Combining Tianxia martial art styles with Jadepunk

Tianxia Blood, Silk and Jade is a martial arts action game produced using the Fate Core system from Evil Hat Publishing, I bought a PDF of it recently when it was mentioned by Lloyd Collins (JarlDM) in a Google Hangout; as with most wuxia related Fate purchases my first thought in buying the game was ‘How can I use this in my currently running Jadepunk game?”

If you’re interested in the Jadepunk game you can find videos of all the sessions here: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLMlEyLAkrE__EfHHAfYIIekLdh4qwJxOK and my review of the system here: https://youtu.be/aMiWg_zTlfg

Unfortunately we were down a player in our last session (due to RL circumstances beyond control) and I didn’t want to continue the main plot with a character missing so I decided to run a flashback, asking the players what element of the setting they’d potentially like to find more about; it was suggested that, since in the present day of the setting we’re approaching the time when the Four Winds martial arts tournament is being held, that perhaps a flashback to a previous tournament might be interesting.
Since we were doing a tournament where a number of bouts would take place, but I didn’t want them to drag on, I decided first of all to use the excellent Jadepunk duelling system which allows quick one-on-one combats to be held using a slightly tweaked version of the contest system in Fate Core, but I really wanted the different martial arts styles and techniques to stand out from each other. While virtually flipping through the PDF of Tianxia I discovered the section on martial arts.
Essentially in Tianxia each character creates a martial arts style by pairing an element with a body substyle so you might have Forest Monkey, Stone Dragon or Lightning Tiger for example; each of these substyles offers a description of how the style looks and gives three Stunts for each of them (so 6 in total for a complete style) as well as a final secret technique that a practitionner can only master once they have all of the other Stunts in their technique.
This is a nice simple way of creating difference between martial arts techniques so I used in the game system and it worked quite well, although I had to make a few tweaks on the fly to get it to work (especially since they weren’t designed to work within the contest framework of Jadepunk’s duelling system).
Below are some suggestions for using Tianxia’s system in Jadepunk, and also notes on using them in a duel:
Element Substyles
 

Forest: A technique where the martial artist adapts to their surrounding and uses it to their advantage.

    • Forest Hides the Beast: A tie in a melee based defence action grants no boost to your attacker.
    • Forest Opens its Paths: If you use explorer to overcome and obstacle with style, you may turn the obstacle into an advantage with a free invocation instead of taking a boost.
    • Leaves Like Razors: When invoking a situation aspect of environment based advantage in a melee attack count as having +2 harmful if the attack is successful (or you gain +2 shifts to your degree of success if in a duel).

Ghost: This style relies on focusing internal energies and flowing effortlessly from attack to defence.

    • Exalted Ghost Body: Gains +2 protective when not attacking that combat turn; in a duel if you use the +2 protective from this technique then you only gain 1 victory and may not succeed with style.
    • Ghost Haunts the Shadow: Gains a +2 on scoundrel rolls to create an advantage based on moving silently or remaining unseen.
    • Ghost Strikes the Spirit: Ignores 1 point of protection when making a melee attack, and adds an additional +1 shift of harmful to a successful attack against a foe who has less martial arts based stunts than you.

Iron: Practitioners of this style make themselves hard and unyielding, taking and resisting enemy blows.

Iron Cleaves the Stone: Ignore 2 points of protection when making an attack to inflict physical stress.

Flesh Breaks on Iron: When you defend against a melee attack with style, you may inflict a 2 shift hit on your opponent instead of taking a boost. In a duel, if you defend with style then your opponent takes a 2 shift hit, in addition to any victories they offset using stress/consequences.

Iron Body, Iron Mind: +2 bonus to create advantages related to resisting or coping with pain, intimidation or fear.

Lightning: Cultivating both speed and power to overcome your enemy.

  • Lightning cross the sky: When you succeed with style on a melee attack you may move 1 zone in addition to gaining a boost, if someone tries to stop this movement you gain a +2 to overcome.
  • Lightning splits the tree: When you succeed with style on a melee attack you may remove an invocation on an existing advantage affecting you, instead of taking a boost.
  • Lightning strikes without pause: You gain a +2 bonus when determining intiative.

Stone: Deliberate and uncompromising action focusing on making the most of the artists natural abilities.

  • Mountain does not fall: You gain a +2 bonus to defend against attempts to create an advantage based on unbalacing, pushing, tripping or knocking over the defender. If an opponents technique allows them to automatically create such an advantage with free invocations then they gain one less free invocation.
  • Stone resists the blow: You gain 2 protection against any physical attack you are aware of.
  • If you defend with style you may remove your first stress box or convert another stress box to 1 lower rather than taking a boost.

Storm: Fluid and unpredictable, masters of the storm styles move quickly between attack and defence to keep their opponents off guard.

