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

Converting Starship Stats from WEG to Fate

Contrary to the evidence from this and previous posts, I am definitely not running thinking about running a Fate-based Star Wars game. I’m not. Shut up.

sos

Basic Guidelines:

  • If you’re in a personal ship (where you’re in some way the ‘crew’ – usually indicated by an Aspect), use your skill rating instead of the ship’s skill, with the ship giving a flat +1 to the roll if its related skill is 2 or higher.
  • If you just hopped into a ship and started doing stuff (see: Rey and Finn in the Falcon), use the ship’s skill for any related action, with your skill providing a +1 ‘assist’.

Conversion:

  • In general: 1D in WEG = +1 in Fate. Ignore all ‘pips’ on WEG stats.

  • Maneuverability/Shields: add Maneuverability to Shield rating (if any) and convert the total 1:1 for “Defense” roll bonus (2D + 1D = +3 Defense in Fate.)

  • Space: Divide by 4 and round down for situational bonus to Overcome rolls for moving between zones. Use the same number for Atmospheric fights.
  • Hull: Each full D of hull gives the ship one stress box.
  • Sensors: Straight 1:1 conversion for related contests.
  • Weapons:
  • Convert Fire Control 1:1 for ship’s “Shoot” skill.
  • Divide Damage dice by 3 (round down) and give the ship that much Harm rating. (6D = 2 Harm, 5D = 1 harm, et cetera).
  • Ion weapon damage cannot be mitigated with Stress, only Consequences.

  • Differences in vehicle Scale converts 1:1 for bonuses and penalties, as appropriate. (A 2-shift difference in scale in WEG gives the larger ship -2 to defense, -2 to attacks, 2 levels of Protection (shift damage down by 2), and +2 to damage. Conversely, the smaller ship gets +2 to defense and attack, shifts damage taken up by 2, and does -2 damage.

  • It may feel more accurate to the source material to give BOTH the smaller and larger ships a bonus to Defend rolls – the smaller ships are harder to hit, while the bigger ships’ shields are harder to get through.
  • Create Advantage rolls can do wonders here by giving opponents the ability to take out gun emplacements, shield generators, propulsion, et cetera. (Example: Darth Vader in Star Wars Rebel’s Siege of Lothal destroys a rebel cruiser with a single TIE fighter by stacking a pile of Create Advantage rolls and then one-shotting the target.)

Finally: Eyeball the resulting conversion, tweak anything that seems wrong, and slap a couple aspects or a stunt on it, as needed.

Summer Break RPGs with Kaylee, #1: Just Figuring out What to Play

My gaming with Kaylee is fairly well documented and, in general, we’ve been pretty happy playing Fate or Fate Accelerated. It’s the sort of game that let’s me play pretty fast and loose with prep, and Fate Accelerated in particular gives us the flexibility to run pretty much any weird genre mashup Kaylee comes up with. All cool.

With that said, I’ve had an itch to try some different games. There are a few reasons for this.

  • Famliarity. While it’s easy to get excited about a new setting or story, it’s a little more difficult to get excited about the game system, since she and I are both quite familiar with Fate at this point.
  • “Same-Same.” Part of that familiarity brings along a sense that all of the obstacles and in fact the characters are a little bit… similar. Five aspects. Same numeric range on the same six approaches. Same numeric bonuses from the same number of Stunts. We can mix that up a bit by going for the more detailed Fate Core version, or something like Atomic Robo, or something even just a little more detailed like Jadepunk, but there’s an increase to overhead in there that doesn’t appeal to either of us at this point.
  • Tiny bit more crunch. I don’t like the way Fate “extras” are written, and Gear is gone in the current iteration, so if I want “stuff” that doesn’t just feel like a couple more aspects and stunt to keep track of, well… It’s hard to have them not feel like that, because in Fate that’s what they are.
  • Better failure incentives. Fate actually has decent incentives for failure. The problem is, the incentives for success (and the fuel – in the form of Fate Points) are stronger, and the mechanics are such that (at least in my experience), if you fail, it’s almost always because you let the other side win, like someone’s uncle “racing” their five-year old nephew across the backyard. Success is super easy, the instinct to win is natural and strong, the ability to do is right there, so while failure is often more interesting, it’s just as often disappointingly rare.

So, in short, we’re looking for something a little different not out of any lack of love for Fate, but just to shake things up a bit, ignite some excitement for a new system to go along with a new game, and maybe get a bit more “classic crunch” in there.

Now with that said, it’s no easy thing to just grab some other game, because I’ve got some counter-criteria.

  • Relative Simplicity. Kaylee can easily deal with any game system out there, I think. Certainly, something like 5e wouldn’t be a problem, but there’s always the chance Sean will pop in and want to play. I want to make that happen, and as I’ve explained before, my guideline for relative rules simplicity is “can a four year old manage it?” (This is one of the other reasons Fate Accelerated isn’t working really well right now: the +/- of the dice, subtraction that can go into negatives, et cetera definitely does not work for someone in Pre-K One.

  • Low Prep. I have the time and ability to prep a game at the point, I suppose, but I’d really rather have something that’s 25% prep and 75% happening in the game, at least in part because playing with Kaylee is extremely hit or miss: She might be tired, I might be tired, something might get in the way, and it might be weeks or even months before some big-prep thing actually sees the light of day. The return on investment for heavy prep is just not there.

  • Two-Person Friendly. – A whole bunch of RPGs want a handful of players, minimum. I could pull out DnD 5e (and I’d be happy to do so) and run Princes of the Apocalypse, but at that point either Kaylee is running three or four guys (with minimal attachment to any of them), or I’m using a spreadsheet and rebalancing the whole thing for one character which… no. No, I’m not doing that.

So, the mix of all these things eliminates a lot of games I’d normally be quite happy to run or play, under other circumstances.

  • DnD 5e. I like a ton of the stuff I’ve seen and read and heard about this game, but both prep and rebalancing encounters for a single hero is non-trivial.
  • Burning Wheel. I’ve read some great “solo hero” actual play reports, but again the prep (for someone not entirely familiar with the rules, due to lack of playing) strikes me as a way too much. Lots of stats for everything means a lot of prep. No.
  • Mouseguard. Hits a lot of the necessary criteria (prep is a dead-cinch, I know the system, I know what I’d change, and the mechanics and setting are Sean-friendly), but it’s a bit too far the other way in terms of interesting failure – solo MG would be brutal, and frankly that’s not what I feel like doing right now.
  • Dragon Age. I like the rules, and the simplicity, and the stunt system. Honestly I just like this game a whole bunch, but balancing to one player seems like an exercise in frustration, even more so than DnD.

I toyed around with The Strange a little bit, but Kaylee didn’t seem to find the premise very interesting. I’m not confident the Heroquest dice mechanic would be very… approachable. The One Ring is great, but again I don’t think the game is really balanced for solo heroics.

I kept coming back to Dungeon World (rulebook’s been sitting on my shelf since the kickstarter shipped ~mumble~ years ago), a fantasy adaptation of Vincent Baker’s Apocalypse World. The system is light and fast, and while the dice mechanic isn’t as simple as “count how many high dice you rolled”, adding three small numbers together is doable for any potential player in my household. Its fans trumpet the ease of prep, and in one GM’s words, running and playing the game is kind of like “a diceless game that sometimes go to dice” which, to put it mildly, fits pretty well inside my comfort zone.

It all seemed to work for what I needed, except that the characters need to have Bonds with other player characters. However, I thought I might be able to make that work, assuming I could provide Kaylee with a rich array of persistent NPCs to interact with – a band of companions or something, but without the overhead of “the GM is basically playing a half dozen other fully-statted PCs.”

A band of companions…

That gave me an idea.

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” (nĂ©e 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.”

Hangouts/Roll20 Gaming: Past and Future

As most of you know, I finished up a Fate game about a month ago that ran via Google Hangouts and the Roll20 plugin (session videos here). I’d originally thought it would run around 6 sessions (my rough estimate for a face to face tabletop environment with ~3.5 hour sessions), and it ended up at 9, not because Hangouts made it take longer (if anything, Hangouts and Roll20 sped things up) but because we ran shorter sessions of about 2 to 2.5 hours each.

It took right around 3 months to get in 9 ‘weekly’ sessions which, for adult gamers with many commitments, isn’t at all bad: 9 sessions in around 12 weeks, with one player suffering technical problems and another who lost a family member and was unavailable for a couple weeks. I entirely attribute this session/week ratio to the flexibility Hangouts gave us – no one had to travel to the game location, and thus no one had to budget extra time for packing up their stuff, getting presentable, driving over, and getting home after: they just logged at the right time, logged out at the end, and boom – they’re home already and there’s no gaming group to clean up after.

wifi
And you can play pretty much anywhere.

(Honestly, Hangouts made the game possible in the first place: player locations ranged from the east coast to Alaska.)

This setup (short-ish scenario, running to conclusion over a limited period of time) worked well, and based on that, there are at least a few other games I’d like to play pretty soon with, if anything, even shorter arcs. These include:

  • The Mountain Witch, which is pretty much designed for playing in two to three sessions, and which has a pretty non-crunchy system with nonetheless brutal mechanics.
  • Fiasco, maybe several times, using different play sets. I’ve never played this, but I have high hopes, and as a GMless game it appeals to me. I’ve actually built an “Amber Throne War” playset that I’d like to play…

That said, I can also see a couple decent ways to do longer running campaigns, and I might try one of them fairly soon, as well: I’m thinking of an Atomic Robo (Fate) campaign with a couple basic guidelines:

  • Scenarios that either wrap up in one session or which everyone understands may not resolve the very next week.
  • A rotating cast of characters.
  • A slightly larger pool of involved players than I’d want to GM, if they all showed up.

The idea here is a sort of “monster of the week” setup, where we play with whichever Tesladyne employees are available that week, and no one stresses out if they can’t make it. This would let us run regardless of schedule conflicts (potentially improving the session/week ratio even more) and, if we didn’t wrap up in one session, we’d have the option to continue that arc whenever that same group of players were available (maybe allowing in an additional action scientist in part 2 as surprise backup or whatever), rather than forcing a delay until all those same players could make it.

(Also worth considering: with the folks playing, there’s a better than normal chance that some sessions would have a guest GM and I could just play, which would be awesome.)

Pretty much the same setup would work (I think) with Ryan M. Danks’s Jadepunk (which is built mostly on the very pickup-friendly Fate Accelerated and Ryan’s own design kung-fu), though I’m pretty sure some kind of over-arching metaplot would creep in on that one, just because of the setting. I consider that a feature.

I plan to pitch this (these?) to my Google+ gaming peeps pretty soon and see who’s interested.

Fate, The Demolished Ones, Sessions 5 and 6

Under normal circumstances, I wouldn’t be blogging about this game at all, right now: the last anyone would have heard about it would have been Session 3.

That doesn’t mean the game is going poorly! Far, far from it. However, there’s a ton of other stuff going on at the moment (work stuff, writing stuff, audiobook stuff, end of semester stuff, kids stuff, family stuff), and the simple fact is this: if the only way I had to record what happened in this game was writing down a detailed actual play, then nothing would be getting recorded.

Luckily, that’s not the case, since we’re playing the game on Google Hangouts “on air”, which automatically records it to Youtube. A bit of tweaking, settings changes, and playlist adjustment, and we get an excellent record of everything “previously on.”

This is everything so far:

I don’t think having these video recordings have made me any more or less likely to write down an actual play, but it does make me very happy something is being recorded, even when I’m stupidly busy.

Also, there are a few other nice benefits:

  • When I have time to ‘do stuff’ related to the game, I can prepare things for the next session, instead of writing about the last one.
  • I can rewatch prior sessions (or play them on my phone during drives and just listen to them podcast-style) to remind myself of stuff I’d introduced that I want to reincorporate.
  • The roll20 app is WONDERFUL for giving me a central place to both store and organize all the random stuff I’ve pulled together for the game, while at the same time providing means for sharing it with the players.

So: sorry for not writing things up in detail, but for real detail, nothing works much better than listening to exactly what happened in the session.

I will certainly have a post-game analysis of the good, bad, and ugly for both the game and for the Hangouts/Roll20 gaming medium. At this point, I would guess that we’ll have about eight sessions in total (tonight’s will be seven). Eight was my first estimate, then I’d started to think it would run to nine, but last session (after some hemming and hawing) the players sprang into action and pretty much skipped right over a whole subplot that didn’t grab them, so we’re back on track for eight.

The big challenge tonight? Everyone kind of split up, so we’re going to be splitting the camera time between three different scenes for awhile, which may or may not slow things down – we’re splitting up the camera time, but covering three times as much ground? Maybe? My guess is it’ll be a wash, or possibly lose us a bit of time on an additional scene where everyone gets caught up to everyone else.

I’m excited: this is the most consistent and continual RPG thing I’ve been able to run in over three years – as far as ‘online tabletop’ gaming goes, the tech has finally arrived in my opinion – I don’t know if it’s a golden age for online tabletop gaming, but it sure feels like it.

Fate, The Demolished Ones, Session 4

PHOENIX

After a week off for illness (mine) we’re jumping back into the Demolished Ones tonight, with session five.

While checking up on my notes, I realized I’d never posted an actual play for this session and, with thirty minutes to play time, it’s a bit too late.

Thankfully, there is at least a complete audio and video recording of the entire session. Phew.

Below, I’ve embedded a playlist for the entire campaign’s recordings thus far – the last two are for session four (we had a technical issue that necessitated restarting the hangout). Enjoy! My next write-up will try to sum up both sessions four and five.

Fate: The Demolished Ones, Session Three

“But first, I believe formal introductions are in order.”

The statement hangs in the air for more than a few moments, bringing silence to the booth at the late-night public house.

Finally, [Dave] speaks up: “Victor Edwards.”

I held up a Fate point. “I will give this to you if you now finish the sentence: ‘I think I was…'”

“I think I was…” says Victor, “someone in Her Majesty’s service.”

“Ah,” replies [Kim]. “I’m pleased to make your acquaintance. I’m Ophelia Stevens.” (A name Victor seems to associate with the scandalsheet-populating hijinx of the youthful nobility.)

“Just call me Red,” says Red, and turns to their large companion.

“Barnaby Cornelius Crispin,” he murmurs. Seems he’s got a name that matches his stature.

Once introductions are done and everyone basically shares what they are willing to share. From there, they decide to check out the boarding house for which they have a key.

Situated just south of Eden Park at the northern tip of Merchant’s Gate, the Cassius is an old and respected boarding house fallen upon hard times.

The building itself is a three-story affair with a common room, six guest rooms, and indoor plumbing.

One of the rooms here was apparently rented out by Jack Smith.

Smith’s boarding house room is a humble affair: bedroom/living room/table/everything else. It contains a bed, dresser, wardrobe, table, chair, and lamp. Objects of note:

A Gun
A small, snub-nosed revolver sits on top of a dresser, next to a few playing cards. It’s not loaded. It doesn’t match the holster that Smith was wearing.

memory3

Playing Cards
Five playing cards. The cards are Jacks of five different suits: spades, clubs, hearts, diamonds, and… crosses?

RWS_Tarot_05_Hierophant
The Jack of Crosses. Not this… but basically this.

Literature
There is a flyer for the Society of Free Thought on a small table, just like the one at Smith’s house, except this one is covered with scribbles from Smith.

flier

Photographs
Also on the table with the Society flyer is small a collection of photographs. One photograph is a picture of a symbol carved in stone above a door: an eye in a circle (the same symbol as the one carved in the handle of the supposed murder weapon).

PHOENIX

The other three seem to be surveillance-style photographs of two men meeting.

Off to the Cherub

Once the group feels as though they have found everything there is to find, they get out of the boarding house and head (at Barnaby’s request) to the Cherub, where he remembers being fairly often. Turns out the Cherub is a fairly nice place… where not-nice things are arranged for. Barnaby has the other three taken to a private room, and meets up with a petite blonde woman named Cassiel, who is the Cherub’s ‘fixer’ – someone who sets up wealthy patrons with just the right person for an unseemly job. She’s also ostensibly the sous chef. Life is funny that way.

Cassiel knows Barnaby and seems to have a bit of a thing for him, and is quite willing to help him out with his questions. She recognizes the younger man in the photos – some politician nicknamed “Velvet” – though she only knows that the older guy in the suit and robe is one of the more prominent members of the Society of Conscious Thought, though she can’t say what his name is.

Barnaby gets a few more questions answered and arranges to make contact with Cassiel later, then gathers up everyone else and heads toward the Society of Conscious Thought, with a brief stop to pick up some ammunition for Victor’s recently acquired handgun.

The Society

As befits the hall of an ostensibly secret society, the Hall of Free Thought looks small and unassuming from the outside, with only the Society’s symbol (an eye in a circle) outwardly marking it.

No doorman guards the door, though there is a desk with a receptionist of sorts just inside the door, in the foyer.

