Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Rebellion Arc - 02: Kemmel and Mesl

In which heads are successfully (more or less) laid low.

16th of Thirdmonth, 9995 DK
Everyone gets in a meal and a bath. Hector (Aiden Vaux, perhaps that sounds familiar) and Gidaeon free Danny, the bard working in the Cavorting Colt. The bard shorts them twenty marks when he pays them for services rendered and sometime in the night he kills three individuals, one with poison.

17th of Thirdmonth, 9995 DK
D'Alton offers his services to Warden Orton, who hires him and any friends he may or may not have to track the bard down and bring him to justice. Orton also logs D'Alton in his logbook. Kethranmeer (being an honorary bard) mentions in his halting fashion that bards must work consistently to tithe back to the colleges and that Mesl is the closest place he could be working. 

18th of Thirdmonth, 9995 DK
Travel to Mesl.

19th of Thirdmonth, 9995 DK
The group arrives in Mesl and are logged by the guards at the gate. The guards take note that the group seeks friends in Natl, which has been abandoned for about thirty years since the Dwenoren sank it into the earth with tunnels and explosives.  The bard was successfully subdued and chained to Kethranmeer. After dealing with the bard, the group encountered a "professional" adventurer by the name of Reginald E.C. (Ellicott Chatham) Walthuler who promised to make them aware of anything interesting he encountered in his travels, they were intrigued and scraped together what cash they had to help finance him. 

20th of Thirdmonth, 9995 DK
Travel to Kemmel.

21st of Thirdmonth, 9995 DK
The group brought the bard to Warden Orton, who promptly obliterated the bard's head with a scattergun. He then proceeded to demand the payment the bard earned from Tomlin at the Cavorting Colt. The group claimed the bard had no money when they found him, even though he had paid Gidaeon and Hector when they freed him. Orton took the ten marks the bard had earned out of the reward for bringing him to justice. The group grumbled about it but accepted the payment, D'Alton took a finder's fee out of the reward for getting the job in the first place. The group then proceeded to bring a Vyanth by the name of Renaultlel to justice for reneging on a loan. Xein gave a few coins to a bum, who was then given the bum's rush by Hector. Hector then gave a drunk that attacked a whore in the outhouse the bum's rush. He inadvertently touched male genitalia while doing this. A poor dumb sod by the name of Takil was divested of coin to pay up a bar tab as well. Hector bought a reportedly homosexual puppy. 

22nd of Thirdmonth, 9995 DK
Travel to Mesl.

23rd of Thirdmonth, 9995 DK
The group arrived in Mesl again and was again logged by the guards at the gate. They met a friendly Vyanth who ran the establishment known as Hey Look! Stuff! And were somewhat put off by the proprietor's friendliness. They discovered that soldiers were exhorting a local Gunderson and Sons representative and notified Warden Cassius of this. The warden then proceeded to unleash murderous fury upon the soldiers of the barracks with his shotgun. Severed heads were placed outside of the Gunderson & Sons shop to indicate that it would be stupid for other soldiers to try extorting money from one of Kusseth's biggest suppliers of firearms and firearm paraphernalia. The group then made its way to Commander Kothos' office and were able to see firsthand the wonders of modern technology when his clerk used a telegraph. Kothos suggested they join the military or join Cenn the Reaver, the group declined both suggestions but were interested in work. Kothos told them of a group of deserters that had deserted and needed to be brought back into the fold, he said soldiers were worth more alive than as examples to other cowards. The group was led to the deserters, managed to convince them that Kothos knew where they were and could end them if he liked, even if they were deserters they were being given a chance to come back alive and in possession of all their appendages. The deserters were young, tired, very green, and almost out of food and supplies. They caved and came back to Mesl with the group. When they arrived Kothos and a mob of veterans were waiting for them and pounded the piss and shit out of them, then dragged them off to the conscript camp. Kothos told the group that he had some paperwork to take care of, but they should get a hold of him in an hour and he would have another job for them. They left for the Kemmel mine. 

24th of Thirdmonth, 9995 DK
Travel to the mine.

25th of Thirdmonth, 9995 DK
The group arrived while a patrol was entering the mine and so they were luckily able to enter immediately. To the surprise of the soldiers guarding the mine, the group went about their business in a brisk very business-like fashion and didn't dillydally or get in the way. They found their way to the foreman of the mine and he put them to work shifting broken down ore carts around, they met with some success and were paid for their services. Once they recovered from that labor he put them to work patrolling. 

26th of Thirdmonth, 9995 DK
Day one of the patrol.

27th of Thirdmonth, 9995 DK
Day two of the patrol.

28th of Thirdmonth, 9995 DK
On their third day of the patrol they found something amiss in the spot they normally took their lunch in. They discovered a Dwenoren hidey hole and entered it, managing to convince Kethranmeer to enter an enclosed space for the first time in the time they'd known him. They discovered some Dwenoren and some explosives in the bolthole, but feeling outgunned and not wanting the stumpies to blow their tunnels, they left the hole and reported the events to the foreman, who immediately mobilized mine soldiers to investigate the hole. With the foreman having no more work for them, they left the mine and headed to Mesl. 

29th of Thirdmonth, 9995 DK
Travel to Mesl.

30th of Thirdmonth, 9995 DK
Once again the group arrived at Mesl and were logged at the gate. Kothos was slightly perturbed that they took more than half a week to get back to him, rather than an hour as he had asked, but he still offered them the work, albeit with a reduced reward. They were told to investigate a known Whurent/Kusseth bolthole in the mountains. They did so and entered the tunnels hidden in the cave. In the cave they found a fortified outpost of Dwenoren. They entered, making no attempts whatsoever at stealth, and proceeded to kill anything less than 5' 1" tall. They were only able to penetrate the outpost fully because of a malfunctioning gate mechanism, which Kethranmeer was able to force open with his superior strength. They then proceeded to kill the Dwenoren officers and a welder who was trying to weld a door shut. With the hole cleaned out, they returned to Kothos and were paid after notifying him of the odd door situation.

1st of Fourthmonth, 9995 DK
The group got up and got ready to head for Kusseth when a messenger from Kothos approached them. They were paid 100 marks a piece and notified via letter that the door they found led right into Whurent and their quick action and bloody skillset allowed Kothos and some of his soldiers to enter the door and secure an outpost further into Whurent than even the Great Trench.  Kothos told them to return in three months time when the situation was under control down there if they want some more work. After that they were approached by a representative from the foundry and were told that an ore caravan has gone missing somewhere along the route to Kusseth and that foul play is suspected, they were told that they will receive 300 marks for looking into the issue and double that upon its safe return if they choose to attempt to locate the wagon in their travels. The group opts to wait till the following day to travel.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Rebellion Arc - 01: Beltan

In which imprisonment ensues and later comes to an abbreviated end.

14th of Thirdmonth, 9987 DK
The group is imprisoned in the Beltan prison camp for a variety of offenses.

14th of Thirdmonth, 9995 DK
A plot masterminded by Smiling Jack and various other notables of the Beltan alumni allows them to escape. They head north with Kethranmeer (at this time known as Spineplate or Beast) in tow to Kemmel hoping to lie low and remain off the radar of the wardens and soldiers searching the area for escapees.

16th of Thirdmonth, 9995 DK
Arrive after nightfall on the outskirts of Kemmel. 

Edit After The Fact: This scenario was primarily just an introduction to 4th Edition and Dungeons and Dragons in general for some members of the group. Not much happened. Mostly it was just exploring skill use and combat and utilizing the power system. It was also about choosing an NPC to hang around with. 

Monday, February 25, 2013

Kethranmeer: FATE Style

I talked about a FATE a bunch, and decided to do this for shits and giggles and also to experiment with the system. This would kind of be him just prior to his death at the end of The Rebellion Arc.

Name: Kethranmeer
Description: He's a Soulless turned Rankethlek that has no face. He's big and metal and rusty and wields two hammers in combat, a heavy maul with a head of blackstone and a lighter wolf-iron hammer that he can throw if he needs to. He's a bit rusty and noisy, and his hide is a mishmash of weld marks, iron, copper, tin, and various other metals. Despite the rust and weld marks, he is still a pretty imposing figure. 

High Concept: Metal Warrior Growing Weary of Slaughter
Trouble: Built His Sons From His Own Flesh
Aspect 1 (Solo Adventure): Died Once, Came Back With a Heart of Lightning
Aspect 2 (Group Adventure): Always Backs D'alton
Aspect 3 (Group Adventure): Knows a Thing Or Two About Sorcery

Superb (+5): Fighting
Great (+4): Physique
Good (+3): Contacts, Crafts, Will
Fair (+2): Athletics, Contacts, Intimidation, Notice
Average (+1): Burglary, Lore, Resources, Stealth

-Armor of Fear: Use Intimidation to defend against Fighting attacks, but only until you are dealt a stress by an attack.
-Heavy Hitter: When you succeed with style on a Fighting attack, you gain a full scene aspect with a free invocation, instead of just a boost.
-Tough As Nails: Spend a fate point and reduce the severity of a consequence by one step once per session.

Refresh: 4 (meaning that at the start of each session Kethranmeer starts with four fate points)

In addition to his basic attributes, Kethranmeer had some special items.

