Saturday, November 30, 2013

Fate Vis Major Playtest Characters

Piecemeal over the past few days, I've been converting the characters used in the first playtest of my homebrew system for the Vis Major setting over to Fate Core. It was surprisingly easy from a system perspective - way too much of that time was spent trying to find nice little quotes to put on the character sheets.

Also spent more time than usual for a playtest on the character sheets themselves. I really want to grab the group with these, and I hope that making it look like a "real game" will help with that. They're done up as trifold legal-sized sheets, single-sided, in a Google presentation. Playtest is this Thursday!


The skill list is customized for Vis Major. I'll post the full list at some point in the future but here's a summary.
  • Athletics, Deceive, Empathy, Fight, Notice, Provoke, Shoot, Stealth, and Will are handled just like core.
  • Physique was renamed Brawn, Burglary was renamed Thief, and Rapport was renamed Charm, but they work basically the same. I just like one-word skills.
  • There are three magic skills: Blood, Ether, and Gnosis. Each of these has some limited stand-alone benefit, so it's not a waste tossing a +1 or +2 into them. However, there are Aspects that grant them new uses, so if you're putting a +3 or +4 in one of these you will probably also be taking one of those.
  • Contacts became Clout, representing not only who you know but your standing within your various affiliations and capacity to pull rank.
  • Resources became Trade, which is your ability to apply your skills to making money, and is another one-word skill.
  • Then there's Gambit. I'm really just going to have to see how this plays out, but it's your capacity to plan ahead for potentially outrageous circumstances, your machinations, and your perfect bits of gear you happen to have. It will likely allow for a lot of retconning by the players.
Lore, Investigate, and Drive/Ride are not on the list. Lore is determined by your Aspects, Investigate I plan to do with challenges, and Ride will be handled with Empathy, Charm, or Provoke.


Unlike Fate Core, I felt the Aspects on these sheets needed a little more explanation than a single phrase. We have a sense of what a "Fireman" or "Librarian" would be invoked for, but "Aleph" or "Acadian Walker" aren't immediately evident, even though they're common enough in the setting. So a couple fragments to provide an archetype and perhaps a quote.

The magic aspects needed some detailing too since I rather wanted the facts that "your blood is independently alive" or "you can blow up golems" to be staring the players in the face constantly.

There are some blank Aspects left for the players to fill in. Only one character got a personality trait of "Mousy" assigned, and that's only because she was played so memorably that way in the last round of playtests.


I've only played Fate once, and it was actually FAE, so we'll have to see if these stunts feel balanced. I'm using an alternate initiative system based on Marvel Heroic Roleplaying where you basically just choose who goes after you, so some of the stunts are based off that to give the decisions more weight.

Then there are some that further enhance magic skills, and a few left blank to fill in at the players' discretion.


There are no plans to use weapon and armor ratings, so there's just some simple lists of what they're wearing and wielding. I'm hoping that having some of the aspects deal with specific types of weapons will be sufficient. Other gear is suggested by their Aspects.

I listed out some specific foods they're carrying instead of generic "rations" in an attempt to reinforce cultural identities. A common theme I've noticed in works of fantasy that resonate longer is the author tends to describe the foods the characters encounter in greater detail. Tolkien dwells on dishes, and I often think of this bit from Narnia:
"And immediately, mixed with a sizzling sound, there came to Shasta a simply delightful smell. It was one he had never smelled in his life before, but I hope you have. It was, in fact, the smell of bacon and eggs and mushrooms all frying in a pan."
I've gotten a bit obsessive about the food situation in Vis Major, but it's an important way to delineate cultures.

Then there are mounts for most characters. I couldn't find any rules for managing mounts in Fate so I'm just going to wing it. One of the characters has an imp servitor - this is a more complex Extra that I felt was worth knocking his Refresh down by 1 for. Note none of the other magic stuff costs Refresh, just skills and aspects.

Stress & Consequences

The only thing abnormal here is that the Physical stress track is build on the combination of Blood and Brawn, and the Mental on Ether and Will. This is one of the reasons it can be nice to "dump" a point or two into those skills.


