Friday, November 8, 2013

Mind Maps For Fun and Plot

Every GM in the history of the hobby has struggled with how to best keep notes and design a game session. About two years back I started putting my ideas and session notes into a mind map. I never looked back since.

Mind maps are a way to visually outline information in a hierarchical tree-like fashion. They are, for lack of better words, a dump of your thoughts. In this respect, they make amazing notes for my roleplaying games.

During my years of gaming, I've learned a couple of things. The first being is that I dislike published modules. The primary problem with them is that when you get one, it's like studying for an exam before a gaming session. That, does not appeal to me in any way. I was never the one to study much during school. I certainly do not want to do that in my hobby. I prefer to have the entire adventure in my mind and the easiest way to do so is to make it up yourself.

The second is that prepping for a gaming session is damn hard. No matter how much effort you put in, you can never be prepared enough. One of the hardest things for me is to ensure that all the really wicked ideas I have get to see the light of day. I hate forgetting that amazing thing I planned for a story, only to remember after the session ended. For me, one of the most fun things is to throw out the awesome things brewing in my head and watch the players reactions. Forgetting them lessens the enjoyment of GMing for me.

I do not want to discount pre-written modules. I still buy them occasionally for games I really, really enjoy.  They are great source of ideas and additional background material. When using them, I steal ideas or locations and fit them into my story instead.  I cannot recall the last time I ran a published module, though. Most of the time, I rely on my own ideas; often inspired by novels and stories I have read.

When designing a session, I always pull out my trusty mind mapping software. I try not to write anything down until I have a general outline in my head. I find that sitting in front of a screen often results in writers block, unless I already know what I want to write down. Something about computers interferes with my creativity. Perhaps because I program them for a living. My logical brain switches on and takes over. Or something...

Once I have the basic premise in my head, I take down some notes. The notes are very brief, often just ideas or phrases which will remind me about the in-depth idea I have. I note down the most important things about that aspect of the story on the mind map. I try to keep the mind map light in information because reading too much during a session tends to interrupt it at the worst possible times. Just the facts!

The whole concept of a mind map is to note down only the important things. These are phrases and words which will remind you later what that idea was. At a glance, I can discern what it was that I wanted to include in the story. The fact could be a specific description I wanted to read out, something important for that part of the story or a specific event. This is really about organization rather than details. I structure the notes around scenes and locations for the most part.

Once the mind map is fleshed out and I have noted down the important things about the story, I link them together. The linking is important because it lets me associate the same important fact with multiple pieces of information on the map. It also helps me visually to see the relationship between these different aspects of the story.

Seeing the relationships and flow of the story visually is perhaps the most valuable benefit of mind maps for me. When the story goes off the rails and the players completely surprise me, I still have my visual representation of the story facts. I can quickly re-arrange them in my head and on the map and make them think I incredibly thought of everything.

I also use the mind map to note down important events and facts driven by the players. The mind map becomes more detailed during the story. At the end I have a complete view of what the story was, what the players did and any major outcomes. I also have notes about possible new ideas for the next session and what story elements I need to tie up later.

My current software preference is MindNode Pro. It is Mac only, unfortunately. I do most of my designing and writing on my Macbook Air anyways. Being a Linux user, I would prefer an open source solution. I've looked into a number of mind mapping apps and MindNode Pro always seemed to be the best choice. There are a number of nice open source software packages out there, including ones for your tablet (iOS or Android).

The following is an example of an Eclipse Phase mind map I created for a story very loosely inspired by Alistair Reynold's Pushing Ice novel. The Ice Baby Collective was hired to push a comet to Mars for the terraforming project. Contact with it was recently lost and Firewall sensors detected exotic radiation emanating from the comet. Considered a possible X-Threat, sentinels were dispatched to investigate. The mind map won't give you the full story, since that's in my head. But it is an example of how I structure them and it is one of the more involved ones with lots of notes.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Fate of Starship Battles

My first serious Fate Core hack was an attempt at the creation of starship combat rules which could be used stand-alone and as part of roleplaying sessions. The version I reference here is the 3rd iteration of the rules. My group and I have done a few playtest sessions which resulted in some minor and major modifications to the rules. I feel that this 3rd iteration has come a long way and has streamlined much of the rules.

