Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fantasy: Mass Combat (Part I)

(Don't let the presence of the word "fantasy" up there fool you. These rules can be used for mass combat in any genre -- I think.)

My original goal was to see if I could use FATE to come up with a miniatures wargame that didn't require miniatures or terrain. So be warned: The following is likely to be way too crunchy for some people. Even though the bulk of these rules are months old, I have yet to playtest them (although I expect to in a few days), so give them a look-see, if you would, and tell me where I've gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Guiding Rules and Concepts
  • Chase rules: I like the way an independent pool of points is used to measure just how important the chase is, and the way those points can be spent to change things up during the chase.
  • Leadership: Specifically, the use of Leadership to help minions.
  • Units as characters: Treating units as characters with consequences, skills, and aspects.
  • Minion/Companion rules: If units are characters, they're most easily differentiated using these rules as a base.
  • Zones: I dig the abstraction of distance.
Player characters are commanders in these scenarios, not mere footsoldiers. If the PCs aren't in charge, don't use these rules.

Building An Army

Armies are built of individual units.

Skills for units are limited to the following:

  • Alertness
  • Intimidation
  • Melee
  • Missile
  • Maneuvering
  • Spirit
  • Stealth
Maneuvering is basically Athletics, but I don't like that word for a combat unit. Just doesn't sound right.

Spirit is a combination of Endurance and Resolve. Whether a unit is slaughtered or routed, the result is pretty much the same: It's taken out. The details of how that goes down are left to the consequences it suffers.

Alertness and Stealth are basically there to counter each other.

Battle Points
pay for units. The number of Battle Points each commander receives depends on how important the battle is. Use the Chase rules as a guide for this: 5 Battle Points for a skirmish that's just adding flavor, 10 for a battle that's the focus of the session, and 20 for a truly epic clash of armies. If the commanders are allies instead of enemies, and playing in a GM-run scenario, the GM gets Battle Points equal to the aggregate total of the players' Battle Points (or more, if, y'know, he feels like it).
  • For Your Consideration: Fate Points can be converted into Battle Points on a 1:1 basis. I'm not sure what I think of this, but... sure, why not?
Base Unit Cost is equal to the value of its apex skill. Units max out at Good (+3) quality.
  • Average units: One Average skill
  • Fair units: One Fair skill, two Average skills
  • Good units: One Good skill, two Fair skills, three Average skills

As for consequences, there's no consideration of degrees of severity here. The assumption is that these units won't really exist, in game terms, for any longer than the length of the battle, so there's no point dealing with any of that. However, we do track the nature of the consequence, whether physical or mental. A unit can withstand a number of consequences equal to one less than its quality. That is, Average units are taken out if they take even a single consequence, while Good units can take two without going down.

  • When a unit is defeated by a physical consequence, it's either wiped out or scattered beyond reformation.
  • When defeated by a mental consequence, the unit is demoralized, breaks ranks, and/or routs.

Every unit starts with one Aspect for free that reflects the racial make-up and nature of the unit. Examples: Dwarven Infantry, Elven Archers, Human Dragoons, Troll Shocktroops. You can't invoke your unit's Dwarven Infantry aspect to help with their Missile skill, for example -- but you can certainly invoke the Human Dragoons aspect to help move faster with Maneuvering (since dragoons are mounted troops).

Armoring a unit costs 1 Battle Point. This adds an appropriate aspect (e.g., "Human Infantry" and "Kite Shields," "Elven Archers" and "Mail Shirts").

By default, every unit has the tools it needs to get the job done. For 1 Battle Point, a unit can be equipped with superior or heavy weaponry. This gives it a +1 to either Melee or Missile rolls.

For 2 Battle Points, you get one Great (+4) Lieutenant that has access to the full gamut of skills, including Leadership (though not in excess of his or her commander). Build the Lieutenant as a Great character with one aspect and one stunt. Attaching a Lieutenant to a unit is the equivalent of the Independent advance for a Companion. Lieutenants can engage other Lieutenants, PCs, or important NPCs in one-to-one combat. Lieutenants are important NPCs in their own right, and should be treated as such.

Next Up in Part II: More!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Extra! Extra!

So this really great idea came into existence on over the past couple days, and even though it's not mine and I had nothing to do with its development, I want to post about it just to spread the word -- because God knows I'll be using it.

The idea originated with Paka as a result of thinking about what people often cite as SotC's one failing: the lack of an advancement system. He soon came to the realization that when it comes to pulp characters, they don't change themselves -- they change the world. This is essentially the same as having game-wide aspects, with the additional detail that the players are called upon to cough up one aspect apiece as the game begins, with another couple from the GM. Specifically, each of these aspects is a newspaper headline that describes the world, like so:


And so on.

Each player (including the GM) then picks one aspect to be relevant for the story arc, so if we have three players, they all decide that, somehow or other, this story will involve South American dinosaurs (or dinosaurs that live in South America, at any rate), some uppity monkeys, a mysterious radio transmission, and the Bulverian military (and/or Russia). Consider it another way to help the GM set things up.

"But," I hear you shout in your short-sightedness, "I thought this was about advancement!" It is! Just let me finish! Man, you always do this! Why can't you --

Sorry. Anyway.

Now, at the end of the story arc, whoever spent the most Fate Points adds a new headline or changes an existing one. Maybe those intelligent apes aren't so diplomatic anymore. Maybe the Russo-Bulverian war has finally broken out. Or maybe Mole-Men burrowed up from right under the White House lawn.

So over time, you accumulate headlines, effectively -- yes -- changing the world. And the more Fate Points you spend, the more influence you have on the world. It's a sort of long-term narrative control mechanism.

I think it's pretty rad, and Paka, or whoever he is when he isn't on (Judd? I don't know the guy), is pretty rad for having thought of it.

Now, some other ideas were floated in that thread to which I linked above, such as limiting the power of adding headlines to the GM and and the power of altering them to the players, but personally I like it as-is. I do have a couple other twists for it, though.

The whole thing reminds me a bit of John Wick's Houses of the Blooded, in which descriptive and editorial control for scenes and facets of the world can be shared by the players. That's... a whole other thing that I'm not going to get into here, but the point is that players can add new details ("Lady Windermere collects fans") or add new information to a detail ("But someone's stolen her favorite one"), but can't contradict or delete existing details. However, players can spend Style Points to veto a detail, or the GM can declare a detail "Bad Form" and axe it that way. (As far as I can recall, anyway.) I'd allow the same kind of thing here, but treat it like an escalating compel. That is, if you and I are both players and I'm so opposed to your headline for whatever reason (it's wildly out of tone, obviates a headline I want to do on my turn, etc.), I can spend a Fate Point to veto it -- but you can spend one to keep it -- but I can see your one Fate Point and raise you one -- and so on. I can't see people throwing away a ton of Fate Points on this sort of thing, but it seems fair to me.

Or maybe you can just use your turn during the pre-game headline process to cross out a headline instead of adding your own. I mean, don't be a dick about it, but this too seems fair to me.

Admittedly, this sort of thing works better in genres that actually have, y'know, newspaper headlines -- as I believe someone mentioned in the thread, you could present these as what paperboys on street corners are shouting out -- but there's certainly nothing stopping this from being applied to any game, really. It's just that it won't integrate itself so completely in every time period. I mean, yes, in a medieval-ish setting, you can have heralds for this sort of thing, but they don't really serve the same purpose as paperboys, nor would they technically deliver news in such a classic fashion, but man, that's a pretty minute quibble.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

And Back Again

Whew! I've been gone for the past two weeks in New Zealand, enjoying my honeymoon. It was awesome. I could go back there tomorrow. If it weren't so impractical on many levels, I'd even move there. If you aren't there already, go -- and if you are there, isn't it awesome?

Anyway, this isn't a "personal" blog, so I'll get to the point: Going to New Zealand has really had an effect on how I think about "the setting", a.k.a. The Unnamed Lands, as it's called when Andy isn't around (when he is, it's Aarde, because that's what he wants to call it). Maori culture is fascinating and criminally underused, if you ask me, in RPGs, and the landscape is... well, you saw it in "The Lord of the Rings," and yeah, it looks like that. Untamed temperate rainforest, imposing mountains, geothermal craters, glaciers... we took literally a thousand pictures. So out the window are all my narrow-minded ideas about European-style kingdoms in a European-style landscape, because New Zealand's is way cooler.

Before I left, though, I had this idea for swashbuckling FATE games that put a lot of emphasis on duels and fencing and that sort of thing, so I'll review that, run it by a friend or two, and post it later this week. I think it's pretty nifty, which leads me to suspect there's something dire and obvious about it that I'm missing.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fantasy: Demonbound Items

Kuron's hulking blade sliced through his enemies as a scythe cuts wheat. The rank and file of the mountain dwarves fell back in chaos in the face of the enraged barbarian. Power coursed through the greatsword's hilt into his mighty thews, energizing him, changing him, and he drank it in like the dry earth drinking rain. His blows rained down ever faster on the fear-stricken dwarves. In horror, they looked over their shoulder as they fled at his eyes -- once coal-black, now they glowed an inhuman red.

"Nurzkalak hungers!" he roared, in a voice not entirely his own. "Nurzkalak thirsts!" He paused a moment for a blood-curdling, throaty laugh, then resumed his lusty butchery anew.

. . .

The most powerful magic items achieve their potency not through the skill of artificers -- not solely so, at any rate -- but through altogether more dangerous means: the binding of demons.

Centuries ago, demons freely walked the lands of Aarde, leaving evil and sorrow in their wake. Their physical forms could be destroyed, albeit at great cost, but their ancient spirits would live on, find a new host, and return undiminished to wreak yet more havoc. Banishment from the corporeal world was possible but difficult and taxing, and always there existed the very real chance that a power-hungry summoner, tampering with forces beyond his imagining, would pull it back into reality and inadvertantly unleash the beast on the world again.

