Thursday, 6 August 2015

#RPGaDay 2015: Day 6 - Core competences

Prompt: Most recent RPG played

Like Feng Shui before it, Fate Core rocks the
appeal of combining gunplay, swordplay, magic and
cyborg apes.
The most recent game I've played is my by-Skype Fate Core game, Operatives of CROSSBOW. If this were the prompt for Monday it would be No Rest for the Wicked. So it goes. I talked about Fate Core a fair bit last year, I think, but what I love most about it is its flexibility. It's designed as a moderately universal system, and it is in terms of content. You can run pretty much any sort of story under Fate Core, which is not to say that it is the only game you'll ever need. It only has one style of play; as crunchy as you might make the skill set, it is fundamentally a collaborative narrativist game and will never be hardcore simulationist or competitive.

The content customisation is vast, however. Permanent and transitory qualities of people, objects and places are described by Aspects, the abilities of animate beings by Skills and special abilities by Stunts. Anything else can be tacked on. I created three magic systems for CROSSBOW in about an hour, although I'd spend longer if they were a major part of the game or if how they worked mattered.

The next game I have planned will likely also run in Fate Core, because I like being able to stat an NPC in seconds and because an 80s action TV inspired game isn't right for Gumshoe.

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So, my broader discussion is on adaptability.

Generally, the simpler a system, the easier it is to adapt. Fate Core is designed for it, and keeps things nice and simple. Skills are trained abilities and give a flat bonus for rolls based on that skill. Aspects define intrinsic properties and can be invoked by spending Fate points or by Creating an Advantage, an action which either creates or exploits an existing Aspect and usually gives free invokes. Stunts either provide a narrow +2 bonus or some means of bending the rules in a specific situation. Stunts can easily be expanded to provide systems of magic and superpowers, and Aspects to include a heroic origin or mystical nature. Skills are tailored to setting.

Power systems are always the most complicated, often requiring substantial front loading (see for example the Dresden Files RPG,) and the one restriction I would tend to go with in any similar game having played The Dresden Files is 'all wizards or no wizards'. They're just too much more complicated, and while an all-wizard group would all know the rules pretty well (we hope) the players of a vampire, a sea monster and a faerie have no cause to learn those rules and you can end up with the wizard's player and GM spending a lot of time referring to the book (seriously, they're complex as hell, and I played Ascension.) I guess you could be more flexible once you were comfortable with the system, but not at first.

Unisystem Lite was my old go-to for conversion, but again it requires a lot of front-loading. My Stargate and Star Wars ports each had a few bits of description and a crap tonne of Qualities and Drawbacks. Still, it worked pretty well. Gumshoe would almost certainly port easily to pretty much any investigative setting, again with a bit of front loading on career profiles.

D20 on the other hand, basically needs a core book to use. You could work from just the basics, but creating and balancing classes is hard to do and pretty much impossible on the fly, and just look how many professionally produced licensed games screwed it up. This is because D20 is complicated. Its simplest iteration is D20 Call of Cthulhu, best described as an interesting experiment, which pares the system to the bones (its classes are 'offence' and 'defence' and are only very slightly different.) D20 works pretty well for a game with a zero to hero ethos, where PCs start off weak and become mighty, facing appropriate enemies all the way up.

Similarly, anything gritty and simulationist is likely to be rules heavy and thus hard to adapt, even though it should be pretty straightforward since its job is to be a simulation engine and thus relatively free of fiddling narrative conventions. The problem is that each setting then requires fixed rules for anything specific to that setting, which are often difficult to develop on the fly.

Ironically, the worst system to approach for adaptation is something like GURPS, which was to all appearances designed to be a universal, largely simulationist game engine and then incorporated a massive corpus of specific exceptions, including rules for simulating narrative conventions such as Anime Hammerspace.