Friday, August 30, 2013

"You Know Nothing, Jon Snow"

If Jonnie boy had reacted to Ygritte the way that some people reacted to my last blog post, she'd be in a ditch somewhere. You'd think I assaulted someone's mom and peed in their Cheerios.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Gaming Has Taught You Very Little Useful

I recently saw a post on G+ that got me thinking. Why do some gamers have a drive to justify their hobby? I've heard or read claims that gaming promotes math skills, reading, writing, organization, critical thinking, teamwork, social skills, nearly any positive you can think of. Almost every time, it comes across as an attempt to try to legitimize a hobby that's basically about imaginary shit.

Friday, August 16, 2013

An Understanding of Contests vs. Conflicts

There's a nuance to the difference between contests and conflicts in Fate Core that wasn't completely obvious to me at first, but became apparent when I started looking at various stunts with possession or paralyzation like effects.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Temporary Conditions

In a Fate Core game that uses conditions, temporary conditions are a compromise to make up for the lack of more flexible consequences. They aren't temporary in the same sense as fleeting conditions are - they just aren't part of the permanent condition list.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Contact Circles: Expanded Contacts For Fate Core

One of the casualties of cleaning and tightening up Fate of Vimary was I decided to get rid of the expanded Contacts rules that I had come up with. I'm preserving them here in case I (or anyone else) ever does want to use them.

Contacts

Contacts  represent a web of separate but overlapping groups called circles (similar to circles in the Burning Wheel or even Google+). When you purchase ranks in Contacts you choose a number of circles and place them in a pyramid. The circle can be anywhere from an individual to an entire nation. Each tier of this pyramid has a rank, which corresponds to how close this particular circle is to you. The top tier is the group that you have the closest ties to. The middle tier is one degree removed and the last tier is one more degree removed. Any Contact outside of these circles is rated at a 4.



Each circle placed in the pyramid also has a size rating. There is no restriction on which size groups can be placed in which circles either based on tier or on Contacts rating. You can place an entire city as your tier 1 Contact even if you have only one rank in Contacts. This means you have a small amount of influence over a large group. As you will see below it will be very difficult to get those Contacts to do anything, but it will be big when you do.


The size ratings are as follows:

0: Individual Character
1: A unit or small family, from 4 to 20 individuals.
2: A village, small local company, department in a large company, or small prominent family.
3: A small town or large village, a small national company, or a large, prominent family.
4: A medium town, national organization, or regional religion
5: A small city, national corporation or national religious organization

When you make a Contacts roll, you choose a target Circle for the roll. The base difficulty for any overcome or create advantage roll related to this Circle is equal to the tier rank the Circle is in plus the Circle’s size rating.

Circle placement within the tiers are fluid as groups react to the character’s social standing.. Consequences from social stress can target the pyramid, thus removing the circle from the appropriate tier. A tier 3 circle can be removed by a mild consequence; a tier 2 circle can be removed by a moderate consequence; and a tier 1 circle by a severe consequence. The circle being targeted for removal depends on the social situation. For example, if you side with the Lightbringers over the Herites during a Rant you may find yourself in social conflict with the Herites as they try to discredit you. Having a Herite cell in your circles could mean that if you take a consequence, it would be Lost Respect of Fatima’s Blood Cell and you would have to remove that group from your circles. Once the consequence is cleared you may choose to fill the empty circle with a new group provided it can be justified. Circles can also be rearranged or replaced are during milestones.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Latest Round Of Updates to Fate of Vimary

For all practical purposes, I'm calling Fate of Vimary done. There may still be some minor tweaks to various stunts depending on how things turn out in actual play, but I've made all of the major revisions I can think of. The largest is the use of conditions instead consequences, followed by some tightening up of how each of the magic systems work. Finally I've rearranged and prettied some things up. A revised character sheet is going to follow soonish, because I need to do some playtesting!

In case anyone doesn't have the link, here's the document in Google Drive:

Friday, August 9, 2013

Why Use Conditions?

I realized I kind of jumped the gun when I posted my tweaks for Fate Core conditions so I'm going to talk about my thought process for deciding to use them.

