Friday, June 28, 2013

Making My Marchland Unseelie Court

As mentioned a couple of posts ago, the actual Marchland book separates the European fae-blooded into seasonal courts, not Seelie and Unseelie. This was also the set-up in Dark Ages Fae and I couldn’t wrap it around my brain there either. It’s just too many factions and I can’t really be bothered with that for a duet game, so I’m making up my own Seelie and Unseelie courts. I can’t remember any of the NPCs from the actual Marchland except for Lilly Barnes and that weirdo Theo, so these are all my own goofy invention.

Erik Alderman
High Concept: King of the Unseelie Court of Brighton Bay
Trouble: All the gods-damned humans
Aspect 1: Hard-bitten survivor of four hundred years of war and politics
Aspect 2: Not all trolls are stupid and ugly
Aspect 3: Casual cruelty

Careful: +1
Clever: +3
Flashy: +2
Forceful: +4
Quick: +2
Sneaky: +3

Stunt 1: Because I am smarter and less savage than the average troll, once per session I can act first in combat when I unleash my true savage nature.
Stunt 2: Because I wield the Power of Midwinter, I get a +2 when I Flashily Attack servants of the light.
Stunt 3: Because I am a master of illusion and darkness, I get a +2 when I Sneakily Create Advantages in surroundings unfamiliar to my foes.

Briana “Harsh’naghk” Tomlin
High Concept: Red Knight of the Unseelie Court of Brighton Bay
Trouble: “This is the most awesome LARP evah!!!”
Aspect 1: Don’t tell her orcs aren’t “real” legendary beings
Aspect 2: Player-killer
Aspect 3: Proud of her scars

Careful: +0
Clever: +1
Flashy: +2
Forceful: +3
Quick: +2
Sneaky: +1

Stunt 1: Because I think it’s all a game, I get a +2 when I Flashily Attack using a fantasy weapon like a bat’leth or “Krull”-style glaive.
Stunt 2: Because I don’t think I can die, I get a +2 to Forcefully Attack supernatural mooks (but not normal humans because they’re real).
Stunt 3: Because I need my delusions shielded in order to be effective for the Unseelie, the king has assigned a gang of goblins to fight by my side and feed my fantasies.

Jeff Albertson
High Concept: Seneschal of the Unseelie Court of Brighton Bay
Trouble: Can’t go two sentences without sarcasm
Aspect 1: Literal internet troll
Aspect 2: Won’t take your crap
Aspect 3: Knows where the bodies are buried

Careful: +2
Clever: +3
Flashy: +1
Forceful: +2
Quick: +0
Sneaky: +1

Stunt 1: Because I am a computer genius, I get a +2 when I Cleverly Create Advantages using my hacking skills.
Stunt 2: Because I’m a bully, I get a +2 when I Forcefully Attack anyone smaller than me.
Stunt 3: Because the whole world is wired, once per session I can get anywhere someone answers her smartphone.

(Yes, there's two trolls, but they're meant to deliberately contrast with each other.)

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Making My Marchland Seelie Court

Marchland contains one of my pet peeves: super-mysterious embedded NPCs with no game stats.  I presume this is meant to help fuel a Marchland GM’s imagination and allow her to customize the setting to her vision, but I frankly find it annoying.  If it doesn’t have stats, the players can’t kill it; if the players can’t kill it, then player agency is denied; if you’re trying to deny player agency, then these NPCs are even more precious snowflakes than the player characters – and that sucks.

(Feel free to substitute “combat” for “kill” and assume “combat” includes “argue with,” “trick,” “humiliate,” and all the other things PCs should be able to do to NPCs.)

(Also, I’m a bit cranky and groggy today.)

Because of that, I need to assign some danged stats and figure out who’s who and what’s what.  Because Una Sheridan’s primary allegiance is to the Seelie Court, I’ll start with them – and I’m going to use FATE Accelerated Edition (FAE) because I can do that without flipping back and forth between a bunch of books for hours.

Lilliana “Lilly” Barnes
High Concept:  Queen of the Seelie Court of Brighton Bay
Trouble: Too many Otherkind, too little space.
Aspect 1: Owner of the popular bar, The Froudian Slip
Aspect 2: An ancient sidhe of royal blood
Aspect 3: Breezy and cheerful

Careful: +2
Clever: +3
Flashy: +2
Forceful: +3
Quick: +1
Sneaky: +4

Stunt 1: Because I have a deceptively harmless appearance, I get a +2 when I Sneakily Create an Advantage to aid my subjects. 
Stunt 2: Because I wield the Power of Midsummer, I get a +2 when I Flashily Defend myself from creatures of darkness.
Stunt 3: Because it’s good to be the queen, I have a surprising number of valuable possessions far outside the means of a simple tavernkeeper (a classic Jaguar, bottles of 200 year-old scotch, etc.).

