Wednesday, August 16, 2017

RPGaDay 2017 Pt. 2: Reviews to Slaadi to Mutants

I continue to cannibalize content by pulling together my "RPGaDay" answers. You can see Part One here

Day 9: Alt Question: What do you look for in a review of an RPG?
1) A clear statement of whether the reviewer has played the game, run the module, or used the sourcebook. If they haven’t they should say. If it’s a core book review, how much did they run it? I can handle “reading reviews” but I assess those opinions differently. I just want to know.

2) A summary of the product offering more than I could get reading the product description and back cover blurb. It should tell me some of the elements and cool stuff I wouldn’t have gotten from that. I'd like a sense of the resolution mechanics, the world/rules/GMing info ratio, and what extra tools it has.

3) At the same time, the review shouldn't be just section-by-section summary and restatement. I’ve read too many reviews that feel like someone flipped through the book as they wrote the review. Here’s chapter one, here’s what’s in chapter two, etc. These often end with a micro-paragraph saying, “hey it’s weak” or “yeah that was ok.”

4) It should point out the cool stuff in the game and talk about what you might do with it. That’s assuming it has cool stuff.

5) If not, the review should talk about those failings. I want to know where the game breaks down for them. Perhaps they could compare it to other games so we have a better sense of the context (and perhaps the reviewer’s preferences).

6) The review shouldn’t stick with a tone of high snark, condescension, gatekeeping, or goofy comedy. I shouldn’t sense contempt from the reviewer, even if the product's bad. Maybe more disappointment at the potential. Overall I shouldn't feel like the review has an axe to grind or wants to punch down.

7) Finally it should have some discussion of usability. Does the electronic product have layers you can control? Do the page backgrounds and layout make things easier or more difficult? Has play at the table been sacrificed for cool graphics? Has someone thought about the ordering of material in play? If the product has playbooks, have the moves from each of those playbooks actually been presented in the core book? (After several recent frustrating sessions, I really want to know this.)

Day 10: Where do you go for RPG Reviews?
I wrote about what I look for in good reviews yesterday, so where do I find those? I’ve had to hunt for a ton of game reviews over the last couple of years. If possible, I find reviews for rpgs I add to my RPG Genre History lists. I’ve also done some copy for the Bundle of Holding, which requires gathering blurbs. The further you go back, obviously, the harder it can be to find these. Sometimes I’ll locate transcriptions of reviews from magazines, like Pyramid, Scrye, or even Different Worlds. But more often than not games, even recent games, don’t have reviews.

It’s one of the curses of our hobby that so many products go without his kind of information. I’ve seen what look like cool, new core systems come out from smaller publishers and even several years later have no reviews. Or they only have fragmented Amazon or DTRPG reviews. These either provide no real info (“It’s a cool setting”) or look like friends of the designer (“X has produced a masterclass in rpg design which will set the bar for future fantasy games.”). I tend to be pretty cynical about reviews in either of these places and usually discount them.

RPGNet’s a mixed bag. A good chunk of the reviews are solid. But many are badly written, adopt a weird voice, or don’t tell me much. There’s also a lot not covered there. RPGGeek has better coverage, but also can be a mixed bag. The Geekgold incentive for posting things means that many reviews are short summaries followed by a sentence or two of assessment. I used to find excellent pieces on DieHardGameFan, but the search function there’s abysmal. Even Google often doesn’t show me results from that source.

So where have I actually found reviews? It’s self-serving, but I’ve heard and gotten more assessments of games from The Gauntlet Podcast network than anywhere else. The monthly round-up of gaming usually has one or two new games—with an assessment of how they played. The new Fear of a Black Dragon podcast is looking at OSR products in depth. And +1 Forward, while not giving reviews, does give the designers a chance to explain themselves so I can make a judgement. I follow a lot of blogs and I always check out reviews where they’re posted. Life and Times of a Philippine Gamer has done at great series of “Let's Study” of new games. They’re reading reviews, but solid and thorough. Finally though I have to use Google translate to read them, I dig the reviews at the French site, GROG. Often you get multiple reviews and an ongoing discussion of the product line.

Day 11: Which dead game would you like to see reborn?
I’ve seen some good answers already this morning—Ghostbusters, Underground, BESM. We’ve recently two trends that have changed the idea of “dead” games. It used to be once a game line OOP, that was it and you had to scramble to find books. But many of those remain “in print” via DriveThru and more have seen a revival via Kickstarters (Feng Shui 2, TORG).

What I’d really like to see is a return of Planescape. Not a reboot, not a homage, but an actual republishing of this setting with updated stats, cleaned up typos, maybe some other editorial polish, and better printing techniques. Update the material for D&D 5th edition and release it that way. You don’t have to release everything, just the best parts and pieces. Skip particularly lame modules and hold off on the boxed “Planes Of…” sets right away. Maybe consolidate some of the smaller supplements into a single collection (a “Best of Monstrous Compendium” for example).

Of course keep in mind for me Planescape is less about the Planes and more about Sigil.

I lost all of my Planescape stuff in the fire and WotC has been slow to roll out into their PoD line. Those they have I already managed to pick up. So my request is generally selfish. But at the same time I think there’s some value to taking older products and representing them with new edition mechanics. Not doing the kinds of weird tear downs and complete rewritings we’ve seen—so that they don’t resemble the original.

Geez, now that I look at this I feel like I’m yelling at kids to get off my lawn.

Day 12: Which RPG has the most inspiring interior art?
I have to echo yesterday’s answer—Planescape. Those first several releases (the core set, the Planescape Monstrous Compendium, Faces of Sigil, The Factol’s Manifesto) develop a distinct and consistent look. It’s, of course, all built on Tony DiTerlizzi. His unique character designs, imaginative shading, and striking locations make Planescape.

