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 Three Four 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:

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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3 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.

    Like

  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.

      Like

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