Thursday, November 17, 2011

[Kerberos] A Small Menagerie

(Cross-posted on

You may be aware of an incredible event that took place recently. If you were there, one day you will tell your grandchildren about it. If you weren't, you've no doubt heard about it by now. I'm speaking, of course, about the live Q&A chat-thingie Benjamin Baugh and I participated in last week on the IRC channel. The topic, of course, was The Kerberos Club (FATE Edition).

(Incidentally, there's a sweet sale going on through December 15th -- $10 off on the print-and-PDF bundle, or, if you already own it, trade in your first printing for the second printing for only $10+s/h. Click on the link up there for more details.)

Going in, I'd fully expected to just sit back and watch the questions for Ben roll by, but to my surprise, I had to do a lot of typing. A lot of fast typing. Moderator Dan Davenport had a bunch of questions to keep me busy, and there were plenty flying at me from everyone else. So yeah -- good times. It's always gratifying to see other people's enthusiasm for the book.

One thing that came up was that people wanted to see some write-ups for animals. There's already a horse write-up in there (on page 98) -- something of a "hero" horse, complete with skills, stress tracks, and consequences. But unless you count Archibald Monroe, Kemnebi Meti, or the Pre-Human Horror, that's the only animal in there. And I don't know about you, but I have entirely too much respect for Dr. Archibald (and fear of the other two) to think that.

So here is the first of at least two posts of statted-out animals. Season to taste, as always.

Sewer Rat (Average Minion)
The bane of civilized society

  • Average (+1): Physical
  • Aspects:
    • Ravenous Vermin
    • Swarm! Swarm!
    • Swimming in Disease
  • Gifts:
    • Impact: Physical scope
Notes: Individually, of course, rats aren't a big deal. It's when there's a whole swarm of them that they pose a danger. Terrifyingly so, in fact. To reflect this, put more than five of them in a group. Their Impact Gift can give them a reliable advantage in combat. The consequences they deal should involve disease more often than not, although the specifics, of course, are up to the GM.

Wolf (Fair Minion)
Savage forest hunter

  • Fair (+2): Physical (E)
  • Average (+1): Mental
  • Aspects:
    • Pack Mentality
    • Dogged Pursuit
    • Keen Senses
Notes: Is it really so unreasonable to find wolves in London? Not werewolves, mind you -- just regular ones. Hyde Park is huge, for one thing. Who knows what's in there? And I saw a fox once by St. Paul's, so it seems likely enough to me.

Gorilla (Adversary)
Imported from the Dark Continent

  • Great (+4): Brawn (E)
  • Good (+3): Athletics (E), Intimidation
  • Fair (+2): Endurance (E), Alertness, Survival
  • Aspects:
    • Powerful Arms and Jaws
    • Daunting Displays of Dominance
    • Fearsome Teeth
  • Gifts:
    • Theme: +1 Survival in native environment, Use Intimidation instead of Resolve to defend against fear/intimidation, Use Brawn instead of Fists when fighting unarmed
    • Equipment: Teeth (Deadly x2: Weapon 2 [Health], Aspect: Ripping and Tearing)
    • Impact: Brawn
  • Tier Benefits
    • Weapon 1 [Health] (Weapon 3 [Health] with Teeth)
    • Armor 1 [Health]
    • Move 1 zone as a free action (run/leap/climb)
  • Stress and Consequences:
    • Health: OOO OO [Armor 1]
    • Mental: OOO
Notes: An adult silverback is going to be a challenge for a great many Strangers; the average Londoner, of course, doesn't stand much of a chance. You'll notice that the Equipment Gift has been used here to quantify something that's most definitely not mere Equipment -- the gorilla's teeth. Using Equipment like this is a good way to give your animals a little more fine-grain detail. If you want to get a little more Howardian about it, give it an aspect of "Albino Man-Eater."

