Sundog Millionaires: The World We Made

This weekend, I finished typing up the first version of our setting bible for the Sundog Millionaires campaign that I talked about back here. We’re experiencing a few delays in getting to the character creation part of the festivities, so the document is not complete – I expect to add a few more entries ((Like one on Sundog, the characters’ ship, but they haven’t decided what kind of ship it is, so that’s blank right now.)) for things that get created during character creation.

But I wanted to get the setting bible out to my players to make sure we didn’t lose the momentum and the excitement that was generated during the game creation session, so I sent it out only partially complete.

I have to say, I’m pretty pumped about this setting the group has come up with. It has a bunch of cool Star Wars stuff, but also some neat tropes from other science fiction ((And action/adventure sources.)) sources, so it’s not plain vanilla Star Wars ((Nothing wrong with plain vanilla, but I prefer that the characters have room in the narrative to put their stamp on things.)). Sure, we’re playing during the Imperial period, but it’s much earlier than the movies – more the time of the Dark Times comic series, which is less constrained by readily-available sources. This means that there’s plenty of space ((See what I did there?)) for the characters to carve out their own stories and decide what’s important, rather than being either tied to or overshadowed by the canon narrative.

An important note about canon, both for the audience and for my players: I know a fair amount – not a huge amount – about the Star Wars universe, expanded and otherwise, and I’m a decent online researcher ((At least for the level of information you need to run a game.)). However, I fully accept that there are others in the audience and among my players who know the stuff far, far better than I ever will. I am not going to worry about canon. I am going to use whatever seems fun that I discover, and make up the rest. If I tread on the toes of those who care deeply about some aspect of the universe, well, that’s just the way it’s going to be. I’m not going out of my way to break from canon, but nor am I going out of my way to follow it.

Govern yourselves accordingly. 😉

I am far more interested in the world my players created, and in how they got excited during its creation. I had to rein in a couple of folks from talking out an entire story that would be more interesting to play through than just have in the background. I had people throwing out ideas for the game left and right. I had people starting to get excited talking about what characters they made. And everyone cheered when, in the final minutes of the session, they picked the name of their ship and thence the name of the campaign.

Man, I love collaborative game creation.

Anyway, for those who are interested, I’m linking to both the setting bible and the Obsidian Portal wiki for the game. You can find them both below.

One last note about the bible: I’ve put in a bunch of pictures that I have collected over the years from the Internet. I didn’t keep track of the sources, and so have not credited the artists, nor obtained permission to use them – I didn’t know I’d be putting them in anything public when I collected them. I just thought they were cool.

If you see some art in the document and you know who it belongs to, please let me know. That way, I can ask for permission to use it, and credit the artist if they grant that permission, or remove it if they don’t. This isn’t the best way to gain permission, I realize. I apologize for that. I should have kept better track of the sources of the pictures when I collected them.

Anyway, here are the links I promised:

Sundog Millionaires: In The Beginning

Last Sunday, we got the old Storm Point gang together to run the game creation session of our new Star Wars game, using the Fate Core system. We were supposed to meet a week prior, but I really wanted the entire group together for this, and life intervened.

I have to say, that extra week was taxing on me. When I’ve got a new game coming up, I often immerse myself in preparing for it – working out background, roughing in some scenarios, and generally getting ready for play. But with the game creation being a collaborative process ((And I want to be clear here that I think collaborative game creation is awesome.)), I couldn’t do any of that, because I didn’t know what kind of game this was going to be.

That is, however, a pretty minor complaint.

I had prepped all the players by letting them know what the steps in game creation would be, and by sharing with them Lenny Balsera’s game creation tips article from the first issue of the Fate Codex. They all came prepared, and we had a bit of a discussion ((And some dinner.)) before jumping in.

I started with getting each player to give me an individual Want / Do Not Want list, with three items in each category. That’s significantly more than Lenny recommends in his article, but I had a couple of specific reasons for doing that. One was that, as I got these lists from them without them discussing the various items, it allowed me to see what sort of overlap there was, and thus what things most of the group agreed on. Another was that this brainstorming approach would allow us to have a productive discussion about the similar – and dissimilar – items that would lead us to find common themes.

So, once we got our big list, we talked through it, finding similar entries, and talking about what it was about them that made us want or not want them. This allowed us to sort of boil down the list by consensus, coming up with a shorter list that addressed pretty much everything ((The main thing that didn’t get settled was the inclusion/exclusion of Jedi PCs, but I’ll get to that a little later.)) the group cared about. That gave us the basis for coming up with the framework for the game.

What we decided on was a game where the characters were the crew of a somewhat run-down freighter in the Outer Rim, taking odd jobs and exploring strange places. In conversation, the vibe we wanted for the game settled out at about half-way between Firefly and The A-Team. With, of course, all the tropes of Star Wars thrown on top.

So, with that done, we pressed on to the Issues, Locations, and Faces of game creation. I’m not going to go through the details of setting creation; I’ve put the initial results up in the Obsidian Portal wiki. I’m working on putting together a setting bible for the gang, but that’s going to have to wait until character creation is done, so that I can incorporate the things they come up with then.

The game got it’s name from our last little discussion on that evening – after much debate ((And some god-awful stupid suggestions.)), they settled on the name Sundog for their ship. And one of the players said, “So, obviously, the name of the campaign has to be Sundog Millionaires.” And the name stuck.

Soon, we’ll have the character creation session. I’ll post about that when it happens.

Ashen Stars: The Witness of My Worth, Part 1

***Spoiler Warning***

I’m running the introductory scenario, The Witness of My Worth from the Ashen Stars rulebook. While some things always get changed when the scenario meets the players, I am running it pretty much straight out of the box. There will be spoilers in this post.

***You Have Been Warned***

A little over two weeks ago ((I started writing this post the morning after the game. Honest, I did. But life kept intruding and keeping me from finishing it. I’ve changed that reference to when we played three four times now.)), instead of some sort of Valentine’s Day celebration, I had a group of friends over to play our first session of Ashen Stars, the space-opera GUMSHOE game from Pelgrane Press by Robin D. Laws ((I think that’s a record for number of links in a single sentence on my blog. Yay!)). We had done character creation by e-mail, which turned out to not be ideal, but we got through it, and I, at least, was excited to actually start playing.

