Friday, February 28, 2014

Cobbled Zones

Near Factor's Walk, Savannah

"Graviconcentrates" is what the scientists of the Institute call them; Zones are filled with them. They are anomalies, gravitational singularities that defy the normal, one gravity, up/down gravitational field found on Earth and most other worlds.

Each graviconcentrate has an orientation. It may pull down or pull up. Some pull sideways, or at strange angles. Most have a field strength far greater than one gravity. They can be killers, hurling someone straight up into the air (or through a ceiling), or crushing them against the ground. Maps are useless in avoiding graviconcentrates, as they shift location constantly.

The Savannah Zone has particularly dense patches of graviconcentrates on the stone stairways and cobblestone streets of the River Historic District. Singletons are often encountered on the stone stairways that connect the three tiers of the River District. Pity the Stalker who encounters one and falls 30' from West Bay Street onto the cobblestones of Factor's Walk.

Still worse are the clusters of cobbles on the streets that make up the Zone. These often bring several discrete graviconcentrates into close proximity. Where you stand matters. Step on two different cobbles and you could be torn apart, hurled along different gravitational vectors simultaneously. This is why experienced Stalkers always test the paths in front of them, casting several small stones, metallic nuts, or other small objects in several directions in an effort to discover which paths seem the safest.


Graviconcentrates are typically stable in a location for one Scene.

The vector orientation of a graviconcentrate (or the net orientation of a cluster) can be determined by the roll of a single Fate die: a + result indicates an upward vector, a - result the opposite vector, while a blank face indicates a lateral vector of some kind. (This leaves out a multitude of other possible vectors, we know.)

Each graviconcentrate (or a cluster of them in close proximity) has a Field Intensity typically rated from 1-4; the higher the relative gravity of the anomaly, the higher the rating should be (you don't need to increase the rating by one per gravity after 4Gs). Each  level of intensity is considered a Red Die for the purposes of damage, as described in the Fate System Toolkit.

Characters may Create an Advantage to help detect the presence of graviconcentrates and avoid stepping on them by using the Careful Approach or the Skill of Wisdom or Notice. This action requires some kind of tool, such as small stones or metallic nuts that can be cast in several directions to detect these traps. Alternatively, in some settings characters may have access to high technology devices such as gravity detectors which can be used to detect graviconcentrates.

When a character steps close to or near a graviconcentrate they must Defend by rolling their Quick Approach, or a Skill such as Dexterity or Athletics to avoid the trap. The GM rolls 4DF plus the Field Intensity of the graviconcentrate for its Attack. Damage from graviconcentrates causes Physical Stress.

From the Zones logo courtesy of Hereticwerks

Thursday, February 27, 2014

The Savannah Zone: Street Milk

Factor's Walk, Savannah

One of the most insidious threats in the Savannah Zone is Street Milk. It's an organic syrup that smells faintly of alcohol and molasses. It seeps up from the seams where cobblestones and the foundations of buildings intersect.

Street Milk is particularly common along Factor's Walk, the interstitial street between West Bay Street up above, and River Street down below.  Street Milk is easy to spot during daytime. While it clings to the built environment, Street Milk never lurks indoors. It's always found on the outside of buildings. clinging to paved surfaces. Street Milk pools in patches up to 5 cm deep. It catches and reflects the sun. You can't miss it.

The night time is a different story. When it's dark, Street Milk absorbs rather than reflects light from artificial sources. It simply looks like a dark patch on a street. Observers often mistake Street Milk for a new pothole or a sinkhole.

The stuff seeps and moves about slowly on Factor's Walk during the daytime. But it migrates more broadly at night, and often thins itself down to the point of near invisibility. At night, Street Milk often seeps out of Factor's Walk, and onto the old stone stairs and walkways that join Factor's Walk to West Bay Street up above, and to River Street below.  It can easily seep into cracks in footwear. It is also slick and often causes deadly falls.

There's an illicit market for the stuff. A sub-type of Stalker, the Sloshers or Milkmen sneak into the Savannah Zone to collect the stuff. This generally requires an overnight stay in the Zone. Sloshers sneak-in during the evening, and find a place to hide and sleep. They rise with the sun, siphoning/hand-pumping up as much Street Milk as they can carry out in a few portable gas cans. Then they hide again, and sneak back out of the Zone at night.

A few Milk Labs under the historic district know how to cook Street Milk down into a solid pellet of pure Milk Rock.  About a half liter is required for one pure rock. This is then cut numerous times - sometimes with inert substances, and sometimes with other drugs.

The final street product's effects are similar to amphetamines. However, the drug also produces mild teratogenic changes in the repeat user, and even first-timers have reported experiencing a rather unique side effect of Milk Rock use, called Seeing Ghosts. These hallucinations are ghost-like apparitions, usually of people who went missing in the Zone at the time of The Visitation, but increasingly also of Stalkers who went missing or died there. Repeated users of the drug frequently report that their visions are frequently accompanied by extrasensory input including the perceptions and memories of people who disappeared during The Visitation, or of Stalkers who died in the Zone.

Most real Stalkers consequently have a superstitious fear of Street Milk and of the drug derived from it. They also avoid contact with Milk Rock users.

