Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fate Convention Games - Some Thoughts

I was able to play four different variations on Fate at #gencon2014 and I enjoyed myself.  The experience, however, has crystallized some strong opinions on my part about convention games of Fate (although some of these apply more generally). For your amusement, here are my thoughts...
  • Spend less than 15 minutes in setting creation.  Yes, setting creation is fun, if you are going to use it to it's fullest over multiple sessions.  But in a convention game, no matter how cool you think your particular setting creation variation is for Fate, it is just getting in the way.  
  • Spend less than 15 minutes on character creation.  This means a number of things.  For example, have the players fill out just the first column of the pyramid, and let them do the rest in play.  Or just come up with the High Concept and Trouble aspects, and fill out the rest in play.  
  • Stunts are for the most part too complicated to come up with in a convention game of Fate Core. They don't seem like it, I know, but they are.   Especially for players who are inexperience with Fate.  Fate Accelerated can get away with it, because the Approaches take less time than skills, and there is no "Use Skill A in place of Skill B" option.
  • Extras are beyond the pale for creation in a convention game.  If your Fate variation makes extensive use of Extras, then you really need to bring pre-gens to the table.  
  • Coming up with this stuff (Aspects, which skills to pick, etc.) is hard work for some players, especially people new to Fate.   Some people just need to time to come up with character concepts, aspects, etc., that they are interested in and will enjoy, and making them do it quickly is a recipe for frustration and embarrassment.   You think you are providing a fun experience for those players, but you really aren't.
  • Pre-Gens are your friend.  Really they are and you should be using them.  Especially if your Fate version has some complicated extras, or a lot of setting specific stuff, pre-gens are actually much better at demonstrating how cool your setting is.  It's easy as pie to come up with customizable pre-gens for Fate, just fill in the High Concept and Trouble, the first Skill column, and give them three stunts.  People are playing much quicker, and can still make their characters their own.
  • Do not spend more than 15 minutes going over rules.  
  • That being said, make sure you hit the following explicitly: Invoking Aspects for a +2 or a reroll (and don't forget the reroll!); Compelling Aspects to earn Fate Points (and don't forget to mention self-compels); How to roll the dice and add a skill value; the four action types, and the four outcomes, briefly, but then say that you will explain these in more detail as we play; mention Stress boxes and consequences in passing, but don't bother explaining in detail until someone has actually been attacked.  That should not take more than 15 minutes is you are purposeful and business-like about it.
  • Make sure you have a clear cheat sheet for rules handy, and constantly refer people to it during the game.  If your variation has any particular extras that are important, make sure the cheat sheet describes them.
  • If your setting is in any way not immediately obvious, have at least a one page handout that describes it's major selling points.  
  • Make sure you explain, explicitly, on the first few actions of players, what they are doing.  Say the type of the action out loud ("sounds like you are trying to Create an Advantage, there, that means you are going to create an aspect, or discover one, here is how we do that..."), when the result is figured, say the outcome out loud ("ok, you have a tie on that Create Advantage, that means you don't get an aspect, but you do get a boost").  Use the actual words in the rulebook, and use them consistently.
  • Demonstrate by example!  Have your GM characters roll a Create Advantage as their first action. Compel a situation aspect on a player as early as possible.  Invite a compel on a GM character aspect at the earliest opportunity.  Examples in play, explicitly explained, are much better than any amount of rules explanation before play starts.
  • If you are not actually role-playing within 40 minutes of the start of the convention game, you are pissing off players.  Really and truly, regardless of how much fun you think they are having, they aren't. At least half of them are just angry that they are still talking about rules stuff and creating characters.  40 minutes is probably still too long.
  • For crying out loud, make sure everybody gets the damn spotlight every once in a while!  Jumpin' Jehoshaphat, it makes me so frikkin' angry when I see a player sitting across from me in a convention game and it has been at least 15 minutes since the GM has last asked them what they are doing, or given them a chance for some input.  This is GM'ing 101, my friends, it's an entry-level skill.  If you are worried that you can't keep track, literally play the whole game as one big conflict, going around and around and taking turns, because that is much better than leaving a player out in the cold.  
EDIT: added from comments - here is a rule of thumb for how much time setting and character creation can and should take in any game: no more than 1/8th of the time that will be spent playing.  4 hour game?  No more than 30 minutes.  Four session game?  No more than 1/2 session.  8 session game?  Use a whole session.  Obviously, one session is probably enough for any game, but I could see a long term game of something like Fantasy Hero/Champions needing even more time (although it probably isn't spent in the session).

