Friday, September 26, 2008

Fantasy: Alchemy (And Maybe Artifice)

I've always had a vague-ish idea of how Alchemy would work, but after hammering poisons into an acceptable, poisony shape, I think it's viable to take a similar tack with Alchemy as well. It was always sorta my intent all along -- honest! -- to make Alchemy a mix of Magecraft (adding effects together to create a potion) and Craft/Artifice (making stuff beforehand that's good just about anytime), and now it looks like we're in a good position to do that.

The only trouble is that, as written, making a poison is way harder than making a potion. If you want to make a potion that lets you see in the dark, that's just one or two effects (+2 Alertness in dim light and/or Aspect: "Night Vision"), which means only an Average or Fair effort is required to make it. Meanwhile, a poison of similar potency (let's say Fair Power, Mediocre Endurance, Mediocre Stealth, for a total of +2) is almost prohibitively weak. One attack at +2? Bah. They're hardly equivalent.

But poisons are made of mundane stuff, for the most part. There are weak poisons out there that are both cheap and, given a modicum of training, easy to make. That's as it should be, if you ask me.

Potions, on the other hand -- philters, elixirs, unguents, etc. -- are frickin' magical. They're a whole other ball of wax. There are no "Average" or "Fair" potions. What is this, K-Mart? No, even the humblest potion is at least Great (+4).

To build a potion, assemble effects just like you would for a spell, then add three. That's the total quality of the potion, and the target number to meet or beat with your Physik roll. Alternately, you can just spend a Fate Point, and voila: potion.

Laboratory quality and extra time bonuses work the same way here as they do when concocting a poison, and potions take just as long to make, as well. I.e., the basic time required starts at An Hour (A Few Minutes + 3), +1 step on the Time Increments table per effect added. Shifts on the Physik roll can be spent to reduce the time required (-1 step/shift), and extra time can be taken to increase the odds of success (+1 to roll/+1 step), either before the roll or retroactively. Add the quality of the lab to the roll as a bonus.

Even with three or four effects, if you take your time and have a decent lab, you're probably automatically succeeding even without spending a Fate Point (the Fate Point just lets you do it in the minimum time required, although getting a number of shifts on a good roll could conceivably mean doing it even faster).

This strikes me as pretty balanced with Magecraft. Both fields of magic let/make you spend a Fate Point to succeed without making a roll/taking Magic Stress. Magecraft lets you get off one spell for free, while Alchemy makes you pay for everything one way or another -- either in time or in Fate Points -- the trade-off being that Alchemy conceivably lets you pack a lot of effects into a single potion, to be used anytime, but you have to decide what that potion is ahead of time.

Speaking of which, there should probably be a way to limit just how many effects you can get into a single potion -- maybe a cap of Physik +1 effects/potion. As for how many potions you can have at once, that's a whole other issue. Perhaps that cap of Physik +1 could apply to how many effects total you can have across any number of potions. So with a Great (+4) Physik skill, for example, you could have five one-effect potions, two two-effect and one one-effect potions, one two-effect and one three-effect potion, and so on. This may be a little too game-balancey, but seriously, you know that if there isn't a limit, someone's going to show up with a hundred potions, and then you'll rue your player-trusting, story-gaming, group-hugging ways. Better to have a guideline that can be bent or broken than to not have anything at all, if you ask me.

Duration for most potions would probably be either Instant (e.g., healing) or 15 Minutes (e.g., a Potion of Strength) -- long enough to last through a typical scene.

Oh, and stunts. There'd have to be a few stunts to back up Alchemy, like getting the most out of a lab (treat lab as if its quality were one higher), being able to work faster (base time required is Half An Hour instead of An Hour), specializing in certain kinds of potions (pick one effect that doesn't count towards your normal effects cap), and so on. Have to work on that later.

(Just for laughs, maybe rolling four negatives on your Physik check could result in an explosion. These matters do involve risk, y'know.)

Now, the question arises: Can this be done for Artifice as well? I'd like to think so. It would be oh-so awesome to have consistency between those two, but I'll have to give it more thought. Off the top of my head, I'd likely set all durations at a base of 15 Minutes. Permanent items can also be created, but that requires spending a point of Refresh. The basic idea behind Artifice is that you can temporarily (or permanently) create or enchant items -- you need that tangible focus to work your magic. Maybe you inscribe a rune on a sword to make it sharper for a short time, or weave magical thread into a piece of cloth to enable whoever wears it as a blindfold to see in the dark. You get the idea.

Just to refresh your memory, or introduce you to it for the first time, here's the original post on Magcraft, Alchemy, and Artifice.

