Thursday, January 31, 2013

FATE Core: German Character Sheet

I spent most of my evening preparing the character for the convention game on Saturday, so I am posting something short today: a German version of the FATE Core character sheet.

FATE Core: German Character Sheet

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

White Picket Witches: Preparing a Convention Game

On Saturday, there will be the first ever Gratisrollenspieltag (the German version of the Free RPG Day). I've volunteered to run a game of White Picket Witches with FATE Core at the FLGS in Nuremberg. Now, all I need to do is prepare for a four hour gaming slot. Time will most likely be to short to explain FATE, build the setting and have an enjoyable adventure. Therefore I am thinking about preping something beforehand and let the players fill in the blanks. My ideas so far:

  • Give the whole session a theme/premisse to work from.
  • Strip the game down to three families and prepare the name, a starting aspect and assign the type of magic practiced by the family. At the convention, I'll let each player come up with one additional aspect, until each family has three of them.
  • Have a list of possible places of power prepared and let the players pick about three and design them.
  • The character sheets will be half prepared. I will assign a name, a type of magic and some of the aspects (childhood to tie them together, heritage to tie them to the family; leaving canon aspect, tragic flaw and casting to be decided by the player. Maybe I'll do part of the canon aspect.) Also, the magic spell and a stunt will have been chosen already.
  • Let them create two antagonists.
  • Create one metaplot beforehand that will be the focus of the session.

That should cover me? Maybe as a back-up I'll have Mr Scratch and/or May ready.

The premise will be: "You are scions of the five families (well at least of three of them). You spend your childhood on the island getting into all sorts of trouble, and then left for college. Four years later, you are back together on Moon Island. You all have changed, but the island hasn't."

The three families will be named as Gardner, Gifford and Grant. The others (not appearing) will be Hargrove, Haynes and Howard. But the Howards have vanished.

  • The Gardners are practicing Muscle Work and are "As one with the earth and the island".
  • The Giffords are practicing Bone Work and are "As a blight upon joy and happiness"
  • The Grants are practicing Breath Work and are a "Pillar of the community and the church"
Possible Places of Power:
  • Abandoned Howard Estate
  • Black Rock Forest
  • Boat House Diner
  • Canary Beach
  • Moon Island High School
  • Morgan Creek Resort
  • Some other place the players think about
The metaplot will be "The families' crypts have been opened and the rest of the dead has been disturbed."

Do you think this will get me through a four hour convention game?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

White Picket Witches: Stunts for Brain Work

I've defined Brain Work as "the magic of magic. The power to alter leylines and Places of Power. The crystal clarity of thought. The way to read and control thoughts. Aligned with time." Now it's time to give the usual three spells as an example of what Brain Work can do.

Eye of the Storm: On a Great (+4) or better roll and spending a FATE point, the witch creates a temporary Place of Power around herself. The magic will dissipate at the end of the next scene, but until then, Face-Offs can happen here. The Place of Power is heavily tinged with the personality of the witch and yet not as powerful as a real Place of Power. There is no Leitmotiv, it has only one FATE point and the highest Asset of the witch becomes the only asset of the place at Fair (+2).

The Dragon's Path: On a Great (+4) or better roll, the witch may alter the Leitmotiv of a Place of Power for the rest of the scene without spending a FATE point. The witch accomplishes that by altering the flows of power around the place. A leyline was sometimes called a dragon's path. That's where the spell gets its name from.

Mood swing: When the witch succeeds with a Great (+4) or better roll, then she can lower an Asset of a character or Place of Power by 2 points and raise another Asset of the same character or place by 2 points for the rest of the scene.

Note: With Brain Work I am going a bit meta. But I think that's in keeping with the idea of this kind of magic.

White Picket Witches: Thoughts on Face-Offs

Initially, I had planned to publish a post about stunts to go along with Organ Work and/or Brain Work, but since I feel pretty powered out after gm'ing a skype Vampire: The Requiem game and agonizing about the right pledge level for the FATE Core Kickstarter, I am going to write about Face-Offs in White Picket Witches. Mostly random thoughts, but I want to get them out of my system.

What I like about Face-Offs is the fluidity they bring to conflicts. Usually, a conflict is either mental or physical, seldom switching in between (even though, these were the best conflicts I've seen). Face-Offs automatically put you into a state where you can alter between conflict types. There is only one stress track, and the long example in the preview does a pretty good job of showing how the conflict shifts from verbal, to physical, back to verbal.

What gives me pause, though, in FATE Core I get three nifty mechanics for emulating different kinds of opposition: challenges, contests and conflicts. All three basically fall by the wayside in favor of the Face-Off. That serves to give the setting a strong focus, but also strips away some of the new and cool rules. I wonder if that was really necessary.

Next thing, Face-Offs happen in a very narrow environment, basically only at or inside a Place of Power. At least in the rules as written that gives the impression of narrow focus and also seems to get rid off the anything but Overcome actions outside of a Face-Off. Not sure, if Create Advantage could still be useful, maybe yes. Still, it feels as if most of the action will be limited to the Places of Power, because they seem to be the only locations where it is possible to inflict stress and take someone out.

Also Face-Offs change the results of a concession and a taken-out result. Instead of simply determining what happens to the defeated party, the Face-Off grants an intent apect. Something the victor takes away from the Face-Off. An aspect that can be used until it is replaced by another intent aspect. Also, the victor gets one free invoke. A concession on the other hand, doesn't earn the loser any FATE points. Instead he is able to change one word of the intent aspect, thus subverting its meaning. Haven't played the game yet, I can see why it is desirable to get an intent aspect instead of determining what happens to the loser, because an aspect is a soft mechanic that can be used in subsequent scenes and Face-Offs, and doesn't force the loser out of the game. But somehow this feels a bit too soft. Both a taken-out result and a concession have to make sense in the context of the story, so this wouldn't be an issue with most groups. Also, conceding a conflict and getting FATE points for the consequences suffered can be a very nice and valid tactic in FATE Core. This is removed from the picture by the Face-Off mechanic.

There is also one other concern: with the intent aspect it seems initially rather difficult to permanently get rid of someone. Except maybe by gaining an intent aspect like "I shot the Sheriff, but didn't kill his deputy."

The other cool stuff in White Picket Witches are the determining of initiative (basically, the GM compels a player to start the Face-Off), that the Place of Power gets its own move and thus introduces a wild card into any conflict and the way Flashbacks are used (to hinder another player, but offering a FATE point as compensation). This is brilliant.

I see myself using the following tweaks to a Face-Off: base it more firmly on the conflict mechanics from Core, but keep the single stress track and the Places of Power as the only places that can have a Face-Off happen. The intent aspect is a nice idea, but I will probably grant the player who concedes a Face-Off a FATE point for each consequence suffered (but not the FATE point for conceding a conflict - that's replaced with the mechanic for changing the intent aspect). Also, I will keep challenges around. Contests and conflicts not so much, but the challenge mechanic could be useful.

Important Disclaimer: So far this is a theoretical discussion, not based on actually playing White Picket Witches. This will most likely change on the Saturday to come.


Monday, January 28, 2013

White Picket Witches: The Sixth Family

Something the preview doesn't tell you about is the magic of the sixth family that left Salem. The preview offers five magic styles: Breath, Skin, Muscle, Blood and Bone. They each symbolize a certain kind of magic.  But nothing hints at the magic of the sixth, forgotten (or lost or destroyed) family. That's got me thinking.

There is a pattern to the magic of the Five Families. Successively progressing deeper into the body. What comes beneath the bones? I came up with two answers: organs and the brain. Therefore, the sixth kind of magic could be either Organ Works or Brain Works. Organ Work doesn't sound that cool, so may be Entrail Work? Hm... Anyway, here is a short take on both works:

Organ Work: Messy things, hurtful things, knowledge and power from beyond space and time, to gaze too deeply is to invite madness. Things even witches were not meant to know. Aligned with deepest darkness and despair.

Brain Work: The magic of magic. The power to alter leylines and Places of Power. The crystal clarity of thought. The way to read and control thoughts. Aligned with time.

Interestingly, both types of magic would give the Five Families a reason to extinguish the sixth. Did they do it out of fear? Necessity? Envy? Or mixture of all three? Does the deed bind the Five Families together or will it rip them apart?

Recovering Consequences & Defining Milestones

This rules hack isn't tied to a setting, since I plan on using it in any setting. Per default, a minor consequence disappears after a scene, a moderate consequence the next game session and a severe consequence at the end of an scenario.

Now, my own game table has a rotating player roster. As a direct consequence, I try to finish a scenario in one session (like a TV show). That way, going by the book, all consequences would be recovered at the end of a game session. Not to mention achieving a significant milestone after each game session. That's a bit too fast for my tastes on both counts.