Lilliana Barnes is, honestly, one of the few NPCs in the Marchland book who stuck in my brain after reading the book.  She is identified as a fae who may be “1000s” of years old; since her bar is also implied to be a major fairy hang-out, it makes sense to elevate her to the position of leader.  It should be noted, however, that her position as queen is more akin to the tribal leaders of the Celts instead of a feudal lord.  She’s a lot more than first among equals but a lot less than an absolute monarch.

Gavin Falcon
High Concept:  Green Knight of the Seelie Court of Brighton Bay
Trouble: “Where is the honor in that?”
Aspect 1: Fencing coach at the local college
Aspect 2: Historical European martial arts afficianado
Aspect 3: Sidhe of the tribe of the Horned Lord

Careful: +1
Clever: +1
Flashy: +2
Forceful: +3
Quick: +2
Sneaky: +0

Stunt 1: Because I am the champion of the queen, I get a +2 when I Forcefully Attack in single combat. 
Stunt 2: Because I am as fast as a stag, I get a +2 when I Quickly Overcome physical obstacles in my path.
Stunt 3: Because I use my position in society to scout for potential recruits, I have a small cadre of fae warriors at my command.

Harold Broom
High Concept:  Seneschal of the Seelie Court of Brighton Bay
Trouble: Nearsighted nebbish
Aspect 1: Certified public accountant
Aspect 2: “It may be a mess, but it’s my mess!”
Aspect 3: Doing everything a clurican can

Careful: +3
Clever: +2
Flashy: +1
Forceful: +0
Quick: +1
Sneaky: +2

Stunt 1: Because I know all the angles, I get a +2 when I Cleverly Overcome financial obstacles. 
Stunt 2: Because I can shrink down to three apples tall, I get a +2 when I Sneakily Defend against man-size or larger opponents (but only when I can dare use my powers).
Stunt 3: Because I’m just another face in the crowd, once per session I can literally disappear into a crowd.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Making My Marchland

I’m more re-creative than creative; give me an established setting or characters and I’ll dig into them and find ways to reinvent and use them, but I struggle with flat-out inventing things.  (I would have made a great hack comic book writer or DC editor.)  Because of that, I knew I was going to need help coming up with an urban fantasy setting.  I went on DrivethruRPG and took a look at the Dresden Files RPG: Your Story book for FATE and Marchland for Savage Worlds and concluded that Marchland was half the price of the other.  Back to Savage Worlds we go.

Marchland gave me a lot of what I wanted – a functional fictional city, a basic cosmology, and fae creation rules that aren’t just super powers revisited – but I’m going to have to rework a few bits and add a few more.  Separating the European fae into season-based courts instead of the Seelie and Unseelie didn’t work for me in Dark Ages Fae and it doesn’t work for me here, the various fae and Manitou tribes are barely described, and none of the important NPCs really work for the purposes of paranormal romance.  Also, I hate vampires and werewolves as fae; they’re undead and belong with the spirits.

(Yes, werewolves are undead.  Just ask Larry Talbot.)

Our heroine, Una Sheridan, is a negotiator.  Half sidhe and half puma Manitou, her position between two cultures gives her greater perspective on the conflicts between fae and Manitou, otherworlder and mortal.  She has contacts, friends, and lovers amongst the Mantitou tribes, Seelie and Unseelie, witches and wizards, and other weird folks who call Brighton Bay home.

(Yeah, it’s a lot like “Lost Girl,” but so is Marchland.)

The most important thing I need to do is work up some romantic interests.  The easiest way to do that is probably to assign characters to those patented character voices of mine.

Jackson Panic
Seelie satyr
Played by “Steve Blum”

(I used to frequently do a voice inspired by Steve Blum’s voice for Spike Spiegel and Mugen.  I haven’t really done it in a while – it began to blend together with the Tiger -- but I want to revive it for this game.)

Jackson Panic is a singer/songwriter and session musician in his early forties but who looks ten years younger.  He’s been a member of numerous short-lived alternative and grunge bands over the years and currently plays in a Pearl Jam cover band called Oyster Jelly while also playing his own alterna-folk songs at area bars.  He “feeds” on the sexual energy of groupies and the emotional highs of audiences.  His connections to the local drug scene give him an insight into area criminals and low-lifes.

