Songs Lost and Forgotten

A few years back, I picked up a book called The Hum and the Shiver, by Alex Bledsoe. It wound up taking me forever to get to reading it, so I finally got the audiobook1, which just happens to be read by one of my favourite narrators, Stefan Rudnicki. And I loved it.

There are currently five books in the Tufa novels: The Hum and the Shiver, Wisp of a Thing, Long Black Curl, Chapel of Ease, and the one I’m currently reading, Gather Her Round2. They tell the stories of an insular group of people living in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee, a group of people who have some strange connection to music and the magic that it can make. Each of the novels stands alone as a single story, but each one also layers in a lot of information about the Tufa3 and their community of Needsville, and their history4.

The upshot of this is that you get a growing richness to the books, and a real sense of the community. There are some little side threads that weave through a couple of books, telling more of the stories of some secondary characters. And Needsville changes, based on the events of the book, large and small.

The first thing that attracted me to the books was the idea that these were mining the same vein that Manly Wade Wellman dug in with his Silver John stories. There’s the emphasis on music, and the backdrop of Appalachia, and some of the dramatic polarity of city vs country.

There are also elements of some of Charles de Lint‘s stuff, especially his Newford books5: modern world with old magic still lingering, tight-knit communities of outsiders, emphasis on music and old stories, stuff like that.

There are some interesting themes in the Tufa books6, themes that I like quite a bit. There’s the aforementioned tension between city and country, which could also be phrased as new vs. old, or tradition vs. innovation. There are looks at responsibility vs. freedom, and the weight of the choices you make in life. Ideas of what an insider or an outsider is.

And there’s lots of exploration of death.

Bad things happen in these books, sometimes to good people, sometimes to bad. There’s a thread running through all the books that shows how the death of an individual changes the world around them. Some of what happens is genuinely heartbreaking, though the stories themselves are pretty life-affirming. But to get to the new day, you’ve got to go through the night.

The books also take a look at traditional definitions of good and evil, and does a great job of showing why they aren’t clean. With few exceptions7, everyone has understandable reasons for their choices, even when they are not really good choices. Even though the Tufa are divided into two camps, and the two camps have somewhat different values8, neither can be said to be purely good or purely evil.

I like that.

And, of course, those who know me know that the music angle will always hook me9. Especially as it draws on folk music10, and has been useful in pointing me towards artists and songs that I hadn’t heard of before. Alex Bledsoe has even put a Tufa playlist up on 8tracks:

Songs that evoke the feelings of mysteries, sadness, isolation and hope of the fictional Cloud County, TN. Some of these songs are also mentioned in the Tufa novels.

This series has totally hooked me. I grab the new books whenever they’re published11, and I usually also get the audiobook, just so that I get to have Stefan Rudnicki tell me another beautiful story in his glorious voice12.

You should check them out.

  1. These days, I do a lot of my fiction “reading” via audiobook, usually on my commutes. []
  2. It’s the latest one, as I write this. []
  3. That’s what they call themselves, and that’s what outsiders call them, too. []
  4. I don’t want to give away too much, but you find out in the first book that
    Spoiler
    they’re descendants of the Tuatha de Danann, exiled from the British Isles in the distant past.
    It’s a pretty big revelation in the first book, and forms sort of a foundation for a number of plot points in the later books. []
  5. Okay, these are all good. All of them. But my favourite has got to be Someplace to be Flying. It stands alone more than a lot of the other books; if you’re not gonna start at the beginning with the short story collections, I recommend this one as a taster. []
  6. Okay. These are what I get out of the books. I can’t claim that they’re universal, or that the author intended them. But such is the nature of talking about someone else’s art. We all get something different out of it. []
  7. Looking at you, state patrol officer from the first book! []
  8. Though not as different as they like to pretend, I think. []
  9. Those who don’t know me could probably guess that from the quotes on this blog. []
  10. Like the Silver John stories, like the Charles de Lint books. []
  11. And, if I sometimes regret that Alex Bledsoe isn’t giving me more Eddie LaCrosse books right now, well, he gets to write what he wants. I’m not the boss of him. And I’m grateful for both series. []
  12. Honest to god, both his voice and his performance are just amazing. Deep, rich, warm, expressive – first time I heard him do an audiobook, I made note of the name so that I could find other stuff he’s read. []

Mage: Discovered, Defined, Denied

It was announced recently that, after an 18-year gap, Matt Wagner is going to be doing the third volume of his Mage trilogy, Mage: The Hero Denied.

If you’re not familiar with the comics1Mage is a modern fantasy series, featuring Kevin Matchstick, a man who gets caught up in a mystical war between good and evil. Guided by the World-Mage Mirth, he reluctantly squares off against the Umbra Sprite and his five sons, the Grackleflints. The whole battle centres around the Umbra Sprite’s quest to find the Fisher King and sacrifice him, bringing about a new dark age on earth.

Well, that’s the first series, Mage: The Hero Discovered. I’m not going to go into much more detail about the series for fear of spoilers – you’ll find enough of those in the Wikipedia article and interviews I linked2. Suffice to say that the books are great, and I’m rereading them in preparation for the beginning of the third series, this summer.

How do they hold up?

Well, honestly, the first series feels a little dated. Part of that is that it is dated – it’s over 30 years old. And while I love Matt Wagner’s work, both as a writer and as an artist, he has grown and matured as both in the time in between. By the time the second series starts, in 1997, his skills are greater, and the execution is better. The second series also feels a little less tied to a specific time and place than the first3.

But the stories are good. Pure. Solid. They deal with mythology and archetypes and humanity and choices. With belief and doubt. With sacrifice. And there are a couple of scenes in each series that always give me a lump in my throat.

The stories are very much tied to Kevin Matchstick’s age. Discovered is a young man’s story, about finding his place in the world, and figuring out how things work. Defined is a mature man’s story, about growing into responsibility and self-awareness. After 18 years, I’m very curious to see what Denied chooses as its themes.

