Monday, March 28, 2011

Finding the Path of Fate, Part 3

In parts one and two of this series, I detailed how to determine seven aspects for your Pathfinder RPG character. Now that you've got them, though, you're probably wondering exactly what you do with them and how.

Aspects are used to gain and spend fate points, which are benefits that you use to shape the story in dramatic ways and help your character succeed at actions. Fate points are a lot like the hero points from the Pathfinder RPG Advanced Player's Guide, but are much more numerous. If you are using aspects and fate points for your campaign, you should not use the hero point system, as they are somewhat redundant.

Each character will start the game with a set number of fate points. This number will be set by the GM, but I suggest using either the character's level, or the character's level +2. This starting number is also a statistic called refresh. At certain intervals, characters' pools of fate points will reset to this value. The frequency that these resets occur is up to the GM. A couple of simple suggestions is to have fate points refresh every play session or every character level. A more complicated way, and my personal suggestion, is to base the refresh on stories, or acts within those stories. This makes a little more work for the GM, and leads to fate points being a bit more of a precious resource, but it will lead to a game that has more of a cinematic and story-driven flow. In general, the more frequently you have your character's refresh their fate points, the lower their refresh values should be.

It is best to use some sort of physical counter - glass beads or poker chips work best - to represent fate points. Avoid using anything edible, as players may absentmindedly eat their fate points. I'm only half-joking there.

There are two mechanics that you will use with fate points. The first, invoking an aspect, is used by the player to spend one or more fate points to receive a benefit. The second, compelling an aspect, is used by the GM (and sometimes other players) to add a hindrance or complication to the story in return for a character earning a fate point.

When you invoke an aspect, you choose one of your aspects which you think would give you an edge in a certain situation. The aspect should tie in this situation, and it is ultimately left up to the GM to decide whether or not that aspect is applicable. A good GM will not dismiss your attempt off-hand, and there may some back and forth negotiating on the matter. If the GM decides that your aspect is applicable, you spend a fate point for one of the benefits listed below. If he does not, the fate point is not spent. You may only spend one fate point per round per aspect you are trying to invoke.

Once you have successfully invoked an aspect, you may spend a fate point to gain any of the benefits listed in the hero point system except Act Out of Turn, Extra Action, or Recall, with the following modifications:

  • Bonus: Because fate points are far more plentiful than hero points, the bonus received is reduced to +2 before the die roll, or +1 after the die is rolled. This bonus is a luck bonus that stacks with other bonuses gained from using a fate point, but not from another source. You may not use this benefit to assist another character. Using a fate point in this way is the least beneficial method.
  • Inspiration: This works exactly as stated in the Advanced Player's Guide.
  • Reroll: You may reroll any one d20 roll you just made, or any damage roll you just made. If rerolling a damage roll, you must reroll all of the dice. In either case, you must use the second roll, even if it is worse than the original result.
  • Special: This catch-all category is always subject to the GM's approval. In addition to the examples listed in the Advanced Player's Guide, a player may spend a fate point to invoke and aspect for effect. Doing this allows the character to declare a fact or circumstance that would benefit a character and make it true. This is a very open benefit, and as always, the GM has the final say on the matter, and should establish some guidelines beforehand. Some good examples of guidelines are the effect may not adversely affect another player character, the effect may not give a direct mechanical benefit, and it may not give the character a magic item or a non-magical item over 10 gp in value.
  • Cheat Death: In order to cheat death, the player need simply spend two fate points without invoking an aspect. If a player is able to invoke an aspect, he need only spend one fate point.

The flip side of invoking aspects, compelling aspects allows the GM a way to complicate stories for characters and gives players ways to gain fate points. Generally, a compel will focus on only one aspect, but in rare cases, multiple aspects may be compelled, and more fate points gained. A player is free to refuse the compel, but will not get the fate point unless they accept it - in fact, they'll have to pay a fate point to refuse it.

Compels come in two flavors: limitations and complications. Limitations restrict a character's possible actions in a given situation. This sort of compel can limit the type of actions available to a character, but can never dictate an exact action that a character can take. For example if a character had "Bully" as aspect and was trying to talk his way past some city guards, the GM could compel that character's aspect to deny him the ability to use the diplomacy skill in the situation. If the player accepted, they would still be able to use the intimidate or bluff skill to get past the guards, though this may result in some less-than-desirable consequences.

