Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Character Creation - Pre-requisites for Magic Use (Part III) - Magic Stunt

Faithful readers of this blog may see that much of the following information looks kind of familiar. That's because the basis for much of SoG's Magic Stunt is based upon what Mike has already written elsewhere in this blog:


This entry will focus more specifically on the following:

  • What differentiates the Magic Stunt from the Magic Skill
  • Applications of the Magic Stunt within SoG

First off, within SoG I generically use the term "Sorcery" to describe the generation of magical effects via the use of the Magic Stunt. "Wizardry" is the skill-based generation of magical effects.

In my opinion, the term "sorcery" is probably most used by Wizards as a derogatory term. Sorcerors would likely consider that stunt-based magic is perhaps the purest expression of magic: the instinctual ability to generate magical effects at a moment’s notice, with little or no prior preparation. Wizards would probably scoff at the notion, considering the (ab)use of Magic (with a capital M) without sufficient study as ignorant folly... ;)

Magic Stunt Overview
  • The Magic Stunt and the Magic Skill are not mutually exclusive. Someone could choose to take both. In fact, I suspect many of the REALLY powerful Wizards probably do have both, in order to allow them the maximum flexibility in generating magical effects. This would be akin to a "Master" craftsman saying something like, "You have to KNOW the rules, before you can BREAK them..."
  • The character must still have a Magic-related Aspect in order to generate magical effects.
  • The Magic Stunt allows the user to create magical effects on the fly, without having to memorize spells.
  • Generating magical effects via the Magic Stunt requires the user to roll the normal 4dF (versus the 2dF+2 of the Magic Skill). This also means that Stunt-based magic is also more prone to failure.
  • When using the Magic Stunt to generate Magical effects, the user can elect to expend as many FATE points as desired (up to what they have available) per casting to gain the necessary effect. Obviously, this can make things rather easy for a Sorceror to get in over his head in a tough situation.

Should the Magic Stunt require a FATE point to activate the Stunt? Many powerful stunts in SotC RAW require the expenditure of a FATE point to activate them--should the Magic Stunt? My current feeling is NO, the Magic stunt should not require a FATE point to activate it.
  • Based upon what little play we've done with SoG and reading other people's experiences, I think I would rather players use FATE points to have fun and bring the awesome, not as the basis of how many spells their character can cast.
  • Even if it was a requirement, I would be inclined to give the player the benefit of having expended that FATE point as if they had elected to spend it in the normal fashion.
  • This decision might also be dependent upon the realm where this is being applied. In a realm where magic is rarer (or the ability to cast it is rare), it might be more appropriate.

Important Difference between the Magic Stunt versus other SotC Stunts

Within SotC RAW, most (if not all) other Stunts are tied to a pre-set Skill requirement. However within the High Fantasy realm of Greyhawk, the PLAYER will determine what skill is tied to the Magical Stunt. Some examples are:
  • A Bard capable of generating magic effects via his song would tie his Art Skill to the Magic Stunt.
  • A dwarven blacksmith creating magic armor or weapons would tie her Art Skill (broken out as the "Craft" skill in SoG) to her Magic Stunt.
  • Healers or Alchemists could generate magical healing effects by combining the Science (known as the "Physick" skill in SoG) to their Magic Stunt.
  • High "level" thieves with the Magic Stunt could combine the Magic Stunt with Stealth or Burglary
  • Rangers could combine the Survival skill with the Magic Stunt.
  • A "pure" Sorceror would likely combine the Magic Stunt with the Resolve skill--the gift/curse to generate magic effects purely by willpower.
  • Many powers of the Monk class might be translated by combining the Magic Stunt with Athletics or Fists skills.

So I think this provides a convenient method by which we can translate the magical effects attributed to higher levels of a particular class in the source material, without having to get too rule-crunchy.

DESIGN CONSIDERATION: Can a player tie the Magic Stunt to more than one skill? In other words, could a player have a character with both Art Skill and the Craft Skill be able to sing magical songs AND create magic weapons? On the surface, I don't see why not. At least in the High Fantasy realm of common magic. I think it might present some challenges to the player as to having a clear picture of the character--but that would be common to any sort of "multi-class" type.

Gameplay Implications

A Sorceror (or someone using the Magic Stunt as their primary method of surviving combat) could find himself running out of FATE points pretty quick in a conflict.

This was on purpose. Sorcerors (and Wizards) are supposed to be smart folks: whether that's expressed as "book smart" or "street smart" or "crazy to tamper with forces beyond their reckoning" is up to the player.

So if a player is to effectively run this kind of character, this setup encourages a player to really pay attention to Aspects (whether in their opponents, themselves or in the scene) and work to tag them as much as possible and thus avoid having to tap into their own FATE points.

Literary Example: The Dresden Files. Consider how much more effective magic users are in a conflict when they have the opportunity to research their opponent, dictate the conditions, or otherwise are able to "tag the aspects"!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Character Creation - Pre-requisites for Magic Use (Part I) - Aspects

[Editorial Note: I'm still getting the hang of blog publishing. I'd SWEAR I published this entry right before Christmas, but now it's not there. Anyhoo, this should have appeared BEFORE the "Magic Skill" write-up]

In order for a creature to cast a spell without otherwise being assisted (via a potion, or magic item), the following MUST exist:

  • At least ONE Aspect devoted to Magic of some kind.

From there, the caster must have either:

NOTE: A Magic stunt and the Magic Skill are not mutually exclusive. A character may have BOTH the Magic Skill and one or more Magic stunts. In a similar vein, it's certainly possible that a character (most likely an NPC) could have the Magic Skill and NOT have an Magic Aspect. However that would mean that character could not generate magical effects (or at least not without some "replacement" for the Magic-related Aspect). I would envision someone like this as perhaps a librarian, scribe, or researcher. Upon further thought, J.K. Rowling's character of "Argus Filch" (the Hogwarts' care-taker) might be a good literary example.

Aspect "Magical Talent of Some Kind"
A character must devote at least one aspect to a Magical Talent. The player can call it whatever they want (remember the "BAM!")
  • Elven Magic
  • High Arcana
  • Spellsword
  • Illusionry
  • Blessed Magic of the "High Light"
  • Black Magic
  • Necromancy

Positive Aspects: Access to magic, sensitivities to magic, etc.

Negative Aspects: Susceptability to magic-specific maladies or other negative impacts. Being "visible" to people trying to sense those with this aspect. Whatever else the GM happens to come up with...

Clerical Magic Aspects
AD&D dogma implies / states that although the same "energy" is used to create all spell effects, the mechanism by which they are created is different. Magic-Users manipulate the energy themselves to create the effect whereas Cleric-types cast spells are actually generated by their deity's servants in answer to the prayers of the Cleric.

So, Clerical / Druidical Aspects could be something like:
  • Granted [Deity]'s Favor
  • Hand of [Deity]
  • State of Grace
  • Nature's Gift

Split Classes
Based upon the above, my current feeling is that if someone was trying to recreate a "split class" (specifically where Clerical and Magic Use are available) they would need two aspects, in order to cast each group of spells.

Quick Clarification
The requirement of having an Aspect devoted to Magic does not mean that casting a spell requires the use of a Fate point. IMO, Fate points are not measures of a particular character's ability to generate magical effects. Rather, they are the PLAYER's (not the character's) ability to modify the character's reality for story purposes.

The idea of the Aspect requirement was more a way to handle the concept that although magic is common in High Fantasy, in SoG there is something inherently different about the caster from normal folk that allows them to manipulate magical forces.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Off-Topic: Roll Some Dice in 2010

Hey there. Pardon the interruption -- I don't want to mess up Guy's flow or anything, but I wanted to post this rather off-topic news.

One of the reasons my posting on this blog has slowed as of late is that most of my RPG ideas these days haven't involved FATE, so they don't really fit in here. In the interest of giving them a home, I've started another blog, Roll Some Dice. Instead of being laser-focused on FATE and SotC, it's more of a general game-design blog where I can air those non-FATE ideas and develop them further with the help of a loving largely ambivalent public.

The first idea to get some attention is a more or less complete game, Leftovers, which I wrote for a contest on RPG.net. Check it out!

I now return you to your regularly scheduled guest blogger.

Character Creation - Pre-requisites for Magic Use (Part II) - Magic Skill

Hope everyone had a good holiday. Let's take advantage of the brief lull between now and New Years' and get some postings in! So, ya wanna be a Wizard, eh?

Before we get too far into the skills of Magic (known as Wizardry in the SoG), I'll take a minute to provide some "game play experience" insight. The Spirit of Greyhawk (SoG) implementation of FATE takes a viewpoint that represents something of a different direction from pure Greyhawk canon.

