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.

Statting a Bloodletter for my Rogue Trader game

Those of you who have read the write-up of my last Rogue Trader session (available here for anyone who hasn’t read it and is interested) will be aware that the spaceship Venerus was being “haunted” by a warp phenomenon that was feeding off the fear and mistrust of those on board and using it to create illusions and phantasms that created more fear (thus beginning a vicious feeding cycle); during an aborted mutiny lead by Confessor Cornelius (Emperor rest his soul) the fear and distrust onboard rose to such levels that the phenomenon was able to pierce the barrier between the real world and the warp, summoning forth a Bloodletter of Khorne onboard the ship.
The Rogue Trader game (in my opinion) isn’t big on random combats and we try to make sure that any combats that do occur are part of the narrative or that relate to the stories/plots unfolding rather than being just random dice-fests; I had decided how the Bloodletter fit into the story before the last session but hadn’t anticipated the mutiny (and the resultant fear it caused) allowing a daemon to be summoned so quickly. With the session approaching I turned my thoughts to statting the creature.
Since the daemon is unlikely to be a recurring villain and they are portrayed very much as demonic footsoldiers in the Warhammer 40,000 universe, I decided to use the generation guidelines for Nameless NPCs from the FATE core rulebook and make the NPC of Good quality (since I want it to be a challenge. The guidelines in the book advise the following for such an NPC:
  • Aspects: One or two.
  • Skills: One Good (+3), one Fair (+2) and one or two Average (+1)
  • Stress: Two stress boxes.
Deciding on the Aspects was fairly easy, the first being the stock phrase of every Khornate cultists and creature the universe-over “Blood for the Blood God”; for the second I decided to create an Aspect that I thought could cover the resilience given to them by their God and the protection from sorcery, “Blessed by Khorne.”
The skills were pretty easy to decide on, given it Fighting +3, Physique +2, Intimidation +1 and Notice +1; however I also needed to consider what equipment I was going to give the daemon, reading through the details about them great mention is made of the creatures Hellblade which slices through armour and flesh alike. Consulting my Rogue Trader FATE hack I decided that the nearest equivalent for the Hellblade was to give a melee weapon the Power Weapon stunt (final stats Harm 1 Penetration 1); I also wanted to give some thought to armour for the creature, since one of the images that has always stuck with me when thinking about khornate entities is the image of iron and brass, and the ornate armour turning enemies blows aside.

I eventually decided to give the creature a standard armour +2 to defence but without any of the associated penalties and named it “Skin of Blood and Brass.”

The final stat block for the creature looks like this:
***
Bloodletter
Aspects: “Blood for the Blood God”, “Blessed by Khorne”
Skills: Fighting (Good +3), Physique (Fair +2), Intimidation & Notice (Average +1)
Stress: [] [] [] 
Weapon – Hellblade: Harm 1 Penetration 1 (functions similar to a power weapon)
Armour – Skin of blood and brass: Defence 2 Physique mod 0 Athletics/fighting mod 0 
***

Fate of Cthulhu – FAe hack – rules

Having finished creating the various templates for the different professions in my FAE Cthulhu hack it was fairly easy to create some guidelines for accumulating stress when traumatic/insanity inducing effects are encountered and to note down some suggestions for derangements. The vast majority of rules can be used as per the Fate Accelerated rulebook.
My plan next is to write up some guidelines for creating a horror atmosphere using FATE (based on information from the toolkit) and jot down some possible FAE stats for the more prominent mythos entities.
The current version of the hack can be found here.

Fate of Cthulhu – FAE Cthulhu hack – Character generation

So I sat down last night with my trusty copy of Trail of Cthulhu (my preferred choice of the many, many different Cthulhu mythos flavoured games that I own) and decided that I was finally going to start banging down some of the ideas i’ve had floating around in my head for a FAE conversion/hack.

Why use FAE and not FATE core?

