Tuesday, March 31, 2009

My Sword and Planet Hack for Spirit of the Century

I'm starting to write up some house rules for my Spirit of the Century-derived, FATE-based Sword & Planet role-playing game scenarios.

Until I sat down to do this, I really didn't realize how hard writing good, clear rules can be. I salute the Evil Hat guys and beg forgiveness for the clumsiness that follows. This is a rough, rough draft - I've written it up quickly to get something out there. At this point, a lot of it will only make sense in the context of SotC and FATE.

Inspirational Fiction:

Flash Gordon - the Alex Raymond comic strip, 'natch - of course, but filtered through the kind of sensibility that Grant Morrison brings to his super-hero projects. Also: Jack Vance's Planet of Adventure stories.

Inspirational Games:

I started with Spirit of the Century but found that though it did what I wanted, it also did some other stuff that I didn't necessarily want and was getting in the way. Luckily, the genius of the guys at Evil Hat is that SotC and it's underlying FATE system are endlessly and easily tweakable. Abilities are a Sorcerer-inspired paring-down of Skills from SotC. Descriptors are also adapted from Sorcerer. The "Brutal" Conflict rules are taken from The Shadow of Yesterday/Solar System's Bringing Down the Pain. "Primed Aspects" are from a Story Games thread started by Paul Tevis.

Part 1 - Characters:

There are two major (mechanical) pieces to characters creation.

(1) Setting Abilities
(2) Choosing Aspects

(1) Setting Abilities:

A Character has three Abilities - Body, Will, Skill. Set one at +3, one at +2, and one at +1.

(2) Choosing Aspects:

A Character has room for 10 Aspects, but will probably start play with 6 or 7, leaving the other slots available to be chosen during play. Here are the guidelines for choosing Aspects:

-choose 2 Aspects based on and/or related to the Character's cultural origins. For the purposes of Sword & Planet gaming, there are three Cultures: Earthling, Alien - Primitive, and Alien - Decadent. These Aspects can answer a question like "Where did I come from?"

-choose 2 Aspects based on and/or related to the Character's profession/job/etc. Answering questions like "What do I do?" and "How do I do it?"

-If you haven't already written an Aspect that does this: (a) write an Aspect that acts as a descriptor to your Body ability, (b) write an Aspect that acts as a descriptor to your Will ability, (c) write an Aspect that acts as a descriptor to your Skill ability.

-Fill in a few more Aspects so you have around 6 or 7. Leave a few blanks to be filled in during play.

Special Effects:

You can choose to give your character a Special Effect. This is optional. In general, characters should be assumed to be (more-or-less) human, with normal capabilities within the limits of their culture and profession. A Special Effect gives them access to additional powers and capabilities, but also acts as a narrative constraint. In practice, this means that while characters with a Special Effect can do something out of the ordinary, they are subject to be limited by circumstances. A Special Effect must be directly linked to an Aspect that deals with it.

In my game, here are some examples:

Some characters are Dragon Riders. This Special Effect means that they can ride on the dragon (taking advantage of its flying ability) and they can use the Dragon's breath weapon to attack foes from a distance. And Consequences caused by a dragon's attack are likely to be pretty severe!

However, this leads to some limitations: dragons are big, they can't always be with their riders. A rider apart from their dragon might susceptible to being Stuck with an Aspect like: "No confidence when alone".

Some characters are initiates into the alchemical secrets of various desert powders. This allows them to act on characters in a variety of ways: Sticking them with Aspects like "Drugged and dazed" or "In love with the next person she sees..." But the limitation is that it requires time to gather the materials and create these concoctions.

Part 2 - Aspects:

See here for the SotC overview.

If you Invoke/Tag you have to say how that looks in the fiction. As a corollary, you can only Invoke/Tag if doing so would make sense in the fiction.

Invoking - after a roll, spend a Fate point to Invoke one of your Aspects. Invoking allows you to re-roll or add a +2 to the final roll. Mark that you have used the Aspect.