Gameable Bits

Anyway, as I’m reading through Mage: The Hero Defined, I keep coming back to the thought that it would make a great setting for a game. Here’s the basic setup elements:

  • A number of archetypical heroes from the past, and from various cultures all over the world, have manifestations in the modern world. These make great PCs.
  • In addition, there are other beings of power – witches, giants, ghosts, mages, possible Olympian gods, young women with magic baseball bats and classic cars – who make great PCs for players who don’t want to pick a heroic avatar.
  • Nasty creatures – trolls, bogarts, harpies, kelpies, red caps, succubi, etc. – are preying on mortals.
  • Due to the machinations of the Big Bad, these nasty creatures and the heroes and the heroes’ companions are all drawn to a city where an evil plan is coming to fruition.
  • Hilarity4 ensues.

One of the key bits from the comics that made me keep thinking about it as a game setting is that each of the heroes has a tag, relating to which heroic archetype they represent. So, you’ve got the Coyote, the Ulster Hound, the Hornblower, the Olympian, the Monkey King, the Sun Twins, the Dragonslayer, and so on. That just sounded so much like the high concept from a Fate Core character that I couldn’t get it out of my head.

Even the non-heroes – characters like Mirth, Edsel, Sean Knight, Gretch, Isis, Magda, Ishtar – are drawn from archetypical sources, giving them fairly prominent high concept aspects, as well: The World-Mage, Bearer of the Weapon, Ghost Defender, Head-Baning Giant, Weird Sisters, etc.

Throw in a little bit of power using extras and stunts, and it becomes pretty easy to build pretty much any character that appears in the comics, and to extrapolate to your own characters in the same setting.

And, in Fate Core, building antagonists is easy5. So, not much of a problem to build monster-of-the-week-style challenges for your characters. A little more time investment required for bad guys that are gonna stick around for a bit, but still pretty quick. And since a lot of the nasties are drawn from world mythology6, you’ve got a rich vein of source material to mine for it.

So, yeah. I figure a couple of hours of prep work, tops, and then you’re ready to have the greatest heroes of the ages drawn to Montreal to thwart the Pale Incanter’s scheme.

Go ahead. Read the comics. Give it a try. Let me know how it goes.

  1. And can’t be bothered to follow any of the links above. []
  2. After 30 years, are spoilers still a concern? Best to be safe, I guess. []
  3. Okay, that last bit is just my feel. Objectively speaking, the second series hits the time and place even harder than the first, but has more of a mythic overlay to it. Somehow, it doesn’t feel as dated to me. []
  4. And by “hilarity,” I mean chaos and carnage. []
  5. And will get even easier and better, I’m betting, with the publication of the Fate Adversary Toolkit coming this summer. []
  6. Maybe leaning a little heavily on the Celtic and Greek. []

Fate of the Nephilim: Skills

A quick note about the information presented below: I’m not going to be explaining all the ins and outs of the Nephilim game. If you’re really confused by stuff, I urge you to grab the pdf of the game to follow along. You can get it at the Chaosium site, and the entire line is available at RPGnow. It’s well worth the purchase. And Fate Core is available from Evil Hat Productions. Also very much worth it.

 

The next big piece of heavy lifting for the Nephilim conversion is solidifying the skill list. It also involves deciding which skills are available for which eras and for which types of past lives. And that requires looking at which types of past lives are available for which era. So, in this post, I’m going to take a look at all of that, and hopefully get the skills sorted for this conversion.

Past Lives

I’ve already decided1 to use a variant of the mode method of character creation that I had first seen done in the Atomic Robo RPG, and later saw discussed in more detail in the Fate System Toolkit.  The basic idea is that you choose a couple pre-defined sets of skills and add together the ranks in overlapping skills. I thought that would work very well to reflect things learned over a series of incarnations in different time periods.

The standard number of skills in a mode in ARRPG is three2, and that seems a good number of skills for one mode or lifetime. But to keep from having to create a whole bunch of different modes in order to give some variety to the characters and choices3, I decided that I should give each lifetime four or five skills4, and allow the player to choose three of them for the character.

One of the other things I’ve decided about skill numbers is that, in addition to the three skills from the main list for each lifetime, the characters will get to make one pick from the magic skills list available in that era. This is partially because it kind of mirrors the way magic skills are handled in Nephilim – each lifetime grants a certain number of points that you can spend on occult development – and partially because it emphasizes5 the idea that Nephilim are creatures of magic, and even the most mundane among them is still quite magically powerful. At least, compared to a mortal.

Now, some types of lifetime – scholars, for instance – may also have a magic skill as one of the skills on their main skill list, allowing the character to essentially double-dip. Again, this is by design, and I think the fact that the character is giving up a different6 skill to embrace magic is just a fine trade-off. That said, it’s one of the things I’ll have to keep thinking about and will watch carefully if I ever get to try the game out.

The Skill List

If you’ve taken a look at the work-in-progress manual I posted last time, you’ve already seen the overall skill list I came up with. If you haven’t, here it is:

  • Alchemy
  • Athletics
  • Burglary
  • Contacts
  • Crafts
  • Deceive
  • Drive
  • Empathy
  • Fight
  • Investigate
  • Ka Vision
  • Lore
  • Notice
  • Physique
  • Provoke
  • Rapport
  • Resources
  • Shoot
  • Sorcery
  • Solar Ka
  • Stealth
  • Summoning
  • Will

You’ll probably notice that there are a few new skills on that list. Here’s the basics on those:

  • Athletics, Sorcery, Summoning: These are the three magical styles of Nephilim. I’ve only got a rudimentary idea of exactly how I’m going to implement them, so right now, they’re pretty much placeholders. When I get to the post where I sort out the magic, I’ll talk more about them7.
  • Ka Vision: This is how the Nephilim view the magical flow of elements and the other occult aspects of the world. I figure it works just like the Investigate skill, except for magical things instead of mundane things.
  • Solar Ka: In Nephilim, Solar Ka is a measure of the power of humans. It mainly works as an obstacle that Nephilim have to deal with when trying to possess someone, or use magic on them, or something similar. So, I figure that there has to be some representation of it in the game, though I’m not entirely sure how it’s going to work, yet.

Eras

As mentioned back here, I’m dividing the past lives into four broad eras: Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance, Modern.