Complications are situational events or plot twists that make life a little tougher. This might be the appearance of a antagonistic NPC, or a secret coming out at the wrong moment. In some cases, the compel might even suggest failing at a skill check without even rolling the die.

When the GM sees an opportunity to compel a character's aspect, he presents the possible effects of the compel, and tempts the player by suggestively waving a fate point in front of the player. Like invoking, there may be some room for negotiation on the compel. Once the terms have been settled, the player must decide whether or not to accept the compel. If they accept, they receive the fate point, but must abide by the guidelines of the compel, and any consequences - foreseen or unforeseen - that arise from it. If the player decides not accept, they must give the GM a fate point, but do not have to abide by the compel.

Sometimes, a player may find himself in need of fate points and/or see a good opportunity for a compel. A player may initiate a compel for his own character by merely mentioning it to the GM. If the GM likes the idea, he may offer the fate point like a normal compel. If you see an opportunity for a compel against another character, you may initiate a compel against them by pushing forward a fate chip and pitching your idea. If the GM agrees, he will take your fate chip and offer the compel to the other player. If the other player accepts the compel, they receive your fate chip. If they decline, you do not get your fate chip back.

At other times, you may find yourself playing out your aspects without thinking to ask for a compel. In this case, the GM should make a note of what happened and award the affected character with a retroactive fate point, or let the character start with an extra fate point after the next refresh. This situation should only apply if the player made choices based on their aspects that adversely affected their character in some way.

Sometimes, the GM may have a particularly good idea for a compel - something that makes a very tense and dramatic turning point for a story - but the player just isn't biting. In cases like these, the GM has one more trick to pull out: escalation. In cases like these, if the player refuses compel, the GM ups the stakes by offering a second fate point. If the player still wants to refuse, he must spend another fate point (for a total of two) to refuse. If the player accepts, he gets back the original fate point that he spent to refuse, in addition to the two points for accepting the compel. In extremely rare and dramatically important situations, the GM might escalate up to three points if the second compel is refused. In cases of escalation, the GM and player should add some details to the story that reflect the mounting tension and importance of the moment.

Players may also initiate an escalation. When initially refusing the compel, the player can simply push forward the first fate point and state that they aren't willing to accept for only one fate point. The GM is then free to either accept the refusal or escalate the compel. Regardless of who initiates it, an escalating compel should be used sparingly as a tool to build and shape the story.

Those are the basics of the aspects and the fate point system, and how to integrate them into Pathfinder. Hopefully you will find them intriguing and/or useful. If you try them out in your own games and would like to share any comments, please feel free to do so.

There are also rules that I may go into in future posts, including assigning aspects for NPCs, monsters, locations, and even stories or campaigns in general. If you can't wait until then or if you are looking for more in depth examples on the workings of the system, I suggest picking up one of the many games that uses the FATE system. In particular, I recommend the Dresden Files RPG.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Finding the Path of Fate, Part 2

In the first part of this three-part posting, I covered the basics of aspects and how to determine your first two aspects (your high concept and your trouble). In this part, I'll go over the remaining steps for determining your remaining five aspects.

After deciding on your high concept and trouble, you will want to determine your background, or where you came from. This can be as simple as a paragraph or two describing your childhood, or can be substantially longer. For older characters, this can be expanded to cover young adulthood, but in most cases, it will deal with your early life. In the end, there should one element of your background that becomes your aspect for this phase of character creation. It might be a person, place, thing, event, belief, or something similar, but it should be something that is an integral part of your character. Also, since we are merging the F.A.T.E. mechanics with Pathfinder, this background can help inform your choice of traits (from the Advanced Player's Guide and other PFRPG products). Sample aspects that might come out of your background could be "raised by an evil sorceress," "family heirloom - longsword," "kidnapped by goblins," "religious visions," or "grew up in a waterfront tavern."

