Monday, December 9, 2013

Rolling for tasks in FATE, it's not just about creating tension.

This may be a bit of an odd interpretation, but it works for me fairly well in FATE. I never look at task rolls as a conflict resolution. I see actions as a way to incorporate Aspects into the story and therefore as part of creating the narrative. Task resolution in FATE rubs a lot of people the wrong way because we are used to tasks and conflicts as being the engine that drives drama and tension. When you look at it, FATE does not really work that way. In most cases, there is little to keep players from succeeding at any given thing they really want to do. It all depends on what price the player wants to pay to succeed. The meta is skewed in favor of the player.

The task resolution system in FATE does not exist solely to create tension. It can, of course be used to do so, but it’s not the sole reason for its existence. What the dice are really there to do is to give the players and GM a paintbrush to create a dynamic scene. Task resolution revolves around describing action adding a random effect and using that to see what lengths the character has to go through to create the desired effect. The player must then incorporate the characters Aspects to generate the desired outcome which in turn makes the description of every dramatic action an extension of who the character is and not her statistical makeup.

In FATE the GM uses Compels to drive tension and drama. Complications brought about by Compels are driven by the characters features and are therefore personalized to the characters narrative. This is not to say that task resolution cannot add drama. “Success at cost” situations are also intended to give consequences for heroic feats. The GM is provided with these mechanics that make up a dramatic toolkit. I find this more interesting than depending on the randomness of something like a critical failure or success or depending on finely tuned encounter balance which can go south quickly.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Addressing concerns about the upcoming Strateticon RPG Space.

To Strategicon RPG attendees,

My name is Jim Sandoval and I am the Supervisor of RPG's at the Strategicon series of events. I would like to take the opportunity to address some concerns from our RPG community regarding our new venue at the Hilton starting with OrcCon 2014 and for the foreseeable future.

For the past couple of years the Strategicon series of events have enjoyed a great deal of growth. This is  due to the fantastic outpouring of support from LA area gamers and the great lengths our 100% volunteer staff have gone to in order to provide the best gaming experience for our attendees.

Because of this growth we are all excited about moving to the larger and much better lit LAX Hilton starting this upcoming year. Although the Hilton provides us with some much  needed additional space to expand into, this space differs greatly from the Raddison and Sheraton. In this case, much of the additional space takes the form of large ballrooms. We are limited to very few smaller, “single room” type spaces like the cabanas we all enjoyed at the Raddison or the sectioned off areas on the second floor at the Sheraton. RPG's has been steadily expanding for the past few years. Even if I were to take ALL of the small conference room space for RPG's I would have no room to expand whatsoever and would simply leave the problem for someone else to solve. That is not how I roll.

For this reason and this reason alone, Our Event Coordinator Tim Keennon and I have decided to put RPG's in a 7000 Sq foot ballroom and allow the small allotment of conference room space to go to Pathfinder Soc, RPGA and LARPS.

This has nothing to do with how Strategicon views RPGs and RPG fans. Rest assured that I would shake the pillars of heaven and hell for my department.  RPGs are my passion and you will find no greater advocate for RPGs than myself. Please remember that Strategicon is not for profit and supports all forms of gaming equally.

I understand your concerns and would like to assure you that I have taken steps to make this as viable a choice as possible. I will be erecting a heavy duty rod and curtain system to parse out the room into smaller areas with tables. This space will divide 25 tables within the 7k sq foot ballroom to ensure the optimum level of sound absorption. This will be a large space for 25 tables with low acoustic tile ceilings and it is our hope that we will be able to minimize noise echo.

When I was approached with this plan, I have to admit I was skeptical at first and frankly still am. I am not going to sit here and promise you the moon, I am not a salesman.  Best I am is a CSR/CPA. But what I can tell you is that I am going to do my utmost to make this situation as viable as possible and before I agreed to taking the ballroom space, I was assured that if there was an outpouring of negative feedback after OrcCon that we would revisit this choice and come to a better decision.

In conclusion, I just want to leave you with this thought. There is nothing I want more than to have every single person walking into RPGs or the convention in general walk back out again with the joy and satisfaction of having had the best experience I can provide. For no other reason than the fact that I love gaming and want to share that passion with everyone I come in contact with. I know that many of us find it disturbingly easy to become cynical about everything and sometimes that is justifiably so, but I guarantee that the rest of the Strategicon staff and I are doing everything we can to make your experience a great one. If we fail to do so, that is only because we are human and will strive to make it better next time around.

Best regards on this holiday season,
Jim Sandoval.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Conan the Barbarian RPG. FAE/D&D 3.5 conversion.

CONAN Fate Accelerated Edition

Know, oh Fate lover, that between the years when the oceans drank Atlantis and the gleaming cities, and the years of the rise of the Sons of Aryas, there was an Age undreamed of, when shining kingdoms lay spread across the world like blue mantles beneath the stars. Conan FAE edition is designed for people who wish to adventure in the world of Hyboria. The land crafted by Robert E. Howard for his iconic sword and sorcery hero Conan of Cimmeria.

To properly use this hack there are three things players should have. First, a working knowledge of the Hyborian world as depicted by Howard, De Camp, Jordan, Thomas and the various others who brought Conan to life in novels, short stories and comics. For a PDF of this mod, you can find it HERE. And a bonus Character Sheet.  As another resource thanks to +James Forest here is a fantastic primer on the Hyborian world written by Rowan Walkingwolf.

Second, is a copy of the Mongoose Games Conan RPG (currently out of print). This game is in essence a blend of the 3.5 D&D version of Mongooses Conan setting, FAE and Fate. Concepts like Class and Race are described in the Mongoose RPG in great detail and are used as point of reference for several of the Aspects and Stunts in this game.

Third, is a copy of Evil Hats, Fate Accelerated Edition and Fate Core. This game uses some mechanics from both and players should have access to these rules in order to make sense of what is to follow.


The High Concept and Trouble Aspects remain the same. The three remaining Aspects are specific to Conan FAE.

Race – The varied peoples of Howard’s Hyboria are very distinctive. The reactions of a civilized Aquilonian will vary widely from a citizen of dark and mysterious Stygia. The land from which a character hails will have a great deal of bearing as to who she is and how she interacts with other cultures. This Aspect can easily be Invoked or Compelled for various social reasons that are obvious if you are familiar with Howard’s work.

Class – Players have several classes to choose from. Barbarian, Soldier, Thief, etc. This aspect describes who the character is from a professional point of view. Exactly like classes in D&D and in extension the Conan RPG. Feel free to elaborate on the classes as you see fit. For example a Scholar could be a “Priest of Mitra” or a Barbarian could be a “Savage Warrior of the Frozen North” or a Soldier could be a “Stalwart Gunderman Mercenary.”

Reputation – A brief description of what the character is known for or stands for. While high concept is the way the character thinks of herself, the characters reputation represents what others think of her.


Instead of the regular FAE approaches, Conan uses the standard statistic line from Dungeons and Dragons. Strength, Constitution, Dexterity, Wisdom, Intelligence and Charisma. Think of them as equivalents to Strength = Forceful, Dexterity = Quick/Sneaky, Wisdom = Careful, Intelligence = Clever and Charisma = Flashy. Constitution can be a form of Forceful but also works much like the Physique Skill in Fate Core, granting more stress and/or consequence boxes as described on page 118 of the Fate Core book. Wisdom also acts like the Will skill in Fate Core when it comes to Mental Stress boxes.

It is easy to simply transfer a characters Ability Modifier straight to the Approach bonus. For example a Strength stat of 18 in D&D has a bonus of +4 while a Charisma of 8 would be a -1. Those bonuses would carry over directly. If not converting from the Mongoose version of Conan follow the regular rules for Approaches in the Fate Accelerated rule book.

Stress and Consequences

Conan uses the Stress and Consequences found in Fate Core. There are two Tracks, Mental and Physical which can be boosted by the Wisdom (which acts exactly like Will) and Constitution (which acts exactly like Physique) respectively. The addition of the Mental track to the regular FAE system is done to accommodate the horror aspect in Howard’s world and should be used to track the consequences of being exposed to the myriad horrors of the outer dark that are part of the stories in Hyboria.


Players get three Stunts for Conan FAE. Players are encouraged to use the Feats and Class Abilities from the Mongoose Conan RPG as templates for Stunts. Here are a few examples.

Dodge – Receive a +1 to all Defense Actions using the Dexterity Approach.

Two Weapon Fighting – Receive a +2 to any use of the Dexterity Approach in an Attack action while wielding a light weapon in each hand.

Uncanny Dodge – Spend a Fate Point to roll a Defense Action even when the character is unaware of an attack.

Web of Death – When using a Defend Action that is successful, spend a Fate Point to apply the shift difference as an attack immediately against the attacker.


All players start with a refresh of 3. Extra Stunts can be purchased at a cost of one Refresh per stunt, maximum of two.


Great Weapons get a +2 shift for damage but grant the Aspect “Unwieldy”.

Armor gives you a -1 shift for damage. Heavy armor gives a -2 but adds the Aspect “Cumbersome”. A shield gives a +1 to any Defend action.

