SotC vs. FATE Core for 2nd Age FATE of the Rings

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SotC vs. FATE Core for 2nd Age FATE of the Rings

Post by Shai on Thu Aug 08, 2013 1:17 pm

So, I've run eleven sessions so far of our FATE of the Rings campaign, set in the Second Age (episode summaries here: http://robertpetrone.wix.com/fateoftherings for those who have been requesting campaign updates), and I've got a big issue to deal with.

For those of you who are not terribly familiar with the Tolkien legendarium, the Second Age was about 1000 or more years before the movies, in a time when epic heroes (who are the stuff of legend by the time of Aragorn, Theodin, Boromir and Frodo, who lived in the Third Age) fought Sauron's just after he forged the Rings of Power.

The players and I both want this game to have a super-epic feel, of grandiose Elven magic and high fantasy, that exceeds the scope of the Third Age, where magic is subtle and combat grittier.

So, I decided to use Spirit of the Century to run the game, tweaking it ever so slightly so that "Guns" became "Shoot" and "Drive" referred to wagons and "Pilot" referred to boats and ships, but otherwise keeping the rules exactly the same. It worked well.

Then I got my copy of FATE Core, and read that, and loved it. And I contemplated switching the FotR game over to FATE Core. But when I discussed it with my players last night, they were resistant to the idea.

Their main complaint is that FATE Core combat is deadlier. That using the Spirit of the Century rules allows them to mow down armies of orcs "like Legolas," but that if we switch to FATE Core, they'll be offering concessions more often, running away from combat, and getting hit more severely by even mooks.

MY main complaint about using the Spirit of the Century rules is that combat seems to be LABORIOUS as we wait to tick off stress box after stress box before inflicting any consequences. What's worse, after eleven sessions of this game, I have not yet ONCE been able to inflict a consequence on ANY of my players.

I'll pause for a second for effect to let that really sink in.

That's right...I have thrown at them armies of goblins, orcs, and woses; orc kings and goblin chieftains; wood elf archers; a grove of huorns; a giant ogre; a giant spider; packs of Wargs; a "nameless horror" from the depths of Angband; a frozen river hazard...and they have fought and defeated them ALL without sustaining a SINGLE -- EVEN MILD -- CONSEQUENCE!

And it's not for lack of trying. I build the damn things to be fierce. I spend Fate Points down to the last. But if I throw an adversary at them that is built as they are: 10-11 Aspects and, thus 10-11 Fate Points (remember, in SotC, FPs are tied to Aspects), even if I surround that adversary with mook minions, they just plow through the minions with ease and hack the Big Bad with little effort. Sure, I may deplete some of their FPs with the Big Bad, and knock off a few of their stress boxes. But they always come out of it unscathed in terms of consequences.

And then, at the end of the combat, the stress disappears, and they're as good as new. SO FRUSTRATING! I've described it as "Combat without Consequences" for the PCs, and while they seem to be having fun, which I suppose is the main thing, to me it seems like combat is a useless exercise.

I thought that using FATE Core might fix this problem, but they want to stay with the Spirit of the Century rules.

So we brainstormed about how we could make combat less laborious. How can we eliminate that part where we're just ticking off stress boxes waiting to get to the imposing of Aspects part.

Player 1 suggested using the Dresden Files method of Stress and Consequences: if an attacker beats the target's defense roll by 6 shifts, the target can decide how to divvy that up between stress boxes and consequence slots...for example, tick off the 2nd stress box (each box "absorbs" one shift) and impose a Moderate Consequence (Mild absorbs 2, Mod absorbs 4 and Severe absorbs 6).

Player 2 suggested a different tack: if the attacker beats the target's defense roll by 5, for example, the target ticks off NOT JUST his 5th Stress box, but ALL LOWER STRESS BOXES AS WELL.

Either way, we get to the meat of battle faster -- imposing consequences -- and eliminate the formulaic ticking off of stress boxes that kind of feels like waiting in line at the bank.

Ultimately, we decided to give player 2's suggestion a try. But I was wondering what folks here thought about this dilemma.
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Re: SotC vs. FATE Core for 2nd Age FATE of the Rings

Post by Urbaman on Thu Aug 08, 2013 1:54 pm

Hi Rob,

I am wondering which version of Fate to use for Middle Earth (First, Second, Third, Forth eras...).

I think I'll go with Core, being more streamlined, and quite clearer.

