Fate-full lessons: Gaming notes

Fate Core CoverWith the number of Fate games available at this past weekend’s Big Bad Con, I had plenty of opportunities to take note of best practices and tips to make a game come alive.  I wanted to develop them here, but just listing the bullet points I realized I had too much for one post.  I’ll be developing these as I write the War of Ashes RPG instead.

Fate games in general

FATE Accelerated coverStart with Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) — then Fate Core and Fate-derived games will make sense.  Crazy, beautiful sense.

Fate is very doable with two players, possible with one-on-one adventures, but shines with 3-5 players.  Six or more PCs is only for well-coordinated groups, or in intrinsically chaotic settings like The Muppet Show.

Use sticky notes, possibly colour-coded, to keep track of temporary advantages, boosts and consequences.

“Create an advantage” is the key action—not “Overcome,” even though the latter feels like the most familiar if you come from traditional role-playing games.  It makes your character “competent, pro-active and dramatic” by allowing you to plan and sacrifice so you can succeed your way.

Tactical options in conflicts are largely provided by the players’ choices in creating advantages.  The system is very simple but allows you to build complexity in the results.

Thus, narration folds into mechanics.  The advantages you create, the aspects you choose to use, the order in which you invoke free aspects all seemingly have the same immediate mechanical results, but from there will take the adventure in very different dramatic directions.

For the GM:  Running Fate games

Prepping

Create game and scene aspects, and don’t forget to use them in play.  They make one conflict or obstacle “feel” different from the next.

Ryan M. Danks’ Fractal Adventure design method is pure distilled genius.  I’ve mentioned it in several recent posts and I will discuss it again when I write after-play reports, but you need to hear it again.  It allows the GM to essentially have her own character sheet for the adventure.

The perceived difficulty level of an adventure depends on the number of players, the ability of PCs to help each other, the number of stress boxes used, and the choice of stunts for antagonists.

While running the game

Put aspects created by the GM on PCs (and free invokes) in plain sight to ratchet up tension; use the coloured sticky notes mentioned above.

Running conflicts can be remarkably easy on the GM if you use Fate’s full potential, especially with the Fractal Adventure design method.  It’s one of the rare systems where using more of the system makes the GM’s life easier.

Stealth and avoiding the Big Bad: very stealthy/sneaky characters have the potential to bypass major GM characters and therefore deny the GM a chance to create her own advantages in play.  This may be a good or bad thing depending on your flexibility as GM; plan accordingly.

One-off and convention games

Use semi-finished pre-generated characters and have players customize them as part of the game.

Include a (cooperative) player who already knows the system in your group of newcomers.

Edit: Everyone loves the bookmarks.  A cheat-sheet that fits on a bookmark makes players happy!

For RPGs in general but particularly suitable for Fate

Use relationship maps like crazy.

Cinematic techniques: flashbacks, flash forward, meanwhile…, cut scenes, parallel scenes, montages, etc.

Comparing Fate to other systems

FAE vs. PDQ: PDQ characters are even more customizable, and combat easier, but FAE offers more tactical potential.

FAE vs. octaNe: So very compatible.  Use the Styles as five approaches (Daring, Ingenuity, Craft, Charm, and Might OR Magic at the individual player’s choice) and the scores +3, +2, +1, +0, +0; and create aspects based on the octaNe skills.

FAE vs. SotC: OMFSM, Spirit of the Century is going to be so much fun with Fate Accelerated.

Fate vs. D&D and other trad games: That will require its own post, but it all begins with “Here’s how I…” rather than “Can I…?”

Big Bad Con Kaleidoscope

Big Bad Con logoI barely know where to start unpacking after another amazing edition of Big Bad Con.  I have no idea how Sean Nittner and his team managed to top last year’s, but they did.  They have now moved up to anticipating wishes, like Mystic Pizza Delivery on Al Amarja which delivers because their psychics know you’re about to order, or the crime prevention unit in Minority Report who arrest criminals before they commit crimes.

The Bare Bones

(Already posted on social media, but I’ll consolidate here  Edited to link to Edmund’s game summaries.)

