Saturday, March 14, 2015

Procedural Scene & Conflict Resolution Table for Fiasco and other Story Games

A number of narrativist story games and RPG systems separate character-driven scenes from scenes where conflict is resolved in a procedural way against the environment or versus another player.

The first place I encountered this was in the gm-less cooperative RPG Archipelago 2nd Edition (2009), where anyone at any time can tell another player “That might not be quite so easy”. This requires that player to draw one of 16 different resolution cards that might read “No, and not only does the character fail, something unrelated also goes wrong.” or “Yes, but only if the character choose to make a certain sacrifice”. A third player adjudicates the results of resolution cards for the caller and for the player called. I found these results were very close to something that I’ve always admired in the Fate Core (2013) system, where failure is instead “Succeed at a serious cost”, ties are “Succeed at a minor cost” and an excessive win is “Succeed with Style”, which I find supports leading the players to narrativist-style play.

A more recent game, Robin D. Laws' Hillfolk (2013) RPG, explicitly separates what Laws calls “Dramatic Scenes” from “Procedural Scenes”. Dramatic scenes in Hillfolk are where players conflict over the withholding or releasing of a desired emotional reward — such as gaining approval for an idea by the petitioner or inflaming the petition-granter to anger. These contrast with Procedural scenes, which have an entirely distinct conflict mechanic that use three kinds of colored tokens, bidding techniques, and the draw from a deck of cards.

Fitting its Old West theme, Jorj Dunne's Western City (2008) gm-less cooperative resolves dramatic conflicts between players using thematically appropriate poker chips, which are bid up between players with a raise, poker style, until someone can't bid any higher. The winner looses all his chips, which are then split up among the other players, leaving any remainders in the pot for the next conflict.

Jason Morningstar’s Fiasco (2009) doesn't have either a procedural scene system or a player-vs-player conflict system. Ideally all decisions about what happens are decided through table consensus or are based on what best serves dramatic necessity or the theme of the game — whether the players are trying to open a safe door or competing for the love of a supporting character. This consensual approach works great with the typical 3 or 4 experienced players.

However, I've found that playing Fiasco with larger groups, especially one-shot groups at conventions, are a bit more difficult. I personally find Fiasco easiest with a total of 3 or 4 people — or perhaps 5 if everyone is experienced. However, my local game convention requires that game must support at least 6 people to be listed and scheduled, as there are just not enough rooms at the hotel for all whom wish to game. Getting 6 people in a Fiasco game to come to a consensus can be a challenge when we need to quickly resolve a procedure or conflict. This can even happen with a smaller number of players, if there are some new to Fiasco and story games in general.

The next time this happens in a Fiasco game I am facilitating, I will suggest that we use the dice that the players have received to resolve the procedural or conflict scene Archipeligo-style, using the following traditional Fiasco-style 6xdd6 table. The establishing player(s) can roll one dice and how that might apply the subresult #1 into the story as a default. The resolving player(s) for the scene can either accept the procedural roll's default subresult of #1, or roll a 2nd dice to get one of the 6 sub-results for that option. This has not been playtested yet with Fiasco, but as it is relatively close to Archipelago I think it should work.

In many other kinds of story games, having a procedural mechanic can be very useful when the genre, theme or specific situation in the game requires suspense over drama or suspense over consensus.

In my own gm-less cooperative game design, players start with 5 dice, and bid who establishes the procedural scene, and then bid for who resolves. If more than two dice are bid, all winning dice are rolled together, and the establisher can remove any dice rolled until there are only two, and the resolver can decide which of the two dice is which for resolving the table.

On major caveat to this table — dice are random, so you can have a run of good or bad luck that can hurt dramatic needs. Even a card version of this table, which may see to be more arbitrary (i.e. less random over time as cards are revealed from the deck), I think even in the most procedural of story games it would be rare to have 36 pulls from the deck, which makes a deck just as random as dice. However, I think a deck could work well in a narrative-style LARP, making the overall odds of success and failure for everyone to be 50/50.

The table itself is licensed CC-BY  — let me know if it works and is useful to you in some way, and I always welcome advice on how to simplify/clarify it.

Procedural Scene & Conflict Resolution Table

1. No, and unexpectedly…
  1. …something entirely unrelated goes wrong
  2. …others will discover or become involved against you
  3. …something dear to you is harmed, lost or destroyed
  4. …you harm yourself, a friend, ally or loved one
  5. …a dark future is foreshadowed or prophesied against you
  6. …another plot thread accelerates to conflict
2. No, but…
  1. …your failure has some positive consequences
  2. …you loose no time or resources
  3. …your failure can help another succeed
  4. …you gain insight or knowledge that will be useful in the future
  5. …you gain a friend or goodwill in the process
  6. …you gain insights on how to resolve a different plot thread
3. Perhaps, but you may still succeed…
  1. …at a serious cost
  2. …at the price of earning a new enemy, debt or bad reputation in the process
  3. …if you must sacrifice something dear to you
  4. …at the price of harming yourself, a friend, ally or loved one
  5. …if you find someone else more suited to the task
  6. …only if the stakes or goal are significantly altered
4. Yes, but you succeed…
  1. …at a minor cost.
  2. …with unanticipated or unintended future negative consequences
  3. …by exhausting additional resources
  4. …by being slower than planned
  5. …at the cost of others noticing your actions in the future
  6. …but you will be disadvantaged in resolving a different plot thread
5. Yes, and…
  1. …you succeed as you planned
  2. …you succeed using fewer resources
  3. …you succed quickly leaving extra time
  4. …you succeed quietly and without notice
  5. …you succeed with style or panache
  6. …you succeed perfectly and decisively
6. Yes, and unexpectedly…
  1. …something completely unrelated is a success
  2. …you find or discover something or someone important
  3. …you earn an ally, reward or good reputation in the process
  4. …you gain insight or knowledge that will be useful in the future
  5. …a bright future is foreshadowed or prophecied for you
  6. …you will be at an advantage in resolving another plot thread
This Procedural Scene & Conflict Resolution Table is ©2015, Christopher Allen (, and is licensed CC-BY.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Generic Plot Twist / Tilt Table for Fiasco and other Story Games

In my last exploration of tools and techniques for gm-less story games I focused on on a table to help create interesting pairs of dramatic relationships. These are typically established by the singular author of a story, but in a gm-less story game it is now the shared responsibility to create these by all of the players in the game.