After years of toil, a group of highly skilled artificers developed a means of trapping demonic spirits into physical objects, binding the two together inextricably. The process was one of both guile and force, first tricking the spirit into entering an object, then using powerful magic to keep it there. The weaker ones, the ones who still possessed some semblance of vanity and greed, could be lured into finely wrought trinkets such as rings or pendants, but the strongest and most violent specimens, owing to their natural tendencies, only had eyes for implements of war and destruction: swords, axes, cruel knives, spiked shields, and the like. As long as the item survived intact, the demon was helpless to escape, so the artificers forged these demonbound artifacts out of the strongest of substances to ensure their resilience.

And then they buried them in the deep places of the world, guarded by monstrosities and deadly traps, hoping to conceal them from prying eyes and mischievous intent. For the spirits held within these demonbound items made them powerful beyond reckoning. A warrior armed with a demonbound sword might lay waste to armies, just as one protected by demonbound armor might withstand them. Moreover, the process was not perfect: The demons within the artifacts could achieve some measure of empathic communication with their possessors, and could even, through prolonged use, come to dominate them. The artificers worked in secrecy, hoping to keep the knowledge of the demonbound items from the public at large, lest the demons turn the weak-willed or foolish into their unwitting pawns.

Of course, their plans were far from perfect. One or two greedy artificers kept the occasional ring or sword for themselves. Ignorant adventurers eventually stumbled upon the artifacts, claiming them as trophies of their heroism. Over the years, the true nature of the demonbound artifacts has been forgotten by all but a handful of artificers -- the remnants of the old order, all but faded away.

In Atwell, the capitol city of Brightmar, legend says that the king's line shall rule so long as the gleaming brightsteel sword suspended above the throne remains in place... but not even the king knows the true reason why, or the origins of the tradition.

All right, enough fluff. Gimme the crunch.

Demonbound items have, appropriately enough, a demonbound aspect of some kind. It could be something as vague and straightforward as "Demonbound Blade" or something as specific and flavorful as "Nurzkalak's Prison." (The most powerful demonbound items might even have two or three such aspects.) This can be invoked in all the usual ways (+2, reroll, effect), but without spending a Fate Point. Instead, when you invoke the demonbound aspect, the GM gives you a token: a Doom Point. Use something that won't be mistaken for a Fate Point.

Immediately after invoking the demonbound aspect, make a Resolve roll against a target equal to the number of Doom Points the character's accumulated.

For example, Kuron's player up there has invoked "Nurzkalak's Prison" three times so far, including this time, so he now has a pile of three Doom Points. His Resolve effort has to be at least Good (+3) to get through this scot-free.

If you make the roll, nothing happens. Congrats! I knew you were strong. If you fail, however, you take a mental consequence (Minor for 1-3 stress, etc.) reflecting the demon's hold on your mind, however temporary. The demon will always want to destroy, twist, or pervert the world around you in as cruel a manner as possible.

Treat these consequences normally. That is, Minor ones go away at the end of the scene, Moderate ones go away with a skill roll (in this case, your Resolve, or someone else's Resolve if they're trying to exorcise you), and Severe go away through the narrative. If you've sustained a Severe consequence from a demonbound item, forever will it, as they say, dominate your destiny. At the end of the story arc, alter one of your personal aspects to reflect this. "Incorruptible Knight of Brightmar" might become, say, "The Lingering Madness of a Demon."

You can probably guess that Kuron failed his Resolve roll, but not by much: Let's say he took the Minor consequence of "Bloodthirsty." The GM can compel that consequence to force Kuron to keep fighting when he'd rather not (the mountain dwarves are already fleeing in the example), kill helpless opponents, and so on. However, since it's just a Minor consequence, he'll regain control of himself at the end of the scene... but he'll still have those three accumulated Doom Points.

That's right: Doom Points don't go away. Not without effort, anyway. There are two ways to go about this:
  • At any time, you can lose Doom Points by spending Refresh on a 1:1 basis. Ridding yourself of demonic influence takes a lot out of you.
  • When the GM compels your demonbound consequence or the demonbound aspect, either one of you may choose to conduct the transaction in Doom Points instead of Fate Points. For example, if the GM compels you, Kuron's player, to chase down those fleeing mountain dwarves, instead of offering you a Fate Point, he might offer instead to take away one of your Doom Points -- or you might decide to accept the compel by paying him a Doom Point instead of receiving a Fate Point. Think of Doom Points as the anti-Fate Points: You pay them when compelled, and receive them when you invoke. If you do what the demon wants, you gradually reduce its influence. The downside to that, of course, is that you're taking orders from a demon.

So then.

What if a PC becomes the last recipient of the secrets of the ancient order of artificers?

What if a demonbound artifact falls into the hands of the party?

What if the PCs find out the true nature of the king's sword in Atwell?

What if the spells of imprisonment laid upon that sword fail -- or are countered somehow?

What if some crazy villain has dedicated himself to freeing a number of demons in a futile bid to to harness their power?

What if that villain succeeds (probably sacrificing himself in the process), and the PCs are a sort of medieval fantasy version of the Ghostbusters?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Spirit of the Vineyard

I've been reading Dogs in the Vineyard lately in preparation for running a one-shot for some friends, and I'm really digging the die mechanic. I think it's better suited for, say, a swashbuckling game myself -- all that See-and-Raise business seems perfect for simulating fencing -- but one thing that's really stood out for me is the concept of Fallout Dice. And naturally, I had the urge to see if I could port it over to SotC.

For those unfamiliar with Dogs, Fallout Dice accumulate from being on the losing end of a conflict. That's not totally accurate -- you could theoretically win and still end up with Fallout Dice -- but close enough. You roll at least three Fallout Dice, and the deadlier the conflict (from talking to gunfire), the higher the die type you roll (from d4 to d8). Total the two highest dice; the higher the sum, the worse the Fallout. You might lose a friend; you might lose your life.

We won't be using multiple die types for this; it just doesn't feel FATEy. Instead, we'll use d6s. In fact, to keep things consistent, you could use d6-d6, a la Starblazer Adventures, instead of 4dF. Here's how it works.

First, cut out the stress tracks.

When a character takes stress in an exchange, the amount of stress equates to Consequence Dice, to a maximum of 6d6. F'rinstance, if the villainous Doctor Fistinyourface punches you (in the face) for 3 stress, set aside 3d6.

If Endurance (for physical conflict) or Resolve (for mental/social conflict) is higher than number of Consequence Dice rolled, remove one die from the pool. You may also pay a Fate Point to remove a die from the pool.

The way the Consequence Dice are treated is dependent on the importance of the conflict or scene in which they're obtained. Scenes that are more integral to the plot mean a higher probability of serious consequences.
  • If a minor conflict (e.g., fighting a lone group of minions, debating an unimportant NPC), take the sum of the two highest dice.
  • If a moderately important conflict (i.e., fighting a lieutenant and his minions, wooing an important secondary PC), reroll any ones, then take the sum of the two highest dice.
  • If a major conflict (i.e., fighting a main villain, pleading for your life on the chopping block), reroll ones and twos, then take the sum of the two highest dice.
That roll determines what consequence the attack has, like so:
  • If the sum of the Consequence Dice is 2, or less than or equal to the defender's Endurance or Resolve, as appropriate, the attack has no effect.
  • If the total is 6 or less, it's a Minor consequence.
  • If the total is 7 to 10, it's a Moderate consequence.
  • If the total is 11 or 12, it's a Severe consequence.
So let's say Doctor Fistinyourface deals 3 stress to you. That's 3d6 Consequence Dice. Fortunately, your Endurance is Great (+4), so you'll only roll 2d6 Consequence Dice. The result totals 4, but since that's equal to or less than your Endurance, the blow glances off your iron jaw. And now it's your turn: You give the good doctor a little chin music to the tune of 4 stress. His Endurance is merely Good (+3), so he'll roll a full 4d6 Consequence Dice, for 2, 4, 5, and 5. That's a Moderate consequence (5 + 5 = 10 = Moderate) -- call it "Broken Jaw." Physician, heal thyself.

Dogs' mechanic is a bit more complex, with the possibility of going from minor fallout to major fallout to, in theory, death. That's possible here, too, but it makes things maybe a little too die-rolly for my tastes. Instead of just assigning a consequence based on the total of the two highest dice, roll your Endurance/Resolve against the total.
  • If the total is 6 or less and you fail, take a Minor consequence.
  • If you fail by 4 or more, increase the total of the Consequence Dice to 10 and roll again.
  • If the total is 7 to 10 and you fail, take a Moderate consequence.
  • If you fail by 6 or more, increase the total of the Consequence Dice to 12 and roll again.
  • If the total is 11 or 12 and you fail, take a Severe consequence.
  • If you fail by 8 or more, you are Taken Out.

But like I said, that means a lot of die rolling every time some punk minion gets in a lucky shot. It does, however, give you a fightin' chance to not take any consequences at all, assuming you roll well and have a good stock of Fate Points on hand.

Why do any of this? Excellent question. My answer: I dunno. It certainly makes combat less predictable and far grittier. Two lucky rolls, regardless of the importance of the scene, is enough to be Taken Out. For some genres, that works; for others, not so much. Still, there you go. I prefer going by scene importance instead of the lethality of the attack; SotC's great at letting every skill matter, and it's perfectly within bounds to get "socially" Taken Out in a climactic scene. Because of the rerolls, in a major scene you're taking at least a Minor consequence every time you're hit. My advice: Don't get hit.

(As GM, I normally give myself Fate Points per scene based on the same criteria, usually from a few to 10. A minor skirmish or encounter might only give me 3 Fate Points, whereas for the all-out Battle of the Long Plains I'd give myself 10. So a minor conflict/scene would mean less than 5, a moderate would mean more than 5 but less than 10, and a major would be 10 and up.)

And if nothing else, it's another excellent illustration of FATE's flexibility and resilience.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fantasy: Rethinking "Simplifying Weapons"

Seemed like such a good idea when I thought of it, but while speaking with a friend about RPGs last night (and "SotS" in particular), I hit upon a reason not to simply reduce weapons to category/aspect: Armor.

Right now, Medium armor is strong against slashing and Heavy is strong against slashing and bashing. And I like it that way. It offers a broad but elegant representation of different armor types. But if I take away aspects like "Slashing" and "Bashing" from weapons, it won't be as readily apparent which weapons slash/bash and which don't. In other words, I'd be relying even more on pre-existing player knowledge of various weapons to make the system work as intended, and I'm not entirely comfortable with that.

