Scarily well done.
This report is of an official playtest game of Shadow of the Century, a Fate Core game from Evil Hat. It is an extension of their extant Spirit of The Century pulp adventure setting, into the 1980s Action Movie/Action TV genre.
I ran two playtests, this write up is for my second group, “The B Team” which I also called Late Fate as we got the entire game in, only just in time for the playtest deadline on 20/05 (yes I'm in the UK).
There were three players and myself as GM. Two players were completely new to Fate, the other had played Fate Accelerated a few times. I had run Fate Accelerated before, but never a game based on Fate Core. We played one character generation session (“The Pitch session”) and two sessions of play.
We used the playtest document rules as they were, with no modifications or house rules.
The Pitch session was structured according to “the book” to generate story ideas and NPCs co-operatively parallel to the PCs with equal input from the players themselves, so I came to this with no previous agenda other than “80's Action”. We decided our game would be in movie format (since we only had two play sessions to come) and our setting was soon agreed to be Berlin at the fall of the wall. The CharGen is mixed with NPC and setting creation. First we decide the movie's big issue: That ex KGB and Russian mafia were trying to subvert the west using subliminal brainwashing messages in dodgy rental VHS, only revealed if you fast-forward through the trailers/advertisments. So the movie was to be called “Fast-Forward”. This process was a lot of fun, especially the brainstorming of NPCs where one person writes a name down, then it is passed on to the next person who notes a fact about the character, then passes it on. These characters also formed the basis of the cast of villains for our story. So as well as the NPCs we ended up with three interesting player characters created from scratch (although quick start characters were also available). One, an all-American trucker Burt Jackson, was deliberately modelled on Jack Burton from Big Trouble In Little China (an interesting test of the rules), and Jed Lee; a grizzled alcoholic tank driving veteran, and enigmatic Alex, a former super-special-agent now running a video rental store. The flimsy 80's Action premise for them to be involved was that Burt had inadvertently delivered some of the dodgy videos to Alex's shop, and all 3 characters were drinking buddies. Being heroes of course, we all knew they would stand up for truth and justice and try to put right the evil plan they had unwittingly become involved in!
Play session 1.
The wall is coming down. The city is in chaos. Our heroes meet in Alex's shop “Eastern Blocbuster”, to which Burt delivers black market tapes and where Jed is a customer. They are just socialising, talking movies, when in walk three gangster types, suits, wide collar open neck shirts, guns produced from under jackets. Their spokesman has a huge gold-plated 375 revolver, (clearly an important lieutenant...) “Burt Jackson you must come vith me, vee need to see in your truck”. A hectic gun battle takes place (quite pleasingly cinematic in style, a good first demo of Fate in action, the players quickly getting into the idea that they can make lots of narrative suggestions). The fight ends with Jed receiving a moderate consequence “shot through the shoulder” and Boris (the eastern mafia Lt) seriously shot up and now prisoner. Also a standee of Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry gets cut in half by gunfire (it is the 80s after all). Escaping out the back, to reach Burt's truck, “Crispy Duck”, they are confronted by a fearful Hans, a thuggish neo-Nazi customer, who reveals “Your video has turned my guys crazy!” Around the corner rush a dozen Nazi skinheads, crazed like rage-zombies, bleeding from the eyes. Running and boarding the truck our heroes hope to flee with their prisoner. Alex uses her “Its taken care of” stunt to trigger her retrospectively pre-wired explosive at her shop, taking out the rage-nazi-zombies and, of course, the shop (well it is an action movie). The scene ends with the image a smoking, swastika-tattooed arm falling into the road alongside a videotape of The Sound of Music.
Second Session of play:
Our heroes implausibly realise the whole thing must be something to do with the most recent batch of tapes that Burt had delivered illicitly before their official distribution date (of course the players had invented this scenario as part of their pitch session, but played the illogical action movie style characters-suddenly-get-the-point moment perfectly: Burt “Wait a goddam minute...” etc). Off they go to meet Viktor Poliakov, a back-street doc (Alex has contacts) at a sleazy hotel. Jed is patched up (leaving him with a moderate Consequence – Bandaged Shoulder), and Boris after being stabilised, is questioned. When threatened with being made to watch his own sinister video tape (there is a whole case full in the truck) Boris reveals that Burt is wanted by his bosses “The Red Death” for taking their video tapes “before the time was right”, and the enormity of their plot becomes apparent. Burt reveals he had dropped off a load of tapes to only one other place: the US army base where Jed is stationed! As they are about to hastily depart to prevent the tapes doing their sinister task, there is a knock at the door. In the corridor is a small suitcase, a phone rings... “There's no phone in this room!” the characters chorus... yes the case contains one of those new-fangled mobile phones! The caller reveals themselves to be Andrei, Boris's boss. He requests that our heroes surrender and turn over the tapes. He has them surrounded. A peek into the corridor, armed goons.. Alex uses her “A thousand Faces” stunt to drop out of this scene (exiting via the window and fire escape). The others decide eventually to leave barely conscious Boris and his unloaded gun, but take with them Doc Poliakov, via the fire escape and hotel rooms below theirs. Returning to Crispy Duck a foot chase develops, but Alex re-appears (using her same stunt) disguised as a fellow mafia/KGB goon, and assassinates the bad guys just before Burt and Jed get back to help her. In the truck, en route for the US base, there seemed the perfect opportunity for a car chase. No mafia bad guys in a limo were going to stop Ol' Burt Jackson, especially since hard-drinking Jed Lee climbed out on the truck hood during the chase to blow vodka into the air-intake...
