Friday, January 29, 2010

Magic Spells - Spell Improvements

The last Spirit of Greyhawk post covered both the Basic Properties of Spells and a look at the three categories of Spell powers. This post lists out the Spell Improvements that are currently available when designing spells. Most of these should look familiar as Improvements from Spirit of the Century.

Unless otherwise stated, each Spell Improvement increases the casting difficulty by +1.

NOTE: As this list shares much in common with creating magic items, my hope is that the list will effectively serve as Improvements for spell as well as for magic item creation.

Additional Compels

Caster can trigger free compels more than once. NOTE: This may need some review with respect to the treatment of "fragile" aspects.

Alternate Useage

Alternate Useage has the ability to allow skills to function more like you would expect in the High Fantasy genre.

Example: While the Power of a Healing spell might be to allow someone to use their Magic Skill instead of Physik skill, this Improvement would be needed to avoid any physical restrictions on time required for healing, maximums, or other non-magic things like requiring bandages and whatnot.


ERRATA: This entry was changed slightly--the original post had an important note left out.

This improvement allows the benefactor of the magical effect to be considered as having a weapon of some kind. It is important to note that this is different from being able to cause damage. If you are considered as being "Armed", you could also use the weapon to defend.

So damaging spells DO NOT allow that opportunity unless you have this advantage. So the benefactor gains the ability to attack, or to allow its possessor to attack, with Melee or Missile as if he/it possessed a weapon of some kind. Examples include a scarf that can be used as a whip, a potion that imbues the wearer's hands with supernatural hardness, or a spell that creates a sword of fire.


Target is granted armor-like protection. How that's expressed is up the spell (and potentially spell aspects).

+1 = Light Armor
+2 = Medium Armor
+3 = Heavy Armor

Aspect Addition

Add an Aspect to the target.

Normally, the aspect will be "fragile" (i.e., can only be tagged once) for a +1 on the difficulty. The aspect can be upgraded to "sticky" (can be tagged multiple times) for the duration of the spell for an additional +1 on the difficulty.

Normally Spell aspects last only as long as a spell's duration, in order to allow for negation-related effects. In other words, if you want to cast a permanent aspect addition, you would likely need a permanent duration spell. However this would be open to a certain amount of interpretation.

Here are some examples:

  • "Aspect: Flying" on a spell of magical flight would last as long as the spell's duration (A sticky aspect).
  • "Aspect: Prone" lasts until the target gets up (A fragile aspect)
  • "Aspect: Target on Fire" granted via an instantaneous spell like Fireball might last longer than the spell itself, though actions could be taken to remove it. (A fragile aspect, that might last much longer than the Fireball's "instantaneous" duration.)


The spell has some manner of sentience and is able to act independent of the caster in a very limited fashion. Often, this means that the spell gains a skill, the rating of which is equal to the total number of effects the spell possesses. This effect can be taken multiple times to either bump up a single skill or acquire new ones. How this all shakes out depends greatly on the item in question, but odds are only mental skills will be appropriate.

For example, a sword containing the bound spirit of a demon might have its own Alertness skill, or Lore, of which the wielder can make use. Athletics, however, would be a tough sell, because the sword simply lacks a means of locomotion. Despite the sentience, the item can't act independently of its owner; it requires a command or prompt of some kind to activate. More specifically, if the caster is rendered unconcious during the spell's duration, this improvement is of little value. Note that this basic concept can also be more or less created using "Upgrade", below, although it'll be quite different in practice.


Prerequisite: Conscious.

Like Conscious, but the spell is capable of basic reasoning, and can interpret simple commands. As the name implies, the spell can act independently, even if its owner is unconscious. Limited movement is possible, even without a means of locomotion, as is speech or some other form of communication with its bearer. Depending on the nature of the spell, it can even have physical skills such as Melee, although these will always be defaulted to Mediocre (in other words, having the skill at Mediocre lets the item use it at all).


Technically, this isn't an effect on the item, spell, or potion, but on one or more of its effects. For example, a Delayed shocking blast explodes a few minutes after the mage casts it instead of immediately. The mage decides the length of the Delay when he casts the spell. Currently there is no extra cost for delaying something a longer period of time.


Like Delay, Trigger postpones the effect(s) of a spell, item, or potion, but unlike Delay, the determinant isn't time, but a specific event or contigency. If you want to get pedantic, nearly every product of Alchemy has a trigger: drinking the potion, applying the oil, etc. But that sort of thing doesn't count as an effect; this is different.

For example, you can consume a feather-weight potion now, but it won't activate until you experience a sudden fall. That's the Trigger. Similarly, the shocking blast above could be cast with a Trigger of "when someone opens this door."


This is the "It's much bigger on the inside!" effect — something that looks small, but which behaves as if it weren't. Examples include a pouch that holds as much as a warehouse (Bag of Holding), a dagger that does as much damage as a greatsword, or a hut that can sleep a small army.


The inverse of Miniaturization: Sometimes you just need something to be big. This effect is used to alter an item for circumstances when size will truly matter, such as a weapon that can’t possibly damage its intended mega-monster target without being very large, or a house-sized carriage pulled by dozens of horses that’s able to transport a huge number of passengers.

Upgrade - General

The Improvement gives a +1 bonus to any effort using it (usually only to one skill, if the device or potion supports the use of multiple skills). This improvement may not be taken more than once per affected skill.

Examples include a magically sharp sword, an amulet that imparts arcane knowledge to its wearer, or a potion (or spell) of strength.

Upgrade - Specific

Similar to Upgrade - General, but instead of applying a +1 bonus to the entire scope of a skill, Upgrade grants +2 to a specific usage of it.

A troll-slaying sword, for example, might get an extra +2 when used against trolls. a ice spell might grant a +2 bonus against creatures who are fire-based (like a salamander, or a fire elemental).

Supers: Two Characters for OrcCon

I'm having a pretty good time here making pre-gens for this FATE supers game I'm running at OrcCon, so I figured I'd post a couple of them here to be scrutinized.

Here's the blurb for the game:
Final Exam Crisis!
Are you ready for some exciting but essentially non-lethal Silver Age-type action? When supervillainy threatens Pacific City, it's up to Seaside High School's motley assortment of teenage superheroes to put a stop to it. And during finals week, no less! Come playtest this new superheroic version of FATE, the ruleset that powers Spirit of the Century, Diaspora, and the upcoming Legends of Anglerre.
See how everyone got a plug there?

First up is one of the aforesaid motley assortment of teenage superheroes. When she isn't fighting crime, Gold Star is the future valedictorian of Seaside High, Class of 2011. She's the type who does crosswords to improve her SAT scores and who organizes everything in a ten-foot radius within an inch of its life. As Gold Star, her powers include telepathy, telekinesis, low-grade mind control, and that kinda thing. She's hunted by the Headmaster, a sort of evil-ish version of Professor X -- a powerful psychic who collects the smartest metahumans he can find and puts them to use for his own nefarious purposes. Gold Star would be a good get for him. (Her Catchphrase aspect is empty -- that's for the player to fill in.)

Gold Star (PC)
  • Skills:
    • +4: Academics
    • +3: Telepathy (M), Investigation
    • +2: Telekinesis (E), Science, Resolve
    • +1: Alertness, Contacting, Athletics, Rapport, Computers
    • Cost: 21
  • Super-Skills:
    • Telepathy (Mundane)
      • Trappings: Persuasion (Mental, Range), Reading People (Mental, Range), Detect Lies (Mental), Attack (Mental, Range)
      • Complication: Hunted by the Headmaster
      • Cost: 27
    • Telekinesis (Extraordinary)
      • Trappings: Attack (Range), Move (Unusual, Spread), Parry (Range), Physical Force (Range, Spread)
      • Major Complication: Honest to a Fault
      • Cost: 22
  • Stunts:
    • Cost: 0
  • Refresh: 2
    • Cost: 10
  • Aspects:
    • Concept: Psychic Overachiever
    • Catchphrase:
    • Complication: Hunted by the Headmaster
    • Major Complication: Honest to a Fault
    • "Harvard's my safety school"
    • Extra-Curricular Activities
    • Mind Over Matter
I'm ashamed of and giggly about Electro-Cute's name in equal measure. Fortunately, by the time the game starts, she's left this nom de villainy behind. Still, come on -- she's an electricity controller who considers her physical attractiveness to be her most important asset. At the same time, she's bitter over not being the most popular girl in school (that honor belongs to Heather Donaway, aka Clique, one of the other PCs) and possessed of a near-pathological greed. Electro-Cute may be a ridiculous name, but it's exactly the sort of name she'd come up with. This version of her doesn't actually show up in the game; it's just for fun.

Note that Electro-Cute has a Complication: Secret ID aspect, whereas Gold Star doesn't. That's because, for this game, "Secret ID" is a campaign aspect.

