Friday, May 27, 2011

[Espionage] Sample Characters

Real quick, because I have to get going to Gamex pretty soon: Here are a few agent dossiers for the Agents of F.A.T.E. game I'm running on Sunday morning. Unfortunately, the Agency has pretty heavily redacted their personal information, but you get the idea. We'll be using whatever's still visible as aspects.

Violette Bonnuit, French ass-kicker in the Emma Peel vein
Connor Pierce, reserved British secret agent
Lars Thorsson, a more psychotic and Swedish Brock Samson

If you're going to be around this weekend, come on by on Sunday morning and check it out!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Challenge Points

The other day, a regular reader (I assume!), in the course of an email exchange about something else other than FATE, mentioned how much he dug this whole Doom Points idea I posted a while back. If you don't feel like reading that old post from 2008, it concerned demons bound into artifacts in a fantasy setting. These demonbound items have one or more demonbound aspects that use Doom Points rather than Fate Points. You can invoke the aspect by accepting a Doom Point from the GM; in turn, if you accept a compel on that aspect, you lose a Doom Point. Accumulating Doom Points is bad -- every now and then, you have to make a Resolve roll against a difficulty equal to your current number of Doom Points, and failure means taking a consequence.

That's the basic idea. It worked well in play, the one time I used it in a one-shot, but I'd never really found another venue for it (although I mention in the comments of that post that it'd be pretty good for the Dark Side in a Star Wars game). Prompted by that email, I had a vague idea of using it to model heat buildup in a mecha FATE game, but I don't know anything about mecha, really, so that's all conjecture.

The pressing thing-that's-still-coming-together, though, is Agents of F.A.T.E., so as I lay in bed last night dealing with the tail end (I hope) of a cold, I passed the time trying to think of a way to apply this to the game I'm running next weekend. I like what I have so far for it, but it does feel to me like it's missing just a little something, and maybe this is it.

Here's the idea. See, in Agents of F.A.T.E., when your roll gets spin, you get a point of Cool, which you can spend later to replace a Fudge die with a d6. That's what players get -- but what of poor little me? Do I want to keep track of Cool Point totals for several NPCs at once? No, I do not. When I roll and get spin, I put a Challenge Point in front of me. All of my NPCs get a bonus to all of their rolls equal to the number of Challenge Points I have.

"Crazy!" you say. But you, the player, can get rid of those Challenge Points anytime by introducing additional challenges, complications, or twists into the story. This could be something like "He has a pool full of sharks" or "When I come back with the martinis, she's pointing a gun at me -- turns out she's working for Prometheus" or "He's accompanied by a mountain of a man with metal teeth" or whatever. As long as it's something that's making things worse for you by introducing a new element, it's worth a Challenge Point (if not more than one).

Of course, I don't have a good sense yet of how this will balance out. If I don't roll enough spin, then the players and their Cool Points are going to walk all over my guys. If they're constantly inserting new twists into the story, that's awesome -- but if they do that, will I end up with just a huge mess of a story and nothing to show for it?

Could be. There are ways to mitigate that, like giving myself a set number of starting Challenge Points each scene, possibly as a replacement for Fate Points, or limiting how many complications can be introduced at once, or on a per-scene basis. These feel a little... arbitrary, to be honest, but there's a solution lurking in there somewhere. Plus, as a GM, you really have to be willing to turn a fair amount of control over to your players for this to work. I mean, if you've planned for the PC to later rescue that scientist he's been canoodling with and then the player tells you that she's with the badguys, that could really throw a monkey wrench into things. (The lesson there, obviously, is simple: If you can at all help it, don't plan.)

Regardless, I'm encouraged by a couple things. One, it's common practice with Morgan and me these days (I've cribbed it from Morgan, in fact) to bump up all of an important NPC's skills by a point or two -- if the PCs' skills top out at Great (+4), the big bad's might go up to Fantastic (+6). This theoretically makes them more powerful, but the PCs often have numbers on their side, so in the end it really just achieves parity without having to spend Fate Points all the time. This Challenge Point idea builds that bit right into itself... if the players aren't regularly introducing complications, of course.

Two, it obviously and strongly encourages players to introduce complications. I think that, as a collective, we could pretty quickly turn an ordinary action scene into a trope-laden super-spy barn-burner, which is good. I love anything that gives the players incentive to add to the narrative like that, and this feels more fun (to me) than just giving the player a Fate Point.

It could conceivably go a little farther than that, even. Could a player invoke an aspect by giving me a Challenge Point? I can see that. It's probably more than I'd want to do at Gamex, but it's worth thinking about later.

