Tuesday, February 19, 2013

More on Passive Skill Use.

So my last post ended with briefly mentioning the idea that characters could be considered to be using their skills at their base rating at all times. I knew there was some potential there, but that it wasn't a finished idea. The problem is that while for skills like notice it makes perfect sense, for other skills it's weird. How do you passively use craft? I just couldn't make it make sense for every skill.

Then I remembered that skill lists are the first thing you're supposed to rewrite for a FATE build. If the skills and the mechanic aren't meshing well, change the skills.

So here's the mechanic fully fleshed out. Each skill has a Passive Use, which is a constant effect of possessing the skill. Usually this means automatically overcoming obstacles with a difficulty less than your skill rating, but what that means will vary skill to skill. Broadly speaking, most skills fit into the following categories.

Knowledge skills: (Ex: Lore, any skill regarding related topics)
Characters with knowledge skills unsurprisingly know stuff. A character automatically recalls any facts related to the topic at hand with a difficulty to know equal to or less than their skill rating

Awareness skills: (Ex: Notice, Empathy)
Characters with these skills are always passively aware of their surroundings. Inform the character of any detail with a difficulty to notice equal to or less than their skill rating.

Grace skills: (Ex: Athletics, Piloting)
Characters with these skills move with better grace, balance, and awareness than others. They automatically overcome any obstacle to movement less than their skill rating. These skills also usually set the base difficulty to hit these characters in ranged combat.

Concealment skills: (Ex: Stealth, Deceit)
Characters with these skills are always more difficult to suss out, even when not actively attempting to hide. This skill sets the base difficulty of any attempt to notice something about this character.

Conflict Skills: (Ex: Fight, Rapport)
Characters with these skills are more on guard against people using these skills against them. This skill sets the base difficulty of any attack action against this character, even those they're unaware of.

Resistance skills: (Ex: Physique, Will)
These skills passively provide your character with extra boxes on their stress track.

Resource skills: (Ex: Resources, Craft)
A character with these skills never wants for the right tool. They can be assumed to have, make, or buy any tool with a difficulty/cost equal to or less than their skill rating, within reason.

If a skill doesn't have an obvious passive use, look to these categories to see if one fits. If it doesn't, then rework the skill to include one. At the very least, any skill is potentially a knowledge skill.

What we gain from this, first and foremost, is less rolling. In general, if the difficulty is equal to or less than the appropriate skill on defense or overcome actions, your passive skill use will get you through. You only have to break out the dice when the difficulty is greater than that. This should speed gameplay, and make your characters that much more competent.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Paying attention to attention.

FATE Core has an entire resource allocation mechanic hidden in a sidebar on page 137 of the kickstarter preview. It's subtle, but I thought I would bring it to your attention. Because that's what the resource in question is; Attention. The sidebar in question is about passive vs. active resistance, and when to use it. And one suggestion it makes is that an NPC who is unaware of a PC should make a passive instead of active resistance. That makes intuitive sense, and I like it. I like it so much, in fact, that I think it can be generalized. In an information soaked world, there's a lot of interest in how we allocate our attention. And I think an interesting FATE mechanic can be found in that concept.

Here's the idea: Active checks are checks your character makes while focusing what they're doing. You roll dice for these checks, and may invoke aspects on these checks. Passive checks are checks you make when your character isn't paying attention. For these, you simply use your skill level and any stunts (or locked-in aspects, if using the stuntless rules) that might apply. Generally speaking, your character is paying attention to whatever they're doing. This means most actions you take will be active checks, and most passive checks you make will be defense checks. Regardless, you may only pay attention to one thing at a time.

Usually an active check is better than a passive one, if you've got an invoke-able aspect on hand. 40% of the time rolling is actually worse than not rolling, but having a single aspect to invoke changes the "worse than normal" range down to roughly 2.4%. Because being able to invoke aspects is the real advantage here, I'd probably want provide my players with slightly more Fate Points when using these rules. On the other hand, this does mean that if you don't have an aspect you can invoke, you may not want to actively defend. I'm OK with that, and wouldn't make anyone take an active defense if they didn't want to. You're giving up the ability to hit the high numbers in exchange for predictable results.

So what does this rule do? The first thing we get out of this are fairly clean surprise rules. If someone takes your character by surprise, then you'll defend against them with only your skill, no aspects or dice to defend you. Since your attacker is making an active check, and probably has an "Ambush!" aspect to invoke, you'll be at a sever disadvantage. It also covers being at a disadvantage when outnumbered. If you can only pay attention to one opponent at a time, then all other opponents get to deal with your passive check. Unless they're a mob, in which case the rules treat them as one entity.

