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Fate Codex

Campaign Season

by André La Roche

So. You want to change the world. War for a vacant throne? Pass legislation to protect us from the metahuman menace known as “superheroes”? Run for president of the galactic colonies? Or maybe you pretend to be an “aw shucks” good ol’ boy in Congress who only craves power. If you want nations to listen to your voice, or just those in smoke-filled back rooms, it sounds like you’re ready to begin the Campaign Season.

Defining a Campaign

A Campaign uses the Fate fractal—the idea that anything in Fate can be treated as a character with skills, aspects, stress track, and stunts—to chart the success of players whose characters are elite political operatives; it measures how successful players are in changing public opinion.

A Campaign represents an overarching social mission that the players struggle to achieve in response to the game’s Big Issues (page 22 of Fate Core System), and the group decides what kind of coordinated efforts it represents. Is it passing legislation? Is it a treaty negotiation at a political summit? Is it running an election, while rigging an ambassadorial appointment? Tracking the tide of a war of succession? Coordinating a bake sale?

Players can be embroiled in multiple Campaigns at once. New Campaigns emerge through play when the group agrees that story advancements render it appropriate. In fact, it’s ideal to have different Campaigns that the players shuttle between, weaving different agendas in and out of focus.

Game Creation Guidelines

During game creation, the GM and players should discuss the initial Campaigns that the PCs will engage in. Do the PCs collaborate on the same Campaign, or are they elite operatives working on behalf of competing Campaigns at cross-purposes? For more in-depth advice on the game creation session, see Leonard Balsera’s Game Creation Tips: Managing the Conversation in The Fate Codex, Volume 1, Issue 1.

Are the Campaign Rules Even Warranted?

The first question to answer is whether the players want their approach to solving the game’s Big Issues to even require building a Campaign. Theoretically, every game could use these rules to model player progress in confronting the game’s Big Issues. That would be wasteful, though. The Campaign rules really shine when the players want their characters to be close to the ebb and flow of public opinion, to really see the effects of their victories and failures play out across society. While a heroic group of adventurers will certainly affect the world over the course of their career, reminders of their larger influence will be sporadic. They aren’t steeped in the daily society-wide measures of their actions the way that a lobbyist, small-town mayor, or ambitious prince is.

Scope of Politics

How political do you want the game to be? First and foremost, a Fate game is supposed to be fun for everyone at the table. Inherently political games run the risk of pushing people into uncomfortable emotional terrain, but then again, maybe that’s precisely what everyone at the table wants. The game creation session is a vital time for everyone to speak up and say what issues they consider off the table, or at least want to be treated with respect, not lampooned. We’re all friends here at the table, so make sure it’s a fulfilling experience for everyone.

In games focusing on politics of medieval succession, the overarching political issues are likely so abstract from present issues that there’s little risk of pushing other players’ emotional buttons. However, even something as fantastic as “metahuman registration” can devolve into thinly-veiled mimicry of real-world politics. Be aware of each other’s lines, and be forgiving if someone crosses your lines—it likely wasn’t intentional. A little respect and forgiveness goes a long way. Feel free to revisit this conversation as things progress.

In modern political games, it’s tempting to use knowledge of policy and legislation to add detail to the process. A little amount of detail is nice, e.g., “This bill will help national parks at the expense of teachers!” but the more detailed you get, the more you’re likely to lose the attention of players who aren’t politics junkies. It’s best to develop just a few ideas of who a bill helps or hurts and how.

Fractal Play

So how do you make the Campaign rules complement, rather than overshadow, individual characters? One way to do this is to have players roleplay their individual missions and objectives as the key to unlocking certain Campaign rolls.

Your Campaign can’t attack using its Publicize skill until the player characters have found a new communications director to replace the suspiciously missing one. Likewise, your players will need to be successful in using their Provoke and Rapport skills to rally protestors within the community before your Campaign can attack using its Mobilize skill. Or perhaps that Grand Banquet you hope to throw using Funding requires you to perform a few personal favors for major donors.

Think of it this way: player missions represent the core events that set the Campaign’s public actions into motion.

Initial Campaign Creation

The initial Campaign is created during game creation by the GM and players. As in-game events result in the creation of new Campaigns, the GM can either create the write-up of those Campaigns, or delegate it to the players to do between sessions and approve it at the start of the next game session—whatever works best for your group.

