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Richard Bellingham (Skimble)
Geek, humanist, rationalist, writer, art-dabbler, roleplayer.
Geek, humanist, rationalist, writer, art-dabbler, roleplayer.

Richard's posts

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Look at what has finally arrived on Youtube!

Stumbled upon this nifty Actual Play of The Secrets of Cats today!

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The Kickstarter for "Arthur Lives!" is now live. If you can get them to over $24,500 I'm going to be writing an adventure for it.

This is an interesting Fate Core setting focused on the reincarnated denizens of the world of King Arthur, and is well worth a read for its various systems and story possibilities.

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I ran a successful playtest of the Survival Horror rules I've been working on for the Fate Horror Toolkit on Saturday and I thought you all might be interested in a post-session report with some teasers on the systems in there!

This playtest was certainly a strain on my resources as a GM, because it was substantially over-subscribed with players. I had 10 in all, which is obviously way too many for a normal game. As it turned out, the ensemble cast led to a sort of LARP-ish feel that worked well for a zombie apocalypse survival game á la the Walking Dead.

The biggest issue with such a large number of players is that there were too many people to try and sustain a threatening and horrific tone due to everyone being too upbeat and the room being so crowded, so it took more of an action survival tone (though there were still plenty of horrific elements).

Game and Character Creation

The group decided they were holed up at a Colorado ski resort in June when the zombie apocalypse hit 14 days ago. They also decided that zombie animals were a potential issue.

The characters we ended up with were:

* A vegan cannibal with his small, yappy dog, Hannibal.
* A professional hitman with his adopted son.
* A 'hick out of water' with her domineering mother.
* A lazy but efficient resort manager with his personal assistant
* A long-suffering resort maintenance manager with his teenage sidekick.
* The resort's calculating and ambitious sous-chef and her strong but not particularly bright kitchen assistant.
* The resort's first-aider/ex-military paramedic with PTSD and his drug dealer.
* A not particularly successful bi-athlete and his personal trainer.

In addition to the cast of PCs and their loved ones (all main NPCs), we had 8 supporting NPCs:

* Mr Huggles, the skiing bear mascot for the hotel (Who ended up being a PC when someone turned up late)
* Princess, the hick's mom's annoying dog (Who also ended up being a PC)
* The resort's lawyer
* A visiting podiatrist
* The resort's swimming pool lifeguard
* The octogenaraian, arthritic bell-boy
* A fading beauty queen
... and one other that I can't remember at the moment.

Finally the group of survivors was rounded out with 16 nameless NPCs, giving a total survivor count of 40.

We decided that the consumable aspects the group would be tracking were ammunition, food (a necessity), and medical supplies. They started the game with 8 free invokes on ammunition, 6 on medical supplies, and 120 on food (enough for 3 days, as each character needs to invoke a necessity once a day to avoid negative consequences).

We used marbles to represent ammunition, plastic pipettes for medical supplies, and plastic food items in a basket to represent food; given that there were so many survivors I had each food item represent 4 free invokes. I've been considering whether there's a neater way to deal with necessities given the large number of invokes needed. It feels a little weird for an aspect to have tens of free invokes on it, but so far I'm thinking the minor extra complexity is worthwhile as it enables the option of putting specific characters (or groups of characters) on half-rations or starving them to eke out resources, and it directly scales with group size. Of course, the very large number of invokes needed in this case was due to the large number of players; The recommendations in the book are to create a group of survivors based on the PCs, an equal number of main PCs, an equal number of supporting NPCs, and twice the number of PCs as a group of nameless NPCs. A more typical Fate group of four players would therefore have 20 survivors to feed, so with them teetering on the edge of starvation all the time the Food aspect will generally have 20-40 free invokes on it at maximum.

Having tactile objects to represent the different resources was fantastic as a way of visualising the situation the survivors were in, and I am definitely going to recommend this in the book.

I asked the group to define a couple of the defences they'd erected for the resort and we made them situation aspects with a free invoke each. They decided that they'd armoured a couple of snowcats and barricaded the ground-floor windows.

Days of the Dead
I started out with a description of the zombie outbreak so far and how it had affected the hotel, and then decided to commence with an attack on their haven. Haven attacks are an abstract system where the overall threat rating of a zombie attack is rolled against the haven's Defend, though every PC gets to invoke one aspect to assist in the defence if they want to.

A pack of zombie wolves attacked the resort out of the snowy woods, but the group handily fended them off without burning resources or consequences. This was by design; the wolf attack was an easy opening scene designed to establish the threat of wild animal zombies out there without taxing them too much to begin with.

The survivors discussed their food situation (starvation in 3 days unless they could obtain more food or started rationing!) and formed two camps. The sous-chef and her allies wanted to go out hunting elk in the forest on the basis that there would likely be fewer human zombies in the forest. The paramedic, whose drug dealer had let him know that their drug supply was looking much more precarious than the food supply, wanted to go into the town at the foot of the mountain to scavenge resources from there.