Stalkers look down on Sloshers; they say the Milkmen have no genuine interest in or connection to the Zone beyond the collection of Street Milk. The ill-paid security forces have a somewhat different point of view: they appreciate the bribes taken from Sloshers, Milk Labs, and Shosh Houses where Street Milk addicts congregate.

From the Zones logo courtesy of Hereticwerks

Monday, February 24, 2014

The Savannah Zone

The face on the door says it all. Even the pretty places got hit during The Visitation. No one should have considered themselves immune.

Not even Savannah, Georgia, the first planned-on-a-grid city in North America. The city's historic riverfront has gone a bit off-the-grid now, with the irruption of a Zone across a quarter mile of this former tourist attraction.

Now it's just another zone of exclusion.

One that extends halfway across the river, causing all sorts of interesting problems and hazards to navigation.

"From the Zones" logo is courtesy of Hereticwerks.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Weird Adventures: The Anagrammatist, Part One - The Setup

Our next Con of the North game was a four hour session of Trey Causey's wonderful Weird Adventures game setting. Fans of Spirit of the Century and Strange Tales of the Century should really get to know Trey's setting. You'll find a lot of synergies there! Plus a model for a modern urban Undercity/Underworld. Do yourself a favor and check it out!

The City of Weird Adventures is a D&D-ified pulp analogue of New York City. You have neighborhoods whose names have what Wittgenstein called a "family resemblance" to Manhattan neighborhoods, and a lot of historical references to the old Gotham.

Weird Adventures also has a TON of occult and supernatural Easter Eggs built into it.  You can build a scenario or even a campaign with almost any page in his book, a big chunk of which reads like a traveler's guide book to The City. We took that one step further for this game: we generated about eight characters in advance for people to play. Each one was the result of a random roll to assign the character a neighborhood in The City, and each character consequently had a Neighborhood Aspect.

I used Fate Freeport Companion as the engine for the scenario for three reasons:
  • Characters are built using D&D's six attributes as their Skills, instead of FAE's more abstract and admittedly flexible Approaches. Since The City is a D&D-ified pulp setting, it made sense to me to play-on gamers' 40 years of experience and intuition about the meaning of Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom and Charisma. It helps ground who their characters are, and how they can interact with the world. The D&D-based Skills have a weight and meaning far beyond the 3D6 bell curve.  
  • Fate Freeport has both Physical and Mental Stress Tracks, and Sanity rules, all of which were pertinent to the kind of story I wanted to tell.
  • The Companion has rules for discrete D&D-style spells, which I really like. Anybody who has visited FATE SF over the last couple of months has probably seen the Galactic Grimoire, our growing SFnal spell corpus, which is based on the spell creation model used in Fate Freeport. 

Here's a sample character from the pregens. The character is a Taxman, one of the city's tax collection specialists.

Name: Lucre

Neighborhood: Welleran Heights (i.e., Washington Heights*) is your home. You used to be a Taxman. Now you work at the Union Nuismatic Society in that neighborhood.

  • High Concept: A retired Taxman who still loves money
  • Problem: You need to gamble
  • Neighborhood Aspect: Sticky-Fingered Collections Curator, Union Nuismatic Society 
  • Aspect: Friends (and Enemies) in the Financial District
  • Aspect: Invested heavily in the Fate Exchange**

SKILLS: Str +1, Dex 0, Con +1, Int +3, Wis +2, Cha +2

  • Wooden Nickel - You kept your Taxman's Wooden Nickel which Detects Lies. Roll your Wisdom +2 vs. Target's Charisma to Detect a Lie.
  • Wooden Quarter - You kept your Taxman's Wooden Quarter which quivers in the presence of gold or valuable gems and jewelry. 
  • Forensic Reading Glasses - Roll Wisdom +2 when wearing your Forensic Reading Glasses to create an advantage by uncovering a carefully concealed clue.
  • Physical: 3 boxes
  • Mental: 3 boxes

Special: You may invoke the Eikone of Management. The Eikones are supernatural personifications of the way the universe works. Most represent aspects of human life and culture.

*Washington Heights was the first place I ever visited or stayed in New York City, back in the early 80s. I remember the small museum district that Trey is alluding to here.

**The Fate Exchange is like the Stock Exchange (which also exists in The City). The Fate Exhange is all about the incremental manipulation of  future possibilities.


The characters that the players chose to run were:
  • Vernon Asta, a wealthy socialite of Empire Park East, who of course has a permanent residence in the Borgove-Astra  Hotel 
  • Alex Gold, the Bronze Titan of Science, who has his own laboratory apartments on a few floors of the Imperial Building in the Circus District
  • Doctor Haint, a Black American stage magician with real powers of illusion, who lives in Solace (The City's equivalent of Harlem)
  • The Gasworks Monster, a living coal-fired chemical accident, whose skin is forever smoldering; he lives in The Gasworks, a stinking industrial area on the Middle East Side, along the Wyrd River
  • Camilla, a diminutive China Doll Martial Artist from fey Aldwood (i.e., sinister Inwood aka Spuyten Duyvil), a part of the city where a Broad Boulevard musical adaptation of F. Marsh Loam's "The Magical Monarch of Mu" came to life (and lives on). We might add that the player who ran Camilla did a super creepy, creepy job roleplaying the character! Seriously!
Each of the players was on The City's Master Contract (something which I added to the setting, based on my real world experience with county government). They are specialists whose skills go well beyond the limited powers and portfolios of The City's Taxmen, and of the Municipal Department of Animal and Pest Control, better known as the Exterminators (the monster hunters on The City's payroll).  People on the Master Contract are paid well, and have relative indemnity if they create collateral damage - as long as they pursue The City's interests.