    • Storm shakes the foundation: When creating an advantage you may trade free invocations to remove free invocations from another character’s advantage.
    • Storm rumbles in distance: Make a Fighter or Explorer roll with a +2 bonus to create an advantage based on controlling or redirecting momentum.
    • Storm flows around mountain: If a target uses a full defence in combat against you, gain +2 bonus to your next attack against them (whether their defence succeeds or not).

 

 
Body Substyles
 

Crane: Using fluid movement, misdirection and swift movement to overcome their foes.

    • Crane hides in reeds: Add +2 protection when using full defence to defend yourself in combat.
    • Crane sleeps standing: +2 bonus when overcoming physical obstacles by on physical obstruction or poor footing.
    • Crane stuns the carp: If you succeed on a melee attack with style, you may create a stunned advantage on the target with a free invocation instead of taking a boost.

Dragon: Dragon styles focus on a balance of speed and power, borrowing strikes from other techniques; practitioners develop a hissing breathing technique.

    • Dragon rules the fields: When you succeed with style on an attack, gain a boost with a +3 bonus instead of the usual +2.
    • Dragon rules the heavens: Use Fighter instead of Explorer for rolls involving entering zones or preventing others from doing so. If both Fighter and Explorer skills are equal, or Explorer is higher, then gain a +2 bonus instead.
    • Dragon sleeps in the mist: When you succeed with style on a defence you may reduce the the result by 1 to gain +2 protection rating against the next attack in the scene that strikes you, in addition to the normal boost. In a duel you may reduce the number of victories gained by 1 in order to gain +2 on your roll in the next round.

Monkey: A collection of unconventional acrobatic styles.

    • Monkey grabs the peach: Add +2 harmful to an attack where you invoke a consequence that the defender has.
    • Monkey dances in moonlight: When succeeding on a defence with style, you may create a distracting movements advantage with a free invocation instead of the normal boost.
    • Monkey rolls away: When invoking an aspect or advantage during a defence roll, gain +2 protection rating against the attack if it succeeds.

Pheonix: Focus on balance, agility and re-directing the force of an opponents attack.

    • Pheonix beats its wings: If you defend with style you may gain an off balance advantage with a free invocation instead of a boost.
    • Pheonix calls to the heavens: Once per session you may reduce physical stress taken by 2 shifts. If this technique is used in a dual then you may nullify up to two victories scored in a round without actually taking a moderate or severe consequence.
    • Pheonix laughs at the sun: If you succeed at an overcome roll using Explorer or Fighter with style, you may create a situation aspect with a free invocation instead of taking the normal boost.

Serpent: Masters of the serpent style are known for being fast, efficient and ruthless.

    • Serpent bites the hand: If you gain shifts on defence you can sacrifice your action next turn to immediately inflict an attack on your opponent using the shift value of your defense as the attack result.
    • Serpent strikes first: Gains a +2 bonus when initiative is determined.
    • Serpent strikes twice: +2 bonus to rolls to create advantages based on disorientation, distraction or unbalancing against opponents that you have already inflicted stress on in this combat.

Tiger: Tiger styles are about power, ferocity and inflicting maximum damage to your opponent.

    • Tiger moves with purpose: Move at least 1 zone and make an Explorer attack or make an Explorer attack on a target that has just moved into your zone, add +2 shifts to any damage you inflict with this attack.
    • Tiger rends the flesh: When you tie on a roll using Fighter for defense you can inflict a +2 point shift physical attack instead of taking a boost.
    • Tiger rules the jungle: You gain +2 bonus to overcome aspects and advantages based on provocation or psychological manipulation.
This list in no-where near exhaustive, there are additional techniques listed in Tianxia including the mastery level techniques and secret/lost martial arts styles, I highly recommend you give it a look if you’re after some additional ideas for a high action martial arts RPG; the rules are (with a little tweaking) compatible with Fate Core/Accelerated games and I would expect most other games using the rules system as a base.

How complex is Fate Core character generation?

This blog post could have alternatively been titled “how long does it take an 11 year old to generate a character in Fate Core?”

Following the recent running of my skytrain scenario (details here) for my face-to-face group, one of the members of the group expressed their dissatisfaction with the 3 stages character generation system for determining character Aspects.
What is the 3 stage character generation?

For those who aren’t aware, in Fate you have 5 Aspects, these are little story tags (“best gunslinger in the west”, “MI5 superspy”, or whatever) that you can invoke (call upon by spending a fate point) to either get a +2 bonus on a dice roll or a complete re-roll, they can also be invoked against you by the storyteller, they essentially offer you a fate point to accept a narrative complication based on the Aspect, for example: “Since you’re known as the best gunslinger in the west a young up and coming gunslinger wants to make a name for himself by taking you down and calls you out in the town square.”

If you accept the complication then you receive a fate point and the scene plays out as any other scene in the game, if you don’t except it then not only do you not get a fate point but you actually have to pay one to avoid it. Aspects are a great way of building a narrative around a character and of steering plot towards what you (as a player) find interesting, since, as a storyteller if one of my players has “best gunslinger in the west” then I know they’re interested in high-action gunfights and it’s in my best interest to include some in the game.

