Monday, January 19, 2009

Kung-Fu: A Couple Characters for OrcCon

I can't seem to get back to mass combat... I always mean to, but then I end up posting about something else.

Anyway, this is one of those times.

I'm running "Spirit of the Fist" at OrcCon in Los Angeles over President's Day Weekend (which, it should be noted, is also Valentine's Day Weekend, so... a word of warning: Start earning brownie points now). I ran it a couple weeks ago for three guys in my weekly group, and it was a ton of fun. I got one of the players to sketch a few character portraits, which I then appropriated for some character sheets, so... here are two of those, both students of the Heavenly Lion Clan.

Shining Yu Shu, saber-swinging son of the sifu
Silver Crane, knight-errant in disguise

Actually, they're just the first page; all but one of the five phases is written for each character (Xiao - Filial Piety, Xia - Justice, Jen - Benevolence, and Li - Propriety), but I've left one (Zhong - Loyalty) for them to write themselves, along with its aspect. The idea is for the Loyalty phase to be a very short story about a time when the character helped another character in the party -- or was helped by them. Either way.

Anyway, the other characters are two more students (a drunken boxer and a big staff fighter), the sifu's daughter, and Ghost Doctor. No explanation on Ghost Doctor; I think the name, though wildly inaccurate, speaks for itself. As soon as I get some more sketches, I'll post the other character sheets.

Oh -- one more thing. Almost forgot. After our 4E D&D group suffered through its second TPK (which... I mean... a TPK in 4E?), it was pretty universally decided (that is, by everyone but the DM) to try something different. After some discussion and brainstorming, I'm running a one-shot of "Spirit of the West" on Sunday. They made characters last night, and while they're all fun (a Buffalo Soldier deserter, a dynamite-throwing maniac, a disgruntled proto-mail carrier, and Calamity Jane's sister), I think one of the best things about the character creation process was that we never cracked a book.

All right, we did look at the SotC SRD online for the skill list, and I did replace the entire stunt sub-system with three generic stand-ins (+1 to a skill with a broad category, +2 to a skill in a specific circumstance, or use one skill in place of another in a specific circumstance -- you get three of these in any combination -- a scaled-down version of what I posted about last time), but still, being able to make characters just by saying things like "Write about what you were doing during the Civil War" or "So what role did you play in Montana's first novel?" was awesome. I like 4E fine, but... what a breath of fresh air.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Fantasy: Cutting Back on Stunts

So... Happy New Year, and all that. Here's to a productive 2009 with more frequent updates.

This isn't a very good follow-up to my last post in December on mass combat -- that one's coming -- but it's a little more relevant to my current situation. Right now, I'm planning characters for both of the SotC-derived I plan to run at OrcCon next month. More than once, I've seen (or heard) people complain about only one thing in SotC: the stunts. The sheer number of them is often cited as the only really slow part of character creation, and even those who don't have a problem with it (me included) seem to be more tolerant than overjoyed at the prospect of sorting through more than a hundred stunts, many of which basically have the same mechanical effect.

I've seen the stuntless rules, and I like 'em and all (I'm using a version of them for "Spirit of the Fist"), but I also consider stunts to be a pretty integral part of SotC. Skills are the base of the system, and aspects are the cool, sexy bit that everyone loves, but stunts play an important role as well. Stunts are usually the always-on facets of your character that truly make him different from your neighbor's. For an aspect to make a difference, a Fate Point needs to change hands, but with most stunts it's just an automatic, passive thing. When I make a character, I usually start with his stunts, or at least a few of them. And some of them, like Master of Disguise, just can't be replicated using the stuntless rules as written.

So right now I'm tending towards a middle ground in which stunts still exist, but there are only a half-dozen or so of them. Something like this:
  • +1 [skill] with ____ : Fill in the blank with a broad-category use of the skill (+1 Weapons with axes, +1 Art with music, +1 Athletics with acrobatics, etc.). No two stunts can modify the same skill (e.g., only one +1 Weapons with axes applies, no matter how many times you take it).
  • +2 [skill] when ____ : Fill in the blank with a specific-category use of the skill (+2 Weapons when disarming, +2 Art when singing, +2 Athletics when tumbling, etc.). Again, only one per skill applies.
  • Use [skill] instead of [skill] when ____ : Fill in the blank with a specific condition or circumstance (Use Weapons instead of Intimidation when fighting, Use Art instead of Rapport when dealing with other musicians, Use Athletics instead of Fists when catching an opponent by surprise, etc.).
  • Ignore penalty to [skill] when ____ : Fill in the blank with a specific, static penalty (Ignore penalty to Weapons when using improvised weapons, Ignore penalty to Art when audience is distracted, Ignore penalty to Athletics when climbing a slippery surface, etc.). The "penalty" may actually be removing an increased difficulty to a static task, but whatever. It's all the same.
  • Possession: The character has some sort of special possession, as per Weapon of Destiny, Personal Gadget, Prototype Car, etc. The possession grants a +1 bonus to the use of a particular skill (as above), along with two other improvements. If the player accepts a drawback of some kind (up to the GM and player), the item has an additional improvement. This one can be taken multiple times, either to have multiple possessions or to include more improvements in a single possession.
  • Fate Point: Spend a Fate Point to do something special not otherwise covered by the above three options (e.g., Enemies denied gang-up bonus when you're armed, Use Art in place of any social skill when dealing with other musicians, Ignore all penalties when climbing, etc.), as long as it's cool with the GM. This is the one that lets me include Master of Disguise. You could sift through all the stunts and pull out just those that require a Fate Point expenditure, and that'd be this category. I might do that, although I'm more likely to do so only as a means of generating examples.
  • Magic: These are basically the same as the existing Magic stunts, so it's more like a number of similar "gateway" stunts in one (Alchemy, Artifice, Summoning, etc.). All of the follow-up stunts are just basically some permutation of the first four stunts on this list.
Right now, I'm thinking of sticking with five stunts, although the "Spirit of the Fist" playtest the other day went so well that fewer stunts may do just as well (if you'll recall, "SotF" doesn't have any stunts, but it does have three stunt-like benefits attached to the character's Kung Fu aspect). Any thoughts on all this? Happy to hear 'em.

And next month, my group in San Diego will start the first real long-term playtest of "SotS" when I run a full-on campaign. I'm very excited about that. I look forward to what the players come up with on their own, instead of me forcing a bunch of pre-gens on them.