Streamlining the WOD: Condensing attributes & skills

One of the things I talked about in my previous post was desire to condense the attributes and skills system of the WOD down to a more manageable form; whilst thinking about this i’ve been looking at the Fate Core skill list:

  • Athletics
  • Burglary
  • Contacts
  • Crafts
  • Deceive
  • Drive
  • Empathy
  • Fight
  • Investigate
  • Lore
  • Notice
  • Physique
  • Provoke
  • Rapport
  • Resources
  • Shoot
  • Stealth
  • Will

I think that this is a very neat list that covers an awful lot of the stuff that people commonly do in RPGs and it’s designed to work well in a number of different settings but i’m not sure if i’ll use it as is for my WOD conversion since I want to keep the feel of the game rather than write a Fate hack.

WOD has always had that whole attributes + skills thing going for it and I want to condense down the attributes as well; I considered using the Power, Finesse and Resistance groupings from NWOD, but to my mind they aren’t particularly evocative of what attributes they cover so i’ve decided to fall back on a more simple grouping cribbed from the old Minds Eye Theatre live-action WOD games:

  1. Physical
  2. Mental
  3. Social

Because I want it to be obvious which skills generally go with what attributes i’m planning to group the skills under their respective attributes (something that NWOD actually does already) – I want there to be a roughly equal number of skills for each attribute.

Below is the list of skills from Vampire: the Requiem along with my notes and alteratons:

Physical skills

  • Athletics – the skill can be kept as is.
  • Brawl – this will be amalgamated into a single fighting skill.
  • Drive – this skill can be kept as is.
  • Firearms – this will be amalgamated into a single fighting skill.
  • Larceny – this skill can be kept as is.
  • Stealth – the areas this covers can be covered by Larceny.
  • Survival – not keen on keeping this skill but unsure what to replace it with.
  • Weaponry – this will be amalgamated into a single fighting skill.

Mental skills

  • Academics – this skill can be kept as is and can cover a wide range of areas, representing more book-learned knowledge.
  • Crafts – this skill can be kept as is, representing more hands-on knowledge; I may look at renaming it, I think this would neatly cover the previous survival skill as well.
  • Computer – this skill can be got rid of and what it covers folded into academics.
  • Investigation – this skill can be kept as is.
  • Medicine – the skill can also be folded into academics.
  • Occult – the occult is an important part of the WOD so i’ll keep this.
  • Politics – the skill can also be folded into academics.
  • Science – the skill can also be folded into academics.

Social skills

  • Animal Ken – I will get rid of this, perhaps it can be covered by backgrounds or folded into the new crafts ability.
  • Empathy – I might keep this since it represents acquiring knowledge about people based on understanding them, rather than actual interaction.
  • Expression – I plan to get rid of this.
  • Intimidation – I want to keep this since, along with socialise it represent the two opposite ends of socialising.
  • Persuasion – I plan to get rid of this.
  • Socialise – I want to keep this as is.
  • Streetwise – I plan to get rid of this.
  • Subterfuge – I plan to get rid of this.

So our finished skill list (after tweaking) looks like this:

Physical skills

  • Athletics
  • Drive
  • Fighting
  • Larceny

Mental skills

  • Academic Learning
  • Hearth Wisdom (renamed crafts)
  • Investigation
  • Occult Knowledge

Social skills

  • Empathy
  • Intimidation
  • Socialise

The list is looking pretty good for a work in progress with almost all the skills that we would need; I may take a leaf out of Fate‘s book and attempt to convert some of the things that had previously been covered as background (resources, haven, etc) into skills that can be rolled rather than static ratings that give you a flat bonus, but i’ll cover that in future posts.

For now i’m pretty happy with the cut-down list, any comments are of course welcome.

Streamlining the WOD: First thoughts

As you may have seen from our previous post I was in a Google Hangout last evening with Marko, Rufus and Chepé; the crux of the Hangout was that I wanted to run a world of darkness game in the future (probably either the V2 NWOD version of Werewolf: the Forsaken or the V2 version of Changeling: the Lost (when it’s released)) but that I feel the rules for the game could do with a real streamlining. There’s nothing inherently wrong with the rules but I don’t feel as though they’ve been majorly altered/re-worked since they were created (understandable since the publisher doesn’t want to alienate their core market) but have just has sub-systems piled on top of the existing rules, making it a little unwieldy in my opinion.

