compound with a free invocation which can be used in the battle.


Example 2: The players and GM are focused on the battle itself, but the GM wants to illustrate how valuable having operators like the PCs can be to preparing for the battle.

The GM calls for an overcome roll to first infiltrate the compound, followed by a roll to create an advantage as the characters sabotage the security system. Success creates an Automated Security System has been Compromised aspect on the compound with a free invocation for the upcoming battle.


Example 3: Similar to the second example, but one of the characters is a hacker so the GM wants to show off how he can contribute to the battalion’s victory. The GM decides to handle this with a challenge with the team working together.

The team will have to enter the compound (overcome), hack the security system (overcome), hold off any guards during the hack (overcome), and then escape (overcome). One of the characters also wants to set some traps to help deal with the guards (create advantage). The PCs roll a success at minor cost to enter the compound (boost to the GM when holding off the guards), fail to set the traps (boost to the GM on the escape attempt), succeed to hold off the guards, success with style on the hack, and success with a serious cost to escape.

The GM narrates that the team manages to infiltrate the compound through a sewer access, but a guard stumbles upon their wet footprints and lets his team know to be on the lookout for anything strange. They discover the traps and sound the alarm. The team manages to hold them off while the hacker not only analyzes the compound’s security, but also finds a way to control it remotely. Unfortunately, the guards decide to focus on locking down the compound to prevent any escape. The team manages to make it out without any serious injury, but now the compound is aware of a possible attack. A Security System Remote Access aspect is attached to the compound with two free invocations, but a second aspect, On High Alert is also created on the compound.


Example 4: The players are far more interested in infiltrating the compound than they are in the actual battle, so the GM sets up the attempt to recon the facility as a full scene.

GM: Okay, you arrive outside the compound a couple hundred yards from the entrance. You identify a few guards on patrol, a number of cameras, and a couple of automated gun systems. Some areas of the perimeter are also protected by fence, and it looks electrified.

Player 1: I don’t like the look of those guns; let’s see if we can find another way in.

GM: Like what?

Player 1: Maybe a small service or delivery entrance with less security?

GM: Okay, that sounds like a discover action; roll Scout. Assuming you’re trying to avoid being spotted while looking for a way in, this will be against the guards’ Notice (+2).

Player 1: Okay, I got +2 – does that mean they saw us?

GM: No, just a minor cost. How about this? You find an emergency exit door that’s left open with no camera coverage, but the reason it’s open is that the guards like to use it while they’re on taking a break. There are three guards on break right now, milling around outside the door and talking.

Player 1: Well, that gives us a way in without being spotted, if we can just deal with these guards.

Player 2: Let’s setup some sort of diversion to draw them away while we slip inside.

GM: Okay you’ll need to Stealth to slip passed without being seen (overcome action), but you can create an advantage to lure them away first. How do you want to do that?

Player 3: Well, we don’t want to do anything that lets them know someone is here, just something to get them to move and look away for a couple minutes.

Player 4: What about a fire?

Player 3: Wouldn’t that tip them off that we’re here?

Player 4: Not necessarily, I can use my Engineering skill on the fence to make it look like the fence just shorted out and started a grass fire.

GM: Nice. Cool plan and with your Engineering it shouldn’t be a problem, so no need to roll. There’s a Grass Fire Near the Fenceline and the guards move off to investigate. They’re still being watchful, but they’re definitely distracted. You’ve got a free invoke.

Player 2: Okay, we’ll use it and make our way inside. I’ve got the highest Stealth, so I’ll lead everyone in. With the invoke I’ve got a +4.

GM: Okay, while the guards are dealing with the fire you manage to slip into the building without being seen. You’re at the end of a corridor on the ground level. Seems to be an office area. What now?

Player 3: We need to try and find information on how their security is setup, but we’re going to need to blend in if we want to look around. This is a research facility right, so there are probably scientists and lab techs all over the place?

GM: Yeah, most of them would be in labs and such, but you’d expect to see them throughout the facility.

Player 2: Let’s snag some lab coats from a supply closet!

