Monday, November 23, 2015

[Atomic Robo] On Modes

Wow, I really thought I'd posted once in October! I've had a hack I've wanted to blog about for the past six weeks or more.

Anyway, something more pressing has come up. Jonathan Hobbs asked on Twitter for more guidance regarding the creation and implementation of modes in homebrew Fate games. Specifically, he had these questions:

How do I identify the key areas of competency to represent? 
Well, for ARRPG it was pretty easy, to be honest -- I knew Action and Science had to be in there, because of Action Scientists. Neither of those really covered talking, which is another thing characters in the comic do, seeing as how most of them are human and all. Thus, Banter. And then I had some other standard Fate Core skills left over, like Burglary, Deception, and Stealth -- again, all things humans need to be able to do -- which suggested the need for a fourth mode: Intrigue.

This is a bigger issue than just this, though. You're really asking "What is my game about?" If it weren't a game about scientists, there wouldn't have been a Science mode. 

What is the impact of a larger or smaller number of modes? 
Something Fred Hicks and I realized in the early days of Robo's development was that with four standard modes, you're really deciding "Which one of these isn't important to me?" Which is great for fast character creation, because your range of choices is very manageable. "She's not good with people" translates easily to not having the Banter mode.

So I think four's the practical minimum, or you don't have any real choice at chargen. Too many and you're replacing one problem ("Which skills should I pick from this big list of skills?") with another ("Which modes should I pick from this big list of modes?"). It also depends on how many skills you're working with. If your list is, say, 12 skills long, the more modes you have the less relevant and distinctive they'll be.

How do I determine how many skills should be in these modes, and what is the impact of modes generally having a large number of skills (5-8) vs a small number (3-4)? 
I'm going to make a few ARRPG assumptions: PCs have 30 points to spend on this stuff, skills cost points depending on how many applications they have, and the cost of a mode is the total of its skills' costs.

So assuming all that's in play, the number of skills in a mode is going to be practically limited by their cost. Generally speaking, I think you want to keep the cost of a mode below 10 points. Three 9-point modes still gives you 3 points left over to customize a little bit. Certainly I think it's useful to keep the costs of all of your standard modes at around the same value, so you can pick any given three and not worry about going over your budget.

Three of Robo's four standard modes are 9 points each, and the fourth, Science, is weird -- like, literally weird, not game-term weird. That's intentional. It's totally coincidental that each of those three 9-point modes happens to have six skills.

If you're not working with points and all that jazz, and are just eyeballing them, like the rules for modes in the Fate System Toolkit do, then -- well, actually, just seek out the FST if you haven't already, because it already has advice along these lines in it. 

How do I determine if I should want a skill to be in many modes or few modes? 
I say start with as few skills in each mode as you think it needs, and then fill in from there. If it only needs three, and you can't think of another that absolutely has to be in there, then keep it at three. If it has more than six or seven, ask yourself if the theme of the mode is too broad.

For example, I'm pretty sure the Action mode started with Athletics, Combat, and Physique as its core skills. Those are the things I expect a one-dimensional "action hero" to be able to do. Rambo, Indiana Jones, and Brienne of Tarth are different kinds of people, but I think we can agree they all at least have these three skills rated above Mediocre. Then I was like, wait, Robo's a pilot -- where does that fit in if his three modes are Action, Science, and Robot? Certainly it's not an inherent part of Science or Robot, and operating a vehicle seems pretty action-heroic, so Action acquired Vehicles. I think Notice came next, because only Intrigue had it at the time (before Science got it too) and it didn't make sense that anyone who isn't good at sneaking around is equally ungood at spotting someone sneaking around. Last came Provoke, because being intimidating seems like an action-hero thing, too. (Another skill that Robo definitely has that doesn't seem to have a place in either Science or Robot.) As it happens, these six skills came to 9 points, as did the six for Banter and Intrigue.

Basically, if you can rationalize that everyone with this mode should also have these skills, then that's what skills the mode should have. Can every robot crack wise? Like, does the typical Dalek bother with strong words or witty repartee or really care about people in a social way at all? The answer is obviously EXTERMINATE. So Robot shouldn't contain Provoke, Rapport, or Empathy, even though it isn't unreasonable that a robot could have those skills -- they're just not a product of that robot's robotic nature. But every robot is probably designed in a way that makes at least Athletics, Notice, and Physique relevant to its operation, so those are good candidates for core Robot skills. (I believe I gave the Robot mode in ARRPG Will as well, for two main reasons: to reflect the computer brain it likely has, and also that because I don't like my robots to be easily intimidated.)