Okay, but what about the 3 stage creation?

Well in the game one of your Aspects is called your high concept and in a summarisation of your core concept whilst the second is your Trouble, the main source of complication in your live; in Fate Core it suggests that you determine the other three using this 3 stage creation. Essentially, in stage one you come up with a first adventure or scenario involving your character and jot down what occurred in that adventure and then pick an Aspect related to it; in the next stage you pass the notes on your adventure to the player sitting on your left (and in return receive the adventure notes from the person sitting on your right) and come up with an idea of how you had a guest spot in their adventure and pick an Aspect based on that. This repeats for stage three, the idea being to build up a web of connections between player characters before the game even starts.
I like to liken this process to superhero films, with the actual session being the Avengers film, where all the heroes come together and the three stages being the solo-hero films (with odd guest spots from other heroes) that came before.
So what does this have to do with an 11 year old generating a character?

I have to admit to being taken by surprise when one of my players expressed dissatisfaction with the 3 stage process (a part of the character generation that I had always thought to be fairly straight-forward and useful to avoid that often stilted ‘meeting up’ scene in RPGs), since i’ve used it in a number of Fate Core games and it’s never been a problem. Of course, this part of character generation, is easily jettisoned, characters can simply invent their Aspects with no real harm to the game; however, my more pro-active player also seemed a little taken aback by the idea that the character generation was in any way difficult (having being unable to make the character generation session, but still managing to create his character in about fifteen minutes at the start of the session).
He proposed an experiment, his 11 year old son had recently expressed an interest in roleplaying, so he bought the lad over and both him and myself went through creating a couple of characters using the Fate Core system. Wanting to stick to something that the boy was familiar with (since he’s never really done any RP before), we created military characters in a Call of Duty style. Timing the character generation we took half an hour to create the two characters using the 3 stage method, and this included time to explain a few things about Aspects, Stunts and Skill. Granted the characters we ended up with (a ghost-like stealth operative who had been sequestered for this mission after successfully blowing up an enemy submarine and a mercenary pilot who had been bounced from the regular army following an incident with collateral damage) weren’t the most nuanced characters, nor were they the most detailed, however they were both perfectly playable and already had links and a reason for working together.
Think about it, I believe that the Fate system in general seems to work better for people who think more about the story/narrative of a game (although granted it isn’t a great fit for every type of setting, since no game can do everything perfectly) whereas those who prefer to jump into the stats of a character and then fit a background of this seem to not enjoy it so much. That is just my own experience though; when I next run Fate Core, if it’s a one-off then i’m going to have pre-generated characters created (with some limited customisation options) and if it’s a campaign I may adopt something similar to how background and character connections work in Dungeon World to help determine Aspects.

RPG dilemnas – Fate and Encouraging hesitant players

It occurred to me recently, following a character genning session that took an awful lot longer than I expected for a Fate Core game (so long in-fact that we had to reschedule the game for another evening), that a character creation system that seemed so streamlined and simple for myself may not be so for other; as a die-hard Fate fan I personally find the creation of Aspects and generating a character very simple and easy to do, because i’ve always got a fair few ideas for characters and the system allows me to create something that matches these ideas.
But what about people who perhaps don’t have such a lot of character ideas buzzing around in their head? This doesn’t make them any worse roleplayers by any means, however, whilst there has been some discussion about the fact that Fate adopts a certain approach towards a game and that it doesn’t suit all games equally (after all no one system is going to be perfect for all styles of game “out of the box” as it were), perhaps the default method of character generation isn’t necessarily suitable for all people.
I observed a few main “issues” during the character creation for a repeat of my Wild Blue one-off during character generation (I have put some suggestions for resolving this in blue underneath each point):
  • Some players had difficult thinking up suitable powers or working out how to frame them within the rules system.
    Greater familiarity with the rules would help here and perhaps creating a list of example powers would have given them a good starting point.
  • There was some trouble with thinking of reasonable ways to link the different characters together using the ‘three phase method’ listed in the Fate Core rulebook.
    Perhaps toning down the number of phases to just having a starting story/phase for each character and then allowing them to come up with their Aspects in a more freestyle manner; although doing this would then require a different method of linking the characters together.
  • Stunt creation caused some notable pauses as the players struggled slightly with deciding on what they wanted their stunts to do.
    The example stunts listed in the Fate Core book helped in this regard as did referring back to the characters core concept.
I think that in retrospect I would probably have been better to create some (either fully or partially complete) pre-gen characters that the players could choose from and perhaps tweak to make more to their liking since, whilst I think having a full session for character generation is all well and good for a longer running campaign, it seems a little OTT for a one-off. Hopefully coming up with some pre-gens in future would also make it a little easier on those people who struggle with getting over that initial imagination ‘hurdle’ when it comes to creating a character idea.

