Thursday, May 19, 2011

Challenge Points

The other day, a regular reader (I assume!), in the course of an email exchange about something else other than FATE, mentioned how much he dug this whole Doom Points idea I posted a while back. If you don't feel like reading that old post from 2008, it concerned demons bound into artifacts in a fantasy setting. These demonbound items have one or more demonbound aspects that use Doom Points rather than Fate Points. You can invoke the aspect by accepting a Doom Point from the GM; in turn, if you accept a compel on that aspect, you lose a Doom Point. Accumulating Doom Points is bad -- every now and then, you have to make a Resolve roll against a difficulty equal to your current number of Doom Points, and failure means taking a consequence.

That's the basic idea. It worked well in play, the one time I used it in a one-shot, but I'd never really found another venue for it (although I mention in the comments of that post that it'd be pretty good for the Dark Side in a Star Wars game). Prompted by that email, I had a vague idea of using it to model heat buildup in a mecha FATE game, but I don't know anything about mecha, really, so that's all conjecture.

The pressing thing-that's-still-coming-together, though, is Agents of F.A.T.E., so as I lay in bed last night dealing with the tail end (I hope) of a cold, I passed the time trying to think of a way to apply this to the game I'm running next weekend. I like what I have so far for it, but it does feel to me like it's missing just a little something, and maybe this is it.

Here's the idea. See, in Agents of F.A.T.E., when your roll gets spin, you get a point of Cool, which you can spend later to replace a Fudge die with a d6. That's what players get -- but what of poor little me? Do I want to keep track of Cool Point totals for several NPCs at once? No, I do not. When I roll and get spin, I put a Challenge Point in front of me. All of my NPCs get a bonus to all of their rolls equal to the number of Challenge Points I have.

"Crazy!" you say. But you, the player, can get rid of those Challenge Points anytime by introducing additional challenges, complications, or twists into the story. This could be something like "He has a pool full of sharks" or "When I come back with the martinis, she's pointing a gun at me -- turns out she's working for Prometheus" or "He's accompanied by a mountain of a man with metal teeth" or whatever. As long as it's something that's making things worse for you by introducing a new element, it's worth a Challenge Point (if not more than one).

Of course, I don't have a good sense yet of how this will balance out. If I don't roll enough spin, then the players and their Cool Points are going to walk all over my guys. If they're constantly inserting new twists into the story, that's awesome -- but if they do that, will I end up with just a huge mess of a story and nothing to show for it?

Could be. There are ways to mitigate that, like giving myself a set number of starting Challenge Points each scene, possibly as a replacement for Fate Points, or limiting how many complications can be introduced at once, or on a per-scene basis. These feel a little... arbitrary, to be honest, but there's a solution lurking in there somewhere. Plus, as a GM, you really have to be willing to turn a fair amount of control over to your players for this to work. I mean, if you've planned for the PC to later rescue that scientist he's been canoodling with and then the player tells you that she's with the badguys, that could really throw a monkey wrench into things. (The lesson there, obviously, is simple: If you can at all help it, don't plan.)

Regardless, I'm encouraged by a couple things. One, it's common practice with Morgan and me these days (I've cribbed it from Morgan, in fact) to bump up all of an important NPC's skills by a point or two -- if the PCs' skills top out at Great (+4), the big bad's might go up to Fantastic (+6). This theoretically makes them more powerful, but the PCs often have numbers on their side, so in the end it really just achieves parity without having to spend Fate Points all the time. This Challenge Point idea builds that bit right into itself... if the players aren't regularly introducing complications, of course.

Two, it obviously and strongly encourages players to introduce complications. I think that, as a collective, we could pretty quickly turn an ordinary action scene into a trope-laden super-spy barn-burner, which is good. I love anything that gives the players incentive to add to the narrative like that, and this feels more fun (to me) than just giving the player a Fate Point.

It could conceivably go a little farther than that, even. Could a player invoke an aspect by giving me a Challenge Point? I can see that. It's probably more than I'd want to do at Gamex, but it's worth thinking about later.

Anyway, I'm framing this with espionage in mind, because that's what I'm preparing to run, but this could absolutely apply to any genre.
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