Friday, August 2, 2013

The Tower of Serpents, via Dungeon World

When our usual weekly Pathfinder game was cancelled, I had a chance to run Dungeon World face to face for the 1st time... and I ran the Fate Core adventure The Tower of Serpents.  It's a great adventure and it gave them a chance to play non-good characters, which is something different for these players.  We had a Thief, Ranger, Anti-Paladin, and Druid for the party. 

In case you don't know the adventure, three powerful individuals each demand that the PCs steal the Idol of Hellaq from the Tower of Serpents and bring it to them.  I ran the negotiations in flashbacks, and added 2 questions for each player to answer, such as "You've met the captain of the guard before, how do you know her?"  I won't spoil the adventure, but surprising rolls led to changes here and there, and the party played the 3 sides very well... in fact, they ended up selling the idol 3 times and getting all 3 promised rewards!  There were some hilarious moments, and everyone seemed to have a great time.  Hopefully I'll get a chance to run it again, and maybe even have them try Fate Core rules some time, not just an adventure for it. 

We rolled up characters, taught them the rules, and got through the entire adventure in 1 night, about 4 hours altogether.  There were 4 full battles, at least 6 negotiation sessions, and several traps to bypass.  That's pretty amazing, it really felt like it moved along very well, even faster in person than it has on the Hangout games I've played.  They wanted to level up after the game and were talking about how to spend all that loot.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Character Sheet

Above is the character sheet for Hand of Fate: Steam and Sorcery.  You'll notice the changes in Stress and Consequences which I already discussed, as well as the organizing of skills under 4 Modes, one for each card suit.  One of the most obvious changes, however, is the lower left corner for Boosts.

Boosts are represented by 3 different colors of poker chips:  White is a +2, Red is a +3, and Blue is a +5.  They are printed on the character sheet so that a player can see how many of each color may be played by laying their Boost chip on the life-sized chip slot on the sheet.  The first slot accepts all 3 colors, the 2nd slot only accepts red and white, and the last slot only accepts white.  This means the maximum total that can be added by Boosts is +10 (5+3+2).  If you only had white Boosts, you could add +6.  Boosts are always declared before you draw random cards, and an additional Boost chip of any color (whether you played 0, 1, 2, or 3 chips for flat bonuses) may be discarded for a special ability... you may draw 3 cards on the random draw and choose which 2 you'd like to keep for the test.  That gives you at least a little control over what your cards will be.

So, how do you get these various colored chips?  White chips are the most common, and you get them for ties, inflicting a Mild Consequence, and when you succeed by 1-4 points on a Create Advantage test.  Generally, if you are simply awarded a Boost for something, it's a White chip.  If you Succeed with Style on Create Advantage, you also get a 2nd chip, which is always White.  You can get a Red chip 2 ways:  Inflict a Moderate Consequence, or Succeed by 5-9 on a Create Advantage test.  You can get a Blue chip by inflicting a Serious or Extreme Consequence, or by succeeding by 10+ on a Create Advantage test. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

A contentious alternate history?

For this post, I'm going to discuss more of the setting for Hand of Fate: Steam and Sorcery.  Specifically, I'd like to talk about a possibly contentious version of alternate history regarding the Civil War.  The game is set in 1870, and in this alternate history, the Civil War ended with the nation still divided, but the slaves were freed.  Here's how that happened.

Non-human races had been living in the world for over 50 years prior to the start of the Civil War.  While some folks didn't like them, they knew that many of them had magical abilities, or razor-sharp teeth and claws, or could command the elements, so most people (the smart ones anyway) held their tongue around them.  However, their existence added fuel to the abolition movement, as many people felt in a world with Dragons, Fey, and Dwarves, was there any point to enslaving fellow humans just for the color of their skin?  This sentiment even began to have some effect on some southern plantation owners, and was one of the reasons why the Confederacy wanted to separate from the North.