Alec Olson
Otter Manitou
Played by the Monkey

Alec Olson is as close to pure-blooded Swinomish as it gets in Brighton Bay, but like most of his fellow American Indians, he’s got an English-language name.  He works as a day laborer at the docks and does odd jobs; he’s got the smarts to do more with his life, but he’d rather be happy but poor than rich and miserable.  As an otter, he belongs to both the land and the sea; like Una, he crosses the boundaries between worlds.  He knows a lot of hidden gates between mundane reality and the otherworlds.

Morgan Drake
Unseelie dragon
Played by the Tamlin

Morgan Drake is an ambitious member of the Unseelie nobility; he works as an investment banker during the day (though he has a pack of internet sprites that do much of the work) and roams high-end bars and clubs by night trying to satisfy his lust for virgins and gold.  Drake obviously spends the majority of his time in his human guise; he’s learned through many, many long years of bitter experience that there isn’t enough room in the modern world for a dragon.  His well-practiced self-control and urbane manners make him easier to work with than most of the Unseelie.

Trevor Barrow
Played by the Tennant

Trevor Barrow was a chartered accountant a lifetime ago in London; now he calls himself a “liaison” and keeps the balance between Brighton Bay’s living and dead.  Undeath has filled him with a manic energy he didn’t know in life, though how much of that is barely-hidden bloodlust is his secret.  He’s Una’s counterpart with the undead community and they often find themselves on opposite sides of the negotiating table.

Jason Painter
Cougar Manitou
Played by the Tiger

Jason Painter spends a lot of time explaining that he doesn’t do portraits; he carves wooden statuary in a mix of native Snoqualmie and European styles that make him a popular and controversial figure in the area art scene.  His clients and detractors would be shocked to learn that he carves his art with his own claws.  He’s one of the few mountain lion Manitou in the region, so it’s literally only natural that Jason and Una share an undeniable attraction.  

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Monkey

I like to pretend I could have been a vocal actor.  I’ve got a set of funny voices that I’ve used so many times over the years that I can speak in them for hours without breaking character.  These voices have become stock characters in our duet games, practically Eternal Companions to Robin’s Eternal Champion.  One of them is my favorite NPC.  His name is “the Monkey.”

The Monkey is a leering, irreverent rascal.  His voice grates with a boyish cackle.  He is a thief, a trickster, a man with a plan.  When pressed, he can be sensitive and mature but vastly prefers being an irresponsible man-child.  His greatest desire is to live free but he’ll do anything for the woman he loves.  The Monkey is, bluntly, my impression of Tony Oliver’s voice for Lupin III. 

The Monkey first appeared way, way back in our original duet game – an Old World of Darkness Land of Eight Million Dreams (“changelings of the east”) campaign starring a nyan (cat-girl) named Fuyuko.  His name in that campaign was Monkey Mask, a hanuman (monkey-spirit) who was a flagrant copy of Lupin III that was also at the same time the Monkey King of Journey to the West.  Monkey Mask’s gimmick was disguising his actual monkey nature by wearing a rubber monkey mask during his crimes.  He had a Cultist of Ecstasy (sex wizard) girlfriend who was an Americanized Fujiko Mine, a Glass Walker (city-dwelling werewolf) stand-in for Jigen, and a kuei-jin (eastern vampire) Goemon Ishikawa XIII (who might have been the actual Goemon Ishikawa, but I can’t remember).

During the sessions where Fuyuko got tangled up in Monkey Mask’s plans, I remember having a sublime moment – a moment where my mind and spirit were one.  We were playing the actual heist and something just snapped in place and I narrated this crazy, wild ’n’ wooly action scene right out of a Lupin cartoon.  The details are largely lost to the mists of wine, but I distinctly remember crossdressing disguises and expanding puffballs immobilizing the police.  It was grand (though, admittedly, only the kind of GM grandstanding you can do in a duet game where your partner enjoys watching you go nuts).

Since then, the Monkey voice and characterization has recurred in some form or another in almost every campaign.  He has been an undisguised Lupin III, the real Hanuman (and Sun Wukong and Sarutahiko Okami), the King of Thieves in 17th Century Marseilles, Lykos son of Hermes, a Japanese Merlin, and numerous other rogues and scoundrels.  Sometimes he’s just a helpful ally or even a father figure, but usually he’s one of a quadrilogy of leading male voices that take turns as the heroine’s primary love interest.