Akbitanan weapons have Akbitanan as an Aspect to represent their superior make.

That’s it. It’s that simple.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Star Frontiers Fate Core Hack. Skills Pt. 2

The skill list remains the same except for the addition of Engineering, Exploration, Mechanics, Medicine and Navigation.

These skills were added for two basic reasons. First, to better represent the technology level more technical skills were added. Thematically, it is important to represent the role of technology in a SciFi game. Second, one of the main activities for PC’s in Star Frontiers is that of exploration. Skills were added to expand upon the themes of exploration.

Craft, Mechanics and Engineering.

Because of the importance of technology in a science fiction setting the ability to create and repair objects requires a somewhat more detailed approach. In Fate Core, actions involving the creation and repair of objects, machines and structures are handled by the Crafts Skill. In Star Frontiers the Crafts Skill is split into three Skills that better capture differing levels of tech. “Crafts” covers the lower levels of technology. Mundane things like constructing a simple shelter to creating a makeshift block and tackle would involve the use of Crafts. “Mechanics” involves more complex machines and tools. Things like repairing an internal combustion engine, the leg actuators on a robot or repairing a broken radio would fall under mechanics. “Engineering” involves the design and repair of large and very high tech equipment, like a space ship or a complex artificial brain.

Engineering deals with the design and construction of complex machines, electronics and spacecraft.

Overcome: Engineering can be used to overcome challenges that involve the design of complex machines or structures especially in terms of making them exceed their original design. For example, coaxing more power from an engine or boosting the signal of a subspace transceiver.

Create Advantage: Engineering can be used to create Aspects on a design. For example, creating a hovercraft the can “Turn on a Dime” or making a Gyrojet rifle that is “Incredibly accurate”.

Attack: N/A
Defend: N/A

Engineering Stunts

Miracle Worker. The character can spend a Fate Point to automatically remove one box of Stress from any machine.

I’m Giving Her All She’s Got! Get a free boost whenever pushing a machine beyond its design limitations.

Exploration involves the ability to seek out new life and civilizations and boldly go where no one else has gone before. Mapping new planets, collecting soil water, fauna and flora samples and determining their compatibility with other forms of life is that the core of this skill. Exploration can also be used as a survival skill in alien environments.

Overcome: Exploration can be used to overcome just about any environmental obstacle in an otherwise unknown location. Exploration can be used to overcome contests requiring environmental hazards like extreme heat or cold or simply avoiding dangerous fauna and flora.

Create Advantage: Exploration can be used to create advantages by understanding the basic makeup of alien creatures and their environment. For instance realizing that an animal has a natural immunity to a plant poison can create an advantage for a medicine roll to cure said poison. It can also be used to create advantages in a strange alien environment, like knowing where natural obstacles would impede pursuit for a chase contest.

Attack: N/A
Defend: N/A

Exploration Stunts

I can live off the land. The character can spend a Fate Point to automatically find food and water in an inhospitable environment.

Wilderness survivor. The character can reduce the shift of any damage caused to himself or others by an environmental Aspect by 2 with a Great Exploration roll.

Mechanics deals with the repair and assembly of complex machines and electronics like robots and small vehicles.

Overcome: The most common use of an Overcome action in Mechanics is to repair machines, but can also be used to activate, deactivate or re-program functioning machines.

Create Advantage: Mechanics can be used in several ways to create advantage. It can be used to modify equipment, temporarily enhance effectiveness or jury rig improvised functions.

Attack: N/A
Defend: N/A

Mechanics Stunts:

Hear me baby? Hold together. A character can spend a Fate Point to add another 1 Stress Box to a machine for the duration of a scene.

Cannibalize! The character gains a +2 bonus to repair any machine as long as there are other machines around to cannibalize for parts.

Medicine is the skill that ranges from first aid and preventive medicine all the way to complex surgery. Knowledge of basic biology, xenobiology, administration of drugs and the use of high tech medical devices is governed by this skill.

Overcome: Diseases and Poisons can be overcome through Medicine. Medicine can also be used to overcome physical consequences with proper equipment and time.

Create Advantage: Medicine could be called upon to create advantage by applying drugs or medical equipment. For example if you are in a low oxygen atmosphere and are fighting your alien best friend for the affection of a woman in ritual combat you could give the poor captain an injection of tri-ox compound to give him an advantage or fake his death.

Attack: N/A
Defend: N/A

Medicine Stunts
This Will Ease the Pain. By making a Great Medicine roll a character can ignore a Mild Consequence Aspect for a scene.

The Cure for What Ails Ya. A character never has to spend a Fate Point to have medicines and tools on hand for regular medical treatment.

Navigation is the art of getting from point A to point B. The ability to find the party’s bearings in an unknown planet or mapping out jumps through the void to previously unexplored sections of the Frontier requires the Navigation skill.

Overcome: Navigation can be used to overcome being lost or disoriented.

Create Advantage: Navigation can create advantages for characters by giving them high ground or zones with good cover. Navigation can be easily used to create favorable terrain Aspects.

Attack: N/A
Defend: N/A

Navigation Stunts
Safe Harbor. A character can always find their way back to home base.

At Home Amongst the Stars. If a character has already made a jump on an interstellar route no roll is necessary to repeat the same jump in the future.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Star Frontiers Fate Core Hack! - Skills


I have been working on this hack for a while now and have had the idea in my head since I was introduced to Fate. This is one of my nostalgic favorites. I often look back on it and remember the good times, but when I pick it up again I can't help but be repulsed by the horridly primitive game system. Yet, I loved the game world and the space opera feel of the setting. Perfect fodder for a Fate Core hack right? Here is how I am going to work out Skills. I am trying to approach this in a way that keeps the general feel of the original game while still maintaining the consistency of Fate.

The handling of Skills in Star Frontiers Fate Core is perhaps the greatest departure from the basic Fate Core system. The original Alpha Dawn system ran off of PSAs or Primary Skill Areas. Players could choose from four PSAs, Military, Biosocial, Spacer and Technical. (Spacer representing the skill sets laid out in Knight Hawks.)

In Star Frontiers - Fate Core, the PSA is represented as an Approach, similar to those found in Fate Accelerated Edition. The PSA not only provides a bonus, but it also provides a contextual approach that represents how a character was trained.

With the use of the PSA Approaches, there is a distinct difference between a Biosocial Character using the Navigation skill to move through an alien jungle and a Spacer character using the same skill to navigate a Void Jump.

Mechanically this works by providing a +1 bonus to a roll with any skill that can be justified as being part of a PSA. For example, if a player wishes to use the Fight skill to attack someone and has the Military PSA Approach the skill would be rolled with its skill value +1. As characters attain milestones they can change PSA’s, have two PSA’s at a +1 or add a +1 to their existing PSA value (Max +2).

PSAs can also be used on their own to perform actions like Create Advantage or Overcome at a bonus equal to their PSA rating. Rarely will they be used to Attack or Defend outside of special circumstances which may occur.

Because of the PSA overlay Skills will be capped at 4 making the maximum Skill bonus 6.

Military PSA – Means your character picks up militant skills quickly and easily. Military skills include use of weaponry and setting and removing demolitions charges (Crafts Skill).

Biosocial PSA – Means your character is good with people and their environments. People with the biosocial primary skill area are good with biology, medicine, and how such biological beings interact with their environments around them.

Technological PSA – Means your character is good with technology in all of its forms, from computers to robots to vehicles.

Spacer PSA – Means your character is particularly adept at space travel and the use of all the equipment found on board a starship. They are also particularly adept at maneuvering in zero and low gravity environments.

Otherwise, players choose skills using the Skill Pyramid listed on page 46 of the Fate Core book.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Extras - Adding complexity but for all the right reasons

It would almost seem to me that FATE Core has nearly ruined my life. Ok, that is a bit of an exaggeration, but if I start calculating the amount of time I have spent tooling around with FATE once I got my hands on it, I can truthfully say that it has become somewhat of an obsession. When I got my hands on the Toolkit, the problem became worse. What can I say, I love playing with this game system because it gets my creative juices flowing and it stimulates my puzzle solving brain meat centers.

+Wil Hutton‘s post about +Jacob Poss‘ post on a Blue Planet hack along with some other Google+ posts with +Craig Hatler  about equipment conversions to FATE have brought a question to the forefront of my mind. How much is too much when it comes to Extras? In other words, how many layers of complexity can we add to a game in the name of “feel” or “flavor” before we muddle the fractal too much and detract from game play?

FATE is designed to be minimalist and transparent. You can see from +Mike Olson ‘s posts about his upcoming Thrilling FATE that if you break the system down to its very bones, you have Aspects, Consequences/Troubles and Stunts. FATE can simply run off those three things with little difficulty, even with the omission of Stunts. At times, going this route actually opens things up more than creating individual rules for things. It is simply up to the players and GM to construct stories around the narrative “aspects” they bring to play, but it’s also up to them to create a consensus on what those elements represent.

