Fate of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Part 2: Heroes in a half-shell (player stats)

Four Ninjas and a Reporter by samuraiblack from DeviantArt

In my last blog post, I said that I’ve been pondering how to run a roleplaying game based on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT). I want my game to have the four main turtles as player characters, and getting those characters right is vital for the game to work.

In this blog post, I adapt the four titular protagonists of the franchise to the rules of The Three Rocketeers, the World of Adventure for Fate Core that I am using for the TMNT game. Write-ups for these heroes, in the form of proto-PCs (incomplete characters that can be customised by players), are included at the end of the post, along with PDF character sheets. Feedback is welcomed and encouraged!

Proto-PCs: Balancing recognisability with customisability

The protagonists of The Three Musketeers (all four of them, including D’Artagnan) are iconic characters with distinct personalities, but adaptations have interpreted them in myriad ways over the years. When translating the characters to a roleplaying game, it doesn’t matter which interpretation you use, as long as they are recognisable as the iconic characters they are based on. When I played as Porthos in a Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE) campaign, my version of the character had no aspects, stunts or backstory in common with Michael Porthos from The Three Rocketeers, but they were fundamentally the same character and recognisable as such.

The four teenage mutant ninja turtles (Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo) have the same issue. They are iconic and broadly similar across most incarnations (Leonardo leads and Donatello generally does machines, etc.), but the details vary between versions. And there have been a lot of different versions. As of the writing of this blog post, there are six movies, three cartoons, two anime, a live action series, numerous video games and toylines, and decades of comic issues by at least four regular publishers. Not to mention other strangeness like the concert tour and the licensed RPG.

Although I have my own preferences, I don’t want to use any specific version of the characters in my game. I want to give players the flexibility to interpret the characters how they want, drawing inspiration from their favourite adaptations, and having a strong sense of ownership over their versions of the turtles. I felt that sense of ownership over Porthos, and it was one of the best things about playing him (also, he’s awesome).

However, there needs to be a balance between giving the players freedom to interpret their characters and restricting them in order to keep the team cohesive and consistent. More than the Musketeers, the TMNT must have their shared backstory to make sense: four pet turtles were mutated by some ooze, then taught ninjutsu by Splinter, a mutant rat who raised them like his sons. Their closeness is one of the main selling points of the franchise, so it’s important to retain it.

Where this balance lies depends on how long a campaign I am planning. For one-offs, I would probably lean to the side of restriction by pre-generating whole characters. For long open-ended campaigns, I’d probably unleash the players to do whatever they wanted, but I’ll talk more about that in a later post.

For most campaign lengths, though, the balance is somewhere in the middle. I’ll partially generate the characters, giving players an idea of their main traits but letting them flesh out the details by filling in the blanks. (The Atomic Robo RPG refers to such incomplete characters as “proto-PCs”. I hope the term catches on.)

Most of the rest of this post will be me talking through the construction of my TMNT proto-PCs. If you aren’t interested in all of that, the “completed” proto-PCs are at the end of the post, along with a downloadable PDF.

Aspects: “They’re heroes in the half-shell, and they’re green”

Characters in The Three Rocketeers have six aspects instead of the usual five in Fate Core. These six aspects include a Rocketeer aspect (instead of a High Concept), a Trouble, a Swordplay aspect and a Family aspect, plus two open aspects.

In a TMNT game, I would convert these into a Ninja Turtle aspect, a Trouble, and a Fighting Style, with three open aspects. Family is certainly a key part of the TMNT franchise, and I’d recommend that at least one open aspect reflects it in some way, but it’s not relevant in the same sense as the Family aspect in The Three Rocketeers, which is more about lineage and social class. That’s important for a Musketeers-inspired game, but not for a TMNT one.

In creating these aspects, I want to shape the characters’ personalities, roles, and fighting styles without enforcing a specific interpretation. That is, the aspects should work for multiple versions of the characters. Sometimes this is easy, sometimes it’s more complicated, but I’ve done my best.

Ninja Turtle

The Ninja Turtle aspect gives a high-level sense of the character and how they fit into the team. It’s like a High Concept in every way that counts, but it must refer to the character being a ninja turtle. Given The Three Rocketeers‘ method of counting relevant aspects to determine modifiers to dice rolls, it’s important to have a ninja turtle aspect so that it can be used whenever the characters do something appropriate to being either a ninja or a turtle (vanish into shadows, acrobatic rooftop races, martial arts showdowns with menacing villains, blocking weapons with shells, etc.). As in The Three Rocketeers, this aspect is worth +2 instead of +1 when working out roll modifiers.

  • Leonardo: Dedicated Leader of the Ninja Turtles
  • Raphael: A Teenage Rebel Ninja Turtle
  • Donatello: The Smartest Ninja Turtle In The Room
  • Michelangelo: I Love Being a Ninja Turtle

Trouble

The Trouble aspect represents a personal flaw of the characters, which can complicate their lives (and generate fate points).

