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Fate Core has a key bit of GM advice called the Pillars: You should always give the PCs opportunities for competence, proactivity, and drama.

Two of my favorite genres, neo-noir and black comedy, have several common leading roles:

  • The hero who does everything right (Marge Gunderson in Fargo).
  • The psycho who does horrible things well (Gaear Grimsrud in Fargo, Mr. Blonde).
  • The fool who has most everything go his way (Norville in The Hudsucker Proxy, the Dude).
  • The chump who can't do anything right (Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo).

The hero is a perfect fit for the Fate Pillars. The psycho and the fool aren't traditional RPG heroes, but they also work fine with the Pillars – you just need to compel them appropriately. I'm not sure what to do about the chump, though. It's a big enough role that I wouldn't want to play it as an NPC, plus chumps don't pose significant opposition for anyone. I think I could have fun playing a chump as a PC. I just have no idea how I'd make it work reasonably with the Fate mechanics, which are very much geared toward making PCs competent.

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I'm interested in this as well, as I'm currently playing a chump. Bonus points if the answer involves wood chippers. –  Problematic Jun 5 '13 at 22:21

2 Answers 2

up vote 6 down vote accepted

The Competence Pillar doesn't need to be subverted if the Chump is supposed to be good at being a chump. Jerry Lundegaard doesn't get much right, but his string of misfortune is what drives the story of Fargo. It gives Marge a chance to shine and gives Gaear a chance to murder people.

One thing that Jerry is good at is coming up with schemes. He's got a pretty crappy life and he's always looking for ways to make it better. He also happens to be horrible at these schemes, but what if he wasn't? For making a playable Chump, I would look at things that the character might have become good at over a long string of losses. The Chump could be a guy who manages to barely scrape by in spite of his failures (an expert at failing with style), or he could know half of the criminals in town and be considered harmless by all of them. He's certainly one of the more forward-thinking characters, always moving forward and trying to do things better even though he's objectively a loser.

If I were playing a Chump in Fate, I would capitalize on his bum luck to milk compels. His scheming would rarely work out (if ever), but his mistakes would give the more personally competent characters a good idea of what not to do (plus some juicy drama in which to shine). Additionally, his attitude and willingness to move forward would likely be a morale-booster to the rest of the group - after all, if the least capable of their number doesn't lose heart (even when he's a coward), what excuse do the others have? The Chump can be the ultimate team player.

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This reminds me of Eeyore – he runs into misfortune all the time, and he complains about it, but he also keeps soldiering on no matter what. One thing about the chump is that while he rarely gets what he really wants, he's not (usually) the guy to end up in the chipper-shredder either. –  Bradd Szonye Jun 6 '13 at 8:02
    
That's more or less what I meant by managing to scrape by. Whether it's financial or just surviving, being a non-entity is non-threatening. Life doesn't follow dramatic rules, but Fate does, and it's not as good a story if the pathetic office worker or used car salesman gets killed compared to the high-powered businessman or the dangerous thug. –  Holland Wilson Jun 6 '13 at 8:34
    
Do you have any recommendations for aspects or stunts that would help with this low-profile survivor idea? I'm thinking that chumps should probably be good at defense and creating advantages for other people, but weak at overcoming obstacles and attacks. –  Bradd Szonye Jun 6 '13 at 8:39
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With the Chump, his Trouble would rule him. Aspects are considered always true, so if a player had a Trouble like "Nothing Ever Goes Right", I would honor that in spite of whatever the dice say. Stunts would be mostly geared toward survivability and playing support. Stunts allowing more consequences would be appropriate. Perhaps a stunt that allows the Chump to take a failure on a successful roll in order to boost somebody else's roll. –  Holland Wilson Jun 6 '13 at 8:47

The Fool

The fool is easy - use his aspects to drive his "luckiness"... get table permission to drop a skill or two, in lieu of some very vague aspects about his role. I'm not familiar with the characters you mention, but I know the type.

EG:

  • Concept: Everthing Goes My Way
  • Trouble: don't know nuthin bout nothin
  • Always Finds the right tool for the job
  • Just plain lucky.
  • I can always find help.

Always find the right tool for the job: The advantage is obvious - spend a fate, get a +2, and narrate finding something useful. The drawback is that sometimes, you can't make use of that right tool. Or you won't settle for the wrong one.

Just Plain Lucky: The drawback - skill's what's needed, and this zeppo doesn't really have it.

I can always find help: the drawback side is "sometimes, I need more help than I got" or "For once, there is no help!"

The Psycho

The guy who does horrible things well is again defined more by aspects.

  • Concept: I'm the unpleasant force that can't be stopped.
  • trouble: I'm dangerous and scary.
  • When the situation is grim, I'm your man, especially if I can make it grimmer!
  • Make it hurt to make it work...
  • That scary kind of Crazy

The concept is dual edged due to it providing plenty of room for compels... scare off the target, or won't back down.

Dangerous and Scary likewise is useful at times, but also is the warning to others.

Make it hurt to make it work: this is where it turns him into the scary psyhco. If he can do it painfully, he gets to invoke for bonus. But also, it's useful against him - He can't find the right source of pain for the situation. Or there's no pain involved, so he's not into it.

The Chump

The chump is harder to do.

  • Concept: I am an incompetent boob.
  • Trouble: Things go south around me.
  • I can only help
  • Lovable but inept.

This guy is best as an NPC, or as a sidekick.

Note that he's best as an invoke against the rest of the party. Or by the rest of the party.

Remember, you can use other people's aspects.

I can only help: can be used against him when he does stuff, but can be used by others to provide them access to another aspect when he's present and willing.

Lovable but inept: again, great for compels on his friends.

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I think the question was really only about the chump, so even if you want to keep the rest of your answer, you should move the chump up front. :) –  starwed Jun 6 '13 at 0:59
    
Thanks for expanding on the Fool and the Psycho – I already had some thoughts on those, but concrete examples are always good. As for the Chump, I try to avoid taking on GMPCs and similar leading roles – I don't have the attention span for it – but the suggestion of using him like a sidekick is good (and apt for chumps like Carl in Fargo). A chump sidekick could fill the supporting “buff” role in a group of PCs, just with a different flavor from most buffers. –  Bradd Szonye Jun 6 '13 at 8:08

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