Blackstone Maul
This crude looking hammer has a rectangular head of blackstone that was fashioned by the Fremwighta as a gift for Kethranmeer when The Robust Five worked for them and killed a bunch of drunken Fell Human teenagers. Long ago, and now more and more frequently, the Glenwighta were able to mine blackstone and use it to construct cities that were resistant to sorcerous assaults. It has the following aspect:
 -Bane To All Sorcery

Ash Grease
Ash grease is a concoction Kethranmeer came up with to aid him in stealthy endeavors, partly so he could keep up with D'alton if he needed his help in some second story work, and partly so he could keep quiet while his friends and allies were sleeping in the mansion and he moved about the mansion never sleeping and working on freeing his sons. It has the following aspect:
 -Surprisingly Effective At Keeping Over A Quarter Ton of Rusty Metal From Being Shiny And Noisy

Now, this version of Kethranmeer is definitely not as "powerful" as 15th level Fighter Kethranmeer. This is because of the process of leveling we used in The Rebellion Arc and because of FATE's more restrained means of character improvement. Kethranmeer's attack progression with a full attack action was +28/+23/+18 and dealt 1d10+27 bludgeoning damage with a critical of 19-20/x3. The blackstone maul granted a +4 bonus to saves vs. sorcery, spell resistance 18, and halved the bonuses to AC that stemmed from magical effects when Kethranmeer attacks a target with the hammer. The ash grease gave him a bonus to Stealth checks by lubricating his rusty joints and dimming the reflective nature of his metal flesh.

So how would I use or GM this version of Kethranmeer? The skills and stunts are fairly self-explanatory. I think I'd invoke the high concept any time I felt that being made of metal would help with a defense roll or something. I think I'd compel it any time I wanted to complicate things and make him back down from a fight or only enter into battle reluctantly. I can also envision using it if someone used something electrical in nature on him, whether it be a spell or like a lightning gun, to make the attack have an easier time of hitting him. 

His trouble has a fairly narrow focus, which isn't exactly great. But I think I could easily figure out some ways to compel it based on his concern for his sons and the well being of the Rankethlek. I suppose I could use it to base compels of weakness on it, as he did replace his wolf-iron bits and pieces with inferior metals. Or have a joint or rusted knee or spring stick or creak or something if he was trying to avoid alerting enemies to his presence. The trouble can probably be refined a bit, but we'll leave it for now.

I think the Died Once aspect could be utilized any time I'm trying to show that Kethranmeer isn't exactly accustomed to being afraid. I mean, who cares about a mean looking enemy's snarling face trying to use Intimidation on you when you were chewed up and spit out by a dragon and then died and were reborn, then became a monstrous beast of metal and anger till a friend brought you back to sentience. I could probably find a way to invoke it on Craft checks involving electricity as well. I suppose as a GM I could also compel the aspect based on Kethranmeer's fear of returning to the beast-like state The Robust Five found him in initially or to offer up something like PTSD style complications.

Always Backs D'alton is pretty versatile as something to invoke or compel. Any time I want to complicate things by D'alton being in danger and Kethranmeer storming off to rescue him or aid him in something he doesn't really approve of, compel time. I can also see invoking it any time D'alton might be in danger, say like if an enemy is really giving D'alton a run for his money and Kethranmeer needs to unleash some pain so he can help his buddy out.

Knows A Thing Or Two About Sorcery might be pretty handy to invoke when using Will or Lore or something to defend against sorcery or to identify what some weird runes mean or something. Might also help him figure out if anyone is lying about sorcery (I'm looking at you, Derf). I can also see invoking it to help identify the abilities of a mysterious magical item or perhaps to figure out an enemy sorcerer's spellcasting methods to better defend against them or create an advantage against them.

The hammer aspect might be useful in allowing him to use Fighting to pierce magical protections defending a sorcerer or to use Fighting to defend against sorcerous attacks. Using Fighting to defend against magical attacks might need an additional note or ability added to the aspect though, but we'll leave it as is for now. The ash grease could be invoked when using Stealth or to defend against Notice checks and that sort of thing. I am aware that the ash grease has a ridiculously long name for its aspect. I would probably try to shorten it if this were anything more than an exercise in experimenting with a new system.

So I guess that is how I would represent Kethranmeer in the FATE system. I'm obviously a newb with this system, so some of my aspects and the possible uses of them I've suggested might be off or inappropriate in their interpretation. Regardless, I think this is a fun system with a whole metric shit ton of versatility. Aside from referring to the rules frequently to make sure I understood them appropriately and advanced his power properly, it was fairly easy to make him and I think I'd have just as easy of a time if I tried to make something based on sci-fi or mystery or action themes instead of fantasy.

Good times. 

Friday, February 22, 2013

What Things Look Like

I get very irate about players not paying attention to details in my campaign. I have like a little mini-rage stroke every time someone types Gobleen instead of Goebleen or Serethian instead of Serevish. I am a little more forgiving when it comes to something like Orcunraytel, because that word doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, and I try not to get too irritated about this issue in general because my campaign world matters a lot more to me than to my players and I am overly sensitive. But still, it bothers me because I tend to put a lot of time into this stuff, which makes me really overly invested in it, which is why I am overly sensitive. I know I am obsessive and sensitive, and I know my players are great guys and don't mean anything by spelling things wrong or by thinking dragons in Heknioe breathe fire, but still, part of me is all butthurt about it. On the other side of this coin, when Jason calls Eldumans immortal, psychic, crystal dryads, it makes me giggle and blush like a little schoolgirl. #nohomo...?

I have a larger mini-rage stroke when people have a blatantly incorrect image in their heads of what things look like in my campaign world. I try real hard to write down what things look like so there is a strong impression and people aren't left wondering what the fuck their characters look like. This is all in our heads after all, so I have to do my best to make sure we all have basically the same picture in our heads where all this stuff is being played.

In Stephen Brust's Vlad Taltos series (a really great series I have been reading since high school that I would recommend to anyone that is a fan of fantasy), there is a race called Dragaerans. For a while, Tony pictured them as dragon men. They were elves, flat out, straight up Tolkien-esque elves and Vlad's grandfather actually calls them elves at one point. It is important for everyone to be on the same page when envisioning this stuff because there are different questions raised by what a race looks like. Why do dragon men use swords when they have claws and fire and stuff? Why do they wear armor when they have scales? Why do the dragon men uses magic when the dragons in the world use psionics and have tentacles?

To preface the next section: I apologize for picking on you Eric. 

I was talking to Eric the other day about the Sereth and he asked me how alien they looked. I listed their standard features, which is a basically humanoid appearance as far is number of limbs and having a head and stuff, pointed ears, completely hairless bodies, extra long arms and legs, normal sized torsos, vertical slit pupils, nictitating membranes over their eyes, extra fingers and toes with extra joints, extra knees and elbows, and gray skin. I consider this to be a pretty alien appearance. If I saw such a thing walking down the street, I would probably try to fuck it or kill it with fire. Eric told me he has been picturing Sereth as grays. The aliens. The skinny, gray-skinned, black eyed, earless, noseless, hairless aliens. With giant heads. Though he did say he imagined them with smaller heads. My brain exploded. We cleared up what they look like and he said, "So they look like an elf with no hair?" and my brain exploded again.

Eric, again, I love you man and I apologize for picking on you. You are one of my truest friends and one of the main reasons I continue to play and love these games we play together. #nohomo...?

This kind of warped perception of how things look in my campaign world upsets me. This isn't art, it isn't subjective or open to interpretation, it looks like what I say it looks like. Sereth and Vyanth do not look like any fantasy race I have ever heard of. My knowledge is not comprehensive so there very well could be plenty of creatures that look like them in books and settings I have no knowledge of. The elfy aspects begin and end with pointed ears and having limbs and a head and stuff. Elves are five and a half feet tall in 3.5 Edition I think (which puts them at about a foot and a half shorter than Sereth/Vyanth), they have five fingers and toes, one elbow per arm, one knee per leg, human looking pupils, human amounts of joints in their fingers and toes, their limbs are not overly long and are appropriately sized for their torsos, they're typically pale, and they have hair. Humans and elves look kind of alike, and halflings look like small humans, though the Pathfinder versions are a bit elfy if I remember correctly. Elves do not look like Vyanth or Sereth. I refuse to accept that anyone can believe this, even if it is just based on the quick and dirty description I've listed in this fairly ranty post. It is inconceivable to me. It's like saying Dwenoren look like dwarves. You know what race in my campaign world looks like elves? The Nock. Because they are elves.

Interesting note, some goats have horizontal, rectangular pupils and the cuttlefish has kind of a W shaped pupil. 

Look, if you're going to say that Sereth look like elves because they have arms and legs and a head and pointed ears, you also have to say they look like goblins, because goblins have all of those things. So do half-orcs, gnomes, and halflings. They all have as many physical traits in common with the Sereth as elves. Goblins actually have more, because they're bald and have gray skin. So goblins look more like Sereth/Vyanth than elves do. Would you say the Sereth and Vyanth look like goblins? Does that sound like it makes sense? For a seven foot tall creature to look like a three foot tall creature simply because they share having pointed ears, having a head and neck and torso and limbs, being bald, and having gray skin? These are superficial similarities and it is akin to me saying that Eric and I look alike or that Ninja Kitty looks like a black panther. I guess maybe it kind of gives a frame of reference for what the Sereth/Vyanth look like, but this frame of reference excludes all the defining physical features of the race.

