Character Generation for God Machine Chronicle game

We’ll myself and the other five players for my God Machine Chronicle game met up last night to define some more details about the setting and create characters ready for the first actual session on 05/07/13; this was my first experience of using the Game Creation advice chapter from the FATE core rulebook so I was interested to see how it would go.

Designing the Setting
You might ask why I needed to design the setting when (if you’ve read some of my earlier posts on this subject you’ll know that) I’d already specified that the game was going to be local scale and take place in a fictional East Midlands council block called Specto Vale? Well I’d left the setting of the game world fairly loosely defined, of course I had a few ideas kicking about that I wasn’t immediately going to reveal to the players (since part of the idea behind a God Machine Chronicle game, and indeed any World of Darkness game is discovering the horror behind strange occurrences) but I wanted to get the players involved in coming up with some of the other setting elements. The rationale behind this is simple, if players create parts of the setting then they are invested in it and are more likely to be interested in it.
Setting Issues
Following the guidelines in the FATE corebook we decided to come up with a couple of current issues (that already exist within the setting) and a couple of impending issues (problems or concerns that have just started to make themselves known). After a bit of head scratching and discussion we arriving at the following:
Current Issues


  • Organised crime.
  • Racial tension.
  • Milk/local cats going missing.

Impending Issues


  • Residents being evicted.
  • Potential demolition/repurposing.
I wrote these issues down on index cards as we discussed them and, during the discussion, any interesting people or places that we mentioned were also added onto there own cards; we ended up with a stack of about 15 or so cards at this stage, including concepts and things such as:
  • Crime/racial tension.
    • Eastern europenas.
    • Tension between long time residents and influx of immigrants.
    • Graffiti tagging, racial slurs.
    • Conflict between new/old criminal elements.
    • Flags hanging from balconies.
  • Evictions.
    • Manager evicting housing association people to cram in the more profitable immigrants.
    • Residents association pettitions.
  • Missing milk/animals.
    • Escalating problem.
    • Has been reported- no action taken.
    • Connected with crazy cat lady?
    • Connected with chinese restaurant?
  • Residents association.
    • Do-gooders.
    • Door knocking Christians.
    • Leaders of the local scout movement.
    • Community events.
  • Crazy cat lady.
    • See the character from The Simpsons.
  • The manager.
    • Conservative MP.
    • Similar to the fat hacker from Jurassic Park.
  • Eastern European Immigrants.
    • Wage slaves.
    • 500 to a flat.
    • Right wingers (organisation).
      • Owner of the Red Lion, won’t serve them.
    • Illegal immigrants.
  • New criminal element.
    • Youth criminals/new blood.
    • Gangsta wannabees.
    • Chavs.
    • “Attack the Block.”
    • “Kids.”
  • A stalker.
    • Huge coat and hat.
    • Scary male.
    • Hangs around.
    • “1 Hour Photo.”
    • “The Watcher.”
    • “Mine Hunters.”
    • Infatuation?
  • Old polish criminal element.
    • Dying breed.
    • Boris the Blade – “Snatch.”
  • A man smuggling in immigrants.
    • Bartek Prusees.
    • Bringing in Polish Immigrants.
    • New blood.
    • Scarred, tattooed villain.
      • Danny Trejo.
      • Robert Kcvepper.
    • Nasty piece of work.
  • Newsagents/bargain booze.
    • Asian man running shop.
    • Illegal poker nights in back room.
    • Dodgy cigs, bootlegged booze, misc cheap meat.
  • Chip shop.
    • Legitimate family business.
    • Old patriarch.
    • Always open.
    • Once a week does free meals for homeless.
  • Red Lion pub.
    • Plastic, sticky floored pub.
    • Known rough pub.
    • Boarded up window.
    • Cig machine with no cigarettes.
    • Mesh over bar.
    • Man who knows a man.
    • Old man drunks.
  • Chinese takeaway.
    • Cat meat?
    • Human meat?
    • Sex trade cover.
  • Young prostitute.
    • Taken under wing of older prostitute.
    • Likes older men.
  • Older prostitute.
    • Over 50.
    • Doing it to put her daughter through ollege.
    • Cougar.
    • Has a thing for old Polish men.
We then started creating the characters; it took a little while for people to get the idea of Aspects, but once the ball had started rolling most of the players seemed fairly comfortable with the concept, Stunts were a lot easier to explain.
After some discussion and noted down of stats we ended up with the following character concepts:
  • An eccentric old shut-in with ties to the Polish mob.
  • A multi-lingual hospital worker and self-confessed ‘Lambrini Girl.’
  • A young female ex-chemist turned drug dealer.
  • A jack-of-all-traders bar stool philosophising lorry driver.
  • A wiry criminal problem solver.
Following the creations of concepts we moved on to creating links between the characters; I asked each person to come with an incident in their character’s life and link two of the other characters in with it. This section of the character genning was very good fun as the players discussed things between themselves and began filling in some more detail about theirs and other people’s characters.
  • The criminal problem solver: Hired the truck driver to retrieve a shipment of drugs from Eastern Europe (via his contact the shut-in) in order to provide them to the dealer.
  • The truck driver was approached by the problem solver to move some of the drug dealers supplies up north as a favour, he was injured whilst on the job and trying to effect a minor repair to his lorry and get chatting to the hospital worker whilst in the waiting room.
  • The drug dealer was providing the criminal problem solver with a cut from her dealing, she knows the truck driver as the “pick up man; she frequents the same chip shop as the shut-in and has spoken to him a couple of times.
  • The shut-in has chased away the stalker when he was following the hospital worker.
  • The hospital worker was feeling sorry for a patient in pain and, knowing that there was a dealer living in the same block as her, bought some weed for the suffering patient; she bumped into the criminal problem solver (who was there to pick up his cut) whilst she was there.
So how did the character generation session go overall?

