Mar 272016
 

All right. I’ve finished a more in depth read of the Shadow of the Century playtest. My 80’s playlist is cranked to the max, I’ve got a can of Jolt (who else remembers Jolt?), and I’m ready to rock. It’s time for a longer review of this crazy awesome game.

TL;DR Version: Another amazing take on Fate, this time using Roles (which are like Modes). A true and glorious love letter to the 80’s action genre. In my opinion, probably the best take on Fate yet.

Still with me? Rad. Nice to see not all of us have killed our attention spans (insert your own stereotypical millenial joke here). Strap yourself in, because this is gonna be pretty stream of consciousness, as I’m still riding a big wave of enthusiasm. In order to give some structure here, I’ll break it down by chapter and subject.

Visual Design

Bear with me here, as I’m a print designer and I tend to nerd out over stuff like this. But I have to state that this is the prettiest and easiest to reference playtest document I have ever read. While there isn’t any interior art, all of the layout has been finished already, which makes it look like an actual book. (Oh, nice! I Melt With You by Modern English just popped up!) The typeface choice is very nice, with Good Times for the chapter subjects, Gotham for headers, and good old garamond pro for the body text. It’s clean, easy to read, and the purple is spot on. Great work, currently uncredited layout guy! I can’t wait to see this thing with art. It’s damn slick.

Welcome to the Shadow of the Century

The first two pages are actually mostly playtest directions. I mention it only because it’s helpful and you don’t see this all the time.

Chapter 1: The World of Shadow

Though this chapter is only 6 pages, it packs in a whole lot of information. It gives you a grand overview of the setting and the current situation. This chapter gives you just enough information to understand the references coming later in the text, but not so much you get board. It also serves as just a killer primer for your players. It doesn’t reveal any great plot secrets, but it does give you the view from the ground. And I have to say, it takes a bit of courage to start the chapter with “The Centurions are dead. Long live the Centurions.”

It’s clear from the outset that this isn’t just Spirit of the Century 2.0. This is a game that can stand on its own, while still being set in the same world of Spirit of the Century. To be honest, you don’t often see this from other game publishers. It’s nice.

Chapter 2: Playing Shadow of the Century

The mechanical meat and bones of the game. Like other games, it’s built on the bones of Fate Core. But it makes changes that I feel are for the better. In fact, I think this has become my favorite version of FATE to date. But before I get into that, let’s talk about the Pitch Session.

Anyone who played the Dresden Files RPG should be familiar with the concept of communal setting creation. The Pitch Session is a bit like that, but focusing more on NPCs and less on a city. Basically, during your first session the players start creating the basics of their characters, and then everyone takes turns creating names and facts about NPCs. You also decide on the Issues (special long running aspects) of the game. The end result is that all of the players have a huge amount of input about what they’d like to see out of the game and who they want to see pop up. Of course the GM has a lot of room for secrets and to make up his own stuff, but he’s not creating things in a vacuum. As I’ve aged, it’s a style of play I’ve begun to enjoy more and more. And let me tell you, it makes the job of being GM so much easier. You know that your players are going to be invested, as they suggested what they wanted to see. And you start with a bunch of NPCs you can use. And the players feel invested because they had a hand in things. It’s a win-win-win situation.

There’s also one more thing you and the players have to decide: what level on the Gonzometer you’re on. You see, Dr. Methuselah has been doing hinky things to the timeline and it’s really jacked up reality. The higher up on this meter you go, the more weird things start happening. I’ll note that the default setting is called Big Trouble. But don’t worry, the check is in the mail.

Now, for the nitty-gritty mechanics stuff. Here’s a short overview of how this version works.

