ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL: COMEDY AND TRAGEDY IN GAMING

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The other night, I had a chance to watch a live performance; it was a group of actors and impersonators that specialize in political satire. I did care not for it, but I will not mention the name, as the performers themselves were very talented and hard working, and I don’t want my bad review to reflect on the actors in any way.

My girlfriend (scratch that- as of this week, my fiancee) asked me why I did not enjoy all of it.*  “You like Colbert Report and Daily Show,” she said, “why not this?” It took a bit of analyzing, but I finally put my finger on why this particular show didn’t appeal to me:

*It didn’t really matter what answers I gave her; she still accused me of being an old fart.

1. Most of the jokes avoided the issues of philosophies of the characters. They went into Huckabee being religious, and the fact that politicians lie, but didn’t seem to go any further than skin deep; Trump has funny hair, Obama has big ears, Hilary has a vacant stare; the democrats distract, the republicans are crazy, etc. At best, this is light frivolousness; at worst, this is superficial muckracking.

2. It was bi-partisan in nature, doing its best to rib on both the left and the right; given the fact that they are in DC, this can be seen as a savvy move, as they are less likely to alienate half of their audience. However, I couldn’t help but feel like one almost canceled out the other. It didn’t feel like a cry from the moderate middle against the extremes, or a call for compromise; it just seemed to devoid of any legs, drifting aimlessly from one borrowed viewpoint to another without committing to anything.

In contrast, the Daily Show often takes intense issues and philosophies and boils them to their core; more often than not, you’re not laughing at the people being lampooned as much as the ideals. It some instances, the Daily Show follows the old movie adage, “show, don’t tell” – you don’t say that someone’s a hypocrite, you show a story about WHY they’re a hypocrite. The audience learns about an issue they never knew, or an important figure they were ignorant of.

On the Colbert Report, the opposite was the case; Colbert’s cold-hearted host character would often be forced to change his rigid views to match a forever progressive world; his struggle to learn and adapt, filled with tears and revelation, made the new events fresh and humanistic.

In the aforementioned live comedy show, most of the characters just walked onto the stage, did a few jokes, and left, like a bad stand-up routine; nothing changed, no one made any real human connection. However, there were a few exceptions; one of my favorite pieces involved President Barack Obama lamenting about getting pulled into war with Syria, and finding solace from a commiserating George W Bush, who was also pulled into the Middle East. They were transformed from thin caricatures to real people that shared a bond.


 

With this in mind, I would like to propose a tweaked definition of

Cret_Comedy_and_Tragedy

Why so serious?

comedy and tragedy, based around this concept:

1. Comedy – in which the characters learn to be better people.

2. Tragedy – in which the characters are given the opportunity to learn to become better people, but do not.


 

COMEDY BREAKDOWN

By this definition, a comedy is about flawed individuals who fib, fumble and fail to get what they want, and generally learn the life lessons necessary to become better human beings. The liar turns honest. The overly righteous person learns to relax. The stuttering lover learns courage.

An old benchmark for “is it a Shakespearean comedy?” is, “did someone get married at the end?” With this model, that still works; isn’t marriage about two individuals learning to be a functional union?

Bad Comedy

Bad comedy, we can surmise, is the opposite:

A badly written comedy is one in which none of the characters learn to be better people.

If a comedy is 100% custard pies and meaningless car crashes, you don’t have a story (at least, not one worth telling). If the heroes don’t improve and/or the villains aren’t taught a lesson, the experience was a frilly waste of time.

That’s not to say that EVERY character needs to learn. There are plenty of Jack Sparrows and supporting characters that stumble around, making sure others get their better future; and like Jack Sparrow, many of them do have their own brief moments of improvement and enlightenment (even if they are conveniently forgotten when the sequel roles around.) In the cases of the Marx Brothers’ films, the clowns make up 70% of the movie, but even they help the lovers get together and rattle the villain’s brains. For a classic example, in Moliere’s The Misanthrope, the title character and his on-again/off-again betrothed come close to amending their ways, but don’t; their best friends, however, learn, grow and get married.

TRAGEDY BREAKDOWN

Just like a comedy is about people learning, a strong tragedy is about about people failing to learn. Othello fails to learn that he should trust his wife more than his old war buddy; Hamlet fails to learn that bloodshed only leads to further bloodshed; Juliet fails to learn that the cute bad boy really won’t change, etc.

A good tragedy is all about the little brass ring of hope and enlightenment, and watching the characters reach for it; but it is just out of reach, or more painful still, they pull their hand back at the last moment.

Bad Tragedy

Thus, here is my take on a poorly written tragedy:

A badly written tragedy is one in which the characters are never given the opportunity to learn.

Just as a bad comedy contains a lot of whimsy with no change, a bad tragedy doesn’t give the character a chance to change; if there is no brass ring or lesson to learn, then there’s no missed opportunity for redemption; rather, the characters are being railroaded towards disaster without any real choice or control.* They aren’t characters making tragic decisions, they’re just cardboard stand-ins that the author couldn’t bother to give any life; alternatively, they are decent human beings who are have bad things happen to them for seemingly no reason (I haven’t seen it, but I’ve been told the Michael Keaton film “Birdman” was guilty of this).

*I suppose the lesson the characters could learn is, “life is like being railroaded towards disaster without any real choice or control,” but that’s a pretty ham-handed way of showing it. Macbeth, for example, toys with the themes of fate and destiny, but still gives the characters the ability to affect their fates (or at the very least, the illusion of choice).

I’m not a fan of many modern tragedies, in that many of them don’t seem offer any chance of redemption. It’s like watching a bunch of kids hanging on to a playground roundabout that’s going faster and faster; there’s no mystery about what will happen next, the kids will all fly off. In a good comedy, the audience is curious about what clever tricks will be employed to bring the plot line to a satisfactory conclusion; in a bad tragedy, the only unknown factors are when and in which order the characters will fly off to their doom, and that’s not quite enough to engage me as an audience member.

WAIT, WHAT ABOUT SATIRE?

Satire is slightly different, in that it is a comedy in which the main characters MAY learn, but are not required to; in this way, the plot line may more closely parallel a tragedy*. Rather, it the audience that learns the lesson. However, like the Daily Show, some of the best satires have an ordinary, Everyman character (like John Stewart) who can react to the craziness and arrogance around him, and who can learn (or pretend to learn) alongside us.

*For example, Chekhov considered many of his tragic plays, like the Cherry Orchard or Uncle Vanya, “comedies,” despite the fact that they are, well, NOT FUNNY**. They really are about foolish people who bring about doom; in this sense, they are satires about a dying way of life, with a clear message for the audience to pick up upon.

**Maybe they’re funny by Russian standards.


 

GET ON WITH THE GAMING THING!

What is this literary rant doing on a gaming blog? A few things:

1. When crafting any story or campaign, it’s a good idea to know how to craft a story.

2. Several games have popped up in the last year that focus upon storytelling, particularly about tragedies. Such examples include in Fiasco by Jason Morningstar, A Tragedy in Five Acts by Michelle Lyons-McFarland, and The Play’s the Thing by Mark Truman. I haven’t had the pleasure of playing any of the three, but I hope to before this time next year.

