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.

 

Fate: Fading Suns, Misc Rules

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The following are miscellaneous adjustments to/replacements for standard Fate rules to fit the setting, the online medium, and just to try a few things out with the social and stress systems. This is meant to support the previous posts on skills and character creation.

Stress

Character Stress tracks are done in the old pyramid-style from Fate 2: characters have more boxes for lower-Stress hits than for higher ones. Effectively, characters can take a few minimal-Stress hits before they start rolling up to serious damage, and taking Consequences to reduce Stress is more likely to find a spare box at lower levels to check off.

A standard character’s Stress track looks like:

  1. OOO
  2. OO
  3. O
  4. Taken Out

If a character has a bigger Stress track (such as from the Grimson mutation), one box is added on each level:

  1. OOOO
  2. OOO
  3. OO
  4. O
  5. Taken Out

Obviously, increasing someone’s track makes them much harder to take out, so it should be reserved for benefits on the same order of “I am a seven-foot-tall mutant designed only for war.”

Otherwise, Stress works basically normally (i.e., it resets at the end of a scene, but Consequences persist). A special modification is that most intrigue-based social situations should immediately advance the “scene” as soon as a target is Taken Out. This is explained in more detail below, but often being Taken Out by a social attack starts out with minimal consequences but serves as a method to start on a bigger social attack soon after. Effectively, an attacking social character should never get a benefit from taking a target out and then immediately get to use that benefit to attack an already damaged social Stress track.

Physical Conflict

Other than the difference in Stress tracks and skills, combat works about the same as in Dresden Files. To wit:

  1. On your action, compare the result of an attack skill to the target’s defense skill.
  2. If the result was equal or greater, add your weapon bonus to the shifts of success to generate a Stress number.
  3. Reduce that Stress by the target’s armor bonus.
  4. Whatever number is left, check off that box on the target’s Stress track (rolling up if all boxes on that level are checked).

Weapons

Weapons have standard damage ratings. However, scene aspects might be tagged for attacks with appropriate weapons (e.g., tagging a “Confined” aspect for a bonus when attacking with a knife).

  • 0: Unarmed or using an unwieldy improvised weapon
  • 1: Knife, Club, Light Bow, Slug Pistol
  • 2: Sword, Mace, Axe, Heavy Bow, Slug Rifle/Shotgun, Energy Pistol
  • 3: Two Handed Melee Weapon, Energy Melee Weapon, Energy Rifle/Shotgun

Armor

  • -1: Unarmored (Light clothing or less): target actually takes +1 Stress on successful physical attack
  • 0: Synthsilk, Spacesuit, or Heavy Clothing
  • 1: Stiffsynth, Half-plate, or Scale
  • 2: Chain, Full Plate
  • 3: Ceramsteel (full suit)

Energy Shields

Energy shields cannot typically be worn with armor heavier than 0. They work similarly to armor. Melee attacks and energy/fire attacks can only be reduce to 1 Stress, not to 0, by an energy shield. Most shields can only trigger a limited number of times before running out of power.

  • 2: Standard; 10 hits
  • 3: Dueling; 15 hits
  • 4: Assault; 20 hits, can be worn with Armor 1 (applied after Stress is reduced by the shield)
  • 5: Battle; 30 hits, can be worn with any armor

Note that assault and battle shields effectively require either overwhelming force or the attacker to rely on maneuvers. Against a full-out frontal assault, heavily shielded troops are functionally invulnerable until the power runs out.

Social Conflict

These are heavily borrowed from the Song of Ice and Fire RPG.

All social actions can include a bonus or penalty based on the target’s friendliness/disposition:

  • -4: The target despises you
  • -2: The target doesn’t like you and would rather work against you
  • 0: The target has no particular opinion about you
  • +2: The target likes and trusts you
  • +4: The target loves you and places your needs above his or her own

This effect is flipped if you’re trying to Provoke the target to try to harm you or Convince the target of something horrible about yourself.

Many players may balk at losing a social conflict and having to believe something or take certain action. The GM may wish to deliver these as Compels, allowing the player to either pay Wyrd to avoid the action or get bonus Wyrd for playing along.

Bargain

Bargain is used to establish an exchange of goods or services. It is mostly a straight contest between both parties’ Bargain skills plus modifiers. However, other social skills might be used before bargaining (e.g., Entertain to make the opponent friendlier or Convince to inflate the value of an item for trade).

In addition to the disposition effect, modify your Bargain total by the following chart:

  • -4: Your offering not only has no value to the target, accepting it would cause some kind of harm
  • -2: Your offering has no value to the target
  • 0: Your offering is valuable, but not overwhelmingly so
  • +2: Your offering is something that would significantly help the target/something he or she really wants
  • +4: Your offering is something that the target would literally risk death or worse to obtain

Compare each side’s Bargain total. If they are unequal, the higher side can reduce what is being offered or the lower side must figure out a way to increase the value of what is offered.

If the conversation is a simple monetary exchange, don’t use the chart above. Instead, modify Bargain by Disposition and then compare the buyer’s total to the seller’s:

  • -4: Pay double what the item is worth
  • -2: Pay half again what the item is worth
  • 0: Pay what the item is worth
  • +2: Pay 2/3 what the item is worth
  • +4: Pay 1/3 what the item is worth

In any kind of Bargain contest, either side can choose to walk away from the deal: the ratio of Bargain scores merely indicates the best deal you’re going to get if you do trade.

Entertain

(Note: On consideration of the system and similarities to Provoke, I replaced Seduce with this skill here and on the skills post.)

Entertain is used to make friends prior to influencing people. It represents being witty, fun, and engaging, and also figuring out how best to loosen up the target.

You can use a simple check of Entertain to keep a target from leaving a social situation (so you have more time to make other social attacks). Make an Entertain check (modified by Disposition) against the target’s Empathy. The target may receive a bonus of up to +4 for legitimate reasons to leave the social situation (e.g., +2 for being tired and wanting to sleep, +4 for needing to make it to an appointment). If you succeed, the target must stay for at least one more exchange of social conflict.

