Categories
Musing

On Fate and GMing

So I kind of gave up on about halfway through August because the questions weren't that interesting for the second half. That's on me.

Anyway, it's a fun exercise in concept. Inspired (I guess?) by that list, someone came up with an extremely tongue in cheek (I hope) list of questions for September.

Which I also pretty much ignored, because they're mostly joke questions that would require me reliving moments of severe personal head-up-assedness, circa 2009.

However, today's question prompted some pretty thoughtful and useful posts from folks I see on Google+, so I thought I'd take a break from filling up their comment threads and post my own tangential navel-gazing, since it's something I've been meaning to write about for awhile.

The question:

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.

Obviously the serious answer to the silly question is "none." Let's have that said.

With that out of the way, I want to post a different-but-related question, phrased (tellingly) as a PtbA-style Hard Move:

"You've spent several hundred dollars on the Fate kickstarters and Fate-powered settings and scenarios, run several fairly long Fate or FAE-powered campaigns, hacked and rehacked the system, designed custom Roll20 FAE character sheets and submitted them through github, and currently run a (theoretically) weekly FAE game, which your players enjoy… but you've come to the realization that you don't actually like running Fate very much. What do you do?"

Yeah. What do you do?

+Eloy Cintron got me thinking about this today, when he wrote "I don't like how it feels in play."

Yup.

I like expressing stuff in Fate terms, but the further I go (and I have run three or four fairly long Fate and/or FAE things since Core came out, including hours and hours of play with my daughter), the less satisfying I find it in play.

Most of it boils down to: No surprises from the conflict system.

Let me break that down.

There's a conflict, dice hit the table… but really, there's not much point, because the results are almost entirely in the hands of the players. That's what I mean when I say no surprises.

Between capitalizing on Created Advantages, invoking preexisting aspects with fate points, and bringing applicable stunts in, almost any individual roll can be turned into a success. And just given compels as a means to refresh Fate Points (I actually do a Fate Point refresh every … five or six sessions, if that), Fate points are almost never a problem, especially since there's reasonably good odds on any specific roll that you won't need to invoke an aspect to get a success.

But don't read that and think I have a problem with player success. That's not it.

It's that Failure, Success, or (that Rarest of Rare birds) success at cost, are all just decisions the player makes, not a result they get and have to adapt to.

See, I'm a big, BIG fan of creativity within constraints, and for me one of the richest veins for that kind of thing comes in a conflict system that you can't strongly influence to 'force' the result you expect.

(See PtbA stuff, basically. That's my sweet spot. You can get it in lots of games, but I especially like PtbA for the largely unmined vein of Mixed Success it sets up in its dice mechanic.)

Put another way, I like getting results that make us introduce something new. I love "Yes, but…" results, because everything after that is something we weren't expecting.

I've got a great group of players in my current game, and they know my love of Mixed Success, but it's Fate, so… even if they blow the roll and I say "don't worry about invoking aspects yet, what about we go with a mixed success?" Even with great players, the inevitable (and fair! given the game system) question is: "Okay maybe… but what's the 'mixed' part going to be?" And we talk through it.

So… yeah. That. No surprises in the conflicts. Lots of resource use and/or negotiation to get to a known result.

Now, I know I can make Fate harder, to give the players less of that control. I know that. I've played a lot of Fate – I've hacked it down to the bone and built new flesh on the skeleton, more than once. I get how the pieces go together.

And I'll freely admit I don't push as hard as I can by using GM Fate points (which +Bill Garrett has called me on). But I know why I'm bad it: it feels adversarial in an unfun way (I'm FINE with adversarial in fun ways).

Boardgame Example: I like challenging games (I'm playing a Pandemic Legacy campaign right now, we're in September and seriously FUCK the C0DA virus); I don't mind losing because something is challenging, but I have less fun if I'm playing a game where the dial for "challenge" is controlled by "how much I (or someone else) voluntarily chooses to directly fuck with the other players at the table by making their stuff harder" – I'm looking at you, Settlers of Catan.

You pulled the short straw and have to be the Bad Guy in Betrayal at the House on the Hill or whatever? That's cool. You're cock-blocking someone's attempt to get Longest Road, just because? Much less fun. That's kind of what "pouring on GM Fate points" or "start everyone with no fate points and 0 refresh" feels like.

I mean, there's a point at which you've tweaked that dial so much you need to warn people they won't really be playing the game system they signed up for, exactly.

Does that mean Fate's a bad game? Nope.

Does it mean I wouldn't play it? No.

Does it mean I won't GM it? No, although I think I'm going to do some sunset planning for the system, in IT-speak.

Does it mean it's a game that doesn't especially suit my GMing style? Yeah, pretty much.

And that sucks a little, because as I mentioned I've got a LOT of Fate stuff on my shelves, and like… 25 sets of dice… and players who really like the game – some of whom I'm pretty sure would not especially enjoy 7-9 "it's a mixed success and you just need to deal with it" results in Powered by the Apocalypse games (which may be my favorite game thing ever).

Anyway. Something I've been turning over for awhile; glad to have it out of my head.