Only one of my players ((Maybe two; I can’t remember if Fera had played in a Trail of Cthulhu one-shot.)) had ever played a GUMSHOE game previously, so I spent the first bit of the session explaining the system. I think it’s a good thing I did; my explanation of how the Investigative abilities worked caused a couple of characters to rearrange some of their points. I also talked about the part that always messes up new GUMSHOE players: if you don’t know what you should do next, go get more information.

I also explained that I had the Ashen Stars soundtrack, All We Have Forgotten, loaded up on my computer, and that I would be using musical stings to end scenes when the characters had got all the information they could from a scene, as well as using the other tracks to provide thematic background music. Then I pretty much immediately forgot to do all that. Oh, I think I managed to pull in the proper track twice through the evening, and used a sting maybe once, but it turned out to be just one more thing for me to keep track of, and it got lost in the shuffle. With some practice, that might change.

I had also printed out Kevin Kulps 30-minute demo scenario, Stowaway, thinking that I might use it as a sort of trailer for the game, giving people a taste of how things worked before jumping into the actual investigation ((I even worked out a way to tie it into the backstory for the characters that they had worked out.)). I discarded that idea, though, simply for reasons of time. We’d already spent over an hour with the introductory stuff ((Waiting for everyone to arrive, getting everyone fed and settled, going over the rules, talking about True Detective, talking about work, etc.)), and I really wanted to finish this scenario in one session ((Spoiler: didn’t happen.)), so I decided not to use the short scenario, and jumped into the main scenario.

I had typed up a one-page hand-out for the players, outlining their mission from The Witness of My Worth, containing the main datapoints of their assignment, and I gave it to the bagger to read first. When she had read it and started passing it to the other players, I explained that this was a good time to start using some of their Investigative abilities to fill in background and detail on the contract – what their destination was like, what the legal complications might be, etc. They spent a little time doing that, getting a little more comfortable with the concepts behind GUMSHOE.

When they looked to have had enough of that, I jumped them into the Ares-3 system, and sprang the first little surprise on them: the ship immediately started plotting an automatic attack run on a nearby hauler. Returner-U managed to wrest control away from the computers before things went badly, and our Lasers were able to prevent an unprovoked attack by their ship on the unsuspecting hauler. They hailed the hauler, and found that they were heading to a settlement on the far side of the planet from the site of the EvBase.

Making their way down to the planet surface, the Lasers landed as near as they could get to the EvBase in the ruins of the capital city. They managed to bypass the fence of security pylons around the base, and even defuse the booby-trapped bomb on the door. Inside, they found the entire crew of the EvBase dead. They managed to reconstruct the sequence of death, determining that a group of the crew returned from outside and attacked those inside ((I really should have spent some more time prepping this section. The notes in the  adventure did not provide the sequence of death – specifically, who died when and where – and I was forced to reconstruct it on the fly logic-puzzle style. And there was some question about the timing of the bomb set on the door that I couldn’t immediately resolve, so I resorted to the old GM trick, “Yeah, that does seem odd, doesn’t it?”)).

Some of the records they unlocked from the main database led them to go and investigate  the settlement nearby. There, they found that the locals weren’t all that welcoming – though the Durugh arms merchants did offer a job to Arrud – and weren’t too forthcoming with information.

At this point, I found myself fretting about some of the false assumptions that the group was making, and the number of clues they weren’t picking up. You see, this was the first time I found myself running a published GUMSHOE adventure, being far more used to running the improvisational style of mystery found in The Armitage Files. Published adventures, I have found, lay out a much larger number – and a broader range – of clues, to make sure that the characters can always find the path forward. In improvised adventures, the GM can be more parsimonious with the clues created, because they are created at the intersection of the mystery’s background and the investigators’ actions.

What I’m saying, I guess, is that, even though the investigators didn’t uncover every clue in every scene, they still got all the core clues, and were able to move forward in the investigation, even if they were moving forward with false assumptions.

Still, at this point I realized that the Lasers didn’t have the clue to lead them on to the next stage of the investigation. And there didn’t seem to be much chance of them finding that required clue in the current scened. Fortunately, I turned the page, and saw that the answer was in the next scene.

So, I had a huge ground transport come lumbering down the avenue toward the bar, with a couple of people firing weapons out the windows. Our Lasers sprang into action, saving some bystanders and crippling the transport. Investigation of the driver and passenger showed that they had brain deformations similar to those found on some of the crew of the EvBase, along with burns along the points where their headsets touched flesh.

Data in the transport revealed a site where strange things were happening, the next bit of vital information to drive the investigation forward. They decided to head off there to see if they could get to the bottom of this strange thing that seemed to be reprogramming the brains of those who came into contact with it.

That was the point we decided to call it an evening, as it was getting late. I need to flesh out some of the end of the investigation to fill up an entire session, because there are only a couple of scenes left, and it could be wrapped up in a little more than an hour. That shouldn’t be too difficult, though.

I’m looking forward to the next session.

Farewell to Storm Point


I’m running Tomb of Horrors for this leg of the Storm Point campaign – indeed, for the rest of the campaign. You may not want to read on if you’re playing the game yourself.


A little over a week ago, we had our last session of our Storm Point campaign, wrapping up the Tomb of Horrors run. After eight-and-a-half years of running and playing D&D in this group, we’re giving it a rest for a while. So that meant that we needed to make the final session memorable.

I had ended the previous session with the group arriving at the astral engine to see the godflesh golem that Acererak had built to house him rising from its plinth. We picked up right there at the start of this session, with everyone rolling initiative, and battle being joined.

I knew from that initiative roll that things were going to go badly for poor Acererak. He rolled lower than Thrun, and Thrun is tooled up to be the ultimate one-foe tank. Once Thrun got next to Acererak, the big golem was kept prone and dazed for pretty much the rest of the fight.

That didn’t make it a push-over, though. Acererak managed to get up once or twice, and was plenty dangerous even with only one action per turn. He almost sucked the cleric’s soul out, and managed to keep a couple of other characters scrambling. However, once the group realized that it was his phylactery hanging in the middle of the astral engine, the two more mystical characters concentrated on shutting down the machine and destroying the phylactery ((The fact that they came up with this on their own surprised me, considering how many times they have ignored similar situations in the past and just stuck with their default plan, i.e., “Get ’em!”)), which put Acererak on the ropes.

