Monday, September 6, 2010

Gateway 2010 Post-Mortem

This year's Gateway was one of those cons where I can say I was honestly happy with every game I was in, whether playing or GMing. I may have been utterly, comically incompetent in one (EX-47 the assassin droid in Josh's Star-Wars-via-Smallville game) and joined in the teeth-gnashing over the rules for another (Andy's otherwise very fun Shadow, Sword & Spell game), but it was all a good time. (I even got to play the Castle Ravenloft boardgame during the dinner break on Saturday, which was a nice surprise, thanks to the Vegas/Utah contingent.)

My FATE Supers game was no exception -- only Morgan was already familiar with how my particular supers hack worked, and the other four players didn't seem to have a ton of FATE experience, so it was a good playtest group. The opening scene, in which the team leader reviews the team's dossiers with her commander while the rest of the team tells stories about her, worked really well, and nobody ended up screwed by the aspects they received in the process. And it did what that opening-scene thing usually does: Give each player some spotlight time and the chance to make a skill roll. In terms of the narrative, it injected a little uncertainty about Ballista's ability to effectively lead, and let Ballista voice her concerns about her relatively inexperienced team in a safe environment.

Every character felt useful and effective and got to have at least one or two kick-ass moments. My only real regret is that I made the same mistake I seem to so frequently make in FATE games, and that's putting in Fair minions. I always think, "Well, these guys should be a cut above the Average minion," but I'm always, always wrong. As soon as I said "A couple dozen HYDRA -- er, CHIMERA guys swarm out of the doors and the jungle," I should've known making them Fair would mean the scene would eventually drag.

As a corollary, when I make minions too strong, I'm always too slow on rectifying the situation by either reducing their Quality right then and there, or simply answering the question "How many more are still standing?" with something less than complete honesty. I mean, if they don't know, and I want to move on already, just lowball it! As soon as the super-powered badguy of the scene went down, I should've wrapped things up more quickly.

As it was, all that time spent punching out mooks meant that the endgame was rushed, which was too bad. It went from "Ack! Horrible situation!" to "Ah, well that's that that dealt with, then" in a matter of minutes. I cut two major NPCs entirely for time, and the two they did face in that final scene just didn't get enough screen time to be especially effective or interesting. I tried to convince everyone that something big was happening through the clever use of words, but I don't think I really pulled it off. Ah well.

Anyway. My players were great, and despite the occasional what-skill-should-I-use-now? dithering things went very smoothly on their end. Plus, I'd like to think the game illustrated several key lessons of FATE:
  • Don't bother citing all your aspects before you roll. Roll first, then deal with aspects. This is a no-brainer for FATE veterans, but newer players often see this list of descriptors and want to focus on those to the exclusion of all else. You're not a slave to your aspects -- not every action you take has to be justified by them in advance.
  • Don't feel limited by what's on the character sheet. If you want to do something but aren't sure how to do it, tell the GM. If that GM is me and I'm not being a short-sighted idiot, we'll quickly work something out and get on with it.
  • When you have three Fate Points, you have a lot of Fate Points. Spend 'em. You can't do anything with them once the game's over, so spend away.
  • Simply acting in line with an aspect is not the same as compelling that aspect. A proper compel makes your bad situation even worse. Whatever action you take in accordance with the compel has to put you in a disadvantageous position. Taking an alternate approach to a scene that still deals with the conflict in that scene more or less effectively is not worth a Fate Point.
  • If you spend all your Fate Points to avoid taking a point or two of stress, you are not allowed to then complain about your lack of Fate Points. You've chosen to blow your narrative-currency wad on not getting hit, which necessarily means you're going to be a slave to the dice for a bit. You don't have to win every roll. Seriously. Let it go. Take some stress or a consequence. You'll have more fun for having done so.
  • Moreover, unlike many other fine RPGs, in FATE you want trouble for your character. You want things to go poorly, then take a turn for the worse. If you go around playing it safe all the time, you'll never earn the Fate Points you so desperately want and/or need. Alternate, non-mechanical reason for wanting all that to happen: Where's the fun in everything going your way?
Afterward, Morgan took all the character sheets for himself, no doubt to reverse-engineer them. Morgan, just ask! I'll send you whatever you want!

ADDENDUM: Speaking of Morgan, my platonic FATE-mate, I neglected to mention his DFRPG game! Or "games" plural, really, but I only played in one. As it happened, I'd played the same scenario at Gamex back in May, but that was the hole in my schedule I'd left for a Morgan game without knowing what he'd run in that slot, so that's what I happened to get. But I played a different character, so for me it was a totally different game. About half the table knew the Dresden-verse well, a couple more had only read one or two of the books, and then there was me, pretty much completely ignorant of it all. The only things I know about Jim Butcher's series are what I've picked up from the sessions of the game I've played. This time around, I played the succubus assassin who feeds off of lust, so I engineered a virtual orgy in the first scene, because that seemed like something I'd want to do. Fortunately, Morgan had the good taste to fade to black on that before... y'know.

At any rate, I enjoyed it a lot. It was like the eighth time he'd run that particular scenario, and I really like DFRPG's particular iteration of FATE. It's definitely going to inform my FATE Supers conversion, that's for sure.

A parting note re: DFRPG. In the absence of a definitive version of FATE that can be cited as the "default" or "standard" rules, it's interesting to me now to note how DFRPG is gradually taking the place of SotC in the public perception. Not that there's anything good or bad about that -- I just find it interesting.


Naomi said...

Hi there!
This is Naomi, from your FATE Supers game. I actually just randomly found this blog, because I was intrigued by the system you were using. I didn't know if it was the normal Spirit of the Century or some kind of variant. I remember you had mentioned "FATE Supers" so I googled that and hey, your blog, apparently.

Anyway, I loved your game - probably the best I played at the con. I liked my character, you seemed to adeptly control the flow of the story (some of my other games had awkward pauses where all the players would look at the GM, waiting for some kind of prompt of what to do next, but I felt that never happened in your game - ie everything flowed organically), and it seemed that every character was pretty well balanced/was helpful for the mission. I do agree with the minion/final boss - not enough time comment, but honestly, timing is probably the most difficult thing to control during a game session, at least in my experience.

Anyway, thought it was awesome, the next time I go to a Strategicon (maybe next year?) I hope you'll be running a game.

Also, yeah, my positive experience with the DFRPG games I played in and with your game has prompted me to go and buy the DFRPG book and start planning a campaign for my group ^^


Mike Olson said...

Wow, thanks Naomi! That's gotta be the nicest comment anyone's ever left on this blog. You hear that, other readers? The bar has been raised.

Glad you enjoyed FATE so much. I'll definitely be running more FATE at OrcCon, and if Morgan doesn't run DFRPG again, he'll be running some other FATE game. It's kinda what we do at Strategicon: We run FATE games. And in between that, we email each other about the FATE games we're going to run.

Looking forward to having you as a player again!

Ron said...

Re: DFRPG becoming the "default" FATE game: It's more polished ruleswise, newer and covers an arguably more popular genre than SotC. That's why you see the shift. I know it's my default game, fantasy genre excepting (LoA anyone?).