Great Cat (Adversary)
Suitable for all manner of lions and tigers

  • Great (+4): King of the Jungle (E)
  • Good (+3): Alertness (E), Stealth
  • Fair (+2): Brawn (E), Endurance, Survival
  • Unique and Strange Skills:
    • King of the Jungle (Strike, Dodge, Move, Leap, Climb, Menace + Zone)
  • Aspects:
    • The Incomparable Grace of a Jungle Cat
    • Claw/Claw/Bite
    • Intimidating Roar
    • Majestic Beast
  • Gifts:
    • Theme: Use King of the Jungle instead of Resolve to defend against fear/intimidation, +1 Survival in native environment, +2 Stealth with maneuvers
    • Equipment: Teeth and Claws (Deadly: Weapon 1 [Health], Well-Made: +1 King of the Jungle with Strike)
    • Impact: King of the Jungle
    • Signature Aspect: Majestic Beast
  • Tier Benefits
    • Weapon 1 [Health] (Weapon 2 [Health] with Teeth and Claws)
    • Move 1 zone as a free action (run/leap)
  • Stress and Consequences:
    • Health OOO OO
    • Composure OOO
Notes: If you're a purist, you'll want to make some adjustments to differentiate between lions and tigers (tigers are generally larger and fiercer), but unless you're having a lion-vs.-tiger cage match, this write-up should do fine for either of them.

Anaconda (Fair Minion)
Sinister serpent of the Amazon

  • Fair (+2): Physical (E)
  • Average (+1): Mental
  • Aspects:
    • Huge Aquatic Snake
    • Tightening Coils
    • Strong as Steel Cable
  • Gifts:
    • Equipment: Constricting Coils (Deadly x1: Weapon 1 [Health], Well-Made: +1 Physical)
Notes: While this anaconda is a Minion, it's pretty easy to turn it into an Adversary if you want something more like a giant anaconda (which probably doesn't exist, but whatever). Keep the same aspects, use the gorilla's skill pyramid (I realize this sounds crazy, but it works) and Theme Gift, and give it a Minor Invulnerability to physical strength. This is a weird one, I know, and not how we usually use Invulnerability, but it means that whenever it has someone in its coils, its Brawn defense against that person's escape attempts is two Power Tiers higher. Because it is a giant anaconda.

Elephant (Adversary)
Asiatic or African, as you please

  • Superb (+5): Tough Hide (E)
  • Great (+4): Stampede (E)
  • Good (+3): Resolve, Alertness
  • Fair (+2): Brawn (S), Survival
  • Aspects:
    • Prehensile Trunk
    • Tough Hide
    • Ivory Tusks
    • Massive Size
    • Stampede!
  • Unique and Strange Skills:
    • Tough Hide (Resist Damage, Stress Capacity [Health])
    • Stampede (Move, Strike + Zone; Minor Snag: No free movement unless using also Stampede to attack in the same round)
    • Minor Invulnerability: Bludgeons
  • Gifts:
    • Equipment: Tusks (Deadly: Weapon 2 [Health], Alternate Use: Use Brawn instead of Fists for unarmed combat)
    • Theme: +2 Brawn with maneuvers, +1 Survival in native environment, Ignore penalties to movement from barriers/physical obstructions equal to or less than Great (+4) Stampede
  • Tier Benefits:
    • Weapon 2 [Health] (Weapon 4 [Health] with Tusks)
    • Armor 1 [Health]
    • Move 1 zone as a free action when attacking with Stampede
  • Stress and Consequences:
    • Health: OOO OO [Armor 1]
    • Composure: OOO O
Notes: If you have a rampaging elephant in the streets of London, you pretty much need a Kerberan if you want something done about it. (Preferably, not the Kerberan who was responsible for putting it there in the first place.) Its Theme Gift basically lets it charge wherever it wants without much regard for walls or anything else that might be in its way.

Next time: dinosaurs!

Saturday, November 12, 2011

[Fantasy] Another Magic Idea

Sometimes -- on a pretty regular basis, even -- a post will appear on to the effect of "I'm interested in FATE, but is there a good, simple, easy magic system for it?" I'm not sure why FATE in particular seems to attract this kind of inquiry so often. Occasionally, someone will ask something similar about Savage Worlds, but rarely does it come up with regards to most other generic systems.

Sure as the changing of the seasons, one such thread popped up a couple days ago, prompting myself and others to chime in with the usual round of responses. Specifically, the poster, disturbingly named irate fetus, was looking for "preferably something along the lines of DnD levels/spells per day." Fair enough.

