The Fate Mindset and Paradigm Shifts

So, Fate. The system has won me over more or less completely, despite my interest in things like Edge of the Empire, The One Ring, and Eclipse Phase. The lure of 5th Edition is a temptation, and I’d kill to run Dungeon World, but most everything I’ve planned in the last few years has revolved around Fate in one way or another.Fate Core Cover

The thing is, on the forums and the websites, one of the staple bits of wisdom told to newer players is that Fate is not like normal systems, it’s something you have to adapt to, that kind of thing. I’ve seen it come up quite a lot, in idea and tone regardless of whatever’s said in specific. It’s somewhat off-putting to new players when it’s hyped up as the greatest thing since sliced bread, but has the qualifier of pseudo-elitism that it’s a hard game to wrap your head around and implying not everyone’s cut out for it. I don’t think people do it intentionally—I’m pretty sure my enthusiasm for it has come across like that once or twice—but it’s a complaint one of my non-Fate gamer friends brought up.

I mean, Aspects are a little new and weird but everything else is pretty straightforward, it’s just funny dice with a skills system and stunts are like feats. Rules-light, narrative storygame. Right? Yep, mechanically it’s not really a huge stretch for someone who’s played their share of RPGs. But the mindset that Fate is working with actually does make it a rather complex and complicated system that doesn’t follow a lot of established RPG conventions. The real trick to Fate, and the paradigm shifts it offers, is that it’s doing things differently—often with different goals—which often run against the pre-conceived notions of how RPGs operate.

(More after the jump.)

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[Kickstarter] Tact-Tiles Reborn!

I’ve always had a tough time with gaming mats. The issue of use isn’t in question; I like to draw really crappy maps, sometimes a visual aid is worth a thousand pretty words, and I get a cool retro vibe from drawing out expansive ruins and dungeons as the players slowly explore them. It’s more the issue that despite all the RPG battlemaps and battlemats in the world, I’ve never found the perfect one for all situations:

  • Small map packs like Paizo’s Gamemastery line are great; they pack in a lot of details into a little space, but they tend to be too small in my opinion. Plus, my OCD tendencies get me annoyed when I’m either using a map once (and only once) or have to rely on the same 5″x8″ room for a dozen encounters. And as high-gloss, heavy cardstock, pre-printed designs, it gets expensive to pick up new ones for new encounters.
  • Big battlemats are expensive, but are worth their weight in gold. One of my friends got a miscut Chessex Mondomat, which is impressively huge at 54″x102″—I drew the entire monastery from the first Legacy of Fire volume on it. They roll up nicely, but you still end up with a big ungainly tube you’ve got to lug around, and getting to the edge of the map is always so frustrating—you have to erase the darn thing and redraw any relevant sections. Using them on a carpeted floor was also a challenge; one friend snagged some pieces of fiberglass to lay on his mat to keep it flat and protected.
  • Or you could go the route of the Dwarven Forge miniatures terrain tiles. I’ve seen them in use and the tiles are gorgeous, just great to see the quality of those. Having walls made things pretty interesting as well, giving a little more depth to things. But arranging them for each room gave a decent delay, and the price of them is beyond my scope—I didn’t have $300 lying around during either of the Kickstarters, and sort of balk at throwing a few hundred dollars at painted scenery tiles.

Long ago, I heard of a legendary RPG mapping solution that solved most of these problems while only having a few of its own—the biggest problem was that their first publisher vanished from the internet and production ceased, despite rave reviews from the likes of Monte Cook, R.A. Salvatore, and a Gnome Stew review. This solution was Tact-Tiles, and thanks to a Kickstarter running now, they’re going back into production.

Tact-Tiles in their un-adorned, natural state.

I’m really interested in Void Star Studios’ kickstarter for Tact-Tiles because those look like they’d solve a number of problems I’ve had with mats/maps while covering the same benefits as a normal. Made of heavy plastic, Tact-Tiles are 10″ square-ish map tiles that lock together like a puzzle. The tiles are only one-sided, but the grid side takes wet and dry erase markers, and the grid is laid out with a mix of thin and thick lines to help distinguish distances. You can arrange them in non-standard designs, like L’s and T’s and crosses and the like, which gives a wider range of options to map with.

Even better, when someone progresses past the edge of the map, just plop down another Tact-Tile and continue on. Or if you’re out of Tact-Tiles, take one of them from far back at the beginning—one of those sections that has already been explored and isn’t going to be revisted anytime soon—erase that and slot it in. Voila! No more erasing the map just to keep progressing: you just need to erase what’s no longer useful. I’ve seen people use maps, mats, and even dry erase boards, and one of the few issues has always been that progressing past the map’s edge means the whole thing needs to be scrubbed.

Even just four Tact-Tiles makes a pretty sizable 20″x20″ map.