Carolyn Flynn, innocent receptionist.
Carolyn Flynn, innocent receptionist.

The inside of the Hall is considerably more opulent than the outside. As much of the Hall is underground, it is a much larger building than it seems to be from the outside. The Hall contains a vast common room furnished with couches, chairs, tables, and a bar. This is where members of the Society gather to see and be seen, and to engage in stimulating conversation. The occasional card game is played here, though high-stakes gambling is strictly prohibited within the Hall.

The four, escorted in by Carolyn, immediately notice the large portrait prominently displayed in the main room, obviously the robed gentleman from the surveillance photos. Carolyn informs them that is “The Beneficient One” – head of the Society.

The Beneficent One
The Beneficent One

The Beneficent One is around, but probably will not be out in the common area tonight, explains Carolyn. Mr. Tock, another senior member, will very likely be out soon, following a meeting, however.

The four basically kill time for a bit, with Mr. Crispin casing the place, Victor sitting down with the younger men playing at cards, Ophelia poking through the bookshelves, and Red getting a drink from the bartender and the other end of the room.

Victor’s learns from the junior members playing poker that only a few rooms past the common room are open to members of their level, with private rooms available to those that live in the House, and even more secure chambers reserved for the senior members who run the Society, such as Mr. Tock and The Beneficent One.

Ophelia spots all of the “six books” she saw at Jack Smith’s house, but not repeated in any suspicous manner. She also spots (and secures) two pages of a rather odd little test, apparently left behind on a small side table.

Mr. Crispin verifies that all the doors out of the common room are locked.

Red is having a frustrating conversation with the barman, who is on his guard and not likely to chat with a patron of the Society, or share secrets about his employers.

An odd thing happens as Barnaby comes over to check in on Red.

First, Red tries to convince him that he really does want to help her and, in the same way she likes to take apart the mechanisms of things they’ve been finding, it seems as though she actually does that – take the man’s head apart a bit and put it together in a way that’s more suitable to her needs.

Something sort of rings in Barnaby’s head when she does this. He leans against the bar, nods to the barkeep, and says “Hello, old friend,” and – just like that, the barkeep is an old friend of his – has always been an old friend of his, in fact, and how could he have forgotten something like that?

Ophelia and Victor notice … something… when this happens, and both turn toward the bar, just as a door into the room opens and a well-dressed man steps through.

Good evening, he says, smiling at Ophelia. “I am Mr. Tock. I hope I can help you.”

Mr Tock
Mr. Tock

And that’s where things ended. Next session: Tonight!


Fate: The Demolished Ones, Session Two

“Anyone know where Beacon Street is?” He looks around at the quiet, fog-shrouded night streets. “Or where we are?”

That’s where we ended session one of The Demolished Ones and, surprise surprise, where we picked up with session two.

I opened this up by informing the players that once [Dave] asked the question, the characters realize they do kind of know where they are, even if they don’t really know why, or have much context.

I played around with this a bit, by asking everyone what specific areas in the city they remember, even if it’s without context.

I also asked everyone (but Dave, who’d already defined this) for a notable item on their person.

  • Dave: A richly appointed sitting room, with dead men lying on the floor.
  • Kim: Carries a parasol. Remembers a very richly appointed sitting room, deeply shadowed, and [Kim]’s feeling here is that she was more a host and less a guest. I add a bit more ‘color’ here, because this plays in really well to my own diabolical plans.
  • “Red” (Amanda): On her person: a derringer in her handbag. Location: A small cottage in a garden.
  • Reggie: On his person: a nice pair of brass knuckles that say “Lucky” along the side. Place he remembers: a shady sort of club – “a place where proper gentlemen go to get improper things done.” I tell him he remembers the name of the place – Old Bollards.
(As a reminder: Dave had selected a pen knife with a wooden in the previous session.)
(As a reminder: Dave had selected a pen knife with a wooden in the previous session.)

The four of them are somewhat lost in their own thoughts, remembering what they remember (or checking their weapons) as they drive to Beacon Street.

They notice quite a few more people walking the street in this area, and a higher police presence. The civilians are dressed fairly well, top hats and tails, mostly, with [Dave] dressed in probably the high-middle range of what they’re seeing in the area, and [Reggie] somewhere near the low end of appropriate, as a well-dressed day laborer (albeit an enormous one, noticeable for other reasons).

They get to 615 Beacon Street but, seeing two uniformed police officers milling about the front door of the house, they keep right on walking, then turn down a side street and take a moment to assess the situation.

Dave wants to have taken a ‘read’ on the policemen, so I have him give a value to his Empathy (and an associated Aspect). He writes down Empathy: Good (+3) and the Aspect “We Are All the Children of Adam and Eve.”

Reggie wanted a quick scan of the actual physical details with the cops, so I have him define Alertness and an Aspect. He selects Alertness: Fair (+2), and an Aspect “Don’t. Trust. Anybody.”

Kim wants to get an idea of how the house might be able to be gotten into, so I have her roll Burglary, which she already has.

Here’s what we get:

  • Dave: The officers are Distracted and Tired, and Dave rolls well enough he’ll be able to take advantage of these aspects, once, for free (no Fate points).
  • Reggie: The officers are armed with Revolvers and Nightsticks, and he’s fairly sure that, while they are trained, he could take them – though he might not want to fight two at once, he could.
  • Kim: She feels she could get in a second story window, but also that there’s probably an alley that leads to a back entrance. She’s quite sure – already – what the interior of a house like this will be.

A bit of planning goes on as they lurk in the side street, and ultimately what they decide to do is have [Dave] go chat with the Police (hoping they aren’t looking for them, specifically), to keep them distracted while the other three sneak into the back of the house and have a look around.

This goes well enough, with [Dave] using the Distracted and Tired to beef up the roll he makes with his (third) new skill – Rapport: Fair (+2), which also leads to him adding a third aspect “The masks go on so easily.” (Love it!)

Meanwhile, [Kim] has led the other two around the back, down an alley. She takes this chance to pick up Investigate: Average (+1) while searching for laundry left hanging out to dry behind a house, which she uses to replace her bloodstained jacket (and adds the aspect “Find out about Others before they find out about You.” Once at the back door of the house, she unleashes her Burglary again, then leads the trio sneaking into the house (picking up Stealth: Good (+3), and the Aspect “Nobody Notices a Child.”


615 Beacon Street

Aspects: Lived In Feel; Something’s Not Right.; Small, dark, and Cramped

The lower floor is mostly just the eat-in kitchen and a front sitting room. Upstairs, there’s a bedroom, study, and bathroom.

“Red” investigates the kitchen, which has no overt clues as to Smith’s identity, though there are some things that don’t quite add up. There are plates in the cupboards, but no dishes. The only drinking vessels are teacups – forty-five of them. The cutlery drawer is all forks. The refrigerator (!) has a bottle of half-spoiled milk, four bottles of ketchup, and stacks and stacks of collard greens. The pantry has one shelf of nothing but canned green beans, and three overstuffed shelves of canned dog food. (There is no other sign of a dog in the house… and no can opener in any of the drawers.)

[Kim] checks out the front sitting room, and finds a flyer for Society of Free Thought, though the unexpected dust in the room makes her rush back to the kitchen for a barely-muffled sneezing fit.

clean flier

[Dave] barely manages to cover up the sneezing from out front, asking the police about why they’re out here in the middle of the evening. One of the police snags a recent newspaper off the steps of the neighbors house and folds it open to the bottom front page.

Hmm...
Hmm…

[Reggie] creeps upstairs and, spotting nothing of note in the upstairs sitting room, moves on to the bedroom, where the wardrobe gives him more than a bit of trouble – the door sticks and he pulls it across the wooden floor somewhat loudly, trying to open it. (Botched untrained Investigate, which he didn’t want to put points into.)

“Red” (and, in a few seconds, [Kim]) rush upstairs as quickly and quietly as they can. “Red” sees what she can do to help [Reggie], while [Kim] checks the study again (noticing that the three bookshelves in the room only have four copies each of the same six books, arranged randomly: Ulysses, Brave New World, the Bible (KJV), Flatland (all used and dogeared identically), and the M-Mi volume of an encyclopedia set.

[Kim] then moves on to check the bathroom, but only has time to note that the room is bereft of any toiletries before the Cursed Wardrobe Strikes Again. “Red” tries to open the other door, which shrieks its unoiled protest so loudly that the police outside decide to investigate.

The three inside race (quietly, mostly) to the back door and manage to get outside just as the police unlock and open the front. They warn [Dave] away and proceed inside… [Dave] makes himself extremely scarce, and the four meet up a few blocks away.


The set out on foot, “Red” (walking with [Reggie]) unconsciously guiding them toward a neighborhood pub. [Dave] and [Kim] bring up the rear, and fall much further behind when [Dave] spots someone in one of the houses along the street watching television in the front room. Black and white television but… yeah. That’s television.

jurassic-park

What’s weirder: that there’s a television, or that they know exactly what it is?

… or that they know it’s wrong.

“Red” whistles for them to catch up and, turning back down the street, nearly collides with a wild-eyed man, reeking of fish. “Red” lets out a startled sound, and [Reggie] interposes himself.

Edward Gray

"The sky is not the sky!"
“The sky is not the sky!”

After a few moments of Edward’s rambling (he’s clearly not well) they decide he’s harmless and, given what they’ve seen in the last few hours, must have noticed how odd everything in the City is and, quite understandably, went off his head.

Sorry, but… the best way to summarize his crazy-talk is to simply refer you to the video of that part of the game session (runs for about five minutes).

After a few minutes of mad, cryptic comments (*points at [Dave]* “You used to work for them, and YOU” *points at [Kim]* “You didn’t work for them, and that’s even worse…”), he runs off down the street, hollering about brain juices and green beans.

Bemused, the quartet makes it the rest of the way to the public house and, holed up in a nice booth with pints all around, share out all the odd clues they’ve discovered (except for the bloody knife, which [Kim] mentions but keeps in her handbag), noting the key and the recurrence of the Society of Conscious Thought (on both the flyer from the house and the “Orphan” news clipping from the warehouse).

A bit stumped, they ponder the key “Red” found on Jack Smith. [Dave] uses a drunkard act and a bit of Rapport to get the bartender to tell them the key engraved with CBH 5 is probably from the Cassius Boarding House. Since it was obvious (to [Kim] at least) that Smith didn’t actually live in the house they just visited, it seems a visit to the Boarding House is in order.

“But first,” says [Kim], “I believe formal introductions are order.”


And that’s where we’ll pick up for Session Three.


Finally, for those who’d like to watch the whole recording, here you go:

Fate: The Demolished Ones, Session One

Because I didn’t have enough going on, I decided to start an online game of Fate, using a combination of Google Hangouts, Roll20, and (after the fact) YouTube (to share the recorded game sessions).

This is what I sent out to a long list of potential players:

You wake up in a room.

The floor is cold, stone, dry. The lights – three bare bulbs dangling from the rafters – do little to dispell the gloom. It takes time for your eyes to adjust.

You stand, brushing grit and dust from the front of a tailored jacket you’re sure you’ve never seen before. There’s a red stain on the sleeve.

Don’t worry. It’s not your blood.

I’d like to run a short rpg game, via Google Hangouts. Somewhere between three to six sessions, once a week, probably on a weeknight, after dinner and the kids are in bed, and wrapping up in time for everyone to get to sleep at a reasonable time. Don’t worry about the system or anything – the scenario is set up to teach the game and create characters as we play – it’s a method that works particularly well with this system.

The italicized bit is the basic set up.

If you’re interested, let me know. If you’re not, for whatever reason, don’t reply. 🙂 Easy peasy.

If we get enough people (I’d say three), we’re good to go.

I ended up with four, we agreed on a good night (Mondays) and started play last week.

Poster_1600x1200px

Now, as I said, we recorded the game session as we were playing (check out session one, here), but while it was a nice recording, it doesn’t capture what’s going on in the Roll20 window, so the handouts that I’m laying out in the virtual tabletop area can’t be seen by anyone watching the video later.

The upside: that means I’m still going to end up doing written play reports.

You Wake Up In A Room

I started with everyone unconscious and lost in unpleasant dreams. Each character’s dreams were different, and I slipped ‘notes’ to each player via Roll20 to let them know what sort of images they were struggling with.

Kim: A strange looking needle, coming toward your eye.

Reggie: The sound of a deadbolt sliding into place.

Amanda: Someone standing over you, shadowed, a knife in their hand.

Dave: The feel of something in your hand: a straight, hard handle, slightly curved and rough to the touch.

Reggie wakes up first, and after getting his bearings a bit…

Furnishings are sparse. Three bare bulbs hang from the ceiling: one in the center of the room, one near where you woke up, and one near the door. The bare bulbs are bright enough to give some illumination to the room, but there are shadows and dark corners everywhere. Along one of the long walls are a desk and chair. There are three steel drums in one corner; from here, they smell of oil.
Furnishings are sparse. Three bare bulbs hang from the ceiling: one in the center of the room, one near where you woke up, and one near the door.

… he turns his attention to the other three people lying on the floor nearby.

warehouse 23

Still on his knees, he moves over and tries to wake up Kim who, upon seeing Reggie, freaks out – to her, right then, he seems a horrible monster – and crab-walks backward and right onto/over Dave, who starts to stir. All this ruckus (Dave trying to get out from under the scrambling woman, Kim trying to get away, and Reggie trying to calm Kim down) wakes up Amanda, who is furthers from Reggie and closest to the door.

The bare bulbs are bright enough to give some illumination to the room, but there are shadows and dark corners everywhere.

Along one of the long walls are a desk and chair. There are three steel drums in one corner; from here, they smell of oil.

I stop at this point and have each player give us the most notable physical feature about the character belonging to the player to their virtual ‘left’. Here’s what we got (with pictures that came later):

  • Dave: (via Kim) Thin and wiry, 30ish, going gray. Violet eyes.
  • Reggie: (via Amanda) He’s huge. Hulking. Well over seven feet tall.
  • Amanda: (via Dave) She’s Irish – just definitively Irish. Red hair. Freckles. Et cetera.
  • Kim: (via Reggie) She’s tiny. Clearly a grown woman, but about the size of a ten-year-old girl.

The four, still a bit on their guard, start poking around. Their clothes are bit odd to them – Victorian style garb – comfortable, but not familiar. Kim is struck by the clothing in contrast to the electric light bulbs, and by the rotary phone on an old wooden table-style desk on one side of the large room. Incongruous.

Amanda messes with the phone a bit (the phone has a dial tone, but 911 yields no response, and she knows no other numbers), and heads to the other end of the room to check out a stack of fairly new and smelly oil drums while Reggie tries the nearby door (heavy, metal, and apparently barred). Dave’s trying to ask questions of everyone, but no one really wants to chat, at least in part because no one really remembers who they are, how they got here, or why they all seem to have a few bloodstains on their clothes, but no injuries.

Amanda Investigates the barrels and I have her tell me what rating she’d like the skill at. She selects 2 (Fair) and writes up a Character Aspect to go along with the skill.

“I investigate everything.” (Lovely, and nicely compellable.)

She discovers someone else behind the barrels, sitting an old wooden chair and asleep.

Or… no. Not asleep. She can’t say how she can tell with just a glance, but the mystery man is definitely dead.

Exhausted
Dead tired.

Also interesting: Amanda doesn’t announce the dead body, and instead quietly searches him for clues and information, snagging a wallet from an inside jacket pocket, and a key from a pants pocket. Also: a very ’cause of death’-looking stab wound on the back of his neck that completely severed his collar and tie.

Meanwhile, Reggie can’t get the door open, and Kim (perhaps trying to get further from Reggie) heads toward the same end of the room as Amanda, where there’s a large cargo-loading sized door all along the far short end of the room, chained and padlocked.

Kim pulls few bobby pins out of her hair and starts going to work on the lock (making some notes on her character sheet):

  • Aspect: I’m Used to Getting out of Tight Situations
  • Good (+3): Burglary

The lock is huge and stiff, though, and while the bobby pins can move the tumblers, actually turning the lock will require something a little more sturdy. Kim casts around for something like that and sees (over by the oil drums, but on the side away from crouching Amanda) a knife.

A bloody knife. Oh good.

Kim, like Amanda, is quite unfazed by the evidence of violence, picks up the knife, wipes it down a bit, and goes back to the lock.

Reggie, after struggling with the locked door and eying the windows fifteen feet overhead, growls to himself, stalks over past Dave toward the desk, and picks up the chair next to desk in one hand.

The phone rings.

Reggie stops, obviously nonplussed, but Dave reacts with little surprise, picking up the handset and answering with a cautious “hello?”

“The police are coming,” says a female voice. “You need to get out of there. They can’t find you with the body.”

“What body?” asks Dave, but the line has gone dead.

“Ahh… apparently the police are coming,” Dave announces, loud enough to carry. “And… is there a body in here?!?”