After the phylactery was destroyed, the rest of the fight was a foregone conclusion. Milo managed to strike the deathblow, using the Ruinblade that they picked up in the abandoned tomb, and to which Milo had sworn he would destroy Acererak.

Once the final blow was struck, I went into narrative mode, with the room crumbling around them, and the group’s hippogriffs ((Now with black feathers and raven heads.)) flying out of the void to pick them up. I gave everyone the option of letting the hippogriff carry them off to safety or standing to meet the Raven Queen when she showed up. Milo, who has always said he worshipped the Raven Queen, stayed, but so too did Galvanys, our eladrin ranger, and Faran, our cleric of Pelor. Thus, those three were taken back to the Raven Queen’s lands in the Shadowfell to serve her for eternity.

I then blatantly stole an end of campaign trick from my friend Michael, and gave each player three poker chips to use in a Fiasco-esque closing exercise for the campaign. We went around in a circle, and the group got to tell how their characters ended.

Thus, we bid goodbye to:

  • Thrun the Anvil, whose steadfast devotion and endurance through many battles and campaigns had Moradin claim him for his own anvil.
  • Soren, who rallied the various disparate settlements around Storm Point and Belys and destroyed the Empire Reborn.
  • Milo, who betrayed the Raven Queen to free his friend Galvanys from her servitude and was doomed to wander the earth, forever undying.
  • Galvanys, who was freed to return to the Feywild and found his own kingdom there thanks to Milo’s sacrifice.
  • Faran, whose dedication to Pelor’s radiance allowed him, after years of service to the Raven Queen, rise from the darkness and return to his god’s side.

Thanks to my players for sticking around for this campaign. And for being willing to try something new with our next campaign, a Fate Core Star Wars game.

I hope the rest of you stick around, too. It promises to be a fun ride.

Apocalypse World: Homecoming

We sat down to play episode 10 of our 12-episode Apocalypse World campaign about a week ago. It had been some time since our last game ((Almost three months.)), but everyone was pretty quick to get back into the storyline, so we were able to jump right in after a short recap.

I did take a little time before the game started to talk a little bit about the whole 12-episode thing. I explained to my players that, while I was aiming for 12 episodes, I would end the campaign early if we got to a good, climactic ending point earlier ((Or, of course, if everyone died. But that was pretty much a given right from the start.)). I’ve run games past their proper end-point before ((Notably, my Unknown Armies campaign.)), and they tend to fizzle and collapse in a most unsatisfying manner, so I wanted to avoid that. And, given the reduced narrative control ((Okay, it’s not really reduced narrative control, but reduced narrative planning.)) that the MC has, I can’t count on the best ending point to end up when and where I wanted it to.

My players understood my concerns, and accepted the my terms, so we got to playing.

Our heroes were out in the plains north and west of Roosevelt, heading to the west, where the beacons they had uncovered over the past little while told them that Snow’s stasis facility was. There was some discussion about the information they’d got last session, relating to the potential quantum overlap of the Canadians’ base and the question of whether or not this was the “real” world ((I also started giving information to Snow in response to his start-of-session questions that implied that his world was not our real world. Just to sow some uncertainty.)). They also spent some time debating what, if anything they should ((Or could.)) do about the current situation, if turning off the quantum computer(s) would fix things.

They finally got on the trail towards the stasis facility, but had to duck and hide when they spotted lights coming up behind them. It turned out to be a fairly large group of New Dawning soldiers, apparently sweeping the area for them. The Roosevelt gang remained hunkered down until the New Dawning folks passed them by, and then for a little while longer to make sure that they could continue on their way unobserved.

They cut a kilometre or two off the main trail to avoid running into any trailing New Dawning soldiers, and came at the facility co-ordinates from another angle.

They camped for the night along the way, and were wakened in the night by something moving in the grass around them. JB was on watch, and roused the others, but no one could get a good luck at whatever was stalking them. Eventually, JB chased them off with some well-placed gunfire.

Somewhere in there, Magpie decided that she should open her mind to the maelstrom and see what she could find out about the things in the grass. The maelstrom this time seemed to be a self-aware computer program who viewed Magpie as a subroutine that had been created for data interpretation and analysis, and tried to reabsorb her into the body of the main program ((Magpie rolled a miss on her move to open her mind to the maelstrom.)). So, when he noticed that her body was seizing, Nils wired himself into her mind to retrieve her. He managed to ((Mostly.)) reassemble her consciousness.

In the morning, they got back on their way. Making their way up into the hills, going for the hidden valley where the entry was, they were ambushed and surrounded by New Dawning soldiers.

I was a little surprised that I got away with this so easily. I mean, they knew that the New Dawning folk were ahead of them, and there was a trail for them to follow ((From the Canadians’ vehicles.)), so it seemed obvious to me that they would have set up a camp at the entry, and sentries on the approaches. But our heroes made no attempt at stealth, or scouting, or anything like that. I was worried that I hadn’t described things clearly enough to make this move reasonable ((I mean, it was obvious that I hadn’t described things clearly enough for the players to anticipate this kind of problem – that’s all on me as MC.)), and that I would need to do some tap-dancing to sell the whole thing.

Turns out I didn’t need to. The players accepted the development quite readily, and I was able to run the kind of scene you get a lot in fiction, but not so often in RPGs: the heroes held captive, disarmed and helpless ((For certain values of “helpless” – they are the heroes, after all.)), threatened and interrogated by the enemy. I was thinking about this after the fact, and I think it speaks well to the high level of trust that AW ((And other *World games.)) engenders between players and MC. The contract between the players and MC in AW specifically gives license to the MC to take aggressive, even vindictive, action against the characters, but only when the characters open the door to it by making a bad roll. That conditions the players to accept negative developments with great aplomb, where in other games, the same players, might call foul. It’s an interesting dynamic that is very different from more traditional games.


Snow refused to give them the access code for the entry, because his family is still inside on ice. Seeing that there was no way she could convince Snow to help her get inside, the commander turned to Nils, threatening to shoot the others one by one until he agreed to use his Savvyhead skills to crack the lock on the facility entrance. The plan was, obviously, to start with shooting Snow so he couldn’t pull any tricks with what he knew about the facility defences, then JB, who looked like the next most dangerous threat, and finally Magpie, who never looks that threatening at all ((Right up until she kills someone. Or begins leading razor weasels on their little crusades.)).