What approaches for mode creation work well, and how should I be attempting to draft these up and piece them together?This... is tough. I mean, I've only used the one approach to doing this, really. Even the one in the FST is more or less the above method (so-called) without the mathematical rigor. I dunno, anyone else have any thoughts on different ways to approach modes?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

[Atomic Robo] Robotoberfest

Well, it's the last day of Sept, so you know what that means: It's almost time for Atomictoberobofest!

That's right -- Atomic Robo comes to your town, if you live in Tampa Bay, FL or Fresno, CA or Oakland, CA.

First up is Necronomicon in the Sunshine State, where John Campbell will be running some sort of ARRPG game. That's happening next weekend, October 9-11, so if you're around there or are willing to make the trip, go check it out.

Then I'll be at ZappCon in beautiful Fresno -- where the city motto is "You can get there from here!" -- running some sort of ARRPG game on the morning of Saturday the 17th. The blurb's super-vague, so maybe it'll be a Majestic 12 game, maybe it'll be "Atomic Robo and the Invaders from Mars," maybe it'll be a Robo Force game, I dunno. There's no way to know.

I'll also be part of a panel on Sunday the 18th at 2:00 pm about family gaming. Because ARRPG won a Silver ENnie for Best Family Game at GenCon this year, so it's only logical that I'd be able to speak about family gaming at some length, right? Please come to that panel and see if that's at all a reasonable assumption.

And if you can't make it to Fresno that weekend but you can make it to Oakland for some reason, it better be because you're going to Big Bad Con.

UPDATE: Though I can't find them on the schedule itself, there is apparently at least one Atomic Robo game happening at Big Bad Con on Sunday the 18th, as well as Morgan Ellis running Shadow of the Century, and also there'll be other Fate games, although I see exactly one on the schedule, so I dunno what the story is there. 

Friday, August 14, 2015

[Gen Con 2015] Self-Indulgence

It's been two weeks since Gen Con, and since getting back life's been pretty busy with family stuff (yay), work stuff (yay), and one of my kids going back to school (YAAAAAAAY!!!). I'm rapidly running out of time to crow about this -- arguably, I already have -- but I can't just let it go without comment.

You're probably already aware, but Atomic Robo: The Roleplaying Game won a Silver ENnie for Best Family Game at Gen Con a few weeks ago! I dunno, I think this is pretty cool.

Friends kept telling me Robo was going to win this very ENnie (it was also nominated for Best Game, as you may recall, but the competition there involved D&D, The Strange, Firefly, and Mutant: Year Zero, so we all agreed even Silver was highly unlikely), but I steadfastly went in with zero expectations, so when the award was announced I was genuinely surprised. Not the least of which because there was serious competition in the Family Game category as well -- I wouldn't have been shocked if any of the other nominees had gotten the Silver instead.

I don't know how much sense I made during my brief acceptance speech. I'd been thinking of and rejecting jokes for it for a couple weeks, so fortunately I didn't step onto the stage with a bunch of material that just had to be heard. But I thanked the judges, the voters, Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener, my wife and kids, everyone on stage with me (Morgan Ellis, Brian Engard, and Sean Nittner, though I honestly thought John Adamus was standing behind me too), and Adam Jury, but I bet I forgot to thank Evil Hat as an entity, or Fred Hicks for bringing me on board as a freelancer in the first place, or others who helped and whom I forgot in the moment. So I'm doing that now. Thanks!

Morgan then told everyone that they oughtta check out Atomic Robo the comic, especially if they want to introduce their kids to comics, then I chimed in to agree, then we got into a brief bit of "Sorry I never told you about Atomic Robo, Mike!" and "Yeah, this guy, he never even told me about Atomic Robo!" and I bet everyone in the audience was like "WTF are these two clowns talking about?" but fortunately we got off the stage right after. Regardless, I'm glad Morgan spoke up.

Then afterwards I went and played an 11:00pm game of D&D. Mike Mearls and Jeremy Crawford were there, so I congratulated them on their many (many, many) wins, and Jeremy says, "Hey, this guy over here" -- here he jerked a thumb in Mearls' direction -- "he's got the Atomic Robo RPG on his shelf at work!" And Mearls says, "Hey, whatta you gotta go and tell him a thing like that for, ya rube!" Then he went to poke Jeremy in the eyes with two fingers, but Jeremy put his hand up in front of his face to block him, so Mearls just slapped him on the back of the head. I dunno, some of that may not have happened -- it was a crazy night -- but the bit about Mearls having a copy of ARRPG in is office is true, that I rememeber for sure.

The next day, when I was back there playing D&D again (I played a lot of D&D at Gen Con...), they both signed my PHB, thusly:

I don't know how well you can read it there, but Mearls wrote "Thanks for playing the #2 best RPG of 2014," implying that ARRPG was the best, which is nice. Then he told Jeremy to write "Atomic Robo is better than D&D," to which Jeremy reacted with genuine doubt. I told him to just write whatever (or just sign his name, which was, y'know, what I thought was going to happen), so he wrote "Isn't D&D kind of OK?" And to think, he was so well-spoken at the ENnies when he accepted all those awards.