Player 3: My thoughts exactly.

GM: Okay, the trick will be finding a supply closet before someone sees you. Lab supplies would probably be near the labs on the lower level.

Player 3: Yeah, but wouldn’t there also be recent shipments that need to be processed? That would be in an office area like the one we’re in now. Somebody’s got to fill out the paperwork when they get new supplies in right?

Player 4: Discover to establish there are supplies in the office area – with Bureaucracy?

GM: We could, but I don’t want to get bogged down in how you guys find some lab coats. Just use Bureaucracy to create an advantage so you can start looking around. Shouldn’t be hard, so roll against Average opposition.

Player 3: All right! I succeeded with style.

GM: Okay, so you find an office marked Logistics. It’s vacant, and the storeroom has all kinds of supplies, including the lab coats. You also find some newly encoded ID badges. They won’t hold up to serious scrutiny or get you into high security areas, but they’ll help you blend in. You all look like Just Another Lab Tech and you’ve got two free invokes. Moving around outside of any restricted shouldn’t be a problem if you don’t do anything to draw suspicion to yourself.

Player 4: Now we can get down to business.

Player 2: Well, we already know what security is like at the front of the building. What else do we need to get?

Player 3: We need something that will help the military take the facility.

Player 4: Like access codes or something?

Player 3: Maybe, but those would probably be hard to get without going into high security areas, which we want to avoid if we can. I was thinking along the lines of how many guards they have, when they’re on duty, and what other forces might be in the area. Stuff like that. Though even those kinds of details might not be easy to find.

Player 2: Maybe there’s something going on with their research projects that would make it better for the battalion to attack at a certain time – like a big test or something. Lots of people might know about that.

Player 3: I like it. Now where should we look?

Player 4: Well, we’re in the Logistics office. Maybe there’s a directory or lists of offices around here.

GM: Okay. You find a list with a bunch of offices listed. It includes room numbers, phone numbers, and the name and title of whoever is assigned to the office.

Player 4: We don’t want anyone too high up the food chain; they might have extra security. We want an office with just one mid-level person. Important enough to know what’s going on, but not too important…

GM: How about an Assistant Government Liaison for Research?
Player 4: Sounds promising.

GM: Dr. Agnew’s office is on the laboratory level, along with a few other offices, but it’s outside any restricted areas.

Player 3: Let’s go.

GM: All right. A quick elevator ride later you find yourselves on the lab sub-level heading down the corridor to Agnew’s office. It’s at the end of the hall, next to a stairwell and across from a breakroom being used by the scientists. [Reveals Scientists on Break.] The office is unoccupied, but the door is closed and locked.

Player 2: Doesn’t anybody work around here? Everyone’s on a break!

Player 3: Okay. We need to get into that office.

Player 2: I can pick it with Tradecraft, but not with all those scientists around.

Player 4: What if we distract them?

GM: How?

Player 4: We could start talking about work – but none of us have much in the way of Science skills. Maybe I could use Engineering?

GM: Without any idea of what they’re working on, that might be tough. If you’re just trying to hold their attention long enough for him to unlock a simple office door, it doesn’t have to be about work. You just need to avoid causing suspicion. How about Mimic?

Player 3: So Mimic to create an advantage for his Tradecraft roll?

GM: The lock isn’t hard to pick, it’s just about not being caught. Just roll a straight overcome action with Mimic against their Insight. I’ll also burn a fate point to invoke Scientists on Break. That puts the opposition at Good (+3).

Player 3: Okay, I’ll head into the breakroom and strike up a conversation family or something while he picks the lock. Maybe stand in the doorway and listen to me to block their view. I rolled a +2, but I’ll use one of our free invokes on Just Another Lab Tech to push it to +4.

GM: Good enough. You hold the scientists attention while he easily unlocks the door. They’re soon tired of listening to you prattle on about your kids and decide to get back to work. [Removes Scientists on Break from play.] As soon as the coast is clear, you duck into the office and lock the door. It’s a Messy Office, with a desk, a few filing cabinets, and a computer.

