Thursday, September 14, 2017

Gnomish Copper Dice By Norse Foundry

So I spent a little money and got myself the Official Fate & Fudge Systems Gnomish Copper Dice By Norse Foundry – Pack of 4 Officially Licensed Dice Set. Normally, I am a little hesitant on spending $20 on a set of dice, and at $5 per die they are expensive. Then again, FATE dice in general are a tad pricey. But I am glad I did.

Wow. These are seriously cool. The weight in my hand is very satisfying, and just rolling these is a cool and momentous event. My kitchen table will disagree, and I am using a pad or plastic tray to roll these on because they may leave tiny dents in most types of soft wood.

My Best Four Dice

Considering you only need four dice to play the game, ever, why not make these your best? This is not like polyhedral dice, where games eventually force you to roll 6d8 for some damage roll and all of a sudden you (and your players) are toting around buckets of dice. I am a fan of games with 'dice conservation' and the designers are aware of how many dice are being rolled and what types, and try to reduce and simplify dicing to manageable levels.

I still will use my plastic dice for players, and also myself when I don't have a padded surface to roll these on. They roll well on a cushion because of their weight, and I find myself rolling them on my couch or even a blanket and having them lie flat on something that soft.

Heavy Heavy

Really, what is the point of owning dice so heavy they could be used as metal sling pellets and possibly survive a nuclear war? I think that answers your questions.

But seriously, don't use these as weapons - and you are buying these for two reasons: novelty and bragging rights. Novelty, yes, you don't really need these but you want them - like you want an expensive smartphone. These still are much cheaper than a smartphone, and you are getting something that will last for probably a couple hundred years of use. I don't know yet, so I will let you know.

Bragging rights are important. At a gaming table, as a referee, you sometimes need to establish dominance over a group of players, and having these goes a long way to setting the 'referee means business' tone. Cheap dice I feel cheapen the game, in a way (especially if they are worn out and falling apart). This is way subjective and doesn't apply to everyone, but in social setting such as conventions it is super cool to show off.

And don't feel that if you can't afford these you can't have fun with FATE. They are silly, cool, and fun novelty items that add to the experience in a social context rather than a gaming one. You talk about them. Other players like to look at them. They add a fun weight to roll and heighten the drama. You talk about why you like them and their drawbacks. They still just are "dice" but they invite a lot of discussion (pro and con) and they are a bit of a status symbol (positive or negative) in the game's universe of thought.

It is not a "I am better than you" sort of status symbol, to me it is a "I love the game and the community, so let's laugh at them or think they are cool" thing for me. I still love and use my plastic dice, they are very cool (and more useful in many situations). Everything has its place.

Fidget Dice? Yes! And No! But Yes!

I find the metal dice get me thinking about the game more, and they are an investment in my enjoyment of the game as a mental exercise. They are almost like those metal stress balls you roll around in your hand to meditate and relax. Here, they are the same thing - for me at least - but with the added benefit of being able to make rolls and think about the game while I chill out.

I think that is why I like them so much. They are both a fidget type item, and then also useful for my hobby and mental free time. What better relaxation device than one that you could use to think about one of your favorite games?

Jealousy

My bother instantly wanted a set for himself, so there is a hidden cost here in jealousy. Yours is coming, dude. Lucky they come a a couple different colors and styles so you can take your pick when buying them for someone else. If everybody used these at the table? Wow. I would consider going back to plastic dice.

Just for my table's sake.

Metal Dice

I like metal dice as novelty items. They are not as practical to play with as plastic dice, but I find they are this sort of thing I use for relaxation time, reflection, and an investment into a game I like. Because I bought them, I will play the game more, because I made the investment. It is like that with any game I play, I have my dice I play one game with and don't use them for any other game.

And you only need to buy four.

Correction.

You only need to buy four, and then everyone else who sees them does.

Monday, September 11, 2017

FATE Playtest Notes: Playing with Half a Chess Set

Do not wing things in FATE. I know, the temptation is there; this is such a simple and fast game - why not wing it?

Because if you do you will be playing with half a chess set.


We ran into this in one of our last playtests, as a referee, I winged a lot of the enemies and situations, and things felt a little flat. Why? Usually this game is a blast to play! Well, for one, the aspects of the enemies and challenges were not laid out very well. The players had nothing much to go on, no enemy aspects to trigger, and the enemies and challenges themselves couldn't really work that well within the rules.