We had a little drama as Nils agreed to help before anyone got shot, and Snow threatened to kill him, and in the middle of this, Magpie ((Who succeeds with her ridiculous plans just often enough to convince her that they are good ideas.)) jumped back into the maelstrom to see if she could use it to alert the folks inside the stasis facility about the threat outside.

She was expecting the computer program again, but this time, she saw the stasis facility as a castle, with a sleeping dragon coiled inside. When she tried to wake the dragon, it asked her a question, “Offensive or defensive arrays?” She chose defensive.

When Nils was escorted down to the door of the facility, he saw the screen displaying the ENTER CODE message. When he reached out to touch it, all the hair on his arms stood up. He used the effect to figure out that the door was very highly charged with electricity, and decided to use that to take out some of the soldiers surrounding him. He jumped up and threw himself backwards against the door, keeping his feet clear of the ground, and tried to channel the electricity out over the crowd.

We cut back at that point to the tent with the other characters being held at gunpoint. When the zapping and gunfire down near the facility started, they took advantage of the distraction to overpower their guards and escape. They wound up down near a badly injured Nils ((I gave the player the option of deciding how much damage Nils would take, telling him that the more he took, the more he could inflict. He took four points, and took out about twelve of the surrounding soldiers.)), with everyone shooting the hell out of them.

Snow tried the code to open the facility, but with the defensive arrays online, the computers were not accepting any input from outside the facility. And, of course, there was no one awake inside the facility to turn the defensive arrays off. So, because it worked so well last time, Magpie tried to use the maelstrom to wake someone up inside.

She managed to wake the CO of the facility ((Though she kept shouting into his brain, which I decided caused him to have a small stroke. Enough to be a problem, but not enough to incapacitate him.)) who, after a bit of a wait as he got out of the cryotube and verified with Snow that there were friendlies under fire, turned off the defensive arrays and opened the doors. Everyone but Magpie was pretty much on their last legs as they stumbled inside, and went straight to the infirmary and the medbeds there.

This left Magpie and the Colonel alone together in the facility. After finding Magpie prying open the personal lockers of some of the facility personnel, the Colonel gave her the option of turning over her crowbar ((“Nobody takes my stuff!” Magpie doesn’t even see the irony in that statement.)) or spend the next little while locked in the brig. Magpie chose the brig.

So, a few days later, when everyone was out of the infirmary, the whole gang gathered around the table in the mess, and the Colonel asked for Snow’s report.

And that’s where we left it.

We’ve got two more sessions left in the campaign. There’s been some discussion among the players about what to do about the situation in Roosevelt, about the Yellowhammers, and about the quantum computers, but I don’t know that anyone has figured out what the desired end-state of their characters – or the world – is.

I’m curious to see what happens.

Fate Core Star Wars, Redux

The other day, I wrote a post about how I decided not to use Edge of the Empire as the ruleset for the Star Wars game I’m going to be running soon. While I think I cover everything about why I made that decision, upon reviewing the post, I see that I haven’t really talked about why I think Fate Core is a good fit for a Star Wars game.

With this post, I hope to correct that.

Easily Adaptable

I’ve mentioned before that Fate Core is not really a generic system – it’s more accurate to call it settingless. Because one of the main goals of the system is to be useful in a wide range of settings, it is easy to adapt the mechanics for pretty much any setting. This is especially important for a setting like Star Wars, which is so big and encompasses so much that trying to stat it all up is a fool’s errand.

The structure of the Fate Core rules – specifically aspects and the Fate fractal ((The Fate fractal basically says that anything in the game – anything – can be constructed like a character, with aspects, skills, and stunts. It’s an elegant and simple way to attach mechanics to problematic elements.)) – means that I can take care of most adaptations by thinking up a couple of aspects, and maybe a skill or two. Examples? Sure!

  • There are hundreds of different alien species ((Wikipedia lists 249. There may be more I don’t know about.)) in the Star Wars galaxy. Rather than having to stat up all the various species to make them available to the players as characters, I can just tell them to include the species in their high concept, use other aspects as desired to reinforce ((Or not.)) the stereotypes of that species ((A trick I ripped right out of Bulldogs!)), and build any special powers using stunts.
  • Droids are always a problem to adapt well to a game. But I can just use the same guidelines as for aliens above, and done. Easy-peasey ((Lemon squeezey.)).
  • Spaceships can be tricky to simulate well in games, and most games have a host of special systems and rules for them. In Fate Core, I can just build a spaceship like a character, using the idea of the Fate fractal – give it a high concept aspect, a trouble aspect, maybe another one or two aspects, and a stunt or two to make it extra-special. Easy to build anything from a droid fighter to a star destroyer like this ((I can even steal some ideas from CAMELOT Trigger for making extra big starships that have multiple zones.)).

The ease with which Fate Core adapts to the the various settings means that I don’t need to set anything in the Star Wars setting off-limits for the characters ((Though my personal preferences, and those of the players, will probably wind up doing so.)).

Which leads me to…

Game Creation

Saying that you’re going to run a Star Wars game doesn’t necessarily tell you much about what kind of game you’re going to run. Between the movies, the books, the video games, the comic books, the RPGs, and the various other tie-ins to the setting, there’s a vast number of time periods, locations, themes, group structures, etc. to choose from.

Typically, it’s the GM’s job to pick a specific setting and campaign set-up within the Star Wars galaxy, which can be problematic if the GM and the players have different ideas about what kind of game they want to play ((Mystery-solving cantina band members traveling around in a psychedelic spaceship with a wookiee called Scooby? Please.)). Alternately, the GM can throw it open to player suggestion, but that can lead to decision paralysis.

The Fate Core game creation system provides a structured framework for collaborative setting creation. It guides the entire group – GM and players alike – through a process of deciding on the big parts of the game, and then fleshing out the details. I’ve run the collaborative setting creation for two different DFRPG campaigns ((I’ve also tried to incorporate it into a lot of the other games I run.)), and both times I was surprised and delighted at the setting that emerged.

