Fate: A Tale of Conversion-on-the-Fly

Randy's truckThis tale is late, but my writing time in the last quarter has been spent primarily on the War of Ashes RPG. Despite the lateness, I want to share this gaming experience because I think it may be useful to others. It’s on my mind because I’m wrapping up one of the last details for the draft of the War of Ashes RPG, the creation of short sample adventures.

When I was on Games On Demand duty at Big Bad Con in October, I had two options prepared: a FAE Muppet Show game or an octaNe game. Players sat down at my table, interested in trying Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) for the first time but not too hot about the Muppets. Two were actually in the wrong age bracket, too young for the original Muppet Show and too old for the Disney re-launch; and one was my husband, who had recently played the Muppets game and had not played octaNe in a long time, so was ready for some post-apocalypse mayhem.

I wanted to give my players the game that would entertain them most, and somewhere in the back of my mind I had been making connections between the two systems; the spark went ZzzaPP! and I decided to run the game I had planned for octaNe but using the FAE system.

I’ve already talked about the game premise here: Eternal Earth-Bound Pets, USA contract employees, hired to retrieve the pets left behind by policy holders who were Raptured. The game writes itself! I had prepared an EEBP_brochure which I asked the players to fill; this would obviously be our adventure, the pets they had to save. The key points were these: Continue reading “Fate: A Tale of Conversion-on-the-Fly”

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.

War of Ashes RPG: Moving on to the system sections!

Vidaar Forge

Woo-hoo! Having submitted the first draft of the setting material on Sunday night for the War of Ashes RPG I’m writing for Evil Hat Productions, I’m now engaged in two new fun activities: exchanging with the editor, Karen, who has to turn this lump of ore into battle steel (we’ve already come up with some changes that will make it much easier to read); and writing the system portions of the book.

Right now I’m doing the easy stuff: cribbing from the Fate Accelerated Edition book and occasionally from Fate Core to write the basic rules. It’s not very demanding but it’s good review and it goes quickly. Next I will start building the Extras, and that will be serious fun. I think it will also be a good nudge to finish my last post on the Fate of the Budayeen conversion since that too was centred around the extras and use of the Fate System Toolkit.

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

Fate, Difference, and Advantages

Fudge or Fate dice

In which I spill some more thoughts about the Fate roleplaying system, in line with recent ones and still thinking about game mechanics as I write the War of Ashes RPG, but applicable to all Fate games.

I’ve been saying that among the four types of actions used in Fate Core and in Fate Accelerated, “Create an Advantage” is the key one.1  I want to take a few minutes to think about the mechanical reasons for the necessity and effectiveness of what may appear once again as “just” a narrative issue.

The Mathematics of Success

A very smart friend of mine who posts under the handle “theletteromega” has been writing on probability, statistics and game mechanics in roleplaying games for a few years now, discussing a variety of systems.  If you like to understand how things work, I’d like to point you to his articles on variance and game design, variance in Spirit of the Century, combat in Fate 2.0, combat in The Dresden Files RPG and other Fate-derived systems, and the use of fate points to counter the difference in skill level.

For now I will merely give you a digest:  Continue reading “Fate, Difference, and Advantages”

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.