Thursday, 11 December 2014

Quick and Dirty: FateSystem

One of the coolest things Robin Laws did with his excellent, now award-winning, design for DramaSystem was to make the parts modular: if you don't like the "procedural" rules that he includes for doing things that aren't engaging in high-stakes drama -- and, with respect to Robin, I don't -- you don't need to use them. The rules for dramatic resolution work perfectly well as an overlay on your favourite set of RPG rules, and that's a big feature for me. If the purpose is to encourage people to try out playing in a style that includes more drama, why not allow them to do that with their favourite game system? How about a little drama with your Pathfinder, or Traveller...

...or Fate?

Anyone who's read this blog before or listened to the podcast I do with my friends knows that Fate is a favourite in these parts. It hits the sweet spot in terms of tight, flexible rules that aim for narrative collaboration and heroic action. Fate fits a lot of the games we play just like a glove. 

In Fate as written, you use the same set of rules to model conflicts whether they are physical or social. Indeed, using the Fate "fractal" (or, if you prefer, the "Bronze rule") you can model any number of interactions in a game using the same basic rules. That's a lot of power. 

I've used Fate to run full-on social combat before, playing out pivotal interactions in a way that was, I must admit, pretty satisfying. When we talk about social combat, we're usually talking about a conflict playing out between a player character and an NPC, and you could still do that if you want in a scene where you're playing out a high-stakes argument to change a character's mind. Well and good. The most important purpose of using the DramaSystem rules for dramatic conflicts alongside Fate would be to model interactions between two player characters, however. As I've said before, something we've found after years of HTHD play is that dramatic scenes tend to happen most often between two PCs. These are the foundational conflicts and deep interactions that form the basis for our play style, and the fact that players are at the center of that has everything to do with why it is so rewarding. Like the main cast of a television show, the player characters are the ones whose stories and relationships are the most important. That's as it should be.

The dramatic resolution rules in DramaSystem are so light as to be almost non-existent, and I feel like they'd do well in terms of running a game where you often want the rules to fade into the background. That's pretty much how it goes in an HTHD game. Most of the time, you want to concentrate on the people and their problems. When you need a little crunch, you can go to the full Fate system and roll some dice. And, unlike some story gamers, I still likes my dice. 

If you were to do this, I'm picturing a Fate Accelerated variant that models jobs (much the way that Jadepunk does) so that it's clear those rules are there to handle procedural stuff specifically, not social interactions. Running something closer to Fate Core would require stripping out some of the social skills. I'm not sure off the top of my head what other implications that might have. 

The only part of this that demands a little thought, or perhaps some experimentation, is whether the tokens you receive for agreeing to a petition in DramaSystem could be interchangeable with Fate points on the crunchier end of things. I suppose it comes down to how much you use the two systems. If they're well-balanced, with equal parts drama and action playing out, then you probably don't need to worry about drama tokens throwing the Fate point economy out of whack. Accepting a petition might effectively become a kind of "compel", for which you get rewarded with a point as usual. It might be easier to keep them as discrete units which do their own things, on the whole, but as my friend Rob has observed, there is a lobe of the human brain that likes things tidy, dammit, and do we really need to have two different point economies side by side instead of one?

Has anybody tried this?

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