Saturday, December 29, 2012

[Atomic Robo] Let's Play It Your Way

Did everyone have a good Christmas or whatever? Ours was... a little more complicated than we'd expected. And I'm pretty much run off my feet as a consequence. But in celebration of the Fate Core Kickstarter campaign hitting 5,000 backers yesterday, here's a tiny little preview of Atomic Robo: The Roleplaying Game. Specifically, it's an example of how we're using Atomic Robo itself to illustrate some game concepts.

In this case, it's conceding a conflict.

(But first, have you read Atomic Robo and the Flying She-Devils of the South Pacific yet? You really should. I don't want to spoil anything for you, but it's been out for a while now, so... that's on you.)

On with the example!
Robo tries to intimidate Takeshi with an Intimidation total of +4. Takeshi defends with Will and gets a +7—success with style. He gets a boost of Numbers On My Side.
Robo changes tack and decides to use Physics to try creating an advantage instead, based on the idea that using ion guns in an enclosed metal environment is an inherently bad idea. The GM decides that this will be an unopposed roll, and it succeeds. Robo creates the aspect Science On My Side.
Undeterred, Takeshi goes on the offensive. He rolls Intimidation and gets a +5, and invokes Numbers On My Side to make it +7. He also spends a fate point to invoke his aspect Only Victory and Defeat to bump that up by +2 more, for a +9. Then, in a gutsy move, he spends another fate point to invoke Science On My Side for another +2. Takeshi and his men don't care about their own safety. That makes his total +11.
Robo doesn't think he can beat that, nor does he want to end up with a consequence from this, so he decides to concede. He loses the conflict, but on his own terms: Takeshi will keep him alive for now, but incapacitated. Robo gets a fate point for the concession.
Now, a couple points:

One, this is only one possible interpretation of this conversation -- you could call Takeshi's first line in that first panel as an Intimidation attempt, for example, as well as Robo's rather threatening "It'd kill you too."   Or maybe Takeshi's first line is him creating an advantage. They're all valid, and any of them is totally plausible in play. But this is the one I'm going with. For me, up until the point when Robo literally threatens physical violence, they're just talking, sans dice. But when Takeshi casually insults Robo's piloting skills, Robo's player decides, "All right, it's on."

Two, normally in the book, I don't use characters as players, such as "Robo gets a fate point," but in this case I'm prioritizing brevity. These are captions; I don't want them getting too long.

I plan to use this technique as often as is feasible in ARRPG. The actual panels from the comic are an amazing resource, and we'd be crazy not to take advantage of them.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

[Off Topic] Baby! Again!

That right there is Will Robert Olson, born December 18th, 2012 -- two weeks earlier than expected. Surprise! He's currently at a top-rated children's hospital in San Diego and doing great. Welcome him to the world, everyone.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

[Fate Core] It's Skill Pyramids All the Way Down

I had a thought over on today on sub-pyramids of skills, so I figured I'd expand on it here.

Then I had further thought on the same thing, and suddenly it was skill pyramids all the way down. But we'll get to that soon enough.

First, let's say you have a skill that's important enough to your game that you really want to drill down into what it can do. Piloting, fencing, and magic are the first things that spring to mind for me. I'll go with magic, because the first two will entail a lot more thought and crunchiness. So we have a skill called Magic. It's about magic stuff.

Come up with a number of distinct things -- around 10 -- that the skill can do. "Distinct things" will vary depending on personal preference, game world, and campaign. For magic, I'd go with schools, and for the sake of convenience and my familiarity with the subject, let's say they're the nine schools of 2nd edition AD&D: Abjuration, Conjuration, Divination, Evocation, etc. (They used these in 3.X too, right? Anyway. That's neither here nor there.) I'm calling these specialties for now.

You also have these specialties in a pyramid, with an apex equal to your Magic skill. So if you have Fair (+2) Magic, your Magic pyramid might look like this:
Fair (+2): Evocation 
Average (+1): Invocation, Transmutation
Three slots in your pyramid, three schools of magic.

If you have Great (+4) Magic, you have skill in all schools of magic -- a wizard's wizard, who puts the study of the magical arts above all else. That might look like this:
Great (+4): Evocation
Good (+3): Invocation, Transmutation 
Fair (+2): Enchantment, Divination, Abjuration
Average (+1): Conjuration, Necromancy, Illusion
When you cast a spell, you don't roll your Magic skill -- you roll your specialty skill. So if you're casting a fireball, you'd roll your Great (+4) Evocation. If you're casting phantasmal killer, you'd roll your Average (+1) Illusion. Etc. Probably the only time you'd roll Magic is to know stuff in general about magic.

