Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Zero-Sum Games And When To Avoid Them

In game theory, zero sum games are when in order for one player to win, another player has to lose the same amount. Poker and many board games are an example of this, and it works well for them. Roleplaying games, by their nature, are not zero-sum games - but they can contain zero-sum conditions. Whether they are good or not depends. Zero-sum conditions can be intentional or unintentional, and either way can have a negative impact on the game.

When zero-sum conditions appear in combat systems, it's usually due to a choice nullifying another choice - which means there honestly wasn't a choice. For example, if in a game system the only effective defense is to parry, but you have to sacrifice your next action to do it, that's a zero-sum result. It happens with weapons and armor too, where armor and weapons consistently null out one another's offensive or defensive capability. It isn't bad - there's strong real life precedent for it - unless there's nothing else in the rules to help break the cycle. This may also happen in games that force accuracy to be sacrificed in the name of damage. More accurate weapons don't do enough to get through armor while heavier weapons aren't accurate enough to hit anything.



Sometimes the mechanics tip things in one character's favor too much, and if they don't provide a way to recover it becomes zero-sum. Death spirals (as much as I like Silhouette's damage rules) are an example of this. Once a character has taken damage they are more likely to take more damage, and it just continues to get worse. This means, in most cases, the character with the first significant success will win. It also doesn't help that characters in Silhouette with identical offensive and defensive skill levels have a high probability of not being able to hurt one another - making it two zero-sum games for the price of one (you can't hit the other guy most of the time, but if you actually do hurt him now you're more likely to keep doing it).

Any point buy-type system where the net result is no change are zero-sum. This is typically intentional - for example, there's no way to be ambidextrous without either spending points or taking a disadvantage. I don't find point buys like that to be a helpful way of maintaining character balance (a concept I'm dubious of as it is). I understand the reasoning, and that some people prefer it). I'd rather have distinct spheres of character ability (such as traditional attribute/skill splits, or skill/stunt/aspect in Fate) where points can't be traded between them. Balancing that out is a lot easier than trying to figure out if +1 DEX should be worth the same number of points as being agoraphobic.

That never gets old

Finally, we get to my last example of a zero-sum condition in an rpg: the players versus the GM. In games where the GM takes on an adversarial relationship with the players - especially more traditional games where there's nothing the players can do about it within the system - there's typically only one true outcome. The players "lose" (their characters are killed) and the GM "wins". This is nicely summed up on the TV Tropes entry for Killer Game Master. But it doesn't have to be the over-cliched extreme of the Killer GM. For some GMs,  it's "common sense" to do things like increase the difficulty of every encounter, skill check, die roll, etc. as the characters advance, in order to give players a "challenge". While it's great to tailor something to the power level of a group, doing so by rote can result in a zero-sum if everything included in the encounter completely nullifies every advantage the PCs have, then there's no real reason for the "challenge."

After all of this, it might seem logical to ask, "So what do I do about zero-sum games I don't want?" The answer isn't clear cut because it depends on the situation. Games like Fate Core address this by allowing invokes after the dice are rolled (meaning the use of the Fate points aren't a complete gamble), as well as in the concept of "failure as success at a cost". Other solutions might mean tweaking portions of the system to allow a loss for one player that doesn't automatically translate into an equivalent gain for another.

In the end, not all zero-sums are bad. Examining them is probably a good idea, though  - if only to make sure that the zero-sum condition is something that was intended (or even fun).

Monday, April 29, 2013

Vimary Redux


When Tribe 8 first came out, it wasn't a huge secret that the setting, Vimary, was the remains of Montreal, Canada (Vimary is a play on Ville Marie). But there wasn't a whole lot to go on, aside from looking up other maps and information on the area on the Internet. We didn't have Google Maps or Google Earth to get a bird's eye view of the locations in the game. Looking over street view and photos of different locations in Google Maps, I think there are some tweaks that can be made to Vimary as a whole.

First is the proximity of the Z'bri to Tribal lands. They're just too close for me to find it believable that half of the Tribes don't see them as a large threat, at least in the default starting point of the game. My solution, at least in my game, is to move the Z'bri lands on Vimary proper back across the river. The areas where they were become a no man's land, an extension of the Discarded Lands that acts as a buffer between the Z'bri and the Tribes. This can be seen as a mutually agreed upon DMZ. It facilitates all kinds of story opportunities for the Z'bri to harry the Tribes by releasing monstrosities into the no man's land and fostering Serfs, forcing the Joanites from the Seven Fingers to have to deal with them.

A corollary to this is the Seven Fingers gets an upgrade. In the canon setting, the wall is a very porous border. In my game, it gets beefed up into a formidable fortification. There aren't any holes to exploit (except going underground), and the Joanite population is increased. The line of the fortification actually crosses over and continues toward Duskfall, although the actual Seven Fingers are still located where they are now. In addition to the increased fortification, the Seven Fingers are also imbued with Synthesis to repel Z'bri (similar to how The Wall in A Song of Ice and Fire is warded against the White Walkers). In fact, I see the Seven Fingers as being a spiritual counterpart to The Wall.

Similarly, I think the Jo'han Skyrealms are too close for comfort. I can see a handful at most taking residence  high up in the remains of skyscrapers on the outskirts of Tribal land where they can't be reached from the ground. I think parts of the underground would be better suited for the Jo'han than living atop a skyscraper.

Speaking of the skyscrapers, these are structures I think the Tribals would generally avoid being near period so the Skyrealms might work out. Anyone who's seen Life After People knows that the elements, lack of maintenance and time conspire to bring these buildings down. They're just not that safe to be around. I do think the Tribals would make extensive use of the Emporiums year-round as opposed to in the winter season. The majority of the population in and around Bazaar probably live down there. It also gives them refuge in the event of some kind of attack.

There's a fort on the island. Why was that never mentioned?
As far as Hom, I've always envisioned that the amusement park that makes up the center of the settlement is in relatively decent shape. Part of this is due to once the Fall began, it just wasn't a place where people went to and suffered relatively little damage. The other part is due to the spiritual nature of the setting. Sure the place is still a shambles, but there are some structures that are not doing too bad. These are the structures like the ferris wheel, carousel, funhouse, etc. Maybe whimsical things like statues or whatnot are still mostly intact. Also, a lot of buildings on the island look really cool. I mean, there's a freaking fort there. As the Fallen come into their own, the place starts to look better and better. It gains less of a depressed, tent city atmosphere and more of a vibrant one. Part of this is going to be tied to the spiritual nature of the setting and things happening like when Lilith [REDACTED].

Access to Hom over the Fallen Bridge (the Pont de la Concorde) to me is not realistic. I think that the bridge would have near completely collapsed and would not be an easy access point onto the island. This is noted in Tribe 8 1e, but I think even "makeshift" efforts aren't enough to allow access. The South Tier (Jacques Cartier) bridge, on the other hand, would still be mostly intact. For some reason,  the rulebook doesn't make mention of the off ramps leading from the bridge to the island. While they might have partially collapsed, I can see access to the bridge being easier the other bridge. It would be the primary means for Fallen to get on and off the island (besides boats). Thematically it works well too - Tribals are perpetually looking down on the Fallen from the bridge, and Fallen going to the island have to descend to get there.

I've always assumed it's not important to get things 100% right - it is a fantasy game. The landscape will have changed through altered river courses, erosion, natural disasters, etc. Supernatural influences can shift things around and cause conditions that can't exist in the real world. But going back and looking over Google Maps and Google Earth...there's a lot of awesome stuff in Montreal and little tweaks that can make Vimary come alive.

Just catching up

This is a respost from my other blog, just highlighting the Tribe 8 that I've done in other game systems. At some point all of this will be added to the link section. As an FYI, all general roleplaying posting (even if it has to do with Tribe 8) is going to continue to be on Aggregate Cognizance, my other blog.

  • The newest is my completion of my Fate of Vimary draft, which consolidates the various rules modifications I've made to support Tribe 8 in Fate Core.
  • Next, I'm going to be doing a quick Spark setting write-up. This is actually for the eventuality that I run a dual Fate Core/Spark Tribe 8 game. I'm thinking two parallel games, but I'm not sure yet.
  • Previously, I had worked on an adaptation of Tribe 8 to Strands of Fate called Strands of Flesh and Spirit. Since reading Fate Core, I've stopped developing that branch but it's reasonably complete.
  • I also have a pretty much empty Wikia wiki called The Hundred Books. This will be an eventual rebuild of the wiki I once hosted on my website (which was sadly lost).

Your Game Has The Fate Fractal Too

Did you know your game already has the Fate fractal? Even if you don't know what the Fate fractal is? Well, it's true to one degree or another. Do you remember that time you wrote up a trap that attacks as a 10th level fighter? Or you assigned a hit point value of a door that had to be broken down? Or gave a penalty to driving rolls because of the car having a bad suspension? Or had the PCs roll saving throws versus cold in the middle of a storm? When you did those things, you were roughly operating within the Fate fractal.

