Monday, December 16, 2013

[Thrilling Fate!] More Playtests

So this happened. Clockwise, starting with me: Me (speaking with hands), top of Mark Gagliardi's head, back of Molly Quinn's head, side of Ben Blacker's head, Ben Acker, fan-favorite Hal Lublin.
Hi all my buddies! Right up top, this week's episode of the Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast is last year's "Christmas on Mars" show, so go download that.

Now that that's out of the way, I've done two more playtests of Thrilling Fate! since my last blog post. Both were fun and productive, but I'm not gonna lie: I preferred the one pictured above, for reasons which should be obvious.

In late November, I ran a playtest at the Nerd SoCal Game Day at Game Empire in Pasadena. Besides me, we had Hamish Cameron as Sparks, Morgan Ellis as Croach, David Gallo as Cactoid Jim, Megan Arch as the Red Plains Rider, and Gina Ricker as Rebecca Rose Rushmore. Although only Morgan had really had any exposure to the source material at that point -- he did play the theme song for everyone before I got there -- we produced a very authentic-feeling Sparks story nonetheless, which is kinda the point. Plus, a couple of them are now subscribers to the Thrilling Adventure Hour podcast, so you're welcome, Acker and Blacker.

The big thing that came out of that playtest was that the PCs need cues that point them at one another. Croach had a cue that encouraged the player to mention his weird Martian anatomy; Sparks had a cue that encouraged the player to be grossed out by Croach. There was a cool moment when that synergy worked like a charm: Croach shoved his secondary esophageal tract down Sparks' throat to save him from suffocation, which naturally grossed out Sparks (and, to be honest, the rest of us as well).

But... nobody else really had that level of mechanical incentive to interact with the other characters. Worse, some had cues that were purely reactive, and that relied on other players doing something first -- like Jim's cue about deflecting praise, which is meaningless unless someone praises him. So that was a problem. I was reluctantly convinced that the best solution was to give everyone a cue for each other PC. This also seemed like a problem, but I couldn't see a way around it.

Another thing was that people were only incentivized to play to their cues when they had aspects that needed recharging, which meant that in the beginning of the game there was no incentive to do that. The simple solution, from David, was to start everyone off with all of their aspects pre-exhausted.

(It's also worth noting that in the next game that day, Gina invented the law firm of Acker, Blacker, Marc & Mark. We'll be seeing more of that sooner or later, I'm sure.)

Before the next playtest, I gave each PC five cues. These broke down like this:

  • Mannerism: Something active the player can almost always do or say in a scene.
  • Response: Something reactive the player can usually expect to have the opportunity to do or say in a scene. 
  • Connections: Two cues that tie the PC to other, specific PCs. In the end, I just couldn't do one cue with each other PC for two reasons. One, it was unwieldy -- every new PC I made would've meant n+1 cues for me to write and for the player to manage. Two, it just didn't work. The fact is that not every character in Sparks Nevada has a meaningful relationship with each other character. I figured if each PC connected to two other PCs -- which ended up being Sparks and one other -- that would make for enough of a web of interactions.
  • Dramatic: The big once-per-episode cue that should happen at a dramatic moment. Sparks announces he's from Earth. Croach discards the customs of his people in service of the greater good. Red confesses her feelings for Sparks, Croach, or Jim.
I also simplified troubles and made some cosmetic changes in the interest of making everything as accessible as possible to new players -- specifically, I renamed "fate points" to "story points" and changed "stunts" to "gimmicks." 

This was all in preparation for December 7th, when the playtest pictured above took place. And it was so rad, you guys. We had Mark Gagliardi and Molly Quinn playing their characters from the show (Croach and Pemily Stallwark, respectively), Ben Blacker playing the Barkeep, Ben Acker playing the Red Plains Rider, fan-favorite Hal Lublin playing Cactoid Jim, and Clint Trucks as Sparks Nevada. (Marc Evan Jackson couldn't make it, but Clint was a great Sparks.)

Here's another picture of that!
Left to right: Gagliardi (cosplaying as Scroach the Rocker), Quinn, Trucks, Lublin.
I will keep posting pictures of this game, because it was awesome and I can't believe I was lucky enough to run it with these people as players. Video of this will, as I understand it, be included as an extra on the DVD of the concert film that this Kickstarter helped produce. So get that DVD when it comes out. Thanks to Charlie Fonville for capturing and providing all this media. I'll post more pics when I get them, for the aforesaid reason.

Clint's a dedicated GURPS player, and I believe Hal plays D&D and Pathfinder, but the other four had no gaming experience. (Molly had a friend in high school -- which... was only a couple years ago, apparently -- who was into RPGs, but she never got into them herself despite some interest.) I'm happy to say Acker, Gags (look, I'm just gonna call him Gags), and Molly seemed to get the hang of it after a couple rolls. Blacker had an air of apprehension about him whenever I talked about mechanics, but even still he steered the Barkeep to glorious victory over the Bad News Compadres in the game's final scene. In the end, he estimated he got about 80% of it. Which is fine -- we wrapped things up in about 90 minutes, so I'm sure if we'd taken more time on the front end to discuss things he would've been closer to 100%. As it was, I was very conscious of not taking up too much of everyone's time with the game.

Fortunately, everyone had a great time. I believe this because they repeatedly told me so. The scenario was a cross between Dune, Jaws, and a classic Western bank robbery. Cactoid Jim defeated an adolescent Tremors-style sandworm by taming it, Pemily lassoed and rode an enormous Shai-Hulud-style sandworm and rode it into town, the Barkeep gave Alloy Roy some trouble, Sparks promoted Pemily to First Deputy over Croach, and Croach... Croach was Croach. Mark spoke in the Croach voice pretty much the whole time, in character or out. Charlie's video footage will give testament to that. And Hal did the intro narration! Live, in my face!

In short, the game couldn't have gone better. It was just an amazing opportunity, and I'm so grateful to everyone not just for making time for it, but for being and having so much fun. The icing on the cake was Acker telling me I knew more about their show than he and Blacker do, which... I doubt that's true, but it's awfully flattering nonetheless.

(Non-gaming tangent: I had kind of a Thrilling Adventure Weekend, actually. That Saturday night, my wife, a friend, and I went to their Christmas show, which not only heavily featured Jib Janeen the Jupiter Spy throughout but also included a Philip Fathom story. Look for it next December! They're a year behind. Anyway, the next day, my wife and I went to the Thrilling Adventure Hour holiday brunch, which was just so cool. Man. Gags and Molly told me again how much fun they'd had at the game, Paul F. Tompkins almost accidentally struck my wife in the face, I explained roleplaying games to Marc Evan Jackson (who'd been told the playtest the day before had been "the real deal"), I had a great conversation with TAH musical director Andy Paley, we talked with James Urbaniak... there were fritters... I spotted Mark McConville... Weird Al Yankovic was there... I could go on. I felt like I'd won a contest. I know I'm getting all fanboyish here, but c'mon, how couldn't I? Be reasonable!)

Okay, Professionalism Mode re-engaged.

I'll be playtesting Thrilling Fate! again this Sunday the 22nd back at Game Empire. Making another change to cues that incorporates a Danger Patrol-esque "What happened last time?" setup. Have to come up with a holiday-themed scenario first, but I have, like, all week to do that, right?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

[Fate Accelerated] Paired Approaches

About a month ago, when Rob Donoghue was posting about his Fate Accelerated hack he's dubbed FAE 2 (in which you apply two approaches to a roll instead of one), I started thinking about the possibilities of paired approaches in terms of mechanical hooks, because that's the kind of person I am.

Anyway, the thing that struck me was how each approach just intuitively pairs better with some approaches than others. To me, at least. Like, it makes sense that you could try to be both Careful and Sneaky at the same time -- the latter seems to require the former, even -- whereas a Careful-and-Quick combo seems like a harder sell. I'm not saying you can't be both Careful and Quick; it's just not as easy as being, say, Flashy and Quick.

So I made this:
Haven't you read The Kerberos Club (Fate Edition)? I love diagrams!
When you combine related approaches (connected by a solid line), you get a +1 to your roll.

When you combine opposed approaches (unconnected by any line), you get a -1 to your roll.