Whilst the discussion on the Hangout turned into something a little more like “how could Fate be used to run World of Darkness“, I very much want to use the core WOD system (or something like it) in a game.

So i’ve decided to create a list of things that I believe will need to be dealt with in my streamlined version of the game:

Things that I want to get rid off

  • Conditions: One of the newer mechanics that I am not that keen on, I love the idea of having conditions that apply to a character and encourage RP but i’m going to be looking for a different way of representing them (perhaps taking a leaf from the Fate aspect system).
  • Humanity/morality score: I’ve never really liked the idea that humanity was tracked on a scale like it is in WOD so i’m going to look for a different way of doing that.
  • Altering the number you need to roll on dice: Certainly in OWOD the GM could alter the number you needed to roll on a dice to make it a success (as well as the number of successes you needed per roll); I don’t think this is as prevalent in NWOD but it’s something I want to get rid of.
  • The massive skill list: One of the things I thing Fate does well, and that i’m taking inspiration from, is that they shortened the skill list dramatically, I think that the list of WOD skills can be condensed down.
  • Merit & flaws: After a suggestion by Marko I think that i’m going to get rid of merits/flaws and have them represented by either something akin to Fate aspects or incorporate them into the background system somehow.
  • Different types of damage: I think this is unnecessary and can be dealt with by just varying the damage level instead or common sense (if a werewolf can’t soak silver damage then just don’t let them, for instance).

Things that I want to keep

  • D10s and the attribute + skill style mechanic: D10s are very much linked with the WOD so I want to keep them and I like the whole attribute+skill mechanic although I may not have it as a dice pool, i’m considering reverting to an attribute+skill+dice roll vs opponents roll/difficulty level style system just to make things a little quicker and less dice intensive.
  • The background system: I love the backgrounds in the WOD, however over they have odd and arbitrary rules attached to them, i’d like to see them incorporated into the dice pool/total; so you might be rolling attribute + skill + background + dice roll.

I’ve also been thinking about the things that i’m going to need to cover in my WOD hack:

  • Supernatural powers: There needs to be some method of representing these that keeps the essential flavour of the powers without unnecessary book flipping.
  • Supernatural weaknesses: Things like a vampires need for blood or a werewolves vulnerability to silver will have to be represented somehow.
  • Morality: Despite me not liking the current rules system, morality is an important aspect of most WOD games and so it will need to be dealt with somehow.

Over the new few weeks/months i’m going to put up a series of posts that discuss my tweaks to the WOD system and hopefully some playtesting as well.

[RPG] The Forgotten People


Below is a small piece I wrote and submitted to Onyx Path a long while ago, not the best thing i’ve ever written and I heard nothing back about it but thought i’d post it here incase anyone fancies using it, some elements of this were eventually recycled into my Numenera game.

The Forgotten People

“You don’t recognise me do you? That’s okay, you’re not supposed to remember me, no-one does; if you believe nothing else that I say, please believe in two things, that once we were close, very close and that I am not mad.

‘What does this all mean?’ I can see your thoughts written in your eyes and I’m sure that, had the drug I slipped into your tea not already taken effect, you would be saying much the same thing. Don’t be afraid, I mean you no harm, once I have said my piece then you will never see me again and no doubt that this entire business, if you remember it at all, will seem like nothing more than a bad dream.

