New Releases: Harlem Unbound, Sins of the Past Revisited

Today I take a quick look at a couple of new releases in two different genres: horror and superheroes. Both can be used to expand an existing campaign or as the backbone for a whole new campaign. These will be overviews, not full-fledged reviews since I have not had a chance to run either campaign.

Harlem Unbound

Cover of Harlem Unbound

If you want Cthulhu Mythos horror that flips the standard Lovecraftian view of minorities on its head, putting them in the roles of heroes who must struggle against cosmic horrors while also fighting for a chance at equality, this is the sourcebook for you.

Harlem Unbound is a 274-page sourcebook for Cthulhu Mythos role-play written by Chris Spivey and published by Darker Hue Studios, which provides setting history, locations, characters, adventures, and game-master advice for the Harlem neighbourhood of New York City during the 1920s, the era known as the Harlem Renaissance.

System-wise, elements are detailed for play with both Call of Cthulhu 7th Ed. (Chaosium) and the GUMSHOE system (Pelgrane Press). In fact, you can play it as a GUMSHOE standalone, it contains the necessary rules; or you could play it with a GUMSHOE game such as Trail of Cthulhu, Fear Itself, The Yellow King, or The Esoterrorists.

However, the materials offered in Harlem Unbound are rich and well-formulated so that in my opinion, there should be little trouble adapting them to another system of your choice. Mechanics are the least of your worries—doing the material justice in play is the GM and players’ true challenge. This is exactly the game supplement you need to run adventures in the vein of The Ballad of Black Tom (Victor LaValle) or Lovecraft Country: A Novel (Matt Ruff).

The art is of course strongly influenced by luminaries of the Harlem Artists Guild and precursors. Some of it is not my cup of tea (the gorier images), but it is nevertheless well done. I am particularly fond of artist Nino Malong’s contributions.

If you missed the Kickstarter funding campaign, you can still pre-order Harlem Unbound on Backerkit.

Sins of the Past, Revisited

Sins of the Past Revisited - coverThe original Sins of the Past adventure, published back in 2010, is one of the best scenarios ever written for the superhero game ICONS. Since its release, however, the system has undergone a revision and expansion published as the Assembled Edition in 2014.

Sins of the Past, Revisited is a 52-page adventure written by Theron Bretz, illustrated by Dan Houser—the same team that created the original edition—and published by Ad Infinitum Adventures for ICONS Superpowered Roleplaying: The Assembled Edition.

It does not only update the mechanical bits to reflect the most recent version of the game; it offers new material, game-master advice, and notes on the playtest games. There is more art and new maps, everything a GM needs to run exciting scenes of superheroic action.

To top it off, if you prefer to run ICONS using the original rules, this comes with the 2010 version of the adventure for free. This means you can enjoy the new materials without major system adjustments.

The adventure connects modern-day superheroes (and villains) with those of the Golden Age. I think the adventure might have the most impact if its chapters were introduced one at a time over the course of a long-running campaign, when some of the GM characters have become familiar figures of the game setting. This could create fantastic buy-in for the players, inviting their characters to shoulder a legacy.

You can get the PDF on DriveThruRPG, and I understand that the print version will be available soon.

RPG a Day: Successful campaigns

13. What makes a successful campaign?

Our heroes from “The Playful Watch”, a Zorcerer of Zo campaign.

Once again, people. They have to click together; it’s no reflection on anyone but just because two people are friends with you, they won’t necessarily be friends with each other. We’ve had good luck in this respect, but sometimes you hit on incompatibilities even between people you all dearly love.

And of course they have to share enough interest, hopefully enthusiastic, in the setting, genre, characters, and plots.

In terms of logistics, availability and reliability. Classic gamer problem: every one wants to play but no one is available at the same times! Gaming is also a different priority for different people; for some, they really enjoy it but if they get an offer for some activity they enjoy they will cancel right at the last minute. Others expect the GM to call and remind them every game, no matter how firm the schedule arrangements were.




Fate of the Budayeen: Putting It All Together

Dubai street scene

[Turning a setting idea into a game world for the Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) role-playing game system: this is the sixth and last in the series.  Sorry about the delay, I have to give priority to the War of Ashes RPG commission I’m working on for Evil Hat Productions, but while I think about extras and system issues for War of Ashes, this is a great time for me to go back to thinking about the Fate dials.]

We’ve been looking at the step-by-step process for turning a bright idea for a setting (we picked George Alec Effinger’s Budayeen setting for the cyberpunk series chronicling the adventures of Marîd Audran) into a campaign for Fate Accelerated.  Our objective was to get from light bulb moment  to game with a minimum of fuss for the Game Master.

