Fate of Falkenstein: Duels!

Yevgeny Onegin, by Repin

More on hacking Fate Core (Evil Hat Productions) to play Castle Falkenstein (R. Talsorian Games): time for a swashbuckling duel!

Castle Falkenstein pp. 192-196 offered extensive duelling rules; they would take a while to explain so instead I will link to these pages and you can read them if you are interested (click to enlarge):

CF-duel-p192 CF-duel-p193 CF-duel-p194 CF-duel-p195 CF-duel-p196

Duel rules are optional and it’s entirely possible to play “Fate of Falkenstein” without ever using them. However, here are two options in case you want the added drama, pomp, and circumstance. Continue reading “Fate of Falkenstein: Duels!”

Fate of Falkenstein: Hack and Slash

Marianne, by William EakenMore on hacking Fate Core (Evil Hat Productions) to play Castle Falkenstein (R. Talsorian Games): gear, weapons, and armour or lack thereof.

As I discussed a couple of days ago, I’m not enthusiastic about just assigning damage point values to weapons. While it’s a fitting approach for a number of games—David Goodwin gave us an overview of a D&D-type approach yesterday—I don’t think it fits with the spirit of the fiction of Castle Falkenstein, regardless of whether it fits with the feel of the system in CF.

The key, of course, is to go back to Fate’s Golden Rule:

Decide what you’re trying to accomplish first, then consult the rules to help you do it.

The meaning of weapon rules in New Europa is very different from what David used yesterday for his discussion, for example. They’re not about the players’ shopping experience (to use a simile from Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering), nor realism, nor even much about tactical play.

What are the reasons to differentiate weapons in the Falkensteinian world? As we might expect, they’re all about supporting the fiction.

  1. To provide the appropriate sense of danger whether threatened by a reciprocator pistol, a hatpin, or a sabre.
  2. To differentiate character concepts in action: the duellist from the suffragette from the anarchist, for example.
  3. To provide a sense of the disparity between the very large and the very small which marks the setting, from ancient Dragon Lords to gallant pixies and from weapons of mass warfare to single duels.
  4. To provide variety in the Grave Perils faced by the heroes.

Because of this, I want weapons to make a difference, but it must be swashbuckling and exciting. The best match I found was in the Fate System Toolkit‘s “Armor and Weapon Aspects” section; here is my adaptation to Fate of Falkenstein. Continue reading “Fate of Falkenstein: Hack and Slash”

Slow-Cooker Braised Elk Ribs

Elk ribs, from Bradley Smoker forumA guest had brought some pre-packed elk ribs so I made this for dinner yesterday (and of course forgot to take a picture, so you get a stock picture of what the uncooked ribs look like). I adapted the base recipe from Brown Hollow using ingredients I had which inspired me. Yeah, it’s pretty shameless the way I tinker with recipes and ignore instructions nowadays; my mom, who does the same but doesn’t own up to it, shakes her head.

I served this with a baby spinach salad topped with some of Edmund’s cranberry-orange relish and chopped pecans, and a side of basmati rice cooked with Edmund’s Moroccan preserved lemons.

Slow-Cooker Braised Elk Ribs

  • One slab of elk ribs (1.5 to 5 lbs or 0.7 to 2.2 kg)
  • Montreal Steak Rub or just salt and pepper

Braising Liquid

  • 8 ounces (250 mL) home-made cranberry-orange relish if you have it, or store-bought red currant jelly
  • ¼ tsp (1 mL) ground mustard powder
  • ¼ cup (60 mL) tawny port
  • 4 cups (1 L) home-made chicken, turkey, pork, or beef stock (I used turkey)
  • ½ tsp ground allspice or crushed allspice berries
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) juniper berries (10 to 12), scorched and coarsely crushed (actually, I left them whole this time)
  • 1 tsp ground cardamom or 4-5 pods, husks removed and finely crushed
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) brown sugar
  • ½ cup (125 mL) apple brandy
  • 1 Tbsp (15 mL) red wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp (5 mL) ground cinnamon
  • Coarse salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
  1. In a slow-cooker set on High, whisk all braising liquid ingredients down to the cinnamon, being careful to liquefy the cranberry or currant jelly. Bring it to a simmer and let it cook for a while; this can take up to an hour if your liquids were cold. Alternately, heat and reduce in a pan on the stovetop before pouring in the slow-cooker if you want to hurry things up.
  2. Meanwhile, pat the ribs dry with paper towels. Rub with the rub mix or just salt and pepper. Brown the ribs in a cast iron skillet.
  3. Place ribs in slow-cooker, with the liquid level coming up over ribs and about three-fourths of the way up. If you need more liquid, add more broth or just water. Rinse the skillet you browned the ribs in with some of the braising liquid to get all those meat juices, and return the liquid to the slow-cooker.
  4. Aromatic and root vegetables such as onion, potatoes, turnip, celery, and carrot may be added in an amount to loosely cover the meat. I added little red potatoes 2 hours later in the cooking so they would be just right by dinner time.
  5. Simmer for at least 4 hours. The longer they simmer, the more tender the ribs get. Six to eight hours brings them to falling-off-the bone, which is the desired level of doneness.