Campaigns are written up much like characters.

Name the Campaign

The Campaign name, though not an aspect, is a way of tracking what a Campaign is focused on achieving. Examples include “Colonial Presidency,” “Stack the Deck,” and “Nimby.” See below for full write-ups of these examples.

Create Campaign Aspects

Framing Aspect: Much like the high concept for characters, the framing aspect is the overarching direction of the Campaign—the rallying cry of the faithful. Examples include Colonies United!, Everyone’s a Stepping Stone, or We Don’t Want It!

Counterframe Aspect: Much like the trouble aspect for characters, the counterframe aspect represents the inherent and obvious weaknesses of a Campaign. Examples include, Time Is Ripe for Independence, Circular Firing Squad, or Just a Wee Bit Overreactionary.

Other Aspects: Like character creation, each player takes turns creating an aspect for the Campaign and explaining its significance. The group determines how many additional aspects are needed, based on how large and far-reaching the Campaign is.

Influence Stress

Each Campaign has a stress track which measures influence stress. The influence stress track represents how your Campaign is weathering the slings and arrows of the opposition in the eyes of the public. Influence stress can be affected by the actions of other Campaigns or of individuals. Each Campaign starts out with one stress box, plus one stress box per Campaign aspect. Influence stress works just like a character’s physical and mental stress track with one giant caveat: it can never heal unless the Campaign possesses the Damage Control stunt. The news cycle and public opinion are unforgiving.

Campaign Consequences

Like character consequences, each Campaign has a -2, -4, and -6 slot. Just like consequences suffered by characters, these can soak up stress. As with influence stress, Campaign consequences don’t heal.

Campaign Skills

Campaigns all share the same four skills (see below), and players decide together how to rank each skill along the following levels of the skill ladder with one skill per ladder rung: Average (+1), Fair (+2), Good (+3), Great (+4).

Skill Timing

Discuss whether a Campaign can use its skills once per scene, or once per milestone (minimum of once per session, or more frequently if multiple milestones occur in a session). Campaigns designed to be brief and span days or weeks (bake sale, treaty summit) should allow rolls once per scene. Campaigns designed to be extended and last months or years (presidential election, wars) should allow rolls once per milestone.

Fate Points

Campaigns have no fate points. Characters who work on Campaigns can use their own fate points to affect Campaigns.

Campaign Stunts

Each campaign has three stunts, chosen from the list following.

Single Campaign game

The default assumption is that eventually multiple Campaigns will be in play at any given time, fighting and competing against one another. If you want to streamline this, it’s easy to track only the Campaign that the players support. Using this option, the players’ Campaign can be harmed directly by NPCs. Instead of having opposing Campaigns attack, have attack and defense rolls be made by key NPCs using the skill that makes the most sense.

A middle ground is to use the Nimby Campaign provided below. The Nimby Campaign is designed to provide general opposition to just about anything. Just rename it to “Space Invasion,” “Concerned PTA,” “Majority Political Party,” or whatever represents the opposed interests.

Campaign Skills

All Campaigns have the same four skills: Funding, Mobilize, Publicize, and Subterfuge. A Campaign can use its skills to affect the social mood and people’s conventional wisdom surrounding the Big Issues.

Advantages created by Campaigns are powerful and, depending upon skill timing, last until the next scene or milestone. A Campaign can make one attack per scene or milestone, in accordance with its skill timing.

Funding

This skill represents the Campaign’s material resources. It could be a king’s horde, galactic credits, shells, drachma—whatever the currency, this skill represents how much your Campaign wields.

Overcome: Like the Resources skill, Funding allows Campaigns to purchase solutions to problems.

Create an Advantage: You use Funding to create advantages that reflect pouring money into local economies (A Turkey in Every Oven) or use conspicuous displays of wealth to impress supporters and the public (Grand Banquet). You can also use Funding to declare that your Campaign has something on hand, or to acquire it quickly.

Attack: Funding isn’t used for attacks.

Defend: Funding isn’t used to defend.

Mobilize

This skill represents the raw physical power of a Campaign’s believers and operatives. It could represent highly-paid attorneys, skilled operatives, grassroots volunteers, or trained armies.

