Friday, February 26, 2010

SoG: Encumberance?

Okay, so I'm listening to the latest "Roll For Initiative" podcast, and they're discussing the topic of "Encumbrance" and how cumbersome it is.

...Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Now here in "less crunch land", the first reaction of many of us might be to blow off encumbrance entirely. In fact, most of us old-school AD&D'ers usually did blow it off, or at least not mess with encumbrance too much until a PC pushed it too far. ("Really? You're carrying 3 halberds?")

However the excellent point was made that by blowing off Encumbrance you also miss out on a lot of story-related opportunities:

  • "How are we gonna get all this treasure out?"
  • "They're gaining on us! Drop the treasure!"
  • "I don't have to outrun them--I just have to outrun you..."
  • "How are we supposed to fight carrying these sacks of gold?"
  • "I left my plate armor behind so I could carry more, see? Smart, huh?"
  • "Who knew priceless tapestries were so heavy?"
  • "That pit looks awfully wide..."

...and so on.

Given my goal for the SoG implementation is supposed to provide the gaming group the feel that they've been old-school gaming in Greyhawk while still using the awesomeness of FATE, I'm electing to attempt Encumbrance of SOME sort.

So, how might this be accomplished in FATE?

My first reaction is to look at what usually happened at the gaming table. Quoting myself, "...not mess with encumbrance too much until a PC pushed it too far."

So that says to me: Aspects.

I am thinking about doing some sort of GM-discretion maneuver test, where the player might try to get creative (especially with judicious use of stunts):

  • Might (the obvious answer--just schlepping it)
  • Resources (I just happen to have this scroll with "Tenser's Floating Disc" handy...)
  • Empathy (con someone else into carrying it)
  • Craft (MacGyvering some kind of travois or some such)

...and so on.

The GM could elect to do the maneuver against each individual PC.

However, I'm thinking it might be more fun for everyone (PCs and GM) to consider the maneuver as a test against the party as a whole. Or stated more mechanically: do a maneuver test against a single PC and the rest of the party tries to help that PC's skill. So this way they cooperate, divvy up and work together to figure out how they're going to get the booty out of the dungeon.

With respect to the description of any Aspects applied, and having them be of "BAM!" caliber, I think the GM should also take the DESCRIPTION of the treasure into account: Gold pieces versus copper pieces versus gems versus priceless sofa cushions. In other words, it's not just weight that needs to be considered.

Sandbox Example:
If a party is presented with a treasure of "Epic" weight (+7), and the designated PC (Dwarf fighter) for the Manuever test has a Might of +3...

...the Gnome Thief in the party decides to use his Craft skill (+2) to complement the Dwarf's Might and helps find a way to jerry-rig the load (considered a complementing skill, so it's good for +1 even though it's less than the +3 Might?)

...the Human Fighter in the party might pitch in with carrying treasure too, electing to use his Might at +2 as an additional complement of +1 to the Dwarf?

...Additionally if the Dwarf and Human decided to discard their armor (both have "Heavy" Armor), what would that be worth? Noodling it around as a GM, if the party offered to strip off their armor and leave it there, I would be inclined to offer at least an additional +1.

That would put the Dwarf's Might effectively at +3+1+1+1 = +6 (Fantastic).

So the impact of this would then depend upon the nature of the treasure:

  • If the treasure was "splittable" (eg., piles of coins), they could elect to carry most of the treasure equal to the party's +6, meaning they would have to leave some behind and now have a +6 (Fantastic) treasure to their names, without having to incur an Aspect (though the fighters wouldn't have their armor).
  • Given that same splittable treasure, the party might get greedy and try to carry the whole thing out anyway, and they'd be assessed an Aspect of something like "Can barely stay upright" or something along those lines.
  • If the treasure wasn't splittable (eg., Heward's Mystic Refrigerator) they would likely also have the same scenario above where they take the Aspect, or just leave it there.

Some Other Thoughts:
  • For purposes of lifting heavy stuff, could you also consider the members of the party without the Might skill as "minions"? That way, 2-3 minions would be good for +1, 4-6 minions = +2, etc. Currently I think so, because here's another compelling reason to go old-school about bringing henchmen into the dungeon with you. However this would also mean that the "Can barely stay upright" Aspect would apply to them, too. The more I think about this one, the more I like it.
    Cross reference: 1,000's of people working together to move the enormous blocks to make the pyramids. :)

  • Though it wasn't explicitly stated above, I personally don't consider this a "roll the dice" opportunity. You can either lift it, or you can't. I don't see where randomness is required in this situation.
  • Would you think it's too crunchy if the GM might then consider an Endurance test in subsequent scenes to see about exhaustion, or even consider payment in Physical stress boxes or even a Consequence?

  • Fate Points. According to SotC RAW, the Might and/or Endurance skill are eligible for using a Fate point to get a +2 push, I'd probably at minimum continue to assess that cost on a per-scene basis. But I'm not entirely sold on this.

  • One thing I glossed over in the "splittable treasure" writeup, was the question of how to divide ladder ratings. In other words, does 1 Fantastic (+6) treasure divide into 2 Good (+3) treasures? I haven't done enough research to determine if the ratings are linear or not, but I currently think it does not. Anyone got anything more definitive on that?

I Wanted to BELIEVE!! (sob)

In the "Serves me right for believing the Internet" category, I geeked out yesterday about a possible purchase of West End Game (WEG) by another company that would hopefully lead to a re-juvenation of their properties (most importantly to me, Torg).

Come to find out that was not the case.

