View Full Version : Making In-Character Entertainment Fun For Players

2021-05-23, 09:45 PM
This is a weird one, folks, so I'm curious to see if you have any input!

Basically, I'm about to run a one-on-one Fate game meant to simulate Steven Universe. And I'm quite happy with the rules hacking I've done for most of it - I've got an alternate Approach/Skill list I'm happy with, my own variation on some of the other rules, my own rules for fusion, rules to make musical numbers important and distinct from the rest of gameplay, a bunch of great stuff like that.

However, something important is missing, and it's something I'm having a very hard time finding advice for, in part because it's so counterintuitive for an RPG to facilitate this, and partially because it's almost un-Google-able for a bunch of reasons.

Namely, characters do a lot of stuff just because they want to, whether that's playing with friends or visiting places or the like, and the interactions that they have based off of that, or the wrinkles that occur when magic derails those moments, can be excellent fodder for larger stories as well as great moments for developing characters and their relationships.

However, that can be really hard to integrate into an RPG, even as just short scenes building up to a larger story, for two main reasons. One, where a TV show can show the main character doing something because they're already setting up for the twist to come, a player playing a main character isn't necessarily privy to that information, and thus naturally wouldn't be inclined to go do that stuff if they don't think an interesting twist on the scenario will happen. Second, and the reason the first matters as much as it does - even stuff that's fun to watch and fun to be part of can be boring to play out if there isn't a mechanical mechanism through which to make it engaging for the player.

So I want to fix those problems such that pursuing fun for the character can be fun for the player as well. Having outlined our two main problems, the next step is to solve them.

The first one seems comparatively easy, especially given the kind of game Fate is - discuss with the player during session planning if we want to do a story featuring a particular place, character, or inciting event, and then boom, the character can go towards that element for fun, while the player knows that some twist is coming and can relax and play full tilt into their unaware character as it builds up. Boom, easy as pie.

The second one is harder, though. Rewarding taking time to have fun as your character is easy, and reasonably well-covered by Fate - it's easy to frame that in terms of creating Aspects that represent positive emotional vibes with the person you're spending time with, or personal happiness because you did something you like, or if you roll poorly maybe you get stomach cramps after eating too much pizza, or whatever. However, I worry that that may not be engaging enough. But on the other end of the idea spectrum, representing it as contests or conflicts where the enemy to be defeated is boredom or stress seems... maybe too silly to work, but possibly promising? I dunno.

So I'm really curious to hear what you guys think! Any ideas of your own, or input on the things I've tossed out so far, would be greatly appreciated.

2021-05-23, 09:58 PM
I am not familiar with Fate, so I apologise for that.

However, I think that what you're asking for is mostly a Roleplay-solution rather than a Mechanics-solution. Personally a lot of my favorite moments in roleplaying games have been when the players have been thoroughly engaged in playing out the characters and what they do when not "being in action", so to speak.

What you could do is of course talk to the players that you also want to see the characters engage in hobbies or leisurely activites, and maybe also ask the players to answer like a little questionnaire type of list. Like "list three hobbies", "your character's favorite things/least favorite things", "favorite tv-show/movie/book" (let the players come up with something too rather than draw on RL examples).

You can also introduce them to interesting places to visit, flesh out locations they go to (make up a fancy menu for a remote dining place, look around at youtube for interesting music to use as backdrop for a concert).

As for rewards, the most important thing is the the players feel rewarded with a good time. One time in a long-running Pathfinder campaign, our high-level heroes went on vacation to an island paradise where they had "tourist dungeons" (imagine something like dungeon-crawls you can do at various Cons, but with magic to amplify the experience). They failed horribly at their assigned roles and didn't manage to complete their fake mission, but the characters (and the players) had a great time for once being in an adventure that was fun and not dangerous.

Mechanically, maybe some XP that can be distributed to more fluff-related parts of the character, things that people normally don't invest in?

2021-05-24, 11:26 AM
A few ideas, randomly spouted and not entirely self-consistent.

