Friday, December 7, 2012

FATE Core Kickstarter: Fantasy Adventure

So, I happen to be involved with this little thing:

FATE Core Kickstarter

If you clicked that link, you will see that they have blasted past their goal by an unbelievable number. The cool thing is that my contribution to this project was at the $3k level, which has totally been left in the dust. I'm already working on the "fantasy adventure," and I thought I'd describe it a bit more than the Kickstarter does.

My assignment was literally that simple: write a fantasy adventure that uses FATE Core, about 10k-20k words. Everything else was left up to me.

I did get a preview of the Core rules, and the running examples all use a fantasy setup. I'm basing my adventure on this, but I decided to go a bit old-school sword-and-sorcery on it, inspired by Fritz Lieber and Robert E. Howard, pulp fantasists that I enjoy. Once I started down that path, I remembered Howard's Conan story The Tower of the Elephant, a tale of adventure and thievery sitting right where I want this fantasy adventure to be.

I'm not going to reveal too much about this, that's for Kickstarter backers! Here is a quick (unedited) taste of the intro:

They say the Palace of Hadrin is one of the seven wonders of the world. It rises 300 feet, its sheer porphyry walls without seam or mortar, its walls overtopped by minarets and domes made of crystal. Constructed in ancient times by methods lost to modern craftsmen, the Palace was once home to the Satrap of Sarnac. Travelers from all reaches of the world come to the city of Riverton just to gaze upon it. In the days since Sarnac's destruction it became home to the local Governor. The bulk and height of the Palace leaves a whole district on the north side in permanent shadow, a place where the sun never touches. They call this place Darkside, and no travelers come here. Or if they do, they never come out again.
 Darkside is a sprawling slum, a shantytown where a life can be bought for only a few copper coins. The Governor's men do not go there unless in numbers more suited to a raiding party in wartime than keepers of the peace. Darkside's streets are occasionally convulsed with gang warfare, and in those times blood runs ankle deep in the muddy streets. This is not one of those times. Hugo the Charitable rules there now, his Scar Triad thugs walking unopposed. None dare challenge him, even the Governor seems content with Hugo’s rule over this den of thieves.
 At the very center of this vile pit stands a tower, the Tower of the Serpents. Older than the Palace, older than the city, it is made of an unknown material, white and hard as steel. The tower's single spire rises nearly as high as the Palace walls, twin entwining serpents carved curling up the tower's sides. A sorcerer lives there, they say, and this rumor seems likely true. The tower has a garden around it that grows despite the lack of sun, and strange lights shine from the upper rooms at night. No one is ever seen entering or leaving the place, and the single gate in the garden wall never opens. Darksiders say that on moonless nights you can hear the loathsome flutter of unholy wings from the top of the tower, and perhaps it is by this conveyance that the sorcerer comes and goes.
 They also say the tower holds a treasure of incalculable value.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

L5R to AW: The Seven Thunders

I ran the AW hack at DexCon last weekend, and so I put together seven characters. The way they work is that each character has a list of moves off an archetype, such as bushi, shugenja, courtier, or monk. In addition, each character also has some moves they can buy from their school of training, like Hida bushi or Bayushi courtier. The school moves must be bought in order, you can't skip over Rank 2 & 3 to buy the Rank 4 move.

The Seven Thunders are advanced characters, so I let the players take seven advances. This made for some pretty kick-ass characters, but that was appropriate for the game. I also strategically highlighted each characters' best ring, in hopes of getting some good advancement in play, which we seemed to get. Our scenario played out nicely, very much like the canon story, thanks to the input from one of our players who knew the L5R lore backwards and forwards.

Combined with the basic move sheets I've already posted, you can pretty much make an L5R character with the material that's up on the blog now. If you pick a school that doesn't have any moves yet, you'd have to make your own. You will also see the characters from our regular home game below, who have some other schools, including the merchant archetype if you want to play a Yasuki. If there is a move or item that is different between the Seven Thunders and the home characters, use the Seven Thunders version, those are the tweaked ones based on play experience. On of the bushi moves, the Mountain Fall Upon You, has changed, as has katana damage.