3. For your one shot games, I propose a simple thing you can tack on at the end. I give you:


 

THE EPILOGUE!

I’ve run several one-shot games before at gaming conventions, and at the end of the long drawn out fight with the baddie, I always felt bad whenever I dropped the suspension of disbelief like a fire-curtain and said, “That was it! Thanks for playing! Bye!”

I now propose the following: after any one-shot game, hand each player a blank post-card. The players will take a minute or two to write down what happens to their character after the story is done. Their fate might be as dramatic as “turning a new leaf,” or “to walk the earth like Caine”; it might be as simple as “taking a nap” or “getting shawarma.” After the players have written them, have them share if they like. If you want, the GM can even write one for a villain or major NPC.

Why do this?: It eases the players back to the outside world (in that they are thinking of their character from the outside), but ends on a powerful note; they have full control over the character’s fate. Did they learn? Did they fail to learn? Did they gain what they sought, or are they saving that nugget for another day?

More importantly, it turns the random rolls of the dice into a full story, with a solid end.


On that note, readers, I want to wish you a Happy New Year. Until next year, GAME ON!

Fate Accelerated: I Don’t Like Spam!

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I like Fate Accelerated. I really do. Hell, I’ve made two Fate World settings using it, and will likely make my third setting FAE too. That being said, it’s not perfect.

Sidenote: If it’s not perfect, why do I play it? To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “[Fate] is the worst form of [RPG], except for all the others.”

The best part of FAE is that there is always another way to skin a cat; if a party’s sorcerer has to leave the game early because they have work in the morning, you’re not suddenly stuck with a group incapable of overcoming the magic door down the hall; through cleverness, careful study, or barbaric vandalism, they will find a way.

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Yum. I think. Conflicted.

The evil flip-side to this is that whenever you want to encourage a player to approach a problem from one of their lesser approaches, someone will insist that they can use their strongest approach; this frequently called “spamming.”  While they mean well, these sophisters will turn every turn into a drawn out negotiation, which can kill the mood and drag the evening out. Of course, the GM could always say “No, you have to use this approach,” but that’s against the spirit of FAE, and saying “No” leads to an unfriendly atmosphere (one of my very first entries discussed how much a GM should say “yes.”)

Evil Hat’s Zen Master of Fate Rob Donogue has proposed some ways to get around this on his blog, The Walking Mind, but I thought I’d try one or two ideas of my own:

Option 1: the Permission Aspect

If a player wants to use an approach that doesn’t seem obvious Require a “Permission aspect” first. This will likely be a situation aspect. If they already have a character aspect, require that they invoke it (which gives them the ability to use the approach AND the invoke bonus).

Ex. Chartok, Marna, and Phil all want to attack the a vicious ingredient in Kitchen Arena, the Monstercheese. Chartok’s player wants to charge straight in using Forceful, while Marna’s player wants to use Clever, and Phil’s player wants to use Sneaky. The GM sees no trouble with Chartok using the Forceful approach to make a raw attack, but feels that using Clever or Sneaky is less justified in this instance. The GM requests they get permission aspects first: a rational person like Marna wouldn’t charge in blindly, but if zhe spends an exchange looking for a weapon first (create an advantage for a Giant Cheese Machete), zhe could attack with Clever during any later exchanges. Similarly, a sneaky attack from Phil out of nowhere seems forced, but if Phil’s player spends a fate point to invoke his aspect “Born in Shadows,” the GM will let him use Sneaky to attack (and also gets the +2 invoke bonus). The GM is feeling generous, and decides these invokes are enough to let them use those approaches for the rest of the scene, or until it no longer makes sense (ex. Marna loses the Cheese Machete; Phil uses Flashy to draw attention to himself.)

If the player has a weapon that’s also a stunt, which is tied to a specific approach (ex. The Bow in in Masters of Umdaar using Quick), then the character can always use that weapon to attack; however, they can only use it whenever it seems right for the weapon (ex. Can’t use the bow in close combat), and only if they possess the weapon (ex. They haven’t been disarmed).

Option 2: Critical Hit

If players don’t like the stick, give them the carrot! Whenever a character makes an attempt with an Approach that is Fair +1 or lower and succeeds, automatically treat the result as success with style. Thus, they have a lower chance of success, but a higher gain should they pull it off. A GM might offer this all the time, but it seems better to me as a bargaining chip.

Player: I don’t want to use Forceful to attack, I want to use Quick, it’s higher!
GM: Okay, but if you hit with Forceful, I’ll give you a Critical Hit bonus…


 

Which option sounds better to you? Tell us what you think!

Until next week, GAME ON!

 


Image Citation:

Spam image courtesy of Father.Jack from Coventry, UK, Transferred from Flickr by User:Fæ. Used with permission through Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. Neither licensor nor the Spam corporation endorses this blog or its use.

 

Gods and Masters – A Fate World Mash-up

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Welcome to this week’s TA Tabletop! But first, an anecdote:

In 1994, the band Blur wrote the very catchy song, “Girls & Boys.” According to Wikipedia, the front-man of Radiohead, Thom Yorke, once said he had wished he had written the song, and called Blur “bastards” for writing it first.

In 2014, Evil Hat Productions gave me the amazing opportunity to write a Fate World for them. I am very pleased with how “Masters of Umdaar” came out, but that doesn’t mean I don’t hold an overwhelming sense of awe and fist-shaking frustration towards fellow author Chris Longhurst. Mr. Longhurst, who I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting, is guilty of writing “Gods and Monsters,” a setting so brilliant and original that I kick myself for not coming up with it. Worse still, I must acknowledge the fact that any attempt of mine to create a creation-god setting would have been far inferior than his… curse the scallywag!

Thus, in a vain attempt to cash in on some of his genius, this week I’m proposing rules for merging “Gods & Monsters” and “Masters of Umdaar” together.

Speaking of other people’s ideas, the idea of mashing-up “Gods and Monsters” and “Masters of Umdaar” was proposed by someone else on G+ several months ago. Sadly, I did not record the person’s name… if he or she remembers, please let me know, and I’ll be glad to give credit where it is due.


GODS AND MASTERS

Image avaible through Creative Commons 4.0, courtesy of Wellcome Trust http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/

Image avaible through Creative Commons 4.0, courtesy of Wellcome Trust http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/

Gods and Masters” is a two-part campaign set on the planet Umdaar. The gods in question are the Demiurge, the deities / demons / super-advanced aliens that made the planet as diverse and bizarre place it is today.

Gods & Monsters– Recommending Changes

In Thy Own Image – While some of the bioforms of Umdaar were created by accident or out of scientific curiosity, many were created or molded into the image of a certain god. Thus, I recommend looking (or rolling) on the Umdaar Bioform chart for inspiration. A centaur god of the wilderness makes sense, and the mind boggles at what a cyborg god would be like!

Regions – When creating regions, use the areas and rules listed in Gods & Monsters, but do not be afraid to add a sci-fi twist (for Umdaar-themed biomes, see this post from a few months back). Pick a distinct otherworldly name for each region, like the Crystal Forests or the Phantom Mountains. These regions will show up in both parts of the campaign, so make ‘em good!