Extracted and stored magic forces in various solutions and salves. Potions are a relatively cheap resource that can get you +1 on a roll, but if you can hold off on dipping into your stock, you can store up enough to try and imbue or enhance an item with them.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

JiffyCon East 2013

Yesterday I attended JiffyCon East:
A local roleplaying and board game event showcasing games by independent designers. Held in western Massachusetts twice a year, and in the Boston area annually.
It consisted of two sessions starting at 9 and ending around 6, with a generous lunch break. There were about 40 gamers in the basements of the Unity Church and one dealer, Jim Crocker of Modern Myths Games, who I bought some Fate dice from.

I got there a bit after the doors opened but in time to sign up and start the first session without being late. That session was Ace Adventure by Beer Star Games, a pulpy 1920's fighter-pilots-versus-giant-monsters setting using the Fate Accelerated Edition rules. I hadn't played FAE before, but had read most of Fate Core, and mostly chose this game to get some exposure to the concepts.

The GM, also the owner of the company, Brian Liberge, had pre-generated characters for us and allowed us to take our pick after giving us a bit of a setting summary. It was clear we were going to be experiencing progressive disclosure of the rules rather than a dump at the start, so we were able to jump in quickly after character introductions.

A full play report follows but in short I very much enjoyed this game and this group. I found out during lunch that it was the very first RPG experience for Dr. Rosie King's player, but if she hadn't told me I wouldn't have guessed. The whole thing was very evocative of the pulp era it was shooting for, and Fate Accelerated is a delightful game I've found. The gradual reveal of the rules was handled ably by the GM who also took the group's suggestions and questions in stride.

My second session just happened to be with the same GM, but in a different system, this one of his own devising, Pulp!. It's a single-six-sided-die system which the author acknowledges has a lot of overlap with FAE but was developed independently. I don't have a full play report for this session mostly because, through no fault of the game at all, I was extremely tired by this time (weird preceding night).

However, here's what I remember. We did character generation instead of pre-gens, mostly because someone apparently walked off with the pre-gens at the last conference. But it's a straightforward game in many ways and the rules are short and free, so this didn't take long. We ended up with an illusionist in the vein of Dr. Orpheus, a rather grim sorcerer fueled by an internal arcane furnace, a dwarven sycophant to these mages, and an elven tiger knight who had no tiger most of the time.

The encounters were card based and played on the table. Our mission was clear - extract as many artifacts as possible for the Blue-Eyed Wizards from the Isle of Giants. This was more of a colloquialism apparently as there were no giants, only lizardmen, nasty insects, semi-sentient vines, a maddened wizard of shadows, an enticing imp, and an actual dragon. I guess the dragon was technically giant.

Pulp! intentionally features death spiral mechanic - your damage is tracked against abilities directly. I felt it worked out enjoyably in play but only if you considered it a classic dungeon crawl. Limping back to town (or the ship, in this case) to rest did not make me want to yell "pulp!". Still, we managed to defeat (not kill, mind you) a dragon with only the dwarf dying, and the character creation rules hook you into the world admirably, so it was a good afternoon with a crowd of creative and amiable gamers.

All told I'm already looking back on JiffyCon 2013 fondly just a day later, and am thankful to Brian of Beer Star Game for making it so. 

The characters in Ace Adventure were meant to invoke a poker hand:
  • I ended up with the titular Ace Adventure, youthful American crack fighter pilot, daredevil, prone to putting his foot in his mouth, Flashy +3.
  • 10, the time-travelling, amnesiac, Japanese scientist whose actions kicked off the pulp era.
  • Jacques du Monde, French super-spy, numerous gadgets.
  • Dr. Rosie King, brilliant inventor, determined alcoholic, heading up technology on our Boston Harbor base.
  • Jackie the reporter (I failed to note her last name), not technically a member of the team but uncannily able to insert herself wherever a story is happening, and we make stories happen.
There was one unchosen character who filled the "queen" slot. All the characters had two of their aspects left undefined for expansion during play, though we only saw that come up once. The game was described as "if it works in a comic book, it works here" and that flavor dominated the session.

The game started with each of us being asked to give a description of what we were doing in Boston or its environs. The other characters were generally pursuing their interests or professions on the base or in the city - Ace was tooling around western Massachusetts in his sports car. When a radio news flash announced that a giant turtle had entered the bay of Providence and was attacking the boats there, all the characters convened on the island base. Ace got to get there by deploying the wings on his car and flying - I think the fact that I was able to declare my car could fly helped set the tone for the game.

