Friday, 3 February 2012

FATE: The Rocks are Talking!

After the Monster Hunters game, I managed to persuade my other group to try FATE - although after the Black Waltz campaign, I had to assure them the game did not require or assume a competitive, character vs character environment!

We started with an open discussion of the sort of setting people would find interesting, and ended up in a Wild West flavoured retro-future, somewhat reminiscent of Trigun - a colony ship had crashed on an inhospitable planet a couple of generations ago, and the survivors were eking out an existence where they could. Certain areas of the world were actually quite fertile, but they were few and far between, with the rest of the landscape consisting of arid wasteland and desert. Fuel for the old technology was becoming scarce, but The Company had patented a process for turning certain rock crystals into a fuel source, and was growing in influence as their monopoly spread.

The player characters all ended up being related, one way or another, and were mostly based around the dustblown town of Tailfin.
  • +Andrew played Vern Kidney, a respectable tradesman (a glassblower and lens-maker) with ambition to become an upstanding pillar of the community. Brother of Franz, half-brother of 'Tima, cousin of Alia.
  •  John played Franz Kidney, the local sherriff and an inveterate drunk. Brother of Vern, half-brother of 'Tima, cousin of Alia.
  • +Melysa Hamilton  played 'Tima Kidney, a former prospector for The Company who'd fallen into a crystal cave and was convinced the rocks had talked to her. Half-sister of Vern and Franz; cousin to Alia.
  •  Rohin played Alia Basnia-Cotton, a local entrepreneur running a small saloon and gambling house. Cousin to Vern, Franz and 'Tima.

As the first scene opened, Franz took down the outlaw Red Bart in a gunfight, and dragged him to the jailhouse to await the circuit judge. 'Tima rode into town after her encounter with the speaking rocks; Melysa spent a FATE point to make a narrative declaration - she said there was an electrical storm rolling in, and added the Scene Aspect "An ill wind". She used this when trying to convince others of her story, that the rocks the Company was mining were actually alive! Nobody really took her seriously, because she also had the Aspect "Nobody believes the truth about The Company". However, Vern analysed some samples she'd brought with her, and eventually discovered that they were in fact some sort of organic crystal; a weird alien coral, maybe?

Franz and Vern's Ma ran a local vineyard, on a fertile patch of land at the edge of town. Their Pa had fathered 'Tima years before, and married Franz and Vern's Ma after 'Tima's mother died. He eventually died of alcohol poisoning. Ma had some exciting news for her boys - she had just gotten engaged to the local Company man, Bryce Culverton, and they were to be wed within the week!

Over the next few days, Bryce attempted to curry favour with Vern with promises of resources and social advancement, while at the same time pressuring him to get Franz to clean up his act. It became apparent that The Company was looking to expand their influence in Tailfin. They'd apparently bought out the saloon (putting many ladies of the night out of a job, but they were taken in by Alia), and Bryce pressured Franz to shut down Alia's saloon to squash the competition. After a family talk, Alia decided to rebrand as a "tea-room"...

While Franz was out drinking, Black Bart broke his brother Red Bart out of jail and fled by motorcycle. Franz put together a posse to hunt the outlaws down. The bandits fled in the direction of the cave 'Tima had fallen into earlier, and she took pains to make sure its location remained hidden. Once the outlaws were recaptured, though, she was persuaded to let her family members take a look.

'Tima discovered that there was a mother-lode of crystal under the vineyard, leading to theories that perhaps the crystals were responsible for the land's fertility, and that mining them for fuel would leave the land desolate and uninhabitable. A sneaky look through Bryce's mansion revealed Company survey maps that showed the crystal deposit, and it became apparent that he was only marrying Ma so he wouldn't have to buy the land out from under her! Ma was a hard nut to crack though, as she was still in love with Bryce no matter what, and wouldn't have any of 'Tima's talk about speaking rocks. In the end, they persuaded her to add the names of several other family members to the title deed, to keep the vineyard in the family.

Outmanoeuvred, Bryce went through with the marriage anyway. Had the game continued, he would have attempted to oust the others from the title deed, one way or another, but we called it quits at that point.

Reactions and Thoughts

Most of the Stunts ended up being picked off the sample list again. It really does seem that people need to rely on those examples to see what's possible and appropriate, especially the first time playing.

Andrew expressed a dislike of players being able to introduce elements into the story. I think the basic problem is that giving players authorial control makes the world and the game feel less solid, and cheapens the resolution of challenges presented by the GM. It's one step closer to just improv story telling. It also interferes with an immersive playstyle and the desire to explore the setting through your character, since you have to think outside of your character and operate on the story level to act as an author.

During the game, Melysa embraced the narrative mechanics more readily than the other players, but even she seemed to cool on them a bit in hindsight. She was impressed with Aspects as a concept, and attempted to introduce them to a low-powered supers game using PowerFrame as the base system. To date though, we've only played a couple of sessions, and the Aspects haven't really come up in play at all.

I'm not sure what John thought of the system, but we did discuss where the game could have gone had it continued, and he made some brilliant suggestions for evolving the story and maintaining dramatic tension.

After running FATE a couple of times, I'm getting more comfortable with the system. Since I usually run open-ended, situation-based games, I don't really have a problem with players being abe to reach in and directly influence the narrative, but that's obviously a sticking point for some players. I was just wondering if maybe I should try running the game for a group of GMs, but then I realised that everyone in the "Rocks" game has GMed at one point or another!

My main sticking point still seems to be in the adjudication of Aspects, especially Compelling them. I'm not sure if I'm having a hard time because I need more practice, or because the Aspects I've had to work with have been sub-optimal. In the end, everyone needs a bit of practice to find that sweet spot, I think. I also still need to work on my ability to see narrative structures and predict the outcomes; occasionally, I make judgement calls that accidentally shut down a line of play instead of progressing the game while adding to the consequences. However, I've been getting a lot of practice at that lately, so at least I can recognise the problem. The next stage will be seeing it before it happens, and avoiding it!

FATE's definitely an interesting game, and although this post has been back-dated, I've recently (Jan 2013) put in for the FATE Core Kickstarter.

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