  • Leonardo: I Will Never Be Good Enough
  • Raphael: Anger Issues
  • Donatello: Wants To Fix Everything
  • Michelangelo: Big Goofball

Fighting Style

Since the turtles don’t all use swords, I’ve renamed the Swordplay aspect as a general Fighting Style aspect. This can cover their trademark weapons and their favoured approaches to conflict.

  • Leonardo: The Sword is the Soul of the Warrior
  • Raphael: First in the Fray
  • Donatello: Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick
  • Michaelangelo: The Nunchuck Is Quicker Than The Eye

Fighting Stunts: “They’re the world’s most fearsome fighting team”

Fighting Stunts are made of four elements, just like Swordplay Stunts in The Three Rocketeers. However, whereas the Swordplay Stunts use the elements Appearance, Edge, Main Hand, and Off Hand, the four elements in a TMNT game are Weapon, Shinobi-jutsu, Edge, and Teamwork. These reflect the four facets of the group, as warriors, ninjas, heroes, and brothers.

Weapon

The TMNT are trained warriors, each one specialising in the use of a signature weapon. Since these weapons are all used in pairs or two-handed, this stunt element replaces both the Main Hand and Off Hand elements from The Three Rocketeers.

  • Katanas: Weapon:1.
  • Sais: When you succeed with style on an attack and reduce your damage by 1 shift to get a boost, you can create a Disarmed situation aspect with a free invocation instead of a boost.
  • Bo staff: Gain +1 on your next defend roll when you succeed on defence.
  • Nunchucks: When you succeed with style on defence, you may deal a 2-shift physical hit instead of gaining a boost.

Shinobi-jutsu

As ninjas, the turtles are trained not only in battle and stealth, but in a variety of other shinobi arts that they can apply to combat.

  • Meditation: When you take time to centre yourself and create an advantage named Focused, gain +3 instead of +2 when you invoke it in the coming fight.
  • Intimidation: Gain +1 to create an advantage when threatening others, either explicitly or implicitly (e.g. spinning your sais).
  • Redirection: Gain +1 to create an advantage when you use an enemy’s momentum or mass against it (e.g. using your bo staff to trip enemies).
  • Misdirection: Gain +1 to create an advantage when confounding your enemies by moving swiftly and unpredictably (e.g. backflips).

Edge

As in The Three Rocketeers, each character gets an Edge for their innate talents, which reflect their distinctive personalities.

  • Patient: Gain +1 to your next attack when you succeed on defence.
  • Tough: Armour:1.
  • Clever: Gain +1 to overcome actions that rely on scientific knowledge.
  • Vexing: Your opponent does not gain a boost when you tie on a defence action.

Teamwork

The TMNT are, perhaps most importantly of all, brothers. They squabble sometimes, but they are a solid team and they always have each others’ backs… uh, shells.

  • Responsible: When one of your brothers in the same zone as you is attacked, gain a +1 to defend when you interpose yourself to become the target of the attack.
  • Protective: Gain +1 to attack an enemy who successfully attacked one of your brothers and caused that brother to take stress or a consequence that is still marked on their sheet.
  • Supportive: When you fight shell-to-shell with one or more of your brothers in the same zone, you can take a -1 penalty to attack rolls to grant them a +1 to all defend rolls against physical attacks.
  • Useful: Your brothers gain +3 instead of +2 when using free invocations on any aspects you create as part of a teamwork action.

Filling the blanks

And that’s everything we need to make the TMNT proto-PCs. At the end of this blog post, I’ve written out what the proto-PCs look like when they’re all brought together. You can also download pdf versions, which can be printed and filled out by the players.

To turn these proto-PCs into fully fledged player characters, each turtle will also need three more aspects, and at least one other stunt (like normal stunts in Fate Core, but not referring to Skills). Players can even choose to buy more stunts out of their refresh, which has a default value of 3.

Regarding the three open aspects, here are some suggestions to help get players inspired. This is obviously not complete, and since these are only options for players, some aspects may refer to specific versions of the characters.

  • Leo bears the responsibility so that we don’t have to
  • There’s nobody better than Raph to fight with
  • Donatello makes the best stuff
  • Michelangelo always makes me laugh (but don’t tell him I said that)
  • Leonardo doesn’t know how to cut loose
  • Raphael thinks he’s so cool (but he’s not)
  • Donnie is such a know-it-all
  • Mikey is so immature
  • I look after my brothers
  • My brothers keep me grounded
  • I just want to impress my brothers
  • Loves to make his brothers laugh
  • I care what my brothers think of me
  • A little brother trying to fit in
  • Nobody picks on my brothers but me
  • Splinter is a wise and patient sensei
  • Splinter understands what I’m going through
  • Splinter encourages me to fulfil my potential
  • Splinter is the world’s greatest dad
  • Splinter is super strict
  • I dread the day that Splinter isn’t with us anymore
  • April is always there when we need her
  • We’re always there when April needs us
  • It’s fun to hang out with April
  • Casey Jones is even angrier than I am
  • Never trust the Foot Clan
  • The Shredder wants us dead
  • There is good in Karai
  • We are the only ones of our kind, and we’ll always be alone
  • It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all
  • Fight with honour
  • There is always more to learn
  • Bad guys need to be taken down
  • Aspirations of superheroism
  • Afraid of bugs
  • Am I a good person?
  • My pet turtle, Spike, keeps my secrets
  • I wuv my pet cat, Klunk
  • All my inventions should look like turtle shells
  • Pop culture geek
  • I love pizza!
  • Playing video games is basically like training, right?
  • I drive the van
  • Violence is a last resort
  • Don’t pick fights, end them
  • I wish I could be part of the human world
  • Cowabunga!