Electro-Cute (NPC)
  • Skills:
    • +4: Rapport
    • +3: Electric Blast (E), Deceit
    • +2: Art, Athletics, Alertness
    • +1: Stealth, Empathy, Contacting, Electricity Control (E)
    • Cost: 20
  • Super-Skills:
    • Electric Blast (Extraordinary)
      • Trappings: Attack (Range)
      • Complication: Secret ID
      • Cost: 10
    • Electricity Control (Extraordinary)
      • Trappings: Security, Invulnerability (Electricity)
      • Major Complication: Greedy (-1 point)
      • Cost: 10
  • Stunts:
    • +2 Empathy with assessments
    • Use Deceit instead of Empathy to detect lies
    • +1 Athletics to dodge
    • Cost: 15
  •  Refresh: 5
    • Cost: 25
  • Aspects:
    • Concept: Electricity Controller
    • Catchphrase: "Shocking, isn't it?"
    • Complication: Secret ID
    • Major Complication: Greedy
    • Catfight!
    • Determined to Take Down Heather Donaway
    • Style Over Substance
As you can see (or could guess), characters have seven aspects: a Concept, a Catchphrase, and five "free" aspects. Complications, Weaknesses, and Items (but not Snags) take up these "free" aspect slots. The upshot is that having super-skills means limiting either the scope of your powers (with Snags) or the nature of your aspects (by devoting some of those aspect slots to Complications, Weaknesses, or Items).

The game's set for Saturday the 13th at 8:00 pm, so if you're going to OrcCon, come on by and check it out!

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010

    Supers: Heroic Consequences

    Let's leave aside for a moment all this stuff about how to handle powers and instead talk about this other thing, which I'm calling, at least temporarily, Heroic consequences.

    Heroic consequences are a third "pool" of consequences (in addition to the usual Physical and Mental), but one shared by the PCs instead of belonging to any of them individually. They represent, and give more significance to, their failures -- stuff like property damage, civilian casualties, falling reputations, and the like. Think of them like campaign aspects, but... y'know, consequences instead.

    When a PC fails to defend against an attack, the player can choose to reduce the incoming stress (because we're using that, at least for the time being) with either one of his own consequences, or a Heroic consequence. The latter means that the PC gets the reduce the stress without suffering himself, but something bad happens to the environment around him. An innocent bystander could get knocked out, a car could be crushed, an office building could burst into flames, the public could turn against the PCs -- whatever.

    For example, Roborilla, the supervillainous robotic gorilla, throws a compact car at the Blue Knight, who throws up one of his trademark blue force fields to stop it. But he's too late -- his defense roll fails by 4. The Blue Knight has three choices:
    1. He can take 4 Health stress, a result of dodging out of the way in the nick of time. 
    2. He can take a Physical consequence, like "Knocked Off Balance" or "Cracked Ribs." The car's hit him, and he's worse off for it.
    3. He can reduce that 4 Health stress with a Heroic consequence, like "Smashed Storefront" or "Civilian Trapped Under Car." The car's missed him, but it's caused some trouble elsewhere in the scene.
    So in one sense, it makes the PCs a little hardier in the face of head-exploding super-strength punches and brain-melting psychic blasts. More importantly, though, Heroic consequences obey the usual rules (well, my usual rules, anyway) of consequences.

    To recap: Minor consequences go away at the end of a scene, Moderate consequences can only be removed with a Great skill check, and Severe consequences only go away at the end of the story -- but they change an aspect when they do.

    So going back to the example of Roborilla and the Blue Knight, "Smashed Storefront" is a Minor consequence. It's not really something the PCs are going to be expected to set right. We can assume that it's mundane enough that someone else will take care of it later. However, it still represents collateral damage, and the PCs are still indirectly responsible (Roborilla was throwing that car at the Blue Knight, after all), so it's fair game for a Heroic consequence.

    "Civilian Trapped Under Car," though, is best as a Moderate consequence. It's a clear and present dilemma for the PCs to solve, either during the scene or right after (after that, for a consequence like that, it's too late -- the story's moved on to the next scene). If they don't solve it, the consequence sticks around -- and the next time they might want to take a Moderate Heroic consequence, maybe they'll have to take a Severe consequence instead, maybe something to do with the fact that they just left some dude to be slowly crushed under a car. "Public Turns on the Hero League," say. At the end of the story, one of the campaign aspects changes to reflect the public's similarly changing attitudes towards the PCs.  For example, "Hero League to the Rescue!" could become "Misunderstood Heroes."

    How late is too late to deal with a Moderate consequence? Right now it's a matter of common sense, I think. If a guy's trapped under a car, he'll need immediate assistance. I'd say that if you don't take care of it before the next scene, you missed your chance to clear that consequence slot. If your reputation takes damage, though, that's more of a long-term issue, and something you should be able to try to remedy almost anytime. Of course, it's also more involved than a single civilian under a car -- you need to call a press conference, get yourself on TV, or something along those lines. It's all very Marvel.

    Here's another one: Ultra-Violence drops a hostage from the top of a 10-story building. If the PC fails to save the hostage (by flying up and catching him, using TK to get him safely to the ground, cushioning his fall with an awning or something, etc.), he can take a personal consequence, indicating that the hostage actually was saved, but the rescue took a toll on the PC. It can be something as minor as being winded or as significant as almost killing himself in the process of saving an innocent life. Alternately, if the PC goes for a Heroic consequence instead, that indicates that the guy actually was hurt, if not killed, in the fall. He can walk away from a Minor Heroic consequence, a Moderate Heroic consequence will probably require medical attention (or, if the consequence involves the PCs' reputation instead, a Great Art or Rapport effort later on), and a Severe consequence will likely mean the hostage fell to his death.

    The upshot is that these Heroic consequences can help drive the narrative. "Building On Fire"? Someone should probably take the time to put that fire out, possibly in the midst of combat if they want to free up that consequence slot for use later in the scene. Press conference? Failing to get the press on your side may be a Moderate Mental consequence ("Frustrated!") or a Moderate Heroic consequence ("Front-Page Hatchet Job") -- and if the latter, you probably want to get that cleared up, before your poor public image bites you in the ass later (i.e., you only get one Moderate Heroic consequence, so if you don't clear it, you may find yourself stuck with a Severe Heroic consequence later on).

    Lastly, Heroic consequences can be tagged or compelled like any other consequence, as long as it makes sense. "Smashed Storefront" might not make for an easy compel, but "Civilian Trapped Under Car" sure does. A supervillain attempting to cow an auditorium full of would-be victims is going to be able to tag your "Distrusted by the Public" Heroic consequence as part of his Art roll, because these poor people just don't have any confidence that their "heroes" are going to save them.

    Outdated DFRPG Sneak Peek: This Used to Be News!

    Let me admit something to you: While I'm looking forward to the Dresden Files RPG, I haven't been following its development and know virtually nothing about it. I also haven't read the books or watched the short-lived TV series. Nonetheless, I'm eager to get my mitts on a new iteration of FATE from Evil Hat.

    Consequently, I'm psyched to see this thing that Ryan Macklin posted today. Personally, I'm picking it apart and muttering things like "Hmm, how are these skills not redundant?" and "Ah, so that's how they did it," but I'm not going to post any of my ruminations because I know I'm way, way behind the curve on this. I'm sure that there's nothing especially surprising for anyone who's in the loop.

    Still, it's cool to see it, right?

    Saturday, January 23, 2010

    Magic Spells - Properties of Spells

    In retrospect, I should have realized that it was a bad idea to start talking about Spell casting on the fly (Sorcery) without first talking about Spells first. Namely...
    • Spell Properties (the basic properties of any spell)
    • Spell Improvements (benefits that make a spell more difficult to cast)
    • Spell Modifiers (restrictions that make a spell easier to cast)
    ...Once those are laid out, the process of creating a spell on the fly should become pretty self-explanatory.

    My Current Process of Testing the Spell Framework

    Everything I have in here represents a work in progress. I have cobbled it together from a bunch of sources (SotC, Mike's previous work, my own musings and probably some things I've seen on the Yahoo group) and have been testing these assumptions during the pre-fab spell translation process (recreating the M-U / Cleric spells circa AD&D), as well as during the gameplay sessions I've had to date. So far, they're holding up. But they're certainly not carved in stone. As I run into problems during my spell translation process, I consider modifications to the the framework.

    Spell Properties

    Almost every spell can be defined with the following properties.

    The effect of the spell — what it does. Pick a skill, such as Intimidation, Missile, Rapport, or whatever is most appropriate to the effect you want to achieve.

    Example: If the desired magical effect is charm, pick Rapport skill.

    Currently every power within a spell increases the difficulty by 1.

    NOTE: A further elaboration of spell powers is required. See below for "Spell Powers" and countering them.

    How long the effect lasts. Damaging effects default to instant; other effects default to a few minutes (position 2 on the Time Chart). Each shift spent on Duration increases the length of the effect by one step on the Time Chart.

    How many targets are affected. By default, this is one. You can spend shifts to affect additional targets (1:1), or spend three shifts to affect everyone (or everything) in a zone.

    OPEN ISSUE: What would be the cost to affect a SELECTED group of targets within a zone? In other words, doing a "blast" where only your enemies within the blast are affected. This should be more complicated than a single “blast”. Consider an additional +1 modifier to spell difficulty.

    Casting Time
    Determine the net result of the spell's difficulty and consider that as the position on the Time Chart (below). From there, every decrease in time increases the spell's difficulty by 1. Conversely every increase in time decreases the spell's difficulty by 1.

    There is no "0" position on the time chart. No spell is a Free Action.

    Depends upon the Power being used in the spell. Whatever the range of the skill is, this is the range of the spell. Normally this is within touching range, or within the same zone, unless a Missile power is included.

    If the Power is Missile, then the default Range becomes 1 Zone away. Additional Zones can be purchased on a 1:1 basis, up to 4 zones (+3 difficulty). This takes it out to similar ranges as a rifle.