Overcome: Your Campaign can overcome obstacles related to mobilizing its operatives such as canvassing a neighborhood, protesting an event, or organizing a bake sale. Opposed Campaigns use their own Mobilize skill to resist this roll.

Create an Advantage: Use this skill to create advantages related to your ability to mobilize your followers such as Power to the People, Angry Mob, or Disciplined Army.

Attack: Mobilize can be rolled to represent the combined might of your followers attacking another Campaign by canvassing, coordinating staffer efforts, lawsuits, or good ol’ fashioned fisticuffs.

Defend: You can use Mobilize to defend against attacks made by other Campaigns using the Mobilize skill.

Publicize

This skill represents a Campaign’s ability to spread its message effectively. It could utilize media, runners, and town criers, or an informal web of gossip and rumors.

Overcome: You can spread messages that are harmful to your enemies or helpful to your Campaign. You can inspire or terrify the public with your message. Enemy Campaigns oppose with Subterfuge.

Create an Advantage: You can create advantages that reflect public opinion such as Shocked, Inspired, or Rebellious.

Attack: Publicize can be used to attack a rival campaign’s ­influence stress.

Defend: Using the media is just as crucial for defending as it is for attacking. This skill can be used to defend against attacks made by another Campaign’s Publicize skill.

Subterfuge

This skill represents the Campaign’s ability to manipulate behind-the-scenes events. These are the unsavory actions that Campaigns take that they typically don’t want known.

Overcome: Use Subterfuge so that your Campaign can bypass situations in sneaky or underhanded ways, such as snooping through the opposition’s private documents, hacking computer systems, embedding spies, or engaging in blackmail.

Create an Advantage: Subterfuge can be used to create advantages that reflect some sort of hidden benefit such as Shapeshifter Agents, Trojan Horse Virus, or Bribed Official.

Attack: Subterfuge itself isn’t used to attack, but to position your people to make the most effective attacks.

Defend: Subterfuge can be used defensively against Publicize attacks, as you bury unfavorable stories beneath blustery arguments and distractions.

Campaign Stunts

Campaigns choose three of the following stunts. Characters can take these stunts too, granting their ability to any Campaigns they work on. This represents the characters’ status as highly-valued and coveted Campaign operatives.

Beacon of Hope: The Campaign radiates inspiration for a more prosperous future. The Campaign gains an extra free invoke when using Publicize or Funding to create advantages premised on a better future such as Plan for Prosperity, I Will End This War, or A Golden Age Is Near.

Damage Control: The Campaign is exceptionally resilient. Once per scene or milestone (based on the Campaign’s skill timing), one of its operatives can spend a fate point to clear one box of influence stress.

Scandal!: The Campaign is ruthless about exploiting damaging information—love affairs, buried secrets, or hidden hypocrisies. When attacking by highlighting an opposing Campaign’s scandalous or hidden information, you deal an extra shift of influence stress.

Work the News: The Campaign is exceptionally connected to the media, and knows how to broadcast its message. This stunt grants +2 to Publicize when spreading the Campaign’s message. This bonus can be used on Subterfuge rolls by Campaigns with the Friends in Low Places stunt.

Friends in Low Places: This Campaign has connections it would rather not publicize. Perhaps those connections are with criminal organizations, or incredibly unpopular figures. Either way, those connections grant the Campaign the ability to work in unconventional ways. You can use Subterfuge to attack as though it were Publicize.

Pig-Headed: This Campaign won’t go down without a fight. It gains two extra influence stress boxes. Individual characters who take this stunt grant only one Campaign they’re working on at a time the two additional stress boxes.

Battling Campaigns

Campaigns attack each other using relevant skill rolls. However, Campaign combat works slightly differently than character combat.

Effect of Being Taken Out

As with characters, if an attack reduces all of the Campaign’s stress and the Campaign has no more consequences, it’s taken out. Being taken out always ends the Campaign. Being taken out can either result in the complete loss of the Campaign, a compromised success (such as a bill containing poison pill provisions, an army claiming the throne with tenuous power to maintain it, etc.), or a victorious campaign with an overwhelmingly disapproving society (space invaders establishing an empire that’s challenged by rebel forces.)

