by Jacob

Why I Don’t Like Fate’s Defend Action, And What I Plan To Do About It

Last week, I posted about a new idea I had for an action, called Counter. This ignited a little bit of debate, but all in with good intentions (I admit that I got a little hot-headed, but that’s my natural reaction to being disagreed with – I’m working on that – luckily it took so long to write my response that I had cooled down a bit). Also, the debate led me to really think (as debates are often good at doing), and it helped me to realize that I’m really not a big fan of the Defend action.

There are two things in the Fate rulebook that I can use to back up my dislike towards Defend. First, the section labeled “What Makes a Good Fate Game?” lists Proactivity, Competency, and Drama as the 3 aspects of what makes a good Fate game. The Defend action is not proactive, it’s purely reactive, and the only option when someone Attacks you or tries to Create an Advantage on you. And unlike the other three actions, the Defend action can’t be used to describe a huge variety of actions (unless you get a Success with Style, but then the idea behind Defend can get in the way of coming up with ways to make it cool), which shows a lack of Competency to counter instead of just sucking it up. The Defend action is also less dramatic in that there are no hard choices involved. You either Defend or don’t, and not doing so is a bad decision almost always.

The other thing in the rulebook that backs me up in this decision is the Golden Rule: “Decide what you’re trying to accomplish first, then consult the rules to help you do it.” If the GM says “The orc champion charges at you, what do you do?” (A much more proactive, open, and leading question for the GM to ask than “The orc champion charges at you, how do you Defend?”), and the player decides they’d like to stick their spear out to stop him, how do you rule that? A defend action now, then an attack? What if the player just had their turn and has to wait a long time for their initiative? That leads to either saying “tough luck” or else using the Silver Rule for a special case. It’s great that the Silver Rule exists for this type of situation, but I feel that if the Defend action was replaced with an action that covered more narrative ground, this situation would happen a lot more.

My Proposal

So, in light of this, let’s remove the Defend action. We’ll be replacing it with something similar to Counter, with a few caveats. First, since there’s no Defend action for it to be compared with, there’s no reason for the -2 on the roll. Yes, the overall power of the following actions will be better than the old Defend action, but as long as it’s not better that the other remaining actions, that’s fine. Second, I’ll be splitting the Counter into Counter-Advantage and Counter-Attack, which will be more explicitly explained (with a few changes to the effects as well), rather than just saying gaining the benefits of Create Advantage or Attack.

EDIT: Also, one thing I’d like to make certain is clear is that either defensive action can be used for countering either offensive action.  Counter-Attack doesn’t mean that you are countering an attack, it means that you are countering with an attack. Counter-Advantage doesn’t mean you are countering Create Advantage, it means you are countering by creating an advantage.

Counter-Advantage

  • When you fail at a counter-advantage, you suffer the consequences of whatever you were trying to prevent without creating your advantage.
  • When you tie a counter-advantage, don’t suffer the consequences, but grant your opponent a boost
  • When you succeed at a counter-advantage, you successfully avoid the consequences you were trying to prevent and gain a boost.
  • When you succeed with style at a counter-advantage, you successfully avoid the consequences you were trying to prevent and create a situation aspect with a free invocation.

Counter-Attack

  • When you fail at a counter-attack, you suffer the consequences of whatever you were trying to prevent without causing damage.
  • When you tie a counter-attack, don’t suffer the consequences, but grant your opponent a boost
  • When you succeed at a counter-attack, you successfully avoid the consequences you were trying to prevent and gain a boost.
  • When you succeed with style at a counter-attack, you successfully avoid the consequences you were trying to prevent and inflict a hit on your target equal to the number of shifts you got -2

As you may notice, the effects of you attacking or creating an advantage act as if they were one level lower than their usual counterparts. This helps with balancing out the added bonus of avoiding getting hit as well. I really wish there was an easy way to make it so that the Counter- actions could follow the ‘succeed at a major cost’ model for failed rolls, but there isn’t (that I can think of). That’s one of my favorite options in Fate that makes everything more fun. When I play, I always choose to succeed at a cost rather than fail since it’s more interesting (and my GM comes up with some awesome ‘costs’).

Hidden Benefit

One side-effect of switching to this system is more constant action. Some of that extra action is obvious – these actions are actually ACTIONS instead of just dice rolling to see the result – but there’s some hidden action. Consider this: there’s a higher potential for creating free invokes, which means players will be ‘wasting’ fewer turns building them up to deliver bigger blows. Also, there’s a higher rate of damage exchange (due to you inflicting hits with counter-attacking with style as well as less time creating invokes), which will usually end up making for shorter conflicts, which means you can move the story along. And that speed, interestingly, does NOT come at the expense awesome action, but rather with cutting out the parts where there isn’t any (and actually potentially adding more in its place).

So… How Do I Defend?

What’s that? You just want to put your shield up and block the hit? Use Counter-Advantage and fill in the blank of the boost or aspect just as you normally would have if you had a Success with Style with Defend. As a side-note, you should probably try and be more creative than that.

I kid. I kid.

Thoughts?

Do you agree with my arguments? Do you agree with my proposal? Let me know what you think in the comments below. And be nice about it 🙂





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