For the impatient, the rules may be found here. There is an example battle map and a starship sheet you can print for your games.

During playtesting, we attempted a number of approaches to weapons and damage. The way starship skills were allocated changed very early on as well. I documented many of the approaches in Fate to weapons, armour and damage here.

An early modification was to change the starship skill pyramid into a double column. The first playtest was with a pyramid, and we played with Enormous (6) Hull ships on each side. The amount of skills (systems) gained was crazy. Ships had three or more beam weapons and multiple squads of Marines - 4 in one instance. Ship creation also took much longer than it should have for a one-off battle. It was all a bit much. I didn't want a small ship with a Medium (3) Hull to only have a couple of skill slots. The balancing was difficult because at larger hulls, you end up with way too many. Eventually, after running some numbers I arrived at a double column. This was a very good fit for all sizes of ships. I'm quite happy with this now.

The first weapon system we tried was a variant of Weapon Min Stress vs. Armour Stress & Consequences where weapons did a minimum amount of damage based on the skill ranks. This turned out to be too hard to remember and figure out when a starship had multiple weapons of various ranks. I abandoned the armour stress early on before the first play test after reading comments on the G+ Fate Core group which indicated that would make combat last longer and bog it down. I only kept the minimum stress for the first playtest. The problem we found was with tracking the minimum stress since if you had more than one weapon, they all did different minimum damage based on the skill ranks. What really complicated things was things like Flack, Shields and Drones. They had to fit into the system with what they offered. Things got unbalanced and too complicated for what I wanted.

The second weapon system was an attempt at using For Better Or Worse where the scale was determined by the skill ranks in the skill rather than hull size. For example an Average (+1) Structure was considered Small in scale and a Legendary (+8) Structure was Huge. The progression was 0-2: Small, 3-4: Medium, 5-6: Large and 7-8: Huge. Up to two shifts were considered for a max bonus of +2. This was in many ways even worse because now there was a whole mix of ranks of weapons and defence which confused things tremendously. Again the Flack, Shields and Drones proved to be hard to fit into this system without additional rules. At the end of the day, this was less favourable than the first attempt.

The final weapon revision came about mid way through the last playtest. We got annoyed with how things were calculated and took a time out to discuss the pros and cons of the current and previous systems. We quickly agreed they were not ideal, nor intuitive. During discussion I threw out there the free invokes system which the Fate Freeport Companion had. Immediately everyone's ears perked up and they all nodded. We tried it, and it worked amazingly. The tracking was simple with a few boxes on the starship sheet. I decided that the number of free Boosts you get per battle scene is equal to the ranks in your skill. A maximum of two may be used at a time, like the limit of a single Advantage. The rest is detailed in the starship rules link above.

The exercise of these standalone battles was a great introduction for my group to the basics of Fate. Since were were just having fun and trying to figure out an optimal system, everyone had a great time playing something everyone knew how - miniature battles.

In the second playtest we used Aspects. I was surprised at the amazing Aspects the players came up with on their own after a brief intro to what they do and how they are used. The Aspects became on many different occasions and the players quickly grasped how to take advantage of them, and when.

Give the rules a spin, let me know what you think and how you think the rules might be improved. Not everything in the 3rd revision was playtested either. As a designer, I found it most helpful to stand back and GM the battles rather than play them. The time I had to observe the players and where they stumbled or had issues was a huge benefit.

For those curious, the miniatures we used were from the Fading Suns Noble Armada starship board game.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Futurama Characters, Fate Style!

My gaming group got together last night with the express purpose of turning the characters of Futurama into Fate characters for a one-shot adventure. Everyone was exited about the prospect. We are all new to Fate and other than play-testing a set of rules for starship combat I have been developing for my space opera setting, no one really has much experience with Fate.

The goal of the exercise was to introduce Fate Core character creation and concepts to the group in the easiest possible manner. I thought long and hard about how to go about doing that. On one hand, we could have just made characters for a space opera and played. I wasn't sure I was ready myself for that. Another option was to run the excellent Bulldogs! Fate Core setting as a quick one or two-shot game. Again, I was unsure about even using a lightly-pre-prepared setting to run a couple sessions in.

