Showing posts with label GM tips. Show all posts
Showing posts with label GM tips. Show all posts

Friday, November 06, 2015

Fate And Getting Over The Hurdle Of Aspects

Coming up soon, I have a rare face to face game. Not having been able to previously find a local group that matched up with my interests, I have done a lot of online gaming over the last two years. One isn’t really better than the other, and I’m not planning on giving up on online gaming because of this, but it is nice to find myself once again prepping for people who will be around the table with me.

We’re going to be playing a pulp-inspired game using the Fate Accelerated rules as the base for the game. Since this will likely be a once monthly sort of thing, the less time we spend on making characters means the more time that we have for the game itself. This is exactly the sort of thing that Fate Accelerated excels at.

Only one of the group, besides myself, has a passing familiarity with the system, so while the rules itself aren’t a problem the creation and care of Aspects has been a slight hurdle for some of the people. There’s a lot of resources out there for creating aspects, but I thought that I would share some things that I have come up with in my long, long association with the Fate rules for the benefit of the people that I will be gaming with. Perhaps they will help some others, so that is why I am sharing them in this blog post rather than just privately with the people with whom I will be gaming.

Let's cover the mechanics of aspects quickly. From the Fate Accelerated rules:
An aspect is a word or phrase that describes something special about a person, place, thing, situation, or group. Almost anything you can think of can have aspects. A person might be the Greatest Swordswoman on the Cloud Sea. A room might be On Fire after you knock over an oil lamp. After a time-travel encounter with a dinosaur, you might be Terrified. Aspects let you change the story in ways that go along with your character’s tendencies, skills, or problems.
When I talk about about aspects with players, particularly players who are new to fate, the first thing that I try to explain is that there is one slight difference between making a Fate character, and making a character with a lot of other traditional systems. Where a lot of other RPGs are built around coming up with as much detail as possible for your characters, Fate is built around the idea that when you build your character you are highlighting those parts of your character that are important to you as a player. The aspects that you choose for characters are the important "aspects" of your character, to you, and for the GM they are flags for the kinds of stories that you want to take part in as a player.

A player whose character's aspects are built around romantic relationships and feelings want to play in a game that, if it doesn't revolve around romance it should have romantic elements to it. The same goes for the player whose character is about exploring the unknown. Consciously, or unconsciously, one of the determining factors around a player's choice of aspects should revolve around these two things: what is important about the character to you, and what sorts of stories you want to be a part of crafting.

This is where the "Establishing Facts" part of the mechanical weight of aspects comes into play. Sometimes this is lost in the shuffle because of the fact that Invoking and Compelling both have direct impacts on play. Establishing Facts, on the other hand, have a more indirect impact on play. For example, one of the players in our group has played Spirit of the Century and wants his character (a talking gorilla) to have been a part of the Khan's army before breaking away from it. After making a high concept aspect around having been a part of the Khan's army he then asked "Does the Khan exist in your world?" My answer was "You established the fact of the Khan in your aspect, so yes. He exists in this world." In a lot of ways, "Establishing Facts" is one of the most powerful parts of an aspect in the Fate rules, but it can easily be forgotten.

My advice to players making aspects is always two-fold: be flavorful and be succinct. Let me unpack these.

Be Flavorful. Aspects should be exciting and dramatic. Not only do they describe your character, but they will help to guide the drama of the story as your games develop. Why "be flavorful"? I would turn that question around and ask "Why would you describe your character in a way that isn't exciting?" Particularly in a pulp-inspired game, where you are playing characters so much larger than life, you need to make sure that your aspects are up snuff for the characters.