Communities – Don’t forget that the communities on Umdaar don’t have to be human; likewise, any humans you encounter might not stay human for long! For the Demiurge, altering genetics is child’s play; you can raise dumb animals into sentience and shape worshipers into your image. If your power starts to bleed or a station is too close to a village, it might accidentally warp the mortal creatures nearby into strange new bioforms.

Artifacts – The Demiurge love their artifacts; its practically a compulsion. When they are working, they create tools to aid them. When they are courting, they give baubles and toys. Even if you’re not a god of Smithing or Tech, your Demiurge will have the ability to make artifacts that are metal, crystal, or even biomechanical in nature. Similarly, we recommend making artifacts part of the god’s identity, like Thor’s hammer or Hades’s Cap of Invisibility. This item might show up in a stunt. Alternatively, you can tie it into the God’s Boons, as follows:

Tier 1 – Innate – Your god may use this ability without an artifact.

Tier 2 – Requires the god to have their minor artifact (ex. a cloak, a piece of jewelry) at hand*

Tier 3 – Requires the god to have their signature artifact at hand*

The only exception to the “at-hand” rule is that a god can still use a boon if their artifact is in the care of a loyal community that worships them; this allows the god to use the boon “hands free,” but also opens your artifact up to theft or desecration.

If your artifact is lost, destroyed, or desecrated, your Demiurge will have to go on an epic journey to retrieve it, or to find the rare materials needed to rebuild it.

Sci-Fantasy: If you see the Demiurge as aliens, artifacts are easy to picture. However, for fantasy players, think of the artifacts as the god’s mantra-turned-object. Like Voldemort’s horcruxes or Sauron’s ring, they bear a part of the god’s soul.)

The Fall – When players start their campaign, it is in the early part of the Demiurge’s rule- there might not be races on Umdaar, or even a planet at all. However, at some point, eons in their future, the Demiurge will be gone. Did this take them by surprise, or do they have only have a limited window to be in our plane of existence? Do they learn of a prophecy, detailing how each will fall, like the Norse gods knew of Ragnarok? (Normally, I find “prophecies” lead for boring stories, but I make the exception with gods!)

Masters of Umdaar – Recommended Changes

Use the G&M approaches instead of the Fate: Bold, Subtle, Clever, Mighty, Wise, Swift.


PUTTING THEM TOGETHER

I see two easy ways to put the two games together:

NOW & LATER – The simplest way is to move from G&M to MoU is to play a short Gods & Monster campaign, end it, and then start a Masters of Umdaar campaign. If so, the G&M campaign is really about setting the stage; fill the world with wonders, bioforms, and artifacts. Demiurge should be encouraged to bleed power and leave loose threads- a small monster that the Demiurge let go because it is no threat to them might be a scourge that the archaeonauts have to deal with thousands of years later.

In this format, any godly Stations will likely become prominent regions in Umdaar. Of course, it’s possible that some of them will be inverted or corrupted: the Sky City becomes the Sky Ruins, the Shimmering Sea could become the Sludge Sea, or the forest god’s Screaming Forest can become the bustling industrial city known as the Screaming Furnace. The archaeonauts might even encounter a fallen god that has devolved into a monster (or even into a mad Master!)

FLASH BACK / FAST FORWARD – The second way to run a “Gods and Masters” game is to run both campaigns simultaneously; the group might play a G&M game one night, and a MoU game the next. This can lead to some messy bookkeeping, but it means that the actions of a G&M game might set up the problem for the next game; likewise, the archaeonauts might uncover a glorious artifact, only to flashback to its origins. This can be done with two sets of character sheets, but it is not necessary; we recommend the Reincarnation set-up detailing below:

ReincarnationA seasoned group of archaeonauts, who have been together for years, encounter a half-mad sage. The sage tells the baffled archaeonauts that they are the demiurge reborn*, reincarnations of the godly warriors and creators. The party members laugh it off… but as they keep hearing more myths of the old gods, and stumble upon the relics of their “former incarnations,” they start to wonder if it’s true…

*It’s possible that you’re a reborn god, even if you’re playing a robotic archaeonaut that was never technically “born.” After all, as the Umdaar proverb says, “Even Ozell [the Bronze Goddess] was once a toy.”

Reincarnation Set-up – Players will create one character sheet for both Demiurge god and mortal archaeonaut. The approaches will be identical. The player should aim to create aspects that overlap as much as possible, but some aspects will be split in half, like the high concept (ex. Barbaraic God of the Beasts / Mortal Beastman Barbarian) or be intentionally inverted for different back-stories (ex. Crown Prince of the Gods / Orphaned Street Rat).

The only major difference will be the stunts and boons. A god will have one set of godly stunts, and access to boons. The archaeonaut will have a different set of stunts to represent their more modest abilities (and will likely be more action/adventure oriented). Of course, there might be potential for overlap; at the end of a long adventure, an archaenaut might recover an artifact of their former incarnation (granting them the stunt / boon in BOTH incarnations!)

Intention & Approaches: Whenever a god’s power fluctuates or an archaeonaut hits milestones, any Approach changes in one incarnation will be also changed for the other incarnation; this can represent an avatar embracing their older incarnation, a mere mortal being inspired by the tales of a god, or pure coincidence. However, the invokes and actions of an archaeonaut will not alter the intention tracker (at least, not at first… who knows what will happen when they start to embrace their destiny!)

Refresh: As the refresh of the character changes at milestones, it changes for both incarnations.

Stunt Changes: If a character gains a stunt at a milestone or buys a stunt with refresh, both characters gain a different stunt which only that specific incarnation can use (or, in rare cases, a stunt that they both can use).


Have any suggestions of mash-ups of your own? Let me know! Until next time, readers, game on!

Masters of Umdaar: Monster Showcase – The Elektrokhan!

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This week, I’m presenting a new monster to use in “Masters of Umdaar”: the infamous scourge of the Silicon Steppes known only as the Elektrokhan!

This week showcases an amazing creation by Gennifer Bone; by donating to Patreon, you can support her creating monsters on a weekly basis. But your generosity won’t go unrewarded: Gennifer is granting publishing rights to anyone who pledges her work. Support her, and you can use her work in your own game books! Find her page here!


THE ELEKTROKHAN!

Art by Gennifer Bone, used with permission. See more at https://www.patreon.com/ladyredfingers?ty=c

All travelers in the Silicon Sands are cautious of the copper cobras, and with good cause, but there is one beast that is most feared of all; the Elektrokhan. It is ten times larger than any other specimen of it’s species, and hundreds of years old. It is the destroys caravans, devourers who herds of batgoats, and barks lightning into the summer skies. And every year, it grows stronger, and bolder…

High Concept: Legendary Electric Sand Worm

Aspects: Ambush Hunter; Don’t Walk with Rhythm; Shock and Awe

Skills:

+5 Flashy

+4 Sneaky, Forceful

+3 Careful, Quick

+0 Clever

Stunts:

Tunneler: Whenever Elektrokhan successfully uses Sneaky to leave a zone, it gains the aspect “Burrowed.” It may still be attacked, but may invoke the aspect for defense. At the start of any of it’s turns, it may discard the aspect to appear in any zone and use Sneaky to attack.

