Star Wars, Rebel Ops – Shadowpoint Housekeeping, Part 1

After a too-long hiatus, we're back to playing our Star Wars approach-less FAE hack game. Short session, but we got started again, which is the main thing.

Lots of wrestling with Roll20 and Hangouts, again, because Google. 😛

Anyway…

Our heroes have seized the double-secret Imperial installation on the planet of Onderon, once called “Whisper Base,” for the Rebel Alliance.

They now have access to a secret, off-the-books facility plugged into the Imperial communications network—a powerful resource for the struggling Rebellion. However, while the Imperial bureaucracy at large does not have any knowledge of the base, the PCs must still contend with its master and originator, Moff Dardano, who is willing to do anything to recover his lost asset without allowing his rivals in the Empire to learn of its existence, much less of its capture. It is only a matter of time before the Moff takes action to reclaim the base and bring it back under his control…

Pondering FAE Tweaks for Star Wars: Rebel Ops

A few days ago, I publicly mulled over how the game is going. That post attracted quite a bit of conversation, much of it extremely helpful in terms of focusing down on the stuff I didn’t think was working that I think is worth trying to address, going forward.

On the whole, I’m pretty happy with Fate mechanics, the characters, the setting, the potential story, and so forth.

What I’m not thrilled with are Approaches.

Now, on paper, I love Approaches – I just genuinely like the idea of actions sorted out terms of whether they’re Flashy, Sneaky, Clever, or whatever.

In practice, there are two problems I’ve encountered.

  1. A character’s action very rarely maps to a single approach, and almost never maps cleanly. You tend to get a lot of conversations like this:

    “Hmm, do you think the action you’re taking is Quick or Clever? I mean it’s Clever, but you’re doing it Quickly…”
    “Actually, I’m trying to surprise them with this, so I was hoping for Sneaky…”

    And so on. It ends up putting the Meta game-system stuff right in my face with a frequency I find annoying, and I have a high tolerance for that kind of thing.

  2. You define your character with Aspects, but you stat them out – in terms of hard numbers – with Approaches. This has the effect of giving your character two sets of important ‘stats’ that don’t necessarily have anything to do with one another, and mechanically it leads to a weird disconnect. Now, anyone who plays Fate at all will tell you that Aspects are the core of the system – it’s the thing that, if you take it out, makes it no longer Fate, in my opinion – buuuuuuuut in FAE, Approaches get numeric ratings, and it’s those numbers that affect every single die roll first, before any Aspects get involved, and since they directly address about how you like to do things, rather than simply what you can do (like skills), they tend to affect the broad interpretation of the character much more.

What are you Yammering About, Man?

So it’s like this: You have your core concept, expressed as Aspects, and then you have these Approaches, who’s ratings also say something about your character, and because of their non-granularity, they tend to say those things with very sweeping generalizations, often (in my personal experience) pulling the character away from their core concept in either small or large ways.

2016-04-09 08-40-56 PM

I’ll give a short example, using Dave’s character from our game, with Aspects tweaked slightly for the purposes of this example:

Aral Tholemain
Patriotic Noble of Naboo
Revolutionary with a Bounty on my Head
The Empire took my family from me.
An officer and sometimes bloodthirsty gentleman
E’lir would be my daughter’s age…

I could give you a couple paragraphs of backstory, but really, I think these five Aspects capture the gist of what’s going on, and I think it’s fair to say this is a pretty grim character, right?

Here are his Approaches:

Careful: 1
Clever: 1
Flashy: 3
Forceful: 2
Quick: 0
Sneaky: 2

You know what I see when I look at those approaches?

A swashbuckler, maybe. Perhaps a con man. If you told me “noble”, I’d nod and say “oh yeah, I can totally see that,” but what I wouldn’t see is the kind of noble Aral is.

Look at those Aspects up above? Is there anything there that says “Flashy?” I guess it depends on how you look at someone who’s a dedicated firebrand, but… well.

Yes, you can make it work.

But there’s the thing – Flashy is Aral’s big Approach, so of course Dave’s going to want to do things flashily when he can, especially when things Really Matter.

… so this Bloodthirsty Gentleman who’s lost his family is doing big attention-grabbing attacks while loudly shouting “You Dastard!”, striking a memorable pose, et cetera.

Is that the guy we see in the Aspects? I’m hardly sure, but I don’t think so.


And yes, I know you can just have a different Approach be the top one, but for a significant subset of actions important to the character, a high Flashy makes the most sense – it just gets weird when applied in other activities.

“Well, if it doesn’t make sense, then don’t be Flashy and deal with a lower rating.”

Nice idea, and it happens some of the time, but when your pulse is hammering and your blood is high, you go for the most thematically appropriate narration that’s going to give you a shitty stat to roll. Gamers will game; playing to your strengths is part of that, and is hardly the problem I’m talking about, or even a problem in the first place. Moving on…


Where were we?

Right: so I’m leaning toward dumping Approaches entirely and rating the Aspects instead – at least as a trial run, to see how it feels in play.

Doing that, Aral might look like this:

Patriotic Noble of Naboo [+3]
Revolutionary with a Bounty on my Head [+1]
The Empire took my family from me [+2]
An officer and sometimes bloodthirsty gentleman [+2]
E’lir would be my daughter’s age… [+1]

So the Aspects continue to function as Aspects, but also function as… almost miniature character classes, or gestalt skill/experience “sets,” where you pick the one most applicable to the action taken (or the lowest rated one that applies, if there are many, because I’m mean), and add that value to the roll.

Yes, you’d probably have one aspect you ‘always’ roll when shooting someone, but… okay. How is that different than a character with a “Shoot” skill? Aral’s experiences as an officer and bloodthirsty gentlemen is where he learned to shoot. Makes sense. Done.

And hey, if you throw a fate point down and activate that same Aspect for a bonus on the roll you just made with that Aspect? Then this action is SUPER important and relevant to that facet of the character, which I choose to see as a big feature, not a bug.

But the main thing – as my daughter pointed out while we were talking about this today – is that everything you’re doing, related to that roll, is only pulling you in toward that core character concept; there’s no weird double influence of “I’m being bloodthirsty, but FLASHILY.” (Which sounds a little psychotic, anyway. 🙂

I don’t mean to pick on Dave at all; I think this is relevant to several characters – probably all of them, to different degrees – it’s just that he’s the easiest example of what I’m thinking, and I got thinking about it when he mentioned Aral as he exists now is different than how he envisioned him. Some variance is obviously going to happen – it always does – but given the ability we have to define characters with Aspects, it really shouldn’t go that far afield.

Anyway, thoughts?

Thinking about Spaceships and Star Wars because… well, OBVIOUSLY

First, before getting into the “thinking” part, I’ll just embed this silly song with clips from a bunch of spaceship shows. Pop on some headphones and enjoy yourself.

