MANOR OF FACT – Supernatural Roleplaying with “Betrayal at House on the Hill.”

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In a previous blog, I looked a GM can take the Kill Doctor Lucky board game and adapt it for an RPG game map. This week, we’re looking at one of my favorite new games, “Betrayal at House on the Hill.”

Betrayal at House on the Hill is a horror-themed board game designed by Bruce Glassco and published by Avalon Hill Games (now a subsidiary of of Wizards of the Coast, which is owned by Hasbro). The 1st edition debuted in 2004 and is out of print, while the 2nd edition debuted in 2010. The premise is simple, the execution complex; 3-6 explorers are locked in an old haunted house, encountering the many twisted and dangerous rooms. At some random point in the game, the Haunt begins, turning one of the “heroes” into a traitor; no one knows who it will be until it happens, even the traitor himself! To say that “every game is different” is a bit of an exaggeration, but with 50 random end games to stumble across, it means that there’s ton of variety and replay. If you’ve never played it, I highly recommend you go to your local store or con and buy it.

Official Box Art from the Game, used without permission. Find it at http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=ah/prod/houseonthehill

How Does it Rate as a Game Mat?

Given that I’m looking for a spacious haunted mansion that the players are exploring for the first time, I’ll be ranking the game on the following scales:

Structured vs. Random

Creepiness & Surprise

Space

Extras

Structured vs. Random?: This first criteria is more of a spectrum, as Structure and Randomness are polar opposites. By default, the map you create is definitely random. If that’s what you want, wonderful. However, some of the rooms are designed to show up in more specific locations: you will only find the Bedroom in the Upper Floor, only find the Furnace Room in the basement, etc.
Can it be Structured?: If you want to go through the time of mapping each room by each room, recording it, and having the characters run through it, you can, but it is a bit of a hassle. The best way to handle this would be to build the entire house and then flip the tiles over- those, the players know where the next room is located, but not what’s in it. (Although, you’d still have to keep records yourself so you know without having to peek every few minutes).

I would recommend allowing a little bit of randomness; for example, have some important events in your adventure occur in specific rooms, and trim down the deck so players will stumble upon those rooms faster. Likewise, you can craft three “decks,” one for the ground floor, one for the upper, and one for the basement; this means you have strict control of which rooms will appear close to other rooms, even if their exact placement will shift about.

Random: 7, Structured:3

Monica Marier and a rulebook that's very clear (mostly)

Monica Marier and a rulebook that’s very clear (mostly)

Mood: This game is dripping with mood. Drip. ping. Be careful how you stack it on your shelf, as it will drip on to games underneath it, turning your edition of Candyland dark and spooky. Dripping ceilings? Check. Great art? Check. Even the font keeps me up at night. I give it a 9/10- about a 7 by itself, but the bonus cards pick it up to near perfection (more of those later). Mood: 9

Suspense: Whether you’re going with a randomly generated map or one that the GM has created and flipped over, it is very easy to keep the players in the dark over what is coming next. The only people who are likely to see what’s coming are the players who own the game and have memorized all of the room names. (On a side note, if you want to study game craft, the default game has great ways of building suspense on its own.) Suspense: 9

Space: This is the one place where Betrayal is poorly suited for RPGs: the space. Each tile is roughly 2.5” by 2.5” long, which is barely big enough to fit the six 20mm figures that come in the box, let alone any monster or larger size figures you might supply yourself. If you’re playing Fate Core, it’s hard to imagine any room being bigger than a single zone, making the conflict in one room nearly identical to a conflict in another. The exception is the entrance hall, which is three long rooms connected together, making it the most interesting location to have a conflict. With this is mind, it might be a good idea to have a “Betrayal” RPG adventure involve the characters exploring in and retreating back to the entrance; alternatively, you can have them wake up in the strange place and have them explore until they find the way out.

The only other option I see setting up complex multi-zone areas involves a partially pre-built the map: a GM could link together three separate room tiles and declare them as one space that’s split into three zones (ex. The characters start in on the Balcony, with slender Tower bridge which leads to the open air Chapel.)

The last issue comes from Movement. Fate Core is very loose with moving out side of a conflict (no limit) and very strict during a scene (one zone for free, nothing else). I recommend that outside of a conflict, a character can explore one new room a turn. Once explored, they may move one room OR one room for each Athletics point unless they’re in a conflict. If a fight breaks out, they can move one for free, or use their action to move several (must use Athletics, to an overcome a difficultly equal to the number of extra rooms you’re moving). For, tiles have special rules regarding movement (ex. The Tower, the Collapsed Room) treat those rooms having situation aspects, which make movement in the zone difficult and will block someone from running through several rooms that exchange. Space: 2

The game we played... as lightning crashed outside. Brrrr.

The game we played… as lightning crashed outside. Brrrr.