Overall I thought the character/game creation session went extremely well; it took a few minutes for the players to wrap their heads around some of the elements that are most different IMO from standard roleplaying games (Aspects for example), however, once this hurdle was out of the way and I had explained to the group that the best Aspects were those that could be used in a positive way but that also suggested elements of plot or complications that could occur this progressed fairly rapidly. It was extremely gratifying to see all of the players getting excited by their characters and talking about how they were connected and what parts of the setting would most influence their characters.

In total the character generation probably only took us an hour of so, even with me explaining some of the concepts and going through how some of the FATE rules worked; the rest of the time was spent elaborating on various plot elements and discussion of the game setting.
So to sum up I have a stack of index cards full of interesting plot pointers and things that capture the players imagination, five very interesting and different (but connected) characters and several interesting threads (such as the missing milk/animals, the stalker and the crazy cat lady) with which to draw the characters in to the machinations of the God Machine.
Really happy with how that turned out and can’t wait to run the first session in a couple of weeks 🙂

Game generation for a game that you're already playing

As people who are reading this blog are no doubt aware, we originally began my Rogue Trader game the House of Black (the original post about the game is here) using Fantasy Flight Games rules for the game however we later switched to using the FATE core rules for the game for a number of different reasons; since the game was already well under way and we had established our sector of space (using a combination of the rules from Stars of Inquity for Rogue Trader and Diaspora for FATE) we never really looking overly much at the parts of the FATE core book that discuss sitting down an collaboratively creating parts of the setting. Although I did my best as the gamesmaster to ensure that the players were involved in the creation of the game background (aided by some great suggestions in the Diaspora rulebook) the actual FATE core guidelines and tips for this fell pretty much by the wayside.

