Sunday, March 30, 2014

On Last Night's Zounds Character Creation Session

Over oh his blog, +Mark Knights  offers an excellent mini-review of Zounds, the fantasy RPG by +Joshua Macy . I will be running the game Mark is involved with and would be remiss if I didn’t talk about the game a little bit as well.
As Mark mentioned, we did only do character creation last night. And, I’m okay with that. We were introducing new people to the game and familiarizing them with new concepts. Which reminds me, here’s a special call out to Mark and the rest of my players, +Keith Bailey+Robert Hanz+Lloyd Gyan+Jennifer Corniuk+Jonathan Henry, and potentially +peewee rota and others. If you’re looking back over your character, and you want to make a change, that is perfectly legit to do between game sessions. That isn’t just a house rule, but something right in the rules set. So, as Mark mention I gave him a little bit of grief over the generic, “back stab” power his character has, it’s perfectly fitting, but one of the other ideas he mentioned in his blog he might find more useful.

One thing that I really like about this game is the level of customization without having to spend hundreds or even thousands of points, doing math with some sort of archaic abacus to complete your character. It is also neat that you can make up a character in about five minutes or you can spend all week putting different tweaks and moving things around and the two characters may be very different, but still the same level. Thinking and putting more work into your character, if that’s what you like to do, allows you to draw some distinctions, but mechanically, they are no better off. And, that’s one thing that was cool to get my wife, Jennifer involved. She always comes up with these cool character concepts and ends up being disappointed. One of the following things inevitably happens in other systems:
  • She’s told “you can’t do that.”
  • “Yeah, we can do that we just need to figure it out” at which point she loses some amount of control and player agency in the character creation.
  • She is told that she must make choices—opportunity cost based decisions, if you will—where you can do this or that, but not both. Or, if she can do both, she’s not going to be great at either.

Zounds, and the whole SFX line encourages her creativity. The cool thing is, it wasn’t a matter of “how could we do this,” but rather “which way do you think works best for YOUR character?” It was a lot of fun and it’s the first game in awhile she hasn’t come back to me later and said kind of rubbed her he long way or quickly lost her interest. And, that’s just based on character creation. That’s a winner for me and, if you sit back and hear Joshua’s tale some day of how the SFX system came into being, you’ll see why it handles something like that so well.

As a note, I will be running this Sunday game and a Monday game regularly—two very different settings, but both still fantasy. More players are welcome, especially as I do expect people to come and go with it being an online game. So, if you’d like to get in on one of those games, create a character before or next session, or just learn more about the game, feel free to hit me up on Google+.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Fate Core Venture City Stories Review

Venture City Stories is a supplement for the new Fate Core game by Evil Hat Productions. It is a 34 page book written by Brian Engard and edited by Joshua Yearsley. Tazio Bettin handled both the cover and interior artwork while art direction and layout was helmed by none other than Fred Hicks himself.
The book opens right up with describing Venture City, a Fate campaign setting designed mostly for street and city level heroes. Well, superheroes really, but not necessarily of the Justice League or Avengers caliber. The city itself is one of contradictions with vile villains and shining heroes. All of that amidst varying shades of grey.

I should point out that Venture City Stories calls itself an adventure toolkit rather than a campaign book. This is because it is filled with gaming goodness and ideas that you can pick and choose. Choose to play it wholecloth and you will find, once players have been introduced and decisions have been made, the world takes on a life of its own. And, that is part of the beauty of Fate.

Within the book, several example issues—otherwise, plot ideas or hooks are introduced. There are also a number of factions and descriptions of important places and people you’re likely to run into one way or the other in the fictional city. The issues are handled in Venture City Adventures just as they are within Fate Core, with the suggestion to select two immediate issues, two impending issues, or one of each. Some of the sample issues presented include: Not safe after dark, Are supers still human?, Gangland powderkeg, and Citywide blackout. There really isn’t any explanation for these issues and that’s okay. They are pretty self-explanatory and they are meant to get the creative juices flowing. So, if you’re looking for someone to plan out your entire adventure or even the beginnings of one for you, this isn’t where it is going to happen. There is one example where they take one impending issue and one immediate issue and show how the two work in conjunction to lay the groundwork for an interesting and exciting game.