What does this all mean and how did it start? It started with odd things, small things happening, my online grocery order not being delivered, my driving licence going missing, it all seemed like coincidence at the time and only now, looking back, can I see the road that lead to the world forgetting me.”
A huge mechanism turns behind the skin of our world, directing the destiny of the planet and the human race; vast and unfathomable history clanks forward like a great engine slowly and inexorably turning towards some unknown end. The program that operates the world is not perfect, either through design or some external influence (some say human free will whilst others whisper of renegade fallen programs within the Machine itself), occasional errors or glitches occur in the system; in the grand scheme of things these glitches are a minor occurrence that register as no more than a brief blip on the radar of the God Machine, worthy of only brief consideration and a speedy correction, however to the people and places affected they can be devastating.
It is not known precisely what causes glitches in the system, however, they traditionally have a strange effect on either a person or a place in the world; typically these rare errors are focussed on a single person or a relatively small place, a modest residence for example, although there have been incidents where areas as large as a tower block have been affected.
Glitches – Rules
Supernatural Merit – Glitch (o)
Occasionally people fall through cracks in the God Machine’s programming; normally caused by an incredibly traumatic or near-death experience, the code that defines a person’s place in the God Machine’s grand scheme “skips a track” becoming foreign and alien to the rest of the program. Those people afflicted in this way have nicknamed themselves the Forgotten People or Glitches as their old relationships, friends, lovers and enemies, all begin to fall away from them.
In order to have any glitch related abilities a character must first possess this merit; possession of this merit grants +2 to any subterfuge rolls to avoid detection by the angelic servants of the God Machine or mortals and any such attempts to track them down suffer a corresponding -2 penalty. Glitches also do not show up on photographs or any form of recorded media, however, this merit does place heavy restrictions on the social merits that a glitch may possess.
Forgotten people may not possess the following merits: Allies, Alternate Identity, Anonymity, Barfly, Contacts, Fame, Fast-Talking, Fixer, Hobbyist Clique, Inspiring, Mentor, Mystery Cult Initiation, Resources (above level 1), Pusher, Retainer, Small Unit Tactics, Staff, Status, Striking Looks, True Friend.
Forgotten people may possess any other merits, including supernatural merits, although they may not be transformed into any form of other supernatural; whatever strange processes re-write the code of their being makes them immune to such attempts, for example, a vampire attempting to embrace a Forgotten Person would result in a dead person and a confused kindred (at best).
Glitch Merits
Forgotten People, despite their many disadvantages do have some abilities at their disposal, having a face that is almost instantly forgotten by mortals and servants of the God Machine can prove useful in a number of situations although it hardly compensates for the heartache of looking at a loved one and knowing that they do not recognise you and that their memory has compensated by papering over the crack of your existence as though you never were.
In order to take any of the following merits a character must first have the Glitch merit.
Glitch merit – Forgettable (o)
Mortals have a great deal of trouble remembering specifics concerning the person; anyone who interacted with a character possessing this merit will be unable to remember all but the vaguest details (rough height, weight, gender, etc) of their appearance.
Glitch merit – Hidden in Plain Sight (o)
A Forgotten Person with this merit has been affected to such an extent that, if they stop talking or interacting with a scene, then they seem to fade from the awareness of those around them.
Possessing this merit allows a character to make a wits + subterfuge roll, as long as they do not interact with the scene in any way that draws attention, then anyone wishing to interact with them must gain an equal or greater number of successes on a wits + composure roll, failure means that they simply fail to notice the character. 
Glitch merit – Passcard (o)
With sufficient practice a Glitch can use their alien nature to bypass structures which are otherwise impassable for those still slaved to the God Machine’s program; by spending a willpower point the character can enter Twilight (following the normal rules as outline in the God Machine Chronicles) for the space of a single turn, at the end of the turn they immediately return to their normal state. Whilst not particularly useful in the long-term this ability can allow a character to pass through a wall or a solid barrier, any character who would remain encase or bisected by a solid object when the turn ends is shunted back to their start position and still loses the dot of willpower.
Glitch Merit – Forgotten People Contacts (o to ooooo)
Although they are unable to maintain normal relationships or groups of contacts due to their condition, on the rare occasions that Forgotten People meet they are generally sympathetic and attempt to maintain contact with each other. This merit functions as per the rules for the merit Contacts but represents contact details for other Forgotten People and can generally only be used to provide information of importance to the (small) Glitch community.
Supernaturals and Forgotten People
Supernaturals within the world of darkness (ie. Anyone with a supernatural template or possessing a supernatural merit) is unaffected by the any of the Glitch merits that involve perception or memory; please note that this does not include Angels or other servants of the God Machine since they are part of the program that has rejected the Forgotten People, although curiously Demons, having broken away from their programmed function, are able to perceive the Forgotten.
“I can see your eyelids fluttering, the dose is starting to wear off quicker than I thought; before I go Robert I’m going to put this photograph in your hand, you won’t know who it is and you’ll probably throw it away, but it’s our daughter, it’s Siann, she’s lost out there somewhere just like me, and I’m going to find her, whether you remember us or not.”