"Mediocre" Aspect: Science Adventurer

"Fair" Aspect: Body Built By Science

"Superb" Aspect: Shaped By Secret Sciences To Save The World

Just note that there really isn't a problem with any of those aspects. Any of them have their uses in games, but it will be easier to work in Invokes and Compels when your aspects have some drama to them. Not only is the writing for the "Superb" aspect more dramatic, but it also helps you to establish at least one fact about the world that you are going to be playing in. The most obvious fact would be the "Secret Sciences" part of the aspect. Does this mean that there are sciences developed in secret, away from the prying eyes of mankind? Does this mean that there are lost sciences, from civilizations hidden away in the fog of time? It can also mean that there is a group behind the scenes, using these sciences to create heroes (or villains) like your character. When you put all of this together, you get a "Superb" aspect. It is so much more than just the writing of the aspect itself, although that helps too.

Be Succinct. Why is this important? I will admit that this is probably more of a personal preference, but I think that an aspect that is more compact is easier to use in play. Sentence-length aspects can have their place, but they end up with extraneous information that could be broken out into other aspects. This ends up making an aspect "too" useful when it comes to invoking, and it can make compelling difficult. For example, the above "Superb" aspect could easily have been written as "Raised By A Secret Council Of Scientists To Save The World From The People On It." This is still a valid aspect, but it also has a lot of information that can be overwhelming in play, and it limits the choices from the above paragraph as well.

Spelling out too much in an aspect is like creating too much of a backstory for your character. Yes, it gives your character a rich history, but it also takes some of the fun out of the story that is going to emerge during play. When you put more detail into the parts of your character that you are not going to play, it can inadvertently give you fewer options for your character when you get to junctions in the future. For my style of play, the emerging story of your character is much more important than what has happened before. It isn't unusual for the actions of your character to shape them in ways that you didn't expect when you created that character, and that is a good thing. Aspects can be changed during play, that is a part of using the Fate rules, but it is also good to not create your own road bumps in the emerging story.

Creating aspects is like any skill. The more that you do it, the better that you get at it. Think about the existing mechanics, as well as the story that may emerge during play. Craft your aspects accordingly to optimize both your approach to the mechanics and to the story.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Going Back To Kali

Sure, everybody loves using ninjas in their super-hero campaigns, but what if you want something that is a little different?

Luckily John Ostrander gave us an interesting new option during his run on the Suicide Squad (which I have talked about before) by introducing the Thuggee assassin Ravan in the first arc of that book. He later went on to become a member of the team and added an interesting moral dimension to the team.

There may be historical issues with the existence of the Thuggee, but that rarely gets in the way of good gaming (or comics for that matter). What I liked about Ostrander's incorporation of the cult into the DC Universe was the idea that, while they ostensibly worshiped the dread goddess Kali, their worship was out of fear and the murders that they committed were sacrifices to her in order to forestall the end of the current age and the start of the Age of Chaos, the Kali-Yuga. Ravan's "catchphrase" was "A Thousand Years, O Kali," because each consecrated death to their goddess would stall the coming of the Kali-Yuga by another thousand years.

Ravan, one of these Thuggees, set himself up as a mercenary killer. This way he could not only forestall the coming of Kali, but he could become very rich and live a playboy lifestyle while doing it. No mindless abasement here. He saw himself (as the panel to the right says) as the first of a new Thuggee cult that was in touch with the modern world. He used technology in his kills, using it to augment the traditional tools like the garrote.

Unlike the ninja, there is no running around in their underwear and using of ancient, outdated weapons for this cult. Their mixture of the ancient and the modern makes them an interesting foil for high tech super-heroes, or espionage agents.

So, how do you do this in your campaign? You could easily just reskin whatever passes for a ninja in the existing writeups for the system you are playing and add the bits about "killing for a higher cause" to them. Bam. You have Thuggee. When I introduced them into my Marvel Super-Heroes campaign back in college, that was basically all that I did. I think that my writeup for Ravan was cribbed from the one for The Taskmaster, removing his powers. A Ravan-like enemy should be capable of going toe-to-toe with a Daredevil or Bronze Tiger, but should be outclassed by a Batman or Captain America. Throw in a half dozen generic Thuggee to round things out for the player characters.