An area that a singular author or gm has an advantage in storytelling over a team of players is in the area of misdirection and plot twists. If the players collectively plan these in advance, the drama in the twist may suffer or even be lost in play.

Plot twists are not required in all story games, but they are essential color for many types of genres, such as the caper, noir, tragedy, soap, etc. Though plot twists may be required for these genres, for more ordinary dramas they also can serve as glue between acts — connecting together disparate plotlines, styles, or episodes of a story into a larger continuous thread.

The gm-less cooperative Fiasco (2009) accomplishes plot twists by using what they call a Tilt. The Tilt happens in the middle between the two acts of a standard Fiasco game. The player with the most dark dice picks a category, and the player with the most light dice picks the sub-category on the Tilt table, and then vis-a-versa. This results in two surprise attributes that are added to the game in subsquent play, such as Guilt: Someone develops a conscience or Deception: A secret goes public. The players then decide together when to “discover those twists in the second act, or establish retcon (retroactive continuity) into play with a flashback scene to create the twist.

Fiasco offers two different tables, the dark and often cruelly humorous Hard Tilt table in the original book, and a second “Soft Tilt table in Fiasco Companion (2011), which offers lighter, more socially-focused plot twists suitable for more light-hearted Fiasco playsets.

Fiasco rules require two plot twists at once, which is probably overkill for many story games. However, the use of multiple plot twists is particularly important for the tone of caper and noir plots, which is what Fiasco does a great job simulating. Thomas Leitch in Crime Films (2002) observes:
“ambiguity and irresolution are at the heart of Fargo’s comedy, which […] works by systematically depriving viewers of any single privileged perspective from which to interpret its outrageous events”
There very few Fiasco playsets that offer their own custom Tilt table. Most notably the Star Wars spoof Lord Doomicus and His Giant Battle Planet has its own Tilt table with such thematically evocative results as an (Un)natural Disaster: Alien virus with un-expected side effects or It's Business: Embarrassment leads to rage for Lord Doomicus, and the Secrets of NIMH-like Rat Patrol, has results like Withdrawal: We’re all getting stupider” and Retrieval: In Dr. John Sutcliffe’s soft hands.

Seeking more varieties of plot twists, I dove into a variety of sources, most notably:
I’m very happy with this distillation of all these different kinds of plot twists into a relatively concise list of only 36 entries, which must convey both breadth and depth of possibilities. I'm also confident that this table addresses my goal of achieving the 80/20 rule to cover the most common and useful varieties of plot twists.

As I comment in my Fiasco Relationships post, I believe that the best Fiasco playset tables should offer customized results that fit their theme and setting, rather than using this Generic Plot Twists table. But I've seen very few playsets to date that offer custom Tilt tables. Thus you can try using my Plot Twists table as a subsitute for the default Hard or Soft Tilt tables, or if you are a playset author, use it as inspiration for creating your own customized Tilt table.

These plot twists also may be generally useful to GMs of other story games, such as Fate Core (2013) or Powered by the Apocalypse games, or even authors of fiction. I’m currently using it as part of a cooperative game that I’m designing. The table itself is licensed CC-BY, and I always welcome advice on how to simplify/clarify it.

Generic Plot Twists / Tilt Table

1. FATAL FLAW (hamartia  / hubris / hoisted petard)
  1. the characters' otherwise competent plans have a fatal flaw or their goal misses the mark
  2. the characters are not as skilled as they think they are
  3. the characters outsmart themselves / a trap or trick set by the characters causes grief for themselves
  4. the characters are faced with a impossible choice (a dilemma, mutually exclusive goals, which innocents to rescue, the lesser of two evils), or have to think out of the box for a third choice
  5. the characters are on the wrong side and don't know it / the source of the problem is actually the characters or the character's allies
  6. be careful what you wish for, because you might get it
2. CHANGE OF FORTUNE (peripeteia / catastrophe)
  1. didn't see that coming (false assumptions, known unknowns, unknown unknowns)
  2. the characters are betrayed or tricked by friends, allies, or mentors
  3. escalation / things have to get worse before getting better
  4. pyrric victory / success can only be achieved at a serious cost / sacrifice
  5. the characters' goal actually benefits the villain / is in fact villain's secret plan / is a diversion from solving the real problem
  6. the characters solve a problem that turns out to already be solved / goal is no longer valid or has become meaningless
3. INFORMATION REVEALED (anagnorisis / discovery)
  1. the characters have no idea that something someone possesses is special (reverse macguffin)
  2. information is revealed that wasn't to be shared
  3. the victim being rescued doesn’t want to be rescued (stockholm syndrome, love, has other goals)
  4. love rears its ugly head
  5. the enemy of my enemy is my (friend, rival, new villain)
  6. a prophecy is revealed / a prophecy isn't what the characters thought it was
  1. the characters believe something is special that is not (macguffin)
  2. someone or a relationship is revealed to be not what the characters thought it was (family, friend, villain, victim) / the villains are the victims and the victims the villains
  3. the real goal isn't what the characters think it is / the goal isn't enough and only reveals the beginning of a new goal
  4. hidden or false crucibles - the characters are being tested, but do not know how, or don't even know they are being tested
  5. a trope is subverted (instead of being plot type a, it is in fact plot type b)
  6. the untwist / unreveal — an outcome considered to be too obvious turns out to be what happened, or a reveal is untrue
  1. the characters are beset by an unexpected force (new enemies, the law, the weather, an event)
  2. a villain's known limitation is no longer a limitation
  3. a defeated villain returns / a minor villain scorned returns as a big villain
  4. the timetable is unexpectedly accelerated
  5. an early tiny mistake/compromise leads to ruin
  6. the villain did his evil deeds for a greater, good purpose and/or the characters become now responsible for the achieving it.
  1. there are innocents or bystanders that must be protected
  2. the characters must work alongside someone they don't like (rivals, villains, outcasts)
  3. the characters require help from an ally that wants their support for another goal
  4. the characters must succeed without violence, or without access to certain abilities or resources
  5. the characters discover someone else has failed to succeed in the the goal before them
  6. the longer the characters take to solve a problem, the tougher it gets
This Generic Plot Twists Table is ©2015, Christopher Allen (, and is licensed CC-BY.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Generic Relationships Playset for Fiasco

I have been exploring cooperative and gm-less story games for the last few months, as research for a book on cooperative play (the second of a trilogy of books about cooperation that I'm working on).