I was then struck with a genius idea to try Futurama as our first foray into Fate Core - on account I have been watching the show during my lunch breaks, when I work from home. Immediately that choice appealed to me on a number of levels. The first being that all of my regular gaming group watch the show and are familiar with it. The second being that it is a humorous and easy to run setting. I would not be confined to a strict ruleset of physical rules or setting details; I could make it up as I go along and no one would complain! Lastly, the concept lends itself perfectly to a one-shot or two-shot story. What could be better?!

My concern was communicating the nuances of Fate which are not immediately obvious, even after I have read the core book more than once. Aspects are perhaps the most difficult concept to convey. How do you make a good aspect? What's a bad aspect? How do you make a Blam! aspect?! All these things are difficult to explain to people who have gamed the more "traditional" (I prefer to call them old-gen) game systems? I know, I struggle with the nuances of Fate all the time. My lizard brain wants modifiers and details and the part of my brain which loves Fate wants abstractions and story over rules. A dichotomy everyone who first reads Fate suffers - no doubt.

So, we got together to make characters. We use a Facebook (secret) group to communicate our gaming scheduling and sometimes for in-game posts. We actually have a couple of FB groups. I'm not a large fan of FB, but that's where the social happens, and the geeky happens on G+. :)  We game on (most) Monday evenings because it is very convenient and no one makes plans on a Monday! It is also a great way to start the week and a perfect reason to leave the office at 5pm. heh.

I digress. You're here to find out how we developed the Futurama characters and what we did with the aspects and stunts (the best part!). We watched the first two episodes to get the back story for the Phase Trio and establish relationships. We also looked up Wikipedia when we were stumped for details and ideas. We made one character per player, and we made one extra for the guy who sometimes makes it to our game nights.

The group chose their characters and we selected Amy Wong as the extra character to fill out the usual crew of the Planet Express. Without further ado:

Bender Bending Rodriguez
High Concept: Sociopathic, Robotic Bending Unit
Trouble: "Bite My Shiny, Metal Ass!"
Aspects: Substance Abusing Kleptomaniac; Fry's Abusive Best Friend; "It's Fun On A Bun!"
  Great (+4): Provoke
  Good(+3): Physique, Burglary
  Fair (+2): Deceive, Rapport, Athletics
  Average (+1): Shoot, Notice, Contacts, Craft

  • Bending Unit: I receive +2 to Physique when I am physically bending things.
  • Extendable Arms: I can extend my arms and do things up to one zone away.
  • It's In The Can: Once per session I can pull something useful out of my body cavity that I can justify having stolen earlier.
Physical Stress: OOOO
Mental Stress: OO
Refresh: 3

Turanga Leela
High Concept: Take No Guff Mutant Pilot
Trouble: Hopeless Romantic With Attitude
Aspects: A Dreamer Who Plays By The Rules; Does What's Right, Even If Its Wrong; The Depth Challenged Leading The Stupid
  Great (+4): Fight
  Good(+3): Athletics, Drive
  Fair (+2): Rapport, Will, Physique
  Average (+1): Shoot, Investigate, Lore, Empathy
  • Leaping Kick: Once per scene I can leap and kick someone up to one zone away. I also enter that zone after my attack.
  • Pedal To The Metal: I receive a +2 to my Drive rolls when involved in a speeding contest.
  • Boots Of Debating: Substitute Fight for Rapport when I in an argument and I have the morally superior position.
Physical Stress: OOO
Mental Stress: OOO
Refresh: 3

Philip J. Fry
High Concept: Lazy And Clueless Delivery Boy From The Past
Trouble: Always Party Like Its 2000 A.D.!
Aspects: "I Always Wanted A Robot Friend Since I was 6 Years Old"; "I Just Wanted To See It Through My Eyes"; "OMG! It's The Future!"
  Great (+4): Will
  Good(+3): Rapport, Investigate
  Fair (+2): Athletics, Notice, Physical
  Average (+1): Provoke, Stealth, Deceive, Drive
  • Everything Is Better In The Future: I receive +2 to Will when defending vs. fear and despair because things are better in the future.
  • Demagogue: I receive a +2 to Rapport when giving a speech about something I believe in.
  • Child Of The 2000's: I receive a +2 to Lore when faced with 20th Century trivia.
Physical Stress: OOO
Mental Stress: OOOO
Refresh: 3