Yes, in the description of the weapon I can just say which ones slash and bash, but it isn't as mechanically transparent as giving assigning "Slashing" and "Bashing" aspects. The last thing I want to do here is muddy the waters.

Instead of saying that, for example, mail armor is strong against slashing weapons, I could list every weapon by name against which the armor is strong, but that feels lame in the extreme.

If I want to leave that weapon/armor interaction intact, I think my only real option is to go back to the previous method of separated name and aspects.

Don't get me wrong: To me, it feels perfectly natural to say "I tag your weapon's 'Scimitar' aspect to give my Armor roll a +2." In fact, that sort of thing even goes some way toward answering the question of why anyone with a high Melee would defend using Armor. You can't tag "Scimitar" to help with your Melee defense, but, since slashing weapons perform poorly against Medium armor, now it's an aspect that's actually useful to you. I just don't think it's necessarily fair to assume that all players will know how various weapons are used.

Maybe codified keywords within their descriptions, like "Scimitars have curved blades primarily designed for slashing attacks." I dunno.

I have some other rambling ideas to try to address this (like giving every weapon two aspects: one a primary aspect that grants a +2 bonus, and a secondary that grants a +1 bonus), but nothing coherent, so I'll stop typing before I embarrass myself too much.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

PDQ#, Etc.

Apologies for the long period of silence, but I'm getting married in three weeks (!) and you wouldn't believe how much time that's been consuming lately. Basically, anytime I'm at rest, I should probably be doing something wedding-related. However, this isn't that kind of blog, so on to something FATE-related.

I've been reading Chad Underkoffler's new swashbuckler-specific implementation of PDQ, PDQ Sharp, and I'm really digging it. Lots of good ideas in there. The full version will be in Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies (with which I unfortunately have no connection), but in the meantime you really ought to check out the free 28-page PDF of the PDQ# core rules, if you haven't already. The mechanics are elegant and support the genre, and the writing style is both straightforward and pretty entertaining. Not many games so strongly encourage the use of the word "Certes"; for that, my white-plumed hat's off to you, Chad. Really looking forward to the finished product -- among my weaknesses are all things swashbucklery.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Fantasy: Alchemy (And Maybe Artifice)

I've always had a vague-ish idea of how Alchemy would work, but after hammering poisons into an acceptable, poisony shape, I think it's viable to take a similar tack with Alchemy as well. It was always sorta my intent all along -- honest! -- to make Alchemy a mix of Magecraft (adding effects together to create a potion) and Craft/Artifice (making stuff beforehand that's good just about anytime), and now it looks like we're in a good position to do that.

The only trouble is that, as written, making a poison is way harder than making a potion. If you want to make a potion that lets you see in the dark, that's just one or two effects (+2 Alertness in dim light and/or Aspect: "Night Vision"), which means only an Average or Fair effort is required to make it. Meanwhile, a poison of similar potency (let's say Fair Power, Mediocre Endurance, Mediocre Stealth, for a total of +2) is almost prohibitively weak. One attack at +2? Bah. They're hardly equivalent.

But poisons are made of mundane stuff, for the most part. There are weak poisons out there that are both cheap and, given a modicum of training, easy to make. That's as it should be, if you ask me.

Potions, on the other hand -- philters, elixirs, unguents, etc. -- are frickin' magical. They're a whole other ball of wax. There are no "Average" or "Fair" potions. What is this, K-Mart? No, even the humblest potion is at least Great (+4).

To build a potion, assemble effects just like you would for a spell, then add three. That's the total quality of the potion, and the target number to meet or beat with your Physik roll. Alternately, you can just spend a Fate Point, and voila: potion.

Laboratory quality and extra time bonuses work the same way here as they do when concocting a poison, and potions take just as long to make, as well. I.e., the basic time required starts at An Hour (A Few Minutes + 3), +1 step on the Time Increments table per effect added. Shifts on the Physik roll can be spent to reduce the time required (-1 step/shift), and extra time can be taken to increase the odds of success (+1 to roll/+1 step), either before the roll or retroactively. Add the quality of the lab to the roll as a bonus.

Even with three or four effects, if you take your time and have a decent lab, you're probably automatically succeeding even without spending a Fate Point (the Fate Point just lets you do it in the minimum time required, although getting a number of shifts on a good roll could conceivably mean doing it even faster).

This strikes me as pretty balanced with Magecraft. Both fields of magic let/make you spend a Fate Point to succeed without making a roll/taking Magic Stress. Magecraft lets you get off one spell for free, while Alchemy makes you pay for everything one way or another -- either in time or in Fate Points -- the trade-off being that Alchemy conceivably lets you pack a lot of effects into a single potion, to be used anytime, but you have to decide what that potion is ahead of time.

Speaking of which, there should probably be a way to limit just how many effects you can get into a single potion -- maybe a cap of Physik +1 effects/potion. As for how many potions you can have at once, that's a whole other issue. Perhaps that cap of Physik +1 could apply to how many effects total you can have across any number of potions. So with a Great (+4) Physik skill, for example, you could have five one-effect potions, two two-effect and one one-effect potions, one two-effect and one three-effect potion, and so on. This may be a little too game-balancey, but seriously, you know that if there isn't a limit, someone's going to show up with a hundred potions, and then you'll rue your player-trusting, story-gaming, group-hugging ways. Better to have a guideline that can be bent or broken than to not have anything at all, if you ask me.

Duration for most potions would probably be either Instant (e.g., healing) or 15 Minutes (e.g., a Potion of Strength) -- long enough to last through a typical scene.

Oh, and stunts. There'd have to be a few stunts to back up Alchemy, like getting the most out of a lab (treat lab as if its quality were one higher), being able to work faster (base time required is Half An Hour instead of An Hour), specializing in certain kinds of potions (pick one effect that doesn't count towards your normal effects cap), and so on. Have to work on that later.

(Just for laughs, maybe rolling four negatives on your Physik check could result in an explosion. These matters do involve risk, y'know.)

Now, the question arises: Can this be done for Artifice as well? I'd like to think so. It would be oh-so awesome to have consistency between those two, but I'll have to give it more thought. Off the top of my head, I'd likely set all durations at a base of 15 Minutes. Permanent items can also be created, but that requires spending a point of Refresh. The basic idea behind Artifice is that you can temporarily (or permanently) create or enchant items -- you need that tangible focus to work your magic. Maybe you inscribe a rune on a sword to make it sharper for a short time, or weave magical thread into a piece of cloth to enable whoever wears it as a blindfold to see in the dark. You get the idea.

Just to refresh your memory, or introduce you to it for the first time, here's the original post on Magcraft, Alchemy, and Artifice.

One last thing. I'm considering dropping all trappings for Magecraft that aren't elemental in nature, and then calling it, well, Elementalism. That means cutting out a lot of common effects (magical force shields, charm spells, etc.), but it also means a much tighter focus for mages -- and the latter really appeals to me. I'd rather build a limited system that models a particular thing than a one that has broad applications but no personality. Jury's still out.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fantasy: Simplifying Weapons

Quick thought for "SotS": Instead of giving weapons aspects like "Stabbing" and "Long," why not make the name of the weapon the aspect, à la armor?

This would require dividing weapons into simple categories, like One-Handed and Two-Handed, with a short description of each -- enough to easily determine how the aspect can be used. If you're wielding a dagger against a guy using a two-handed sword, you could invoke your "Dagger" aspect in pursuit of getting in close enough to render his big sword ineffective.

(BTW, I'd probably call it Melee limited by Athletics, since you're trying to twist your way to corps-à-corps and attack -- it just feels right to me. YMMV. I could also see doing that bit as a maneuver to place a "Corps-à-Corps" aspect on him, which you could tag next round to help your dagger attack, or just make it a straight Melee roll and say that the maneuvering is just part of the attack. All make sense to me. I think I like the first one the best, but going the maneuver route makes it nice and tactical.)

Then, when he tries to attack you, you could tag his weapon's "Greatsword" aspect to add to your defense.

The point is this: We know what these weapons do, so I'm not sure they also need aspects to tell us the same thing, again. It's a longsword -- a three-foot piece of steel for stabbing and slashing. It's a battleaxe -- big choppy thing. It's a longbow -- its arrows can pierce plate. And so on.

The "stat block" for armor currently looks something like this:
Armor: Medium (Good +3)
Aspect: Chain hauberk
Consequences: +1 Minor/Moderate

So why not have weapons look like this?
Weapon: One-Handed (+1)
Aspect: Longsword
Special: None

Weapon: Light One-Handed (+0)
Aspect: Whip
Special: No effect if target is wearing armor

Weapon: Missile (+1)
Aspect: Short Bow
Special: 2 zones

Weapon: Heavy Missile (+2)
Aspect: Long Bow
Special: 3 zones

Weapon: Two-Handed (+2)
Aspect: Pike
Special: None

Weapon: Heavy Two-Handed (+3)
Aspect: Troll Axe
Special: When dealing a consequence, spend a Fate Point to also place a fragile aspect on the target.
The name of the weapon itself actually has a mechanical effect without the need for any other subsystems or anything. You have a pike -- pikes are long by definition -- you can take advantage of that to keep someone else at bay -- that translates to being able to invoke the "Pike" aspect to add to your defense against an incoming attack. If that attack lands, and your opponent is using, say, a longsword, then he must've gotten close enough that the effectiveness of your pike is reduced -- so now you can't invoke that aspect to attack or defend, but he can tag it to add to his own attack and defense.

Of course, you need a few addenda for this to really work. One, as mentioned above, is a brief description of each weapon that makes it abilities and limitations clear, with sample invokes, compels, and tags -- at least one of each -- to make them even clearer. Two is categories with pre-determined attack modifiers. That's more or less what I did already; this would just be codifying it. For example, Light One-Handed weapons are +0, One-Handed are +1, Missile are +1, Heavy Missile are +2, Two-Handed are +2, Heavy Two-Handed are +2 with the aspect-placing ability mentioned in the Troll Axe writeup above, etc. Three, you need... er... well, that might be it, actually.

