Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Penny Arcade Heartbreaker Report

So, the Penny Arcade Report might have outed itself as not necessarily the best place to go for tabletop gaming news.

Yesterday an article by "Infinity", the author of The Future Belongs to Us, somewhat randomly appeared. Doing so on a larger site like PA implies the game is something people should watch out for, something they should know about. If one were to look at the press release on Tabletop Gaming News and interview at Initiative Tabletop, that impression would be reinforced. The reality is more of a marketing tactic. I don't know if it's the result of some marketing class, the publisher thinks it's a good idea, or something else but I do know it feels like they are puffing up and trying to look bigger than they are. We had it with Mykal Lakim's royal "we" and his posts about meetings and hiring people and planning a full game line before even having the first book out, and having a full staff of writers and editors. But why PAR wouldn't vet their guest columnists better kind of escapes me.

It comes off something like this. TFBTU isn't $19.95, is it?

Now I have nothing against Infinity personally. Anything he can do to try to get his name out there probably helps. But I think it's odd that PAR would tap him instead of Fred Hicks or someone similar for a column on keeping tabletop games "fluid". Instead, we get a cross between marketing and "Intro To Heartbreaker Logic 101". It makes it appear that the editor or content manager might not really know who is a big name in gaming, and figures anybody that can shove a POD book with a glossy cover in their face must be. We should probably count our blessings that it was Infinity and not Mykal Lakim that was offered the column.

Overall, the article doesn't tell its readers anything they don't already know. It tilts at windmills defeated 20 or more years ago and makes the author sound like someone who's never played anything other than d20 or Storyteller. Statements like this don't help either:
More powerful characters may be able to overcome this, but they are rolling 10, 15, 20 dice all the time which can get pretty ridiculous. You shouldn’t have to roll more and more dice as you become more powerful.
<Pedantic nit-picking hat>Exalted is one of the few games I can think of where this is the case and there are certainly many more dice pool systems where it isn't (Silhouette and Synergy spring to mind because I'm most familiar with them).</Pedantic nit-picking hat> What makes the statement even more out of place is that even if Exalted is the target, it's a completely different genre than TFBTU. The systems have very different goals, and in Exalted rolling buckets of dice is one of them. Either he doesn't have a good grasp on what forms dice pool systems can possibly take, he doesn't grasp how systems don't all have the same design goals, or it's hyperbole. Regardless any gamer with reasonably broad experience can identify the statement as being baloney.

The end result is the author comes off as either inexperienced or amateur and raises the question of why he would get the slot for the column instead of someone else. It damages PAR's credibility as an outlet for tabletop gaming news and makes me wonder if they're running paid-for articles.

Hey look, Penny Arcade might actually have something to say on this!
What goes over best for me (and doesn't immediately bring on the snark reflex) is when game designers are honest and forthright without any pretentiousness. I would liked to have seen an article about how an indie, small publisher brought TFBTU to market. What decisions were made during the process. Their own reservations, things they wish they could have done better. Instead of defensiveness and "Everyone who's played it says it's great! My mom even said 'That's nice, honey'!", open discussion of negative criticism. Most importantly an answer to why the cover art is pretty good quality (if questionable subject matter for anyone trying to sell to anyone other than teenage boys) but the interior art is really poor, and what decisions led to depicting an ostrich with bedroom eyes, Lando Calrissian fighting ninjas over a treasure chest and a Power Ranger riding a lion-themed golf cart (among many other things).

I never thought an ostrich could look so coy

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Fate Core Review


Now that I have the final copy of Fate Core PDF in front of my eyeballs, I've decided to do a somewhat more formal review.

Fate Core will be available from Evil Hat Productions no later than July. The PDF is going to be on, to quote Fred Hicks, a "pay what you want, including nothing" model. EDIT: It is actually available now, at least the PDF, on the Evil Hat webstore. There have been a couple draft copies that went out to backers - this review is of a fresh reading of the final electronic version. I don't expect it will change significantly between now and then.

First, for those who are unfamiliar with Fate I'll break it down as simply as possible. Fate Core is a game that is intended to let the narrative drive the rules and not the other way around. Characters are assumed to be competent and proactive, and those elements are baked into the system philosophically and mechanically:
  • Uses Fate (or Fudge dice, same thing), specifically four. Two sides are marked with a +, two sides with a -, and two sides are blank. They are read by adding up the results, so ++ - is a +1.
  • Skills are rated from 0 to 4 by default (though this range can be extended). They add to the die roll. There are no attributes.
  • Most importantly, uses descriptive "tags" called aspects. Aspects represent things that are important - to the character, to the scene, even to the campaign - and can be used to justify influencing the story or results such as getting bonuses to die rolls, rerolling bad rolls, creating a special effect or merely being used as a justification for an action. Aspects can be used by and against characters, and characters can take actions that will add new aspects into play.
  • It uses a currency called Fate Points that players spend to use their character's aspects (called invoking). Players receive Fate Points when their aspects are used against them (called a compel).

Production Values

The Fate Core PDF is 310 pages including the index and other extras. The book is black-and-white and laid out in a single column with sidebars on either side. The sidebars tend to be informative, calling attention to concepts, offering advice and giving examples - often there will be hyperlinks to other relevant sections of the document, which I have found very handy. Another nice touch is the sidebars typically have a black background with white text, a format I've always liked in other books. There isn't a default setting, although a fantasy setting called Steel Hearts is used for many of the examples. That setting and two others are depicted in the game's art: Hong Kong action Ancestral Affairs featuring magic-using cops in an alternate Chinese-colonized America, and semi-supers Chrome City featuring a cybernetic gorilla. On the subject of the art, it is all evocative of Fate's themes and very well done - that's what happens when you have a super-successful Kickstarter.

That's not a hover gorilla

The rules themselves are broken down into chapters on the basics, game and character creation, aspects, actions, running the game, setting up scenarios, etc. It's rounded out with a hyperlinked index as well as cheat sheet, a couple worksheets and sample characters.

Introduction and Character Creation

The introductory chapters lay out Fate's basics clearly and concisely, starting with the dice and moving to Fate Points and aspects. Fate uses a scale called the Ladder to rank things - skills, difficulties, whatever. It combines numerical values with descriptors, starting with -2 as Terrible, 0 as Mediocre and up to 8 as Legendary, but is really open-ended.  It's intended to be used to assess values on a descriptive scale, as in:
"I think that it would take Great effort to move that rock. That means it should be a 4 or higher to do it."
Rolls that are higher than the difficulty generate shifts, which are used to judge how successful the roll was. Invokes are used when an aspect is going to be used to change the die result (typically as a bonus or a reroll), while compels are used when an aspect gets in the way. The older terminology of  "tagging" has been renamed free invocation, while what used to be known as "invoking for effect" is simply a compel. Personally, I find it easier to remember Fate Core's terminology and when to apply it than, say, Spirit of the Century's.

The chapter on game creation is similar to the city creation guidelines from the Dresden Files rpg. The method given of "drilling down" into the setting by defining issues, then attaching locations, and finally personalities is one that I've found to be very useful, even with pre-existing settings and even other rpgs. 

Character creation is very straightforward: select aspects, assign skills, take stunts or Extras. The number of aspects has been cut down from other Fate implementations to five, which to me is a good move (in other games, I sometimes felt like I was swimming in Aspects). Characters have a High Concept and a Trouble aspect, then three more aspects that come from the Phase Trio. The Phase Trio is similar to the phases in Spirit of the Century, where players are passed someone else's character and then decide how their character contributed to the other character's background story.  I wish there were some examples of alternates to the Phase Trio, because I'm not completely sold on it for every potential game (or group). Skills are assigned by the skill pyramid, where the character has one "apex" skill with rows of lower ranked skills to support it. This is only for character creation, after which skills move to a "column" pattern. In practice, sometimes the pyramid seems stifling but I'm the type who always winds up feeling like my character is "done" even when I have a couple skill slots left to fill.


Because aspects are such a large part of Fate, virtually every chapter discusses them to one degree or another, and an entire chapter is devoted to them. The aspects chapter goes into detail about how aspects are used, what they can do, creating good aspects, and gives a lot of advice on getting the most out of them.  One thing I love is the "Mad Libs" approach to deciding when to compel an aspect:
You have ____ aspect and are in ____ situation, so it makes sense that, unfortunately, ____ would happen to you. Damn your luck.
Even for seasoned Fate veterans there is a lot of goodness in this chapter, not only for the excellent overview of aspects but because there has been some divergence among Fate games regarding what aspects can be used for and how to apply them. Fate Core consolidates the "party line" on aspects and snaps them back to a common center.

One of the biggest changes to Fate Core regarding aspects is the Create Advantage action (which I talk about below). Essentially, the character can sacrifice an action to place an aspect that they can justify, without spending a Fate Point. For example, a character trying to run away from some thugs in a market can use an action to create the advantage, Rolling Fruit Cart and then use the free invoke to get a bonus to getting away.