This made me ask myself, “to what extent do rules fuel feel?” My gaming background is filled with games like Shadowrun, Mechwarrior, Dungeons and Dragons and Mekton Zeta. These games are not rules light. In fact some of them are at their core, tactical simulations as much as they are role playing games if not more so. To a certain extent I kind of like rules crunchy games. Not so much because it gives me clear boundaries to work within, but because it created a firm idea of the impact certain things had on the setting. It created a contextual uniformity to the world which gave it a very specific feel. A general consensus on the feel of a game became inherent in the rules set and required little investment on the part of the players to determine.

That is why world building in FATE is so critical. When the group is involved in creating the setting for the story, that consensus is generated up front. But what happens when you are dealing with a conversion of an already fully realized setting like Blue Planet? It’s up to the “hacker” to decide to use rules to create context and consensus or rely on the players’ knowledge and creativity to drive that feel.

Extras can provide some form of context to elements in your story. To me, that’s the best way to view them. Transhumanism is a big part of Blue Planet. Having Extras that bring Transhumanism to the forefront provide players with built in options to explore that theme within the game. The inherent value to creating these Extras is fairly clear. That’s what it’s all about, understanding that Extras are only necessary if they provide value to your story in some way. They provide pre-packaged Aspects or Stunts that establish story elements that bring your characters into the context of established game themes. If an Extra does not provide that, it should simply be represented as a standalone Aspect of a character, scene or story.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Musings on Stunts for FAE and FATE Core. Plus a bonus guest appearance by Dr. Byron Orpheus

I really enjoyed working up the FAE version of Brock Samson. It was super fun, but I got the feeling that some people thought that his Stunts were a little too powerful. I am inclined to disagree. For example on page 31 of the FAE book:

"Because I [describe some way that you are exceptional, have a cool bit of gear, or are otherwise awesome], I get a +2 when I [pick one: Carefully, Cleverly, Flashily, Forcefully, Quickly, Sneakily] [pick one: attack, defend, create advantages, overcome] when [describe a circumstance]."


Because Brock's skill with a knife borders on the supernatural, he gets a +2 when he uses Forceful to attack with a knife.

That one is straight out of the book.

The second Stunt I admitted was a bit powerful. I omitted the "once per game session" portion of the formula. Instead I provided two limitations. This Stunt only works on Contests. Not Challenges or Conflicts. I also set the limitation that it only works on Henchmen. Otherwise Brock is pretty much always going to show up a Henchman. Which really isn't that big a deal. To me it just omits some book keeping.

In FAE and FATE Core, stunts are intended to be very open ended in their construction. The game gives you some basic structure on how to create them, but I believe that the vagueries that are left are intentional. Building Stunts in FATE Core is more complex with a lot more options than FAE, which leaves even more of this aspect of character creation up to you.

In FATE the creation of Stunts is perhaps the most labor intensive part of character creation. Why? Because it has the highest likelihood of being game breaking. This is why it takes some careful cooperation between the players and the GM. What has to be kept in mind is that the Stunts themselves should not be limited by what it says in a book but should be molded to fit the creative style of the stories you want to tell. A superhero story is going to have RADICALLY different stunt limitations than a hard boiled detective tale. Context is everything when dealing with stunts and they should be judged more by the setting and character they are designed to portray than some judgment of mechanical utility or balance.

That being said, on with the show! (I am not doing these characters in any particular order. Brock and the good Doctor O happen to be my favorite characters in the show.)

Name: Dr. Byron Orpheus

Description: Tall and slender wearing black and white striped pants and a red coat with a long dark purple cloak held closed by a gold and ruby pendant. Grey  haired with a grey goatee.


High Concept
Master of Mysticism. A self prescribed moniker used by Dr. Orpheus as he describes himself before entering battle along side the members of the Order of the Triad. Although is PhD is in communications with a minor in women's studies, Dr. Orpheus is a powerful sorcerer and necromancer with a broad range of abilities including creating fireballs, teleportation, astral projection, lethal energy blasts, telekinesis, lightning projection, mind control, mind reading, flight, shrinking, making his opponent's body parts vanish, and of course, raising the dead (duh, necromancer),

Cuckold husband and single father.  Dr. Orpheus is dedicated to his work maintaining the unknowable safety net keeps your soft pink insignificance from plunging eternally towards oblivion. His job sir, is to repair that net. It's a pretty big job and it has cost Byron just about everything. Formerly married to the sorceress known as Tatiana, and father to a young daughter named Triana, Dr. Orpheus lost it all to the persistent advances of a younger Necromancer named The Outrider. Burdened by the loss of a woman he still loves and left to raise his daughter on his own, Dr. Orpheus struggles to cope with his own inadequacies and deep resentment of the choices and sacrifices he has made.

My Pumpkin's maiden head is not a PRIZE! Dr. O is very protective of his young daughter Triana, who seems to have him pretty much wrapped around her little finger. She is "Wicked Hot" and extremely precocious. She manages to sometimes attract the inappropriate attention of older men like Peter White. More than anything he wants his daughter to lead a safe and normal life, free from the freakish and bizarre lifestyle that his lead Dr. Orpheus through a road of loneliness and misery. Despite this, Triana will eventually chose to move away with her mom and begin her studies as a Sorceress.

To perceive and control the delicate arrangements of the cosmos. Dr. Orpheus has worked his entire life to be able to perceive the second world. He holds incredible power and the ability to manipulate forces with the power of his own mind. With the guidance of his Master, a shape shifting spiritual entity from the "Necropolis" whose portal exists in Triana's closet, Dr. Orpheus could very well be one of the most powerful sorcerers on earth.

Founding member of the Order of the Triad. When Dr. Orpheus got approved by the Guild of Calamitous Intent for an official Arching, he was approved for a team membership. Quickly, Dr. Orpheus put together his old team, the Order of the Triad. Consisting of himself, The Alchemist, seeker of truth and Jefferson Twilight, Blackula Hunter, the Triad was matched with the arch villain Torrid. Together they fight to gaze upon the impenetrable, behold to the impossible and smooth the wrinkles in the fabric of the very reality we exist upon!


  • Careful 2
  • Clever 2
  • Flashy 3
  • Forceful 0
  • Quick 1
  • Sneaky 1


If I reach behind your ear, it will not be a nickel I pull out, but your very soul!
Because Dr. Orpheus is a Master Sorcerer, he gets a +2 when using Flashy to Create and Advantage using a magic spell.

Tricks! How dare you. With just a thought I could rise into the air. I could incinerate this entire lab, make you believe you are a very special episode of BLOSSOM, and shoot lighting from my hands!
Dr. Orpheus can choose to Flashy for Conflicts and Challenges instead of Forceful when using his sorcery.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Brock Freakin' Samson FAE

I have been playing a lot more FATE and FAE lately mostly thanks to the fun people at Gateway a few weeks ago and a fellow named Sayler VanMerlin who is running his Sandals & Supers game using FAE here in Long Beach. It's basically superheroes in ancient Egypt.

Since I have TERRIBLE handwriting and wanted to have my character available to me anywhere through G-Docs, I decided to make a form fillable pdf of the FAE character sheet. I needed to test it out so I followed the example of my buddy +Wil Hutton who had some fun making Invader Zim and GIR characters for FAE. Therefore, I thought it would be fun to hammer out some of my favorite animated characters. So, I present to you Brock Samson from the Adult Swim show Venture Brothers.

Name: Brock Samson

Description: Blond mulleted, tall, muscular man usually seen with a cigarette in his mouth. He has an unfinished tattoo of Icarus from Led Zeppelin's Swan Song record label on his right bicep.


High Concept
Swedish Murder Machine. This is the way The Monarch described Brock when his henchmen returned to him in Dia De Los Dangerous. A more apt description I cannot think of. Brock is an efficient killing machine that loves his job and keeps a storage locker of stuff he has looted off his many kills.

Operation: Rusty's Blanket. The OSI mission that basically entails being Rusty's or Dr. Ventures personal bodyguard. In actuality it also consists of protecting a mysterious artifact known as the Orb that may or may not have apocalyptic properties. Operation Rusty's Blanket is abbreviated to be ORB. Needless to say, between making sure the Orb doesn't fall into the wrong hands and keeping Dr. Venture safe from his several enemies in the Guild of Calamitous Intent, it's a dangerous and full time job.

License to Kill. Brock carries an O.S.I. issued class "A" license to kill, number 09262-8765-001 (displayed in Mid-Life Chrysalis) and he is an organ donor. At one point it expired and during that time he had to endure insults like Goldilocks, Ape Drape, Captain Mullethead, Frankenmullet and Hokey Hair but did not retaliate until the license was renewed.

OSI's Top Agent. Brock is LEGENDARY among the ranks of the OSI as well as the Guild of Calamitous Intent. Men have been known to fight over who gets to pick up his cigarette butts. Brock is feared and respected in the world of Secret Intelligence.

Women name their vibrators after him. As described by Henchman 21 in the season 1-4 Recap, Brock is irresistible to the opposite sex. Hell, even men write him love letters. He is as much a sex machine as he is a killing machine.