For people who haven't heard of it before (or have and just aren't sure what it is), the Fate fractal is not so much a rule or a standardized process as it is a design pattern. The core parts that make up characters in Fate - Aspects, skills, stunts, stress tracks - aren't limited to just characters. Anything can have them if needed to show importance or enhance the narrative. The trap gets ranks in Shoot. The door gets a stress track. The car gets the aspect Bad Suspension. The storm gets the aspect Blizzard of the Century and a Frostbite skill to attack the characters.

So, if nearly every other game already has the equivalent of the Fate fractal, what makes the Fate fractal so different in Fate? The key word is equivalent. The Fate fractal isn't a hack or a stopgap measure. While most modern rpgs have unified resolution mechanics, most still have different systems for dealing with characters, inanimate objects, the environment, etc.. In Fate it's implicit in the system. It's possible for an aspect to have a stress track. Or an aspect to have an aspect. Or a stress track to have a skill. It abstracts out to a level that is not only still useful in game terms, but infinitely useful in making the game and the narrative work together.

The Fate fractal doesn't need to be used all the time - it usually suffices to name an Aspect and keep right on trucking. But when something is really  important, you can go further down the rabbit hole and do it without a whole lot of trying to fit round pegs in square holes. This is why I think, for the Fate fractal alone, every game master should at least look at Fate Core once it's released. The concept applies to nearly every game, and even if it's not used in the same way being cognizant of its existence is just another tool in the GM's toolbox.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Xeno: A Fate Accelerated Edition One-Shot

After nearly a month of posting six-days a week it's not surprising that I'd miss a day. But real life does take precedence, and it's better late than never. I also think that this was well worth it, because I'm presenting a highly focused FAE hack: Xeno.

This is intended not only to show off various things that can be done with Fate Core. It's intended to happen with a specific structure - that typically found in the source material it emulates. It also may not be perfect, because I kind of rattled it off the top of my head in the space of a day or so. Either way, it should serve as a great starting point for anyone wanting to run a convention game, demo or other.

You can grab Xeno from this link:

Friday, April 26, 2013

Why Fate Core Is Awesome

+David Larkins  on the Fate Core G+ Community said he'd like to see a post on why Fate Core is awesome so here we are.

Why is any game awesome? Typically because it's fun to play, it has the options to support one or more styles of play, or it's rules are particularly well written, elegant, or hits the right spot in terms of what it covers. To me, Fate has all of those things. I haven't played Fate Core yet (working on that), but I have played Fate-based game and they were great.

It's fun to play because what the people around the table want out of the game inform the rules, and not the other way around. Aspects aren't just indicators of what the players want in the game - they're instructions for how to do it. When a character has the aspect My Favorite Dish Is Revenge, it's saying the player wants to have a game with betrayals and revenge and also communicates the theme and tone for that happens. It's a little capsule of how and why.

From a system perspective, for me it feels wide open. Rather than having to think outside the box to recreate some element in the game, Fate Core encourages redefining the box. It's not so much that Fate Core is the first to introduce concepts such as the treating anything like a character - in  other games a car, for example, might have hit points or stats like how fast or maneuverable it is. The difference is that in Fate Core if I want a haunted house, I just say it's a Creepy Old House. I don't have to figure out what kind modifier or rule covers "old" or "creepy".

But more than all that, Fate Core has a number of "Oh shit, I never looked at it that way before!" moments. I've always used some measure of "fiction over physics" in games I've run. I've also used some variation of "Yes and/but..." for years without realizing what I was doing.  But die rolls measuring the distance from success, and failure possibly being a success at a cost? That's huge. Conceding versus being taken out, and giving the player a choice in how badly they want to push in a conflict instead of just wearing down hit points until they're dead? That's exactly how I want characters being removed from play to work. The entire Fate fractal? Brilliant in its simplicity. It's like the first time that Basic D&D really clicked, after multiple times of reading it. Or the first time I heard Skinny Puppy and realized how much music there was in non-music. Or when I read Neuromancer for the first time. Or first picked up Tribe 8. Fate Core for me is a perspective-changing experience.

The feeling isn't just novelty either - it changes the way I look at every game. Even when I'm not running Fate Core, there's no putting the genie back in the bottle. Fate Core is part of my gaming consciousness now.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Vimary Redux


When Tribe 8 first came out, it wasn't a huge secret that the setting, Vimary, was the remains of Montreal, Canada (Vimary is a play on Ville Marie). But there wasn't a whole lot to go on, aside from looking up other maps and information on the area on the Internet. We didn't have Google Maps or Google Earth to get a bird's eye view of the locations in the game. Looking over street view and photos of different locations in Google Maps, I think there are some tweaks that can be made to Vimary as a whole.

First is the proximity of the Z'bri to Tribal lands. They're just too close for me to find it believable that half of the Tribes don't see them as a large threat, at least in the default starting point of the game. My solution, at least in my game, is to move the Z'bri lands on Vimary proper back across the river. The areas where they were become a no man's land, an extension of the Discarded Lands that acts as a buffer between the Z'bri and the Tribes. This can be seen as a mutually agreed upon DMZ. It facilitates all kinds of story opportunities for the Z'bri to harry the Tribes by releasing monstrosities into the no man's land and fostering Serfs, forcing the Joanites from the Seven Fingers to have to deal with them.

A corollary to this is the Seven Fingers gets an upgrade. In the canon setting, the wall is a very porous border. In my game, it gets beefed up into a formidable fortification. There aren't any holes to exploit (except going underground), and the Joanite population is increased. The line of the fortification actually crosses over and continues toward Duskfall, although the actual Seven Fingers are still located where they are now. In addition to the increased fortification, the Seven Fingers are also imbued with Synthesis to repel Z'bri (similar to how The Wall in A Song of Ice and Fire is warded against the White Walkers). In fact, I see the Seven Fingers as being a spiritual counterpart to The Wall.

Similarly, I think the Jo'han Skyrealms are too close for comfort. I can see a handful at most taking residence  high up in the remains of skyscrapers on the outskirts of Tribal land where they can't be reached from the ground. I think parts of the underground would be better suited for the Jo'han than living atop a skyscraper.

Speaking of the skyscrapers, these are structures I think the Tribals would generally avoid being near period so the Skyrealms might work out. Anyone who's seen Life After People knows that the elements, lack of maintenance and time conspire to bring these buildings down. They're just not that safe to be around. I do think the Tribals would make extensive use of the Emporiums year-round as opposed to in the winter season. The majority of the population in and around Bazaar probably live down there. It also gives them refuge in the event of some kind of attack.

There's a fort on the island. Why was that never mentioned?
As far as Hom, I've always envisioned that the amusement park that makes up the center of the settlement is in relatively decent shape. Part of this is due to once the Fall began, it just wasn't a place where people went to and suffered relatively little damage. The other part is due to the spiritual nature of the setting. Sure the place is still a shambles, but there are some structures that are not doing too bad. These are the structures like the ferris wheel, carousel, funhouse, etc. Maybe whimsical things like statues or whatnot are still mostly intact. Also, a lot of buildings on the island look really cool. I mean, there's a freaking fort there. As the Fallen come into their own, the place starts to look better and better. It gains less of a depressed, tent city atmosphere and more of a vibrant one. Part of this is going to be tied to the spiritual nature of the setting and things happening like when Lilith [REDACTED].

Access to Hom over the Fallen Bridge (the Pont de la Concorde) to me is not realistic. I think that the bridge would have near completely collapsed and would not be an easy access point onto the island. This is noted in Tribe 8 1e, but I think even "makeshift" efforts aren't enough to allow access. The South Tier (Jacques Cartier) bridge, on the other hand, would still be mostly intact. For some reason,  the rulebook doesn't make mention of the off ramps leading from the bridge to the island. While they might have partially collapsed, I can see access to the bridge being easier the other bridge. It would be the primary means for Fallen to get on and off the island (besides boats). Thematically it works well too - Tribals are perpetually looking down on the Fallen from the bridge, and Fallen going to the island have to descend to get there.

I've always assumed it's not important to get things 100% right - it is a fantasy game. The landscape will have changed through altered river courses, erosion, natural disasters, etc. Supernatural influences can shift things around and cause conditions that can't exist in the real world. But going back and looking over Google Maps and Google Earth...there's a lot of awesome stuff in Montreal and little tweaks that can make Vimary come alive.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

UML for Gaming?

Falling back on another programming-related post, because I didn't have anything else planned for today.

UML stands for Unified Modeling Language. It's a standardized set of notation and symbols for modeling workflows, data diagrams, etc. It's different than flowcharting because it covers details - though still high level - of how a process is supposed to work; the inputs, outputs and other interfaces; messages that are sent from one process to another.