Let’s recap what we have done to date:

  1. Gather inspirations (Assemble our clippings folder.)
  2. Define feel of the campaign and setting (What is it about the setting we’re trying to emulate with the game?)
  3. Adjust the rules, create extras (Using the Fate tools to get that flavour in.)
  4. Faces and places from the source material (≠ what the group will decide at the table.)
  5. Preparing to improvise (More clippings and lists.)

Step 6: Putting It All Together

Fine-Tuning: Using the dials

Before we sit at the table with the entire group, we still have a few decisions and adjustments to make.  Because we picked a gritty setting, Fate’s default pulp adventure mode may need a little tweaking.  We have a few tools available to adjust this.  They are touched upon in Fate Core but best explained in the Fate System Toolkit (Chapter 5).  A detailed discussion of these dials should wait until I have time to review the whole Toolkit, but let’s say for now that we are going to do a few things to give this dark, hard-boiled, dangerous quality to our campaign:  Continue reading “Fate of the Budayeen: Putting It All Together”

War of Ashes RPG: Campaign Creation, Part 3

Eruption of Mount Murmadon

Continuing with Part 3 of my excerpt from the draft Campaign Creation section as I write the War of Ashes RPG for Evil Hat Productions; it’s based on the process as described in Fate Core. Part 1 (Premise and Scale) and Part 2 (Big Issues and Faces & Places) were posted earlier this week.

Making Characters As A Group

You’ll probably find yourself discussing character concepts in parallel with the campaign creation steps discussed above. That’s fine, just don’t close your mind to changing details along the way. We talked about the nuts and bolts of character creation in How Do I Make the Character?, but let’s consider character creation here as a group activity.

Mixed Nuts or Assorted?

Before you start creating player characters, you’ll want to discuss party composition.

How and why you would play characters from a single people: A group of heroes aligned with one of the factions—Elvorix, Vidaar, or Jaarl—makes party cohesion easier, makes it easier to connect the characters, and provides impetus to readily accept certain types of missions as adventure seeds. Heroes from one faction will generally be welcomed or blend in among the lands of their own faction, and face grave danger and hostility in the other factions’ lands.

A single faction does not mean sacrificing character individuality or niche protection. For example:

  • A party of attendants to an Elvorix high mucky-muck, chosen for their ability to act as lightning rods away from their boss: Roles could include resident scholar, foppish noble friend, jolly entertainer, spy posing as a servant, practical majordomo, poor relative, stalwart bodyguard, dour confessor, long-suffering tutor, etc., all probably chosen for they eccentricity or originality.
  • A splinter group of Vidaar Late-Comers left on some Island-That-Wasn’t-Garigla or another and now finally catching up with everyone else: Roles could include captain, shaman, navigator, freebooter, strange “pet” from a distant island, and the keeper of all oral history of the clan’s voyages at sea. Because a ship is a world unto itself, everyone could have a variety of secondary abilities from cooking to carpentry.
  • Last Best Hope for the Jaarl to recover volcanium: The Jaarl are looking for a way to forge swords and other volcanium objects again; they would prefer another suitable volcano, but perhaps another sufficient source of heat can serve too. The heroes’ mission is to find a solution. Roles could include elite Military escort, Arcane specialist studying the effect of Sacred Rock, metallurgist or smith from the Provider affiliation, Preserver scholar who serves as the expert on pre-Catastrophe volcanium forging techniques, Elvorix or Vidaar slaves serving as guides, porters, and interpreters in exchange for their freedom, etc.

How and why you would play characters from different factions or peoples: Maybe not everyone in your group shares the same interest in a particular faction. Mixed groups will likely face suspicion and a measure of struggle to get help almost everywhere, and some group members will face outright hostility in certain areas.