Turns out the post (dubiously dated 1/1/2010 as Mike pointed out), was reporting something that actually appeared to happen back in 2003. So I don't know the provenance of that link above.

Even more damning (and by that, I really mean "damn-damn-damn!"), is this link here, from a Feb 9 interview with Eric Gibson (owner of WEG) posted at a more reputable source wherein we have the following quotes:

"West End Games is currently in a holding pattern right now and my motivations are elsewhere at this point. I am in school right now and that occupies most of my attention at this point."

"School has kept me so busy right now and I don’t have enough time to sleep, let alone get everything else I need to get done completed. I do not have the time I used to have to visit message forums and answer questions. I would love to be able to answer the fan’s questions, but right now my attention is on other matters."


Since my mother told me not to say anything if I couldn't say anything nice, I'll just say this:


Thursday, February 25, 2010

Game Industry Stuff

My buddy Bill gave me a tidbit of industry news was too good not to go all "OMGPonies!" over.

RPG News: West End Games Sold | Echoes #16

I'll skip to (for me) the really cool part:

“Plans include...the continued development of Torg 2.0"

Oh yeah. Gimme some sugar, baby.

Historically West End Games' "games" represents for me some of the watershed moments in my gaming resume':

  • Stars Wars RPG (1st edition, thank you very much)
  • Ghostbusters (one of the most publicly-underrated mechanics in gaming and I believe one of the influences that lead to the FATE system we all know and love)
  • Torg (How to REALLY do cross-genre role-playing and make everyone happy. Not since the D&D "blue box" had a box game ever blown my mind the way TORG 1.0 did.)

Without the above list, early Champions, and R. Talsorian's original Cyberpunk (the "2013" version), I wouldn't be the person I am today.

Ahhh, memories. I ran a 2 year TORG campaign off-and-on where the players (all in their early 20's by this time) actually played themselves as PCs and all had their "history" together (talk about a great reason why the party was together and all trusted each other!) As DM, the backstory was that "I" had died during the attacks and that's why I wasn't in the campaign.

(At least until they met a doppelganger "me" as a recurring NPC from the "Nippon Tech" realm and turned out to be not quite the same person as they remembered from their "Core Earth"!)

Good times.

Addendum from Mike:

I talk about "industry stuff"? Well, I will today with this addendum, just to make this post FATE-relevant (although the prospect of Torg's return is worth posting about, FATE or no).

Evil Hat's struck a deal with Alliance to distribute the Dresden Files RPG. "So what?" you ask. I'll tell you what: Alliance is the leading (I believe) comic and game distributor in the country. This means you should be able to walk into your FLGS and just find the thing on the shelf along with everything else they get from Alliance (which is, like, everything). And if it's not on the shelf, they can easily get it through their usual channels. No special orders through IPR necessary.

That's kinda huge news for Evil Hat (and for us FATE fans). So is this:
In addition to the Dresden Files RPG, Alliance will also be offering Evil Hat’s backlist of products – including the award-winning Spirit of the Century RPG
Now that's pretty awesome -- maybe even more awesome. How awesome? Go look at Evil Hat's catalogue. That awesome.

So are these covers to DFRPG:

And I say all of this never having read a word of Jim Butcher.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Burning Stress

No, it's not a new game by Luke Crane.

So Greg Stolze started this thread on where he proposed replacing "hit points" with "miss points." It's a neat bit of wheel-reinvention phrased as something revelatory. What he's suggesting is pretty close to how hit points work in every edition of D&D -- in that they're not intended to be solely a measure of a character's capacity to be stabbed 17 times in the back -- or, to get a little closer, Vitality/Wounds in D20 Star Wars. That's a little unfair -- some good ideas came out of that thread, and we are talking about Greg Stolze, here.

Why am I bringing this up here? Because of this other thread, where Matt Sheridan talks about applying this concept to FATE. I know what you're thinking: FATE already has this in the form of stress tracks. Taking stress without taking a consequence generally represents a near-miss. But Matt's looking for something different. He points out that while failed attacks are misses, merely taking stress is often framed as a miss, too. So what's the difference? He proposes making hits hits and misses misses by not giving the defender a defense roll at all, but substituting a different die mechanic in its place:
But what if, instead, we gave them a different kind of defense roll that actually replenished the stress track? Actually, let's just start using the phrase "defense tokens", instead of "stress track".

So you're making a defense roll per round instead of per attack, and thus multiple attackers become pretty scary (and involve less rolling). Let's say you also can't replenish defense tokens with the same skills you use to attack, so it'll be possible for characters to be better at dishing it out than taking it (something I almost always want in my NPCs), leading to faster and nastier fights. Naturally, you can tag aspects on your defense rolls as well as your attack rolls (appropriate for moves like taking cover).
(Of course, the real answer here is just cutting out stress tracks altogether. Now every hit is significant. But I digress.)

All that rolling is a little much for me, but it's cool nonetheless. And since I used stress tracks in the supers game I ran at OrcCon, I started thinking about what I could do to stress tracks to make me want to use them more often. So how about this:

Stress tracks clear at the top of every round, and absorb incoming stress, like usual. However, you can "burn" a stress box to get a bonus of some kind on a roll -- say, +1 per stress box burned. Helpful, but not as good as a Fate Point. Or maybe it should be +2, to make it a last-ditch option when you're unwilling (or unable) to spend Fate Points.

In any event, burning a stress box means losing it for some period of time. In fact, it means losing a box from both the Health and Composure stress tracks. Those boxes don't come back until... I dunno. The next scene? The longer it takes, the less inclined players will be to burn them, so I think making it a per-scene thing feels about right.