I know Bradstreet’s the iconic figure we think of with Vampire the Masquerade. Like him a few other artists have managed to be associated strongly with a line. Like Dan Smith with GURPS 3e or James Holloway with Paranoia. But I think those lines still work with other artists. I don’t think that’s the case with Planescape. There’s something about DiTerlizzi’s work that defines the setting. Some of the later books, even the great ones like Planewalkers Guide and In the Cage, don’t work nearly as well simply because of the art. You can see some of the artists trying to echo DiTerlizzi’s style and not quite making it.

More than any other game line before or since, I went back to the Planescape books just to look at the art. Eventually I read the words, but by that time I’d created a whole world in my imagination.

Day 13: Describe a game experience that changed how you play.
When I went to Origins a few years ago, I met up with the RPGGeek contingent. A Euro-group had come over and that was the excuse for everyone to hang out. I’d interacted and played with Richard Rogers several times before that, but this was the first time we’d met in person. We ended up hitting it off and hung out most of the con.

I’d interacted with a number of people at cons and online who had grand theoretical or philosophical positions on games or “the industry,” most of them incredibly negative. More often than not, when pressed on what they were actually playing, it would turn out to be only the game they’d written; one or two games at cons; or often nothing at all. Not so with Rich—we talked about games he liked, but more often we talked about what games were like at the table.

How something felt when it ran, what tools a game gave you as a GM, what things worked better with certain games. It was the first time I’d gotten to talk ace-to-face about GMing with a peer, someone I respected. He said a bunch of stuff that weekend that has stuck with me (like about avoiding empty qualifiers when you’re running…) and he talked really honestly about how he felt about games. I agreed and disagreed with him and it was great.

Anyway, Rich played in one of my sessions, a game about fantasy city guards using my Action Cards rules. Afterwards he said, “Man I really loved the voice you did for that Slaadi Monster Merchant. That was awesome.” I’ve always done voices, but I’ve always been self-conscious about them. I used to avoid them at cons and running online. Sherri always said they were good, but she has to because she’s married to me. But Rich’s open, honest compliment stuck with me. And I do a lot more voices now when I run. Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t but I’m willing to give it a try just because of that small bit of praise and feedback.

If your GM does something well, tell them.

Day 14: Which RPG do you prefer for open-ended campaign play?
Since 2001 I’ve run most of my f2f campaigns using our Action Cards homebrew. That started as an experiment trying to rethink Castle Falkenstein’s single deck into individual decks. Then I realized you could make those unique and off we went. I first used it with a couple of modern fantasy/supernatural campaigns. Eventually I moved that on to be the basis for many multi-year games (Libri Vidicos 6 years; Last Fleet 3 years; Legend of the Five Rings two years; etc). Right now I only have one f2f campaign using it, but it’s massively open-ended. Ocean City Interface has the players cycling through different worlds and adjusting their decks to them.

It works for me. It replaced other generic systems and games I’d used for years: GURPS, Storyteller, HERO, Rolemaster. It works for many reasons, but primarily because I wrote it to support the way I like to run. I like having the players make tough push-your-luck choices on the fly, I like being able to dole out spendable XP every session, I like laundry lists of interesting stunts which don’t require me or the players learn new sub-systems or rules, I like games that create a physical artifact. It’s fast and I know it super well. Some of the other players in the group have run it and enjoyed it, but I think they want more of a net to fall back on. I can dig that.

I’ve tuned it and the group over the years. Everyone knows the rules pretty well and they’re willing to engage with add-ons and changes. We’ve tried several different variations on magic, I rebalance the XP spend system from time to time, I modify how we handle damage. I don’t change in mid-stream, but we’ve play it enough I can iterate between campaigns. I think I’ve had a campaign running of it since 2001, with maybe a one year gap in there. More often than not I’ve had multiple games running in parallel.

Open-ended campaign play has two meanings to me: improvisational plot & unknown length. The first I do regardless of the campaign. Action Cards gives me the mental and mechanical support I need for that. It also helps with the second meaning. When we’re talking open-ended, we’re probably talking longer games. If you’re going to run long—you want a system that you love. I’ve had a cases where I didn’t love them and it showed (M&M 3e, Scion). The solution I think, is not to hunt for the out-of-the-box game that will fill all your needs. Instead figure out the kind of game you want to run and either build whole cloth or 'Frankenstein' it. And be willing to keep tinkering with it, knowing you’ll never be done.

Day 15: Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?
I have to refer everyone to yesterday’s entry. In the fifteen or so years we’ve been playing Action Cards we’ve used it for:
  • Assassins of the Golden Age: Assassins Creed/Mage Sorcerers Crusade Mash Up
  • Changeling the Lost
  • City of Ocean: Unknown Armies Weird
  • Fallout
  • Glorantha
  • Guards of Abashan_: Fantasy City Guards
  • HALO
  • Legend of the Five Rings
  • Last Fleet: Battlestar Galactica inspired fantasy
  • Libri Vidicos: Steampunk Fantasy School
  • Magic, INC: Supernatural Office Politics
  • Microscope-built Fantasy (a few times)
  • Middle Earth
  • Modern Fantasy
  • Neo-Shinobi Vendetta: CyberNinjas
  • OCI: Near Future Sci-Fi
  • Sellsword Company: Fantasy Mercenaries
  • Sky Racers Unlimited: A Crimson Skies homage
  • Star Wars
  • Three Musketeers Fantasy

…and I’m probably forgetting a few.

