Saturday, June 4, 2016

[Atomic Robo] Funny Story

Oh, Dervil. If only you could protect this geek from mistakes like these.
Hey, so -- funny story! Apparently a rather bizarre typo made it through the layout process on Majestic 12, and now it's there forever and ever and ever and there's nothing I can ever do about it and I'll just have to live with it and why would that be a problem anyway when I'm so well-adjusted?

Here's what happened. All of the sample PCs for Majestic 12 (on pages 42-43) were given four of five aspects, with the fifth, or "Omega" aspect, being left blank for the player to fill in themselves. This made it through editing just fine. Somehow, though, in layout, that "Omega" line migrated down to the "Stunts" header just below it. Together they combined to form "Omega Stunts." Which sounds pretty cool, admittedly, but it's not what we meant to put there.

Now, how did I not notice this in the multiple read-throughs I did of the final text? Dude, I have no idea. I probably gave the headers short shrift, just assuming they were correct, because typically they are, and I'm willing to bet everyone else did the same.

The upshot is that now the final printed product has these six glaring, glaring errors in them, forever and ever. The odds of Majestic 12 getting a second print are probably... not high, let's say. So this is it!

This may not be a big deal to you -- I bet you're super-understanding, even! -- but needless to say it will haunt my every waking moment, as is evidenced by the fact that I only just found out about this about an hour ago and am now blogging about it.

I'll do what I can do prevent this sort of thing from happening again, which may or may not involve retreating into the Santa Susana Mountains (which are not local, BTW), playtesting Fate hacks with, I dunno, raccoons (they can hold dice!), and eventually declaring my cave a sovereign nation (Proofreadia).

(Thanks to Nicholas Arroyo for pointing out this mistake on the Fate More Kickstarter page.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

[Faith Corps] Star Wars: Ships

A typical day for the crew of the Ghost.
So, spaceships! That's what people want, right? I know I do.

As mentioned previously, I have a set of dogfighting rules for Faith Corps with which I'm happy, and which have worked well. (Probably why I'm happy with them.) And I'm a sucker for dogfighting, especially in space.

If you know Star Wars Rebels, you'll know that there are two main ships in the show: the Ghost, a modified freighter that the crew calls home, and the Phantom, the little shuttle that docks in the Ghost's tail and serves as a small starfighter in times of need (so, like, always).

If you take a look at the linked character sheets for the Ghost and Phantom, above, you'll see they're mostly built like PCs, but not quite.

For one, they don't have approaches or disciplines -- instead, they have three plain ol' stats. These are Maneuver (how maneuverable the ship is), Speed (how fast its sublight engines are), and Systems (everything from the navicomp to the comms to the targeting computer).

When a character does something on a ship, if one of these stats applies, add its die (or dice) to the character's chosen approach and discipline. For example, if you're the pilot and defending against a TIE fighter, you'll roll an approach (probably Quick) plus Action plus Maneuver. If you're trying to chase that TIE fighter through an asteroid field before they can clear it and report your presence, you'll roll an approach (maybe Quick, but Careful wouldn't be bad either in a Star Wars-brand Asteroid Field™ where all the asteroids are way bigger than your ship but still float around mere yards apart from one another) plus Action plus Speed. If that doesn't work and you're trying to jam the TIE's comms, you'll roll an approach (Clever, perhaps?) plus Tech plus Systems. You get the idea.

These two ships have die ratings in all three stats, but that's not always the case. The Gozanti-class cruiser, for example, doesn't have a Maneuver die or a Speed die. They're fairly big and bulky, and, more importantly, they're likely the biggest ship that could appear in this game, so I don't need to account for, say, the maneuverability and speed of Star Destroyers.

The dogfighting bit is pretty simple. If your Maneuver die is lower than your target's Maneuver die, you need to use a free invocation on an aspect to be able to attack them. The "free" bit is important. Maybe you spend a round getting In Position, or maybe an allied pilot is your Wingman, or maybe the co-pilot uses the ship's targeting computer to get Locked On. (The Ghost and the Phantom can break this rule: Each has a dorsal turret that, if manned, lets the gunner attack any target regardless of its Maneuver die.)

(Compared to the dogfighting rules I used for Crimson Skies, these are barely there, but Star Wars dogfighting really doesn't care about, like, actual dogfighting maneuvers. It's all "Damn it, Wedge, where are you?" and "I can't shake him!" and "Thanks Wedge!" Wedge is heavily involved.)