These two points lead me to:

Player Choice

The ease of adapting anything in the Star Wars setting to Fate Core, and the collaborative setting building leads to a great deal of freedom for players to play exactly what they want to play. Most published Star Wars RPGs limit what you can play ((The old WEG d6 game was the most open in this regard.)), both in terms of characters and settings, simply because there was just too much stuff to stat up according to their systems.

Now, because it’s a collaborative effort to create the setting and the characters, some people may not get exactly 100% what they want, but they’re going to be able to come a lot closer than in other games. And seeing as they’ll be the ones imposing the restrictions, it’s pretty much guaranteed that they will be restrictions they can live with.

Cinematic Action

There are very few games geared as perfectly for cinematic action as Fate Core ((Certain iterations of Cortex Plus match it, I think, but that’s not surprising as they are at least close cousins in design philosophy, modeling the fiction of the game world rather than the physics.)). It allows – nay, encourages – crazy, over-the-top, movie-style fights. Characters can run, jump, trick their opponents, swing on chandeliers ((Or chandelier-equivalents.)), slide down banisters, battle atop burning buildings, hit people with chairs, leap through windows, dive for cover, bully, intimidate, taunt, and anything else they may care to try.

A large part of this is that most brilliant piece of game mechanics technology, Create Advantage ((In previous Fate iterations, this was the Maneuver. Same idea, different name.)). The ability to create advantage means that sometimes ((I would argue – and I havemost of the time.)), just trying to hit your opponent is not your best action in a fight. Instead, it’s more important to set your target up so that a single hit will take him/her/it out, and that means creating advantages. So, it makes sense that, instead of standing toe-to-toe and slugging it out with your opponent, you throw sand in his eyes to distract him, kick his legs out from under him, drop a barrel on him, and then finish him off with a well-placed kick to the chin.

The other thing that makes for great cinematic battles is the idea of scene aspects. Aspects can mean that you’re fighting in a burning building, trying to escape a crashing starship, prying open the doors of a closing trash compactor, being chased through a dangerous droid factory, and anything else you care to come up with. And because it’s just aspects, it all uses the same simple mechanic, rather than a raft of various situational modifiers and special rules.

Easy to Prepare

All of the above points make game prep pretty easy, even for first-time Fate GMs ((And I am not one of those.)). Putting together even complex stat blocks for adversaries, planets, ships, or whatever is a matter of minutes, not hours. That means more time to spend on story, and the characters’ aspects work very well to generate plotlines that will grab them and keep them interested.

Easy to Improvise

The first Fate game I ever read was Spirit of the Century. That billed itself as a pick-up game, and it worked quite well in that respect. The Fate Core system is clarified and streamlined, leading to a system that’s even easier for improvisation, with the ideas of aspects and the Fate fractal, as mentioned above.

Add to the basic simplicity the fact that I have a fair bit of experience running and improvising in Fate, and it makes me very confident that I can wing it when necessary. Building a dangerous threat on the fly is a matter of deciding on a couple of aspects, an attack skill and defense skill, and stress track. If I want to get fancy, I can throw in a simple stunt to give it some colour.

Same thing with planets and spaceships. All very easy to throw together quickly, if necessary. And reskinning something you’ve prepared to appear different is trivially easy.

And So…

And so Fate Core is an ideal system for running Star Wars. At least, I think it’s going to be. I have every confidence, and have read a number of success stories of people using it thus.

I guess we’ll find out if I’m right soon enough.

Fate Core Star Wars

As folks who follow this blog probably know already, a long-running, beer-and-pretzels D&D game – the Storm Point campaign – is about to wrap up. The group wants to keep playing something, but we’ve had enough D&D for a while ((We’ve been playing D&D, first 3E and then 4E, for eight and a half years. We’d like a change.)). As we started getting ready to wrap the campaign up, I told them to start thinking about what they wanted to play next.

When they saw my copy of Edge of the Empire, they decided they wanted to play Star Wars.

I thought this was an awesome idea. I’d run the Edge of the Empire Beginner Game for some friends, and thought it worked really nicely ((That’s kind of damning it with faint praise – I thought the structure and form of the Beginner Game was pure genius for teaching the basics of the system and getting people into the game. Probably the best introductory gaming package I’ve ever seen.)). I had a lot of fun with it.

Now, I can’t stress enough that I think that Edge of the Empire is a good game. It is. The dice mechanic, the production values, the way FFG is sectioning the game into three books, the sheer volume of material – all of it is top notch. The writing is good and clear, and it gives you plenty of options, even if it is a little limited in scope compared to previous SW games ((FFG has decided to split their SW game into three books – one dealing with the scum and villainy of the remote areas of the galaxy, one dealing with the ongoing Rebellion, and one dealing with Jedi and Sith. EotE is the scum and villainy one, with limited involvement with the Rebellion and limited details on the Force.)).

But, as I read through the rulebook, I became more and more convinced that EotE was not the right game for what I wanted to do. Here are the things that made me concerned:

  1. The funky dice. Now, I understand why the game uses these dice, and the benefit they provide, and think that what FFG is doing with them is great. And, from the Beginner Game session I ran, I think that they are cool and worthwhile. But it’s also learning a completely new dice language, if you will. While I’m fine with doing that, I think that only about half the total group is going to read the rules, and so the learning curve on the dice for the group as a whole is going to be pretty steep.
  2. Limited choices for the characters. Now, the choices aren’t all that limited – in fact, there are eighteen career/specialization combinations, not counting adding the Force specialization or multiple specializations. But no Jedi, no brave rebel soldiers, limited alien species choices ((Although you can play a droid, which is awesome.)).
  3. Limited campaign choices. As noted, EotE focuses on the people and locations on the fringe of the SW galaxy. It doesn’t provide any support for running any other types of games. My players came up with some interesting ideas about what kind of campaign they wanted to play ((One idea was a cantina band that traveled around and solved mysteries. Now, I think that idea is both ridiculous and awesome.)), but a lot of their ideas would have had me scrambling to fill in the gaps on EotE.
  4. Prep time. After eight and a half years of running D&D, I’m really ready to run something less prep-intensive. EotE doesn’t look too bad, but the learning curve in the early part of the game would require a fair bit of work for me to get ready for each session.
  5. Seating arrangements. Yeah, this is kind of a weird one, but with the funky dice, and the learning curve building and interpreting dice pools, and the destiny point mechanic, EotE would pretty much require us to play seated around my dining table. We prefer to sprawl out in the living room, using the couch and coffee table and various comfy chairs.