Tagging - after a roll, spend a Fate point to Tag an Aspect that is not on your sheet (i.e. an NPC Aspect or a Setting/Scene Aspect). Tagging an Aspect allows you to re-roll or add a +2 to the final roll. Fate points spent on Tagging go into the Pot. If you are Tagging an Aspect on an NPC or the Setting/Scene mark that you have Tagged it. (You do not mark another PC's Aspect when tagging).

Primed Aspects (PCs only):

If you Invoke an Aspect three times in one session it is "Primed". At that point, you can no longer Invoke that Aspect (although it can still be Tagged by other characters). However, you can choose to Burn that Aspect if you desire. A Burn is like a super compel: you get three Fate points, but you have to change that Aspect into something else. The new Aspect starts with no marks (fully unprimed).

Invoking/Tagging Sequence:

Invokes/Tags are not declared until after the initial roll. At that point, the current loser gets to say whether or not they want to spend a Fate point to alter their roll. (In the case of ties, the character with the lower Ability in conflict goes first. If this ties, the character with the least number of Fate points goes). They can choose to re-roll or gain a +2 bonus. If they do so, they have to say which Aspect they are Invoking/Tagging and what that would look like. Once they commit, they can't take it back. The other player gets a chance to respond with an Invocation/Tag of their own. This goes back and forth until one player or the other gives up or runs out of Fate points. For a given character, all re-rolls have to come before any +2 bonuses. (I.e. once you choose to take your +2 you have to let your dice stand).

Sticking - Certain kinds of successes allow you to Stick a New Aspect on the Setting/Scene or a Character. Whenever you Stick an Aspect you get a free Tag on that Aspect. "Stuck" Aspects can be Fragile (they go away after that Free tag), Sticky (they stay around for you or anyone else to use until they go away because of shifting circumstances and/or the Scene ends, or Session (they stay for the rest of the Session).

Part 3 - Conflicts:

Simple Conflicts:

For the most, only roll dice when there is a conflict of interest between two characters.

Players should state their intent. (This is a Free and Clear phase).

The higher roll is the Winning roll.

Check for Invocation/Tags.

Determine the final outcome: High Roll - Low Roll = Effect.

Any Effect of 1 or more is a success (i.e. the winner gets their intent).

In addition:

An Effect of 1 allows you to Stick a Fragile Aspect on the immediate Setting/Scene.

An Effect of 2 allows you to Stick a Sticky Aspect on the immediate Setting/Scene.

An Effect of 3+ allows you to Stick a Session Aspect on the immediate Setting/Scene.

You can only Stick an Aspect on another character through a Brutal Conflict.

Linked Conflicts:

Sometimes a conflict will lead to a natural follow-up conflict. In this case, use the success of the first conflict to Stick a temporary Aspect somewhere. This Aspect, like any Stuck Aspect, is eligible for a free Tag. The narrational trick is to make this Stuck Aspect relate to the follow-up conflict.


One character will make the roll. Use their ability. Other characters may help. They do this by spending Fate points to Invoke or Tag Aspects just like the acting character. They should decalre they are helping before the roll, but if they didn't roll their own dice in the current conflict and it makes sense that they could "jump in" partway through, they can decide to help at any point afterwards. (Any Invocation/Tagging for re-rolls must happen before any +2 bonuses are taken by the side).


An Assessment is a special kind of Conflict where you try to uncover the Hidden Aspects of an NPC or the Setting/Scene. Vs. an NPC this is usually a Will vs. Will roll, but Skill could be substituted depending on the circumstances (i.e., using a police interrogation technique). Vs. the Setting/Scene you will usually be rolling Skill vs. an unmodified roll. If you lose vs. the NPC, the NPC gains a Free Tag on one of your Aspects in any follow up conflict. If you lose vs. the Setting/Scene, you gain a Fragile Temporary Aspect relating to somehow misreading the lay of the land/mood of the crowd/etc.