Dr. John A. Zoidberg, Ph.D.
High Concept: Bungling Surgeon And Artiste
Trouble: Why Not Zoidberg?!
Aspects: Forever Alone But Always Around; Galaxy Class Surgeon...Except On Humans; "This Stench is...Wonderful!"
  Great (+4): Physique
  Good(+3): Lore, Provoke
  Fair (+2): Athletics, Shoot, Stealth
  Average (+1): Fight, Notice, Investigate, Crafts

  • Stink Ink Gland: I can emit a foul smelling ink in the most disgusting way possible. This gives me +2 to Shoot when creating an advantage.
  • What Pain?!: Once per session I can reduce a Moderate consequence to a Mild or negate a Mild consequence.
  • Wilfully Overlooked: I receive a +2 to Stealth because no one pays any attention to me...ever.
Physical Stress: OOOO
Mental Stress: OO
Refresh: 3

Amy Wong
High Concept: Clumsy Engineering Intern
Trouble: Superficial Party Girl
Aspects: "You Can't Tell Me What To Do!"; "Fool Me Seven Times, Shame On You, Fool Me Eight Or More Times, Shame On Me"; Had Cuteness Reduction Surgery On One Cheek And Nose
  Great (+4): Empathy
  Good(+3): Rapport, Resources
  Fair (+2): Athletics, Drive, Lore
  Average (+1): Contacts, Investigate, Notice, Crafts
  • Multilingual: I receive +2 to Lore where determining whether I can speak some language, even Yeti - but little Martian.
  • Flexible In Being Wooed: I receive +2 Rapport when flirting with men.
  • Oh No!: I can use Empathy instead of another skill when in a situation which involves disappointing someone I care about on account of my screw up.
Physical Stress: OO
Mental Stress: OO
Refresh: 3

Friday, September 6, 2013

RPG Tokens

I've been using tokens in my RPGs for a while now. We are currently using tokens for Moxie in Eclipse Phase. This entry is about some easy to get (and cheap) tokens which work great.

When I got married, the flower arrangements my mom made had these red plastic crystals. My obvious first thought was "tokens!". So she got me some from the flower shop she works at. I assume you can find them at a flower shop or one of those sewing/decorating places.

When doing our home renos, I watched the tile guy we hired laying tiles. He was using Tile Spacers to keep the tiles apart while they set. I obviously thought "tokens!". I went to the local hardware store and picked up 2 bags for only a couple of bucks each. These small plastic pluses make awesome tokens. You can also paint them (I didn't) for effect and various colours. The tile spacers make amazing Fate Points and Boosts. I have thick and thin ones. Look for them in the tile section of your local home improvement store.

Weapons and Armour in Fate

There's been a lot written and discussed about how to best handle weapons and armour in Fate. This appears to be a very common topic which pops up on the Fate G+ Group and on the various forums. The beauty and frustration of Fate is that it is so flexible and really allows you to tailor the system for your specific game and setting. This is a good thing!

Let me list all the ones I've encountered (not in any particular order):

Ratings: This appears to be the oldest method where weapons and armour have a rating from +0 to +4. There are variants on this where you either add the bonus to your attack/defend roll directly, or add the bonus as stress if you tie or generate shifts. The main disadvantage is the zero-sum problem where weapons and armour cancel each other out and become an escalation war where you need bigger weapons against bigger armour, and so on. This method is popular and used in Starblazer Adventures, Legends of Anglerre among other variants and ports which predate Fate Core.

Damage Floors & Ceilings: This method is proposed in the Fate Core Toolkit. Basically weapons have a minimum amount of stress they can cause, between 1 and 4 (even on a tie) and armour has the maximum number of stress they can allow through which is also between 3 (light armour) and 1 (heavy armour). The armour max stress allowed always overrides the weapon minimum stress dealt. If you get hit with a heavy weapon (4) and are wearing medium armour (2) and the roll generated 1 shift, you would deal 2 stress to the opponent. The armour only permits 2, where the weapon wants to deal at least 4. I don't particularly favour this system because it makes everyone want to wear the heaviest armour and combat progresses extremely slow. Oh, and weapons and armour are also aspects which may be invoked though I'm not really sure how that helps when the armour restricts the stress which can be caused as a hard limit. And the fact you can invoke the armour aspect for additional protection. I'm not a fan of this at all and was a bit surprised since it is very unbalanced and un-Fate-like out of all the systems here. [Edit] If you score an attack with style, you bypass armour and it cannot be invoked.

