[Turning a setting idea into a game world for the Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) role-playing game system: this is the sixth and last in the series. Sorry about the delay, I have to give priority to the War of Ashes RPG commission I’m working on for Evil Hat Productions, but while I think about extras and system issues for War of Ashes, this is a great time for me to go back to thinking about the Fate dials.]
We’ve been looking at the step-by-step process for turning a bright idea for a setting (we picked George Alec Effinger’s Budayeen setting for the cyberpunk series chronicling the adventures of Marîd Audran) into a campaign for Fate Accelerated. Our objective was to get from light bulb moment to game with a minimum of fuss for the Game Master.
Let’s recap what we have done to date:
- Gather inspirations (Assemble our clippings folder.)
- Define feel of the campaign and setting (What is it about the setting we’re trying to emulate with the game?)
- Adjust the rules, create extras (Using the Fate tools to get that flavour in.)
- Faces and places from the source material (≠ what the group will decide at the table.)
- Preparing to improvise (More clippings and lists.)
Step 6: Putting It All Together
Fine-Tuning: Using the dials
Before we sit at the table with the entire group, we still have a few decisions and adjustments to make. Because we picked a gritty setting, Fate’s default pulp adventure mode may need a little tweaking. We have a few tools available to adjust this. They are touched upon in Fate Core but best explained in the Fate System Toolkit (Chapter 5). A detailed discussion of these dials should wait until I have time to review the whole Toolkit, but let’s say for now that we are going to do a few things to give this dark, hard-boiled, dangerous quality to our campaign:
Starting player characters can have a maximum of 2 stunts, as opposed to the default of 3 in FAE and Fate Core (see Toolkit, pages 47-49).
We’ll lower the Refresh to 2 fate points at the start of each episode instead of the default 3 fate points in FAE and Fate Core (see Toolkit, pages 47-49).
We’ll use low-powered aspects: This means only one fate point can be spent to get a +2 per roll, although fate points spent on re-rolls are unlimited as per usual; free invokes can be stacked, giving more importance to aspects created in or discovered in play (see Toolkit, page 15).
All these choices are optional and you could run Fate of the Budayeen perfectly well without them; however, I think they will add to the grittiness of the setting while still provided the competent, pro-active, dramatic Fate experience.
Choices at the table
The first session should include the campaign creation just like in Fate Core, pages 17-28. See also Jason Pitre’s excellent alternative process for character creation, the free supplement A Spark in Fate Core; it covers the same elements but organized in a friendly, helpful way.
First, create the issues you group will want to interact with (see FAE page 36 and Fate Core pages 22-25.) Start with a couple of issues, one existing and one impending.
Create locations and people to interact with, in the Faces and Places step; go back to the lists we created in Part 4 of this series and identify any characters and locations you would like to link with your issues. Your group may also flag elements or people that are missing and you want to create.
Proceed to player character creation; it will entail linking the characters, Fate Core-style. This means that after selection of the first three aspects (including high concept and flaw) as on page 9 of FAE, we’ll talk about the ways the characters are connected with each other and with the Budayeen setting, and reflect that in a couple of aspects. This is similar to the Phase Trio in Fate Core, page 38.
Adventures, situations and plots
How does a gamemaster create adventures that will feel right for the Budayeen?
Start your episodes with one or more pre-compels (see Toolkit page 45), offering the bribe of fate points to accept starting the adventure with a compel. These may be character aspects; they may be setting aspects such as “Everyone Answers To Someone,” or “Business Is Business“; or they may be adventure aspects such as “Turf War In Progress,” “Chiriga Is Missing,” or “A Series of Gruesome Murders.” Ask the players what happened before. If a player doesn’t want to accept the compel, don’t force them to pay a fate point; instead, try to negotiate another pre-compel they might be interested in.
Don’t hesitate to lift premises from classic mysteries, noir, and hard-boiled detective novels or movies. Refer to “The hard-boiled formula” by John G. Cawelti (1976) and “The Maltese Falcon, the Detective Genre, and Film Noir” by William Luhr (1995), two essays that will help you get the essential elements of the genre.
In a pinch, we can once again use a random plot generator. Seventh Sanctum offers a few story idea generators, and Abulafia has some Plot Kickers and Oracles.
Remember that we don’t need to come up with how the story ends; we just need a strong opening situation that ties somehow to one of your issues, and some good antagonist characters with agendas. The players’ interactions with these will create the fiction. Find a book with a really good opening, say within the first ten pages, and adapt to the setting as needed.
Finally, we will have to keep a few things in mind as episodes unfold:
In Fate, fiction comes first, the rules are only meant to support this fiction. See Robert Hanz’ excellent “Fate Core Thought of the Day: Fiction First, Fiction-Rules Interaction, and Nonsensical Results” for a discussion. In our case, the fiction comes with the benchmark of fitting in with George Alec Effinger’s Budayeen setting, and this will trump generic rules. However, the group’s fun and fiction, in turn, will trump Effinger’s.
Adding and using gear in play may require a little bit of negotiation since we decided to be very light-handed on rules and avoid pre-compiled lists of equipment. This will be the price we pay. No such thing as a free lunch, right?
The “Create an Advantage” action will be the players’ metaphorical rope ladder to overcoming obstacles: when you can’t just accomplish a task easily, start by making the task easier to accomplish.This is a gritty setting, there should be plenty of barriers in the characters’ path.
Using Approaches lets characters accomplish something in different styles; but difficulty levels and repercussions will be different depending on whether they decide to Forcefully break down the door, Sneakily pick the lock, or Cleverly come up with a legitimate excuse to be let in.
Compels, Consequences, and adversity: characters can expect to be taking hard knocks in the Budayeen. The gamemaster should not hesitate to make the heroes’ lives difficult, to allow them to succeed at a cost, and generally leave them limping, bruised and disoriented. It’s all part of the noir experience.
In tense situations, any obstacle’s difficulty can be set at two higher than the Approach used to overcome, so it is likely to need an Invoke.
That’s it! It’s actually not that much work at all to adapt a new setting. I hope this was helpful, and I appreciate your questions and comments. Happy gaming!
Photo: Street scene by night, Dubai, by Andre Barnard. Used without permission, no copyright challenge intended.
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