Tuesday, June 11, 2019

[DFAE] Ace Squadron: L'il Tweaks

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So those Ace Squadron games a couple weeks ago went well! But it was also clear that I needed to make some tweaks, much to the apparent chagrin of Torra Doza and Buggle, pictured above.

The prime candidates for tweaking are Hype Fazon and Griff Halloran -- specifically, each of them has a unique condition (Focus Fire and I'm On the Leader, respectively) that were just too much in play, as-written. Each of those conditions makes a powerful thing happen, and that thing's power is inversely proportional to how much they've used their other unique condition. It's no coincidence that they have this in common and that these conditions need to be nerfed.

Originally, Focus Fire increased the squad's scale with regards to a single target -- one degree for each of Hype's unchecked Command boxes -- and I'm On the Leader gave Griff a bonus to the Weapon rating of his attacks equal to the number of his unchecked Experience boxes. These were cool in play, and I'm sure Griff's player liked having Weapon:11 with his missiles that one time, but they ultimately proved too much.

So now, I've taken a step back. "Check all your remaining X boxes" is now part of each of those conditions, because I want this to be a late-game thing. I hadn't consciously realized that before, but that's a big part of it. I wanted the players to feel like they were going all-in against a single target, like it was a real commitment.

However! I've decoupled the effectiveness of those conditions with those other condition tracks, because I noticed something else: The players of those characters didn't want to check Command or Experience boxes, in anticipation of a Big Bad coming along later. They were saving resources I wanted them to spend. So now it's just "Check your remaining Command/Experience boxes," without the "+1 per box checked" bit. The revised Focus Fire increases everyone's scale by 1, and I'm On the Leader now gives Griff's Gunnery and Brutal attacks Weapon:4.

Honestly, +4 scale for everyone is ridiculous, but +1 scale is still good, so I'm not sad to drop that. Also, I've done some heavy hacking when it comes to scale to try to integrate the scale rules of both Tachyon Squadron and DFAE. I'd tell you all about them, but without the Ship Construction Toolkit for TS, it would require too much explanation. But also, my solution is extremely kludgey and I wouldn't want to encourage anyone else to run that nonsense.

Speaking of running that nonsense, Origins is upon us! I'll be offering Ace Squadron and one of two Danger Patrol hacks at Games on Demand. If you want to see my kludgey solutions (note to self: start a consulting firm) yourself, come on by and bring your generics. Obviously, I'm still way into this Star Wars Resistance game, but I also looked at my two Danger Patrol hacks again the other night -- Dungeon Patrol and Danger Wars -- and I'd be excited to run either of those, too! So it'll be a good time.

Come check it out!
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Thursday, May 16, 2019

[DFAE] Ace Squadron's Aces

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The ships of Ace Squadron, which consists of "aces," all have the word "Ace" in their names. I'm not sure if this is confusing or just appropriate, but it does make for some easy color-coding. 

I mean, Hype is a green Rodian, and his ship is green, and it's called Green Ace. Griff wears all black, and his ship is black, and it's called Black Ace. Et cetera.

Making these ships was fun not only because it's fun to make things (it's true!) but because it was also a test of the ship-construction rules I wrote for Tachyon Squadron. If you were a Kickstarter backer, you'll be getting that probably sometime this summer. (I'm guessing late summer; it's supposed to be in editing through June, and then there's layout and a couple rounds of last looks, so July or August?)

Two things must ye know about these ship-construction rules: 

One, balance was not a guiding principle. There's no tradeoff for having a low-quality ship vs. a high-quality ship. This was a mandate from Tachyon Squadron creator Clark Valentine, and I stand behind it. 

Two, every effort -- well, nearly every effort -- wait, let me back that up again -- efforts were made to avoid turning it into a point-buy thing. The guidance in the core book was the primary touchstone, and where more detailed design was needed, more detailed design was produced, but the rules in this supplement don't vary too wildly from what's in the core book to begin with.

On a very basic level, every ship consists of two factors, scale and quality. The higher the scale, the bigger the ship; the bigger the ship, the more it can hold (as in modular equipment bays) and the harder it is to handle. The higher the quality, the more upgrades it gets. 

