Thursday, February 27, 2014


Not updated in a while because all I've had to talk about is Fate, and I'm pretty sure that was getting boring.

So, of course this'll be another Fate post.

I've been thinking about the campaign too long. I'm starting to second-guess every aspect of it. The "no magic" rule is close to being scrapped because I'm liking the idea of paranormal elements (specifically, the broader scope for encounters); I'm considering either expanding the playable races to include more options, or stripping it back to just humans; there's a possibility to update the technology more to allow airships, although I still want to avoid cars so that could be difficult.

And all of this is having the knock-on effect of making me question the entire backstory I've written, and the broader narrative I was thinking of telling within the campaign.

Of course, a large part of Fate is to do with collaboration between the GM and players, so maybe it makes more sense to bring a certain set of ideas to the table and let the others add or expand with their own ideas and characters.

Part of this self-doubt probably comes from the realization I had last week, that I shouldn't be trying to come up with endings for the scenes I was writing. Trying to predict outcomes in a tabletop game isn't just pointless, it's a waste of time and runs the risk of railroading your players. I've instead just come up with the setup and characters - who they are, what they want, and where they are - with the hope that my understanding of, and ability to explain, the rules will allow things to flow more naturally.

That leads me, of course, into a position where the PC-level elements of the plot aren't predictable, which is where my lack of faith in the narrative I was originally thinking of.

Really, what this boils down to, is that I desperately need to sit down with the group and talk about this thing. A couple of our regulars have been unwell the last couple of sessions so there've been boardgames with stand-ins instead. But I don't want to start talking about this game when a. we're all in the middle of learning a new game and b. there are people there that I don't know and won't be playing Fate.

I really just need to get the game started before I lose all enthusiasm.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Testing Fate, Part 2: Combat and Socialising

I need better Aspects.

I need to be more active in compelling Aspects, and explaining why.

I need to remind players about Aspects, and about compelling them, and about using their own Aspects to improve (or replace) rolls.

I need to fill out the NPCs I've got, and I need to either write more encounters, or get better at making things up on the spot.

We played through the opening scene(s) of the game on Tuesday night, and the rest of what I'd written so far tonight. I think it went pretty well, overall - everyone seemed to get into the swing of things by the end, although my poor explanation of some of the less-obvious mechanics (which, for a group mostly used to 4e, is all of them) led to the list of necessary improvements above.

Combat flowed okay, but the bad guys were almost universally too easy (both in physical and mental combat); the players were surprised at how easily they dispatched the first set of enemies - with the exception of their leader, whose escape was laughably easy. I should have explained the concept of Conceding a conflict, and the other enemies should have been capable of absorbing more shifts before dropping. An all-minion mob makes for some epic hits, but rather a low-peril encounter.

Tonight's scenes ended up being a lot more socially-focused than I'd envisaged; after taking out one bad guy, a player managed to talk the other two down - a scenario I hadn't adequately planned for. I should have had a better idea of what they know and would be willing to say.

I ended up having to change a bunch of details on the fly, even to the point of retconning conversations and inserting player knowledge they didn't actually get to have the rest of the evening to flow smoothly, but everybody was aware of the beta nature of this playtest so it worked out okay.

I have even more notes tonight than I did previously, and a whole bunch of things to improve (as well as a massive gap in the story that's yet to be filled in), but I was a lot more comfortable and confident running the game tonight than I had been at the start of the week.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Testing Fate, Part 1: Character Creation

Last night was my first attempt playtesting the opening encounter from my Fate/Freeport game, as well as my first time running a session in the system with a party (I'd previously run through a single fight with Catherine just to see it in action).

It's been four years since I last ran a game of any sort, and I'd had the benefit of playing in a few 4e games before that to familiarise myself with the system. This was 90% an entirely new experience.

Character creation is a huge part of the Fate mechanics, more so than any other game I've played. The emphasis on narrative and your relationships with other (N)PCs is possibly even more important to the character you're building than the Race/Class decisions from 4e.

The liberty that Fate offers in its character building was one of the major attractions for me when I decided to start putting a game together, but it's also a paralysing blank slate for players (and DMs) familiar with more structured systems.

Boiling your character's backstory simple but flexible Aspects is a difficult thing to explain, but fortunately once we'd sat down and talked through the characters everyone seemed to catch on quickly.

(My primary issue with the Fate Core rulebook is its lack of general, informative examples; everything seems to be presented as more of a case study, sometimes too specific for widespread application.)

Skills were easy enough to fill in, although some of the players still haven't completed a full pyramid. I'm wondering if knocking the peak down to +3 instead of +4 would help - having to pick a full set of 10 skills is overwhelming, especially if you're new to the whole system and can't envisage how you're actually going to be interacting with the world and its inhabitants.

