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.

Continue reading “Diaspora: Cluster and Character generation (ridiculously TL;DR)”