The realm of Greyhawk represents high-fantasy, and as such magic is considered a relatively common occurance, like gravity. It's just a fact of life. And so in making a set of rules that supported the stories I wanted to tell, I decided to make a distinction between skill-based magic (Wizardry) and stunt-based magic (Sorcery). Both exist within SoG:

  • Wizards are the more "ivory tower" users of magic, something similar to our world's scientists. They are skilled in the use and principles of Magic.
  • Sorcerors represent the most "pure" use of stunt-based magic. While they might be capable of generating very powerful magical effects through their given abilities (within a realm that provides that magic is common), they have little or no training in the priniciples of the forces they manipulate. I also expect that the more common useage of magic among non-wizard types fall into this category.

Maybe there will be an opportunity later to lay out some design themes and considerations but to keep this blog entry focused on rules, I'll summarize it like this:

  • Skill-based magic represents an empirically-oriented study of magic and the practice of documented principles and applications (i.e., pre-made spells). As such, magical effects are much more predictable and not prone to failure as long as the caster works within his or her skill level.
  • Stunt-based magic represents a more ad hoc study of magic in a less principled environment than wizardry. Magical effects are much less predictable and are prone to failures.

So without any more stalling, here's the Magic Skill...

Magic Skill
This skill would directly correspond to the user's overall skill level with regards to casting increasingly difficult Magic spells.

Wizard spells run from levels 0 (cantrips) through 9. For Spirit of Greyhawk, Level 1 spells are considered Average (+1) difficulty.

Translated, this means that if you have only the Aspect of magic but no skill level, than you can cast level 0 spells (difficulty Mediocre) before you incur an negative modifier.

Fate DifficultyAD&D Spell Level
+9 (Mythical?)Level 9
+8 (Legendary)Level 8
+7 (Epic)Level 7
+6 (Fantastic)Level 6
+5 (Superb)Level 5
+4 (Great)Level 4
+3 (Good)Level 3
+2 (Fair)Level 2
+1 (Average)Level 1
0 (Mediocre)Level 0

(The adding of level 9 to the Difficulty Ladder is a departure from normal FATE, but I honestly don't expect to spend much time up there! Level 9 spells tend to be something closer to deus ex machina grade spells anyway.)

Casting Spells BELOW your Skill Level

As per normal FATE, this would allow for the opportunity of a greater number of positive shifts (margin of success) when casting is a success.

Casting Spells ABOVE your Skill Level
If we were using pure canon, there would be NO opportunity for casting spells above your skill level. However using Fate 3.0, this now becomes available. Whether or not it’s advisable for a caster to attempt it is another story…

OPEN ISSUE: What would the implication be of failing a spell that was ABOVE your skill level? I think there ought to be SOME sort of impact to failure—otherwise people would be doing it all the time. Would the caster receive damage (physical or emotional, up to the GM) for the same amount of shifts equal to failure? I'm open to suggestions. Although my undocumented preference is that the implications are still up to the GM, perhaps within certain guidelines.

When using the Magic Skill to cast a premade spell in SoG, the caster doesn't roll the usual 4dF which gives a potential range of -4 to +4.

Instead, use 2dF+2 to give a potential range of 0 to +4.

This is to reflect the benefit of the wizard's extensive study in the casting of "preset" spells. By using that preset spell, the caster is reducing the randomness in the outcome of the casting. This also allows for a more consistent feel with the Greyhawk source material.

This benefit DOES NOT apply to Sorcery, or if the Wizard decides to "change the formula" of a preset spell (more on this later).

In Summary
A caster may use the 2dF+2 roll only if all of the following are in force:
  1. User is casting a Preset Spell.
  2. User's Skill (or related Skill?) is at least the equal of the spell's difficulty. Example: A Good (+3) spell being cast by someone with a Magic Skill of Good or better.
  3. The preset spell is being cast "as is" — no modifications are being made.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Game-related Assumptions about Magic in SoG

So Mike mentioned in the last post's comments that SoG was something of a different perspective--specifically that SoG is not being written as a translation of the D20 game mechanic. SoG is being written as a vision of the World of Greyhawk, using FATE.

That was absolutely true. Applying the "chicken and the egg" argument to Greyhawk, my design theory for this effort is:

  • The world of Greyhawk is the "Chicken"
  • AD&D and therefore SoG is the "Egg"

The SoG approach to Magic is a good illustration of this. Most other FATE translations I have seen (to date) have expressed magic as something of an "ad hoc" approach. I say this without being critical, because:

  • It certainly reduces "time to market" as it were.
  • There are certainly tons of "realms" where generating magic effects really was ad hoc.
  • FATE is more about playing than about writing, and ad hoc magic fits nicely with that approach.
  • I too don't want to spend what little time I have available to devote to gaming in just translating spells.
  • I also use the ad hoc approach in SoG as one expression of Magic (looking ahead to the section on "Sorcery" or "Stunt-Based Magic").

However in order to recreate the play experience of Magic in Greyhawk, I felt it necessary to include the play experience of a Wizard selecting pre-fab spells, and storing up what they felt was necessary for a particular day, hoping they have "chosen well" (Deliberate vision of Crusader from "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade").

That term "play experience" goes back to how the article started: SoG is about the recreation of the "play experience" of Greyhawk.

So as a starting place, I used the following ground-rules about Magic as it exists in Greyhawk that should be adhered to, or at least reviewed carefully before breaking.

Couple caveats to note:
  1. While the assumptions below might reference game mechanics, I am working from the viewpoint that the original mechanics were put in place to reinforce the game-world assumptions. (See "Chicken and the Egg" above)
  2. Not all my assumptions might be considered "canon". Some assumptions are those I chose to make (notably in the difference between psionics and magic).
  3. These assumptions also very specifically are focused on the world of Greyhawk, circa AD&D 70's-80's. I made no effort to try to cover any other ground (GH was enough!)
  4. Don't limit the FATE mechanic just because something wasn't in AD&D.

Greyhawk-related Assumptions about Magic

  • The ability to manipulate magic forces is inherent within a particular individual.
  • The actual "channeling" or functional use of magic depends upon skill.
  • Clerical magic is granted by a deity, but the functional use of that deity-granted magic still depends upon skill of the cleric.
    • That skill is not so much a function of study, but rather reflect the degree of wisdom / experience / closeness of a character to a Deity and their good graces.
    • It might also be considered that the power of the "go-between" used by the deity to grant spells (from prayer or from just asking), would also be a function of how "tight" (read: high level) the cleric is. In other words, the power level of the minion used to grant a 1st level cleric's prayers would undoubtedly be less than the power level of the minion backing an epic-level cleric.
    • (In theory, a deity could grant extra levels with Aspects that don't require education, but that's for further exploration)
  • IMPORTANT: Casting a spell is not difficult, when done by a person with skill adequate to the difficulty of the spell. In other words, in AD&D spells typically don’t fail due to the caster—they fail because the target made a saving throw.
  • Spells have a life of their own, as a result of the casters' manipulation of magical energy.
    • This is why spells have aspects of their own also.
    • CRITICAL UNDERSTANDING: Spells do not represent a player-versus-player contest (in contrast to Psionics or contested skills). Normal casting of spells are uncontested; the caster is beating a straight difficulty to cast the spell. Spell resistance on the part of the targets is not a function of resisting the CASTER, but rather the difficulty presented by the strength of the SPELL.
  • Spells to be cast are pre-determined (pre loaded) by the caster.
    • Magic User source – Memorization via a Spellbook
    • Clerical source – Granted by Deity when the user prays
  • Spells once cast are "gone" and require study / prayer (an amount of time must pass) in order to regain the spells (reactivate spell slots).
  • It is normally not draining upon the user to cast a spell.
  • Psionics are not Magic, and do not obey the same laws.
  • Lower-level spells cast by higher-skilled wizards often (but not always) give some benefit to the spell, whether in potency, duration, or something else.
  • Just because something wasn't covered in AD&D, doesn't mean it doesn't exist in Greyhawk. Perhaps it just wasn't "known" or wasn't considered a "good idea"within Greyhawk.
    Case in point: Casting a spell beyond your skill level. AD&D didn't really cover how to address that situations (other than you "couldn't" outside of scrolls). The FATE mechanic implies that it could happen. So in SoG, just because a 1st level wizard COULD cast Fireball, doesn't mean it's a good idea! (mu-ha-ha!)
  • In gameplay terms, if something in FATE allows a player to "bring the awesome" that wasn't in AD&D; allow it.
    Case in Point: Covens. Or stated in game-terms, multiple wizards working together to cast a spell that individually they couldn't cast (or to make the spell they could cast more potent). Covens are pretty much standard issue in any Magic-realm, but AD&D didn't really address how that would work. SotC has some very nice rules for allowing people to work together to increase the effective skill level--so make use of what SotC RAW offers.

Coming Up: Character Creation and Pre-Requisites for using Magic

Friday, December 18, 2009

All Your Blog Are Belong To Us

"There is nothing wrong with your television set. Do not attempt to adjust the picture. We are controlling transmission."

--Opening Narration, "The Outer Limits" (1963)

Mike and I have been corresponding about FATE implementations for some time. While Mike has a great ability to apply FATE across many genres, I've been focusing on one genre in particular: High Fantasy. Even more in particular: Old school AD&D.