Day 1 (Friday)
Ran a game in Rob Wieland’s CAMELOT Trigger setting using Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) system.  My decision to start with a “pre-credit” sequence in the big climactic battle then jump back in time to a few days earlier didn’t one click for one player, but the others really seemed to like it.  [Edmund’s recap]

Played in my husband’s FAE in a WWI pulp adventure called “An Excellent Vintage.”  Coincidentally, all players were women, Edmund got all the chicks.  We ended up sacrificing ourselves and blowing up with our stolen German airship to prevent a plague engineered by the Kaiser’s scientists from devastating Europe.  A pulp game that ends up with an airship blowing up can’t go wrong.  [Edmund’s recap]

Day 2 (Saturday)
Opened with Games on Demand, where I offered to run either a FAE Muppet Show game or an octaNe game.  Players really wanted to try FAE but weren’t so keen on Muppets so I ended up using FAE on the fly to run the octaNe adventure!  Second time in so many days using Ryan M. Danks’ Fractal Adventure method, worked amazingly well considering this was all improvised.  I think this is the most on-the-fly conversion I’ve done in my entire life, and we had a blast.  [Edmund’s recap]

Played in +Ezra Denney‘s Habemus Papam game which was great fun (the murderer who was eliminating the competition managed to get elected pope, of course.)  My cardinal earned the stunt “Master of Sarcastic Prayer.”

Ran +Emily Care Boss‘ “Colony Wars” series pitch for Robin Laws’ DramaSystem (from Hillfolk, Pelgrane Press), my first actual play contact with the system.  Had six amazing, creative, cooperative, forgiving players put up with my fumbling.  We created the pilot episode for a science fiction drama series on the outer edge of the Asteroid Belt where the main tensions were the unexplained loss of contact with another new colony under construction, and the unrest following a massive influx of immigrants headed for that colony and now stuck on Ithaca station.  [Edmund’s recap]

Day 3 (Sunday)
Three more fantastic games, all hosted by Edmund:

Fiasco: 40K: All four of us were Warhammer 40,000 fans so we had a blast (heheheh, blast…) creating the fiction.  Two secret Eldar cultists, Brother Zealot and Brother Rhakum, the latter vying for a promotion with Technopriest and unsanctioned psyker Electrolux, who in turn had a demoted acolyte for a Servitor, in which was inset a reliquary containing the Bones of the Blessed First One which really turned out to be wraithbone coveted by Brother Zealot.   And an unlimited supply of (defective) frag grenades…  [Edmund’s recap]

Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple: Responding to a letter from the Scribing People requesting help against those who would steal their sustenance, the tales they feed on, and leave them nothing but unhealthy songs and poetry to nibble.  [Edmund’s recap]

Fate of Aldis, a Fate Core game using Green Ronin’s setting from Blue Rose; only two player characters (a Rhy-Cat and a Vata’sha both of the Sovereign’s Finest, a.k.a. magical talking cat and Night elf as elite troubleshooters), but picture-perfect best planning and execution of a rescue raid I’ve ever seen in a game.  Neither of us combat characters but fiendishly stealthy, and we still took on a small warband.  [Edmund’s recap]

Absolutely amazing people and amazing gaming all weekend.  At some point, I need to post some of the high moments because there were many worthy of memory, and some reviews.  But since I actually have Fate-related work to do and there were several Fate Core or Fate Accelerated games in my schedule, in my next post I will tackle some of the insights on Fate I received this weekend.

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.

Pacific Rim: Shortcut to story

Pacific Rim poster: Coyote TangoBeing my usual big freakin’ gaming nerd self, I watched Pacific Rim with both halves of my brain: the comic-book geek half, and the gamer geek half.  On the comic book side, of course, it is a visual delight: if, like me, you sat down for a big live-action rendition of a manga or anime fest, it was perfect.  Pitch-perfect, colour-perfect, choreography-perfect, design-perfect.

But there was also something there for the story-lover in me, the game-master, the attentive reader of clues, the analyst of systems; Guillermo del Toro and Travis Beacham use some interesting shortcuts to emotional impact that I think are worth a GM’s time to analyze.  (Note: I’m offering minor spoilers that are mostly covered by the introductory minutes of the movie.)

First of all, let’s get something out of the way: a simple plot does not have to mean shallow impact.  Not only does Pacific Rim have to be true to its origins in manga, anime, and kaiju movies — just like The Avengers or X-Men had to be to their superhero comic book roots; but it really only has to measure up to movies like Star Wars, Big Trouble in Little China, or Titanic in terms of plot.  If you think about it, these were very simple stories.

What it does have to do is bring the usually drawn frame into photo-realistic life, both literally (from manga to film) and figuratively, making us believe that someone is threatened, angry, frightened, vengeful, or elated in the film convincingly enough that we don’t keep pulling out of suspension of disbelief.  We have to care enough about the characters that we don’t start rooting for the kaiju the way I rooted for the bugs in Starship Troopers.

In game terms, that translates to wanting my players to get emotionally engaged with the adventure, just like del Toro wants his audience engaged with the story, while keeping the plot elements simple and clean, without oodles of backstory to labour through.  He uses a few tricks that GMs can plunder from.  Continue reading “Pacific Rim: Shortcut to story”