Now then…

2016-02-26_9-05-59
Yesterday, the Evil Hat guys released a new “World of Adventure”; I’m a patron of the project, and thus far I have not in any way regretted my four bucks a month. While only a few of the books have been one hundred percent, out of the park grand slams for me, personally (Nest and Save Game spring to mind), I’ve found enjoyable and useful ideas and content in most everything.

The newest release, Deep Dark Blue, might be that rare bird – both something I’d want to run straight out of the box (remarkable, since I generally hate underwater scenarios), which also contains bits I’d happily lift and use in some other game.

The “liftable” thing in this case are the rules surrounding the submarine the players will crew, and the way in which the crew interacts with their vessel. The designers did a really nice job setting up what I think of as “shipboard drama” mechanics, in which the cohesiveness of the crew mechanically affects the ship’s general effectiveness. (For example: the captain’s ability to lead affects the ship’s stress track, and the collective “team stress track” (which can be harmed by manipulation and discord) can be used to soak damage that would otherwise harm the ship.)

As I said, it’s a compelling idea – one that plugs right in to how I see stories like Firefly and Farscape and BSG – and since I’m currently running a Star Wars game, one of the first things I thought upon reading it was “should I port this over?”

The answer, surprisingly, was “no.”

As I said in comments on Deep Dark Blue, yesterday:

I’ve come to realize that Star Wars, in default mode, isn’t really this kind of “spaceship scifi.” (One of the reasons I didn’t set up a big complicated ship-designing sub-system for the current game.)

It feels weird to say, given how big a deal and how iconic an x-wing or the Falcon is, but in terms of it being a ship-based drama, in which the dynamic of crew and their vessel is central, it’s just not that kind of thing, by default: the ships, while sometimes important to and emblematic of certain characters, generally just get you around and let you shoot guys.

And, later in the conversation:

Or, to say it much, MUCH more succinctly, in Star Wars, the ships matter, but crew dynamics do not, and mechanics aimed at crew dynamics (ship stress built from crew unity, for example) aren’t really scratching an itch Star Wars has.

I can’t decide if this realization is more surprising, or the fact that I took this long to notice.

Consider a situation where you’re starting up a new Star Wars game with these kinds of mechanics. People make up their heroes and at all times during the process, we try to focus on the fiction the game’s supposed to emulate. We get a retired clone trooper, a semi-legit transport pilot with a crappy ship she’d be happy to replace, a Naboo noble on the run from the Empire, and so forth.

Then we try to shoehorn this entirely legitimate and tonally accurate Star Wars group into the Deep Dark Blue ship mechanics.

“Okay, so who’s the captain?”

“Umm… well, Akana’s the pilot and owns the ship we’re on.”

“Great. What’s her Diplomacy?”

laughs Yeah. That’s not really her thing. Why do I need that?”

“Well, you don’t need it, but it helps your crew work together and increases certain –”

“Crew? I fly the ship pretty much on my own.”

“Hey, I fix things…”

“Right. Kelvin fixes things, but everyone else is pretty much just… passengers. Like on the Falcon.”

“Yeah… good point. Hmm.”

And Akana’s player is totally right – that’s how Star Wars works. Firefly-style crew-as-dysfunctional-family? That’s not a thing. BSG-style master-and-commander life aboard a naval vessel? Also not a thing. Ships are cool and important, but that’s just not a dynamic basic Star Wars cares about.

(Note: You absolutely could do something like this in Star Wars; the WEG-era Darkstryder Campaign did it, and I’d be happy if Disney did something in that style with a spin-off movie, in the style of Rogue One – but if your aim is a ‘classic’ Star Wars game, then this isn’t part of that.)

And again, I’m a little surprised it took me this long to realize it: it’s been there, right in front of us, all along.

There’s no place to sleep on the Millenium Falcon.

I mean… yeah, sure, there probably is, but we have literally never seen that space in anything but “schematics of Star Wars” and RPG books. Hell, there’s only one flat surface where you can sit a plate down and eat something, and it’s the size of a hotel nightstand. All the stuff that has to do with people living – the kitchen, the head, the bunks – it’s not there, or (more accurately) it’s not important enough to show. The Falcon is a ship for getting from one place to the next, and sometimes shooting guys in between.

Hell, for all it’s supposed to be a tramp freighter, it doesn’t really have any cargo space. Dig around the deck plans for Star Wars ‘transport’ ships as long as you like, and you won’t find more than 2% that actually look like they could do the job they were meant to do, because the maps have to match the exterior, and the exterior of Star Wars ships follow an aesthetic of cool pulp action that has very little to do with day-to-day livability.

It’s one of the reasons, I think, that the biggest Star Wars ‘tv series’ (Clone Wars) focuses more Band of Brothers-type stuff – the only time we see ships, they’re shooting at each other, taking off, or landing. No one lives in the things. Rebels tries, at times, to push things in that direction, but it doesn’t work at least in part because you can’t portray and build a crew-as-family dynamic (even with Hera, the best space-mom ever) when you have no place on the ship with enough room for everyone to sit down at the same time.

(Contrast Serenity: Can you picture the cargo bay? Does it feel like a real cargo bay, on a ship meant to haul cargo from place to place? Where does everyone sleep? Do we ever see those spaces? Do you know how the toilets work, and where they are? How about the kitchen?)

I’m not in any way saying that one type of “spaceship story” is better or worse than another – I like em all (even Star Trek, a little), but it’s really important to be aware of the kind of stories the setting (and design aesthetic) assume, and work out mechanics that match those expectations.

Still totally not running a Star Wars game

… just killing some time, making up a character with my daughter.

Nothing to see here. Move along. Move along…


Tashi Kaden

Aspects togruta bounty hunter

  • Togruta Bounty Hunter with annoying morals
  • Too honest for some people
  • I’m my family’s best hope for freedom
  • Never trust a Hutt
  • No money, more problems

Approaches

  • Leader: +1
  • Explorer: +1
  • Tech: +2
  • Fighter: +3
  • Scoundrel: +2
  • Scholar: +0

Stunts

Bad News AvezaBad New Travels Fast
Aspect: Modified Aka’jar-class long-range shuttle
Protection: 1; Demanding (Tech roll +2 to get underway)
(1 refresh)

Aveza: the pilot
Aspect: “We’re partners, or YOU can try flying this hunt of junk.”
Professional 2 (Tech +1, Explorer +2), Resilient, Sturdy
Troubling Aspect: “Fortune and Glory, in that order, please.”
(1 refresh)

Battle Armor
Aspect: Walking Arsenal with a Jetpack
Protection: 1, Exceptional (enter/leave a scene instantly)
Flaw: Demanding (Explorer +2 roll to access enter/leave scene ability)
(Refresh: 2)


Character Refresh: 2
Current Fate Points: 2

Fate of the Four Nations (playing FAE in the world of Korra and Aang)

My family’s getting caught up on Avatar: Legend of Korra, which has unsurprisingly led to my daughter broaching the possibility of a Fate “Avatar” game.

