Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Revisiting Dixton

Aside from getting a Tribe 8 game going, I have two other things I want to expand on. The first is the setting that I started writing for the #ADX anthology. I had a lot of stuff I chopped out to try to get it down to a reasonable word count, but I'm simply not sure what I want to do with it - just put it out there for my own satisfaction, try to publish it, Kickstart it, I'm completely not sure.

The second was my Dixton setting. It start out as a kind of Thief/Dishonored homage, but it's settled in my brain worms a bit, and I feel that I want to to shift slightly in theme and tone. Watching shows like Revolution and Defiance have kind of inspired me toward an even more Civil War-era, pseudo pre-Antebellum Southern feel.

That means going more into themes of class division and privilege. I don't want it to be a social commentary or anything like that, but I've never really dealt with this kind of thing in any depth. I definitely don't want to fall into any traps or cliched stereotypes...I want to handle the problematic subject matter well. I'm assuming that's going to mean a bit of primary source research, particularly the history of slavery in the British Empire because that is a closer analog to the dominant society in the setting. I'm definitely open to suggestions as to where to start.

The setting currently has one non-human race, the Sia, who are native to the continent where the setting is focused. They were enslaved and then set free. I think I want to move their magic toward something more animistic and visceral, involving blood and pain, but not fall into a, "It's just like voodoo or Santeria" trap. Things like The Heart from Dishonored would fit right in.

The emphasis will still be on the characters being part of the seedy underworld, as thieves and assassins and fences and crime lords. But there's going to be some social upheaval in the works. I want Dixton to be a powderkeg, and I think the PCs should be the fuse.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

I'm going out on a limb here

There's been a lot going around about +Indie+'s interview with +James Desborough.  As a privileged, middle class, white male of a certain age (too young to be old, too old to be young) I've only started to seriously consider and think about issues regarding diversity, sexism and even racism in the past couple of years. And I consider myself a progressive, inclusive person.

As a relative newcomer/outsider to these debates I went back and looked at the history between Desborough and - well, the Internet. I got a good start with this blog post by Jon Kim. After looking over his links I came to much the same conclusion as Jon did (at least regarding the controversy he was writing about). Then I brought myself current on the Indie+ interview and the current responses.

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I feel Desborough's perspective is reasonable to a degree, consistent and he is very articulate. I don't agree with everything he has to say. I think coming from the position of having been the subject of a lot of vitriol, his experience is relevant and important to understand. I feel there is a portion of his body of work that is in bad taste, and might be offensive to some (particularly women). I do agree with him in that individuals are responsible for the harassment that occurs at conventions. I've seen it first hand. I don't agree that it is only the individuals - there is definitely a "culture" that at some level tolerates odious behavior among its members. Hell, 20 years ago I went with a large mixed gender group to Gateway in L.A. We came up with our own safety guidelines for the women (some of whom were not yet 18) in the group because we were already aware of how women were treated at cons. I would like to assume it has gotten better since then, for whatever measure of "better". I disagree that harassment policies are not needed. Just like the argument, "Nobody needs a firearm, they can just call the police" is ridiculous, the contention that there is no need for a policy because of the ability to call law enforcement is ridiculous for the same reason. I do agree that any policy needs to be vetted and carefully constructed in order to prevent abuse. I apologize if any of this disappoints any of a number of people whom I respect that take opposing viewpoints.

But where I'm going to start to lose respect for people, and one of the reasons for this post, is that the level of vitriol, mischaracterization, outright twisting of words and blatant disrespect I've seen - present and past -is shameful. It's on both sides, typically not the principals at the center of the debates, but I see a lot more of it from people who are "anti-Desborough" than pro. It's disheartening to say the least.

That's pretty much all I have to say on the matter. Any further discussion is, as always, welcome in the comments.



Wednesday, July 10, 2013

The Dream Quest

Editor's Note: This is a piece from the original Rusted Sky website, and the original author was not credited. If any of my Google+ peeps (of which I know there are a few from the Tribe 8 olden days) recognize it as theirs or somebody else's, simply drop me a line and I will put the credit in.