First off, I like consequences a whole lot. And stress tracks. They're hands down one of my favorite "damage mechanics" of any game. In fact, I like stress tracks so much that whenever there's a need to track timing, or pacing, or progress of some kind my first instinct is to use a stress track. This leads to "stress track creep." In my original Strands of Fate conversion for Tribe 8, I had a whole bunch of them - I think five for characters and at least a couple other setting-level tracks. When I started working on a Fate Core version of Tribe 8, I said I wasn't going to add any more - and I still did. It bugged me because I had tried to take a reductionist perspective to breaking out various elements I thought should be in Fate of Vimary, but I couldn't shake myself out of the mindset that I needed physical, mental, social, spiritual, etc. stress tracks.

Yo stress track

Reading about conditions in the Fate System Toolkit made a light go on in my head, but I wanted to sit on them a bit. I didn't want to use them just because they were new or different. Having moved recently, I had a (forced) break from the Fate of Vimary material and only recently was able to come back around to looking things over. When I did I realized that conditions were what I needed and a number of things struck me about them.

First is that a set of carefully defined conditions could be just as flexible as naming consequences on the fly yet still go a long way toward communicating a specific feel. In fact, in the long term I figured most consequences representing the same general concept would wind up looking pretty similar. So why not just name them ahead of time? The exact details after that are just window dressing. Second, in a game where stress was coming from a larger number of sources, with as many stress tracks as I had it would lead to consequences being in play less and not more (by virtue of having more stress boxes that needed to be checked off). I know I want some kind of minor consequences - or in this case fleeting conditions - in play the majority of the time.

As a result I started looking at what a conditions list might look like for Fate of Vimary. I wanted the names and the balance between fleeting, sticky and lasting conditions to be just right. I'm very happy with the end result. On top of that, I've become aware of just how much is going on in what seems like a simplified concept. For one, the broad nature of how they are named - Exhausted, Disoriented, Bloodied, Broken, etc. - are suitable for a variety of stress. You can be mentally or spiritually exhausted, or emotionally broken, or socially bruised. Having the conditions has also streamlined the process of revising some of the Synthesis stunts I had adapted. Granted all of this is possible using consequences, but conditions tighten things up quite a bit.

For most Fate Core games I'd use off-the-shelf stress tracks and consequences. But for something a bit more targeted, like Tribe 8, conditions are a great way to tweak the tone of the setting without straying too far spiritually from the core rules.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Conditions in Fate of Vimary


Conditions are an alternate way of handling stress, introduced in the Fate System Toolkit.

Each condition can be thought of as a pre-defined consequence. Players can choose to soak stress by taking a condition, and the GM can impose a condition if it would make sense from a narrative standpoint. The GM may call for a roll to resist the condition when appropriate. Conditions are treated like aspects and can be invoked and compelled normally.

Conditions are either fleeting, sticky or lasting. Fleeting conditions last until you get a spare chance to recover from them - typically not longer than a scene. Sticky conditions require that an action or event take place to clear them. For example, if your character is dehydrated they need water, or if they are exhausted they need sleep. Lasting conditions require an overcome roll of Great(+4) passive opposition to begin to recover from them.

When you take a condition, you check off the box next to it. Once the box is checked, you can no longer take that condition. For lasting conditions, there are two check marks next to it. When you take a lasting condition as a result of the GM saying you have that condition, you check off both boxes. When someone makes the recovery roll for the lasting condition, you erase the first check box. At the end of the next full session, you can erase the second check box. Characters may have stunts that add additional boxes or even new conditions. High skill levels, such as Physique, do not add more boxes for conditions - instead, they simply mean the character has a better chance of actively resisting a condition if the GM calls for it.


You can take conditions in order to “soak” stress. Fleeting conditions are worth 1 stress and sticky conditions or each box of a lasting condition are worth 2. Note that if you check off one box of a lasting condition to soak stress, that box still will not clear until the end of the next session.

There is one last level of conditions: permanent. Permanent conditions are like extreme consequences in Fate Core. You can soak up to 6 stress when you choose to take a permanent condition. When you check off the box, you must replace one aspect (with the exception of your High Concept) with an aspect that represents the permanent condition. There is no recovery roll for a permanent condition, although at your next major milestone you can rename the aspect to represent some recovery from the condition. At that point you can erase the check box next to the permanent condition.

Here are the conditions that I have settled on for Fate of Vimary:
Winded [Fleeting] ☐
Bruised [Fleeting] ☐
Disoriented [Fleeting] ☐
Frightened [Fleeting] ☐
Exhausted [Sticky] ☐
Famished [Sticky] ☐
Dehydrated [Sticky] ☐
Injured [Lasting] ☐ ☐
Crippled [Permanent] ☐

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

On Occasion, People Truly Amaze Me

I don't make many non-gaming related posts. Tonight is one of those times.

