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.


FATE core specialised skills

I discussed one method of dealing with specialised skills in my Warhammer 40K FATE hack here :
However, as FATE core encourages the GM to have the players take a more active role in determining the outcome and progress of the story, I also like to discuss the various permutations of the rules with my group before implementing them; last session we discussed how certain skills (such as craft, drive and lore) could be made more specialised without unduly complicating the rules system.

Eventually we hit on the idea that someone would still have their generic skill level (set at whatever level as determined by character generation) in lore, drive or craft and that people without would roll at Mediocre (+0) level as per the normal rules, but that each person with this skill would choose their particular speciality and note it in brackets after the main skills.

For example:
  • Drive (aircraft)
  • Drive (space vehicles)
  • Lore (Imperial Religion)
  • Lore (The Warp)

The speciality functions like an Aspect tacked on to that skill and can be invoked in the normal manner by spending a fate point; this effectively gives the character a small bonus in their area of expertise but only if they’re willing to spend a fate point.
The addition of an extra Aspect tied to a skill doesn’t unduly complicate the rules and my players seemed to find them easier to come up with since the skill already gives some ideas of what to take; it is also an idea that can be used to add some additional flavour to the basic skills list without introducing a shedload more skills or making the rules unnecessarily complex.
For example: Instead of introducing a Medicine Skill in my game there is the Craft (Medicine) ability that functions as per normal Craft skill but allows the expenditure of a fate point to Invoke the Medicine Aspect whenever appropriate.

Space colonies

Settlements in Rogue Trader
Recently Conny Delshagen posted on the Google+ Traveller community about whether anyone had successfully used the World Tamer’s Handbook colonisation rules for Traveller: the New Era; although I don’t really play Traveller at the moment i’m always looking for science-fiction ideas that can be incorporated into my FATE-based WH40K Rogue Trader campaign ‘The House of Black’ which (as of the time of writing) is still running on a monthly basis. Reading the blurb associated with the World Tamer’s Handbook on RpgGeek.com it seemed to focus around star system generation and rules for colonisation; although i’m fairly happy with the Diaspora adapted rules for system generation that I have, setting up colonies and such like was not something that I had covered in much detail. I had previously looked briefly at the colony system presented in Fantasy Flight Games ‘Stars of Iniquity’ supplement but, whilst the system seemed very comprehesive, it was extremely detail orientated and (I believed) too complex to be a worthwhile addition to my RT game; I had switched to FATE to reduce the clunkiness of the rules, so adding in a massively detailed sub-system seemed counter productive.
It occurred to me that perhaps this would be a good place to use the Fate Fractal: for those not familiar with the Fate Fractal (or the Bronze Rule as it is also called in the FATE core rulebook) it states:
“In Fate, you can treat anything in the game world like it’s a character. Anything can have aspects, skills, stunts, stress tracks, and consequences if you need it to.”
I had already used the Fractal to a certain extent when defining my rules for space combat (see http://wh40krpg.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/testing-proposed-narrative-space-combat.html for my most recent post regarding narrative space combat) with the players ship treated as a character (having skills, aspects, stunts, stress tracks and consequences).
What sort of stats would a space colony have?
Taking a tip from my work on space ships I decided that colonies would have five Aspects in order to represent what the colony specialised in an potentially one or two Stunts, the colony would also receive 2 stress boxes and 3 consequences boxes (with the standard 2, 4 and 6 values) in the same way as a character (although additional Stunts could be taken to increase the number of stress boxes).
Some examples of Aspects might be:
  • Primitive
  • High-tech
  • Abundance of natural resources
  • Theocratic government
  • Wise sages

