Thursday, December 18, 2014

Playtesting Strange Stars

"Greetings from the Mighty and Benevolent Vokun Empire!" With these words booming planetside from an orbiting space fleet, we began our first playtest set in Trey Causey's Strange Stars universe. I'm 95% done with the Fate Strange Stars rules that will follow the release of the Strange Stars setting book. Tonight's playtest focused on testing and refining some factions rules I have created using the idea behind the so-called "Fate Fractal." Based on the notion that almost anything in a game can be represented similarly to a character, we have created rules for running the prominent factions of Strange Stars, as well as guidelines so that GMs can create new factions..

One of my goals with the Fate Strange Stars rules is to have factions be something that players can tap into as a resource. That's fairly straightforward. The thing I wanted to test was rules that enable the use of factions as a tool for the table to participate in environment creation and evolution in a manner similar to Microscope. Through a series of exchanges in which factions cooperate and compete, recent history can be developed by the players as the backdrop to a new roleplaying campaign.

What we played out in the session was the rediscovery of a long lost star system in the Zuran Expanse, a region of space sandwiched between several large interstellar polities. Players took on the roles of the Alliance (the closest thing to the United Federation of Planets in this setting), the Vokun Empire (a ruthless and decadent polity led by a species of feuding Harkonnen-like alien clan elders), the Instrumentality of Aom (an interstellar theocracy that uses peaceful conversion where possible), the Zao Corsairs (space pirates so ruthless and successful that many other space pirates pretend to be them), and the Airrotten Unified Assembly (the one party state ruling the system's two inhabited worlds).

The new arrivals knew that the Airrotten system had ruins dating back to the ancient Radiant Polity era. Since Radiant Polity tech was more advanced than the mainstream technology of the current era, this was the primary point of interest for a couple of the other factions. Creating the conditions for access to these caches of ancient tech was one goal of the new arrivals. Another was adroitly pursued by the Vokun player, who quickly saw the value in obtaining Airrotten war captives from the Zao Corsairs to use as genetic stock for new servitor species. (The Vokun Empire is a racially stratified polity in which subaltern species play specific socio-economic roles; the Vokun are pretty nasty folks to have as either overlords or neighbors.)

People played their factions well, getting into "character" as their faction very quickly. Since my factions system uses six custom Approaches rather than the more granular skill set in Fate Core, it was important to see the Approaches in action and learn whether they made sense to players. People thought they did. However, the four Actions need some examples for the factions level of play, especially in a factions sub-system that includes the potential for PVP play. (Note that if you are signed up for the Strange Stars game at Con of the North in February, we'll be doing traditional roleplaying with characters - NOT PVP gaming.)

The players had a lot of great ideas for how the factions system could be clarified and improved. We'll be implementing a number of those, including building-in mechanical rewards for inter-factional deal making and mutual assistance. One astute observation was that the Fate economy slowed down due to the lack of Compels. This was probably because the GM was playing one of the factions, and not paying sufficient attention to the Fate Point economy. That being said, one player asserted there was no need for a GM with this kind of set-up. A lot to consider there.

One positive outcome was how many Aspects were in play simultaneously at the table. I'm usually forgetting about scene Aspects entirely and not necessarily doing the best job of tracking the Aspects that players discover or create during the game.

What was different this time? I used Avery Dry Erase Flash Cards for each of the two Airrotten planets, as well as to write down individual aspects and place them on the table (in "orbit" around one planet or the other) as we played. That made a real difference and added a lot of color and texture to the story. One downside of the flash cards is that they tend to smear ink across the card rather than completely erase the ink. They are still a great resource and I am going to continue using them!

(The "encounter" side of the Jadepunk playmat is another option, but our very generous host usually places a couple bowls of snacks in the table's center, and the players have mugs with beverages - so not the ideal set-up for using a mat.)

What's next? Refining the factions rules a tad! The time has also come for a careful rereading of the Fate rules for Actions; I get confused by the difference between Create an Advantage and Overcome Actions. So it's back to the book for a refresher!

I'm looking forward to running the full Fate Strange Stars RPG at Con of the North, so if what you see here as piqued your interest - and you're in town - stop by and play in this session. In fact, I may use what developed in the factions play last night as the scenario seed for the roleplaying.

We'll also have some opportunities to offer demos of the game next year at The Source. Stay tuned for details!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Cant Of The Limbo Of Literalistic Derision

Cant of the Limbo of Literalistic Derision (Abjuration, Cost, Per Scene, Persistent, Requires one other Ajuration spell): The ultimate counter-magical casting of the desperate, this formula evokes one of the garrulous and supernal Intelligences of Law. The caster rolls CHA +2 to summon this Mind. Once successfully cast, the distracting babble from this paragon of Law penetrates the minds of any living intelligent beings in the Scene, driving them to distraction with a barrage of rationalistic and subtly mocking quotidiana.