One last thing. I'm considering dropping all trappings for Magecraft that aren't elemental in nature, and then calling it, well, Elementalism. That means cutting out a lot of common effects (magical force shields, charm spells, etc.), but it also means a much tighter focus for mages -- and the latter really appeals to me. I'd rather build a limited system that models a particular thing than a one that has broad applications but no personality. Jury's still out.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Fantasy: Simplifying Weapons

Quick thought for "SotS": Instead of giving weapons aspects like "Stabbing" and "Long," why not make the name of the weapon the aspect, à la armor?

This would require dividing weapons into simple categories, like One-Handed and Two-Handed, with a short description of each -- enough to easily determine how the aspect can be used. If you're wielding a dagger against a guy using a two-handed sword, you could invoke your "Dagger" aspect in pursuit of getting in close enough to render his big sword ineffective.

(BTW, I'd probably call it Melee limited by Athletics, since you're trying to twist your way to corps-à-corps and attack -- it just feels right to me. YMMV. I could also see doing that bit as a maneuver to place a "Corps-à-Corps" aspect on him, which you could tag next round to help your dagger attack, or just make it a straight Melee roll and say that the maneuvering is just part of the attack. All make sense to me. I think I like the first one the best, but going the maneuver route makes it nice and tactical.)

Then, when he tries to attack you, you could tag his weapon's "Greatsword" aspect to add to your defense.

The point is this: We know what these weapons do, so I'm not sure they also need aspects to tell us the same thing, again. It's a longsword -- a three-foot piece of steel for stabbing and slashing. It's a battleaxe -- big choppy thing. It's a longbow -- its arrows can pierce plate. And so on.

The "stat block" for armor currently looks something like this:
Armor: Medium (Good +3)
Aspect: Chain hauberk
Consequences: +1 Minor/Moderate

So why not have weapons look like this?
Weapon: One-Handed (+1)
Aspect: Longsword
Special: None

Weapon: Light One-Handed (+0)
Aspect: Whip
Special: No effect if target is wearing armor

Weapon: Missile (+1)
Aspect: Short Bow
Special: 2 zones

Weapon: Heavy Missile (+2)
Aspect: Long Bow
Special: 3 zones

Weapon: Two-Handed (+2)
Aspect: Pike
Special: None

Weapon: Heavy Two-Handed (+3)
Aspect: Troll Axe
Special: When dealing a consequence, spend a Fate Point to also place a fragile aspect on the target.
The name of the weapon itself actually has a mechanical effect without the need for any other subsystems or anything. You have a pike -- pikes are long by definition -- you can take advantage of that to keep someone else at bay -- that translates to being able to invoke the "Pike" aspect to add to your defense against an incoming attack. If that attack lands, and your opponent is using, say, a longsword, then he must've gotten close enough that the effectiveness of your pike is reduced -- so now you can't invoke that aspect to attack or defend, but he can tag it to add to his own attack and defense.

Of course, you need a few addenda for this to really work. One, as mentioned above, is a brief description of each weapon that makes it abilities and limitations clear, with sample invokes, compels, and tags -- at least one of each -- to make them even clearer. Two is categories with pre-determined attack modifiers. That's more or less what I did already; this would just be codifying it. For example, Light One-Handed weapons are +0, One-Handed are +1, Missile are +1, Heavy Missile are +2, Two-Handed are +2, Heavy Two-Handed are +2 with the aspect-placing ability mentioned in the Troll Axe writeup above, etc. Three, you need... er... well, that might be it, actually.

I think this has some merit. I'm all for simplifying things without losing depth.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Fantasy: Poisons

(This doesn't have to apply strictly to the fantasy genre, of course, but that's how I'm classifying it anyway.)

I've gone 'round and 'round on this, but here's where I am right now. This certainly owes a debt to the SotC RAW, which very efficiently breaks down the role of poisons in the narrative. What I really wanted, though, was a consistent, reasonable way for PCs to make poison themselves, something that SotC, and the pulp genre, frowns upon when it comes to heroes.

Poison is treated something like a character, but with only three skills -- Power, Endurance, and Stealth -- and a minimum of one aspect, which defines its nature. The skills don't have any real relation to one another, and don't need to be arranged in a pyramid or anything like that. Long-term processes that mostly just serve the plot, such as a prince slowly poisoning the king over a period of months in an attempt to usurp the throne, shouldn't follow any of these rules.

Power measures the poison's potency. There are two basic types of poisons: poisons which affect the body (call them physical poisons -- the ones that kill, paralyze, nauseate, etc.) and poisons which affect the mind (mental poisons -- hallucinogens, mostly). Power is the poison's attack skill, opposed by Endurance for physical poisons and Resolve for mental ones.
  • Mediocre and Average poisons are limited to Minor consequences, Fair and Good to Minor or Moderate consequences, and Great and up can deal any degree of consequence.
  • Of course, if the target has already taken a Minor consequence and can't take another, a Mediocre poison can deal a Moderate consequence, and so on.
  • Minor consequences from poisons don't go away at the end of a scene. Only a skill roll can remove them. Moderate and Severe consequences dealt by poisons are treated normally (i.e., with a skill roll or by becoming/modifying an aspect).
  • On a successful attack, the poison deals a consequence of the appropriate type (physical or mental).