“Yes…” Amanda answers, waving distractedly back toward the barrels she’s now abandoned.

Reggie growls, turns, and whips the chair at the window above and to the right of the door.

  • Aspect: When I get mad I get REALLY mad
  • Good (+3): Might

The chair is destroyed, as is the window.

The two-tone sound of police sirens is distant in the foggy night air, but getting closer.

“Do you need help?” asks Dave? “Should I climb up on your sh– Oh. We can use the desk.”

He moves the phone to the side, starts to pick up one end of the light desk, but Reggie simply picks the whole thing up and carries it beneath the window and starts to climb up.

Dave climbs up after him, then takes the boost up to the now-clear window sill. The room – a warehouse, Dave realizes – is sunken a bit on this end of the building: it’s a fifteen foot drop inside, but only 10 to the street. He makes it easily – he’s surprisingly fit for a gentleman.

  • Aspect: Priest’s head on a soldier’s shoulders.
  • Equipment: A sharp pen knife with a rough wooden handle.
  • Good (+3): Athletics

From the outside, Dave is easily able to unbar the door (just as Kim finesses open the lock on the far end of the building and slips off the chain) – the door was bar, but the bar wasn’t locked in place – almost as if it was only meant to keep someone in.

Reggie heads out once the door is open, but Amanda stays for a moment, suddenly curious (Aspect Compel) about the lone drawer in the desk. She snags Reggie and says “Can you break this?” indicating the desk.

He doesn’t even pause. Once hammering fist and the desk is in two pieces. Amanda snags the two newspaper clippings inside and tucks them in with the rest of her collection of Odd Things.

Meanwhile, Kim has stepped out into some kind of loading yard at the back of the building and (after spending a Fate point to declare it’s there) hotwires a truck parked in the back.

horseless

The other three, gathered in front of “Warehouse 23”, hear an engine getting closer from the alley alongside the building (see crude map) and stare as the tiny woman in the truck lurches to a stop next to them.

“Need a lift?”

“Shotgun,” Dave immediately replies. Amanda grumbles. Reggie was already climbing in the back – the only spot he’d fit.

They pile in, and Kim instinctively heads away from the sirens.


I stop here and ask each player for the most notable personality trait of the person to their virtual right:

  • Amanda: (via Reggie) Scatterbrained – a flibbertigibbet
  • Dave: (via Amanda) Always looks like he’s plotting something
  • Kim: (via Dave) One damn determined woman
  • Reggie: (via Kim) Kind.

The players each note these observations on their character sheets.


They ride in silence for a few moments, then Dave says “So… where are we going?”

“615 Beacon Street,” replies Amanda. Everyone looks at her, sitting in the back seat, reading a card she’s pulled from a man’s wallet.

She holds up the card – some sort of ID for one Jack Smith. “I found it on the body.”

“Riiiight,” Dave says, then, “Anyone know where Beacon Street is?” He looks around at the quiet, fog-shrouded night streets. “Or where we are?”

A good question, which we'll get to next session!
A good question, which we’ll get to next session!

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!

Fate: Kugen Wasabi

This has been sitting in my drafts folder for something like six months, so let’s put it out there, just for fun.

I made this guy up for a “feudal, so-high-tech-it’s-low-tech Japan” campaign that ran for (I think) just the character creation session. An obvious riff on the Blade of the Immortal comics (which I’ve never read).


Kugen Hasabiwasabi

Aspects
High Concept: Immortal Samurai
Trouble: Mysterious Past, Even to Me
– Nanites in my Blood
– Everyone Lies, but No One Listens
– [open]

Skills
Great (+4) Fight
Good (+3) Deceive, Physique
Fair (+2) Athletics, Notice, Stealth
Average (+1) Craft, Ride/Transport, Will, Provoke

Stunts
Nanite Repair. 2:Armor, or 2 over average armor in setting.  1x/session, spend a fate point to downshift Minor or Moderate Consequences (2 stunts). See also “Being Immortal in Fate.”
Liars know Liars. Use Deceive to defend versus Deception or overcome obstacles created via Deception.

Refresh: 3

Physical Stress: OOOO
Mental Stress: OOO

Business End of a Boom Tube – FAE Supers Gaming with my Family, Part Four (of Four)

First, a disclaimer: I’m not very good at Fate.

There are players out there who can wave their hand, summon up ever-folding images of the Fate Fractal to illustrate off-the-cuff google+ posts, and write up detailed hacks for the core rules three times a week.

That’s not me. I’m running these supers games using nothing but the rules in the book(s), without any variations.* I basically ignore things like the “Extras” chapter in Fate and FAE, and mentally summarize the whole chapter with “Sometimes you’ll want the game to do something a certain way that is different than anything else in the book, and if so, that should cost something.”

(* – No variations that I’m aware of – it’s possible that stuff from older versions of Fate have crept in, but if so I haven’t noticed and didn’t do it on purpose.)

The reason I bring this up is that, in this section of the game, there were a couple of situations where I wanted specific effects, and set up stuff in a way to make that happen. In hindsight, I can see ways I could have elegantly applied existing rules to accomplish the same thing, but the actual solutions I came up with on the fly aren’t lovely crystalline matrices – they’re rickety Rube Goldberg machines that held together only so long as I kept thinking about them. I don’t recommend replicating some of the stuff here, verbatim.

Unless you think it’s cool. In which case, go ahead.

Now then, where were we?


We we last left our heroes, they’d just recovered most if not all of their memories of abduction by Braniac’s troops, and now knew that if they didn’t get off this ship soon, their friends and families were probably dead (or digitized and deleted, which amounts to the same thing).

Grim and determined, they ask Oracle for a new destination – someplace they can go to stop the digitization of their home neighborhood.

Oracle does a bit of searching – really all she seems to be able to do inside Brainiac’s system right now is find information; her access is too limited for serious hacking – and gives them a new direction to head: a control center located near the center of this section of the ship.

They proceed, and hit their first barrier in the form of an Automated Security Checkpoint in the next Junction Chamber.

Junction Room [Ugly Ver 1]

Characters need to make Good forceful overcome rolls to act each round (roll at the start of the round). If they don’t, they can’t move (defend, whatever). This is because of the Robotic Brain in the center of the room. The brain’s in an invulnerable forcefield and can’t be harmed.

At the start of the second round, three-unit squads of sentry-bots start showing up (3 stress for each squad, +2 at the stuff they’re good at, -2 to stuff they aren’t good at). They don’t have to make Overcome rolls to act.

If, in any round, all the heroes managed to overcome successfully, the Brain shorts out for a bit, and the forcefield drops for a round. The brain has 4 stress and, if destroyed, stops summoning patrol squads.

Or, you can do it this way:

Junction Room, [ver2]

Zone Aspect: Immobilizing Telekinetic Field (Allows Brain to forcefully Defend against any enemy action in the room.)

Brain in a Jar
Aspect: Telekinetic Construct
Forceful: +2
Stunt: Forcefield – Armor:4 versus all physical and most energy attacks. Does not work if Brain has Aspect: Shorted Out. If I am defeated “with style” on an Overcome vs. my Defend, I gain the Aspect: Shorted Out for one round.
Stunt: Summon Bots – Because I am a security construct, once per round I can summon a security bot patrol to the room.

Security Bot Patrol
Forceful: 2
Stress: 3 (Collective for group of three)

There are probably better ways to do it, but whatever.

Anyway, the trio enter the room. Due to her native telekinetic abilities (and related stunt), Angelia is able to forcefully overcome the telekinetic field immediately. Anna struggles but manages to keep moving by focusing on rescuing her parents (fate point and her new aspect), while Mikenna is basically immobilized.

The doors across the room open, and a trio of security bots march in and open fire. Angelia deals with them while Anna tried to freeze the metal Brain in the middle of the room on a pedestal (to no avail).

Angelia clears two of the three bots, but the remaining soldier gets reinforcements as three more bots rush in through a side entrance. Anna hurls ice at them to help out Angelia, but the girls are clearly struggling. Mikenna still can’t move.

On the third round, the bots are building up, and Anna is struggling to keep moving against the telekinetic force blanketing the room. Mikenna musters everything she’s got and manages to break free of the telekinesis. This added resistance shorts out the Brain for a few seconds and Mikenna takes that opportunity to turn the gold-plated bit of machinery into a non-functional pin-cushion. The telekinetic field drops, and the kids make short work of the remaining bots.

Alarms start sounding, and a stentorian voice starts droning about escaped prisoners needing to be stopped – converge on the control rooms – et cetera.

The kids battle toward the control room, moving fast so that resistance can’t get organized, and storm inside. Oracle has explained that, based on schematics, she thinks there are four ‘connections’ between the ship and a shield generator that, if disabled, will allow her to send reinforcements to them via Boom Tube (whatever that is).

It turns out that the four ‘connections’ are a bit more robust than that: four giant bolts jut from the floor in the large room – all of which need to be destroyed. They’re about this big:

AthertonBolts

Also, there’s a big combat-grade command bot in the center of the room where Oracle’s schematics say a “control unit” should be:

Brainiac_Ship_Guardian

Finally, while they entered from the ‘south’ and jammed the entrance, the other three walls in the room are deep alcoves that basically look like teleporter platforms – looks like a great way for reinforcements to arrive.

“So, what do you do?”

At this point, they group tries a number of things, but the situation quickly stabilizes to a number of key facts.

  1. A squad of three patrol-bots (same stats as the Junction Room) shows up on each of the three teleporter pads, every round.
  2. The Command Unit (+3 to everything relevant, 3 stress and full consequences) has a force field basically as tough as the one around the Robot Brain from the Junction Room. (Armor:4, but only active if the Command Bot’s declared action for that round is a Defend, otherwise it’s down). He can basically be ignored for now.
  3. The big bolts are very difficult to damage.

Round 1

The kids decide the reinforcements need to be dealt with.

Anna puts up an Ice Wall covering the ‘mouth’ of one of the teleporter alcoves. (I just made a … thing … Barrier? that the bots had to destroy to enter the room, with stress equal to Anna’s successes. That’s old-Fate thinking, probably: should have just made it a means for her to active defend against them entering the zone.)

Angelia blocks a second alcove with a force wall.

Mikenna fills her alcove with arrows and mows down the reinforcements there.

Round 2

Anna ices over the alcove that Angelia had before. Mikenna keeps firing on her alcove, and Angelia tries to unscrew one of the massive bolts with her telekinesis… unsuccessfully. (I decided to do some kind of ‘gradual success’ thing here, and didn’t have time to look up to see if that’s a thing that exists in Fate Core, so I just give decided on a total number of successes she needed to accumulate to totally unscrew the thing.)

Round 3

Anna ices over the third teleport node. Mikenna takes pot-shots at the Command Unit, but does nothing. Angelia keeps twisting.

Round 4

Anna and Mikenna team up to freeze and damage another bolt. This kind of works, but… reinforcements are slipping into the room through the shattered ice walls.

Round 5

Anna reinforces the ice walls while Mikenna cleans up the bots that got through. Angelia gets a bolt loose and starts on another.

Round 6

Anna, from this point on, is basically playing a game of ice-blaster whackamole with the ice walls, reinforcing whichever ones seem closest to going down. It keeps the others clear to act.

Mikenna finishes breaking the damaged bolt.

Angelia makes major headway on the third bolt.

Round 7

Angelia gets the third bolt free and turns to the fourth-and-final. Mikenna is assisting Anna.

Round 8

The Command Bot drops his shield and starts powering up a MAJOR blast at Angelia’s back (one round to build up an Advantage first). Mikenna fires a couple shots at it.

Round 9

Angelia has the bolt loose!

Mikenna defends Angelia from the Command Bot’s blast, taking the hit herself for a Moderate Consequence (burned torso).

Oracle hollers “Shield is down! Reinforcements incoming! (pause) I can get into their servers! *gleeful cackle*”

Round 10 (and after)

A boom tube opens, and through it comes Wonder Woman, armed with sword and shield, armored in red and gold. She takes in the room at a glance, nods to the three holding back Brainiac’s troops, and says:

“We must hold this control room until Oracle has done her work.”

She leaps across the room and buries her sword in the chest of the Control Bot, then turns.

“Will you fight with me?”

Yeah. Like she needs to ask.

The rest of the battle is a blur. Mikenna runs out of arrows and resorts to hand to hand. Angelia is smashing swaths through the incoming troops with the shattered halves of the broken bolt. Anna freezes robots solid until there is literally no more moisture left in the air to crystalize.

And still they come. And die, and die.

Finally, they hear that same voice – Brainiac’s voice, they now realize – call for a retreat. Announce evacuation. Flee.

They win.

Wonder Woman tells them they can’t use the Boom Tube to exit the ship (Watchtower security clearance only), but helps them hurriedly clear a teleport pad that Oracle has commandeered.

Its destination? Their home neighborhood – the massive shield unit, tumbling from the ship, destroyed the magnetic jar below the ship, freeing their friends and family.

They arrive in the middle of the street, covered in ice crystals, sweat, blood, grime…

… and drowning in the cheers of those who know them best.


Every one of us, sitting at the table, is grinning from ear to ear.

It’s a good day to be a hero.

Garbage Disposal – FAE Supers Gaming with my Family, Part Three

In the last session with my niece, nephew, and daughter, the three young heroes were sneaking through the ship on which they’d found themselves following some kind of abduction they couldn’t remember.

Thanks to Angelia, they’d slipped out of the main corridors and into access passages that helped them avoid most of security patrols. Talking with Oracle (the voice on their earbuds) about what they could and couldn’t remember, the kids were able to recall they’d kind of known each other ‘before’ (and pick up Aspect to match this knowledge), but that was about it, so far.

They found their way to a choke point in the ship’s construction – a large room they needed to get through to reach the ‘transport’ section of the ship and, hopefully, escape. Stealthily scouting the room, they could see it was some kind of ‘trash reclamation’ chamber currently crowded with “Overseers”: a sort of commander-level robot that, according to Oracle, would be a challenge even if there were only one.

Meanwhile, Angelia had noticed that there were a couple warning lights blinking on the control terminals in the room. After working out what the lights are supposed to mean, she Cleverly deduced all the trash delivery tubes for the room are currently locked, and the supply of various kinds of trash were building up in the massive tubes overhead.

“What’s in each of the tubes?” Jadyn asks me.

Garbage Disposal

I work out a quick list of tube contents.

  • Tube 1: Rotting and liquid food waste.
  • Tube 2: Automobiles and other large mechanical devices.
  • Tube 3: Scrap metal.
  • Tube 4: Chemical waste.
  • Tube 5: Pillows and mattresses.

(Tube 5 got a muttered “Seriously?!?” from my niece as she peered at the list.)

This room wasn’t really meant to be a fight, or even a point to engage the dice – it was more of a puzzle solving challenge in which pretty much anything would work and the GM (me) was just curious what they’d come up with. Basically, anything they decided to do to clear out the Overseers would work if it made any kind of sense at all – the main question was what sort of consequences (Aspects) would they have to deal with in the room, afterwards, when they tried to cross it.

After some debate over the use of the Chemical Waste (and a few ideas in which they tried to use every tube, no matter what), they decided to empty the tubes onto the Overseers in the following order:

– Tube 3: Scrap metal.
This would introduce a lot of sharp ‘stuff’ that could damage the bots.

– Tube 2: Automobiles and other large mechanical devices.
They saw the main value here as being the weight of the stuff: dropped on the bots, with the scrap metal already in place, would, they felt, either puncture or rupture their outer casings. Then…

– Tube 1: Rotting and liquid food waste.
It was a toss-up between this and the chemical waste, but in the end they went for this tube because (a) it would be likely to seep or pour into the damaged bots and cause shorts and (b) while gross, wouldn’t turn the whole room into a chemical hazard they had to get across.

The tubes were opened, stuff fell with clangs and crashes and lots of sloshing and squishing, sparks flew, and the room was full of the smell of rotting garbage and fried wiring.

The kids made their way through the piles of junk (or over and around it in the case of Angelia and ice-sliding Anna). Oracle assured them they were almost to the hangar. Anna keyed the switch for the big door leading out of the room, which slide open to reveal a Master Overseer coming to investigate the disturbance.

Cunning, observant, and clever; Intimidating size; Heavy front armor plating
Skilled (+3) at: commanding security bots, blaster cannon, forceful defending, assessing tactical situation, strafing zone with missiles

The kids scattered, Anna throwing up a quick ice shield and rolling to the side as the Overseer let off a series of plasma blasts.

Anna
Stunt: Because I can make snap-freeze shields, I get a +2 to quickly defend against physical attacks.

The overseer stomps into the room, coming about halfway through the hatchway, and blasts out an order that all prisoners surrender immediately.

