Friday, December 6, 2019

Demon Hunters: Fungus Among Us

My latest Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors adventure! It's kind of like Color Out of Space, only it's fungus from another dimension and some serious mutational horror. But it's okay, nothing a lot of booze and Halloween Spirit won't cure.

I recently acquired the Fate Adversary Toolkit, by Evil Hat Games and wow it is amazingly useful. Since the last module, I've been doing a lot of rereading Monster of the Week and in this module I'm streamlining a few thing in light of that, and then utilizing many of the concepts in the F.A.T. I HIGHLY recommend picking up the Fate Adversary Toolkit if you don't have it already. I won't be explaining the new mechanics in very much depth so it would be good to have the book.
So what am I streamlining?

  • Threats: I won't be splitting up the adventure into 2-4 major Threats any more. Instead I will be splitting things out according to Scenes or Zones. Within each Scene and/or Zone I will list out expected DMCs, Hazards & Obstacles, Scene Aspects, Badness Table, and provide a general setup/description. Each DMC and other "adversary" type from the Fate Adversary Toolkit will have its adversary type listed, and also a Threat type and Impulse from Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors. This way you'll have an idea of what each DMC wants.
  • Sinistra: I am pretty sold on these as Aspect Events from the Fate System Toolkit. In a sense, these are also a Countdown (which is detailed in Monster of the Week and the Fate Adversary Toolkit). There's only one set of Sinistra for the whole mission and they're listed as Aspects. I'll provide a description afterwards. 
  • Success States: I really love the idea of this, but I have really struggled with developing these for each scene or encounter. I am working a version of these into the Sinistra. For instance if the PCs avoid the sinistrum or prevent it altogether, add a free invoke to an existing aspect in play, or create a new one with a free invoke. Depending on how far down the list the sinistrum is, it may be more like 3 free invokes. Conversely if the sinistrum happens, the DM gets Demon Dice according to the order of the sinistra, and then immediately rolls on a badness table using those free bonus Demon Dice. I'm still playing with this. The main thing is to think ahead about what are the possible outcomes of each encounter and being semi prepared for them. Writing out the success states and the consequences has been challenging in that they often times don't happen that way I've written them at all. 

Really had a lot of fun with this one. I can't wait to hear how it goes in your groups. Let me know what you think of the new additions and format. If you like this,  I hope you'll consider joining my Patreon. Thanks! https://www.patreon.com/donearly

Click to Download Demon Hunters: Fungus Among Us


What is Faith Corps?

No I didn't mean Fate Core, which is an awesome tabletop rpg system. I mean Faith Corps, which is also an awesome tabletop rpg system - based on Fate Accelerated and Cortex Plus.

The system we call Faith Corps debuted in the Kickstarter-funded Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors RPG in 2015. It was developed by Cam Banks and Amanda Valentine, who happen to know a thing or two about rpgs, particularly Fate and Cortex and all their variants. I was getting ready to create a supplement to the Cortex version of the Demon Hunters Roleplaying Game, published by Margaret Weis Productions, but kept running into dated issues. The canon had evolved, and it started to make more sense to just create a new edition than to create a supplement to a book that was pubished back in 2008. So I pinged Cam Banks and asked if he'd be interested in designing a new game system for me. :) I think there was a "hell yes" somewhere involved.

Cam knows the world well and he asked me what I wanted the system to be able to do. Here was my list (in no particular order):
  • Be able to create a character in about 5 minutes
  • Have the feeling of character power analogous to going from Level 1 to Level 20 and back again in the same session. Essentially being able to do epic things when the conditions are right, but the consequences can still be super deadly.
  • Have a story narrative exchange economy like the Plot Point system in Cortex. I love the free-form ability to create things as a player that wouldn't normally fit into any rules.
  • Make failing fun.
  • Roll a lot of dice, because rolling a lot of dice is fun.
  • Use normal/polyhedral dice, so everyone can play.
And frankly I think he and Amanda nailed every single one. The choice was to basically use Fate Accelerated and change the bonuses or ratings to dice. We use the same set of approaches as Fate: Careful, Clever, Flashy, Forceful, Quick, Sneaky. Each approach gets a die rating, assigning the following array however is appropriate for the character: d10, d8, d8, d6, d6, d4. 