Have I been getting it all wrong? (Supernaturals in the Fate system)

A lot has been made of the fact that Fate is great when you first visualise an end result and then set about creating something using the rules to match your initial vision, rather than jumping straight into the rules and attempting to build something from the ground up, and rightly so, one of the strengths of the system is that the rules set is extremely versatile even without the various hacks and add-ons that are available either for free or online at a low cost.
Previously when i’ve thought about supernaturals (and in this case i’m talking specifically about supernaturals as player characters rather than as monsters or NPCs which is an entirely different subject) i’ve most often looked at an existing game (in my case generally the World of Darkness series since they’re some of the games i’m most familiar with) and how Fate could be adapted or “hacked” to create a facsimile of the game in question; however there have recently been a spate of posts on the various Fate G+ communities where people have attempting to create versions of their favourite comic/fiction characters (and others) using the basic Fate rules. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how close a lot of these attempts have come to matching their inspiration, and all mostly using the rules as presented in either the Fate Accelerated or Fate Core rulebooks. I ran a one-off game of ‘Mummy: the Curse’ recently since i’ve been dying to test it out and love the concept behind it (my review of Mummy can be found here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrPzZ9ClGyc), now i’ve been away from the World of Darkness rules-set for quite some time, aside from a brief read-through of the updated rules booklet that formed part of the ‘God Machine Chronicles’, since i’ve been moving towards less crunchy and more narrative based systems; whilst the game was very enjoyable and we all had a good time (the background of the game being one of the best i’ve read in a WoD game for a long time) I found going back to the nWoD rules extremely strange and wasn’t completely sold on them.
This isn’t a post to knock crunchier games, because I think that different systems suit different people and it really bugs me when people damn a system just because it happens to not be ideal for them, simply to say that my thoughts upon running the game were (as they so often are when games have a great background but a rules system that doesn’t suit my style of gaming) “there’s some great stuff in this book but I don’t suit the rules, what system can I use to keep the background but make it more suitable for my style of play?” I’m sure it will be no surprise to any who knows me or reads my posts/watches my videos that Fate Core and Fate Accelerated are my go-to systems when this sort of question comes up; previously I would probably have dived straight into the system and started working out how I could hack it to make a workable version of the ‘Mummy: the Curse’ rules, and i’ve done this previously to produce some workable hacks (my WH40K hack and my (still not completed) Fate of Cthulhu hack amongst them). Recently though i’ve been playing in a Dresden Files game run by a friend of mine and, although we’ve only played a single actual session (the first being taken up by setting/character generation and discussion), one of the things that has really impressed me is how a list of Stunts and Aspect suggestions can be used to construct virtually any type of supernatural within the DFRPG universe, this, together with the recent G+ posts has got me thinking that perhaps i’m taking the wrong approach when it comes to playable supernaturals in Fate.
For example, here is an example of a vampire “package” that I threw together in about 30 seconds (using Fate Accelerated rules and some ideas from the Fate Toolkit):
Aspect: Must have one aspect that included the word vampire
Stunts:
– (must have, +1 refresh) Blood-addicted: Gives the character an additional hunger stress track of 3 boxes; at the end of any scene where the vampire has used its power it is ‘attacked’ with a strength equal to the refresh cost of the power used, stress inflicted by this is added first to the hunger stress track.
– (optional, -2 refresh) Vampiric strength: The character gets +4 when Forcefully attacking.
– (optional, -2 refresh) Vampiric speed: The character gets +2 when Quickly overcoming obstacles that involve movement, the character automatically goes first in combats unless there are other combatants with vampiric speed.
The blood-addicted Stunt is based heavily on the DFRPG games use of a hunger stress track to track vampiric hunger, and the combined package would costs 3 refresh to purchase (the standard starting amount for a Fate Accelerated character); obviously there is a lot more work that could be done and i’ve not really covered feeding or standard vampiric weaknessed (sunlight, etc) at all in the rules above, but still it’s a workable framework that could be played, created in relatively little time without a vast amount of rules hacking being required.
Looking at the Fate system in this light it has lead me to wonder whether or not, for my next game featuring supernatural protagonists, it might be an idea to present either a list of Stunts (or some amended Stunt rubrics) to my players and have them create the supernatural characters that they want rather than worrying overly much about whether the rules particularly mirror those present in some other existing game?
For example:
One of the main themes of the game “Mummy: the Curse” is that the Arisen start off very powerful but with little memory or context within which to use that power, as time progresses their magical energy (Sekhem) drains away (bringing them ever closer to a return to their death-like sleep) their memory improves, paradoxically, as they gain the memories that might allow them to use their powers more wisely, those very powers ebb away.
I might create such a creature in Fate Accelerated like this.
Aspects: 
– High Concept: Must have mention the word ‘arisen’
– Trouble: Must mention the word ‘memory’
– Must have one Aspect that mentions the purpose for which they have arisen.
I’m not sure at the moment how i’d handle something like the gradual decrease of power, but i’m pretty sure that, given enough though, the Fate system could handle it; if anyone out there has any suggestions please feel free to add them in the comments section.
Near the start of the year I ran a God Machine Chronicle using the Fate Accelerated rules and that seemed to work really well, although the player characters were only mortals in that game, the GMC game was a tester for when the “Demon: the Descent” game is released (probably in 2014); I think that when this is released, rather than attempt to mirror the rules i’m going to create some demonic powers/Stunts that are thematically similar to the ones listed in the book and then just lift the background from it. I’m also really looking forward to the Dresden Accelerated that is going to released in 2014 (further details here – http://www.evilhat.com/home/fate-core-dresden-files-accelerated/), but until that comes out there’s a lot of potential ideas for supernatural powers as Stunts in the existing DFRPG that can be tapped and the Fate Toolkit offers a lot of advice on making different types of Stunts.

