Fate World Tour – Review of “Worlds On Fire” Pt. 1

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Hello! Dave Joria of Tangent Artists here with the third stop on the Fate World Tour.

Part 1 – Worlds Take Flight
Part 2 – Worlds Rise Up

Today, we’re talking going over the first half of Fate Worlds: World on Fire.” 
I was going to try to tackle it all in a single blog post, but Worlds on Fire… is more than I can handle!*
*(Alright, 2003 called, they said they DON’T want their Sarah McLachlan jokes back; they weren’t funny even then)

On with the review!


Tower of the Serpents

Author: Brennan Taylor. Art: Kurt Komoda

Elevator Pitch: A Conan-style dungeon crawl through a Wizards Tower.

Genres & Themes: Action / Adventure / Fantasy / Swords & Sorcery / Intrigue / Pulp

Summary: …At the very center of this vile pit stands a tower, the Tower of the Serpents. Older than the Palace, older than the city, it is made of an unknown material, white and hard as steel. The tower’s single spire rises nearly as high as the Palace walls, twin entwining serpents carved curling up the tower’s sides. A sorcerer lives there, they say, and this rumor seems likely true. The tower has a garden around it that grows despite the lack of sun, and strange lights shine from the upper rooms at night. No one is ever seen entering or leaving the place, and the single gate in the garden wall never opens. Darksiders say that on moonless nights you can hear the loathsome flutter of unholy wings from the top of the tower, and perhaps it is by this conveyance that the sorcerer comes and goes. They also say the tower holds a treasure of incalculable value.

Mechanics – Sub-System: Fate Core

Mechanics – General: None

Reaction: I’m going to start with the harsh, honest truth and work my way to the positive: From a purely mechanical, fate-hacker perspective, Tower of Serpents doesn’t introduce anything new. It’s no wonder that it was the first one adventure released with the Fate Core rulebook; I could easily see this as being packaged INSIDE the rulebook without it seeming incongruous. (Personally, “Tower of the Serpents” always felt like an ideal adventure for the Hearts of Steel campaign that shows up in the examples in the Core book – time to see Landon, Cynere, and Zird the Arcane in action!)
Now, is it still a good setting? Absolutely! “Tower of the Serpents” shines as:

  • A fun pre-made step-by-step classic dungeon – It’s got adventure, treasure, a gorilla… what’s not to love?
  • An amazing resource for inexperienced GMs on how to run any kind of game – Taylor provides great suggestions in all sorts of areas, including how to keep action moving, responding to players’ deviations, how to introduce conflict through the various factions, etc.
  • A useful template for experienced GMs who are inexperienced with Fate – If a friend of mine was an experienced D&D GM and said, “I want to port my setting for Fate, how would I do it?” I would give him this adventure as a sample.

As I mentioned, there are no mechanics to port over, but I could easily see a GM introduce this into any adventure they are currently running. Including:
Knights of Invasion; Dresden Files (Would need to update the town); Secret of Cats; Camelot Trigger (Add in Tech); Nest (with fewer factions); Strange Tales of the Century
With More Hacking the Skill List – Masters of Umdaar; Aether Sea; Fate Freeport Companion. (If you have more, let me know!)


White Picket Witches

Author: Filamena Young. Artist: Kel McDonald

Elevator Pitch: You are the leads (and the showrunners) on a program that’s part Charmed, part Witches of Eastwick, with a dash of Desperate Housewives

Genres & Themes: Supernatural / Urban Fantasy / Drama / Romance / Mystery / Television / Family

Summary: Small towns are cauldrons full of family secrets. In Salem, those cauldrons bubble over. Inspired by paranormal cozies like Practical Magic and the Witches of Eastwick, White Picket Witches give the players magic and charms to deal with small town pressures… and sometimes, the forces of evil. It’s about accepting the past, fitting in, or breaking out. It emphasizes friendships, brother/sisterhood, community, and a touch of romance. Designed by Filamena Young of Machine Age Productions, who has worked with Margaret Weis Productions, White Wolf, and many others.

Mechanics – Sub-System: Unique List, called Assets

Mechanics – General: Geez, so many. Where to start:

Place of Power – This is an important location, that holds both magical power (a leyline crosspoint) as well as a place where players can interact (ex. a hospital; a courthouse; a library). Players take turns creating the Places of Power, rather than the GM. Places of power also have their own sub-rules, including:

  • Leitmotif – Instead of labeling the place of power with a simple “high concept” aspect, the location has a general “mood,” described as “what music would play in the background when the camera cuts to the location.” (As a music theatre major, I appreciate the musical reference). Once per scene, players can invoke it for free. Players can also pay one fate point to temporarily change the leitmotif (this is generally done to help other players, even if they’re not directly participating in the scene).
  • Face-Off – Drama in “White Picket Witches” is handled in a unique kind of scene called a “Face-Off”; this is a variant on a conflict with a few small changes. Unlike a Conflict, in which one character takes an action (with the target rolling to defend), and then the second character taking an action (with the target rolling to defend), in a face-off, each character rolls only once; for example, if two players attempt to attack each other, the both roll to attack, and the loser takes stress equal to the difference. It’s a wee bit more complicated than that (ex. Having only two sides; extra stress boxes based on people involved), but that’s the basic structure.
  • Place of Power Assets – Places of Power have skills/assets, just like players. During a Face-Off, after the players have each taken a turn, the GM takes a turn as the Place of Power, exerting influence, pressure, or creating complications for the players. This represents both forces inside the fiction (ex. magical energies, NPCs), as well as outside influence from the show-runners who are adding drama to the TV show (which is fantastic).

PC-linked Antagonists – At player creation, each player creates an NPC to serve as an antagonist (which is not necessarily a villain; it can be a rival or foil). During scenes, the antagonists are played by any players who aren’t in the scene.

Scene Structure – Young lays out the scene structure very simply: A. Players and GM decide what scenarios they want to create, and their objectives. B. Players pick a Place of Power. C. Start a scene, and continue until a Face-Off starts.

Flashbacks – A special type of compel, invoked during a Face-Off. If a player can thematically justify it, they can compel an opponent’s aspect and one of the opponent’s skills/assets, including a time the aspect of their personality “got in the way.” They develop a quick flashback scene explaining what happened, and whether the opponent has grown from the experience or is still dealing with it.

Being Taken & Concessions – If one side takes out their opponent in a Face-off, their victory is written in a sentence aspect. If the loser concedes, they get to alter one word of the sentence. For examples, see the Reaction below.

Reaction

The first time I read White Picket Witches, I really liked it. Upon re-reading, it’s now in my top-five Fate settings. There are so many original mechanics, formats, and ideas that it’s hard to grasp that it’s only 34 pages long.

Face-off Reaction: I love the Face-off scene type; it’s a fantastic way to handle player vs. player interaction in a way that is faster and more dynamic than a normal conflict. I am reminded that I have a similar mechanic in Uranium Chef, which is also meant to emulate the stars of a TV show battling with each other; it’s even called a Face-off (whether this is pure coincidence, or whether “White Picket Witches” worked its way into my subconscious I’ll never know.) In “Uranium Chef” Face-offs, the conflict is boiled down to a SINGLE roll, rather than a full scene. I could easily see one being used in lieu of the other, i.e. using single-roll Minor Face-offs in White Picket Witches, and using long-form Face-off scenes in Uranium Chef.

Warning: If you’re running a White Picket Witches game, make sure the players are creating stunts that grant them a bonus to Defense rolls, or helps them get a higher turn order; as Face-Offs replace conflicts, stunts like these would be next to useless.

The only flaw with the Face-off mechanics as written is that there’s a small gap regarding creating advantages; it mentions to do with obstacles once they are created, but not how to create them. Normally, if you were in a conflict with person A, and wanted to create an advantage on person B (say, convincing a bystander to get involved), you would roll against the difficulty of Person B (or, if target b is an inanimate obstacle, against a set difficulty). While not stated, my guess is that you’d still roll against the opponent (to represent the fact that you’re still ducking and weaving physical or verbal jabs from Person A, all the while).

Example 1: Alex and Jenna are fighting in a Face-Off. Alex wants to punch Jenna. Jenna wants to place a hex on the floor. They both roll, the higher succeeds. If Alex wins, she deals stress equal to the difference. If Jenna wins, the aspect is placed.

Example 2 – Alternate: Alternatively, you could pick a normal difficulty, just to discern how many invokes they get if they succeed. Imagine the GM settings “placing a hex on the floor” at passive Difficulty Fair +2. Alex attacks, and scores a Great +4. If Jenna rolls Great or Less, no aspects are created (as she did not succeed against Alex). If Jenna rolls a Superb +5 or higher, she counts as creating an aspect with succeeding with style (rolling +3 higher than the obstacle).

Antagonists Reaction: Unlike most TTRPGS, in which all of the “party” is in the same scene in any given time, the story structure of WPW works best when splitting the party. This would normally lead to a few players interacting with the GM, while the others players grow bored. However, the Antagonist system provides players with a chance to create additional characters. The fact that Antagonists are played by dormant players (not the GM) means that some players can still be involved, while still providing ways for the remaining people (GMs & others players) to still have some influence (through action as the Place of Power or changing the Leitmotif).

Scene Structure Reaction: In writing books, I’ve heard it advised, “cut to the action.” Don’t want useless scenes on minor things, such as grocery shopping or brushing teeth, unless it does something to further the story. All Fate Core scenes are based on skipping straight to the drama, but the scene structure of WHW helps put that even more to the foreground. (I might have to borrow it for a LARP I’ve been working on).

Conceding Sentences Reaction – A great way to handle concessions, that I think would work in any Fate Setting. However, I would offer a small addition: the change to the sentence cannot be a 100% reversal of the original sentence.

Ex. Alex wins the scene and wants to beat it Jenna’s head that, “Jenna will not go into the Haunted manor.” As Jenna concedes, she can alter one word of the sentence.

Bad Example: Jenna’s changed sentence can’t be, “Jenna will DEFINITELY go into the Haunted manor,” as this merely reverses the original.