I’m running two games at the moment, my Rogue Trader game House of Black (run using FATE core rules) and my Secret of Specto Vale nWoD God Machine game (run using the Fate Accelerated rules); whilst I enjoy running both games, it has slowly dawned on me that there is a distinct difference in focus between the two games and, after some consideration, I believe it all boils down to how much attention the game pays to “stuff.”
By “stuff” I mean equipment and possessions specifically, in my Rogue Trader game i’ve fielded all manner of questions regarding equipment, weapons, space ships, etc that are possessed either by the individual player characters or by the Rogue Trader dynasty that they work for (the eponymous House of Black); however in my nWod God Machine game I think the only question I have been asked regarding possessions or items is whether or not someone can have an item on them to pick a lock. Obviously not all of this is to do with the different iterations of the system being used, they are certain items and objects that you are assumed to possess in a Rogue Trader game (a space ship for instance) and the setting focuses a lot more on things (unlike nWoD and some other games); however I do feel that the Fate Accelerated (FAE) system has encouraged the players to leave the equipment list checking in the background, they know what sort of stuff their player characters have access to and that I will usually allow them to have something if it appropriate. For example: Smokey Thomson is an old school criminal in the God Machine game, the player doesn’t have to ask if he has a gun or not or check his sheet, of course he had a gun; the players also seem a lot less concerned with the specific bonuses that their kit gives to them.
Another major advantage of the FAE system is that it is very easy to learn and pick up; I have only run two sessions of my God Machine game and all of the players have a very good grasp of the basic rules.
Fate of Cthulhu

I have always been a massive fan of H. P. Lovecraft’s writing and have read the majority of mythos material written by him, along with some of the later mythos themed writings, I also have a number of Lovecraftian RPGs and supplements such as Call of Cthulhu, Realms of Cthulhu and Trail of Cthulhu (to name but a few). Recently when we started up a one-off game night a friend of mine ran an investigative/horror based Hunter: the Vigil game that sprawled over the normal one session limit (in-fact we’re still playing it); it occurred to me that, although the story was good, I didn’t find the system particularly conducive to quickly creating a character and getting a decent one-off session of RP done. Wanted to address this and show how I would do it when the GMing duties eventually swung back my way I turned to the FATE system as my go-to roleplay system at the moment; i’ve already gone on loads about how I think that the FATE system places story over accurate rule mechanics in previous blog entries and so I won’t take up space doing it again, however, I thought back to how easy it had been to pick up FAE for my God Machine game and decided that this would be the game system for my horror one-off.
Having always been a big fan of the mythos, most horror games run by myself have a Cthulhu-esque flavour to them; not really wanting to create a complete Cthulhu FATE game from scratch though I turned to one of my favourite Cthulhu RPGs Trail of Cthulhu (you can see some of my thoughts on this game here) and began looking at it with a view to creating a FAE hack/version of the game.
Character generation & Occupations

Looking through Trail of Cthulhu a bit part of the character generation process is picking an Occupation, this sets your starting skills and a few other bits and pieces, you then (with most occupations) get to add one of two additional skills and tweak some little bits. Since FAE doesn’t involve skills and I was determined to maintain the basic 6 Aspect approach of FAE (to make it easier on the players and myself) I decided that I would have each player pick a template for their character based on profession.
One example of this is shown below:
Archaeologist: A person who travels to strange and exotic places in search of the past.
Starting Stunts – Archaeology, Athletics, Evidence Collection, First Aid, History, Ancient Languages, Library Use, Riding.
“Well known in academic circles” – Once per session the character may gain access to the restricted area of a museum or library by using their academic credentials.
Starting Refresh – 1.
Instead of skills the template would define a number of Stunts where the character received a +2 bonus when dealing with a particular subject; also any other miscellaneous benefits could be represented by an additional Stunt (the “well known in academic circles” listed above for example).
Once this had been done the Starting Refresh for fate points of the character would be defined by their Occupation Template (those templates with less Stunts would leave the player with more refresh points remaining); this refresh could be spent to acquire additional Stunts or saved as per the rules in the FAE rulebook.
Overall I was pretty happy with the start i’d made on the character generation session and posted a draft on the FATE G+ community to get some feedback; my next aim is to produce a series of small/compact character sheets (one for each Occupation Template) so that the players just have to pick one, jot in a few details and they’re good to go, making character gen really speedy.
The initial draft section is available here, any constructive feedback is welcome (I am aware the Scientist Occupation is missing it’s Starting Refresh rate, it should be 3).