What else happened at Gen Con? I ran two fun games of Majestic 12, one off-books game Wednesday night when we were all too tired to see it through, and another Friday morning that had plenty of energy to the end. Oh, and I went to a fantastic baseball game, probably the funnest thing I did all weekend, but I've found that most Gen Con attendees are surprisingly disinterested in minor-league baseball, so I'll just leave that there.

Anyway. No joke, the real honor was that ARRPG was nominated for something at all. The medal's icing on the cake. The most important part to me is that people are playing and liking the game. So if you're one of those people and you voted for Atomic Robo, thanks! If you're one of those people but you didn't vote, then you missed an easy opportunity for me to owe you one. If you don't like Atomic Robo in the first place, you seem to have stumbled upon the wrong blog, but take a look around and maybe you'll see something you like.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

[GenCon 2015] State of the Hat!

Just a reminder that this is what GenCon looks like.
Those people in the front there in the bright light are about to be taken up. 

Didja see that this year's State of the Hat panel is Thursday at 10:00am GenCon-time, and also at GenCon? Well, it is. Will you be there? I'll be there. On the panel, I mean. And if I weren't, I'd be there in the audience -- just like you should be! Full circle!

Anyway, what is this thing? It's a panel where Sean Nittner gets a bunch of Evil Hat people together to talk about how great the past year has been and how great the coming year's going to be.

Guests scheduled to appear include:
  • Me!
  • Sean Nittner, like I said!
  • Morgan Ellis!
  • Brian Engard!
  • Sophie Legace via Skype or something, maybe!
  • Rob Wieland, I think!
  • Woosh!
  • Pamela Walker should be able to make it!
  • Bill White!
  • Pretty sure Ken Hite said he'd be there!
  • Others! I dunno, it's fluid!
See you there?

UPDATE: A couple of readers have pointed out that the picture above is only indicative of what the main concourse at the convention center looks like when everyone's waiting for the dealer hall to open in the morning, and not what it looks like at any other hour of the day. I've amended the picture's caption accordingly, lest anyone get the incorrect impression that the crowds at GenCon are routinely that large. I apologize for any confusion or distress the image and accompanying caption may have caused you or your loved ones, and trust that now that the matter has been fully explained, and thus drained of any humor the image and its caption may have held, that you'll be able to plan for GenCon accordingly.

Monday, June 29, 2015

[Atomic Robo] ENnie Noms!

Just saw that Atomic Robo: The Roleplaying Game has been nominated for ENnie Awards in two categories: Best Family Game and Best Game!

Both are surprises, honestly, but I'm especially surprised (pleasantly!) at the Best Family Game nom. I don't necessarily think of ARRPG as a "family" game, but then again we are talking about a game for which I've occasionally used pictures of action figures as character portraits.

Anyway, last year, Fate Accelerated Edition won a Gold ENnie for Best Family Game -- and Fate Core won Gold for Best Game -- but to be honest it's just an honor to be nominated. I know that's a cliche, but it's true. There are a lot of great games out there.

Speaking of which, congrats to all the other nominees! Special biased congrats to the other Fate nominees, Mindjammer and Mass Effect: Fate. And Evil Hat's edition of Monster of the Week is nominated for Best Rules, and Designers & Dragons is up for Best Writing and Product of the Year!

Look, I could go on all day enthusing about this stuff, but I got kids here who demand my attention. It took me like two hours to write this! See you at GenCon.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

[FAE] Nemesis Approaches

Before we get into these FAE-related ramblings, I want to let you know that I'm on the RPG Gamer Dad podcast this week, talking Atomic Robo and Fate in general. This was recorded back in... I dunno, a couple months ago, but I don't think there's anything time-sensitive in it that's since been rendered obsolete in the interim. If you like accents, that story of how I ended up involved with Atomic Robo: The Roleplaying Game, or people expressing enthusiasm, you will not want to miss it!

Okay! Initiate FAE-related ramblings.

I've been thinking more about FAE in practical terms over the last 12 hours or so, because I realized last night that my current level of interest in Steven Universe means I'm almost certainly going to run a one-shot based on the show in the relatively near future. I know myself well enough by now to realize and embrace this. This is the inception. FAE seems a good fit.

As it happens, I'd also already planned to run another Star Wars one-shot of some kind at Gateway to complete my trifecta of "games about people in the Star Wars universe you don't usually hear much about but who could reasonably fit into established canon, such as it is, one way or another" in this, the year of the Star Wars. I've done political-activist droids with OVA and an Ewok hit squad with Mini-Six, both of which were largely disappointing system-wise (very likely because of my inexperience with those systems), so it seems natural that for this last one (Rebellion-era Imperial Academy cadets, maybe?) I should return to something I know works well and would suit the source material: FAE.