Each person on the Master Contract has a token: a specific way that The City summons them when it needs them. For Vernon Astra, it is a limousine service that appears at the Borogove-Astra Hotel. The stage magician, Doctor Haint, knows he is being called when all of his the cards suddenly come up Jokers. For Alex Gold, the Bronze Titan of Science, it's simple: he gets a transmission on one of the special frequencies on his wrist radio.

So much for the set-up! Next time we'll talk about the scenario itself!

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Five Valentines For Freeport

Our third game at Con of the North was on Valentine's Day evening. (The first Valentine in our account!) It was a Fate Freeport game using (perhaps not surprisingly) the Fate Freeport Companion. This was a two hour on-the-fly session.

We started PC generation with a few scenario-framing pieces:
  • The players were the senior crew on a pirate ship;
  • Periodically, they harbor in Freeport; and
  • The pirate ship had come into Freeport harbor yesterday. After a night of carousing in the harbor, the PCs had come back to their ship to find that Captain Valentine (the second Valentine!) had been arrested and taken away by the Sea Lord's Guard. The charges? Her diffident crew reported simply and succinctly: "They said she was being arrested for high crimes against the Sea Lord." Of course the crew who witnessed the scene didn't ask any further questions of the Sea Lord's Guards; that's why they're called shiftless.
The first tasks I gave the players were to come up some aspects: a High Concept and Trouble aspect for their captain, and a Ship Name, High Concept, Trouble, and What's In The Hold Now? aspects for their pirate ship. 

The PCs decided that the captain was a human with a noble air. They also thought that she was beautiful, but that it was difficult to tell that for certain because of her disguise: Captain Valentine's face always had a healthy covering of dirt and grime. Still, many people were curious about who she was, which was often a source of unwanted attention both on and off the ship.

Captain Valentine
  • High Concept: Grunge Princess, Captain of The Scurvy Gnome
  • Trouble: Many people are curious about Who is Captain Valentine?

The Scurvy Gnome: A heart pierced by an arrow, impaling a rotten orange

The players decided the details of the ship pretty quickly too. It was a pirate ship, for sure. But it also did a healthy trade in (somewhat) fresh fruit. The hold was full of oranges. They decided that the ship's Trouble comes from its crew; the crew were mostly Hobbits (the players were quite keen on calling them Hobbits and not Halflings), and quite a lazy bunch. Nobody taking initiative. Smoking ganja up in the crow's nest. And so on, and so forth, to the breaka-breaka dawn.

The Scurvy Gnome
  • High Concept: Pirate Ship and Pharmacy (I'm doing a bit of retconning here)
  • Trouble: Lazy, shiftless crew
  • What's In the Hold Now?: Fruit that's out of season
The ship's device (see the picture and caption above) was the third Valentine!

Next, the PCs created their characters. Since we were doing character generation on-the-fly, all they needed to create was a High Concept and a Trouble for their character (a few players created all five before we began play, or added some during the course of the game), along with Fate Freeport's Approaches Skills which have the same names as D&D's core attributes (i.e., Strength, Dexterity, Constitution, Intelligence, Wisdom, and Charisma). Stunts were optional, although most players created some.

The players created a mix of fighter/rogue types: two Hobbit PCs, two humans, and a half Ogre who played the entire game speaking like Sling Blade. That had us in stitches. We had one very sneaky Hobbit thief (more on him later), and a demolitions expert as specialists.

I had readied a character sheet with everything necessary to create a spellcaster character, in order to save the players some time should someone want to play a magic user. To my disappointment, no one did; it was an Illusionist with a nice selection of spells. (But another version of this character became the PC Doctor Haint in my Weird Adventures game the next evening.)

I broke open my brand new pack of Fate Valentine Dice (the fourth Valentine), and we began play! Of course, when the PCs stumbled back onto their ship from a night of carousing, it took a while for the Lazy, shiftless crew to mention that the Captain had been arrested. But as soon as the PCs learned this detail, they headed straight back ashore, and headed for the Fortress of Justice in the walled quarter called the Old City.

On their way across the city, the player of the Hobbit thief handed me a note. It said that he had paid the Captain of the Sea Lord's Guard to arrest the Captain. OK, so a bit PVP, but here's a player solving the whodunnit for the GM. You can't buy player buy-in like that. So we went for it.

It seems this sneaky Hobbit thief was in love with the human Captain, and that Valentine had rebuffed him. The note was the fifth Valentine, a Bad Valentine, a nasty Valentine by nasty little Hobbitses.

The Captain of the Guard wouldn't let Captain Valentine go for free, and the Hobbit wasn't copping to the deed, so a deal was negotiated. The PCs were to go to the harbor, and sink a ship called The Cheerful Canoe. They agreed, went to the harbor, and saw the ship in question.

Their jaws dropped.