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Born to Be Wild!

Benjamin Baugh's post about "TNMT and other strangeness" as his oldest RPG prompts me to go ahead an post a link to some rules I have been working on. He asks for a "retroclone". Pretty sure this doesn't count, and it's more about "Road Hogs" than TMNT, but it might be of interest to him or anyone else, so here it is.

Born to Be Wild! - a Fate-based game of beast-folk driving in cars in a post-apocalyptic wasteland blowing s&$# up

Some Points of interest:
  • Two dimensional approaches (Things you Do, and Ways you do them) (Page 15)
  • The idea of Rides, and the idea that If you Lose Your Ride, You have lost the Game (Page 29)
  • Vehicle combat rules, because of course (not much different from what I have already posted on this blog)
  • The start of a "Your Wasteland" section (Page 35)
Other than that, mostly standard Fate Core/FAE stuff repurposed and currently cluttered with Fate Core/FAE SRD reference because there are a few minor alterations to the basic mechanics, and I wanted to have the capacity to make more changes as the design progresses. If I continue to work on it, I will flesh out the "Your Wasteland" section.  Also, I would want to amp up the Wastemaster versus Beast-Folk vibe of the thing, make it more actively a GM vs. Player game, because I think that is a place Fate games haven't really gone.  Can they go there?  I don't know, but it would be interesting to see if they could.

Enjoy!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Everyone at the table should be a candy machine

My first rant post!  It's pretty weak as rants go, but it's preachy, dogmatic, directed at something that annoys me, most of the people who read it will think it is self-evident, and it makes me seem oh so much better than everyone else.  So, a rant, woohoo!

Let's talk about candy.  Candy is the affirmation, the laughter, the attention, that people playing a role-playing game give to each other.  When you say something cool, and someone laughs or gasps, that's candy.  When you describe your character being awesome, and people are raptly listening to you, that's candy.  If you are playing a role-playing game, you almost certainly want candy.  Otherwise I'm not sure why you are playing.

The GM can and should be a candy machine.  Piles and piles of stuff have been written as advice to GM's, and a lot of it is about how to give out candy to players.  That's fine.  But the GM is not the ONLY candy machine.  When I GM and...
  • ...someone is talking and all the other players are not paying attention, those other players are treating me as the ONLY candy machine, and it makes me mad.  
  • ...a player only ever talks to me, describes everything to me instead of to the other players, even when that player's character is interacting with another player character, that player is treating me as the ONLY candy machine, or worse, the only candy machine whose candy he cares for.  That makes me mad.
The fact is that everyone at the table should be a candy machine!  Everyone should be handing out the candy of joy to their fellow players, not just the GM.

You want to be a candy machine, right?  When I play, I know I want to be.  So let us all join together and vow to be the candy machines we would want others to be for us.  It's the candy machine corollary to the golden rule.  Here are 7 concrete steps you and I can take to give our fellow players some candy.
  1. When we are describing what our character's are doing, we consciously look towards the non-GM players; they are our audience, not the GM.
  2. If our character is interacting with another player character, we look at that player during the interaction, not the GM.  They are our candy machine, and we are theirs.
  3. When someone else is talking, we freaking look at them, be quiet and listen.  This is like the minimal candy; it's the Starburst fruit chew of candy.
  4. We put our rule book on the floor under the table.  If we have to look at it, we always put it back under the table.  We cannot give candy while reading a rulebook.
  5. We put the *&$#^ smart phone away, at least three meters out of our reach to physically avoid temptation.  Tablets too, unless we are using them as rulebooks, in which case see point 4.  Trying to interact with someone who is looking at a phone is like anti-candy, it's like stinky asparagus (and if you reply that you like asparagus, I'm sorry, but you are just wrong).
  6. We pick the person in our group who we least want to give candy to.  We give them some candy at least once per session.
Be the candy machine.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Dark Salvation - The Purple Dimension


Been awhile since I posted any Dark Salvation material.  Here is a dimension my players never actually arrived at, but it is fun in it's obscurity.  I'm particular proud of the Slaves of Aggamon; dangerous via being pitiful.  For reference, here is the initial post on Dark Salvation.  This explains the Techno-Demonic Virus (TDV).  Dark Salvation related posts can be found through the Dark Salvation label.