To get to Providence I initially proposed we all get in the cannon and be shot down there, but Dr. King said that went terribly last time and she'd been working on these new super-slick wetsuits. 10 took one of those and started swimming down to Providence at startling speeds. Jacques already had a hydropack sporting twin shotguns (decided by his player, not the character sheet), so headed out on that. The rest of us each too a plane, but Dr. King was able to stretch the suit polymer over each before we headed out, meaning they became submersible as well.

As we're heading to Providence, the GM hands out our Fate points and explains their uses. Upon arriving, we find the news reports were not lying and a 60-foot turtle with an oddly ridged shell and covered with bony growths is indeed wading through the harbor and tearing up boats. So, initiative is determined!

Jacques tries to distract it with dual shotgun blasts but fails. We get the rules for failure described at this point. Jackie buzzes the turtle to get a picture and, tangentially, to blind it with the flash - Dr. King notes that she's augmented this camera in several ways. She gets her picture but the turtle gets her plane.

10 uses his grappling hook and line to cleverly get up on top of the shell. The GM is hiding the target numbers for challenges so 10 spends his Fate point, which causes him to succeed with style. He's able to get a decent look inside the overlapping shell plates and sees a pulsing organ of some sort.

Rosie King tires to land on the turtle to investigate. That's an Overcome action using Careful - she gets a 4, spends Fate to use a gadget she's built into the plane, sticky and bouncy landing gear.

Ace buzzes the turtle's head, spends Fate, and uses his stunt (+2 to Overcome an obstacle Flashily when death is likely outcome). Succeeding with style, he is able to rescue Jackie and create a boost of "unoccupied, heavily fueled plane in mouth" on the turtle. Jackie, however, leaves her camera behind and receives a Fate point in compensation. 

Now the turtle goes. It's angry! It starts to heat up, light spilling from the cracks in its shell, and gouts of plasma fire forth at Ace's plane! Since the planes are amphibious he dives underwater - 3 Force vs. 5 Clever means the plane is unscathed. 

Jacques uses 10's cord to get up on the shell. Those dual-wielded shotguns are fired into the exposed crevasse. Using 10's boost he succeeds with style, and the GM explains stylish attacks. Jacques opts to deal 2 damage and create a boost.

Jackie is with Ace now, and this game isn't using zone rules, so she says we're going to get her camera back. It turns out she's also an Olympic gymnast so while Ace is flying upside-down over the wreckage in the turtle's mouth, she dangles out and attempts to drop back into it. However she fails the roll and opts to land back in the bay rather than take a 4-shift hit. 

Dr. King rigs up an electrical rod from the plane's engine and attacks the turtle's head with it. Rolls badly and spends a Fate based on a science aspect to reroll, which leads to her succeeding in style. The turtle takes a "brain damage" complication and drops the plane - we adjust the boost I'd created earlier to be a falling plane.

10 now takes some explosive charges into the crevasse in an attempt to create an advantage. That works, but we also find out there are giant mutant lice moving around in there!

Ace, in the meantime, has turned his plane around, and aims it at the falling plane, bailing out at the last second to send both planes crashing into the turtle. I use up two existing boosts to get this flashy attack up to a 9, dealing 5 damage and opting to take a boost of "Ace has the camera". The turtle's plasma shots burn out as a disadvantage.

10 is being swarmed by lice and takes some stress. Jacques sneaks into the turtle shell to help. "Element of surprise" is suggested as an advantage - rolls 3, spends Fate, so 5 versus 1. Creates the advantage with 2 free invocations.

Dr. King tries to electrocute again, gets only +2, but turtle gets -1 amazingly, so it's with style and the turtle takes an "electric current" complication which kills off some of its lice. (I feel like in real life this wouldn't be a complication for the turtle but it makes total sense in the "it is less likely the characters will die" context.)

10 decides to get the hell out of the turtle, trying to distract the remaining lice as he does so. He rolls Flashy, but the GM compels him to have a Flashback, which he does - remembering suddenly the great Robot Insect Wars of 2000. 

Jackie uses her stunt to appear next to 10 - something about being wherever the story is. Rolls horribly but spends Fate, invokes many aspects and boosts and gets up to 6 which is enough to succeed with style and create a new boost - "surfing the wave of fate". Basically she and 10 are riding an explosion out of the turtle shell.