Character generation: starting at the other end

I don’t know how you guys out there in internet-land prefer to generate characters for the various different RPGs that you play in, I suspect everyone has their preferred methods and ways of approaching this, whether it is banging all your stats down first or coming up with a personality and building the stats around; it only really occurred to me recently how easy it is to slip into one method of character creation because it is familiar and comfortable, but that trying something a bit different can be an interesting experiment.
So what made me think about this?

Well recently I had the good fortune to be invited to participate in a Demon the Fallen game being run by a friend of mine (anyone interesting in the gameline can find more here), the game is taking place in Seattle and we will be playing the roles of demonic essences freed from the abyss where they have been consigned (with some possible brief intermissions) since the Fall; now freed to return to earth, these monstrous demons protect themselves against the spiritual gravity of the abyss by anchoring their spirits into a vacated human body. Some of the demons find that remnants of the humans memories and personality remain, acting as a bulwark against all the years of hatred, giving them a second chance for redemption.
When it comes to character generation in the World of Darkness I generally start with a broad idea of the character’s personality, then I start working out the stats and refining the idea as I go, starting with their attributes, skills and finally moving onto the supernatural elements of the character (ie. what they have become) before rounding the character off with a few merits and flaws if I think that they are warranted. This is pretty much the standard order of things in the World of Darkness rulebooks and it’s how i’ve done most of my WoD characters in the past.
However this time, I still had an idea of what sort of character I wanted to play, since i’d played a physical character in the last Demon game that my friend Simon had run I wanted to do something different and had set my mind on a more social character; I had a vague idea that he’d be some sort of radio or talk-show presenter, possibly a cunning Devil or Defiler. Instead of starting with attributes and working my way through the sheet, this time it occurred to me that as someone with skills in networking and contacts throughout the business, I would instead start on my characters backgrounds (ie. resources, contacts, influence, etc) and build my character from the outside-in. I found that doing this still resulted in a very playable character at the end, but the mere act of approaching it slightly differently caused me to consider my choices more carefully rather than just banging a load of dots down.
So what did I end up with?

Before he became host to an infernal spirit Max Price was a struggling radio DJ, trying (and failing) to balance the demands of his career as he fought to keep his ailing show on the air and his wife and child. Things came to head when one night he was out with a friend, the friend was nervous because he had to give a best man speech and help organise the wedding and lacked the confidence to do the job justice; trying to be helpful Max had taken his friend out for a drink, they’d done some light recreational drugs (nothing too heavy), when Max received a phone call from his wife saying that she couldn’t take it any more, she had moved out and taken their daughter.
Despairing Max threw himself into the evening, consuming alcohol and drugs without thought or care for the toxic mixture brewing in his stomach; only an hour later as, shuddering, he vomited profusely into the latrine of a sleazy club did Max have time to regret his choices, and then only briefly as a darkness fell over his vision and his heart began to spasm. A few minutes later, She who draws shadows on men’s heart looked out from behind the now burnished red eyes of Max Price at the concerned face of his friend, willing the heart to beat anew; with a new confidence in his honeyed voiceMax said, “I think I know how to help you with your speech.”

Have I been getting it all wrong? (Supernaturals in the Fate system)

