FATE HACKS: ZERO SUM SKILLS and DOCTOR WHO

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This week’s entry will cover roleplaying games in general, and end with a Doctor Who hack for Fate; but I want to start with a tangent:

doctor10a_water_original

Art by Monica Marier, used with her permission. Tangent Artists claims no right to Doctor Who, or any of the other billion BBC owned characters.

 

I love Magic the Gathering.  I don’t play all that much (it’s hard to find opponents when you’re a goofy, casual player and all of your friends are busy,) but I love the symmetry of the color pie.

Each faction has their own place in the chart, but the placement is not arbitrary. With any color, the two neighboring colors compliment it, and have some overlapping strengths. What’s more, the opposite colors have diametrically opposed abilities, and even better still, opposed philosophies.

I thought of this when I started working on Masters of Umdaar: I noticed that the different approaches, by accident or design (I’m betting the latter), had natural opposites. For example, the “Flashy” approach, all about drawing attention to yourself, is the exact opposite of the “Sneaky” approach. I don’t want to take any of the steam out of Umdaar when ii publishes, so I’ll leave the rest a surprise.

Instead, let’s see if we can find any in Fate Core. Here’s a few that jump out at me:

  • Athletics – your ability to move – is the opposite of Physique – the ability to resist being moved by others
  • Contacts – your knowledge of living people and your connections to them vs. Lore – your ability to find information on your own, from the present or past.
  • Deceive – the ability to cheat people and mimic real feelings –  vs. Empathy – the ability to emotionally help people and detect the real feelings of others.
  • Fight – to deal damage up close and personally through direct contact vs. Shoot – to deal damage indirectly without close contact.

Of course, some of the Fate Core skills don’t have an opposite- for this reason, I think a few skills could be added or tweaked, but we’ll get into that during another post.

Today, I’m going to use the idea of opposite skills to experiment with something else: ZERO SUM SKILLS.

ZERO SUM SKILLS

Zero Sum Skills would work like this: imagine you all of your skills in your hacks are arranged into opposing skill pairs. For the first example, we’ll use Jung’s Four personality Types: Sensing vs. Intuition, and Feeling vs Thinking.

  • Sensing vs. Intuition – Jung defined these as two opposing ways to receive information and ideas.
  • Sensing individuals prefer using touch, taste, sight, smell, and the other concrete senses. They deal with outside stimuli, and live in the present.
  • Intuitive individuals gather stimuli from less tangible ways. This include through “sixth sense” premonitions about the future, or fanciful images of imagination and dream. Intuitive individuals respond mostly to internal stimuli, and often focus on the past or future.

Now, let’s turn those two into Skills, and build a character. This character has a limited number of points to spend between these two opposite skills; how about 4 points?

If the character is very intuitive, maybe a Psychic, you could add +4 points to Intuition, with Sense +0. Likewise, if the character is better at physical clues, such as a Detective, you could add +4 points to Sense, giving you an Intuition of 0.

4 3 2 1 0 1 2 3 4
Sense x x x x Intuition

However, you might not want a character that’s entirely one or the other: how about a Detective that’s deals with facts, but also knows that sometimes you have to trust your gut?

4 3 2 1 0 1 2 3 4
Sense X X X x Intuition

 

Thus, you get a Detective with Sense +3, and Intuition +1. Alternatively, you could have it be an even split, with +2 in each.

Now, to test this further, I needed a Fate skill list that wasn’t FAE, and was shorter than the Fate Core list. So, I decided to think of a new game setting that I could test it out with.

Now, I know what you’re thinking:

FINALLY, HE GOT TO THE “DOCTOR WHO!”

In honor of the debut (Re)Generation Who Convention in Rockville MD on March 27th, I’ve put together this hack:

HOW TO PLAY

You’ll use the following skills to create your character: you can make an original character, recreate your favorite companion, or even play as one of the incarnations of the Doctor (there’s lots of precedence for having several in one place.)

Look over the skills pairs below: you will pick one to be at 4, and the opposite skill at 0. You will pick two skills to be at +3, making those two opposite skills be +1. The last skill will be split evenly, giving you +2 in each.

Thus, the skill tree will look like this:

  • +4 – one
  • +3 – two
  • +2 – two
  • +1 – one
  • +0 – one

Here are our skill pairs, which we divided into Physical and Emotional (more details on the breakdown later.)

