Thursday, May 19, 2016

Experience: Keys, Aspects, Fate, and Otherwise

Note: all of this is very rough twiddling…moreso than usual.

In an earlier post I talked about advancement systems. There and in the related Play on Target episode, I mentioned my preference for point-buy development systems. They don’t have to be that complicated. The incremental advances from 13th Age feel like point-buy to me. Fairly regularly you get an incremental advance to spend and have choices about what to buy. When we played Rolemaster we switched to development points instead of experience. It’s been a regular part of my gaming from Champions to James Bond 007 to GURPS to Storyteller. Our homebrew, Action Cards, has always used points (XP or Eeps). Even when I adapted Fate elements over to it, I stuck with that rather than Milestones.

I’ve kept my approach static over multiple Action Cards campaigns. The advancement costs changed, but little else. That’s despite having played in another GM’s AC:Fallout game where he crafted an entirely new system. At the end of sessions he dealt out Experience Cards which we drafted. They included raises to spend, access to new perks, and one-shot power cards. I never followed up on that, boringly keeping the same mechanics with equal points doled out to each player.

I’ve tuned Action Cards so a typical session awards 3-5 points. We hit the low end if we didn’t accomplish that much or have interesting interactions. I gave out more if the plot advanced or we had some dynamite scenes everyone engaged in. I hand out equal amounts to everyone at the table. I don’t give bonus experience to particular players. But now I wonder if that’s the right way to go. It's fair, but is it encouraging fun play. I skip bonuses and player-by-player xp because I think it doesn’t encourage anything special and runs the risk of feeling unfair.

But what if the system actually did something? At first glance it looks like Fate Core’s milestones do that, but they actually don’t. They encourage moving the story forward, but it’s the whole story for everyone and everyone gets the same advance. You could make an interesting variation with individual character milestones set by the players. Combine these with incremental advances. Right now aspects pushing toward playing "in character." Could we have other means to support this?

I don't want to go too high-level, game-designer-y with my thinking here. I want a system, point-based, where I can dole out a few shared points. Then players can earn some more, ideally in ways they’ve chosen for their characters. Some PbtA games do this: trading X points for an advance. The table gets points based on what happens in the session (“1 point for making progress towards the Big Bad.”). But individual players can gain points in other ways, often taking one for any 6- fail. That’s cool, giving the feel of a learning experience. Can we tailor that for individual characters?

Keys offer one approach. I have to credit Rich Rogers for pointing me to this. They come originally out of The Shadow of Yesterday. They’ve been used more recently with Lady Blackbird. Each key offers a flaw, drive, or behavior tic for the character. They gain points for “hitting” those keys. In Lady Blackbird that creates an active economy. When you hit a key you get points which can be immediately turned into dice for tests or saved to gain new abilities. Lady Blackbird’s aimed at short-run, but the system’s robust enough for several sessions of play. When I went to put together a basic key list, I drew from both of those as well as various LB hacks I found.

I made keys a part of Crowsmantle. I use it directly as an xp system (without the immediate spend mechanic from LB). Players can gently hit a key for 1 point or slam down on it heavily for 3 points. They can also “buyoff” the key by changing their lives, thereby gaining 10 XP. I ended up adapting that to our new Middle Earth Action Cards campaign. It's worked well there- though a couple of players have chosen more difficult keys. I’ve given them the option of switching.

When I went to assemble my Magic, Inc one-shot I used keys. But my experience with ME:AC had shown me aspects and keys had some overlap. So I modified the mechanic. Players could only gain 1 point for hitting a key, but they’d get a fate point for it. If they saved up three points they could spend that on a new skill or stunt in play. Players still had aspects for definition and fate point spends. But they only began with a single refresh. It worked well for the one shot, giving players cool hooks and they actually used.

So I’m wondering if that could work in longer-term play. Could I use it with Action Cards or a point-buy system for Fate Core? Would I have to ditch the idea that key hits generate fate points? How would those interact with aspects? On the one hand they might complement them, but on the other they could overwhelm and change the economy. It might work better for Action Cards, since we’ve cut the number of non-trouble aspects down. Keys could be a set of quick hit things like the trouble aspect. I’m not sure. There’s the additional problem that as I’ve used it in Magic, Inc, this approach does something I usually don’t like: experience as in-game currency (ala HeroQuest, DramaSystem, and Numenera).