Fate Accelerated – Vehicles – First draft

The below vehicle scale is based on the scale rules from Legends of Anglerre.
I was forced to scrap the idea of having no stress boxes, only consequences because I wanted to make the larger scale vehicles more difficult to kill but didn’t want the players/GM to have to track a vast number of additional consequences.
Each vehicle has it’s approaches rated at +0 by default and receives a number of points (based on their scale) to spend on increasing their ratings on a one to one basis.
Vehicles can only directly attack others that are a maximum of 2 scale points lower or higher than their own (individual human sized characters count as scale 1), each Stunt devoted to this matter can increase this limit by a single point.
Otherwise Stunts generally work the same as normal in Fate Accelerated (either adding a +2 in certain circumstances or allowing the vehicle to accomplish something ‘cool’ 1/session as per the Fate Accelerated rulebook); each Stunt costs a point of the vehicles Refresh (no vehicle may have a Refresh of less than 1).

I’ve been toying around with the idea of a Fate Accelerated game involving vampires for a few days; thought i’d post up what i’ve jotted down so far.
Please note: The notes below are in no way complete and will probably change considerably before I consider them finished.

*** Aspects ***
5 in total
1) High concept – May be whatever the player wishes.
2) Trouble – Is determined by the player.
3) Vampire – character must have a vampire aspect to be considered a kindred.
4) Clan – Pick one Aspect which determines a vampires clan.
5) May be whatever the player wishes.
*** Approaches ***
Vampire characters have the normal approaches (with the standard levels).
* Careful
* Clever
* Flashy
* Forceful
* Quick
* Sneaky
In addition they have the following approach (rated at Average (+1))
* Vampire
The vampire approach represents a vampire using it’s innate powers of undeath and the raw power in it’s blood to overcome an obstacle; as a vampire ages this Approach increases thusly:
+1 Average Neonate/recent embracee
+2 Fair
+3 Good
+4 Great Ancilla
+5 Superb
+6 Fantastic Elder
+7 Epic
+8 Legendary Methuselah
*** Disciplines ***
Disciplines are special type of Stunt purchasable only by vampire characters; a vampire may have a maximum number of discipline Stunts equal to 2 + their vampire Approach (3 at character gen).
I have not detailed vampire powers yet, however my current thoughts are that by spending blood points a vampire will be able to either add their Vampire Aspect to a roll or activate some other sort of Stunt-like effect.

*** Blood ***
In addition to Fate Points (which are used as normal), vampires also have a pool of Blood Points (recommend using red tokens to differentiate these); this blood tokens are used to power disciplines.
A character begins play each session with a number of blood points equal to their Vampire Approach +2 (three for starting vampires), the number can be raised above this level by feeding.
Blood tokens can also be used with the characters Vampire Aspect on almost any roll to gain a +2 or a re-roll (as with a fate point), however, when a player character does this they are calling on the innate power of their blood and exposing their vampiric nature; they gain the Aspect “Inhuman Creature of the Night” for the rest of the scene and the one following (this can be compelled as normal). PLEASE NOTE: Using a blood point to power a Discipline Stunt does not cause this effect, although using a discipline infront of mortals may cause its own problems.
When a vampire feeds on an individual during a scene they gain 1 Blood Point.
If a vampire is ever reduced to 0 blood points then he automatically gains the Aspects “Inhuman Creature of the Night” and “Frenzied Bloodlust” and is reduced to the level of an animal that just seeks to sate its bloodlust, these Aspects are lost only once the vampires BPs are raised through feeding.
*** Vampire Weaknesses ***
All vampires begin with the Aspect “Vulnerable to Sunlight” and they are actually attacked by Sunlight (using the normal attack roll method) whenever exposed; the modifier to the Sunlight’s attack roll is the defending vampires Vampire Approach (representing that as vampires become more divorced from their humanity their curse affects them to a greater extent.
Each time a vampire raises their Vampire Approach they must take an additional vampiric weakness Aspect, a few examples are listed below:
  • Compulsive counter
  • Repelled by crosses
  • Unable to cross running water
  • Unable to enter holy ground

