Welcome, gentle reader, to the first of my actual play reports on my groups playtest of Shadow of the Century. If you’re not familiar with Shadow of the Century, I suggest you go back and read my overview of the playtest packet. If you’d rather just get a general overview, here’s the short pitch. Shadow of the Century is a Fate Core game set in the same universe as Spirit of the Century. In it you play a New Wave hero fighting corruption in the 80’s. It’s just as awesome as all of those cool TV shows that some of us watched in the 80s.
True to some of the later implementations of fate, the first session is actually used to build up the world and the characters. In Shadow of the Century, this is called the pitch session. Since the pitch session is more about ideas and less about awesome adventures that are fun to read, I’m going to be digressing in this write up more than usual. So in a sense, this is also kind of a review.
Phase One: Format
In this phase, you decide if you’re going to be running a series or a movie. This decision can affect character creation and also changes how the milestones work. Given that the group wanted to give this a good try in the time we had allotted, my group decided on a middle group: a miniseries. In practice we’re going to mostly use the Series rules, but I’ll be handing out bigger milestones a bit more often.
+Digression: This is the first time I’ve seen two different sets of milestones in a Fate Core book (mind you this is personally – they may exist elsewhere and I just don’t know it). This is an idea that just feels so obvious in retrospect, but it’s not really one I would have come up with on my own. I actually wish this sort of advice was more explicit in the Fate Core book itself. And as a guy who really prefers Fate as my system to run during conventions, I find the Movie milestone rules to be especially useful. I think this part might well have actually changed how I run my con games going forward.
Phase Two: Gonzometer
The gonzometer in Shadow of the Century measures just how weird (and powerful) your games are going to get. At the lowest setting, “Bad Dudes and Ladies”, not too much weird is going on. But as you start sliding past “Uh Oh, It’s Magic”, things get a bit weirder. At first my group was set on Bad Dudes and Ladies, but as we discussed it around the table we decided to give “Big Trouble” a shot. Given that my first idea was to run something a bit more grounded, this threw me for a loop at first. But I’ve since come around to liking the idea. Watching Big Trouble in Little China again certainly helped.
Phase Three: Issues
This is where we really started getting into the meat of the game. In a series, you have a Series Issue and a Season Issue. When we sat down, I told my players that I was really inspired to run something based on the islands of Hawaii. Other than that, I didn’t really have that many ideas, so we started kicking things around a bit. Thankfully my group is full of very creative and invested players, and so after not too long we came up with Agents of W.A.V.E. (World Agents of Valorous Exploration). We all agreed that the acronym was fitting. Plus making the heroes a member of general good doing group is fun. After a bit more discussion, we decided our season issue was Tide of Greed. As a group we’ve decided that drugs are flowing into Hawaii from offshore. The drugs are being transported by a bunch of mercenary pirates, who may have their own agenda. And the sale of the drugs is being used to fuel some other nefarious plot (to be figured out later). It’s a solid start to a game.
+Digression: As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten a bit lazier in my GMing. I’ve also begun to value player input a lot more. So let me tell you that getting the players involved in setting creation is just a win-win situation. Because the players are suggesting things that they’d like to deal with, I know that they’re going to be invested. In addition, I’m outsourcing a lot of thought and time to my players, freeing me up to come up with more embellishments on the basic story framework. For those of you who think this is putting too much power in the hands of the players: try it anyway. I’ve found that once I know a basic framework, it’s way easier to throw in plot twists.
Phase Four: Heroes
Here’s where you get into the meat of things. Now that the GM and players know something about the world and the series, it’s time to put some stats to paper. I have to say, I’m pretty impressed with most of the characters my players came up with. They feel like they could have come out of some 80’s TV show, and yet they’re all unique. Here’s a quick rundown of each character (and the player). For more on my players, I suggest you read the first session of my Deadlands: Reloaded actual play. Anything marked with a (G) is Gonzo, a role or skill you can use in special was.
“Ace” (played by MJ)
Ace is an interesting guy. On the surface he’s kind of this stoner beach bum surfer. And when you dig a little deeper, he’s still kind of that guy. But if you go just a bit deeper than that, you’ll find this unlikely sort of hero. You’ll also find a detective who seems to be “sensitive” to certain things. Ace always seems to bumble into just the right sort of answer at exactly the wrong time. He does odd jobs around the island when he’s not working as a private investigator. Oh, and Detective Drake Falconsteele has it in for him!
High Concept: Bumbling Beach Bum Bloodhound (G)
Trouble: Down and Out in Paradise
Other Aspects: We’d Better Investigate!, Been Hauled In More Than Once
Roles: Detective, Face, Unlikely Hero (G)
Skills: Athletics +3 (G), Awareness +3 (G), Burglary +1, Contacts +2, Drive +2, Fight +2, Insight +5 (G), Knowledge +1, Persuade +1, Provoke +1, Stealth +1, Will +2 (G)
Stunts: I Am the Chosen One (G), In Their Head, Like a Cat, Touched a Nerve.
Rebecca “B.E.C.C.A. Jones (played by JAZ, a.k.a. the wife)
Rebecca was one just a talented veterinarian at the Honolulu Zoo. But when an improperly sedated tiger mauled her during surgery, her life changed forever. She was near death when a nearby Phoenix Rescue agent saw her potential and took her to a top secret laboratory. There they packed her full of cutting edge cyber-technology. Now she works for Phoenix Rescue as Codename: B.E.C.C.A. (Bionically Enhanced Catastrophe Containment Agent). (Becca uses both a Gonzo role and a custom Role [Veterinarian]).