When I originally defined the keys, I wrote that players only get the points if their action complicates the situation. As I went along, I became less sure of that. Some of the keys merely express behaviors (like making other players laugh). If I locked it down so that you’d only get points if that made things worse, I’d undercut that incentive. Maybe characters should have three keys of specific flavors: behavior, drive, and flaw. The former would be for character expressive play while the latter two only give points when they cause problems. But once I do that, I’m not sure if I’m gaining anything vs. just using aspects. And it doesn’t answer the XP/currency problem. Should some keys generate fate points and others generate XP? Maybe players could pick what they get when they hit them? Have I made that super effing complicated then? Not sure.

Anyway, that’s my meandering for today. I want a point-based system for advancement for Action Cards (or Fate) that rewards character play, let players buy something each session, isn’t too hard to track, and still allows some character aspects.

In the list below, you’ll see the keys I’ve put together. I’ve tried to keep them tight. The ones I’ve italicized come from Magic, Inc and only have a 1 XP level.
  • Key of Bad Liar: You’re terrible at lying. Hit this key when you’re caught out telling a fib.
  • Key of Banter: You have a knack for snappy comments. Gain +1 XP when you say something that makes the other players laugh.
  • Key of Better Than This: Hit this key when you’re able to demonstrate how your background and upbringing make you overqualified for the pedestrian tasks assigned you.
  • Key of the Bruiser: Your enjoy overpowering others. Gain 1 XP every time you defeats someone solo in battle. Gain 3 XP for the solo defeat of someone more powerful than you. Buyoff: Suffer a defeat in combat.
  • Key of the Commander: You’re accustomed to giving orders and having them obeyed. Gain 1 XP when you come up with a plan and give orders to make it happen. Gain 3 XP when you organize and lead a large force. Buyoff: Acknowledge someone else as the leader.
  • Key of the Competitor: You love contests and love to win. Gain 1 XP when you enter a competition. Gain 3 XP when you actually win such a contest. Buyoff: Gracefully concede to another.
  • Key of Conscience: You must protect the weak. Gain 1 XP every time you defend someone who is in danger and cannot save themselves. Gain 3 XP when you take someone in an unfortunate situation and change their life to where they can help themselves. Buyoff: Ignore a request for help.
  • Key of Conspiracy: It’s more involved than they think. Gain +1 XP when you spin an elaborate baseless scenario about your situation.
  • Key of Could-Have-Been Once: You once had ambition and drive. Gain +1 XP when you give up on a course of action because it seems unrealistic
  • Key of Curiosity: Hit your key whenever you your curiosity sidetracks you or gets you into trouble.
  • Key of the Daredevil: You thrive in dangerous situations. Gain 1 XP when you do something cool that is risky or reckless. Gain 3 XP when your recklessness protects your companions but causes you great harm or loss. Buyoff: Be very very careful.
  • Key of Faking It: You lied on your resume. Gain +1 XP when others expect you to be able to do something you actually can’t.
  • Key of Fear: Select what triggers your phobia—spiders, snakes, undead, being underground, etc. Gain 2 XP when you flee the source of your phobia instead of fighting it. Buyoff: Fight or face your phobia.
  • Key of Greed: You love wealth. Gain 1 XP every time you make a deal that favors you in wealth. Gain 3 XP every time you double your wealth. Buyoff: Give away everything you own except what you can carry lightly.
  • Key of the Guardian: You are a loyal defender of another PC. Gain 1 XP when you make a decision influenced by them or protect them from harm. Gain 3 XP when you follow their orders against your instincts. Buyoff: Sever your relationship with them.
  • Key of Honor: You follow a personal code of honor. Gain 1 XP whenever you keep your word, defend your reputation against insult, or protect those to whom you are obligated. Gain 3 XP when your code causes you major loss or harm. Buyoff: Commit a dishonorable act.