Ever since Gygax published the first role-playing game “Dungeons & Dragons” in 1972, RPGs & story games have largely been “setting first, character second”. This essentially means that the player is given very early on a protagonist to identify with, support and grow, within the context of larger world created by the GM. This is a powerful design principle, as it draws the players into the story and a “suspension of disbelief” using their emotional attachment to their protagonist character.

The challenge to “character second” design is that this gives the players a subset of “player agency” I call “character agency”, where they exclusively control the story as it relates to that character, except where it relates to the “setting agency” which is controlled by the GM. This can make it difficult when different players have different or conflicting goals for their protagonists, or in story play when the narration and drama require fellow protagonists to sacrifice themselves, fail, to suffer, or even die.

Most recent narrativist story game designs largely follow that model. Even Universalis (2001–2011), one of the older and more sophisticated story games, characters are typically created immediately after setting. The same is true for a number of the more popular cooperative story games such as Penny For Your Thoughts (2009), Western City (2008), Microscope (2011), Archipelago 3rd Edition (2012), Okult (2013), Kingdom (2013), etc.

Like the other story games, Fiasco (2009) also defines the broad setting and theme first, by the players’  selection of their playset. However, one of the real innovations of Fiasco is how it asks the players to first define pairs of relationships, as well as needs that are shared by those relationships — and asks the players NOT to define characters or select protagonists until this is complete. You typically will have 4-pairs of relationships on the table first, plus four shared needs, before you decide which two your personal protagonist will be connected to.

This design pattern of “relationships and needs second”  is quite powerful, as it lowers “character agency” without affecting “player agency”. This is important in Fiasco, as some, or even all the characters will fail spectacularly, in support of the players creating an enjoyable narrative for the story.

I see this approach influencing other story-oriented RPGs, such as the introduction of Hx (history, sometimes called strings or debts) in Powered by the Apocalypse (2010) games, the creation of generic game aids like Backstory Cards, and game designers like Ryan Macklin recommending Decoupling Aspects from Phases in the Fate role-playing game.

In a great Fiasco playset, an evocative & scenario specific relationship is much better than a generic one. For instance: "FAMILY: The black sheep and golden child", "WORK: Business rivals in a dying industry", "FRIENDS: Coolest kid in school and fawning minion".

However, sometimes you wish to have a broader selection of relationships to draw from. I have read through 20+ playsets, looking at their commonalities, to create this more generic set of relationships, using a Fiasco-style table, to inspire players. Just roll a d6 twice. You’ll still need to fit these relationships into your setting and add some evocative color, but this table gives a broader range of choices.

I also believe that this relationships table may be more generally useful to players or GMs of other story games, such as Fate or those Powered by the Apocalypse — I’m currently using it as part of a cooperative game that I’m designing. I welcome ideas on how to simplify/clarify this table.

I’m also working on an equivalent composite table for needs/impulses/desires.

Generic Relationships Table

(each apply to a pair of characters)

1. Intimate
  1. current (spouses, lovers)
  2. past (ex-spouses, ex-lovers)
  3. casual (just met, one night stand, friends with benefits)
  4. unequal (rich, beautiful, power yful, older, younger)
  5. illicit (secret, adulterous, unlawful, forbidden, against custom)
  6. unrequited (crush, obsession, affection, ships in the night, sexual tension)
2. Family
  1. parent/child (biological, step, foster, adopted)
  2. elder (grandparent, uncle)/younger (grandchild, niece)
  3. peers (siblings, cousins)
  4. in-laws (mother-in-law, sister-in-law)
  5. distant (second-cousin twice-removed, lost heir, overseas cousins)
  6. unrelated (like a brother/sister/son,daughter, like family, relatives of in-laws, kith)
3. Friends
  1. close (or formerly-close) friends
  2. mentor/protégé (teacher/student, creator/muse)
  3. on the same side (leaders, sports, team, volunteer, neighbor, roommates)
  4. two of a kind (shared culture, experience, faith)
  5. mismatched buddies (different culture, experience, sex, enemy of an enemy)
  6. casual (beer buddies, same boat, fellow tourist, familiar stranger)
4. Work
  1. supervisor/employee (boss/worker, investor/ceo)
  2. professional peers (partners, co-workers, collaborators, colleagues)
  3. professional/client (salesman/customer, pastor/congregant, doctor/patient)
  4. professional opposition (rivals, competitors, adversaries)
  5. clandestine (secret, criminal, illicit)
  6. former colleagues (any of the above, but in the past)
5. Community/Society
  1. local (neighbors, from same city, fellow ex-pats)
  2. shared interests (sports, hobby, club, school)
  3. authority/civilian (mayor, sheriff, case worker/citizen, lord/commoner)
  4. social or faction rivals (running for office, cross-town sports rivals)
  5. crusader vs. villain (green-eco vs. lumberjack, underdog vs. leader)
  6. shared prejudice (politics, race, class)
6. Trouble (optionally roll again on the table to combine with intimates, family, friends, etc.)
  1. dysfunctional (co-dependent, controlling, jealous, toxic)
  2. non-violent crime/victim (con-artist/mark, dealer/addict, prostitute/john,  blackmail, petty theft, bribery, embezzlement)
  3. violent crime/victim (bully/sufferer, enforcer/target, assassin/quarry, pimp/prostitute, non-consensual intimacy)
  4. crime leader/follower (boss/consigliere, capo/made-man, cult leader/cultist)
  5. partners in crime (bullies, professional thieves, con-artists, gang members, hoodlums, spies, conspirators) 
  6. exotic (fated, cursed, hunted, separated at birth, zealots, cultists)
This Generic Relationships Table table is ©2015, Christopher Allen (, and is licensed CC-BY.