Otherwise, just add the two approaches and roll.

In this variant, you'd have two approaches at +0, two at +1, and two at +2. That may be too generous. I'm not sure. Maybe three at +1 instead. Details.

(Notice how they ended up in alphabetical order if you go counter-clockwise. Coincidence? Probably, yeah.)

I'm also interested in the idea that the GM would pick one of your approaches for a given task and you'd pick the other. Maybe not all the time, but the option's there.

For example, let's say you're fleeing from eighty-five beholders and there's a locked door in your way! This is terrible. The GM says, "Whatever you're gonna do, you better do it Quick." You have Careful and Clever +2, Sneaky and Quick +0, and Forceful and Flashy +1.
  • You could be Forceful and break down the door, which would give you a +2 (+1 from Forceful, and another +1 because Forceful and Quick are related). 
  • You could be Clever and try to pick the lock at a +1 (+2 from Clever, but -1 because it's not easy being Quick and Clever). 
  • You could be Sneaky and just try to hide, for a +0 (Quick and Sneaky are both +0 for you, and they're neither related nor opposed, so it's just the sum of those two approaches).
  • Etc.
One stunt that immediately suggests itself is improving the relationship between two unrelated approaches. Maybe you're better at being Quick and Clever than most when you're responding to an insult, or at being Forceful and Careful when using explosives. In fact, if the character sheet shows the approaches as in the graphic above, you could even just draw new dotted or solid lines to reflect this. You get the idea.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

[Thrilling Fate!] First Thrilling Playtest (and News)

I got my first chance to playtest Thrilling Fate with a Sparks Nevada scenario last weekend in San Diego. The PCs were Sparks, Croach, the Red Plains Rider, and Cactoid Jim, and though they were played by four players who had zero familiarity with the source material, there were nonetheless some moments that felt like they could've come right out of a Thrilling Adventure Hour show.

So yeah, I'm making some changes, but on the whole I'd say it went quite well! Of course, the players were all friends who were already well-acquainted with Fate, and had played various hacks of mine before, so I may have had a best-case player group there, but whatever. The fact that I'm making changes is at least indicative of a productive playtest.

One kinda weird thing that came up while playing was how liberating it is to just roll dice. Y'know, without worrying about what skill to use. Because Thrilling Fate doesn't have skills. So after the roll, if you didn't like your result, you might do something about it, but until then there's literally nothing else to think about other than "Let's see who wins." It just felt great to say, "This thing is happening, everyone roll dice."

Now, I realize that when I say that, your reaction is probably something along the lines of, "Hey, that doesn't sound like a great or innovative thing you're talking about there, and also I really do like to make interesting choices about my character when I roll dice for a thing," and I understand that. What's neat is how the exhaust-an-aspect mechanic puts that choice entirely in the realm of the fiction, without anything as abstract as even a broadly defined skill, like Athletics, getting in the way. I dunno. I'm probably not explaining it well. But the difference between "I dodge because I have +3 Athletics" and "I dodge because I'm a Quick-Thinking Man of Action" was definitely felt at the table.

As for news, I've been given the go-ahead to post about this: Next month, I'll be running a Sparks Nevada game for TAH co-creators/writers Ben Acker and Ben Blacker and whatever Workjuice Players they can muster, mostly likely including Sparks stars Marc Evan Jackson and Mark Gagliardi -- and, if I'm very lucky, Hal Lublin will be there to narrate (I don't know what that'd mean in this context, but whatever, there's no way I'd pass that up). Plus, I believe it'll be audio and/or video recorded for your online listening and/or viewing pleasure at some point. No pressure, right?

I am super-psyched about this, as you might guess, and also probably more nervous than is required. But then again, I'm kind of in awe of everyone who makes TAH happen, I love it so damn much, and the prospect of getting to run a game for them, any game, is awesome, let alone a thing I've made for a thing they've made. They're pretty excited for it too, though, so maybe we can all just be giddy about it together.

Friday, November 1, 2013

[Zombies] More Zombies!

WERE YOU AWARE that this past Wednesday was the 75th anniversary of the Mercury Theatre on the Air's War of the Worlds broadcast? That's just one of many date-relevant facts I would've told you if I'd managed to get this posted before Halloween!


So when a zombie bites you, it's bad. We all know this. Any consequence from a Teeth attack will eventually result in the victim becoming a zombie, no two ways about it. It'll worsen from scene to scene, moving from mild to moderate to severe, until the victim is taken out... by becoming a zombie.

There's only one way to "treat" a Bitten consequence, and that's amputation. It's not the hardest surgery in the world, but man, you gotta do it fast. Regardless of the severity of the consequence, the difficulty to treat it is +6, and doing so gives you a severe consequence appropriate to the amputation. (I recommend Dis-Armed. I use it every chance I get.)

If that first attempt fails, no further attempts can be made. You are doomed. And if that Bitten consequence was already severe, then... see the previous sentence.

This is pretty rough, but a zombie can't actually make a Teeth attack without first invoking an aspect. It doesn't get the usual bonus or reroll for invoking this aspect -- all it gets is the opportunity to bite. We used to call this "invoking for effect." The idea is that it'd create an advantage with Claws, like Grabbed, then bite with its next action. Or the victim might be Surrounded, or maybe that Sprained Ankle slows them down. You get the idea.

  • I had this idea that zombies would only roll 2dF. They're reliable, predictable, and experience neither highs nor lows. But I'm uncertain about this one.
  • Mobs are important to zombies and their particular brand of horror. Even though they take consequences individually, I'd still mob 'em up whenever possible. So they attack you en masse, but you attack them one-on-one.
  • There've been quite a few scenes in The Walking Dead of people just head-stabbing helpless zombies through a chain-link fence. As always, if there's no interesting failure result, don't roll for it; it's just narrative color. "So you're out on fence duty, braining walkers with a crowbar, when all of a sudden...."
  • If you need zombies to use a Physique-type overcome action, you could use Body. Or you could use nothing, and rely solely on mob-based gang-up bonuses. This is pretty cool, I think, because it means you can pretty easily keep one zombie at bay with a closed and locked door, but a pile of them will break through, given time.
  • Brains. BRAAAIIINS.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

[Zombies] Zombies!

I thought up some mechanics for zombies a while ago -- almost two years ago, according to Google Docs -- so I figured I'd post about it on account of it almost being Halloween and all. I'm talking about aim-for-the-head, brain-eating shamblers here, so don't try to apply these to, I dunno, voodoo zombies or 28 Days Later zombies or whatever.

So first of all, zombies don't have the same skills PCs do. Instead, their skills represent body parts: Claws (attack, create advantage), Legs (overcome, create advantage), Teeth (attack), Body (defend), and Head (defend).

The typical zombie might rank them like this:
Fantastic (+6) Head*
Great (+4) Body
Good (+3) Teeth
Fair (+2) Claws
Average (+1) Legs
*I'm fully aware of how dirty this sounds and regret nothing.

When you attack a zombie, you choose how it defends -- Body or Head.

A successful attack on the Body deals a consequence. Zombies don't have stress tracks, but they do have two mild consequences (or Arms consequences) and one moderate consequence (or Legs consequence). When a zombie's taken two Arms consequences, it loses its Claws skill. When it's taken a Legs consequence, it loses its Legs skill. But a consequence is the best you can do when you attack the Body. Well, you can get a boost if you tie or succeed with style, but the point is, even if the zombie's taken all three consequences, even if it's lost its arms and legs, it's still alive.

So, my God, how do you stop it? A successful attack on the Head takes the zombie out. (I'd fluff a tie against the Head as blowing its jaw off or something, thus the boost, but leaving the brain intact. Related: I'd also severely limit, or even eliminate, Weapon ratings, because all it takes is one shift on a headshot to take out a zombie. Like, shotguns and katanas are Weapon:1, but almost everything else is Weapon:0, and I don't mean Wolverine.)

Putting those two things together, obviously no one's going to attack a zombie's Body if it already has three consequences (or even two or probably one), but that's how these things usually work, isn't it? And mechanically, there's no reason to go for the Body once it's taken a consequence, because you can invoke it for free to cancel out the Head's higher skill rating.