  • Each character selects 3 Roles (Brain, Brawler, Cop, Detective, Dilettante, Face, Hacker, Inventor, Leader, Ninja, Saboteur, Soldier, Spy, Thief, Warrior, Wheelman). Each role gives you 4 skills, which start at Average (+1). Like in Atomic Robo, if your roles double up on skills, they get moved up the ladder.
  • Each player then gets a number of skill points determined by the Gonzometer. You can use points on a one for one basis to increase skills. Gone is the ladder!
  • You start with 3 stunts as normal, but select stunts based on your Role, not your skills. You can make your own, but the stunts in the book are more than sufficient to make just about any 80’s hero I could think of doing.
  • You guys remember Weird modes from Atomic Robo? Well, they’re back, only they’re called Gonzo Roles. Like in Atomic Robo, you get to name it select 4 skills. But that’s not the end of it. You also get a Gonzo stunt, which is about as powerful as 2 stunts and can do more. Even better, you have permission to use your skills in really weird ways. Like if you had the mode of 6 Million Dollar Man, your Athletics could let you lift really heavy things, your Awareness would give you cool sensors. Basically you get permission to use your skills in special ways, at least for the narrative. Mechanically they’re pretty much identical to normal skills, just with a few extra uses. Of course this power costs you a refresh, but it’s way cool.
  • One really nice change I liked – your stress tracks are based on the Gonzometer and which rolls have any of 3 different skills. Which means that it’s way easier to get a larger stress track. And if all three roles have one of those skills? Boom, bonus minor consequence!
  • Oh, the skill list is different. Some skills got combined, they added Computers, and a few got renamed. It’s not really going to surprise anyone, but it does set a nice tone. One thing I liked is that Notice and Investigation got smashed into Awareness, a change I like.

The chapter is then rounded out with a lot of example characters, including several with Gonzo roles. Homages abound, but they’re either subtle or tweaks. Except Teenaged Werewolf. That one was pretty blatant (and way awesome). I mean he has a stunt called Hungry Like the Wolf! Totally rad.

Chapter 3: Player Options

This chapter goes over the various milestones. Changes have been made, but they’re not really all that different than the default one. The only big change is that they provide different milestones for Movies (short games) and Series (long games). A nice change, I thought. But again, nothing totally revolutionary. Just a few small tweaks for the better. I actually feel that you could crib the milestones from Shadow for a regular game without any trouble.

The big thing I loved, though, are Montages. You remember how in every episode of the A-Team you got this awesome musical montage of the group souping up their van or turning some soup kitchen into an armory? Well, now you have some actual spiffy rules to do that! There are basically two types of Montages: Synergy and Training. Synergy montages let the group establish some aspect and then they pick some skills. If they do well, they get bonuses to use those skills in the scene they trigger the montage aspect. And even when it’s over, everyone gets a boost! Training montages let the group train one person to do some special task alone. This version pretty much lets the group lend some of their skill to the person their training. If Synergy montages are the A-Team, Training montages are the Karate Kid.

Now, the thing I really love about montages: the more consequences the party has, the more you can use the montage aspect! In fact, you can’t even start one unless there’s a consequence on the team. I love this aspect (hah!) of montages, as it’s just so action hero it hurts. If the group takes a huge beating early on, the montage aspect will be more powerful and they’ll be able to come back. It’s not something I’d thought about, but now that it’s presented it seems so darn obvious.

Out of everything, Montages are probably about my favorite new concept in this game. And the best thing is that they’d be super easy to port over to every other version of Fate (except maybe Accelerated: the lack of many skills would be trouble). Just really, really cool.

Chapter 4: Being the Game Master

This chapter has all of that great GM advice you’ve come to expect from Evil Hat. It starts with a really nice section on how the 80’s were different. I grew up then and I still had a few moments going “oh, yeah, that was totally how it was!” You’d think that I would have felt that such a section was unnecessary, but it so totally isn’t. And for anyone born in the 90’s or later, it’s a really good primer on how some of us more “experienced” folks  used to live. I still have vivid memories of our neon orange rotary phone and I think my old Walkman (okay, it was a knockoff!) is around somewhere. The overview was great and it even has sections on how to put the advice into action at the table and how to twist it into a shadow corruption. Just a bunch of really, really solid advice.