When will you use these Thuggee in a campaign? Their "calling" makes them a little more complex than your typical smash and grab type of villain. You can even make the Thuggees in your campaign world into a sort of morally grey hero, after all they are trying to keep the destruction of the world at bay and stop millions from being killed when a mad death goddess incarnates in the world. Sure, their tool for doing this is to kill people, but sometimes you have to break a few eggs to make omelettes. These killers consider themselves to be holy warriors on a mission, and the super-heroes are at odds with that mission.

This can add an interesting moral dimension to a super-hero campaign, particularly if the Thuggees only target evil or criminal individuals for their sacred killings. If there was demonstrated proof that gods like Kali really existed in the world, would that make a hero's choice to stop a killer from killing a killer a more difficult one? It would certainly make it a more interesting choice. Super-heroes, particularly in role-playing games, tend to have a black and whiteness to their morality. The simple addition of a faction like this can spice a game up considerably.

Another way to introduce the Thuggee into the campaign (and this is what we did with our game back in college) is to have one of the heroes be a repentant former member of the cult. This gives an immediate "in" for the cult, and it juices up the backstory of the hero. Did they leave the cult before...or after making their first kill. Is the hero trying to make up for having killed...or are they trying to make up for the deaths that the cult is responsible for. Either choice adds interesting dimension, and motivation, to a character.

This can make a character who is like the Paul Kirk version of Manhunter from the 1970s revamp of the character. The hero is fighting a silent, shadowy war against the cult, which occasionally erupts into the streets of the city, or on some espionage mission, drawing the heroes into the action and giving the former Thuggee some allies for a time.

And if you would prefer to not integrate a real world religion or goddess into your games, then substitute a fiction god or goddess for Kali. Imagine a version of the Cthulhu Cult that isn't trying to raise their god from his watery grave in R'lyeh, but is instead trying to keep him from rising and destroying their world. Imagine a cult that sprung up out of the end of the novel Dracula (or any of the countless adaptations if you prefer) that is taking the blood of victims so that the Count will not once again rise and make his vampiric armies. A concept like this has a lot of applications to a number of different genres of gaming. The idea is that the deaths caused by this religion is supposed to serve a greater good, and by interfering with them the heroes may be dooming their own world.

Of course, it could all just be a lie and, no matter what the members of the religion believe, there is no actual god or goddess or future destruction that they are forestalling, and their murders don't make them any better than any other killer.

Regardless of how you use this concept in your games it will add an interesting morality to them. My only real recommendation would be that whatever variant of this cult that you use in your games, you make them NPCs and any PCs are former members of the group.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Here Comes The Twister -- Detail In Setting Up Your New Campaign

There is a fine line to walk when starting up a new campaign. You want to give the players the idea of the world to come, without overloading on the details in such a way that you don't take all of the potential fun out of the game. Much like with players who come up with overly detailed backstories for their characters that have more awesomenss than the combination of five action movies, putting too much detail into your campaign world before you play can kill the world just as dead.

With the new year, our group is starting a new game. This is all my fault, I didn't really have fun with the last game. At the heart of things, I am probably a bad gamer because I really don't like playing D&D. So, that means that we needed something that would be as much fun for me as the GM as it was for the players (hopefully). This means that we going to stretch back to a different kind of old school for our next game: classic Marvel Super-Heroes (the original TSR game).

We aren't playing in any version of the Marvel Universe, however. All new, all original, all fun. I am taking a page from +Ross Payton's excellent Fate-based Base Raiders RPG and wiping the slate clean on the setting. You know those big events that plague comics? The last time one of those things happened in our world almost all of the heroes and villains disappeared. Poof. I also like the idea of hidden bases of the disappeared heroes and villains being left behind as a spark for new generations of heroes and villains. A super-hero dungeon crawl RPG. Who would have thought? Even if you don't use Fate in your games, there is plenty of good stuff to find in Payton's game. It sparked the basic ideas for our game in my head, so it should be able to give you plenty of good ideas too. It is good to look beyond the same old when looking for inspirations.