You need to design your enemies and challenges. You need to create those 'aspect hooks' for players to trigger and for enemies to take advantage of. You need to design those stunts the enemies or challenges can use on the players to ad some excitement, and also up the difficulty level.

FATE is a game where if the players have weak opposition, the players shall roll over said opposition easily. The game will start to bore, and the session will devolve into "my +5 skill against what?"

No, there needs to be moments where the players are forced back on their heels, and they need to start spending those fate points (and regenerating them) to push back. The game simply isn't fun unless the enemies push back.

And they need to push back hard, and have those aspects and stunts to make pushing back hurt.

Consequences beginning to stack up on the player's side is a good sign. They need to look at their character sheets with worried eyes. They need to start using those FATE points to save their hides, not overpower rolls.

But how you get there, and how you get players involved, is by taking a little time and spinning up those enemies and challenges. Not only does this give the enemies tools to push back, it opens up opportunities for the players to take advantage of an enemy's weaknesses and return the favor by loading the enemy up with conditions.

The game works better if everybody in the situation is playing by the same rules, and everything is spun up and working as a machine. Taking shortcuts and winging it, in my experience, makes the game feel like it really isn't 100% there - especially from a player perspective where you want them playing against the enemy's character sheet rather than the referee's whims.

More notes soon.

Wednesday, September 6, 2017

FATE Playtest Notes: Old habits, Boss Monsters, and Turtling

We did a wrap-up session last night for our unfinished FATE game, and this time it was a little less crazy and a little more subdued, but we still had fun. We did notice a couple things:

Old Habits!

One of our players started with, "...so I wait for a car to approach the building's parking garage..."

Not really FATE in a way. I as a referee waited for the player to announce the story action and none came. In a typical RPG, this sort of 'open ended wait for the referee to give me a bone' is a pretty normal thing. In FATE, you need to remember you are narrating a part of the story. What works better?

"When a car drives into the corporate parking garage, I sneak in alongside it, out of the driver's view and the security guard, creeping and walking fast along the opposite side of the vehicle."

Better. You are narrating a part of the movie scene and the skill being used (stealth) is obvious. Me, as a referee still needs to decide if a car comes or not, but in this case cars are coming and going all day so that fact will likely push the difficulty a step easier for the players. Fewer cars? Fewer chances and higher difficulty. No cars? I inform the player to try something else.

Remember our 'actions are better as macro events' feeling about the Star Wars RPG from Fantasy Flight? The same applies here. You don't want to aggregate too much into one roll, but you want the rolls to cover more than a turn-by-turn fine-grained breakdown of every action.

If an event has a chance of going wrong, and it requires a different skill set, make it a separate roll. If it is inconsequential, or you are finding you are making too many rolls for a single event (just to throw sand in the gears of the players), stop it, declare one last roll to clean up, and move on to the next story part.

You can focus 'too much' on one part of the story and slow things down by requiring too many rolls. As a referee, you need to be a little more aware of pacing and not punishing great ideas by layering on too many rolls on the implementation.

Boss Difficulty

When four players focus in on your bad guy, please make sure your bad guy is significantly more skilled and capable than an average starting character. You players can 'pile on' with their best skills, and a character equal to one of them is going to go down fast.

A big part of this game is building challenges, and players know when to pile on, drain an opponent's fate points dry, and finish the bad guy off with merciless abandon. I am trying to come up with guidelines on how tough to make a bad guy, but it is going to take some more time with the game and practice.

Our bad guy went down quick when all of the characters were focused on him and not fighting each other. Next time, I will need to give my bad guy a larger fate point pool and some defenses against a couple common attacks (mental and physical). Mental attacks, especially from an enemy unaware of the manipulation, can be very effective and drain a bad guy's defenses quickly.

One Trick Turtles

We saw a tendency to 'one trick pony' characters with their best skills in situations where they were protected against having to make skill checks in less-optimal skills. Of course, this came about with a great plan, but you don't want a game to devolve into 'I am the hacker and sit off in a remote site while I hack and stay immune to any risk.'

You want players in the facility, on the site, and taking risks. You want them sneaking through the enemy base. You want to force players out of their 'this is my +5 skill' box where all they do is sit there and roll that +5 skill when the proper time comes up.

As a player, don't turtle up! As a referee, discourage turtling!

The computer terminal you need to use is inside the building, past defenses and in an area patrolled by guards. You need to be using a couple other skills to get in and get out, and you those will likely be not your best ones either.