Red & Blue Dice:  This system assigns 1-4 red dice to weapons and 1-4 blue dice to armour. You can also mix/match the dice colours in instances where a weapon can be used for offence or defence - same with armour (spiked armour, anyone?). Each + you roll on a coloured die counts as an extra +1. So a red + is really a +2 on the attack. A blue + is +2 to defence, etc. You always roll the standard 4dF and supplement the rest of the dice with non-red/blue dice and they are treated normally. This system sounds a bit fun at first, though everyone knows that a lot of rolling and counting dice gets tedious eventually. Probably not for everyone, though I was intrigued at first. This also comes from the Fate Core Toolkit.

Aspects & Consequences: This is another Fate Core Toolkit system. Basically the armour type (light, medium and heavy) and weapon types (light, medium and heavy) are the aspects which represent the weapon. You invoke them as usual, and can have them invoked against you. When you invoke a weapon aspect, you can add a +2 bonus to the attack or re-roll. Alternatively, you can instead cause a consequence which is determined by the type of weapon: light: Mild, medium: Moderate, heavy: Severe. If you succeed with style, you can move the consequence up one level. Armour works the same except the armour can absorb a matching consequence. You can also take a one level up consequence but the armour is then considered damaged until repaired. This is a pretty flexible system; the consequence part makes combat deadlier. The offset here is that it costs Fate Points to get the deadlier effect. I can see many players burning their Fate Points quickly this way. This system does intrigue me though.

Just Aspects:  This system is also old and commonly used in may Fate systems. Basically weapons are just aspects and you can invoke them for a bonus using Fate Points. This is a very pure and clean Fate way to handle equipment. I like this and don't like it for the same reason as the Aspects & Consequences approach. It can burn through Fate Points quickly. There is a great example here.

Weapon Min Stress vs. Armour Stress & Consequences: I proposed this on the G+ Group which generated a really good discussion which you can read here. I doubt this is an original idea though. Basically it proposes weapons do minimal stress in the range 1-4 (you must generate shifts, ties go to the defender) and armour can absorb stress and a single consequence based on type (light: 1 stress, Mild consequence, medium: 2 stress, Moderate consequence, heavy: 3 stress, Severe consequence). The consequence when absorbed means the armour is damaged and must be repaired, it can no longer absorb any stress. The idea was to give a strategic decision to taking damage by the players. Take the stress, or put it on the armour? When do you decide that your armour took too much by absorbing the consequence? Sounded great on paper, but more experienced Fate players indicated this would prolong combat and cause too much tracking; I did not like that. My other major concern was tracking NPCs and mooks and how much additional burden this would cause.

Aspects With Free Invokes: This method was recently provided in the Fate Freeport Companion. Coincidentally, I arrived at this same solution which came about from the G+ Groups discussion mentioned above. That is before I read about it in the Fate Freeport Companion. Weapons and armour are aspects, however you get a number of free invokes per session based on the type: light: 1 invoke, medium: 2 invokes, heavy: 3 invokes. You can of course invoke them more, but that costs Fate Points. My system had it exactly the same but per scene. Since Freeport was playtested, I am now considering changing my system to be per session because those guys knew what they were doing and I am fumbling still. My group's sessions are approx 3-4 hours max, since we play on Monday nights and we all have to work next day and have grown up stuff. For that reason, per session might be a better fit. I might have to experiment. This is my leading contender. Also see here.

Stunts: Another popular method. This was first proposed in Spirit of the Century, I believe. Basically equipment is represented by stunts and it costs you stunt slots to have anything better than the average piece of gear which gives no bonus. I'm not a fan of this system because it 1) takes up stunt slots; 2) is very artificial in that you can't benefit from something without giving up the slot for another thing; 3) Feels more like a video game limitation on equipment than an RPG. Probably my least favourite method. Though it has merits for games like Spirit of the Century because it embodies the setting style.

Additional Stress: I think I came across this on a link in the Evil Hat Wiki links section. Basically armour adds additional stress boxes to the character and I guess weapons have a weapon rating. The problem with this is that if you already have say 4 stress and you get 2 more from say medium armour, you now have 6 stress and that's a damn lot of stress you can eat before taking consequences. Not sure how this would play out, but it would take a long time to do combat, I'm sure.