If you take out the target with Entertain attacks, you gain a +2 bonus on social attacks for the next scene (as if his or her disposition had gone up one step). If you don’t immediately trick the target and otherwise maintain the new friendship, this disposition increase may become permanent. Entertain attacks can target either Empathy or Poise, depending on whether you’re trying to work up to manipulating the target (Empathy) or genuinely trying to make friends (Poise).

Convince

Convince is used to establish beliefs. A simple check is used to convince the target that you believe something. A social combat is used to make the target believe it. This can be used for lying to the target, establishing things that are actually true, or intimidating the target by presenting a lie or truth that scares the target.

All Convince rolls take modifiers based on the following:

  • -4: The target is holding inarguable proof that what you say is false (possibly a really good forgery if what you’re saying is actually true)
  • -2: The target has a firmly held belief or previous evidence that what you say is false
  • 0: The target has no firm evidence about what you’re saying, but is disinclined to believe it automatically
  • +2: The target would really like to believe you
  • +4: The target secretly already believes what you’re saying

If you’re lying, your rolls are opposed by the target’s Empathy. If you’re telling the truth, they’re against a base number of 0 (still modified by the target’s beliefs and disposition).

Provoke

Provoke is used to get the target to take action rather than sitting idle. You can generally only Provoke the target to do something that he or she (perhaps secretly) wants to do anyway. Thus, if your target isn’t already primed, it’s often prudent to only Provoke after you’ve successfully Convinced. If the target does not want to take the action you’re trying to Provoke, you cannot make a roll (and attempting to do so may lower the target’s disposition).

All Provoke rolls are a social conflict, with “Taken Out” indicating the target taking the action you specify. However, they might be “one shot” attacks if the target is already primed and ready to go (e.g., the +4 bonus to get your enemies to attack you means that you’ll have a good chance of taking them out for this purpose on the first roll). They are made against the target’s Poise (and the target can use Empathy, if higher, if he or she suspects you’re trying to be manipulative).

Provoke rolls generally take modifiers based on the following:

  • -4: The target believes taking that action would result in death or worse
  • -2: The target would get in serious trouble by acting
  • 0: The target would face consequences, but not major ones, by acting
  • +2: The target has no reason not to act other than inertia
  • +4: The target secretly was already planning the action and just needs a nudge

Provoke rolls are also a great place to use compels (if you can get the target “Drunk” or “Impassioned” before an attack, it makes it way easier to get past the danger).

Intrigue Examples

Baroness Erica Decados is trying to set up a perfect patsy. She uses Bargain to arrange for a small contingent of Brother Battle church knights as security for one of her enterprises. While they’re unable to abandon their posts, she spends a great deal of time working to Entertain them and overcome their native distrust of her house. Meanwhile, she uses Empathy to try to figure out which holds beliefs most helpful to her cause. These she keeps in contact with after the posting, maintaining her new relationship. During this time, she gradually uses Convince to drop facts about various individuals she suspects of perfidy within her house. Once they believe her, she uses Provoke to convince them to deal with the problem. Weeks later, when her rivals are removed by the Inquisition backed by church knights, there is very little to tie her to the deed.

Jonin Skorpios Ben-Hadir of the Scravers is trying to get some leverage within the Byzantium Secondus nobility. He manages a meeting with one of the secondary sons of a Hawkwood functionary, and uses Convince to get him to believe that they should continue the conversation over drinks, and that it will be purely business. He makes use of Entertain to keep the noble around for longer than he would otherwise plan to, Empathy to get a sense of what he’s interested in, and Provoke to convince him to drink more than he’d planned (maneuvers to place Aspects to be tagged later). At the end of the night, the final Provoke challenge with tagged Aspects places the noble with some Scraver-owned courtesans with sufficient recording equipment for later blackmail. Future Bargain challenges will be a lot easier for the Scravers…

Fate: Fading Suns, Chargen

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Character creation is divided into the same areas as typical Fate: Aspects, Skills, and Stunts/Powers.

Like in Dresden Files, a character’s Refresh rating is used as a basis for purchasing traits (this is described more fully below). Fate Points are referred to as Wyrd, per the original setting. This energy is poorly understood and hard to quantify, but does exist in-setting rather than just as a story currency: it represents a certain power of the spirit that can fuel supernatural effects and, for those that don’t have them, be used unconsciously to bend reality to one’s ends. When several points of Wyrd are spent in the same scene, it invokes the Destiny Effect: something about this scene becomes extremely important, or at least symbolic, for the rest of the characters’ careers and possibly to the fate of the universe.

Aspects

Player characters have five Aspects divided into different categories: role, destiny, failure, and blessings.

Each character has one Role Aspect. This is similar to Dresden Files‘ High Concept. It is a slightly flavored rendition of the character’s house, sect, guild, etc. Examples include “Hazat Knight,” “Reeve Lawyer,” and “Avestite Inquisitor.” It is not meant to be invoked for anything related to the concept, however, but speaks specifically to actions revolving around the character’s role in society. For example, the Hazat Knight might invoke to get preferential treatment in the courts, intimidate lessers, or any other situation where being a noble would create a clear and inarguable distinction over another character, but shouldn’t be used just to get a bonus on a swordfight. Similarly, the Aspect might be compelled when the character is out of her element, such as when attempting to hide among the lower classes. Ultimately, this Aspect is intended to highlight the politics of the setting rather than being an easy invoke in a pinch.

Next, each character has a Destiny Aspect. This is a short statement about where the character’s personal story is heading, at least in her own conception. This Aspect might change fairly frequently as the story progresses and forces a reconsideration of ambitions and priorities. Examples include “A piece for my house’s game,” “Demanding answers from the Pancreator,” and “Proof that only sinners need fear the Inquisition.” It can be invoked in any situation that is clearly making progress toward the destiny, or as a defense in life and destiny-threatening situations. It can be compelled to encourage the player to take a foolhardy action in pursuit of this goal.