The Purple Dimension

Ruled by the demon Aggamon, the Purple Dimension has "immense purplish mountain ranges [that] jut majestically from vast plum-colored plains" and "surreal geological formations". [1]  It is also the source of Purple Gems, immensely powerful sources of magical energy coveted by many powerful beings.
The Purple Dimension is only vaguely purple, and not a vacation spot.

Distinctions: Twisted and Tunnelled, Barren, Shadowy
Border: D12 
Gateway: Through a Purple Gem

Hooks pointing towards the Purple Dimension

  • The heroes need a power source capable of powering a cure for the TDV.  A purple gem will fill the bill.
  • Aggamon's business demons contact the heroes with a deal of some sort, to protect him from the TDV. 
  • The heroes find a purple gem infected with the TDV, and it exhibits strange properties.  Aggamon is the expert in such things.

Action in the Purple Dimension

  • The heroes arrive and see the typical slave driving behaviour that goes on there all the time.  Will they take steps to protect the slaves.
  • Aggamon's Demolisher Beam really is immensely powerful, and he really can't resist trying it out on anyone who shows up, just for fun.
  • The slaves are being infected with the TDV, and therefore are revolting against Aggamon.  A cure may return them to enslavement.

Hooks out of the Purple Dimension

  • The heroes get their Purple Gem, but they'll need something to channel the power.  Maybe some Uru metal?
  • Aggamon makes a deal with the heroes, and sends them through secret inter-dimensional tunnels to the dimension the TDV seems to be coming from.  Perhaps Sominus?  Niffleheim?

Denizens

Aggamon
Affiliations: Large Scale 3D8
Distinctions: Infernal Businessman, Greedy, Haughty
Power Set: Lord of the Purple Dimension Demolisher Beam D12, Superhuman Stamina D10, Sorcery Mastery D10, Enhanced Strength D8, Enhanced Senses D8, Enhanced Durability D8, Psychic Resistance D8, Mystic Resistance D8
  • SFX: Area Attack.  Add a D6 for each extra target and keep one extra effect die for each extra target.
  • SFX: Adaptable. You may add more than one power from Lord of the Purple Dimension to a roll.  Step back each die for every die beyond the first added.
  • SFX: “None can withstand the Demolisher Beam!”.  Activate an Opportunity generated in a reaction against an action that includes Demolisher Beam.  Opponent takes physical stress equal to the die that caused the Opportunity.  
  • Limit: The Extend to Sorcery.  When you add Sorcery Mastery to any action pool, you may only create assets or complications as your effect, unless the pool also contains Demolisher Beam.
Specialities: Menace Master D10, Business Master D10, Mystic Master D10, Psych Expert D8

Slaves of Aggamon
Affiliations: Mob 5D6
Distinctions: Pitiful, No Other Choice
Power Set: Desperation and Despair 
Improvised Weaponry D6, Wailing and Moaning D8, Get in the Way D8
  • SFX: Gruesome Conditions.  When using Wailing and Moaning to do emotional stress, add a D6 and step up the Effect die.  
  • SFX: Area Attack.  Add a D6 for each extra target and keep one extra effect die for each extra target.
  • SFX: Slaves, not Free.  Whenever Slaves of Aggamon are dealt physical stress, afflicted by a complication that might cause pain or anguish, or dealt emotional or mental stress that magnify their suffering, the hero taking the action takes emotional stress equivalent to the effect die being dealth.
  • Limit: Brief Rebellion. Add a D6 or step up the lowest die in the Doom Pool to make any Desperation and Despair power a Complication for Aggamon.  Spend a die equal to the Complication to remove the Complication and recover the power.
Specialities: Psych Expert D8