That said, the war began mostly as it did in our past, and proceeded more or less the same.  The north was home to much higher technology, and fielded a few steam tanks, lightning guns, and automatons alongside their armies.  The South had a tradition of magical learning, and had war mages and magically-created golems and elementals.  However, those special units were not common enough on either side to make a huge difference one way or another, and eventually the war began turning against the Confederacy.

The leaders of the Confederacy, desperate for some way to win the war, decided to gather all the mages they could and cast a massive necromantic ritual.  However, they knew they needed help, and they turned to an extremely powerful cabal of voodoo priests in New Orleans.  They possessed a powerful artifact and the knowledge of how to use it that would be needed if the ritual were to succeed.  The Voodoo priests hated the Confederacy, but they knew this was a chance to win freedom for all the slaves, no matter the outcome of the war.  So they agreed to help on 2 conditions:  All the slaves in the south would be freed immediately, and New Orleans would be a Free City, not part of the Confederacy, under their control.

The Confederates agreed, and so the ritual was cast.  All across the south, over half a million undead rose from their graves and the battlefields.  Even though many were still dressed in the tattered remains of Union blue, they were all under the control of the South now.  General Lee used this massive undead reinforcement to push the Northern armies out of the South, but found that the voodoo priests had secretly put several limitations on them during the ritual.  Any undead that crosses the border out of the southern states drops over dead.  And the one Captain that tried to order some undead into the Free City of New Orleans suddenly had his zombie troops turn on him and tear him to pieces.  There are rumored to be several other commands they won't follow, though that may just be rumors.

The Union was horrified by the actions of the Confederates, so much so that many began protesting that they no longer wanted the Confederates back in the Union.  Union soldiers that survived the retreat north were not eager to face the vast undead army again.  When the South then made good upon it's agreement to free all the slaves, both causes for the war from the North's point of view were resolved.  The abolitionists were happy that the slaves were freed, and many of those who cared more about preserving the United States no longer wanted to share a country with those who would desecrate the graves of so many through necromancy, even if the North were somehow able to find a way to defeat the undead hordes.  Many Southerners were even shocked by these events, as it was not disclosed to the public until after the ritual was completed.

The war ended by mutual agreement, and those plantation owners whose slaves were freed had them replaced by the Confederate government with undead laborers.  while many were unhappy about this at first, they had few other choices and eventually the sight of skeletons and zombies working the fields became less bothersome.  The South has it's independence and while it had to free the slaves, it gained a new tireless labor source, while the North achieved an end to slavery.  The peace has so far held, though tensions still can run a bit high in some border states.  Trade has begun again between the Union of American States (UAS) and the Confederate States of America (CSA).  Travel from one nation to the other is permitted and quite common, since many families are split with some living on each side of the border.


So, that's where the alternate history stands.  Please understand that I'm not trying to be insensitive or insulting to anyone, that there are good and bad people on both sides of the border, and that the Puritan roots and reliance upon steamtech in the north contributed to their strong negative reaction, just as the proud history of magical learning in the south helped lead to its acceptance of such a strategy.  Given that there is a thread on right now about "offensive settings" and Deadlands is the most often mentioned setting due to the South remaining separate from the north (which they see as them "winning the Civil War"), I was hoping to hear your reactions to this alternate history.  I tried to create logical motivations and outcomes for all sides. 

Friday, July 19, 2013

A new way to handle Consequences

With the greater range of results from cards instead of dice, and the increased range of skill totals due to Modes, a small stress track of 2 or 3 boxes as Fate Core has doesn't quite work.  Stress and Consequences thus work a little differently in Hand of Fate.

You still have 2 Stress Tracks, Physical and Mental.  To determine how many boxes are on each track, you add together your corresponding Modes.  Action Mode + Intrigue Mode = Physical Stress boxes, and Social Mode + Knowledge Mode = Mental Stress boxes.  In addition, each track may have 1 additional box equal in value to your Will or Physique skill.  So, for example, if your Social Mode is 1 and your Knowledge Mode is 4, and your Will skill is 3, you'd have boxes 1, 2, 3, 3, 4, 5.  That's 5 boxes on the track plus an extra "3" box for your Will skill of 3.

