Corruption in Fate Accelerated
by Clark Valentine
“Your hate has made you powerful.”
—The Emperor, Return of the Jedi
“The Ring is mine.”
—Frodo, Return of the King
Corruption is a major element in a lot of cinematic and literary settings, one that we need to represent mechanically to really capture the setting in an RPG. In Fate games, the obvious way of representing corruption is to use aspects—the consequence mechanic lends itself well to this, if you imagine corruption as damage inflicted on the character. But aspects may not fully represent all the effects you want to have. This article presents a different way of mechanically representing corruption anchored to a character’s approaches in Fate Accelerated games.
What Corruption Looks Like
To be clear, by “corruption” we don’t mean a cop taking a bribe to overlook a minor violation. We don’t even mean the more fantastical sort of corruption where you read the wrong book or see a tentacular monster rise from the sea, and it breaks your mind.
In this article, we’re talking about situations where The Dark Powers Are Always Willing to Help. And you can take them up on their offer, but only at the price of a part of yourself. In the Star Wars universe, they call this giving in to the power of the Dark Side. In Middle-Earth, it’s using the One Ring for your own gain and benefit—and that’s really the only way to use it. In Harry Dresden’s universe, using certain types of magic burns part of your soul. This type of corruption eventually takes over, twisting you into an agent of evil. Redemption is possible, but difficult.
The corruption rules are intended to model several things:
- Corruption changes you in a fundamental way.
- Accepting corruption should grant you an overwhelming immediate advantage.
- Corruption should allow you occasional advantage without taking on more corruption.
- Corruption sometimes causes you to act against your own interests and better judgment.
- Redemption is possible, at high cost.
How Corruption Works
This corruption system is based on the idea of “success at great cost” as an option for failing a roll. Fate Accelerated Edition doesn’t discuss this option much, but Fate Core System does—see page 132 for a review. When you really want a failed action to succeed, corruption can be the great cost you accept to convert it to a success. You reach out to the dark powers—whatever they are in your setting—channeling their seductive power to your benefit. They burn a path through your soul, leaving behind their permanent mark.
You are changed. You have permanently embraced a more sinister way of doing things. Once you start down that path, it’s not so easy to give it up again.
Once you declare that you’re accepting corruption to succeed at great cost, the GM can’t spend additional fate points or invoke additional aspects to alter the outcome—it’s decided. If the number of shifts matters, consider your success to be by 2 shifts.
If the conflict is PC vs. PC, Fate Core System doesn’t give a lot of guidance about what to do. If your game group has their own way of handling this situation, go with that. Otherwise, let the general rule be that you can’t embrace corruption in order to beat a player character opponent, unless they consent to it—and if they do, the GM should give them a fate point.
Changing Your Approach
Accepting corruption fundamentally changes the way you approach conflicts. On your character sheet, find the approach you rolled for the action where you accepted corruption. Keep the bonus the same, but change the name of that approach. Yes, you change the word written on your character sheet, according to this table:
Fearful: You act out of Fear when you obsessively plan for every contingency, when you are cautious and suspicious to a fault. Fearful actions are ruled by anxiety and paranoia.
Arrogant: You act with Arrogance when you’re convinced you’re the only one who can do it, when your brilliant plan is clearly superior to anything anyone else can do.
Aggressive: You act with Aggression when you show no mercy, when you get them before they get you. Aggressive actions are often disproportionate to what provokes them.
Angry: You act out of Anger when you let hatred and vengeance rule your actions. If you hate the target of your action, you might be acting Angrily.
Reckless: Your actions are Reckless when you act without considering the consequences to anyone else or, sometimes, to yourself. Reckless actions are frequently ruled by immediate gratification.
Treacherous: Treachery is deceit plus malice. It respects no loyalty, debt, or allegiance. It’s not just being sneaky, it’s being mean about being sneaky.
If the approach you’re using is already corrupt, choose a different one. In either case, the bonus remains the same, but the name—and the fiction implied by its use—changes. If you’re using a different set of approaches, work with your GM to determine something appropriate for your setting.
Andrea is playing a Mystical Space Swordswoman named Parm. While dueling with energy blades against an Acolyte of the Empire, Parm rolls a total of -1 to defend against the Acolyte’s attack of +6. Andrea knows this might kill her; she decides to embrace success at great cost by corrupting her Clever approach.
“You fool!” Andrea grandstands in character. “You cannot defeat me so easily! I parry his attack!” She erases “Clever” on her character sheet, replaces it with the word “Arrogant,” and keeps the +3 bonus she had for Clever. She also pencils “Arrogant” alongside Parm’s aspects, for reasons we’ll get to in the next section.
For the corruption system to work, it’s important that you’re using approaches, rather than skills. And yes, the distinction matters in this case. Approaches describe how you solve problems. You match the action you narrate to the approach that best fits your description. Skills, on the other hand, describe what problems you know how to solve. Skills are what you do, rather than how you do it. Just having a short skill list doesn’t mean that you have approaches.
Let’s say you’re playing a very lightweight hack of Fate Accelerated, and have statted Physical, Mental, and Social. Those aren’t approaches, because they prescribe what action you take in what situation; punching someone is physical, no matter how you do it. A set of three approaches might be Straightforward, Tricky, and Cooperative. You can perform mental, physical, and social actions in straightforward, tricky, and cooperative ways.
