The quest for inclusive space combat continues

So, continuing on from last nights post regarding how my game went, i’ve been giving more thought this morning to how I can improve space combat in my Rogue Trader FATE game, in order to get to the point I want the space combat in my game is going to have to meet two criteria:
  • The space combat should be short/quick enough so that any people not involved are not sat out of the game for an extended period.
  • It should involve a series of rolls rather than just a single dice roll.
Dissecting what happened in yesterdays game

When we were engaged in the space combat part of the session yesterday, the turn sequence ran as follows:
  • The navigator piloting the ship moving the ship.
  • The Lord Admiral making the shooting rolls.
  • The Enginseer making rolls to repair.
  • Alternating people making rolls for the other fleet ship (crewed by NPCs).
I made an attempt to have players whose characters hadn’t acted in the last round roll dice for the NPCs to keep them involved, however, I can appreciate that rolling a few dice isn’t the same as having your character actually involved in the situation unfolding, the same level of emotional investment isn’t present IMO. There were occasions when people whose characters weren’t directly involved used their abilities or fate points to help provide bonuses to those people (whether PCs or NPCs) who were making the rolls.
Gaining FATE points

Another (very valid) point that was raised after the session was that when people were suggesting compels for their Aspects in order to gain Fate points, only the person gaining the fate point was actually benefiting, however, in a lot of cases the complications arising were affecting or stymieing the efforts of other players who were not benefiting directly from the accumulation of fate points.
So what is the solution?
My current plan is to distill the space combat down to a small series of rolls rather than an extended sequence of rolls; for example, i’m currently thinking that i’ll have a combat be resolved using the following rolls:
  • The ships pilots position their ships, this provides a modifier to the next stage for whichever ship gains the advantage.
  • Rolls are made for ships weapons, the number of shifts providing the total damage done to the opposing side.
  • Repair rolls are made, the number of positive shifts repairing the amount of damage done.
  • The amount of positive/negative shifts that each ship has remaining will be totaled and each side in the conflict will tally up their totals.
  • Total damage is allocated to the various ships by the commander of each side in the conflict.
  • The side with the least positive shifts in total is “Taken Out”, if they’ve taken a lot of damage then they may have been destroyed, or they may have been forced to surrender.
This should allow a combat to be kept reasonably simple and short and on a narrative basis with a number of dice rolls that can occur simultaneously.
In terms of Compels, I believe this is something that I can solve through my GMing by assuring that the complications arising from Compels are more personal and directed at the the character of the player receiving the fate point.

So how did the game go?

Well that’s today’s Rogue Trader session finished and the players all safely off home, it was the first try of my ‘simplified’ space style rules (as mentioned in this post) – so, sat here after the session has finished and the dust has settled I find myself asking the question “so, how do I think the session went?”

Space Combat

I think the simplified space combat was definitely a step in the right direction, it certainly flowed better than our attempts at using the original FFG rules space combat; however, despite my best attempts there were still moments when some of the characters were not involved very much in the events unfolding because they were limited in how much they could effect the space combat. I’ve had some frank discussions with my players at the end of the session and my current thoughts on the matter suggest the following options:

  • Expanding the repertoire of potential actions available to include more characters – this is one possibility but also involves adding an additional layer of complexity to the combat that I am keen to avoid.
  • Have the players who are not involved take over the parts of named NPCs who are influencing the combat – again a possibility although i’d really love to keep players as their own characters as much as possible.
  • Reduce the combat to a single roll or short series of rolls allowing all the player characters to contribute fate points – this is currently my favourite option since it reduces the length of combats meaning that players wouldn’t be sat out for so long but the potential of a single drastically bad roll would be mitigated by the potential fate point expenditures.
  • Run each space combat as a series of small encounters involving all characters, the result of each encounter adding to the overall success or failure of the overall combat.
I have a month to think about it before the next session, so i’ll definitely be giving some thought to potentially using one of the above options when we next have cause to run some space combat.

