Planning for my first G+ game

Okay, so a few friends of mine who I do LARP (Live-Action RolePlay) with and myself were chatting a while back about tabletop roleplaying and I was telling them about some of the games that i’m GMing at present; now most of them live a fair distance away and a couple of them were lamenting the lack of tabletop RPG action in their area, also, although we all meet up for weekends of LARP there’s not quite the same impetus to travel the length of the country in order to do a single night of tabletopping. Given that a few of us have been getting more into Google+ and Youtube recently (https://www.youtube.com/user/MrLARGEJO/) and i’ve seen numerous recording ‘actual-plays’ of people using G+ hangouts to play RP sessions over the net we talked about doing something similar; now life, as it often does, got in the way and we never really got to do anything about it as we were swept up in the chaos of the 2013 Lorien Trust LARP mainline seasion.
Recently I decided that we really should make an attempt at actually pushing forward with a session, partly because i’m keen to experiment more with G+ hangout roleplaying and also because i’m interested in seeing what it’s like tabletopping with people whom i’ve only ever really done LARP or boardgames before (both of which are quite different); so I set up a facebook event and arranged a date (this Sunday evening), but then of course we were left with the question of what do we play?
I have numerous RPGs on the shelves in my room but, given that this is the first TT experience for a couple of the players and that it was our first time at RPing over G+ I wanted something that was simple to pick up, kept the game very dramatic and allowed it to move along reasonably rapidly since we only have about four hours of gaming realistically since most of us have work the next day, I want to cram as much game into those four or so hours as possible. As usual when I want a good game to introduce new-comers to TT RPing i’ve turned to one of my favourite systems, Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) along with a brilliant G+ Fate roller extension (http://www.diceboy.com/).
One of the players is quite new to TT and wants some sort of easy to get into fantasy game because, although new to TT, the LARP that we do is fantasy based and he has experience of lots of fantasy films; this is fine, i’ve already done some consideration of how to adapt FAE to a D&D-esque setting (detailed in previous blog posts). For this game though, i’ve decided to keep things simple (anything not mentioned below is as it is in the core FAE book):
Aspects: In addition to their High Concept and Trouble, players will also have a Race aspect (dwarf, orc, etc) that can be invoked (as normal) whenever they perform an action that fits with the concept of their race (i’ll be keeping it pretty simple and stereotypical for this game, orcs are brutish and violent, dwarves are rigid, stoic craftsmen, etc etc).
Magic: In order to have magic a sorceror must have the Aspect ‘Sorceror’, they must also have a Stunt (or Stunts) that defines their type of magic; for example, a sorceror may have the Stunt ‘Fire magic’ and all of their spells will involved heat or fire in some way. Magic will use the normal action rules as described in FAE (attacking, defending, etc).
Equipment: Unless taken as a Stunt equipment is assumed to be of insufficient quality to make any real difference to the dice rolls, if taken as a Stunt then it can add the normal +2 to an appropriate situation.
Taking inspiration from the recent Dungeon World session that I ran, I intend to use the player character Aspects (and a brief Q&A with the players at the start after character gen) to create a rough map of the world and detail out the major threats/challenges, once we have this i’ll run with what i’ve got and see where it goes from there. Assuming all goes well with the technical side of things then the game will be recorded and uploaded to my Youtube Channel  when we’ve finished the session.