Being a programmer, a geek in general, and a visual person means I really like diagrams and charts. I'm having a great time right now creating a chart showing the relationships between Spark rpg setting creation elements. A version of UML for gaming is really intriguing idea, but I'm not sure how practical it would be. From a system design perspective, it might be useful just to get the feel for how the system flows and identify any potential issues. There are a number of things in the UML standard that could be taken as is, but some of the notations and symbols would need to be changed I think, particularly several of the structural things and notations. Maybe someday I'll tinker around with doing a straight UML diagram of Fate Core combat or something just to see how it all fits together.


Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Tribe 8

I'm going to get lazy and make a Tribe 8 post for today's A-to-Z Blogging Challenge post, but it is actually rather timely so it's not that bad.

For those who don't know what I'm talking about when I mention Tribe 8, it is a roleplaying game published by Dream Pod 9 in the late 1990s. It is best described as a "spiritual post-apocalyptic dark fantasy" setting, with elements of body horror (the Z'bri), social upheaval (the Fallen), clockwork goddesses (the Fatimas) and a healthy dose of a New Agey vibe.  It is my favorite roleplaying game ever as it has a perfect mixture of horror, dark fantasy and post apocalyptic elements

Which one is the clockwork demi-diety?It isn't the bear
The line had about 25 books or so and a second edition, which isn't a sorry run by any measure. The second edition signaled the end of the line, although it had the grace to outline the remainder of the metaplot in very broad brushstrokes and detail a number of big reveals regarding the bigger picture.

That's right, I said metaplot. Coming on the coattails of the White Wolf pioneered splat book and metaplot business model, Tribe 8 had it in spades. The implementation was great in many respects and abysmal in others. A number of the metaplot books were well-written and were good at handling some of the sticky points with regard to players coming into contact with the plot. Others, not so much. In addition, many important pieces of information were dribbled out here and there, sometimes buried in in-character narrative (which, for better or worse, was a defining feature of the line). I've already opined about the lack of a Keepers sourcebook, which was the last thing the line needed to be complete. I've also posted about the metaplot in more detail.

So, the point of this post is to highlight some of the fan works I've created for Tribe 8.

  • The newest is my completion of my Fate of Vimary draft, which consolidates the various rules modifications I've made to support Tribe 8 in Fate Core.
  • Next, I'm going to be doing a quick Spark setting write-up. This is actually for the eventuality that I run a dual Fate Core/Spark Tribe 8 game. I'm thinking two parallel games, but I'm not sure yet.
  • Previously, I had worked on an adaptation of Tribe 8 to Strands of Fate called Strands of Flesh and Spirit. Since reading Fate Core, I've stopped developing that branch but it's reasonably complete.
  • I have a blog dedicated solely to Tribe 8 called Dreams of Flesh and Spirit. It is the spiritual descendant (no pun intended) of my long-gone Tribe 8 website of the same name.
  • I also have a pretty much empty Wikia wiki called The Hundred Books. This will be an eventual rebuild of the wiki I once hosted on my website (which was sadly lost).
If you think Tribe 8 sounds the least bit interesting, I highly suggest picking up the first edition core book and the Vimary sourcebook. They're really the only things you need to run a good Tribe 8 game. Get the core book in hardback, if you can find one. If you want even more, the Tribe 8 Companion (which can be hard to find), Horrors of the Z'bri, Into the Outlands, and Adrift on the River of Dream round out the additional "must haves". After that, if you want additional detail on the Tribes you can pick up the "Word" books - Word of the Dancers, Word of the Fates, Word of the Pillars. Finally, there are the Cycle books themselves if you want to run the metaplot. The set is rounded out by the non-metaplot books - Book of Legends, Harvest of Thorns, Word of the North and the Capal Book of Days.

Finally, Blood and Sacrifice is one of the best Tribe 8 fan sites out there, hosting material by some of the people who worked on latter Tribe 8 books. It includes the write-ups of the Destiny Deck cards, which are kind of like the Tribe 8 tarot (and, if it were up to me, an automatic stretch goal if a Tribe 8 Kickstarter ever happened).

Monday, April 22, 2013

When Do You Succeed?


Fate Core has a concept of "success with a cost". It's a rather difficult subject for people coming from other systems to wrap their head around. Basically, even if a player fails to meet the difficulty, they can still succeed - provided they are willing to accept the cost of that success.

Here's my slightly expanded take on what it means to succeed or fail. Success means that the player gets what they want on their terms. Anything else is a failure, even if what they were attempting actually gets done. Success at a serious cost and completely failing to accomplish the task are both the same thing if it's the overall goal that is failed as a result.

Getting into this mode of thinking can take some doing. The first thing that has to happen is the players and GM need to be completely upfront about what their goals are, and what is at stake. While the GM should have say over what success at a cost actually means, in order to make an informed decision on whether to accept it the player should know what success, a tie, outright failure, or success with a major cost will result in beforehand. Also, the goals should be set appropriately.



An example would be a character who is being forced to hack into a system in under 60 seconds or the Big Bad Guy will blow his boyfriend's brains out. The main question should be: is hacking the system the goal, or keeping the boyfriend alive? If it's the former, than failure or success at a cost on the roll would be logically related to the hacking itself (I'm not saying it has to be, just that it follows). If the goal is to keep the boyfriend alive - which is what I think it is - then this drives the narrative of exactly what happens on a failure. Either the boyfriend is getting killed, or there is going to be some other cost. For success at a cost, maybe right at the 60 second mark, the character yells out, "I found a back door! Give me a few seconds!" and the Big Bad Guy shoots the hacker instead, giving him a minor consequence, to show that he "meant business."

There are a lot of ways to go about this, and most are going to be completely dependent on the context. But keeping an eye on the appropriate goal can help make the distinction between a success and a failure, even in cases where the player chooses success at a cost.

Successful Kickstarters!

In the past few days, a couple of very cool Kickstarters have wrapped up. Last week was Jason Pitre's Spark rpg. Today was Godmachine Production's Apotheosis Drive X. They were very successful, not only in terms of blowing away their funding goals but in the buzz that they generated. Both products showed an enormous amount of potential during their Kickstarters and I'm sure they will live up to it when they are released. Spark has even picked up an Apotheosis Drive X setting write-up for cross-promotion goodness. With ADX's setting anthology, there will be more Fate Core-based mecha goodness than I'll know what to do with. Spark does what Aria: Canticle of the Monomyth tried to do, but without all the terminology and obtuseness and hundreds of pages. For my part, I have a setting I pitched for ADX as well as a Tribe 8 write-up for Spark in the pipeline.

There are other really good Kickstarters going on if you're feeling like you missed out on Spark or ADX, or just need to spend more money. Trigger Happy, Invulnerable and Short Order Heroes are well worth checking out.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Recursion in RPGs

Before you read any further, I need you to go to Google right now and search for "recursion" and take note of what Google suggests under "Did you mean".
Being a database guy, recursion is a very good friend of mine. But what does it have to do with rpgs? There are two ways I can think of. Any time the characters are playing  another character within the game, or the game acknowledges that the characters are doing so, the game is recursing. Obviously this doesn't happen very often.
Pretty much exactly like that
The Dream Park rpg was one of them. You played a character who had a character in what amounted to a high-tech LARP. We actually never played the game like that (I used Dream Park for a short lived fantasy game). By the way, I loved Dream Park's Beat Charts and still use them for helping pace games. Immortal: the Invisible War started its recursion one level higher...by default you played yourself, in the game. It could also be said a game that admits it's a game is recursive. HoL is an example of this, as are a couple of RPG.Net joke games like D02 and Man What.
A second example is actual recursion in RPG mechanics. This is both harder to find and not nearly as useful a concept. The closest I can see would be games where you keep rerolling if you get a certain result. We used to do this in Interlock - when you rolled a 10, you kept rerolling and adding until you stopped rolling 10s. Another example would be those tables where if you roll a certain result you roll again. Theoretically you could keep rolling that "roll again" result (even though that would be highly unlikely).
Honestly except for the rerolling concept I can't think of any time that recursion like this would be desirable. It is something to keep in mind when designing mechanics or tables so it doesn't become part of the game accidentally.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Ghosts of Homebrews Past

I started tinkering with games very, very early on. One of the most ambitious homebrews that I ever did was basically making Battlesuit, the man-to-man tactical game set in the OGRE universe into an rpg.


I no longer have the notes for that game as the binder was in a trunk that my dad gave away after I turned 18 (it was a misunderstanding on his part). I remember meticulously handwriting out pages and pages of notes on skills, classes, attributes, battlesuit options, combat, you name it. I kept the original "dot map" (Battlesuit's map used dots instead of hexes or a grid) for movement. I also kept the combat results chart and 2d6 rolls, and had attributes as modifiers to the results. I remember MERP and possibly Palladium as being inspirations for the system that I finally came up with, but a lot of it was pulled from an old Atari game that had battlesuits in it as well.
 