So I am going to change the recovery of consequences:

  • Minor consequences still recover one scene after they have been treated somehow.
  • Moderate consequences downgrade to a minor consequence at the beginning of the next game session the character participates in.
  • Severe consequences downgrade to a moderate consequence at the beginning of the next game session the character participates in.
Now about milestones:
  • A minor milestone is hit at the end of each game session (as per the rules in FATE Core).
  • Significant milestones are lost and replaced with an experience system. You gain one experience point each time you play and three experience points can be traded for a skill point. Thus, I keep to the recommendation of awarding a skill point every two to three sessions.
  • Major milestones stay as the are and are achieved at the end of a campaign by the whole group.
With these rules tweaks, I should be able to address the issue of the shifting player roster. What do you think?

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Review: White Picket Witches Preview

As part of the FATE Worlds Compilation in the FATE Core Kickstarter, Filamena Young from Machine Age Productions has developed White Picket Witches, a setting "inspired by paranormal cozies like Practical Magic and the Witches of Eastwick, White Picket Witches give the players magic and charms to deal with small town pressures... and sometimes, the forces of evil."

Yesterday, the preview arrived for the backers of the FATE Core Kickstarter. The setting is pure (sub)urban fantasy. You are playing a member of one of five family of witches who fled Salem in 1691, just one year before the infamous Salem Witch Trials in 1692. Five families fled and settled on Moon Island, a small island in Boston Harbor. In the next 400 years a small settlement grew on the island. The five families are still there and apparently influence the community.

Reading the book gives me strong vibes of the TV shows The Secret Circle, Eastwick (the short lived series based on The Witches of Eastwick movie), some Teen Wolf thrown in, as well as the movie The Covenant.
Filamena Young also mentions other influences in one of her design posts.

After a short introduction, White Picket Witches talks about the steps to create Moon Island. This essentially replaces the usual world building from FATE Core and offers steps to create a small community focused on the supernatural. The players get to create the five families (and learn about a mysterious sixth family that supposedly has died out), places of magical power, and choose two issue for the campaign to focus in the process of designing their very own Moon Island.

The next step is designing the player characters. They use five aspects called Canon, Tragic Flaw, Casting, Childhood and Heritage. Canon basically is the High Concept aspect from FATE Core, Tragic Flaw stands in for the Trouble aspect. Childhood is about childhood experiences on the island. Heritage is an aspect that ties you to your family of witches. The Casting aspect describes the looks of your character. You are even encouraged to name an actor, but you could also do it more abstract (I've been using this technique for years now in populating my Vampire: The Requiem game, but this was never that formalized into a game mechanic. Really cool!). The only thing I am not sure about is the "invokeability" (is that even a word?) of the Casting aspect. It seems to rather serve a descriptive function than as a full-blown aspect. But I am more than willing to give it a try.

After assigning your aspects, you get to distribute eight points among seven Assets. Assets replace the complete skill list in a game of White Picket Witches. They shift the focus from what you are doing to how you are doing things. Are you being dangerous, brilliant or treacherous? I like that idea (Vampire: The Requiem Chronicler's Guide had a similar hack called Monster Garage, where you used the Seven Sins as skills). Also, in setting the values of the Assets you are saying something about your character.

You also get a magical skill, presumably the one practiced by your family. The preview didn't specify how skilled you are at magic, but Filamena Young has given answer to that online: you start at Average (+1), but can spend points from the Assets to raise the skill.

When you are finished designing your character, you also get to design an Antagonist for your character, to be used by the GM (or handed over to a player for a short time).

The next big difference to FATE Core is the Face-Off mechanic. It completely replaces the challenges, contests and conflicts from Core. Mechanically, there are similarities to a conflict, but also some differences. In a Face-Off, you have to choose sides and apparently only the main two players (or a player and the GM) are allowed to take the Attack action. Your stress boxes increase by the number of people on your side. The other player characters present seem to be able to Create Advantages, though.

Face-Off simulates the things happening on-screen in the source material very well. The very entertainingly written long example provided fits right into shows mentioned above (especially Teen Wolf).

The next part of the preview deals with stunt-like spells. As Filamena Young clarified on the 'net, you cast a spell by rolling your appropriate magic skill against a Great (+4) difficulty. Then the spell takes effect. A spell should be about as strong as a stunt. It is paid for with Refresh. You start with one free spell (in addition to the one free stunt you receive).

The last section shows some example protagonists ranging from the restless dead to a deal-making devil.

Okay, what do I think about White Picket Witches? First, overall, I like it very much. It succeeds very well on emulating the current genre of supernatural shows. The setting creation could probably be lifted for other FATE games as well. Even for games not about Urban Fantasy. I am seriously consider taking White Picket Witches and simply use it as is for my own planned campaign.

Since I consider doing that, I was reading the rules rather thoroughly. The preview would need some clarifications, I think, before being finalized. There are some mechanics only hinted at that would be better served  by fleshing them out:

  • The long example implies that the magic skill cannot only be used to activate a stunt-like spell, but also to do something on the fly (seems a bit like Create an Advantage). This could be mentioned somewhere.
  • The GM is apparently suppossed to pass Antagonists to other players in order to lighten their workload. Not really explained in depth.
  • FATE points as fan-mail for genre-emulation by the players. There is a hint there that it is suppossed to work like that, just not explicitly mentioned.

Also, the long example actually suffers from hand-waving import parts of the game, thus actually obfuscating the rules in some places. Players create "a bunch of advantages", for example, or the mentioning of using the magic skill for something else than activating a stunt-like spell.

But all-in-all, White Picket Witches makes me want to play. To take the setting out for a spin. It's a kickass genre-emulation. I like the way the aspects are defined, the idea of the Casting aspect, the Assets seem like a very nice touch, and the setting creation rocks. The magic skills hint at interesting possibilities (therefore I hope, they won't be limited to using the stunt-like spells but also for some creative casting).

The preview gets 4.5 out of 5 stars for content. I deduct half a star for the issues listed above. An experienced GM can implement them him- or herself, but for a newbie the implied rules might get lost in the awesomeness of the rest.

Stranger Shores: Character Creation

In FATE Core, characters start out with a relative modest refresh of 3 FATE points. Something I really like, because the maximum of three stunts is easier to create than the five that are required by other FATE games. Also, it leaves the opportunity to just go with one stunt and keep your refresh higher.

On the other hand, looking at my templates, I see that most of them require one to three stunts (i.e. refresh) to build. That's a lot. Also, I don't want players to get rid of the initial mundane stunt in favor of defining themselves exclusively by the Extras. Additionally, every player character is supposed to be a supernatural creature.

Therefore, each player character receives at character creation:
  • Five aspects
  • A skill pyramid topped at Great (+4).
  • One free stunt
  • One free extra that normally costs one refresh
  • Three refresh (to keep or buy additional stunts or extras)
A note about skills: initially, I had designed my own skill list for Urban Fantasy games. But that isn't really viable anymore. The list was aimed at young adults discovering the supernatural world around them. Stranger Shores deals with other issues. Therefore, I am using the default skill list with no changes at all. The list is quite servicable. Maybe I could rename Rapport to Charm, but that is also not strictly necessary. The Lore skill deals mostly knowledge about the Nightfolk, Heaven, Hell and Faerie. If it is supposed to deal with academic or scientific knowledge, you can model that by taking an appropriate stunt.

Note: This is the last post about the Stranger Shores, as I've dropped the idea. Also, one of my players remarked that it is a bit close to Vampire: The Requiem.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Stranger Shores: The Character Aspects

Since I still don't want to use the phase trio, I am defining what the five aspects should be about.
  • High Concept: The aspect that tells us what your character can do and what he is at his core. Should include a reference to the type of Nightfolk your character belongs to. It will serve as the permission to take appropriate Extras.
  • Weakness: Rather than a trouble aspect, the Nightfolk has specific weaknesses. Each template lists several possible weaknesses. The character is required to have a weakness in form of an aspect.
  • Faction: The faction aspect should describe your membership in one of the five factions. It can include your attitude, something you do for them or your expectations about the faction. The name of the faction doesn't have to be part of the aspect, as long as it is clear from the aspect what faction you belong to. Talk to your gamemaster and your gaming group about this.
  • Community: The next character aspect deals with your role among humans. How do you relate to your neighbors, what do they think about you? It can be about friendships or rivalries; about good deeds you have done or crimes you have to hide.
  • Job: The last character aspect describes what you are doing to earn a living. The aspect can be about your reputation, your competence or incompetence, your profession, your attitude towards your job or  your realtions to your colleagues. Really about anything job-related (e.g. "I am the worst mechanic in town", "People just like my coffee and my smile", "I can't stand to go in the office each day", "Independently wealthy"  - again just a few quick examples, you'll come up with something better, I am sure).