Stunts, even more than the other parts of the character sheet, are an overwhelming element for someone used to just picking Powers out of a list. Even the limitations given for defining Stunts - which can be reduced to "using a skill in a new way, which you can do sometimes, but not all the time, and not too powerful, but it should be worth taking" - are frustratingly vague, and it puts a lot of responsibility on the GM (and other players) to rein in power creep and improve on weak Stunts.

I'm still not an entirely confident Fate GM (after only one session that's hardly surprising) but I do feel a bit better about how to guide players in the right direction when building characters.

The main takeaway from last night's character creation and the opening encounter (which I'll be writing about more fully tomorrow) is that I need to do more to encourage players and offer better examples. If I'm running this game I need to be knowledgable enough to lead the party to effective Aspects and Stunts (and do a lot more to demonstrate their use in the game itself).

Thursday, February 06, 2014

Going to jinx it

Finally feel like I'm over the worst of this cold, but the last vestiges are proving difficult to shake off completely.

Had a fairly productive day at work today; a marked improvement over the first couple of days this week, spent starting blankly at a screen while my sleep-deprived brain struggled to comprehend how the internet works.

Got nothing done for Fate tonight, though. No feedback yet from my proof-readers, so nothing to tweak in the player's guide, and I think I'm as done with these first two chapters of gameplay as I'm going to be, without playtest experience.

Still have to figure out the third chapter and how to run the act finale, but letting those simmer for a couple of days is probably better than smacking my head off them much longer.

Wednesday, February 05, 2014

Getting real

I've been bugging my wife with campaign ideas for weeks now, but today I actually sent my campaign doc to people who haven't been directly involved in its development.

I'm kind of terrified; that I've left out a bunch of really obviously-important details that I've taken for granted; that it's riddled with spelling and grammatical errors; that the whole backstory is going to be horribly obvious (I know that at least one of them has seen the thing I'm ripping off wholesale for said backstory).

But at the same time, it's good to finally feel like it's in a place where it's ready to be seen.

I've also managed to get the first two "episodes" of the first story arc written up; the third one is still a blank so far, and the "season finale" is still just the bones of an outline, but I'm hesitant to get too deep into planning before I even know what characters my players want to be. Fate's heavy on the player story-hooks, so I don't want to leave those too late.

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

No Magic, No Gods

One of the limitations I've put on this Fate campaign - really the only D&D staple that I'm disallowing - is that there is no magic in the world, and the Gods (if they exist) do not make their presence felt in daily life.

By and large that's not a major mechanical issue - you still hit things with swords the same way, and a religious character's motivations won't even change that much. It's just that his chosen deity isn't going to directly smite targets as a result.

But where it's led me to something of a dead end is in dungeons.

In your typical fantasy setting, an ancient temple or crypt is a tempting target for a PC of any alignment - magical items and the chance to slay a lich are tough rewards to pass up, whether you want to rid the world of his evil or steal it for yourself.

Without that supernatural element, it's proving difficult to find realistic non-meta reasons for these crypts even existing in the first place, let alone motivating players to bother delving into a mineshaft for the promise of... money? Being nice people?

In the end, money's probably going to have to suffice as a carrot on the campaign stick, at least to begin with. I'm hoping this experiment lasts long enough for the stakes to get raised a bit, giving the characters less self-absorbed reasons to get into the spirit of things.

Monday, February 03, 2014

I should get a move on

In my head, I've telling myself it's been "a couple of years" since I started sketching out the bones of this Freeport-spinoff D&D (and now Fate) campaign. I never really gave it much thought, though - apart from the gnawing shame that I still hadn't started it, it didn't seem to matter.

But I just noticed that I have the Freeport book in my Google Drive, with a created date of June 2010. Which turns out to be nearly a month after I originally asked Andy Law if he had a reasonable-resolution digital copy of the map to hand (the physical thing, which I've bought since, was out of stock on Green Ronin's site); turns out I still have the PM on The Society.

Three and a half years is a long time to have been putting this thing off.

Lost for words

Two things stopped me from posting yesterday.

Firstly, the cold I've been struggling with decided to properly kick my ass and I've had maybe six hours sleep in total since I woke up on Friday morning. Not conducive to writing.

Secondly, Phillip Seymour Hoffman was found dead in his apartment. I'm not one to go in for celebrity mourning, but this one hit me like a kick in the chest. Even hours later, seeing each headline and obituary and tweet felt like another kick.

(The only other celebrity death that I can remember affecting me like this was Neil Armstrong.)

I haven't seen all of PSH's work; haven't even seen some of his top-drawer stuff. I know him mostly from The Big Lebowski and Magnolia and MI:3. I've never seen Boogie Nights or Synechdoche, New York, although I'll be attempting to rectify that soon.

It seems selfish to think of his death mostly in terms of the performances and characters and films we'll never see. But that's the closest most of us ever got to him, through the honesty and vulnerability he was willing to bare on-screen.

Saturday, February 01, 2014


This cold has chosen today to well and truly kick my ass, ably assisted by a totally sleepless eight hours last night.

So, have a break from my Fate ramblings.