Laying out my Rogue Trader plotlines

I was recently watching a video by Ander Wood on youtube regarding how to handle plots in games:

http://youtu.be/meLrlKTDXOY

Whilst watching the video it occurred to me that there may be a better way of noting down the various plots and storylines that I have running throughout my Rogue Trader FATE core game.

I have adapted my Imperial Calendar spreadsheet to also contain a sheet where I can note down the various events and upcoming events that are to occur in my plot; please note that, because some of my players read this blog, I have blanked out everything after the current game date and have blacked out some of the more sensitive information, you should be able to get the general idea though.

Comments/suggestions welcome 🙂

You can find the spreadsheet here:
https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B3N7nFBlEi_7MU1aTHFmc3dySEE/edit?usp=sharing

(please note that the spreadsheet layout is a bit messes up in the Google preview, if you download a copy though it should look much better).

Mob rules and player controlled NPCs

Mark Knights blog post mentioned the GM Tips G+ community discussed who controls NPCs and hirelings associated with the PCs; according to Mark the Ultimate Campaign book for Pathfinder suggests that hirelings/associates with a less than helpful attitude should be controlled by the GM. This started me thinking about the way I normally represent allied NPCs and some recent changes I have made using the FATE mob rules in my Rogue Trader FATE game.
In my own games I have always been of the opinion that background characters and other NPCs who are not strictly antagonistic to the player characters should be controlled by a player since they generally stay in the background so as not to overshadow the PCs (who are the games main heroes/characters, after all), generally helping or hindering in certain situations depending on what they represent. In FATE core and FAE it is pretty easy to create an NPC using the cut-down rules for mooks and NPCs in both books and hand an index card with the details written on it to the player so that they can run the NPC as an adjunct to their own character; however, I do make it clear in my games that, at any point, I can re-take control of the NPC or their actions as required by the plot or should the NPC take a more antagonistic stance towards the player party. This generally seems to work pretty well, it lets the player feel that they are contributing towards the actions of the NPCs, frees me up from rolling the dice for allied-NPCs and still allows me the option of assuming narrative control over them should it become necessary for the good of the story (although I generally limit my input to occasionally portraying the allied-NPCs during conversations unless it is something important or the NPC is separated from their associated player character and I wish to keep the outcome secret).
Handling lots of allied-NPCs
One of the things (IMO) that makes Rogue Trader stand out from a lot of the other WH40K RPGs put out by Fantasy Flight Games (aside from perhaps Only War) is the sheer amount of NPCs that the characters have available working for them; it is true than in Only War the players along with allied-NPCs represent an Imperial Guard regiment, however, in Rogue Trader the player party owns a large space going vessel with hundreds of thousands of crew members, guards, pilots, engineers, etc. This can occasionally prove problematic in a game when the players insist on taking an armed party of guards with them whenever they go on a mission off-ship (or something similar); as a GM I don’t want to disallow this because it makes sense when viewed in an IC context, why on earth would you only take a handful of people when you have trained warriors at your disposal? That’s just dumb and a licence to get yourself killed.
Previously i’ve handled these situations (especially those involving combay) mainly through GM fiat, and have basically had the PCs fight some opponents and have had the guards (or whatever) mop up numerous additional mooks (without really using dice rolls or anything; recently however I have been reading up on the mob rules of the FATE core rules (page 216 in the FATE core rulebook for anyone interested), a system for ‘clumping’ together similar NPCs and treating them as a single entity. 
The rules for mobs basically say that you roll one set of dice for a mob, they may use teamwork to increase their skill rolls and that any stress inflicted that goes beyond that needed to take out a single member of a mob, rolls over to the next mob member.
For example: If I have a mob of 5 mooks with Fight skill +1 and no stress boxes attacking the player characters, then I would take their basic Fighting skill level of +1 and increase it by 1 for each member beyond the first that was helping, for a total Fighting skill of +5. If the mob was attacked back then, because the members have no stress boxes, each level of stress would kill a single mob member (also lowered their skill).
This is a great way of representing groups of NPCs such as the nameless guards that Rogue Traders take about with them; dice rolling duties for the allied-mob can be turned over to one of the players who is commanding the mob, or often I will turn the dice rolling over to a player whose character is not directly involved in the current scene since it gets them more involved in the attack on an OOC level. I tried this for the first time during my last session when the now deceased Chief Confessor Cornelius rounded up a mutinous, pipe-wielding mob of nine people onboard the spaceship Venerus and headed to the quarters being used by the alien (Eldar) ambassador Da’Duith Iath intent on meting out some mob justice on the unfortunate alien. During the first round of combat the Eldar was barely able to fend off the +9 attack bonus of the howling mob, and only then by taking a hefty stress hit and a severe consequence; the alien in turn dispatched six of the mob, but had taken such a lot of damage that he was easy prey for the remnants of the mob (backed up by the Confessor) and was torn to shreds.
For me this combat worked just the way I wanted it to, the Eldar, although skilled and would have no doubt made short work of a single opponent, was unable to prevail against the sheer mass of the mob bearing down on him; mechanically the combat was quick, easy to adjudicate from a GM standpoint, and it took into account the followers that had been gathered by the Confessor, his actions in rounding up the mob making a major difference to the scene. It’s certainly a rules system that i’ll be using in future to represent guard parties, fighter wings, etc and highly recommend it – I may even be adapting it for my space rules and representing opposing fleets as ‘mobs’ of spaceships.

