Monday, June 25, 2012

Scions of Fate: A Free FATE Hack for Scion

I’ve finished my hack of White Wolf’s Scion setting with Evil Hat’s FATE system. It ended up a 64-page trade sized booklet; you can download the pdf of that here. To play you’ll need the Scion books, at least Scion: Hero, and some flavor of FATE. I posted earlier on my process in developing this (here and here). So far I’ve run three sessions using it- not enough to test everything, but the game’s been fun.

I really love the concepts from Scion, but our group's become more accustomed to lighter systems. It has interesting mechanics, and I ran a campaign of Scion "as is" a couple of years ago. It does have problems with balance and the power curve, especially as the series rolls along. Accordingly, my hack focuses on the earliest stages that of “Hero” level characters. I chose FATE because we’ve been using and adapting elements from it for our homebrew games for the last year or so. Diaspora clued me in on some of those elements and they fit with our approach. I know some people don’t care for the player control devices in the system or what they consider the gamist elements of it, but I’ve had really good experiences with those. Veteran players have become more engaged and interested through those mechanics and have found it easier to set up what they want to do in play.

When I adapt a setting/game over to another system, I try to adapt the game I actually play. Instead of looking at all of the mechanics, I try to consider what’s important to me and also how the new system handles key elements. In the case of Scion, I had the advantage of running it using the base system beforehand. Several elements didn’t make the cut in my adaptation. For example, when I ran I kept Fatebinding more mysterious and uncertain. It ought to be a plot device, rather than a detailed and mechanically heavy part of the game. I like the idea of players developing a relationship map of sort, but given everything else, it isn’t something they need to track. So Fatebinding in my version exists as a concept the GM can use, without specific mechanics- YCMV. Legend’s a more difficult shift. In Scion Legend measures relatively level and power. In my game I’m focusing on the lower end of the scale, so I don’t necessarily need a larger track. I also want relative parity between players, so I didn’t need a ranking system. Once I decided that, it was actually pretty easy to remove those concepts from the game.

I went for simple and symmetrical over complex. So I established that all gods offer the same number of affinity epics and purviews. I also removed post-CC benefits for that, to allow players more open choices. There are no skills associated with divine parents now. Purviews are purchased in sequence, to make it easier and parallel to the Epics. Various other benefits such as mentors and followers end up lumped together for color. Most importantly, everything’s powered by Fate points- removing virtues, legend points, and willpower as spendable resources.

The biggest problem I’ve found in moving from high detail to low detail system comes from the consolidation of the combat system. High detail games often devote lots of space to combat options, special abilities, minor modifiers, and escalating powers. I encountered this years ago when I adapted Legend of the Five Rings to Storyteller. It forced me to develop variations on “gain a combat advantage” and consider how a combat advantage might be read as a non-combat benefit. In the case of SoF, I cut out a number of knacks and boons to focus on a few which did interesting things. A number of these have names from the original source, but do quite different things. I also tried to eliminate abilities and options which supersede earlier buys. The Aztec pantheon purviews, for example, seemed boring. If I were imagining this as a long-term or extended campaign, I might present stackable or building block features for the players. That could easily be developed by GMs who want to move up to the Demi-God level.

We’ve done three sessions of Scions of Fate so far, an introductory combat session; a full session of investigation; and a session that began with the band following up on threads and stumbling into a confrontation in a magic cave. After we did character creation I went back and rewrote that section of the rules to make them clearer and more streamlined. I had too many non-parallel choices in the first version. I also cleaned up the Relics rules and explanations.

Pages 60-61 of the pdf have some notes on gamemastering the system. That’s worth looking at if you want to see the reasoning behind some of my choices. You’ll see I borrowed the aspect ranges idea from Diaspora and the d6 bonus concept from Kerberos Club. I also reworked maneuvers and assessments to better fit with what I wanted in play. GM’s can easily shift that to their favorite approach. You’ll also notice I kept the layout pretty basic (Scribus kept crashing on me).

A few things I noticed in play:
  • Having a little bit of skill really helps, so players ought to consider some low buys rather than trying to maximize having high level skills. If you have an Epic at 3, you don’t necessarily have to have a high skill associated with it- doing so is kind of overkill.
  • The Greek Pantheon Purview Arete is fairly potent. It fits with the costs for other abilities, but at the same time it gets past the cap of the skill pyramid. Having Arete three allows a player to be really good in one area. I would suggest a couple of restrictions for this. Players who have Arete cannot take the same skill with it. Limit players to one offense or defense skill in any particular area (i.e. they can have Dodge or Guns but not both). I would also limit players to one defensive skill for Arete (i.e. Dodge for Physical or Discipline for Mental, but not both).
  • The stress tracks are fairly short, but careful investment can increase one or more of those. However the balance of the system means that players strong in one area will probably be weaker in another (due to defenses, armor, or stress boxes).
  • The purview abilities aren’t balanced, but my version makes them more interesting than in the original. When I ran Scion before, players gravitated to knacks over boons. So far in this version, they seem to be heading the opposite direction.
  • Many things run on Fate points in this system, so players ended up keeping more of those in their pool than I expected. That means the GM has to work even harder to reduce those resources.
Download Scions of Fate pdf here