Friday, September 30, 2011

The City of Lives new rules continued

As I addressed last time, my new campaign with my playtesters is changing some rules, in an attempt to find the magic point where the rules just work. Last time, we examined some rules designed to make combat quicker and more challenging. Today, we'll look at what I'm doing to make the money and equipment rules more interesting.

By default, FATE has very little in the way of equipment rules. Characters are not meant to have large lists of every little thing they're carrying around, or have to deal with poring through charts of hundreds of items and detailing every fraction of a gold piece they spend. PCs are assumed to have whatever items they need to use their skills effectively—a character with high Burglary should have some lockpicks, a character with the Surgeon stunt probably has a trauma kit. Beyond that, special items are bought with stunts, mostly "Batman's wonderful toys"-type stuff.

During play, a character simply rolls their Resources skill to see if they can afford whatever it is they need to buy. Succeed, they get it, fail, they don't. In Spirit of the Century and Dresden Files RPG, there are no provisions for getting paid or looting corpses—you have the money from your Resources skill, or you don't.

These are all well and good for the pulp and urban fantasy genres. However, there is a fundamental assumption in high fantasy that characters will be focused more on what kind of stuff they're carrying, and what they can carry away from the battlefield. Now, I don't want this game to turn into Dungeons & Dragons, with magical items a fundamental piece of any character and the default assumption that characters become richer as they become more experienced—but there are questions of both balance and theme to address.

The assumption that "PCs have the stuff to support their skills" works just fine with things like thieves' tools and trauma kits... but it falls apart with weapons. In Spirit of the Century, weapons had no rule properties, being purely a matter of style. In City of Lives, on the other hand, larger and more expensive weapons are more powerful. If allowed to have whatever they want, every PC will just choose to equip themselves with plate armor and a two-handed sword, and radically unbalance the game. So the question is, what should they be allowed to have?

First, I assigned my weapons Cost scores: how difficult the Resources check to obtain them would be. They range from Terrible (-2) for a makeshift club (a table leg or what have you), to Mediocre (+0) for a basic dagger, to Great (+4) for a two-handed sword.

Now there are two possible ways to obtain those weapons during character creation: I assume that anyone who's well-experienced with weapons has spent time and resources to get themselves a decent sword. Hence, any character can start with weapons whose Cost equals their rank in the Melee skill. A dabbler might be able to start with a dagger or light sword, while a serious soldier would be able to get a heavy axe. The other option is for those characters who are unskilled with weapons but rich, with low Melee and Ranged skills but high Resources. And for the rules for that, we have to bring in the Wealth stress track.

As you may recall, PCs in City of Lives have two stress tracks: Health (physical) and Composure (mental/social). Now, to emulate the realities of spending money, so that poor characters aren't completely helpless and so that rich characters can't buy themselves out of everything without any consequences, we add a third stress track, Wealth. Wealth stress is a concept that appears in Diaspora and Strands of Fate, and works just like an ordinary stress track, except that it takes damage when making purchases, and the stress doesn't just go away, it must be "healed" by making money or selling objects.

This allows for PCs to go on buying sprees, either during character creation or during the game, but with consequences... and without introducing the nitty-gritty crunch of counting coinage. The Wealth stress track also allows me to give characters money or treasure to sell during the game and have it actually mean something. And since this new campaign is based around the concept of treasure hunting, I think it will definitely help.

Oh, I didn't mention the treasure hunting, did I? Next time, we'll examine the new narrative possibilities I'm introducing with the new campaign model "Treasure Hunters For Hire."

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

A (hopefully) Triumphant Return

Okay, folks! Welcome back to Realmcrafting. It's been a long while -- a full month without posts, and sporadic for the month before that. Unfortunately, it's been a rough time, with preparing a house for sale (or rent, as it turned out), packing, moving, and settling in to the new town and apartment (while preparing for school). And, unfortunately, I am not enough of a professional to either work much ahead (if at all) or have a friendly blogger willing to fill in for me. I'm sure I've lost some readers along the way here, and I appreciate those who are still reading and are willing to stick with me.

But enough apologies. Let's get back to the meat of the blog. I've decided that the Terra Incognita project was much larger than I originally anticipated, and I'm unwilling to remove this blog from The City of Lives long enough to finish it all in one go. Expect us to return to Terra Incognita from time to time, but the main focus of the blog will now return to the City.

Moving to a new town, I've started up a new City of Lives campaign, that we will run over the internet, with the majority of my old gaming group from Alaska, but with a couple additions who are old friends of mine. I'll report occasionally on how that's working, using the MapTool program from, a wonderful virtual tabletop, and voice chat over Skype. However, I've taken this opportunity to take The City of Lives in an interesting new narrative direction, and make a few rules tweaks as well. So we'll go over those here.

In the original FATE system, Spirit of the Century, characters started out with 5 stress boxes, and once those stress boxes were filled, they had to take 3 Consequences (broken arms, ruined reputations, etc) before they were Taken Out and lost the combat. This was generally considered by the players to make characters too tough, resulting in endlessly long combats. Later games, in an attempt to make combat quicker and deadlier, changed the Consequences rules to mitigating stress (shifting damage down a certain number of stress boxes, depending on the game) rather than coming after the stress boxes. Most games also reduced the number of stress boxes a character started out with -- I can't be bothered to look it up at the moment, but I believe Diaspora starts characters out with 3, Starblazer Adventures/Legends of Anglerre with 4, and The Dresden Files with only 2.

My point is, I've determined that my characters in the previous City of Lives campaign suffered from being too tough -- I gave them a base of 4 stress boxes, with Consequences removing 2, 4, or 6 stress depending on their severity. Combats took too long, and the PCs never really felt challenged. I'm going to do a couple things differently in the new campaign (and, presumably, the rules for the game in general). I'm going to reduce the base stress boxes to 3, and make it so characters with high Vigor and Conviction (the skills that add more stress boxes to the character) have a cap on how much they can add. I'm going to emphasize weapons more, ensuring the baddies almost always have a bonus to their damage. And finally, I'm going to experiment by changing how Consequences work.

As it stands, Consequences are rated Mild, Moderate, or Severe -- but the only thing that differentiates them is how much stress they mitigate and how long they take to heal. They act as aspects, taggable for bonuses -- but tagging a punctured lung has the same effect as tagging a bloody nose (a +2 or reroll). I'm going to experiment and have each Consequence give a different bonus (for the enemy, that is) -- a Mild consequence will give a +2 bonus, but a Moderate will give a +4, and a Severe a +6.

All of this will make combat significantly deadlier. I'll check back in once it's been playtested, to see if I've gone too far and killed all my PCs.

Okay, that's enough for a first post back. Next time, I'll speak more on the new rule changes, and get into the narrative changes.

See you later in the week!