I enjoy playing these other stock characters, but none of them are as fun as the Monkey.  The Tiger is a brash, growling action hero – a Conan, Thor, or Alcide Herveaux – but he has to sheathe his claws all too often and his strength is all too fragile.  The Tennant is inspired by David Tennant’s portrayals of Casanova and the Doctor; he’s the Monkey’s better-looking cousin in many ways, but he’s riddled with self-doubt and conscience.  The Tamlin was inspired by Rupert Everett’s urbane and witty take on Oscar Wilde’s characters; he’s more slick and subtle, but he’s jaded and bitter more often than not (there’s a reason I use that voice for Elaith Craulnobur).  Whatever role he assumes in the game, the Monkey is a figure of anarchy and glee, of joyful exuberance.  It’s fun to be him.

Sometimes I’m glad that I’m a constant GM and never a player.  I can’t imagine how nerve-wracking dealing with me playing the Monkey as a regular player character would be for some other schmuck.  The other players would hate me too.  “Who’s the richest jerk in town and how do we rob him?”  “Watch me schmooze my way past this dragon!”  “Hey, baby.  What’s your sign?”  He’d be the most ambitious, self-endangering PC in whatever world we landed in. 

It’s a good thing the Monkey is just my favorite NPC instead.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Spitballing Urban Fantasy Ideas

So I was writing a different post and realized I really, really want to jump into a new campaign because the current one is getting into emotional territory that I just don’t want to play because it strikes uncomfortably near the recent family drama.  So what does that mean for the next game?

The genres we’ve played least in the last thirteen or so years of duet gaming are modern urban fantasy/paranormal romance and science fiction.  Since I don’t think I can talk Robin into playing a Star Trek game, the urban fantasy setting seems the best choice.  The question then becomes one of how I want to handle this modern setting.

Do I want it to be modern “modern?”  It’s tempting to set the game back in the ‘90s as an excuse to listen to old grunge rock CDs for background music; it also cuts down on the presence of cell phones and internet searches.  Frankly, I’ve got a pretty contentious relationship with the millennial generation, so playing again in that brief, shining moment when Generation X mattered would be a bittersweet joy.  I’ll really have to consider it.

(Of course, I could always have the central characters be the same age as me and Robin and just be in better shape than we are.  I was born the same year as Neil Patrick Harris and Rose McGowan, so I know it’s possible to stay trim at my age – it’s my fault I’m a chubby neckbeard, not 1973’s.)  

The more important question, of course, is how magic works in this world.  What kind of magical folk hide in the corners of the world?  Is it the old World of Darkness, with fairies, vampires, werewolves, and wizards all having their own distinct spheres of influence and independent systems of magic (heck, they practically had their own distinct cosmologies)?  Is it “Lost Girl,” where everything – including liches and vampires – is a fairy?  What to do, what to do…

I know it won’t be “Supernatural” or “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” with a more-or-less normal human trying to exterminate the weird things in the world.  There might be monster fighting (I know there will be) but that will be a matter of policing the border between humanity and the weird – not that I necessarily see the heroine as the Anita Blake or Harry Dresden cop/detective type.  Perhaps an ambassador or negotiator?  Someone whose purpose is to attempt to resolve situations through negotiation and understanding instead of violence but who can – like Roger Smith – kick ass when needed?

(Obviously, I can’t dictate the character to Robin – that’s a surefire way to lose her interest -- but I can spitball ideas to help her find a hook.) 

If we go that direction, then it seems logical to go with the heroine being something that can walk the fine line between factions, something that is defined by insight and cleverness rather than violence.  The creatures that come to mind are angels (but not the “Supernatural” type), fairies, gods, kitsune, and wizards.  Vampires and werebeasts lend themselves far more to violence as the first solution, and I’m not sure Robin wants to play something that literally eats people anyway (with the possible exception of a werecat).

Or, just to go way out on a tangent here, what about a kuei-jin sufficiently advanced along her dharma to feed from breath instead of blood or flesh?  That suggests an Asian setting, but Japanophilia is a shared interest that Robin and I have from way back.  The kuei-jin mix the civility of vampires, the mysticism of the changing breeds, and the otherworldliness of changelings in a kinky, anime-flavored package.  Plus it’s an excuse to listen to Yoko Kanno… and to finally use a system and setting I’ve invested a lot of money in and never actually played.

Looking at the paragraphs above, it looks like I am already pretty set on a World of Darkness-type setting, if not the OWoD itself.  That makes it pretty tempting to just toss FAE aside and use the actual Storyteller System.  I wouldn’t feel as bad about that as I did about ditching Honor + Intrigue because I am a jackass and didn’t pay anything for FAE.  Of course, Kindred of the East is notoriously complex and I try not to do that sort of thing anymore. 