Endurance is how long the poison sticks around -- in game terms, we'll define this first as how many attempted attacks it makes, including the one it makes upon contact, and second as how long it lasts. At the beginning of each exchange (or scene, if out of combat), roll the poison's Endurance against the target's Endurance. If the poison succeeds, it makes an attack. If it fails, it doesn't.

  • Deadly poisons (i.e., those that just do damage) attack as many times as they are able, dealing as many consequences as possible, until out of attacks.
  • Poisons with other effects, such as paralysis or sickness, only attack until they deal one consequence, but that consequence lasts for a number of scenes equal to their Endurance. Or until the poison has served its purpose or gets boring -- whichever comes first.
  • The number of attacks a poison can make it limited by its Endurance + 1. Thus, a poison with Mediocre (+0) Endurance attacks only once -- when it first makes contact with the target -- while one with Good (+3) Endurance would attempt up to four attacks (once at contact, and then once per scene for another three scenes).
  • If a poison is neutralized (see below) before it can make all of its attacks, it loses any attacks it hasn't made.

Stealth is how difficult the poison is to detect. Some poisons, like contact poison on a blade, won't bother with Stealth at all, but for others, such as the proverbial Mickey, not being detected is of utmost importance.

  • Stealth is opposed by whichever of the PC's skills is relevant in the situation. If a character sniffs his wine before drinking it to see if it's poisoned, it's a contest of Stealth vs. Investigation. If a physician is examining a corpse to see what killed it, it's Stealth vs. Physik.

The poison's aspect defines its nature. Usually, the name is good enough, assuming that's backed up by a few sentences describing how the poison works.

  • Woorari: This sophisticated plant toxin that severely relaxes the victim's muscles, to the point of paralysis. Large doses can even mimic death. It has no taste, but smells vaguely of cinnamon, and is commonly administered by arrow or blade.
  • Nux Vomica: This deadly poison causes severe muscular spasms, internal bleeding, and, more often than not, death. Victims have been strangled by their own tightly closed throats, if their hearts don't explode from over-exertion first. It has a very strong, bitter taste, difficult to conceal, but is most effective when ingested.
  • Dreaming Moon: The Fae carefully guard the secrets of this magical poison's formulation, which involves a clear spring, a full moon, and a drake's liver, among other ingredients. Victims of Dreaming Moon cease to interact with the world around them in favor of vivid hallucinations. The nature of these hallucinations depends on the victim and are impossible to predict, but its use is widespread among Fae mystics.

The poison's aspect will also probably give clues as to its skills. For example, based on the above descriptions, I can stat out these three poisons pretty easily.

  • Woorari: Great Power (full paralysis is pretty severe), Good Endurance (lasts long enough to simulate death, and has enough attacks to have a good chance of taking effect), Fair Stealth (it's not too difficult to detect).
  • Nux Vomica: Superb Power (it causes uncontrollable spasms and internal bleeding -- that's downright superb), Average Endurance (it's a fast-acting poison), Mediocre Stealth (its distinctive bitter taste make it easy to detect -- of course, by then it might be too late)
  • Dreaming Moon: Good Power (mild, but effective), Great Endurance (those mystics only use the good shit), Average Stealth (drake's liver isn't especially subtle).

The bigger question for players, though, is how to make a poison -- assuming you have all the necessary ingredients, of course.

Add the three skill values together to get its quality. That's the target number of your Physik roll. Thus, Woorari requires a Legendary + 1 effort, Nux Vomica requires a Fantastic effort, and Dreaming Moon requires a Legendary effort.

Seem difficult? You bet your sweet bippy. But a good laboratory can help immensely. Add the quality of the lab to your roll for your result. For example, if you're working in a Good (+3) lab, you need only make a Superb Physik effort to concoct Dreaming Moon.

(Still, it's clear that only a well-trained apothecary is going to attempt something like that.)

Poisons with two modus operandi -- that is, two natures, or two aspects, such as a damaging hallucinogen -- are also possible, but this requires adding a second Power skill to measure the secondary effect. Make one Power (Deadly) and Power (Visions), tack on a separate aspect (such as "Deadly Nightshade" and "Nightshade Visions"), and you're good to go. Of course, this will increase the overall quality of the poison, but nobody ever said this would be easy.

