FAE or FATE Core?

Over on my personal site, I have had a number of posts in recent weeks on the two recently released versions of the FATE game system from Evil Hat Productions: the detailed FATE Core version and the FATE Accelerated Edition (FAE) version. Let’s talk about the changes and why I love them.

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Review: Misspent Youth

Note: This review was also published on RPG.net.

Misspent Youth coverMisspent Youth is a game firmly anchored in the subgenre of story games. The players (the Young Offenders, or YO) and gamemaster (the Authority) work together to answer a series of questions about the setting and characters to create the setting, then play out episodes in which the Young Offenders fight off an oppressive, corrupt, or abusive Authority and generally stick it to The Man. What will they sacrifice for their ideals?

Disclaimer: I received free print and PDF copies of the book so I could playtest and review it.

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Playtest review: Danger Patrol!

Last night we tried the beta playtest version of Danger Patrol.  Created by Seattle game designer John  Harper, Danger Patrol is a quick-start role-playing game where players take the roles of pulp science-fiction heroes.  Character creation takes only a few minutes and play is quick and fairly simple, revolving around elements of danger added on-the-fly by the players and game master.  This is a great match for the Emerald City Gamefest Thursday Night Open Game sessions or a pick-up game among friends.

Style

The game is still in beta testing so there is no lavish production.  It’s a neatly laid-out PDF document with a ’30s science-fiction look, but the only illustrations are icons, examples of use of dice, markers, etc., and a head shots of “Professor Bradbury” and “Danger Cadet Billy”, the narrators (or the Clippies) of the game, answering the questions expected from readers.

The writing is clear and kept short, and the information is well organized for quick reference.  There are many useful checklists and cheat sheets, such as the list of the “stuff you need” to play (what types of dice and how many, markers, tokens, etc.), the step-by-step character creation process, the scene sequence, the “GM jobs and threat move” page, the list of “heroic actions”, the rules summaries, etc.

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Review: Mouse Guard RPG

(Cross-posted to RPG.net.)

The Mouse Guard Roleplaying Game is based on the on-going comic book series Mouse Guard and a streamlined, simplified version of the Burning Wheel system, in which you play the protectors and warriors of a medieval society of sentient mice.

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Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies

s7s logoSince we’re on a PDQ# (PDQ Sharp) roll, I’ll keep going. We have had many fans of the PDQ-based groups at the Emerald City Game Feast open games. We’ve played The Zorcerer of Zo, Truth & Justice, and many home-brews based on the system. We’ve also playtested early versions of the most recent PDQ-based release from author Chad Underkoffler, Swashbucklers of the 7 Skies (S7S). (Several of us are listed as playtesters in the credits. 🙂 )

S7S is a joint production of Atomic Sock Monkey Press (Chad Underkoffler’s publishing company) and Evil Hat Productions (well known for releases like Spirit of the Century and Don’t Rest Your Head).

The setting is a swashbuckling fantasy (like you couldn’t tell from the name!) set in an impossible world of airships, musketeers, and pirates. Instead of being set in a pseudo-Europe like another of my favourite systems, Seventh Sea, it is set on a collection of sky-islands that borrow and remix traits from many cultures. To get a glimpse of the setting, you can follow the many links I posted below for samples and free downloads of the fiction and art, and of course the freely available core rules.

These rules are an update and embellishment over the core PDQ rules which were also available free from ASMP, now re-released as PDQ# for a more swashbuckling feel and somewhat more structured character creation. We playtested the hell out of those rules and I’m happy to report that Chad took his playtesters’ feedback seriously. If you sat on some of those games, you will find the final version very transformed.

The pre-orders recently opened for a limited run hardcover version of the book that also comes with a free PDF of the game. I understand they are fast approaching selling out.

The book is receiving, according to its godfather Fred Hicks of Evil Hat Productions, “the Spirit of the Century treatment”: like SotC: a limited hardcover print run followed by a less expensive softcover definitive version. The final version you will find later in friendly local gaming stores will be the softcover.

I have already pre-ordered my own copy of the hardback because it looks so lovely (and the SotC hardbacks were great). I have received the PDF already and it’s a really lovely book. Unlike previous PDQ-based books from ASMP, this one really puts the setting forward as the centrepiece. But like the other PDQ games, it contains a wealth of game-mastering advice for the genre it explores, how to mimic the flavour and tropes in your own game, and a nice list of sources of inspiration.

Links of interest:

Review: Cat RPG

[Cross-posted to RPG.net.]

Wicked Dead Brewing Company’s role-playing game Cat: A Little Game About Little Heroes is great fun for pick-up games with players of all ages.

[For clarity’s sake: this review is not about the completely different Cat RPG from FNH, published here and on Lulu.]

Style

John Wick’s Cat RPG, published in 2004, is a tiny little book that sells for $15, or $7 as PDF. The book numbers 44 pages, in 5.5 in. x 8.5 in. format (140 mm x 215 mm). The black-and-white two-column layout is simple but pleasant enough to the eye; all illustrations are from public domain art.

The text is organized in alternating sections of setting info in the form of first-person narration by the author’s cat, and rules material. The style is not bad; it could have used a bit of polishing but all in all an easy read.

Organization-wise, because the rules information is found throughout the text, a short page or half-page rules summary for the players would be very useful. The table of content is sufficient to find the necessary information; there is no index, but the game is short enough that it’s not difficult to find what you’re looking for.

