Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Who Owns the Narrative?

I come to that question after getting the chance to GM some FateCore on Sunday with my at-home group (Wife+kids).

The basic setup is simple - the players are the crew of a small "Space Ranger Cruiser" in a "24th Century: Outer Space!" setting. (No FTL, but tons of space flight.) They found out that someone has started manufacturing killbots in the asteroid belt when one attacked their base on Ceres. They managed to get into the hidden asteroid base with very little opposition (I let them try out some different types of skills and a handful of simple combats), and are poised to enter "Sector 8", which presumably is where all the killbots are being built. (In other words, I went for a straight-up dungeon crawl. At least in the classic games, that's usually a safe bet, though perhaps it was a poor choice for FateCore....)

Now here's the thing. We've mostly been playing traditional games like Pathfinder, and they're having a little trouble with the idea that THEY get to decide the details of a scene or setting. They are more used to the GM (me) laying it all out for them to explore and reacting instead of acting. I've tried to encourage them with questions like, "What do you think, DO these robots have homing beacons?" but like me, they're having some trouble adapting. So rather than a collaborative effort to make an epic story, this is turning into a plain-old "GM tells us what's happening, we react" game. I do like those kinds of games, but FateCore seems like it would work best with everyone creating the story and the GM just running the bad guys and making judgements about difficulty levels.

Maybe the stumbling block is that they don't have a significant buy-in in the setting. When I asked them what sort of setting they wanted to play, they were noncommittal, though interested to try FateCore. We already have a Fantasy game, so I proposed this "Tom Corbett, Space Cadet" type pulp setting as something different. It wasn't until I suggested to my son that he could play a Telepath "Psi-Corp Ranger" that he became more than passively interested in the setting, and my daughter was only interested in playing an "Anime School Girl Brat" whose dad is a Space Ranger officer. Both turned out to be pretty cool characters in the end, but I'm afraid that having a dungeon crawl be their first outing might have been a mistake, since none of them really wants to help "own" the story.

I've also found that it's not easy to work their individual Aspects into the game. As I mentioned, this is more or less a straight-up dungeon crawl, though the characters are more tuned for investigative work. Which is my fault - I fell back on the "tried & true" without regard for how their characters turned out. To their credit, they are taking guard uniforms for disguise and the telepath is lifting names out of peoples' heads to help deceive them.

I know that attempting to GM a game I've never played for a group that's never played the game, and isn't super-invested in the setting is rife with failure possibilities. (When I put it that way, it seems insane that I even tried.) I'm not judging FateCore (which is a very slick rule set), just my ability to employ it properly with the players I have.

It hasn't all been bad - we had some pretty serious laughs when the guards caught the party in the Hydroponics sector, and the School Girl ("I'm really not as young as I look!") used her considerable deception skill to trick the guards into believing that she and one of the other characters were "just being naughty, and please, please, please don't let my dad find out!" She distracted the guards with her Legendary Deception long enough for the "hitter" to slug one in the Jaw (lights out!) and the third character secured the second guard with zip ties and duct tape. (Because even in C24, duct tape is the answer.)

It might be best to, after we finish this scenario, say, "Ok, that's how FateCore works, more or less. Now what sort of game do you REALLY want to play?"

And I have to be OK with it if they say, "Pathfinder!"

Thursday, July 25, 2013


Due to the enthusiastic recommendations of a friend whose judgement I value in all matters related to gaming, I've been interested in Diaspora for some time now. Diaspora is a hard-scifi RPG that is built on the Fate rules engine, and which is greatly (and explicitly) influenced by my favorite SFRPG, Traveller. Up until now though, I haven't had the impetus to plop down the 25 bucks to pick up a copy from the FLGS.

Recently, my son got to play the new Fate Core rules at the FLGS's "RPG Summer Camp" (man, do I wish we had such things when I was a kid...), and I've been reading over the rule book they gave him with great interest. Fate Core is analogous to the core GURPS rules - it's a playable game in its own right, but has no setting in mind, and will generally be extended somewhat to fit whatever type of game you want to play. My wife proactively picked up the Diaspora book for me, since she could see where this was going. :)

You can find a lot of very coherent and informed discussions of Fate with a quick google search, so I'll spare you my "complete newbie's impression of Fate". But the thing to know about Fate-based games like Diaspora is that the game system turns your character's quirks (called "Aspects" in Fate, like "Ace Fighter Pilot", "Attracted to Shiny Things", "I HATE ROBOTS!", etc.) into actual game mechanisms. Everything (characters, items, rooms, starships...) has Attributes, and because of that, players and GMs must understand the rules for how Fate and the "fate point economy" works.