So how did I end up actually representing the warp entity in my 28/07/13 Rogue Trader session?

I did some more thinking about mechanics and how to represent the warp entity (as described in my previous blog entry here) prior to the session; I didn’t to start off with just a rampaging manifest demon that the players could just thump into submission, chalk it up as a generic opponent dealt with and move. There was already plenty of potential for RP going on in the session, with the Admiral and Enginseer teleporting over to one of the enemy ships to repair and save the vessel from destruction in the depths of a gravity well, dealing with the enemy crew and all manner of other hi-jinks that would be occurring; against the background of this I wanted the entity/phenomenon to be more of a puzzle or something for the players to figure out and interact with rather than just an enemy to smash aside on their way to their destination, it needed (IMO) to be more of an event.
Thinking of it as an event helped me divorce the entity/phenemonon from a lot of the normal baggage and stereotypes that go along with the ‘demon’ label, I decided that rather than being a ‘demon’ in the traditional sense (although the mechanics discussed in the previous post would work fine for that) the entity would be more of a phenomenon; appearing as a low-lying mist to those who could view the warp the entity feed on fear and could create quasi-illusion manifestations, all with the aim of creating more fear and feeding itself. This was represented by the entity starting with 3 skill ranks, each of these ranks could be used to create a manifestation; if the manifestation was intereacted with in a way that required a test then its skill level would be equal to the number of ranks used in its creation. If the entity had already used all of the ranks it had and wished to create an additional manifestation then it would have to transfer levels, either weakening an existing manifestation or dispersing one altogether.
The creature fed on fear and anger (due to it’s affiliation with Khorne the blood god), I represented this by giving it an additional skill rank after any scene where fear or anger was demonstrated; if it was on a very large scale then I gave it an additional rank or two. I worked on the idea that this entity was some form of advanced guard, initially very weak and able to infiltrate our reality through far smaller warp intrusions that a bodily manifest demon, but once in our world it was capable of garnering fear and anger in order to strengthen itself and eventually, once it had fed enough, it could use this energy to bring an actual (more traditional WH40K) demon into the world. The way this way represented in game is that, once the entity had accumulated 10 skill ranks, it could spend them to bring a manifest lesser demon into the world, however this would reduce the entity back to a single skill rank and it would have to start accumulating fear and anger again; this would generally result in a dangerous cycle where the creature would summon a demon, feed on the fear and anger created by the demon and the bring forth another demon to sow more fear and anger, etc, etc.
In the game session (more detailed write-up to follow when i’ve had chance to review my recordings of the session and write them up) the creature stoked the natural xenophobia of the ships Confessor to great heights leading to him eventually dividing the crew by trying to start a mutiny when the Captain allowed what he saw as blasphemous primitive blood magic to be used in an attempt to purge the demonic influence; this ship wide event and the heightened emotions caused by it, allowed the creature to get enough energy to bring fourth a bloodletter of Khorne in the centre of the ship, and that’s where we finished the game.
What else did the characters discover about the demon?
Through careful investigation the characters were able to work out roughly what the entity was and discover the following additional facts about it:
  • The mist seemed thicker in areas with more people or areas of heightened emotion.
  • Areas that were deserted or that were only occupied by machinery, servitors and/or tech-priests had little or no mist.