To complement the destiny, each character also has a Failure Aspect. This is the character’s biggest flaw: the thing most likely to complicate pursuit of the destiny, and possibly life in general. Like Destiny, it might change throughout the course of the game (often at the same time). Examples include “Desperate for personal agency,” “Terrible health,” and “Too free with scriptural interpretation.” It isn’t usually invoked except in rare situations where it can be worked into a strange flaw-Judo. It is meant to be frequently compelled, and a major source of Wyrd for the character.

Finally, each player character gets two additional Aspects that work more like those in standard Fate: they’re meant to be invoked in a fairly broad range of useful situations, but might also be compelled when it makes sense. Note that this implementation doesn’t have any way to get unusual wealth, equipment, or rank without making an Aspect that’s relevant. Otherwise, all PCs are expected to have the rank and accoutrements appropriate to the story. Similarly, any unusual abilities should be based off of an appropriate Aspect: you can’t take Psi, Theurgy, or Changed features without one. Finally, cybernetics is basically just an Aspect (unless your GM wants to make a more granular system). Suggested basic Aspects are based off of Fading Suns Blessings and Benefices and include:

  • Artificer
  • Changed
  • Confident/Valiant
  • Cyborg
  • Duelist
  • Handsome/Beautiful
  • Heir/Groomed for Promotion
  • Psychic
  • Relic/Artifact
  • Soldier
  • Theurge
  • Tough/Indomitable
  • Quick/Instinctive
  • Wealthy
  • Wise/Savant

Skills

Each player character picks a class and career, and starts each of those ten skills at +1.

Each character starts with 12 Refresh. This Refresh can then be spent to buy pursuits (it will also be used for Stunts/Powers and as actual Refresh). The limitations on buying pursuits are:

  • The character should generally be at least [Pursuits x 5 + 10] years old. For example, a character with 2 pursuits should be at least 20.
  • A character cannot raise the same skill twice in a row, even from two different pursuits.
  • A character cannot buy the same pursuit (i.e., the same group of three skills, by whatever name) within two purchases (e.g., a player could alternate three pursuits with all different skills but not two).

The first rule allows players to make an older, skilled character whose spirit has dimmed, or a younger character with a lot of potential. The second and third rules keep characters from becoming too specialized.

As an example, a player might make a 32 year old character with 4 pursuits purchased:

  • Diplomat
  • Fighter (at this point, the player can’t take any pursuit with one of the same skills as Diplomat)
  • Traveler (at this point, the player can’t take any pursuit with one of the same skills as Fighter, and can’t take Diplomat again yet)
  • Diplomat

If the character was originally a Noble Duelist, she would now have Acting +2, Bargain +2, Block +2, Convince +2, Dodge +1, Empathy +2, EVA +1, Fight +2, History +1, Intrigue +1, Linguistics +1, Poise +1, Provoke +1, Vigor +2, Warfare +1.

Stunts/Powers

The player can spend remaining Refresh, to a minimum of 1, to buy Stunts and Powers. There are no limits on age for these. For Powers, the player must have an Aspect that references the ability. Suggestions for Stunts and Powers include:

  • Melee
    • Riposte: Spin on Block gives +2 on followup Fight attacks instead of +1
    • Counter Parry: When using Fight, opponent’s Block is limited by Fight
    • Compound Attack: Can use shifts on successful Fight attack as bonus on next round’s attack (instead of dealing damage)
    • Feint: Opponent must defend against Fight attacks with lower of Dodge or Block
    • Florentine: Treat Block as +1 when using an offhand weapon
    • Pierce: Spend 1 Wyrd to treat opponent’s armor as 0 on successful hit
  • Martial Arts
    • Confuse Foe: Can make a Provoke attack against target’s Empathy; shifts on success are bonus on next round’s Fight attack
    • Rooting: Treat Block as +1 when you have not changed position for at least one round
    • Tornado Kick: Spend 1 Wyrd to make a Fight attack against multiple opponents within reach (compare one result vs. individual Block scores)
    • Iron Body: Can use spin on Block as damage dealt to unarmed attacker
    • Leaping Kick: Can roll Vigor instead of Fight for unarmed attack after a run up
    • Martial Hold: Can use Fight instead of Vigor to grapple
  • Psi
    • Far Hand: Use lesser of Psi and Provoke to move things at range; 1 Wyrd for major actions
    • Omen: Use lesser of Psi and Empathy to get visions of past or future; 1 Wyrd for major prophecies or postcognition
    • Psyche: Use lesser of Psi and Empathy to read minds; 1 Wyrd to attempt to insert thoughts or mind control
    • Sixth Sense: Use lesser of Psi and Empathy to read aura, see in the dark, etc.; 1 Wyrd for long-range clairvoyance
    • Soma: Use lesser of Psi and Vigor to provide minor physical bonuses; 1 Wyrd to heal self or shapeshift
    • Vis Craft: Use lesser of Psi and Provoke to sense or attack with electricity; 1 Wyrd for major actions
  • Theurgy
    • Blessing: Use lesser of Theurgy and Empathy to provide minor bonuses to skills; 1 Wyrd for long-term or several people
    • Healing: Use lesser of Theurgy and Physick to perform miraculous healing; 1 Wyrd for wounds beyond mundane healing
    • Censure: Use lesser of Theurgy and Convince to enact a geas on a subject; 1 Wyrd for long-term or extremely binding
    • Protection: Use lesser of Theurgy and Vigor to erect miraculous defenses; 1 Wyrd to ward large area or several people
    • Consecration: Use lesser of Theurgy and Convince to prepare/cleanse a space or object; 1 Wyrd for large areas or deep corruption
    • Revelation: Use lesser of Theurgy and Research to find details of target; 1 Wyrd for deep scans
  • Changed
    • Flyer: You have wings and can glide; if they are too obvious to hide, you can fly
    • Infiltrator: You release pheromones that give you a +2 to all Social skills against targets that can smell you
    • Metonym: You can adjust your muscles and tissues to alter your physical appearance within the scope of you weight and height
    • Survivor: You are virtually immune to diseases and poisons, can digest most organic compounds, and can hold your breath for an extremely long time
    • Attacker: You are always considered armed with a +1 damage weapon; if these weapons are too obvious to hide, you treat them as +3
    • Sneak: You have enhanced senses (can see in the dark, smell like a dog, etc.) and can adjust your skin color like a chameleon
    • Grimson: You are inhumanly large and have a higher wound threshold than most humans and +1 to contests where size would give you an advantage

Fate: Fading Suns, Skills

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Summer is almost here, the weather is nice, the sun is shining, and a GM’s mind might turn to highly successful games run in the past, and start thinking about replicating that success. I’ve been musing for years on a Fate conversion of Fading Suns, and finally got struck by inspiration recently.

