Two Fisted Fate

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Today’s idea is a quick, somewhat silly one that I had when traveling without my 4dF and thinking about running a game. Fate is rules- and trait-light enough that it would be a good game to run places where dice and even character sheets are hard to manage: camping, road trip, etc. With a background in LARPing, my group’s natural fallback for resolution in a diceless situation is Paper-Rock-Scissors. I realized that if you’re playing it fairly randomly, it actually generates three results, just like dF. The problem is that you’d have to iterate it four times to generate 4dF. If you do, the distribution of results should be pretty identical to 4dF (barring unrandom choices of signs), but that might bog the game down more than getting all the results at once.

Thus, use two fists at once (do not do this if you are the driver in the road trip!). Compare each hand independently to each of your opponent’s hands, and add up to the total results like so:

PP PR PS RP RR RS SP SR SS
PP 0 2 -2 2 4 0 -2 0 -4
PR -2 0 -1 0 2 1 -1 1 0
PS 2 1 0 1 0 -1 0 -1 -2
RP -2 0 -1 0 2 1 -1 1 0
RR -4 -2 0 -2 0 2 0 2 4
RS 0 -1 1 -1 -2 0 1 0 2
SP 2 1 0 1 0 -1 0 -1 -2
SR 0 -1 1 -1 -2 0 1 0 2
SS 4 0 2 0 -4 -2 2 -2 0

So, for example, if I throw Rock and Paper, and the opponent throws Rock and Scissors, my Rock ties his and beats his Scissors, for a net +1, and my Paper beats his Rock but loses to his Scissors for a net 0, for a total +1 result.

The numbers are much more contingent than normal dice rolls, so the probabilities are a little skewed and notably lack +3/-3 results:

Result Standard RPS
-4 1.2% 3.7%
-3 4.9% 0.0%
-2 12.3% 14.8%
-1 19.8% 14.8%
0 23.5% 33.3%
1 19.8% 14.8%
2 12.3% 14.8%
3 4.9% 0.0%
4 1.2% 3.7%

But they’re close enough, I think, for the situations where you’re likely to use it. Also, the ranges of -4 to -2, -1 to 1, and 2-4 all add up to the same totals (so you’ll get a result of -1, 0, or 1 just as often, it will just be distributed differently).

Shadowrobo, Part 3

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Let’s Do Some Crime

I don’t like building facilities in Shadowrun. It’s a lot of work to map them out, there aren’t any good guidelines in the core book for what’s a reasonable level of expense and challenge, and my group tends to figure out how to skip to the end. Good on them (I encourage it), but it winds up meaning I do a lot of mapping and security layout work that never gets used. Atomic Robo‘s science systems suggest a way to lessen that work considerably.

Brainstorms

Use the brainstorm rules when you want to offload a lot of the security design to the players. This works pretty identically to the standard rules, except the players use any skills they can justify rather than Sciences, representing various steps of research and investigation into the situation they’re trying to overcome. Just like the standard rules, you run three cycles of the players competing to get to be the one that states a fact (and the GM naming one if all the players fail), with a final phase to decide on the hypothesis aspect. The facts and hypothesis become what’s true about the situation, giving the GM a lot of guidance for laying out the run (and some facility aspects).

Invention

Conversely, the invention system works well for when you’ve laid out a scenario and want to establish that there’s a profound blocker before it’s safe to proceed. That is, there’s a special layer of technological or magical security that is over and above what the team usually has to deal with. An invention, therefore, becomes just however the crew is going to bypass this unusual difficulty: a rare widget, secret codes, suborning someone with access, etc. With some catches involved, you can run a large part of the session around putting together materials for the run; once they have them, the run itself may be rather easy, with the drama being about creating the invention.

Resources and Organizations

The Tesladyne Industries organization rules in chapter 12 work very well for setting up corps and the PCs’ own resources. Rather than one overarching player-controlled org, under this system:

  • Whenever the PCs are hired by a corp or other large group, that entity has its own Resources mode. Antagonistic corps may also have a Resources mode (used as a gauge for what they can bring to bear and what their intel can determine about PC activities). For corps, AAA corps have a Great Resources, AA corps have Good, and A have Fair. They should usually have one focus and one specialty skill (often Armory or R&D for the major corps and Intel or Transport for the police agencies).
  • The PCs have their own organization that represents a much more loose collection of the crew’s pooled reputation, wealth, connections, etc. It should be named after whatever their team name is.