  • Ancient is era 1 (Predynastic Egypt c. 5000 BCE) to era 10 (Rome, Italy c. 350 CE).
  • Medieval is era 11 (Aachen, Germania c. 750 CE) to era 16 (Avignon, France c. 1378 CE).
  • Renaissance is era 17 (Florence, Italy c. 1480 CE) to era 22 (The Scottish Rebellion c. 1745 CE).
  • Modern is era 23 (Paris, France c. 1789 CE) to era 27 (Berlin, Germany c. 1933 CE).

I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating: these are simple benchmarks. A good argument from a player is all that’s required to switch a given incarnation period from Ancient to Medieval or vice versa. And, of course, the edge cases – periods that are right on the border of switching to a different era – could go either way.

The main point is that it allows me to not have to create new modes for each incarnation period. I can just create Ancient modes, and Medieval modes, etc. It also means that the modes are more generally useful if a player decides to create their own time period for incarnation: I can just look at which of the four eras it falls into.

And, of course, location is a big determining factor. Some areas may be in one era and some in another during the same time. For example, England in 1600 CE is Renaissance, but northern Canada8 probably counts as Ancient during the same year. So, yeah, benchmarks.

Types of Life

Each time period that’s written up in Nephilim or Chronicle of the Awakenings includes a list of who your simulacrum could be. Again, in order to make my life simpler, I’ve created five broad categories of mode for each era. So, if you decide that you were incarnated as a Paladin of Charlemagne, you’d take the Medieval Warrior mode for that incarnation. If you were a galley slave in a Greek trireme during the Trojan war, you’d take Ancient Farmer/Labourer.

I also think that deciding which category your character falls into based on your incarnation is a judgment call. Some9 will be pretty obvious, while others10 will require discussion to determine. That is, in my mind, a feature, not a bug; it lets the player and GM sort things out and flesh out some of the back story for the character, as the player answers questions or makes claims to justify their choice. All good stuff.

So, here are the categories:

  • Ancient: Farmer/Labourer, Craftsman, Warrior, Priest, Ruler
  • Medieval: Farmer/Labourer, Merchant/Craftsman, Warrior, Priest, Ruler
  • Renaissance: Farmer/Labourer, Merchant/Artist, Soldier, Priest/Scholar, Ruler
  • Modern: Farmer/Labourer, Businessman/Artist, Soldier, Priest/Scientist, Politician

Modes

And now we come to the meat. Here’s my preliminary list of skills for each of the modes. These are obviously subject to change as I keep working on the project. But it’s a start.

  • Ancient Farmer/Labourer: Crafts, Drive, Empathy, Notice, Stealth Will. Magic: Sorcery, Ka Vision.
  • Ancient Craftsman: Contacts, Crafts, Empathy, Lore, Notice, Rapport. Magic: Sorcery, Ka Vision.
  • Ancient Warrior: Fight, Ka Vision11, Notice, Provoke, Shoot, Stealth. Magic: Sorcery, Ka Vision.
  • Ancient Priest: Deceive, Empathy, Lore, Rapport, Sorcery, Will. Magic: Sorcery, Ka Vision.
  • Ancient Ruler: Contacts, Empathy, Fight, Notice, Provoke, Rapport. Magic: Sorcery, Ka Vision.
  • Medieval Farmer/Labourer: Crafts, Drive, Empathy, Notice, Stealth, Will. Magic: Sorcery, Ka Vision12.
  • Medieval Merchant/Craftsman: Burglary, Contacts, Crafts, Empathy, Notice, Rapport. Magic: Sorcery, Summoning13, Ka Vision.
  • Medieval Warrior: Fight, Notice, Provoke, Shoot, Stealth, Will. Magic: Sorcery, Summoning, Ka Vision.
  • Medieval Priest: Empathy, Investigate, Lore, Rapport, Summoning14, Will. Magic: Sorcery, Summoning, Ka Vision.
  • Medieval Ruler: Contacts, Empathy, Fight, Ka Vision15, Provoke, Rapport. Magic: Sorcery, Summoning, Ka Vision.
  • Renaissance Farmer/Labourer: Contacts, Drive, Empathy, Notice, Stealth, Will. Magic: Sorcery, Ka Vision.
  • Renaissance Merchant/Artist: Burglary, Contacts, Crafts, Deceive, Notice, Rapport. Magic: Sorcery, Summoning, Alchemy, Ka Vision.
  • Renaissance Soldier: Fight, Notice, Provoke, Shoot, Stealth, Will. Magic: Sorcery, Ka Vision.
  • Renaissance Priest/Scholar: Alchemy, Investigate, Lore, Notice, Rapport, Will. Magic: Sorcery, Summoning, Alchemy, Ka Vision.
  • Renaissance Ruler: Contacts, Deceive, Empathy, Fight, Provoke, Rapport. Magic: Sorcery, Summoning, Alchemy, Ka Vision.
  • Modern Farmer/Labourer: Burglary, Contacts, Drive, Empathy, Notice, Stealth. Magic: Sorcery, Ka Vision.
  • Modern Businessman/Artist: Contacts, Crafts, Deceive, Empathy, Notice, Rapport. Magic: Sorcery, Alchemy, Ka Vision.
  • Modern Soldier: Drive, Fight, Notice, Provoke, Shoot, Stealth. Magic: Sorcery, Ka Vision.
  • Modern Priest/Scientist: Investigate, Empathy, Lore, Notice, Rapport, Will. Magic: Sorcery, Summoning, Alchemy, Ka Vision.
  • Modern Politician: Contacts, Deceive, Empathy, Provoke, Rapport, Will. Magic: Sorcery, Summoning, Alchemy, Ka Vision.

I’m thinking that I may need to allow characters to swap out one skill for another, based on the concept of their incarnation. For example, someone who incarnates as a police officer in 1900 CE may take the Modern Soldier mode, but want to swap out Stealth for Investigate. I think that would be okay, though I’m a little worried I’m making the modes a little too loose. I’m going to have to think about it, and reread the modes stuff in the Fate System Toolkit.

Simulacrum Skills

There are certain other skills that the Nephilim don’t get, because they’re based on the abilities of the simulacrum. These include Athletics and Physique, because they’re purely physical; Resources, because that’s purely social; and Solar Ka, because that’s purely human.

What that means is that I need to add a character creation step: creating the current simulacrum. In addition to those skills, I figure it would be good to give the simulacrum an aspect to identify it16. This could, in some cases, act almost like a second Trouble aspect, reflecting how the history, role, or submerged personality of the simulacrum makes things difficult.