Music for my GMC session

Although tomorrow’s (21/06/13) session is for the players to run through the generation process with me and help create links between the characters, NPCs and other setting elements I have already been thinking about appropriate music that could be played in the background of the generation session and then continued through into the game proper. I’ve never really made a great deal of use of music beyond having a couple of quiet tracks playing in the background since I normally prefer not to be fiddling around with music tracks on the computer when I could be describing the action of a game, I also find that if I don’t keep track of where the music is then it’s possible for a tense IC situation to be ruined when the track abruptly changes to something less suitable. On the opposite side of the scale though i’ve played in tabletop RPG games where music has been used to great effect; the main proponent of this (at least in games I have played) has been Simon Webber who normally has a speaker rig and extensive collection of soundtracks that he knows very well and uses to the benefit of his game sessions whenever he runs something.
One of the things that Simon does very well in his sessions is varying the tone and pacing of his descriptions so that it fits with the current music that is playing, normally queuing up some appropriate tracks at the start of the scene and then tailoring his prose to fit in with the pace and mood of the music. Another aspect that I have quite enjoyed is the use of certain music pieces to act as ‘theme tunes’ for certain NPCs or plot elements that are going to recur during the game; as soon as one of the recognisable theme tunes starts it give you the player (although not your character in most cases) a feel of what is going to occur and (if the music belongs to a major villain who has not yet made himself known in the present scene) can result in a lot of tension and atmosphere as you wait for the other shoe to drop and for the villain to make their inevitable appearance.
I’ve really enjoyed creating my fake hack for my God Machine Chronicle game and would like to make it a memorable experience for the players; given that the game has a fairly small focus and is only slated in for 4-5 sessions worth of play I want to pull out all the stops in order to make the game as exciting and gripping for my players as possible, both so that the game sticks in their minds and to get some enthusiasm up for their participation in a Demon: the Descent game or Mummy: the Curse game that I play to run later on (probably using my FAE hack). During the game I intend to make extensive use of index cards to track things like Zones, Aspects and NPCs, mainly because they are easy to reference, move about and relatively simple to transport along with my printouts of the quick reference sheets and the character sheets that I have designed for the game; it occurred to me that it would be very easy to note down a specific track or music on the index cards should an NPC, Zone, etc deserve their own ‘theme-tune.’
I’ve been building up a fairly respectable collection of soundtracks for a while, however I always think it’s good to get some additional ideas and so I put out the question on the G+ Game Master Tips community. A number of interesting suggestions were made:
I investigated the suggestions more closely and tagged several for future use during this (and other) RP sessions, particularly I found the Two Steps from Hell youtube channel extremely interesting with some great atmospheric and oppressive music on it that would be eminently suitable for use in a World of Darkness game. 
When I got home from work it was time to fire up my copy of media player and begin trawling through the collection of soundtracks that I have built up; since the settings of both the God Machine Chronicle and Rogue Trader are fairly dark I decided to compile a single list for both games and jot down locations and names of tracks that might be suitable.

First on my list was the Battlestar Galactica soundtrack, which had a good mix of eerie acoustic stuff and pounding drumbeats that would work well for the science fiction genre and also for the industrial modern era of the NWOD. I trawled through a number of other soundtracks (including the Final Fantasy Movie soundtrack, Terminator, Interview with a Vampire and others), creating a number of playlists:

  • Calm/serenity
  • Chase
  • Choral
  • Combat
  • Drifting in space
  • Generic industrial
  • Horror
  • Madness
  • Military/marching
  • Posh/upper floor
  • Realisation
  • Romantic
  • Sorrow
  • Space combat
  • Suspense

I also picked a few random tracks because I thought they fight in well with the idea of the God Machine or a particular concept in WH40K.

Hopefully this will give me a fairly decent selection of tunes to use as background in my game.

Musings on Fate Accelerated Edition

I’ve been recently considering using some version of the FATE system to run the God Machine Chronicle World of Darkness game that i’ll be starting in a week or twos time (i’ll be putting up a post about the GMC game separately at  some point in the near future); having become increasingly non-plussed at the more complicated rules systems inherent in many roleplaying games and given my recently switch to using a slightly adapted version of FATE core rules for my Rogue Trader game (there is a post on that here and my FATE hack is available for download here) I started considering using some version of FATE to run a world of darkness game.

Obviously a world of darkness game involving the various supernatural strains that populate the game world would require some sort of consideration for the various powers and abilities of the different creatures; luckily for me my GMC is a short-term (4 or 5 sessions only) that is going to feature entirely mortals and so this isn’t a hurdle that I need to handle at the moment (although several individuals on the various G+ communities have been extremely helpful). Adam Boothroyd suggested that I might want to have a look at Fate Accelerated Engine, a streamlined version of the FATE core system.

