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!

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