Lightning Strike: The Elektrokhan can spit lightning. It may use flashy to attack characters up to 2 zones away, and gains +2 if they are wearing or made of metal. It may not use the Lightning Strike if it started the turn Burrowed.

Stress: 1 2 3 4

Consequences: Mild & Moderate

Copper Cobras

High Concept: Electric Sand Worm

Aspects: Shock and Awe; Fight or Flight

Skills:

+2 Flashy

+1 Sneaky, Forceful

Stunt:

Ambush! – Unless the plot says otherwise, Copper Cobras always go first in any conflict.

Stress: 1


That’s it for this week! Until next time, game on!

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.

Fate GM Aid: Screen a Little Screen for Me….

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It’s been busy at Tangent Artists, preparing the Fate Accompli material for the printers.

To double-dip a little bit, I thought I’d show off the rough draft for the Fate GM Screen that we plan to use as a bonus to our backers.  Thus, this week we ask you to Screen a Little Screen for Me….

(Yeah, I know the old song was “Dream a little dream OF me,” but whatever…)

Fate Accompli Kickstarter Preview. Click Me!

Fate Accompli Kickstarter Preview. Click Me!

Credit where credit is due: most of this rough draft is pulled from the amazing Fate Core GM Screen created by Jordan Dennis. Find it here at the Evil Hat Wiki page. Likewise, we’ve pulled a little from Richard Bellingham’s Action and Outcome Grid. The final screen will be put into our own words, but they are due a thanks in the final product none the less.

So, tell us: is there anything important we’re missing? Is there something you always wanted to see on a Fate GM screen that isn’t included in the following?


FATE GM SCREEN

The Ladder (p.9)

 +10

+9

+8 Legendary

+7 Epic

+6 Fantastic

+5 Superb

+4 Great

+3 Good

+2 Fair

+1 Average

+0 Mediocre

-1 Poor

-2 Terrible

-3

-4

 

For results above 8 and below -2, create your own names!

 

Dice Results (FAE, Page 18)

Result = Roll of 4 Fate Dice + Skill / Approach bonus + Bonuses from stunts + Bonuses from Invoked Aspects

You can wait until after seeing the opposition’s result to add Invoke Bonuses – it’s not too late!

 

Game Time (p. 194)

• Exchange: time for everyone to get a turn

• Scene: Time to resolve a situation

• Session: a single sitting

• Scenario: An Episode

• Arc: A Season

• Campaign: The entire game in a particular setting

 

Skill Roll (p. 130)

Roll four Fate dice and add to skill rating. Compare to opposition. For each step on the ladder greater than your opposition, you earn a shift.

 

Opposition types (p.131)

• Active: another character rolls against you.

• Passive: A static rating on the ladder.

 

Four Actions (p. 134)

Overcome: attempt get past an obstacle – also used to ignore or remove situation aspect.

Create an Advantage: Attempt to create a story detail (aspect) or add invokes to an aspect for free.

Attack: Harm another character.

Defend: prevent attacks or advantages on you.

 

During Conflicts & Contests, characters may only make ONE action per exchange. (The Exception is defend: you may always defend against attacks and create an advantage rolls for free.)

 

Four Outcomes (p. 132, FAE p. 13):

Fail: Your Result is lower

Tie: Your Result is equal

Success: Your Result is higher (1 – 2)

Success with Style: Your Result is higher (3+)

Overcome

Fail*

Attain Goal (May be at minor cost)

Attain Goal

Goal + Free Boost

Create an Advantage (New Aspect)

Fail or Enemy creates aspect w/ +1 free invoke

Free Boost

Create Aspect (+1 free invoke)

Create Aspect (+2 free invoke)

Create an Advantage (Existing Aspect)

Enemy gets +1 free invoke

Add +1 Free invoke

Add +1 Free invoke

Add +2 Free invokes

Attack

No stress; opponent gets boost (if defender rolls higher by 3+, they gain free boost)

Free Boost

Deal hit equal to number of shifts

Deal hit equal to number of shifts + 1 free boost

Defend^

Suffer aspect or stress; (if opponent rolls higher by 3+, they gain free boost or invoke)

No stress / aspect, opponent gets boost

Suffer no stress /aspect

Suffer no stress / aspect, +1 free boost

*Overcome & Create an Advantage may choose to Succeed at a Cost. With Create an advantage, the Enemy creates the aspect and gains +1 free invoke.

 

^Boosts given with Defense don’t stack with attack; i.e. if an attacker ties, he gains only one boost, not one from the attack result and one from the defend result.

 

Actions -Movement (p. 139)

Movement – Unopposed – During an exchange, if there are no aspects or opponents hindering your movement, you can move one zone for free in addition to your action.

Movement – Sprinting – you may move use overcome to move any number of zones; this counts as your action for the exchange.

Movement – Obstacles – if your movement is blocked, use overcome against passive resistance (if barrier or situation aspect) or active resistance (characters); this counts as your action.

Actions – Miscellaneous

Free Actions  – Small things like drawing weapons and yelling are free and don’t count as actions. (p. 172)

Interpose – Take an attack meant for another character. Attacker rolls against Mediocre (+0) opposition.  (p. 160)

Full Defense – Instead of taking an action, gain +2 to Defense until your next turn. (p. 159)

Helping: Instead of taking an action, you may add +1 to a character’s skill (if you have Average +1 or higher in that skill). GM may place limits on how many characters may help (ex. a character with +3 cannot receive more than +3 from helpers). (FAE, p. 17):

 

Mitigating Damage (p.160)

Stress BoxAbsorbs stress equal to box number (ex. 2 box absorbs 2).

When you suffer stress, do one of the following:

> Fill in one stress box greater than or equal to the value of an attack

> Take one or more consequences

>Fill in one stress box and take consequences

If you can’t do one of these three things, you’re taken out (does not automatically equal dead).

• Giving In: Give in before your opponent’s roll and you can control how you exit the scene. You earn one or more fate points for giving in (page 24).

 

Consequences (p. 162)

• Mild: -2 to attack value

• Moderate: -4 to attack value

• Severe: -6 to attack value

• Extreme: -8 to attack and permanent character aspect

When created, a Consequence has one free invoke which the opposition may use.

Recovery (p. 164)

• Mild: overcome Fair (+2), one whole scene

• Moderate: overcome Great (+4), one whole session.

• Severe: overcome Fantastic (+6), one whole scenario.

Aspect Types (p. 57)

• Game aspects: permanent, made during game creation

• Character aspects: permanent, made during character creation

• Situation aspects: last for a scene, until overcome, or until irrelevant

• Boosts: last until invoked one time, or (often) until end of scene

• Consequences: last until recovered

Invoking Aspects (p. 68) (FAE, p. 27):

Spend a fate point or free invoke.

Choose one:

• +2 to your skill roll.*

• Reroll all our dice

• Teamwork: +2 to another character’s roll versus relevant passive opposition

• Obstacle: +2 to the passive opposition

Warning: You can only spend one Fate Point per aspect per roll (i.e. cannot pay two fate points to invoke same aspect twice for +4).