This means that while the rules are simpler than just about any RPG I've played, and a player's imagination is more important than a solid understanding of (for example) how to min/max their character builds, Fate is not quite as friendly to very casual gamers who mostly just want to know "what do I need to roll?" I suspect that WDINTR is a symptom of d20 type games, and any player would quickly adapt to the "How can I exploit the situation to my advantage?" mind-set, but having not had a chance to play yet, I don't know.

So what is Diaspora?

Diaspora is a full RPG written against a pre-Fate Core version of Fate, but is only different in the details. Word on the street is that you can port some of Diaspora's setting ideas to Fate Core and just run with that, and things work out very well. I've already mentioned that it was made by Traveller fans in order to have a harder-science Space Opera game. (Which seems ironic, considering Traveller is MUCH crunchier than Diaspora, but yet less "hard".)

Diaspora only makes one "magic" assumption - the slipstream, which is basically a wormhole between two or more systems. No anti-gravity, no "thruster plates", everything is reaction mass and zero-G (unless you're under acceleration). Diaspora is set in the far future, in a small cluster of worlds, which the players roll up at character creation time. (More of the "Player Buy-in" that's typical of Fate games. Players don't get served the setting, they help create it.) Because of the size of the default "universe" (6 systems, each with 1+ worlds in it worth visiting), players will care more about each world than they do in Traveller. I'm curious to try gaming in such a setting.

One of the more interesting aspects of Diaspora (and Fate in general) is how they handle wealth. Fate in general doesn't concern itself with money. If you want to be rich, give yourself the "Moneybags" (or whatever) attribute. What Diaspora does have is the idea that events (like a ship's maintenance schedule) can do Financial Damage to you which you have to Defend against. You can use the ship's Economic potential to aid your defense, and you can even invoke aspects like "I can get you a deal" or "I know this guy..." to help out, too. If you fail, you take "damage" in the form of a Consequence ("Owes Jabba Bigtime" or "Chartered by Local Noble") that you'll need to take steps to recover from.

You get similar rules for acquiring expensive gear. You make a Wealth skill test against the object's price. If you fail, you still get the object, but you pick up some consequences. It's a novel (to me) way of dealing with possessions, and I'm anxious to see if it works out in practice.

I think Fate and Diaspora sound like a blast, but I must admit that I'm still a fan of more traditional rules. I have to say though, that Fate combat sounds like it will be more narratively satisfying that most d20 combats wind up being.

I'm hoping that I can at least take some cues from Fate into GM-ing my other games, though given Fate's elegant and integrated system, it's not going to be as easy as "drop in some attributes". What I probably will do though, is to more formally adopt the concepts of using actions to create advantages. We do that sort of stuff already ("Can I slam the door and run for it?" "What if I throw a pouch of coins at them, do they stop to pick it up?"), but maybe I need to shift how I conceptualize the action some.

<Shrug> At any rate, Now "Fate Core" is on my radar. My at-home group is mostly anxious to give it a try, so we'll see what happens.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Korm Garkson, Half-Orc Monk

In keeping with my somewhat "cartoon character" approach to Pathfinder, here's another character. He's a friend and travelling companion of Jala Stormborn (my previous stereotypical character), and plays the anvil to her hammer, after a fashion. As usual, I rolled his stats with 4d6(drop 1), and arranged them to taste.

I am working up one more character for this little party - an Elven Bard who joined Jala and Korm to chronicle their adventures, figuring that there is no way that these two wouldn't be getting themselves into some saga-worthy trouble.

Korm Garkson
Male Half-Orc Monk 1
LN Medium Humanoid (human, orc)
Init +3; Senses darkvision 60 ft.; Perception +7


AC 17, touch 17, flat-footed 13 (+3 Dex, +1 dodge)
hp 10 (1d8+2)
Fort +4, Ref +5, Will +5
Defensive Abilities orc ferocity (1/day)


Speed 30 ft.
Melee Unarmed strike +2 (1d6+2/x2)
Ranged Shuriken +3 (1d2+2/x2)
Special Attacks flurry of blows -1/-1


