TinyFate rules: Rob Donoghue stole my thunder, and it’s wonderful

After my last blog post, when I talked about using Rob Donoghue’s TinyFate and expanding it into a fully functioning game, I had a whole series of blog posts planned. My next post was going to be a write-up of the rules of TinyFate as a full game.

Before I could do that, though, I was ninja’d by Rob Donoghue himself. Rob saw my last post (awesome) and shared it on Google Plus (awesome!) and now he’s decided to write up TinyFate himself (super awesome!). He’s done two drafts so far (here’s the first and here’s the second), and it looks like a cool game even if it isn’t exactly the way that I ran it. (Rob even credits me at the end! Sooo awesome.)

As a result, I’ve decided not to write up a document for the rules that I used in my version. However, I am still going to post my rules reference that I used for the Monster Mash Meets the Martians one-shot. This is the document that I gave to my players, so it’s not a complete game. It leaves out a lot of the set up and GM’s responsibilities, which the players didn’t need to know, and some conventions were established during play that haven’t been added (e.g. the default difficulty is +2).

I think it could be interesting as a compare-and-contrast with Rob Donoghue’s version, so I’ve added some of the major differences and my review of them at the end of this post.

Without further ado, here is the rules reference for Monster Mash Meets the Martians!


Monster Mash Meets the Martians!

Rules Reference

Summary

This game is based on a simplified version of a roleplaying game called Fate Core.

Mostly, we’ll just have a conversation around the table. You’ll all control one character, saying what character says and does, and I will (basically) control everything else. Together, we’ll tell a story about these characters and hopefully have some fun.

To make things a little more interesting, the game involves an element of uncertainty when somebody tries something that has a chance of going wrong in an interesting way. That’s when we turn to the rules to find out what happens.

The rules of this simplified game have three key components:

  1. The dice
  2. Aspects
  3. Fate points

The dice

When you want your character to do something that might work or might not (and which will be interesting either way!), I’ll tell you to roll the four Fate Dice that I’ve given you. These dice are marked on two sides with a plus symbol, on two sides with a minus symbol, and two sides are blank. Always roll all four dice at the same time.

Sides with a plus symbol have a value of +1, sides with a minus symbol have a value of -1, and blank sides have a value of 0. Simply add up the value of the uppermost faces to get your total.

You can increase this total by spending Fate points on aspects.

For each thing you want to do, your total will need to be greater or equal to either a target number that I set or the dice total of someone who is rolling against you.

Aspects

This game is about modelling characters, a world and a story through words, and words have a big effect in the rules too. You’ll see a lot of short phrases in the game. These phrases are called Aspects.

Aspects reflect something about the fictional world we’re talking about. They can be attached to characters, objects, places, situations, or the game as a whole. Those six phrases on the character sheets I’ve given you? Those are aspects too.

In fact, those aspects on your sheets are the only ones that can’t be changed during play. Any other aspect can be changed by your characters. Say there’s an aspect of ‘Priceless hardwood furniture’. Well, give Frankenstein an axe and he could change that aspect to ‘Pile of hardwood splinters’.

You can add new aspects too. Say Imhotep’s bandages are torn and he needs to repair them. It sure would be useful to have a needle and thread. Imhotep can have a look around, and perhaps he’ll find a needle and thread in a nearby ‘Sewing kit’.

Or you change aspects on other characters. If a vampire hunter is ‘Armed and dangerous’, Countess Zaleska can always try to steal their weapon and change the aspect to ‘Unarmed and defenceless’. If L.Talbot is being chased by a frenzied gang of Twilight fans, it’s always possible to shout “Look over there!” and slap them with a ‘Distracted’ aspect.

Be creative! You can do anything you can think of, as long as it makes sense in the story.

Changing and adding aspects will often require you to make a roll, but not always. Sometimes there will be something in the fiction that just isn’t reflected by an aspect yet. If you notice something and want to use it, maybe we can add without a roll. We’ll play it by ear. However, when you change or add an aspect by making a roll, you get an ‘Aspect point’ on that aspect. (These work like Fate points, see below, but they can only be spent on the aspect they are attached to.)

Fate points

Aspects are important because you need aspects in order to spend your Fate points (represented here with these fancy poker chips).

You can spend Fate points on a relevant aspect to do the following things:

  1. Give yourself a +2 to any roll you make. (BUT, the first time you do this in a roll, you don’t even need to spend a Fate point. It’s free!)
  1. Reroll all four dice.
  1. Make a declarative statement in the following way: “Because of [this aspect], it makes sense that [something interesting happens].” Examples of such statements might be “Because the Twilight fans are distracted, it makes sense that L.Talbot can escape.” Or it might be “Because Imhotep is faster than he looks, it makes sense that he catches the last train before it leaves. Phew!”
    However, note that other people (including me!) can make declarative statements against you. If you make a declarative statement against someone, you give them the Fate point. Perhaps I’d give you a Fate point and say “Because Queen Tera is fond of cats, it makes sense that she’d go and look at the adorable kittens in the window of this pet shop instead of… what was she doing? Probably wasn’t important. Kitty!” Or maybe it could be “Because the building is on fire, it makes sense that the floor gives way under your feet.” Fortunately, you can also…
  1. Buy off a declarative statement that you don’t like. (This is the only one that doesn’t require you to have a relevant aspect!) That is, someone suggests a declarative statement and offers you a Fate point, but you don’t want that thing to happen. Instead, you can refuse the Fate point and pay them a Fate point so that it doesn’t happen. (Yes, this means that you can gain Fate points by suggesting declarative statements that other people buy off!)