In place of skills or classes or whatever, we have disciplines. For player characters these are: Combat & Tactics, Covert Ops, Mystic Arts, Research & Development, Social Engineering, and Fringe. You pick 3 to put dice in, and the rest are treated as d4. The die ratings are d10, d8, and d6.

Next you create aspects for your character, just like in Fate. And you also create stunts. To provide the economy piece, he ported over the doom pool idea from Cortex Plus, and we call it demon dice. They're a temptation. A way to cheat with an immediate consequence. The player, after they've rolled and found out the result, can use demon dice to change the result. They're d6's, and they can add up to 3d6 on any particular roll. If they roll a demon die, the DM gets a demon die for their pool. Demon dice are always replenished every round.

Like with Fate Points, we have Faith Dice. These are d6's, and used to invoke aspects. 

There are no compels in Faith Corps. Instead players can use the Create an Advantage action to discover their opponent's Trouble aspect or conditions and invoke them to use against their opponent. They can create free invocations using this aspect too, once the aspect is known, for future use.

Instead of stress and stress tracks, we have hits and conditions. Hits are like stress. If the player attacks their opponent, and the attack roll is higher than the defend roll, the difference is how many hits this opponent takes. They have condition boxes to soak these up. A mild condition soaks 5 hits, moderate 10, and severe 15. 

I won't explain all the rules, you can buy our book for that! It does really play very similarly to Fate, using polyhedrals instead of Fudge dice, and a few other tweaks. The good news I have found with it is that it's fairly easy to convert Fate material to Faith Corps. 

Currently there is no setting-neutral version of the rules. An SRD has been talked about, but carving out the time has been a slog. This blog is meant to provide ideas around using Faith Corps, and releasing free materials for it.

I also have a Patreon where I'm creating content for Faith Corps that includes adventures for the Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors setting, and adapting the rules for other settings. I am a huge nerd for 80's Saturday morning cartoon settings, and the first one I'm working on is He-Man. That'll be in the next post.


We ride!

Monday, September 30, 2019

Writing and Using Sinistra

Out of all of the content in Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors, one of the concepts that confuse people the most (including some of our own writers), is Sinistra. Today I'm going to explain where they came from, how they work as written, and how to re-frame them for clearer use.

BACKGROUND


The Threats, Agendas, Sinistra, and Missions in this game are a reskin of the Fronts and Threats system found in Powered by the Apocalypse Games like Apocalypse World, Dungeon World, and Monster of the Week. As described in Apocalypse World 1e (p.137):
A front is a set of linked threats.
In DH a front is a Mission. Threats are still Threats, and Sinistra are Countdown Clocks or Countdowns in the other systems.

In testing out adventure generation, what I really liked about this system was the explicit process, and how it prepared you to GM ad hoc in your game. It gave you motivations and goals for all the characters, and by thinking through the story from the Threat's point of view, establishing what would happen if no one interfered.

Each individual Threat could provide a new scene or subplot.

WHERE IT GETS CONFUSING


I think the fact that the Mission/Front itself has its own Countdowns, and then each Threat had their own Countdowns (which may or may not be similar or the same as the the overall countdown), it gets challenging trying to differentiate between a Threat Countdown and a Front Countdown. (Or in DH terms, Mission Sinistra vs Threat Sinistra).

Sometimes there's a clear separation. In the Burnout! Mission in the Demon Hunting Guide A771: An Impractical Guide to Mission Planning pp. 24-25, we see the difference demonstrated:

Mission Sinistra
An Uber pulls up down the block from the crime scene and disgorges a group of rowdy young adults who disappear into a seemingly abandoned warehouse.
Inside, on the tightly-packed dance floor, club kids are combusting at an alarming rate. Inexplicably, the glassy-eyed throngs of dancers meet each immolation with cheers.
A crowd forms around the door to the women’s bathroom as a rumor spreads that someone is passing out free Roulette inside.
Up in the VIP lounge, the VIPs down handfuls of Roulette to force a flameout and spark the next phase of Eel’s plan.
Xiuhcoatl bursts through the center of the dance floor, summoned by the human sacrifice of Roulette’s victims.
Xiuhcoatl escapes the warehouse to set the world aflame.
Threat Sinistra
Club kids arrive and Bull lets them through. If they don’t look like they’re going to take Roulette, he won’t let them pass.
11:00pm. Some club kids leave the Firesnake Lounge and burst into flame in the alleyway or at home.
11:25pm. Bull stops letting club kids out of the lounge. “Sober up!” is his excuse, but he keeps them in as offerings and to prevent them from causing attention outside on the street.
11:59pm. Local police arrive to investigate missing persons. Bull does not let them in. They attempt to arrest him, and he murders several of them just as Xiuhcoatl breaks free.
Going into this much detail prepared me for all kinds of contingencies when the players intervened, but it was challenging to differentiate the Big Bad's Threat Sinistra (not quoted above) from the overall Mission's Sinistra. It should be noted that most of these Sinistra didn't come to pass, and I didn't refer much to them during game play. That said, I was prepared for any direction the story would go because I was more confident in the goals and steps to achieve those goals for my characters.

