Locations, Fate Core Style: Part I

If one were to ask me what things are critical to bringing an rpg “to life”, I’d say: characters and locations. Nearly everything else is secondary, including the greater world. You need the characters to have roles to play, and the locations to interact with.

In Fate Core, locations are often synonymous with scenes. Even if Fate Core doesn’t use hexes and grids and one foot step maneuvers and whatnot, the locations are just as important. The focus might be somewhat different mechanically, but the high level considerations are the same. This means that in Fate Core I ask myself the same basic questions I always have when setting up a map for a scene or encounter:

  • What’s the purpose of the location in the scene or the overall scenario?
  • What interesting thing(s) can happen here?
(it shouldn’t need to be said, but if you can’t answer both those questions the location might not be the right one for the moment)

In all likelihood, I’ll already have an idea of what I need for the location, but it helps to actually spell it out. The purpose also helps guide the actual layout of the location. I usually keep an eye on the exact scale I’m dealing with, and how many zones I think it should encompass. This isn’t too different than how I would set up locations in other rpgs, albeit a little fuzzier. Sometimes it’s a matter of pacing – I want a number of zones and other obstacles that will force the players to use their noggins on how to exit stage left, but not bog things down too much. The difference with Fate Core is I will often come away with a situation aspect or two before even getting into any of the details.

The interesting things can happen in the location follows straight out of the location’s purpose. Is it a gorge waiting to have an ambush happen in it? An old foundry with chains and bessemer converters? This is the good stuff, regardless of what game you’re planning for. You just need to know what can be picked up; smashed; interacted with; what’s special; what makes this place different. Typical top-down encounter maps can be chock full of these kinds of little details, but in the absence of a detailed map I’ve found it’s important to note down the things that are likely to make the location pop for the players. A lot of the time I’ll work in aspects with free invocations, such as a Boiling Pot of Soup or a Loose Manacle Pin that the players can discover and use. Unless there’s a reason that an aspect remain hidden (such as the File In The Birthday Cake that the imprisoned PCs just received), I typically include the more obvious or interesting things in the location’s description. It helps cue in the players to what is important.

In my next post, I’ll go through the steps (and hopefully have a little map) of one of the locations I’ll be using in Fate of Vimary.

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