I envisioned that the High Concept Aspect would represent the dominant form of government on the colony and that the Trouble Aspect would represent some sort of challenge or impending danger the colony.
What benefits would players get from visiting a space colony?
In order to make it worthwhile instituting rules for space colonies (although these rules could also be used for space stations and other sorts of bases) it would be necessary to provide some story reason for the player characters to visit them; the most obvious reason for this is to purchase equipment or make repairs to ships/vehicles, etc.
Using the simple model above it would be simplicity itself to make the Aspects of the station affect what objects the PCs can get hold of, they would be able to invoke the colony’s Aspects as they would any other Aspect to improve Resources rolls along with any other actions as appropriate whilst on the space station; for example, if the players are getting a ship repaired at an orbital facility with the Aspect ‘Adeptus Mechanicus workshop’ then they could invoke this to get a +2 to the repair roll. However the reverse is also true that Aspects could be invoked against the players either by the GM or other players; for example if a character tries to get hold of a stub gun in a colony with the Aspect ‘Primitive’ then the GM could invoke this to apply a -2 penalty to their Resources roll.
Colony Maintenance
In any session where a particular colony is featured the GM should roll 4DF and note the resultant number (Aspects may be invoked on this roll as normal), if the result is a minus figure then the colony has suffered some sort of stress and the negative shift should be marked on the stress boxes/consequence tracker as usual (with any consequences reflecting the slow deterioration of the colony, for example: civil unrest).
If the result is a positive then the colony uses the positive shift to first recover from any stress or consequences it has sustained, if there is any positive shift left after this then add an additional stress box to the colony’s total to represent the colony growing.
Setting up a Colony
One of the great things about Rogue Trader is that the player characters are (unlike the majority of humans in the WH40K universe) powerful people with spaceships at their disposal and commanding vast resources; this means that feasibly the player characters may be instrumental in setting up new colonies and bases, any system that I was going to use would need to represent this possibility.
It is my current idea that, when initially set up a colony has only a single Aspect (which should reflect the colony’s initial challenges, no stunts, a single stress box and no consequences boxes); each session after a colony has set up until it has reached the standard beginning colony statistics it should make a maintenance roll (as detailed above), when the colony reaches a total of 2 stress boxes due to growth then it gains the consequence tracker and additional Aspects/Stunts as per a standard beginning colony.
These are just a few ideas at the moment and will no doubt see further development, however, i’d be interested in people’s thoughts/comments.

Psi-Punk review

Recently I saw a post on Google+ from Jacob Wood on the Pen & Paper Bloggers community asking whether anyone would be interested in reviewing a cyberpunk FUDGE RPG; I contacted Jacob and expressed interest and was , as a fan of dark/dystopian settings, soon eagerly flipping through a PDF copy of the Psi-Punk game.
Review

Front Cover and Blurb
Front Cover

The front cover is very visually striking and yet not over complicated, showing two people battling infront of a matrix-esque background of 1s and 0s whilst a blurred face overlooks the scene; on the back of the book is a fairly standard blurb that sums up very well what type of game Psi-Punk is, it reminded me of some of the similar material on the various editions of Shadowrun (hardly surprising since the two games both cover a similar mix of futuristic and more fantastic elements).
Layout
The PDF seemed a trifle slow to load new pages on the version I looked at, although whether this is due to the way that the PDF is put together or my slightly aging computer I can’t say, it didn’t greatly impact my enjoyment of the book though. Using a twin column scheme, the book has a nice, clear layout making it very easy on the eye without some of the odd/barely readable heading fonts that I have seen used in some other RP products recently.
Contents