All organizations get a Mission Statement aspect, and that’s immediately known to the PCs (and they should come up with their own for their team org). All plot-important orgs also get Pressure aspects, but the players likely only know their own team’s pressures to start. The pressures on other orgs go a lot way to explaining their agendas and why they keep hiring runners or having runners sent against them, and figuring them out will go a lot way to moving the PCs from reactive to proactive. Only the player’s org accumulates Title aspects, but does not have an innately refilling Supply (see below).

When the PCs are on a mission for a corp, they can often use its Resources rather than their own as “expenses” for the run. This may only be available if they know who they’re working for so they know what kind of stuff to ask the Johnson for (even if it’s in a plausibly deniable way). For every point using these items increases the GM’s fate point reserve, also make a note that they have a point of debt that they have to pay off if they don’t return the items at the end of the run. (The reason to keep the items is that they may be better than what the PCs can get through their team org.)

The PCs’ team org starts at Fair Resources with no focused or specialized skills. The players can advance individual skills per the normal rules (paying their own character points to increase them). To upgrade the whole Resources level, the players need to accumulate rewards.

At the end of a run, come up with a rough reward level:

  • 1-3 points for the wealth of the employer (3 is for a AAA corp)
  • 1-5 points for the overall danger of the run
  • 0-3 points for mission success and secrecy (3 is for ghosting the run with all objectives completed)
  • Subtract up to five points for failing to meet secondary objectives, collateral damage, and generally making a mess
  • Subtract the debt rating for any items the PCs requisitioned from their employer and lost or kept

Whatever’s left is the payment for the run. Add this to the fate point Supply on the team org’s sheet. This is the only way to add Supply (the org doesn’t refill it naturally based on total aspects like in the rules). Like normal Supply, these points can be spent as fate points for anything that can be justified as spending money or using team resources. Once they’re spent, they’re gone until new rewards are earned.

At 10 points in Supply, the team’s Resources becomes Good. At 30 points, it becomes Great. Spending Supply below these thresholds drops the team’s Resources back down to the appropriate level.

Shadowrobo, Part 2

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Weird Modes

Within the frame of Shadowrun, these modes aren’t really that weird. Most PCs will have at least one of them, with some oddball Concepts allowing you to take more than one.

Adept

An adept, or physical adept, has innate magical control over her body, allowing a wide range of seemingly impossible stunts. Some such individuals are “mystic adepts” and can also take the Mage mode with this one.

Associated Skills: Athletics, Combat, Notice, Physique, Stealth, Will (this is essentially the Martial Artist mode from AR and represents a standard adept; for adepts with social powers, feel free to pick different skills)

Improvements: None

Sample Stunts: The Martial Artist mode’s stunts work great as examples.

Decker

A decker is the most elite of the hackers, totally at home in virtual reality. He uses an incredibly powerful and incredibly illegal computer “deck” to accomplish his hacks, and has built in cybernetics to seamlessly connect to the Matrix.

Associated Skills: Burglary, Contacts, Deceive, Notice, Provoke, Stealth, Will

Improvements: None

Sample Stunts: Most stunts for a decker will be gear stunts, representing the deck itself and specialized programs running on it.

Rigger

Riggers are to vehicles and drones what deckers are to the Matrix: a combination of mental cyberware and advanced computer “rig” designed to help control vehicles like extensions of their own bodies.

Associated Skills: Burglary, Combat, Notice, Stealth, Vehicles, Will

Improvements: None

Sample Stunts: Most stunts for a rigger will be gear stunts, representing various vehicles and drones.

Cyborg

There are a wide variety of ways to install tech into and improve your body in the Sixth World. While just about anyone might have a few pieces installed, a full-on cyborg has given up a substantial part of her essence to become more than human.

In addition to compels to the Concept aspect about this loss of essence, a character with this mode cannot take the Adept or Mage modes.