Another way an aspect can be created is through a boost, which is the result of trying to create advantage and tying or as an extra bonus because of a high roll. Unlike advantages, which stay around around at least until the end of the scene (or when they would logically go away), boosts can only be invoked once and then they disappear.

If there is one weak spot regarding aspects, it's that the book glosses over the idea that aspects are always true, even when they are not being invoked. There is this sentence in character creation:
This may seem self-evident, but we figured we’d call it out anyway—the aspects on your character sheet are true of your character at all times, not just when they’re invoked or compelled.
And then this under Situation Aspects:
Sometimes situation aspects become obstacles that characters need to overcome. Other times they give you justification to provide active opposition against someone else’s action.
But that's it. The implications, particularly for players coming from other Fate games where this was either not the case or wasn't explicit, aren't immediately made clear. In Fate Core, a character who has the aspect Breathes Underwater can always breathe underwater, regardless of whether the aspect is invoked. A situation aspect of Pitch Black means that characters can't see where they're going or what they're doing - no invoke required. A character who is Handcuffed and Shackled doesn't need to have the aspect compelled to prevent the use of their hands or being able to run. I feel the concept needed more discussion in the rules to make it more clear to GMs how to apply it, especially for players of older Fate games or other rpgs in general.

The section also delves into the Fate Point economy, and how the players and GM earn and spend Fate Points. One important element is refresh, which dictates how many Fate Points the character starts each scenario with. Refresh can traded for extra Stunt slots, down to a minimum of 1.


On to skills. The default skill list is generic with broad-based skills. I've found from tinkering around with various settings that the default skill list covers all of the right bases, and is easily tweaked to provide the right feel for different games. I attribute the ease of working with the skill list to the new standardized actions each skill has. These actions - overcome, create advantage, attack and defend - cover everything a skill can be used for, and are a slight reduction from the number of actions that could be performed in previous versions of Fate.
  • Overcome is used anytime the character wants to do something with a skill (and is kind of the de facto action when there's ever a question as to which action to use).
  • Create advantage encompasses the assessment/declaration/maneuvers from previous versions of Fate. Characters use their action during an exchange in order to create advantage and gain a free invoke on that aspect.
  • Attack and Defend should be self-explanatory.
Not every skill has all four actions available - for example, Deceive isn't typically used to attack. Each skill only gets a couple of example stunts, which I think was a good break from having pages and pages of them in other Fate games. Also, because of the standardization the skill and stunt descriptions seem to be a lot shorter page-count wise (only about 40 pages - I actually read them all too!).

Stunts are abilities that allow the character to add new actions to a skill or otherwise break the rules in some way. They are a way of differentiating characters and providing a narrower focus or specialization to skills. Characters start with 3 free stunts by default, but can trade refresh (down to 1) for more. The section on Stunts covers how to build stunts and the various things they can do. It does it well enough that it's been  invaluable when creating my own stunts for the games I'm planning. This stunt for a skill called Pilfer in one of my settings is a good example (and is based on a stunt in Fate Core):
Memory Hole: You are so good at hiding things, you can actively roll against attempts to find them even if you are not physically present.

Running the Game

Two chapters cover actions and then conflicts, challenges and contests. This is another area where Fate Core has been simplified compared to previous games - the number of actions has been reduced and the potential outcomes simplified. A nice side effect to this is each skill or stunt is no longer its own little packet full of rules exceptions. The character makes rolls versus another roll or a static number, and either fails, ties, succeeds or succeeds with style. A failure is exactly that, although there is the option of succeeding at a cost, which personally is more satisfying than failure. For example, a character who is trying to use Resources to buy something and fails the roll can opt to actually get it, but wind up taking a Consequence or an aspect such as In Debt. A tie depends on the action that was being attempted, but generally it means succeeding at a small cost or getting a boost. Success also depends on the action but it means just that - success without a cost. Success with style typically means creating an aspect with a free invocation (or if you were trying to create one, two free invocations),

Contests and challenges are both outlined with steps for resolving them. Contests are used when a number of discrete actions need to be performed to obtain a goal. Challenges are when two or more characters are competing for the same thing but not trying to harm one another. In both cases the rules have been simplified from previous Fate versions. Conflict is broken into rounds called exchanges and, aside from the reduction in actions and changes due to the four outcomes, isn't much different than older Fate versions. Movement is done within Zones and is not precisely tracked - anyone can reach anyone else within the same zone. Zone boundaries from previous Fate games have been replaced with passive or active opposition, requiring an overcome roll - in fact, all movement between zones is treated as an overcome if applicable. There aren't any additional actions or tables of maneuvers or modifiers - the difficulty is set by the GM and adjusted by the presence of any obstacles or aspects.

Another thing most players of traditional roleplaying games will find novel is how Fate Core (and most other Fate games) handles injury or other effects of conflict. Each character has two stress tracks: physical and mental. Whenever a character fails their defense roll against an attack, the shifts from the attack have to be absorbed somehow. The stress tracks each have two boxes, although certain skills may add one or two more, which are checked off based on the shifts the attack generates. So if you take a 2-shift hit, you check off the #2 box. Characters also have Consequence slots - a Mild, a Moderate and  and a Severe. These Consequence slots can also absorb shifts - 2, 4 or 6 respectively. So if the character had marked off the #2 stress box and then takes another 2-shift hit, they would then take a Mild Consequence. Consequences are a form of aspect, and as a result can be invoked or compelled normally but are overall more negative than aspects (it's hard to invoke Broken Leg, but I suppose it could be done). Each has specific time periods that have to be pass before the character can recover and take them off of their sheet. Once the character does not have any more stress boxes or Consequences they are Taken Out (unless the character Concedes). Conceding means the character is taken out of the conflict (they get some extra Fate Points for this) and the opposition wins - but the character is still around. Getting taken out means the person who took out the character gets to decide what happens to them, including their character dying.

The next two chapters should be required reading for all GMs, everywhere. They cover running the game, scenes, scenarios, and campaigns. If you aren't interested in Fate's system, just throwing down however much you're willing to pay for the PDF is well worth those two chapters alone (did I mention that the Fate Core PDF, once it is released, will be on a "Pay what you like" model?).  From a sidebar titled, "Let The Players Help You" to discussions of campaign scale to the Golden Rule of "Decide what you’re trying to accomplish first, then consult the rules to help you do it", to more "Mad Libs" for helping decide what aspects are appropriate, these chapters are purified GMing awesome. One of my favorite parts is a sidebar called "Powerful Session-Starting Ninja GM Trick" that segues right into my preference for starting scenarios in medias res, by suggesting opening a scenario with "pre-loaded compels" and a few extra Fate points.

The chapter Long Game covers campaigns and character advancement and includes both a break from previous versions of Fate with little or no support for advancement and more traditional rpgs. Instead of using experience points, character advancement is accomplished by changing aspects, skills and stunts during minor and major milestones. The reason I like this system for advancement is it heads off trying to balance point costs of disparate things and gives a more "natural" feel to character advancement. As an aside, there is no standard conversion rate between skills, aspects or stunts in Fate Core. You can't trade a number of skill points for an aspect, or a stunt for a number of skill points. My feeling is these are different buckets and are truly apples and oranges. The chapter closes with the astounding concept (at least to me) of "world advancement", where the campaign or setting has its own milestones that prompt changes to the setting, locations and NPCs.

The last chapter covers Extras, which is anything that gets special attention. This can be super powers, cybernetics, a magic system, mecha, etc. It starts out with describing the Fate Fractal, which is basically the concept that anything in Fate Core can be treated like a character. There isn't a framework or point buy system for Extras - as the chapter rightly points out, creating Extras is an art and not a science. Examples include weapons and equipment (Fate does not have a default weapon or armor list, because it assumes that all gear a character would use is implied by their skills), as well as vehicles, a magic system, factions, and sample superpowers  Since Fate Core is a toolkit, the examples seem sparse and I think the section spreads itself thin, but other than adding another dozen or more pages I'm not sure I would have wanted to see anything different. It just takes utilizing some of the examples with a little out of the box thinking to get a specific implementation. Certainly what would have helped is some more discussion of the different approaches to the same Extra, such as aspect only, as a stunt, as a skill, etc.


In the end, Fate Core is an astoundingly well done product. Not only is it a well-produced book, but the system has been refined and distilled to be the best version of Fate so far. The result is a tightly focused game with very little fat and a nice change in direction from the bulked out Fate implementations of the last few years. At a price of "pay what you want" and concepts and advice that can be applied even to non-Fate games, there's really very little excuse to pick it up.