Obviously, just because of the way it works out, this is something you'd do when you're on the offensive, not the defensive, so it'd be a balance between improving a roll now and staying on your feet later.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

OrcCon 2010 Wrap-Up

So! OrcCon was a blast for the nth year in a row. This is a convention I used to go to in junior high -- I remember buying Dungeoneer's Survival Guide there -- and sometimes it amazes me that it's still going on and I'm still going.

The FATE supers playtest was a hit, and confirmed what I'd suspected: that this power-tier/die-replacement method really, really works for me. Everyone had a great time, and the characters felt appropriately "super." The mix of contemporary character aspects and Silver Age-y campaign aspects worked fine -- "[See issue #4. --Ed.]" ended up being tagged and everything! And "Power and Responsibility" was good for a few compels to make sure at least one of the PCs stayed in the story when the player was somewhat at a loss.

The plot involved a science class full of giant ants, an villainous ape named the Headmaster, Insectobots, a final showdown with the insect-themed supervillain the Dementomologist, and much more (including some creatively used donuts and beer cans). Along the way, they racked up a few Heroic consequences: Becky's Mad at Chet (created by a character with a secret crush on Chet, attempting to drive a wedge between him and his girlfriend), Gas Leak, Chemical Spill, and Acid-Splashed Bystanders. That last one was a Severe consequence, so if we were to keep playing beyond that one-shot, I'd have to change one of the campaign aspects to reflect the fact that the heroes allowed some innocent bystanders to get in the line of fire of the Dementomologist's Insectobots and their formic acid cannons.

Right now, I can't think of anything that I'd change apart from a couple minor behind-the-scenes things to do with the cost of some trappings. That's pretty remarkable and rare -- I almost always come out of these things with a few changes to make.

But this time, everything went swimmingly. The invoke-for-effect to add a trapping to a power came up enough that it was clearly a good safety-net addition, but not so much that it was a problem. For example, when Morgan realized that his super-strong opponent Ajax had a weakness for sonic-based attacks, he grabbed a couple pieces of sheet metal, spent a Fate Point to add the Unusual (Sonic) topping to his Physical Conditioning attack, and smashed them against Ajax's ears like a pair of cymbals.

(Moreover, that fight involved Morgan, playing the super-powered quarterback MVP, shouting "Let's do this, Greek Week!" at Ajax -- then taking a 12-stress hit from his Trojan War-themed foe. So double-plus good, that.)

Granted, it wasn't an extremely rigorous playtest -- the PCs and one notable enemy were built on 80 points, whereas most of the opposition was built on around half that -- but at this point, the only things I'd want to change would be in character creation. After those tweaks, the next step would be giving the rules to a player and letting them make their own. I find there's often a world of difference between my thought process when making pregens for a specific scenario and a player's thought process when making their own character for an entire campaign.

I can't talk about my game, though, without mentioning the other FATE game I was in: Morgan's Sky Pirates of the South China Seas game. Pulp aviation and adventure, 1930s-style! I was Ignacy "Phoenix" Sokolof, an Austro-Hungarian "Honorable Enemy Ace." My fighter-bomber had an aspect of "NEERRROOWWWW!!!" Good times.

Like I said in an earlier post, before the con we'd talked a bit about how to do dogfighting. Now that we've seen those dogfighting rules in action, Morgan and I agree they're less than ideal. I mean, the game was still great -- don't misunderstand me there. It's just that the rules didn't feel very... playtested. On paper, they look great: You have to get in position before you can make an attack, and getting in position requires getting spin on an opposed Pilot roll. On your turn, you can maneuver to create an aspect, or make a positioning roll. I mean, on the face of it, it's not so different from my swashbuckling Advantage thing.

However, it has the same problems the Advantage system had, as originally written. One, it can have the undesirable side effect of making combat drag. Round One: Maneuver. Round Two: Position. Round Three: Oh, he beat me by three on a Pilot roll, so now he's escaped. Back to Round One. You can cut that down a round by skipping the maneuvering, but that's, like, skipping what's supposed to be the fun, desirable bit: creating aspects.

In the meantime, once you get position and attack, you aren't actually all that better off than you'd be in, say, a fistfight. Dogfighting is all about "waxing" your opponent's "fanny," in old WWII fighter-pilot parlance (apologies to my British readers -- "fanny" means something different to you, but there's nothing I can do about that). That is, once you get behind the enemy plane, he's done for. But not with these dogfighting rules, and that's a problem. You invest multiple rounds in maneuvering and positioning, and your payoff is likely to be, say, two points of stress. That ain't right.

James Ritter, also a player in that game, suggested requiring three aspects before being able to attack. This makes aspect-creation more central to the process, but it also means that you'll only be able to attack every four rounds. At least you'll be able to tag those three aspects for a +6, but still, things shouldn't be moving that slowly. I countered with the idea that you'd be able to create one aspect per two shifts, but that's more or less trading Fate Points for time. Whether that's a good or bad thing is your call.

My quick fix would be to eliminate the separation between maneuvering and positioning, and say that getting spin on any opposed skill roll with your target will get you in position. I understand that it makes things easier, but it also makes them faster, and that's a fair trade, if you ask me.