Extras: Almighty Jeebus, the extras in this game are fantastic. If you ever need inspiration for random events to occur in your game, look no further than the 13 omen cards and 45 event cards, which range from mildly creepy to Grade-A Nightmare Fuel. The game includes decent plastic figures, close to 145 tokens, and some decent mechanics. Some of the room tiles themselves have suggestions for obstacles and situation aspects. If you don’t mind spoilers, you can even read the scenarios themselves for ideas for adventures (but at that point, you might as well just play the game as is). I almost wonder, though, if the Omens and random tiles are enough to create a random adventure on the fly as it is (although, Fate Core might not be the system for that… I’m wondering if that would work better with an Apocalypse World game, like “Monster of the Week”). Space: 10

Total Score: 40 / 50

Comparison: Kill Doctor Lucky: 38/50

Even if the game was terrible (which it’s not), the tiles and extras make this game a great buy for any GM that loves running horror games. Snatch it up and break it out for a Halloween.

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MANOR OF FACT – Supernatural Roleplaying with Kill Doctor Lucky

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In previous blogs, I’ve looked at plastic figures and ranked them on how well they could be adapted as characters in an RPG. In the next few blogs, I’m going to try a similar concept with a twist: I’ll be looking at board games that can be used as roleplaying playmats. More specifically, we’re looking for good ol’ haunted mansions!

This week, we’re going to focus on Cheapass Games’s Clue parody game, Kill Doctor Lucky.

Oh, he’s gonna die.

But first, a word from our sponsor!


Keep your eyes open for our new kickstarter, Fate Accompli: erasable notecards for your Fate RPG games.

New Header! Pretty, no?

New Header! Pretty, no?

The premade cards make it easy to write up NPCS, keep track of stress and turn orders, or create an aspect in a jiffy. Just a reminder, we’re launching this month! You may commence salivating.


Note: Tangent Artists did not create this image nor hold the rights to this game. We will tell you it is awesome and you should buy it.

Note: Tangent Artists did not create this image nor hold the rights to this game. We will tell you it is awesome and you should buy it.

Back to Kill Doctor Lucky! For those who’ve never heard of it, Kill Doctor Lucky is a darkly-comedic board game created by James Earnest, and first published by Cheapass Games in 1997. It is one of their most famous titles, and has been printed in numerous editions, including the original 97 version, the 2002 Directors Cut (with 2 maps), and a full-art version licensed through Titanic Games. I don’t quite know how the rights are handled, but according to their website, Cheapass Games will once again be releasing their version of the game in 2016.

What’s more, the Cheapass Games website will let you print out the 2002 version FOR FREE! (Just watch your printer settings, otherwise you might end up with a very small map.)

2002 Director’s cut Version – How Does it Rate as a Game Mat?

Objective: To have spacious haunted mansion that the characters are exploring for the first time.

I’ll be ranking the game on the following scales:

  • Structured vs. Random 
  • Mood
  • Suspense 
  • Space 
  • Extras 

Structured vs. Random?: This first criteria is more of a spectrum, as Structure and Randomness are polar opposites. The game board is already preconstructed, and there’s very little you can do to alter this (save taping over the names of the rooms and adding your own, or editing the digital file.) This would rank it a straight 10/10 on Structure, but it comes with TWO boards- which means, you can choose which version you want to play with (giving you a less rigid model.) If you wanted to be weird, if the characters are in different rooms of the house, you can flip from one map to the other- suddenly, rooms that were once on the ground floor are now on the second level! As another way to introduce randomness, should you want it, on the main map, the rooms are numbered 0-19, which means you can pick a random room with a twenty-sided die; alternatively, you can just use the shuffle the room cards and have a character mysterious walk out of one room into a random one. Structure: 6, Random 4.

Mood: This is where the Lucky board does poorly. The basic set is, well, basic, with large empty spaces of white. This does give a GM a very blank canvas, allowing them a lot of variety (is it a well-preserved manor with residents, or a ramshackle manor barely staying upright?), but it also means they have a lot of work to do. The only flavorful elements provided by the board are the names of the room, which are not very scary, but provide a wonderful throwback to classic Edwardian manors. The boardgame version, which I do not own, has art that supports the mood better. Mood: 3/10

Suspense: To clarify, by “Suspense,” I am referring to the amount of information that is hidden from the players. With the Director’s Cut Board Game I was lucky to get about ten years ago, the board is broken into 6 different sections, giving the players information about 2-3 neighboring rooms, but nothing beyond (I’d give this Suspense: 8/10. For the other boards (the Titanic game board or the free print out version), the GM would either have to cover the other parts of the board or manipulate the image file (Suspense: 2/10).

Space: “Space” measures the practicality of the space. Personally, I found that the Kill Doctor Lucky rooms were perfect, especially in their slight variations. The majority of the rooms were big enough to house half a dozen figurines or markers with a little room to spare, making up a perfect fate core “zone.” A few rooms or hallways were just small enough that a few figures couldn’t squeeze in (which keeps it interesting), while the Ballroom makes for a dynamic scene for a conflict, requiring the heroes to scale up walls and swing on chandeliers to reach the top any adversary in the Gallery. Space: 10/10

Image by Cheapass Games. Buy it already.

Image by Cheapass Games. Buy it already.

Extras: The basic set doesn’t include too many extras (that was part of the point behind a Cheapass Game!) but it does include the cards. If you’re using the haunted mansion as the scene or a treasure hunt or a crime, you could use the various items as clues and red herrings; for example, a character digging around the nursery might find a Runcible Spoon. This would require taking out the room cards and all of the failure cards (although, you could leave in a few of the “distraction” themed failures to indicate that a character failed to find anything.) Extras: 7/10

TOTAL 38/50


What Kind of Story Can You Run with Kill Doctor Lucky?

