Thursday, May 28, 2009

Swashbuckling: Skills

This is a short post, but I want to get this skill list out there so I can stop renaming everything back to SotC standard in future posts.

Whenever I start thinking about a new genre conversion, taking a close look at the skill list is one of the first things I do. I like to see what I can cut and what I can combine; rarely, I end up adding something. Regardless, I'm likely to do a lot of renaming. I find it goes a long way toward communicating the feel of the genre in question. For example, in "Spirit of the Sword," I could've left Science as Science, but renaming it to Physik gives it a totally different vibe in my mind.

Anyway, with that in mind, here's a skill list for "Spirit of the 17th Century."

Skill (New)
SotC Equivalent
Alertness Alertness
Arms Weapons
Art Art
Brawn Might, Endurance
Burglary Burglary
Chicanery Deceit
Connections Contacting
Empathy Empathy
Esprit Resolve
Firearms Guns
Fisticuffs Fists
Gambling Gambling
Horsemanship Drive, Survival's riding trapping
Legerdemain Sleight of Hand
Occult Mysteries
Perception Investigation
Physique Athletics, Endurance
Presence Leadership, Intimidation
Rapport Rapport
Resources Resources
Scholarship Academics
Science Science, Engineering
Seamanship Pilot
Stealth Stealth
Survival Survival, sans riding

For example, there's nothing wrong with Weapons and Fists, per se, but Arms and Fisticuffs just feels so much more right to me. Ditto Chicanery. Chicanery! Is there another RPG out there with a skill called Chicanery?

(I've also renamed consequences for this one: Trifling, Middling, and Grievous. "Well-placed, sir! You have struck me a Grievous Arm Cut Off, indeed!")

Anyway, a few things got combined, so maybe I ought to explain those.

Drive becomes Horsemanship, and deals with both riding horses and driving wagons/carriages/etc. Even though horse-drawn modes of transport are more central to this genre than to, say, fantasy, I still can't see having an entire skill just for carriages. In the source material, those who are good at riding horses are also capable when it comes to controlling a team of them. So Survival loses its horse-riding trapping and is completely about, y'know, survival.

Leadership and Intimidation combine, Voltron-like, to form Presence. Again, in the source material, force of personality is a big thing. Those who are intimidating are generally so because of their charisma. Anyone who wants to be decently intimidating without having any real ability to lead can supplement that with a boon (+1 Presence when intimidating) and an aspect or two, since it's likely to be a situational thing.

Likewise with Might and Endurance. Brawn is all that physical toughness in one skill.

Science kills Engineering and takes its stuff. I just don't think there should be a separation between these here. It's the Age of Enlightenment and/or Reason.

Contacting becomes Connections, which seems minor, I'll admit, but I think it contributes to the more social elements of the genre. It's not about being able to gather information; it's about being well-connected. Connections is the defensive skill in social conflicts, which I'll talk more about later.

And that's all the justification I feel I need to do for you people.

Oh, one last thing: Gamex. Gamex went well. I ran two "Legends of Anglerre" demo games, which were enjoyed by all (or seemed to be), and got some good feedback to boot. Most of the mechanical comments were actually about Starblazer and the differences between it and SotC. I've never met anyone -- in person, in real life -- who actually plays Starblazer, though several of us own the PDF, nor do I think I know anyone anymore who plays SotC as written, so for those in my groups who were already familiar with SotC/FATE, getting used to the way Starblazer does things was an additional obstacle, but hardly one we couldn't overcome.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Gamex 2009 Is... Wow, Right Now

Normally, I mention these things far(-ish) in advance, but what with one thing and another.... Anyway, Gamex 2009 is this weekend, right now, as we speak, at the Sheraton Gateway near LAX. It's a pretty nice hotel (nicer than our usual venue, the Radisson -- but that isn't saying much), with tons of room for what's turning out to be a relatively light slate of RPG events. I'm running demos of Legends of Anglerre this afternoon at 2:00 and tonight at 8:00. It'll be the first time any of what we've been working on will be shown to the public. Excitement!

Other games of note: Monsters and Other Childish Things run by San Diego's own Chris Czerniak (part of our monthly "Spirit of the Sword" playtest group), Morgan Ellis's "Spirit of the Red Planet" SotC-Barsoom hack tonight and tomorrow afternoon, a playtest of Josh Roby's nifty-looking Agora, and about eight thousand sessions of Geist: The Sin-Eaters, White Wolf's new WoD game. Plus a bunch of other stuff and plenty of crap to buy. If you're in the area this weekend, come on down.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Swashbuckling: Salons D'Escrimer

Fencing schools -- the swashbuckling equivalent of magic, in a way. FATE being what it is, simply adding a bunch of bonuses isn't really the best route. Small bonuses make a big difference, and the last thing I want is a game of mechanical oneupmanship driven by escalating bonuses for no good reason. So I'm stealing a page from the Leonard Balsera playbook and doing a sort of roll-and-keep thing (roll XdF and keep the best 4dF). This increases the odds of getting a +4 on the dice without actually pushing past that threshold. I tried this out with an NPC in "Spirit of the Fist," and it worked fine. (That's "fine" as in "sometimes I still got a crappy roll, despite rolling 6dF and keeping the best 4dF.)

The simplest thing to do here is to treat each fencing school as a package of benefits -- say, three -- that's accessed through a stunt. I'm thinking there would be a number of these to choose from, organized in tiers that are unlocked by your Weapons skill. I concede that this is double-dipping a bit with Weapons, since it determines both how good you are in a fight and how versatile you can be, but c'mon, it's a swashbuckling game. That said, depending on the school a different skill could be used to determine just what you have access to. I'm thinking here of something like Academics or even Mysteries.

