Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year, Let's Dogfight

Okay, I've really let this go until the last minute here. I can't believe I haven't posted anything in four months! That's ridiculous. A lot's happened in that time. Like just two days ago, I went to Legoland.

Unfortunately, that's another story for another time, because I have to leave for a NYE thing in like 20 minutes -- well, more like 30 minutes, but I still have to get dressed and dig Banzai! out from our boxes of board games -- so I'm going to get right to this thing I've been meaning to post about nearly all year: my Fate dogfighting rules.

The thing I realized about dogfighting is that while I love the idea and the imagery of it, I don't actually know anything about it. I just want it to sound cool, and for everyone at the table to feel like something dramatic and awesome has happened. So instead of choosing maneuvers and spending time hemming and hawing over strategic decisions, I've opted for a system that determines that stuff randomly, then delivers a dramatic finale.


  • A Deck of Fate, minus the approach and arcana cards
  • Dice
  • Uh... this whole list-format may have been unnecessary.
Anyway, this subsystem breaks the dogfight up into two parts: a contest to see who gets into position first, and an attack, made by the winner of that contest.

Airplanes have four skills: ControlGuns, Speed, and Profile. You use some combination of the first three in the contest, Guns to attack, and Profile to defend. You'll use them in conjunction with the pilot's skills -- in my Crimson Skies ARRPG games, those skills were Fly and Gunnery, both under the Pilot mode. Each of the first three plane skills is associated with a suit in the Deck of Fate (Control is blue, Guns black, and Speed red).

Then follow these instructions. I'm not going to type them out again. Time, man, time!

You'll also need this dogfight matrix, which uses a table that's similar to the Fate Triangle, but not quite. Don't worry, the instructions explain the whole thing.

(No, I don't know what eclipses do. I'm not fussed about it.)

(Yes, I'll post some airplane write-ups in a day or two.)

Happy New Year! I look forward to reading some comments in 2015.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

[GenCon 2014] It's Over, Go Home

This is funny, trust me.
Well. GenCon 2014 was one for the books. Yup. Some high points:
  • The State of the Hat panel on Thursday. Fun way to kick off the convention. (I like doing panels. Are you doing a panel for a thing? Maybe you want me on it!) Some cool stuff on display there, including the Campaign Coins fate point tokens and a spiral-bound copy of the War of Ashes playtest rules. Finally got to meet Fred, Rob, and Sean in person. At least, I'm pretty positive Sean and I have never met. Anyway, also got to meet my personal savior, Adam Jury. Plus, the panelists didn't outnumber the audience this year, which was nice.
  • Three very successful and fun playtests of The Sparks Nevada Thrilling Adventure Game, including one for a table of four superfans and one for aforementioned Evil Hat project manager Sean Nittner. Good feedback all around. This new version really feels like the show, and it's faster-playing to boot. One of these had the best aspect I've ever come up with (pictured above).
  • An equally successful and fun game of Atomic Robo that let me playstorm ideas for training and planning montages for Shadow of the Century -- plus my players included Dave and Liz of Nearly Enough Dice, all the way from Scotland, which was very cool. Great to meet you guys in person! Wish we could've found time to do an interview face-to-face, but oh well. Hangout it is.
  • The fastest ARRPG game of my or anyone's life at Games on Demand -- about 90 minutes, after introducing the PCs and explaining the basics of Fate -- but still managed to squeeze in two fun fights, a brainstorm, and, y'know, general roleplaying and farting around. Felt like a sprint from start to finish, but we did it, and everyone had a great time. I really enjoyed conceding on behalf of those last two NPCs.
  • Playing in a Tunnels & Trolls game run by childhood idol Ken St. Andre. I told him later at the Flying Buffalo booth that T&T was a formative game for me, and that I was now a famous game designer. I don't think he believed me on either count. But it was still nice to tell him anyway, even if only one of those things is true.
  • A drum corps fan I met Thursday morning while making our D&D characters for the convention. Most of the rest of the gamers at the table were fairly unpleasant, demeanor-wise, so it was cool to be able to talk drum corps with this guy (marched Cadets '92, son marched SCV in... 2011, I want to say), let him look up stuff in my PHB, and ignore those other people entirely.
  • My first D&D game of the convention, when the DM had everyone go around the table and call out their race and class. After "Fighter, fighter, fighter, wizard, cleric," it was a pleasure to say "Bard!" The looks on their faces... priceless. But they changed their tunes the first time I handed out an Inspiration Die. Take that, unbelievers.
  • My second (and, unfortunately, last) D&D game of the convention, when the tweenaged girl at the table got to strike the killing blow against the monster with her magic missile. I just like it when first-time players get to do cool stuff, especially if they're kids.
  • Seeing ARRPG on the rack at the IPR booth and hearing that it was selling like hotcakes.
  • Getting interviewed (on video!) about ARRPG, and suggesting questions to the interviewer, who was -- admit it, Spencer! -- more enthusiastic than prepared. Not that there's anything wrong with that. It was flattering. Cool guys, those guys.
  • Played a demo of D&D Attack Wing. Like X-Wing, but with dragons. I... may be in trouble.
  • Signing books! I feel like I signed a lot of books, including one copy of Jadepunk. No Fate Core, though. I guess that was a 2013 thing.
  • Meeting a few industry-types who either wanted to meet me or felt they had no other option once I had been introduced. Regardless, hey, meeting new people.
  • Talkin' business! Business business business! Numbers!
  • Every single time someone told me they liked/loved/were excited about ARRPG.
  • You! That time I saw you there and we talked about, I dunno, some gaming thing, probably.
  • Going to the ENnie Awards the night that Fate Core, Fate Accelerated, the Fate System Toolkit, Fate Dice, the Fate SRD, and Evil Hat itself won ALL THE ENNIES. And also John Adamus and Ericka Skirpan got engaged on stage, which was a thing only one of them knew was going to happen. I'd never been to the ENnies before -- never really felt like I had a reason to go -- so I can only assume they're all like that.

