The Dolorous Stroke

The brave Knights of CAMELOT Trigger face off against MerGN-A and her army of Emergents. Illustration by Brett Barkley. Used with Evil Hat's permission.

The brave Knights of CAMELOT Trigger face off against MerGN-A and her army of Emergents. Illustration by Brett Barkley. Used with Evil Hat’s permission.

So, yesterday, I did a post about the Fate Worlds books. One of the settings in Worlds in Shadow is called CAMELOT Trigger ((I got the capitalization wrong throughout the entire post. Also, whenever I referred to it on Twitter or Facebook yesterday. This is the correct capitalization.)), by Rob Wieland, and a couple of folks in my gaming group got really excited about the idea of Arthurian giant robots in space ((Really, who can blame them?)). They’re hinting rather strongly that I should run a game.

Now, I don’t have time in my game schedule right now, but we are moving into the endgame for my Apocalypse World campaign, and are about the enter the last act of my Civil War campaign. That means I’m starting to think about what to replace them with, and so I’ve been considering CAMELOT Trigger.

One of the things I like about CT is that it gives enough detail to give you a good idea about the feel of the setting, and the broad strokes of the current situation. All the elements, moreover, are poised to provide interesting, dynamic conflicts for the characters to resolve, no matter where you want to slot them in. There’s the standard fighty bits one would expect playing giant space knights, but there’s also opportunity for intrigue, diplomacy, mystery, reconstruction, and quests.

What this really means to me is that, to run a game in the CT, you need to decide what the game is going to be. And, because I’ve been talking about it with a couple of my players, I’ve been thinking about that.

First, a caveat: if/when I actually run this game, I’m going to involve the players in designing the campaign, using the campaign creation rules in Fate Core. That just gives you more player investment. What follows is just a thought exercise, me testing to see if I can come up with a decent campaign idea that I like within the framework of the setting ((The answer, for those who haven’t guessed, is, “Yes.”)).

And thus, we have…

The Dolorous Stroke

Some say that the problems arose when Sir Balin, an Edge Knight, struck down one of the Petty Titans, bringing all the careful political balancing that Arthur had done crashing down. But Balin – and his Dai-5H0 armour – has vanished. The disaster brought all the simmering resentments and hidden secrets to the fore. Now, the entire solar system is starting to collapse into warring human states.

After the Betrayal ((Note that I probably want to but a twist on the whole love triangle thing in play, but will be looking to the players to help define that.)), the alliance between the Inner Worlds is in disarray. Queen Valerie has returned to Venus, L4-NC3-L07 has abandoned his rulership of Mars to hunt Emergents in the Wreck. Rumours of a cunning nano-viral attack on Avaluna Base that has incapacitated both the King and MerLN are fed by the fact that John Arthur has sealed himself up in Avaluna Base. And MerLN, once so chatty during transit through the Breach, mutters and laughs to himself, uttering gnomic – and terrifying – prophecies to those Knights he bothers to address.

The Emergents are taking advantage of this collapse to mount new offensives against the humans. News of falling enclaves of humanity arrives weekly, and everyone is pulling back to defend their own borders.

Almost everyone.

A small group of Knights, Arthur’s most trusted warriors, have sworn that the light of Earth shall not be so easily extinguished. Something may be wrong with the King, but something is definitely wrong with MerLN. Fix MerLN, and they will have a powerful tool restored to help them fix the rest of the solar system.

And to fix MerLN, they will need the help of a dead woman. They need Dr. Vyvyan Locke.

So? Whattaya think? I think it’s definitely a gamable little campaign idea.

Worlds Enough, and Time

The other day, Rob Wieland ((Who is a pretty awesome guy; he ran a Firefly RPG game session at GenCon last year that I was lucky enough to play in.)) let me know that he had hacked together a Fate iteration of 7th Sea, a swashbuckling adventure game set in a fantasy version of 17th-century Europe. It was always a cool setting, but I was never a big fan of the system, so seeing something like this made me very happy.

Actually, Rob did something even cooler than write up a Fate version of 7th Sea. He wrote up two versions: one for Fate Core, and one for Fate Accelerated. Now, using the hacks requires knowledge of the 7th Sea setting ((No, it doesn’t, really. You can use the hacks and make up what the setting-specific stuff means. And they’re easily adaptable to other swashbuckling settings. But if you want to play in the 7th Sea setting, you’ll need info about the setting.)), but even if you don’t have that knowledge, the constructions and choices made for the game are a great example of how the Fate system can be hacked to support a setting. And the fact that there are both Core and Accelerated versions for your perusal means that you can see two different ways to implement a setting.

