Fate/Apocalypse–Moves & Stunts

TL;DR: Apocalypse World’s mechanics are close enough to Fate’s to mine them for gameplay suggestions, assuming a translation scheme between the two systems; this post provides one.

Apocalypse World (hereafter AW) and derivatives (“powered by the apocalypse,” or PtbA) have a lot in common with Fate, along with notable differences. This post is not a profound essay about either, though. More of an attempt at enriching Fate’s gameplay by reflecting on a few things AW brought to RPG tables.

Then again, “enriching” is a peripheral move (pun intended). Or the icing on the cake, the cake being a (partial) translation scheme between AW‘s and Fate’s Rules as Written (RAW). With it, you could mine AW for ideas on playing and GM-ing Fate or flatten your Fate (AW) learning curve coming from AW (Fate). So it may have some other applications than my ulterior motives.

Which I will keep for myself, thank you very much. There’s an implicit clarification for the attitude somewhere in that post. Also, sour grapes. So, let’s just say that there’s another AW-flavored cake that caters to my preferences, but you may not want a slice if yours are different. Under those circumstances, the recipe could be a distraction. 

AW‘s moves for Fate users (aka: Fate for AW‘s users)

AW uses 2d6+Stat, with a single Action type—the move—with three outcomes: total success, partial success, and miss. When a PC makes a move, they roll 2d6+Stat: 6- is a miss, 7-9 a partial success, 10+ a success. PCs can “advance” moves with experience, allowing extra trappings on 12+.

Statistically, the system is similar to Fate’s 4dF+Skill: AW’s Bell curve is centered on 7, so Stats matter (just as Fate is on 0, and Skills do). Target ranges never change, so AW has an implicit Ladder with [positive/null/negative] Stats [above/at/below] average. And “average” also means “partially successful on average.” For details, head to AnyDice, enter the code below, and draw your own conclusions.

output 4d{-1..1}
output 2d6

A first approximation

Mechanically, AW’s moves are akin to Fate’s Actions. That’s only 3 outcomes (4 with advances) instead of 16 for Fate. So in principle, that’s simpler. Only not. Because a better equivalent for “moves” is “scripted Action”: an Attack, Defense, Overcome, or Create An Advantage, triggered by specific conditions and with specified consequences for each outcome under those conditions. And there are dozens of those.

Because moves are scripted, PCs have to be in the right conditions to trigger them (NPCs don’t roll, so their “moves” are sure-fire). But there’s no need to figure out the outcome on the fly because the result is already specified. So AW’s playstyle is less flexible but more dynamic than Fate’s. Then again, not that much more. Fate does the same with Stunts.

A better analogy

A better translation in both mechanical and gameplay terms would be: every move is a Stunt, and everybody’s on the lookout for Stunt triggers. You can take my words on it, or dig into AW 2E’s “Advanced Fuckery” chapter on moves (pp. 270 sq.), compare their functions with Stunts’ (e.g., in Condensed), and get further evidence.

In general, AW’s moves’ outcomes are a tad more dramatic than Fate’s regular Actions. 6- are generally worse (due to “snowballing,” cf. infra). And 10+ successes would sometimes qualify as “with style” or better—up to the awesomeness of a combined bonus-granting and rule-exception Stunt. Still, nothing unheard of in Fate, which allows for beefed-up Stunts at extra cost. 

Improve your Fate

Fate is a toolkit system and has the Silver rule. So, in principle, it encourages hacks and homebrews. In practice? Meh. You know what I mean if you’re active on the games’ online communities. By contrast, AW encourages fiddling with rules and making custom moves right out of the gate and does a superb job teaching how to do so without head-scratching or breaking the game (see The Fine Prints: An Example).

Also, I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t get gatekeeping flack for hacking AW or a PtbA game, but don’t take my word on it. My experience with AW online communities has been a mix-bag and has left me biased (see The Fine Prints: A Caveat).

Now, let’s think about Fate from an AW-PtbA standpoint, shall we?

If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it

Fate undeniably does some stuff better than AW. First, setting a stage for “capable, proactive” PCs. Fate lets players influence the fiction and leverage it mechanicallywith Aspects and Invokes and, most of all, Create an Advantage (CaA).

Believe it or not, I learned the importance of stacking free invokes on Aspects with CaA from GM-ing AW. A few years ago, I converted my “Fate of Conan” campaign from Fate to an AW hack in a misguided attempt to give players more controlThe players missed their CaAs and Fate Points, so I added custom moves with plot-point currencies (not unheard of in AW, but usually limited to specific PC types).

But the only move in AW 2E for declaring story details is an explicit countermeasure to players’ creativity (p. 276). I guess I could get some flack for that assessment, but it would be a long quote, so I just screengrabbed the context (Fig. 1). It’s copyrighted but it’s still fair use (illustration and critique). Feel free to read or not.

Fig. 1–“Playing with the Form,” Apocalypse World 2E, p. 276.
A fascinating take on collaborative storytelling.