Marsha (or Marcia, I'm not sure), there isn't enough thanks in the world for what you did tonight in the grocery store. I had taken my step-daughter to Ralphs to go shopping, the first real grocery trip we'd made since moving into our new place. We had intentionally not gone shopping before moving, and after moving we were waiting until a new stove the landlord bought was delivered. It was finally installed yesterday, so this evening we went out for groceries. It was a really big shopping trip - the cart was overfull and near the end getting harder to push. When I got up to the register, my debit card wouldn't authorize. Over $330 in groceries, no checkbook, and the only card that I could use wouldn't work when it should have.

Completely taken off guard, I asked the checker to suspend the order so I could figure out what was going on and he could get on with ringing the people up behind me in line. At the very least I would have called my girlfriend so she could come pay for it.

Marsha, who was behind me in line, offered to pay our bill. I was shocked. I insisted that we didn't need someone to pay for it, I just needed to figure out why my card wasn't being authorized. She insisted, firmly, and clearly was not going to take no for an answer. She told me simply to "pay it forward". I couldn't thank her enough, and after we had loaded the groceries into the car and driven away I felt like crying.

I did not get her number, or her email address. She was not concerned in any way with being paid back. But Marsha, on the odd chance that you stumble upon this little corner of the Internet, I want you to know that what you did tonight was the pinnacle of what it means to be a human being. I'm not going to lie - after moving, having to buy new furniture and a host of other expenses things were going to be tight this month. Your generosity helped us out tremendously, and I have every intention of paying it forward.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Review: Fractured Kingdom

A few months ago, T. Dave Silva of House Dok Productions contacted me about writing a review of the Fractured Kingdom rpg. It had been mentioned in an RPG.net thread about rpgs that involve dreams and sounded really interesting. I finally was able to get around to reading it, and here's my review based on the read through. I haven't yet had a chance to play the game but I'm going to probably be rectifying that situation when I get a chance. 

Overview

Fractured Kingdom is a horror/conspiracy roleplaying game set in the year 2202. A lot of knowledge was lost during the Great War and through the actions of a religious movement called the Church of the Reclaimer that gained a lot of power during the war. The war created large wastelands and forced large populations into huge megalopolises. The geopolitical landscape has changed as well, allowing the rise of mega corporations. For the average person, the world is filled with technology that just works without any real understanding of how or why. Even the most meager of apartments is basically a smart home, with an entertainment system, Internet access and appliances know when your food will spoil or you're out of toilet paper.

Through all of this a small number of people known as Lucids have become infused with supernatural power. They become Elucidated after some traumatic or important event causes them to travel to one of the four Outer Realms (the Dark, the Grave, the Slumber or the Verdant). Each Realm grants abilities that go along with that Realm's theme. There's a large dose of "secret world"-style conspiracy and mystery in the setting, as the player characters try to survive against other Lucids and the governments and corporations that want to use them for their own ends. Overall, the setting has a somewhat noir feeling, and harkens back to games like Kult or The Whispering Vault

Presentation, Writing & Art

I read the PDF version, which I assume is not much different from the print edition. The PDF is bookmarked but doesn't have hyperlinks. It is black and white with sidebars, and doesn't make use of annoying watermarks or obtrusive borders. For the most part the book is well-organized with a table of contents, glossary and reasonably complete index. The book is divided into five chapters with a few narrative pieces in between, as well as an introductory adventure.

The book is well written, with only a few grammatical errors and odd turns of phrase. These errors become more evident in chapter five, which gives additional background information on running Fractured Kingdom. The art is reasonably well done, and reminds me somewhat of Ghislaine Barbe's art or perhaps some of the artwork from earlier White Wolf books. It definitely carries a kind of 90s feel to it for me and builds on the noir/horror feeling of the setting without detracting from the text. 