Day 16: Which RPG do you enjoy as is?
OK finally a super hard question on this list. I’ve almost always adapted or house ruled games I’ve run over the years—Rolemaster's initiative, GURPS' mana, speed limits for Scion. But in the last couple of years I’ve run lots of short 2 and 4 session online games with new systems. I try to run those as is—with a couple of exceptions (Kuro, for example). Usually because I’m not running these games long, I don't bridle at rules elements that fit awkwardly with my style.

But I’ve also run a handful of longer campaigns f2f with new systems. Most of these have had unusual moving parts and gears. They promise a great deal, so I’ve been willing to adjust my style to fit them. I hope the payoff will be worth it: Godbound, Blades in the Dark, The Sprawl, The Veil. I've found changes I'll need to make in some of these. The players have suggest adjustments in others.

But of those, one game has provided a satisfying experience out of the box. We haven't felt the drive to make changes. That's Mutant: Year Zero. I think It’s great—and I’ve already written a long post about why I think that is. But the quick rundown: easy character mechanics, a significant push-your-luck die system, resources & equipment handled well, great tools for the GM, and colorful setting. We did sixteen sessions f2f and I did another online-- without any need to make house rules or smooth off rough corners.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Reign of Crows: A Fate Kingdom Hack (Part Two: Archetypes)

Last Thursday I posted material for Reign of Crows, my A Game of Thrones-inspired Fate hack. It’s one of three Fate games I’m running for the Gauntlet Hangouts. It’s the most experimental-- bringing together tools from other systems. We played our second session on Sunday, video here. This actually dug into scenes instead of world building. I’m puzzling out the game's rhythm amid the great play moments. We’ll discuss that at the start of next session, hunting ideas to tighten the play experience.

As I mentioned in the first post, the players all come from the same family. I had each of them pick an “archetype.” That comes with a unique resource, four boxes of that resource, and a set of unique stunts. These draw from _Core_, DFAE, and elsewhere. I went with 11 stunts for each archetype to ease my work. We’re only playing four sessions and they can start with up to seven stunts (if they give up Refresh).

LOYAL TROOPS: This is your special resource. You start with four boxes. You restore one box between sessions. You may mark a box to add a bonus equal to your highest unmarked box to any larger-scale conflict you send your troops into.
DEATH TOUCHED: Once per session, you may designate as likely to die any character embroiled in violent conflict. During that conflict, any attacks against that character have +2 Weapon.
DUELIST: You are a warrior supreme. You can go toe-to-toe with forces of foes-- gangs and bands of enemies of one Tier higher. You operate +1 Tier personally against single enemies, allowing you to crush the unworthy.
FAMILY BLADE: Once per session when a member of your family would be involved in a physical conflict, you can arrive on scene to step in for them. This is a dramatic effect, ignoring logic.
HONORBOUND: Once per session, when you, your family, or an ally has been insulted you may challenge someone involved in the dishonor. If they are of your Tier or less, you kill them outright. Otherwise they must choose to accept or not. If they decline, you still attack and do damage to their faction. If they accept, make an attack against them. On a success, you wound or humiliate them. On a success with style you kill them.
MASTER TRAINING: Pick one of your approaches. When you attack using that approach roll +1.
RECRUITER: When you perform a Recruit action, your recruits are always one Tier higher. They come with an aspect with a free invoke as well.
SIEGE MASTER: When you campaign against a specific city, castle, or fortress, you gain +2 to your Overcome and Attack rolls.
TACTICAL TRAINING: You are a master strategist. When you use Wits to create an advantage related to formulating a battle plan, gain an extra invoke on the aspect.
UNRELENTING FURY: +2 to use Force to Overcome or Attack
WARDEN: You have the mandate and authority to track down and mete out lethal justice to those labeled an outlaw. Gain +1 to attacks of any kind against anyone so designated.
WOUNDED: Mark this condition to absorb four shifts from any attack. While this condition is marked, you have an additional aspect representing your injury. If you’re taken out while Wounded, death is on the list of potential outcomes, as with the Doomed condition. Begin recovery from this condition after you’ve received medical attention in a quiet environment (in other words, not in the field) and someone has succeeded at a recovery action against Great (+4) opposition on your behalf. You recover fully at the end of the next session.

WEALTH: This is your special resource. You start with four boxes. You restore one box between sessions. In any situation where money can be a factor, you may mark a box to give yourself a bonus to a roll = to your unmarked boxes.
ADVENTURER: When you quest as a seasonal action, any treasure you uncover gains an extra free invoke and grants the bearer a +2 to a particular action against a chosen faction.
BRIBES: Choose a faction. You gain +2 to any actions against them.
COLLECTOR: Mark one or more boxes of Wealthy to declare ownership of something when its need arises. One box suffices for most goods. Two boxes permits ownership of a rare item, land, or a building.
CRAFTERS: You have access to skills craftpersons from across the Kingdom. When you Build something as a seasonal action, it happens absurdly fast.
ENTOURAGE: You have a personal staff member as a minor NPC with one aspect and +2 in one area of competence. At any time, you may mark a box of Wealth to declare their convenient arrival in a scene. They are completely loyal.
FAST AS GOLD: +2 to Defend and Discover with Speed
GOLDEN KEY: Mark a box of Wealth to declare that you have in some way eluded blame or the law: avoiding arrest, bailing yourself out of prison, et cetera. Mark two boxes if avoiding a Doomed-level consequence.
HOLDING: You have sway or a city, castle, or fortress. Name it and mark it on the map. Say what advantages it offers.
LENDER: When you create a "debt" advantage on someone, you always gain an additional free invoke.
PREPARATION: You have a +2 to "flashback" actions where you show how you set things up beforehand.
RIDE BY NIGHT: Your wealth enables rapid travel. Once per session, you may conveniently arrive in a scene in a manner and time of your choosing without consideration of time or distance.