This section also has advice on “Going Gonzo.” It goes over the Gonzometer and VHS (Variable Hyperdimensional Simultaneity). In short, you get to learn how weird (or not weird) you can make your games. And it all ties into the metaplot.

This is then followed by information on how to make Shadows, the dark centurions. Shadows are built sort of like PCs, only they just have their own bad guy specific Roles. They never default to +0, either. It makes ’em pretty potent! You also get rules for Villainous Organizations, which are also worked up like characters. But instead of Roles, the organizations have Agendas and Moves. Both Shadows and Organizations are clearly explained and should be really easy to use in game. They’re just a great example of the Fate Fractal.

The chapter is rounded out with rules on Mooks, Mobs, Lieutenants, and your other various NPCs. You also get a few nice Adventure Seeds, in case you’re having a little trouble coming up with an adventure idea. They’re all pretty spiffy and should be enough to spark some ideas. To be honest, I actually hope the finished product either has more of them or we get a cool plot generator.

Chapter 5: Campaign Frames

This chapter has three setups for a campaign. Each one gives you a Setup, a few Characters you can start playing, a series issue, a few possible season issues, and your villains and foils. They’re basically the bare bones of entire campaign, complete with your pre-generated characters. And the homages to the 80’s are very, very thick in this section. We get some loving tributes to the A-Team, Buckaroo Banzai, and Jem and the Holograms (Truly Outrageous!). Of course the game puts a unique spin on each of them, but I couldn’t help but smile at each one. Of the three, I think the Anna and the Kareninas (the Jem homage) was the most interesting. Mostly because it’s like Jem and the Holograms meets Leverage meets Sabrina the Teenaged Witch. It, uh, makes more sense when you read it.

Chapter 6: The Greater Universe

For lack of a better word, this is the game “setting.” And it’s pretty darn extensive. It’s almost 50 pages long, and jam packed with both the history of the setting and the big players and shakers. It’s all well written, interesting, and totally fitting the setting. You get some information on the good guys, the bad guys, and stuff in-between. It’s all creative stuff and well worth reading. I know that I’m pretty excited to use at least a couple of the villainous organizations in my game. Nothing here is really forced down your throat, but I can see some folks ignoring some of this chapter if it doesn’t fit the vision of the game they want. I know that I, personally, didn’t really dig the Kroll’X (shapeshifting bug alien invaders) all that much. But they’re pretty easy to ignore, so it’s all good. Let’s just say that Magnum P.I. never had to deal with alien invaders.

Alien invaders and Dr. Methuselah aside, most of the stuff in the chapter is grounded and just feels so very, very 80s. Like everything else in this book, it just rings true to the decade. The chapter is rounded out by a short timeline, which is useful if you’re like me and didn’t really pay too much attention to world history in school. Well, and you also get to know when the weird stuff happened.

Final Thoughts

What can I say? Like your favorite 80’s song suddenly popping up on your Pandora list, this game just scratches that itch you didn’t know you have. It’s just about pitch perfect at what it does. And what it does is emulate 80’s action. The rules are great, the setting is compelling, and the advice is good. to be honest, it doesn’t even really feel like a playtest. It feels like an advance copy. Of course my group hasn’t had the chance to really bust it out and give it a good stress test, but from an armchair reading it looks great.

As a closing thought, I think I’ve finally found the version of FATE that’s the perfect hack for Shadowrun. After all, Shadowrun was born in the 80s as well and totally has that ascetic. And the Gonzo Roles totally give me just enough rules for Magic and Technomancers. Which, to me, just makes me love this game all the more.

Nov 242009
 

It’s almost the end of the year, and I’d like to talk a little about the past, present and future of FAD.

These rules have been around for 7 years now. They began as hastily written comments on a notepad, after playing and having my mind blown by Stargrunt II.

The things I knew I wanted, when I started the project was this:

Suppression should be automatic.

Only 6 sided dice.

Combat should be squad based.

The core mechanics would be roll 2 dice and pick the highest or roll 2-3 dice and see how many score over a certain target number.