Here’s an idea: Who Killed Old Man Miserkeister?

The city’s richest and meanest old man, Dr. L. E. “Old Man” Miserkeister, is finally dead. Despite being over 100 years old, he didn’t die of natural causes (likely too stubborn). Money would seem an obvious motive, but it not clear who would be the beneficiary; his wife passed away decades ago, and his daughter hasn’t been heard of in decades… some claim she eloped with a sailor, but loose tongues whisper about other, darker possibilities…

Old Man Miserkeister’s body he was found by his housekeeper (who only comes by once a month) in his dusty foyer, his head bashed in with a blunt object. The city forensics team have only started their investigation, but they suspect that the body was dragged, or quite possibly levitated, from another room. However, they have yet to find the murder weapon. Any officers that have attempted to investigate the many rooms of the moldy manor find themselves strangely distracted, disoriented, and driven slightly mad… almost as if something in the house, or the house itself, doesn’t want the truth to come to light. The police have turned to your team, which has experience with the paranormal, to find what they cannot. Find the murder weapon, and maybe a few other secrets along the way, and get out before you find yourself sharing Miserkeister’s fate.


That’s all for now. Join us next time for more thrills and chills!

Fate Adventure: TOMB ENOUGH FOR TWO

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For this week’s entry, I was going to just go through my toy box and make a bestiary entry based on that one monster. However, I realized that my toy box includes a massive amount of plastic skeletons that I have not had the pleasure of using yet. They’re vaguely Egyptian themed and sand-colored, and that reminded me of Frank Turfler Jr.’s Stuff for Storytellers and Game Masters Patreon, Patreon, which just released an Egyptian tomb tile set. (I bought into it myself to get a set, and wasn’t disappointed!) Thus, this week, we give you a mummy-tastic supernatural comedy one-shot adventure!

Waiter? Can you top me off? (Offering_vessel_of_Pepi_I.jpg - credits see below)

Waiter? Can you top me off? (Offering_vessel_of_Pepi_I.jpg – credits see below)

TOMB ENOUGH FOR TWO

Preface

Rules: This setting uses our own mod of Fate Core, named Skeleton Crew. However, I’ve included side-by-side swaps for using Fate Core. Likewise, it shouldn’t be too hard to convert to FAE or your personal hack.

Characters: This adventure does not include Player Characters- it’s assumed that you can make your own, or just drop this adventure into your current campaign. We recommend at least one character that is good in a combat (fight, shoot) and/or physical tasks (athletics, physique). We also recommend at least one character that is good at gathering clues (translators and archaeologists are ideal). If your group does not contain one of the above, it might be a good idea to add an NPC bodyguard or a professor that they can control. If you need some, there are plenty of pre-made characters in the Skeleton Crew RPG rulebook, and there’s still time to sign up for the free open Beta test (just send us a note.) Simple NPC enemies are provided, but feel free to alter them as you see fit.

Humor: This is a comedic adventure, although it might not show it at first. Humor typically works in one of two different forms: Short Form and Long Form. Short form has the humorous premise established pretty earlier, and revisits it constantly. (Example: like telling a string of light-bulb jokes.) Long form jokes build to the comedy slowly, so the joke is not obvious until near the end. An impatient audience may lose interested before the payoff, but sometimes the anticipation sweetens the final, comical reveal (Ex. the knock knock – banana joke. http://jokes.cc.com/funny-food-jokes/panmgr/knock–knock—-banana) This adventure is a Long Form joke – we advise all GMs to read the adventure before starting, so they have an idea of what the payoff is- however, do not give too many hints, as you don’t want them to get the full nature of the adventure until at least halfway through.

WARNING: SPOILERS BELOW! PCS READ NO FURTHER!


FLUFF: A team of archaeologists in Cairo were investigating a newly discovered catacomb. On the midnight of March 1, the skeletons and mummies they were studying sprang to life and attacked, driving the archaeologists off. No one has been able to enter it since, although those brave enough to get within earshot swear that they hear the din of combat. Are they training for combat, to take on the mortal world? Your mission: investigate the threat and secure the tomb.

(Relocating: If you don’t feel like trekking your team to Egypt, you could move the site: maybe it takes place in a History museum, or in the secret tunnels beneath the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas.)

Waiter? Can you top me off? (Offering_vessel_of_Pepi_I.jpg - credits see below)

Waiter? Can you top me off? (Offering_vessel_of_Pepi_I.jpg – credits see below)

Egyptian_funerary_stela

Maybe people in ancient times didn't have any arms. Look at the Venus De Milo.  (Haute_Egypte_Sculpture_au_crépuscule - see credits below)

Maybe people in ancient times didn’t have any arms. Look at the Venus De Milo.
(Haute_Egypte_Sculpture_au_crépuscule – see credits below)

What’s Really Going On: GMs, go ahead at the “What’s Really Going On” down at the bottom of the document. It will put the rest of this mystery in context.