Ace is down in the harbor with plane debris raining around him. One bit that lands close by is a weird weapon we'd established at the outset was mounted in Jackie's plane, but hadn't given further thought to. The turtle reeling above him, Ace swims over to its mount and presses the button. I decide it's a device that's able to draw ambient energy to a point and then release it, so the lights on the edge of the harbor dim, the boost of the explosion is consumed, and 10 spends Fate to invoke my "leader" aspect, since he feels it's appropriate I get the killing blow. 

That I do and the beam of light sears the beast's head clear off, leaving its massive carcass wobbling above the harbor. Fame and adoration await us onshore and Jackie has an incredible scoop, a camera full of the kind of images you hope only happen once in a lifetime.

So now the GM introduces a social conflict. Tonight is the premier of "It Came From Space", a motion picture with state-of-the-art effects and in the genre of what would become science fiction. We're all asked how we'll react to this, but Jacques is compelled to be there, so takes a train back. Dr. King interestingly decides that her nemesis (who she's just introducing now) was hired as the science consultant on this film instead of her, and she's going to be there to make her opinions on that decision known. Ace and Jackie hang around Providence lapping up the victory and the stories respectively, while 10 shows remarkable dedication in deciding to try and track down a scientist in Boston who knows something about turtles.

The doctor goes to the premier. It's a very gala event, as this is cinema in the 20's. She is, of course, drunk, which provides numerous compels. She storms up to Dr. Pope (the nemesis) and after a bit of berating calls over a celebrity in the crowd to support her bona fides. This turns out to be Bela Lugosi. With such success she is able to create a "razzle dazzle" boost.

Here the GM also introduces scene aspects - Vintage vaudeville rigging, thick crowd, and dimmed lighting. Jacques arrives with his dates and feels like he's perfectly in his element with these. However he has a trouble aspect of "sleeps with the enemy" and is immediately drawn to Dr. Pope's assistant. 

Meanwhile Ace is talking to all the press in Providence except Jackie and manages to soundly put his foot in his mouth, asking such things as "you call this place a city?" and "so how do you manage to have fun around here?". Gets a Fate point for his troubles but the populace is very grumbly about their new hero. 

10 tries to track down his biologist contact. Marine biology not being a popular science in this era, he's bounced from person to person, finally ending up at outside the tenement of one Dr. Weyland. Finding the door ajar, he knocks and calls, stepping in when there is no answer. The place has been ransacked! Investigating what's left he finds some mathematical notes - apparently Dr. Weyland's research had linked undersea communication to electrical currents somehow.

Back at the theatre, the film is rolling, and just as we get to the reveal of the space monster, the screen splits and a metal sphere on six tendril legs strides forward, the speaker in its center proclaiming "Do not panic! You are being robbed!" At this time four mooks in pinstripe suits holding tommy guns burst into the aisles. Jacques is up in a balcony with his date, and is ready to take action but she's clinging to him, his troubles being invoked. Still he takes a shot at the goon and misses, causing panic to break out in the audience.

Doctor Rosie King strides through this unaffected towards the robot on stage. She takes some tools out of her purse and starts dismantling it methodically. At this point she also takes the "megalomaniac" aspect, the only additional aspect to get defined in this session.

Ace & Jackie hear a radio announcement about a robot attack at the theatre and race to help. I roll Force vs. a target of 2 to overcome an obstacle and create a "what a rush!" boost. And here's the game's pulp comic influence coming into play again - we're able to hear a radio broadcast in Providence about a fight in Boston and be able to fly in there in time to be part of the fight.

10 hops off the subway, runs through the doors, and attacks one of the mooks. He ties and gets a boost. Jackie is not far behind, hopping off the still-moving plane and blinding a mook with her flash, taking him out of the fight. During this time the doctor has been continuing her work despite the robot's protests - she finds it is mostly made of hollow tubes without any gears or apparent means of locomotion. All its attempts to drive her off seem to only make things worse for it (0 Force vs. 4 Quick gives the doctor a boost).

The remaining mooks unload their guns at Jacques but he ducks behind a pillar. We also note now that although the conflict has clearly changed from social to physical we are running the same initiative order. Dr. King keeps at the robot and finds that even its innards are empty, just a hollow sphere and speaker buzzing with electromagnetic power of some sort.

Jacques in the meantime sneaks out from behind his pillar and gets behind the mooks. He brazenly shoots one in the head, taking him down. Ace has landed the plane by this point and uses his per-session stunt to call a couple of police officers who had been standing outside to come and help. Charging through the doors, he easily tackles the mook menacing 10, taking him out and creating a "momentum" advantage.