A lot has been made of the fact that Fate is great when you first visualise an end result and then set about creating something using the rules to match your initial vision, rather than jumping straight into the rules and attempting to build something from the ground up, and rightly so, one of the strengths of the system is that the rules set is extremely versatile even without the various hacks and add-ons that are available either for free or online at a low cost.
Previously when i’ve thought about supernaturals (and in this case i’m talking specifically about supernaturals as player characters rather than as monsters or NPCs which is an entirely different subject) i’ve most often looked at an existing game (in my case generally the World of Darkness series since they’re some of the games i’m most familiar with) and how Fate could be adapted or “hacked” to create a facsimile of the game in question; however there have recently been a spate of posts on the various Fate G+ communities where people have attempting to create versions of their favourite comic/fiction characters (and others) using the basic Fate rules. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how close a lot of these attempts have come to matching their inspiration, and all mostly using the rules as presented in either the Fate Accelerated or Fate Core rulebooks. I ran a one-off game of ‘Mummy: the Curse’ recently since i’ve been dying to test it out and love the concept behind it (my review of Mummy can be found here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SrPzZ9ClGyc), now i’ve been away from the World of Darkness rules-set for quite some time, aside from a brief read-through of the updated rules booklet that formed part of the ‘God Machine Chronicles’, since i’ve been moving towards less crunchy and more narrative based systems; whilst the game was very enjoyable and we all had a good time (the background of the game being one of the best i’ve read in a WoD game for a long time) I found going back to the nWoD rules extremely strange and wasn’t completely sold on them.
This isn’t a post to knock crunchier games, because I think that different systems suit different people and it really bugs me when people damn a system just because it happens to not be ideal for them, simply to say that my thoughts upon running the game were (as they so often are when games have a great background but a rules system that doesn’t suit my style of gaming) “there’s some great stuff in this book but I don’t suit the rules, what system can I use to keep the background but make it more suitable for my style of play?” I’m sure it will be no surprise to any who knows me or reads my posts/watches my videos that Fate Core and Fate Accelerated are my go-to systems when this sort of question comes up; previously I would probably have dived straight into the system and started working out how I could hack it to make a workable version of the ‘Mummy: the Curse’ rules, and i’ve done this previously to produce some workable hacks (my WH40K hack and my (still not completed) Fate of Cthulhu hack amongst them). Recently though i’ve been playing in a Dresden Files game run by a friend of mine and, although we’ve only played a single actual session (the first being taken up by setting/character generation and discussion), one of the things that has really impressed me is how a list of Stunts and Aspect suggestions can be used to construct virtually any type of supernatural within the DFRPG universe, this, together with the recent G+ posts has got me thinking that perhaps i’m taking the wrong approach when it comes to playable supernaturals in Fate.
For example, here is an example of a vampire “package” that I threw together in about 30 seconds (using Fate Accelerated rules and some ideas from the Fate Toolkit):
Aspect: Must have one aspect that included the word vampire
Stunts:
– (must have, +1 refresh) Blood-addicted: Gives the character an additional hunger stress track of 3 boxes; at the end of any scene where the vampire has used its power it is ‘attacked’ with a strength equal to the refresh cost of the power used, stress inflicted by this is added first to the hunger stress track.
– (optional, -2 refresh) Vampiric strength: The character gets +4 when Forcefully attacking.
– (optional, -2 refresh) Vampiric speed: The character gets +2 when Quickly overcoming obstacles that involve movement, the character automatically goes first in combats unless there are other combatants with vampiric speed.
The blood-addicted Stunt is based heavily on the DFRPG games use of a hunger stress track to track vampiric hunger, and the combined package would costs 3 refresh to purchase (the standard starting amount for a Fate Accelerated character); obviously there is a lot more work that could be done and i’ve not really covered feeding or standard vampiric weaknessed (sunlight, etc) at all in the rules above, but still it’s a workable framework that could be played, created in relatively little time without a vast amount of rules hacking being required.
Looking at the Fate system in this light it has lead me to wonder whether or not, for my next game featuring supernatural protagonists, it might be an idea to present either a list of Stunts (or some amended Stunt rubrics) to my players and have them create the supernatural characters that they want rather than worrying overly much about whether the rules particularly mirror those present in some other existing game?
For example:
One of the main themes of the game “Mummy: the Curse” is that the Arisen start off very powerful but with little memory or context within which to use that power, as time progresses their magical energy (Sekhem) drains away (bringing them ever closer to a return to their death-like sleep) their memory improves, paradoxically, as they gain the memories that might allow them to use their powers more wisely, those very powers ebb away.
I might create such a creature in Fate Accelerated like this.
Aspects: 
– High Concept: Must have mention the word ‘arisen’
– Trouble: Must mention the word ‘memory’
– Must have one Aspect that mentions the purpose for which they have arisen.
I’m not sure at the moment how i’d handle something like the gradual decrease of power, but i’m pretty sure that, given enough though, the Fate system could handle it; if anyone out there has any suggestions please feel free to add them in the comments section.
Near the start of the year I ran a God Machine Chronicle using the Fate Accelerated rules and that seemed to work really well, although the player characters were only mortals in that game, the GMC game was a tester for when the “Demon: the Descent” game is released (probably in 2014); I think that when this is released, rather than attempt to mirror the rules i’m going to create some demonic powers/Stunts that are thematically similar to the ones listed in the book and then just lift the background from it. I’m also really looking forward to the Dresden Accelerated that is going to released in 2014 (further details here – http://www.evilhat.com/home/fate-core-dresden-files-accelerated/), but until that comes out there’s a lot of potential ideas for supernatural powers as Stunts in the existing DFRPG that can be tapped and the Fate Toolkit offers a lot of advice on making different types of Stunts.