First up is the skills list and groupings. As a few explanations:

  • This is designed around my, probably idiosyncratic, view of the Fading Suns setting. So there are some skills that I might find more useful than others in general play.
  • It’s also largely intended for an internet-based game where rolling and using turns too often tends to slow things down (as you’re waiting for however long it takes someone else to put in input before you can respond). Thus, I’ve erred on the side of skills that are more useful to eyeball for general level of competence and against ones that are more useful to rolling.
  • Most particularly, this involves dropping an Alertness-type stat: it’s easier for me to just tell people what they see, and rely on competence in related skills for deeper investigation (e.g., use Shoot to investigate stuff to do with guns, use Chemistry for forensics, etc.). I kept Stealth, but I figure that would just be directly targeted against environmental penalties instead of opponent Alertness.
  • I changed some skills to be closer to the original VP system skill list. That means that Fight got broken into Fight and Block (rather than blocking with your attack skill), but then I rolled in weapon-based close combat to compensate. Similarly, Vigor (the Athletics equivalent) lost Dodge, but inherited Might to compensate. Theoretically having more combat stats should be appropriate to a setting where dueling and martial arts are major components.
  • Meanwhile, I replaced the social skills with more effects-driven ones borrowed from Song of Ice and Fire RPG as an attempt at supporting my previous essay.

Skills

The categories below have minimal rules impact. Instead, they’re broad conceptualizations of the major types of actions that happen in the game. Each type of action, thus, has a similar number of supporting skills.

Social

  • Bargain: Exchange items or services with the question being how much is each worth (from haggling to diplomacy)
  • Convince: Make someone believe something is true (or at least that you believe it); may include intimidation
  • Empathy: Figure out the motive of the target (vs. Acting) or read the dynamics of a social situation
  • Entertain: Help the target have fun, keeping him or her in place for further manipulation or raising his or her friendliness
  • Poise: Defend against social attacks by being unflappable and cool
  • Provoke: Get someone to take an action (taunt, incite, or even intimidate) or just make the target emotional enough for other social attacks; targets Poise

Combat

  • Artillery: Attack with siege weapons, vehicle weapons, or heavy carried weapons
  • Block: Defend against a fight attack with a weapon, body, or physical shield
  • Demolitions: Set and/or throw explosives
  • Dodge: Defend against a shoot attack or other environmental effects by getting out of the way
  • Fight: Attack with melee weapon or martial arts
  • Shoot: Attack with a firearm (slug or energy) from pistol to rifle (not heavy weapons)

Mobility

  • EVA: Maneuver in deadly environments and/or without gravity (usually while wearing a protective suit)
  • Stealth: Reduce environmental difficulties (bright light, no cover, no sound) when trying to hide
  • Streetwise: Move through and find things in an urban area
  • Survival: Move through and find things in a wilderness area
  • Thievery: Pick locks and pockets
  • Vigor: Climb, jump, swim, and other exertions

Politics

  • Acting: Disguise personal motivations (generally by putting on a character) to defend against Empathy
  • Intrigue: Maneuver in political situations (know who to bribe, proper etiquette, etc.)
  • Leadership: Manage subservient characters successfully
  • Linguistics: Speak additional languages and decipher unknown ones
  • Performance: Dance, sing, and/or play an instrument
  • Warfare: Determine optimal strategy and tactics for a battle or war

Academics

  • Astrophysics: Understand astronomy and physics (especially to navigate in space)
  • Biology: Understand biology, perform autopsies, and manipulate living cells
  • Chemistry: Understand chemistry and create new chemical mixtures (drugs, poisons, etc.)
  • History: Know history without having to look it up
  • Physick: Perform first aid and long-term care
  • Research: Find information within books, think machines, or people

Tech

  • Artisan: Make objects with limited moving parts and no electricity (art or practical)
  • Cybernetics: Repair, install, and build cybernetics
  • Electrician: Repair and build electrical apparatuses
  • Mechanic: Repair and build mechanical apparatus
  • Pilot: Control spaceships and airships
  • Think Machines: Find and enter data on a think machine

Supernatural

  • Psi: Use psychic powers
  • Theurgy: Use miraculous powers

Skill Groupings

These will probably make more sense next week, but they are effectively suggested groupings as to which skills are best for which type of character (ultimately making it faster to make a character in the style of the old Fading Suns lifepaths).

Classes and Careers

  • Noble:Bargain, Fight, Intrigue, Poise, Warfare
    • Courtier: Acting, Convince, Empathy, Perform, Provoke
    • Duelist: Dodge, Block, History, Provoke, Vigor
    • General: Dodge, Leadership, History, Shoot, Survival
    • Scholar: Artisan, History, Linguistics, Research, Think Machine
    • Soldier: Artillery, Block, Dodge, Shoot, Vigor
    • Spy: Acting, Entertain, Stealth, Thievery, Think Machine
  • Church:Convince, Empathy, History, Leadership, Physick
    • Academic: Astrophysics, Chemistry, Linguistics, Research, Think Machine
    • Healer: Biology, Chemistry, Cybernetics, Dodge, Research
    • Investigator: Biology, Chemistry, Provoke, Research, Shoot
    • Preacher: Acting, Perform, Poise, Provoke, Streetwise
    • Retainer: Bargain, Dodge, Intrigue, Linguistics, Research
    • Warrior: Block, Dodge, Fight, Shoot, Vigor
  • Guild:Mechanic, Pilot, Provoke, Research, Shoot
    • Agent: Acting, Entertain, Intrigue, Poise, Stealth
    • Doctor: Biology, Chemistry, Cybernetics, Empathy, Physick
    • Facilitator: Bargain, Empathy, Intrigue, Thievery, Streetwise
    • Mercenary: Artillery, Block, Fight, Dodge, Vigor
    • Spacer: Astrophysics, Dodge, EVA, Think Machine, Vigor
    • Technician: Artisan, Cybernetics, Electrician, Mechanic, Think Machine
  • Freeman:Artisan, Dodge, Streetwise, Survival, Vigor
    • Criminal: Block, Fight, Provoke, Thievery, Stealth
    • Infantry: Artillery, Block, Demolitions, Fight, Shoot
    • Mechanic: Chemistry, Electrician, Empathy, Mechanic, Research
    • Merchant: Bargain, Convince, Empathy, Poise, Provoke
    • Performer: Acting, Convince, Entertain, Perform, Poise
    • Student: Biology, Chemistry, History, Research, Think Machine