Low points!
  • Only getting to play games for 3 hours. Boo.
  • That T&T game wasn't actually, like... good.
  • D&D DMs being stingy with Inspiration. I'm roleplayin' my face off over here! Gimme the Inspiration already! Sheesh.
  • Staying at a hotel out by the airport and having to take a 40-minute shuttle there and back every day. This was a bigger hassle than just the time lost. The shuttle only ran once and hour, and at night there was just a 10:00 and a 1:00 -- so if you didn't get the former, you had to wait around for three hours for the latter. Say, if you're at the ENnies and the thing lasts until 10:30.
  • Being constantly aware the whole four days (five, including traveling Wednesday) that Gateway's in two weeks.
  • Not getting around to meeting you. Yeah, you! I meant to meet you, honest.
Looking forward to next year, when I will make good on my promise to myself to not schedule so much stuff. See you there.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

[GenCon] What Am I Doing I Don't Even

GenCon is next week! Holy troat!

Somehow or other, I already have a pretty full schedule for the con. Here's what I know so far:

  • Thursday, 1pm: The Sparks Nevada Thrilling Adventure Game
  • Thursday, 5pm: State of the Hat, the Evil Hat what's-goin'-on panel. Yay, doing a panel! For future reference, I would do more panels. Panels seem fun. Are you putting a panel together? I bet we can contrive a reason for me to be on it!
  • Friday 10am: GMing at Games on Demand (pictured above). It's only a two-hour slot, so odds are good it'll be Sparks Nevada.
  • Friday 2pm: Atomic Robo: The Roleplaying Game.
  • Friday 7-ish pm: Attending the ENnies. I may be missing an Indianapolis Indians game for this, so some Evil Hat Fate thing had better win something to make this worthwhile.
  • Saturday 2pm: GMing at Games on Demand again. Four-hour slot, which makes Atomic Robo or my ARRPG-based Crimson Skies thing likely.
  • Sunday 10am: My last two-hour stint at Games on Demand.
I'm also currently slated to play a few scheduled games, including a one-hour D&D 5E demo-intro-thing Thursday morning, a Tunnels & Trolls game (with Ken St. Andre!) Saturday morning, and some Crimson Skies (the WizKids minis game) Saturday night. But... I dunno if the D&D and Crimson Skies games are going to make the final cut. For one thing, the shuttle to and from the convention center is an hour. For another, back when I booked those games, I was like "OMG, what will the new edition of D&D be like?!" (I've since played it more than a little) and "If I'm going to run a Fate Crimson Skies game, I should probably play the minis game" (I've since become... less convinced of the necessity of this). 

But there is zero chance of me missing that T&T game. And I have plenty of generics, so come at me, bro.

I'm also trying to leave more gaps in my schedule for GoD or off-the-books games or, like, someone saying, "Hey, I want to talk to you about this project," which, based on the past few months, is a thing that could conceivably happen. If you interpreted that statement an assertion that I am so important and in-demand that I expect people to be stalking me just for the mere chance of hearing words fall out of my mouth, you are absolutely correct.

Seriously though, it's nothing like that. It's more like this is my fourth year at GenCon, and every year I promise myself that "Next year, I'm not going to sign up for any games in advance! All the cool stuff seems to happen at GoD and in off-books games!" and then I've done the exact opposite of that three times now. So I'm trying for a late-game course-correction here.

Anyway, see you there. And hey, if we don't see each other there, then maybe I'll see you at Gateway, because it's only two weeks after GenCon, which was only two-and-a-half weeks after Comic-Con

I'm freaking out.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

[Atomic Robo] At San Diego Comic-Con! UPDATED

Wow, where'd Comic-Con come from this year, huh? Sneaked right up on me. I am... kinda totally not as prepared as I'd thought I'd be. I guess you have to actually, y'know, plan for stuff like that. Which I normally do! But this year, I dunno, it sneaked up on me.

Regardless! I have time Thursday and Sunday, so if you're going to be there and you want to play ARRPG, Sparks Nevada, my Crimson Skies-via-ARRPG thing, uh, my sorta-works D&D-via-Traveller hack, whatever. We have options.

In fact, I'll leave a sign-up sheet at while there's no room at the Red 5 booth (1717) for something like a sign-up sheet (I'll admit, it was optimistic of me to suggest there would be), I'll tell them when games will happen and they'll be happy to direct you accordingly, because they're super-good people. If you're around and interested, and want to let me know both of those things, you can put your name down there and that will accomplish that purpose go to the indicated place at the indicated time, or contact me online (here or on Twitter) to let me know you plan on being there.

Regardless, I'll run games in 15AB, the open-gaming room.

The first game will be Thursday the 24th at 11am. First five cool people to show up get to play!

I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to another San Diego Comic-Con! Comic-Con! Comic-Con! Comic-
Standard foot traffic outside the convention center.
These people would like to hear more about Star Wars, please.
These people would also like to hear about Star Wars. Or whatever.


Almost forgot.

Friday, July 11, 2014

[Atomic Robo] The Robo Has Landed

Pictured: Atomic Robo, existing as a physical product
you can hold in your hands and everything. 
Has your copy of Atomic Robo: The Roleplaying Game arrived yet? Well did you preorder it? Of course, at this point you could just buy it, because it's out and in stores. You are running out of excuses, in other words.

In all seriousness, it's been extremely gratifying to see ARRPG getting such a great reception from people online. I spent more than two years neck-deep in this game, so it's really rewarding to see tweets like this, or this, or this thing here, or this other bit over here plus this frankly embarrassing praise, and so on. I guess what I'm saying is that the approval of strangers is very important to me, and then on top of that I'm obviously not able to be one-hundred percent sincere about any of this because it's so genuinely affecting. All of this boldfacing is actually part of a defense mechanism against emotional vulnerability. So... thanks!

Anyway, if you're still waiting for yours to show up in the mail, or even if you aren't, you can while away the empty, meaningless hours listening to a couple recent Robo-oriented (Roboriented!) podcasts.

Late last month I was on Useless Drivel talking with Rob and Matt about a bunch of stuff, including but not limited to:
(I mention on this podcast that I'm going to make those Crimson Skies Fate dogfighting rules available, and that's still my intent, but they're not up yet. End of line.)