Physical:

  • Brains vs. Instinct
  • Scrap vs. Scamper

Emotional:

  • Evoke vs. Provoke
  • Purity vs. Deviousness

PHYSICAL SKILLS – Interaction with the physical world

Brains vs Instinct – Because you can’t have a Doctor Who setting without letting people show their braininess.

Brain – Includes: book-smarts; ability to research facts quickly; formulating plans; pulling from experience. Actions: overcome, create an advantage. Cannot be used to attack or defend (without stunts).
Pro-Brain Characters: The Doctor; Martha; The Great Intelligence; The Master
Stunts:
Time Lord 101
– The master gains to +2 Brain when creating an adventure related to knowing information about science or history.
Cyber-brain – Cybermen are beings of logic, not emotion. They can use Brains instead of Purity when defending against Mental attacks.

Instinct – Includes: reacting quickly to danger; acting without a plan; making knee jerk decisions; dumb luck. Actions: overcome, create an advantage. Cannot be used to attack or defend (without stunts).
Special Rules: Reflexes – Instinct can be used to defend against surprise attacks and traps. Generally, can only be used once per scene.
Special Rules: Initiative – When rolling for turn order in conflicts, add your Instinct to the roll.
Pro-Instinct Characters: Donna; Wilfred; Weeping Angels
Stunts:
Doctor Donna
– Once per session, Donna may use Instinct as Brain for all actions for the rest of the scene. However, after the scene, Donna immediately takes a Consequence.

Scrap vs. Scamper – Scrap vs. Scamper – With many settings, I wouldn’t put the opposite of “physical attacks” as “scamper,” but there are soooo many Doctor Who characters that aren’t fighters (sometimes not even MENTAL fighters) and who spend most of their episodes simply running away.

Scrap – ability to deal damage in a fight; the ability to defend against damage; the ability to destroy obstacles; the ability to bounce back when physically hurt. Actions: Overcome, Create an Advantage, Attack, Defend (physical).
Pro-Scrap Characters: Captain Jack; Soltari; Daleks
Stunts:
Ex-termi-nate – If a Dalek has one or more allied Daleks with it, it gains +2 Scrap when attacking, provided it loudly yells out “Ex-termi-nate” first.
Jack’s Dead Again – Captain Jack can never REALLY die. If Jack is killed, he is merely taken out of the scene. At the start of the next scene, roll 4dF and add his Scrap- if the result is 2 or more, he is returned from the dead, with all stress and physical consequences removed. If the roll is failed, he is still dead until the start of the next scene, when he can try again (don’t worry about dragging his body around, he’ll just magically show up.)

Scamper – athletic ability; dodging attacks and opponents; sneaking around; staying out of danger. Actions: Overcome, Create an Advantage, Defend (physical). Cannot be used to attack (without stunts).
Pro-Scamper Characters: Rose, Sarah Jane, Lady Christina de Souza
Stunts:
“Low” Priority – If Susan encounters an opponent and successfully uses Scamper to defend against a physical attack, she immediately gains an aspect with a free invoke regarding how the villains overlook her. She only receives this aspect once per scene, and only if she has allies in the same scene with her.

EMOTIONAL SKILLS– Interaction with the social and mental world

Evoke vs. Provoke – Evoke vs. Provoke – Fate Core includes the skill provoke, which allows characters to draw out the negative emotions of others. It only makes sense that there is an opposite skill (although, I think I’ll save that for a further discussion.)

Evoke – inspire positive feelings in others; make friends; seduce; draw attention to yourself; heal the mental consequences of others. Actions: overcome, create an advantage. In social conflicts, it may sometimes be used to “attack” (ex. when convincing someone to ally with you.) It cannot be used to defend.
Pro-Evoke Characters – Rory, Rose
Stunts:
I’m a Nurse – Rory can use Evoke to help heal the physical consequences of others as well as mental consequences.
Last Chance – Doctor – Once per scene, if lives are threatened, the Doctor can use Evoke as if it were Provoke to make a threat (mental attack) against hostile beings.

Provoke – bring out the negative emotions of others; conquering others through fear. Actions: overcome, create an advantage. It can also be used to attack, but this is often limited to social conflicts.
Pro-Provoke Characters – Amy, Daleks, Peri
Stunts:
Harbingers of Hate –
When Daleks successfully use Provoke and deal 2 or more stress, the first 2 stress must to taken by a Minor Consequence, if possible.

Purity vs. Deviousness –  I’m not 100% happy with the names on this one, but I think it works. (and again, stresses the importance of purity in Doctor Who.)