In the end, it was probably only me, Morgan, and James who gave it all that much thought. Half the table were FATE newbies, and it was good (as it always is) to see people new to the game get used to its concepts and mechanics. As the pilot of a fighter-bomber, I enjoyed maneuvering as much as possible to let my gunner get plenty of spotlight time by tagging all those aspects. Any game where you blow up a zeppelin is all right by me.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Spirit of Greyhawk - Monster Translation "Hellhound"

(It was mentioned in the comments of a prior post of mine that I ought to share what I ended up using as my first attempt at a Spirit of Greyhawk Hellhound. So, enjoy!)

Source Material Reference:
MM, p.51 (published 1977-1978)

Disclaimer: This was an "on the fly" translation; I didn't plan this one out. The party was looking for a way to break into a mansion occupied by 4 Iuz clerics and their staff. The PC's had decided to break in via "an exterior root cellar entrance", and so to make things interesting, I decided to turn the root cellar into a converted oubliette / Hellhound doghouse.

Hellhound (a la "Spirit of Greyhawk")

Stress: 4
Skills: Stealth (+4), Melee (+4, claws / fangs), Missile (+4, see Special Attack, below), Alertness (+4)
Consequences: Minor, Moderate
Special Attack: Flame Breath (Missile Attack, same zone, Aspect "Hellfire Breath")
Aspects: "Denizen of Hell (LE)"

Notes: Typically encountered in groups of 2-8

Translation Notes:
  • My standard guideline of 2 HD = 1 Stress Box was adjusted a bit by the source material's AC4. So rather than add "Light Armor" to the creature, I upped the overall toughness a bit.
  • I consider this particular translation represents the "high end" of a hellhound's range.
  • You could probably half the stress / skill (possibly consider dropping the consequences to just 1) and get your entry-level hellhound.

They're also strong enough that I played them as separate creatures, rather than as "pack mooks". They've got enough skill to able to successfully manuever aspects onto PCs, that the other hellhounds in the pack will then tag.

Adventure Side Notes:
In case you're interested, the root cellar had a scene aspect on it of "low ceiling" which meant the PCs had to fight in a crouch the whole time against two of the hellhounds as listed: which meant one character was crouching behind his shield (helped with the flame breath), jabbing (somewhat ineffectively) with his broadsword. Meanwhile, the other Acrobatic PC was pretty hindered, which ended up with him on his back under one hellhound--essentially shanking it while it struggled to get off him (resultingly the PC was also able to tag the "low ceiling" aspect to make it harder for the hellhound to get off him).

Once the PCs managed (barely) to defeat the Hellhounds, the Acrobatic (ex-Assassin) PC was heard to quietly exclaim in glee that "now we've got the PERFECT place to dispose of bodies!!"

It was so sincere and the player playing the Paladin PC was so disgusted and I was laughing so hard I couldn't help but award a Fate point for staying in character.

"What are you looking at me like that for? Wait... hey, come back--what are you so upset about? I just meant: who'd think to look here, amiright?"

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Expert Pilots Don't Have Pilot

A few weeks ago, Morgan, Colin, and I were emailing about Morgan's upcoming "Sky Pirates of the South China Seas" game at OrcCon (I look forward to hearing Morgan's stentorian recitation of that title: "The Sky Pirates... of the South China Seas!"). Specifically, he was looking for ways to spice up dogfighting, since he planned to have it figure prominently in the game. He didn't want it to devolve into a series of opposed Pilot rolls, which would be pretty boring.

Some good ideas came out of that exchange, but one that stuck with me was my own. Whaddya know?

Anyway, it's like this: I suggested that if these PCs were all primarily identified as pilots (and they are), then it should just be assumed that they're all experts when it comes to flying airplanes. Therefore, take Pilot out of the equation. Realistically, they should all have it as their apex skill, but that makes it harder to really differentiate between them in a meaningful way. Or, put another way, if they're all equally good at the main thing they have in common, they don't feel unique enough.

Instead, in a dogfight, reframe all of their other skills as dogfight skills. Stealth becomes the skill you roll when you hide in a cloudbank, Might is what you roll to force an enemy to land (or into a mountainside), Deceit can be used to trick another pilot into an unfavorable maneuver or position, Athletics lets you pour on the speed, and so on. (And Guns is still your shooting skill.) Basically, just pretend the plane isn't there, or that it's merely an extension of the pilot.

This means the big burly pilot is as "strong" in the air as he is on his own two feet, the silver-tongued charlatan is an equally crafty pilot, etc. It's great for making really iconic, almost Saturday-morning-cartoonish characters who are all part of a team. It's also a lot like the Advantage rules I use for swashbuckling, so this isn't exactly a new concept.

I'm pretty sure Morgan isn't going with that solution -- and fair enough, because it'd likely require a fairly significant overhaul of the skill list to really make it work. But the basic idea behind it still interests me, and as I thought on it further I hit on something else that might have legs for somebody somewhere.

This variation requires something akin to defined classes -- we can just call it a "Profession," and treat it as an aspect for the most part. It has an additional benefit, though. Every Profession is associated with a general area of expertise. (Let's use typical fantasy archetypes just to facilitate things.) The Fighter profession would be an expert at combat, the Wizard an expert in magic, the Thief an expert in deception, and so on.

Just like those expert pilots without Pilot, you don't have a skill that covers your area of expertise. Instead, when you're in your element, every skill you have can be brought to bear. For example, the Fighter doesn't have a Weapons skill. If he's swinging a big two-handed axe, he attacks with Might; if it's a rapier, he'll use Sleight of Hand instead. Likewise, when the Wizard uses magic, all of his skills are potentially applicable, depending on the nature of the magic. Unlike the Fighter, the Wizard can take the Weapons skill -- but whenever he uses a weapon, that's the only skill he can use. He lacks the versatility of the Fighter when it comes to armed combat, but neither can the Fighter with a Magic skill match the Wizard's facility and flexibility with spellcasting.