This seems like a great shame to me; i’ve been reading through that section of the book in more, in preparation for the character creation session of my God Machine Chronicle game recently and there is some very good advice included there about creating connections between the characters and getting them to have input on background elements and NPCs that will have some resonance for their own characters. To a lesser extent we have done some of this already as a matter of course, but getting the players to invest more in a game is always worthwhile in my opinion.
Is the Game Creation Section of FATE only useful during the initial stages of a game?
In my opinion the answer to the above question is no; although the characters in my Rogue Trade game have explored a couple of the star systems in our Sector there is always more to see and more people to meet, this is one of the great appeal of science-fiction RPGs to me, space is vast and filled with all manner of species and different sights. The game creations section asks some important questions to help create a setting for a FATE game:

  • What are the main issues in the setting?
    • Current issues – problems that exist in the world already.
    • Impending issues – things that have only just started to become a problem or an issue.
The core book recommends that you choose at least two of these issues; it occurred to me that, although we have the Ancient Enemy already established as an Aspect of the campaign for the Rogue Trader game, there is ample room to explore other themes and that having the player characters give their input would be a great idea.
The book then advises you to make the theme into Aspects and jot down names for some of the important places and NPCs that are connected with them. Given that the players have just reached a Significant Milestone in my game with their exploration of the Ancient Enemies abandoned base and the realisation that the xenos race are actually ancient machine beings that once laid claim to the sector, fought the Eldar to a standstill and sacrificed their own souls for immortality, it is my plan to go through some of the Game Creation stages in the book with my players; up until now the focus of the game has almost exclusively been on the Ancient Enemy, it’s time to broaden out the focus of the game and give the players far more say in their future as Rogue Traders 🙂

Space combat – what can my character do?

I received a Facebook message this morning from one of the players in my Rogue Trader game; he’d been reading my recent blog posts about space combat in my Rogue Trader FATE hack and wanted to ask the question:

“I take it each of us would be able to do some thing in each turn?”
This started me thinking; one of the initial problems that we had with the standard FFG rules for Rogue Trader was that, although the rules covered hundreds and hundreds of pages in numerous different books, the actual options for keeping all of the players involved in a space combat were fairly limited, this had lessened somewhat once the group acquired a second ship, however it was still very challenging giving everyone something to do in a space combat. Resisting the urge to dive straight back into my hack and start throwing out new rules like they were going out of fashion, I thought i’d take a quite skim through the core rules first and see what they were capable of delivering.
I suppose that, given how flexible the FATE system is, it shouldn’t have come as any surprise to me that what I wanted was pretty much already covered by the systems Aspect rules; as well as being one of the coolest things about the FATE system and having been adapted to all manner of circumstances and different functions in numerous hacks that are being published and made available over the net, the Aspects would do a great job for me in representing how the different characters could influence what was occurring in the main battle, even if they were not directly manning one of the ships stations themselves.
So how will this work?
Well, as discussed in my previous post on the subject of Ship Construction, each ship would have four skills:

  • Engine – used for maneuvres and initiative
  • Hull – used for defence rolls and affects the ship stress tracker
  • Trade – used for trading, maintenance and ship-to-ship diplomacy
  • Weapons – used to make attack rolls

A character manning one of these stations could substitute the following skill to make ship based rolls:

  • Engine – drive(spacecraft) 
  • Hull – crafts(tech use)
  • Trade – resources
  • Weapons – shooting

However a character who was not manning one of the stations could still get involved if they had an appropriate Aspect.
For example: If our Confessor Cornelius has an Aspect “Hate the Alien” and the vessel that he is onboard is firing upon a xenos vessel, Cornelius could use one of his fate points to invoke his Aspect, firing up the gunners with prayers and speeches of hatred for their foe, granted them either a +2 bonus or allowing them to re-roll their attack. Also if this was the case and Cornelius was the only character contributing the shooting then I would have him make the roll on the crews behalf.
This sums up one of the most enjoyable aspects of the FATE rules system for me is that the rules are detailed enough to provide a framework for the group storytelling necessary to create a good RP experience, but they are also flexible and broad enough so that often they will easily cover circumstances in ways that you hadn’t originally foreseen and, on the rare occasions when they do not they can easily be bent into a shape that does.

Initiative and Escaping from Space Combat

Having not long finished work on my post about ways to simplify space combat rules in my Rogue Trader FATE hack my thoughts started turning towards how initiative would would in the posited three zone space combat and how people would actually leave combat if they decided to flee rather than fight to the “death” (although obviously, the ship being “Taken Out” would not automatically mean death, more likely they have been boarded or are spiraling towards the surface of a planet, something more interesting like that).

