Nonviolent Fate

Why Fate Core?

It's easy for me to get distracted by a bunch of factors: first, fiddling endlessly fiddling with the technology to talk to the internet (hi, internet!); second, fiddling with game systems as such, especially trying for the Perfect Dice System; and third, digressing hugely about nonviolence as a psychological, cultural, and political topic. Also, reddit. (If you haven't seen it before, I apologize for ruining your life.)

Choosing Fate Core alleviates several of those factors for me. I don't think that Fate Core is the "perfect" system to do nonviolence in; I do, however, think it allows nonviolence to work believably and with dramatic flair. Committing to it forces me to channel my thoughts with some care, like writing a poem that must use "candle," "top hat," and "syzygy" while avoiding "an" and "my."

Nonetheless, some maundering on nonviolence

What I want to be able to convey in gaming is that nonviolence can be effective, as well as dramatically interesting. The word "nonviolence" has an unfortunate inertia that means it doesn't get replaced, and has to be explained frequently. So, and explanation: "nonviolence" is derived somewhat literally from the Sanskrit word ahimsa, often also translated as "non-harming." Thinkers using Indic languages have a habit of using a negation to talk about a positive phenomenon that nonetheless resists easy labeling. So ahimsa isn't simply the absence of violence (though that's a pre-requisite), nor really its opposite. Talking about an "opposite" of something usually brings up this conception of a dialectic clash, leading, as I joked earlier today, to the idea of a "war on violence." Hopefully the problem with that is kind of obvious. (A fine new friend and I discussed this earlier and I decided that English could use a new prefix, mu-: "a judo-like reversal, changing the term to its opposite without attacking it." A bit much to impose on English, but have fun with it if you like.)

The point is, nonviolence isn't some absence, and even less is it some kind of weakness or submission. It can be a force more powerful than violence, able to overcome and pacify it, not by domination, but by awakening people's humanity.

A game that offers nonviolence without mandating it also needs to take violence seriously. People wouldn't use violence if it didn't provide them with some kind of satisfaction and effectiveness.

Rules Bits

What it comes down to for Chimaera is to be able to codify these things somehow. Fate Core offers up some nice, simple building blocks: skills, aspects, and stunts.

Aspects

Aspects are your usual first go-to in Fate to get something done without having to write new rules. Ghandi-like patience, Blessing of St. Francis, Master of nonviolent resistance, and so on could let you invoke to gain a bonus when using any skill to deal with the game's world, or to know someone in the unarmed underground, etc. And the GM is entirely justified in leaning on those statements of values with compels.

Aspects are also a frequent requirement for skills and stunts that have a thematic element. I don't think that makes sense here, however, as the use of nonviolent methods in conflicts is literally universal. (I hope readers will agree that the majority of negotiating you do in a day doesn't involve violence.)

Skills

Empathy allows understanding other character's motivations, desires, needs, obsessions, fears, and so on by being an "aspect detector" in the game.

Rapport is the active side of this coin, used to build connection between the PC and other characters in the game, and to persuade others to your way of thinking.

Will can provide the mental grit required to sustain the gale of someone else's condemnation or threats with equanimity, allowing them to wear themselves down.

It's interesting to me that these self-same skills are useable by the sociopath just as much as the saint of nonviolence. Anyone with more than a few years' experience at life knows that trust can be created, only to later support vicious personal attacks. (Though attacks like that don't use physical force, they're not really nonviolent; they use verbal violence, from shouting and swearing to the subtleties of the nicely named cutting remark: "oh, did you make that yourself?")

Empathy, rapport, and will cover the personal level of nonviolence in Fate Core. The default skills don't include anything for larger-scale conflicts; adding something for strategy, tactics, and demagoguery might be called for. As with the personal scale, the nonviolent difference here is largely a question of intent. Gandhi's lesser-known compatriot, Badshah Khan, used fully military-style organization, including uniforms, in what would become Pakistan. Martin Luther King used all the skills of a military commander, or relied on his supporters' skills, to coordinate a massive nonviolent campaign for change. Had their minds turned to using violence, and had they the arms, they probably would have been very formidable opponents.

Side note: leverage and trust

Several people in the Fate commentariat have pointed out that it's pointless to persuade someone without some kind of leverage. For example, if that city guard you'd like to bribe to let you through the gate is perfectly happy with the circumstances of his job, and doesn't aspire to higher pay or feel that he's disrespected at work, it may simply be impossible to get your way.

Leverage typically is used to refer to what I'd call a dominating style of persuasion: can I appeal to someone's dissatisfaction, fear, or anxiety? This may not be evil in itself, but I don't think anyone will deny it tends to leave the leveraged person with a feeling of resentment, especially if they discover they've been persuaded on false pretenses.

Thinking about this, and about what builds satisfying relationships, I've settled on a sort-of opposite, namely trust. We all persuade our friends, and are persuaded by them, all the time, and maybe sometimes with a bit of leverage, but more often on trust. We desire reciprocity in friendships, and the everyday vulnerability of sharing our needs with each other is a big part of this.

Both of these phenomena may, I think, be recorded as aspects.

Stunts

Stunts to do with nonviolence have a telling mark that I can see: vulnerability. When people are shown a mirror by someone's expert use of empathy, they may rightly feel not trust, but suspsicion. Trust is built on an exchange, not only of effort or goods, but critically of attention: what we see, and what we allow others to see of us.

That's all good and well, but what's it mean game-wise? Well, for empathy stunts that can be used in a violent situation, there's a new type of cost: you have to spend a an exchange exquisitely capable of being hurt. If your opponent does hurt you, you get your fate point back (if you had to spend one).

For example: Soul Force

You may use Rapport as an "attack". Roll your Rapport as you would any attack. Your opponent gains an automatic Boost against you. If you Take Out an opponent with this stunt, the condition must reflect the nonviolent nature of this talent. Note that this does not preclude using any Consequences from this stunt's being used to enhance a later, violent attack. That makes you a sneaky bastard, rather than a saint. Note that a reputation as a back-stabber of this kind may be used against you in future interactions.

(On reflection, reputation is critically important to this kind of thing and may need a stronger mechanic to it--perhaps an automatic Consequence when betraying someone's trust?)

That's all I got for now. Interested to hear peoples' feedback on these ideas, especially if anyone's inspired to come up with more stunts.

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