The Cheerful Canoe was a bit of a misleading name. The ship was cheery and yellow for sure, but sometimes a canoe is not a canoe.  This one was a gigantic golden ziggurat barge (yes, a quasi-Melinbonean battle barge crewed by silk swathed albinoes; the players quickly began referring to the crew as The Leech People).

The pirates spotted the barge's Ahoggya stevedores, who were busy loading and unloading huge crates at the docks. They hid in some shipbound crates, and were loaded onto canoes headed for the battle barge. Beforehand, they prepared and placed demolitions in some of the other crates.

They got onboard. There was a fight. Then a big boom from one crate, followed by another, followed by some other VERY BIG booms as the battle barge's magazine exploded. The ship took on water, our pirate raiders dived overboard, and the battle barge began to sink in earnest.

Of course, the pirates were first in line to claim salvage rights to the ship they had sunk!

And Captain Valentine was freed, with no one the wiser about the unrequited treachery of the Hobbit thief.

All in all, a fun, and truly weird adventure for Valentine's Day evening!

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Dinosaur Hunt on Venus; Or, More Civilized Times?

"Are you saying that is a Buddhist dinosaur?"

You can't make quotes like that up! Now imagine that being said by a military scientist with a German accent. Welcome to Space: 1889!

At Con of the North this year, I ran six hours of Ubiquity-based Space: 1889 gaming. The PDF of the new RPG from Chronicle City isn't out yet, so we reverse engineered everything for "Dinosaur Hunt on Venus" from Hollow Earth Expedition and Leagues of Adventure.

I was going to run two linked adventures - one set on Venus and another on Mars - but I opted to run the Venus adventure twice. I used to think that sort of thing was cheating - and, well, inauthentic since it breaks verisimilitude (the logic being, "if you do it twice it's not real") - but I actually kind of enjoy seeing the different directions groups take with a story.

The first version of the scenario was for a two hour game slot. The players were four adults and one child - a boy of about eight. It was really fun. I started out with a brief exposition about how the Victorians traveled between worlds in Space: 1889. As the veterans know, etherflyers use solar powered steam boilers to drive a propellers through the ether. As I explained this, the eight year old had a look on his face like "this dude is crazy, that's not how things work in space!" He obviously knew his science.

This wasn't your everyday dinosaur hunt in the jungles of Venus either. One of the PCs had a secret mission. He was a Lao royal pretender of the Setthatirath lineage, and sought to secure a dinosaur egg during the hunt in order to bring it back to Laos and hatch it. His family's thinking was that having hold of a Nak-like reptilian creature would lend great legitimacy and prestige to their leadership claims. The prince brought a trusted Hmong hunter along to help with his secret mission.

One fun part of the wind-up to the actual hunt was that the eight year old, who was playing the Big Game Hunter (a key character, as he has an elephant gun), wanted to get a riding tiger for the expedition. The party encountered such a beast - albeit forlorn and bedraggled - in a zoological exhibition in Venusstadt, the German colonial capital in the still-sweltering highlands at Venus's northern pole. They paid the zookeeper to let them have it. So the kid got his riding tiger!

Janet Ausilio's illustration of the Martian Steppe Tiger

Soon thereafter, the party headed south by airship for the lowland shores. They found a brontosaurus and engaged it. These creatures are hard to kill! They have roughly 5-6x the Health Points of a human, and a thick hide which it is hard for bullets to penetrate. One needs an elephant gun, and if possible, explosives to go up against these creatures. But the party got their dinosaur and got their eggs.


The second iteration of the scenario was a four hour game. The party had more time to explore Venusstadt, and engaged in some intrigue involving the German intelligence services and a Russian Okhrana espionage cell using a French hotel as their base of operations. 

There was funny banter about the scene in the German airship officer's club:

-German military scientist PC: "Are there any intellectuals here?"

-GM: "There are a couple of officers reciting German Romantic poetry."

-German military scientist PC: "That's not what I meant!"

Herr Vogt, the expedition guide hired by the players, took them by airship to the Italian colony in the south. Here, the PCs made camp in the marsh, and turned in for the night. Herr Vogt was standing watch when he discovered a herd of brontosaurs perilously close to the camp; he tried to awaken the PCs, only to be rebuffed by one, and to be handed concussive explosives by the German scientist in an effort to "scare away" the great beast.

This ended poorly; Herr Vogt was trampled into the steaming Venusian bog by a mildly perturbed brontosaurus.

The PCs engaged the bronto, and were soon surprised to learn how much abuse a brontosaurus can take and still stay standing. But eventually PCs prevailed with a mix of conventional weaponry, explosives, and some improvisation based on classic hunting tools. In particular, the German military scientist's over-sized "boar spear" proved especially helpful in hampering the brontosaurus' movements, so that firepower could be concentrated upon it. The boar spear first had to be hammered into the creature for it to be truly effective as an impediment to the creature's movement! 

The PCs left the carcass to sit until morning, until pictures could be taken with their trophy. Then they began to hunt for dinosaur eggs. During their hunt, they encountered a seven headed serpentine species that was a dead ringer for a Nak. It seemed intelligent too. 