Game Background
Right, now to the actual meat of the book, the contents; the book begins with the usual introduction of the concept of roleplaying games, a brief run down of what is contained in the other chapters and an explanation of the FUDGE system used by the game; I have a certain fondness for FUDGE given that it was one of the precursors to the FATE system that I currently favour and was the first roleplaying games that introduced me to the idea of using words to represent difficulty levels rather than solely numbers.
This chapter is followed with a brief history chapter, detailing the events that lead to the game world differing from our own; there will be nothing particularly surprising in this chapter to anyone who has playing cyberpunk or occult style games. The game takes place in 2096, 80 years after a psychic called Nathan Hunter escaped from a covert North Dakota research facility and revealed the existence of psychics to the world; psychics were created as a result of military experimentation begun by the Nazis, continued by the Soviets and later by the Americans in the wake of WWII. Although initially outraged by the indignaties heaped on the psychic by the military, the public who once called for their release now find themselves marginalised by those members of society possessing strange powers that they cannot possibly compete with; into this arena steps the company MagiCorp who deal in items and technologies designed to even the playing field. I enjoyed reading this chapter, although there is nothing startlingly original in it and there are some well worn tropes used (nazi experimentation for one example), they were handled well and were written up in a straight-forward way without any unnecessarily flowery language; the brief history tells you what you need to know in the space of a few pages.
There follows a more lengthy description of the world history, seeming to take a fairly Americocentric view of the fture world (although there are smaller sections hinting at activities outside of the National American Union (a future state covering America, Canada and Mexico); this section is a little more stodgy and difficult to digest in my opinion, but persevering with it does give some interesting ideas for games set either during the fictional history or for events influenced by it. The history as a whole is fairly normal cyberpunk fare with the additions of psychics (known as “mentals” within the setting) and technology that blurs the line between tech and magic, huge megacorporations dominate the future society hoarding wealth and resources, keeping them away from the common man; there is a very interesting write-up of how the inevitable world food shortage was dealt with as populations rise, leading to real food becoming a prize commodity and most people subsisting on a nanotech produced Soylent Green styled substance called “nano-food” (thankfully without the main Soylent Green ingredient).
Psi-Punk paints a word where the current social/economic gulf has become vast indeed, the rich and corporate minded are able to afford the luxury of real food and elevate themselves using magical technology from MagiCorp whereas the multitudinous poor are forced to live in squalor often turning to crime as the only real means of supporting themselves; this has given rise to a powerful criminal underclass of gangs, mobsters and ghost cartels (high organised data-thieves) who are occasionally cracked down upon by a corrupt police system. The description of the class divide and the criminal elements of society is very well written and interesting, the only slight flaw IMO is that a number of concepts are introduced before they are explained (for example the concept of ‘Wraith Butchers’, people who murder astral travellers are introduced before any real mention of astral travel is made), however this is a minor niggle at most. The last part of this section focusses on ‘Street Runners’, independent mercenaries for hire, the game suggests that the default party of players would be made up of Street Runners.
Character Creation
The character creation section begins with an interesting discussion of Archetypes, with each one listed receiving a brief write-up and suggestions of how they fit in society; a very interesting diversion from the norm in these sort of games is in some of the titles used to refer to the archetypes (for example: Brenner, the german word for ‘burner’ is used to refer to pyrokinetics), this helps give the game a slightly different feel, hinting at the game slang and language usage without being too intrusive or obvious.
Characters in the system are determined by three primary attributes (body, mind and persona), each of which is then divided into two seperate sub-attributes (ie. strength & dexterity for body); primary attributes are determined by totalling the modifiers of the secondary atttributes – this reminds me somewhat of one of the suggestions for handling attributes in the old AD&D Skills & Powers book; the primary attributes seem a bit unnecessary to me and the book itself even says “On their own, attributes are rarely checked against,” I would argue that the game could have potentially been streamlined a little by removing these primary attributes, although TBH since they are rarely used and are derived from the secondaries it’s not really a massive problem and should have little impact on the actual enjoyment of the game.
The character creation chapter is quite dense with numerous modifiers being used, build points to determine skills and luck point dice being modified by skills; IMO this may prove quite daunting for players or GMs not used to a lot of number crunching and figuring out modifiers, although anyone used to some of the more crunchy systems like D&D3.5 or Pathfinder shouldn’t have a great deal of trouble adapting to it, personally I prefer a slightly more narrative approach, but I can appreciate that there are RPers who enjoy the “crunch” of game rules a lot more than myself.
After this there is a discussion of Gifts and Faults; this should be familiar territory to anyone who plays systems that allow merits and flaws (World of Darkness or Savage Worlds for instance) and allows players to tweak their characters a little using a provided list of merits (that cost build points) and flaws (that gain a person additional build points) whilst personally not a fan of flaws that allow you to get extra points to spend on your character (since I think it can be open to abuse) this part of the section is very clear and well written, I am sure that any sensible GM running the game (ie. one who doesn’t allow overuse/abuse of the Faults) will find this is a useful addition to their game. The book itself very pointedly mentions several times that the GM should be careful not to allow abuse of the Faults system.
Luck points allow the players to either accomplish an unopposed action automatically and with panache, reroll a skill check, reduce the level of injury taken in a combat, to cause a favourable coincidence (with GM approval) or (if they roll a high enough success) to cause a truly extraordinary/astonishing result. I’m a big fan of anything that allows the players to also have a degree of narrative control within a game and take control of their players destinies so I think that Luck points are a welcome addition to the game.
At the end of the chapter there is a very useful character questionnaire that provide 30 questions a player may want to consider when making their character and a summary of the creation process.
Equipment
Chapter three is basically a big list of equipment, vehicles and weaponry for you to tool your character up with, it is fairly comprehensive without being ludicrously detailed and provides additional interest by introducing Gifts, characteristics that can be applied to weapons in order to customise them. There is also a discussion of how magic (items that emulate psionic powers) can be created and how much they cost.
Playing the Game
Psi-Punk uses the standard 4 fudge/fate dice roll (4DF) common in FUDGE, FATE and the various systems that use similar rulesets; a player takes their 4DF (each dice containing two sides marked ‘+’, two sides marked ‘-‘ and two that are blank) roll thems and adds the resulting modifier to their skill or attribute, the final score can be references on the games Trait Ladder to determine whether or not that have succeeded.
In Psi-Punk the Trait Ladder looks like this:
Astonishing +7
Extraordinary +6
Phenomenal +5
Wonderful +4
Superb +3
Great +2
Good +1
Fair 0
Mediocre -1
Poor -2
Abysmal -3
So if you had a skill of Good (+1) and rolled -, +, +, blank then your final score would be Great (+2). I’m a great fan of this system and think that it has an elegant simplicity to it as well as the visual element of the Trait Ladder.
Details of how wealth works in the game (basically an addition to the Trait Ladder) and how to run a combat follow, these sections are well written (if a little dry) and fairly clear.
Psionics and Magic
Chapter five of the books contains a more detailed look at the psionic and magic systems present in the game; in game terms psionics are the ability to control and manipulate your surroundings using nothing more than the power of your mind, whilst magic is a term referring to electronic devices that manipulate energy to produce similar effects to psionics. Psionics are only available at character generation although magic devices can be acquired/purchased in game; psionic powers are linked into attributes and are rolled using 4DF like any other ability, on a successful roll they can generate a number of effets as discussed in the book; a large list of psionic powers and magic devices follows this, there aren’t really any surprises in here but the lists are comprehensive and would certainly allow most players to create the psionic or magic user of their dreams.
Hacking
Always a potentially troublesome element I find in cyberpunk or sci-fi games, chapter six deals with hacking; i’ve always seen this (along with space combat) as a potential problem area in a game because it can result in the exclusion of players not involved with the main action and, although it is possible for a decent GM to jump between two groups, it does result in a somewhat choppier/more disjointed gaming experience. Psi-Punk seems to reduce haxcking to a series of Computer Use and Technical skill rolls which can be modified by equipment used and research performed before hand; it then diverges into explanations of how to psionically hack computer systems and how to manipulate people via social engineering. Psi-jacking functions very similarly to normal hacking, however social engineering switches the various technical rolls for social based skills as the player character attempts to manipulate the target into doing whatever they want; there is also a lengthy explanation of how to control (“jack”) people using psionics.
Whilst I think some of this section is a bit lengthy, it does do a good job of reducing the various strains of hacking down to a manageable level that could be completed without the rest of the player party being forced to sit on the sidelines during a lengthy hacking session (as has happened with some other similar RP games)- this is to be applauded, although I think the number of rolls required could have been reduced even more.