POWER: This is your special resource. You start with four boxes. You restore one box between sessions. For each box you mark, you can increase the Tier of an effect by one. In a personal conflict, you can mark a box to do additional shifts of stress equal to your highest unmarked box.
AEGIS: You can protect a willing target from harm by hiding them away from the world. They cannot be tracked and tracked by offensive magic. In addition the enchantment makes it difficult for social manipulations to stick on them while they're in that state. They are apart from the world and cannot act. You may have a number of subjects in this state equal to your current Power.
ARCHMAGE: You have two additional boxes of Power.
BANE: By marking a box of power, you may add a Trouble Aspect to a Faction for a season. You may only target a faction with this once.
ILLUSIONIST: You may cast veils and seemings. With a moment of concentration, you may draw a veil over a person, group, or location hiding it from sight and other means of detection. Or you may cause a person or object to appear differently than it normally does. An observer may attempt to discern the illusion, but to do so, they must have some legitimate suspicion that they might be seeing a glamour. Use Caution to resist any disbelief attempt.
LOREMASTER: As a scholar of arcane lore and magical theory, once per session you may declare a new global fact about the world, magic, or The Threat.
ORACLE: Once per season you may roll to see three of the events for the next season. If you choose this at game start, we'll roll then. You may choose to reroll one of the events-- the description and/or the target.
PRACTITIONER: Describe your area of magical talent (Constructs, Fires, Portals). When you act using that kind of magic, you gain a bonus effect. Additionally, you may take the condition "Burned Out" to do a massive scale effect with your magic. While you're Burned Out you may not use other magics, including your Power talent. Burned Out clears at the end of the following session.
SECOND SIGHT: Understanding magic is what you do. Gain +2 when you use Create Advantage or Discover from studying a magical effect, spell, or creature of the supernatural.
SORCERER: +2 to Create Advantage and Attack with Wits
WARDINGS: Once per session, you may declare that you happen to have a countermeasure on hand that nullifies the effect of scale from a supernatural condition or stunt for the current scene. At the GM’s discretion, this stunt can also nullify other effects of supernatural powers.
WARMAGE: You specialize in fighting other wizards. Once per sene, when opposing another wizard, you may immediately inflict a 2-shift hit on any defense when your action succeeds with style.

CENSURE: This is your special resource. You start with four boxes. You restore one box between sessions. By marking a box, you can hit a person or group with public hatred, accusations or heresy or whatever. If you target an individual they will have to undergo great hardships to restore themselves. If you target a group, they operate at -2 Strength for the Season until they do something about it. You can hit the same target multiple times.
BENEVOLENT: You have +2 to all seasonal actions dealing with relief from a negative seasonal event.
CRUSADE: Once per season, may make an Overcome action at +2 to send another faction against The Threat. This will eat of the action's attention, do damage to The Threat, and do damage to the faction.
FAITHFUL: Once per session, spend a Fate point to declare that a campaign NPC is a patron or ritually indebted to your faith. This NPC will grant one favor of significance, such as allowing access to something otherwise inaccessible or accomplishing an objective sans opposition. The GM is the final arbiter of whatever aid you receive.
FOLLOWERS: +2 to Use Charisma to Create Advantage or Defend
HEALER: Provided you are able to reach them, you may attempt to revive anyone taken out in a conflict due to physical injury. (If they conceded, you cannot use this stunt on them.) This stunt is a Challenge with the GM, who rolls (+2).
HIGH PRIEST: You have authority over a vast temple, beloved shrine, or major pilgrimage site. Name it and mark it on the map. Say what advantages it offers.
HOLY AURA: You have a +1 against any demons or forces of darkness. In a conflict with them you act as Weapon 2.
MARTYR: Once per session you may elect to suffer the outcome of any attack inflicted on any character in your immediate presence, preventing it from befalling them. This harm is taken at the same value as the original recipient and you may not roll a separate defense.
PUBLIC STATEMENT: Once per session, you may state that your community has publicly denounced or supported a certain character, gaining you an aspect with two free invokes related to the statement’s impact on the person’s reputation.
RIGHTEOUS BLADES: You have a force of loyal troops at your command-- paladins, fanatics, etc. You can invoke them for free once per session in a conflict situation. You can burn them out (requiring a seasonal action to recruit) for double effect if they have not already been invoked.
SANCTUARY: Once per session, you may declare that your followers have spirited you away to a secret location, away from any prying eyes. This allows you to immediately escape any pursuit or scrutiny without having to participate in a contest, and you get at least one scene before anyone can try to search for you. Some supernatural methods of detection may be immune to this at the GM’s discretion.

