Wednesday, January 23, 2013

How You Can Use Fate Core to Write/Design A Game

Yesterday I wrote about how you can use Fate Core to write a novel. Today, I'm going to tell you how you can use Fate Core to write a game, or a setting, or a scenario, or a campaign...even if that game doesn't use Fate.

Now, I know what you're thinking - that sounds crazy. But really it's not. We're just going to look at the applications of what we talked about yesterday, and leave the mechanical constructs (fate point economy, dice rolling, etc) to the side for now, else we'll muddy waters and confuse people (including myself).

Note though, this is how I design things, and my design style may be an entirely different approach than what you do, what you like or how you go about even starting it. I say this not to ward you off, but rather tell you to make this method your own, and that you're free to change elements to suit your tastes, rather than clone me.

A brief overview is in order:

1. Characters and scenes have aspects.
2. There are four actions - overcome, create an advantage, attack, defend

(see, wasn't kidding when I said that was brief)

To start this discussion, we have to pick a thing we're making. Let's say you're making something that you can run with your weekly group, but something that if you polished it up enough, you may consider releasing for profit if all goes well. This way, we'll keep the conversation "local" and free from business-y distractions.

Now we take our first steps and decide what sort of genre this game is going to be in. Will it be steampunk? Will it be swords and sorcery? Will it feature struggles against zombies?

Step 1:: If you haven't already, write down 1 sentence or phrase (try and center it on the topmost line of the legal pad, if you're like me) that summarizes the experience of this yet-untitled-game.

Here's one straight from my little blue notebook of designs --

Prison escape, investigation and catching of real culprits 

Already from this one sentence expression we can pull out concrete requirements for the game. Mine will need a prison to escape from, some badguys to catch, and good guys (the players) who will try to clear their names (suggestive of drama, tension and investigation).

Yours may have aliens, trolls, clowns, goat-bartering or vampires. Whatever you've got on your paper, look for the concrete elements. If your sentence doesn't have any, give it more thought, and write a different sentence.

When you've gotten that down on paper, we go forward.

Step 2:: For each concrete thing you can pull out of that sentence, create three to five aspects for each element.

For mine, I divide the legal pad into 3 columns: Prison, Badguys, PCs

Note: I don't want to dictate what aspects the PCs have - because I want my players to have some creative ability and input in my game. But I can create a loose framework for what sort of aspects work best...essentially crafting boundaries for the field the players operate on, and later (as we'll see) giving me sentences that I can use to describe the game to others.

Thought to be inescapable 
Made of the best materials available
Heavily guarded
Wretched hive of scum and villainy

Veterans of crime
Scarred and broken people
Rough and tumble

Innocents among the guilty
Never going back
Always on the run
Schemers, Fighters and Planners
Adjusting to life on the outside

Step 3:: Using the Aspects as a reference, apply your mechanical base to your elements In my case, that's NPC(s) and location(s).

Here is a point where we may go down radically different paths. Depending on what mechanical engine you're using, this step might take some time. That's okay, this process isn't quick. Think about how you've described the elements of your game, and using your best judgment, convert the words into numbers.

If the Prison is formidable, how many feet thick are the walls? Does your game have an armor rating? Maybe the walls rate a large number. If the badguys are veterans of crime, just how good are they at the criminal skillset your game may have?

When this step is done, you should have stats for some of the components of the thing you're creating. Over time, as you give this more thought and as we get to applying the four actions, you can flesh out the rest of the stats.

Step 4:: Find the adventure's best starting point. 

Whether you've got adventurers meeting in a tavern, intrepid reporters responding to a Craigslist ad, or a bunch of mercenaries gathered on Gamma Beta Seven, every adventure has a starting point. Now if this adventure is a campaign, then we're looking for this "episode's" best starting point.

Starting points are most often exposition dumps, where everyone goes around the table and says who and what their character is, and it can be WAY boring. There are ways around it, by intermingling the backstories of characters (as in Fate games) or by withholding backstories and focusing on the task at hand (as is done in Call of Cthulhu). Keep an eye out for boredom generators (far too much talking, not enough doing, the players don't engage the mechanics right away), and the adventure can start before you know it.

Step 5:: Map out the adventure, using the four actions of Fate.

Every type of scene the players get into can be expressed as one of the four actions.

Overcome Scenes are those scenes where there are skill-based challenges or puzzles that require the players make use of the mechanics of the game. This could be a sphinx's riddle, orchestrating a jailbreak, sweet-talking guards instead of fighting them, or anything where a player uses skills or abilities against opposition but doesn't get into combat.

Advantage Scenes (scenes where the players create an advantage) are those scenes where players use the environment or story detail to improve their situation(s). A super scientist spending time in the lab to create power armor, a thief spending time with the local guild, a cop shaking down informants -- all are situations created because the world/environment of the game has made them possible. Yes, the line may blur a little between overcome and advantage scenes, but to distinguish between the two, look at your focus -- is the focus on the skill-check? Then it's an overcome scene. If the focus is on the end result, or you're likely to handwave the roll, then it's an advantage scene.

Attack Scenes are combat, most often initiated by the players, where they brandish sword, fists or guns and take on enemy forces. Most often the climax of an adventure is an attack scene or "boss fight". It doesn't have to be that way, if your game centers more on investigation (as in Gumshoe) or in self-discovery ("I learned something new about myself!"), then your climaxes aren't going to be fight-y. Attack scenes are also opportunities for the mechanics of your system to be tested, so if you're home-brewing, make sure your combative ducks are in a row.

Defense Scenes (scenes where players Defend) are NOT just part of combat. Yes, defense is inherent in combat, as a reaction to a fighting action, but Defense scenes can also lay the groundwork and advantages for future scenes. In an investigative game, these scenes pit clues against reality - as players work to rectify what they know already with new information just acquired (it was old man Jenkins who killed Robbie!) Defense outside of a combat scene is most often a narrative experience, giving characters a chance to explore feelings, situations and experiences to find their place in-game.

There is no standard formula for how many of each scene you have to have, or that every sixth scene must be a combat. But there is a progression within a story of scenes, as tensions rise and build to climax.

Often, Attack scenes sit atop the pyramid, having been set up by Overcome Scenes and Defense Scenes, all predicated on the work established in Advantage Scenes, and lesser Overcome Scenes.

Let's come back to the earlier prison game example...

I want my players to start by escaping from prison (Overcome scene), possibly fighting their way out as needed (Attack scene), and making their way to an established safehouse (Advantage scene). From there they'll investigate the crime that sent them to prison (Overcome scenes, Advantage scenes, Defense scenes), ultimately confronting the real villains (Attack scene) and getting them to confess before escaping the pursuing prison forces (Defense scene, Advantage scene).

That's episode one of my campaign, or if this is a one-shot deal, that's the adventure as a whole.

Step 6:: Prepare anything you may have missed, now that you have an outline.

Going now scene by scene, give each scene the needed details. Write in those clues for the investigators to find. Fluff up that flavor text that you can read to players so they'll know what to expect. Make sure any opposition the PCs will face has proper stats and equipment and make sure any treasure available is appropriately balanced (or wildly off-balance, if that's your preference). This is also a chance to read over the work as a whole and make sure that scenes connect to each other, either for narrative reasons (one scene comes as a result of the previous) or mechanical reasons (you need a hospital after getting beaten near to death).

Step 7:: Go play your game.

Enjoy yourself. Change whatever you need to, on the fly, to make sure you have the best time possible. It doesn't matter that the players totally skipped the sweet action you had planned on page 4, the bottom line is always this -- have the best time possible with your friends. Rules and games change accordingly.

See you next time, happy writing and gaming.