    OPEN ISSUE: How to handle “Line of Sight” ranges and longer range scrying type spells? Possibly layer in a difficulty (given a GM's call) on the Range relative to the Ladder per shift? In other words, if a GM determines the range to be "Legendary" then it counts for +8 on the difficulty.

    All spells have by default the "Bespelled" aspect placed upon the target of the spell in the situation of a successful casting. There is no cost for this aspect.

    Additional Aspects can purchased at 1 per shift (See upcoming post on "Spell Improvements". There is one free compel per aspect, as per normal rules detailing the placing of aspects on target via manuevers. Spell aspects are considered "sticky" unless otherwise stated.

    Spell Powers - More Information

    When considering spell powers, there are three basic categories of powers. Each one has it's own general treatment, in addition to how to counter them (known as "Saving Throws" in the source material).

    • Spell Powers that Harm
    • Spell Powers that Help
    • Spell Powers that Hinder

    Spell Powers That Harm Something

    If the effect is meant to be harmful — that is, if it uses Melee, Missile, Intimidation, or some other direct-damage skill — apply the spell's Power against the target's appropriate defense — usually Endurance or Resolve, depending on the flavor of the spell. The typical SotC defenses would count here.

    When considering if Armor or Shields help, the answer is somewhat dependent upon the nature of the spell and the nature of the defense. However in keeping with the source material, the default answer is NO, they do not help (unless the armor specifically provides some sort of magical defense).

    Example: If the magical effect is represented with the Missile skill, and it harms the target with flame, likely the proper defense would be Endurance.

    Example: However if the point of the spell was to baffle the target's mind with illusions, the target might have to defend with Resolve or Alertness.

    Regardless, take the difference between the spell's Power and the target's base skill with a dice roll (let's call it the Saving Throw in deference to the source material) and deal any stress or consequences of the corresponding type and severity.

    A consequence is determined by the caster but should relate directly to the magical effect of the spell.

    Example: A bard’s magical song of friendship is successful (where the Power was based upon Rapport and tested against a target’s Resolve) and thereby deals a consequence: a good one might be "Thinks the Bard Is His Best Friend."

    Spell Powers that Help (Or Buff) Something

    If the effect is beneficial to yourself or an ally (i.e., a “buff”), apply the spell's Power as a bonus to the target's use of the buffed skill for the Duration of the spell.

    Similarly, you could consider this effect very similar to drinking a potion. In other words, if someone drank a Good (+3) Strength potion, you would add +3 to your Might Skill for the potion's duration. The difference between a potion and a spell might be that the spell's caster can roll dice and get positive shifts.

    SIDE NOTE TO SoG RULESET: When considering a buff to a skill not possessed by a target, the SotC default rule is to consider the target to have the skill at Mediocre (+0). In the genre of Spirit of the Century where a certain education and general competence is assumed, that makes perfect sense. However, currently in SoG, the level of a non-listed skill is assumed to be Poor (-1).

    In case it needs to be said, normally there is not a Saving Throw associated with Spell Powers that Help a target.

    Spells that Hinder Something

    The opposite of Help powers — in this situation the caster is trying to reduce the target's capability with a skill, not increase it. Compare the spell's Power against the target's Endurance or Resolve with roll, as appropriate. Any shifts obtained over that defense are applied as a penalty to the Power's selected skill for the duration of the effect.

    Examples: A spell of confusion could apply a penalty to the target's Melee, a spell of blindness could penalize Alertness, or a spell of lethargy or "Slow" might work against the target's Athletics.

    Penalizing multiple skills requires multiple Powers, or all skills of a particular category (physical, mental, or social) can be penalized at double the cost (2 shifts / -1, rounding up).

    In essence, this is the same mechanic as Help; Help just assumes that the target is willing, and consequently offers a defense of Mediocre (+0).

    Also in case it needs said, a Power can result in a targeted skill being hindered to the point of going negative.

    Side Bar: The Time Chart Used by Spirit of Greyhawk

    The time chart currently in use in SoG was shared with me from Mike. It's the SotC basic chart with the following differences:
    • This actually represents two charts: one for if you're in a conflict, one for being out of a conflict.
    • If a slot has two entries, then the first entry represents the time within a conflict.
    • The second entry represents the time required inside of a conflict and conforms to SotC.

    While I've considered fiddling with it further to deal with other game-time periods (end of combat, end of scene, end of adventure) for purposes of spell duration, this works fine for me for the time being.

    Time Increments Table
    1. An action / Instant
    2. A full action / A few moments
    3. Two rounds / Half a minute
    4. Three rounds / A minute
    5. Full conflict / A few minutes
    6. A scene / 15 minutes
    7. Half an hour
    8. An hour
    9. A few hours
    10. An afternoon
    11. A day
    12. A few days
    13. A week
    14. A few weeks
    15. A month
    16. A few months
    17. A season
    18. Half a year
    19. A year
    20. A few years
    21. A decade
    22. A lifetime

    Friday, January 22, 2010

    Casting Spells - Spells on the Fly

    I'd like to start this post by saying that this "tag-team" approach of posting has been working out pretty well IMO, if for no other reason than to keep conversations really fresh and active. Which really means, thanks to everyone who has taken time to respond! For those of you who've been waiting for this next post, I apologize for the holdup--some rather ugly dental surgery prevented coherent thought the last week or so.

    So when last we tuned in on the Spirit of Greyhawk, we had talked through the mechanics of Spell Casting "by the book". This entry we delve into casting "on the fly" -- Sorcery.

    At the risk of repeating myself, SoG diverges a bit from Greyhawk's canon in that magical effects can also be cast by users without the mechanics of "locking in" a pre-made spell.

    Whereas casting a pre-made spell by the book gives the caster the ability to use 2DF+2, spell casting on the fly is rather a normal skill-related difficulty roll of 4DF. In other words, it's possible that a spell fails when the caster is making something up.

    NOTE: For those of you long-time readers, you're going to note a lot of similarities to Mike's original Fantasy-related spell castings.

    The Basic Process of Spell Casting "On the Fly"

    For most normal castings, the process works out like this:

    Before the roll of the Dice:
    The player and GM determine the difficulty to generate the magical effect. This is done by the following:

    • Figure out what magical effect you want to achieve. This is also known as the spell's Power.
    • The caster determines what pre-existing Skill (owned by the caster) the Magic Stunt is tied to, for purposes of setting a baseline skill ability.
    • Determine any other desired spell Improvements, which make the casting MORE difficult.
    • Determine any other desired spell Modifiers, which make the casting LESS difficult.

    Roll the Dice:
    Roll 4DF and net the result to the Caster's skill. Compare it against the difficulty of the spell to determine casting success or failure. Note that this is considered an uncontesed skill.

    After the Dice Roll:
    From there, the player
    • If desired (or available!), Fate points can be used as per normal to make any necessary modifications to Roll.
    • Determine what property of the spell will benefit from any MoS (margin of success). Barring some other spell "widget", the basic choices for what to do with MoS are right out of SotC:
      • Reduce Time Required: 1 shift reduces spellcasting time by one step on the Time Chart (the version of the Time Chart used by SoG is coming up shortly).
      • Increase Quality of Outcome: This is where some other property of the spell (Targets, Duration, Power, Range) are increased on a 1 shift for a +1.
      • Increase Subtlety: This one's a bit of a clunker, I think. But at the moment I'm thinking 1 shift makes the spell harder to counter by +2. I modified SotC's definition of what "subtlety" refers to with respect to a spell. Once I think through "counter-spells" or something whereby a spell could be undone (or even resisted), this may end up being a modifier to the spell's Power with respect to countering or resisting.
        OPEN ISSUE: I'm not sure what the 2:1 ratio does to game balance yet. But if it was left at a 1:1 ratio to counter-spell or resist, why would a caster bother with increased subtlety? Increased Power would get you the same effect for countering and make the spell more... well, powerful. So by doing this, it provides the opportunity where a spell might not be terribly powerful, but rather is very SUBTLE. Anyway, not sure yet.
    • Consider the net results of any modifications and go from there.

    NOTE: Aspects in play would be tagged or compelled normally and have the normal effects, so I didn't include them here. But understand that a shrewd caster can generate a significant amount of shifts via free Aspect tags without having to dip into his Fate Points!


    At first read, that might sound relatively crunchy. While it's true that if a player was to go nuts with this--it could be. However all my play test sessions to date have borne out that this works out pretty well and actually combat still moves right along. And one of the PC's in the game actually has Magic as an apex skill, with the Magic Stunt allowing for him to create spells on the fly. Given that, and the player's tendency to be a "Power Player" (meaning: looking for every +1 he can get), Sorcery hasn't slowed down play at all.

    Editorial Analysis: Upon further consideration and looking at how we worked out the spell below, I am now thinking in hindsight the spell might have been interpreted in a crunchier fashion. However, as long as player and GM are satisfied with the interpretation then gameplay is served. So, the crunch factor has something of a "water seeks its own level" effect, based upon who's playing and reffing.

    Powers, Improvements and Modifiers

    This is where a lot of the fun comes in and we'll spend some time going into each one--as each category probably deserves a separate post. So for some of the examples I'm going to list, I'm gonna ask that you "trust me". :)

    Here's the fun part: all the examples I'll use actually happened in SoG gameplay!

    Example: Made-up Spell "Spear of Freedom"
    Situation: Caellod, "Paladin" of Trithereon (CG deity) is on a ridgeline looking down at some manner of nefarious ritual being led by four Clerics of Iuz on the plain below. Surrounded as they were by hundreds of followers in a writhing mass, he knows he has no ability to get close to the clerics to interrupt them. He determines he wants to create a spell to temporarily enchant his spear with the power of his god to strike one of the clerics within the center of the ritual--almost half a mile away!

