Monster Mash Meets the Martians: It’s TinyFate Adventures, come and join the fun

Yesterday, I finally introduced some of my non-gamer friends to roleplaying. It was a long time coming. They’d known I played for a while and they were excited to try it out, but I felt a fair amount of pressure to make their first roleplaying experience fun enough so that they’d want to play again.

I think I can say that my mission was a success, and that we’ll definitely be playing again. In fact, I’d recommend the game we played as a great introduction to new roleplayers.

This is Monster Mash Meets the Martians, a TinyFate adventure.

The criteria

When working out what I was going to run for my friends, I had the following criteria:

  • The game needed to be something with a very simple ruleset, so that it could be explained and understood in just a few minutes and wouldn’t bog down the actual gameplay.
  • I needed to be able to easily pre-generate characters ahead of time, because I didn’t want to introduce the group to character creation at the same time as roleplaying.
  • The characters needed to be instantly recognised and easily played. This was particularly important because the non-gamers in question have very different pop cultural interests. None of them are familiar with standard D&D tropes, for example, and only a couple of them know much about superheroes.
  • Then, once the players have got a handle on their characters, they needed to be able to put their own spin on how they wanted to play them.

The ruleset

My go-to system for new character-focussed games is Fate Core, but that’s far too complicated for new players. That’s why I was delighted to discover Rob Donoghue’s tiniest Fate hack: TinyFate.

TinyFate is an aspects-only version of Fate with one rule: Each time you roll the dice, the first aspect you invoke is invoked without cost.

Beautiful! I love it.

There are two main problems with TinyFate, however. First, it requires an understanding of Fate Core. Second, it isn’t a complete hack on its own. For example, TinyFate character creation mentions nothing about stress or consequences. Either it’s not supposed to include them, in which case there needs to be an explanation about how attack shifts work, or it needs to say what stress and consequence slots characters have.

My solution was to hack TinyFate. That is, hack the tiniest Fate hack.

I’ll post my full ruleset in another post, but the following were the major changes I made:

  • The only action in the game is Create an advantage. You can create new aspects, change aspects already in play, or put extra free invokes on existing aspects. Aspects can be on the player characters, other characters, the setting, etc. Aspects on other characters can even replace consequences or take them out of the game (e.g. ‘Broken robots’). The only aspects that can’t be changed are ones on the players’ character sheets.
  • Fate Points spent on a roll are given to the opposing player at the end of the contest. (This is an idea borrowed from Smallville.)
  • There are no Challenges, Contests or Conflicts, just single Create-an-advantage rolls. These can be opposed by the GM or another player. There is no negotation after rolling: one player (or the GM) sets the difficulty by invoking every aspect they want to, then the other player tries to equal or exceed this difficulty.
  • There are no boosts. Ties on a roll count as a success for the active participant. The GM is never considered the active participant for this rule.

This is a much simpler game than Fate Core. The rules fit on two sides of A4, including examples. It might not be as tiny as the original TinyFate, but it does work as a game in its own right.

The characters

Having decided what system I was going to use, I had to write up some characters. I decided to go with classic movie monsters from the Universal Studios stable, edging more towards “Monster Mash” than gothic horror. Something goofy and light-hearted and fun.

I trawled deviantArt for some pictures and generated nine characters. I scrapped Rob Donoghue’s recommendations for what aspects should be used on. I figured that player characters would need more than five aspects, as there are now fewer other traits to rely on. I used six aspects per player character.

Here are the character sheets that I created:

Frankenstein. Monster given life by mad science. Prone to being struck by lightning. The strong silent type. “Rrrr… Alone, bad. Friend, good!” Bad with crowds. There's no place like homeBride. Patchwork woman. Wide-eyed intensity. Generates electric sparks. Nothing better than a good book. Scream l ike a banshee. Nobody can tell me what to doCount Dracula. Father of vampires. Old-fashioned aristocrat. 19th century opera capes never go out of style. Countess Zaleska. Dracula's vampire Gill-creature. Prehistoric fish-person. Last of its kind. Water heals all wounds. I want to be where the people are. Implacable hunter. Escape artistIgor. Hunchbacked servant. Imhotep. Resurrected Egyptian high priest. Afraid of cats. Living corpse wrapped in bandages. Left my heart in Memphis (but I keep my other organs beside the sarcophagus). Faster than I look. Curse of the MummyL Talbot. Part wolf, part human. Howls at the moon: “Arrooo!” Feral instincts. Big and fluffy. Paws with claws. Cursed by a witchQueen Tera. Ruler of all Egypt. An ancient soul in a fresh young body. Slept 3000 years in a sarcophagus. Fond of cats. Used to being in charge. Astral projection

The story

I don’t like to prepare a story ahead of time. I lean more towards the Apocalypse World mantra of “Play to find out what happens”. However, since I was going to be running the game for people completely unfamiliar with roleplaying, I thought it would be a good idea to have a plot outline that I could introduce to keep things moving.