They tracked the creature to a lair in the forest. It's home was a stupa-like structure with a subterranean hatchery/incubator. This led to more adventures, including a massacre of lizard folk villagers living in proximity to the stupa, and a follow-on massacre of lizard folk who had come to relieve the besieged villages. 

Nak eggs were recovered from the stupa. The PCs narrowly escaped being slaughtered by angry Nak. The eggs were carefully packed for the etherflyer journey back to Earth. As the curtains drew to a close on the adventure, one egg's shell began to crack...

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Ringworld Reloaded Tonight

During the day on Sunday we are doing our prep for tonight's Ringworld Reloaded game at Con of the NorthThe game runs from 6-10 PM, so we will be prepping this morning and afternoon, and driving over to the con around 5 PM. For prep, I am focusing on reading the old Chaosium Ringworld RPG first; it's an elegant package.

If I have time this afternoon, I'll dig a little deeper into Sarah Newton's Fate Core masterpiece, the new edition of Mindjammer. I plan to have people build their characters using the Aspects and Skills framework from Mindjammer.

On Friday and Saturday, I ran 12 hours of roleplaying programming at the con. Players seemed to have fun in all the games, and we had a particularly good experience last night with my first run in the world of Trey Causey's Weird Adventures pulp adventures setting, using Fate Freeport Companion mechanics. More on all the events during the week.

Tonight's game is going to be an "on-the-fly" experience. I had to compress a lot of prep work for my five events at the con due to life, so my games have been a mix of high-level prep and on-the-fly GMing.

I told a friend a couple days ago about the creeping desperation I was feeling about how little prep time I had left, and he had some great advice: "Con-prep is one of those things that we all over-stress. Just relax and have stuff on-hand to facilitate improvisation."  In other words, don't just stage the scene for the players, stage it for yourself as GM!  Have things available you can draw upon!

I have found the Deck of Fate to be one of those great tools to facilitate on-the-fly GMing, and RPG Inspiration Cards are another great resource with aspect-like signifiers, weather conditions, directions, and terrain.

We have a cool little SF movie prop lined-up for tonight as well. 

Friday, February 14, 2014

Con of the North Begins

No Deck of Fridays today, because today we're actually using the Deck of Fate at the gaming table!  It's the first day of Con of the North in the Twin Cities, the largest gaming convention in the Upper Midwest.  Today we are running six hours of Ubiquity Space: 1889 content, and a two hour Fate Freeport session. 

We have quite a cast of characters for Space: 1889, including a:
  • Gunslinging French anarchist with a penchant for Verne and anti-colonialism
  • Vengeful German armaments inventor
  • Venusian lizard man scout
  • Itinerant Martian aristocrat-scholar
  • Ambitious Lao Prince/Princess from Vientiane
  • Skillful but very superstitious Hmong hunter
  • British Big Game Hunter
  • Ruritanian etherflyer pilot
  • Intriguing British adventuress from the Ladies Speculative Society  
Should be fun.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The "Where You From?" Aspect And Weird Adventures

"Where you from?" People get asked that all the time in The City. After all, it's the Biggest City In the World, and At the Center of Everything.  Where else would you rather be, than in The City That Never Sleeps?

There are 5 Baronies and 42 neigborhoods in The City. Many Weird Adventures players will want their characters to be from the Ur-Manhattan of Empire Island itself (and who can blame them?). But some may want to be from one of the other Baronies, or even a place beyond the Baronies. Some players will want to leave it up to chance, so here's how to do that!

First, roll 4DF and consult the corresponding result below:
  • -4: The Dustlands ("The Dust Bowl" states)
  • -3: Freedonia ("Texas" and the Southwest)
  • -2: The Steel League ("IL, OH, PN") or The Combine ("MN, WI")
  • -1: Ealderde ("Europe"), or outside The Union
  •  0: The Five Baronies
  • +1: New Ludd ("New England")
  • +2: The South
  • +3: The West (the Mountain States)
  • +4: Hesperia ("California")
If you roll the Five Baronies, pick one, or roll a d10, and consult the corresponding result below:
  • 1-3: Empire Island ("Manhattan")
  • 4-5: Rookend (Motherless "Brooklyn")
  • 6-7: Marqessa ("Queens") 
  • 8-9: Shanks ("Bronx")
  • 10: Lichmond (New Jersey, at least that's what I think - could be wrong)*
Tomorrow we'll break down mechanics for generating your "Where You From?" neighborhood aspect if you live on Empire Island itself.

But for now, let's make a roll on the table and see what happens: We rolled 4DF on the first table, and got a -3. That means we're from Fredonia. So for our "Where You From?" aspect for this character, I am thinking they're not a lawman, but perhaps a roughneck oil rig worker who had a run-in with the Rangers and had to go North. For our "Where You From?" aspect, we could go with: A Roughneck Gone North.  Could be fun. I can see someone like this getting a job in the construction trades, or as a longshoreman, or maybe even with the mob. 

*Because no one wants to be from there. Or admit they were.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Space: 1889

A cover treatment for the Ubiquity Edition

This weekend, we read most of the the original Space: 1889 RPG, published by GDW in 1988. That was GM prep, because on Friday afternoon of this week, we are running two back-to-back Space: 1889 adventures at Con of the North. My original plan was to use Chronicle City's forthcoming Ubiquity-based Space: 1889 game, which is a translation from the German edition, but the release of the PDF has been delayed.

