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.

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.

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.

    Writing out my NPC details – Part III – Breakdown of Details

    As talked about in my previous posts (here and here) i’ve recently been attempted to create personalised and filable index cards to store the NPC details for my FATE powered Rogue Trader game; one of the things that I gave a lot of thought to (and discussed with several people on Google+) was what these index cards should include.
    Here is an example (please click on the picture for the full size version):
    Picture/graphic

    It was very important for me to include a picture or some sort of representative graphic on each of the cards; i’m a firm believer of the adage that “a picture paints a thousand words” and, even if I wasn’t just showing the picture to the players, a graphic would help me get a sense of the NPC and maintain consistency in my descriptions of the NPCs without having to resort to lengthy text descriptions on the card.
    Pictures were fairly easy to come across with a little time on Google image search and various Warhammer 40K sites across the net.

    NPC name

    Obviously important and, since it would be how I would be filing the NPC cards (in name order) I decided to make the name big and bold across the centre of the index card so that as I flicked through them I would be able to find the NPC I wanted with a minimum of fuss.

    Aspects

    A great piece of advice that I got off Robert Hanz on the FATE core G+ community was to include as much of the character history and description as I could within the Aspects, saving duplicated effort and also creating more interesting Aspects in the process.
    In the example card, Rha-Haz has the following Aspects:
    • Praise the Omnissiah! – Reflects Rha-haz’ position as a senior and very devout member of the Machine Cult, could be invoked to provide a bonus to his technical knowledge or the religious fervor with which the Mechanicus view technology.
    • The incautious pursuit of forbidden knowledge would lead to mankind’s downfall – Shows that Rha-Haz is a staunch traditionalist who takes a dim view of experimenting and dabbling with new technologies, he is very much aware of the dangers that such tech could pose to mankind as a species and deems that the risks outweigh the potential benefits.
    • Pak has a great future within the Mechanicus – Rha-Haz recruited Enginseer Pak (one of the PCs) into the Machine Cult and sees great potential within the Enginseer, adopting the role of a father figure/mentor for him.


    Stress and Consequences

    The standard stress and consequence trackers used in my game, modified by skills, minor characters will only have one or two stress boxes and no consequence trackers; this follows the gamesmaster advice regarding the relative story importance of NPCs as provided by the FATE core rulebook.

    Skills

    Standard skills used in the game rated from Average (+1) up to Superb (+5); NPCs that were allies or neutral would have roughly similar skill levels to the player characters whereas those intended to provide a long-term threat would be rated slightly higher so that the characters could grow over the course of the campaign to challenge & eventually defeat these foes.

    Extras/Stunts

    This section of the card was used to include Stunts or any additional information that might be useful for the portrayal of the NPC during the running of the game; in order to portray the NPC of Rha-Haz as an older version of Enginseer Prime Pak (his student) I gave the NPC the same mech-arm and servo-skull Stunts possessed by Pak.
    Also, when Rha-Haz had been described previously, he had always been flanked by a number of bio-mechanical servitors who aided him with his tasks; using the mob rules out of the FATE core rulebook I gave the two servitors the following stats:
    Aspect – Tech servants.
    Skills – Craft (tech use)(+2), Fighting (+1).
    1 stress box each (2 total)
    Teamwork – +1 to craft/fighting rolls when both working together.

    Writing out my NPC details – Part II

    Following discussion with Robert Hanz about the differences between Aspects and descriptions when it comes to creating NPC descriptions I decided to have a go at knocking up some customised NPC index cards.

    A few of the NPC cards are shown below.

    Writing out my NPC details

    Having read suggestions on NPC contacts as rewards and note organisation on Rick Stumps blog (http://harbingergames.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/when-is-treasure-not-treasure-npcs-as.html) I decided that it was about time to write up my NPC notes on index cards and file them properly.

    How would I note them down?

