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.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Fate, Blood & Seven Sins: The Seven Sins

The core of Fate, Blood & Sevens Sins are of course the Seven Sins. They describe vampire player characters and what they are capable of doing. They replace the approaches of FAE.

The Seven Sins

Each sin is described from the perspective of someone having a high rating in that particular sin.
  • Envy: Wanting, needing, taking. Envy is used to get things, to take stuff away, to get it into your possession. The impulse to grab, to steal, to cheat and to swindle.
  • Gluttony: Hunger and thirst. Gluttony is used to drink, to feed, to supply you with blood and thus power. The impulse to gorge yourself, because tomorrow there might be nothing left.
  • Greed: Keeping things, defending what is yours. Greed represents your hoarded possessions and your knowledge. You keep them in a tight grip, refusing to let go. Like a spider in a web or a dragon on his hoard, you let nothing escape.
  • Lust: Turning someone on, getting them to do what you want, getting them to want you. Lust is used to have your way with people. You are walking desire. They starve for your attention. You are the flame, they are the moths.
  • Pride: Turning someone down, refusing them. Pride is your armor. Let others bend knee, let them bow. You are too good for that. You will not bend. You will not do as you are told and fulfill other people's desires at your own cost.
  • Sloth: Age cools your blood. With age comes power. Sloth represents that. Your blood  turns cold in your veins. It runs heavy, not easily roused. You are a rock, secure in your own abilities. Let them come, you will prevail.
  • Wrath: Violence and the inclination for using violence. Wrath gets you in a fight and sees you emerge victorious. You are uncontrollable, rash, hair-triggered. Always ready to pounce on your opponents and tear their throat out. You don't stop when your opponent is down. You go all the way in your red-hot rage.
I'll post a more detailed description of the Seven Sins later, including the four actions: overcome, create advantage, attack, defend for each.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Fate, Blood & Seven Sins: Taking Stock

It's been a long time since I took a look at Fate, Blood & Seven Sins my planned Fate Hack (dare I say game?) about vampires. Last I did a lengthy write up in German and had one test game. After that game I shelved the project again. My last attempt included options for building mythology, gifts of the blood and most importantly a definition of the seven sins as approaches/skills and how they interact in a pretty specific way. Play testing went reasonably well. Players were complaining that getting blood was too easy mechanical-wise and didn't feel right (basically, it was just a scene played out without any rolls).

By now I had some time to think about what I am trying to achieve and why:

  • I want a game that appeals to those of my players who like Fate.
  • I want to have a replacement for the current rules set of Vampire: The Masquerade and Vampire: The Requiem available because I find VtM deeply flawed system- and setting-wise, and I don't really like the changes to VtR 2.0. On top of that I find both systems cumbersome.
  • I want a game about vampires, because they continue to fascinate me, and they are the Urban Fantasy I am most comfortable with.
  • I want to use Fate because it is an OGL/Create Commons licensed game engine that easier to hack compared to PtbA. Also Fate is enjoying quite the popularity.

After defining what I want and why, let's take a look at the Vampire games (Masquerade and Requiem) and see what I think their strengths are:

  • A rich and deep mythology, especially VtM shines with its Caine myth.
  • Turning vampirism in a struggle vs. self through mechanics (namely humanity and frenzy).
  • Emphasizing the dependency of a vampire on blood; portraying the vampire as an addict.
  • Faction wars (or rather intrigues) that put the actions of a single character into a greater context.

But I still wanted my game to be different. Therefore I introduced things like mythology and city creation, etc. That was an attempt to differentiate Fate, Blood & Sevens Sins as a toolbox for building your own unique vampire game (kind of like Vampire City). But I realize now that I already have a strong vision of things I want in a vampire game and things I don't want to be there. So, instead of a toolbox the next time around it will be mythology of my own devising. Probably there'll be parallels to existing mythology, but mostly it's planned as a grounding for the game to give it a stronger hook.

What also needs to be differentiated is the genre of the game. VtM and VtR both lean heavily in the direction of horror and intrigue. I know that both games often hit the table as "superheroes with fangs" or an intrigue-load that turns people off. Also, Gothic music still shows its influences heavily in the games. So I am not sure yet, if Fate, Blood & Seven Sins should do things differently. Personally, I like the slick and stylish aesthetics of movies like Blade, Underworld and We are the Night, or the creepy horror of Byzantium and Let the Right One In, or the languid atmosphere of Only Lovers Left Alive.

At the moment, the only thing I have nailed down firmly in my opinion are the Seven Sins. They replace the FAE approaches for doing things. Their definition seems to be valid, in so far that they all do very specific things. Expect to see them here soonish.

That's it. This where I stand, and where my ideas are taking me.