Angelia, already used to throwing around heavy objects, tried to hurl the thing to the side, but the Overseer was braced and clinging to the deck and couldn’t be moved. Mikenna tried a few exploratory bow shots, but couldn’t get anything through the Overseer’s defenses. Anna slipped past the Overseer and into the hallway beyond, verifying that the nearest hangar was only a few hundred feet further along, but couldn’t figure out how to get her friends into the passageway, past the giant robot.

What followed was a few rounds of the Overseer proving Oracle right – it definitely was not the sort of thing the young heroes wanted to fight, if they could help it. Mikenna, dodging nimbly, was still unable to entirely avoid the thing’s plasma blasts and picked up several Stress hits and a “twisted knee” Minor Consequence. Angelia’s force fields handled the blasts a bit better, but she was still accumulating Stress. Anna avoided the worst of these attacks, but working on her own, her ice couldn’t do anything significant to the Overseer.

Once again, the kids ran through their (choose who goes next) initiative in such a way as to allow the Overseer the last action in a round, followed by it giving itself the first action of the next round. It took advantage of this by (first) blanketing the room in withering missile fire (successfully creating an advantage on Angelia of “pinned down”) and then Blasting her with everything it had. The force bubble held, but Angelia was driven straight down into trash and waste, sinking into and being swallowed by the muck.

Given the not-so-subtle example of the benefits of Create Advantage, the kids started working together.

The most memorable bit in the rounds that followed was Angelia rising up out of the trash with a MASSIVE ball of muck and gunk over her head and burying the Overseer in the stuff. Anna froze the whole mess solid, then both Mikenna and Angelia shattering pieces of it.

The end of the fight came as Anna and Mikenna were taking turns freezing and shattering pieces of the robot while Angelia used her telekinesis to ‘Pin Down’ the bot: it looked like it was going to get another big attack, but Mikenna managed to get an attack success JUST big enough to be impossible to handle with a combination of Stress and Consequences – the Overseer collapsed and shorted out. The kids managed to make it out with Stress and only Minor Consequences, though it was touch and go for a bit, and all three were completely out of Fate Points (I was treating the whole ‘escape from the ship’ as a single scenario, so breaks between play sessions didn’t refresh their pool).

Anna and Mikenna also picked up their last Relationship Aspects.

Mikenna
– Anna is too young to be put in danger.

Anna
– I will prove (to Mikenna) I’m a hero, just like everyone else.

The trio made their (limping) way out of Garbage Disposal and down the hallway, with Oracle telling them that the ports up ahead should give them a good view of the ship’s nearest hangar.

Unfortunately, the hangar was occupied.

Specifically, it was occupied by rank upon rank of the smaller “security” bots, larger humanoid combat models they hadn’t encountered yet, and dozens of overseers.

“That must be the whole invasion force for this ship,” said Oracle.

The Classic Flashback

This is where we pulled away the last remnants of the amnesia. They all remembered these forces. They remembered what had happened.

Ships had appeared, months ago, over many major cities through the world. New York. Chicago. Gotham. Central City. Mercury Bay. And, of course, their own home of Metropolis. Sections of each city were surrounded – encased, actually – in weird energy fields: gigantic forcefields that not even superheroes like Wonder Woman seemed to be able to do anything about. Worse, if the bubbles stayed up for too long, they would fade away and the area they’d bottled was just… gone. Erased. Deleted.

The news called them “jars,” and said that the attacking force was run by someone called Brainiac.

Still, it didn’t seem to matter that much from day to day. Even the areas in Metropolis that had been encased were far away from their home neighborhood – those were wealthy, important parts of town, and they lived in a low-income project – not even an invading alien would care that much about them.

Then something happened. The news started talking about new heroes showing up – helping the well-known heroes with the defense of Earth. People started noticing friends and neighbors with strange new abilities.

Then a bottle swallowed their neighborhood, followed almost immediately by Brainiac’s troops, dropping out of the sky like a storm, ordering everyone into the streets for ‘inspection.’

Everyone was scanned.

The kids remembered the scanners beeping when they were pointed at each of them. The light on top pulsed – the Collectors said something like “exobyte detected”… and everything went black.

They’d gotten powers.

And those powers had called Brainiac right to them — had dropped a jar over their friends and families — had started a timer ticking. Very much longer, and the only home they’d ever known would just be… gone.

I pointed to the last blank on their character sheets and asked each player to write down an Aspect that covered their reaction all this.

Angelia, the natural leader, started working on a plan:
– Aspect: We’ve got to get that Jar down before it’s too late.

Anna was more personal:
– Aspect: I will get my parents back.

Mikenna, thinking about it for longer than the others, rejected the personal or tactical for big and angry:
– Aspect: Brainiac needs to pay.

The mood at the table changed dramatically. They weren’t scrambling for an escape route anymore: they were looking around for something to break.

Needless to day, I was very impressed with how each character had come together. Treating the whole flashback as a refresh scene, I told all three players to reset their Fate Point totals to 3 and clear their Stress and Minor Consequences.

“Okay,” they asked Oracle. “How do we stop this?”

“We’re on a Ship?” – FAE Supers Gaming with my Family, Part Two

[Not a lot of dice rolling and no fights in this one, but good character building stuff.]

When we last left our heroes*, they’d just beaten down three guards and escaped from the “science tube” room where they’d been held in some kind of suspended animation. Rather than going out through the main exit that their mysterious ‘voice in the ear’ benefactor had provided them, however, they’d slipped out through a maintenance hatch that Angelia (Jadyn) had discovered, and were now crouching in a narrow passageway, next to an access terminal.

(* And we the players did actually leave them for awhile – this game took place over the four days my niece and nephew were in town. After the first fight, everyone crashed for the night and just left everything where it was on the gaming table. Being able to do this is, in fact, why we *have* a dedicated gaming table.)

“I wasn’t expecting you to find another way out of that room,” says the voice in their ears. “Heck, I didn’t even know there was another way out: the schematic I’m working with only shows the public corridors – it must be something they use for the patrol and security robots, so there’s a good chance the guys with guns don’t have any idea where you are right now. That’s good news, since it means I can get you a lot closer to getting off that ship without alerting more guards.”

“We’re on a ship?” Mikenna asks.

“Of course we’re on a ship,” Anna pipes up. “Can’t you tell? We’re probably in deep space right now.”

“Actually…” says the voice on their ear buds. “You’re not, though you are pretty far up – directly over one of the…” There’s a pause. “Is… any of this ringing any bells? We’ve had problems with amnesia from some of the people we’ve freed in the past.”

No on says anything.

“Riiiight,” the woman on the other end says. “Well… is there anything you *do* remember?”

So we talk a little bit about what the characters know about themselves and what they know about each other. I encourage really sketchy levels of detail. The kids determine that Angelia  (Jadyn) knows both Mikenna (Malik) and Anna (Kaylee); Anna knows Angelia, but only knows of Mikenna; Mikenna recognizes Angelia, but doesn’t know Anna at all.

Anna is eight, Angelia is 14 (a freshman who’s been taking high school classes for the last two years), Mikenna’s a junior.

At this point, we stop to talk a bit more about Aspects and what they do. Once that’s covered, we talk about the High Concept aspect they all already have, and what the other Aspect ‘slots’ are for.

  • High Concept (already covered)
  • Trouble Aspect
  • Relationship with Other Character 1
  • Relationship with Other Character 2
  • Something I’m not talking about yet.

I ask the players about Trouble Aspects and if there’s any sort of Aspects of their character that, while sometimes useful, tends to cause them problems more often than not. The kids, perhaps unsurprisingly, immediately get this concept. Kaylee already has one written down (Bites Off More Than She Can Chew, another expression of the character quality at the core of her first stunt), and with that example, it’s pretty easy for the other two kids to come up with something.

Angelia: “Wait a minute, let’s think about this…”

Mikenna: Good with crowds, bad with people.

I’m really happy with all three of these as Trouble Aspects. To be honest, they’re probably the best examples of these types of aspects that I’ve seen, let alone gotten to play with first hand; they’re absolutely doing their “first job” of giving me an easy level to pull that will reward the player with fate points, but they’re also actually useful – every one of them can be used to legitimately provide benefit in certain situations, and that’s so often not the case with Trouble aspects.

We also take a look at the information they came up with earlier about each other, and look at relationship aspects. Jadyn already has one written on Angelia’s sheet (I look out for Anna), and based on that the girls decide that Angelia babysits Anna sometimes.

From that, Kaylee writes down her first Relationship aspect: “Angelia is like the big sister I never had.”

Malik and Jadyn talk about their situation a little bit more, working out that Angelia is one of those kids that kids her own age don’t like because they’re taking advanced classes, and that older kids don’t like because the younger kid is showing them up. The kids work out that Mikenna is getting secretly, informally tutored on math and science by Angelia.

None of them really remember what happened, or how they got where they are right now, or much about anything or anyone beyond the people they’re looking at, but they remember a little.

Malik writes down: “I trust Angelia with the ‘brainy stuff.'”

A fascinating dynamic develops out of this, in that Angelia (the ‘middle’ kid, both in the game and at the table) is essentially the leader of the group.

I’m happy with getting the trouble and the first relationship aspects down at that point, so when the kids struggle with their second relationships, I wave that off for later and move things along.

“Okay, this is Oracle again,” say the voice in their ear buds.

‘Oracle?’ mouths Mikenna. Angelia shrugs.

“I’ve been going over the schematics for the tunnels you’re in, and I think I’ve found a way to get you closer to one of the hangars, which should be the best way to get you off the ship.” The maintenance screen they’re crouched next to light up with a map, and a series of passages light up. “Follow this route, and that should get you almost all the way there without you needing to go back into high-traffic areas.

“Almost?” asks Mikenna.

“Yeah… there’s a little bit of a problem, but let’s get you moving for now.”

The trio heads out, and traverse a fairly large distance without any problem (bypassing about a half-dozen rooms I’d sketched out encounters for and now discard, unmourned). Oracle brings them to a room with a round shaft leading down.

(This is something I’ve put in place to encourage the players to come with some kind of ‘movement power’ for their guys.)

“You need to get down to the bottom of their shaft,” says Oracle, “but it’s quite a ways down – don’t just jump.”

“How about we slide?” say Anna, and creates a kind of ice platform anchored to the side of the shaft, steps onto it, and starts building the platform down like a large spiral slide. Pretty normal ice-guy thing, but new to the players, so we do some rolls to control the descent and keep from descending at an out of control speed.

Meanwhile, Mikenna has pulled a line out of her utility belt, and is using it like a abseil/zip line, while Jadyn describes Angelia getting down by holding onto the walls of the shaft with her telekinesis and lowering herself that way.

I point out that anyone looking at Angelia would think she was just flying down slowly. Jadyn says “I can fly?!? Cool!” and Angelia’s movement accelerates rapidly.

We roll some dice to see how everyone’s new method of getting around works, and given the opportunity, all three kids decide to accent their ability with a Stunt. Jadyn can’t think of one yet, but knows she wants one.

Anna

  • Because I can make ice-slides, I get a +2 to flashily overcome movement-related obstacles.

Mikenna

  • Because I have a zip-line, I get a +2 to cleverly overcome Physical obstacles.
  • Clever +2 (Despite leaving ‘the brainy stuff’ to Angelia, Mikenna is quite smart herself – she just doesn’t apply it much of the time, apparently.)

The shaft opens out into a utility control room, and we’re sort of back to a room vaguely like a scene in the DCUO tutorial.

“Okay,” says Oracle, “the good news is, you’re almost to the hangar. The bad news is, they know you escaped from the holding pods, and they’ve put guards on all the choke points that might let someone off the ship. That’s the next room – it’s marked ‘waste accretion’ on the schematics. Take a peek in there and see what kind of guards they have posted.”

Anna (stealthily) creeps up, and reports a half-dozen “really big spider robots.” Basically these guys.

Stats coming next session.

Meanwhile, Jadyn has noticed that there are a couple warning lights blinking on the control terminals in the room. After working out what the lights are supposed to mean, she Cleverly deduces that the room next door is supposed to be where “Earth trash” is accumulated and destroyed, but all the delivery tubes for the room are currently locked, and the supply of various kinds of trash are building up in the massive tubes over the robot’s head.

“What’s in each of the tubes?” Jadyn asks.

And therein begins a plan.

“Escape from the Science Tubes” – FAE Supers Gaming with my Family, Part One

I could write about this game for a week. It’s possible I might.

There’s so much to take out of this experience, both in terms of game design, game running, game playing, and just the experience of playing with new players, that I probably need a few days just to organize my thoughts, but I don’t have that kind of time – I’m on a plane in 24 hours, and soaking in wall-to-wall busy for the next two weeks.

So instead, you get a series of slightly disorganized actual play reports. Hopefully that’ll work.

Right. Here we go.

The Most Wonderful Time… Of the Year

My sister was coming out to visit for the four or five days between Christmas and New Years. In tow, my nephew (14) and niece (10), and it was pretty much assumed that while everyone was out, Uncle Doyce would be playing games with the kids.

No Experience Required

Although neither niece or nephew do tabletop gaming regularly, I’ve played quite a few games with them in the past. Pilgrims of the Flying Temple went well, as did Happy Birthday Robot, though Dread was probably the biggest reigning hit – my nephew ended up writing a play about the events of that game session (and a proper ending, since we didn’t actually finish the story). At some point, I’ve also run something that required full sets of polyhedrals, but neither they or I can remember what that was. At any rate, they didn’t have a lot of gaming experience, and I needed to keep that in mind.

My daughter, by contrast, has done quite a bit more gaming with me, most recently a Fate Accelerated Edition “supers” game, very loosely set off the beaten track in some backwater DC Universe (I called it Earth-23). When I mentioned I’d be running something when Malik and Jadyn were in town, she got very excited at the idea that she’d be able to play some version of Fate with her cousins.

Note: I didn’t say “Fate” at any point; that was her assumption, and any hint that it might not turn out to be true was met with lukewarm enthusiasm at best. No surprise, as she clearly likes the game.

I didn’t feel like arguing, and at any rate I had some decent ideas for what I could do with a supers game.

So this is what I have:

  • Nephew, Malik, 14. Little gaming experience. Passing familiarity with ‘supers’ thanks to the Batman “Arkham” console games.
  • Niece, Jadyn, 10. Little gaming experience. Very little if any supers familiarity.
  • Daughter, Kaylee, 8. Some gaming experience, almost all Fate or FAE. Has watched Young Justice, JLU, and Justice League series straight through, several times.

Clearly, I can’t just jump in and assume that everyone knows what’s going on with either the game or a setting. Forget “does everyone know who Solomon Grundy is?” – in terms of tropes, I can’t assume most of the people at the table will be familiar with common superhero powers, let alone how you’d express them in Fate or any other game.

So, what I need is a good introduction both to the setting and the system.

The best example I had of this sort of thing was The Demolished Ones, a really fabulous Fate scenario that scratches about every gaming and story itch I have. Unfortunately, the tone and concept are more than a little dark for young/new gamers, and it was too long to wrap up in any kind of satisfactory way in the time we had. Still… the “you start out with amnesia” thing…

I’d asked Kaylee early on if she wanted to play Nataly (her girl from our solo game, about which I still need to write about three or four more blog posts to get caught up), or make up someone new for her cousins’ visit, and she opted to make up someone new, because she likes making new characters almost as much as playing them. (Don’t we all?)

Knowing that, I chucked the “Christmas Gone Amuck in Mercury Bay” concept and focused on the idea of a group ‘origin story’, which brought me back around to something I’d been toying around with a few months ago – basically using the premise of DC Universe Online as the starting point of a tabletop supers game.

They Call It a “Tutorial”

See, the terribly useful thing about the start of most MMOs is that they set things up with the assumption that the new player is somewhat interested in the game, but doesn’t know that much about it – the character is a bit in the dark, and so learns along with the player. Also, a good tutorial at the beginning of the game like this starts out with simple concepts (this is how you attack) and slowly adds mechanics to the experience (this is the room where you learn to use your movement power) until, by the end, you’re doing all the ‘stuff’ you need to do to play the rest of the game (barring more esoteric activities like crafting and whatnot).

This sort of idea is easily (but, sadly, not often) mapped to an introductory scenario for a tabletop RPG like Fate.

Combine that with the amnesia stuff from The Demolished Ones, and good things start to happen.

As you’ll see.

You Wake Up In A Tube

I sat down with my players, an FAE book for each of us, lots of Fate dice, and blank character sheets.

I start with Jadyn, describing a dream her character is having in which she’s swimming around a coral reef, but in her normal street clothes, and she can breathe just fine. As soon as she realizes she’s dreaming, however, she starts to wake up, and finds herself inside some kind of glass tube, breathing mask and other wires strapped to her head, floating in some kind of liquid roughly the consistency of hair gel.

A female voice crackles in her ear (and in those of the other two players who are in similar tubes). “Right! I found you! Give me just a second and I’ll get you out of there.” Probably another minute passes and then the glass front of the tubes starts to roll down like a car window, spilling the goop out onto (and through) the metal grating floor of the large room. The goop flow carries all three of them out onto the deck as well, coughing and trying to squeegee the muck off their arms and faces.