I think this has some merit. I'm all for simplifying things without losing depth.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Fantasy: Poisons

(This doesn't have to apply strictly to the fantasy genre, of course, but that's how I'm classifying it anyway.)

I've gone 'round and 'round on this, but here's where I am right now. This certainly owes a debt to the SotC RAW, which very efficiently breaks down the role of poisons in the narrative. What I really wanted, though, was a consistent, reasonable way for PCs to make poison themselves, something that SotC, and the pulp genre, frowns upon when it comes to heroes.

Poison is treated something like a character, but with only three skills -- Power, Endurance, and Stealth -- and a minimum of one aspect, which defines its nature. The skills don't have any real relation to one another, and don't need to be arranged in a pyramid or anything like that. Long-term processes that mostly just serve the plot, such as a prince slowly poisoning the king over a period of months in an attempt to usurp the throne, shouldn't follow any of these rules.

Power measures the poison's potency. There are two basic types of poisons: poisons which affect the body (call them physical poisons -- the ones that kill, paralyze, nauseate, etc.) and poisons which affect the mind (mental poisons -- hallucinogens, mostly). Power is the poison's attack skill, opposed by Endurance for physical poisons and Resolve for mental ones.
  • Mediocre and Average poisons are limited to Minor consequences, Fair and Good to Minor or Moderate consequences, and Great and up can deal any degree of consequence.
  • Of course, if the target has already taken a Minor consequence and can't take another, a Mediocre poison can deal a Moderate consequence, and so on.
  • Minor consequences from poisons don't go away at the end of a scene. Only a skill roll can remove them. Moderate and Severe consequences dealt by poisons are treated normally (i.e., with a skill roll or by becoming/modifying an aspect).
  • On a successful attack, the poison deals a consequence of the appropriate type (physical or mental).

Endurance is how long the poison sticks around -- in game terms, we'll define this first as how many attempted attacks it makes, including the one it makes upon contact, and second as how long it lasts. At the beginning of each exchange (or scene, if out of combat), roll the poison's Endurance against the target's Endurance. If the poison succeeds, it makes an attack. If it fails, it doesn't.

  • Deadly poisons (i.e., those that just do damage) attack as many times as they are able, dealing as many consequences as possible, until out of attacks.
  • Poisons with other effects, such as paralysis or sickness, only attack until they deal one consequence, but that consequence lasts for a number of scenes equal to their Endurance. Or until the poison has served its purpose or gets boring -- whichever comes first.
  • The number of attacks a poison can make it limited by its Endurance + 1. Thus, a poison with Mediocre (+0) Endurance attacks only once -- when it first makes contact with the target -- while one with Good (+3) Endurance would attempt up to four attacks (once at contact, and then once per scene for another three scenes).
  • If a poison is neutralized (see below) before it can make all of its attacks, it loses any attacks it hasn't made.

Stealth is how difficult the poison is to detect. Some poisons, like contact poison on a blade, won't bother with Stealth at all, but for others, such as the proverbial Mickey, not being detected is of utmost importance.

  • Stealth is opposed by whichever of the PC's skills is relevant in the situation. If a character sniffs his wine before drinking it to see if it's poisoned, it's a contest of Stealth vs. Investigation. If a physician is examining a corpse to see what killed it, it's Stealth vs. Physik.

The poison's aspect defines its nature. Usually, the name is good enough, assuming that's backed up by a few sentences describing how the poison works.

  • Woorari: This sophisticated plant toxin that severely relaxes the victim's muscles, to the point of paralysis. Large doses can even mimic death. It has no taste, but smells vaguely of cinnamon, and is commonly administered by arrow or blade.
  • Nux Vomica: This deadly poison causes severe muscular spasms, internal bleeding, and, more often than not, death. Victims have been strangled by their own tightly closed throats, if their hearts don't explode from over-exertion first. It has a very strong, bitter taste, difficult to conceal, but is most effective when ingested.
  • Dreaming Moon: The Fae carefully guard the secrets of this magical poison's formulation, which involves a clear spring, a full moon, and a drake's liver, among other ingredients. Victims of Dreaming Moon cease to interact with the world around them in favor of vivid hallucinations. The nature of these hallucinations depends on the victim and are impossible to predict, but its use is widespread among Fae mystics.

The poison's aspect will also probably give clues as to its skills. For example, based on the above descriptions, I can stat out these three poisons pretty easily.

  • Woorari: Great Power (full paralysis is pretty severe), Good Endurance (lasts long enough to simulate death, and has enough attacks to have a good chance of taking effect), Fair Stealth (it's not too difficult to detect).
  • Nux Vomica: Superb Power (it causes uncontrollable spasms and internal bleeding -- that's downright superb), Average Endurance (it's a fast-acting poison), Mediocre Stealth (its distinctive bitter taste make it easy to detect -- of course, by then it might be too late)
  • Dreaming Moon: Good Power (mild, but effective), Great Endurance (those mystics only use the good shit), Average Stealth (drake's liver isn't especially subtle).

The bigger question for players, though, is how to make a poison -- assuming you have all the necessary ingredients, of course.

Add the three skill values together to get its quality. That's the target number of your Physik roll. Thus, Woorari requires a Legendary + 1 effort, Nux Vomica requires a Fantastic effort, and Dreaming Moon requires a Legendary effort.

Seem difficult? You bet your sweet bippy. But a good laboratory can help immensely. Add the quality of the lab to your roll for your result. For example, if you're working in a Good (+3) lab, you need only make a Superb Physik effort to concoct Dreaming Moon.

(Still, it's clear that only a well-trained apothecary is going to attempt something like that.)

Poisons with two modus operandi -- that is, two natures, or two aspects, such as a damaging hallucinogen -- are also possible, but this requires adding a second Power skill to measure the secondary effect. Make one Power (Deadly) and Power (Visions), tack on a separate aspect (such as "Deadly Nightshade" and "Nightshade Visions"), and you're good to go. Of course, this will increase the overall quality of the poison, but nobody ever said this would be easy.

The time required to brew a poison starts at A Few Minutes, modified by one step up the table per point of difficulty. E.g., a Legendary poison would normally require a week's worth of work.

Shifts obtained on the roll can be spent on increasing the quality of any of the poison's three skills (at 1 shift/+1), adding an aspect (at 1 shift/aspect), or reducing the time required (at 1 shift/step on the time increments table). So if you were attempting to make Nux Vomica (a Fantastic poison) and ended up with an Epic Physik effort (due, perhaps, to a high skill value, a well-stocked lab, and some good luck), you could make it even deadlier by increasing its Power and Endurance by one each, make it harder to detect by increasing its Stealth from Mediocre to Fair, take only a few hours to brew it instead of the whole day, or anything in between.

Failing the Physik roll can mean a few different things. Just as with Craft, you can take extra time to get it done right -- up to four time increments for a total bonus of as much as +4. You can end up creating a weaker poison by subtracting the margin of error from the poison's skills (for example, knocking Nux Vomica's Power and Endurance down to Good and Mediocre respectively, to make your Good Physik effort a success), or the GM can offer you a Fate Point to think there's nothing wrong with it, as if compelling an aspect (or maybe he just compels one of your aspects -- either way). You won't find out you messed up until it doesn't work, of course, but that's how it goes sometimes.

Neutralizing a poison is as simple as making a Physik roll against its quality. Ta-da. Let's not draw this out. For story purposes, the GM might decide that it takes days of intensive care to do this, but that's not something that necessarily needs to be quantified. If it makes your game better for it to take a long time, have it take a long time; otherwise, make it something reasonable (e.g., a few hours spent brewing an antidote or foraging for the right counteractive herb) and move on.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Kung-Fu: Uh... Kung-Fu, Actually

For whatever reason, I'm determined to go stuntless with this thing. I like stunts myself, on the whole, but I've heard "I like everything but the stunts" as a critique of SotC more than once. And maybe it's the repeated combing through the stunt list I did/do for "SotS," too -- I'm not really eager to go through that kind of work again. Above all, though, I want to keep a fast-and-loose feel for "Spirit of the Fist," so that players are encouraged to try whatever crazy nonsense they can think of without worrying about whether or not they have the stunt to do it. After all, even having one stunt that says "You can use skill X in place of skill Y in circumstance Z" implies that, without a stunt, you couldn't do that sort of thing, no matter what.

However, I still want characters to have some simple mechanical edges that set them apart from everyone else, which is why I'm using the Kung-Fu aspect as both an aspect and a sort of stunt. Originally, I was just going to make it just like Personal Gadget, with all "improvements" determined during character creation, but now I'm off on this idea of making each of the three improvements a little more distinctive.

Keep in mind that "kung-fu," or "gongfu," roughly translates as training or hard work. It's the thing you do best -- the thing to which you've dedicated a great deal of time and effort.

I've divided Kung-Fu improvements into three types: Always, With Element, and Fate Point.
  • Always: This improvement is always in effect, with no effort on the character's part. It should be a minor advantage that focuses one of the character's skills or reflects the basic nature of the Kung-Fu. Examples include +1 with Weapons when using a sword, +1 with Art when cooking with Jiansu cuisine, or +1 with Academics when dealing with history.
  • With Element: This improvement takes effect when the character's declared Element (still working on a better name for that) matches the Element of his Kung-Fu. It should be a step up from the Always improvement and something that encourages the character to favor his Kung-Fu's element. Skill substitution might be a good one for this, or a +2 in a specific circumstance, or a special effect of some kind. For instance, if your Thousand Blades Style Kung-Fu is associated with Metal and your declared Element is Metal, you might get an additional +2 when taking the Full Defense action. Other good ones might be using Art (via cooking) instead of Medicine to heal a condition (a la Chinese food therapy), or being able to strike incorporeal ghosts with a mundane weapon.
  • Fate Point: This improvement must be activated by spending a Fate Point. These would be on the level of some of the more powerful stunts, or at least go beyond bonuses, skill substitutions, minor special effects, and invoking for effect. Examples might include spending a Fate Point to not be ambushed or surprised in a scene, to fall a great distance without taking damage, to be able to choose the aspect revealed to someone who successfully reads you with Empathy, or to cause a psychological consequence instead of a physical consequence with Weapons or Fists. It also seems reasonable to include in this category skill substitutions that result in damage or are a little less intuitive -- ones that might raise an eyebrow or two. I'm thinking of things like using Spirit to inflict a consequence, or healing a wound with Fists, or defending against a physical attack with Spirit.

