Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rethinking No-Stress Consequences

I'm headed out tomorrow on a four-day Geek-End in Washington State with some old friends of mine from when I lived in Vancouver -- there'll be Blood Bowl, Space Hulk, a Magic booster draft, a PS3 with whatever it is that's good on a PS3, and, if we get to it, an RPG one-shot or two -- but I wanted to throw an idea out there before I go.

As you may or may not know, I don't use stress tracks in my FATE games, except for minions. Instead, stress goes straight to consequences. Every PC starts out being able to take one consequence of each degree -- Minor, Moderate, and Severe (usually) -- regardless of type. So if you take a Minor physical consequence and then have to take a Minor mental consequence, you take a Moderate mental consequence instead. If you have Good or Great Endurance or Resolve, you get to withstand more physical or mental consequences, but otherwise you're stuck with the three.

This doesn't appeal to me so much anymore. I used to be a little more into the hardcore idea of "narrative punishment" -- there's only so much abuse any character can take in a story before he drops out of it somehow. Having a high Endurance or Resolve was the player's way of telling the GM "My character will take more physical or mental abuse than most during the course of the story, because that's part of what makes him who he is." I liked how narrative and gamist it was without being all that concerned with simulating anything.

To prevent things from getting too out of hand what with the character-fragility thing, I've been clearly demarcating different types of conflicts, whether physical or mental. If you're in a mental conflict, you use social skills (mostly) to deal mental consequences, but can use physical skills to maneuver. It's the reverse in a physical conflict: Skills like Intimidation can only be used to maneuver an aspect onto an opponent, but don't actually inflict consequences. If you're in a mental conflict, like an argument, and want to escalate to a physical conflict, you can do that, but then there's no going back. This means that if you're going to keep arguing with someone without baring steel, it's because you're either a skillful arguer or have no intention of actually fighting. You can make a concession during an argument to escalate and essentially say, "Okay, you got me -- but now someone's gonna bleed."

This has had two major effects in play. One, arguments are short, because whoever's on the losing side is likely to escalate the first time they have to take a Minor mental consequence, lest they go into a fight staring down the barrel of a Moderate consequence they first time they're hit. If a character takes a Minor consequence like "Infuriated" in an argument, the natural next move may be to get physical -- but that's contraindicated by the game mechanics, which leads to some weirdly unintuitive metagaming. Two, there's no real parity between physical and social skills in combat, which is a big attraction for a lot of people (me included) in SotC. Piotr the troll can holler at a group of Average-quality goblin minions all he wants, but no matter how well he does the only thing he can really do with his Intimidation is create an aspect of "Scared." But he'll never scare them so bad they run away (barring some creative tagging for effect, but that's pretty hand-wavey).

I don't dig either of those. The easiest alternative is to have a set of slots for each type of Minor and Moderate consequence -- so if your game has physical, mental, and social consequences (as in "Spirit of the 17th Century"), the average starting PC would be able to withstand seven consequences before being Taken Out: one physical Minor, one mental Minor, one social Minor, ditto that for Moderate, and one Severe consequence of any type (Severe consequences are a big deal in my games). A character with Great Resolve (or Esprit, if you want to get technical -- and I do!) would be able to take another, say, two more: a second mental Minor and a second mental Moderate.

Up until recently, I'd pretty much dismissed this option out of hand, because the idea of a character who could take a full nine consequences is kinda ridiculous to me. Plus, there's something aesthetically unappealing about how the character sheet would look with that many consequence slots. However... I'm now of a mind that this is the way to go, despite those misgivings. That Great-Resolve guy might be able to take nine consequences, but he's just as fragile in a swordfight as he would be under the current system -- plus it gives the GM and the players something to do with skills like Intimidation in combat besides create aspects.

I want that pissed-off guy to jump into combat with the jackass who pissed him off if he wants to, not slink away with his Minor consequence between his legs and wait for another scene. I want Piotr to be able to scare the bejeezus out of those goblins and send them running back into the hills. More than that, I want that Piotr's player to feel like he can contribute meaningfully with his Great Intimidation in combat, instead of feeling like he made a mistake in chargen. It's perfectly in keeping with FATE if that troll shouting at his swordsman opponent is just as viable as that swordsman stabbing Piotr with his blade.

The only real misgiving I have is that a really Intimidation-focused guy against a combat-oriented guy who hasn't even ranked Resolve has the potential to be pretty damn brutal -- but no more brutal than the combat-oriented guy fighting a combat weakling. So... fair enough, I guess. (In either case, the defender would be well advised to make a concession and get out while he still can.)

How about you? What are you thoughts on any of this?
Post a Comment