Now’s the time to borrow from The Demolished Ones.

To Jadyn, I say, “You look over at Kaylee’s character. What is the first and most striking thing you notice about her appearance?”

She tells us that the girl has perfectly white hair, and I have Kaylee write that down on the back of her sheet.

I then repeat this for the other players, having each dictate a noteworthy physical feature of the person to their left at the table. Malik’s character has shockingly blue eyes. Jadyn’s character’s eyes are all black, with white pupils.

We do a bit of roleplaying and “what do you do first/next?” type things as I get them talking with each other for a few seconds – there are a lot of these suspended animation pods (immediately dubbed ‘science tubes’ by the players) in the room; most are empty, and those that aren’t contain people that have been in there so long their limbs are skinny and weak, their hair is mostly gone, and their skin has gone ‘water wrinkly’ all over and so badly their faces can’t easily be made out. They may not even be alive. Eww.

Once everyone gets a chance to actually roleplay themselves, I ask each player to tell me the first impression of the personality of the person on their right. Kaylee’s character is a “worrier,” Jadyn’s is “a nerdy expert,” and Malik’s is “an all-star athlete with attitude.”

Right.

My “tutorial” goal for this room:

  • Get (and explain) High Concept aspects
  • Get (and explain) at least one Approach for everyone
  • Build a stunt (if they need it) and explain them

The voice in their earbud returns. “Okay, the good news is, I can get the main door to your room open. The bad news is, there are guards right outside. Are any of you good with weapons?”

Malik says “What have you got?” and some kind of weapons locker opens in the corner. I tell him that it has whatever it is that he’s hoping to find, and he finds a bow and quiver of arrows and some random ‘utility belt’ stuff. No one else even checks the thing.

The door opens and a trio of ‘guards’ turn and then rush in. These guys:

Guard: Small quick combat unit. +2 at: patrolling, pulse rifle. -2 complex thought. Stress: 1 (2 hits takes it out)

I’m basically using the initiative system from Marvel Heroic, with just a touch of Doctor Who, so I ask if anyone is planning to do something that involves just talking.

Jadyn says she is, so I have her go first. She shouts “KEEP THEM BUSY” and runs off into the rows of “science tubes.” I ask what she’s doing, and she informs me she’s looking for a different exit.

Here, of course, is where an MMO disappoints you and a tabletop game (especially Fate) shines. I say “that’s very Cunning” and have her roll her dice and add her rating for the Cunning approach.

“I don’t have a rating in Cunning,” she replies.

I explain she can give it a rating at either 3, 2, 1, or 0, and how many of each rating she has to use, and she gives Cunning a 3, rolls, and easily adds the aspect “Concealed Maintenance Hatch” to the room.

“That’s what you’re doing while they keep the guards busy,” I say. “Who’s going next?”

She hands off to Malik (character: Mikenna), who uses his bow not to shoot the robots, but to burst a pipe and fill the area they’re standing in with steam (interesting choice, that). During this, he picks his +3 approach, writes out his High Concept, and picks up the first Stunt of the game

Mikenna

  • High Concept: High School All-star Marksman
  • Quick: +3
  • Stunt: Because everything moves slowly to my eyes, I get a +2 to Quickly create advantages.

Malik gives the turn to the robots, who have to overcome the passive steam obstacle to shoot, and end up not only missing, but giving both Mikenna and Anna (Kaylee’s character) a boost for their Defense success with style.

Anna is last. She’s scrambling for cover from the plasma blasts of the robots, shrieks, flings her arms out, and freezes… well, pretty much everything. The steam in the air, the water condensing on the bots, the bots themselves… pretty much everything. Two of them are taken out, and the last one is damaged, with ice stuck in its joints.

Anna

  • High Concept: Sub-zero Super Hero
  • Trouble: I bite off more than I can chew (didn’t come up here, but Kaylee already had it written down)
  • Flashy: +3
  • Stunt: Because I don’t know my own strength, I get a +2 to Forcefully attack multiple targets.

Kaylee starts off the next round by handing initiative back to Jadyn, who reappears out of the stacks just as the last robot rounds on Anna, gun leveled.

Her character (Angelia) shouts “Don’t you DARE!” and slams the robot into the ceiling… then the floor… then the wall.

Angelia

  • High Concept: Telekinetic Science Nerd
  • Relationship Aspect: I Look Out for Anna
  • Clever: +3
  • Forceful: +2
  • Stunt: Because I’m better at lifting heavy things, I get a +2 to Forcefully overcome obstacles. (Didn’t get used in this conflict, but the player really wanted it right away.)

“Come on,” she says, while the other two stare at the smashed robot. “I’ve got a way out.”

… and we’ll stop there… for now.

Next Up: “What Do You Mean, ‘Spaceship’?”

  • Sneaking through access tunnels I didn’t even know were there.
  • A little memory returns, leading to…
  • Relationship Aspects, Trouble Aspects, Scene Aspects

Atomic Robo, Some of the Most Fun You Can Have with Action Science!

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Atomic Robo & the Fightin’ Scientists of Tesladyne | TheMittani.com
Let’s start with a quick questionnaire. Do you like: Buckaroo Banzai; Indiana Jones; Doc Savage; Hellboy (movie or comic); Science, especially when it is followed with an exclamation point or preceded by the words “violent,” “adventure,” or both; Nikola Tesla; Wisecracks; Beating up Nazis …

Fate: Trouble Magnet – Session Three

We picked up the action from Session Two the following day. Hooray for weekends and little brother’s naptime.


Matthew Cuthbert drives a beautifully preserved old pickup that purrs down the highway like a sleeping lion. Inside the cab of the pickup, the old man and young girl are quiet: Matthew seems a bit uncomfortable with small talk, now that he’s on his own, and the Nataly has always been comfortable entertaining herself — she pulls out several of her comic books once it’s clear Matthew isn’t going to spend the drive quizzing her, and dives in.

After a half-hour or so, he clears his throat and asks what she’s reading.

“Just… my comic books,” she says, looking at the covers as though she wasn’t sure the covers matched the contents.

“Ahh, I see…” he mulls that over. “Which, ah… which ones are those about?”

She shrugs. “Superman. Captain Spectacular. The Clue. War Witch. The Inspectre.”

“Well, now…” he says, smiling a bit, “I’ve even heard of some of those.” He frowns. “You know… it’s a puzzle. There’re superheroes out there, and there’s superhero comics, but a lot of the comics you mentioned are made-up people, instead of the real ones. I wonder why that is.”

[Note: I had not talked this idea over with Kaylee beforehand — we were just roleplaying through the car ride and I lobbed this at her to see what she’d do.]

Nataly considered for a few seconds, then shrugged. “People read the comics to have fun. If they read something that happened to a real superhero, that’s just… news. Nobody likes news.”

Matthew pondered that, then nodded. “I reckon that’s so.”

[The next day, I asked Kaylee which of the superheroes she mentioned were ‘real’ and which were ‘just comics’ in Nataly’s version of the world. The answer she gave told me that we’re in somewhere in the DC multiverse (I’ll call it Earth-23), albeit with a few unfamiliar names in the headlines. I suspect this is at least partly because she’d rather Nataly meet Robin than read about him.]

The drive was a long one — her new home wasn’t anywhere near Clearwater Campus, and Nataly wondered how her new family had even heard of it, let alone her. She asked about her new home, but Matthew didn’t know much.

“We just moved in a few days ago,” he said. “Marilla – my sister – picked it out, while I was coming to get you. Have you ever lived on a farm?”

Nataly shook her head.

“Me neither,” he confided. “I guess we’ll all figure it out together.”

“What did you do before you moved?” Nataly asked.

“Well, now…” he thought it over. “I suppose we were just… looking around for the right thing.”

Nataly dozed for awhile, and Matthew woke her when they got close to their destination.

“Now, Marilla is… really excited to meet you,” he said, “but she gets stern when she’s nervous, so don’t hold her first impression against her. She warms up over time.”

Nataly nodded. A veteran of uncounted “family interviews”, she had no fear of meeting new people.

The farm house looked as though it hadn’t been lived in for quite awhile. It was nice, just a bit run-down.

“We’ll have lots to work on,” thought Nataly.

A woman about Matthew’s age was waiting in the yard, and Nataly got out and walked over right away to shake her hand.

“So,” said Marilla, “you’re the girl.” She tried on a smile, though it didn’t look especially comfortable. “Good.”

Marilla and Matthew give Nataly a tour of the rambling old farmhouse, and she’s encouraged to unpack, but that really doesn’t take very long. The two suggest she ‘do a bit of exploring around the place’, which she does, though she purposely does not do any experimentation with her bracelet at this time, her reluctance explained as a desire to have at least one day go by at the farm with nothing going wrong. Supper and bedtime are pleasantly uneventful, and Nataly dozes off while (re)reading comic books.


The next morning, after helping with breakfast, Nataly is directed back outside for more ‘exploring’, and her own meandering and boredom eventually get the best of her and lead her to more messing around with her bracelet. This goes quite a bit better than the previous morning’s misadventure with Kendra, and after a few hours she finds she’s able to fly reliably and even get up a kind of ‘force bubble’ semi-reliably — it seems to be more of a flinch reaction when she’s about to smash into something hard.

She’s surprised to realize that flying is hard work: something that leaves her quite as winded as she would be from a long run or a series of sprints — it’ll be in her best interests to continue to ‘exercise’ her new abilities.

She returns to the house at lunchtime, washes up, helps lay food out, eats enough for three grown adults, chattering the whole time, and then actually falls asleep sitting in her chair. Matthew carries her up to her room and she naps for almost three hours, then helps her new family unpack and organize the house. Marilla doesn’t think much of her comic books, but does have a surprisingly broad selection of science fiction novels that Nataly has never heard of and which Marilla seems eager for the girl to read.

Nataly wakes in the middle of the night unsure what’s jolted her from sleep, but doesn’t have to wait long — the strange skittering across both the roof of the house and the floor of her room answers that question quickly enough.

She’s still trying to decide if she should go and explore or call for someone when a large, clicking, metallic spider-creature-thing jumps onto the foot of her bed.

The CGI from Lost in Space has NOT aged well, in case you were wondering.
The CGI from Lost in Space has NOT aged well, in case you were wondering.

Nataly, never a big fan of spiders in general, much less big robo-spiders the size of dobermans, lets out a shriek, shoves at the thing and… blasts it back off her bed and right through the wall, leaving a gaping hole between her room and Marilla’s.

There’s a moment of stunned silence, then Nataly shouts:

“Marilla!”

Just as Marilla shouts:

“Matthew! They’re here!”

Who’s here?” Nataly hollers, and jumps out of bed.

“Get downstairs!” is her only reply, and she does so, stopping only long enough to grab her backpack.

The outside of the house is crawling with spiderbots.

Spiderbots
Metal Shell, Spindly Legs

+2 to Creepy Spider Stuff
-2 to everything else.

No stress boxes.

Four of the ‘bots leap down, a silvery web spread out between them like a net. Nataly throws a force field up that’s too big for the web to surround, the spiders themselves hit it and bounce away. Matthew tries to grab one and smash it, but it crawls up/wraps around his arm and grapples with him.

Marilla emerges from the house carrying a bag that would intimidate Mary Poppins and snaps at Nataly to get to the barn, but the girl isn’t going to leave her new friends… family. Whatever. She drops her own force field and creates shields around Marilla and Matthew instead, which give them more than enough of an edge against the spiders to do some damage. Matthew peels his loose and smashes it against a second one, destroying both, while Marilla’s arm seems to… fold apart, revealing a very large gun barrel that spews bright blasts of energy that make short work of several spiders (though they also damage the house and start several small fires).

Matthew, at least, is willing to listen to Marilla, and heads to the barn to get his pickup out so they can get away.

Nataly’s a bit traumatized by her brand new home being on fire, but Marilla’s grim determination helps her stay focused. Marilla’s unexpected offensive has the spiderbots reeling. [Rather than going for damage, she created an Advantage for Nataly to exploit, and the dice were very kind, giving Nataly two free +2 aspect invocation bonuses to use against the enemy.]

Nataly takes advantage of Marilla ‘grouping’ the stunned spiderbots into several large clusters and tries to repeat the trick she did to the bot that jumped on her bed, hurling several ‘balls’ of force energy at the clusters of spiders.

[[Between the two free invokes, the +2 bonus she gets from one of her stunts, Kaylee’s insistence on using a Fate Point to invoke her ‘bracelet’ aspect, a good dice roll on her part and a bad dice roll on my part, she ended up with something like fourteen (!) shifts worth of damage to dole out amongst the ‘bots. Not enough to take them all out, but more than enough to cut their numbers by half and give her and her family plenty of time to drive away.]]

It’s quiet in the cab of the truck. Nataly is looking out the back window at her first real home, burning, dwindling in the distance.

“Well…” Matthew finally says. “I’d guess you did a bit of something or other with your bracelet today?”

Nataly doesn’t know what to say, or how he knew, so she simply nods. He nods in return, glancing at Marilla, who’s mouth gets tight.

“It’s our own fault,” she says, “this foolishness about living out in the country. There’s no other anomalous energy signatures out here — anything the girl does will stand out like a spotlight.” She shakes her head.

“I’m sorry,” Nataly’s voice is small, sure that this is all her fault.

“Oh, girl, don’t be silly. We should have known better.”

“I could… just…” she swallows “…not use the bracelet?”

“Well, now…” Matthew drawls. “That won’t do, I don’t think.” (Which is a great relief to Nataly.)

“No it will not,” Marilla agrees, primly. “The problem is being out here in the open.” She considers. “What a body needs is camouflage — the more strange things going on around us, the less likely anyone’s going to notice the girl.” She looks at Matthew.

“City it is, then,” he replies, and spares a smile for Nataly. “Best you get some sleep. It’s a long drive to Mercury Bay.”

FATE: Kaylee’s Solo Supers Session Two – Trouble Magnet

Nataly wakes up in her room at the Clearwater Campus, her head foggy and filled with that nagging feeling you get when you can’t remember a dream you’re sure you really want to remember. Something about flying?…

[Amusing note: Kaylee has never felt, so far as she knows, that “can’t quite remember a dream” or the “I can’t remember what I was going to tell you” sensation, so explaining what Nataly’s head felt like took a lot longer than expected, and wandered off into an interesting discussion about memory.]

Nataly frowns at the ceiling, trying to remember why she feels so odd (and why she’s laying on top of the covers, fully dressed) when there’s a knock on the door. Nataly hops up to answer it, and notices the bracelet on her wrist. Her adventure from the night before comes back all at once – at least up to the part where she found her treasures box and opened it. She hides the bracelet in her bedclothes and opens the door.

It’s Kendra, literally hopping up and down with impatience. She slips inside as soon as the door opens more than a crack. The girls exchange notes, with Kendra doing most of the back-filling. Nataly put the bracelet on, started glowing and floating, and didn’t answer Kendra at all. The guard was patrolling past Mrs. McHevy’s desk, so Kendra closed the storage room all the way and doused Nataly’s glow by throwing a quilt from one of her treasures boxes over her — pretty good ghost costume, apparently.

Once the guard had moved on, Kendra tried to wake Nataly up, then gave that up and just pulled her through the air back to her room, “like a big party balloon.” She’d moved Nataly over her bed and, with nothing else to try, left her there.

Nataly finds this whole idea of floating very interesting. She retrieves the bracelet from her bed, slips it on, and tries jumping off the bed as high as she can and flying. No joy. A few more attempts (with Kendra providing commentary and suggestions) do not improve the situation.

There’s another knock on the door. Kids aren’t supposed to have anyone but them in their rooms, so Nataly hides both Kendra and the bracelet under the bed, and answers the door.

It’s Mrs. McHevy, who first asks if she heard “someone” jumping on “someone’s” bed, which is strictly against the rules. Nataly looks hangdog, but Mrs. McHevy can’t keep her stern expression on, because she’s excited: it seems a new adoptive parent just showed up at the Campus, just this morning, with all paperwork in order and asking specifically for Nataly! Interviews are normally on Saturdays, never on Sundays, but with this parent’s fine references – really quite remarkable references – exceptions were made, and Nataly should really get dressed up right now to go meet him.

Him? Why yes. His name is Mr. Cuthbert, and he’s filled out adoption (not foster, adoption!) papers on behalf of himself and his sister. A bit of an unorthodox family arrangement for an adoptive family, but their references were very good. Now get dressed!

Nataly moves quickly, just to get Mrs. McHevy out of the room before she notices Kendra, and they go to meet Mr. Cuthbert, who is waiting with the Principle.

