Thursday, April 28, 2011

[Espionage] "Now pay attention, Bond..."

Initially, as I've said, an idea for how to do super-spy gadgets was the thing that got me thinking of a FATE espionage hack in the first place, but as it stands now I could leave this part out entirely and still have a version of FATE that looks rather different from most others out there. That's good -- it means that the gadget rules won't feel like an espionage-heartbreaker gimmick, but just another alteration.

So the original idea was this: Before play begins, each player writes down a number of mundane items in their character's possession. Stuff like Belt, Shoes, Tie, Watch, Briefcase, Sportscar -- that kind of thing. They'd then have a pool of points, which we'll call Gadget Points for lack of anything better right now, that they'd spend to "reveal" those items as the super-spy gadgets they really are. First declare a flashback scene wherein some Q equivalent gives your character the gadget and explains how it works, then spend the points to put numbers to that idea. Once the item has been gadgetized, it's that gadget for good -- it can be altered again later.

How each character's number of items, or the Gadget Points required to make use of them, would be determined was a grey area at best. Enter Agents of F.A.T.E.'s skill list, which has two skills that seem ideal for these purposes: Access and Systems. Access is a Resources analogue. It measures rank or status within the organization (in this case, F.A.T.E.), and thus "access" to things it can provide. Systems, on the other hand, is your tech ability, measuring your knowledge of and facility with technological devices. It therefore seems a no-brainer to me that Access controls how many gadgets you have (the higher your standing, the more options are probably available to you) while the complexity of those gadgets is governed by Systems (complicated gadgets are more likely to be reserved for those with the know-how to make the best use of them).

At first, it was going to be as simple as Number of Gadgets = Access Rating, with a Systems roll vs. Mediocre (+0) to determine the number of Gadget Points (and certain other benefits accruing from a Mediocre or worse effort). But now I'm thinking there are other ways to go about it -- like everyone writing down, say, three items on index cards, shuffling those cards, and handing out two cards to each player. Then make a Systems roll to determine the number of Gadget Points you have. What about the excess cards? If you visit a well-equipped safehouse or a foreign office of F.A.T.E., make an Access roll vs. a target of some kind (probably dependent on how remote the safehouse or office is), with success meaning you get to draw an additional card. If you don't have any Gadget Points, also roll Systems, with your margin of success from your Access roll adding to your effort, which would hopefully up your odds of getting at least one Gadget Point. (And if Access happens to be your apex skill and your roll obtains spin, you can declare a free aspect on the scene, like "Well-Equipped Safehouse," then immediately tag it to improve your Systems roll even further. Handy!)

Anyway -- that seems neat to me, because it more closely resembles James Bond's complete lack of agency in determining what gadgets he's given for a particular mission. Heck, MI6 wouldn't even let him keep his Beretta. Plus I think it'd be fun to get handed two items -- "Socks and a Lipstick?" -- and have to figure out how to gadgetize them into something useful. Of course, when even a ballpoint pen can go from writing implement to grenade in three clicks (Goldeneye is never far from my thoughts), that shouldn't be too hard.

The only thing left to determine, then, is what those Gadget Points buy. This is obviously important not just in terms of bang for your buck (often literally), but also hitting that sweet spot between "Enough Options" and "Too Many Options!" for a player to consider. Remember, you're making up what these items do in the moment. We can't stop the action for 10 minutes while you tinker with your laser watch, especially in a convention one-shot.

These gadgets are also essentially taking the place of stunts as they're traditionally used in FATE, so the options have to be robust enough to be useful without overshadowing the agents themselves. Right now I'm thinking something like this:

For 1 Gadget Point, the gadget gets...

  • +1 to a non-combat application of a skill.
  • Use one skill in place of another under narrow circumstances.
  • +2 to non-combat maneuvers with one skill.
  • Use a skill in an alternate, non-standard way, such as a mini jetpack that lets you use Conditioning to fly short distances.
  • +1 Health stress with one application of the Combat skill (maximum of +3 Health stress).
For 2 Gadget points, the gadget gets...
  • +1 to a combat application of a skill.
  • +2 to combat-related maneuvers with a skill. 
  • Affect all targets in a zone.
  • Armor 1 vs. Health stress (maximum of Armor 3).
All of the above are for disposable gadgets. After one use, the gadget can't be used again... unless it makes sense that it could somehow be used again, in which case you can spend a Fate Point to do that later. For example, a pen grenade is disposable because once you use it, it's gone. It done blowed up. But a laser watch could conceivably come back into play. It can still only do what it can do, but maybe it can do it again. Who's the judge of that? The GM, I guess, although I can also see a guideline that says, "If you could've had the same effect by making the gadget blow up and cause an explosion but decided not to do so, then you can't use it again." That may be a little... what's the word... dickish.