Ships in WH40K (certainly human ships) tend to be huge blocky constructions, as you can see below in these images from the Comic Vine and WH40K Wiki websites:

The two ships (Lunatic Pandora and Venerus) commanded by the player characters would be about the size of a Hazeroth Class Privateer and a Dictator Class Cruiser respectively (as shown in the image above) and, despite not being as vast as the hugest of the ships commanded by the Imperium of Man, they are still fairly massive vessels (coming in at a length of 1600m and 3500m).

Initiative

This was fairly straight forward, the ships would make rolls using their Engine Skill or (if a PC or named-NPC was crewing that station) their Drive(spacecraft) Skill and then would take their moves in turns from highest to low, these could be modified as usual using Aspects or (if appropriate) Stunts.

For example: someone might have an Aspect of Advanced Scanners and spend a fate point to add +2 to their initiative because they’ve been able to pick up the other vessels and react sooner.

Escaping from Space Combat

The most likely way of fleeing the area completely in a WH40K space combat (IMO) would be for the ship to activate its warp engines and and drop into the Immaterium; with this in mind I decided that any ship that did not have an enemy vessel in it’s zone could make a Fair (+2) Engine roll (or, if crewed by a player or named-NPC the Navigator could make the same difficulty Will roll) to enter the warp and leave the combat.

Simplifying space combat in my Rogue Trader hack

Having spent an awful lot of time recently working on my FAE NWOD hack i’ve been going to great lengths to keep the rules as simple as possible, capturing the feel and mood of the World of Darkness without bolting on loads of unnecessary additional rules and sub-systems that would slow the game down without really adding all that much to it; as well as the character generation session for my God Machine Chronicle FAE game this weekend i’ve also got another session of my Rogue Trader FATE game on Sunday (not to mention playing in a Pathfinder game that a friend is running on Saturday) and so i’ve been leafing through my hack rules in advance of the session.

The plan for the next game has always been to include a couple of space fights in them; since we changed to using the FATE rules we haven’t really gone in for any big space combats as we adjusted to using the new rules and it’s about time IMO that we test drive the hack rules for space combat. Originally the space combat rules in my hack were very much based on the Diaspora rules with a few tweaks and alterations by myself; the players have a number of build points which they use to purchase skills, aspects and stunts for their ship with each ship having multiple stress tracks and various other bits and pieces. Although I was quite pleased with it when I first finished writing up that part of the hack, looking at it now the rules really do seem a little bit over the top and more suited to a strategic wargame or miniatures game rather than a narrative-based RP game.

With that in mind I decided to dust off the rules and see if I could simplify them using some of the lessions that i’m current learning from Fate Accelerated Edition.

Ship Construction

The first step, I decided, was to throw out the notion of variable build points (based on vessel size) to create a ship and the use of multiple stress tracks. I decided that i’d give the ships some basic skills (the words in blue show the skills that players can use instead if they are crewing that section(if applicable)); the players can pick one at Great (+4), one at Good (+3), one at Fair (+2) and the remaining one at Average (+1).

  • Engine (drive(spacecraft)) – used to make maneuvres and initiative rolls
  • Hull (crafts(tech use)) – used in defence and affects stress tracker
  • Trade (resources) – used for trading and maintenance
  • Weapons (shooting)– used to make attack rolls
These skills would receive a set number of levels to be allocated between them (as character do when they are created), each ship (regardless of size) would receive a number of Stunts and Aspects; larger ships could be achieved by taking a higher Hull Skill, this would add additional boxes to the ships Hull Stress tracker in the same way as Physique does for characters.

Ships would have a refresh of three fate points, deducted by 1 for everyone stunt beyond the first that was taken, they would also receive 5 Aspects (as with normal FATE characters).

By default the ship would receive 2 stress boxes and 3 consequences boxes (with the standard 2, 4 and 6 values) in the same way as a character.