And just a couple weeks ago, Atomic Robo scribe Brian Clevinger talked Robo and the Technocracy with Ryan Macklin on Master Plan. The focus of the conversation is RPG licensing from the licensor's point of view, and also Brian corroborates my ARRPG origin story, which is kind of a relief.

On a related note, Ryan and Tim Rodriguez are running a Kickstarter right this very moment for Backstory Cards, so go get in on that.

BONUS PODCAST RECOMMENDATION: The last episode of Nearly Enough Dice (episode 141, for future generations) has a very nice, unapologetically glowing review/unpaid endorsement of ARRPG. The episode isn't completely Robo-centric or anything, and neither I nor Brian are interviewed on it, but still, it's good. Especially if you're like "ARRPG sounds pretty cool, but I dunno, I need someone with a Scottish accent to convince me," then this is -- it's the podcast for you. It's almost eerie how precisely they've tailored this episode to suit your exact needs. You'd be foolish not to listen.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

[Atomic Robo] Crimson Skies Characters

In order to force myself to be done with fiddling with these Crimson Skies pregens for Gamex this weekend, and as is often my wont when it comes to convention pregens, I'm sharing them with you. And also so you can see them, I guess, if you're interested. They're built as ARRPG characters, but I have this other little mini-game for dogfights that's new, so you can just ignore any references to that. Anyway, I think they'll be fun.

We have:

So if you're keeping track, that's the protagonist of a contemporaneous film, a canon character from Crimson Skies lore, two Thrilling Adventure Hour characters, and one lone original character who is either a pathological liar or kinda off-kilter. I'm aware that Robo himself could've been a PC in this game, but I didn't want to stray that far from what people might recognize as Crimson Skies (he said, shortly after admitting he'd put the Rocketeer in his game).

I'm looking forward to this game.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

[Fate Accelerated] The Heroes of Three Crossings

WARNING: This is long. It could be even longer. I could gleefully talk about every second of this thing, but I won't.

A while ago, a woman I know told me about how her 8th-grade daughter and 20 or so of her friends staged a freeform boffer Hunger Games LARP. They made their own weapons and made up their own rules. As it happens, they'd never heard of LARPing and just came up with this idea because it seemed fun (and I'm sure it was).

I immediately gave her a copy of Fate Accelerated and a set of four Fudge dice and said, "Here, give these to your daughter." She didn't know what roleplaying games were -- she'd heard of Dungeons & Dragons, but for a lot of people that's not really a useful touchstone -- and neither did her daughter, but I was like, "Trust me, from what I've heard, she and her friends are going to dig this."

Over the next several months, we tried on and off to figure out a time and place for me to run a game of FAE for her and whoever else was interested. Yesterday, it finally happened.

And it was the best, you guys.



We had two hours in a study room at a local library in Murrieta, so after brief introductions and my exhortation to please not call me Mr. Olson -- as weird as that may be for a kid, it's ten times as weird to be called "Mister" anything when you're running a game -- I briefly explained the general idea of a roleplaying game. Y'know, each of you is going to make and take the part of a character in a story, and I play everyone else and the world, and you tell me what you want to do and I tell you what happens and if we disagree we roll dice. That stuff.

My first inkling that I had nothing to worry about on that front came when one of the four girls admitted she didn't even know what we were doing that day, but assumed it was going to be acting or improv. Good start.

I didn't have anything prepared in advance, other than printing off some character sheets and the success-track thing shown up top. I was going to let them tell me what genre they wanted, what premise they wanted, and anything else, then go with it. I'm not used to running games totally off-the-cuff like that, but it seemed like the best way to kick things off.

Despite being smart, creative types, they kinda froze when presented with that much responsibility. So I suggested capital-F Fantasy, because it was a genre that we were all generally familiar with. So, good. Magic and swords and elves and all that jazz. I can do that in my sleep. I probably do and don't even know it. They're in a small but busy trading town at the intersection of three roads called Three Crossings. I use that name all the time. Probably in my sleep too.

I'd brought a Deck of Fate with me, so I took out the Accelerated arcana and had each player pick one. This would be their +3 approach. They loved this idea. I can empathize -- when presented with all that possibility, getting even a single anchor point can be a godsend. They pulled Careful, Clever, Forceful, and Sneaky. These also served as sorta proto-high concepts; I could see them starting to wrap character ideas around them.

Then I helped them come up with high concepts and troubles, and we got some good ones. They kept their sheets (yay!), but here are a few I can remember:
  • Less Brawn, More Brains
  • Trust Issues
  • I Don't Think I Know Everything -- I Do
  • Nobody Takes Me Seriously
  • Wherever It Is, I've Been There
The characters:
  • The Fool, a Careful guy who masquerades as a fool as part of some deeper agenda.
  • Rachel, a Sneaky, well-traveled wanderer.
  • Fang, the Forceful would-be leader of the gang.
  • Ash, a Clever inventor and science-type, fantasy-medieval style.
So me, sitting there listening to them start to form their characters, I already I like where this is going. There's plenty of variation in character types, and it's easy enough to say they're childhood friends who hang out and have adventures, and I'm getting ideas for what we might do for the next 90 minutes. 

It was around here when they started saying "This is so fun!" They're not even playing yet.

Because this was their first time playing anything like this, they didn't bring any gamer-baggage to the table. This included, but was not limited to, second-guessing my every move. Nothing would be cliche to them! So I started things out in a tavern.

"What's the name of this tavern?" I asked.
"The Cave!" one of them immediately shot back.

Great! There's a big tree in the middle of town, a huge tree, a tree so enormous a lot of the town is built into its above-ground roots. That's where the Cave is, so-called because it's in a "cave" of roots. They look at each other and murmur approvingly. (Why this town isn't called Tree Town, I really don't know.)

There's a kefuffle outside! I compel Fang's high concept to need to be the leader-type and go check it out, alone. Fang eagerly accepts the fate point. (They instantly grasped the idea of getting into trouble now to earn later awesomeness.)

"Descending on lines from the tree above--"
"Oh, don't say spiders," Rachel's player said.
"Why, do you not like spiders?"
"They won't be real spiders."
"They'll just have, like, six legs."
"That's what I don't like about them -- eight legs."
Hm. I wasn't even going to do spiders before she spoke up, but now I'm all about it. "What about seven legs? Better or worse?"
"[audible disgust]"
"Okay, so these nine-legged metallic things are descending on lines from the tree...."