When Worlds Diverge
The seventh chapter of the book deals with the online world of the Net and the mystical world of the Astral Plane that both exist alongside what we know as our world; the net is omnipresent in the form of Augmented Reality (AR) overlays of the real world, this is a concept that I first encountered in RP during reading one of the more recent versions of Cyberpunk and is a great way of bringing elements of this realm into a game session without excluding people who aren’t playing hackers. Psi-Punk does allow people to project themselves into the Net however it does provide for people bringing along passengers, thus very neatly sidestepping the exclusion problem mentioned above, I think this should be applauded and is IMO a great decision by the authors. The discussions of hwo the Net appears, can be used and the various challenges that a player party might face in this realm are very interesting, with security programs being treated as cutdown versions of characters who can attack or otherwise attempt to disable an invading Ghost (hacker).
The Astral Plane appears to be a mystical alternate realm that suitably calm and focussed people can project their consciousnesses into, mechanically it functions much the same as the Net realm save that the unwary traveller may find themselves assailed by magical creatures rather than intruder counter measure programs. I found the inclusion of an Astral Plane a little odd given that, by and large, magic in the rest of the book has been referred to as machinery.
Game Mastering
For me the star of the book is the Game mastering chapter, that contains some great advice on how to plan and run a game, also containing advice for tweaking or excluding the various rules sub-systems throughout the book; it also provides advice and tips on bringing the players into the creation process of the setting and the various adventures something that, as I said earlier, I am a big fan of. The chapter includes some no-nonsense and useful advice on adjudicating difficulty levels, handling the GMs pot of Luck Points and creating NPCs to challenge the player party.
Sample Adventure Brain.Net
The sample adventure that comes with the main book is an interesting one; it deals with an attempt to recapture lost sensations of the past and the cost that people pay when corporate greed and the need to meet deadlines overwhelms the public good. Brain dot net begins with a fairly standard pub brawl style opening that does have a certain nostalgic feel if you’re an old school roleplayer and I feel the adventure is a good introduction to the world of Psi-Punk drawing on selected elements from its history.
Overall Verdict
If you’re looking for a cyberpunk style game setting that combines the numerous different types of dystopian future settings into one and binds them all together with the FUDGE rules system then you can’t go far wrong with Psi-Punk; the rules may be a bit crunchy and unnecessarily bloated in places but the setting of the game is genuinely quite interesting, containing enough oddities and little flashes of originality to make it worthy of consideration against some of the larger RP games of a similar genre. The writing style of the book is clean and concise in the majority and the art, whilst only black and white, is very appropriate to the setting.
Personally i’m quite likely to take the background of the system and convert it to use with the much simpler FATE or FAE systems from Evil Hat productions which, given they are both based on FUDGE, should be quite easy to do; however for just over Β£10 you can’t really grumble with the sheer amount of material that is crammed into Psi-Punk.

