Thursday, January 7, 2016

Doctor Who Role-Playing Game: Some Thoughts

I finally started running a small campaign using the Doctor Who Role-Playing Game (formerly known as: Doctor Who: Adventures in Time & Space). This is kind of dream come true for me as I am a really big fan of the Doctor ever since watching him back in the States at the end of the 1980ies. My favorite Doctors are #7 and #11.

I am running a five-part campaign called The Companions where the Doctor always disappears at the beginning of the adventure - simply because I didn't want to bother with playing him as an NPC and not knowing, if one of the players would be up to the task of taking him over.

My concerns initially were if I would manage to recreate the frantic atmosphere of the series. Turns out: my openings feel more like the slow openings of the old series, but then pick up pace. So, I am actually start to enjoy running the game.

My observations so far

The rules rest at a happy medium between simulationist and narrative style. Story points bridge the gap between a more simulationist approach and a narrative approach. Thus, I can see both types of players being comfortable with the game.

The game play shows that the rules don't get in the way of running the game. It's actually quite easy to remember the ladder of No and, No, No but, Yes but, Yes, and Yes and results and when you get them. Setting difficulties is also pretty easy for an experienced GM. The rules enhance the game without being cumbersome, and the graduated successes help drive the story.

The character creation was not really tested yet, because I used the PreGens. Only one player built his own character. I think, here it helps to have access to the rulebook to look over all the options. The system is geared to create the companions and timelords we see in the series.

The rules for building gadgets are really simple, but again it helps if the player has access to the rulebook.

In a way I like the boxed sets which I also own more. They had a players' and a GM book where the GM repeated the player info in condensed form, thus enabling the GM to hand over the players' book to the players during the session. Also, it contained tokens for Story Points, Gadget Cards and Character Sheets for the Companions. Here, the Tenth Doctor box wins the day, because the effects of good and bad traits are listed on the sheet.

The Vortex System is obviously geared towards playing the Doctor and his Companions, and all the aliens and creatures are stated for the Vortex System. The books (not only the rulebook) are illustrated with pictures taken from the series which really is a no-brainer and creates beautiful books based on the franchise.

My big but

After running three sessions of the game, and having run FAE recently, I feel the Vortex System is complicated as opposed to FAE. A lot of the mechanical effects that Vortex codifies could be more easily and elegantly be simulated by FAE or Fate Core. Building a gadget? As easy as creating an advantage (and not limited to a list of traits). Being a Timelord? No need for a dozen traits, but simply an aspect that can be invoked or compelled. Special good traits? Not all of them need to be mechanical, some could simply be aspects. Those with mechanical oomph could be stunts.

So while I will finish my current "season" of The Companions with the Vortex System, for further seasons I will strongly consider moving to FAE or Fate Core.

Fate of the Requiem: Setting & Character Creation

In this post I want to outline how I'd go about creating a Vampire: The Requiem game with Fate Accelerated Edition. I've sort of given up on a generic Fate game for vampires, instead focusing on making Vampire: The Masquerade and/or Vampire: The Requiem work with FAE. I just love the setting of Vampire: The Requiem, but I don't really like the second edition of the game. The second edition for the first time tries to be a story game, but in my opinion falls short due to some design decisions (or lack of deeper playtesting). The setting in VtR 2.0 on the other hand is ramped up to eleven thanks to kick-ass writing.

Bruce Baugh has done some excellent work for a VtM or VtR hack of the game. Things I am going to build on:



The Basics

The game uses the six standard approaches of FAE. The game itself will have three campaign aspects that can be invoked (including hostile invokes) and/or compelled:
  • A Hunger Like Fire (representing the thirst for blood)
  • The Suns Forgotten Kiss (representing the vulnerability of vampires to sunlight)
  • A Beast I Am, Lest a Beast I Become (representing the beast and it's effects)

Setting Creation Part One

The GM picks some of the major players (prince, primogen, head of covenants). They also chose a city to set the game in (simply because the GM should be familiar with the city in question). Then the group sits down together and creates a current and an impending issue according to Fate Core. After that the group fleshes out parts of the city along the lines of Dresden Files city creation: select a location (fictional or real) or a city district, put an aspect to it and create a face for that location or district. It's recommended to let each player (including the GM) one location or district.

Character Creation

The characters are built according to FAE. They have up to five aspects, distribute values to the six approaches (1x good, 2x fair, 2x average, 1x mediocre), and select up to three stunts.