Aggamon's Guards
Affiliations: Mob 4D8
Distinctions: Without Mercy, Afraid of Aggamon's Wrath
Power Set: Demonic Guards
Whips and Chains D8, Enhanced Durability D8, Enhanced Senses D8
  • SFX: Masters of Restraint.  When using Whips and Chains to create complications, add a D6 and step up the Effect die. 
  • SFX: Area Attack.  Add a D6 for each extra target and keep one extra effect die for each extra target.
Specialities: Menace Expert D8, Combat Expert D8


Dungeon World moves as fortune telling

Haven't written here in a while.  I have lots of potential posts, but the energy has subsided.  Not surprising.  But I do have something I want to pontificate on today, Dungeon World moves.  Let's use Hack and Slash as the example.  Remember that the trigger for Hack and Slash is "when you attack an enemy in melee".

Over at a post on the Dungeon World Tavern on Google+, a poster talks about how he has had trouble figuring out how to model granularity in the difficulty of fights.  To summarize his concern, he feels that he cannot judge fine gradations in relative skill between opponents.  This is related to the advice given in the Dungeon World Guide on page 18.  If you are going up to an enormous giant, what you are doing with that giant doesn't count as "melee" for the purpose of the trigger.  Nor does stabbing some poor schlub of a drunken city guard in the back.    But what about conscript city guards versus normal city guards versus elite city guards?  The poster is concerned that the game gives him no, or at least very cryptic and difficult to use, tools to demonstrate these gradations.

I really hadn't felt this problem in my limited experience. But after thinking about why that is, I realized that since the first time I played Dungeon World, I have been treating Moves as fortune telling, not as modelling any process.  Here is what I mean.

Your Fighter (the player character) is going up against some city guards and their leader.  As the GM, I think the guard leader is a better fighter than your Fighter.  But in a very really sense in Dungeon World, I have no idea if this is actually true.  There is no metric (such as Qualities in Fate Core) to make this determination.  Whether this is true or not is contingent on the results of your Hack and Slash (and Defy Danger, and whatever else) Moves, and has a big whack of random chance involved in it.

Therefore, when we play out the fight, the mechanic is forcing us to follow the Agenda "Play to find out what happens".  If you roll a lot of 6's, I guess that guard leader really was a better fighter than you.  If you roll a lot of 10's, guess I was wrong.  The Move is not a model of some action and how difficult it is, the Move is a checking of the fates, like consulting the I Ching.   Granularity just doesn't exist.  You figure out the real skill difference between the fictional participants after the fact, as a consequence of the Moves, not before hand.  

This is a different model of role-playing rules than almost every other game most of us have ever played.  This goes to what Rob Donughue said in this other blog post: Dungeon World may be best if treated "as a diceless game that happens to have dice".  The only game I can think of that explicitly treats the dice mechanic as a kind of fortune telling rather than modelling some kind of process is Four Colors Al Fresco, where dice rolls are interpreted as literally consulting the astrological  influences on a particular situation.  But Dungeon World is doing the same thing stealthily.

Therefore, I avoid any attempt to find or create granularity in difficulty.  Instead, I accept that I am just as uncertain as my players are as to the exact capabilities of the NPC's, monsters, and threats I create.  There really is a whole big grey area between enormous giants and drunken incompetent city guards, and the game doesn't want me to break it down into finer categories.  "Play to find out what happens".

EDIT: Spout Lore is an even better example.  The trigger is "When you consult your accumulated knowledge about something".  Now, like Hack and Slash, there are cases where the move would not trigger; cases where you actually have no accumulated knowledge (e.g. a Barbarian wondering about esoteric magic theory).  But everyone else?  The Move happens.  If you are just a novice in magical theory, or an ancient master...roll the dice.  Roll a 6?  I guess that means there was a gap in your prodigious knowledge, ancient master!

Monday, March 31, 2014

An idea for car chases and similar in Fate Core

In response to a thread on Google Plus Fate Core community, try this on for size, somewhat stream of consciousness.  Aspects are in quotations marks.

There are these zones:

Nearly Lost Them
Following Me
Right On My Tail
Right Next to Me
Cutting Me Off

All are presented from the perspective of the chased car. The chased car never moves. Instead, when the drivers of each car roll to move zones, they are always rolling to move the CHASE car, not the car being chased. There is no free zone movement, all zones have a "border" value of the Driving skill of the other driver, either as passive or active opposition.

