Saturday, 26 July 2014

FATE Dixie 2: episode 04, post-game chat

More actual play of the FATE Core silly Bravestarr rip-off I ran earlier this year. Contains spoilers for nothing, because I'm not sure you can even do spoilers in FATE.

This episode, we talk even more about FATE Core and how we think the game went.

Episode 4

The Episode

Unfortunately, due to lateness of the hour, our post-game chat here was curtailed before we had the necessary three hours or so to really thrash out our views, via talking about Warhammer a lot, and propose four alternative versions that would be essentially entirely different games, as we are wont to do. So it's a mere hour.

The game rather shook my optimistic view as I discovered that my initial difficulty getting my head around some concepts hadn't, as I thought, melted away with reading. Although I broadly had the concepts down, I continually struggled to GM the thing, as I found it very difficult to work out how to apply the mechanics. As Dan suggests somewhere or other, FATE is trying to be a game about story, but does this by having mechanics that act on mechanics. This does make the mechanics a flexible and abstract thing that aren't constrained by direct interaction with the game fiction, allowing you to skin outcomes how you want; on the downside it means that determining what happens in the fiction based on a roll, or deciding what mechanics to use for a particular in-game happening, is not simple.

As I found regularly running the game, the disconnect between what was happening in the narrative and the mechanical support was one I found very unintuitive. As Dan has pointed out to me, I'm fairly inclined towards quite world-simulatey systems where consequences flow fairly naturally from actions and the mechanics simply determine how they work out, because I tend to find abstractions more difficult to get my head round.

Alternatively I think systems that are even more abstract and stripped down, with just a few abilities that work by handwavium and interpretation, can work for me. FATE for me fell in an awkward middle ground, where anything you do has to be modified by an abstract intermediate layer based on your intention in performing an action. Similarly, evaluating what kind of roll-off I should call for (Contest, Conflict, C-something-else, one die roll) felt like an additional complication in resolving events.

I enjoyed the game, but I didn't particularly enjoy running it because I felt incompetent with the mechanics and this was very obviously slowing down the gameplay. I could have overcome this somewhat by handwaving things but that sort of ruins the point of a playtest. Having had time to mull things over and listen back to this recording, I could probably run a better game next time, but the easiest way to do that seems to be for the GM to take back a lot of the work that's assumed to be done by players, like having them decide the result of a roll rather than players picking an objective beforehand. Are they creating an advantage or making an attack? Unfortunately, this goes against the grain of the book as very player-driven.

We could take another bash at this and probably handle things better, but it seems like it would be easier just to try and run more Dixie-2 in a system we're more familiar with. I'm not sure what'll happen with this. Just like before, I'd really like to hear some people who actually know what they're doing running this game.


  1. "Just like before, I'd really like to hear some people who _actually know what they're doing_ running this game."

    I've got a friend who's a big FATE booster--I'll see if I can get him to come over here and provide some insight.

    Also, on an unrelated note, I just listened to the latest Miskatonic University Podcast episode and was delighted by your Manx contribution. (I was also somewhat surprised none of them seemed to be familiar with ogham script. Philistines! ;D)

    1. That would be great, if he's interested. I didn't hate it, so it's not like I'm a hostile audience - I just couldn't get it to click for me.

      Oh, cool! Glad you liked it. I was a bit surprised as well, but I suppose maybe they haven't wandered through many museums full of ogham stones.

  2. Something I think I didn't get across in the post-game chat.

    One of the things that really bugs me about Aspects as they are writ is the way that they wind up twisting people's character concepts. There are several examples in the core rules where it seems a lot like the player's concept winds up being specifically changed or - worse - made more stereotypical by the requirement to give them "good" aspects.

    The one I particularly remember is replacing "computer genius" with "nerdy mc nerdson". A character who is a giant nerd is not intrinsically more interesting or more fun to play than one who is just good with computers.

    I think this contributed to my avowed ambivalence towards my character's Aspects. Because I had to pick aspects that fit the game designers' ideas about what would be a good aspect, I wound up with aspects that didn't particularly enthuse me about my character.

    1. That's a very good point. Off the top of my head:
      * Dinah Glass - computer genius, shy, not a stereotypical nerd
      * Neo - computer genius, loner, little sign of stereotypical nerddom in the brief pre-Matrix segments
      * Batman - Batman

      I *think* part of the computer genius thing is that just being skilled at something relatively straightforward isn't supposed to be an aspect, but come from your skills. There are various fleshing-out things you could do that would depict different types of computery person, some with obvious drawbacks, but I do sort of understand that using aspects to add skills undermines their use as character definition of a broader kind.

      There's also a kind of secondary problem, where you have to articulate aspects in a pretty concise way. This means if you have an aspect in mind that's not that complicated but fairly hard to pin down in words, it'll end up being distorted in the distilling process, and then the worded version is what gets used.

    2. Coming back to this, two thoughts.

      One is that I wonder whether the pulpy focus of the game didn't incline the designers towards stereotyped PCs because those are easier to paint in broad strokes. Thus, a computer genius with associated problems is easily painted as a Nerd™ and I kind of suspect that by that, they actually meant more of a Dork™.

      Two is that it's not especially difficult to add disadvantages to quite a lot of "good at"s. If you assume the person is not just talented but interested in computers, then they might easily have problems like:
      * getting distracted by the code of the program they're trying to hack, or the urge to try something clever when an annoying laborious method is more reliable
      * not spending the whole party talking about computers to another computer person
      * maintaining a disguise as someone who doesn't know about computers
      * having distinctive coding patterns that make them recognisable
      * getting buttonholed to do tech support by anyone who learns about their talent
      * having an online presence (forums, stackexchange, blogs, wikis, whatever) that, even with pseudonyms, offers another paper trail for antagonists
      * commitments to technical circles, or a habit of staying up late following tech debates or security issues

      Call it, I dunno, Actually Good With Computers, or something. Mister StackExchange. All Your Database Are Belong To Us. Whatever best emphasises the things you think are most significant. Of course, you'd need to confirm with the others which facets you think are appropriate or not - if you want to play a brooding loner computer genius, or a society matron who's also a computer genius, then you probably don't talk everyone's ear off.

      Some of them aren't just drawbacks - computing social circles are a resource as well as a commitment, an online rep as someone that knows their stuff could be enough to get you into a conference or a meeting with the boss. Most of those you could reskin for different kinds of interests and talents: chemistry, theatre, philosophy, even guns.

      I think for me the factor I'd be looking for is a sense that the aspect brings something to the table over and above a mechanical increase in skill, basically.