Whatever these things were, they were capturing townsfolk by shooting out an entangling line of some kind and imprisoning them inside their weird metal bodies. I'd intended a short fight just to show them how things worked, but it ended up being a chance for the players to really figure out who their characters were. By the time they'd taken care of these three not-spider-things, we'd discovered the following:
  • Fang has long prehensile hair, like a combination of Chinese Ghost Story and Rapunzel in Tangled, but more powerful. And she is kick-ass with it.
  • Rachel has rune-scribed arrows and an invisibility cloak. No, not just invisibility. When she puts up the hood (no D&D cartoon reference was made -- be proud of me), she transformed into pure energy. This makes her invisible, but also gives her the power to teleport. "But you have to pay a fate point for it," I told her. "You can see we're simulating story-logic, not reality here, right? And it'd be boring in a story if this character were to just do that all the time. So the fate point-thing stops you from doing that." This explanation was met with nods and more approving murmurs. These girls are great.
    • Also, when we were working this out, I said, "It's like a TARDIS cloak." Her eyes went wide. "I get that reference!"
  • Ash has wings. At first we thought they'd be, like, feathered wings, but then we remembered she was an inventor-type and that they needed to be something she'd built. So she's Falcon, basically.
  • The Fool has -- well, let me put it in the player's words, if I can. "I reach into my never-ending pocket of thread...." My mouth probably dropped open. What is this never-ending thread pocket and where has it been all my life? "I can use the thread to make things." So she made a thread shield. "And I fight with a big pair of scissors." Look, I get it, you who are reading this: You want to be playing this character in a game right now. I feel the same way.
It's quickly becoming clear that these aren't just four adventurers who merely hang around in the Cave and drink some sort of tree-sap beverage. These are the Heroes of Three Crossings. Nobody messes with this town when choker-hair, TARDIS-cloak, metal-wings, and the never-ending thread pocket are around.

There was a great moment -- in a sea of great moments, really -- when Ash tried to get all the townsfolk to safety, and failed. Because Ash's player knows the value of complications in a story, she chose to succeed at a serious cost. So while everyone's running for the safety of the big tree, one of these nonapods shoots its entangling line at her, misses, and reels in a fleeing kid instead. CLANK! Its metal carapace slams shut with the kid inside.

"...Did you just get that kid killed?" Rachel's player says, aghast.
"Hey, c'mon guys," I say. "I'm not going to kill a kid here. C'mon!"
"I don't know you! Maybe you would!" Fair enough.

This scene also featured Fang grappling a nonapod with her hair and forcibly tearing it to pieces to free an old woman trapped inside. These people are lucky Fang's on their side.

So they take care of these things, and then decide to go up the tree and see what's going on. Earlier I'd said something about a complex ecology in its branches, but implied it was all weirdo fantasy animals, not metallic not-spider things. This is when Rachel's player's mom showed up and she had to leave, but at least Rachel has a plausible exit from the story for the time being in the form of her energy cloak.

Ash flies up the tree. Fang uses her prehensile hair like Spider-Man. The Fool unravels his thread and forms it into a rope, which he throws high into the air. It latches onto nothing, and he climbs up, then does it again, and again and again until he's up in the branches. This has become the Fool's shtick: He breaks reality.

They get up there and because we're running out of time and I don't know when we'll get to play again anyway, there's a spaceship up there, nestled in the branches. Sure, why not! There are a bunch of those nine-legged beetle-things crawling around, scouting things out, and two of them are standing together, their faces split apart from reveal a tiny alien-thing in each having a conversation. So they aren't robots or drones, they're vehicles. This came from the players, in case you thought it didn't, despite almost certainly knowing better by now.

While the Fool and Ash start to make plans to find and disable some sort of central nervous system for the ship, Fang has an "Enough talk!" moment and just strides forward out of their cover to have hair-words with these alien-things. She doesn't go ten feet before a nonapod lurking above them snaps her up into itself with its shooty-line-thing, then go scuttling off to the ship. (This was a compel, of course.) 

Thinking quickly, the Fool throws a thread at the nonapod, which sticks (impossibly), and now they can follow the thread and find Fang. Great idea! This they now do. Of course, they both fail their Sneaky roll, and the Fool's player decides to succeed at a serious cost. So they get in there, avoiding notice, and find where Fang's being held. That's when the ship lifts off into the air.

And that's where we left it!

These girls could not have been more thrilled with the whole thing. "We have to do this again" and "Oh my God, that was so fun" and so on. My goal is to get one of them comfortable enough with FAE that they don't need me anymore to play. I don't think it's going to take long.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

[GenCon 2014] I Assure You I'm GMing

I can't be sure, but I think that's me and Mark Miller talking
while we wait for the hall to open at least year's GenCon.
Event registration opens tomorrow (Sunday) for this year's GenCon, and naturally my scheduled games aren't actually, y'know, on the schedule. So you won't be able to sign up for them tomorrow. However, should you want to attend either of them, here's when they're happening.

"Sparks Nevada, Marshal on Mars" is happening Thursday the 14th at 1:00 pm.

"Bring Me the Head of Dr. Dinosaur," my Atomic Robo game, is happening Saturday the 16th at 1:00 pm.

They'll be online within two weeks. Why the delay? Because I registered them a couple hours after the March 14th deadline. So... two weeks. Fair enough. (I don't actually think that's fair, but whatever. GenCon's big, and I'm sure getting all these things into the system, in whatever form that takes, is a giant pain, so more power to those unsung heroes who do that.)

I also plan to run a game or two (one of the above, or maybe some other ARRPG scenario) at Games on Demand. Don't know when just yet.

One last thing schedule-wise: I'll be a part of Evil Hat's State of the Hat panel on Thursday the 14th at 5:00 pm. I probably won't have anything especially important to say, but I'll probably crack wise, and you wouldn't want to miss that!

Friday, May 2, 2014

[Gamex 2014] Días De Los Juegos!