Disclaimer: I don't consider myself a game designer. I consider myself primarily a Game Master / Dungeon Master. I never set out with the idea to create a FATE implementation. My goal was to have a set of rules that let my players and I make use of the FATE/SotC structure to "tell the stories we wanted to tell" in the Greyhawk universe that we remembered.

The more I looked for rules and ideas that people were already writing and sharing, the more I realized that just patching together articles was gonna get unuseable pretty fast.

I ended up deciding that the best way to go was to create a single, unified ruleset centered on Greyhawk (circa AD&D of the 70's - 80's) that my players and I wanted to use:

  1. Start with the SotC RAW ruleset as a baseline and framework.
  2. Translate the genre pieces within the SotC game into a High Fantasy genre (specifically Greyhawk).
  3. Add only those pieces that weren't part of SotC but were needed for Greyhawk (Magic, predominantly)

Add to that a secondary goal of trying to stay as close to SotC RAW as possible (meaning tinker only as much as necessary), and you've got my battle plan.

So that brings me to why I offered to post on Mike's blog:

  1. Mike has shared so much of his thinking with me, I felt it was time I started sharing back. Read Fred Hicks editorial on being "no silent fan" for further thoughts on this.
  2. Use SotB as a sounding board to see if my ideas can stand up to scrutiny outside my own playtest sessions.

So that's enough backstory. Since I don't know how long Mike's hiatus will be, I'm going to start right in next post on what seems to be the 800 pound gorilla of any Fantasy-FATE implementation...

Next up: Magic (or "Never insult a Wizard by calling him a Sorceror")

Oh and for reference purposes, the working title of my FATE implementation is... (Muppet Show drumroll...) "Spirit of Greyhawk" or SoG.

...Why is it that the FATE ruleset can bring out such creativity in people, except when it comes to naming their version of it?

PS: Hey Mike! What's the "usual way to undertake a serious conversion," anyway? ;)

Guest Blogger!

Greetings, true believers. The baby and a general lack of any FATE-related activity on my end has resulted in an unfortunate period of dormancy for Spirit of the Blank, which is a shame. Fortunately, SotB enthusiast and fellow Greyhawk aficionado Guy Bowring has generously volunteered to step in and fill the void. He's undertaken a serious conversion of AD&D to FATE (but not in the usual way, IMO) for a Greyhawk game, a fan project that couldn't be more awesome if it tried.

So he's going to be taking the reins for a while. The next words you'll read here will be his. Excelsior!

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Aspects-as-Skills FATE

I know this has been done by others, but I've had this kicking around for a while and figured it was worth posting in case anyone else is interested in it. It's in a pretty rough state, so forgive it its roughness.

Most of the system is the same as standard FATE (or my take on it, anyway), with a few differences.

A character's skills, personality, weaknesses, and etc. are represented by his aspects. Each character has 10 aspects, rated between 2 and 5: four at 2, three at 3, two at 4, and one at 5. The higher the rating, the better the aspect.

When you use an aspect, you roll a number of six-sided dice equal to its rating. This use of an aspect is called tagging. Every die that comes up even is a point. You'll always be rolling against a target number, either a static one determined by the GM or another character's point total from an aspect roll. Every point you score in excess of your target number is a shift.

The first aspect you tag in an exchange -- your primary aspect -- is called your lead, or your leading aspect. After rolling your lead, you can supplement it by spending a Fate Point and tagging an additional aspect. This additional aspect is called a twist. Add any points gained from twists to the points gained from your lead. You can keep adding twists as long as you have aspects to tag and Fate Points to pay for them. A twist always costs a Fate Point, even if the aspect being tagged hasn't been used in the scene yet. Any aspect can be a lead, including scene aspects or another character's aspects or consequences (but not your own consequences).

For example, Christian is in a duel with his brother Henri. For his lead, his player chooses Christian's Good-rated aspect "Rivalry with Henri," and rolls 4d6. This only gives him 2 points, so the player decides to spend a Fate Point to tag "Finely Crafted Rapier" for another 2d6.

All aspects start off open in a scene, or able to be used at no cost. Once you use an aspect in an scene, it becomes locked. Locked aspects require a Fate Point to unlock, or use again in a scene. Each aspect can only be used once per exchange.

If all of a twist's dice yield points, an aspect of the roller's choice is unlocked. This could be a personal aspect, a scene aspect, or even another character's personal aspect. It could also be a consequence, if we're being liberal with the definition of "aspect." And we are!

Aspects can be compelled, as per usual in FATE.

Aspects belonging to another character, an item, or a scene can be tagged with a Fate Point, and are created in the usual ways. Scene aspects are worth a number of dice equal to the shifts generated when creating them, to a maximum of the rating of the leading aspect used in their creation. Other characters' aspects are worth a number of dice equal to their rating. Aspects created arbitrarily, such as scene aspects created by the GM, are worth 3 dice.

A character can take a Minor, Moderate, and Severe consequence of each type available in the game (physical, mental, and social). Some games will have all three; some games won't. Tagging a Minor consequence is worth 2 dice, tagging a Moderate is worth 3, and tagging a Severe consequence yields 4 dice.

While FATE's skills aren't around anymore, their mechanics still work the same way. Just take a look at what's trying to be accomplished and use the appropriate section of the FATE rules. For example, if you want to use your "Raised By Wolves, But Went To Bloodhound Daycare" aspect to track someone, use the Investigation rules. It's up to the player (with the GM's approval) to use whatever aspect might be appropriate for the task at hand. Basically, any aspect could be used for any skill, as long as it can be justified. If it can't, then it can't.

Sample character:
Christian D'Aramitz

Great: The Bravest of the King's Musketeers
Good: Swaggering Son of Gascony, Rivalry with Henri
Fair: "We are the Brothers D'Aramitz!", Weakness for the Fairer Sex, Loyal to France
Average: "That's enough out of you!", In the Nick of Time, Daring Rescue, Finely Crafted Rapier

Okay, back to the baby!

Friday, October 23, 2009

Off-Topic: I'm A Father!

I know it's been a while since I rapped atcha, but that's because we've been in the final weeks of pregnancy in the Olson household. As of yesterday at 5:12 pm, we're the proud parents of a 7-pound-2.6-ounce, 21-inch long, healthy, happy, and seriously laid-back baby boy named Benjamin Russell Olson. He's our first, and the first grandchild on either side of the family, so he's kind of a big deal.

For pictures of him, check out this quickie website I slapped together for the occasion. Check it out if you're so inclined! And you should be inclined -- how can you say no to this face?

(Regular blog posts will resume... uh... whenever he gives me a chance.)

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Rethinking No-Stress Consequences

I'm headed out tomorrow on a four-day Geek-End in Washington State with some old friends of mine from when I lived in Vancouver -- there'll be Blood Bowl, Space Hulk, a Magic booster draft, a PS3 with whatever it is that's good on a PS3, and, if we get to it, an RPG one-shot or two -- but I wanted to throw an idea out there before I go.

As you may or may not know, I don't use stress tracks in my FATE games, except for minions. Instead, stress goes straight to consequences. Every PC starts out being able to take one consequence of each degree -- Minor, Moderate, and Severe (usually) -- regardless of type. So if you take a Minor physical consequence and then have to take a Minor mental consequence, you take a Moderate mental consequence instead. If you have Good or Great Endurance or Resolve, you get to withstand more physical or mental consequences, but otherwise you're stuck with the three.

This doesn't appeal to me so much anymore. I used to be a little more into the hardcore idea of "narrative punishment" -- there's only so much abuse any character can take in a story before he drops out of it somehow. Having a high Endurance or Resolve was the player's way of telling the GM "My character will take more physical or mental abuse than most during the course of the story, because that's part of what makes him who he is." I liked how narrative and gamist it was without being all that concerned with simulating anything.

To prevent things from getting too out of hand what with the character-fragility thing, I've been clearly demarcating different types of conflicts, whether physical or mental. If you're in a mental conflict, you use social skills (mostly) to deal mental consequences, but can use physical skills to maneuver. It's the reverse in a physical conflict: Skills like Intimidation can only be used to maneuver an aspect onto an opponent, but don't actually inflict consequences. If you're in a mental conflict, like an argument, and want to escalate to a physical conflict, you can do that, but then there's no going back. This means that if you're going to keep arguing with someone without baring steel, it's because you're either a skillful arguer or have no intention of actually fighting. You can make a concession during an argument to escalate and essentially say, "Okay, you got me -- but now someone's gonna bleed."

This has had two major effects in play. One, arguments are short, because whoever's on the losing side is likely to escalate the first time they have to take a Minor mental consequence, lest they go into a fight staring down the barrel of a Moderate consequence they first time they're hit. If a character takes a Minor consequence like "Infuriated" in an argument, the natural next move may be to get physical -- but that's contraindicated by the game mechanics, which leads to some weirdly unintuitive metagaming. Two, there's no real parity between physical and social skills in combat, which is a big attraction for a lot of people (me included) in SotC. Piotr the troll can holler at a group of Average-quality goblin minions all he wants, but no matter how well he does the only thing he can really do with his Intimidation is create an aspect of "Scared." But he'll never scare them so bad they run away (barring some creative tagging for effect, but that's pretty hand-wavey).

