Recently I was talking to a friend about sci-fi roleplaying games in a present-day setting – not space opera or cyberpunk, but social science fiction led by issues more than characters. Since this was something they were looking to explore in a short game rather than a fully fledged campaign, I started to consider if a series of one-offs might be the best way to go, and how Fate could be adapted further for one-shot play. I’ve called this a “Black Mirror” hack, because it’s the example of this kind of thing I know best, but since each episode of the show is entirely standalone, no familiarity with the source material is required to try it out.
- At the beginning of play, the GM introduces the session’s theme. This will probably be some kind of dilemma, new technology or developing social issue that they think would be interesting to explore through the lens of dystopian science fiction. After explaining the basics of the issue and setting, the GM then expresses this as an aspect, which works in exactly the same way as a game aspect. Examples: “Everything on Record“, “Addicted to Distraction“, “The Horror of Car Crash Television“.
- Keeping in mind the issue the GM wants to explore, the players then begin character generation. Each player creates three aspects for their character: a high concept, a trouble, and one backstory aspect. Backstory aspects that relate to other players’ characters are a good idea. High concepts and troubles that relate to the theme are even better.
- Characters do not have skills; by default, they roll Fair (+2) for everything. Instead, choose three things to be “good at” and three things to be “bad at”. These lists should balance each other out, so if you pick something really broad to be good at, you should choose something equally broad to be bad at. Also consider that some abilities are much more useful in certain types of games than others – in a post-apocalyptic setting, being “good at Marksmanship” could be really useful, but in a relationship drama it could be completely irrelevant. The GM is your best guide in this regard.
- Things you’re good at are essentially stunts. You get +2 every time you roll them, for a total of Great (+4).
- Things you’re bad at are essentially aspects, albeit ones that are only ever invoked against you. You get -2 every time you roll them, for a total of Mediocre (+0), but get a fate point at the end of the scene everytime you do so.
- You can increase the number of things you’re good at and bad at as play goes on as much as you like. However, each thing you’re good at must be counter balanced by a corresponding thing to be bad at.
STRESS AND CONSEQUENCES
- All types of stress (physical, mental, other) are marked on the same track, like in Fate Accelerated. Characters get a 1-stress box, a 2-stress box and a 3-stress box.
- Characters have a mild consequence slot (soaks 2 stess) and a moderate consequence slot (soaks 4 stress).
- Characters can also take on severe consequence in play (soaks 6 stress), but doing so overwrites on of your personal aspects, the same way that extreme consequences usually do. Extreme consequences are not in play, except as detailed below.
HORRIBLE, HORRIBLE COMPELS
- If a GM or player proposes a compel based on the session’s theme aspect, the cost of rejecting that compel is 2 fate points instead of 1. As always, if a player proposes a compel, it is the responsibility of the GM to moderate if that compel is reasonable.
- If a GM or player proposes a compel that could work equally well with both the session’s theme aspect and the compelled character’s high concept, it costs them 3 fate points to reject the compel instead of 1.
- If a GM or player proposes a compel that could work equally well with both the session’s theme aspect and the compelled character’s trouble, then it can be proposed by a player or GM for free. The compelled player receives no fate points for accepting the compel, but must pay 2 fate points to reject it.
- If a GM or player proposes a compel that could work equally well with both the session’s theme aspect AND the compelled character’s high concept AND the compelled character’s trouble, then it can be proposed by a player or GM for free, and has a higher cost to reject it. The compelled player receives no fate points for accepting the compel, but must pay 3 fate points to reject it.
- A player can, instead of spending fate points to pay off compels, suffer consequences instead. Taking a moderate consequence earns you 1 fate point to buy off a compel. A severe consequence earns you as many fate points as required to buy off a compel.
- If a character ever suffers a severe consequence, and rewrites their high concept aspect in a way that reflects how the stress of the theme has fundamentally deconstructed their character’s identity… then it qualifies as an extreme consequence. If the consequence was suffered in response to stress, the consequence soaks 8 stress instead of 6. If the consequence was suffered to pay off a compel, then the character gains a fate point for free.
- When playing the game as a series, establish a rotation so that everyone takes their turn as GM. Whoever is GM for that session gets to set the theme.
- Whoever ends a session with the most fate points, whether alive or dead, starts the next session with an extra fate point. If next session’s GM ended with the most fate points, they get an extra one to spend at any point in their session. Good luck!
The new rules for setup should get players into the game as fast as possible; the new rules for stress make characters more vulnerable, both to increase the stakes in a single session (it take a lot to take out a Fate character ordinarily) and to emphasise suffering in line with the genre’s dark tone. The new compels are another way of keeping the characters, and therefore the plot, as closely tied to the theme as possible. Though I’ve not playtested this at all, my prediction is that by the end of sessions, when character agendas in relation to the theme are reaching their ultimate conclusion, players will just stop rolling dice – compels will become the default method of getting other characters to do what you want. Hopefully, this should be fine. Though players are incentivised to accept these narrative contributions by others, they can always choose to suffer consequences instead to keep going. The emphasis being on the word “suffer”.