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Thinking About Sexy Monsters

In my ongoing attempt to become everything I once hated (storygamer, bicyclist, etc.), I am seriously considering making my next duet campaign an urban fantasy setting – by which I mean fairies and vampires living in the modern world, not Lankhmar or Waterdeep. 

I know, I know.  I’m surprised, too.

The reason for this interest in urban fantasy is pretty simple: it’s 90% of the TV I watch.  The price of buying a house a couple of years ago was giving up cable, so it’s pretty much all Netflix and occasional Blu-Ray boxed sets.  Robin and I have spent several nights each week for the last year working our way through the first seven seasons of “Supernatural,” devouring the first season of “Once Upon a Time,” and finally catching on to “Lost Girl.”  Just to space out the remaining unseen episodes of “Supernatural” and “Lost Girl,” we’ve started sampling “The Dresden Files,” the US “Being Human” (which we hope we’ll like more than the British version), and “Hemlock Grove.”  Netflix is full of urban fantasy – and the most recent boxed set we bought was season five of “True Blood.” 

I really shouldn’t be surprised by this.  I was a teen and twentysomething through the 1990s – the decade when White Wolf dominated the gaming shelves with the original World of Darkness.  Even though I personally never managed to play in or run more than a single session of Vampire: The Masquerade, Werewolf: The Apocalypse, or Mage: The Ascension, I still bought an awful lot of those books (often second-hand) and have a couple of gaming shelves still stuffed with core rules and sourcebooks for those games, Changeling: The Dreaming, and the complete print run of Kindred of the East.  Magic and monsters in the modern day is as much a part of my gaming DNA as AD&D 2nd Edition and d6 Star Wars.  The surprise is realizing that genre is synonymous with urban fantasy and also realizing that after nearly a decade away from any games in the genre that I’m ready to return.

The last long-form urban fantasy game I ran for Robin was a Land of Eight Million Dreams (“changelings of the east”) campaign that transformed and rebooted several times into a Bastet (were-cats) game instead.  We played that for the three years we lived in San Marcos – a college town a couple hours north of our native San Antonio, Texas – when we were cut off from friends and family.  It was our first duet game – the first duet game I ever ran – and it eventually involved so much high magic and kaiju that I’m actually flabbergasted to realize it was urban fantasy.  (I guess that when the setting is a foreign culture like Japan, urban fantasy feels just as fantastic as the Forgotten Realms or Nehwon.)

When we returned to San Antonio nine years ago, we had exhausted our taste for games set in modern times and started playing more fantasy settings and period pieces.  We eventually recruited some players from our old college friends and began running normal group games again as the duets got more experimental.  The recent unpleasantness alluded to a few posts ago has left us adrift again, so perhaps my yearning for an urban fantasy game is metaphorically looking for a safe port in a storm – or maybe it’s monkey seeing a lot of urban fantasy and monkey wanting to do it too.

Or maybe it’s waking up and realizing urban fantasy is just plain sexier than most genres.  One of the reasons I find myself surprised at considering a return to the genre is that the last decade has seen an explosion in the sub-genre of paranormal romance… and I have to admit to a bit of reflexive snobbery there.  Wandering through Half-Price Books and seeing shelf upon shelf of tightly-packed paperbacks about sexy lady monster hunters sexing up sexy demons, sexy vampires, sexy werewolves, etc., I have to admit that my straight white nerd guy reaction is to roll my eyes and turn instead to CLASSICS like The Lord of the Rings and Swords in the Mist.

But why?!  I’m in that section of the store because I’m looking for sexy, sharp-witted Regency historicals about sexy, sharp-witted proper ladies sexing up sexy, sharp-witted proper gentlemen.  I’ve read and enjoyed several paranormal Regency romances; heck, I tried to write a game about them!  As an unrepentant fan of the bloodshed and wenching of Robert E. Howard and Fritz Leiber, I have no right to turn my nose up at the tortured romances and sexy sex scenes of Laurel K. Hamilton and Charlaine Harris.  I like sexy sex scenes!  Let’s face it, I like urban fantasy!

(And yes, I’m aware that urban fantasy purists would argue that paranormal romance is a separate genre.  I don’t care about whether or not the romance is central to the plot; if you have magic and monsters in a modern city and it’s not a horror story, you’re writing urban fantasy.)