Unlike characters, Campaigns are designed to be finite creations. It’s easier for a Campaign to be taken out—and taken out for good—than for a character. That’s why Campaigns don’t heal stress or consequences. They may be able to last a little longer with the Damage Control stunt, but ultimately every Campaign will end. This means that, logically speaking, even a victorious Campaign ceases to exist once its opponent has been defeated. Every election has a voting day, every treaty gets passed or talks stall out, every war ends, and every small-town rumor campaign explodes into a public spectacle.

That’s why it’s important to create new Campaigns throughout the course of play. The easiest way to do this is to create new Campaigns when the Big Issues of the game change. Sure, the Metahuman Registration Act has passed, but now we must Appoint the Director of Metahuman Affairs. While Aleck may have succeeded in acquiring the throne, he must now Restore Law to the Land even as he is opposed by a Wave of Bandit Raiders.

Every new story comes from some other story’s end.

Conceding

A Campaign can concede, but like being taken out, that ends the Campaign. A concession can result in incredibly favorable compromises such as being chosen as the opponent’s running mate, proposed spin-off legislation, or restoring peace to the kingdom at the cost of your throne. +

Sample Campaign Writeups

Colonial Presidency

It’s that time of the orbital cycle again: the political war for the most important position in the galaxy! All sides are vying for the position, and Galactic Gambling Mogul Kami Shaddad has thrown her hat into the ring, hyperdriving across the colonies, working her charm, flashing smiles, and promising the Interplanetary Trade Commission all of the support it wants.

Aspects

Framing: Colonies United!
Counterframe: Time Is Ripe for Independence
Other Aspects: Galactic Casinos for the Masses Who Do You Think Controls the Creds?Targeted by Xenocidal Extremists

Campaign Skills

Funding: Great (+4)
Mobilize: Average (+1)
Publicize: Good (+3)
Subterfuge: Fair (+2)

Skill Timing

Milestone

Stunts

Beacon of Hope. The Campaign gains an extra free invoke when using Publicize or Funding to create advantages premised on a better future.

Pig-Headed. Gain two extra influence stress boxes.

Scandal! When attacking by highlighting an opposing Campaign’s scandalous or hidden information, you deal an extra shift of influence stress.

Influence Stress

□□□□□□□□

Stack the Deck

Politics is a deadly game. Sometimes doing everything you can to get your party’s voting bloc into the majority, and your own star on the rise, requires bloodying noses and burying bodies—literally. Today’s casualties pave the way for tomorrow’s leaders.

Aspects

Framing: Everyone’s a Stepping Stone
Counterframe: Circular Firing Squad
Other Aspects: Wheel and DealPower: The Ultimate AphrodisiacAuthenticity in Surprising PlacesStrange BedfellowsNo One Likes Useless Pain

Campaign Skills

Funding: Average (+1)
Mobilize: Fair (+2)
Publicize: Good (+3)
Subterfuge: Great (+4)

Skill Timing

Milestone

Stunts

Damage Control. Once per scene or milestone (based on the Campaign’s skill timing), one of its operatives can spend a fate point to clear one box of influence stress.

Scandal! When attacking by highlighting an opposing Campaign’s scandalous or hidden information, you deal an extra shift of influence stress.

Work the News. Gain +2 to Publicize when spreading the Campaign’s messages.

Influence Stress

□□□□□□□□

Nimby

The Nimby are a fearsome people. They will stop at nothing to halt your Campaign, no matter how righteous and just. The Nimby never listen to reason, nor can they see the future clearly or respect a treasured past. It should be obvious to the Nimby that your cause will only help their long-term goals, but they’ll hear nothing of it. The Nimby are in every society, and every reality, and are cunning enough to infiltrate your own causes. They could be anyone, anywhere: villagers with pitchforks, righteous protestors, landed gentry, a faceless goon squad, or a PTA comprised of helicopter parents.

Aspects

Framing: We Don’t Want It!
Counterframe: Just a Wee Bit Overreactionary
Other Aspects: Mob MentalityThat’s Not What I Heard!

Campaign Skills

Funding: Average (+1)
Mobilize: Great (+4)
Publicize: Fair (+2)
Subterfuge: Good (+3)

Skill Timing

Scene

Stunts

Friends in Low Places. You can use Subterfuge to attack as though it were Publicize.

Pig-Headed. Gain two extra influence stress boxes.

Scandal! When attacking by highlighting an opposing Campaign’s scandalous or hidden information, you deal an extra shift of influence stress.

Influence Stress

□□□□□□□