    So the difficulty for this spell was quickly determined to be the following:

    • Power: Launch a spear to fly further than it could normally (+1 difficulty, Substitute Magic Skill for Missile Skill)
    • Improvement: Range: Legendary (+8 difficulty!) (Ref determined lobbing a spear half a mile from high ground would be on a caliber with Greek legend)
    • Modifier: Material Component: Blessed Spear of Trithereon (Uncommon, -2 difficulty)
    • Casting Time: Base Casting time is determined by the net result (1 + 8 - 2 = 6, which equates to 15 minutes to cast)

    ...The player decided to not increase the difficulty on the casting by shortening the spell (gambling that the observed ritual was going to go that long), so the difficulty was set at 1 + 8 - 2 = 6, or Fantastic difficulty to cast the spell. The player tied the Magic Stunt to his Magic Skill (+5, his apex skill), rolled the dice and got +3 for a result of +8. So this meant Success, with an MoS of +2. The MoS was then determined to be used to make the "Missile" attack more effective. The player decided to not use any Fate points to increase the MoS further.

    Now because of the way the spell was set up, it was interpreted the Range difficulty did not make the attack more powerful, just able to overcome the range. So the difficulty of the spell (6) was netted out from the skill result (8) and thus the target was dealing with aFair attack (+2).

    The cleric missed an Alertness roll so this attack was essentially considered an Ambush and the defense roll was considered Mediocre (+0). So the number 2 physical stress box was checked and the spell was done. Story-wise, the cleric was effectively interrupted from whatever he was working on within the ritual.

    And, oh yeah--the PC had effectively lost his Blessed Spear! (nyah-ha-ha!)

    So if you're thinking about interpretation, that's actually pretty nice--what equates to a 6th level cleric spell to inflict a fairly modest amount of damage to a remote target, at the cost to the player of 15 minutes of casting time, and one of the cleric's holy symbols.

    Not bad for spells on the fly.

    I'll probably throw a few more examples in the next posting.

    [Hey -- this is Spirit of the Blank's 100th post! --Mike]

    Tuesday, January 19, 2010

    Supers: The Defense Dilemma

    As pleased as I am with the progress that's being made on this (on a daily basis, no less!), I'm not so taken with it that I don't recognize its flaws. And even if I were, I have commenter Robert Stehwien, aka The Guy Who Keeps Me Honest, to point them out, which is awesome. No, really -- it is. I mean, I know it's hard to read tone of voice over the Internet, so you may want to take that "awesome" as sarcastic, but seriously, it's sincere.

    Specifically, the issue that keeps coming up is the Defense Dilemma: If you haven't bought up your mental and physical defenses to Extraordinary or above, you're boned the first time you run into Jean Grey or Superman. This potential pitfall exists in other games, too -- most notably Hero and M&M -- but that doesn't change the fact that it's a pitfall. On one hand, I'm heartless and inflexible. Of course someone without appropriate defenses is going to be screwed, and rightly so. But my frosted side knows it isn't fun to get one-shotted by a psychic from a mile away.

    So, in the spirit of that, here are a couple clarifications currently present in the rules as they stand.

    First, a mental attack is defined as the Attack trapping plus the Unusual topping, to account for its telepathic aspect. Those two plus Range makes your standard Ego Whip at least one trapping more expensive than a run-of-the-mill attack power like force beams or fireballs.

    Second, as free hatani has pointed out:
    Correct me if I am wrong, but couldn't Superman, under you hack, just pay a Fate point to gain "Mental Defense" trapping on his Super-skill for the scene?
     This is absolutely correct, as I acknowledged in the comments yesterday, with two caveats:
    1. Superman's Concept aspect must be something that could reasonably be invoked for effect to improve his Mental Resistance. It doesn't have to be dead-on perfect or anything -- "Last Son of Krypton" would be fine, if the player could make a case for it. It references the fact that he's an alien, so maybe his alien mind is harder for a psionicist to navigate. "It's A Bird! It's A Plane! It's Superman!" would be less fine, because it doesn't reference anything except the fact that he's neither a bird nor a plane.
    2. Superman must have a super-skill onto which Mental Resistance could reasonably be tacked. As with the Concept aspect, as long as it's close enough, it's fine. Not to repeat myself from yesterday, but a super-skill called Alien Physiology would work, Man of Steel might, with a lenient GM, and Kryptonian Vision just would not do, ever.
    So those are the checks in place right now against the Defense Dilemma. Clearly, there are some conditions that need to be met for the invoke-for-effect to actually work -- if your Concept aspect is "Sci-Fi Cowboy" and your super-skills are things like Six-Guns and Space-Bronco-Buster, odds are you're still screwed. And charging an additional trapping makes a mental attack power more expensive, true, but that's hardly a roadblock to abuse.

    Keeping that in mind, here are some other things I'm considering:
    • Make Psychic a topping of its own worth two trappings. You'd apply it to any trapping that doesn't already fall into that category, like Attack or Perceive.
    • Invoke an aspect for effect to increase the tier of a defensive skill for one exchange. That's not exactly elegant, but nor is it unthinkable.
    • Reduce starting points to 80 instead of 100. Combined with the Psychic topping, this would make mental attacks a more serious investment. Hell, I might do this anyway, psychic attacks or no. It isn't a nice round number like 100, but there's more to this than nice round numbers.
    • Something involving consequences that I'm not ready to discuss yet. 
    Thanks again, guys, for keeping the discussion going! It's helping!

    Sunday, January 17, 2010

    Supers: Sample Characters

    All right. Let's put this thing to the test. Here's a Superman knock-off built on 100 points. I think he came out pretty good. He doesn't do everything every Superman can do, but he can fly, toss a bus around, see through walls, and burn holes in things just by looking at 'em. That's close enough for me.

    Note that because I plugged in a standard skill pyramid with an apex skill of Great, I've just abstracted his skill costs to 20 points. However, there's no need he has to follow the standard pyramid -- I could probably squeeze another few points out of there if I wanted to -- but I wanted to make him as well-rounded as possible.

    Incidentally, here's the tiers (and the cost of a stunt that lets you have a skill in that tier) so far:
    Mundane (0 points)
    Extraordinary (10 points)
    Superhuman (20 points)
    Godlike (30 points)
    Cosmic (40 points)

    Paragon (100 points):

    • Standard skill pyramid peaking at Great (20 points)
    • Superhuman Stunt: Great Super-Strength (20 points)
      • Trappings: Physical Force, Attack, Physical Resistance
      • Major Weakness: Riptonite (-4 points)
    • Extraordinary Stunt: Good Flight (10 points)
      • Trappings: Move, Unusual (Flight)
      • Complication: Lana Lane
    • Extraordinary Stunt: Fair Riptonian Eyes (10 points)
      • Trappings: Examine, Unusual (X-Ray), Attack, Ranged (Heat Vision)
      • Snag: No x-ray vision through lead
    • +2 Trappings for Fair Riptonian Eyes (4 points)
    • +1 Trapping for Great Super-Strength (4 points)
    • 2 Refresh (10 points)
    • +1 Average skill (1 point)
    It all looks pretty self-explanatory to me, but just in case it isn't:
    • Physical Force is a combination of Might's lifting and breaking trappings. (It seems unreasonable to be able to do one but not the other, so they've been combined.) Paragon can use his Super-Strength to be super-strong.
    • Attack lets him use the super-skill to cause damage. This does mean that he's a totally awesome fist-fighter, which isn't completely in line with Superman, but I'm thinking about work-arounds for that. For example, if his regular Fists skill is Good, maybe we could re-interpret the rules for complementary skills a little to say that his Super-Strength complements the tier of his Fists skill, bumping it up from Mundane to Extraordinary. That sounds pretty good to me, but I haven't given it much thought. If that were the case, I'd replace that Attack with Health Capacity, which would let the super-skill grant him bonus Health stress boxes. (It feels weird to talk about stress tracks....)
    • Physical Resistance lets him use his Super-Strength to defend against physical attacks, not by dodging (a separate trapping) but by "taking it." He relies on his toughness to shake off damage, but his ability to avoid attacks isn't exceptional. If he uses this skill to defend against a non-damaging physical attack, his effective skill is Mediocre (and his effective tier should probably be Mundane, as well).
    • Unusual is a topping that lets a trapping work differently than usual -- in this case, it changes the Move trapping from ground movement to flight. The mechanical upshot of this is that it should let him ignore all but the largest barriers.
    • Examine is careful, prolonged examination of something, the main component of Investigation. The Unusual (X-Ray) topping lets him use Examine to see through walls.
    • Ranged lets him use the Attack trapping of his Riptonian Vision at range -- it's his heat vision. Without it, the player could still flavor it as heat vision, but he'd only be able to affect targets in the same zone.
    • Snag is a limitation on his Riptonian Vision, but not common enough to warrant a Major Snag (which would in turn net him an additional trapping for his Riptonian Vision).
    Note that he's still left with 2 Refresh, which isn't terrible, really, but is still pretty low. Can't get much lower, really. Just the way it should be.

    Something I noticed about the Snags and Weaknesses is that it encourages you to take a Major one of those on your most-expensive super-skills -- if you take a Major Snag on an Average super-skill, it only gets you 1 point, but on a Great super-skill it's worth 4 points. In other words, it's more efficient to put greater limits on your biggest powers than on your smallest ones. A happy accident!