I went back and forth on this for a couple of weeks, then I broached the subject with my players. I proposed that, instead of EotE, we use Fate Core to power our SW game. We discussed it and, with their blessing ((Or at least lack of protest. Silence gives consent, am I right?)), I decided to go with Fate Core.

There are some of the same problems with Fate Core: notably, it’s a new system that the players ((Some of them, anyway. Two of them were in my Feints & Gambits DFRPG game, and at least one or two others have played Spirit of the Century.)), and there isn’t a lot of support for running a SW game. But the system is one I know very well, and I’m pretty good and improvising in it. And converting stuff to Fate Core is trivially simple.

The main advantages I see, beyond the fact that it will be far easier for me to run ((Which is, of course, a big consideration.)), is that it will offer the players much more of a chance to shape the kind of game they want to play, and to make the characters they want.

One thing I did have to do up front is figure out how the Force is going to work in the game. There are a number of takes on SW for Fate Core here, and they handle the Force in a variety of ways. I finally settled on making it an extra requiring both your high concept aspect and your trouble aspect to point towards it, and left the various Force powers to be stunts.

When I finally settled on that, I put together a bit of a primer for my players. Because the system is going to be new ground for some of them, and there’s a very different mentality behind Fate Core than D&D, I spelled out some basics about the setting creation and character creation, along with explaining how the Force is going to work. If you’re curious, you can download the primer here ((Just a word of warning, however: this was written for my friends, who are all adults, no matter how they behave. I use some language in the document that I don’t normally use on my blog. Not much, but still.)).

We’ve got one more Storm Point session, scheduled for this Sunday. That should wrap the campaign. Then, we start moving on our Star Wars game.

I’m looking forward to it.


Ashen Stars: Recruitment

I seem to sort of wander backwards into running GUMSHOE games. What I mean by that is that I usually spend several weeks or months planning to run a campaign ((Even a mini-campaign, like this one is going to be.)), but with GUMSHOE games, I wind up running them after a casual conversation and a quick agreement, and then scramble to get the campaign ready to run. That happened when I ran the Armitage Files campaign, and it happened again with Ashen Stars.

In both cases, I had been talking the games up to various people, but not expecting to have a chance to run either any time soon. For Ashen Stars, I had offered to run a one-shot between earlier this month at a game night, but we opted for board games instead. Still, the group was interested enough in the pitch that I’ve agreed to run a mini-campaign, about four or five sessions, covering two to three cases, I’m guessing.

Because of timing and scheduling issues, I decided to do character generation via e-mail, basing my experience on the Trail of Cthulhu character creation process that I used for Armitage Files. I had been dreading running that character generation session, but it turned out to go quickly and easily and got everyone excited about the game, so I figured that this would go pretty easily, as well ((You see what’s coming, right?)).

It has not gone as smoothly as expected.

I’ve been trying to think about why that is. The first thing that came to mind is that this game, unlike ToC, deals with gear in some detail, and wading through the sections on cybernetic and viroware enhancements is a little daunting. But that led me to a number of other choice points in character creation that slowed things down and caused some confusion:

  • Roles. Unlike ToC, where you just pick a profession, AS uses the concept of roles to focus character concepts and ability selections. Roles are different than professions, in that it’s good to have all five roles covered to be an effective squad. Well, all ten, really, once you factor in both warpside ((Aboard the ship.)) and groundside ((I don’t really need to explain this one, do I?)) roles. Actually, eleven roles, including the medic, which is both a warpside and groundside role. Sorting out who was going to take which role and what to do with the leftovers took some discussion.
  • Ship. You start with a ship, picked from a selection of eleven different classes, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. Analyzing these and deciding between them was another choice-point that required discussion. And a vote.
  • Gear. As mentioned above, the shopping expedition took time. As part of getting gear and enhancements involves divvying up a pool of group money ((Some of which you probably want to save for an emergency fund to repair your ship or pay for maintenance if you wind up waiting a long time between contracts.)) and then budgeting for upkeep for your own cyber or viro enhancements.
  • Personal arc. The personal arc is a beautiful idea for this kind of game, but it takes some time to put together. Especially because it’s a new idea for the gaming group. Fortunately, this is something that doesn’t need to happen right away, and it’s something that each player can do individually, with just a little input from me. The point is that it’s not something that requires group input and decisions.
  • The Bribe(TM). I gave the players six questions about their characters that they could answer or not. For each question they answered, I let them pick from a short list of stuff. Everyone got me their answers ((For all six questions, I might add. Everyone answered every question.)) in quick order, but took their time picking out their rewards. Again, though, this is something that doesn’t require group discussion. Also, it’s completely my fault, and not part of the rules for the game. But it has introduced a delay.

Now, these points are not necessarily bad things. They do a lot to flesh out the characters and the setting, and the end result is going to be some very cool characters.


They do not lend themselves well to creating characters by e-mail discussion. Maybe if I had thought to put up a forum to run character creation, it would have gone smoother and quicker, but I honestly doubt it.

Looking at things, I really should have done more to schedule a character creation session. There’s nothing like being face-to-face for group decision-making. And for explaining some of the more slippery concepts. And answering questions, voting, brainstorming…

There’s been some frustration from the players at what seems like far too much work to create a character. One of my players said to me last night, “I’m really looking forward to playing the game, but man, the character creation just blows.” I don’t think the character creation blows, but the way I managed it certainly does.

In addition to the frustration for the characters, I’ve found that I’ve had to do a lot more work on my end managing the whole process. Keeping everyone on the same phase of the process turned out to be important, as the stuff I sent out for those who were ahead of things turned out to be information overload for those who were on earlier phases. I had to build a spreadsheet and keep sending out updated versions to show people what abilities had been covered. And I think I’ve sent out about 15,000 words of explanation, lists, instructions, examples, and updates over the past three weeks.

Much of what I sent out was aimed at making things easier for the players: suggested gear and enhancement packages, short descriptions of the different ship classes, worked examples of personal arcs, new gear developed at player requests, etc. I don’t begrudge this at all, because it’ll help them have more fun. And besides, I did it to myself.