Hunter the Vigil: Session write-up 5 – Agent Frank Dublowski

Please note: This is a write-up from an IC perspective of my character in a game that I playing.
“After a few minutes nothing seemed to have happened, Agent Brockhurst hadn’t sprouted red leaves or anything freaky like that so he unchained himself, he was behind the door putting away the cuffs in his coat when a worried looking nurse came in holding a full syringe, she was moving over towards me when Brockhurst cleared his throat loudly and stepped out from behind the door at which point the crazy bitch almost broke down and threw the syringe down. With no patience for any more of this backwater towns craziness we were blunt with her and managed to shake out that a man in Ms Aimes room had ordered her to do it.
Clambering painfully out of the bed, I grabbed a spare pistol off Brockhurst and we stormed into the room to see a figure in a red coat looming over the woman, all of the monitors and screens were off; as it heard us the figure started to reach inside it’s coat and was answered by a volley of gunfire from Brockhurst and myself. Pulling the fallen figures hood back as the gunsmoke cleared we revealed Deputy Thomas, and in a second my suspicions about the Sheriff’s department in this shitwater town were confirmed.
Through blood splattered lips Thomas was gibbered about how the Sheriff would soon complete his last sacrifice and begin his ascenscion; again we were not gentle with our questioning and were soon speeding to the car, Brockhurst pushing me in a commandeered wheelchair, my body still not up for the pressures of running. As he put me in the car and clipped himself into the driving seat I rang up our technical support agent and Carpenter to warn them about the Sheriff, it turned out they were already on the way to the station; I told them what had gone down and warned them to go in armed.
SMASH! The window of the van caved in and a huge and horrifically familiar axe smashed through it, I could smell rain outside and then I was frantically shouting to Brockhurst as he gunned the van into reverse and sped backwards, the vehicle squealed round and we zoomed off towards the station with the fading figure of the red coated killer (the real one, not some crazy deputy) stomping slowly after us.
Pulling up outside the building, we could see the red coat killer on the horizon, someone we hadn’t managed to lose it even though we’d broke every speed limit in the book; Brockhurst dived outside of the car shouting for me to get out and let the bureau know what was going on, realising how useless I was in my current state I could only nod before sliding into the driver seat and gunning the engine. As I drove away I stabbed at my mobile phone buttons and began to relay my report to the agent at the other end, in the distance I heard gunshots and could only hope my fellow Agents made it out okay as I requested emergency assistance from Project Valkyrie.
After that case we were all re-assigned, I only ever saw our technical support girl and Carpenter once after that, all of the reports had been locked up and i’d been denied access; we met in a café a few months after the case was officially closed, apparently they had taken down the Sheriff shortly before the real red coat killer had turned up and Agent Brockhurst had been killed by the real killer, giving the others time to escape.
I can only hope that wherever Brockhurst is now, somehow he found his father. Agent Dublowski signing off.”

Hunter the Vigil: Session write-up 4 – Agent Frank Dublowski

Please note: This is a write-up from an IC perspective of my character in a game that I playing.
“Damn… my head was killing me…I opened my eyes blearly and slowly the irritating noise I could hear became the clear beeping of some sort of heart monitor attached to me; looking around it seemed as though i’d been bought to the hospital. Brockhurst was waiting in the room and seemed relieved that i’d made it; he showed me a jacket that he’d found in the lumber mill (least he’d got there) – I used my ability on it and was able to tell him that it was from the original victim, although the strain caused me to pass out again.
When I woke up Brockhurst was checking me over, the wounds on my neck were strangle marks from incredibly large hands, no wonder it was so hard for me to breathe; I got Brockhurst to read the chart from the end of the bed, but it showed nothing unusual. My fellow agent was talking about the seeds but I kept fading in and out, eventually he was able to make me understand that he had obtained some of the red seeds and was going to hold them next to his skin as part of some experiment, he then handcuffed himself to the radiator and we waited.”