So, on the Chase Driver's action, he might roll to move from Following Me to Right on My Tail. On the Chased Driver's next action, he might roll to try to move the Chase Driver back to Following Me, or alternatively move the Chase Driver to Right Next to Me, to let him get a sideswipe in or have his friend open up with the "Massive Double-Barrelled Shotgun".

This ends up being similar to a challenge between the two drivers, but also provides some description of the relationship between the two vehicles for actions by any other characters in the vehicles, and also to help frame the use of Aspects. "Big Ole 18 Wheeler" and "Sleek Small Sportscar" will be used very differently in the Nearly Lost Them versus Cutting Me Off zones. Finally, both determine the realm of other actions the Driver might take. When the Chase Car is in the Following Me zone, I may want to try to get some distance and move them back. Or, I might leave them where they are and instead roll Lore to try to navigate into some more favorable terrain for my vehicle, or roll Contacts to see if I have any friends in the area that I could ask for help.

If you can move the Chase Car back from Nearly Lost Them, then you have gotten away. Vice versa, if they are Cutting You Off, their next roll might be to actually force you off the road, or make you stop.

For an extra layer of complication, the GM could have a list of Scene Aspects that would get cycled or randomly chose each exchange in the Conflict. First exchange, the roads are "Tight and Windy", the next "Steep Grade", the next "Straight and smooth", the next "Massive Potholes". This gives the picture of cars travelling both compared to each other, and also in comparison to the surrounding terrain.

For one further layer of complication, assume that if you are braking (e.g. losing speed) as part of the move you are trying to make, if you succeed with style you can move the chase car two zones. For example, if I am the chased car, and the chasing car is in the Following Me zone, I could roll to move that car all the way up to Right Next to Me with a success with style, since I am braking and losing speed to do so.  As another example, if I am the chase car and I am the Cutting Me Off zone, I could move to Right on My Tail zone with a success with style if there is some advantage to doing so; getting out of the way of the chased cars "Front mounted machine guns", or putting my "Ram Plate" between the two of us for some cover.

Finally, it would certainly possible for the roles in the chase to change completely, depending on intent. I could be the chasing car, and have pulled into the Right Next to Me zone, and then suddenly the chased car's "pop-up laser turrets" and "side facing flamethrowers" come out of their concealed receptacles, and I'm thinking this was a bad idea. Suddenly, me in their Right Next to Me zone becomes them in MY Right Next to Me zone. It's all about who is chasing and who is being chased.

This could be fun. Or it could be way too much work.

EDIT: Credit where credit is due, the basic idea of moving the other guy instead of yourself is inspired by the system in Agon, by John Harper.  I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Spirit of the Garou: First Play

I had an opportunity to run Spirit of the Garou (click through for rules post), my love song to Werewolf: the Apocalypse written in Fate Core, on the weekend and it was very enjoyable.

The scenario was set in a Sept at the very mouth of the Mississippi River in 1924.  The player characters were part of a pack of that sept, and needed to find out what happened to some kinfolk rum-runners, who had disappeared.  At some point I will post the pre-gen characters and some of the other stuff from the scenario.

Things that worked well..

Fate Core as a system just sings for Werewolf as a setting.  Creating and using Aspects is like the thing you didn't realize was missing from White Wolf's system until you play a game with them, and then you can't understand how you ever lived without them.

One of the reasons for that is that it greatly expands the non-tooth and claw options that Garou have in the game.  It gives them a solidity and weight that in the classic World of Darkness (CWoD) ruleset was just not possible.  As an example; there was a moment in the game where one of the players playing a Lupus Garou named Sandpiper, not the most combat ready of the characters, is trying to save her friend from a dangerous bane-possessed axe-wielding crazy person.  She says "I want to try to grab the axe out of his hands and run away with it."  I say "Cool!  That sounds like a Brawn versus Brawn thing.  Getting your teeth on it won't be that hard, getting it away from him is the tricky part."  Moments later, and after laying some Fate points on the table and a bit of luck, Sandpiper has the nasty, Bane-soaked axe in her mouth, jumping into the murky waters of the bayou with the enraged crazy person with "Disarmed" as an aspect chasing after her.  I then compel her on her "Connoisseur of Aroma" aspect; "That Axe smells grotesque, it's covered in years old blood and filth and is steeped in evil.  There is no way you can keep that in your mouth, you have to spit it out."  She takes the fate point, and now the battle is really on, since the axe is sitting there in shallow water.  Would all of that have been possible in CWoD?  Sure, I guess. But Fate just makes it so much easier, so natural.