Remember, these Kung-Fu improvements are all determined at character generation. But it's not as restrictive as it might seem, since the stuntless rules allow for a lot of flexibility via invoking for effect. Of course, all improvements must be directly related to the Kung-Fu in question. And hopefully they'd be colorfully named, too.


Monday, September 8, 2008

Kung-Fu: Refining the Whole "Element" Thing a Bit

After thinking about this a little more, I realized that I want two things out of this aspect/Element system: one, for Elements (and therefore characters) to interact with each other in mechanically meaningful ways, and two, for characters to be encouraged to "act in harmony" with their natures or motivations. If a character is acting out of anger, he ought to be more effective when invoking his Fire aspect(s).

So here are the Three Laws (plus one) of the Elements:

  • When you invoke or tag an aspect that's associated with your declared Element, it gives you an additional +1 bonus (i.e., a +3).
  • When you invoke or tag an aspect against which your declared Element is weak, the bonus it gives you is reduced by one (i.e., a +1).
  • When you invoke or tag an aspect against which your declared Element is neither strong nor weak, it gives you a +2 bonus, as usual.
  • Your Wu Wei aspect has no Element. It always yields a +2 bonus when invoked or tagged.

The relationship between your invoked aspect's Element and your opponent's declared Element remains.

To recap: At the beginning of every conflict, you declare an Element, the associated Virtue of which indicates your motivation for the scene. That goes on an index card (or something similar/more interesting), face-down on the table. All participants flip over their card simultaneously, and it's on.

There's a little more to this than normal SotC conflict, of course. If you're invoking an aspect, it's skill + roll + 2 (the default aspect bonus) +/- 0-1 (the declared Element vs. invoked/tagged aspect bonus or penalty) +/- 0-1 (the invoked aspect vs. opponent's declared Element bonus or penalty). The character sheet (there's a character sheet) makes clear the strong/weak relationships between the Elements, so there's nothing to memorize, really.

Worst-case scenario: You declare an Element (e.g., Wood), then invoke an aspect with an Element that's opposed to your declared Element (e.g., Earth) which is also weak against your opponent's declared Element (e.g., Wood), resulting in a total bonus of (2 - 1 - 1) zero. But that's just bad tactics. If you and your opponent have declared the same Element, invoking an aspect with an Element that's weak against that declared Element is a bad idea. (Man, I've gotta come up with some better terminology for this stuff -- it's just way too wordy.)

Best-case scenario: Declared Element, aspect with same Element, opponent's aspect weak against that Element, resulting in a total bonus of (2 + 1 + 1) +4.

Is that too many steps to go through? I'd like to think it isn't. Obviously, it'll require playtesting. Have to sucker some of the usual gang of idiots into that sometime.

A slightly more complicated (but potentially more satisfying -- that's always the trade-off, isn't it?) version of this starts things out with an Alertness contest before Element declaration. Whoever rolls lowest has to declare his Element first. Declaration then follows in ascending order. This way, an especially alert character has a chance to gain a bit of insight into the opposition before the action begins.

BTW, "SotS" is not forgotten or anything. I still have my to-do list, and I'm to-doing it.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Kung-Fu: Elements, Virtues, and Aspects

This is what I get for posting stuff without considering it from every angle.

Well, I can't say I didn't consider this, really -- I've just had other thoughts, and as long as I'm mulling things over I figure I may as well think aloud, as it were.

I'm rather set on pairing Elements and aspects, because I like the interaction of the Elements themselves (Wood parts Earth, Earth absorbs Water, Water douses Fire, Fire melts Metal, Metal chops Wood) and the ways that can be reflected mechanically. It occurred to me that the issue is when those Elements/aspects come into play, and how.

For example, let's say you attack someone with your "Thousand Blades" style -- your Kung-Fu aspect, associated with Metal -- and pay a Fate Point to invoke it for a bonus. By default, you get a +2 out of that. Now let's say your opponent defends with his Devastating Wind style and invokes its Fire-based aspect. Does your +2 become a +1 retroactively? Or is it enough that he gets a +3 instead of a +2? What if you didn't invoke your aspect, but he invoked his. Does he get a +3, since your kung-fu's Element is Wood, even though you haven't "officially" brought your kung-fu's aspect into play?

It's a little too wobbly for me.

So what I'm thinking is this: Every action is associated with a Virtue, and, by extension, its Element and aspect. If you decide that you're attacking that Devastating Winds guy because you don't like the way he's treating your father, you're acting out of filial piety (or Xiao), so the appropriate Element is Wood. Now, even though you haven't invoked the aspect attached to that Element -- let's call it "Good Son" -- you're still "using" Wood. Your opponent defends with his style, a Fire aspect. So far, nothing really unusual. But if you pay a Fate Point to invoke "Good Son," you'll only get a +1 out of it. And if he responds by invoking his "Devastating Winds" aspect, he'll get a +3 out of it. In fact, even if you don't invoke, he still gets the +3, because he's using Fire and you're using Wood.

What I really like about this whole channel-every-action-through-an-Element thing is how it puts your motivations front and center. Are you leaping into combat because you're justice at the point of your sword? Or because you're defending an ally? Or because you're fulfilling your duty?

So now then.

Here's the real question. If you're acting out of Xiao/the Wood Element, do you have to invoke your Wood aspect, or can you go with something else -- say, Water, because you decide you're acting out of propriety (i.e., you don't want to lose face by letting the guy belittle your father in public)? Now if your opponent invokes his Metal aspect, does he get a +3 or a +2? I mean, which Element "counts" here? Or are you required to invoke the aspect related to the Element/Virtue you're using? That would simplify things, but is it fair to take away some of the player's choice?

Or does that choice of Element become "your" Element for the conflict? I.e., invoke whatever aspect you like, but for this fight, you're Wood, because you're acting out of filial piety -- so invoking a Metal aspect against you will always net a +3 bonus. After all, this is about your motivation, and that's not likely to change every few seconds.

That seems reasonable, but it also unfairly penalizes the attacker. The defender will always choose an Elemental aspect that's strong against the attacker's Element, whereas the attacker's just stuck with his choice. That actually discourages action, and that's the exact opposite of what we want to do here.

How about this: Take five index cards and write a Virtue/Element pairing on each one. When conflict begins, each participant puts one card face-down on the table, then all are revealed simultaneously. It's an additional fiddly bit, I guess, but it's the only way to do this fairly.

Kung-Fu: Spirit of the Fist!

I mentioned earlier than Hamish's throwaway remark on Sunday that I should run a kung-fu or wuxia game using SotC immediately got me thinking of just how I'd do that. So... here's a rough outline of what I came up with. I fully intend to develop this further when I have time.

The Five Phases, each of which is a very brief (3-4 sentences) story about the character related to one of the Five Virtues, and each of which is assigned one aspect:
  • Xiao - Filial Piety: Circumstances of the character's birth, his relationship with his family, whether he honors his parents, etc.
  • Yi - Righteousness: The character's sense of justice, righting wrongs, wronging rights, etc.
  • Jen - Benevolence: The character's generosity or lack thereof; a time when a gift from him benefited someone else or vice-versa, etc.
  • Zhong - Loyalty: The character's friends and associates, any organizations he belongs to, what that might mean to him, etc.
  • Li - Propriety: The character's sense of proper behavior, assuming he has one; a time when his actions were either exemplary or deplorable

The Five Elements, each of which corresponds with a Phase/Virtue. When invoked in opposition to an aspect tied to an element, these elemental aspects are either weak (+1 bonus), strong (+3 bonus), or neutral (+2 bonus). Aspects are only invoked for bonuses, never to reroll.

  • Wood (Xiao): Strong against Earth, weak against Metal
  • Fire (Yi): Strong against Metal, weak against Water
  • Earth (Jen): Strong against Water, weak against Wood
  • Metal (Zhong): Strong against Wood, weak against Fire
  • Water (Li): Strong against Fire, weak against Earth

The Three Qualities:

  • Kung-Fu: The character's interest, focus in life, or training (e.g., White Dragon Kung-Fu, Finest Chef in Zhang, Sorcerer of the Tao) -- something toward which he's devoted a significant amount of time and energy. This aspect is assigned to an Element of the player's choosing.
  • Wu Wei: The character's instinct or nature -- what comes naturally to him (e.g., Sword In Hand, Sucker for a Pretty Face). This aspect isn't assigned to an Element.
  • Sign: The character's astrological sign. An Element does apply here, in correspondence with the animal chosen.

The Ten Skills:

  • Skill pyramid with an apex of Great.

Chi, a stress track that starts at three boxes and is modified by Spirit as per Health/Composure in RAW.

  • Checking a box of Chi lets you replace one Fudge die with a d6 for one roll.
  • When you run out of Chi boxes, you can still use Chi; it just means taking a Consequence each time.
  • Chi boxes clear with a Spirit roll against a target equal to the highest box checked out of combat, or Superb in combat. The target increases by one for each consequence you've taken. Clear one box for each shift obtained on the roll.
  • Mysteries can be used to "block" Chi, using accupressure, sorcery, and the like (against an appropriate defense: Fists/Weapons/Athletics against accupressure, Spirit against sorcery, and so on). If the stress dealt exceeds the number of Chi boxes, deal a Minor spiritual consequence: "Blocked Chi." As long as the consequence remains in place, the target can't expend Chi.


