Gamer Food!

"No Junk Food" signThis weekend Edmund and I are going to be on staff (and hopefully doing some gaming) at Pacificon Game Expo in Santa Clara, CA.  We’re on a very limited budget and we’re also trying to eater healthy meals, so we just can’t live on potato chips and hamburgers from Friday through Monday.  So we have planned to make and bring the following menu items:

  • Spicy cocoa muffins
  • Slow-roasted beef sandwiches with basil, on home-made bread
  • Cold soba noodles with shrimp and vegetables
  • Hummus, pita and tabbouleh salad
  • Oatmeal bars
  • Cold-brewed coffee
  • Fresh fruit and vegetables for snacks

It sounds complicated but it’s much simpler than it seems because we use the bread machine and the food processor a lot.  Edmund has just put the muffins in the oven, and the bread is already done.  The beef is currently seasoning and will be roasted tonight, the fruit and vegetables have been acquired, Edmund will make the oatmeal bars after the muffins are baked; and while the beef is roasting tonight, I will be making the hummus, tabbouleh, cold-brewed coffee, and some mustard since we’re out (all of those benefit from sitting in the refrigerator overnight). The soba can be prepared at the last minute.

Sadness: we decided we didn’t have time to make pita, so I bought some at the store.  But we didn’t get a single unhealthy item, and except for the pita, everything is home-made, down to the condiments.

That is also a much cheaper way to eat; do you have any idea how much freakin’ hummus and tabbouleh you can make from chickpeas and bulghur?  It’s about three to five times more expensive and far less flavourful to buy prepared foods.  The slow-roasted beef is made from eye round, an inexpensive cut from Costco which comes out cheaper per pound (or kg) than any cold cuts, deli meats, sausages or hot dogs.  Etc., etc…

Time-wise, I admit that a bread machine, food processor and dishwasher make all this food prep much more pleasant, but I have also done this with nothing more advanced than a $20 electric egg-beater in the past, and it was still worth it.

Fate of the Budayeen: Crunchy Bits

Waiting[Turning a setting idea into a game world for the Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) role-playing game system: this is Post #3 in the series.]

Despite the process shown in Fate Core pp. 22-24 and “A Spark in Fate Core” (see previous instalment in this series), I’m not going to directly move on to “The Setting’s Big Issues.”   Unlike a game world created from scratch, I’m borrowing tons of material from an existing setting, so it’s easier for me to grab the bits I want and build my issues around them, probably in collaboration with the rest of the game group unless this is a one-off game.

Instead, let’s jump to an element most gamers tend to spend a lot of of time on — probably too much: rules questions, or what Robin D. Laws calls “crunchy bits” in his inestimably useful Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering.

Step 3: Adjust the rules to the setting

Philosophy.  As you might guess from my choice of Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) instead of Fate Core, I like simple game systems that get out of the way of building a good story when we’re at the table, and don’t require too much effort to adjudicate.  There’s nothing wrong with liking more crunch, many of my friends do; but when preparing my own game, if I’m tempted to create new rules material, I always ask myself whether it’s necessary or whether I can use what is already there.

Approaches in FAE.  Fate Accelerated replaces skills with six Approaches that describe how a character does things, in what style.  It’s excellent to model very competent characters (see my earlier review), but will it be too powerful for the gritty cyberpunk feel of the Budayeen?  Well, George Alec Effinger’s books are certainly rough on main characters, so NPC opposition will have to be brutal and the stakes will be high, but on the other hand, the reader hardly wonders whether the overwhelming odds will be overcome, merely at what cost.  So at first glance, FAE would work.

Let’s check our specific Approaches and decide whether we need to rename them or even replace them in order to reflect the setting.  Can I readily think of typical character actions in the Budayeen that would be covered by each approach? Continue reading “Fate of the Budayeen: Crunchy Bits”

Fate of the Budayeen: Establishing Foundations

[Turning a setting idea into a game world for the Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) role-playing game system: this is Post #2 in the series.]

Collaborative or GM-Driven?

Yesterday we talked about the Budayeen setting as seen in George Alec Effinger’s stories, and listed some other sources inspirations we’ll be using.  Before I go any further, I should take a minute to discuss how my approach will fit with the game creation process described in Fate CoreContinue reading “Fate of the Budayeen: Establishing Foundations”

Fate of the Budayeen: Let’s kick this off!

