Bronze Rulz!–A Recovery Hack for Fate

TL;DR: I like all things Fate, but the harm-and-recovery mechanics less than the rest, so I use a Bronze Rule hack for it, and you can skip the discussion and jump right to it.

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Some Background (that you can skip)

Thanks to yet another eye-opening thread from the Fari Discord server—“Good and Bads of the Fate System”—I realized two things. First, I’m heavily biased towards Fate. Most of the features of the system others find problematic, I don’t have issues with. Second, the harm-and-recovery mechanics is not one of them.

Now, I enjoy pros and cons discussions, but I don’t put any particular stock in my personal opinion. I value the conversation as an occasion to form a better view, not expressing mine. So you won’t find in this post “my” list of pros and cons because it wouldn’t be particularly insightful outside of the context of a discussion. My opinion matters only insofar as it determines the content and the scope of the hack introduced in this post.

The Abstract Stuff

So, with all these caveats in mind, here’s what I think:  Fate has an okay harm and injury system, but the recovery mechanics are frustrating. I’m good with Stress and Consequences as written—with a slight preference for how Fate Condensed handles them. But I’ve always found “renaming” a consequence to indicate that it’s on the mend a little underwhelming. I have two specific issues, but they’re really two sides of the same coin:

  • PCs need too much time to recover from consequences, and there is no real sense of achievement in doing it—it’s just an afterthought of the advancement process;
  •  as written, Recovery is part of the metagame, while it should be integral to the game.

Now, of course, there’s a skill check involved in the Recovery process, so it’s technically a game mechanic. Still, it occurs during Milestones, which are metagame events. Again, I would not necessarily go to lengths to defend this point of view. It only matters because you might not like what my hack does if you disagree with either of those two points.


[EDIT (27/10/2021): As pointed to me by Rob Hanz, the striked-through sentences are factually incorrect. The rules do not restrict recovery skill rolls to Major Milestones/Breakthrough (they recommend to make one if none has been made already). In Fate Condensed, Severe consequences are cleared upon reaching metagame events that are the sole purview of the GM (Major Milestones/Breakthrough) but the treatment may still occur in-game. Still, this post is remains technically a “hack” since the mechanics therein may bypass the need to wait for a Breakthrough to clear Severe consequences.]


The Good Practical Stuff

My Recovery hack is parasitic on the Bronze RuleThe odds that you are not familiar with it and reading this blog post are abysmally low, but it’s so good that I’ll quote it anyway.

In Fate, you can treat anything in the game world like it’s a character. Anything can have aspects, skills, stunts, stress tracks, and consequences if you need it to.

Fate Core, p. 270

And that’s why I call my hack Bronze Rule Healers (BRH for short). Well, not exactly. I usually call them “The Good Stuff” but that’s too narrow a pop-culture reference (if you did not get it yet, here’s a hint: chew slowly). It is balanced for the Fate Condensed revision of the Fate Core rules but possibly borderline overpowered for vanilla Core. If you’re into that kind of nitpicking, read The Fine Prints; otherwise, take my word for it. 

The Bronze-Rule Healer

Let’s begin with an example of BRH. This one is for Mental Consequences and comes from actual gameplay. In fact, it’s the first-ever Good Stuff Bronze-Rule healer I’ve used, but it checks the two boxes I wanted it to, and I’ve never managed to improve upon it.

Fig. 1: The Original Good Stuff, made with Fari

Edit: Bronze Rule Healers NPCs are not replacing the vanilla recovery rules. They are just a “plug-in” to add to your game. Recovery rolls work as they do in vanilla. You just get more opportunities to attempt them, and there’s a stunt that modifies them. Otherwise, vanilla rules apply. You can attempt them at Milestones; and if a BRH rolls a regular success, the target consequence is renamed, just as in vanilla. (Thanks to user Krzysztof on the Fari Discord server for suggesting this edit.)

Features

Now for the features. The adjective “Good” in the High Concept expresses the Skill Rating according to the Fate Ladder. It’s not necessary—I’ll give another example where the adjective does not match the Ladder—but it works for “flavor” here (pun intended), as “good food” has the right connotations. The Skill Rating also determines the number of Stress Boxes (reskinned as “Portions”) after the Fate Condensed fashion, which I wanted for one extra bit of game mechanics (see When and How to Use BRHs)

The ad hoc Skill is just flavor text but conveys that the BRH is for mental stress. The crux is the Stunt, which leverages the game mechanics for Recovery (an Overcome roll) and modifies an existing rule in a more-or-less balanced way (again, see The Fine Prints).