What do these specialties do? Give 'em some Fate Core actions, as appropriate. No need to define them more than that. Evocation overcomes by blowing stuff up, creates advantages by blowing stuff up, and attacks by blowing stuff up.

This is the part that goes rather completely crazy, in my opinion. Once you have this secondary pyramid, you make a tertiary pyramid for each of these schools of magic. What's in these skill pyramids? Not skills -- spells. Since this is already so AD&D-heavy anyway, open up your PHB and take your spells right from there.

So for Evocation, this wizard's wizard above would have 10 Evocation spells, rated from +1 to +4. For Divination, they'd have three spells. And so on.

Yeah! You're right! That is a lot of spells to keep track of. An ungainly number. It's ridiculous! See, I told you it was crazy. It's more a thought exercise than anything else.

There are a couple more reasonable approaches to this. One is to make the schools individual skills (instead of specialties), and then make spells the specialties. E.g., you have Good (+3) Evocation, which means you can have a Good (+3) Fireball, Fair (+2) Burning Hands and Melf's Acid Arrow, etc.

Another way is to ditch the whole "school" thing and instead go with types of magic, like Fire, Water, Air, Earth, and Death or something. Each of those is a skill, and spells are specialties -- but probably not cribbed from AD&D. I'd make them player-defined, then build the spells as custom skills in the style of Atomic Robo. Maybe you have n points to spend on making those spells, where n is determined by your skill rating.

(BTW, if you're an ARRPG playtester and any of the above reminds you of modes, it's sheer coincidence.)

This has nothing to do with skill sub-pyramids, but: Another way to go would be to have spells as stunts, possibly as stunts you could swap out via some sort of spellbook mechanism. So whether have you have schools of magic as skills or specialties, you can roll Evocation, Abjuration, and Divination all day long to do whatever it is you do with those schools (according to their actions), but then you might also have stunts that stretch those boundaries a bit. For example:
Fireball: When attacking with Evocation, spend a fate point to affect everyone in the targeted zone.
Shield: +2 to Abjuration when defending against physical attacks.
Discern Location: Spend a fate point and specify one creature you've seen or object you've touched. You know the location of that creature or object unerringly and in exacting detail, even if it's on another continent, planet, or plane of existence.
 Anyway. Back to Robo.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

[Fate Core] Rules vs. Settings

This is a warning.
So! That Fate Core Kickstarter's been pretty crazy, am I right? It's great to see so many people excited enough about it to back the campaign -- exactly 3,600 people, as I type -- and also to see how many of them are new to Fate with this edition. That's awesome.

Not surprisingly, there's a lot of discussion about Fate Core in various places around the Internet, and a lot of it's revolving around what it can do. Most of the time, inquiries about this kind of thing look something like this:
Really enjoyed the Terra Nova TV series when it was on and was wondering if it would be possible to make that kind of setup using the FATE system?
(That's James Cartwright, commenting on the Kickstarter page.)

Or this:
I would love to see a strong example of a heavily race based system. Ideally in my mind an anthropomorphic animal game in the vane of Redwall, Mouse Guard, or Ironclaw.
(That's Jonathan Dietrich, also on the Kickstarter page.)

These both sound like great games to run with Fate Core. Terra Nova may have let me down as a show, but the premise was cool -- sci-fi tech and dinosaurs! As for the anthropomorphic animal thing, well, I own Mouse Guard and backed Cairn, so I'm in.

My reaction to this kind of thing is always the same: Yeah, of course Fate can do that. What does it really involve, anyway? Knowing the source material? Fate Core gives you everything you need to sort out the rest.
This is a pretty unfair attitude, I know. I'm so used to hacking Fate and talking about hacking Fate and seeing Fate hacks that at this point it's kinda That System Everyone Hacks to me. You want to do something with Fate? Great! Go do it. What are you waiting for? Again, unfair.

However, there's an actual point to be made here as well. As I also said on Twitter, there's a real difference in Fate Core between saying "I want rules for..." and saying "I want a setting that's like...." 98% of emulating a genre using Fate Core is knowing the genre well in the first place.

Do you need special rules for shooting a dinosaur -- rules that aren't already in Fate Core? I don't think so. I mean, sure, you'll want to stat up some dinosaurs, but that's definitely within the scope of the rules as written. Do you need special rules for playing a sword-wielding mouse (as opposed to a sword-wielding human)? If everyone's playing an animal, make sure everyone has at least one aspect describing what kind of animal they are. (And then, y'know, stat out some cats and weasels.) Hashtag done!

Let's take Fate Core assistant developer Brian Engard's Wild Blue setting as an example. Wild Blue is part Western, part fantasy-magic stuff, and part supers. It has new rules for the magic-and-supers stuff (in the form of gifts), because Brian had a specific vision for how those work in the setting that he needed to convey. It has a couple new skills that suit the setting. And... that's it for new rules. Because Fate Core does everything else.