As I’ve mentioned before, a very important part of the duet games is helping to keep the romance alive in my marriage.  We can’t have our own children and we don’t want anyone else’s so keeping our relationship vital and vibrant is very, very important.  A central element of our duet games is the romantic relationships between characters.  The last near-decade’s concentration on fantastic and historical settings has often led to convoluted attempts to preserve the feeling of modern courtship practices in settings without dates and premarital sex.  I am suddenly asking myself why I’ve been making things so hard on myself.

If we do transition to urban fantasy for the next game, I’m going to have to put some thought into system and setting.  I’ve got those shelves full of OWoD books; it may be simplest to simply return to a system we abandoned years ago.  Perhaps the time has come to finally run a Kindred of the East campaign, or Werewolf, or Changeling.  I’ve been having fun with the looseness of FATE Accelerated Edition (FAE) but we haven’t really embraced the situational aspects yet; there’s some good world-building advice in FATE Core (and there’s the FATE Dresden game, duh!) , so perhaps I should incorporate that.  Surprisingly, there’s actually an urban fantasy setting for Savage Worlds called Marchland (two if you count Deadlands Noir, which I don’t); I’ve read some of the preview materials and it sounds like a less meta-fictive twist on Changeling, so it could be fun.  There’s a lot of options right at my fingertips.

I guess the real question is “What kind of sexy monsters do I want in my game?”

Monday, June 17, 2013


Stunt 2: Because I am an alien Christ-figure, I get a +2 when I Forcefully Defend innocent bystanders
Umm…  I hadn’t seen “Man of Steel” when I wrote my FAE Superman stats last Friday.  As many have commented, Zack Snyder kind of forgot to include that character trait in the movie.  I can assure you that stunt was not meant as a dig at the film; I enjoyed the movie and can even excuse the slight mischaracterization on the grounds that it is literally Superman’s first adventure in the film’s continuity. 

(I enjoyed it partially because I never made the mistake of forgetting that this was a film by Zack Snyder, director of “300.”)

Friday, June 14, 2013

FAE Batman and Superman

Creating characters for FATE Accelerated Edition (FAE) is pretty damn fun.  Here's everybody's favorite superhero and that guy who's in that movie that just came out.


High Concept:  “I… AM… BATMAN!”
Trouble: “I made a promise on the grave of my parents…”
Aspect 1: “Criminals are a superstitious, cowardly lot…”
Aspect 2: “The world’s greatest detective.”
Aspect 3: “Where does he get those wonderful toys?”

Forceful: +3
Clever: +2
Sneaky: +2
Flashy: +1
Careful: +1
Quick: +0

Refresh: 3

Stunt 1: Because “I am the night!,” I get a +2 when I Sneakily Attack mooks. 
Stunt 2: Because I am secretly billionaire philanthropist Bruce Wayne, I get a +2 when I Carefully Create an Advantage using my wealth.
Stunt 3: Because I am a ninja in a Dracula costume, once per session I can exit the scene without anyone seeing me leave.


High Concept: “It’s SUPERMAN!”
Trouble: “Strange visitor from another planet…”
Aspect 1: “Faster than a speeding bullet…”
Aspect 2: “Stronger than a locomotive…”
Aspect 3: “Able to leap tall buildings in a single bound…”

Forceful: +3
Careful: +2
Quick: +2
Clever: +1
Flashy: +1
Sneaky: +0

Refresh: 3

Stunt 1: Because I am secretly mild-mannered reporter Clark Kent, I get a +2 when I Cleverly Create an Advantage using my journalistic skills. 
Stunt 2: Because I am an alien Christ-figure, I get a +2 when I Forcefully Defend innocent bystanders.
Stunt 3: Because I am the original superhero, I get a +2 when I Forcefully Attack a super-strong villain.

*I was going to be super-clever and use only “Batman: The Animated Series” quotes for aspects, but that was taking way too long to look up so I just grabbed quotes from memory.

FAE and the Zorro Test

A starting character in FAE can have up to five starting aspects (one of which has to be the character’s “high concept” and one of which has to be a “trouble”), the usual spread of approaches, a refresh of 3 (how many FATE points the character starts with), and up to three stunts (minor situational aspects that either give a bonus to a specific approach in limited circumstances or allow minor player control of the story once per session).  The really awesome thing about this process is that I don’t have the FAE rulebook handy; I’ve already memorized character creation. 

Perhaps the most important question to ask of any game system is “Can I make Zorro?”  The answer from FATE Accelerated Edition (FAE) is “Yes, you sure can.”