Standing on the shoulders of giant… turtles

Before getting to the proto-PCs, I want to acknowledge the other people who have worked on TMNT Fate characters before me. Richard Bellingham statted the turtles using FAE on this post at Google+. Josh Burnett wrote up some Fate Core versions at his blog. Kenneth Holbert statted the turtles as a team in this post at Google+, using the Fate rules from Masters of Umdaar. (I mentioned Masters of Umdaar in my previous blog post as a good alternative system if you weren’t using The Three Rocketeers.)

When working on Fighting Stunts, I reached out on Google+ and got some great tips from PK Sullivan, the writer of The Three Rocketeers. He went and wrote this blog post about hacking Swordplay Stunts for other systems, and even reviewed my draft stunts and suggested improvements. Many thanks to him for his help! Thanks also to Jacob Zimmerman for a stunt idea I took from this blog.

The profile pictures were taken from fanart by DeviantArt user samuraiblack. In keeping with my desire to make my TMNT proto-PCs appropriate for as many different interpretations as possible, I did not want to use artwork that was connected with any specific versions of the characters. (There is some amazing fanart out there, check it out.)

And thanks to my friend Louis for just talking about the characters with me. That’s probably the most helpful of all.


LEONARDO

Leo by samuraiblack, via DeviantArt

Aspects

  • Dedicated Leader of the Ninja Turtles
  • I Will Never Be Good Enough
  • The Sword is the Soul of the Warrior

Fighting Stunt

  • Katanas: Weapon:1
  • Meditation: When you take time to centre yourself and create an advantage named Focused, gain +3 instead of +2 when you invoke it in the coming fight.
  • Patient: Gain +1 to your next attack when you succeed on defence.
  • Responsible: When one of your brothers in the same zone as you is attacked, gain a +1 to defend when you interpose yourself to become the target of the attack.

RAPHAEL

Raph by samuraiblack, via DeviantArt

Aspects

  • A Teenage Rebel Ninja Turtle
  • Anger Issues
  • First in the Fray

Fighting Stunt

  • Sais: When you succeed with style on an attack and reduce your damage by 1 shift to get a boost, you can create a Disarmed situation aspect with a free invocation instead of a boost.
  • Intimidation: Gain +1 to create an advantage when threatening others, either explicitly or implicitly (e.g. spinning your sais).
  • Tough: Armour:1.
  • Protective: Gain +1 to attack an enemy who successfully attacked one of your brothers and caused that brother to take stress or a consequence that is still marked on their sheet.

DONATELLO

Donny by samuraiblack, via DeviantArt

Aspects

  • The Smartest Ninja Turtle In The Room
  • Wants To Fix Everything
  • Speak Softly and Carry a Big Stick

Fighting Stunt

  • Bo staff: Gain +1 on your next defend roll when you succeed on defence.
  • Redirection: Gain +1 to create an advantage when you use an enemy’s momentum or mass against it (e.g. using your bo to trip enemies).
  • Clever: Gain +1 to overcome actions that rely on scientific knowledge.
  • Supportive: When you fight shell-to-shell with one or more of your brothers in the same zone, you can take a -1 penalty to attack rolls to grant them a +1 to all defend rolls against physical attacks.

MICHELANGELO

Mikey by samuraiblack, via DeviantArt

Aspects

  • I Love Being a Ninja Turtle
  • Big Goofball
  • The Nunchuck Is Quicker Than The Eye

Fighting Stunt

  • Nunchucks: When you succeed with style on defence, you may deal a 2-shift physical hit instead of gaining a boost.
  • Misdirection: Gain +1 to create advantages when confounding your enemies by moving swiftly and unpredictably (e.g. backflips).
  • Vexing: Your opponent does not gain a boost when you tie on a defence action.
  • Useful: Your brothers gain +3 instead of +2 when using free invocations on any aspects you create as part of a teamwork action.

PDF versions of these proto-PCs are available here:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles proto-PCs for The Three Rocketeers

Next time: Running a TMNT one-shot


Images used in this blog post were created by samuraiblack and obtained from DeviantArt. All used without permission. They are:

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