There's no change to equipment bays, other than an expansion of what can be put in them -- there's a bunch of new modular equipment from Draconis, the Dominion, and the, uh, less-savory elements of the setting -- so I'm not going to into any detail on that. Upgrades more or less follow the guidelines for designing new ships on page 138, with a couple notable exceptions, such as adding an extra damage-instance box to a damage track or eliminating the implication that equipment bays go hand-in-hand with higher-quality ships (they can't, because that's a function of scale now, not quality).

All of the Aces -- Green, Red, Blue, Black, and Yellow -- are scale 1 ships of Good (+3) quality. They are significantly better than the standard Average (+1)-quality ship of their scale. If this were a Tachyon Squadron game, it'd be ridiculous how good these ships are. But it's not, and hey, these are the Aces, man! They all have supremely tricked-out ships. That's their whole deal.

Speaking of which, here are their character sheets. You'll note that their design is considerably different from the character sheets I posted before. I want to make sure there's no confusion regarding which sheet to use under which circumstances. As a player, I don't think you could reasonably mistake your ship's sheet for your character sheet. I'm constantly worrying about things like this when I make character sheets -- ease of use.

I think the sheets are pretty self-explanatory, but I'm gonna explain more anyway. Specifically, the character-specific reasons their ships have been designed and statted-out the way they are. The source material doesn't provide a ton of information about these ships, so I've had to make do.

Green Ace's big distinctive feature is those movable wings that can "shift angles for maximum maneuverability while speeding through turns." Given that, it seemed like the most suitable way to represent that was by making the ship especially good at getting on someone's tail or shaking a tail, so that's what we have there. Mechanically, I've treated this is as a piece of modular equipment, but narratively it's obviously not. Ultra-Maneuverable isn't a great aspect, but I'm hoping to think of a better one before Gamex. It'll do.

Red Ace's description is all about the practicalities of its design, which is great for me. "Technologically powerful," "built for precision performance," "delicate balance of speed, acceleration, and power" -- these are all very useful phrases. In contrast to Green Ace, I'm really into Red Ace's aspect (Power. Precision. Performance.) because it sounds like a commercial for a German car. The modular equipment here is straight out of the book, but I think they suit Freya very well. She's more cautious than the rest and more concerned about tactical advantage. She spends most of her time in Red Ace racing, but she's studied for a fight and built a ship to match.

The thing to remember about Blue Ace is that Torra Doza's over-protective father paid for it, so of course it's the sturdiest ship of the squadron. It has a shield generator booster, three shields, and an Armor rating. It's a Volvo. Captain Doza just wants to keep his little girl safe, but not so much so that she doesn't get to fly combat missions. Complicated relationship, there.

Black Ace is the opposite. Not only does it only have two shields, but Griff has rigged it so he can redirect power from his shield generator to his propulsion and weapons systems. He's still used to flying a TIE with zero shields; it's a point of pride with him. If you're a good enough pilot, you don't need those shields. Shields are for rookies! He's put all his upgrades into a high Weapon rating and a good targeting computer. The best defense, etc. 

Black Ace is objectively the coolest-looking ship of the five. Nothing game-related; it just needs to be acknowledged.

Yellow Ace is the weird one, as expected with a ship that can shift its four wings into different configurations. This is reflected mechanically in the ability to swap the ratings of the ship's starfighter skills. At the start of his turn, Bo can pick two skills from Pilot, Gunnery, and Tactics (but not Technology, which is always going to be +3) and swap their ratings. I hope this is interesting in play. I've tried to make it a meaningful choice by limiting the ratings in question to +4, +2, and +1, so you can never have, say, +4 Gunnery and +3 Pilot. That gap from +4 to +2 means that compromises will have to be made. As for the rest of the ship, apparently Bo pushes the envelope so much that he tends to crash Yellow Ace a lot, so he has a couple extra damage instances to help deal with that. Bo's ship is also be difficult to pilot for anyone who isn't used to it (i.e., anyone but Bo), so I threw in a little sorta-stunt to reflect that: anyone else who flies it minimizes a die on all rolls. It doesn't really fit in mechanically as an actual rules component, but it feels right thematically, and ultimately that's why we're here.

(Bo is my favorite.)

You may have noticed that I've basically separated the pilots' spacefaring skills from the actual pilots, and then renamed them to "starfighter skills." Again, that's me being concerned about players having to look back and forth between two pieces of paper, and I figure if I put all the skills they need for space engagements on the ship sheet, there'll be a lot less of that. 