The only problems I can see are relatively minor, and easily fixed with a little supplemental reading: Extras not having enough in depth examples and a sparse discussion on a very important concept regarding aspects always being true. I don't envy the folks at Evil Hat for having had to decide what to include, what to go in depth about, and what to leave out. It's very likely that beefing up some other areas would have resulted in others being less detailed. Fortunately these are elements where a player with questions could get clarification on FateRPG website, blogs, etc., but I have to give the game a slight ding because the concepts aren't quite as fleshed out as maybe they should have been.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Mekton House Rules

It looks like the Mekton Zero Kickstarter funded. It's gotten me on a Mekton kick (I should be planning stuff for my Tribe 8 Fate Core game, which I've promised myself I'll do this week). I was able to retrieve a numer of house rules from my old website via the Internet Archive. Some of these will likely make it into my Mekton Zeta Plus Google Docs spreadsheet I'm working on.



Face it - there are times when Luck points aren't enough, and you have to take out the alien battleship with one shot or face the destruction of the your planet's defenses and subjugation of your people. Fortunately, you have the ability to draw on some of your hard-earned experience in times like this. By directly spending 5 IP you can gain either a +1 bonus to your skill roll, or the ability to roll an additional die and take the highest result (not adding them together). The IP are permanently spent and do not count towards advancing your skill. Up to 25 IP can be spent on any one roll in this manner, and there should always be a good description and justification (such as, "I overheard Dr. Tokugowa talking about a possible weak point near their ship's sensor array...he wasn't sure, but it just might work!"). Gamemasters are encouraged to not let this rule become abused, and to make characters permanently increase skills if Anime Points are used too often.


Fumbles work exactly the opposite as critical successes - when a 1 is rolled, another d10 is rolled and the result is subtracted from the character's Stat + Skill. If a 10 is rolled on the second die, yet another d10 roll is added to that. If the character's Stat + Skill total reaches zero, the character has a critical failure - dropping or breaking a tool or weapon, tripping and falling flat on her face, accidentally insulting somebody, etc.


Specializations represent extra time and focus within a specific area that a larger skill covers. For example, Handgun may Specialized in revolvers or Mecha Piloting in a specific weight class of mecha. Specializations may not be too broad (for example, specializing in "Hitting people" with the brawling skill), but they can be fairly narrow (specializing in a specific handgun or a specific model of mecha). In game terms, Specializations grant a +2 to the character's rolls only when the task falls under the Specialization, but a -2 to all other applications of the skill. Specializations have no additional cost, but additional Specializations within the same skill costs 1 SP (for starting characters) or 10 IP (after play starts). The number of times a skill may be Specialized is limited to three, but this is up to GM's discretion. A minimum skill of 3 is required to Specialize a skill. Skills that require Specialization, such as language skills, do not gain the benefit of the bonus - although they may be Specialized further (for example, a character with the skill Speak German might specialize in ancient German, or a dialect).



All ranged weapons except for missiles (which use the standard Zeta Plus ranged rules) have four range bands: Point Blank, Close, Medium, Long, and Extreme. Each range band has its own hit modifiers and (in the case of Point Blank and Extreme) damage effects.

Point blank: The weapon is very close to (1m or less than 1 hex) or in actual physical contact with the target. It will almost always hit, receiving a +5 on the attack roll

Close: The weapon is attacking from greater than 2m/1 hex up to 1/4 the listed range. The attack receives a +3 on the attack roll.

Medium: The weapon is attacking from greater than 1/4 to 1/2 the listed range. The attack receives a +1 on the attack roll.

Long (or combat): The weapon is attacking at greater than 1/2 up to the listed range for its type. There is no bonus on the attack roll.

Extreme: Extreme range is equal to the weapon's listed range squared (for 1/1 and 1/5 scale weapons), and is equal to the weapon's Combat range x25 for 1/10 scale weapons. In both cases, firing at Extreme Range works identically. Extreme Range is broken into range bands equal to the weapon's Combat Range. Projectile weapons receive a -1 to hit per range band (or portion) beyond Combat Range, and -1 Kill (-4 points for 1/10 scale, or -8 points for 1/5 scale weapons) per 2 range bands beyond Combat Range. Energy weapons receive a -1 to hit per 2 range bands beyond Combat Range, and a -1 Kill to damage per range band. It is entirely possible for a projectile to have more range than it has stopping power...for energy weapons, if the beam can do no damage at its maximum range, it is assumed that the last range band that it can do damage is its maximum range.



Beam and Projectile Weapons may be built with Autofire BV - shots from weapons with Autofire BV will always strike the same location of the target. Autofire BV has double the normal multiplier for the weapon's BV.


Various components of a mecha design may be armored individually from the rest. This armor is purchased normally; the only restriction is that an additive system may not have more than 1 SP armor more than it has Kills. The following systems may be armored: Wheels, Treads, Weapons, Ammo, Sensors (but not Recon Systems or Electronic Warfare), Spotlights and Nightlights, Storage Modules, Escape Pods, Fuel Tanks, Propulsion Systems (only up to 1 Kill per location), Powerplants (again, only up to 1 Kill), and Cockpits (only up to 1 Kill). Component armor cannot be RAM armor. Component armor requires 1 space from the servo the armored system is in, unless it is an external component. In addition, component armor systems or weapons inside Command Armor may not have Component Armor.


Fire control computers help to offset the mecha's MV penalty. They are cost multiplier systems and take no spaces or add weight. However, since the fire control computers are tied to the mecha's main sensor suite, if that is destroyed the computer is also and all benefits are lost. Even if you have backup sensors, the fire control computer is disabled when the main sensors are lost. The fire control computer offsets the effects of Maneuver Value for ranged attacks only, and does not increase the pilot's base rolls (i.e., a mecha with -3 MV cannot take +4 fire control to get a +1. Only the -3 MV can be reduced).

Targeting computers offset the penalty for firing at Extreme ranges. They are also a cost multiplier system (with the same cost as Fire Control Computers), and are similar to Fire Control Computers with regards to sensors. Targeting computers only offset range band penalties from Extreme range. The bonus from a Targeting computer cannot exceed the penalty for the range that the weapon is firing to (i.e., a weapon firing with a -2 due to range cannot get the full benefit of its +4 Targeting Computer). Targeting computers also do not add their bonus at Combat Range or less (they're not calibrated to target that close).

It should be noted here that Long Range weapons have an inherent +2 to hit at Extreme Range and a -2 to hit at Combat Range or lower. A Targeting Computer will add its bonus to the Long Range weapon's Extreme range bonus, but will not offset the Combat Range penalty.

FC/TC Bonus
Weapon Cost


Some weapons are made to pack a greater punch at higher ranges and not lose damage. This is expressed as a bonus to out-of-range damage. Note that a High Energy Weapon's out-of-range damage may never exceed it's base damage.

Damage Bonus
Weapon Cost


Wheels may be purchased with Improved Off-Road Ability. This is considered to be improved shock-absorbers, suspension, tire and wheel design, etc. They are considered to be Mated Wheels and Treads of identical Kill value, with the extra weight of the Treads efficiencied to nothing. The net effect is that the Wheels cost the same as Treads of an equivalent level, but only have the Kills of a Wheel system. Note that Superlight Wheel movement systems cannot be mated with treads for improved off-road ability.


Missile launchers are assumed to be capable of firing their entire payload in one salvo. However, launchers may be purchased so that they can only fire a fraction of their warheads at once. More than this number of missiles cannot be fired from the launcher. Missiles are assumed to automatically reload within a launcher.

Fraction of Missiles


A Head Servo may be purchased as a 360 degree universal turret. Heads configured as Turrets cost 1 CP per 3 Kills; in addition, the additional motors, gimbals, etc. for the turret take 1 space from the servo it is mounted on. Tank forms do not have to pay these costs for their main turret.


Wings actually do more to make a vehicle more stable/maneuverable than to make it faster (which is more a factor of its streamlining), so a pair of wings add a +1 to the mecha's flight MV instead of its MA.

I Can't Start A Game

I'm sorry, this doesn't usually happen. It's just I'm nervous, and it's been a while. So I'm having a little problem... starting a game.

I have all of the things I need. I have a game. I have potential players. I have a place to play. I've done prep work. I have every tool I need - digital, non-digital, you name it. I understand the rules. I have experience. I just can't seem to take that final step for some reason. It's like there's a barrier there. I'm not sure if it's uncertainty that it won't go well or if I subconsciously just don't want to for some reason. Maybe it will finally make the game real. Maybe it's procrastination. I don't know.

The worst part is there are lot of reasons to delay the game starting.  We do still have to decide on a schedule (in this case we'll be playing at lunch at work). It's easy to say people are busy, or put off checking to see if a meeting room is available. Or tell myself I didn't prepare this or that so we can't do it today. It's easy to get distracted with reading other games, or blogs, or discussions (ironically, typically by people who are playing). I had momentum last month, and I let it peter out.

There are other areas I'm lacking motivation in. Maybe I'm depressed. Or I have mono. Either way,

Friday, May 24, 2013

Flashback Friday: Mekton

In honor of the Mekton Zero Kickstarter, I'm doing something a bit different for a Flashback Friday. It's a flashback of some of my old material that I've recovered from the Internet Archive. This is the only Mekton design I was able to get (the archive is very spotty for my old website for some reason) but I'll also be reposting some other stuff like house rules and campaign outlines over the weekend. I've cleaned up the design a little bit and expanded on it. Hit the link below for the Google Docs sheet (sorry, no mecha design sheet...yet).

