Help or Hindrance?

Played a great sesh of Savage Worlds last night. It was a playtest of a sci fi scenario that’s getting run out at the Seven Hills Con soon, so no spoilers here.

I haven’t played Savage for absolutely ages. Back when it was all fresh and new I played and ran the heck out of it. It’s a system I have huge fondness for, and respect too. One of the things that really stood out for me last night was how uncomplicated it was to use our Hindrances, and get Bennies (for those who don’t know SW, Hindrances are your basic disadvantages, sometimes mechanically, sometimes roleplayey. Bennies are tokens for getting good stuff).

With all the head scratching I’ve been doing with Fate recently (and I know I’m not alone in that), especially around compels, it’s been very refreshing to see how it works under a more trad system. And why should it feel so different? After all, they’re essentially the same thing. A Hindrance is an Aspect when you look at it. As players we used them a lot, and suggested others use them too, just as Fate says you should for Compels. But, for some reason, it doesn’t flow as readily with Fate as it did with last nights Savage game.

So why? Couple of possible reasons. One, Hindrances are short, snappy, and do what they say on the tin. Often, Fate troubles are phrases, or suffer from being too poetic. One of the guys had “Curious” last night. That’s a perfectly good aspect too of course, it’s just that I don’t think it would ever get thought up in chargen. It’s almost too basic maybe?

Second, we’ve all been playing Fate recently, so maybe that got us more in the mood for playing up those characterful bits. Also, we were all very comfortable with Savage, so knew we weren’t going to be asked to carry much if any of the narrative weight that Fate would ask us to do.

Lessons for me and my WW2 game? I’m making the Trouble aspect way easier to invent in the first place, by providing lists of examples, presented in a similar way to that of trad games disadvantages. I’m also tying Troubles to the High Concept. I also want to make them easier to engage with too, by making the Fate Point flow much… flowier. I’ve got some mechanical ideas for that.

A good game last night, for dice rolling fun reasons as well as for game design rumination reasons. Go Savage!

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Under the Skin

I started my WW2 Fate game by reskinning a few things. By the end, it turns out nothing has survived unscathed. Here’s what’s changed so far:

Aspects = traits
Skills = talents
Stunts = knacks
Situation = scenario
Fate points = Luck points
Stress = harm
Consequences = injuries
Boost = edge

Pretty much all the skills (talents) are something different now too.

Some nomenclature changes are quite subtle. Instead of “invoke” or “compel” I use the term “use”. Some changes are more fundamental, like the skill ladder that now has terms like “first rate” and “so-so”.

Why go to all the bother? Mostly personal preference, but I think it gives my game it’s own flavour. It’s all a bit more British and try’s to capture the parlance of the 40s.

The downside is that Fate veterans have changes to internalise, but frankly every Fate iteration brings changes. At least these ones are clear and obvious.

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The setting for my game in two volumes

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March 15, 2014 · 8:43 pm

War Stories Update

Work on War Stories continues apace. I’m hammering the Fate system into something that’s turning out to be much lighter than most offerings currently out there. This is deliberate, and actually something that’s turning out to be easier than I first imagined. I’m essentially writing out the game afresh, but in the style I would use if I were describing it to a Con audience. Everyone already does this; see a whole bunch of helpful explanatory threads on the ‘net. I do think the official Fate books do a pretty good job of telling you how the game works already, but they do take their time (and word count) doing it.

( I was having a half-joking conversation over G+ when playing Mindjammer about how so many books seem to think extra pages of verbiage are ‘value for money’. There are Kickstarters that put extra chapters in as stretch goals. Frankly, I’d pay more money to cut some stuff!)

The key concepts benefit from simpler explanation, with some examples. I don’t intend on giving loads of advice on writing aspects for example. Instead, I’ll provide strong guidance, and some inspirational lists. Similarly, I want the game to start soon as possible, so my game has the High concept and Trouble aspects blended together, and the Phase Trio is generated in the first three sessions rather than as flashbacks.

I’ve even streamlined the dice. Mine don’t have ‘blanks’. You could use coins in a pinch.

When I visualise my game, I see it in the form of a slim softback, like an exercise book. The classic Moldvay edition of Basic D&D is my touchstone here. 64 pages, no waste, infinite possibilities. If I can’t get a system and setting into something like that kind of pagecount, I’m doing something wrong.

In order to get that done, I’m not making this game too generic. Yes, it’s about WW2, and yes, I’ll include tasters for non-standard campaigns, but I’m concentrating on plucky Brits in battle. I could of, and might still, have made the default more American (as in Band of Brothers), but actually I want to give a strong focus to my game and sticking with something ‘local’ helps with that.

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War Stories research

I planned to spend this evening researching and writing for War Stories. Trouble is, I was looking at the chapter on running comedy war stories. Which meant checking in on Dads Army, Allo Allo and It Ain’t Half Hot Mum.

Writing lost out. “Oh dear, how sad, never mind”

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Getting your setting

Whenever I pick up another 400 page setting my heart sinks a little. It’s not the length so much as the dry read it promises. Like reading the Wikipedia entry on your holiday destination.

As I’m writing a straight up WW2 game, I run the risk of doing something similar. So, what I want to do is make it about stories rather than about facts and figures. When it comes to research, I’m both lucky and cursed that my subject is so well covered. Whenever I’m overwhelmed, I turn to the kids section.

I first learned this technique years ago when I remember being a bit baffled as to what exactly was going on in the war that was tearing up the old Yugoslavia. I tuned into the kids show Newsround by accident. In just a few minutes I was completely up to speed. Note, none of this was dumbed down in any way. It was just relayed simply, clearly and with the facts in order.
For my War game, I’m currently reading this for inspiration, and inspiring it is. You can pick it up on Kindle for a quid, and trust me, this is the book I wish Stalingrad had been.

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After this I’m diving into Horrible Histories.

RPGs should take more lessons from books for teenagers really. They shouldn’t be work, or study, they should facilitate playing the game. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: if you want to play Eberron, don’t grab all the big campaign books. Instead spend a couple of quid on The Adventurers Guide to Eberron, which is basically a hardback brochure for the game. Add your system, and off you go. Your campaign will be no worse, and probably much better, than anything ‘official’.

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The Fate of War Stories

Ok so I’ve been noodling with my nascent WW2 game for ages now. It stalled a few months back due to work pressures, but they seem to be easing off a bit now.

The time to reflect has been helpful. I’ve now decided to NOT make this a unique, standalone game. I’m going to tether it to an Open game system: Fate Core.

Reasons? Fate will tell my War stories better than any system I would write. Fight Fire by Jason Morningstar and Leonard Balsera shows what can be done with a similar set up.

And really, I want to walk my own talk and concentrate in delivering adventure material into a poor market, rather than more system into a crowded one.

Decision made.

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