    (Two hours later....)

    I couldn't stay away. Here's another character, this time a Captain America/drum corps tribute named Vanguard.

    Vanguard (100 points):
    • Standard Skill Pyramid peaking at Great (20 points)
    • Extraordinary Stunt: Great Super-Soldier (10 points)
      • Trappings: Dodge, Health Capacity, Attack
      • Complication: Secret ID
    • Extraordinary Stunt: Good Vanguard Shield (10 points)
      • Trappings: Physical Resistance, Parry, Unusual (vs. Ranged Attacks), Attack, Ranged
      • Obvious Item (-3 points)
    • Extraordinary Stunt: Fair Resolve (10 points)
      • Major Complication: Code of Honor (-2 points)
    • +2 Trappings for Good Vanguard Shield (6 points)
    • +1 Trapping for Great Super-Soldier (4 points)
    • Two stunts (10 points)
    • 7 Refresh (35 points)
    Really pleased with how this guy turned out. There's a little min-maxing to be done here, for an enterprising player -- that Major Complication could be stuck on his Super-Strength instead of his Resolve, which would net him one more point -- but that's okay. Another Average skill isn't going to break anything.

    Saturday, January 16, 2010

    Supers: Quick Update

    Just a minor update here to say that progress continues to be made on this.

    I combed through SotC's skill list and extracted every trapping, explicit and implied, for a Big List of Trappings, then culled from there -- renaming, deleting, combining, adding -- for what looks to be a pretty decent selection. Funnily enough, in practical terms, it's really a list of powers. It's just that every real "power" in this conversion will essentially be the equivalent of a Hero multipower, or an M&M framework.

    Similarly, some effects are best achieved through what I'm calling Toppings for now, probably because I'm hungry for frozen yogurt. They're essentially advantages and limitations, but severely streamlined into just a few broad categories each, and taking inspiration from SotC's gadget-creation rules. Despite the slight increase in fiddliness these add, I really do believe it's the way to go (for now, anyway). What added crunch there is disappears after character creation, which remains a concept-focused process.

    Even still, I have the uneasy feeling that this is how Champions got started. And that way, as far as FATE is concerned, lies madness.

    Hopefully sometime in the coming week I can post some sample characters, but before I do that I have to figure out how many points to budget for an "average" superhero. I will, however, enjoy puzzling that out.

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    Supers: In Which I Shoot Everyone Down

    No, I'm just kidding. I sincerely appreciate all the feedback. It was great to come back from a day at Crystal Cove and see all the discussion my last post engendered. I'm going to try to go through the suggestions and comments and respond semi-intelligently. This is a long post, though, so... fairly warned be ye, says I.

    Instead of replacing the Fudge dice with d6, how about adding more Fudge dice but you still keep the best set of 4.
    That's exactly what I do with fencing styles in my swashbuckling hack -- knowing a style means you're more likely to make the best of the situation. It's great for increasing the odds of a character doing the best a human can do. I want something more than that here, though. I want superpowers to let you do things normal humans just can't do.

    However, I have considered this as an alternate Will mechanic for supers. Instead of replacing Fudge dice, you add more and roll-and-keep. An unintended but appropriate side-effect is that it's less efficient to spend Will on attacks versus lower-tier defenses than it is against higher-tier defenses.

    Perhaps stated more appropriately, what's a reasonable way to translate these characters into a form where we can continue to "play at the speed of FATE" and still have any hope of doing these characters justice?
    That's a good question, and something that weighs heavily on my mind as I muddle through this. Moving closer to a pure point-buy FATE feels alarmingly like re-inventing Hero. At all costs, this supers thing must avoid being (or feeling) that crunchy. It's not what I want, and it certainly isn't what the system does best. When I start thinking about having to list a super-skill's trappings in addition to everything else that's already on the character sheet, it seems a little overwhelming, but I'm convinced it wouldn't actually be overwhelming in practice.

    One thing the powers-as-trappings model does that's a radical departure from other FATE hacks I've done/seen is that it makes characters much more individualized where skills are concerned. Sure, every FATE character has his own set of aspects, but you can always count on, say, Fists being Fists no matter where you go. With this, though, one character's Fists will likely differ from another's Martial Arts, and each character's liable to "play" a little differently. That's definitely something that feels more like Hero or M&M than FATE. I'm not sure how I feel about that, but I'm also too curious to see how this would work to turn back now.

    The more broad the skill/power the more it costs per "die" in WT (a dice pool system).
    It'd essentially work the same way here, incidentally. You get your free trappings, but the more trappings you tack onto a super-skill the more it costs. A few cheaper, narrowly focused super-skills, or fewer, broader super-skills at a greater cost?

    And yeah, the effectiveness of that broad factor is definitely weighted towards the knowledgeable / experienced player.
    This goes back to that character-differentiation thing I was talking about. Your choices in character creation become more important than in SotC -- at least, it seems that way to me. But I don't want a lack of foresight to cripple a PC (unlike in that other game -- you know the one I'm talking about!), so the plan is to allow a player to invoke the character's Concept aspect for effect to add a trapping to a power for... a scene? An exchange? I don't know. Probably the former.

    Hmmm. Interesting direction. I would like to say, I prefer the three scale thing. Simple, clean, and easy to remember.
    I understand and anticipated this reaction. My answer is "Then only use the first three tiers." Seriously, it won't break the system. If the issue is that you just prefer to absoluteness of the earlier proposal, then that's a whole other thing. Personally, I steered away from that because of Robert's contention that the first thing he'd do in chargen would be to find a reason to buy up his defensive skills whether it made sense or not, because if he didn't he'd be auto-screwed. If it works for you, though, go for it.

    I don't like a constant d6 die sub for scale difference. I think it runs into the same problem as a bloated scale. "I rolled a +15. What did you roll?"
    Well, that isn't as likely to come up as you think. If you got a +15 for your effort, it's because you're facing off against someone who's probably a few tiers below you, in which case that guy should be screwed. He just isn't auto-screwed simply because he forgot to get Super-Resolve. He can spend invoke and tag, or even just roll well, and still have a slight chance of walking away from this one. Not a very good chance, but a chance nonetheless.

    Just in case it wasn't clear from my last post: Since you're taking the difference of tiers into account, if two combatants are dealing with each other using skills in the same tier, it's a straight 4dF + skill. No d6s are involved. If Superman punches non-powered Lex Luthor in the face, he's rolling a few d6s, but if he punches power-armor-suited, Superhuman-skill-having Lex, it's business as usual.

    And I will tell you now that, in my experience, 3dF + 1d6 does not usually wildly better results than 4dF. Probability be damned. I can't tell you how often someone's rolled --- and 1, but I can tell you I've only seen +++ and 6, like, twice. The plural of "anecdote" isn't "data," of course, but I've seen enough of the die-replacement thing in action to be comfortable with a one-tier difference in skills.

    I think it's a fair assumption that supers often face off against other supers. Unless you're fighting mooks, the odds of you replacing more than a Fudge die or two are probably pretty slim -- and thanks to the standard gang-up rules, a few Good-quality minions can still pose a threat to a super a tier or two above them, and large group of them (10+) would still threaten just about anybody, especially if they're well armed (e.g., wielding weapons that bump their attacks up a tier, which is very easy to implement here). That's not normally how we handle groups of minions in FATE, but whatever.

    How about this? You can't attack a higher scale without tagging a Weakness, but you can place Maneuvers! Has to fit the narrative, of course. Those thugs won't put a scratch on ol' Supes without a really good Aspect or Weakness to tag. But can they make him "Disracted", have him "Entangled", or even "Irritate" him? You betcha'. In fact that is their purpose. Not to threaten heroes. To slow them down, to complicate things, and of course to fall down before them in great numbers.
    This is a very interesting idea -- the can't-attack-without-tagging-a-weakness bit. I'm just not sure it works for everyone. It's great for Superman, but not every superhero has a weakness that works like that, or a weakness at all. The Hulk seems to take a point or two of stress from heavy artillery now and then, but I'd hardly say that his weakness is artillery. What about the Flash? He manages to get tripped up by a mundane explosion in his path every so often, but not reliably enough that I'd call it a weakness.

    I guess what I'm getting at is that I like those corner cases, and I want to retain them. That's another area where the former proposition wasn't working for me.

    As for the maneuvers -- you betcha, indeed. None of that runs contrary to any version of FATE I've seen, and it's a great way to play hordes of minions.

    Rolling the dice should always be important. So Superman isn't rolling to see if he hits a mook. Of course he does. He is rolling to be able to narrate how he does it heroically.
    Agreed. Fortunately, we have overflow, so a really fantastic hit against one mook means taking out a group of them, and that's where the rolling stays relevant. Naturally, the player is free to narrate that however he wants, and if he does so in a way that goes against his nature, the GM should compel an aspect to keep him in line.

    I'm equally comfortable with a hero dropping a wall on a group of mooks, or taking one of them out so handily that the others just turn tail and run, as long as the player's choice is consistent with the hero's concept and aspects.

    Have you looked at a game called Risus?
    Indeed, I know Risus pretty well; it and PDQ had an obvious influence on my aspects-as-skills idea from a couple months ago. I'm not into inserting multiple die types into this, though, beyond the d6 (although in other games, I'm all for it).