It's an odd little idea, and it'd obviously need a heck of a lot more before it could even be deemed playable (if all of a Wizard's skills are magic, then what's the Fighter's Magic skill do?), but I think there's potential there. It's definitely in the pulp vein, though, what with different character types essentially epitomizing their areas of expertise, so I have no doubt it could work.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

SoG - Play Session Update

Quick update from Sunday's "Spirit of Greyhawk" gameplay session:

Consequence Pool: Didn't have a chance to try it out. Party didn't let themselves get engaged in a group combat yesterday that lasted that long.

Healing spells: The healing rules around "stress" need some polish. I need to figure out something a bit more elegant (or easy to remember) than what I have in place right now. But the basic premise of "multiple small healings add up to big healings" is the right way to go for SoG.

(Quick response from biff's prior comment re: Healing and the social stress track. I dabbled with things like that a bit. Scan the source material for things involving modifiers to morale checks--I consider the source material's concept of 'morale' to be the closest parallel to attacks and healing on the social stress track. So for example, "Bless" and "Curse" involve placing aspects on targets that would also be VERY taggable for purposes of making social stress-related attacks and healing.)

Sorcery and Fate Point "Commitment": Biff's comment here is now officially "in" SoG. My "on the fly" spell-caster went a little nuts with low-level healing spells (see above), and this was the perfect way to establish checks and balances without being punitive. There was a bit of a problem with the initial understanding of the difference between "spending" versus "committing" a fate point, but that's a "once and done" problem.

(Thanks, biff-dyskolos!)

Monster Conversion: Hellhounds worked out pretty well. They're scary when they act in concert with each other. PC's really didn't like fighting "dogs" that were smart enough to start manuevering aspects upon the PCs (latching on, then shaking PC to the ground) that the rest of the pack would then tag--actually rattled them quite nicely. (GM nasty laugh)

Turning Undead: Attempted an initial try at rules for turning:
  • Use the cleric's spell-casting skill as a Manuever to put an aspect against the target(s) (single versus group target didn't matter) and
  • Consider any opposed alignment aspects to tag.
  • Gaining spin either puts you in control of them(instant minions!), or dispels them (depending upon the turner's alignment).
Not sure about the balance yet on turning especially at the bigger disparities with respect to gaining spin, but the gameplay "speed" was a good feel.

Supers: Three OrcCon Characters

All six PCs for OrcCon are done (well... one of them's about 90% done), so I figured I'd post a few character sheets so people could check them out.

MVP, the physically enhanced football star
Gold Star, the psychic overachiever
Madcap, the wisecracking speedster (having some trouble with the website on this one)

I also have a "campaign sheet" with the game's campaign aspects, space to list Heroic consequences, and a quick rundown on how power tiers work.

In case anyone's curious, the campaign aspects are
  • Power and Responsibility
  • Secret Identities
  • Splash Page!
  • Code Against Killing
  • [See Issue #4. --Ed.]
  • Monologue
Tone-wise, it's apparently a sort of mish-mash between ironically detached, modern-day teen heroes and Silver Age tropes. In fact, it's almost an even split between the PCs' aspects and the campaign aspects. We'll see how that works out.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Supers: Consequence Pools

I was thinking about this team of supervillain-types the PCs will encounter in my FATE supers OrcCon game, and two things occurred to me:
  1. These aren't minions, but neither are they important enough to the story to warrant full PC-like treatment. Stress tracks, sans consequences, seem like a disservice.
  2. I don't want to track consequences for five or six named NPCs at once.
So it hit me: I already effectively have a "pool" of consequences for the campaign. Why not have something similar shared by the team? Say, four Minor and three Moderate -- enough that everyone should have the chance to take one, but not so many that more than one or two of them could take more than one.

Logistically, I'd fill in the consequences as they were taken and indicate with initials or something who'd taken which ones, so they can still be tagged without confusion. I think it's kinda interesting for a group of traditionally selfish badguys to share survivability like that. It'd be interesting on the player side, too, but not for this game. (Y'know what I bet it'd work great for? Survival horror.)

Then I thought of this other thing: Tie it into the Fate Point economy. Normally, as a GM, I allot Fate Points to myself on a per-scene basis, not per-character. It feels more appropriate from a narrative point of view and makes it easy to control how tough, long, or important a conflict will be. For every one of these shared consequences I take, I lose a Fate Point. I can continue to take consequences after I'm out of Fate Points, though.

What about making it weirder than that? What about being able to take a consequence in lieu of spending a Fate Point? What about not giving myself Fate Points at all, and only having consequences? On a single-character basis, this wouldn't work, but if I'd have 10 Fate Points spread between five characters, how much would it screw things up to give myself, say, six Minor consequences and four Moderate consequences instead? Or fewer than that, but Minor consequences give me the usual +2 bonus and Moderate consequences give me a +4? It'd definitely make the badguys more vulnerable, since they're going to rack up consequences with trivial ease, but I could temper it by making the Minor consequences fragile -- they can't be "spent" again, but once they're tagged they're gone. And tagging a Moderate consequence frees up a Minor consequence slot.

In essence, it'd be a Fate Point economy without the Fate Points. I can't figure out if I like it or if it's just an odd idea that I'm curious to see in play.