Purity – your resolve; your honesty, and ability to convince others in your sincerity; your ability to recognize when others are being honest with you others; your ability to keep your resolve and convictions when others try to influence you; your ability to collect yourself after being psychologically beaten. Actions: overcome, create an advantage, defend (against evoke, provoke, and deceive.) Cannot be used to attack.
Special Rules: anyone with Purity 4+ gains +1 stress box.
Pro-Purity Characters – Rose, Martha, Amy
I Believe in the the Doctor: If the Doctor is not present, Amy gains +2 Purity when defending against any mental attacks.
Pure Hearts Alike: When using Purity with create an advantage to when make new friends and forge bonds, add your Purity and also the Purity skill of the target to your roll.

Deviousness – your impurity; your ability to lie, cheat, and obfuscate; your ability to know how devious minds think; your ability to manipulate others without their knowing it. Actions: overcome, create an advantage. In social conflicts, it may sometimes be used to “attack” (ex. when manipulating others in a debate.) It cannot be used to defend against attacks, but may be used to resist attempts to discern your true motives.
Special rules: Chameleon – “Deviousness” is a skill with chameleon-like quality. Whenever a character uses it to overcome, create an advantage, or attack, the defender will be told that the character is using Evoke, Provoke, or Purity. Even when disguised as “purity,” it cannot be used to defend against attacks, although it can be used to resist attempts to discern the character’s true nature and intentions (in which case, it shows to others as “Purity.”) After a character has succeeded against a chameleon-Devious action three times (succeed with style counts as 2), the sneaky character can still use the skill, but it appears Deviousness instead of as another skill. Once a character has seen through the disguise, they can also tell any trusted allies, who will likewise see through the camouflage.
Pro-Deviousness Characters – River Song; the Silence; Autons; the Master; Zygons
Stunts:
Escaped Again! – River can use Deviousness as Scamper when physically breaking out of any type of confinement.
Doppleganger – When Zygons use Deviousness with the chameleon ability, they not only mask their skill, but also their true identity, appearing to be whatever person they want. If someone sees through their “chameleon” skill use, they see through the disguise as well.

SAMPLE PCS
Here are a few sample PCs.

THE DOCTOR (10)
High Concept: Frenetic Last of the Timelords
Trouble: Must help the defenseless
Aspects: We Only Kill as a Last Resort
Been There, Done That, Occasionally Remember

Brain +4 / Instinct +0
Scrap +3 / Scamper +1
Evoke +3 / Provoke +1
Purity +2 / Deviousness +2

Stunts:
Sonic Screwdriver – so long as you have the screwdriver, you gain +2 to Brain when overcoming inanimate or mechanical obstacles in your way. It doesn’t do wood.
Timelord Tenacity – You have an additional minor consequence.

RIVER SONG
High Concept: Mysterious Time Traveler Criminal
Trouble: Bad Reputation
Aspects: I Don’t Play Nice
One Step Ahead

Brain +3 / Instinct +1
Scrap +3 / Scamper +1
Evoke +2 / Provoke +2
Purity +0 / Deviousness +4

Stunts:
Escaped Again! – River can use Deviousness as Scamper when physically breaking out of any type of confinement.
That’s Doctor Song – Doctor gains +2 Brain when knowing information about the species or history of the universe.

CAPTAIN JACK HARKNESS
High Concept: Handsome Semi-Government Agent
Trouble: What’s YOUR Name?
Aspects: Very Experienced
Man on Top

Brain +2 / Instinct +2
Scrap +4 / Scamper +0
Evoke +3 / Provoke +1
Purity +1 / Deviousness +3

Stunts:
Jack’s Dead Again – Captain Jack can never REALLY die. If Jack is killed, he is merely taken out of the scene. At the start of the next scene, roll 4dF and add his Scrap- if the result is 2 or more, he is returned from the dead, with all stress and physical consequences removed. If the roll is failed, he is still dead until the start of the next scene, when he can try again (don’t worry about dragging his body around, he’ll just magically show up.)
Vortex Manipulator – once per session, you may use Deviousness instead of Scamper to avoid a threat. If successfully, are transported to a different location or/and a small jump in time, and may take one person with you.

DONNA NOBLE
High Concept: Sassy Temp
Trouble: Big Mouth
Aspects: Don’t Underestimate Me
Sucker for a Pretty Face

Brain +0 / Instinct +4
Scrap +2 / Scamper +2
Evoke +1 / Provoke +3
Purity +3 / Deviousness +1

Stunts:
Doctor Donna – Once per session, Donna may use Instinct as Brain for all actions for the rest of the scene. However, after the scene, Donna immediately takes a Consequence.
Bites Back – If Donna has been insulted or attacked with some type of Provoke, she gains +2 Provoke when attacking that opponent.