The resort's lawyer, a nervous man at the best of times, grew frustrated with the lack of any kind of organisational structure and started stridently advocating for a democratic process. Frustrated with his whinging, the long-suffering groundskeeper punched him in the face. The kindly vegan took the lawyer upstairs for 'an ice pack and a rest' while the meeting continued.

Once upstairs, the vegan stabbed the lawyer in the neck, butchered him, and stored his meat in the mini-fridge for later consumption.

The sous-chef won the debate for now and went out with a group to hunt down an elk. They spotted signs that they were being watched, and theorized that members from the local militia encampment were out and about scouting for resources; a potential threat to their safety at the ski resort. They found a mother elk that had been mauled to death by wolves (probably zombie wolves) and her distraught calf. The hunters killed the calf and loaded it up on their snowcat. There was some debate as to whether the mother's meat would be safe to eat given that it might be infected with zombie virus (or whatever) but they decided to take her back and freeze her so they could use the meat as a last resort if necessary. The calf, meanwhile, added eight free invokes to their food stash.

Meanwhile, the vegan cannibal took advantage of the sous-chef's absence to go to the kichen and mince up some lawyer-meat to make a burger in secret. Alas for him, the sous-chef returned and caught him in the act! He claimed an addiction to meat he couldn't quite give up, and that the meat was from the zombie wolves that had been killed in the morning. The sous-chef was disgusted and horrified, and spent the next few hours scrupulously cleaning the kitchen.

That night, the hotel was attacked by zombie bats, which through force of numbers were eventually able to break through the windows on the upper floors, but did not really pose much of a threat. The survivors mostly just hid in their bathrooms or inner rooms of the resort and easily avoided the few bats that made it inside. The survivors wondered how on earth bats could've become infected with the zombie plague, and theorised that perhaps the zombie virus was a mutated form of rabies.

While the bats were attacking the vegan cannibal politely checked in on two of the supporting NPCs "to make sure they were okay", and then stabbed a nameless NPC in the neck and left him draining in his bathtub.

The next day, the vegan, Mr Huggles (who was using his bear suit as anti-zombie armour), the paramedic, and both dogs took one of the snowcats down into the town to scavenge for resources while the remaining survivors went room to room in the hotel to fix up the damage caused by the zombie bats. Meanwhile, the hitman went out to investigate for signs of the militia. He encountered a zombified hunter but, before he could kill it, the zombie stepped in a snare and was hauled up into the treetops. As the hitman hid, he watched two young militia members emerge from hiding and decapitate the zombie hunter before retreating.

Meanwhile, back at the hotel, the group dragged in the zombie wolf corpses so they wouldn't attract carrion eaters (and maybe zombies!) and realised that none of them were missing or butchered. That blew up the vegan's story that he'd been mincing wolf carcass in the kitchen the previous night, so the sous-chef reported to the resort manager about the mystery meat as she couldn't work out where it might have come from.

Out in the town, the group scavenged for resources. In this system, scavenging is essentially an extended contest where the group is also attacked by threats at the same time. They can stop once they hit three victories, or continue to get more, with each victory converting to two invokes on consumables that fit the narrative of the contest.

First, they hit a Walgreens for medical supplies (primarily because the paramedic wanted to refresh his personal stock of opiates on the sly), and escaped unscathed but for the paramedic twisting his ankle. Next, they stopped at a gas station to fill some cans with gas for the snowcats, and this time the vegan was attacked and would have taken a moderate consequence, but his chihuahua Hannibal jumped into the path, yapping, and got bitten instead, taking a severe consequence.

(You can pass off consequences to NPCs that are important to you, but doing so inflicts a consequence one level more severe).

Back at the hotel, the floor-to-floor repair squad encountered the dead body in the bathtub. Realising that the lawyer was also missing, they commenced a full search of the hotel. On discovering the butchered body of the lawyer, the hick jumped to the conclusion that the sous-chef must be the perpetrator, on the basis that she's got the necessary butcher training. She proceeded to stir up a mob of nameless NPCs against the sous-chef.

The sous-chef got wind of this and decided that with tempers flaring she should prepare to defend herself. She set herself up in the kitchen with a pan of boiling fat just in case it was needed. Then the mob came calling...

Meanwhile, the scavengers decided to press their luck and headed to the nearest Walmart to scavenge yet more supplies. With many more zombies around here this was a risky move... the paramedic would have taken a moderate consequence but had a lucky escape...

Back at the hotel, the mob rushed in to the kitchen to confront the sous-chef. Her assistant grabbed up a the pan of oil to brandish it threateningly, found the handle was super-hot, and ended up accidentally throwing the oil all over the paramedic's drug dealer (taking a severe consequence thanks to the paramedic's earlier lucky escape). The long-suffering maintenance man would have been cracked on the back of the head with a butcher block, but his plucky 17-year-old sidekick slid to his defence on the hot oil, knocking the attack aside but falling on the edge of a counter and fracturing his skull (taking a severe consequence instead of hte maintenance man taking a moderate one).

A brief conflict ensued, that ended with calls for order to be restored and an uneasy detente breaking out, just as the vegan and the others returned from their scavenging trip with their supplies. The paradmedic used a majority of the group's medical supplies to successfully treat the scalded drug dealer, his own twisted ankle, the fractured skull, and (to some protest!) the bitten chihuahua.