Pursuits

Players are encouraged to make their own groupings. The only restriction is that both GM and player have to agree that it consists of three skills that could conceptually be learned as part of the same activity.

  • Burglar: Electrician, Thievery, Vigor
  • Cohort: Empathy, Intrigue, Poise
  • Courtesan: Acting, Entertain, Perform
  • Demolitionist: Demolitions, Stealth, Vigor
  • Detective: Chemistry, Empathy, Research
  • Diplomat: Acting, Convince, Empathy
  • Fighter: Fight, Block, Vigor
  • Freighter: Astrophysics, EVA, Pilot
  • Gunner: Artillery, Dodge, Shoot
  • Informer: Acting, Empathy, Stealth
  • Lawyer: Intrigue, Poise, Research
  • Medic: Biology, Chemistry, Physick
  • Racketeer: Bargain, Convince, Streetwise
  • Sergeant: Artillery, Leadership, Warfare
  • Sniper: Shoot, Stealth, Survival
  • Sophomore: History, Research, Think Machine
  • Thief: Thievery, Stealth, Streetwise
  • Traveler: Bargain, EVA, Linguistics
  • Favyana: Empathy, Physick, Psi
  • Invisible Path: Intrigue, Psi, Provoke
  • Secret Psi: Acting, Psi, Stealth
  • Battle Theurge: Dodge, Theurgy, Vigor
  • Compassionate Theurge: Empathy, Physick, Theurgy
  • Research Theurge: Convince, Research, Theurgy

Dresdenville Example, Graveyard Shift

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Since I’ve still got a few days on my Gliffy trial, here’s a time-lapse series of flowcharts showing how Dresdenville might work. I used the PCs made for my previous Dresden Files demo as examples, but we didn’t actually use this system back when we played (i.e., all examples were generated as a proof of concept… if we’d done this for real, the flowchart might have been much less orderly and needed a way bigger piece of paper).

The game concept was an Atlanta where the events of Sherman’s march in the Civil War were at least partly designed to unseat the existing supernatural powers. Ever since, they had created an office of troubleshooters from various supernatural factions to basically maintain the masquerade and keep the city from ever again suffering such thorough mortal attention. Over the last century, however, it lost much of its initial prestige and became a dumping-ground for screwups with no real political power. It’s basically a ragtag bunch of troublemakers on their last chance charged with finding supernatural crimes that nobody wants to cop to, figuring out whose fault they are, and dealing with it if another authority doesn’t want to take responsibility for the cleanup. They’re the Graveyard Shift.

We set chargen around 2000, so the vampire-wizard war hadn’t started yet. The PCs are:

  • Samuel Bailey: A White Council research wizard suffering from being apprenticed to a politically toxic master who can’t keep his opinions to himself
  • Gertrudis Bautista-Powell: A mortal girl channeling her psychotic urges toward killing monsters (put on the team as a probation by said monsters because she’s good at killing ones they don’t approve of)
  • William North: A poor rural everyman whose Lycanthropy-donated impulse control problems are compounded by a vicious run of bad luck
  • Kevin Hamilton: A Malvora (fear-eating) White Court vampire who has displeased his family by having the gall to become a famous mystery novelist with minimal interest in the family business

Their Pathways are:

  1. High Concept
  2. Trouble
  3. Background
  4. Rising Conflict
  5. The Story
  6. Guest Starring
  7. Feet in the Water

The Themes and Threats are:

  • Theme: Poor Impulse Control (Donal Malvora)
  • Theme: Murders Most Strange (Marquesa Malena)
  • Threat: Sherman’s Curse (Halloween Jack)

The Faces and Locations are:

  • Marquesa Malena
    • High Concept: Red Court Influence Broker
    • Motivation Aspect: “Killing is so… Gauche”
    • Other Aspects: N/A
    • Relationships: Interested in suborning Samuel (and Gertie is trying to stop her), Frenemies with Veronica, gets blood from Emory
    • Face of: Five Points
      • Malena works out of it and controls a lot of its traffic
      • Aspect: The Five Points Curse
  • Donal Malvora
    • High Concept: Power-Hungry Malvora
    • Motivation Aspect: “Raithe will become my servants”
    • Other Aspects: “It will work itself out…”
    • Relationships: Father of Kevin, Visits Buckhead’s clubs, Secretly owns the New Faith megachurch
    • Face of: Landmark Center
      • Has his law offices there
      • Aspect: Even a berserk killer can find representation here
  • Halloween Jack
    • High Concept: Cursed Loup Garou
    • Motivation Aspect: The nightmare that haunts East Point
    • Other Aspects: It has one speed: Kill
    • Relationships: Kevin based his first novel on it (and inspired Gertie to try to kill it), Dominic met it and survived, for some reason it cannot enter Little Five Points
    • Face of: Roseland Cemetary
      • Its urban legend centers here
      • Aspect: Nexus of Urban Activity
  • Prester Sinclair
    • High Concept: White Council Political Outcast
    • Motivation Aspect: Sometimes We Sacrifice for Knowledge
    • Other Aspects: Once seduced by a Raithe
    • Relationships: Master of Samuel, research funded by Veronica
    • Face of: Emory University
      • Prester’s research offices are here
      • Aspect: “That’s a question of bioethics…”
  • Kelly Pierce
    • High Concept: Alpha Female Lycanthrope
    • Motivation Aspect: “If you can’t get respect, make sure you get fear”
    • Other Aspects: N/A
    • Relationships: Unsure whether to take William as a mate or an underling (and frequently gets into fights with Gertie about this behavior), Former lover of Pastor Macnamara, deals drugs at Roseland Cemetary
    • Face of: Buckhead
      • Kelly owns a club there
      • Aspect: Rowdy drunks
  • Veronica Cox
    • High Concept: Pyromantic Businesswoman
    • Motivation Aspect: “Want to owe me a favor?”
    • Other Aspects: Highly Ambitious
    • Relationships: Frenemies with Malena, FUnds Sinclair’s research, Trustee of Emory University
    • Face of: Cox Communications Complex
      • Has offices at
  • Dominic
    • High Concept: Mortal Occult Aficionado
    • Motivation Aspect: “I may have heard something about that…”
    • Other Aspects:N/A
    • Relationships: Met Halloween Jack and survived
    • Face of: Little Five Points
      • Usually found there
  • Pastor Macnamara
    • High Concept: Truth-Seeking Reverand
    • Motivation Aspect: Conviction vs. Realism
    • Other Aspects: “Isn’t this a little dangerous for a priest?”
    • Relationships: Former lover of Kelly
    • Face of: New Faith Megachurch
      • Pastor there

Dresdenville

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I finally got to run Smallville, and during the course of character creation I couldn’t help but notice the ease with which it could be used to combine Dresden Files city and character creation.

This system is based on the Pathways character creation in Smallville, but is designed to output standard Dresden Files characters and cities similar to those created in Dresden Files. To that end, several liberties are taken with the Pathways method to fit DF. Significant differences include:

  • Only a single line is drawn between map elements (rather than the possibility of a uni-directional relationship). This is primarily because half of the elements (locations and aspects) don’t particularly benefit from a one or two way dichotomy. This also means that the relationship between a Face and a PC is typically how the NPC feels, rather than indicating what the PC thinks (and the PC may not even be aware of the Face; it’s up to the player).
  • PCs may not have a relationship to every other PC; at the start of play some PCs might only know other PCs through shared connections. They are still indicated by squares on the map.
  • Extras and Features are replaced with Faces: NPCs that are significant to the city either because they have actual power or because they represent some important location or concept. They are still indicated with a circle on the map.
  • Locations are not necessarily places where a PC has power (though he or she might), but are simply the most significant areas in the town. They are still indicated with diamonds on the map.
  • Aspects are a new map element. Unlike the normal advice for Aspects, on the map an Aspect should be fairly generic (“tepid”). When it connects to other map elements, the connection is given an upgraded Aspect (“fuego!”). For example, a map Aspect might be “Strong,” leading to a PC connected to it getting “Regularly Wrestles Trolls,” a Face getting “Nothing is Stronger than Faith,” and a Location getting “Impenetrable Vault.” The idea is to get a lot of city elements with thematically related Aspects but without a bunch of duplication. Aspects are indicated with triangles on the map.

Follow the steps below in order at least through Feet in the Water (stopping at the character power stage desired for the game). Have each player complete each sub-step in order (e.g., everyone does step 1 before anyone does step 2). Alternate players to begin each sub-step. Remember that there can only be one connection between any two elements: once it’s been defined, you can’t create a second link between those elements.

High Concept

  1. Add your PC’s name to the map (as a square). Do not connect it to any other PC yet.
  2. Add an Aspect to the map (as a triangle). Link it to your PC and expand the Aspect into your High Concept*.
  3. Add a Face to the map (as a circle). Link it to any of the Aspects and expand the Aspect into the NPC’s motivating Aspect (not the NPC’s High Concept).

* Note that the Aspect used as a High Concept should generally be a creature type, profession, or key driving force that directly reflects your High Concept. Whichever variation you choose will have a big impact on other Aspects and plots in the city, so choose wisely. For example, a character with the High Concept “Woods-Wise Warden” might put “Wizard,” “White Council,” “Wilderness,” or “Warlock” on the map (detailing creature type, affiliation, profession, or motivation, respectively). The choice of what map Aspect to create will focus the other elements of the city toward any of these elements of the character’s core agenda.

Trouble

  1. Add an Aspect to the map. Link it to your PC and expand the Aspect as your Trouble.
  2. Choose a Face that only has one Aspect and link it to the Aspect you just added as your Trouble. Expand that Aspect into the NPC’s High Concept.
  3. Add a Location to the map. Link it to a Face that does not currently have a Location connected and describe the relationship.

Background

  1. Link your PC to any Aspect on the map. Expand that Aspect into your first “other” Aspect.
  2. Choose any non-PC map element and link it into any other non-PC element of a different type (i.e., Face to Location, Location to Aspect, or Aspect to Face). Expand that relationship or Aspect.
  3. Choose any Face or Location and connect it to any PC. Expand the relationship.

Rising Conflict

  1. Add an Aspect to the map.
  2. Link your PC to any Aspect on the map. Expand that Aspect into your second “other” Aspect.
  3. Add a new Face to the map. Link it to any of the Aspects and expand the Aspect into the NPC’s motivating Aspect (not the NPC’s High Concept).
  4. Choose any Face and connect it to any other Face. Expand the relationship.

The Story

  1. Connect your PC to another PC. Name the story in which you co-star.
  2. Link your PC to any Aspect on the map. Expand that Aspect into your third “other” Aspect.
  3. Add a new Location to the map. Link it to any of the Faces that does not currently have a Location connection and expand the relationship.
  4. Choose any Face that currently only links to one Aspect. Link it to any other Aspect and expand that Aspect into the NPC’s High Concept.
  5. Choose any non-PC map element and link it into any other non-PC element of a different type (i.e., Face to Location, Location to Aspect, or Aspect to Face). Expand that relationship or Aspect.