This is really my fault. See, when we started gaming in Hekinoe we had three new players. Two guys and a girl that had never played DnD before but played video game RPGs and read fantasy novels or at least were familiar with Lord of the Rings. We used 4th Edition because it was new to the new folks and the old hands too and that would put us all on equal footing as we learned the game together. To simplify things, I called the races Serethian Elves and Vyanthian Elves, because pointed ears. I didn't want to scare the new people with all the zany shit in my head, so I altered my background material a bit to make things a little more familiar to them so they could picture things in their heads a little easier. There were also Whurentian Dwarves and the Children of Volung were elves too. There were Goblins and Orcs as well. Sigh. Then the guys quit playing with us (one joined the Navy and the other gets high like it's his fucking job and he makes a hundred grand a year) and I was getting sick of hammering my square fucking campaign world into 4e's round high fantasy hole and we switched to Pathfinder. I had a lot of respect for the girl and figured she could handle the change. When the rules change happened I reverted everything to my 3.5 Edition vision of the campaign world. But, first impressions tend to be lasting impressions, so I feel like some of the names still have elf or dwarf tacked onto them, even if it is just in a player's head.

So anyway, I have to ask my players a question now. Past or current doesn't matter. What I would like to know is, how do you envision the races of my campaign world? What do they look like to you? I want to know how you imagine them. I want an idea of what you see when I say Dwenoren or Child of Volung so we can all be on the same page.

Fallen are kind of a freebie, as they were originally described as rotting undead when they should really be crystal humanoids with rotted fragments of faux-skin and internal crystalline structures that pulse with dark necromantic energy. I still can't believe I described them as typical sentient undead with rotten bodies and bones. They were Eldumans. They are undead, immortal, psychic, crystal dryads. Hmmm, I suddenly have an idea for a sect of Fallen that still practice psionics. A bunch of Soulthief Vitalists and Dreads. 

Anyway, as a refresher, my campaign races are Children of Volung, Conwighta, Dwenoren, Elduman Descended Uncout, Eldumans, Fallen, Fell Humans/Fell Descendants, Fell Soulless, Greenskin Abraxens, Okwighta, Rankethlek, Sereth, Solwighta, Soulless, Uncout, and Vyanth.
Thanks guys. Sorry again, Eric.

Edit After The Fact: Eric was fine with me posting this post, I checked with him before I set it to publish. He and I talked and he explained that my descriptions of races in the campaign book are kind of vague and hard to get a good handle on. So I plan on going back and maybe tightening those up a bit more so I'll probably post updated descriptions here on the blog or pass out newer versions of the campaign book. Still, if everyone could comment on what the races look like to them, I would appreciate it, as it'll help me shore up my descriptions in the campaign book.

Monday, February 18, 2013

FATE Continued

More about FATE! Woohoo!

One of the chapters in the rulebook I have is known as extras. It is at the end of the book and is kind of a broad term for stuff your character can do that gets special treatment in the rules. Magic, gear, special possessions, organizations your character is part of, vehicles you own. Stuff like that. The main suggestion is to only add them if they say something about the game world or add flavor to it. Don't have magic items because fantasy settings have magic items, add them because they say something about your world. For instance, a legendary demon slaying sword says that there are demons, they are bad, that people fight them, and that there are perhaps organizations dedicated to fighting them. The general rule is that the extras have aspects and that is how you use them. One example is a demon slaying sword with the aspect Slayer of Demonkind, and now that is an aspect your character can use, for the normal cost of a fate point. The designers do say that the aspects you create for extras should be a little more focused than normal aspects so the players have a clear vision of how they can be used. There are also guidelines for representing them as skills and stunts, rather than aspects. Skills work like skills and stunts work like stunts. A cybernetic combat enhancement chip might replace your physique, athletics, and fighting skills with its own. The same extra as a stunt might allow you to use shooting to defend against other shooting attacks, as your cyborg enhancement chip can follow the trajectories of bullets.

This chapter also gets into some ideas about weapons and armor if you want to add them in, and there are two ways they do this. The first is to offer different classes of weapons, so that when you attack with them and hit they do more damage based on which class they are. No bonus to rolls, just extra damage when they connect. Armor, on the other hand, prevents damage. The problem with this is creating extra work and essentially creating a null feature, people will want to use the deadliest weapons and best armor and so will the GM's NPCs and you end up with a game where everyone uses class 4 weapons and class 4 armor and the system you've built has no effect on gameplay. The way they suggest to avoid this, if you have to add weapons and armor, is to make either weapons or armor overpowered so the other can't keep up with it. Sort of in the vein of firearms punching through plate and chain.

The other way they suggest implementing armor and weapons is to give each weapon a single aspect.  Stuff like daggers having the Quick aspect or a Tommy gun having the Fully Automatic aspect and a kevlar vest having the Bulletproof aspect. Frankly, I like this system a little more, though the designers of the game do say you can combine the two systems if you want. This system is a little more versatile I think, and it doesn't force you to keep track of how much bonus damage weapons do and how much damage armor prevents while you're in the midst of combat. It makes weapons and armor simple, but versatile enough that they can affect combat as more than a featureless tool.

The other pdfs are mostly setting focused stuff. One is kind of Wild West + superheroes, one is WWII + zeppelin super carrier aircraft where you play fighter pilots, one is about playing a team of firefighters, another is set in the court of Louie XV of France in the 1700s where a race of aliens returns to Earth to eat everyone and inhabit their bodies, and one is Arthurian myth + mecha in space. There are one or two others, but they didn't really interest me in my initial perusing so they didn't stick in my head. The last pdf is a magic toolkit. It includes a lot of ideas and guidelines for instituting a system of magic in your gameworld. I have yet to really delve into it, but the ideas and guidelines seem to be a pretty solid guide for helping you add magic to a campaign for a better reason than because magic.

Alright, so that finishes up the last little bit of the rulebook and some ideas about the concepts behind some of the expansions. Now I'm going to talk about the focus of the game and why I like it.

The focus of the game is the drama of the player's story. Phat lewts and reaching epic level aren't really the point. There is no epic level, and phat lewts at most allow you to hit harder with attacks or overcome opposition better. There's no vorpal blade or wish spell. Not that I have any issues with those sorts of things, but maybe I don't care too much about loot because I've never really been a player beyond level one or two. Anyway, when you sit down to play a game of FATE, you're there to role-play for the most part. You are there to tell and experience a story. Don't get me wrong, you can still crush your foes and drive them before you and hear the lamentations of their women and whatnot, but the main focus of the game is the drama of the story. That's why your aspects often have a dual role and aren't 100% positive and beneficial. There are supposed to be complications and weaknesses that the player has to cope with. The game about firefighters seems particularly brutal in this area. It has some suggestions for prompts for players to help them come up with aspects and troubles. Prompts like "Tell me about what happened at 47 Wilshire Lane and the children you found there." or "Tell me about your disintegrating marriage and why you and your wife can't save it." or "Tell me about your alcohol/illegal drug problem." FATE Core is a little lighter in tone, as the iconic NPCs of the game have troubles called The Manners of a Goat, Tempted By Shiny Things, and Rivals in the Collegia Arcana.

I guess part of why I like the game system so much is because it is so story focused. The main rulebook is about 300 pages long, but reading it doesn't feel like paging through the Pathfinder rulebook. I mean, yeah, the skills and stunts sections feel a lot like the skills and feats sections of Pathfinder, but that chunk of the FATE book is vastly shorter than Pathfinder's. The game just reads and feels rules light to me. Plus, every few pages there is an example of how an action or skill or whatever would be implemented in game using the iconic NPCs and their players and the group's GM. If Pathfinder did that, I can easily imagine it tripling the length of the main book. Don't get me wrong, there is plenty of text describing how to come up with aspects and how to create a character and handle combat and skills and create NPCs. It's just that it feels less like rules to me and more like a conversation with the designer. I think there is one, two column table in the entire 300 pages of the FATE book, though I suppose you could call the visual examples of how the skills pyramid/column is set up as tables of a sort, so four tables I guess. I dunno. I love Pathfinder, but the game's rulebook feels like a rulebook and like I said, the FATE rulebook feels like a conversation with the game's designers.

Using aspects to define a character and what they're about, as opposed to a definition stemming from a combination of statistics from race and class and purchased ability scores, seems like a more story focused approach to character creation. Looking at a Pathfinder character sheet seems very, I dunno, clinical I guess. Like you are reading a report on statistics or something, which you essentially are. Looking at a FATE Core character sheet is a little more like reading one of the first few pages of a book that lists all the chapters and their titles, aside from the skill pyramid/column section.

Now, the main thing about FATE that I like is the aspect, invoke, and compel system. I mean, when you get right down to it, making a dice roll (even if the dice have weird faces) and using a skill is using a skill and attacking an enemy is attacking an enemy, whether you're using a skill or an attack roll to do it. Let's face it here, attack rolls are skill checks in DnD, it is just that you don't get to choose how many skill points go into your attack skill. You class determines that for you. Same thing with saving throws.

When you use an aspect, it isn't the same as just totaling your situational bonuses and adding them to a roll. You have to justify it. You have to make a case for it and tell the GM and other players why it is applicable to the situation. When you invoke a scene aspect you need to show how it could be an applicable benefit in the situation. This is obviously a system that has a fair amount of wiggle room in it, and that is a bit of a departure from the Pathfinder/DnD style of heavy rules complexity that I am used to, and I kind of find it a little refreshing and interesting. The compels are interesting because it isn't just a concrete mechanical penalty of some kind like your character has the ADHD flaw, so he gets a -4 penalty on all Perception checks and you gain a bonus feat. It is a little more free form and the GM (or the player, players can compel themselves for free by the way) has to justify why a compel is appropriate in the context of the situation and you all have to agree on the complications that arise from accepting the compel. Then you get a fate point. It is essentially a free form flaw/bonus feat system.