Freed of this threat, 10 hurries to the stage, grabbing some electrical components and hurling them at the robot, disrupting it and causing some stress. Jackie is up there with him and as she tries to get a picture of the thing notices a weak spot among its legs, creating an advantage for the team. 

The remaining mook screams and unloads his gun at Jacques, who mostly dodges thanks to his spy tech boots, but still takes a bit of stress. Ace uses his momentum and some of that vaudeville rigging to grab a curtain rope, swing back around, and plant both feet in the thug's back.

Now at this point we only had about 10 minutes left in the session so we switch to a very fast paced mode. There was a challenge where the doctor and 10 were able to trail the robot back to a warehouse of some sort, largely because it was leaking liquor the doctor had poured into it earlier to try and short out its electronics. Sneaking inside they found Dr. Weyland, the biologist, tied to a chair with some sort of helmet strapped to his head and a mafia figure of some sort standing over him shouting. Also in the warehouse were dozens of metallic, hovering saucers.

And now we move very fast. Ace takes the plane from before, flies it to the warehouse, crashes it through the skylight, and blows up half the saucers. Three planes in one day! Dr. King is unsure what's going on but shoots both Weyland and the mafia head to be thorough. 10 and Jacques take out a bunch of mooks. Dr. Pope is implicated in this all somehow.

We all get a quick closing scene. Ace's involves taking one of the remaining metal saucers (which were hollow like the robot) out for a spin.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Wayshielders Peril & Chaos

The rules for Peril and Chaos describe a time-free method of tracking party action and decisions. From the Arbiter's rules:
Light, health, and safety are inimical concepts within a dungeon - its denizens sense them and grow agitated. Likewise, panic, bedlam, and doubt attract and bolster them. Actions such as these build Peril, which is tracked by the Arbiter and determines when wandering monsters or dangerous events occur.
Peril is, in many ways, a global counter of all the harm, danger, risk, stupidity, panic, and indecision the party has built up within a dungeon. Here are the current rules for:

Building Peril

  • +10: Seizing a dungeon core.
  • +3: Resting.
  • +3: A mage's Breach reaches 6 or more.
  • +2: An elf's Whim reaches 6 or more.
  • +2: An orc's Mayhem reaches 6 or more.
  • +2: Extremely loud actions (yelling, gongs ringing).
  • +1: Using an Assist talent.
  • +1: Creating a light.
  • +1: Loud actions (arguments, dropping a heavy load, breaking glass).
  • +1: Searching a zone.
  • +1: A hireling failing a morale check.
  • +1: Lingering too long in any one place.
  • +1: A cleric's aura reaches 0.
Some spells, kit options, or monster abilities also build Peril.

So why Peril at all? Honestly much of it stems from my hatred of tracking long periods of time while playing. A torch burns for 6 turns, great. Let's all argue about if it's been 6 turns or five-and-a-half. Torches in Wayshielders are made by a civilization that exists only underground and in their own recursive cities - they each burn for a day. They go out when something puts them out.

Similarly, checking for wandering monsters every turn, with so many chances for nothing. We can simulate this in other ways with less record keeping and make it based on the decisions of the players.

A friend was concerned that Assist talents added Peril - she found this counter-intuitive, that assisting a group lessens peril for all involved. Perhaps Assist is not the right descriptor for these talents, but here some the rationales behind why they raise instead of lower Peril:
  • From a meta-game perspective, all Assist talents are healing talents. If they're allowed unlimited use, the concepts of hit points or resource management go out the window. This introduces a decision - is it worth healing now to accelerate our next roll against Chaos (discussion of which follows).
  • Aside from the healing, each Assist talent provides a buff or tactical bonus. In using these I feel a player has acknowledged their player has met a challenge worthy of some thought and consideration, that is, something dangerous. At these points the sum total of the danger experienced should go up.
  • Narratively, the things in the dungeons, and the dungeon itself on some level, hate teamwork and health. They get under their skin (or whatever serves that purpose for them), drive them snuffling out of their lairs, waken dead and killing limbs.
Right now the kit options that build Peril are the ones that allow players to obliquely question the Arbiter directly. Speak with Dead, Speak with Plants, Speak with Stones: all these function only within dungeons and stretch the laws of sanity.