It might seem odd for zombies to have a Great (+4) skill for defense, but it's not that they're so great at dodging or anything. On the contrary, they're easy to hit. They're just not necessarily easy to damage in a substantial way. So that's how I'd color that in play. Most failed attacks against their Body are actually going to be "narrative hits," in that I'd describe them as on-target but mostly harmless.


Friday, October 25, 2013

[Atomic Robo] Character Creation Example

A couple days ago, ARRPG layoutist Adam Jury sent me a two isolated pages to review, and after I did that reviewing, it occurred to me that they'd make a pretty good preview snippet for a preview-hungry public. They're not the most art-intensive two pages in the book, but they do a good job of showing you one or two ways in which we're swiping elements of the medium (of comics) for our own gamey purposes.

So here it is: an example of E-Z No-Math Character Creation. Enjoy!

Monday, October 21, 2013

[Fate Core] Fate Core Day at Villainous Lair

This Saturday, October 26th, is Fate Core Day at Villainous Lair Gaming! Games start at 1:00 pm.

I do not know what my game will be. All I know is that it'll use Fate Core.

Let me be clear here: This isn't some kind of stunt. I really don't know. I've been busy with other things and haven't had much time to figure out a gimmick for this one, and usually, my one-shots are highly gimmick-based. Part of the problem is that I want to run something as close to RAW as possible to give people a good idea of what Fate Core (as written) is like, but RAW isn't really... something I do with Fate.

Now, if I were going to do my usual -- that is, a hack -- I have all kinds of ideas. I need to playtest my Sparks Nevada hack. I need to playtest my latest Fate supers hack. I have really weird ideas for a Fate/Rolemaster crossover. And of course, I could run Atomic Robo!

So... any ideas? I'm open to suggestions.

Oh, and if you're in the area, you should obviously come out and play!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

[Atomic Robo] "It's In Layout!"

"It's in layout!"

That's been my stock answer for the past few months whenever someone's asked me what's up with Atomic Robo: The Roleplaying Game. And it's the truth, and it's been the truth, but honestly, that's all I knew until... well. Suffice it to say, there's a little more to it than that, and I think it's high time you fine people who've been waiting so patiently for its release (I am one of you, BTW) were let in on some of the details. Fortunately, Fred Hicks agrees, so we actually get to open up a bit about it.

Now, Fred wrote this and posted it on the Evil Hat website, but I'm going to repost it here because it's, uh, just, like, a lot easier than paraphrasing it all.
So, we've been saying that the Atomic Robo RPG is in layout for a while now, and that's still true. The reality runs a little more complicated than that once you get into the details, though!  
The editing and layout process has been intricate. We're looking to present a number of our examples visually, sourcing them straight from the events of the comics, and that can be slow going. We've had to rework chunks of text, a little bit here, a little bit there, over the course of it all, in order to make sure it all fit best with the layout.  
Probably our biggest speed-bump, however, has been imposed upon us by life. Our editor/layoutist found that the freelancing lifestyle wasn't paying the bills on its lonesome and, completely understandably, got himself a job to address that concern. This involved a move to a different state (time consuming), and then a focus on that new job that's kept him busy a good 72 hours a week. Due to the aforementioned intricacies of the layout, the layout wasn't done in time for these events to befall him, but it all added up to there being no more time to work on the book except for a few hours squeezed in every Sunday.  
We recognized this as unsustainable, and brought in a replacement layoutist, the incredibly talented Adam Jury. Adam has been vigorously coming to terms with the layout files as they stand (which is always rough; it seems no two layout folks do things the same way, so it's akin to getting tossed into a foreign country and asked to speak the language with no prior experience), and he's moving it forward as quickly as he can. 
The bottom line is that with the speed bumps we've had, and the spin-up time necessary to bring on new talent, we're likely to miss the end of year/Novemberish publication date that was our goal, and instead launch in early 2014. 
This isn't all bad, though. The fourth quarter of the year (October through December) is usually a very weak time for a company to launch a new game. Sales tend to be down significantly across the board. We believe a launch in early 2014 is going to give us a much stronger performance for the Atomic Robo Roleplaying Game than we would get if the time fairy waved his magic wand and made the book suddenly ready to publish in 2013. Ultimately this will all make for a stronger, better game without all that much more waiting (December's coming up fast)! 
Thanks to everyone for their time, talent, and patience in bringing the Atomic Robo RPG to fruition. We're past the rockiest part of the road, and just need time to cross the remaining distance.
So the bad news is, obviously, that the release date has been pushed back to 2014. None of us is happy about that, and I'm especially bummed about it, but it is what it is. The good news is that forward progress is still being made. Things are happening. I'm helping Adam source more art from the comics and I feel privileged to work with him, so despite the delays, the old cliche of "but the book will be better off for it!" is absolutely true.

Anyway, there you have it. It's in layout!

Friday, September 20, 2013

[Thrilling Fate!] Some Trouble In This Place

This post does indeed reek of trouble.

If you're one of those poor unfortunates who isn't already familiar with Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars, that guy on the right up there, the one speaking trepidatiously about the mere possibility of trouble, is the Barkeep. (He has a name, but it was a fairly recent revelation on the podcast, and I'm embarrassed to admit I don't remember it.) "I don't want no trouble in my place!" is the Barkeep's catchphrase, defining character trait, and probably his concept aspect as well.

So there's no way I'm not using trouble as this hack's term for "damage." So let's talk about damage.

First of all: no stress tracks. Just troubles, which will sub in for consequences in every way that matters. I'm not completely clear yet on how they'll work, but the basic idea is that you have so many trouble boxes, like six. Checking a box reduces a hit by 2 shifts.

But! When you take a hit, you can write down any number of troubles and check any number of boxes for each trouble. For example, if the Binary Kid nails you with a 6-shift hit, you could write down a single trouble, like Broken Ribs, and check three boxes -- or you could take three troubles, like Winded, Embarrassed, and Caught Off Guard, and check one box for each. Either way, you've dealt with all six shifts.

(This is a character sheet design issue: It has to be clear that you can have several troubles, and that each trouble has its own track of boxes, but that you can't have more than six boxes checked at a time.)

So if these work like consequences, why would you ever take three one-box troubles instead of one three-box trouble? Because the fewer boxes a trouble has, the faster it goes away.

  • When you have a moment to breathe, like at the end of a scene, erase one one-box trouble.
  • At the end of some currently unspecified longer period of time, like after a night's sleep or something, do all of these:
    • Erase all  your one-box troubles.
    • Clear one box on each of your troubles that has two or more checked boxes.
  • A trouble can be treated much the same way a consequence can, with a difficulty equal to twice the number of boxes it has.

Now look, I'll admit that this is a little more complicated than consequences as written in Fate Core or FAE, but it's also a little less complicated in that you only have one option for damage mitigation (troubles) instead of two (stress and consequences). In my experience, new players -- my expected audience -- have an easier time with "When you get hit, take a consequence" than they do with "When you get hit, check a stress box or take a consequence, or both, or take two consequences." Plus, I dunno, it seems fun, so I'm going with it.

I also like the flexibility of it, and it makes things like Sparks' make-them-check-another-trouble-box stunt and Croach's clear-an-additional-trouble-box stunt viable and engaging without being difficult to grasp. There are other potential hooks too, like saying that if you take two troubles at once from a physical attack, one of them has to be mental (which is pretty typical of Sparks Nevada characters, who, Cactoid Jim aside, tend to have their share of insecurities). Or maybe a success with style on anything lets you immediately clear a mental trouble box. Just spitballing here -- this whole thing needs more thought, and obviously some refinement of terminology.

Anyway, this looks like the end of the hacking for this hack, but... I guess I'll post a few characters? Next week or something?

Thursday, September 19, 2013

[Thrilling Fate!] Stunts

I don't have a lot of changes in mind for Thrilling Fate! when it comes to stunts. Hey, if it ain't broke, etc. Really, I only have three guidelines for myself: no more than three per PC (so... three per PC), explicitly tie each one to an aspect, and make them about something other than bonuses.