To help take some of the sting out of this process that has ballooned and morphed from quick-and-easy to long-and-tedious, I’m preparing extensive cheat-sheet packages for each character, with descriptions of their abilities and gear, and such. Hopefully, that will make the actual play move quickly and easily despite the new system, and soon character creation will be a distant memory.

The big lesson learned from all this? Not every game system has a character creation process suited to every type of situation. While I think that e-mail character creation would work fine for ToC or D&D, it does not work for Ashen Stars. And I wouldn’t even try it with Fate.

Despite all of the above points, we have all four characters at a playable state. We were going to have our first game last night, but real life intruded and we’ve had to delay it. But here’s the list of our doughty crew of Lasers:

  • Arón Santa-Ana: Human Stratco/Gunner/Chopper ((I don’t know if the Stratco/Gunner split is going to cause problems in play, but we’re going to try it out. If it’s a real problem, we’ll work something out.))
  • Furan Arrud: Durugh Hailer/Face/Mapper
  • Maxine Kemper: Human Medic/Wrench/Bagger
  • Returner-U: Cybe Pilot/Techo

Tough part is over folks. I promise. From here on out, it’s freelance police in space!


Dateline – Storm Point


I’m running Tomb of Horrors for this leg of the Storm Point campaign – indeed, for the rest of the campaign. You may not want to read on if you’re playing the game yourself.


So. One more session to go in the Storm Point campaign.

We actually got a fair bit accomplished this session, partly because of some tricks I stole from Dungeon World. We opened up with the characters in Pluton, just having defeated the bloodshard golems. I’ve pared down the adventure so that we can wrap it up in one more session, so I cut out a bunch of the horribly tough, slogging encounters, and let the characters see the final tomb in the distance, with nothing but a mile of rocky plain and a huge wall of black ice in the way.

At the wall of ice, things started to bog down a bit as they were looking for a way over, under, or around it. After about five minutes of them trying to come up with a way of defeating the wall without engaging the wall, I interrupted and said, “You know, you guys are epic level, now.” They blinked at me for a few seconds, then Thrun drew a pair of daggers and started using them to climb the 150-foot tall wall of necromantic ice, and the rest of the party followed suit.

The climb was a fairly low DC for this tier ((I set it at DC 20.)), but I decided that, if the character didn’t beat it by enough, they would lose a healing surge to the life-sucking cold of it because they stayed in contact with it for too long. And then the same thing climbing down. I managed to suck a couple of surges from two of the party, which was, frankly, better than I had hoped to do.

After the wall, they reached the tomb itself. I described it as a giant skull floating in the middle of a hole in the ground, which dropped away to the astral sea below. They had to cross a 50-foot-wide moat to get in. I was about to describe the crashing boulders flying around in the moat that they would have to use as stepping stones to the entrance, but Faran pulled out the shadow bridge ritual. Because this was pretty much a direct reaction to me telling the players to be epic, I omitted the boulders and had this work, because it was a good chance to reward the cleric who has been collecting and hoarding rituals, and almost never getting to use them.

Inside the tomb, I started describing the maze of extra-dimensional portals and rooms, but they jumped right in with hauling out their mattock of the titans and smashing their way through the walls. This, however, didn’t work for them, as most of the rooms didn’t exist contiguously, or even in the same plane. I explained that to them, and started a special two-part skill challenge.

In the first part, they had to describe the way they were trying to find their way through the tomb to the necromantic engine at its heart. They managed that quite handily. The second part didn’t require any roll; I just asked each player to describe a weird and deadly challenge in the exploration of this tomb that they beat by being awesome. That got me four exciting, character-created scenes for the adventure.

Which led them to the big combat for this session. It involved an aspect of Vecna, an assassin devil, several undead servitors, and a bone collector. I ran it as a rather chaotic, three-way battle: the bone collector was guarding the secret entry into the heart of the tomb, while the aspect of Vecna and his minions ((Which included the assassin devil.)) were trying to win their way into the heart of the tomb to stop Acererak from usurping the godhood of death.

Enter the PCs, and all hell breaks loose.

They woke the bone collector so, rather than facing it after they clean up the Vecna cultists, they got to fight both at once. The bone collector, for its part, was flailing at everyone. And the aspect and devil didn’t worry too much about catching each other in their area attacks.

It was a pretty rough fight, mainly because so many of the creatures drained healing surges, but our heroes triumphed in the end. And in the now-empty pool that the bone collector had used as a hiding spot, they found the teleport circle to the necromantic engine.

When they used it, I read them the description of the giant god-flesh golem that Acererak is now using as a body, and we closed the session for the night.

Next time, the climactic battle, and the end ((One way or another.)) of the Storm Point campaign!

Dungeon World: The Two Proofs

Last Friday night, we were scheduled to play Apocalypse World, but two of the players couldn’t make it, so I was set to cancel. But the other two players said, “Well, can’t we get together and play some boardgames or something?” To which I replied, “Sure! C’mon over!” ((Yeah, I’m a game-whore. I’ll take any excuse to play games.))

When Chris and Elliott arrived, I gave them some options about what game we would play, and Elliott said he wanted to try Dungeon World ((Elliott is running his own AW campaign – in fact, he’s running two of them, I believe – and wanted to see how things were different in DW.)). Chris was okay with that, so I grabbed my DW kit ((I’ve put together kits for a number of RPGs that I bring to cons and gaming events so that I can run a short adventure in the system on the spur of the moment. It usually contains pregens or character sheets, rules, and an adventure, all zipped into a large Tom Bihn clear organizer pouch for easy transport. You can see an example in this post about my Fiasco kit, though that was before I discovered the Tom Bihn organizer pouches.)), handed them the character sheets, and spread a Noteboard on the table to start mapping.

Because both players were familiar with AW, it was pretty quick bringing them up to speed on the DW rules – I just had to explain the differences. We got through character creation – including asking the provocative questions ((Why are you two traveling together? What’s the weirdest thing you’ve seen here? What are you looking for? Stuff like that.)) that I used to build the adventure – in about half an hour. The wound up playing a fighter and a cleric, both of which were dwarves. They were in this strange land, where dwarves were pretty much unknown, to find a lost dwarf temple and the secret artifact it held.