High Concept: Codename: B.E.C.C.A.
Trouble: Perpetually in Beta
Other Aspects: I’ve Tangled With Tigers
Roles: Bionic (G), Veterinarian, Warrior
Skills: Athletics +6 (G), Awareness +3 (G), Computers +1, Drive +1, Fight +3 (G), Insight +2 (G), Knowledge +3, Persuade +1, Provoke +1, Shoot +1, Stealth +1, Will +1
Stunts: Battle Hardened, Bionic Woman (G), Miracle Worker
David King (played by JE)
David was a simple auto mechanic and stunt driver who happened to be dating a brilliant programmer named Katherine. Then one day some strange Japanese men in suits killed Katherine. But with her last dying breaths, Katherine was able to transfer her memories and consciousness into her computer. Now she lives on as K.A.T.T. (Katherine Assisted Turing Technology). And David has become the Chrome Crusader, a man driven to fight evil in the world.
High Concept: Chromed Crusader (G)
Trouble: My Girlfriend, the A.I.
Other Aspects: Driven to Justice, At Odds with Street Thunder
Roles: Brain, Cop, Crusader (G)
Skills: Athletics +2, Awareness +2 (G), Computers +2 (G), Drive +5 (G), Fight +1, Gadgetry +2, Insight +1, Knowledge +1, Provoke +3 (G), Shoot +3, Stealth +1, Will +2
Stunts: Gearhead, One Hand on the Wheel, Prototype A.I. (G)
Scott Montgomery AKA “Vic Valiant” (played by JC)
The triumphant return of missing player JC meets a triumphant 80’s character. Scott Montgomery is an agent for Phoenix Rescue. And as an agent, he’s well known for his inventive solutions to problems and his mastery of engineering. But Phoenix Rescue was finding that inserting him into some countries was becoming difficult, and so Scott became Vic Valiant, New Wave Rock God. Now he has to balance his life as a secret agent and his persona as one of the leading musicians of the day. (In other words, it’s an awesome mash up of Gem and MacGyver).
High Concept: Rock God Secret Agent Scientist
Other Aspects: We are the World…, Have Tools, Will Rescue, Phoenix Rescue Scientific Laison
Roles: Inventor, Rock God (G), Spy
Skills: Athletics +2 (G), Awareness +1, Burglary +2, Computers +1, Contacts +1, Drive +1, Gadgetry +3, Knowledge +2, Persuade +3 (G), Provoke +2 (G), Resources +3 (G), Stealth +3
Stunts: Rock Star Persona (G), And Duct Tape, Theory in Practice, A Thousand Faces
Phase Five: Cast
This was also one of my favorite phases. In this phase, each player gets three index cards upon which to write a name. Once everyone has their three names, everyone passes the cards to their left and for each name the player (and GM!) writes down one factoid, thought, or idea. Once that’s done, you pass the cards around again and repeat the process. Then everything gets tossed in the center to become some of the supporting cast in the game. We, as a group, had a ton of fun with this phase. So much, in fact, that we actually passed the cards around a third time, just so everyone could touch each card (my wife was missing for this session, so it was only 3 players and me). Then we passed them one more time and let everyone read out their new formed NPC.
I have to say, some of the results were really surprising. Some of the highlights included:
- Two of the “model” sound female names? Both of them ended up being secret or hidden geniuses. One is a phD in Programming, the other is a phD in Chemistry. Weird, but somehow very 80s.
- Shorty, who was intended to be one of Aces “beach kids” he went to for information, ended up becoming a Professional Snitch and Fence. Who drives a Pinto!
- Drake Falconsteele (with apologies to mister Aaron Williams), who I thought would end up being a bad guy, instead became a badass navy seal veteran police detective. Who’s by the book and has it in for Ace.
+Digression: This is another one of those ideas that could be used for almost any system. I am seriously in love with the NPC generation method set up here. I think I’ll be using this method for almost all of my other games. Heck, I might do it several times in one game, as it’s pretty quick and gets the players invested.
Phase Six: Villains
With our supporting cast out of the way, it was time to look at villains. After kicking around some ideas for a bit, we came up with the following ideas:
- The Oni are pushing some new drugs into Hawaii. They have at least two upper managment guys around.
- There’s a corrupt mayor or city official looking to do some sort of land grab.
- “Mister Han”, an antiquities dealer who’s somehow connected to the Oni.
- A Ghost Fleet out there in the water. Sort of a mysterious thing.
And just for fun, here are a few margin notes that I can’t quite remember what I was doing with!
- Throwing Girls in a Volcano?
- Yoshiru Foods
- Hawaiian Gods – Pele Cult
- Go Watch Simon and Simon!
- Magnum is awesome.
- Showtime, Synergy!
Phase Seven: Heroes, Revisited
At this point, everyone actually gets to make their heroes. But I’ve posted them up above in Phase Four (which was actually just used for name, high concept, and trouble). But yeah, this is where I helped the players with the actual nuts and bolts of making their characters. This was also the point where I was super glad that JC was back, as he knows Fate nearly as well as I do and was able to help the other players. There was a bit of confusion at first, and some players made changes later in the week, but all in all it was a great way to end things up. Much fun was had by all and everyone got home on time.
+Digression: Fate is one of those games that makes character creation into a session into itself. And as I’ve grown older and more experienced as a gamer, I’ve come to really appreciate these types of sessions. It really helps to make sure that everyone is on the same page from the word go. I think I’m going to adopt the same tactics in any future games that I happen to run. And I could do far, far worse than snagging this format almost directly.