Monday, February 23, 2015

Game Harvest: Fate Zones

So as anyone who read my review of FATE Core knows, I wasn't a huge fan of the system as a whole.  The pieces that made up the system however, I loved.  It was weird, but there is no single aspect of the system I didn't like (in fact I loved most of it).  So in an attempt to take what I loved from the system and transplant them over to games I enjoy I ended up with this article.  If it's something people enjoy I will write up some more and maybe even harvest ideas out of other systems too.

Now anyone who knows Fate knows abut aspects and honestly if you're going to steal one thing from the game I would steal those (like in another potential article).  With that said though I would like to bring up a lesser discussed idea that I think translates even better to just about any game, Zones.  In Fate the "map" for a scene is split into zones rather than a grid or hex layout.  This opens up distance to abstracts while still making movement matter.

Basically say you have a scene in an apartment. Rather than map out the entire place you just make a round map of all the rooms (bedroom, bathroom, kitchen, ect) and label them as such.  One of the big tricks to this is that rather than placing every little piece of furniture in the scene you just assume the kitchen has anything that kitchen would have(stove, pots, pans, ect). If it's missing something (like the stove is broken and doesn't turn on) you just make a GM note about it.  This also goes for anything interesting that might be in a zone (such as a jar of tentacles in the fridge or "The Ring" tape in the VCR).  This cuts down on the repetitive nature of some maps (all bathrooms should have a toilet, all temples should have some kind of shrine or alter).

For players this forces them to pay attention and get involved as they don't just glance at map and thing "what's around me" from a god like third person perspective.  They can assume anything the characters would assume.  Thing like "I grab a pan out of the cupboard" rather than "I see there's cupboards, I want to look inside".  Sometimes they will be wrong because of GM notes like, "This guys never cooks so the cupboards are empty", but those are what makes the area interesting and would take as much time as "searching".

Speaking of player actions, making things vague can also speed up game play.  I've had too many players that (even if I say we aren't running a miniatures game and distance is abstract) will count every square to see if they can move 10ft to the table to pick up a knife, then the 10ft back plus 5ft to the fridge to use the door as a shield.  In that moment everything stops being cinematic and starts being a board game.  This also matters for any fight in a small-ish room that has a decent number of creatures doing things.  A party of five s ambushed in their home by a gang of bikers (six of them).  That's eleven minis in a room that is maybe 3x4.  First of all that's a crowded map.  Any images that are on the map of what is there are covered anyways so players will at best be asking the same questions and at worse be moving minis just to see what's underneath.

Now onto some of the questions I've already gotten about using a system like this:

  1. Q: My character has a move of 30ft, how many zones is that?
    A: A move action is one zone.  We aren't counting feet.
  2. Q: But MY character has a move of 40ft, so now I'm just as fast as his?
    A: Simple answer is yes.  In a close combat where zones aren't difficult and it's jsut a brawl they will basically be the same. BUT if we have a chase scene you will be faster and you know what I'll give you a break sometimes when things would slow other people down since you ARE faster.  Also if since you're close to 1.5 the speed I'll let you move 3 zones in a double move.
  3. What if there's a big empty field between us and some archers? Won't moving through that zone be going super fast?
    A: If a field is bigger than 30 or 40ft it's going to be more than one zone.  You'll just have move through a few zones to get to them?
  4. But then I'm spending a bunch of turns moving through an open area.  Why isn't it just one zone, its all the same stuff anyways?
    A: For the same reason they aren't just 30ft away and who's to say there isn't anything in that field that you don't notice yet smart guy.
  5. Q: Ok fine, but how do I know if someone leaves my 5ft reach?
    A: I'll tell you. (This is actually part of a much bigger issue I'll talk about later in the article.)
  6. Q:So you get to decide if they provoke and where they move? THAT:S NOT FAIR!
    A: First calm it down. Second I'm already deciding where they move and now a guy can be described as reeling back from your massive punch without it being "5ft" of movement. Oh, and third is you don't trust that I'm being fair leave my table.
Those last two questions bring me into the final part of what I have to say about zones.  First is the 5ft reach.  While I agree that a guy with a sword should have about 5ft around him that he can threaten with that big ass blade, I do not think a pocket knife and a long sword should threaten the same amount of space.  This is a judgement call and some players are going to get pissy, but it actually makes different weapons matter and as long as you aren't nickle and diming them (such as making a long sword completely neuter a guy with a dagger from being able to get close as if it were a reach weapon) then they will get the hang of it.  Plus the really get into semantics would be counting every little foot or ever inches and at that point you're going in the opposite direction of the intended purpose.

The second thing the talk about "5ft reach"makes me want to talk about is actually the same reason 11 guys completely fill up 60 ft/squ (15ftX20ft of 3X4 on a grid) minus the TV in the corner.  Sure that many guys in a living room would be crowded, but that's because of the furniture and everything in there not the actual size of the room (which lets be honest, when you're setting minis on a map and its that full it's basically treated as such 90% of the time).  The problem comes with the fact that on a grid every character takes up 5ft/squ.  I get why it's done this way on a map since you can't have minis just stacked on top of each other and it's assumed the heroe forces himself to have the room to swing his sword, but lets be honest 5ft/squ is basically your character's personal bubble.  

In a lot of games this bubble is all but impenetrable except my creatures or characters that has special moves to change that.  In real life people pop that bubble all the time and sure most games aren't real life, but some weird things happen with this mindset. "I get right up in his face and threaten him." Ok but on the board you guys are up to 8 ft away from each other and nothing changes.  That might sound like a special case, but I'll let you think about a much more common occurrence. Grappling. 

 Anyone who's played table top games for a given amount of time will see or be that player that grapples everything.  The problem is if hero A is got Thug b by the neck they are still taking up a 5 ft by 10 ft area of space.  Sure people might be flailing around, but it just doesn't fly with me.  If you ditch the grid you can ditch the bubble, ditch the time counting spaces, and add even more flair and description to your games.

One last note I would like to add and it's even a suggestion in FATE s this:  Put something interesting in each of your zones.  Id doesn't always have to be insane, but something that makes it more than Living Room C.  Maybe it has a fireplace or there's a hookah on the table.  Hell maybe ask your players for ideas and throw in the best one if you feel like improving a bit.

Anyways if you guy's liked this type of article let me know in the comments.  I'm not sure how many people reading are looking to hack their current systems or fuse games together.  I personally love these kinds of things, but I may be a freak.

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