SCENE 1 – THE SCUFFLE

As you approach the main entrance hall, the murmur of battle becomes a roar. In the entrance hall, there stand over a dozen skeletal warriors, fighting viciously amongst themselves. They seemed to be divided into two factions: half are bedecked in red and turquoise, half in black and green.

Conflict- The skeletons are too busy in their scuffle to talk, and will drag anyone close enough into the fray. Have the players recommend situation aspects for the chamber, and then start the conflict.

SKELETON FANATICS
There are two or four mobs of Skeletons, each with 3 skeletons in it.
Skeletons are puppets of dried bone, controlled by a necromantic magic from the outside.

Skeleton Aspects

  • Undead—Skeletons are undead, and as such, might have weaknesses to holy magic, silver, and other magical purities
  • No Pain
  • Rattling Bones.
  • Fanatical
  • Infighting!

Stunts:

  • Autonomous Parts—It is possible for a skeleton’s body part to keep moving, even after it has been severed from the rest of the body.
AVERAGE (+1)
Physique +1 and Fight +1 (per skeleton)
Stress: One stress box per skeleton

Conflict Special Rules: The two sides are fighting each other, but don’t openly have them roll to attack each other. Instead, at the end of any exchange after all players and NPCS have taken their turn, roll one fate die for each side: on a -, that side has one of the mobs reduced by 1 skeleton / stress, as the other skeletons take out one of their number. If you roll a +, ADD on stress / skeleton to that mob, as a previously stunned fighter rejoins the fray. Remember, the skeleton mobs also have the aspect “Infighting,” which can be invoked or compelled against a mob, to demonstrate the other side getting in the way.

Once the scuffle is over, the majority of the remaining skeletons don’t get up, having been returned to death or unconscious.

Any Investigation of them yields:

Physical Clues – They appear to be some form of militias, wielding cheap weapons like clubs and chains. The fighters have some cheap ornaments of bronze and clay, implying lower class.

Interrogation: If interrogating, see scene 2 for ideas about what they reveal.


SCENE 2 – The Locked Room

The next room is a dead end. Colorful murals decorate the walls, including two strong figures facing each other; the first, a female warrior, wears green & black; the male figure wears red & turquoise. Each carries a chalice. (Thorough Investigation yields: each figure is also holding an orb in their other hand.)

Very quickly, the group will realize that there is no obvious way through. There might be some sort of secret door… (spoiler: there is.)

Gathering clues: members can gather clues any number of ways, including:

  • Decipher the hieroglyphics on the walls
  • Communing with the dead
  • Interrogating any defeated fighters (assuming they speak Egyptian, have a high tech translator device, or are very good with reading body language).

When the players attempt to investigate (overcome rolls), they receive the following info:

Info A. Historical investigation – info about why everyone’s there, and what’s at stack. Depending on how well or poorly they decipher the reading, give them the Bad, Okay, or Good translation.

BAD TRANSLATIONS – Surface war fighters stork two. Victor eyeball control group cup of no death and army big-number [lost word] big-number.

OKAY TRANSLATION –There are two types of heroes must face fighters against each other . Victor have a cup of immortality and control the hordes 500 [lost word]

GOOD TRANSLATION – There are two champion fighters shall face off against each other. The victor shall possess the Chalice of Immortality, and control 500 legions [damaged word] 5000 years.

Info B. There is a secret door on one of the three walls.

Info C. Opening the Door – After they’ve slogged through the backstory info, they can find the info regarding the door. The inscription reads:

To open the door, one must speak the password.”

The password, of course, is Egyptian for “the password.” (If you’re interrogating someone, insert “Who’s on first?” routine here.) However, if the players struggle with this, you can also accept other passwords. Examples: “open sesame”; “swordfish”, “mellon,”etc. If players are STILL stumped, you can have them “discover” further hieroglyphics giving hints like, “the password is the password,” and “No, really, it’s password. Say password. Say it.”

Once they get through the door, they should arrive at:


SCENE 3. The Gates –

The next room is an antechamber of sorts, leading through a gate. On the other side appears to be a much larger chamber, perhaps an arena. Skeletons are lining up to get to the other side. [Inspection reveals: they are each holding crumbled papyrus papers.]

At the gate’s entrance are two MASSIVE figures: they are stone Sphinxes that have been animated through potent magic. They stand watch over the gateway, only allowing those with the papyrus papers to go through. If the players are to go through, they will have to get past the Sphinxes.

Getting past: It’s up to you and the players how they are to get past. If they attempt to get physical and fight or shove their way, we recommend you have the sphinxes beat them up for an exchange or two- after their butts are handed to them, quickly offer the chance for the players to concede, rather than be taken out. Players will have much better luck trying to bluff or talk their way through (mental conflict), try to steal tickets of their own (challenge), or try to slip past them (contest.)

SPHINX STATUES

Sphinx Aspects:

  • Stone-cold
  • No one gate-crashes ME!
  • Riddles? Better be a good one
  • Just doing my job

SKILLS

  • Physique +8, Fight +8
  • Will +4, Athletics +4
  • Empathy +3, Notice +3

STRESS
Physical: O O O O O
Mental: O O O

Stunts:

  • Shrug—May Use Physique to defend against any type of physical attack.
  • Nerves of Steel – Sphinx are immune to any Intimidation (Provoke) attempts from monsters trying to scare them with their appearance. In order to scare the sphinxes, you’d need some type of leverage.