Dubai at night -- concept for proposed "rain cloud" building on the right

A few days ago I posted a little poll to see which setting people would be interested in seeing used in a step-by-step example of creating a setting in the Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) role-playing game system, all the way from initial Light Bulb! moment when an idea grabs you to prep notes for a game.

I just closed the poll, and it looks like the Budayeen setting, from George Alec Effinger’s “Marîd Audran” series, won the poll.  That suits me fine because, as Fred Hicks pointed out, too many people still think FAE is just for whimsical or light-hearted games.  I am convinced that FAE can be successfully used for any setting which the more detailed Fate Core can power.

My ambition is to convince readers that it’s quite easy and they can do it with modest effort.  Just to be clear, I will be putting in way more effort than I normally have to, because I want to write clear posts giving you context — which means way more legible than my typical game notes!   For those who have not read the books, I will throw in a little background.

What is the Budayeen?

Continue reading “Fate of the Budayeen: Let’s kick this off!”

Not Fade Away

Sparth's concept art for Blindsight's French editionWe’re coming up on the end of the month, so time to produce my essay for the book club reading.  This month, it was Peter Watts’ Blindsight, a hard SF tale of first contact asking us to question our assumptions on sentience, self-awareness, and consciousness.  I’m afraid my essay goes a little long this time.

Not Fade Away

Blindsight asks: “What if consciousness was not nearly as important as we think it is — was just a blip, a temporary artefact in our evolution?”  While it is a useful exercise, I contend that it remains a thought exercise.

1. The shifts toward consciousness and self-awareness happens relatively far back in our ancestry, at least as far as mammals’ branching out from the family tree of life on Earth.  We’re quite familiar with the fact that mammals (and even birds, reptiles and fish in a more limited way) exhibit individual personality and rudimentary partitioning of me/not me.

2. Self-awareness could conceivably be a by-product in evolution, but it would only evolve out if it was a detrimental trait in propagating genetic material.  The fact that it has survived and developed suggests that it was at least neutral but closely correlated with a beneficial feature, and more likely a beneficial feature in itself.

3. To evolve out of a species like ours, self-awareness would also have to overcome culture, since at this point culture has modified our response to environmental pressure.

4. In a species without self-awareness, it’s not clear what would be the drive to technology and space travel.  Or would the concept require “self” as a necessary but temporary phase?

5. There is little evidence so far of a long-term move away from self or from self-awareness in human evolution or culture.  In fact, the pressure toward conformity to group norms and identity seems in many ways to decrease in modern societies, with a greater range of individual behaviours and expressions gaining acceptance.


Dawkins, Richard. 2009.  The Greatest Show on Earth.

Downey, Greg.  2013.  Becoming Human: How Evolution Made Us.

Harris, Sam. 2012. Free Will.

— . 2010. The Moral Landscape.

Illustration: Concept art by Sparth (Nicolas Bouvier) for the French edition of Blindsight (published by Univers Poche).)

Ka-POW! Uh…

Marvel Heroic Roleplay coverWarning: Geek alert — this is not an intro post; I’m going to talk about role-playing game mechanics and superhero graphic novel story lines without providing context or explanation.  As a result, it may be even more incomprehensible than usual for those who aren’t into that sort of thing.

This afternoon Edmund and I tried a little combat example using Marvel Heroic Roleplaying, published from January 2012 through April 2013 by Margaret Weis Productions.

The game was immensely popular among my gamer friends when it was published last year, but I understand that the costs and restrictions of licensing Marvel’s property rights made it impractical to continue with a longer line of licensed supplements.  As a result, it’s currently very difficult to find online Game Master (or “Watcher”) resources such as blank character sheets (“hero datafiles”), rules summaries, GM advice for constructing events or balancing the opposition, and so forth.

Cover of Daredevil #255: Temptation!We pulled out our bags of dice and Edmund used Daredevil’s character sheet from the the sample adventure (or “event”) in the basic rules; for the opposition, I started with the standard 2d6 Doom Pool and I used a mob of 3d8 mooks in Hell’s Kitchen, followed by Typhoid Mary (who else?) as statted in the book.  (We were both big fans of the DD era written by Ann Nocenti and illustrated by John Romita Jr.)