I'd previously used defined game terms for ship-mounted weapons -- Accuracy, which adds to the attack roll, and Power, which adds extra damage on a hit -- but here I've dropped those terms in favor of framing that stuff as stunts. It's just one fewer thing to explain at the table. This way, the stunt spells out what to do. So I'd explain what Accuracy and Power are, but hey, look at the ships' weapons-oriented stunts instead.

As for defense, ships typically have shields, which here are basically free invocations on an aspect called Shields, but that seemed a little fiddly, plus treating it as an aspect implies that anyone can put more free invocations on it at any time. Instead, each ship has a number of check boxes, something like a stress track. Check a box and add d6 to your defense roll. When you're out of boxes to check, you're out of shields. Someone on board can use Tech to try to get more shields happening, and thus clear boxes, but they can't ever add more boxes.

Ships also have conditions, pre-defined just like PCs. Actually, this is where the pre-defined conditions-thing started -- with ships. However, anyone on board a ship can voluntarily take a condition to reduce a hit to that ship. This can result in cool things like Hera failing a defense roll while piloting the Ghost and ending up Irritated or Under Pressure. Because hey, just like in the show!

For NPCs, I build pilots and ships separately, even though those pilots are likely only ever going to act while piloting a ship. This way, I can keep the same three-dice thing the PCs use instead of trying to figure out some other way to achieve dogfighting parity. Big ships have gun emplacements operated by gunners, which gives them multiple attacks a turn and makes them as scary as they ought to be. For the She-Devils game, I attempted to scale things up by letting big ships step down the Power dice of starfighter-scale weapons -- sometimes two steps -- or even just say they're immune to weapons with a Power die of X or less. So they're easy to hit, with their lack of a Maneuver die, but harder to harm. Unless you have an advanced proton torpedo with 2d8 Power or something. I didn't really get to play out a lot of that, so I can't tell you how well it works.

All the dice business here makes a lot of this a little more difficult to translate to Fate Core. I'm not a fan of huge bonuses to dice rolls in my Fate games, so I'm reluctant to say "Just make it a +1 bonus for a d4, +1 per step above that." But I dunno, that's probably the easiest way to do it without changing a bunch of other stuff.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

[Faith Corps] Star Wars: Long-Lasting Conditions

You wouldn't like Ezra when he's angry. Unless you're playing him. 
Last time I talked about mild conditions, and how I'm using them in this hack of Faith Corps to emulate Star Wars Rebels. That's great and all, but Faith Corps characters also have moderate and severe conditions! Betcha thought I forgot about them! I didn't!

So if mild conditions are short-term ways that PCs respond to stress (that's why stress is called stress in Fate, y'know), moderate and severe conditions are their long-term responses to more serious stress. In Faith Corps, moderate conditions stick around for the length of a Mission, or maybe a single session. (The book is a little inconsistent on this point.) Severe conditions persist for "five or six" Missions, or maybe just one Mission. (On page 43 it says the former, on page 138, the latter). Either way, I don't care, because I run one-shots! Advantage: Olson!

This means I don't really have to consider recovery time, or what happens when a condition's recovering, because it's beyond the scope of what I'm doing here. They're both just long-lasting conditions to me -- changes to the character that you'd expect to affect them throughout an episode. (To reiterate, Advantage: Olson.)

So here are Ezra's three moderate conditions.

  • Afraid
  • Angry
  • Conflicted
Each of these is kind of a heightened extension of one or more of his mild conditions. But only kind of, because I didn't really plan it that way. The real intent was just to represent character traits that Ezra typically, but not always, displays in an episode of Rebels. Sometimes he'll be motivated by fear or anger for the better part of an episode. God knows he has enough to be fearful of and/or angry about, but he usually starts out relatively well-adjusted and quippy. Conflicted isn't always a thing, but there have definitely been times when he's spent an episode being torn between two diametrically opposed options, like "Should I be a Jedi, or work for Hondo Ohnaka?" Only a teenager would consider this an actual choice.

Note that since he can only take a maximum of two of those three conditions, he'll never be obliged to be conflicted when there's no source of real conflict for him. Ditto Afraid and Angry, but those are more likely to crop up.

At any rate, moving on to his severe conditions. Like everyone else, he has his choice of two:
  • Vengeful
  • Injured
Vengeful's a great long-term condition to keep Ezra going for a multi-episode arc. I mean, I won't have multiple-episode arcs -- one-shots! -- but for the thing I'm emulating, it's appropriate. It's also the pinnacle of his implied "Dark Side conditions" track. This is assuming that if he were to really turn to the Dark Side, he'd be an NPC, which works for me. 

The other severe condition, Injured, is shared by all the PCs. It's not so appropriate as a thing that'll stick around for a series of sessions, but it is appropriate as, basically, the worst and simultaneously least-likely thing to happen to a main character on Rebels. Usually, when one of these characters gets hurt-hurt, like genuinely wounded, it's a big deal. (See the season finales of Seasons One and Two.) So it's a big deal here, too.