The first one isn't unusual, especially since I'm using FAE as a base, but I need to emphasize it to myself because lately the characters I've been making usually have a lot more than three stunts' worth of stunts going on. I don't want to give my players too much to look at on the sheet. I picture a really clean layout, with stunts in callout boxes connected to aspects.

I want to connect each one to an aspect to make everything feel that much more interrelated. I like FAE's stunt sentence construction of "Because I'm a whatever, I can do whatever," but if I include an aspect in there, it's a little more smoothly integrated. I think it'll make the idea of the stunt easier to swallow.

And the ideas behind those stunts aren't going to engage with the mechanics quite as directly as they usually would. I mean, look, it's really easy to say "Because I have Robot Fists, I get a +2 to attack with them." That's a totally fine stunt. The issue is that I have no idea how much arithmetic my players are going to tolerate. Even experienced gamers forget the odd +1 or +2 here and there. I don't want any of that going on, because I don't want them to feel distracted by the math, simple though it may be.

The next most common stunt is probably skill substitution -- y'know, "Use Athletics instead of Fight to attack when fighting unarmed" -- but since the total lack of skills here would make those meaningless, that's not really an option.

As I mentioned yesterday, I initially made these characters for an Apocalypse World hack (Thrilling World, I guess?). In that incarnation, each playbook had about three custom moves. So... hey, stunts! AW-style stunts! These are pretty easy to do in Fate.

Here are a couple for Sparks:
  • Because you're the Marshal on Mars, when you're acting in your capacity as a representative of the Mars-Earth Coalition, they can either do as you say or give you a fate point.
  • Because you have Robot Fists, when you punch someone with them, they have to check an extra trouble box.

And here are a few for Croach:
  • Because you are Under Onus to Sparks Nevada, whenever you are in a scene with him, you start with a free boost called Onus.
  • Because of the Sacred Nah Nohtek within you, you heal extremely fast -- clear an additional physical trouble box at the start of every scene.
  • Because of your Martian Physiology, whenever you try to perceive something in your environment, you get a +2 bonus to your roll if you mention how you're using one of your 28 senses in the process.
Right now, you're probably jumping up and down and screaming at me about how I said I wanted to avoid bonus-oriented stunts. That's a perfectly reasonable reaction. I'm okay with them if they look like that last one. It's not a passive bonus that's easy for you to forget; you have to make a roleplaying choice to activate it. As long as nobody has more than one of those, it oughtta be okay.

But hey, what's this "trouble" thing about? It has something to do with this guy:
But what? Find out next time! You can probably guess already!

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

[Thrilling Fate!] Cues and Aspects

So! Self-indulgent tangent time!

I was a music major for a little while -- like, four years -- back in the '90s, during my first go at college. Two years performance, two years composition. I left high school with really no understanding of music theory at all. I mean, I'd taken a fairly informal after-school "class" taught by our band director, but clearly I didn't get a whole lot of actual understanding out of it, because in college, if it was more advanced than basic counterpoint and harmony, it was a struggle for me. (I'm much better now. My ego compels me to say that.)

Anyway, when you learn music theory -- and forgive all this bloviating if you've done just that -- you generally start with Baroque music, and specifically the works of Johann Sebastian Bach (father of PDQ). Baroque music has all kinda rules to follow for it to be "right," and most of it becomes second-nature after a while. Like, avoid parallel motion if you can, and parallel fifths in particular, and this chord wants to resolve this way while that chord wants to resolve that way, and so on. These rules inform all Baroque music, but we study JS Bach because, among other reasons, he's the GOAT.

The thing is, though, Bach and his contemporaries didn't study these rules the way we do. We've reverse-engineered these rules by analyzing their music.

Shift now to game stuff. I've said before that sometimes I see making a game like making a machine: You build it for a specific function, and the more maintenance you have to do on it, the more problematic it is. From this perspective, houserules are maintenance. Relying on the players to ignore problems or exploits because they "get it" is maintenance. I want to be able to send a game out into the world and have it work for everyone else the same way it works for me.

In this case, I want a game/machine that, if you input players and characters, and everyone follows the rules, it produces a Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars story. But a Sparks Nevada story is a lot more than whiz-bang action and shoot-'em-ups. Those things, in fact, usually have very little prominence. There's probably only one fight, often even just one shot fired, in an average episode. While it looks like an action-adventure story, it's way more character-focused than you might expect. What keeps me coming back is the characters and the way they relate to one another. If a Sparks Nevada game can't produce something like that, whether or not the players know the source material, it's not much of a Sparks Nevada game, if you ask me.

One of my favorite nudge-them-into-roleplaying mechanics is The Shadow of Yesterday's (and Lady Blackbird's) keys (called milestones in Marvel Heroic Roleplaying). A few weeks ago at Gateway I ran a Saturday-night Firefly-ish Spelljammer game using the Fantasy Heroic rules from the Cortex Plus Hacker's Guide, and coming up with the pre-gens' milestones was integral to getting those characters "right." I loved that the goblin mechanic could earn XP simply by complaining about the ship, or that the Githyanki monk could do the same by offering up a cryptic aphorism. These have nothing to do with complicating the character's life or even spotlight time, really. It's just offering the player roleplaying cues.

The thing I love most about keys is that when you use them correctly, you may feel (as I did) like you're abusing the system, or getting away with something. But you're not! It's a trick. All you're really doing is playing your character to the hilt, because you're incentivized with small, immediate rewards for injecting personality and color into the story.

In other words, it's a perfect mechanic for Sparks Nevada. I want Sparks to be annoyed with Croach, or announce that he's... from Earth. Likewise, I want Croach to inform Sparks of an increase or reduction in onus owed, or to drop vaguely unsettling comments about his egg sacs or multiple esophageal tracts. To me, these fly under the aspect compel's radar, primarily because they're lousy, weaksauce compels. They don't get the characters in trouble in any way. They're fun, but hardly worth a fate point. But it's these little character moments that give the show its, well, character. And for a hack like this, that's absolutely vital.

These are essentially keys, but I'm calling them cues, partially because I'm treating them a little differently, and partially (largely) because I'm writing for my intended audience, whom I figure will more easily parse "cue" than "key."

Every PC has three cues: two Scene cues, and one Episode cue. You can hit a Scene cue once per scene, and an Episode cue but once per episode/session. When you hit a Scene cue, refresh one aspect. When you hit an Episode cue, refresh up to three.

(I'm not 100% on the Episode cue's benefit there. You'll only use it in one of two circumstances: you desperately need to refresh multiple aspects and don't have a lot of time to do it, or you've already used your Scene cues this scene and are just using your Episode cue out of necessity to refresh fewer than three aspects. The right way to do this will depend on how exhausting an aspect ends up working, as I mentioned in yesterday's post. Maybe a better option would be "Refresh an aspect and gain a fate point." Dunno. The point is, the reward is getting to exhaust an aspect again for a +3, which is something we want people doing anyway because it calls attention to various facets of their characters in dramatically appropriate circumstances. That's not cheating or working the system; it's being bribed to play up your character's personality, which leads to a fun, memorable game. Everyone wins.)

So maybe these are Sparks' cues:

  • Scene: Act annoyed with Croach.
  • Scene: Call attention to how great you are.
  • Episode: At a dramatically appropriate moment, justify your course of action by reminding everyone that you're... from Earth.
And maybe these are Croach's:
  • Scene: Tell another PC your onus owed to them (or vice-versa) has just increased or decreased owing to something that just happened in the story.
  • Scene: Make specific reference to some bizarre feature of your Martian physiology, or humans' lack of same.
  • Episode: Rank a sensation. For example, "This is the fourth-worst pain I have ever endured" or "Your face is the seventh-most pleasing face I have ever beheld."
In other words, this is just reverse-engineering mechanics based on an "analysis" of (i.e., "re-listening to") episodes of the show itself. And hopefully, those mechanics will successfully create a play experience that feels like a Sparks Nevada story. For example, It's a rare episode in which Sparks doesn't pull the "I'm... from Earth" thing, but he doesn't run around saying it all the time, either. However, bickering with Croach? Calling (totally justified) attention to himself? Pretty common behaviors for the Marshal on Mars.

Next time: messing with stunts!