The next step is called rising conflict and deals with what shaped you after your childhood. Again, this can be a paragraph or two, or more if you're feeling inspired. Your rising conflict should generally cover people, events, and choices that lead to your becoming an adventurer, and in particular should reinforce your class choice. Your aspect for this phase will be similar to your background aspect: an important person, place, thing, event, belief, et cetera, and is also another good indicator of appropriate traits for your character. Continuing with our background examples, some good ideas might be "turned away from evil mother for true love," "father died, passing the longsword and responsibility to me," "began hunting goblins for revenge," "accepted a calling from a god or goddess," or "began entertaining the tavern-goers with song and poetry."

The fun really begins with your first adventure, a step called the story. This is your character's first real foray into the world of adventure, but shouldn't be fully fleshed out. In fact, a simple sentence or two works best, as other characters will be adding some meat to your story in the next couple of steps. It's helpful to start with thinking of a simple title for your first adventure. You don't need to spend a lot of time on the title - think of something that would be fitting for a short story.

If you're having problems writing your first story, think about your character's trouble aspect, and see if you can come up with any ideas that reinforce that theme. You can also try using this great story skeleton (published in the "Dresden Files RPG: Your Story"):

When [something happens], [your protagonist] [pursues a goal]. But will [your protagonist] succeed when [antagonist provides opposition]?

You'll probably want to write this down on a large index card in order to make the last steps of this process easier.

Once you are finished with your story, you'll want to pull something out of it for your aspect. Most likely it's a quality about your character's personality that would be integral to the movement or conclusion of your character's story.

Now you've only got two aspects remaining, and those are going to be determined by guest starring in the first stories of two other characters. You'll also have two other characters guest starring in your first story.

There are a few ways to determine whose story you'll be guest starring in and who'll be guest starring in yours. The GM can simply collect everyone's first stories, then shuffle them out randomly, making sure that no one gets their own. This would then be repeated a second time, making sure no one gets a story that they've already guest starred in. Alternately, you could simply have everyone pass their story to the left or right, then do so again. Lastly, if the players are familiar with one another and amenable to the idea, everyone can share their character's details from high concept to first story, and the players can determine whose stories they would best fit into. In this case, if there are more than two players interested in guest starring in a character's story, the player in question should make the final decision on who the two guest stars will be.

When guest starring in another character's first story, you will add a sentence or two to the story, with your character a minor but crucial role in the story. You can contribute in one of three ways: complicate the story, solve a situation within the story, or solve one situation but complicate another.

You will draw the last two aspects of you character from these contributions to others' stories. Like all previous aspects, they will be short phrases and should be related to how you complicate or solve (or both) the story in question.

Once you've finished the guest starring phases, you're done. You can finish off any parts of regular Pathfinder character creation that are remaining, using all that you now know about your character as a guideline. As an added bonus, not only will you have a good idea of who your character is, you'll also have links to the rest of the group and the beginnings of some great stories.

So, now that you've got all these phrases that describe and define your character, what do you do with them?

That's what I'll be covering in part three.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Finding the Path of Fate, Part 1

In this three-part blog, I will be discussing how to integrate some of the mechanics of the FATE 3.0 system into the Pathfinder RPG. I will be referencing the FATE 3.0 system as presented in The Dresden Files Roleplaying Game: Your Story (published by Evil Hat Productions). If you don't already own this game, you can get a copy here. I will also be referencing two books from the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game (published by Paizo Publishing): the Core Rulebook and the Advanced Player's Guide. Though all of these items are covered by the Open Gaming License, I will not be reproducing rules text, merely commenting on the printed rules themselves, so if you're interested in implementing these ideas, you'll copies of the relevant books in order to do it.

A quick word of warning before I go any further: FATE is much lighter and more cinematic on rules than Pathfinder is. These ideas add a lot of storytelling elements into the character creation and play of the Pathfinder system, so if your group is more about numbers and tactics (with which there is nothing wrong), you may not want to use them. In fact, once it gets down to the game master and even other players invoking another character's aspects, things could get chilly if your group is more interested in gaining every possible advantage in every situation than they are in making a good story. You have been warned.

There are four little words that are integral to creating FATE characters: "Character Creation Is Play." It's a pretty simple little maxim and, looking back, one that I've always tried to play by, but seeing it in print can really drive the point home. There's nothing more frustrating for a game master than starting a campaign only to find that the players have all made characters that would realistically have little or nothing to do with one another. In The Dresden Files RPG, the first step in character creation is actually collaboratively creating the city in which the game will be set. While that's a great tool for Pathfinder (and something that can certainly be tried if you want to get more advanced), in this case we're going to assume that the GM has a campaign idea in mind, and will relate the basic setup to the players.

