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!