  • Careful 2
  • Clever 2
  • Flashy 0
  • Forceful 3
  • Quick 1
  • Sneaky 1


To prey on their fear, move like an animal, to feel the kill - Because Brock's skill with a knife borders on the supernatural, he gets a +2 when he uses Forceful to attack with a knife.

Even though he has a license to kill he refuses to use a gun,  instead relying on brute strength, endurance, and skill with a knife that borders on the supernatural.

They hit me with a TRUCK! - Brock always wins any contest vs. a henchman of any kind.

I know this Stunt sounds a little powerful, but its BROCK FRIGGIN' SAMSON. Brock Samson has single handedly ruined the day of more henchmen than any other man. Members of the Fluttering Horde and the army of Ăśnderland have tear soaked nightmares of the dreaded Brock Samson. Even when completely coated in henchman tranquilizer darts, flattened by the Monarch Mobile, buried and left for dead Brock still came back to crush his henchly enemies under the tires of his 1969 Dodge "Hemi" Charger.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Shadowrun 5th Edition Review

Having read through SR5 and having played all previous editions I thought I would jot down a review of the game from an old geezer’s perspective. This, by and far has been one of my favorite games of all time and perhaps the most persistently played game in my RPG career. I have a true fondness for this game both thematically and mechanically, but I have to admit that I have had some issues with some of the changes Catalyst has made in order to streamline the game with some notable pleasant surprises arising from the same design goal.

For those of you who may not know much about Shadowrun and the Shadowrun universe, here is a brief rundown chummer. The first thing you need to know is that corporations “extraterritoriality” was established some time ago.  That means that megacorps are treated as their own sovereign country in most respects and abide by their own laws. There is a corporate court and some oversight, but for the most part corps adhere to their own laws and practices while more traditional governments simply administer things that the corps don’t really care to deal with.

The Matrix is now the pervasive all-encompassing method of data exchange that exists as a virtual reality world of icons and glowing floating ziggurats in a massive black digital landscape. People can “jack in” to the Matrix, basically putting their meat brains straight into this digital world or you can hop in with VR gloves and trodes, but the true hot shots go in Hot VR.

Of course this makes for a perfect Cyberpunk style setting right? Here is the twist. In 2011 the Awakening happened. The general theory is that magic comes into the world in epochs. That is that there are times when magic is virtually nonexistent and other times when it comes back along with a whole bunch of paranormal critters including Dragons, Dwarves, Elves, Orcs, Cockatrices and spirits. Well in 2011 a dragon popped out of Mt. Fuji in Japan and pretty much blew everyone’s minds. Humans began to “goblinzie” into Elves and Dwarves along with Trolls and Orcs. People started to be able to use actual magic and the whole world changed.  Pretty fragging crazy drek right?

Players play the roles of the titular Shadowrunner. These men and women are shadow soldiers or deniable assets that the megacorps use to run their secret wars within the shadows of the world. Spell slinging Mages, cybered up Street Samurai, vehicle and drone controlling Riggers, magically enhanced martial powerhouses called Physical Adepts, traditional Matrix Hackers or any combination thereof are hired in secret to do shadow ops for the rich and powerful. It’s a strange mix of Tolkien and Gibson that makes up one of the most unique and engaging game settings of all time.

Now let’s move on to the review.

The layout of this over 400 page tome was pretty damn fine. I had some issues with running down some rules that are cited but not completely explained without going through the sidebars. The sidebars are key to getting everything down, so don’t skip them. They are crucial. The index is well assembled and quite thorough. This game has a lot of tables and they did a pretty good job of assembling them in an appendix, but I am looking forward to some kind of screen. The art is fantastic as per usual, but the fiction was a little lackluster in my opinion. Mind you that’s just my opinion.

Character creation goes back to a new version of the priorities system some veterans might recognize. Stats, Skills, Metatype (orc, elf, human etc.), Magic and resources are listed. You apply a priority A-E to each category.  The closer to A the more your character has access to within that category. So if you want a character with a lot of skills you would put skills as your A priority. If you want to buy a lot of gear you would put Resources as your A priority and so on.

I always loved the priority system. It made for balanced characters and far less math than the point buy system which dominated previous editions. There were some good spreadsheet programs that made it a little easier, but I never really enjoyed making a character with the point buy system. The up side to the point buy is that you could scale the power level up and down, but 5th gives some options for making a Prime Runner by adjusting the resources priority a bit. The character gen system does give the player a pool of Karma to play with so that characters get that little finishing touch that makes them unique as well. Upping that Karma pool would also aid in making a Prime Runner and restricting it will also render more street level characters.

The main difference in this edition is that along with the Metatype priority the player gets a pool of points to spend freely on Edge, Magic and Resonance as well as giving the player access to all or a few of the Metatypes available. Nice touch that. Every priority has something important to offer so making a character has to be honed on concept or simply an exercise in compromise.

This is totally my opinion but based on the way the mechanics work in SR5 I find that giving Attributes a low priority can severely limit the characters ability to function. The reason for this is a new element called Limits ironically enough.

Limits provide a ceiling on the amount of Hits a character can get with certain actions. There are Physical, Mental and Social limits and all skills fall under one of these umbrellas. Therefore, even if you have a super wiz Agility and low Reaction and Body scores you can be severely hindered by your Limit since all these stats make up your Limit for combat skills. This is actually a pretty good way to stay on top of min/maxing and forces players to make more well-rounded and balanced characters.

I remember making a character back in the Combat Pool days (sorry no more Combat Pool just like 4th). I would labor to make sure that my stats didn’t limit my Combat Pool too much since it commanded the ebb and flow of combat. Now you have three stat balances to manage and sinking some stats can really mess you up. Especially if you want to sink Charisma and have a lot of Cyberware since Charisma and Essence make up the formula for Social caps. You better have a good face in your team chummer because Shooty McChopnkill will probably blow the whole deal with Mr. Johnson since he/she is capped at two hits for any social skill like Negotiation and Etiquette even if he/she has a skill of 13 (the absolute max cap now). If you spend an Edge of course Limits go away to make sure that you aren’t completely jacked all the time. These are not the only Limits in the game though.

Gear can provide Limits as well. Your Cyberdeck or your Pistol also impose Limits. For example a pistol might have an Accuracy of 4 which means that you are capped at 4 Hits while firing that weapon. Thus all weapons have a finite amount of damage they can do outside of Edge expenditure. That’s kind of a nag for me since one of the things I loved about Shadowrun is that someone with a lot of skill can outright kill somebody with a knife. Not so much anymore. SR at one point had one of the most elegant and easy to use damage systems ever created. Power Level, Lethality and Staging were a set of simple stats that comprised damage, stopping power and armor penetration in a one roll no fuss manner. I really miss that a lot, but I digress. Otherwise there is only one more real significant change to combat in 5th and that’s Interrupt Actions.

Initiative runs on the familiar highest roll goes first with the lowest going last. Then subtract 10 from that score and go for a second pass until everyone is at 0. Interrupt actions work defensively. You can subtract 5 or 10 points from your initiative to take defensive actions, spending your initiative points as a form of currency, 5 points to evade a single attack or 10 points to go on full defense for the turn. This gives you bonus dice on your defense rolls (everything is an opposed roll). This looks very interesting and quite tactical. I can’t wait to try it out.

As a side note about initiative, you can spend an Edge to bring yourself up to the top of the initiative order, which seems like a cheap way to get multiple passes when you need them. All you have to do is have one runner with a hot drek initiative score and a bunch of unaltered chummers with a lot of Edge. I might be reading this wrong, but that’s what it looked like to me. Edge seems to be super powerful to me and a “Better Lucky than Good” character can go a long way in one session.

Magic works very similarly to 4th edition with very little variance other than the basic mechanical changes listed above. Magic in 4th was pretty simple, compared to past editions and I don’t blame them for not fixing what isn’t broken.

Hacking on the other hand wooooo. They did a number on this and it’s one of the things that has me smiling ear to ear on 5th. Cyberdecks are back. They are now the hotshot illegal Commlinks that Hacker (now Deckers again) use to ply their trade. These devices now have stats which work as Limits. Attack, Sleaze, Data Processing and Firewall are now the basic Cyberdecks stats. Commlinks have the Data Processing and Firewall stats but not Attack and Sleaze which govern most of the “illicit” actions a Decker can do. Each machine has an Array which represents four priorities of activity on the ‘Deck. High end machines will have a 9/8/7/6 Array. It’s up to the Decker to assign one of those values to each of the ‘Decks four stats. These then become the Limits on programs and activities launched under that statistic. You can shift these numbers around on the fly as well when the situation changes.

There is a simple method for tracking how much attention you have attracted while you are running in the Matrix as well based on the Hits rolled against you on opposed rolls with a finite threshold you can reach before attracting the attention of the demiGODs (Grid Overwatch Division). Very streamlined and with the addition of AR make running alongside Deckers extremely easy. Programs and actions are easy to comprehend. Skills and Hardware are key for Decking since most of your Limits come from your gear and not your stats. This is great for players that want to play a character that is mostly cerebral and bookwormish. Not quite the case for the Technomancer.

