Sunday, December 14, 2008

Fantasy: Mass Combat (Part I)

(Don't let the presence of the word "fantasy" up there fool you. These rules can be used for mass combat in any genre -- I think.)

My original goal was to see if I could use FATE to come up with a miniatures wargame that didn't require miniatures or terrain. So be warned: The following is likely to be way too crunchy for some people. Even though the bulk of these rules are months old, I have yet to playtest them (although I expect to in a few days), so give them a look-see, if you would, and tell me where I've gone horribly, horribly wrong.

Guiding Rules and Concepts
  • Chase rules: I like the way an independent pool of points is used to measure just how important the chase is, and the way those points can be spent to change things up during the chase.
  • Leadership: Specifically, the use of Leadership to help minions.
  • Units as characters: Treating units as characters with consequences, skills, and aspects.
  • Minion/Companion rules: If units are characters, they're most easily differentiated using these rules as a base.
  • Zones: I dig the abstraction of distance.
Player characters are commanders in these scenarios, not mere footsoldiers. If the PCs aren't in charge, don't use these rules.

Building An Army

Armies are built of individual units.

Skills for units are limited to the following:

  • Alertness
  • Intimidation
  • Melee
  • Missile
  • Maneuvering
  • Spirit
  • Stealth
Maneuvering is basically Athletics, but I don't like that word for a combat unit. Just doesn't sound right.

Spirit is a combination of Endurance and Resolve. Whether a unit is slaughtered or routed, the result is pretty much the same: It's taken out. The details of how that goes down are left to the consequences it suffers.

Alertness and Stealth are basically there to counter each other.

Battle Points
pay for units. The number of Battle Points each commander receives depends on how important the battle is. Use the Chase rules as a guide for this: 5 Battle Points for a skirmish that's just adding flavor, 10 for a battle that's the focus of the session, and 20 for a truly epic clash of armies. If the commanders are allies instead of enemies, and playing in a GM-run scenario, the GM gets Battle Points equal to the aggregate total of the players' Battle Points (or more, if, y'know, he feels like it).
  • For Your Consideration: Fate Points can be converted into Battle Points on a 1:1 basis. I'm not sure what I think of this, but... sure, why not?
Base Unit Cost is equal to the value of its apex skill. Units max out at Good (+3) quality.
  • Average units: One Average skill
  • Fair units: One Fair skill, two Average skills
  • Good units: One Good skill, two Fair skills, three Average skills

As for consequences, there's no consideration of degrees of severity here. The assumption is that these units won't really exist, in game terms, for any longer than the length of the battle, so there's no point dealing with any of that. However, we do track the nature of the consequence, whether physical or mental. A unit can withstand a number of consequences equal to one less than its quality. That is, Average units are taken out if they take even a single consequence, while Good units can take two without going down.

  • When a unit is defeated by a physical consequence, it's either wiped out or scattered beyond reformation.
  • When defeated by a mental consequence, the unit is demoralized, breaks ranks, and/or routs.

Every unit starts with one Aspect for free that reflects the racial make-up and nature of the unit. Examples: Dwarven Infantry, Elven Archers, Human Dragoons, Troll Shocktroops. You can't invoke your unit's Dwarven Infantry aspect to help with their Missile skill, for example -- but you can certainly invoke the Human Dragoons aspect to help move faster with Maneuvering (since dragoons are mounted troops).

Armoring a unit costs 1 Battle Point. This adds an appropriate aspect (e.g., "Human Infantry" and "Kite Shields," "Elven Archers" and "Mail Shirts").

By default, every unit has the tools it needs to get the job done. For 1 Battle Point, a unit can be equipped with superior or heavy weaponry. This gives it a +1 to either Melee or Missile rolls.

For 2 Battle Points, you get one Great (+4) Lieutenant that has access to the full gamut of skills, including Leadership (though not in excess of his or her commander). Build the Lieutenant as a Great character with one aspect and one stunt. Attaching a Lieutenant to a unit is the equivalent of the Independent advance for a Companion. Lieutenants can engage other Lieutenants, PCs, or important NPCs in one-to-one combat. Lieutenants are important NPCs in their own right, and should be treated as such.

Next Up in Part II: More!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Extra! Extra!

So this really great idea came into existence on over the past couple days, and even though it's not mine and I had nothing to do with its development, I want to post about it just to spread the word -- because God knows I'll be using it.

The idea originated with Paka as a result of thinking about what people often cite as SotC's one failing: the lack of an advancement system. He soon came to the realization that when it comes to pulp characters, they don't change themselves -- they change the world. This is essentially the same as having game-wide aspects, with the additional detail that the players are called upon to cough up one aspect apiece as the game begins, with another couple from the GM. Specifically, each of these aspects is a newspaper headline that describes the world, like so:


And so on.

Each player (including the GM) then picks one aspect to be relevant for the story arc, so if we have three players, they all decide that, somehow or other, this story will involve South American dinosaurs (or dinosaurs that live in South America, at any rate), some uppity monkeys, a mysterious radio transmission, and the Bulverian military (and/or Russia). Consider it another way to help the GM set things up.

"But," I hear you shout in your short-sightedness, "I thought this was about advancement!" It is! Just let me finish! Man, you always do this! Why can't you --

Sorry. Anyway.

Now, at the end of the story arc, whoever spent the most Fate Points adds a new headline or changes an existing one. Maybe those intelligent apes aren't so diplomatic anymore. Maybe the Russo-Bulverian war has finally broken out. Or maybe Mole-Men burrowed up from right under the White House lawn.

So over time, you accumulate headlines, effectively -- yes -- changing the world. And the more Fate Points you spend, the more influence you have on the world. It's a sort of long-term narrative control mechanism.

I think it's pretty rad, and Paka, or whoever he is when he isn't on (Judd? I don't know the guy), is pretty rad for having thought of it.

Now, some other ideas were floated in that thread to which I linked above, such as limiting the power of adding headlines to the GM and and the power of altering them to the players, but personally I like it as-is. I do have a couple other twists for it, though.

The whole thing reminds me a bit of John Wick's Houses of the Blooded, in which descriptive and editorial control for scenes and facets of the world can be shared by the players. That's... a whole other thing that I'm not going to get into here, but the point is that players can add new details ("Lady Windermere collects fans") or add new information to a detail ("But someone's stolen her favorite one"), but can't contradict or delete existing details. However, players can spend Style Points to veto a detail, or the GM can declare a detail "Bad Form" and axe it that way. (As far as I can recall, anyway.) I'd allow the same kind of thing here, but treat it like an escalating compel. That is, if you and I are both players and I'm so opposed to your headline for whatever reason (it's wildly out of tone, obviates a headline I want to do on my turn, etc.), I can spend a Fate Point to veto it -- but you can spend one to keep it -- but I can see your one Fate Point and raise you one -- and so on. I can't see people throwing away a ton of Fate Points on this sort of thing, but it seems fair to me.

Or maybe you can just use your turn during the pre-game headline process to cross out a headline instead of adding your own. I mean, don't be a dick about it, but this too seems fair to me.

Admittedly, this sort of thing works better in genres that actually have, y'know, newspaper headlines -- as I believe someone mentioned in the thread, you could present these as what paperboys on street corners are shouting out -- but there's certainly nothing stopping this from being applied to any game, really. It's just that it won't integrate itself so completely in every time period. I mean, yes, in a medieval-ish setting, you can have heralds for this sort of thing, but they don't really serve the same purpose as paperboys, nor would they technically deliver news in such a classic fashion, but man, that's a pretty minute quibble.