    I decided to adopt the Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) method of writing down NPCs to keep it simple and ensure that the information fit onto the index cards; I would write down a few Aspects and Stunts for each NPC and then give them a number of areas that they were good at (receiving +2 on these rolls) and a number of areas that they were poor at (receiving -2 on these rolls). This method was relatively quick and could always be expanded later if necessary.

    Warhammer 40K game: Rogue Trade
    The House of Black

    Name: Black, Darius
    Description: Cousin to Fortunus Black, one of his eyes appears to move independently of the other.
    Aspects/stunts: Noble, roving eye.
    Good (+2) at: 
    Bad (-2) at: 

    Name: Black, Dominique Decusis
    Description: Wife of Fortunus Black, twin to Corith Decusis. Has traditionally shaven head and dislikes the uncouth York Benetec. Marriage arranged by brother, loyal to husband.
    Aspects/stunts: Noble, haughty, beautiful.
    Good (+2) at: Shmoozing, social functions, commanding.
    Bad (-2) at: Keeping temper in check.

    Name: Black, Gillam
    Description: Uncle to Fortunus Black.
    Aspects/stunts: Noble, nervous tic.
    Good (+2) at: 
    Bad (-2) at: 

    Name: Black, Macharius
    Description: Patriarch of the Black family, appears in his early 50s due to (quasi-legal) life extension treatments, although they have resulted in him having grey hair and yellow eyes.
    Aspects/stunts: Noble, longevity treatments, cyber implants.
    Good (+2) at: 
    Bad (-2) at: 

    Name: Black, Polaris
    Description: Captain of the Lunatic Pandor is a dourly loyal figure who served as Fortunus’ 1st office after Fortunus found him languishing in a bar and helped him clean up. He was promoted to Captain when Fortunus took command of the Venerus.
    Aspects/stunts: Noble, ex-alcoholic, fiercely loyal.
    Good (+2) at: Command
    Bad (-2) at: 

    Name: Black, Tristan
    Description: Cousin to Fortunus Black, exposure to warp following a Gellar field failure resulted in the young mans hair turning stark white.
    Aspects/stunts: Noble, touched by warp, ship captain. 
    Good (+2) at: Forbidden lore, commanding ship.
    Bad (-2) at: 

    Name: Black, Tullius
    Description: Inveterate gambler and 1st officer of the Venerus, distant cousin of Fortunus; never advanced due to his lack of discipline, promoted as a ‘last chance.’
    Aspects/stunts: Gambler, noble, blustery, black sheep.
    Good (+2) at: Gambling, fighting.
    Bad (-2) at: Resisting temptation.

    Name: Cortez, Zane
    Description: Redemptionist preacher of the Lunatic Pandora; originally priest of the Venerus & was held in stasis due to a teleportarium malfunction until accidentally released by Pak. Now works as Chief Confessor aboard Lunatic Pandora.
    Aspects/stunts: Redemptionist, xenophobic.
    Good (+2) at: Purging heretics, fiery sermons.
    Bad (-2) at: 

    Name: Criute
    Description: Spire Chef on Scelus hiveworld (Decusis system); a muscley shhaven head man who worked his way up from nothing. Down to earth cousin of Dana, enouraged her to join the PCs and better her life. Sends money to support his family in lower hive.
    Aspects/stunts: Commoner come good, family man, tough guy with heart of gold.
    Good (+2) at: Cooking, fighting. 
    Bad (-2) at: 

    Name: Da Duith Iath
    Description: Eldar envoy & goodwill ambassador; androgynous armoured figure assigned to assist PCs with dealing with the Ancient Enemy, took job since, unlike a lot of Eldar, he doesn’t mind humans.
    Aspects/stunts: Eldar.
    Good (+2) at: Human customs, shooting, stealth.
    Bad (-2) at: 

    Name: Dana
    Description: Blind verminspeaker. A young girl who grew up caring for sick mother, eventually discovered an ability to tame beasts. Cousin to Criute, cautiously optimistic about her future.
    Aspects/stunts: Psychic, blind, weak, mutant.
    Good (+2) at: Commanding animals, first aid.
    Bad (-2) at: Physical strength.