A number of spells add Peril as well. Anything that heals. Well, almost anything - the Weird spell can be turned into a potion that increases the healing done by resting. Weird in Wayshielders is Cantrip or Prestidigitation in many other games, "Harmless dancing lights, modify flavors, clean a small item or area, and all manner of frivolity" to take the spell description. But it's also the only spell that can improve healing without building Peril.

The other spells that build Peril either provide substantial buffs that border on Assist talents or create minions. I didn't want to give players an "out" on building Peril from Assists by choosing spells that mimicked them. Minions of any sort can be used to circumvent all sorts of danger, and tend to be unnatural in their manifestations, so they get Peril as a balancing and thematic factor.

All the classes whose resources build Peril are the magical types. Mages are most dangerous because they're basically channeling the dungeon's power directly, breaking space and time. 

I'll go into dungeon cores in another post on magic. Suffice to say for now they're how magic items get made, and the dungeon does not like having them taken.

Now, what do with all that Peril?

Checking Chaos

For every 10 peril, Chaos increases by 1, then Peril resets. Chaos represents the general instability, nascent will, and growing hostility of the Dungeon itself. The Arbiter should roll d6 + Chaos on this table.

Wandering monsters roll their treasure value at -5 their normal value.
  1. Treasure. A minor treasure is unveiled.
  2. Supplies.
  3. Nothing. Perhaps the beams creak, perhaps some dust settles, but nothing happens mechanically.
  4. Darkness. 1d4 of the party’s light sources falter and go out.
  5. Manifestation. The dungeon provides a disturbing reminder of just what it’s capable of. All hirelings must make a morale check.
  6. Weak Wandering Monster. The dungeon will list possibilities.
  7. Supplies.
  8. Moderate Wandering Monster. The dungeon will list possibilities.
  9. Treasure.
  10. Strong Wandering Monster. The dungeon will list possibilities.
  11. Overpowering Wandering Monster. The dungeon will list possibilities.
  12. Catastrophe. The dungeon awakens.
In many ways, the dungeon slowly wakes up the longer and louder the party mucks around in it. There are a few chances for treasure or supplies on here, but those evaporate fairly quickly, and the party is left facing stronger and stronger wandering monsters, or the will of the dungeon itself.

Manifestation is, I think, somewhat insidious if you have a lot of hirelings along. Each that fails their morale check is going to add 1 to the new Peril counter, putting you quickly at the next Chaos check. Similarly with darkness - relighting those sources adds 1 Peril each.

I think some of the options for various "wandering monsters" are also perfectly within their rights to be displays of the dungeon itself. Things like "traps reset" or "entrance closes".

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Umbrham Characters

A couple weeks ago I improvised a hybrid of Monsterparts and Dread that came to take place in the small New England town of Umbrham (pronounced as only a small New England town can be pronounced). All the characters were in 7th or 8th grade in the year 1986 and were created simply by answering seven of the following questions each.

I wrote the questions on index cards, then the players passed them around and chose one at a time that appealed to them. After they answered the questions, and at the start of each session, they read their questions (but not their answers) aloud to the group. Everyone was also allowed to pick two possessions they would always be assumed to carry.

I'm presenting the questions here grouped by how they were chosen to make characters.
  • What did you spend your [Bar/Bat] Mitzvah money on?
  • How can you afford to spend so much time at the arcade?
  • Why do you spy on [Player A’s character]?
  • What did you name your dog?
  • What's the password to your tree house?
  • Whose blood stained your concert shirt?
  • Why don’t you eat meat?
  • What did you learn at overnight camp?
  • Where do you carry your heirloom?
  • Why did you miss the last couple track practices?
  • Why is your kid brother hiding a bruise?
  • When did the dreams start again?
  • Which of [Player B’s character]’s family do you idolize?
  • Why did you fail math last year?
  • How long since dad left?
  • Where do you get your cigarettes?
  • How did you get that scar?
  • Why don’t you show anyone your poetry?
  • How much longer do you have to wear that cast?
  • How did you lose your virginity?
  • What do you know about [Player C’s character]’s family that they don’t?
  • When did your twin die?
  • Do your parents know you’re pregnant?
  • What’s the only thing Grandad says to you?
  • Why do you trust [Player A’s character] so much?
  • How did you earn a scholarship already?
  • What book do you read again and again?
  • Who buys you all your tapes?
At some point I'd like to run it again with the same questions in a different group and see what characters emerge. I'll write up what I remember of the story in a future post but mention briefly that flashlights are an excellent prop for the horror game GM.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Wayshielders Characters

I originally posted this at but am rolling that blog over to this one.

