Tuesday, 25 March 2014

So, how’s it going?

Not so bad, thanks for asking. Apart from updating this blog, it seems.

“Esotericism now classes these seven variations, with their four great divisions, into only three distinct primeval races — as it does not take into consideration the First Race, which had neither type nor colour, and hardly an objective, though colossal form.”

Helena Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine vol. 2: Anthropogenesis

In trying to wrap my head around WaRP, I seem to have written a completely new game by mistake. It’s approaching readiness for public consumption, and I’m quite pleased with it.

It started with me putting a bit of meat on the bones of the Fringe Powers section of the WaRP rules. Not in the sense of greatly expanding the list of available powers, but more in the sense of making a “fringe powers toolkit”. I’ve long admired Everway’s approach to constructing powers and I wanted something similar in this system.

To that I’ve added stress loading mechanics (taking inspiration from Don’t Rest Your Head and Greg Saunder’s Summerland). Partly this leverages WaRP’s Flaws, Motivations and Secrets, making them slightly more mechanical.

The third item is agency building. Nothing complicated. But in this game, the characters are under constant observation by agencies with (a) different motivations and (b) different lines they’re willing to cross.

Anything else?

Well, it’s urban fantasy, it’s characters-as-the-monsters, so it’s well-trodden ground by both mainstream and indie RPGs, well into my comfort zone if not very original. Closer to the spiral into madness of DRYH (i.e. the way Vampire: the Masquerade should be) than the messy relationship territory of Monsterhearts.

But it’s bring your own myth. There’s a bare minimum of premise (where the monsters really come from) but after that, well — a fairy is a fairy, a vampire is a vampire. Any creative player interested in this genre will put their own spin on the myths, no need for me to provide mine. Although for the record, I’ve been watching Grimm and re-reading Clive Barker’s early fantasy.

So I’m feeling fairly positive about the exercise, and the modular approach is working — the components here also slot right into my other game.


[we are]

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m going to come out with it.

You’re a vehicle for an Atlantean colony. Somehow you became infected with a microscopic pre-human civilisation. Possibly you inherited it from your parents. Or maybe you were bitten recently by… something… and the colony found a new vehicle. Maybe someone deliberately infected you for their own reasons. Do you remember being bundled into a black van by people in ski masks and given an injection against your will? That’s how it happens sometimes.

Vehicle is one of their terms, by the way. You’re a means to an end, something that they can steer. They’ll steer your body, your thoughts, your feelings, your life. Eventually, none of this will be yours.

Have you been experiencing any side effects? Altered perception? Strength, speed, appetite? Urges to meet strangers in remote gothic locations to compare clothing?

The Institute is here to help. We’re just going to need a sample. Lie still.

(Cross posted to the UKRPDC)

Saturday, 22 March 2014

RPG Second Look: FATE (and Bundles of)

Be quick! The Bundle of Holding has re-released its Bundle of FATE, an offer good for another 4 days or so. Also this could be your last chance to look at Starblazer Adventures and Legends of Anglerre from Cubicle 7, as the license is about to lapse.

Now I’ve absorbed the Bundle of FATE, my roll-call of FATE-related games is:

  • FATE Core
  • FATE Accelerated
  • Spirit of the Century
  • FreeFATE
  • Bounty Hunters of the Atomic Wasteland (UKRPDC)
  • Nova Praxis
  • Bulldogs!
  • Ehdrigor
  • Full Moon
  • Diaspora
  • The Kerberos Club (which I have in its Wild Talents edition)
  • Legends of Anglerre
  • Starblazer Adventures

That’s a lot of FATE.

Titles of particular note are:

1. Bounty Hunters of the Atomic Wasteland

This is a free game, it’s easy to learn, it’s from the UK Roleplayers Design Collective. Good introduction to FATE concepts.

2. Nova Praxis

Interesting for its iPad-specific layout (an “enhanced PDF”). Obviously competing with Eclipse Phase for the Transhuman crown, possibly more digestible, and nice to see someone doing something cool with the electronic format. Roots in both FATE Core and Voidstar’s own Strands of FATE.

3. The Kerberos Club

I’ve mentioned my Wild Talents version before. This is the same great game in what’s probably a better overall package (it’s self-contained, for one thing).

4. Diaspora

This is the game I’m most excited about, because it’s from the folks who wrote Hollowpoint. (Brad Murray even signed the BoH version with a special message!)

5. Other Free Stuff

FATE Core and Accelerated are pay what you want, and Free FATE is, well, free. But of course, the FATE Core is included in the Bundle, which is both a bargain and supporting a good cause. The FATE Core SRD is online, too.

There are a few guides to the different versions of FATE out there:

Why Pay For Free Stuff?


I’ve been anticipating a deeper look at FATE for a while, although I’ve not had time to digest the contents of the bundle yet.

FATE is sort-of the Linux of RPGs. It has very specific moving parts, and it has loads of forks where the designers have put the moving parts in subtly different locations. And of course, it’s free.

That begs the question, what are you paying for in Spirit of the Century that you don’t get in FATE Core?

First, you get a complete package for pulp-genre play. This includes examples to put the game into pulp context, as well as a compelling backdrop (the Century Club) and the “novelisation” of the characters. I love all of that, and I don’t really like pulp.