For comparison purposes, here are Hera's moderate conditions:
  • Tense
  • Afraid
  • Worried about __________
Maybe "Tense" isn't the best heightening of her mild conditions of Under Pressure, Irritated, and Flustered, but it feels longer-term to me than any of those. Ditto with "Worried about _____" vs. her mild condition of "Protective of _____." Like, I can see her pulling Kanan aside and saying, "I'm worried about Sabine" in the second act, but not really "I'm protective of Sabine," which feels more in-the-moment to me.

Here are her severe conditions:
  • Despairing
  • Injured
If severe conditions are "What's the worst thing that can happen to this character that doesn't take them out of the action?", then for Hera I think Despairing is it. She's the one who got this whole Rebels thing started; hope is kind of her thing.

One of the strengths of these pre-defined conditions is that it gives you another mechanical hook to play with. For example, Ezra has this stunt:
Tempted by the Dark Side: When you have the Impatient, Afraid, Angry, or Vengeful conditions, you can invoke those conditions for free on any roll that includes Jedi, once per condition per scene. For each of these conditions you invoke this way, the GM takes one destiny die.
I like how this might incentivize Ezra's player to take one or more of those conditions. If they really want to follow the Dark Side thing all the way down, they can really commit and take them all.

Similarly, the Ghost has this stunt:
Sensor Scrambler: When scanned by sensors, as long as it doesn’t have the Damaged Sensor Scrambler condition, the Ghost can appear to be another ship, no roll required.
I like how taking that condition has a very specific effect on the story, both mechanically (you lose access to a stunt) and narratively (it just plain doesn't work until someone takes the time to fix it). And this is basically how the Ghost's sensor scrambler works on the show, which is the point of this whole thing in the first place.

Friday, May 13, 2016

[Faith Corps] Star Wars: Maintaining Tone

Hera looking irritated. Or maybe under pressure.
After playtesting that Star Wars Rebels scenario I'm running at the end of the month at Gamex, I've decided to make some minor changes.

The playtest was fun, and the characters felt right, but I like it when a game's (or, in this case, hack's) mechanics support the tone of the thing we're trying to emulate. Obviously all of us human beings involved in the game are largely responsible for that, but when the game constrains our choices in certain areas such that we have no choice but to maintain tone... I like that. (I tried to take that to a bit of an extreme with the long-languishing Sparks Nevada RPG by mechanically incentivizing not just roleplaying, but saying certain things associated with the canon characters.)

One of these changes is deviating from a recommendation in Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors RPG (for such is our source of Faith Corps mechanics, in much the same way that, for years, Spirit of the Century was our source of Fate -- or, back then, FATE) in a small but important way.

The Demon Hunters way of handling a mob of minions is to give them a die code for "Mob of X" -- which works great -- plus a few other dice, and then a number of mild conditions. For a small mob, the recommendation is five or six mild conditions. As you might expect, that makes for some super-resilient mooks, way more resilient than I expect the default minions of a Rebels game -- stormtroopers -- to be.

In play, even three mild conditions was too much, in fact. They just stuck around too long, especially for the in-medias-res intro scene in which I used them. Thus, I'm dropping them down to one or two. Typically in Rebels, stormtroopers are more pressure than major enemy. They're usually used as either an excuse for a relatively brief fight scene, or as a reason to run/give up when they show up in overwhelming numbers. The former case is a 10-minute fight, the latter is a compel. Er, endure. (Endurance, maybe? What's the noun form of "endure" that's equivalent to "compel" used as a noun? We haven't gotten there yet.)

The other change is more of a thing, and it's this: pre-defining conditions for the PCs. In the heat of the playtest moment, I found myself tossing out really lazy conditions, like "Blasted" and "Oh My, More Blasting." Now, should I be a better GM? Absolutely. Boldface, italics, underline, of course I should.

But later I realized that the reason I was going for those goofy conditions was that I didn't want to stop and think of a good condition in the middle of the action. Plus, the easy, go-to conditions (like "Blasted") aren't really appropriate for Rebels. You don't see the crew of the Ghost getting actually shot a whole lot.

So! Pre-defined conditions -- more like conditions as presented in the Fate System Toolkit -- help with that. But defining them on a per-character basis means that you can force every character to react to stress differently, which means the players' choices all fall into the category of "Things That Reinforce Tone."