If your group wants to mix origins, you’ll want to come up with a good solid reason the characters will hand out and have adventures together instead of killing one another or just splitting up. For example:

  • Odd man buck out: If you have only one player character from a different faction, the onus is on the player of that character to come up with a good reason to be there, such as a war captive in a group of another faction if there are some bonds of obligation or friendship with other PCs.
  • A mixed Elvorix-Vidaar party from a region that has had a lot of inter-breeding: Sure, the past of Prolyus collapsed three years ago, but that doesn’t mean that family and friends were forgotten.
  • Descendants of Elvorix and Vidaar sent to check on Murmadon’s mysterious cities and captured by the Jaarl: Generations later, the descendants of the original prisoners had become part of Jaarl society, but after the Great Catastrophe and exodus their status was reduced again. The loyalties of current-day descendants, born in Agaptus but raised to think of Murmadon as the homeland and Jaarl as friends, are sorely tried.
  • A group of mismatched escapees from the advancing Kuld army: The Kuld don’t care about distinctions between Elvorix, Vidaar, and Jaarl; the heroes found themselves hiding and running away together, pooling their meager forces to defeat a small Kuld force, and bonded. You’d want to make this either part of the characters’ backstory when making PCs, or tell the players upfront that this is what the first adventure will be about, and get their buy-in.
  • The Company of the Rock: Not everyone in the lands of Agaptus is blind to the necessity of cooperation between peoples. The heroes are tasked with the epic mission of finding a way to slow, stop, or even reverse the effects of the Great Catastrophe. Theirs is a secret alliance that could save all of Agaptus!

Can You Play Something Unorthodox?

Some players look for their kicks on the margins of the game’s society. Perhaps they will ask you whether they can play a Nhilde troll, a Kuld, or a member of a sentient species from one of the more distant islands. The gamemaster may have some additional work to do, or the players may dislike the resulting “flavour”; but if the group agrees, this is doable. Look at the description and stats in Antagonists and Monsters to get inspiration, then make your character as normal.

Just like the mixed party, you need to come up with a plausible rationale for this, such as:

  • Nhilde troll with a party of Vidaar
  • Lizard-man or giant sentient bird with a party of sea-faring explorers or pirates from any faction
  • Visionary Kuld ostracised by its own people for wanting to make non-alimentary contact with other species


The better connected your characters are, the more fun the team will be. This doesn’t mean you can’t have rivalries, enmities, other other antagonistic relationships between PCs; in fact, the most dramatic relationships are those in which there is a certain tension, both something your character wants from another and something she refuses.

But you can start with straightforward connections of family, friendship, profession, politics, clan, and so forth. The important thing is for PCs to have a reason to work together.

In addition to connections between the player characters, try grounding your character into the War of Ashes setting in general, and the details of your campaign in particular; identify connections with the Faces and Places you just create.

Example: The group opts for a mixed collection of heroes from diverse factions, adopting The Company of the Rock as described above not only as their concept, but as the name of their group and an aspect for the campaign.

  • Sharlene creates Rustica Bibulus ix Atronia, an Elvorix scholar showing too much originality for her elders at the Academy. Rustica studies the mystery of the Great Catastrophe and the connections with the eruption of Mount Murmadon.
  • Ian creates Ulf Long-Teeth, a young Vidaar with a love for the old heroic sagas who longs to return to the life of swashbuckling seafaring adventures instead of this inhospitable land. He and Rustica are distantly related.
  • Ben creates Iva the Stubborn, a Jaarl Virian mother torn between fulfilling her duty to the Virian Order and the Stone-Seekers by assisting Rustica’s quest, and the wish to go looking for her banished lover, who lost his sword.

Credits: Art ©ZombieSmith 2012-2013, used with permission.

War of Ashes RPG: Campaign Creation, Part 2

Elvorix city

Continuing with Part 2 of my excerpt from the draft Campaign Creation section as I write the War of Ashes RPG for Evil Hat Productions; it’s based on the process as described in Fate Core. Part 1 (Premise and Scale) was posted yesterday.

Big Issues

In the The Big Picture we talked about some of the global issues for the world of Agaptus, issues that most people there can’t even see clearly because they are in the thingk of the action. Is Agaptus a doomed world, one on the cusp of change, or a backdrop you’re happy to keep more or less constant while you focus on local events? It depends on where you want the story to go.

But the issues for Agaptus may not be the ones your group will want to focus on in your campaign. Perhaps they are all about carving territory for a little lordling in the hills above Prolyus, exploring islands to the south where it’s warmer, or salvaging Ancient knowledge from an unstable ruined city before it collapses.

Types of issues: The issues should reflect the scale of your game and what the characters will face. They’re broad ideas; they don’t just affect your characters, but many people in the world. Issues take two forms:

  • Current Issues: The problems or threats that exist in the world already. Heroes tackling these issues are trying to change the world, to make it a better place. Examples: The on-going War of Ashes, the Kuld invasion, the loss of Ancient knowledge, the ossification of Elvorix society, the cult of ignorance in Vidaar society, the Jaarl’s loss of their Murmadon homeland.
  • Impending Issues: These are things that have begun to rear their ugly heads, and threaten to make the world worse if they come to pass or achieve a goal. Heroes tackling these issues are trying to keep the world from slipping into chaos or destruction. Examples: The cooling of the climate, a pretender to the throne bent on seizing control, the imminent invasion of the heroes’ town.