Yeah, that’s fine, but what if you’re using a game that doesn’t use a grid—games with abstract distances like Fate or Dungeon World? Void Star thought of that, and is also offering blank tiles to go with the gridded ones. While I don’t think I’ll need as many blank tiles as grid tiles, I’m glad Void Star included them. It’s nice to see some coverage for all systems—especially since Void Star has their own Fate products—and they do look like they’d offer enough of a benefit over a dry erase board to pick up a few.

The only drawback is the price; none of these mapping options is cheap, and since Tact-Tiles are petroleum-based they do come with a decent pricetag. I’m figuring they’ll more than last long enough to pay for themselves; given how rugged hard plastic can be, I’d expect them to hold up through the wars. (And there’s still a few lucky souls out there with their original Tact-Tiles in functioning order).

Here’s what six tiles can do: that’s pretty impressive.

And did I also mention that as 10″ squares, they’re a lot more portable than lugging around a huge rolled-up mat, or a zillion bits of scenery tiles?

I relied on someone else having the Megamat/Mondomat for years, and now find myself without a map-bearer. Perfect time to kick for Tact-Tiles for me, because they’re filling a sizable gap in my gaming arsenal—I have all those dang Reaper Bones, but nothing to put them on. Ideally I’d like 9 or 12 gridded Tact-Tiles and 4 blanks for Fate/DW, though I’ll have to balance what I can afford with what I’d actually use… even 6 Tact-Tiles is a huge arsenal, as you can see from some of the neat samples on the Kickstarter page.

There’s still four days to pledge for your own; funding is currently closing on $81,000 out of a $90,000 goal ($ USD), though based on current trends I’d be very surprised (and quite disappointed) if they didn’t fund.

RPG Review – Jadepunk

There’s a backlog of great RPG products I’ve meant to comment on for some time now; going by order in which I received them, first comes Jadepunk. Kickstarted by Fate fans, it was developed by Ryan M. Danks, Jacob Possin, and Atomic Robo RPG author Mike Olson (who overhauled the Assets system as I recall). The game combines martial-arts wuxia action with steampunk elements, a strong “fight the evil corporations” cyberpunk vibe, and an old west gunfighter ethos. Good times.

 What is it?

Jadepunk is a full, stand-alone game using the Fate Core system, tweaked to the point where it makes more than a passing resemblance to Fate Accelerated (FAE). It comes in a slim but beautifully-illustrated softcover, with great design and production values. It’s done in sepia-tone shades that bring out the steampunk/old west feel (see linked images). The sidebars are cool things like bloodstains and sheets of paper. Aspects stand out thanks to bolding and inverted text color, which is a fantastic touch.

And at 139 pages, it’s the smallest full-and-complete Fate Core game that I know of. I got a copy via the Kickstarter (Engineer pledge).

What Makes It Awesome?

There’s a lot, so let’s start with the setting. Jadepunk is set in Kausao City, just a sliver of a fascinating world Danks has created. The “wuxia steampulp old west” description is very accurate and is pretty tangible in the intro. Kausao City is a hub of trade in various colors of jade, which powers futuristic (retro-futuristic?) Jadetech devices… and just about every nation on the planet wants Jadetech, so they’ve staked their claims on Kausao.

The city itself is divided between various nations/factions, and it’s a kind of melting pot working together for mutual benefit—which isn’t necessarily in the inhabitants’ best interest, as the rich get richer and the poor get poorer. The criminals are rising up against the governors, but are only in it for themselves as well. That’s where you come in: the heroes of the tale, who stand up for justice and righteousness to aid the downtrodden and oppressed. The setting is broad, sweeping strokes, evoking plenty of ideas to draw from without getting too specific.

Beyond that, it presents the core of Fate Core in an accessible way to new players, and includes a lot of neat Fate design concepts. I didn’t expect a lengthy sidebar about making the scene an adversary using the Fractal, which was a neat and well-implemented idea. For adversaries, it recommends “take only what you need to survive,” advising a few basic Aspects (Portrayal, Need, and Secret) unless the character is important to the story. That’s great design right there, getting to the meat of the situation without bogged down (either as a new GM, or a vet running on the fly).

Jadepunk tweaks the rules in a few awesome new directions. It uses a FAE-style single stress track and FAE-style skills, though they’re six Professions instead of Approaches. There’s some new (well, modified) rules for dueling. But the biggest change was the Asset system, combining Extras and Stunts, which has gotten a lot of well-deserved buzz on the forums and the Fate G+ page.

Every character has several Assets, falling into one of three categories: Allies, Devices, Techniques. Allies and Devices should be self-explanatory; Techniques are martial arts maneuvers and other cool wuxia stuff.  With those three categories, all sorts of cool things become Assets. Want a Red Jade Revolver? Make it an Asset. Want to be better at repairing Jadetech, or be able to smash the ground and damage everyone around you? Technique Assets. Want your own airship? Build it as a Device, then build the ship’s crew as Allies.

Assets are created using a slick new system where you build/buy elements, picking between some keywords, the six Professions/Skills, and coming up with an Aspect to describe the Asset’s function. It’s a bit more involved than Stunt creation, but that may just be that I haven’t memorized the Asset keywords yet; it’s very streamlined and is a strong candidate for use in whatever game I run next.