But Jonathan Dietrich came back with this:
Which is a great question! I tried to answer it on Twitter, but Twitter's not the best medium for that sort of thing, so let's see if it I can do it justice here.

What we're really talking here when we talk about sci-fi dinosaurs or heroic rodents isn't rules, but setting. Most of what'd be in a good Terra Nova RPG built on Fate Core would be descriptions and stats for things from the show -- an implementation of the system, sure, but off the top of my head I can't think of anything especially new it needs in terms of rules or mechanics. (Of course, I'm no Terra Nova scholar or anything, so maybe I'm misremembering.)

Anthropomorphic animals? As a complete game, I'd want lots of descriptions of animals and examples of aspects and stunts for each. But what I can't imagine is that any of that would deviate from the tools that Fate Core gives you. Maybe -- maybe -- you'd want size and scale rules, but extras can do that as-is. (The Extras Toolbox will probably have those size and scale rules, but still.)

The thing is, the protagonists in these stories do things that "baseline" human protagonists do in Fate Core anyway. (Well, apart from, like, gathering nuts for the winter, I guess.) They don't shoot laser beams from their palms or have super-strength or bend the laws of reality or anything. Even if they're mice or voles or whatever, they do what mice or voles or whatever in the setting do -- which makes mice or voles or whatever the new baseline, which means you don't need special rules for them. If you know your source material and follow the directions in Fate Core, you'll get the game you want.

With all that established: What makes Atomic Robo so special that it need its own book?

This is a fair and complex question.

One, Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener want to do it. I want to do it. Evil Hat wants to do it. Lots of Robo fans really want us to do it. So... we're doing it.

Two, ARRPG may be an implementation of Fate Core, but it has several significant divergences meant to engender the kind of play we want to see out of an Atomic Robo game. Modes simplify character creation and skills to get players playing ASAP. We expect some people who buy the book will be Robo fans first and RPG fans second, or totally inexperienced with RPGs, so right from the start "quickplay" was the default. (Fate Core's easy for first-timers to pick up too, of course; a lot of these core concepts of ARRPG were established long before I even set eyes on Fate Core.)

Y'know how I said I'm not a Terra Nova scholar? Over the past year, I have arguably become an Atomic Robo scholar. Eating, breathing, and sleeping Atomic Robo has had a huge effect on the game in a hundred little ways. Atomic Robo doesn't tell stories the usual Fate Core way, so ARRPG structures stories the Atomic Robo way. The game has mechanics that emulate some specific stuff from the source material, like a group of Action Scientists working together to apply science to a mystery, a quick method for handling the in-game invention of new technology, and the capacity of characters (like Robo himself) to greatly exceed normal human limits.

What else? Aspects are categorized differently. There are no phases. There's no refresh (another very early decision). PCs start with more stunts. There's a subsystem for building customized skills outside of the extras framework. ARRPG has the great GM advice from Fate Core, but with an eye toward telling Atomic Robo stories, and new tools to help you do it. And because I wrote it, it has a random table. Maybe two. Maybe a random number of random tables. We'll see.

(Incidentally, some of the above will probably make it into the Extras Toolbox in some form or other.)

On top of all that, it's a thorough sourcebook for Atomic Robo -- more information on the Robo-verse than you'll find in any other book, plus a bunch of great art from Scott, both from the comic and new stuff. As a fan of Robo, this might be my favorite part of it.

Anyway. What was I talking about? Something to do with rules vs. settings in Fate Core?

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

[Fate Core] Surprise!


The Fate Core Kickstarter campaign has kicked off a little earlier than anticipated, thanks to editor Jeremy Keller and all-around provocateur Fred Hicks.

You've probably already checked it out. If you haven't yet, it's, uh, doing pretty well. Funded in under 15 minutes, hit the first two stretch goals shortly thereafter.

And in case you weren't already aware of this particular tidbit: If you back at any level -- including the $1 Access level -- you get immediate access to the draft copy of Fate Core.

Not bad, right?

This is all kind of novel for me. It's the first project I've worked on that's gotten the Kickstarter treatment. I had nothing to do with setting up the Kickstarter itself, nor am I currently on the hook to produce any new material as part of a stretch goal. So really, in a sense, I kinda don't really have much of a stake in this beyond wanting people to like and play a game I've worked on. (As I've said before, I've been extremely lucky so far in my RPG freelancing career to have worked on pretty much only fairly high-profile, well-received projects.)

But I'm going to be watching this Kickstarter with as much attention and enthusiasm as, I dunno, this, or this -- because it's always fun to see a highly anticipated campaign for a cool project go from "funded" to "ridiculous runaway success." Join me, won't you?

Join me.