This being set apart, I think putting ONE bad guy like your players (with or without minions) against them (in SotC but in Core too) will be an easy catch for them, as it's proved to be.
In Core, page 222:
- If they’re going to team up against one big opponent, make sure that
opponent has a peak skill two levels higher than whatever the best PC
can bring in that conflict
.
- Limit yourself to one main NPC per scene, unless it’s a big climactic
conflict at the end of an arc. Remember, supporting NPCs can have
skills as high as you want
.
So if you want it to be a little more balanced, try making the big guy (this compares to one of the PCs) plus two or more minion groups comparing in Quality/Number to the other two PCs.

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Re: SotC vs. FATE Core for 2nd Age FATE of the Rings

Post by Shai on Thu Aug 08, 2013 8:25 pm

Good points, Nicola. That passage from FATE Core about setting the peak skill of the Big Bad Evil Guy at 2 levels higher than the PCs' peak skill is good advice.

I also like what Leonard Balsera, the developer of FATE had to say on the Yahoo!Group:

I think you should switch. But, in saying that, we both recognize that my bias is stark and well-documented - as in, it's the text of Fate Core. Smile

Pacing conflicts in Core is easily done. Just a couple more stress boxes on the default track will extend conflict time significantly, and you can still achieve the "hordes of baddies we wade through" with nameless NPC mobs who cave/die at the first solid hit. As the GM, you can concede a conflict at any time, so you can have NPC mobs that hang around long enough to inflict maybe one consequence on one PC, and then fall like chaff before the blade, just because you say so.

So I get where your players are coming from, why they're perceiving a disparity, but I don't think it's really a concern, because of course, you'd weaken the mobs they fight to get the same effect as before.

(Aside: I'm highly, highly suspicious of any stress-inflicting solution that checks more boxes than the one you inflict on a hit - that's too drastic of an alteration to pacing, in every incarnation anyone's ever done (and I've played them all) unless you do 10+ boxes of stress or whatever. At that point, you might as well call them hit points and have done. (I'm not knocking that either, I'm just saying, call it what it is.))

Basically, everything in Fate is relative. I'm going to, against my better judgment, admit that I get frustrated when people make assumptions about "power level" or whatever in the system, because everything is relative. That Great pyramid, five aspect, three stress, three stunt character could be a titanic goddess or a lowly farmboy, and have the same stats, with no other mechanical options or fiddling necessary. You just have to set an expectation at the start, your "zero point" if you will, and go accordingly from there.

The question is, starting from your base assumption, what's everyone *around* them like? If the "starting character" is a titanic goddess, any mortal NPC is, like, one skill and a contest to beat, or doesn't even warrant mechanical interaction. If the "starting character" can wade through a horde of orcs, than fiddle slightly with the way mobs work - your nameless NPC horde of orcs has a Good (+3) skill and maybe two stress boxes, and a 3-stress hit wipes out a dozen of them, and you narrate it as a dozen orcs acting in tandem. Not a problem.

As for players not wanting to suffer consequences and have more dynamic conflict outcomes, I invite you to remind them that stories are boring without failure and setbacks and stick to your guns on that. More importantly, you should be allowed to have your fun too - you're not there solely to entertain the players. You're there to participate with them in an entertaining experience. If them running all over your opposition makes playing less fun for you, that's a legitimate issue.

At the very least, if you must stick with SotC, do this:

* Drop the stress tracks by two boxes all around.

* Give any NPCs you want to significantly challenge the players a +2 over the highest skill of the PC they're meant to challenge. Don't build a pyramid and let them break every rule and have five +6 skills if you need. Don't worry that this makes NPCs asymmetrical to PCs. The dark powers cheat. That's the point.

* Use Core/DF consequences. They're just better, period.
And that's exactly what I said to my players -- about scale, and power level being relative. Their response was, though, that even the mook orcs can inflict consequences on them, and they didn't like that. I admit, I see their point. The mook orcs should not inflict consequences on the players...that's what the orc captain Boldog should do, or the cave troll the orcs have in their thrall. I know, I know...as GM, I can have the mooks create advantages and such, but the point remains that under FATE Core, the mooks CAN
impose consequences if they hit hard enough. But then, I could just build the mooks with low enough weapons skills that they won't do enough shifts on a hit to inflict consequences too often.

Other posters said things like:

Wow, I have gone through FateCORE and DFRPG fights without a consequences - but there have always been a cost in lost Fate Points and the like - or being taken out....