Now, this game does have one problem that I kind of like but dislike, and that is the somewhat abstract nature of it. Now Pathfinder has abstract features like attacks per round and hit points and armor class. But the whole aspect system is kind of abstract. Say your sorcerer wants to use Lore to create an advantage on a particularly deadly enemy called Blinded By Sorcery and he succeeds his Lore check versus his foe's active opposition Will check. So now we have this image of the deadly warrior stumbling around blinded by magic. Now, if everyone has fate points to spend and this is the last fight of the session, no problem. Everyone can use the aspect as an advantage in their attacks or defense and can compel it to cause him to attack or defend ineffectively or stumble about.

But if this blinded guy is a miniboss and the Big Bad Evil Guy is on the other side of the door this guy is guarding, they might want to conserve their fate points and no one compels or uses the new aspect to more effectively bring him down. So this guy blinded by sorcery operates just fine from a mechanical standpoint. In Pathfinder if you're blinded you're blinded and there are penalties associated with being blind that apply to everyone with the blinded condition. I like aspects and creating advantages with them, but this feature of them kind of bothers me. I can imagine it frustrating a player without fate points that has to take a consequence to survive an attack he could have completely avoided if he had a fate point to use to enhance his defend roll. The guy is blind, but it only affects him if the players can afford to take advantage of this. To be fair, if the GM is doing his job and throwing out compels like nobody's business, the players should hopefully have a ton of fate points to spend being awesome.

That is the premise of the game after all, being awesome. It is the job of the GM and the players at the table to do their best to make everyone look awesome. The rulebook says that the heroes of the game are good at what they do, whatever it is. They aren't newbs, they are professionals and they should never be made to look stupid or inept, because if they were stupid or inept no one would tell this story about them. This doesn't mean they never lose or are always right or their actions never have unintended consequences. It just means that if they fail, it isn't because they forgot their lock picking tools at home when they headed out to rob the baron's treasure vault or didn't bring their spellbook when they went traveling.

One thing that also kind of entices me is the free form nature of campaign construction. The designers of the game suggest that you go into the game with a few concepts and ideas, but don't flesh out the entirety of the campaign plot and carve it into stone detailing how the players are supposed to go from point a to b to c, all the way to z. They say that humans are pattern makers, and as you and your players play, the plot and connections of a campaign will figure themselves out because you'll all start making patterns and connections out of them. They suggest having an idea where the scenario/arc/campaign will start, having an idea where it will end, and having an idea about the middle as well. They suggest keeping it a little relaxed and loose, as no plot outline really survives contact with the players and comes through unscathed.

Case and point, The Rebellion Arc. Final battle. Nakmander has his ritual in full swing and is pulling meteors out of the sky to obliterate Kusseth City to break Kusseth's power to free his people from their oppression. Whether Kusseth lives or dies is on the players and whether or not they'll allow this. Wardens bust in and start killing Nakmander's thugs but the forces are too balanced and the ritual members are protected by a sorcerous shield. The players have to decide to keep working with Nakmander and destroy Kusseth, or join the wardens of Kusseth and stop Nakmander to save the lives of all the citizens and innocents in the city. It is no question for my NPC, Kethranmeer, he can't abide such a callous genocide in the name of fanaticism to a cause, even if it is to free Hell from Kusseth's oppression. Jeremy, John, and Eric follow his lead for similar reasons (I think, John never expressed any sort of moral outrage about anything, and the guys did murder a bunch of teenagers one time, and they did weld a door shut in an underground fortress with living people on the other side with no hope of escape except through the now sealed door). This is one of the greatest moments of my career as a GM. I watched Fred struggle with his choice. The lead warden was an Elduman and Derf, Fred's character, hated Eldumans because he is crazy and because of their persecution of sorcerer types. Derf was a sorcerer. I watched the battle rage across his face, the choice to role-play his character to the hilt, or the choice to follow the party.

Fred chose to role-play. Now the result of the battle is up in the air. The faceless thugs and mooks, sorcerers and wardens, cancelled each other out. The people that were going to determine the battle were Nakmander, the lead warden, my npc, Jeremy, Eric and John. So now Derf is pretty much crippling the warden (a powerful psychic warrior) with his spells, John is trying to take down Derf with non-lethal means, and Eric and Jeremy are fighting Nakmander while Kerthanmeer tries to use a blackstone hammer to pierce the sorcerous shield to kill the ritual members to stop the ritual. Nakmander was a very very powerful sorcerer with lots of magical gadgets and gewgaws on his person. One actually misfired during the fight and injured him.

My plan for the battle and campaign was not for them to save Kusseth, but merely to choose one side or the other to aid. I had never guessed that the party would split their focus like that, which could/would have potentially TPKed them. Nakmander got real lucky with a lot of his misfire rolls and was laying out fingers of death like nobody's business (mostly at the lead warden) with lightning bolts and such for everyone else until finally he misfired on a spell that would have killed the lead warden and ended up knocked out because of his own sorcery. Jeremy's character then coup de graced him and the good guys (ha! the PCs were a collection of sociopaths) won (?). Kethranmeer died and Nakmander survived via contingency spells in place and became obsessed with my players, which led to The Psychogenic Fugue Arc.

So yeah, plans and plots don't tend to survive contact with the players very often. Which I guess is part of why I am obsessed with the whole sandbox style campaign these days and why this kind of unfocused method of plot creation in FATE kind of interests me. I mean, nothing says you can't plan every detail and side quest and NPC out in excruciating detail, but it is not suggested.

I dunno. A lot about FATE appeals to me and I'd love to try it out someday.

Friday, February 15, 2013


Have I talked about FATE yet? I don't think I have, but my memory is sometimes a little sketchy. FATE is an RPG I discovered kind of through Tony. So Tony and I both read a book series called The Dresden Files. A fantastic series with fantastic characters and fantastic humor. It is about a wizard named Harry Dresden and his freelance wizarding (not to be confused with vizarding, which involves dicks, I think) in Chicago and all the supernatural creatures, allies, and villains he meets during those excursion. The series starts small scale but escalates rapidly to Harry being a savior of the city and world and that sort of thing. It is hands down one of my favorite book series and Harry is one of my favorite characters. A few years ago a company came out with a Dresden Files RPG. Tony purchased it immediately and got a prerelease PDF copy of the two rulebooks for the game and he passed them along to me. I looked at them, said neat, and deleted them from my laptop. The rulebooks were very cool, the characters of the book series have lots of little notes and scraps of information scrawled in the margins of the books and the whole thing is played off as being an RPG based off of all their investigations and discoveries that they made with the intent to find a way to market knowledge of supernatural protection to the layman. It is pair of rulebooks chock full of wit and hilarity.

More recently I wandered onto Kickstarter looking for something RPG related to give my money to. I found something called The FATE Core Kickstarter. So, being in love with Kickstarter and RPGs, I backed it. Backing it gave you access to a slew of prerelease pdfs for some setting concepts and basically the final version of the rulebook minus artwork. So I downloaded it and threw it on my phone and ate it up like it was candy slathered in more candy.

I really really liked the rules. Like a lot. I'd put it somewhere between GURPS and Pathfinder in terms of affection, maybe a little closer to Pathfinder than GURPS. As you know, I am a very big fan of GURPS.

So FATE is a pen and paper RPG that uses FUDGE dice. These are special d6s with two + sides, two - sides, and two blank sides on them. The basic mechanic is to roll four dice and add the result (+, +, +, and - = +2, blank, blank, +, and - = +0) to your relevant skill. There are no hit points or gold or levels or experience, there are no classes or races (though I am sure you could create race templates and I am sure there are guidelines in one of the pdfs backing the Kickstarter gave me), and there are no weapons and armor or gear. There is a form of advancement and improvement, but it is all based on how long your campaign has been going on. So you can't really have your characters go from first to fifteenth level in nine or twelve months of in game time like we did in The Rebellion Arc.

Character creation is a beautiful kind of story based affair. You choose several aspects of your character. Something like Shadows In His Blood or Trained With The Black Souled Monks of The Necropolis or Grew Up In Port Brass. Something you envision as a defining feature of your character. Then you choose a few more, but you base them on your party members and your adventures together. Stuff like Kethranmeer Always Backs D'alton or Kethranmeer Knows Derf Is A Liar or We All Fought The Dragon Together. These aspects form the defining features of your character. Nestled in the character creation is a similar system for world/plot generation. You also choose a trouble, an aspect with something of a negative cast to it. Stuff like Obsessed With Guns To The Exclusion of Everything Else or Never Asks Questions or Nakmander Has Leverage On Me.

During character creation you come up with five or so aspects, depending on the campaign style and power level you want to simulate. One of those is your high concept, the main defining aspect of your character. These are things like Bat Shit Crazy Battle Sorcerer or Criminal Turned Alchemist Turned Entrepreneur or Second Story Man. Another is your trouble, a problem you have that is defined as an aspect. Three others are aspects you choose based on the group story. More on that a little later.

