Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Question about FATE: Assessments, Declarations, and Maneuvers

Here’s a question for those of you who know FATE. I’ve been running with some of the mechanics adapted into our house system, and playing that based on my reading of several different versions of the core mechanics. I think I’ve read eight different versions of the rules from what seems to be the baseline (Spirit of the Century) to the more out-there approaches (Strands of FATE). I realized in going through Dresden Files again recently that I’m unclear about the use, effect and distinction between three elements of the game: Assessments, Declarations, and Maneuvers. I think in some ways I’ve been using those interchangeably. But they’re broken into three types so I assume there's some practical game design function to that-

Assessment: Requires an action; player declares what information they wish to assess and GM assigns a difficulty. If successful, the GM reveals an aspect (i.e. the GM determines what aspect is given out). If successful, the revealed aspect lasts for the scene. I’ve seen three variables on assessments this among rules. Some rules say that the player has to make a guess as to the nature of the aspect assessed. I’ve also seen a suggestion that some assessments take significant time. In some cases the successful assessment allows the player a free use of that aspect, in others it doesn’t.

Declaration: Doesn’t require an action. Player declares what specific aspect they want to create and the GM assigns a difficulty. The player makes the skill roll and if they succeed, the aspect the player declared is on the target. Generally declarations last for a scene.

I’m not sure about the functional difference between those- and why one takes time and the other doesn’t. It would seem to me, since both require a skill roll, they could be considered equivalent. That’s especially true in that the more limited effect (assessment has to be based on an existing aspect) requires an action. I have the feeling I’m missing something about the play effect there.

Now on the other hand, we also have maneuvers.

Maneuvers: Requires an action. Usually done as some form of attack action, so the difficulty is based on defense or resistance. If the maneuver succeeds, then the player places an aspect on the target. This tag is free, allowing the player to use it once without spending a Fate point or in some cases passing that benefit on to others. Aspects created with maneuvers create a fragile tag with no shifts; if a player gains shifts they can make that aspect sticky so it lasts for the scene. Importantly, maneuvers can be used to remove aspects caused by other maneuvers.

It almost seems like we’re talking about much the same effect, with some odd variables between them. Essentially, a player wants to place an aspect, they make a roll against a difficulty and if they succeed it appears.

The variables between the three involved time required, determination of difficulty, duration of the aspect, if the tag is ‘free’ or not, and the impact of shifts or spin.

I want to make sure I’m not missing something, because at least on the surface it would seem that among the first two, you’d want to declare over assess so you don’t lose an action. Are they differentiated to allow for different stunts? It is simply a narrative differentiation? I fear that I’ve missed something really basic in my reading of the rules.


  1. Diaspora (one of the most mechanically stripped down forms of FATE 3.0 and the only one I really like) got rid of assessments, which leads me to believe they're not very distinct.

  2. Interesting. I should go and check what the other systems do.

  3. Legends of Anglerre follows the definition I stated above. Assessments gain a free aspect and are suggested to take significant time (outside of conflict I assume- they just take an action within a conflict). Declarations also offer free aspects, but take no time. Both require a skill check, although the rules aren't clear on the difficulty. Manoeuvers require a contested check, creating a temporary aspect which may be tagged free for the first effect. Targets may spend a Fate point to negate the manoeuver. With spin players can make these sticky instead of fragile aspects.

    Spirit of the Century follows the pattern above. Maneuvers which spend a Fate point have "an unusual potency."

    The Kerberos Club (FATE Edition) has more specific guidelines for setting the difficulty of declarations, based on logic and dramatic effect. Declarations can also be used to remove aspects (that's new). The first use of the aspect is free- and declarations can be based on a skill roll or just spending a fate point. While there's mention made of Assessments being more time-consuming, it isn't immediately clear if one, none or both of these approaches require an action. Maneuvers are contested, can be used to add or remove an aspect, and last based on shifts from the roll. Oddly it isn't clear if maneuver aspects are free aspects for the creator.

    Agents of S.W.I.N.G. drops Assessments and Declarations. Everything is a maneuver, contested or standard difficult. Aspects gained in this way give the player a Fate point which they can use or pass on. It requires an action.

    Diaspora focuses on maneuvers as well. They can be used to "Place an Aspect...with a Skill check (static or opposed...). If successful, the target now has the Aspect for the duration of the scene. This Aspect can be tagged once for free and thereafter for a fate point." I also noticed the Diaspora limits on tags from different scopes in a round, very different from other flavors of FATE- but off topic. Declarations are not used as systems for adding tags, but instead only refer to the use of a Fate point to declare a true fact about the world.

    Strands of Fate has Assessment requiring an action to discover an existing aspect. Spin may allow discovery of more than one aspect. All assessment actions take several turns (instead of a single action). The GM reveals and decides the aspects, rather than the player. Declarations allows the player to decide on aspects and require no time to apply. Aspects created in this way are sticky and free for first use. Difficulties are based on logic and drama. The player can spend a Fate point instead of making a check for this. Maneuvers require an action and create a free and temporary aspect. Whether the aspect goes away after use depends on the action.

  4. There is a lot of overlap. The way I understand it from my reading of Spirit of the Century and Dresden, and the dozen or so sessions of Dresden, comes out like this:

    Assessments & Declarations: The main difference is if the GM has the aspect already in the scene. So Assessments are to reveal the little secrets the GM placed there. While Declarations are if a Player thought of something the GM didn't put in, but could easily be there. The similarity is that both of them are pre-existing conditions on the scene to be taken advantage of.

    Maneuvers are things that the PC creates through clever skill use. They are more transient in concept as well as mechanics.

    At least that is my read on the various differences. A lot of it is just perception differences in how you approach each type, instead of mechanical execution of the rules.

  5. OK- that actually reassures me significantly. I'm glad that there's such variation and interpretation. I was a little worried that I was just missing some essential facet differentiating between them- beyond what I was reading from the rules.

  6. From DFRPG YW116: Why Do Declarations
    Seem Easier than

    A close reading of the rules here may
    suggest that declarations are easier than
    assessments. Declarations take less time
    and may have lower difficulties than assessments.
    This perception is mostly correct.
    The thing is, declarations done by the
    players take some of the “work” off of the
    GM. Assessments are largely a case of the
    players asking a GM to provide them with
    detail. By contrast, a player driving a declaration
    is supplying some of his own content
    for the game, which makes the GM’s job
    much easier and, better still, increases the
    player’s buy-in.

    There is, however, an advantage of Assessments over Declarations discussed on YW115:
    So, if you’ve discovered an aspect this
    way, you don’t have to worry about the usual
    time limit (page 106) for tagging until the first scene
    where you encounter the target of your assessment.

  7. I'm glad to see there's some game logic the the split. I can see the argument for handling it that way. I'm going to have to consider that when I bring FATE to the table next.

  8. I've always been confused with maneuvers. Using one takes your action, but you're supposed to use the Free Tag right after that. And, I've also read that the character who makes the aspect gets first use. But, in order to do that I have to wait for an entire round to use it. Isn't it too late by then since a free tag is supposed to get used right away?