If they can get past them in some way…


SCENE 4. The Arena –

Any groups that make it to the next area find themselves in a massive underground arena. Hundreds of skeletal forms sit in the stands, howling and cheering. In the middle stand half a dozen combatants, waiting patiently for the games to begin.

An announcer proclaims (in something that you can hopefully translate,) that the contest is about to begin. The winner of the contest will receive the Chalice of Immortality. The announcer also calls into the crowd to ask if there are in the audience brave enough to join in. (Hopefully, the players will willingly jump in; if not, it’s a great time to compel some aspect, ex. Having an angry PC get taunted by a combatant into jumping in; having a clumsy player slip over the railing into the ring.) Once you have a PC involved, ask if any other PCs want to jump in too.

The officiators divide the contestants into their own separate areas, and then hand them what they are competing with: BALLS & CUPS!! That’s right, the old children’s toy, involving getting the ball on the string to go into the cup.

This contest is held like a Contest between the pc against the skeletal contestants. The first side to catch the ball three times (3 victories) wins! The NPC contestants will not initiate any dirty tactics, but if anyone attempts to sabotage them, they will respond in kind.

SKELETON CONTESTANTS

Treat all skeleton contestants as one opposing force.

Skeleton Aspects

  • Undead—Skeletons are undead, and as such, might have weaknesses to holy magic, silver, and other magical purities
  • Infighting!

Stunts:

  • Autonomous Parts—It is possible for a skeleton’s body part to keep moving, even after it has been severed from the rest of the body.
FAIR (+2)
Athletics +2

Physique +1 and Fight +1

Consequence : One minor consequence box

If the players win, they move on to the next round! If they fail, they must either be removed from the field (but keep them close, if they want to crash the main event), or force them to give up something valuable to bribe the judges.


SCENE 5. THE FINAL ROUND

Afterwards, the players learn that the contest they just joined was the semi-finals. The finals will now start, between your players and the champions: two massive mummies. The first is Isit-Senaktemyet, clad in red and turquoise; and second is Neferfret, clad in Green and Black. The referees also roll out the Chalice of Immortality (which looks suspiciously like the Stanley Cup). If the players are eliminated, it might be good to repeat the part how the holder of the cup will gain control of 500 hundred legions.

For the final round, the ball-and-cup match has become full-contact! The champions wield giant ball-and-cup flails, with spiked metal balls. Technically, the rules are thrown out for this match, but the referees are a bit biased against the players, and can be compelled to get in the player’s way.

MUMMY CHAMPIONS
If life equals magic, than mummies are corpses with their internal life force preserved inside them by mystical rites. While some occur naturally, the greatest mummies are princes and princesses interred by dozens of powerful sorcerers, in the hopes they will rise again.

Mummy Aspects:

  • Undead—Mummies are undead, and as such, might have weaknesses to holy magic, silver, and other magical purities
  • Tougher than Jerky
  • Fire BAAAD!
  • Cup & Ball of Death (of Death)* – see stunts

Stunts:

  • Thick Skin—May Use Physique to defend against Shoot Attacks (except for fire or heat-based shots.)
  • Touch of Death (Good +3 only)—If the Mummy deals 2 or more Stress on an Attack, the defender must take a Minor Consequence, if it is not taken already.
  • Cup & Ball of Death – While the mummies are armed with the Cup and Ball of Death, they have Fight +5- if they can be disarmed, it’s lowered to Fight +3.
SUPERB (+5)
Physique +5, Fight +5* (see stunts)

Athletics +3;

Sixth Sense (Notice) +2, Intimidate (Provoke) +2,

Mythos (Lore) +1, Will +1

Stress:
Three stress boxes—a three shift hit is enough to take them out.
Consequences: Minor and Moderate Consequence each

Conflict Special Rules: Play to the crowd – While the whole “catch the cup in the ball” part is basically forgotten at this point, any character who still possesses a ball-and-cup may attempt, as their turn, to use create an advantage to catch the ball- if successful, it which drives the crowd WILD, resulting in a morale-based aspect. The first time this is used, the difficulty is only +2, but the difficulty increases each consecutive time by +1 (as the ball catches have to be increasingly fancy to catch the crowd’s favor.)


EPILOGUE – SCENE 6. THE CHALICE!

The last person standing receives the Chalice of Immortality-if several PCs still remain standing, have them decide amongst themselves who deserves it (by fighting or playing ball-and-cup if need be.) The winner is given the cup, with the entire stadium cheering. They will be a bit disappointed to learn that the gift of “immortality” is a figurative one- they will get their name engraved on the chalice and on the arena wall, and will thus “live forever” (except, not really.) Also, the 500 legions will follow the champion, should they still be around in 5000 years, when the skeletons next wake up. Even as that information is given to them, the skeletons of the area start falling back asleep, waiting until the next contest.

As a consolation price, the winner does get five skeleton fans, who stay conscious through sheer will power. These five will follow the new champion around, doing odd favors around the house, and carrying their equipment on adventures. The PC gains an aspect or stunt to reflect their new minions.