The time required to brew a poison starts at A Few Minutes, modified by one step up the table per point of difficulty. E.g., a Legendary poison would normally require a week's worth of work.

Shifts obtained on the roll can be spent on increasing the quality of any of the poison's three skills (at 1 shift/+1), adding an aspect (at 1 shift/aspect), or reducing the time required (at 1 shift/step on the time increments table). So if you were attempting to make Nux Vomica (a Fantastic poison) and ended up with an Epic Physik effort (due, perhaps, to a high skill value, a well-stocked lab, and some good luck), you could make it even deadlier by increasing its Power and Endurance by one each, make it harder to detect by increasing its Stealth from Mediocre to Fair, take only a few hours to brew it instead of the whole day, or anything in between.

Failing the Physik roll can mean a few different things. Just as with Craft, you can take extra time to get it done right -- up to four time increments for a total bonus of as much as +4. You can end up creating a weaker poison by subtracting the margin of error from the poison's skills (for example, knocking Nux Vomica's Power and Endurance down to Good and Mediocre respectively, to make your Good Physik effort a success), or the GM can offer you a Fate Point to think there's nothing wrong with it, as if compelling an aspect (or maybe he just compels one of your aspects -- either way). You won't find out you messed up until it doesn't work, of course, but that's how it goes sometimes.

Neutralizing a poison is as simple as making a Physik roll against its quality. Ta-da. Let's not draw this out. For story purposes, the GM might decide that it takes days of intensive care to do this, but that's not something that necessarily needs to be quantified. If it makes your game better for it to take a long time, have it take a long time; otherwise, make it something reasonable (e.g., a few hours spent brewing an antidote or foraging for the right counteractive herb) and move on.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Kung-Fu: Uh... Kung-Fu, Actually

For whatever reason, I'm determined to go stuntless with this thing. I like stunts myself, on the whole, but I've heard "I like everything but the stunts" as a critique of SotC more than once. And maybe it's the repeated combing through the stunt list I did/do for "SotS," too -- I'm not really eager to go through that kind of work again. Above all, though, I want to keep a fast-and-loose feel for "Spirit of the Fist," so that players are encouraged to try whatever crazy nonsense they can think of without worrying about whether or not they have the stunt to do it. After all, even having one stunt that says "You can use skill X in place of skill Y in circumstance Z" implies that, without a stunt, you couldn't do that sort of thing, no matter what.

However, I still want characters to have some simple mechanical edges that set them apart from everyone else, which is why I'm using the Kung-Fu aspect as both an aspect and a sort of stunt. Originally, I was just going to make it just like Personal Gadget, with all "improvements" determined during character creation, but now I'm off on this idea of making each of the three improvements a little more distinctive.

Keep in mind that "kung-fu," or "gongfu," roughly translates as training or hard work. It's the thing you do best -- the thing to which you've dedicated a great deal of time and effort.

I've divided Kung-Fu improvements into three types: Always, With Element, and Fate Point.
  • Always: This improvement is always in effect, with no effort on the character's part. It should be a minor advantage that focuses one of the character's skills or reflects the basic nature of the Kung-Fu. Examples include +1 with Weapons when using a sword, +1 with Art when cooking with Jiansu cuisine, or +1 with Academics when dealing with history.
  • With Element: This improvement takes effect when the character's declared Element (still working on a better name for that) matches the Element of his Kung-Fu. It should be a step up from the Always improvement and something that encourages the character to favor his Kung-Fu's element. Skill substitution might be a good one for this, or a +2 in a specific circumstance, or a special effect of some kind. For instance, if your Thousand Blades Style Kung-Fu is associated with Metal and your declared Element is Metal, you might get an additional +2 when taking the Full Defense action. Other good ones might be using Art (via cooking) instead of Medicine to heal a condition (a la Chinese food therapy), or being able to strike incorporeal ghosts with a mundane weapon.
  • Fate Point: This improvement must be activated by spending a Fate Point. These would be on the level of some of the more powerful stunts, or at least go beyond bonuses, skill substitutions, minor special effects, and invoking for effect. Examples might include spending a Fate Point to not be ambushed or surprised in a scene, to fall a great distance without taking damage, to be able to choose the aspect revealed to someone who successfully reads you with Empathy, or to cause a psychological consequence instead of a physical consequence with Weapons or Fists. It also seems reasonable to include in this category skill substitutions that result in damage or are a little less intuitive -- ones that might raise an eyebrow or two. I'm thinking of things like using Spirit to inflict a consequence, or healing a wound with Fists, or defending against a physical attack with Spirit.

Remember, these Kung-Fu improvements are all determined at character generation. But it's not as restrictive as it might seem, since the stuntless rules allow for a lot of flexibility via invoking for effect. Of course, all improvements must be directly related to the Kung-Fu in question. And hopefully they'd be colorfully named, too.