FATE: Loving Scenic Aspects

I’m currently in the process of writing up the actual-play report of my last Warhammer 40,000 roleplay game session run using the FATE rules system; it has been my intent to gradually introduce the concepts of the new rules system to my players so that we can all become comfortable with it and ease ourselves into the FATE system. Last session I began to introduce the concept of applying Aspects to scenes and other areas rather than just themselves and antagonists.
Aspects, for those of you who may not be aware are codified story elements that can be applied to almost anything in a game using the FATE rules system; Aspects are always true and can be used (invoked) in conjunction with FATE points to gain a bonus (normally a +2 or re-roll of a particular dice roll) or can be compelled by someone else in order to provide a FATE point in return for accepting a complication. Consequences of injury and stress are also represented using Aspects.
For example:
I might spend a FATE point and say “Because I am the best swordsman in the known world I am easily able to defeat my opponent in the duel” – this is an example of invoking; I would pay a FATE point and get +2/a re-roll to my fighting roll.
Someone (either the GM or another player) might say “However, because you are the best swordsman in the known world someone here has heard of your reputation and intends to best you” – this is an example of compelling, if I accepted the consequence then it would play out and i’d get a fate point, otherwise i’d have to pay one to have this not take place.
In the last session of my Rogue Trader game the session began with the players taking on a Bloodletter, a demon of Khorne, that had materialised on their ship and was slaughtering their crew in the mess halls of the vessel; during the combat a couple of the players were injured and the mess hall floor was described as slick and slippery with blood, I was quite pleased how easily the players adapted to using this scenic Aspect and later on when one of the player characters dealt a cutting blow to the demon, spraying its burning blood over the upturned furniture that also became an Aspect.
If scenic Aspects weren’t included in the game I think that there would be a danger of players just continually using the same Aspects from their character sheets all the time and it becoming quite repetitive, however, the scenic Aspects, in addition to adding another layer of detail and description to unfolding scenes, they also encourage players to behave more dramatically. Whether this is a character using a blood slick floor to slide into a combat, a man trying to force an enemy into a burning pile of furniture or any number of other possibilities, I think this can only be a good thing.

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.

D&D/Pathfinder style FATE hack – Could Classes be used as Approaches to minimise D&D hack skill list?

A few comments (from Jonathan Dietrich, Christopher Stilson and a couple of others) on my initial post regarding thoughts about a D&D/fack hack (available here http://wh40krpg.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/d-style-fate-hack-abilities-and-skills.html) got me thinking about the complexity and the size of the skill list; initially my thoughts has been just to port over the Abilities and Skills from D&D, but Jonathans comment about not “understand[ing] why one would want to add [that] much to a Fate game” made me consider whether I was infact just keeping the Abilities and Skills because they would make the hack more obviously D&D inspired rather than because it would result in a better gaming experience. My main goal (and i’d hope the goal of gamesmasters everywhere) in RP has always been to create a game where both players and the GM are enjoying themselves and becoming immersed in the events occurring in-game; I have always thought that one of the main obstacles to this IMO is the ‘crunchiness’ of some rules systems (although I am sure there are people who love the crunch and would disagree with me), the more book-flipping and table referencing I have to do then the less I find myself drawn into and enthusiastic about the game. This one of the main reasons why FATE and particularly FAE are two of my favourite systems at the moment, the rules are easy to understand, play with a minimum of rulebook flipping (I generally just have a copy of the fate ladder, skill list and cheatsheet on the table during a game) and focus more on creating an interesting narrative than being an accurate simulation of what is occurring in-game.
Christopher Stilson made a comment regarding classes in the game; i’ve never been a fan of classes personally and had always favoured the D20 variants that eliminated or minimised the impacts of classes (often house-ruling them away in games i’ve run), however, they are an iconic part of D&D and one that instantly allows the players to get some sort of handle on their character’s place in the party. Flipping some of the toolkit material I have, there is a section that talks about altering or expanding the default Skill list used in FATE core, one suggestion is to replace them altogether with a number of ‘professions’ that players have a rating in; this strikes me as very much like the Approaches in FAE (and indeed it can’t be a coincidence that in the same chapter it discusses Approaches next) and made me wonder whether or not it would be possible to approach characters in a FAE-like fashion but using profession/approaches rather than a list of skills?
The classes listed in the Pathfinder SRD are:
  • Barbarian: The barbarian is a brutal berserker from beyond the edge of civilized lands.
  • Bard: The bard uses skill and spell alike to bolster his allies, confound his enemies, and build upon his fame.
  • Cleric: A devout follower of a deity, the cleric can heal wounds, raise the dead, and call down the wrath of the gods.
  • Druid: The druid is a worshiper of all things natural—a spellcaster, a friend to animals, and a skilled shapechanger.
  • Fighter: Brave and stalwart, the fighter is a master of all manner of arms and armor.
  • Monk: A student of martial arts, the monk trains his body to be his greatest weapon and defense.
  • Paladin: The paladin is the knight in shining armor, a devoted follower of law and good.
  • Ranger: A tracker and hunter, the ranger is a creature of the wild and of tracking down his favored foes.
  • Rogue: The rogue is a thief and a scout, an opportunist capable of delivering brutal strikes against unwary foes.
  • Sorcerer: The spellcasting sorcerer is born with an innate knack for magic and has strange, eldritch powers.
  • Wizard: The wizard masters magic through constant study that gives him incredible magical power.