Mr. Cuthbert, who insists (well, quietly and politely requests) that Nataly call him Matthew, seems like a very nice man — a bit older than people in most interviews, but still not old old. He doesn’t seem put off at all at Nataly’s rather hesitant answers during their chat, and they agree that Nataly should go pack and “take some time to say goodbye to all your friends.”

Nataly rushed back to her room to tell Kendra the news, but Kendra isn’t there, and neither is the bracelet!

Nataly rushes around, looking for Kendra, but finds Jolene instead, who first snarks about not seeing “your so called friend” and then shows shocked disbelief that Nataly is being adopted, before her, and not even on a Saturday.

Nataly finds a quiet spot to try to think through the problem. (Time to roll Clever.) She thinks of Kendra giving her frustrated instructions on how try to fly, and thinks her friend probably went to try it herself. She thinks of places she would go to do that, and checked the gym and playground before rushing to the roof, through a door that Kendra herself had once showed her didn’t lock properly.

Sure enough, there’s Kendra, on the edge of the room, trying to screw up her courage to the point where she’s ready to jump off a four-story building. Nataly tries to get her to come down, but Kendra is determined, and prepares to jump. Nataly rushes to her and manages to grab her arm before she goes over. She grabs her by the wrist/bracelet, and in her struggle to pull her friend back from the fall, the two shoot up into the air.

Nataly knows several moments of stunned wonder as she soars out over the lawns around the campus… and then she and her friend start falling in a long arc.

Nataly tries to (Carefully) think about what she had been trying to do when she flew off into the sky, but she can’t (too many distractions from her friend screaming and clawing at her arms). The ground rushes at them, Nataly flinches —

And they bounce, the two of them inside some kind of bubble force field. One massive bounce takes them into the woods, where they ricochet off the trees like a pinball until the bubble ‘bursts’ and they crash into a big bush.

[Another weird disconnect: Kaylee has no idea what a pinball machine is. This must be rectified.]

The girls limp home (Kendra ended up with a very tender ankle), and Nataly arrives back at her room grass-stained, scuffed, dirty, with twigs and leaves caught in her hair.

The principle and Matthew Cuthbert are waiting. The principle actually facepalms, expecting the Trouble Magnet to ruin her best chance at adoption.

Nataly sheepishly explains she was “just saying goodbye to my friend.”

Matthew looks the girl over, his eyes lingering for more than a few seconds on her bracelet, and says “Well, now, it seems the best thing for you is lots of open space and room to explore.” He turns to the surprised principle. “If everything’s all square with you, Nataly and I should probably be going.”


Observations: The game is going well! The only real challenge is the fact that Kaylee really likes to grab narration and just say whether various things are successful or not, or what others-besides-nataly are doing/saying/thinking. I’m generally fine with the input on setting and color stuff, because it tells me what kind of story she’s interested in, but I did remind her that (a) I’m playing too, and pretty much all I get to do is make stuff up, so she should try to leave something for me to do 🙂 and (b) when there’s some kind of conflict, the dice decide whether something works, not us. This second point was much easier for her to get when I compared it to the MMOs we play together (Wizard or Pirate 101, frex) where she decides what she’s going to do, but the game decides if it works.

FATE: Short “Supers” Session with Kaylee

Last night, Kaylee and I decided to trade our bedtime reading for a introductory mini-session of Fate Accelerated Edition, with her playing the would-be superhero she made up over the weekend.


It’s Saturday afternoon, just after lunch, and Nataly Smith is lying on the bed in her small room at Clearwater Campus (a combination orphanage and elementary) reading one of the few donated comic books she hasn’t worn the covers off of already. Her eyes are wide, drinking in the four-color heroics — she’s a million miles away.

She’s also late.

A loud knocking jolts her upright, and the door opens before she can answer. Mrs. McIntyre, Principle’s Assistant, bustles in, demanding to know why Nataly isn’t dressed for her interview yet — why she isn’t in fact at her interview, as the appointment was scheduled to start five minutes ago. It seems the girl forgot that she was supposed to meet with a potential foster parent today, and she rushes around under Mrs. McIntyre’s frazzled glare, pulling on her best jumper (“just a little bit frayed along the hem”) and rushing out the door.

Another child might have rushed into the classroom where Principle Sanchez was waiting, or lurked outside, trying to eavesdrop on his conversation with the potential foster parent, but Nataly simply knocked and waited. The principle called her in, and she — a veteran of many, many interviews, walked quietly over to the heavyset older woman sitting primly in an undersized chair and came to a sort of schoolyard-grade attention, hands clasped behind her.

The woman was not impressed.

“Skinny little thing,” she said through pinched lips. “And I thought you said she was older. I need a strong, reliable girl.”

Principle Sanchez’s mouth twitched. “Nataly is one of the oldest girls currently living on-campus. I believe she’s ten.” He stroked his mustache. “In any case, while our girls have a fine sense of responsibility, we don’t normally rate them by their lifting capacity.”

The older woman gave him a sharp look, but his expression made it impossible to take offense. “You know I take care of anyone I foster, Mister Sanchez.” She turned back to Nataly. “Ten, then?”

Nataly nodded. “Yes…” She waited, then. “Ma’am.”

The woman sniffed. “You seem pleasant enough for some barren little suburban couple to’ve snapped you up — how is it you’re still here?”

“I… haven’t been very lucky,” Nataly said, eyes downcast. Which was true, though it didn’t really tell the whole story. Nataly had been taken home with – literally – dozens of families on a trial basis, but something always went wrong.

The woman seemed to sense the evasion. “Not lucky?” Her eyes narrowed. “Are you some kind of trouble maker?”

No, I’m a trouble magnet. Nataly thought — a phrase she’d heard the principle, Mrs. McIntyre, and most of her teachers use at one time or another — but she clamped her jaw shut to keep from saying it out loud.

The woman scowled. “Well? Speak up? Are you a trouble maker?” The principle started to say something, but she held up her hand to him, palm out. “I want to hear what the girl has to say.”

But Nataly froze. Trouble magnet echoed around her head, driving out any other possible reply she could have come up with and, knowing she couldn’t say that, she said nothing.

The silence dragged on, until the woman sniffed, sat back, and shook her head. “No.”

Principle Sanchez cleared his throat. “Perhaps –”

“No,” she snapped. “Two minutes into the conversation, and she’s already gone obstinate and locked her heels? I won’t have it. I’m too old and there are plenty of other girls.” She nodded her chin at Nataly. “You can go, girl, and good luck finding a family that will put up with a little bullheaded creature like you.”

Nataly’s lower lip moved just a bit, but she locked that down as well, managed a brief, automatic curtsy, and walked back the way she’d come.

It hardly surprised her anymore, when an interview went poorly. But it still hurt.


A hour later, Nataly was still sitting on the bed in her good jumper. She’d tried moping for a while, but she couldn’t really get her heart into it, and her eyes had fallen on the comic book she’d left behind. She was just picking it up when a shadow darkened her doorway.

It was Jolene.

“I just wanted to stop by,” said Jolene “and tell you how sorry I am that your interview foster parent thought you were terrible.”

Nataly glared. “That isn’t what happened.”

Jolene, only nine, raised an eyebrow in a way you normally only saw on bored adults. “Well, she didn’t take you home, did she? Something went wrong.” She tipped her head. “But something always does go wrong with you, doesn’t it?”

“Go. Away.”

“Away?” Jolene frowned. “But I’m in the hallway, not your room. There’s no rules against being in the hallway.”

“What. Do you want?”

“I just wanted to tell you how sorry I am,” replied Jolene. “I mean, I’m moving in with a real adoptive family next week, and you can’t even find a foster family to take you. I feel terrible.” She sighed. “At this rate, you’ll be eighteen and kicked out of here as completely hopeless before you even see your treasures box.”

“I won’t –” Nataly’s eyes narrowed. “Treasure box?”

Treasures box.” Jolene’s eyes lit up, sensing a new weak spot. “Oh, I suppose you don’t know about those, since you came here as a little abandoned baby no one wanted. It’s the box where they put all the valuables you had when you came here, that you might lose.” She tilted your head. “Then again, since came here as an unwanted baby, you probably don’t even have –”

Nataly slammed the door.


“I’m never going to get adopted,” Nataly pushed at her food with a fork, her chin resting on her fist. “Everyone says I’m too skinny.”

Kendra, her one friend at Clearwater, gave her look. “Is that why you punched Jolene?”

Nataly’s head snapped up in surprise. “What? I didn’t punch her. I just slammed the door in her face.”

“Oh.” Kendra glanced across the cafeteria at a distance table full of giggling girls. “That’s too bad. She needs a good smack.”

Nataly grinned, but thinking of Jolene reminded her of something else. “She said something about a Treasures Box. Was she making that up or –”

“Nope, we all have those — all the stuff they don’t trust kids with.” She squinted into the middle distance. “Mine’s actually three boxes I think, and a key for a storage garage — all the stuff my grams left behind when she died, I think. They keep em all in a big storage room behind Mrs. McIntyre’s desk.” She looked at Nataly. “You didn’t know?”

“I never get to help in the office,” Nataly said. “And I’ve always been here. I probably don’t even have a box.”

“I bet you do,” Kendra said. Then she got the smile that was why she and Nataly had always been friend. “In fact…”

Nataly caught the grin and felt it spread to her own lips. “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?”


Fifteen minutes after lights out, Kendra knocked on Nataly’s door, and the two of them scurried through the campus, eyes peeled for the security guard that walked the hallways at night, tapping his stick on the radiators. Kendra claimed to know his wandering pattern, and she must have been right, because the girls didn’t see him all the way to the storage room door in the hallway behind Mrs. McIntyre’s desk.

The door was locked.

“How…” Nataly stared at the handle. “Can you pick locks?”

“No.” Kendra shook her head as through Nataly had just asked if she could breathe water. “Who knows how to pick locks?”

“Lots of people,” Nataly said.

“Lots of people in comic books, maybe,” Kendra muttered. “We need the key.”

“Well who –” Nataly’s eyes widened. “The janitor! He’s got every key to the whole building!”

“But they’re either in his closet, which is locked,” Kendra said, “or he took them home.”

“Maybe…” Nataly shook her head, thinking, but Kendra grinned and snuck back toward Mrs. McIntyre’s desk. “What are you doing?!?”

“I bet she’s got the keys in her desk.”

Nataly hurried after. “That’s private!”

Kendra stared back at her. “We’re breaking into a whole private room.”

She had a good point. Nataly joined the search, and found a ring of keys in a coffee cup full of loose change. Nataly went back to the door and started trying keys when Kendra stopped her.

“I just heard the security man hit a radiator!” she whispered.

The girls rushed back to Mrs. McIntyre’s desk and hid underneath. The guard walked slowly up and actually SAT on the desk for awhile, muttering to himself, sniffing loudly, clearing his throat, and generally just taking a load off in that way people who think they’re alone do. He even farted a couple times, but the girls bit their lips and stayed silent — probably the greatest test of their will in their short lives.

Finally, he stood up and wandered off. The girls hurried back and kept trying keys until the door opened and they slipped inside.

Only then did the giggles take them.


There were a lot of shelves and a LOT of boxes. It didn’t take Nataly long to figure out how they were organized, but when she went to where her box should be, there was nothing there, so she was forced to go shelf by shelf, reading each box label, one at a time. They did find Kendra’s boxes (there were four), at which point Nataly had to search by herself while Kendra went through them, holding up one small treasure after another.

Finally, Nataly came to a pile of boxes near the back of the room, each one labeled with names she didn’t recognize. She started moving them to the side and spotted hers near the bottom of the stack.

“Nataly,” Kendra hissed. “I think he’s coming back!”

Nataly kept moving boxes, finally pulling out hers — no bigger than a shoebox, dusty, and taped shut.

“Nataly!”

The young girl pulled at the tape, barely hearing her friend. Something inside the box had shifted and thumped when she’d picked it up. She did have a treasure!

“Nataly, he’s coming!”

The tape came away, the lid flipped to the side, and Nataly stared down at… a bracelet. A beautiful silver bracelet set with blue gems each the size of her thumbnail.

Hers. She knew it, somewhere deep inside. Always meant to be hers. She put it on.

“Nataly!” Kendra whispered as loudly as she could. “We need to–” She turned away from the door, and her eyes went wide. “…Nataly?”

Nataly floated in mid-air, arms hanging at her side, eyes wide open and glowing – glowing – blue.


And that’s where we stopped. (Amidst cries of “Wait!” “No!” and “Really, Daddy? Really?!?”)

Can’t wait to play again.

FATE: Gaming with my Daughter

So my daughter’s back from grandparent camp, she’s been briefed on the Fate dice mechanic, and we’ve been talking about games to play. Tinkerbell has been mentioned. Also: pirates, wizards, ninjas, Mouse Guard, and Skylanders. (This conversation went on for a couple days on car rides.) We finally settle on superheroes for the first game of the summer, mostly because that’s the topic she kept asking to go back to, once it came up.

I steered things away from game-talk for awhile and asked the classic “if you could have any super power…” question. Good discussion. She hits me with “force fields” as an answer, which I thought was interesting and unexpected. We talk some about what being able to make force fields would let her do, and she comes up with the obvious protective benefits, plus making little “force field balls” to throw at people, and “it would be cool if, like, I could go invisible because of the force field, if I wanted.”

To my knowledge, she’s never heard of the Fantastic Four. 🙂 She does have some unexpected DC Universe knowledge, because her friend is a Teen Titans fangirl. So while munching dinner tonight, I give her a list of the six FAE approaches and we talk about them in terms of which you’d want to use for different types of gymnastics, or bowling, or soccer, or math homework; all of this is just so I know we’re clear on what they each do.Then I ask her to rank them with a 3, 2, 2, 1, 1, 0 scheme for her force field girl. She goes for Forceful, Sneaky, and Clever for the top three.  “I’m really not very careful”, she opines.

Dinner’s over, and we sit down and talk about aspects. I give her an example of an Aspect, and she says “oh, they just describe something”, and I allow that that’s true, except they usually have an upside and downside, so they’re more interesting, and we start working out her girl’s backstory and from that what the Aspects would be.

Kaylee explains how the Sky Sapphire Bracelet works.
Kaylee explains how the Sky Sapphire Bracelet works.

The result: an orphaned alien princess, hiding on Earth in an orphanage. She never finds a good family, because trouble always seems to find her and mess things up. She’s in fifth grade now, but appeared on earth when she was a baby.  Her powers mostly come from a Sky Sapphire Bracelet (her: “Because I don’t want it to be like the Green Lantern ring.”), although she knows she CAN fly without the bracelet, which makes GM-me suspect that the bracelet is more of a focus than the source of power.

Finally, we get to the sheet. I filled out the first Aspect, just so it would fit in the box, and I wrote out the first Stunt, but after that she figured out the rubric and wrote out the second two stunts on her own.

“I can fly,” she says, “but I’m not good enough to get a bonus. I’m so-so.” I feel like she understands Stunts.

End result: sort of a Superman/Green Lantern/Invisible Girl/Megan Morse thing. Pretty cool.

I’m looking forward to playing. So is she, though she doesn’t think we’re ready until she’s written out a proper description and done a drawing.

The sheet so far.

#gaming #fae #fate

Some People Just Want to Watch the World Burn

So I'm thinking about Area of Effect attacks in Fate, and came up with a stunt for same. 

AoE Junkie. +2 to any Magical attack action where you split your final total between multiple targets.

The basic idea is a Stunt that makes attacking a few people at once a decent option, while still resulting in attacks that are weaker, on a target-by-target basis, than a single-target version would have been. Thoughts?

[I reallly want to add follow-up "Lina Inverse" stunt that gives an additional if you target allies as well as enemies, indiscriminately. :)]

#gaming   #fate

FATE: The Goddamn Batman

So there are ways to stat out Batman as a starting character. But (a) someone already did that and (b) I need an NPC version of Bats for a game where he’s one of the Big Three and the PCs are playing newly minted players on the super-powered stage.

So basically I started with the idea that Batman is a ‘skills’ character, and his best skills are going to be about 2 better than the best a ‘normal’ super can bring to the table, solo. That gave me a skills pyramid that peaks at “Fantastic” and literally includes every skill in the setting, even “Lore” (used for magic), which Bats understands the theory behind, even though he doesn’t have the requisite mojo (aspects) to cast spells.

My personal favorite bit is using the Cover Identity stunt from the new Fate System Toolkit to make Bruce Wayne, and then give Bruce, not Bats, the high Resource skill — Bruce is where the money is, after all.

As for the rest, I basically went with Batman as he’s portrayed in stuff like New World Order and Tower of Babel.