The affect of this disembodied otherworldly discourse is to raise the difficulty by +2 for any Create an Advantage or Overcome action requiring focus and concentration. The spell also blocks all other spellcasting actions (by any party, including the caster) for the remainder of the Scene. (Because of the latter restriction, this casting cannot be dispelled prior to the end of the Scene.)

Robots, androids, and other artificial intelligences are not affected by the Cant of the Limbo of Literalistic Derision.  Ignorance is bliss for those without imagination.

The name of this spell is inspired by a phrase in an essay by Clark Ashton Smith.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Sword Of The Underpeople

Sword of the Underpeople (Evocation/Necromancy, Cost, Per Scene, Persistent): This casting was developed by one of the innumerable subterranean and subaltern species that have dealt with undead infestations. A runeblade of bone, puissant against undead of all kinds, tears through the flesh of the caster's palm. The sword deals Weapon:2 in additional shifts of damage against undead creatures. It remains attached to their hand for an entire Scene or until dispelled by the caster.

The caster rolls CHA +2 to manifest the blade.

If the caster rolls a -3 on 4DF before Skills/Approaches are counted, the spell is successfully cast, but the sword remains extended for an entire Session, and cannot be dispelled before this time. (The sword can be physically removed using a bone saw, but this is messy and leaves a bleeding spur, for a Moderate Consequence.)

If the caster rolls a -4 before Skills/Approaches are counted, the same effects apply, but additionally the caster gains the Moderate Consequence of Rotting Flesh. This consequence promotes to Severe if an attempt is made to physically remove the sword using a bone saw.

The glowing arcane runes on this blade tell a story. They are invariably written in the most ancient written language associated with the caster's culture. Someone with the ability read the runes (such as a lich) will learn the caster's Trouble Aspect, and on a Success with Style, will learn additional secrets about the caster...

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Where Do YOU Gather Energy?

November was a low-output month on the blog. There were three factors playing into that:
  1. Investing more time in Fate of Tekumel, one of FATE SF's sister blogs. It's still a baby-blog, but it's moving. Six posts in November, whee...
  2. Some absolutely essential Tekumel travel, our second annual pilgrimage to U-Con in Ypsilanti. This is an outstanding convention with a superb Tekumel track that is an international draw. More on the con in the near future over at Fate of Tekumel! We also had a wonderful post-convention evening hangout in the bar with +Leonard Balsera of Fate Core fame, who was one of the Special Guests this year. It was a great way to unwind at the end of the con!
  3. A few days after the con I became extremely ill. Con crud? Perhaps. It was certainly a nasty cold, and one I am thankfully over.
So this is our first post for December. My energy is coming back. There will be more posts. 

And truth to tell, I have been a bit parsimonious with my posts, because we are also very close to Post 500 at FATE SF. Every post around that number should be meaty and substantive, no? 

Or celebratory.

So here's something I'm celebrating. Tonight my reading group got back together after a many month long hiatus. It felt good to get back together. It's a group that has been meeting several times per year for probably 14 years now. We formed to read Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's Empire (2000), and since then we read both of Empire's sequels and mavny other books as well. 

Tonight we discussed a very short book called Comradely Greetings: The Prison Letters of Nadya and Slavoj. That's right, a short book of correspondence between Slavoj Zizek and Nadya Tolokonnivkona of the band Pussy Riot. It was a great discussion and a great reminder that it isn't the girth or heft of the book that matters, but whether the book provokes a stimulating discussion.

Where do you turn for creative and intellectual energy?

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Sanitize (Evocation/Planar, Cost, Per Session, Requires one other spell from the Evocation or Planar schools): One of the Fourteen Essential Anti-Forensic castings, this formula was developed by the Nexialists to purify their ritual spaces - and to cover their tracks when necessary. It is often used to remove organic evidence from what the authorities might identify as a crime scene. It can also be used to purify a region contaminated by living pests and the organic effluvia of living things.

This formula destroys and removes all traces of bacteria, mold, fungi, and protozoans in the same Zone as the caster. It is also efficacious for the destruction of a range of small ectoparasites (e.g., lice) and other small invertebrates (flies, beetles, etc.) that may be present in a Zone. (It will never destroy a swarm cloud of attacking creatures, however, so Sanitize is useless as a defensive spell.)

