A Wild Kickstarter Appears

You ever notice how there’s this long gap between interesting RPG Kickstarters, and then a whole bunch pop up simultaneously, and after months of semi-drought between Fate/*World projects there’s suddenly a half-dozen ways to empty your wallet on prospective games? No? Well it sure is nice being you, isn’t it.

Breakfast Cult – Funds Sept. 27th

Imagine a mashup between The Breakfast Club done high-school-anime-style and Call of Cthulhu, and you have this game. That’s really all I needed to hear. But there’s more! It’s powered by Fate Accelerated, and done by Ettin of who did Inverse World Accelerated.  Still more! Then there’s the stretch goals, bringing in other related tropes like more cults and magical girls; it’s looming over the eighth stretch goal, which takes you on a field trip to the dreamlands. Check out dat art! One of the most original Fate projects to date.

Broken World – Funds Oct. 2nd

And winning the award for “most enjoyable Kickstarter video I’ve seen in a good long while” is Broken World, powered by the Apocalypse. Really, it’s something you need to wtach. Broken World builds heavily on Dungeon World and brings a semi-humorous Gamma World-style post-apocalyptic setting, with some gorgeous art. Creator James “Cheapshot” Claus-Nesbitt is both writer and artist, and from the samples looks to excel at both. The project’s smashed through five of its stretch goals so far, with a few more in line (c’mon people!).

You’re probably wondering why we need another apocalyptic *World game, but I think the creator’s explanation is legit. Broken World is from the Dungeon World school rather than Apocalypse World, and there’s a notable difference between the two: Apoc cares a bit more about drama and relationships—the illustrious “sex moves” are a good example of that; it’s a game that wants to play out the aftermath of sleeping with someone. Dungeon World cares more about adventure and exploration, and to be honest is a bit more approachable and less strict in its approach to tone and play.

Spirit of 77 – Funds Oct. 2nd

And coming in at a close second for “most enjoyable Kickstarter video I’ve etc. etc.” would be this one for Spirit of ’77. I’ve always liked those gonzo settings that are a throwback to the 1970s (anyone else remember Damnation Decade or Solid? Much less Interstate 76). It’s a setting I wouldn’t mind playing around with, especially since Spirit of 77 awesome. It’s a project that got a lot of coverage across the internet; I assume it’s because of its unique setting, but if you take a look at the demo rules the game is a solid adaptation of Apocalypse World. (I especially love the attributes, and would totes borrow them for a FAE game.)

Smoke & Glass – Funds Oct. 3rd

Returning back to Fate for a moment. I haven’t paid as much attention to this one, but Smoke & Glass is a Fate Core supplement of steampunk urban fantasy. The emphasis leans heavily towards heists and crime, which is right up my alley; the description makes me think of Shadowrun… if the cyberware was replaced with brass horns, and the neon was replaced with soot and grit. It’s a stone’s throw away from its first stretch goal, which is a music EP for all backers—a real nice touch right three, since I dig soundscapes.

The Sprawl – Funds Oct. 3rd

Powered by the Apocalypse, The Sprawl is gritty neon-and-chrome cyberpunk action, its mission-centric design making some great use of *World’s countdown clocks for the planning and execution stages. This one also has a (very extensive) draft available for backers to peruse, and it looks like a solid adaptation of Apocalypse World to gritty ’80s cyberpunk. The first stretch goal funded was a set of missions, the second is $5,000 away and will introduce magic (cough Shadowrun cough).

[Fate Freeport] Robots! – Arachnid Robot

PZO9270-ArachnidRobotMore robots! More! Truth be told I’d been thinking a lot about hacking—and I use that term loosely in this instance since it’s not a huge stretch—hacking Fate Freeport to run something in the vein of Metamorphosis Alpha or Gamma World by way of Burn Shift. Especially since I’m now thinking about a science fantasy ala Barsoom mashup. No ideas or plots or anything yet, but that’s a genre I can run in my sleep.

So, the Arachnid Robot, from the Numeria setting book (on my trip across Paizo’s Science-Fantasy Sourcebooks of Note). This is kind of “baby’s first robot” where they swarm you and explode… which is kinda funny since the picture for them is pretty rad. They’re effectively mob-less mooks in Fate, and I’d consider throwing a couple at the players at once. (Explosion is the same as the corpse flower in the Fate Freeport Companion.)

In PF they’re also low-level enough (CR 1/2) to be a companion, and it mentions that technologists keep them as pets. I think it’s pretty awesome to have your own pet robot as some freakish Ranger animal companion or Wizard familiar. Just don’t let it get blow up and you’re jake.

Arachnid Robot
This dog-sized, spider-like robot has a plasma torch mounted on a stinger-like limb and gripping claws on its forelegs.
High Concept: Exploding Bug ‘Bot
Trouble: Fragile Systems Lead To Excellent Self-Preservation Instincts
Aspects: Can Go Almost Anywhere; Mission: To Repair and Salvage
Skills: STR -1, DEX +1, CON +0, INT +0, WIS +1, CHA -2
Ranged Attack: Plasma Torch (+1 DEX).
Defense: Dodge (+1 DEX)
Mental Stress: OO
Mental Consequences:
Moderate (-4):
Physical Stress: OO
Physical Consequences:
Moderate (-4):
Death Burst: When destroyed, the Arachnid Robot uses Plasma Torch for free with a +2 bonus (total bonus of +3).
Plasma Spray: By spending a Fate point, Plasma Torch can affect all targets in a zone.

