Fastball Special: Creative teamwork in Fate

Fastball Special from Astonishing X-Men #6. Art by John Cassaday.

I’ve talked a lot in the past about making sure that groups of player characters in an RPG work well together as a part of character creation (here here here here), but what about working well together during play?

Team moves

Hero teamswhether from comics, movies, TV, or wherever—constantly have their members working together in interesting and creative ways during fight scenes. Combatants switch opponents, or provide covering fire, or make a distraction so that an ally can get the drop on an enemy, or even (as in the Fastball Special, pictured above) hurl an ally at an enemy.

Most RPGs are pretty terrible at modelling team moves like these. (Which is not to say that other RPGs don’t do teamwork, as anyone who has played D&D without a healer knows.)

Fate Core, on the other hand, has teamwork moves written right into the rules of the game.

For example, characters can sacrifice their action for the round to give another player a +1 bonus (as long as the two characters are using the same skill at the same time). This is quick but boring.

For more interesting teamwork moves, several players can use the create an advantage action and give any free invokes to another player. This can play on characters’ diverse strengths and combine to produce effects that no character could perform on their own.

For example: the Fastball Special

Here’s what the Fastball Special might look like in play:

Ord of the Breakworld (an NPC) is attempting to flee the planet in his spaceship. He’s in a new zone in the air anddang it!the X-Men just didn’t bring any of their flying mutants today.

Fortunately, Colossus and Wolverine have a plan for situations like this.

Colossus rolls to create an advantage with his Physique and succeeds. He writes the aspect ‘Fastball Special’, which gets one free invoke, and throws his teammate Wolverine like a javelin.

Wolverine goes next, so he rolls to attack with his Fight. He uses the free invoke from the ‘Fastball Special’, which both adds +2 to his result and gives him permission to use his movement to move upwards into the new zone. He succeeds, but he’s grouchy and wants to take Ord down now, so he spends two Fate Points (one on the ‘Fastball Special’ and one on his ‘Adamantium Skeleton’) to deal +4 shifts of damage.

The spaceship is breached. Ord is defeated. There is much rejoicing.

So rarely used

The Fastball Special is a very straightforward application of the standard game rules, and yet when I have run or played in Fate games I have rarely seen the create an advantage action used this way.

I suspect in part that this is because there is not enough incentive to use the create an advantage this way. Players can always create advantages for themselves and know what the advantage is going to be and how to use it. The main benefit of using it for team moves is that your teammate will have a turn before your next turn and, hey, maybe they’ll go before the enemy NPCs too. (This is easier to arrange if using the excellent initiative system from Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, as described here by Fred Hicks, who even talks about the Fastball Special how about that?)

The only time I’ve seen anything like team moves as a regular fixture in a Fate game was in the first stage of a Musketeers campaign, in which Aramis had a stunt that gave him a bonus when he acted after Porthos had caused chaos in a scene. (Porthos did that a lot. I played Porthos.)

That was really cool, even without the need for a ‘chaos’ aspect on the scene. I’m sure it only happened as often as it did because of that stunt, perhaps the best-chosen stunt in the game.

The potential fix

That being said, how about the following for a stunt, which I came up with while pondering how to run a Fate game based on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (now written up here):

We Are Brothers. When performing a team action, you can invoke aspects created by one of your brothers (but not yourself) for +3 instead of +2.

(This can be easily made generic by replacing ‘brothers’ with ‘teammates’ or similar.)

This stunt doesn’t specify what action or skill you should use, but as it only gives an additional +1 in quite limited circumstances I think it works. And, more importantly, I think it would encourage players to create advantages for each other and perform more interesting moves.

Players could take this stunt individually, but to get the most out of it I think it should be available to all members of a team. Perhaps it could be attached to a team that has been written up like a character (per the Bronze Rule of Fate: You can treat everything like a character) with its own aspects and stunts that apply to all members. Or perhaps it could just be a free-standing stunt on the table.

Does this sound useful to you? How would you encourage player characters to bounce off each other more?

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5 thoughts on “Fastball Special: Creative teamwork in Fate

  1. Benj July 19, 2015 / 10:14 pm

    Yeah, if you want a game to focus on teamwork, then that seems like a good way to incentivise it. Another notion I was toying with was the idea that if an Aspect you’ve created still has its free invocation, and one of your allies uses it for a reroll, then that doesn’t use up the free invocation. Which I feel like I could probably explain more succinctly, but has some space as an idea.

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  2. mpduxbury July 20, 2015 / 4:58 pm

    It sounds like a cool idea for a game rule to have in play at all times, rather than a stunt that costs refresh. If that’s the kind of game you’re going for.

    I’ve actually found it really common for people to create advantages to boost other’s attacks, but it’s only really a desirable option for non-combat characters. For two combat characters, BOTH attacking is usually the better option. So it depends if you’re playing in a setting where everyone’s a fighter or not.

    Shout out here to Hunter: the Vigil (and Night’s Black Agents, for explicitly ripping off the idea) by having “team experience points” which is used specifically to buy team special abilities. Which I think is a really, really cool idea.