Aspects

The five aspects cover the following:
  • High Concept aspect (who are you? what is your character about?)
  • Trouble aspect (what is an issue the character has?)
  • Masquerade aspect (how does the character interact with mortal society?)
  • Requiem aspect (what is the character's place in the Danse Macabre?)
  • Clan aspect (fixed and based on the chosen clan of the character)
The character's clan and covenant must either be part of the high concept, the trouble and/or the requiem aspect. As part of the high concept or requiem aspects clan and covenant indicate a character in good standing with those two entities. As part of the trouble aspect, they indicate issues with clan and/or covenant. The player can decide where to put clan and covenant, they don't have to be part of the same aspect.

The clan aspect is derived from the clan of the character:
  • Daeva: The ones to die for.
  • Gangrel: The ones you can't kill.
  • Mekhet: The ones you don't see.
  • Nosferatu: The ones you fear.
  • Ventrue: The ones you can't deny.

Stunts

The characters get four stunts for free. Three are Discipline stunts designed around the theme of a discipline (either 1st or 2nd edition). Two of those must be from the clan disciplines of the chosen clan. The third can be from any discipline or a covenant specific one for the covenant of the character.

The fourth stunt is based on the chosen clan of the character (which takes heavy inspiration from the clan-specific stunts created by Bruce Baugh).

Examples for stunts and the clan-specific stunts will be listed in a later post.


Setting Creation Part Two

After creating the characters, you continue to flesh out the setting. This time using the section "Climbing the Ladder" from Vampire: The Requiem 2.0 (simply follow the instructions).


Additional Rules


Using Vitae

Vampires are able to use the power of their blood. Thus, a player can decide to take a blood thirst related consequence and gain a bonus to their next dice roll (+2 for taking a mild consequence, +4 for a moderate consequence, and +6 for a severe consequence). If a character is taken out by blood thirst related consequences or stress, they go in a frenzy. The GM is free to decide the results of that frenzy.

The Hunt

In order to get rid of a blood thirst related consequence, the vampire must hunt for blood. This is usually a three part challenge:
  • Carefully or cleverly identifying the prey (usually at Fair difficulty)
  • Flashily or sneakily approaching the prey (usually at Fair difficulty)
  • Forcefully or quickly taking their blood (difficulty depends on type of consequence to be healed: mild consequence - fair, moderate consequence - great, severe consequence - fantastic)
Failing to identify or approach the prey the result in wasted time, as the character has to start the hunt again in another scene. Failing to take the blood usually results in some sort of discovery that forces the character to flee. They have not gained any blood, but also haven't been discovered. Minor costs for a tie include being observed, discovered or disturbed. Major costs to turn a failure into a success could be anything from a Masquerade breach to being found by hunters (see also page 96 in VtR 2.0 for further ideas on major and minor costs for a hunting challenge).

The hunt can also be used to heal physical consequences.

The next post in the short series will cover some examples for discipline stunts.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

FAE and Fate Core: Random Thoughts

I am getting back into Fate Core and FAE in the past couple of weeks. I am still impressed by the simple elegance of the game that starts with the dice, continues with the rules (four actions, four outcomes) and ends with the character sheet. The more I look at the game, the more I realize that you don't need many moving parts for a character: aspects, skills and stunts. Even though the Fate System Toolkit offers a lot of nifty parts, they are not really required to run a game of Fate. FAE ups that elegance by a notch. Instead of numerous skills you have instead six approaches that define how you do stuff and not what you do. This reminds me of the PtbA games. There, you usually have a handfull of attributes that also describe how you approach a situation and not what you do. What you do emerges from the fiction. I think that's the important lesson from PtbA: what you describe in the fiction is going to happen in the rules.

Transferring that back to Fate, you suddenly realize that you don't have to worry about Extras (chapter 11 in Fate Core). Like FAE says, if one of your aspects says that you can do magic, then your character can do magic. That aspect will color the player's narration. If her wizard opens a door, she'll do so forcefully with a magic spell bashing the door in, not by throwing her body weight against the door like the barbarian or using lockpicks like a thief. The end result is the same: a broken door, but how your character breaks it in the fiction, informs about who you are playing. If you apply this principle from FAE to Fate Core, you suddenly see how you arrive at Collegia Arcana Magic (page 275, Fate Core). An aspect permits you to use the Lore skill for magical overcome, create advantage, attack, and defend actions. If you want to have something extra, you can always take a stunt that improves a specific action when you do magic.