And, of course, Rob’s posts got me thinking about the Fate Worlds books: Worlds on Fire and Worlds in Shadow.

These books are presented as volumes of settings for Fate Core. Each one presents six different game settings, complete with NPCs, specialized mechanics, and other story elements. Some of the settings are effectively one-shots or short campaign frames that you can use to extrapolate out to full campaigns, while others are much broader. All are eminently lootable for your own settings. Here’s what you get:

Worlds on Fire

  • Tower of the Serpents is essentially a swords-and-sorcery one-shot adventure. The setting is is more implied by the adventure than explicitly discussed, but it meshes with a lot of the examples in Fate Core to give you a solid foundation to start playing a low-fantasy campaign.
  • White Picket Witches embraces all the tropes and tangles of modern supernatural soap operas as you play inhabitants of a small town where witchcraft allow the five families to effectively run the town. There are some great rules for dramatic face-offs, social conflicts that deal with status and dominance. There’s enough stuff here to kick off a whole campaign, and the drama and relationship interactions will just keep generating stories as long as you want it to.
  • Fight Fire is a campaign frame about fire fighters. It splits its focus between the dramas of the fire fighters’ personal lives and some wonderfully detailed rules on how fires work and how they are fought. Even if the whole setting doesn’t grab you, looting the fire rules for another setting can make the idea of a building catching fire far more terrifying ((And thus more fun.)).
  • Kriegszeppelin Valkyrie lets you play a famous WWI fighter pilot of your choice as you hunt down the titular airship to end the Kaiser’s threat once and for all. It’s effectively a single adventure, though one that will probably take a few sessions to play, and it can easily be used as a springboard into a pulp 1920s game.
  • Burn Shift is a kind of post-post-apocalyptic setting. The apocalypse has happened, the terrifying struggle to survive has happened, and now things are settling into a new status quo, and you get to play the folks deciding what that status quo is. You get all the wonderful mutant character options you’d expect in a whacky Gamma World game, coupled with a situation where you can choose the directions society is going to move. The resolution of the default starting situation will probably take several sessions, and will generate more follow-on goals and problems for the characters, building the campaign nicely.
  • Wild Blue is… okay. Follow me here. Wild Blue is a western with superheroes and faeries. It’s got some of the feel of the ancient Celtic superhero ((Oh, come on! The Fenian Cycle, with Fionn mac Cumhaill, has all the tropes of superhero comics, including the fan culture surrounding the heroes! It would work!)) campaign that I keep toying with in my mind, moved up in time to the old west. If that doesn’t grab you, the super power rules are quite lootable for other games. But this is a complete campaign frame with lots of potential.

Worlds in Shadow

  • CrimeWorld is less a setting than it is a setting overlay. It’s written by John Rogers ((Yes, that John Rogers.)), and it gives you advice for bringing cons and heists into any setting you might like. It’s a good primer for anyone wanting to run any sort of caper game in any setting and any system ((I’ll also point you towards the Leverage RPG at this time.)).
  • Timeworks is, as you might guess from the title, a time travel setting. The twist is that Timeworks Incorporated is a small company of time travelers ((Mainly ex- or not-so-ex-criminals.)) employed by corporations to adjust history to favour their clients. The corporate set-up is clever, and the time travel mechanics are solid and flavourful without becoming too arcane.
  • The Ellis Affair takes historical fact – the mysterious death of Earl H. Ellis, a Marine Corps spy in South East Asia in 1923 – and uses it to launch a pulp spy/mystery story. This is a single adventure, though one that will take a few sessions to play through, I expect ((Though I can also see it being scaled down and sped up to get through is a single session for a convention or similar.)), and provides a lot of good advice for running mystery adventures in Fate.
  • No Exit is a single scenario, probably playable in a single session. The idea is that the characters are tenants in a housing complex where they can’t leave. The exact nature of the complex is left up to the GM to determine, and play revolves around figuring out what’s going on and, possibly, escaping. There are lots of nice, atmospheric bits to help play up the isolation, claustrophobia, and paranoia of the setting, and some advice on expanding the idea for longer play.
  • Court/Ship is set in Versailles in 1754. Lots of fancy food, court politics, intrigue, some duels… and aliens. Aliens who are invading in secret. They kill and eat humans, then wear their skins to pass among them. So, into the debauched court of Louis XV comes another scheming faction to mess with folks. The setting has hints for running it as a short, medium, or long game, and plenty of information on the time period – complete with relevant aspects.
  • Camelot Trigger was written by Rob Wieland ((Remember him? Told you he was awesome.)), and takes the Arthurian Round Table and puts them in giant robot armour to battle the robotic armies of MerGN-A out among the planets of the solar system. There are special rules for giant robot armour that can be ported to other giant robot armour games, and the skills get a nice tweak to reflect the space chivalry of the setting. Lots of solid stuff for a lengthy campaign, or for a pleasant session or two of diversion.

