Enough that I made up a new Enclave option… one I’m surprised doesn’t exist.
“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.
- Class- and level-based character progression.
- 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.”
No, I’m not saying that playing DnD is a waste of my time, settle down. Breathe.
I ran into a pretty interesting thing I wanted to talk briefly about, though.
This week, I have a lot of gaming going on, which is kind of exciting; after months of pretty much nothing in the way of RPG play, I’m playing DnD, running Dragon Age, and then playing Burning Wheel — all in about five days.
Pretty heady stuff.
Last night we played the DnD game; that gave rise to this post. (Which should have probably been called ‘Wasting my time while playing DnD’, but who’d read that?)
Anyway, to my point.
For the last over-a-year, I’ve been lucky enough to have a pretty regular game going on weeknights. We’ve played quite a few games, most notably (in my mind) Don’t Rest Your Head, Diaspora, Primetime Adventures, and other stuff like that. Games in which, speaking broadly, there are a lot of ‘flags’ attached to your characters — things where you’ve said “this is something that interests me about this guy: I’d like to play around with that in the game, please.”
For instance, in the Diaspora game, Kate’s ‘flags’ (read: Aspects) had to do with being a bit of a lapsed pirate, something of a swashbuckler, a ship’s captain, and having some unfriendly family members looking for her. This was the stuff that was interesting to her, and as the GM I usually felt pretty safe if I planned for something or someone to come along and hit one of those elements of her character.
I could list many more examples, but they’re all pretty obviously along this line, and they all have a few things in common: “hitting” those things in an interesting way is what the players want, so it’s socially rewarding in the game, and most of the time it’s also mechanically rewarding.
Also, if I’m doing something as the GM that doesn’t touch on anyone’s flags in any way… well, the question to ask at that point is “What the hell are you doing, dude? I trust you, but get back on task.”
And that would be fair.
Now, Tim and I have been hammering on his Return to Northmoor campaign for awhile (him for QUITE awhile — I’m Johnny-come-lately), and for the ‘first arc’ of the game I think we’ve done a good job of creating a ‘flag and reward’ system for play that isn’t much of a rules hack.
This short game we’re doing right now isn’t that, though — it’s the mid-arc part of the Northmoor saga, and as such the original ‘secrets’ stuff doesn’t work, exactly. We did some in-character secrets-to-be-revealed, but they didn’t really work in the same way, and they made things a little wonky at the table.
(We’re addressing that by cribbing from Dragon Age and setting up Goals, rather than Secrets-to-be-Revealed, and I think that’ll work better for this arc, but I digress.)
How wonky? Well, when I answered Tim’s ‘secrets questions’ for my character, some of my answers were pointed at Kate’s character. I was all enthusiastic about this ‘what if Beren and Luthien hadn’t hit it off right away’ idea, and went with that — didn’t check with Kate on it (should have), and rattled it all off.
Kate didn’t finish her questions. Chris couldn’t make the first game.
So… guess which were the only “flags” flying for that first session? Guess what every scene seemed to center on?
Which is fine, except those weren’t Kate’s flags for her character. At all. So it wasn’t much fun for her. I think the quote was “it was fine for the first scene, but it’s every scene.”
For her, every scene was wasting time on stuff she wasn’t that interested in.
Second session, everyone else has had time to fill stuff in. I was trying not to play up my flags, because I felt like I’d got enough time on them the first session, so I played extra hard on whatever anyone else provided.
One of those ‘provided things’ was this kid I’d known in the past who was now all grown up. I’d introduced him to the game, Tim brought him in, so I felt obliged to play up whatever he was potentially doing in the story…
… which was trying to propose to Kate’s character. Oops. More time spent on a thing Kate was already tired of.
Then there was a kind of echo chamber thing with the Mysterious Bog Avenger that Tim introduced, who was some kind of vigilante who — inexplicably — dresses up like my character.
He gets introduced, so I play to it… then some NPCs react to my reaction, so I react to their reaction, so they react to …
Yeah. You see where that went. Or didn’t. I couldn’t drop it, though, cuz the only other thing I had going on was the thing with Kate’s character that I didn’t want to mess with at all.
And I couldn’t play to the flags on the other characters, because we hadn’t done the “Goals” yet — we just had Secrets, and I didn’t KNOW them because… yeah. Duh. SECRETS.
I finally fell back on a half-mentioned obsession with the MacGuffin we’re hunting down, just for something to talk about.
So what do I mean about wasting time?
I’ve gotten in the habit of playing to the flags on the characters at the table, trusting that doing so will (a) please and entertain the player of said character and (b) reward everyone involved in some mechanical way. Playing to those themes is, in fact, part of the game.
Well, no: it’s part of those games — the one’s I’ve been playing. It’s not part of DnD, and even though we’re in the middle of hacking that, we didn’t have the hack up to date last night, so it wasn’t doing what it’s supposed to do — give people indications of what everyone wanted play to be about and reward them for it. Without that, the whole hack is just a cool ‘power up’ chip we get for free each session.
(And in any case the hack will always and only ever be something extraneous to the Original Game — like having a battery mounted DVD player mounted in your car — nice, but easily forgotten and unused, unless you keep giving it power.)
In DnD, if you’re just playing to your own flags (or, as with the Bog Avenger, to no flags at all), it feels like you’re wasting time.
Well, A, you’re not hitting interesting elements of play for anyone (or only for yourself); and B, you aren’t engaging DnD itself by doing the stuff it’s good at doing (combat).
Which means you’re just spinning your cogs, not interacting with any of the machinery — you might as well be chatting about the most recent Dancing with the Stars, because you aren’t playing any part of the game, (even the part you added).
(Yes, you might be roleplaying… but about what? And who cares? Improv is great, but the audience needs to give a shit, y’know?)
I’m not sure where I’m going with this, except to note that it’s given me a lot to think about with regards to what I’ve started thinking of as ‘the Northmoor Hack’.
That, and I’m looking forward to all the games happening this week.
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.
- “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.
- 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.)
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.