Factions, places, and people are all part of the same section, although separated out. And, with so few pages, it makes sense. The Fate Fractal is toyed with here a little bit. Factions are defined not only by their descriptions, but by new aspects including the slogan and secret aspects. Factions also have up to six skills: Bureaucracy, Security, and Violence being three of them. Each of the Factions also include a location which includes a new issue. They also include people which could be villainous NPCs or supporting cast members. There isn’t a hard and fast rule on how the Factions should have their skills figured as far as how many points should be spent on them. That might have been nice to have, but figuring it is all relative, your group’s game might have various Factions with widely different skill spreads to show different levels of helpfulness or threat yet be completely different from someone else’s game’s Factions.

The book continues with the example setup used earlier to show how issues can be used, now adding in factions, places, and people. One thing I noticed is that Faction skills are represented numerically with +3, +6, etc. However, the people are rated by the adjective associated with their level of competency: Superb, Great, Good, Fair, and Average. I know this might look neat to a lot of people—something besides boring old numbers, but it is one thing I always disliked. Put the numbers in parentheses next to the adjectives if needs be, but give me the numbers to make it faster and easier, especially when I am someone who doesn’t play Fate all the time.

While the section on Factions, People, and Places is excellent background fodder, providing things to slide into your game and giving you some neat ideas, my main course is served up on page 23 of the PDF. Here, the team goes into talking about character creation and super powers. I don’t want to give away too much, but it is very well done. Powers are based on stunts from Fate Core, but they are also something much more. They go into detail on adding special effects, drawbacks, etc. This is topped up with yet more sample characters—all neat and original.

While this book is PWYW (Pay What You Want), I’d definitely say it’s worth more than the $0 many will surely put into the box. It is a great read and it is put together very well. It goes quickly, but I think, if you’re into this sort of thing or even just hacking Fate Core, you will find yourself turning back to this resource more than a few times in the future.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Adding on to SFX Zounds!

I am preparing to run a fantasy RPG using +Joshua Macy's excellent SFX! System Zounds! Now, if you haven’t heard of it before, you can download it for free from DriveThruRPG. He has created a handful of fine games based on different genres: Kapow! For superhero games, Zap! For SciFi games, ARGH! For modern horror games, and Zounds! For fantasy games. These are great fun, easily available for one shots and ongoing campaigns.
I plan on running an ongoing campaign through Google Hangouts. I may need to adjust the timeslot to get more people in the game, but that’s besides the point. I am lucky enough to have Joshua in my circles, so he’ll probably join in, which is always great to have a developer there if you’re looking at changing how things work. They can give you reasons why they did something the way they did or suggestions on how to make your change better. Also, if you have missed something already covered, they can point it out. Already, here I am looking at things that I want to be able to do in my game that isn’t necessarily covered in the book.

Influence and Reputation

To be fair, Reputation is listed as a suggested Asset within the Zounds! Framework on page 28. However, there is no follow up for it. I look at it as allowing characters to use in order to gain favorable outcomes from certain groups. Those groups might be a ruling council of elves or members of the secretive Thieves’ Guild. It might be used in combing powers to carouse, negotiate, or investigate. One thing I consider alongside this is granting XP specifically to be used toward increasing reputation or influence. Influence is pretty much written like rank, although for my own campaign, I’ll define the areas of influence and ranks in more definitive terms. The same can be said for reputation. I’m also considering looking at a way to “damage” either one of these assets. You overextend your influence or you lose face in front of a group that respects you.

Legendary Magic Weapons

What about weapons that level up with the character? Now, SFX! And Zounds! Already make room for doing this easily, permitting characters to spend XP in the form of Boosts on whatever they want really. However, once again, how about specifying XP toward improving special pieces of gear. It would work a lot like Magical Research, but wouldn’t necessarily be that. It might be a warrior meditating with their blade, or a rogue training with their lockpick tools. These are just ideas, but I think they are worth bouncing around.  The concept is not too different from D&D 3.5’s Weapons of Legacy.