Hunter the Vigil: Session write-up 3 – Agent Frank Dublowski

Please note: This is a write-up from an IC perspective of my character in a game that I playing.

“After arriving at the hospital we found Brockhurst in a state of confusion, something had really spooked him; he claimed that something had happened whilst he’d been performing the autopsy on the murdered woman and that his surroundings had changed without really changing and that the Red Raincoat killer had appeared and attacked him, however, he’d squeezed of several shots at the killer (apparently with little effect). Combing the area near where he’d been in the hospital I was unable to find any shell casings or evidence of arms fire, but Agent Brockhurst’s gun had definitely been discharged recently, suggesting that there was some truth to his story; a lot of agents might have blown off the idea that someone could be somewhere one minute and elsewhere the next, sure it sounded crazy, but I worked for VASCU, crazy was our business.

Coaxing him back into the autopsy room and guarding him whilst the investigation continued, it was discovered that the victim Anna had red seeds placed in her mouth and that her tongue had been removed; according to Brockhurst’s medical skills she’d probably died of blood loss as a result of the injury, some sort of sharp instrument had been used to remove the tongue.

Realising that we were getting nowhere and that more people might start dying if we didn’t make any headway I decided that enough was enough, the local sheriff knew something (I had seen it in his face when i’d shown the plant samples to the local forester) and he wasn’t telling; i’d been playing nice up until now, but i’d do whatever it took to get this case resolved and see that justice was done, God help anyone who got in my way. Pushing my way into the Sheriff’s office I confronted him, explaining that I knew he was hiding something and that we were both working to see that justice is done, he could either work with us or tell us what he knew and get the hell out of our way; my tactics seemed to work and he confessed to knowing about a small copse of red coloured trees located near a communal cemetery.

Travelling to the cemetary we met Brian Strange the groundskeeper who showed us to the copse of trees; noting that they appeared to be of the same genus as our original red plants (and remembering that they had grown in corpses) we commandeered some spades and started digging around the bases of the trees. Eventually, to our horror (but not surprise) we unearthed a number of bodies tangled in the roots, some long dead, others more recent, the cult overtones of this case were becoming harder to ignore. I rang the local sheriff and was halfway through calling in our other two agents when my phone shorted out and it began to rain; Agent Brockhurst paled and said this is what had happened at the hospital.

Sure enough we glimpsed a red-coated figure through the trees, it appeared to be dragging some sort of large and improbably heavy axe behind it as it moved through the trees that, in the dim light, looked for all the world like shadowy figures reaching out their arms towards us. We fired off a few shots but it seemed to make no difference, Brockhurst wanted to hold off the creature whilst I made a run towards our other lead, the distant lumber mill but, realising he was faster, I volunteered to hold it off. As Brockhurst broke into a run I kept firing at the killer drawing it towards me and then, as it got closer, and I could see that there was no face below the hood of the coat, I grabbed the large axe, wrenching the heavy weight from its grasp with all my strength and heaved it over my head.

I had hoped that the creature’s (since I had no doubt now that this thing wasn’t human) own axe might be able to injure it where our bullets had failed, but I could barely lift it; I hoped that the fleet footed Agent Brockhurst had got away as the things hands closed around my throat and began to squeeze. Blackness rushed towards me, my heart pounded in my ears as I felt myself falling.”  

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.

Hunter the Vigil: Session write-up 2 – Agent Frank Dublowski

Please note: This is a write-up from an IC perspective of my character in a game that I playing.

“We all met up early morning in the dining room at the Grand Deer hotel to look over what informations we’d managed to discover so far; Ms Oxford was buzzing around serving us breakfast so we took the opportunity to fill in some of the details that she’d provided us with last night. The middle-aged woman told us again about the Stuart family and various logging concerns owning most of the land hereabouts; I was mainly interested (given the strange plants we’d come across) in finding out who looked after the local park lands, Polly was able to give me the description of a Jim Green (an old man who was friend of hers and often stopped in at the hotel) who was the local forrester.