Associated Skills (Street Samurai): Athletics, Combat, Contacts, Notice, Physique, Vehicles

Associated Skills (Bioware-Augmented Face): Athletics, Deceive, Empathy, Physique, Rapport

Improvements: None

Sample Stunts: A wide variety of stunts can be justified with various pieces of cyberware and bioware; look at the Robot and Mutant modes for ideas. For more fiddly cyberware, you can bolt on the Cyberware rules from the Fate System Toolkit.

Mage

A mage is an individual born with the ability to channel mana and affect the spirit world. This is accomplished by spiritual awareness and the use of spells and rituals.

Associated Skills: Conjuring, Notice, Will, Every spell as its own skill (i.e., spells work like Science skills for the Science! mode, see below)

Weird Skill: Conjuring

Overcome: Use as a Lore skill for spirits
Create an Advantage: Summoning a spirit is a specific kind of advantage creation
Attack: Banish summoned spirits
Defend: Defend against summoned spirits

Essentially, use the conjuring rules for Storm Summoners in the Fate System Toolkit, with Shadowrun flavor.

Weird Skills: Spells

Each spell has up to two applications around its theme. You technically have access to all spells at your mode rating, but you should probably work with your GM to come up with a few of them that you’ve pre-agreed upon. Remember that, like Science, you have to individually focus and specialize each spell if you want it to have a higher rating than the mode.

For using these skills, use the Channeling rules from the Fate System Toolkit, with the individual spells replacing the “Channeling” skill.

Improvements: Specialize one trained skill, Focus one trained skill

Sample Stunts:

  • Astral Perception: Use Notice to perceive on the Astral Plane.
  • Astral Projection: (Requires Astral Perception) Enter a trance to generate an astral body that can move extremely quickly and interact with things on the astral plane (using your normal skills). Spend a Fate point to use magic on the physical world when projected.
  • Signature Spell: Add a weapon or armor rating to one of your spells, or make it one that you can “fast-cast” without having to tag an aspect or take damage.

Shadowrobo, Part 1

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Do you have the Fate-powered Atomic Robo RPG yet? This will make much more sense if you do. If you preorder, you get the PDF right away.

I’m probably running Shadowrun wrong. I get the vibe that the normal way to run it is a gritty, simulation-heavy crime drama where you can’t buy much for a nuyen but lives are cheap. I tend to run it much more like Leverage: as a pulpy tale of quirky master criminals that are rare enough in their awesomeness that the system they’re robbing has a hard time adapting to the threat they present. So keep that in mind.

With that style of running, the Atomic Robo rules immediately jumped out at me on reading as highly in-tune with my style of GMing Shadowrun. So we’ll see if there’s anyone else in the intersection of “Runs Shadowrun,” “Has Atomic Robo,” and “Loves Leverage.” In general, I’m erring on the side of trying to keep the rules drift from AR minimal, so there’s a good bit of “give the rules descriptions a Shadowrun flavor” rather than thorough hacks to make the game more like the normal SR rules. If you have Fate but not Atomic Robo, some of this will make a little bit of sense, but I recommend going ahead and getting AR. It’s good.

This will be a multi-part series.

Picking Aspects

Shadowrobo inherits AR’s lack of a Resources skill. Unlike AR, the assumption is that you’ll be doing runs to make money, rather than having a permanent job with relatively easy gear requisitions, and I’ll hopefully get to some systems about that later. But it does mean that your wealth is not specifically expressed as a skill, and the various members of the team are more or less in the same boat (of needing to do runs to make money). If you want a character who’s better at managing money or has a trust fund and just does runs for the fun of it, by all means represent what would be a Lifestyle in SR with your Omega Aspect or tailored stunts. And if you live on the streets and fritter away every nuyen you earn, that’s an excellent use for a compel-happy Omega Aspect as well.

Similarly, so much of the effects of race in SR can be modeled by just using it to justify particular skill choices, so there’s no specific rules for that. You should probably include it in your Concept Aspect, as that will let you make a custom weird mode if you want it to be really important, or just use invokes and take compels when it’s relevant to the story. But if you want to play, say, a troll whose massive physical stature doesn’t mean much except when fate points are in play (e.g., you didn’t buy much Physique), that’s perfectly fine and right in keeping with how the Fate system works in general.

Remember that the Sixth World has a lot more “weird” modes that are actually pretty common, unlike the standard assumption for AR, so if you want access to ‘ware- or magic-based modes, don’t forget to mention it in your Concept aspect. This is particularly important because that allows the GM to model things like essence loss and drain (which don’t have very deep systems in this conversion) with compels if it makes a better story.