Consequence are rated differently as well... instead of -2/-4/-6/-8, they are x2/x3/x4/x5.  When you are hit by a powerful blow that goes well beyond your Stress track, you mark a Stress box and a Consequence and multiply the 2 together.  So, say you are hit for 10 Stress.  Depending upon which Stress boxes are still open, you could mark off the "5" Stress box an a Mild x2 Consequence, or the "4" Stress box and a Moderate x3 Consequence, or even the "2" Stress box and an Extreme x5 Consequence.  Doing it this way has several benefits: 

1)  Your Stress track suddenly becomes very important, not just filler until you hit Consequences. Healing a few points of Stress in a battle becomes much more valuable because it makes any remaining Consequences more effective.

2)  Because Consequences are used together with a Stress box, you can have a longer Stress track without extending the length of battles.

3)  A character can absorb even a 25 point hit with a "5" box and an Extreme Consequence, and a hit that big is possible with the expanded numbers in Hand of Fate.

4)  Your Consequences are only as effective as your remaining Stress boxes.  A character with very weak Physical Modes = a very short Physical Stress track = relatively ineffective Consequences when used to block physical attacks.  Conversely, the opposite is also true, strong Mental Modes = longer Mental Stress track = relatively more powerful Consequences vs Mental Stress. 

I know this is a change from the standard Fate Core, but I'm interested in hearing what you think of it.  I like it better than simply increasing the value of Consequences to-4/-8/-12/-16 or something, and it adds an element of strategy to the game.  If you mark off all your high Stress boxes and lower Consequences, you'll have nothing to rely on if you suffer a big hit...

Thursday, July 18, 2013

International scope

One of the things I really wanted to emphasize was the international scope of the setting.  It'd be very easy to focus just on Europe or North America, but I enjoy a good globe-hopping adventure in an airship, or visiting an archeological dig in Egypt, or a fancy ball with important people from around the world speaking many different languages and accents.

I have emphasized this international scope in several ways.  First, one of the new skills I introduced is Foreign Cultures.  It provides additional languages known, as well as proper etiquette, customs, laws, foods, important people and events, etc from countries other than the character's native country.  This is a very valuable skill for an explorer or world traveler.

Second, I take the time to describe events and conditions from around the world, and I've placed some important areas where you might not expect them.  For instance, while the Unseelie Winter Court landed in Siberia following the destruction of the Fey Realm, the Seelie Summer Court landed in South-east Asia.  In fact, the Seelie Court now resides in a greatly expanded Angkor Wat!  The largest population of Elves is in the Amazon Jungle.  Dragons rule China, and have so far prevented the British from forcing their way in.  The New Aztec Empire controls Central America.

Of course, there is still plenty to do in the more traditional late-19th century settings as well.  Gold-rich California and Texas are both independent nations, the magically-powerful Indian Nation retains control of a large chunk of the prairies, and the industrialized Union of American States remains separate from the Confederacy. 

In Europe, the League of Four (Kaiser Wilhelm in Germany, Franz Joseph of Austria, Tsar Alexander II of Russia, and Queen Morrigan of the Unseelie Fey) are moving to take over the continent unless the Bayern Society and a high-placed traitor in their midst can stop them.  Meanwhile, Jules Verne is the top weapons designer for the French government, his work is at the cutting edge of steam-tech.  Trains and airships cross Europe in ever-greater speed and luxury.

Well, I hope this look at the setting builds your interest!  You can set your stories all over the world in Hand of Fate: Sorcery and Steam!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Why playing cards?

I imagine one of the first questions someone might have about Hand of Fate: Steam and Sorcery is, "Why use playing cards instead of dice?" There are actually multiple reasons for the change, and I'll try to cover the main ones here. Note that if you remain unconvinced and want to stick with dice, there will be a section describing several ways to do that, either using d12-d12 or the standard 4dF / d6-d6.