Bonus! Kickstarter Rewards

One of the Kickstarter reward tiers (Tinkerer) and several higher tiers came with a “getting started” Fate kit, as follows:

  • Four Fate dice (4dF); they’re black on off-white, which is a good contrast. (The closest color in terms of dice I own are the ones I got with The One Ring, though the Jadepunk dice are a bit more yellowed/tan.)
  • Twenty colored glass beads, five per color (blue, red, white, green, black, the five colors of jade), to use as Fate point counters.
  • And, most important, the Jadepunk play mat. This thing is huge, 18″ x 24″, and is double-sided dry erase. One side has a map of Kausao City and spots to record campaign/scene Aspects,  places to write-up major NPCs, etc. The other side is more generic: a large area for sketching zone maps (or anything, really), the Fate ladder and the four actions/four outcomes, and space to write various Aspects and Boosts. It is huge, and epic, and awesome.

Would I run this?

To be honest, I’m not a huge fan of martial arts kinda stuff—this isn’t to say I dislike it, I’m just not as familiar with wuxia movies or tropes, and it’s not usually a genre I seek out (compared to pulp or science fiction). That said, I really dig Jadepunk, both as a setting and in the mechanics and ideas it brings to the table, and I really want to play it. Kausao City just drips with flavor, and I’m very tempted to use the Assets system from this day forward regardless of whatever Fate setting I’m in. Same with the Jadepunk play-mat; I’ll be hard-pressed not to use that for every Fate game from now on.

Jadepunk is the most streamlined and complete full Fate game you can find at under 140 pages. Sure, it’s almost FAE without being as small as FAE, but there’s a ton of added components (mechanics from Core, not to mention Assets and the setting and other cool stuff) that make it a standout. Really, I’m just impressed that they included everything but the dice… which was something the Kickstarter took care of.  I’d like to have seen a few more Assets and some more details about the world, but those details are coming in the additional supplements. (Plus, I think the broad strokes is very handy for a first volume, setting the stage and inspiring ideas without fussing over details. And the new material coming out looks awesome.)

I don’t think there’s enough of a reason not to buy Jadepunk; I’d rate it as one of the best Fate Core-era products released thus far, up there with Mindjammer 2.0 and Fate Freeport. The Kickstarter was handled very professionally, with frequent updates and without any delays. I’m eagerly awaiting the supplemental material, and with Green Jade already in the wild…

Jadepunk the book sells for $24.99 print + .pdf, or $14.99 for just the .pdf copy. (If purchased at the Reroll store, 30% of your profits goes to charity.)
The super-amazing Jadepunk play-mat is $10 for print + .pdf or $3.99 in .pdf.  (Trust me, it’s very good. You’ll want one.)

[Fate] Dynamism At Work

One of the things that I love about Fate is that there’s always multiple ways to interpret or implement an idea, and none of them are wrong. For example, let’s say your character has an Aspect—even better, they have a Consequence. Broken Leg. How do you interpret it? What does that mean? How does it impact that character?

  1. Compels: “Well, don’t you think running after him may be a bit much on that Broken Leg?” *brandishes Fate Point* This one requires a leap into Fate narrative logic—having a broken leg only matters when you’re compelled, so you either don’t have to worry about it or you get a FP for it. (That said, giving up a Fate Point to resist the Compel is a big cost.) That leap of physics leaves me a bit cold due to its inconsistency—the Consequence only affects the narrative when it’s compelled to do so, and if it matters every time a related action comes up the player will be drowning in Fate Points from Compels—but it has a good mechanical balance to it.
  2. Unfriendly/Hostile Invoke: “Well, because you’ve got that Broken Leg, I’m going to take a +2 to my roll to outrun you.” *spends Fate Point* What’s good about this method is that it’s super-transient; it doesn’t cost the player anything and doesn’t restrict their options but still provides a challenge. They also get a Fate point for it… but it’s at the end of the scene.
  3. Aspects (including Consequences Are Always True: “Well, you have a Broken Leg, that means you have a broken leg.” By taking that Consequence, you just narrated yourself into having a broken leg. You aren’t going to be sprinting anywhere, will take longer to go up and down ladders, and will have some issues with movement actions. There’s no compel, no expenditure or gain—the Fate Point status quo—you just can’t do certain things. It’s probably a bit too absolute for most Fate tables. But it can work both ways (e.g., on the opposition), and some groups love this kind of thing.
  4. As above, but rather than preventing actions, “Aspects being true” justifies a higher difficulty: if everyone else needs to make a +0 Athletics roll to jump from rooftop to rooftop, your Broken Leg may see difficulties raised slightly (requiring a +1 or +2 Athletics roll). You’re still allowed to act, even though it’s less attractive than usual, has a higher chance to fail, and is more draining (represented by the fact you’ll spend some Fate Points after you roll enough -‘s on those slightly-higher difficulties).
  5. Or “Aspects are always true,” but lead to narrative justification of the four actions: “Because you have a Broken Leg, you’ll need to Overcome using Physique to chase that dude into another zone.” It’s requiring the use of an action (usually Overcome) to accomplish something you’d normally be able to do without cost. In this case, movement into a nearby zone doesn’t usually cost something, but with that busted-up leg you’re going to have to hobble like the wind without hurting yourself further.
  6. Or pull out ye olde Fate Time chart, and say that due to that problematic Aspect, it’ll take one step longer to complete an action—climbing up that fire escape may take A Few Minutes for all the healthy people, but 15 Minutes because of your *Broken Leg*.
  7. Or you could haggle between Player and GM, again backing up a gain with a cost: “How about I do manage to scramble up after them, but from straining to keep up I hurt my leg more—move it up from a Moderate to a Severe Consequence?”