HOW TO WRITE SINISTRA AS-IS


To write Sinistra this way, start by thinking of the overall story as you picture it in your mind, from the perspective if the players do not intervene. What goal (we call them Agendas in DH) will the big bad achieve? What will that mean for them? What are the major events or milestones that have to happen (Sinistra), in chronological order, so they can achieve that goal?

Then, identify your major Threats. Who are the main characters the player characters will face that are a threat to them? Will each Threat set up a different scene? Threats can also be locations (Danger Zones), or systemic conditions or situations (Scourges). You can treat these just as you would treat a Demon Master Character (DMC).  Start by thinking about which Threat the players will face first.

With your first Threat identified, zoom in with your imagination to that Threat's perspective. Given the Mission's Sinistra, what is the ultimate goal of this first Threat? Sit at the right hand of the Big Bad? Kill as many people as possible in a single location? Prevent anyone from getting to the Big Bad? Like with the Mission Sinistra, in chronological order, think of the major milestones or events that will happen, or need to happen, for the Threat to realize their Agenda? There, you have your Threat Sinistra. Rinse and repeat for your other Threats.

RESULTS


In practice, I have met very few people who plan out their adventures at this level of detail. Writing Sinistra can be a lot of work and take a lot of time, only to probably not even to have them come to pass. Sure, I felt prepared, but was it worth the effort?

Sometimes. I find this approach still very helpful for campaign planning. Stories that take a lot longer than one or two sessions. Dungeon World talks more about this idea. For one-shots, or missions that last two or three sessions, it might be overkill.

The other thing I didn't take into consideration when writing this section for DH was that Apocalypse World is a VERY different setting and play style than DH. That said, even the AW team decided to simplify their system with Apocalypse World 2nd Edition. They still have Threats but they don't even talk about fronts anymore.

So, since my Patreon Campaign is all about building and writing adventures, I started researching again and found myself really drawn to DH's more grown-up cousin, Monster of the Week by Evil Hat Productions.

https://www.evilhat.com/home/monster-of-the-week/


MONSTER OF THE WEEK


MotW Terms Conversion to DH Guide:
  • Mystery = Mission
  • The Threats = Threats
  • Mystery Countdowns = Mission Sinistra
I'm just going to assume you have familiarity with this game. If not, click on the link above and pick it up. It's awesome.

Monster of the Week adventure creation feels more geared towards one-shots or shorter missions that take two or three sessions to complete. Obviously this makes sense given the name! These Mysteries are structured very similar to an episode of Supernatural or Scooby-Doo. 

When examining the Mystery Countdowns, they still write them out in full sentences, describing the events in concise detail. They are written in progressive order (Smoke, Fire, Inferno, Ash) and still from the perspective if no one intervened.

The Threats in MotW do not have their own Countdowns, but do still have a type and driving motivation.

Testing this out, I still found that while I felt prepared for the adventure, I still didn't have a clear idea for the consequences or ramifications of Countdowns/Sinistra coming to pass or thwarted/avoided. For a game so heavily reliant on Aspects, I turned to the Fate System Toolkit, also by Evil Hat Productions.


ASPECT EVENTS (Fate System Toolkit p. 46)

An aspect event has two components: the event list and the crescendo aspect. The event list is a series of things that will happen, leading up to the crescendo aspect. Think of the crescendo aspect as what will happen if the players don’t intercede. A good event has three to six aspects plus the crescendo aspect.
... Here’s an example:
• Explosions and Fire!
• A Rash of Murders
• Citywide Panic
• Under Terrorist Threat
• Three Hours to Detonation
• Smoking Crater
Structured with similar progression as the MotW Countdowns, but written as Aspects, I found these to be more useful with more opportunities for Demon Dice and Badness Tables.

