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.