My Plan B for Friday is to use the Leagues of Adventure RPG (steampunk Victoriana powered by Ubiquity) as the game engine for the scenarios. The game's baseline assumptions (SF-based steampunk inspired by Wells and Verne) are close enough to Space: 1889's that this should be a pretty easy conversion. There are still four days before the game though, so if the new PDF arrives, we'll incorporate it!

One thing I will be carrying over from the German edition are the changes to France. About all I know is that in the German edition, France has a progressive republic based on a victorious Paris Commune. That's all I know, but that seems pretty cool. It has the potential to cut across the static Great Power rivalries in new and interesting ways. A French state with a relatively empowered working class could be out there making alliances with unions, and with anarchist federations and socialist parties in other states. That could really upset the apple cart a bit, in ways that the Russian Revolution did in our world a few decades later.

My impressions of the original Space: 1889 RPG are rather positive, after a careful reading. The system seems simple enough, at least for skills, and I'd imagine characters can be generated quite quickly. The combat system I'd have to really playtest a bit to have a strong opinion on; the way it handles a variable number of player actions per turn might bog things down, but maybe not. It certainly doesn't seem THAT top heavy for an 80s game system. I've heard people complain about the game system, but again it seems pretty straightforward to run. I don't see any reason why you couldn't run the setting with the original system out-of-the-box, and if I hadn't promised convention registrants that I'd be running Ubiquity, I probably would use the original system.

The content on the Victorian period is good, and accompanied by plenty of illustrations, particularly for period technology and weaponry. The descriptions of both Mars and Venus are interesting and look like places with plenty of room for adventure. I could have done without the references to "savages" and "savagery" in exposition when describing tribal peoples on Mars and Venus. If used at all, those terms would have been better placed using in-character or in-world quotes.

One surprise was the almost complete lack of any description of Martian religion, other than for a couple of Martian cults with anti-imperialist sentiments. I suppose that is reflective of the 80s, when there was little interest among SF gamers in the topic of religion/atheism, and when the domestic U.S. Right was itself busy courting religious fundamentalists at home and abroad, and playing a Great Game of its own in Afghanistan.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Deck Of Fridays 14: Just Plain Cursed

Welcome back to DECK OF FRIDAYS, our weekly feature here at FATE SF. We make a draw from the Deck of FateRPG Inspiration Cards, or another Aspect-generative randomizer. Then we do something interesting with it, using the Aspect as inspiration for a campaign or scenario seed, a situation, scene, location, NPC, thingie, etc.

This week's draw from the Deck of Fate is a card with the Aspect: Just Plain Cursed. So, another random draw from the deck with a pretty negative (-3) result!


Bottled trouble, so to speak. It's hiding right there in plain sight. The sign by the door says simply "Botanica." They say it used to be an apothecary's shop. But now it sells mundane magical supplies: herbs, folk medicines, candles, incense, holy cards, figurines of saints, a few self-help books on the power of prayer - and bottled waters.

There are several little displays of water-filled bottles around the store. The displays catch they eye; they're colorful. Each bottle has a label with the name of the natural source of water from which its contents were collected. Most of the labels are still legible, although several are quite old and rather indecipherable. Some are smeared, blurred. A few are written in a script that seems alive with quick motion, like a centipede's legs.

None of the bottles has a price tag. The owner says: "They're all special. Make me an offer."

Expect to haggle. It's a high stakes game.

Because these water bottles aren't the kind you drink.

Oh, no. You use this water to make a space sacred. Put a bottle in a window and let the sun will shine through the water. Sprinkle it on friends as a blessing.

The waters come from different sources. Local rivers, streams, ponds, lakes. Some come from farther afield: the Finger Lakes. The Amazon. The Nile. The Ganges. Lake Nyos. Places you've never heard of.

Most are completely innocuous. But mixed in with the safe ones are bottled waters that are just pain cursed.

Frackwater. Medusa's tears. Devil's bongwater. Snake well water. Roaches' spit. Ice water from cannibal glaciers. Plasma squeezed from pus-filled wounds. Water from a baptismal font where someone took a bloody leak. Farm creek runoff. One of the colored theosophical bottles of General Maximiliano Hernandez Martinez.

You'll pay dearly for one of these bottles. Their owner went to a lot of effort to collect them. She promises they'll put a hurt on someone. You'll see.


Each water bottle is a one-use potion. The potion's target is affected by drinking some or all of the water in the bottle. Even a drop or two is sufficient to produce an effect. 

The potion causes a Moderate or Severe Consequence depending on the nature of the potion. Consequences may be either Physical or Mental, and can only be removed through magical healing. A Heal or Purify spell may remove any of these Consequences. 

(N.B., some of the lesser Healing spells (Cure Light Wounds, Cure Moderate Wounds, Cure Serious Wounds), only remove a Physical Consequence, or reduce its severity.)  

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Ghost Wolves

The first whispers about Ghost Wolves came from miners stationed on the Linebarger series planetoid Deep Gee (LB 1968117-G). The miners - indeed all the long-termers on that world - have adopted the practice of never being alone due to these creatures. Sleeping quarters, restroom stall accommodations, small vehicles: they are all designed so that people will double up.