Good Example: Jenna changes the sentence to, “Jenna will not go into the Haunted manor ALONE.” (Thus, Alex partially succeeded in teaching Jenna that she’s too weak to go in alone, but not enough to diminish her determination.)

Hacking WHW – As I mentioned before, I think a lot of WHW could be used with Uranium Chef, and vice-verse. Similarly, the same principals can be used to add drama/soap-opera elements (both in-fiction and meta) to any setting. Imagine second season of the period British program “Romance in the Air,” or “The Real House-wives of Burn-Shift Postapocalyptic Earth.”


FIGHT FIRE

Author: Jason Morningstar. Artist: Leonard Balsera

Elevator Pitch: Real drama of fire fighters.

Genres & Themes: Realism; Action; Drama; Sacrifice; Crime; Medical

Summary: Fight Fire expands Fate Core’s handling of objective hazards, answering the common question “the warehouse has the On Fire aspect… now what?” Not only is this answered — literally — but it is enhanced and expanded in the form of a mini supplement that tackles both the day-to-day operations of urban firefighters (using tactics cribbed directly from the FDNY) and their lives off the clock. Raised in a firefighting family, Fiasco author Jason Morningstar takes Fate Core in a direction that tempers hard-researched realism with drama and danger

Mechanics – Sub-System: Unique Skill List

Mechanics – General:

Unique Skills – A very trimmed down Skill list, using primarily practical skills specific to fire fighting. A clever twist is that the fire npcs (see below) have their own unique skill list. It’s a bit of a rock-paper-scissors game, in that certain fire skills can only be overcome or defended against by specific skills.

Consequences – Do not automatically go away. Even when are recovered, they become aspects.

On Fire – A special aspect. When rolling to overcome it, if the character fails, they take stress equal to the difference. (This is useful for all RPGS, as it’s only a matter of time before a player asks, “Can I set it on fire?”)

Fire as NPCS – A great example of the Fate principal, “Everything can be done as a character.” Fire is represented as three types of NPCS, and a fourth for Smoke.

Vent for Life / Fire – A mechanic for dealing with fires; players get the chance of venting for life (flooding area with oxygen to help victims) or venting for fire (removing oxygen to suppress fire). Even if you succeed in one way, it mechanically hurts the other.

Reaction:

I will go out and say that realistic drama like this is not my particular cup of tea (I tend to prefer escapism and/or comedy to tragedy). However, if you were interested in such a thing, I can’t imagine a better way to handle it.

Vent for Life / Fire Reaction – As I’ve expressed before, Fate is a relatively forgiving system; if a player wants to succeed at something, they will likely make it happen. I think the “venting” system is a great way to mechanically include into systems, in that it forces the player to make a choice; even they succeed at one thing, they will fail in the other. I can easily see this in a medical or ER drama; a surgical incision may help the patient in one way, while risking their life in another.

The one minor concern I had for the setting is that “Smoke” is both the name of a skill that Fire NPCs have as well as the name for a type of NPC. To clarify, I recommend referring to the latter as “Smoke Clouds.”

Hacks – I definitely think there is lot of hack potential for Fight Fire. If you wanted to add cop drama, you can add in roles for Fire Marshalls (who investigate Arson) or Fire Police (which handle light fires, as well as can make arrests or assist in rescue efforts).

If you wanted to run the setting in a lighter, lower stakes setting, I’d recommend using it as the foundation for a paranormal exterminator setting. It would not be hard to reimagine the fire NPCs as nameless ghosts and lesser demons, lurking behind the walls, waiting to envelope the old mansion and pull it into the void.


That’s it for now. Will have the second half with you soon!

Until then, Game On!

-Dave Joria

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FATE WORLD TOUR – REVIEW OF “WORLDS RISE UP”

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Hello! Dave Joria of Tangent Artists here with the second stop on the Fate World Tour. Last time, we went over Fate Worlds Take Flight. Today, we’re talking about Worlds Rise up (you can the hard-copy on Evil Hat’s website or the individual PDFs below.)


Nest

Author: David S. Goodwin. Artist: Emma Lazauski

Elevator Pitch: Narnia meets Hook (or the Sandman comic, “A Game of You,” a favorite of mine)

Genres & Themes: Fantasy / Adventure / Psychology / Mythology / Sacrifice / Redemption / Innocence vs. Maturity

Summary: There is a place where children go to become heroes, only discovered by a desperate few when they need it most. Here, they escape from their normal lives, slay giants, solve riddles, learn magic, and become kings and queens. Children grow up and the fantasies of childhood are forgotten. 

But now the realm you once protected is under attack.  You must leave behind your life, your family, and your ordinary job to defend your past from something terrible and very, very real. 

Nest, by David Goodwin, is a game of rediscovering the magic of childhood—or shattering the illusions of youth.

Mechanics – Sub-System: Fate Core Skills

Mechanics – General:

Talismans – Easy equipment rules (namely 2 stunts and an aspect).

Milestone Triggers – Having milestones trigger at certain situations and actions, rather than after arbitrary session lengths.

Succeed as a Team – Having obstacles overcome as a team; i.e. if one person in the team succeeds, the whole team succeeds.

Fantastic Declarations – Paying a Fate Point to temporarily gain a stunt. (Unless I’m mistaken, I believe this is standard Fate Core rules. It fits so well with the transient dream-like setting that it’s worth repeating.)

Escalating Encounters – Having a set list of NPC groups, each more difficult than the last. Whenever players violently solve an encounter, the difficulty increases.

GM Reserve Pool – Having the GM carry over Fate Points from one scene or session to the next, much like a player’s Refresh. (As the author points out, this mechanic appeared first in Atomic Robo).

Reaction:

If I had to pick only one thing to take away from this entire book, “Succeed as a Team” would have to be it. It applies to any cooperative RPG game and seems so intuitive that I now can’t see doing it any other way. It rewards the party for having a SINGLE good at something (rather than punishing them based on the weakest link). Also, I can’t think of a better way to form respect amongst friends (or resentment amongst rivals) than to have one PC pull everyone else out of the fire.

(Although, how I’d likely run it in is to have ALL players roll; accept the highest roll and ignore everyone who failed. This way, players can still chuckle at their character’s pitifully low results without suffering the ill effects. And you never know; the lumbering barbarian might roll higher at Stealth than the rogue, putting him to shame!)

All the other mechanics (Milestone Triggers, Escalating Encounters, etc.) are still worth adding to future settings. However, I wanted to point out a non-mechanic feature that the author included as a good tip for authors out there who are working on settings of their own:

Three Themes: David Goodwin provides not just one main antagonist, but a choice of three. This is neat on its own, but more importantly, he provided three different THEMES, depending on which tone / moral the group wants to develop. I would personally use this any setting, but in a setting, that’s so intrinsically tied to morality, storytelling, and symbolism, it takes it to another level.

Other hack ideas: If I ever have the pleasure of running this game, I’ll try to have a stack of Dixit and/or Mysterium picture cards next to me; they’re beautiful and surreal, which is perfect for a dream world setting. I don’t have a set plan how I’d use them mechanically, but they’d be a great X-Factor. Not sure about scene aspects? Grab a card and use it for a surreal setting. Is a player at a loss for a Fantastic Declaration? Have a player draw three cards and pick one to inspire how they overcome the situation, (ex. Folding a bed sheet into a giant paper airplane).  Is the conflict too bland? *Flips card* Now, instead of another fight, you’re having a chess match with a 10-foot Rat.


Psychedemia

Author: Paul Stefko. Artist: Marissa Kelly

The Pitch: FF’s “Spirit Within” meets “Ender’s Game” … in space! (Wait, “Ender’s Game” was in space already).

Summary:

Mechanics – Subsystem: Fate Core skills (with some tweaking – see below)

Mechanics:

Skills – Condensing and Dual List – Paul Stefko plays around with the Core Skill list in two different ways. First, we consolidate the default 18 skills into 9; in most cases, this is two skills merged into one (ex. Infiltration is Burglary + Stealth), while others merge a bunch (ex. Friendships merges Contacts, Empathy, and Rapport). Secondly, Stefko creates 3 new psychic skills for dealing in the Realm: ESP, Telekinesis, and Telepathy. Players get one psychic skill at Good +3, the others at Average +1. While the book doesn’t explicitly state it, Stefko has effectively made characters with two skill charts: a big one for the corporeal world, and a tiny one for the psychic.

Conditions – As seen in the Fate Toolkit. Interestingly, Stefko has stress and conditions as normal, but has two conditions specifically for Psychic skills; this lets a PC burn out in a non-physical way, as well as an emergency resource to barter with / use for succeeding at a cost. It’s a clever idea.

Formatting – The process in which the PCs create a psychic environment to inactive with. Mechanically, the players are creating the scenic aspects (In Fate, Players always have a hand in creating a scene, but in Psychedemia, the PCs are the ones building it in character).

Reaction: Both the condensed skill list and the conditions are minor tweaks that can work in most any setting, particularly one that deals with psychic or magical powers (ex. Urban Fantasy).

The formatting mechanic is a particularly neat mechanic that could easily be used as a basic for all sorts of strange settings. For example, it can be used in a cyber-simulation setting, like the Matrix (try it in Save Game?); or in a dreamscape, like Inception (try it in Nest!). It can also be used by god-like characters manipulating the real world, like Gods and Monsters. I’m sure there are other Fate Worlds that could use it too, but I do not know them as well just yet; for example, I can’t wait to see how it compares with the Fate World “Prism.”


Behind the Walls

Author: John Adamus. Artist: Mirco Paganessi

Elevator Pitch: “Shawshank Redemption” with a dash of dystopia

Genres & Themes: Survival / Drama / Espionage / Mystery / Redemption

Summary: Russia fired first. America countered. Then all hell broke loose.