The other inspiration would be +Zak Smith's A Red & Pleasant Land. Yes, the D&D supplement/setting. If you haven't heard about this yet, well...I don't know what to tell you. I've already talked about this a little bit in my previous post converting Smith's Alice class from that book into a new Marvel Super-Heroes origin called The Fool. I know that +solange simondsen, one of the players in our group, is already excited about the opportunity to play Alice as a super-hero. So many other fictional characters have become super-heroes or villains, so it is probably Alice's turn.

Unintentionally, both of these posts about our upcoming campaign have referenced Talking Heads songs in their titles. Hopefully I will remember that for future posts.

Now, you're probably wondering why I would be referencing tornadoes in the name of a post about a game set in a alternate version of Wonderland. As I have said over on G+, as much as I have been a fan of Carrol's Alice stories, I was always a much bigger fan of L. Frank Baum's Oz stuff. So, because of that I want to bring an Oz into our world. Much like Smith's Voivodja is a twisted version of Wonderland, our Oz will be twisted like taffy in a cyclone.

Where Voivodja is in the thrall of vampires, Oz finds itself under the domination of the witches. Whether you're a good witch or a bad one, ultimately the seductive pull of dark magic get to you and warp you in chaotic ways. No matter how much you think that you are using magic, it will ultimately use you instead. There are great shadows that reach across the worlds, a conflict that grinds everything beneath its heel.

These worlds were once much more innocent, even in their evils, but now the lights are a little less bright, and the shadows seem to be even heavier.

If you've never seen Susperia you should be ashamed of yourself. Luckily, someone has solved that on YouTube for you.

From the Susperia Wikipedia page:
Suspiria (Latin for "sighs") is a 1977 Italian horror film directed by Dario Argento, co-written by Argento and Daria Nicolodi, and co-produced by Claudio and Salvatore Argento. The film stars Jessica Harper as an American ballet student who transfers to a prestigious dance academy in Germany. Later, she would realize that the academy is a front for something far more sinister and supernatural amidst a series of murders. The film also features Stefania Casini, Flavio Bucci, Miguel Bosè, Alida Valli, Udo Kier, and Joan Bennett in her final film role. 

I like the classic Italian horror movies of the 70s because of the psychedelic, hallucinatory way in which they were made. I think that the tone of Satanic witchcraft would fit well into the outlines of the world that I am envisioning.

I really wanted to embed a link to Jess Franco's psychedelic vampire movie, Vampyros Lesbos, because I want to use that to inform my take on the vampires in our campaign. Based (very loosely) on the Bram Stoker short story "Dracula's Guest," this movie does for vampires what Suspiria does for witches. However, the one thing that sets Vampyros Lesbos apart really is the incredible soundtrack.

It should probably go without saying that neither or these videos are work safe.

None of this is sounding like your standard super-hero game, is it? That's intentional. Magic and the supernatural have been part of comic book super-heroes since the beginning. In fact, historically, the first costumed hero was Siegel and Shuster's Doctor Occult (breaking from trenchcoat to ritual garb just a couple of months before Superman would debut). With the heroes and villains gone, this means that older, darker menaces are rising up again. The old safeguards have deteriorated with the disappearance of all the heroes and the veils between the dimensions have thinned. The tornadoes which once abducted children from Earth have been popping up again and the vampires from Voivodja have been slowly sliding into our world, with their intrigues and wars.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

RPG Campaigns: Beginnings And Endings

Two of the hardest things for an RPG campaign are the beginning and the ending. Like a popular television show that has lost its spark, a campaign will sometimes just limp along lifelessly until people just stop showing up and it dies a lingering death. Letting go of a campaign is a hard thing, but sometimes...just sometimes, it has to be done.

One thing that I have come to terms with as a GM in the last few years is the idea that the open ended, potentially endless role-playing campaign isn't something that I am much interested in being involved with any more. I like the idea of a campaign that has a beginning, middle and endpoint to it. I think that it can make for more interesting campaign stories and character development. I know that this isn't the standard for how a lot of people campaign, but I think it is one of those things that puts a bar to the entry into the hobby. Meeting 5-8 hours weekly for an indefinite amount of time just isn't feasible for many people these days.