A great plan tends to put experts in places they need to be. But don't ignore the fact that getting these experts where they need to be should require a wide and diverse array of efforts. Create challenge by forcing characters out of their 'easy boxes' and into dangerous places.

More Playtesting Ahead

We are not done, but FATE looks like a solid game in our schedule of things we play. One of the things we love about the game are aspects and consequences, and we keep coming back to  those and seeing how other game worlds would benefit from having such a system. A lot of games out there are really 'cut and dried' where you just need to burn down a pile of defenses and hit points to 'win' and there really isn't any sort of control over temporary or long-term effects inside the narrative (other than GM fiat). FATE gives the players some input, and also forces the referee to consider what happens next because something else happened.

It really is an interesting system of storytelling and consequences that has captured our imagination.

Monday, September 4, 2017

FATE: Playtest Post


I have never laughed so hard since I played the classic Paranoia RPG in the mid-1980s.

So we did a playtest of the FATE Core System last night and we had an absolute blast, we had players having characters laying down aspects on the bad guys, and then in a moment of pure backstabbing greatness, on each other.

For a group of self-centered con-men and thieves trying to pull off the ultimate heist like something out of TNT's Leverage series, this was an absolute blast. At one point the mastermind of the caper was talked into killing off the band of criminals working under him he put together - by the bad guy they were trying to steal from.

"You work for me now."

Madness ensured.

Fun was had by all.

Not for Stat Crunchers

One thing to remember is FATE is not really a system for those who like their +1 longsword, AC 18, +6 initiative modifier, and 17 hit points. It is not that type of game. Your character's story, skills, and special 'stunts' are not there for singular "did you break down the door" type skill rolls, they are there to measure how much your actions impact the flow of the narrative.

And the narrative means the story itself, the room you are in, the situation around you, and even the stories and backgrounds of other characters with you - good or bad. The illustration on the cover of the book is a bit misleading, you may think this is a game about being that magic-wielding spy, samurai thief, or gorilla monk kung-fu guy - but it is not a game of personal min-maxing power at all. This is a game about how "whatever your power is" can push a story forward, sideways, or backwards and have a blast doing it no matter which way things go.

It is really a freeform "story simulator" and it excels in letting players delightfully mess things up for everyone at the table, good guys and bad guys included - and even your own character should you wish to take a setback for a couple extra hero points (so you can mess with things a little later in the scene). Yes, you will even find reasons to set your own character back if it advances the story in a way, or gets your character captured so you can finally be taken to the villain's secret lair.

You will start your own brand of trouble once you are there, trust me.

This is hard to simulate in a traditional style of pen-and-paper without a lot of GM fiat or "it is written into the module that you get captured" sort of stuff going on. Here? No, there are times you crave being set back because it opens the door to more trouble. We had a character try to sneak into the evil corporation's high rise fortress only to blow the roll spectacularly, where I instantly ruled, "...and they walk you into the evil CEO's office and say look who we caught trying to sneak in...."

And the player smiled in glee because "he was in" anyways, and then proceeded to go about his nefarious original plan when the bad guy offered up a new angle, and the player smiled at the chance to backstab all of the other players around the table with a double-cross.

And after an entertaining attempt of this player trying to eliminate the other high-tech thieves around the table with multiple chances to eliminate players, a devious triple-cross plan was formed and we are back at square one-hundred with the traitor serving as a part of the plan to pull off the biggest back-stab the world has ever seen on the evil CEO.

Oh, and now the evil CEO has devised a plan to tap all the city's phones and search for the player's characters throughout the city by monitoring every electronic device.

This was a simple heist. Get in the building's computer room, steal the plans, and get out.

The game has turned into a cross between Christopher Nolan Batman movie, The Exorcist, and The Matrix.

And we love it.


Player Directed Energy

So if you think about this game as "stats drive narrative" you begin to get it. We walked into this game thinking "traditional rules light game" and we were wrong. While the game itself has rules-light elements, there is a structure there around the basic four actions in the game (and subcategories of rules that control them) that is pure genius. You have to wrap your head around these concepts a little to get started, and about halfway through our first session it clicked.

You are not using "strength" to "bust down a door," you are using your strength to push the narrative along by busting down a door. You may additionally create an aspect (situation) for the scene stating "everyone suddenly ears the door crashing down" and use that short-term story-changer to your benefit. Or someone else may use it for their benefit.

You could use it to shock the group of baddies in the room on the other side into inaction.

They could use it to sound the alarm for help.

Someone nearby could use it to figure out where you are.