High Concept: "Zorro!  Zorro!  Zorro!"
Trouble: “As Don Diego, I pretend to be afraid…”
Aspect 1: “Out of the night, when the full moon is bright…”
Aspect 2: “This bold renegade/Carves a ‘Z’ with his blade…”
Aspect 3: “The fox, so cunning and free…”

Flashy: +3
Clever: +2
Sneaky: +2
Forceful: +1
Quick: +1
Careful: +0
Refresh: 3

Stunt 1: Because I have the spirited mustang stallion Tornado, I automatically succeed once per session when I need to outrace something on horseback.
Stunt 2: Because I am a world-class duelist, I receive a +2 when I Flashily Attack in a one-on-one swordfight.
Stunt 3: Because I have my mute servant Bernardo, I get a +2 to Overcome when I Sneakily investigate the villains’ plans.

Yeah, I think that works.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Initial Impressions of FAE

Unable to resist the siren call of free pay-what-you-want and pirate cat-girls, I downloaded FATE Accelerated Edition (hereafter, and throughout most of the book itself, referred to as FAE – which makes me want to do a bunch of “Lost Girl” awful fae-themed pseudo-puns).  As I recently mentioned, I feel Savage Worlds isn’t doing a good job modeling the kind of story Robin and I are telling in our current duet game and I’m willing to experiment with another system.  A quick read-through and a single session’s worth of play have me thinking FAE might be the system I need.

(A caveat: Contributing to this shift in thinking is a shift if playing style.  An increase in pirate campaign sessions and the wild ‘n’ wooly, action-oriented mess they were led to a greater desire on Robin’s part for more story-oriented, dialogue-heavy role-playing.  I can’t blame Savage Worlds for not suiting my needs.  It isn’t you, baby; I’ve changed.

I can, however, report that the tactical – heck, I’d call it tactile – dueling system of Honor + Intrigue was horribly unsuited for our playing style.  I had fun with it, but I can’t blame Robin for hating that it usually took half an hour to resolve a two-person duel.  In theory, Honor + Intrigue creates competent beginning characters; in practice, it leads to lots of swords swinging through empty air.)

I bought the FATE-powered Agents of SWING a while back and I’ve flipped through a friend’s copy of Spirit of the Century and both of those impressed on me that the core version of FATE is* ridiculously over-complicated for a supposedly simple, story-driven system.  FAE is certainly streamlined and more intuitive than FATE; the rulebook is only an OSR-friendly 50 pages long (though it doesn’t contain a bestiary or magic items or anything like that – in no small part because it doesn’t really need them).  I’ve read through it pretty quickly and I think I actually understand the rules. 

…Which is pretty amazing, to be honest.  When was the last time you spent an hour reading a new-to-you RPG system and felt you could run a game?  Admittedly, FAE uses a lot of familiar concepts – FATE points have a lot in common with Savage World Bennies, aspects share some similarities with Honor + Intrigue careers – but there’s a lot of loose-goosey story-gaming concepts that seem much more explicable in FAE than they ever did in Agents of SWING.  

FAE is definitely a story game, though, and if you have no tolerance for those than you won’t get much mileage out of the system.  There’s a lot of deliberate meta-gaming going on that might pull many gamers out of the story; in fact, it’s built into the central mechanic: aspects.

Aspects are verbal tags that describe or suggest possibilities about a character, location, or situation.  In addition to helping define a character or her situation in a game, aspects can be invoked by paying a FATE point to grant a mechanical bonus to a dice roll.  Zorro might have the aspect “This bold renegade carves a Z with his blade;” his player could invoke that aspect for a +2 on the equivalent of an attack roll (because of the finesse needed to carve a Z), an intimidation roll (what do you think he carves those Zs on?), a fear check (he’s bold, after all), a thief skills check (he is a renegade), or many other situations.  The GM can also compel aspects against players, creating story complications that reward the players with more FATE points to spend.  In Zorro’s case, that “carves a Z with his blade” might be invoked by the GM to compel Zorro to leave his signature behind after breaking into the evil comandante’s office to have a look at his crooked tax records, thus alerting the comandante that Zorro knows about his secret plans.

In addition to aspects, characters are defined by approaches which indicate their facility for dealing with challenges in particular styles: Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick, and Sneaky.  Every character has access to every approach, which are ranked from best to worst on a +3 to +0 scale, and these are added to a roll of four FUDGE dice to determine success on actions that actually require a roll (which in turn have a difficulty range from 2 to 8+).  How characters use and interpret these approaches – and the difficulty numbers assigned to tasks – is a matter of aspects and character concept.  Batman and Superman could both have Forceful at +3, but Superman’s “More powerful than a locomotive” aspect means he wouldn’t even have to roll the dice to lift a car while Batman might have to beat a difficulty of 6 to lift it far enough for a trapped car crash victim to crawl free; conversely, they might both have Clever at +2 but since Batman is “The world’s greatest detective,” he’s going to have a much lower difficulty to solve a villain’s puzzle. 