  • Key of the Impostor: You are in disguise or often maintain disguises. Gain 1 XP when you perform well enough to fool someone with your disguise. Gain 3 XP when you fool a group for an extended period. Buyoff: Reveal your true identity to someone you fooled.
  • Key of Knowledge: You love discovering secrets and weird restricted information. Gain 1 XP when you uncover a previously hidden or secret fact or long-lost piece of information. Gain 3 XP when you publish or reveal this knowledge that others want kept secret. Buyoff: Pass up an opportunity to learn something important.
  • Key of the Liar: Lie about something when you don’t have to.
  • Key of Liquid Lunch: It’s always time for a drink. Gain 1 XP when you sidetrack yourself in order to down a couple of drinks.
  • Key of Management: You rely on your team. Gain +1 XP when you steal credit for someone else’s success.
  • Key of Martyrdom: You thrive on personal pain and suffering. Gain 1 XP every time you take a Wound and 3 XP every time you become Injured. Buyoff: Flee a source of physical or psychic damage.
  • Key of the Matchmaker: You like seeing romantic pairings work, though perhaps not your own. Gain 1 XP when you try to set up a pairing. Gain 3 XP when you try to set up a pairing and it actually clicks. Buyoff: You turn your attention to your own romantic life.
  • Key of Memory: You’re terribly forgetful. Gain 1 XP when you forget a key fact from one scene to the next. Gain 3 XP when your forgetting gets you in trouble or puts you in danger. Buyoff: Remember a vital detail at exactly the right moment.
  • Key of the Mission: You have a personal mission, defined at the start (discuss with the GM). Gain 1 XP every time you take action to complete this mission. Gain 3 XP every time you take action that completes a major part of this mission. Buyoff: Abandon this mission.
  • Key of NaivetĂ©: You’re a sucker for a sob story, scam, or pretty face. Gain 1 XP whenever you do what a stranger asks you to do. Gain 3 XP when your trust leads to a major betrayal. Buyoff: See through someone’s manipulation.
  • Key of the Nice Girl: Gain 1 XP when you do something nice because that’s what’s expected of you. Gain 3 XP when being nice costs you a significant opportunity. Buyoff: Loudly put your own interests ahead of someone else’s expectations.
  • Key of Obsession: You have favorite: sports team, TV show, food. Hit your key whenever you’re sidetracked by having to prove to people how awesome it is.
  • Key of the Odd One: Gain 1 XP when you do something small but weird to everyone around you. Gain 3 XP when you do something that causes you to be excluded from a group or event. Buyoff: Figure out what’s driving this behavior.
  • Key of Order (Procedures): Things have rules. People are supposed to stick to the rules. That’s how things should work. Gain 1 XP when you try to correct someone’s violation of a rule. Gain 3 XP when your complaints change the person’s action or decision. Buyoff: Let the breaking of rules go by unremarked.
  • Key of the Outcast: You have been exiled or banned from somewhere. Gain 1 XP when your status causes you trouble or is important in a scene. Gain 3 XP when you’re brought into direct contact with the source of your exile. Buyoff: Regain your former standing or join a new group.
  • Key of Panic: The pressure’s on. Gain 1 XP every time you take a condition card.
  • Key of the Paragon: You’re a noble, wealthy, or the scion of a famous family. Therefore you’re a cut above the common man. Gain 1 XP every time you demonstrate your superiority. Gain 3 XP when you make a significant positive impression on a peer or superior. Buyoff: Disown your heritage.
  • Key of Partyer: It’s always time to rock the house. Gain 1 XP when you drop a chunk of change on party times. Gain 3 XP when you spend all of your money on such entertainments. Buyoff: Hit rock bottom.
  • Key of the Procrastinator: Gain 1 XP when you’re able to successfully delay a due date for yourself. Gain 3 XP when you manage to finish something major after the last minute after putting it off. Buyoff: Get something done well in advance.
  • Key of the Prudent: You avoid combat like the plague. Gain 1 XP every time you avoids a potentially dangerous situation. Gain 3 XP every time you stops a combat using means besides violence. Buyoff: Leap into combat with no hesitation.
