This session began right where the previous had left off, with our three heroes having just jumped off the train. Introductions finally occurred, but Jonah & Sebastian did not divulge the details about Sebastian’s fugitive situation to Martin. We got the beginnngs of a conflict between Martin’s spirtuality, and Jonah’s “I blame God” baggage, which continued to grow throughout the session.
They knew that there was nothing anywhere nearby along the rail to either the East or West, but that if they headed south a few days travel through the Arizona desert they could get to several places. They knew that they were not equipped at all for this expedition, and that the desert would present a dangerous trek.
At this point I explained to them how we would be handling the desert trek mechanically, so that they could weigh their options. The main point to understand was that it was dangerous to travel at the peak of day, and while the night was least lethal, progress and foraging would be difficult. See below for the full write-up on the Arizona Desert.
They chose to follow the train tracks back just a little ways to see if they could possibly find the horses that the Apache raiders had abandoned when they attacked the train. This took them into the evening, without the possibility of making any prrogress (since they were going the wrong way!) but with the hope of the horses giving them a significant advantage in the conflict. When it got dark, Jonah, being a “City Slicker” had had enough travelling, and made camp for them, while Sebastian and Martin kept looking for the horses. Martin was able to Create Advantage using his Mysticism to call the horses to them. Once the two horses came, Sebastian pulled a jerk move and hopped on one and promptly rode away into the night. Martin, not knowing that Jonah had arrrested him, was surprised, but thought it mostly inconsiderate. We all agreed that this would be an excellent compel for him to get pathetically lost in the dark and wind up going in a circle and ending up back in camp. He made up story that he rode off to lead some critter away from Martin. Between their various interactions, Martin now thinks that Sebastian is a fabulous fellow, and there is some tension between Martin and Jonah’s views on spirituality.
In the night, the group was attacked by a fierce desert monster called a Cupakabara (see this write-up for the full stats). The fight was fast and fierce. I had a rough time knowing how hard to make the monster to challenge the group of 3 PC’s. It actually ended up conceding before it could do too much damage. Had it just been an encounter on it’s own, without the combined pressure from the desert, it wouldn’t have been terribly meaningful, but in that context it worked pretty well. I think it also did a good job of enforcing the predatory and exotic nature of the desert. Coincidentally, it also corroborated Sebastian’s story about leading away a dangerous critter from Martin when they were getting the horses. Between their various interactions, Martin now thinks that Sebastian is a fabulous fellow, and there is some tension between Martin and Jonah’s views on spirituality.
They continued their trek through the wilderness, opting to travel for the morning, taking shelter and resting midday, then travelling for the evening and into the first phase of night, then resting again for the rest of night. To try and keep things from stagnating, I declared that they couldn’t repeat the same combination of Approach and Ability in from one exchange to the next. This resulted in some good creative problem solving as they came up with ways to shuffle their various Approaches and Abilities for best results. Their power combo was Martin being Carefully Mystic to Create Advantage to create a bonus for travel (since he had a stunt that spoke to this), and Jonah being Carefully Athletic to make the actual travel progress roll (since he had a stunt that spoke to this). They had to manage when they used different A&A combinations to ensure they could use this potent combo during their travel phases. This occasionally resulted in some situations that were somewhat questionable, but ultimately entertaining, like Sebastian using his Social Ability to “warm” everyone’s spirits against the cold night.
As we got on into the second and third day, I started throwing pumping Fate Points into the desert to up the ante. For example – I invoked the desert’s “Prairie Storms” aspect to intensify the challenge. The conflict took it’s toll, and by the time they finally “took out” the desert, every single player had at least one Consequence of some kind, and they were really sweating. But, they persevered, and a settlement appeared in the distance, to everyone’s relief.
How Did It Work?
The Fractaled Desert
Narratively, I wanted this session to focus on them working their way through the punishing desert, like a montage scene in a movie. At first, I was going to run it as a challenge, but I really wanted the desert to grind them down, with a real risk of being “taken out” by the trial. Then I had another idea, thanks to the awesomeness that is the Fate Core Google+ Community. Making use of the “Bronze Rule of Fate,”
(aka- the Fate Fractal) I built the Arizona Desert as a fully statted-out opponent. I treated the whole trek as an extended conflict against the desert. Intead of a violent conflict, this was a conflict about survival skills and endurance. The Travel Progress checks, which would normally be Overcome checks, would now be “Attacks,” in that any shifts in excess of the Desert’s active resistance would deal stress on the Travel Stress track. It was one long, ongoing scene, so the stress from any fights during the trek would not recover until the conflict with the desert was resolved. If they were taken out by the desert, they would be at my mercy, which I had a plan for, but if they successfully “beat” the desert, it would fade into the background and no longer present a major obstacle.
In retrospect, I could have done without the Hunger & Thirst attempt to Create Advantage each round. It ended up just generally complicating things, and I don’t think it added much in return. While I do think it was valuable tactically, it definitely added a level of complication that I’m not really convinced was worth it.
One thing that was interesting was that this session highlighted the difference between Teamwork and Create Advantage. Teamwork only adds a +1, but it’s a guaranteed +1. While Create Advantage is potentially much more beneficial, it is by no means guaranteed.
I really like how this all played out. My only complaint would be that towards the end the selection and rotation of Approaches & Abilities got a little more mechanistic, and a bit less narrative. I stopped pushing for detailed explanations of what they were actually doing. Part of this was that we were very pressed for time towards the end and needed to wrap up quickly, so we started cutting corners, but also just because I got lazy. Nonetheless, it created a very interesting tactical challenge, I got to explore some interesting new angles in the Fate system, and everyone had fun with it, so I’d say it was a victory!
The Arizona Desert
“Mercilessly scorching Desert” “Stark rocky cliffs” “Scrubby vegetation” “Terrible things stalk the night” “Praerie Storms”
Climate +3 (Attack)
Hunger & Thirst +3 (Create Advantage)
Travel Progress +3 (Defend)
Scorching Days, Exposed Nights – During the peak of the day (Travel phase 2) gain a +2 to Climate Attacks (total of +5), and -2 during night time (Travel phase 4 & 5) (Total of +1)
Dark Night – Due to the intense dark, it is difficult safely travel at night, as well as to forage for food or water. During the night time (Travel phase 4 & 5) gain a +2 to Travel Progress “Defense” and Hunger & Thirst Create Advantage (total of +5 each).
Travel Stress     
Each day consists of five phases. Each phase will be an exchange in the conflict with the Desert.
1 – Morning
2 – Midday
3 – Evening
4 – Late Night
5 – Early Morning
Rules of Conflict
The party must rest at least 2 phases per day. During each phase, the Desert makes a Climate attack against all members of the party individually. In order to make progress, the party must make Travel Progress “Attacks” against the Desert. The Desert makes a single Hunger & Thirst attempt to Create Advantage against the group as a whole (single Defense roll for the group) only during the phases in which the party is active. The same members cannot contribute to both the Travel Progress attack, and the Hunger & Thirst active resistance, they must choose which they will contribute to.
If you use one combination of an Approach & Ability in a particular round, you may not use that same combination for the same action type in the following round. For example, if I used Cleverly Skilled to make a Travel Progress Attack this round, I could not do the same thing next round. I could, however, make a Carefully Skilled Progress Attack.