With that in mind, the original game came into existence. My friend Paul liked it and gave some feedback, and I proceeded to talk it up a little on theminiaturespage.com and the old GW fan site Portent.net. As time went on, I realized that I had struck something that people actually took an interest in. I saw threads where people asked for advice on a rules set, and people I didn’t even know would suggest FAD. I googled it occasionally and found it mentioned on forums and websites I had never even frequented.

As time went on, I even learnt that people had run games using FAD at a few conventions across the world. That blew my mind.

Yeah, it’s nowhere near the popularity of games like 5150, Stargrunt II, Warhammer 40.000 or any of those. The twohourwargames yahoo group has 3600 members and multiple posts every day. The FAD group is fairly quiet and has just shy of 500 members. But it’s something I had never anticipated or experienced before.

Now it’s November of 2009, and FAD4 has been out for a good while now. So what is lying ahead of us all?

First and foremost are a few projects that have been in various states of development for the past year. We have a lot of little additions to the core rules (night fighting, more traits, some clarifications of points that could be clearer, that sort of thing) which will eventually become FAD 4.3. I don’t think there’s any chance of having this done by December so expect something in the first half of 2010.

We have been working on a campaign setting as well (Cyberia) which will give a “out of the box” option to people who don’t want to fiddle with designing their own units from scratch. There’s also work on a WW2 and possibly modern day options. These are propably more distant projects though.

One thing that have been churning in my head lately is the idea of having money go into, and come out of, FAD. I am not talking about making the game commercial only (I watched my old ww1 rules Trench Storm whither and die from that decision) or making a living off it. Let me explain:

There’s a lot of things I think could be achieved with a bit of cash. A few include:

Commissioning artwork, writing etc: This is by far the biggest one. We’ve been extremely lucky in having some very talented volunteers provide us some great art to use. However, volunteers are subject to the randomness of life, and are motivated mainly by interest and passion.

Being able to have some artwork commissioned for FAD products would give us another, additional source of material. It could also go to additionally reward and motivate people who have volunteered their efforts.

It would also permit some additional incentive to prospective rules writers who may otherwise be disinclined to spend hours developing a rules supplement.

Advertising: I would like to do a bit more work advertising (and thus paying money into supporting) popular tabletop gaming sites like theminiaturespage.com and rpg.net. Having some cash flow would allow for that, as well as give FAD some additional exposure.

Miniatures: This is faraway and expensive idea, but having a range of miniatures developed for FAD would be pretty cool.

Conventions: I’d love to have something setup where we could showcase FAD at conventions, and possibly provide some stuff for that, such as freebie print copies of the rules or whatever might be the case.

Cooperation with a miniatures supplier: This talk has come up before, and at least one supplier showed interest, however the arrival of my son into this world made me unable to follow through on this. I am however very interested in having some cooperation with manufacturers of scifi figures, particularly some of the small-scale operations. This would enable us to provide FAD stats and points values ready to use, and give them more exposure and advertisement, while giving FAD more exposure as well.

There’s other incidental expenses that could occur as well, such as server space if we move to our own server, website maintenance and whatnot.

So where does money for these ideas come from? Well, it can come from my pocket. I generally can’t really afford that, and I’d love for FAD to sustain itself.

I am also not keen on the idea of selling PDF’s. Anyone can develop for the game, and that is how it ought to be. So if I sell a supplement on urban warfare, and another guy does it for free and his is better, nobody will buy mine, and for good reason.

The core FAD products should be free and readily available.

Printed copies: An option that will almost certainly be used is to offer the printed version of FAD through a print-on-demand service such as lulu. Last I checked the cost of a book of this size would be about 10 dollars, so it could sell for a few bucks more. Based on polling on the yahoo group and comparing to existing products, most people are willing to pay 12-15 dollars for a game of this size.

This would not change the fact that it’s available for free, and there’d be no “exclusive” version. It’d simply be a service to people who prefer getting a printed, spiral-bound copy, rather than dealing with pdf’s and printing it themselves.