Str 15, Dex 16, Con 15, Int 8, Wis 16, Cha 11
Base Atk +0; CMB +2 (+4 Grappling); CMD 19 (21 vs. Grapple)
Feats Dodge, Improved Grapple, Improved Unarmed Strike, Stunning Fist (1/day) (DC 13)
Skills Acrobatics +7, Intimidate +2, Perception +7, Sense Motive +7, Stealth +7; Racial Modifiers +2 Intimidate
Languages Common, Orc
SQ ac bonus +3, stunning fist (stun), unarmed strike (1d6)
Other Gear Shuriken (10), Backpack (8 @ 12 lbs), Bedroll, Belt pouch (2 @ 2.96 lbs), Flint and steel, Trail rations (7), 144 GP, 4 SP

Special Abilities

AC Bonus +3 The Monk adds his Wisdom bonus to AC and CMD, more at higher levels.
Darkvision (60 feet) You can see in the dark (black and white vision only).
Flurry of Blows -1/-1 (Ex) Make Flurry of Blows attack as a full rd action.
Improved Grapple You don't provoke attacks of opportunity when grappling a foe.
Improved Unarmed Strike Unarmed strikes don't cause attacks of opportunity, and can be lethal.
Orc Ferocity (1/day) If brought below 0 Hp, can act as though disabled for 1 rd.
Stunning Fist (1/day) (DC 13) You can stun an opponent with an unarmed attack.
Stunning Fist (Stun) (Ex) At 1st level, the monk gains Stunning Fist as a bonus feat, even if he does not meet the prerequisites. At 4th level, and every 4 levels thereafter, the monk gains the ability to apply a new condition to the target of his Stunning Fist. This conditio
Unarmed Strike (1d6) The Monk does lethal damage with his unarmed strikes.

Raised in the Ulfenlands, Korm has always been at war with his nature. Rather than denying or giving in to his feral ancestry, Korm has chosen the path of balance as a monk. Focusing on stealth, acrobatics and perception, Korm follows his instinct as well as relying on his physical abilities. Never cruel, but perfectly willing to return violence with violence, Korm uses violence as a tool in his quest to find meaning to the universe and his place within it.

Korm views his childhood friend and adventuring companion Jala as a headstrong showoff who gets them in more trouble than she gets them out of. Though he respects her command of sorcery, he worries that his friend will lose herself to her chaotic impulses some day.
Still, Korm enjoys Jala's company and values her intellect and free spirit, two things he does not himself have.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Mostly Chewin' Bubble Gum. Kickin' Ass On Hold For Now

Hey, sorry for dropping off the radar. I love my job, but sometimes it gets a little clingy. :)

Here are a couple of updates:

* I got my Reaper Bones package a week ago. MAN does that box have a lot figures in it. I sprung for a few extra dragons and such, and they're pretty awesome. Sized nicely for playing with other miniatures. Many (less than 1/3) of the figures are warped from packing, but apparently you can simply boil them and reshape them, so long as you dunk them in icewater to re-set them. Soft plastic techniques are definitely not like metal techniques. I plan to start on easy stuff (assembly, elementals and skeletons) and then maybe tackle some of the dragons. The Griffin is particularly amazing, with exceptionally fine detailing on his feathers.I'm concerned that my meager painting skills will not be able to do him justice.

* I picked up "Psionics Unleashed" for Pathfinder recently during a sale. I have yet to really have time to digest the rules, but from my first go-through it looks very promising. We never used psionics in AD&D because most of the players couldn't wrap their heads around the rules. And also there was a vanishingly small chance of getting them during character generation - we had moved beyond "cheating" by the time we decided to read those parts of the PHB. I never used psi stuff in 3e or 4e, though one player in my group is forever doing crazy psionics stuff (he plays a shard mind), and I'm familiar with the rough concepts, which seem to have not changed drastically in character since 1e. I'll probably have more to say after I get more chance to read. I was gratified to see old standbys like "Tower of Iron Will" and "Id Insinuation" in this book.

* Mekton! The kickstarter was a success, and sometime next year, we should have a new version of Mekton to kick around. It's not really a new "edition" in the classical sense of the word, it's more like the "D&D Essentials" approach - compatible with MektonZ but not as crunch-oriented. The author says Mekton Zero is going to be focused on RP and not wargaming (MZ is as much a mech construction kit and wargame as it is an RPG), but will maintain design and character compatibility with MZ. M0 (what I'm calling Mekton Zero) will focus on setting, lifepath and campaigns. I'm very excited about this new game, and I hope when it arrives, I can convince some people to play it with me. As it is, I've already dug out my old Mekton and Jovian Chronices stuff for daydreaming material.