I don't dig either of those. The easiest alternative is to have a set of slots for each type of Minor and Moderate consequence -- so if your game has physical, mental, and social consequences (as in "Spirit of the 17th Century"), the average starting PC would be able to withstand seven consequences before being Taken Out: one physical Minor, one mental Minor, one social Minor, ditto that for Moderate, and one Severe consequence of any type (Severe consequences are a big deal in my games). A character with Great Resolve (or Esprit, if you want to get technical -- and I do!) would be able to take another, say, two more: a second mental Minor and a second mental Moderate.

Up until recently, I'd pretty much dismissed this option out of hand, because the idea of a character who could take a full nine consequences is kinda ridiculous to me. Plus, there's something aesthetically unappealing about how the character sheet would look with that many consequence slots. However... I'm now of a mind that this is the way to go, despite those misgivings. That Great-Resolve guy might be able to take nine consequences, but he's just as fragile in a swordfight as he would be under the current system -- plus it gives the GM and the players something to do with skills like Intimidation in combat besides create aspects.

I want that pissed-off guy to jump into combat with the jackass who pissed him off if he wants to, not slink away with his Minor consequence between his legs and wait for another scene. I want Piotr to be able to scare the bejeezus out of those goblins and send them running back into the hills. More than that, I want that Piotr's player to feel like he can contribute meaningfully with his Great Intimidation in combat, instead of feeling like he made a mistake in chargen. It's perfectly in keeping with FATE if that troll shouting at his swordsman opponent is just as viable as that swordsman stabbing Piotr with his blade.

The only real misgiving I have is that a really Intimidation-focused guy against a combat-oriented guy who hasn't even ranked Resolve has the potential to be pretty damn brutal -- but no more brutal than the combat-oriented guy fighting a combat weakling. So... fair enough, I guess. (In either case, the defender would be well advised to make a concession and get out while he still can.)

How about you? What are you thoughts on any of this?

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Fantasy: Simplified Armor

This occurred to me right after I woke up this morning, for some reason, and I'm surprised it took so long.

Up to now, the way I've been doing armor has been on the border of being fiddly without, for me, quite going overboard. At present, it works like this: Armor is rated the same way skills are, and is divided into three categories. Light armor is Fair (+2), Medium armor is Good (+3), and Heavy armor is Great (+4). Although it's outside the skill pyramid, you can choose to defend with armor against most melee or ranged attacks (there are exceptions on a case-by-case basis for those times when armor wouldn't logically be of any help) as if it were a skill, like Melee or Athletics. When defending with armor, you can reroll a number of minus dice up to the value of the armor -- e.g., Good armor would let you reroll up to 3 minus dice. If you do, right afterwards (preferably while the GM is dealing with someone else, so as not to slow things down) roll Endurance against a target number equal to the number of dice you rerolled. If that roll fails, you gain a temporary aspect of "Fatigued" until the end of the scene.

It works fine, but the sheer amount of space alone it takes to explain it makes it feel to fiddly to me. Instead, I'd rather take a page out of the swashbuckling game and let armor add Fudge dice to your Melee or Athletics defense up to the armor's rating: +2dF for Light, +3dF for Medium, and +4dF for Heavy. Take the best four dice, and that's your die roll. If the pool of spare dice you don't use contains at least as many minus dice as your Endurance rating, you're "Fatigued," as above. Done.

I like this first and foremost because it means not having to make a second die roll -- that's a central precept I always try to adhere to -- but also because it gives those spare dice a purpose.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Fantasy: The Power of Random Limitations

So it's been a while since I've posted anything about "Spirit of the Sword," or "Swords of FATE," or "Heroes of FATE," or whatever we call it when we bother to call it anything. But most of the San Diego group got together to play it again on Saturday, and it went swimmingly. I forgot to use my own Scale and Size Factor rules when they fought that drake, but... whatever. I have a feeling the results would've been more or less the same, apart from John's character essentially one-shotting it (which was still cool and cinematic and good).

Most notable about that impromptu adventure was its impromptu-ness, powered as it was by the random adventure/NPC/opposition generator I am writing/have written/wrote for Legends of Anglerre. Call it a stress-test of an untested piece of RPG hardware. I have to say it worked pretty great. Referring to it as an adventure "generator" may be a bit inaccurate, as it doesn't determine every single detail of the adventure for you, but it does provide more than enough, in my experience, to give you the inspiration for an adventure, which is then easily created by you and your mind.

When it comes to creative pursuits, there are two things that always get me going: limitations and randomness. I love the old AD&D DMG's endless array of tables, tables, and more tables for randomly determining just about anything from the bonus on that longsword to the air quality in a room. An especial favorite of mine was the random dungeon generator -- I never got tired of that thing and the "What the hell is that doing there?" moments it invariably produced every time I used it. My own adventure generator takes a lot of inspiration from the DMG, most important of which is placing random limitations on adventure creation and forcing the user to justify how any of this makes sense.

The adventure ended up being this: The party (recently returned from the Free City of Neyid, where their defeat of a necromantic cult has earned them some renown back home) is hired by an incanter (i.e., a magic-user-type) named Abarrotz to escort him from one city to another. Exactly why he needs an escort is obvious to all: The road passes through a forest that's home to some especially fierce and dangerous bandits, led by one Kaxen, another incanter. Why an incanter has taken to a life of crime isn't known, but then again few have escaped his clutches intact enough to tell speak about it. The party agrees, and the encounter with Kaxen & Co. happens right on cue, with the party emerging victorious (no thanks to Abarrotz, who pretty much plays the victim the whole time).

Once they pass through the forest, they arrive in a small town, a waypoint for travelers along the road. Thanks to Kaxen's reign of terror, the townspeople haven't seen a ton of business lately -- so they're understandably pleased when the party shows up with Kaxen in tow. The innkeeper's prejudices make him reluctant at first to host the weirder members of the party (which consists of a human military-type-guy, a satyr shaman, a troll writer, and a jungle elf... jungle elf), but some choice words from the human and a lot of goodwill from the townsfolk eventually change his mind. Plus, the troll tells the story of the fight with Kaxen (and his "one and one score" bandits) a few times, and everyone's down for hearing that. One of the merchants in attendance even picks up the tab for their lodgings that night, although Abarrotz insists on quarthers of his own instead of rooming with his employees.

The next morning, Abarrotz is gone. Door's locked, window's ajar. The satyr and jungle elf find evidence of his passing down below, behind the inn, but starting a good 30 feet from the inn itself. There's been some effort to cover them, as well, but not enough to fool the jungle elf's Legendary (+8) tracking effort. Following the tracks leads them into a deep forest, where they're soon set upon by giant wolf spiders -- literally. They have wolf heads set upon big black spider bodies. One of them is clearly larger and nastier than the others, who seem to be her "pack." The fight ends with the party victorious (but poisoned, in at least once case -- a Moderate consequence that the satyr fails to heal). While Abarrotz is nowhere to be seen, in the webbing they find his hat.

Traveling on a little further, they come upon a hill and the sounds of battle. Atop the hill, they see Abarrotz, bleeding from a dozen small cuts and surrounded by a couple dozen gobliny-koboldy things that we immediately start calling "gobolds." The gobolds are clearly having too much fun making sport of him to kill him right away. After a brief discussion among themselves, and a shouted negotiation with their erstwhile employer for higher pay, the party takes on the gobolds, though sorely outnumbered. (And the troll takes a Severe consequence of "Spear in the Eye"! Yay, Severe consequence!)

Once that's over, Abarrotz apologizes for the deception and confesses his true purpose. He only needed the party to get past Kaxen, but his mission after that required such discretion that he couldn't risk telling them about it. Out here in the forest, according to his research, is a powerful but forgotten artifact, the Chalice of the Dragon. While he was able to avoid the wolf spiders through magical means, he was caught completely off-guard by the gobolds, who have infested the area without anyone knowing. Their presence here may indicate that they have found the Chalice, which would be very bad indeed, for it purportedly lets whoever drinks from it summon and control dragons. (Dragons are extinct in the setting, so this is an especially big deal.) Though they bear no particular love for Abarrotz, the party grudgingly admits that gobold-controlled dragons would be insanely bad and worth stopping. Plus, I manage to compel all but one of them into wanting to keep the Chalice for themselves, so they have a personal stake in it too.

The gobolds' tracks through the hills leads them to some ruins and a gobold shanty town/hut-rich village that's sprung up around it. From a distance, they see dozens more of the things going about their daily lives -- and the jungle elf sees a glint of silvery metal from within a ruined stone structure. The players, all good little metagamers, instantly agree that it's the Chalice. They come up with a plan that involves the sneaky types (the jungle elf and satyr) circling around to the side to snatch the Chalice, while the non-sneaky types (the human and the troll) provide a distraction with a frontal assault. Both teams end up fighting (and eviscerating) a bunch of gobolds, but it all goes to hell when an important-looking gobold in fancy clothes drinks from that damn Chalice. Suddenly there's a huge spitting drake thundering through the village, terrifying/trampling any gobolds that get in its way. After some back and forth, the jungle elf runs up its back and jams the pointy end of his taiha into the thing's skull, instantly killing it.