Also, they all have Pilot at +4. They're five of the best pilots around, and they routinely race each other in their downtime, so it didn't feel right for one of them to be objectively better than the others at this stuff. Using the ship-construction rules, I could have bumped that +4 up to a +5, but I didn't want to do that for two reasons: one, +4's already literally Great, and two, they're obviously going to face some pilots who are better than they are (on paper) and I don't want the skill-ratings arms-race to get too ridiculous.

Monday, May 13, 2019

[DFAE] Ace Squadron Mantles

Oops, I know I said I was going to offer a sneak preview of Tachyon Squadron's ship-construction rules, but there's something else I want to talk about first: mantles.

In case you're not familiar with Dresden Accelerated, mantles are the game's primary way of communicating a character's archetype and their general "place" in the setting. Some are pretty broad, like Reporter or Magical Practitioner. Some are much more specific, like Knight of the Cross or Valkyrie. (At least, those latter two seem more specific to me.) Every PC has one -- sometimes they might have mostly one and a bit of another.

Mantles give you some unique conditions and a couple of core stunts. There are also optional stunts you can buy with refresh, like in most Fate games, but everyone with a given mantle will have its unique conditions and core stunts. And the unique conditions frequently don't work like other conditions, where you check a box to avoid being taken out. Lots of them are a much more proactive resource.

(Standard conditions are a resource too -- they're things you expend to avoid being taken out -- but we don't tend to think of them that way because you're normally spending them reactively, not proactively. Same with stress. This is one of my needlessly pedantic distinctions. Let's continue.)

For example, the Reporter's unique conditions are Press Credentials and Off the Air, and its core stunts are Journalist Favors, Word on the Street, and Media Frenzy. Everyone with the Reporter mantle has those conditions and stunts. I think I've made my point about a game that's been out for a long while now that you probably already know about because it's very good.

Sometimes a mantle will have a unique condition with five boxes, and you can check a box to make a thing happen, and sometimes there'll be an accompanying unique condition with only one box that makes you check all the boxes on that other unique condition when you use it. Some examples of these multi-box, proactive conditions are the One-Percenter's Wealthy condition and the Changeling's Called condition.

And oh man, do I love those. I think you can tell just from looking at these character sheets.

Why do I love these so much? We already have stunts and aspects for making characters distinctive, but mantles offer a third way through strong worldbuilding. They're like a higher high concept. And the conditions in question are a mechanical widget that ties directly into that. If your archetype is this thing, you have this resource available to you. There's usually also some interesting way of recovering those marked conditions, which is more or less another way of letting the player how to behave in character. Not always; sometimes it's just a matter of waiting, like how the One-Percenter recovers one Wealth box at the beginning of a session, but usually it requires purposeful action. This is also a big deal to me.

Strong bonds between mechanics and setting -- that's like... like you know how people who are sensitive to ASMR find flipping pages and sussurus and whatever else weirdly pleasing and/or gratifying? That's me with a good fusion of mechanics and setting.

Now, with Ace Squadron, I have the luxury of being able to just come up with a mantle that fits each character without worrying about what those say about the world at large, but I honestly think you could take those mantles, apply to them to Star Wars, and have them fit right in. That wasn't a key concern for me (or any concern, really), but, y'know, it's nice!

And because I specifically like those five-box conditions, well, every one of the mantles I made for these PCs has one of those. What's funny is I didn't even list the names of their mantles on their character sheets, because this is for a one-shot and I don't want to give the players extraneous information that may confuse things. But for the record, they're these:

  • Hype Fazon: The Leader
  • Freya Fenris: The Scholar
  • Torra Doza: The Heart
  • Griff Halloran: Ex-Imperial Veteran
  • Bo Keevil: The Daredevil
Now, you can see that I went off-script a little there for Griff, but for concepting purposes I really wanted to hit the ex-Imperial thing hard and I couldn't think of a more elegant way to do it. The guy has the symbol of the Galactic Empire tattooed on each bicep; you gotta give it to him. Plus everyone else's mantle sort of pays lip service to the five-man band concept, but Griff sets himself apart from them in some ways, so if you squint just right it makes sense that his mantle would diverge from that pattern.

What was fun after that was coming up with a good name for each mantle's primary unique condition, and then figuring out what it should do. Would it maybe have been wiser to consider that this one-size-fits-all approach might not work for every mantle? I dunno, maybe, but I think it worked out, and besides, trying to distill what each mantle brings to the table in a single word was very informative. Everything else about the mantle had to connect in some way to the name of that condition track. 

