Strands of FATE vs. Diaspora & Attributes vs. Skills

Started by KingEgger, September 10, 2011, 07:01:07 PM

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Hello everybody. This is my first post here. I've lurked a while, but until now have never posted.

So, I have a couple examples down below, but I want to put my question and speculation up front.

I know task resolution (TR) vs. conflict resolution (CR) has been discussed many times over. This isn't really about that. Rather I'm looking at two similar but different games (Diaspora and Strands of FATE) and I think the approach of one actively endorses CR, while the other takes a CR spin on an approach that seems to endorse TR. Both of these are FATE games and are more similar than different. Also, if you don't know Diaspora, any other FATE 3.0 game will do (Spirit of the Century, say).

My question is, is this "implicit endorsement" of CR in one game and TR in the other a real thing, or am I just seeing things? And if so, is it for the the reason I think it is (I'll get there)?

I think the best way to look at this is to examine some similar circumstances in both games.

So here is the situation. You have gotten access to the sinister Corporate Lord's computer, and you are looking for incriminating evidence on his hard drive. You know, for justice and all that.

Diaspora suggests that you roll a Computer check against a target difficulty.

Strands of FATE suggests you make a Knowledge check against a target difficulty.

Another example. You need to physically subdue a guy. He said your dog was ugly, so justice again.

Diaspora: Roll Brawling.

Strands: Roll Strength.

In both cases the skill or attribute is defined in such a way as to make this sensible. Both deal with similar numbers, and, as in any such FATE game, aspects can be tagged left and right.

Here are my observations. When you, the player look at your character sheet and ask "what am I going to do?" the skill system suggests specific actions, where as the attribute system suggests a wide variety of options and interpretations - it seems to me that it leaves much more open ended in terms of narrating the game's fiction. With brawling I seem to get a particular image in my head right there. But with strength I see two dudes, one of them being my character and I consider how I could use my strength to overcome this other guy. And at that point, it could be anything, not just punches and kicks and folding chairs, which is what I first see with brawling.

The computer example is a little less clear. But, I think it still follow a similar form. Using the computer skill brings forth a typical computer hacking scene where as the knowledge skill is again more open, and makes me ask "what do I know, and how does that help me?" when I think about how the scene might unfold. A potentially interesting aside: a piece of information is the objective here.

So the difference to be is that the attribute implies a solution (the goal I had in mind) and a creative prompt, where the skill implies a specific course of action. That is, the attribute deal with "ends" and the skill with "means." In my mind, that is how I define CR and TR; CR is ends focused, TR is means focused.

So, I think Strands does have an active endorsement of CR, and that Diaspora seems to do the same for TR, though I do agree that it is a CR system in the end. I think the reason for this has to do with the Ability Score/Attribute pattern in in Strands and the Skill pattern in Diaspora, and more importantly, how the player interacts with those patterns to create the game's fiction.

I don't know if I'm on to something here. Or, maybe I am but I'm late to the party. Anyway, what do you guys think? Am I way off?

Your comments are much appreciated!


Frank Tarcikowski

Hello Tayler and welcome to the Forge!

I think it may be helpful to discern two different things:

1) The kind of stats your character has, and how that affects your approach as a player to a given in-game situation.

2) The way your game system resolves actions and conflicts.

Ad 1)

Traditional games tend to focus on describing what a character is good at. Some use a very broad set of stats and some use a more detailed one. Different approaches have been tried in some Indie Games that untie the connection between "character competence" and "chance of success when dice hit table". As a prime example, in Dogs in the Vineyard, "Champion boxer 1d6" is 1d6 and "I can hold my own in a fistfight 2d10" is 2d10. These kinds of stats place more emphasis on what you as a player find important in your character, as opposed to how good your character is at something. FATE, however, does not do this in any incarnation (except through Aspects).

I can't quite agree with your conclusion about ends vs. means. As I see it, both very wide descriptors and very narrow ones can encourage creativity in how you approach a given in-game situation: the broad one in that you can think of a lot of different things to do, the narrow one in that you can think of a lot of different ways to use them in-game. With narrow descriptors you say very clearly, at character creation, "this is what I want my character to do a lot in play." With broad ones, you leave that more open for play to decide. But still, these "competence descriptors" are always means, never ends. They usually have a numerical value that increases your chance of getting what you want, and a descriptive function that gets incorporated into the game fiction. But they can only help you get what you want, they never are what you want.