When the party recovers, elsewhere in the village they find Abarrotz and the fancy gobold playing tug-of-war with the Chalice, until the satyr charges up and headbutts the thing out of their hands. Who ends up with the Chalice is something we'll tackle next time.

Okay, so -- I didn't type that out just to go on about my game. I typed it out as an illustration of what the random generator randomly generates. Sure, it didn't name Kaxen or come up with the wolf spiders (that was the work of one of the players) or determine that they'd fight a drake in the end, but it did come up with the seeds for all that. It told me that the main plot would be about escorting someone somewhere, but that en route there'd be plot complications involving a missing person and a guarded treasure. It told me that the first encounter would be with a spellcastery leader and his 21 minions in a forest, that the next scene would be in a village (also in a forest) and that the innkeeper there would be prejudiced, and that the last encounter would involve something with Legendary (+8) (!) Ranged skill and a lot of minions. Et cetera. It gave me all the components of a solid adventure and demanded that I make sense of them, and I'm really pleased with the results. Some stuff I came up with in advance, some stuff we came up with together at the table (e.g., the players decided the artifact would be a chalice, and I was pretty quickly able to figure out what it did). Behold, the power of random limitations.

I just wish I'd remembered the Scale and Size Factor rules for that drake....

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Gateway Post Mortem Addendum

Oops, I forgot to mention some other FATE-related games happening at Gateway this year.

Friday night I played in Josh Roby's Houses of the Blooded game. I was Torr Adrente, a Wolf dude (Prowess 5, Cunning 0 -- that kinda guy) with a retinue of 20 soldiers, an ominously named sword, and a thing for my uncle's wife. Good times. I'm terrible when it comes to intrigue and subtlety and all that crap, but it was still fun. I love the die mechanic, for one thing. The only other time I've played was in a demo game run by John Wick a couple years ago (or maybe it was OrcCon of last year...?), and back then we only played with a fraction of the rules, so this was a bit of a change. Disappointed that I never got to draw my Bloodsword and see what my Doom was all about, but hey, it's HotB, not D&D.

(That said, I'm now dying to run a straight-up old-school dungeon crawl with HotB just for the sheer irony of it. And because it might make John Wick's head explode. "My name means 'Fighter/Magic-User.'")

Sunday morning, Chris Czerniak, one of the regular San Diego crew, ran his time-travelling Spirit of the Century game. It's kinda Dr. Who-ish, in that there are a couple of actual time travelers accompanied by a team of some of history's greatest heroes. When I played this game many moons ago, that list included Bruce Lee, Audie Murphy, Lord Byron, and Mata Hari, as I recall (I played Lord Byron, and crossed out a number of his aspects to replace them with quotations from Byron's poetry, because that's the sort of thing I do). I didn't play in this game -- I was busy getting jerked around by an RPGA module at the time -- but it did exist.

Sunday afternoon (and also Sunday morning), Strategicon regular Morgan Ellis ran Labyrinths of Mars, the sequel to his last Spirit of the Red Planet game. Last time, I was Throk, a four-armed Green Martian; this time, I was Kalyan, a dashing Red Martian pirate -- er, ex-pirate -- with an ornamental eyepatch, the Martian non-Union equivalent of the Millennium Falcon, and a "mostly loyal crew." I dig the planetary romance genre, even though I'm more familiar with the tropes than with the actual source material itself, so this was some fun stuff, as always. Half the reason I play in Morgan's games is to hear his excellently stentorian prologues ("This is the Spirit... of the SHAT-TERED EARTH!"), but I also got to make one of Czerniak's long-held dreams come true by proposing to his character in-game, so that's nothing to sneeze at, either.

Morgan's great at making really archetypical characters that you can instantly sink your teeth into. He has a few mechanical tweaks, too (don't we all?). For one thing, his skill pyramids have a total of just six skills, from Fair to Superb, which I totally get: It's a con game -- just pick the six most iconic things this character ought to be able to do and go with it. Characters also only have three stunts, and they're almost always custom-made. He uses the ol' -2/-4/-6 stress-reducing consequences rule, but cuts out the stress tracks, and takes a cue from Starblazer Adventures (or, more accurately, Legends of Anglerre) by having a character's Refresh equal his starting aspects minus his starting stunts. I've noticed, too, that he's taken to starting his important NPCs' skills at around +6 or +7, just so he can have a fightin' chance of dealing a consequence to someone. And fair enough, says I.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Gateway Post Mortem

So! Gateway went pretty well. The swashbuckling game was great, which easily had as much to do with my players as with anything else. I unwisely put off almost all my game prep for both that game and the D&D game I ran until the very last minute. I knew I was in trouble a few days earlier when I realized that if I were to take my printer with me to the hotel on Friday, I could just print stuff off there. This I did, and it meant running two games and playing in a third on Saturday powered by, say, two hours' sleep. I don't know how I made it, but I'm still catching up on sleep.

Anyway, this isn't a blog about me, so let's get to the mechanics.
  • The roll-and-keep Fudge dice mechanic was good, as expected (and previously experienced).
  • Also as expected, players tended to save up their Elan for when it really mattered. As evidence, I present the three simultaneous duels at the end of the game, all of which pretty much ended as soon as a player got Advantage.
  • Speaking of which: The Advantage mechanic continues to be workable in spite of initial reservations about it slowing things down. Then again, I don't think it's gotten the workout it needs, either. In the playtest we did here in Irvine, our one duel had a lot of back-and-forth. At Gateway, those three duels resolved really quickly, because the players were loaded for bear while I didn't use any Elan at all for the baddies. In my defense, it was nigh unto the time of quitting and I wanted to wrap things up in a suitably heroic manner. Still, I maintain that the primary goals of the Advantage mechanic -- to encourage a more action-packed, dramatic narrative within combat and to make all skills matter in combat -- was met... with extreme prejudice. One attempt to obtain Advantage was essentially a staredown: Esprit vs. Esprit (or Resolve vs. Resolve, in SotC terms).
  • A couple of the characters had higher Status/Social Class than the rest, and one was decidedly low-class, but... it didn't really come up, which was too bad. I blame myself for that, because it should have, but I missed it. The Baron Francois de Chevreuse had a few social conflicts in which Status easily could've acted as a complementary skill. So... my bad, there.
The basic plot involved the siege of La Rochelle in 1627-ish, which lasted for an interminably long time. Cardinal Richelieu assembles a diplomatic envoy to go into the Huguenot-controlled city and negotiate the terms of a surrender. This group includes Henri and Christian D'Aramitz (a pair of Gascon brothers renowned as among the bravest of the King's Musketeers who are also fierce rivals), Gaspar de Rocheforte (one of the Cardinal's Guardsmen, and therefore somewhat at odds with the Musketeers), Virgil (his reluctant manservant), Pascal Labrousse (a Catholic priest who secretly dreams of being a Musketeer), and the aforementioned Baron de Chevreuse (a young nobleman and the Cardinal's nephew, with an aspect of "Flighty, Arrogant, and Charming as Hell"). In addition to the stated mission, they're also to conduct reconaissance on the city's defenses and disable, by any means necessary, the La Vierge, a 500-tonne, 80-cannon ship captured by the Duc de Soubise, a leader of the Huguenot rebellion and the military mastermind behind La Rochelle's defenses.

(This is stolen in equal measure from reality and an old Flashing Blades adventure. Flashing Blades continues to be an awesome resource for the genre; I highly recommend it.)

It ended up being full of swashbucklery goodness and intrigue, including a secret message passed via a dropped handkerchief, a masked ball, disguises, mistaken identities, naked fencing, and three simultaneous duels aboard an exploding ship, among others. Best of all, as a playtest it vindicated a lot of the little tweaks and alterations I'd made here and there for the swashbuckling genre. More playtesting is needed, obviously, but it feels pretty solid now.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Gateway to Anglerre

Event pre-reg for Gateway started this morning, and my swashbuckling FATE game was full by noon. Bwuh? Well, "full" in Strategicon-even-pre-reg-speak actually means "half-full" -- the other three slots are left open for people to sign up on the day -- but still, good to see. Off hand, I can think of four or five people who would've jumped on it right away, so maybe it's not that surprising.

Here's the blurb:
Flashing blades! Courtly intrigue! Puffy shirts! Come swing on a chandelier or two in this swashbuckling romp through 17th-century France. Familiarity with the FATE system -- the engine that powers Spirit of the Century and Starblazer Adventures -- not required. So if you dig Dumas, savvy Sabatini, or relish Rostand, grab your rapier and get your derring-do derring-done. Have at thee!