The Technomancer rules work well alongside the regular Hacking rules with clear delineations between Resonance actions and Matrix actions. This new “class” for lack of a better word is a great mix between Magic and Decking as far as mechanics and the rules seemed pretty simple to comprehend. I have to say I have never played one, but it piqued my interest on my read through of 5th.

The last thing I want to comment on is the Random Run Generator. This is a one sheet set of random events that can make a Run on the fly. It’s very simple and rudimentary, but when used by a GM with a good imagination it can be all you need to sit down and run a game in minutes. Quite a neat little add-on that I thought was worth a mention.

Overall, this is a very good edition of a venerable game. The only complaints I really have are probably due to the nostalgic memories of an old man. For a game that is over 25 years old it really holds its own against anything on the market today. It may be a little rules heavy for some, but I find the complexity fluid and constructive for the setting and narrative.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Using a Toolkit feature to make Imperial Trained Characters for my Star Wars Fate Core Hack

First of all I want to start this post of with a thank you to +Wil Hutton for giving me a peek at the Toolkit. It is fantastic and offers a grip of options that make Fate even MORE customizable. It offered some options that made some sense to me for some of the stuff I was working on with this Hack.

In my Star Wars Fate Core hack I am starting off with a bunch of characters that defected from the Empire. I wanted to have something set these characters apart since they started off as not only trained soldiers from a large military but as officers of that military. These characters would enjoy a high level of training in some fairly focused skill sets depending on their Military Occupational Specialty or MOS. I decided that I am going to use my own version of Skill Modes as detailed in the Fate System Toolkit. Skill Modes are “a bundle of several skills that represents a broad area of competence.” This allows me to give players skill packages that represent their military training.  Of course, this will somewhat limit the options a character has as far as skill selection, but I am going this route for thematic reasons more than anything else.

Characters that will come in later on who are not military trained will not benefit from these skill packages or “modes” and will follow the pyramid as laid out in basic Fate Core. I want to balance it out in a way that allows characters who have not been educated or trained formally to have access to a broader range of skills, but perhaps not have as high a level of proficiency with military skills as would those who spent time training to be a professional soldier.

My only issue with this is that it goes against my whole rail against “archetypes”, but I don't feel like I am going that direction since I am going to represent the modes in separate MOS’ that will represent training and cross training. Not necessarily and archetype but more of a representation of focus in training that all members of an organized military would go through.

I am not going to apply my Specialization idea to the MOS’ since they will already lead to characters having some pretty high level skills and it doesn't seem to fit thematically. I am going to have characters that use the standard Fate Core generation system use this option. I find it thematically better since it represents highly individualized training that would be the result of learning things the hard way.

Imperial MOS

Officer Training: Empathy, Investigate, Notice, Rapport, Resources, Tactics

Fleet Training: Engineering, Pilot, Education (Astrogation, Core Worlds, Starfighters, Capital Ships, Outer Rim Worlds), Notice, Shoot, Rapport

Storm Trooper Training: Athletics, Fight, Notice, Physique, Provoke, Shoot

Scout Trooper Training: Athletics, Pilot, Fight, Notice, Shoot, Stealth

Intelligence Training: Burglary, Deceive, Empathy, Investigate, Notice, Rapport

* Note that some of these MOS’ are particular to the Imperial Army/Navy. I will come up with some MOS’ that will cover Rebel Alliance military training, but since this game takes place right after the rise of the Empire and at this time there is no formal Rebel Alliance, I am going to leave that for later.

There are six relevant skills for each MOS. There will be some considerable overlap within some of the MOS roles, but overlap will be covered a little later. Players will choose a primary and two cross trained MOS’. Their Primary MOS will give them a +3 (Good) rating in all the skills in that MOS. One cross trained MOS will be at +2 (Fair) for all the skills in that MOS and the second cross trained MOS will provide a +1 (Average) level of training. The cool thing about this is that combining these MOS’ can lead to some very interesting combos that can give the player some great ideas to modify their High Concept or other Aspects.  For example Characters with Storm Trooper, Scout and Intelligence MOS’ can be considered a Commando. Or a character with Fleet, Officer and Storm Trooper MOS’ can be considered an Assault Officer in charge of a Storm Trooper squad that specializes in boarding enemy ships. Please excuse my bouncing back and forth between the term MOS and Mode. They are completely interchangeable for the purposes of this context.

“Usual Fate Core skill pyramid doesn't apply to skills in modes. Instead, each player picks three modes and rates them—one at Good (+3), one at Fair (+2), and one at Average (+1)—and the mode's rating becomes the default rating for all of its skills. Skills at this rating are trained. Skills one step above their mode’s level are focused, and skills two steps above are specialized.

If a skill is reinforced once—meaning it's shared by two modes—improve it from trained to focused. If it's reinforced twice—shared by all three modes—improve it from trained to specialized.”

The fact that these characters have been trained by the Empire should be reflected in either their High Concept or in their Trouble, depending on whether they are in good standing with the Empire or not. It can be applied to both, depending on what the character has going on. This is not a hard and fast rule and depends on how creative the character is in the description of their background, but the fact that they are or were once part of the Imperial Army should have some bearing on the characters background.

The rules for Modes in the Toolkit then allow you to upgrade skills within the Modes you have chosen. Giving the player 7 points to upgrade skills from Trained to Focused (1) or Specialized (3) and Focused to Specialized (2). I am going to add another category. Players may choose to spend one point to buy a skill at Average (+1). That skill can then be improved as if it belonged to your Average (+1) mode. Any number of points can be spent on acquiring new skills. This will allow characters to fill in some blanks in skills that are not represented in the Modes provided.


Another quick change is to Lore. I changed Lore to Education. I am also adding Education Concentrations. Each level of Education the character has will allow them a Concentration. This would be a specific kind of “Lore” they have studied. When using the Education skill within the parameters of a Concentration, they get to Invoke the Concentration like an Aspect for free. It’s a kind of meta Aspect.  I am not really sure if this is the best way to go about this since I have a feeling that I am going back to my old school gaming comfort zone on this.

Monday, June 17, 2013

My first experiences with Fate Core - A Star Wars game.

When we started to put together our Corellian Corvette scenario for X-Wing, I started writing a story behind the event using the 42nd Tactical Combat Squadron whose members were all loosely based on the members of the Plus Ten to Awesome game club. Once we were done with the event, I thought it might be nice to actually run an RPG detailing their adventures.

+Chris Morrison had run an adventure using the Edge of the Empire system and that was pretty fun. At first, I had planned on using that as the system for my game. From what I saw from the Beta, the system as ok, but I had some issues with the fact that the game used “archetypes” for character generation, which in my opinion limits a game severely.  That and the idea that each character had to generate a hook in the form of a debt or obligation didn't sit right with me since it limited the form of conflict the character has starting off. The game does a pretty good job of leading a player towards making a character with a background and some RP goals at generation, but it seemed geared towards a specific kind of character that comes from the seedier side of the Star Wars world and that didn’t quite work for my story. On top of these issues, the full game itself was delayed and I had nothing but the Beginner Game set that didn't even have character generation rules in it.

At that point, Fate Core had come out and I was very excited about it. I had been following several blogs, including that of +Wil Hutton and some others and this game seemed fantastic.  I had some experience with the Dresden Files RPG and loved the system. So I decided to have this story arc be my introduction to Fate Core. Here are some of the mods I did for the Star Wars Hack.

I am actually looking for the advice of people who have had more experience with Fate Core than I have. In particular, I am looking for what people find to be the most important aspects of Hacking Fate for specific worlds, settings or genres. Feedback is appreciated.

Aspects, most especially High Concepts

I definitely didn't want to see “Just like Boba Fett” High Concepts. Although I don’t mind the hero worship that Star Wars engenders in some people, I didn’t want to fall into the trap of people playing the same archetypes that I saw in Edge of the Empire. After all, one of the reasons I went with Fate Core was to open things up to a fully creative experience within the setting of Star Wars. In the first three characters we generated, I really didn’t find this to be a problem.

The issue I did have is that people came up with High Concept Aspects that seemed a lot more like regular aspects.  For example, one of my players had “Dead Eye Shot” as a High Concept. I asked him to rethink that unless he wanted that particular thing to best describe his character’s role in the galaxy. I have found that I like esoteric high concepts like “Disgruntled Idealist”. I don’t know how something like that would work in a game as far as Invokes and Compels, but we will see. Perhaps something like “Wily Smuggler” might work better, but one of the great things about it is that the players can change these things as they go along without it being a great big deal.

Coming up with Aspects that have a good feel in regards to Invokes and Compels seems to be the greatest challenge, at least to me, in character generation.


I did some very basic work on skills for the game and changed the skill list very little. I basically just changed Crafts to Mechanics, Drive to Pilot (which are just thematic changes to skills that already exist) and added Tactics to the skill list. The reason for the Tactics addition was based on some of the characters in the game and the stories already told within the narrative. Some characters were already written as being excellent tacticians and I wanted a skill to build some Stunts on later on for those characters. The Tactics skill will be used for combat order as a default with the basic game rule as a backup default and tie breaker.

