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” (née Stunts/Extras) for your characters.
  • A lot of world flavor that informs/constrains the ways in which Fate’s (intentionally) loosey-goosey Stunts/Extras/Aspects are implemented in this iteration of the rules.

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

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

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

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

Where We’re Trying to Get

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

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

Similarities to Jadepunk include:

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

Differences:

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

So Here’s the Hack

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

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

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

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

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

3. Reskin a few of the Professions (Approaches)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Word about Healing

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

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

And that’s it

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

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.