(I'm also running a 4th-edition D&D game Saturday morning, but that's not really the kind of thing we talk about here.)

If you're in the LA area and want to check it out, by all means come on down. Even if the swashbuckling thing ends up having a line of people waiting at a red velvet rope, there are tons of other great games being run -- seriously, there's everything from RPGA D&D games to Houses of the Blooded to Toon -- plus a pretty sweet dealer room and lots of other non-RPG stuff. If you've just come from GenCon, it might seem a bit tame in comparison, but you'll still have a good time.

In other news, Legends of Anglerre is coming right along. After finishing the skills and stunts chapter (whew!), I was pretty much given free rein to work on just about anything that struck my fancy. So far that's resulted in new rules for Gambling conflicts, a method for turning a group of PCs into a single "group character" (along with rules to handle "group character" conflicts), and the thing I'm working on now, which started as a sort of abstracted-space random dungeon generator (an homage to one of my favorite bits of the old 1st edition AD&D DMG) but has morphed into a random location, terrain, zone, aspect, motivation, and antagonist generator. Still, I love me some random tables! Starblazer's full of 'em, so why not LOA?

The other LOA task hanging over me right now is writing up the demo I ran at Gamex. I've never had to write an adventure in a way that made sense to anyone but myself -- i.e., something more than sparse notes -- so it's a bit daunting right now. But I'll have it done in a week or so. I'll probably end up using my random stuff generator, to be honest.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

FATE's Gambling Problem

So the first draft of Legends of Anglerre's skills and stunts chapter (with stunts listed along with the skill descriptions to which they belong -- hooray!) is in the can, which means I'm moving on to some other cool stuff for the project. I was happy to be in charge of that chapter, because it's kinda the mechanical heart of the game and where a lot of my interest lies, but it was also necessarily a bit of a slog -- I mean, it's about 50,000 words in total to be analyzed, edited, and revised. What else could it be?

Anyway, in the course of that, I noticed that SotC's rules for Gambling are... well, incomplete at best and weird at worst. It looks like there was more of a system in place at one time, but it was taken out before printing -- or it was intended that there be more of a system that never got put in. Either way, the default way of handling high-stakes games -- every player rolling against the game's stakes as a target number -- isn't especially interesting. Players don't actually interact at all, and if everyone beats the target number, everyone "wins."

Gambling as a skill is an odd duck. It basically goes one of two ways. Either you make a quick Gambling roll for a bit of flavor or as prelude to a different sort of conflict, or you have a larger Gambling-specific conflict that gets much more in-depth. Examples of this are found in Casino Royale or Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels. That's the sort of thing this system (in its initial draft, as presented here) is intended to handle.

Keep in mind, too, that this is written with Legends of Anglerre's stress-reducing consequences in mind (and some version of this is likely to show up in LOA, if not in a free PDF supplement shortly after LOA's release this winter). Note, too, that I do, like, zero gambling myself. I don't play poker or Greyhawk Hold 'Em or whatever the kids are playing these days. When I go to Vegas, I play the nickel slots because their flashing lights and beeping noises make me laugh and clap my hands, and you can't put a price on that kind of simpleton happiness. These rules don't cover games of pure chance (like craps or roulette) -- they're intended for poker-like games with a lot of betting, raising, and strategy. And tension. Especially tension.

Gambling Redux
Each gambler has a stress track equal to his Resources. If someone else is willing to bankroll the gambler, the gambler uses that person's Resources to determine the length of his Gambling stress track instead. Your Resources must be equal to or greater than the stakes (i.e., quality) of the game.

Every round, gamblers take turns "bidding" a number of stress boxes in the usual way people do when gambling. If someone raises the bid, everyone else has to see him, take a mental consequence, or make a concession (that is, "fold") and leave the conflict for the round.

After all bets have been taken, each gambler rolls a skill. Normally, the skill is Gambling, but by spending a Fate Point to invoke an aspect, a gambler can use another skill instead. Each player reveals his total, but keeps the skill rolled a secret until all totals are known. Aspects and consequences can be tagged and invoked as usual for rerolls or bonuses, but only before the skills themselves are revealed. After the reveal, aspects can't be invoked or tagged. All non-Gambling skills are restricted by Gambling. Whoever has the highest total wins the round. However, different skills have different effects during the reveal.
  • Deceit: A gambler can bluff by using Deceit. If the bluffer wins the hand, he gains an appropriate temporary aspect that reflects his obvious skill, such as "Poker Face," that lasts for the entire scene. If the bluffer doesn't win, however, he gains a negative aspect, like "Bad Liar," that also lasts for the scene.
  • Empathy: By using Empathy, a gambler can suss out who's bluffing with Deceit -- and counter them. If a bluffer wins the round and you rolled Empathy, all gamblers who bluffed lose, and the highest non-Deceit total wins the round. If that's you, so much the better. If no one has bluffed, however, you can't win the round, no matter how high your Empathy total is.
  • Sleight of Hand: This is just out-and-out cheating. As such, it's a risky tactic. If you obtain spin on your Sleight of Hand roll (that is, your total is at least 3 shifts higher than the closest competitor), you gain a temporary aspect along the lines of "Suspiciously Lucky" that lasts for the rest of the scene -- and may be remembered by any other player who's prone to harboring grudges. In addition, if your Sleight of Hand total isn't higher than the lowest Alertness skill of the other gamblers at the table, you're caught. See Investigation, below.
  • Investigation: This counters Sleight of Hand similar to how Empathy counters Deceit. You are making a concerted effort to keep an eye out for cheaters. If your Investigation beats any other gambler's Sleight of Hand, whether that gambler wins the round or not, that gambler gains an aspect of "Cheater" and, in all likelihood, someone will flip over the table and the game ends. Odds are the next skill to be rolled will be Fists. No matter how high your roll is, you can't win the round with Investigation.
If you don't win the round, you take stress equal to your wager. You can take mental consequences to reduce stress, as usual. If you take stress in excess of your stress track, you're Taken Out -- you're out of cash or anything else to bet, and you leave the game permanently.

If you win the hand, you take no stress. In addition, for each round you win, you either receive a Treasure equal to the game's stakes or remove one consequence you've taken during the game (starting with any Minor consequences and moving up from there).

A game consists of a number of rounds equal to its stakes. That is, a Good-quality game will only last for three rounds. Thus, low-stakes games have little tension, since they're only one round long, while higher-stakes games last longer and can ratchet up the tension more.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Lost in Anglerre

Sorry for the radio silence -- currently, I'm up to my eyes in the skills and stunts chapter of Legends of Anglerre. It's going well so far. Right now I'm codifying some guidelines on how to write your own stunts that are a little more detailed than what I'd posted here (and what I use myself). Comic-Con's inconvenient arrival right in the middle of skills-and-stunts month slowed things up a bit, but it looks like I'm on track to deliver this baby by the end of the month.

And then it's on to preparing for Gateway by cramming my head as full of swashbuckling goodness as I can in August. Thank you, Marvel Comics. And SLG, for that matter.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Gateway: I Have No Idea

I've been getting the same question quite a bit from people lately (myself included), and that question is "What are you going to run at Gateway?"

I have no idea.

Whatever it is, it'll be something FATE-based, of course. I just don't know what it'll be. Nothing's really jumping out at me right now in terms of genre, and I don't have some wacky/high-concept idea (like "Paranoia + Star Wars!" or "All the PCs are gibbons!") that's grabbing me, either. So... I have no idea.

Anyone have any suggestions?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Swashbuckling: Playtest!

So! Sorry for the radio silence. Parents are fine, baby's kicking, everything's good. I've been back and forth between home and my parents' place in the past few weeks, so the ol' blog has kinda fallen by the wayside.

Speaking of this blog-thing, though, last week we had our first actual playtest session using these swashbuckling rules, and it went pretty well. We had three PCs -- the M-Team: Michel the magistrate, Marion the musketeer, and Merlin the... er... ex-priest and 17th-century French equivalent of John Belushi in Animal House -- and two fights: one against some mooks, and the other a proper duel.

The plot, in brief, involves a kidnapping. Wealthy and powerful Michel is approached by the wife of a fellow Parisian magistrate, M. Des Lauriers. He's being held for ransom in Nice, only he's actually in Poitiers with his Huguenot mistress and the kidnappers have his double, but either way she begs Michel to round up, say, two friends and head down there to resolve things as discreetly as possible.

The mook fight was pretty much along the lines of every FATE mook fight in terms of mechanics, although I have to mention one highlight. The PCs had been tricked into thinking a bandit in a "broken-down" carriage was actually a mademoiselle in need. Shortly after her colleagues burst out of the foliage to either side of the road, Merlin knocked her out with a single punch in her face. Bam!