Normally, I don’t do these sorts of conversions, but…

bolin begs
Ugh, if you’re gonna beg…

Anyway, here’s some random stuff I’ve come up with so far.

I’m seeing, ultimately, a mix of basic FAE stunts and the Assets from Ryan Dank’s Jadepunk, but for right now I’m just focusing on basic stunts, and (of course) figuring out bending in a way that doesn’t break everything when someone who isn’t a bender comes along.

So:

  • Benders need a Bending aspect. Doesn’t matter which one, really, though High Concept would be the obvious one, and Trouble aspects would be… very fun.
  • I’m a strong proponent of ‘always on’ Aspects, in terms of narration and whatnot, so…
  • In other words, you don’t need Stunts to bend, you just need them to reflect the stuff you’re notably good at or where you break the rules a bit.

What’s a basic Bender look like, then?

For that, I worked out ‘default training’ for your typical benders in the four disciplines, based on the martial arts styles that the elements are each based on. It worked out like this:

  • Earth Benders are initially trained to favor Careful attacks (listen, then act) and Forceful defense.
  • Water Benders are initially trained to favor Sneaky attacks and Careful defense.
  • Air Benders favor Clever attacks and Quick defense.
  • Fire Benders favor Flashy attacks and defend with… well, more Flashy attacks. It’s not a very defensive style.

Once that was sort of mapped out, I started coming up with… I guess “the first Stunts a bender-in-training would learn.” So:

Earth

  • Because I was trained to Listen, then Act, when I Carefully Attack during a Duel or Fight, any aspect that I created or discovered via Create Advantage can be tagged for +3, rather than +2.
  • Because I am trained in traditional Earth Bending, I get a +2 to Forcefully Defend vs. Flashy, Careful, or Forceful attacks.

Water

  • Because Water is a Subtle Style, I get a +2 when I Sneakily Create Advantage with my bending, during a Duel or Fight.
  • Because I am trained in traditional Water Bending, I get a +2 to Carefully Defend vs. Careful, Sneaky, or Clever attacks.

Air

  • Because Air Means Freedom, I get a +2 when I Cleverly Overcome obstacles with my bending.
  • Because I am trained in traditional Air Bending, I get a +2 to Quickly Defend vs. Flashy, Quick, or Clever attacks.

Fire

  • Because Fire is the Art of Power, I do +2 Harm when I successfully use my Bending to Flashily attack.
  • Because Fire is Hard to Control, I get a +2 to Flashily Overcome obstacles or aspects created by other benders.

The idea here is that a trained-but-not-yet-masterful bender is predictable – which can’t be said for either the completely untrained or the real masters.

You never know what an untrained bender will do.
You never know what an untrained bender will do.

What that means is, with a bit of study and knowledge, a skilled combatant (even or especially a non-bender) can find the holes in a typical bender’s style and take them to pieces (Ty Lee in A:TLA, or The Lieutenant in the first season of Legend of Korra). It also means that more advanced benders (thinking of Toph and Iroh as prime examples, but there are many others) are much more dangerous, because their personal styles have expanded past traditional bounds. (More stunts that essentially plug their defensive holes and give them bonuses to different kinds of actions.)

That’s the basics. That’s about where I’d start.

Beyond this, I’d probably start getting into Jadepunk-style Assets for animal companions (naturally), as well as weird stuff like Ty Lee’s nerve strikes (which basically bypass Stress and go straight to Consequences).

Thoughts?
Thoughts?

Wildstar Tabletop Gaming, by way of FAE/Jadepunk

“You should do a Wildstar game,” opined my daughter.

“Sorry?” Her comment confused me, both because Wildstar is an MMO and because I was distracted at the moment due to the fact that we were both playing Wildstar at that moment.

“Like you did with DC Universe,” she explained. “A Fate version of Wildstar. That would be cool.”


I’d actually already had the idea, and had muttered incoherently about it to Ryan M. Danks while we jawed about his new FAE game Jadepunk over on the Googles. Ryan’s played a bit of Wildstar, and easily spotted the parallels between the MMO and his game.

SO, prompted for a write-up by a now-overwhelming list of two whole people, here’s a quick-and dirty hack of Jadepunk for running a Fate version of Wildstar… probably the … well, one of the most edge-case, limited-audience thing I’ve ever written a blog post on, and the competition in that arena is stiff.


Disclaimer: I’m really not much of a game hacker/designer. It’s not that I don’t have any inclinations in that direction, but for me it’s more rewarding to take a game as-written and make it work for a particular setting than it is to change a game around until it’s a perfect fit. For example, most “using Fate to run a supers game” hacks leave me cold, as it always feels like a lot of extra fiddling for something you can do with the game-as-written.

So… there won’t be many changes to baseline Jadepunk, here; this is more a mental exercise in using what’s already there to do the thing you want to do.

What We’re Starting With

At some point, I’m going to actually write about Jadepunk itself, why I like it, and why I didn’t think I would, but for now let’s just focus on what it is:

Jadepunk is a sort of elemental wuxia/gunslinger/steam- clock-work/Legend of Korra mashup built on the lovely, powerful-yet-lightweight Fate Accelerated system. My impression (which may differ from others) is that the primary differences between it and vanilla-FAE are:

  • A slightly different focus for the five main character aspects.
  • A reskinning of the six character Approaches, adding flavor and intent that matches the setting.
  • A more structured, “ads/disads/point buy” system for building “Assets” (née Stunts/Extras) for your characters.
  • A lot of world flavor that informs/constrains the ways in which Fate’s (intentionally) loosey-goosey Stunts/Extras/Aspects are implemented in this iteration of the rules.

If you love the loosey-goosey build style (I do), then the Assets system may be a bit of a culture-shock, but luckily I also love fiddly “build-it-yourself” power systems, so it didn’t take me long to both grok and enjoy playing with that system.

The titular jade is one of the main rules-constraining setting elements: it (via the five basically elemental-themed colors) functions as both magical power source for strange effects and technology-analogues (see: white-jade-powered wireless telegraphs, or red-jade shell casings) and conflict driver.

Finally, you’ve got the default setting of Kausao City, home to the rarest kind of Jade (black, a sort of magic omnigel) and a kind of Shanghai-meets-Babylon-5, ripe with the sort of corruption that sees the wealthy strangle the middle- and abuse the working-class. The PCs are (by default) assumed to be those who’ve decided to fight against those wrongs in a very “you have failed this city” kind of way.

Note: I don’t in any way need to reskin this game to Wildstar to make it worth playing – the rules, setting, and setup all make me quite happy – it’s good stuff.