I opened with with the mooks and discovered that I had a tendency to roll lots of 1s for Edmund to exploit, which means I used up my little 2d6 pretty early on before he’d even rolled a single Opportunity for me to exploit in return.  After them came Typhoid Mary, but her stats are that of a minor villain in the MHRP book, nevermind the multi-episode story arcs to the contrary we’d read.  The best I could do was pretty much to spend the encounter rebuilding my 2d6 starting pool — and handing out Plot Points.

After the playtest, I took a closer look at the opposition in the “Breakout” event in the basic rules; it seems to me they all open with pretty stiff opposition, villains whose stats are the equivalent of the typical hero’s.  I wanted to ease my way into encounters by building up the Doom pool with low-level encounters first, but it seems to be completely backwards; the GM needs to tenderize the PCs with a big attack before easing up on them for plot development, or even to consistently use opponents that, either singly, as a team, or as a mob, have about the same stopping power at the heroes.

On the positive side, the dice-pool building approach did allow simulation of typical comic book action.  Then again, as this was a first try, there was a lot of flipping back and forth through the book to figure out the variants possible for Plot Points, Doom dice, Opportunities, stress, complications, events, and trauma.

I expect that MWP will probably release a generic version of the system and, hopefully, a GM guide or some supplements that can be used with MHRP or with the metahuman setting of your choice.  But until then, does anyone have some advice or resources to suggest?

From Wild Hare to Epic

Fate Accelerated banner

Turning an Idea into a Game

I wrote about the Fate Accelerated system this week and how I think it’s a perfect tool to grab a crazy idea and turn it into a fully fleshed role-playing campaign.  I thought it might be fun to work through an example step-by-step, taking comments and questions, and showing how easy it can be.

So here is my plan: I’ll list a few ideas of setting pitches based on books I’ve read, movies I’ve seen and games I’ve played recently, and ask you to vote.  If you have a better idea, please add it; if we need to we can always have a run-off poll to settle ties.  I’ll start by giving the pitches, then you can vote below.

  1. Pacific Rim — Giant kaiju versus mech armour action.  Join the Pan-Pacific Defence Corps!  Based on Guillermo del Toro’s movie, of course.
  2. Breakfast of the Gods — A hard-boiled tale of sugary betrayal, featuring cereal cartoon mascots.  Dark humour and bitter-sweet drama.  Based on the free Webcomic by Brendan Douglas Jones, which is also available as a very nice print book.
  3. The Budayeen — Hard-boiled stories again, this time in an enclave of sin and vice in the Middle Eastern cyberpunk setting of George Alec Effinger’s “Marîd Audran” series.  Think Sin City + Casablanca + Neuromancer.
  4. Exodus II —   A hard scifi tale of Humanity’s first interstellar colonization effort against a backdrop of mass destruction.   Will it be our last gasp before final extinction, or the salvation of our home planet?  Based on the concept from a freeform game I played in several years ago, but easily reusable.

Vote here:

These are just ideas, feel free to comment.

Cinnamon Peach Cobbler

Peach Cobbler, 2013-08-17The peaches, nectarines and apricots are in season, so it was time to make this peach cobbler recipe.  The original is from aeposey on, and despite being described as a “Southern” Peach cobbler is not, as you might suppose, over-sweetened.  Even so, I cut sugar yet a bit more.  This dessert has been a big success every time I served it.