Added 2013-09-06:

For Better Or Worse: This approach was contributed by Robert Hanz in this G+ Groups topic. The rule is simple and elegant and uses the constraints and complements rule of Fates past. If you have a more powerful weapon than the opponent's armour you deal one extra stress. If your opponent has better armour than the power of your weapon, they receive a one less stress. You can also do this straight up with attack and defence rolls where the attacker may get +1 to attack when they have a better weapon and the defender +1 to defend in the case of better armour. You can also add a consequence optionally to delineate the armour got damaged, for example. This system is pretty flexible, however the downside is that everyone will want to have the best weapon and the best armour. This could be offset with aspects on the equipment which could be invoked for or against and provide situational bonuses for specific gear (i.e. Targeting Scope, Slow Firing).

Added 2013-09-07:

From the Yahoo! Groups Weapons & Armour discussion.

Shift Limits: Weapons and armour have ratings in the range +1 to +8 (or whatever rating range you choose). Your benefit from weapons and armour is limited by the number of shifts you generate. If you roll 2 shifts and are using a +6 weapon, your total is +4 shifts and not +8. Same with armour, generating 1 shift with a +4 armour will only total +2 shifts for defence. This limits effectiveness of equipment by the skill being used.

More Than 4dF: This approach adds additional dice to the roll beyond 4dF (or less than 4dF). Weapon ratings translate directly into additional or less dice and you take the best 4 die results for your final. This is proposed here.

Re-Rolls: This is a gut-reaction alternative to More Than 4dF above. The weapon and armour rating falls between 1-4. The rating allows you to re-roll any 0's (empty dF roll) up to the rating of the weapon. This means that if you roll: -1, 0, 0, +1 and you are using a rating 1 weapon, you get to re-roll one of the 0's. If you had a rating 2 weapon, you could re-roll both 0's. If the weapon has a higher rating, your re-rolls can be re-rolled as long as they are 0's and not -1 or +1. This way, strong weapons and armour have a potential to provide more protection. The down side of this is all the re-rolling. Many people are not fond of rolling lots of dice, including myself. I threw it in here because I think it is still a viable solution for those who like lots of dice rolls. A variant could be to only re-roll -1's and not 0's. Though I prefer 0's because you should still have a chance to fail or not succeed with style every time you pull out that massive weapon.

Consequential Increase:

For each +1 from a piece of equipment you use one extra Fate Dice, but still keep 4. So a Sword +1 would mean when using a sword Roll 5dF and keep 4.  e.g. Sword +1 [~]  [~] [  ] [+] [+] So you'd toss one [~] and the result would be a +1  It roughly translates to the following bonus:
+1 = +0.86
+2 = +1.54
+3 = + 2.05
+4 = +2.45
Higher bonuses would be possible with increasingly diminishing returns.

Had a thought for an alternative, not sure it's simpler though. The rating let's you convert a zero to a + instead. That way the 4dF remains constant but you are more likely to get a better result on a neutral roll, but not a terrible roll. Skill still rules.

Added 2013-12-15

Stress Max: Weapons limit the value of each stress box. For example a two handed beast of a weapon might limit each stress box to a max value of 2. Therefore, rather than having boxes of values: 1, 2, 3, 4, your values would be: 1, 2, 2, 2, for example. The lower the number, the more deadlier the weapon and the sooner it will cause consequences. Small and less deadly weapons might not have any limit.

To offset this, armour would provide a bonus to the consequence value. Armour 1 would add +1 to Mild, Moderate and Severe: 3, 5, 7. Alternatively the consequence bonus could be represented as 2/1/1 for example (mild/moderate/severe).

There was some discussion about this system here.

Added 2014-01-02

Murder She Wrote:  +Jacob Poss proposed this on the G+ Fate Group here. Weapons cause a set amount of stress when you succeed and cause more stress when you succeed with style. For example: a dagger might cause 1 stress when you succeed and 3 stress when you succeed with style and a sword might cause 2 stress when you succeed and 5 stress if you succeed with style. Additionally weapons may have additional bonuses or effects instead of damage when you succeed with style (i.e. disarm, etc.).