How did it go?
Overall the session worked very well and the mist entity seemed to function as I wanted it to, leading the players to speculate how they had picked it up or whether it had been onboard since they had recovered the Venerus from the Sycorax warp-storm; numerous methods were suggested as a means of dealing with it, but unfortunately the mutiny occurred before they could put any of the less outré suggestions into practice.

Making a better Demon in FATE core

As mentioned in my previous blog post (available here) one of the potential encounters for the 28/07/13 session is with the warp entity that is currently causing trouble aboard the ship; this will be the first time that I have designed/built a non-human (or humanlike) antagonist using the FATE core rules system and this blog entry details my thought processes during its creation.
IF YOU ARE ONE OF MY PLAYERS PLEASE DO NOT READ THE REST OF THIS BLOG ENTRY UNTIL AFTER THE 28/07/13 SESSION
First things first, I wanted to quickly review the information that had currently been divulged about the entity (mostly last session), so I quickly looked through my notes and came up with the following.
  • Possibly connected with Khorne or Chaos Undivided.
  • Can create phantasms and illusions based on a persons past to plague them.
    • This would suggest that the entity is capable of reading minds or somehow viewing the traumatic events in a persons past.
  • Is a creature of fear & violence (possibly somehow feeding on these emotions).

Reading up on the gods of Chaos
Since the entity is some sort of chaos beast or warp creature I leafed through my copy of Fantasy Flight Games Black Crusade to refresh my memory about the various gods of chaos; one of the things that struck me in particular whilst reading was the mention of societies worshiping the chaos gods as a pantheon rather than simply devoting themselves to a single one of the gods, this struck me as far more interesting than having a simple khorne berserker or the equivalent devoted to a single god. IMO whilst the iconic chaos ‘specialists’ are great for the WH40K miniatures battle game (and it’s easy to see why they were made like this for ease of use in a miniatures game) they seem a bit one-dimensional and flat as far as an RPG is concerned.
Whilst reading this it struck a chord with some earlier material from the WH40K universe that I had been perusing whilst I had been deciding on the chapter of the chaos space marine Lorgar Khan encountered in the previous session; eventually I had decided on the Word Bearers, since I thought their religious following of the chaos pantheon would provide a great contrast and opposition to the staunchly Imperialist views of Chief Confessor Cornelius.
A small diversion
As is often the case when I sit down to write notes for a session, I often end taking some twists and turns whilst on my to my eventual destination; my musings on the worship of chaos as a pantheon rather than as isolated entities lead me to considering the worship of the chaos space marine Lorgar Khan. Lorgar had been encountered for the first time in the previous session when his space marine battle barge the Dark Omen had fled attack at the hands of the Venerus and Lunatic Pandora; mulling this over lead me to ask myself one question, where did Lorgar flee to?
After looking at my notes for the various systems in the sector of space that we had created, the nearest system that made any sense was the Endeavour system; the Endeavour System was also the original planned stopping off point of the player party on the way to Footfall. The potential of the players and Lorgar heading to the same system gave me a chance to highlight one of the things I love about the Warhammer 40,000 universe, the uncertainty of travel through the warp; although two ships may set off from the same point and be heading towards the same destination, travel through the warp relies on the skill of a ships navigator and therefore the two vessels may not arrive at the same time.
Making the rolls for Lorgar’s travel through the warp I scored a result indicating that it would take 50 Imperial days for the Dark Omen to arrive at it’s destination (a copy of the imperial calendar that I use can be found here, although I have adapted the time scale somewhat to make it easier to manage); it will arrive on Imperial Date 062817M41, I jotted this down on my game calendar for future use. This means that, whenever the players make it to the Endeavour System (assuming that they still go there) I will know either how long Lorgar has been there (if the players arrive after him) or, if they arrive first (a possibility given the high skill level of Navigator York Benetec), how long it will be before the chaos space marine arrives.