Don’t add salt or pepper until serving time, as this makes a fairly spicy broth thanks to the mustard and the rub on the ribs. I saved the leftover liquid to cook a piece of beef later this week, rather than waste it.

This recipe should work well with any game ribs as well as beef short ribs. A dark port would work as well as the tawny port and result in a deeper-coloured liquid.

Relic: Stupid Dice!

Relic: Gargoyle encounterWe played Relic again, the recent release from Fantasy Flight Games; I’ve talked about it in a previous post. That little bastard here, the gargoyle? It was emblematic of how unfair the dice were. We had the classic spread that Edmund was complaining of in a comment on one of my other recent posts on board gaming: the breakaway player who levels up every two or three turns, the middling player just about holding his ground, and me—rolling only 1s unless I’m rolling on behalf of someone else’s enemy, in which case I get 6s. I levelled exactly once.

The gargoyle became the flag-bearer for this phenomenon. With a score of only 2, it should be easy to get rid of, but it rolled two 6s and a 5, handily crushing one player character. Then a second player fought it, and the same thing happened: two 6s and a 5 (rolled by a different player.) Then it was banished by an event and we never got our revenge!

Stupid dice.

Castle Falkenstein: The Original Vision

As I’m hacking Fate Core (Evil Hat Productions) to play Castle Falkenstein (R. Talsorian Games), I realise that I should have started at the start and celebrated the reason this game is a beloved memory for so many gamers 20 years later: author Mike Pondsmith and artist William Eaken.

Mike Pondsmith: portrait, work in progress by liquidcyberpunk

Mike Pondsmith

Mike and his family are R. Talsorian Games. That means, for you youngsters, the various editions of Mekton, Cyberpunk, Teenagers from Outer Space, and derived titles. And Castle Falkenstein. When Mike gave us Castle Falkenstein in early 1994, we had had some lavish games already, particularly West End Games’ Star Wars RPG and the black and white elegance of some of White Wolf Games’ main titles, but Castle Falkenstein was the most beautiful role-playing book I’d ever seen at the time. I fell in love with it.

Mike Pondsmith’s personal vision is all over that book and its supplements. His training and experience as a graphic artist in the video world gave him a very 3D, fluid, walking-through, you-have-to-be-there vision of game worlds, while we were still in static 2D in most of the pen-and-paper RPG community Mike did (and still does, as far as I know) most of the graphic design and layout work on RTG products, and in Castle Falkenstein he decidedly took his work to new places.

He also gave us a game that was neither a random-roll, crap-shoot heartbreaker character creation dinosaur like the ones we had grown up on, nor a point-based, accounting exercise like the second-generation RPG of the time. It was friendly, math-light system that cared about narrative first (you started by writing your character’s diary!) It turned out to have math problems anyway, but it was a good idea that only needed some tweaking.

The third thing that made the game stand out was the separation of fiction and mechanics; the game provided ample source material that was unencumbered with stats, so you could marry it to another system of your choice quite easily.

I have had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Pondsmith a few times; I’ve heard him speak at conventions, and I’ve had chats with him once he moved to the Seattle area when he would come into my favourite role-playing game and comic book store, The Dreaming on University Avenue. (I think I earned points by being one of the few people who enjoyed the Barbie art in Cyberpunk v3.)

Self-portrait by William EakenWilliam Eaken

Artist and illustrator William Eaken was a marvellous choice to give Castle Falkenstein its dream-like, heroic, refined look. Eaken was also from the video game industry, and had worked for Sierra Online, LucasArts, as well as independent contracts for Rhino Records, Paramount Pictures, Steven Spielberg, NASA, etc.

His pencil, oil pastel, and watercolour style was a perfect fit for the art of Christian Jank, who conceived the original (and never-built) Falkenstein Castle in our own world.

Since then, he has produced illustrations for a variety of video and tabletop games, as well as fine art pieces. But for me, he will always be “the Castle Falkenstein artist.” His impact on the wonder and affection which the game generated in the hearts of fans cannot be overstated.

Images: Portrait of Mike Pondsmith by Eduardo “LiquidCyberpunk” Santiago, and self-portrait by William Eaken.  Used without permission, no copyright challenge intended.