Added 2014-01-04

D&D Weapons and Armour: +Jacob Poss did up a fantasy weapons and armour list here. Weapons have certain qualities based on their type and armour gives you a stress box of varying size to absorb stress with.

Nova Age Gear: +Jacob Poss also wrote up some gear rules for Nova Age here. Weapons negate the stress track (you take consequences) unless you are wearing armour.

Added 2014-03-09

Stress Box Bonus: The system is inspired by +Ryan Macklin's blog post. Armour provides a Stress Box Bonus, rather than a straight up stress absorption. For example, Light armour provies +1 stress bonus, Medium +2 stress bonus, and Heavy +3 stress bonus. The stress box bonus is added to each of your stress boxes. Say if you had 2 stress boxes, normally they would be rated at: 1 and 2. When you put on Medium armour, they are: 3 and 4. If you put on Heavy armour, they become: 4 and 5.

The net effect is that you can absorb more stress than someone who is unarmoured, however you still take stress when hit. You are able to take larger hits before suffering a consequence than someone without armour. This contrasts with the common armour rating which always subtracts X stress from the attack.

This system still keeps combat flowing and stress being dealt, while limiting the number of exchanges where nothing really happens due to stress absorption.

Pros: Combat is still quick, every exchange counts and armour is not a stop-all solution. Armour keeps you from taking consequences sooner, though you will eventually take a consequence and being taken out from a thousand cuts is still possible. Tracking armoured NPCs is a matter of making their stress boxes modified by the armour bonus.

Cons: More complexity. Everyone has to track the value of their stress boxes which differs from character to character.

There's a discussion here

Added 2014-04-06

Weapon/Armour Ratings Discussion: Excellent and deep discussion on weapon/armour ratings, whether they are needed at all, with their benefits and downsides -- a lot of wisdom can be found here.


I will continue to update this as I find more variants.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Fate Psychic Powers

The space opera setting I am creating has psychics. The Fate Toolkit provides some really good takes on handling magic and psychic abilities. Though they are really good suggestions, none of them really struck me as as the right solution for my setting. I wanted a bit more definition to my psychic abilities than the examples provided.

Fate Core offers solutions such as subtle systems where all effects are advantages on one end of the scale. The other end of the scale is where each individual power is a stunt which does something specific. Neither solution really appealed to me. I also looked at Legends of Anglerre and Starblazer Adventures for inspiration. I don't have the Dresden Files RPG (I am watching the show with my wife on Netflix currently) though based on what I read on the interwebs, its magic is more subtle which is something I am not going for with the psychic abilities for my setting. Think more along the likes of unsubtle 40K psychic powers with costs associated with use.

I've come up with a system which currently is based on my Skill Fields proposal (see here). The system could easily be changed to use stunts for each of the psychic disciplines without any trouble. It is all based on a single skill called Psi.

I posted the write up on my wiki for your perusal. As usual, I welcome any and all comments. I have not had the opportunity to play test any of this yet.

Link: Psychic Powers for FATE

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Fate Skills (and Fields)

The setting and game system I am creating also happens to be based on the Fate Core system. Having already touted that Fate is amazingballs in my previous post, I will skip that part.  This post is about a variant to Fate which I had come up with. I do not know if this is an original idea. I have not found any mention of it in my reading of various Fate rules posts, discussions and blogs. If someone else came up with this and it has been discussed before, I wouldn't mind if you pointed me to where the discussion can be found.

The thing about Fate is that you do not want too many skills. A large selection of skills will guarantee that the characters will only cover a small subset of these skills in a group and there will be skills which no one chose. This is bad for a large number of reasons; the primary being that the skill exists but will never be used by the characters in the game. It may come into play from an NPC or from a story plot, but in the end, the skill exists to be ignored for the most part. I do not like this at all.

Given the Fate Core standard character pyramid is Great (+4), you get a total of 10 separate skills on your character sheet in the range of Average (+1) to Great (+4). The default skill list in Fate Core is 18 skills. This means that there will be 8 things your character will not be able to do with any skill at all. This works. Between three characters, the skill distribution should cover almost all the skills.