EMA-120 Lightning

The EMA-120 Lightning was first deployed in 1509, near the end of the Archipelago War. It was very successful in its role, but at the time was one of the most expensive Mektons fielded by the EDF. The Lightning project was born out of the Elaran High Command deciding it needed a unit capable of extremely fast, surgical strikes. The EDF, who in 1506 had introduced launching Mektons from submersible mecha carriers, also wanted a unit that could be launched and take flight while the carrier was submerged (previous units had to surface before becoming airborne). The solution was one of the first successful transformable Mektons for the EDF.

The Lightning was distinctive among 100-series Mekton designs, involving a large number of leading aerofighter engineers. The result was an aerofighter form that had a silhouette reminiscent of its namesake, with a slender pointed nose, a distinction humped fuselage, and engine nacelles set below. The cockpit was  further forward than most aerofighter designs, giving the impression of a shorter nose. The oversized powerplant and missile racks completely took over the torso/fuselage. Even though many of the lightweight materials used in later Mektons were not yet available, the Lightning's weight was kept down through a combination of intentionally lightweight design and a novel innovation:  the arms also served as the wings. A number of internal mechanisms, combined with a series of interlocking plates that extended from the torso and legs, turned the arms into the Mekton's trademark stubby, triangular wings. In humanoid mode, the cockpit was placed in the head. This made the pilot more vulnerable, and meant that the head-mounted weaponry typical of Elaran designs was left out. When the issue of the pilot's vulnerability was brought up, one of the aerofighter engineers was quoted as saying, "They're just going to have to try hard not to get hit." The design also conspicuously lacked anti-missile defenses. Against a Deathstalker's missile barrage, if the Lightning was hit it was guaranteed to be reduced to scrap - fortunately, it was ridiculously overpowered and far more maneuverable than nearly all of the Kargan units on the battlefield.

Service Record

Known as a hangar queen because of the complex transformation mechanism and unique powerplant, only 24 Lightnings were produced during the war. The Mekton was restricted to the 5th Fast Attack Wing, operating out of the submersible mechacarrier Koriel. It was only involved in a handful of engagements, all of them surgical strikes on high priority targets. The Mekton is particularly remembered for Karason Bay, where both Lightning squadrons, armed with anti-ship missiles on their wing hardpoints, carried out a surprise attack on the Kargan mechacarrier Garash and her carrier group. The Garash and all but two of the other vessels were destroyed, and the survivors heavily damaged. Only four Lightnings were lost in the pitched battle that resulted as the Kargans tried to rally a defense, and one of those was due to a malfunction. Lightnings also supported a mission to infiltrate the Kargan city of Tarkas by delivering Roadstriker-equipped special forces in custom wing-mounted pods. The Lightnings succeeded in inserting the Roadstrikers, but the mission ultimately failed. Overall, only six Lightnings were lost during the war, and one of those was due to a malfunction. After the Archipelago War the Lightnings were retired. Several were sent to various military museums, while 7 were assigned to the Stormriders demonstration squadron. By 1530 only a few remained operational because of their age, complexity and outmoded, nonstandard technology.


No variants of the Lightning were ever built. Pilot modifications were forbidden because of the Mekton's complexity and cost. Instead, the wing hardpoints were used for weapon pylons or to mount mission critical equipment. A typical fast strike loadout would include the Lightning's plasma rifle on one hardpoint and a heavy missile pod on the other. Long range missions would require the plasma rifle to be stowed and instead two fuel tanks mounted. As with many things about this Mekton, even the pylons or pods had to be specially manufactured to fit the design, as they needed to conform to the Lightning's unique transformation process.  The demonstration Lightnings assigned to the Stormriders are disarmed, with specialized smoke dispensers mounted in place of the missile racks in the torso.

Distinguished Pilots

Nearly half of the Lightning pilots were originally aerofighter pilots with no Mekton piloting experience. Lieutenant Drayck Athon was one of those pilots. While these transplanted pilots preferred to rely on their flight experience and resorted to humanoid mode only when necessary, Lt. Athon perfected combat maneuvers that incorporated the strongest advantages of both modes. Many of these involved multiple transformations between modes that one of the Lightning's engineers described as "Painful to watch." One of the most prominent was called the "A-drop". Lt. Athon would put his Lightning into a steep climb, often strafing his opponent as he passed, only to cut his thrusters and go into freefall far above them. At the last possible moment before passing his opponent he would transform to humanoid mode, deliver a close-quarters beam saber trike, and then switch to aerofighter mode again. Unfortunately, Lt. Athon was killed when he was tag teamed by two Deathstalkers. Missile barrages from both units destroyed the Lightning's legs, rendering it flightless. He succeeded in a controlled fall that collided with one of the Deathstalkers, and sent its hot powerplant into overload with a beam saber strike, destroying all three Mektons.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Mekton Zero Has A Kickstarter!

I had another post lined up for today or tomorrow, but this kind of takes precedence.

There is a Kickstarter for Mekton Zero.

It looks like there is a new mecha construction system involved.

It's returning to the time period of the Archipelago War, which was where the majority of my campaigns were set.

If you have any love for mecha games, this is probably going to be well worth backing. As more details are revealed about the game, I'm sure I'll comment on it.

Finally Mr. Pondsmith, you now have the honor of enabling my Kickstarter problem. I hope you can live with yourself.
Prototype Mekton Sheet Page 1Prototype Mekton Sheet Page 2

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Your Character Knows More Than You Do

Hiyo, I'm Bryce. I'm one of Wil's very old Palladium characters. He hasn't really done a lot with Palladium in a very long time, and with me in even longer. But just because he's not really played any Palladium doesn't mean I'm not in here. There's a couple others in here too. On my way up, I saw some crazy woman with  metal in her face and tattoos babbling about rivers and dreams. Creeped me out, so I just kept walking.
What I do know is that I've forgotten more about my world than Wil knows. See, I actually live here. I'm a mage, and for sure Wil doesn't know horsecrap about magic. The willpower required, the studying, the years of apprenticeship. So when I know that there's an herbalist on Market Street because I had to slog my way over there every morning to pick up laxatives for my master (don't ask), Wil doesn't know it until it becomes important to me. Like when I need a particular herb for an antidote. So I'll tell him, and then maybe he can mention that "Bryce thinks there's an herbalist over on Market Street that might have the antidote" so we can get on with things.
Now, that might not necessarily be true any more. Maybe the place burned down, or the herbalist moved away for some reason. I wouldn't know that either if I hadn't been there in a while. If that was before Wil started playing the game, I don't think anybody would know that. It still doesn't mean the herbalist wasn't there though. I would know. Because I live here.

You often hear about how to handle the player knowing more than their character does, but seldom does anyone talk about the character knowing more than the player does. I can guarantee that the latter is more extensive than the former - at least when it comes to the character actually functioning and living within the world. This process I'm going to call "reverse immersion", because it's letting the character run the show when appropriate. It's a conceptual-type-thing I've had knocking around in my head for many years, and is actually very close to the way I "immerse" in my characters. I let them act through me, and not the other way around.

Of course, since the character is just a construct of the player this puts us in an awkward position. When the player says the character sits down at a table in the tavern and picks up a knife and fork to start eating and the GM says, "They don't use forks here" - the character would have already known that, even if the player didn't. That one's easy though...the player is merely channeling their own experience, so of course the character never picked up the fork. The character chides the player for cultural insensitivity (forks were banned after that incident some time ago), there's a tiny retcon, and we can continue with the game.

But it seems like details that have a bigger scope are a sticky wicket for some people. Like Bryce's herbalist shop. Some GMs would positively bristle at the idea of a lowly player adding something like that to their game world. Some players would complain that making such a statement without the GM handing them that information breaks their immersion because it pulls them out or makes them think or something. What I'm here to tell you is that in both cases, they're not listening to the character - and the character is the one who knows. Because let's think about this for a minute: we've already established that Bryce is a mage, and he had his apprenticeship in that city. It's perfectly reasonable that he would know where there's some herbalists nearby. Now whether Bryce, through the player, says he knew of one on Market Street or the GM tells the player Bryce knew of one is immaterial. It makes no difference at all, other than scuffing some imaginary and arbitrary line that some people think needs to be drawn between the GM and the players. Either way, if Bryce needs an herbalist shop we already know there's going to be an herbalist shop, so we might as well let him lead the way.

In the end, these types of situations help keep the players engaged and does more to give voice to the character the player has in their head. Shutting it down when it happens just because of some notion of the players being allowed to interact with, but not contribute to, the world only serves to hurt characterization in the name of...nothing. Absolutely nothing. It serves no purpose whatsoever to set those arbitrary limits, except maybe feeding some ego trip.

