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!

1 comment:

Le Squide said...

This was fantastic! Looking forward to seeing the ships.