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    • Benj July 20, 2015 / 10:06 pm

      Team Milestones do sound like another good way to build group cohesion, yeah.

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  3. Stephen Morffew October 12, 2018 / 2:20 pm

    With the announcement that Google+ will be closing, I’m copying over some of the comments that people have made there about my blog posts.

    —–

    Paul Kießhauer:
    I personally like the 1:2 rule. I’ve started doing that in one of my Dresden Files games, when one of the players would roll a +4. I would give them the option to get an additional invoke on their aspect (basically what sws is now) or to get 2 additional invokes, but they couldn’t use it themselves.

    If you want to make it baseline, you could simply say that when someone creates an advantage and lets someone else use the free invoke, it automatically generates a boost that yet another player may use. That way, giving up the free invokes on your own advantages is almost always the better option, since it potentially doubles your outcome. I wouldn’t charge a stunt for that, since a player would still have to take that stunt and they could take more selfish ones instead.

    Stephen Morffew:
    +Paul Kießhauer, I hadn’t heard of the 1:2 rule before, thanks. Your baseline solution is more what I was looking for this time, though. It’s particularly interesting because it potentially allows four people to get bonuses off a single create advantage (if you succeeded with style and all the free invokes and boosts went to different people). Not sure if I like the idea of that or not yet.

    And yeah, I mention in the blog that even though I worded it as a stunt, it would be better if it applied to all players.

    Thanks for the comment!

    Paul Kießhauer:
    It’s not really an official rule, anyway, but I like the concept.

    Of course, you could also set up the scene in a certain way. In the Fastball example, maybe the opponent has an aspect like “no vulnerability below 50 feet”, because they are fighting a giant mech. That would mean that no attack at the lower parts of the creature would have any effect. To get around this, Colossus does an overcome action with his physique, for which he also has a stunt that gives him +2, so he’s best suited to do this. He doesn’t overcome this by knocking the thing down, but by throwing Wolverine up. If he succeeds on the overcome roll, Wolverine can attack until the mech throws him back down, reestablishing the aspect above.

    Richard Bellingham (Skimble):
    Using the Atomic Robo style of initiative (which was originally developed for Marvel Superheroes using the Fastball Special as an example) can help with this.

    Stephen Morffew:
    +Richard Bellingham​, I didn’t realise Atomic Robo used that sort of initiative. Anyway, I agree. I actually mentioned it in the blog post and gave a link to Fred Hicks’ explanation. It’s a very cool style of initiative.

    Richard Bellingham (Skimble):
    Yeah, I like it and I use it for all of my games. I’ve written it into Interface Zero’s Fate edition, too.

    Tom Drake:
    +Paul Kießhauer, I love the way you suggested letting someone else use the free invoke and having it generate a boost that someone else can use. We adopted it as a table rule immediately. However, two questions came up.

    One: Are the boosts generated by someone, not the originator, using the free invoke independent and based on teamwork or are they still tied to the situation aspect?

    Two: Can a teammate use one of the free invokes on the CA plus use the boost generated by a previous use of one of the free invokes, from the same CA, as a teamwork bonus?

    One of the players was calling the boost a ‘Teamwork’ bonus, to differentiate it from the free invoke of the CA. We played it that way, but it didn’t sit quite right with me, so we agreed that I would check it out.

    Again, love the rule and it made all the players (We are still new to Fate) suddenly begin using CAs and the teamwork bonus, particularly after I had the bad guys (three lieutenant types) use them to beat the snot out of one of the toughest characters!

    Paul Kießhauer
    +Tom Drake, I’m glad you like it.

    One: I would not make them independent from the advantage that created the boost, but I wouldn’t absolutely tie it to them either. I would default to having the boost be a secondary invoke on the aspect that the free invoke was on, but if the player does something that might make it plausible to change it, I would not have them stick to the aspect. Though the change should make some sort of sense, of course. An explosion can distract just as much as it can throw someone to their feet, so you could easily rename it like that.

    Two: As far as I know, boosts stack with everything, including invokes on the same aspect. Though boosts also should fade away rather quickly, since they really are just spur of the moment benefits rather than significant advantages, so stacking too many of them is not really something that should happen too often. If you stack a free invoke and a boost, you are basically saying that not only do you have an advantage, but you also get lucky in using that advantage for you, gaining you the bigger benefit. As long as it makes sense to stack them, stack them.

    Beating the snot out of the player to show them how well an underused rule works is one of my favorite teaching methods. 🙂

    Tom Drake:
    Thanks, +Paul Kießhauer.

    Yeah. When the player finally gad his character concede, she had used up all her stress boxes and all her consequences except for her Extreme. 1 more stress would have killed her! Cut it pretty darn close, didn’t she?

    Paul Kießhauer:
    +Tom Drake, That’s cutting it a bit close indeed. Though if you are not used to this houserule, which basically makes teamwork twice as good as it was before, you can quickly underestimate what’s coming your way.

    Like

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