We actually played several sessions of the Battlesuit rpg rules, but it became evident pretty quick that it might be easier to just use another game system (like Heroes Unlimited or later on Mekton). I'd give anything to be able to see those old hand written notes though. What truly horrible ideas did it have in it? What strokes of game-design genius? I just don't remember any more.

Quantum Libet

Quantum libet is Latin for "as much as you please" and is used in medical shorthand on prescriptions. Seeing this (and struggling to come up with a post topic that starts with "Q") made me think about a number of related concepts that I've been flitting around for the past month or so. Namely, the ideas of "Yes, but...", failure as a costly success, and die rolls setting the threshold for how much success will cost instead of being binary success/fail.

When I think of "as much as you please", it brings to mind the "Too Much Is Too Much" rule in Teenagers From Outer Space. Effectively, when a roll was too good it meant there unintended side effects. The classic example is the character that tries to develop a pheromone spray to attract a girl he's interested in. The player rolls so well that it not only attracts her, but every female in the entire school. Other examples are the hacker who's so good at covering his tracks that he fixes something else that was wrong on his way out, or the accountant that cooks the books so well that he is never audited and gets a massive influx of unwanted attention or clients. It's the opposite of failure being "success at a cost" - it's "success with strings attached."


From a Fate Core perspective, the half-assed idea I have is when the roll is substantially high enough over the difficulty then the GM can bring quantum libet into play. I think 6 or 8 over might be about right - either way the idea is to make it very difficult for this to happen unless the character is 1) highly skilled, 2) rolling for low difficulty tasks or 3) invoking lots of aspects. In this manner, the player is almost asking for "too much is too much" by either rolling for a low difficulty task they are sure to beat by a huge margin or are stacking lots of aspects. I'm thinking the GM would place an aspect on the character (possibly called Quantum Libet) or just reserve the right to have the success come back around at a later time. It isn't something that can directly harm the character and needs to be a logical extension of what the original roll was for. It's not intended to be an actual "punishment" for rolling too well. I can see this method used to discourage players from dumping all of their invokes into rolls ("blowing their wad", as it were) when they don't need to.

Obviously this would be something totally genre (and table) dependent. I think it would work for light-hearted or generally less serious games better than gritty ones, and wouldn't be something that was a hard and fast rule for every die roll...only when it can liven things up a little bit.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

More Programming in RPGs


In response to yesterday's post, +Robert Hanz brought up that a discussion of messaging and the actor model in RPGs might be a good thought exercise, so I figured I'd take a shot at it. This is high level and steamrolls over a lot of nuances and details within the actor model. I'm not going to tackle things like message queues or service layers or anything else.

What's interesting about this in relation to yesterday's post is that Alan Kay, who developed the Small Talk programming language and is considered one of the founding fathers of object-oriented programming, lamented that he should have called it "message oriented programming" because it is the message and not the objects that are relevant. He felt everybody was concentrating too much on the objects, class libraries, etc.

So for this post, I'm going to look at only the messages that are sent between the actors, and who those actors are.

No, NOT him

So what is this "actor model" anyway? In simplest terms instead of everything being an object, everything is an actor. That is, it is able to act upon or in response to other actors (that's my wording and may not jive 100% with the actual model). Actors send messages to one another, and in response they can do one or all of the following at the same time:

  • Send messages to other actors
  • Create new actors
  • Decide the behavior when the next message is received.

A classic example would be driving a car. The driver and the car are both actors. When the driver presses the gas pedal they send the message Go faster. The car responds to that message and through the speedometer sends the message I am now going 65 mph. The driver receives the message and decides they're not going fast enough, and sends the Go faster message again. If the car has a governor, or is now out of gas, it may respond by not going any faster and may begin to slow down (deciding the behavior when the next message is received).

These messages can be synchronous or asynchronous. The gas pedal transmits a synchronous message as the gas pedal is depressed. The driver doesn't need to press the pedal, wait for the car's speed to respond, then press the pedal again. The pedal provides a steady flow of information to the engine. Asynchronous is when you start your car. You have to turn the key and wait for the engine to start before you can start driving. The messages can also be concurrent or non-concurrent. If the car runs out of gas just as you are pressing on the pedal, both messages are sent at the same time and are concurrent.

So in the context of typical rpg combat between two characters, the messages may look like this:

Actor 1 sends a message to Actor 2: I'm a wreck your face!
Actor 2 receives the message and responds with a message of their own: Oh no you didn't!




Depending on the game the messages can be parallel (attack and defense roll at the same time) or non-concurrent (or asynchronous), such as rolling an attack versus a static value like an armor class.

Now let's say Actor 1 succeeds. He now creates a new actor - damage - which transmits a message to Actor 2: Subtract x hit points. Actor 2 receives that message and decrements his hit points by that amount.

Modifiers to actions are the actor changing behavior when the next message is received. If Actor 1 did an All Out Attack, the actor's behavior in response to the next attack may be "Lose a turn.". If the game has a wound system with penalties, his response to the next message coming from Actor 1 might be Subtract x from defense roll because of wounds.

Another example of actors (or characters) creating new actors would be casting a spell that has an effect independent of the caster. Summoning a monster is the most obvious, but pretty much any spell is a new actor. It will be able to send and receive messages and respond to them in predetermined ways (such as reacting to a counterspell or a dispel).

So far the ability to create new actors has been inferred. In other words, a particular character is only able to create a limited number of specific actors (which fits perfectly into the actor model). In games like Fate the actor can decide what new actors to create, plus when and how, through the use of Fate Points and declaring aspects.

But the biggest takeaway in how the actor model applies to Fate is the fact that in Fate everything is an actor. Things like a security bot are obvious. But what about the tree with the aspect Just High Enough To Get Over The Wall? Or a trap with the aspect Spring-Loaded Trap and the skill Spiky-Hurty Bits +2? Those are actors too. When you use Security Systems to create the advantage Targets My Enemies on a turret control panel, you're sending and receiving messages with the panel as an actor and changing its behavior for when it receives the message "Detects presence of an enemy".

Even the setting is an actor. In yesterday's post, I talked about dwindling Resources creating skills the setting can use against the players. Resources send a message to the setting I am now at 0 which responds by creating the aspect Struggle For Survival. In addition, the setting sets its behavior so if it receives the message from Resources I am now at -1, it will create three actors in the form of skills (Hunger, Thirst, and Exposure). These actors can now start sending messages to the characters (i.e., starvation, dehydration or sunburn) until Resources is above 0 again.

Much like object-oriented programming, I don't think that the actor model is something that would be a singular design goal for an rpg. But the parallels are strong enough that just a slight change in viewing what is an actor and what isn't can have profound effects on how pretty much any game is designed or played.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Object Oriented Principles in RPGs

Being a programmer, I like to think programming concepts with regard to games and rules systems. Sometimes I go a bit further, like the time I built a .NET Silhouette vehicle design program or built a SQL database out of the Mekton Zeta Plus construction rules. Today's topic is object oriented principles in roleplaying games. Before we get into that, a couple caveats:

First, I wouldn't be surprised if this post has one of the lowest view counts of any post on this blog. I'm fine with that - it's more of a philosophical pondering than anything else.

Second, for anyone who's not familiar with object oriented programming languages this is a really good article (it is long, I'll wait while you read it): What Is OOP. If you don't want to read it (or just want to hit the salient parts) I will only be discussing these three things:
  • Abstraction: Stripping something down to its basic elements or characteristics.
  • Inheritance: The reuse of abstractions to build new ones.
  • Polymorphism: The ability to use the same interface but with a different implementation.
Now almost all game systems do these to some degree (as well as many of the things the article's author says "isn't OOP").  A good example of abstraction is a weapon. In the real world,  the subtle differences between weapons probably have an impact, but it's too hard to keep track of that stuff in an RPG. Instead, the system abstracts out the basic elements: damage, range, accuracy or balance, etc. Some of them go into more detail than others - such as durability or quality - but all weapons have the same basic characteristics. They use inheritance to create, say, a magic weapon. It uses the base weapon class but then adds a attribute such as "+1" to it.

Polymorphism can typically be seen in mechanics. Fate Core is a perfect example of this. Each of the four basic actions you can perform with a skill (overcome, create advantage, attack or defend) has the same interface (the die roll), but the implementation within each of them is different (the rules inside them are different). The output - failure, tie, success or success with style - is also the same. As an aside this is also an example of encapsulation - the inputs and outputs are the same, but the interior "code" of the action is a "black box" (at least in terms of the output not caring what happened inside the action).


