BRINGING IN NEW BLOOD
In addition to the Microscope session on Saturday, I had another rpg experiment on Friday. A while back I'd mentioned to my niece, Kali, that I could run a zombie game for her and her younger brother (my nephew, David). Schedules had gotten complicated this summer between projects, jobs, sports and so on. Finally we'd gotten a time together in the evening. I was a little tired as I'd just finished four significant pitch document drafts and had sent those out that day. So I had little chance to prep- in fact I thought I might be able to con them into a board game instead. However they had clear expectations and so I ran for them, plus my wife Sherri.
Kali's played a little before (D&D with friends, some sessions of modern fantasy with Sherri & I, plus she was in Dave's Fallout tabletop game). This week I'd been reading my copy of Strands of Fate which just arrived. I had two other FATE-based rpg books (Spirit of the Century and Diaspora) but I hadn't yet been able to really grasp the system from reading it. Some of the problem may be that I read rpg stuff for ideas and details rather than systems these days since we usually adapt things to our homebrew. But I'd heard good things about Fate and I wanted to figure out how it worked. I've been playing with versions of Aspects with our homebrew, calling them Tags. With Strands of Fate, I finally “got” what FATE does. It made a great deal of what Brad Murray had said on his blog about the Fate point economy and so on make sense. I suspect I'll eventually do a full-fledged review of SoF in the future.
STREAMLINING THE PICK UP
For this version, I went really simple. Players got four attributes to divide nine points among (Social, Physical, Combat and Knowledge). They then got to choose five aspects for their characters. I then went through a little more fully how FATE works. Though I'd suggested that Aspects worked better if they had some downsides, I should have gone through those mechanics first before having them pick. I did let them switch some things after that. I also told them they could pick another aspect associated with each attribute during play. I told them modern horror, and we went running with it.
The three characters:
SOCIAL 3; PHYSICAL 3; COMBAT 1; KNOWLEDGE 2
Starting Aspects: Pharmco Midwest Salesperson of the Year; Tons of Samples Filling Her Car and Apartment; Gym Rat but not a Butterball!!!; Little Black Book Full of Doctors; Sorority Sister Forever
Added Aspects: Drama!; Slippery Like an Ice Queen; Queen of Free Weights; Morbid Medical Trivia
SOCIAL 2; PHYSICAL 2; COMBAT 3; KNOWLEDGE 2
Starting Aspects: Extensive Firearms Training; Medical Training; Access to Weapons; Eats Tons of Food; Access to Vehicles
SOCIAL 1; PHYSICAL 3; COMBAT 2; KNOWLEDGE 3
Starting Aspects: Multilingual; Parkour Runner;Fast Talker; Basic First Aid Certified; Well Read
Added Aspects: Fast Hands
NOT A ZOMBIE
So I'd told them that I was thinking about a zombie game, but I wanted to play against those expectations. For one thing, I like to make players react to the unexpected and I know I could play off of those preconceptions. For another, I didn't want a game which would be relentlessly dark or even with no win conditions. Zombie games and stories can be relentlessly nihilistic and apocalyptic. And even if I weren't intending to head that way, I suspect my instincts would kick in.
IT ALL BEGINS IN COFFEE...
So the three of them begin at a late night small coffee shop in a medium rate Chicago neighborhood. They don't know each other. There's a barista just waiting to close up. In stumbles a bum in a combat jacket- looking sick and shambling. He comes in and silently stumbles over to Elli's table- smashing his hand down on her notebook and splashing her with blood. Alex and Tiffany yell at the guy and eventually they bunch up. The bum stares at them proclaims “SEE!” in an ominous voice and collapses. Elli- with her player still thinking this is a zombie thing- starts trying to get the blood off of her. Alex checks the body and find the person seems ready for combat- and has been wounded. He's died from blood loss and trauma. Alex also notes the bum had been armed. Elli tries to salvage her notebook and notices a weird sigil in the blood her splattered there. Tiffany goes into the back to find the barista as her phones not working.
It is dark in the back and Tiffany stumbles across the dead body of the barista- attackers have come in through the back. She runs back into the coffee shop. She's pursued by three ghoulish looking creatures- shabbily dressed humans with claws who attack the three. Alex pulls his gun and begins shooting. Elli notices that there are others outside of the coffee shop- silhouettes staring in. They desperately fight these creatures, with Alex taking a chunk of damage, including a Seeping Arm Wound.
One of the things that came into play here is that I'd given them each a card and told them they couldn't look at it. They could spend a Fate Point to see what it was and potentially use it. They all did so in this scene. What they each got was one of the basic powers from Hunter the Reckoning. Tiffany got the ability to resist more damage; Elli got the ability to burn out a weapon to cause more damage; and Alex got the ability to take some stress in order to have boosted, superhuman strength for an action. The group put these to good use. They took out their three attackers and then ran towards the back as the front windows and doors crashed in with more of these things.
In the alley, they encountered six more attackers, plus a leader. They secured the backdoor of the coffee shop and engaged in melee. This went back and forth- Alex nearly had his ear torn off, Tiffany had a nail ripped free, and Elli had a tooth knocked out. They put their powers to use, but the situation rapidly deteriorated. Elli managed to call up the symbol she'd seen on the table- driving two of the attacker back and catching one on fire. Tiffany pushed the burning one into the leader- clearly a Vampire of some kind. Alex attacked and distracted the big guy. Then Tiffany managed to light the big bad on fire and destroy him. They desperately ran for their cars.
It was a pretty fun experiment- and they liked the Hunter powers. I gave them each another one at the end for when we play next. They got the idea and saw the problems inherent in being the ony people able to “see” the monsters. My nephew enjoyed his first excursion into role-playing- but he was worried about all the damage his character had taken. I had to assure him he could heal some or all of that up between sessions. I like Strands of Fate; it is a great pick up game, especially in the extremely streamlined version we did. I did to get a better sense of how the declaration and invocation orders go. Is it a constant back and forth or does one side declare and then the other- I have to get that settled.