Where We’re Trying to Get

Wildstar, by contrast, is a far-future sci-fi setting. The basic idea is a bunch of sentient races that have all been (to greater or lesser degrees) messed with by a elder, hyper-advanced race (referred to as “The Eldan” to make it easy to remember), now loosely divided into two “Alliance vs. Browncoat” factions.  The Eldan have long since vanished, and both of the sides in this conflict have recently discovered the planet Nexus, initially thought to be the Eldan homeworld but, in reality, more likely the site of the Eldan’s great (and apparently “successful”) multi-pronged attempt to achieve a technological singularity that (if nothing else) shuffled them off the perceivable wavelengths of our mortal coil.

Having found this place, both sides of this perpetual war are now poking around the remains of these massive Eldan experiments, trying to recreate the whole bloody mess, while shooting at each other, because what could possibly go wrong with that?

Similarities to Jadepunk include:

  • Similar “approaches” (professions)
  • Similar wild west, cobbled-together-tech feel
  • Similar elementally-themed power sources for said technology
  • The kind of setting that lends itself to the Assets system that Jadepunk uses.

Differences:

  • Class- and level-based character progression.
  • “Magic”
  • Different story focus: Jadepunk is a game about doing the right thing; Wildstar is a game about unlocking mysteries perhaps best left buried.

So Here’s the Hack

Differences aside, let’s say I want to run a quick and dirty Wildstar game. What do I do?

1. Throw out the idea of Wildstar classes, profession, and trade skills.

We’ll get there, but we’re going to come at things sideways. Read on.

2. Leave Character Aspects (p. 31) as is.

You’ll either need to fill in a lot of history for the players, or they’ll need to be familiar with the Wildstar setting, but once that’s done, it’s really no problem coming up with Portrayal, Background, Inciting Incident, Belief, and Trouble aspects that work.

3. Reskin a few of the Professions (Approaches)

  • Engineer, Explorer, Fighter, and Scoundrel are fine.
  • Professions aren’t Classes. Treat the Professions like sliders that indicate what your character is focused on. A warrior will probably lead with Fighter, sure, but so might a combat-focused Engineer (who ranks Engineer and Explorer at 2) while another “similar” gear-head goes Engineer 3, Scientist 2, Scoundrel 2… and is all about raiding old Eldan laboratories. You could have a whole party of “Stalkers” who play very differently…
  • Rename Scholar to Scientist, make a note that it’s a go-to profession for using Create Advantage to identify/create Environmental aspects during a conflict (“Hey, if we bombard these big flowers with gamma radiation, they create a remarkable low-gravity field…”), and carry on.
  • Replace Aristocrat with Settler. Settler has all (or most) of the same social applications, and is also used for building stuff that isn’t some sort of new invention (Engineer) or discovery (Scientist), all of which overlap or enhance one another in various ways.

The Settler creates social networks (villages, townships, even outposts), often by building the infrastructure that supports them. Despite their life on the “lonely frontier,” a Settler is a social creature, willing to speak up at a town meeting, step out on the dance floor at the next hoe down, negotiate trade agreements and land rights, and stand up for a new settlement in the face of a Red Sun Mercenary gang looking to shake down some farmers.

Overcome: Settler is used to influence others to do work together (or for you), either through charm or coercion, and to establish connections with others. Storytellers charm their audience, deputies interrogate suspects for information, and store owners barter their goods or services.

Create Advantages: Use Settler to create advantages representing infrastructure improvements (barricades, town walls, armament emplacements, hardened power grids) or populace-wide emotional states (Enraged, Emboldened, Shocked, Hesitant, Joyful, or Excited). You could give a speech to Inspire, stir a crowd into a Crazed Mob, find someone Talkative or Helpful, or get everyone working together to get the Jury-Rigged Missile Defense System operational before the Dominion air support shows up…

Attack: Settler only performs attacks as part of social duels.

Defend: Settler defends against any attempt to damage your reputation, change a mood you’ve created, tear down the infrastructure improvements you’ve built, or make you look bad in front of other people.

4. Do pretty much everyone else you want to do with Assets

Want your Granok to have extra tough skin? Want your Aurin to be especially good sneaking around in natural surroundings? Want to specifically emulate one of the skills from the MMO? Do all that with Assets.

  • Scanbot: Ally (Professional: Scientist 2 , Explorer 1, Sturdy 1, Resilient 1, Independent, Troubling: Easily Noticed) – basically a scientist teamwork-bonus following you around
  • Taunting Blow: Technique (Exceptional: Reduce damage shifts by 2 to apply “Taunted” aspect to target that can be used either to compel target or as a defensive boost to anyone the target attacks, other than the character.; Situational: Only on Success with Style; Situational: Only with Melee weapon/or/Only with arm-mounted Plasma Blaster)
  • Bruiserbot: Ally (Professional: Fighter 2, Explorer 1, Sturdy 2, Resilient 2, Independent, Troubling: Random Aggro)
  • Spellslinger’s Gate: Technique Focus: +2 to Explorer: Create Advantage – Stunned on Target(s) you either appear next to or which you were next to before you gated away.; Flexible (sort of) Create Advantage roll (less the +2 bonus) also counts as Overcome for character moving to adjacent zone (line of site required); Limited: Once per scene)

And the Assets system doesn’t have to (and shouldn’t) be limited to combat. Assets are a great way to address some of the bonus skills provided by professions, or Wildstar’s trade skills… though some of those might be easier to do with a basic FAE stunt, with no Flaw. (“Because I am a Relic Hunter, I get a +2 to Overcome with Explorer (or: Scientist) when extracting useful resources from otherwise useless/broken Eldan artifacts.”)

A Word about Healing

Several of Wildstar’s “healing” classes focus on creating (or restoring) temporary shields around the targeted character, and I’d focus entirely on that for the Fate version: make Create Advantage rolls to create “Refreshed shields” effects that your ally can invoke for free on their next defense roll, for example. Assets along these lines might allow for a Create Advantage on an ally when you Succeed With Style (and take -2 shifts) on an attack on an adjacent enemy (or vice versa, for the defensive-minded)… or even create a temporary “device” asset on your ally with Sturdy: 2.

One of my favorite Medic abilities (the healing probes) would be something like “Exceptional: affects all friendlies in zone; Sturdy: 2; Limited: Requires Resonators; Situational: Success with Style; Troubling: Angers any enemies in zone (aggro).”

And that’s it

No, seriously, that’s about it. Most of tweaks are in character generation – once you’re playing, it’s pretty much just Fate as-written, and focusing on “tell me what you want to do, and we’ll figure out what to roll later.”

Fate Accelerated: Trouble Magnet – Kaylee’s Solo Supers Session #6 – Fight Fire

Due to unexpected fallout from last session, Nataly’s brawl with an alien gargoyle got her and her new family put on a blacklist that seems to have made it impossible to find a home in Mercury Bay. Things were looking grim as Matthew and Marilla pondered hitting the road yet again, hoping for better luck in another city.