The companion alteration to this is to say that mild conditions clear at the end of the scene, a la stress in Fate Core. What that means is that mild conditions become new aspects with a lifespan of one scene, so you can use them to further characterize a PC without using up character resources like approach/discipline dice, aspects, or stunts to do so. Moderate and severe conditions stick around for longer, so you can use those to show how the events of an episode change the character for the length of that episode (in the case of moderate conditions) or an entire story arc (for severe conditions).

Every PC can take as many as three mild conditions, like before, but they have five conditions to choose from, so they're not locked into being the same way all the time. And none of these mild conditions involve actual injury (well, except for Zeb) -- they're more about the mental toll the events of the scene are taking.

For example, Hera Syndulla's five mild-condition choices are:

  • Under Pressure
  • Nervous
  • Irritated
  • Flustered
  • Protective of ______________
As the scene goes on, and Hera fails to defend against all those aforesaid stormtroopers' various hails of blaster-fire, the effect might be that she thinks, "I've gotta think of a way out of this -- fast!" Or maybe "How are we going to get out of this?" Or "This is the last thing I needed today!" Or "If I could just have two seconds of peace I could think of a way out of this!" Or "Hey, Kanan's in trouble!"

These don't account for every single reaction Hera might have to failing to defend against blaster-fire, but it's a good variety, and they all feel in-character to me. And they reinforce this important but oft-overlooked maxim: Failing to defend against an attack doesn't necessarily mean being physically injured by that attack.

Here are Ezra Bridger's:
  • Overconfident
  • Mouthy
  • Impatient
  • Stubborn
  • Protective of ______________
Quite a bit different. If Ezra fails to defend against that same blaster-fire, he's more like to think "These guys are chumps!" or quip "Is that the best you bucket-heads can do?" He's liable to worry about his shipmates in the moment too, from time to time, but the big ones to me are Stubborn and Impatient (and, to a lesser degree, Overconfident), because it ties into his emerging Dark Side tendencies. He doesn't walk around with yellow eyes and a black cloak when things are good, but when pressured, he can definitely lean that way. (Probably doesn't help that he's a teenager.)

I do want to talk about moderate and severe conditions, because they're their own respective beasts, but this is long enough as it is. I'm going to save that for another blog post. Hey, anything that gets me posting more than once a month is fine by me.

Friday, May 6, 2016

[Faith Corps] Hey, Star Wars!

Event pre-reg for this year's installment of Gamex opens tomorrow at noon, and one of the games I'll be running there is a highly anticipated (by me) Faith Corps treatment of Star Wars Rebels.

Your first question may be, "Mike, what're you, some kinda bag of hammers? How could you misspell 'Fate Core' so completely?" Fair question. Rude, but fair.

Twist answer: I didn't! Faith Corps is the game system that powers the new edition of Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors RPG. Designed by Cam Banks and Amanda Valentine -- maybe you've heard of them? -- it's mostly a blend of Fate Accelerated Edition and Cortex Plus with a little Atomic Robo thrown in. I've used it for a couple of Star Wars games at conventions since last fall, and I'm really digging it. The mechanics are pretty similar to Cortex Plus, with plenty of room to play around with different dice tricks, but it plays almost identically to Fate, so it's been very intuitive for me. (And, y'know, just different enough to trip me up sometimes.) And since it's that close to Fate, well, I figure talking about it on this blog is fair game.

Anyway, last fall I ran a Faith Corps Star Wars game called Rebel Scum in which the PCs were Imperial Intelligence in the nascent days of the Alliance to the Restore the Republic. They were tasked with infiltrating a Rebel cell and finding out what they could about the Alliance's plans. What they ended up doing was assassinating Mon Mothma, framing someone else for it (right before convincing a group of Rebels to space him), and assuming leadership of the Rebellion. Take that, canon!

I followed that up in February She-Devils of the Outer Rim, a mash-up of volume 7 of Atomic Robo with a bunch of EU stuff I'd never heard of before I found it on Wookieepedia. Given the source material, I'd expected and planned for a whole lotta dogfighting -- came up with some simple dogfighting rules and wrote up a bunch of ships, using WEG Star Wars and the X Wing minis games as general guides -- but they didn't really end up doing much. Point is, I have a set of good, workable, easy dogfighting rules. Plus sweet Star Wars-ized portraits of four She-Devils from Robo, courtesy of Scott Wegener.

At the end of the month, at Gamex, I'll be running this Star Wars Rebels scenario. It's the first time I've really statted up canon Star Wars characters of any kind, let alone such fairly well-known ones, so the pressure's kind of on (in my mind). I managed a playtest of most of it last night with four local gamer-friends, and it went well, so I'm looking forward to the real thing. I'm trying to blend elements from a few different eras of the Star Wars saga; we'll see if it's too much. Of course, by then it'll be too late, but whatever. Come play it anyway! 