Ad 2)

I'm not claiming that I know exactly how Conflict Resolution is defined in common Forge parlance. It's always been one of the more problematic terms for me, among other things because it always gets tangled up with Fortune in the Middle vs. Fortune at the End.
But looking at your examples, they are both about what your character does, and then resolving how that works out. You make up a short-term goal in your mind and then you identify an action, opposed or not, that should, in your opinion, achieve the goal. But your roll only determines whether your action succeeds. Based on that, you and the GM will assess how the in-game situation evolves and probably you'll reach your goal but maybe something else entirely will happen, based on what your GM has up his sleeve and what you as a group negotiate.

That's Task Resolution and Fortune at the End.

Now compare that to a game system where you would very clearly state your goal, maybe even a long-term goal, and there is an opposing party in the conflict and the GM states their goal, and then you make a roll. And if you succeed, you figure out what happens: What does your character do, what do the others do, how do you reach your goal? But it's a given that you do, in fact, reach your goal and the opposing party does not.

That's Conflict Resolution and Fortune in the Middle.

I would argue that Consequences in FATE are a feature of Conflict Resolution but Skills/Attributes are certainly not. That's not to diminish the observations pointed out in your post about how Attributes are different from Skills, which I do find worthwhile to discuss. But I think it's not about Conflict Resolution vs. Task Resolution.

- Frank
BARBAREN! - The Ultimate Macho Role Playing Game - finally available in English


Neither of those examples leans one way or the other.  task vs cr is about the nature of what is being resolved, rather than the mechanics/skills/traits used to resolve it.

The easiest way to think about task vs conflict is that it takes two to tango.  Conflict resolution is about competing intentions clashing, and resolving that clash.

The scope for CR could be fairly broad - character A wants to get into the castle, character B wants to stop him.  roll a relevent combat skill for each and see which happens.

Or it could be fairly narrow - character A wants to kick character B in the nuts.  character B wants to smash character A in the face.  roll a relevent combat skill for each and see which happens.

CR gets a bit more confusing when you feel you need to resolve somethign where there is only one character involved. Lets say character A is trying to climb the sheer wall of the tower to gain entry.  Pertty hard to do, even for a thief.  Maybe we need to resolve that ?  Well, one line of thought is, if the character isnt doing it in opposition to another character, why roll at all, get that theif up the tower and take it from there.  But that wont satisfy everyone.  some people want to roll anyway.  OK, so can we introduce another character into the equation?  There might be guards or monsters guarding the tower - their intention would naturally be to detect intruders.  The thiefs natural intention would be to avoid detection, so lets make it roll for the thief intention of "make it up the tower avoiding detection" vs guards "stop any intruders entering the tower" roll, and see who wins. 

If that last option isnt appropriate for the situation, but you still insist on resolving the sitaution formally, then fall back to task res.  no biggie.


Sorry for my seeming absence. I wanted to look into a few things, as you have given me some things to mull over.

Let me put a couple things up front. I'm still learning the lingo here. Especially when it come to Forge terminology, I never assume that I have it 100% right. Also, as Frank noted, this isn't really about CR vs. TR, though for the next paragraph it's probably going to look that way.


Based on my understanding, I think that your description of CR as being related to "what you as a player find important in your character" is at least not the total description of CR. I am all for what you suggest, and I think it is in many cased a well considered design pattern, but there are other features of CR that seem to have nothing to do with it. For example, the "dice mean what they say" is a facet often discussed, as is stake setting and eliminating unnecessary rolls "say yes or roll the dice." Also, the means by which a player contributes to the fiction of the game is very different in CR. And I don't think any of that has to do with the "what you as a player find important in your character" pattern.