Adapting the Standard Skills

Shadowrobo uses the same standard skill list from AR.

Some of the weird modes will get weird skills to fully flesh out what you can do in Shadowrun, but, in particular, hacking falls mostly under the purview of standard skills. That is, you use Burglary to break through data security, Contacts to track down information online, Deceive to trick a system, and Stealth to get through it unnoticed.

The idea behind this is twofold. On the one hand, there’s very little security that isn’t electronic and networked, and even human observers have all kinds of electronic aids, so there are limited options for a burglary- or stealth-expert that can only get past purely physical security. On the other, there have been several generations growing up in the information age at this point in the setting, so it doesn’t really even make sense to think of “computers” as a separate discipline that some people are completely ignorant of. That is, your decker is probably well trained (as represented with focuses, specialties, aspects, and stunts) to be the best at solving computer problems, but any runner can do some basic computing in a pinch. If you want to make an old-school thief who’s hopeless at computers or a hacker that’s unprepared for a physical lock, represent that with an aspect and prepare to soak up the compels.

Other than computer-related skills, a lot of the skills are also used without much modification to represent magic and ‘ware. Since Fate is a results-based system, if you really want to differentiate the troll with a natural Physique, the adept with mystically augmented strength, and the samurai with built-in servos, do it with Stunts and Mega-Stunts.

Standard Modes

The standard modes in Shadowrobo are Soldier, Face, Thief, and Operator.

Soldier

Maybe you were actually part of the military before retiring to the shadows. Maybe you were a “soldier” in a gang, learning your trade on the streets. Maybe you moved to a martial-arts monastery and studied real hard for ten years or your family was wiped out by drug dealers and you swore yourself to revenge. Whatever the case, you have a strong baseline of physical and combat skills.

This has the same skills as AR’s Action mode (Athletics, Combat, Notice, Physique, Provoke, and Vehicles), and similar stunts are probably appropriate. It’s a good mode for anyone to grab some facility in combat, and often serves as an additional mode for samurais and adepts that want to be real badasses.

Face

There comes a time in the formation of every group of runners where they realize they’re going to have to find some burned corporate marketer or salesman or hit up their fixers for contact info for a quality grifter, because none of them can con their way out of a paper bag or talk a Johnson into paying a living wage. You’re the one they make talk to people.

This has the same skills as AR’s Banter mode (Contacts, Deceive, Empathy, Provoke, Rapport, and Will), and supports similar stunts. It’s the kind of mode where, if you have it, you’re probably going to put it pretty high, hoping that some of the other party members will at least have it as their Average mode. But they all left it off the sheet entirely because now they have you to do all the talking… so they can get better at shooting people.

Thief

Most crews pay lip service to getting in and out without it requiring a storm of bullets, a suitcase of explosives, and a busy day for the local coroner. In order to actually achieve those lofty goals, it helps to have members trained in the arts of thievery. Your skills are partly physical training, partly computer hacking, and all about getting paid without requiring a body count.

This has the same skills as AR’s Intrigue mode (Athletics, Burglary, Contacts, Deceive, Notice, and Stealth), and supports similar stunts. It’s the chassis on which to build a decker that actually goes into the building and most other flavors of ninja.

Operator

The more organized crews often realize that it’s worthwhile to have a member that stays in the van, providing surveillance and support from a more objective perspective (i.e., not getting shot at while making decisions). This individual often also fulfills the role of getaway driver, even without a control rig. Since the other members of the team tend to expect some kind of above-and-beyond for the greater safety, the operator also tends to be the one to do a lot of the initial footwork and setup for a job.

This mode is not reflected in AR, and has skills that cover a range of support options (Burglary, Contacts, Notice, Provoke, Rapport, Stealth, and Vehicles). Invent stunts in that vein. It’s often paired with Decker for a hacker that doesn’t come inside, with Rigger for obvious reasons, and for anyone else that wants to round out their support skills.

Don’t Forget Your Aspects

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Pretty simple idea today, brought on by the cryonic heads episode of Fringe. This campaign premise is intended as something of a bait-and-switch, so you should inform your players that it’s a mystery and that they should hopefully trust you and roll with it.