They arrive at the US base just in time to reveal the plot before the tapes are viewed. Phew. Now they realise they must go back to the East German warehouse where the videos are stockpiled (and where Burt had collected them from0, and “blow them to hell”. What would be ideal here would be Jed Lee's own sweet ride (stunt) an M1 Abram Main Battle Tank named “Thunderbitch”. Jed's colonel, the base commander, thinks, “That plan is dumb, dangerous and could start World War 3. I like it.” He cannot sanction US action of course, so he advises painting out the US insignia! …
At this point the players, realising the finale is at hand, suggest that this is the ideal time to utilise the special montage rules. The characters have at least one consequence between them, so we do. This scene was great fun as we all contributed images of preparing for the coming battle. We selected John Farnham's “Thunder In Your Heart” as our montage soundtrack. Mechanically players contribute skills to the montage preparation (Shooting, Driving and Gadget), which then provide later bonuses when the montage aspect “Surprise Main Battle Tank” is brought into play. Alex uses her gadgeteering “And Duct Tape” stunt to create an improvised SFX colour-separation overlay projector, so that the tank can be disguised (when transported through Berlin on the back of The Crispy Duck) to look like an innocent stack of boxes.
With the preparation Montage complete the team set off. At the Red Death compound Burt backs Crispy Duck to the loading bay and the cargo stack of boxes is revealed to be... Thunderbitch! The final battle as they smash their way into the villains complex and blow a lot of stuff up, including the sinister brainwash tapes, whilst avoiding the goons RPGs and mowing down bad guys was a lot of fun. Alex used the Mini-Flashback montage mechanic to introduce the idea of her discovering a boxload of Russian dolls which we now discover she has rigged as hand-grenades. It ended with a showdown between Andrei (Boris's Boss) who is a gigantic mobster (who loves pizza and owns a restaurant) and Burt. Our unlikely hero is victorious, the peril is averted and good has triumphed. We see burning VHS and high fives. However, an in-credits cut scene reveals wounded Boris and mysterious kingpin, Red Seven-Sixteen (who the players had named and outlined in the pitch session, but never actually met in our story) speeding away in a limo. Red is on the car-phone and says, “Phase One? There has been a hitch. We must move immediately to Phase Two”. In his hand he holds a Game Boy console...
We had a lot of fun in this playtest and I was very pleased with how it went. In retrospect, maybe I should have made Jed's sweet ride MBT a “gonzo” rather than regular stunt (costing 2 stunts), as it was so powerful, and maybe also likewise with Alex's “and duct tape” stunt which in play probably went beyond the original design parameters. To be honest, no one seemed bothered, and we all enjoyed the improbable turns of events.
I was surprised just how much like an action movie, this game felt. My players immediately have started imagining the sequel... which I take to be a very good sign indeed.
I love humanity, always some kind of hilarity.
Sheets post: https://plus.google.com/+FredHicks/posts/Ys49E3uE89N
- A roll of [+,+,‒,‒] is a better +0 than [□,□,□,□]: it's only two invokes from capping out instead of four, and each invoke is twice as effective.
- When hitting the cap is necessary (or desirable), a -2 roll of [+,‒,‒,‒] is actually more useful than a +0 roll of [□,□,□,□], since it's only three invokes off cap instead of four.
I'm torn as to whether I like the idea of the hard ceiling or not - I think I'd have to see it in play.
My first reaction is to dislike the idea that regardless of how much preparation I do or what favourable circumstances I can arrange, there are some things I'll just find impossible; on the other hand, I know that one of the complaints I sometimes hear about Fate is that with sufficient preparation, impossible tasks become trivial :)
From a tax and licensing perspective it doesn't make sense for us to take further preorders on the game until 2017, and those preorders won't get the same benefits as the folks who made the game possible (i.e., backers) are getting. Again, limited time offer, generous 30-day window to get in, tons of noise made about it during that time, etc
If folks want a shot at getting those benefits still, their best bet is to convince someone who did back the Kickstarter — a retail store (we've got over 70) that backed or an individual — to upgrade for additional copies through their own pledge, in BackerKit, in a few months.
Please make sure to let me know what alterations you made to the default rules for your game; did you implement any of the stuff in the Horror Paradox article from the Fate Toolkit, or the Sustaining Dread article in the Fate Codex?
- Evil Hat ProductionsCo-President, 2004 - present
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