Player 4: Okay, so we’re looking for any information on upcoming events or tests that might create an opportunity for our guys to come in and take this place. I’ll check out the computer, hopefully it’s not too hard to get into, because I don’t think any of us are good with computers.

GM: Just a username and password. The username is already displayed, but you don’t have the password. You could hack the system with Tech.

Player 2: I don’t think that would go well unless we can create an advantage or something first. Not sure how we’d do that.

Player 3: Maybe we can figure out the password. Look through his desk to see if he wrote it down. Maybe a date or a name.

GM: Hmm. Okay roll Insight to discover what he might have use as the password. Opposition is Average.

Player 3: Can we use teamwork?

GM: Sure.

Player 3: Okay. Not the greatest roll, but +2 is enough.

GM: Okay, you notice that all of the pictures in the office are of a young boy, a few with a woman that you assume is Agnew’s wife, but the boy is in all of them. Looking through the photos, you find two names written on the back of one of them: Samantha and Tim.

Player 4: Let’s try Tim for the password.

GM: No joy.

Player 4: How about Timothy?

GM: You’re in.

Player 4: Score! Now let’s start looking for any information on upcoming tests or events.

GM: There’s a lot of information to look through, and you don’t want to stay in the office forever.

Player 3: It’s a government computer system right? Can I use Bureaucracy to find schedules or emails?

GM: Sure. Another discover action to locate the information you’re looking for, but I’ll spend a point to invoke Messy Office. This guy is seriously disorganized, and that extends to his computer as well. So opposition is +4.

Player 4: Ok fine. [Rolls] Not going well today, I’ve only got +2. I’ll spend a point to invoke my Government Calls Me to Solve Problems aspect to make it +4 and at least avoid a serious cost.

GM: Fair enough. You finally manage to sort through his nightmare of a file system. You find a few references to an upcoming project demonstration scheduled for a couple of days from now. Agnew has been coordinating a visit by some other military and government officials to observe the test.

Player 2: That’s not going to help us at all! If anything there will be more security.

GM: Actually, you notice that the demonstration will be held at a place called the Clearmoor Test Range. A quick search reveals that the range is about four hours away. There aren’t any detailed security plans for the event on this computer, but from some of the messages it seems that most of the security and military forces in the area will be used to protect the test equipment in transit and secure the range.

Player 2: So there won’t be much security here at the time, and everyone else will be a few hours away. That should give our guys a big enough window to take this place.

Player 3: Yeah… But what’s the catch, where’s that minor cost?
GM: Just then the phone in the office rings.

Player 4: Don’t answer it!

Player 3: Right. Just let it ring while we get out of here.

GM: The call goes to voicemail, and a woman’s voice leaves a message. “Dr. Agnew? This is Janice in lab 3. I know you just left here, but I need to get your signature on another form so we can finish making the preparations for the test. You mentioned you were headed back to the office, but I guess you’re not there yet. When you get this message, could you please drop back by the lab before you leave for the day? Thanks.”

Player 2: Great. We’re about to have company. Make sure you leave everything how we found it, and let’s get out of here.

Player 4: Yeah. Let’s get moving!

GM: You put everything back in its place and head out the door. As you step into the hallway you see a small man in a lab coat and glasses come around the corner and head in your direction. His eyes go wide when he sees you – a look that quickly changes to one of suspicion as he realizes were you just came from. “Hey! What are you doing in my office?!”

Player 3: Uh… “We heard the phone ringing and saw that the door was open, so we were going to answer it.”

GM: He continues to walk towards you after pausing momentarily. “You were just going to answer someone else’s phone?! How did you get in there?”

Player 2: No. This sniveling lab geek government flunky is not going to talk to us like that. I’m walking right towards him. “Look pal! We heard a phone and thought it might be important. We’re trying to help you out! And you thank us with this kind of attitude?! Maybe if you kept your door locked in the first place you wouldn’t have this problem! Come to think of it, that’s probably a security violation.” I turn to look back at them. “Aren’t we supposed to report that sort of thing?” I’m not breaking cover, but I want to intimidate him into backing down.