You can only spend one Fate point per aspect on a given roll. However, if you have ‘Aspect points’ from having previously rolled to add or change a relevant aspect on the table, you can spend as many as you like.

And don’t forget that the first Fate point you use on a roll is free!


Follow-up and review

There are a lot of differences between my version of TinyFate and Rob Donohue’s. A surprising amount considering that we were both using the same idea. Here are a few that I think are most notable, and my thoughts on them.

Free invokes

Rob’s game does not use free invokes on aspects (which I called ‘Aspect points’ in my rules reference). That’s a great move, and simplifies play a lot. My players found them very complicated to understand. I would probably take them out if I was running the game again.

Re-rolling

Rob’s game ignores the possibility that Fate points can be spent to re-roll all four Fate dice. That’s a neat simplification, and I’d probably go with it too.

Outcomes

The outcomes in Rob’s game are:

  • adding an aspect,
  • removing an aspect, and
  • resolving a scene.

In my version, the outcomes were:

  • adding an aspect, and
  • changing an aspect from one thing to another.

This is partly to do with the fact that my game used free invokes and Rob’s doesn’t. That is, outcomes in my game had to end with an aspect on the table to put a free invoke on. I also have a fondness for more aspects on the table, and only removing them when they are made irrelevant by the narrative. (In Rob’s game, aspects are cleared away at the end of every scene/conflict, and his sections on aspects focus a lot on character aspects and barely on other aspects on the table, which I treated as equally important.)

However, the change in outcomes also reflects the fact that I was flexible about what I permitted as aspects, so that creating and changing aspects could resolve issues. (In one game, an aspect was a whole paragraph describing resolution of a scene with werewolf charges and ray guns and Ride of the Valkyries playing in the background. That paragraph was pure awesome.)

Status card

Rob added a ‘status card’ for each player, representing temporary aspects that have been placed on the player characters (basically the equivalent of Consequences from Fate Core). It’s an interesting idea, but I don’t think the status card is necessary, as long as it is clear that aspects can be placed on anything, even player characters. If I was rewriting my game, I would make that possibility more explicit, but players understood this during the game.

Compels and declarative statements

Rob does include cards on ‘Using Aspects outside of Confict’ and ‘Making an Offer outside of Conflict’, but these are later in the rules and not as prominent as my rules on making delcarative statements with aspects. That rule was important to me to give players agency in the game, and it was also important to allow it with any aspect on the table, not just character aspects.

I intentionally cut down the standard compel template to blur the line between compels and hostile invokes. (In play, people often preferred to roll than spend a Fate point, but the option was there.)

Setting difficulties

Lastly, there is a lot of difference between GM setting difficulties in my version and Rob’s version.

In my version, GM starts with as many Fate points as there are players; in Rob’s version, the GM starts with three times this much (as many Fate points as the players have in total).

In my game, the standard difficulty was +2, and for anything other than this the GM could roll and invoke aspects with their Fate points just like a player. All spent Fate points go to the player in question after the roll, and the GM rolled to set the difficulty before the player (so theoretically the player could agree to fail the roll and receive a bunch of Fate points). Ties count as success for the active player. Players could also roll against each other using the exact same rules: one sets a difficulty with a roll, the other tries to equal or exceed this difficulty. There is no negotiation, because all Fate points are spent and aspects invoked as soon as the roll has been made.

Rob’s game is more complicated but also more nuanced. Detrimental aspects give a constant difficulty of +2, but since aspects on the table are cleared away at the end of each scene/conflict in Rob’s game, the GM’s responsibility for adding aspects to the table is important. Furthermore, the GM’s pool of Fate points change depending on whether they add aspects beneficial to the players (GM gains a Fate point) or detrimental to the players (GM loses a Fate point). Then the GM can spend Fate points later on to make it even harder.

I would need to try Rob’s version in play, but my main problem with it on conceptual level is that the options for the GM gaining and losing Fate points don’t have the same value. The GM can spend a Fate point at the start of a scene to give a constant +2 difficulty on every single roll the players make this scene. On the other hand, if the GM puts down an aspect beneficial to the players then players need to spend a Fate point to make use of the +2. It’s worse for the players if the GM puts down as many aspects as possible of both types, and this goes against my desire to have more aspects all the time.

Conclusion

TinyFate is a lot of fun, and I am incredibly glad that Rob Donoghue is working on it. It was his idea in the first place, and I can’t wait to see how he refines it in subsequent drafts. TinyFate is already one of my favourite versions of Fate, and I want it to go a long way. Fingers crossed!

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