What the players don’t know initially (but will piece together through the course of the scenario) is that they were cryogenically frozen after death. The initial scenario takes place in a computer simulation designed to repair the characters’ brains before releasing them into the high-tech future. That is, the entire game is an elaborate prologue for a “modern characters awake in a sci-fi setting” game. Nova Praxis is probably perfect for this, and the text below assumes a build of Fate, but really anything works. You can subtly adjust the questions to change up the scenario (e.g., maybe it’s a fantasy/horror setting and this is all a prelude to them getting resurrected after being long dead).

Why bother? Because it’s often easier to introduce a setting with vastly different and complex background details with fish-out-of-water modern characters that aren’t expected to know anything the audience doesn’t, and that’s generally hard to do with sci-fi settings. Further, it’s often hard for you to get certain players to give you deep insight into their character psychology without running them through a system that’s all about their psychology.

Also, every time we entertain in fiction that all those frozen rich geeks are getting resurrected in the future, it justifies it just a little bit for them :) .

The System

This uses a standard build of Don’t Rest Your Head. Obviously, the circumstances of the City will be different. This isn’t a place that’s exactly out to get the characters, so much as trying to get them to remember. But they’re suffering major brain damage/freezer burn being slowly repaired, so a little horror may be a natural result of them trying to come to terms with their deaths and science-augmented rebirths.

Exhaustion represents the brain exerting itself to be repaired, having a harder and harder time staying cogent in this electrically-stimulated half-life. The Exhaustion Talent should ultimately map to the character’s top skill when built in Fate.

Madness represents the character rebelling against what is in many ways a cross between the Matrix and a lucid dream, making things happen not really intended by the scenario, and the Madness Talent represents an especially powerful glitch that the character can use. The talent may or may not map to a stunt when built in Fate.

Crashing or Snapping may be temporary setbacks, or may indicate that the character’s brain cannot be saved, depending on whether you’re really just running a prelude and you want them all to move on, or whether you want them to work for it.

Pain and all its attendant problems represents the characters’ own subconscious nihilism: the monsters are almost entirely their own reasons for thinking they don’t deserve to come back from the dead. It should probably be rather like Silent Hill, a lot of the time.

The Questions

  • How’d you make your money? (Even if they don’t remember it, all the characters were rich enough to pay to be cryogenically preserved. If someone chooses to answer this in a way that negates the question, then you get to invent the weird circumstances for why someone else decided to pay to put them on ice.)
  • Why do you want to live? (This should hopefully tease out why the characters paid to be preserved without giving the game totally away.)
  • Why are you afraid you deserve to die? (This gives you fuel for designing the Pain creatures the characters will face.)
  • What’s your biggest secret? (Another issue to be resolved by Pain.)
  • What’s the last thing you remember? (A twist on the standard What Just Happened question, this actually indicates a moment before the character died, but which will be built upon by the simulation. You should encourage the players to be somewhat stressful or sinister, but less weird and horrible than normal for DRYH.)

The Scenario

Depending on how they answered the questions, the easiest way to go is probably The Game through Silent Hill through The Matrix/Dark City.

That is, start to build up an initial wrong impression that they were kidnapped for something related to their money. The final memory in reality was a significant memory not too long before the character died, but probably didn’t actually mean anything sinister. But here, it suddenly is full of portent and gets spun out into a different logical path. Especially if you have the characters all start out together in a locked room, it probably won’t be long before they decide that they’re all rich and must have been kidnapped.

Before too long, they should start to see cracks showing in the belief that this is a simple kidnapping. Set the nightmare nob to the level you’re comfortable with, and all the dark entities they run into should gradually resolve into being elements from each of the characters’ fractured psyches. They should probably get the impression that they’re in a Purgatory of their own sins and psychodramas.

But they have superpowers, taxing though they are. As they deal with threats, the seams of the simulation should become more and more apparent. This is a scenario constructed of advanced but still limited technology: the AI isn’t as smart as they are and the playspace isn’t infinite; monsters can be tricked, NPCs are strangely lacking in complexity, and doors can’t be opened or loop back around. Towards the end, they have probably figured out they’re in a box and are just trying to figure out the key.