So, there it is. If you’re a fan of Fate Core or Fate Accelerated, but are wondering what to do with it, these two books should go a long way towards helping you out. I recommend you pick them up, even if you’re just looking for inspiration.


GenCon 2013 Wrap-Up

Those of you who follow this blog ((I know there are a couple of you out there.)) may have noticed that I kinda pooped out on posting during GenCon this year. The fact of the matter is that I just got too tired, and too busy, to keep it up regularly. So, I figure that I owe you folks a wrap-up post, talking about what I saw and did at GenCon this year.

The Pagan Publishing/Dagon Industries booth just before the doors open on the first day. Note the looming presence of Scott Glancy.


Overall, it was a fun show. I got see a lot of my GenCon friends, and see a lot of neat games, and eat some good food, and stuff like that. There are a few things I want to call out specifically as being awesome ((Or at least interesting.)) at the show, though:

Kickstarters and Preorders

I have said previously that some of the joy of GenCon has evaporated now that game companies don’t feel the need to launch their big, cool stuff at the show. With the advent of web sales and preorders and Kickstarter, it’s not as vital a push for a company to have the new hotness launching during GenCon. Last year, I already owned pretty much everything I was interested in getting before the show.

This year started to seem to be the same, but then a number of companies started sending out e-mail, offering the option of picking up preorders ((Including offers to prebuy show exclusive books.)) and Kickstarter rewards at GenCon. I jumped on board with that idea, and the first day of shopping, I wound up with a respectable stack of books and games that I had already paid for – it was like a free shopping spree.

This did a surprising amount to redeem the feelings of excitement and expectation that had been cooling over previous years. I really hope the trend works out well for the various publishers who did this, because I really liked it.

One of the Kickstarter rewards I picked up at the show was the Travels book for Shadows of Esteren. I left the book at the booth when I picked it up on Thursday, and the good folks there said they'd get is signed by everyone. When I finally remembered to pick it up again (I left the show without getting it, and if I hadn't had to come back to drop off Scott's keys, I might not have remembered it at all), I found that Gawain, the artist, had done a sketch for me in the book, as well! Those Esteren folks rock!

One of the Kickstarter rewards I picked up at the show was the Travels book for Shadows of Esteren. I left the book at the booth when I picked it up on Thursday, and the good folks there said they’d get is signed by everyone. When I finally remembered to pick it up again (I left the show without getting it, and if I hadn’t had to come back to drop off Scott’s keys, I might not have remembered it at all), I found that Gawain, the artist, had done a sketch for me in the book, as well! Those Esteren folks rock!

Games on Demand

I talked a bit about this last year, but I’m going to talk about it some more this year. I think this may be the single greatest thing on offer at GenCon, for a variety of reasons, but mainly because it gives folks a chance to try a bite-sized piece of games that they ordinarily wouldn’t get to ((Or, in some cases, want to.)) play. I spent Thrusday, Friday, and Saturday evening hanging out there, playing some great games, and the folks running it did yeoman duty in the face of high demand, confused participants, and the whining of entitled gamers. I cannot praise them highly enough for keeping things running, and keeping their spirits up.

They had a new priority system in place this year, where people could stop by a little early to pick up a boarding pass, then come back just before the session started and pick their preferred game from the offerings in the order of the boarding pass they had ((I think it’s a perfectly functional system, but this is where most of the whining came in. “But the game I want is full!” “But I’ve got actual tickets for this slot, so I should get to pick my game before the people who have been waiting here for two hours!” I never had a boarding pass in the top half of the range, and you don’t hear me complaining. Suck it up!)). Then you find your table and you play.

Demand was much higher this year than last year, and there was always a crowd around the table long before the boarding passes started getting called. Only once did I make it into my first choice of game, but there was always something interesting and fun to try, and even right at the end, there were a couple of choices open to most folks.

About to play a game of Leverage at Games on Demand.

About to play a game of Leverage at Games on Demand.

Atomic Robo RPG

My first night at Games on Demand, I got to play in a session of Atomic Robo The Roleplaying Game, run by Morgan Ellis, one of the designers. He offered us two choices of scenario, and we chose the 1950s scenario, whose title was something like The Abominations That Ate Albuquerque ((The other scenario sounded pretty cool, too, set in modern Japan, where we would play Science Team Super Five)). I actually got to play Atomic Robo himself, and it was pretty awesome.