Ransom model: Those who play RPG’s may be familiar with Greg Stolze’s ransom model. You offer up a game or supplement and set a ransom. People pledge whatever money they feel is fair. When the ransom is met, it’s made available for free to everybody. This avoids PDF piracy, and nobody pays more than what they want to. If the ransom isn’t met, the money either never gets deducted, or is donated to charity.

Donations: Asking for money is basically begging, and in addition to being distasteful, people aren’t inclined to give money just for the sake of doing so. In the past when the topic of commissioning artwork came up, a few people showed an interest in donating towards that, so its conceivable that specific expenses could receive some funding through donation.

These are all ideas I have been mulling over, and I am still trying to lay out the best path to really push FAD forward into the spotlight more, and capture more ground.

Lastly, I’d like to put out a call for support and aid. I am at a spot where I have projects that I think FAD needs, but I do not have the luxury to work on all of them myself. I need people who are competent designers and tinkerers, creative writers or just plain thinkers, who may be willing to pitch in for some specific projects.

I’ll put forth more specifics, but the two main projects are: FAD WW2 and help with the Cyberia setting. I have two people lined up for the latter, but I need more, to really make progress in a reasonable time.

It’s been a strange and amazing 7 years, and I’d like to thank all of you out there for everything you’ve done. Here’s to another 7 years of fast and dirty wargaming

Ivan – authordude

Aug 042009
 

So, I can’t just let my friends get all up in my blog and throw around their own opinions without adding my own, can I?  I figure that it’s high time that I throw down and explain just why I love 4th edition Dungeons & Dragons to itty bitty little pieces.

My friends and those that know me through various message boards generally know that I’ve always been a big supporter of the latest edition of just about any game (Changeling: the Lost notwithstanding).  Generally I feel that most new editions are actual improvements over the old ones, at least when it comes to my own preferences when it comes to roleplaying games.  Now, in the past I’ve been a bit of an edition elitist when it came to my favorite, but thankfully my friends disabused me of my superiority and I’m now what you’ll call a positive champion.  Yes, I like 4th edition over any other editions, but I realize know that it’s because the rules adhere to what I want in a game and not because it’s flat out superior.  I’ll never say that one game is strictly better than another game or edition, but I will state that I think it works better for me.

So, why do I love 4th edition so very much?  There are a variety of reasons, but the biggest is because I really love crunchy bits in a game, so long as those crunchy bits aren’t too complex.  I love 4th edition, and Mutants and Masterminds, but I also like games like Spirit of the Century or Savage Worlds.  I like my crunch on the medium to moderate level, not super complex like Hero or as fiddly as GURPs.

For me, 4th edition hits that perfect level of crunchy and “rules light.”  Yes, there are a lot of powers and fiddly bits, but by and large they all follow one generic framework that’s easy for me to understand.  I like combing through all the books looking for that perfect feat or power, I gather a great deal of enjoyment finding things like this.  For me character creation is just as much a fun part of the game as playing itself.  I love finding that combination of feats, powers, and skills that can be combined in an awesome way.

Some of my friends call me a power gamer, and I suppose that I have to cop to that to a certain extent.  I don’t like breaking the game or coming up with stupidly powerful combinations of things, but I do like my characters to be really effective.  System mastery and rules mastery are fun and enjoyable to me, and 4th edition definitely scratches that itch.  And best of all once I know all those rules I can tweak or ignore them to my hearts content when I run a game.

I also like class base systems, and after running at least two or three games for groups of newbies I can tell you that classes are actually really valuable when introducing new players to the hobby.  They’re a wonderful package of “cool things you can do” that are a nice shorthand for a new player to wrap their head around.  If I have a new player who wants to help his buddies I can point him right at any leader class and then let them go from there.

I also love running games, and for me 4th edition has been a vast improvement over the earlier editions.  I have all the tools, digital and otherwise, to create fun and dynamic encounters that are both flavorable and tactically interesting enough to make running them very enjoyable.  There is just something about how 4th edition monsters work that I can so easily understand that it’s been pretty trivial to prepare an adventure.  Compared to the previous edition my prep time is about 1/10th of what it used to be, which means I can concentrate more on creating interesting areas and plots than on what magic items an NPC might be carrying.

