Thursday, March 22, 2012

Using FATE for Scion: Starting Thoughts

Scion’s on my top ten of published rpg settings/premises. I ran a solid campaign with it. Think of an adult and serious version of Percy Jackson or a modern version of Clash of the Titans. There’s a real pleasure for players in being able to take on potent character types in a modern setting, but still have challenges. GM’s can grab on to the chance to put out full mythic elements, as well as the amazing balancing device of Fatebinding. But my gaming has progressed, my desire for complex or involved rules- especially involving combat has dropped. I’ve mentioned that shift before and Scion really shows some of those problems. For our group, it wasn’t so bad in the beginning. Most had played Storyteller before so the very basic elements we knew.

But Scion uses some dramatically different mechanics, including a straight defense/offense calculation and a fancy combat wheel, and it scales up rapidly to high power early on. The latter combats of the campaign ended up weird- taking too long, showcasing slightly broken powers, making certain actions worthless, and reinforcing that speed trumps everything else. Even after filing off the more complicated bits and modifiers from the system, the core engine didn’t work for me. That isn’t to say it is bad, but more that it didn’t mesh with the kind of game I wanted to run.

But I still want to run Scion, and much as I’ve done with adapting Changeling the Lost to our homebrew system, I want to adapt Scion’s basic material to a system I’m more comfortable with. After thinking about it for a while, I’ve decided to use FATE. I have a couple of reasons for that. One, I want to see how well FATE works in adaptation to other distinct material. Two, I want to introduce the system to the group. We’ve been using elements from it, but I want to try it in a fully-fleshed form. Three, it will likely be a short run game so if the reskinning doesn’t work, it won’t be a problem to retool for another game. Four, the aspect system seems to lend itself to the kind of mythic elements present in the setting.

I own several versions of FATE (Diaspora, Agents of SWING, Strands of Fate) and I’m going to borrow from and focus on three of them: Kerberos Club, Legends of Anglerre, and Dresden Files. I’m going to focus on Scion's Hero level for most of these things, as I think that’s where the game shines.  

*Character Basics: Generally I’ll be sticking with the basic structure of FATE. Characters will consist of Aspects, Skills, three Stress Tracks, Stunts (renamed as Knacks), and Powers (renamed as Purviews). As well PCs will have access to Epic Attributes and some additional Birthrights which can include some variable bonuses- I’ll come back to handling that grab bag in a moment.

*Aspects: I’ll probably have some directed choices for starting aspects. At least one, for example, should be either about the character’s divine parent or their relation to that parent. Another ought to be a dramatic flaw (as in Dresden).

*Skills: Most of the FATE systems as well as Scion have a list of about two-dozen skills. I’ll need to go through and figure out a useful and relevant list from those. Ideally I want the skill named in the most obvious way. I probably won't bother will outlining trappings for each skill, beyond a set of words or phrases to define common uses. Stunts won’t be necessarily tied to particular skills.

*Epic Attributes: One of the central mechanics to Scion lies in characters having powerful bonuses to their attributes, like Epic Strength or Epic Charisma. Each attribute in the game had an epic. Access to these initially comes from the specific divine parent, but others can be bought at higher costs. They always give a static bonus to any check involving them. So Epic Strength 2 always adds +2 dice to the pool for wrestling and the like. They can have other bonuses as well such as increasing the Defense Value or increasing Soak. Each Epic also allows access to Knacks related to that Epic Stat.

