It seems like every new RPG has a revolutionary way to prep adventures and campaigns, and Dungeon World is no exception. But, while I enjoy playing DW, with its 10-minute character creation (that’s only if you’re new to it) and very free and open narrative play style, there’s something about that I’m not the biggest fan of that I can’t quite put my finger on.
That’s no reason to not take some great ideas from it, though, right? As I said, DW has a new way to prep adventures that can be applied to just about any system. I’m not here to talk about the whole thing, though. If you want to read up on it, you can check out Sly Flourish’s post about adding DW fronts into D&D. Rather, this post is about grim portents and how well they can be integrated into Fate Core.
In case you don’t know, grim portents are the parts of the adventure design that lay out the sequence of events that happen when the bad guy isn’t being stopped. Generally, in DW, you design an adventure with 2 or more parties (known as fronts) striving toward a goal, and every single one of those is something bad that the players want to stop. There are steps the bad guys take along the way to their goal, and those usually leave behind some sign of what happened. Those signs are the grim portents. They can be used as a visual countdown toward the bad guy achieving his goal.
They happen when a bad guy is being left unchecked. That can be from the players dealing with something else or simply failing at dealing with the problem from the given front.
Look into DW if you want more info on their adventure design. There are different ways you can come up with grim portents as well, but it always works as a countdown to the final doom.
The Special Sauce
With a basic understanding of what a grim portent is and does, let’s look at a special way it can be integrated into Fate.
One of my favorite things about Fate is how, when you fail a roll, you can choose to succeed at a cost instead of a proper failure. Unfortunately, it can sometimes be difficult to come up with a proper cost for the success. So, what do you do? Trigger a grim portent! If the grim portent could be happening in the background while the players are doing what they’re doing, then simply accept the success with a cost and don’t tell the players anything. They can discover what happened later on, if it fits the narrative, but that’s story-dependent.
The Secret Ingredient
While I’m at it, there’s another, very similar, tactic you can take with succeeding at a cost. You can tip the scales away from the players’ favor. This, again, is a secret cost. You tell the player that they get their success with a cost, but don’t tell them the cost. They’ll find out soon enough, anyway.
Let me give you an example; a bit back, I was running a game of Fate where the players had to negotiate between two rival towns flanking a river, stopping the mages from going ahead with their plans to summon a great beast to destroy the other town and stopping the other town full of cultists from releasing their foul god’s minions to destroy their rival. The cultists were pissed at the mages because the mages supposedly would create chimeras (the generic version, where you simply combine different animals into one) which would escape (they were actually being released) and wreak havoc on the cultists’ town. So the players went to talk to the mages and find out who was responsible for creating the chimeras. They talked to the head of the order, who feigned that he was unaware of such goings-on and directed the players to a specific mage who had a strong affinity with chimeras and would likely be the one doing it. The players were escorted to the man’s house by some guards. During the interaction, a player tried to succeed at a cost, and I decided, without telling the players, that the guards had decided to stop going along with the farce and take out the players, since they were being extra nosy, thus ending negotiations. I let the players continue a little longer before having the guards attack the players from behind.
It may be difficult to come up with ways of doing this as well, but it adds an additional option to your repertoire.
I hope you’re able to take this advice and use it to improve your Fate games in the future. Leave your comments below with your thoughts on how to improve this. Please, if you DO comment, do it here, on this site, not on any site you may have been redirected from to get here. Thank you.