Updated Manual

And here‘s the work-in-progress manual, updated with the material from above.

  1. In fact, it was the seminal idea for this hack. []
  2. Though the Science mode is different. []
  3. Well, I still have to create a number of different modes, but not such an overwhelming number, I think. []
  4. When I sat down to actually do this, I wound up giving each mode six skills. I may need to change that. []
  5. Like the Nephilim system does. []
  6. More mundane, more mortal, more human. []
  7. Hopefully, I’ll have figured out something cool with them by that time. []
  8. Well, it wouldn’t be Canada, yet, but you get the idea. []
  9. Like the Paladin of Charlemagne. []
  10. Like the galley slave – maybe that’s an Ancient Warrior? []
  11. Why? Because stories of ancient warriors with preternatural senses are not uncommon. And I liked the idea. []
  12. This list makes some magic skills unavailable, based on the mode. So, Medieval Farmer/Labourers don’t get access to Summoning. Not sure if this is a good idea, yet. []
  13. So, there are canon dates when the more advanced magical skills (Summoning and Alchemy) are discovered. I’m roughing them in by period. When I get to the magic conversion, I may change that. []
  14. Why? Because of the prevalence of saints and their almost-cults during the middle ages. Sure, that’s pretty Christian-centric, but there ya go. []
  15. Why? Because it fits with medieval ideas of kingship for the ruler to be touched by the mystical world. []
  16. Could wind up with a total of eight aspects, in that case, which is a lot. []

Fate of the Nephilim: Documentation

A quick note about the information presented below: I’m not going to be explaining all the ins and outs of the Nephilim game. If you’re really confused by stuff, I urge you to grab the pdf of the game to follow along. You can get it at the Chaosium site, and the entire line is available at RPGnow. It’s well worth the purchase. And Fate Core is available from Evil Hat Productions. Also very much worth it.

Well, I’ve spent the last couple of days trying to get my head around where I left off on this project of converting Nephilim to a Fate Core game. It became readily apparent to me that I had lost a lot of momentum due to my long blogging hiatus, and had a fair bit of trouble remembering what I had planned to do next.

And so I fell back on my old stand-bys.

I’m a technical writer by day, and that means I’ve got a fair bit of practice with organizing and planning documentation. So, I decided to start actually writing the Fate of the Nephilim manual. That would document some of my ideas, show me what I had already done, cement some of the decisions, and give me a plan for what needs to come next.

The current version of the document doesn’t really advance things over the blog posts, but it does codify my thinking and planning. There are one or two new bits, decisions made either as I was putting the document together or sometime since the last post as the ideas have been brewing in my brain. But really, it just covers the basics of the character creation phases.

There’s still a lot to do.

It’s not a super-pretty document, either. I’ve given it a very simple cover page, a table of contents, and am using a pretty standard Word them to help with the organization. There are lots of pages that are blank except for the headings I’ve dropped in to use as an outline. And then, because I decided that I would share it with folks online, I spent an hour or so this evening tracking down the proper copyright and licensing notices for Fate Core and Nephilim1.

Yeah, I’m going to share the incomplete document with you folks.

If you find it interesting, let me know. If you spot any typos2, let me know. If you have any suggestions, comments, or complaints3, let me know.

Next step will be coming up with the skill lists for the various eras. You’ll see what I mean when you look at the document.

Okay, so here’s the link.

 

  1. Pro tip: always take the time to do this. If you like something enough to want to use it like I am, you should like it enough to give the proper credit to the folks who worked to make it in the first place. And not doing it just makes you look… unprofessional. []
  2. I haven’t given it a real editing pass. And one of the rules I live by is that everything always needs another editing pass. []
  3. Though, to be honest, I will probably ignore complaints. Constructive criticism – now, that’s the way to get me to pay attention. []

I’m Back!

So, some of you may have noticed that my blog has been down. I got hacked. I’m in the process of getting it back up and running – I’ve cleaned out the infected files, reinstalled WordPress, and relinked it to my old database, so I1 haven’t lost any of the posts or files I had here.

I’m also taking this opportunity to do a little bit of a refresh on the appearance of the blog. Right now, I’ve got a functional, if not-terribly-attractive look set up, and I’m going to be trying some stuff with themes and images over the next little while. I’m not looking to make it fancy, but I want to give it a little more functionality and a few more of the features that I like. What do I want out of the look?

  • Clean and easy to read.
  • Excerpts on the front page instead of full posts.
  • Works well with Google analytics.
  • Lets me put occasional graphics in without spending an hour fiddling with them.

Some of you may also have noticed that there hasn’t been much new here in the past year or so. I plan on getting back to blogging a little more regularly2, including continuing my Fate of the Nephilim series. There have also been a lot of very cool games3 that have come out recently that I have OPINIONS about4.

Anyway, that’s the plan.

I’ve still got a lot of distractions in my world. They may interfere with this plan. But I’m coming into this with the best of intentions, and hope to get my blogging feet back under me, and turn this into an interesting place to visit, again.

Here’s hoping.

  1. Touch wood. []
  2. Hell, just getting back to blogging AT ALL will be a big step forward. []
  3. Like CoriolisMasksCthlhu ConfidentialCity of MistsBulldogs! Fate Core EditionPhoenix: Dawn CommandCrestfallenUndyingUrban Shadows… you get the idea. And that’s not even touching the board games and card games. []
  4. Huge surprise there, right? []

Fate of the Nephilim: Phases and Aspects

Fate of the NephilimA quick note about the information presented below: I’m not going to be explaining all the ins and outs of the Nephilim game. If you’re really confused by stuff, I urge you to grab the pdf of the game to follow along. You can get it at the Chaosium site, and the entire line is available at RPGnow. It’s well worth the purchase. And Fate Core is available from Evil Hat Productions. Also very much worth it.

After my last post, I got a couple of comments that made me think I had better put some thought into the actual process of character creation, rather than just mapping them mechanical elements. Fair enough; my plan had been to do all the mechanical mapping of all the systems I wanted, then to use that to tell me what the process should be, but the comments made me reconsider that1.