The duel, though, was definitely a focal point of the playtest, since it actually involved new mechanics. I have to say it went well. The opposition, a member of the Cardinal's Guards, wasn't quite the equal of Marion, but it was still a pretty good combat between them. The Advantage mechanic didn't have a perceptible effect on the speed of the combat, but I'd say it definitely added a lot in terms of the narrative. Both the player and I were encouraged to creatively one-up each other with our various attempts to gain Advantage. He used Physique to swing on a chandelier and land behind me, I used Brawn to try to trip him up by yanking on a rug, and so on. Ultimately, Marion got the upper hand, but chose to just knock me out instead of killing me, so... hello, recurring antagonist.

Meanwhile, the other two PCs faced off against the Guard's two companions. I'd anticipated that all four of them might sit on the sidelines and put aspects on the two combatants, but Merlin was so offended that they refused a friendly drink that he went right to throwing blows. So the four of them tussled, managing to get off an insult or two only occasionally but enough to make them feel part of the central conflict. I ran the other two Cardinal's Guards as true antagonists instead of just minions (i.e., they took consequences, not stress), so they were pretty persistent foes despite having a skill pyramid that topped out at Good (+3).

One thing we instituted and that I can really see myself sticking with is limiting aspect invokes/tags to once per scene. It meant that invokes were a little less frequent, and gaining access to more aspects (through story aspects, assessments, declarations, and consequences) became much more important. It made for a more dynamic conflict, since Andy couldn't just fall back on "Sargeant-at-Arms of the Black Musketeers" every time he drew his rapier -- and when he scored his first consequence, it felt like a bit of a bigger deal.

The next session's scheduled for this Thursday, so stay tuned for some more vague observations.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Real Life Intrudes

Sorry for the radio silence -- my parents were in a car accident last week, so I've been up here in LA since Thursday helping out. They both got pretty banged up (my mom, with a broken hand, got the worst of it), but it's nothing permanent.

The consequence of me being such a good son is that our scheduled "SotS" game didn't happen on Saturday, and there's a good chance that this week's swashbuckling playtest won't happen either, all of which means, well, not much to write about right now. Stay tuned.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Swashbuckling: The Princess Bride Test

So I'm watching The Princess Bride on cable right now, and I can't help but see it in light of these swashbuckling rules. Even though the emphasis for this conversion is 17th-century French musketeers and the like, if a swashbuckling game can't do this movie, what good is it? Call it The Princess Bride Test. A couple scenes in particular stand out to me in mechanical terms.

First up: Inigo confronts Count Rugen. Neither has Advantage when it comes to Readiness rolls, although Rugen wins the roll and gets to go first. He jockeys for Advantage by running away, and obtains vitesse (a.k.a. spin) against Inigo on his Physique roll. This means that when Inigo rounds the corner after spending his turn dealing with that locked door (a Brawn roll that he gets Fezzik to help him with), Rugen's able to deal a pretty significant physical consequence to him with that thrown dagger (an Arms roll). If you've read the book (and if not, why haven't you read the book?), you'll know that this probably qualifies as a Grievous consequence: "Bleeding Out." Rugen is content to just watch him die, but Inigo refuses to make a concession, instead responding with his classic catchphrase. Rugen still has Advantage, and attacks again, tagging that consequence in the process; Inigo goes full defense, and only takes a Trifling consequence of "Arm Wounds." Determined to win Advantage, Inigo repeats his "Hello! My name is Inigo Montoya!" a few times in succession as part of his use of Presence to intimidate. Success! I'm sure he spends some Fate Points on this one, too. Once he has Advantage, his superior swordsmanship virtually guarantees him the win. Rugen, being an NPC (albeit an important one), can't survive a Grievous consequence, which is what Inigo gives him when he runs him through while politely requesting the return of his dead father, you son of a bitch.

Note that even though Rugen and Inigo spend a lot of time actually fencing after Inigo gets back on his feet, that's mere window dressing for the contest for Advantage. Up until he actually deals an injury, he's isn't using Arms. The idea is that Arms is only used for dealing consequences. Everything else is describing what you're doing, be it fencing or otherwise, in terms of some other skill.

Example the Second: Westley confronts Prince Humperdinck. Westley frames this as a mental conflict, using Presence (again) and maybe even Art, for being creative with that whole "To The Pain" thing. This one's interesting, because even though Humperdinck could escalate things from a mental conflict to a physical one, he doesn't. His response to Westley isn't to shove three feet of steel into his gut -- it's "I think you're bluffing."

Let me back up, though. Westley wins initiative and, in the process, Advantage. And because he wins intiative, he gets to control what kind of conflict it is (or at least what kind it'll start off as). He chooses mental, so he can freak Humperdinck out with a bunch of mind games. It's pretty much his only option, since he's still weak as a kitten from being mostly dead all day. When he calls Humperdinck a "warthog-faced buffoon," Humperdinck's reply of "That may be the first time in my life a man has dared insult me" indicates that he's probably taken a Trifling consequence of "Insulted."

Westley's player then tags this consequence for an unusual effect: Humperdinck won't escalate things to a physical conflict. As easy as it would be to impale Westley and be done with it, the player suggests, the prince's pride and curiosity preclude him from essentially admitting defeat in Westley's little challenge. The GM agrees. Of course, Humperdinck's no match for Westley in this conflict, even going full defense as he does (Humperdinck isn't especially proactive here -- he's all "Yes, yes, let's get on with it," leaving Westley to drive the conflict).

Westley carries on with some disturbing talk of Humperdinck losing his feet, hands, and eyes (but not his ears) as part of this bizarre "duel." (I'm not clear on how "To The Pain" works, anyway -- you lose body parts until you cry "Uncle"? Can't we just fight?) Like Rugen, he can't take a Grievous consequence, so when it comes time for him to defend against Westley's final salvo of words -- ending with his impossible-to-ignore "Drop! Your! Sword!" -- Humperdinck makes a concession rather than get Taken Out. "Fine," the GM says. "He stumbles backwards, horrified by the gruesome picture you've painted. You've intimidated him into submission, but you let him live so he can contemplate what a total coward he is." The player agrees, Westley collapses, and Humperdinck realizes he's been had.

This latter example brings up something I've been thinking about lately, and that's the concept of conflict framing and escalation. More on that as it develops.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Swashbuckling: More Stuff About Fencing

So we sorta kinda playtested these swashbuckling rules for the first time last night. I say "sorta kinda" because all we really did was make characters, talk about new rules tweaks, and play out half of a duel between two Joel's fencing mistress and Sayler's fencing student to see how Advantage worked in play.

Andy had some concerns that the Advantage rules, as written, might draw out a combat unnecessarily, a point well-taken. In practice, I don't think this was the case, but it was also kinda hard to tell just how quickly or slowly things were going because we kept stopping to talk about it. Ultimately, Nat had a good point about the relative importance of "fun" over "fast" -- who cares if it's taking a while as long as it's creating an interesting narrative and people are having fun? This is especially valid in a swashbuckling game, where personal combat has such a focus. Sayler and Joel said it certainly had the back-and-forth feel of a duel, with each of them constantly jockeying for advantage (and Advantage) over the other, and there was a lot of thought-provoking discussion about it all.

BTW, the characters:
Andy's playing a would-have-been priest who dropped out of seminary and took up a sword
Joel's playing a fencing mistress, largely self-taught, with a unique weapon
Nat's playing a "Chamingly British" nobleman (in France!) with a title and not much else
Sayler's playing another former man of the cloth and novice swordsman
Tony's playing a high-ranking social combat monster who spreads rumors better than Twitter

It should be restated that the Advantage rules are only for one-on-one duels with NPCs of relative importance. E.g., if you bothered to name the NPC, Advantage should probably come into play. Fighting minions uses the usual FATE rules for combat. Moreover, nobody should really be ganging up on a Big Bad: Either every PC has his own Big Bad or group of minions to fight, or one fights while the rest contribute from the sidelines. Last night I compared that latter situation to the film version of The Three Musketeers starring Gene Kelly as D'Artagnan (it's no Scaramouche, but it's a lot of fun). There's a bit early on where he duels with a sargeant (or something) of the Cardinal's Guard -- and Athos, Porthos, and Aramis just watch, shouting out insults and les mots justes now and then. Mechanically speaking, they're using skills like Art, Presence, and Perception to create aspects on the sargeant, D'Artagnan, or the scene. So they're contributing to the combat, but they're letting someone else do the fighting. I mean, together, they could easily slaughter the guy, but that just isn't cricket. I don't know how (or if) I'd enforce that mechanically, though.

On a related note, I'm thinking about limiting aspects to one tag or invoke per scene. Invoke it once, and you can't invoke it again. This would encourage more aspect creation through maneuvers and declarations (and maybe assessments, depending on the nature of the conflict), which seems to fit the genre very well. It also makes the Three Musketeers' insult-generated aspects that much more important. I compare it to the Blue Raja throwing forks into the wall so Mr. Furious can climb it. If you think of every fork as an aspect, it's a pretty appropriate analogy. Right?

Anyway, here's some actul crunch.