Friday, March 15, 2013


I have been looking forward to the Fate Accelerated Edition or "FAE" since its announcement as a "kicker" in the Fate Core Kickstarter campaign.
Fate is, at its heart, a simple system. So what happens if we aggressively strip Fate Core down, limiting the skill list to a small handful of broad approaches to problem-solving (e.g., Fast, Clever, Tough, Powerful, Sneaky)? What happens if we leave the “why” material for Fate Core, and instead focus solely on describing the basic procedures of play?
Reading it, I was reminded of my "thought experiment" two years ago called Fate for LARPs or "FFL". There are a number of ideas in FAE that make sense to move over to Fate for LARPs, but I also think there are a few things in Fate for LARPs that might be useful for FAE.

The Ladder

The FAE difficulty ladder is halved in size. Every other rating is removed, with Average being moved to +1. This makes it:

Description | Rating
Epic        | +4
Superb      | +3
Good        | +2
Average     | +1
Poor        | +0
Abysmal     | -1


Aspects for FFL are the the same as in FAE, except that up to two of the aspects can be "secret", often the Trouble aspect. These secret aspects can be discovered by other players with the "Create an Advantage" action. If a High Concept aspect is "secret", a "Cover" aspect needs to be taken as public "High Concept" aspect.

Use of an aspect gives a bonus of +1 toward resolving related "outcomes".

Typically all non-secret aspects are listed on each characters name tag worn by the players.


The skills of FAE are called Approaches — six named Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick, Sneaky. They are the same as FAE.

However, the initial values start differently: Choose one at Good (+2), two at Average (+1),
two at Poor (+0), and one at Abysmal (-1).

Note that because of FFL's "half ladder", this means that the one FFL Good (+2) approach is actually better than equivalent best approach in FAE Good (+3). This is balanced by having one approach be abysmal which is equivalent to a -2 in FAE. This become a second secret "trouble" for the character.


These are the same as in FAE, except that they typically add a bonus of +1 toward resolving an outcome.

Determining Outcomes

In general, outcomes are decided by "Rochambeau", aka "Rock Paper Scissors".


All actions ("create an advantage", "overcome", "attack" and "defend"), the active (typically the attacking) player reveals certain details first, followed by either the passive (typically the defensive) player or a game master. Then additional revelations are each made in turn:

  • First the active player reveals what approach is being using used, the passive player declares the defensive approach.
  • Next the active player reveals what the attacking approach level is, the passive player declares the defensive approach level. Both players can only choose one approach, and both may choose to declare less than their actual approach level, however, they may not change that choice until after this action is resolved.
  • Next the active player may reveal any appropriate stunt, free aspect or boost aspect for +1, without paying a fate point, and the passive player may do the same.
  • Next, the attacking player can pay a fate point to activate additional aspects for +1, or pay a fate point to activate an aspect of the defensive player for -1. Additional aspects can be played this way, one at a time, each in turn starting with the attacking player followed by the defending player.
  • Once both players have declined to pay additional fate points, the outcome is resolved.
If the difference between the final revealed skill levels is 2 or greater, the player with the higher total "wins with style" without any throw, the players go straight to resolution phase with the winning player gets a free "boost" aspect in the next round.

If the difference of the skills is 1, both players throw Rock/Paper/Scissors to determine the outcome, the higher skill player wins ties.

If the difference of the skills is 0, both players throw Rock/Paper/Scissors to determine the outcome, and resolve any ties by throwing Rock/Paper/Scissors again until one wins.


After the throw, but before the resolution, either player may pay one fate point to active an aspect to rethrow. The aspect may not be an aspect that was used in the declaration phase. The final declared skill levels remain the same, but the players throw again. Each player may rethrow once, however, can continue to pay fate points to rethrow multiple times, as long as the aspect has not have been used before, and both players must agree that the aspect is relevant.

Give In

If the difference between the final declared skills is 0 or 1, before the throw, either player (including the player with the higher final declared skill level) may Give In, go straight to resolution and loose the challenge, but gain the ability to narrate the result and gain one Fate point in addition to choosing to take stress or a consequence. Players may not Give In if the skill difference is 2 or greater.

Resolving a Challenge

If the action resolved was part of a challenge, the passive player will the gamemaster and may require additional rounds to overcome that challenge.  Typically winning a a round of a challenge gives +1 to the next challenge, or +2 if the previous challenge resulted in a boost. Aspects can be used multiple times during a challenge, but free aspects and boosts can only be used once per round.

Once the challenge is overcome, the winning player declares the narrative, unless a player gave "Gave In", in which the conceding player or the game master declares the narrative.

Resolving a Contest

If the action resolved was part of a contest, the winning player declares the narrative, unless a player Gave In, in which the conceding player declares the narrative.

The loosing player declares damage to stress or a consequence. If a player Gave In, the conceding player also gains a Fate point.

Resolving a Conflict

If the action resolved was part of a conflict, the winning player declares the narrative. The loosing player declares damage to stress or a consequence.

If a player Gave In, the conceding player declares the narrative, damage to stress or a consequence, and both players must withdraw and may not be part of of another conflict until some time has passed.

If there was no concession, the passive player from this round can now choose to be the active player, where they are now the attacker, or they can withdraw and may not be challenged until some time has passed. The attacker from the previous round may not choose to withdraw.

Stress and Consequences

These are largely the same as in FAE. Typically they are placed as post-it notes on the players name tag.

Observations & Questions

Many of the observations and questions from Fate for LARPs are still applicable.

