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.
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.”
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.
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!