Once I realized that stunts can literally allow you to do anything within the boundaries of the fictional laws of your gameworld, and that they are triggered by the narration, I suddenly had a much easier time creating them. This was a learning curve fueled by playing PtbA games (in particular Monster of the Week) a lot in February. Now, stunts come a lot easier. I just think about awesome actions I imagine the character to take in the fiction, and which one of the four actions and which skill/approach would best cover the intended course of action.

One of the comments about the Fate, Blood & Seven Sins I received was the idea of not using hunger stress to represent the need for blood of a vampire, but instead to simply use compels on aspects (the particular comment was talking about game aspects), though I can see this working with character aspects as well (either concept or consequence).

That all feeds back into the utter beauty and simplicity of the Fate system. Narratively important facts can always be represented by aspects. Character aspects inform how an action is accomplished by a character, and even what the character can do. When the narration triggers a formal game action, dice hit the table, and skills/approaches and stunts decide the outcome.

Yes, you can system bloat Fate Core by using stuff from the Fate System Tookit, designing Extras like crazy, and layering game mechanics on top. But the important thing is realizing you don't have to do that to arrive at a satisfying genre emulation.

Which gets me back to Fate Core and FAE. As much as I like the fullblown rules of Fate Core, I always realize that I do not necessarily care for the Fate Core skill set. I find FAE approaches much more compelling, because they get you to think about how your character acts, his personality and way of doing things. So, while I like using Fate Core rules, I prefer approaches to skills. Therefore, I guess I am going to start using a FAE character sheet with Fate Core rules (or I could even use a Fate Core sheet with FAE style approaches: simply insert the approaches into the pyramid, and get rid of one stress track). Of course that means slightly different rules for recovery and advancement and creating the opposition, but those are exactly the rules changes I want in my games.

Okay, that's it for today. My rambling thoughts have gone on long enough.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Fate, Blood & Seven Sins: Conditions

I feel that I need to address stress and consequences first, before going into other parts of the system. How you get stress and consequences informs a lot of design decisions around conflicts, and probably also stunts (i.e. dark gifts & powers) and how to scale humans in regard to vampires.

Instead of stress and consequences, I am going to use a set of defined conditions. Partly because I want to make the game easier to handle (no need to explain how stress boxes work, no need to think about consequences), partly because conditions are going to implicate truths about the setting (both by their description and by how you are removing them).

The Conditions

There will be six conditions in the game, allowing for 14 shifts of stress-soaking as recommended by the Fate System Toolkit, page 19. The conditions will follow all of the rules outlined there. You need to take a specific action (namely, drinking blood) to get rid of the two-shift consequences, and you need to initiate a specific recovery action and roll at a Great (+4) difficulty to begin recovering the four-shift condition.

The conditions are:
  • Irritated (1-shift condition)
  • Hungry (1-shift condition)
  • Angry (2-shift condition)
  • Famished (2-shift condition)
  • Raging (4-shift condition)
  • Ravenous (4-shift condition)
So you are progressing from irritated to angry to raging, and from hungry to famished to ravenous. This implicitly models vampires as very emotional creatures and also dependent on blood. Remember that conditions can be invoked and compelled just like other aspects, and that the first invoke is free after gaining the condition.

NPCs and conditions: It is recommended to treat nameless NPC as an obstacle with a difficulty of Average (+1), Fair (+2) or Good (+3) and not even worry about anymore details (see Fate Core, page 217). Supporting NPC should have a skill column (maybe up to two steps better than the PC), and if they are vampires they get either the irritated, angry, raging or the hungry, famished, ravenous condition track, but not both (decide what you would like to highlight about the supporting NPC: his anger or her hunger). A human supporting NPC will take conditions along the lines of bruised (1-shift condition), injured (2-shift condition) and broken (4-shift condition). Main NPC should get a complete character sheet (according to Fate Core, page 220). If they are vampires, they get both condition tracks. If they are humans, they still get only the bruised, injured, broken track to reflect that they are more fragile than vampires.

How to Gain Conditions

You gain conditions mostly as a result of conflicts,when you push your character to his or her limits. Of course, the GM is still at liberty to assign conditions as a consequence of events in the fiction (Fate System Toolkit, page 18).