With all those options, most of them can work together in the same game depending on the circumstances—3 is the exception; I would either use for all instances or none. I tend to like the methods 4 and 5 because they don’t completely limit what you can do, but instead make it more challenging than it normally would be. Which is a pretty accurate representation of a Broken Leg: it’s not like you can’t climb a ladder on it, it’s just more complicated.

But, really, there’s no wrong answer besides what you as a group/table feel is the best at the time. There’s probably a bunch of options I didn’t even think of. And I think that’s kinda cool.

RPG Review – Grim World

There’s a backlog of RPG products I’ve meant to comment on for some time now; first in was Grim World, a supplement for both Dungeon World and Fate.

While I missed the Kickstarter, I barely got my order in before the post-Kickstarter gateway closed in December, and ended up with my own personalized copy. If you wanted it, the designers would draw a unique Dungeon World move on the inside cover; I got the Zen Skunk. Probably because I was late. (I’m being sarcastic; it’s pretty awesome.)

What is it?

Grim World is a sourcebook containing material dual-statted for Dungeon World and Fate Core, mainly character classes and ideas designed to evoke a dark fantasy world. It’s more creepy/kooky than pure blood-and-guts, kind of like if Dungeon World had played a lot of Warhammer Fantasy and Dragon Age, but wanted something more epic. Cinematic grittiness, if you will.

What Makes It Awesome?

Let’s start with the design: it’s a full color hardcover, with full-bleed full-page full-color art that is impressive to behold. I’ve seen books from “professional” game companies that don’t look half this good—it’s a thing beauty. The only mild complaint is that the paper is matte instead of high gloss, but given costs that was an understandable choice, and doesn’t change that much.

Anyway, the rules. Grim World is kind of like those 4thcore or OSR games—almost but not to the point of Wicked Fantasy Factory—where the world is brutal and the characters may (will?) eventually die—especially thanks to the new “Death Moves,” in which player death leaves a lasting impact upon the world. (These are very tastefully done: they don’t break the mindset of DW/Fate, and kind of add to the narrative style by making sure death is not ignominious.) It’s a dark and brutal fantasy world, with a lot of inspiration from Lovecraft (e.g., a lot of Lovecraft love in the bestiary chapter). You can tone it down—it’s still Dungeon World, it’s no character-eating Call of Cthulhu or depressing Warhammer or something—but where’s the fun in that?

The meat of the book are the 7 new classes: each have Dungeon World playbooks and Fate Core character building pages. Classes include the tactical genius Battlemaster, spirit binding Shaman, undead-controlling Necromancer, and mobile Skirmisher. The Dungeon World playbooks are slick two-page affairs with new moves customized to the classes; as mentioned, each class gets its own death move that leaves a lasting mark and makes no death in vain. The Fate sections include background ideas and a lot of suggested Aspects and big lists of Stunts to aid in creation. (I kinda love that presentation for Fate; choosing from a predetermined list is a lot more limiting but gives the D&D feeling of character class while still allowing a realm of flexibility.) Also, the death moves make an appearance. Because they are what make Grim World AWESOME.

There’s a lot of supplemental material as well, from the Kickstarter’s stretch goals. The large bestiary includes a ton of new Dungeon World monsters, which is another big draw in my book; these also have some Aspects on the Fate side, as well as the monster’s three peak skills. There’s some artifacts, a bunch of playable races, a really cool GM toolkit to build locations, and even a Dungeon World/Fate hybridization hack. Plus community content, though it’s Dungeon World only. Lots of good stuff in here.

Would I run this?

Hells yeah, kick in the door and start crawling that Dungeon World! I already have tons of ideas for running this. (When I saw the Darkest Dungeons Kickstarter a while back, my first thought was to use Grim World for a pen-and-paper version.) My only problem is finding a local group that’s willing to give Dungeon World a shot, though I feel that is turning around as the *World games gain popularity. More to the point, I think the aesthetic is a bit specific and won’t sell everyone; as much as I love it, not everyone hears “dark fantasy world with death moves” and goes “Huh, that sounds like fun.”