Friday, January 25, 2013

Stranger Shores: Factions

Initially, I thought that going the way of a conflict between Light and Darkness, Seelie and Unseelie would be a good way to go. But then I thought: "Wouldn't it be more fun to have light and dark creatures working side by side, forced by the circumstances to co-operate? That makes for better story." Next, it became pretty obvious what the big issue is that will influence which believes a member of the Nightfolk holds. Of course it has to do with the Event. How to deal with being stranded on Earth. From there, the factions grew naturally, and I like games with factions. They represent inbuilt conflict and thus opportunity for dramatic stories. These are the factions:

  • Albigenses: They refuse to live among humans. They believe that they have offended the Faerie Queens, God and/or Lucifer. Now they want to atone for their perceived sins. Most of them atone by being better monsters. The Albigenses pay lip service at best to the Silver Settlement and try to literally get away with murder. They are armed and dangerous.
  • Darwinsts: The Darwinsts are, like the Humanists and Malthusians, concerned with life on Earth. More specifically with procreation of the Nightfolk. They seek to find ways to have offspring, because they want to ensure the survival of the Nightfolk. Many Darwinists have secondary leanings as Malthusians or Humanists. In fact, they sort of present a common interest between the two factions, even though they are the smallest faction because of their highly specialised interests.
  • Humanists: They want to live quietly among humans. They want to adapt, even to the point of having as little contact as possible to other Nightfolk. Most keep loosely in touch and usually have a communal gathering point at a local bar run by a Humanist. Some Humanists believe that they have to battle the Malthusians and oppose that faction.
  • Iconoclasts: They want to return into their own realms. They believe that they have been abonded on Earth, but that it is their birthright to return by force if necessary. They seeks ways to open the gates into the Otherworlds by any means necessary. Demons and angels among the Iconoclasts have usually turned from their purpose and renounced their believes and loyalties to Heaven and Hell. As a whole, the Iconoclasts are driven by study and the quest for knowledge.
  • Malthusians: Better to reign on Earth than serve in Heaven or Hell sums up their believe. They also have adapted to living among humans, but they gravitate to positions of power and influence. Malthusians believe that they are destined to rule humanity and find purpose in subjugating political and economic institutions.

No matter which faction a member of the Nightfolk belongs to, s/he has to follow the rules laid out in the Silver Settlement.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Urban Fantasy: Stranger Shores

Note: In the next days I'll publish my notes for "Stranger Shores". I've already discarded the overall concept and will be going for something different. But after having written this already, I figured that I could as well publish it - and buy myself some more time to come up with an idea.

Finally, while starting to get my setting bible together, inspiration hit me. While I totally like Urban Fantasy, I want to do something different from the settings that have come before (e.g. Neverwhere, The World of Darkness, Urban Arcana, The Dresden Files, Supernatural, Buffy, Grimm, etc). The high school idea fell through with my players, and as much as I like Storm Calling, Storm Summoning and The Void from the FATE Core: Magic System Toolbox, I want to do my own thing. Something that I feel is uniquely my own idea. It's not going to be a mash-up like a lot of the settings in The FATE Worlds Compilation, it's going to be straight Urban Fantasy (uh..., well maybe not so straight, as I like me some queer content).

The premise, set to suitably dramatic introductory music.
On January 1, 2000 the world changed. Not for humanity, but for everyone else. The Otherworlds, whether called Faerie, Heaven or Hell simply closed. They threw out their tenants into the real world, the mortal realm, and shut their doors. Stripped of most of their powers, the faeries, angels and demons had to learn to live a mortal live. No longer immortal, they are vulnerable to accidents, diseases and violence. Only age does not hold dominion over them. Thirteen years have passed since then and the nightfolk has adapted to living unnoticed among the teeming masses of humanity, their numbers dwindled as a result of initial internecine conflicts. But cooler heads eventually prevailed, founding the Silver Settlement, delineating the rules of co-existence on Earth. In each city, a council is tasked with enforcing the rules of the settlement. You are those councillors and this is your story.
That is the premise. At first, what was still missing, was what the players are doing in the setting. I like the idea of them being some sort of police force enforcing the rule of the Silver Settlement. Unfortunately, that's also the point where it gets less original. Of course, the movie (and book franchise) Night Watch comes to mind, as well as the Wardens in the Dresden Files or Dogs in the Vinyard. But letting the player characters be a police force has several advantages. First, the player characters have a reason to stick together and involve themselves in the story. Secondly, the comment of a player about playing "competent" characters would be satisfied. Third, having them play authority figures within the setting is something I so far have rarely done, thus giving the campaign something unique. Maybe let's not call them a police force. They are not watchers, guardians or observers. They are councillors. People tasked with mediating disputes and organizing the co-existence of the various factions.

Okay, let's see what my net gains and losses are. I feel that I have a sufficiently original concept, something that hopefully engages the players. The concept offers a perspective on Urban Fantasy that I feel is somewhat unique. While the entities are still old, they are new to Earth. They are forced to contend with everyday life as oppossed to being set appart like in the World of Darkness. What I am losing is the human angle and the connections to a mortal family. Friends certainly figure into it, but no family.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Computer Skill: To have or not to have

Many modern role-playing games contain a computer skill. Justin Achilles observed in the Vampire 20th Anniversary Edition design diary that the computer skill has changed in the past couple of decades. In the 20th century, the skill was about general computer know-how. How to set them up and get them to do what you want. It was a new technology and maintaining a computer was usually done by the same guys that also knew how to handle them.

Fast forward about 20 years. Everybody is using computer, smart phones and tablets. Hardly anyone, except specialist knows how to program or maintain them. Computers have become ubiquitous everyday items. There is no reason to call them out with a special skill anymore. Repairing them can be covered by the Craft skill, using them for gather information is covered by Research (or Investigation). The only remaining exciting use in a role-playing game remains Hacking.

There are two ways to cover this: if a game is all about hacking or it is at least a big part of the setting, create a skill for that. Don't call it Computer, be exciting and call it Hacking or Slicing. If the game is not about hacking, but one player still wants to be an expert hacker, give him a stunt that let's her perform as a computer hacker with a skill already present in the setting.

For my urban fantasy game, I will not include a hacking skill. If somebody wants to be able to accomplish digital intrusion, he can take a stunt based on the Burglary skill.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Urban Fantasy: Meet Tristan Hargrove

This is an example write-up for an urban fantasy character using the concepts outlined so far:

Timothy "Tristan" Hargrove

Short description: Wears washed-out black jeans and a sweat-shirt with a barely visible band-logo, hair dyed a deep blue-black, always a torn backpack with lots of buttons near him.

High concept: A Murder of Crows
Trouble: Black isn't only a color, it's an attitude
Family: Sick of my parents constant bickering and fighting
Relation: I would do anything for Cody
School: School is for people without other talents

Skills: 
Great (+4): Burglary
Good (+3): Geek, Lying
Fair (+2): Athletics, Empathy, Notice
Average (+1): Allowance, Drive, Physique, Will

Stunts & Extras:
Murder of Crows: Turn into a murder of crows with great (+4) fighting, good (+3) notice, fair (+2) physique and average (+1) athletics
Wings: While flying as a murder of crows, the character can move more swiftly (two zones instead of one per exchange) and ignore ground-based and height-based obstacles.
Supernatural Endurance: gain two extra physical stress boxes

Physical Stress: o o o o o
Mental Stress: o o o


Monday, January 21, 2013

Magic Systems: Art or Obsession?

Why are so many gamers obsessed with having a "magic system" in FATE Core? After the Magic System Toolbox preview was published, a chorus of voices demanded a "generic" magic system. I don't get it. A magic system serves a purpose in Dungeons & Dragons, in GURPS or whatever crunchy system you prefer.
Usually, the purpose of the magic system is making a character more powerful or breaking the game rules. Also, usually it doesn't mesh very well with the rest of the system: low-level wizards are cannon-fodder compared to a low-level fighter, and that supposedly makes up for a reversed situation at higher levels. But in reality it doesn't.

FATE Core doesn't emulate physics, it emulates story. FATE Points, aspects, stunts and skills lend your character weight in the story. They only remotely relate to physics. An aspect can be invoked or compelled, stunts add a new action to a skill or add a bonus to an action or create a rules exception, skills let you overcome an obstacle or create an advantage or attack or defend. These are the narrative currencies of the game. This way, each character gets to be equally awesome. The Extras chapter in the FATE Core preview even talk about the costs of Extras in terms of aspects, skills or stunts/refresh. This abstract measure is used for balancing.

In my opinion you don't need a magic system. All magic can expressed in skills, stunts and aspects. The Magic System Toolkit goes on to illustrate that and even hands you systems for summoning, something the FATE Core rules don't really hint at.