The caster rolls their CHA +2 to cast this formula, with the following targets:
  •   0: Removes bacteria and protozoans
  • +1: Removes mold and fungi
  • +2: Removes viruses, ectoparasites, and arthropods
  • +3: Removes organic trace elements (blood, excreta, oil from fingerprints) and any associated stains, pools, splatters
  • +4: Removes other-planar life forms and materials (e.g., demon blood)
This casting will not remove the psychic residue of an event from a scene, nor will it remove other forensic traces of a crime or a struggle (such as kinetic damage to walls and surfaces, energy burns, etc.).

Friday, November 7, 2014

Cover Stars

We're digging the cover design for the Brazilian edition of Fate Core. You can never go wrong with suspenders and a trident. Leave the hightech gear for the lobsterpeople. That is about it for today.

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Ten For Tzitzimine

Tzitzimine Star Demon by Juan Ochoa

The Tzitzimine Star Demons love Eyes and other technological devices that use other-planar energy. So let's give 'em some Eyes! There are actually twelve of them below, not ten. So feel free to roll a D12 and pick a few for your Tzitzimine!

"Things to gather, things to grasp, spheres in a halo, treasures to grant."

What are Eyes, you ask? They are “Devices surviving from the ancient and glorious days of high technology” is according to their creator, Professor M.A.R. Barker.[1]  They are a hallmark of his world of Tekumel, which is perhaps the most elaborate fantasy setting ever created for gaming. According to Barker, Eyes are “so named because they are shaped like small, dull gems, with an eye-like aperture on one side and a protruding stud on the other, which activates the device.”

Eyes are handheld superscience artifacts that use other-planar energy. Each one is like a printed circuit with a specific function. Eyes are a perfect embodiment of Clarke’s Law, which states that “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” For this reason, they are often found in temple treasuries, in tombs and hoards within the Underworld, and in the hands of the powerful.

They are also very useful to adventurers, who often search for them in the Underworld and within the ruins of the temples, bases, and other facilities of the star-spanning Ancients. Each Eye has a specific power and effect. There is no way to discern an Eye’s power without using it. Each Eye has 1d100 charges, after which an ancient device must be used to restore their charges.

The Eyes below are non-canonical and were inspired by a number of authors including M.A.R. Barker and Cordwainer Smith. (In fact, Cordwainer Smith was undoubtedly an influence on Barker, since Tekumel has its own constellation of species called "Underpeople".) These Eyes may be used in any setting which includes ancient space empires and superscience in its background. 

[1] Quotes in this section are from M.A.R. Barker’s Empire of the Petal Throne (TSR 1975), p. 75.


The Eye of Friendship with Underpeople: Every world touched by the Lords of the Instrumentality had certain abject hybrid species who were created as laborers by the Instrumentality's cruel and inventive Gene Masters. Most of these creatures long ago broke their bonds to the ancient masters. Today they are retiring and resentful of Mankind. This Eye creates a temporary bond of friendship with one of these creatures. The bond lasts one Scene. Only creatures whose apex Skill/Approach is greater than +1 may resist the effect of this device. The Eye's user rolls CHA/Flashy +2  vs. the target's WIS; if the Eye's user rolls higher, the bond of friendship takes effect and a suitable temporary Aspect is created on the target, such as "Friend of Man".   The Underperson might take any action that is reasonable for a true friend to take (such as fighting alongside the Eye user) but will not take suicidal actions.

The Eye of Lord Tezcatlipoca: This Eye can activate any gate in the network of Smoking Mirror Engines that string disparate places and worlds together like black pearls in the shining void. These gates are one way portals (at least using the Eye), so an activated gate will open only to the next available egress from the Smoking Mirror Engine network - whether that is on the same world, another world, or even on an entirely different plane. The gate remains open for one Scene. Once opened, anyone may pass through the gate and will arrive at the next junction in the network.

The Eye of Adopting the Mien of a Lord of the Instrumentality: This Eye surrounds its target with the data cloud of one of the star-spanning Lords of the Instrumentality of Mankind. In ancient times, this Eye was a favorite tool of the assassins that these Lords (and the Guilds) used to settle their conflicts. Today it is mainly used to gain access to secure complexes in space, as well as to comparable planetside facilities, and certain long-forgotten areas of the Underworld defended by ancient superscience. The Mien created by this Eye is a temporary Aspect (for example, The Mantle of Lord Vex) that lasts for one Scene. The automated defenses of the Instrumentality’s ancient facilities will grant the target and their entourage unrestricted access to all but the most sensitive installations. Once the target gains access, they must act quickly. Reactivating the Eye within such an installation will awaken terrifying automated defenses.