1) Setting: In the 19th Century, gentlemen and ladies played cards, and only the lower classes would play dice games. Whether you are playing in the American old west, a private club in Europe, or a casino in Monaco, you generally think of playing cards. Using cards in the RPG thus helps evoke the feeling of the setting.

2) Availability: Fate games typically use Fudge dice, which can be hard to find until the Fate Dice are released. Most people have a deck of cards though, and if they don't, they are very easily found.

3) Style: There are some great-looking decks of cards being made today, and many of them have fantasy or steampunk themes. Several years ago the U.S Playing Card Company, makers of the Bicycle brand and the leading manufacturer of playing cards in the US, began allowing ordinary folks to submit a design and pay to have their own custom decks made. This started a boom in the playing card market as everyone from magicians to design studios began creating decks. There are now many dozens of unique and beautiful decks of cards and more being created every day. This means each player can choose a deck that suits their character, and the GM might choose a different deck each week that suits the adventure... a magical looking deck if they are facing a cabal of evil mages, a deck with skulls if they are fighting undead, a steampunk-styled deck for a mystery aboard an airship, or an Arabic-themed deck if they are lost in the Sahara.

4) Additional Information: The card suits, colors, face cards vs number cards, and the Jokers all give opportunities by providing additional information that a dice roll doesn't have, and I've incorporated all of those things into the game. For instance, if your card matches the color of the task you are attempting (black cards for physical tasks, red cards for mental/social tasks), then the card's value is positive. If it's the wrong color, it's negative. This means every card in the deck is potentially positive or negative, it just depends upon when it comes up.

5) Strategy: By replacing your Fate Points with a hand of cards, and being able to substitute a Fate card for a randomly drawn card, there is a new element of strategy to spending your Fate points. If you are holding a good red card in your hand, for instance, you might attempt a mental or social test where you might ordinarily be weak because you can then play that card by invoking an aspect. And whenever you draw or play a Joker, you have a chance to trade in some or all of the Fate cards in your hand for an equal number of new random cards... do you want to trade that card that you haven't found an opportunity to use yet in hopes of getting a card you like better, or do you hang on to it? Questions like these are only possible when you have a hand of cards rather than a fistful of dice.

6) Greater variety of results: I prefer games with a bit more granularity, where a +1 or +2 isn't a massive bonus, and the likely results of most tests is greater than 3-5 numbers (-2 to +2 is common, with -1, 0, or +1 being the majority of results. A deck of cards goes from 1 (Ace) to13 (king). In Hand of Fate, you draw 2 cards and use the lower one, and the result is 0 is both cards are the same value. This is the same method as d6-d6, but with twice the range of possible results. This means I can have some + or - 1, 2, or 3 modifiers on some things without that being an overwhelming factor.

7) Uniqueness: Relatively few games use playing cards as the primary or sole means of determining success and failure at tasks. I wanted to create something that was different and stood out from the rest, and using cards instead of dice helps make the game unique.

So, those are my main reasons for using playing cards instead of dice. I'll leave you with a look at some various playing card decks to give you an idea of the range of possibilities in decks.

Monday, July 15, 2013


Hi all, my name is Tom Miskey.  I've never had a blog before, I've always preferred to participate on forums and have an exchange back and forth rather than monologue about my own ideas and thoughts.  However, with a project I've been working on for a long time finally coming to fruition, I wanted 1 place to provide information, advanced looks, and discussion, so here we are!

I've been an RPG gamer for 32 years.  I started with the 1981 version of Basic D&D, written by Tom Moldvay with the Erol Otis cover.  From there I expanded to a wide variety of games in every genre, from d6 Star Wars to Shadowrun, Marvel Superheroes and DC Heroes to Call of Cthulhu, and everything in between.  Already a comic book collector, I added RPG books to my collecting habit and today I have thousands of game books that I treasure.  RPGs have always fostered my imagination and creativity as well as my inner B-grade actor.  Currently I play in a weekly face-to-face Pathfinder game, as well as online games of Dungeon World and Fate.

