FAE and the OSR

Tables. Random tables. That’s the connection.

The OSR has a dance between the DM and the players. The DM shapes the background, gives the characters ideas for stuff to do, and referees their efforts. The DM is more about interpreting the die rolls than pursuing a plot. Plot is what the PCs do in response to their ever-changing and responsive environment.

One way the DM has to stay grounded in the “interpretive” mode instead of the “author” mode is to use random tables. Let the dice help determine what happens, based on some options thought through and/or vetted ahead of time. Once the DM sees the result, the DM fits it together. What monsters show up. How they react to the PCs, and why. What treasure is found.

Fate Accelerated is a different playstyle altogether. The players have more authority over the world at generation, able to make statements that then become true even if they are about things the DM (now GM) had not yet thought about. Words and phrases are designed to be ambiguous, so they could give the characters advantages or be used against them.

If characters are injured socially or in combat, then they take on consequences that heal at different speeds. If a character wants to do something special, they can develop a stunt so they can do it easier and more reliably. This is text-based with a light number element.

As a new DM coming to FAE (Fate Accelerated) it is damned hard to get the scale right. So if a person takes a 4 point consequence, how bad should that be? Well, it heals up next session. But that could be “Case of the Mondays” or “Internal Bleeding” or “Wrenched Knee” or “Overwhelmed and Confused.” The point is to stay loose and assign text.

If you are going to run a game on Friday night, and everyone has planned on it, and you have a tough day and your head is not in that space, you better get it together. You run this off-the-cuff. You must be ready to improvise well, or you are going to be uneven, inconsistent, and unfair as you run the game.

Or, you could be in my situation, as a first-time GM for the game with players who have never played. The players do not know how the game works, so it is up to me to help them calibrate and use all this freedom to decide what the game world is like responsibly. “It’s so easy!” people say. Presumably people who come from a background of story gaming with groups also familiar with those ideas, or people who came to the game with a GM or other players who knew what they were doing.

I don’t think it is fair to expect people who are not used to this kind of game to just pull out words and phrases that are sufficiently double-edged, useful enough but not overpowered, and be ready to play. At the same time, you want to keep the player’s creative involvement fully engaged.

When play starts, there will be areas that you did not expect them to get all violent in. There will be new people they meet on the fly. There will be injuries, on a 3 tier scale. You cannot (and should not) map out everything that could happen. But there is a solution.

Tables! Random tables. That is the connection.

Tiers can be thought through ahead of time, and results (when needed) can be chosen off the list, inspired by the list, or randomized. Have some options thought through and/or vetted ahead of time. How bad is a -2 condition? A -4 condition? A -6 condition? Maybe you don’t roll a result, but you can at least refresh quickly on the magnitude of damage we’re talking about here.

When players are making new characters, they can randomize from a list of attributes that have been thought through and vetted as being appropriate. If they want to also make some up, the GM can point them to good examples for the setting. If a player goes all gonzo, too far overboard for this game, then the GM can show examples in the right scale instead of arguing perception against perception and seeming arbitrary.

As it is, I’m looking at stuff from the FATE/FAE Bundle of Holding I got. I’m looking at the FAE rule book. I’m thinking about whether it is better to bring players into a familiar setting I’ve bounded for them, or to bring them into one built by the same designers that made the game. Which one would be easier for my players?

You might think FAE is an easy game to pick up and run cold. I assure you it is not. The interactions of aspects and stunts and approaches, mixed with the attributes of the environment and those of the opponent can be a lot to track. Especially with a decent size group that has never played the game before. Especially when aspects are designed to work for and against you. Not to mention the on-the-fly rulings required by common sense since the rules don’t bother with them.

For example, the FAE rules figure if you stat up weapons and armor, then the characters will equip themselves with the best weapons and armor, and they cancel each other out, so zero sum is boring and let’s not have rules for weapons and armor. But… that is not how I think. Characters WANT the best weapons and armor, sure. But your story probably won’t let that happen all the time. And their foes will not likely be in the same tier as they are, equipment-wise, all the time. But just handwave that, make it an aspect if it comes up.

“Your foes are in plate armor.” “Oh, good, then they are slow! Is that an aspect? Plate armor?” “Uh, sure.” “Great! I spend a Fate point to make that a disadvantage for them as they are trying to chase me, to slow them down!” So it matters, and there’s just a ridiculous amount of making up stuff on the fly that will go with this system.

Rules light means ruling heavy. Always.

If your players are worth a damn, they’ll always try to shift the situation to their advantage. This is good and appropriate work for players.

Without rules, GMs find themselves pulled in two directions. One, they have to be on their game so their rulings are consistent, fair, and appropriate to the story. No guidelines and benchmarks to fall back on.

Second, they will develop their own consistent way of handling things. This must be codified or it will be inconsistent and frustrate players and GMs alike. The “simplification” results in more game design work for the GM.

I still have not decided whether I will run FAE or not. If I do, I may or may not finish working on a Jedi mod for it that customizes it for a kind of play that assumes people are jedi.

There was a time when I almost shut down my game group, many years ago, because the player infighting was sapping the last of my will to run a game. Casting about for some game system that could be fresh enough and different enough to provide an experience worth saving, I found Warhammer by Hogshead. We played it for years. It saved my group. I could tell the stories I wanted to tell with it. That game and I had energy, there was spark in our romance, and the players loved it.

Last time I was at a low point (not as low, but a low point) I found Old School Hack and went on a long honeymoon with that game.

I’m not saying I’m about to shut my group down, but I’ve had a number of discouragements with my players in the last few months. I’m struggling to rekindle my enthusiasm for game stuff. So I’m looking around at systems. So far? Nothing with the same sort of juice and verve. No games that draw love from me as steel draws fire from flint. And I have a LOT of games.

One will emerge. In the meantime, I’ll keep poking around, and maybe running some new games.

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2 Responses to FAE and the OSR

  1. Tim D. says:

    You know what, I thought I was the only one that felt that way about FATE. It sounds like it would be easy and quick, but I think the OSR games are better for on the fly gaming.

  2. fictivite says:

    Yeah, the thing about the OSR, everybody is on the same page. You can talk about “rulings over rules” for the OSR, but the baselines are pretty solid and not narrative based. It is easier to manage and synchronize expectations.

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