Edit: I received word from Morgan Ellis that he is NOT one of the designers of ARRPG. He is listed on the product page because he produced some of the stat blocks used in the game. I apologize for misunderstanding. Still, getting stat blocks in the game is not nothing, and he did run a great game.

The game is Fate-based, but tweaked to emulate the action science and comedy of the comic books. We had pregen characters, but looking at the sheets, character generation seems pretty quick, picking a number of roles – like Action, Science, and Banter – and prioritizing them on your sheet, which then grants you ranks in various skills. There are, of course, aspects and stunts involved, too – this is a Fate-based game, after all.

Now, I’ve run an awful lot of Fate games, but this was actually my first time playing one, and it was great. The system nicely captures the mix of comedy and action that drives the comic book, and gives the same importance to science that makes the comic stand out in that regard. I got to use my Fancy Robot Eyes to analyze cow carcasses, wrestle with giant wasp larvae, crack wise with the ranchers, ride a horse, and blow up a Buick dealership to kill the queen wasp.

One especially neat innovation of this game is the brainstorming mechanic. This often happens in concert with other scenes, and is where the scientists try to figure out what is going on. It is, in essence, an extended declaration, where players get a chance to spin a theory based on evidence gathered, and roll to see if it’s true. It cycles through this idea a few times, allowing you to refine your theory and build a plan based upon it, and, in the end, you wind up with an aspect based on your theories that you can invoke ((Possibly multiple times, if you roll well enough on the brainstorming.)) when you put your plan into action.

This means that, though the GM will have a default plan for what’s going on, the brainstorming session by the scientists may, in fact, change what’s true. And I think that’s awesome, both as GM and as player.

Here's a glimpse of the Atomic Robo character sheet. Note my poor attempt at drawing Robo's head on my little tent card.

Here’s a glimpse of the Atomic Robo character sheet. Note my poor attempt at drawing Robo’s head on my little tent card.

Firefly RPG

The show saw the release of Gaming in the ‘Verse: Firefly Gen Con 2013 Exclusive. This is a teaser product, giving people who are too excited to wait for February a chance to try the new Firefly RPG early. I picked a copy up, and got to play in a game on Saturday night, run by Rob Wieland, the line developer on the Echoes of War series of adventures for the Firefly RPG.

The book is very well done for its purpose. You get enough rules and material not only to run the two adventures included in the book, but also to create your own characters and run a campaign. There aren’t as many resources and options as are going to be in the core book, but there literally is enough here that you could play for an extended time without needing anything else. Balancing that is the fact that, the way things are presented, the exclusive makes you want the core book, not because the exclusive is lacking stuff, but because the cool stuff in the exclusive promises even more cool stuff in the core book.

And that’s the way to hook a customer with a teaser product.

As far as gameplay goes, this game rocks. Several years ago, I ran a short campaign using the Serenity RPG which, while fun, kind of petered out. Part of that was the size of the group, and part of it was the system. The original Cortex system ((Though I don’t believe it had a name back then – I think the name Cortex was applied some time around either the BSG or Supernatural licensed games. And now it’s Cortex Classic.)) was completely serviceable system, but it was somewhat bland and took a long time to prep for sessions ((Well, part of that is the weird way I was trying to run the game, and the less said about that, the better. But the system certainly didn’t speed things up.)) ((The campaign also wound up going to a really, really dark place, which was not what I wanted, despite it being totally my fault.)).

The Cortex Plus incarnation of gaming in the ‘Verse is tighter and cleaner, while at the same time being more open and freeform. If you’ve played games like Marvel Heroic Roleplaying or Leverage RPG, you know what I’m talking about. It’s easy to build scenarios and it’s easy to improvise in play. The game setup is fluid enough to incorporate character actions and whacky schemes almost effortlessly. And everything flows pretty quick.

I had a blast playing the game, and chatting about it with Rob afterwards. And, now that I’m home, several of the folks in my home group are interested in giving it a try. So, that’s a win in my book.

I got to play Wash in the Firefly game. He survived! Also, he drove a boat. It was a life-changing experience.

I got to play Wash in the Firefly game. He survived! Also, he drove a boat. It was a life-changing experience.

The Noteboard

Okay. Go take a look at the Noteboard.

I had no interest in this product. I mean, I’m running fewer and fewer games that require a battlemap ((Just the Storm Point 4e game, right now.)), and I already have my Tac-Tiles and Dungeon Tiles for that. So, when I was picking things up at the Pelgrane booth, the incomparable Beth Lewis practically had to browbeat me into buying one. And, when I came back a couple of days later to buy four more of the things, she sat behind the cash table, mocking me with her knowing smirk.