I mean, yes, it derives from the name of the mantle too, but the condition names feel more important, because that's what the players will actually interface with -- not the mantle name, which is much more ornamental in this case and doesn't even appear on the sheet.

You can see for yourself what each mantle's unique conditions are, but I have a whole blog here so I thought I'd talk a little about my reasoning for each of them, because I found the process fun and enlightening.

The Leader's main unique condition is Command. I wasn't sure about this one at first, but there's a Star Wars Resistance short in which Hype totally comes up with a plan and tells everyone how to execute it, so whaddya know, he's a leader after all. Hype can mark Command boxes to help ensure that his squadmates successfully execute a plan. This mantle also has a secondary unique condition, Focus Fire, that lets him mark all his remaining Command boxes to give the squad a big advantage against a single target. Hype recovers a Command box when he makes a new plan, which could conceivably be every scene, but I'd rather trust my players to act in good faith and just let that go. Plus this is a one-shot, so everything's a little truncated.

Oh, that's another thing about these unique conditions: How easily or quickly do they recover? Can't be so easy that marking boxes is meaningless, but -- especially in a one-shot -- it can't be so difficult that the player balks at marking them at all. This was another big source of lonely fun for me making these characters.

Anyway -- moving on.

The Scholar's unique condition is Study. Pretty straightforward. Freya recovers a Study box at the end of a scene in which she absorbs new information or reviews her past performance. I gave it two triggers so the player can be proactive about it. If it was just the thing about absorbing new information, I'd be concerned that the player would twist themselves in knots trying to find some sweet, sweet new information and it'd come off as contrived. Freya's a studious, driven pilot; I can totally buy her reviewing her gun-cam footage to improve her performance.

Oh! And what does Study do for her? Checking a box gets her a big bonus to overcome or create an advantage when she can bring her erudition to bear, and also she has another stunt called Corrective Pedantry that lets her alter and improve a situation aspect created by a squadmate. I hope that's as funny in play as it is in my head.

The Heart's unique condition is Teamwork. Torra Doza's voice actor said in an interview that Torra's all about her friends and family and love and etc. She's less jaded than the other Aces, being the youngest by far at 15, and I like the idea that she's sorta the squadron's resident optimist, always believing in the team to pull through in the end. She's the kind of character who'd probably refer to the Aces as a family at some point, and then Griff or someone would reluctantly grunt agreement. So she's all about that Teamwork, and can check a box to help an Ace who can see or hear her. She recovers a Teamwork box at the end of a scene in which an Ace helps her (mechanically speaking) or in which she spends a fate point (important distinction) to invoke a situation aspect created by another Ace. I.e., her belief in the team (and her special mechanical ability to help them) is stoked by her teammates actually giving back.

The Ex-Imperial Veteran's unique condition is Experience. This was probably the first one of these that came to mind -- that or Torra's Teamwork condition -- because it's just so... appropriate. It's 34 ABY and this guy used to fly a TIE fighter for the Empire. He's been around, and that should be his big strength. He can check those boxes not for a straight-up bonus, but to improve the reliability of his performance by maximizing dice. His secondary condition is I'm On the Leader, a blatant homage to another famous Imperial TIE pilot (Darth Vader -- I'm talking about Darth Vader), that makes use of his unmarked boxes against a single enemy. So there's some tension there for Griff's player: check Experience boxes for better results in a variety of situations, or leave them blank to really stick it to one foe later? I look forward to seeing what the player does. 

Oh, and Griff recovers an Experience box at the end of a scene in which his player voluntarily fails a roll. I don't call for extraneous dice rolls when I run Fate, so this should be significant, but if it's not I'll adjust!

Finally, the Daredevil's unique condition is Risk. I was going to call this one Stunt, but I figured that could get confusing, and Risk works. I really enjoyed just loading Bo Keevil up with mechanical bits that strongly encourage his player to put him in constant peril. Bo can check a Risk box to get a bonus to overcome or create an advantage in dangerous conditions. More importantly, he recovers a Risk box when he takes damage or chooses to succeed at a cost. Generally speaking, overcome and create an advantage don't intersect with avoiding damage, so taking damage to recover Risk is always an option for his player in combat. I hope that there's sometimes a real choice between marking a box to succeed on an overcome action and not doing that so the player can succeed at a cost to recover a box. 