But they got a surprise a few days later when the motel room’s phone rang. The woman on the other end of the phone spoke for a minute or so with Marilla, who sounded first suspicious, then surprised, then handed the phone to Nataly.

“Hello?”

“Hello, is this… Nataly?”

“Yes.”

“Hi Nataly. You probably don’t remember me, but we sort of … met. I mean… you…” Nataly hears a deep breath, then: “You flew in and stopped that boy who stole my purse, then flew off before I could really thank you.”

“Oh!” Nataly pauses. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know I should have stopped.”

“And I was too surprised to say anything, then. So…” Another pause. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

“Nataly, I was talking to your mom.” Nataly looks confused, then glances at Marilla, who looks away. “I heard through the grapevine that you were looking for a place to live. Actually, I gather you were looking at one of the apartments in my building, when you came to help me.”

“We’re… having some problems with that.”

“I heard that too,” the woman replies. “I wanted to invite you and your folks to come back over and take a look at that apartment again.”

“Really?”

“Really,” the woman says. “I’m sure we can work something out.”


“The fact is, Mike and I used to date,” the woman – Patricia – confides to Marilla as she walks the trio through the slightly-too-pink apartment again. “We don’t even talk anymore, really, but sometimes he brings people by to see any properties the building has open – I think he thinks he’s doing me a favor.” She shakes her head. “I don’t even own it; I manage it.”

“I’m surprised you had us back here,” Marilla comments, “what with the warnings that have apparently gone out.”

“I said we used to date,” Patricia says. “I’m long past the point where I care much for what that man thinks I should or shouldn’t do. And in any case -” she smiles at Nataly – “how could I not help out?”

The place isn’t perfect: the kitchen isn’t very large, the wiring is a bit dated, and there’s not much room for Matthew to work on projects, but it’s theirs if they want it.

“If you need to keep busy,” Patricia adds to Matthew, “there’s a huge workroom in the basement… that comes along with a handyman position I’d love to find someone for.”

“Well…” Matthew glances at Marilla and Nataly. “I think that’ll do just fine.”


Things settle down into a comfortable routine. Their new home – The Marquis – is a six story building built in the sixties, originally with thirty-six apartments (six apartments per floor, with three on either side of a central hallway/stairwell) but (after fifty years of modifications and tenants merging two or three smaller units) now boasting 26 of varying sizes. Nataly and her new family are on the fifth floor, in a “trio” condo (three old apartments, combined) that takes up all of one side of the floor. All the balconies from what were once three apartments have been combined into one.

(After a week, Matthew’s list of things to fix in the building is enough to ‘keep me busy until the girl graduates high school… if nothing else ever breaks.”)

Nataly starts attending the local public school, and makes friends around the neighborhood (most of the kids don’t know she’s any kind of superhero, and the ones who do (Patricia’s oldest son, a year younger than Nataly) keep it to themselves.

As a matter of fact, no one seems to be that bothered by the idea that there may be a part-time superhero in their midst – a few are especially friendly, most everyone is blandly neutral, and those that don’t seem to like the idea (Mr. Higgins, 1B) simply glare and stay away.

Patricia turns out to be a big help – she’s a bit of a pillar in the community (she *does* partly own the building, after all), well-liked, and a bit of an activist for good schools, walkable communities, and public green spaces.

And the school isn’t bad. Nataly makes a few friends fairly quickly (Kaylee has fun naming and detailing all of them), and things get familiar very quickly. It’s a nice neighborhood, and fairly quiet.

Which makes the sounds of approaching fire engines all the more notable.


The Fire

The kids in Nataly’s grade were on the playground as the fire trucks approached, and everyone crowded toward the fence to watch them pass.

Except Nataly. She was looking at the skyline, and what she saw worried her: it looked like the smoke was coming from the direction of The Marquis.

Since no one’s looking her way, Nataly ducks under the slide, puts up her force bubble, forces it to the light-bending transparency that makes her all but impossible to spot, and takes off, heading for the fire.

For this, I stole straight from the Jason Morningstar’s “Fight Fire” chapter in Fate Worlds, Volume 1 (one of several game settings in the book – this one designed for playing teams of fire fighters – brilliant). Specifically, I borrowed and modified the set-up for a ‘fire incident’ in an apartment building, from page 101:

Aspects: Mid-sixties construction; Not up to code; Reinforced ‘safety’ doors.

People and Circumstances:

  • Crowds in the street — residents desperate for their homes to be saved and most of the neighborhood as curious onlookers.
  • Nobody can find Mrs. Lupo from 6-B.
  • Miguel Flores is trying to break into his ex-wife’s apartment, 6-C, because his 11-year-old daughter Inez may be alone inside (home sick with an ear infection).

Zones
6-A (Void fire)
Situation Aspects: Cheap framing, Locked doors and barred windows
Skills: Good (+3) Spread, Fair (+2) Smoke, Average (+1) Burn; five stress boxes

6-B (Ignition site, Open fire)
Situation Aspects: Cheap framing, Family treasures, Broken fire escape, Locked doors and barred windows
Skills: Superb (+5) Burn, Great (+4) Spread, Good (+3) Smoke, seven stress boxes

6-C (Smoldering fire)
Situation Aspects: Cheap framing, Dripping roof tar, Locked doors and barred windows
Skills: Great (+4) Smoke, Good (+3) Burn, Fair (+2) Spread; six stress boxes

So with a little cribbing from an entirely different setting, we have one of those classics of comic book hero challenges: the burning building. I’m quietly pleased.

Nataly does a quick inspection of the building from the outside, from high up, while the fire trucks are setting up and trying to push back the crowd. The fire seemed to be focused on just one side of the sixth (top) floor. These apartments are some of the least expensive (read: smallest, sixth floor walk-ups, and no balcony except the fire escapes… one of which probably couldn’t safely be used as an escape in the first place). All the apartment windows on this floor are barred (why, this high up, Nataly can’t guess), so she enters the building through a window that opens onto the hallway that runs down the center of the floor.

Through the haze of smoke, she can see Mr. Florez at the end of the hall, trying to break open the reinforced safety door on 6-C. She approaches, and he’s so distracted that he doesn’t see her until she’s standing next to him. He’s not making any headway on the door.

He tries to get her to leave.

She blasts the door off its hinges, and he shuts up in a hurry.

The two rush into the room. The smoke is thick (Nataly takes some stress), but the gush of new air into the space luckily doesn’t cause the fire to flare up. Inez (age: 11, “one grade ahead of Nataly, but nice to younger kids”) is crouched in the bathroom tub, but otherwise okay. Nataly gets them both heading downstairs as fast as they can.

Now would be an excellent time to leave, but while circling the building, Nataly had heard several people mentioning the missing Mrs. Lupo, and knows she has to check her apartment before she can go. She does the trick with blasting the door down from the hallway again, but this apartment is a much different situation: the source of the fire, the apartment crawls with flames that reach for Nataly as soon as the door opens. Her force shield barely holds, and this is from the doorway.

