Thursday, June 6, 2013

[Play-Thru] Fate Accelerated Edition

When Spirit of the Century (SotC) was coming out, I was excited about a pick-up pulp game that used the new version of FATE. When I got the product, I was skeptical of the idea that a 400+ page tome could be used to do anything quickly, let alone throw together a roleplaying session.  Luckily SotC turned out to be a killer game, and once you have some time with it, it's certainly right for a pick-up game. Fast-forward several years and the promise of third edition FATE has come to fruition in Fate Core. It's brilliant--I'll say that--but my favorite thing to come out of one of the hottest RPG Kickstarters in history is not the main product, it's Fate Accelerated Edition (FAE). It's my favorite because it not only fulfills the promise of SotC, but it might just be the perfect pick-up game, period.

Before I get into my Play-Thru I'll clarify a thing or two. First, FAE is in no way limited to pulp adventure. You can literally use it for anything if you have a flexible mind and group. Second, at 48 pages I don't feel the need to get into too much detail about the mechanics. Just broad strokes folks.

The big difference between FAE and other versions is the skill list, in that there is none. Instead, players are asked to stat six approaches--no doubt taking a cue from Cortex+ [Edit: Turns out I was wrong about this bit; Cortex+ got it from Fate--credit where credit is due]. Players then start the game with two or three Aspects and one Stunt (which uses trimmed-back rules).

I decided to test FAE at a local charity game day. I called the adventure Quest for the MacGuffin. Here was the description: "Players will create pulp adventure characters with the new and not-yet-released Fate Accelerated Edition. These characters will then complete a quest involving a MacGuffin, in a setting the players help create."

With that information, I pretty much sat down, explained Aspects, Approaches, and Stunts, and we got to work. The players decided they wanted to do '30s-era pulp, with Nazis as the bad guys. They also decided there would be magic, but it would be extremely subtle. After the setting was decided, the players made their characters. Then the players decided their MacGuffin would be the Eye of Odin. Finally, they decided their characters learned the Eye was at a castle in Germany. The rest was left up to me.

That above process took about 90 minutes. There were four players, and two of them had never played any version of Fudge. We then used the remaining two and a half hours to play. I had the setting, the characters, and the destination, so I simply created obstacles in their path. Before the session ended, the players were in several scenes and five encounters, including a satisfying climax.

In my second test, I ran FAE for five people, three of which had never played any version of Fudge. We still got the creation process done in 90 minutes and played a satisfying story in about two and a half hours, this time the players were members of a space federation, dispatched to investigate what happened to Science Outpost Sagan and the Dark Matter Harvester. It went equally well.

One interesting side effect of both sessions is many of the players walked away with characters they cared about and wanted to play again and a campaign setting they wanted to spend more time exploring. I just found that fascinating.

Aside from pick-up games, I could see FAE being used as a sort of "proof of concept" tool. Let's say someone in your group has a setting idea, but the rest of the group doesn't get it. Run a session with the loose idea in FAE and figure it out. Alternatively, let's say your a designer and you get a setting in your head. Here's a way to brainstorm while playing.

The PDF can be had for literally any price you desire to pay. Evil Hat is selling it on a "pay what you want" model, and they encourage you to just download it for free if you'd like, and then give them money if you think it's worth more than zero dollars. The print version will only set you back $5 when it's available. Knowing what I know, the value of FAE can't be judged by page count. I'll pay the $2.50 Evil Hat asks for sure. That's a no-brainer.

Monday, June 3, 2013

[Read-Thru] Odyssey: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Campaign Management

I'm thinking of investing in one of those aluminum foil hats. You know, the kind that's supposed to prevent mind reading? Because I'm pretty sure the folks at Gnome Stew are scanning my brain for ideas. When Martin Ralya contacted me to find out if I wanted to do a pre-release review of the next Gnome Stew/Engine Publishing book, I was of course intrigued. Their last three entries were great, and I was pretty sure two of them were the result of reading my mind. Odyssey: The Complete Game Master's Guide to Campaign Management, by Phil Vecchione and Walt Ciechanowski, has me considering aluminum foil hats. The book has arrived as I'm feeling it's time to take starting and running a campaign seriously if I want to keep the buy-in of my group, who are all-too patient with my Game Mastering Multiple Personality Disorder (GMMPD). Odyssey should help me do just that.

The PDF is of the typical quality expected from Engine Publishing. That is to say it's bookmarked and hyperlinked, and it's just the right file size to make for a super-smooth read on my iPad Mini--or any tablet, I imagine. The font size should make for easy reading whether your tablet is 7" or 10". For fun, I put it on my wife's phone, which has a 4.75" screen, and I could read it just fine in landscape mode.

After the obligatory introduction material, which includes a foreword by the inimitable Kenneth Hite, the book is broken down into four sections. The first part is all about how the author views campaigns and why he thinks managing them properly is important. Given my current GMing situation, I didn't need much convincing, but I also identified with a lot of the explanation of when things work and when they don't, and why. If you want to give your GM (who clearly doesn't need any help--just ask him) a gentle nudge in the right direction, I'd recommend asking him to read this section before poo-pooing the book.

The main three sections of the book are Starting a Campaign, Managing a Campaign, and Ending a Campaign. Each section is broken down into steps, and each step provides questions you should ask, steps you should take, and examples of what happens when you do it right and if you don't do it so well. Throughout the book, Phil and Walt provide real life examples from their own campaigns. It was refreshing to read their mistakes as well as their successes. Also, there's a fictional gaming group that is used to help drive home each lesson in the book. I like that the group didn't seem fake. They were completely believable because I was able to see myself and other gaming friends in them.

After reading Odyssey, I came away feeling better about the mistakes I've made over the years, and feeling great about the things I know I've done well. I'm really excited to apply my newfound knowledge to future campaigns. This book will be a useful reference whenever I'm between sessions. Of course it's my hope I will spend more time in the middle of this book than in the other sections.

As I write this, it's my intention to do a "Play-Thru" of Odyssey. I'm about to start a new campaign. I may as well report on how each step works for me. The Starting a Campaign posts should come rather quickly. Perhaps Managing a Campaign posts would come as they apply. Hopefully, the Ending a Campaign posts will be farther into the future than might be usual for me.

So after writing this post, I've decided not to invest in an aluminum foil hat. If the guys at Gnome Stew really are scanning my brain for ideas, the information is clearly in good hands.