Some new questions raised by adapted FFL to FAE:

  • Is having one skill at Abysmal (FAE equivalent of -2) a good balance to having one skill at Good (FAE equivalent to +4).
  • Is the balance of having typically 3 public aspects and 2 secret aspects right?
  • I like the way boosts and "give in" works in FAE for Larps, but are there unforeseen consequences?
  • How damage is resolved other than a value of TRUE is an open question.
  • There is still something about the Keys that I like for LARPs to simplify the Fate economy. It is discussed in Fate for LARPs but I've removed it from this version.
  • Should the values for the approaches be the same as in FAE (1-2-2-1), or since we have a compress ladder, a more Fate 3.0-like pyramid (1-2-3).

Thursday, March 3, 2011


(This is really more of a thought experiment than a proposal or tested game system, however, if you find that any of it is useful you are welcome to include it as Open Game Content.)

Differences between Tabletop & LARPs

  • Tabletop RPGs tends to have more cooperation between players -- the competition is more typically the players against the scenario described by the game master, the the game master adjudicating. LARPs tend to have more competition between the players -- cooperation may exist between players in teams, but often there are "traitors" so cooperation is riskier. The game master(s) still create the scenario, but due to the typical player/game master ratio, they are less able to adjudicate all competition. This requires more player/player adjudication.
  • LARPs are "stand up" and typically are more immersive (i.e. the players are doing more what their characters are doing, rather then saying what their characters are doing). This makes rolling dice and many other random mechanics more difficult.
  • LARPs are sometimes campaign-oriented like tabletop, but due to the requirements of getting a lot of players together are more often a one-off single scenario (i.e. run once at a convention or gathering) then is typical for tabletop. On the west coast, other then some Vampire campaigns, almost all LARPing is recent years have been single scenarios.
  • Secrets in LARPs are more complicated. Typically secrets in a tabletop are all held by the game master, and otherwise are mostly open among the players. In LARPs secrets tend to be more held by the players, secrets are often the currency in a LARP scenario ("I tell you a secret if you'll tell me one"), and the game masters may not know who currently knows what secret.
  • It is much more difficult in a LARP for the players to decide difficulty of risky actions on the fly. For instance in FATE tabletop, the GM typically sets the difficulty, the dice are rolled, then any skill bonuses, free-taggable aspects, and fate points are decided if allowed by the game master. Only then is outcome the risky action is decided. In LARPs, the GM is often not present, the players are more personally involved in their own character goals rather then scenario objectives, and thus risky actions are harder to adjudicate.


Aspects in FATE for LARPs are mostly the same as aspects in tabletop, however, some aspects have some additional attributes.

Typically each character will have typically 3 public aspects — these are typically an archetype, background and/or some visible character description. These public aspects are either written down and shared with all players in a character roster, or are displayed along with the character name on a name tag. Like aspects in FATE, they can be invoked by the player for +1 to a skill challenge.

In addition to the public aspects, each character will typically have 2 secret aspects. If discovered (by using certain skills) they can be known by others, but largely are only invokable by the player.


In addition to public/private, base/specialty attributes, aspects may also have keys. A key is a unique element of the aspect that if it occurs, earns the player a fate point. These are the equivalent of compelling an aspect in FATE, however, are more specific so that it does not require GM adjudication.

Example: SotC has an archetype aspect "Gentleman Criminal", whose key might be "KEY: Gain a fate point if you successfully steal something from someone without being caught or entering into any combat." Someone with the aspect "Defender of the Defenceless" might have the "Key: Gain a fate point if you defend someone in danger who cannot save themselves."

Typically fate points rewarded for keys come from the game master(s), but players can compel a key by giving a player one of their fate points.


There are only five base skills in FATE for LARPs, and a fifth optional background/genre specific skill. Every risk or skill challenge uses one of these skills. Any additional abilities will use specialty aspects that add to the base skill.

The skills are:
  • Vigor - the character's physical strength and reserves of health. The equivalent in tabletop FATE of the skills athletics, close combat, endurance, might, and strength.
  • Instinct - the character's agility, dexterity, instinctive abilities, and reserves of reflexes. The equivalent in tabletop FATE of the skills of alertness, burglary, craftsmanship, driving, gambling, pilot, perception, sleight of hand, stealth, and weapon combat.
  • Reason - the character's intelligence and reserves of mental power. The equivalent in tabletop FATE of the skills of academics, discipline, engineering, investigation, resolve, lore, scholarship, survival, and willpower.
  • Social - the character's social aptitude and reserves of social capital. The equivalent in tabletop FATE of the skills of assets, contacts, conviction, composure, deceit, empathy, intimidation, leadership, presence, performance, persuasion, rapport, resources, wealth.
  • Power - the characters background or genre specific magical, psychic, or superhero skills and reserves of that power. The equivalent in tabletop FATE of mysteries or sanity.

Ladder & Skill Levels

The FATE difficulty ladder is halved in size. Every other rating is removed, with Average being moved to +2. This makes it:

Description | Rating
Epic        | +5
Superb      | +4
Good        | +3
Average     | +2
Poor        | +1
Abysmal     | +0

Different backgrounds and genre games will often have a different set of skill levels, but by default, all characters have one skill that is Good (+3), three that are Average (+2), and one that is Poor (+1). They may increase any one single skill +1 if they decrease another -1. They could reduce their Poor (+1) to Abysmal (+0) and increase their Good (+3) to Superb (+4), or make their skills all Average (+2).

Speciality Aspects

In addition to the base 5 aspects, there are 5 specialty aspects, which are aspects that always free-taggable by the player that can only be used conjunction with a skill challenge to give +1. Specialty aspects are typically private, but once used may be public. They may never have Keys, thus are not compellable.

Risks & Challenges

Risks are player vs. the environment, Challenges are player vs player. They are adjudicated the same way, however, in risks the player chooses another player to resolve the risk, and that player may not use personal skills, aspects, or fate to affect the outcome of the risk.

There are three phases of a challenge round, the declaration, the throw, and the resolution.