In FATE Core, magic shouldn't be an excuse to be more awesome or rules-breaky than everyone else, because FATE Core allows you to create characters with the same narrative weight. An eloborate system also tends to add complexity on top of a simple and elegant system. A real magic system with bells, whistles and complexity only makes sense, if the campaign revolves around magic and magic-using people like witches, wizard & superheroes. Because then, you need to differentiate between the magic-users or they will all feel pretty much the same. In all other circumstances, it is enough to define the magic the character uses (as opposed to a whole system) or the group sees in action (usually by fighting enemy spellcasters). That can be handled easily with aspects, skills and stunts without need of a complex system.

Just my 0.02 €

Sunday, January 20, 2013

FATE Hacks: Magi

Today I would simply like to provide a link to the outstanding work done by Jacob Poss on a FATE hack for Mage: The Ascension. He is taking the premise of Mage: The Ascension and really turning it into a FATE game that can stand on its own. You still can see the roots, but it has grown into its very own thing.

I like most of the ideas tossed around in the hack, even though I would probably do a couple of things differently when converting Mage into a FATE Hack. But then again, maybe not.

Also, I'd like to call out the faces Jacob puts on some of the posts. They are really evocative and reinforce the concept of the game.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Urban Fantasy: Storm Callers

I am still digesting that my regular group has rejected my initial premise. One player has now stated that he would like to do something with or about magic. So far, I have no other really good idea. The sentence "the characters are competent in the fiction" still echoes through my mind. Another sentence also stands out; this one from the Magic System Toolbox preview:
"Five Great Storms rage at the heart of creation, each large enough to shatter suns..." 
That is of course from the introduction of storm caller magic (for those without the toolbox preview, you can find more information read a review, take a look at actual play or pledge for the Kickstarter to gain access to the preview *grin*).

I really like the idea of the storm callers (including the storm summoners and void callers material). Now I am thinking about combining ideas and some settings.

  • Storm Troopers: The characters are storm callers who "police" other storm callers. They are tasked with trying to minimize damage, take out rogue storm callers, hunt down void callers and generally trying to keep the general populace in the dark about storm calling. That would keep with the "competence" request.The set-up would probably lead to a road-movie campaign setting or at least a roving campaign setting.
  • Northern Exposure: The characters are still storm callers, but they live in Juneau, Alaska and have to deal with the local issues of the town. Not much of an idea beyond that. But I like the closeness of the elements in Juneau: mountains right next to the sea and glaciers. There could be some sort of nexus leading to/being influenced by the storm of ice.

Since I like small town settings, the Northern Exposure idea seems more interesting to me, but the Storm Troopers idea would give more direction to the campaign.

Beyond the storm callers, I am thinking about mixing FATE Core with Itras By, which is kind of lacking a coherent system and thus FATE could be a good match, especially concerning more surreal quirks of Itras By.



Friday, January 18, 2013

Steampunk: The Skill List

Since the skill list also helps to define the genre, let's take a look at the skills for steampunk. Again, the default skill list will be our guide to the discussion.

The skills Athletics, Burglary, Contacts, Deceit, Empathy, Intimidation, Investigation, Notice, Physique, Rapport, Resources, Shooting, Stealth, Will are alright and will do for a steampunk setting. That leaves Crafts, Drive, Fighting and Lore to be discussed.

Crafts will be changed to Mechanics. This is a central skill of Steampunk as it will allow you to create and repair steampunk devices. The devices themselves will either be scene aspects or stunts. Aspects will be handy, when creating helpful devices on the fly or as part of the story. Stunts (or Extras) represent more permanent Steampunk gadgets you own.

The skill Drive could be used as is for steam carriages or horse carriages, but I'd rather not bloat the skill list with additional skills unless absolutely necessary. So I'll replace Drive with Ride to reflect that horses are still the prefered method of getting around. If your character ever needs to drive a steam carriage, he can either use mechanics or ride, depending on the whims of the gamemaster.

Fighting could simply be renamed to Fisticuffs to give a little period flavor to the skill list. Functions remain unchanged.

Lore will have to be split this time. Since I'd like to have magic separate from sciene, it makes sense to split Lore into a knowledge about science skill and a knowledge about magic skill. Since Steampunk is often about mad scientists and wonderous inventions, I am going for Science! as skill, instead of a more genteel Academics. Occultism or Occult fits the period as well. So the second skill derived from Lore will be Occultism. It does everything that the Lore skill does, but relates to magic. Also, if you don't want to have magic in your Steampunk, you can simply drop the Occultism skill.

The final Steampunk skill list looks like this:

  • Athletics
  • Burglary
  • Contacts
  • Deceit
  • Empathy
  • Fisticuffs
  • Intimidation
  • Investigation
  • Mechanics
  • Notice
  • Occultism
  • Physique
  • Rapport
  • Resources
  • Ride
  • Science!
  • Shooting
  • Stealth
  • Will

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Urban Fantasy: Wizardry Examined

On last Friday, the preview of the magic system toolbox for FATE Core was released. In addition to some great magic systems, it also contained an introduction that gets you to think about magic in terms of the fiction not the rules. I suddenly noticed what I was missing from my own look at magic.

So, let's take another swipe at Wizardry/Sorcery/Witchcraft, this time trying to answer the five magic questions about tone, costs, limits, availability, source.

1. Tone: As currently written, magic doesn't have a flavor. Magic doesn't kill things. People do. Magic represents a way to circumvent the natural laws. Magic is like knowing the keyboard short-cuts of the universe. You save yourself a lot of time using them.

2. Costs: Magic is mentally taxing. You are using short-cuts to circumvent natural law, this is mind-boggling, even if you know what you are doing. Unless you are exceptionally headstrong, you won't do much of it.

3. Limits: I want the magic of the setting to be a bit low-key. Sure, you can overcome obstacles with it and create advantages with it, but you'll probably not sling around big fireballs (unless you are a Warlock). Magic will be able to affect people and small areas, but nothing bigger than a room or the handful of people in it. Anything beyond that will drastically increase difficulties beyond the FATE ladder.

4. Availability: I mentioned that you had to be born a wizard/sorcerer/witch. Not just anyone can learn the keyboard short-cuts of the universe. In a mid-sized town there are probably about a handful practioners, not more.

Note: I usually don't like the idea of entitlement through blood, but that seems to fit the urban fantasy genre.

5. Source: Unknown. Nobody knows who discovered magic, why it is there in the first place or what purpose it is suppossed to have. Magic runs in the blood of family lines that stretch back to the dawn of humanity. If someone in the setting would try to follow the ancestral lines, they would discover the great wizards and sorceresses from legend within those lines.


Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Urban Fantasy: Idea shot down

Last Friday we had another session of our regular Vampire: The Requiem game. Before the game two players talked to me about the premise for the Urban Fantasy game. Frankly, they simply aren't interested in the least to be High School teenagers slowly discovering their supernatural heritage, the issues that come with it and the obligations they owe. They can get behind a game about Urban Fantasy, because they acknowledge that this is what I like and what the majority of the players can relate to. But they don't care for playing teenagers or in a high school setting. One player clearly stated that he wants to play someone competent and experienced at what he does, reflected both in the fiction and the character sheet. I tossed a couple of ideas in (including "Angels over New York", inspired by the Kickstarter preview art for FATE Core). But nothing really sparked, except going back to the Dresden Files RPG (which I don't want to do for a variety of reasons. Some being: complexity, wanting to play FATE Core, doing my very own setting, etc.).

This development leaves me with:

  • A skill set for Urban Fantasy. I would need to introduce some skill about knowledge about the supernatural, because that is deliberately missing from the skill list.
  • An extras set for Urban Fantasy. Still need to decide about magic, now that the FATE Core Magic Toolbox is available to Kickstarter backers.

What I need to do:

  • Think about a new premise.
  • Think about the setting

Deciding factors are: I probably have a Skype group willing to play with the originally proposed idea. But I can only sustain one setting, so ideally Skype group and regular group happen in the same setting, but with different premises. Doing Wolves Point for a group of competent adults will probably end up being a setting very similar to the one used by my Vampire: The Requiem campaign (set in a small town), so I question the wisdom of repeating this. One alternative that immediately springs to mind would be moving to a bigger city like New York, Seattle, Toronto, Vancouver, London or Berlin. Another one would be a road movie style game happening in one of the northern states of the US (like Montana or Washington State). Then I could keep Wolves Point and tie it into the bigger picture. I usually like to keep my games local due to a rotating player roster, so ranging over too wide an area will not work.

These are just thoughts going through my mind right now, nothing settled yet. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Steampunk: Design Guidelines

Last time I discussed the various Steampunk RPGs I own with quick notes about what I like and dislike about them. Now, let's get this focused for an actual Steampunk setting.