FAE features 6 Approaches (Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick, and Sneaky) so I decided to see whether I could boil down the PF SRD Classes into approximately half a dozen Approaches that could be used in a FATE D&D-style game.

  1. Barbarian, Fighter, Monk, Paladin and Ranger  all have martial abilities (whether in hand to hand or ranged combat) as part of their Class makeup, so I decided to create an Approach called WARRIOR to cover this.
  2. Bards, Rogues and Thieves all rely (to a certain extent) on misdirection and cunning to carry out their crafts so I would create an Aspect called THIEF.
  3. Bards, Clerics, Druids, Paladins, Sorcerors and Wizards all make use of magic and so I made a SPELLCASTER Aspect to cover this.
  4. Clerics, Druids, Monks and Paladins all have a religious or faith aspect to them and so I created a PRIEST Aspect.
  5. Barbarians, Druids and Rangers all spend a lot of their time out in the wilderness and so possibly some sort of BARBARIAN Aspect may be necessary.

Looking at the Aspects created I would have them used as follows (selecting one at Good (+3), two at Fair (+2), two at Average (+1) and one at Mediocre (+0) as per the FAE rulebook):

  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. THIEF – sleight of hand, stealing things, breaking and entering, deception.
  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. BARBARIAN – interacting with savage societies, wilderness survival checks, moving about unseen in the undergrowth.
  6. CIVILISED – interacting with civilised people, blending in with the city crowd, attending society functions, etc (I would probably make some rule that at character gen your civilised and barbarian Aspects have to be at least two levels apart (ie. if you had Civilised +3 then the highest you could have for Barbarian at character gen would be +1))
This is just one possible avenue of thought and will probably be tweak and refined before it sees any use.

D&D/Pathfinder style FATE hack – Abilities and Skills

I’m currently playing in a Pathfinder game run by a friend of mine, Pathfinder, for those of you who don’t know, is a spiritual successor to D&D 3.5 released in 2009 by Paizo Publishing using the D20; whereas D&D was completely re-written as D&D 4th edition (an entirely seperate game, my thoughts on which could take up a series of blog posts on their own) Pathfinder expanded and continued to use the 3.5 rules-set (albeit no longer under the D&D moniker). If you want to know more about Pathfinder there is a wikipedia article here. The Pathfinder game I am playing in is very enjoyable, we are from a world where magic has previously been hard to work and unreliable, the discovery of a portal opening to another world has lead to an increase in magical energy, and our player characters are the advanced scouting party sent through to explore this new world; I play an academic wizards apprentice who is fascinated by almost everything since it his first time out in the wider-world, I may get round to blogging some more specifics about the game in future.
Playing in the game has given me a nostalgic longing to run some sort of fantasy D&D-esque game in the future, i’ve run a number of them in the past though and have never really been sold on the D20 rules system, it’s quite versatile and there is a lot of source material available for it, however i’m just not as much a fan of the crunch as some people I know (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Given my complete love of the FATE system (even my wife has commented on how much I like the system, referring to me jokingly as “Mr Fate” on one occasion) and the relative success of my Rogue Trade FATE hack I fancied the challenge of making a D&D-style hack. I’m sure there are probably a number of D&D hacks already around, however, since I wasn’t going to be running this as a long-term game anytime soon I thought that I would take my time coming up with the rules, perhaps testing them by running one-off games during our one-shot Wednesday sessions when it rolls round to my turn behind the GM-ing screen.
Abilities & Skills

I decided to start with abilities and skills, Pathfinder and D&D has the following main character attributes:
  • STR – Strength
  • DEX – Dexterity
  • CON – Constitution
  • INT – Intelligence
  • WIS – Wisdom
  • CHA – Charisma
These attributes determine the basic modifiers that you will roll when it comes to your skills points; basically you work out your final modifer like this:

  • Total modifier = ability modifer + ranks in skill + any other misc modifiers
This system works perfectly fine for D&D/Pathfinder however you don’t really use the abilities on their own very much, only as a source of modifiers; I decided that, in my hack, you would create an ability pyramid (in the same way as skills in FATE core) and this would determine how many ranks you had to spend in associated skills.
During character creation you would rate your abilities as follows:
  • One ability at great (+4)
  • Two abilities at good (+3)
  • Three abilities at fair (+2)
When your abilities were rated this would determine how many skills of a particular type you could have, the highest level skill you would be able to have related to that ability would the same level as that ability, then two on the level below, and so on.
An example of the idea in pictorial form is shown below:
The D&D/Pathfinder skill list looks like this:
  • Acrobatics
  • Appraise
  • Bluff
  • Climb
  • Craft
  • Diplomacy
  • Disable Device
  • Disguise
  • Escape Artist
  • Fly
  • Handle Animal
  • Heal
  • Intimidate
  • Knowledge (arcana)
  • Knowledge (dungeoneering)
  • Knowledge (engineering)
  • Knowledge (geography)
  • Knowledge (history)
  • Knowledge (local)
  • Knowledge (nature)
  • Knowledge (nobility)
  • Knowledge (planes)
  • Knowledge (religion)
  • Linguistics
  • Perception
  • Perform
  • Profession
  • Ride
  • Sense Motive
  • Sleight of Hand
  • Spellcraft
  • Stealth
  • Survival
  • Swim
  • Use Magic Device
and they are all linked with one of the ability scores listed, the layout proposed about would allow 30+ skills at some level possessed by each PC. I’m sure there are probably better/different ways to do this but it’s something i’ll be tinkering around with over the coming months.

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.

Trail of Cthulhu and Investigations in FATE

Those of you who have read more of this blog may have seen the IC write-ups of a Hunter: the Vigil game that I have been playing in recently (the write-ups of the two previous sessions are posted here and here); this game is being run by a friend of mine using the nWoD Hunter: the Vigil rules. In the game we are playing members of a supernatural serial-killer investigation unit composed of psychics known as VASCU; our party consists of a grizzled ex-cop whose party disappeared in a strange case that was swept under the carpet (this is my character), a bureau agent who squandered his family fortune seeking to find his father whom he believes kidnapped by cultists, a technical whizzkid and a wheelchair bound agent who was seriously injured pursuing a case.
The game was originally part of a proposed ‘one-off wednesday’ idea where, every other wednesday, a group of us would get together in the evening and run a one-off game (my thoughts on one-off games can be viewed in this blog post); so far we’ve had Judge Dredd (by Mongoose Publishing), a homebrew tron-esque game where we played ourselves in a strange future where a fantasy realm had intruded on our reality, a Star Trek based game and the Hunter game. The Hunter game is the first of our ‘one-offs’ that has been heavily investigation based (my Judge Dredd game touched on these themes but the investigating part of the game was fairly simple and fast paced); as a result, although it has been very entertaining to play, the game has already run into a second session and we are scheduled to play a third. Although the GM freely admits that he is more used to running campaigns that one-shot sessions and that this may have contributed to the length of the game, I started to wonder whether this was the only factor or whether there was something in the nature of investigative games that lead to them taking a great deal more time?
One of the more interesting investigation based games that I have read recently is Trail of Cthulhu by Kenneth Hite (a game I intend to review on my blog in the near future) and based on the GUMSHOE system by Robin D Laws (who also wrote the fast-paced and bizarrely wide-ranging hong-kong action movie game Feng-Shui, another of my favourites). One of the things I love about ToC is that it makes no qualms about it’s adaption of the popular Call of Cthulhu game to a different rules system and the designers obviously have a great deal of respect for the source material (both mythos fiction and previous RP materials). The introduction to ToC discusses what I consider to be one of the perennial problems with the investigative game; what might seem an obvious solution to the GM may seem baroque and incomprehensible to the players since they lack the GMs privileged knowledge about the backstory and have to find everything out the hard way, not only that, but in some systems a failed search or investigation roll on the dice can lead to you missing a vital clue and thus taking a lot longer to solve a mystery (assuming that you can solve it at all).