The bigger question is whether to run it in Dungeon World or Fate Core, choosing between my current favorite systems. There’s a lot more content in the book for Dungeon World, so I’d probably go in that direction—to be honest, it gives a lot of monsters, classes, and ideas for the Dungeon World GM, but most of what it’s giving Fate are some sample Stunts/Aspects for specific class ideas, and some vague outlines for monsters and other things. That is my biggest nitpick with it—the Fate content feels a bit slim and tacked-on—but as a fan of both games, the more the merrier. And the writers didn’t just grok the mindset of the two systems, they also came up with an innovative, creative, and balanced product.

If Boldly Games releases any other content for Dungeon World, they have my hard-earned dollars. On time for the Kickstarter this time, I promise.

Grim World can be purchased for $15 as a .pdf, or if you act fast, $40 for print + .pdf. (It’s a hardcover with lush production values; if you’re interested, it’s worth it.)

[Kickstarter] Strays for Fate Accelerated

A while back, I did a post on entry-/beginner-level roleplaying products, based on my enthusiasm for such things (it kind of got sidetracked though, since I didn’t proof before posting and ended up saying some dumb stuff). I like seeing more entry-level products for the hobby, especially kid-friendly ones, because there aren’t that many out there. So I was surprised and delighted to see the Kickstarter for Strays, a kid-friendly RPG powered by Fate Accelerated. Doubly so, because while I don’t have kids, I do have dogs (both “strays” in that they were rescued from puppy mills), so it’s pretty neat to see a pet-themed RPG.

From the Kickstarter:

Strays are Santa’s special pals, semi-magical animals who were once pets or friendly neighborhood critters.

When we were kids, lots of us loved a puppy, kitten, or kit.  Eventually, our dog, cat, or rabbit got old, sick, or hurt.  They never stopped loving us, though, just like we never stopped loving them.

When the time came, they went to a big farm in the country, where a nice old couple took care of them, and they had plenty of room to play with other animals just like them.  Dogs had big fields to sniff and scamper though, rabbits laughed and raced their friends, and cats got to climb all the trees they wanted and hide in cool dark shadows.  They were all happy and warm, and they got just a little bit chubby from all the table scraps they got to eat.

Their stories didn’t end there, though.  They were just getting started!

Santa Claus himself — the protector of kids and their dreams — needed their help, after they got better.  Sent deep undercover, far from their old homes, their mission was simple:  live a happy life, love the humans around you, protect the Nice from the Naughty…

…and never, ever, trust a squirrel!

It’s more than a little geared towards kids, as you can see. I think the concept of playing as pets is a great one for that target audience—stat up your dog and take them on miraculous adventures!—and Strays has a lot of heart and charm to back it up. I’m a believer in the concept of getting people into the gaming hobby at any age, and I really dig the idea of playing as animals. FAE is an excellent choice for system as well, since it’s complex yet simple and can let a younger child’s imagination run wild. What a unique and cool game concept.

Strays has already passed its funding, but with less than a week left there’s still a little time to jump onboard. Most of the pledge rewards deal with art—adding your own pet(s) into the game, which is AWESOME. $300 gets your pet iconic character status. Their paw-print dice are pretty snazzy to boot.

When Not To Roll

One of my friends had a story about a roleplaying game he was beta-testing at a convention, and that some feedback he received—from one of the playtesters, a professional game designer—was he called for too many perception-type checks. It got him thinking about their over-use. It got me thinking as well; back when I was running D&D/Pathfinder campaigns, I knew skill checks were something I relied on as a fallback. Not sure what to do next, have the players roll something. And it can be more of an issue with notice-type checks since they tend to be all-encompassing, covering all visual and auditory information that the characters obtain, meaning they’re rolled more and more often for sometimes incidental details.

It also reminds me of a Serenity game some of my friends played in that sounded quite horrible—the characters were scrimping by with fuel and supply costs, raising chickens in the cargo hold for food. Turning the solid Serenity setting and rules into Adventures in Spreadsheets wasn’t the relevant part; it was the inversion of rolling too often: the characters, especially the pilot, had nothing to do. The pilot’s plight coined a meme for our group: Roll to take off; Roll to land. You’re playing a hotshot ace pilot; now, you get to roll your peak skill for the most banal of actions. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?

Or yet another memory: my college roommate’s first Shadowrun campaign, where another player had to roll to use Google Maps. (And, due to the way the GM interpreted Shadowrun 4th, the fourteen-die pool resulted in a glitch/botch.)

In thinking about it, I realized I was calling for a lot more of those fallback crap rolls than was warranted. It’s a problem in a lot of games I played as well. (I’ve been with some GMs who would use rolling as a stall tactic, to figure out what the players were rolling to find.) There’s a lot of times where a character would be able to make certain assumptions or complete certain actions without a roll, particularly if they’re trained and motivated (such as 5th-level D&D characters or starting-level Fate characters). It’s a part of Gumshoe’s design philosophy and an element in how it handles acquisition of clues and knowledge. Also part of why I vaguely dislike Gumshoe as a system—shouldn’t every game already promote, or at least accept, those concepts?

rpgdice-585x329

With RPGs, rolling dice is one of the most visceral elements of the game, particuarly in terms of a roleplaying game’s “game” elements. Picking up dice and rolling them is fun. It’s tangible. There’s the thrill of the gamble, relying on luck and fate. You could roll a nat 20; if you roll a 1, well, there’s hope for the future. It’s a level playing field—nobody can out-think, out-roleplay, out-create, out-argue anyone else when it comes to dice results. And there’s a strange love/hate relationship with games that use “funny dice”—those outside the normal geek polyhedrals, like Fudge dice, Ubiquity dice, FFG’s Star Wars Dice, etc.

