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