In a declaration, the active (aka attacking) player declares certain facts first, followed by the passive (aka defensive) player. Then additional declarations are each made in turn.
  • First the active player declares what base skill is being using used, the passive player declares the defensive skill.
  • Next the active player declares what the attacking skill level is, the passive player declares the defensive skill level.
  • Next the attacking player can free-tag any single specialty aspect for +1, and the defensive player may do the same.
  • Finally, the attacking player can pay a fate point to tag an aspect for +1, or pay a fate point to tag an aspect of the defensive player for -1. Additional aspects can be tagged, one at a time, if they do not violate scope.
The if the difference between the final declared skill levels is 2 or greater, the player with the higher total wins automatically without any throw, and the player go straight to resolution phase.

If the difference between the final declared skills is 0 or 1, before the throw, either player (including the player with the higher final declared skill level) may concede, go straight to resolution and loose the challenge, but gain one Fate point. Players may not concede if the skill difference is 2 or greater.

If the difference of the skills is 0, both players throw Rock/Paper/Scissors to determine the outcome, and resolve any ties by throwing Rock/Paper/Scissors again until one wins. If the difference of the skills is 1, the higher skill player wins ties.

After the throw, but before resolution, either player may pay one fate point to active an aspect to rethrow. The aspect may not be an aspect that was used in the declaration phase. The final declared skill levels remain the same, but the player throw again. Each player may rethrow once, however, can continue to pay fate points to rethrow multiple times, as long as the aspect has not have been used before, and both players must agree that the aspect is relevant.

In resolution the winner player declares the narrative. The loosing player declares damage to stress or a consequence. If a concession was made, the losing player gains a Fate point.

The defensive player from this round can now declare a new challenge, where they are now the attacker, or they can withdraw and may not be challenged until some time has passed. The attacker from the previous round may not choose to withdraw.

Stress & Consequences

These are done the same way as in tabletop FATE, except that different backgrounds and genres may have different number of stress tracks. All games have a stress track based off of Vigor (i.e works just like endurance skill), but some may have stress tracks off of Reason (works like the resolve skill), Social (works like the Assets skill in Diaspora), and even possibly a stress track associated with Instinct or Power.

Each stress track can take a minor, a major and a severe consequence. There are no extreme consequences.

Optionally there are no stress tracks, only consequences.

Observations & Questions

  • The initial number of aspects (5 basic and 5 specialty) seems about right. However, I expect that any play testing will show that FATE for LARPS needs more or less aspects.
  • I think having at least 3 of the five basic aspects be public also makes sense. But it could be any 3 of all 10 initial aspects.
  • I think Keys from Shadows of Yesterday/Solar System are important substitute for compels — it makes rewarding disadvantages with FATE points far more concrete when a GM is not as involved. I'm not as confident if there is still a place for ordinary compels in this system, but I've included them.
  • I like the way that Vigor, Instinct, Reason, Social & Power divide up and simplify all the skills for LARPing. Combined with specialty aspects that are free-taggable, it should be easy to convert any existing FATE scenario to a LARP form.
  • I in particular like separating physical into Vigor and Instinct, as having a single skill for all physical seemed to overpower reason and social skills and speciality aspects.
  • I found it useful to collapse the difficulty ladder. It has roughly the same names as FATE, but I think works better for LARPs.
  • Basically anything that is a +2 bonus in FATE is a +1 in FATE for LARPs.
  • I like the declaration/throw/resolution phases, and how fate points are used differently before the throw (for a +1) or after a throw (for a reroll).
  • I like the +1 skill after declaration means that you win all ties in Rock/Paper/Scissors. This is not an original idea (the LARP system I use most uses it), but it seems to work particularly well here.
  • I like that +2 means automatically win. This would be the equivalent of +4 in FATE. LARPs need fewer, not more challenges.
  • For superhero combat, it might be useful to adopt some ideas from Blood & Tears, the LARP version of Houses of the Blooded. In particular, the concept of wagers as short-term FATE points.
  • There is no shifts or spin here, as those require GM adjudication. Not sure if they are needed or not.
  • I somewhat arbitrarily decided that after an attack, the defender has the option of withdrawing or becoming the attacker (and maybe even using a very different skill). I think this makes sense for LARP play where , but suspect that it will require a lot of special cases.
  • I don't really have movement, maneuvers, environmental aspects, and declarations figured out in Fate for LARPs.
  • I'm open to ideas, and an evening of playtest.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Look into Fate: Skills

(This essay is inspired by the discussion about Fate 3.0 now going on in These are not recommendations for the future of Fate 3.0, but instead the purpose is to ask questions that might open dialogue about some of the issues of taking Fate to the next level. Do all of these questions need to be resolved? No. But it is possible that discussion of these questions will increase awareness of what should be the goals and priorities in the designing the future of Fate.)

Why Skills at All?

Skills are a fundamental element of all the Fate branches, however, a couple of Fate-inspired games don't have them.

F# is a simplified version of FATE, combining both Aspects and Skills. Basically, if you have an Aspect (what they call a tag) it also has value, initially 1. If you want to do an action using that Aspect, you get a +1 on that roll (they have a simplified and easier success Ladder, so +1 is significant). If you don't have an applicable Aspect, you can make up a temporary Aspect on the spot with a value of 0, which you can make permanent by paying 3 Fate. If you successfully use that Aspect, you can later pay the value of the Aspect plus 1 in Fate points to increase the level of the Aspect to the next level, i.e. 2 to increase an Aspect level from +1 to +2.

Thus it can be argued that you don't need any Skills at all in Fate, just use Aspects. To a certain extent with the existing rules, you can substitute every Skill with an Aspect, which immediately gives you the equivalent of a skill at Fair (+2), and with a second Aspect it would be the equivalent of a skill at Great (+4). The big difference between using Aspects for Skills this way is that Skills don't require Fate points to use, so in a sense these are special Aspects that are free-taggable, only by the player, once every combat turn.

