Writer Emergency . . . Fate? — Thoughts On A New Semi-Random Narrative

Recently, I finished the drafting of a narrative (Honeymoon), which was crafted with random elements–such as the Writer Emergency Pack and the GM-less RPG Fiasco. Over 12 weeks, the story came together one scene at the time. It was designed to be an exercise in writing, and I can honestly say that I learned a great deal about my own writing process during those 12 weeks.

In the meantime, I want to move on with a similar project. Mostly because I enjoyed the first one so much, but also to simply keep myself writing and learning to get better at both the craft and the art of creating a narrative.

My first thought was to just use Fiasco again to setup the story, though I’d change how I progress going forward (veering off far from the original structure Fiasco offers). And as it stands right now, I might just end up doing that.

But before I settle on that, I want to explore a different approach for creating narratives:

FATE Core and FATE Accelerated.

FATE Core System

FATE is a tabletop Roleplaying Game designed by Evil Hat Productions.

Here’s what they have to say about their game:

Grab your plasma rifles, spell components, and jetpacks! Name your game; Fate Core is the foundation that can make it happen. Fate Core is a flexible system that can support whatever worlds you dream up. Have you always wanted to play a post-apocalyptic spaghetti western with tentacle monsters? Swords and sorcery in space? Wish there was a game based on your favorite series of books, film, or television, but it never happened? Fate Core is your answer.

Fate Core is a tabletop roleplaying game about proactive, capable people who lead dramatic lives. The type of drama they experience is up to you. But wherever they go, you can expect a fun storytelling experience full of twists…of fate.

So. What’s a tabletop roleplaying game? It’s a game where the players sit at the table, playing each a character in a world prepared and led by the Gamemaster (GM). Each character has strengths and weakness, usually represented by statistics, numbers, and background information. Think good old Dungeons and Dragons. And just as geeky.

I’ve been playing such games for ever 15 years now (and, by the way, Fiasco is also a tabletop RPG, just a different flavour).

What Fate does different (some might argue “better”) than more traditional (read: older) RPG, it takes away a lot of number crunch–the stats and math and mechanics–and replaces it with in-game narrative flavoured “Aspects”.

While other games would say that a character has a Strength of X, hence he can do that much damage, in Fate you would see something like “My Character has the Aspect ‘Heavy Weight Champion’ and use (invoke) that aspect to influence the story based on that (like saying that he uses his strength, which is part of being a heavy weight champion, to do something that requires such strength). While both version accomplish the same in the end, the Fate approach has more flavour and makes it about what the character actual is and can do in relation to the story, instead of just applying a number against another number and see which one is higher.

And that I can use to create a narrative.

Most of a Fate game is build around those aspects. Characters. Locations. Opposition. Gear. Even overarching story elements such as bigger threats are defined as aspects. An aspect is a true fact about the story, and it also implies a context of possibilities for whatever the aspect is connected to. Something that is burning can have the aspect “on fire” attached to it. A wounded character could have a major consequence (consequences being ways to track damage) aspect that says “Broken Leg” (where other games might just say “6 Damage” or “Lost 4 Hit Points” or whatever). Others can compel this aspect in the character (using it against him).

There’s also an economy of limited Fate Points that flow between players and the GM to keep the amount of compels and invokes in check, as well as minor dice rolling to keep a few random elements and tension in the story.

And while the rules are very light and simple, if you never heard of it before, it might still make no or little sense. But that’s fine. If I choose this to craft my story, I will illuminate every step as it comes up.

If you want to know about Fate, you can pick it up as pay-what-you-want PDF at DriveThruRPG, or get it directly from Evil Hat Productions. There’s also FATE RPG SRD, a nice online resource that has everything the core books offer in a neat, digital web-format. Free.

How would it work?

Each new part (one per week most likely) would be split into two post:

  • The Actual Narrative
  • Behind The Scenes Structure

Since Fate uses mostly narrative-flavoured aspects to define what’s happening how and why and when in the game, I can use that mechanic to write a code-like structure of each scene/scenario that will function as the bones of the actual story. It would looks something like this (simplified example):

Character 1 is “The Best Pilot In The Air Force”, flying over enemy territory. The enemy on the ground is firing at him, causing the Situational Aspect “Under Heavy Fire”. Char 1 Rolls an Overcome Action to escape that aspect. [Here I roll dice and note the result based on how the game mechanics work]. Char 1 also invokes his aspect “The Best Pilot In The Air Force” (cost 1 Fate Point) to add +2 to his dice roll.