And yet I think GMs need to step back and evaluating if the roll we’re calling for is necessary as a roll. Rolling for red herrings and less-significant events is still an important part of the game, but I think over-rolling can cheapen the experience and de-value important rolls. It’s also time-consuming, moreo if everyone is making some crap roll, and downright painful if you’re using dice pools.

A big part of understanding Fate is wrapping your head around Aspects—and that Aspects are always true—and how that causes them to act as permissions. If you have an Aspect that says you’re Always Armed, well then, there will always be a time in the narrative where you have a weapon of some kind. Or if you are disarmed, it’s just for a scene, or there’s that one switchblade in your boot that your adversaries missed, allowing you to cut through the ropes binding you or pick the cell’s lock (or whatever). If you have an Aspect of Jedi Warrior, you’re a Jedi warrior; if you have Master of the Mystic Arts, you use magic. If having such powerful Aspects is a problem, the GM should have discussed using Force Sensitive or Apprentice Mage at creation.

(There’s also adhering to your game’s fiction—your setting, tropes, themes, etc.—that Fate is seeming to absorb from Dungeon World. If you’re playing average shmoes in a horror setting, you’ll end up rolling for things your pulp heroes or space pirates or fantasy adventurers could manage without breaking a sweat. It’s part of the reason I dig the idea of campaign/world Aspects, codifying and translating the setting’s concepts into permissions.)

Fate design theory dating back to Spirit of the Century has pushed GMs to call for a roll when there’s meaningful results from both success and failure, pushing to re-interpret what situations require a roll. The example, I think, was a bottomless pit—the traditional call would be for a save-or-die roll, do you make it across the pit or fall to your death. The alternates for a failed roll included things like a) hanging on to the opposite ledge by your fingers, b) realizing the pit was too wide and you’d have to find another way across, c) making it only appear bottomless, and putting something interesting at the bottom, or d) just not calling for a roll in the first place, since if the characters are badasses living their own story, why wouldn’t they make it across?

To circle back to the beginning—to me, a character with an Ace Pilot Aspect has already established themselves as an ace pilot, as the Aspect grants them that status. There’s no reason to make them roll to land or take off (other than for our own sense of inbred, memetic humor); it’s a crap roll that exists to consume time and lose focus. There’s no reason takeoff and landing would be a challenge to an ace pilot with no external complication (sabotage, weather, a compel). Failure would add little to the game. What, are they going to have amazing adventures in red tape as they argue with the bureaucratic air traffic controller for runway privileges? Does failure mean they crashed and died—scrub the game because of one player’s dumb luck?

I’ve already discussed this concept (admittedly less coherent than this post) with a few GM acquaintances in the past few months. One was a GM considering an expanded Pilot skill, and breaking Electronics out of Academics for using computers and sensors and tech. Both were choices for a Fate Core campaign where the players would play hotshot mecha pilots in the farthest-flung future. To me, those sound like prime candidates for things I wouldn’t require players to roll—concepts I’d rather trim than expand.

The reasoning behind Pilot as above, unless there’s a disparity of knowledge between characters… which there shouldn’t be much of, since they’re all ace pilots. (Is it down to “who can out-ace everyone else,” dick-waving with numbers?) For Computers, it’s due to how far advanced the future-tech would be from our already bewilderingly advanced gadgets: when I need something, I pull out my phone and talk at it. It’s a Moto X, so I can just say “Okay, Google Now…” and it will start pouring through the databanks or pulling up an app, even when locked with the screen off. Try to imagine a Moto X with 500 years of technological innovation. Finding information in the 25th Century using a computer isn’t a Computer roll to me, it’s Investigate. In other cases, do you really need your Future Dudes to roll to use Future Google Maps? What is that saying about the setting or the characters?

It’s a tough line to walk—I’m not the “all role, no roll” type of guy, hence why my fallback urge is asking for some random die roll, to make it feel like stuff is happening, to trigger the mechanical parts of the game. But I think when you ask for a die roll, consider whether it’s a valid roll or just rolling dice for the sake of hearing plastic clatter. I think it will lead to the rolls that are asked for having more of an impact.

[Fate Freeport] Ancient Red Dragon

I have a bundle of monsters I converted to Fate Freeport on a whim, and just haven’t done anything with; I’m not really sure how useful they are since they were for a couple of games I haven’t got around to running yet, and monster stats just don’t carry the same weight in Fate as they do in D&D. Still, this one was my attempt to break the system and come up with a powerful iconic monster to see just how ridiculous the stats could get.