So, let’s start talking about the phases of character creation, and the number and type of aspects the characters will have.

High Concept and Trouble Aspects

Obviously, the core of any Fate character is the aspect duo of High Concept and Trouble. Thus, the Nephilim will start with a High Concept and a Trouble.

For High Concept, I think it might be good to make the metamorphosis name required as part of the aspect, but also to require some modifiers. So, instead of a High Concept aspect of Djinn, or even Fiery Djinn2, I’d ask for something like Ageless Warrior Djinn, or Angel Esoteric Dancer, or Snake Astrologer to Alexander the Great or something. Use the metamorphosis name, but add some detail and colour.

For the Trouble aspect, I can’t think of any constraints I’d put on things. So, just the normal rules for choosing a Trouble aspect. Of course, the backstory and world of the Nephilim give some rich material for cool trouble aspects: Orichalka Scars, Hunted by the Holy Vehm, Touched by the Black Moon, etc.

One of the catches, though, is that I don’t think I would make picking High Concept and Trouble the first steps. I think I would save that until after the past lives are done. That’ll give a stronger foundation, and more shape to the character.

Past Lives

I’ve made a list of the past life periods from the Nephilim rulebook and Chronicle of the Awakenings. Here’s what I’ve got:

  1. Predynastic Egypt, c. 5000 BCE – The Great Compromise: What God Were You?
  2. Memphis, Egypt,  c. 3000 BCE – The Pact: Menes Creates Empire
  3. Uruk, Sumeria, c. 2700 BCE – The Epic of Gilgamesh
  4. Thebes, Egypt, c. 1350 BCE – Akhenaton: The Arcana Rebellion
  5. Mycenae, Greece, c. 1200 BCE – The Age of Discord
  6. Babylon, Persia, c. 600 BCE – Zoroaster and Ethical Religion
  7. Alexandria, Egypt, c. 350 BCE – Alexander and the Great Philosophers3
  8. The Kingdom of Carthage, c. 200 BCE – The Destruction of Carthage
  9. Jerusalem, Judea, c. 30 CE – The Jesus Incident: Birth of the Piscean Age
  10. Rome, Italy, c. 350 CE – Constantine and the New Church
  11. Aachen, Germania, c. 750 CE – Charlemagne Destroys Paganism
  12. Rome, Italy, c. 1000 CE – The Millennium
  13. Jerusalem, c. 1120 CE – The Crusader States
  14. Las Navas de Tolosa, Spain, c. 1212 CE – The Reconquista
  15. Montsegur, Toulouse, c. 1243 CE – The Cathars
  16. Avignon, France, c. 1378 CE – The Great Papal Schism
  17. Florence, Italy, c. 1480 CE – The Rennaissance
  18. London, England, c. 1590 CE – The New Camelot?
  19. Paris, France, c. 1630 CE – The Birth of the Age of Reason
  20. The Americas, New England, c. 1650 CE – For Fear of the Devil
  21. London, England, c. 1730 CE – The Mechanization of the Universe
  22. The Scottish Rebellion, c. 1745 CE – Bonnie Prince Charlie Wars for His Throne
  23. Paris, France, c. 1789 CE – The Best of Times; The Worst of Times
  24. The Siege of Paris, c. 1873 CE – The Insurgent Uprising
  25. London, England, c. 1900 CE – Return of the Magicians
  26. The Great War, c. 1916 CE – Anathema to Live, and Bane of Lovers
  27. Berlin, Germany, c. 1933 CE – The Spear and the Swastika

That gives a very broad range of periods for the players to choose from4. That said, I don’t think that it needs to be a restrictive list – it’s handy to have a list for folks to choose from, but the periods here also provide templates for building other periods.

This list also gives me a nice chronological arrangement, and shows that I can probably get away with just four batches of skills, if I do it right:

  • Ancient – eras 1-10
  • Medieval – eras 11-16
  • Rennaissance – eras 17-22
  • Modern – eras 23-27

Yeah, the divisions are a little fuzzier than that, but close enough for our purposes, considering the broad skills in Fate Core. I’ve got some ideas about how to do the skills, but they’re not really solidified, yet, so I’m going to save them for their own post.

Past Life Phases

Character creation phases seem to fit nicely with past lives in Nephilim. I’m thinking give each character three “free” past lives, and let them buy more using fate (Ka) points. With the default starting refresh of 3, that means that characters can have from three to five past lives.

Rather than walk through each characters first, second, and third5 past lives in order, it will work better to get the characters to discuss which eras they’re interested in, and create a list for each character. This is mainly so that, if two or more characters are manifest in the same era, we can take the opportunity to talk about how those characters interacted, kind of like the Crossing Paths phases of Fate Core.

So, here’s a rough outline of how I see the Past Life Phases working:

  1. Players discuss and pick the desired eras for their characters.
  2. Starting with the earliest era:
    1. Pick simulacrum.
    2. Pick skills.
    3. For first incarnation, choose Arcanum and Stasis item.
    4. If other characters are incarnated here, discuss and note interaction between the characters.
    5. Determine death circumstances.
    6. Choose an aspect for this era.
  3. Repeat step 2 for each era wherein a character has chosen to incarnate.
  4. Total up skill ranks for all incarnations.

There may be something added to step 2, depending on how I finally sort out the magic system and where stunts fit in.

Past Life Aspects

So, the idea is that each character gets an aspect for each past life. That’s my default plan. With the High Concept and Trouble aspects, and the variable number of past lives, that gives each character 5-7 aspects. Now, I’m not completely convinced that allowing characters to have different numbers of aspects is a good idea – I don’t think it’s a game-breaker, but it does give that character a couple more options for using the fate point economy. On the other hand, those with more aspects will have fewer starting fate points, so that might balance out. I’ll have to think more about this. It’s eminently doable to just have the players come up with aspects for any three of the character’s past lives, but I think that undermines some of the cool flavour of the long-lived Nephilim, so I’m reluctant to go that way.

Anyway, there was some discussion on a previous post about the kind of aspects characters should have for past lives. The most obvious one is an aspect that denotes their role in that period – a sort of period-specific High Concept. I can see that as a simple, usable kind of aspect, but I worry that a) it will undermine/conflict with the actual High Concept, and b) it’ll make for a list of aspects like the character classes on a multiclass D&D character sheet.