Now you might say that a good GM can always fudge things so that the players come across a clue or that something happens to advance the plot; however if this is not done subtly and with finesse then it can lead to the players feeling railroaded as though, no matter what they do, the mystery solution will reveal itself, IMO once the perception of risk or failure has disappeared completely from a game then a lot of players lose their impetus and drive.

So how does FATE fit into all this?

A valid question that you might be asking yourself by now; I feel that there are a number of mechanics and ideas that could be ported from Trail of Cthulhu across to either FATE core or Fate Accelerate Edition (FAE), some of these and my own ideas are listed below.
Occupations

In ToC the character all have occupations that help determine their skills and equipment; these could be ported across to FATE as either Aspects/High Concepts or (if a more complete overhaul including skills was desired) they could be used as templates to determine what sort of skills and stunts a starting character has.
For example: The Antiquarian occupation in ToC has the following skills – Architecture, Art History, Bargain, History, Languages, Law, Library Use, and any one Investigative ability. They also have a special ability where once per session they can discover a book that contains a clue to the current investigation or some relevant investigation.
This skill list could easily by imported, the Antiquarian label taken as a High Concept and the special ability changed into a Stunt.
Drives

Drives are a character’s main motivation in Trail of Cthulhu and include concepts such as Adventure, Antiquarianism, Arrogance, Artistic Sensitivity, Bad Luck and Curiosity (amongst others); these could also be ported across as Aspects into a FATE based game.
Skills/Abilities

Skills (or Abilities as they are known in ToC) are a lot more specific that they are in FATE, and are split into Investigative and General abilities; Investigative abilities are those that allow you to find information and clues, progressing towards solving the mystery and include such skills as Archaeology, Library Use and Occult, whereas General Abilities are your more generic RPG skills such as Athletics, Firearms and First Aid.
In ToC, possessing an appropriate Investigative Ability automatically allows you to detect an associated clue; for instance if their is a clue in a museum of antiquity or a ruin that possession of the Archaeology skill would automatically allow you to detect it’s presence. The game handily gives you simple descriptions of what the skill allows you to detect, in this case:

  • Tell how long something has been buried and date of its construction.
  • Identify artifacts by culture and usage.
  • Distinguish real artifacts from fakes.
  • Navigate inside ruins and catacombs, including finding secret doors and hidden construction.
  • Describe the customs of ancient or historical cultures.
  • Spot well-disguised graves and underground hiding places.

Gathering Clues

The game posits a simple and yet refreshing method of locating clues and progressing through a mystery/investigation plotline.

  1. Get your Investigator into a scene where relevant information can be gathered.
  2. Have the right ability to discover the clue.
  3. Tell the Keeper that you’re using it.
Assuming that this occurs then the GM will provide you with any clue that corresponds to your query. In each scene the GM designates a core clue that is required before the players can move on to the next scene (although their may be additional supplementary clues for the players to discover).
Gathering Additional Information

One of the most interesting ideas about the game in my mind is that players can ‘spend’ points based on their Investigative Abilities to gain additional information about the clues; this information is never required to progress in the game but provides extra flavour to the game.

Both the use of Investigative Abilities to automatically locate clues and the spending of ‘points’ to gain additional information regarding the clues are both concepts that I think would be easily convertable to the FATE system; clues can easily be given out related to the skills possessed by players (possibly excpanding the list to include more detailed investigative abilities as per To) and either an additional pool of investigation point can be added or the existing fate points can be used to gain additional info in a FATE based ToC-style game.
I’m planning to try a ToC style FATE game once it rolls round to my turn to GM in our ‘one-off Wednesdays’ again, i’ll post how it goes.

What is my favourite non-TSR adventure module?