Pretty definitive, I'd say.
Gamex pre-reg opens tomorrow at noon PST, and naturally I'm running a couple games. In honor of Atomic Robo: The Roleplaying Game being kinda out, or at least available in the wild as an actual put-together book instead of a binder of out-of-date rules, I'll be running two games using ARRPG -- one set in the Robo-verse, and the other set in an entirely plausible but unrealized version of the Robo-verse.

Saturday night is my Crimson Skies game using ARRPG as a base. If you don't know what Crimson Skies is, that picture up top should go a long way toward filling you in. Here's the blurb:
The year is 1937, and North America has shattered into more than a dozen competing nations, rife with conflict. With interstate highways and railways a thing of the past, travelers take to the skies. So too do a new breed of air pirates, kept in check by you, the brave men and women of Blake Aviation Security! 
The Crimson Skies setting has a (to me) surprisingly fleshed-out background for a minis game. Yeah, there was the PC game too, and I played the X-Box game a ton, but a lot of it never really comes up in those games, at least not that I remember. If the blurb reads a little vague, that's because I only have a vague notion of what the scenario will be about, but it'll come together before then. It always usually does!

I wrote, obsessed over, and then playtested some Fate-based dogfighting rules that were meant to evoke the Crimson Skies minis game. And they were a lot of fun, let me tell you. I'd play it again right now if I could. But they were also way too involved to stick into the middle of an RPG scenario a couple times. So I've gone back to the drawing board to simplify, simplify, simplify, and I'll be trying this new set of (still fun-seeming) rules out sometime before Gamex.

(For what it's worth, that overly complex version we playtested last night really is a lot of fun and does a pretty good job of translating what most of us think aerial combat is to the tabletop milieu. I stand by it and think it's probably worth developing. But if I were to register that game, it'd be in the Miniatures department, not RPGs.)

Sunday night is a sequel to "Bring Me the Head of Dr. Dinosaur!", the ARRPG game I ran at OrcCon back in February. The PCs feel like they have a lot left in 'em, and that first scenario (which did indeed result in the death of Dr. Dinosaur when a sentient lemur bullseyed the not-a-velociraptor with, if I recall correctly, Jenkins' combat knife) ended on a real "Okay, so what happens to these four weirdos now?" cliffhanger, so that's what we're going to find out. The blurb offers... some hints:
The Asterion Four in "Dia De Los Inmortales!"In 2011, a crack commando unit of genetic experiments was very nearly sent to prison for a crime they definitely committed. Today, still wanted by the government, they survive as soldiers of fortune. If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if they didn''t cause it to begin with, you''d better hope you can figure it out without the help of... The Asterion Four!
Beginning to sense a vague pattern here? I thought it'd be more fun to establish who these four are rather than summarize a premise, which might end up spoiling something in a way that spoils some other fun.

What else is going on, Fate-wise? Well, Morgan's running a sorta-related ARRPG game Sunday morning:
Robo Atómico Y La Invasión De Los VampirosThe future of the world depends on Atomic Robo to save Mexico City from a full scale invasion by the sinister Dr. Valkyrie and her army of extra-dimensional vampires. Atomic Robo, Luchadors, Spies, and Science! Using Evil Hat Productions'' brand new Atomic Robo: The Roleplaying Game.
I'm not sure why we're both running games with Spanish titles. Maybe it's a Cinco de Mayo thing.

He's also running a session of Brian Engard's excellent Venture City Stories Friday afternoon, but I'm not going to be there Friday afternoon, so I don't approve that at all, but it might work out for you, I dunno:
The Corporations have unlocked the genetic code to create super humans. Now heroes and villains clash in the streets of Venture City. A gleaming metropolis surrounded by decaying urban sprawl, a city full of superpowers, villainous corporations, and ruthless gangs in a near-future setting where superpowers are for sale. Come play this new Superpunk setting for Fate Core from Evil Hat Productions.
Friend of the both the blog and me Wes Otis is running a Fate game Saturday night that... well, the blurb makes my head swim. I would play in it if I could. In a heartbeat. Check this out:
Hassbeck's CaseHassbeck was a jerk, now he's a dead jerk. He was also a net runner with a lot of credits in the bank and no loyalty. Karma came calling after years of bills not being paid and he found himself in the dead book. the city of Sigil is full of dead cyberpunks who thought they'd live forever. But before he died, Hassbeck stole files from the Lady of Pain, and now the hunt is on, winner takes all.
Like, WTF is going on here? Cyberpunk meets Planescape? What hath mad science wrought?

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

[Atomic Robo] Preorder It!

"Hey, when's Atomic Robo coming out?"

Well, it's not in layout, I'll tell you that. Go preorder it now and get the PDF immediately! Trust in Science, sure, but do not remain calm!

("When's Atomic Robo coming out?" Whew. Here's to never answering that question again.)

You can also order it through your FLGS and still get the PDF right away thanks to Bits & Mortar, which lets you support your store while still getting all the benefits of buying it online. If you have a favorite local store, I highly recommend you do this. It's good for the bottle, it's good for the can. Or something.

If you've already downloaded the PDF, remember that it won't actually go to the printer for another week or so, which means you have a week to let me know all the errors that I failed to correct before it made its way to you.

If you're interested in learning a little more about ARRPG, here I am on the Vigilance Podcast, recorded late last night, with host James Dawsey. We talked mostly about ARRPG, but also touched on War of Ashes a bit and more besides. Knowing me, I probably mentioned Star Wars Minute somewhere along the way, but I can't be sure. We did a lot of talking. After James stopped recording, we carried on for another two hours or so. It's all a blur.

Finally, a lot of people have already had some very nice things to say about ARRPG, which has been very... I guess the word would be rewarding. I've poured a ton of time and effort into ARRPG, and while I can't really consider myself done -- there's still all that errata to address, after all -- we're close enough that I can say some post-mortem stuff. Some time ago, I said (I believe it was on the Bear Swarm podcast) that with ARRPG, I wanted to emulate Goldeneye for the N64 in terms of how much care and attention to detail would go into the game. I'm happy to say I feel that this comes across on every page. (Well, maybe not the index quite so much.) I hope you agree!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

[War of Ashes] Playtest Open Now!

Is that a... meat... polearm?
The War of Ashes playtest is now open! Go apply for it!