Thus I have come up with a short list of ideas for Past Life aspects:

  • An aspect related to your Arcanum, especially if this is when you joined your Arcanum: Eminence Grise of the EmperorRight Hand of StrengthJustice Investigator
  • An aspect related to an important event in that era: Taught the First Farmers to Brew BeerFought Against the Reconquista, Cathar Perfect
  • An aspect related to an important person in that era: The Fourteenth Apostle, Paladin of Charlemagne, Confidant of Robespierre
  • An aspect related to interaction with a secret society in that era: Master MasonI HATE the Holy Vehm!, Hunted by Templars
  • An aspect related to a personal event in that era that left a mark: Hung as a Witch, Twelve Years a Homonculus, I Have Known True Love
  • Any other aspect, unrelated to the era, that shows off your character, goals, habits, or values: No Such Thing as Overprepared, I Will Unlock the Secrets of Solar Ka, The Selenim Are Abomination

 

Those are my thoughts on the phases and aspects for Fate of the Nephilim. Let me know what you think. Next time, I think I’ll talk about the skill packages for the various eras, and how they will fit together and work6

  1. So, thanks for that, Rob Rendell and Michael Duxbury! []
  2. Why not Fiery Djinn? Because all Djinn are fiery by definition. If you want to emphasize that you’re really fiery, maybe something like Djinn Inferno would work. []
  3. Sounds like a university band, doesn’t it? []
  4. Though I note that they are heavily weighted to Western European ideas of what’s important history. []
  5. …and possibly fourth and fifth. []
  6. I hope they’ll do both, anyway. []

Fate of the Nephilim: Character Creation

Fate of the Nephilim

A quick note about the information presented below: I’m not going to be explaining all the ins and outs of the Nephilim game. If you’re really confused by stuff, I urge you to grab the pdf of the game to follow along. You can get it at the Chaosium site, and the entire line is available at RPGnow. It’s well worth the purchase. And Fate Core is available from Evil Hat Productions. Also very much worth it.

I sat down with my Nephilim pdf the other night, and looked through it, making a list of things that I would have to address in converting the game to Fate Core 1. Below is my list, along with my initial thoughts on how I might convert that element. This is early days, yet; I expect that I will find the list changing, as I find things to add or decide that items on the list really don’t need special attention, and definitely I expect my approach to individual elements to change.

Past Lives

As mentioned, I think that the past lives can be addressed as modes, as seen in Atomic Robo RPG. Between Nephilim and Chronicle of the Awakenings, there are 27 different eras for the characters to pick for their previous lives, each of which has five or six different classes of person. Creating an individual mode for each of these potential incarnations is not only a lot of work, but many of the modes would be very similar.

I think that a simpler approach would be to create a basic mode for each general type of person in each broad category of eras: Ancient Warrior, Medieval Aristocrat, Modern Serf2, etc. Maybe give each mode a set of five skills, of which the player must pick three – that’ll allow some customization of each mode.

There are some great random tables with each life that I think are useful/interesting enough to keep: class of the simulacrum, stasis item for the first incarnation, and stasis event. Now, I think it’s important that the players have the option to choose those things themselves during character creation, but I also think that having the random options available is useful for those who don’t have a really good idea or just want to let part of the character creation rest in the hands of chance. Using those tables straight from the Nephilim books works fine, as there are no mechanical trappings to them.

An important consideration is how many past lives each character has access to, which brings us to Ka.

Ka

Ka is the central mechanical definer of the Nephilim character. During character creation, you spend Ka to buy past lives, meaning you are making a determination between the skills available to your character and your character’s raw power. In that respect, Ka maps nicely to Refresh. I’ll have to so some thinking and juggling to come up with the right number of starting Refresh – how many incarnations do I expect the characters to start with? What does each incarnation cost? How about stunts? I may go with the standard 3 Refresh, a few free incarnations, and a few free stunts3. Or, maybe giving everyone a big stack of Refresh but making them pay for everything is the way to go. Have to think about that.

The catch is that Ka is more than just the power currency of the game. It also has different flavours – the elemental affinities of the characters that do a lot to define identity, outlook, and abilities.

Elemental Affinities

Each character has their base Ka, as noted above, plus five types of elemental Ka: Air, Earth, Fire, Water, and Moon4. These different Ka ratings govern magical ability with those elements, as well as the Metamorphosis of the character. Your dominant Ka, the element that you most identify with, then you have the neutral-favourable element, the neutral-unfavourable element, the minor opposite element, and the major opposite element.

I think it may be my best bet to divorce this from the overall Ka rating above, maybe turning it into a simple set of bonuses and penalties ranging from +2 to -25. This allows the ability to apply the Ka element modifiers to anything having to do with that element, including the symbolic associations with physical and mental abilities, where Fire Ka adds to feats of strength, and Water Ka adds to agility stunts, etc.

That’s sounds pretty powerful, though. Especially if I allow any stunts to boost the bonuses or ameliorate the penalties. If I do go that way, I think it would have to be a static thing.

Which means that basic method of Metamorphosis won’t work.

Metamorphosis

Metamorphosis is the way in which the spiritual and magical growth of the character changes the physicality of the host body. In the main rulebook, this change is tied to the elemental Ka increase. Chronicle of the Awakenings offers a different system, based on emotions. Thus, instead of the Djinn getting hotter as its Fire Ka grows, it becomes hotter the more energetic it is.

So, I’m thinking the emotional system works best. Especially if each of the emotions is an aspect, with maybe a track of three boxes. Each time the emotional aspect is invoked or compelled, the player gets to mark a box. When all three for a given emotion are marked, that part of the metamorphosis is fulfilled, granting whatever benefit that gives6.

There’s also the possibility of pairing the emotional aspect with its opposite, and unmarking a box whenever that opposite aspect is compelled or invoked. Or maybe just unmarking a box when the character acts according to the opposite emotional aspect. That starts to look a little fiddly to me; maybe best if I increase the number of boxes in the track to five. I guess it depends on whether I want the up-and-down of the Metamorphoses, and how awesome the benefits are.