Another thing that Aspects make a major difference for are things like intimidation, enticement, etc.  In other words, any mental or emotional attack or control type action or power.  The power of compels and the utility of Well-Being (e.g. Mental Stress) as a venue for attack makes a big difference in the ease with which such things are handled.

Rage and especially Gnosis as skills in the skill pyramid seemed to work pretty well.

Gifts as stunts worked really well.  They seemed more flexible and interesting than they were in original Werewolf: the Apocalypse (W:tA).

The number and type of Aspects seemed just about right.

The Totem aspect was interesting, because all of the characters share it.  The pre-gens all had Coyote as a Totem, whose Ban Aspect was "Unwise Choices".  It would be fun to compel that normally, but the fact that all of the PC's had it made them seem more unified.  "Unwise Choices" was just who they were.

The questions for the different Auspices to determine Renown gains seemed to work very well, although a few need some tweaking or clarification.

The Form Modifiers seemed to work really well.  There was rarely any question as to whether the bonus/penalty applied or not as everyone at the table seemed to have a good concept of the forms and what they would excel at versus what they would have trouble with, and where there were borderline cases the conversation was actually part of the fun.

Things that need work...

The Anger Stress track and Frenzy rules are just wrong, or at least not creating the effect I was hoping for.  The idea is that Anger Stress should be something you are always worried about in a fight, it is constantly increasing and you have to manage it or Frenzy.  In practice there just weren't enough ways to hand it out, and the mechanic of erasing Anger Stress to get a benefit of an extra action worked against the goal.  One potential solution is to simply hand out a LOT more of it, for example, everyone takes one Anger Stress every exchange.  I note that in the original W:tA rules, you only Frenzy when you get four successes on a Rage roll, and that Rage rolls are really not that common, which jibes with my memories of running the game that Frenzy was never really that big a threat.  I would like it to be more of an issue in Spirit of the Garou.  But I also don't want to have multiple currencies; Fate points should be enough.  Already I have Anger Stress acting as an additional currency in the current rules.  This all needs some thought.

When I first created the Gifts, I removed the Rank requirement to learn them because it always bugged met that there was such a limited selection of gifts for starting characters.  Also, as I was translating the Gifts into Fate Core, many of the higher ranked gifts just didn't seem that powerful, they were easily just stunts. However, there were a couple of Gifts on the pre-gens that were originally high rank gifts that were VERY powerful, and probably need to cost more refresh. Examples were Geas and the Living Wood.  Part of the power shift is that for many of the Gifts that originally cost Gnosis I changed it to either a time limit (e.g. once per scene) or a Fate point.  As Gnosis could be pretty hard to come by in W:tA, spending a Gnosis point was a pretty big cost.

I really need to work on my Fate Core rules knowledge.  I was caught out several times forgetting a few things that have changed since earlier versions.  For example, did you know there are no free Compels on an Aspect you have created, only free invocations?  Did you know that you don't get a boost on a Create Advantage roll, you get two free invocations?  I didn't.  Thanks to +Marcus Morrisey for having better rules Fate Core rules mojo than I.

Things that really didn't get tested...

There wasn't much spirit interaction in the session.  Two of the pre-gens that were played had bound spirits, but they didn't really come up much.  

Character creation hasn't been tested at all.

Overall

It was awesome!  It was one of the most "werewolfy" sessions of Werewolf I have ever GM'ed, because Fate Core makes so much so much easier.   Aspects were hitting the table like crazy until it was littered with index cards.  No major flaws came up except for Anger Stress as noted above.  I really think the basics of the rule set are solid.  This has a lot more to do with the general brilliance of Fate Core and the general awesomeness of the Werewolf setting than any skill on my part.