Still, she tries.

The apartment is small, and doesn’t take long to check – Mrs. Lupo isn’t there, pretty much the only thing not on fire is an old piano in the living room, covered in framed photos.

Nataly is almost out of stress, and is coughing violently from the hot air (Minor consequence), but decides to take a few more seconds and at least save something from the fire. She scoops up all the photos into a second bubble and knocks out the nearest window to escape. The rush of air gives the fire new life, however, and the heat is more than Nataly can withstand – she flies through the hole on fire, barely under control, and (shouts and screams echoing from the street below) crashes onto the roof of the building across the street, still cradling the photos in a force bubble and her burned arms (moderate consequence).

The fire fighters take it from there.

Nataly requires some medical attention, but she’s reported as ‘a child trapped in the fire,’ and no one asks too many questions. Around the Marquis, no one needs to. Flowers, small gifts, cards, and “irresponsible piles” of candy (in Marilla’s words) appear at their apartment door. Mrs. Lupo (who’d been visiting her sister across town) comes by every afternoon and helps Nataly keep up with her homework.

Mr. Higgins isn’t any nicer, but that’s just Mr. Higgins.


And now you’re all caught up to where Kaylee and I are, so far. We have Nataly set up in a new home, with a base of operations, friends and family, and things to fight for. I love the way this has played out so far: it feels a bit like the apartment block in the new Hawkeye series, mixed up with a little Runaways and maybe Zita the Spacegirl.

What’s next?

I tell you, I just don’t know where to start: there’s just so much cool stuff we can do.

Fate Accelerated: Trouble Magnet – Kaylee’s Solo Supers Session #5 – Blacklisted

At the end of our last session, the hunt for a new home in Mercury Bay hit a snag when Nataly, Matthew, and Marilla (plus the realtor) were attacked by a creature that basically looked like a stone gargoyle and seemed to be looking for (and angry with) Nataly.

Nataly, of course, has no idea why.

There isn’t a lot to write about this session as it was:

  • Fairly short.
  • Mostly the fight between Nataly and the gargoyle creature, which I didn’t take notes on to the point where I can recount it round by round.

The “Gargoyle”

Unbeknownst to Nataly, this creature is actually a recent arrival in Mercury Bay – specifically, he arrived via that weird geode meteorite that came down a few nights ago (early last session). The fact that the thing hit the ground a few hours after Nataly and the M’s arrived in town is not a coincidence.

For stats, I basically stole an entry on The Nebbishter Glee on Fate SF (which has posted some really great Warhammer 40k stuff for FAE). My version looks like so:

Space “Gargoyle”

ASPECTS:

  • High Concept:Waist-high semi-intelligent demons
  • Trouble: Vulnerable to mind-affecting and magical attacks
  • Aspect: Greedy opportunist
  • Aspect: A propensity to replicate
  • Aspect: Cat-ape-dog-demon hybrids

APPROACHES

  • Careful: +1
  • Clever: 0
  • Flashy: +1
  • Forceful: +2
  • Quick: +2
  • Sneaky: +3

STUNTS:

  • Easy to Overlook: Take a +2 to Sneaky to be mistaken for statuary.
  • Remix: Once per session, I may sample the DNA of another living creature and produce another of my kind with a unique Aspect and Stunt inspired by that sample.
  • Replicate Servant: Once per session, I can produce a mook minion via replication.
  • Tough Little Critter: Once per session, I can become immune to a Forceful attack that would otherwise damage me.

REFRESH: 2

This little DNA-thief had one goal in this fight: bite the telekinetic space princess.

The fight made… a bit of a mess. Nataly told Matthew and Marilla to get the realtor into the back room, and tried to keep the gargoyle thing in the front rooms (not difficult, since it wanted to bite her anyway), but between the thing’s strength and mass and Nataly’s tendency to use hurled balls of telekinetic force, about sixty percent of the apartment was “remodeled into an open concept layout” in just under a minute. Oops.

The fight ended when the thing (having successfully given Nataly a Minor Consequence from a bite) leapt back onto the balcony and skittered off down the wall (they can’t actually fly… yet).

Fallout

The realtor was, putting it mildly, upset and shaken by these events. They didn’t realize how shaken until they tried to get in touch with him the next day and were informed he’d filed for a retraining order against the three of them. They sought someone else to help them find a home, but no one would talk to them: the realtor had been busy calling everyone in the real estate business in Mercury Bay (both realtors and those with property available) and urging that Nataly’s family be black-balled.

We ended the session as Marilla hung up the phone, turned back to them, and said “We may need to move. Again.”

Note: During this session, Nataly finally got her fifth aspect, which (I think) will be darned useful (for both Kaylee and me) in the future.

Aspect: Matthew and Marilla are always there for me.

Post Ludus Analysis: (Fate) Gaming with Kids

Almost all of the RPG gaming I’ve done recently has been with kids 14 and younger.

All, in fact, of the face to face gaming; only my google+ gaming has involved adult majorities at the table.

After wrapping up the Supers game I ran with my daughter, niece, and nephew, I scribbled down some notes, combined them with some thoughts I’d already had after playing solo with my daughter, and… well, here they are.

Fate Accelerated

Bar none, one of the best pick-up game systems I’ve played or run. As I demonstrated in the “Escape from Brainiac” scenario, you can quite literally sit everyone down with blank character sheets and begin playing immediately, teaching the game and building characters as you go. I think the basic outline for the game went something like this:

  • First Scene: The Golden Rule: “Describe it first, then we figure out what to roll.” Set High Concept. Use (and set) first (and maybe second) Approach. How do dice work. How are roll results determined. First Stunt. Different action types explained, as they come up, determined by The Golden Rule.
  • Second Scene: Trouble Aspect. First Relationship Aspect.
  • Third Scene: Second Stunt. Working together (Create Advantage). Using Aspects with Fate Points, the basic idea of Boosts as ‘flimsy aspects.’ Consequences. Second Relationship Aspect. Additional approaches rated.
  • Fourth Scene: “Personal Goal” aspect. Character basically complete, barring final stunt. Recharge Fate Points.
  • Fifth Scene: Dealing with opposed rolls. Overcome checks. Dealing with the concept of Armor.
  • Sixth and final scene: Everything comes together in one big scene.

And, despite being “light and quick,” it’s satisfying. The six approaches are quite broad-stroke ‘skills’, but Aspects and Stunts give the characters lots of individual flavor and impart the sense of growth. Also, it’s worth noting that having only a few Approaches means that those +1 bumps to an approach every 2 or 3 sessions feels like a really significant ‘level up’, compared to the same thing in Fate Core, where looking at a character with ratings in 10 skills out of possible 18 makes the +1 feel good, but not quite as huge.