Foreshadowing the Issues: The default number of issues in a Fate game is two, and you can mix and match types. As one issue is being resolved, a gamemaster can foreshadow a new issue that is gaining prominence. That way, the group of heroes always has its collective hands full but not too full and the story flows with crests and troughs, like in our favorite epic tales.

Turning Issues Into Aspects: You’ve already seen how we’ve done something like this for every plot seed in this book. Distill your issues into aspects which you will use during play.

Expanding Story Seeds Into Issues: Speaking of the story seeds, maybe one grabbed your attention while thumbing through the book; why not expand it into more than a challenge or even an adventure, and make it part of your campaign? You may have to rephrase it to give it more scope.

Example: Sharlene is interested by the Great Catastrophe, its causes, and whether its effects can be stopped. Ben likes the heroic possibilities—saving the world!—and Isaac like the scope. Isaac would really like to see some swashbuckling adventures at sea but doesn’t have a specific issue. Since all three have shown some interest in Ancient technology, Kim suggests that maybe this idea of salvaging knowledge from an unstable Ancient site could take place on a small island off the coast of Sentia.

They boil this down to two aspects: Secrets of the Ice and Lost Island of Konaré.

Faces and Places

Now that you have your issues figured out, decide who the important people and locations are. In discussing these issues, you probably thought of some organizations or groups that are implicitly part of your story, whether to provide support or opposition. You will also have important locations. All of these will be more vivid in your campaign if they are represented by people; assign a few characters to be their faces, give each a distinguishing aspect, and think of some relationships between these and the player characters which you’ll create in the next step.

Example: Kim, Ben, Sharlene, and Ian agree that there will be some travel by sea to get to the island of Konaré, and perhaps a rival for the Ancient knowledge, a shadowy organization that doesn’t plan on sharing. Ian would like this rival organization to include an enemy captain so there can be plenty of naval battles and boarding actions. Ben suggests that the heroes should also have some sponsor or sponsoring organization who put them onto the track of this island.

They create the following:

  • The Seal of Prolyus, the rival organization for Ancient knowledge, dedicated to recovering science applicable to warfare to provide the Elvorix with an edge over their enemies.
  • Rogue scholar Laetitia Bibulus ix Gailus, sponsored by the Seal of Prolyus; her aspect is I’ll Show Them All.
  • Captain Volo Troll-Axe, Laetitia’s ally; his aspect is Is This Thing Valuable?
  • The Stone-Seekers, a faction of the Virian Order that is trying to find out the truth about the eruption of Mount Murmadon and the Great Catastrophe.
  • They’ve already identified the island of Konaré as a location, of course, and they know it will have Ancient ruins, but they want to leave it shrouded in mystery so they don’t assign a face to it for now.

Tomorrow: Group Character Creation.

Credits: Art ©ZombieSmith 2012-2013, used with permission.

War of Ashes RPG: Campaign Creation, Part 1

Kuld Guldul Rider

Woo-hoo, the writing on the War of Ashes RPG for Evil Hat Productions is going briskly! (If you’ve been following this series of posts, you’re probably tired of seeing me repeat title and publisher, but there are always first-time readers, so I try to provide context.) Today I was writing on campaign creation, modelled after the process in Fate Core, and I thought I’d share excerpts in the next few posts.

Campaign Creation

The GM has many responsibilities, such as presenting the conflict to the players, controlling NPCs, and helping everyone apply the rules to the situation in the game. Let’s talk about the first of the GM’s jobs: to help the group build campaigns.

A campaign is a series of games you play with the same characters, where the story builds on what happened in earlier sessions. All the players should collaborate with the GM to plan how the campaign will work. Usually this is a conversation among all of you to decide what sort of heroes you want to play, what sort of world you live in, and what sorts of bad guys you’ll have. Talk about how serious you want the game to be and how long you want it to last.