GM: Okay. We’ll call that creating an advantage with Manipulate. Roll against his Resolve. You’re right about him being a flunky; his Resolve is Mediocre and he defends with… [Rolls] zero.

Player 2: Hah. I got +2. How about Quaking in His Lab Boots?

GM: Sounds about right, with an invocation, but he’s still suspicious.

Player 3: Okay so now we need to press the advantage. We follow right behind and go to move past him like any other scientist.

GM: All right. Another Mimic roll to maintain your cover as you make your way past him to get out of the facility without him notifying security. Remember he’s a government liaison, so his Insight is Great +4.

Player 3: We’ll use our remaining free invoke on Just Another Lab Tech along with the invoke on Quaking in His Lab Boots.

Player 4: As we approach, looking like the lab techs we obviously are, I tell him, “Janice called and said she needed you back in lab 2 to sign some more forms. Don’t you just hate it when that happens? Like we don’t have enough paperwork to fill out already!”

Player 3: [Rolls] We’ve got +6 with those invokes.

GM: Okay. He stammers for a second, looking back and forth between the three of you. Then his shoulders slump and he turns around, heading back towards the lab section while muttering to himself.

Player 2: Right. Now can we get the hell out of here?

Player 3: We should have enough to make battalion command happy, let’s move before we press our luck any more than we already have.

GM: All right. You make your way through the facility and out the front door, still wearing your scientist outfits. No one gives you a second look. You remove your lab coats and head back to the battalion staging area. You’ve got the battalion a free invoke on Security? Just a Skeleton Crew. That should come in handy during the battle.

Player 4: Hey guys, what do you say to letting the grunts take care of the attack on their own? With security that light they should be able to handle it without us, and I’d like to see if we can find out what’s going on at this test range.

Player 3: I’m kind of curious to find out about this Clearmoor place myself.

Player 2: I guess it doesn’t do us much good to take that facility if they get away with whatever they were making and we don’t know anything about it. But this time we’re going armed.


Okay that was longer than I first intended, but I think it illustrates the point. All four examples end up with largely the same result: an advantage is created for the battalion’s attack. But there are four very different levels of detail and focus involved. Plus the actual advantage was established using different game mechanics. Only the first two examples used create an advantage. The third example used overcome actions in a challenge, and in the fourth example the aspect was created at the conclusion of the scene. The necessary information was actually uncovered with a discover action, but it didn’t become useful until the team got it back to the battalion.

I also tried to point out a few places in the last example where a roll could have been handled differently. Again, a key concept in applying the mechanics is to focus the story on the parts that are interesting. There are obviously a number of other ways that scene could have gone down. For example, the encounter with Dr. Agnew could have been handled as a full-blown conflict, starting out as mostly mental, but possibly transitioning if the PCs had to resort violence.

Or if the team had rolled success with style while looking for information, they might have learned that a captured scientist (perhaps a long-time acquaintance of one of the PCs) was being held in the compound and forced to assist with research. That one roll could take the scene in a completely different direction if they try to rescue him. Similarly, a failed roll could have resulted in guards being alerted at several junctures – which could easily have led to a contest to locate the information while the guards search the building floor by floor. That all assumes the characters try to remain covert; they could always escalate things and try to fight their way out.

That’s more than enough for now.

Fate’s Fifth Action: Discover

I’ve recently started seriously looking at Fate Core for my little game project.  I started converting my skill list over, but decided I needed to take a closer look at Fate’s basic actions first.  In addition to the four basic actions covered in the rulebook, many in the community value the utility of adding a discover action to the game.  This includes Ryan Macklin, one of the creators of Fate Core.  Feel free to check out his post, Fate: the Discover Action.

For my game, the discover action seems to be a good fit, so I’m definitely going to include it.  I’m also a firm believer that the use of Challenges, Contests, and Conflicts to zoom in on the action should never be compulsory.  You should be able to handle any attempted action with a single opposed roll if that’s what works best for your game.  Zooming in should largely be a concern of importance to the story, pacing, and how detailed you want to get with the results.  Read Robert Hanz’s post on this idea and how this can allow for zooming in and out to any level of detail.  This happens to hold great potential for my idea for a game that lets you shift between roleplaying and a more strategic tabletop game.

