Saturday, August 1, 2015

Be Prepared

Is Fate's "Create Advantage" action type unique among RPGs?

Short answer: As such, yes. Otherwise, no.

The Archetype

If you're not familiar with it, let me bring you up to speed:

Fate is a game. It's been through several editions, but there is a common conceit in each edition: Every action falls into one of four categories (Overcome, Create Advantage, Attack, and Defend).

Of those four, Attack and Defend are the most self-explanatory. With one you intend to do harm, and the other you try to avoid harm.

Overcome is a little broader, a little less intuitive, but still self-explanatory. This is the action you'd roll if you were confronted with an immediate challenge that you have to immediately, for lack of a better word, overcome.

That fourth one will take all the explanation.

The George of Fate

Attack and Defend are the John Lennon and Paul McCartney of RPGs. And Overcome is pretty up front in a lot of tasks, so I liken it to Ringo Starr. The fourth action, Create Advantage, may be better compared to George Harrison, because it does a lot though you might not think about it in those terms. And yes, I'm aware that most people looking for an odd-man-in-the-quartet metaphor settle on the Marx Brothers, not the Beatles. In this case, though, George fits better than Zeppo. I'll justify this claim ...later.

Create Advantage is the one that really bakes the noodles of new players. It can represent many different things during a scene, like noticing some detail that may help later, arranging details in the scene to facilitate later action, spotting a weakness in your opposition to be exploited later...

Or, it represents one single kind of action made evident through repetition in the above explanation: Later. Create Advantage is about doing things now that will lend some sort of assistance further down the road, like dropping a length of steel pipe next to an escape route, or spotting that it's there, so if a pursuer grabs you while you're trying to get away, it's in easy reach, you know it's there, and you get a bonus of some sort to any sort of action where that pipe might come in handy, like an escape attempt or an attack. It's setting up something that you might not even need, but it's there and you know to use it if you do need it.

People look at Overcome and think of it as the "Doing Stuff" action, which leaves Create Advantage in a lurch, because if it's not "Doing Stuff," then what is it? That's why it pays to think of Overcome as the "Doing Stuff Now" action, and Create Advantage as the "Setting Up To Do Other Stuff Better" action.

Doesn't that seem a little vague?

It is, kinda, when taken by itself. But it's never taken by itself.

Any action starts with an intent. Using that intent, you usually pick a skill (for Fate Core) or approach (for Fate Accelerated) or ability (for any game that doesn't use skills or approaches) that fits the action. Whatever you're attempting, whether it's to do something or make something you're going to do later that much more awesome, starts with one of those. And not everybody does everything at the same level of skill.

Taking that into account, it's not that vague. Some people will do things—or prepare things—better than others.

More Pre-Approved Bad-Assery

And there's another thing that people will bring to bear in a situation like that to improve their odds: Stunts.

Stunts are another thing Fate games do: They give the PC a bonus of some sort when attempting an action under particular circumstances. There are stunts that give free rerolls, allow you to substitute one skill for another because of the way the character does things, etc., but the most common go-to format for stunts is "+2 to [action] with [skill or approach] when [circumtance]." This form represents a familiar situation that the character is particularly adept at handling, such that whenever that situation comes up,

And in case it's not obvious, [action] is where you could plug in "Create Advantage."

A "Create Advantage" By Any Other Name...

So, Fate is the only game in which you can Create Advantage...


...except no, it's really not.

Players have been creating their own advantages since RPGs were first conceived. Any time characters have set traps, any time they've sown rumors to start stories, any time they've searched rooms for weapons or armor or treasure, any time they've sought to discover—or make alterations to—their surroundings for non-immediate or deferred benefits, they've been creating advantages.

What sets Fate apart from other games, in all its editions, is that it's the only game which has an action explicitly named "Create Advantage."

And for some reason, this confuses players all to bloody blue blazes. <seinfeld>What's up with that?</seinfeld>

We have those in our country too!

If you just look around a little, you'll find things like it in a whole bunch of other places.

For example, much as I love Fate, I do a lot of Hero System too. And in its combat rules, there's an action in the expanded, optional rules called "Cover." The way that works is you declare your intent to Cover someone, roll your attack ...and don't shoot. If your attack "hits," you have the option to do damage at a later time if, for example, the target you're covering does something like move, draw a weapon, or otherwise get uppity. That sounds a bit like Create Advantage to me. It can even be Escaped, which sounds a bit like rolling to Overcome a Created Advantage.

Dig deep enough and you'll find examples like this in most games. You'll do something now, and even roll for it now, and defer the benefits until later. Suppressing fire, seeking cover to improve your position, all manner of combat activities ...and come to think of it, many non-combat activities too. The point of intimidation is to keep people from taking action that would benefit them or hurt you. The point of taunt skills in those systems that have them is to make someone else take different action (often targeting you in lieu of something you'd rather not hit).

So no, "Create Advantage" is done in all systems.


Except that it kind of isn't.

Oh come on! Make up your mind!

Every game has some sort of system where you can improve your position or get deferred benefits, but there are two details that set Fate's Create Advantage head and shoulders above the rest.

First, the Create Advantage action applies to all skills or approaches. If you go to Fate Core and look at the actions appropriate to the skills available, there's a checkmark next to every skill in the Overcome column. There's also a checkmark next to every skill in the Create Advantage column. That means it's possible to create or discover aspects using any and every skill described. And if you come up with new skills to append or extend the system, well, it's a rare skill that Create Advantage won't fit.

Second, the advantages created with the action are uniform across the system. Every skill creates similar aspects with attached invokes, and they can be taken advantage of using pretty much any other skill that applies. For instance, you might use Deceive or Rapport to lure someone out of hiding because they trust you. Once that's done you could use the free invokes to do anything else, like attack (Fight, Shoot), look them over for anything suspicious (Investigate) or out of the ordinary (Notice), sneak behind them (Stealth), or just pick their pockets (Burglary). The created aspect and free invokes will benefit any of them, and benefit each in equal measure.

Ask your GM if Create Advantage is right for you

This piece is nothing more than an introduction to a specific game's mechanic, what it does, and how it does it. My goal is just to make you think about that mechanic and its virtues. It was never to make you feel your preferred game is somehow inadequate or incomplete.

But as long as we're on the subject, how does your game handle that sort of preparation? Or does it? Picking up weapons and armor is easy and obvious. Traps and bombs and other devious, indirectly damaging devices are also fairly easy, and obvious once they go off. Covering fire and aiming are also easy, albeit a little less obvious.

What about other stuff? How do your players prepare for upcoming crises? Do they look for details in the scene that might help them? And what happens if they fail? Or what if they don't even try, but their opposition does?

Additional symptoms may include hysterical negotiation and shifting reality

Also consider that Fate is a narrative-heavy game, or as I like to say, "Fate is a crunchy system, but the crunch is in the words, not the numbers." Create Advantage is for spotting eventually useful details that may come in handy, but it can also add details that the GM didn't originally think about or intend, that may shift the balance of power in a situation fairly drastically. Create Advantage can rock your world. Or at least bend it.

For instance, you wouldn't use Create Advantage in a Gumshoe game.


(Yeah, I'm doing that thing again. Last one, I promise.)

...except that not only can you do that, it's literally written into the rules. A spend from an investigative pool above and beyond what's needed may notice extra details that make further investigation easier. Which is the exact same thing I was talking about above.

Okay, the point is, Create Advantage can be powerful mojo. Before introducing such a detail-changing mechanic, consider how much advantage you want the players to get when setting up details for future use.

No comments:

Post a Comment