Free invokes stack with a paid one and each other.

 

Compelling Aspects (p. 71) (FAE, p. 28):

Accept a complication for a fate point.

• Event-based: You have _____ aspect and are in _____ situation, so it makes sense that, unfortunately, _____ would happen to you. Damn your luck.

• Decision-based: You have _____ aspect in _____ situation, so it makes sense that you’d decide to _____. This goes wrong when _____ happens.

Refresh (p. 80)

At the start of a new session, you reset your fate points to your refresh rate. If you ended the last session with more points, you keep the extra. At the end of a scenario, you reset to your refresh rate no matter what.

Spending Fate Points (p. 80):

Spend fate points to:

• Invoke an aspect

• Power a stunt

• Refuse a compel

• Declare a story detail (new aspect, no free invokes) (FAE, p. 29):

Challenges (p.147)

• Each obstacle or goal that requires a different skill gets an overcome roll.

• Interpret failure, costs, and success of each roll to determine final outcome.

Contests (p. 150)

• Contesting characters roll appropriate skills.

• If you got the highest result, you score a victory.

• If you succeed with style and no one else does, then you get two victories.

• If there’s a tie for the highest result, no one gets a victory, and an unexpected twist occurs.

• The first participant to achieve three victories wins the contest.

Conflicts (p. 154)

Pre-Conflict
– Establish Scenic Aspects / Zones
– Roll for Turn Order – Notice / Quick for Physical Conflicts; Empathy / Careful for Mental or Social Conflicts
Conflict
Start the first exchange:
• On your turn, take an action and then resolve it.
• On other people’s turns, defend or respond to their actions as necessary.
• At the end of everyone’s turn, start again with a new exchange.
Conflict is over when everyone on one side has conceded or been taken out.
Post Conflict
> Concessions and Consequences – Agree on the terms of the concession, or the consequences for those taken out
>Remove any boosts or irrelevant situation aspects
>Recovery – Roll to recover appropriate consequences

Earning Fate Points (p. 81)

• Earn fate points when you:

• Accept a compel (get immediately)

• Have your aspects invoked against you (get at the end of the scene)

• Concede a conflict.

 

Setting Target numbers (FAE, p. 37)

• Easy Task: Mediocre (+0) – or success without a roll

• Moderately Difficult: Fair (+2)

• Extremely Difficult: Great (+4)

• Impossibly Difficult: Go as high as you think makes sense. The PC will need to drop some fate points and get lots of help to succeed, but that’s fine.

Turn Order (FAE, p. 21)

• Physical Conflict: Compare Quick approaches—the one with the fastest reflexes goes first.

• Mental Conflict: Compare Careful approaches—the one with the most attention to detail senses danger.

• Everyone else goes in descending order. Break ties in whatever manner makes sense, with the GM having the last word.

• The GM may choose to have all NPCs go on the turn of the most advantageous NPC.

Approaches (FAE, p. 18)

Careful: When you pay close attention to detail and take your time to do the job right. Thinking before you act.

Clever: When you act indirectly, solve problems,or account for complex variables.

Flashy: When you act with style and panache.

Forceful: When you use act directly, or use brute strength.

Quick: When you move quickly and with dexterity. Act before you think.

Sneaky: When you use misdirection, stealth, or deceit.

Skills -Default –

Overcome

Create an Advantage

Attack

Defend

Athletics

x

x

x

Burglary

x

x

Contacts

x

x

x

Crafts

x

x

Deceive

x

x

x

Drive

x

x

x

Empathy

x

x

x

Fight

x

x

x

x

Investigate

x

x

Lore

x

x

Notice

x

x

x

Physique

x

x

x

Provoke

x

x

x

Rapport

x

x

x

Resources

x

x

Shoot

x

x

x

Stealth

x

x

x

Will x x X

Time

Time taken to complete a given action outside of a conflict is measured in the following abstract quantities:

Half <-> One <-> A Few <-> Several

These  are then applied to a timescale, for example: Seconds, Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, Years, Decades, Generations, Centuries, Millennia.

Shifts can be spent on speeding up the action, with each shift spent bumping you down the scale. If time is an important factor,  the amount of shifts you fail by can bump you UP the scale!


Going past the scale on either side jumps you up or down or up a timescale – for example one shift would jump you from Several Months to Half A Year or from Half A Day to Several Hours.

Milestones

Minor

Frequency: Every Session.

Options: Swap two skills, rename an aspect, buy a stunt or power OR exchange a stunt.

Significant

Frequency: Every Scenario or Plotline (every 2-3 sessions).

Options: Additonal Skill Point & Benefits of a Minor Milestone & spellcasters may reconfigure foci.

Fate Points are reset to your Refresh rating even if you have more than this.

Major

Frequency: When the plot is shaken up a lot, multiple scenarios or a large-scale plotline.

Options: Significant Milestone & Refresh +1 & buy stunts or powers & rename Extreme consequence.

Masters of Umdaar – Bonus Content

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PHEW! Mean a busy few weeks. In the last two weeks, I’ve closed a successful Kickstarter, moved to a new apartment, and had my first game, Masters of Umdaar, published by Evil Hat. I’m astounded by all of the great support I’ve had for all three of the above (especially the moving… those bookshelves are heavy.)

Art by Tazio Bettin & Enrica Eren Angiolini. Image owned by Evil Hat LLC, used without permission.

In all of the excitement, I haven’t had much time to write content this game blog. However, I’ve struck upon a great idea: I’ll share with the interwebs some of the bonus Umdaar material that didn’t make the final cut.

(I don’t want to call this the “Director’s Cut,” because that implies that the editorial staff of Evil Hat where viciously changing things against my approval; quite the opposite. Their critiques were constructive, and they made sure that they knew I was ultimately in charge of the product; they helped me to create one of the best works I’ve ever done. However, I had huge difficulty with keeping to the small page count, which meant there were many things that I wish we had space for.)

Enjoy the bonus material!

Tables of Tables

In the early drafts, one goal for “Umdaar” was to have an instant Unplanned Adventure. Players could spend 5 minutes on character creation, and the GM, with a slew of randomly generated names and monsters, could create a setting in less than 15 minutes. (An ambitious dream, I know.) However, it was decided to include more pre-made material (like the “Starblades of Su’ul” adventure), and to par down the GM material a bit. Thus, it’s no surprise that the bonus content is entirely tables.

NAME GENERATOR

A generator for creating random PC or NPC names. Foll 4dF twice, once for the prefix (top half), and once for the suffix (bottom half).

—- Naga-
Shiro- Vir-
Exa- Kan- Wego-
Moor- Zy- Thal- Kaji-
0 <row 1> Slee- Myr- Arco- Or- P’Taq-
0 + ++ +++ ++++
0 -Da -Ra -Thar -Daar -Ak
-Seez -Gon -Star -Caya
-Tron -Lock -Uu  
-T’zo -Kor      
—- -Graz        

NATION / BIOFORM SUFFIXES

During character creation, players are encouraged to create a name for their Bioform or their home nation. This can be done one of two ways:

Free-form – Create the name yourself, based on the bioform type. For example, if you are a “Manta” person, feel free to call your bioform the “Mantiards” or simply the “Mantamen.”