Nexialists stationed on Deep Gee believe the Ghost Wolves exist. People who wander off alone in the planetoid's numerous subterranean vaults and tunnels often don't return. People who sleep alone are often found missing the next day. Disappearance takes the form of a species of dismemberment and spagettification by telekinesis, and has even been recorded by video. (And yes, being monitored by machines does not provide protection against Ghost Wolves.)

So what are the Ghost Wolves? The Nexialist Institute on LB 1968117-G has a couple of theories about them, including that they're:
  • A form of Krellic exudate, perhaps connected to one the world's numerous subsurface Shrines
  • An emergent property of the Autonomous Subsurface Collective deep under Deep Gee
  • Another Panoptic or Gazebacker species, such as the Tindalosians
  • Contact phenomena at the interfaces of a planar fracture below the planetoid's surface
The miners have a legend of their own. They say that the Ghost Wolves are a life form that emerged from one of the many ancient stasis boxes secreted in the world's subsurface vaults. In the depths of time, the ancient foreunner race that dug the deepest tunnels on Deep Gee forced the Ghost Wolves into a stasis box; they had a good reason for doing this. When the humans arrived, a star-charioteer named Pandora found one of the hidden stasis boxes. Curiosity got the better of her, and she opened the stasis box on the spot. This released many packs of Ghost Wolves. They have plagued human settlers on Deep Gee ever since.


Ghost Wolves
Immaterial Predators (inimical)

  • High Concept: We hunt those who are alone
  • Trouble: Two observers can dispel us
  • Aspect: Always in a pack
  • Aspect: Our minds are claws and teeth
  • Aspect: More ancient than space and time itself
  • Careful: +1
  • Clever: +2
  • Flashy: 0
  • Forceful: +2
  • Quick: +1
  • Sneaky: +3
  • Find the Loner - Take +2 to Careful Approach Create an Advantage by locating a suitable prey; the prey takes on the Temporary Aspect Alone
  • Rend and Tear - Ghost Wolves may Forcefully Attack a prey who is Alone in the same or an adjacent Zone. They will attempt to rend, tear, and spagettify their prey using deadly psychokinetic powers. 
  • Slip Between the Cracks - The pack moves together. They use their Sneaky approach to exit or enter any Scene at will, skulking silently into or out of the planar adjacencies.  

Note: The Ghost Wolf above is the alpha. It will be accompanied by 2-4 other Ghost Wolves, that are +2 Sneaking and Biting and -2 Affecting multiple watchers or things. Each Ghost Wolf has one Stress Box; they aren't affected by physical weapons.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Summon Planar Ally

Summon Planar Ally (Planar, Cost, Scene): This planar spell summons one creature from another world or plane to do the bidding of the caster for one Scene, or until Taken Out. The summoner may use the basic summoning rules in the Fate Freeport Companion to build the creature, but many examples of summonable creatures can be found in the FATE Bestiary. Use creature stats with a FAE or Freeport label, excluding any that are Very Large Monsters. Note when using these creatures that they will start at a base Fair (+2) quality but can be enhanced to Good (+3) using the rules for summoned creatures on pages 31-32 of the Fate Freeport Companion.

Possible new Disadvantages that the summoner may select in addition to those listed in the Fate Freeport Companion include:
  • Absocial: The creature's words, actions, or psychic vibrations are deeply alien and offensive. As soon as the creature manifests, roll its CHA +2 vs. WIS for each non-summoned PC/NPC/creature in the scene (including the summoner). Resulting Stress is recorded on the Mental Stress Track.
  • Inimical: The creature is of a species or type that is hostile to humanity. It will obey the summoner but is unconcerned with the welfare of others. The creature may be Compelled to act hostilely towards other allies and friends of the summoner.
  • Out-of-Phase: The creature is immune to physical Attacks, but can only Attack others using magic/psionics.
  • Salvatore's Syndrome: The planar summoning addled the creature's wits; it now communicates using an almost indecipherable patois of several human and alien languages. The summoner must Succeed with Style on an INT-based Overcome Obstacle roll for the creature to understand and obey a command; summoner gets one of these rolls as a free action each round.    
  • Toxic: The creature is damaged in some way and contaminates the Scene with harmful radiation or chemicals. As soon as the creature manifests, roll its CHA +2 vs. CON for each non-summoned PC/NPC/creature present in the scene (including the summoner). Resulting Stress is recorded on the Physical Stress Track.

*FATE Bestiary creatures are classified as friendly, neutral, or inimical in the OGL MECHANICS section of the individual post for the creature. (There are a few we haven't gotten to yet, so let common sense be your guide here.)

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Weird Adventures: The Board Room

We're getting ready to run Trey Causey's Weird Adventures setting using Fate at Con of the North in a couple of weeks. Today's post is about getting into the mood of the City. 

Places of light, places of shadow: it's in a dozen of the City's well-appointed board rooms that decisions are made affecting millions. The Bottom Line is attended to here, affecting hiring and firing at hundreds of firms, the trimming or expansion of industries, decisions to deepen or pull investments in Fate Exchange, allocations for charities to pacify and in some cases improve the conditions of the working masses of the Baronies, and much, much more.