Such meta-fictive concepts would have driven me nuts as little as a year ago, but (as I’ve mentioned) my gaming style for duets with Robin has changed a lot… or maybe it hasn’t and I’ve just embraced the storygamer that was in me the entire time.  The duets have always been more deliberately themed or high-concept than the group games – it’s more often a matter of me suggesting a setting or character type to Robin than the other way around, and such suggestions usually have an implied story arc – so embracing a game system that stresses deliberate storytelling instead of the emergent story of most RPGs is probably a natural change for me.  I don’t think I’d try to use FAE with a normal gaming group,** but I think it will be a better choice for the duets.

We’ll see…

*Or was.  FATE Core is supposedly more streamlined.  I’m reading it for further insights into running FAE, so I might have more to say about it later.  My initial impressions are that the complexity is modular.

**But I have to admit those Batman and Superman examples make me want to run a Justice League game.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

You have my attention, Evil Hat

There's a pirate cat-girl on the cover of Fate Accelerated Edition. Obviously, this bears further reading...

Thursday, June 6, 2013


2013 has been a pretty cruddy year for me in many, many ways.  Financial problems, illness, serious family drama, and the accompanying writer’s block have kept me away from the blog.  I’ve missed writing, but I’m not even sure what to write about anymore.

I’ve been feeling a bit disconnected from Savage Worlds in the last few months.  The Savage Worlds blogosphere is far from the vital, interconnected RPG community that the OSR represents.  The community is found almost exclusively at Pinnacle’s forums and I’m just not a forum kind of guy.  While Savage Worlds is still nominally my system of choice, Robin and I have spent most of the last month’s worth of duet games not even getting out the character sheets and dice.

Admittedly, the problem there is that we’re telling the kind of story Savage Worlds just isn’t able to handle: a literal apotheosis.  Our story is set in the world of Mythika (home to the awesome but equally unsuitable faux-old school game Mazes and Minotaurs) where Nyssa of Peleos, daughter of the god Dionysus and the warrior-woman Ariadne (lazily named after the Minoan princess but not the same person), is ascending from mere superhuman demigod to true divine splendor as the goddess of liberation.  Savage Worlds does superheroes and Savage Suzerain does demigods, but neither of them does cosmic.  Mystical Throne Entertainment’s port of the Italian RPG Mythos sounds almost exactly like the kind of game I wanted to run, but it doesn’t come out until the end of July.

(I know I should be using Scion, but I’m not sure if I’ll ever run a campaign like this again so buying a new system seems like a waste of money.  Of course, I actually ran a game like this before years ago using first edition Exalted -- Robin’s character was a clone of Amaterasu being raised as a modern super-goddess in a near-future Japan – so maybe I really should be thinking about investing in a game that handles big and mythic better.  I might be an atheist, but I’ve loved mythology as long as I’ve swashbuckling and I might surprise myself with another turn toward “high-level” play yet again.)   

The fact that I want something from Mystical Throne actually surprises me.  I signed up for the playtest for Faith and Demons and was so unimpressed with the initial playtest documents that I just gave up on it there and then.  I really, really hate introducing scores of new Edges to Savage Worlds in third-party settings.  While a dozen to a score of new Edges will help give a unique identity to a setting, including 60+ Edges (especially unique Edges for specific weapons) just narrows characters into specialists instead of broadening players’ options.  Unfortunately, this seems to be the trend in Savage Worlds supplements and settings, and it deepens my dissatisfaction with the system.  It’s the decadence of the d20 era all over again.


Anyway, right now the game consists of freeform storytelling.  It’s sometimes dissatisfying because we don’t have a real resolution mechanic so it’s all just GM fiat, but it works for the moment.  Perhaps some of the upcoming Savage Worlds publications will reignite my interest in the system; I plan on buying Mythos even though this current campaign will probably be over by then, and Clockwork Dreams from Savage Mojo looks interesting.  The free primer certainly makes Clockwork Dreams seem like a very gentle and whimsical setting.  I’m curious to see how that translates into Savage Worlds; it might even inspire me to get back to work on the Regency setting.

I could certainly use the inspiration.

Wine and Savages Team Now Co-Lead Developers for Savage Rifts®

While most interested parties already know this, Robin English-Bircher and I have combined forces with Sean Roberson as Lead Developers...