The last piece is the the honor and love moves, which are included with the Thunders below. The new list of basic & advanced moves includes these, now. There have been some minor tweaks to these, especially in the Battle of Words move, now the Negotiate at Court move.

A tip for running this: offering a loss of face as a hard choice worked great, and made the players think really hard about what they were going to do. It's a powerful arrow in the MC quiver for this hack.

I'd love to see other people's take on this hack, if you come up with school moves, please post in comments or send PDFs directly to me for posting.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Grandaddy, ERB, and Me: A Love Letter to Pulp

I was only three years old when my grandfather died of lung cancer. I really don't remember him. My Mom had a lot of pictures and he's always smiling. I've got a nice one of him from the fifties, he's dressed in a short-sleeve button-up shirt and sporting a Walt Disney mustache. He looks very cool. He and my Mom were close, and she has often told me how she regrets Grandaddy didn't live long enough for me to know him. I wear a ring with his initials on my pinky (my hands are bigger than his, the pinky is the only finger it will fit on). His name was Lorin Polk Nunneley.

I'm thinking a lot about him this week because of a movie that's coming out on Friday called John Carter. John Carter is based on the pulp novel A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs, originally serialized as Under the Moons of Mars in 1912.

When I was around 10 or so, we were living on the same street as my grandmother and I visited her house often. That's when I discovered the shelves of books in the guest bedroom. I was a voracious reader and I was always looking for something new. Here was a huge collection of first-edition hardback pulps, everything Edgar Rice Burroughs ever wrote. Grandaddy had collected them. Grandmother told me he used to go down to the bookstore as soon as a new ERB book was published and buy it immediately. It was a treasure trove for a reading kid.

I didn't read in chronological order. I started in with the Pellucidar series, still my favorite: Tales of a land in the center of earth, home to dinosaurs, cavemen, and sabertooth tigers. After that, I read Tarzan and its sequels. Then I moved on to the John Carter series, set on a fantasy Mars with four-armed green aliens and beautiful princesses.

By the time I was 14, I had plowed through the entire collection. Burroughs was an amazingly prolific author, and I can't say all of these are particularly good. They are certainly a bit silly, but coming to them as a preteen and early teen, I was the target audience. I was probably close to the same age Grandaddy was when he started to buy the books. Reading through my grandfather's collection gave me with a lifelong affection for the stories.

In some way, reading through this collection made me feel a connection to Grandaddy. I feel closer to him, even though I never knew him, thanks to a shared fandom. Because I share this with him, it means I will continue to stay interested and loyal to these books, and go see movie adaptations no matter how bad they are. I regret never being able to know him. I'm sure he would have loved many of the things I enjoyed as a boy, like Star Wars, maybe even Dungeons & Dragons, and I'm pretty sure he would be thrilled with my work as a game designer. He helped shape my life even though he was not physically present, through the fiction he enjoyed and left for me to discover.

Love you, Grandaddy. Thanks for the adventures.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Dreamation After-Action Report

And, man, do I mean action! This was an action-packed convention, thanks to Bulldogs! and the new Marvel Heroic RPG.

I signed up to run a crazy number of games, five in all. This is definitely my limit. Two sessions were playtests of my medieval politics game-in-development, The Art of Power. The first went well but didn't really stretch the system much. The second was much more intense. We tried several things the rules didn't support very well, which is great, and I had the inestimable Rob Donoghue as one of my players. After the game was over, he joined me for dinner and we had a great discussion about the rules, with many wonderful ideas tossed around. As he put it after the game, "I think you've got a solid core here, but now I'm going to take a fire axe to it."

This gave me a clear idea for future development, but lots more work to do. Also, this game is definitely going in a card-game direction. That opens up a lot of headaches for printing and sourcing. I will be digging into those issues as I go along.

The other three games I ran were Bulldogs!, all using the Getting There Is Half the Fun scenario, set on the planet of Arsubar and involving a missing cargo. It was loads of fun, and my method of running the game with a random choice from 10 different characters always makes it a unique experience, since I never end up with the same crew. Different players bring a different flavor each time, as well. We ran into one minor issue in the first game when one player felt seriously blocked, but a good conversation between players quickly resolved the situation and the same player got to be completely heroic and badass in a subsequent scene, so all was well.