So what F# inspires me to think about in the future of Fate is the following:

  • Can Aspects be used instead of Skills? Can we have fewer skills and use more Aspects?
  • Should some Aspects have a value like Skills do?
  • Can Aspects be improved like Skills?
  • Can multiple Aspects be "linked" to allow them to be used without violating scope for greater then +2 bonuses?
  • Can Aspects have options that make them work more like skills, by making free-taggable, either once per turn, or possibly once per exchange, once per scene, or once per scenario?
  • Can Aspects be bought with sufficient Fate points?

Damage Capacity Skills

Skills come directly from their origin in FUDGE. In FUDGE, Skills were a subset of Traits, which also included Attributes, Gifts, Faults and Powers. Gifts and Powers from FUDGE are roughly Stunts and Faults are a kind of Aspect. However, the difference between Attributes and Skills is that Attributes have some Damage Capacity, i.e. all Attributes can are numbers that can be depleted

So in a sense, any Fate Skill related to stress tracks would be what FUDGE calls Attributes, as they they have a limited capacity.

All the Fate branches seems to have a physical damage capacity skill (typically called Endurance) and a mental damage capacity (Resolve in SotC, Composure in Diaspora, Conviction in DFRPG, Willpower in Strands). Many also have a social damage capacity (Presence in DFRPG, Composure in Diaspora, Popularity in Strands). Economics is important to Diaspora, so they also have a damage capacity skill Assets which is associated with a stress track.

A Fate-related RPG called The Shadow of Yesteryear and its SRD Solar System associate every skill will a stress track (which they call Pools). These stress tracks are slightly orthogonal to the typical physical/mental/social, and instead are Vigor (for both physical and mental toughness), Instinct (speed of reaction to physical and social), and Reason (active mental and social abilities). Many different skills have a cost to these stress tracks to use, which combined with stress to these pools limits skill abilities.

These variants raises some questions:
  • Clearly some Skills are special because they have stress tracks aka damage capacity strongly associated with them. Are they fundamentally different?
  • Sometimes the skill and the damage capacity track associated with them are very little different, but have different names. Why the complexity?
  • Why does every Fate branch have a slightly different name for the mental damage capacity skill?
  • Diaspora uses the mental damage capacity track for social damage, but uses Assets for wealth damage. How about Assets (or Resources as it is known in most other branches) be a social damage capacity skill?
  • If damage capacity skills are different then then the stress tracks associated with them, can multiple skills affect a stress track rather then just one? (i.e. can Endurance add health boxes as well as a different skills such as Fitness?)
  • Why do none of the Fate branches have a speed/dexterity/initiative stress track (i.e. what TSoY/SS call Instinct)?
  • Are the choices of physical/mental/social for the damage capacity skills / stress tracks the right division?
  • An interesting variant is active and passive stress tracks. Active is depleted by your own use, Passive is depleted by your defense. Thus Conviction would be a mental skill that was depleted when you use it to attack an enemy, but Composure would be depleted when you defended against a mental attack.
Skill Proliferation & Balance

Fate 2.0 had 21 general skills. SotC has 28 skills. Starjammer has 29 skills. Diaspora has 36 skills (+36 if you consider apex skills different). DFRPG has 25 skills but takes the concept of trappings even further then SotC, and ends up with 98 skill trappings. Legends of Anglerre has 27 skills and probably more then 100 trappings.

So there has been a general upward trend in number of skills, or skill variants such a trappings and stunts, but the number of slots has remained the same -- since Fate 2.0, most Fate branches have characters with roughly 15 skill slots and roughly 3 stunts. Only the Fate branch Only Strands of Fate (with only 13 skills, see next section) seems to defy this trend.

With a limited number of named skills, this increase in number of skills can make it difficult to have a small number of characters with enough skills for a viable party. You see this in Diaspora where by default your ship has crew with skills of Fair (+2) and some at Good (+3). You see this in DFRPG with need for sidekicks and minions to do research.

Not all skills seem balanced for player's time of play. For instance, in Diaspora the Navigator (a space combat skill) is used only once per the entire space combat, and the Pilot skill is not nearly as interesting as Gunnery or Electronic Warfare, and neither Pilot or Navigation is useful for much else. In DFRPG is having 7 different trappings under Scholarship a way of balancing it with Fists, which has only 2 trappings, but broader applicability to a players's play time?

My personal ideal is that every skill should have allow of the following: some form of simple use, another for it to assess or declare an aspect, it should function in some type of mini-game/combat as either an attack or defense, and some type of maneuver, move, or block in that mini-game.

  • How can we limit this proliferation of skills and/or trappings?
  • Is there some way to more generalize skills so that there are fewer of them?
  • At what point does having too few skills become just a revisiting of old-style characteristics? At what point are their too many skills?
  • How do we allow for sufficient skill spread for games with just 2 or 3 players + GM?
  • If there are skills that typically assigned to sidekicks (research) and crew (navigation), then why have them be PC skills at all?
  • How do we balance skills for player's time of play?
  • Some skills are useful in more than one mini-game (say Intimidation which can be used both in a combat mini-game as well as a mental and social mini-games). Can we make more skills be useful across different mini-games?
  • Can we have all skills have the ideal of a simple use, an aspect use, a mini-game attack/defense use, and mini-game maneuver/move/block use?
  • Not all skills have good narrative context, i.e. Intimidation is a mental attack in a largely physical mini-game. Diaspora does have some cross-over between the physical mini-game and the mental, with the first damage going to both health and composure. What other narrative context issues need to be examined?
  • Skills maybe should come in sets, i.e. if you have economics in your game, then you bring in Assets, Bribery, Bargaining, otherwise you just use the generic Resources.

Independence of Skills & Virtues & Skill Categories

Skills in Fate tend to be very independent, that is, you can be Great (+4) in Piloting but Mediocre (+0) in Driving, even though clearly the skills are closely related. In Diaspora could someone with Slug Throwers at Superb (+5) really be Average (+1) with Energy Weapons? In SotC would someone really have Archeology and no Academics? Or in DFRPG would someone have Deceit without Performance, or in Legends of Anglerre would someone have Rapport without Presence?

