Saturday, September 8, 2018

Fate and D&D: Interoperable?

Inspired by a small discussion on how to make combat more fun. I don't really run Fate anymore (the last few times I've tried ended in tragedy), but I still love to steal ideas from it occasionally.

A lot of time, fantasy d20 combat tends to turn into "I attack the guy and pass my turn.", at least in my experience. Fights take place in a 40' by 40' room with a few obstacles plopped down, the monsters on one and and the characters on another. Initiative is rolled and then characters start moving into place to start the dance of "17, does that hit? Alright, gonna roll damage.". Characters rarely move, except to get in range of another enemy. Once one side has been slaughtered, the game continues.

It's kind of boring.

In books, movies, and even a few videogames, fights rarely take place in a static environment. They move from place to place, characters duck and weave around different obstacles, and things get grabbed to use as impromptu weapons or improvised distractions. In a life or death situation, it's more than just moving until you're five feet from your enemy then rolling greatsword attacks.

With the chaff out of the way, let's get into the wheat of things. I like a lot of the ideas presented in Fate, but when I ran the game they never really came together for me. However, a lot of those ideas can be ported to other systems, sometimes seamlessly, due to the narrative nature of Fate. For example, let's take a look at a fight scene. How about a bar brawl? The rogue is cheating at cards, the barbarian is being obnoxious, and the bard may have told the wrong joke to the wrong person. Now weapons are being drawn and characters are going to come out swinging.

Before we roll initiative, let's take a look at the scene. Identify three things about it. For the purposes of this example, let's say there are empty tables where people were previously sitting, mugs of ale left unattended, and someone passed out drunk on the floor. Grab an index card or whatever you use to take notes and jot those down, let the players know about them. These are your primary scene aspects.

Let players use these scene aspects how they wish, and adjudicate them how you want. If the rogue wants to splash ale in someone's face before going in with their dagger, you could rule that (in 5e rulings at least) as an object interaction, allow the thug a saving throw against a DC (10 is generally a good guideline, or use some other way of adjudicating it), and confer advantage to the rogue if the thug fails. Tick that aspect off. If the rogue wants to keep using their drink-tossing trick some more, either give advantage to the thug's save or just tell the player they'll have to look for another way to trick the thug. That's where creating/discovering an aspect comes in.

To create or discover an aspect, just use the same toolset the game you're playing gives you to resolve ability checks. If the player wants to discover, create, or modify an aspect, just have them roll an appropriate ability. The bard's player, for instance, could ask if there was anything nearby he could grab to use on the thug cornering him. A perception check could have him discover a pie that was recently set to cool, just within arm's reach. An aspect has been created, and the player now has ideas to utilize it. One improvised attack roll and a scalding hot fate for the thug later, the bard is ready to join the fray.

Now that was a lot of words for what is basically just writing down short scene descriptors on an index card and letting players use them! Granted, they could already be doing this, or they could just ignore it all and keep moving and attacking. As always, you have to see what works for your table.


  1. Well that certainly sounds like a good idea, but a good Referee will already do that, or incorporate language that makes it sound like that. For example, instead of, "The enemy grapples you," the Referee says, "The enemy grabs your arm and twists it behind your back, then pushes you up against the wall" or something of that nature.

    I run my combats based off the Angry Gm's method and it works for me. I recommend you give him a read.

    But if you don't, it essentially boils down to, "Use description to link the player's turns and actions and keep things moving."

    For example, on Bob the Fighter's turn...

    Ref: "Bob, you see the Goblin that stabbed Alice going in for another attack. She doesn't look like she can survive another stab! But right in front of you, the Orc with the greataxe is coming in for another attack. What do you do?"
    Bob: "I want to back up and throw my javelin at the Goblin."
    Ref: "Give me an attack roll. You got a..."
    Bob: "17 and 6 for the damage roll."
    Ref: "Alright. So you drop your sword and yank a javelin from off your back, then lean backwards and huck it at Goblin! It impales the Folkish creature, causing its flesh to bubble and spit around the iron head. However, now you're defenseless before the Orc, which..."

    And so on.

    So incorporating scene elements into the combat would just be a mattter of altering descriptions, especially if they offer no additional mechanical flair.