Upgrading one of my main NPCs


PLEASE DO NOT READ THIS IF YOU ARE ONE OF MY PLAYERS

Some lively discussion was generated by my recent blog post about how one of my NPCs was statted for my last Rogue Trader FATE game, there was some great advice given on G+ and Blogger by (amongst others) Julius Müller, Tim Noyce, Robert Hanz and John Miles; looking back over the character cards that i’d prepared, in light of this information one of the NPCs that I had tagged as a main NPC didn’t really seem to have the stats to back that up so i’ve made a few tweaks and amendments.

Thought i’d post a copy of the card, as currently stands, he to see what people think; any constructive comments welcome.

So how did the Bloodletter work in my Rogue Trader game?

As regular readers of the blog may know, my Rogue Trader FATE game recently featured a Bloodletter daemon of Khorne (the blog entry where I discuss statting this bad boy is available here for anyone who is interested); so, now that the weekend has finished and the week has settled in like an unwelcome lump of concrete and I reflect on the game session, how did the Bloodletter work?
Overall I think it worked quite well, given that this is the first real hand to hand combat that I have run in the game since switching to FATE it ran quickly and relatively smoothly being resolved in a few minutes rather than the hours that combat can take with some systems; you don’t really get the same level of ‘crunch’ that you get with more detailed systems (although I have instituted weapon rules (as defined in my Rogue Trader hack) in my game) but i’ll quite happily sacrifice crunch for a game that doesn’t become needlessly bogged down in the minutiae of combat. There were, however, a couple of minor issues that cropped up with the Bloodletter that I think are worth bearing in mind for future combats and that I thought i’d share in this blog post.
  • More Stress levels required
The initial three stress levels that I apportioned for the Bloodletter were nowhere near enough and would have resulted in the daemon being overcome in the very first round (without getting to land a blow); I think this is because of the increased ‘damage’ caused by the players weapons. During the game I had to add another three stress levels onto the antagonists total in order to make it any sort of challenge.
Another thing that I have started doing with these NPCs (mainly because they do not have any consequence boxes that can be used to soak stress) is ignoring the rule (for NPCs only) that only a single stress box can be used to soak damage; i’m not sure whether or not this was supposed to apply to nameless NPCs but originally I had been using that rule. I’m considering now making each stress box worth a single stress level and increase the amount of boxes possessed by each NPC, this would make it far easier during a combat to just tick off a number of boxes equal to the damage taken.
  • Opponents being overwhelmed by odds

Although the mob rules work really well and are great for representing the mobs of soldiers, tech-priests, fighter pilots and other generic ships crew that the players in my game (rightfully) tend to tool about with, it does create a situation where any single antagonist is liable to be overwhelmed by mobs of nameless NPCs (lead by a much more capable player character) in short order. Part of the reason for this is that i’ve been having mobs directly add their teamwork bonus to the players score and thus it can result in some quite high final tallies (even on a mediocre to poor roll); this wasn’t really a problem in the Bloodletter encounter since it was just a single opponent against a whole ship of crew.
In future I think that i’ll adopt a couple of tactics in order to lessen the impact of mobs:
  • Using terrain to restrict their use: If only a certain number of people can assist a roll then the bonuses are limited.
  • Having area effects or psychological effects that affect nameless NPC mobs but that the PCs are proof against: Some sort of ‘fear’ effect may be appropriate for creatures like daemons, perhaps some sort of test being required to initiate an attack or even just a stunt that means for the first round of a combat nameless NPCs cannot attack.
  • Having mobs roll seperately rather than adding their bonus to a player character: This would result in two reasonable rolls rather than one really high roll.

D&D/Pathfinder style FATE hack – Races and Skills

Following on from my last blog post about a D&D style hack for the FAE system (http://wh40krpg.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/d-style-fate-hack-could-classes-be-used.html) where I pondered the idea of using class style descriptors as Approaches for a D&D-esque FAE game this post addresses my thoughts on character races (although species would be a more accurate term) and skills in the game.
This post builds on the idea that the six Approaches would be something along the lines of:
  1. Warrior – rolled for attacking or defending from attack using physical means, taking care of armour, working out battle-tactics, recognising ambushes and initiative order in combat.
  2. Rogue – sleight of hand, stealing things, breaking and entering, deception and also shmoozing and general social actions.
  3. Spellcaster – casting spells (obviously), working out what spells other people were casting, crafting magic items, examining magic items, feats of prestigitation, etc.
  4. Priest – interacting with church/holy order members, researching/recalling information about gods and their followers, making blessings, etc.
  5. Ranger – covers wilderness survival and skills.