The structure of characters has fluctuated a lot during design, but I feel like the the current setup captures things properly.

Rules here.


Originally classes and races were distinct choices. However the stuff I'd come up with for racial abilities felt pretty uninspired and was focused too heavily on skills. I started thinking about switching to an older "races-are-classes" model and a couple ideas jumped out at me immediately. When I brought them up in conversations with friends I got the same excited response from each independently, and that sealed the fate of the races.

So we have our favorites, Fighter, Mage, Cleric, and Rogue, joined by Elf, Dwarf, and Orc. If I get carried away there will also be a Golem. I'm very likely to get carried away.


I wrote the first draft of Wayshielders on a weird Saturday, lying on the kitchen floor and just putting down what felt right. A very early decision was to use the "classic" abilities, but leave out Constitution and Charisma.

Hit Points work well but I've never really enjoyed having a whole extra ability score whose primary purpose is to determine them. It's been called to use for other things over the years (system shock, Fortitude, Concentration, etc. etc.) but those always felt like consolation prizes. So let's do HP and all its friends without Constitution.

Charisma always felt out of place in older games, where you're supposed to rely more on your roleplaying in social situations than a number. It works fine in games where you have social skills and checks, but I wanted to discard those for Wayshielders, so it was easy to let go.

That leaves just Strength, Dexterity, Intelligence, and Wisdom. These are also abilities I'm fine using with monsters, which is nice. I do like having one system for PCs, NPCs, and monsters.


  • Strength takes on much of Constitution's old role as it's what's used to determine HP.
  • It also affects melee attacks and possibly the Armor or Fortitude defenses.
  • Strength also sets Load - how much you can carry.


  • Armor and Reflex are influenced by Dexterity.
  • It's part of the Initiative modifier.
  • In sort of a weird role, Dexterity in Wayshielders is also a bit of luck, so a high Dexterity helps your Saving Throws.


  • Intelligence can help the Will and Reflex defenses.
  • It also determines how many Spells you know, which is independent of class (though Mages and Elves are going to have the highest Intelligence scores).


  • This factors into Will, Fortitude, and Initiative.
  • It also determines how many languages you know. Languages may sound like a fairly weak benefit, but they do open up social and communication options, and scrolls use is dependent on knowing the language it is written in.

Talents & Focus

Each class has nine talents. You start with four, and over the course of the character's life and career can get up to eight, so there's always one you can't have.

Each talent has a focus, which improves its efficiency or effect - characters start with two and can get up to four, so about half your options are preferable most of the time, but you have others.

Characters have to start with at least one Guard talent and at least one Assist talent. Guard talents do very weak damage, usually d4, but have very high chances to hit and usually cause some additional effect when they do. The defenses they target and the effects they cause are more effective against some enemies than others - a major strategic element of combat is determining who is best able to keep opponents weakened.

Assist talents aren't intended as attacks, but rather benefit and heal allies. Using them builds Peril though. I'll write about Peril in a future post but it's a global counter of all the harm, danger, risk, stupidity, panic, and indecision the party has built up.

Other talents are generally used to hurt things in a manner consistent with the class's style.


I have a huge, unfinished list of kits. Characters pick two and each gives a nice passive bonus. The Verdant Disciple for example gets +1 damage with wooden weapons because they grow thorns in her hands.

Kits let characters of the same class differentiate themselves from each other. They allow for archetypes to be reconstructed without needing special classes - you can build a perfectly recognizable Ranger out of a Rogue who took some ranged talents and the Archer and Animal Trainer kits. 

Each kit also gives a way to earn bonus XP. These aren't as well fleshed out yet, but are supposed to hearken back to the 5 or 10 percent bonus characters would get for having high ability scores. I wanted to shift this reward to roleplaying, but still tie it to things that happened at character creation.

Kits each have four options which become available as the character levels. These provide some new spell uses, or special attacks, or such and such. The first one is available at second level, to provide some sense of immediate reward and hopefully hook players on their character. They get access to six over the course of their career though so won't ever get to use all eight of them.


There's a list of possible backgrounds, but since their impact is so broad, it's fine for players to take this opportunity to present whatever backstory they want for their character. 

Relation to the Wayshielders

Every player character is a member of the Wayshielders guild, so in addition to the background, this is a chance for them to define their more recent history.