This also raised the question of how long it took for the Lunatic Pandora to flee to the Endeavour System after it was boarded by renegades from the space marine battle barge in the previous session (it made sense for them to flee there since it was their only known rendezvous point with the Venerus); rolling a result of -2 meant that there journey would take 175 Imperial days and they would arrive on Imperial Date 0186817M41 (over 100 days after the Dark Omen arrives in the system. This creates the interesting situation of the Lunatic Pandora arriving in the system after their attacker (itself now also damaged) – potentially the Venerus may have already dealt with the Dark Omen before the Lunatic Pandora arrives, it also raises the question of how long (given that they have no idea when their sister ship will arrive) the Venerus will wait for the Lunatic Pandora before moving on?
Back to the Demon
Getting back to designing the warp entity, I wanted to make it more a focal point of the session rather than simply some sort of rampaging berserker that would challenge the players for a while before eventually being put down; a straightforward combat scene didn’t seem all that interesting as a main event for the session.
Thus far the demon had mainly confined itself to menacing the players (and some NPCs) with dreams of past conflicts, sometimes even bringing these visions into reality; I recalled reading a number of posts on the FATE G+ community about using the fate fractal (the idea that anything and everything can be created as a character if desired in FATE) to create scenes that challenged the players and actually giving the scene statistics with which to challenge the player party. Given that the demon was haunting the players with scenes and grisly dioramas this seemed like a great way to represent the demon in my Rogue Trader game; each player or small group of players would be challenged by a (semi)illusory scene designed to disorientate them and have them kill each other (feeding the creature in the process).
How to represent this?
Considering the matter further I decided against splitting the player party up and would initially have the two characters on the Venerus (York Benetec and Chief Confessor Cornelius) sucked into the illusion-like scene/diorama; if Admiral Black and Enginseer Prime Pak succeeded in their own mission and returned to the ship before the matter with the demon had been resolved then they would have a chance to shake their comrades out of the vision that had seized their minds.

    How will the entity first make itself known?
    Demons normally require some sort of focus or entryway into the mortal realm, normally an unprotected psychic or mutant of some kind (hence why the Imperium is so intent on tracking down and either destroying or training all psykers); in our game there are numerous astropaths working on both ships but all are trained to resist routine psychic assaults and demonic possessions, however there was one obvious candidate who had never been trained to make use of their (rudimentary) psychic talents – Dana, the young, blind verminspeaker that they had recruited and taken in during their adventures in the Decusis System on Hiveworld Scelus.
    How will I use the FATE fractal to represent the scene?
    Since the scene that will plague the character is largely illusory in nature I will come up with a simple set of stats that the demon can use during the illusion to vex the players.
    After thinking about it for a while I decided to use some of the Approaches in Fate Accelerated Edition:

    • Clever: Wrapping the player characters up in puzzles and conundrums.
    • Flashy:  Distracting the players with overt displays of opulence or powers.
    • Forceful: Confronting the players direct with visions of violence or combat.
    • Sneaky: Pulling off things without the players noticing and deceiving their senses. 
    How do the players end the “vision?
    The most obvious way for the players to end the visions is to cast out the demon or slay its mortal host (the girl verminspeaker Dana).
    What are the demons plans?
    The player characters will just be one group trapped in their illusions, the rest of the crew will be split into groups and will also be caught in strange dioramas; the demon hopes to use the scenes to have the groups attack each other, the mass deaths will allow it to open passage to the warp and bring forth more of its fellows.