Entire branches of wizardry are dedicated to influencing, amplifying, or mitigating what happens in these well-guarded rooms. Special care is taken with how board rooms are arranged, equipped, and decorated. Firms select only the most propitious table woods to fashion their board room's Great Table. At least one Captain of Industry in the City meets with his board of directors around a table fashioned from snapwood prised from Yggdrasil itself in far away Ealderde. It's said he paid a dear price for that table.

All of the major firms also keep defensive practitioners on retainer to ensure their board rooms are well-warded. The sanctum sanctorum of a magical corporate security specialist is never more than a room or two away from the board room. Its occupant will always be monitoring the board room and its immediate surrounds when an important meeting is underway. Such specialists often keep their own, esoteric ciphered Minutes of board meetings.

Such Books of Minutes fetch high prices for those who are able to filch them. These ledger books record much, much more than what people are saying. They often reveal the subtle influences on board members, the occulted Conflicts of Interest that each brings to the table.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Dollar Store Dungeons: False Beholder

Today's post is another contribution to the Dollar Store Dungeons community project, in which we are sharing ideas for what GMs can do with a $1.00 item from a dollar store.

False Beholders, also called Oculoids, are cyclopean blemmyoids. A gregarious other-planar species with excellent military skills, Oculoids are often hired as mercenaries in the incessant internecine conflicts on many backwater worlds. They enjoy the company of almost any humanoid race, and will be social with whomever's company they keep: eating, drinking, and carousing with their comrades-at-arms regardless of species.

Oculoids usually fill out the roles of musketeers, artillerists, and sharpshooters. Condottiere who can put up with their incessant babble and constant snacking will find the Oculoids make loyal and courageous troops. However, it is best to be forewarned: Oculoids will cheerfully natter-on about anything and everything, even in the midst a heated battle. This can be distracting, especially to combat casters.

False Beholders base their name on a two word combination. The first word incorporates part of the name, title, or attribute of a specific deity. The second word incorporates part or all of the name of a favored weapon. Oculoid name choices become particularly bizarre on worlds that have an extensive commercial armaments industry and a rich-brand culture. Naming examples include: Thora Godhammer, Horus Vickers, Hekate Broomhandle, and Sovereign MP43.  

The grognards say they can tell when an Oculoid is about to fire a weapon: the huge-eyed creatures instinctively blink just before they pull the trigger. But most importantly, they rarely miss. The Oculoids' single great eye gives them telescopic long-distance vision, and they are natural experts with all ranged weapons. Like their namesakes, the eye of each False Beholder is also capable of emitting a ray of some kind: laser beam, frost or fire, petrification, charm, etc. Because of this power, it is folly to close with them in melee combat (as with the swordsman in the photo above).

Hiring Oculoids comes with two hidden costs. The first hidden cost is due to the fact that the Oculoids' fat, stubby fingers are too clumsy for them to readily use most conventional firearms. False Beholders need firearms that are heavier, bulkier, and more robust than those used by most humanoid races. Sometimes, an Oculoid brings suitable weapons with them to their new employer. But other times, a condottiere will need to front the costs of custom manufacturing suitable weapons at the time of hire.

The Oculoids' other hidden cost is their insatiable appetite. While False Beholders never need to eat (they can sustain themselves indefinitely by feeding on other-planar energies), Oculoids want to eat. Constantly. The condottiere has a couple of different options here. One is to equip them with a feed bag, so that they may shovel food into their wide toothy maw at will. The other option is to assign them a feeder who can toss battlefield chum into their mouths during combat. A note for those with delicate sensibilities: the Oculoids talk while they eat, and chew with their mouth open.

A few final notes on Oculoid anatomy and physiology:
  • Oculoids have two small antennae; these are telepathic organs which allow them to communicate with their own kind and with other telepathic creatures;
  • They seem to understand humanoid concepts of gender well enough, but it is unclear whether the Oculoids have genders;
  • Their mode of reproduction (?) or manufacture (?) is entirely unknown;
  • They have no skeleton or organ systems; beneath their smooth green elastic hide there is nothing but a light green organic gelatin;
  • The antennae have commerical value and are sometimes harvested for wands or fetishes; and 
  • Their hide has commercial value, as a variety of unbreakable and elastic bladders can be made from it.


False Beholders
Oculoid Blemmyae (friendly)

  • High Concept: Gregarious other-planar mercenaries 
  • Trouble: Their constant babble can be distracting
  • Aspect: That's one huge eye!
  • Aspect: They're called "False Beholders" for a reason!
  • Aspect: An army marches on its stomach
  • STR: +2
  • DEX: 0
  • CON: +1
  • INT: +2
  • WIS: +3
  • CHA: +1
  • Sureshot: The Oculoids are masters of all ranged weapons and take +2 to their DEX when attacking with them.  
  • Eye Ray: Every Oculoid's eye has a ray-like ability which can be used to Attack, Defend, Create an Advantage, or Overcome an Obstacle. The ability will be keyed to a specific Skill; the roll used is the designated Skill +2
  • Scout from the Rear: Take +2 to WIS skill to Create an Advantage by observing the close-in details of a location or individual, even from several zones away. 

  • Physical: 3
  • Mental: 4