That was 1951, but now it’s 1959 and you’re still in prison. Maybe the people on the outside forgot about you, what with the war and all, or maybe it’s just safer inside Collins Park Correctional Facility. But will order persist in the cell block much longer? And what really is going on out there? Find out in Behind the Walls, the latest Fate World of Adventure from John Adamus.

Mechanics – Sub-System: Fate Core Skills

Mechanics – General:

Stunt Variations – Adamus has three simple stunt variations.

Personal Stunts – A variant that fixes the stunt to a specific situation or scenario. However, instead of giving a +2 bonus to a single skill, it grants a +1 bonus to any skill. Adamus argues this lets the players focus more on the situations and stories they are crafting, and less about which skill is the correct one to use in any given situation.

Cooperation Stunts – A stunt that gives the PC and one other ally using the same skill a +1 bonus.

Secret Stunt – A stunt that reflects the PC’s hidden past, fears, or desires. It’s split into two parts, a bonus, and a limitation (it not being required to reveal both at the same time).

Secrets – Adamus also includes rules for Secrets, including PCs having secrets from each other, and crafting secrets for NPCs to drive motivation.

Reaction:

I was a little surprised, upon reading Behind the Walls, that 99% of it focused on a mundane normal prison set-up. I mean, wasn’t the premise, “You’re prisoner as the world ends?”  Where was World War III? Where was the dystopia? Which made me wonder:

  • Q. Why is it set in a dystopian prison and not a normal one?
  • A. Because it means what happens in the prison has lasting consequences, without outside forces getting involved.

Which is brilliant. The dystopia premise lets you treat the environment as if it were operating in a vacuum. For example, if the gangs riot and take over the prison, there won’t be a National Guard swooping in the next day to undo it; the gang leader is in charge now.

This means, of course, that if you don’t want the dystopia angle, you can easily set it in an area so isolated that the same vacuum applies*. For example:

  • An 18th Century prison colony in Australia
  • An isolated gulag in the Arctic Circle
  • A space station in deep space.

*(Of course, in a campaign, you can have the vacuum be interrupted later to keep things interesting.)

If I were to run this setting, I would really like to use it to recreate one of my favorite subplots from a comic, “Y: The Last Man.” In it, a plague wipes out every organism with a Y chromosome; with 50% of the human population instantly dead, the world teeters at the brink. In one issue, an all-women’s prison is affected strongly; with all the male guards dead, and reliable food cut off, what will happen to the inmates? In the comic, the women were unofficially pardoned and set free, but I’m fascinated what happened BEFORE that decision was made. Were there threats? Bargaining? Power struggles amongst the survivors?

On to mechanics: I think the personal / situational stunt model has a lot of potential. I can see it as a way to cut down on “fate debates” with the GM (in which a min/max player tries to debate with the GM why they can use their top 3 skills/approaches in every situation).

The cooperative ones have me very excited and hope to try it soon. I think it would fit perfectly in any setting based on friendship and teamwork. The fact that it shows up in a harsh prison setting could be viewed as ironic, but I think it cements Adamus’s grasp that in tight, dog-eat-dog settings, the PCs need to watch each other’s backs, and having mechanics that reinforce this is essential.

Mechanically for secrets (both stunts and the NPCs) aren’t particularly groundbreaking; however, the section offers great advice for GMs on the when and why. I recommend them for any GMs planning any secretive setting, like heists and spies. (Example: “Crimeworld,” “Ellis Affair,”Uprising,” “Eagle Eyes,Nitrate City,”Ministry.”)


Masters of Umdaar

Author: Dave Joria. Artists: Tazio Bettin and Enrica Eren Angiolini.

Elevator Pitch: Sci-fi serials meets Saturday morning cartoons… in space!

Genres & Themes: Adventure / Sci-Fi / Fantasy / Retro / Planetary Romance

Summary: Behold the fallen world of Umdaar, home to savage warriors, cyborg insects, and merciless warlords. Oh, and lasers—lots and lots of lasers. The Masters rule with an iron fist, and the people’s only hope are the archaeonauts and their quest for long-lost artifacts of power. But will the Masters get there first? Masters of Umdaar, our latest Fate World of Adventure by Dave Joria, is a retro tribute to such shiny serials as John Carter of Mars, Flash Gordon, He-Man, and Thundercats.

Mechanics – Sub-System: Fate Accelerated

Mechanics – General:

Outcome Surge – This mechanic is tied to stunts. When a stunt with outcome surge is used, it shifts the outcome a roll by one result (ex. Fail to tie; tie to succeed, etc.) It does not work with attacks.

Cliffhanger – A new scene type (like challenge or contests) in which the players have a limited number of exchanges to diffuse an inanimate threat (ex. Quicksand; a Spike trap).

Escalating Aspects – Aspect that have increasing value with each round.

Reaction: This setting is mine, so I can’t really give an objective opinion on it.

I’m quite pleased with the cliffhangers and escalating aspect. I wrote them to help emulate the man vs. nature and man vs. death-trap situations that commonly show up in old serials; I like to think they do a decent job. I have since toyed around with different ways to have players succeed at cliffhangers and can never settle on one; the most important parts are the timeline and a variance of difficult.

While not a mechanic per se, I’m also proud of the bioform generator and the random stunt generators (weapons, stunts, and adaptations).

Fun fact 1: The tables were laid out by the face of Evil Hat, Fred Hicks himself.

Fun fact 2: My primary goal when making fate supplements is to include enough tables to make Fred cry.

I’m going to leave it there, but there are plenty of other articles on this site regarding Umdaar: adventures, NPCs, you name it. Find them here!


That’s it for this update. What’s next? Worlds on Fire? Secret of Cats? Cats on Fire? Only time will tell! Until then, Happy Holidays!

Fate World Tour – Review of “Worlds Take Flight”

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I’ve been writing games in Fate for a while; I’ve had two published by Evil Hat, and have at least more in the works that will eventually be published under Tangent Artists (Dungeon Tours, Ltd., Skeleton Crew RPG). However, I’m officially announcing that I’ve started work on a yet untitled Masters of Umdaar sequel. Will it be for sale, or just a fan project? Published by Evil Hat or by Tangent Artists? A full setting or just a jumbled mess? All good questions, and I don’t have an answer as of yet.

However, it hit me, that I before I dig too deep into expanding this world, I should do some research first. It’s been three years since Umdaar 1 came out, and Fate “technology” has no doubt advanced considerably since then. What breakthroughs and hacks have emerged that I never would have dreamed of?

So, today, I start an epic adventure: To review every single Evil Hat “Fate World & Adventure.”* **

Clarification this will include every Fate World that comes free with backing the original Fate Core kickstarter, plus comes with backing the Fate Patreon. Afterwards, I might take a tangent to review paid Evil Hat projects (Atomic Robo, Strange Tales,) and maybe some third party (ex. Fate Codex), but no guarantees at this point.

**Full disclosure: Evil Hat has hired me on a contract basis twice. I am not currently working for them at this time, but if they offered, I’d definitely say yes.


What this Review Is NOT: If you’re expecting me to use my sparkling wit to sarcastically tear into the fate worlds, you’ll be sadly disappointed. I’m going to keep things positive, because:

  1. I know how hard it is to write one of these things, and
  2. Just because a world may not be my cup of tea, doesn’t mean it’s not someone else’s.

What this Review Is: This is be a quick, cursory look at each the settings; I’m afraid I don’t have time for a page-by-page analysis. I’ll be focusing on:

  • The Pitch – A sentence providing what the setting feels like; this will be using pop-culture comparisons to provide a short-hand.
  • The Genres – What literary and cultural settings and themes the world taps into. (Expect a lot to include “…in space!”)
  • The Summary – This is a longer description, taken straight from the book or the Drive-Thru RPG. (It won’t be my original words but will save you the time to look them up yourself.)
  • The Mechanics – Subsystem: Which variant of Fate does it most closely mimic (ex. Core skills, Fate Accelerated, Skill-less).
  • Mechanics – General: What are significant rule additions, tools, and tweaks not found in the Core book.
  • Reaction – This part is purely opinion. It will be mostly based on speculation, as most of these settings I have no experience playing. Will also focus on possible variants, and ways to hack the mechanics with other settings.

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WORLDS TAKE FLIGHT

Rather than go in chronological order, I thought I’d go with convenience; since “Worlds Take Flight” is one of the few Fate hard copies I own, making it easier to read on my work lunch breaks, I thought I’d start there.

 

The Three Rocketeers

Author: PK Sullivan; Artist: Alex Innocenti

Elevator Pitch: Swashbuckling Musketeers… in space!

Genres & Themes: Historical / Adventure / Sci-Fi / Intrigue / Drama

Summary: Journey through the Holy Roman Stellar Empire and the worlds of Britannica Solaria in this Fate World of Adventure by PK Sullivan! The Queen’s enemies may have disbanded the Rocketeers, but duty cannot be set aside so easily.

A deadly cabal of nobles and clergy threaten to usurp Her Majesty Queen Marie-Hélène’s throne and hand Gallia over to Pope Regulus IV, and the Rocketeers now work from the shadows to protect the queen from threats both foreign and domestic. Foreign spies and papal agents lurk in every shadow as the trap draws ever closer.

A laser-sharp blade and even sharper wits will serve you well as interstellar powers play the game of puppets and shadows. The fate of the crown is in your hands.

Mechanics –  Sub-System: Skill-Less

Mechanics – General: Compound Stunts (Swordplay) – This is an interesting concept; instead of making players create 3 or so stunts, Sullivan has the players create one double-sized Sword-play stunt, which is composed of four micro-stunts (about +1 bonus each, for roughly +4 bonus total). He has a whole list of different micro-stunts which you can mix-and-match, kind of like a tapas menu.

Conspiracy – This is very neat concept that I will have to investigate more thoroughly in the future. Rather than creating a villain first and the objective later, the Conspiracy model does it in reverse; what is the objective, and who are the agents carrying it out. Sullivan also introduces rules for unraveling the mystery a bit at a time.