Name Generator – Use the Name chart above, but also roll for a random suffix from the Bioform Name Suffix Chart below, and add them together. Ex. Names “Arco” + “-T’zo”, plus the Bioform Suffix “-Ani” = the tribe of Arcot’zoani. (If the result is too long, just use the Name Prefix and the  Bioform Suffix, such Arcoani)

0 + ++ +++ ++++
0 -ocks -iards -en -ols -ri
-ors -ons -als -dja
-ani -ians -ites  
-ans -icans      
—- -um        

MASTER – TITLE GENERATOR

Use the Title Generator below to create the Master’s title. Alternatively, you can use the Name Creator from the character section, or put the two together—ex. NagTaal the Lifetaker.

Foll 4dF twice, once for the prefix (top half), and once for the suffix (bottom half).

—- Mask-        
Fear Hope      
Bone World Gold    
Life Skull Mind  Slave  
0 God Light Blood War Lore
   0 + ++ +++ ++++
0 King/ Queen Monger Tyrant Hoarder Berserker
 Lord Taker Grinder Twister  
-Lock Raker Crusher    
Razer Breaker      
—- Destroyer        

Note: Hope & Light?

On the chart above, it is possible to end up with titles like “Hopelord.” You can reroll, but we suggest you go with it- no doubt the Master is a charismatic leader, who is worshiped by his oppressed subjects as a demigod!

BASIC TERRAIN-ING

In the first few drafts, “Umdaar” was more about the geography- the artifacts were more of a by-product of exploring, rather than the motivation. Thus, there were also random tables for creating wild biomes, AKA the Wildlands (although they work for Dark Domains as well); likewise, there was also generators for Midway points, and for buried structures or evil lairs waiting for them- this was called the Final Destination.

WILDLAND GENERATOR

Foll 4dF twice, once for the prefix (top half), and once for the suffix (bottom half).

—- The Midnight
The Shrapnel The Bone
The Star The Sludge The Subterranean
The Blood The Crystal The Psycho The Sky
0 The Time The Poison The Fire The Ice The Sunken
0 + ++ +++ ++++
0 Ruins Caves Swamps Cliffs Sea
Forests Mountains Sands Highlands
Tundras Jungles Islands  
Oasis Plains      
—- Pass        

MIDWAYS

Going through a Wildland without any incident is boring. Thus, we had a Midway generator; they are intentionally generic, so they could be dressed up to match any location. Some of them provide obstacles, while others provide “window dressing” for a character conflict (rather than having a scene take place in a vacuum).

  0 +
The Crossroads – Where two paths intersect. A place of detours, losing your way, and highwaymen. The Fortification – A man-made barricade, a roadblock, or proper fort. You must deal with the defenders, or physically overcome it. The High Ground – Before you is higher ground, granting anyone on it a tactical advantage. Alternates: Dunes, Barrow Mounds.
0 The Ruins – A cluttered area, rife with hiding places, forgotten artifacts, and sleeping dangers. The Fertile Ground- A blooming place in a hostile land, and an ironic place to be threatened. I.e. oasis, watering hole, mushroom grove, hot spring. The Shelter – A small shelter stands, bowing under the weight of the elements. Perhaps a resilient occupant still resides there. I.e. A camp, covered wagon, shack, hovel.
+ The Pass – Before you lies a natural path or bridge that must be traversed if you are to proceed. I.e. across a gorge, river, through a reef, a mountain pass. The Fog – An area where the senses are dulled, and teams can easily become separated. I.e. a dark bog, a misty rainforest, a sandstorm, a smoky lava field. The Obstruction – A terrain feature that cannot simply be walked around it- takes active effort to overcome. I.e. swimming a lake, scaling a cliff-face, climbing the massive trees.

FINAL DESTINATION GENERATOR

Foll 4dF twice, once for the prefix (top half), and once for the suffix (bottom half).

—- The City        
The Temple The Labyrinth       
The Cathedral The Fortress The Forge    
The Prison The Crypts The Library The Castle  
0  The Factory The Pit The Tower The Dungeons The Coliseum
  0 + ++ +++ ++++
0 of the Fallen Goddess of Plague  of Cursed Wisdom of Despair of Eternal Life
of the Starfarers of Madness of Shadows of Mutation  
of the Nameless God of Screams of Torment    
of Gold of Forbidden Joy      
—- of Eternal War        

LAST BITS

The last worthy bit of content cut from Umdaar was the Adventure Generator, but that is long enough that it warrants a blog post of its own. Until then, readers, game on!

Monster Showcase – The Exquisite Corpse

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THE BACKSTORY

For this week’s Monster showcase, I wanted a monster that brought out one of Fate’s strengths: the written word. With Fate Core, words are more than a way of communicating information and categorizing one stat from another, they are the bricks and mortars upon which the game is founded.

I present you a comedy/supernatural monster, “The Exquisite Corpse.” It is named, of course, after the French surrealist party game from the 1920’s (also known as Consequences). In the game, players write down a word on a piece of paper, hide it, and pass the paper to the next player. This is continued until a complete but nonsensical sentence is formed. For example, one of the earliest recorded sentences, which gave the game its name, was “the exquisite corpse shall drink the new wine.”

THE CREATURE

Description: The exquisite corpse is an unusual undead being, consisting of several body parts stitched together dunstan creepyand reanimated through science or sorcery. It is a built for beauty rather than brute strength, and each part in the monster’s composition was carefully selected. If the handsome parts don’t quite match, this can result in a gait that is more jaunty than shambling.

High Concept: Miss-matched Charming Reanimat

  • +4  – Rapport
  • +3 – Fight, Physique
  • +2 – Provoke, Will, Notice
  • +1 – Deceive, Athletics, Contacts

Stress: 4 Physical, 3 Mental

Say What?: The Exquisite Corpse is a master of double-talk, providing pedantic answers or promises that, upon reflection, mean nothing. When others try to pry out answers and promises out of the corpse (with Provoke or Empathy), it may oppose with Rapport instead of Will; if the Corpse successfully resists, the inquisitor will mistakenly believe they have found the answer they were looking for until the end of the scene.

THE SET-UP

The Exquisite Corpse starts with only a High Concept, but will have other aspects added on to it. These additional aspects are written by the players in a random fashion. The framework for each aspect is:

The Exquisite corpse _adverb_ _verb_ the _adjective_ _noun_.

Assign each of the missing words (adverb, verb, adjective, noun) to a different player, and have them write it down where others can’t see.


If you’re looking for something to write your game notes on, why not try the Fate Accompli erasable note-cards? The Kickstarter’s fully-funded, and hitting stretch-goal after stretch-goal. It ends on August 20th, so make sure you check it out now!

FateAccompli_Now_on_KickStarter


After players have written their assigned words, compile them together. Depending on the number of players, it might be best to write four or five sentences, and pick the best three; look for sentences that tell you something about the corpse’s motivations and weaknesses. Here are a few samples (I promise, these are completely random):

The Exquisite corpse tensely instructs the sudden quilt
Interpretation: he is an informed figure that takes his jobs and his hobbies very seriously.