Monday, September 8, 2008

Kung-Fu: Refining the Whole "Element" Thing a Bit

After thinking about this a little more, I realized that I want two things out of this aspect/Element system: one, for Elements (and therefore characters) to interact with each other in mechanically meaningful ways, and two, for characters to be encouraged to "act in harmony" with their natures or motivations. If a character is acting out of anger, he ought to be more effective when invoking his Fire aspect(s).

So here are the Three Laws (plus one) of the Elements:

  • When you invoke or tag an aspect that's associated with your declared Element, it gives you an additional +1 bonus (i.e., a +3).
  • When you invoke or tag an aspect against which your declared Element is weak, the bonus it gives you is reduced by one (i.e., a +1).
  • When you invoke or tag an aspect against which your declared Element is neither strong nor weak, it gives you a +2 bonus, as usual.
  • Your Wu Wei aspect has no Element. It always yields a +2 bonus when invoked or tagged.

The relationship between your invoked aspect's Element and your opponent's declared Element remains.

To recap: At the beginning of every conflict, you declare an Element, the associated Virtue of which indicates your motivation for the scene. That goes on an index card (or something similar/more interesting), face-down on the table. All participants flip over their card simultaneously, and it's on.

There's a little more to this than normal SotC conflict, of course. If you're invoking an aspect, it's skill + roll + 2 (the default aspect bonus) +/- 0-1 (the declared Element vs. invoked/tagged aspect bonus or penalty) +/- 0-1 (the invoked aspect vs. opponent's declared Element bonus or penalty). The character sheet (there's a character sheet) makes clear the strong/weak relationships between the Elements, so there's nothing to memorize, really.

Worst-case scenario: You declare an Element (e.g., Wood), then invoke an aspect with an Element that's opposed to your declared Element (e.g., Earth) which is also weak against your opponent's declared Element (e.g., Wood), resulting in a total bonus of (2 - 1 - 1) zero. But that's just bad tactics. If you and your opponent have declared the same Element, invoking an aspect with an Element that's weak against that declared Element is a bad idea. (Man, I've gotta come up with some better terminology for this stuff -- it's just way too wordy.)

Best-case scenario: Declared Element, aspect with same Element, opponent's aspect weak against that Element, resulting in a total bonus of (2 + 1 + 1) +4.

Is that too many steps to go through? I'd like to think it isn't. Obviously, it'll require playtesting. Have to sucker some of the usual gang of idiots into that sometime.

A slightly more complicated (but potentially more satisfying -- that's always the trade-off, isn't it?) version of this starts things out with an Alertness contest before Element declaration. Whoever rolls lowest has to declare his Element first. Declaration then follows in ascending order. This way, an especially alert character has a chance to gain a bit of insight into the opposition before the action begins.

BTW, "SotS" is not forgotten or anything. I still have my to-do list, and I'm to-doing it.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Kung-Fu: Elements, Virtues, and Aspects

This is what I get for posting stuff without considering it from every angle.

Well, I can't say I didn't consider this, really -- I've just had other thoughts, and as long as I'm mulling things over I figure I may as well think aloud, as it were.

I'm rather set on pairing Elements and aspects, because I like the interaction of the Elements themselves (Wood parts Earth, Earth absorbs Water, Water douses Fire, Fire melts Metal, Metal chops Wood) and the ways that can be reflected mechanically. It occurred to me that the issue is when those Elements/aspects come into play, and how.

For example, let's say you attack someone with your "Thousand Blades" style -- your Kung-Fu aspect, associated with Metal -- and pay a Fate Point to invoke it for a bonus. By default, you get a +2 out of that. Now let's say your opponent defends with his Devastating Wind style and invokes its Fire-based aspect. Does your +2 become a +1 retroactively? Or is it enough that he gets a +3 instead of a +2? What if you didn't invoke your aspect, but he invoked his. Does he get a +3, since your kung-fu's Element is Wood, even though you haven't "officially" brought your kung-fu's aspect into play?

It's a little too wobbly for me.

So what I'm thinking is this: Every action is associated with a Virtue, and, by extension, its Element and aspect. If you decide that you're attacking that Devastating Winds guy because you don't like the way he's treating your father, you're acting out of filial piety (or Xiao), so the appropriate Element is Wood. Now, even though you haven't invoked the aspect attached to that Element -- let's call it "Good Son" -- you're still "using" Wood. Your opponent defends with his style, a Fire aspect. So far, nothing really unusual. But if you pay a Fate Point to invoke "Good Son," you'll only get a +1 out of it. And if he responds by invoking his "Devastating Winds" aspect, he'll get a +3 out of it. In fact, even if you don't invoke, he still gets the +3, because he's using Fire and you're using Wood.