From the journey of Shara the Pure, Lightbringer:


I feel the energies of my soul open in petals, forever unfolding to reveal the source of all creation. The sound of my own voice becomes more distant with each breath, removing the binds of consciousness and thus allowing the River of Dream to take hold. A warm, almost burning sensation ascends my spine, coming forth from the lowest of my spiritual centers, passing each nexus, awakening its potential. The warmth finally reaches my head and the world vanishes from me.

I am floating amid a thousand butterflies, their wings carrying my weight among the mists and clouds of the River of Dream. I feel alive, closer to the Goddess than I ever was during my time among the Tribes. Among Magdalen the Lover. She had taught me how to love and appreciate the sensations that existence had to offer, and I learned to appreciate her teachings and her embrace. I sought to understand the inner nature of desire and found what I was looking for. I found true peace in the love of the Goddess. Magdalen’s jealousy was complete. I felt the wrath of her vanity and was banished from ever knowing another touch or caress from her pleasurable lips. I would never again know the comfort of numerous bodies, keeping me warm at night and lending to me the sensations of the flesh. I was an exile when I made the true discovery, and the subsequent banishment held no pain for me. I realized then, that the pain was during my time among the Tribes. I was truly liberated.

So here I am, floating as a Lightbringer in the River of Dream. Searching for the spirit that will guide us and aid us through the hardships to come. The sweet fragrance of the butterflies calms my senses as I project my mind into the ether. Droplets of rain fall upon my face, cleansing my pristine, naked form, taking me further across the fold into the depths of the spirit realm. Magnificent colors, brighter than a rainbow in a clear sky, shine and dance in a harmonious nature. They soon take form, creating a brilliant landscape of emerald green trees, alabaster white trails, and waterfalls that resemble an angel’s tears. I weep at the beauty of it all, knowing that with guidance and hope, all of this can become our reality. If only we allow ourselves to dream.

The butterflies gently place me upon the path of the magical forest, my feet light and weightless upon the ground. I laugh out loud despite myself, willing to give myself to my surroundings without fear or hesitation. My movements are enchanting, like a swan about to take flight. The trail carries me along, a breeze of lavender kissing my face. I notice deep red stones, like well placed droplets of blood, standing out in contrast to the placid white shales of the path. I know I am getting closer now. My power as a Dreamer are strong and I have done much in the way of knowing my destination. I am careful not to disturb the rubies, leaving them in their slumber; untouched by my imperfections.

I am led to a grove that is alive with the activity of forest creatures. Insects gathering nectar and pollinating everything they touch. Birds dancing in the circling ripples of air, allowing their wings to whimsically carry their bodies. The grass flows like the currents of the tide, swaying and lapping against the roots of the trees. Flowers blossom, releasing their seductive perfumes into the air, erotically mingling with the scents of the grove. I dance and spin into the circle, reenacting the ritual I had practiced so often before. The spirit can not resist a dance of purity, for that is what it is. What it represents.

My motions are without resistance, one flowing into the next, never giving any signs as to when one ends and the next begins. Pure dream essence falls from my body, forming tiny eddies of fairy mist in my wake. The silent music flutters beside me like a partner in dance, always keeping in time and rhythm. I am not alone now. She is with me, in all her grace and elegance. I begin my chant, my voice as sweet and luring as the ripest fruit.

Song of love,
Dream of purity,
Dance with your child,
O’ Spirit of wild.

Come with your hope,
I sacrifice all I am,
Unto you Destiny lies,
O’ Spirit of wise.

Carry our young,
Promise to a greater land,
Within your soul,
O’ Spirit of old.


I continue to repeat the song, rising into an epiphany that pervades all the senses. Body, mind, and spirit become one. My dance spins, continually faster and faster, until I feel a sensation enter the grove. It worked! It has arrived! I stop.

Tears well up within me, pouring forth of their own volition. My knees shake and give way, my body collapsing to the grass in its presence. Emotion overcomes me and I lose myself in its beauty. Word cannot lend justice to the spirit that stands before me. It is proud yet humble. Its starlike eyes pierce me with mercy. It steps further into the grove, red droplets of rubies left in its path. A faultless, brilliant white horn rises from its pristine head, touching the stars of the sky with its purpose. In all my life, I have never witnessed such an enchanting beast.