A Declaration is a special kind of conflict where you can Stick a new fact onto the Setting/Scene. This is usually a Skill vs. an unmodified roll. The "color" of the Declaration (i.e. what it looks like in the fiction) should be based around an area of expertise that makes sense in terms of the character's concept. The level of the Stuck Aspect is based on the Effect earned in the roll. The PC gets a free Tag (just like with any other Stuck Aspect). If the PC loses, they receive a Fragile Consequence that doesn't count against their limit. A Declaration cannot change the backstory or a character's history: it has to be something that applies to the unfolding situation.

Brutal Conflicts:

If you want to take a named character out of the game or if you want to Stick an Aspect on a PC or NPC you need to do so through a Brutal Conflict.

Brutal Conflict works in rounds.

Free & Clear - determine who is opposing whom and whether actions are parallel or perpendicular.

If you are just defending you get a +2 bonus and get the possibility of generating Spin.

Parallel Success = deliver harm equal to your Success level

Perpendicular Success = deliver harm equal to the difference of Success levels

Harm above the max leads to Consequences. Consequences are a special kind of Stuck Aspect.

Maneuvers = instead of doing harm, Stick an Aspect to the Setting/Scene as per the normal conflict rules

Part 4 - Fate Point Economy:

PCs start with 10 fate Points.

VIP NPCs start with 5.

Major NPCs start with 3.

Minor NPCs start with 1.

When PCs or NPCs Invoke the Fate Point is simply spent.

When PCs get Tagged they take the Fate Point used in the Tag.

When PCs Tag NPCs or the Setting/Scene they put the Fate Point in the Pot.

The GM has an unlimited number of Fate Points to use for Compels.

The Pot:

After the game, look at the Fate Points in the Pot. The group spends these points to add Aspects permanently to the Setting/Scene and/or to NPCs.

A totally new Aspect costs 3 points.

Making a Sticky Aspect permanent costs 2 points.

Making a Session Aspect permanent costs 1 point.

Making an NPC Consequence permanent costs 3 points.

Promoting an NPC from Minor to Major costs 1 point.

Promoting an NPC from Major to VIP costs 2 points.

Part 5 - NPCs and Setting:

NPC Notes:

VIP NPCs are created more or less like PCs. Major NPCs have one Ability at +2 and another at +1. Minor NPCs have one ability at +1.

VIP NPCs should have 5 or 6 Aspects. 3 must be Open and the others should be Hidden. Think of the Open Aspects as part of their description when introducing the character. (Two of the three Open Aspects might map onto the NPC's Culture/Profession).

Major NPCs should have 3 or 4 Aspects. 2 Must be Open and the others can be Hidden.

Minor NPCs should have one or two Aspects, both in the Open.

Setting/Scene Notes:

Follow the same breakdown for Setting/Scenes - they are either VIP, Major, or Minor, with the same number of Aspects and the same breakdown of Open/Hidden.

Still needed: Character Sheets, NPC sheets, Setting/Scene sheets, better names for a lot of this stuff (i.e. Stuck Aspects, abilities), more info on Compels, more info on scene framing, etc., etc.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ten RPGs I'd Like to Be Playing...

I'm having lots of fun playing in some Old School D&D games and running a few sessions of Spirit of the Century (Flash Gordon-flavored), but here are a few more games I'd like to add to the rotation...

1. The Burning Wheel - One of my all-time favorites! I don't get to play it nearly enough as I'd like.

2. Sorcerer - Ditto!

3. Agon - I've wanted to play this for a while now - the competitive aspect is really appealing.

4. 3:16 - I feel guilty that I haven't played this yet.

5. Spione - Not really an RPG, but close enough for the purposes of this blog post. I haven't played this since it was actually published (and the playtest version I used has been changed significantly, I believe).

6. D&D: Carcosa - I'm not quite sure what I would do with this - probably try to run the introductory adventure in the new issue of Fight On!

7. In a Wicked Age - This looks very, very neat, and its quick start/no prep nature makes it more attractive an option than most of the other games on this list.

8. Some Jeepform stuff - This is probably the "least likely to be actually played" of all the entries on the list, but I'm really interested in giving this a try.

9. Dirty Secrets - I love, love, love crime fiction, and this game actually looks like it delivers.

10. D&D 4th Edition - I go back and forth on this: right now though it is very tempting!