BatmanBatman_0683

Aspects

High Concept: World’s Greatest Detective
Trouble: Bruce Wayne is my mask
Dark Knight
All Those Wonderful Toys
Bats are great survivors

Skills
Fantastic (+6) Investigation
Superb (+5) Stealth, Provoke
Great (+4) Fight, Knowledge, Notice
Good (+3) Athletics, Will, Craft, Shoot
Fair (+2) Physique, Piloting, Drive, Contacts, Survival
Average (+1) Empathy, Burglary, Deceive, Lore, Rapport, Resources

Stunts
Elementary. You can pick apart a lie by analyzing the details. Use Investigate to defend vs. Deceive.
Utility Belt. An array of useful little things. Whenever you need something, you have it, provided it’s not something too unusual (for you) or too large to fit in a pocket, belt pouch, or backpack. When you say you have something, the GM should be likely to agree.
Batcave. Get a +2 to Craft or Knowledge for creating advantages or overcoming obstacles, provided you can access the cave.
Where did he go? You can roll for concealment even when being directly observed, provided any sort of “distraction”-type aspect can be invoked.
Secret Identity (see Cover Identity, FST): Bruce Wayne. [Aspect: Billionaire Playboy. Apex Skill: Resources (plus Deceive, when defending the identity.)]

FATE: Statting out Supers, because why not?

Inspired by Ryan’s work on representing the Avengers and the JLA in Fate, and because I’m getting my head around this to run a DC Universe “Brainiac Invasion” game, I’ve been fiddling around with statting out various established characters in Fate Core and Fate Accelerated. I figured I’d share some of them here.

Black Widowblack widow

This version of Ms. Romanov is a bit of a mix between the classic comic book leader of the Avengers and the Black Widow we see in recent movies (who gives up the swingline/stinger bracelets for a glock). I think it’s a pretty good write-up, one of the easier ones I did, and the nice thing is that with a different set of aspects, this basic character skillset + stunts ports remarkably well to the Bat Family in Gotham.

Aspects
High Concept: Russian Superspy
Trouble: Dangerous Liasons
Natural Leader
Red Room Conditioning
I’ve got red on my ledger…

Skills
Great (+4) Stealth
Good (+3) Athletics, Shoot
Fair (+2) Fight, Investigate, Deceive
Average (+1) Burglary, Notice, Drive, Will

Stunts
Swingline. You move two zones for free in a conflict without rolling, instead of one, provided there are no situation aspects restricting movement.
Deadly Romance. Get a +2 to Deceive when seducing a target.
Flawless Interrogator. Get a +2 to Investigate when questioning someone.
(Optional) Widow’s Sting. Once per combat scene, spend a Fate point to force your target to take a Consequence rather than using Stress from a ranged attack.

Refresh: 3 (or 2)

Fate Accelerated Edition
Replace Skills and Stunts With:

Approaches
Good (+3) Sneaky
Fair (+2) Clever, Quick
Average (+1) Forceful, Careful
Mediocre (+0) Flashy

Stunts
Because of my Red Room Conditioning, I get a +2 to Sneakily Attack in melee range.
[Two others as you like, or rework some from Fate Core.]

The important thing to remember about working out supers in Fate is that, as Ryan mentioned in his exploration of representing Iron Man’s suit, Aspects are always true, even if they aren’t currently being invoked. Black Widow is always a superspy, with the abilities and so forth that the super-soldier serum convey. Always. She gets to use her bracers to shoot stuff even when she’s not invoking her stunt, and in the same vein, she can use her swingline for stuff that isn’t just about moving quickly from zone to zone in combat. From “I have a gun and knives because super spies have guns to knives” to “I’m practically Immortal” to “I’m bulletproof“, the rules are there to follow the story and lend it mechanical weight, not the other way around.

250px-X-Men_Storm_MainStorm

I’m not particularly well-versed in X-men lore (I got the basic idea for Storm from the latest Marvel-branded RPG), so there are a few aspects and stunts that can be filled in by someone a bit more motivated or knowledgeable, or when Storm shows up in play, but as a baseline, it’s a pretty fun start.

Aspects
High Concept: Mercurial Mutant
Trouble: Claustrophobic
Strong-willed Leader
Goddess of the Storm
[open] (Former street thief?)

Skills
Great (+4) Shoot
Good (+3) Athletics, Will
Fair (+2) Notice, Physique, Lore
Average (+1) Investigate, Stealth, Burglary, Empathy

Stunts
Emotional Link. When you create any “high-emotion” aspect on yourself, you get two free invokes from it, if it pertains to your powers.
Weather-born. +2 to defend against attacks based on temperature extremes or electricity.
You know what happens to a toad that gets struck by lightning?. +2 to create weather-based advantages.

Refresh: 3

Fate Accelerated Edition
Replace Skills and Stunts With:

Approaches
Good (+3) Flashy
Fair (+2) Forceful, Sneaky
Average (+1) Clever, Quick
Mediocre (+0) Careful

Stunts
Because I am a mercurial mutant, +2 to Forcefully Attack if I have an aspect indicating my emotions are high.
Because I am the Goddess of the Storm, +2 when I Flashily Overcome a social obstacle.

[Another  as you like, or rework some from Fate Core.]

Wolverinecan I help

Because who doesn’t like Wolverine?

Aspects
High Concept: Weapon X Feral Mutant
Trouble: Mysterious Past, Even to Me
I’m the Best There Is at What I Do
Masterless Samurai
Beerserker

Skills
Great (+4) Fight
Good (+3) Will, Physique
Fair (+2) Athletics, Notice, Provoke
Average (+1) Drive, Stealth, [2 others as you like]

Stunts
What I Do Isn’t Very Nice. Once per scene, when you force an opponent to take a consequence, you can spend a fate point to increase the consequence’s severity (so mild becomes moderate, moderate becomes severe). If your opponent was already going to take a severe consequence, he must either take a severe consequence and a second consequence or be taken out.
Claws. Weapon:2
Regeneration. Spend a Fate Point to downstep a Mild or Moderate consequence.
Admantium Skeleton. Armor:2
Animal Senses. +2 Notice when scent is a Factor.

Refresh: 1 (In story terms Wolverine needs to have things go against him for awhile before he really gets rolling.)

Fate Accelerated Edition
Replace Skills and Stunts With:

Approaches
Good (+3) Quick
Fair (+2) Forceful, Flashy
Average (+1) Sneaky, Clever
Mediocre (+0) Careful

Stunts
Because I regenerate, once per session I can shift a consequence down a notch from Moderate to Mild, or Mild to gone.
Because of my Admantium Skeleton, I get +2 to Forcefully Defend vs physical attacks.
Because I am a Feral Mutant, I get a +2 to Cleverly overcome obstacles where my senses are a factor.

Finally, remember that Aspects are always true: Wolverine regenerates, whether he spends a fate point on it or not, so all he needs is a short rest after a conflict for his Consequences to shift to their ‘on the mend’ versions.

… and that’s it for now. Just playing around and figured I’d share.

Fate Core and Fate Accelerated Pseudo-review

So, a few days ago, a conversation I was having on g+ crossposted to this blog. That wasn’t intentional, but I let it stand, because it brought a few more people into the conversation and (also important) let me check out how well the google+blog integration for wordpress was actually working.

Anyway, the conversation/question was about how to handle Mind Control in FATE, and one of the comments here on the blog was kind of important:

“What is this ‘FATE’ of which you speak?”

I Have Been Remiss

What with one thing and another, I haven’t been able to play a lot of tabletop RPGs for the last… umm… lifetime of my youngest child. That doesn’t mean I’m not paying attention to (or kickingstarting) new games coming out, but I haven’t really been talking about them much, because I’m not playing them, and I feel playing a game is sort of important when determining if it’s worth recommending. “Dungeon World is an interesting game to read” isn’t exactly a value-add for the global conversation.

But FATE is different. I’ve been playing FATE (a little) and more to the point I’ve been playing with FATE (a lot) in terms of really digging into the rules and seeing what I can do with them. I thought I’d share what I’ve found so far.

FATE?

Once upon a time, there was a game called FUDGE, which was really more of a free toolkit of basic rules mechanics, a guideline on how to add color and setting flavor to those rules, and a very energetic group of folks on a mailing and IRC list, playing with the tools in the box.

Much later, Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue (both guys I knew through the online Amber DRPG community) came up with FATE, which was basically the first publicly distributed version of of a FUDGE hack they’d been working on and running games with for a long while — I think of this public, Open Gaming License version of the game as Fate 2.0 (with Fate 1.0 being the private version), though I don’t know if that’s accurate. I did a lot of gaming stuff with that version of FATE, as did Dave Hill (specifically with the espionage game he was running at the time). I enjoyed it a lot, though it certainly had it’s rough edges.

The game continued to develop, and while a “Fate 3.0” never really saw the light of day officially, more advanced versions of FATE continued to be released as parts of new ‘branded’ games. This ‘era’ saw the release of Spirit of the Century, which focused on pulp-era heroics and was a big one that I played and ran a lot. Thanks to the way Fred and Rob (and now Lenny Balsera) distributed and supported the rules, lots of other game designers got in on the fun and wrote their own games with the FATE rules. Diaspora — ‘hard’ science sci-fi — was one that I also played and enjoyed. The big score for FATE during this period was probably the massive Dresden Files RPG, which showed some real growth and evolution in the way the game’s developers were using the game.

Things went a bit quiet for a bit, which is usually a sign that there’s something going on behind the scenes. The result of that period of relative silence was FATE Core, and the FATE Core Kickstarter.

Simply put, Fate Core is the best version of Fate we can possibly make, built upon over a decade of play and design experience by Evil Hat, and with the Fate player community at large, taking the best lessons from all of gaming and distilling them into a cohesive, compelling whole.

The FATE Core kickstarter started out with a modest goal of $3000 to release a PDF of the new game version. Instead, the project attracted over ten thousand backers and over 425 thousand dollars, and the stretch goals took the project from a single new PDF of the rule book out to Hardback rulebooks, new games, a ‘ultra-lean’ Fate Accelerated Edition that takes Fate Core and boils it down to 42 pages, more new games, dozens of settings and worlds worked out for the rules system, a young adult novel written by Carrie Harris… it’s crazy. Just crazy.

But What’s the Game Like?

The PDFs for FATE Core and Fate Accelerated are both out now for a “pay what you like” download. I’ve had a chance to mess with them for months as well, so let me see if I can sum it up.

This is a game that is intended to let the narrative drive the rules and not the other way around. This is a fancy way to say “figure out what you want to do, say what you want to do, and how to do that in rules will be obvious — don’t start with the rules, start with the story.” It demands characters that are proactive, and assumes those characters are competent.

The game uses classic Fate dice, specifically four. These are standard six-siders, with two sides are marked with a +, two sides with a -, and two sides blank. They are read by adding up the results, so ++[blank] – = +1, which is then added to your rating in a relevant skill, which are rated from 0 to 4 by default (though this range can be extended).

Most importantly, the game uses descriptive Aspects to represent important… umm… aspects of everything in the game, from characters, to scenes, to entire campaign settings. These Aspects are used to justify influencing the story or dice results; for instance, by providing bonuses to die rolls, allowing reroll of bad rolls, creating (or simply permitting) special effects, or being used as a justification for an action. Aspects are double-sided things, and can be used for or against anyone, regardless of where they originated.

In FATE, you can treat anything in the game like it’s a Character.

What’s that mean? Let’s say you’re playing a Game of Thrones-inspired game. Here’s your setting:

The Seven Kingdoms

Aspects (as of A Feast for Crows)

  • Under the Thumb of the Bitch Queen
  • Sparrows are Everywhere
  • Winter is Coming

Maybe you’re up near the Twins in the Riverlands, which is currently in turmoil for a number of different reasons. In Addition to the aspects on the whole of Westeros, this area also has:

The Riverlands

  • Guest Rights don’t mean as much as they used to
  • The Night is Dark, and Full of Terrors

All of these aspect are those the players can use to boost their actions or justify pretty much anything, and that’s ignoring the Aspects the characters themselves have. When you’re playing someone trying to negotiate the peaceful surrender of a castle under siege, both sides of the conflict might consider calling up bonuses from any of these before they ever mention their own traits (like “Kingslayer” or “Too Old to Care About Anything But a Good Death”).

More importantly, since everything in the game can be treated like a character, and Aspects on characters can be changed, you have legitimate (if not at all easy) ways to get rid of the Queen — hopefully the replacement will be better.

Mechanics

For those who have played other version of FATE in the past, I’ll simply say that the mechanics for conflicts are more streamlined than ever before. Forget about complicated ‘zone maps’ with ‘borders and barriers’ and all of that stuff. Forget about Block actions. The authors have taken a hard, hard look at the rules and realized that in many cases they were just using different names and applying minute edge-case rules to a bunch of stuff that was really all the same thing. Conflict, for example, has been boiled down to four clear, straightforward actions without costing you anything in the way of flexibility or options – you’re less restricted than you may have been in older versions of the game, because you don’t have to remember all the different options: it’s so much simpler now — figure out what you want to do first, in the story, and the rules will follow. Fate Core is excellent.

And, if anything, Fate Accelerated is even better.

FAE?

As good as Fate Core is, it’s still a 300 page rule book. Fate Accelerated is 42 pages, and manages to be both satisfying in terms of the character depth is provides (sacrificing none of the nuances of Aspects in the pared-down rules), and quite possibly the best set of pick-up-and-play rules around, which is awesome for someone with limited time.

The big difference between FAE and Fate Core is the skill list: FAE doesn’t have one. Instead, characters rate Approaches (reminds me a bit of In a Wicked Age, which would be a great FAE Hack). Once Kaylee gets back from Grandparent Camp, she and I (and maybe Katherine, if Kaylee can convince her) are going to take this out for a spin.

So far, I’ve worked out characters in FAE ranging from Marvel superheroes to Doctor Who companions, and read some wonderful examples of characters ranging from Star Wars to Warhammer40k Space Marines — maybe the only version of WH40k I’ve read that I’ve wanted to play since Space Hulk.

Bottom lines

There’s too much for me to write about in this game. From the fact that you do campaign creation during character creation, to the chapters of GM advice that make the PDF worth paying for by themselves, I feel there’s something for everyone, and I’m sure I’ll be writing about it some more (if nothing else than just to share the Doctor Who write-ups I’ve done). If you want a comprehensive review, try this one or, for FAE, this one. I think it’s a great game, and for a couple bucks (or even free, if you’re particular cynical/suspicious/doubtful) you can’t beat the cost of checking it out for yourself.

Diaspora Hacks, by way of Dresden Files

After a series of scheduling problems, we finally got back to the Diaspora game last night for the first time in… oh, six weeks or something. Been awhile.

In retrospect, I’m glad for the delay, because it gave me time to think about a few problems I felt like we were having with the game, mechanically. As I said over in this post, I’ve been pondering how to tweak the Diaspora system — it felt like we had a few too many get of jail free cards in play (in the form of Fate points), and a little too much cruft on the character sheet that wasn’t getting used.

As I’ve also said before, the designers behind Diaspora have built a hell of a game — they have my admiration for, if nothing else, their free-form stunt construction — but while they are fluent in FATE, it is the fluency of someone speaking a second language. The author’s themselves have said that even now they aren’t wholly comfortable with the way FATE does some things.

Enter Dresden Files.

This is a big, beautiful game from Evil Hat, and while I still don’t feel as though I completely grok everything they’re doing in character generation, there ARE a few things that I saw and immediately wanted to implement in the Diaspora game — solutions to my problems far more elegant than anything I’d come up with. Which makes sense: these are guys who (obviously) grok FATE at an atomic level.

Hack One: Reducing the number of Aspects on Characters

In Spirit of the Century and Diaspora, each of the five phases of character generation yield two character Aspects, for a total of ten. That’s fine in the SotC, which is kind of crazy and over the top and creates characters that are sort of swiss army knives of awesome, but in Diaspora it feels like too much.

Dresden files does it differently. Basically, your character has a “High Concept Aspect” that sort of sums up your character’s idea in a few words. Then they have a “Trouble” aspect that is basically “the thing that’s screwing up your High Concept”. Finally, you get only one aspect for each of the five phases of character generation.

Looking at the hard numbers, it doesn’t seem like THAT much of a change: seven aspects instead of ten, right? In practice, the combination of getting fewer aspects and giving two of those seven aspect specific “jobs” really, really helps tighten up the characters and clarify how they’re envisioned in play. Instead of having more money than you know what to do with, you’re on a budget — constraints are good.  We pared down the Diaspora characters to follow these guidelines (which was easy – the dead wood, unused aspects were easy to spot), and (for me, at least) the result was like walking into the optometrist, getting in the chair, and having him drop that first lens in place that shows you no, you really haven’t been seeing things that clearly until Right Now. The characters came into proper focus, is what I’m saying.

Hack Two: Reducing the number of Fate Points floating around

I’d toyed around with a few changes to the normal system in that previous post, but a little bit before the game I decided to try out — again — something from Dresden Files.

Normally, everyone gets 5 Fate points at the start of every session. It’s too many. Aside from any other consideration, we play on weeknights for three hours — we simply don’t NEED that many Fate points. Anyway.