The Golden Rule is Especially Critical

Most uttered phrase in any FAE conflict with me and my daughter: “Just tell me what you want to do.”

The Golden Rule in Fate is ‘Figure out what you do and then figure out what to roll.’ For kids, this goes double-triple-quintuple times. My daughter loves the rules for Fate and FAE, and tries to grapple with them for every action she wants to take – it hampers everything going on in the story, including her enjoyment of it. (And mine.)

When we remember “Just describe what you’re doing, make it cool, and then we’ll figure out what to roll,” things are fantastic.

To be honest, I find that’s a very good thing to remember when gaming with adults as well – it makes the play much better – but experienced adult gamers will do the imaginative heavy lifting in their heads, on their own, if necessary, because they’ve learned they usually have to.  New players and kids won’t have learned that, so their enjoyment of “announce action, roll, announce action, roll…” is much lower.

Which is good: it enforces the need for the Golden Rule – a good rule for any system, really.

They’re Going to Get Hit More, Hurt More, Bleed More

New players/kids don’t hit Aspects quite as much, don’t Create Advantages as much, don’t make use of existing ‘free’ aspects or Boosts as much. They just don’t. They’re less likely to use Fate points aggressively, and (from what I’ve seen) tend to keep them on hand to reduce the effects of a bad roll or getting hit hard more than to buff up one of their big hits. As a result, they’re characters fail more than (in my experience) most experienced gamers do when they play Fate, simply because they don’t invoke Aspects with the same aggressive abandon. (1)

((1) That means, by the way, the kid’s games are generally more enjoyable and exciting than Fate games I’ve played solely with adults, because failure – especially failure in Fate – is cool and interesting, as are Stress and Consequences. In my experience with Fate Core and FAE, failure is almost always a thing you have to let happen to your character, and most adult gamers don’t, which is a shame.)

All of this is fine, but there are a few things you’ll have to take on as the GM that you normally wouldn’t need to when running a game of Fate with more experienced players.

  1. Reminders to be awesome – let the dice fall where they may and then ask whoever rolled if they think one of their Aspects would give them a bonus to what happened. Because of the sorts of board games that kids are familiar with, the idea of tweaking a die result after the fact will be unfamiliar – they’re used to rolling and taking their lumps, good or bad.
  2. You’re the one who games probability curves. You as the GM probably need to take on the decision on whether or not to use an aspect invocation for a bonus (do this on any roll -2 or better) or a reroll (if the dice came up -3 or -4).
  3. You Must Remember Compels – most experienced gamers really engaging the Fate system will remember their Aspects and suggest compels when the opportunity is there – they like getting Fate points. This is great for a GM, because you don’t have to keep track of 5x+y aspects.  Kids and new gamers, on the other hand, generally aren’t looking for ways to screw their characters for a few Fate points, so you need to help them with that. Keep an eye on everyone’s stack of Fate points and when someone starts getting low, glance at that PC’s aspects and figure out a way in the current or next scene for them to earn a FP with a compel. Repeat this continuously – in my experience with kids, this will probably remain your job – most won’t aggressively do the work for you for a long time, though they’ll quickly become more accepting of the basic idea.
  4. You Are the Acting Hand of the Golden Rule. They will never tell you they want to Create an Advantage. Ever. Never ever. Make them tell you what they want to do, and YOU determine if something is an attack, overcome, or creating an advantage some other player can then exploit.

Remember: They’re Kids, and Kids Will Drive You Crazy

I think it’s clear that I love gaming with these guys, but still… yeah, it’s exhausting. My wife and sister thanked me dozens of times for ‘handling the kids’ over the holidays, because (a) playing Fate was pretty much the only thing the kids wanted to do when they had free time and (b) the other adults could see it wore me down over time.

Don’t get me wrong: they’re amazing, clever people, and consistently brought a steel-melting level of enthusiasm to the table. I love that.

But they’re kids. There’s certain inevitable consequences of that fact.

Focus (especially when it’s more than one kid) will be a huge, frustrating issue: more than once I announced (or said to one or another individual) I was going to go do something (anything) else if they couldn’t pull it together and show some respect for the game we were all playing.

Player Bravado is another thing I’d forgotten about. All that stuff you may or may not remember from gaming AS a kid with other kids the same age? You didn’t imagine any of it, and it wasn’t just you and the other idiots you played DnD with in high school. Arguing with the other players about whether or not their guy could beat the other player’s guy… bluster about which powerful NPC would leap to the attacked PC’s defense… randomly announcing they were going to join the bad guys once they got off the ship…

… that last thing was pretty cool, to be honest. But whatever.

And not all of the ‘kid’s habits’ I remember from my youth are terrible: I was able to make use of one the day after we wrapped up the Brainiac scenario.

Everything Can Be a Game

One of the things me and my gaming group (really: my best friends) did back in high school is stat everything.

And I mean everything. Cool movies. Bad movies. TV shows (they were all bad, I think). Characters from books. Character from comics. Every single person we had to read about in the history section of Social Studies. We statted EVERYTHING… then we argued about it.

And I think that was a good thing. We understood the system(s) better, and it helped us start to deconstruct both characters and stories analytically (something I find more than a little useful today).

So, the day after we wrapped up the game, we got to talking about how characters really work in Fate, what Aspects are supposed to do, long term, and I got the bright idea to give examples from books and movies they knew. Both Malik and Jadyn are huuuuuge Hunger Games fans, and if there’s an easier modern YA novel to stat out for a game, I don’t know it. High Concepts. Trouble Aspects. Relationship Aspects. Personal Goals. Gear. Conditions. Compels.

So easy.

And, as we talked about it, even though they’d been playing Fate for the last three days, you could see new lights going on – new understanding. New ideas.

Good, good stuff.
Good, good stuff.

The Point Is…

The point is, there’s “kids” stuff you handle (focus), stuff you just ignore or ask them to waste time on later (that bragging nonsense), and stuff you can and should engage. I think it’s all an inevitable aspect of new/young players and a game they’ve just learned to love.

And they do love it.

And it’s so worth it.

And I would absolutely, instantly, jump in to do the whole thing again.

Fate Accelerated: Trouble Magnet – Kaylee’s Solo Supers Session #4 – “House Hunters Supernatural”

I’ve been remiss in my actual play reports.

During the summer, Kaylee and I started up a solo supers campaign, and while I wrote about the first, second, and third sessions, I have definitely not been keeping up with current events.

Session Four

As you may or may not recall, soon after (suspiciously soon after) Nataly found a strange bracelet among her personal effects at the orphanage where she lived, the orphanage was visited by a man named Matthew who was interested in adopting the young girl. His paperwork was entirely in order, his references were – frankly – amazing, and before long Nataly was off to an idyllic childhood in the countryside with Matthew and his sister, Marilla.

It was not to be.