The Conan experimentation made me realize the importance of CaA, and my preference for rule-symmetric gameplay (as a GM; I don’t mind asymmetry as a player). I mean this: Fate lets the GM lead by example with NPCs. Nowadays, I develop strategies combining the 4 actions (with a heavy emphasis on CaA), then I nudge players towards co-opting them. That’s impossible in AW or other PtbA games, where rules are asymmetric (GMs never roll).

I’ve learned by experience, a good NPC CaA with a well-chosen Aspect is often more dramatic than a Compel—all without depriving players of agency (or Agency, maybe, first comment & discussion) which Compels do. I owe that to AW, even if only by reflection on its shortcomings.

Bringing in moves over to Fate

AW moves make fantastic write-ups to teach Fate Actions to newcomers and relieve the pressure to find and name Aspects with players who have difficulty with them. This entry in the Fari blog presents the idea as “moments,” and that’s one I really wish I’d had come up with myself. So much so that I asked René-Pier (the author) to re-post it to inaugurate my Fate/Apocalypse series.

In AW, every game-mechanic that’s not a move is a set of bells-and-whistles attached to something (including other moves) to trigger one. Learning to play AW pretty much reduces to understanding “move snowball”—how moves’ outcomes trigger other moves. Since the GM never rolls, PC-to-NPC snowball triggers are a necessity. Otherwise, NPC actions would be background noise without mechanical effect. Or pure GM fiat, and unfair (because NPCs moves always succeed). 

“Snowballing” is always preferable to GM fiat. AW‘s “Threats” chapter is choke-full of snowball-initiating mechanics, even without NPC rolls (clocks, countdowns, etc.). Plus, AW’s practical tips are often more transparent than the GM advice in Fate Core. And they’d also apply to custom moves with NPC rolls. But mostly, good triggers make Compels less contrived or arbitrary. They work particularly well for Gear Aspects (I gave some examples from my Hardwired game in that post), or with countdowns.

An Example: I have (very mild) dyscalculia and could not wrap my head around PCs rolling to suffer harm—where 6- is the best outcome—because it broke symmetry with other moves. But I understood the math (my issues are with numbers, not functions or relations), so I substituted “suffer harm” with soak harm, shuffled around the effects, and voilà, 10+ was the best outcome. And I was happy, again. The best part is that I could do that as prep for the very first game of AW I’ve GM-ed. I did not feel like I was “hacking” the game or needed some Internet research, extrapolation, or interaction with the PtbA community to figure out what to do. All things that I usually do feel like, or think I need, when attempting to modify something in Fate. Now, interactions with online RPG communities are a topic of their own, best kept separate (but see A Caveat). Still, the fact is, AW and PtbA games are easy to handle, and the proof is in the pudding: there are not enough days in a year to try out all the good PtbA games on the market. And a lot of them are the result of GMs like me taking a PtbA game close enough to what they wanted to play and tailoring it to precisely what they wanted to play. I wish Fate was half as easy to tinker with, and half as good at teaching how to do it.

A Caveat. I’ve interacted once only with a PtbA-adjacent community. It didn’t last long. I was there for gaming, but I got into a Fate-PtbA discussion. I ended up complaining I could play Fate “as intended” (fiction-first, “proactively” and cooperatively) thanks to my higher education skillset (specifically, some game theory) rather than thanks to the RAW teaching me so. I added that, otherwise, I’d probably be playing Fate like I used to play GURPS and others play D&D (a GM-centric, plot-driven physics simulation). And I praised AW and PtbA games for dispensing with these issues and not offloading the job of teaching the game to newbies onto the community. Then, someone attacked me personally for having a higher education in the first place. I still have the same complaint about Fate, the same praise for AW, and I’m sad the conversation ended before even getting to the ideas that culminated in this post. I left without waiting for moderation because of some mild victim-blaming I did not want to put up with. I may get back to discuss this post (there were some highly insightful, skilled, and experienced GMs there, and I’d love their input). I also think that the whole incident (mild victim-blaming included) is no accident. But, lesson learned, I’ll keep what I think to myself.


Wrapping up: More Apocalypse Goodness

Apocalypse World encourages creative uses of custom moves. If moves are (under translation), Stunts, then “custom Stunts” does not sound particularly exciting. After all, they have become the default with FAE and Condensed.

But the real doozy is that AW allows for custom moves attached to unique situations rather than characters—unlike Fate’s Stunts, which are always bound to an N/PC. In short: fulfill conditions or see to it that they are (which could be an adventure on its own), and you’d access that move. 

By comparison, Fate has Situation Aspects, but not Situation Stunts. I’m told previous incarnations had it. Or something like it. So it may qualify as a “Fate hack” or not, depending on how close it lands to Fate-that-was.

But it’s my hobby, not my day job, so I’ll pass on the research and the learning-yet-another-game-jargon. I’ll probably reinvent the wheel instead. Still, it would be a nice wheel.

And that will be all for today, folks.

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