It could also be that your opposition is simply not punchy enough. If the top PC skill is +4 and there are 3 players in the scene I would have the BBG sit at a +6/7. That way their hits are hard enough to be noticed and it take a team effort to take it down. Then scatter minions for effect.

You could also roll with the staged battles. In fiction there is often the "minion" battle where the heroes mow down hundreds of faceless. After that is done there is an immediate scene following (no Stress Recovery) with the BBG. Let them spend a few FP and Stress on the minions - given them there "cleave through hundreds" moment. Then bring out the big gun - the true "hero" moment.

and

I'd definitely go with Core. It's just so much cleaner. And if you want to burn through armies of mooks, it's not tough to do in Core:

1) Give them low or zero stress
2) Set their skills low
3) Set the gang-up-bonus dial low (+1 for every 3 or 4 mooks)

With those settings, getting Legolas-level kill counts should be easy.

To give further bloviating on Lenny's point, I wrote this on G+ a while ago about 'calibration' of skills:
https://plus.google.com/u/0/108546067488075210468/posts/cG9sqA8djgM
(BTW, the 'combat with no consequences' occurs often in Fate Core, too - and is usually a matter of not throwing up sufficient opposition, and/or not playing your opposition intelligently/hard)
I particularly liked Lisa's advice:

Also, if you aren't having your armies of bad guys broken up into groups using maneuvers, you may be missing a way to make the army more meaningful. Consider a squad of orcs divided into 3 groups. Group 1 creates a block -- hail of arrows or shield wall to protect groups 2 and 3. Group 2 and 3 alternate taking aim and firing, so they are acting with a +2 each time -- that may help them deal with high PC defenses.

I'm a little nervous about going down the route of NPC skills as high as you want. That depends on the setting -- if the PCs are intended to be heros of legend, then they should be equal to many of their foes. If you jack up the foes too much, the PCs feel like they aren't properly scaled to the bad guys. Attached minions in SotC can have the same effect -- boosting effective skill and adding ablative hit points.
Playing the opponents intelligently like that is a good skill to have in your arsenal as GM...when it's appropriate. It isn't always. In fact, it seldom is appropriate to play the mooks intelligently. Usually, they just charge, fight, and run away when the going gets tough.
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Re: SotC vs. FATE Core for 2nd Age FATE of the Rings

Post by Shai on Fri Aug 09, 2013 7:35 am

On the Yahoo!Group, one poster suggested to take a page from the Wu-Shen RPG, treating low level mooks as passive opposition or difficult terrain, and saving the standard mook rules for elite mooks, like Warg-riders and such. Another poster offered the idea of mooks as extensions of the Big Bad's stats.

I will definitely implement those ideas.

But here's an idea that hit me...in the penumbral regions between wakefulness and sleep...

If this issue truly boils down to "scale and narrative" as we've been finding, then the PCs can expect, as I've been long planning, for Angband (the long lost subterranean fortress of Sauron where the PCs now find themselves) to be "scaled" much more lethally than the surface world of Middle-earth. Also, at some point -- if it hasn't already happened -- a rift between these two worlds will come about, and the "fell things of Angband" will seep into Middle-earth, if they haven't already started, and suddenly, Woses and Orc bands will be the least of the PCs' problems. And then there's the Haradwaith...*my* Haradwaith, to the East, where Men and Elves awoke long ago, where pre-historical artifacts and creatures still dwell unknown to the people of Middle-earth, and where Sauron's corruption has already taken hold of Men and others. Middle-earth may already be way behind the Haradwaith in terms of Sauron's corruption. So, the PCs' arrival in Angband represents the end of the first story arc (season 1 of the HBO series, if you will). That's why I gave everyone a milestone boost when we started this new arc two sessions ago. The PCs exploits in Angband are season 2: and the stakes have now gotten higher, as have the level of the threats. The opening of Angband makes the world more dangerous, and the PCs are going to see that. That has always been my plan. I'm just worried about whether or not I'm going to be able to implement it mechanically.

The reason I say all this is that...if "scale" is truly the first of our two-prong issue, then we don't need to change from SotC to FATE Core for this particular game (don't worry...I'm going to run a FATE Core game eventually...it's just a matter of time...FATE Core is just too awesome! I think it will be my default go-to system at least for the foreseeable future), because the main difference between these two games is scale. No matter which game we use, we'll (I'll) still be striving to maintain the same *relativity* of power between PCs and the NPCs they encounter.

