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?
Careful: Jimmying a lock, tailing someone, standing watch, finding an old file, forging a document, interviewing a lot of witnesses.
Clever: Fixing the books, jury-rigging a seizure gun, patching a moddy, running the numbers, spotting a tail.
Flashy: Turning a trick, running a confidence game on a tourist, negotiating a favourable agreement, earning large tips working in a bar.
Forceful: Evicting a punk from a bar, drinking tende with Chiriga, resisting interrogation, staying awake on a handful of Sonneine tablets.
Quick: Getting in the first punch, flushing the drugs before the cops come in to bust you, running a chase in the back alleys, diving behind cover when the shooting starts.
Sneaky: Breaking and entry, pickpocketing, palming the evidence, eavesdropping, logging onto a data deck with a false ID.
I’d say this is pretty good and I can’t think of any typical actions that would not be covered by FAE’s default Approaches, so I’m not going to mess with the standard list. I keep my examples handy in my notes, I will surely use them in play when I need to decide how to adjudicate an action or when I provide examples for the players.
Note: If wanted to use Fate Core instead of FAE, I would look at the Skill list instead of Approaches and decide whether I need to customize them. The process is essentially the same but it requires more fiddling because there are more skills, they have specific mechanical effects, they also have specific stunts attached, and selecting skills of uneven usefulness and appropriateness may mean that certain character concepts are less effective than they should be (or grossly overpowered) given the fiction on which the setting is based. That said, there is nothing wrong with this way of doing things, I just prefer to put my effort elsewhere.
Extras, or: Modelling technology. A lot of settings include elements that may require special rules (“Extras”) to model in terms of mechanical effect, like magic, superpowers, psychic abilities, or advanced technology. In our case, the period appears to be early 22nd century and there is certainly futuristic technology present, as well as technology that is now common but was still in development when Effinger started writing his series, for example:
- Cybernetics exist but are usually fairly noticeable and buggy.
- Anti-ageing procedures are available for the very rich.
- Designer drugs are everywhere, at least in the Budayeen.
- Cranial implants allow the use of personality modules and knowledge add-ons, a.k.a. moddies and daddies. Some even have advertisement segments!
- Games like Transpex allow those who sport cranial implants to play against each other in a virtual landscape.
- Colonies on Mars.
- Holovision and holosets have replaced television.
- There are still cars, but they seem to be electric.
- Weapons mentioned are usually seizure guns and the larger seizure cannons, which are theoretically non-lethal; static pistols, which kill pretty easily but leave internal organs undamaged; and flechette or needle guns, which produce high damage and tend to be quickly lethal. Firearms are no longer widespread, they tend to be collectors’ items.
- Computers are usually called “data decks” and there is something like an Internet; there are large databases but searches seem slower and less powerful than what we’re used to now.
- Cell phones exist but are not prominent, and seem to be at about the level of technology we had in North America around 2002 (so probably earlier for east Asia).
- Most electronics can be voice-activated.
The majority of this is fairly easy to handle simply with Aspects; the most finicky part is probably the effect of moddies and daddies, which may require stunts. Lets think of some examples:
A language daddy would merely offer the Aspect: Speak ___ [language], for example: the Berlitz World Traveller line might offer Speak German or Speak Ki-Swahili. It might even be more customized, like Speak Spanish with a Castillan accent, or Speak English like a 1920s Chicago tough guy.
A skill daddy would usually offer an Aspect granting an ability that normally requires training, for example, Bookkeeping 101 or Egyptian Art History, 2650 BCE–2150BCE.
A moddy is more complex, providing a personality overlay that temporarily replaces (not stacks with) the user’s, including a High Concept Aspect, a Flaw, 4 to 10 points’ worth of Approach bonuses (minimum -1 and maximum +4 in any given Approach) and one to three stunts. For example:
- A Honey Pilar “Slow, Slow Burn” moddy might provide the High Concept Porn Goddess, the Flaw Single-Track Mind: Sex!, the Approach Flashy +4 and the Stunt “Because I am channelling Honey Pilar, I get a +2 when I Flashily create an advantage when having sex with somebody.”
- A tough-guy moddy like the one Saied the Half-Hajj likes to chip in might provide Tough Guy, No Subtlety, +3 Forceful, +1 Flashy, +2 Quick, and “Because I am tough as nails, I get a +2 when I Forcefully create an advantage when attempting to intimidate someone.”
A weapon comes with a range (close, same zone, adjacent zone, two zones, etc.) and a description of the type of effect (blunt trauma, cutting, induces seizure, induces neural damage, kinetic damage, etc.) A larger or more powerful version of a ranged weapon (for example, seizure canon versus seizure gun) typically has a greater range (e.g., one more zone) or offers a bonus to the physical stress it causes at equivalent range (e.g., +1).
I’m not a big fan of creating long lists of pre-designed equipment, particularly in a system that puts narrative power first. I recommend simply having descriptions of the types of technology, and working with the players to give them Aspects and other mechanical bits as needed.
As GM, don’t hesitate to say no to unreasonable players, nor to play as rough with the equipment in-game as you do with the characters; but keep an open mind and be ready to say “yes” to players’ ideas. Think about a hard-boiled cyberpunk setting: there is always a way for the bad guys to get the upper hand, and there is always a bigger — or faster, or smarter — fish in the pond.