That and 4th edition is also interesting in that it’s kind of two games in one.  On one hand you have your classic “kill them and take their stuff” challenge of a traditional D&D game (not to say that my games are that simple).  On the other hand you have this wonderful tactical miniature style battle game when you start rolling initiative.  I have so much fun figuring out how my group of monsters is going to beat up the PCs, running each combat like a little miniatures skirmish game.  I live for this kind of stuff and 4th edition is pretty unique in that I can sort of get two games in one.

Finally, the rest of my regularly weekday group has always been a D&D group.  It’s the game they like far mroe than any other and we generally use the newest edition.  I’m lucky in the fact that my players actually enjoy the same system that I do, and that my good friend and fellow GM upstairs is just as enthusiastic as I am.  We talk for hours about how to do various things and what we’re going to spring on each other the next time we run.

All that said, I still enjoy a lot of other systems too.  The weekend group I have (I’m fortunate enough to have not one, not two, but three different groups) tends to dabble in a lot of different systems, and I have to say that it’s been really good for me over all to try out so many different things.  Learning how other systems work just reinforces my love of 4th edition and all the other games, because each one brings something different to the table.  And in this day and age all us gamers have no excuse not to use the perfect tool for the job.  Or the right system for our preferences.  And when it comes to a fantasy game, that right system is 4th edition for me.

Nov 062008
 

I’d like to state that I’ve fallen in love with the Dungeon Tiles from Wizards of the Coast.  While the debate about 4th edition rages on, I feel that this little product line has been sorely neglected.  Let me give you a little rundown of the product, shall I?

For your crisp ten dollar bill (they retail at $9.95) you get one package of dungeon tiles.  They come in (I think) 5 sheets of very thick cardstock (I’m talking maybe 1/10th of an inch thick) that’s been laminated with this very durable and water repellent plastic coating.  They smell a bit funky coming out of the box, but I’ve spilled all manner of salsa and soda on these things and they’ve come out just fine.  In other words, they’re more durable than you really need, even for us messy gamers.

Each of the tiles are doubled sided, which adds a lot of value.  The newest set, Streets of Shadow, has the topside with street scenes and the other side as sewers: a very nice touch.  Other sets aren’t quite that opposite, but all give you a lot of versatility.

Quite frankly, for your $10 you get a massively good deal.  You can’t make a massive dungeon complex all at once with one set, but at that price you can afford to get multiples.  My lovely wife actually got me 5 more sets for my birthday, bless her heart.  With my 8 sets I can more or less make a dungeon so huge that it would take up about 3 of my dining room tables.

Visually they’re very nicely done, which is saying something considering how picky I am about my maps (being a professional and all).  They really add a nice dynamic to the game, helping imaginations come alive (at least in our group).  That right there was well worth my Hamilton.

So, to recap: they’re cheap (good), pretty (very good), and versatile (good).  There’s literally no downside here, unless you somehow think they should be free.  Well, they can slide around if you get overly excitable/clumsy and use a lot of the smaller tiles.  But that’s about it.

To give you an idea of just what you can do with these things, I set up a part of the village that my players had to defend from kobolds.  I must have spent a good 30 minutes finding a good setup, all of which was fun.  As you can see, the end result is rather nice.

The one surrounded is Elwyn, my wife's wizard.  Don't worry, she survived.

Don't worry, the wizard managed to escape the kobolds...

Jan 242008
 

My wonderful and fantastic wife got me a wonderful new camera on one heck of an awesome ebay auction: a Mamiya 645 Pro. That’s a real camera, boys and girls, not some pansy point and shoot folks call a camera. Oh my giddy aunt I’m excited! Nothing gaming related (unless I use it to take photographs of my miniatures) but man am I excited. I have such a lovely and darling wife.