These all using the Fate Freeport Companion rules, and were mostly to see how its conversion rules worked, so they’re pretty much direct translations from Pathfinder to Fate Freeport. I may do some stock Fate Core or FAE versions in the future, who knows.

Red Dragon (Great Wyrm)
A crown of cruel horns surrounds the head of this mighty dragon. Thick scales the color of molten rock cover its long body. 
 
High Concept: Wizened Red Wyrm 
Trouble: Insatiable Greed; Overconfident Vanity 
Aspects: Magic In My Veins; Scales Thicker Than Steel; Flying Fiery Death
 
Skills: STR +8, DEX -1, CON +6, INT +5, WIS +5, CHA +5
 
Melee Attack: Bite (+8 STR) normal damage
Ranged Attack: Firebreath (+5 INT), normal damage and target is Burning.
Defense: Scales (+6 CON)
 
Mental Stress: OOOO
Mental Consequences:
Mild (-2):
Moderate (-4):
 
Physical Stress: OOOO
Physical Consequences:
Mild (-2):
Mild (-2):
Moderate (-4):
 
Stunts:
Ancient Wyrm: Gains access to the Evocation and Transmutation schools, and selects two spells from those schools.
Incinerate: By spending a Fate Point, the Great Wyrm’s firebreath attack can bypass armor and regular defenses.
Magic Sight: The Great Wyrm is treated as if having Detect Magic on at all times; spending a fate point allows True Sight for one scene.
Wizened: Pick any four spells from schools you have access to.
 
Spells:
Burning Hands, Fireball, Haste, Magic Missile, Minor Telekinesis, Wall of Fire

The First One’s Free

So, to update from my last post: Next is now going to have a free shareware edition, D&D 5th Basic, that will be a .pdf released for everyone for free come July. It’ll have full 1st-20th level rules for all the basic classes (fighter, wizard, rogue, cleric) and four races (human, elf, halfing, dwarf), and things like monsters and magic items will be added after the books release. It’s meant to evoke ye olde Rules Cyclopedia, and while not unexpected, is a huge step in the right direction toward marketing Next.

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I did a quick skim of the comments section and like how the responses fall into three general categories:

  1. They’re releasing 5th Edition’s core for free! This is the best thing ever!
  2. They’re releasing 5th Edition’s core for free! This is the worst thing ever!
  3. Well, they can’t rationally call it BASIC D&D, because in MY Basic D&D, you can’t have races because those are types of classes, and… [AKA: What "Basic D&D" Means To Me]

Good lord. The amount of looking-gift-horses-in-the-mouth…

I think there’s two key things here:

First off, I like the idea of being able to see the rules before you buy them, especially since the system is supposed to be modular as fuck and cater to all styles and types of play (e.g., all D&D flavors)—plus, the playtests had the habit of gaining and losing mechanics with each update, to the point where nobody really knows what made the cut. For me, seeing the rules before I drop $150 is a huge selling point—as in, making a character or two and maybe hosting a one-shot to try the rules, rather than skimming the books at B&N before heading online.

Second, it would not surprise me to learn that Wizards—or at least the executive side—felt they needed to do it to compete in the e-marketplace. Paizo has to release Pathfinder into the open source arena by virtue of using the OGL; they one-upped that by not only releasing their material online in SRD form, much as Wizards did with 3.x D&D, they also added the majority of their staple/hardcover content to it. And Paizo doesn’t have a problem with fans uploading other open game content from the various Pathfinder softcovers onto a fan-run website. Wizards’ prime market competitor already releases their content for free and still makes bank, and that’s not even looking at the non-D&D game systems that have went freemium as a marketing strategy: 13th AgeEclipse PhaseFate Core, ICONS, etc., etc.

So, while I still balk at the idea the core rules just to run the damn game costs almost as much as Onyx Path’s premium, limited, gilt-edged, bookmarked, bathed-in-the-blood-of-firstborn-virgins OWoD re-releases, I rest assured that everyone can paw over them for free. It also makes me wonder about an alternate route not travelled—or at least not yet announced—packaging this “D&D Basic game” content as a cheaper all-in-one rulebook to solidify D&D as the entry-drug brand. Sure, it only has five classes, and monsters numbering in the dozens and not hundreds, but at $25-35 you can throw them at your players or grandkids or whatever.

As an aside, there’s also a $20 D&D Next starter kit releasing with the $150 core books this summer that I failed to mention. D&D 4th also had a $20 starter kit, that took a limited spread of characters all the way to 2nd level, using a sliver of the rules and a side of kobolds. I’ll wait and see on that front. Though, who knows, Wizards could make it into a Beginner Box-quality product and eat the costs from their core rules profits. Doubtful, but they’d sell out in minutes.