One answer for this is the near-Fate variant Houses of the Blooded is to have some base values for skills in broad "Virtues". They are Strength, Cunning, Courage, Beauty (Art), Wisdom & Prowess. All skills then become specializations or Aspects that fall under one or more of these Virtues. For instance, Appraisal can be based on the value for Cunning expertise or the value for understanding of Beauty. The value for Disarm Traps either can be due to Wisdom's knowledge or due to Prowess dexterity.

In Fate 2.0 there was a concept of skill "Categories" for which there were 10: Academic, Artistic, Athletic, Combat, Criminal, Magical, Perception, Professional, Social, Survival. Within these categories were a choice of "Broad" skills, for which there were 21 listed, or the wider "General" skills which listed over 50, and implied even a larger quantity of "Specific" skills. You could use these "Categories" like Houses of the Blooded's Virtues and give them a base value.

An example of this is the Fate inspired ICONS, which has only has 6 virtues (Prowess, Coordination, Strength, Intellect, Awareness, Willpower) each with a value, and where everything else is a specialty group (such as Weapons) which adds +1 to that base value. The Fate branch Legends of Angelerre has 8 categories that could maybe be made into base virtues: Craft, Combat, Knowledge, Mundane, Perception, Physical, Social, and Subterfuge.

The Fate branch Strands of Fate divides all skills (what it calls abilities) into 3 broad categories: Physical, Mental Social. Within these are only 12 skills (P: Agility, Endurance, Perception, Strenght, M: Craft, Knowledge, Reasoning, Willpower, S: Deception, Empathy, Persuasion, Resources) and an optional 13th skill Affinity which is used for magic/sanity/cyberpunk/nano genre specific skills.

It could be argued that you only needed base values for a skill category/virtue, and everything else is a free-taggable per combat turn Aspect (as described above in "Why Skills at All".)

Another answer used in other game systems is to have base values for certain skill trees, or offer fewer skills and more specializations. For instance, Basic Combat might be Good (+3), but Weapons or Close Combat are specializations that can be Great (+4) or Superb (+5). Or like Shadow of Yesteryear/Solar System (mentioned above) all skills can have a base on limited set of Attributes. For instance a Physical Skills of Fair (+2) would be for all combat, unless you specialize in Close Combat which is Great (+4).

Another solution is the concept of Trappings, where a skill is has multiple things that it can do. For instance, in DFRPG Fists has two trappings, one for brawling and one for close-combat defense. Whereas Scholarship has 7 trappings: Answers, Computer Use, Declaring Minor Details, Exposition and Knowledge Dumping, Languages, Medical Attention, Research and Lab Work. Note that Trappings are all at the same skill level--thus your computer use is directly proportional to the number of languages you have.

  • Is the independence of some skills a problem?
  • Are some current skills related enough that they really should be trappings of another skill?
  • Can we use a smaller list of skill broad categories/virtues and have everything else be a specialization, an aspect, or a minor stunt?
  • Since different game genres have needs for different kinds of skills, how do you allow flexibility for this yet also keep basic skills working basically the same way across different different genres? Is really a difference between Rapport and Empathy and Charm?
  • Does it make sense to make some genre-specific skills into their own categories and skill trees rather then trying to shoehorn them into the standard set?


In some genres (superheroes, ninjas and samurai) skills can get quite high. Even more mortal games such as Diaspora every player has 1 "Apex" skill that is your single Superb (+5) skill which are described as something special above and beyond that of just +1 over Great skill (+4).

When one of these high skills is opposed against another high skill, the results work well. However, when they are unopposed, or against a more mortal skill, they can result in a very high shift surplus (for which there are limited uses, such as Overflow non-combat supplemental actions, or for Spin, which just makes the combat even shorter.) You can use the shift surplus to make the time to perform the skill shorter (or in some cases longer), but often extra shifts for time are not useful.

The cross-over point appears to be at +5, as FUDGE dice give a range of -4 to +4. This means that Superb (+5) is the equivalent of being 100% successful in Average (+1) situations. As skills go even higher they become more of a problem.

In Houses of the Blooded, all the characters have relatively high skills, however, players have the option of withholding dice before rolling in the form of "wagers" that allow more narrative control if the player succeeds. Typically they are the equivalent of a declaration per successful wager. In opposed combat, even the defeated player keeps half of their wagers, so it is quite possible for the winner to win the exchange, but loose the battle because of declarations that happen after the loss. This allows for great narrative power to players for games that should be a bit over-the-top. Antoni Ten in Yahoo group has an interesting possible variant of Wagers for Fate where wagers are a form of temporary consequence that can be used for temporary fate points.

  • Should Diaspora's Apex Skill concept be generalized to to Fate Core for any Superb skill? Should there be other "thresholds" where skills above a certain point have special abilities without having to buy a stunt?
  • What else can you do with excess shifts (either attacking or defending)?
  • We need clearer examples of how Overflow can be used in DFRPG -- non-combat actions is not clear enough.
  • Is there some way to bring the concept of wagers to high skill combat? Just reducing the skill ranks to make a wager doesn't seem to work in Fate as mechanics like Aspects are typically done after the roll, and wagers really need to be set before the roll to work correctly.
  • What other issues are there for Superb (+5) and up skills?
Other Questions
  • Besides stress tracks, there are several other "limited" resources in Fate: Refresh (and thus stunts and the Fate pool), the total number of allowed Aspects, and the number of allowed Skills. Is there any value in having any of these to have damage capacity?
  • In all the Fate branches, no skill default to Mediocre (+0), however, in many Fate inspired variants and other story-dominant or participatory RPGs have a different ladder, where the default is equivalent to Average (+1) or even Fair (+2). All PCs would be considered to start with average, unless there was an Aspect (a disadvantage or fault) that lowered it below average. What would be the implication of having default skills start at +1 or +2?
  • Diaspora's concept of Scope is very useful, but use of skills are not in the scope rules. Some of the changes implied by the above may need some additions to Scope rules as well.