Fate of Falkenstein: Setting Notes

Schloss_Falkenstein_Planung_Gemälde_Historismus_LudwigMore on hacking Fate Core (Evil Hat Productions) to play Castle Falkenstein (R. Talsorian Games). Actually, this has little to do with conversion of game mechanics, and mostly to do with the published setting.

Overall, I really enjoyed the setting and the fiction, particularly in the main rule book and in the companion book, Comme Il Faut. The system was a good idea but not well executed mechanically  and mathematically speaking, so after a few tries I started looking for patches, hacks, and conversion; I think the oldest conversion notes I have (1995) were for Theatrix, a system I have often described as a precursor of Fate.

These difficulties with the system were amplified with every supplement published; like many (most?) systems of its day, it was not robust enough to survive the splatbook “Newer, Bigger, Better!” treadmill effect. I still own, in addition to the two key books, The Book of Sigil, Steam Age, a PDF copy of the GURPS supplement Ottoman Empire, and I think I may have The Lost Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci somewhere in a box. (I pasted the complete list of supplements at the end of this post for reference, in order of publication.)

But the setting, the setting idea, was so much fun! Continue reading “Fate of Falkenstein: Setting Notes”

Fate of Falkenstein: Weapons

Illustration from Castle Falkenstein by William C. EakenMore on hacking Fate Core (Evil Hat Productions) to play Castle Falkenstein (R. Talsorian Games) (see the last three posts for more). I’m musing about how to translate weapons and harm.

How It Worked Before

In the original Castle Falkenstein book, weapons did a certain number of damage points which were automatically dealt on a success. There were three ranks of success:

  • Partial success, when the attack action result was equal to or greater than the defense action result;
  • Full success, when the attack result was equal to or greater than half again the defense result; and
  • High success, when the attack result was equal to or greater than twice the defense result.

Armour was described as rarely used, providing at most one point of protection and restricting movement.

Then in the excellent supplement Comme Il Faut (essentially the player’s guide to Castle Falkenstein), an alternate harm system was offered. Different types of attacks were assigned a harm rank, which was cross-referenced with the ability rank, range, or feat difficulty and, optionally, the hit location, to determine the narrative result (wounded, incapacitated, etc.)

A new option provided light, medium and heavy armour ratings which would stop all hits up to a certain harm rank (B, C, and D respectively), but for anyone but dragons or people inside vehicles, armour remained pretty much non-existent for most player characters.

The charm of this approach, however, is that it provided a us with a table that neatly groups weapons according to a ladder and compares to the damage value from the original system, thereby providing possibilities for use in Fate:

Harm Rank Typical Attacks Partial Full High
A Small hatpins, needles, darts, stumbles, most animal bites, blows, clubs, life preservers. 1 2 3
B Daggers, large hatpins, knives, bayonets, arrows, falls>10 ft, large bites, EXC/EXT blows, trampled. 2 3 4
C Small swords, small pistols, large arrows, fire, acid, electric shock, falls>20 ft, being hit by automotive. 3 4 5
D Heavy swords, light rifles, heavy pistols, spears, PR/AV Dragon breath, very large bites, reciprocators, falls>35 ft, crash damage. 4 5 7
E Heavy rifles, shotguns, GD/GR Dragon breath, falls>50 ft 7 8 9
F Artillery, shrapnel, bombs, being crushed, falls>100 ft, EXC/EXT Dragon breath. 8 9 10

How Should It Work in Fate?

Castle Falkenstein was intended to be swashbuckling and dramatic, which is a perfect match for Fate Core; but I’m not sure it can be done in the same way here. Yes, we could assign damage point values to weapons like the option discussed in Fate Core, pp. 277-278, but in Fate this would give a much deadlier result, especially without armour to counter the damage.

The harm ranks from Comme Il Faut suggest use of the Fate ladder, but their description is also non-linear. We could skip a couple of rungs on the ladder and establish a correspondence like this:

Harm Rank Fate Rank
A Average [+1]
B Fair [+2]
C Good [+3]
D Great [+4]
E Fantastic [+6]
F Legendary [+8]

But I’m really wondering whether this will help or hinder, whether it’s too lethal, and whether it’s an unnecessary complication added merely because it was there 20 years ago. For one thing, the harm rank table from Comme Il Faut describes action results, not just intrinsic values. It could certainly serve as a useful guideline for creating a new weapon damage table, and I can see why we wouldn’t expect damage landed by a hatpin, a pepperbox revolver, and a sabre to look the same. But we could also handle that through consequences, couldn’t we?

What do you think, how would you choose to handle damage in your own “Fate of Falkenstein” game?

Image by William Eaken, 1994 from Castle Falkenstein (R. Talsorian Games). Used without permission, no copyright challenge intended.

