What's The Win Condition?

Name just about any RPG out there - Dungeons and Dragons, Top Secret, Gamma World, Unknown Armies, Exalted, so on, so on... Fate will let you play in the same genre, even in the same setting if someone does the conversion work.

That flexibility is wonderful. But it can also be an obstacle for those coming from other systems, who are struggling to understand the Fate paradigm. The very similarity between the outsides of X: The RPG and Fate-X: The RPG makes it difficult to see where the two are based in profoundly disparate assumptions.

Let's illustrate that difference in assumptions with a story of two gaming tables and a well-intentioned Dice Fairy.

On this particular Tuesday night, Gary's table and Fred's table are both sitting down to dungeon-crawl games. Gary's table has pulled out the original Red Box D&D; Fred's group is going to play a conversion of the Red Box rules to Fate.

And as fortune would have it, both tables come to the attention of Stochastia, a wandering Dice Fairy who decides she'll do something nice for these mortals: for the rest of the night, every dice roll at each of these tables will go in favor of the PCs. Thinking she's done a nice deed, Stochastia flits off, not thinking to wait and watch the results.

The results at Gary's table would make Stochastia happy. Those goblins? Absolute pushovers! The orcs? The trap that would have summoned them was detected and avoided, so the orcs never even woke up. The beholders? Down in two turns! All those deadly traps surrounding the treasure? Each one defeated by the thief's perfect rolling! No one lost a single hit point, and all that treasure and XP is there for the taking!

But at Fred's table, Stochastia's gift has brought frustration, not joy. Those goblins? Swarming in such huge numbers, they should have posed some sort of obstacle for the party - but they didn't. The thief's player deliberately compelled his Cocky trouble aspect, so that he'd trigger the trap that summoned the orcs - but a swing of everybody's weapons later, and the orcs were dead. The beholders? The thief didn't even need to use the FP earned from the compel to affect the combat; the two fighters just swung their swords and their great dice rolls said the monsters went down. The traps were perfectly disarmed, and everybody got all the treasure and XP - and everybody's frustrated, because there was no suspense or tension or drama to the play, not when they were simply rolling (no pun intended) over everything in their path.

It's not that the Fate-D&D players at Fred's table didn't want victory. They did; they deeply wanted to wind up at the end with the treasure and the XP, just as Gary's group also wanted. But where the D&D group wanted to reach the end with maximum loot gained at minimum risk along the way, the Fate players wanted to get there with maximum drama and suspense along the way.

This distinction also underlies a key structural difference between the games. It's not that Gary's group doesn't want the suspense and drama that comes with the risk of defeat; it's that (in the absence of Stochastia's interference) it's assumed that the suspense and drama will emerge naturally from an adversarial relationship between the players and the GM: the players doing everything they can to ensure the PCs' victory, and the GM throwing as much opposition as he can (as much as he reasonably can, that is) to make it a struggle for them to get that victory. What the player of the thief at Fred's table did, deliberately missing his chance to defuse the trap and increasing the opposition, would be unthinkable at Gary's table. It isn't the player's role to make victory harder to achieve! That's the GM's role!

But in Fate, the players and the GM really have the same role: to make the pathway to eventual victory (or defeat) exciting and tense and dramatic. And in pursuit of that role, players have powers that would be unthinkable at Gary's table, in an adversarial game. The power to declare that the monster you're facing has a weakness you can exploit? Make your Create an Advantage roll, and you can do it! The power to declare that you packed just the right item for the occasion, even though you never thought of the item until now? If you've got the right stunt or roll successfully on the right skill, you can do it! Why does it work? Because those same players also share adversarial duties with the GM. They earn the Fate Points that help them sweep obstacles out of their paths, by sweeping extra obstacles and complications into their paths.

My old gaming group had a saying we used to introduce newcomers to our style of play: "The real way to win the game is style points." If you're coming from another system such as D&D, and you're intrigued by Fate but aren't sure you 'get' it, ask yourself what is it that makes a particular session of gaming "the best ever"? Is it reaching the end with all the glory and all the goodies? Or is it when the tale of how you got to that end, with all the twists and surprises, makes one hell of a story?
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