On a related note, Bo Keevil also has a couple other stunts that encourage foolhardiness: Thrillseeker and Danger Zone. The former gives him access to a new approach, Reckless, at +5 when he's marked a 4-shift damage condition, and the latter lets him mark a Risk box to attempt an action so desperately dangerous as to be virtually impossible otherwise. Will that work in play? Like, shouldn't a good GM just let players try stuff regardless? I see that perspective, but I'm hoping the mere presence of that stunt on Bo's character sheet encourages the player to do some real stupid stuff.

If you're going to be in the Los Angeles area over Memorial Day Weekend and want to see any of this in action, come to Gamex and get in on it! I'm running this game Saturday and Sunday at 2pm, and while pre-reg is full for both, that just means two out of five seats are taken.

Next time: The ships, I promise!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

[DFAE] Star Wars Resistance

So... it's been more than three years now since I've posted to the ol' blog. Let's just acknowledge that up front and move on with this new entry.

(Why's it been so long? I kinda haven't had a whole lot to write about, to be honest! A lot of my work in the past few years has been with Evil Hat's Fate Worlds line, mostly as a system developer. Sure, I contributed to Tachyon Squadron -- about which more later -- and Shadow of the Century, but I don't know that I had a lot to say about those games in terms of Fate-hacking, which is ostensibly the topic of this blog. Okay, explanation delivered!)

I'm running a Star Wars Resistance game called "Ace Squadron" at Gamex in a couple weeks, in which the players will portray the criminally underused pilots of said squadron. For most of the season I was pretty lukewarm on Resistance -- it's had its ups and downs -- but one consistent flaw of the show, in my eyes, has been that it's almost completely ignored its potentially most-interesting characters: the Aces, pictured above.

Who are the Aces of Ace Squadron? What's their deal? They're the first line of defense for the Colossus, the big floating fueling platform that serves as the setting for the series. It's sort of a hive of scum and villainy writ large, a place where pilots and associated tradespersons from all over the galaxy either gather or end up -- it's not entirely clear why most of them are there. It's like a Happy Bottom Riding Club for the Star Wars universe. For whatever reason, this is where anyone who wants to fly faster than anyone else comes to prove themselves. The Aces are the best of these pilots, practically treated as royalty both in recognition of their skill and as compensation for the services they provide.


Only one-and-a-half of them really get any screentime (Torra Doza's the one, Hype Fazon's the half), but the other three, probably the most interesting of them all, are virtual ciphers. You've got an ex-Imperial pilot in a heavily modified old TIE fighter, a Kel-Dor stunt pilot, and... a pale woman with an accent?

Yeah, the show doesn't do much with them, and you wouldn't even know anything at all about Bo Keevil, the Kel-Dor, from the episodes themselves. You'd have to have watched this not-quite five-minute behind-the-scenes video with the production staff and the Aces' voice cast (most of them, at any rate) to even know that much about Keevil. He doesn't have more than, like, two lines in the entire series thus far!

And Freya Fenris, the Pale Lady, doesn't fare much better, but at least they invited her voice actor into the studio to get her perspective on the character she plays. If nothing else, it's good to see that the actors have some insight into these characters.

Anyway again. I'm a sucker for spaceship dogfights and test pilots and everything in that general milieu, partially due to watching The Right Stuff a lot as a kid, and reading Chuck Yeager's autobiography in high school. So naturally I'm drawn to these Aces.

AND THAT BRINGS US TO THIS BLOG POST. As I mentioned before, I'm running a Fate game about these five pilots at Gamex. At first I was going to back to my version of Faith Corps I'd tweaked for previous Star Wars games, then it hit me like a ton of bricks. Dresden Accelerated!

I've yet to play DFAE or use it for anything, and this seemed the perfect opportunity. Boy, am I glad I made that choice, because making these characters has reminded me how brilliant this book is. Man. So good. Mantles feel like a puzzle piece that fit into a gap in my brain that I didn't even know was there. Hats off to the whole team on that one.

Between reading DFAE, making these characters, and zhuzhing their character sheets to within an inch of their lives, I've spent a lot of time in the past week or so on this game. Reminded me of old times! So here I am to post their character sheets. Get them here! Click here!

Next time: The Aces' ships, and a sneak peak at Tachyon Squadron's starship construction rules! Yes, there'll be a next time!