What is War of Ashes? Is that what you're asking? Well, it's based on Zombiesmith's wargame Shieldwall, in which four varieties of puppety oddballs cut a bloody swath of death and conquest across the island of Agaptus. Zombiesmith makes some detailed, distinctive miniatures for it in their trademark "grimsical" style. They're kinda like Muppets, but even more bloodthirsty, if you can imagine such a thing.

It also has an impressively rich backstory, which WoA lead designer Sophie Lagacé has used to create a whole RPG using Fate Accelerated Edition. I was lucky enough to get to do the combat rules, as previously mentioned, which are minis-compatible. The design goal there was to make a FAE game that can incorporate minis and tactical combat in a way that adds to the fun instead of feeling like a barrier to it. Shieldwall has some unique cultural stuff that shows up in the game, like Roar and Froth, and figuring out how to work as much of that material in to give WoA a Shieldwall feel was a fun challenge. I'm really pleased with the results.

So go check it out! Playtest! Go!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

[Atomic Robo] Coming This Spring!

I get a lot of people asking me questions all the time. A lot. Mostly they want to know "Who let you in here?" But a close runner-up is "When is Atomic Robo: The Roleplaying Game coming out?"

June. Early June. This spring.

(In all fairness, Evil Hat's last projection was spring 2014, and early June still qualifies as spring 2014, so in a way this is just confirming something you probably already know.)

In the meantime, what's going on with ARRPG these days? It's in the tail end of layout. Next is proofing, the indexing, then I dunno, maybe another round of proofing? And then off to the printer? Yeah, that sounds pretty likely.

So there you go! Say it with me:
ARRPG is coming out in June.
ARRPG is coming out in June.
ARRPG is coming out in June.

Friday, March 7, 2014

[War of Ashes] You Got Your Minis in my FAE

Pictured: The aftermath of a really fun combat.
So as Fred mentioned in the most recent State of the Hat, I've been brought onto the War of Ashes team to work on some minis combat rules. Of course, the inestimable Sophie Lagace is still the lead designer/developer/writer/do-everything-person. I'm just doing this one thing.

What is this one thing? Little background on my influences here: I've played a bunch of every edition of D&D, and really enjoyed the tactical element of 4E in particular. I enjoy Descent a whole bunch, and own three sets of Dungeon Command, 4E's minis skirmish-game offspring. Despite this, I wouldn't necessarily call myself a "minis guy," which is too bad, because I like minis as a physical thing, but since I mainly run Fate, I haven't found a practical use for them. (I also run a very occasional D&D game that's cycled from Rules Cyclopedia to a couple of my own heartbreakin' "fixes" to D&D Next, but my players really enjoy not having any visual aids at the table, so even that's devoid of minis.)

My starting point for WoA's -- for lack of a better term -- tactical combat is to make use of existing elements in Fate that can lend interest to incorporating minis. Zones are already a thing, of course, but admittedly, a thing I rarely use. Descent, 4E, and Dungeon Command all taught me that interesting terrain can make for interesting minis combat by making the minis and defined space feel both relevant and fun instead of a barrier. Fortunately, Fate has an existing way to handle the "interesting" part too, in the form of aspects. So I'm not interested in 5-foot squares or hexes or anything on that level of detail. A zone and an aspect are good enough for me. In fact, if you look at that picture above, each separate card in the Noteboard is its own zone, with its aspect written in. There's enough implied contrast between Open Field, River, Trees, and Clifftop to make any more detail redundant.

Forced movement, too. I love playing fighters in 4E, not just because they're good at their job without being magical (although that's a big part of it), but because it's so satisfying to push, pull, and slide badguys around. You get a real sense of battlefield control. So that's a thing here. But because we're dealing with such coarse-grained detail, as long as you're in melee there's no functional difference between pushing or sliding someone into an adjacent zone. (Pulling looks the same too, but has a different feel, IMO. I'm not sure I can tell you why, which may mean I'm wrong about the different-feel bit.) Forced movement isn't always the most useful or exciting thing to do, but when it is, it's awesome. You may not care about pushing a guy from one Open Field to another, but pushing him into a Waterfall or River or off a Clifftop is another matter.

So. The aim is to add enough tactical detail to make fights more concretely realized without constraining the action, and no more. The rules need to be intuitive enough that your best guess about how something should work should do you fine and/or agree with the text. And everything still needs to play like Fate, not a tactical skirmish game that happens to use Fate dice.

To that end, I managed to press-gang some of my San Diego friends into a little playtest last weekend -- just a single combat to try out some ideas. And it was honestly a lot of fun. We worked a few things out in play that I hadn't been entirely sure about beforehand, but for the most part the stuff I came in with resulted in a good balance of Fate-style narrative and tactical play. The map and minis added fun to the fight instead of leeching it. I'm eager to try it again.