Fate does an excellent job of embodying these concepts. Take the "Fate Fractal" for example. Anything can have an aspect, or a skill, or a stress track - up to and including the setting itself. I recently implemented survival rules where as the players run out of Resources, the setting gains an aspect representing their Struggle For Survival. As their Resources go into the negative, the setting picks up three skills: Hunger, Thirst and Exposure. These skills can be used to "attack" the characters. This implementation is fundamentally object oriented in nature.

Most systems can accommodate something like this, but Fate Core (and other Fate games) facilitate it through design, and are especially good at it. This isn't to say that an rpg based on  OOP principles is "good" and one that doesn't is "bad". Game systems aren't code or operating systems in the most technical terms. But I think some games, like Fate Core, definitely do it better than others. There is at least one game, Alternate Realities, that claims to "object oriented". I've taken a look at it and think it's much more complicated than it needs to be.

Also, on a related topic to object oriented principles is a rather lengthy PDF called Design Patterns of Successful Roleplaying Games by John Kirk. Kirk identifies various design elements and then uses those to try to determine the design patterns in various rpgs, through a lens similar to software design patterns. It is highly detailed and I think it's successful in a lot of ways. Obviously, because of the sheer variety of rpgs there are likely to be some that slip through the cracks (and I predict at least one comment saying how such-and-such rpg doesn't fit any of those patterns). I wouldn't say it's required reading for all game designers, but just as it can be helpful to have an eye toward high level object oriented principles when designing an rpg, being aware of the possible design patterns can't hurt either.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Non-Protagonist Characters

First off, I'm not trying to redefine the "non-player character" Cougartown-style. I've seen the term "Non-Protagonist Character" in several games, and it fits how I consider NPCs better than "non-player character" does. If you don't like it, there are extensions for Chrome such as Word Filter and similar ones for Firefox (and I'm sure others) that can replace words in a live webpage. Have a field day.

NPCs have always been somewhat hit or miss for me. They're arguably the most valuable means for the players to interact with the game world (aside from the PCs themselves). When NPCs are done well, they can bring the game to life. When they're not, they can turn the whole thing into a parody of itself. The unfortunate thing is that, as a GM or player, I'm a poor actor. I suck at voices and I suck at portraying mannerisms. I can do expressions okay because I do have a face. Overall I'm in this gig for storytelling, not drama club.



This means I fall back on something that I am (or think I am) much better at - writing. I tend to describe things in narrative terms and seldom take on the direct role of the NPC. Instead of sternly saying, "Not in my courtroom!" I'll say, "The judge sternly says, 'Not in my courtroom!'". I'm not quite sure it makes my games better or worse, but I've gotten few complaints. It goes along with the very astute advice, "No silly voices." To me playing the NPC is not much different than describing the scene, or narrating the action.

Describing the NPCs in this manner, rather than "playing" them, means a constant tightrope act between making the NPCs "pop out" from the background and having them just be part of the scenery, forgotten as soon as I stop talking about them. By the way, I suffer from this as the GM, and I'm sure if I was trying to "be the NPC" it might not happen so much. Because of this, I'm always on the lookout for ways to improve my NPCS. Having key mannerisms or phrases are pretty much part of GMing 101. Just as I do when writing fiction, I usually draw inspiration from real people that I know. I can loosely mimic their behavior, speech patterns, etc. and hope that the character comes across as more than a cardboard cutout. Sometimes just Googling for a general image gives me an idea for how to portray the NPC off of.

But I think have a new technique, or at least a way of looking at NPCs, that I'm itching to start using. It may have originally showed up in the Dresden Files rpg, and is also a part of the Spark rpg. They are called Faces. Essentially, a Face is an NPC that is the essence of a particular location or faction. I'd actually extend that out to include scenes, concepts, themes or moods. For example, a tavern where the PCs frequent might be populated with dozens of NPCs - only one of them is the Face of the tavern. It doesn't even have to be the barkeep, either. It could be that old man who's always sitting by himself, mumbling to himself with odd random outbursts. Or the hulking Northerner who is always challenging people to arm wrestling matches. The Face might change with the night of the week, or the season. By making the NPC tied to something else,    I think it would help cement the NPC in my head and improve the portrayal.

You know, that guy

Luckily for some games, like Tribe 8, this is an extremely easy thing to do. Various characters have already been created that are the Faces of their outlook, tribe, faction, sect, etc. That doesn't mean they're the only NPCs for each of those, but it helps anchor them a bit and increases the chances that I'd use them in the game (especially, as I pointed out in yesterday's post on Metaplot, I now know which characters are important and which aren't). One way to look at it is a form of "What's my motivation?" (although that is a remarkably good method too). Instead, it's "What am I giving a face to?". Once I get this game up and running, I'm certainly going to give it a try.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Metaplot


As I start to wind down writing the rules for Fate of Vimary and begin to turn my eye toward actually playing, I'm going to have to confront the elephant in the room for any Tribe 8 game: the metaplot.

Now to make sure this discussion gets off on the proper foot: I'm for metaplot. Not all metaplots everywhere - while I've not played through, for example, the metaplots in the Old World of Darkness, or Torg, or 7th Sea, I understand they had quite a few problems. Heavy Gear's metaplot I am familiar with and I thought it was remarkably well done. Tribe 8's metaplot I have always liked in principle and in the direction the story took, but not always in execution. Children of Lilith is one of the best of the Tribe 8 metaplot books - it starts it off with a bang and overall has some great sections - but it still had some warts (particularly in the railroady category).

Of course, there's no need for a Tribe 8 game to follow the metaplot. The setting is rich enough in story opportunities to touch nary a portion of the metaplot if the group so desires. Aside from any number of ideas I have for non-metaplot campaigns (one of them can be seen in Saturday's blog post, Fate of L'san), it's always been my desire to see the entire thing through.

Luckily the metaplot itself isn't as large of a problem as it might seem. Fate Core has the perfect advice for how to handle it:

You don’t need to have everything planned out (in fact,  you probably shouldn’t  given that no meticulously planned story ever survives contact with the players), but you need to have an idea of where things begin and end, and what might happen in the middle.

Without giving away too many spoilers (at least I would hope, it's the name of the book) the first chapter in Children of Lilith involves the player characters finding Lilith. There are some bits in the middle that could happen, but they're not as important. The beginning...I see as one way that the metaplot could begin, but honestly this needs to be the most flexible part, dependant on the PC's motivations and goals. That much should be child's play for virtually any GM.

The bigger thing to deal with, especially in a game like Fate Core where the players have much more authorial power than other games, is NPCs and what can be done to them without totally hosing everything. Most metaplots have NPCs that are intended to be important to the story as a whole. It shouldn't be  in terms of how important the PCs are (although poor metaplots sometimes fall into this trap), but because they've been worked into various levels of the plot. Some of the best I've seen weave these NPCs in early on, often with little or no indication of their ultimate importance. If the players establish the wrong detail about one of these characters (including their death) can cause the GM to scramble more than the players generally frakking around with the plot. "You decided you didn't want to do anything that I had set up...fine, I can handle that. But then you killed Marisol McSue! What the hell am I supposed to do now?"

Or just get fed up and end the whole thing.

There are a number of ways to mitigate the impact of player action when it comes to NPCs. First the NPC roles in the metaplot need to be as vaguely defined as possible. If an NPC's role is too specific, something is guaranteed not to go as planned. Second, there should be at least one or other NPC that takes a similar enough position to be able to step in. Now this can become complicated if one of the main drivers of the metaplot is like the King of Gondor or something, but that's why you have a Steward to back him up (and perhaps a way to shift gears in how things develop from point A to point C). These are things that a GM can do in any game, pretty much regardless of whether or not the players have the ability to modify parts of the setting or change the course of the plot.

Heavy Gear had a "chess piece" system that designated how significant the NPC was to the metaplot. Tribe 8 never had it, but it's not hard (now) to figure out which NPCs are important or not. Aligning these characters to the classifications of NPCs in Fate Core is the first step in figuring out whether the players should be able to muddle around with an NPC. If the NPC is important, the GM can simply veto anything the players try to establish that doesn't fit. This is something that GMs do anyway, so it's not a huge stretch. It will be a dead giveaway that the NPC is essential to the plot as a whole, but I see this a feature and not a bug. An NPC's importance shouldn't be a mystery to the players anyway - it's what that NPC is going to do that should be the surprise.

Of course, NPCs can easily be the subject of an entire post on their own - which is exactly what I have planned for tomorrow.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Fate of L'san

Captain Hernandiz looked over the four people sitting on the floor of the tent. Her men had captured them lurking around the edges of the bivouac and brought them to her. Only the most desperate of the local tribes, or people who didn't know anything about the Exfor, would have gotten near the camp. Their clothes - a mixture of relic clothing and materials, leather, furs and even pieces of sports equipment or other items - marked them as being the latter. Hernandiz was sure some of the furs were from animals that weren’t even native to the area, or at least hadn’t been seen in generations. The tattoos, piercings, baubles, feathers, and other adornments they wore were unlike any she had seen.