In the time between when I reluctantly bought one Noteboard and when I came back to eagerly buy four more, I had seen them used for so many things at the gaming table. My favourite function was using it to substitute for sticky notes or index cards in Fate and Cortex Plus games, both of which generate a lot of extra little paper bits with stuff written on them. So, extra aspects or distinctions or assets or complications can all be written on the Noteboard, rather than on a bunch of sticky notes that get thrown away.

And you can use the bag to erase it. Then fold it up and put it in your pocket.

I decided that I needed a spare or two, and that the other GMs in my group needed one, as well.

Seriously. For a simple, inexpensive little accessory, it has so many applications. You need one. At least one.

The Noteboard. Seriously, you folks need one of these. At least one.

The Noteboard. Seriously, you folks need one of these. At least one.

Saladin Ahmed

Saladin Ahmed is one of my favourite authors. His first novel, Throne of the Crescent Moon, is a marvelous sword-and-sorcery story set in a middle-eastern-derived culture, and is a ton of fun. His short story collection, Engraved on the Eye, is full of fun short stories, sprinkled with a couple of stories that really made me think about some things. Following him on Twitter ((His handle is @saladinahmed. DO NOT follow him if you’re not interested in having your ideas about race, politics, and equality challenged.)), he’s been friendly and gracious, and has helped me really expand my reading of non-white, non-male authors.

I also used Throne as fodder for part of my Storm Point game, which seemed to tickle him.

Mr. Ahmed was attending the GenCon Writers’ Symposium, and I had the chance to sit in on a reading he gave ((Though not on the world-building panel he was part of. I regret that – his insights into building a non-European-centric world would have been interesting to hear.)) ((Also present at the reading was Joel Shepherd. I hadn’t heard of his books before, but his reading convinced me to go pick up the first book in his Cassandra Kresnov trilogy.)). Afterwards, he signed my copy of his book, and took some time to chat with me one-on-one.

This is, I think, the mark of an author who appreciates his audience. He was tired, he was hungry, and he had a bunch of stuff he still had to do that day, but he took the better part of a half-hour being friendly, welcoming, and gracious to a fanboy. Authors don’t owe us that – they have lives and are people and need food and sleep and all that stuff. Mr. Ahmed’s took his time to talk with me, and that makes him a class act in my book.

If you haven’t read his stuff, you should do so. Now.

As I said, Saladin Ahmed is a class act all the way. And the book is very good. Go buy it.

 Food Trucks

I think they started showing up last year, but this year there were tons of food trucks just outside the main exhibitor hall. And they were there until late at night. This meant that I had the chance to try a few of them, though the pickings were pretty slim when I was heading back to the hotel after gaming until midnight. Still, I got to eat some good perogies, a nice pulled chicken sandwich, and a Cuban sub. The food was awesomely good and terribly unhealthy, and that’s not even touching on the four or five cupcake trucks that were in the mix.

It looked to me like the trucks had time slots they were booked for, and had to leave after a few hours to let someone else in. Given the huge crowds lined up in front of EVERY SINGLE ONE of them ((Except at midnight. Then the crowds were only big, instead of huge.)), I imagine they were going through their stock pretty quick, anyway. The downside of this is that I didn’t make it to some of my favourite eating establishments this year. I will have to budget my meal consumption more carefully next year.


So, yeah. Turned off the interstate to get some gas. There was a big, pink elephant at the gas station, advertising the liquor store inside.

We’re back in the Crowne Plaza, the old train station hotel with the weird ghost statues. This one was odder than most, lying as it was on the roof of a train car. Found that the hotel is under renovation, and the two statues that stood beneath this one, reaching up to be hauled aboard, were temporarily taken out.

There was a lot of good cosplay at the con, as usual. Most of the costumes, though very nice, don’t really get me excited. But there were a few that caught my eye for various reasons.

Dot Warner, of the Animaniacs. Awesome.

Dot Warner, of the Animaniacs. Awesome.

Bob Ross, from The Joy of Painting. This costume thrilled me so much that I called Scott over to see it. Right in front of a very attractive, scantily clad woman who turned out to be a professional cosplayer. I felt that I had been very rude, afterwards, and I'm sorry about that. But still - Bob Ross cosplay! Right?

Bob Ross, from The Joy of Painting. This costume thrilled me so much that I called Scott over to see it. Right in front of a very attractive, scantily clad woman who turned out to be a professional cosplayer. I felt that I had been very rude, afterwards, and I’m sorry about that. But still – Bob Ross cosplay! Right?

Two generations of Rebel pilots. Welcome to the Geek Alliance, little space pilot!