Dogs also uses an attribute pattern, and the way in which it relates to the trait pattern is very similar to the way in which aspects and skills/stats relate to each other in the current batch of FATE games. No, they are not identical, and yes, the dice-play is very, very different, but I think there is a significant amount of similarity here in the basic structure of these games. This makes me wonder if I'm missing something in your response.

I'm not even sure what to say about Fortune in the Middle/End. I had not even begun to think about that part of the equation.

I suppose this means I should make a second pass at describing what I think I may have noticed. I see the attribute pattern as ever so slightly nudging towards a more CR kind of approach, and a skill pattern as ever so slightly nudging towards a more TR kind of approach. I think that is does this in part by the difference in scope (broad vs. narrow descriptors) and partly by the more open ended nature of the attribute pattern. It seems to me that the attribute patterns gets you thinking about what you want more readily than the skill pattern. This is, of course, completely internal and is a matter of how the player themselves relates to the game mechanics and the game fiction. But nevertheless, I do think that I see the ability pattern prompting a player's creativity in such a way that gets them thinking about their goals. I may be off with that, maybe it's just me, but this is what I am trying to talk about (talk sensibly? that's another thing altogether!).


I think that deep down we, all three of us, agree about the basic nature of what CR is. I said "ends (CR) vs. means (TR)" as a hyper-simplified look at one feature of it, Frank said "they can only help you get what you want, they never are what you want" and you said "conflict resolution is about competing intentions clashing, and resolving that clash." I think all three of these statements are describing the same thing. Maybe to differing degrees, maybe with more detail, maybe more effectively, but I think that we are all in agreement about this.

"Neither of those examples leans one way or the other.  task vs cr is about the nature of what is being resolved, rather than the mechanics/skills/traits used to resolve it." Yeah, totally. What I'm saying is that the attribute pattern seems to put the creative focus on thinking about what you are trying to resolve at the time when you decide what attribute bears on the situation. That is the nudge towards CR, I think.

If nobody else is seeing this then maybe it's not actually there, or maybe this nudge is so small as to be almost completely insignificant.



I suppose a skill system encourages you to break down problems in a more granular fashion.  Theoretically that doesnt mean TR or CR one way or the other, but in practice TR tends towards granular, so thats the link your seeing I guess.


This may be purely perceptual, and varied amongst people, I have a preference for skill based systems and turn off when attributes are dominant. I find Attributes too broad to suggest usage. I guess it's the whole 'creative constraints' thing. I prefer attributes to be qualified, say Tall and Willowy or String Build rather than some kind of size attribute for example.

As to FATE in general, it's kind of a middle ground game, it has features like CR, FitM and Declarations but it seeks to appear unthreatening to traditional gamers. Some have described it as a gateway drug to the Indy Scene. The question is what does it achieve by doing this? In my experience it takes a bit of struggle to make FATE work with traditional players, and much actual play of FATE I have seen play style is not greatly changed purely by the system.

Another potential problem is that the FATE/FUDGE community is a very broad church, so individual iterations of the game system may be suited or designed for different styles of play. This may settle down when the core rules are published and it is easier to identify what the game is. I would argue that anything other than SotC and DF are just the community using the new shiny tools available through the OGL, to mixed results.


I really wanted to like SoF. Really, really wanted to like it. But the more I have read through it and the more I have discussed it with my players, the more it feels, well, too generic. And one of the major reasons for this is the attributes list.

There are concepts in SoF that I plan on borrowing for my future FATE-hacks, but the core rules are too different from the core FATE-line to fit with our ideas. Yes, there are ideas that can be dropped (Aspects Alphabet was dropped immediately), but once we start dropping things we didn't care for, we found that we were coming closer to Diaspora, SotC, LoA/SBA, and DFRPG. So SoF has ended up as a vague ideabox for us, but little else.

Erik Weissengruber

Always: think about compells in your table's implementation of FATE

It will change the feel of tasks and conflicts.  Imagine the difference between a game that allows compells only on the set of canonical skills, not attribute rolls.  Or vice versa.  Or allows compells on conflicts but not on discrete tasks.  Or otherwise. 

Diaspora is laser-clear in how that currency is employed in the general mechanics, as well as introducing setting-enforcing compell rules in the sub-games.