The Eye of the Banishers of Gloom: The Banishers of Gloom are today one of the Legions of the Imperial Sovereign. In ancient times, they were an elite military unit of the Instrumentality dedicated to exploring dead planets and space hulks. They garnered a reputation as fearless hunters of the undead and of abominations from the planes beyond. On many worlds, they remain active within religious orders dedicated to Law and the destruction of the undead. This Eye is their signature weapon. The Eye unleashes a miniature hypernova beam upon its target, a 1’ in diameter beam of coalesced visible light, x-rays, and gamma rays. The Eye’s range is three Zones. All combustibles touched by the beam burst into flame.If an attack by this Eye hits its target, stress inflicted automatically bypasses the target's Stress Track and causes one or more Consequences of equivalent effect.

The Eye of the Dutiful Corvee: While the Instrumentality was an advanced interstellar civilization, social relations under the Lords of the Instrumentality often took on a semifeudal character. The ancient Lords used this Eye to compel corvee labor on many worlds. The device only works on humans, as other species were by definition suitable for enslavement rather than beings subject to a labor tax, This device works infallably on beings whose apex skill is +1 or less. With each use, a total of 1D20 such beings may be commanded to work indefinitely on some major project. Legends tell of isolated worlds where nearly immortal humans continue to labor on great works for the Instrumentality even today.

The Eye of the Beshadowed Labyrinth: This Eye opens a gate to ruined planet. The gate itself is entirely invisible. An individual might pass through it quite unwittingly.  The ruined planet's lifeless, airless surface is constantly abraded by the deadly energy beams emitted by the magnetar - a species of neutron star with intense magnetic fields - which the world orbits. Below the surface is a world-labyrinth inhabited by innumerable inimical species. Vast subterranean machines maintain a barely breathable atmosphere tainted with a thousand exotic chemicals. The entire labyrinth is shrouded in shifting dim light which projects shadows everywhere. Adventurers who survive in this deadly realm will need to find another way home: the gate opened by this Eye only offers a one way trip.

The Eye of the Glorious Instrumentality of Mankind: A favorite of galactic tomb raiders everywhere, this Eye projects a 3-D holographic representation of the regions of space ruled by Instrumentality of Mankind, showing the location and disposition of all Instrumentality resources including fleets, legions, bases, and nodes in the Smoking Mirror Engine network, as well as protected trade routes. Points of interest may be zoomed in upon by using physical gestures; this reveals planetary maps and additional data such as day length, climate levels, etc. The projection lasts for one Scene.  It automatically updates once daily within Instrumentality facilities that remain connected to the Smoking Mirror Engine network. But few do.

The Eye of the Lady of the Jade Skirt: This Eye will summon the nearest minion of a god or goddess of rivers, lakes, seas, rain, or storms. The ahuizotl is an example of one of these, as are anaconda, crocodiles, and hippos. Caution must be taken when using this Eye in open seas, as it can summon particularly nasty creatures such as mosasaurs, plesiosaurs, killer whales, kraken, akho, and avanc. This Eye has even reportedly summoned a 'Zotl. The creature remains for one Scene.

The Mystic Eye of the Hexagonal Chamber: Zealously sought by scholar priests, archaeologists, and obsessive antiquarian biblophiles, this Eye confers upon the target the ability to read, comprehend, and memorize any religious, mystical, or sorcerous manuscript, no matter the language in which the text was written. The user fires the Eye at the head of the person desiring to read the text in question (this is often none other than the user of the Eye). The effect lasts for one session. But that's not all. A degree of harmful other-planar informational decay is associated with the use of this device. With each use, the reader must make a Clever/WIS roll to defend against a mental Attack with an insanity trigger of +2.

The Majestic Eye of Lord Pacal: This Eye allows its user to pilot telepathically a Pacal-class Vimana - one of the ancient chariots of the gods - for an entire Session.

The Eye of Petty Theogony: The target upon which this Eye is used selects a temporary Aspect reflecting a minor deity, or a lesser avatar of a great deity. The target selects a suitable temporary Aspect to reflect this. Their CHA/Flashy Approach also increases by +2 for the remainder of the Scene. Intelligent beings who are friendly or devoted to that deity will be favorably disposed; those intelligent beings who are opposed or hostile to that deity will be more likely to attack or flee. Any Consequence will completely dispel the effect of this Eye. No one likes a god that bleeds.

The Eye of Vague Auguries: When this Eye is pointed at an object such as a door, secret panel, or other portal (including interdimensional gates) the Eye will issue two vague-but-true telepathic auguries about persons, items, and conditions on the other side of the threshold. The auguries become scene Aspects as determined by the GM.  For example, if a PC uses the Eye at the threshold of a doorway in the Underworld, the auguries might be “reptile god” and “priests”. The resulting scene aspects might be:
  • Threshold of the Temple of the Snake Demon Ysxthici. 
  • A high priest, unwilling sacrifices and numerous cultists.

  • The devices above are copyright 2013 by John Everett Till.