Campaign Creation: The 30-Seconds Version
1. Decide on a premise
2. Choose the scale
3. Identify the big issues
4. Create faces and places
5. Make player characters


The world of Agaptus and the War of Ashes are based on a “grimsical” aesthetic, a word coined by its creators at ZombieSmith to meld the grimness of brutal conflict with a whimsical, humorous attitude. When you plan a game you know you’re going to be working with the following elements in your premise:

  • Fantasy setting.
  • Unpredictable magic and inept gods.
  • Warfare and conflict as at least an important backdrop, even if your particular storyline concentrates on other aspects.
  • Technology and tactics levels comparable to early Middle Ages, around the world—not just Europe—and no cannon powder or firearms.
  • Lost knowledge of the Ancients and marvels that can no longer be replicated.
  • Characters and societies that are blind to their own silliness, treated in a humorous way.
  • Despite the humour, real danger, drama, and death.

While there is nothing that prevents your group from removing or altering these elements, they are part of the scope of this book. Make note of anything you want to change, and we’ll talk more in a little bit about how you can customize the setting to your preferences.

Within this framework, your group should discuss some the fundamental questions about the stories you want to build, for example:

  • What tone you are hoping for: Do you want to place the accent on humor, drama, danger, heroism, friendship, politics? Is Agaptus a doomed world, one on the cusp of change, or a place of hope?
  • What level of violence you are comfortable with: Does your group want only humorous violence, “realistic” gore, or some point in between?
  • What kind of PCs and PC groups you want play: For example, will your player characters be champions writ large, unlikely allies, scoundrels, Chosen Ones, reluctant heroes?
  • What kind of adventures you will have: Does your group expect quests, political intrigue, dungeon-crawls, mysteries, con jobs?

Ask the group whether anyone has other such questions that should be discussed up-front.

Example: Kim is going to be running a game for Ben, Sharlene, and Ian. They decide that they want a feeling of high adventure, and to visit a lot of the world rather than centre their story in one place. Ben wants to play a Big Damn hero but Ian feels like a bit more of a “grey area” character, and Sharlene just doesn’t want to play a completely amoral character. They agree to use this to create some dramatic tension, but stay away from making characters too close to the extremes. They won’t shy away from brutality if it shows up in the story, but they don’t want to focus on it as a primary element.


Play in the War of Ashes is possible on a wide range of scale, from small local campaign featuring young villagers to world-spanning campaigns where the (inept) gods of Agapta themselves intervene. In fact, if your players feel really ambitious, they can play gods themselves!

Decide how epic or personal your story will be. In a small-scale game, characters deal with problems in a city or region, they don’t travel a great deal, and the problems are local. A large-scale game involves dealing with problems that affect the entire kingdom, all of Agaptus, or even the rest of the world beyond.

Example: Kim, Ben, Sharlene, and Ian decide that they would like to participate in world-changing events, but they would also like to start small so they can get a bit of a Hero’s Journey feel.

A small-scale game will turn into a large-scale one over time, as you’ve probably seen in long-running novel series or television shows. We’ll talk about re-scaling a mature campaign under Expanding the World.

Finally, scale can also refer to group size, especially in conflict; we’ll talk about this in Connecting the Games when we see how the War of Ashes RPG can connect with other games set in the same world but dealing with a different scale of play, such as War of Ashes: Shieldwall.

(To be continued tomorrow.)

Credits: Art ©ZombieSmith 2012-2013, used with permission.

Fate of the Budayeen: Mise en Place

2013 - 1

[Turning a setting idea into a game world for the Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) role-playing game system: this is Post #5 in the series.]

In cooking, mise en place means getting all your ingredients measured and utensils prepared, lined near your work area, and generally setting up so you won’t have to fumble around looking for something while your hands are covered with flour and egg.

It’s the same when you prepare to run a role-playing game: you want to have the information you’ll need at your fingertips, organized so you can find it quickly.  In a lot of systems, this means having fifteen different sourcebooks tabbed and bookmarked, but not here.  We’re using Fate Accelerated, which is a pleasantly short little book; while we’re also getting some additional material from the heftier Fate Core while we prepare, in play we won’t need to refer to it.

But our setting source material comes from works of fiction literature, and we certainly don’t want to have to flip through the books to find a good description of the locations or technology.  This is why we have set up our lists of Faces and Places in Part 3; now we will add a few more lists to refer to when our players ask: “What’s in the victim’s pockets?”, “What does the data deck look like?” or “What is Farrad eating?”

In the process, I’m going to be borrowing the method described by Robin D. Laws in his book of advice for Game Masters, Robin’s Laws of Good Game Mastering (published by Steve Jackson Games).  Laws suggests preparing lists of names, sample dialogue, and personality traits which the GM can just pick from when it’s time to create minor characters.

Step 5: Preparing to Improvise

or: What do you mean, I can’t play a white American?