I am also thinking about doing a “specialization” system for skills. I got the idea from Shadowrun and thought it might fit thematically into this game and adds a little flavor to the very broad skill sets that govern action in Fate Core. It’s similar to creating a stunt but far more basic and uniform.  The way it works is by allowing a player to choose a specialization for a skill by subtracting one from the base skill and adding one to the specialization.  For instance, a skill of Shoot +3 (Good) would be reduced to +2 (Fair) while the specialized skill of Bowcaster would be added at a +4 (Great). Therefore when shooting anything other than a Bowcaster the player would be at +2 (Fair) and with a Bowcaster the player would be at a +4 (Great) at no extra cost.

I know what you are thinking. Something like your specialization idea already exists in the game with Aspects and Stunts. That is true. The reason I went with this idea is because the Star Wars setting is very heroic to me. I tooled with the idea of expanding my skill list, adding more stunts for starting characters, etc. That seemed like a little too much work and could maybe be overkill. But giving someone a +1 at a signature skill at the cost of a more generic one seemed like a good way to simulate the heroic feel of the setting to me. I will also be limiting these specializations to something that should be a signature skill for the character justified in his/her background. Also, I thought it would make my players have to be a little more creative with their Stunts than simply stating “Badass with a Bowcaster” since they already will have an inherent bonus with their signature weapon if they choose to.

I am going to work on a Force system using the framework set up by West End Games, with the skills of Alter, Sense and Control. Then characters would build stunts for each skill to represent Force Powers. This is not something I need to fully develop right away since I don’t have any force users in the group, but I will tinker with it for future games. I also like the idea of Force using characters starting with a lower refresh and more stunts and will more likely have to do so if they need to spread stunts around three Force skills.


I have to admit that I don’t like “suggested” or “generic” Stunts. I can actually see some game companies publishing books of Stunts like the “Complete Thieves Guide to Fate” sometime in the near future. Fate Core does a great job explaining how Stunts work with well laid out guidelines on how to make them.  I didn’t feel the need to hammer out a bunch of pre-conceived Stunts for every skill. There are plenty of examples to be had. I will probably create a bunch of Stunts for Force use, only because the basics of what a Jedi can do have already been laid out in some detail and I want to guarantee a decent representation of those powers in the game. Otherwise I am pretty sure my players can come up with appropriate, “I’m a badass commando” Stunts for themselves.

The Phase Trio

I have to say, that I was a little skeptical about how this would pan out with my players. I didn’t really know if they were willing to surrender so much control over their character generation. The whole idea of cooperative character generation is pretty alien to more traditional styles of play. I was very pleased to see that my players not only liked the idea but truly embraced it.

The tack I took was to have them simply put together a story involving one other player (as per the Phase Trio) and then the group came up with an appropriate Aspect that fit the story. That worked surprisingly well. We did it from a couple of angles. Some players fished for something they were looking for and some just went along for the ride. Either way we had some pretty appropriate Aspects created. Whether they are going to be useful in play is yet to be determined.


Luckily, I don’t have too much to worry about in terms of equipment as far as what my characters have access to in the game. I don’t have any crazed Mandalorians in full armor and a flame thrower (oh no continuous damage!). Nor do I have to deal with any Light Sabers.

I will have some Stormtrooper extras with Stormtrooper armor that presumably (I never really saw evidence of that in the movies) provides some protection from blaster fire. I am so inclined not to care and just give the Stormtroopers an extra physical stress to compensate for being in full armor, but I see this as a chance to experiment. I thought about giving the ST armor its own stress levels that can be used by the character to absorb damage. That causes more book keeping and I hate that. So what I am going with for now is making three categories for armor: Light, Medium and Heavy. Real original right? Each one automatically takes away one shift value of damage from any attack. Light armor has no other affect. Medium gives the character the Aspect: Resilient. Heavy gives the same features as Light and Medium but adds the Aspect: Environment Sealed. I was thinking about adding the Aspect Cumbersome to heavy armor but I don't think that really fits since I never noticed that the armor restricted movement in any way.

I am assuming that a lot of stuff is covered in the Toolkit which I do not have access to right now, but I will be picking that up as soon as I can. From what I understand it has a lot of ways to handle gear and a bunch of special situations.  I am looking forward to that a great deal since I will probably need to stat out things like heavy repeating blasters and speeder bikes.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Perspective and the Economics of Heroism

The role of the GM is beginning to blur a little. I am sure that there are some people who may disagree and this is just a broad generalization, but classically the role of the GM was part storyteller, part arbitrator and part director. The GM was firmly planted in the driver’s seat and controlled the plot and all elements of his/her sandbox or game world. The player was merely along for the ride and made choices that certainly impacted the story, but for the most part played a far more passive role in the greater narrative of the game.

Games like Fate and a few others change this definition. These RPG’s put the player at the controls along with the GM in a cooperative storytelling framework. Some people love this and some hate it, but whatever side of the fence you are on, we have to admit that this style of game is changing the way people look at roleplaying.

Personally this aspect is not much of a change for me. I like my players to have an active role in the storytelling aspects of my game. My “Game on the Fly” post is pretty much about letting my players guide me when I am too lazy to do game prep. Outside of my own laziness, having the players contribute to the story makes them feel more involved and I like to reward active participation. I just end up with a better game and better entertainment all around that way.

There are other aspects to these games that are perhaps even more controversial. When I look at it from a certain perspective most of these concepts are actually old hat.

Success at a cost

The gripe:  “It allows players to gimmick the game mechanic to never fail. Without the chance of failure or player death there can never be tension. It makes the Game part of the Role Playing Game moot since there is no real way to lose.”

Poppycock! This game element has existed for ever and just about everyone has done it. No? You have never done it or even seen it done? Sure you have. Have you ever spent a luck, benny, fate, fortune, karma, edge, character or force point for a re-roll or a bonus? How about having the party resurrect your character after being killed by that badass gibbering mouther? All of these devices have players spend a very limited resource to tip the scales to the benefit of the player. Therefore, you pay a cost for a better chance of success. The only real difference is that Fate demands a narrative context for the use of this mechanic instead of the simple application of an arbitrary rule.

Even the ultimate sacrifice can be averted by a trip to your local temple of Pelor. A grip load of gold pieces in gems (didn't expect Pelor to be that into the bling) and the cost of some XP and you are back and running. This is in absolute terms averting death at a cost right? It is the same thing, different name and added gruesome logistics.

The fact of the matter is that no good GM wants to see the players fail or die uselessly. I am sure that there are some GMs that run their games for that purpose. I have played in that kind of game and have found that it is usually only fun for one person. The point of the exercise is to create the illusion of possible failure or death well enough to produce tension. The Fate system just puts some of the labor of creating this tension in the hands of the player and not totally on the GM. The player manages the resources that define heroism and he/she bears the onus of accepting the consequences of failure, which is intrinsic to being a hero. It puts the economics of heroism up front and makes it part of the actual narrative. These economics invariably exist in RPG’s with or without a narrative element.


The gripe: “You cannot replace Attributes with Aspects. It allows players to gimmick the game and get bonuses to whatever they want.”

Balderdash! Aspects have existed for ever. Once again it’s a question of perspective. Take for example making a character with an exceptional attribute.  Let’s go further and say that it’s a randomly determined exceptional attribute like the much loved 18/00 from classic Dungeons and Dragons.

This is an Aspect. No? It sure as hell is a (if not THE) defining characteristic. It becomes a description “Clogar was a massive brute of a man with huge muscles”. It can be used as a justification for things “Clogar flexes his mighty thews in an attempt to cow the goblin to surrender”. Systemically it creates an advantage over another character with a 18/22 Strength, but the advantage is arbitrary and therefore lacks relevance to the character as a hero. A hero is not a list of numbers. Heroism is defined by how these attributes are used.

How about class or archetype? Cleric, Fighter, Mage, Rocker, Street Samurai, these are all Aspects. They define a character, outline powers and abilities as well as access to resources other characters could not justify. For example “Sigmund is a cleric of Pelor. Is there a local temple? I want a safe place to rest for the night.”

Things like classes and attributes serve not only to provide context for the characters abilities, but give us a clear understanding of the characters role and identity. The same thing goes for Aspects. The three key differences being that Aspects are A) capable of being tailored to create individuals that are distinct from other characters that may otherwise have the same attributes and/or class B) are mutable so a character can develop and change as he/she grows C) gives the player a stock in trade in the economics of heroism.

Clogar can have the Aspect “Strength of the Titans”, but must Invoke it or use it to create an advantage somehow. The mechanic already exists in other games, but is expressed differently. A Wizard has to memorize spells or a Fighter gets to use his/her daily power at the right moment, the player has to think about how he/she is going to use his heroic currency within the economy. The main variance is that the Player and the GM get to define what the characters abilities are within the framework of these Aspects instead of being limited to someone else’s definition of a class, attribute, etc. detailed in endless volumes of supplements and player aids. What was TSR’s old motto? Products of your imagination. Indeed. Sometimes it feels like a certain lack of accountability. If a game sucks you can always blame the system since it governs most aspects of the game. If the game comes from a place where it's 90% your own creation leaves you with little excuse.