Many responded to the call, including me, because I'm a sucker for that (and because it was pretty easy to plug Guy's Spirit of Greyhawk stuff on this very blog, which goes after AD&D-style "levels/spells per day" as a point of design). Building on something TheUnshaven suggested, and with helpful advice from TheMouse, I came up with something that also incorporated some of my own long-neglected, half-formed ideas. I think it's worth exploring here on the blog.

Suppose there is a magic-oriented skill called, I dunno, Magic. What you can do with this skill is determined by a magic-related aspect you have, like "Druid" or "Fire Mage" or something.

Give yourself a second skill pyramid that peaks at your Magic skill rating. So if you have Good (+3) Magic, your pyramid's apex is Good (+3). This is your spell pyramid. It has one Good (+3) slot, two Fair (+2) slots, and three Average (+1) slots. So far, they're all blank.

Every time you cast a spell, you claim one of the spell pyramid's slots, and use its rating as a bonus to your roll, just as if it were a skill. When you're out of blank slots, you're out of spells to cast for the day.

You know a number of spells equal to your Magic skill rating. Again, if it's Good (+3), you know three spells. Write 'em down. They only have to be names, and you only have to have a general idea about what they do -- don't sweat the details. So if your magic aspect is "Fire Mage," for example, your spells might be Fireball, Wall of Fire, and Flaming Bolt.

When you cast a spell, pick one of your spells and say what it's doing. It can Attack, Defend, Maneuver, Assess, or Block -- the standard FATE stuff. Whatever it is, it has to make sense within the confines of your general idea of what the spell does. You'll have a hard time Assessing with Fireball, for example, but an easy time Blocking with Wall of Fire. However, if you want to Attack with Wall of Fire, go ahead. It makes sense, after all, seeing as how it's on fire. You just won't be able to Block with it as well.

(Could you work in two effects, like Attacking and Blocking? Probably, if you spend a Fate Point. That seems reasonable. Still has to make sense, though.)

If you manage to get more than one magic aspect, like "Pyromancy" and "Divination," you get to write down another batch of spells befitting the new aspect, which means more types of things to do with your spell pyramid. How do you get magic aspects? Maybe with a stunt. That also seems reasonable.

You might prefer to have multiple magic-related skills instead, like a Pyromancy skill and a Divination skill, with attached aspects. This is perfectly natural and nothing to be ashamed of. In that case, the spell pyramid's apex is equal to the highest magic skill you have, but the rating of the spell pyramid slot for a given spell can't exceed its related skill rating. So if you have Good (+3) Pyromancy and Average (+1) Divination, you can use any slot for Pyromancy, but only the Average (+1) slots for Divination.

There is still the question of how these spell slots work, in terms of their ratings. Is that the only bonus you add to your roll, or do you add it and your Magic (or Pyromancy or etc.) skill? The latter seems a little unbalanced, although if you have a different skill for each sphere of magic, it also seems kinda necessary. Otherwise, those skills are just taking up real estate in your skill pyramid, and that's no fun. With a singular Magic skill, though, that skill could be used as a sort of magical Academics -- knowing about magic, as opposed to applying it. I suppose the same could be done with more specialized skills, but you probably wouldn't get as much use out of them.

The last piece of the puzzle is how to clear those spell slots so they can be reused. There needs to be a way. Obviously, sleeping for the night should do it, especially if we're kinda trying to emulate D&D, but I also want you to be able to clear them on the fly, in the heat of the moment. My initial ideas for that bordered on punitive -- that's our me! -- but TheMouse quickly set me straight by mixing together two of them.
The more mathematically sound way seems to be that you can clear up a spell slot with a rank equal to or less than the number of shifts your sacrificed Consequences are worth, +2 for each fate point expenditure. So if you do a Minor (2) and a single fate point, you can clear out a spell slot worth up to +4.
That sounds pretty good.

So that's the gist of it. If I have a more concrete application for it at some point, I'll do more with it, but for now it's something for you to fold, spindle, or mutilate, as you will. Comments welcome, of course.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

[Anglerre] Update on the Companion

Hey hey, folks. A number of people have been asking me about the Anglerre Companion, and both of them wanted to know when it'd be available. So here's an update from Sarah Newton (by way of on that very issue:

The Legends of Anglerre Companion is in layout at the moment. I saw the first couple of chapters on Monday, and they were looking great. I'm hoping we'll be going to the printer in a couple of weeks; we *may* make before Christmas, but with the vagaries of publishing and shipping over the Christmas period, to be honest my guess is that we'll just be the other side, so very early January. 
It's a bumper beast with a cracking Ralph Horsley cover and stuffed with all kinds of fantasy Fate goodness, new critters, scenarios, rules, maps, cities... Thanks for waiting for it - we hope you'll like what you see!
Bumper beast! Cracking! She is an English person.