SPIES: This is your special resource. You start with four boxes. You restore one box between sessions. By marking a box, you may ask a question about a faction. You may then ask a follow up, or Create Advantage based on that information with a +2. You can hit the same target multiple times.
ASSASSIN: +2 to Attack and Overcome with Subtlety
FRAME UP: Once per season, mark Spies to initiate flurry of scandal around a target of your choice. For the rest of the season, when asked, the GM must provide the location of the target unless they disappear into a supernaturally protected space. You also create an aspect for the frenzy, which you can invoke once for free in any scene in which you interact with people directly related to the frenzy.
INFORMANTS: When you gather information as a seasonal action, you always get an additional question on your Discover Action. If there's a cost involved, you always pay one less.
INSIDER: Mark a box of Spies or gain a Debt to gain access to a place or person otherwise inaccessible or to obtain secret/guarded information without having to roll. If you choose to roll and you fail, you may mark two boxes to ignore that result and succeed regardless. At the GM’s discretion, any information you acquire is an advantage with two free invokes.
LEGENDARY: You know and are known within criminal circles. Once per session, upon meeting an NPC involved in that world, you may mark a box of Spies to declare that you have met them before and create an aspect with one free invoke to represent your prior relationship.
MASTER OF DISGUISE. When you’re in a situation where you’re able to slip away unnoticed, you have the option to temporarily drop out of the game altogether. If you do, spend a fate point or mark a box of Spies to reappear disguised as a faceless NPC already in the scene
NETWORK: Add +2 boxes to your Spies Resource.
OF SHADOWS: You can see perfectly in the dark and are immune to any potential effect of normal or magical darkness. Additionally, once per session, you may declare that you automatically succeed at hiding from any non-magical attempt to spot you, provided you have a nearby shadow to hide in.
ON TIME: Once per session, you may announce your presence in the perfect place to "help" someone, ignoring usual limits of time, distance, or plausibility.
REPUTATION: People know your face and/or name and may even fear you, which can be used advantageously. Mark a box of Stress to take +2 to intimidate or coerce a non-criminal NPC into cooperating. The NPC will not, remain quiet about the coercion, unless additional steps are taken.
STREETWISE: You are in constant communication with informants. When you use Wits to create an advantage based on their reports, the aspect gains an extra invoke.

CONNECTIONS: This is your special resource. You start with four boxes. You restore one box between sessions. By marking a Box you can increase your family's Relation with a faction. If this moves your relation to +1 or to +4, you may create an Advantage with a free invoke.
CIRCLE OF FRIENDS: You have a collection of low-level talents and friends. Once per session, you may contact them to request assistance. The GM determines what aid they can provide- while they're individually minor, together they act at a larger scale of effect.
ENTRAPMENT: You have learned that that the best way to lure your foe is to pretend at vulnerability. You gain +2 to Create Advantage to lure your marked quarry into a false sense of security. If targeting a named individual, they will have an extremely difficult time resisting your gambit. Consider this a compel, usable against the GMC.
MASTERMIND: Your seasonal actions always have the Hidden bonus if you wish.
NEGOTIATOR: When you negotiate a surrender, of someone your family campaigned against or otherwise, you always extract an additional concession. In addition, if successful, you completely refresh your Connections.
NEMESIS: You share a mutual loathing with one faction. When you act against them, you ignore any Relation value and act as if they had a 0. If this faction's Relation ever becomes positive, you may choose to transfer your enmity elsewhere or continue your crusade.
PROFILER: You know how to study and learn about people. Once per session, you may ask the GM to tell you an aspect of any character you interact with in a scene without having to roll an action. If you choose to roll, you gain a +1.
RUMORMONGER: You are adept at planting rumors as well as ferreting them out. Once per session, you may plant an aspect with two free invokes on anyone you wish, representing something you want others to believe about them. The aspect lasts the rest of the session.
SCHOLARSHIP: You may mark Connections to leverage the information you have gathered on the workings of the world. Gain a +2 to Discover or Create Advantage for each box marked.
SHARP TONGUE: In social conflicts, you always do +2 shifts of damage on a successful attack.
TRAVELLER: Once per session you may add a permanent Aspect to a location (city, home, region) with a free invoke.

UTTER CALM: +2 to Use Caution to Overcome or Defend.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

Reign of Crows: A Fate Kingdom Hack (Part One: Set-Up)

Sunday we started the first of four sessions of Reign of Crows. That’s intended to be a “Game of Thrones” style Fate mini-campaign. Everyone plays members of a single noble family within a kingdom. Together they face threats and shifts in power. At the start of the game, the Queen has died, leaving behind a young heir and a regent. The players plot how to advance their agenda, enhance the family, and rise to the center of power.

I like many game systems, but in recent years Fate and PbtA have become my go to for hacking new settings (Hellboy/Atomic Robo, ChangelingPbtA). I’ve also been looking at retooling whatever you call the MYZ/TftL/Coriolis system. Fate and PbtA have different strengths in terms of what they do at the table. That’s a discussion I have had before (and will have again). But of the two, I find Fate easier and faster to hack. It doesn’t require as much time and I’ve learned the pieces to retool. PbtA’s a game with a more connected gears and moving parts. Fast hacks there often lose the essence and strengths of PbtA. 

So for my Fate month on the Gauntlet Hangouts I wanted to a least one game involving a deeper, or at least more extensive, hack. Hence this Reign of Crows game. We plan Gauntlet Hangouts sessions two months out. That means I can commit to doing or coming up with something and give myself a hard deadline rather than twiddling around. So thats how we got here.

While we’ve only played the first session, I want to post some of the material. I plan on coming back to look at all of this once we’ve done all four. If you like AP world-building, you can see the session video here. You can also see the spreadsheet we’re using for game notes here. I’ve split this post into two parts. Today I present the set-up information; next post I’ll present character archetypes and stunts. I borrow from Fate Core, Wrath of the Autarch, Dresden Files Accelerated, various Worlds of Adventure, Blood & Honor, and other sources. The material below what I presented to the players.

On Sunday, we’ll be doing both character creation and some world building. For characters I will have archetypes for everyone to choose from. These represent your character’s focus and source of power.
  • Force & Military
  • Commerce & Wealth
  • Magic & Secret Knowledge
  • Faith & Populism
  • Underworld & Subterfuge
  • Diplomacy & Scholarship.

We will be using a modified version of Fate Accelerated. Characters will have Approaches, Aspects, and Stunts. To make things easy, I’ll have a set of stunts for each archetype. My plan to use FAE lightly, as a framework to resolve plots and moves. In a sense, the resolution may be closer to PbtA with you figuring out costs and complications to enact plans. Generally I keep my Fate light, so I wouldn’t worry about the rules too much. Basically I want to see what you’ll do with the tools provided.