Psi-Punk is available from RPGnow priced at $19.99:
http://www.rpgnow.com/product/114830/Psi-punk

Testing proposed narrative space combat system

As detailed in my previous posts I have been trying to come up with a solution to the problem of lengthy combats leaving certain people out, I decided to ‘test run’ a number of ideas this evening with the results shown below.


***

Statistics

For the examples below the combats pit the Venerus against a Pirate Cruiser, the two ships have to following stats:

  • Venerus (Engine +1, Hull +4, Trade +2, Weapons +3)
  • Pirate Cruiser (Engine +3, Hull +1, Trade +2, Weapons +4)
***
Idea 1


Each player makes a roll for their engines and weapons score and totals the final results together to equal the damage done to the other side, each side then rolls their trade score to represent their attempts to repair their ship and subtracts it from the damage done.
Try 1
Venerus = -1 +6 = 5 dmg done to pirate -5 repair = 0 dmg to pirate
Pirate = +5 +7 = 12 dmg done to venerus -2 repair = 10 dmg to venerus
Try 2
Venerus = +2 +5 = 7 dmg done to pirate -0 repair = 7 dmg to pirate
Pirate = +2 +3 = 5 dmg to Venerus -4 repair = 1 dmg to venerus
***
Idea 2
Each player rolls for their engines, weapons and trade, totalling the rolls and this gives the dmg done to the other side.
Try 1
Venerus = +2 +4 +2 = 8 dmg done to pirate
Pirate = +4 +4 +0 = 8 dmg done to venerus
Try 2
Venerus = +0 +4 +2 = 6 dmg done to pirate
Pirate = +4 +5 +3 = 12 dmg done to Venerus
***
Idea 3

Total up Engine, Weapon & Hull scores and then add a 4DF roll, this gives you the damage done to other side.
Try 1
Venerus = +1 +4 +3 = 8 + roll(+1) = 9 dmg to pirate 
Pirate = +3 +1 +4 = 8 + roll(-2) = 6 dmg to venerus
Try 2
Venerus = +1 +4 +3 = 8 + roll(+0) = 8 dmg to pirate 
Pirate = +3 +1 +4 = 8 + roll(+1) = 9 dmg to venerus
Try 3
Venerus = +1 +4 +3 = 8 + roll(+3) = 11 dmg to pirate 
Pirate = +3 +1 +4 = 8 + roll(-2) = 6 dmg to venerus
Try 4
Venerus = +1 +4 +3 = 8 + roll(+1) = 9 dmg to pirate 
Pirate = +3 +1 +4 = 8 + roll(+3) = 11 dmg to venerus
***

