Friday, April 20, 2012

Crimson Skies & L5R: Another Hacking Fit

I’ve done a couple of posts on my upcoming hack of Scion to the FATE system. We’ll be trying that out in a few weeks- my goal is a six session mini-campaign, something more akin to a long movie or a mini-series. I figured out the skill list and I’ve managed to break down the other tasks I need to complete before the campaign starts. I used to be a rules crunch gamer- thinking about modifications for Rolemaster and Champions, and working out systems for Storyteller and M&M. I kept trying to figure out emulation engines and details. Once I detached from that- primarily because those things I built got in the way of table play - I stopped tooling around with those kinds of rule exercises. Instead I’ve shifted some of that energy over to setting and system hacks, trying to extricate elements I like from those places and making them easier to use and engage.

Of late I’ve been playing with FATE for a couple of reasons. I can bend it easily and my play group likes the elements I’ve introduced from it. I know some gamers don’t care for the narrative declaration and player control (making it less useful for horror or tension games). However I think changes can be made to it to reduce those elements pretty easily. I’ve also been working with FATE because the mechanical principles are pretty easy to port over to our house system,
Action Cards. That means that any work I do might be useful for other people and easily applied to our games. So here are two separate adaptations I've been thinking about.

From WW was the last pulp game I ran- I think a two or three session mini-story. That was decently fun and the game has good ideas in it. I especially like the power allowing characters to return from the dead next session- so long as no one actually saw the body (fell off a cliff, tumbled into a volcano, etc.). I’ve thought about doing a more pulp-oriented Trail of Cthulhu in the future. But for some reason, the Crimson Skies setting keeps popping up for me. I never played the board or clix game (though I have pieces from the latter). I did play the PC game (until a never fixed bug rendered it unplayable…FU Microsoft) and the awesome Xbox game. I like the setting- and think it would be fun to play in that for a mini-series or side story.

On one level, Crimson Skies would be a pretty easy adaptation.
Spirit of the Century already covers pulp action, so I could use that with just a few tweaks. The WizKids CS rules had a pretty good setting summary in them, IIRC. If I can track down my copy of that I would be in business. Having a condensed setting overview would save me time in selling it to the players. The more complicated side of things comes from the planes and air combat.

Obviously each player would have their own plane- that would be a requirement. To simulate vehicles, I can see two approaches. First, keep it pretty simple. Planes just offer a few modifiers, but the players run their characters as is but the environment shifts to in the air. Second, bring the planes more to the foreground. Planes have their own aspects, skills, stress tracks and even stunts. I lean towards the latter, even though I’m no fan of vehicle building systems.
Strands of FATE spends a great deal of time on those issues. While it has some neat ideas, I want to keep it relatively easy to use. What I want isn’t universal vehicle building, but rather a system for the players to create, kit out, and advance their planes. Players would still fall back to their characters’ skills (and potentially aspects) to supplement that. I’d probably take the same approach with a Mecha style game.

I’m thinking I’d come up with a set of airborne “maneuvers,”- that offer specific aspects, effects or the like- but still pretty open ended. Planes might have stunts giving them bonuses to specific maneuvers. I can see a couple of ways to handle how the plane to plane combat actually works. If I want it to be really abstract in a fight, planes would only track their distance to enemy planes (Close, Medium, Far, or Out of Range). Each player would exist in their own effective space. My distance to plane X would have no bearing on your distance to plane X (or any other plane). That might simulate the chaos and speed of these kinds of combats. I could track distances with something like a matrix and pegs.

That approach does eliminate some of the visual possibilities. I have some of the plastic CS planes, so it seems a shame to not use them. It would be better to have a system where relative distances matter. In that case, I could make up a “sky zone” map sheet. It would be something like a dart board. In the center you have a circle, then a ring outside that divided into four quadrants, then another ring divided into four. Each quadrant (and the center) would be a zone. You could measure ranges that way- and determine who could assist whom in battle. A fight could have zone tags, like Mountains, AA Fire or Buildings (and perhaps move). Or players could add them to the fight as it went on. You’d also need a mechanic for chases, escapes and disengagement.