SPOILER:

What’s really going on: The skeletons and mummies have resurrected for a sports competition. The sport: ball and cup (the toy where you catch the ball in the cup.) Ball and cup might not have been an actual Egyptian game, but it’s still plenty old, so who cares? In this adventure, it’s as big as the Super Bowl or the World Cup, complete with diehard fans and football hooligans in the front room. (If this seems ridiculous, Rome actually had riots in the streets due to the fans of rival charioteers.) Tease this to the players without revealing it.


Join us next week- in honor of (Re)Generation Who convention, I’ll try a stab at something inspired by Doctor Who!


CREDITS

Offering_vessel_of_Pepi_I.jpg- by Hans Ollermann – from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Offering_vessel_of_Pepi_I.jpg – This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. The licensor neither endorses me or its use.

Haute_Egypte_Sculpture_au_crépuscule – by Kikuyu3 – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Haute_Egypte_Sculpture_au_cr%C3%A9puscule.jpg – This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license. The licensor neither endorses me or its use.

Fate NPCs – Chimera Little Closer

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After a month detailing Kickstarter set-ups, it’s time to get back to the fun stuff. This week: Chimera-mobs, a new format for Fate NPCS.

The Background

When creating NPCs for the Skeleton Crew Bestiary, I quickly ran into the following problem:

In order for an opponent to be a competent threat in a combat situation, it needed to have a few key skills. In my Skeleton Crew setting, these generally equaled:

  • Fight (to Defend against fight)
  • Agility (to Defend against shoot and fight)
  • Will (to defend against mental attacks)

Notice nearly makes the list- it’s not as essential, but too many NPCS without Notice basically means the players always go first. This becomes a problem in the following ways:

  • Relying just on the above is fine with a few NPC teams, but after a while, it becomes redundant.
  • Having NPCs with none of the above results in NPCs that are glass cannons at best and worthless at worst
  • Adding skills on to the above results in very complex NPCs with way too many skills at the same level (Jacks of all Trades), or tiered, mega-stunt enemies that are too much of a threat.

So, I started wondering: how do you create a villain that provides a variety of different flavors, but is not a super-strong “big boss?”

My proposal: Chimera-mobs!

How it Works

A chimera-mob is essentially an NPC character or mob that is stronger than the average mob, but weaker than a full NPC villain. It enters the scene like a lion, but once you get past the first layer, it becomes increasingly easy to defeat.

First off, decide how many “parts” are in your chimera-mob. For this first example, we’ll start with a three-sectioned beast (that just happens to be an actual Greek Chimera.)

Chimera-Whelp

High Concept Multi-headed Monster of Myth
Aspects: Wild Animal; Foul-temper, Fouler Breaths; Hates Pegasi, Alicorns, & My Little Ponies
Parts:

Lion Head – Fanged & Savage Snake Head – Quick & Alert Goat Head– Stubborn & Fire Breathing
Fight +5
Physique +4
Notice +5
Acrobatics +4
Shoot +5
Will +4
Stress: O O Stress: O O Stress: O O
Stunts: None
Consequences: Minor (2)

How the three parts work:

Skills: When the Chimera first appears, it counts as having all skills as max level (+5 or +4). Likewise, when any part of the Chimera is attacked or targeted by actions, it counts as having all available skills; for example, when Shooting at a healthy Lion Head, it still counts as having Acrobatics +4 (which it borrows from the Snake Head.)

Dealing Stress: If a PC deals stress to a chimera-mob, it is up to the GM to decide which part receives the stress. You can base on the narrative (ex. The PC goes directly for the lion head; A PC is attacking from behind, which would bring him closest to the Snake-Head-tail), or based on the defending skill (ex. A mental attack would blocked with Will, thus any stress would be dealt to the Goat Head.) Either way, if a part is dealt more stress than it has stress boxes, that Part is Knocked Out. If you deal enough stress to take out a Part and still have extra stress, it is NOT carried over onto the next part, unless your attack succeeded with style. (Note: we recommend each of the Stress boxes above equals 1 stress, just to make bookkeeping a little easier.)

Knocked Out: Once a part is Knocked Out, it has all of it’s Skills reduced to a mere +1. If it has any stunts, it cannot use them. Once all parts are knocked out, the chimera-mob is taken out.

Actions: By default, each chimera-mob can only take one Action each exchange. However, if a part has taken an action, a GM can pay a Fate Point to have a different part take an action this turn.

LET’S SEE THAT AGAIN!

We’re going to give you a second example. This time, let’s see it with a mob of different individuals forming a chimera-mob. This one will be split a little wider.

THE ZOMB SQUAD

When the evil liche Sarcophoguy needs a small crack team of combatants for a task, he summons forth the Zomb Squad. These elite zombies have lost their personalities and memories in the haze of undeath, but parts of their inborn talent linger on, making them a versatile opponent.

Figures courtesy of Twilight Creation's awesome "Humans!!!" game.

Figures courtesy of Twilight Creation’s awesome “Humans!!!” game.

