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 🙂

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.

Thoughts on Microscope 19-06-13

As mentioned in my last brief blog entry (available here) myself and my wife Hannah sat down to do a test game of Microscope last night; although the game is recommended for more than two players, it does provide some useful advice on how to adapt the game for only a couple of players.

Basic Premise

The basic premise behind Microscope is that a group of players each create a fictional timeline or history between them using a number of different constructs that can be nested inside each other

  • Periods: The largest division of the history, a very large chunk or time that can cover whole centuries depending on history (in my transcript the ‘Golden Age of Dragons’ was the first period in the game).
  • Events: Events cover specific events that happen during a period (in my transcript the ‘First elves are born to the wild magics of the forest’ is a scene within the ‘First age of elves (creation/birth of species)’ period.
  • Scenes: Scenes are the smallest unit of time and answer specific questions related to any event (in my transcript the ‘What finally caused the Dragons to unite against the dwarves? | Sighing Mountains | Harrad a Dwarf Engineer-King killed the last pureblood dragon to build a great skyship’ scene answers a question about the ‘Dragons unite against the Dwarven Empire when Dwarf Technicians begin hunting Dragons for the innate magic in their bodies’ event which is itself part of the ‘Last great dwarf Empire is destroyed in the First Dragon War’ period.
How is this done?

At the start of the game the players are directed to collaboratively come up with a brief ‘mission statement’ or summary for their timeline (in our example we chose ‘A dark power rises and is defeated’ and then to create the first and last period in their fictional history (for our example we chose the first period being ‘The Golden Age of Dragons’ and the last being ‘The Dark Lord is defeated.’
Players then create a palette of ingredients that are either approved or banned from the history, banned ingredients are those story elements that you might expect to see in the genre of the timeline but that the players have agreed not to include (in our game Hannah chose to ban beastkin races from the timeline) whilst the approved ingredients are things that you might not expect to see in the genre but the players have approved for use (such as magitech in our example game).
Once this is done each player adds a Period or an Event to the timeline, placing them anyway that they see fit within the rules; the game uses index cards written in a portrait orientation and laid in a line to represent periods, place in landscape orientation underneath Periods are the Events that occurred within them and Scenes are also written portrait and are then placed in order behind the Events that they are answering questions about.
An example layout diagram is shown below for clarification:
Play then proceeds with one player being designated the Lens each turn, the Lens gets to add a couple more elements than the non-Lens players during a turn and they also define the Focus at the start of the turn. The Focus determines what plot element the game will focus on this turn, it can be anything, but every element placed on that turn must be connected with the Focus. Once a Focus has been decided on the turn then moves through a number of phases with each player putting down their own element on the timeline; the Focuses are written (we used a single index card for this) in a list with the name of the person who came up with them next to it.
The rulebook provides clear guidelines on how to write cards for the various different elements (Periods, Events and Scenes), it also directs you to put a circle at the bottom of the card and colour in the circle if it is a dark/negative element or to leave it blank if it is a light/positive element. Personally, although the writing was extremely clear and concise, enabling us to quickly press on with our game, neither myself or Hannah could see what point there was in the dark/light circles at the bottom of the cards, although I suppose that they may be useful as a general measure of whether your setting is overwhelmingly light or dark.
During their action players have complete narrative freedom to make up anything they want and put it anyway on the timeline as long as their entry is connected to the Focus, doesn’t contradict anything already in play and doesn’t include anything from the banned list; the game suggests that other peoples should only be allowed to the ask the current player for clarification and should not be able to offer any narrative advice or suggestions, keeping their ideas until creating their own elements. I found this a very enjoyable part of the game and several times I spent phases setting up something, only to have it turn out different when either Hannah introduced some of her own elements or when I changed my mind based on how the timeline had altered since my previous phase.
Once all the phases have been completed, the player to the right of the Lens chooses a concept from the last turn to become a Legacy; the only restrictions are that the Legacy has to be some that appeared in play this turn and it should be something that the Legacy-chooser is interested in exploring in more detail. There can only be as many Legacies as there are players, and if you want a new Legacy then you must replace your old one (either with a new Legacy or a previously discarded one).
After the choosing of Legacies has been resolved the Legacy-chooser then gets to make an Event or a dictated Scene then is connected with one of the Legacies in play and place it on the timeline. Once this is done the turn ends and the next player becomes the new Lens. During our test game, since we only had two players, we ignored the Legacy limits and just wrote them in a list on a single index file, this seemed to work reasonably well and certainly didn’t impact on our enjoyment of the game.
There are guidelines in the book for roleplaying out Scenes and filling in the details of precisely what happened (although the outcome is decided at the beginning when the Scene is created), however, because of our limited player numbers and time, we chose to simply dictate the Scenes and write down the outcomes rather than RP through them, although I think that given more time and players the RP element would be an interesting avenue to explore. The rules for RPing Scenes are written in a similar informative and easy to understand fashion as the rest of the book.
Overall I thought that the book was extremely well written, allowing you to jump into the game with a minimum of prep and reading, the only thing beyond the book being required is a pack of index cards and some pens (although i’m sure other media such as flowchart software, a wipeboard, a piece of paper or others could easily be substituted); despite starting off with a fairly standard fantasy idea for our sample game it quickly developed into an interesting history that went to a number of places that I didn’t expect when startin the game. I think that the game is great as long as all the players are comfortable with creating narrative details off-the-cuff as it were, although I think that people who prefer a more structured form of RPing might find it more challenging; it also seems that the game would be a a great way of having a group sit down and create the history of a setting that could then be used with another system to actually run a more traditional RPG in.
A very enjoyable book and evenings entertainment that I highly recommend 🙂

