Monday, October 27, 2008

Spirit of the Vineyard

I've been reading Dogs in the Vineyard lately in preparation for running a one-shot for some friends, and I'm really digging the die mechanic. I think it's better suited for, say, a swashbuckling game myself -- all that See-and-Raise business seems perfect for simulating fencing -- but one thing that's really stood out for me is the concept of Fallout Dice. And naturally, I had the urge to see if I could port it over to SotC.

For those unfamiliar with Dogs, Fallout Dice accumulate from being on the losing end of a conflict. That's not totally accurate -- you could theoretically win and still end up with Fallout Dice -- but close enough. You roll at least three Fallout Dice, and the deadlier the conflict (from talking to gunfire), the higher the die type you roll (from d4 to d8). Total the two highest dice; the higher the sum, the worse the Fallout. You might lose a friend; you might lose your life.

We won't be using multiple die types for this; it just doesn't feel FATEy. Instead, we'll use d6s. In fact, to keep things consistent, you could use d6-d6, a la Starblazer Adventures, instead of 4dF. Here's how it works.

First, cut out the stress tracks.

When a character takes stress in an exchange, the amount of stress equates to Consequence Dice, to a maximum of 6d6. F'rinstance, if the villainous Doctor Fistinyourface punches you (in the face) for 3 stress, set aside 3d6.

If Endurance (for physical conflict) or Resolve (for mental/social conflict) is higher than number of Consequence Dice rolled, remove one die from the pool. You may also pay a Fate Point to remove a die from the pool.

The way the Consequence Dice are treated is dependent on the importance of the conflict or scene in which they're obtained. Scenes that are more integral to the plot mean a higher probability of serious consequences.
  • If a minor conflict (e.g., fighting a lone group of minions, debating an unimportant NPC), take the sum of the two highest dice.
  • If a moderately important conflict (i.e., fighting a lieutenant and his minions, wooing an important secondary PC), reroll any ones, then take the sum of the two highest dice.
  • If a major conflict (i.e., fighting a main villain, pleading for your life on the chopping block), reroll ones and twos, then take the sum of the two highest dice.
That roll determines what consequence the attack has, like so:
  • If the sum of the Consequence Dice is 2, or less than or equal to the defender's Endurance or Resolve, as appropriate, the attack has no effect.
  • If the total is 6 or less, it's a Minor consequence.
  • If the total is 7 to 10, it's a Moderate consequence.
  • If the total is 11 or 12, it's a Severe consequence.
So let's say Doctor Fistinyourface deals 3 stress to you. That's 3d6 Consequence Dice. Fortunately, your Endurance is Great (+4), so you'll only roll 2d6 Consequence Dice. The result totals 4, but since that's equal to or less than your Endurance, the blow glances off your iron jaw. And now it's your turn: You give the good doctor a little chin music to the tune of 4 stress. His Endurance is merely Good (+3), so he'll roll a full 4d6 Consequence Dice, for 2, 4, 5, and 5. That's a Moderate consequence (5 + 5 = 10 = Moderate) -- call it "Broken Jaw." Physician, heal thyself.

Dogs' mechanic is a bit more complex, with the possibility of going from minor fallout to major fallout to, in theory, death. That's possible here, too, but it makes things maybe a little too die-rolly for my tastes. Instead of just assigning a consequence based on the total of the two highest dice, roll your Endurance/Resolve against the total.
  • If the total is 6 or less and you fail, take a Minor consequence.
  • If you fail by 4 or more, increase the total of the Consequence Dice to 10 and roll again.
  • If the total is 7 to 10 and you fail, take a Moderate consequence.
  • If you fail by 6 or more, increase the total of the Consequence Dice to 12 and roll again.
  • If the total is 11 or 12 and you fail, take a Severe consequence.
  • If you fail by 8 or more, you are Taken Out.

But like I said, that means a lot of die rolling every time some punk minion gets in a lucky shot. It does, however, give you a fightin' chance to not take any consequences at all, assuming you roll well and have a good stock of Fate Points on hand.

Why do any of this? Excellent question. My answer: I dunno. It certainly makes combat less predictable and far grittier. Two lucky rolls, regardless of the importance of the scene, is enough to be Taken Out. For some genres, that works; for others, not so much. Still, there you go. I prefer going by scene importance instead of the lethality of the attack; SotC's great at letting every skill matter, and it's perfectly within bounds to get "socially" Taken Out in a climactic scene. Because of the rerolls, in a major scene you're taking at least a Minor consequence every time you're hit. My advice: Don't get hit.

(As GM, I normally give myself Fate Points per scene based on the same criteria, usually from a few to 10. A minor skirmish or encounter might only give me 3 Fate Points, whereas for the all-out Battle of the Long Plains I'd give myself 10. So a minor conflict/scene would mean less than 5, a moderate would mean more than 5 but less than 10, and a major would be 10 and up.)

And if nothing else, it's another excellent illustration of FATE's flexibility and resilience.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Fantasy: Rethinking "Simplifying Weapons"

Seemed like such a good idea when I thought of it, but while speaking with a friend about RPGs last night (and "SotS" in particular), I hit upon a reason not to simply reduce weapons to category/aspect: Armor.

Right now, Medium armor is strong against slashing and Heavy is strong against slashing and bashing. And I like it that way. It offers a broad but elegant representation of different armor types. But if I take away aspects like "Slashing" and "Bashing" from weapons, it won't be as readily apparent which weapons slash/bash and which don't. In other words, I'd be relying even more on pre-existing player knowledge of various weapons to make the system work as intended, and I'm not entirely comfortable with that.

Yes, in the description of the weapon I can just say which ones slash and bash, but it isn't as mechanically transparent as giving assigning "Slashing" and "Bashing" aspects. The last thing I want to do here is muddy the waters.

Instead of saying that, for example, mail armor is strong against slashing weapons, I could list every weapon by name against which the armor is strong, but that feels lame in the extreme.

If I want to leave that weapon/armor interaction intact, I think my only real option is to go back to the previous method of separated name and aspects.

Don't get me wrong: To me, it feels perfectly natural to say "I tag your weapon's 'Scimitar' aspect to give my Armor roll a +2." In fact, that sort of thing even goes some way toward answering the question of why anyone with a high Melee would defend using Armor. You can't tag "Scimitar" to help with your Melee defense, but, since slashing weapons perform poorly against Medium armor, now it's an aspect that's actually useful to you. I just don't think it's necessarily fair to assume that all players will know how various weapons are used.

Maybe codified keywords within their descriptions, like "Scimitars have curved blades primarily designed for slashing attacks." I dunno.

I have some other rambling ideas to try to address this (like giving every weapon two aspects: one a primary aspect that grants a +2 bonus, and a secondary that grants a +1 bonus), but nothing coherent, so I'll stop typing before I embarrass myself too much.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

PDQ#, Etc.

Apologies for the long period of silence, but I'm getting married in three weeks (!) and you wouldn't believe how much time that's been consuming lately. Basically, anytime I'm at rest, I should probably be doing something wedding-related. However, this isn't that kind of blog, so on to something FATE-related.

I've been reading Chad Underkoffler's new swashbuckler-specific implementation of PDQ, PDQ Sharp, and I'm really digging it. Lots of good ideas in there. The full version will be in Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies (with which I unfortunately have no connection), but in the meantime you really ought to check out the free 28-page PDF of the PDQ# core rules, if you haven't already. The mechanics are elegant and support the genre, and the writing style is both straightforward and pretty entertaining. Not many games so strongly encourage the use of the word "Certes"; for that, my white-plumed hat's off to you, Chad. Really looking forward to the finished product -- among my weaknesses are all things swashbucklery.