That’s where the Martians come in.

The basic story is that the monsters are all living together in a gothic castle near some isolated village. (‘Gothic castle’ is a good aspect to start out on the table, as is ‘Dark and stormy night’.) I asked leading questions to determine what the day-to-day life of the monsters was like, and to ease the players into contributing. Somehow, e.g. in a newspaper, the characters learn that there is a ‘Masquerade ball’ in the village where there are ‘Fabulous prizes to be won’ for the best costume. (If the Gill-creature is present, the ball should be on or near a local body of water.)

At the ball, there are various weird and wonderful people. It’s full of ‘Oblivious villagers’, but there’s also the Lost in Space-style robots in trenchcoats and fedoras and Groucho glasses (that is, ‘Robots in disguise’) and the small fish-like alien (the ‘Little Green Man’, who looks very similar to the Gill-creature).

After a while, it will become apparent that the Little Green Man really is an alien (I recommend a voice like Marvin the Martian) who has come to Earth searching for real monsters to be exhibits in his haunted house on Mars. The Robots in disguise are working for the Little Green Man.

After that, I tend to run with whatever the players give me. I’ve run the game three times now. The first game featured the monsters leading an ‘Angry mob’ with ‘Torches and pitchforks’ to a ‘Flying saucer’ in the woods, and eventually destroying the local brewery that was the only competition for Igor’s wine-making. The second game featured a dance off between ‘Damned Van Helsing’ and Dracula, an Egyptian ‘Pyramid spaceship’, and a sparkly alien vampire ‘Queen of Mars’ who eventually moved into the castle. The game yesterday, with players completely new to roleplaying, had the player characters as contestants in ‘Monster Big Brother’, two disembodied hands, a War of the Worlds-style ‘Tripod’ machine that was always ‘Falling with style’, and an E.T. alien resurrected by Imhotep.

I confess that the game tends towards the wacky. But it’s also a lot of fun and a great introduction to new players. If you ever give it a try, let me know how it goes!

Credits

Images were taken, without permission, from:

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8 thoughts on “Monster Mash Meets the Martians: It’s TinyFate Adventures, come and join the fun

  1. David Bowers October 6, 2015 / 3:43 pm

    Hi! Cool ideas! Thanks a lot for sharing them. One question: how do you get by only using “create an advantage”? How do you determine the result of an actual conflict or something? My guess is that the “advantage” you get at the end of the roll is actually, in effect, a consequence. The advantage I gain over the evil robot is that it’s broken and I’m not, right? Or did you have something else in mind?

    Like

    • Stephen October 7, 2015 / 10:37 am

      Hi! Thanks for the comment. You’re exactly right. You can put aspects on other characters that become effectively a consequence. In fact, in one of the games I ran, one of the players used the advantage you suggest by putting “broken robots” on the robots in disguise. I’ll update the post to clarify that.

      Like

      • David Bowers October 10, 2015 / 7:01 am

        Hey again, I’ve been thinking about this question since I read your post. It seems to me that using Create an Advantage to take the place of everything else makes a certain sense, but then it’s not quite Create an Advantage anymore. It’s more like Add/Change/Remove an Aspect or something. It works very similarly to Create an Advantage, but it would be worth spelling out the differences. It also means every time we roll the dice, we’ll be editing an aspect, which is fine if that’s what’s best for the game. Is that what’s best, do you think? When you play, do you never just roll the dice to see what happens, without changing any aspects?

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      • Stephen October 10, 2015 / 8:19 am

        In my actual rules reference, I did describe it as Adding or Changing an aspect. I only referred to it as Create an advantage here as shorthand for existing Fate players.

        I confess that a few times I did just roll dice to find out what happens instead of creating aspects, but this was because things were moving fast and the rules had slipped my mind. It wasn’t a conscious decision that changing aspects wasn’t necessary. I do thing consistency about doing stuff with aspects after a roll is important for this game.

        Like

      • David Bowers October 10, 2015 / 8:28 am

        Yes, I see. You’re right that it’s helpful to write all the aspects down. On the other hand though, sometimes you do get caught up in the atmosphere of the game and you don’t really want to stop to do bookkeeping right in the middle of that. Besides, sometimes the aspect will be something like, “dead” or “unlocked” or whatever: basically just a signpost that we’re done with this particular element in the fiction.

        One way to deal with this might be to tell your players that *not all* aspects need to be written down to be valid; we only need to write down the ones that are relevant to us. If you rolled to unlock the door to get into the vault, then it’s “unlocked” and everyone knows that even if you don’t write it down. If, however, later on when the guards come by, the fact that you’ve left it unlocked makes it easier for them to see that something is wrong and jump in to catch you, you could just write it down then, because that’s when it becomes relevant to the moment of play.

        Like

      • Stephen October 10, 2015 / 9:18 am

        Yeah, that’s true. I like that idea. Thanks!

        Like

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