Something along those lines. I would do that for an entire scene/scenario just to brainstorm how those scenes might unfold, and then I would compile it into a full narrative in the follow-up post. I might even play around with colour (Aspects, Actions, Character names) to make it look like even more of a code-file.

In endeffect, I would simulate playing a game of FATE with myself (that’s right), simultaneously being the GM and the players (1-3). During the initial parsing of all the action and elements of the story, I wouldn’t use dialogue, but instead just refer in lines between the aspect/dice/action part that Character X and Character Y are talking about blah blah blah. Or something.

What am I trying to archive by using this relatively complex method?

Simple: Drawing up a framework for each scene.  It would help me learning to develop scenes that have an internal logic to them. A structure, a sort of code, that always works the same, however much the results may differ. It also adds random elements in the form of dice rolls to the mix, which will keep me on my toes having to deal with failure where I wanted the character to succeed or vice versa.

I see this framework as a sort of script, much like a screenplay. And the formatting might even look like something like a script.

One of the things I struggle with in writing is coming up with neat ideas and then follow through with them. This method would force me to do just that. During the planing phase, I can brainstorm how I want things to go between the story and the characters interacting with it. I can plan to use their strengths and weakness to spin a narrative that is compelling, focuses on only what really matters in each scene, and has an internal logic to it. But the moment I am done parsing it and compile it into a real piece of fiction, I have to stick true to what I came up with, or else the code will break and not work.

Makes sense?

Fate Core offers everything one needs to create a story. From building characters with aspects that matter, to defining things that will be a problem in the story that the characters actively need to swim against.

Fate Accelerated Edition

That is Fate Core. What about Fate Accelerated?

The Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) does all the above, but even more streamlined and simplified. While the Fate Core Book is 300+ pages long, going through step by step on how to build a storytelling game, FAE is only 40-some pages long, boiling it all down the most basic stuff.

Fate Core Characters have a set of skills–abilities and traits that are useful to them. Fight; Lore; Resources; Drive; Rapport; and so on. FAE gets rid of them and instead uses approaches. Stealthy; Forceful; Clever. Both skills and approaches come with a number value which, if used to roll dice, is added to the dice result for the final number to see if a character fails or wins. The difference is, however, that the skills are specific to a set of tasks, while approaches simply reflect how a character goes about doing something. What a character can do is then only defined by the aspects he possesses–as long as the player can justify a character doing something based on the characters background/aspects, it can be done, and all the player has to do is figure which approach makes the most sense.

While the skills of Fate Core are a lot more in-depth and involved, allowing for true character customization, FAE keeps things lean and simple with the approaches. Which is why I will use the approaches from FAE for my narrative. The skill-system is great if all you focus on is your own character, but for me, I would have to focus on both the world-building and all characters within this world, so the skills would add a lot of weight to the already more complex way of building a story. The approaches on the other hand allow me to define characters strength and weaknesses in a clean and simple way without losing anything in the process for the scope of this project.

However, the FAE character and world building is also a lot more lean than the Fate Core version. And for that I’ll have to side with Fate Core. I will create the game, the basics and aspects of the world, and the characters and their relationship to each other using Fate (which will be a step by step post in itself) but will assign the characters the basic approaches instead of skills.


There are a few more elements to consider, such as Milestones (minor, major, etc) and stunts (special character specific abilities allowing to bend the rules) which I will cover when I get there.

I will also use the Writer Emergency Deck again (hence the title of the project). But not for every single scene. Instead, I will use it as intended: when I’m stuck or torn or not sure what to do next. I love what the deck does and I’m sure it will, once again, be great to use.

This is a lot more involved than the Writer Emergency Fiasco was, and I have to make sure I have the time and energy to pull it off. I have no scope, yet, for length and scale of the story, or its characters. I know it will most likely be a sci-fi space story, but dirty and gritty (think Alien not Star Trek), with cyberpunk elements (corporations oppressing the common people, augmentations, matrix, the works). That’s something I wanted to explore a few times before, and I ended up writing a concept piece called “The Drop” set in such a setting a while back.

And now . . . after writing up all this: Am I actually going to use it?

I don’t know. I like the idea. I like the implications FATE makes about creating stories. Is it working without a group of players? Can I translate it into a solo-activity? Can I learn anything from writing up a script and compiling it into a narrative?

I really don’t know.

I will give it a try. Going from the start, I’ll use FATE Core to create a setting and the characters, and then use FAE to actually script the story. If it makes sense after a few tries (which I will log here for all to see, success or not), I’ll see it through. If it it fails, I’ll cut my losses and try something different.

Hope you’ll be with me for my next writing adventure.

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