Character Creation System

Characters in Fractured Kingdom are defined by groups of related characteristics. The base characteristics are ten Attribute "Trees", covering your standard attributes like Dexterity, Sense, Constitution, Mental, etc. From there, characters can also invest points in Skills, Abilities, and Boons. Skills and Abilities both have a parent Attribute Tree. Basically, Skills are focused applications of an Attribute, while Abilities are more ambiguous things that a character can do, ranging from Martial Arts styles to other things that might be considered "advantages" in other systems. Skills can also have Specialties and Abilities can have a Focus. Each Lucid additionally has a Realm that they have affinity with, which defines the kinds of supernatural abilities they can purchase. All characteristics that have a value range from 1 to 24 (or higher). 

Characteristics are bought with points, with a separate pool of Characteristic Points for each Tree that are used for purchasing Attributes, Skills and Abilities under that Tree. In addition, Lucids have a pool of Lucid points that can be used to purchase abilities or boons that are supernatural in nature or tied to the character's Realm. Finally, starting characters get Experience Points that can be traded in for Characteristic or Lucid Points, or can be spent to buy bonuses or other effects in game. The number of points given for each pool depends on the experience level that is chosen for the game (New Lucid, Expert or Veteran). Characters also start with a couple of background skills and a pair each of basic Lucid Abilities and Foci to round them out. Finally, characters can take Drawbacks which give them some extra Experience Points to spend.

Boons are what make the game shine for Lucids. Each Boon is either Mundane, Supernatural, or tied to one of the four Outer Realms. They give each of the Realms a specific feel. Luckily there is a section on Boon Chains, which are lists of related Boons so a player can just pick one of the chains, buy up some required Boons, and go. 

There are a lot of moving parts in character creation (which the game freely admits), and the setup allows for a wide variety of character types from very narrow and focused to more broad and generalized. The example characters range from a sword god to a close combat character to a kindly-seeming elderly woman who can extend an aura of terror. When I sat down to create a sample character things started to fall into place pretty quickly, but I wound up setting up a spreadsheet to track point totals. It still took maybe an hour and a half with spending points and tweaking things out. I can see how it would be possible to nerf a character concept and wind up with characteristics that don't quite work as the player intended. Luckily, the characteristics don't have a lot of side-effecting mechanics (unlike, say, Charms in Exalted where every Charm is a rules-exception). Every characteristic is on the same scale and uses the same rules, perhaps with the exception of Boons - and even they aren't very complicated. 

System

The system is pretty simple and satisfies my, "Can I remember how it works without looking it up?" test. Basically, when attempting a task the player chooses or makes the case for the characteristics that would impact the roll. The ratings for all of those characteristics are added up. Then the player rolls a base d6, plus one more for each type of characteristic that applies (Attribute, Skill, Specialty, Ability, Focus). The result is summed and the rating total added, and that result is compared to a difficulty number.

One interesting thing is there are no "botch" mechanics, and critical successes are either a function of Specialties or Foci, or bought with Experience Points. Besides buying the possibility of critical successes, characters can spend experience points on rolls to get bonuses, double the value of rolls, and recuperate or recover energy.

So what is going to stop a character from trying to open a can of peas using five Characteristics? Well, if he's in the comfort of his own home, nothing. If he's doing it while fighting off nightmare monsters, he has to spend Energy. An average Expert Lucid seems to have about 100 to 110 points in their Energy Pool. Every time you do something in a stressful situation, you have to spend 1 point per characteristic used on the roll.. This doesn't work like the dice - if you are using two Skills for a roll, you are paying 2 Energy even if you only get one extra die on the roll. Boons have Energy costs as well.

I have my doubts about the result ranges involved in the dice rolls. It seems like under a lot of circumstances the base number from summing the characteristics is going to be high - at least over the median result for the die roll (the example in the book has a character rolling 6d6+54). When I see this kind of setup I always think, "If the values were reduced and the die roll scaled down, wouldn't it have the same result spread?". In a way it's the opposite of what we've been conditioned to look for in die rolls, where we expect the bonus to be some fraction of what the highest possible roll. I'd honestly have to play a few sessions to suss out how smoothly it works.

Combat is resolved by rolling attack versus defense. Weapons have a Weapon Rating which is added to the roll, while Armor has an Armor Rating that is added to the defense. The amount of damage done is equal to 2 points for each Characteristic used in the attack, plus the weapon's Strength rating. Armor has a Strength rating that reduces the damage done. Depending on the type of damage done (Health or Ego) it is subtracted from the appropriate Life Pool. Attacks that do a significant amount of damage result in Wounds, which are represented by placing a checkmark next to an attribute (again, depending on the type of damage). The part I like is that whenever the character uses a characteristic from a Tree that is wounded, they suffer additional Ego damage. Suffering too many Wounds results in more serious injuries (called Limitations). Eventually, the character will start dying. The system avoids a "death spiral" while at the same time penalizing the character in an abstract way. There are a number of attack and defense maneuvers that can affect rolls and actions, and they seem to cover most of the basics - aiming, all out attacks or defenses, etc. 

