What I accomplished despite 2020

It’s no secret that 2020 has been a pretty ghastly year in a lot of ways, and Covid-19 in particular has laid low many of the plans I had. I’d planned to start running a new campaign. I’d planned to go to GenCon for the first time. I’d planned to keep building up the RPG Museum wiki for all things roleplaying. The last of these I did for a while, but the year eventually sapped the energy I had to even do that.

But look, it’s worth looking at the positives where you can find them. Merely getting through the year is an accomplishment, and here are some other RPG-related accomplishments that I am also proud of.

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RPGaDay 2017, Day 24: Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

RPGaDay 2017 infographic

RPGaDay is an annual celebration of tabletop roleplaying. This is the first year I’ve tried to do it.

Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

The only PWYW (pay what you want) publisher I’m familiar with is Evil Hat Productions, and only some of their roleplaying game products (like Fate Core) are PWYW while others have a fixed price. Look, I’m not going to second guess their business model. They know why they charge what they charge better than I do. Fate Core and its related products are definitely worth paying for, but they must have worked out that PWYW works to bring in a bigger customer base that will then spend money on their other titles.

If you want to show Evil Hat some financial love, I recommend supporting their Patreon for Fate Worlds of Adventure. Fate Worlds of Adventure are magnificent, and the pledge level is so close to letting the line be self-sustaining! Do it! Do iiiit!

RPGaDay 2017, Day 15: Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

RPGaDay 2017 infographic

RPGaDay is an annual celebration of tabletop roleplaying. This is the first year I’ve tried to do it.

Which RPG do you enjoy adapting the most?

This one’s easy: the game I enjoy adapting the most is Fate Core, and the related games under that banner (like Fate Accelerated Edition and various Fate Worlds and Adventures). The mechanics are straightforward and their purpose is transparent enough to see what each bit does, so it’s easy to chop and change and be confident how your changes will affect the narrative of your game. The Fate System Toolkit is great for this, and there’s a huge community online of people who are constantly taking the game apart and doing interesting things with it.

As evidence of my interest, I’m going to highlight my version of TinyFate (a minimalist Fate hack based on the work of Rob Donoghue) and the Fate of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (a TMNT hack based on PK Sullivan’s The Three Rocketeers).

I have some hopes for Cortex Prime in the future, though…

CAMELOT Trigger: The Green Knights of Io

Orc Brute Trooper by rickyryan on DeviantArt.

CAMELOT Trigger is a setting for Fate Core that takes the characters and themes of Arthurian legend and gives them all the trappings of an interplanetary sci-fi mecha anime. In other words, it’s a setting composed of pure awesome. It was written by Robert Wieland and released in Fate Worlds Volume Two: Worlds in Shadow.

I’m about to play in a CAMELOT Trigger campaign, and as a big geek for the tales of King Arthur, I came to the first session a little over-prepared. Here are some of the character ideas that I took with me to character creation (and fleshed out since). They are all based on characters from the original legends, mainly the Orkney Clan and their supporting cast. If you use any of them, or if you like them, or if you have any other feedback, please let me know!

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Character advancement vs Character development

Anakin Skywalker's journey to become Darth Vader: Fear, Anger, Hate, Suffering.
Character advancement and character development sometimes go hand in hand… but character development isn’t always a joyful experience for the character itself

One of the great joys of playing roleplaying games, especially playing a single character through a long campaign, is in seeing your character grow and change. In traditional high fantasy games, it’s fun to rise from humble beginnings to be an important and powerful figure in the campaign world.

However, it’s relatively rare in roleplaying games to see the sort of deep, personal character transformation that you might see in books, TV shows or films. That’s because the sort of growth and change encouraged by traditional roleplaying games is different from the growth and change that most popular media is built on.

Character advancement is not the same thing as character development.