Like most RPG gamemasters, I was a rules tinkerer.  I created pages of house rules for many of my favorite games.  Some were only minor tweaks, while others were expansive changes that filled page after page of notebook paper.  Eventually, the tinkering grew into a desire to create my own system from the ground up.  In the mid-90's, I decided to create a new system for one of my favorite games at the time, Castle Falkenstein.  It used small dice pools of d6's, and later a pair of d10's.  I wrote dozens of pages, later changing many of them as new ideas supplanted older ones.  It never really seemed to be totally finished, though.

Fast forward to 2006.  I'd just picked up the Spirit of the Century RPG and I'm blown away by the concepts in it.  The focus on characters and the environment, the blending of a traditional RPG with indie game concepts like Aspects... this was what I'd been looking for, what I'd been trying to achieve.  I scrapped my plans for my own system for a while and set about adapting Castle Falkenstein to SotC and the Fate system.  I soon released Spirits of Steam and Sorcery for free and it had one of the first magic systems for Fate 3, as well as some of the first rules for non-human races, mechanical malfunctions, weapons and armor, and more.  I received a lot of positive feedback on it, as well as numerous requests to next adapt Shadowrun to Fate.  I decided that I'd create a futuristic version of the rules in SoS&S that was fully compatible, but added the necessities such as cybernetics, hacking, etc.  So was born Spirits of Chrome and Cyberspace.

Those 2 Fate rules-hacks got me noticed by Chris Birch at Cubicle 7.  He was creating a fantasy version of his Starblazer game called Legends of Anglerre, and he needed additional writers.  I joined the existing team at the same time as a certain +Mike Olson, and it was quite an experience.  I'd done artwork for RPGs many times before, and I'd written supplements on my own, but it was my first time as part of a team writing a whole core book.

After LoA, I turned my attention back toward Spirits of Steam and Sorcery, and I felt it was now time to expand and revise it into a full setting and system, taking some ideas from my old hand-written system as well as the original Castle Falkenstein and merging them with the evolving Fate system.  One of my main goals was to replace the Fudge Dice with playing cards, both because of the setting (gentlemen play cards, not dice) and because of the difficulty of finding Fudge dice at the time (It'll soon be much easier because of the Fate Dice from Evil Hat).  I spent months testing various ways to incorporate playing cards into the game, trying to find ways that were as fast and easy to use as a dice roll, but with all the additional information provided by a card (color, suit, face vs number, etc).  I finally developed a system that I liked and began writing, when the folks at Evil Hat announced the Fate Core book.  I didn't want to base my game on an "old" version of Fate, so I waited, joined the Kickstarter, and began adapting my game to the numerous changes in Fate Core. 

Fate Core is now released, and the "Powered by Fate" license is open.  I'm still writing more setting details and revising some older content to fit with Fate Core.  My current working title is Hand of Fate: Steam and Sorcery because you draw a hand of cards in place of your Fate Points.  It's currently almost 120 pages long and isn't finished yet, making it far longer than any of the settings or system hacks yet released for Fate Core.

The setting is a steampunk 1870's with air pirates, automatons, and clockwork gadgets.  However, there is also magic and various fantasy races such as Dragons, Fey Folk, Dwarves, and Goblins.  The other-dimensional realm of the Fey was destroyed and the shattered remnants of it crashed to Earth, bringing with it both magical energy and the Fey survivors.  Wherever a piece of the Fey Realm landed, the Earth was changed, taking on magical qualities.  This will be a setting that will allow you to focus on whatever areas you want.  It could be a spy campaign against Kaiser Wilhelm and his Unseelie allies.  You could play air pirates based in the Free City of New Orleans.  You might be explorers in the heart of Africa, the jungles of Southeast Asia, or the Amazon Forest, all of which were magically altered by the shattered pieces of the Fey Realm.  You could be mages from various Secret Societies working to keep dark forces at bay, or gadget-wielding heroes opposing Moriarty's World Crime League whenever they appear.  You might even have a chance to save the entire world, because whatever destroyed the Fey Realm is still out there, and it has followed the trail of destruction across dimensions to an unsuspecting Earth...