    It may also help to check out some of the discussion of the Dresden RPG about Freewill vs Nature (sorry, can't find a link). Purchasing supernatural powers reduces refresh -- the extreme case would be starting a session with 0 FATE points.
    While I'm largely in the dark about DFRPG -- not by choice, I assure you! -- I do know about the powers-reduce-Refresh thing. I'm going for a practical application of that here by either allowing you to sell back Refresh in exchange for more skill points, or simply making Refresh another thing that costs points. Whatever the point budget would be, it'd necessitate sacrificing Refresh for powers.

    Basically, use the original 3 scales and say that skills used for defense to not have a tier.
    I do have a concern about Superman (it's always Superman, isn't it?) being able to dodge a little too well, although he should certainly be able to take a hit. FATE doesn't really differentiate between these things, though -- if I let Superman defend against bullets with Man of Steel, it's functionally identical to the Flash defending against the same with his Super-Speed.

    One thing that occurred to me today while I was out was splitting up combat trappings rather narrowly, like differentiating between Resist Damage and Dodge. Superman does the former, and the Flash the latter. Again, functional difference? Nonexistent. Flavor difference? Huge. But does it make the game more fun? That, I don't know.

    1) Aspects can overcome scale:
    - Hit superman with a stick and nothing happens because they are different scales. Put some kryptonite on a stick and the kryptonite aspect overcomes the scale difference.

    Indeed, that's exactly what I had in mind. I'm torn on whether I'd charge a Fate Point for it, though. It's kryptonite -- it's going to work every time. I mean, I wouldn't want to charge Sinestro a Fate Point every time he uses something yellow against Green Lantern. My mind's divided between mechanical consistency and common sense.

    - In Star Wars, what good are snub fighters going to be against a Death Star? Got the Plans + Found a weakness + manoeuvre down the trench + use the Force and you overcome the scale difference.
    Well, we're getting far afield here from the genre, but... I'd call the two-meter exhaust port right below the main port a major weakness, so firing a proton torpedo down there is going to reduce the Death Star's defense by four tiers. I'd still require a roll to hit it, though, which is where "Got the Plans," "Found a Weakness," "Maneuver down the trench," and "Use the Force" come into play. Tag those for a +8 to hit. The torpedoes, I imagine would have some sort of damage modifier, as much as I usually dislike that kind of thing in FATE, but... hey, I'm not responsible for sorting that out using these rules! You tricked me by mentioning Star Wars!

    - Don't fire your bazooka at the super hero. Instead fire at the wall behind him. Bazooka + collapsing wall overcomes the scale difference.
    The collapsing wall, IMO, is arguably a matter of special effects. It's an aspect to maneuver/tag, sure, but in FATE, if you want to say you shot a guy between the eyes or shot the rope holding up the chandelier to make it fall on him, either way he's defeated. The flavor's up to you. So if the bazooka already boosts your attack by a tier, that's all you need to know in terms of mechanics.

    I'm enamored of the basic concept, but I'm not of a mind to change how aspects work (invoke or tag for +1 tier), or to make their functions situational ("If you're evenly matched, they work like this, but if not, they work like that"). I encourage you to take it farther and report back, though, because it's interesting.

    Brad Murray (Diaspora) had a suggestion on how to handle giant bugs in his blog that might work.
    Awesome -- I'll check that out. My copy of Diaspora just arrived in the mail yesterday, and I dig it. Look for scopes to figure into this hack in the near future.

    The really hard part is super vs normal. When superman punches a normal why doesn't the guy's head explode?
    Okay, disregarding my quickie answer for the time being, my long-winded answer is essentially the same as my last response: If you want Taken Out to mean his head asplode, or if you want it to mean he's knocked out, that's up to you. The important thing is the end result: He's Taken Out.

    If, however, you want to do this Authority-style, it's be an interesting challenge to let the attacker voluntarily pull his punch in an effort to avoid outright killing a dude. I'm not interested in that degree of reality, though, and neither is FATE. I much prefer genre emulation (all the time, always, for all genres), and in this particular one, Superman doesn't roll like that.

    Thursday, January 14, 2010

    Supers: Balancing the Scales

    I've been thinking aloud about this whole scaling issue -- specifically, how to handle disparate power levels without climbing higher and higher on the ladder -- and I think I have an answer. Haven't really been able to bounce it off anyone but one loyal reader (at least, I assume you're loyal -- I'm giving you the benefit of the doubt on that one), so here it is for everyone else to take a whack at.

    First thing we do is remove the Will mechanic. It's not that I don't like it, because I like it a lot, actually, but it doesn't really work with this new scaling thing. So out it goes, at least in its current incarnation.

    Next, instead of three tiers of power, we have five -- 1 to 5, or 0 to 4. Either way. Names are important for flavor, but right now that's up in the air, so let's at least agree on Mundane for the lowest of them and, say, Cosmic for the top end. You get the idea. Like before, skills fit into these tiers and your skill pyramid simultaneously, with some skills designated as Mundane, some as Superhuman, and so on.

    When you act against someone else, look at the tiers of your skills. Whoever has the higher tier notes the difference in steps (e.g., Tier 1 vs. Tier 3 means two steps) and replaces that many Fudge dice with d6s. Then roll as normal.

    (Yes, this still involves swapping out Fudge dice, but I like that, and I've seen my players like it, so it's a perfectly fine design element as far as I can tell. If you don't like that sort of thing, this won't really work for you at all.)

    The point remains to emphasize the difference in power levels between two parties, but still allow them to interact. The latter bit is where the earlier system kinda fell down. More tiers means it isn't easy to just buy up your Mundane skills to Cosmic without spending a boatload of points. How many points, I don't know yet, but it wouldn't be cheap, that's for sure.

    So, with that mechanic in mind, look what else we can do. When someone tags your weakness aspect, it reduces your defense by one tier. If your weakness is defined as a "big" weakness (we need another adjective there, obviously), it reduces it by two tiers. Or more, maybe. Maybe it's two and four instead of one and two. The point is, it allows a regular human with kryptonite-on-a-stick to pose a danger to Superman in a way that's internally consistent and fairly elegant. It may even be that the weakness isn't an aspect, or at least not one in the usual sense, but I'm not going there right now.

    Why would you have a "big" weakness instead of just a regular one? Because if you take that in conjunction with a super-skill, that super-skill starts with three trappings instead of two.

    That reminds me, since I'm rambling anyway. There are three kinds of "negative" aspects: weaknesses, complications, and restrictions. A weakness is what it was in the last post, but complications are limited to things in your personal life -- DNPCs, enemies, secret IDs, and so on. Restrictions are constraints on your super-skills, like "Can't Affect the Color Yellow" or "Power Armor."

    Complications and restrictions should have "big" versions, too, with the same extra-trapping trade-off. A big complication means that negotiations for compels start at two Fate Points instead of one. A big restriction is... I dunno. Still thinking about that.

    The most shocking thing is probably that I'm thinking of including Diaspora-style stress tracks. Superheroes tend to batter each other a lot pretty casually; it'd feel weird to give, say, the Midnighter a consequence every time he's hit in combat (not that he can be hit in combat, but you get the idea). I like Diaspora's middle ground between SotC and hit point-style stress. It might mitigate some of the potential Authority-scale ultra-violence, too.

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010

    Supers: Iron Man's Resolve

    I think Robert's comments on my last post are extensive and insightful enough to warrant a full-post response -- the highest honor I can bestow to a reader! -- especially where this passage is concerned:
    My concern isn't if Iron Man can take out the minion - of course he can with an apex skill of +5 vs the minions apex of 1 to 3 (the guy with the 3 might be carrying a bazooka).

    With different scales as you have proposed where you either need to buy into the scale or spend will to temporarily act on that scale. My concern is more that Iron Man forgetting to take his Resolve to the super scale and Psychic Blast dude with a Fair super scale mental attack being able to casually mop the floor with Iron Man.

    First thing I'd buy under your system is a super defense in every conflict category (probably Endurance and Resolve). And when everyone needs to do something like that to "feel playable" then IMHO something is wrong.

    I totally understand the concern re: Iron Man's Resolve (didn't Hemingway write that?), and I'm aware this needs tweaking -- possibly past the point of recognition, but that's how these things often go. (I'm less married to the scales than to the player-defined super-skills-plus-trappings thing.)

    My concern with removing the scales, or redefining what Superb means based on genre, is that within the supers genre abilities can vary so wildly I'm not sure a scale of +1 to +10 would really cover it. And once we get up past Superb, it really bugs me that the character's bonus far outstrips the variability of the dice. I admit it is more intuitive to just say "I'm the Hulk -- I have +10 Super-Strength!" but the +10 itself puts me off.

    This reminds me a bit of something that came up for Legends of Anglerre. When we were tossing around ideas for epic-level characters, an early one someone proposed was the idea that you'd spend spin on an attack to do something extra, or to have an effect -- like spending spin to be able to harm a dragon -- but all that really boils down to is a +3 to the defender's defense. LOA still makes use of spin for epic-level stuff like that (last time I saw it -- who knows what it looks like after editing?), although the problem remains that equally matched high-skill opponents are no more likely to get spin on a roll than their equally matched low-skill counterparts.

    That's the kind of thing I want to avoid, and am struggling with (or "with which I struggle"). I'm not comfortable with the Hulk having Superb Might while a mook has Average Might, but nor do I like expanding that range out ad infinitum to accommodate those extremes. I really want the split between Human and Superhuman to be more than a few degrees' difference on the ladder. I fervently believe there's another option, and if separate scales isn't the solution, then there are other switches and dials still left for me to fiddle with.