Reaction:

Skills – I must give PK Sullivan points for guts, I think he was the first Fate World to rewrite the system without skills or approaches. I’m not itching to make a skill-less setting myself anytime soon, but I can say- it does require the players to start with a large amount of fate points. If you have group with a lot of larping experience, I’d look at this book for tips on making your system skill-less. The only downside is it does make it harder to port other fate mechanics from other worlds INTO Three Rocketeers after you’ve started the campaign.

The swordplay stunt system is great for quick character creation; if I wear to create my own character, I would enjoy making my own micro-stunts, but I think a short list would be perfect for first time players, or for conventions. I also see how the composite micro-stunts would work well for other settings (perhaps for creating inventions?)

Of all three, the conspiracies have me the most excited; I’ll keep it in mind the next time I craft villains. The one thing that I would can as a disadvantage is that the Conspiracies use skills when the players don’t. On the one hand, this seems a little out of play. On the other hand, this makes it even easier to hack it into an existing campaign!

The one thing I’d add, were I to run this setting, is the Swashbuckling Duel rules from the Fate Toolkit. To me, these rules best represent the slow build of tension in a cinematic sword fight; amongst armor-less, sabre-wielding duelists, the first successful hit is often the last! (I suspect this system can be a little time consuming, so I’d save it for named NPCS).


Frontier Spirit

Author: Nick Pilon; Artist: Steen

Elevator Pitch: Princess Mononoke meets Ghostbusters… in space!

Genres & Themes: Frontier / Adventure / Sci-Fi / Fantasy / Spiritualist / Environmental / Exploration

Summary: Despite its long history, the Commonwealth has only civilized a fraction of the galaxy. Life on an undeveloped colony world is hard. The problems are never-ending: pirate raids, corporate claim-jumpers, outlaw settlers, unpredictable weather…and an alien spirit world unused to coexisting with sentient creatures.

Natural disasters, storms, subsistence, and even basic survival are all much harder when the world really is out to get you. Can your colony survive? 

Mechanics – Sub-System: Fate Core Skills

Mechanics – General:

Portfolio – A way for creating NPC antagonists that are intrinsically tied to the impending issues.

Facets – The idea of creating a powerful, “final form” of a spirit, and then 2 or more smaller “facet” versions of the character that appear earlier in the story.

Reaction: From a setting standpoint, I am impressed by how Pilon introduced a setting that clearly sets up the tension between the industrial settlers and the native spirits; in many settings, this would done in black and white, with the humans being bad and the spirits being good. However, like Miyazaki’s “Spirited Away,” Pilon makes it a little more ambiguous, letting the gaming group work out for themselves which side is wrong, if anyone at all. I can also see facets as great way to create multi-leveled villains that are beaten more than once (ex. a video game boss for Save Game; a DBZ style villain with multiple forms).


Sail Full of Stars

Author: Don Bisdorf; Artist: Elisa Cella

Elevator Pitch: Pirates and Navy Battles… in Space!

Genres & Themes: Sci-Fi / Fantasy / Steampunk / Alternative History / Age of Exploration / Swashbuckling / Political / Naval

Summary: In the year 1850, three empires struggle for control of the solar system: The Ottomans, whose vast Earthly empire may soon become obsolete; the Chinese, who pioneered the construction of rheoships; and the French, the new masters of alchemy. Wherever patrols are weak, pirates menace the shipping lanes. Sailors whisper rumors of dragons swimming through the black void. Fools and madmen push the boundaries of alchemy, heedless of the consequences.

Track down pirates, brave the stars, and mount shipboard battles in this Fate World of Adventure by Don Bisdorf.

Mechanics – Sub-System: Fate Core Skills

Mechanics – General: The book features some of the best rules for detailed ship aspects I’ve seen. Similarly, it includes rules for crews, including combat.

Reaction: Compared to many Fate Worlds, this one is a little on the “crunchy” side; it might be ideal entry point for classic gamers who are used to more complicated systems like D&D or wargames. I am eager to try out the crew rules, which would work for supporting NPCS in any setting.  If you’re not interested in the historical setting, you can easily port it to another world (for example: if you want to port “Aether Sea,” but with Fate Core.)


Gods & Monsters

Author: Chris Longhurst; Artist: Manuel Castañón

Elevator Pitch: Campbell’s Mythology meets Lycanthropes (NOT in Space!)

Genres & Themes: Mythology / Fantasy

Summary: The world is young and majestic, and humans eke out a living and dream of civilization.

But you are not like them: you are a god. A primal creature, your soul a blazing font of power, your body an expression of your nature. The more extreme your behavior the greater the power you can wield—but it is easy to become lost in a single facet of your existence and cross the line from god to monster.

Perform mythic acts, skirmish with rival pantheons, and walk the line between power and control in this Fate World of Adventure by Chris Longhurst.

Mechanics – Sub-System: Fate Accelerated

Mechanics – General: While I had previously thought of Fate Approaches as opposites, Chris Longhurst came up with something I never dreamt of: putting them on sliding scales. He also came up with the idea of having your power and approaches grow (which can sometimes be a bad thing, turning you into a monster!) There is also the godly power mechanic, which involves stashing power in stations to avoid overload.

Reaction:

Fate is a really forgiving system, allowing players to succeed in ways that stricter systems would not allow. “Gods & Monsters” just doubles-down on this, giving players literally godlike characters.

This can make it a very difficult game for GMs to run. I suspect that they are two ways around this:

  1. Think of them less like “gods” and more like demi-gods; they are weaker, lesser gods that fight, adventure and fight monsters, much like your typical adventure team.
  2. Focus on the difficult decisions; you can do X, or do Y, but not both.

Longhurst cleverly built the second into the geas and power of the characters; they can grow stronger and stay true to their god’s nature (but at the risk of growing monstrous), or you can have they show free will, go against their nature, and grow weaker (but further from the edge).

Were I to run a game (and I desperately want to), I’d focus on the etiological, “just-so” stories. Rather than assume that the mortal world is complete, I would take a popular “just-so” story and reverse engineer it.

For example:

GM: The mortals are cold all of the time, and are always tripping in the dark, hour after hour. They ask for your help.

Players would eventually come to realize that, in this world, there is no sun. This sets them on tasks to make the sun (gathering dangerous materials to get it), as well as finding a balancing act that doesn’t involve mortals overheating or frying.

Guide the ending to resolve towards a permanent feature of this world, although it might not be the one you anticipated when you started the story. They could go a completely different route and find a solution without the sun, such as, “…And that’s why we have volcanos,” or “…And that’s why the first humans died out, and why we have ice people instead.”

Lastly, I wanted to give a shout out to the artist, Manuel Castañón, as the art in Gods and Monsters is absolutely stunning. All four artists in this book did a great job, but Manuel’s art is inspiring.

EDIT: I nearly forgot! On an earlier blog, I gave my house rules for mashing up “Gods and Monsters” and “Masters of Umdaar,” where players get to be the lost Demiurge. Here it is again, “Gods and Masters.


 

That’s it for this entry. Next up will be “Fate: Worlds Rise Up!”

Until then, game on!

Game Chef 2018 Finalist Entry – Cardenio

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It’s another catch-up entry. This time, I’m going to focus on my entry for Game Chef 2018, “Cardenio.” I was delighted to see that it made it to the finals. I’m going to repost it here in its entirety, but this time it’ll have director’s commentary.


First, what is Game Chef? (No connection to Uranium Chef)

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From their website:

History – Game Chef is an annual design competition for “analog” (non-electronic) games, challenging participants to write a playable draft of an original game in just over one week, based on a theme and a set of “ingredients.”

This was this year’s theme:

2018 Theme: Lost Stories

People have been telling stories for as long as our species has been around, but the vast majority were not recorded, and have been lost to us. For example, Aeschylus’s play Psychostasia (Weighing of the Souls) was popular when it was performed in the fifth century BCE. But today, only three words (blunt, speedwalking, and sheepskin) remain. Games are a major source of lost stories today. A single game may generate thousands of stories as it is played by different groups. But the adventures of the characters at the table usually disappear as they happen unless the players make a special effort to record their session.

This year, we ask you to think about the concept of lost stories as you design your game. Why are some stories lost, and others are not? How are we affected when stories are lost? Might losing certain stories be a good thing? What would happen if we recovered a story we had thought was lost?

2018 Ingredients: blunt, speedwalking, sheepskin, weigh

And now, the entry:


 

CARDENIO –

by Dave Seidman-Joria

DJ: If the name looks slightly different, it’s because I recently got married.

A game of choosing sides for 4-12 players

Premise – Players will be crafting a Shakespeare-inspired play one scene at a time. In any given scene, one player will be restricted in what answers they provide.

Backstory – Of all the plays Shakespeare wrote, only 37 have survived. However, scholars are delighted by the recent discovery of a chest containing the script to Shakespeare’s 38th play:  the missing work Cardenio

DJ: This is actually based on a real story: there was a lost play called Cardenio, which at least one publisher attributed to being co-written by John Fletcher and William Shakespeare. Scholars have no idea what the plot is, but a. Cardenio is the name of a character in Don Quixote, b. Fletcher liked stealing plots from Cervantes, and c. Shakespeare liked stealing plots from… well, everyone… it could have been the TALE OF DON QUIXOTE RETOLD WITH SHAKESPEARE’S WIT. To find out more, read the Wikipedia page. Also, to read a fictional account of what it might have included, Jasper Fforde included some snippets in his novel, “Lost in a Good Book” (I can’t recommend the series enough.)

However, it is not a complete script; the chest contains only a selected number of “sides” (i.e. the lines for a specific character). The surviving sides were written for the notoriously picky actor Devin Twinshire, who insisted that all his sides be written on durable sheepskin parchment (while all the other sides, written on paper, have since crumbled). Devin was a versatile actor; he seemed to have played a number of characters in multiple different scenes, and thus we have the lines for at least one character per scene.