Related but non-Fate P.S.: BTW, my first whack at a Sparks Nevada game is based on Apocalypse World. There, cues get you either 1 XP or 3 XP. This essentially replaces stat highlighting as the main route to advancement.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

[Thrilling Fate!] Getting Started

So here's what's going on. I'm probably going to do a few posts about this thing, so consider this the intro.

I may have an opportunity to run a game for a bunch of non-gamers whose work I very much admire, and (more importantly) who I want to make sure have a really good time with their first RPG experience. Some of them may have RPG experience, actually, but I'd be really surprised if it were recent at all.

Anyway, so my first thought is naturally to use Fate, because it's second nature to me and I've already introduced more first-timers to Fate than I can count. But because I want to make any barriers to entry as low as possible, my next thought was to use Fate Accelerated, because it's rad.


This PCs for this game would be specific, well-established characters, characters with whom the prospective players are very familiar. And frankly, the default approaches in FAE don't really fit all that well. I could easily replace them with new adjectives, adverbs, or nouns that fit the property better, but not even that would really do the trick. Ranking these characters by how clever, forceful, or sneaky each one is just doesn't feel right. It feels too confining, and it doesn't put enough emphasis on what makes these characters really interesting. It's too... objective, I guess.

Plus, because of the whole new-to-RPGs angle, I want to cut down on how many things they'll have to look at on the sheet. So I decide to to cut out approaches altogether and concentrate on aspects. (Almost everything from here on out is a little weird.)

You have five aspects. Each aspect has a box next to it. When you roll the dice, if you have an aspect that seems helpful, you can check its box to exhaust it and give you a +3 bonus to the roll. You can only exhaust one aspect per roll, but you can invoke other aspects (the usual way) for a further +1 each.

(Maybe it'd be per roll, maybe it'd be for the scene. I'm not sure yet.)

What this means is that instead of having a predetermined menu of bonuses with attendant contexts, you'd choose as you go what's important right now. Any aspect is potentially a free +3; it's just a matter of deciding which one. It's a bit like Cortex Plus's distinctions.

For example, here are the aspects for, I dunno, some random character:

  • Marshal on Mars
  • Robot Fists
  • Justice Rides a Rocket Steed
  • Righting Outlaw Wrongs
  • Emotionally Unavailable
So if you're chasing down an outlaw, you might exhaust Justice Rides a Rocket Steed, or Righting Outlaw Wrongs or Marshal on Mars. If you're punching out that outlaw, you could turn to your Robot Fists. If someone's trying to talk you into committing to a relationship, which does happen from time to time, and you're resisting, which happens all the time, exhaust Emotionally Unavailable to put up the wall.

Of course, all of these aspects can be invoked and compelled as usual. Situation aspects work the same way: exhaust, invoke, or compel.

But how do you clear those checked boxes? How do you refresh these aspects so they can be used again? Find out next time!

Monday, August 12, 2013

[GenCon 2013] My Schedule

Really looking forward to this.
This seems to be a thing some people do, so I figured I'd do it too. Hey, easy blog post!

Thursday, 12:00 pm: ARRPG"Tesla's Seven." This should probably be called "Tesla's Five," but that's even less of a thing than Tesla's Seven is, and Tesla's Seven is just the less-of-a-thing version of Tesla's Eleven, which is a lateral move from Ocean's Eleven. So I think we have enough layers of remove as it is.

Thursday, 5:00 pm: State of the Hat seminar. I'm on a panel. It's crazy. I and many other Evil Hat-types will be on hand to answer questions about the development Evil Hat stuff. Specifically, I can talk about ARRPG, Fate Core, FAE, and Shadow of the Century. Not rules-stuff, though. Development stuff.

Saturday, 2:00 pm: ARRPG, "Robo Force." This is aptly named.

I expect I'll also run ARRPG at Games on Demand at least once, so keep an eye out. I'll tweet/blog about it in advance to give fair warning.

As for stuff I'm playing, currently I'm only signed up for two games, a Qin: The Warring States game Friday at noon, and Dave Mattingly's Bring Your Own Brick Champions game Thursday at 7:00. Wait, Thursday at 7:00? Seriously? Ugh. Thursday's gonna be rough. I just noticed that.

Regardless, there's no way I'm missing that Champions game. The premise -- bring two 400-point 6th-edition Hero System characters, and the GM chooses one -- hooked me, because long ago, before Fate came along (to me), Hero was my go-to system. I used to make 5th-edition Hero characters for purely recreational purposes. I'm new to 6th, but still I made four PCs and am restraining myself from making a fifth. Picking just two of those four for Dave's review will be tough enough already. It's gonna get all Sophie's Choice up in here.

And if you see me at GenCon sitting by myself doing homework, I'm just prepping for Gateway, which sounds crazy, I know.

Friday, August 9, 2013

[Gateway 2013] More like Fateway 2013!

Get it? Because, like, lots of Fate stuff on the schedule? Ah well.

With the release of Fate Core and FAE, I suppose that was inevitable, but still, it's cool to see so many GMs embracing them. Gateway, the last of the three annual Strategicon game conventions in Los Angeles, is just a few weeks away (August 30th-September 2nd), but pre-reg opens tomorrow, August 10th. And this is our last convention at the Sheraton. Next year we move to the Hilton down the road. So many memories, presumably!

There are no fewer than thirteen Fate Core, FAE, or Atomic Robo games on the schedule. Breakdown after the jump!

That was the jump. Did you enjoy it?

Friday 2:00 pm 
F4: Escape from the City of the Doomed, With Special Guest Ivid the Undying (Me)
"In Great Kingdom, Unknown searches for YOU." This dumb joke I made to myself at 1:00 in the morning sparked a vague idea for another in a series of AD&D pastiches/homages using an increasingly drifty Fate Core as a base. This one's less about mashing up old modules and more about being a genuine sequel to the three adventures these five PCs have already experienced together. Here's the blurb:
"In Great Kingdom, Unknown searches for YOU." -Yakov the Weary, Jester. WHAT WITH ONE THING AND ANOTHER, our heroes find themselves imprisoned in Rauxes, capitol of the most powerful empire on Oerth. Can they win their freedom before the city is reduced to dust? Is this the end of these Fate Core adventures based on old-school AD&D influences? I still have three weeks to prep, right? Find out!
Friday 8:00 pm
Star Trek: To Boldly Go (Morgan Ellis)
Space: the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Potemkin. Its five-year mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations, to boldly go where no one has gone before. Play classic Star Trek using the new Fate Accelerated Edition rules.
Ack! I would totally play in this if I weren't running a game Friday night (not at the convention). I bet the approaches are things like Security, Command, Science, etc. Right? I don't know, I'm just guessing. Mor importantly, Morgan is the cervello di tutti cervelli of Fate GMs, so you can't go wrong here.

Saturday 9:00 am
Freeport - Under the Waves (Sam Carter of Mars)
Freeport, the City of Adventure! A local has discovered something strange in the waters off the coast of A''Val.. and needs some intrepid souls to help sort it out. What will await you below? Fame? Fortune? Death? [A Freeport adventure using the new rules-light Fate Accelerated Edition ruleset.]
I've known Sam for, I dunno, almost ten years, and after all this time I still think it's "funny" to append "of Mars" onto his name. At any rate, people sure like that FAE, huh? Cool. Sam's another great GM, even if he is a friend of mine, so if you can get into this one, you won't regret it. Oh, it should probably be noted that this has no relation to the Fate Freeport book in development with Green Ronin. This is Sam's own thing.

IOU: Freshthing Orientation (Seth Halbeisen)
You've never heard of this college, were stunned by the sudden acceptance letter, and the volumes of attached fine print, and you're pretty sure it might be a prank... This campus is different. REALLY DIFFERENT! That building is a huge tree! Another is a glowing creator... Your tour guide just stunned a T-Rex while avoiding a saw-bladed Frisbee! Is that a TALKING cat?!?!? What kind of school is this?
Another great Fate GM, by all accounts, Seth is a person I do not know. I'm not sure if that's supposed to be "glowing crater" instead of "glowing creator," but either way it sounds pretty compelling.