Dresden’s method, super-simplified, is: “take the basic refresh (5, in this case) and subtract however many Stunt Abilities your character has (2 or 3, in this case), and the remainder is how many Fate points you get to start each session.”  (Unless you ended last session with more points than that refresh, in which case, keep that higher total.)

So rather than everyone starting with 5 Fate points, Tim and Kate started with 2 and Chris started with 3. This did a BUNCH of stuff during the session last night that I liked a lot.

  • More compels. Compels become a much more attractive and desirable option in play, because you’re more likely to need more Fate points.
  • A bit more hording of points. Fate Point totals higher than the refresh actually remain for next session — Kate’s had more Fate points at the end of the session than the beginning.
  • More struggle. With fewer Fate Points around, people weren’t piling on as many Aspects on during conflicts. This gave my poor mooks in a gunfight the chance to actually do some damage, and we started to see people actually take a consequence or two, rather than use up all their Fate points.
  • More invention. With Fate points in short supply, it actually became much more attractive to take a round “off” during a fight and set up some ‘free taggable’ aspects to use during the next actual attack. Tim did this a couple times, and it worked out well for him. This makes for more interesting, more textured conflicts. (Typing this out, I realize that that’s what I should have had the NPC crew members doing: rather than whiffing attacks at the enemy, they could have been hitting much easier target numbers to give Tim some help. Ahh well — hindsight.)

In short, the Fate points became more valuable, play became more dynamic, and the use of Aspects as fate point generators rose as well. Basically, the FATE core — the economy and mechanics of the system — actually got engaged a lot more. Since it’s a system I like, this was a big win from my point of view.

How about the play itself?

The net result of this was a session that – to my mind – had more clarity. The characters were in better focus. The game system gears were turning and grinding and chugging away and just generally much more present — more able to do what they were meant to do in the game.

Aspects (permanent and temporary alike) are the Killer App of the FATE system.

Somehow, by having fewer Aspects and giving people fewer points with which to invoke them, we actually made them MORE important.

Weird, but true.

Good game.

Sacrifice, Interesting Failure, and Diaspora Hacks

I’ve been thinking (and talking) about sacrifice in games, and how that ends up playing out at the table.
Originally, I was going to amass some kind of who’s who list of games that have mechanics that let you ‘push’ to achieve victory, but in the end I came to the conclusion that that kind of misses the point unless I use it as an illustration of the larger issue.
Which begs the question: what’s the larger issue?
Well, it’s a little bit about suffering and sacrifice, and a little bit about game currency, and as always it’s colored by the games I’m playing right now, so let’s start there.
As I mentioned before, Shadows Over Camelot is a game that requires some tactically tough choices from the players, and that’s the kind of thing that appeals to me as a player; I like it — it makes me make that Tim the Toolman simian grunt and nod appreciatively. I like mechanics that let you pay for a little more awesome with your own blood (symbolically speaking).
There aren’t a *lot* of RPGs that have mechanics that do that, but there are a few, and they each do things a little differently, so let me talk about them.
  • “The hard choice: be awesome now, or get better in the long run?” The best examples of these that I can think of off the top of my head are Nobilis and Heroquest (the RPG, not the boardgame, and the old edition, not the new one, which I’m not familiar with).  In both these games, your character earns one type of currency (can’t remember what it’s called in Nobilis, but it’s Hero Points in HQ) that gets used for two different things: (1) one-shot boosts to your current conflict, (2) improving your character by improving or buying new abilities.  In this kind of situation it’s the players who are put in kind of a crunch — do I really want to win this current conflict, or do I want to finally buy a new mastery level in Butterknives (or whatever).  There are systems and methods that people tend to adopt for coping with this decision, but it does make things interesting, in that people might not automatically buy their way to victory every single time. (More about that tendency later.)
  • “You can keep trying, but it’ll cost you.” There are other examples of this, but the one that I remember right now is Trollbabe. Very interesting game. The conflict mechnic is a very simple yes-no roll. However, if you fail the roll, you can either take your lumps (you don’t get what you want and you suffer virtually no other fall out), or you can try again. If you try again, the potential fallout gets more dangerous. Did you fail again? Okay, you can bow out NOW and take some more serious lumps or… yeah, you can try again. If you try again… You can see where that’s going. I believe you can keep pushing, looking for a victory, about three times before the only thing left to roll for is “do I get to decide what happens to me, or does the GM?” I’ve only had a chance to run the game once, but it yielded what is to me (even today) a really compelling scene where the player – perhaps conditioned by a “we cannot accept failure if the opportunity to win presents itself” mindset – kept rolling until they were left unconscious in the middle of a dirt track, and their boyfriend was dead. How important is winning to you?
  • “Success comes through sacrifice.” This is sort of my Mouse Guard mantra. In that game, success any any given test is guaranteed; the only question — the real reason you’re rolling — is find out what it will cost you… how long did it take? who interrupted you in the middle of the task? how lost did you get as you traveled from A to B, and what found you as you traveled? Et cetera. In Mouse Guard, success clearly isn’t the interesting thing: it’s the failures that we want to know about.
Ahh, here we are again. Failure should make things more interesting. That wonderful trick where you lay out a conflict in such a way that the players are actually okay with failing, because what might happen then sounds pretty damn cool. Mouse Guard does a wonderful thing here — the whole (fifteen minute) adventure prep process amounts to working out the conflicts that arise from failue — the fact is, if the Guard succeed at the Main Tasks for a mission, the mission will be (a) kind of boring and (b) kind of short. (Same’s true of Trollbabe, actually. Anyway.)
((Note to self: Construct the next Dragon Age session using the mission creation method from Mouse Guard and see what happens.)
So let’s talk about Diaspora and Fate. A first glance, FATE seems to have a similar mechanic to Nobilis or Heroquest: points that you can use to push yourself to victory — but they’re different in a couple key ways.
  1. The points aren’t used for anything except giving yourself a boost (and much more rarely compelling someone to act or not-act a certain way). There’s no point where you have to decide between using the points for the bonus or using them to improve your character. (SotC and Diaspora don’t have traditional ‘level ups’, though Dresden Files, another FATE game, kinda does, which excites me.)
  2. The points don’t run out. As written, the rule for Fate points is that they refresh back up to max at the start of every session. This works fine in the naturally episodic Spirit of the Century, but not so well in the grittier, more narratively-structured Diaspora.
In play, what actually happens is that Fate points don’t have a lot of value — mechanically they do, yes, but they’re not valuable to the players — they aren’t precious. They have lots of them, they know they’re going to get lots more next session, so they spend them like water, following the purest instinct of a game-player: win the conflict if the means exists to do so. Buy your way to victory, should you possess the currency to do so. It’s automatic, instinctual, and completely understandable.
Since they can DO that, we don’t see very many interesting failures in our Diaspora game, simply because the currency is thick enough on the ground to keep failures (interesting or otherwise) from happening.
This leads me back to a small fix for a specific problem in a specific game, rather than thinking about the Big Discussion I keep circling around, but whatever: theory is nice, but in the end I just want my games to be fun, yeah?
So here’s a few thoughts:
  1. Present interesting failures. I do this automatically in Mouse Guard, because the game makes me do so. I’ve been lax in Diaspora about constructing situations in which the players say “Yeah, I could win this, but I’m just as happy losing.”  This is one of the Gaming Kung-fu Basics that I have to keep reminding myself to go back and practice, practice, practice.
  2. Too many Fate Points. My initial thought about this is to work it like Primetime Adventures Fan Mail: basically, that no one has Fate Points to start out with, and it’s only through compelling a player’s Aspects that we get Fate Points into their hot little hands. This would make Fate Points INCREDIBLY precious and, while that’s intriguing, it might be a little too much.

    2a) Kate suggested that a good middle ground would be “Start everyone at the normal Fate Point total at the start of the game, but get rid of all the refreshes — that way, it’s only through Compels that we replenish the pool.” I like this idea quite a lot, and I’m curious what the other crew members of the Tempest think.

  3. We have way too many Aspects floating around — to steal from Dresden Files, if each player had ONE aspect from each phase of character generation (rather than two) then a couple more to reflect a characters goal and beliefs… that would be better than what we have in Diaspora right now — so many Aspects never get used. Dunno if that’s worth hacking at right now, but next time I’ll know better.

Anyway, just wanted to get this out of my head and onto the screen; all the rattling about in there is distracting.

Diaspora, Session 2: Fight!

When we last left our space-faring heroes, they were delivering a cargo bay full of “mining equipment” to a (one assumes) secret base on Sebastus, a moon orbiting the main planet of the Dauphine system.

I say “one assumes” because, culturally, Dauphine is pretty anti-space — they tried it once, their attempt failed miserably (from their point of view — the scientists and settlers they stranded on Keepdown feel otherwise), and since then the highly insular conservatives have pretty much controlled the planet.

The conservatives don’t control their system, though — quite the contrary — since they’ve largely rejected any exploration of space-faring technology, the resource-rich system of Dauphine is pretty much defenseless and ripe for plucking, which the “indentured privateers” funded by resource-starved Caliban are more than willing to do.

So, when the crew is told that they’re delivering “mining equipment” (yes, it could be configured as mining equipment — it could also be configured to be a LOT of other stuff) to a base relatively close to Dauphine, on the spaceward-side of a tidally locked moon, they assume it’s for some kind of secret pro-tech Dauphine organization.

They’d be right.

Anyway, after their run in with some privateers/wildcat mining poachers when they arrived in system — three ships who’d apparently been informed they were coming, which begs the question of how anyone knew — they proceed in-system and radio the base to let them know their delivery is almost home.

No answer.

They continue inbound, discussing the radio silence, allow that that might be perfectly normal for a secret base, and simply try to raise the base every six hours or so as they fly (it’s a six-days-plus trip, so they have a lot of time).

They get one ‘normal’ reply once they get about two days out, very brief and a little too enthusiastically ‘covert’, and then nothing.

Until they pull into orbit and prepare to take the Squall (the Tempest’s shuttle) down to the base to finalize delivery plans; that’s when they get one very brief call for help.

Right. Lovely.

So the group suits up and prepares to land. Miranda, Phyll, Iago, and Kaetlyn are all going, and Miranda decides to bring Anjela (no-nonsense gunnery mate) along for a little extra firepower (Anjela’s an Orpheus native, and lovingly totes along a pack-powered personal laser).

The Short Version of What Happens

The group sneaks into the base, discovers via the security cameras that most of the personnel in the base are barricaded in one of the crew quarters, which are being cut through with plasma welders by a group of… well, they look like ninjas. Sort of burqa-wearing ninjas, but ninjas.

The ninjas and our heroes come to blows — guns are fired, swords are swung, a mining laser (and a smaller kind) are fired, and while the base is a little worse for wear afterwards, everyone is safe.

Once things settle down, the scientists in the base say they were attacked by a particularly militant fringe faction within the Dauphine conservative movement — a group that would rather see them dead than move into space any further. Since they sent assassins to end them, it’s clear this base location is compromised, so they need to move out to another base that’s much further away from Dauphine.

The question: can you carry our delivery just a little bit further… and… if it’s not too much trouble… could you escort our pathetic excuse for an intra-system cargo-hauler as we f l y v e r y s l o w l y to the other base?

Please?

How about if we pay you?

“Pay us? Why didn’t you say so?”

And that was the session.

The Long(er) Version

Well, it’s actually not that much longer in terms of relating what happened, but I didn’t want to talk a bit about the mechanics of the personal combat, and how it played out during the session, as well as note some of the cool and not-so-cool products of play.

The Base... well, a map of the base, anyway.

As you can see from the picture of the map, I laid out the base as a sort of series of pre-fab modules. As I was sketching the thing out, I read through the personal combat section to get an idea of the various kinds of things one normally does with these personal combat settings in this system.

See, while there’s definitely a story going on here (factions, politics, sides to pick, et cetera), the first three or four sessions of the game are very specifically “there” to introduce the various mini-games within Diaspora (with the exception – for now – of platoon combat). In this session, my goal was personal combat, so I wanted to explore and introduce as many of the relevant bells and whistles as possible.

To that end, I set up the bad guys to use various maneuvers, to be good at the sorts of things that one is good at in combat, and then messed around with the map a lot.

S’possible I messed around with the map a little TOO much.

What I WANTED was an over-crowded, super-cluttered base — stuff stacked along the walls, no truly straight path to anywhere, and kind of hard to get around. The nice thing about the way this expresses itself in this iteration of FATE is that you can create such things really easily, WITHOUT mapping some kind of crazy, maze-like environment — it’s enough to just draw in a really big room, break it into a couple zones, and give each zone “Stunts” like “Complicated” or “Cluttered” to limit the range of fire and things like that.

Truly difficult rooms, like those those circular ones with a central ‘core’ that you have to walk around anyway, which are then additionally filled with clutter, boxes, crates, desks, partitions, et cetera, I’d break into multiple zones, which means it would simply take more “movement” actions to get through them. And oh yeah: put in those hissing automatic doors that don’t really stop you but which do keep you from really tearing along at full speed.

Looked good in theory.

In practice, I started the bad guys on the opposite end of the base from Our Heroes, and it took us like… I dunno, six or seven rounds of just… moving to get anywhere close enough to DO anything.

And in that time, the players had managed to move like… I dunno. Two rooms. (One, for Tim, who didn’t have any levels in the requisite ‘moving quickly’ skill.)

So, that was that bad, most of which I could have totally fixed by breaking those smaller rooms up into two diagonal zones instead of one.

The good was… well, everything else.

The computer-hacker person actually had lots to do every round — she entrenched herself in the security station and proceeded to put Aspects on various zones that people would then tag for bonuses left and right: sprinkler systems flipped on and off, lights cut out, doors locked in front of a guy about to run through them (wham!), or right behind him, so he couldn’t retreat from a bad situation.

The gun-loving character got to shoot a lot of stuff, which worked out well. I feel like he was plenty effective.

The swashbuckling pirate’s daughter got into a nice little sword fight with one of the assassins, which included a lot of leaping around and also some sliding around on the sprinkler-system-slicked floor.

And we got to try out Iago’s stunt “Applied Biology”, which (a la the most recent Sherlock Holmes flick) lets him use a large chunk of his Scientist skill in lieu of Brawling — this led an exchange where one of the bad guys was left standing right in front of the mining laser that Iago had been pushing around on a cargo cart, just as Phyl flipped it on, remotely.

The bad guy grabbed the front of the laser, shoved it to the side just as it fired, and LIVED… although he sustained a Severe Consequence of “Amputated AND Cauterized” — the mostly wince- and chuckle-inducing consequence of the evening.

All in all, it was a pretty dynamic fight with a lot of good stuff going on, some nice tactical stuff happening, where one player was setting up another one or taking advantage of something someone else had just done — it felt like synergies were happening all over.

The weird part?

The weird part was that I set up a really big fight on a really big map and it took pretty much the whole game session just to do that one fight.

I haven’t had that happen since… well, DnD, honestly. I don’t think it’s every happened in any kind of “indie” game in, well, ever. Some of those games are plenty deadly (Dogs, for example), but even then, fights are nasty, brutish, and short.

FATE does a lot of wonderful, character-driven, evocative stuff — using Aspects in all their various permutations are THE Killer App of the game, without a doubt, even in spin-offs like Diaspora — but to a certain degree SotC and Diaspora and all the “Version 3.0” FATE games are still very traditional in a lot of ways. The detailed play of session two’s combat reminded me of that.

That’s not a BAD thing, at all. Or good, really. It just is. A feature (in the landscape, not software, sense).

Anyway, the fight wrapped up, deals were made, and session three (which I’ll write up next) involved the crew of the Tempest splitting up a bit to pilot/escort the Dauphine collective’s “Intrepid” to a new base elsewhere in the system.

And, finally, some space combat. Heat up the iridium, Phyl, it’s Shootin’ Time…

Diaspora: Cluster and Character generation (ridiculously TL;DR)

Exactly one year after our first gathering, the Wednesday night group got together for our first session of the new year, and we decided to get started in 2010 with Diaspora, the world’s softest hard sci-fi game.

Counting myself, there were four players, and we opted to each create two worlds in “the cluster” (a series of different star systems, connected by ‘slip points’ located above and below the barycenter of each system), for a total of eight.

The “theme” that we used for the system cluster was this:

  • Your first system starts with the same letter as your first name.
  • Your second system starts with the same letter as your middle name.
  • All system names are derived from characters in Shakespeare.

This worked pretty well, and gave us some pretty evocative setting elements, especially when the players took things a bit further and wrote out some of the Aspects on the systems, their characters, and even their ship as quotes from various works of Shakespeare.

Due to scheduling problems, we won’t be able to play for a couple more weeks months, but we’re all looking forward to it.

Anyway, we did the whole Cluster and character generation the first night, then posted the results to a Google Wave where we’ve since fleshed things out a bit. Here are the results.

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