Consequences as Positive Currency

The idea that Fate’s consequences are a kind of currency isn’t new. Many of you are already familiar with the -2/-4/-6 consequences approach we use and recommend, as seen in the Dresden Files RPG and other places. Along with the stress track, they add a tiny resource-management aspect to Fate, and they tie into the larger Fate point economy by way of being aspects themselves.

That said, they’re also a bit of an oddity. Fate is not a game chock full of subtraction. In general if we want to reflect the effect of a penalty in Fate, we instead try to shift the perspective on it such that something is getting a bonus instead (factors that increase difficulty rather than penalties to your roll, for example). It’s an odd quirk of the design, but it’s couched in the feeling that doing a series of additions feels, well, more positive. It’s an escalation, a case of something pushing to more awesome heights, rather than reaching for those heights but getting yanked back. The math is ultimately the same, but the experience of that math, at least for us, feels better this way.

So why didn’t we do this for consequences? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you for sure. I suspect we came to them thinking strictly in terms of damage mitigation — as assets which would reduce the stress you’re already going to be taking otherwise. Phrasing them instead as “armor bonuses” or something like that would, in this case, feel a bit tortured. There are times when subtraction is the better option because it’s just simpler.

But let’s push at that a little: if we step away from a model of mitigation, and start with the idea that our consequences are +2/+4/+6 (or +1/+2/+4, to take a cue from Diaspora, or whatever other progression suits you), what does that do for us?

For starters, consequences would become boosters to the defense roll that would simply eliminate the idea that you’re otherwise taking the hit at all. I might have rolled a Good (+3) defense against your Great (+4) attack, but if I’m willing to spend my +2 consequence, my defense goes to a Superb (+5) and your attack doesn’t (technically) land. Sure, I had to give myself this nasty limp to get there, but at least I’m not taken out.

It strikes me that this model would support a no-stress-track implementation pretty well, where you’re taken out simply if you fail to defend yourself adequately, but for the benefit of consequences. That could be extended a little further to Fate 2 style exchanges, I imagine, where attack and defense are the same action, and the win goes to the person whose roll comes out on top — but it’s certainly likelier both parties would get there a little bloody due to some back and forth consequence-spending. That’s intriguing for sure. There’s some middle ground there, too, where it might not take a single victory to take someone out, unless that victory was big enough (a margin of 3 or better), with lesser victories giving the victor “the advantage” (a +1 on the next roll, say). Fights would be super quick and, depending on the rules and strictures placed on “taken out”, potentially very lethal.

Outside of the familiar defense scenario, what other implications come from this?

If you’re sticking with +2/+4/+6 as your progression, that ties into the +2 from invocations by way of equivalence (-2/-4/-6 does this too but less obviously). Consequences are a way to save yourself some fate points, then. No need to spend a fate point and invoke that aspect to boost your defense if you’re willing to take a mild consequence for the same +2 boost. Extra useful if you don’t have any fate points to begin with, big spender.

If that (effective) equivalence exists, though, maybe you could let it flow both ways. Don’t have a fate point? Spend a consequence, and get 1, 2, or 3 depending on the magnitude. It’d be like an on-demand micro-refresh of sorts, with a price attached, and I know any number of players who’d cheerfully hose themselves with a consequence in order to grab a few extra fate points in an hour of need.

Those fate points are, in this case, just an exchange medium, though. They’re going to be spent to buy off a compel, invoke an aspect, declare a detail, what-have-you. But it might be simpler instead to bypass the fate point economy and instead let the bonus from a consequence apply to any part of any roll.

You may have caught in my discussion of defense, above, that I was also implying that the attack side of the equation could get the bonus from a consequence, too. And how cool is that — the guy who takes a Moderate “Deep Shoulder Wound” consequence to get a +4 that takes down the bad guy? But there’s no need to stop at combat once you’ve started down that path.

Need to get that crucial piece of research, but your Academics roll is falling short? Pull an all-nighter, and take the mild consequence “Groggy as Hell” for a +2 on that roll.

You absolutely need to get that piece of information out of that mob boss? Get a +4 on your Rapport roll and you will — but it’ll cost you that “Overplayed My Hand” moderate  consequence, which is sure to bite you on the ass when the mob boss comes to make you an offer you really can’t refuse.

Positioned this way, consequences can become even more central to your play, and importantly, a tool that’s usable in every circumstance rather than just in conflicts. And by my lights, that’s pretty damn cool.