Either way, I'm feeling pretty good about the shared consequence pool on a conceptual level. Anyone have experience with doing this kind of thing?

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Magic Spells - Healing Spell(s)

This is a situation where I'm currently working from the premise that for SoG there is only a single damage-healing spell (instead of multiple healing spells at different levels). Likely this same situation will also come into play with the "Monster Summoning" spells--there will only be a single spell, and the Margin of success of the casting will determine the strength of the spell.

Healing Spell (+1 Difficulty)

Benefits (+3 to Difficulty)

  • Improvement: Alternate Useage (Use Magic-related Skill for Physik) (+1)
  • Improvement: Alternate Useage (Make effect more "magical") (+1)
    This improvement means the following change in the use of the magically-generated Physik Skill effect with respect to Medical Attention. With the use of this spell, a target can be the target of more than one healing action in an exchange.
  • Improvement: Alternate Useage (Make effect even more "magical") (+1)
    This improvement means the following change in the use of the magically-generated Physik Skill effect with respect to Medical Attention. When used against Consequences, the caster does not take the entire scene to help the target, and multiple attempts can be made.
Requirements (-2 to Difficulty)

  • Requirement: Verbal Component (-1)
  • Requirement: Somatic Component (-1)

Spell Mechanics:
Before rolling the dice on the spell, the Caster decides on one of two possible uses for the Healing Spell:

  • Heal a Target's Stress
  • Heal a Target's Consequences

Healing Option 1: Heal a Target's Stress

RULES NOTE: This is a slight modification to the Physick skill's "mundane" listing, to remain consistent with the Magic dice-rolling mechanic.)

GAMEPLAY NOTE: There are opinions by players that using a spell to cure Stress might be considered something of a wasted effort given the fact that it's really just "combat fatigue", not so much as considered damage. However it will be left here for now, as it's consistent with the skill's listing in the SotC source material.


When healing stress, roll against the skill level of the spell. If the spell is successfully cast (Caster equals the spell's difficulty), then the subject may remove a checkmark in his one-stress box on his physical stress track. Every two shifts beyond the first improves this effect by one; for example, with four shifts, a character can remove a checkmark in his target’s three-stress box. The list below shows the full progression.

Healing Success Effects
  • 0 shifts (equal): Clear the one-stress box
  • 1 shift: Clear the one-stress box, roll up
  • 2 shifts: Clear the two-stress box, roll down
  • 3 shifts: Clear the two-stress box, roll up
  • 4 shifts: Clear the three-stress box, roll down
  • 5 shifts: Clear the three-stress box, roll up
  • 6 shifts: Clear the four-stress box, roll down
  • 7 shifts: Clear the four-stress box, roll up
  • 8 shifts: Clear the five-stress box, roll down
  • 9 shifts: Clear the five-stress box, roll up

The "roll up", "roll down" notation refers to the fact that if the target box is already clear, then the effect rolls and clears the next available box in a particular direction. For example, if the spell's success was "4 shifts" and allowed the three-stress box to be cleared, but only the one-stress box was checked, then clear that one instead.

ACTION ITEM: Review if this scenario works or not: If there is nothing left in the direction indicated, then just look for the lowest stress box, and then redefine that having been downgraded by one stress. Note that the downgrade only occurs if there were no stress boxes available to clear, as described according to the shifts above.

Example: Conman the Barbarian had the following physical stress: ( )( )(X)( ) ( ), and a caster scored "2 shifts (roll down)" on a healing. Conman noted that his 2-stress box was clear and there no lower-stress boxes to clear. What would happen then is that the 2-stress box would be "downgraded". In other words, the 3-stress box would be cleared, but the 2-stress box was now checked, for a final effect of: ( )(X)( )( ) ( ). This way no healing was "wasted", consistent to the source material.

NOTE: The goal of all this crunch was that the source material's magical healing mechanic allows for the ability of a number of small healing spells would eventually return a high HP character to full capacity. In other words, unless the "tank is topped off", healing doesn't go to waste.

Healing Option 2: Heal a Target's Consequences
TRANSLATION NOTE: This one gave me a lot of headaches. Ultimately this effect ended coming almost directly from the source material. Reviewing the clerical healing spells in the source material and what level they are...

  • Cure Light Wounds: 1st Level spell
  • Cure Serious Wounds: 4th Level spell
  • Cure Critical Wounds: 5th Level spell
  • Heal: 6th Level spell

...Taking the spell terminology literally, you might then end up with the following expectation...

  1. The "Cure Light Wounds" effect allows the caster to clear a single Mild Consequence at Average (+1) difficulty.
  2. The "Cure Serious Wounds" effect allows the caster to clear a single Moderate Consequence at Great (+4) difficulty.
  3. The "Cure Critical Wounds" effect allows the caster to clear a single Severe Consequence at Superb (+5) difficulty
  4. The "Heal" effect allows the caster to clear all Consequences at Fantastic (+6) difficulty.

Now we have a convenient link between the power of a healing spell and the severity of the consequence.

Based upon the source material, we already know that a lot of high-level fighters can absorb multiple "Critical" wounds. In other words, the AD&D spell "Cure Critical Wounds" will often leave high-powered PCs still short of their maximum HP. So this should be consistent with the Endurance-related stunts of allowing extra consequences over the normal 3.

What should the benefit be to someone with ONLY a single Severe Consequence, if they are the recipient of only an Average (+1) difficulty Healing Spell against that consequence? My current sense is that "failing" to clear a consequence should at least allow for a downgrade of one level. The caster determines what gets downgraded.