Now, you have skills as I said, and they are pretty standard. Hitting things, shooting things, talking to things, knowing ancient lore about things, etc. There is a resource one as well, which is how you "buy" stuff, even though there are no equipment tables or gp costs or anything like that. Skills are used to resolve actions, there are plenty right out of the box, but there are guidelines for creating others tailored to your campaign. Your skills are picked at character creation and arranged in a kind of pyramid, you get one at +4, two at +3, three at +2, and four at +1. They're not really points to distribute or purchase with, it's more like just assigning values to them. When you gain skill "points" from advancement, the pyramid becomes a series a columns and you can only improve a skill if there are the same number of skills on the level below it (so to have two skills at +4, you need to have two at +3, +2, and +1). There are also stunts, and they are a bonus you get when using a skill in a certain way. For instance, backstab allows you to use stealth to make an attack if the target is unaware of your presence.

There are no hit points, but there are stress boxes for physical and mental trauma. When you fail a roll to defend against a physical or mental attack, you fill in one or more of those boxes based on how strong the attack was. An attack could be a sword hit or a particularly savage verbal salvo from an opposing debater. Once you fill in all your stress boxes, you are done. I am still unclear as to whether or not this means character death, but I assume it does. These boxes clear based on the box's severity and how long it has been since you received the stress. This is measured by sessions of play, not in game time. In addition to stress boxes, you also have consequences. These are aspects you can add to your character to shrug off a hit or use as a last ditch effort to remain in the game. They are wholly negative aspects like Face Chewed Up By Dragon Acid or Eloise's Voice Distracts Me All The Time or My Body Is Rusted And Broken. Consequences degrade in severity over time as well, so eventually My Body Is Rusted And Broken becomes That Spring In My Right Knee Sticks Every So Often and eventually disappears from your character sheet completely. If your consequences and stresses become too severe, you can actually end up replacing one of your character aspects with a consequence.

Ok, so how does the game actually work? You use your skills to attack and defend and that sort of thing and you use your aspects to gain a bonus to your roll if you can. The GM uses your aspects to compel you to do something. He says for instance, "Derf, Eloise begins telling you to kill Gonigi." and Derf can choose to do so or pay a fate point. If he does so, he gains a fate point. Fate points are used to invoke your aspects for a bonus to a skill use or to create an advantage from the environment, and also to power some stunts. Each character gets a number of fate points at the start of each session and you accrue more by allowing compels against your aspects. Now the game is fairly simple. It is very similar to the roll a d20 add bonuses and match a DC mechanic we've been using for years, except the numbers tend to be lower and you use those four FUDGE dice instead of a d20. It is very slim and simple and understandable. This game is probably one of the most rules light games I have ever researched. No Vancian magic, no complex addition for bonuses from five different sources while trying to figure out what stacks and what overlaps, no saving throws, no point buys (aside from figuring out your skill levels), no THAC0.

Aspects, I was talking about aspects but I didn't explain what they do exactly. Using an aspect to gain a bonus from it on an action is a narrative kind of thing. You don't just use a fate point and gain a +2 to something on a list, your other option is to choose to reroll the FUDGE dice. Whichever of the two options you take, you have to justify it from a narrative standpoint. So, D'alton is attacking a reaver and decides he needs some extra umph and pays a fate point and invokes Shadows In His Blood and says, "D'alton has these shadow powers within him, so I'm going to have them leak out of him and kind of cloak my swordarm so the reaver can't quite track where my sword is coming from." I would tell him, "Excellent, you've got +2 to your fighting skill, roll please." Whether the attack hits depends on the reaver's fighting skill or whatever skill he uses to defend against the attack, D'alton's roll, and D'alton's own skill. If he wins by a lot, he might put the reaver down in one hit. Now, I said GM's can compel, but players can as well. It just costs a fate point. So at any time D'alton could pay a fate point and try to compel Xein's aspect But I'm A Good Guy! to get Xein to help him or someone in some way. If you have no fate points, obviously you cannot refuse a compel. The rules suggest a GM compel his players often so they have plenty of fate points to do cool stuff with.

There are four main actions to the game: attack, defend, overcome, and create advantage. Attack and defend are easily understood. You use a situationally appropriate skill to attack or defend. Overcome is something like using Craft to fix a wagon axle so you can keep traveling, you have an obstacle of some kind that is not actively trying to murder you and you are trying to overcome it. Create advantage is a situation where you are trying to create an advantage of some kind against an enemy or obstacle, but often uses the aspects of a scene (everything has an aspect that you can involve in a session, even the game world itself, the kingdoms in it, enemies, magic items, etc.). So the group is in their rowe'dhaus being attacked by Nakmander's thugs and D'alton wants to bust open a few of the electrical cables running across the ceiling to create some interference and give the group some breathing room. So he says, "Can I reach up and yank some wiring off the ceiling to mess with the thugs?" and I say "Yeah, sure, roll physique for me because you're yanking it off the ceiling with brute strength." If D'alton succeeds, the scene gains the aspect Dangling Wiring Sparking With Electricity and he can invoke it for free once and it is now an aspect of the scene others can invoke as well for the normal cost of a fate point. If he fails, it might still be created but he gets no free use of it, but at least it is there for others to use.

There are three types of...I dunno, scenes I guess. Contests, conflicts, and challenges. Challenges are tasks that take multiple skill uses to resolve, mostly complex tasks like disarming a bomb or finishing a ritual while defending against hordes of zombies. This mostly just involves succeeding at the tasks.  But they can easily become complicated by poor rolls, for instance, just barely succeeding at a craft roll to board up a building might give it the Rough and Hasty Construction aspect that the zombies can utilize to their advantage. Conflicts are when two characters have opposing goals, but aren't trying to harm each other, stuff like arm wrestling contests or duels or something. This may involve keeping a tally of successes to determine the winner. Conflicts are where people are trying to actively harm each other and they don't normally end until one side is dead or otherwise subdued. Each of these types of scenes allows the use of aspects and advantages. There are also rules for teamwork to succeed in a scene. For instance, two characters adding their physique skill together to overcome a locked door.

Now, I mentioned this game is kind of based on a mechanic similar to the roll and match a DC of d20 games. You are basically making a roll against an opposed roll with an appropriate skill (in the case of active opposition like an enemy you attack and you roll opposed fighting checks). Or you make a roll against a passive skill level against inactive opposition (like making a burglary check to open a locked door). It differs in a few ways. If you fail in the action, you obviously don't succeed and there is some sort of negative repercussion determined by the GM (the enemy gets to attack you, or the lock jams completely), or you get a lesser version of what you wanted. If you tie with the opposition, you succeed, but there is a cost (the enemy gains a free use of an advantage against you because he's picked up on your fighting style, the lock opens, but breaks loudly and wakes a sleeping guard you snuck past). You can beat the opposition, which is a success, you get what you wanted at no cost. There is also succeed with style, where you beat the opposition greatly and gain a bonus (you hit the enemy and now he has an aspect anyone can use against him, you open the lock silently and without alerting the guards on the other side of the door that you didn't know about). When you win a check, you calculate how much you win by, and that is call a shift. One shift is beating the opposition by one point, two shifts is beating them by two, and so on. Shifts are how you determine damage and which stress or consequence boxes you may need to check off during a fight. 

Alright, so I said there are no experience points or levels, but there is advancement. Advancement occurs at milestones, but to talk about milestones we need to talk about how time is measured. Scenes are the basic unit, scenes are where conflict happens. A session is when you all sit down to play and is made up of several scenes, a scenario is made up of one to four sessions, an arc is made up of several scenarios, and the campaign is made up of several arcs. All of it should be more or less connected in some way. So the Rebellion Arc lasted for fifteen sessions, broken up into about five scenarios, and about three arcs. This is just a general guestimate. The rules for FATE suggest having an arc or scenario end on a significant note rather than just stating every four sessions equals a scenario, regardless of the content.

Back to advancement. Minor milestones occur at the end of a session and they're more about changing your character and evolving him based on his experiences, rather than becoming more powerful. You can switch around two skills, exchange a stunt for another, buy a new stunt if you have refresh to do so (refresh is a number that determines how many fate points you get at the start of a session, you can reduce it by one to buy a stunt), or rename one of your aspects that isn't your high concept. This is more tweaking and adapting than anything else. Significant milestones occur at the end of a scenario and you gain the benefit of a minor milestone plus you can add a skill point. I described the column system earlier, so you have to do some planning as you improve to keep the columns appropriately organized. You can also save the skill point if you wish to wait instead of just buying something you don't necessarily need or want. Major milestones occur at the end of an arc and have all the benefits of minor and significant milestones and allow you to rename your character's high concept if you want and take an additional point of refresh. Milestones are also how you downgrade your consequences. There are also guidelines for world advancement to coincide with player actions and that sort of thing, but those are more the realm of the GM.

So that is kind of the basic gist of how FATE works. The actual rulebook is a lot more sensibly planned out and a bit easier to follow than my ramblings. I think I am going to end up posting another FATE related post next week to go over what I like about the system and some of the extras discussed in the rulebook. 

Monday, February 11, 2013

More Secret Sauce

So I'm writing this little document that breaks down all the history of Hekinoe and how it all came to be and whatnot. It is getting fairly lengthy, I think I am up to twenty-five or so pages in OpenOffice. It's fun to write all this down, which is likely something I've said before. I guess part of the reason I like writing it all down is because I like my stories and what they're about. I like what I write and I like reading it and thinking about it. I've said before I have no real desire to publish anything, I just like writing down the stories in my head and reading them and thinking about all the stuff that goes into them.