After an afternoon in which Matthew and Marilla encouraged Nataly to explore the farm (and the powers that had appeared when she first donned the bracelet), the farmhouse was set upon in the dead of night by strange mechanical spider creatures that proved remarkably resistant and quite… numerous. The trio fled the farm and Marilla (who seemed entirely familiar with the creatures) muttered something about how, in hindsight, it was obvious something like that would happen. “There’s no way you could miss the girl out here in the middle of nowhere – we need to go somewhere where there’s more interference – where she’s less likely to stand out.”

Matthew nodded, and turned onto the interstate highway that would take them to the coastal city of Mercury Bay.

Nataly’s new guardians put them up in a low-rent hotel the first day arrived, but started talking about a ‘proper home’ as soon as they’d unpacked. They seemed to have a budget that would allow them a decent place, even in the heart of the city, though Nataly couldn’t figure out how they earned the money: neither seemed to have a job.

As a matter of fact, neither seemed to be that surprised by the fact she could fly or hurl blasts of pure force… Hmm.

Nataly grew somewhat bored with the conversation and stared out the window at the dusk-shrouded city in the distance. She had a front row seat for the streaking falling star that seemed to crash into the ground somewhere between their motel and the city.

“I’m… going to go for a fl- walk,” she said.

Matthew didn’t like the idea, but Marilla was more sanguine. “Go ahead, girl. Be careful, of course, and don’t stay out too long.” To Matthew’s look, she replied. “She can’t stay locked up in a tower; that’s how everything went wrong in the first place.”

Nataly frowned, but left without asking any questions.

Once out of sight of the room, she took to the air, wrapped herself in a force bubble that would diffuse and distribute light, and headed toward the site of the meteor impact.

She wasn’t the only one. Dozens of emergency vehicles surrounded the area, their lights flashing in the gloom, and a number of emergency floodlights were focused on the small crater at the center of the chaos. The object that had fallen appeared to be stone of some kind: melted to slag by the heat of reentry, and cracked in half but (and this was very odd) apparently hollow, and lined with crystals, like a geode.

Almost big enough for someone to lie down in, isn't it?
Almost big enough for someone to lie down in, isn’t it?

It’s interesting, but not something Nataly can do anything about right now – her force bubble makes it hard for people to see her, but she’s not invisible – someone would notice the strange visual distortion hovering over the geode if she gets any closer, so she heads back to the motel and goes to sleep.

HGTV

The next day, Matthew and Marilla start looking for a new home and Nataly, a veteran of hours and hours spent watching HGTV in the orphanage rec room (their activity leader pretended it was good for the kids), is ready to offer her studied opinion on curb appeal and ‘must-have features’.

In fact, the girl actually sits the two adults down and makes them itemize a list of things they want, before they meet with the realtor so ‘we’re all on the same page and don’t end up looking at things we don’t want.’

[It *could* be Kaylee has seen more than a few dozen House Hunter shows herself, and that her GM specifically built this bit of the session to play to that. I need to see if I can dig up the ‘shopping list’ she put together at this point.]

The trio meets with Mark, a slightly oily but earnest realtor, who pats Nataly on the head and then generally ignores her. Looking over Matthew and Marilla’s somewhat homespun attire, he takes them first to a lower income neighborhood and a roomy but fairly dated (and pink) condo on the second floor of a four-story building. I describe the neighborhood as quite similar to the area of Queens where Kaylee and I have been many times. Nataly points out the items on the list where the ‘apartment’ fails (galley kitchen, no work space for Matthew’s projects) and steps out onto the balcony.

… where she can hear someone shouting, then shouting for help.

She glances back into the room, sees that the adults have wandered back into the private rooms, and leaps into the sky.

The situation is simple and straightforward. A woman in her late thirties, with a baby stroller, has apparently just had someone run off with her purse. Nataly barely slows down as she takes them in, then tears off through the air in the direction the woman is looking. A few swerving corners and she sees the (young) man running down a narrow street.

It isn’t even a fight. Between one step and the next, Nataly encases him in ‘basically a giant hamster ball’ and lets it bounce down the street until the guy inside is all but unconscious. She then picks the whole thing up and carries it through the air in front of her as she flies back to the woman.

By the time she gets back, there’s a sizable crowd (the woman is apparently well-known in the neighborhood), and while people are surprised to see a ‘hero’ in street clothes, no one screams or faints. A few even clap when she dumps the thief and the purse in street in front of the stroller. The woman gives Nataly an awkward hug, as though unsure if she should, and Nataly takes off, suddenly self-conscious and aware that she’s been gone long enough to be noticed.

Which Marilla certainly did. She gives Nataly an arched eyebrow as she lands on the patio. Matthew is keeping the realtor distracted with talk of old wiring and fire concerns.


House number two is far roomier, with a nice backyard, but is far from the city and (muttered by Marilla) “nowhere near the activity the girl will need to keep from being noticed.” The realtor can’t understand their reluctance, and spends quite some time trying to sell the adults on the house. Nataly heads to the backyard and, poking around, is surprised to hear a voice from behind her, almost repeating Marilla’s words.

“You need to work a little harder on not being noticed.”

She turns as a man vaults over the backyard fence. Dressed in cape, mask, and cowl, he could not look more out of place in this bland suburban area, but somehow he’s too serious to look ridiculous.

Nataly stands her ground. “I don’t know what you mean. And who are you?”

He ignores the question. “Hovering over the crash site last night. Dropping off a purse snatcher in front of fifteen witnesses with five actively recording smartphone cameras.” He crosses his arms, and she notices a pair of batons at his waist. “Unless you’re trying to draw attention or lure someone into a trap, you need to start thinking about lowering your profile.”

Nataly, not sure what to say, remains silent.

He doesn’t seem to expect this, and squints at her. “Are you trying to lure someone into a trap?”

“Maybe.”

He tenses. “Who?”

She says nothing, and he snorts and nods. “Fine. Still…” He reaches into one of the dozens of pouches on his belt and pulls out a swatch of black something. “It won’t hurt to keep your identity under wraps, unless you want your… guardians… to inherit your trouble.” He hands her the item.

She unfolds it and stares at the soft black domino mask.

“What -” she looks up, but the red-and-black suited stranger is gone.

In the distance, she hears a motorcycle engine roar to life.


Home #3 is yet another wild departure from the previous offerings – the realtor doesn’t seem to know what to make of this odd family. It’s a well-appointed condo on the thirtieth floor of a high-rise overlooking the city’s titular bay. Fancy, to say the least, and while it doesn’t have any place for Matthew’s ‘projects’, it easily ticks off the other boxes on Nataly’s list.

Everything is looking good, until a shadow darkens the french doors leading onto the patio and something crashes through the glass and skids to a stop in the middle of the (furnished) living room.

A squat, ugly, stone gargoyle unfurls its wings as it rises from its crouch, points a gnarled, clawed finger at Nataly and growls “YOU!