Second, I felt I got a lot more hand-holding, advice, and a sense of how the game is supposed to be played. But, I have read SotC much more recently than FATE Core. Overall I preferred SotC as an introduction to FATE, and I felt the Core was a bit sterile. On the other hand I like the Core’s workflows and toolkit approach.

(Spirit of the Century is also “pay what you want” now, so I would vote for it in a toss up between SotC and FATE Core. But of course, if you’re in time for the bundle…)

Beyond the Core

After basic usability, the other way FATE editions differentiate themselves is the extra stuff. The thing about Diaspora that really got my attention was the idea of generating the stellar map from player interaction. See the GameGeeks review (also includes a review of Bulldogs!):

(The classic GameGeeks episodes also cover Spirit of the Century and FATE Core nicely.)

Similarly the Kerberos Club marries FATE with the concept of superheroic Archetypes from Wild Talents (a part of that system I actually like), adding examples of Aspects and when to Invoke them.

Last Words: It’s all FATE, right?

When the system is basically the same, products are differentiated on usability. I approve of this wholeheartedly.

I’m a big fan of the Open Game License, too. It gets us away from me-too systems and focuses effort on doing creative things with games.

That said, FATE is FATE. I’m still on the fence regarding the system itself. I’m a fan of dynamic point economies (e.g. Don’t Rest Your Head), but the Aspects (and invocation / compulsion) need some thought and some familiarity with the game to get it to run smoothly. Two great quotes from Kurt Wiegel of GameGeeks:

In GameGeeks #221:

I don’t really want to call [FATE Core] rules-light. It’s really more rules-medium, with a very different focus than what we’re accustomed to as gamers.

And from GameGeeks #24:

Properly done, Fate Points should really be flying across the table left and right.

Anyway, if you’re reading this in time, check out the Bundle of Holding!

(And if you’re reading this from the future… do we have jet packs yet?)

Saturday, 1 February 2014

To SRD, or not SRD?

I’ve been going through a crisis with my game. The various procedures for city building and play are coming along nicely, but the thing I’ve been lacking is what happens at the individual level. You know, on the character sheet.

I’d convinced myself this would have an entirely new system. In some ways that’s a bit absurd: I’m influenced by certain kinds of games, and those influences are going to shape any kind of game system I design. Whatever I make up it won’t be from whole cloth; in fact I want it to closely resemble the games I like running today.

So, over the last month I’ve been going back and forth between different designs, trying to conceive the perfect, minimalist system as a base for the procedures of play, and beating myself up a bit in the process.

The first lightbulb moment came listening to fine folks on the UKRoleplayers board talking about their designs, and false dawns in their creative process. Now, I was nowhere near the dawn with this particular problem, but what it did remind me is that plenty of creative people will look at something they’ve done, and they will find fault with it, and that’s OK. Something in my gut was not satisfied with my base system. So I listened to it, and I felt better about saying “no, that’s not going to work.”

After that hurdle the second lightbulb came pretty quickly, and that was if you’re not going to design something yourself, why not look around and see what’s free? So I looked into open gaming.

FATE, fascinating system that it is, is not right for what I want to achieve. Neither is an Apocalypse World hack. Anything resembling BRP (such as the rather good Renaissance) is too fiddly, and Traveller is too stark. And d20? Not for me, thanks.

What I really want is a game where traits are painted with a very broad brush, with minimal moving parts. Something like Everway, except Everway isn’t open. But there’s another minimalist system by Jonathan Tweet (with Robin Laws): WaRP.

It’s Just A Jump To The Left

And that’s my third lightbulb moment. I knew full well that the system had been released under OGL following OTE’s 20th anniversary, but for some reason it took a while to sink in that I could use it for my own game.

I suppose it’s a peculiar choice in this day and age. WaRP’s three broad traits with a fourth fault satisfy my numerological tendencies, but they’re not exactly descriptors like FATE’s aspects, they don’t have the granularity of OpenQuest, or the familiarity of the OSR, or direct agency of AW’s moves. They’re kind of a throwback to 90’s minimalist gaming; exactly the kind of play I like the most, but not what you could call popular.

We shall see whether it works. These are the reasons I really like WaRP:

First, there’s the three traits. The central trait is basically a career trait, not dissimilar to Barbarians of Lemuria’s non-combat careers. The two side traits are slightly narrower descriptions of actual competencies (like driving, engineering, fighting).

The kind and number of dice are just right: good old D6, with small numbers in the pool so every roll doesn’t become a tiresome hunt-and-peck for numbers. The WaRP SRD gives various options for interesting results such as the effect of 6s (exploding or otherwise).

Fringe Powers (magic) are freeform, and limited use per session. Not per day, per session. That’s a smart mechanic that encourages continual use of Fringe Powers, but not so much that they dominate the game.

I also like the experience system: it’s measured in dice, as in real d6 that can be used to augment rolls, again per-session. However you also spend those dice to improve, leading to a choice: keep a large Experience Pool to help you out of sticky situations more often, or spend it to improve your core abilities?

Some features will need clarification, or expansion, but on the whole I feel very comfortable about using WaRP, modified or straight. It’s also something of a relief to have made a decision to use this system, at least in the interim. Now I can focus on other things.

Cross-posted to the UKRPDC.