So...maybe the solution to my issue is really *narrative*. Hear me out:

Perhaps I'm cleaving too much to the description of "stress" (in the various editions of FATE books) as being "minor" or representing the characters "tiring" or "getting winded" as opposed to actually being hit and taking damage. Because of this mindset, I imagine that no one really gets bloodied or bruised (save minor cuts or bumps of the sort that can be cured with "Daddy kisses" and a band-aid) until they end up taking a Consequence, because being "Bloodied" or "Bruised" are taggable aspects we've used in the game.

Instead, maybe I'll find combat more interesting -- and less like "waiting in line at the bank" -- if I think of it this way: a hit upon a PC can be a hit, even if it just ticks off a Stress Box. The PC may still sustain a nasty gash or a rattling sock in the jaw or a staggering blow...but because the PC is so AWESOME, they manage to live with and mask the ill effects of that hit so that it never EFFECTS THEIR PERFORMANCE in the game. The only time the damage is severe enough that it makes the PC falter, is when (and someday this will happen...I vow to make sure of it) it inflicts an Aspect. Then, try as the PC might, the effect trips them up somehow.

So, for example, Doin Grimjaw the Dwarven Warden of Moria's East Gate is the PC, and he's fighting a Balrog. The Balrog lashes him with his fiery whip, and exceeds Doin's Athletics by 2 shifts with its Weapons skill. Doin takes two stress. Instead of the GM thinking of this like the old Vitality Points system of Star Wars RCR (Revised Core Rules...WotC's pre-SAGA-edition version of the game) -- where Doin only sustains a lashed tunic, but manages to roll away from the brunt of the blow, sustaining only a momentary loss of breath...the GM narrates it like: "A fiery lash sears your neck, burning you with painful hellfire. The ends of your beard stink of still burning hair."

And we agree that while this solid hit hurt, and even injured Doin's hroa (Tolkien's Quenyan word for "flesh and blood mantle that houses the spirit"), Doin's so cool that he plays it off and it never hurts his performance, physical, social or otherwise. He lets his long hair hang over the lash until it heals completely. It burns him every time he turns his neck, but he's such a tough guy he just grits his teeth and works through the pain. When he doffs his armor to make love to his wife Ludjmille, rather than be repulsed by the wound (thus imposing a penalty to his Rapport rolls like an Aspect might do), because of her love for him, she accepts him blemishes and all...or...maybe it actually turns her on a little to know her hubby is such a Marlboro Dwarf, and that cancels out the repulsion she may feel at the hideous sight of the lash burn.

But when the Balrog's lash imposes an Aspect "Burned" on Doin, even his Dwarven constitution can't help but falter every once in a while, and the pain adversely affects his performance every once in a while (i.e., somebody compels his "Burned" Aspect).

So...my point in all this long-winded blather is that maybe instead of changing the game mechanics, I should change my perception of them.

For now, at least for next session, I'm going to keep using SotC. I'm not even going to modify the combat system (although I'm keeping both player 1's and player 2's ideas for modifying how we tick off Stress in my back pocket). Instead, I'm going to just try a new narrative system, where hits are hits, and stress boxes can be damage -- don't *have* to be, but *can* be -- but damage that the PC can always bear or hide. When the damage imposes an Aspect, that's when the PC can't help but falter every once in a while because of his or her injuries.

Really, we've already been playing this way for years with other systems, such as Star Wars Saga Edition. Every time a stormtrooper reduced a PC's hit points, we accepted it as real physical damage, but damage that didn't affect the PC's performance. It wasn't until the PC took Condition Track damage too that it started to affect performance (imposing negatives to skill and attack rolls, and eventually slowing movement). So...this is no different.
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Re: SotC vs. FATE Core for 2nd Age FATE of the Rings

Post by Urbaman on Fri Aug 09, 2013 7:52 am

:-D

Balrog's whip should kill anyone but Gandalf... ("RUN... FOOLS!")

Apart form that (fi you want you're PC kill the Balrog) your argument is valid.
But again, it depends on how you think combats should be more "thrilling".
If a change in narration is enough for you, go on with it.
If you want your PC end the Balrog with some wounds, make the Balrog higher in skills to put some consequences on the PSs.

If your PC do not want to be wounded by the Balrog and you're happy with it, go on with your narration of the stress being more gritty.

Nicola.

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Re: SotC vs. FATE Core for 2nd Age FATE of the Rings

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