The upshot is that your group should spend at least the first part of their first session creating characters TOGETHER. As character creation unfolds, each player will have a chance to come up with a bit of his backstory, and will have other characters participate in that backstory as well as participating in the backstories of others. But, before we get to that part, let's talk about Aspects.

Aspects are simple phrases that describe and define your character. It might be something as simple as "Elven Wizard," or something as intriguing as "Seeking Revenge for the Death of His True Love." Each character will have seven aspects, determined by his high concept, his trouble, and by the five phases of character development. This part of character creation can be done before or after normal Pathfinder character creation. Either way has advantages and disadvantages. You, as the GM, can make that decision yourself, or discuss it with your players. Personally, I would choose to do it beforehand.

You character's high concept is a nutshell conceptualization of your character. Most everyone who's played a roleplaying game has, at one time or another, in one way or another, already come up a high concept. Don't believe me? Does this sound familiar?

GM: So, what's everyone playing?
Player 1: I'm a Neutral Good Human Skill-based Rogue.
Player 2: I'm the most beloved Gladiator in the Slave Pits of D'Huun!
Player 3: I'm a Taranthian Bounty Hunter
Player 4: I'm a Wizard who is seeking forbidden knowledge
Player 5: I'm an Follower of the Old Ways, traveling to spread the word and keep them alive.
Player 6: I'm a Bard.

Right? Right. At it's most basic, your high concept can be your race or class or a combination, but it might include more detail. All of the above are perfectly fine examples of a high concept.

Your high concept is also your first aspect.

Your second aspect will be determined by your trouble. Your trouble is something (or even someone) in your life who complicates things. Perhaps you are in debt to a powerful organized crime figure, or you have an truly insatiable curiosity that is constantly getting you into tight spots, or you're a jinx. Maybe you have a child to take care of, or a bounty on your head, or you doubt your faith. By no means is your trouble the only complication in your life, but it is the one that truly defines you.

The most important thing to remember about your high concept and your trouble (indeed, about ALL of you aspects) is that they provide NO mechanical benefits in and of themselves, but will be used as a way to move the story, motivate your character, and get access to things that will provide mechanical benefits.

Next time, I'll go over determining the rest of your aspects, including your character's first story, and how to co-star in other characters' stories. Then, in the third installment, I'll go over how to use your aspects in conjunction with Pathfinder's hero point system.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

The Weekend in Gaming

Sadly, the Gamma World game that was planned for this weekend did not go off. Hopefully, I'll have a chance to run it before moving at the end of April, but if not, I'm sure I'll have ample opportunity down in Madison.

I did, however, finally get to play in the first session of a Pathfinder RPG campaign that we've been trying to get going for a while now. We are playing in the Lonely Coast setting, published by Raging Swan Press, modified to fit in Brian's home-brewed campaign setting. It was good fun, and I am a little bummed that I will only get to play in it for a short time (our next session is in four weeks).

It also gave me an opportunity to put my copy of the Pathfinder RPG SORD (System Operating Reference Document), published by Myth Merchant Press, to good use. If you're a Pathfinder player or GM, the SORD PF is an extremely useful product, especially for the low price of $3.71 (as of this posting. on Tuesday, March 8, it goes back to the regular price of $4.95 - still a great deal!). Get your own copy here.

I hope to have some time this week to look over the character creation rules for the Fate 3.0 system, as I'd like to find a way to meld the mechanics of that system into the Pathfinder system. I'll post the results here when I work out the details.

The only other game-related occurrence from this weekend is finding a copy of the Batlestar Galactica board game, published by Fantasy Flight Games, for under 12 dollars. It was new and in the shrinkwrap, but there was some damage to the box. Much like Gamma World, I hope to get a chance to play this before I leave Eau Claire, but am sure that I'll have plenty of chances after. If you'd like to know more about the game, check out The Dice Tower's video review.

That's all for now. I might try to get some posts up this week about merging the Fate 3.0 and Pathfinder systems (as I previously mentioned) and maybe called shot rules for D&D 4E.