Example: An Average (+1) healing spell is cast against a target who has Mild, Moderate and Severe Consequences. The caster of the spell can choose one of the following:

  1. Clear the Mild Consequence
  2. Downgrade the Moderate Consequence to an additional Mild Consequence
  3. Downgrade the Severe Consequence to an additional Moderate Consequence

It might make sense to tweak the difficulties a bit to avoid that uneven progression (+1, then +4, +5, +6), but I think that even given the subjective nature of FATE's consequences, there's a relatively big gap between what constitutes a Mild consequence versus a Moderate consequence. Or even Severe consequences for that matter. So it probably all evens out.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Hey, Let's Overcomplicate Weapons!

Oh, weapon damage in FATE. You're a constant little niggling issue in the back of my mind. I can ignore you by slathering on layer after layer of narrativism, but the 8-year-old in me still playing a Basic D&D elf named Legolas wants a longbow to do more damage than a thrown rock. And he doesn't give a tinker's cuss for the philosophy of "pick your cool" that puts an uppercut on equal footing with a sword in the ribs.

I myself have gone from one end of the spectrum to another when it comes to weapon damage in "Spirit of the Sword." I started with the obvious: damage bonuses. The bigger the weapon, the bigger the bonus. My thinking was that while SotC's lack of differentiation between armed and unarmed combat worked fine for a pulp game, fantasy gamers tend to put more emphasis on equipment. So I went with that for a while in playtests, but ultimately came to the realization that I didn't need a detailed list of weapons when I could just abstract everything into light, medium, and heavy weapons, and leave the specifics up to the player. That seemed more in the spirit of FATE.

But then I was like, why mandate that all large weapons have to behave in a certain way? Just have three different conceptual categories of weapons, and let players pick whatever works for them. If they want an assassin who's as deadly with a dagger as a barbarian is with a battle-axe, then go for it. This is FATE, after all. Build in equivalent advantages and drawbacks for each of them, and you're good to go. Taking that to its logical conclusion, though, led me back to SotC. The easiest way for a dagger to be as effective as a battle-axe is to consider all weapons equal -- barring exceptions for "special" weapons, of course, but that's the realm of boons.

It was probably Woodchuck and Ghim that brought it home, though. I love that bit in the first (and best) episode of "Record of Lodoss War" where Woodchuck's fighting that flying gargoyle-thing in mid-air, and as they plummet to the ground he whips out this curved knife and cuts him up a treat. Yeah! That was awesome. Meanwhile, Ghim has an identical effect by throwing his huge double-bitted axe. I wanted a way of dealing with weapons that would put Woodchuck on par with Ghim, just in different ways. It's about their skill, not their weapons, and that's 100% pure SotC.

Here's what throws a wrench in the gears, though: Diaspora uses damage bonuses for weapons. That in and of itself isn't a "problem" or anything -- they can do what they want, obviously -- but everything in that game seems so well-considered that I'm almost forced to see damage bonuses as viable and even desirable, for many players. (This is also brutally unfair to Starblazer Adventures, which also uses damage bonuses, and predates Diaspora, but the tone of that game is so different that their inclusion comes off less as a thoughtful addition than a foregone conclusion.)

So I was giving this some thought at the Flame Broiler today while waiting for my wife's car to be fixed -- don't ask me why I was thinking about this when I should've been thinking about the games I'm running at OrcCon -- and I came up with something that not only adds a stat to weapons where there wasn't one before (for me), but also complicates combat by essentially doubling the number of rolls involved. It's a win-win for complexity! Fiddly Mechanics 2, Tree-Hugging Story-Gaming 0!

The idea is pretty simple: Add a damage roll. When you attack an opponent, you roll your Weapons or whatever to hit them and they roll their Athletics or whatever to avoid being hit. If you win, you'd then roll your weapon's quality (Mediocre through Good) against the defender's armor quality (Fair through Great) as if they were skills. Add to that your margin of success on your attack roll. For this damage roll, though, you're only rolling 2dF, not 4dF (something FUDGE and, I believe, FATE 2.0 suggest anyway for opposed rolls). If your weapon roll beats his armor roll, he takes the difference in stress, which you can deal with using your damage-management system of choice.

A couple addenda: If your weapon quality is less than your Might, take the difference as a penalty to your attack. If your armor roll is greater than your Endurance, you get a temporary aspect of "Fatigued." Ties go to the attacker (ooh!).

For example:
Partario and Rosie are in a fight. Partario's using a longsword (Fair) and wearing leather armor (also Fair), while Rosie's swinging a doubled-bladed battle axe (Good) and wearing plate (Great). Partario's Might is Good, as is his Endurance, and he has Fair Weapons, while Rosie's Might is Fair, her Endurance is Good, and she has Great Weapons. The upshot: Rosie's attacks with the battle axe are at -1 (it's a Good-quality weapon wielded with only Fair Might), but Partario, with his Good Might, suffers no such penalty.

Partario goes first, and attacks with his sword. His effort is a mere +1, but so is Rosie's, so his attack succeeds -- but his damage roll doesn't benefit from his margin of success, since it's only zero. Rolling his weapon quality on 2dF gives him a +1 (again!). Rosie's 2dF armor roll is +5 -- spin! -- so her armor easily absorbs the blow. However, that's higher than her Good Endurance, so she gets an aspect of "Fatigued."