Specialized Powers, Gear, and Boosts
This one is a bit odd. Because Zounds! Is already designed to be quite freeform both in character creation and advancement, it is near impossible to limit a character’s abilities. However, if a character has unlimited options, is it possible to have options that are limited to specific groups. Again, similar to D&D’s 3rd edition Prestige Classes, is there a way to allow characters to perhaps purchase packages that give some sort of discounted benefits or benefits that are unique to those who have met the proper requirements. It probably all falls under flavor and the Primary Rule of what makes sense and what fits the setting. For example, the Dread Knight package might have a Darkened Blade 6 power that allows them to attack Will instead of Toughness. Anyone else might have a Power that does the same exact thing, but is called something different and should also look different, but it has the same exact effect.

Changing Scopes

In most of the SFX! games, it is recommended that we use different scopes to indicate the overall power level of the game. I think, as with traditional fantasy RPGs, we need to be able to transcend scope a little bit easier. This gives the feel of leveling up like old school RPGs where you go from the peasant to the local hero to the brave knight to the cosmic champion.

These are some basic things I’m eyeballing right now. For those of you who have read or even played in a Zounds! Game so far, what do you think?

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Is 47 Ronin an Homage to Asian Themed RPGs

Over the past week, I was able to sit down and watch 47Ronin—the one with Keanu Reeves starring as a Tengu-raised hero turned samurai. While watching the movie, I could not help but thinking how much the story reminded me of a roleplaying game adventure. I do not apologize for the spoilers I am about to throw out there. Instead, I only warn that they are coming.

We start with a young hero from a mysterious past. He has no family to speak of and people believe he is at least part demon. He is adopted into an honorable samurai clan where his skills cannot be ignored, however, he is not of the samurai bloodline and is thus treated almost as a non-person. We see the kitsune/witch working with the enemy, Lord Kira. The would-be heroes are firsts tripped of title, rank, and dignity. During a year’s exile in a filthy pit, Oishi meditates and comes to a new understanding on the world and everyone’s place in it. He seeks out Kai, who has apparently levelled up a few times since we last saw him. The two go through a sword swinging, high leaping, random fire burning chase through an island of pirates and thieves before returning to the mainland and gathering and inspiring the rest of their forces. Watch the final battle and see how several pieces all work in conjunction with one another for it to work. In fact, it ignites most when someone just barely misses their roll on an archery check. We have magic. We have swords. We have larger than life heroes with a little bit of witty banter and a soul-wrenching ending. How is it not a roleplaying game set in Feudal Japan?

Okay, the legends may have been a little off. The armor and style of dress may have been overly contrived. Bottom line: there may have been some details that were less than 100% accurate. This doesn’t really change the enjoyment factor and only serves to make it more like an Oriental Adventures setting. One such campaign world I have only barely gotten to try out and look forward to playing more of is Heroes of the Jade Oath.

Rite Publishing Heroes of the Jade Oath

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

RPG Review Thoughts
I was fortunate enough to read through a pre-production copy of an RPG this evening/morning. It looks like a fun game, but I realized a few truths about myself.

When I am reading something for a review, it's impossible to shut the editor off.

I really enjoy the art and like commenting on it (good, bad, or ugly) in my reviews. Taking that art away doesn't detract from my enjoyment of the product, though.

My mind works different than others. After going through several passes by several people, I was catching phrases that just caught me wrong. They read fine to all those other people. Yet still, I found issue with one here or there. And, even though it might be okay for the majority, not being okay for the few was bothersome to me. I want everyone to get the same thing from the book. I hate rules lawyers and I hate rules debates.

When I'm let in early on a project like this, I find myself considering myself part of the team in a strange way. I noticed my notes referred to "we" a lot, although I had nothing to do with the project. I sure hope that doesn't offend actual team members who poured their blood, sweat, and tears into the product.

I can never seem to find a happy medium for fluff in an RPG book. There's either not enough or too much. Yet, somehow, none seemed to work just fine for a fast and easy read.