DJ: Devin is fictional. I don’t know for a fake if sheepskin/vellum is more durable than paper, more of a sneaky way to include the “sheepskin” ingredient. However, in the days before mimeographs, to save time, the production time would give actor papers that had only their own lines and cues. So, the idea that only ONE actor’s part would survive is not unheard of. This was also an anti-theft tactic, as copyright laws were law or nonexistent at the time. Case in point, the Quarto 1 edition of Hamlet is a paraphrased mess, likely pirated with the help of the actor playing Marcellus (as his lines are the only accurate ones in the piece!)

MATERIALS

  •         Notecards
  •         Paper
  •         Writing utensils
  •         Safe, Blunt Weapons (ex. foam swords)
  •         Costumes / Props / Hats
  •         An area of free space (designated as “the stage”)

THE SET-UP

Before starting the game, prepare the document that one of the actors will be reading from; this is called the Sheepskin. To create this, do the following:

Make a set of cards with, the following:

  •         3 x “Yes, and…”
  •         1 x “Nay, because…”  
  •         1x “I propose…”
  •         1 x “Let me be blunt…”

DJ: In improv fashion, you want to have more “Yes” than “no”; if you had equal number of yes and nos, the action would constantly be one step forward, one back.  “I propose” gives the Sheepskin holder a chance to act instead of merely react. “Let me be Blunt” is a vague one that gives the performer more flexibility, but also leads easily into a revelation, an insult, or the closing of a scene, any of which can make the action move along.

On a sheet of paper, write 1 on the first line, 2 on the second line, and so on, until you reach 19.  

Shuffle the 6 cards, and reveal the top card, and write what it says on the first line. (Ex. If the first card you draw says, “Nay because…”, write “Nay because…” on line 1 of the sheet.)

Continue drawing the six cards and writing out the lines until the stack of cards is depleted (which should be after line 6). Next, shuffle the cards, and continue drawing and transcribing (writing lines 7-12). Shuffle again after line 12, transcribe 13-18.

On line 19, and write the stage direction “[Speedwalking],” and add the phrase, “Make haste, for…”

As an example, here is a premade script.

  1. I Propose…
  2. Yes, and …
  3. Yes, and …
  4. Let me be blunt …
  5. Nay, because…
  6. Yes, and…
  7. Let me be blunt …
  8. I Propose…
  9. Nay, because…
  10. Yes, and…
  11. Yes, and…
  12. Yes, and…
  13. Yes, and…
  14. Nay, because…
  15. Let me be blunt …
  16. I Propose…
  17. Yes, and…
  18. Yes, and…
  19. [Speedwalking] Make haste, for…

DJ: If you only have note cards and no long sheets of paper, I theorize you could do it with only 6 notecards Personally, I would want it to be a bit more organic; once you’re in the flow of the story, you don’t want to shuffle cards around. Also, it’s easier to gauge when the scene is over, and to pace yourself.

Lastly, create a small set of scene cards. These consist of a Beginning Scene card, an Final Scene card, and any number of middle scene cards.

Beginning Scene: In which someone complains about a problem.

Final Scene: In which someone is married or someone dies.

We encourage players to create their own middle scene cards, even so far as penciling their own 3 seconds before a scene. Here are some suggestions:

  •         In which a bond is formed / bond is broken.
  •         In which a new problem is introduced / old problem escalates.
  •         In which a plan is created.
  •         In which an existing plan is executed or people try to thwart a plan.
  •         In which a lie is told.
  •         In which 2+ people fight over something they both want.

On a separate sheet, have players collaborate on a cast of 5-10 characters (at least one per player, with a few spare). Each character consists of a Name and a few words of description (ex. attitude, status, connection to another character). Here is a premade sheet:

  •         Cardenio –  Mercurial son of a noble
  •         Hossberry – Cardenio’s greedy servant
  •         Lucinda – Innocent and beloved maiden
  •         Don Fernando – Young Duke and rival for Lucinda’s affection
  •         Theodora – Don Fernando’s pragmatic ex-fiancée
  •         Don Xavier – A senile but virtuous old knight
  •         Sadwell – Don Xavier’s lazy peasant squire
  •         Signor Claudius – Cardenio’s loving but ambitious father
  •         Servant / Messenger – Any number of servants, messengers, and various nameless helpers.

DJ: Cardenio, Lucinda, Don Fernando, and Theodora are all straight out of Don Quixote, along with their mixed up love triangle. Don Xavier and Sadwell are my nods to Quixote and Sancho, albeit with their names changes (as Willy Shakes would likely do). Hossberry and Claudius are new characters, based on stock characters Shakespeare used a lot.

(If players want, they can create name tags for each character as they switch in and out – a notecard and a binder clip is often all you need. Alternatively, assign a specific costume piece, like a character or a scarf to each character.)

GAME PLAY

Gameplay is taken one scene at a time. A scene consists of one two or more players each picking a character and acting in that scene as that character. In any given scene, one of the players uses the Sheepskin (we recommend that Cardenio carry it in the first scene). This player is called the sheepskin-holder.

Using the Sheepskin: Players who are not holding the sheepskin may act and talk like normal, acting out the scene as their character without restrictions. (They are not required to speak in full Shakespearen verse, but the occasionally “thee” and “thy” does spice things up.)

The sheepskin-holder will act the scene with them, but is restricted in what they say; each of their lines* must start with the same words as the corresponding line on the page.

[*Note: For the sake of this game, a “line” consists of a sentence of any length, and any immediately following sentences. A line ends when the speaker pauses for a period of a few seconds, or another player says something.]

  •         Ex. If the first line on the sheepskin is, “1. I Propose…,” the player must start their first spoken sentence with, “I propose,” and continue on with the sentence. After they  are done talking, the sheepskin-holder moves their finger to the next number on the sheet; it says, “2. Yes, and ….” The next time the sheepskin-holder speaks a line, they must start by saying, “Yes, and…”

It is important that the sheep-skinner holder doesn’t just say “Yes, and” and stop abruptly. They are required to continue the line to best of their ability. This happens in several ways, depending on the line.

  •         “Yes, And” –  If the line starts with, “Yes, and…” they must add something new, such as a new idea or an escalation of the current idea.

Ex. Player 1: The duke is the worst.

Cardenio: Yes, and… we should rise up against him!

Player 1: Woah! Are you mad?

Cardenio: Yes, and… will be intentionally drive myself madder still, so that the duke will be afraid to face me!

  •         “Nay, because…” – The character will reveal why they are against a notion. (Although, it is best if the player can include in their line a condition which, if met, they would agree to.)

Ex. Player 1: Are you going to propose to Lucinda?

Cardenio: Nay, because… there is no way she would agree to marry such a man as I, without any fortune.

Player 1: Hmm. What if I told you there was a fast way to make you rich?

  •          “I propose…” – The sheepskin-holder must do their best to introduce a new idea. (Or in the case of a romantic scene, they might literally propose to another character!)
  •         “Let me be blunt…” – The sheepskin-holder’s character must reveal their true feelings. This may, of course, risk of offending another character (this is actually recommended, as hurt feelings lead to interesting scenes!)

ENDING A SCENE

The scene continues until the sheepskin-holder reaches the last line on his sheet, #19.

  •         19. “Make haste, for…” –  At this line, they explain where people are going, why they must hastily leave (speedwalking), and what they will attempt to do between the scenes.

Ex. “Make haste, for … we have only hours before the wedding starts, and we must prepare our disguises!”

Starting the next scene:

The players will then return to the stage and present another scene. The sheepskin is handed off to someone else.

  •         No player should have the sheepskin two scenes in a row.
  •         No character will have the sheepskin two scenes in a row. (I.e. if players are switching characters).
  •         The player either starts again on Line 1, or picks a random line between 1 and 4 to start with.

Other rules to keep in mind when starting the new scene:

  •         If some players sat out during the first scene, make sure to trade out as many players as possible.
  •          Be sure to switch out or add a new character from one scene to the next.
  •         It is recommended to have only 2-4 characters in a scene at time (unless you are presenting the Final Scene, or players are representing a mass of people, like an angry mob or a pirate crew).

Additional Rules:

Improv Rules Apply – Improv Theatre rule applies, particularly:

  •         Once a fact is established, it is true; other players cannot deny it or instantly remove it (Ex. If a character declares another character is sick with the vapors, the other character truly has the vapors.)
  •         Players should work together to further a cooperative story, rather than focus on their own ideas argue or “waffle” over story directions. (The only one allowed to say “no” to ideas is the sheepskin holder, who is sometimes required to by the script!)
  •         And most importantly, RESPECT SAFETY AND CONSENT – Even if you are in character, respect other players before grabbing or touching them. Even when fighting with blunt, foam weapons, be careful of people’s faces. If any player calls to stop, all players should immediately stop.

Q1. Can the sheepskin-holder skip lines?
A1. No,* they must read through each line. If it makes no sense (i.e. they argue to something, and then disagree, and then agree again), then it is best to play it off as indecision, or via asides (see below).

Q2. Can the sheepskin-holder telegraph what their next line is?
A2. No!* It’s more fun if the scene partners have no clue what the sheepskin-holder’s next response will be.

*The Exception – The only times that sheepskin-holder can skip lines or telegraph lines is with the LAST line in the scene, i.e. “19. Make haste, for…”

  •         Skipping – if the sheepskin-holder feels like the scene is over (i.e. something interesting has happened that furthers the story, and there’s a lag in the conversation), they can skip to last line, “19. Make haste, for…”, bringing the scene to an early close.
  •         Telegraphing – if the sheepskin-holder has reached the end of the sheet, but the scene is still continuing, they can give the other players a sign to wrap up the scene. The sheepskin-holder should give the other players about a minute to finish their thoughts and wrap up any loose ends before providing the, “Make haste, for…” line, officially closing the scene.

Switching Characters – Players are allowed to switch characters out in-between scenes (and even during them, sometimes). However, we recommend that once a player portrays a character in a scene, no other players can portray that character for the rest of the scene (without that player’s insistence).

