Wednesday, February 27, 2008
Like I said in my last post, I didn't want armor to just soak damage. A million games already do that, and it doesn't especially take advantage of FATE's strengths. My solution is to have armor work essentially just like weapons in reverse, using Aspects, adding Health Stress boxes (instead of adding damage), and, for top-of-the-line models, allowing the wearer to withstand an additional consequence (the mirror image of the pay-a-Fate-Point-to-inflict-a-consequence utility of the greatsword, war maul, and greataxe). There are three types of armor: light, medium, and heavy. I don't see a need to get more detailed than that. Wearing heavier armor also means taking a penalty to Athletics. I realize that this could be modeled by tagging an Armor Aspect, but my fear is that doing so would encourage, rather than discourage, use of Athletics. A fella could build up quite a store of Fate Points that way.
Unlike any other Aspects, Armor Aspects can be invoked once per scene for free. After that, it costs a Fate Point, like usual. The "Armor" field on the character sheet will have a check box beside it, a la FATE 2.0, so it's easy to track. When you invoke your armor's aspect for the first time in a scene, check the box. Admittedly, this makes armor a little more fiddly than just about anything else, but I think the system can take it. Invokes are pretty intuitive in this context, I think, but every armor type also has its weaknesses and strengths, and can be tagged in the former case and invoked in the latter. Armor Aspects are usually just the name of the armor itself: Plate Mail, Chain Mail, Soft Leather, etc.
Light:Soft leather, cuirboille, mail shirts, gambeson, etc.
Strong Against: None.
Medium: Chainmail, scale mail, lorica segmentata, brigandine, cuirass, etc.
Strong Against: Slashing
Special: Adds one Health Stress box. Imposes -1 to Athletics.
Heavy: Half plate, full plate
Strong Against: Slashing, Piercing
Special: Adds two Health Stress boxes. Allows wearer to take a second moderate physical consequence. Imposes -2 to Athletics.
I picture the Health Stress track as having, essentially, two rows: one for your own Health Stress, and one below for your armor. That ought to keep things clear. Like so:
Health:     
Armor: O O
Shields, on the other hand, give a +1 to a defensive use of Melee, or when using Melee to perform a Block, and make the "full defense" action give a +3 instead of a +2.
Monday, February 25, 2008
For the most part, weapons have a far greater place in fantasy than in pulp, so greater differentiation is needed between them than SotC generally allows. The solution I usually see for this -- weapons granting a bonus to stress dealt on a successful hit -- is a start, but I have a few problems with that method. One, it can quickly lead to an arms race of steadily increasing bonuses such that even getting a single shift on an attack means dealing a disproportionate amount of damage. Two, that leads to the necessity of making armor both direly necessary and a damage soaker. Three, and maybe most importantly, it doesn't take enough advantage of FATE's most interesting feature: Aspects.
"Spirit of the Sword" deals with the first problem by keeping damage modifiers down to a minimum: +0 for small, light weapons (dagger, short sword), +1 for medium weapons (longsword, mace), and +2 for two-handed weapons (greatsword, maul). That much is unavoidable, IMO. I'd have a really hard time with a fantasy game that didn't treat big heavy man-cleavers as... well, big heavy man-cleavers. This also partially gets rid of the armor issue, but we'll get to that later. The real way weapons are differentiated, though, is via Aspects. Every weapon has at least one; the most versatile have three. These Aspects are invoked, tagged, and compelled just like any other Aspects. You could invoke your pike's "Long" Aspect to help keep someone at bay, or it could be tagged as a hindrance if fighting in a confined space. A "Slashing" weapon is great against a living opponent, but not so much against an animated statue. A whip's "Entangling" Aspect could be invoked simply as part of an attack, or to enable you to maneuver an Aspect -- say, "Entangled" -- onto your opponent. And so on. Magic weapons could do even more, such as a flaming sword tagging your target with the Aspect "On Fire" or the like.
In addition, a few weapons have additional qualities besides damage bonuses and Aspects. Melee defense made with a rapier is at +1, a dagger has a range of 1 Zone, etc.
So here's a partial list of weapons and their various stats. Apologies for the tiny font; Blogspot isn't especially friendly to tables.
Edit: Actually, it's so unfriendly to tables that I can't really post much of anything here and have it be legible. Grr. So... I dunno. Here are some examples in an inconvenient but legible format.
Weapon: The name of the weapon.
Skill Used: As indicated. Some weapons can be thrown (Missile) as well as wielded in melee (Melee).
Aspect(s): Pretty self-explanatory.
Type: 1H = one-handed, 2H = two-handed
Damage: Additional stress dealt on a successful attack.
Special: Ranges, etc. FP = "Spend a Fate Point to impose a Consequence instead of stress."
Skill: Melee, Missile
Special: Range: 1 zone
Aspect: Armor Piercing
Aspect: Stabbing, Slashing
Aspect: Slashing, Bashing
Special: Spend a Fate Point on a successful attack to force your opponent to take a consequence instead of stress.
Aspect: Stabbing, Long
Aspect: Bashing, Armor Piercing
Aspect: Bashing, Flexible
Special: +1 when perfoming the Disarm maneuver
Special: Range: 2 zones.
Aspect: Armor Piercing
Special: Range: 3 zones.
Special: Range: 2 zones. +1 Missile.
Aspect: Armor Piercing
Special: Range: 2 zones. +1 Missile.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
Whew! Little break there for OrcCon, where Colin gave us all a solid education in running SotC. I just don't have it in me to be quite as dramatic (not to mention loud) as he is as a GM, but still -- good lessons to be learned there.
Anyway. Continuing on with "Spirit of the Sword," my unfortunately named SotC fantasy conversion (but seriously, throw out some ideas), today brings us to races.
Now races are at least three-quarters setting, and since I don't have a setting at the moment, I don't feel like I can get too comfortable outlining just what makes an elf an elf. That sort of thing depends on the world you're in, after all. But, at the very least, I can come up with a simple way to deal with nearly anyone's conception of "elf," regardless of the setting (and when the setting enters into this particular project, I can go back and be more precise).
The simplest solution is to just make race an Aspect, taken as part of the Origins Phase. Done and done. And for some people, that's all they'll need. If dwarves in your setting can smell gold, then it's a simple matter to just pay a Fate Point, invoke your "Dwarf of the Chalk Mountains" Aspect, and get a +2 to your Alertness roll. Ditto for compels. And that is, at the very least, where race should start: as an Aspect.
For those wishing to especially "elfy" or "dwarfy," though, there are Racial Stunts. My first thought on Racial Stunts was thus:
Elf: +2 Alertness when using sight or hearing to perceive something, +2 Athletics when covering ground, +1 Ranged with bows
Dwarf: +1 Melee against orcs and goblin-kind, +2 Endurance vs. poisons, +2 Craft when dealing with metal or stone
Orc: +2 Intimidation when not outnumbered, +1 Health Stress box, +1 Melee with two-handed melee weapons
Note: Only one Racial Stunt can be taken, and it must have an associated Aspect. Taking a Racial Stunt reduces Refresh by 1.
However, almost immediately I came to see this as far too limiting. Not only is it unattractive to shoehorn every member of every race into the same constricting loafer (to take that metaphor just as far as it can go), but reducing Refresh is just punitive for no good reason. After all, a "pure-strain" human can take the equivalent of Personal Gadget without reducing his Refresh, and that does the same as one of these Racial Stunts, more or less.
I decided instead to go with subraces, to better emphasize the different faces of something as broad as "elf." There are stealthy woodland elves, magic-infused elves, haughty elves in slender ivory towers, etc.
Wood Elf: +2 Alertness when using sight or hearing to perceive something, +2 Athletics when covering ground, +1 Missile with bows
Noble Elf: +2 Lore when researching arcana, +1 Magic with Magecraft, +2 Art when performing
Dark Elf: +2 Alertness in dim light or darkness, +1 Magic with Summoning, +2 Stealth in dim light or darkness
Cave Dwarf: +2 Alertness in dim light or darkness, +2 Endurance vs. Poisons, +2 Craft when dealing with metal or stone
Mountain Dwarf: +1 Melee vs. orcs and goblin-kind, +2 Craft when dealing with metal or stone, +2 Leadership vs. other dwarves
Hill Dwarf: +1 Melee vs. orcs and goblin-kind, +2 Craft when dealing with metal or stone, +2 Burglary when picking locks/disarming traps.
Note: Only one Racial Stunt may be taken, and it must have an associated Aspect.
This is better, but again, everything's so setting-dependent that it's impossible to account for what's "right" with any real accuracy. Like I said, when setting elements are added, I'll have more here. Who knows -- we might end up with graceful dwarves and greedy elves. Or no elves at all. Too early to say.
While this last option is closer to ideal, there's nothing stopping generic Racial Stunts, either, with a choice of three bonuses among many. E.g.:Elf
- +2 Alertness to perceive
- +1 Missile with bows
- +2 Survival in forests
- +2 Stealth in forests
- +1 Status
- +1 Magic with Magecraft
- +1 Magic with Summoning
But wait! Is humanity not a race? Expand "race" to "culture" and you're on to something. Setting's just as important, but the same sorts of packages could be whipped up easily enough for humans, too.
Nomad: +2 Ride on horseback, +2 Survival on the plains, +1 Missile on horseback
Barbarian: +1 Melee with two-handed weapons, +2 Survival in native territory, +2 Endurance vs. natural poisons
Urbanite: +2 Rapport when haggling, +1 Contacting, +2 Craft for one type of craft
Highborn: +1 Status, +2 Lore regarding nobility, +2 Empathy when defending against Deceit
Note that all of these stick strictly to bonuses. As has been often observed, there are basically only three kinds of Stunts: ones that give a +1 to a skill, ones that give +2 to a skill under specific circumstances, and ones that let you use one skill in place of another. There are enough of the latter that I wouldn't want to make them redundant via Racial Stunts.
Also, I've made an effort to confine all the +2 bonuses to non-combat skills and all the +1 bonuses to combat skills -- mostly (the Highborn's Status bonus being an exception).
Complete non sequitur: After mentioning the "Origins Phase," above, I'm inclined to come up with a different word than "Phase." It's very chronological, and character creation in "SotS" isn't chronological, but conceptual. Maybe "Facets" would be better. Is that too much like "Aspects," though? Would people get confused? Hmm... I'll consult my good friend Theo Saurus.
Friday, February 15, 2008
Name (Old Name) [New names italicized]
Melee (Fists, Weapons)
Sleight of Hand (Sleight of Hand)
Art: Same here. It's all still applicable. I really like that SotC codifies something as nebulous as art and makes it mechanically significant.
Athletics: Again, no need to change a thing.
Burglary: Take away what few modern references there are in this skill's description and it works fine for your average trapfinding adventurer. There's an outside chance I'd change the name. I love the way SotC uses Burglary to handle heists.
Contacting: Like Burglary, take away the one modern reference and we're good to go. I dig the versatility of this skill, conceptually; it's equally useful for noblemen as it is for common thieves.
Craft: This gets repurposed to a sort of all-purpose mundane item-creation skill. Anything that's useful or practical, from barrels to swords to water wheels, is made using Craft. Building, fixing, and breaking things are all still viable applications of this skill at a lower tech level.
Deceit: All good.
Empathy: Ditto. SotC tries harder than any other game I know of to deal with mechanics for social interaction in an elegant, abstract manner. Between Rapport, Deceit, Empathy, and Resolve, that's four skills that are all about talking to people.
Endurance: No change.
Gambling: I'm tempted to cut this, because it's so focused, but I'm also tempted to keep and expand it; for those players interested in playing a genuine scoundrel, it's kind of a necessity. For now, it's in.
Intimidation: Required and good.
Investigation: I'm not crazy about the name in a fantasy setting, but I can't think of another that's as clear and concise.
Leadership: This is the first skill on the list to really get an overhaul. I actually think it's pretty poorly defined and implemented in SotC, although I can see why it ended up that way. A single skill that covers leading troops, navigating bureaucracies, and being a trial lawyer? I suppose they all require some degree of "leadership," but the name doesn't fit what it does very well. I'm also a bit put off by the skill's adjudication entry's apparent disdain for using it to lead minions or underlings. There just has to be room for a PC to do that sort of thing in a fantasy game without the rulebook calling him a coward. So, to alleviate these concerns, I'm keeping the administration trapping, moving the bureaucratic trapping to Lore, and keeping the normal use of the command trapping. Leadership should be about charisma and force of personality, with actual knowledge a distant second. It's about ability to lead, not about place in society (more about that when we get to Status). Leadership can be used when commanding troops to make a declaration, either about your own troops ("They're still full of fight!") or your enemies' ("They're looking shaken!"), according to the already-extant declaration/assessment guidelines. Some new Stunts give Leadership limited functionality in related areas, but we're not doing Stunts today.
Lore: Academics re-named, Lore is all about theoretical knowledge and education. I don't foresee a ton of changes from the given description -- although, due to the relative scarcity of written works, library usage won't be quite as frequent.
Magic: Unlike Mysteries, which it replaces, Magic is mainly used in one of two ways: to know about magic (the "Arcane Lore" trapping) and to create magical effects. Mesmerism is out. It's very pulpy, and certainly has a place in fantasy, but fantasy "mesmerism" is magic. Magic comes in four varieites:
- Alchemy, the creation of potions, elixirs, unguents, and the like
- Artifice, the creation of permanently enchanted items such as weapons and rings
- Magecraft, the casting of spells
- Summoning, the calling forth of servants from the ether
I'll go into Magic in more detail in a later post. In a nutshell, it relies heavily on gadget/artifact rules and the Minions and Reinforcements Stunts. I'm also thinking about a different name for this, but, for the time being, it'll do.
Medicine: Remove all the Science trappings that don't have to do with curing the sick and healing the injured, and you're left with Medicine. Alchemy -- "real" alchemy -- is arguably Science, but we're going to keep it in Magic.
Melee: This includes both Fists and Weapons, but only as used in hand-to-hand combat. I had kept Fists as a separate skill, but finally relented. In a pulp setting, weapons that aren't firearms are a little more on the exotic side, whereas your average red-blooded American pulp hero certainly knows how to use his mitts in a fight. In a fantasy setting, this is a bit reversed. In the end, though, it's just easier to have only two physical combat skills (this and Missile, below). Unarmed use of Melee is just a trapping of Melee.
Missile: All ranged combat, including thrown weapons, which are normally under Weapons.
Rapport: No change.
Resolve: No change (at least, I don't think so).
Resources: Still in, for now. Necessitates a Wealth Stress track, but one without Consequences, I suppose.
Ride: Instead of being a trapping of Survival, Ride takes over Drive's spot as the premier travel skill. The standard skill description applies to Ride pretty well.
Seamanship: Airplanes might not be in genre, so Pilot's out, but an arguable airplane equivalent in a fantasy setting would be watercraft. I'll change up a bit of the flavor text, but other than that this one's good to go.
Sleight of Hand: No change -- except to say that this skill covers all non-burglary thieving, which is pretty much just picking pockets and palming the proceeds.
Status: I feel it's important to include a skill that deals with social strata, as the average fantasy game is likely to deal with more rigid systems of class structure than a pulp game. Status has almost nothing to do with personality and everything to do with circumstance. It's certainly possible to change Status in the course of a game, but that process can be fickle and immediate or require years of politicking and labor. Status is about how people see you. Very poor leaders can wind up the heads of powerful organizations, while the charismatic and compelling can, by unfortunate parentage or the like, never rise above their lowly station. You may not be the best public speaker, but if you're the son of the king you can bet your ass people will have to listen. Like Endurance, this is a skill that is rarely rolled but can still be the centerpiece of a character concept. Status would affect the Wealth Stress track the same way Endurance and Resolve modify the Health and Composure Stress tracks.
Stealth: No real changes to speak of. Stealth is stealth.
Survival: This is more or less unchanged. I'm considering letting it apply to urban settings as well. Street urchins gotta eat too.
Next up: Races.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
For one thing, putting it in a different time necessitates coming up with another "Great War" to fill that second phase, which can come off as arbitrary unless you're working with a specific timeline and setting. Second, while the idea of "starring" in "novels" is absolutely perfect for pulp, with the fantasy genre it rubs me the wrong way. There's a deeper layer of metagaming going on when you talk about your character having starred in a novel, and the implication that he or she is merely a protagonist in a book instead of a living, breathing person. Third, if you're taking out the idea of a novel for the third phase, then the fourth and fifth phases have to be revamped, as well, just to be consistent. Fourth, when I think about all the things that would be important to a character, following a fairly strict chronology seems overly restrictive.
Instead, "Spirit of the Sword," for such is the poor working title of this project, uses conceptual Phases. This is hardly my invention; I've seen this, or a variation of it, as a house rule here and there, and I like it so much it's going in.
The five Phases, then, consist of Origins, Profession, Goals, People, and Adventure.
Origins: Where are you from? What's your race? How were you raised, and with what values?
Profession: Do you (or did you) have a "day job"? What trade(s) do you know, and where did you learn it/them? Are you a mercenary? A pickpocket? A sorcerer's apprentice (or the sorcerer himself)? A Jack-of-all-trades?
Goals: What do you hope to accomplish in life? Where do you see yourself going? Do you want to rid the world of evil, or merely rule it? This can be as specific or as general as you'd like.
People: Who are the important people in your life, if any? Friends, enemies, superiors, lackeys, secret admirers, the secretly admired... who and where are they?
Adventure: Briefly recount an adventure you've already had. Did you ransack some ancient ruins? Escape from the city guard with a purloined loaf of bread? Conduct a magical experiment gone awry? It doesn't have to be life-threatening, but it does have to be exciting.
Instead of waiting for the final two Phases to establish connections, players are encouraged to cross-pollinate with other players at any time. All Phases are game for this. For example, two characters raised in the same village could appear in one another's Origins phase; if they've remained life-long friends (or enemies) and helped defend their village from a bandit raid, they might also appear in each other's People and Adventure phases. Or, given the propensity for PCs in fantasy games to start out as total strangers, they might not cross-pollinate at all.
Aspects represent a slight change as well. Under normal circumstances, each Phase comes with two attendant Aspects. In "SotS," they aren't as evenly distributed.
Every character begins with seven Aspects to spread between his five Phases, with a minimum of one Aspect per Phase.
Why the change? "SotS" characters will end up with a few more Aspects to deal with than their SotC cousins, via equipment and magic (more on those later). Keeping the number of "personal" Aspects down to seven makes things a little more manageable. Aspects are fun, but if you're dealing with 15 at once they lose some of what makes them interesting. If you ask me, the most interesting part about using Aspects is finding ways to apply what you have to the situation at hand. Limitations encourage creativity, and limiting the number of Aspects a character has encourages the player to come up with interesting, colorful ideas. To paraphrase SotC, "Trained Fencer" is one thing, but "Trained By Montcharles" is quite another. The first is only likely to come into play during combat, but the second could apply equally to social situations (Rapport or Contacting) in which being the student of Montcharles makes a difference.
In addition, I often see players struggle a bit to come up with the last two or three Aspects. Cutting them down to seven seems an efficient way to alleviate that. Besides, when it comes to actual utility, seven's plenty. Rarely do I see a character or GM make use of every last Aspect on the sheet. Speaking of GMs, fewer Aspects makes the GM's job a bit easier in terms of compels and simply keeping track of the PCs. Giving the player the opportunity to have, say, two Origins Aspects over two People Aspects is a good way of letting the GM see at a glance that the character's origin story might be more fertile ground for the plot than the character's interpersonal relationships.
Next time: Skills.
I think this has become a pretty popular house rule now, but I'll outline it anyway.
- Accepting a Minor Consequence reduces Stress taken by 2.
- Accepting a Moderate Consequence reduces Stress taken by 4.
- Accepting a Severe Consequence reduces Stress taken by 6.
Let's say you have 5 Health Stress and take three 8 Stress hits. That's rough whether you're a pulp hero or not. Under SotC RAW, that would mean checking off the fifth box on your Stress track, then taking a Minor Consequence, then taking a Moderate Consequence. You have fully four of your Stress boxes clear and can still take another big hit.
Under this variation, though, with the first hit you need to take at least a Moderate Consequence; merely reducing the stress by two will still Take you Out, but reducing it by four will save you. The next hit, same thing, but now you're forced to take your Severe Consequence, reducing the stress by six. Now you have your second and fourth boxes checked, a Moderate Consequence, and a Severe Consequence. Barring something unforeseen, the next hit of 8 Stress will automatically result in being Taken Out.
Just like in SotC, "SotS" characters can take a handful of little hits without worrying too much about it, but unlike in SotC, "SotS" characters can't quite manage the bit hits as well. Note also that this makes any stunt that enables you to take an extra Consequence, like Feel The Burn, suddenly much more attractive. Also note that under certain circumstances, taking a Consequence might not be enough -- e.g., if you have all of your boxes checked and not even a Severe Consequence will prevent you from taking a point of damage, you're still going to be Taken Out.
In "Spirit of the West," I also reduced starting Stress Tracks from five to three (another Fred Hicks suggestion, I think), to make things that much deadlier, but the fantasy genre requires, in my opinion, a much greater emphasis on the variety of weapons used, which means making some do more damage than others, which means that starting with a paltry three boxes of Health Stress would result in a lot of one-shotting, which isn't exactly what I'm going for.
(Incidentally, while I'm currently bound by an NDA, I'm pleased to see that Cubicle 7's upcoming Starblazer RPG, also based on FATE 3.0, uses a similar system.)
(Also, I just want to add that the Evil Hat Wiki has some interesting ideas about incorporating weapon type into the Stress-reducing Consequences model. I don't believe I'll be using them, but they're definitely worth a look.)
Saturday, February 9, 2008
At any rate, I'll insert some actual content into this first post in the form of a question: Does the Resources skill have a place in a fantasy setting, or should it and all of its attendant stunts be removed in favor of a standard economy?
I'm of two minds about this.
In favor of Resources: I like the abstraction, and the way it takes some of the crunch out of the character sheet. Ultimately, all those spare silver and copper pieces end up forgotten about anyway, so why bother with the niggling little details? I also like the idea of measuring treasure in terms of one-time bonuses to Resources. I like stress tracks, so I'd add a Wealth Stress track, with a number of boxes equal to your Resources score. Buying something means making a roll against its quality. Make it and it's yours. Fail it and it's still yours, as long as you take the margin of failure as Wealth Stress. Acquired wealth then either clears boxes of Wealth Stress, if your whole track is full, or it adds to a Resources roll, if it isn't. Having Mediocre Resources doesn't break the system -- it just means that, unlike other PCs who have a bit of coin lying around, when you fail a roll you don't have the option of getting it anyway and taking the Wealth Stress. Aspects like "Noble Family" would be perfect for using with Resources, as would "Street Urchin" or "The Hard Life of the Adventurer." Besides, sticking with Resources really gives a different feel than other games that use a more concrete economy.
In favor of coins: So what happens if I use my Superb treasure to help me buy a Good sword? Do I lose all of it in one shot? Can I split it up? What if it's a Superb gold statue, or something else that can't easily be divided? I could subtract the quality of the good being purchased from the quality of the treasure and keep the difference (leaving me with a Fair treasure, after buying that Good sword), but if I'm going to put myself through that kind of bookkeeping, I may as well be counting coins, as far as I'm concerned. Also, despite my fondness for stress tracks, does running out of money incur consequences? Some are believable, like "Ill-Maintained Armor," but most aren't. I could cut out Wealth Consequences altogether, but that kind of almost-but-not-quite use of the rules really bugs me. Another issue is that while Resources may be a great fit for a game set in the 20th century, finances aren't generally as fluid in the average fantasy setting as they are in, say, the '20s. Bank loans? Credit? Interest? A steady job? These are all pretty foreign to the average dragon slayer (unless you call dragon slaying a steady job). The constant trickle of income that so many pulp-era characters can expect just isn't as easy to swallow in a medieval fantasy setting.