Fate Core and Competence:

Fate Core, page 18: “Characters in a game of Fate are good at things. They aren’t bumbling fools who routinely look ridiculous when they’re trying to get things done— they’re highly skilled, talented, or trained individuals who are capable of making visible change in the world they inhabit. They are the right people for the job, and they get involved in a crisis because they have a good chance of being able to resolve it for the better. This doesn’t mean they always succeed, or that their actions are without unintended consequence. It just means that when they fail, it isn’t because they made dumb mistakes or weren’t prepared for the risks.”

Fate Core, page 188: “The PCs are extremely competent people (remember, that’s one of the things Fate is about). They aren’t supposed to look like fools on a regular or even semi-regular basis. Sometimes, all it takes is the right description to make failure into something dynamic—instead of narrating that the PC just borked things up, blame the failure on something that the PC couldn’t have prevented. There’s a secondary mechanism on that lock that initially looked simple (Burglary), or the contact broke his promise to show up on time (Contacts), or the ancient tome is too withered to read (Lore), or a sudden seismic shift throws off your run (Athletics). That way, the PCs still look competent and awesome, even though they don’t get what they want.”

In Burning Wheel characters aren’t always good at things. Sometimes they’re incompetent. Sometimes they’re way out of their depths, over their heads, and lost at sea. But they aren’t always, and it’s one way of establishing the tone of a game. I’ve seen too many games, many non-BW, where every failure is a slapstick routine, but BW is so failure-heavy that I think it’s especially important to keep failure from feeling bad. Moving the game forward with interesting failures is one thing; keeping the characters feeling appropriately potent (or not) is another. Is failure due to character incompetence, the task being really difficult, or circumstances beyond your control? That sets the tone very well, and I think it’s important to keep it in mind when playing a game.

I just thought I’d share these tidbits because, like Vincent’s Admonition, I think they’re an excellent phrasing of an important principle.

[Edit: This is more of a Commentary post, actually. Oops.]

I agree. My keys to making failure interesting are to 1) keep the reasons why varied, 2) make sure we’re still moving forward, and 3) use failure to introduce new game elements (NPCs, factions, monsters, etc).

Failing forward is one of my favorite things about BW.

Apparently, Jonathan Tweet calls this “Kirkliness”. After Captain Kirk.

BW characters are actually rather competent if you actually pick appropriate obs and don’t go for too many 2’s… a skill opened at 4 or 5 is actually quite competent when the “Default Ob 2” is used (excepting where specific Obs are listed). And most cases, you should be remembering both Wheaton’s Rule and Vincent’s Admonition. And a FoRK pops success into the 70% range. That’s competent as far as the kinds of things one should be rolling for.

Most of my characters are 2D in everything. I love it!

Failure is one of the best things in BW.

Kirkliness is really interesting. This makes me think of really competent characters, like fantasy martial artists. (“I could see from the way that he carried the buckets of water that he moved with a poise and grace that only someone who had mastered gray crane style could achieve. Clearly, attacking him would be futile.”)

Kirliness is cool, but it seems it doesn’t advance the narrative very much (though it could enrich it), it’s like being told “no”. Nothing changes, you just eliminate the possiblity that struggling will help you escape. What’s different is that it preserves the character’s dignity.

Michael is right. Kirkliness, while interesting mechanically, doesn’t actually advance the story. It’s a “whiff.” In the example given on the blog (linked above) nothing changed. The player rolled dice, and Kirk stayed captured. The status quo remained.

If dice hit the table, something should change. Either the situation gets better for the character, gets worse, or gets more complicated.

Nothing happening is boring.

RE: Kirkliness–I think the best use of this in a game would be a la Fate Core’s “Create Advantage” action. You stockpile an advantage from your assessment for later use. So Kirk would actually be taking an action to assess the situation (gaining a “Scoped Out” advantage for later) at a lower difficulty than the escape check. Or, in Fuseboy’s example, knowing that the enemy has mastered a certain martial arts style could be translated as an Advantage.

Absolutely. Throw down a Perception (or some Skill) test to “Scope Out” the opposition. Make it known you want it to be a Linked Test to a later escape attempt or attack or whatever.

The reason I GM so much Burning Wheel is because I absolutely hate the whiff factor in most other games. When players roll the dice, there should almost never be a result of “nothing happens”. It’s boring. Nothing happening is a display of incompetence, in my opinion – the incompetence of the dice mechanics.

I don’t think failure of a skill test has to mean incompetence of the PC though. Results of failure are almost always geared towards BITs, so the failures usually serve to make the PC more human. And failures drive the game forward more than anything, so taking the risk to roll a skill test with a low chance of success is a display of competence of the player. Failing is a win/win situation in Burning Wheel!

Here’s a weird thought keying off of that.

Spin a failure as a linked test under very specific circumstances. “You don’t escape, but if you opt to take this very dangerous method of escape that will be possible in the future, take +1D forward to that.” (Actually, ideas spinning for an amusing and interesting game mechanic centered around that…)

You can already do that. If they fail, then the very safe method of escape is has a +1 Ob attached, but the very dangerous method of escape remains like it was before.

There’s a tacit bonus now via the dangerous method - it lacks an additional +1 Ob. Of course, it’s more dangerous.

Now the choice before the player is more complex and more interesting.

That’s how I would do it anyway.