Sarcasm – The Sheepskin-holder has to agree with every line in the sheepskin. It is possible that a player may want to use sarcasm, (i.e. saying, “yes, and…” but in such a way that they really MEAN “no.”) This is definitely allowed, but we encourage players not to rely on this too heavily; part of the fun is going with the crazy script, rather than undermining it. A good way to regulate this is the “Sassy Friend” rule below.

  •         The Sassy Friend rule – if a character ends up using sarcasm a LOT in a scene (ex. for at least a third or a half of their lines), allow them to officially add the description “Sarcastic” to the character’s description. (Ex. “Lucinda – Innocent and beloved AND SARCASTIC maiden”). This allows the character to use sarcasm without any restriction. However, the number of players/characters who are allowed to be “Sarcastic” is limited; this can be capped at one Sarcastic character per player, or 2-3 Sarcastic characters total. Once the cap is reached, no other characters can use sarcasm at all.

Note: Only the sheepskin-holder is cautioned against using sarcasm. The other players may use as much as they want.

Asides – The sheepskin dictates what the character openly agrees to during the scene; however, it doesn’t always dictate what the character is actually thinking. We recommend that the holder of the Sheepskin be encouraged to speak to the audience, providing thoughts that the other characters cannot hear; this is called in theatre and “aside.” In an aside, a character can explain their true feelings, and explain away any discrepancies in the character’s objectives and the dialogue.

  •         Ex. The duke Don Fernando proposes to Cardenio that they murder Cardenio’s father (and Cardenio loves his father dearly). Cardenio notices his next line is “Yes, and ___”, which the actor feels doesn’t make sense. Before Cardenio reads off the next scripted “yes” and offers to go along with the plan, Cardenio says in an aside to the audience, “I’ll play along with them for now, until I know more of their plot.” Players can also give asides AFTER a line, to justify retroactively.
  •         Note: Any player may give asides, not just the sheepskin-holder.

Combat and Death – Characters can die in the middle of the play (that’s what the blunt weapons are for!) However, the following rules apply:

  •         All fights must begin with a declaration, such as, “Have at thee,” or a similar call to action. The challenger must give the challenged player ample time to obtain and draw a weapon. Any character who attacks another without such a challenge (Ex. stabs someone in the back) can still emerge victorious, but their character will be brandished a coward and a treacherous knave by all other characters.
  •         Players should talk while fighting with foam weapons. Combat is over once of the players mutually decide which should be injured; this is normally signaled by a player intentionally leaving themselves open to an attack for an extended period, or “piercing” themselves on their opponent’s blade.
  •         If players disagree over which character should die in a fight, have them play rock-paper-scissors to decide who lives and who dies. If a fight goes on for more than a minute, any player (not just those fighting), can proclaim, “Finish it,” forcing the players to move to rock-paper-scissors.
  •         Players can kill each by other means (such as poison), but they must declare they have poisoned an item in an aside BEFORE someone consumes it. Players can only consume a poisoned item with their consent (NO FORCE FEEDING).
  •         Multiple characters may die in a single scene. However, each PLAYER may only initiate one death per scene (except for the Final scene). Similarly, we recommend capping the total number of deaths to a total of X, where X is the number of players, at least until the Final scene. (This does not include nameless servants, who can die by the droves).
  •         If a character is poisoned or mortally wounded, they are not required to stop talking; they can talk, just like any healthy character, until the end of the scene or until they choose to die, whichever comes first.
  •         If a player has one of their character’s die (outside of the Final scene), they may create a new character. Before starting the next scene, take a small break to give time for the player to create a new character; they have first dibs on playing it. Alternatively, the player may have their character come back as an incorporeal ghost, and can choose which characters can and cannot hear the apparition!

The Final Scene 

Once enough scenes have been played out (generally between 4-10), the players should agree whether or not to begin the Final scene. Once the majority of players are in consensus, it begins.

A few reminders and a few new rules:

  •         All players should be included to be in the scene – however, we recommend only 3-5 players start the scene. After the first few minutes, the rest of the players will trickle in a few at a time.
  •         By the end of the Final scene, a character will be married or a character will die (maybe one of each!) However, no one may be killed or married until all players have had a chance to come into the scene.
  •         If the sheepskin-holder reaches line 19, they still cry, “Make Haste!”; however, if it doesn’t make sense for the scene to end, or not all players have been included in the scene yet, the scene is not over and no one permanently exits. Instead:

o   The current sheepskin-holder explains in character why time is short; all characters must pick up the pace and go faster.

o   The sheepskin-holder then gives the sheepskin to another player.

  •         Players may also exchange the sheepskin any number of times during the scene; they are not required to reach the last line but must read at least one line before giving it to another person. When handing off the script, the old holder may take no more than 3 seconds to show the next player where they left off in the script. If the new player cannot find the exact spot within 3 seconds, the new player must pick a new spot at random. (This discourages halting the scene to a stop after every switch).

Epilogue

After the game is over, each player should record one line that they remember from the game on a notecard; do not provide any context. The game owner should keep these lines with the rules as a memento (perhaps to add to a future Sheepskin).


 

There you have it, “Cardenio” is all of its glory! I have yet to playtest it, but I look forward to trying it soon. When I do, I’ll try to document it thoroughly and share it here.

Have you tried any Shakespeare or Improv inspired games? Let us know!

 

RPGaDAY – Round-up!

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RPG-a-Day 2018 (1)

This is long overdue (been very busy playing the lead in a local production of Sweeney Todd), so I thought I’d finish Week 3 & 4 in a single post.

Day 15: Describe a tricky RPG Experience that you enjoyed:
The trickiest I can think of is when I ran a playtest of Dungeon Tours, LTD at TCEP, and while I was setting up, I caught the attention of a younger kid. I’d guess barely nine or ten. He was curious about everything, couldn’t sit still, and constantly jabbering away about everything – you know, all of the same annoying traits that I definitely possessed as a kid. I felt having him in the game might impact the experience for other adult players, but I really hate not being included in things myself. So, while I didn’t ENCOURAGE him to join, I didn’t discourage him neither, and he jumped in.

He was a little distracting while he was in, but we yes-anded none the less. About 90 minutes in, he wandered off to another con room. We carried on without him (we treated his character as an aspect that could be invoked). An hour later, he came back in, took a look at the board.

Me: (filling him in) He’s falling for it so far.
Kid: Oh. Good!

The kid runs off again, glad to know his team is doing great.

I wish I could say the kid made amazing contributions and that it was the best, most original gaming experience of my life. Rather, I think those that stuck around had fun, and I hope the kid had some too.


DAY 16: Plans for your Next Game

Well, the next game I’m RELEASING is “Dungeon Tours, LTD” (coming soon to Kickstarter.

https://tatabletop.com/dungeon-tours-ltd/

However, the next new game that I want to release is based on +Richard Williams‘s theatre experience: basically, a super-loose, rules light LARP / RPG inspired by Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer’s Night Dream,” with bits of “The Tempest” and “As You Like It” thrown in.

Basically, the plan is to have the players create a brand new, improvised Shakespeare fantasy-pastoral comedy. I have about 75% of the rule book done, and can’t wait to playtest it.

dtl cover_web

And now, a preview of the cover!


Day 17: What is the best compliment you’ve received while gaming?

I react to compliments by squirming, and so I generally don’t remember specific things that have been said.

I guess the best general compliment I can think of is how amazingly supportive the Fate Community has been of my first work, Masters of Umdaar. People continue to say the warmest things about it, and I blush every time. The one that gets me the most is that they call it a great “gateway” into Fate or RPGs in general. Also, players will commonly say, “It reminds me of [a movie or show],” citing one of the very stories that inspired it.

I’m flattered to be part of the team that brought it into existence.

https://www.drivethrurpg.com/product/155458/Masters-of-Umdaar-o-A-World-of-Adventure-for-Fate-Core


18. What art inspires your game?
This is a little bit of a shameless plug, but I’m going to have to go with my sister, Monica Marier, who is also the lead artist for our group Tangent Artists. To explain why, a little context: a few years ago, I pitched to Monica the idea of doing a comic about life and love in a superhero world. It didn’t really appeal to her, but she did love a group of supporting characters I had mentioned. It wasn’t the normal heroes, it was the weird, creepy undead “other” team that handled the oddball cases; they were the Skeleton Crew, who were like the Doom Patrol meets Hellboy. She is a trained artist with a decade of experience doing comics and illustrations, but this was her first real “creepy” comic. It turns out she’s a natural for it. Her creations are dark and inspiring, to the point that I always wanted to jump in deeper and learn more and more about this crazy world.
Eventually, this lead to me wanting to do an RPG set in the Skeleton Crew universe. (It’s not coming any time soon, I’m afraid, but it’s comings. It’s one of those “Magnus Opuses” that sits on the backburner until the perfect time.)
But some day, I’ll create something so fantastic that she’ll want to do the art for it; and thus, hopefully the cycle will continue.

http://tangentartists.com/skeletoncrew.html


19. What music enhances your game?
I typically don’t music when I PLAY a game. I do know that what I wrote Uranium Chef, my favorite Spotify playlist consisted of Background music from “Iron Chef America,” “Flash Gordon,” and the newest “Tron” movie. It helped remind to keep tension, but with various moods; there’s a difference between slow-building tension and the last-minute rush.
Typically, I have trouble writing over music that has a large among of lyrics; thus, techno music, Celtic instrumentals, and songs in other languages (ex. Gipsy Kings) tend to dominate my writing playlists.


