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.