Corrupt approaches aren’t more powerful than uncorrupt approaches, but they can sometimes lend an advantage. The corrupt approach becomes a permanent character aspect, in addition to your existing aspects, that you can invoke. If the fact that you’re not just being Aggressive, or Angry, or Treacherous, but evilly so would work to your advantage, describe how, spend a fate point, and benefit in the same way you’d benefit from invoking any other aspect.
On your character sheet alongside your other aspects, note what corrupt approaches you have, so that you remember they’re available to invoke (and to be compelled, as we discuss in the next section).
GMs, just as players can invoke their corrupt approaches as aspects, you can use them to make life interesting. You can compel a corrupt approach that a player is rolling (or the player can suggest a self-compel), suggesting how their action is laced with malice and hatred and how that complicates things for them. Do this frequently—make sure there are consequences to becoming corrupt that the player can’t ignore. Make it sting, especially if the corrupt character’s comrades are more virtuous.
Usually a compel earns a player a single fate point. In this case, it might earn them more, depending on how many corrupt approaches they have. It’s also the number of fate points they need to spend to buy off the compel.
Fate Point Cost for Corrupt Approach Compels
|Number of Corrupt Approaches||Fate Points Per Compel|
If your game uses a different list with more or fewer approaches, adjust the table to fit.
Parm is trying to crack a computerized lock using an advantage an ally created for her. The GM notes that Parm’s Clever approach has been corrupted to Arrogant and suggests that perhaps Parm ridicules her ally’s skill and in her arrogance ignores his advice and melts the lock. As she now has three corrupt approaches, the compel is worth two fate points. Andrea doesn’t have two fate points, so she must accept. She gets two fate points and they’ll have to find another way to open the lock.
When a corrupt approach is compelled against you, you can buy it off just like any other compel. However, you always have the option of buying it off with three fate points (assuming you have three fate points)—if you do, that approach returns to its uncorrupted original approach. Yes, this means that if you have 5 or 6 corrupt approaches, you always have the option of redeeming them when you buy them off.
Parm (who is now Fearful, Arrogant, and Aggressive) is near her target—the High Interrogator, who must be defeated if peace will have a chance in the galaxy. She’s tracked him down to a power reactor control room aboard the Interrogator’s star cruiser. He’s standing fifty feet away, apparently unarmed and unaware of Parm’s presence.
The GM offers two fate points and suggests that maybe Parm’s Aggression gets the better of her, that perhaps she ignites her energy blade and attacks immediately. But Andrea has other ideas. She thinks Parm will try to turn things around, to pull herself back from the darkness. She drops three fate points and not only buys off the GM’s compel, but also proposes that Parm’s Aggression be redeemed. Swallowing her urge to attack outright, she uses her telekinesis to fill the air with heavy metal equipment from around the room, and trapping the Interrogator and demanding his surrender.
The GM agrees that this expenditure of fate points and narration represents a move away from the darkness; Andrea removes “Aggressive” from Parm’s character sheet, going back to “Flashy,” and also erases Aggressive from her list of corrupt aspects.
Embracing the darkness might shock other characters who witness the event, depending on how obvious it is. Players and GMs should play up the consequences of this—compel those corrupt approaches regularly.
Cooperation with Corrupt Characters
An optional rule players may wish to use is that when a character embraces corruption, characters with fewer corrupt approaches cannot cooperate with them during the remainder of that scene. Aspects that the newly corrupt character creates can’t be invoked by more virtuous allies, and vice versa. In any event, roleplay the mistrust.
Physical and Behavioral Manifestations of Corruption
As your character becomes more corrupt, look at the approaches that you’ve acquired. Consider what they imply about how you use them; you’re no longer Careful so much as you are Fearful, for example. Does this give you trouble sleeping? When you’re rolling Aggressive, do you snap at people you don’t mean to attack? Does your newfound Arrogance make you smug, or perhaps bitter, toward others?
Do you carry any physical manifestations of your corruption? Do you begin to look sallow and sickly? Do your eyes acquire an unhealthy hue?
When All Your Approaches Are Corrupt
So what happens when your final approach goes over to the dark side? There are a few ways to play that, and your group should discuss how you’ll handle it.
First, you can become an NPC villain. This assumes that you’ve gone beyond the point where redemption is possible; you turn your character over to the GM at some appropriate point. Maybe your new character will end up confronting your old one!
Second, you can continue to play, hoping to redeem yourself at some point. Some questions to consider: What problems do your more abrasive approaches cause? What physical manifestation(s) does this produce? What drives you to seek redemption, or what actions might put you beyond the reach of any aid?
Start Down the Dark Path…
Corruption can be modeled in a fun and interesting way in Fate Accelerated. Just make sure that everyone in your group is on the same page about how dark you want the campaign to go, and what it means to become corrupted. Once all the players are ready to go with it, grab the darkness and hold on for the ride. +
Thanks to playtesters Paul Marcinkevage, Andrea Tapia, Ron Tapia, and Amanda Valentine.