So there you go. I'm really looking forward to it.

Monday, November 7, 2011

[Greyhawk] A Question of Granularity…

NOTE:  This is gonna be a bit unpolished, as NaGa DeMon is eating into the other 98% of my waking moments.  (Day-job? What day-job? Family?  What family?)

In my previous article of SoG magic and spell translation, I made the following statement…

“A single hit die is a D8, so technically each stress box counts as 2 hit dice. Which also means that the average hit points from 2HD would be about 9 or 10. Which would also place the average damage per missile at 4 points (3 + 1), which would then mean 2 missiles would be needed to do enough damage to take out 1 stress box. Rather than worry about the exact number of missiles in the description, I would rather just simplify to 1 missile equal 1 stress box.”

…so 10 hit points = 1 stress box.  Which then leads to some interesting observations (at least to me it does)…

  • SotC characters would translate somewhere in the range of around 50 hit points.
  • In the source material, a magic weapon with a whompin’ +5 bonus counts as HALF of one stress box in SoG.
  • There are only 2 mundane weapons in the entire source material’s Weapon Table that could score enough damage to equal 1 physical stress box.  This on the high-end of the dice roll spectrum, though it doesn’t include magic or strength-related bonuses.
  • All the other mundane weapons then fall into one of 8 “less damaging” categories.
  • I believe DFRPG has a maximum Weapons rating of 4 before you get into dropping anvils on people, which means that the most damaging hand-held weapon in the world of DFRPG could translate to the equivalent of 30 to 40 hp of damage per shot.  (So Evil Hat wasn’t kidding when they said DFRPG combat is brutal and short!)

This poses some interesting design considerations for Spirit of Greyhawk…

It’s not the size of the weapon, it’s how you use it

Dealing with mundane weapons of the world of Greyhawk’s technology, this means Skills are the source of real damage when it comes to Melee combat, not the Weapon.  This appeals to me for a bunch of reasons, not the least of which that it supports the assumption that a skilled combatant with a dagger is far more dangerous than a non-skilled combatant with a two-handed sword.

(Not that other things can’t be a crucial factor, but that’s what aspects are for)

Taking this to a logical conclusion, would it make sense to have SoG fall into line with Spirit of the Century and just NOT consider a weapon damage bonus?  This is not to say weapons would be meaningless—the tactical advantages of picking the right weapon for the right engagement are still worthwhile.  But given the level of granularity that SoG uses to translate the world of Greyhawk, it’s still pretty reasonable.

If you believe that a player’s expectations for play in SoG tends to require that weapon selection DOES need to make some sort of difference in damage, then I think that Mike’s recent posting about different colored dice and damage is a valid way to go.

Impact of Magic on Melee

Anyone who has played AD&D knows that accumulating your magic weapons and armor becomes pretty critical, pretty quickly.  Which means that in SoG, enchanted gear would still be important, the real benefit to those enchantments is not “just” in the damage (remember, the actual damage of a +5 magic bonus is only half a stress box in SoG), but rather to allow someone to actually hit certain creatures who could not otherwise be damaged by mundane (or only minimally enchanted) weapons. 

So again, it’s the TACTICAL advantage granted by the weapon, and then it comes down to a player’s skill in using it.

…and I think that’s sort of interesting.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

[Greyhawk] NaGa DeMon = A Month of Late Nights

So, Nathan Russell has created NaGa DeMon (National Gaming Design Month) the gaming version of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). 
Basically NaGa DeMon comes down to this:
  • Create the game in November
  • Finish the game in November
  • Play the game in November
  • Blab about the experience
A few things have lined up the right way for me, so I’m going to use this opportunity and get serious about taking Spirit of Greyhawk from a series of sporadic posts into an actual useable rule set.
Now, the definition of “finish the game in November” might need to be clarified somewhat for SoG—probably closer to "Blue Book Boxed Set” than the full PHB/DMG/MM.
Wish me luck and a light workload on the day-job!