Wednesday, February 17, 2010

OrcCon 2010 Wrap-Up

So! OrcCon was a blast for the nth year in a row. This is a convention I used to go to in junior high -- I remember buying Dungeoneer's Survival Guide there -- and sometimes it amazes me that it's still going on and I'm still going.

The FATE supers playtest was a hit, and confirmed what I'd suspected: that this power-tier/die-replacement method really, really works for me. Everyone had a great time, and the characters felt appropriately "super." The mix of contemporary character aspects and Silver Age-y campaign aspects worked fine -- "[See issue #4. --Ed.]" ended up being tagged and everything! And "Power and Responsibility" was good for a few compels to make sure at least one of the PCs stayed in the story when the player was somewhat at a loss.

The plot involved a science class full of giant ants, an villainous ape named the Headmaster, Insectobots, a final showdown with the insect-themed supervillain the Dementomologist, and much more (including some creatively used donuts and beer cans). Along the way, they racked up a few Heroic consequences: Becky's Mad at Chet (created by a character with a secret crush on Chet, attempting to drive a wedge between him and his girlfriend), Gas Leak, Chemical Spill, and Acid-Splashed Bystanders. That last one was a Severe consequence, so if we were to keep playing beyond that one-shot, I'd have to change one of the campaign aspects to reflect the fact that the heroes allowed some innocent bystanders to get in the line of fire of the Dementomologist's Insectobots and their formic acid cannons.

Right now, I can't think of anything that I'd change apart from a couple minor behind-the-scenes things to do with the cost of some trappings. That's pretty remarkable and rare -- I almost always come out of these things with a few changes to make.

But this time, everything went swimmingly. The invoke-for-effect to add a trapping to a power came up enough that it was clearly a good safety-net addition, but not so much that it was a problem. For example, when Morgan realized that his super-strong opponent Ajax had a weakness for sonic-based attacks, he grabbed a couple pieces of sheet metal, spent a Fate Point to add the Unusual (Sonic) topping to his Physical Conditioning attack, and smashed them against Ajax's ears like a pair of cymbals.

(Moreover, that fight involved Morgan, playing the super-powered quarterback MVP, shouting "Let's do this, Greek Week!" at Ajax -- then taking a 12-stress hit from his Trojan War-themed foe. So double-plus good, that.)

Granted, it wasn't an extremely rigorous playtest -- the PCs and one notable enemy were built on 80 points, whereas most of the opposition was built on around half that -- but at this point, the only things I'd want to change would be in character creation. After those tweaks, the next step would be giving the rules to a player and letting them make their own. I find there's often a world of difference between my thought process when making pregens for a specific scenario and a player's thought process when making their own character for an entire campaign.

I can't talk about my game, though, without mentioning the other FATE game I was in: Morgan's Sky Pirates of the South China Seas game. Pulp aviation and adventure, 1930s-style! I was Ignacy "Phoenix" Sokolof, an Austro-Hungarian "Honorable Enemy Ace." My fighter-bomber had an aspect of "NEERRROOWWWW!!!" Good times.

Like I said in an earlier post, before the con we'd talked a bit about how to do dogfighting. Now that we've seen those dogfighting rules in action, Morgan and I agree they're less than ideal. I mean, the game was still great -- don't misunderstand me there. It's just that the rules didn't feel very... playtested. On paper, they look great: You have to get in position before you can make an attack, and getting in position requires getting spin on an opposed Pilot roll. On your turn, you can maneuver to create an aspect, or make a positioning roll. I mean, on the face of it, it's not so different from my swashbuckling Advantage thing.

However, it has the same problems the Advantage system had, as originally written. One, it can have the undesirable side effect of making combat drag. Round One: Maneuver. Round Two: Position. Round Three: Oh, he beat me by three on a Pilot roll, so now he's escaped. Back to Round One. You can cut that down a round by skipping the maneuvering, but that's, like, skipping what's supposed to be the fun, desirable bit: creating aspects.

In the meantime, once you get position and attack, you aren't actually all that better off than you'd be in, say, a fistfight. Dogfighting is all about "waxing" your opponent's "fanny," in old WWII fighter-pilot parlance (apologies to my British readers -- "fanny" means something different to you, but there's nothing I can do about that). That is, once you get behind the enemy plane, he's done for. But not with these dogfighting rules, and that's a problem. You invest multiple rounds in maneuvering and positioning, and your payoff is likely to be, say, two points of stress. That ain't right.

James Ritter, also a player in that game, suggested requiring three aspects before being able to attack. This makes aspect-creation more central to the process, but it also means that you'll only be able to attack every four rounds. At least you'll be able to tag those three aspects for a +6, but still, things shouldn't be moving that slowly. I countered with the idea that you'd be able to create one aspect per two shifts, but that's more or less trading Fate Points for time. Whether that's a good or bad thing is your call.

My quick fix would be to eliminate the separation between maneuvering and positioning, and say that getting spin on any opposed skill roll with your target will get you in position. I understand that it makes things easier, but it also makes them faster, and that's a fair trade, if you ask me.

In the end, it was probably only me, Morgan, and James who gave it all that much thought. Half the table were FATE newbies, and it was good (as it always is) to see people new to the game get used to its concepts and mechanics. As the pilot of a fighter-bomber, I enjoyed maneuvering as much as possible to let my gunner get plenty of spotlight time by tagging all those aspects. Any game where you blow up a zeppelin is all right by me.
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