But the concept is the players use the situation, modify it, take advantage of it, or succumb to it (for their benefit) to create player-directed energy into the center of the table. This is not a one-way game where the referee tells the players what happens next. The players have direct input into what happens next, what is going on, and where the flow of the story is moving next. You may think in a traditional game this would be the case, if the players weren't in the goblin-infested tower rescuing the princess "they are driving the narrative!"

But in reality, they are not. They are playing through the referee's narrative and moving along a set path of events laid out in the adventure. Even if the adventure is free form, the only impact the players have on the story is through the result of skill and attack rolls.

In FATE, you lay down aspects of varying lengths of time on the story, create them, use them up, let them expire, or create long-lasting ones called consequences that stay in play for the entire adventure.

You make rolls with your skills to stir the pot, add new ingredients to it, and change the nature of the soup. The goal is not individual, atomic success that accumulates towards a conclusion. Here, you and your friends are aiming at changing the story through your individual skills and specialties. This game is not about winning X number of battles, collecting treasure, getting XPs and levels, and defeating the final boss.

Here, every player is a gamemaster in a way when it comes to writing the story together The players' stats rate how good they are at changing and adapting to the story. The gamemaster plays the bad guys, lays out the combined narrative, and is the final decider on how all this chaos comes together.

Silly, but also Serious

And we walked away realizing this is not just a silly party game. You could dial down the insanity a couple notches and have a really serious and satisfying game where you play spies, gangsters, space explorers, horror adventures, or any other sort of normal situation with normal characters. There would still be that subtle 'change the story' thing hovering around there in the background, but it would be used in different ways.

In a horror game, your character may suffer a consequence 'afraid to go in the basement' as a result of being scared by a sudden shock.

In a gangster game, your character could start a soup kitchen with some illegally gained dough and gain a 'loved by the working class and poor of the neighborhood' aspect.

In a spy game, you could talk an enemy agent into 'mistrusting a trusted source' of information and gain an advantage in a situation where that information becomes critical to the mission.

You can dial this down and play it straight. The characters do not need to be fate-alerting gods of chaos, and the insanity can be set at a manageable but still realistic level. It was a strange and sobering moment for us, that there was actually 'more there there' after a night where we laughed our heads off at the potential and insanity of what we just experienced. It was one of those door-opening moments for us that we experienced a few times, like when we first played role-playng games and realized 'you can do that?'

Here, with the narrative and story, yes, 'you can do that.'

Some Mental Assembly Required

As noted, it takes you looking at gaming and the story in a different way. There are a number of terms and interlocking pieces here you need to understand to get the most out of the game. You need to let go of your fear of spending "precious" fate points, and accept the fact you will be playing against your own best interest (in the short term) in order to get fate points back. You need to abandon some of the learned behaviors that traditional pen-and-paper games train you in, like some weapons being better than others, stat building, or min-maxing.

We had one player looking at their character and wishing they could be more than a single-purpose combat expert, that he had some social and technical skills when the situation called for a different approach and their influence wasn't as powerful. The player made up for it by spending fate points, playing smart, and steering the situation back towards what his character was good at - but still, that feeling 'you need to be good at many things' stayed with us. Also, that feeling of 'move the story to where it can be affected by your character the most' also became a tactic, and the bluffing and poker game began between players when they each tried to steer things their way.

But understanding the story-related aspects is key here, and letting each player have that 'ah-ha' moment where they realize the story-shifting parts of the rules are the most important parts of the game. Boosts, stunts, free uses of aspects, triggering them, creating them, and shifting the narrative playing field is where this game shines. If you play this as Basic D&D looking to see what's in the next encounter key you are not going to have as much fun, because you will limit your exposure to the best parts of the game with limited in-the-box thinking.

The more you understand and master the story-based aspects of the rules and how they are used, the more fun you will have with FATE.

Yes, we are Coming back to This One

We are planning a regular weekly game with this rules set, which is a rare thing. It is rare to find a game like this, that allows a high amount of energy to be directed into the game session from all of the players, and for pure chaos to send the story down a path nobody expected. That is the magic of roleplaying to us, not the stat-crunching or MMO simulation a lot of modern games get into, but the free form, 'we gather together to tell a story' thing that makes us feel like we are sitting around a campfire and kicking back with old friends.