Deciding that it was about time we paid a courtesy call to the local law enforcement (since the case wasn’t yet officially ours until we proved a link between crimes occurring in more than one state, and it never hurts to have the boys at the front onside) we drove past the crumbling, mostly empty houses of a town that had obviously seen better days to the Sheriff’s office where the receptionist Thomas McClane seemed surprised we’d responded so quickly to the report of the death in the area. Like I said, it never hurts to have the local knowledge onside and getting justice it’s what’s important at the end of the day, so I plastered what I hoped was a sincere smile on my face and made nice with them, eventually getting introduced to the Deputy Sheriff, Emily Wyatt.

One thing that did strike me as odd as we were lead into the offices; the whole place was decked out as though it had recently housed the trappings of a large investigation and yet the whiteboard at the head of the room (which would normally be used to map suspects and connections) was completely blank.

Deputy Wyatt took us through to meet her boss, the Sheriff, he was an older man with a deep, puckered scar on one cheek (which our research told us was from a gardening accident some years ago); although initially suspicious of federal involvement, my attempt to ‘play nice’ seemed to win him over and he confessed to having known the victim of the murder, a young local girl called Anna who had been found on the parkland by Jim Green’s grandchildren. Apparently the two young children had told their father that they had seen an angel in the woods and, when they had taken him to the spot where they had seen the angel, Anna had been found strung up to a tree with rope.

The Sheriff agreed to take us to the murder scene and contact Jim Green so that he could meet us there for questioning, we were assured that, aside from the removal of the body, nothing had been tampered with and we had photos of the original position of the body that showed the woman kneeling infront of the tree with her hands tied above her head. As we headed down the forest tracks I contacted Agent Brockhurst and explained that the local Sheriff’s office were a little short on medical personnel and that i’d got permission from the Sheriff for him to autopsy the body; as I put the phone down I wondered if I had made the right decision, Brockhurst had the medical knowledge and ability but he was hardly a people person, least I knew when to play nice with others when I needed to, still there wasn’t time to worry about it too much, we needed to find out what was going on in this town.

Arriving at the crime scene we met up with Mr Green and I showed the Sheriff a sample of the red plant seeds that we had discovered; although he claimed not to have seen anything like it before, there was something in his look that made me think he wasn’t being completely honest with me. Mr Green was extremely interested in the seeds, saying that the barbs on them resembled the seeds of several desert grasses or shrubs whose seeds stuck into the hides of animals to distribute them, but that normally the desert plants were much larger than this. Investigating the tree that Anna had been tied to we found it surrounded by the stumps of several candles, initially I though this was a local tribute to the dead girl (not an uncommon site) however, reviews of the evidence and photos showed that they were probably there when she died; I sent a call through to Brockhurst to tell him that we may be looking at some sort of ritualistic crime.

I examined the tree and discovered a symbol found in it, it kind of looked like that old hippy sign only upside down, our technical specialist remarked that it looked like a tree and began trying to research it, although she was having trouble getting a signal out here in the middle of nowhere. Meanwhile, Ironside had been asking the Sheriff about Anna; it was the usual story that she worked locally at a diner, was a sweet girl and well-like by everybody, it’s funny how no-one has a bad word to say about the dead. She had no boyfriend but apparently was very close to a girl called Becky Ames who also lived in the town.

It had started to gently rain and the Sheriff made some offhand remark about the locals all “heading inside”, something about it struck me as odd and when I asked was told that there was a local legend about a killer in the 50s whom the locals had nicknamed the raincoat killed, apparently when it rained the killer stalked the streets with an axe and wearing a red raincoat. A few years ago i’d have blown this off as local superstition, but given what i’d seen during my years with VASCU and our roadside encounter with the red clad runner I set the whizzkid onto researching it, although all the information she was able to find (despite her patchy net connection) seemed to suggest that it was nothing more than a gruesome urban legend.

We were about to ask some more questions when the Sheriff had a strange called radio-ed through from the hospital, apparently Brockhurst had been performing the autopsy there and was now waving his gun at people; jumping into the car we made our way to the hospital as quickly as possible. Much as Agent Brockhurst might be a bit rough around the edges, I knew that he wasn’t the type to just point a gun at someone for no reason, something must have happened.”