I also got a chance to play in a few games. Kevin Allen Jr.'s Trouble for Hire is basically an action movie in the style of the 1970s and 80s, with a single protagonist. The game shares the GM tasks out among the other players, and periodically everyone switches roles. It was really interesting and fun, and we created a great story that felt just like an action movie. This game is doing just what it intends. I wanted to play because Kevin was interested in publishing Trouble for Hire through Galileo Games, and after having a session of the game I'm really excited to be on board.

I also played in a session of Bulldogs! run by Jared Axelrod. This was super fun, I rarely get a chance to play in my own games, I'm usually running them instead, so just diving in with the character of "Big" Brunda Margab, Hacragorkan cargo loader, was a lot of fun. Jared presented a nicely crafted little adventure with some zombism, some space pirates, and a fleet of Templar warships. It was awesome, but we were all pretty incurious and relatively stupid characters, and all the backstory he prepared was ignored in favor of ass-kicking. In Bulldogs!, that's probably as it should be.

The last RPG I was in was the new Marvel Heroic RPG run by John Stavropoulos. John is a super high-energy GM, and we had a great time with the game. I played as Colossus and managed to absorb most of the damage laid out during the session, even when it was meant for someone else. I also leaped into the East River in metal form to rescue a drowning villain, who returned the favor by feeding off my mutant nature to try to kill me. It was epic!

The last thing I did was squeeze in a demo of Velociraptor! Cannibalism!, a card game designed by some friends of mine. It is very goofy fun, and I've contributed to their Kickstarter. I suggest you do the same, it's a lot of fun.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Art of Power: Successful Playtest

I got a chance to playtest The Art of Power last month at the Meetup of Doom. My three playtesters, all game designers, took to it pretty quickly and most of the mechanics behaved just how I wanted them to. I'm pretty confident at this point that things are on the right track.

I'm going to be running a couple more sessions over the weekend at Dreamation, which will hopefully put some final polish on the initial playtest rules. The next step after this is to finish writing them up and get them out to some select groups of outside playtesters.

I'm so excited about the game that I've already started working with an artist and the playtest materials are going to have some great art. They will be pretty finished looking, actually. I definitely got ahead of my usual schedule on this one.

Friday, January 13, 2012

The Art of Power: Design Conundrum

I'm working on a new game for this year, working title The Art of Power. I've got a little practical design issue I'm running into.

In the game, I have four attributes and they are associated with the four suits on playing cards.

The attributes are:
Violence, Authority, Affection, and Influence

These map metaphorically to the card suits, at least in my mind: Spades (originally swords) is Violence, clubs is Authority (club relating the the scepter), Affection is naturally hearts, and Influence is diamonds (or coins, since money falls in this category).

This is great, pretty logical, but runs into a problem. The order in which I list these above is the proper hierarchy in the game, but when mapped to the suits this goes against the standard suit hierarchy of card games (spades, hearts, diamonds, clubs). I could remap the attributes, but that separates hearts from Affection, which will seem counter-intuitive to a lot of players, but I am also worried that changing the standard card hierarchy makes things difficult, since many players will be familiar with this.


Monday, January 9, 2012

L5R to AW: Updates

It's been more than a little while since I posted anything regarding my L5R to AW hack. I had been thinking about attending 11/11/11 and running it there, which would have prompted me to do a lot more work on it, but unexpected family business sent me on a trip that weekend. My L5R group hasn't met since October, either, and it's definitely been out of my mind. The good news for those of you waiting for more info is that we meet again this month, so I will have some fresh motivation to work on this.

The bad news is that I've got a big, aggressive publication schedule this year for Galileo Games, so I may not have much time for projects that can't ever be legally published! I'll post what I can, maybe a playbook or two over the next two weeks, when I can squeeze it in. Bear with me!

[This post prompted by a New Year's Eve conversation with my L5R players. On a recent visit to Chicago, they ran into someone from a podcast I won't name, who complained about the long wait for me to post more info on this topic. As the conversation went on, my players gradually realized that the topic was their own game. Anyway, if you are interested in what I'm doing here and want more, make sure you comment! When I post files and hear nothing, I assume nobody's reading. :) ]