The second thing we get out of this is a good way of handling Notice checks. If you're actively scanning your environment, that's a declared action and you roll. The rest of the time, however, you're not oblivious. You still have a passive notice check equal to your notice skill. You'll automatically see anything in your environment who's difficulty to spot is equal or lower than your notice check. If anything new happens, well, just let players know anything with a difficulty to spot below their notice skill. You'll never tip your players off by calling for a notice check again.

The same thinking applies to knowledge skills like Lore. Any fact pertinent to the situation with a difficulty to know less than the player's Lore skill, they know off the top of their head. Info-dump it to the player and move on. Any fact with a difficulty higher than that, well, they'll have to take the time to think about it.

Whenever adding or quantifying a new rule, you're also creating fertile ground for new stunts that allow you to break those rules. Perhaps a stunt called "appropriately Paranoid" allows you to always make active notice checks. Another, perhaps "Fighting stance", would let you actively defend against an additional attacker. But since I prefer stuntless rules, I like to add the following to general invocations. You may invoke an aspect on a character to immediately redirect that character's attention. So you would invoke an "appropriately paranoid" aspect to shift your attention immediately to the notice check regardless of what you were doing. Or you might invoke an enemy guard's "Tired and Bored" aspect to direct their attention away from the notice check against you.

Another possibility is that you might "actively" use passive checks when taking certain kinds of actions.  Certain kinds of training seep into your unconscious mind. Someone with good proprioception is less likely to trip and fall, and people trained in moving quietly do so even when not paying attention to it. This kind of unconscious training can be represented by passively using these skills anytime you move. So someone with the stealth skill, unless they say otherwise, is always moving with some amount of stealth. And someone with a high athletics skill will automatically overcome obstacles below their skill level when taking their free move. In fact, I'm tempted to generalize this to all skills. A rule like "A character is always considered to be passively using any skill they have ranks in" would have far reaching and interesting effects on gameplay. I haven't figured all of them out, but its something I'm certainly going to focus on as I work on my FATE hacks.

Monday, February 4, 2013

How to win friends and Influence People.

As a transhumanist, a social radical, and as someone with an antagonistic relationship with money, I'm fascinated by the concept of Social Capital and Reputation Economies.  Eclipse phase won my heart as a game that makes reputation economies a central part of the premise, but their mechanics are very gamist and not very realistic. In Apocalithic, of course, there's nothing BUT reputation economies. So I've been thinking about how to really model a reputation economy. And fortunately for me, FATE lends itself fairly well to implimenting my ideas on the topic.

I have no ambition  so great as the esteem of my fellow man. 

The first thing any FATE reputation system needs is a Social Capital stress track. This is the game;s measure of how much social capital you have built up.  You'll also want to link it to a skill that determines your length. I'd suggest making a new skill, Reputation, that serves as the social version of Physique. Mostly it serves to determine your social stress track, but it may have other uses related to throwing your "weight" around socially. In my games this skill usually absorbs all the trappings of the Contacts skill.

So what does Social stress mean? It means you're tapping into the social good will you've built up with the community. As long as you don't overflow your stress track, you're still in everyone's good graces. Getting taken out, however, is a problem. That means you're tapped out, you've been taking more than you're giving back, and everyone knows it. As long as you're tapped out, no one will grant you any favors. Unlike other stress, Social stress sticks around until you do something to heal it.

Listen, I need a Favor

But that's just the basis for tracking a character's social capital. What does a transaction in the reputation economy look like? The central idea here is a new type of task resolution, which I'm calling a Conversation. (Negotiation would be a more accurate term, but I wanted to keep within the alliterative naming structure task resolution has currently.) In a conversation, one character wants something from another character, a favor of some sort. We'll call that person the Seeker, and the person they're asking the Giver.  Both Seeker and Giver need to belong to a shared community, and the seeker may not have tapped out their social stress track. Like a contest, a conversation proceeds in a number of exchanges.