She also couldn't understand a word they said. Hernandiz turned to her Sargent. “Do we have any idea what language they're speaking, Silva?” 

“No clue, ma’am.” 

“Can you wireless Onofray and have them send Yagi? He might know.” Yagi was the eldest in the encampment, having been born just after The Cleansing. He might not understand them but he might know the language.

“Right away, ma’am.” Silva turned sharply and exited the tent. 

Hernandiz jumped when one of the captives abruptly said, “You under-stand Gay-lish?” Two of her men pointed their rifles at him, but Hernandiz motioned them to lower their weapons. She crouched down in front of the man.

“I don’t know what 'Gaylish' is, but I understand some of what you’re saying,” she said slowly.  “Where are you from? What is your name?” 

The man knitted his brow, moving his mouth as he processed what she had said and tried to formulate a reply. “We from Vee-mar-ee. I am Gar-ron” 

His accent and pronunciation made him difficult to understand. It was closer to what Hernandiz knew as Merican than what the other three were speaking. While he was dressed similarly to the others, there were differences. His face was not tattooed, and he had several pieces of more modern equipment, including a gas mask of some kind hung around his neck and goggles pushed up onto his forehead. Hernandiz suspected he was the one the sentries had taken the crude shotgun and the black powder pistol from. She noticed something else hanging around his neck - three metal disks that looked like pieces from an ancient computing device she had seen their TechSpec take apart. 

“Vimary? Garron, you must be a long way from home.”
 
He nodded. “From the far east. To the north.” 

Hernandiz whistled softly. “Across the Havi and the Rocks. I’ve never heard of anyone doing it.”
Garron’s face hardened. “We lost many. My wife.” 

“What were you doing sneaking around my camp? Have you escaped from the Z’bri?” The other three captives stiffened. They at least understood what Z'bri were.
 
“Yes, long ago. We are free now.”
 
One of the two women said something to Garron, furtively looking between Hernandiz and the two armed soldiers. The two went back and forth for a minute or so, the woman becoming more animated until he motioned to her to be calm and turned back to Hernandiz. 

“My friend is Ca-ra. She wants to know if you have Fa-ti-ma?” 

“I don’t know that word,” Hernandiz answered, frowning. “Is that a god of some kind?” 

Garron smiled. “No, a goddess. But not, at the same time. It is very good you do not.”

Source: Terminator Salvation

Premise

When the World Before finally teetered over the edge and collapsed, Southern California was home to 30 million people - nearly 10 times as many as the greater Montreal area. The concentration of humans in the urban areas was a smorgasbord for the Z’bri, who descended upon the region in numbers that dwarfed the Z’bri population in Hl’kar. Drunk on the sensations and power of tens of millions of human souls packed in like cattle, they quickly overran Los Angeles and the surrounding areas.
 
Amid the panic and unimaginable horror of the End Times orders were sent to the few operating ballistic missile submarines to launch warheads at various targets within what remained of the United States. None responded, either having already succumbed to the Z’bri incursion or out of simple refusal to do so. One, however, did: the SSBN Maine.
 
The Maine launched five Trident D5 missiles aimed at Southern California. The nearly 500 kiloton warheads airburst up and down the Southern California coast and points inland, obliterating dense population centers, airports and military installations. The northern portion of Camp Pendleton was spared by sheer luck, as the warhead malfunctioned and overshot its target. Over a million people died in the initial blasts, and in the months afterward millions more would perish. Firestorms raged across the chaparral and forests unchecked for the better part of a year.
 
In the aftermath, the Z’bri remained and ultimately humanity faltered and succumbed to their depredations. The Z’bri of L’san are rivalled only by the Z’bri lords of Hattan and the vast hives of T’oxa to the south, dominating the region and remaining largely unchallenged. No Fatimas appeared among the camps of L’san following the Fall. Nobody knows how many souls the Z’bri keep within their massive bastion of corruption. Hunting parties of stalkers and other monstrosities roam freely across the land outside the enormous living walls, harrying the humans that have eluded the grasp of the Z’bri.
 
For their part, the free humans of Socal have returned to the old ways, semi-nomadic hunter gatherers divided into a multitude of separate tribes and clans. Without Fatimas to guide them, most have not been connected to the River of Dream, but instead worship the spirits of the oceans, mountains and wildlife around them. The irradiated ruins outside of L’san are populated by savages, driven mad by their proximity to the Z’bri and radiation.
 
There is one exception though: the people of the Exfor. Descendents of the Marines and their families who survived the initial attack on Camp Pendleton, they have formed a Spartan-like society dedicated to the Mission: finding a way to break the Z’bri’s stranglehold in L’san. In the generations since the Fall, they have continued to hone their skills at fighting the Z’bri, raiding their enclaves to “liberate” human captives and protecting the other free people. The long, grinding war of attrition is made somewhat easier by access to military weaponry and equipment, which the Exfor have become adept at repairing and maintaining. Yet the Exfor are not Keepers. They are not preserving knowledge of the World Before, save what they need to carry out their Mission. They refer to the nuclear fire rained down on the area as the Cleansing, an operation that they need to finish.

Except now, in decaying, uninhabited ruins of an amusement park something is happening. People are gravitating toward the park: escapees from the Z'bri, tribesmen abandoning their lives, and even strangers from unknown lands. Something is happening inside the collapsing buildings and rides. It’s just a matter of time before whatever it is becomes something the Exfor will deal with, whether as allies or antagonists.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Flashback Friday: Central Casting

Andrea? Where's Carl?

I'm not sure when I got a hold of it or from where, but sometime when I was in highschool I found myself in possession of a book called Central Casting: Heroes of Legend. It was a random background generator - a particularly lengthy one - for fantasy characters. It was useful for when we were stuck on a character concept but we could never just let it sit at only rolling on a table or two - we'd always wind up going for the gusto.

The tables covered pretty much everything including the character's heritage, life events, personality, occupations, etc. It also came with its own mini-homebrew system which I'm sure has been used by no one, ever. The results provided various bonuses and penalties for the system.

The books were known for their tone. These days it probably would be a full-fledged controversy, but this was the Eighties so the outrage was somewhat subdued. With only a cursory reading I can't pick out an overwhelming number of offensive things in the three books, but there was definitely a pre-neocon The 700 Club fundamentalism vibe running through them. The problems range from mildly offensive illustrations to odd assumptions. For example, democracies are listed as one of the common governments for "Decadent" societies. When rolling for birth legitimacy, if you roll an illegitimate birth one of the possible results is "Mother raped, never remarried" - implying that had she married the rapist the character would have been "legitimate". "Religious experiences" are always "lightside traits". I'm sure the Pope can use this piece of information when defending clergy against accusations of sexual misconduct.

But the worst of them all - and the one that caught the most criticism was a table of  "sexual disorders" that not only unapologetically listed gender identification, homosexuality, disinterestedness, prudity, or promiscuity but categorized them all as "dark side" traits.

By the time the third book, Heroes Now, was published (the second book was Heroes of Tomorrow), it sported this wonderful disclaimer:
"Political Correctness" Warning
It was decided well in advance that this book would definitely not be "politically correct." In fact, its contents tend toward the socially, politically, morally, ethically, and religiously conservative side. To tell the truth, the authors and editors think our heritage of western culture, heterosexuality, traditional families, Judeo-Christian values, Jesus Christ and God are all pretty neat. While we won't force them on you, we do recommend them to everybody - your life can only better for it. As such, this book contains expressions of the authors' personal value structures that could be quite unpopular with those who assign equal value to all cultures, religions, lifestyles, sexual, or moral choices. As to those who may feel that adventure gaming is an incorrect forum in which to express editorial views on these matters, just look at the burgeoning presence of opposing views and decomposing values aired in television, movies, books, "art," public schools, the news and indeed, adventure gaming itself. It's difficult to buck the trends, but someone has to balance the scales. Consider this book to be one of the "Op-Ed" pages in gaming. So if your sensibilities will be offended by exposure to values other than those of the "pop" philosophies of the moment, you had best return this book to the shelf now. We'd sure like you to buy it, but not at the cost of compromising our own beliefs.


The art in all three books was mostly done by Jacquays himself, padded out here and there with some other pieces. All of the characters tend toward being ugly or oddly proportioned, like all of the characters were drawn by those caricature artists at the county fair. I'm pretty sure that some of it was recycled from Jaquays' earlier work because I recognize some of them from various micro-games and a number have copyrights in the early 80s. There are a couple questionable illustrations.