This is my first time doing an independent review where I've agreed to so many stipulations including an pseudo-NDA and agreeing to allow the publisher to review the article before it's to be published. Many of the terms were similar to my "work for hire" contracts, but my only pay here was an advanced copy of the pre-production. I'm not complaining, but that I did that kind of surprised me.
I think this will be a decent product and I'll let you know more when I can. I am excited to see it published in its final form and I am going to have a go at running it as well.

RPG reviews are important. You'll find a lot of goofy ones out there where people don't seem to have read what they are reviewing. Or, there are some people who follow their mother's advice. You know, "if you have nothing nice to say, don't say anything at all." I know a lot of people get free copies here and there and I do sometimes. More often than not, I'm reviewing something I spent my money on. I can be harsh, but it's rarely for the sake of being harsh. I want people to strive to do better. And, sometimes, my matter of fact nature simply comes across as being harsh.

I haven't had any hate mail yet, so I guess I've done okay there. Or, you know, I just haven't publicized my blog enough.

What kind of review realizations have you come across? Any fun review stories? Not so much of the product, but of the review process itself. Share them here, I'd love to hear them.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Fate Core RPG Weapons

Many have heard me drone on before about how I hate the fact that, in many games, a gun is a gun is a gun.If you’re into combat and martial arts and action movies and paramilitary/espionage RPGs like I am, that just doesn’t work. There is a reason someone picks what weapon they want for their characters and it’s not just based on because it looks cooler. That is to say, when you look at it like I do. Yes, surely sometimes, it’s just flavor. But to limit it to only flavor is a bit…meh, in my mind. So, what can I do with weapons in Fate Core? It turns out a lot, really. I thank the Fate Core G+ Community and especially +Robert Hanz  and +Jacob Poss for their guidance with this. And, admittedly, this would be better done if I collaborated more with the likes of them and +Jonathan Henry , +Robert Brumbelow , +Gerardo Tasistro , and +Douglas Cole if not for their familiarity with Fate, their familiarity and understanding of combat and a variety of modern weapons.

Diamond Edged Sword
Because the diamond edged sword is so sharp, it grants +2 to forcefully cut through objects.
The diamond edged sword is dangerous in the wrong hands.

Sniper Rifle
Because the sniper rifle is scoped, it grants a +2 to carefully create advantage when aiming.
Made for long range, not close quarters.

With various view options the multi-scope provides +2 to carefully overcome obstacles when aiming.
Delicate and expensive.

Full Auto Machinegun
Because it is capable of full automatic gunfire, the weapon provides a +2 bonus when trying to forcefully create obstacles with suppressive fire.
Great weapon, when it doesn’t jam.

Playing with Fate Accelerated

Fate Accelerated and Fate Core

I see a number of games coming out that offer an expansion to meet Fate Accelerated, but I am always reminded of a post by +Fred Hicks on how the two are not different games. Fate Accelerated tones down some of the options, but not by actually toning them down. Instead, it says if you want to know more about this or that, check out the thicker book (i.e., Fate Core). I have been wanting to try out Fate Accelerated for a while now and I finally got a chance the other night. I ran a game.

Now, not to blow my own horn or anything, but it sucked. I didn’t hit on a lot of the Fate-esque things. We barely touched aspects, compels, setting up advantages, etc. But, I did do what I set out to do. I got to see how approaches work. Now, admittedly, I do one thing a little differently. And, in talking with +Robert Hanz , it is probably better this way. The book for Fate Accelerated talks about players choosing which approach to use based on their description of the action. I submit, however, that the GM should be able to declare which approach is best based on the description of the action. Sure, players can and should suggest what approach they believe is best, but it should be finally decided upon by the GM.

As an RPG, Fate Accelerated allowed me to do some things that I’ve been trying to do for some time now. Take, for example, the modern espionage or GI Joe type role playing game. There are actually a lot of ways to do it. However, even with Fate Core, players are left having to play with modified rules or fewer options than usual, because you would expect characters who are all part of an elite military force to have certain skills and abilities. Want to try d20? Look at all the feats and levels one would have to acquire. Even the d20 spin-off Spycraft leaves you wanting as you could spend 10+ levels and never be able to make Snake Eyes. Savage Worlds has the same kind of flaws, but isn’t too far off, especially with rules modifications built into the system. Cortex Plus comes in as a close second.