Guest Starring

  1. Link your PC to any Aspect on the map. Expand that Aspect into your fourth “other” Aspect.
  2. Choose any Face or Location and connect it to any PC (if there are PCs not currently linked to anything but Aspects, you must link to them first). Expand the relationship.
  3. Link one of the Faces or Locations linked to your PC and link it to another PC. Expand the relationship in a way that indicates you’ve crossed paths (e.g., you met at the Location or with the Face as a context).
  4. Choose any Face and connect it to any Location. Expand the relationship.

Feet in the Water

  1. Add an Aspect to the map.
  2. Link your PC to any Aspect on the map. Expand that Aspect into your fifth “other” Aspect.
  3. Choose any non-PC map element and link it into any other non-PC element of a different type (i.e., Face to Location, Location to Aspect, or Aspect to Face). Expand that relationship or Aspect.
  4. Make your character with 6 Refresh and 20 Skill points.

Up to Your Waist

  1. Choose any non-PC map element and link it into any other non-PC element of a different type (i.e., Face to Location, Location to Aspect, or Aspect to Face). Expand that relationship or Aspect.
  2. Link any Face or Location to any PC. Expand the relationship.
  3. Add a new Face to the map. Link it to any of the Aspects and expand the Aspect into the NPC’s motivating Aspect (not the NPC’s High Concept).
  4. Add 1 Refresh and 5 Skill points to your character.

Chest Deep

  1. Choose any Face that currently only links to one Aspect. Link it to any other Aspect and expand that Aspect into the NPC’s High Concept.
  2. Add a new Aspect to the map. Link it to any NPC or Location.
  3. Add a new Location to the map. Link it to any of the Faces that does not currently have a Location connection and expand the relationship.
  4. Add 1 Refresh and 5 Skill points to your character.

Submerged

  1. Choose any non-PC map element and link it into any other non-PC element of a different type (i.e., Face to Location, Location to Aspect, or Aspect to Face). Expand that relationship or Aspect.
  2. Link any Face or Location to any PC. Expand the relationship.
  3. Choose any Face and connect it to any other Face. Expand the relationship.
  4. Choose any Face and connect it to any Location. Expand the relationship.
  5. Add 2 Refresh and 5 Skill points to your character.

Finishing Touches: Themes and Threats

The GM should look at the status of the map and figure out which Aspects and Faces have the most links to other elements. Pick the top three most connected Faces. Find the Aspect that connects to each Face that has the most other connections. Expand each of those Aspects into a Theme or Threat with the Face as the representative of that Theme or Threat.

Fatenoir: Dresden Files with Technoir Dice

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If you haven’t read Technoir, some of this might make more sense after this week’s review.

While I’m a big fan of Fate in general, sometimes I want a dice system that doesn’t owe so much to FUDGE. Particularly for the Dresden Files, I’d potentially like something without as much swing on the low granularity traits (i.e., having a 1 higher skill is meant to indicate a huge difference in competence). Further, perhaps something that makes spending Fate good but not as overwhelming as it is normally, something that’s not so much work on the GM to remember to compel, and something that makes more use out of situational tags. Fortunately, the Technoir dice system suggests the following mods that should affect all of these nitpicks. This is completely untested, and might result in some wonkiness at low and high skills.

For this system, you will need a lot of d6s. These are preferably in three distinguishable colors (and will be passing around the table a lot).

At the beginning of each story/scenario, each player has Fate dice equal to his or her character’s adjusted Refresh (even if the total was higher at the end of the last scenario). The GM does not get any Fate dice to start with: the total Refresh of all the PCs is the total available Fate dice. All Fate dice begin “charged.”

Players can “discharge” Fate dice to use them in rolls.

  • Do this at any point in the roll: they can be rolled one at a time after seeing the total.
  • They can be used for active or reactive/defensive rolls.
  • See the system below for how they are interpreted.
  • Discharged dice return in two ways:
    • All available dice recharge at the beginning of a session.
    • One Fate die recharges for every Consequence die a player voluntarily adds to a roll as a self-compel (e.g., “Because I’m a Drunk, I think this roll would be harder for me, I’m adding 1 Consequence die”). As usual with self-compels, the GM can deny the addition/refresh (typically because the roll isn’t particularly important).

Players can “spend” Fate dice (giving them to the GM) to make Consequences, Maneuvers, or other generated tags sticky.

  • Fate dice can only be spent in this way if the player used them in the roll that generated the Consequence (e.g., you can’t succeed with no Fate dice used and then spend a Fate die when that resulted in a Consequence).
  • The stickiness increases by the following factors (these replace the normal Consequence recovery rules):
    • A normal Maneuvered aspect  lasts for the number of shifts on the roll to apply it, or until the target makes a roll to remove it. A sticky Maneuver lasts until the end of the scene.
    • A normal Minor Consequence lasts until the end of the scene. A sticky Minor Consequence lasts until the end of the session.
    • A normal Moderate Consequence lasts until the end of the session. A sticky Moderate Consequence lasts until the end of the current scenario.
    • A normal Severe Consequence lasts until the end of the current scenario. A sticky Severe Consequence is permanent (like a normal Extreme Consequence).
    • A normal Extreme Consequence is permanent as per the basic rules. A sticky Extreme Consequence allows the target to be immediately taken out in the manner defined by the attacker (and remains permanent if this is non-fatal).
  • Any result of “Taken Out” for a named character (PC or NPC) must generally be backed by a spent Fate die to make it stick.
    • If an NPC is taken out but the active PC does not elect to spend Fate, the result is narrated in a way that removes the target from the scene but allows a return shortly thereafter (with any Consequences persisting but Stress emptied).
    • At the GM’s option (but it should be used sparingly), a NPC that has not taken all possible Consequences may choose to turn a player’s decision to make Taken Out sticky into sticky Consequences that remove the incoming Stress and a Concession (i.e., the NPC leaves the scene but with sticky Consequences instead of a fatal wound).
  • Players gain back Fate dice at the beginning of a scenario (up to Refresh), when the GM spends dice to make a Consequence sticky on a player (the die goes to the player with the Consequence), or when the GM suggests a non-roll-related Compel (giving the player the die if the Compel is accepted).