In this system, treating any consequence requires at least one medical supplies invoke, and due to the high opposition to treating severe injuries he needed to use others to get the rolls he needed to succeed.

On seeing the vegan return, the sous-chef put two and two together and realised that the vegan's mystery meat and the lawyer's murder might be connected...

Debate ensued, and eventually the podiatrist suggested scavenging the cleaned-up minced meat from the waste bin and testing its blood type, then comparing with the lawyer's blood type. The hitman, in private, tried to persuade the podiatrist that it would be better to get a negative result and sweep any conflict under the carpet than to have the vegan found responsible for the murder; he was less than convinced!

On finding that the match was positive, the hitman and the podiatrist got a room key from the hotel manager and went to investigate the vegan's room. They found a roll of butcher's knives and a stash of blood-spattered clothing in the laundry hamper (the blood also matched the lawyer's).

They confronted the vegan, and he confessed. The hitman tried to persuade the podiatrist that a competent murderer would be of benefit to the group in survival, and that they should frame someone less useful for the crimes, but the podiatrist refused. Sensing danger as the hitman and vegan talked to each other, the podiatrist locked himself in the bathroom and used his cellphone to call the resort manager to plead for help. The resort manager reassured him that he'd be up to help very soon...

On arriving, the resort mananger (who, it turned out, was completely amoral) quickly agreed that the vegan cannibal would be more useful to the group than the podiatrist in a future fight against the militia, and agreed the podiatrist should be killed and framed for the other murders. He then reassured the podiatrist that everything was alright, luring him out of the bathroom and allowing the vegan to strike.

Finally, the manager went back down to the group to sell them the story and did so extremely convincingly so that everyone came to believe that the crimes had been commmitted by the podiatrist all along...

And so, the group tucked into their elk stew that evening, blissfully unaware that a conspiring hitman, cannibal, and amoral executive were in their midst, and potentially posed far more danger to them than the zombies outside...

It was midnight by then, so I had to call a halt to the session. I was really pleased with the way it had gone, with the tension between the survivors being exactly what I'd been looking for from the game.

One of my players in a DFA game wants to buy a stunt that lets him use playing cards, Yu-Gi-Oh style, to summon minor minions. I'm trying to work out what/how to give him this in a 'balanced' way.

My initial thoughts are to use the ritual magic rules for working out the effects of the minions, but it feels like charging a point of refresh for every two points of skill the minions he creates has is quite expensive when, in theory, he could go and just hire some average quality mooks with his money.

He's got a budget of two refresh he's willing to spend on it, and described it as:

"I kinda want to have my character be able to summon a variety of creatures from cards rather than through natural ability""

That makes me think he wants a stunt he can use to create a different minion each session, so my first thought is that it's a stunt he spends a fate point on to summon a creature from a card, usable once per session. With two refresh having gone into it, he gets 4 'points' to spend, which he can split between conditions and minion-style skills each time he summons a minion (e.g. 'good at trampling foes). I'd also say each can have a Nature and Trouble aspect, as the two aspects sort of balance to 0.

How would you do this in your game?

+Leonard Balsera, if you happen to have any thoughts and the time to consider this, your input would be much appreciated!

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TL:DR: Which name do you like better for my upcoming time travel game: Social Justice Time Warriors or What Once Went Wrong?

I've begun working on my time travel Fate game which is currently titled Social Justice Time Warriors.

The basic premise of it is, there's only one universe. No alternative time lines and all that rubbish. When you change something, it stays changed unless another time traveler changes it back. However, time travelers are immune from and insulated from temporal changes. So there are lots of orphaned time travelers from alternative universes (like Squa Tront the post-WWIII sentient cockroach) and they may well want to return the universe to the state they recognise it in.

Once time travel was invented, it quickly proliferated back through time as time travelers shared their designs or built time machines and left them in the past, and so on. So you can be a time traveler from any point in the future, or the past, but one of the hard rules of time travel is that you can never travel into your own future. So someone from the 3000s can travel back to 2000 but someone from 2000 can't go to 3000.

And the game's all about people messing around with the timeline either to make the universe better (Let's end Jim Crow laws before they even begin!) or for their own reasons, dealing with unintended consequences, and working to put right the things that other people have messed up.

Initially the focus was going to be almost wholly on a future organisation trying to shape the world into a place of equality and social justice, which is why I've been calling it Social Justice Time Warriors. Given that I'm now planning a broader focus in which the players might in fact want to change things for the worse from this perspective, or just make lots of money, I'm considering a change of game. So which title do you prefer and/or think is more intriguing and evocative? 
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Social Justice Time Warriors
What Once Went Wrong

Here's your next Secrets of Cats villain:

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I'm super proud to tell you that Dresden Files Accelerated is now available to pre-order. I was honoured to have a hand in writing this and I can't wait for everyone to get their mitts on it. You can pre-order the hardcopy book and get the PDF right now from the Evil Hat webstore.

Also of note, the Dresden Files Co-operative Card game is also now available for pre-order, if that's your kind of thing.
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