In Part 2 of the series, I mentioned that gamer groups who have trouble thinking past “white American” characters will need to do a little more work.  I’m serious, on countless occasions I’ve observed gamers who, told they could not play white Americans in a given setting, then tried to play white Englishmen, white Canadians, white Australians, or failing those, other white Europeans.  If you really twist their arm, they may play a katana-wielding Asian character.

It pays for the GM to prepare against this by having lots of flavour bits to include in her setting, thus helping the players get in the right mood; and references to help her players choose a few character elements that will fit well in the Budayeen (name, physical description, connections, habits, occupation, orientation, beliefs, etc.) Continue reading “Fate of the Budayeen: Mise en Place”

Fate Accelerated: Aspect vs. Approach

FATE Accelerated coverHey, we’re on a roll discussing the Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) role-playing game system, so let’s continue yesterday’s discussion that compared Approaches and Skills by now comparing Approaches and Aspects.

What’s an Aspect?

I’ve already mentioned that I see Aspects as the very centre of the Fate system in all its incarnations,  and that I think FAE is particularly suited to showcasing them.  A number of people have told me that they felt the Approaches overlapped with the Aspects because “Sneaky” or “Quick” were Aspects.

I disagree.

“Sneaky” is not an Aspect, or at least not a good one, because it is useful but not necessarily all that dangerous.  Yes, as a Game Master I can find a way to use it to cause trouble for your character, but it’s going to be fairly limited and repetitive because it’s so vague.  Remember,

Fate Core CoverAspects which don’t help you tell a good story (by giving you success when you need it and by drawing you into danger and action when the story needs it) aren’t doing their job. The aspects which push you into conflict—and help you excel once you’re there—will be among your best and most-used.

Aspects need to be both useful and dangerous—allowing you to help shape the story and generating lots of fate points—and they should never be boring. The best aspect suggests both ways to use it and ways it can complicate your situation. Aspects that cannot be used for either of those are likely to be dull indeed.

(Fate Core, p. 36)

So “Swore a Blood Oath to the Neko ninja clan” is an Aspect if you’re playing in the setting of Usagi Yojimbo, “I’m a homicidal maniac, they look just like everyone else” is an Aspect if you’re playing The Addams Family, “Double-O clearance in Her Majesty’s Secret Service” is an Aspect if you’re playing super-spies, but “Sneaky” is just plain dull as an Aspect because it’s so one-sided and flavourless.  It is, however, very useful as an Approach in FAE.

To sum up:

  • Aspects can get you both in and out of trouble, and are hooks to catch stories on.  They tell you what your character does (e.g., “Ace Pilot of the RAF”, “Rightful Queen of the Realm”, “Heir to the Two-Sword Technique”) or why you do it (e.g., “I swore on my father’s dead body that I would avenge him!”, “Seeking the truth about my sister’s abduction”, “I must earn my True Love’s hand”).
  • Approaches tell you how you do things: Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick and Stealthy (Edit) Sneaky in standard FAE rules, but could be Daring, Ingenuity, Craft, Charm, Might and Magic if I decided to borrow the Styles from octaNe, the psychotronic game of post-apocalyptic trash culture America, etc.  You can do something in several different styles, but some will be more dramatically appropriate than others in a given situation, based on the fiction created in-game; so the GM may set different difficulty targets depending on whether you are being Forceful, Sneaky or Flashy.

Skills are very familiar because we have seen them in a majority of role-playing games over the last four decades, and they have even been ported over to many computer and console games; however, they tend to trample over Aspects in terms of permission (can you do this?), limit creativity (“I guess I just don’t have that skill, I can’t do it”) and work against the Assumption of character competence, the first of the three Fate “pillars.”

Ultimately, an Aspect is a discrete piece of game fiction which is out there to be used by players and GM.

Comedy and tragedy masksSometimes these pieces can be used to your character’s advantage (your own character’s Aspects, any scene Aspect you create using an action, Consequences which you created by damaging an opposing character, etc.) and therefore can be Invoked free, or at the cost of a Fate Point — or at a dramatic cost.  Sometimes they can cause trouble for your character and therefore can be Compelled, earning you a Fate Point in payment and earning drama.

Fate (and FAE) works best when there are lots of dramatically appropriate pieces of fiction being used and reused to tell the exciting adventures of the player characters with the collaboration of the entire group.  The question of pass/fail, “Do you have the skill to execute your idea?” is usually not very interesting.  The question of “What cost are you willing to pay to succeed?” is far more dramatic — hence, Aspects as the heart of Fate.

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.