There have been many times where I’ve tried to think up how I would stat up vehicles or cannons or other items that the characters use using Fate. I tried to figure out how I would compromise between the abilities of the item and the abilities of the character using it. For so long, I was doing it in a way that I now consider wrong. And I hope to prevent you from doing so as well.
Just to be clear, when I say the right way and the wrong way, I don’t really mean it. I’m just saying that the “right” way works better with understanding what’s actually happening, narratively and realistically. As with just about everything, there are pros and cons, which I will get to.
What is the Wrong Way?
I’ll be explaining the whole idea using mechs as an example, since they’re really versatile in what they can do. Normally, someone making the mech hack would just have the mecha give all sorts of bonuses to using the skills required to use it. Every single mech would give a bunch of bonuses. Even a mech that can barely move would just give the lowest bonus (+0, most likely) to skill checks to Pilot it. The worst gun (when it comes to aiming/targeting) you can put on a mech would just have the lowest bonus to Shooting of +0.
The Right Way?
So, I propose a little bit of a change. Almost everything will provide a penalty instead of a bonus. If the mech barely moves, it should provide a steep penalty, not a lack of bonus. If it’s really difficult to aim a gun, Shooting with it should be difficult.
So, what’s the baseline of +0? And is there ever a case for bonuses? A bonus of +0 should be used when the use of the item is so automatic and so fluid that it feels like it’s doing exactly what you are telling it to do all the time. When a gun always shoots where you point it, without ever having to compensate for anything, then it gets a +0. When piloting a mech feels completely natural, it gets a +0.
What about positive bonuses? They are possible, but the item has to be helping you in order to get a bonus. Auto-targeting and locking mechanisms can give a bonus to Shooting, assuming they’re not a hindrance to use. Predictive algorithms and artificial intelligence systems can help you pilot the mech as well. Again, that’s only if they’re not more of a hindrance than a help, though. That’s how an item can actually give a real bonus.
Pros and Cons
The biggest problem with using my “right” way is that nobody likes penalties to rolls, and that’s largely what you’re going to be giving them if you do it my way. But I feel that if you stick with small numbers, it’s the best way to go. It models reality in a fairly easy-to-understand way.
The biggest problem with using the “wrong” way is that, if you ever come up with something that’s actually worse than your baseline version, you have to go negative. You were trying to make it so that you didn’t go negative, but it doesn’t take much to destroy that idea.
So that’s the mini-revelation I had about a week ago, and I thought I’d share it. Do you have any thoughts on it? Do you think I’m being too much of a stickler for reality? Do you think it’s genius? Do you not even care? Let me know in the comments below.