Race

The term ‘race’ in D&D tends to actually refer to a different species (ie. orcs, dwarves, elves) all that generally seem not to share a common ancestry, but never-the-less the term race has been widely used in RPGs since the early days. In this hack I would make the characters race a specific Aspect that can be invoked or compelled under specific circumstances.
Some examples using the most common D&D races are listed below:
  • Dwarves – hardy and skill craftsmen with a very traditional outlook.
    • May be invoked when: Calling upon the wisdom of ancient traditions, craft rolls related to stone or metal work, fighting with a hammer, finding your way underground, perception rolls in darkness, appraising gems, stone or metal work.
    • May be compelled when: New innovations or technology are at odds with traditions, faced by their ancient greenskin enemies, when the distrust between dwarves and elves bubbles to the surface, when a dwarves appreciation for precious stones may turn into greed.
  • Elves – graceful and beautiful creatures at peace with the natural world and with magic singing in their blood.
    • May be invoked when: Using magic, moving unseen or finding sustenance/tracking in the wilderness, social interactions with people awed by the elves beauty, using a bow, perception rolls in dimly lit conditions.
    • May be compelled when: Vanity causes them to dismiss the opinions and thoughts of ‘lesser’ races, when the distrust between elves and dwarves threatens to bubble to the surface.
  • Orcs – strong and stubborn creatures raised in a brutal martial tradition.
    • May be invoked when: Assessing the strength/value of armour and weapons, facing down another in a one-on-one combat, perception tests in the dark, tests of raw strength.
    • May be compelled when: An orcs bloodlust overcomes their reason, they are shunned by ‘civilised’ races.
  • Halflings – Clever and capable opportunists with a mischievous streak.
    • May be invoked when: Small size allows them to slip from an opponents grasps, looking harmless allows them to evade notice, tests of manual dexterity.
    • May be compelled when: A halfling cannot resist the urge to cause mischief, a halflings small stature and lower strength causes them problems.
At the moment I would having the following Aspects on the D&D-style hack character sheet.

  • High Concept
  • Trouble
  • Race
  • +additional general Aspects
I think the beauty of having the race as an Aspect (and one of my favourite parts of the FAE/FATE system) is that it is tremendously simple (requiring no real modification of stats), uses the existing mechanics of the game and all the players and GM have to remember is what compels and invokes can be used against racial Aspects; the Aspect Race also encourages the constant using and flowing of FATE points that is at the heart of the system.
Skills

This is something I hashed out in my Cthulhu-FAE hack, instead of bringing in a big list of appropriate skills (which is essentially trying to turn FAE into FATE core, something i’m keen to avoid since I love FAE’s simplicity) skill groups can be represented by suggesting Stunts that provide bonuses in applicable situations.
Looking at the AD&D 2nd edition Weapon and Non-weapon Proficiency model, a few suggestions are made below:
Weapon proficiencies
  • Master of the [insert name of weapon]: The player receives a +2 bonus to rolls made using the [weapon] (for example: A ‘Master of the Sword’ attacking with a short sword would gain the +2).
  • Shield Mastery: The player receives a +2 to their defence rolls when using a shield.
Non-weapon proficiencies
  • Escape Artist: +2 when escaping bonds.
  • Herbalist: +2 to rolls to analyse/use herbs.
  • Professional Lock-pick: +2 to pick locks.

As you can see i’ve not yet put up any rules concerning weapons or armour, my current thought is to leave them nebulous so that they don’t needlessly complicate the system; anyone may have appropriate equipment but only gain a benefit if they have an appropriate Stunt or Aspect.
Likewise with Non-weapon Proficiency Stunts, pretty much any skill from D&D3.5 could be turned into a Stunt just by it granting a +2 in the appropriate field of study or endeavour.