Saturday 2:00 pm
Return of the Iron League of EVIL! (Seth Halbeisen)
Just when you though the world was safe again. They are back and ready for vengeance. Huge Iron shod blimps blot out the sun, Steam Powered Ninjas at every corner, and goliath engines of destruction threaten the city. Only YOU can defeat them! Only your team has a chance... Only the CENTURIANS can save the day!
And another game using FAE. On the basis of Seth's sterling reputation as a Fate GM, I'm not going to correct the spelling of "Centurians." Respect.

Saturday 8:00 pm
The Flying She-Devils of the Pacific (Kristine Chester)
Victory has been achieved, WW2 is over, and the troops are coming home! Only the war isn't quite done for the She-Devils, a group of lady pilots who have remained in the Pacific frontier to take down would be warlords.
Kristine's also running this Atomic Robo scenario at GenCon, so if you missed it there, now's your chance! I have the PDF of the PCs open in a tab in Chrome as I type this, and they look pretty sweet, so sign up.

Freeport - A Quick Errand (Sam Carter)
A member of The Syndicate has gone missing. Finn thinks a rival is involved, but without proof he needs to move carefully. You can serve as his hand in this business - with no ties back to him if things get ugly. He's offering exactly what you need (and hinting you definitely should not refuse his job offer). [A Freeport adventure using the new rules-light Fate Accelerated Edition ruleset.]
Sam Carter, FAE, Freeport, play it, etc.

A Dark and Stormy Night (James)
When:1939. Where:island of Vincoa, in the South Pacific. Who: the air ace, the big game hunter, the academic, the native and the spy. What: a fast paced game of pulp action! It late 1939 a group of adventurers have found out the Curse of the Emerald Octopus did not bring them the wealth they have sought out. On a dark and stormy night can they fight off the shark toothed Jade Shark cultists?
I'm not sure which James this is, but the blurb contains the phrase "shark-toothed Jade Shark cultists," so I say go play it. This is a Fate Core game, bee-tee-dubs.

Sunday 9:00 am
The Centurions of Science! (Me)
Hi. In this game, you get to play Nikola Tesla, Wong Kei-Ying, Annie Oakley, Harry Houdini, and a version of Winfield Scott Lovecraft (father of HP) who's a kick-ass secret agent instead of the syphilitic nutbag he was in real life. WHAT MORE DO YOU WANT FROM ME?
Did I mention I wrote these at 1:00 am? This one of the ARRPG scenarios I'm running at GenCon, so again, if you missed it there, you can play it here. There. At Gateway, I mean.

Smoldering Memorandum (Patrick Rowley)
Steve Hatchett has convinced his buddies to come out to Palm Springs with him for some well-deserved R&R, courtesy of his rich girlfriend's Country Club membership. Of course, there''s no rest for a burned spy, so wherever Matthew Easton goes, trouble isn't far behind...
I don't know what this FAE game's about, exactly, but Pat was my neighbor in the dorms at UC Irvine back in the early '90s, and we played AD&D multiple times a week (because college and dorms), so that seems like endorsement enough to me. Pat's one of those Happy Jack's people; if you are too, you may know him better as Mouser.

Sunday 2:00 pm
Open Minds (Patrick Rowley)
It's a quiet day for Alpha, the top-line Psionic Rescue and Retrieval unit in the Southern California branch of The Sanctuary. As a matter of fact, it's been too quiet. No new psychic eruptions in weeks. No nefarious Collective plots to subvert the current World Order. No attacks on Sanctuary agents. Either the entire Psionic world has suddenly gone quiet, or something big is about to happen.
Hey, another FAE game from Pat! What a supportive friend. Interesting side note: Pat used to be a ride op on the Jungle Cruise at Disneyland. But don't ask him about it -- he has absolutely no stories about his days in the Magic Kingdom.

Fate of a Kingdom (James Forest)
In the world of Eave, humans are not the dominant creatures, but still that have developed their own kingdoms. The Kingdom of Danaan and the Empire of Tulathe are two such human powers amid the sea of the elves that hold the sway over the world. It is an anime inspired world of pseudo-science, magic and swashbuckling Players will be the first to play in this world.
Ooh, I bet this is the same James from before! I can't be sure, though, so I'm not going to risk misinforming you. This sounds like a pretty cool concept, right? I've been watching a ton of Sword Art Online lately, which is probably making me more receptive to the premise than I normally am, and I'd normally be really receptive to it anyway. (Advice: SAO's totally worth watching, but you can stop after the opening titles to episode 16. Trust me.)

Sunday 8:00 pm
Science Team Super Five vs. Biomega: Tokyo Under Attack (Morgan Ellis)
With the threat of Biomega long gone, Japan's premiere extra-normal defense force, Science Team Super Five, has dedicated its resources to the scientific betterment of mankind. But the dread specter of Biomega has returned to threaten the world. Long silent alarms call the new Science Team Super Five into action. Armed with their advanced Reflex Armor suits, cutting edge science, and hard trained teamwork. Will it be enough to stop the giant beasts of Biomega?
What's not to love about this Atomic Robo game from Morgan? He's also running it at FateCon at Endgame this weekend, so if you missed it there you can play it at Gateway. I certainly plan to. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go make the PCs for this now.

Monday, August 5, 2013

[Atomic Robo] Five of Tesla's Seven

Hey, wanna see some character sheets?

That is all!

NO! That's not all. I've updated the file. The character sheet for Wong Kei-Ying is now significantly less lazy.

Friday, August 2, 2013

[Atomic Robo] Tesla's Seven at Villainous Lair

This Sunday, August 4th (it is already August!) I'll be running an ARRPG scenario called, I dunno, let's say "The Wheel of Anarchy." Kinda short notice, I know, but there we are. Think of it as a pleasant surprise.

The place: Villainous Lair Gaming in San Diego, CA.
The time: 2:00 pm (to, like, 6:00 pm)

I'm running this scenario at GenCon, and although I haven't written a proper blurb for it, if I did it'd look something like this:
The PCs are Nikola Tesla, Annie Oakley, Wong Kei-Ying, Harry Houdini, and Winfield Scott Lovecraft.
I mean really, what more do I have to say?

If you've never been to Villainous Lair, I've been there one more time than you have. It's a cool store -- not too big but big enough -- with a decent selection of small-press games. In fact, they have a regular storygame night run by a friend of mine. Plus, when I was there for Free RPG Day, I spoke with a manager-type named Sara who's excited about Fate Core and ARRPG, and whose idea it was for me to run a game there in the first place, so they're happy to have us.

And they have this sign up on the front door:
Seriously, they really shouldn't.
So yeah, this place is all right. Come on down and check it and/or ARRPG out. Hope to see you there.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

[Atomic Robo] San Diego Comic-Con Wrap-Up

So San Diego Comic-Con was last weekend, and it was an exhausting bunch of fun again, just like every year. But unlike every other year, this year I ran a couple of ARRPG games there in the open gaming room. Which was kinda maddening at first, because it's a big room with a lot of tables and a volunteer organizer who REALLY ENJOYS SHOUTING BELLIGERENTLY ALL THE TIME AS HIS DEFAULT MODE OF COMMUNICATION (we all know a gamer like that, right?), but we all got used to it and had a good time.

Anyway, I wanted to share a few pictures from the Sunday morning game I ran for Thursday Knights. Because I took some.

Her rocket, her rules.
This is Kaylee. (Yes, like that Kaylee.) She's seven. She played Helen McAllister, aka Nightingale. Her dad played Donovan McAllister, aka Jack Tarot. For those unfamiliar with Atomic Robo canon, Helen is a headstrong, resourceful, and smart gearhead, and Jack Tarot is her masked-vigilante father. They fight crime! In the '30s!

So yeah, as soon as I put those two PCs on the table, these two players naturally snatched 'em up. They were a great pair, as you might expect a real-life father-and-daughter duo to be playing those PCs. At one point, Kaylee decided that Helen had a rocket she'd secretly been working on stashed in the local dump, and when Jack Tarot tried to sit in the pilot's seat, Kaylee (and maybe Helen) snapped, "My rocket, my rules!" So that instantly became an aspect, obviously.

