Game Mastery

Fate Chips and D&D

by on Sep.16, 2008, under GM, homebrew

Ever since I’ve been running D&D I’ve been opposed to using experience to level up characters.  I’d rather they level when I tell them to level.  I don’t hand out experience, but I do hand out a level after roughly three sessions (don’t ask how crafting works, nobody has ever wanted to do it in one of my games and I’m not going to bother figuring it out till someone wants it).

But it’s important to give your players some sort of reward for their actions.  Especially in a greedy game like Dungeons and Dragons.  I blatantly ripped off Fate Chips from Deadlands to use as a D&D reward.  They’ve been very popular, or so my players tell me.

I think I botched my implementation of chips in the first game I ran.  Fate chips had clearly defined mechanics.  I don’t know what they were anymore, but at the time they did things like heal 10 hp, confirm a crit, emulate a feat for a turn, etc.  Nothing game breaking, but fun little effects.  They were given out for doing a character journal or amusing me in game.  Usually players could earn a couple chips per session, though I held back if the player was hoarding.

It worked, but didn’t help the game in the way I wanted it to.  What I’ve come up with since is that fate chips are better left undefined.  I give the players some examples of what chips can do, but refrain from telling them straight up what powers it has.  Instead I tell them that the chips let them fudge the dice or story in favor of their character.  GMs have been fudging things to make the story better for years, why shouldn’t the players get in on it?

The idea is that characters are supposed to be good at certain things.  There are certain goals they should accomplish.  Fate chips let players bring the character they envision into the game even when the dice say otherwise.  Hell, they even bring the character into the game when the player says otherwise.  For instance, we had a halfling rogue, who may or may not have been a prince, trying to con a merchant.  The character was a good talker, but the player was slipping over his tongue that night.  The player panicked and dug his hole deeper.  For the low, low price of one fate chip, I gave the player a suggestion for how to turn the conversation around and not botch the con job.  He still had to roleplay the rest of the conversation, all I did was give him an idea his character should have had.

Characters in stories have it easy.  Sherlocke Holmes will always find exactly the clues he needs.  Tyrion Lannister will always have a scathing retort.  Not just because George R.R. Martin spent hours crafting the retort, he also spent hours crafting the line that set up Tyrion’s witticism.  Player Characters do not have that benefit.  Even in a story heavy game, the characters are still part of a game, which may limit what they can achieve and how they show themselves.  As a GM who favors story, I like to be able to throw my players a little deus ex machina without it feeling like I’m working in their favor.  This lets them play the character they want to play instead of the bumbling oaf who would be competent if he’d just stop rolling 1s.

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