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My (red) kryptonite: Mind control in Smallville RPG

Clark Kent (Tom Welling) with red kryptonite eyes, from Smallville via Wikia

Mind control is a staple of genre fiction. It appears in fantasy, science fiction, and horror. It’s used an awful lot in superhero stories. As such, it’s hard to avoid in any roleplaying game that tries to emulate any of these genres.

But mind control is rooted in the idea of removing someone’s agency, and playing a character without any agency is just not very fun. Ask anyone who has had their D&D character under the influence of Dominate Person for round after round after round…

Smallville RPG includes mind control, at least in part because it was based on a TV show that was chock full of mind control and other forms of mental alteration. Given Smallville RPG’s commitment to the concept that no player can ever dictate another character’s choices, mind control could have been a fascinating addition to the game. Unfortunately, it isn’t. It’s either so weak that it can be ignored, rendering it meaningless, or it’s so overpowered that it violates the game’s core principle of protecting player agency.

In short, mind control in Smallville blows harder than Clark Kent’s super breath.

In this blog, I will describe various ways that we could hack Smallville to make mind control work better, taking inspiration from some other roleplaying games. The different strategies are not mutually exclusive, and two or more could be combined in the same game. Maybe even all of them together.

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Fastball Special: Creative teamwork in Fate

Fastball Special from Astonishing X-Men #6. Art by John Cassaday.

I’ve talked a lot in the past about making sure that groups of player characters in an RPG work well together as a part of character creation (here here here here), but what about working well together during play?

Team moves

Hero teamswhether from comics, movies, TV, or wherever—constantly have their members working together in interesting and creative ways during fight scenes. Combatants switch opponents, or provide covering fire, or make a distraction so that an ally can get the drop on an enemy, or even (as in the Fastball Special, pictured above) hurl an ally at an enemy.

Most RPGs are pretty terrible at modelling team moves like these. (Which is not to say that other RPGs don’t do teamwork, as anyone who has played D&D without a healer knows.)

Fate Core, on the other hand, has teamwork moves written right into the rules of the game.

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Pictures as character aspects in Fate

The Fate Core rulebook defines an aspect as “a phrase that describes something unique or noteworthy about whatever it’s attached to”.

But in many cases pictures could be used instead of phrases, and they would work as aspects just as well.

I am not the first person (by a long shot) to suggest using images as aspects in Fate. Ryan Macklin talked about using the cover image from Shadowrun as a game aspect back in 2011, and last year he revisited the idea when talking about using Dixit cards as session aspects. In both cases, he was primarily talking about inspiration and tone, something that pictures can often do much better than words.

Based on this, I was going to do a post on all sorts of different ways you might use pictures as aspects in Fate, only to find earlier this year that someone had already done it. Tangent Artists Tabletop has done an amazing blog post on image aspects, covering some ways they might be used even during play (that is, drawn right there at the table, e.g. in marker on a laminated sheet) and when it might be particularly appropriate. They even included some neat hacks, all of which seem to have been playtested.

So I’m not going to do the blog post I originally planned. Instead, I’m going to talk about something that wasn’t covered in these blog posts: pictures as character aspects.

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Free-standing Distinction triggers in Smallville

I’m currently running a game of Smallville based on the X-Men. Sort of. We’re using canon X-Men characters in a slightly new context: a Hogwarts-style boarding school just West of Chester in England. In order to make the Smallville system more appropriate for this setting, we are using a slightly different list of Values and there is a single Distinction trigger that is always in play:

Earn a Plot Point whenever you Choose to have your mutant powers go out of control.

Distinctions in Smallville have three associated triggers that are unlocked when the Distinction’s die rating reaches d4, d8 and d12. This particular trigger is in the same format as triggers from the core rulebook, but it didn’t make sense to have a whole new Distinction for it since every character is playing a young mutant student. Making everyone buy such a Distinction during character creation would have prevented us from exploring the characters’ more interesting differences.

But it felt important to have such a trigger in play, so I just let everyone know that it was there without thinking much about what else I could do with free-standing triggers. I’d stumbled onto a neat little hack of Smallville without even realising it.

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