Writing all of this stuff and history of the world down is kind of making me yearn to return to writing in the world. I've toyed with writing down the tales of The Robust Five, and Lance asked me to try my hand at writing the story of the Orcunraytrel adventures, but I haven't really touched the Nel in some time. As I move through this thing I am writing I have to talk a lot about the Nel, and that forces me to periodically refer to my story and some posts on the blog to ensure that I am remembering things correctly, or to figure out and try to recollect why I changed something. It's never an issue of me forgetting what I wrote, just an issue of trying to remember when and why I changed something from the way it appears on the blog. A lot of time what I post on the blog here isn't exactly the final version of what I'm writing or muttering about, and I periodically just up and change it in my brain and never go back and change it here on the blog. So I end up reading something on the blog from a year or two ago and it doesn't match up with what is in my head and I have to sift through my gray matter trying to figure out the reasoning behind whatever change I made to the history. It isn't as much of a pain in the ass as you'd think. Like I said, I like this stuff.

Anyway, as I am writing all this stuff and clicking my way through previously written material, I find myself once again getting absorbed in the story. I find myself getting absorbed in the Nel and the things they do and I find myself wanting to return to Grenaldeen and The Gray Wastes and Keroen Skathos. I was talking to Shawn via Gmail messaging yesterday morning (over a week ago at this point) and he was telling me I should return to writing things about the Nel and Keroen Skathos, and part of me really wants to. Another part of me just sighs and shakes its head.

I mean, I love the Nel. I loved them when they were the Fey and Keroen was Cromm Cruach and I grew to love them more when I made them into their own thing that was separate from Celtic/Irish/Scottish/etc myth and folklore. It's one thing to write this little show and tell for Fred and Shawn, as it doesn't take much more work than a little bit of fact checking and timeline checking, but a whole other thing to actually write new material on the Nel. Don't misunderstand me, there is plenty more to write, it is just hard. I mean, there are stories that could be told about Merobel and Aubernach bringing their people under their rule, or the time of Keroen wandering the world after he took his vow. I could write about the Sokarnel. They live in The Nightmare Lands, a place that supposedly holds Bloody Head chained and pissed off on a bloody throne of bones. What the fuck goes on in there? An endless red desert with a red and black sun glaring down over it with a monstrous and bloodthirsty creature ruling/imprisoned from/in a throne of hacked apart meat and bones. Seems like a place where some shit goes down, no?

I've tried writing a prequel and a sequel to the story of Keroen Skathos that I've finished. I've tried writing a little bit about Nostathon and the Sleeping Kings and what they do to Grenaldeen once Keroen takes care of business, and I've tried to write about the Herald and what he gets into during that time as well. It never goes much farther than a page or two. I don't know if it is the ADHD or what but I just lose interest or feel like "Haven't we been here before?" and kind of move on to something else, usually DnD. I dunno, I want to say it's part ADHD, part lack of enthusiasm from friends and associates. But let's be honest here, if I like my writing and enjoy my stories, I should just keep writing them and enjoy them for myself and damn everyone else? So really it is just a lack of confidence/faith/whatever in myself.

As an example of lack of enthusiasm, my now ex-wife, who actually likes my writing style, wouldn't even read the story with me holding her hand and explaining names and shit to her. Too many of the names and places were weird and she didn't understand them or what they all looked like. Actually, I'm suddenly feeling grouchy, fuck Heather. I tried to get her to read my story and watch Doctor Who and play DnD with me and my pals a thousand fucking times. What does she do after divorcing me? Plays DnD once, gets into Doctor Who, and supports her fuckhead boyfriend in all his little movie projects and spams them on Facebook for people to go watch on Youtube. Also, did you know aspartame causes fibromyalgia and lupus and kills all the children everywhere and when heated to above 85 degrees Fahrenheit turns into formaldehyde (that part is actually legit, but the amounts of formaldehyde you end up with are similar in comparison to the amount of fluoride you ingest from drinking clean water, i.e. not enough to do any damage ever, and it has nothing to do with temperature) according to an article she read? Do you know how much diet pop you have to drink to have negative health effects from the aspartame? Seven and a half liters a day, every day, for a long portion of your lifespan.

Hmm. That went to an angry and dark place. ::shrug:: Shawn was definitely enthusiastic about the whole mess of my writing, and on a certain level that would be enough to keep me writing. Because he is Shawn. At the very least, Laura did not indicate to me that my writing is the equivalent of a unicorn vomiting rainbows all over a page, so that's something, and one time my friend Sam went all crazy and yelly on Eric for criticizing a story I was working on, and as I said, Heather thought I was a good writer. Lance seems to enjoy some of the side RP stuff we've been doing via email, and he did urge me to try my hand at writing of the Orcunraytrel group, which I do have about three chapters of written down. Jeremy just adored the Inconsistencies Continued stuff and Eric has always been a fan of the Nel/Fey. So people do enjoy what I write, and I enjoy it as well, so shouldn't I just write because it is fun and I like it and my friends are supportive of it?

I dunno. This is more about my writing than secrets. I think I'm just musing and moping here. I honestly think it comes down to me just being lazy and having a short attention span in terms of why I start and never seem to finish stories. It is far easier to write RP emails and DnD scenarios than it is to write actual stories, and eventually I end up getting a nice shiny new idea in my head and that needs all of my attention because it is bright and shiny and new. I do fairly well starting and completing short stories, as the blog is scattered with several of them, but you know, they're short and not a hundred thousand words long. 


Friday, February 8, 2013

Guild Wars II

I periodically hang out with some guys from work. For the most part, our schedules are the same and we all work at five p.m., aside from a few variations. They kind of do this thing where they get really excited about an upcoming game and when it releases, they play the fuck out of it and lose interest in a few months. This is how I got into EVE Online and Diablo III. Primarily they are into stuff like ARMA/Day Z and Call of Duty. When Guild Wars II came out they played the crap out of it, but quickly lost interest. Three weeks ago I was over at one guy's house hanging out and there was a lull in the gathering, he had to go to a corporation meeting for his corp on EVE and he started fiddling with Guild Wars II during the meeting, as he still periodically plays it even though the other two guys do not. We chit chatted a little bit while he played, what we like about MMOs and what we dislike and why he likes and still plays Guild Wars II, that sort of thing. It sounded like something I could get into, so when I went home I purchased a digital copy and loaded it onto my computer.

I've been playing it for a little over two weeks and I have to say I really like it. This post is kind of going to be about why, and I'm likely going to have to compare it to World of Warcraft a little bit to do so, as that is the only other MMO I have played extensively. I suppose I could use EVE as a comparison, but I feel like EVE is kind of in a genre of its own as an MMO. Just to give you an idea of what kind of experience I have with Guild Wars II, I have a level 34 (out of 80) Thief and a level 10 (out of 80) Engineer and upwards of a hundred and ten levels in each of the two crafting professions those characters have. I'm big on crafting. In World of Warcraft, I've played the main game and all its expansions. I have a level 72 Rogue specced for stealth, with...lots of levels in crafting. I am an obsessive crafter and have switched professions with my rogue many many times. I think the last time I played he was an Alchemist/Herbalist, before that it was Engineer/Miner, and before that is was Leatherworker/Skinner, and before that it was Alchemist/Herbalist.

Since I love crafting so much, I might as well start with crafting. Crafting is pretty straightforward in both games, you find a trainer to teach you a crafting profession, find the necessary components to make something, then get the tools or crafting station you need and start making stuff. As you craft things you level up your crafting profession and can craft better stuff. In Guild Wars II there aren't any gathering professions, if you want herbs to use for cooking, you just equip a sickle and start gathering potatoes or peppercorns or whatever. If you need lumber for a rifle stock, you equip an axe and chop down a tree. If you need iron for a rifle barrel or silver for a ring, you equip a pick and start mining. I really think this aspect of the crafting system is swell, because then you can take two professions that are actually useful for your character. Additionally, you can switch professions and learn new ones at any time, but unlike WoW, you don't lose any of your progress in professions you unlearn, so you can return to them at a later time if you want to. That is pretty freaking sweet. There is a cost associated with returning to a crafting profession you've already leveled up a bit, and that cost is dependent on how high of a level the crafting profession that you are returning to is. It is all kind of neat and it doesn't punish a player for changing their mind like WoW's does. It also gives you a lot more freedom and allows you to be fairly versatile, if you have silver to burn for dropping and picking up crafting professions frequently. The crafting professions all use a lot of the same resources as well, so unless you have a shit ton of money to buy components from the trading post or a lot of stored crafting resources, it becomes somewhat difficult to make progress in more than two crafting professions.

Crafting is actually a lot of fun in this game. You learn recipes automatically as you level up the skill without having to buy them, but there is also a discovery aspect. It's a special panel where you have access to all the crafting stuff you own and you can plug it in and see if it can make anything. Every time you craft something you gain a bit of xp, but when you discover a new recipe you get a larger chunk. My level ten Engineer has probably only gained three levels from mobs and questing. Everything else has been from levelling up his crafting professions. The amounts of xp you gain decrease as you go up in skill level, and eventually reach zero, so you can't just keep making copper rings and bronze pistols to reach level 80.

Quests and leveling are something I really really like in Guild Wars II. Each zone has several quest nodes, special locations, special vistas, and challenges to do for bonus skill points. In WoW you typically enter a new area, find a guy with an exclamation point above his head and go kill ten of something or collect ten hooves from something. or take this quest object here here and here for him. Then you get cash and xp or loot. Then you rinse and repeat for the next seventy or eighty levels.