What I really like about this whole channel-every-action-through-an-Element thing is how it puts your motivations front and center. Are you leaping into combat because you're justice at the point of your sword? Or because you're defending an ally? Or because you're fulfilling your duty?

So now then.

Here's the real question. If you're acting out of Xiao/the Wood Element, do you have to invoke your Wood aspect, or can you go with something else -- say, Water, because you decide you're acting out of propriety (i.e., you don't want to lose face by letting the guy belittle your father in public)? Now if your opponent invokes his Metal aspect, does he get a +3 or a +2? I mean, which Element "counts" here? Or are you required to invoke the aspect related to the Element/Virtue you're using? That would simplify things, but is it fair to take away some of the player's choice?

Or does that choice of Element become "your" Element for the conflict? I.e., invoke whatever aspect you like, but for this fight, you're Wood, because you're acting out of filial piety -- so invoking a Metal aspect against you will always net a +3 bonus. After all, this is about your motivation, and that's not likely to change every few seconds.

That seems reasonable, but it also unfairly penalizes the attacker. The defender will always choose an Elemental aspect that's strong against the attacker's Element, whereas the attacker's just stuck with his choice. That actually discourages action, and that's the exact opposite of what we want to do here.

How about this: Take five index cards and write a Virtue/Element pairing on each one. When conflict begins, each participant puts one card face-down on the table, then all are revealed simultaneously. It's an additional fiddly bit, I guess, but it's the only way to do this fairly.

Kung-Fu: Spirit of the Fist!

I mentioned earlier than Hamish's throwaway remark on Sunday that I should run a kung-fu or wuxia game using SotC immediately got me thinking of just how I'd do that. So... here's a rough outline of what I came up with. I fully intend to develop this further when I have time.

The Five Phases, each of which is a very brief (3-4 sentences) story about the character related to one of the Five Virtues, and each of which is assigned one aspect:
  • Xiao - Filial Piety: Circumstances of the character's birth, his relationship with his family, whether he honors his parents, etc.
  • Yi - Righteousness: The character's sense of justice, righting wrongs, wronging rights, etc.
  • Jen - Benevolence: The character's generosity or lack thereof; a time when a gift from him benefited someone else or vice-versa, etc.
  • Zhong - Loyalty: The character's friends and associates, any organizations he belongs to, what that might mean to him, etc.
  • Li - Propriety: The character's sense of proper behavior, assuming he has one; a time when his actions were either exemplary or deplorable

The Five Elements, each of which corresponds with a Phase/Virtue. When invoked in opposition to an aspect tied to an element, these elemental aspects are either weak (+1 bonus), strong (+3 bonus), or neutral (+2 bonus). Aspects are only invoked for bonuses, never to reroll.

  • Wood (Xiao): Strong against Earth, weak against Metal
  • Fire (Yi): Strong against Metal, weak against Water
  • Earth (Jen): Strong against Water, weak against Wood
  • Metal (Zhong): Strong against Wood, weak against Fire
  • Water (Li): Strong against Fire, weak against Earth

The Three Qualities:

  • Kung-Fu: The character's interest, focus in life, or training (e.g., White Dragon Kung-Fu, Finest Chef in Zhang, Sorcerer of the Tao) -- something toward which he's devoted a significant amount of time and energy. This aspect is assigned to an Element of the player's choosing.
  • Wu Wei: The character's instinct or nature -- what comes naturally to him (e.g., Sword In Hand, Sucker for a Pretty Face). This aspect isn't assigned to an Element.
  • Sign: The character's astrological sign. An Element does apply here, in correspondence with the animal chosen.

The Ten Skills:

  • Skill pyramid with an apex of Great.

Chi, a stress track that starts at three boxes and is modified by Spirit as per Health/Composure in RAW.

  • Checking a box of Chi lets you replace one Fudge die with a d6 for one roll.
  • When you run out of Chi boxes, you can still use Chi; it just means taking a Consequence each time.
  • Chi boxes clear with a Spirit roll against a target equal to the highest box checked out of combat, or Superb in combat. The target increases by one for each consequence you've taken. Clear one box for each shift obtained on the roll.
  • Mysteries can be used to "block" Chi, using accupressure, sorcery, and the like (against an appropriate defense: Fists/Weapons/Athletics against accupressure, Spirit against sorcery, and so on). If the stress dealt exceeds the number of Chi boxes, deal a Minor spiritual consequence: "Blocked Chi." As long as the consequence remains in place, the target can't expend Chi.


