Tweaking Contests

Jan. 4, 2017, 9:32 a.m.

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Last night, I ran my first game to playtest a new setting that I am writing for Fate Core. The setting is a high fantasy world at the brink of international conflict with a focus on exploration. For the first session though, I kept things light and simple so that I could teach a new player the rules as we went and so that we could all get to know their characters. One tool that came in very handy for this was the contest.

What is a Contest?

A contest in Fate is a mini-game, in a way, that lets the players discover the outcome of a an action (or several of actions) through a series of exchanges. It can be used to easily simulate a sporting event, a car chase, or a political debate. During each exchange of the contest, each side rolls a relevant skill against each other. Whoever has the highest roll gets a victory. The default is that the winner is the first to reach 3 victories, but this can be changed to accommodate different types of situations.

The Drinking Contest

In last night's game, I threw in a drinking contest to give us some time to get to know the characters a little. It had no plot-moving purpose, but it was still a lot of fun! With the default setup for a Contest, it would be difficult to justify the narrative with the mechanics. How do you get three victories in drinking contest? Drinking contests only focus on one victory, and that is when one last person is still drinking after everyone else has made a mess of themselves. Instead of counting victories, drinking contests focus much more on the failures of everyone else.

So to create a drinking contest for Fate, there are two things that we need to change: the opposition and the rules for winning. The opposition is easy. For this I used an increasing static difficulty. I started at Mediocre (+0) and increased the difficulty by one each exchange. The rules for winning were changed so that whenever someone fails, they fail to down the drink and are out of the contest. Success just means you get to keep playing and success with style grants you an invoke of a boost which can be called something like: "You call that a drink?" My group had a ton of fun with this. Marv, the NPC that challenged them, held out until the end, but ultimately lost to Avler, the human blacksmith.

The One-upping Contest

Another type of modified contest that my group ran into was to tell the best story. Again, this was not to push plot, but to let the players get used to things. Marv has been on this boat for a bit and just wanted something to gamble over. Marv started off by telling a story about how he knows mermaids are real and then asked if anyone could top it.

The changes to create this contest were simple--lower the number of victories needed to win. In this case, I lowered that number all the way down to one. Whoever told the best story won the contest and whatever strange prize Marv was offering. This also was a lot of fun and got the players talk about things that we did not know about their characters.

In Conclusion

Counting failures, passive (and increasing) opposition, and one-victoy wins are just a few ideas to make contests more versatile in your Fate games. I used them all just to tell us a little more about the characters, but there is nothing stopping you from using these tweaks in more important and dramatic situations. What are some ways that you have hacked contests for your games? Let me know below, and happy hacking!

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