Ronnie Knox
Our AV recording engineer for the game was Cailin Laabs, and she did a couple of amazing character portraits while we played. This one, of Lt. Ronald Knox of the New Jersey State Militia, is a copy of a Scott Wegener piece that I swiped for this PC (played by her husband Greg Laabs), but man, it's a dead-on copy, and she also did it in what seemed like no time.

Prestigious Princeton Professor
And here's Cailin's portrait of Professor Richard Pierson, which she drew based solely on the character as played by Dan. The picture I used was one of circa-1938 Orson Welles, for what I hope are obvious reasons. I love this portrait because it looks great, of course, but also because stylistically, it fits right in with Ronnie Knox up there.

Arguably a robot.
Robo's player Lance drew a portrait too, and as you can see it's... Lance seems like a nice guy.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

[Atomic Robo] Action. Science. San Diego Comic-Con. UPDATED!


Hey, it's Comic-Con week! San Diego Comic-Con, to be precise. I know there are a lot of other comic-cons out there, but as everyone knows, this one's the biggest and the worst!

At Emerald City Comic-Con back in March, I got to see what a real, honest-to-goodness, comics-only comic convention looks like, without the Hollywood invasion that plagues San Diego these days, and y'know what? It was pretty great. (The fact that it's in Seattle, a city I like an awful lot, doesn't hurt.) But SDCC has one big advantage over ECCC: It doesn't require airfare and a hotel. It's local. So while I'll hold out hope of going back to ECCC ASAP, I'll continue to attend SDCC, BBQWTF.

Anyway, I'm running a couple sessions of ARRPG at SDCC this year, so I thought I'd tell you about 'em in a bit more detail than I did before.

The first will be Thursday at 2:00 pm. I'm not sure what this one will be. If I can get this Tesla's Seven scenario ironed out before then -- it seems pretty cool, but it requires game prep in the form of creating four new PCs -- I'll run that. It's 1893 at the Chicago World's Columbia Fair, and the assassination of Mayor Carter Harrison is only the tip of a conspiratorial iceberg that, as it turns out, is pretty science-oriented. The PCs are Nikola Tesla, expert escapist Harry Houdini, secret agent Winfield Scott Lovecraft, martial-arts master Wong Kei-Ying, and, of course, celebrity sharpshooter Annie Oakley. If you try real hard, you can fit this into the continuity of the second volume of Real Science Adventures, but if not, enh, whatever.

If that one doesn't come together, though, I'll run, I dunno, something else.

The second will be Thursday at 8:00 pm SUNDAY AT 10:00 AM. This one, I'm running for the Thursday Knights, who'll be... podcasting it? Livestreaming it? Either way. They livestreamed a playtest of ARRPG back in March, right before I finished writing it and before it went through the editing wringer. It was a big success at the table (whew), and when they contacted me to ask if it'd be okay if they ran it again at SDCC, I was like, how about I just run it for you? So that's what's going on. That means that the five player-spots here will likely be taken up by the Thursday Knights crew, but maybe not, and I don't know the specifics anyway, so if you want to play come on out and maybe you'll get to do just that.

The scenario for this evening SUNDAY MORNING game will probably be Atomic Robo and the Invaders from Mars. I've run this one a few times (including one session at ECCC with Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener as players), and it's always been fun. AND IT WILL HAPPEN ON SUNDAY MORNING AT 10:00 AM.

Which reminds me, one of the issues in the next volume of Real Science Adventures may or may not be inspired by this very scenario, so just in case, play it now before Brian and Scott spoil it for everybody. In fact, was that spoiling something just by mentioning the possibility of it? Whatever -- it centers around one of my favorite Atomic Robo characters, so I'll be psyched for it either way.

Both of these games will take place in the open gaming area, which is in Mezzanine 15A. You can't miss it! It's right next to 15B!

"What about Gam3rcon?" Uh... I dunno. Maybe Saturday THURSDAY night? I'm playing this one by ear right now, which probably isn't very smart, but look man, I've got a lot of stuff going on.

Now if you'll excuse me, Harry Houdini isn't going to stat himself. See you at the thing!

Monday, July 8, 2013

[Atomic Robo] Various Updates

How I feel lately.
Man, it's been a while, right? I've just been too busy and/or tired to talk to you. You know how it is. But let's have a few updates to keep you in the loop.

What's Up With ARRPG?
I don't know why I was so excited that the edit punch-list was so short when it only takes three words to say "Rewrite this chapter."

To that end, I've enlisted the aid of Brian Engard to help get these Jeremy Keller-edited chapters revised and back to Jeremy Keller. Brian, of course, is part of the Fate Core team, so I have every confidence etc.

A big -- really big -- part of the revision process has been reformatting all of the examples in the book to align with the new aesthetic. We're still using panels from the pages of Atomic Robo to illustrate rules concepts and provide examples, which is great, but instead of just showing panels with captions (like the one above), we're providing a running dialogue between the GM and the players, all of whom happen to be Action Scientists. It's been a ton of work, I'll be honest with you, but the results are really satisfying, and it's going to result in a more engaging experience for the reader.

So, to sum up, it's coming along, and soon it will be out of my hands entirely, at which point we can talk about things like printer and shipping delays.

How Was Gamex?
Great! Two of the three games I ran were a lot of fun. The one that wasn't was an ambitious endeavor that didn't really come together the way I'd imagined.

I'm running the ARRPG scenario, "Robo Force," at GenCon. Wanna see the character sheets? Here.

I also ran a D&D-like Fate Core-based (based!) game called "Return to the Expedition to the Sinister Temple of the Reptile Cult on the Borderlands." There were blaster pistols and a froghemoth. Wanna see those character sheets? Look upon them and be confused!

As for the games I got to play, Morgan Ellis's really wacky way-out-there TMNT Fate Core game didn't involve any teenagers, ninjas, or turtles, although we did have a super-evolved marmot, a walrus from Ancient Egypt, a sentient hadrosaur from another dimension, and my character, Oreo Futurebaby, P.I. It was... pretty silly. And a lot of fun.

Respected TV critic and not-really-my-RPG-protege Todd VanDerWerff ran another Fate Core game based on the TV series Vikings. It was... well, look, there were some problems with the game, but still, it was gratifying to see Todd, a mere year and a bit after I introduced him to RPGs, running a game that I'd helped write. That was awesome. And I sure like that Vikings show. He promised me I'd have a chance to play Athelstan, and he did not lie about that, more or less.

Isn't San Diego Comic-Con Coming Up?
It is, yeah, and I'll be running ARRPG there, too, on Thursday at 2:00. I don't think the gaming schedule's up yet, but when it is, I'll be on it. (I'm also scheduled for a Saturday game, but I'll tell you right now, I'm going to have to bail on it to see this.) I'm also probably going to run a game at Gam3rcon that weekend, as is tradition, sort of.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

[Gamex 2013] Fate Core Games A-Poppin'

Robo Force in action.
We still have a couple days to go before Gamex this weekend, and there are a bunch of Fate Core games on the skedge (that's short for "schedule" -- like I said, only a couple days left, so I don't have time to type out "schedule"), so let's break 'em down.

Friday 2:00 pm: "Death of an Aristocrat" (GM: Brian Allred)
Someone must really want this guy dead. Sounds easy, but for 20k nuyen, 
there must be a catch somewhere...

I've known Brian for years -- we spent most of those years playing in a couple of weekly D&D campaigns -- but I have no idea what this game is about. Sounds cyberpunky. Nuyen... isn't that a Shadowrun thing? Regardless, I'm sure he knows what he's doing.

Friday 8:00 pm: "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles & Other Strangeness" (GM: Morgan Ellis)
It's 1984 and the City is overrun by crime and corruption, the gangs control the streets, terrorism is rampant, corporations fueled by greed seek power and control, and Ninja clans lurk in the shadows. Only a small group of Mutant Animals born of some Strange Encounter, or created by Science, 
and trained in the ways of the Ninja can clean up the City. Let's play some TMNT&OS using Fate Core.

First of all, this is how you write a blurb for a convention game: evocative but totally open-ended and vague. I can only assume Morgan wrote it that way for the same reason that I write 'em that way: because holy crap, the deadline to submit games is this Friday and I have no idea what I'm going to do, but I know I'd like to run a game of whatever, so here's something compelling without going into specifics. Textbook. Anyway, I'm in this game.