Anyway, I'm framing this with espionage in mind, because that's what I'm preparing to run, but this could absolutely apply to any genre.

Friday, May 13, 2011

[Espionage] Agents of F.A.T.E. at Gamex 2011

If you find yourself in the LA area over this Memorial Day Weekend, come check out Agents of F.A.T.E. on Sunday the 29th at Gamex.

The following vague blurb is actually a coded message for your eyes only:

Agents of F.A.T.E.: License to Kill
Sunday, 9:00 am
Diamonds may be forever, but in the Cold War of the 1960s, world peace hangs by a thread - easy pickings for wealthy megalomaniacs, splinter groups, and shady multinational corporations. Who will protect the interests of the West against the forces of economic instability? Enter the F.A.T.E. Agency. Grab your Walther PPK, strap on your laser watch, and shake that martini. Time to be a super-spy.

Four agents have already chosen to accept this mission, but two more volunteers are still needed. Your contact at Gamex will be disguised as a lowly convention staffer working the RPG sign-up table.

This message will self-destruct... um... eventually.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Escalating Aspects

So my friend John Armstrong, down San Diego way, has plans to hack Strange FATE (the brand of FATE used in The Kerberos Club: FATE Edition) to run Scion. The premise of Scion has always interested me, but I haven't actually played it. I just don't have a lot of experience with the Storyteller system, and I've always heard that mechanically it's a little... problematic. Thus, never played it, but the idea of taking the premise and transplanting it into another system is attractive.

Anyway, in the course of trying to figure out how to model Legend, we talked about having a character aspect dedicated to how you're perceived by mortals. One idea was that when you use a power related to that Legend and your roll obtains spin, that aspect can change if you weren't acting in accordance with it. I.e., if your actions don't reflect your Legend, your Legend may change to match your actions.

Something else spun out of that, though, that got me thinking. What if accepting an aspect compel made it harder to refuse future compels? The more you establish a pattern of behavior for yourself, the more difficult it is to break that pattern.

So, resolved. But before we get into how it works, a tweak: You can't just spend a Fate Point for an aspect-free +1 bonus (I don't think I've ever seen anyone do that anyway), and invoking an aspect only yields a +1 bonus by default, Diaspora-style. This isn't necessary, per se, but it does make it feel "cleaner" to me. Oh, and there are no more escalating compels, at least not for the aspect in question. All right.

First, the aspect has a row of three boxes. Every time you accept a compel on the aspect, check a box. I guess we could call it a stress track if we wanted to, and say that accepting a compel means taking a point of "aspect stress" or something, but I don't know if that really does anything apart from making this a bit more jargon-intensive.

Second, there's the stick. When the first box is checked, nothing happens. When the second box is checked, the GM has to offer two Fate Points to compel the aspect, and two Fate Points are required to refuse the compel. When the third box is checked, it's three Fate Points instead of two.

Third, the carrot. Every box that's checked on the aspect increases the invocation bonus by +1 -- invoking it yields +2 for one checked box, +3 for two, and +4 for all three.

Fourth, back to ones. When all three of the aspect's boxes are checked and you refuse a compel on it, clear the boxes.

Now, look. I know I haven't thought this all the way through yet. I know that always getting three Fate Point for a compel on that aspect is going to mean building up quite a store of Fate Points, especially since most players tend to accept compels about 90% of the time (in my experience), and that getting a consistent +4 bonus from a single aspect might be a big deal. One word: details. Maybe the payout from a compel stays as-written; the increasing bonus is probably incentive enough. Whatever. We can work it out. Regardless, it's a neat idea worth exploring.

Friday, May 6, 2011

[Espionage] Agency Evaluations

For some reason, as I alluded to in a previous post, I'm reluctant to give these spy characters for Gamex aspects in the conventional manner (i.e., a list of aspects). I'm pretty enamored with the idea of making the character sheets look like agent dossiers -- which, BTW, is a really productive mini-obsession when you know nothing about graphic design and try to do everything with Word -- and a straight-up list of aspects just doesn't mesh with that. It'd wreck it, in other words. I mean, I'm not deluding myself into thinking that nothing on the sheet will break the illusion, but anywhere I can avoid that sort of thing, I will.

To that end, I'm thinking of couching aspects in one or more brief paragraphs of "Agency Evaluation." Actually, it'd be one paragraph for an Agency Evaluation -- relatively objective facts about the agent -- and an Agent Self-Evaluation, which would be more subjective, qualitative statements. And maybe a third for Background/Affiliations.