The cleric had decided that his god was the Delver of What Lies Below, and his order had a tradition of seeking out lost and hidden lore. He had come to this far land where dwarves used to live seeking an ancient temple of his god which was supposed to contain the Golden Proof: a footprint, in solid gold, of where his god last walked on ((Well, under, in this case.)) the earth. The fighter had met him on the journey while he was fighting snow demons in the mountains, and decided to accompany him, as his clan had been wiped out by a mysterious creature years ago and he had nothing better to do ((To be fair, he was also trying to find out what had killed his clan; his only clue was a jagged tooth the length of his forearm.)). After crossing the see, they came to a port city, found out that any dwarves who had once lived here were long gone, and set out across the hills, where they were chased by werejaguars. They finally arrived at the Jungle of Xotoq, and found the first marker statue that points the way to the temple.

And that’s where we started play.

Because they had decided to start in the jungle, just like my first time running DW, I used the same challenge as that adventure, and had assassin vines grab them while they were clearing off the marker statue. The cleric managed to petition his god to gain three words that would stun the thing before it dragged the fighter off into the jungle, and they were able to clean off the statue, looking for the directions to find the temple. Unfortunately, the directions that should have been at the base of the statue were cut away, and replaced with the phrase, “The Grey Ones Rise!”

Lacking solid directions, they headed off into the jungle, arriving at a deep chasm with a river running through it. They cut down a tree to bridge the chasm, but the cleric had some trouble crossing. Fortunately, they had roped themselves together, and the fighter managed to keep them both from falling into the river thirty feet below. Unfortunately, falling off the log while roped to someone standing on the edge of the chasm meant the cleric swung like a pendulum into the rock wall.

The fighter hauled him up, a little worse for wear, and he tried again, crossing fairly easily this time. Which is when the elves popped up and started shooting at them. The cleric was crouched down on the side of the chasm with the elves, while the fighter was still back on the far side. The two characters had each taken a bond about how the other character wasn’t able to take care of himself and needed protection, so the fighter gave the rope a mighty yank and pulled the cleric back into the chasm for another pendulum swing into the cliff face and another desperate haul back up top, all under fire from the elves.

At this point, I decided to up the stakes, and brought out the elven arcanist, who started laying about with blasts of eldritch lightning. Our heroes scampered into cover, but lacked any ranged weapons to shoot back at the elves. With no other recourse, the cleric stood up and basically said, “Stop doing that!”

Turns out the elves had been trying to keep everyone away from the lost temple for generations, but had a prophecy ((Or something. I dunno. I hadn’t fleshed that out very much.)) that dwarves would one day come and lift the curse on the temple. Curse? Why yes, the curse of the Grey Ones, of course, that drove the dwarves away in the ancient times.

The elves healed the dwarves, gave them some food, and let them speak to the Mothers, four ancient elves that had entwined themselves in the roots of a massive tree, becoming the god ((At some point, we established that the elves built their own gods out of ancient elves and fervent belief. I’m not sure where the belief came from, but I like it.)) of the village. The Mothers started out kind of spooky, but soon became a little bit comical as they debated what they should tell the dwarves and began bickering amongst themselves.

In the end, the dwarves learned that the temple was overrun by twisted dwarves with psychic powers that could control lesser beings ((The derros from the DW rule book, but I didn’t want to give them a name to keep them creepy and mysterious.)). And they got guided to the base of the trail leading up to the temple. But the Mothers didn’t know how to lift the curse.

Half-way up the switchbacking trail to the temple, our heroes came across a pack of giant rats ((Re-skinned worgs.)) blocking the path. The fighter, well-concealed and on point, let the cleric, with his terrible, terrible stealth roll, act as bait to lure the rats forward. The fighter then attacked the rats on the flank, but was beset by vicious whispering voices in his head. The fight was nasty, but they managed to kill the rats, and the fighter threw a huge rock up at a concealed cave entrance, dropping the two derros who had been controlling them to the path, where they didn’t last long.

Searching the bodies of the derros, the cleric found that each had a small bundle of wrapped dwarf skin, containing a symbol of the Delver of What Lies Below, pierced by a red iron nail. Spouting some lore, he remembered old stories of how the Delver of What Lies Below was once the Keeper of What Lies Below, until a heretical sect decided that revealing the secrets was better than hiding them. This temple, however, must be a remnant of the Keeper’s faithful.

They followed the twisting cavern the derro had been hiding in down into the heart of the temple: the labyrinth. There, they fought a derro riding on an ogre, killing the derro and freeing the ogre to rampage through the temple. This, while useful, did raise the alarm, so they raced through the labyrinth until they got to a chamber with an ancient dwarf ghost, who told them that one of the exits led up to light, one down to dark, and one to death. I was working out a riddle to force the dwarves to choose a passage when the cleric cast a spell to let his god guide him in the right direction.

So, down they went, into the centre of the labyrinth, pursued by heavy, stomping footsteps. The found a door at the bottom of a spiral ramp and the fighter smashed it open. Inside was a horrible, giant dwarf, pierced by hundreds of red iron spikes, weeping blood from empty eye sockets, with the symbol of the Keeper burning above its head ((A reskinned barbed devil from the rulebook.)). It started tossing them around pretty handily, but the fighter kept its attention while the cleric climbed up its spines to shove his holy symbol into the burning holy symbol above its head.

There was the requisite explosion, and the deflating of the giant down to normal dwarf size, and then our heroes saw the Golden Proof and, beside it, another footprint in the rock – this one of red iron. So, the fighter took his axe to the Iron Proof and destroyed it, bringing the attention of the Delver to this lost outpost of the Keeper, slaying the twisted dwarves who had worshiped the Keeper, and freeing the temple from the curse.

Everyone had a lot of fun with the adventure ((Or so they claimed.)), but I liked it for a different reason. My intention for this evening was to run an entire adventure, start to finish, in one session, based on initial set-up by the players, and shaped by the DW system. I was very pleased that I was able to construct a sensible ((Not perfect, but sensible.)) narrative, build the action, throw several different kinds of challenges at the players, and wrap it up in a satisfying manner. All improvised, all in one session.

That, my friends, is the strength of Dungeon World, in my opinion.

Chris and Elliott are hanging on to their characters in case we play again. I think odds are good.