They key is defining their Aspects. Whichever build of Fate you’re using, figure out the number and categories of the Aspects that are needed (e.g., High Concept and Trouble plus others or the Aspect alphabet in Strands of Fate/Nova Praxis). Try to herd the players into situations where they might exemplify something about their natures. When someone does something dramatic and personal that might fit into an Aspect category, break the fourth wall and ask them a question (possibly including the simplified adjective that you think might make a good Aspect, e.g., “Are you always this Strong?”).

The goal is to get the player to respond with a full sentence that becomes an Aspect (rather than just a yes or no; e.g., “When I need to, I can move mountains!”). When that happens, very visibly write down what the player just said, while just nodding and moving on if you get a simple affirmation or negation. The players should pretty quickly pick up that they’re meant to be answering the questions with style.

Try to make sure the scenario targets players in a way that keeps the questions answered with Aspects even, so they can basically all get their total number of Aspects at the same time (possibly with one final set of questions before the walls come down). Once they all have their full allotment of Aspects, the simulation has successfully rebuilt their personalities, and they can be decanted into new bodies (or just a virtual lobby as the scientists explain what actually happened and give them a full range of output options) and make their characters in Fate.

Then, shortly afterwards, they can have an exciting scene of bitching at a bunch of resurrection techs for what they were just put through.

Channeling the Ur-Saga

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This is heavily inspired by the way the fae work in Kingdoms of Amalur, with a big dollop of Unknown Armies. It’s written for Fate because that was the easiest way to capture the idea, but it could use any system with some tinkering.

The Matter of Earth

There is a narrative that underpins all the tales of humanity. Extremely cyclical, this Ur-saga has repeated itself throughout thousands of years of civilization and all the world’s cultures. And it is always shifting subtly, new chapters being added and old ones fading away as reenactors adjust its tapestry. The trappings of each tale change with each era, but the heart of the saga retains is meaning. And there is power in recreating the tales anew with each cycle.

It begins and ends with the Swordbearer. The dying True King leaves the symbol of his rule under her protection and she will give it to him again when he wears a different face. She, and a few others that survive the end of the cycle and retain roles in its beginning, will meet other individuals an a fashion that marks them as part of the saga as well. Then they will wittingly or unwittingly play the roles that have been played over and over again, matching archetypes to people who will then move on throughout the saga.

For example, the Questing King first enters the saga when he meets the True King on a joint attempt on a beast. Once the saga has become sufficiently advanced, the True King will set out upon this quest, and whomever he meets with the same goal henceforth is marked as the Questing King, who will begin to have his own adventures. Once, they were Western sheriffs hunting the same lawbreaker. Once, they were captains of industry pursuing a new technology. The trappings change, but the characters remain the same.

There are whole groups of people that work to catalog the saga and make note of its current state and changing tales. This is an inexact science, as whole plotlines can vary in relation to one another. Sometimes, the World’s Strongest Man joins the Ship of Heroes before he has even begun his Labors, and others he is an old man waiting for a final call to adventure. It is also a difficult task to maintain an updated codex of the saga, because other scholars hide their own research and attempt to destroy the work of their rivals. Because if you know the secrets of the saga, you can find a place to insert yourself.

If you understand the saga, you know that there is great power in walking the road of a character. Reality conspires to make the saga come true, time after time. If you know what character you are portraying, and know what events are coming up for that character in the tales, you can bend your own goals to match the predestined results of the story. Many scholars try very hard to find the heroes that slay the dragon, win a kingdom, and live happily ever after, and look to become that hero so their own dragons and their own conception of a kingdom will be delivered to them on a silver platter.

But the saga is always moving. Reality conspires, but it is subtle. The actors do not lose their free will (though they find themselves unconsciously driven to play their parts), and sometimes do things unexpected in the story. Characters meet that have never met before, spinning off a new tale that may add a whole new supporting cast to the saga. Actors overcome the push to repeat, and do something differently than it is usually done, weakening the strength of that tale and possibly forging a whole new plotline. Heroes die unexpectedly… sometimes because a greedy scholar wants to replace them before the next act.