  • Academics (includes the non-medicine portions of Science)
  • Alertness (includes Investigation)
  • Art
  • Athletics (includes riding from Survival)
  • Bureaucracy (the bureaucracy parts of Leadership)
  • Deceit
  • Empathy
  • Craft (formerly Engineering)
  • Fists
  • Gambling
  • Humanity (includes Rapport and Intimidation)
  • Medicine (the medicine bits of Science, with some aspects of Mysteries)
  • Might
  • Mysteries
  • Society (combines Contacting and Resources)
  • Spirit (includes Endurance and Resolve)
  • Stealth (includes Burglary and Sleight of Hand)
  • Survival
  • Weapons (includes Guns, if applicable)


  • No stunts. Use a variation on the stuntless rules. Spend a Fate Point to invoke an aspect for a bonus (+1, +2 or +3), to use one skill in place of another (e.g., invoking your "White Tiger Style Kung-Fu" aspect to use Weapons instead of Athletics for one roll), or to invoke for effect.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fantasy: Gateway Playtest Aftermath

Hmm. Apparently, this will be long.

First of all, Gateway was just a good time. Finally played in Morgan Ellis's "Spirit of the Shattered Earth" game -- well, I say "finally," but it's only the second time he's run it at Strategicon -- which was a lot of fun. If you know your post-apoc references, you'll dig this game. Any game that explicitly acknowledges Kamandi and Thundarr is all right in my book. I caused a ruckus as Gorlla, the Mighty Crorc. I've encouraged Morgan a couple of times to get his act together and publish this thing in some form or other, so hopefully he'll do that.

Probably the coolest thing about "SotSE" is the game aspects, which I'll try to remember in their entirety:
  • Splash Page
  • Comic Book Panels
  • A World in Ruins
  • Kirby Dots
  • The Familiar Made Fantastic
  • Catchphrases

I love Splash Page. Invoke it and describe your character lookin' good on a splash page. Needless to say, Gorlla had a lot of splash pages.

The game also includes its own method of plot generation. Collectively, the players come up with, like, 14 other aspects for the game. It starts with picking a monument or landmark of some kind, like the Grand Canyon, the Space Needle, or the Hoover Dam, and rename it and/or the city it's in post-apocalyptically: the Grand Landfill, or the Emerald Jungle, or Hooville. Come up with something that's weird about the city and the landmark. Our Space Needle, f'rinstance, was at an extreme angel. Er, angle.

That's followed by the Menace, the Problem, and some other stuff, along with Post-Apoc Touches. It's a ton of fun collectively coming up with all of this as players -- and prep time for the GM is, like, zero (although he'll pay for it later in improvisational skills).

Ours ended being a pretty silly amalgam of Starbucks, "caffiends," Microsoft and giant seahawks. Can you guess where we were? I bet you can.

No Colin this Gateway, but y'know what? Who needs 'im? We had a fine time without him.

(Colin, please come back. Thank you.)

As for "SotS," the playtest went very well. I attribute this to a few things. One, the adventure was paced better than the last one, and didn't rely on a setting conceit that I found amusing but which didn't especially translate well at the table. Two, the character designs were more focused on the adventure itself -- no more characters who excel at avoiding everything, and no more stunts that are just there for flavor. Three, the lack of stress tracks made combat more exciting.

Based on that playtest, I'd say there's very little in the way of mechanical tweaking to be done. One thing that's broken: stunts that let you inflict a consequence for a Fate Point. Minions with no Grit are just a Fate Point away from instant annhilation. But change it to an aspect instead of a consequence, and we're good.

Adventure synopsis follows:

The adventure involved the PCs, a somewhat disparate collection of the faithful in Busra, investigating the apparent disappearance of an acolyte named Tartalo from the Great Cathedral of the Maiden. After talking with a few other acolytes, the party headed for Beggar's Alley, a.k.a. the poor part of town. The Justiciar and the Inquisitor busted heads in a floating dive bar called the Downed Buzzard, while the other four PCs made nice with some street people.

Collectively, they discovered that a number of vagrants had gone missing over the past few weeks, once every three days, and the acolyte -- in the neighborhood being charitable -- was apparently the last victim. The perpetrator: a demonic winged creature of some kind, which the knowledgeable among the party determined was a gargoyle. Normally, the creatures lie dormant, posing as mere ornamentation on a building, until forced back into life by a practitioner of forbidden magicks and forced to do his bidding.

As the PCs were discussing matters, down from the low-lying rainclouds swooped the aforesaid gargoyle. The Inquisitor bravely stepped forward to meet the beast, and was quickly snatched up in its claws and carried away. ("Good!" said Erik, the player. "It's taking me to them!") Three more gargoyles swooped down shortly thereafter, more intent on killing than kidnapping, but the party eventually put them down. At the end of the fight, Paskal Salaberri, celebrated actor of Mallora, was missing. Wherever did he go, I wonder?

While Olarra invoked her "Architectural Gymnastics" aspect for effect to see if she could remember where, in her many self-guided architectural tours about the city, she may have seen a collection of four huge gargoyles, the Inquisitor relaxed and enjoyed the ride. It ended at a tall tower, some five or six stories high, that had been essentially hollowed out. The gargoyle dropped him off at the ground floor and was prepared to fly away again, but didn't get a chance to before being split asunder by its victim's headsman's axe. The Inquisitor wasted no time in opening an obvious trapdoor in the floor and heading down the stairs it revealed. Thirty feet down, the stairs ended in a well-constructed tunnel, its floor marked by cart tracks. He started walking, and about a mile along encountered two robed, masked figures pulling a cart who, apparently, didn't see him. He scared the bejeezus out of both of them, then detained one for questioning before lopping the poor fellow's head off.

Meanwhile, everyone found the tower without too much fuss. The doors were apparently barred from the inside, though, and the windows boarded -- so Olarra decided to scale the outer wall to gain access. (Ballsy, but I should've compelled her "Mail Coat" aspect to penalize her roll -- oh well. Compels are something a lot of us SotC GMs need to work on, from what I hear.) She opened the front door, let everyone in, and they all went down the open trapdoor.

After a mile, they came across a decapitated body. Eww.

A mile later, they found the Inquisitor standing before an ornate stone archway in the tunnel, flipping through a book. He determined that it was a guardian arch dedicated to the Deceiver, eternal foe of the Maiden, and when he stepped closer it spoke to him in a dark tongue which, thanks to invoking an aspect for effect, he understood to say "Who passes through this arch?" His answer was plausible but incorrect -- something about terrorizing the weak, as I recall -- and then a bunch of animated skeletons came clawing their way out of the dirt walls, and, with a grinding of hidden gears, a stone barrier started to lower in the archway, threatening to cut off further progress. Sister Morwyn struggled to hold it open using magic while most everyone else started smashing skeletons. They weren't too much of a threat, and with a second effort Morwyn slammed the barrier into the ceiling so hard it cracked in twain.

Proceeding onwards, they came to a set of thick double-doors set into the tunnel and embossed with the seal of the Deceiver -- an evil demonic face. The Inquisitor tried to bust it open, and achieved some ridiculous level of success, like a Legendary +1 or something. The scene immediately lost the aspect "Double Doors" and gained the aspect "Pile of Scrap Lumber." The room beyond was truly a chamber of horrors: The walls were lined with victims of the Deceiver cult, chained to the walls and bleeding slowly into channels in the floor which in turn led to a huge vat of blood set into the center of the room. Also present: about 24 cultists and two obvious boss-types. One of them yelled "Seize them!" and it was on.

All kinds of heroics ensued, so let me just bullet-point this:

  • The long-awaited return of Paskal Salaberri, who was somehow one of the cultists, thanks to his Master of Disguise stunt (a.k.a. The Funnest Stunt in the Game). First he slashes up a few cultists, then he convinces some others to turn on their cult leaders and stop with all the blood rituals already.
  • Olarra leaping up, grabbing onto a low-hanging chain ("Chamber of Horrors" was an aspect), swinging across the room over the heads of the bosses in back, then, on the backswing, knocking one of them -- who, incidentally, turned out to be Father Berasko, an official at the cathedral who tried to lead their investigation astray -- into the vat of blood.
  • Egun the dwarf holding Berasko's head down in the vat of blood and, well, drowning him. METAL.
  • Sister Morwyn casting a simple Light spell to dispel a group of living shades Berasko had conjured up (I loved that Selene, her player, used a spell in a totally different way than I'd foreseen, and to such great effect) -- which also replaced the room's "Flickering Torchlight" aspect with "Well-Lit." I think I gave her a Fate Point for that because it was so cool.
  • Inquisitor Gurtuz walking up to a group of minions and scaring them into surrender. Keep in mind that these guys effectively work in a subterranean chamber filled with dying people and blood and chains and Maiden knows what else.
  • Brother Todor, the Justiciar, starting and winning an Intimidation-based staring contest with the Old One, the leader of the cult, who'd been kept alive for time out of mind by a thousand years of blood rituals.

We ended about 20 minutes late (typical, for me), so I didn't get to the denouement, but it was this: A secret door from that chamber of horrors opened onto some winding stairs that led to... the Great Cathedral! Dun-dun-duh!

After the game, Hamish, who played Olarra and who had played in my Qin: The Warring States game at OrcCon back in February, suggested I run a kung-fu game using SotC. That immediately got me thinking, and I'm almost ashamed to say that I pretty much have the whole thing sketched out already. I'll post it later this week.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Fantasy: Gateway 2008 Characters (the other two)

Here are the other two pregens for this Sunday:

Sister Morwyn, Fae Priestess of the Maiden
Gurtúz, Holy Inquisitor

These two couldn't be more different, really.

I also updated some of the other characters I already posted. Minor stuff, really -- rewording some aspects, editing some phases, that kind of thing.

I made a little cheat sheet, too. If it proves useful on Sunday, I'll post that as well.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Fantasy: Gateway 2008 Characters (two-thirds of them)

Here are four of the six pregens I'll have available this Sunday afternoon at Gateway. Hopefully I can put the other two (a spellcaster and a witchfinder-type) online Wednesday or Thursday night.

The premise involves a group of state-/Church-sponsored adventurer-types solving a mystery in Busra, the capital of Mallora, a country deeply committed to its state-sponsored religion. It's sort of a mix of the Roman Empire and the Inquisition, but that's somewhat beside the point, I guess. I put the official blurb online in an earlier post.