Trail of Cthulhu and Investigations in FATE

Those of you who have read more of this blog may have seen the IC write-ups of a Hunter: the Vigil game that I have been playing in recently (the write-ups of the two previous sessions are posted here and here); this game is being run by a friend of mine using the nWoD Hunter: the Vigil rules. In the game we are playing members of a supernatural serial-killer investigation unit composed of psychics known as VASCU; our party consists of a grizzled ex-cop whose party disappeared in a strange case that was swept under the carpet (this is my character), a bureau agent who squandered his family fortune seeking to find his father whom he believes kidnapped by cultists, a technical whizzkid and a wheelchair bound agent who was seriously injured pursuing a case.
The game was originally part of a proposed ‘one-off wednesday’ idea where, every other wednesday, a group of us would get together in the evening and run a one-off game (my thoughts on one-off games can be viewed in this blog post); so far we’ve had Judge Dredd (by Mongoose Publishing), a homebrew tron-esque game where we played ourselves in a strange future where a fantasy realm had intruded on our reality, a Star Trek based game and the Hunter game. The Hunter game is the first of our ‘one-offs’ that has been heavily investigation based (my Judge Dredd game touched on these themes but the investigating part of the game was fairly simple and fast paced); as a result, although it has been very entertaining to play, the game has already run into a second session and we are scheduled to play a third. Although the GM freely admits that he is more used to running campaigns that one-shot sessions and that this may have contributed to the length of the game, I started to wonder whether this was the only factor or whether there was something in the nature of investigative games that lead to them taking a great deal more time?
One of the more interesting investigation based games that I have read recently is Trail of Cthulhu by Kenneth Hite (a game I intend to review on my blog in the near future) and based on the GUMSHOE system by Robin D Laws (who also wrote the fast-paced and bizarrely wide-ranging hong-kong action movie game Feng-Shui, another of my favourites). One of the things I love about ToC is that it makes no qualms about it’s adaption of the popular Call of Cthulhu game to a different rules system and the designers obviously have a great deal of respect for the source material (both mythos fiction and previous RP materials). The introduction to ToC discusses what I consider to be one of the perennial problems with the investigative game; what might seem an obvious solution to the GM may seem baroque and incomprehensible to the players since they lack the GMs privileged knowledge about the backstory and have to find everything out the hard way, not only that, but in some systems a failed search or investigation roll on the dice can lead to you missing a vital clue and thus taking a lot longer to solve a mystery (assuming that you can solve it at all).

Now you might say that a good GM can always fudge things so that the players come across a clue or that something happens to advance the plot; however if this is not done subtly and with finesse then it can lead to the players feeling railroaded as though, no matter what they do, the mystery solution will reveal itself, IMO once the perception of risk or failure has disappeared completely from a game then a lot of players lose their impetus and drive.

So how does FATE fit into all this?

A valid question that you might be asking yourself by now; I feel that there are a number of mechanics and ideas that could be ported from Trail of Cthulhu across to either FATE core or Fate Accelerate Edition (FAE), some of these and my own ideas are listed below.
Occupations

In ToC the character all have occupations that help determine their skills and equipment; these could be ported across to FATE as either Aspects/High Concepts or (if a more complete overhaul including skills was desired) they could be used as templates to determine what sort of skills and stunts a starting character has.
For example: The Antiquarian occupation in ToC has the following skills – Architecture, Art History, Bargain, History, Languages, Law, Library Use, and any one Investigative ability. They also have a special ability where once per session they can discover a book that contains a clue to the current investigation or some relevant investigation.
This skill list could easily by imported, the Antiquarian label taken as a High Concept and the special ability changed into a Stunt.
Drives

Drives are a character’s main motivation in Trail of Cthulhu and include concepts such as Adventure, Antiquarianism, Arrogance, Artistic Sensitivity, Bad Luck and Curiosity (amongst others); these could also be ported across as Aspects into a FATE based game.
Skills/Abilities

Skills (or Abilities as they are known in ToC) are a lot more specific that they are in FATE, and are split into Investigative and General abilities; Investigative abilities are those that allow you to find information and clues, progressing towards solving the mystery and include such skills as Archaeology, Library Use and Occult, whereas General Abilities are your more generic RPG skills such as Athletics, Firearms and First Aid.
In ToC, possessing an appropriate Investigative Ability automatically allows you to detect an associated clue; for instance if their is a clue in a museum of antiquity or a ruin that possession of the Archaeology skill would automatically allow you to detect it’s presence. The game handily gives you simple descriptions of what the skill allows you to detect, in this case:

  • Tell how long something has been buried and date of its construction.
  • Identify artifacts by culture and usage.
  • Distinguish real artifacts from fakes.
  • Navigate inside ruins and catacombs, including finding secret doors and hidden construction.
  • Describe the customs of ancient or historical cultures.
  • Spot well-disguised graves and underground hiding places.

Gathering Clues

The game posits a simple and yet refreshing method of locating clues and progressing through a mystery/investigation plotline.

  1. Get your Investigator into a scene where relevant information can be gathered.
  2. Have the right ability to discover the clue.
  3. Tell the Keeper that you’re using it.
Assuming that this occurs then the GM will provide you with any clue that corresponds to your query. In each scene the GM designates a core clue that is required before the players can move on to the next scene (although their may be additional supplementary clues for the players to discover).
Gathering Additional Information

One of the most interesting ideas about the game in my mind is that players can ‘spend’ points based on their Investigative Abilities to gain additional information about the clues; this information is never required to progress in the game but provides extra flavour to the game.

Both the use of Investigative Abilities to automatically locate clues and the spending of ‘points’ to gain additional information regarding the clues are both concepts that I think would be easily convertable to the FATE system; clues can easily be given out related to the skills possessed by players (possibly excpanding the list to include more detailed investigative abilities as per To) and either an additional pool of investigation point can be added or the existing fate points can be used to gain additional info in a FATE based ToC-style game.
I’m planning to try a ToC style FATE game once it rolls round to my turn to GM in our ‘one-off Wednesdays’ again, i’ll post how it goes.