War of Ashes RPG: Conflict and Fate

Elvorix PriestessTime to get back to specific planning for the War of Ashes RPG, but still by way of my observations on the Fate system this weekend at Big Bad Con.

When I (gleefully) agreed to write this book for Evil Hat Productions, I took stock of my strengths and weaknesses as a gamemaster.  I know that I am not as good at running combat scenes as social conflict ones; I usually get bored or distracted with the fiddly bits of most systems when running a combat that involves many characters.  For a game where warfare is so present, that was a concern so I immediately decided to push my skills in this direction.

This weekend I ran two Fate Accelerated games that included quite a bit of combat—not just that, you understand, but a significant amount.  I even started the convention with a game of space knights in giant mech armour, in media res in a big combat.  Then I played in a few more Fate Accelerated and Fate Core games, and I embraced big combats again.

It went well.

This is important; if Fate group combat is easy for me to handle as gamemaster, it’s probably easy for anyone, once they are comfortable with the base system.  Now I feel comfortable with the prospect of writing a Fate game for a setting where combat is frequent.  In fact, the takeaway for me is that in Fate, all types of conflicts are in fact mechanically similar—something many games promise but few actually deliver.

As I had noticed the very first time I played Fate Accelerated, the key to conflict is to create tactical options for your characters—whether players characters or gamemaster characters—by using the “create an advantage” action.1  Even if you are not playing a “combat character”, in Fate you play a capable individual, well above average.2  This means that you should build success in your own character’s way.

Are you sneaky but fragile, unable to take much damage?  Use your stealth to create advantages that will allow you to avoid being hit and strike from the shadows.  Are you a non-combatant, a peaceful healer?  Perhaps you can create advantages that let your voice of reason be heard above the din of battle, or allow you to use your knowledge of healing to incapacitate the opposition without bloodshed.  Is the opposition too well armoured for even your spear blows to pierce?  Work with your group of adventurers to create distractions, use cover, aim carefully, taunt the enemy, etc.

Jaarl Ilk-Master The use of “create an advantage” to generate temporary aspects on a scene, a location, an opponent, etc., and especially to create some free invocations of that temporary aspect, is a very simple mechanic to provide endless tactical variety.

The first level of options is of course in which temporary aspects you create, for example whether they are based on resources you have, manoeuvres, terrain, your opponent’s concentration, and so forth.

The second level of tactical options lies in what order you use these temporary advantages and stack them together. You may defer the use of a helpful circumstance so someone else can use it better, for example, or you may save something to cover your escape.

The third level  is subtle because it’s narrative: when you are choosing to invoke one aspect rather than an another, you get the same immediate mechanical benefit—for example, a re-roll of the dice, or a +2 to the result—but you move the story in a different direction, and this alters subsequent tactical options.  Because many of us come from a background of very specific roleplaying games and rule sets, we often tend to make a sharp distinction between story and mechanics, but if you think about it, tactics are quite literally the sum of the two.  So the spirit of the Fate system fits perfectly with that of the War of Ashes: Shieldwall miniatures game, and we need to showcase this in the WoA RPG.


1 It’s all true in other versions of Fate, but can be hard to discover if you are new to the system. Fate Accelerated makes this shiny. Return.

2 Naturally, this means compared to the setting; if you play a Muppets game, you are an above-average muppet, and if you play a Middle-earth character, you play an above-average elf, dwarf, hobbit, rider of Rohan, etc. Return.

Credits: Art ©ZombieSmith 2012-2013, used with permission.