Rules (Fate)

In order to join the saga, you must be a reasonable fit for the theme of a character and find yourself filling its role in a scene with someone that’s already part of the saga. This must either be the first time the character appears in this cycle, or the previous actor must have died or otherwise become incapable of continuing in the role. For player characters, this will often be accidental: an interaction with a stranger seems rife with portent and impossibility, and suddenly coincidences abound to draw the character into a larger world.

When you are an actor, you write the “name” of your character as an Aspect. Scholars of the saga tend to couch these characters in general terms so as to not impose preconceptions, but with some digging you might find out who the most famous example of your character is. That is, you could write the Aspect as “The Man from the Lake” or “Lancelot.” The Aspect can be used normally for anything relevant to the character: The Man from the Lake can be invoked to become the best at whatever being a knight means this cycle, and compelled to lose control of your emotions at a disastrous time. Sometimes your character will not have a clear analog in known sources, so you’ll have to experiment to find out what role you’re meant to play. Additionally, you can always invoke the Aspect when you’re trying to escape danger in a situation where your character isn’t meant to be harmed; you’re being saved for your big exit.

Any time a character with such an Aspect is around, it’s possible a game scene may match the next Scene in his or her personal story. This becomes extremely likely whenever that character crosses paths with anyone else with such an Aspect that isn’t a regular part of his or her story. As noted, the actual trappings of the scene usually vary based on what’s appropriate for the character; what’s important is the emotional heart of the scene and its impact on later behavior. If you believe the scene where your character is grievously wounded by a one-off monster is coming up, that monster could be just about anything.

When a scene is relevant to one or more such stories, it has a scene Aspect that explains the gist of what happens. For example, “The Man from the Lake rescues the White Queen from the Summer King” or “The World’s Strongest Man defeats the Lion.” The scene also comes with a collection of Fate points that can be spent to invoke or compel that Aspect. This pool of points is roughly equal to the number of times that this scene has repeated itself successfully: for key scenes of the saga, the budget is basically unlimited and a concentrated effort must be taken to keep it come coming to pass. For more “optional” scenes that happen more often than not but can be changed without hurting a much larger narrative, the budget might be only a few Fate points. If the scene doesn’t turn out “correctly,” it has one fewer Fate point the next time it comes around; within a few cycles, it might be expunged entirely from the canon. Similarly, when an actor does something significant and in keeping with that character’s themes, particularly something that involves another actor, that scene may try to repeat itself on subsequent cycles, starting at one Fate point.

Ways to Use this System

There are several different uses for this in a game. One of them is, of course, “railroad the hell out of your players because your campaign is based on the Arthurian Mythos and every scene has a million Fate points to come out right,” but I wouldn’t recommend doing that. Instead, some examples are:

  • The PCs accidentally become actors in the saga. Initially, they may enjoy sometimes getting a big pool of Fate points to make sure things turn out in their favor. But, sooner or later, they’ll be compelled to do something “in character” that isn’t in their best interests. The campaign becomes about questions of free will, particularly once they realize that their characters are not ones that live happily ever after.
  • The saga is viciously guarded by a sketchy cabal of historians, and actors almost always come from a global society of clued-in families, manipulating it to retain their own power. The PCs are on the outside, and come up against someone on the inside and get blindsided by antagonists that can sometimes marshal functionally unlimited Fate points to have a scene turn out in their favor. The PCs may have to learn a lot more about the saga in order to turn the narrative against their enemies if they’re to have any chance of winning.
  • The game is a chronicle of ages, starting with a line of the saga that doesn’t have many predefined scenes. The players play out the same sequence of the saga again and again, each time with a new generation of actors. The different scenes wax and wane as the players decide whether to go with the flow or fight against them from cycle to cycle. The goal is to see how the same basic sequence of events plays out when only the core thematic elements of the characters remain the same but the setting and time period changes over and over.

Ongoing Flashbacks

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Most advice for flashbacks in RPGs tries, unsurprisingly, to replicate how flashbacks are used in most media: as the occasional one scene that can appear whenever it’s relevant, or sometimes a whole episode devoted to explaining a crucial issue. However, pioneered by Lost (or at least that’s the first place I saw it) and now used in a slightly different way in Arrow, another option is the ongoing flashback, where up to half the time is set in the past. In Lost, this was a second story giving more background to a character whose choices were central to the episode, but each episode could have a completely different flashback and there was no particular order. Arrow, on the other hand, show something far more gamable: the flashbacks are in a linear order and are effectively a second ongoing plotline that happens to be in the past rather than another location. The past plotline tends to conveniently parallel whatever’s going on in the present thematically and introduces any facts and abilities the main character’s theoretically known all along but weren’t relevant until now.