FATE cerebrates the narrative. It gives everyone a chance to tell their part of the story. It gets this whole 'shared storytelling' thing that attracted us to the hobby long ago. Nicely done.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Great Article: 15 Key Differences Between Starfinder and Pathfinder

Check this out:

https://geekdad.com/2017/08/15-key-differences-between-starfinder-and-pathfinder-rpgs/

...a great article on the differences between Pathfinder and Starfinder. This goes into a lot of great technical and rules info so it is a handy one to reference and link to Pathfinder players who may be thinking about making the jump.

We received Starfinder last week, and I want to post some thoughts on it soon.

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Great Article: ‘D&D BEYOND’...

Check this out:

https://www.digitaltrends.com/gaming/inside-dungeons-and-dragons-beyond/

This is an article about the new digital tools suite for D&D 5 and it looks pretty slick. I have HeroLab for Pathfinder, and that program has become the only way to play for us. I want to check this software suite out and see what it can do for my group - so, nicely done and written - thank you!

Now, my thoughts and feelings. The problem I have with both Pathfinder and D&D is the character generation time, even in the article, they mention it took a GM and seven players three hours to create a party of characters. Even the author says it takes him 30 to 45 minutes to create a character by himself, and that is with proficient rules knowledge.

And here I was thinking Pathfinder was the one that took a lot of time, and that D&D 5 was actually faster. I guess as time goes on, those 'critical path' choices become clear and the game's balance and mechanics push players more towards 'good choices' for combat and critical game activities. It is like hard drive space in a way, you always find a way to use it all up no matter how much you have. In pen-and-paper games, character generation time seems to go up to an hour no matter how hard the designers try to streamline.

I have been through those 'where did the three hours go' character generation sessions way too many times, and it is hard to get players to go through that and come back the next week. In my feeling, it throws a huge wet blanket over that first, magical 'getting started' session that should be about adventure and having fun, not filling out a character sheet the length of a tax form and then having to come back the next week to see if you made the right choices.

Yes, pre-generated characters help - but they take the critical 'player creative input' out of the game. We are in an age of 64-bit smartphones that do amazing things and connect the world, how hard could it be to design a rules system that gets you started in 5 minutes?

In a perfect world, I would never use a computer program to wrangle complex character creation systems, and it could all be done as we did it when the game started. Throw 3d6 in six scores, pick a race, pick a class, grab some gear, and go.

The simplicity of the retro-clones calls to me, I know.

But the new games allow so much customization!

True, but unlimited choice is not always a good thing in games nor in life. It can paralyze and cause people to not choose anything rather than make a choice and go with it. I would rather have my complexity creep in after level one (in character advancement) than force it on players before they get started with the game.

Just my feelings of course, and I still appreciate robust character design systems - but there is a point where I feel complexity starts hurting the 'new player experience' and also play-ability.

It is why my shelf still holds a nice collection of retro-clones and they continue to inspire me to this day. Sometimes the original ways we did things need some respect and study, and that those simple times had a merit of their own.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Mail Room: Blue Rose RPG



Look what came in the mail today, the Kickstarter version of the Blue Rose RPG. The book is too beautiful to open, so I am using the PDF to learn the rules. I know, it sucks when a game comes and the darn thing is too pretty to open up and use. I am a fan of the old three-ring bound D&D books that were meant to be snapped into a Trapper Keeper in middle school and smuggled into lunch room dungeon sessions. To further accentuate the point:


The sides of the pages are gold-leaf color. Nope, damn it, too pretty to use as a gaming book and I will more likely print out the first hundred or so pages of rules of the PDF so I can learn them and have something I can fold, bend, scribble on, and hand to grubby players. Or she better be wearing white lace gloves with this for me to hand it over.

The book even has a little cloth bookmark built into the book, so that is a cool extra touch.

It looks to be a fun game with rules that won't scare off people, and it also has some fun mechanics where the corruption of the world directly is responsible for some of the monsters there. Does the mayor have a dark secret? If so, watch out, as the inherent corruption of the world may overcome the poor soul and turn him into an evil NPC, or worse into a lich. It is admittedly cool stuff, and I like to see world-specific mechanics integrated into the rules like this.

The only downside to this game is that it isn't D&D or Pathfinder. That is also an upside as well, given the group. It uses the AGE system as seen in the Dragon Age RPG, so it shall be familiar to some, which helps get a group interested. Some may see the 'romantic' theme of this game as possibly a bit silly, but I really don't care - we could stand to see some fun and interesting themed RPGs on our shelf these days. There should be something for everybody, and I am happy tabletop gaming is getting a bit diverse in the experiences we can share with groups.

More soon as we check things out.