20. What game mechanic inspires your play the most?
The game mechanic that I’ve latched on to the most is Fate Core’s “aspect” mechanic. You could play Fate without aspects, but you’d essentially have a weak, generic RPG that you’ve likely seen a hundred times before.
What aspects do is bridge the gap between the abstract world of language and concepts, and the tactile, grounded world of mechanics. Other games can achieve this, of course, with intense mods, new charts, or add-on supplemental guides, but Fate can achieve the same result in SECONDS.
Now, I’m a little behind on my Fate mechanics (I haven’t read Dresden Accelerated, Fate Adversary, or Fate Horror yet), but I feel that fate aspects are ideal for two types of scenarios:
a. The Improvised Weapon / Destructible Environment – Aspects let players improvise their way through a scene, turning random props on the wall into weapons, or swinging off chandeliers like swashbucklers. It creates rich, exciting, and cinematic environment. I often advise to new Fate GMs, “every room should be a playground.”
b. Additive – Aspects work particularly well when they are used to represent a creative process, as the character’s creative actions literally create something on the table (or at least a notecard describing this thing.) This is why I was inspired to make Uranium Chef an actual game (which involves creating meals), as well as our soon to be released Dungeon Tours, Ltd, which involves creating fake monsters and traps for your dungeon.


21. What dice mechanic appeals to you?
This isn’t a dice mechanic from an RPG, but it still stuck with me none-the-less.
It was actually from an old, Sci-Fi football boardgame that I bought on clearance; I think it was called Battleball. It came with a lot of dice and cheap minis, so I thought, “why not?”
But there were some brilliant ideas in it. Each type of player had a specific die: the big blockers had a 1D6s, the medium sized guys various from 1D8s to 1D12, while the fast runners had 1D20s. These dice determined speed AND combat.
When moving, you roll, and the move up to the number of spaces – (i.e. higher die is better).
When in combat, you roll, and the player with the LOWER score wins (i.e. lower die is better).
It is such a beautifully elegant system. You don’t need stats, charts, or algorithms – it merely takes the simple dice type and fills it with personality and a sort of specialization.


22. What non-dice system appeals to you?
I have yet to play it, but I would LOVE to play Dread one of these days. The Jenga – ahem*sorry, NOT Jenga*ahem. The DREAD block tower is such a brilliant design that I can’t wait to try it out sometime.


23. What game do you hope to play again?

At some point, I want to play Dungeon World again. I ran in once for my friends, but never felt I really got the hang of it. I felt like I was always one round away from having something “click,” but it never did.


24. What RPG do you think deserves greater recognition?

An unsung game that I wish was back in the limelight is Teenagers from Outer-Space. As a youth, I bought the rulebook (specifically with the amazing art of the 1997 edition, reminiscent of Rumiko Takahashi’s “Urusei Yatsura / Lum” series). I’ve never had a chance to run it, but it seems the perfect mix of low-stakes cartoonish silliness combined with the infinite possibilities of sci-fi. If I had a million bucks to relaunch and/or reprint any old RPG, this would be it.


25. Name a game that had an impact on you in the last year.

Last November, I had the pleasure of playtesting Paul Stefko’s game Chromeshoe, a cyberpunk setting for Gumshoe. I had be curious about Gumshoe for a while, and this was my friend real exposure. It reminds me a lot of Fate 2.0 (in that it is very collaborative and player focused, but more bookkeeping than Fate Core or FAE). I have a dream project that I suspected Gumshoe would be a good fit for, and playing it only confirmed my suspicion.

Find out more about Paul’s work and how to support it at his patreon
https://www.patreon.com/PaulStefko


26. Your gaming ambition for the next year.

HAHAHAHAHAHA. Man, this could be a lengthy answer. Some projects I hope to accomplish:

Kickstart “Dungeon Tours, LTD.”; finish and publish “Haunted Grove”; Start work on Umdaar Sequel. This does not include any boardgame projects, which I am equally ambitious / psychotic about.


27. Share a great stream / actual play
I don’t listen to many, but I have heard a little of Rag-Nerd-rok when I discovered they have a whole lot of Fate and Umdaar sessions.

http://ragnerdrok.com/

(Edit as of 11/2018: And I just learned Stumpt ran a series of actual plays for “Uranium Chef.” There are a few small errors regarding how to play Fate, it’s far too entertaining for me to care.)

 


28. Share whose inspiring gaming excellence you’re grateful for.
(That is a sentence that’s hard to decipher.)

I haven’t had a chance to play it yet, but this last year, I was really impressed with the new RPG “Bluebeard’s Bride,” designed by Whitney “Strix” Beltrán, Marissa Kelly, and Sarah Richardson. I really am glad that the community is seeing more non-male authors, and works that explore different narratives. (For example, Bluebeard’s Bride is definitely reminiscent of Women’s Gothic Literature.)


29. Friendship you’ve made;
In the last year, I’ve definitely enjoyed talking on G+ with +Don Bisdorf, +Jon Freeman, and +Brie Sheldon. I don’t know if they consider me friends, but I’m grateful for the company.


30. Learned about playing your character
Not. A. Thing. Ignorance is bliss.


31. Why take part in RPGaDay?
I wanted to challenge myself with a daily deadline and see if I could keep it. (Didn’t quite meet the daily quota, but I made it by the wire for all 31). I used to do NaNoWriMo, and I enjoy a writing challenge with a deadline. My work doesn’t tend to be as good, but writing on a time-table is a kind of muscle; it needs exercise to keep it in shape.

Well, that was all 31! Hope you enjoyed!

7 THOUGHTS ON RPGS – RPGADAY 2018 – Week 2

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Here’s the second week of posts from RPGaDay, consolidated into one place.

RPG-a-Day 2018 (1)

Day 8: How Can We Get More People Playing?

0. Obviously, there are steps that can be taken like “community outreach” and coordinating with your local stores and meetup (organization isn’t my strong suit, so I’ll focus on what I do know).

1. One-shots are your friends – Don’t be afraid of one shot adventures with pre-gen characters. Several reasons:
a. it skips right to the the fun.
b. These make it more easily run with strangers at game nights or conventions.
c. Sometimes people can’t commit to a campaign, or are afraid to commit. A one-shot still lets them enjoy in small doses (and who knows, maybe they’ll get hooked.)
d. Instead of a campaign, think of early adventures as a series of continuous one-shots. This will mean more work carefully crafting the adventure, but if each session has a complete beginning, middle and end in which the players achieved something significant, the experience will be far more satisfactory, and they’ll be more likely to return.

2. Keep it Simple – this may mean using less complex rules systems for brand new players (Fate, Dungeon World, diceless), but can also mean avoiding complex characters (ex. difficult to happen spellcasters,) steering absolute rookies to easier classes, or just fudging the rules a little at the beginning (ex. if an ability is available once per rest period, maybe make it once per fight instead). You can always play rules lawyer later.


Day 9: How has a game surprised you?

I think the number one surprise I’ve received from an RPG was when I first read +Chris Longhurst‘s “Gods and Monsters”. The very idea that you could play a GOD was unheard of. If I had been tasked with such a thing, I would imagine I’d spend pages defining the many things players are NOT allowed to do, restrictions on power in order to keep things “balanced.”

But as written, “Gods and Monsters” is the ultimate test of the improve rule “yes, and.” There is literally no limit to what a character can do, so long as it fits their character and their narrative. Create a continent? Sure. Forge a second sun? Why not?! Sculpt and entire species of sentient beings out of clay? Sounds fun.

I have yet to run a game (itching to), but I feel like running such a game would be extremely liberating, while also putting my GM skills to the test. (The only way to provide a challenge to PCs who can do the impossible is to provide a situation so paradoxical they can’t best it; i.e. if they can lift anything and create anything, make them create a boulder so heavy that can’t lift.)


Day 10: How has gaming changed you? 

I guess a big change for me came when I was first contracted by Evil Hat. This affected me in two major ways:

a. After years of fan-projects and self-publishing, this was my first paid writing gig. In the years before that, my self-confidence was in seriously short supply, and it amazing to have a win in my corner.

b. I’ll let you in on an amazing secret: Evil Hat has an art guide which lays out what standards they have for art. To this day, it is the most inclusive and progressive document I have seen. It set the bar wonderfully high for ART work; Though I was only the writer, I did my best make sure that my prose met the same high standard. Since then, I have looked back to my earlier work and seen were I have lacked, and try to keep it in mind in any new project.

(Note: Some of you might have read criticism about Evil Hat’s earlier works being less diverse with their art and their authors. I am merely a contract worker observing from the outside, but I am under the impression they are very aware of their deficiencies and are working hard to improve with every wave of game releases. They set high standards for themselves, reach them, and then set their bar higher.)


Day 11: Best NPC name?

This NPC was created for an Urban Fantasy / Supernatural rpg, based on the world of our comic Skeleton Crew.

http://tangentartists.com/skeletoncrew/skeletoncrew_000.html

More than Half of the PCs had backgrounds in mad science, so it made sense to have a villain who was a mad scientist. I wanted a name that was unique and had a fun juxtaposition; I think the inspiration was the Mystery Men villain Casanova Frankenstein. And thus we created the mad scientist,

Dr. Socrates Madonna.


Day 12: Weirdest Character Concept

This one is a recent addition, but I’m still quite proud. At #Blerdcon, I had a pleasure playing a one-shot Adventure League game run by my friend, +Eric Menge. I let my elf-loving friends have first dibs on picking the elven characters, and I didn’t feel like playing a rogue. Thus, I ended up with the pre-gen character of the Human Paladin.

I picked a name. The only thing left was to decide what kind of god he worshipped; I could use one of the set ones, but thought it might be fun to try one of the lesser gods we created for the Clerics Guide to Smiting. Should I go with Pretensia, Goddess of Good Manners? Should he be a fashion paladin, dedicated to the Doodad, God of Accessories? (I didn’t want to use Chuggett, Dwarven God of Drink, as I’d already played a Dwarven nun dedicated to him).

And then one of my colleges made a suggestion: Paradoxiquatl, the God of Atheism. (His followers go door to door, asking people not to believe in him).

And thus, Cuthbert the Atheistic Paladin was born.

The GM Eric allowed it (partially due to his flexible nature, although +Rachael Hixon also made the argument that “Paradoxiquatl” could be an aspect of the Trickster God Erevan Ilesere).

During the adventure, Cuthbert made it his mission to visit the heathens with pamphlets boasting the virtues of common sense and critical thinking. When making attacks, he would loudly pray, “Paradoxiquatl, may you have no effect the outcome in any way!” If the attack was successful, he would praise his deity, proclaiming, “O god, thanks for nothing!”