Clara Oswald
High Concept:  The Impossible Girl
Trouble: Controlling School teacher
Aspects: Actually Listens to the Plan

Brain +3 / Instinct +1
Scrap +1 / Scamper +3
Evoke +4 / Provoke +0
Purity +2 / Deviousness +2

Stunts:
Gift of Computers  – Gains +2 Brain when using create an advantage to hack or research through computers.
Parlay –During a physical conflict Clara can use Evoke with create an advantage to attempt to create a Parlay aspect.  If successful, the conflict temporarily becomes a mental conflict (ex. a debate), and no opponent may make any further physical attacks- they can only use Evoke, Provoke, or Deceive to deal mental attacks as they talk it out. This lasts until the conflict is won or conceded (by either side), until Clara is taken out of the conflict, or until one of Clara’s allies makes a physical attack, in which case, discard the Parlay aspect. Clara can only successfully create a Parlay once per session. (GM’s don’t forget you can compel a feisty PC into breaking the peace!)

NPCS

One of the things that sets Doctor Who villains apart is that, for the most part, they so tough. There are very few “mooks” that are defeated en masse; rather, most threats are severe enough that the heroes spend almost 40 minutes running away from it. There are two ways to handle this:

1. Competent Villains – most of the average villains the heroes encounter will be at the same level as the PCs – this means one Dalek is an obstacle for a group of four heroes, but not insurmountable. A ship filled with hundreds daleks, however, is a reason to concede!  If the number of threats is small, like a lone monster, it is likely at a much higher level than the heroes.

2. Impossible Villains – Some threats, whether it is a single beast, or a cadre of Cybermen, are just invincible as they stand. They have normal stats and PCs can use their Scrap to weaken them and to slow their advance, but they do not suffer stress. That would take a while to explain, so I think I’ll save that for next week’s post.

However, it’s not a bad idea to throw a few small threats in there.

SMALL NPCS

For these NPCS, either give them either +4 in only a two pairs, or give them a max of +2 points for each pair.

CYBERMAT
High concept – cyborg rodent
Aspect: small and slippery

Brain +1 / Instinct +3
Scrap +1 / Scamper +3
Evoke +0 / Provoke +0
Purity +0 / Deviousness +0

Stunts:
Basic – Cybermats are pretty basic, and cannot execute plans more complex than surveillance, attacks, or basic sabotage. They are, however, immune to all mental attacks, as they have no minds to sway.
Element of Surprise – If a cybermat has a stealth-related boost or aspect on itself, it may use Scamper instead of Scrap to deal attacks, which can only be defended against with Instincts. After the attack is done and any invokes have been used, the cybermat is exposed; destroy the “stealthy” aspect or boost.

Soltaran Scout
High concept – short bio-engineered warrior alien
Aspect: stronger than they look
Warrior code
Achilles’s heel (or neck)

Brain +2 / Instinct +0
Scrap +2 / Scamper +0
Evoke +0 / Provoke +2
Purity +1 / Deviousness +1

Stunts:
Weapons malfunction – Soltarans receive +2 Scrap when defending against conventional human gunfire.
Scout ahead – If Soltaran scouts successfully use Brains to create an advantage in regards to assessing their military opponents and surveying battlefields, they gain an extra free invoke.

BIG THREATS

DALEKS
High concept – machine-clad alien invaders
Aspect: Removed of so-called “weak” emotions
The Dalek race must prevail

Art by Monica Marier, used with her permission. Nope, still don't own this character.

Art by Monica Marier, used with her permission. Nope, still don’t own this character.

Brain +3 / Instinct +1
Scrap +4 / Scamper +0
Evoke +0 / Provoke +4
Purity +3 / Deviousness +1

Stunts:
Ex-termi-nate – If a Dalek has one or more allied Daleks with it, it gains +2 Scrap when attacking, provided it loudly yells out “Ex-termi-nate” first.
Messengers of Hate – The first time a Dalek successfully uses Provoke to mentally attack and deals 2 or more stress to the defender, the first 2 stress must be absorbed as a Minor consequence, if one is available. The consequence gains a free invoke as normal.


I think that’s enough for a start- next week, we’ll break down when to use Zero Sum skills, and more on the “Impossible Villain.”

 

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