Some time ago I started doing some thinking about how to handle an adaptation of L5R using HeroQuest 2e. In the end I spent some time on it, but never went further. HQ2 would have been a significantly departure from what we’d been playing and several mechanical details made it not the best fit. So I set that aside, but still wanted to do something with L5R. Previously I’d hacked the material onto Rolemaster (yes, seriously) and Storyteller both with some success (or at least I got some good sessions out of them). FATE offers some interesting possibilities, and like HQ2 provides excellent instruments for handling non-physical combat.

So what will require the most work for this hack?


The skill list in L5R is pretty extensive. L5R 3e consolidates the list down significantly, but it still comes in at 42 skills. My Scion/FATE hack ended up with 28 skills and that’s the upper end of what I’m comfortable with. To reduce the number, some skills will fall under others- as a kind of minor stunt. For example, Tea Ceremony +2 or +3 might be a stunt affiliated with Etiquette instead of on its own. Know the School ought to be associated with combat skills rather than on its own. Traps could be a specialization stunt under Engineering (or as a bonus for attempts without the Eng. Skill). L5R 3e has “emphases” under skills and this mechanic would echo that.

Clan Schools

These should be pretty easy to emulate, although some of the combat heavy effects might have to get rewritten since they often do the same kind of thing at higher levels. Each rank within a clan school would be a stunt.

Clan & Families

These can easily be simulated by initial skills or even better by particular aspects.


Some of these can be handled as aspects. Some can be done as stunts. Disadvantages are more tricky- mechanical effect disads can be pretty serious. It’s also hard to qualify any aspects as entirely negative, but perhaps I could put together a list of options- players could take an additional flaw aspect (or two) to offset their refresh pool and get more stunts.


I have to think about this. I like the L5R mechanic of focusing vs. strikes. I also think any duel ought to have at least three stages: sizing up (perception), psyching out (mental), and the actual contest. Perhaps there could be a running total among the stages, acting as a modifier to the final result? Should Fate points be used in the final strike- part of me thinks that it shouldn’t.


This might actually be easier to handle than in HQ2, which handles these powers abstractly. Shugenja of a particular clan would have an elemental affinity- likely a straight bonus with those kinds of spells, and an elemental weakness- penalty with that element. Most of the shugenja skills have associated strengths (Crafting magic for the Asahina, Ward Lore for Yogo) which would be represented by an aspect. Spells would be minor stunts (like the skill emphasis I mentioned above). Every two take would reduce the character’s refresh pool by one. Spells would be written pretty broadly, ala Dresden or Exalted. L5R itself comes close to that but ended up with more spells than they needed. Shugenja would be able to modify the effects of a spell with spin, margins or increased difficulty. I like returning the focus to the magic users having just a few spells that they have to manipulate for effects. Dresden Files has some ideas, but I'm not completely comfortable with their model.

Honor and Glory

I’d have to ditch some factors of the L5R experience, probably beginning with Insight rank. Honor would be measured as a kind of social stress- which could be raised or depleted based on actions, events or conflicts. Part of a players honor could be measured in abstractions like positions, offices, supporters, and the like. A player could take damage on those tracks- serving as a kind of plot stress. When too much damage is taken, it calls that thing into crisis, at which point the player has to deal with it or let it fall away. That’s borrowing from the plot stress concept of Legends of Anglerre.

Glory, on the other hand, would actually be a skill. It could be subsided in for other interaction and manipulation skills in conflicts or otherwise. Each + of the Glory skill would have stress associated with it. If a player gains glory, they add boxes to their Glory stress until it reaches a certain level. At that point the skill goes up by one and they reset the boxes. Likewise taking glory damage, for failures and the like, knocks out glory stress boxes and potentially reduces the Glory skill bonus.


  1. I share your fascination with Crimson Skies. Another Filipino blogger (pointyman2000) and I were already fascinated by the pulp era, but especially liked the air battle focus of this setting.

    I remember hunting down possible dogfighting rules for an RPG game...

  2. I would love to play a Crimson Skies rpg. I'd want the dogfighting to be kinda simple, but would need some tricks you could use to make it more personalized and exciting. If anyone puts something together I'd be very interested in seeing it!

  3. When I sit down and put some more details together I'll post them. I suspect it will remain pretty abstract, but I hope with enough color to make it fun at the table.

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