In our role-playing group, we recently ditched Pathfinder and started up a new campaign in a fresh setting using the Fate Core system. After a single session, we knew there was no looking back: with its focus on story and drama, the Fate experience is unbelievable! This post discusses the flexibility of Fate by introducing a new mechanic (an "Extra") we made to suit our setting.
The setting we created is a post-apocalyptic future where the world has frozen over. Most of the population has been wiped out, most of the old world's resources are trapped under ice and inaccessible, and day to day life is a constant struggle for survival. You know, the usual!
...it was apparent that we were really into the resource management of these stockpiles.
Still, humanity pushes on, huddling around pockets of warmth where old world tech hums with unknown energy. Hunting parties venture into the white, urban wilderness for food and supplies like their hunter-gatherer forebears, amassing large stockpiles to sustain their communities through the next flash blizzard.
Stockpiles as Story
We generated this world and our characters in the first play session, and it was apparent that we were really into the resource management of these stockpiles. They keep us alive, for one thing, but they also provide great dramatic material as we:
- carefully ration them for sustenance
- pull just the right items at just the right time from them
- shrewdly barter them for information or special items
- defend them from raiders and politicians
- raid them from our rivals
As a general rule, the larger the stockpile, the more unwanted interest in it there will be...
Honestly, we were interested in more of a space cowboys setting at first. We liked all of the drama of managing dwindling resources and the human gray areas of trading, deal-making, and backstabbing. We had Firefly in mind, but we ended up firmly grounded on a future Earth, frozen in time. I like to think of it as a Wild West trope, but with tundra instead of desert, Wendigo instead of coyotes, and ice mining instead of gold prospecting.
Wealth, Resources, Stress
The Fate rulebooks briefly cover the concepts of extending Wealth and Resources using stress tracks, so let's start there. Fate Core discusses a Wealth Extra as a kind of advanced Resources skill. Characters individually get Wealth stress tracks that can be targeted by enemies and wealth-oriented Consequences that can really round out an interesting story.
The Fate Toolkit describes a different approach where you use the Wealth stress track as a kind of loot: players may expend it to "pay too much" for things or produce useful items on the spot. This stress doesn't recover automatically, though; Wealth stress can only be recovered by actually looting a Wealth:X treasure. Find a Wealth:3, open up your Wealth:3 (or lower) stress box.
"The subway station is Stockpile:1 from here but probably doesn't have much for us. We can get to suburbs with Stockpile:3 and I bet there's still some old grocery stores to raid out there in the sprawl!"
These were great starting points and a huge inspiration for us, but they miss the mark for our needs. First of all, stockpiles are communal things! Individuals don't typically have them, groups of people do. This is more than just a detail, it's a huge time-saver. Adding stress tracks to each character would be a lot to keep up with. Adding a single stockpile to the party that everyone can access skips over a lot of details and adds tension as the group has to manage this resource together.
How Big is Your Stockpile?
A stockpile gets a couple of things:
- a non-recovering stress track of a certain size
- some aspects (big surprise!)
The stress track doesn't recover on its own because managing scarce resources is a core element of our setting established during game creation. As a party, we load up at our headquarters and head out into the wastes, hoping to acquire more than we spend and ultimately increase the size of our primary stockpile.
We decided that a travel stockpile has as many stress boxes as there are people bearing load, i.e. a party of 4 who are all helping out would have a 4-stress stockpile. It's easy to adjust this up or down a notch for special circumstances: children probably can't help out too much, and the same could be said of characters with locomotive Consequences. However, a character with phenomenal Physique may want to carry double.
"Whoa whoa, Elsobel! Are these punks really worth spending shells on? Let's save it for the boss fight!"
Vehicles can increase this a good bit. Indeed, a major goal of our story is to get out of Atlanta and make a long trip down to New Orleans to see what has become of that town. We arbitrarily decided that such a trip would require a 20-stress stockpile to make safely. So that sounds like a good upper limit to the capacity of our party's trusty steed, Beatrice the Battle Bus.
Stationary stockpiles can be of arbitrary size. Having a huge stockpile should not be without consequence, however! As a general rule, the larger the stockpile, the more unwanted interest in it there will be from would-be raiders. We're calling this "heat", as in "how much heat is on our super high-tech stockpile right now?", but there's no need to build new mechanics around this idea. It's just a concept for the GM to leverage into story events or, big surprise, mention in aspects.
Now, a functional apartment complex with 100 residents may naturally maintain quite a large stockpile without a problem: 100 people would be quite difficult to subdue for long enough to clean out that pile. But if a smaller group of, oh, let's say "seven intrepid adventurers" had a stockpile large enough to sustain a 100-person community... they'll need to sleep with one eye open and never leave the hideout unattended.
Whatcha Got In That Stockpile?
This seems like a great time to mention the Fate Bronze Rule: anything can be treated like a character! Most of the time it is enough to just read this as "anything can have aspects", and stockpiles are no different. Got a stockpile with something special in it? Slap an aspect on it!
Sure, those plasma rifles they were using on us were quite nice! But we can rest assured the stockpile will have "energy weapons" in it, and there's no reason to fret over detailed inventory management.
