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The Book of Hanz

Questions and Decisions

Okay, this is more of a general RPG thing, but it applies very well to Fate Core. So, I read Save the Cat! recently. It kind of opened my eyes to a lot of script structure, and pushed me in a few directions I had already been going.

I think there's two things that are critical in every RPG. Questions, and decisions.

Every RPG session should answer some question. This is what drives play, and keeps people engaged. This is no different than a story, be it book, movie, or whatever. We watch Star Wars because we want to know "Will Luke manage to destroy the Death Star?"

That's more of a campaign level question. But there are other questions as well -"Will Luke find R2?" "Will they find a pilot?" "Will they disable the tractor beam?" These are all interesting questions.

So when starting a campaign, ask yourself what the campaign question or questions are. A grand, sweeping question is fine, but then there needs to be something more immediate, relevant, and obtainable. "Will Luke defeat the Galactic Empire" is an interesting question, but it's huge. "Will he get off of Tatooine before the Stormtroopers find him" is a much more approachable, and solvable question.

The other thing is to ensure that the players care about the questions. So think about what your players care about -which is generally stuff they've invested something in. In Fate, that means their characters, but can also mean the setting bits that they've had input into. You may have a grand idea for a war between massive factions, but the players, at least to start, don't really care about your factions. You do, because you made them -you're invested in them.

Even on a smaller level, most scenes should answer a question. Sure, there are scenes that are just exposition, or character development, but a good dramatic scene has to have a question that it answers. If you can't figure that out, then maybe you should skip over the scene, or give the players enough information that they can get to a scene with an important question.

The other part of this equation is decisions. Questions set the stage, and create the drama. But player decisions are what answer the questions.

Whenever you're looking at a scenario, think about what decisions the players are making. If they're just going along from point A to B to C, and defeating challenges, then they're not making a ton of decisions, and not doing much to answer the important questions. That's fine for some games, but it seems kind of counter to the games where Fate really shines.

A lot of times we look at adding mechanics, or encounters, or tweaking things, or setting up scenarios. And that's great. But I find it's best to always do those things with a mind towards "what decisions does this enable for the players?"

You've got a town that's having an internal power struggle? Great! One's clearly the good guys, and one's clearly bad well, you've just removed a decision, in that (hopefully!) the players will align with the good guys. Instead, try to make the two sides have implications for the future of the town that aren't just "good" and "bad" -or even better yet, tie them into character aspects, especially if you can find conflicting aspects!

Same with game mechanics. Got some funky new dice mechanic you want to try? Awesome! But what decision points does it give to the players that they don't have? If the players are still making the same decisions (or worse, fewer because the new mechanics provide some kind of optimal path), then rethink your mechanic.

Note that if the players' decisions are driving the answer to the questions of the game, then you can't know the answers ahead of time. I deliberately avoid planning what will happen -even to the point of thinking about how cool things might be, and then stopping myself from thinking about that.

Questions and decisions. Get those, and you're pretty much golden.

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