It comes towards me, calm and gentle, reaching for my bosom with its horn. The touch of its magic is like all the pleasures of the world, without sin or shadow, passing through me in an instant. I see the visions of its past. How it was hunted and forgotten. How its brethren were tainted an turned into creatures of darkness. They are horrible visions filled with pain and longing that only makes it all the more beautiful. I promise it that we will never forget.. That we will always worship it for what it is. That we will respect it and hold it sacred as our totem spirit. I feel its love for me when I pledge myself to it, and know then, that it will never be far from me.

I sleep in the grove, truly knowing peace. When I awake, I see that a ruby the color of blood has been placed in my palm, my fingers holding it tightly. My fellow lightbringers come around me, asking me what my DreamQuest has foretold. What secrets it has garnered for the Fallen, the Eighth Tribe. I smile at them, feeling the warmth of the gem in my hand.

“Come, let us go.” I say. “There is much work to be done. We have a Tribe to save.”

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Travel, Fate Core Style - Part 2

In Part I, I covered a few of the basic ways that travel can be handled. In this second installment I'll give some examples of slightly specific Extras that can be used to add more detail to or just spice it up a little bit. These can either be used by themselves or possibly combined together, depending on the game's exat needs.

Aspects

Aspects are the easiest and most obvious additions to any scene involving travel, from Impassible Mountains to Plentiful Game to Trade Winds. Since the scale is much larger than most scenes, it's also possible for specific locations to be their own aspects. These location aspects can be used much like situation aspects. For example, a player can invoke the Greenbriar Village aspect to get a Lore bonus on finding the ruined tower or for a hot meal to help make a recovery roll.

Zones

Zones are another relatively simple addition to travel. Geographic areas tend to have natural barriers or boundaries - rivers, mountains, forests, marshes, etc. These boundaries can provide passive resistance to moving between zones, prompting appropriate rolls if one or more zones need to be crossed within the same scene. Similarly, they can be used to keep track of the pace of travel. Zones will likely have their own aspects. Locations can also be smaller zones with aspects of their own.

Distance Stress Track

Speaking of pacing, using a distance stress track is one technique for keeping track of how far the characters get and how fast.The stress track has a number of boxes each representing some unit of distance. As the group travels, they make appropriate rolls (Drive, Physique, Athletics, whatever). Each roll takes place at a specific time increment - the more shifts the characters accumulate, the faster they travel. Most of the time the resistance to the roll will be passive, but it might be active under the right circumstances (which we'll get into more in a bit). This stress track would likely be one that is "attacked" with straight shifts - two shifts means mark off two boxes. When the track is filled, the characters reach their destination.

An enhancement to this idea is to have specific boxes on the stress track represent locations that can be reached. In order to reach the location, the characters need to mark off stress equal to or greater than the location's box. If a location is very difficult to find, unknown to the characters, or hidden, you can require that the characters have to land on that exact box.

Consequences

It's also possible to the distance stress track one or more Consequence slots. These Consequences should be predefined, and are there for the GM to "absorb" shifts and thus slow down or complicate the journey. Good examples are Bridge Out, Roadblock, or even Flight Delayed.

Skills

Once you get to this level, you're pretty much going full Fate Fractal. The most obvious choice for a skill would be any situation where the environment can actively take action against the characters. A Winter Storm might be a skill used to attack characters travelling through a mountainous region. A more abstract skill could be Treacherous Terrain that can interfere with how far the characters travel in a scene - effectively meaning that the terrain is offering active resistance to the characters trying to mark off distance stress, if it's being used. Aspects can still be used to for specific threats - like Wolf Packs or Bandits.

Combining multiple Extras together can result in what amounts to a write-up of a campaign region. Each Zone would have aspects, a distance stress track with defined Consequences, and a skill or two (for generic zones Terrain or Weather and Threat are good choices for skills). Over time, the aspects and skill ranks for the zone can even change as campaign milestones are reached.

Example

Here is an example "campaign scale" zone from Tribe 8. The options in use are:
  • Zones
  • High concept, trouble and several other aspects Distance stress track with Consequences.
  • Two skills: Toxic Environment and Terrain. 