When you concede a conflict, you gain one Fate point plus one Fate point for each condition suffered during the conflict, as normal.

Getting Rid of Conditions

The 1-shift conditions (irritated, hungry, bruised) vanish after you had some time to cool down. Usually it takes a scene to recover them.

The 2-shift conditions (angry, famished, injured) need a set of specific actions. A vampire's body and mind are pretty capable of healing themselves, if you have enough blood to recover. Thus, the angry and famished conditions go away, when you have time to drink blood. This can be either freshly acquired at the carotid artery, from animals or a blood bag. How to get blood will be explored later,

The injured condition can be recovered, when you get your injury attended either by first aid or at a hospital. No rolls necessary, just an in-game justification for getting well. It will still require some time to get the treatment, though.

The 4-shift conditions (raging, ravenous, broken) require more effort in order to get rid of them. A broken human probably needs treatment at a local hospital and a Great (+4) roll of someone skilled in medicine. That could either be some nameless Good (+3) doctor or a named NPC or PC with medical knowledge (probably an appropriate aspect and a roll with Greed to represent your knowledge).

To start healing the raging and ravenous conditions, a vampire has to reassert himself as an apex predator who bows to nobody. Starting the recovery process requires exsanguinating a human (an animal will not suffice), and overcoming a Great (+4) obstacle with Gluttony:
  • Failure: either you aren't satisfied by one single death and need to continue, or you can start the recovery and erase the first box at a serious cost (typically, someone catches you in the act).
  • A tie: you can start the recovery and erase the first box, but the body will probably turn up sometime later, leading to unpleasant news and maybe an investigation into the death. Create an appropriate aspect for the game.
  • Success: you start the recovery and erase the first box.
  • Success with style: you start the recovery by erasing the first box and can also immediately recover another condition (either a 1-shift or 2-shift condition is removed immediately, or you also start or complete the recovery process of the other 4-shift condition).
The second box of the 4-shift condition is removed at the end of the next game session in which the character participates.

Disclaimer: Remember that Fate is a game where people make up stories about wonderful, terrible, impossible, glorious things. It is not meant to incite you to any real-world action! Vampires are fictional.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Fate, Bloood & Seven Sins: Some More Thoughts

After reading some feedback last week and thinking about the hack (game) myself, I am going to take stock again. Where am I at? What do I want to accomplish? What parts need to be addressed by the hack.

First off, I've decided to drop FAE Hack from the tags of Fate, Blood & Seven Sins articles. Even if the simplicity of the FAE approaches was the first inspiration for the Seven Sins, I want to tap into the wider ideas of Fate as presented in Fate Core and the Fate System Toolkit. I'd also like to push the boundaries of a Powered by Fate game in terms of adherence to the traditional character components (aspects, skills, stunts, stress, and consequences). So I am going back to Fate Core as the starting point and will see what the Fate System Toolkit can offer for my hack.

My current plan is to describe player characters with:

  • Aspects: Named to convey specific information about the character, but not tied to a phase model of describing previous adventures.
  • Skills: Obviously a condensed list of seven skills that describe how you are approaching a particular situation emotionally. Each skill has a specific application, defined in narrower terms than approaches in FAE.
  • Stunts: They will probably be renamed as dark powers or gifts and be from a quite specific list. Currently I am thinking about having five dark powers for each sin, 35 dark gifts in total. This is intended to convey a clear vision about vampires in the game, and also to facilitate faster character creation.
  • Stress: Will probably completely replaced by Hunger conditions. I want to address blood as one of the basic facts of vampiric existence, and also replace stress.
  • Consequences: Might be dropped in favor of Hunger conditions.

Stuff I need to define (not necessarily in that order):

  • The Dark Gifts: This will be an interesting exercise in writing a lot of stunts and defining the way stunts are defined for the game.
  • Conflicts: I have some very specific types of conflicts in mind and how to resolve them.
  • Conditions: What are they? How do you get them? How do you get rid of them?
  • Seven Sins: Each sin needs a more in-depth description than is currently available.
  • Character Creation: I will have to tell how everything fits together to create a player character.
  • Mythology: What are vampires? Where do they come from? What do they actually do and care about?
  • Setting Creation: How the setting creation rules of Fate Core will be applied to the game.
  • GM Stuff: To roll or not to roll? How to define humans, NPC vampires and other tricks.