To have a reliable gadget -- one that's designed to be used again and again -- double the Gadget Point costs above. So if you want to make your Belt Buckle into a throwing star that gives you +1 Combat and does +2 Health stress, that'll cost 4 Gadget Points. But if you want, say, a hidden extendable rapier in your Belt Buckle that gives you the same benefits ad infinitum, that'll be 8 Gadget Points.

The idea here isn't to screw people over out of some sense of balance or something. I just want to see a variety of gadgets instead of having people use the same one or two the whole time. I also like the idea that the agents' gadgets are useful but ephemeral. That happens with Bond a lot. 

Sunday, April 24, 2011

[Espionage] Agents of F.A.T.E.

Greetings programs! It's been a while -- and many thanks to Guy for the continued Greyhawk posts to keep things active around here -- so I'll just get into it already.

There's one genre I've long thought about doing with FATE but haven't gotten around to putting on paper, and that's espionage. Specifically, '60s Bond-style espionage, with super-spy gadgets, suave secret agents, international locations, and all the rest. The tone would be pretty serious, but with about as much humor as a typical Sean Connery Bond film. So plenty of humor, in other words, but without descending into Roger Moore-esque camp -- all apologies to Alan Partridge. (I grew up on Roger Moore as Bond in movies like Octopussy and Moonraker, which were awesome when I was 10 or whenever they finally made it to Z Channel and I could watch them.) The main mechanical idea I'd had for this particular hack involved on-the-fly gadget creation, but other than that I didn't have anything concrete other than a title: Agents of F.A.T.E., which I came up with in a vacuum but have subsequently seen at least once on the Internet, so I'm not the only one to have had that idea.

Anyway, I've decided I'm going to run this for Gamex this year over Memorial Day Weekend.

Since getting the spy itch (see your physician) a while ago, I since stumbled upon Get Smart Now!, an excellent treatment of the old Get Smart TV show using a cleverly stripped-down skill list that boils everything down to just 10 skills. Ten skills plus a standard skill pyramid peaking at Great means that every character can have every skill rated, which makes them all as super-competent as they should be. (Get Smart Now! actually gives characters just five skills, rated from Average to Superb, but I can't ignore how perfectly they all fit into a four-tier pyramid.) So I'm using that as my skill list, more or less (Special Skills doesn't really fit what I'm doing, and I don't like lumping in Alertness, Resolve, and Drive into a single skill, so sorting both of those out still leaves me with 10 skills. Convenient!)

Lately I've become very enamored of games like Lady Blackbird, Danger Patrol, and Old-School Hack, where characters basically have just a few focused special abilities that tend to be variations on a theme, so I'm aping that here. Every Agent of F.A.T.E. has one notable feature -- their F.A.T.E. Training -- that lets them spend a Fate Point to do something remarkable. For the most part, these are taken right from SotC's list of stunts, like Master of Disguise. In addition, each PC has a Specialty in their highest-ranked skill. When the a roll using that skill obtains spin, the player can declare a fragile aspect for free. (I love that mechanic, so why not let everyone do it and see what happens?)

Each of them also has two Areas of Expertise that let them roll extra Fudge Dice when using a particular skill in a particular way, and keep the best four for their result. For example, one of them rolls +2dF when using Combat unarmed, so when she's kicking some jumpsuited minion in the face she gets to roll 6dF and keep the best 4dF. I've used this before in Spirit of the Fist and Spirit of the 17th Century, and it's always worked well. I like how it increases the odds of performing at peak capability without veering into big-number territory.

That's what Cool is for. This is another mechanic I haven't used in a while. When you obtain spin on a roll, you get a point of Cool. Spend a point of Cool before a roll to replace one Fudge Die with a d6. (Yes, this means that with your Specialty you can get a free aspect and a point of Cool all in one roll. I'm fine with that.) This greatly increases your odds of pulling off something truly incredible when you need to the most. Max Cool -- great character name, BTW -- is four, and you start with zero, but I'm thinking about knocking off a point of unused Cool every scene (down to a minimum of one) to discourage hoarding. We'll see where that thought goes.