1) If players find that stuff enjoyable, they'll do it on their own. Many games have had entire sessions of nothing but people doing exactly that. And if they don't want to do that, maybe you shouldn't be trying to make them want to do that.

2) Seems like Chuubo's would have some ideas regarding some of that stuff, though I don't fully grok that system. So YMMV.

3) The normal Fate answer to "how do I make X interesting?" is to focus on the stakes - what do they gain from these activities? That may not be what you're going for, however

4) Tachyon Squadron had a mechanic for this, and it was basically "BSG with the serial numbers filed off." Characters needed downtime to reset their stress or bad would happen, and they could do that healthily or unhealthily. I'd have to dig more into specifics (can't find my book atm) but adapting that in some way might make sense. I'd probably retweak the "unhealthy stress relief" a mechanic for something like Steven Universe.

5) The activities can primarily serve as an opportunity for a Compel (which sounds like "magic mucking with everyday stuff" to me!). If a Compel doesn't work there, gloss over it quickly.

6) A lot of times, downtime activities are more about personal relationships than anything. Consider checking out Hillfolk for some ideas on how to handle interpersonal type stuff. Also may not work for a solo game.

Ultimately I feel like some combination of Tachyon Squadron combined with it being Compel-bait is probably the best way to go, with a touch of "if the player doesn't want to dig into it, don't force the issue."

2021-05-25, 05:32 AM
Most RPGs, and that includes FATE, are problem solving games. There are goals, obstacles, and relatively well defined victory conditions. These systems aren't made for characters just passing the time when there is no obstacle to overcome. Most RPGs are games about tasks, and hanging out is not a task. Which I think is why adventures starting with the characters visiting a carnival or attending a fancy party are always so weird.

I've heard that some PtbA games have been praised for setting things up to somehow recreate the experiences of various sub-cultures, but I have no idea how that is supposed to work in practice (or why it's entertaining). But knowing the underlying base mechanic, I assume it's primarily about gamifying interpersonal conflict between player characters. Not sure if that's a direction that would be helpful in this case.

2021-05-25, 08:00 AM
Most RPGs, and that includes FATE, are problem solving games.

While solving problems is definitely an aspect of FATE, it is importantly also a problem-causing game, per things like Compels. And SU is, in part at least, magical slice of life focused on character relationships. I don't need to be able to fill an entire session with characters having fun (or if the player wants to, they'll do it regardless of mechanics) but, you know, FATE characters are supposed to be proactive, go out into the world and find or create or play volleyball with their problems, this isn't a 4-color superhero game where every episode starts with the protagonist brooding in his cave until something happens to them or someone rings him up to tell him to go somewhere.

I want to make it fun for the character's default state to generally be "going somewhere" or "spending time with someone" because 1) player attachment to game constructs will always be more meaningfully affected by actual game time spent interacting with those elements than any amount of offscreen declarations, and 2) having a location and built-in supporting cast provides instant fuel for or dramatic enhancements of a generated problem.

Gamifying it seems like the right way to go to make that as consistently fun and engaging as possible for the player, but maybe that's just my faulty assumptions at work.

2021-05-25, 09:27 AM
And SU is, in part at least, magical slice of life focused on character relationships.

Thus, Chuubo's.

I won't lie and say I fully grok it, but "magical slice of life" is pretty much exactly what it targets.


Even if it isn't the game you want to run, it likely has some interesting inspiration in there.

2021-05-27, 11:08 PM
For a mechanical mechanism you could just add morale effects or roleplay XP

Just noticed that you said the FATE system, which I'm not familiar with and don't know if it has morale effects (it probably has XP though, right?)

2021-05-28, 09:45 AM
For a mechanical mechanism you could just add morale effects or roleplay XP

Just noticed that you said the FATE system, which I'm not familiar with and don't know if it has morale effects (it probably has XP though, right?)

It doesn't have a "morale" system, per se, but it does have a system that could be used to handle morale stuff. If that makes sense.

It does not have XP.