So, to GMs and players alike, it's not completely all about you. Sometimes your characters have things to say, too. You just have to listen.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

I'm In A Different Hobby Than Most Gamers

At least, that's how I'm starting to feel. I don't want to feel that way. It's just that the more I begin to look at various gaming forums again, the more I start to feel a disconnect from the attitudes and philosophies of many gamers. It reminds me of  reading Facebook and one of my friends or family posts something intolerant and ignorant. I start to feel like "the other" among people who, by all rights, I should feel open and comfortable around.  It's statements like "story games aren't roleplaying games", or "I just want to play a character and not see anything metagame, so that game's not an rpg", or any One True Scotsman-type statement, It's feeling like I can't enter certain discussions and offer input without someone crapping all over any ideas that involve player authorial control.  It's notions that anything that is beyond the character's abilities is "metagaming and not roleplaying." It's narrative mechanics always being lumped into "You can just make it up and automatically win". It's blatant, outright dismissals of entire segments of games based on a label, and a completely fabricated one at that.

If it makes me uncomfortable to see intolerance like that in my friends and family, when I see it in the gaming community it makes me sad. Even if the bile and vitriol launched by some segments of the gaming community against anything that deviates from a "traditional" roleplaying game is from a very small, vocal, abrasive minority - it still serves to drive wedges between people who, ostensibly, all want the same thing. To play some games, without someone trying to judge whether or not it meets some mythical standard of "roleplaying".

Disagreements are fine, and debate is essential in helping us refine things that we enjoy or don't enjoy about gaming - and even discover new (or even old) points of view. But for fuck's sake, some people just need to stop trying to exclude people because they don't roll their dice a certain way. Who knows, maybe you might learn something from the "swine".

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Evil Hat Fate Dice Kickstarter In Its Last 5 Days

Just a friendly reminder in case you didn't know or haven't back it. Evil Hat's Fate/Fudge Dice Kickstarter is in it's final 5 days. It is on it's way to unlocking a set of sweet Eldritch Dice.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Love of Sisters

Cinder: "Look, would you get rid of the DORKS!"

Chigger: "Huh? Why?"

Cinder: "Because they're fuckin' annoying."

Chigger: "No they're not! They're just kids. I think they'll be really useful once they learn some shit. Like, messengers or spies or something."

Cinder: "SPIES!!! Are you out of your mind! They couldn't keep their mouths closed if I nailed them shut."

Chigger: "Sure they could! They just need the right motivation. I'm trying to make up spy games and shit. They love it. No, they can be great spies, I swear."

Cinder: "Lemme remind you about the whole Yagan fiasco. . .all of Hom knew about that ten minutes after you told those brats."

Chigger: "That's cause they didn't know they were playing 'spy'. You're totally not listening to me."

Cinder: "The problem is that they don't know shit. Besides, all these games like playing 'spy' are totally useless to me. Maybe they'll learn enough to be helpful in, like, ten years. But who cares, we'll be dead by then."

Chigger: "Maybe you will. I'm gonna have a network of spies and assassins."

Cinder: "You're gonna have a network of morons and losers, and they're gonna get you killed!"

Chigger: "I can think of a couple of loser/morons who've almost gotten me killed already."

Cinder: "You better not be talking about me, cause I saved your worthless ass more times than. . ."

Chigger: "What? More times than what?"

Cinder: "More times than was worth my while. Bitch!"

Chigger: "Well, I didn't ask you to."

Cinder: "Fine, next time you die."

Chigger: "Yea right. You love me too much. I'll never die. You'll come and rescue me no matter what I do, so I can do anything I want, with no consequences, nya."

Cinder: "Cow! I hate when you bring that damned 'love' thing in."

Chigger: "Sorry, sis. You're stuck with it. So, since we're talking about love, ya get any lately?"

Cinder: "More'n you, even counting that freak in Griffentowne."

[note: Chigger had sex with an Agnite in Griffentowne while searching for Jacques, the Joshuan.]

Chigger: "No duh! But at least I'm not stuck with him. I imagine he'd be a drag on the road. So, ya think you're gonna squeeze out any puppies with Bastion?"

Cinder: "Naw, but I might have a lovely little Z'bri."

Chigger: "Don't even say that!"

Cinder: "Serious, I'm kinda worried."

Chigger: "Umm. . . I don't think Bastion is, like, part Z'bri or anything. He's, like, a guy. Just a guy who got adopted by a Z'bri. Like a kitten getting taken care of by a dog."

Cinder: "ya, I know. But I don't know what the dog did to the kitten. I mean I trust him and all, but what if he's been affected more'n we think?"

Chigger: "I don't think so. He's ok. But are you really thinking of having a baby? I'd be an auntie!"

Cinder: "Holy crap. That's fucking scary. . . uh, maybe not then."

Chigger: "Yea, probably not a good idea anyway, given the risk of injury during pregnancy around here."

Cinder: "Yeah, just what I need; even more people after me. You know what, though? I don't know what Eshlazi is gonna do if I do. I mean, not that I really want to, but, you know, if it happens 'n all. I mean, you'd be an aunt, but he'd be a grand-daddy!"

Chigger: "Yuck, I think you've gone too far. Times on the baby subject, 'kay?"

Cinder: ". . .yea, right. I'm just kinda worried 'n all. I mean, look what he did to Slash." [note: Slash escaped the Hive and returned to the Bin. She's fairly catatonic.]

Chigger: "Umm, yeah. Slash is kinda fucked up, huh? Do you think maybe Mari-Anne could help her? Maybe, just, like, well, make her strong enough to be useful in the kitchen or something?"

Cinder: "Slash. I mean, this is Slash we're talking about. . . in the kitchen. Could you picture that?" [giggles]

Chigger: "Quit it. It's not funny. What of that happened to me? What would you do with me? Maybe we should put her down. That's what I'd want. End the pain."

Cinder: "Hey! You're not gonna have to worry about that, 'cause it's not gonna happen to you. Look, I'm sorry I was joking, it's just that I don't know if she's gonna be okay. I'm worried."

Chigger: "I don't wanna be worried. I want to do something about it.. can we help her or not? I need to figure this out. What are we gonna do with her?"

Cinder: "I dunno, Chig, I just don't know. I guess we'll have to send someone for Mari-Anne."

Chigger: "Hmmm, you know, I'm having a hard time sticking to the plan. I really want Eshlazi to die. Just die and never be able to hurt anybody again. Maybe he can change, but how long will it take? How many people get fucked over permanently before then?

Cinder: "Tell me about it. I hate the fucker. He's never done one good thing in his life, ever! Bastion always talks about how he took him in when he was starving. Like the monster was looking out for Bastion's best interests. That's bullshit! He was looking for an easy score. Just so happens that he figured a way to get people without any work by using a kid to trick 'em. He's a bastard, and I hate how Bastion sticks up for him. I hate how he's still blinded by him!"

Chigger: "But what about our dream? I've been putting my heart behind that part where Eshlazi helped us and said we could be his salvation too. Was that wrong? If we can't even trust our dreams. . ."

Cinder: "I don't think it was wrong. . . but I don't think it has to mean what we want it to mean. I mean, come on. . . is a Z'bri's salvation really something we wanna help out with? Their morality is totally fucked up and usually ends up with people getting killed. How many gotta die for their salvation?"

Chigger: "That's my problem! And what good is a 'saved' Z'bri anyway? I guess I thought it would help us against the other Z'bri, which would be cool. But it isn't necessarily so. Maybe, even if he gets saved, he'll just dissolve or something."

Cinder: "Hey, I could live with either one."

Chigger: "Well, so could I! But is that an option? Maybe for Eshlazi to get saved, we die for it. But, the dream said he could also be our salvation. 'Salvation' can mean a lot of things. So can 'your'. 'Your salvation' could mean; you and me, or the Fallen, or maybe everybody."

Cinder: "Yea, I know. But maybe it isn't that special. Maybe it just means we re-unite with the Goddess 'cause we're dead. That'd be cool and everything, but I kinda wanna live some more."

Chigger: "I wish I knew. All I know is that it's important. None of my dreams have ever spoken to me like that before. I can't help but think that if I don't act on it, I will be missing out on my destiny."

Cinder: "But of our destiny is to become another one of its 'kittens' that tend to get broken, do you really want to help it along? The thing is, the dream was really different for me too, I'm just not sure if it was different 'cause it was more important or 'cause, maybe, Eshlazi had something to do with it."

Chigger: "I have to trust my dreams. Without them, I'm fucked. I need that confidence in the Goddess to have the strength to act. What will happen to us if we stop trusting our dreams because we think Z'bri are tampering with them? How could we know anything?"

Cinder: "You're right, I know it. But we've had weird things happen before, at least I have. I don't know if it was Z'bri or one of the Fatimas or what, but something contacted me directly and wanted me to use the spear. It just makes me concerned about what else we trust is being manipulated. Aw, fuck! I don't know. . . you gotta trust your dreams. Maybe I should ho back to Den Hades to learn more about it. The thing is, the dream is true, I know it is, but I just can't figure out how, and that scares me. I want to do something and I don't know what."