All this means that I’ll need to rewrite or expand on the descriptions of Fate’s basic actions to better clarify what action is used in different situations and at different levels of detail.  So I decided to start with taking a crack at a write-up of the discover action.  I also decided to create an icon for discover similar to those used for the other actions – it’s going to need one eventually.

This may need to be changed as I work through everything, but it’s a start.  Feedback is welcome.  So here it is: the discover action.

DiscoverDiscover

Use the discover action to reveal or establish information.

The discover action covers learning information that does not provide an immediate tangible benefit – though it may still be critical to advancing the plot of the story. It also allows a player to introduce new information into the game in a manner similar to spending a fate point to declare a story detail.

The discover action is about information; it is not about gaining anything tangible. You could use discover to look up historical events in a library, learn about building methods likely used in a structure, identify locations a criminal is known to frequent, find out the name and location of the best armorer in the city, ascertain that the creatures terrorizing the town are vulnerable to silver, recognize an opponent’s fighting style, and even detect a weak point in a stone wall – but discover will not provide anything which conveys an immediate advantage. Using the knowledge gained to your benefit requires an overcome or create an advantage action. Discover can be used to locate items, materials, and people, but it cannot remove a significant source of opposition. If acquiring the item or tracking down the thief is a source of opposition, use the overcome action.

The discover action can reveal aspects as well as more generalized facts, but success does not automatically award a free invocation on that aspect. If you want to use that aspect to your advantage, you will need to spend a fate point or use a create an advantage action. If your game includes hidden aspects, the discover action should be the primary means of revealing them.

Note that the GM is always free to provide the players with information and reveal aspects whenever it makes sense to do so. The discover action is merely intended to provide a means by which trying to gather information or learn the truth can be a source of dramatic tension. It also enables players to contribute story details without the use of fate points – much as the create an advantage action allows aspects to be invoked for free – but with the added risk that the facts they introduce into the story may turn out to be somewhat less than entirely true.

Oppose Opposing Discover

A discover action is typically rolled against passive opposition, with the GM setting opposition based on the level of detail and obscurity of the information, as well as any other factors that may make it more difficult to acquire. Certain circumstances may warrant rolling active opposition, such as trying to extract information from the subject of an interrogation. Just be sure that the character providing the opposition is only trying to avoid revealing the information, otherwise you might be dealing with an attack action.

Discover Using Discover

When you roll to discover information, you should describe what you are trying to find out (this can be fairly broad or very specific) and what you are doing to acquire the information. It’s normally assumed that you’re trying to reveal information already known to the GM, but if nothing’s established the GM can and should encourage you to introduce new details to the story. When introducing new information, you should clearly detail what you are attempting to establish prior to the roll so that the GM can determine appropriate opposition. You should also justify how or why you would have this information based on your aspects and skills. As with declaring a story detail using a fate point, the GM has the right to veto any suggestions that seem out of scope or ask the player to revise them.

Discover may be used to reveal aspects, but should not normally be used to create new aspects – that’s creating an advantage. Of course, information introduced through a discover action could later be turned into an aspect using the appropriate action or when it makes sense within the fiction. The GM can also decide to create a new aspect if it helps take things in a new direction or otherwise enhances the fiction, but you still shouldn’t get a free invocation unless you succeed with style.