I kept the character sheet, and will likely pull him out again.

tangentartists.storenvy.com/collections/767751-books/products/8247369-the-clerics-guide-to-smiting


Day 13 – Describe how your play has evolved? 

As a GM, I’d say the major change that I’ve tried to implement is this:

Old system for an adventure: Craft a beginning, middle, and end.

New system: Craft a problem, and a list of NPCs. (Also, have half-a-plan for one possible outcome.)

The difference I’m trying to do less railroading and more open ended solutions.

The new system says, “The role of the GM is not to create a challenging solution and lead the players there; rather, any solution is the right solution, and it’s the GM’s job to make that solution challenging.”

I know this is basic GM 101 stuff, but it was a bit of a revelation to me.

I talked about this in more detail in an open ended adventure I wrote a while ago, “Blackstache’s Revenge!”
https://tatabletop.com/2014/10/17/open-the-gates-open-ended-adventures-skeleton-crew/


Day 14 – Describe a failure that became amazing?

(I’m going to have to cheat on this one, as it was neither my failure, nor a gaming related one, but it was inspirational enough.)

I had the pleasure of watching a performance of the Improvised Shakespeare Company when they were on tour. Every night, they create a brand new 60 minute show from scratch, pairing long-form improv with many Shakespeare inspired tropes, puns, and innuendo.

Now, as an improver, I always thought I embraced “Yes, And,” the idea of taking any suggestion from a fellow performer and building on it. Improvised Shakespeare took it to the next level.

Twice, in the opening scene, one of the performers misspoke. However, rather than correct himself, he YES AND’ED his own mistake; thus, he took the rule of “what is said can’t be unsaid” and applied it even to himself.

The exchange, as best I recall it:
King: Groomsboy, make sure you prepare the finest horse we have. The Prince of Spain is arriving soon to marry my daughter. And when he rides down the aisle –
realizes his mistake – It’s a strange custom, but we respect it – Rides down the aisle on that horse, I want him to look perfect.

later:
Princess [Talking about the Prince of Spain]: When will he arrive?
King: The prince of France – I mean, Spain- I mean-
Princess: Just how many people am I engaged to?!?
King: Okay, the princes of France, Spain, and Denmark. Just those three. It’s a horse race. The first one to reach you at the altar gets to marry you.

And thus, by accepting even the ACCIDENTAL suggestions and running with it, they had both a cast of characters, a conflict, and a climax.

http://www.improvisedshakespeare.com/


That’s all for week 2 of RPGaDay. Will be posting more soon!

But before you go, we wanted to announce that Tangent Artists just launched our Patreon! 

TA_Pateron_Banner2

Our webcomics are, and will remain, FREE TO READ. However, if you want to give back, please support a small amount every month to let us keep creating what we love to create.

Until next time, Game On!

7 Thoughts on RPGs – RPGaDay 2018

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Hello, tangerines! As many gamers on G+ know, August months the RPGaDay challenge. This is part of 31 writing prompts created by game designer David F. Chapman. I thought I’d share my first week of answers all in one place.

RPG-a-Day 2018 (1)

Day 1: What do you love about RPGs?

I love that it’s s chance to collaboratively write a novel that no one knows the ending of.


Day 2: What do I look for in an RPG?

I look for a system that is both flexible and simple enough, that in any given situation:

A. I can quickly assess what is likely to be a smart tactical choice, and carry it out efficiently.

B. Will still be fun if I decide to stay true to the character’s flaws and take the worst possible choice.

C. Can quickly and easily carry out a crazy 3rd choice that no one thought of 3 seconds ago without having the game grind to a halt, Ex require the gm pull out supplemental rules for grappling.

By comparison, I remember playing Champions with a group of 5 players. A round of combat took an hour. Way too many rules to simply state “here’s all you can do, and nothing else.”


Day 3: What gives a game staying power?

3 things:

1. Can I find a group of friends to play it? This is the crux, because a game no one will play only collects dust on the shelf.

2. Does it have flexibility that I add my own content? I write more than I game, so it’s not surprising that any game system and/or game setting that grabs my interest has to be modular.

3. Are the creators and/or community creating a slow stream of quality content?
This is what keeps a game alive over a span of many years.

Part of this is my collecting bug. From a kid, I loved collecting things. Collector cards, Pokémon, miniatures, you name you. So it’s no surprise that some of my ongoing purchases for games and rpgs has been books in a series. This is a bit more evident in boardgames, although it touches on RPG-esque games (for example, I used to collect every Warhammer Quest expansion hero I could afford with my allowance.) Similarly, I have every Red Dragon Inn expansion.

However, I have found I will no longer collect for collecting-sake; quality is important. For example, I used to collect Munchkin games, but that changed with “Super Munchkin.” I didn’t care that the mechanics will basically a reprint of Munchkin Bites; what I cared about is that the creative wit from the first few games was gone. Other than one or two good puns about “Bat-Mobile”, it was clearly such a rushed project that they had no time for satire, resorting to calling objects by their clichéd names, like “power ring.”

However, a constant stream of new worlds, or better still, areas to explore within the existing world, keeps the world fresh and my curiosity piqued.


Day 4: Most memorable NPC:

This one was created by my friend and cowriter, Steve.

The Harbormaster -(D&D) In a city overrun by religious cults and political infighting, the party finally found an ally who was willing to transport us.

So long as they didn’t have any mangos. The harbormaster had a strange, paranoid obsession with these cursed fruits that would rival Captain Ahab’s loathing of the white. We kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, as if we would encounter the same fate as him. Would we end up trapped on an island, eating only mangos until we grew sick of them? Would we be ambushed by a mimic disguised as the succulent fruit? On the inside of the next mango, would we find a mere pit, or a hidden evil waiting to be released?

The other shoe never dropped, leaving us in the dark about what horrible incident shaped this harbormaster into the shell of the man we knew.


Day 5 – FAVORITE RECURRING NPC

Karbaas the Nearly-Undefeated

(This is cheating a little, in that he TECHNICALLY showed up in a round-robin fanfic… which is basically an RPG, minus the GM and the rules system).

This is how Karbaas made his entrance:

~~~~
As the party makes themselves comfortable at the tavern, a large figure approaches your table. He seven feet tall and just as wide, with every inch of him covered in black, spiky armor. He slams his gauntleted fists on the tabletop.

“TREMBLE WITH FEAR, WEAKLINGS, FOR I AM KARBAAS!!! KARBAAS, WHO RAVAGED THE COUNTRY OF AVENMOOR AND MADE THE MIGHTY WALLS OF WINTERKEEP TUMBLE! I, WHO RAZED THE CITY OF BRYN LAFAR TO THE GROUND AND WADED IN BLOOD OF THEIR CHAMPIONS! IN THE FAR EASTERN LANDS, THEY DO NOT SPEAK MY NAME FOR FEAR THAT I AM A GOD OF DEATH!!!!!!!”

He sighs and, with great reluctance, pulls out a notepad and a tiny pencil.

“I AM ALSO YOUR… WAITER… THIS EVENING. TODAY’S SPECIAL IS CHICKEN SANDWICH, BREADED WITH A DIJON MUSTARD SAUCE. THE SOUP OF THE DAY *sigh*…. IS CORN.”

~~~~

The inspiration for it came from the Warhammer champion, “Arbaal the Undefeated.” I had to wonder, “What would happen if he lost only once?” Thus, Karbaas the Nearly-Undefeated.

The down-on-his-luck warlord originally showed up as a waiter, but kept popping up in numerous menial and demeaning jobs; waiter, tour guide, party clown (guess it’s hard to keep a job when you constantly threaten to slice your customers, coworkers, and supervisors in twain). A version of him even makes a cameo in our comic CRIT! as a pencil pusher for the Warriors union (see below).

Crit-124

I have yet to drop him in a recent campaign, but it’s only a matter of time before he returns, grumbling to customers, “YOU ARE SO LUCKY MY BROADSWORD’S IN HOCK RIGHT NOW…”


Day 6: How Can Players Make a World Seem Real?

I think the best way that players can make a world real is when are allowed to freely explore their environment and fill in the corners.

A common practice when setting up an adventure or establishing a character’s backstory is ask questions about what ties this character to the campaign; for example, they’re avenging a loved-one, have a mission to collect an item, etc. Connections like this drive the story in a straight arrow and give it motivation.

However, it’s often the OTHER players, who lack the drive in any given scene, that tend to flesh out the story. To fill the time, these “side characters” end up meeting new faces, picking up local gossip, and surely breaking hearts and noses. For example, in one urban fantasy campaign, in the middle of a night club, the vengeful PC stalked the evil club owner; meanwhile, the others made friends with a random drunk party-goer, shouting to each other “I LOVE THIS SONG” for twenty minutes straight. I couldn’t tell you any of the big-bosses’ names or stats to save my life, but I will remember the “I LOVE THIS SONG!!!” for the years.

How do I encourage this as a GM? Leave a few details unplanned. A ticking clock is essential for a few scenes, but in most cases, give the players a chance to explore and create things of their own (Fate system is particularly good at this). Any missing details, the players will flesh in with their own real experiences, painting a picture more universally human than a single writer can achieve.


Day 7: How can a GM make the stakes important?

In my humble experience, the best way to handle conflicts (particularly in Fate) is to make sure that the objectives are clearly set.

For example, a fight just for fighting sake results in an amusing bar brawl; but if a villian clearly states over the din, “make sure we get that wizard’s head!” then they now what will happen should they fail. To make the fight more dynamic, this isn’t just something the PCs want to avoid, but something the NPCs are willing to try hard to get; the wizard has a particularly large bounty on his head, and they haven’t eaten a full meal in days!

Another Fate trick I love using is letting the players will in the gaps. If you can’t think of a good consequence, ask they players; they might come up with something far worse than you would have thought of (I tend to go a bit easy on them).


That’s it for this week. Stay tuned for more soon! In the meantime, share us your experience!