Since this FATE version won’t have attributes, Epics will exist as their own beast on the character sheet- a kind of power or large scale skill. The Scion division of Epics put a great deal of power and effect into a couple of attributes (notably Dexterity). I’m going to use ten Epics:

  • Epic Perception: Spotting, Seeing, Awareness
  • Epic Accuracy: Hitting, Precision, Trick Shots 
  • Epic Strength: Might, Lift, Physical Damage 
  • Epic Stamina: Damage Taking, Additional Phys. Stress, Resilience 
  • Epic Charm: Rapport, Empathy, Seduction, Additional Social Stress 
  • Epic Presence: Intimidation, Leadership, Willpower, Additional Mental Stress 
  • Epic Movement: Speed, Climbing, Leaping 
  • Epic Reflexes: Reaction Time, Defenses, Sleight of Hand 
  • Epic Knowledge: Stuff You Know 
  • Epic Wits: Coming up with Clever Things, Puzzling Out

For purposes of this version, Epic 1 gives a +1 to all skill checks related to that (-3 to +5), Epic 2 gives a +2 to all skill checks (-2 to +6), and Epic 3 has you replace one of the FATE dice with a d6 (-2 to +9).

The breakdown of the Epics tries to split the weight given to certain attributes in the original game. My intent is to carefully manage the combinations of Epics available to any divine lineage. So there won’t be any that combine Epic Strength & Epic Accuracy or Epic Stamina & Epic Reflexes. Players will still be able to purchase Epics from outside of their parentage, but they will cost double. I’m also considering Epic 3 purchases offering an Aspect based on the ability, but I’m not sure of that.

*Stunts/Knacks: In Scion players chose a knack for each point of an Epic Attribute they took. Additional knacks could be purchased, provided the player had at least a dot in the attribute. I suspect I’m going to do something like that for this system. Knacks will wholly take the place of Stunts (aka Advantages, Merits, etc in other systems). They will be divided under each of the ten Epics mentioned above.

I’ve gone through the Knacks as presented in the Scion Hero, Scion Demigod and the Scion Companion. Some of those I’ve eliminated outright as not really working in this system, some as just goofy and others as overly complicated. To those I plan to harvest stunts from the various FATE books. I want to divide knacks into major and minor, with major costing double. That price change will be the only substantive difference (nothing regarding difficulty or the like). I don’t want to break down the categories any further than that, but there’s definitely a difference in power between something that allows a character to fling something far and something that allows them to shake off bullets. Ideally I can have a nice range of Knacks under each Epic. I might impose a limit- any specific knack can only be taken by up to two players.

*Stress Tracks: Because of the scale of things and the interactions of the Epics with things, I’ll probably significantly increase the base Stress tracks. Dresden has characters starting at two stress for each track, with a max of four. I’ll probably just double that and see how that works. I’ll likely use the basic consequence mechanics as they are.

*Powers/Purviews: These are abilities, not all that functionally different from knacks, but representing different areas of mythic influence (Chaos, Animal, Dark, etc). I’ll have to go through and do a quick rewrite on them to make them fit with the Scion system. I’ll just stick with the level 1-3 of these as given in the basic book. I probably won’t worry about balancing them too much. I do want to make them a little more interesting and useful- if they can add or affect aspects, that’s an easy approach. Right now a couple of the Purviews are pretty weak. In Scion players could buy the level 3 and skip the level one & two. I have to decide if that’s how I want to handle these. FATE points will be the fuel for most of these things.

*Birthrights: Scion originally allows players to purchase advantages in several different areas: Creatures, Followers, Guides and most importantly Relics. The first three I’ll probably handle as aspects if players want to have something like that. For example they could choose a starting aspect to reflect their access to a mentor who can guide them. Relics will be a little more complicated. I suspect I’ll adapt some of the mechanics from Legends of Anglerre to handle that. Most importantly Relics allow characters access to their purviews- in order to use those powers, it must be in their possession.

*Other Stuff: I have to figure out how I want to handle weapons and armor, probably as simply as possible. The Dresden numbers should work. I’ll also want to figure out how to handle the Fatebinding mechanics in an easy way. I imagine that getting a mortal tied up in one’s fate could serve as a temporary sticky aspect, allow some kinds of compels (depending on the character’s personality). I also want to revisit the FATE mechanics for Assessment/Declaration/Maneuver. I want to make that distinction clearer and offer a tangible benefit for taking an action to add aspects (more or better aspects).