  • Academics (includes the non-medicine portions of Science)
  • Alertness (includes Investigation)
  • Art
  • Athletics (includes riding from Survival)
  • Bureaucracy (the bureaucracy parts of Leadership)
  • Deceit
  • Empathy
  • Craft (formerly Engineering)
  • Fists
  • Gambling
  • Humanity (includes Rapport and Intimidation)
  • Medicine (the medicine bits of Science, with some aspects of Mysteries)
  • Might
  • Mysteries
  • Society (combines Contacting and Resources)
  • Spirit (includes Endurance and Resolve)
  • Stealth (includes Burglary and Sleight of Hand)
  • Survival
  • Weapons (includes Guns, if applicable)


  • No stunts. Use a variation on the stuntless rules. Spend a Fate Point to invoke an aspect for a bonus (+1, +2 or +3), to use one skill in place of another (e.g., invoking your "White Tiger Style Kung-Fu" aspect to use Weapons instead of Athletics for one roll), or to invoke for effect.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Fantasy: Gateway Playtest Aftermath

Hmm. Apparently, this will be long.

First of all, Gateway was just a good time. Finally played in Morgan Ellis's "Spirit of the Shattered Earth" game -- well, I say "finally," but it's only the second time he's run it at Strategicon -- which was a lot of fun. If you know your post-apoc references, you'll dig this game. Any game that explicitly acknowledges Kamandi and Thundarr is all right in my book. I caused a ruckus as Gorlla, the Mighty Crorc. I've encouraged Morgan a couple of times to get his act together and publish this thing in some form or other, so hopefully he'll do that.

Probably the coolest thing about "SotSE" is the game aspects, which I'll try to remember in their entirety:
  • Splash Page
  • Comic Book Panels
  • A World in Ruins
  • Kirby Dots
  • The Familiar Made Fantastic
  • Catchphrases

I love Splash Page. Invoke it and describe your character lookin' good on a splash page. Needless to say, Gorlla had a lot of splash pages.

The game also includes its own method of plot generation. Collectively, the players come up with, like, 14 other aspects for the game. It starts with picking a monument or landmark of some kind, like the Grand Canyon, the Space Needle, or the Hoover Dam, and rename it and/or the city it's in post-apocalyptically: the Grand Landfill, or the Emerald Jungle, or Hooville. Come up with something that's weird about the city and the landmark. Our Space Needle, f'rinstance, was at an extreme angel. Er, angle.

That's followed by the Menace, the Problem, and some other stuff, along with Post-Apoc Touches. It's a ton of fun collectively coming up with all of this as players -- and prep time for the GM is, like, zero (although he'll pay for it later in improvisational skills).

Ours ended being a pretty silly amalgam of Starbucks, "caffiends," Microsoft and giant seahawks. Can you guess where we were? I bet you can.

No Colin this Gateway, but y'know what? Who needs 'im? We had a fine time without him.

(Colin, please come back. Thank you.)

As for "SotS," the playtest went very well. I attribute this to a few things. One, the adventure was paced better than the last one, and didn't rely on a setting conceit that I found amusing but which didn't especially translate well at the table. Two, the character designs were more focused on the adventure itself -- no more characters who excel at avoiding everything, and no more stunts that are just there for flavor. Three, the lack of stress tracks made combat more exciting.

Based on that playtest, I'd say there's very little in the way of mechanical tweaking to be done. One thing that's broken: stunts that let you inflict a consequence for a Fate Point. Minions with no Grit are just a Fate Point away from instant annhilation. But change it to an aspect instead of a consequence, and we're good.

Adventure synopsis follows:

The adventure involved the PCs, a somewhat disparate collection of the faithful in Busra, investigating the apparent disappearance of an acolyte named Tartalo from the Great Cathedral of the Maiden. After talking with a few other acolytes, the party headed for Beggar's Alley, a.k.a. the poor part of town. The Justiciar and the Inquisitor busted heads in a floating dive bar called the Downed Buzzard, while the other four PCs made nice with some street people.

Collectively, they discovered that a number of vagrants had gone missing over the past few weeks, once every three days, and the acolyte -- in the neighborhood being charitable -- was apparently the last victim. The perpetrator: a demonic winged creature of some kind, which the knowledgeable among the party determined was a gargoyle. Normally, the creatures lie dormant, posing as mere ornamentation on a building, until forced back into life by a practitioner of forbidden magicks and forced to do his bidding.

As the PCs were discussing matters, down from the low-lying rainclouds swooped the aforesaid gargoyle. The Inquisitor bravely stepped forward to meet the beast, and was quickly snatched up in its claws and carried away. ("Good!" said Erik, the player. "It's taking me to them!") Three more gargoyles swooped down shortly thereafter, more intent on killing than kidnapping, but the party eventually put them down. At the end of the fight, Paskal Salaberri, celebrated actor of Mallora, was missing. Wherever did he go, I wonder?