Idea 4

This would be run more like a normal attack roll with each ship making a weapons roll vs the other ships hull roll and the number of shifts being the amount of damage caused.
Try 1
Venerus attack = +3 -1 = 2
Pirate defend = +1 +0 = 1
1 damage done to Pirate
Pirate attack = +4 -3 = 1
Venerus defend = +4 -2 = 2
0 damage done to Venerus
***
All of the ideas proposed so far have their individual merits and flaws, however their main flaw in my opinion is that that they all effectively involve adding a variety of stats together and then adding a dice roll as a randomiser; whilst this has a certain amount of logic to it given that this is how most challenges work in numerous roleplaying games, the various methods proposed above seem to result either in both ships taking crippling levels of damage or barely anything at all.
***

Idea 5

Make the opposing fleet a difficulty level to be beaten as part of an Overcome action:

  • Low quality (ragtag fighters, low tech vessels) +0
  • Medium quality (cobra class destroyer) +2
  • High quality (rogue trade vessels, havoc & hazeroth class ships) +4
  • Superb quality (warships, dictator class, space marine strike cruiser) +6
  • Legendary quality (retribution class, space marine battle barge, vengeance class grand cruiser, mechanicus ark) +8
  • +1 for every additional ship beyond the number of vessels possessed by the players fleet
  • If the players exceed the difficulty then they have forced the enemy to surrender (unless they are particularly zealous in which case they are destroyed), if the player ties on the roll then either the combat ends in a stalemate with both sides withdrawing to lick their wounds or the players win but at a heavy cost.
    If the players win by 3 shifts or more then they have succeeded with style and may choose to destroy the enemy vessels if they wish; however if the players lose then they have been defeated, if they fail by 3 shifts or more then the enemy have beaten them in style and the consequences may be severe.

    Try 1

    Venerus vs 1 pirate hazeroth cruiser.
    Difficulty = +4 (high quality vessels)
    Venerus rolls a -1, adding their weapon skills of +4 = 3
    Not enough to defeat the enemy fleet.
    Try 2
    Venerus vs 1 pirate hazeroth cruiser.
    Difficulty = +4 (high quality vessels)
    Venerus rolls a 0, adding their weapon skills of +4 = 4
    This is a stalemate, so either both sides retreat to lick their wounds or the Venerus wins but at a high cost.
    Try 3
    Venerus vs 1 pirate hazeroth cruiser.
    Difficulty = +4 (high quality vessels)
    Venerus rolls a +4, adding their weapon skills of +4 = 8
    The Venerus has beaten the difficulty by more than +3 and so they have defeated it With Style and can choose to destroy the enemy if they wish.

    Try 4

    Venerus vs 3 pirate hazeroth cruisers.
    Difficulty = +4 (high quality vessels) + 2 (for the additional pirates) = +6
    Venerus rolls a -4, adding their weapon skills of +4 = 0
    The Venerus has lost by more than 3 shifts and so they are at the mercy of the small pirate fleet.

    Try 5

    Venerus vs 3 pirate hazeroth cruisers.
    Difficulty = +4 (high quality vessels) + 2 (for the additional pirates) = +6
    Venerus rolls a +2, adding their weapon skills of +4 = +6
    This is a stalemate, so either both sides retreat to lick their wounds or the Venerus wins but at a high cost.
    Try 6
    Venerus + Lunatic Pandora vs 3 pirate hazeroth cruisers..
    Difficulty = +4 (high quality vessels) + 1 (for the additional pirate vessel) = +5
    Venerus rolls a 0, adding their weapon skill of +4 = 4
    The Venerus and Lunatic Pandora are narrowly defeated by the pirate fleet.
    Try 7
    Venerus + Lunatic Pandora vs 3 pirate hazeroth cruisers..
    Difficulty = +4 (high quality vessels) + 1 (for the additional pirate vessel) = +5
    Venerus rolls a +3, adding their weapon skill of +4 = 7
    The Venerus and the Lunatic Pandora have defeated the pirate fleet.
    ***

    Out of all the ideas that i’ve suggested in this post the final one is the most appealing, reducing the combat to a single test with a difficulty set by the quality of the opposition and modified via fate points, Aspects and Stunts as per normal tests (although this is not reflected in the tests shown above).
    I certainly plan to test out Idea 5 a game situation at some point, the only thing left to be decided on would be how to adjudicate the amount of damage done to the defeated fleet and the victors; although I am half tempted to leave this to narrative fiat.

    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 πŸ™‚

    Space combat – what can my character do?