The setting will:

  • Be set in the actual 19th century as a starting point.
  • Be set on Earth. Countries and cities will conform to real world historical cities and countries.
  • Have a divergent history from our own.
  • Have devices running on steam and mechanics instead of electricity and electronics.
  • Have actual magic. System needs to be discussed.
  • Include some discussion on Victorian values (slightly updated, but recognizable).

The setting will not:

  • Have fantasy races. In my opinion they don't fit with a believable Victorian aesthetic and serve no real purpose except sell the game to die hard fantasy fans.
  • Be set on a pseudo-Earth. Serves no purposes, except increasing the amount of detail that has to be created.
  • Feature regular trips to other planets. If I want to do that, I can play Space 1889.



Monday, January 14, 2013

Genre: Steampunk

I want Wings of FATE to be about more than just urban fantasy, therefore I will branch out the discussion somewhat. Another genre besides urban fantasy that has always sparked my interest is Steampunk. I own a variety of Steampunk games, but have never run any one of them for any length of time. That is due to a variety of reasons that I'll explain for each product.

Space 1889 was the earliest Steampunk game I know of. In 1989 the genre Steampunk didn't even exist. My gaming group at that time couldn't get behind the concept of a Victorian Age space game, so we never played more than one or two sessions. I still like Space 1889 best of all the games. Today you can even chose between different flavors: the original game, Savage Worlds and Ubiquity (German only). 

Airship Pirates, the RPG inspired by the awesome Steampunk band Abney Park. Go and check out their music. It's fantastic. The game runs on a streamlined version of Heresy engine (as is Victoriana). As much as I like the music, I dislike the postapocalyptic setting. Steampunk is in my opinion a fusion of Victorian historical background and a divergent technological angle. Airship Pirates takes away the Victorian values of the setting in my opinion.

Victoriana also runs on the Heresy Engine, but with levels and magic and stuff. I like the idea of "gutterrunners" put forth in the game. The emphasis is more on magic than on technology (at least in the corebook). Also the period illustrations by Gustave Doré are elegantly and effectively used as chapter openers. It's supposed to be a game about conflicting ideals and ideas, but tries (too) hard to be different. It's got dwarves, elves, orcs and the whole gamut of fantasy races. In the end too much Tolkien in a world that is similar to earth, yet not identical.

In a similar vein I dislike Wolsung. The rules are overly complex, fantasy races are used to stereotype ethnic minorities, and the world is still earth-like, but even more changed than in Victoriana. Who ever decided that pairing Tolkien races with a pseudo-Earth makes a great steampunk game? What I absolutely like about Wolsung is the genre discussion, the encounter locations and extensive beastiary.

Unhallowed Metropolis has the right vibe. Carefully modernized Victorian values in a new dark age. One of the creators called the game "Medicinepunk". In my opinion a fitting moniker. The setting description is very thorough and hits the right notes (I especially dig the intelligent discussion on prostitution and corsets for men - but that's just me). The game system is serviceable but a bit overly complex, especially at character creation.

There is one Austrian Steampunk RPG called Finsterland. It is a great effort, especially since it less about  Victorian flavor than Wilhelmian flavor. Especially for German gaming groups somewhat more recognizable and an interesting outlook on the own history before the great war. It is set in a fantasy world and uses a d10 pool system.

Last, but not least there is of course GURPS Steampunk. An invaluable resource, even if you do not play GURPS (which I don't). But it discusses character archetypes and possible technological innovations.

All in all, I like something about most of the Steampunk games I own, but none of them are the perfect fit. FATE Core might be of some help here. So I expect to see some posts about Steampunk in the future.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Urban Fantasy: The Setting

Now that skills and extras are in place, it's time to describe the setting. The premise: "high school teenager discovering their supernatural heritage, the issues that come with it and the obligations they owe" lends itself to a more personal scope. Something that is also supported by the the aspect categories that I have given earlier.

Most of the source material is set in small towns in the U.S. (except Hex, which I completely forgot to mention). Therefore, I am going to pick a small town as the site of the game. About ten years ago, I did a short Vampire: The Masquerade campaign in a small town and I still got my notes lying around on my hard drive. The game was heavily inspired by Twin Peaks and The Shinning. The town was called Wolves Point and very loosley modelled on the real town of Wolf Point, Montana. I think I am going to reuse my notes, because the town deserves some more action.

Three big issues stick out, when thinking about the town. One comes from my notes, the second from the description of the changelings and the third from the description of Grizzly Peak in the Slayers Handbook of the Buffy: The Vampire Slayer RPG.

Issue #1: There is a big howling vortex of ghosts located in the setting. They contain the angry spirits of the Native Americans massacred by the white settlers. It spins out massive amount of negative energies and unlucky coincidents. (Current issue)

Note: This is a completely fictional event, but somehow fitting to the setting.

Issue #2: The faerie realm is drawing near. The otherworld will come into conjunction with material world again after centuries of lost contact. This might not be a good thing for both worlds involved. (Impending issue)

Issue #3: Wendigos are terrorizing the logging camps around Wolves Point. There is a family who habors them secretly. The wendigos will serve as a sort of "default" antagonist. (Current issue)

These issues should be turned into aspects:

  1. Every day life is cursed by angry spirits.
  2. The Otherworld is drawing near.
  3. The woods of the wendigo

I probably will let the players pick two of the three issues, in case they are fine with them. Otherwise, they are welcome to create one or two issues themselves.

Next time we will discuss faces and locations.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Urban Fantasy: Rethinking Wizardry

I like FATE, because in it's simplicity lies beauty. The way fudge dice with their + and - symbols are beautiful, because they are uncluttered (except when they are from Q Workshop). Because I like simplicity, I am loath to work much beyond the basic framework of aspects, stunts, skills and two stress tracks (one physical, one mental) to describe things.

Wizardry with its mandatory stunt, its skill and four add-on skills is already more complex than I like.

Now, in the Google+ Fate Community, Fred Hicks has written three interesting answers to this comment about converting Ebberon:

Answer #1 by Fred Hicks:
Quick & dirty, give her a Sorcery skill that can do all four basic actions without needing any sort of equipment or justification beyond what you normally do to cast a spell as a sorcerer. Then let her do some stunts that make for particularly awesome things when she spends a fate point: "Fireball: Spend a fate point to roll one attack roll against all targets in a given zone", etc.

Answer #2 by Fred Hicks:
You could also sidestep the fate point thing, and instead give her a separate Mana Stress track. She takes a point of stress every time she casts a spell that uses one of the expanded stunt abilities; she could keep going past the end of that and start taking consequences, but that gives her a per-scene limited budget that clears out every time she gets some rest. Very D&D like.

Answer #3 by Fred Hicks:
Yeah. It might be more 'fair' to make Magic a skill that can do 2 of the 4 actions, but you can add more actions with stunts; or to make Magic more than one skill, but each skill covers a different kind of magery, i.e., one magic skill's Overcome Obstacle doesn't cover the same range of obstacles that another skill's does, etc.
Wizardry already follows these guidelines pretty closely, but still not to my satisfaction. Therefore I am rewriting Wizardry/Witchcraft/Sorcery to be a bit more generic and less precise:

Wizardry/Witchcraft/Sorcery

You still need to take a Wizardry skill and the skill can be used to overcome obstacles and create advantages. Since this is fairly flexible, it also costs you a stunt. Each time you use your Witchcraft skill, you take one point mental stress (as I don't want to introduce a new stress track).  Adding the Warlock stunt lets you use the Sorcery skill to create attack and defend. Still costs one mental stress per roll. The rest of the rules just get cut as being overly complex. When you want to do something more impressive, create another stunt for it, following the suggestions of Fred Hicks. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Urban Fantasy: Secrecy and Discovery

One of the tropes of the source material listed, is the fear of discovery or rather the need to keep ones abilities secret. I want that in the setting, because the supernatural is suppossed to be hidden and just out of reach. Being discovered could vastly complicate a characters live.

Most of the Extras are pretty obvious when used. If there are witnesses in the scene that do not know about the characters' abilities, then there is the risk of discovery. I see two ways to run this:

(1) The player character needs to roll Lying or Stealth to cover up his abilities.
(2) The non-player characters roll Notice to see, if they notice something is odd and not quite right.
(3) The player characters roll an active defense against the observation attempt.

Method (1) gives the player more control over the roll, but also runs the risk of burning much needed resources like advantages and FATE points to remain unnoticed. Either the game master or the player decides which skill is used Lying or Stealth, or if the better or worse of the two skills is used.

Method (2) reduces discovery to a check made by the game master. It will probably resolve quicker and cost less additional resources.