I could go on to describe Stunts as being the same as Feats, Powers or Spells, but I think I already made my point. In broad terms, Fate does not really bring anything truly new to the table as far as mechanics go. What it does bring is a fresh perspective to these game elements. It treats the art of RPGs as exactly that an art or a form of creative expression. It does this at the expense of what I consider to be the roots or RPGs which are firmly planted in the firmament of wargaming. This shift in perspective is at the core of the debate.

Wargames require balance and structure. Not to say that Fate does not have structure, but the focus of this structure is dedicated to fostering creativity and not balance. This can be truly scary to some people who need this balance in order to build adventures. Once again it’s a matter of perspective and determining the goal of a Role Playing Game.

Buy into the Economics of Heroism. This is the true game within the game. Balance and structure come from the flow of this currency and making sure that the price for Heroism is just high enough to make your players feel like they did something worthwhile. No matter what system you are playing or what rules set define the characters actions, it is up to the GM and the players to set a gold standard for adventure by making sure that everyone pays the right price for victory. That should be the focus of your drama and should be managed thoughtfully instead of being sacrificed on the altar of game balance.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

A game on the fly.

As it turns out, I ended up having little interest in my X-Wing league at Mercenary Market. Lack of available product was an issue and I may have chosen the wrong day.  Who knows?  I will kick it back up when Wave 3 launches and hopefully get more interest.

I still wanted to do some gaming on Sunday and thought I would just go ahead and run an RPG. I talked to a few of the regulars and got a few people interested. I decided to run the Iron Kingdoms Full Metal Fantasy game from Privateer Press. WarmaHordes is pretty popular at the shop, so I thought it would boost interest and give me a pool of people who had a decent understanding of the core mechanic. The new version of the game abandoned the d20 system and put out a new edition that in essence mimics the mechanic of the tabletop miniatures game.

Now that I have all that exposition out of the way I will get to the point of this post. I proposed the game a week before we played. I purchased the Urban Adventure book which details the Five Fingers area of the game, figuring it would be a great place to start. I had all kinds of good intentions about jotting down some notes for the game and creating some NPC’s and putting together a story arc and some NPC’s. Then, I got lazy.  Didn’t do a gosh darn thing other than read through the Urban Adventure book a little. The only thing I knew for sure is that I wanted to do a game where the players got caught in the middle of a shadow war between Cryx cultists and Thamarite cultists.  Sort of a rock and a hard place adventure with a lot of mystery and danger.

Sunday came along and I had nothing. To most people that would mean cancelling the game and rescheduling. Not for this guy, I needed my RPG fix. So what did I do? I decided to make a game on the fly.

What did I have? I had the mental notes that I took from talking to the players about what they wanted to play.  Since they already had some form of immersion into the setting (having played the minis game) they already threw out some ideas.  I even had a player who made a character a few months back for a game that never materialized. So I had a fairly good idea about what was being played and what I had to work with. I also had a fairly good idea about the setting and the atmosphere I had to build for my sandbox, having read the Urban Adventure book. I had a palate of colors to work with and my core idea for a story. I also had an idea about a fight in a graveyard. Necromancy is a big deal for both of my antagonist groups, so I already had a good idea about my first action scene and the back of the base book had some pre-generated undead thrall stats as well as some stats for basic thugs. Since I also play the miniatures game, I would have a pretty good idea of how to balance the combat once I could see the PC stats and abilities.

I arrived at the store a little early and started talking to people as they started coming in.  One of my players was riding with me and another was the store owner so I knew he would be there when I arrived. We started chatting about their characters and I started to ask questions about their backgrounds. Being the creative types they answered my questions fairly easily and I started to build. This is what I had.

Greg: He wanted to play a character who was a fanatical follower of Menoth, the Lawgiver. The concept was that he was orphaned by a magic user and fled to a monetary. He then began training as an assassin for the church that targeted “witches”, which by their faith was pretty much anyone who doesn't use divine magic. This could be a problem if someone else wanted to make a magic user so I started asking him about his primary motivation. He comes up with the story that once he left the monastery he was focused on avenging his parents. I took that as the hook for bringing him into the party. If I made it so the other players were after the same arcane assassin, he would push aside his religious fervor in order to reach his objective. I made a note of that.

I then had him describe the scene in which he lost his parents. Working together we came up with the idea that the characters father was a curator and archivist for the church of Menoth. A woman came from nowhere demanding something from the father. Once he refused, the woman slew the characters mother in front of both of them. The father still refused. The strange woman then branded the boy with her glowing sword which had some strange runes on it. Undaunted by the woman’s threats the character’s father just knelt and began to pray to Menoth.  Enraged, the woman slays the father but the young man who would become the PC manages to escape to the local church.

Now I had a mysterious woman, a branding with strange runes and a magic sword with glowing green runes. NICE.

Chris: Chris had already made a character a while back for a game that never ended up happening. His concept was a bastard son to a noble turned pirate. Apparently, his mother was a pirate captain who had a tryst with said noble. The noble not having a legitimate male heir decided to legitimize the PC’s claim to the title, but before he could officially do so, his father was killed.

I further elaborated that the PC had burst into the room right after the assassination killed his father. He opens the door to find his father dead and bleeding on the floor of his unlit study with a shadowy female figure at running towards the window of the fifth story room.  She leaps out the window with no regard to her own safety, but in her haste drops a short sword inscribed with some strange runes inscribed upon it.

Now I have strong ties between two diametrically opposed characters. The religious zealot and the pirate noble share not only these strange runes, sword and perhaps the woman assassin in common but they were both victims of having their parent(s) killed in front of them.

George: George was completely new to RPG’s but has played a Khador army for a while and expressed an interest. He flipped through the book and wanted to make an Alchemist/Explorer. Don’t know why, but that combo struck him and that was fine. He crunched the numbers, but I needed to know who the character was. He explained that he came from a poor family in Five Fingers and he had lost his father when he was very young and was raised by his mother who taught him the basics of alchemy. His mother died tragically and for some reason George's character felt guilty about it.

I went on to say that he was always a bit of an explorer and found a strange box in the catacombs underneath the city. His mother inspected the what she found to be a puzzle box and found a poison barb trap. It lead to a long and lingering death where the PC tried to find a cure and became obsessed with poisons and antidotes. He also became known as someone who did extensive research on special arcane subjects.

More tie ins and story hooks. Part of the explorer class was to choose a patron that kicks the PC down 25 gc a month for.. well.. exploring. I then looked at Chris' sheet and saw that as a Noble he got a 50 gc stipend. I then asked them if it was cool to say that Chris's character was George's character patron. Chris would have to share his stipend with George but it also means that George gets to work full time on trying to decipher the sword runes.

This tied in nicely, but what George doesn't know is that the puzzle box he found as a child is also part of the plot.

Paul: Paul decided to play a Gun Mage/Warcaster. Which pretty much means he is a god. Not that he is a min/maxer, but he likes to make outsider characters that usually don't exactly fit into the party.  His character was straight up military, ex-Cygnar military to be exact. Ex-Cygnar as in deserter. This character was a little harder to fit in, but I had so much synergy with the other characters as far as the main arc, I decided to leave Paul's story as sort of a side plot that can fill in between portions of the main arc.

As a deserter, I decided that Paul's character came to Five Fingers to join up with a merc company that Chris' dad used to own. They had disbanded after Chris' characters father's death, which left Paul with few options. He then finds Chris' character through some trial and also came to be under his employ as a bodyguard. Paul decides to keep his magic use on the down low since he doesn't want to be discovered as a deserter. I decided that Cygnar is not likely to cotton well to a Warcaster deserting their ranks. Somebody will be coming to visit.

Paul provides me with a nice side story to throw in to keep the players from burning through the main arc to quickly and to distract them so I can make sure the antagonists have time to plot and maneuver. So I am pretty much set.

After character generation I had everything I needed to put together our first story.

George goes looking for the source of the swords runes and hears a rumor about this guy who seems to have brands with the same runes.

George starts asking around for this guy but flubs a roll.  I let Greg know that there seems to be some kind of shady character asking questions about him.  Greg decides that's not a good thing, tracks George down and confronts him at his alchemy shop.

This was dicey since the two PC's could easily come to blows. Greg ends up snatching the rubbing of the sword and leaving in a huff.  George seemed unimpressed and let him go, thinking that tracking him down later might lead to something. George tells Chris and Paul about what happened and they go looking for him.

Chris sees that he has underworld contacts, so I make up Smitty the Knife, a local fence and information broker. Chris decides to visit Smitty who leads him to some abandoned tenements by an old graveyard (see what I did there?).

The group decides to hunt down Greg and find out what he knows and after some kerfuffle manage to do so. They deicide they are all working towards the same goal. Greg gives them a detailed description of the woman who killed his parents.  Could it be the same woman that killed Chris' father? Who knows?

George decides to start trying to track down some info on this woman. He asks some questions and looks some stuff up in some books, yadda yadda. The fact that he is researching these runes and asking questions about a certain woman start making certain powers that be start to notice. He is met by a pleasant woman at a cafe, while he is pouring over books. Fails to resist a roll and ends up spilling the beans about his mission.  She of course is a trained spy and pretty much determines that he knows too much and has to be brought in.