Size
Looking at FAE the most immediately obvious difference between it and FATE core is the size of the two PDFs, with Core weighing in at 300+ pages and FAE only being about 50 pages in length; skimming through the book it seems that a lot of the stuff that has been trimmed is the abundance of GMing advice that has been provided in the Core book, this is understandable and the FAE book itself isn’t shy about pointing out where you can locate stuff in its parent tome. 

Approaches
Another major difference is that, unlike Core, FAE eschews the use of the more common skills present in most RPGs, instead positing the use of six approaches describing the manner that characters approach an action with rather than a specific skill (for example, instead of looking at your Fighting skill you might look at your Forceful approach).

The six approaches described in the game are:

  • Careful
  • Clever
  • Flashy
  • Forceful
  • Quick
  • Sneaky
    They are rating from 0 to +5 using the FATE ladder in the same manner as skills in the Core.
    Aspects
    Aspects work pretty much in the same way as the Core system with one Aspect being chosen as the ‘High Concept’ to sum up the character and the other representing some sort of ‘Trouble’ that throws up challenges in the character’s life. Aspects can be invoked by the player by expending a fate point to either give them +2 to a roll or to completely re-roll their original result, as long as the action fits in with the Aspect in question; for example if the player had Aspect ‘Crack shot with a pistol’ then he could invoke it to give him an advantage when making a trick shot with a pistol.
    Players and other people can also compel Aspects to add complications or twists in the game plot; this is the main way of earning fate points within the system.
    Stunts
    Stunts work similarly to the way that they do in the Core game with the exception that skill swapping stunts are no longer part of the picture. Two types are stunt are posited in the game system:
    • Stunts that give you a +2 bonus in certain situations
    • The second type of Stunt allows you to make something true, do something cool or otherwise ignore the rules in some way.
      The explanation of what Stunts can accomplish is extremely clear in FAE and should be easy to explain to people unfamiliar with the rules.
      Gamemastering Advice
      The Gamesmaster chapter that is offered in FAE is extremely concise, but very useful; the advice on creating opponents suggests giving them a +2 bonus to things that they are good at and a -2 penalty on things that they are bad at, a couple of aspects and a couple of stress boxes, this is an extremely simply way of defining the opponents that can be done without the GM having to agonise over Skills and Stunts.
      There are some other differences, such as FAE only using one stress track but the majority of differences have been covered by the points above.

      Overall I think that FAE is an extremely worthy addition to the FATE school of products and it is certainly one that i’m planning to use for my God Machine Chronicle; I think that FAE would certainly be a good alternative for a game where you want to get started quickly or have to introduce new people to the FATE rules system. The two systems are also very compatible and, with a little tweaking, I find it hard to imagine how anything designed for FATE Core wouldn’t be usable with FAE.

      A highly useful RPG that I look forward to trying out 🙂

      Recording Game Sessions

      As stated in my previous posts, I made a recording of my previous session; just to clarify for anyone who may be concerned

      • NO video recording of the players was made
      • Once the recording had been made the audio file was stripped out and the video (which mostly showed me since the laptop was facing me during the session) was deleted
      • The recording WILL NOT be used in any way beyond assessing ways to improve the session and enhancing my note taking ability.
      • Any recordings made WILL NOT appear on this blog or any other set up by myself.
      • The ONLY session reports that will appear in this blog or on any other I set up will be written reports that do NOT feature the names of the players.

        My main purpose of recording my sessions is because I don’t want to hold up the action whilst I furiously scribble notes and (unfortunately) my memory isn’t all that great, however making skeletal notes and listening to the sound file afterwards has already enabled me to write a much fuller report of last session.
        It has also enabled me to highlight areas of possible improvement for the game.
        • OOC chatter: An awful lot of OOC chatter went on during the session (I myself was as guilty of this), I intend to re-organise the playing space and have a couple of breaks so that we can confine OOC chatter to these breaks and keep more IC during the sessions.
        • Rewarding good RP/selling other characters: The sound file makes it easier for me to pinpoint areas of exceptional RP that deserve reward.
        • More detail required: It has become obvious that I need to put more detail into the areas and NPCs to give them more verisimilitude, it is my intent to begin this as soon as possible.