The game master also needs to decide, if a seperate roll for each supernatural character is made or one roll for all characters. Method (1) probably relies on making a role for each character and method (2) on making a role for the scene.

Player character cover-up

The difficult of the Lying/Stealth roll is pretty straight forward. The difficult starts at mediocre (+0) and rises by +2 for each  stunt Extra used by that character in the scene. If a character has used an Extra skill, the difficulty of avoiding discovery is equal to the level of the skill used (the theory being that more powerful abilities are more impressive and obvious in their display). If a character used both skills and stunts, use the higher difficulty for the Lying/Stealth roll. The difficulty is reduced for each zone difference between the observers and the character.

Outcomes:
  • Failure: The bystanders notice that something isn't quite right. Depending on circumstances, they may not be able to place a finger on what is actually wrong, but at the least they become super-suspicious of the character. The character gains an aspect that describes being discovered.
  • Tie: The character fears discovery and flees from his present location or the observer gains a boost on the character or the character takes a mental stress.
  • Success: The character remains undiscovered.
  • Success with style: The character remains undiscovered and may immediatley clear a mild mental consequence as relief sets in (or downgrade a more severe mental consequence, if there is an available consequence slot at the next lower level).

Bystanders noticing

Unless a supporting NPC or a main NPC is present, assume that the Notice skill of the bystanders is average (+1). They have to roll higher than the player character's Lying or Stealth skill (as determined by the situation and the game master). For each stunt Extra used they receive a +2 bonus on their skill roll. If an Extra skill was used, they receive the skill as bonus. The difficulty is increased for each zone difference between the observers and the character.

Outcomes:
  • Failure: The observers are none the wiser.
  • Tie: The observers harbor suspicions and get a boost on the character.
  • Success: The observers discover that the character is a monster.
  • Success with style: The observers discover that the character is a monster and immediately cause two mental stress to the character.

Players roll versus Bystanders

The third option lets the players roll Lying or Stealth and the bystanders roll Notice. The bystanders receive bonuses to their roll like described above: For each stunt Extra used they receive a +2 bonus on their skill roll. If an Extra skill was used, they receive the skill as bonus. The player characters receive +1 bonus for each zone difference between themselves and the observers. Obstacles may also add to the player characters' rolls.

Outcomes:
  • Failure: The bystanders notice that something isn't quite right. Depending on circumstances, they may not be able to place a finger on what is actually wrong, but at the least they become super-suspicious of the character. The character gains an aspect that describes being discovered.
  • Tie: The character fears discovery and flees from his present location or the observer gains a boost on the character or the character takes a mental stress.
  • Success: The character remains undiscovered.
  • Success with style: The character remains undiscovered and may immediatley clear a mild mental consequence as relief sets in (or downgrade a more severe mental consequence, if there is an available consequence slot at the next lower level).
After looking over the three possibilities, I will probably use the last one, because that seems to provide the most dynamic way to handle discovery.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Urban Fantasy: The Supernatural Part 2

Part 1 gave us a list of Extras to select from; Part 2 will show some creatures that possess the listed abilities. Of course, these aren't the only inhabitants of the supernatural side of our still unnamed setting. The creature packages will be geared towards beginnig characters in terms of costs (thus less than three stunts). In order for a player character to be that type of creature, the high concept aspect of the character should name the creature.

The currently available Extras are:

  • Stunts: Anthevôke, Beast Shape, Clairvoyance, Claws & Fangs, Pass Wall, Seven League Stride, Supernatural Endurance, Wallwalker, Wings, Wizardry (wizardry has add-on stunts, but they aren't required).
  • Skills: Elemental Control, Opening, Wizardry.

Remember the first design decision of the setting: There are no vampires? We'll add a second one to that: There are no demons or angels. I've run enough stories and campaigns about these kind of creatures. I would like to have something new.

Changelings

Cost: One or two stunts and one skill slot.

They aren't like the changelings from Changeling: The Dreaming or Changeling: The Lost. They are simply a catch-all category for those people born with strange abilities. Are they descended from faeries? Is there such a thing as a faery realm? We don't know yet. But maybe changelings have a connection to them, if they do exist. Something about changelings is slightly off. Their arms and legs may appear to be too long, their hair color has a shade that is a bit odd, but nothing too obvious (like blue highlights in black hair, a deep coppery red or a tinge of aubergine), their eyes may sparke with hints of gold or silver. Sometimes their faces and bodies are slightly contorted or bend. On closer inspection, they stand out.

A changeling should grab one or two stunts from Anthevôke, Clairvoyance, Claws & Fangs, Seven League Stride/Shadow Walking and/or Wallwalker. Additionally, the usually have some skill at Elemental Control or Opening.

Ghosts

Cost: One to three stunts.

Your character has already died, but something kept him from moving on to the afterlife. The trouble aspect, the Family aspect or the Relations aspect could revolve around that. Did anyone even notice that you are dead? You usually seem quite solid and are visible to others.

A ghost should take the Pass Wall stunt, and he can also take Supernatural Endurance and/or Seven League Stride. But they don't have to. Physical attacks can still hurt you and even take you out, but cannot be destroyed unless someone burns your body.

Werewolves

Cost: One to three stunts. 

Werewolves can be born or infected by the bite of another werewolf. They might follow traditional folklore and have weaknesses to silver, wolfsbane or be influenced by the moon. If the player decides that her werewolf has one or several of those weaknesses, she should work that into her character's trouble aspect.

A werewolf usually has the stunts Beast Shape, Claws & Fangs as well as Supernatural Endurance. But depending on the setting he may only have Beast Shape or Claws & Fangs. In the latter case, his werewolf shape is probably quite monstrous. Supernatural Endurance may be taken at a latter point in the game.

Witches

Cost: One to three stunts and a skill slot.

Practioners of the magical arts are commonly called witches. But they could be called magi, sorcerers or shamans. They carry a traditional mark, which may be red hair, a prominent birthmark (called a witch's teat by some) or they might be completely ordinary folk. Witches usually are born as such and can look back on a whole family line of witches. The heritage runs very often through the mother's side of the family tree, but any offspring maybe a witch, regardless of gender.

Witches have to take the Wizardry stunt (also called Witchcraft or Sorcery) and an associated skill. They may take up to two additional extras from Abjuration, Enchantment, Ritual and Warlock (each worth a stunt).

Other Creatures

The four types listed above are just meant to get you started. Maybe your character is something else entirely, like a:
  • Dragon: Claws & Fangs, Wings and the skill Elemental Control "Fire".
  • Murder of Crows: Beast Shape (murder of crows), Wings and Supernatural Endurance.
  • Selkie: Beast Shape (seal) and maybe "Water".
  • Wereraven: Beast Shape (raven) and Wings.
In the end: be creative and talk to your game master. You are not even limited to the Extras introduced in Urban Fantasy: The Supernatural Part 1. Maybe you want to be a Medusa whose natural form can turn people to stone.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Urban Fantasy: The Supernatural Part 1

With the character aspects and the skill list, I've got the high school part of the setting covered. What remains is the supernatural. That needs to be defined in order to give the players some ideas what kind of characters they can play.

I've already defined that you need a high concept aspect that describes the supernatural side of a character in order to access special abilities. Those special abilities are modelled as Extras in FATE Core. I don't want to go the route of the Dresden Files RPG, because as much as I love the setting and the rules, I think the supernatural powers are very complex. Especially since a good part of people I am playing with qualify as "casual gamers" according the Robin's Laws of Good Game Mastering. So, I want to have something straight forward that doesn't need many rules behind it. Essentially, everything a player needs to know about his character should fit on his character sheet (i.e. the Extras box).

Before defining possible creatures, I want to have some example powers I can assign to them. After mulling this over, I came to the conclusion that some Extras will be modelled by additional skills that you can just add to your skill pyramid. Other Extras will cost in Stunts. But I would prefer each Extra to cost at maximum one Stunt instead of many to keep the math down and flexibility high.

Anthevôke (stunt)

This stunt is named as homage to Steve Berman's Trysts anthology. It basically describes Psychometry, the ability to read the history of an item just by handling it. This allows the character to use Research to create an advantage on an item. If the anthevôke spends a FATE point, he can use the item as intended for a scene, even without the fuel the item usually needs to run. After that scene, the item is broken and needs to be repaired with Crafts.