The problem arises when you go to a more complex setting such as space opera or sci-fi. Yes, you can still do with some 18 to 20 skills, but what happens when you want to break skills down further? For example: you add a Science skill. Does that mean the character is as good in all the sciences equally? There are a lot of different sciences such as Biology, Physics, Chemistry, Nanotechnology, Linguistics, Geology, Mathematics, Psychology, etc. Would someone who is Good (+3) at Science be equally skilled in Biology, Linguistics and Nanotechnology at the same time? For simplicity's sake, you can say yes and that is perfectly fine. Your character is a scientist and he can do Science! However, if you want a bit of crunchiness to this whole Science thing, you might say that as a Good (+3) scientist you studied mostly in technology and really know Nanotechnology, Physics and Mathematics. You also studied other fields of science, but you are not as versed in them as these three.

What you end up here with is something I call Skill Fields. Basically, you can take a skill and divvy it up between any number of "fields" which represent a specific area of knowledge within that skill. The number of skills on the skill list remains the same, there is only the one Science skill. You receive one skill field for each rank of skill you have in that skill. If you are Good (+3) at Science, you will have 3 fields to choose from. When your Science becomes Great (+4) later on, you can add another field to your list.

Fields basically determine how you roll for your skill checks. If you have the field in question which applies to the skill roll, you roll your skill normally at whatever rank you have it in. If you do not know the field, you roll at -2. What this does now is that even though you are Good (+3) at Science and you are trying to analyze some alien language with Linguistics, something which you did not choose to study in detail, your skill roll is made at Average (+1) instead. As a scientist you also picked up bits and pieces of other fields during your study which is probable and realistic.

This has two effects on character creation. You must choose what sort of specialist your character is at character creation when choosing fields for your character. Two scientist characters can now differentiate themselves from each other. The other effect is that you do not need to have a separate skill for each little thing your setting demands. 

Another quick example is Shoot which might have fields such as: Artillery, Heavy, Primitive, Energy, Slug and Thrown. Just because you're really good at shooting, maybe you never fired Artillery nor are you very good at Throwing. This can be represented by skill fields quite well.

In my space opera setting, a roll for a skill you do not have is made at Terrible (-2). It is harsher than the Fate Core recommendation of Mediocre (+0), however it makes not having a specific field always better than not having the skill altogether. It is safe to say if you don't know a skill, you are terrible at it.

Skill fields also translate well into things like magic and psychic powers. You can break your Magic skill into fields such as Necromancy, Conjuration, etc. A wizard character will never be a master of all of them, but he can be pretty good at a few with enough study.

An optional rule is Specialization. You may take the same field up to twice more, each time gaining a +1 bonus to the skill roll when that field is involved. The maximum bonus is +2 with the field chosen three times. This of course has the drawback that you are extremely specialized and will take a -2 to your skill rolls with the other fields which you ignored completely.

Comments are very welcome. I posted this in hopes of starting a discussion on the merits of the Skill Fields system. Is it cumbersome by needing to record fields for those skills which have them on the character sheet? Does it complicate things? I have not had the chance to play test these yet, my first Fate campaign will have to wait until my setting is complete.

First Post!

I am currently deep down into the creation of my own space opera universe. I was very inspired by the Fate Core Kickstarter success (which I supported) that it drove me to postpone some of my other on-going (software) projects and finally create the sci-fi universe I always wanted to.

I learned about FATE from a friend of mine over a year ago. It immediately caught my attention as The game system of choice going forward. FATE just makes sense. It solves so many problems with RPG game systems in one fell swoop. FATE is a work of genus in my opinion and as a long time GM, it makes me very excited to work with it.

The advantage and problem with FATE is that it is also extremely malleable to your whims. You can make any number of tweaks within the framework and still have something which works pretty damn great. The difficulty is choosing the best way to do things. This is one of the primary reasons for this blog. I plan on posting some of my ideas regarding the FATE system in order to garner feedback from the FATE community.

The setting I am creating is a hodge-podge of ideas. It is a high space opera which does not concern itself with realism or crunchy sci-fi technology. The setting takes inspiration from many varied sources, among them: Dune, Warhammer 40K, Chronicles of Riddick, H.P. Lovecraft, Steampunk, Cyberpunk, Simon R. Green's Deathstalker series, Star Gate, Babylon 5, Lexx, Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, The Ancient Astronaut Hypothesis and many, many others. My hope is that the setting is unique enough to stand on its own and not blend with the existing space opera FATE games such as Starblazer Adventures and the excellent Diaspora.