(If it goes well, I'll try to run it on-demand at Origins and, assuming I can make it up there, put it on the schedule for Big Bad Con.)

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

[Atomic Robo] OGL Rules Now Available!

Yes! It is literally in writing!
Thanks to the kindness of the Fate More Kickstarter backers, many new rules systems from both ARRPG and ARRPG: Majestic 12 have been OGL-ified (by me!) and are now online! For you! All for you! Right here! Click this link!

These subsystems include:
  • Modes! Modes had previously appeared in the Fate System Toolkit, but in a rather abbreviated form. The OGL has the full Robo treatment.
  • Custom skills! Point-based skill construction rules, similar in spirit and intent to Strange Fate's custom skills, but much simpler.
  • Stunts and mega-stunts! Ripped from the pages of ARRPG!
  • Brainstorms! Players, take the wheel!
  • Invention! Includes the variant used in Majestic 12!
  • Mission briefings! Sorta like brainstorms, but different! Look, I don't have time to go into it now!
  • And nothing more!
I'm looking forward to seeing what other people might create using this stuff. Fate has always had a strong fan community full of builders and hackers; it's always a pleasure to contribute more toys to the toybox.

Monday, February 8, 2016

[Fate More] Get On It!

Hola, amigos! I know it's been a long time since I rapped atcha, but I've been hecka busy. Or... neglectful. Little of both, probably.

Anyway, I come to you today with an important message about Fate More.

What's Fate More? See, this is the problem.

Fate More is Evil Hat's Kickstarter campaign to publish more Fate material in hard-copy form. Most of this material has already been written and even released in PDF form, so the Kickstarter is basically just about covering the costs of printing and distributing these titles. It's already successfully funded, as you may be aware, but it's entering its final 48 hours and there are some really fantastic stretch goals and "Extras" that may go tragically unfulfilled. And the very thought of that makes the Hulk sad.

Or maybe just angry.
What's been unlocked so far? ONLY ALL OF THIS:
  • Venture City, a greatly expanded Venture City Stories. Fate supers!
  • Do: Fate of the Flying Temple, a standalone FAE take and sorta sequel to Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple.
  • Young Centurions, a FAE prequel to Spirit of the Century featuring young-adult PCs and all that that entails.
  • Atomic Robo: Majestic 12, a supplement for ARRPG all about playing Majestic 12 agents as the good guys (because they are). Brian Clevinger coughed up a bunch more detail on Robo's world, and I wrote some fun new mechanics for M12 missions and requisitions, then it was edited and laid out -- I'm getting too detailed here. Point is, it exists, and you can get it through this Kickstarter.
In addition, Evil Hat will release an open-license version of ARRPG's rules for modes, mega-stunts, and brainstorms. And I guess I'll have something to do with that, too. And if you think that's cool, there are plans to open-license other stuff, including:
  • Venture City's power-construction rules.
  • War of Ashes' miniatures combat rules -- that I wrote!
  • Lots of cool new mechanics from various Fate Worlds & Adventures releases -- many of which involved me somehow to varying degrees!
(Forgive me for focusing on stuff I wrote or edited, but it's my blog.)

Speaking of the Fate Worlds & Adventures line, that's kinda the main thrust of this whole thing -- compiling them into full-color hardcovers. 
The campaign's almost certainly going to hit that $50K stretch goal, which includes two things I worked on (PK Sullivan's The Three Rocketeers and Nick Pilon's Frontier Spirit). But it's the third one, at $80K, that I most want to see succeed, because it contains Deep Dark Blue, which is the closest I've come to actually writing one of these things myself. The actual author is Lore Graham, who created and wrote the bulk of it, but I'm technically credited as a writer, I believe, mostly for my submarine construction and combat rules. So, y'know, for purely selfish reasons, I'd like to be able to hold that in my hands. 

And, uh, so would you! Right? Because it also has Slip, which has got to be the weirdest of these things I've worked on (in a good way, of course), and Eagle Eyes and House of Bards. Imagine, an entire house of bards!

(I didn't work on anything in Worlds Rise Up, unfortunately, but it has four cool settings of its own: Behind the Walls, Sails Full of Stars, Gods and Monsters, and Nest. I wasn't involved with them and don't really know anything significant about them either, but Evil Hat don't make no trash.)

If this is you -- not literally Atomic Robo from 1926, but metaphorically -- Evil Hat explains it a lot more thoroughly in this Kickstarter update. And while you're there, back the thing! You only have about 48 hours left to help bring hard copies of these books (and all that open content) into existence!