Beast Shape (stunt)

The character can take on the shape of an animal or in some rare cases animals. This costs a FATE point and lasts for the rest of the scene. While in animal shape, the character gains a new and separate great (+4) skill column. The skill column contains four of the skills Athletics, Fighting, Notice, Physique and Stealth. The skills replace the normal rating a character has in these skills. Common shapes and their suggested distribution are:
  • Cat: great (+4) Stealth, good (+3) Athletics, fair (+2) Fighting and average (+1) Notice.
  • Murder of Crows: great (+4) Notice, good (+3) Fighting, fair (+2) Athletics and average (+1) Physique.
  • Raven: great (+4) Notice, good (+3) Athletics, fair (+2) Stealth and average (+1) Fighting.
  • Wolf: great (+4) Fighting, good (+3) Athletics, fair (+2) Notice and average (+1) Stealth.
Note: Of course these are just suggestions and the player is encouraged to work with the game master to come up with a reasonable skill column.

Note the Second: The beast shape might change your Physique, thus changing your physical stress track!

Clairvoyance (stunt)

Once per session, the clairvoyant can enter a trance and divine the future. The player can place an aspect on the game session that can be invoked once for free.

Claws & Fangs (stunt)

The character can grow vicious claws and fangs. The character gains Weapon:2, when growing those claws and fangs.

Elemental Control (skill)

The character can control one element like fire, air, water, cold and so on. The Extra is treated as a skill that is called like the Element it controls (i.e. "Fire", "Air" or "Cold"). Element control skills cannot be used to directly overcome obstacles, but they can be used to create advantages or to attack. The can also be used to defend against opposite elements or by stopping mundane attacks with their element.

Opening (skill)

The skill Opening can be used to open locked doors and containers without needing any keys. It is a hommage to Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.

Pass Walls (stunt)

The character is able to pass through solid walls, through floors and even into rock. No roll is necessary, but the character takes two mental stress for each wall he passes through.

Seven League Stride (stunt)

By apparently walking straight into a wall or a shadow, the character can teleport to another location within one day travel of his current location. The player needs to spend a FATE point to use the Extra. The ability might also be called Shadow Walking.

Supernatural Endurance (stunt)

The character gains two more physical stress boxes. Supernatural toughness is treated as an Extra, because it shouldn't be available to just anyone; only those touched by the supernatural may have extra endurance.

Wallwalker (stunt)

The character is able to walk on walls and even ceiling without much effort. He can easily bypass ground-based or height-based obstacles while doing so, thus requiring no roll to overcome the obstacle.

Wings (stunt)

The character can literally grow wings. While flying, the character can move more swiftly (two zones instead of one per exchange) and ignore ground-based and height-based obstacles.

Wizardy (skill and one or more stunts)

Wizardry is a special case. It takes a special skill to use that the player can call either Wizardry, Sorcery or Witchcraft. The skill becomes part of the skill pyramid. But he also needs a stunt to practice Witchcraft. That stunt lets him use Witchcraft instead of any other skill to overcome obstacles. In its basic form, it cannot be used to create advantages, attack or defend. Wizardry is very flexibel, because it can be used instead of any other skill. Therefore, it can only be used once each scene. Each additional use causes two mental stress. Successes with major costs and ties should create additional mental stress or consequences, representing the exhaustion the character is pushing himself to.

A sorcerer can take additional stunts to improve his performance with Sorcery:
  • Abjuration: The character can use Wizardry to defend himself against attacks instead of Athletics or Will. This counts as a normal use of Wizardry, except when defending against a Warlock. Abjuration can be used as many times as the character wants to defend against attacks made with Wizardry without causing mental stress.
  • Enchantment: The character can use Witchcraft to create advantages that may even be used by other characters. They follow all the rules of advantages after they have been created. Enchanting still counts as using Sorcery.
  • Ritual: The character knows one reliable way to use her Wizardry to produce  a result. This ritual needs to be agreed on with the game master and doesn't count as a use of Wizardry anymore. It still can only be used to overcome an obstacle.
  • Warlock: The character can use Sorcery to attack.The opponent defends either with Athletics, if the attack can be physically dodged, or with Will, if the attack is mental. The warlock decides, if he wants to do physical or mental damage.
Note: Wizardry is closely modelled on the FreeFATE version of the ability.

That's it. My initial package of powers for Urban Fantasy. I am not sure about the pricing for some of these. Maybe Beast Shape needs to cost two stunts instead of one... Feedback is welcome.

Next we are looking at some of the beasties that could populate the setting.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Urban Fantasy: Character Aspects

FATE Core basically gives each character five aspects. One high concept aspect, one trouble aspect and three aspects derived from the Phase Trio. I don't really like the Phase Trio. It requires too much time to set up and from what I've seen so far, it doesn't really pay off in my games. For other people that might be different. Also, I like to get to actual playing faster (never mind that campaign and character creation is considered to be part of the game).

So I am replacing the Phase Trio with something else, taking my cues from the design diary of White Picket Witches. For that game, each additional aspect relates to some part of the game world (Childhood, Heritage and Casting). In the past, I had considered something similar for designing a Vampire game with FATE (Mortal Background, Vampiric Background, Relationship to another player character and Weakness). So I am going with something similar instead of the Phase Trio.

  • High Concept: The aspect that tells us what your character can do and what he is at his core. Should include something supernatural, if you'd like for your character to take extras. It will serve as the permission for them.
  • Trouble: The aspect that makes things difficult for your character. Follow the advice from FATE Core.
  • Family: An aspect describes your relationship to your family or their living conditions or the state the family is in (e.g. "My Parents are getting a divorce", "Raised by a single dad", "Money is no substitute for love", "The perfect family on the outside - rotten on the inside", "Estranged half-sister" - I am sure the players will come up with better aspects).
  • Relations: The aspect describes the relation of your character to the character of the player sitting to your right. For that aspect, you are going to draw a random card that describes the basics of that relationship and then work something out with the affected player and make that into an aspect on your sheet.
  • School: The last character aspect describes your role in school. It's probably best, if it is not relationship-based, as you already have plenty of both, but rather based on his educational goals, his status at school, personality traits that make life at school easy or hard, some class your character is good at, or features that make him or her stand in school (e.g. "Co-Captain of the Lacrosse Team", "The prettiest cheerleader in school", "Excels at chemistry class", "Student helper in the library" - again just a few quick examples, you'll come up with something better, I am sure).

About Relationships

Here, I like to take a page from Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie (for now only available to backers of the FATE Core Kickstarter). The game recommends to have each player draw an index card with a relationship prompt and then create a scene aspect for that relationship that is more or less permanent. 

I am doing something similar, but I want to have a character aspect for that; something that ties the character to another character while still saying something about the character who has the aspect.

Alternatively, the relationship can be to a non-player character student.

Suggested relationships:
  • Admiration: Your character admires the character of the player to your right. What do you find so admirable about them? Do you aspire to the same qualities? Are you friends? Are you her lackey and do whatever she says?
  • Blackmail: One step up from bullying. You know something that will get the character of the player to your right into deep trouble. What do you know? Who will bring the trouble (a teacher, a parent, another student)? What are you doing to get an advantage out of your knowledge.
  • Bullied: Your character is being bullied by the character of the player to your right. What has he done to draw her attention? Why is she picking on him?
  • Friendship: Your character is best friends with the character of the player to your right. Why? What do they have in common? Why do they trust each other?
  • Love grown cold: Your character was an item with the character of the player to your right. But your love didn't last over the summer. You have split and you have to deal with it. Why did you split up? Do you think it was a mistake to be together in the first place? Do you miss him?
  • Madly in love: Your character is in love with the character of the player to your right and you are an item. How do the other students view your relationship? Do they think you are the perfect couple? Do they want to separate you for "your own good"? Is someone jealous about your love?
  • Rivalry: Your character has a rivalry with the character of the player to your right. What is the rivalry about? Is it a friendly rivalry or an unfriendly one or even antagonistic?
  • Secretly in love with: Your character is or was secretly in love with the character of the player to your right. Determine why she can't be in love with the other character openly.
  • Shared secret: Your character and the character of the player to your right know something the others don't. Is it something funny, something embarrassing, something serious? How did you find out about the secret?
  • Stalking: Your character secretly observes the character of the player to your right. Why? What is so interesting about him? 
Each player should draw an index card and take a look at the relationship. Yes, depending on seating arrangements this could create somewhat akward situations. But to cite Monsterhearts and the author Joe McDaldno: 
"This ... implies something about sexuality, and particularly teenage sexuality. We don’t get to decide what turns us on." 
You can always decide that the relationship happened in the past and was "just a phase". Or you can embrace it and try to move from there. Or you can say "Pretty please" to your game master and ask to draw another index card.

Of course, each game master can think of further relationship possibilities.

In case, the other player character isn't available as often, it is probably best to derive an aspect that says something the motivations or qualities of your character that led to the relationship or that she gets from the relationship instead of mentioning a specific name.

Urban Fantasy: The Skill List

The game about high school teenagers slowly discovering their supernatural heritage and the obligations that come with it needs skills (apart from also needing a catchy name, but that's another story). The list given in FATE Core serves as a starting point, but I feel that the skill names should reflect the setting (and I don't like some of the skill names).