High Concept: Zombie Professional Team

Aspects: Mostly Mindless; On a Mission; Rotting Shells

Rocker Cheerleader Surgeon Miner Mid-Level Manager
+4 Fight

+3 Provoke

+4 Acrobatics

+3 Rapport

+4 Lore

+3 Stealth

+4 Physique

+3 Craft

+4 Will

+3 Notice

Stress: O Stress: O Stress: O Stress: O Stress: O
Stunts: Rock Never Dies! – If the Rocker is Knocked out, your Fight becomes +2 instead of +1. Stunts: Ra-Raaahh! If successful uses Rapport to create an advantage to distract an opponent, it is applied to all PCs in the zone. Stunts: Reanimate – Once per scene, at the end of his turn, the Surgeon may pay one Fate Point to wake up a Knocked Out part and remove all stress on that part. Stunts: Pickaxe – +2 when using Physique to overcome physical obstacles. Stunts: On Task – Once per scene, may use Will instead of any other skill if it relates to their objective (ex. Will as Burglary if they’re sent to steal an object.)
Consequences: Minor (2)

When do I use a Chimera-mob?

As you can tell, it’s a chimera-mob can be as very simple, or amazingly complex (the Zomb Squat, for example, has five stunts!) However, they can provide a single threat that is a threat to most every teammate without feeling like a beefed-up supervillain.

Zones & Spacing

When throwing a Chimera-mob at a group, it works best to set the fight in a small area. In a narrow corridor, it’s easy to see how you can aim at Surgeon zombie, only to have the acrobatic Cheerleader-zombie leapfrog off of your head, making you miss your shot. In a much wider area filled with many zones, it’s a little harder to justify in the narrative how the Rocker can simultaneously be attacking a player on one side of a football field and defending for the Miner against a punch 100 yards down the field. As you might surmise, chimera-mobs also work well for GMs that run map-less campaigns.

So, tell us what YOU think! Have some Chimeras of your own?

Toy Box Review- Haunted House Horror Bucket

Standard

Today launches a new segment on the site: the Toybox Review! But first, some context: I remember reading that Gary Gygax and the early D&D team used oddball, cheap-o plastic figures as inspiration for such creatures as the Rust Monster, the boullette, and even the signature Owlbear. If you’ve never heard the story, artist DiTerlizzi retells it quite beautifully on his blog.

Likewise, I learned during some of my Masters of Umdaar playtests that players respond surprisingly well to playing with brightly colored plastic toys. You’d think the poorly cast, un-detailed faces would turn people away, but I suspect it made new characters easier to step into- I chalk it up the psychological phenomenon called “Cognitive Closure.” Even if a shape is poorly defined, the human brain is capable of filling in any missing details. Observe the triangle on the below, borrowed from this website.

closure

Riddle me this, Batman- when is a triangle NOT a triangle?

When a player spends a long campaign fine-tuning a character, they end up with a very well defined picture in their head of what the character looks and feels like. Likewise, for experienced, long term characters, detailed figurines, (the kind Reaper and Games Workshop make from metal or resin), are perfect- the level of detail reinforcements the player’s image. However, if the character is brand new, giving them a well-defined miniature, I theorize, does the opposite. The miniature reminds them, “this is a well-defined character that you didn’t design.” There are no details for the player to contribute, because that’s all been done. Alternatively, if it’s low-detailed plastic toy, the player will consciously and subconsciously fill in the details with their own imagination, making the toy into something that closer resembles themselves.

Okay, enough with the amateur psychologist mumbo-jumbo. On with the fun stuff!

THIS ENTRY

Each “Toy Box Review,” I’m going to review of a toy product and it’s contents. This week: a toy collection I randomly found on Amazon. It is the:

Exclusive 62 Piece Haunted House Monster Bucket by PSE.

IMG_0698

Watch as the magical lid refuses to go back on…

Before I bought it, it looked: like your standard bucket of strange, monstrous creatures. The snapshot accurately captured the final product, although I’m a little sad that two of the designs feature in the photo didn’t end up in the kit. 4/5

That's $30 of ugly shoved into a $17 tub...

That’s $30 of ugly shoved into a $17 tub…

First impression: It’s definitely a large set. At $16.99, it wasn’t exactly a bargain, but I was definitely getting my money’s worth. The color scheme is quite fun, really; the red and purple are wonderfully dark and Halloweeny. The electric blue and yellow don’t match the mood quite as well, but they provide great contrast to the red & purple, so it all works out. 5/5

The Witch: One of the pieces I immediately fell in love with was the witch figure. For this reason, I included in several of the shots, to give a frame of reference for the scale.

IMG_0702

Two haunted trees, ready for a night on the town.

The Set Pieces:The playset came with 2 large haunted trees and a castle. The trees are wonderful, even if the paint job is a bit heavy handed. I love the color on the castle, but what takes away from it is the SCALE. It’s hard to tell, but on the bottom of the skull mouth are tiny steps- meaning, it’s supposed to match a figure that would only come up to the witch’s shin. There’s even a tiny door on the back that’s equally as small. This makes the castle less useful in a st, unless it’s a “far off castle on the hill.” 4/5

IMG_0701

Coffin Fit

The Props: The set came with 2 wagons and 2 treasure chests. The wagons are quite obviously ripped off of a Western line, but the fact that the canvas was printed in grey plastic instead of white really adds to the Transylvania feel of it all. The two treasure chests are way too large for “treasure,” but they actually work as really large coffins. The color is great, but before I even used them, I could tell that the hinges on the lid were broken the second I took them out of the tub- they come completely off when you open it. Still, the plastic “lock” on the front actually keeps it in place when shut, so it’s not a complete wash. 4/5

The Good: This shut covers some of my favorite pieces of the set, going left to right:

IMG_0703Pitchfork: Really like this guy. Can’t tell if he’s holding a monster head, or a mask- either way, there’s a story there! I only regret there’s only one in my tub.

