First thing I’ve learned about blogging: never write that you’ll do anything “tomorrow”. I might have met my self-imposed deadline, but that’s as much by good fortune as design.
Anyway, earlier this week I ran a character generation session for the War of Ashes playtest. I’ve got a four player group, but unfortunately only three of them were able to make it on that evening. I’m a fervent believer in setting aside a whole session for char gen (as a GM, how can you design a plot that will interest your player characters if you don’t know who those player characters are?), and I love the creativity that comes out of a group jamming session, so I was very hesitant to generate characters without having everyone there to contribute. However, the game’s beta test only runs for four weeks, and I’m already cutting off the last week of that to go to GenCon. Postponing to get everyone involved would have meant running one less session; in the context of the playtest, that seemed the greater evil. I’ll find out whether I made the wrong decision next week, when I meet with the fourth player to do char gen with her one-to-one.
After several hours of chatting, setting introduction, group brainstorming and finally game and character creation, we’d come up with the following key details:
- The PCs are all members of a Vidaar clan, a warlike and piratical culture, especially in contrast to their “civilised” Elvorix cousins. Centuries ago, the Vidaar departed en masse to search for the fabled treasure island of Garigla. Though most Vidaar have now abandoned the search, dismissing the existence of Garigla as a con by the Elvorix who used to serve them, this clan continues its voyage of discovery for some reason (Game Aspect: THE FOOL’S ERRAND).
- In these dark times following the Great Catastrophe, the inhabitants of Agaptus live in fear of the Gods taking a direct hand in mortal affairs again. However, terrifyingly, brave Udvlag battle priests warn that omens in the ylark cheese point to the return of an old power, who might challenge Akka-Maas the Only God for dominance. Should it happen, the best that mortals can hope for is to stay out of the way (Game Aspect: DIVINE RESHUFFLE).
- Our first PC is Faas, a hapless Vidaar warrior, whose legendary gambling losses place him in debt to the warband’s captain. Unbeknownst to him, he is a distant descendent of Fullas Has, the forgotten Sentian God of Gambling, which accounts for his wild swings in fortune and persistent divine attention. In spite of his craven heart, the clan keep Faas around because they think he’s a good omen (High Concept: COWARDLY LUCKY CHARM).
- Our second PC is Blagaard, formerly Biblius Bibulus, a captive Elvorix scholar who has convinced the Vidaar of his ability to commune with Akka-Maas the Only God. He now serves them as an Udvlag battle priest of sorts, and they in turn rarely mistreat him. He is highly skilled at interpreting the omens in ylark cheese in such a way as to please his patrons (High Concept: “CONVERTED” PRIEST OF AKKA-MAAS).
- Our third PC is Bonecrusher the Nhilde Troll. The Vidaar traded him away from his parents at a young age, and raised him to fight as a living weapon. Whilst Bonecrusher has indeed grown to be huge, strong and incredibly tough, he his far more insightful than the Vidaar give him credit for, and at his core is the soul of a poet (High Concept: RELUCTANT WEAPON OF MASS DESTRUCTION).
From brief chats with our fourth player, I suspect that she’ll want to play the clan’s leader (or Styrsik, I’m informed by the rulebook). I think this is a good choice, because of the connection that already exists between Faas and the captain, and the implicit connection to Blagaard’s divine advisor.
So far, I have less to say about War of Ashes than I thought I would – for char gen at least, it’s pretty much the same as Fate Accelerated Edition. For those not familiar with FAE (and I would recommend becoming so, because it’s great, only 50 pages long, and available online for free), char gen involves choosing three main things: Aspects, Approaches and Stunts. Aspects are short phrases that describe the core of your character – you spend from your precious stack of fate points to invoke them for a bonus on a roll, and can get fate points back when an aspect causes you trouble. Approaches are what you use to take action, and describe the way in which you approach a task, providing a flat bonus according to your own specialties. Stunts are more situational special rules, and in FAE tend to give you a flat bonus in a narrow circumstance, or a once-per-session special ability.
As I’ve found is usually the case in Fate character creation, choosing Aspects took hours, choosing Approaches took thirty seconds, and choosing Stunts took longest of all. The limited options of Approaches are so much easier to choose between than the unlimited choice of writing Aspects and designing Stunts, and creative fatigue inevitably sets in. War of Ashes does mix things up a bit by legislating one faction aspect and one faction stunt for each player, chosen from a short list corresponding to your choice of species. It’s a nice anchor to the setting, and helps to speed things up and spark other ideas, but I’m not sure whether I like having it as a mandatory stage rather than a suggestion. After that, the book encourages players to start playing as soon as the basics are covered and work out the rest in play. I ran a short example encounter to teach one player the basic rules of Fate (the other two had played before) then called it a night.
The only problems we’ve had engaging with the system so far are a result of our rebellious tendencies. Whilst the book provides faction templates for its four core cultures (Elvorix, Vidaar, Jaarl and Kuld), it also encourages players to think outside the box – which led players to pick out trolls and divine descendents for PCs, without guidance from the rules on how to represent them in-play. I don’t blame the book for that (it would be contradictory for the book to break out of the basic rules framework then provide rules for almost everything), but it has meant that we weren’t sure how to handle some of War of Ashes’ new mechanics.
For example, all characters in the game have a Weight score (usually 1), because the “heavier” side in a combat zone gets bonuses to their actions if they outnumber sufficiently. We wanted to give Bonecrusher a Weight of 4, to match the score of Nhilde Trolls in the book’s bestiary, but that’s a very powerful ability – if Bonecrusher was ever in a zone against one man-sized minion, his attacks would qualify as “Lethal” and auto-kill the target with even a single shift of success. To acknowledge this, I told the player that being Weight 4 would use up both his faction stunt and one of his starting fate points, but I won’t find out if that is remotely balanced until actual play.
Similarly, Faas wanted a stunt to represent the occasional lucky break he would get in combat because the God of Gambling was looking out for him. War of Ashes already has a tracker for “Divine Interest”, which in this world is almost always a bad thing – the gods are much more powerful than they are actually competent, and whenever they get involved in mortal affairs, they usually cause more harm than good. It seemed that the simplest way to deal with Faas’ occasional good fortune was a stunt that allowed him to use divine interest and consequences to absorb mundane stress. Again, since this is a mechanic unlike anything I’ve sampled in Fate before, I’ve no idea what impact that will have in play. We’re excited to find out!
I plan to put up the PCs’ character sheets at some point; even if they are mostly unfinished, if they’re finished enough for play then they’re finished enough for the blog. Hopefully I’ll have a fourth character sheet go up not long after that.
EDIT: I’ve now written up the character sheets, and they are available to view and download here.