Change of address for Rogue Trader hack

Since most of my other FATE stuff is handled via Google, you can now find my FATE Rogue Trader hack at the following Google Drive address:

https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B3N7nFBlEi_7VXJBdUlNLXp3UFk/edit?usp=sharing

The old link will still work until I get round to re-organising my Dropbox account at which point it will no longer function.

FATE warhammer 40K hack – complete

Well it’s taken a fair few hours but i’ve got my FATE Warhammer 40,000 Hack to a completed state where i’m pretty much happy with it; there are a few bits and pieces that could be fiddled with and I expect that i’ll make minor tweaks and changes to it, but it’s pretty much done.

Hope it’s useful to people who want to run 40K games using the FATE rules system 🙂

Link to file

FATE warhammer 40K hack WIP

At the moment in-between re-organising my notes for my FATE powered Rogue Trader campaign i’ve also, on and off, been working on assembling the collection of rules and hacks that I use into something vaguely resembling an organised document so that I can have all of the information in one place and make it available to other people.

Currently the hack focuses on the most pressing issues in my own game:

  • Purchasing items.
  • Space combat.
  • Travel through the warp.

    I plan to add to the hack in the future as I go along, eventually making it into a useful reference for people who want to play 40K RPGs using the FATE rules system.
    The current hack is available here.

    Format of Information

    So last night I sat down, having already done most of the system generation in the FFG “Stars of Iniquity” rulebook and with my notes in hand ready to write them up in a more formal fashion so that I could put them in the box file that is going to be housing all of my session notes henceforth; some sort of standard layout would make it easier to record information, so I eventually decided that I would need the following sheets.

    • A star system sheet – this would contain details of features in the system, along with basic details of any threats and planets.
    • A planet sheet – this would contain detailed information on the various planets (plus any moons orbiting them), resources and territories to be found there and basic information about what civilisations could be found on them (if any).
    • An NPC sheet – this would hold detailed information on an NPC, including their stats, there homeworld and any forces under their command, it would also contain details about their personality, like and dislikes.
    After a few minutes of tinkering I had a suitable star system sheet prepared, you can find a version of it here.
    A couple of hours later i’d detailed the Ariadne, Catan, Coppernicus, Decusis, Endeavour and Footfall systems using the sheet that I had designed; a filled in version of the sheet for the Catan system can be found here.
    I’m pretty happy with the systems at the moment, i’m hoping to get the rest of them written up over the weekend and make any final tweaks, alterations that I think the game calls for.