Skill List

I may need to make some era-specific skills: Fighting (Ancient), Fighting (Modern), etc. Not sure, though; have to think about the benefit of such things versus the dilution of the skill point pool. Also, I don’t necessarily want a miles-long skill list on each character sheet.

There also need to be skills for the three magic types: Sorcery, Summoning, and Alchemy. Of course, I’ll have to figure out how those systems are working in Fate Core, as well.

There definitely needs to be a Ka Vision skill.

Now, one of the mainstays of the Nephilim skill list is Life Experience, where each incarnation grants a separate skill to know about stuff in the incarnation era. I think this may be better in Fate Core as just a list of incarnation eras on the character sheet, showing which eras the character can apply their skills to. That would also mean I don’t have to create era-specific skills, so I like that idea. Let the character use skill points to buy familiarity with the modern era after a few sessions, when it starts to get boring that they don’t understand cars and cell phones.

Stress

Physical stress is good as it is. Mental stress is fine, but for flavour, I think renaming it as Spiritual stress works better in this setting.

I’m toying with the idea of adding a Ch’awe track to model the magic point system from Nephilim. On the other hand, it might be better to adopt the stress costs of magic from DFRPG, applying the cost of casting to Spiritual and Physical stress tracks. I think I’ll have to take a look and see what other things in the game would impact Spiritual stress before deciding if I need a third stress track, or if that means that Spiritual stress is kind of redundant and useless.

Possession

I will need to figure out what kind of character stat block I use for the possessed body, including what kind of skill list it has. And then I’ll need to create several of them7. This is where I’ll have to do some thinking about Solar Ka, and how it affects the possession attempt. And what skill8 the character will use to attempt possession, and what skill9 the target will resist with.

Actually, if I decide that Solar Ka is the fate point pool that the target has, that makes it useful in resisting possession, but also more flexible than that. That may be the way to go.

Using the simulacrum’s skills should be slightly problematic, as it is in Nephilim. Don’t know how to model that: Spiritual stress hit, maybe? And incorporating those skills into the Nephilim from the simulacrum can probably be done with skill points received through milestones. One of those skills, maybe, is the general knowledge of the modern world, which would allow the Nephilim to add the modern era to the list of familiar eras. That could work.

Obviously, Shouit should occur when the Nephilim takes too much Spiritual stress. Should it be a consequence, or the result of being taken out? Have to think about that.

 

That covers most of the character creation issues. I’m gonna keep thinking about them. I’ll be back in a few days to take a look at the other stuff in the game that needs to be converted. It’s mostly to do with the wonderful, flavourful10 magic system.

  1. No idea what I’m talking about? You should read the first post in this series. []
  2. Yeah, that’s not the right name, but you get the idea. []
  3. Three, three, and three? The UA fan in me likes that set-up, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. []
  4. There’s also Solar Ka, Black Moon Ka, and Black Solar Ka, but those are all NPC concerns, so I can pretty much ignore them. At least, for now. []
  5. +2 dominant, +1 neutral-favourable, +0 neutral-unfavourable, -1 minor opposite, -2 major opposite. []
  6. I’ll have to work out some examples, of course. And maybe three is the wrong number of boxes. []
  7. Or come up with a system where players can quickly and easily build their own. []
  8. I’m thinking Will. []
  9. Again, probably Will, possibly with a Solar Ka bonus. []
  10. But very complex. []

Fate of the Nephilim

Fate of the Nephilim

Yesterday, in the middle of a busy work day, I saw a tweet that asked what RPG I loved but never got to play. My answer was pretty much instant: Nephilim: Occult Roleplaying from Chaosium Games1. I love the themes, the setting, the basic idea behind it all, the flavour of the magic, the emphasis on playing truly alien beings trapped amidst humanity… all of it.

What I don’t love about it is the system.

See, it uses BRP, which is fine. But I never found it a good fit. It became fairly complex in handling the three different types of magic in the game, and was just a little too crunchy for my taste in a game that dealt with so much magical thinking and arcane/hermetic symbolism. It always felt like a real break in mood to go from talking about the ritual for summoning Those Who Creep and Nibble to doing mechanical calculations of the various astrological influences to work out what bonuses and penalties you had on your percentile roll2.

Anyway.

As I said, I was in the middle of a busy work day, so I didn’t really respond to the tweet. But the idea of Nephilim kept rattling around in my head, pulling up the question, “If I were to run Nephilim3, what system would I use?”

There are a few core elements that whatever I used would have to handle, and the central one is the character generation. When you create you character in Nephilim, you do it by determining the string of different eras that they incarnated in, and what they learned in each one. What did you learn fighting in the Trojan War? How about in King Arthur’s Court? And leading a colonization attempt in the New World? That adds so much flavour to the game that I couldn’t ignore it.

But modes in Atomic Robo RPG do pretty much the same job: they allow you to pick a few categories with set skill lists, and the various skill choices accumulate. That idea got me excited enough that I tweeted about it, and got a little bit of interest online. Enough to let me know that it wasn’t a bonehead idea4. That told me that Fate Core would probably work. Which is handy, because I love that system5.

This evening, I’ve been gathering my Nephilim pdfs6, and then I’m going to start creating Fate of the Nephilim. It’s going to be a long-ish project, but I’m strangely excited to do it. My first step is going to be going through the Nephilim books and and making a list of all the things that I think are central enough to the heart of the game that I need to come up with a way to model them in Fate. Then, tackle character creation. That’ll make or break my initial ideas – if I can get character creation to feel right, I’ll know I’m on the right track.

I’ve decided that I’m going to do this out in the open, here on my blog. This is for a few reasons:

  • It’ll be extra motivation to keep at this and get it done.
  • It’ll be a record of the project that will be safe as long as nothing happens to my domain.
  • It’ll get me blogging again. I haven’t had much to say on the blog for a while7, but this is interesting to me and, hopefully, to others.

I hope you follow along my little experiment. I hope it’s interesting. I hope it works out. I’ll be back in a few days with that list I was mentioning.