When performing an action:

  1. The active character’s player rolls 1 skill die.
  2. The player must roll 1 to 4 Consequence dice (take the worst Consequence currently suffered: 1 die for Minor, 2 for Moderate, 3 for Severe, and 4 for Extreme) to the roll.
  3. The player may discharge and roll up to 1 Fate die for every applicable Aspect (advantages possessed by the character, disadvantages and maneuvers on the target, and applicable aspects on the scene).
  4. The result (explained below) is compared to the target’s defensive skill (or the difficulty, if there is no target).
  5. The target does not roll a skill die, but must roll all Consequence dice.
  6. The target may discharge and roll Fate dice for defense-applicable aspects (personal, attacker, or scene).
  7. The final result of the active character’s roll is compared to the target’s final roll (or static difficulty) to generate Shifts. As usual with Fate, a tie is a 0-Shift success for the active character.

To interpret a roll:

  1. Find the base skill total.
  2. Read the skill die first. Treat it as a modifying skill (i.e., if it is higher than the base skill, add 1, and if it is lower, subtract 1). This is the new skill total.
  3. Arrange the Consequence dice from highest to lowest.
  4. For each Consequence die that is higher than the skill total, reduce the total by 1. Recalculate the skill total before each subsequent die (i.e., Consequence dice can penalize a roll even if they weren’t higher than the original total).
  5. Arrange the Fate dice from lowest to highest (and rearrange them as additional Fate dice are added).
  6. For each Fate die that is higher than the Consequence-adjusted skill total, increase the total by +1.

Thus, without additional flat bonuses and penalties, the highest possible roll is 6, and the lowest possible roll is -4. If you’d like higher possible totals, allow Fate dice that roll 6 to count as infinitely high (i.e., every 6 adds +1, even if the total is already 6).

An example roll: The base skill is Fair (+2), the skill die is 5 (new total +3), the Consequence dice are 4, 3 (reducing by -2 to +1), and the Fate dice are 2, 4, 6 (increasing to +4). If the 4 on the consequence dice had been lower, neither die would have been higher than the total, and the final result would have been a +5.

GMs use this system much like the players:

  • The GM does not have any Fate dice at the start of an adventure. He or she only gets them when players make enemy Consequences sticky.
  • Fate dice the GM acquires begin discharged.
  • The GM’s Fate dice recharge at the beginning of each scene.
  • The GM spends Fate dice used in an antagonist’s roll to make the player’s Consequences sticky.
  • The GM may spend Fate out of conflict to Compel a PC’s Aspect.

System Review: FATE 3.0, Conclusion

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The Open Game License is to tabletop RPGs as Open Source is to computer software. Or at least that seemed to be Ryan Dancey’s goal when he convinced WotC to institute it. Open Source development is as intended to generate improved code that can be used by the originator of the project as it is to make free software available to the masses. It’s questionable whether D&D ever used it as a true analog: Despite years of OGL d20 supplements, next to nothing made by third parties seems to have made its way back into D&D’s core. But as a side effect that may have even been unforeseen by Dancey, smaller publishers like Evil Hat have been quietly working to make OGL to Open Source a real comparison as their own original systems reap the benefits of public exposure.

FATE started as a couple of guys with an interesting take on attributes and skills plugging in the OGL FUDGE dice mechanic and posting the results online. An interesting quirk of the hyperconnectedness of geekdom meant that they were friends with a rising urban fantasy author who wanted to license an RPG to someone he trusted to do his setting justice. Over less than a decade they went from pure indie shop to a largely mainstream publisher* and every step of the way has been with flow back and forth through the OGL. The change from SotC to the DFRPG included crowdsourced testing and the proposed rules for “FATE Core” show clear signs of being clarified by non-Evil Hat implementations of the system. When the lead developer of the system isn’t afraid to send players to non-core implementations of the system to address their rules concerns, something about OGL has gone very right.

I’m really bad about generating more nitpicks about things that I consider nearly perfect, as the perceived issues stand out better when they’re few and far between. And that’s why this review series has ballooned to half again as long as any of my others (even accounting for two games being reviewed): I think FATE is a nearly perfect system. That’s not to say it’s the best choice of engine for any kind of game you might want to run, but for the things for which it’s appropriate, it’s excellent. It’s a system up-to-date with many of the latest indie innovations. It’s something you could be equally comfortable running for unrepentant hack-and-slashers and Forge elites. It’s a modular collection of really neat system tricks you can steal for other games.

I wouldn’t necessarily recommend FATE to a pure toolkit GM; the engine doesn’t work as well if you’re not actively using it. I wouldn’t run it without house rules, but I don’t run anything without house rules; FATE, at least, seems pretty explicitly designed to accommodate fairly major changes without cascading consequences throughout the system. I probably wouldn’t suggest it as a gateway game for new GMs; it has a lot of subtly nifty features that I suspect require some kind of basis for comparison.

But if you’re that increasingly common kind of individual—the experienced mainstream gamer looking for a system that leverages the cool stuff internet collaboration has come up with over the last decade while still feeling like the kind of system you’re comfortable with—I cannot recommend FATE enough. Used correctly, you’ll see system-driving-play benefits you can’t get anywhere else. And, even if it’s not your thing, I can almost guarantee that you’ll find a few system ideas that you can’t help but take with you to become house rules for your normal game.

It’s a good game and, via the OGL and general user responsiveness, Evil Hat seems intent on continually making it even better.

 

 

* Evil Hat is kind enough to post complete sales figures. None of the bigger publishers seem interested in even giving a ballpark of their sales. So it’s very difficult to determine at what point you can even call someone “mainstream,” especially these days. Given the speed at which the kings of RPGs in the 90s are fleeing to more reliable revenue streams, my suspicion is that, if Evil Hat isn’t very close to being mainstream, then the term means even less now than it ever has.

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