Witch: As I said, fantastic. Lots of energy and character in her pose. I also got a ton of her, in all colors.

Fat Things 1 & 2: I also have a lot of these things (devils?) They’re just what I was hoping to get in the set; things that are not clearly defined, but fitting the mood. To me, they kind of look like Evil Buddhas. They also have an adundance of Plumber Crack from behind, which is an… interesting choice.

Nightmare Hound: Another “no clue what they were going for” toy, but they succeeded. The creature looks like a mutated humanoid or animal that’s balancing on one foot, mid-sprint.

The Ugly – These next few pieces aren’t terrible, but don’t quite blow me away (again, included the witch for scale.)

IMG_0704

Some inspired by hot-wing-induced nightmares, I suspect.

Coffin-Dude: This guy almost made it to the awesome side, if not for the scale of him. Take away the coffin, and he’s tinier than everyone else. It could work, “Suddenly, the coffin opens, and the Undead Mickey Rooney creeps out of the wooden box…”

Hole-Chicken-Man: I asked for weird, and weird I was given. The purple guy in the middle is beyond description- the best I can guess is that it’s a bald rooster-man hybrid who seems happy you shot him with a cannon. Or, he’s a crossbreed between a chicken and a donut. It’s hard to tell on the photo, but he also has two random details nea his chest- they may be attempts to mold feathers, but it kind of looks like he duct-taped two small t-bone steaks to his torso. Maybe that’s why you shot him.

Robot-Guy: In a different set, this guy might have made the “Good” category, but in a box filled with devils and witches, the robot is just out of place. His design is also odd in that, instead of eyes, he has two random spikes. They are likely attempts at alien antennae, but it instead looks like a lab accident shoved a spike through the poor robot’s eye. Which, also tells a story. Also, he loses points over the fact that his base is a bit less sturdy than the others, so he occasionally tips over.

IMG_0706

Unstable Monsters

THE BAD: The satyr and the Hunchback figure are both fantastic, except for the fact that they CAN’T STAND ON THEIR OWN. I could go to the dollar store and find 50 different toys, some of them devoid of detail, shape, or personality, and they’d at least stand up 9 out of 10 times. These guys? Not so much. I only received one of the satyrs, but a lot of the creepy butlers. He’s definitely good enough to fix, though.

Overall: I’d give it 4/5. It’s mistmatched and has a wide range of quality, but the box said “Haunted House,” I think they delivered a product that evokes a creepy, weird setting.

DESIGN CHALLENGE:

Now, here’s how I’ll close any given “Toy Box Review”- by pulling a “Gygax.” I will take the strangest, least defined thing in the review and attempt to make it into an actual monster. For this one, I’ll use the Skeleton Crew Fate Rules.

chicken closeup

Fowl Murder

HUNTED SPIRITS

In the wild, they are a countless number of nature spirits, taking the form of trees, rocks, and rivers. Some live their long lives in the form of animals, in the shape of the bear or the duck. However, while the spirits do not age, they can be hurt and killed. A spirit of an animal that is shot may die, but it may linger on in a half-life- all kindness and mercy drained away, leaving only a spirit of vengeance. A Hunted Spirit will seek out the hunters that killed it and it’s forest friends, but will often hurt innocent mortals in it’s rage. These vengeful beings can change shape to human or animal, but the original scars remains.

High Concept: Half-Dead Animal Spirits

Aspects: Must Have Vengeance!, Always Part Animal, Nature is my Home.

Aspects:

n  Undead—weaknesses to holy magic, silver, garlic and other magical purities

n  Blood Rush—For Vampanzees, blood is both an addition and an energy source

n  Overly Curious

n  Fight or Flight

n  Bouncy Little Buggers

Commonly Level: Average (+1)

Stunts:

Shapeshift— Hunted Spirits may change shape as a free action.

One with Nature—Once per scene, a Spirit may use Wilderness instead of any other skill. If there are several spirits in the scene, instead treat instead as “once per exchange, any ONE spirit may use Wilderness as another skill.”

AVERAGE (+1) FAIR (+2) GOOD (+3)
Athletics +1, Wilderness +1
Intimidate +1
Wilderness +2
Intimidate +2

Deceive +1
Athletics +1

Wilderness +3,
Intimidate +3

Deceive +2
Athletics +2

Notice +1
Stealth +1

Stress:
No stress boxes—a one shift hit is enough to take them out.
Stress:
One stress box—a two shift hit is enough to take them out.
Stress:
Two stress boxes—a three shift hit is enough to take them out.
Aspect: Monkey See, Monkey Do

Now, I challenge you, dear readers: use the Chicken-Donut Man, the fat devils, or any other toy and make a monster of your own (no rules necessary, if you prefer text.)