In the adventure I've written for September, Demon Hunters: Irish Exorcise, I wrote MotW-style Sinistra as Aspect Events. I'm trying out that for each Sinistrum that comes to pass, it is introduced as a scene aspect and the DM gets progressive Demon Dice, depending on where in the order of Sinistra it falls.

For example:
  • More Mutilations (1 Demon Die)
  • Zombie Sheep Attack! (2 Demon Dice)
  • Nunja Warzone (3 Demon Dice)
  • Farmhouse Massacre (4 Demon Dice)
  • The Demon Escapes (5 Demon Dice)
Granted The Demon Escapes isn't a very good aspect, but it caps out the events. The DM can immediately roll those dice on a Badness Table. If the Demon Hunters thwart or avoid a Sinistrum I would grant Faith Dice, or free invocations, clear a mild condition, or giving a boost, depending on the situation and level of Sinistrum.

OTHER IDEAS


Forced Sinistra: The DM pays Demon Dice to force a Sinistrum to come to pass.
Badness Tables: Use Sinistra when writing Badness Table entries.
Hybrid Approach: Consider writing the Sinistra as Aspect Events as above, but as a header. Then in longer form explain what happens.
Threat Aspect Events: Return to the original structure, but instead of written out Sinistra, write them as Aspect Events.

As always it's up to you what works best for you. The ideas presented here are certainly not new or the only ways. What have you found that works for you? What ideas from this post, if any, will you try in your next adventure? Post your answer down in the comments.
Also, what other topics would you like to hear more about?
  • Creating Threats
  • Doing Mad Science
  • Creating Full-Scale Rituals
  • Utilizing Zones
  • What else???
Thanks everyone! Patreon subscribers, your new adventure drops tomorrow. I look forward to hearing what you think of it and how it plays out in your games. If you'd like to join my Patreon, click HERE!