    I received a Facebook message this morning from one of the players in my Rogue Trader game; he’d been reading my recent blog posts about space combat in my Rogue Trader FATE hack and wanted to ask the question:

    “I take it each of us would be able to do some thing in each turn?”
    This started me thinking; one of the initial problems that we had with the standard FFG rules for Rogue Trader was that, although the rules covered hundreds and hundreds of pages in numerous different books, the actual options for keeping all of the players involved in a space combat were fairly limited, this had lessened somewhat once the group acquired a second ship, however it was still very challenging giving everyone something to do in a space combat. Resisting the urge to dive straight back into my hack and start throwing out new rules like they were going out of fashion, I thought i’d take a quite skim through the core rules first and see what they were capable of delivering.
    I suppose that, given how flexible the FATE system is, it shouldn’t have come as any surprise to me that what I wanted was pretty much already covered by the systems Aspect rules; as well as being one of the coolest things about the FATE system and having been adapted to all manner of circumstances and different functions in numerous hacks that are being published and made available over the net, the Aspects would do a great job for me in representing how the different characters could influence what was occurring in the main battle, even if they were not directly manning one of the ships stations themselves.
    So how will this work?
    Well, as discussed in my previous post on the subject of Ship Construction, each ship would have four skills:

    • Engine – used for maneuvres and initiative
    • Hull – used for defence rolls and affects the ship stress tracker
    • Trade – used for trading, maintenance and ship-to-ship diplomacy
    • Weapons – used to make attack rolls

    A character manning one of these stations could substitute the following skill to make ship based rolls:

    • Engine – drive(spacecraft) 
    • Hull – crafts(tech use)
    • Trade – resources
    • Weapons – shooting

    However a character who was not manning one of the stations could still get involved if they had an appropriate Aspect.
    For example: If our Confessor Cornelius has an Aspect “Hate the Alien” and the vessel that he is onboard is firing upon a xenos vessel, Cornelius could use one of his fate points to invoke his Aspect, firing up the gunners with prayers and speeches of hatred for their foe, granted them either a +2 bonus or allowing them to re-roll their attack. Also if this was the case and Cornelius was the only character contributing the shooting then I would have him make the roll on the crews behalf.
    This sums up one of the most enjoyable aspects of the FATE rules system for me is that the rules are detailed enough to provide a framework for the group storytelling necessary to create a good RP experience, but they are also flexible and broad enough so that often they will easily cover circumstances in ways that you hadn’t originally foreseen and, on the rare occasions when they do not they can easily be bent into a shape that does.

    Initiative and Escaping from Space Combat

    Having not long finished work on my post about ways to simplify space combat rules in my Rogue Trader FATE hack my thoughts started turning towards how initiative would would in the posited three zone space combat and how people would actually leave combat if they decided to flee rather than fight to the “death” (although obviously, the ship being “Taken Out” would not automatically mean death, more likely they have been boarded or are spiraling towards the surface of a planet, something more interesting like that).

    Ships in WH40K (certainly human ships) tend to be huge blocky constructions, as you can see below in these images from the Comic Vine and WH40K Wiki websites:

    The two ships (Lunatic Pandora and Venerus) commanded by the player characters would be about the size of a Hazeroth Class Privateer and a Dictator Class Cruiser respectively (as shown in the image above) and, despite not being as vast as the hugest of the ships commanded by the Imperium of Man, they are still fairly massive vessels (coming in at a length of 1600m and 3500m).

    Initiative

    This was fairly straight forward, the ships would make rolls using their Engine Skill or (if a PC or named-NPC was crewing that station) their Drive(spacecraft) Skill and then would take their moves in turns from highest to low, these could be modified as usual using Aspects or (if appropriate) Stunts.

    For example: someone might have an Aspect of Advanced Scanners and spend a fate point to add +2 to their initiative because they’ve been able to pick up the other vessels and react sooner.

    Escaping from Space Combat

    The most likely way of fleeing the area completely in a WH40K space combat (IMO) would be for the ship to activate its warp engines and and drop into the Immaterium; with this in mind I decided that any ship that did not have an enemy vessel in it’s zone could make a Fair (+2) Engine roll (or, if crewed by a player or named-NPC the Navigator could make the same difficulty Will roll) to enter the warp and leave the combat.

    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 πŸ™‚