Peach Layer

  • 8 fresh peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced into thin wedges [Yesterday I used enormous peaches so I only needed six to fill my 3-quart dish until there was barely any space for the rest.  I love it as a mostly-fruit dish.  I don’t always peel the fruit if the skin is very nice.]
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) white sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) brown sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon (0.5 mL) ground nutmeg or 1/4 teaspoon (1 mL) ground mace
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) fresh lemon juice
  • 2 teaspoons (10 mL) cornstarch

Cake Layer

  • 1 cup (250 mL) all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL)white sugar
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL)brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 mL) salt
  • 6 tablespoons ( 90 mL) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) boiling water

Topping – Mix Together:

  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) white sugar
  • 2 teaspoon (10 mL) ground cinnamon


  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
  2.  In a large bowl, combine peaches, white sugar, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, lemon juice, and cornstarch. Toss to coat evenly, and pour into a 3-quart baking dish.  Bake in preheated oven for 10 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, in a large bowl, combine flour, white sugar, brown sugar, baking powder, and salt. Blend in butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender [I zap in my food processor], until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in water until just combined.
  4. Remove peaches from oven, and reserve a few nice slices for decoration later.  Drop spoonfuls of topping over the peach layer. Sprinkle entire cobbler with the sugar and cinnamon mixture. Bake until topping is golden, about 25 to 30 minutes.

Garnish with the reserved peach slices and serve with a drizzle of fresh cream, a dollop of whipped cream, or a scoop of ice cream.

FAE or FATE Core?

FATE Accelerated cover Fate Core Cover

So I had a number of posts in recent weeks on the two recently released versions of the FATE game system from Evil Hat Productions: the detailed FATE Core version and the FATE Accelerated Edition (FAE) version.

As a recap if you are not familiar with FATE: it’s a role-playing game (RPG) system which has been around in various versions for about a decade; version 2.0 was available free and version 3.0 formed the backbone of two of Evil Hat’s popular games Spirit of the Century (2006) and The Dresden Files RPG (2010).  In 2013, following an immensely successful Kickstarter campaign that ended around Christmas 2012, they have released a new comprehensive edition (FATE Core) and a streamlined quick-start edition (FAE).

Both are available as e-books (PDF, ePub and mobi formats) from the Evil Hat site under the pay-what-you-like model, and as gorgeous print books from Evil Hat or from your friendly local gaming store.  For good reviews of the system, see here and here.  For FAE reviews, see here and here.

What’s New

First, what is the difference between this edition of FATE Core and the previous editions?  A handy summary is provided in appendix to FATE Core (the “Veteran’s Guide”).  In short: the types of actions have regrouped down to four and streamlined; rules for challenges, contests, and collaboration have been clarified; character creation has been simplified, including dropping the number of starting Aspects from ten to five; terminology has been clarified; and roll results have been changed from simple pass/fail to a range of four outcomes: fail or succeed at cost, tie (succeed at minor cost), succeed, and succeed with style.

These are very good changes.  From my first encounter with Spirit of the Century, through later games and The Dresden Files, I’ve always thought this was “the most complicated simple system I’d ever played.”1  There were just a little too many things to keep track of and as a result, the more conventional parts of the system (e.g., skill system, attack and defend actions) tended to overshadow the more innovative ones (e.g., use of Aspects to shape the story and place narrative control in the players’ hands.)

Add to these improvements the excellent advice on setting, adventure, and campaign creation, and the systematic review of how different rules can be adjusted to support various styles (a bit like in Green Ronin’s excellent Mastermind’s Manual for the game Mutants & Masterminds), and you have a superb system guide in your hands.

Second, what is the difference between FATE Core and FAE?  Christopher Ruthenbeck has posted a nice summary on his blog.  In practical terms, the big difference between the books is that FATE Core provides a wealth of advice in 310 pages for creating and running campaigns, tweaking the system and creating new house rules; whereas in 50 pages, FAE gives your enough of the game engine to get you started in a quick game.

The big difference between the system versions, however, is that FAE ditches the 18 skills and replaces them with six approaches (Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick, Sneaky) that describe how a character accomplishes tasks.  You never have to worry about whether a certain skill can be used for a certain type of Action (overcome, set up an advantage, attack or defend).  Otherwise, the two versions are completely compatible.

Why I like FAE so much

The stated goal of FATE is to enable you to tell stories about characters who are proactive, competent, and dramatic (FATE Core, p. 18).  I contend that FAE meets this mandate even better than FATE Core.

In a nutshell: having both skills and Aspects means a lot of stuff to track for players and GMs who are new to the system.  As a result, a lot of people (especially when coming from a “traditional” RPG background) tend to concentrate too much on “Do I have the right skill?” and neglect Aspects, which are really the crux and the innovation in Fate Core.