    Sunday, January 10, 2010

    Supers: Cracking the Nut

    Often in the past I've lamented the lack of a supers FATE hack that appeals to me. While I've seen some totally workable supers rules for FATE in the past -- in that I can say "Yes, I see how this would work well for other people who aren't me" -- they've all been either too hand-wavey (all superpowers basically work like the Theory in Practice stunt) or too crunchy (lengthy, pigeon-holing stunt chains) for my tastes. No offense intended to anyone involved in their creation, of course. We just have different tastes.

    But! I've been giving it more thought lately for some reason (I've actually made periodic stabs at this one for a couple years, at least) and I think I'm on to something. It's a pretty radical departure from the way I normally handle these conversions, but the superhero genre presents some unique challenges -- consider, for example, that Capes and Champions are both basically trying to do the same thing, albeit in radically different ways.

    The first big departure: Skills are bought with points, not merely slotted into a pyramid. Starblazer Adventures does this, and while I'm not usually keen on it (I really dig the simplicity and implicit philosophy of the pyramid), it's the way to go here. So let's say characters start with 35 skill points. That's enough to give you a pyramid that peaks at Superb. Maybe that's too much, but it's not important right now.

    These skills are in three broad tiers, which for now we'll call Normal, Enhanced, and Superhuman. Each tier has its own ladder, so you could have Great Athletics (Normal) or Great Athletics (Enhanced) or Great Athletics (Superhuman). As might be expected, Normal covers the normal range of skills in SotC. It's the realm of what normal people (albeit heroic ones) can do. Enhanced is better than that -- Wolverine's speed and olfactory sense, or Wonder Woman's or Luke Cage's strength. Beyond what a human could normally do, but not Earth-shattering. Superhuman is Earth-shattering: Superman's or the Hulk's super-strength, the Flash's super-speed, Daredevil's super-senses. That kinda thing.

    Skill ratings are only relevant if you're dealing with an opposing skill that's in the same tier as yours. Otherwise, Enhanced always beats Normal, and Superhuman always beats Enhanced. Go ahead and roll, but it's just for effect. If you have Fists (Enhanced) and your opponent has only has Normal skills for his defense, you defeat him. End of line. I know that seems harsh, but there's a way of mitigating it -- I'll get to it in a bit.

    Skills cost a number of skill points equal to their quality (e.g., 3 skill points for a Good skill), plus 5 skill points per tier above Normal (+5 for Enhanced, +10 for Superhuman). So Superb Might (Normal) costs 5 skill points, but Superb Might (Superhuman) costs 15.

    That can eat up skill points pretty quickly, but you can "sell back" Refresh to get more. Players can trade Refresh for skill points on a 1:5 basis. Refresh starts at 10. Something that often gets bandied about is lowering Refresh in exchange for superpowers; this is obviously similar, but without the arbitrary factor.

    However, no skill list is going to cover everything that superheroes do -- nor would you want a huge skill list for a FATE game anyway. It's antithetical to the system. I'm solving this with super-skills, as so many have doubtless done before me.

    There's a generic stunt called Super-Powered (or something) that lets you take an Enhanced or Superhuman skill, or a super-skill. These are player-defined, and can be as specific as Flight or Ice Bolt or as general as Utility Belt or Man of Steel. Super-skills are characterized by their trappings, so... we're going to need a list of skill trappings. When created, a super-skill begins with two trappings for free. Each trapping added on top of that costs skill points equal to the skill's quality.

    So you can see the dilemma there: Do you get a cheaper, narrowly focused super-skill, or a more-expensive super-skill with broader application?

    For example, that Man of Steel super-skill I mentioned earlier could start with the Physical Force (lifting/breaking) and Toughness (additional physical consequence slots) trappings. Great Man of Steel (Superhuman) with those two trappings would cost 14 skill points. (Of course, it's much funnier as "Average Man of Steel.") Adding the Unarmed Combat trapping would cost another 4 skill points, because its quality is Great, for a total of 18 skill points.

    Let's do Utility Belt. There should be a lot of trappings here, if you're making the God-Damned Batman -- stuff like Ranged Combat (batarangs), Climbing (grappling line), Locks, Security, Lab Work, and more. Even with just those five, a Good Utility Belt (Normal) would cost 12 skill points. An Enhanced version of same would be 17 skill points -- nearly half your starting allotment. Better trade in some Refresh.

    Don't think you have to buy everything in advance, though. Every character has a special aspect -- his Concept aspect. This is exactly what it sounds like: a brief description of the character's shtick, like Last Son of Krypton, Super-Soldier, World's Greatest Detective, or Fastest Man Alive. Pay a Fate Point to invoke it for effect and get an additional trapping for that super-skill, probably for the length of the scene.

    Now then. In addition to the stunt, taking a super-skill also means taking another special aspect, either a Weakness or a Complication. I think we all know what those mean, so I'm not going to dwell on it too much, other than saying that a Weakness is something that's harmful to the character, or something against which his powers are especially weak (kryptonite, the color yellow, "strong magnetic fields" -- always a classic), while a Complication is basically an Aunt May, a Mary-Jane Watson, or a mild-mannered secret ID. You need one of these two for each super-skill you take. There's some more possible motivation to consolidate your superpowers into a small set of super-skills.

    A brief word about Will. This is a character resource (as opposed to Fate Points, which are a player resource) that can be tapped when a character wants to put extra effort into something. Spend a point of Will to replace a Fudge die with a d6. But here, you can do something else with it: You can spend a point of Will to bump a skill up one tier for one roll, but only if targeting or defending against a higher-tier skill. For example, if someone's coming at you with Fists (Enhanced), you can spend a point of Will to improve your Athletics from Normal to Enhanced for your defense. But you can't spend Will to get Fists (Enhanced) just to punch out a mook.

    How do you get Will? Every time you obtain spin on a roll, you earn a point of Will. Like I said, it's a character resource -- performing well boosts your confidence, and etc.

    Will goes by many names -- Chi in "Spirit of the Fist," Elan in "Spirit of the 17th Century," Grit in "Spirit of the West," and so on -- so I'm inclined to call it something different here, too. Whether that's something warm and fuzzy, like Heart, or something more tied to the medium, like Pow!, I really don't know. Whatever it's called, it lets you bridge the gap between skill tiers.

    Anyway, this is just the beginning of an idea, I know -- there are a lot of details to iron out -- but I really think it has legs. I haven't been this satisfied with FATE supers since... well, ever.

    We now return you to your regularly scheduled Spirit of Greyhawk series.

    Thursday, January 7, 2010

    Spell Requirement - Temporary Aspect "Material Components"

    Reader biff-dyskolos made a very valid point in his comment...

    ...I'm editing it a bit for presentation purposes:

    "An issue that could be a problem is with material components. Fate and SoTC kind of hand-waves the concept of equipment. It is generally assumed that a character automatically has their tools-of-the-trade (although Diaspora has Wealth/Resource rolls with stress and consequences for buying stuff)."

    Example: A pinch of sulphur for a Fireball sounds like something any Wizard with a Fireball spell is likely to have on hand and doesn’t really restrict the casting in any way.

    "Have you thought about how you’d handle spells that have material costs - 2500 gp worth of this-or-that? Will you just tack on a gp economy?"

    I'm so thrilled that I'm getting the chance to have this kind of dialogue. These questions are really helping clarify issues in the SoG rules.

    Your points about Material Components are very valid.

    I agree SotC does gloss over money, and I've been putting some thought into a "ladder-based" wealth/treasure system in the hopes of doing "Fate treasure" without having to be an accountant. However at the moment, I'm not firm on anything. So I can't really give a good response to the economy question right now.

    Now, thinking back to economy, magic reagents and the source material, I don't remember playing in ANY old-school D&D games where the DM got very granular at all around restrictions on the V,S,M components for spells. The impact of expensive components (and having them handy) was usually indirectly handled, if not outright ignored. YMMV.

    In fact in all my years (gawd, that makes me sound old) of tabletop playing I only remember once when it became an issue at all. It was one of the few times I played a magic-user PC and we ended up on a weird tangent because the party wanted me to cast an "Identify" spell and the material component was swallowing a live goldfish. So the adventure went on this whole sub-quest because I needed to FIND a live goldfish (they weren't exactly plentiful), and carrying one around was a big pain (keeping it alive) and then I wanted extra treasure because swallowing a live goldfish was gross, etc, etc... Oh, the good old days! :)

    The example you stated above about having a pinch of sulfur, or more generically about material components that might be mundane or fairly common is a good one. And as a GM, I probably wouldn't bother with trying to compel that too often. But understand that it's available and given the tone of a particular game, might be fertile story-telling ground.

    So with the understanding that Fate is about story-telling (and so am I), I want the SoG implementation to support my stories, rather than get involved in resource management. Lemme throw out some possible examples as to how I might (as a GM) use the Material Component restriction...

    Certain spells require "Very Rare" components, but the Wizard has the aspect of "Penniless Wanderer". The GM might compel the "Penniless Wanderer" aspect and restrict the player from being able to cast spells with a "Very Rare" material component requirement. The player could then opt to resist the compel and perhaps state that having acquired those components is the reason the Wizard has no money. (With all the attendant Fate point gains/losses)

    This same scenario might also explain why an otherwise "bookish" Wizard might go off adventuring or attempt some other fool's errand--to be able to purchase these components and thus be able to use those spells. Or stated in Fate mechanics: GM compels Wizard's Aspect "Penniless Wanderer" and thus the Wizard goes into the sewers to find out why the Baron's men are going missing and thereby claim the reward.