What I like about this setup is that there are only two passive bonuses for the players to keep track of, and neither of them is just a +1 or +2 to a roll. The characters feel very streamlined to me, but still complete. I get a sense of who they are and what they can do from their skills and those four special features (Specialty, F.A.T.E. Training, and two Areas of Expertise) -- and that's before aspects even enter into the picture. I'm doing a very dossier-like character sheet, as is de rigeur for these sorts of endeavors, and thinking about heavily classifying aspects as things like Notable Affiliations, Special Training, and so on, but I'm afraid that might end up being too constraining.

So I mentioned gadgets, which is what started all of this. These effectively take the place of standard stunts -- little rules-benders -- but are usually one-use things. Plus, since the players make them up on the fly, they're more inclined to focus on them for that one roll or scene without having to keep track of them over time. I'm still working out the details on how this works, but I'll post about it next week. I think it'll be fun. (The gadget-making, not the posting. The posting is obviously sheer drudgery.)

What strikes me about all of this is how I unwittingly ended up changing nearly everything about how characters are put together, from skills to stunts to little abilities with no real precedence in published FATE games (but with plenty of it in other hacks of mine I've fooled around with). I hadn't expected that, but after getting so detail-oriented with FATE Kerberos -- because it demanded it -- it's been a breath of fresh air to just make some stuff up and say "Let's see if this works!" It's like old times, I tell you.

Monday, April 18, 2011

[Greyhawk] Approaches for Magic Translations

So after working out some of the low-level infrastructure issues in the Spirit of Greyhawk ruleset, I've finally started to get some traction with translating the source material's spells into their Fate equivalents.

However in doing so, I've run across an issue that I wanted to think out on paper (albeit digital paper).

When translating spells, it's a given that that not everything in the source material's spell listings is going to translate out nice and tidy into a Fate implementation.

So how would you resolve conflicts with the translation?

Example 1: If the source material lists "Fireball" as a 3rd level spell, and if after translation it turns out to be +4 difficulty spell (i.e., in Fate the same effect would net out as a 4th level spell), what do you do?

Example 2: Conversely if a 5th level spell translated into a 3rd level spell under the SoG ruleset, should it be left as +5 difficulty? Or be a +3 difficulty to cast correctly?

I've been thinking through a few approaches and each one has it's costs and benefits...

Approach One - Err on the Side of the Source Material
This means that if the spell had a specific series of effects and was originally at "X" level, then that spell would have those effects at that level regardless of the Spell "economy".

  • Translation time is quicker--less fuss about balance
  • Most consistent with the source material and original gameplay expectations
  • Possible balance issues
  • Most inconsistent with the "fractal design" approach

Approach Two - Err on the Side of the Fate Mechanic
One of the reasons the Lord of the Rings movies were as satisfying as they were for most viewers, is that the writers understood that they were not trying to do a page-by-page recreation of the books, but rather used the books as the source from which the movies were taken and then put that into an effective structure for presentation within the movies.

In other words, spells would be accurately translated, and whatever the Fate spell difficulty would be, that's where it would appear in the spell lists. Using the example above, the Fireball spell would be considered a 4th level spell, instead of a 3rd level spell.

  • Translation time is quick, as it is what it is.
  • Most consistent with the "fractal design" approach
  • Wizardry effect powers have better balance with on-the-fly magic (stunt-based magic or Sorcery)
  • Less consistent with the source material

Approach Three - Change the Spell to Stay Within the Same Level
This resolution means that you modify or redefine the spell effects to change the net difficulty to stay within the pre-determined level.

So in the example above, the spell might be changed (hopefully in a minimal fashion) to have the net difficulty now be +3, instead of +4. Perhaps an additional cost could be associated with the spell, or a reduced effect.

This could also be a situation where perhaps a spell turns out to be LESS difficult than source material would imply.

  • Spell Lists consistent with the source material.
  • Expectations of what a spell does will need to be modified.
  • Translation time increased having due to having to "balance the budget".

My Campaign's Personal Preference
I've had the opportunity to pose the question to my players and I got a very interesting answer from them--they don't care about the accuracy or balance right now. Third level is third level is third level. I find this really interesting for a couple reasons:

  • The campaign's magic use right now is typically Sorcery or on-the-fly magical effects. So the decision would not impact their abilities with Magic.
  • My intention was to use Wizardry more in the form of their opponents and monsters that use magic, so it would be their opponents who are impacted.
Most interesting, this lack of concern on the players' part indicates to me that they appear really have embraced the cooperative story-telling mechanics of Fate and have ceased to get concerned about things like this in the first place. Very interesting!

