Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Better than I expected

Last week I had a post about renting the "10,000 BC" movie. Before I even watched it I had a love/hate relationship with it. Turns out that it really wasn't quite that bad. If you think of it as this quasi-historical period movie, it's not so bad. I thought of it as something like the Hyborian world of Conan, that is, a world inspired by real cultures but still totally fictional.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Bits: Aspects & Fate Points

(The 'Bits' category is where I put interesting bits & pieces of game rules, ideas, etc. The idea is that you can, without too much effort, pick up these bits and use them in your game.)

I'm pretty sure some of you readers will already be well acquainted with the concept of aspects and fate points as presented in the Fate rule system and used in such games as Spirit of the Century. For those readers who aren't familiar with aspects and fate points, you are in for a treat.

The concept of aspects and fate points are two separate systems that, when combined, can be added to nearly any RPG to provide players with a greater hand in controlling the game narrative. I'll briefly touch on both items and provide links to the Fate 2.0 SRD which explains things in greater detail.

Aspects, to quote the Fate SRD, "cover a wide range of elements and should collectively paint a picture of who the character is, what he’s connected to, and what’s important to him (in contrast to the “what can he do” of skills). Aspects can be relationships, beliefs, catchphrases, descriptors, items or pretty much anything else that paints a picture of the character." In simpler terms, an aspect is a descriptor like "quick witted" or "dark and mysterious" that can be applied to a character. In actual play, a player can "invoke" these aspects to get a bonus when their aspect applies to a situation. For instance, if a character had the aspect of "ladies man" he might get a bonus to a seduction role when he attempts to charm a woman at the bar. Typically the player would spend one of his character's fate points to be able to do this, which I'll explain more about below.

The really great thing about aspects is that you can plug them into nearly any RPG. They work especially well in RPGs that don't have an existing merit/flaw or advantage/disadvantage system. Aspects are, in effect, a system that works like merits and flaws but yet allows for a lot more game investment from the player.

Fate points compliment and power a character's aspects. As mentioned above, a player must spend a fate point to activate a bonus granted to him/her from an aspect. What I didn't mention is that GMs can also use your aspects to "compel" your character to do something. Using the example above, let's say our ladies man doesn't feel like trying to pick up someone at the bar tonight. A GM could declare that he is compelling the character's aspect and therefore the player has to have his character try to pick up the woman at the bar. Typically in these situations a player can spend a fate point to ignore the compel or roll with the punches and gain a fate point (see the Fate SRD for more details).

In addition to powering aspects, fate points also provide a player with a bit of narriative control. Let's take the example from the Fate SRD:
"Usually, these things can’t be used to drastically change the plot or win a scene. Declaring “Doctor Herborn drops dead of a heart attack” is not only likely to be rejected by the GM, it wouldn’t even be that much fun to begin with. What this can be very useful for is convenient coincidences. Does your character need a lighter (but doesn’t smoke)? Spend a fate point and you’ve got one! Is there an interesting scene happening over there that your character might miss? Spend a fate point to declare you arrive at a dramatically appropriate moment!"
That covers the basics of aspects and fate points, but I encourage you to read through the links below and check out other things that you can do with aspects and fate points. I didn't even touch on tagging locations with aspects, which you can find more information about in the links below. Aspects and fate points are both easy systems to plug into nearly any game and will help your players become invested in your game.

Links for further reading:
"Aspect Basics" from the Fate SRD
"Aspects" from the Fate SRD
"Fate Points" from the Fate SRD

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Post-Apocalypse Singularity?

On Friday I discussed the idea of the sword & singularity genre. Following up on that, I thought I would bring up another idea - the post-apocalypse singularity.

Not too long ago I read a book by Ken MacLeod called "Newton's Wake". It's a pretty good sci-fi novel, but one idea in particular jumped out at me. Without spoiling the book for anyone, society in "Newton's Wake" is living in a post-singularity world. Society in "Newton's Wake" is rebuilding after the singularity came and went. Machines became aware, a war started, strange technological machines were built, and then the machines left. All of this happened in a matter of days or weeks. Imagine machine intelligences fighting each other, and humanity, while at the same time increasing in power exponentially. They hijacked systems to build new machines that humanity didn't understand. Then, for no apparent reason, they left. What they left behind was a world shattered by war, but one in which strange, magical technology was left behind.

I don't know about you, but this just screams "gaming" to me. The singularity could totally revitalize post-apocalypse gaming.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sword & Singularity

I'm in the process of reading through Walter Jon Williams' new book "Implied Spaces" and I'm thinking that someone really needs to make a game out of this. In a nutshell, the book might have coined a new sci-fi genre: the Sword & Singularity genre.

For those of you are unfamiliar with the term, the singularity is a point in time at which machine intelligence becomes self-aware and starts to increase in ability exponentially. This extremely rapid progress renders what came before it as dated to the new society as the dinosaurs seem dated to us. Various sci-fi authors have their own takes on this idea so you tend to see a lot of different singularities in sci-fi writing. It's become a big thing in sci-fi over the past decade.

Williams' book combines elements of sci-fi, namely the singularity, post-humanism, and advanced technology, and combines it with some classic sword & sorcery ideas. The result is a rather fresh take on both the idea of the singularity and the sword & sorcery genre.

Yeah, someone needs to make a game about this.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

West End Games up for sale

I'm a little late with this one (site redesign and all that), but it looks like West End Games is now up for sale. West End Games changed hands a few years ago and the new owner has been having some financial difficulties with the business. Looks like we might see their non-licensed RPG properties (Torg, Shatterzone, Masterbook, etc) picked up by another publisher. While I'm not happy about seeing West End Games die off yet again, I am happy that Torg might see life in the hands of another publisher.

N. Robin Crossby's Passing

More sad news for the RPG community today. N. Robin Crossby, creator of the Harn fantasy role-play setting, passed away yesterday. This is yet another loss in a year where we've already lost the likes of Gary Gygax and Eric Wujcik.

Bits: The Dirty Dungeon

(The 'Bits' category is where I put interesting bits & pieces of game rules, ideas, etc. The idea is that you can, without too much effort, pick up these bits and use them in your game.)

Today's bit is John Wick's take on dungeon crawling, a well-known gaming past-time. You can find a video with John describing it at this address: I've also embedded the video below.

In a nutshell, John is advocating a pretty radical change in how the gaming group approaches your typical dungeon crawl. Normally the GM preps a dungeon crawl by designing the dungeon floor plan, adding monsters, mixing in treasure, and finally spicing it up with some nasty traps.

Forget all that.

John's video describes a system in which you, the DM, let the players design the dungeon for you. They come up with the floor plan. They decide what monsters inhabit the dungeon. They put together all those nasty traps. It is assumed that all of this is information their characters have discovered by investigating rumors about the dungeon. A player could say, "Hey, my character found all of this info from that one-armed guy in the bar who actually went in that dungeon." Another player could say, "Well my character did some research in the local library/temple and found out this info."

So where does the DM come in? Well for every 10-15 minutes that the players spend designing the dungeon, the DM gets to throw in a complication. A complication is something like, "Hey, that wall isn't supposed to be there!" So, when the dungeon crawl starts rolling, the DM can have some tricks up his/her sleeve.

It's a very interesting idea, and one that I would love to try. You really would need a group that can think-ouside-the-box. I can easily see this system going awry if players aren't used to having much narriative control of the game. With a little gentle DM prodding, I'm sure this system could bring new life into an old genre convention.