What fencing schools can do:
  • +1-3dF (keep best four dice) with Weapons, Fists, or Guns for attacks, defenses, or specific type of weapon
  • +1 in broad circumstances only with a particular skill that doesn't directly deal stress -- e.g., +1 Athletics to cover ground, +1 Intimidation in combat
  • +2 to maneuver with a skill
  • Use a different skill when rolling initiative
  • Some other skill substitution in combat with non-stress-dealing skills
  • One secondary skill can only complement and never restrict Weapons, Fists, or Guns
  • No penalty to Weapons et al. when using a particular skill as part of a supplementary action
  • +1dF when you have Advantage
  • +1dF when you don't have Advantage
  • Withstand an additional Minor consequence (this would be a very high-tier benefit)

What fencing schools can't do:
  • Grant flat, blanket bonuses to Weapons, Fists, or Guns
  • Grant flat bonuses to stress dealt on a successful attack
  • Grant flat reductions to stress when successfully attacked
  • Skill substitution that lets you use something other than Weapons et al. to deal stress
Notice I'm including Guns in there. That's just the completist in me, really, but there ought to be room for it; they aren't "The Three Rapierists," after all.

For example:
Salon de Montcharles: A school whose techniques revolve around understanding the opponent's mind and intimidating him into submission.

Novice Techniques
(Prerequisite: Average Weapons)
    • +1dF Weapons with rapiers
    • +1 Empathy in combat
    • +1 Intimidation in combat when you don't have Advantage
Intermediate Techniques (Prerequisite: Fair Weapons)
    • Use Empathy instead of Alertness for initiative
    • +2dF Weapons with defenses
    • +1 Resolve when you have Advantage
Master Techniques (Prerequisite: Good Weapons)
    • +1dF Weapons with attacks
    • +1dF Weapons with defenses
    • +2 Intimidation with maneuvers
    • When you take a physical consequence, you may choose to take a mental consequence of equal severity instead

When you take the stunt for a particular fencing school, you pick three of its techniques from any available tier. The idea here is that I'd stat out a number of schools -- a dozen or more -- for players to pick from. That shouldn't prevent players from coming up with their own, but having pre-established schools would be an important bit of setting, I'd think. Techniques that grant bonus dice stack with each other, but techniques that grant flat bonuses don't: Use the highest applicable bonus. To take an example from the above, if you have +1 to Intimidation in combat and +2 to maneuver with Intimidation, using Intimidation in combat as part of a maneuver will only net you a +2 bonus. Keep in mind the rules of Advantage here. Normally, getting a +1 to Empathy in combat wouldn't be an especially big deal, but when a good Deceit roll can give you the ability to inflict consequences, having a decent Empathy suddenly becomes more important.

I'm not exactly sure how I'd handle other stunts (or their equivalent) here, but it'd be great if I could get away with limiting bonuses to Weapons solely to aspect invokes and tags. Oh, and the other thing I'd do is limit aspect invokes to once per scene, to encourage more maneuvers and the creation of new aspects.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Swashbuckling: Personal Combat Zones

FATE's great for fast-and-loose combat, but for a swashbuckling game you (or I) arguably want something a little more detailed to provide more tactical options. One in-genre way I can see to do this is to expand on the concept of zones by subdividing them into what I'm calling paces.

Like zones, paces measure your relative distance to your opponent in abstract terms. When it comes to personal combat, there are three basic types of weapons: very short weapons (daggers) or fists, swords and other weapons of "normal" length (the middle ground), and extra-long weapons like halberds. With this in mind, when you're in combat with an opponent and you're both in the same zone (i.e., this doesn't apply to ranged combat), you're at one of three paces:
  • Corps-a-Corps (1): Literally "body to body." Too close to effectively make use of a rapier or longer weapon.
  • Melee (2): The "normal" distance appropriate for your average rapier or the like.
  • Extended (3): Too far for two rapier-wielders to engage, but close enough to hit with a polearm. (I'm on the lookout for a good French word for this; "lointain" isn't cutting it for me right now.)
Every weapon is most effective at one of these three paces, expressed like so: Dagger (1), Rapier (2), Halberd (3). Combat begins at the largest applicable pace -- Melee if you're both wielding rapiers, Extended if one of you has a polearm, etc. If your weapon's effective pace is different than your current pace, take a penalty to your attacks equal to the difference as long as that pace is maintained.

For example:
  • You have a dagger (1), he has a rapier (2): Your attacks with your dagger are at -1 (1 - 2).
  • Now you're the rapier (2) guy, and he's got a halberd (3): You still get a -1 to your attacks so long as you're both using those weapons.
  • You have a dagger (1), he has a halberd (3): You're at a -2 on your attacks.

"As long as that pace is maintained" is important. How do you figure out what pace you're at (that's awful grammar, but...) from round to round? The effective pace of the weapon that hit last is your current pace. If the dagger-guy hits the polearm-guy (despite that -2 for starting at Extended), he can only have done so by stepping inside the halberdier's reach and getting close enough to score a hit -- so you must be at Corps-a-Corps now. That means the halberdier's suddenly at a -2, because his weapon's much worse up close.

Combatants can also change the current pace as a full action with an Athletics roll (opposed by either Athletics or Weapons): 1 shift to adjust the pace by one step, 3 shifts (spin) to adjust it by two steps. If you have Great Athletics but only Fair Weapons, and you're in a dagger-vs.-polearm situation, it's worth your while to close distance before attempting to attack with that dagger.

Why do any of this? Well, in this genre, there ought to be more emphasis put on the weapons combatants use. Most fights are likely to be between combatants using Melee-pace weapons, which means it shouldn't have a big effect on every fight. Also, it's another little mechanical tidbit to play with when it comes to fencing techniques (up next!).