Saturday, May 4, 2013

Post 199 - Focusing In On Devices For FATE

Jeff Berry poses with a Ruby Eye (in firing mode)

Eyes are the signature superscience devices of M.A.R. Barker's Tekumel, and are cited as well in the Humanspace Empires RPG. (The latter game, which can be downloaded for free on the site at the link, is an OSR-inspired attempt to reverse engineer the space opera precursor setting for the star spanning races and civilizations that ended up trapped together in Tekumel's pocket universe.)

Magical superscience devices aren't unique to Tekumel; they are a common feature of a wide range of pulp-inspired and space operatic settings. Take Edgar Rice Burroughs' Mars series and you will find them there. Lensman? Check.

Eye-like devices even crop up in more contemporary sources. Gene Wolfe's The Claw of the Conciliator for one.

Art by Don Maitz, Artist Guest of Honor at Minicon in 2014

All of this begs the question: can you use FATE to create charge-based quasi-magical and/or superscience devices of the kind found in a range of science fantasy settings?  The answer to this question is "yes" and I am relatively certain there are many different ways to do it in FATE!

First, you could think of some of these devices as placing an Aspect on a person or scene. For example, a beam-like superscience device like Barker's Excellent Ruby Eye puts the Aspects "Invulnerable" and "Trapped In Stasis Until Further Notice" on someone. Alternatively, that's an automatic Taken Out for any given scene. You'd better hand out a FATE Point to the victim of that weapon, because either way you'll have a pretty pissed off player.

A device like Barker's Eye of Exquisite Power Over Maidens is equally problematic. A device, scroll, or spell which causes a player to immediately fall in love (or lust) with another player or NPC is deprotagonizing, and may even raise personal safety issues for some players. Consideration needs to be given to these factors.

That's part of awesome.

So let's come up with some mechanics for these superscience devices for FATE. Many of them require some degree of manual dexterity and eye-hand coordination to use properly. Many are, after all, ranged devices.

Let me know what you think of the ideas for mechanics outlined below. I'll write-up a few unique devices in future posts, so that we have some examples to consider, and perhaps playtest them in upcoming sessions of the Alywin Campaign.


Guidelines for old-school inspired magical and superscience devices:
  • The user of the device may be taking a Create Advantage, Overcome, Attack, or Defend action. 
  • The kinds of actions which are possible will depend on the nature of the device. 
    • Something that shoots a "love" or "like" beam is going to be more like a Create Advantage or Overcome. 
    • A device that blows holes in walls will be more like an Overcome. 
    • Something that blasts flames will have a bit broader range of possible actions: Attack/Defend, Create Advantage, and maybe Overcome (if facing a wall of ice, for example).
  • Devices require a Shooting roll against the target (if the device has a target).
  • If the device has no specific target, make a straight-out 4DF roll and add any inherent skill bonuses from the device for the effect. 
  • A target can Defend using skills like Athletics to get out of the way of the device's beam. 
  • If the user of the device succeeds with style in their action, they place one or more Aspects on the target or scene (which are often predetermined by the nature of the device)
  • No instant kills.
  • If the nature of the device would place an Aspect on someone where they are in effect Taken Out, the target should have the opportunity to make a Concession.
  • If keeping track of charges is important to your setting and/or to the discipline of the table, you can:
    • Assign the device a specific number of charges
    • Have the player roll a d100, d30, d20, d12, d10, or d8, d6, or d4 to determine the number of charges
    • Roll 1DF. The device has one of three Aspects: (-) result = "Fully Charged"; (blank face) = "Partially Charged"; (+) = "Out of Charge"
    • Alternatively, the GM may specify a charge state
    •  Unknown, and subject to an "Out of Charge" Compel offer at some point
    • Subject to negotiation (player gives a Fate Point for the device to be Fully Charged, or takes a Fate Point for it to be Out of Charge)

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