Actually all stockpiles should have at least one aspect on them to describe the character of its contents and provide some consistency in the world. Did you just finish raiding a Chem Slum full of stim-heads? Their stockpile has the "chems and stims" aspect. Stumble onto a supply outpost while the hunting party is away? That's "survivalism". Break into an arsenal? Maybe it's "exotic weapons", or maybe you want two, more specific aspects, "explosives" and "rifles".
This has all kinds of wonderful effects for telling stories about the interesting things and skipping the boring details. For instance, we no longer need to even think about looting the bodies of fallen mooks (which is a bad tendency held over from our D&D days anyway). Sure, those plasma rifles they were using on us were quite nice! But we can rest assured the stockpile will have "energy weapons" in it, and there's no reason to fret over detailed inventory management. Let it be exceptional and obvious when there is something worth finding on a body (quest items and such), and the story will benefit greatly.
Using the Stockpile for Sustenance
Traveling (or just the passage of time) is the basic way in which a stockpile is spent. When picking destinations, we can measure them in stockpile stress. "The subway station is Stockpile:1 from here but probably doesn't have much for us. We can get to suburbs with Stockpile:3 and I bet there's still some old grocery stores to raid out there in the sprawl!" Now the GM will adjudicate the travel: does it go smoothly? Just check off the appropriate stress boxes and start the next scene. Need to burn off some stockpile to and get the characters on their toes? Hit them with a blizzard, an unexpected detour, or an encounter along the way!
Say a blizzard hits and requires Stockpile:4 to get through without a scratch, but the party has already used up their 4 and above stress boxes on cheaty plasma grenades and overpowered healing stims. Time to pay the piper!
We went ahead and declared that all stockpiles have the survival basics: food, warmth, energy, what-have-you. There's no need to give them aspects to that effect unless something interesting is going on, like "extra blankets" or "expired food". Stockpiles are, by definition, capable of sustaining groups of humans in the setting for some amount of time. That's their story purpose, as determined at game creation.
Using the Stockpile for Awesome
Now it gets interesting! We have a couple of marshal characters in the party, so combat is important to them and this is a gritty setting anyway. It is tempting to bring in the rules for weapons as explained in Fate Core, but I'll admit that I'm overly scared of a "zero sum" weapons system or a constant arms race.
Going in to bust some heads, swinging up close and personal? No problem, go for it. Want to go in guns hot instead? That's going to cost you Stockpile:2 for the ammunition expenditure. Want to clear a room with a grenade? That'll be a Stockpile:4 from a stockpile with the appropriate aspect ("explosives", perhaps.) Daemon, our party tinker, produced some active opposition in a zone by deploying Yeti traps pulled from the party's "survivalism" stockpile. The GM didn't plan that, they just described the stockpile and let the player tell the story.
Thinking more about weapons, this mechanic provides a nice way to reduce their prominence and keep them from being overpowered. Maybe we do adopt the weapon rules, and most guns are a Weapon:2. We get around the arms race problem by making it costly or exceptional to actually use the weapon.
We liked all of the drama of managing dwindling resources and the human gray areas of trading, deal-making, and backstabbing.
Furthermore it's great drama! If Elsobel, our enforcer, starts to charge in and draws her sawed-off, the whole party has an interest in this. "Whoa whoa, Elsobel! Are these punks really worth spending shells on? Let's save it for the boss fight!" Now, if nothing else, our players are talking to each other, haggling over a group resource and the best course of action, in much the same way the characters would be. We consider it success (with style!) if talking out-of-character starts to sound a lot like talking in-character.
On Balance and Consequences
So stock piles have two uses: basic survival vs being extra awesome. This duality is a great tool for the GM, who should take the opportunity to punish the players when they overuse their stockpile for awesomeness. If the PCs just mow through 3 encounters with their weapons, that's fine! The stockpile is now teetering on empty and the GM is surely going to invoke some inclement weather. How do we run that, exactly? Heck, I don't now, it's Fate! Let's make something up.
Daemon, our party tinker, produced some active opposition in a zone by deploying Yeti traps pulled from the party's "survivalism" stockpile. The GM didn't plan that, they just described the stockpile and let the player tell the story.
Say a blizzard hits and requires Stockpile:4 to get through without a scratch, but the party has already used up their 4 and above stress boxes on cheaty plasma grenades and overpowered healing stims. Time to pay the piper! "Everyone roll a Physique Defend action with a target of 4, failures are going to get a Moderate Consequence." The hardier party members will get through it, some will burn up some Fate points to squeeze past, and one or two will have something to remember this by: "frostbitten face" or "cold to the bone" come to mind. Good luck trying to Shoot when you've got icicles hanging from your brow!
Powered by Fate
Again, the Fate Core role-playing system is the real star, here. It may look like we labored over the creation of a lot of rules (judging by the length of this blog post anyway...), but that's really not the case! We took two basic Fate elements, aspects and stress boxes, and brought a new mechanic into being that is mostly about story. Sure, there's some small accounting going on and it's easy to fixate on the numbers or details. But stockpiles are really just a tiny sliver rules: all of the extra details just fell out in natural play with the Fate system.
Remember, Fate is easy to modify and hard to break. We see that as a call to action. Our modifications are quite removable, as well. Maybe our adventurers eventually do find that space ship and take to the stars, leaving this whole drama of stockpiling around a frozen city and its inhabitants behind.
Who am I kidding, we'd probably just modify stockpiles for space travel!