The Exquisite corpse widely tests the frantic peace
Interpretation: she is a troll, who loves to disrupt the status quo and to sabotage negotiations for everyone; or perhaps she is contracting you to disrupt a treaty.

The Exquisite corpse easily visits the robust toad – Interpretation: the corpse is a speedy individual, who knows where to find the toads you need as a potion ingredient.

The Exquisite corpse wetly covers the complete throat – Interpretation: the corpse is not a vampire, but is still obsessed with necking.

The Exquisite corpse swiftly punishes the stiff grade – Interpretation: I don’t know what this means, and I’m pretty sure I don’t want to know.

WHAT LIES BEYOND

After you have an idea of what the character is like, you may want to drop the randomness. However, there’s nothing to say that you can’t continue on in the adventure this same way. For example, the term “Exquisite Corpse” is sometimes used with Round Robin stories: one author will start a composition, but leave it unfinished, passing it on to the next. The later writers are allowed to read what has come before. For example, you can try this set-up:

The exquisite corpse sits down at your table and flashes you a mossy grin. “I have a job for you… well, it’s a three part job, but I think you can handle it. First, you will need …”

Each player must:

  1. Finish the previous sentence.
  2. Add a complete sentence of their own.
  3. Start a third sentence, but leave it unfinished.

WHY DO THIS?

I feel that players want to play. As I’ve theorized in the “Can You Picture That?” blog a few months ago, anything that is playful and creative gets players to flex their muscles, and to get them in the frame of mind that this is a story that they are creating, not reacting to. I have yet to try this specific style myself, but am anxious to (I suspect it might be a fun side adventure in the latest Fate World setting, “Nest.”) If you try it out, tell us what you think!

Until next time, folks, keep on rollin’!

STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF CYCLOPEAN HORRORS: THE WHITE PEOPLE

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I love Lovecraft. I have yet to read all of his works, but I have read enough to understand why his stories are a steady source for many an adventure game; what he lacked in plot, he more than made up for in world-building and ambience. His fictional world is a perfect sandbox for other authors and roleplayers to romp, play, and run screaming through.

However, even Lovecraft borrowed from those that came before him. My goal, for the next year or so, is to study some of Lovecraft’s influences. One of the first authors I’ve encountered at was Lord Dunsany (note: his full name, in all of its splendor, is Edward John Moreton Drax Plunkett, 18th Baron of Dunsany… yeah, you can’t make this stuff off). Dunsany is amazing, but his influence on Lovecraft is more subtle; if anything, his work more closely resembles the work of Neil Gaiman. (I might do an entry inspired by him at some point, but not today.)

I stumbled on the next influential author when I started researching fictional languages: in Lovecraft’s “Dunwich Horror,” the villainous Wilbur Whately learned “the Aklo” for certain rituals. He used these rituals to seek knowledge and predictions, seeking questions from beings “from the hill” and “they from the air.” A little digging revealed that “Aklo” was invented by one of Lovecraft’s favorite authors, Arthur Machen. Chronologically, Machen is a late Gothic writer, although some have called him one of the fathers of modern horror. His story, “The Great God Pan,” has been described by Stephen King as “Maybe the best [horror story] in the English language.” Machen invented the rituals and gestures of Aklo in the 1899 story, “The White People.” The story takes the form of a journal, written by a young girl, as she travels to hidden worlds. I found reading the stream-of-consciousness narrative is a little frustrating (it reminded me of the horror I felt reading “The Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” is high school), but the concepts are beautiful. In honor of Machen, I’ve adapted his White People into this blog’s monster of the week.

THEY FROM THE AIR / THE WHITE PEOPLE / NYMPHS

Lecturers at Miskatonic University are often plagued by questions about beings of olden times, of sunken cities and old gods of the ice and sea. Some of their colleagues in England and Wales, however, have been tracking an equally old but divergent thread of inquiry. These archeologists, looking into the ritual sites of gods of the Prehistoric Britons, discovered markings unlike any subsequent language in the area. They bear a cursory resemblance to Aklo, but as this language is mostly documented in the Fertile Crescent, making any crossover undoubtedly a coincidence. Accounts from Roman scholars stationed in the British Isles speak of altars erected to gods of the sky and roaming nighttime ceremonies. The Glendower area is also rich with local folklore, with countless stories about travelers being lead astray by fairies, will-o’-the-wisps, or the devil himself. Dr. Ravensbourgh, a renowned biochemist, believes that the local phosphorescent fungi may be the inspiration for both folk tales of the last few centuries and the gods of ancient times.

However, for the sake of completeness, it would be amiss to not include one final theory: Dr. Llewellyn, a longtime colleague of mine, had recently gone missing during one of his archeological digs. He was found several days later in a terrible state of mind; he claimed that a tunnel in one of the burials mounds lead to a valley henceforth not notated on any modern map. He described creeping vines that have yet to be classified, standing stones that seemed to sing wicked songs, and many more impossible sights. He claimed that at the end of the valley was the Woods, which he said, “must not be described.” Hidden within was a pool filled with fire, attended by nymphs that whispered secrets… the closer he came, the more he understood. He said that they glowed with an otherworldly beauty… a grace so perfect that it overbore his mind and nearly burst his heart. The doctor’s condition has stabilized, but I don’t believe he shall ever be the same. If it can be believed that there are old gods that are so hideous that they can drive men mad, it must therefore be surmised that the opposite is also true: that there could be beings out there of such splendor that the human mind cannot encounter it and remain unscarred.

High Concept: Otherwordly Spawn of the Air

Aspects: Radiant White; Hypnotizing Beauty; Here and Gone Again; The Old Ways Have Power

Skills:
+3 Evoke
+2 Athletics, Empathy
+1 Notice, Burglary, Will

For rules on Evoke, see last entry: FATE HACK – EVOKE – KILLING WITH KINDNESS

Stunts:

Untouchable: If a Nymph uses Athletics to overcome a physical obstacle and ties, treat it as a success; if you roll a natural success, the nymph may move an additional zone or take an additional action this exchange (may only gain one free action each exchange).

Like the Wind: During their exchange, before taking any action, a Nymph may place the aspect “Phased Out” on itself; this is a free action. While that aspect is on it, the nymph is invisible and intangible; similarly, it cannot Attack, nor can it suffer any kind of stress, but may use or be targeted by other actions as normal. The nymph may discard the aspect at any time, and other characters can overcome the aspect with Notice.

THE WHITE LADY

The White Lady is a prominent figure in local folklore; all of her stories end in eternal bliss or in tragic deaths, with nothing in between. Her tales often pair her with a mysterious Man in Black; depending on the story, he is either her servant, her lover, her nemesis, or all three.

