Tuesday, August 11, 2009

FATE's Gambling Problem

So the first draft of Legends of Anglerre's skills and stunts chapter (with stunts listed along with the skill descriptions to which they belong -- hooray!) is in the can, which means I'm moving on to some other cool stuff for the project. I was happy to be in charge of that chapter, because it's kinda the mechanical heart of the game and where a lot of my interest lies, but it was also necessarily a bit of a slog -- I mean, it's about 50,000 words in total to be analyzed, edited, and revised. What else could it be?

Anyway, in the course of that, I noticed that SotC's rules for Gambling are... well, incomplete at best and weird at worst. It looks like there was more of a system in place at one time, but it was taken out before printing -- or it was intended that there be more of a system that never got put in. Either way, the default way of handling high-stakes games -- every player rolling against the game's stakes as a target number -- isn't especially interesting. Players don't actually interact at all, and if everyone beats the target number, everyone "wins."

Gambling as a skill is an odd duck. It basically goes one of two ways. Either you make a quick Gambling roll for a bit of flavor or as prelude to a different sort of conflict, or you have a larger Gambling-specific conflict that gets much more in-depth. Examples of this are found in Casino Royale or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. That's the sort of thing this system (in its initial draft, as presented here) is intended to handle.

Keep in mind, too, that this is written with Legends of Anglerre's stress-reducing consequences in mind (and some version of this is likely to show up in LOA, if not in a free PDF supplement shortly after LOA's release this winter). Note, too, that I do, like, zero gambling myself. I don't play poker or Greyhawk Hold 'Em or whatever the kids are playing these days. When I go to Vegas, I play the nickel slots because their flashing lights and beeping noises make me laugh and clap my hands, and you can't put a price on that kind of simpleton happiness. These rules don't cover games of pure chance (like craps or roulette) -- they're intended for poker-like games with a lot of betting, raising, and strategy. And tension. Especially tension.

Gambling Redux
Each gambler has a stress track equal to his Resources. If someone else is willing to bankroll the gambler, the gambler uses that person's Resources to determine the length of his Gambling stress track instead. Your Resources must be equal to or greater than the stakes (i.e., quality) of the game.

Every round, gamblers take turns "bidding" a number of stress boxes in the usual way people do when gambling. If someone raises the bid, everyone else has to see him, take a mental consequence, or make a concession (that is, "fold") and leave the conflict for the round.

After all bets have been taken, each gambler rolls a skill. Normally, the skill is Gambling, but by spending a Fate Point to invoke an aspect, a gambler can use another skill instead. Each player reveals his total, but keeps the skill rolled a secret until all totals are known. Aspects and consequences can be tagged and invoked as usual for rerolls or bonuses, but only before the skills themselves are revealed. After the reveal, aspects can't be invoked or tagged. All non-Gambling skills are restricted by Gambling. Whoever has the highest total wins the round. However, different skills have different effects during the reveal.
  • Deceit: A gambler can bluff by using Deceit. If the bluffer wins the hand, he gains an appropriate temporary aspect that reflects his obvious skill, such as "Poker Face," that lasts for the entire scene. If the bluffer doesn't win, however, he gains a negative aspect, like "Bad Liar," that also lasts for the scene.
  • Empathy: By using Empathy, a gambler can suss out who's bluffing with Deceit -- and counter them. If a bluffer wins the round and you rolled Empathy, all gamblers who bluffed lose, and the highest non-Deceit total wins the round. If that's you, so much the better. If no one has bluffed, however, you can't win the round, no matter how high your Empathy total is.
  • Sleight of Hand: This is just out-and-out cheating. As such, it's a risky tactic. If you obtain spin on your Sleight of Hand roll (that is, your total is at least 3 shifts higher than the closest competitor), you gain a temporary aspect along the lines of "Suspiciously Lucky" that lasts for the rest of the scene -- and may be remembered by any other player who's prone to harboring grudges. In addition, if your Sleight of Hand total isn't higher than the lowest Alertness skill of the other gamblers at the table, you're caught. See Investigation, below.
  • Investigation: This counters Sleight of Hand similar to how Empathy counters Deceit. You are making a concerted effort to keep an eye out for cheaters. If your Investigation beats any other gambler's Sleight of Hand, whether that gambler wins the round or not, that gambler gains an aspect of "Cheater" and, in all likelihood, someone will flip over the table and the game ends. Odds are the next skill to be rolled will be Fists. No matter how high your roll is, you can't win the round with Investigation.
If you don't win the round, you take stress equal to your wager. You can take mental consequences to reduce stress, as usual. If you take stress in excess of your stress track, you're Taken Out -- you're out of cash or anything else to bet, and you leave the game permanently.

If you win the hand, you take no stress. In addition, for each round you win, you either receive a Treasure equal to the game's stakes or remove one consequence you've taken during the game (starting with any Minor consequences and moving up from there).

A game consists of a number of rounds equal to its stakes. That is, a Good-quality game will only last for three rounds. Thus, low-stakes games have little tension, since they're only one round long, while higher-stakes games last longer and can ratchet up the tension more.
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