Chigger: "Well, I think it's still best to try to work with Eshlazi. We just need to trust in ourselves enough to keep him from picking us apart. If we can change him, awesome, if not. . . we still have the spear. I mean, as a last resort. We have to do something about him, one way or another."

Cinder: "Yeah, but we're still all fucked up over it. I mean, we just agreed that he's gotta die, and now you think we should save him. I'm all for fulfilling destiny, but. . . shit, I don't know. It seems like we should be behind it completely, or not at all. Most of our problems before were 'cause we couldn't make up our minds and commit to something. Which one do you want to do?"

Chigger: "My problem is, I grew up thinking the Z'bri were evil and scary and that's it. The Tribals taught me that. They also taught me a bunch of other shit that was pretty much wrong. Like that the Fallen have no souls. They think there's nothing to the Fallen because it's easier to think that. The Z'bri could be more complex than the Tribals say, too. All my upbringing tells me that if someone does wrong to my friends, that person dies. But, what if that person would be more beneficial alive? Maybe an enemy can become an ally. My dreams say so. Trust the Tribals or trust my dreams? My heart's stuck in the middle, mostly because of you. You still buy the Tribal line on Z'bri and I have a hard time telling you you're wrong. I'm usually the one that's wrong."

Cinder: "Look, I'm stuck too. I was a Tribal a lot longer than you and that's hard to abandon. But as for buying their line on Z'bri, I'm not sure. I mean, we've already seen that they're way more complex than the Tribals give them credit for, but that doesn't mean that they can be good. Sure the Tribals are all fucked up and have been wrong about important shit before, but I think that we have to look at history here. I mean, the Z'bri enslaved and killed and tortured us for who knows how many years. What's more, they probably enjoyed it. I've got no love for the Tribals, but I also have a hard time overlooking genocide. I trust my dreams, I really do, and I wanna fix things, make everything right, but I just can't figure out how. My heart tells me one thing but my head is screaming 'What the fuck are you doing? You wanna die!' I just think it's a bad idea until we have a good plan on how to do it."

Chigger: "I know, I know. But we have to be sure we believe it can be done before we start, or it's going to be half-assed. And I'm not risking my life on anything half-assed. Sure nobody's ever seen a Z'bri stop being a fucking evil piece of shit. Nobody's even fucking tried! Until someone decided to learn to swim, every poor fuck who fell out of a boat probably drowned. That didn't stop someone from swimming. I want to hear you say we have a chance. I think we do. Bastion thinks we do. What do you think?"

Cinder: "We have a chance. Plain and simple, we do have a chance. I just want you to realize it's not like going out in a boat. Most people that go out in a boat make it back. The odds are reversed with the Z'bri. Not that it means it can't happen. Sit, our dreams told us pretty blatantly that it is possible. But Eshlazi told us that we could be his salvation, not that we would be. I just don't want to go off on another one of our pointless crusades that always ends up with us getting fucked over and our goal not achieved. Fuck! We have a chance, but it's a really fucking small one, so excuse me for tossing my shitty little life away on saving something that I hate more than anything else in the whole world. I hate him. I hate him for what he's done to us, to Bastion, to Mana and Juniper, to who knows who else, but mostly I just fucking hate him! If it's my destiny to save him, then so be it. If it's my destiny to chick my life away in exchange for his, well then pardon me for saying that fucking sucks!"

Chigger: "We know from our dream that we can kill Eshlazi. At the very least, we can do that. I can't help but think the dream was sent to us to guide us to something betterthan ridding the world of one scum-sucking Z'bri. Shit, I would have easily given my life to get rid of Eshlazi. No problem. I could die with a sense of accomplishment. But if I can do something even better with my life, I want to. This place is going to hell anyway." Cinder: "I'm sorry, Chig, I just don't know. . ."

Chigger: "Well, that's the problem, isn't it. There's no sure thing to bet on. Eshlazi will fuck us over if we do nothing. We can try to change him, or we can fix him the old fashioned way. He's only one of our problems. I'm sorry, but I don't think 'Joshua the Wino' is going to fix anything. Maybe I'm wrong. If we help this guy, can he get rid of our Z'bri problem? How about the Tribal conspiracy? What's he gonna do? If we get Eshlazi in there, Cylix is a dead man."

Cinder: "Look, who knows what the fucking Joshuan is gonna do. . .fuck him, let the others sort that out, they didn't want our help anyway. But Eshlazi isn't going to be out attack dog, no matter what you think. Even if we do save him, who's to say he's gonna do anything we we want. . .naw, fuck, forget that. It totally doesn't matter 'cause you're right. I am the problem. I can't commit to this thing no matter how much I want to believe it, and we would be insane to do it half-assed. Fuck! Fuck, fuck, fuck! It would be so much easier if we could just kill him, but the problem with that is, I do trust the Dream. Look Chig, I want so much to say 'Hell ya! Let's do it!', but I just can't."

Chigger: "I know. What can we do? There's no way we can do this if you're going to constantly have second thoughts. I just don't know what else to do! I told you about Raven and his goons didn't I? They're out to get me. If I stay in Hom, we've got to deal with them. Are you up for that? "cause I can't even begin to come up with any way of getting out of that one on my own. It's only a matter of time before they find the Bin. They beat the crap out of me last time they saw me because I wouldn't tell them our hideout."

[note: Chigger was intimidated by Raven's Shadow several days prior. They're extorting favors for relieving the cell of the Yagan Flesher Assassin, several months back.]

Cinder: "Hmmm. Yea, I was planning on having a little talk with them. Look we could throw them the Clinic to get them off our backs. Anyway, I'll tell them that a friend was dying or something and that's why you didn't want to talk. Maybe they won't be so pissed off then. Aw, probably not, but what else are we gonna do? I think they'll be in to doing the Clinic, and that's something we want to get rid of anyway, so if it cancels our debt with those psychos, then great as far as I'm concerned."

Chigger: "I don't think you understand the situation. They don't want to do what we tell them to do. They want us to do what they say. Raven:'Master', Us:'Slaves'. Get it. I'm not comfortable with that. All I owe them is a good fucking beating. Fuck them. I want them dead. If you want to talk to them, go ahead, but expect to get beaten up, maybe even raped. I'm serious."

Cinder: "Damned, mother-fucken, sons-of-bitches, shith***. . .fuckw***. . .aarrrg! Why the fuck's everything always so fucked up for us? Well, did they at least tell you how they want us to commit suicide?"

Chigger: "No. They didn't want to talk about anything until I brought them to the Bin. When I refused, they just threatened me, then did their macho 'he-man' thing and beat me up. They let me know they could do anything they wanted to me. And they were right. I was helpless. Until we do something about them, we're all helpless. They can do anything they want to us. So can Eshlazi. So can the Tribals."

Cinder: "So we're screwed on all sides. Being a victim sucks! Fuck them all. Let's be the ones doing the screwing for once. I'm not going to sit around and wait for it. We've gotta take charge for once and actually act, not just react. But, before you jump to conclusions, I'm still not convinced about Eshlazi, so it'll have to be one of the others."

Chigger: "Well, here are our other choices: Raven and company, Cylix and Salor, or the Clinic itself. [note: The PC's believe that Salor betrayed the River Dreamers and had a hand in the cell's death.] Either we choose one of those, or we head into the Outlands and eal with the Squats. Personally, I think we need a safe home-base to work out of, so Raven goes down." Cinder: "So what, you want to assassinate Raven and his gang? How?"

Chigger: "If we all think it's a good idea, we can find a way. I know that for a fact. Maybe we only need to kill Raven. Maybe we don't even need to kill him, just pin something on him that gets him thrown out of Hom. I need to know if you will help me. Bastion has to agree, too. Once we have a mission, we can come up with a plan."

Cinder: "We should just feed the scum-fucker to Eshlazi! Look, of course I'll help you, I always help you. If you want to get rid of him, then let's do it. But personally, I think he's small potatoes. The two biggest things out there are Eshlazi and the Joshuan. I'd like to help Jacques if I can, but more importantly, I'd like to figure out what the hell it is that's bugging me about the whole Eshlazi deal. I know I'm missing something but I can't put my finger on it and it's driving me crazy. I'm going to have to try to get something more in the Dream, because, really, Eshlazi is what I want to take care of most. I guess until that happens, we gotta keep living. So Raven's gotta be fixed. I think that killing him might cause more problems for us in the future though, and I hate how we've been going from problem to problem. Let's solve one for once that won't cause more for later."

Chigger: "Well, why don't we try the Elders then? I mean, they are supposed to take care of things in Hom, and they owe us big time for bringing Jacques in. [note: The cell completed "Enemy of My Enemy" from the T8 Screen.] I would even make a deal with Raven for payment as long as I had enough backup to do it on even terms."