While Olarra invoked her "Architectural Gymnastics" aspect for effect to see if she could remember where, in her many self-guided architectural tours about the city, she may have seen a collection of four huge gargoyles, the Inquisitor relaxed and enjoyed the ride. It ended at a tall tower, some five or six stories high, that had been essentially hollowed out. The gargoyle dropped him off at the ground floor and was prepared to fly away again, but didn't get a chance to before being split asunder by its victim's headsman's axe. The Inquisitor wasted no time in opening an obvious trapdoor in the floor and heading down the stairs it revealed. Thirty feet down, the stairs ended in a well-constructed tunnel, its floor marked by cart tracks. He started walking, and about a mile along encountered two robed, masked figures pulling a cart who, apparently, didn't see him. He scared the bejeezus out of both of them, then detained one for questioning before lopping the poor fellow's head off.

Meanwhile, everyone found the tower without too much fuss. The doors were apparently barred from the inside, though, and the windows boarded -- so Olarra decided to scale the outer wall to gain access. (Ballsy, but I should've compelled her "Mail Coat" aspect to penalize her roll -- oh well. Compels are something a lot of us SotC GMs need to work on, from what I hear.) She opened the front door, let everyone in, and they all went down the open trapdoor.

After a mile, they came across a decapitated body. Eww.

A mile later, they found the Inquisitor standing before an ornate stone archway in the tunnel, flipping through a book. He determined that it was a guardian arch dedicated to the Deceiver, eternal foe of the Maiden, and when he stepped closer it spoke to him in a dark tongue which, thanks to invoking an aspect for effect, he understood to say "Who passes through this arch?" His answer was plausible but incorrect -- something about terrorizing the weak, as I recall -- and then a bunch of animated skeletons came clawing their way out of the dirt walls, and, with a grinding of hidden gears, a stone barrier started to lower in the archway, threatening to cut off further progress. Sister Morwyn struggled to hold it open using magic while most everyone else started smashing skeletons. They weren't too much of a threat, and with a second effort Morwyn slammed the barrier into the ceiling so hard it cracked in twain.

Proceeding onwards, they came to a set of thick double-doors set into the tunnel and embossed with the seal of the Deceiver -- an evil demonic face. The Inquisitor tried to bust it open, and achieved some ridiculous level of success, like a Legendary +1 or something. The scene immediately lost the aspect "Double Doors" and gained the aspect "Pile of Scrap Lumber." The room beyond was truly a chamber of horrors: The walls were lined with victims of the Deceiver cult, chained to the walls and bleeding slowly into channels in the floor which in turn led to a huge vat of blood set into the center of the room. Also present: about 24 cultists and two obvious boss-types. One of them yelled "Seize them!" and it was on.

All kinds of heroics ensued, so let me just bullet-point this:

  • The long-awaited return of Paskal Salaberri, who was somehow one of the cultists, thanks to his Master of Disguise stunt (a.k.a. The Funnest Stunt in the Game). First he slashes up a few cultists, then he convinces some others to turn on their cult leaders and stop with all the blood rituals already.
  • Olarra leaping up, grabbing onto a low-hanging chain ("Chamber of Horrors" was an aspect), swinging across the room over the heads of the bosses in back, then, on the backswing, knocking one of them -- who, incidentally, turned out to be Father Berasko, an official at the cathedral who tried to lead their investigation astray -- into the vat of blood.
  • Egun the dwarf holding Berasko's head down in the vat of blood and, well, drowning him. METAL.
  • Sister Morwyn casting a simple Light spell to dispel a group of living shades Berasko had conjured up (I loved that Selene, her player, used a spell in a totally different way than I'd foreseen, and to such great effect) -- which also replaced the room's "Flickering Torchlight" aspect with "Well-Lit." I think I gave her a Fate Point for that because it was so cool.
  • Inquisitor Gurtuz walking up to a group of minions and scaring them into surrender. Keep in mind that these guys effectively work in a subterranean chamber filled with dying people and blood and chains and Maiden knows what else.
  • Brother Todor, the Justiciar, starting and winning an Intimidation-based staring contest with the Old One, the leader of the cult, who'd been kept alive for time out of mind by a thousand years of blood rituals.

We ended about 20 minutes late (typical, for me), so I didn't get to the denouement, but it was this: A secret door from that chamber of horrors opened onto some winding stairs that led to... the Great Cathedral! Dun-dun-duh!

After the game, Hamish, who played Olarra and who had played in my Qin: The Warring States game at OrcCon back in February, suggested I run a kung-fu game using SotC. That immediately got me thinking, and I'm almost ashamed to say that I pretty much have the whole thing sketched out already. I'll post it later this week.