    Name: Decusis, Corith
    Description: Noble ruler of Decusis system (Hiveworld Scelus), lives in glittering hive spire; has ritually shaven head to honour ancestor who joined ecclesiarchy. Mainly concerned with advancing his family.
    Aspects/stunts: Noble, diplomatic, paranoid. 
    Good (+2) at: 
    Bad (-2) at: 

    Name: Erdman, Proctor.
    Description: Ruthless Adeptus Arbites precinct commander; was once an arbites on Paks homeworld, Erdman didn’t approve of Pak being taken into the Mechanicus because he saw it as him evading justice.
    Aspects/stunts: Adeptus Arbites, Ruthless.
    Good (+2) at: Law, intimidation, fighting.
    Bad (-2) at: 

    Name: Farah, Dorath.
    Description: Slimey senator to the Decusis family, the thin wheedling man is mainly concerned with his own fortunes & riding on the coat-tails of the Decusis family.
    Aspects/stunts: Noble, criminal connections (Vitanteur syndicate).
    Good (+2) at: Flattery, feigning sincerity.
    Bad (-2) at: Courage, fighting.

    Name: Hardecker, Tacitus.
    Description: Planetary governor of Catan II, Tacitus is a grizzled bearded man with a cyber hand & eye who was ‘promoted’ to ruler of the system after being instrumental in repelling cultist/demon forces from an orbital las-battery.He chafes at his retirement & longs for active service.
    Aspects/stunts: Military veteran, system governor, retired too early.
    Good (+2) at: Commanding, fighting, resources.
    Bad (-2) at: 

    Name: Kiril, Deacon Samuel.
    Description: Aged Ecclesiarchy missionary who is a kindly old man seeking to help found an Imperial colony in the Endeavour system.
    Aspects/stunts: Old, faithful.
    Good (+2) at: Sermons.
    Bad (-2) at: Fighting.

    Name: Khan, Lorgar.
    Description: Word Bearer chaos space marine captain.
    Aspects/stunts: Chaos space marine, captain, devout, merciless. Power armour.
    Good (+2) at: 

    Bad (-2) at: 

    Name: Maron.
    Description: Cleaner of the murder servitor pens; Maron is a nervous man whose family sold him into service to pay for debts, when he left his mother cried (Confessor Cornelius assured Maron that these were tears of joy at his future service to the Emperor).
    Aspects/stunts: Nervous, devout, gullible.
    Good (+2) at: 
    Bad (-2) at: 

    Name: Marsters, Huron.
    Description: Gun deck officer aboard lunatic pandora, a faithful career military man who despises xenos and mutants.
    Aspects/stunts: Xenophobic, faithful.
    Good (+2) at: 
    Bad (-2) at: 

    Name: Rha-haz, Senior tech priest.
    Description: A serious red robed priest whose face is little more than writhing tech-tendrils and coloured lenses, the mechanically voiced priest recruited Pak into the Mechanicus after realising that the (then) criminal tech showed great promise.
    Aspects/stunts: Cold, calculating. Mech arm (can use crafts instead of other skills), Servo skull (can do so at range).
    Good (+2) at: Tech.
    Bad (-2) at: Emotions, social interaction with non-Mechanicus members.

    Name: Vitanteur, Tomas.
    Description: Gang leader in the Vitanteur Sundicate.
    Aspects/stunts: Gang leader, criminal connections.
    Good (+2) at: Criminal activity, violence, intimidation, leadership.
    Bad (-2) at: 

    Name: Vorl, Rogue Tech.
    Description: This robed heretek has ties to the Vitanteur Crime Syndicate, the PCs helped Tomas Vitanteur smuggle him off Hiveworld Scelus (Decusis system).
    Aspects/stunts: Rogue tech, criminal connections (Vitanteur syndicate).
    Good (+2) at: Tech use. 
    Bad (-2) at: