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Sunday, 17 February 2013

Dirty Street Magic: Creatures from Beyond

The last street magic post was all about basic spell casting. This one is about another key component of street magic, summoning, binding and controlling entities from elsewhere.

The worst that can happen when casting a spell is that you suffer a bit of mystical blowback that wipes you out for a few days or weeks. For summoners, the stakes are slightly higher; you dying, all the people nearby dying, everyone in the creature's path dying, and that sort of thing. So, it's important to take proper precautions. Or not, if you prefer to live on the edge.

As with spell casting, the base difficulty is fantastic (+6), however most entities are capable of offering some resistance to the summoner's call and that raises the difficulty.

Although different magical traditions have different specific methods the stages of summoning are broadly similar across them all.
  1. Legwork
  2. Preparation
  3. Call
  4. Control
  5. Dismiss
Legwork
Finding out about the entity you are trying to summon is very important. Otherwise, you could end up with nothing or the wrong critter entirely. Mechanically, this requires a Gnosis test to create an advantage relating to the target of your summoning.

Preparation
The place that you are summoning the entity in should be prepared. Anything from a simple circle scratched in the dirt to a detailed sand painting three days in the making. Regardless, the intent is the same, for the summoner to declare a defined area where "There Is No Will But My Own". This aspect or one like it is created via a Gnosis check for use in the Call, Control or Dismiss phases.

Note that extras in the form special ink, powder or inscription for use in the preparation phase can be created in advance using suitable skills, usually Gnosis and/or Crafts.

Call
This is the part where you use your secret knowledge to call out to the being and draw it  to you. Gnosis check leveraging the legwork that you put it earlier.

Control
OK, so you summoned a thing from the realms beyond. Now you can try and bargain with it but it's probably pretty ticked off that you brought it here. Controlling the thing is a contest of Will, first to be three shifts clear of the other wins. 

If you win then then you may give the creature a command which it will obey within the limits of its ability. Watch out though, they can be very literal in the interpretation of their instructions. Alternatively they can be devious and slippery in their interpretation.

If it wins then it's loose in the world and probably off to do no good. Of course the first thing it will probably do is try to kill you but you brought it on yourself.

Dismiss
Assuming that you gained control over it then you can dismiss it with relative ease, no roll required. Otherwise, assuming that you're not dead, you need to call the creature back and bring it under control in order to dismiss it. Or alternatively you can hunt it down and make it dead.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Engaged in Combat: An Exchange of Blows

There's a lot of posts in the G+ FATE community about weapon and armour ratings and bits if equipment more generally.

This has set me thinking about the narrative modelling of combat in general. Ever since I can remember RPG's have generally stuck to the following formula:
There are usually some additional complexities around weapon and armour values but in the majority of situations these are essentially zero sum. If your weapon beats their armour you do damage otherwise it's reduced.

While it is certainly simple, narratively this turn and turn about mechanism seems almost never to happen. It seems more to follow a pattern like:


Which looks complex but feels more cinematic.

There are three key components to this version; assessment, engagement and exchange.

The assessment step is first, this is the part where you and your opponent(s) try to figure out if it's worth fighting or whether someone should just concede without blood being spilled. It's also the part of the fight where you try and manoeuvre to get your self in and advantageous position, again to try and win without actually coming to blows.

If you still go for it then the engagement commences. This automatically sticks the "Engaged in Combat" aspect on all the participants with a free invoke that can only be used by players and NPC's outside the engagement. This represents the concentration required to not get chopped into small pieces. This aspect fades as soon as you are no longer engaged.

Finally there is the exchange of blows. Each combatant makes their skill check but the results are applied simultaneously. The exchange simulates an arbitrary, but short, length of time where multiple blows are exchanged by each combatant as they dodge, feint, jab, thrust, parry and slash. The test result is the result of the entire sequence. Note that stress can be used as a positive currency here as in any other test. 

Here's an Example
Mercy is facing off against a leering slaver with an ugly scar down one cheek. They trade a few insults about each others' parentage which riles up the slaver who picks up the aspect "Anger makes him careless".

Mercy compels this aspect to make the slaver rush at her.

Mercy and the slaver are now "Engaged in Combat" and the two of them roll Fighting. 

It's a tie. The two of them break apart again and start circling each other looking for an opening.

The slaver tries to back Mercy into a corner, but she is too quick for him and instead the slaver is "Off Balance" (Opposed Athletics tests). 

They exchange blows again and this time Mercy is successful. The slaver concedes, dropping his sword and diving off into the crowd.

Surprise and Initiative
If one combatant has the drop on the other then they go first and in this case the character being attacked can only offer passive resistance.
Another slaver creeps up behind Mercy. As she's not seen or heard him he is just rolling Fighting to bypass her armour and do more damage, although she can invoke any aspect that she can justify.
Otherwise it goes with narrative. Teamwork operates as normal.

First Strike
If you have a suitable aspect to invoke or a relevant stunt then you can gain first strike, breaking up the exchange and resolving the outcome of your action before your opponent can act.

Interrupts
If you are not engaged with an opponent you can utilise your first strike to act before and exchange takes place between combatants. If you act in the middle of an exchange then your action is rolled as normal and resolved at the same time as the other combatants in the engagement.

Here's Another Example
Roddy and Keith have just exchanged blows and both suffered minor consequences. They are just about to get into it again, but as Roddy moves to attack George, who "Drew a Bead" on Keith during the last exchange between him and Roddy invokes it to interrupt and shoots at Keith, who sensibly concedes defeat.

Special thanks to +Adam Schwaninger and +Ryan M. Danks for their inspirational posts.

Running ongoing live action RPGs

My live action gaming experience is mainly in playing and running vampire/supernatural themed games set in the modern era. But this should apply to pretty much any genre.

Some of the games I have been in have been great, but others good and still others less so. Most of them went on way longer than they should have.

If you are thinking of setting up a live game then, although this is in no way an exhaustive list, there are a number of big issues that need to be tackled head on which I don't feel are considered as carefully as they might be in the heady buzz of getting a new event off the ground.

1. Logistics
2. Continuity
3. Fairness
4. Commitment

1. Logistics
This is the art of getting everything where it is supposed to be there when it's supposed to be there. Whether your are running a game or playing in it being where you are supposed to be at the time you arranged is important. Firstly it's just plain rude not to be. Secondly, it can destroy the flow of play, especially if there are set pieces that needs to be run by the people running the game. They give up their time to make this game great for you so show some courtesy and be on time. GMs players deserve the same time consideration from you. Especially if this is a charging event, you have an implicit contractual duty to start on time and deliver value for money.
2. Continuity
This is one for those people running games. Maker sure that everyone who should know something before the game session starts does. Ideally before the time everyone expects the game to start. No one likes to have half a session wasted while you brief individual players. That's not value for time or money.
3. Fairness
Make sure that your decision making is fair. And more importantly seen to be fair. If a decision needs to be made that potentially affects one of "your" NPCs then get someone else to adjudicate.
If something needs to run over and some players have family commitments then arrange another time to do it that is mutually agreeable. Family always comes first.

4. Commitment
Running and playing live games can be a big commitment in terms of time and often money. Understand this before you make the decision to get involved.

Saturday, 9 February 2013

Fate of the Five Rings: Skills

Working out what skills to use has been much harder than I anticipated. It's a relatively low magic setting so it would probably work just fine off Core skills. However, I feel that the skills presented to a player do quite a lot to provide flavour and texture to the setting and influence the type of characters they create. So as a minimum I wanted to re-skin the Core skills to give them a more L5R feel. 

I also wanted to use Street Magic as the basis for Shugenja magic. The system as presented in the 4th Edition rulebooks jars a bit for me with the descriptions of what actually goes into casting a spell. Street Magic rewards preparation and makes it part of the story. That preparation helps to make magic magical and that's what I want to capture in F5R. More detail on magic in a future post.

The biggest problem I have with skills though is keeping it simple. My formative, post D&D years were spent playing MERP and Rolemaster. For me squeezing the most out of character generation was part of the thrill. That tendency to over-complicate, (I once worked out the size and weight of every item in my thieves kit), has stayed with me and stymied all my previous attempts at game design.

So I've tried hard to keep this hack tight and not introduce too many new skill selections. There are a whole heap of new stunts though which is rapidly becoming my preferred way of building out uniqueness in characters.

I think I'm rambling now so I'll finish up this post with the list of skills and then link in a doc with the long versions.

  • Artisan 
  • Athletics 
  • Awareness
  • Commerce
  • Criminality
  • Deception
  • Fighting 
  • History 
  • Horsemanship
  • Intuition
  • Physique 
  • Rapport 
  • Shintao 
  • Shooting 
  • Sincerity 
  • Stealth 
  • Warfare 
  • Will 
The long version is here: Fate of the Five Rings

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Fate of the Five Rings: The Why

This is my Legend of the Five Rings hack. There are many like it but this one is mine.

So why another L5R hack? Well a couple of reasons (ok, three). 

  • Firstly, the last time we played Five Rings the characters ended up in the clink, which was a great cliff hanger but the guys really want to find out what happens next.
  • Secondly, we're currently playing FATE/Earthdawn which is going quite well and I've learned loads about FATE Core, but the hack was pretty rushed and far from perfect. The story we're currently playing, (Mists of Betrayal) is heading for conclusion in the next couple of weeks and the vote was to go back to L5R.
  • Lastly, I want to take what I've learned from Earthdawn and from my side project Street Magic and use that to tell a deeper more involving story.
When I was a kid I remember watching Outlaws of the Water Margin and that's going to be a big influence on the game as well as epic battle scenes and court intrigue inspired by Akira Kurosawa's Ran.

Thematically, honour and betrayal are at the center of the story but beyond that we'll discuss the details of the game setup as a group in session one where we'll agree world and story aspects as well as some of the key NPC's. We didn't do that for Earthdawn but that hack was a retrofit in the middle of a story.

One of the players is a huge Naruto fan, and although there are "no ninjas" I think we'll try and work some something into the game based on that too.

Next post I'll discuss the changes I'm making to Core skills.

Tuesday, 5 February 2013

Fate of the Earthdawn: Game Session Report 2

The Earthdawn game is coming to the close of it's first outing as the gang complete Mists of Betrayal in one or two sessions time.

Things I learnt this time out are:
  • It's more difficult than I thought to get everyone thinking in a FATEy way. 
    • So a bit more prompting and reminding about creating advantages and the like than I thought we'd need but it's a big paradigm shift for us as a group so probably to be expected in the short term.
  • Ran combat at baseline level (no weapon or armour ratings) as a comparison to the last session.
    • No one really noticed that weapons didn't do different amounts of damage to each other as long as the narrative was good.
    • As the ED characters have longer than regulation stress tracks combat took ages. At least in my mind, without additional damage from weapons.
    • Some of the ED talents don't make as much sense as they do under the vanilla rules.
  • That last point is a general one. But this was an experiment in lifting fairly wholesale from the source system and implementing the resolution mechanics of FATE. Not planning on any more changes this time out or I'll have a player revolt but have definitely learned much for future stories.
Stay tuned for FATE of the Five Rings...

Dirty Street Magic: Spellcasting

The last Street Magic post laid out the basics with one deliberate but glaring omission. How you actually go about casting spells.

Magic is fantastical in nature so that's where I'm going to set the base difficulty level. At Fantastic (+6).

Yes this is pretty high but it's in keeping with the aims of keeping magic magical and not simply allowing those with magical talents to be a jack of all trades replacing skills that they don't have with a magical fudge. I want street magic to be difficult so that in most circumstances doing things the mundane way IS easier. That way magic will be of most use doing magical things, and the efforts needed to make it work will deepen flavour of both setting and story.

Magicians are encouraged to prepare in advance, creating advantages that will aid their spell casting. Some of these will be straight advantages created on the spur of the moment but a significant number will be extras, realised as fetishes, trinkets, tokens or other magical ephemera. Sometimes the desire or need to create or recover these items can become the focus for adventure in itself.

Magicians are also encouraged to consider taking stress and consequences to gain success at a cost.

The casting test itself is straightforward. You need to have the Incantation stunt, but after that it is a simple case of making a Gnosis test to overcome a Fantastic (+6) obstacle.

Example

Finn needs to whip up a darkness spell to help his friends ambush the drug dealers that know who killed his cousin. He hits the books [Using Gnosis to Create an Advantage] and discovers that he can gather "Shadows from the Tree of Death" and use them to bind the spell. Catching shadows in the yew trees at the local cemetery requires great (+4) Legerdemain. Luckily, Finn was "Schooled by Witches" and successfully gathers a "Bag Full of Shadows". This is an extra that gives a one time advantage (+2) for creating darkness effects. The shadows will dissipate after the spell takes effect.

When the time comes Finn and his team mates are lying in wait for the dealers who roll up to the meet in their lowrider. The team leaps out of hiding and Finn hurls the contents of his "Bag of Shadows" over the car to prevent the dealers escape. He needs fantastic (+6) success for the spell to come off. Finn's Gnosis is great (+4), and he gets (+2) from his "Bag of Shadows". Dice hit the table and the final result is superb (+5). Finn really wants this to come off and offers to take a minor consequence to ensure success. They agree on the mental consequence of "Burnt the Candle at Both Ends". Nothing a good nights sleep won't cure but when's Finn going to get that?