  • Key of Renown: You’ll make a name for yourself or die trying. Gain 1 XP when you brag or put yourself at risk to do something unnecessary or foolish that will add to your reputation. Gain 3 XP when you hear your rep mentioned by strangers. Buyoff: Give someone else credit.
  • Key of Rivalry: Choose a fellow PC as your rival. Gain 1 XP when you compete with them and boast about it. Gain 3 XP when you deal your rival a humiliating defeat. Buyoff: Cede a competition to your rival.
  • Key of Romance: You’re a hopeless romantic. Gain 1 XP when you fall in love with someone. As well gain 1 XP when your lover (or would-be lover, if your love is unrequited) is endangered and you act to rescue them. Gain 3 XP when your love leads to punishment or more than one of your lovers meet and come to a realization. Buyoff: Marry or break up with a long-time romantic partner.
  • Key of Sales: You like to make deals and trade favors. Gain 1 XP when you bargain, make a new contact, or exchange a favor. Gain 3 XP when you make a big score through your dealings. Buyoff: Cut yourself off from your network of contacts.
  • Key of the Skeptic: Gain 1 XP when you find an alternate explanation for a fantastical event. Gain 3 XP when your unwillingness to accept the strange keeps you from progress or success. Buyoff: Finally acknowledge the reality of the Realm.
  • Key of Soft Touch: You are, at heart, kind and gentle. Gain +1 XP when you show kindness or mercy.
  • Key of Spendthrift: If you have money, you’re supposed to spend it. Gain 1 XP when you drop a chunk of change non-essentials. Gain 3 XP when you spend all of your money on that way. Buyoff: Make a budget.
  • Key of Thievery (Klepto): Ooooh the shinies. Gain 1 XP when you steal something cool or score a big payoff. Gain 3 XP when you steal something legendary, named, or unique. Buyoff: Swear off stealing forever.
  • Key of the Thrifty: People toss away good stuff. Gain 1 XP when you rescue and hang on to something someone throws away. Gain 3 XP when a rescued object proves useful. Buyoff: Clean out your hoard.
  • Key of the Tinkerer: You just can’t leave it alone. Gain 1 XP when you modify, improve, repair, or patch some object or place. Gain 3 XP when you do this against the wishes or desires of the owner. Buyoff: Pass up the opportunity to mess around with technology.
  • Key of the Traveler: You love exploring places and meeting new people. Gain 1 XP when you share an interesting detail about a person, place, or thing or go somewhere exciting and new. Gain 3 XP when you go somewhere lost to the ages or normally forbidden to you. Buyoff: Pass up the opportunity to see something new.
  • Key of the Twice Shy: You’ve learned to avoid blame, but reflexively avoid credit as well. Gain 1 XP when you can pin your success on someone else. Gain 3 XP when they readily take full credit. Buyoff: Exclaim your own awesomeness.
  • Key of the Unrequited: You fall into love and infatuation easily and deeply. Gain 1 XP when you fixate on a new persons. Gain 3 XP when you do a risky or embarrassing thing in front of that person to gain their attention. Buyoff: Suffer a painful rejection.
  • Key of Vengeance: You have a hatred for a particular organization, person, or even species or culture. Gain 1 XP every time your character hurts a member of that group or a lackey of that person. Gain 3 XP every time you strike a major blow at that group or person. Buyoff: Let your enemy go.
  • Key of the Vow: You have a vow of personal behavior you have sworn not to break. This could be a dietary restriction, a requirement to pray at sunbreak every morning, or something else like that. Gain 1 XP for every session in which you don’t break this vow. Gain 3 XP every time you don’t break this vow even though it causes you great harm. Buyoff: Break this vow.
  • Key of the Watercooler: Hit this key when you hear someone repeat a rumor you spread.
  • Key of the Widow(er) (Bad Break Up): You lost your significant other truly and finally. Gain 1 XP when you make a connection between something in a scene and your lost love. Gain 3 XP when your pining interferes with new potential relationships and friendships. Buyoff: Lock away or dispose of the last of your mementos. 

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