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No Such Thing as Too Much Information

Fun-Hating, Pugnacious Misanthrope

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On Fastlane
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So, I love Fastlane. It was my first true game design. I think a lot of the things that it established are worthwhile for pursuit in other games. (Players controlling their risk/reward ratio; a restricted GM role)

One of the parts of Fastlane that I've really enjoyed and loved is the Favor. The favor is, more or less, an ablative relationship. It can connect an NPC and a PC, or two PCs (favors between NPCs are considered the responsibility of the croupier, and not worth tracking).

Now, unfortunately, the Favor requires a lot of paperwork. Assuming we have X PCs and Y NPC, that makes X(X-1)(Y) potential combinations of favors. Also, people can owe multiple favors to the same individual.

This has led to the Big Three of Fastlane's sheets: the Character Sheet, the Supporting Character Sheet (eventually the Crowd Sheet), and the Master Favor Record (often multiple pages in length).

On one hand, the Favor mirrors a lot of the situation/style/color that the game is attempting to build.
On the other hand, the Favor requires a shitload of paperwork, especially if handled the way I envision it being handled.

In my experience, in some Fastlane sessions, the Favors are never mentioned or touched. But the Favors influence character/story creation, as the conceit of the favors manage to allow the PCs to create additional supporting characters (and 'you owe me' was a great kind of damage).

So, on the eve of Fastlane: Revised being released (I believe the last unit of the old Fastlane print edition was sold last year) I'm investigating and questioning every facet of the game. Some changes are already established (see: but now I'm giving Favors a close examination as well, and am now considering removing the Favors entirely because of the paperwork.

Fastlane is already a complicated and busy game on the table, what with the chips and the bidding and the wheel and all that. I'm now wondering if favors are a needless complexity. Does anyone (who knows about
Fastlane) have any input? Especially if you've done any actual play...

I may be considering killing a darling; but I may also be removing an integral part.

I'd say that favors are a powerful part of the game, but you're lucky that they're optional - that is, the game works without them as well. I would suggest that you would do well to retain this facet of the system while making it clear that it's optional. This way new players can get into the game without an excess of paperwork, while more experienced players can introduce the rule once they are on top of all the other things going on in the game.

That's a good idea. Make Favors a module, so to speak.

I haven't played Fastlane, but it seems that a chart is the wrong way to manage favors. You want a shared relationship diagram with favors written next to the relationship arrows. Favors = relationships. Then it will become a central part of play.


Can you explain what this might look like? Keep in mind that there might be multiple favors connecting two people (in both directions). How does this reduce the amount of paperwork and/or bookkeeping?

I don't think it reduces the amount of bookkeeping at all. It's just a more intuitive way to organize relationships than a master list, I think.

I wouldn't ditch Favors


2010-05-12 04:17 pm (UTC)

I wouldn't ditch Favors. They're mechanically interesting and fun. Instead, think about how to simplify them.

Could you manage them somehow in the abstract, using colored chips. My sense is that the specifics of the favor are less important than the fact that someone owes you for something. In the context of play folks will sometimes remember why someone owes them, and so will roleplay the details, or sometimes not remember the details but will see from the chips that they do owe a Favor, and so then may just roleplay a somewhat general indebtedness. And that seems real.

Or do it like the question dice in Thousand and One Nights. Don't allow recording the details but if when claiming on a favor the player can't remember the details they can't make the claim and the colored chip representing it just goes away.

Or if you want a "What have you done for me lately?" dynamic do it like the We Owe list in In A Wicked Age. Have one master list where only the most recent owed Favor can be claimed. When it is, cross it off the stack.


Re: I wouldn't ditch Favors


2010-05-12 09:09 pm (UTC)

Unfortunately, the way chips work in Fastlane makes your first suggestion impossible. Like with an actual roulette wheel, each player already gets their own color. Except for the croupier, who just uses a pile of chips of every color. (NPCs don't get their own colors)

The average roulette wheel comes with 5 or 6 colors, which means a limit of 5 or 6 characters, plus the croupier.

The *reason* for the favor almost means nothing in the game; that's just color, great for detailing the story and the narrative, but mechanically unimportant. The *value* of the favor, on the other hand, is paramount.

If you owe me a 6-chip favor, I can mandate you spend 6 chips on any action I desire (or, if you balk, I can penalize you). Why you owe me doesn't matter. The fact that you owe me matters, as well as *how much* you owe me.

Re: I wouldn't ditch Favors


2010-05-13 05:49 pm (UTC)

Okay, perhaps then limit a player's recording of favors to a "stack" of two. If a player will owe a third favor, then it's recorded and the bottom one is crossed off.


Re: I wouldn't ditch Favors


2010-05-12 10:19 pm (UTC)

Ditching favors would be a really bad idea. They may not be mandatory, but they're crucial, both to the inter-character dynamics and the overall feel of the game. Having run the game once for 3-5 sessions, I do agree that the paperwork involved is a bit problematic. I think Paul has an interesting idea, but I don't think it's all the way ready for prime time, mainly because the ability to pull in an old, forgotten favor is evocative of the kinds of stories that Fastlane excels at telling, and restricting when a favor can be called in, how much of it can be called in would change things too much.

Here's an idea that is half-baked, but maybe could be baked the rest of the way into something workable.

Get rid of the master list. At the beginning of the first session, have the player pick one of their own favors, and have them pick a favor on another person's list to put on a session list. This accomplishes one of the things I see as a primary goal of the Master Favor List, which is to put favors before the GM and the other players, so they are more likely to be incorporated into play. Additionally, it serves as a flag to all players that what people are interested in seeing this session.

When new favors are created in play, they go onto the session list. When existing favors are altered in any way, they go onto the list. They are not modified on the individual character sheets in play, only on the session list.

At the end of the session, the session list is discarded. If there's a new favor that wasn't already written on a player's sheet, they can spend a chip from their bank to buy it. If it's on their sheet, it stays there. ONLY if this is done is the GM required to add the related NPC (assuming they're not already there) to the Supporting Character List.

This way, people don't have favors to disposable NPCs cluttering up their sheet, and the favors that come up in play don't need to be tracked in multiple places. There's no need to maintain the MFR at all.

Re: I wouldn't ditch Favors


2010-05-12 10:20 pm (UTC)

That was me.

Re: I wouldn't ditch Favors


2010-05-19 06:37 pm (UTC)

any thoughts to the follow-up?

So, what's become of this discussion?

I'm planning another, follow-up post, trying to create a weird Frankenstein hybrid of several suggestions.

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