But as flavorful as that is, it's not really doing the trick, aspect-wise. So to bridge the gap, I'd take a page from HeroQuest and underline, say, five or six phrases. Those are your aspects. Then I'd let the player underline another two phrases during play to add more aspects from the paragraphs provided, as they wish. Or maybe I won't underline anything, and they can underline stuff themselves -- but in that case, the embedded aspects would be pretty obvious, but the players would at least get the joy (joy!) of deciding which ones they'd pick.

Of course, this means that I'd have to write enough excess material in those evaluations to allow for some genuine choice in terms of finding new aspect fodder, but that seems like a small price to pay for something that could be pretty cool for the player. My only real fear is that the aspects will end up serving the needs of the paragraph rather than being bang-zoom aspects in their own right. Y'know?

Lemme see if I can illustrate what I'm talking about here:

Attained the rank of Major in the British Army Special Air Service, then recruited into MI6 where he quickly advanced to Special Agent status, codename 7777. Oxford-educated with advanced degrees in Political Science, International Studies, and Psychology.

Agency Evaluation 
Agent Pierce possesses an impressive variety of skills, including excellent focus and self-discipline in high-stress environments, mechanical aptitude, and fluency in nine languages. Pierce has a range of combat training, as would be expected: A world-class marksman, he's also studied aikido under Minoru Mochizuki and distinguished himself as a national fencing champion at Oxford. Despite his education and background, in the field Pierce is best used as a blunt object, and consistently favors brute-force solutions over lateral thinking when left to his own devices. Psych profile indicates a degree of disassociation from others that nevertheless lends him a willingness to make tough mission-critical decisions. Recommended assignments: Surveillance, Elimination.

Agent Self-Evaluation 
Let it be said of me that I am at all times a consummate professional. Whether fighting for England as a loyal Briton in the SAS or in British Intelligence or fighting for the world as an agent of F.A.T.E., the mission comes first and foremost. 

Hrm... it's a little clunky, but I'm not sure that means it can't work. I'll continue to massage it. I actually think Agent Connor Pierce here is a rather tricky one to start with; he's all business, and rather devoid of some of the quirks and personality edges that the other PCs have. It might be fun to have each agent do a "Peer Evaluation" of another agent, to get some more out-there aspects in the mix.

UPDATE: Wait! In the shower today I thought of something totally better. (It's where I usually get my totally better ideas.) It'll let me list aspects without wrecking the agent-dossier aesthetic. And it will immediately look cool as soon as the sheets are presented to the players. When I have character sheets together, I'll post them here.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

[Kerberos] GenCon Events Full!

GenCon event pre-registration opened this morning. If you, like me, have never been to GenCon before and aren't familiar with its pre-reg process, you may have missed the boat on getting into a few games you were dying to play (seriously, how did Top Secret S.I. sell out so quickly?). If this subset of games included The Kerberos Club: FATE Edition, well... yeah, they're all sold out.

But fear not! Bring your generic tickets and optimism to any of these four events:

The Pyramids of Atlantis
Thursday, 8/4, 2:00 PM
GM: Me
When unexpected violence shatters the secret peace between the British Empire and the Atlantean Nations, Her Majesty the Queen covertly sees to it that a number of Strange operatives from the Kerberos Club join Her Naval expedition to "investigate." But after two weeks of deep-sea bombardment and demands for surrender, the Atlanteans remain curiously silent. Just what are they up to down there? Hosted by FATE Edition developer Mike Olson.

The Case of Professor Phobos and his Mechanical Men
Friday, 8/5, 10:00 AM
GM: Andy Blanchard
Why is Professor Phobos, renowned scientist, physician and Kerberan, making seemingly random attacks against other members of Kerberos Club? And what evil lurks in the crypts of an old abandoned church-yard in Whitechapel? Unravel the Strange mystery as only a member of Kerberos Club can!

In For a Penny Dreadful
Saturday, 8/6, 2:00 PM
GM: Morgan Ellis
Stories of the Strange members of the Kerberos Club thrill and astound the readers who follow their tales in the lurid pages of popular penny dreadfuls. But now the even stranger truth behind the fiction is revealed as the Queen's Terriers do battle with the truly bizarre and sinister forces that would bring down the British Empire.

The Pyramids of Atlantis
Saturday, 8/6, 4:00 PM
GM: Me
(See above)

I'm very fortunate to have Andy and Morgan running FATE Kerberos as well; they're both great GMs, and anyone who gets into their games will have a great time. (Andy's also running his Lady Blackbird hack, Operation: Blackbird, and Morgan's running a couple DFRPG games, so try to squeeze into those if you can, too.)

Also of note: Someone's actually running what looks like a straight-up Spirit of the Century game! I haven't seen one of those in years.