Aspects: Radiant White; Hypnotizing Beauty; The Man in Black Will Be Here Soon

Skills:
+5 Evoke
+4 Athletics, Empathy
+3 Notice, Burglary, Will

+2 Stealth, Deceive, Lore,

+1 Investigate, Shoot, Craft, Resources

Stunts:

Untouchable: See “Nymph”

Like the Wind: See “Nymph”

Lock On: If the White Lady uses Evoke to attack a target and succeeds or ties, place a “Drawn In” aspect on the target. The next time the White Lady attacks that same target with that aspect, the White Lady gains +2 on the attack. This is cumulative, so the attack gains +2 for every previous attack (i.e. +2 on the second attack, +4 on the third, etc.) A character may overcome a Drawn In aspect on themselves with Will, or may overcome a Drawn In aspect on an ally with Provoke; likewise, if the Drawn In character succeeds with style on a Defense roll against the White Lady, they may remove the Drawn In Aspect instead of taking a boost


AND NOW, A WORD FROM OUR SPONSOR:

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Here’s two snapshots of our kickstarter video.

The normal cards, they are le fail.

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More updates coming soon!

FATE HACK – EVOKE – KILLING WITH KINDNESS

Standard

I’ve pondered this in a previous blog or two, but now I’m going to explore it in full: I propose an alternative to the Fate Core skill Rapport. I give to you:

EVOKE

Elf Connection

Elf Connection

Evoke is the skill of friendship, inspiration, and seduction. While Contacts focuses on the friends you already have, Evoke judges your ability to make new connections and friends. Characters with a high Evoke are often skilled orators, knowing how to effectively move a crowd; but unlike Deceive, Evoke comes from honest emotion, as the orator talks about something that they believe in, or offers promises that they intend to keep. Alternatively, a skilled Evoker may be an artist, using a musical or dance performance to stir the emotions in an audience. It is the opposite of Provoke, which brings out the negative emotions in others.

Remember: Just because a character is filled with positive emotions doesn’t make them “good.” Many tyrants and zealots have killed out of love.

ACTIONS

OVERCOME:

Evoke may be used to overcome simple NPCs that stand in your way, by using your words and body language to befriend or convince them you are on their side. Evoke may also be used to remove negative emotional aspects placed on other characters, a group or a scene, such as aspects about fear, depression, or anger. They may not be used to remove aspects placed on yourself or heal consequences without additional stunts. The target opposes with Will.

CREATE AN ADVANTAGE:

Evoke may be used to place positive emotional aspects on characters and scenes, such as giving a teammate a Boost of Morale, or telling a joke to a crowd to Lighten the Mood. It generally cannot be used to discover hidden aspects on a character (this is better done with Empathy). The target opposes with Will.

ATTACK

In mental conflicts, Evoke may be used to “attack” other characters – rather than dealing physical or emotional harm to the defender, it signifies your efforts to seek a compromise and erode away the defender’s will to fight. Any consequences you deal would be themed around the opponent sympathizing with your ideal (ex. He’s Got a Point), feeling an attachment to you (ex. Crush on the Enemy), or trusting you implicitly (ex. I Can Trust This Guy!). Characters defend against Evoke with Will. Like Provoke, you may only use Evoke to attack if you have had a previous opportunity to discover a weakness or establish a short relationship with the target (ex. You have used Empathy to discover what positively motivates the defender).

DEFEND

Evoke does not grant any defense without stunts.

A rare day for Morf.

A rare day for Morf.

SPECIAL NOTES
Provoke – Just as Evoke lets you overcome negative emotional aspects from others, Provoke gains the ability to remove positive emotional aspects placed on other characters and on scenes.

Animals – If your setting includes a nature-themed skill (ex. Survival, Wilderness), Evoke cannot be used to deal mental stress to animals; instead, Survival/Wilderness gains the ability to deal mental stress to animals as if it were Evoke. Characters may still use Evoke to create aspects on animals as normal.

AN EXAMPLE

A great example of Evoke in popular media is the Sir Didymus scene in the Labyrinth. When attempting to cross a bridge, Sir Didymus stands in their way, refusing to let them pass. An attempt to fight him in hand-to-hand fails to remove him; however, it did succeed to winning his respect, and it did reveal more of his personality. He is not a bully hindering them out of spite, but an honor-bound knight.

This is where Evoke comes into play. Sarah politely asks him what the exact words of the oath he swore, to which he replies, “that none may pass without his permission.” Sarah then does what none have done before: ask for his permission. A confused Sir Didymus gladly grants it.

She overcame Sir Didymus because she appealed to what he cared about most: his honor. Fueled by her earnest love of her brother, she used a combination of logic and courtesy to weaken her opponent’s resistance. She used a positive interaction to remove an obstacle and, as a bonus, gain an ally.

EVOKE – STUNTS

I’m Good Enough, I’m Smart Enough, and Gosh-Darnit, People Like Me! – You may use Evoke to overcome negative emotional aspects placed on yourself. It may not be used to overcome consequences. Also, once per session, you may attempt to place a positive emotional aspect on yourself as you attempt to psych yourself up.

Laughter is the Best Medicine – You may use Evoke instead of Empathy when you are helping other characters to recover from mental consequences. You may not use it to heal yourself.

I’ll Play the Good Cop – If one of your teammates has successfully used Provoke or Intimidate this scene to deal mental stress to an enemy character, any of your successful Evoke attacks against that character deal an additional two mental stress.

Siren’s Call – Whenever one of your Evoke attacks takes an opponent out during a conflict, you have effectively hypnotized the target. After the conflict, you may make the character go to sleep, forget recent events, talk about anything, and/or carry out simple commands. However, the character will not do anything to harm themselves or others.

Love is Stronger – Whenever you use Evoke to create a positive aspect on a character or scene, and someone attempts to use Provoke to overcome it, you can use Evoke to actively oppose the roll.

Incurable Optimist – Your natural positivity is your best defense. When another character attacks you using Provoke or Intimidate, you may defend with Evoke instead of Will.

OTHER STUNTS

Remember that Place with the Thing? – Contacts – Whenever you use Contacts to create a character, you may use Contacts as if it were Evoke to deal positive mental stress to that character. This represents you weakening their resistance with stories about mutual friends and the good times you used to have.

Would I Lie to You? – Deceive – You may use Deceive as if it were Evoke to positive mental stress to a character. However, the target may defend with Will or with Empathy. Once they have successfully defended against one of your attacks (i.e. one of your attacks fails to either deal stress or to tie), that character gains the aspect “I See Through Your Lies.” While that aspect is on that character, you may not use Deceive to attack it.

Sympathetic Soul – Empathy – You listen more than talk, but when you do open your mouth, you know just what people want to hear. Once per scene, you may use Empathy as if it were Evoke for any action (ex. overcome a minor character, deal a positive mental attack, etc.)

Want for Nothing – Resources – You have everything that could make you happy. When an opponent uses Evoke to attack you, by attempting to bribe you with promises, you may defend with Resources instead of Will.

Iron Resolve – Will – Your ideals are unshakable. You gain +2 Will when defending against Evoke attacks.

Hate is Stronger – Provoke – Whenever you use Provoke to create a negative aspect on a character or scene, and someone attempts to use Evoke to overcome it, you can use Provoke to actively oppose the roll.

I’m Not a Pessimist, I’m a Realist – You don’t just induce negative emotions, you embody them. When another character attacks you using Evoke, you may defend with Provoke instead of Will.


That’s it for this week! Next week, I’ll be exploring Evoke some more, and possibly giving you more sneak-peeks of the Kickstarter launching month, Fate Accompli!