Fate Accelerated, which still the same game as Fate, makes a difference with approaches. Here, the descriptors (or aspects) you give your character encompass a wide variety of skills and abilities. Where we would normally have skills and traits, we instead have approaches, which equate more to how our characters go about getting things done rather than what they can accomplish. This allows me to run a game of paramilitary specialists without having people feel like they are playing anything near the same character or spinning their wheels in an attempt to create the character they really want to play.

For fun, I’ve even created a handful of GI Joe RPG characters using FAE below.

Mutt & Junkyard

G.I. Joe M.P.
Which one is Mutt again?
Junkyard is meaner than Leroy Brown
Jungle warfare training
Spec Ops security specialist
Careful Superb  (+5)
Clever Good (+3)
Flashy Fair (+2)
Forceful Great (+4)
Quick Average (+1)
Sneaky Good (+3)
Because Junkyard is meaner than Leroy Brown, Mutt gains a +2 when creating an obstacle with his loyal companion.
Because Mutt is a Spec Ops security specialist, once per session, he can easily work around one security checkpoint or piece of security equipment without having to roll.
Stress X X X
Mild (2)
Moderate (4)
Severe (6)
Refresh: 3

Mercenary frequently allied with Cobra
If you can tell who did it, it wasn’t me
The Faceless Master
False Arashikage, true Koga
Always a way out
Careful Good (+3)
Clever Great (+4)
Flashy Fair (+2)
Forceful Average (+1)
Quick Good (+3)
Sneaky Superb (+5)
Because Firefly is the Faceless Master, he gains +2 to sneakily create obstacles whenever others are trying to discover his identity.
Because Firefly knows there is Always a Way Out, once per a session he can concede a conflict and manage to escape without further penalties.
Stress X X X
Mild (2)
Moderate (4)
Severe (6)
Refresh: 3

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Can Daring Comics Pull off a Fate Supers Game?

This morning, I awoke at an odd time and I did what I always do shortly after I wake up. I checked my email. Sitting there, in all its glory, was an announcement from +Rich Knight  that the Kickstarter campaign for the Daring Comics Role-Playing Game had begun. Those who know me know that I have a certain love for supers, RPGs, and the Fate system by Evil Hat Games. I was excited and decided to hop on over to the Kickstarter and have a look.

Now, those who have read my blog before know that I have a tendency to be a bit stingy with my money and harsh on those who ask for it. At the same time, I am the first to sing the praises of those who impress me. It saddens me to say that this particular project failed to do just that. I mean, there were some solid ideas presented along with the project, but there were also several concerns raised.

First, in the very beginning, there is an explanation for why the Kickstarter campaign page lacked the video that many of us have come to expect. It is understandable, really. Apparently, the artist had been paid to put the video together, but delayed and eventually pretty much vanished. It happens. If I had to count the number of artists—particularly comic book and RPG artists—I have seen flake out over the years, I’d be here all night. Okay, but why not have a backup plan? You’re a publisher, you’ve almost assuredly dealt with this before or at least know it’s a risk. You could’ve planned ahead. You could’ve come up with a plan B. You could have put together a video using a slideshow application and a microphone. But, that wasn’t done here. The project needed to get out the door so money could be made. So, what other excuses will we see during production and what other shortcuts will we take in the name of a product getting out the door.

As a writer, I know I am far from perfect. I often say that, as a writer, I’d have a fool for a client if I were to also serve as my own editor. However, there were some editorial issues with the Kickstarter. As a writer, I also hate being told “it could have been better” without anyone offering any specifics. And yes, this blog post could have probably been better, but I’m doing it for free, in my spare time, and not asking for any money. Take, for example, a line right from the announcement on G+: “But we didn't stop there, just as you can expect to see rules for building your own Stunts, we also provide you with the rules for building your own powers, special effects, and limits using the same basic Fate rules.” Why wasn’t “But we didn’t stop there” its own sentence. Okay, maybe I’m being picky and confusion grammar for stylistic choices, but things like that leave an annoying ring in my brain, like most people experience with nails on a chalkboard. “Heroes like you!” is great, but it lacks build up and connection. And, there are certainly more I could point out, but it probably is better to just say “it could have been better.” The Daring team didn’t ask for me to critique or edit every last word, and I’m not trying to pick on them here. Hopefully, they and others will understand I’m really just offering up some constructive criticism here.