I first came across this question posed by Roger Brasslett on the Pen & Paper RPG Bloggers Google+ community, he covers his own favourite non-TSR adventure module on his blog; the question was originally asked by Erik Tenkar on his blog. Both Roger and Erik posed the question to the RPG community to find out what people’s favour (non-TSR) adventure was, it started me thinking about my own (lack of) history with adventure modules.
I’ve never been a massive user of the pre-pared adventure modules myself; I generally find that I have to make so many notes to adapt them for my players and so that I can keep track of them that it’s no real extra work to come up with my own adventure from scratch. This isn’t to say that I don’t possess any adventure modules, i’m a great supporter of GMs borrowing and taking stuff from published books since we all something need a boost of ideas or don’t have enough time to design everything from the ground up; there’s not only nothing wrong with taking inspiration or elements from published materials, but I would positively encourage it, an inspiring book or adventure module can often send your thoughts down avenues and into areas that you might not have even considered before.
To answer the question though, my favourite adventure module (although it possibly only loosely fits that label) is the Orpheus game line from White Wolf. Orpheus was a limited line/experiment for the previous old/core world of darkness that was spread across six books; the first featured all of the standard rules, campaign background, etc that you would expect to find in any world of darkness game, positing the discovery of technology that allowed certain people who had suffered near death experiences (NDEs) to project themselves in a spirit form. The game has the normal character splats for a world of darkness game, you pick a shade (banshee, haunter, poltergeist, skinrider or wisp) that your ghostly powers focus on and a lament that describes how your character projects:
  • Hue: weaker ghosts who are created from the spirits of people who have used a supernaturally addictive drug known as Pigment.
  • Skimmer: those who can project their souls from their bodies using meditation.
  • Sleepers: people who can only project when interred in a cryo-tube.
  • Spirit: a naturally occurring ghost.
Your character belongs to or is recruited to be part of the Orpheus organisation, a group that has blossomed to make use of the new technology for various means (mostly making money from shady contracts).
Now you might be thinking that this doesn’t sound very much like an adventure module; however, the great thing (in my mind) about this campaign is that each of the following five books not only advanced the rules but also the metaplot running behind the game line, covering the fall and rise of Orpheus and leading up to secrets threatening the lands of the living and the dead. As a huge fan of the oWoD Wraith: the Oblivion setting, from which Orpheus draws a large amount of its metaplot and game flavour (although knowledge of the Wraith setting is not obligatory or necessary to enjoy the game) I thoroughly enjoyed the concept behind the gameline. Many times during the book it makes references to using a movie model as inspiration, although to me it feels more like a good TV series, with each book ending in some sort of cliffhanger; I remember waiting as the books were originally released to find out what was going to happen next in the storyline.
If you’re interested in a the Orpheus setting which combines, in my mind, the best elements of the World of Darkness, Wraith, ghost stories and the Ghostbusters film then the pdf and POD versions are available from DriveThru RPG:

Professions in FATE?

A comment from Marcus Morrisey in response to my previous post about specialised skills started me thinking about professions and how they could be used in FATE or FAE.

I’m currently playing in a short Hunter: the Vigil nWoD that features Professional Training as a merit (and this has been adopted into the core nWoD rules as of the God Machine Chronicles revised rules being published); in nWoD Professional Training is a 1 to 5 point merit that you purchase at character creation, each dot gives you certain benefits related to the profession, including:
  • Appropriate contacts & allies.
  • Experience point breaks on skills related to the profession.
  • Additional specialist skills.
I think that the profession merit could be utilised in FATE and FAE in a number of different ways; a few of them are suggested below; please note these are only suggestions and there are no doubt umpteen more ways that Professions could feature.
Professions as Aspects

This is the most obvious way of using a profession and i’m sure that many characters in FATE and FAE already have High Concepts and/or other Aspects that feature their professions, allowing you to invoke them when appropriate and gain either a +2 bonus or re-roll something when the roll is applicable to your profession.
Professions are reflected this way currently in both the Rogue Trader and God Machine games that I am running.

Professions as Approaches/Skills

Professions could also be represented by a Skill or Approach and could be given a rating/level like any other Skill or Approach; whilst I think this would be fine for FAE (since most of the approaches are quite broad) i’m not sure how well it would work for FATE core and it may lead to a situation where a player is constantly just rolling the same score since they utilise the Profession Skill/Approach for everything.

Professions as Stunts

Professions could also be represented as a Stunt, perhaps adding +1 to rolls and challenges that fall within the purview of the profession; this is a fairly broad scope for a Stunt, however, if each player was allowed to take a Profession Stunt then I don’t see that it would be particularly unbalancing.