[Fate Freeport] Robots! – Annihilator Robot

If you can’t guess, I like a good big stompy death machine every once in a while. Something to cap a campaign off with, once the characters have leveled a bit and have to save the world from some nefarious threat. Take for example one of the first Pathfinder robots, the Annihilator in the Inner Sea Bestiary (though it had several art appearances before that). This one was another attempt to see how much I could jam into Fate Freeport. In Pathfinder they’re CR 16 combat monsters, bristling with weapons and special attacks.

Oddly a direct conversion makes it less powerful, showing you how much was weighted towards its base attack bonus and level to make it deadly; the version below isn’t as powerful as some of the beasties in the Fate Freeport Companion, but it’s got a good set of stats and solid offensive/defensive abilities. Not a challenge to throw at beginners.


Annihilator Robot
This towering, scorpion-like construct makes tortured shrieks as it moves, its metallic weapons thrumming with otherworldly energy.
High Concept: Destruction Made Metal
Trouble: Eats Through Ammo
Aspects: Hulking War Machine; Mission: To Destroy and Enslave
Skills: STR +7, DEX +4, CON +4, INT +2, WIS +1, CHA -2
Ranged Attack: Dual Linked Chainguns (+4 DEX)
Defense: Armor Plating (+4 CON)
Mental Stress: OO
Mental Consequences
Moderate (-4):
Physical Stress: OOOO
Physical Consequences
Mild (-2):
Moderate (-4):
Hardness: Comes with armor plating on par with heavy armor, giving three free invokes/session.
Jump Jets: By spending a Fate point, the Annihilator Robot can move up to three zones ignoring any environmental/situational Aspects or similar hindrances.
Plasma Lance: By spending a Fate point, the Annihilator can unleash a ball of molten plasma from its tail on everyone in its zone. This is a CON attack against DEX. Anyone hit takes normal damage and is Bathed in Molten Plasma.

[Fate Freeport] Robots! – Collector Robot

I’ve always been a huge fan of science-fantasy, though it’s something of an untapped vein in fantasy gaming—for all those sword-and-planet novels where some earthman is whisked away to another planet in Appendix N, we pretty much just have Expedition to the Barrier Peaks and Adventures on Dungeon Planet. (I’m being facetious, but it really is an under-appreciated, if niche, genre.) The new Pathfinder adventure path, Iron Gods, is looking like a pretty rad science fantasy campaign in the “barbarians and robots” land of Numeria, which has me inspired. I’d like to run something in that vein—if not an Iron Gods conversion, at least some kind of science fantasy mashup.

To do that, I need robots.

Collector Robot
A soft whirring noise accompanies this flying mechanical creature. Its arms and hands end in spindly, multi-jointed fingers, and four circular rotors hold the creature aloft.
High Concept: Flying Collector Robot
Trouble: Prone To Electrical Overload; Fragile Sensor Suite
Aspects: All-Around Vision; Mission: To Acquire New Lifeforms
Skills: STR +3, DEX +3, CON +0, INT +1, WIS +2, CHA +0
Ranged Attack: Integrated Stun-Gun (+3 DEX) Nonlethal.
Defense: Reactive Gyros (+3 DEX)

Mental Stress: OOO

Mental Consequences:

Moderate (-4):

Physical Stress: OO
Physical Consequences:
Moderate (-4):
Advanced Tracking System: Gains +2 to Overcome with Wisdom when tracking.
Hardness: Comes with armor plating on par with light armor, giving one free invoke/session.

I started out with the collector ‘bot from the first Iron Gods module, giving it a bit more meat/crunch than my previous attempts. It’s a medium-sized CR 3 designed as a tracker/scout, and to acquire new lifeforms and bring them back for study. Robots in d20 don’t have any Constitution, which made that fun and interesting; rather than finagle with a Con score out of thin air I wanted to see how adversaries worked using the same armor system as players, figuring it may be a good fit for that. (Free invokes will draw combat out a bit more; ditch it if you prefer things fast and cinematic.)

Originally I was going to give it a stunt that put Biometric Tagging Chip Aspects on things, kind of like a dart gun to aid in tracking (and assist in aiming for future ranged attacks). But really, that’s what Create Advantage is for. Mentioning it as an idea generator.

This also brings us to the Nonlethal weapon tag:

Nonlethal Weapons

Nonlethal weapons, like stun-guns, tasers, and blackjacks, are designed to incapacitate instead of kill. A target may be Taken Out or take a Concession as normal with a nonlethal weapon, but neither should lead to the death of the target due to the weapon’s non-lethal nature: it knocks them out or stuns them without grievous bodily harm. Granted, someone with a heart condition may run into problems, and it’s always trouble if you’re stunned and unconscious when flying hundreds of feet in the air…

[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.

[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?


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):
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.
Burning Hands, Fireball, Haste, Magic Missile, Minor Telekinesis, Wall of Fire

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