This could be a huge having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too idea for games where the protagonists are meant to start ultra competent with minimal advancement featuring players that like to spend exp.

How I’d do this kind of thing (using Fate lingo, but could really work with anything skill-based) is:

  • The players start in the present with a full pyramid of skills, but only a bare minimum of aspects, stunts, and powers. Effectively, their options are going to increase over time, but not their power level.
  • The players start in the past with a greatly reduced pyramid of skills, and probably zero aspects, stunts, or powers. They’re going to learn everything in the flashbacks.
  • When a player is ready to spend exp (or just get an increase on a fixed schedule), he or she tells the GM in advance of the session. Part of that session’s flashback involves picking up the new trait (it’s up to the player to justify why it never seemed relevant to use it until now).
  • The characters in the flashback gain skill points at a fairly accelerated rate. If the player raises a skill in the past higher than that of the present version, it’s suggested that the player use the normal rules for flipping skill ranks to make sure they continue to match up.
  • The player is free to use tricks he or she thinks will be on the final list in the present in situations where they don’t matter to the rules (e.g., to show off) to drive home the idea that the present character knows everything the character in the past knows, just hasn’t figured that it’s relevant yet.

The GM, in setting up these sessions, should do a few things:

  • Plan the advancement path to parallel the course of the chronicle. Once the flashback versions of the PCs have the same skill pyramid as the present versions, it’s getting really close to time for the end of the past to become the beginning of the present, and wrap up the arc. This could be a complete finale, or just a timeskip to even more badass versions of the characters later that have new flashback moments.
  • The events of the past storyline should be somewhat flexible in your mind, as they should stay thematically related to whatever is happening in the present. If the present winds up with the players going after someone that is theoretically an old foe, you want leeway to bend the flashbacks to show when they first met him. If something in the present is showcasing a failure of fatherhood, the flashbacks can call out one of the PCs’ own relationships with father figures.
  • In the flashbacks, the PCs are obviously in no danger of dying (unless there’s room for a surprise reveal that one of them is a clone with the original’s memories or something). But you can raise the stakes by having a rousing cast of NPCs that the players would like to keep alive. You can even run whole flashback arcs that largely involve protecting an NPC, and if the NPC survives and the players liked her, she soon after appears in the present timeline showing up to help out and reward the players for helping her in the past. You might also build to threats in the present by having flashbacks focus on how much information they were learning in the past: a flashback failure may result in the players having less information and fewer assets in the fight against the present threat.
  • Ideally, the PCs have been working together for some time (though you may start off the flashbacks with a “you all meet in a tavern” moment) so you don’t have to split the party in the flashbacks. If the story or character concepts absolutely demand that the PCs were mostly or entirely solo in the past, try flipping focal episodes. Each session, another PC’s past is what’s relevant to the present issue (and that’s the PC that gets to buy new stuff), and the other players are handed lightly sketched supporting NPCs to portray in the flashback. Make sure to give each player a roughly equal number of focal episodes.
  • In an actual session, borrowing from TV act structures is a good idea. That is, be on the lookout for a surprise beat to flip between past and present scenes, particularly:
    • Something that might become more potent for being drawn out (“and then a bunch of guys with guns kick in the door… and… flashback”)
    • Something that is directly relevant to flashing back (“the assassin pulls off his hood to reveal… Captain Stone” “Who? Wait, the random captain who was piloting our plane? We don’t really know him.” “Flashback! On the plane to your destination, you hear over the intercom, ‘This is the captain. I’m getting some unexpected contacts on the radar. What did you people get me into!? Oh hell, missile lock, hold on…'”).
  • Make sure your story is sufficiently about secrets revealed and tight-lipped protagonists that the whole mechanic continues to feel relevant. If you’re not sure it works for a whole campaign, consider just doing it for periodic one-off episodes where someone’s past is extremely relevant. This is a lot more like just the way every RPG suggests to do flashbacks, but at least alternating regularly between flashback and present between scenes preserves some of what’s different about this format.

 

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