  1. Yes, I know that the original version of the game was from French company Multisim. I can’t find any trace of them with a cursory Google search, though I do find French Nephilim pages. I don’t read French, though. Anyone know if they’re still around? []
  2. Did I mention that the way it handled magic got complicated? []
  3. “…which I would never do…” []
  4. Hey, if four Internet people agree with me about anything, I take it as divine revelation of truth. []
  5. Pure coincidence and no confirmation bias at all, I assure you. []
  6. The books are all very worn and beat up. E-book are what I need for this part. []
  7. For quite a while. []

Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game

Box-Facing-to-the-Left-No-Shadow-600px

The good folks at Evil Hat Productions are currently running a Kickstarter for a new card game: The Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game.

There is1 five days to go on the Kickstarter, and around $38,000 dollars to hit the last stretch goal. I really want them to hit that last stretch goal, which will give folks free expansions and variant cards in the app version of the game that they’re going to develop. So, I’m trying to get the word out a little wider.

As a backer of the campaign, I was able to download the print-and-play version of the game and give it a try. I’ve played several solo games2, and a couple of multi-person games. Short version: it’s a good game – challenging and flavourful and just a lot of fun.

First, the basics.

Players take the roles of various characters from the Dresden Files book series. Each character has a small deck of cards that represent their abilities. The group faces off against a deck of cards based on one of the Dresden Files books, which presents a series of cases, foes, obstacles, and advantages. The group must use the cards in their hands to solve the cases, defeat the foes, overcome the obstacles, and gain the advantages. To win, the group must have more solved cases than there are undefeated foes when the game ends.

As with a lot of cooperative games, the core of the game is resource management. The initial hands the players draw for their characters are pretty much the only cards they’ll have for the entire game – opportunities to draw more cards are uncommon, and players may only have one or two opportunities to draw a new card over the course of the game, so using the cards for best opportunity is key.

In addition, all the cards have a Fate Point value. There’s a pool of Fate Points that the group shares3, and playing a card requires spending Fate Points from that pool. Players can also discard a card to gain that card’s Fate Point value into the pool4. So, deciding when to spend Fate to play a card and when to discard a card to gain Fate for later use is another key decision point in the game.

The Book cards are dealt out in two rows, and the position of the cards along a range band tell you which cards can be affected by cards with different ranges. The layout of these cards changes with every game, and that means the optimal strategy changes with each game, too. There are interrelationships between the Book cards, as well, so that dealing with the cards in a certain order can make dealing with other cards easier. For example, you may need to solve a case before attacking a given foe.

The game ends in a showdown, where there is a final hail Mary chance to solve outstanding cases and defeat outstanding foes. You enter the showdown when you play a card that has more Fate Points than you have available, or when the players are all out of cards, or when all the players agree that they should go to showdown because they don’t have anything useful they can do. At the end of the showdown, which is a series of rolls5 against the various outstanding cards. These rolls can have their odds improved by spending Fate Points, so it’s good to have a few left in the pool when the showdown starts.

At the end of the showdown, you total the number of case cards you’ve solved, and compare it to the number of foe cards still on the board. If you have more case cards, you win. If you don’t you lose.

So far, I have yet to win a game. But every game has felt like I’ve had a chance right up to the showdown, and my immediate reaction after each loss has been, “Wow. I better try that again.” The game is challenging and a little bit frustrating and highly addictive.

The base game comes with five character decks: Harry Dresden, Karrin Murphy, Michael Carpenter, Susan Rodriguez, and Billy and Georgia of the Alphas. Two more decks have been unlocked as freebies by the stretch goals: Mouse, and a crossover from Sentinels of the Multiverse, Ra.

There are five book decks in the base game: Storm Front, Fool Moon, Grave Peril, Summer Knight, and Death Masks. There’s also a deck called Side Jobs that you can use to generate a random scenario for play.

Stretch goals have also unlocked three expansions, each of which features two more character decks, two more book decks, and a few more cards for Side Jobs. Stretch goals have also generated a $10 discount on shipping charges, so shipping in the US is free, and it’s just $10 for shipping up here to Canada. And the stretch goals have increased the art budget, so you’ll see a lot more variety in the art than is currently presented in the print-and-play version6.

You also get a play board, some Fate dice, and chits for tracking clues, hits, and Fate Points in the base game.

So, if you get all three expansions with the base game, you wind up with 13 character decks, 11 book decks, and about 45 Side Jobs cards, enough for a lot of replay value.

The Kickstarter is almost over. Right now, you can get the base game for $39, and the base game plus the three expansions for $69. And if the campaign hits $450,000, there will be free expansions and variant cards when they release the app for the game. If the game sounds good, jump in quick.

Harry needs your help.

  1. At the time I’m writing this. []
  2. Yes, there are solo rules. []
  3. The size of the pool is based on the difficulty the group has chosen to play at. The lower the difficulty, the more Fate Points available at the start of the game. []
  4. This also triggers a special ability that each character has, called a Talent. []
  5. Using Fate dice. []
  6. The art currently in the game is great, but there is only one image for case cards, one for foe cards, one for obstacles, etc. The increased budget means different images for different cards. []

International Tabletop Day is Saturday!

Packed up my games for Tabletop Day. Bringing a big bag over to Imagine Games and Hobbies at 246 McDermot Avenue on Saturday. I’ll be there around 11, and will stay until the store closes. Or people stop wanting to play games.

What’s in the bag? Glad you asked:

  1. Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game
  2. Star Wars: Rebellion
  3. Don’t Turn Your Back
  4. Race to Adventure
  5. Fury of Dracula
  6. Sherriff of Nottingham
  7. Kingdom Builder
  8. Lords of Waterdeep
  9. Mysterium
  10. Betrayal at House on the Hill
  11. Forbidden Desert
  12. Batman Fluxx
  13. King of New York
  14. Fiasco
  15. It’s Not My Fault
  16. Three Cheers for Master
  17. The Resistance
  18. Coup
  19. Murder of Crows
  20. Cthulhu Dice
  21. Zombie Dice
  22. The Quiet Year
  23. Monster of the Week
  24. Elder Sign
  25. Bang
  26. Kodama
  27. Infiltration

I want to note in particular that the Dresden Files Cooperative Card Game is currently Kickstarting; I have a print-and-play version that I will be happy to demo and play. It’s a lot of fun.

Also, Star Wars: Rebellion is brand new, with a lot of cool little figures for it. Haven’t played yet, but I’ll be very pleased to set it up and give it a try. Or let others try.

Anyway. Come on down. Play more games!