Pictured: One of Shieldwall's puppety oddballs.
You probably want some more details on mechanical stuff. Hey, I know I would! So here's some of that.
  • Given the additional tactical elements, I decided to streamline things a bit by using conditions, from the Fate System Toolkit. I'd never used them before, but they were great. A++++, would use again.
  • I used a version of my Red/Blue dice hack, which can also be found in the Toolkit. The minis wargame on which War of Ashes is based, Shieldwall, uses "Normal" and "Lethal" dice, so I called the Red dice Lethal dice. Lethal damage skips the stress track and goes right to conditions, and a single point of Lethal damage is enough to take out a nameless NPC.
  • We did a thing I've been doing with the Sparks Nevada RPG, which is simultaneous combat. Attacker attacks, defender defends, but whoever has the higher total deals damage to the other, as long as they have a way of doing so. It speeds up combat and makes things deadlier, both of which are right for this project.
  • This means that Blue dice (from the aforesaid Red/Blue dice hack) don't really work, because if you have Lethal dice to roll you're rolling them even on defense. So instead armor converts Lethal damage to Normal damage. Advantageous -- you'd certainly rather have it than not -- but doesn't drag out combats. Sometimes I find that Armor ratings can be kind of a bummer, and I like that here winning the roll will always have a direct effect on your opponent.
  • Scale. Size matters in Shieldwall, so it does here, too. Bigger-than-average combatants basically have a +1 across the board against smaller opponents. There are probably more interesting ways to do this, but this was the most expedient and intuitive solution.
  • Facing and positioning within a zone is way too fiddly for my tastes, so instead all we are about is numbers. If you and your allies outnumber your enemies in a zone, you get to roll more Fate dice and keep the best four (six-keep-four if you outnumber then less than 4:1, eight-keep-four if you outnumber them by 4:1 or more). This also gives added incentive to forcibly move your enemies around. Maybe you want to break them up so they don't get those extra dice against you, or maybe you want to push them into a single zone to surround them.
How did this all work? In brief, really well. Not everyone in the playtest group was super into using minis, I think, but they all got into it quickly enough. The word "feel" is kinda problematic in these contexts because it's so personal (and therefore often meaningless); nonetheless, I have to say it still "felt" like Fate in spite of what amounted to additional visual aids. We got to test out all of the above rules, too. We had the ogre PC fighting four NPCs at once. They had the numerical advantage, but he managed to push one of them into the waterfall, from whence the poor NPC was promptly pushed downriver by invoking the zone aspects along the way. (He was a nameless NPC and I thought it was funny, so we went with it.) We had someone invoke the Open Field aspect as part of a charge, and someone else invoke Clifftop to dodge a thrown rock from below. Even a single point of Lethal damage proved dangerous to the PCs at the right time. For me, a hallmark of an exciting Fate combat is if the PCs are beaten up by the end of it, and as the ogre finished the scene with a full stress track and a full four conditions, I'm going to say this more than qualifies under that criterion.

Now, could we have played this combat without the minis? Absolutely, and almost nothing would've changed rules-wise. The fact is, we enjoyed the minis, which is the experience WoA is supposed to help create.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

[Fate] Chris's Great Idea

I love wacky dice. I love wacky cards. So naturally I snapped up a Deck of Fate as soon as I could, because it's a deck of wacky cards that approximate some (increasingly non-)wacky dice.

But I haven't used it for anything yet. I know you can use it as a replacement for Fate dice, but, uh, I have lots of Fate dice -- really way too many Fate dice, to be honest -- so I'm inclined to use them. I've wanted to do something different with the Deck of Fate. For a little bit there I was going to use them as part of my admittedly ill-advised mash-up of Rolemaster and Fate, but, y'know, that being a fairly insane idea to begin with, that fell by the wayside.

And then! This past weekend I dropped in on a Fate Core game in San Diego friends of mine had just started, and Chris Czerniak, the GM, ad-libbed something genius. It's usually something of a houserule with my Fate games that if you roll four pluses, I'll toss you a fate point. So when John, another player, rolled that +4, instead of a fate point Chris top-decked a card from the Deck of Fate he happened to have on the table and gave him that instead. (It was the +4 card. He should've shuffled, but whatever.)

We were like, "What's this?" And he goes, "You can play that to replace a die roll you don't like." And we were all

Now, again, he hadn't shuffled, so there's that -- John was suddenly guaranteed another +4 at the time of his choosing -- so we shuffled the deck. But what if you draw a -2 or something? The answer was obvious: You can replace anyone's die roll, including the GM's. No rerolling, either, once you do.

I admit, we were pretty lucky dice-rollers in that game. Three of us rolled +4s in the course of a single three-ish hour session, which is... statistically... unlikely, I think. So it won't be something that comes up all the time, but it seems like a pretty fun alternate use for the Deck of Fate.

So maybe everyone starts with a card, or X cards, or X-Y cards, where X is a number and Y is the number of stunts you have, or whatever. Also good stunt territory: When you engage in a social conflict, draw a card. Whenever you'd normally draw a card, draw two cards and discard one. Etc. You get the idea. Thanks Chris!

(BTW, speaking of Chris: If you are in SoCal, have a cool game to run, and are going to be around the weekend of April 24th-27th, maybe you want to run that cool game at KingdomCon in San Diego! Chris is the RPG coordinator and he's looking for GMs. Join me!)

Saturday, January 25, 2014

[OrcCon 2014] Cowboys and Dinosaurs

Pictured, from left to right: Sparks Nevada and a lunatic.
Ah, late January, a time when a middle-aged SoCal gamer's mind turns to thoughts of OrcCon and the games to be run and played there. This middle-aged SoCal gamer will be running three games over the course of President's Day Weekend (aka Valentine's Day Weekend... awkward...), which is what this post is about.

I know lately I've been doing breakdowns of all the Fate games being run at these conventions, but it's been a long day and I just wanna get this one out. I will say this: There are 10 eleven such games at OrcCon, including the three below.)

Friday night at 8:00 and Sunday afternoon at 2:00 are playtests of the Sparks Nevada Adventure Game (working title -- maybe the Sparks Nevada Thrilling Adventure Game?). Why not call it Sparks Nevada: The Roleplaying Game? I dunno. I kinda like "adventure game." I seem to recall it was out there in the '80s, but never really caught on as a term, which is too bad, I think. I like how it tells you what the game's going to be about: adventure! I mean, yeah, it's about playing roles too, but if you were to ask me "Do you want to go on an adventure?" vs. "Do you want to play a role?" I'm pretty sure I'd take you up on the former faster than I would on the latter. Plus, it feels like a natural derivation of "The Thrilling Adventure Hour."

Anyway, I digress. Here's the blurb:

Kids! Shine your astro-spurs and don your robot fists! It's time to playtest the Sparks Nevada Adventure Game! Based on the wildly popular Thrilling Adventure Hour, the Sparks Nevada Adventure Game uses a greatly altered and simplified version of Fate Core that emphasizes character interaction and big dramatic moments. Newcomers to Sparks Nevada and/or Fate welcome!

I'm... not entirely sure what the premise is yet, but for some reason I'd like to make use of K of the Cosmos, if I can get the voice down. Oh yes -- owing to the audiocentric nature of the Thrilling Adventure HourSparks Nevada is one of those games that really benefits from getting the voices down, which makes it an unnatural fit for me, but whatever. I'd also kinda like to make it Valentine's Day themed, but y'know, President's Day might be just as good. Sparks and Croach fight Lincoln and Washington for reasons that only make sense to K? And hey, wasn't there a Star Trek kinda like that? This idea's sounding better all the time.