A character sheet is provided at the end. It’s serviceable, though some fans have created alternate ones that are even more useful.

Substance

Cat RPG uses John Wick’s very simple Advantage system, relying on small pools of six-sided dice. Characters take only minutes to create; aside from a concept and names, cats have six traits:

  • Claws for fighting and climbing
  • Coat shows off a cat’s colours, protects him from claws and teeth and helps him persuade others.
  • Face for perception, sensory center (eyes, nose, ears, tongue and whiskers).
  • Fangs for fighting and carrying things around.
  • Legs for jumping, balance and other quick movements.
  • Tail for using Magic.

Traits are rated Best (5 dice), Strong (4 dice), or Good (3 dice). Damage may later bring those down to Hurt (2 dice) or Crippled (1 die). Each cat gets one Best trait, two Strong, and the rest at Good.

Other creatures may have different traits; for example, dogs have Nose (smelling) and Paws (digging); humans have Thumbs (picking things up, manipulation).

Cat characters also have 7 points of Reputation to distribute (e.g., Rat Catcher 2). They can spend them on up to five Reputations; ratings that can go up to 5. Finally, cats start with nine lives, of course.

When taking a challenge — runs a Risk — a cat’s player rolls a number of d6 equal to the appropriate trait. Appropriate reputations grant additional dice. And finally, any advantage that can be credibly narrated by the player will grant Advantage dice. For example:

A cat tries to hide from a dog. The player says, “I have three advantages. First, it’s dark, lending to my hiding skills. Second, it’s raining, which makes it hard for the dog to catch my scent. Finally, I’m up high, hiding on a dumpster. High above the dog’s head.”

The GM agrees and says, “Okay. You have three advantages. You can roll three additional dice to hide.”

Sometimes cats face an opponent that has different traits. If a cat has a Trait an enemy doesn’t have, there’s no competition; the cat wins any contest involving that Trait. Conversely, if an enemy has a Trait a cat doesn’t have, the cat loses the contest.

The book offers rules on contests and damage, using cat magic, and character advancement.

The background material woven through — this is not the kind of game that makes a sharp distinction between setting and system — revolves around the role of cats in protecting humans against supernatural threats, and particularly boggins which feed on people’s negative emotions. A few adventure seeds and the traits for a few enemies are provided.

Finally, the book contains useful game-mastering advice that is quite handy not only for this game but in a wider context. The emphasis is on dream adventures, since cats can wander freely in the Realm of Dreams. Another useful advice section discusses how a GM can overlay Cat on top of another role-playing game. The example offered is that of adding Jonesy the cat from Alien to a sci-fi horror story.

Actual Play

I have run this game several times at conventions; most recently, I ran it for the third year in a row at ConQuest NW.

The really quick character creation allowed me to do away with pre-generated characters, the approach I usually favour for time-constrained convention games. I found that people really love making their cat character and get attached to it. A majority of the players are people who played in a previous game, and saved their character sheet!

The simplicity of the game also lends itself well to the sketchy, modular preparation style I recommend for conventions. A page or two of outline and character thumbnails suffices to run most games. It doesn’t help to have too much material, since cats do what they will and do not willingly follow a railroad track!

On the down side, even though they are short the rules are not organized for very rapid reference; I’ve resolved that in the future I would have a rules cheat sheet on the back of each character sheet. Some rules need to be made explicit or tinkered with; for example, how do characters help one another? My answer is that they don’t — cats are solitary, self-centered creatures, after all.

In fact, many aspects of feline behaviour seem to be excellent matches for typical player behaviour, such as the combination of heroics for a cause with ruthless cruelty to one’s opponents. In every game, player character have heroically protected the innocent — and endlessly tormented even minor enemies. In one game, they took malicious pleasure in completely wrecking the inside of a convertible BMW, and in terrifying a dog. In our most recent game, in a scene taking place in the Goblin King’s castle in the Dreamlands, they amused themselves by throwing purple velociraptors down a set of Escheresque stairs and watching them bounce. Good times…

One thing I found missing in the rules is some incentive for characters to use their weaker traits. There is a strong incentive in the rules as written to always use your best trait for everything. It’s personal taste, but I like systems that offer incentives to use weaker stats and accept the occasional failure.

I have run this game for newcomers to role-playing and for young players. It’s very easy to grasp and people really get into the idea of playing feline. Incidentally, it’s quite easy to allow players to have dog characters instead, if the group is thus inclined.

In Short

Cat is a simple, streamlined game that makes for excellent impromptu, one-off, or episodic games. It’s an excellent choice for gaming with children or introducing your non-gamer friends to the hobby without scaring them off with mazes and monsters or hit location tables. It requires very little backstory and can be fitted in just about any setting to taste, from medieval fantasy to modern horror, etc. It could even be quite easily adapted to live-action gaming, at least system-wise.

It is not a good choice for people who prefer crunchy systems or don’t enjoy playing whimsical characters.

Links of interest:

Articles and reviews

Still working on the Website facelift, we’ve consolidated a lot of the game-related articles and reviews we had posted in the last few years into one convenient location. You can find them listed in the Articles section, and of course you can browse the tags and categories in the left sidebar. Don’t hesitate to submit new articles if you have a good idea.

We’ve also started adding information on upcoming game-related conventions and events on our Google-based “webmaster @ emeraldcitygamefest . org” calendar, which can be accessed here. The feed for upcoming events also appears in the right sidebar on this site.

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