Now it's Rosie's attack: The dice come up +4 (no foolin' -- I actually rolled that), which, added to her Good Weapons (or Great -1, because of the discrepancy between her Might and weapon quality), makes for an effort of +7. No, +8, because of her spin from before. Boosh! (And/or "ka-kow.") Partario's defense roll of +0, plus his Fair Weapons, gives Rosie six shifts on her attack. Her 2dF damage roll is -1, plus her margin of success of +6, plus her Good weapon quality, gives her a total damage of +8. Partario's leather armor is unlikely to save him here, but he rolls his 2dF anyway and hopes for the best. The dice come up +1, and adding his armor quality of +2 gives him a Good effort, but not good enough. He takes five Health stress and is unhappy.
Of course, this whole thing flies directly in the face of my usual commitment to each player only rolling once per turn, and that's nothing to sneeze at. However, all things considered, if I had to differentiate between weapons, I wouldn't mind doing it this way.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Magic Spells - A Couple Sample Spells

Let's get this party started, shall we?

I'm gonna throw out a couple spells as examples of how I've used the spell translation framework to date. If you don't agree with how spells got translated, I would like to ask upfront that rather than just post "hey, that stinks!", please give alternatives.

We all know that SoG's source material and Fate 3E can be pretty "round-peg / square-hole" when it comes to translations. So I present a couple sample spells with the understanding that nothing's perfect and this is a work in progress. If there's failures in translations that start to show up in patterns (casting times keep end up being off, for instance), then there's a reason to go back and restructure the translation framework, right?

Thus far my preference has been to accept some differences in the translations, rather than try to have to make up an arbtirary ("+3 just cuz I want it to fit") modifier. If nothing else, arbitrary modifiers just mask possible problems. So my hope is that even my failures will move things closer towards a more useable system.

Well, just read and you'll see what I mean, hopefully.

Fireball (+3 Difficulty to cast)

Benefits (+6 Difficulty)
  • Power: Casting Skill is used as Missile Skill. (opposed by Athletics) (+1 Difficulty)
    So this spell has a Power of "Harm". This is the variable of the spell. Shifts are expended towards increasing the power/damage.
  • Improvement: Additional Targets: Everything within zone designated by caster is a target (+3 shifts required)
  • Improvement: Range: Spell can be targeted up to two zones away (+1 difficulty)
  • Improvement: Additional Aspect: Spell contains aspect of "Magic Fire" that would apply within the zone. (+1 Difficulty)
    Means something like a Fire Elemental could tag that Aspect to help defend against it.
    Conversely, a target of something like an Ice Elemental target could mean that the caster could use the Aspect to cause it more damage, as a free compel?
    Compel could also be used to set fire to flammable items within the zone, or wipeout certain fragile objects.

Modifiers (-3 Difficulty)
  • Requirement: Material components required (Sulfur & Bat Guano, Common, -1 shift)
  • Requirement: Verbal Component required (-1 shift)
  • Requirement: Somatic Component required (-1 shift)
Casting Time:
Base Casting Time: Adjusted Difficulty (+6 - 3 = +3) Equals Rung 3 on the time chart (two exchanges)

Net Casting Difficulty: +3

Translation Note:
  1. Given how I currently have the spell translation framework, I chose to go with the same degree of difficulty (3rd Level) for the spell as the source material listed it, and left it with a longer casting time.
  2. The source material would say you have about 1 Fate exchange worth of time (approx. 15 seconds) to cast Fireball. This could be done, but the spell would increase to +4 (4th level) within the current framework.
  3. I considered that the importance of the spell's inclusion at 3rd level was greater than getting the casting time right. YMMV.
  4. You could also argue that it should work at a longer range. Again, YMMV.

Light (+1 Difficulty Spell)
Benefits: (+6 adjustments to difficulty)
  • Power: Hinders the Stealth Skill by increasing the Bonus attached to the Environment with respect to lighting by +2. (+1 Difficulty)
    Note that Margin of success is NOT linked to the Power (see Duration)
  • Improvement: Aspect Addition: "Magical Light". Also allows for a compel for blindness when cast upon a target. (+1 Difficulty)
    Aspect is placed on target via a contested Manuever of "Magic vs. Athletics and/or Magic Resistance."
  • Duration: Base duration is 2 (a few moments) but positive casting shifts give increased Duration. Also, see 'Improvement: Duration', below.
  • Improvement: Duration: Spell duration is doubled, modifier applied after the shifts. (+1 Difficulty)
  • Range: Line of Sight (maximum of 4 zones, but can be obscured/blocked) (+3 Difficulty)
Modifiers (-5 adjustments to difficulty)

  • Requirement: Verbal component (-1 Difficulty)
  • Requirement: Somatic component (Common, -1 Difficulty)
  • Requirement: Weakness: Cancelled out by the 'Darkness' spell (Common, -3 Difficulty)
Casting Time:
Base Casting Time: Adjusted Difficulty (+6 - 5 = +1) Equals Rung 1 on the time chart (1 action in combat)

Net Difficulty: +1

Translation Notes:
The spell's base duration should be a base of 1 hour, however the trade off is that the Fate shifts scale the spell's duration much faster than the source material.

Final Note
Given what you've seen here, pre-fab spells that have been around since Blackmoor was a hoppin' town, would you think that pre-fab spells SHOULD be more-powerful than on-the-fly spell casting?

Currently my thought is no, they shouldn't be more powerful. I'm currently thinking that being easier to successfully cast, and not having the threat of negative effects if they fail (since pre-fab spells don't fail if you follow the recipe), might be advantage enough.

On deck: More spells to come, and a High-Fantasy version of Healing.