More on OrcCon after the jump.

That was the jump! Did you enjoy it?

Sunday morning at 9:00, which you may know better as "the best time to not run a game at a convention," I'll be running an Atomic Robo scenario I'm calling Bring Me the Head of Dr. Dinosaur. It was prompted by the thought that if Dr. Dinosaur is a spectacularly failed genetic engineering experiment, then -- well, the blurb explains it pretty well, I think:

You were elite agents of a secretive government agency, genetically engineered to be the best of the best. But 14 years ago, the black sheep of your group, a psychotic with the delusional belief that he's a velociraptor named H'ssssk, slaughtered your creators and set off on a worldwide chaos spree. Tesladyne wants to imprison him. Majestic 12 wants to study him. But you? You just want revenge.

So it's that game, the one where the PCs are non-insane versions of Dr. Dinosaur, more or less, and both Tesladyne and Majestic 12 are the badguys. It'll take place after volume 8, which just concluded this past week. For those among you who are sticklers for canon, this means we will be operating without a net. I mean, obviously I know what goes on in volume 9, to a certain extent, on account of how special I am, but we'll be ignoring that for secrecy reasons, and also because I honestly don't know that much.

Pre-reg opens today at noon PST, so get on that. I want full games, people! There may be a little tiny cool surprise at one or more of those games, if you're a dedicated fan of the thing that one of those games is based on, but I promise nothing.

In related news, there may be some exciting related news soonish, so keep checking the blog. Or y'know what? I'll just let you know via Twitter. Yeah, that's better. Saves you checking the blog in vain.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

[Fate] Happy New Year Three Days Ago

Hey, so 2013 was a pretty great year, right? The kinda year people make lists about.

But let's not dwell on the past. Let's dwell on the future. What does it hold? What does 2014 have in store for us? More on that right after we dwell on the past a little bit. And then I swear, it's future-stuff all the way.

A couple weeks ago Thrilling Fate got another playtest, specifically to try out a couple changes that cropped up as a result of the last playtest (which, as you may recall, was awesome).

The major one had to do with cues, the roleplaying-prod mechanic. I'm trying to standardize cues for all PCs so it's easier not just to make characters, but to make quick comparisons between them. In my last post, I talked about how I'd given them categories (a proactive mannerism, a reactive response, two connections with other PCs, and a big dramatic cue that only happens once an episode). Every PC has a potential connection with every other PC, as shown on their character sheet, but not all of them are in play in a given episode.

I'd planned to use the connections to establish ties between PCs by having each player name another PC and say something about them, something to setup the current episode. I was thinking it'd be stuff like "What did they reveal to you yesterday?" or "How did they recently disappoint you?" We'd start with Sparks -- "When last we left our hero..." -- who would pick someone, and those two players would have a connection with one another for that episode. Then it'd be the second player's turn, and we'd continue until everyone had two connections (so it'd loop back around to Sparks with the last player).

Trouble is, that requires a certain degree of familiarity with those characters, and as it happened, Will Huggins, playing Sparks, didn't really know anything about Sparks Nevada at all beyond the theme song. Neither did Jim Waters, playing Cactoid Jim. (Gina Ricker and Jason Tryon are both relatively recent converts to the Thrilling Adventure Hour, so they had good handles on their PCs -- Red and Croach, respectively. And Gina did a spot-on accent for Red, I gotta say.)

So we went with Plan B, which was this: Everyone circles their connection with Sparks, then picks one other connection with another PC. Cross the rest; they're not relevant in this episode. (Sparks circles his connection with Croach.) This proved to be a great alternative, and resulted in a lot of what I'd call "mechanically productive" player interaction. More than last time, even.

The other change I wanted to test out didn't actually get any actual "testing," unfortunately. I changed troubles to be more straightforward and more reflective of how the show usually goes. Now it's this: You have three trouble slots, each with two check boxes. If an attack against you is a success, write down a trouble and check one box. If it's a thrilling success (success of 5+), check two boxes. If you ever check a fourth box, you're defeated. No more tracking damage.

The intent is to let, say, Sparks intimidate a guy to give them a trouble, then, when that troubled badguy decides to get violent anyway, he guns them down fair and square. (Most NPCs won't have as many trouble slots as the PCs do.) It feels like it could use an escalation mechanic, but man, that really seems too fiddly and involved for what the rest of this Fate variant is trying to do (which is, basically, not be fiddly or all that mechanically involved).

Fun-wise, fun was had. Once again, the PCs seemed to have been written well enough that even players who weren't familiar with the source material were able to help create an authentic-feeling episode of play. Since then, I believe Will and Jim have both subscribed to the podcast and have plans to attend at least one show at Largo, so once again, Acker and Blacker, I have created new fans for you. You're welcome.

Planning on playtesting against on January 19th, again at Game Empire in Pasadena, assuming I can think up another scenario and stat up some new PCs for it. Whatever it is, it'll have the Troubleshooter, Mercy Laredo, and, like, Gene Peeples as PCs. (For some reason, I want to do something featuring K of the Cosmos. As an NPC, of course.) I can't believe how many of these game days I've attended lately. (Two.)

I'm also going to run at least one session of Sparks Nevada at OrcCon in February, plus Atomic Robo. I have this Robo scenario in mind that sounds like a lot of fun, but I have no real idea how to do it just yet. The premise is that the PCs are some sort of genetically engineered elite agents created by someone or other. (So... not Action Scientists at all.) They're running a mission in the service of their creators, but upon their return to Taravai Island they're shocked to discover everyone's dead. Everyone, that is, except one of their own, a fellow "experiment" deemed too unstable for field work and scheduled for destruction, now missing and presumed responsible. And the PCs want only one thing: revenge. Bring Me the Head of Dr. Dinosaur. Coming soon to... well, OrcCon, like I said.

After that in 2014? ARRPG's impending release, continued work on Shadow of the Century, my bit for a Tian Xia stretch goal... and who knows, maybe even something that doesn't use Fate! Stranger things have happened. Not to me personally, but y'know. You hear things.