Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Fate Point economy

Today, I had a rules thought that took up my mind, so we'll address that today and return to Niontia Unprime 236 next week. But today, enjoy Fate Point Economy.

I, like many FATE GMs, have seen a problematic behavior at the game table -- my playtesters tend to hoard their fate points, using them only when absolutely necessary. Why is this problematic? Quite simply, because fate points make the game more interesting. Whether turning a simple and boring success into a one-hit-kill smackdown or throwing spells willy-nilly (remember -- my system uses "fate point commitment" to power its magic), or, even better, using the environment to fundamentally change the conflict dynamic -- these are all preferable for both GM and player than "I hit the monster, I guess."

So how to stop hoarding? I implemented a simple change (well, actually, I returned to the rules as written) recently. According to the rules, a PC gets all their fate points back at the beginning of any game session "or after  a significant break in the action." Because at the time my game sessions were quite short, averaging three to four hours at most (the problem of having to play on weekdays), and games were usually ended on a cliffhanger instead of a rest point, I decided to only return fate points when the characters had a long break -- I was worried about fate point over-use. That rule unfortunately encouraged the players to hoard, and it became completely improper when the new campaign started, with longer sessions once we were able to move to Saturdays, and with characters who tended to take a lot of breaks within each session, moving more slowly and methodically than the previous group. So I returned to the rules as written, hoping for every character to burn through their fate points each session.

It didn't work.

Now, I'll take some blame here. It is the responsibility of every Fate GM to compel their characters' Aspects, replenishing their fate points by moving them into unpleasant situations -- and I too often get distracted by the action and miss opportunities to compel. I have used a spreadsheet I found somewhere on the internet (probably at the FATE Yahoo group -- it's awesome, check it out) to put all of my PCs' Aspects in one place, and that's helped, but this is a problem I just have to deal with.

Another problem I've been having is the question of advancement. I've been using the "Minor" "Significant" and "Major" Milestones as used in The Dresden Files RPG, but it's hard to determine when to hand out each milestone -- and again, I get distracted and forget.

I wasn't even looking for how to fix these problems, but last week I stumbled across it... or at least, part of it: this post by Rob Donoghue (one of the fathers of Fate) combines the two problems into one and gives a solution [a note, credit where credit's due, I came across this other post by Guy Bowring, also inspired by Donoghue's article, first, and thought it was a brilliant idea there]. Donoghue proposes putting a bowl in the middle of the table, and players will throw their fate points in there as they spend -- and the GM will also contribute while compelling aspects, and also just "when he wants to reward general awesomeness." Then at the end of the night, you distribute the fate points out as Experience Points.

Which leads me to my next question: How many fate/experience points should a player have to collect to buy a milestone? Should they build up to a specific amount and "level up" (this is what Bowring suggests, but he is creating a system modeled on old-style D&D, which I am definitely not), or should the players be able to spend them in small increments for milestones -- or the specific options that make up the milestones? What kind of numbers should we look at here?

Anyway, obviously, I've got some thinking to do. If you've got any input, please (please) sound off in the comments.