Saturday 9:00 am: "Robo Force" (GM: Me!)
Robo Force is the codename for the UN's league of highly trained Action Science Commandos. Their purpose: to defend human freedom against Baron Helsingard, a ruthless megalomaniac determined to rule the world at any cost. Led by the daring Atomic Robo and armed with cutting-edge science, Robo Force never gives up the fight! Rohhh-BO!

I ran a session of this at a Dead Gamers' Society meet-up back in March, and it went pretty well, so now I've put more effort and thought into it [read: I've been watching GI Joe] with the idea that it can go even better. It's also a chance to shine it up a bit in preparation for GenCon.

Saturday 2:00 pm: "Shadowpunk - Tailchaser" (GM: Seth Halbeisen)
Backstabbing and betrayal. Business as usual. But now it's happened to you. Well, you and your team. Now you've got a crap ton of marked data and no where to sell it too. No paycheck, and it looks like the target corp wants vengeance. Just another day in paradise.

I still don't know Seth Halbeisen! I believe we're connected via Google+ or something, but that's it. He's the most prolific Strategicon Fate GM I've never met. But he keeps running these games, and players keep signing up, so that's gotta be good.

Saturday 8:00 pm: "Vikings IN Vikings: Among the Vikings" (GM: Todd VanDerWerff)
America's love affair with Vikings continues, in this brand new adventure of seafaring Norsemen. Ride out to find strange lands off somewhere in the far West, lands filled with unusual men and fearsome beasts. Characters will be provided, or you can make your own Viking.

I'm not in a position to give out awards for best game titles -- but if I were, Todd would at least be in contention. I'm really looking forward to this game, not only because Vikings and Fate Core, but because I have this weird sense of... I dunno... pride? I introduced Todd to RPGs last year when I talked him into attending OrcCon, and now here he is, running a game I helped write! (He's also running Cat and Prime Time Adventures, a game he's supremely qualified to run on account of him being a TV critic and all.) But really, the fact that he's GMing multiple indie games per Strategicon has almost nothing to do with me and almost everything to do with Todd being a natural at this stuff.

Saturday 9:00 pm: "Spirit of Hyboria"
Come adventure in a land of ruthless warriors, vengeful barbarians and dark sorcerers. Where magic is a curse, and things man was not meant to know walk the land. Where the gods are watching, so be bold and live well. All this and swords too!

Obviously, if I weren't playing in Todd's Vikings game, I'd be in this game, guaranteed. I especially appreciate the "Spirit of" construction -- it feels old-timey at this point, which I like.

Sunday 2:00 pm: "F3: Return to the Expedition to the Sinister Temple of the Reptile Cult on the Borderlands" (GM: Me!)
OMG you guys, there are totally some more problems that only a party of adventurers can solve! This ode to AD&D (via Fate Core) is a sequel to a couple games I ran at the last OrcCon. If you played in those games, come reclaim your character! If not, come claim a character before those returning players beat you to it! Experience with Fate Core not required.

More of this nonsense. It was fun at OrcCon, so I'm going to see if we can keep it going. Because if we can, I'll run one of these at every Strategicon using the same PCs. Just like before, I'm using this game as an excuse to playtest something new I've been working on, so the PCs will look a little different than they did last time.

So there you go! A lot of great Fate games, just like I said. I did not lie. If I get a chance before the con, I'll post the Robo Force and D&D-ish characters.

Monday, May 13, 2013

[Fate Core] Significant Milestones

Yeah, I'm just stealing from Fred for the title of this post, but it's so damn apropos!

Fate Core and Fate Accelerated Edition are off to the printers. I have the PDFs right here. They look pretty great. I'm pretty thrilled that my name has somehow ended up on the covers for both books. Fate Core, I expected; FAE, I did not. But Evil Hat values their editors, so hooray for Jeremy, Amanda, and me.

Y'know what else is awesome? The cover price of FAE. Take that, Savage Worlds Explorer's Edition! I like Savage Worlds a whole lot -- I just never thought I'd see a mass-produced core RPG book that undercut its price point so severely. It's a good time to be a cheap bastard.

Anyway, I seem to have a bit more Fate System Toolkit work to do here -- editors, amirite? -- so I'd better get back to that, but I couldn't help crowing a bit about these two books.

Friday, April 19, 2013

[Off-Topic] Kickstarters Ahoy!

After all this time without a post, you'd think the first thing I'd talk about would be how things went at ECCC, or those D&D-ish Fate Core characters from OrcCon, or what you can expect to see in the Fate System Toolkit, or any number of other Fate-relevant things.

But nope! Instead I'm gonna pimp some Kickstarters (most of which are, admittedly, Fate-relevant).

It's a funny thing -- in the playtester feedback for Fate Accelerated Edition (and Fate Core too, I'm sure), we kept getting people correcting "Fate dice" to "Fudge dice." But of course, they didn't know of Evil Hat's plan to make their own "premium Fudge dice" to accompany all this Fate Core stuff that's about to come out. It only makes sense, from a business perspective. May as well sell the dice as well as the game, y'know?

Anyway, no surprise, this one's a runaway success, with (as of this posting) one stretch goal already hit (Atomic Robo dice!) and 30 days to go.

Why you should back it: They're great looking dice. You need more dice. Get more dice. Plus, it'll increase the world supply of Fudge -- I mean, Fate dice, and that's only a good thing.

I know Rustyn, sorta -- we're more like acquaintances, I guess -- but even if I didn't I'd still give her Fudge dice Kickstarter a shout-out. What sets this apart from the Fate dice Kickstarter (so far) is that she's taking a very democratic approach to the colors and inks of dice that'll be produced, which I think is pretty cool.

Unfortunately, as of this posting, she's still more than $2,000 below her initial goal with only 11 days to get there. I'm going to pin that on some bad timing, which has put her more or less in direct competition with Evil Hat for Fudge dice-related Kickstarter dollars. But it'd be a shame if that stopped her from getting more pretty, pretty Fudge dice on the market.

Why you should back it: More pretty, pretty Fudge dice on the market! Plus, her video's funny. That's worth at least a few bucks right there. If you can, throw $10 at this one and still back Fate Dice. Both deserve support.

Okay, fine, I know Wes Otis too, but again, even if I didn't, I'd call this one out.

Generally speaking, I don't care about background music for the games I run. And when I'm a player in a game with background music, if the music's any good I'll get totally distracted by it (as awesome as Colin Jessup's SotC Star Wars hack Spirit of the Force was, I couldn't help but call out the names of the tracks he'd play from the Star Wars scores, because I'm some kinda jerk). And if it's not, I'll be totally distracted by it, but not in a good way. What I'd much prefer is something that just sets the tone and lends ambiance.

Which is exactly what Wes has done here! It's like he read my mind. And you guys, I don't like to swear on this thing, but these tracks are [REDACTED] charming. Wes is an audio engineer by trade, and it really shows here. Go listen to the samples. It will not surprise you that he's raised north of $14K when his initial goal was a paltry $1,000.

Why you should back it: [REDACTED] CHARMING! Plus, having more resources like this available to the general gamer population would be very cool. It's a worthwhile product.

For the record, I do not know Amber Rix.

But I did back her previous campaign for Precision Machined Dice, and I'm very pleased with the terrifyingly sharp stainless-steel cubes I got out of it. There, she demonstrated very clearly how dedicated she is to making the most precise dice she can, with the math to back that up. And to Hell with you and your precious wooden table surface! TITANIUM DICE!

Her current campaign, however, is to produce metal dice meant to be actually used at the table, instead of put on a shelf and feared. (My stainless-steel 2d6 are on a shelf.) Amber has a proven track record, and this thing's already blasted way past its initial goal of $4,000. As of this posting, it's at $67K and change, with a little under two days to go. (Her previous campaign hit $153K.)

Why you should back it: Quality product, history of success, dice that'll knock over every mini on the table every time you roll 'em. What's not to like?

Okay, that's it for promoting other people's work. Next post, it's back to me, me, me!