Sunday, September 8, 2019

Faith Corps Adaptation to Star Wars and How I Will Adapt It Back


Back in 2016, Mike Olson (yes THAT Mike Olson) wrote up an adaptation of our system in Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors, the system we have been calling Faith Corps, for the world of Star Wars Rebels.
I'm excited beyond giddy that he enjoyed the system enough to do something on his own with it. Not to mention he runs his own Faith Corps ones-hots at cons! If you're interested in running Star Wars with Faith Corps, this is a fantastic method to adapt the system.
In my first Demon Hunters adventure that I'm writing for this Patreon, I'm going to be borrowing Mike's dogfighting rules for ship-to-sea monster combat. These could of course be used for actual dogfighting in other settings, and you can look forward to some encounters like that in future adventures and in the other settings I'm developing.
As I have said in the description of my Patreon, I am not a game designer. I leave that up to... the game designers. But I will sure as heck use anything awesome that they come up with (that I have permission to use)! :)
Below I'm going to quote and paraphrase Mike's system and provide adaptation language when I feel like the setting needs it.
See this PDF for Ship Stats by Olson. Mike writes:
If you take a look at the linked character sheets for the Ghost and Phantom, above, you'll see they're mostly built like PCs, but not quite. 
For one, they don't have approaches or disciplines -- instead, they have three plain ol' stats. These are Maneuver (how maneuverable the ship is), Speed (how fast its sublight engines are), and Systems (everything from the navicomp to the comms to the targeting computer).   
For our purposes I will be replacing Systems with Enhancements. Unless you really want to trick out the Demon Hunters boat to actually have Systems, I am just making the assumption there's some enhancements to a normal speedboat. Maybe a portal pocket. Extended sensors. Weapons locker. Maybe even a torpedo or two. Nah, I'll get to weapons later.
When a character does something on a ship, if one of these stats  applies, add its die (or dice) to the character's chosen approach and  discipline. For example, if you're the pilot and defending against a TIE  fighter, you'll roll an approach (probably Quick) plus Action plus  Maneuver. If you're trying to chase that TIE fighter through an asteroid  field before they can clear it and report your presence, you'll roll an  approach (maybe Quick, but Careful wouldn't be bad either in a Star  Wars-brand Asteroid Field™ where  all the asteroids are way bigger than your ship but still float around  mere yards apart from one another) plus Action plus Speed. If that  doesn't work and you're trying to jam the TIE's comms, you'll roll an  approach (Clever, perhaps?) plus Tech plus Systems. You get the idea. 
Olson is referencing a different Discipline he's created for Star Wars-themed characters. In this case "Action" or "Tech". This is a huge note in how to adapt the system to other settings. I recommend keeping the Approaches as they are, but create your own Disciplines that fit your setting. We talk about this already in the corebook of A Comedy of Terrors when creating antagonists for the players to interact with. 
These two ships have die ratings in all three stats, but that's not  always the case. The Gozanti-class cruiser, for example, doesn't have a  Maneuver die or a Speed die. They're fairly big and bulky, and, more  importantly, they're likely the biggest ship that could appear in this  game, so I don't need to account for, say, the maneuverability and speed  of Star Destroyers.
The dogfighting bit is pretty simple. If your Maneuver die is lower than your target's Maneuver die, you need to use a free invocation on an aspect to be able to attack them. The "free" bit is important. Maybe you spend a round getting In Position, or maybe an allied pilot is your Wingman, or maybe the co-pilot uses the ship's targeting computer to get Locked On. (The Ghost and the Phantom can break this rule: Each has a dorsal turret that, if manned, lets the gunner attack any target regardless of its Maneuver die.)
(Compared to the dogfighting rules I used for Crimson Skies,  these are barely there, but Star Wars dogfighting really doesn't care  about, like, actual dogfighting maneuvers. It's all "Damn it, Wedge,  where are you?" and "I can't shake him!" and "Thanks Wedge!" Wedge is  heavily involved.)   [Emphasis changed to underline since I'm using italics to quote]. 
I really like the types of aspects he names here. This is what you can do with the Create an Advantage action.
I'd previously used defined game terms for ship-mounted weapons -- Accuracy, which adds to the attack roll, and Power,  which adds extra damage on a hit -- but here I've dropped those terms  in favor of framing that stuff as stunts. It's just one fewer thing to  explain at the table. This way, the stunt spells out what to do. So I'd  explain what Accuracy and Power are, but hey, look at the ships'  weapons-oriented stunts instead.
As for defense, ships typically have shields, which here are basically free invocations on an aspect called Shields,  but that seemed a little fiddly, plus treating it as an aspect implies  that anyone can put more free invocations on it at any time. Instead,  each ship has a number of check boxes, something like a stress track.  Check a box and add d6 to your defense roll. When you're out of boxes to  check, you're out of shields. Someone on board can use Tech to try to  get more shields happening, and thus clear boxes, but they can't ever add more boxes. 
Sorry Demon Hunters, this boat has no shields. However for future use you could consider using check boxes if your vehicle is Armored in any way. 
Ships also have conditions, pre-defined just like PCs. Actually, this is  where the pre-defined conditions-thing started -- with ships. However,  anyone on board a ship can voluntarily take a condition to reduce a hit  to that ship. This can result in cool things like Hera failing a defense  roll while piloting the Ghost and ending up Irritated or Under Pressure. Because hey, just like in the show! 
Olson in a previous post brought up the idea of creating predefined conditions that are unique and specific to that character. Most characters get 3 Mild conditions to mark off, but they create 5 predefined conditions to choose from. I really like this idea. He uses this for Moderate and Severe conditions on a different post and explains how he connects these to Stunts. You should check it out. I'm totally stealing it.
For NPCs, I build pilots and ships separately, even though those pilots  are likely only ever going to act while piloting a ship. This way, I can  keep the same three-dice thing the PCs use instead of trying to figure  out some other way to achieve dogfighting parity. Big ships have gun  emplacements operated by gunners, which gives them multiple attacks a  turn and makes them as scary as they ought to be. For the She-Devils  game, I attempted to scale things up by letting big ships step down the  Power dice of starfighter-scale weapons -- sometimes two steps -- or  even just say they're immune to weapons with a Power die of X or less.  So they're easy to hit, with their lack of a Maneuver die, but harder to  harm. Unless you have an advanced proton torpedo with 2d8 Power or  something. I didn't really get to play out a lot of that, so I can't  tell you how well it works. 
Great advice! Big thanks to Mike Olson for some awesome mechanics additions to use in the Faith Corps System! You can follow him on Twitter @devlin1 
If you'd like to be involved with playtesting, development, or even just getting stuff before anyone else does, please consider joining my Patreon
We ride!


Demon Hunters: Fungus Among Us

My latest Demon Hunters: A Comedy of Terrors adventure! It's kind of like Color Out of Space , only it's fungus from another dimens...