Anyway, the PCs:

Brother Todor, Justiciar of Busra
Olarra del Aburto, Highborn Gatekeeper
Egun, Dwarven Gatekeeper
Paskal Salaberri, Actor, Playwright, Secret Agent

Brother Todor's a no-nonsense, law-enforcing jerk with a bit of a mean streak. The Gatekeepers are a minor order of the Church charged with defending the faith -- and, in a ceremonial capacity, the great Cathedral of the Maiden. And Paskal's heavily modeled on Christopher Marlowe (not the real guy, but the possibly apocryphal legend that he was the head of Queen Elizabeth's Ministry of Intelligence).

I'm looking forward to the playtest. Over the past few months I feel like I've really tightened the screws on "SotS," which oughtta make for a better game than last time. Not that anything was wrong with last time, really, but y'know. In particular, I've paid closer attention to how the characters and story serve each other. Translation: There isn't a character who doesn't have a real motivation for being involved and/or whose primary talent is staying out of trouble.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Fantasy: Armor, Fate Points, and Consequences

Guy brings up a good point in his comments on my last post. In a nutshell, he expresses concern that requiring "Minions and those people who are less skilled at combat" to spend Fate Points to benefit from their armor might be unduly harsh. Which is a fair cop, I suppose, if armor weren't anything more than window-dressing for them.

As far as I'm concerned, those heavily armored knights could have the aspect "Elite Guard" or "Heavily Armored" -- it depends on what you want to emphasize. Obviously, the latter will be more limited, but my point is that, as per the SotC RAW, you'll be spending Fate Points on them either way. There's a double-standard in effect between PCs and nameless NPCs when it comes to armor, to the PCs' benefit. Minions are meant to go down in combat. If they run out of Fate Points and take a fatal blow as a consequence, that's just the ultimate expression of them -- no pun intended -- meeting their Fate. Named NPCs are another story, and can benefit from stunts and armor the same way PCs do.

(As I mentioned in the comments to my last post, I allot Fate Points for my adversaries on a per-scene rather than per-adversary basis. It's a good way to gauge how important a scene is to the story. Also, I like disconnecting the conflict from the NPCs as individuals; it feels like it puts the PCs front and center even more. And bookkeeping's a bit easier for me this way, too.)

For PCs, things are different. I'm leaning toward armor-as-skill, with a couple of other perks. One is getting an aspect out of it, which can be more useful than is immediately apparent. I can see a thief avoiding a number of anti-Stealth compels by the aspect "Supple Leather" on his Light armor, f'rinstance.

The other perk is additional consequences: one additional Minor for Medium, and one Minor and one Moderate for Heavy.

A quick breakdown of how consequences work without stress:
  • Normally you can only have one of each consequence, just like in SotC. Stunts and armor can alter this, but the baseline is one of each.
  • An attack that succeeds by 1-3 defaults to a Minor consequence, one that succeeds by 4-7 is a Moderate consequence, and 8+ is automatically a Severe consequence.
  • Minor consequences go away at the end of the scene (e.g., "Knocked the Wind Out of Me" or "Off-Balance" or "Enraged").
  • Moderate consequences require a skill roll of some kind to get rid of, usually between scenes, although what that skill is can vary depending on the nature of the consequence ("Mauled" could be healed with Physik, "Shattered Self-Esteem" might require Resolve, and "Rendered Speechless" could be mitigated with, say, Rapport). Could be the PC's player rolling the skill, or it could be another player -- depends on the situation. It's the GM's call if the consequence goes away entirely, or just drops a level to Minor for the next scene (after which, of course, it'd go away regardless).
  • A Severe consequence goes away by entering the fiction, usually at the end of a story arc. It twists or transforms one of the character's existing aspects somehow. "Sullied Reputation" might change a "Man About Town" into a "Man of Ill Repute." "Bleeding To Death" turns "A Soldier's Honor" into "The Horrors of War." "Paranoid" could make a "Cautious" character, well, "Paranoid" instead. No roll is required -- only a conference with the GM to sort out how the character's life will change as a result of suffering such intense trauma.
  • Minor consequences can be tagged for a +2, Moderate for +3, and Severe for +4.

(I don't believe any of this is original on my part -- it's pretty much cribbed whole-cloth from Colin Jessup.)

So now then. Some armor lets you take additional consequences. This may seem contrary to the breakneck goals of No-Stress, but No-Stress isn't about upping the danger quotient -- it's about making wounds more interesting than checking off a box or recording a number. The more consequences you can take, the more interesting combat will be for everyone concerned.

I have a story about playing in one of Colin's "Spirit of the Force" games at Gamex in which my blind Jedi swordsman (or... "lightsabersman," I guess) leaped headlong into the midst of dozens of battledroids, leaving his compatriots behind. One failed Weapons roll later, he ended up with a Minor consequence: "Overconfident." What I love about this is that it was appropriate, subtle, and expanded the character. It wasn't, say, "Blasted and Bruised" or any other sort of physical consequence, but instead a reflection of the character's mindset in situ that was bound to get him in trouble later, and/or be exploited by the enemy. Instead of trying to answer the question of "What were the consequences of failing that skill roll?" it instead answers "What is it about this character that had him getting in over his head as a consequence?"

So much better than "Limping."

Friday, August 15, 2008

Fantasy: Gateway 2008, Armor/Weapons

Whew! July just flew by, didn't it? Man, I didn't post once. What a slacker.

I'll be running another playtest-ish session of "SotS" at Gateway over Labor Day Weekend. Specifically, it'll be on Sunday the 31st at 3:00 pm. Here's the cornball write-up:

Foul deeds are afoot in Busra! When a few vagrants turned up missing here or there, no one even noticed -- but with the disappearance of an acolyte from the Cathedral of the Maiden, the Theocracy decrees that something must be done... discreetly. Will you solve the mystery of the vanishing clergy? Or will you be the next victim?

So if you're attending, come on out and give it a shot. It'll be better than the last "SotS" game I ran. I mean, I liked "Election Day" well enough, but this'll be better. Con pre-registration is on now! Event pre-registration starts tomorrow (the 16th)!

Plus, I'll be testing the No-Stress rules, so that oughtta be interesting.

Speaking of no stress, losing the stress tracks means some serious changes to the way weapons and armor work. You can look back through the archives and see for yourself, but the main issues are these with the rules as they stand now:
  • Armor provides extra Health stress boxes
  • Heavy weapons let you increase the severity of a consequence you've dealt by spending a Fate Point

Both of these obviously need to change.

I toyed with the idea of armor providing stress boxes anyway. They'd be, like, the only stress boxes a character would have (excepting spellcasters, but I'll get to that later). Ultimately, though, I decided that that would be pretty dull. I mean, if light armor provided, say, one Health stress box, then it'd only benefit you if your opponent succeeded by one point -- and then only once! So that's not very exciting or useful. Here are some other ideas I came up with:

  • The armor's aspect is invoked as usual, but the heavier the armor is, the greater the benefit. E.g., Light is invoked for +2, Medium for +3, and Heavy for +4.
  • The armor acts as an additional skill, outside your skill pyramid, to be used only for defense. Light is a Fair (+2) skill, Medium a Good (+3) skill, and Heavy a Great (+4) skill.
  • The armor acts as a skill, as above, but it's a back-up to Melee when defending. That is, if your defensive Melee effort doesn't exceed your opponent's attack, you get a second chance by rolling Armor.
  • The armor lets you replace one or more Fudge dice with normal six-sided dice when using Melee to defend: 3dF+1d6 for Light, 2dF+2d6 for Medium, and 1dF+3d6 for Heavy. Add 'em up and that's your total.
  • Same as above, but you only take the highest d6 (and all of the Fudge dice) instead of adding them all up.

I've already made a decision, but I'd be interested in hearing your ideas.

As for weapons, only a few are affected. I think you'll agree that the ability to increase consequence severity is pretty unbalancing when every hit results in a consequence. Here are a few ideas I've had to make those heavy weapons more interesting without making them game-breaking:

  • On a successful hit, pay a Fate Point to put a fragile aspect on your target (e.g., Stunned, Off-Balance, Life Flashing Before His Eyes, etc.). It can be tagged once, for free, then it goes away.
  • If your Melee effort results in spin, put a fragile aspect on your target. Tagging the aspect costs a Fate Point.

I'm leaning towards the first one, but the second has its appeal, too. What do you think?

Monday, June 23, 2008

Fantasy: Behind

Man, I'd better post something else this month, or I'll only have one post for all of June! Like so many other casual bloggers, it looks like I've fallen a bit behind. I don't know if I really have much of an excuse, beyond being distracted by 4th ed. D&D (I'm only human, people!) and a Star Wars-meets-Paranoia game I have to prep for a local mini-con this weekend.

Here's what I have on my plate, SotC-wise:
  • Rules for making poisons tied to a Poisoncraft stunt under Physik. I don't think they're too complicated, but it also occurs to me that they might make Poisoncraft more difficult than Alchemy, which doesn't seem right at all, so this will probably need another going-over.
  • Mass-combat rules. I've had these hanging around for a while now, and I'm still fond of them, which is... surprising, really. They'll need some tweaking, but they're mostly solid. No minis, maps, or terrain required! Should be a fun sub-game within "SotS." Hopefully I'll get a chance to actually playtest this soon.
  • Revamping skills. I've made some minor changes to the skill list since I last posted it, so it could use another look.
  • Revamping stunts. A bigger project, but also necessary.
  • A spell/potion/item/summoned creature list. Just a matter of throwing some things together. I have a small spell list already, but a larger one should be a good test of how well the system works.
  • Necromancy. I have some vague ideas about how this works, but nothing concrete. I haven't been as concerned about it so far, because, as conceived, it's more of an NPC strain of magic. But it's coming.
  • Monsters. Honestly, I think you could use the Summoning rules and a handful of aspects to build anything you want, but people do usually like to see a bestiary of some kind.

That last one brings me to the biggie: the setting. It's still out there, but it's been a little attention-starved lately as one thing after another has distracted Andy and me from working on it.

