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.