In GWII, you gain experience points from everything. So when you enter an area and find all the red triangles for vistas, you gain xp for visiting each of them. When you do the skill point challenges, xp. When you find all the waypoints, xp. I love this, because I am all about exploration and seeing neat sights. Tony and I would spend a lot of time just walking around Azeroth instead of questing, just bullshitting and occasionally raping the random Ally fuckhead we ran into while we wandered.

The quest nodes are cool. It is basically an area with a quest giver in it. You don't get a quest per se, but when you enter the node you are told several tasks that need doing. Could be killing mobs, rescuing prisoners, destroying traps, feeding rabbits, watering plants. Whatever fits the flavor of the area. What I like is the variety. If you are getting bored with fighting bandits, take a break and rescue prisoners. If you need loot for cash or crafting, go back to killing bandits. While you do these tasks, a little progress bar fills up and when it completes you get some cash and the person in charge of the node becomes a karma store. Karma is a special currency you accrue by completing these nodes and doing other things. They typically sell special crafting resources that can't be found or purchased elsewhere, crafting recipes, or magical gear. The nodes are much more fun to me than conventional questing because they give you a goal but also give you some variety in ways to achieve that goal. Each area is also peppered with special events that happen from time to time like bandits attacking a farm or a merchant needing guards to move to the next city and if you participate you gain cash and xp dependant upon your level of participation.

In addition to this, if you find all the waypoints, complete all the quest nodes, gain all the skill points and see all the vistas and points of interest in an area, you get a big chunk of cash, xp, karma, and a pile of loot for completing it all. Which is neat. It takes some work, but the rewards are worth it in my experience. Don't misunderstand me, you are still rinsing and repeating, but at least in the short term, to me, it feels like there is a little bit more variety than what I used to do to level in WoW.

There is also a deleveling mechanic to the game. In WoW, if you are level 80 you are level 80 everywhere. But in GWII, each area has a level cap, so when my level 31 Thief heads into a starting area he's never been to before, he drops back down to level 10 or 4 or whatever. He still has all his skills and gear, which are an advantage for sure, but he can still find a challenge in these lower level areas and still gain a reasonable amount of xp and cash from completing stuff he hasn't done yet in them. It kind of stinks that you aren't truly safe and invincible even in low level areas, but at least an area isn't useless and boring because you're a higher level, there's still stuff of value for you to do there.

Waypoints, waypoints are awesome. Waypoints are scattered all over each area. They enable you to jump around quickly from area to area, but they charge you copper for it based on your level and how far you are from the waypoint you are jumping to. Except in the main cities, if you are in a main city jumping to another waypoint in the city is free. This is great for an MMO. Nothing infuriated me more than hopping onto WoW only to have to pay a fee and then spend ten or twenty minutes on the back of a wyvern doing nothing till I could get to the area I was questing in for the day. Time is a big factor in MMOs, if you aren't getting cash or xp or leveling your profession, you are wasting that time and flying from place to place in real time really begins to represent a significant time sink when you are questing in distant areas on a regular basis. With a click and a loading screen you can get to work in GWII, and that is just fantastic for a casual player like me that isn't willing to devote the majority of his free time to an MMO.

So PVP. PVP has never been my thing. I have never been good enough or devoted enough to get good at it. I played a rogue in WoW because I am a lurker by nature and really never had any good gear, so fighting other players was always a challenging experience that I didn't care for. This is why I specced my rogue for stealth, so I can get the first hit in and possibly run away if the other guy is going to be the one to get the last hit in. I am a coward. Plus, a good chunk of people in WoW are willing to spend days farming bosses for specific loot drops to power up their characters. I am not one of those people, I like playing games too much to be willing to spend that much time to replay and replay a small section of the game to get a specific item.

My understanding of PVP in GWII is that when you enter into PVP everyone is the same level and has the same gear. The only differences are the skills you utilize and how you use them. So in this set up player vs. player combat comes down more to skill than it does to how long you were able to farm phat lewts. Kind of a cool concept. Plus, the world vs. world PVP has a lot of benefits for the server that is winning the battle. Bonuses to crafting and gathering and experience point gains and that sort of thing. Kind of a cool concept, but again, PVP isn't really my thing.

Skills are the next thing. So in GWII you have skills and you use those to do stuff. Each class has utility skills and healing skills and weapon skills. Weapon skills are based on which weapon or combination of weapons you use. A Thief with two pistols has very different weapon skills than an Engineer with two pistols and a Thief with a pistol in his main hand and a dagger in his off hand has a different set up than one with a dagger as his main and a pistol as his off. Weapon skills are unlocked by killing enemies with the weapon in question. Utility skills are unlocked by buying them with skill points, and they are set up in tiers so you have to buy a certain amount of 1 skill point utility skills to be able to purchase ones that cost 3 skill points, and you have to be a certain level. You also unlock more utility skill slots as you increase in level. Utility skills are entirely dependent upon you class, and the Thief's seem to focus on traps and poison and evasion. Each class is also responsible for their own healing, so they have utility skills that heal and remove conditions or grant beneficial conditions. The Thief one actually heals you a bit and gives a heal over time and stealths you for a few seconds, which allows you a backstab. There are also skills that have a combo effect, so when you use two skills in quick succession, they have a more potent or additional effect. Kind of a neat, if not completely new and innovative, effect that rewards crafty playing and experimentation. 

Alright, I guess that is enough about Guild Wars II. I really like the game, so I'll keep playing it. It's not like you have to pay a monthly fee or anything to play, so there's no harm taking breaks from it if I need to. All in all I find it to be a fun MMO that I think is swell.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Tony Stark: Adventurer

Alright, so this week we are doing Iron Man. I'll be honest, the majority of my knowledge of Iron Man comes from the Iron Man films and the Marvel video games on the 360. I believe they were called something like Marvel Ultimate Alliance. Good games, though the last one I played did some weird things with Nick Fury. Whatever.

So Iron Man is this really smart guy who came up with a super advanced suit of armor to protect him in battle. He flies and shoots lasers and beats on his enemies with his fists. I'd build him as a human, and probably have his scores as Strength 13, Dexterity 13, Constitution 9 (to represent his heart problem), Intelligence 16, Wisdom 10, and Charisma 14. I'd probably pour his +5 over twenty levels into Intelligence. Tony Stark is typically depicted with shrapnel or something in his heart and uses his armor to protect him. I'm not sure how accurate the movies are in depicting the nature of his injury and the power source of his armor protecting his heart, but we'll go with it.

Ok, so I have to make a confession here. I had about four paragraphs of nonsense about how Iron Man would be a Fighter (Armor Master) and use this and that and so on and so forth to duplicate his various armored abilities. That was silly, because I am silly. Iron Man would best be represented as an Alchemist. We're going to handwave the magic issue by saying that Tony Stark is an inventor and can come up with crazy gadgets and weapons with a few hours in the workshop, so the Alchemist's formula aren't completely 100% out of character for Iron Man, as spells can kind of be an analogy to that.

So a human Alchemist would have eleven feats. What I would go with would be as follows: Acrobatic (because he typically flies around a lot and should be good at that), Death From Above (because he typically flies around and hits things), Extra Bombs x3 (bringing our bomb total to 31), (Heavy Armor Proficiency (armor), Improved Unarmed Strike (bludgeoning things with fists), Medium Armor Proficiency (armor), Point Blank Shot (because he shoots things with lasers), Rapid Shot(because he shoots lasers with great frequency at times), and Superior Unarmed Strike (additional skill at bludgeoning).

Now, one of the reasons I raged against the choice of Alchemist for use with Eric's build of Hawkeye was because of the mutagen and I stated that the Avengers already have a Hulk. Now, this is one of the reasons I didn't initially think of the Alchemist in terms of Iron Man. One could make the argument that the mutagen could be Iron Man's "armor" but that feels like stretching it, as there are no limits to how long Iron Man can wear his armor, as far as I know. However, there is a archetype called the Mindchemist. The Mindchemist replaces his mutagen with something called a cognatogen, which is the inverse of the mutagen. Instead of offering a bonus to a physical score and penalizing a mental score, it augments one of the three mental scores at the expense of a physical one. The way I justify this is by looking at the movies and Tony kind of going into these manic inventing benders where his brain is working at high speed. It isn't a precisely perfect analogy, but I am comfortable with it.

One of the things that really gave me difficulty with the previous build I had of Iron Man was trying to find a way to make his lasers work. I ended up kind of just saying he could try and use Use Magic device and wands or alchemical items like alchemist's fire or bottled lightning. Not perfect representations, but better than nothing. With the Alchemist version, obviously we use his bombs. The range isn't really comparable to what we've seen and read about as far as the range on his lasers, but the damage potential is there. Also, with the strafe bomb and explosive bomb discoveries we can simulate an eighty foot long "beam" of fire coming from his fist. Though to be fair, only one creature in the area of the line takes the bomb damage, the rest take splash damage and get to save for half.

I guess we can talk about discoveries next. An Alchemist gains nine discoveries and a grand discovery over twenty levels. Now as a grand discovery, I think increasing his Intelligence is the most appropriate. The other nine discoveries I feel would be most appropriate are as follows: Explosive Bomb (increases the splash radius of bombs and works with Strafe Bomb to create long lines of bomb damage), Fast Bombs (because he typically shoots lasers in rapid succession), Shock Bomb (because I guess a laser could be lightning or fire, depending on your tastes), Strafe Bomb (to give the ability when coupled with Explosive Bomb to simulate eighty foot long lines of "laser"). Hmm, actually, I think those are all I'd pick. I'm not entirely familiar with Iron Man and the capabilities of his various weapon systems, so these four are all I feel comfortable picking at this time.