So What Might This Mean for SoG?
I will probably end up doing something along the lines of Approach One (Translate the spells, leave the difficulty ratings in place) with the occasional dip in to Approach Three (Modifiy the spell) if something translates to being WAY out of whack.

So that's just for my SoG campaign--if/when the compiled SoG material ever becomes available, I may end up doing some sort of dual-table layout, where there's the "traditional" spell list, and another one with an alternative spell listing that groups spells by their translated difficulty.

Friday, April 1, 2011

[Greyhawk] Weapon Proficiencies

Spirit of Greyhawk has characters define themselves according to a Class, consistent with the source material. A character's "level" is then determined as the skill level of what the character has selected as his apex skill--the skill at the top of the pyramid.

The source material places an importance upon the selection of what weapons the character is considered "proficient". Early on, I hadn't intended to bring Weapon Proficiencies over into SoG, but I've realized that by keeping them, it avoids a few problems / concerns:

Weapon Proficiencies are one way to address the concern of how do you keep EVERYONE from wanting to take Melee or Missile as their Apex Skill, to increase chances of survival at low levels.

By allowing Weapon Proficiency at the character's Class Inception, a +1 in combat skill rolls is granted, when using only that weapon.

This would then remove a certain amount of temptation to take Melee / Missile as the Apex skill. Especially for clerics/druids! Also, it gives fighter sub-classes the opportunity to take something else as their Apex Skill (notably, a Ranger could now take Survival as his Apex skill).

Additionally, Weapon Proficiencies also tend to address the question, "Why would anyone choose to be a 'pure' Fighter?" Now, we have a currency with which express a Fighter's ability to use a wide variety of weapons in an effective manner.

Implementing Weapon Proficiencies
I currently consider that a Weapon Proficiency is a Stunt--because it offers a broad +1 benefit (combat) for a weapon you probably already have.

By considering it a Stunt, a player could also elect to expend one of their open Stunt slots on a Weapon Proficiency.

While Weapon Proficiencies stack with skills and aspects, I am uncertain as to whether allow a character to take multiple proficiencies of the same weapon:
  • This is in conflict with the source material.
  • But if a character really wants to become a true specialist in one weapon only (see below about proficiency "granularity"), and wants to spend multiple stunt slots to do it, I don't know that it's really breaking the Fate mechanic. In other words if someone wants to spend 3 Stunt slots to achieve a +3 in "just" the Dagger, I don't know that it's really wrong.

Weapon Proficiency Variables
When considering how many Proficiencies are "granted" (i.e., freebies just for achieving particular apex skill level), there are the following variables:

How Many At Character Creation
Translating the PHB "as is", each class would start with a distinct number of proficiencies the character has at its creation (being defined as your Apex skill at +1):
  • Cleric: 2
  • Druid: 2
  • Fighter: 4
  • Paladin: 3
  • Ranger: 3
  • Wizard: 1
  • Thief: 2
  • Assassin: 3
  • Monk: 1
OPTION: It might be simpler to also do something like: non-Fighters get 1 at inception, Fighter sub-class get 2, and the "pure" Fighter class gets 3, but this tends to flatten things out a bit.

How Often Classes Earn New Proficiencies
Again, translating the PHB "as is", and with the assumption that each Skill level of the Apex skill counts as 2 levels in the source material, we can determine New Proficiencies earned by each class. These proficiencies granted do not count against Stunt slots earned due to regular advancement.

Every class gains a single extra proficiency at the following Apex Skill values:

  • Cleric: (+2, +4, +6, +8)
  • Druid: (+3, +5, +7, +9)
  • Fighter: (+2, +3, +4, +6, +7, +9)
  • Paladin: (+2, +3, +4, +6, +7, +9)
  • Ranger: (+2, +3, +4, +6, +7, +9)
  • Wizard: (+3, +6, +9)
  • Thief: (+2, +4, +6, +8, +9)
  • Assassin: (+2, +4, +6, +8, +9)
  • Monk: (+2, +3, +4, +5, +6, +7, +8, +9)

Proficiency Granularity
Consistent with the source material, SoG takes a very granular (focused) definition of what a proficiency allows. In other words, there is not just a "Sword" proficiency. "Long Sword", "Short Sword", "Broad Sword", "Bastard Sword" are all separate proficiency selections.