If there’s any major mechanical difference, it will be that groups have Scale, called Tier here. Larger, more potent, and better organized groups are harder to affect. That’s pretty simple.
Play will (generally) follow this structure for a Season/Session—
  1. Establish or Advance Threat(s).
  2. Random Events in the Kingdom.
  3. Individual Seasonal Actions for PCs.
  4. The Plot—everyone works together to carry out a plot for the family, determined by the group. Usually this will be a military action, extended scheme, political campaign, maneuvers at a gathering, taking advantage of a moot, or something like that.
  5. More individual scenes or Seasonal Actions if needed.

For Session One, we’ll also determine a few facts about your family as well as the Kingdom as a whole. To make sure we can get things done, I've set up some of the structures. I’ve broken things down into 20 major factions. You can see those on the spreadsheet below. Each of your will get a Row. You’ll assign two standard and one trouble aspect to each faction in that row. Each row also has a couple of factions with “???” in their description, meaning you’ll get to say what they’re like.

To make things easy, you’ll find a tab with example standard and trouble aspects. When we do this, you should feel free to use those. I’ve also added a tab with some random fantasy names as well as the random event list in case you want to look at that.

What can you do as a seasonal action?
  • Aggrandize yourself or someone else
  • Broker a deal or marriage
  • Build or enhance something like a town, castle, magical working
  • Campaign for an office
  • Contact strange new powers
  • Deal with enemies
  • Explore new or lost territories
  • Face The Threat
  • Find treasure
  • Gather intelligence or uncover secrets
  • Incite hostilities
  • Lay claim to something
  • Make an alliance
  • Prosecute a war
  • Quest for something ancient and awesome
  • Recruit people, troops, agents
  • Restore and recover lost strengths and resources
  • Suppress rebellion
  • Undermine confidence in another faction

…and anything else which sounds cool…

If you’re doing a personal test—your character on a small scale, you’re just rolling your Approach (the first column). If you’re acting on or via a group or faction, you roll Approach + Influences.

You roll against a known difficulty (set or rolled). Know that targets of a higher tier are harder to affect; stronger targets have higher resistance; and the less a faction likes you, the harder it is to affect them negatively.

Anything that affects another faction has a cost. The GM will tell you that cost—one for something basic; two for something complex or longer lasting; three for something permanent. You can see the list of example costs below. If you succeed, you’ll pick your other cost. If you tie or fail, the GM picks your costs

BUT you never have to fail when you roll. The trick is how much you want to pay to succeed. Aspects most basic currency for this. Each aspect you invoke, by paying a fate point or using up a free one, gives you +2 to your result. But you can also pay with other resources:
  • Altered Effect or Drawback
  • Burning Debts
  • Gain a Family Need
  • Gaining a Negative Aspect
  • Gaining Debts
  • Gaining Ill-Will from a Faction
  • Having it Take Extra Time
  • Lose a Family Surplus
  • Losing a Stunt
  • Marking a Personal Condition
  • Marking Personal Stress
  • Public Censure
  • Special Components or Circumstances
  • Spending Special Resources
  • Take Family Stress

Look at all those options! If you beat your difficulty—through good rolls, spending costs, or whatever—you succeed. You do what you want. If you do well, you can spend your extra shifts on things like…

  • Additional Aspects
  • Fictional Change
  • Greater Reach
  • Hidden
  • Higher Tier
  • Longer Lasting
  • More effective
  • More invokes
  • Secondary Effect

…and anything else you can sell me on

  1. We first build our factions. Each of you will define one row. We’ll work column by column—but jump ahead if you want to. For your factions, you’ll define a Key and Trouble Aspect. If there’s a ??? on a faction, you’ll get to tell us who they are (name or summary).
  2. Next, you set the “Relation” of the factions in your row--- that’s how much they like your family. The Royals are already set, so among the other four assign a -4, -2, 0, and +2.
  3. Then we define your family, giving it a name. We’ll figure out how your Head of House leads, your Motto/Key Aspect, and your Trouble. We’ll also choose Surpluses and Wants.
  4. Finally we'll create characters. You may have already discussed this, but now you make picks.
  5. You have six Approaches. You always use these to roll. Assign +3, +2, +2, +1, +1, and 0 to these.
  6. You have six Influences. You add these to your approaches when you’re using or acting against those groups (if split, you choose). Assign +2, +1, 0, 0, -1, -2 to these.
  7. Define your Key Aspect-- the quick phrase that describes your character.
  8. Define your Trouble Aspect. This should be something you want to play out.
  9. You have room for three other aspects. You can define these on the fly. When you do define them, the GM will give you a Fate Point.
  10. Choose your Archetype, your role in the family. Each gets a special ability & resource. They also have a list of Stunts. You may choose from another archetype’s lists, but only if a someone hasn’t already taken it.
  11. You start with four Stunts. We assume in the fiction that you have the your archetype's abilities and resources—if military, you have troops; if magic, you can cast spells; if subterfuge, you have spies. That’s just baked into the fiction. Stunts enhance that.
  12. Set your Refresh to four. That means at the start of each session your Fate Points go back up to 4. If you want more stunts, you can trade in Refresh for them on a 1 to 1 basis (to a minimum of 1 Refresh).

Next post, archetypes and stunts. 

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

RPGaDay 2017 Pt. 1: Wulin to House Fires to Stuffed Animals

Question for a Fictional FAQ: Lowell, is there a way to "cheat" at blogging? 

Dear Imaginary Questioner, 

Thanks for asking that so I can make a weak joke. Yes, there is. On the one hand you could revisit earlier posts with new commentary about how your tastes have or have not changed. On the other, you could bundle together all of your #RPGaDay 2017 responses from G+ for a 'round-up' post.