I had the idea that disarms could happen normally, or by voluntarily taking "Disarmed" as a consequence once per scene. As a Trifling (Minor) consequence, it'd be relatively trivial to pick up your weapon again (a supplementary action, say). As a Moderate (Middling) consequence, it'd require a skill roll, like usual -- say, opposed Physique rolls between the two combatants as one tries to block the other's path. As a Severe (Grievous) consequence, it'd be something appropriately dire. At the very least, you aren't getting that weapon back anytime soon. Maybe it's broken, or drops into the ocean. Unlike the usual rules for consequences of that degree, though, it might not necessarily change your life forever. Or it might. I dunno.

Anyway, if disarms work differently in this game than usual, I got to thinking about what other fencing maneuvers could be simulated.
  • Bind: A defense usable only in Melee -- spend shifts obtained on a Block vs. Brawn.
  • Dodge: Using Physique to defend. Nothing special.
  • Feint: Chicanery vs. Arms (or something); shifts obtained = +dF to next attack, with maximum +dF determined by Arms skill (something like Arms - 1).
  • Fleche: Arms modified by Physique, spend shifts to close distance from Ranged to Extended to Melee to Corps-a-corps (1 shift/pace, +1 shift for R to E, plus any other modifiers for crossing borders or barriers). If you don't have enough shifts to make that happen, you can take stress instead to complete the move (resulting in a consequence).
  • Footwork: Use Physique vs. Physique to increase or decrease pace by one.
  • Lunge: +1dF to your attack, +1dF to opponent's next attack.
  • Parry: Using Arms to defend. If your next action is an attack, +1dF to Arms.
  • Prise de Fer: An attack usable only in Melee -- spend shifts obtained on a Block with Arms (usually) vs. Brawn.
  • Punch: Fisticuffs, only when Corps-a-Corps.
  • Shove: Usable only when Corps-a-Corps. Brawn vs. Brawn (usually); success means pace becomes Melee. With vitesse (spin), it's Extended instead. Can't decrease pace.
Of course, I don't want to overburden gameplay with too much crunch, so I don't know if we'll actually end up using these. However, I invite you to try 'em out if you're so inclined.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Swashbuckling: Standing and Social Class

[Note: This is heavily inspired by Flashing Blades and the Size/Scale rules in "Spirit of the Sword" -- which are themselves adapted from the Weight Factor table in SotC. And thus, the circle is complete.]

[Note Too: Also, there's a reference here to Elan. This is known as Will in "Spirit of the Sword" and Chi in "Spirit of the Fist." They all work the same way: Spend a point of it before a roll to replace a Fudge die with a d6.]

One's place in society is a matter of no small importance in the swashbuckling genre. Here, it's represented through your Standing and Social Class (SC).

Standing is rated on the ladder like a skill, but one that's outside of a character's skill pyramid. In some circumstances, it can even be used as a skill, but for the most part it's an indicator of a character's standing in society. If you have someone with Fair (+2) Standing and someone with Mediocre (+0) Standing, you know right away the latter's in more or less a subservient position. Standing can also be used to modify other skill rolls, such as Rapport, or limit their effectiveness, such as with Connections. Social attacks are defended against with Standing, as well.

(Why outside the skill pyramid? Because Standing needs to be a fluid thing. Musketeers get promoted; nobles get disgraced. And I think all of that should be able to happen without having to shift a character's skill pyramid around.)

Standing starts at Mediocre (+0) by default. Right now, I'm thinking that a character could take a boon that increases his Standing by +1 (but that the only way to get this boon would be to take a specific kind of phase in character creation: Position). This would be the only way a starting character could increase his Standing. Of course, if you want to start with a lower Standing than Mediocre (+0), you're free to do so at no charge. As stated earlier, Standing can increase or decrease with promotions or demotions, and traveling to a foreign country can have a negative impact on a character's Standing as well.

Social Class limits the ways individuals of disparate Standing can interact in opposition. For every 2 points by which your target's SC is greater than yours, you must spend a point of Elan to inflict a social consequence on them even on an otherwise successful attack. For example, if a banker (SC 3) attempts to spread a scandalous rumor about the Count D'Arcy (SC 5), even if he obtains three shifts on his Connections roll he'll need to spend a point of Elan to deal the Middling social consequence his skill roll earned.

When making a Connections roll to gather information on an individual, SC limits the people with whom you actually have connections. Apply the absolute value of the difference between your SC and the target's as a penalty to your roll. This reflects the fact that it's harder to discover things about someone who's outside your normal social circles, whether higher or lower in station. For example, a mere infantryman (SC 2) trying to discover the name of a captain's mistress (SC 3) will have the difficulty of his Connections roll increased by +1, but that captain would have an equally hard time gathering information on the trooper. Yes, this does make it virtually impossible for the King of France to learn much of anything about a peasant -- but that's why he has people of lower Social Class in his employ. This strikes me as perfectly reasonable in a highly stratified society. (I know the old "Let them eat cake" incident is somewhat apocryphal, but the point is that it's believable. And this supports that sort of thing.)

Standing Example SC
Heavenly (+10)
The King 12
Glorious (+9)
The Queen, Princes 10
Illustrious (+8)
Grand Duke, Cardinals, Royal Ministers 8
Magnificent (+7)
Archduke, Royal Order Masters 7
Formidable (+6)
Dukes, Generals, Noble Order Masters 6
Superb (+5)
Counts, Archbishops 5
Great (+4)
Viscounts, Royal Officials, Magistrates 4
Good (+3)
Barons, Knights, Colonels 3
Fair (+2)
Captains, Bankers, Fencing Masters3
Average (+1)
Sergeants, Minor Officials, Wealthy Merchants
Mediocre (+0)
Troopers, Merchants, Priests2
Mean (-1)
Embarrassing (-2)
Shameful (-3)

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Swashbuckling: Skills

This is a short post, but I want to get this skill list out there so I can stop renaming everything back to SotC standard in future posts.

Whenever I start thinking about a new genre conversion, taking a close look at the skill list is one of the first things I do. I like to see what I can cut and what I can combine; rarely, I end up adding something. Regardless, I'm likely to do a lot of renaming. I find it goes a long way toward communicating the feel of the genre in question. For example, in "Spirit of the Sword," I could've left Science as Science, but renaming it to Physik gives it a totally different vibe in my mind.

Anyway, with that in mind, here's a skill list for "Spirit of the 17th Century."

Skill (New)
SotC Equivalent
Alertness Alertness
Arms Weapons
Art Art
Brawn Might, Endurance
Burglary Burglary
Chicanery Deceit
Connections Contacting
Empathy Empathy
Esprit Resolve
Firearms Guns
Fisticuffs Fists
Gambling Gambling
Horsemanship Drive, Survival's riding trapping
Legerdemain Sleight of Hand
Occult Mysteries
Perception Investigation
Physique Athletics, Endurance
Presence Leadership, Intimidation
Rapport Rapport
Resources Resources
Scholarship Academics
Science Science, Engineering
Seamanship Pilot
Stealth Stealth
Survival Survival, sans riding

For example, there's nothing wrong with Weapons and Fists, per se, but Arms and Fisticuffs just feels so much more right to me. Ditto Chicanery. Chicanery! Is there another RPG out there with a skill called Chicanery?

(I've also renamed consequences for this one: Trifling, Middling, and Grievous. "Well-placed, sir! You have struck me a Grievous Arm Cut Off, indeed!")

Anyway, a few things got combined, so maybe I ought to explain those.

Drive becomes Horsemanship, and deals with both riding horses and driving wagons/carriages/etc. Even though horse-drawn modes of transport are more central to this genre than to, say, fantasy, I still can't see having an entire skill just for carriages. In the source material, those who are good at riding horses are also capable when it comes to controlling a team of them. So Survival loses its horse-riding trapping and is completely about, y'know, survival.

Leadership and Intimidation combine, Voltron-like, to form Presence. Again, in the source material, force of personality is a big thing. Those who are intimidating are generally so because of their charisma. Anyone who wants to be decently intimidating without having any real ability to lead can supplement that with a boon (+1 Presence when intimidating) and an aspect or two, since it's likely to be a situational thing.

Likewise with Might and Endurance. Brawn is all that physical toughness in one skill.

Science kills Engineering and takes its stuff. I just don't think there should be a separation between these here. It's the Age of Enlightenment and/or Reason.

Contacting becomes Connections, which seems minor, I'll admit, but I think it contributes to the more social elements of the genre. It's not about being able to gather information; it's about being well-connected. Connections is the defensive skill in social conflicts, which I'll talk more about later.

And that's all the justification I feel I need to do for you people.

Oh, one last thing: Gamex. Gamex went well. I ran two "Legends of Anglerre" demo games, which were enjoyed by all (or seemed to be), and got some good feedback to boot. Most of the mechanical comments were actually about Starblazer and the differences between it and SotC. I've never met anyone -- in person, in real life -- who actually plays Starblazer, though several of us own the PDF, nor do I think I know anyone anymore who plays SotC as written, so for those in my groups who were already familiar with SotC/FATE, getting used to the way Starblazer does things was an additional obstacle, but hardly one we couldn't overcome.