Cinder: "Yeah, I thought about that. But I want us to solve our problems without outside help. That's how this problem with Raven started in the first place; getting him to do our dirty work. It's always better if we can do it ourselves. Besides, I'd like to be able to keep that favor they owe us as leverage. Knowing us, we're going to need it for later. But I guess if it comes right down to it, the Elders could be a huge help, and probably won't require much in return as 'gangster-boy'. We'll talk to Bastion and see if we can come up with anything on our own, if not, then the Elders it is."

Chigger: "Good. I feel better already. Personally, I don't count the Elders as outside help in mediating peaceful business. I think it's their fucking job, and bringing in a Joshuan is worth way more than that. But if we can think of a better way to handle it, by all means. I'm pulling a blank. Hey, I think your lines moving. You might get to be the victimizer after all!"

Cinder: "Cool! Help me pull it in. Aw fuck, that is one big, ugly, god-damned fish. There's no way I'm cleaning that! Anyway, I totally agree with you that the Elders aren't outside help, but I'm sure raven will. And that'll put us back in square one, with him pissed off at us and us afraid."

Chigger: "Pull him next to the boat so I can bash him! Shit!. . .Ah, yea, what a beauty! Hey Cinder, give him a big kiss!"

Cinder: "Naw, I know the type, he'll leave me in the morning and I'll never hear from him again. Besides, I think he's into little girls."

Chigger: "But, hey, when he's done with you, you won't smell any different."

Cinder: "Yea, but if you had a go, you'd probably smell a whole lot better."

Chigger: "Shut the fuck up and put him in the back, you cow. We need to catch at least three more before we go in."

Cinder: "Three more! You nympho. One isn't good enough for you, huh? What you need is a good man. . .or, failing that, a shitty man."

Chigger: "remember before when we were talking about swimming? Think about it. Anyways, like I was saying, the DORKS are good for something. I bet they bring in more fish than we do, although perhaps not as handsome and clever."

Cinder: "Yeah, but that's only because they use each other for baitI mean, everyone knows how much fish love to eat worms."

Chigger: "No, I mean it. I think they're really useful. Even Mari-Anne thinks so. They're eating a lot better than most of the other kids in Hom, because I took the time to teach them how to fish. And they picked it up really quick! I'm not saying they're ready for anything really important, but I wish you wouldn't just discredit them, 'cause when you do, you're basically telling me that my work is shit. And even if you think that, I don't need to hear it from you."

Cinder: "You're right, Chig. I'm sorry. You're really doing a great job, more people should do it. That's one of the reasons everything is so fucked up; no one's helping each other. I'm sure they can be a great help, and more than that, I think they will be able to do cool things on their own. It's just that it's one more distraction I don't need. I'm fucked up enough as it is. But that's part of the problem, so I'll help, whenever you want. But please, please get them to change their name!"

Chigger: "Yeah, that name sucks. Hey, I'm sorry for making such a big deal out of it. It's just that being belittled seems to be the story of my life. And, every time I try to change that, do something cool, or important, it either backfires, or just isn't that important. When I was kid, I heard about nothing but how awesome you were at everything, and how I wasn't and would never be good enough to polish your boots. Did you even notice? Did you! Did you now what I went through while you were getting all the best parts in all the best plays? Do you even know what mom made me do?"

Cinder: "No, Chig. I can't know, not for real. But I don't think you know how I felt either. I devoted my life to becoming so good at something, that I didn't really care about, just so our parents would notice me, just so they would stop hating me. Do you have any idea how hollow each 'victory' in getting a new part or being acclaimed as the 'best' was for me? I just wanted them to forgive me, so I did everything I thought they wanted me to do. But it still wasn't enough! Mom treated me like shit, and dad never fully recovered, he just sort of blocked me out. The whole time everyone was saying 'what a star' I was, I was thinking about what a failure I was. I couldn't even get my own parents to care!"

Chigger: [sobbing]"You mean after all that. . . after all that you didn't even want it! [moaning] That makes it even worse! [sob] Oh, fuck! I think I'm going to be sick. . . bleaaagh! Ohhh. . ."

Cinder: "Are you okay, Chig? I'm sorry. Really I am, but it was horrible. I felt so empty. I used to really envy you when we were kids. You just did your own thing. You didn't seem to care about what dinks the parents were. You seemed so free, and I felt so trapped. I always played the role for those bastards and got nothing for it, and it just got worse and worse. But you told them to fuck themselves and didn't get caught up in the bullshit. I always respected you for that. I wished I were you. But I couldn't be. After I started, they expected too much, and I couldn't bear it if they pitied and scorned me on top of everything else."

Chigger: "Cinder, [spit] mom let the stage directors have me, use me, so that you could get all the good parts. [sobbing] I. . . I started to think it could even be worth it, as long as you were happy. You were so beautiful. You were the best. [sob] I tried to hold on until you were at the top; I dreamed you would take me away from them. I broke down, though. I burned down the stage 'cause I couldn't take it anymore. It was all such a fucking ridiculous waste."

Cinder: "Oh shit, Chigger. I didn't know. I'm so sorry. . . I. . . I. . . how could she! That bitch! She's gotta fuckin' die! I'm gonna strangle her with my own hands. . . I'm gonna watch her die. I want her to see me, to know that I'm doing it. That I am killing her! That fucking slimy, shit-eating cow! That bitch! How! How? How could she? [sobbing] How could she do such a thing? Why didn't you tell me, Chig? Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you tell me?"

Chigger: "I was embarrassed, Cinder. I just wanted you to think I was cool, too. I didn't want you to know I was a. . . a whore."

Cinder: "No! No, Chigger! Don't even say that! You're not a whore. You had no choice. It wasn't your fault. She's the shore! She's the damned whore! I'm glad I caught the bitch with Lothair! I'm glad I told dad! Fuck her! She's the fucking whore! She's. . . Chig. . . I'm so sorry. . .I . . ."

Chigger: "Look, whatever. I don't even want to talk about it anymore. It's just that ever since then, it seems like everyone I meet just tries to do the same fucking thing. Eshlazi, that Evan Mana capped at Medusa's, the freak in Ile Perdue, and now Raven. I've just fucking had it with all these scum-sucking pimps. Now you see why I keep a list."

Cinder: "I don't know what to say, Chig. I. . . well, fuck them all. We don't need them.

Chigger: "I sure as hell don't. I just need to figure out how to avoid them. Actually, no. Avoiding them doesn't cut it. I need to know how to stop them. I know I can't stop everyone. It's just the way people are. But I want my neighborhood to be safe, at least. And that means 'by-bye Raven'."

Cinder: "Alright. Let's go talk to the Elders in the morning. If nothing else, they can give us some advice. And Chig. . . tell me if anything like this ever happens again, okay?"

Chigger: "Ditto. Let's go back, the barf probably scared all the fish away."

by Jon Dawes (Chigger) and Steve Bell (Cinder)

Starting In Media Res

Currently I'm planning for a Fate Core Tribe 8 game. As usual, all of the players are new to Tribe 8. On top of that, Fate Core is a little bit different than what they are used to system-wise. After some pondering, I've decided to fall back on a tried and true technique for getting the players invested and their characters involved: start the campaign in media res. I've used it a number of times to help jumpstart a campaign, especially in games where the setting is detailed or the system is new.  My first Tribe 8 game used in media res with a very similar scenario to the game I'm planning. Here are a few tricks I've learned to make this work.

1. Have Them All In The Same Situation

It might sound great to try to entangle a bunch of vastly different character backgrounds and have them all coincidentally meet up at a specific place and time, but it often feels contrived and sometimes doesn't work out. It's better if the scenario starts with them all in the same place, at the same time, doing the same thing. The PCs can be on the same train, running from the same death machine, all imprisoned in the same cell, etc.

2. Start Them Out Doing Something, Or About To Do Something

Start the PCS off in the middle of the action. Sitting on the same train isn't in media res unless the PCs are about to do something, like take the train over.  It could be in the middle of a fight, running down the street, about to choose which wire to cut to defuse the bomb, just after a major faux pas in front of the Prince. The situation doesn't need to be dangerous, but it should be dynamic.

3. Don't Sweat the Details

Some players are going to want a detailed accounting of how their character got there and why. You don't want to describe how characters started out at the tavern, then the King's Guard burst in, and the characters fled and had to jump into the river to get away. A long lead-in deflates the tension. Start with them about to make the decision to jump into the river. How and why they got there can be established later. However, the various elements do need to be made clear. The players should at least know that getting caught by the King's Guard would mean imprisonment or death, or the dude with the long dark hair is working for their arch nemesis. It's a balancing act between the players having enough information and not too much.

4. Be Flexible

In an in media res scenario, the players shouldn't have to pixelbitch to find the only secret door standing between them and an orc horde. A lot of good in media res scenarios revolve around having to make a choice, and there should be not only more than one path - those paths should be simple and obvious. This goes for choices the players have made regarding their characters. If the campaign is opening in media res, it's a good opportunity for the players to stretch their character's muscles and figure out if the character suits them. Allow for the player to make modifications to their character based on the session experience. This can be easier with some systems than others. The first session of my Tribe 8 game is going to be both the campaign intro and character creation rolled up into one, but Fate Core implicitly supports "fill in the blank" character creation during play.