  • If the Hull skill is Average (+1) or Fair (+2) then one more stress box is added.
  • If the Hull skill is Good (+3) or higher then two more stress boxes are added.
  • At Superb (+5) or higher an additional mild consequence slot is added.

Stunts could be purchased in the same way as FAE or FATE allowing the characters to justify under what circumstances they would receive the bonus; one that I was going to give them was the following (since it has been established that the ship has this bit of tech).
Stunt – Teleportarium

Once per game as long as the ship is in the same system it may move up to 10 people to another place in the same system from the ship, or back onto the ship.

Another stunt that would like possesses by the flagship of Admiral Blacks fleet is:

Stunt – Large ship

This stunt adds an additional stress box to the ships character sheet.

Combat Zone Layout

I decide to use three zones for space combat (that I would represent on the table with index cards) with a single ’empty’ card represent the vast emptiness of space and the other two each containing something related to the systems aspects. For example: if the combat took place around Catan Prime then there might be an asteroid in one zone and a burning world.

These elements will be Aspects in their various zones and function as normal Aspects, for instance someone could spend one of their fate points to gain a +2 to a defensive hull roll because they are taking cover behind the asteroid.

Ships would only be able to fire/engage with enemy vessels in the same zone but would be able to move between zones freely on their turn as per the FATE rules, possibly with a roll if there was some sort of impediment to movement (like an asteroid belt or something similar).

Using FATE Core Rules 31-03-13

Overview

The 31st March session was my first Rogue Trader system (using the FATEcore rules) to have all of the players present; following a discussion on one of the G+ RPG communities that I am signed up for, I used my laptops webcam to record the audio from the session, this has (as well as being great fun to listen to) helped a lot with filling in some of the gaps in my written notes. A write-up of the actual session events will go up on the blog in the next few days, but I thought it worth putting up a post about how the FATE rules worked within the game.

Overall the rules seemed to work really well, there was an initial few minutes with me explaining the basics of the rules and handing out character sheets to people – for the sake of jumping into the game quickly, I had translated the players characters from the Rogue Trader rules to FATEcore myself with the proviso that the players could tweak them as they saw fit (with my approval) after they’d seen how the translated characters played under the new rules set. For the first session with the full player complement I wanted to ease the players into the new rules so it was kept fairly combat-lite and had plenty of opportunity for the players to make basic skill tests, become familiar with fate points and get used to how aspects work.

Aspects & Fate Points

Most of the players seemed to have no problems getting to grips with this and were soon spending fate points with merry abandon to utilise their aspects, the discussion about tagged aspects onto scenes and gaining fate points for having plot-complications arise connected with aspects was a little longer, after a short while though the players got the hang of it and were soon suggesting complications to earn fate points (two of which lead to the new wife of Captain Black taking a strong dislike to the socially crude Navigator York Benetec and to the final session encounter with the Eldar guardians of Caliban IV).

Skill rolls

This seemed to go fine, the game using words to represent different levels of skill seemed in particular to be enjoyed.

Stunts

Generally worked very well, with the player of the Navigator making use of his psychic stunt (allowing him to substitute in his Will score in certain tests) at various points to increase his chances of success, as yet the Enginseer has not really made use of his stunt (that works in a similar way).

Additional

One other aspect of the game that worked far better than I could have hoped was the use of the time scale taken from Diaspora to determine travel times through the warp (as discussed here), this particularly highlighted problems with having a fleet (albeit a small fleet of two vessels in this case) travel in convoy through the warp. Our player character Navigator York Benetec was at one point able (due to his high skill and good roll) to cut the travel time of the ship he was on down to three hours, however the NPC Navigator with a slightly lower skill was only able to cut their trip down to three months creating some interesting interpersonal RP whilst the players discussed what they were going to do as the second ship caught up to them.

Next session

Next session i’m planning to start bringing in the combat rules to introduce players to those, and also to start exploring the advancement system listed in the FATEcore rules.

