Sunday, April 24, 2011

[Espionage] Agents of F.A.T.E.

Greetings programs! It's been a while -- and many thanks to Guy for the continued Greyhawk posts to keep things active around here -- so I'll just get into it already.

There's one genre I've long thought about doing with FATE but haven't gotten around to putting on paper, and that's espionage. Specifically, '60s Bond-style espionage, with super-spy gadgets, suave secret agents, international locations, and all the rest. The tone would be pretty serious, but with about as much humor as a typical Sean Connery Bond film. So plenty of humor, in other words, but without descending into Roger Moore-esque camp -- all apologies to Alan Partridge. (I grew up on Roger Moore as Bond in movies like Octopussy and Moonraker, which were awesome when I was 10 or whenever they finally made it to Z Channel and I could watch them.) The main mechanical idea I'd had for this particular hack involved on-the-fly gadget creation, but other than that I didn't have anything concrete other than a title: Agents of F.A.T.E., which I came up with in a vacuum but have subsequently seen at least once on the Internet, so I'm not the only one to have had that idea.

Anyway, I've decided I'm going to run this for Gamex this year over Memorial Day Weekend.

Since getting the spy itch (see your physician) a while ago, I since stumbled upon Get Smart Now!, an excellent treatment of the old Get Smart TV show using a cleverly stripped-down skill list that boils everything down to just 10 skills. Ten skills plus a standard skill pyramid peaking at Great means that every character can have every skill rated, which makes them all as super-competent as they should be. (Get Smart Now! actually gives characters just five skills, rated from Average to Superb, but I can't ignore how perfectly they all fit into a four-tier pyramid.) So I'm using that as my skill list, more or less (Special Skills doesn't really fit what I'm doing, and I don't like lumping in Alertness, Resolve, and Drive into a single skill, so sorting both of those out still leaves me with 10 skills. Convenient!)

Lately I've become very enamored of games like Lady Blackbird, Danger Patrol, and Old-School Hack, where characters basically have just a few focused special abilities that tend to be variations on a theme, so I'm aping that here. Every Agent of F.A.T.E. has one notable feature -- their F.A.T.E. Training -- that lets them spend a Fate Point to do something remarkable. For the most part, these are taken right from SotC's list of stunts, like Master of Disguise. In addition, each PC has a Specialty in their highest-ranked skill. When the a roll using that skill obtains spin, the player can declare a fragile aspect for free. (I love that mechanic, so why not let everyone do it and see what happens?)

Each of them also has two Areas of Expertise that let them roll extra Fudge Dice when using a particular skill in a particular way, and keep the best four for their result. For example, one of them rolls +2dF when using Combat unarmed, so when she's kicking some jumpsuited minion in the face she gets to roll 6dF and keep the best 4dF. I've used this before in Spirit of the Fist and Spirit of the 17th Century, and it's always worked well. I like how it increases the odds of performing at peak capability without veering into big-number territory.

That's what Cool is for. This is another mechanic I haven't used in a while. When you obtain spin on a roll, you get a point of Cool. Spend a point of Cool before a roll to replace one Fudge Die with a d6. (Yes, this means that with your Specialty you can get a free aspect and a point of Cool all in one roll. I'm fine with that.) This greatly increases your odds of pulling off something truly incredible when you need to the most. Max Cool -- great character name, BTW -- is four, and you start with zero, but I'm thinking about knocking off a point of unused Cool every scene (down to a minimum of one) to discourage hoarding. We'll see where that thought goes.

What I like about this setup is that there are only two passive bonuses for the players to keep track of, and neither of them is just a +1 or +2 to a roll. The characters feel very streamlined to me, but still complete. I get a sense of who they are and what they can do from their skills and those four special features (Specialty, F.A.T.E. Training, and two Areas of Expertise) -- and that's before aspects even enter into the picture. I'm doing a very dossier-like character sheet, as is de rigeur for these sorts of endeavors, and thinking about heavily classifying aspects as things like Notable Affiliations, Special Training, and so on, but I'm afraid that might end up being too constraining.

So I mentioned gadgets, which is what started all of this. These effectively take the place of standard stunts -- little rules-benders -- but are usually one-use things. Plus, since the players make them up on the fly, they're more inclined to focus on them for that one roll or scene without having to keep track of them over time. I'm still working out the details on how this works, but I'll post about it next week. I think it'll be fun. (The gadget-making, not the posting. The posting is obviously sheer drudgery.)

What strikes me about all of this is how I unwittingly ended up changing nearly everything about how characters are put together, from skills to stunts to little abilities with no real precedence in published FATE games (but with plenty of it in other hacks of mine I've fooled around with). I hadn't expected that, but after getting so detail-oriented with FATE Kerberos -- because it demanded it -- it's been a breath of fresh air to just make some stuff up and say "Let's see if this works!" It's like old times, I tell you.
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