Wednesday, February 20, 2013

FATE Core Characters For Tekumel

FATE Core Character Sheets & Ken Fletcher's Temple Handout
Photo copyright 2013 by John Everett Till

This is the second part of my report on the Con of the North scenario "Raid on the Temple of Vimuhla." You can see the first part here. Today, I am focusing on character design and mechanics.

Who were the characters? Here's a sample:
  • A diminuitive Tinalyia burglar named EmThriGri
  • An impetuous Aridani warrior from the White Stone Clan
  • A Ksarul lay priest who is an underworld artifact hunter
  • A roguish Mu'ugalavyani foreigner who won his citizenship as a gladiator in Jakalla
  • A Shen veteran from the Legion of the Splendour of Shenyu
  • A military sorcerer from the Legion of Searing Flame

How were they built? A character in FATE Core has four elements:
  • Aspects, a total of five narrative hooks or tags that players craft to describe their character and let the GM know the kinds of play experiences adventure and trouble that a player is seeking through that character (e.g., "I got my start in the Arenas of Jakalla" for a foreign gladiator). Aspects produce bonuses in specific circumstances, boosting Skills or having other effects.
  • Skills, a list 18 of broad-brush abilities (i.e., hand-to-hand and melee combat is one skill called, Fighting; all ranged combat is one skill called Shooting).  Each Skill on a character's sheet is placed on a skill pyramid with four Average +1 skills at the base, three Fair +2 skills on the next level up, two Good +3 skills at the penultimate level, and one Great +4 at the apex. 
  • Stunts, special abilities  that make a character more powerful with a particular skill in specific ways, or provide new applications for the skill
  • Stress Tracks, usually two (one for Physical Stress and one for Mental Stress) that represent cumulative harm from physical and mental/social conflicts and that can lead to short term or durable disadvantages called Consequences
FATE Core produces fairly competent characters right out of the box. This is probably the greatest difference between traditional RPGs and many indie-favored games such as FATE. The skill pyramid is central to character design, and the Skill list also creates the opportunity to represent the world  in terms of the specific skills to be used in the game. For Tekumel gaming, I made a couple of small changes to the baseline FATE Core Skill list. I added Clan and Temple as Skills representing two of the most important social identities and skill sets possessed by people on Tekumel.

I created a Tsolyanu-centric Skill called Clan to replace the standard FATE Core Resources skill, since most non-state, non-temple wealth in Tsolyanu is held by Clans, rather than by individuals. The Clan skill also designates the status of the individual's Clan within the social hierarchy of the Tsolyani Imperium. This ranges from Clan +1 (Very Low), to Clan +4 (High) for baseline characters. I am debating requiring a Stunt if a player wants to play a member of a Very High clan.

For PCs who are non-Tsolyani, they either don't use the Clan skill (i.e., Shen) or have it set at zero and therefore not on the pyramid (e.g., a Mu'ugalavyani foreigner).

The name of the character's clan is one of their Aspects - for example, our Aridani character from Butrus had the Aspect Clan: White Stone, while a Ksarul-worshipping, underworld crawling PC was Clan: Obsidian Serpent, representing a small low-status stone mason's clan specializing in foundation-building. I made up this clan for the purposes of the game. That PC had a second clan related Aspect of "A high lineage in a low clan" to represent that his lineage was special and had afforded him more opportunity to study in the Temple of Ksarul.

Another new Skill, Temple, recognizes the prominence of the gods and religion in peoples' lives. Players creating characters who are lay-priests or casual worshipers place the Temple skill on the lowest tier of the skill pyramid (e.g., Temple +1), while priests with greater roles within their Templ and greater knowledge of its theology, rituals, and secrets will have a higher skill level. The specific Temple to which a character belongs is also represented by an Aspect, for example: Devoted to Lord Vimuhla or Alluring priestess of Lady Dlamelish.  

Another important Skill set were magical powers. For the purposes of the con scenario, magic was split into specific domains along the lines of those used in GOO's Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne. So, broad magical skill sets such as Body, Energy, and Illusions. The Tekumel veterans at the table actually thought the broad brush approach worked well in play, especially for bringing people who were newer to the game and setting into the action more easily.

There was one magic user PC, who was a military sorcerer from the Legions. Her Doomkill spell was a special Stunt - really a double stunt that cost 1 Fate Point to cast and which provided +4 bonus to her magical skill in Energy (which was Good +3) - so a total skill level of +7 when casting. Magic also had its own Stress Track, reflecting the fact that magic is tiring.  Every level of Effort cast is a tick on this Stress Track. The player was very cautious with her use of magical powers, so all of this needs more testing. 

Stunts were built for the most part using the free-form Stunt creation rules. Some represented "racial abilities" of non-humans. For example, I created a "Death Blow" stunt that provided the Shen with a bonus for using disemboweling leg strikes. Another interesting one allowed the gladiator to find "A Familiar Face" in every city. He had a second stunt called "Look Down" that enabled him to use Deceit (his apex skill) instead of Fighting, which dovetailed nicely with his Aspect of Dirty Fighter.

Overall, I thought FATE Core worked very well as a Swords & Planet implementation of the Tekumel setting. The reduced number of Stunts and Fate Points per character tended to keep play on the gritty side of competent action, and contrasted well with the more over the top style of other FATE games like Spirit of the Century. I am looking forward to further playtests of my FATE Core implementation of Tekumel.


  1. "You may have overlooked me on that adventure, given that my stature is so small and the Shen was blocking your view." -- a tiny little Tinaliya.

  2. Ufta! My apologies. That will be corrected

  3. Interesting discussion, not least for the juxtaposition. You're venturing into a new space, and one of the first too. It's pretty exciting even as an observer.

  4. @Porky: It was pretty cool that both the Tekumel veterans and people new to it seemed to enjoy the game.