Each box on the distance stress track represents 1 mile travelled (Vimary is a pretty small place), and rolls are made every hour of game time. Characters roll Physique to mark off distance stress, opposed by the Terrain skill. Consequences are used to absorb shifts the characters generate, slowing them down and placing

The Rust Wastes


Aspects:
Disintegrating Industrial Area
Deadly Rust Storms
Artifacts of the World Before
Olympus
Access to Subterra

Skills:
Toxic Environment +4
Terrain +4
Distance:
OOOOOOOO
Consequences:
Keeper Pitfalls (-2)
Collapsing Ruins (-4)

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Travel, Fate Core Style - Part I

Travel has been a staple of roleplaying games for a very long time. A lot of gamers who cut their teeth on BECMI or similar have fond memories of exploring wilderness hex-maps, figuring out travel times, and resolving random encounters. I don't know about anybody else's groups, but in ours the wilderness expeditions were often a large part of the adventure before getting to the dungeon/lost temple/whatever.

What often got lost in those heady early days was the reason for travelling in the first place, as we quickly set about figuring out travel times, setting up watch schedules and rolling for random encounters. It became a task we did by rote, like calculating encumbrance or tallying gold pieces. It wasn't necessarily the wrong way to handle travel, but there wasn't a lot of support for other alternatives either.

Fate Core has the means to support not just one or two different ways of handling travel, but pretty much as many variations as any given table should need. The only thing the GM has to do is know why the characters are travelling and how important the journey itself is. The answers to those two questions will lead to the best technique for handling the travel itself. A lot of the time, it will be evident that it's not the travel itself that needs to be resolved, but the things that happen during travel. Luckily it's very easy to slide up or down the Fate Fractal to handle whatever level of detail needs to be addressed.

Travel As A Challenge

As anyone who has ever set up even the most benign-seeming trips can attest, they can quickly turn into a nightmare.  These situations mean a single Overcome action won't cut it, because covering the distance from point A to point B isn't the real challenge - it's everything else that's complicating the trip.

Let's say the PCs need to get halfway around the world to some location to obtain some McGuffin. They need to do it without tipping the bad guys off as to where they are going, and they can't arouse suspicion once they get there. Finally, they have to use two forms of travel - say fly into the country and then arrange for a car or boat or something to get them there. The GM breaks the challenge down to:
  1. A Resources roll to get transportation.
  2. A Deceive roll to throw the bad guys off of their trail.
  3. A Contacts roll to get hooked up with the proper documentation.
  4. A Drive roll to successfully get to the final destination.

The same steps can be applied to typical fantasy wilderness travel: the characters have to endure the rigors of trip (Physique), properly navigate (Lore), avoid danger (Notice) and possibly even be able to find food, water and shelter (Resources or possibly even a second Lore roll). In this case, the rolls have more to do with the actual travel than the preparations, but it's the same general idea: the outcome or the purpose of the travel is more important than how the characters got there.

Travel As A Contest

This one should be pretty self-evident: the travel is a race. It's essentially not much different than when two characters are both rushing for the same sword, or the same door, or to get to King first to rat out the other character. The exact method they are using isn't nearly as important as the overall goal of the race and the potential complications for failing the contest. Many times each leg of the contest will look a lot like on of the steps in a travel challenge. So in our Challenge example, let's say that there's a Nazi bad guy that is trying to get there first (I've been watching Zero Hour...stop judging me). He'd just be rolling indirectly against the PCs to see if he can get enough victories to win - by finding out where the PCs are going, trying to trip up their getting there, and finally getting there first.

Travel As A Conflict

Here's where things get interesting. How can travel be set up as a conflict? The best answer I can think of is, "When the trip is trying to hurt you." An easy example would be a storm threatening an ocean voyage. The storm might be given a skill that could be used to attack the boat. Exposure, dehydration, hunger, even distance are all things that can be used against the characters. In addition to resisting or defending against these elements, the characters may even have the ability to mitigate or otherwise eliminate the threat.

Other Techniques

The three methods above aren't the full extent of how the Fate Fractal can be leveraged to add some variety to travelling. In the next installment, I'll be going over some more specific implementations that make use of different rules elements.