The other characters decide to join Greg in staking out the graveyard since there have been rumors of grave robbery in the area. George decides to come along and join the others as night begins to fall.

Human thugs attack George as he enters the graveyard and the others rush to the rescue, but from behind come a group of undead Thralls lead by a man in heavy armor. Now the characters are surrounded. The thugs are soldiers from the Thamarite group and the Undead and the leader are from a cabal of Cryx worshippers who have been waiting for the right time to find and kill members of their Thamarite rivals.  The Thugs have orders to kill but preferably capture George. The melee ensues. George gets knocked out and almost dragged off.  If it weren't for Greg's quick thinking they would have gotten away with it, especially since Chris and Paul were knee deep in undead.  They lived to see another day, but were very confused and thirsty for answers.

Now I have a full on story from nothing. I just developed a story around the stories my players made. With a slight bit of manipulation at character creation I tied story hooks together and made an entire session on setting up the group and binding them through comradery, common tragedy and the fires of mortal conflict. I now have a basis for an entire campaign.

The whole point of this post is about how important players can be to the storytelling process. You can let them steer the whole thing up to a certain point. If you are a GM don't feel like you are the only creative force in the story.  As a player, don't be afraid to give the GM plenty to work with.  He/She will appreciate the story material and if they are worth their salt, they will make good use of it. Stories can come from anywhere.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Action vs. Reaction - System experimentation MkII

I have been working on a new way to do initiative for combat. I was inspired to do so by a discussion I had with +Kay Sakaue about Action vs. Reaction in actual martial arts. I came up with my first draft of the idea and its application in Savage Worlds, but it had some issues.

Benjamin Rose brought up a good point about the portion of the system where both sides are looking for advantage. He said, "Are they just staring at each other? If they make more than one roll, I can see it potentially getting a bit boring." and I agreed. I started chewing on the problem I came to a startling realization. The initiative system in Savage Worlds uses a card deck. Holy GLOB I am an idiot!

When I discussed the whole idea of Combat Advantage with Kay I thought that a lot of the way it worked seemed like a poker game. Trying to read your opponent, knowing when to hold, fold and bet. So I altered the system to reflect this point. Using the cards makes things flow a little faster and has a better conflict based feel.

+Djaii Pepper-Martens commented that it seems to break down with a great deal of combatants. I also agree. I am not sure that it's something I want to fix though. This is mostly intended for dueling and smaller scale conflicts. It's too detailed for a large scale brawl. I think I might just leave this for times where I want a specific kind of drama. I am pretty secure in saying that this is not a system that would apply well to all kinds of combat situations, but it could be very fun for certain dramatic situations where you want to ratchet up the level of detail and dramatic effect.

I had to alter the math a little, but I think it might work.  I am going to try to get some people together this weekend and play test it out a bit.

Combat System Discussion

I’m not sure if you are at all familiar with the Savage Worlds system, but it works on a dice step method. All Skills and Attributes are rated 1-5, see below. All player characters also get a Wildcard die (d6) along with every roll, taking the highest. This represents the Hero factor.

Step Range 1 – 5 (All stats are rated 1 to 5 die steps.  1=d4, 2=d6, 3=d8. 4=d10 and 5 = d12). Both the die values and the step values are used for different reasons.

New Derivative Statistic – Combat Fitness

Vigor (Vi) – Physical Body
Smarts (Sm) – Mental Readiness
Spirit (Sp) – Spiritual Development

Add all three stats and divide by two rounding down  = Combat Fitness (CF)

I went with Vigor instead of Agility for the calculation of this derived stat.  Agility will be an important factor later on, but this statistic is more designed to create a basis for gathering a Combat Awareness statistic for the new initiative system. As you will see further on, it more describes the ability to determine the appropriate time for a Decisive Strike and to determine opponent weaknesses and strengths.  Vigor to me represents physical conditioning instead of coordination and speed. I figured coordination and speed would become important when a maneuver is executed.

New Initiative System

The new initiative system is not designed to determine who “goes first”.  In my new vision for close combat all combat is resolved as opposed and simultaneous rolls.  The difference comes in who has determined the correct Decisive Maneuver first, executes that maneuver and whether the defender at that point provides an opportunity for the attacker to continue on to another maneuver in the chain until the defender is defeated or creates an Initiative Break.

The winner of the initiative simply gets a combat bonus depending on his situational awareness and how well he has sized up his opponent.  Combatants draw a number of cards from the Initiative deck equal to their CF. This will be the players CF hand and will be used to assess his situational awareness and ability to react to their enemies situational awareness.


Instead of drawing for “Initiative” combatants draw for “Advantage.” Advantage determines a combatant’s ability to decide upon a Decisive Maneuver and act upon it. Each player draws a number of cards equal to their CF. The cards are used to determine Combat Threshold (see below) and gain the situational Advantage. Advantage is part race, part gamble, part strategic determination and possibly part bluff.

The cards values are a little different for the purposes of this initiative system. Aces count as 1 and all the “Court” cards (Jack, Queen and King) have a value of 10. Jokers have a value of your opponent’s highest card +1.

Before determining Advantage it is necessary to determine the Combat Threshold. The CT represents you defensive stature, effectiveness of footwork or the general difficulty of an opponent to gain an advantage upon you. Secretly place one card aside and add their value to your Martial Art Skill to determine CT.

The Race: Each combatant is trying to reach his opponents Combat Threshold (CT) first.

The Gamble: Opponents do not know each other’s CT, they have to guess at it. Players place cards face down in front of them simultaneously one card at a time. At any point after both players have laid down an equal number of cards, either player may call a Strike and the combat begins.

The Strategy: After a Srike is called each side then reveals their Advantage Total (AT), which is the sum of all the card values put on the table before the Strike is called. Both players also reveal their CT value.  Each side then subtracts their opponents CT from their AT.  The result is their Combat Pool (CP).  Combat Pool is used to act and react in combat. The player with the highest total is said to have the Initiative. Players must be judicious in the use of their Combat Pool in order to survive the combat.  If both sides end up with an equal number of Combat Pool the combatant with the highest CF is considered the winner. If both sides have equal CF then use the suite of their highest value card to break the tie (Spades, Hearts, Diamonds then Clubs) If both high cards are “Court” cards of the same suit then prioritize King, Queen then Jack. The winner of the tiebreaker is considered to have a CP of 2 and the loser is considered to have a CP of 1. If both sides have negative CP this produces an Initiative Break and combat is reset. If one side has positive CP and the other has negative CP, the combatant with the negative CP is automatically hit and the difference between both CP’s is added to damage.

The Bluff: When CT is determined a character can choose to draw a number of cards equal to their Bluff skill. They must then place one of these new cards on top of their CT card when CT is revealed. Their opponent will have a chance to spend CP to detect the bluff by rolling Perception. The combatant with the highest total (Perception die result vs. Bluff card value) of that contest chooses which card applies to the Bluffing players CT.

Spending Combat Pool

Combat Pool is a representation of comparative situational awareness.  These points can be used to give a combatant more options. Once you are out of options, you are probably out of luck. The character with the higher Combat Pool has more options and therefore has the Initiative. Combat Pool can be spent in the following ways.

1. Check for Bluff: If a player is bluffing their opponent can spend a CP to attempt to see through the bluff. (see above)

2. Mitigation: Players may spend one CP to remove an environmental combat modifier found in the regular combat rules in Savage Worlds. By using their superior situational awareness characters can overcome situational obstacles.

The Combat

Now that we know who has the Advantage in combat it’s time to strike. Each player must spend one Combat Pool to engage each enemy in the combat. Therefore, if a character is fighting three opponents he/she must spend three CP to engage all three. If a character does not have enough CP to engage all of their opponents, he/she cannot defend against all of them. All friendlies in the combat can split the CP cost between them as long as each enemy is engaged with at least one friendly character. All combatants that are in combat with an enemy they cannot engage can suffer from a free strike.  Free strikes are resolved before all other combat. Combatants can make a free strike by making a normal Martial Arts test against the victims Parry. The Margin of Success of this roll is then applied to damage directly.

Once engaged each combatant can spend 1 CP to add a die of the appropriate type to their Martial Art Skill to a pool. Once all combatants have decided on how many CP they are going to spend they roll their dice plus one Wildcard die. The character with the highest total (including the rule of doubles) can then choose to subtract one from their opponents Combat Pool or add one to their own Combat Pool. If both sides have 0 CP an Initiative Break occurs and the combat resets.  Once a combatant is reduced to 0 CP  and one or more of their opponents still have CP remaining then that character is hit and damage is applied.  If multiple characters are reduced to 0 CP characters engaged with them may choose to hit an opponent of their choice. If one combatant facing several is reduced to 0 CP and his/her opponents still have CP remaining, the victim is hit multiple times.


Weapons no longer have a dice value for damage.  They have a single damage value.  This damage value is added to the remaining CP of the attacker and compared to the victims Toughness and damage is applied normally.