When and How to Use BRHs

I’d suggest using Bronze Rule Healers a scene or two after a Conflict if the Consequences taken during the Conflict are interesting. Otherwise, you can let one lying around to use in the immediate aftermath of a Conflict. Do so if you expect the Consequences to increase the bookkeeping rather than the drama.

That was for the “when,” so let’s consider the “How.” The Portion track is the only piece of game mechanics I added, but it’s straightforward and is just a permission to roll the ad hoc Skill, and works like so:

  1. divide by two the Difficulty Rating of the Consequence that gives the passive opposition for the Recovery roll; then:
  2. consume as many portions.

So, a Good or better BRH will have enough portions to clear Mild Consequences only for six PCs/NPCs, Moderate Consequence only for three, and Severe only for two. That may seem a lot but wait for The Fine Prints.

Adapting BRHs

Fig. 2 shows the second-ever BRH, featured in the same adventure as the first, this one tailored for Physical Stress. The Good Stuff still works as the name for the Stunt, but it was more cut-and-pasting rather than trying to develop in-game lore. In retrospect, I should have reskinned the Stunt. I’m still happy with the ad hoc skill. The adjective Superior does not fit the Ladder, but it sounds better with “Philter.” Also, a Great (+4) Skill may seem a lot, but again, check The Fine Prints.

Fig. 2. Some more Good Stuff, made with Fari

The Fine Prints

Fate Condensed guidelines for creating Stunts (here) list the following option:

Allowing a character to make a specific rules exception. For instance, a character might have two more stress boxes or another mild consequence slot.

Fate Condensed, p.11

Vanilla Fate Core is not as generous (here) with, for instance, Hard Boiled:

Hard Boiled. You can choose to ignore a mild or moderate consequence for the duration of the scene. It can’t be compelled against you or invoked by your enemies. At the end of the scene it comes back worse, though; if it was a mild consequence it becomes a moderate consequence, and if it was already moderate, it becomes severe. 

Fate Core, p. 127

The Good Stuff is roughly equivalent to the Condensed example of rule exception. For all practical purposes, it grants a PC the equivalent of an extra Mild Consequence slot. So I take it to be “balanced” by Fate Condensed standards. By the same token, compared to Hard Boiled, it’s a bit on the overpowered side for vanilla Core. Now, unlike a character stunt, it does not cost refresh, but the benefit are balanced by: (1) the Portion/Doses track; and: (2) being gated behind a Success with Style. The latter is quite the limitation.

As written, The Good Stuff may seem a powerful stunt. But with the Bell curve of 4dF, the odds that a Good (+3) BRH would clear a Mild consequence are lower than 1/5th. That’s not much. Invoking The Good Stuff for +2 raises the odds to just under 2/3rd. Again, that’s not excessive. That’s about as much as I want to go into the math. Still, the long and short of it is this: reducing Moderate or Severe consequences would likely require Fate points. That, or some ingenious Create an Advantage to obtain free invokes on the BRH’s Aspects, or to create Aspects that synergize with them. And that’s what I’d like to conclude on.

Wrapping Up: Recovery as Worldbuilding

On the surface, Bronze Rule Healers may seem like a Fate version of health and mana potions, MedKits, stim injectors, or whatnot—depending on the setting. The math says otherwise, and for substantial effects, PCs will need Fate points or ingenuity. And thus, Bronze Rule Healers create more occasions for good role-playing and worldbuilding, which I think should be encouraged. 

Okay, that last claim was a bit elliptic, so I’ll belabor a bit. Not all PCs have good enough Academics and Empathy to assist with the vanilla rules recovery process. But what if one PC observes that this Good Comfort Food Tastes Just Like Home? Or someone may remember buying the Philter of Mending comes From the Shelves of the Best Apothecary in Town (that could be Resources or Contact). There you go, procedurally-generated lore. Any of those Aspects may add something to the game’s world. At the very least, they are conversation starters.

Is that abusing the Create an Advantage rule? Yup. It is. But if your players invent Aspects like that, they are well-deserving of a cure for Consequences. Hell, you should even encourage them! At least, in my humble opinion—and please remember what I said about my opinion before you flood the comment section.

And that’s all for today, folks.

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