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.

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