The names and skills that work are Athletics, Burglary, Crafts, Drive, Empathy, Fighting, Notice, Physique, Shooting, Stealth and Will.

But some of the other names and skills don't work quite so well. Let's take a look at Contacts, Deceit, Intimidation, Investigation, Lore, Rapport and Resources. They all sound very adult and high-minded. I want something more juvenile that sounds like teenagers would do it.

Contacts: I don't think that teenagers would have contacts. High school seems to be about being popular and  popularity seems to decide if other students do you favors. So I would call that skill "Popularity" and otherwise leave it as it is.

Deceit: Sounds very adult and also includes the ability to project false personas. Something I don't see teenagers doing. So I would go with "Lying" instead of Deceit.

Initimidation: Again, I don't see teenagers as intimidating some one. At school you are usually "Bullying" people.

Investigation and Lore: Both skills usually tie together somehow in a modern setting with supernatural elements. In much of the source material investigation usually involves hitting the books (be it in Gilles' library,  old diaries in the Salvatore household or reading werewolf hunter files on a tablet PC). Then there are people in the know. They just know from personal experience and study about the supernatural. Also, since this is high school, academic achievement and knowledge about science is present in the setting. But is that important enough to the story that I need a skill for that? One last issue that plays into Investigation and Lore is the presence of computers. In many games that is still considered a separate skill. But in the end, computers are on the verge of becoming ubiquitous tools that anyone can handle without much knowledge. Simply start the app. That is what I am going to do:

Investigation gains an emphasis on research in the library or online. It really doesn't matter where you get your knowledge. It is important that you how to search for clues and how to execute your searches. Thus Investigation becomes "Research". The skill can be used to overcome obstacles and create advantages, but no attacks and defenses. I could see both happening with preparation, so they'd be the province of stunts.

Lore is a bit more difficult. It could be split into a mundane skill called Academics or Science and a supernatural skill called Lore or Occult or Mysteries. But I am not going to do that. The game is about the slow discovery of supernatural abilities. Therefore there will be no skill (except Research) that allows a player to bypass the process of discovery through play. They simply won't know. They have to experience the supernatural. I still would like to measure academic achievement though and generally obscure (but practical) knowledge like Willow and Danny being knowledgable hackers, or Lydia being able to brew a pyrophric cocktail. Or simply having a skill that can be rolled to determine the success on an exam. I am thinking "Geek" here. The skill can be used to overcome obstacles and create advantages. Various special applications can be modelled by stunts.

Rapport: I simply don't like the name of that skill. If you are being nice to someone to get what you want, you simply turn on your charm. So Rapport gets renamed to "Charm".

Resources: Adults have resources, teenagers usually have allowances. So that's what I am going to call the skill: "Allowance". Still someone with a Great (+4) Allowance will probably rather drive a Porsche than a Rabbit to school.

The final skill list for an urban fantasy game set at a high school than looks like this:

  • Allowance
  • Athletics
  • Bullying
  • Burglary
  • Charm
  • Crafts
  • Drive
  • Empathy
  • Fighting
  • Geek
  • Lying
  • Notice
  • Physique
  • Popularity
  • Research
  • Shooting
  • Stealth
  • Will

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Yes, I know that according to FATE Core you should ideally talk with your players about the setting and then create it together. But I would like to pitch a setting to the players and then add more setting info and details based on their input.

I really really like Urban/Contemporary Fantasy, where the supernatural and the mundane exist unknowingly side by side. Of course, as I am a big fan of the White Wolf games like Vampire, Changeling and Mage, this is not really a surprise.

So I would like to have a setting inspired by those games, but a bit more inclusive and yet more narrow in focus. For one thing: since I run games about vampires most of the time, a basic guideline will be: There are no vampires. They simply don't exist. There might be creatures that could be confused with vampires, but in the end they will be different and just be mistaken by the uninformed observer for a vampire.

For inspiration I am looking at some TV series I like:


Also, the movie "The Covenant" will be an influence.

Then there are of course games I like and that will serve as inspiration. I am staying clear of anything White Wolf here, because I would like to be different.


Strangely, books will have less of an impact, as I want to steer clear of the Dresden Files and they constitute the majority of Urban Fantasy I read. But that still leaves Steve Berman's short story collection "Trysts" and his  novel "Vintage: A Ghost Story".

A lot of the sources deal with teenagers and the supernatural. So I am narrowing the setting down to a High School where teenagers slowly discover their supernatural heritage, the issues that come with it and the obligations they owe.

A new year - a new blog

It's no secret to those who know me that I really dig the FATE role-playing game published by Evil Hat. Well, actually there is still no official game that is "The FATE role-playing game", but there is the vastly successful Kickstarter for FATE Core going on for a about a month now and still running until the end of January. So far, FATE has been available in a number of implementations like Spirit of the Century and the Dresden Files RPG, as well as Fate-2-Go and Malmsturm as original German creations, as well as a host of other games by different companies too numerous to list.

I've joined the Kickstarter, downloaded the preview of FATE Core and started reading. Now I am itching to get a game of FATE going based on the FATE Core rules.

Currently, I am still running a Vampire: The Requiem chronicle that my gaming group has been playing since January 2012. But the game actually started back in November 2004. But as my players know, I am not a person to keep going indefinitely with a chronicle/campaign. I sometimes need a break. Back in 2011 we had a Dresden Files RPG campaign going, but that ultimately aborted for a Vampire: The Masquerade game.  Still, most of the regular players like FATE and thus I am thinking about starting a FATE game.

This blog is intended to illustrate and discuss the game and its rules.

Whatever happened in Bögenhafen?

It's been awhile since I posted about the Warhammer 3rd Edition campaign, so this post will just be a quick summary of the sessions spend in Bögenhafen. The following play report is vastly simplified to give a very quick overview of our (mis)adventures. The story was finished right before Christmas 2012 and started back in September 2012, but we were only playing now and then. Therefore a lot of details are missing.

When the group arrived in the city, the "Schaffenfest" was in full swing. But the group's erstwhile employer, Rickard Aschaffenberg had provided them with rooms at the "Golden Trout". The inn was run by a halfling, who was related to the landlord of the "Green Glade Inn". Since Rickard Aschaffenberg had apparently travelled to Übersreik on some business, they decided to stay until he returned, because he still owed them some money for saving him at the Grunwald Lodge.

The group decided to use the time to explore Bögenhafen, do some research regarding the book "De Naturis Demonibus" and enjoy the Schaffenfest. Volcifar was making quite a big fool out of himself, when he inquired about the book at the temple of Sigmar. In the end, he was thrown out of the temple. He fared a little bit better at the Verena temple. Here he got some answers, but not really enough to show him how to get rid of the book. He is getting a bit desperate, in case the Weaver of Fates turns out to be more than a nightmare.

Athelas and Finubaryel spend time at the Schaffenfest, but apparently elves weren't very welcome there. The market judges more or less banned them.

Lutz was feeling out the underworld of Bögenhafen. Apparently, a halfling had taken over the thieves' guild and was running a brisk business in stolen body parts (yes this is as gruesome as it sounds).

Athelas and Lutz continued to investigate the stolen body parts and found out about a cult called the "Ordo Sextenarius". Apparently, they were replacing key personages of Bögenhafen with demon-possessed constructs (or something similar). Their investigation came to a sudden halt when they confronted some sort of doctor who used demonic magic of Slaanesh against them. He fled, and they weren't able to follow.

Meanwhile, Finubaryel and Volcifar entered into a brothel called the "Red Sail", because the "Ordo Sextenarius" seemed to be headquartered there. They met Ludwig von Brunner, the son of the inquisitor Helmut von Brunner. Apparently he had fallen in love with the beautiful Esmeralda, one of the girls working at the "Red Sail". But the visit of the High Elf and the wizard's apprentice didn't turn up anything particularly suspicious.

Still, the group was suspicious and decided to invade the "Red Sail" at a special day (I don't remember which one). There they found Rickard Aschaffenberg being tortured, and Ludwig von Brunner becoming a victim in a strange ritual performed by Siegfrey Aschaffenberg (cousin of Rickard), the doctor who had escaped earlier and Esmeralda, as well as several girls working at the "Red Sail". The group didn't quite manage to disrupt the ritual that turned Esmeralda into some sort of demonette. But Athelas defeated the demonatted with her two swords and her war dances. Volcifar managed to save Ludwig von Brunner and Rickard Aschaffenberg.

In the end, Bögenhafen was saved, nobody had noticed what the player characters had accomplished, but all of them escaped with their lives. I hope that at least Rickard Aschaffenberg and Helmut Brunner will be grateful.