With FAE, the skills are replaced by six approaches that represent a character’s style (like in Memento Mori Theatricks’ post-apocalypse game octaNe).  And just like that, we move one notch up on the “Competent, Proactive, Dramatic” track: the question a player asks is no longer “Can I do this?” but “How do I do this?”

Aspects tell you whether you can get it done (e.g., “Mage of the Fourth Circle,” “Brain surgeon extraordinaire”, “I once hacked the Pentagon main frame”) and why you do it (e.g., “Need to make my mother proud”, “Can’t get enough speed thrills”, “There can be Only One.”)  Approaches tell you how you get it done.

With FAE, the focus of game play is now solidly on Aspects: character Aspects, temporary Aspects and Consequences created as a result of Actions, etc. — which, in my opinion, are the heart and soul of the FATE system.

FAE is excellent to play settings where the characters excel at what they do: high-action, pulp, superheroes, Olympic-level athletes, elite forces, heist games, and so forth.  For a more gritty or lethal game — life on the streets, war in the trenches, horror, etc. — darker Aspects and Consequences need to be used, and perhaps some rules adjustments borrowed from the advice in FATE Core and the upcoming FATE Toolbox.

A New Champion is Born

Five years ago, I posted a review of another game system, Savage Worlds (Pinnacle Entertainment), and I said that the system was not in itself that exciting or innovative, but “second best at everything” yet this actually made it great for “GMs looking for a quick and easy system to turn their setting ideas into a campaign, or a painless conversion from other systems,” and “a great choice for quick adaptation of your crazy offbeat setting ideas.”  (Since then, a new edition has been released and all the good things I said still apply.)

However, I feel that with the FAE system (plus all the wonderful building blocks and advice provided in FATE Core), we finally have an elegant, dynamic, innovative system that provides the same ease for painlessly creating new settings and campaigns.  FAE is now going to be one of my go-to systems2 for high action, shared narrative control, and minimal GM headaches.


1 I’d like to take credit for being the first fan on the Kickstarter comments to suggest a streamlined, quick-start version of FATE.  I’m certain the Evil Hat team had already discussed this possibility, duh, but hey — if I’m not mistaken, I was the first commenter!  ^_^ Return
2 My other go-to systems remain PDQ (Atomic Sock Monkey Games, as implemented in Truth & Justice, The Zorcerer of Zo, Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies, Jaws of the Six Serpents, Questers of the Middle Realms, etc.) and HeroQuest Core Rules 2nd ed. (Moon Design Productions).

Game recap: The Cunning Cat Caper

The Cunning Cat CaperA couple of weeks ago at FATE Con (a game day event held at EndGame in Oakland, California), Edmund ran a game that used the FATE Accelerated Edition (FAE) system and the premise of John Wick’s game Cat: A little game about little heroes.  He posted the character sheets here; we played Silent the stealthy feral (Amy), Ginger the wise oldster (Jefferson), Bearcat the clever rescue (John) and Snowflake the bouncy kitten (me).  Here is what happened.

The rules for both FAE and FATE Core can be downloaded from the Evil Hat Productions site..

The premise: cats are the guardians of Humanity against goblins, boggins, demons and evil spirits of all kinds.  When they appear to be sleeping and twitching in dreams, they may very well be on the Other Side (the spirit world), fighting off the bad guys.

The Cunning Cat Caper

One morning, Bearcat, Ginger and Snowflake woke up to discover their humans had disappeared.  Bearcat went outside to explore and found the big metal box on wheels that takes you to the vet was still there.  At their own house, Snowflake checked the Other Side but got quickly distracted, and ageing Ginger went back to sleep.


Silent, who lived without humans, noticed on his morning hunt that all rats and rat scents were entirely missing in the neighbourhood, though no other animals seemed affected.  He caught a mouse and interrogated it on the rats’ whereabouts; Bearcat, still strolling, joined him.  The mouse begged for mercy and lead the cats to a compost heap where rats were usually helping themselves to the buffet, but there were still none to be found today, nor and scent trails.  As promised, Silent released the mouse — right into Bearcat’s waiting paws…  Continue reading “Game recap: The Cunning Cat Caper”