Anyway, something I really like about FAE is a thing about which I've seen people complain, and that's spamming your highest-rated approach. Specifically, I like finding narrative reasons to spam your highest-rated approach, and then doing that thing.

This is not a broken or weak aspect of FAE. On the contrary, it's a strong point. You feel like you're getting away with something because you're almost always adding +3 to every roll, all for the low, low cost of providing colorful descriptions of how Forceful or Flashy or Clever or whatever you're being. But it's that last bit that really matters -- making the story better. It's a trick. You want to play the big strong hero with +3 Forceful? Go ahead and do that! You should be finding Forceful solutions most of the time. It's what you're best at!

The thing is, it's implicit in this that taking one approach means you're definitely not taking any of the other five. And that may be a problem for you. Forcefully busting down that locked door means you're not doing it Carefully or Sneakily. Someone probably heard that, right? If you're Cleverly picking that lock instead, no one's going to hear you, but you're probably not getting it down Quickly, either.

Were I to formalize this systematically, I'd call this approach you're not using -- the one that, because you're not using it, is generating a complication for you -- the nemesis approach. I say the GM gets to pick your nemesis approach, both because it's a lot easier and because it just makes sense. It's the GM's job to fill your character's life with drama, so this would seem to fall under that umbrella. It doesn't need anything else number-wise, I think. It's basically just a source of inspiration for the GM and a clear message to the player that using a given approach to solve a problem may make their lives more difficult.

Furthermore! I'd say that on a success with style, you get to pick a complementary approach that applies to the task at hand. You don't get its bonus -- you just get to include that adjective (or adverb, as the case may be) in your problem-solving narrative. Succeed with style on Cleverly picking that lock, and you can do it Quickly too. So whatever other problems may come down the pike as a result of this task, they can't originate from your lack of Cleverness or Quickness. That's actually a pretty powerful thing, really.

Some time ago I made this graphic for another post on approaches:
Ignoring all the numbers there, this could be used as a guide for which approaches make good complementary approaches (those connected by a solid line) and which would make good nemesis approaches (those that aren't connected by any lines). It's not 100% foolproof, and it won't suit every situation, but it's something.

Now, I hear what you're saying, even though I have this playing in the background and also my 2-year-old is pushing a chair around the living room for some reason: "Hey, these nemesis approaches sound a lot like compels. Are these compels?" I'd say no. If you're going to use this, everyone has to be on board with the implication that using one approach means possibly suffering the consequences of not using one of the other five. Likewise, the GM needs to be on board with not making the players pay for every damn choice they make. Bring in a nemesis approach when it's interesting and dramatic, or when one player is leaning really heavily on one approach to the exclusion of the others.

That last bit might make this sound like this is meant to be punitive, but it's not! You're not punishing them for playing the character they made -- you're just telling them, "Look, your character is rad, absolutely, but you can't go through life being this one-note without creating some problems for yourself now and then." I think that's fair. The GM has to be on board with that, too. Be a rabid fan of the PCs and this shouldn't be a problem.

Friday, May 15, 2015

[GenCon 2015] Atomic Robo Wants You (And Vice-Versa)

Get your wishlist and your sense of disappointment ready, because GenCon event pre-reg opens this Sunday morning!

There are actually quite a few Atomic Robo: The Roleplaying Game games happening, which is extremely cool to see. In an effort to reduce my usually overstuffed GenCon schedule, I'm only running one of them. It's called Operation Crossover, and it's on Friday the 31st at 10am. It's a Majestic 12 game, using the soon-to-be released Majestic 12 supplement.

If you've been searching for it in the schedule, you may not have found it. I'm not listed as the GM, and ARRPG isn't listed as the game system. I'm working with GenCon to get those omissions sorted out.

(I will probably run a game at Games on Demand, too, but I don't know when yet.)

As for the other Robo games, there are these, on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, which are all $8 for some reason (I seriously do not understand why these are double the price they should be, but whatever), and this Dr. Dinosaur-centric one on Saturday night. I don't think I'll be attending any of these as a player -- for scheduling reasons, not just because those three are overpriced! -- but I dunno, maybe. I definitely won't be at the Saturday night game, because I'll be at the Indianapolis Indians game instead. Tradition! Ish!

Speaking of Atomic Robo, you know about this new Kickstarter to get all of it reprinted in gorgeous hardcovers, right? And that it funded within 12 hours and still has, like, three weeks to go? And that one of the backer rewards is getting yourself name-checked in the comic? And that it's on a freight-train to the stars? Hop aboard! It's the Science Hobo way!