Monday, May 22, 2017

FATEsy Heartbreaker: Reworking Ideas and a Real Title

It has been a while since I last got any serious work done on this project, or any of my other solo projects either. For the last year or so I have been working on a joint project with +Megan Bennett-Burks that we hope to have out within the next couple of months, watch for Far Off Land coming soon. For some reason writing has been a great difficulty. I am not sure why. what I do know is that each day that went by with a minimum of writing the easier it became to write less the next day. This sort of spiraled for a while. This post is the first in what I hope is a series of posts that will help me move forward into steadier writing. I hope you like it, fingers crossed.

When I first started this project I was unsure what I was aiming for. Mostly it was a way of having a bit of fun with Fate. I like objects in motion and it was fun playing around with altering well worn tropes and seeing if I could find some new edges in Fate at the same time. As I went forward with the project I ended up building a bunch of interesting widgets and I saw hints of somethings even bigger and more interesting that needed more development.

That in mind I have decided to rework the mechanics I built and see what I can make out of what has come before. The end goal of this is to build the skeleton of a game that is at once old school and new. I want a game that feels a bit like old school D&D and a bit like the Comic Book Rat Queens. Basically I want something that feels like a Dungeon crawl(Fate Style, so more like the movie of a dungeon crawl) and also feels like a character driven story with relationships and the like evolving over time.

In this first post I will be breaking down the core elements of character creation as well as the large scale mechanical subsystems I currently intend to work on. I also have come up with a Title that works better for me than Heartbreaker. The Title I am leaning toward right now is...

The Far Marches

The game will focus around exploring a dangerous wilderness filled with ancient ruins and dangerous monsters. To that end the players will be playing a group of thrill seekers, treasure hunters, and other folk who just don't fit into polite society. This motley crew will be some of the very very few who purposely walk into dangerous lands in search of powerful magics and great wealth.

As I want this game to be a toolkit for making your own fantasy dungeon crawl games I need to breakdown the set up of the game to its very very core. No fantasy races(though I want to put in the option so that you may make your own), a very simple magic system(Fate will be a boon there), and such. I just want to work out the core mechanical necessities of the type of characters that would fit into this type of game.

World Building
Like many many Fate games world/campaign building should be a cooperatively built to some extent. Some parts of the world are going to be set fairly hard up front. The world is a fantasy world, so there is that. The world needs big dangerous wilderness filled with ancient ruins, dangerous monsters, and other mysteries that need to be explored and brought back to civilization. I would like that civilization to be represented by a single town that will be the headquarters of the player characters. This will allow me to use the really excellent city creation rules that many Fate Games use.

I would also like to use something like the city map from Blades in the Dark, or at least an idea that stems from that. I would like to have a character sheet for the town that would allow for the players to make alterations to the town so it can grow and change in response to player action. I also would like to have something similar for the surrounding lands to build in that classic Old School Mapping feeling. This would be a character facing map and as such it would only have stuff on it that they discover, crate, and interact with.

The world building section needs to answer a couple of big questions. Why are these treasure hunters allowed in society; Why is there ruin filled wilderness around the town; and How are the adventurers viewed by society as whole? I know I need to rework these questions and probably lay out a bunch of examples and explanations on how these questions might be answered and what that means to the game world. This is the area I am most uncertain on and yet it is the area I am most certain needs to be nailed down the clearest. So if you have any ideas on it I would love to hear it.

Character Creation Breakdown
When making a character there are a bunch of moving parts that need to be worked out. There are the core three bits: Aspects, Skills, and Stunts. However there are also a number of other moving parts that need to be examined. I already have a number of ideas on how I am going to use these moving parts, but if you see a flaw or an issue please let me know.

Character aspects in Fate Core can vary in number and in potency. The choice of that number will have a huge effect on play. Aspects started at ten way back in Spirit of the Century, and for a long while after that 10 was the number in most Fate games. Then came Dresden Files RPG which lowered that number of character aspects to 7. Finally in Fate Core we saw the number of aspects lowered again to 5. This seems to be a solid number of character aspects. Not so many that the GM forgets them and enough so that the character isn't really one note.

For this hack I am leaning toward two types of character aspects. First I want there to be fairly standard character aspects as one would expect in Fate.  The other type would be a little different, they would be aspects that one gets as they advance through the game. My idea is this. At the end of a big adventure(dungeon crawl and the fallout from that dungeon crawl back in town) the players would get to give the person next to them an aspect related to their performance in the adventure. I think the number of these secondary character aspects should remain at around two or three, and would kind of represent something like the character's reputation and what stories are told about them in the town. As I want two to three adventure aspects I think that the initial number of aspects should also be kept fairly low. I am thinking three personal aspects. This could lead to a character that is a bit one note at first. Though this could be a problem I do think it fits with my idea of growing the characters through their reputations and the like. The characters will start out fairly simple, but over time and throughout adventuring they will become more complex and more linked to the hometown and its surrounding area.

I have gone back and forth on skills in this hack how many to have, how expansive whether there should be special skills with odd effects. In the end I am still unsure. Way back in the first version of this hack I went with the classic six attributes and then used stunts to represent specializations and skills. The more I think on it the more I lean away from that. I think what I would like to do is a custom skill list with some rules for building class and race skills. This would allow for fantasy race and classes without needing them to make the game work. The hard part comes to narrowing down the skills to what is needed without going over and without removing too many. I could just use the skills as listed in Fate Core, but I really do believe that for a custom game you need custom skills that reinforce the core game play both mechanically and thematically.

Stunts often add specialization and special powers to the skills and aspects. They can be linked to both or to neither. Stunts are fun and fiddly, and as such I quite like them. I want to cover magic with stunts as well as cool techniques. The problem I have is not what to do with stunts, but when should I stop fiddling with stunts? Stunts invite manipulation and fiddling, so stopping that can be difficult. I am currently leaning toward stunt trees revolving around the core competencies one usually finds in the standard Old School Fantasy. Each spell will be in itself a stunt. As you can exchange a stunt for another stunt at a minor milestone, this fits pretty well with the extant Vancian Casting common in the old school fantasy. Stunt trees are tricky and I have never done them before, so I am unsure on how well that will work as I work forward with this hack. I also want each stunt tree to require certain types of character aspects. This does mean that if you change a connected aspect then you could lose access to the related stunts. Which suggests some tactical goals in a given conflict.

Other Character Facing Things I want in the Game
Wealth: I really hate the wealth system I developed way back in the first version of the hack. I hate it a lot. It just does not work very well in practice. It is fiddly and requires keeping track of two pools of rapidly shifting points for very little extra mechanical benefit. I am currently leaning toward something like the wealth system from Diaspora, though that does not fully work for me yet. I have a bunch of half Ideas on this but nothing that really suits my purpose. If you have any ideas on this I would love to hear them.

Stress: I would like to use conditions rather than consequences for this hack. I think that consequences fit the style of play a little bit better than the more free-form consequences.

Gear: Gear can get pretty darn complex and it can also get super simple. I want the gear in this game to matter, but I do not want it to overshadow the characters. I am leaning toward using the asset creation rules from Jadepunk in order to represent magic and special items. Then I would probably just use a list of gear to let the player keep track of what gear they have in any give situation.

Future Posts
Future posts will be going in depth into each o these issues and hopefully helping me suss out exactly what I am looking for in this Hack as well as breaking down the core mechanical subsystems I will be designing, specifically Dungeon Crawls, Overland Travel, and Relationship Mapping. That is it for today's post, I would love to hear you thoughts on the matter. Here is hoping that this will help me get back into the swing of things once again.

Next we delve into the nitty-gritty of...

The Far Marches