And, let’s face it, when you read what they plan on doing, this is a massive project. They’ve spent two years working on it so far and have made adjustments to make it more compatible with the most recent version of Fate. Boasted features of the product include:

  • 100 pre-built powers
  • More than 100 special effects and limitations
  • Full color artwork
  • Series and settings creation
  • Sample archetypes to enable fast play
  • And more

It sure seems to be a massive undertaking. And, it seems to have everything I would expect and/or want from such a project. I’m actually a bit excited about it. But, these initial problems have me a bit concerned. The fact that this project was posted about 7 hours ago and already has more than 30 backers and $2000 under its belt says something to me. And, like Kickstarter advises, I do a little internet sleuthing. Their domain has been around since 2009, although the posts go back as far as late 2011 and refer to the previously successful Kickstarter project World of the Dead for Savage Worlds and this game here. The blog updates have been sporadic—mostly a week or two, but sometimes a month or two between. The Google Plus community had 88 members (now 89, because I do want to follow this). I’m hoping to see more activity here as there are a few earlier posts, but the ones related to the Kickstarter release talk about pricing or the video. The video isn’t considered a big deal. Then why open the Kickstarter page with it?!? And, it can’t be compared to the Fate Core pricing model, but why? I’m absolutely basing the value of this project off of related projects.

That being said, it is a bit pricey. For all they plan on adding, it might be a fair price. Let’s have a look at that. They have gone through the process before and learned at least one or two lessons the ahrd way, but they group seemed to keep people updated throughout the way—something we know not all Kickstarter projects do. There delays from that previous product didn’t seem too bad either. These are both good things.

They were apparently Arbor Productions which apparently made a name for itself, but since changed names. From a business perspective, this sets off warning bells—if the business was doing well, why change it? They boast of publishing close to 70 products, although it seems a number of these were part of the adventure series related to their last Kickstarter. That’s good, because they support stuff instead of run off roughshod from project to project and I can’t speak to the quality of those products because they’re in a line that simply doesn’t interest me or as to whether they should be considered 70 or so different products or really just mostly one big project that was released over time.

Looking over the provided artwork, it is decent. It isn’t anything stellar that reaches out and grabs me, though. For a supers RPG, I think it needs to do just that. And, once money comes in and artists can afford to dedicate more time, I would be hopeful that we’d see the work get better. But, it leads back to the part about the video—why not put the best foot forward right off the bat?

They also provided a brief into by gathering dev notes and putting them into a PDF. This was an interesting read. I seem some of the same stylistic and editorial choices that leave me a bit luke warm. They talk about the campaign scope and creating the setting. I was a bit let down that they didn’t deviate more from standard aspect creation for the super heroes, but that’s a personal choice, really. I dig the rogue gallery overview, but is that going to be too much work and turn off people that love the fast and easy way of Fate? They start using points to do skills and stunts and powers, which takes away the pyramid a bit. I don’t have a problem with this, although I’ve seen a number of people stomp their feet at the mere suggestion of such a thing. Powers definitely get a bit more complex as the discussion goes on, leaving me feeling less like I am looking at a Fate book and more like something from other systems, or at least a cross between the two. I get it, but am not totally sure I like it. To me, it fails to encapsulate Fate.

That was actually the deal breaker for me. I could possibly look past everything else. But, when I realized I was seeing something that was less and less Fate, I realized I have tons of supers RPGs that are not Fate already at my disposal.  It may end up being an awesome game, but I’ll have to wait and see once it is out rather than jumping on the Kickstarter bandwagon. I wish the team all the luck in the world. Not everything is for everyone, though, and I think we can all understand and agree on that.