According to that disclaimer, this image would be neat
A quasi-review like this wouldn't be complete without a character history being rolled up. I won't go into the gory details of the rolls, but I do want to point out that the mere act of becoming well-known for his occupation (at age 11) changed his adulthood experience from a religious one to meeting a half-elf.

This character, who we'll call Rand o'Mness, was born into a nomadic culture in the "palace" (probably the tent) of the leader. All of the glassware in the home shattered for no apparent reason when Rand was born . Given later developments, I'll say it was because of his voice. He was raised by his uncle, who was a fisherman. I'm going to take artistic license and decide mom and dad were part of the leader's household in some way but died. He was the middle child out of a brother and three sisters - I'm assuming they were his cousins and not brothers and sisters. His uncle was intensely religious and devoted to a healing god of some kind. At age 11 Rand became well-known for his "occupation" - being a kid and with the glass shattering incident, I'm going to go with having a good singing voice because it makes some sense. This had the effect of making Rand's family more comfortable...perhaps this culture has some bardic tradition. Still, he didn't let being a rock star go to his head and was able to keep his thrifty nature. After reaching adulthood, Rand encountered a half-elf lad of the type that leads young men raised in devout households astray (take that Jaquays), and decided that gutting fish just wasn't terribly exciting anymore . He is more self-confident because of it though, probably after informing his uncle that running off with someone you love is okay but whatever his uncle was doing with this fish was just plain weird.

UPDATE: Apparently Paul Jacquays has become Jennell Jacquays and may have apologized for the content in Central Casting. In that case, the phrase in the above paragraph should read "(take the Paul Jacquays).

Giving the Keepers Some Love

Cross posted from Aggregate Cognizance


For the most part, the portrayal of Keepers in Tribe 8 has skewed toward a few archetypes: the hard boiled survivalist, the over curious yet-open-to-that-hippy-crap youth, the doddering wizard-stand in, or the tech-obsessed lunatic (as in the Machine Monks). Many times they are depicted as reluctant allies - often relegated to the role of firearm and ammunition dispensers. When they act as antagonists, often they're more of the gun-toting, "Get off my lawn!" type and not nearly as multi-faceted as, for example, Tribal antagonists.

Given that Tribe 8 is about the Fallen and their plight, this is  somewhat understandable. Keepers just aren't the heart of the game. It's still a damned shame.

At one point,  there was a Keeper supplement in the works called Word of the Keepers, which fell by the wayside and was never released. It was pitched as:

TRIBE 8: WORD OF THE KEEPERS
Enigmatic and reclusive, the Keepers are those who hid themselves away during the Fall of the World Before, and now devote themselves to the preservation and recreation of ancient technology. Word of the Keepers is both a sourcebook and player's handbook for incorporating members of this group into your Tribe 8 campaign.

Opining about the relative incompleteness of the Tribe 8 core books is especially poignant considering how many books were released - surely something like the Keepers could have been slotted into the line a lot earlier. While Tribe 8 2nd Edition featured Keepers more prominently than other books, they still amounted to a couple of decent factions (the Sanjon Keepers) and a motley assortment of groups that are just downright xenophobic, isolationist, hostile, weird, or most often some combination of all four.

Yet there are some fascinating tidbits and unexplored facets to the Keepers. The first is that Keepers are, without a doubt, the only ones who know exactly how much time passed while the bulk of humanity was in The Camps. At least one group of Keepers, mentioned in the Tribe 8 Companion, has only recently emerged from their high-tech bunker. While I'm hesitant to drag realism into it, I can't see how they could have stayed down there for too horribly long.  I've seen estimates for the time between The Camps and the Liberation ranging up to 300 years, on account of the amount of knowledge the Tribals lost. Given the overall amount of decay and ruin seen around Vimary, that figure seems way too long - I'd put it at less than 100 years. The Keepers surely know, but in the published books they aren't telling.

As a side note, for those wondering how the humans in the camps could have lost everything in the span of only a decades, it's simply because of the Z'bri. For those in the Camps, hundreds of generations could have passed, as the Z'bri used Sundering to accelerate their lives and resurrect them again (there are descriptions of Z'bri doing this in various books). Also, the opposite is true of the Keepers - while the wholesale destruction of modern civilization naturally led to a loss of a tremendouds amount of knowledge, given the Keepers' persistence at trying to uncover the past after a couple of centuries they would be much further advanced. Their loss of knowledge, if it has been less than a century, is still difficult to explain - but it can be fudged or chalked up to supernatural reasons a lot easier than explaining two centuries or more of very little progress.

Another piece of information apparently lost in the plethora of setting material is the Ancient One. While later books, and especially Tribe 8 Second Edition, mention "The Ancients" in Olympus, Tribe 8 First Edition says "the Ancient One." The implication here is that there was a single person, entity, or something else at the heart of Olympus. Does he predate the Camps? Is he the equivalent of a Keeper Fatima? A Keeper mech? We don't know because that little blurb was never explored.

I think "never explored" pretty much sums up the state of canon Keepers in Tribe 8. The Olympus Keepers are pretty much our template for what a "Keeper" is. Yet they turned out to be just one group among dozens, each of them a following a cookie-cutter pattern of "Find an industrial-looking location, insert Keepers with goggles and gas masks, make them not trust people." As antagonists or protagonists they are little more than cardboard stand-ups with remarkably little to flesh out the things that could make them truly stand out. While I appreciate that the Sanjon in Tribe 8 Second Edition got their own city and have a write-up, I kind of only got out of it that they dress like the Morton's Fish guy and make people drink alcohol out of dead cod. The closest we get to some kind of non-superficial variety are the Novohuron, who are described as "like Keepers."

For my part, I've tried to battle the two-dimensional nature of the Keepers with a Keeper antagonist, Hanna. She was actually involved in my game with meta plot, dealing with the Institute, Abonom and Agnes. Basically, she is the head of a Keeper group called the Zetetics who are dedicated to discovering a way to harness and control the River of Dream. Hanna isn't a horrible person beyond being highly motivated to seeing her theories and experiments through. In many ways, she is a pawn being played by other groups, including her own kind.

While obviously not every Keeper character or group has to be unique, as it stands they are entirely too homogeneous. They're behind the curve, especially given their story potential. In my fantasy world where Word of the Keepers was actually published, the Keepers would have unquestionably been on the forefront of the curve instead of hiding out in the tunnels underneath it. For now, I'll just have to take solace in my personal reconstruction of Tribe 8 using Fate Core, where I'm able to inject a little bit of variety to the Keepers.



Revised Technosmithing

Cross-posted from Aggregate Cognizance.

In keeping with the Keeper theme for today (har har), I've also finished with my revised Technosmithing write-up for Fate Core. It has some interesting features that set it apart from Synthesis and I think gives Technosmithing more character. You can grab it from Google Docs at the link below.

Revised Technosmithing Draft

In keeping with the Keeper theme for today (har har), I've also finished with my revised Technosmithing write-up for Fate Core. It has some interesting features that set it apart from Synthesis and I think gives Technosmithing more character. You can grab it from Google Docs at the link below.

Giving Keepers Some Love

For the most part, the portrayal of Keepers in Tribe 8 has skewed toward a few archetypes: the hard boiled survivalist, the over curious yet-open-to-that-hippy-crap youth, the doddering wizard-stand in, or the tech-obsessed lunatic (as in the Machine Monks). Many times they are depicted as reluctant allies - often relegated to the role of firearm and ammunition dispensers. When they act as antagonists, often they're more of the gun-toting, "Get off my lawn!" type and not nearly as multi-faceted as, for example, Tribal antagonists.

Given that Tribe 8 is about the Fallen and their plight, this is  somewhat understandable. Keepers just aren't the heart of the game. It's still a damned shame.

At one point,  there was a Keeper supplement in the works called Word of the Keepers, which fell by the wayside and was never released. It was pitched as:

TRIBE 8: WORD OF THE KEEPERS
Enigmatic and reclusive, the Keepers are those who hid themselves away during the Fall of the World Before, and now devote themselves to the preservation and recreation of ancient technology. Word of the Keepers is both a sourcebook and player's handbook for incorporating members of this group into your Tribe 8 campaign.

Opining about the relative incompleteness of the Tribe 8 core books is especially poignant considering how many books were released - surely something like the Keepers could have been slotted into the line a lot earlier. While Tribe 8 2nd Edition featured Keepers more prominently than other books, they still amounted to a couple of decent factions (the Sanjon Keepers) and a motley assortment of groups that are just downright xenophobic, isolationist, hostile, weird, or most often some combination of all four.