As my writing students would say, "Waa-Laa"

Day 1. Which published RPG do you wish you were playing right now?
If we’re talking about a game I’d like to play—not run, then I’m going to have to go with Weapons of the Gods. That’s an older Eos Press Wuxia game, using a strange Hong Kong comic books as its licensed source. Eos re-released it as Legends of Wulin, with the licensed setting stripped out. It features several designers, including Jenna Moran. It’s also opaque as f*ck.

It’s impenetrability is different than Nobilis or Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Machine. It simply has so many moving parts. Some of that’s really excellent. The Loresheet system is worth borrowing for any rpg setting. The core book provides brief write ups on hundreds of elements of the setting (individual religious philosophies, different clans, ghost stories, marriage, legends, etc). But these aren’t just static info dumps. You can buy your character into these things—tying them to those stories or themes. It monetizes the setting in a way few other games do. 13th Age’s Icon mechanics feel the closest to me.

The martial arts combat system’s involved. I mean seriously involved. To help players out they released an example of play featuring a duel between two characters. It was at least ten pages long. It sounded awesome, but beyond my skillset.

So I pick this one because I’d be playing—which assumes that someone who actually understands the game would be running. So maybe I could finally grok the rules.

I love wuxia stuff—I have many, many wuxia rpgs (like Dragon Lines, Qin, Kaigaku, Hong Kong Action Theater, Feng Shui, Swords of the Middle Kingdom, Tianxia, and even my own hack White Mountain, Black River). But I haven’t yet hit one that really clicks for me. I’ve worked on PbtA and Lady Blackbird hacks to simulate that feel but haven’t completed those. Tianxia’s my next closest runner-up, but there’s something about the sheer madness of Weapons of the Gods that grabs me.

Day 2: What is an RPG you would like to see published?
The easiest answer would be that I want to finally get my own game Action Cards, out there in some form. That has challenges—being card-based with unique decks used in odd ways means scripting that in Roll20’s a pain. So it isn’t as useful online, despite being a joy f2f. So let's leave that aside.

What I’d really like to see published are real rules-light alternatives for some of my favorite settings. I talked about this a little this week on the Gauntlet Podcast. I’ve run four sessions of my PbtA hack of Changeling the Lost. That’s the fourth system I’ve used to run CtL. I tried World/Chronicles of Darkness but couldn’t stand the density, how much the mechanics shaped play, and the granularity of rules. I wanted something lighter, but still tuned to the elements of the setting.

Storyteller Adventure System’s probably the closest to the kind of approach I want. Onyx Path uses a stripped down version of the house system, primarily for quickstarts and adventures. It isn’t bad. But it’s more generic than I’m looking for. I want a lighter system that takes into account the play and options of the original. We’ve also seen Savage Worlds and GURPS adaptations. But the former isn’t my bag and the latter’s too crunchy for me these days. (I know I’m being stupidly picky, but it’s my fantasy pick…).

That’s what I hoped Shadowrun: Anarchy would be. But it bolted a strangely lackadaisical resolution system to weirdly bland crunch. It had the additional problem of poor editing and presentation. I wanted to love SR:A, but it didn’t click.

So what I really want is this: parallel alt-system rpgs approved by the company itself, using Fate or Powered by the Apocalypse. Commission someone to do an adaptation or license it out to another group. These’ wouldn’t be fully parallel—we wouldn’t have new versions of every book. Instead it would focus on a core book with conversion notes. That sells another main book (with reused arts & assets) and gives new gamers a reason to pick up the existing books for background and ideas. Maybe you’d expand the line with a Player or GM supplement and a Foe book. But you wouldn’t go beyond that to cannibalize the original line.

If you’re delivering an interesting world, players of the original will buy it for the new mechanics and those of the new for the setting.

I want to professional quality, Fate or PbtA, licensed adaptations of the following settings: Changeling the Lost, Mage the Ascension, Iron Kingdoms, Fading Suns, Night’s Black Agents, Demon the Descent, Scion, Exalted, Shadowrun, and Legend of the Five Rings.

Is that possible? Oh god no. This will never happen. For one thing, I imagine the potential audience for this kind of thing would be small, even in an industry of tiny sales numbers. It would also require uncertain work—yes you could reuse art, but you’d still have to craft and playtest something from the ground up. You’d also have to pull the trigger on one lite system over the other, if we’re going with my choices.

But stripping down and simplifying these settings and mechanics presents the greatest barrier. As Alberto Muti smartly pointed out in his Day 1 answer, some of the awesome in these games comes from the sheer density of things. He mentioned Exalted in particular. A re-design using one of these systems makes major assumptions about where the “fun” is. One person’s thoughtful campaign of Mage as an examination of shared reality doesn’t necessarily operate in the same space as a fireball throwing battle against the Technocracy. Just picking Fate or PbtA dramatically shapes the game—are we competent or f*cked from the beginning?

So I suspect we’ll have to stick with fan-made conversions, like Tommy Rayburn and John Layton's World of Darkness conversion of various WoD elements to Urban Shadows. These are others offer awesome alternatives.

Day 3: How do you find out about new RPGs?
Since I rarely go into game shops these days, I have to rely on online sources. G+ does a pretty good job of providing me with heads up about new and interesting things—especially when folks spot sales or a new Kickstarter release. I appreciate G+ materials because folks will usually post either their impressions or an inquiry about it (which then generates comments with info). That’s how I found out about and picked up Mutant: Year Zero. Otherwise it wouldn’t have been on my radar. When Modiphius first released their new Star Trek pdf, they had a sale on it which someone shared. I bought it and I’m really glad I did.