Feedback, as always, is welcome. Basically, right now I'm in a place where I'm looking back at what's been done so far and seeing how well it hangs together before charging ahead into new territory, so you comments, questions, and/or complaints would definitely help with that.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Fantasy: Summoning

Here's what I have on Summoning magic so far. In terms of formatting, it's still pretty rough, but hopefully it's clear enough. Basically, it's a riff on the improved companion and minion rules Evil Hat included in "Spirit of the Season," except that I've kept the idea of scope. I like it as a limiter, and a way for the summoner to concentrate on one kind of summoning over another. Most of the Summoning stunts (below) make use of scope in one way or another. Generally speaking, Summoning works like Magecraft, Artifice, or Alchemy, in that you pick a bunch of improvements, here called Traits, and apply them to a blank-slate creature. The more Traits you assign, the more powerful the creature, but the more difficult it'll be to control.

Oh, also -- so taken am I with the No-Stress tweak that I've incorporated it into these notes. Doing so involves invoking the term "Grit," which is in the SotC SRD but which I almost never see discussed. Grit has a numeric value representing how many consequences a creature will withstand before being Taken Out. As a term, Grit doesn't work too well for fantasy, if you ask me, but it's good enough for now and there are plenty of alternative names out there.

Speaking of alternative names, I'm considering dropping the terms "physical consequences" and "mental consequences" and just coming up with one-word names for them, like Wounds and Trauma. Collectively, they'd still be referred to as consequences, but it'd be so much easier to short-hand them with specific, intuitive terms. Any thoughts on that, my enormous reading public?

Anyway, on with the Summoning.

By default:
  • Summoned creature(s) has one scope.
  • One Good Quality creature, one Fair, or up to three Average. Average have one Average skill and no Grit, Fair have one Average skill, one Fair skill, and Grit 1, and Good have one Good skill, one Fair skill, one Average skill, and Grit 2. If the creature has Endurance or Resolve as a skill, it adds Grit, as usual. All starting skills have to be within the creature's scope.
  • Resolve vs. combined quality of all summoned creatures (e.g., two Good creatures means needing to make a Fantastic Resolve effort). If summoner fails, he takes damage equal to combined Quality (resulting in a Minor Mental Consequence if up to three points of damage get through, a Moderate for four to seven, and a Severe for eight or more), and GM has control of creature(s) until the summoner can succeed on a Resolve roll. If/when he succeeds, he can assign the creature(s) a broad or narrow task (e.g., "Kill those men!" or "Break down the doors in this building!" or "Tell me about the Lens of Kheldoss!"), and controls them for as long as it takes to carry it out or until they disappear, whichever comes first. Assigning them a new task requires a new roll, with the same dangers.
  • The summoner can dismiss summoned creatures by making a Resolve roll vs. the highest quality of the creature(s) to be dismissed (e.g., three Average creatures would require an Average Resolve effort, not a Good one).
  • Requires a few minutes by default, +1 time increment/+1 quality of highest-quality creature (so a group of three Average creatures is 15 minutes, one Good creature is one hour) and +1 step/two added Traits. Thus, a +3 creature with two Traits would take a few hours to summon, by default.
  • There's no limit on the number of Traits that can be applied to a creature, apart from the innate practical one (i.e., if you pile too many Traits on, you'll have no chance to control the creature).
  • Summoned creatures attached to a character take damage on his behalf, as minions.
  • Summoned creatures take damage as minions; overflow applies.
  • Summoned creatures stick around for as long as it takes to summon them, to a minimum of a few minutes.
  • The summoner can voluntarily take longer with the summoning ritual to assist with Resolve rolls: +1 to roll/+1 time increment taken, to a maximum of +4.

The summoner may apply any Trait marked with an asterisk (*) to summoned creatures on the fly, after being summoned, for a Fate Point. This doesn't mean that the creature gains new abilities so much as it just makes use of abilities it hasn't previously displayed.


Summoned creature(s) has an Aspect that can be invoked or compelled as any other. Fate Points given for compels go to the summoned creature, not the summoner, and disappear when the creature vanishes or dies.

Increase quality of summoned creature(s) by +1. Note the double-whammy effect on summoning time this causes.

Double number of creatures summoned per application.

Add an additional scope to the summoned creature(s).

Able to act without being attached to summoner -- treated as minion equal to Quality.

Adds an additional skill of the creature's Quality, or two skills of a lesser degree (e.g., a Fair-Quality creature with the Skilled Trait could have either one additonal Fair skill or two additional Average skills). These skills cannot be outside the creature's scope. If this Trait is added on the fly, it cannot improve a skill that the creature has already used. If the summoned creature(s) is attached, it may use a skill on behalf of the character.

The creature can be used as a library equal to its quality.

The creature gains a stunt within its scope for which it qualifies.

The creature has some special means of locomotion -- flight, fast swimming, etc.

The summoner and the creature share a telepathic bond (or something similar) that allows them to communicate without needing to speak as long as they're within three zones of one another.

The summoned creature is especially large, or made up of a swarm of smaller creatures. Either way, it blocks movement. The value of the barrier is equal to the creature's Quality.

The creature deals an additional point of damage on a successful attack. This can be applied multiple times.

The creature has one additional point of Grit.

Stunts (Resolve):
This is the baseline stunt required to work Summoning magic; it covers everything above, and is required for all the stunts below.
  • Quickened Ritual: Pick one scope. For a Fate Point, summoning happens faster than usual with creatures of that scope: -4 steps on time increments table.
  • Improvised Ritual: Normally, summoning requires a specially drawn circle and various occult accoutrements. Pick a scope. With this stunt, the summoner may pay a Fate Point to conduct a summoning without any of these trappings for creatures of the chosen scope.
  • Focused Ritual: Pick a scope. For a Fate Point, a summoned creature (or creatures, if multiple creatures are summoned at once) of the chosen scope receives a bonus of +1 to a single skill. This does not count as a Trait for purposes of the Resolve roll or summoning time.
  • Sustaining Call [Prerequisite: One other Summoning Stunt]: Pick a scope, yadda yadda, creatures of that scope stick around longer than usual: +2 steps on the time increments table.
  • Dominating Call [Prerequisite: One other Summoning Stunt]: When summoning a creature of the chosen scope, this Stunt grants a +2 bonus to the initial Resolve roll. This bonus also applies to any further such rolls with that creature.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Fantasy: Gamex Playtest Report

We had a full table for the "SotS" game Sunday morning, including one woman who, as she mentioned only after the game, had never played an RPG before. I'm glad I didn't know in advance; the pressure would've been on. She did a great job with Fortunata, though, and she had a good time. Thank the Maker her first experience was a good one. Later, at the indie game table, Josh Roby, Alex Duarte, and I all barraged her with other game suggestions, like Zorcerer of Zo, Prime-Time Adventures, and... ooh, what was the other one? Well, it wasn't Burning Wheel, I know that. She was surprised to hear that the SotC's rulebook is so thick -- truly, a testament to how intuitive and newbie-friendly SotC can be.

Yves' player commented that she (Yves) didn't seem to have much of a motivation for participating in the party's mission, other than that she was hired. And he's right. I'm not sure why I had her a thief who only dabbled in magic, when I should've made her a full-blown mage. She was maybe a little too stealthy, which only encouraged him to make her even stealthier (with a great aspect: "When the Going Gets Tough, the Tough Hide in the Dark"), and that meant that she essentially sat out part of the action. So lesson learned, there.

The good news on Yves is that the way the magic system works -- that is, the "First One's Free" mechanic -- encouraged Yves' player to cast at least one spell a scene. She never cast a second in a scene, because she was usually busy hiding, in accordance with her character skills and aspects, but that's fine. For that character, magic was seasoning, not the meat, and the mechanics backed that up. If I use that character in a future playtest, I'll reverse her stealth and magic emphases to distinguish her a little more.

Also, I started everyone out with a default of 3 Stress boxes, thinking that that would make things grittier, but y'know... it didn't. Only one character took consequences, and I had to work my ass off to make that happen. In retrospect, his player was right: I should've just paid him a Fate Point and said, "Something hits you on the back of the head and everything goes black." But oh no, I had to keep it real and try to get some legit consequences on him. Bah. Meanwhile, characters like Gregor the troll never came within a mile of a consequence -- at 7 Health Stress (including his armor) and a high Melee, there was no way any of my little thiefy or thuggy minions were going to put a dent in him.

Since the minions weren't technically "armed" with anything -- that is, they didn't have a weapon listed, or any aspects regarding what they were wielding -- the "Strong Against" armor rules didn't really come into play except at the climactic battle, when a few of the party fought a monstrously huge blue beetle in a subterranean chamber. Gregor tried to invoke his axe's Slashing aspect, but was unable to because the beetle had Heavy armor ("Chitinous Shell"). When we got to that fight and I saw the beetle's stats again, I thought for sure he'd be a "run away" encounter -- Superb Might, the Wrestler stunt, 8 Health Stress, etc. -- but they made short work of him. Specifically, the jungle elf hit him for something like 15 damage thanks to some generous Fate Point expenditures and his One Arrow Left stunt. I had 5 Fate Points for the scene that I could've used to bolster the beetle's defenses, but it was already after 2:00 so I just let it go.

Later that night, I played in Colin's "Spirit of the Force" Star Wars/SotC game (which was predictably awesome), and came away with a deep appreciation of his "No Stress, just consequences" mechanic. He's of the opinion that simply taking Stress is dull, whereas taking consequences is exciting, and I'd tend to agree. So he's done away with Stress tracks altogether, which means that whenever a character is hit, he takes a consequence. 4+ damage mandates a Moderate consequence, and 8+ means a Severe consequence. Those may seem like some crazy-high numbers, but it isn't unusual in "SotF" for skill efforts to be in the double-digits. Minor consequences go away at the end of the scene, and Moderate consequences go away with sufficient downtime between scenes (e.g., "Gash In Side" would go away if the character received medical treatment). Severe consequences, however, don't so much go away as become a permanent part of the character in the form of an aspect. Colin's example, from "Empire Strikes Back": Vader cuts off Luke's hand, a Severe consequence (then arguably deals him a Moderate mental consequence when he tells him he's his father). At the end of the movie (i.e., the game, or the story arc), Luke gets a cybernetic hand, replacing one of his aspects with "Mechanical Hand -- Just Like My Father." The transition from consequence to aspect is "in the fiction," and becomes an important turning point for the character.

I think that's pretty effin' rad. I plan to steal it wholesale.