    Wizard acquires a decent chunk of treasure, and the player might gain an extra Fate point by stating he's blown it all on expensive reagents and is now penniless again.

    Party is splitting up treasure, and GM compels the Material components aspect to force the Wizard into either not being able to cast those spells in the next adventure or (better roleplay opportunity here) negotiating with the rest of the party for a bigger piece of the pie: "Do you KNOW how much that fight with the Lich COST ME?? So your armor's dented--big deal! I'm out thousands of gold!"

    In the middle of a dungeon, a player short on Fate points (and with Wizards, that's VERY possible), tags his rare material components aspect and decides to spend some time slowing down the party by rooting around in the innards of some monster the party just killed, because "do you know how much Umber Hulk bile is going for these days?"

    (Any GM worth his dice is gonna have fun taking advantage of that)

    Literary example: "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince"
    Professor Horace Slughorn "harvesting" spider guts from Hagrid's recently-deceased pet. That was pretty indelicate, amiright?

    Bottom line: For gameplay, I don't know that I'd be beating the material component requirement over a Wizard's head. Only that the aspect is available to use to help tell stories and provide roleplay opportunities. As a general guideline, the more rare a component is, or the more spells the character has access to that require increasingly rare stuff, the more likely I would be to compel/tag them.

    I think it depends upon the tone of the game: some games might never bother with it, whereas other games might use it pretty regularly.

    It might also provide an additional motivation to have the Wizard aspects and whatnot progress over time to address those kinds of issues.

    Tuesday, January 5, 2010

    Casting Spells - Basics and Pre-Made Spells

    Okay, so now that we've gotten the prerequisites out of the way, let's get in to what happens when someone actually casts a spell.

    Note: Keep in mind that I have not yet delved into the specifics of translating AD&D spell effects into SoG nor the modifiers and difficulties, so just "bear with me" through the spell examples and the "accounting".

    A spell is cast by one of two basic methods:

    • Cast a pre-made spell "By the Book" (Wizardry)
    • Make up a spell and see what happens (Sorcery--covered in the next entry)

    Spell Basics

    These apply to all spells, regardless of which two methods above is used. Casting is typically NOT a contested skill roll. It's normally uncontested as the caster is instead beating a predetermined difficulty. However, circumstances might cause a spell to be more difficult (or easier) to cast.

    A spell is normally defined as one or more benefits. The greater the benefits, the greater the difficulty. A spell can also consist of certain requirements that must be met on the caster's part. These requirements usually will reduce the difficulty. Requirements can consist of:

    • Takes time to cast (during which the caster cannot be interrupted without losing the spell)
    • Requires the caster to speak certain words (Verbal Components). I'm assuming here that the caster would likely have to speak at least at a normal tone or louder.
    • Requires the caster to use certain gestures or movements (Somatic Components). I'm also assuming here that both hands are required, along with freedom of movement.
    • Requires the caster to expend certain magical reagents (Material Components)
    • Requires concentration during the spell's duration (during which the caster cannot be interrupted without losing the spell)

    Temporary Aspects

    All these requirements above would be expressed by the placing of temporary aspects upon the caster, during the casting or perhaps for the duration of the spell. If the aspect cannot be placed upon the caster, the caster CANNOT cast/maintain the spell. These temporary aspects could then also be tagged by those trying to counter the casting. This then opens up quite a few gameplay opportunities:

    • Finding interesting ways to try to tag an opponent caster's aspect of "Concentrating furiously" or "Magical Gestures"
    • Spell combat where opponents try to tag each other's aspects based upon identifying what is being cast
    • Trying to cast spells where you limit what temporary aspects a caster can take: casting Silence to remove the ability to speak or casting Web or Entangle to prevent gestures (or accessing material components).
    • Guards being able to detect an otherwise-hidden caster by tagging his "Speaking Words of Power" temporary aspect.

    ...I'm only scratching the surface, here. But hopefully you see the gameplay potential.

    Casting a Spell "By the Book"

    This is the method of generating effects that stays closest to the AD&D source material: A pre-determined spell is referenced and then cast by someone (whether from memory, from scroll, or spellbook).

    Remember that the real benefit to casting a pre-determined spell "as is" is that the caster will be able to roll 2DF+2, instead of 4DF. This means that as long as you are casting within your skill level, there is no chance for failure--only for positive shifts.


    The 1st Level pre-made Wizard Spell "Armor" nets out to difficulty of Average (+1). As a glimpse of what's to come, the spell lists out like this:

    • Benefit: Target gets "Light" (Fair, +2) armor. (+1 to difficulty)
    • Benefit: Alternate Useage: Armor effect is "magical" and is not physical. (+1 to difficulty)
    • Benefit: Reduce Casting Time by 1 shift to now be "Single Exchange" (+1 to difficulty)
    • Requirement: Material component required (Finely Cured Leather, Common, -1 shift)
    • Requirement: Somatic component (Gesturing) required (-1 shift)
    • Variable: Margin of Success (MoS) counts toward Duration / Durability (no modification to difficulty)
    • Range: Touch (no modification to difficulty)

    Therefore the net difficulty is (1+1+1-1-1=+1) is Average (+1) to cast the Armor spell.

    As long as a Wizard has a Magic Skill of Average or better, and fulfills the requirements...

    • Has a scrap of finely cured leather
    • Can gesture
    • Is uninterrupted for a single exchange's worth of time

    ...2DF+2 are then used for the skill roll.

    So, if a Wizard with a Magic Skill of Good (+3) meets the requirements and rolls the following: [-] [-] + 2 = 0 dice roll for net skill result of Good (+2 shifts over the skill difficulty of Average), the spell was successfully cast upon the target with an MoS of +2 that counts towards Duration / Durability of the spell (in this particular spell's case).

    Modifying a Pre-Made Spell

    This is something of a hybrid between the first two spell-casting scenarios. It's entirely possible that a caster might end up in a situation where he wants to generate a spell but for whatever reason, the requirements cannot be completely met. Play situations might be:

    • Using a previous example, hiding from guards walking nearby, but still wanting to cast a spell that requires speaking. The caster could try to cast the spell without speaking, in essence changing the recipe.
    • Trying to cast a spell without material components, because your bandolier of spell components was taken during the night.
    • Trying to shorten a casting time to minimize exposure in the middle of a melee.

    The primary impact of this "changing the recipe" then would be that the caster no longer can use the 2DF+2 roll, and must now roll 4DF (and thus have a chance of failing the casting).

    OPEN ITEM: Since this a modification of an existing "recipe", I am currently thinking the 4DF requirement and any increase in difficulty (see below) is enough penalty will be sufficient and let this be a skill-based roll.

    Replacing something in the "Recipe"

    If the caster replaces one requirement with another: perhaps choosing to speak instead of gesture, the difficulty of the spell would remain, but the skill roll would be 4DF, instead of 2DF+2.

    Removing something from the "Recipe"

    If the caster attempted to cast the spell by removing some requirement (this includes "hurrying-up", as you are removing time shifts), the spells difficulty increases per shift removed and the skill roll must be made at 4DF, instead of 2DF+2

    Making a spell easier by adding something to the "Recipe"

    It's also possible that an additional requirement could be added to make a spell easier to cast or to improve the effectiveness of the spell. The most common version of this would likely be increasing the amount of time to cast a spell (i.e., going slower to get it right thus increasing the potential for success or a greater MoS). This would reduce the spell's difficulty accordingly (wait for the Spell Benefit / Requirement / Modifier writeups), but would still require a 4DF roll.

    Magical Stunts to Substitute for Spell Requirements

    While I haven't written these out yet (cuz I haven't needed them yet), I think it's entirely plausible that SoG could have character stunts that would "replace" certain spell requirements. I recall that 3E AD&D had a bunch of these sorts of stunts and I see no reason at this point why they couldn't be included to flesh out the SoG's spellcasting...

    Some examples might be...

    • Silent Casting (used in place of a Verbal component)
    • Concentration (used to counter being distracted during combat)
    • Quick Casting (used to reduce any spell casting time by 1 shift on the time chart)

    ...again, the possibilities seem pretty tasty.

    My current position on these sorts of stunts is that they DO NOT modify the spell and are still eligible for the 2DF+2 roll. So using the Silent Casting with a spell that requires a Verbal component would still make the user otherwise eligible for the 2DF+2 roll.

    Sunday, January 3, 2010

    OrcCon 2010: Gimme a Genre

    So OrcCon's coming up, and I've actually gotten a request to run something FATE-based. But... uh... I don't know what to run. Anyone have a suggestion? My brain isn't screaming to run any particular genre, so a nudge in one direction or another would be helpful.

    Sci-fi's out; if I were going to do that, I'd run Diaspora, but by the time OrcCon rolls around in February I won't have had enough experience to be comfortable enough to run it. Heck, if I have any experience with it by then I'll consider myself lucky. I still haven't really cracked supers -- I feel like I'm close enough to get something together by the end of the month, but I just don't have any supers inspiration right now. Western? It's okay as-is, but it really wants some sort of code-of-honor mechanic to make it sing. I have a little idea for a '60s-style James-Bondesque espionage hack, but that one little idea (though cool) does not a conversion make -- and besides, I just don't know what I'd do with a spy game. Just not in the right frame of mind, or something.

    So I don't know. Inspire me, Internet.