5. Give The PCs a Chance

Starting in media res relies on a level of trust between the players and GM. The players need to know they won't be left hanging, and the situation can be resolved with information they already have. In many ways, in media res situations are a prime opportunity for player input regarding the scene and how to resolve it. Some players may not be as comfortable with this, or may not know what action to take without more exposition/situational awareness. Take this into consideration when crafting the scenario.

6. A Helping Hand Is Sometimes Needed

This applies more to when the player characters are trapped behind enemy lines, escaped from a chain gang, shipwrecked, etc. Having a GMPC of some sort who can provide assistance - whether it be information, supplies, shelter, etc - may help out if the players need a little push in the right direction. This GMPC should be a transition to engaging the scenario in more depth and should never overshadow the PCs. Instead of the GMPC jumping in to fight off a pack of wolves, the PCs should encounter the character after they've done it themselves.

7. Play Some Catch Up

After the opening scene is resolved, the players are going to want to take stock of what happened, why it happened and decide what to do next. This can be in the form of describing or talking about what led up to the previous scene, or it could be flashback scenes that are roleplayed through. This depends on the game and the goal of the scenario. Sometimes flashback scenes can take up the entire remainder of the scenario, ending where the players started. Otherwise, maybe after a scene of catching up the scenario  just continues to move forward normally.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Jacker's Theme When They've Been Riled Up

A full three sixty
A complete return
With no excuses
And no concerns
The ultra-heavy-beat
Is going strong
If it feels this good
Then it can't be wrong

What's good for you
Is still good for me
And after all
We're not looking back
We manipulate the future
To stay on track

Damned if you do
And damned if you don't
You better seize the moment
Before it's gone
The ultra-heavy-beat
Goes on and on
When it's all said and done
This is what you want

The vision
The manifesto
Translates post-mortem
Buried alive
And left for dead
One step back
Is two steps ahead

Rise! - From the ashes and decay
Rise! - From the prison of your grave
Rise! - Above the standard and the norm
Rise! - Into the eye of the stormRise!

Raise the flag
Carry the flame
The more things change
The more the stay the same
The king is dead
Long live the king

A small step for mankind
A giant leap for a rock'n'roll
We control the rhythm
The beat cops are on patrol
Wake up people
Get on your feet
It's time to do your part
For the ultra-heavy-beat

Shoulder to shoulder
Back to back
All guns ablaze
Systematic attak
Strong and rigid
Bold and vivid
Spread the news
The ego has landed

Metal detectors
Drug tests
Don't let the system
Continue to rape you
Vodka and benzene
Destroy the machines
The glorious end justifies the means

Rise! - From the ashes and decay
Rise! - From the prison of your grave
Rise! - Above the standard and the norm
Rise! - Into the eye of the storm

Monday, May 13, 2013

The Circle of the Chosen

The Circle of the Chosen is a large clearing in the Discard Lands, just beyond the Seven Fingers. It is the place where, each new moon, sacrifices to the Z'bri are secretly brought by Tribal representations as part of the Pact of the Dome. Aside from the Watch tasked with bringing the prisoners there and a handful within the Sisterhoods, very few know of this practice - the tributes are almost always newly Banished, or sometimes Fallen that have been captured in Tribal Lands. No one keeps tabs on the Fallen after they have been cast out.

Because of the sacrifice and horror the Circle has seen, it has become a Gully - a place where the veil between the River of Dream and the realm of flesh has become thin. Spirits of past sacrifices haunt the Circle. Even before the inevitable coming of the Z'bri, these spirits will try to assail or possess anyone within the central circle of posts at the center of the clearing.

Beyond the immediate threat of the spirits, the looming danger is wild animals and the impending arrival of the Z'bri to take their tributes. The blood and scent of prey brings the predators, who often maim or even kill the prisoners before the Z'bri arrive. Often grisly remnants of sacrifices who did not survive being taken byt he Z'bri remain in the Circle or attached to the posts.

The Circle of the Chosen is a good in media res starting point for a Tribe 8 campaign. The Mild Consequence and aspects at the beginning are reflective of what has happened prior to the start of the scene - basically it shows the end results of being Taken Out or Conceding. The situation also lends itself well to "filling in the blanks" as far as character aspects and skills go. The players will need to make the most out of what they have in order to escape their bonds, possibly fight off predators, and flee before the Z'bri arrive.

Any sacrifices brought to the Circle of the Chosen have likely been abused, mistreated, tortured, drugged and dragged through the brambles. They automatically have a Mild Consequence reflecting those injuries. In addition, each character has two additional aspects: Bound to a Post and Disconnected From the River of Dream. The former must be overcome before the character can do anything physically, while the latter must be overcome before the character can use Synthesis or Technosmithing. For their trouble, each PC in a scenario starting at the Circle of the Chosen gets 3 free Fate Points.

The Circle also has one hidden aspect: Unexpected Help. This aspect is the result of an Evan matron (actually a Marian) named Lalani. She knows of the Tribes' use of the Circle and does what she can to sabotage it or otherwise help out. This includes weakening posts, loosening the metal rings the characters are bound to, hiding sharp pieces of metal or glass within cracks in the post or on the ground covered with dirt, rocks or leaves, and hiding bundles of food, rough clothing and simple weapons in the brambles. The guards who bring the tributes never pay attention to the Circle as they are intent on getting away from it as soon as possible, but PCs looking for a way out are sure to uncover the aspect and make use of it. While the Circle and its environs are too dangerous for Lalani to enter at night, either her or her son often keep an eye out around the homestead for any stragglers or escapees. When they find them, they covertly take them in until they are ready to travel and then send them on their way with additional provisions and clothing.

The goal of the scenario is to escape before the Z'bri arrive, so they aren't considered to be a part of the scenario (given the PCs' condition, it's likely they would survive). However, depending on the PCs and their abilities it's unlikely that predators will come into play. Typically these will be a small pack of wolf, a pair of Ontos, or if the GM really wants to make them fight a Skuller Bear. While not Gek'roh, even normal animals in the woods are often Tainted in some way, and can also be diseased. How the predators are handled depends on the group, the situation, how the GM wants to handle that kind of tension and pacing, etc. Suggestions can include a timer, a stress track to represent the danger getting closer, etc.


  • Haunted By Sacrifices Past
  • The River of Dream Is Closer
  • Unexpected Help (Hidden)
The area is divided into three zones.
  • The Inner Circle which is comprised of a number of posts surrounding a patch of barren dirt. The Inner circle defines the boundaries of the Gully.
  • The Outer Circle, between the Inner Circle and the Brambles, comprised of patchy grass and a few stunted, dead trees.
  • The Bramblesa barrier of thick vines and thorns that surrounds the Circle and acts as a barrier that must to be overcome to exit the Circle into the dense forest beyond. Every time the Brambles are cut through when sacrifices are brought, they grow back at an almost impossible rate.


Great(+4) Spiritual Blitz

Spirits within the area of the Circle of the Chosen will mob anyone left there, resulting in apparitions, hauntings, spiritual assaults and possibly even possessions. The Circle can exercise use of this skill on any character that is still within the Inner Circle.
  • Overcome: Spiritual Blitz is not normally used to overcome obstacles.
  • Create an Advantage: The spirits of the Circle can use Spiritual Blitz haunt, harass, and discover information about those that are in the Circle. Most characters can defend against having these advantages placed with Will or (if they have overcome the Disconnected From the River of Dream aspect) Synthesis.
  • Attack: Spiritual Blitz can be used to mentally attack targets. These attacks can be defended against using any appropriate skill for defending against mental attacks.  
  • Defend: Spiritual Blitz cannot be used to defend.


Wolf Pack (Fair NPC Mob)

Aspects: Pack Hunters, Unsettling Howl, Tainted (optional)
Skills: Fair(+2) Fight, Average(+1) Athletics, Average(+1) Notice
Stress: O
Go For The Throat: Gain a +2 bonus to Fight on a target that has taken a Moderate Consequence.
Remember that the wolves use teamwork to attack their prey, gaining a +1 bonus to Fight for each additional wolf.

Onto (Good NPC)

Aspects: Ambush Predator, Great Cat, Tainted (optional)
Skills: Good (+3) Fight, Fair(+2) Athletics, Average(+1) Notice, Average(+1) Stealth
Stress: OO
Tremendous Leap: Once per exchange, the Onto can move into an adjacent zone and attack. Alternately, the Onto can move two zones with one action.

Skuller Bear (Good NPC)

Aspects: Large Bear, Mad With Disease, Rotting Away 
Skills: Great(+4) Fight, Good(+3) Physique, Fair(+2) Athletics, Average(+1) Provoke
Stress: OOO
Bear Hug: +2 to physique rolls when creating an advantage to grapple or hold on to an opponent.