Fate of Bayern: Spell “Skill”

castfalk_picMore on hacking Fate Core (Evil Hat Productions) to play Castle Falkenstein (R. Talsorian Games): some justification for the way I decided to assign spell difficulty. I’m trying to stick as close as possible to the stats used in CF so that instead of writing big conversion tables for every single elements—and especially spells—I can just use a simple rule.

I was trying to decide how to assign a spell “skill” or difficulty value.  I latched on to the base thaumic energy requirement values for Falkensteinian spells because they follow a ladder progression, which makes it possible to map to Fate values.

I decided to use half the base thaumic cost as the skill value because it meant that a typical starting player character, who could be expected to assign a Good [+3] or Great [+4] bonus to the Sorcery skill if they were building a Sorcerer, would have even odds or better against half to two-thirds of the spells available in the base books (Castle Falkenstein and Comme Il Faut). Here’s what it looks like:

Base Thaumic Cost Resulting Difficulty Number of Spells in CF and CIF As Percent
2 +1 1 1%
4 +2 13 17%
6 +3 17 22%
8 +4 24 32%
10 +5 7 9%
12 +6 7 9%
14 +7 1 1%
16 +8 6 8%
Total: 76 100%

By the way, the spells with a base cost of 16 (mapping to a difficulty of +8) are largely death spells and necromancy, so I’m OK making those difficult…

Image by William Eaken, 1994 from Castle Falkenstein (R. Talsorian Games). Used without permission, no copyright challenge intended.

Ooops! Harmonics in my spell…

Sample card from the Decl of Fate: +0, one moon, one sunSo I borked the Deck of Fate probabilities last night in my Fate of Bayern post, at least in terms of assigning thaumic energy types and harmonics. The way I wrote it, you would have much higher chances of some types of harmonics than others.

My bad: I couldn’t remember where I had read the number of each combination of sun and moon symbols (it was in this post from Fred Hicks) and I was too intent on writing to actually count them myself. But today I did count them (it’s much easier using the PDF than the deck for this).

Based on this, I assigned the thaumic energy flavours so they would all have the same probability: one sun = Material, multiple suns = Elemental, one moon = Spiritual/Dimensional, and multiple moons = Emotional/Mental. In addition one moon and one sun are at the GM’s discretion based on the fiction, and an eclipse means a wild spell.

That also means I have to change the final part of the example in the earlier post (see after the table).

No. Cards Motif Assigned Thaumic Type
18 Single sun Material
6 Two suns Elemental
6 Three suns
6 One moon, two suns
6 Two moons, one sun Emotional/Mental
6 Three moons
6 Two moons
18 Single moon Spiritual/Dimensional
6 One moon, one sun GM’s choice
3 Eclipse Wild

So the earlier example would produce the following harmonics:

  • Turn 1: O (Material)—properly aligned.
  • Turn 2: C (Spiritual/Dimensional).
  • Turn 3: O (Material)—properly aligned.
  • Turn 4: CCO (Emotional/Mental).
  • Turn 5: COO (Elemental).
  • Turn 6: OOO (Elemental), then CCO (Emotional/Mental).
  • Turn 7: O (Material)—properly aligned.
  • Turn 8: C (Spiritual/Dimensional).
  • Turn 9: O (Material)—properly aligned.
  • Turn 10: C (Spiritual/Dimensional).

For a total of 4 cards properly aligned with Material energy, 3 aligned with Spiritual/Dimensional, 2 with Emotional/Mental, and 2 with Elemental. Coincidentally, I don’t actually have to change my description!

Fate of Bayern: Castle Falkenstein for Fate Core

Castle Falkenstein coverA bit over two months ago, I was struck with the idea of converting  one of my favourite role-playing games of old, Castle Falkenstein (R.Talsorian Games) to Fate Core (Evil Hat Productions) and using the Deck of Fate. This is particularly apt because the original game used ordinary playing cards instead of dice.

And now it’s the holidays, so I’m taking time for frivolous pursuits! I spent some time this week thinking about how to do this conversion. The skills are easy, and the character creation packages too. The biggest challenge is Sorcery, so I cooked up a draft. You can read the entire Fate_of_Bayern-v2.1 (it looks scary long, but it’s mostly because of the list of skills); but I’ll paste the sorcery discussion and example here.

Edit: Ignore this link, there is a more recent, complete, and corrected version here.

I’ll appreciate useful feedback on all sections, not just sorcery, since I still have some work to do on the draft; when it’s complete, I’ll post it in PDF, ePub and mobi ebook formats, as usual. For people who are local to the San Francisco Bay Area: I’ll be testing these rules at EndGame in Oakland some time in January. Continue reading “Fate of Bayern: Castle Falkenstein for Fate Core”