The Gauntlet Community’s also been a solid source, particularly of new Kickstarters. Patrons get access to the Gauntlet Slack. There’s a KS channel and users will post interesting projects there. That’s usually accompanied by everyone drilling down to take a look at what the game offers, the art, and the sample pdf if any. That helps tell me if it’s something I want to follow up on. As well folks in the Gauntlet play a lot of games, so they’ll often post about their experiences. Again that usually tells me if it’s something I want to follow up on.

Publisher notices sometimes help—that’s what got me to pre-order most of the recent 13th Age products and put Cthulhu City on my radar. More importantly I have Drivethrurpg’s new releases in my RSS feeder. I check that every couple of days. Usually that’s a lot of stock art, maps, small releases, and things I’m not especially interested in. But other times I’ll spot something I would have missed otherwise (like with Legacy: Life among the Ruins).

Day 4: Why RPG have you played most since August 2016
Like +Donogh McCarthy I appreciate the tracking power of RPGGeek. Here's my top ten...
  • Action Cards (32) No surprise there. This is our homebrew which I run for several face-to-face campaigns. I ran a Middle Earth campaign with it and I also have my ongoing Ocean City Interface multiversal game. That lets me try several different rules variants.
  • Mutants & Masterminds (3rd Edition) (26) This is pretty much all our Wednesday online group campaign. This was the fourth M&M campaign arc in our DC/Marvel/Kitchen Sink setting setting and the first one with this edition. Didn’t care for it.
  • Mutant: Year Zero (21) I love this system and setting. We did a full f2f campaign, ending with the Ark confronting their past. I expect that group will eventually play the sequel, Genlab Alpha. I also ran four sessions for the Gauntlet Hangouts.
  • Fate (9) This is mostly my Dresden Files Accelerated gaming, three sessions online and five f2f.
  • Godbound (8) Exciting to see this on the list. I have an ongoing fantasy hexcrawl f2f game of this. I also used this for an online reskin of Scion.
  • Masks: A New Generation (8) +Richard Rogers ran a six session campaign of this which felt solid. I also used it for two sessions with a Zombie Apocalypse frame. That didn’t work as well as I’d hoped, but I’m going to try it again.
  • World Wide Wrestling (8) That’s pretty much all of my Gauntlet League Wrestling campaign. I love this and need to run it more. I’m doing several sessions for GauntletCon in October.
  • The Veil (7) Such a good game. It generates amazing world and character details. Easy to set things up and see how they play out. I ran two sessions online which taught me a lot about how to approach it. I did one session at Origins with some revised one-shot sheets I’d created. But the best experience has been running this for my niece and nephew. It’s completely unlike anything they’ve ever played. They like the internal struggles, the tough choices, and their impact on the setting.
  • 13th Age (6) If I’m going to do trad or pseudo-trad fantasy, it’s probably going to be 13th Age. I love this game. I get some combat crunch without it feeling like a slog. Fun monsters and easy to get mechanics.
  • The Sprawl (6) The polar opposite of The Veil. A mission-driven, mostly external exploration of characters. It is brutal and action packed without having to dwell on crunch. I’m amazed how well this plays once you get a handle on it. I’ve also come close to killing each PC at least once, many several times. 

Day 5: Which RPG cover best captures the spirit of the game?
Mutant: Year Zero-- Here’s a cover that’s striking and tells a story through visual details. These characters aren't exactly human—we get that from the title, but the image reinforces that. They’re slightly off—you might not notice their inhumanity immediately. The figures stand central and active-- these mutants aren’t the enemy; we’re playing the mutants. The cover shows that this isn’t exactly a Mad Max setting; there's some strangeness. But it isn't gonzo—these aren't the characters of Gamma World, Mutant Epoch, or MCC. That’s important as well.

We see them exploring the ruins, a key element of the game. One has a gun held out, but they’re not overly aggressive—they aren’t blasting things. They’ve had a hard walk and the world’s rough. These characters aren't covered with high tech equipment, instead we see repurposed objects (like the diving helmet). They also aren’t armed to the teeth—covered with bandoliers and bullets. We can see that weapons and ammo are scarce and important. (When you search for post-apocalyptic art it’s actually harder to find images without tons of bullets and guns).

MYZ tells a tale in color, positioning, and details. It works for me.

As an aside, Tales from the Loop (also from Fria Ligan) tempted me because it has such a striking image. But I don’t think the cover necessarily sells what the game’s actually going to be. I think it makes it look a lot more aggressive than it is.

Day 6: You can game every day for a week. Describe what you’d do!
I already do this. Here’s a week from July: Monday: Bloodshadows, Tuesday: Dresden Files Accelerated, Wednesday: The Sprawl, Thursday: Masks (TGIT Gauntlet), Friday: Blades in the Dark, Saturday: Action Cards, Sunday: Changeling PbtA in the morning and The Veil in the evening.

Day 7:  What was your most impactful RPG session?
Probably the first one on one session I played with Sherri. She’d been playing in my GURPS Fantasy campaign for a while, but she wanted to do some more stuff with her character. So I had her interact with some of the NPCs for an evening while we painted. She pushed one of them to try to make amends with his estranged sister. And freaked out a little when it didn’t go well, with the archmagus sister burning down a building on them out of spite. It was Sheri’s first real chance to really dig into the characters of the game world—and we both loved it.

Day 8: What is a good RPG to play for sessions of 2hrs or less?
I ran several sessions of the Threadbare Quickstart at Gen Con last year and it worked well. You could do character and concept creation in 30 minutes and then play out a hugely satisfying adventure. Every session worked—and went in wildly different directions. A great pick up and play rpg.