Pricings & Predicaments

Last week I heard a number of Pathfinder players talking about D&D Next’s organized play announcement, complaining that it lifts faction-based play from Pathfinder Society. The thing being, Society lifted the idea of organized play from the RPGA, established by TSR and inherited by Wizards of the Coast, who then toyed with faction/regional organization in their Living Greyhawk/Living Realms 3.x campaigns. There’s really no room to bitch there; D&D isn’t ripping off Pathfinder, it’s the same organized play idea they’ve run for decades.

No, the thing to bitch about should be that the cost to get into D&D Next is $150.00 USD. (A fact, I’ll grant, that has been hinted at since Amazon and B&N priced their product listings back in March.)

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I’m not complaining about the rising cost of books here, since it’s an established fact that inflation exists, and the $20 you spent on your AD&D books has a purchasing power closer to $50 in 2014 dollars (e.g., real money). The fact that the books are jumping up in price shouldn’t be a surprise, given that the industry is rife with $50 hardcover rulebooks, and while it is a notable increase from the $90 buy-in to get a set of 3.5 D&D books, it’s not economically unexpected.

The thing is, though, the other game books in the industry that cost $50? Those are entire frickin’ games, in one book: Affording $150 isn’t a problem, it’s justifying the higher expenditure compared to every other game system out there.

If I go and spend $60 on Shadowrun 5th, I’ve just bought a complete game; I don’t need to buy another book, though I probably will, because supplemental material rocks. Same for the Song of Ice and Fire RPG, or Eclipse Phase, or the Dresden Files RPG; $50 gets you the core rules that compile everything you need to play. Any other purchases are billed as game enhancements and not requirements. Spend $54 and you can get The One Ring’s slipcase edition, complete with dice and maps, or Mindjammer, which gives me more material than I’ll probably use in a lifetime. Compared to Next, any of those cases leave you with nearly $100 left over you can spend on sourcebooks, adventures, dice, a night on the town, dinner and a movie, student loan payments, you name it.

And Next’s closest competition, Pathfinder, has cut the buy-in down to two books: a $50 core book and a $40 Bestiary, which saves you $60 over Next to spend on accessories and supplements.

To be fair, you don’t need to buy all three books to run a game—it’s more of a perception/psychological thing to me, where most games have one Core Rulebook while D&D needs to mark three books as such. And asking $50 from the player isn’t out of the ordinary for the market today; it’s asking the GM to drop $150 on core material that’s the problem. No other game on the market today is marketing three $50 hardbacks as a basic  purchase just so the GM can run the system, they market one $50 hardback that has all the core rules in one place for everyone.

D&D is still clinging to its original model of a three-book buy-in for its core rules: one for players, one for GMs, and another one for GMs full of monsters. I’m still not entirely sure why they can’t slim this down to two: one for players and GMs that takes all the magic item rules and some GM advice to get you going, and another one just for GMs that has more advanced insight into GMing, a sample adventure (and dissection of why it’s built the way it is), and a roster of adversaries and iconic monsters.

I think the deeper problem is that Next hasn’t been all that inspiring, boiling down to “the feel of 2nd ed AD&D with the rules style of 3.5 D&D with a sprinkling of new material,” rather than the unite-the-editions greatness (or the radical new approach) that the brand needs. The release may contain some surprises, but interest in the game floundered during its playtest in comparison to the Pathfinder playtest. I’m still waiting to see if the cool mechanics from the playtest survived, or if they were dropped from the ongoing playtest packets to indicate they didn’t make the cut. (Aside from Dis/Advantage, anything really revolutionary was slowly removed or made commonplace during the beta playtest.) Expectations are that the $150 isn’t giving the most bang for the buck.

D&D has always been the RPG entry drug, the name brand that adults know of and gift to their precocious kids. Since the ’70s the industry has had most of its players start with D&D, who after a while decide whether to buy that Immortals supplement to go with their Red Box, or if they’d rather go off and play pink mohawks or angsty vampires. I’m not seeing $150 facilitating that entry drug status, when the companies dancing near loss-leader status with affordable product are Evil Hat’s $25 Fate Core hardcover and Pinnacle’s $10 Savage Worlds Explorer Editions.

And while it’s a slightly separate issue, I’m not seeing a lot in Next to get invested in other than “It’s D&D!” And today, don’t we have more than enough flavors of D&D to choose from already: Pathfinder, 13th Age, True20, Dungeon Crawl Classics, Swords & Wizardry, Dungeon World, Monsters & Magic, Fate Freeport, not to mention those older versions of A/D&D that didn’t spontaneously combust simply because of edition change…

We’ll see later this year when Next get released. With luck, the Dungeon Master’s Guide may be more like the Paizo Gamemastery Guide, full of additional rules and “getting started” help that isn’t necessary for every GM. Maybe the three books will come packaged with bonuses, like each Player’s Handbook having a set of dice, and each Monster Manual having a handful of miniatures—that would be a logistical nightmare to package and warehouse, but could be pretty rad. And in our digital future, they really ought to come with free digital downloads (.pdf or .epub or something) which would help smooth over pricing woes.

Regardless, Next’s price tag is not doing it any favors.

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