Setting

The setting chapter covers the basics of the world of 2202, including the history of The Great War, the current geopolitical landscape, and the cities that have the highest concentration of Lucids. It also goes into the Baronies, groups of Lucids that can be antagonists or protagonists, as well as supernatural creatures and a more mundane bestiary.

The setting itself does not have a lot of detail. To me this is a good thing, because in the end Fractured Kingdom could work with nearly any modern setting with very little fuss. One thing that the section lacks is any hard details on the Bridges which allow crossing from the mundane world to the Realms. It's known that they cause problems with the local environment, but otherwise aren't detailed in terms of the system. Do they provide bonuses when using Realm abilities near them? Are they merely gateways to the Realms and nothing else? Obviously the GM can fill in those blanks, but it would have been nice if they got a more detailed treatment.

The introductory scenario, Song of Silence, includes write-ups for the characters who are introduced throughout the rulebook. They are a good mix of different Lucid abilities and are good for getting a feel for what Lucid characters should look like. Without giving away any spoilers, the scenario is a good introduction to the elements of the setting and has a mix of combat and noncombat options.

Miscellany

Support for "Mundane" characters is present, but they have limitations when compared to Lucids who simply tend to be tougher, more capable and have all kinds of nifty powers. Playing a Mundane among a group of Lucids would get boring pretty fast.

A gear chapter rounds out the book, covering basic equipment, weapons, and armor. The game uses Purchase Values in lieu of currency, representing how difficult an item is to obtain. The Fortune Attribute governs how much purchasing power a character has, and there are other characteristics such as Wealth that can add to rolls when trying to obtain an item. 

Summary

In all Fractured Kingdom has an interesting premise and is a good addition to the horror/conspiracy genre. For me it is right up there in terms of feel as Kult and The Whispering Vault, but with its own twists and a cosmology that isn't obviously derivative. It's a good buy for gamers interested in the genre, but does lack a little bit on the supporting details which could be a problem for newer GMs. On the player end, character creation can seem a little daunting but not overwhelmingly so. Even without a play through it appears that the system is utilitarian but has some nice features to help support the style of the game, and it's entirely possible that some of the elements that seem a little clumsy (such as adding up characteristics, then rolling and adding that) would be just fine in play.

Fractured Kingdom can be purchased on DriveThruRPG or Studio2Publishing if you prefer a print copy.

Could This Ruling Affect RPGs?

Yesterday, the Ninth Circuit ruled that the EA video game NCAA Football did not qualify for First Amendment protection in its use of a character portraying football player Sam Keller. EA used all but his face and name - jersey number, position, and a biography similar to his. But nothing else. The ruling came after Keller sued EA, claiming that the game infringed on his "right to publicity" - basically, his right to control the use of his likeness or identity. The EFF article has a lot of the details, such as what test the Ninth Circuit applied to reach this ruling and how it differs from other similar, but not identical, recent rulings. It also quotes the dissenting judge in the case, Sidney Thomas:
The logical consequence of the majority view is that all realistic depictions of actual persons, no matter how incidental, are protected by a state law right of publicity regardless of the creative context. This logic jeopardizes the creative use of historic figures in motion pictures, books, and sound recordings.
And, by extension, role-playing games - which are likely to fall under the same likeness test used in the EA case. In both a football video game and a tabletop rpg, you can actively play the character. Or, to split hairs, in the video game you can control the virtual playing piece representing the character. In a TTRPG, you can actually play the character. Direct his actions, assign motivation and purpose, and otherwise try to realistically simulate the character in question.

Now this isn't to say that a lawsuit might be brought against a roleplaying company for including, say, a 15-year older version of some celebrity. The ruling is relatively narrow. But it opens the door for all kinds of legal shenanigans instigated by some celeb who gets it stuck in their craw that they don't like how they were depicted in a roleplaying game. Considering that roleplaying games straddle a nebulous zone between game and fiction, an unfavorable ruling in such a case could set a further dangerous precedent.