Using FATE Core rules

As i’ve said in previous posts one of my players was missing from the last session and another unfortunately couldn’t stay for the whole session and so I didn’t spend time converting over the character of the missing player (also it was one that I wanted to take a little more thought over); determined to get a bit of a head start on copying across neater versions of the character sheets I had a quick skim through the FATE Core preview pdf, and liked the look of the cut down skill list and simplified character sheets. I wondered whether it would be possible for me to write up the characters using the FATE Core system’s simplified character sheet and still maintain the essence of the characters.

A few thoughts that occurred to me were…

  • Aspects
Characters start off with less aspects than the FATE variants I had previously read (5 in total), one of these is flagged as the character’s high concept (normally a descriptive term encapsulated the essence of the character) and the other is flagged as their trouble (something that makes their life challenging). This didn’t seem too much of a problem since I had struggled coming up with the larger amounts of aspects for some of the characters and it was easy enough to amalgamate some of them into a single aspect.
For example: the character York Benetec now had the aspects – Navigator (high concept), Mutant (trouble), Touched by the Warp, Jaded and Hulking Size.

  • Skills
FATE core includes 18 or so very generic skills as a base level that the GM can build on or expand in order to add individual flavour to their game, however, I think the skills are sufficiently generic that they can be used for a lot of different things, some of my thoughts on particular skills are written below.
    • Crafts: A catch-all making/repair skill that I will use in my game to replace engineering and repair skills, the type of crafting will be determined by the character’s high concept.
    • Drive: This will be used for driving/piloting all types of vehicles, players can take stunts or aspects to represent any advanced skill with particular types of vehicle.
    • Lore: I am planning to use this for knowledge rolls in my game, any specialised fields of knowledge being represented by stunts or aspects.
    • Will: This skill is going to be used (in addition to it’s normal uses) to represent psychic strength (for those who have psychic stunts).
One thing I did notice which seemed like a bit of an ommission was the lack of a ‘medicine’ skill, this is important for my game given that the priest Confessor Cornelius is quite skilled in patching up his team-mates; i’ve not yet decided what to do about this, whether to add a seperate skill or just make it a subset of the craft skill – currentlty I am leaning in favour of making it a seperate skill.

  • Stunts
In this version of the rules characters begin with a single stunt for free, and any additional ones that they take (up to a max of 3) subtract 1 from their refresh rate of fate points (so a character with 2 stunts has 2 fate points and a character with 3 stunts has only a single fate point).
Below are the stunts that I came up with for my characters…
    • York Benetec (Navigator)
      • Psychic: Substitute Will skill for another skill by expending 1 fate pt (this also allows skill rolls to occur at range); if the player doesn’t want to spend a fate point they may still perform the action but it takes 3 times as long.
      • Navigator: May navigate a ship through the warp using his Will skill to determine time taken for the journey.
    • Enginseer Prime Pak (Techpriest)
      • Mechandrite arm: Player may spend 1 fate point to use craft skill instead of any other skill in a test, if the player doesn’t wish to spend a fate pt then they can still do the action but it takes twice as long.
      • Servo-skull: Allows the player to perform actions using the craft skill (as per the mechandrite arm stunt) but at range.
    • Lord Captain Black (Rogue Trader)
      • Ship: Lunatic Pandora (Cruiser)
    • Confessor Cornelius
      • Inspire the Faithful: Allies may use Rapport skill in combat (the max level is 3 unless Cornelius spends a fate point).
  • Equipment
For the moment I have stuck with my hacked version of weapons/armour, halving the modifiers from the weapons and armour and using them as the FATE harm, penetration and armour levels.
This yields me results such…
    • Plasma Pistols: H 3 PEN 3 Energy weapon (ranged)
    • Power Sword: H 2 PEN 2 Energy weapon (melee)
    • Neural Whip: H 1 PEN 0 Energy weapon (melee)
    • Body Armour: 3 AP
At the moment the only sticking point are the personal force fields possessed by certain characters that disperse kinetic energy into light energy, whilst I was initially tempted just to have the force fields add armour points the light refracting/blinded capabilities of the force fields have played an important roll in the game thus far and it seems a shame not to do anything more with them, obviously these items will require some more thought.