If you’re using discover to reveal existing information…

  • When you fail, you either simply fail to gain any useful information or you succeed at a serious cost. What you learn is actually false, or perhaps part is true while the rest is complete poppycock; there could also be a serious complication. Maybe silver does affect the creature, but it makes them stronger somehow instead of weakening them. The armorer you were looking for turns out to actually be a long-time enemy of your family. The historical documents you reference turn out to have been written by a cult who twisted the facts. If success means revealing an aspect, then that aspect is changed to make the situation worse, or perhaps a new aspect is also created. It may also be appropriate to grant a free invocation to an opponent. Sure, you reveal Silver Gives Them Power, but the characters also gain the aspect Believes Silver is their Weakness. Perhaps you learn the magistrate’s dark secret, but now The Authorities Are After You, and the GM gets to invoke it for free. This tends to create lots of opportunities for compels.
  • When you tie, you gain the information or you reveal the aspect, but at a minor cost. What you learned is not as reliable or clear as you’d hoped, or there’s a complication. The information might be incomplete or misleading, it may need to be decrypted to be understood, or perhaps you inadvertently revealed the information to someone else as well. This could provide someone else with a boost, reveal the opposition of a later action is higher than expected, or introduce a minor problem. An aspect revealed on a tie remains true as always, but someone opposing you gets a free invocation or a boost. Maybe you tipped someone off while you were poking around.
  • When you succeed, you gain the information or you reveal the aspect.
  • When you succeed with style, you gain the information and get a boost or you reveal the aspect and get a free invocation.

If you’re using discover to establish new information…

  • When you fail, you either fail to establish the information or you succeed at a serious cost. Maybe you simply realize that you must have been thinking about a fort in a different valley, or you just do not recognize the fighting style being used by your opponent. On the other hand, you might remember the fort was abandoned due to a plague, or perhaps you mistakenly conclude that your opponent was trained by Si-Juk – when he was actually trained by Si-Juk’s arch rival. Normally, establishing new information doesn’t result in creating new aspects, but failing could mean a new aspect is created that creates serious problems. You may have been able to learn what part of town the thief calls home, but now The Thieves Guild Has Taken Out a Contract on You. Truly abysmal failures might also warrant giving a free invocation to an opponent. Again, lots of fertile ground for compels can come from a failed discover roll.
  • When you tie, you confirm what you wanted to know, but at a minor cost. What you learned is not as reliable or clear as you’d hoped, or there’s a complication. The information might be incomplete or misleading, you might remember that the only way to reach the fort is to fjord a river, or maybe you mistake the girl who used to live around here for her sister. This could provide someone else with a boost, reveal the opposition of a later action is higher than expected, or introduce a minor problem.
  • When you succeed, you establish the information as true within the game world.
  • When you succeed with style, the information is established as true and you get a boost, or the information becomes an aspect and you get a free invocation.

Discover in Challenges, Contests, and Conflicts

Discover is often used in challenges to gather information or supplies necessary to later actions in the challenge. Since the results of the challenge are determined after all rolls are made, a failure on a discover action often means that some of the information was wrong or the supplies were of poor quality, resulting in diminished or unintended results.

The discover action is rarely used to generate victories (unless the goal of the contest is to gather information in a limited amount of time), so discover sees little use in most contests. Similarly, the discover action is not used to accomplish many of the tasks commonly attempted during conflicts. However, discover can still play a key role in these situations by revealing aspects, which can then be invoked with a fate point or by creating an advantage.

Examples of Discover (In progress)

  • hw5
    From Bride of Re-Animator

    Studying a creature’s corpse to learn it is vulnerable to silver, followed by a create an advantage action to acquire silver weapons. Success with style on the discover roll could allow the character to remember the location of a nearby silver mine, or perhaps silver has declined sharply in value recently, making such weapons far less expensive.

  • Remembering that an old fort lies not far ahead while trudging through a blizzard, followed by an overcome action to successfully locate the fort. Unfortunately, the character fails the discover roll. They remember the approximate location of the fort, and manage to make their way there with an overcome roll. Little did they know that the fort has since become Home to a Pack of Wolves.
  • 7abd99f57de479f12c8c06b252607d10
    From Trail of Cthulhu: Bookhounds of London

    Searching through a library for information on a lost artifact and finding excerpts from an explorer’s journal describing where it was found, but the explorer moved the artifact and the journal itself is not located in the library. Notes in the library do mention the name of the last known owner of the journal. Succeeding with style might even reveal that the owner of the journal is currently in deep debt and in desperate need of money. In this case, acquiring the journal was intended as a source of opposition.