On the first exchange, the characters start by talking. Talking is a variation on Creating an advantage, and the goal is to learn something about the other person. The players make opposed checks with the appropriate skill. In Core, this is probably Rapport Vs Empathy, as the Seeker tries to make friendly and the Giver tries to figure out what they want. The Seeker might roll empathy if they're trying to figure something out about the Giver, like what they need you can offer. One or the other party might use intimidation if this isn't a friendly situation. The narrative will inform this part. The results of this action are below
  • Seeker succeeds with style: The Seeker learns of or gains an advantage related to impressing or learning something about the Giver, along with 1 free tag. 
  • Seeker succeeds: The Seeker gain a boost related to learning something minor about the Giver. 
  • Tie: Pleasant small talk of no importance. 
  • Giver succeeds: The Giver gain a boost related to learning something minor about the Seeker. 
  • Giver succeeds with style: The Giver learns of or gains an advantage related to impressing or learning something about the Seeker, along with 1 free tag. 
Talking can go on as long as both parties want, but sooner or later you have to get to the point. After the first exchange, either party may choose to proceed to Asking for a Favor. In most cases, this is an opposed Rapport vs. Rapport check. One or both sides of the check may be modified by the magnitude of the favor, see below. The following results are possible:
  • Seeker succeeds with style: The Giver now has an option. They either grant the Seeker their perfectly reasonable request, or word gets around and they take social stress equal to their margin of failure. If the giver chooses to take social stress, the Seeker may choose to do one less point of stress in exchange for a boost
  • Seeker succeeds: As above, but without the boost
  • Tie: The Giver grants the Seeker their request, and both parties receive a boost related to a having a mutually satisfactory exchange. 
  • Giver succeeds: The Seeker now has an option. They either don't get what they want, or the they get what they asked for at the cost of social stress equal to their margin of failure. 
  • Giver succeeds with style: As above, but if the seeker chooses to take social stress, the Giver may choose to do one less point of stress in exchange for a boost.
You may use boosts or invoke advantages like normal on this check. That's what all those boosts and advantages you gained making small talk are for! In fact, you also have an additional way to use aspects on this check. You may choose to add your invocations to the other character's roll instead of to your own. It's also worth noting that Consequences can be used to lessen stress taken just as you could in a conflict. 

The strategy here is complex. The best possible scenario for the seeker isn't succeeding with style, it's tying. But hitting that sweet spot is difficult, and dangerous because it's so easy for the other player to invoke an aspect to take you off the tie. So you might want to go for a solid win. But it's the loser of the contest who has the choice of how the contest turns out. Either they're giving the other person what they wanted (or not getting what they wanted), or they're taking social stress. It's lose/lose, but you choose the loss. Thus if you REALLY want that favor, you might want to actually lose the check in order to make sure that choice is yours. You can choose to play it cooperatively or more coercive.  Of course, if the giver is predisposed to give anyway, they may just pile their bonus on the seeker's roll and be done with it. 

Boosts that result from the outcome last beyond the Conversation. They represent the way the community at large regards the interaction. They aren't very long lasting, though. A day or two at most. Boosts like "you're so generous" or "I can't believe what a jerk he was to you" are appropriate here. In You may use these boosts in like normal for social checks within the shared community, but they have another use. If you have any social stress, You may spend a boost gained from an asking a favor check to clear the lowest ranked stress box you have marked off. This is how you recover your social capital. 
So basically on success with style, you're increasing your social capital at the expense of the other person, while on a tie you're mutually increasing each other's social capital.

How big a Favor?

One favor isn't like another. The magnitude of a favor matters a lot. But how big is a favor? Fortunately, we get to rate this on the ladder.  Once you've given a favor a rating on the Ladder, add that value as a bonus to the final Asking for a favor check at the end of the conversation. Of course, that assumes that the Seeker isn't offering a thing in exchange, which likely isn't true. The seeker may offer the giver something in exchange for what they're seeking, in which case the value of that favor is added to the seeker's roll.

The Giver decides what level they thing the favors in question are at based on how much each party values what's being asked for. There are several metrics you might use to judge value, but I like to think of it in terms of time. An Average favor is something the Giver can grant on the spot, with little cost to themselves. A fair favor asks for a few hours of the givers time, or something it would take them a few hours to replace. A good favor is about a day's worth of time. A great favor would be several days. A Superb favor would require a week or two, a Fantastic favor a month, and so on. Basically how much effort will you the Giver have to go through to give this favor, and how much effort will what's being offered save them? The key here is that a favor's value all in the eyes of the Giver, and not the Seeker.

In a society where Status is a huge deal, simply interacting with someone of lower status might be seen as a favor equal to the difference between your Reputations skills. I'm a little wary of this mechanic, though, as it seems like it's double-dipping reputation. Of course, if your higher status is expressed in an aspect, you could invoke as a fair favor (which grants +2 on your roll, like any other invoke.) Similarly, in a society where time and attention are of the essence, even taking time to have a conversation constitutes a minor favor.

We're old Friends, aren't we?

This kind of negotiation is for acquaintances, people who share a community but aren't close friends. If one or both parties have an aspect that describes a positive relationship between them, then you don't use this mechanic. Instead, the Seeker compels the aspect with a Fate point, and the Giver either accepts the compel and receives the Fate Point, or has to spend a Fate point to buy off the compel, costing both of you a Fate point. Do that often enough, though, and people might rethink being your friend!