Yet there are some fascinating tidbits and unexplored facets to the Keepers. The first is that Keepers are, without a doubt, the only ones who know exactly how much time passed while the bulk of humanity was in The Camps. At least one group of Keepers, mentioned in the Tribe 8 Companion, has only recently emerged from their high-tech bunker. While I'm hesitant to drag realism into it, I can't see how they could have stayed down there for too horribly long.  I've seen estimates for the time between The Camps and the Liberation ranging up to 300 years, on account of the amount of knowledge the Tribals lost. Given the overall amount of decay and ruin seen around Vimary, that figure seems way too long - I'd put it at less than 100 years. The Keepers surely know, but in the published books they aren't telling.

As a side note, for those wondering how the humans in the camps could have lost everything in the span of only a decades, it's simply because of the Z'bri. For those in the Camps, hundreds of generations could have passed, as the Z'bri used Sundering to accelerate their lives and resurrect them again (there are descriptions of Z'bri doing this in various books). Also, the opposite is true of the Keepers - while the wholesale destruction of modern civilization naturally led to a loss of a tremendouds amount of knowledge, given the Keepers' persistence at trying to uncover the past after a couple of centuries they would be much further advanced. Their loss of knowledge, if it has been less than a century, is still difficult to explain - but it can be fudged or chalked up to supernatural reasons a lot easier than explaining two centuries or more of very little progress.

Another piece of information apparently lost in the plethora of setting material is the Ancient One. While later books, and especially Tribe 8 Second Edition, mention "The Ancients" in Olympus, Tribe 8 First Edition says "the Ancient One." The implication here is that there was a single person, entity, or something else at the heart of Olympus. Does he predate the Camps? Is he the equivalent of a Keeper Fatima? A Keeper mech? We don't know because that little blurb was never explored.

I think "never explored" pretty much sums up the state of canon Keepers in Tribe 8. The Olympus Keepers are pretty much our template for what a "Keeper" is. Yet they turned out to be just one group among dozens, each of them a following a cookie-cutter pattern of "Find an industrial-looking location, insert Keepers with goggles and gas masks, make them not trust people." As antagonists or protagonists they are little more than cardboard stand-ups with remarkably little to flesh out the things that could make them truly stand out. While I appreciate that the Sanjon in Tribe 8 Second Edition got their own city and have a write-up, I kind of only got out of it that they dress like the Morton's Fish guy and make people drink alcohol out of dead cod. The closest we get to some kind of non-superficial variety are the Novohuron, who are described as "like Keepers."

For my part, I've tried to battle the two-dimensional nature of the Keepers with a Keeper antagonist, Hanna. She was actually involved in my game with meta plot, dealing with the Institute, Abonom and Agnes. Basically, she is the head of a Keeper group called the Zetetics who are dedicated to discovering a way to harness and control the River of Dream. Hanna isn't a horrible person beyond being highly motivated to seeing her theories and experiments through. In many ways, she is a pawn being played by other groups, including her own kind.

While obviously not every Keeper character or group has to be unique, as it stands they are entirely too homogeneous. They're behind the curve, especially given their story potential. In my fantasy world where Word of the Keepers was actually published, the Keepers would have unquestionably been on the forefront of the curve instead of hiding out in the tunnels underneath it. For now, I'll just have to take solace in my personal reconstruction of Tribe 8 using Fate Core, where I'm able to inject a little bit of variety to the Keepers.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

S'klas, Z'bri Gift Giver


This is being cross-posted from my other blog as part of the April A-to-Z Blogging Challenge. It is a rewrite of a sadly long-lost Z'bri NPC. For anyone who knows the Tribe 8 metaplot, [REDACTED] happens to Agnes and then she [REDACTED]. In my game, S'klas was going to be instrumental in that.

Rummaging through your mind
With a tentacle down your throat,
What secrets will I find?
Oh I really love to gloat!

Eyes on ivory bone rings
Forcing you to watch your plight.
My how your flesh truly sings
As I receive my gift tonight!

S'klas (Major NPC)
S'klas is a Z'bri Joh'an living in the Skyrealms near Bazaar. Once a Melanis Lord, it was driven out of Hl'Kar because his experiments and penchant for abducting Tribal children threatened the Pact of the Dome. S'klas is convinced because of the innocence children have, and their closeness to the River of Dream, that they hold the secret to opening the Fold. These experiments led it to uncovering a long lost collective memory of a mythical figure who visited children on a certain night of the year, passing out gifts to those who behaved themselves and leaving an item showing his displeasure for those who hadn't. S'klas has taken on the role of this figure, of course corrupting it in a fashion only a Z'bri could.

S'klas is tall and broad for a Melanis, wrapped in a glistening red robe of exposed muscle and sinew. Tentacles often emerge from the folds and openings in the robe of their own accord. Its features are often concealed within a deep cowl, but its visage is disturbingly jovial, with plump features and a mouth forever frozen in a grinning rictus within a "beard" of writhing tentacles. S'klas surrounds himself with diminutive, twisted Serfs who assist him in luring children back to his lair. When he travels it is on a living sled of bone and tissue, pulled by eight nightmarish beasts fashioned into mockeries of the Fatimas.

While S'klas often ventures forth to find new subjects for his experiments, on the longest night of the year is when it truly visits terror upon Vimary. On that night, S'klas fills its sled with horrifying living "toys" and delivers them to children around Vimary. S'klas reserves the worst for those that it deems have been "naughty" over the past year.

Agnes in particular, and Agnites in general, are a particular obsession of S'klas'. Its research has turned more and more toward exploring how Agnes' rebirth from Mary and the way that Agnites use Synthesis might not only be used to re-open the Fold, but also allow for S'klas to dominate all children in Vimary. It is S'klas' hope that this will allow vindication and a return to Hl'kar.

Of course, getting close to Agnes is nearly impossible. Even when S'klas suppresses its Atmosphere, Agnes is still able to sense his presence long before he gets near - and a confrontation with a protective Fatima is not something S'klas could survive. The Agnites themselves are a little more accessible. Some Agnites are  fascinated by the idea of S'klas and the items he leaves. They encourage S'klas' winter outing by creating small shrines in hidden places, replete with grisly "snacks" and decorations. These Agnites willingly accept the items that S'klas brings, squirrelling them away lest an adult take them away or Agnes Herself finds out.

Their behavior only encourages S'klas, who thinks that his methods are working. The items he leaves are obviously all Tainted, and sometimes actively dangerous. Worse still, as S'klas' understanding of children grows deeper his toys become more subversive. There may come a point that S'klas will succeed in getting a toy into the hands of the greatest Child of all.

High Concept
Twisted Children's Icon. Invoke this aspect when dealing with children (both scaring and appealing to them - sometimes both at once). Compel it to push S'klas to do something in line with what the true icon would do (like protect a child).

Aspects
Horrible Helpers: S'klas' serfs often provide the means for both the "gifts" S'klas distributes as well as luring children. It holds for these Serfs what amounts as "affection" for a Z'bri. Invoke this aspect for S'klas' Sundering as well as situations involving enticing children. Compel to make S'klas to have to take some action to protect his Serfs.

Melanis Atmosphere: Like all Z'bri, S'klas constantly emits an Atmosphere. S'klas' Atmosphere causes those around him to ignore his gruesome visage, replacing it with feelings of wonder and joviality.

Melanis Johan: S'klas was once a Melanis Lord, but has now been exiled from Hl'kar. As such,  it is not bound by the tenets of the Pact of the Dome by Z'bri or Tribal. Invoke to provide a benefit to doing something that violates Z'bri law (such as dealing with Tribals or Fallen). Compel to put S'klas in a situation where it has to answer for his actions.

Naughty and Nice List: S'klas spends a lot of time observing children and recording their actions, categorizing them as having been "naughty" or "nice" (of course, these concepts to him have little to do with actually being good or bad). Invoke this aspect to provide allow S'klas information about a specific child. Compel this aspect when S'klas may not have that child on its list.

Touched By the Seed: All Z'bri are close to the Seed. Invoke to activate Sundering, compel to make S'klas to do something visceral or hedonistic.

Skills
Sundering+4
Lore+3
Will+3
Resources+2
Crafts+2
Investigate+2 Deceive+2
Burglary+1
Rapport+1
Stealth+1
Empathy+1

Stunts

Animation: You get a +2 bonus to using Sundering to create the advantage Animated on an inanimate object. In addition, you can use Sundering instead of Craft to make items.

Appeasement: You gain a +2 when using Sundering to create physical advantages on yourself or others.

Atmosphere Suppression: By paying a Fate Point, S'klas can suppress its Atmosphere for one scene.

Chaining: You get a +2 bonus when using Sundering to inflict Equilibrium stress on another character, by attempting to combine that character with another character or object. When doing so with another character, both characters must have stress inflicted on them. If the character(s) are Taken Out by Chaining, they become a mindless, pain driven fusion of objects with the additional aspect Chained.

Note: This was created using my Fate Core conversion for Tribe 8. You can view any of the relevant documents here.