Now, the armor. There are two ways we can do this, he can find or buy armor, or he can create it with Craft (Armorsmithing). The second way is harder, as it forces you two exchange two of the feats listed above for Master Craftsman and Craft Magic Arms and Armor. Regardless, here is what I believe that armor would be: +5 Mithral Full Plate (the mithral increases the maximum Dexterity bonus to +3 and reduces the armor check penalty to -3) with light fortification (+1, to resists crits and such), impervious (+1, so the armor has great difficulty being destroyed), and invulnerability (+3, for damage reduction). This puts us at a +17 bonus to AC after factoring in Dexterity bonus. In addition to this, we'll need a winged cloak (so he can fly), a belt of giant strength (so he is super strong in the armor), and lenses of detection (to simulate sensor packages and the ability to zoom vision). I'm sure there are other magic or alchemical items that would be appropriate, but again, I have to plead a lack of familiarity with Iron Man and his suit's capabilities.

Ok, so you'll notice I've piled on the armor proficiency feats for Iron Man, and also stated he'd need Master Craftsman to be able to make his armor. The reason for this is because Alchemists are not spellcasters. They do not cast spells, and in fact cannot normally use spell completion devices like scrolls and need the Use Magic Device skill to do so. Thus, they do not have a caster level to qualify for a feat like Craft Magic Arms and Armor and do not suffer a chance of spell failure when wearing armor and using their extracts. They gain the Brew Potion feat as a bonus feat, but they have a special allowance in their class description that allows them to use their Alchemist level in place of a caster level to brew potions. Can't believe I missed that little piece of information. 

Ok, so I guess that is how I'd build Iron Man if I were going to build him and stuff.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Super Heroes: Avenger Series - Iron Man

Here is the second post for the Avenger Series of Super Heroes. This week, I will be focusing on Iron Man. Keep in mind that this is a Steampunk version of him, I will try to make this fun and try not to break rules. There may be some slight bending...

Ant'ony J.L. Starx

Ant'ony was a big time Fell Human businessman who supported Kusseth in the Rebellion of Meroteth. His family was very rich and dealt in special steam driven armors, but since he supported Kusseth, he was taken prisoner and made into a Fell Souless. Still having an abundance of wealth available to him, he was able to make a special suit of steam driven armor to wreak havoc once in a while. His high attributes would be Intelligence for crafting and skill points and he would get bonuses to Strength and Dex through his race and suffer a Con reduction. Something like a 16 in Str, 12 in Dex, 10 in Con, 16 in Int, 12 in Wis and a 12 in Chr.

That last paragraph was a lot more explain-y than originally intended.

Anyway, on with it: he would be a Fighter with the archtype Armor Master which would allow him to gain better damage reduction and a better AC (it would have to be adamantine armor for this to work, however, I think wolf-iron is it's equivalent) . He would specialize in unarmed combat because his hand would be made of metal (it is a feat in Hekinoe for this race) and also have the feat for boiler belly (just to hand wave him running the suit off of his body, sort of like the original Tony Start and his arc reactor).

In the campaign book there is steam powered armor, but since I have no idea what the advanced version of this does (it has been hinted that there is one, but Steve never specifies) I would just say he has the run of the mill steam powered armor that is ran from his belly instead of a huge boiler on his back. It would be made of wolf-iron allowing him more of a damage reduction (if it works with Armor Master he would have a DR 12/-) as well as from the regular fighter class ability which allows you to reduce armor check penalties to a total of +4, so a +5 in this suit of armor (not that it would matter to much, he has only a 12 in Dex).

To sort of go with the whole "weaponized armor" feel you get from Iron-Man, he would have a dragon spitter mounted under one arm. He would have a backpack full of the chemical for the spitter on his back and that is a decent reason for him to not have a boiler. On his opposite arm he would have a lightning gun emitter which is also ran from his boiler belly. Firing this would for one round render the armor unpowered, making him slightly more vulnerable.

Skills? Yep, he would spend every point possible on (Craft) steam powered armor, armor, steam powered weapons, exotic weapon making, armor crafting, weapon crafting and Knowledge Engineering.

I think that is the best I can do for now. I really can't come up with a good reason for the suit to fly (or him) at the moment. I think if there was a disposable part of the armor (maybe a small part on the chest piece) that he would have someone cast Mage Armor on it (sort of like the energy shield he uses in the comics). I don't know... Thoughts?

Monday, February 4, 2013

Secret Sauce

This will appear a little later than twelve a.m. because I completely forgot that I didn't have a post prepped and scheduled to post today. Got kind of used to have all the Mercenary posts done several weeks in advance. Oh well, these things happen. Sorry.

Secrets are what I'll be talking about today. My campaign setting has kind of a lot of them, and not for any particular reason, and they're not really secrets anyway. They're more like stuff nobody knows because no one could know it and because it is irrelevant to the campaign setting. Which I guess is a secret, but the intent is not to keep information from people or create mystery, it's just that the information isn't anywhere to be found anymore. Even if it was, the majority of it would have no relevance to the current Hekinoe campaign set in Orcunraytrel. Actually, that is a bold lie. Some of it would be relevant. 

So Jason and I were talking early in January about the how and why of magic being messed up in his campaign world, and feeling it was only fair, I gave him a TL;DR version of why magic is wonky in my campaign setting as well. It was a very freeing feeling to kind of explain why things were the way they were in my campaign world. I kind of liked it. This isn't the first time I've done this kind of thing though. Over the years I've managed to share little bits and pieces of the background material of the why and how and when of my campaign setting with Eric and Jeremy, and there are little bits and pieces scattered across  the blog as well. It got me thinking though, as I kind of enjoyed explaining an aspect of my campaign without holding any of it back for once. 

So a few days ago I texted Fred and asked how he would feel if I sent him an email that just laid all the secrets of my campaign setting out on the table. Not hints and scatterings of information, just flat out black and white here is the why and how and reason behind everything. He was intrigued by the concept and I felt like Fred would be a good choice for this kind of diversion, as he does not currently game with us and we work opposite weekends so he can't ever really game with us anymore. So I started at the very beginning and started typing. He asked if I wanted feedback or just for his enjoyment and I told him a little from column a and a little from b.

Now, this stuff isn't exactly difficult to write, as I pretty much have it all rattling in my brain. A lot of it has been floating around in my gray matter for close to a decade. I honestly cannot remember when I precisely came up with the Elder Races, but I have a Microsoft Word document detailing some of their characteristics (when they were known as Planar Powers rather than Elder Races) in 2nd Edition AD&D stats with a last modified date of 7/16/2002. Granted, the Planar Powers only vaguely resemble what the Elder Races are nowadays, but the intent with them at the time was the same as what I've utilized the Elder Races as. So that gives you an idea about how long some of this has been in my head, and looking at the date of the file and recalling what year it is just now, it would seem that some of this stuff has been in fact rattling around my head for just over a decade. 

So I started typing an email to Fred detailing this stuff, and then I decided to scroll up and gauge just how much I had written. I then copy and pasted it all into an OpenOffice document in 10 point Arial font with .5 inch margins and saw that the document was just under five pages long. I texted Fred to see if he was still down with this sort of thing, as for some silly reason I had not expected it to run that long. He was like, yeah sure whatever. So I continued. It is now five full pages long and I still have not even touched upon Hekinoe, and when I do it will be a while before I get to anything truly related to the events of any of the campaigns he has participated in. 

As I've said before, despite the length, the writing flows very easily because it has all been in my head for some time, and I'm not really writing a story per se either. I'm just telling Fred how things came to be the way they are. It's definitely a lot of fun to write though, despite the amount of effort that goes into typing that much text out. I've never sat down and actually written any of this stuff out sequentially before. This is for two reasons. The first reason is that the second I write something down and someone reads it, I can't change it. If it is held in my head and no one knows, it is still mutable enough that I can adapt it to whatever purpose I so choose. It still gives me wiggle room to allow the ideas and concepts to evolve as I evolve as a GM and the game evolves through play and interaction with my players. The second reason is that writing it down, for the most part, serves no purpose. It is all in my head and completely memorized. I know it by heart. There's never been a moment where I'm like "What did Kern Yew'nose do that for?" or "Why is Keroen Skathos on Hekinoe?" This stuff is ingrained into me and has been for a long time. It is the mythology of my campaign setting, my holy text, my Bible. Call me arrogant or an anti-theist, but I know it a lot better than some fundamentalists know their own holy texts. 

So, long story short, I'm really enjoying writing this stuff down. Even if I have all of this perfectly stored in my head, it is still a fun exercise to kind of plot it out and write down all the history and mythology of the campaign setting into a format that breaks it all down and goes from point a to point b explaining what it all means and how Hekinoe got to be the way it is and why it is the way it is.

Edit After The Fact: Did some writing before bed and doubled the length of what I have written down. Just now getting to the parts of the background that are focused completely on Hekinoe. I've touched on how aspects of the background have affected Hekinoe a few times for a paragraph or three at a time, but what I'm writing now actually focuses completely on Hekinoe rather than on much larger scale events going on. Sigh, I'll probably double the length again by the time I get done with this section. Sigh. Bed time.