Monday, April 28, 2014

Fate of Tekumel Playtest

Saturday I ran a small playtest for Fate of Tekumel, this time using a variant of the character generation and magic rules from the Fate Freeport Companion. They worked pretty well!

I had two players, Marc and Rob, and Chirine ba Kal as an observer. Chirine wrote a blog post about the session here. Marc and Rob created characters who belong to the same clan and lineage. While they share the same heritage, they have embarked on very different walks of life.

Marc created Tlamal, a spy with experience in the Legions; his character is a master of disguise, and always has a knife handy when he needs it. Rob chose to play Niko, a priest of Qon. For this playtest, he selected six spells from Guardians of Order's Tekumel: Empire of the Petal Throne, and I translated them into Fate Freeport Companion's spell mechanics. This was really great, because I really wanted to start testing out spell mechanics.

As a brief aside, during the character generation process Chirine showed us Professor Barker's own illustration of a priest of Lord Qon, a Stability deity and the Cohort of Lord Belkhanu, Lord of the Excellent Dead. Qon's priests wear a beast mask; the mask has a long toothy snout and is similar in appearance to that of a jackal. Think Anubis and you have an idea where Professor Barker was coming from with the regalia of Lord Qon's priests.

The adventure had the two PCs heading from the city out to the countryside to collect past due rent from a set of villages that were part of the clan's fiefdom. The tribute had not been paid for several years, so our PCs hired some enforcers. They also hired a guide. This is particularly important since maps are not that common in Tsolyanu. Experience and local know-how really matter if you are trying to get somewhere.

After paying the requisite bribes to the Captain of a Sakbe road guard tower, they headed for the distant forest. On the other side of that small forest were the villages that owed them tribute. The PCs and their retinue made camp just before reaching the forest. They set a watch, but in the morning they discovered their cash box was missing. A number of the guards were also missing various shiny items.

The PCs could hear giggling from the edge of the Seyukh Forest. Our heroes realized that they had been victimized by one or more of the creatures known as Kuruku, "The Small Giggler"! Marc's character Tlamal gave chase with a few men-at-arms. They entered the forest, hot on the trail of the creatures. Soon they heard other, more chilling sounds: the whooping laughter of a pack of the spiny-backed Hyahyu'u beasts, who soon had them surrounded.

Tlamal parkoured up a tree; his troops tried to do the same, but lacked his athleticism. They settled for using their spears to hold back the Huahyu'u. A bit later Tlamal took a one-two action: he feinted and distracted a beast by dropping a spiky Durian-like fruit down near it, and then dispatched the distracted beast with a carefully hurled knife.

Seeing the battle from afar, priest Niko cast the spell Acceleration on himself and raced into the forest. His retainers struggled to catch up. After a few moments, Niko was on the scene, and cast Hands of Kra the Mighty, crushing the windpipe of another beast.  The third turned tail and ran.


I learned a few things from the playtest:

  • Rob, who was new to Fate, got a handle on the system very quickly - although I completely forgot to introduce the concept of declarations
  • Marc made use of the Succeed at a Cost rule - the first time ever that someone has in one of my Fate Core games
  • Rob chose to take a shift of Mental Stress rather than spend FPs to cast his spells. That was a prudent expenditure and he was still very effective in the fight - even though he took a bunch of stress in the combat
  • Marc underscored the importance of creating text boxes in the eventual published game to explain various aspects of Tsolyani culture. One quick example of this is the importance and ubiquity of discrete bribes to make things happen. The social game in Tekumel.
  • The spells in T:EPT worked well enough, but we'll be going back to War of Wizards, and Swords & Glory, Vol. 2 before the next game. I want to try building some spells based on the descriptions in those two games.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Scene Mapping in Tekumel Games

Juan Ochoa's beautiful image up above on the blog masthead is an action scene, and action scenes in games are always begging to be mapped - aren't they?

Fate handles mapping more abstractly than games that use miniatures. A scene is diagrammed in terms of zones. If you are in the same zone, you are in knife/fist range of opponents; if one zone away, swords and other melee weapons are very useful; at two or more zones, we are talking polearms and ranged weapons.

I thought it would be a fun exercise to diagram the scene above in terms of Fate zones, using the Zone Map side of the Jadepunk RPG's playmat. Over at FATE SF, I wrote a two part review of the playmat last week, first looking at the City Map side of the playmat, and then the Zone Map side. Ryan Danks has created a great video on how to use the playmat, you can check that out here.

On to our scene.

If a picture tells a story, we can assume this is a jungle or swamp area somewhere in Tekumel. Our curious and alert Feshenga lurks in the foreground, with purplish Food of the Ssu adjacent to it. Behind both, there is a ruin. We also see a river. We can - and will for the sake of this exercise - readily imagine a party wading down the river (from upper center-left toward the lower center-right, walking toward the ruins). They may (hopefully) be a wary party, but the Feshenga is already aware of their approach, and the party has no idea that Food of the Ssu is nearby.

The PC party are represented by the clear bead. River zone barriers that present no unusual obstacle to movement are represented by the dotted line. I also labelled the river zones, A-D.

Let's assume the PC party are a patrol from the local Temple of Ksarul. They get dispatched down the river towards the ruins when the Temple gets a "signal" that someone or something has arrived in the Underworld near the ruins. They're experienced temple guards, with a scout in the lead. The scout is wary, and due to a decent Skill roll, will get a 1x boost due to being careful.

The river is passable, but the bottom is muddy. That's an aspect that either the GM or the players might Invoke/Compel. The river banks are dense with vegetation, which means that if the PCs try to get up onto the ground, they may face a slight barrier. The vegetation could also be put to good use as defensive cover.

Except that the Feshenga (the white bead) in Zone D has already seen the PCs coming; so the Feshenga gets a free Invoke on the aspect Alert & Hungry Feshenga. It will attack first. (Of course, if the PCs brought bait, they might be able to Compel this aspect, too.)

In Zone D, a second nasty surprise awaits the party. The poisonous purplish vegetation, the Food of the Ssu, is new growth. If the PCs survive their encounter with the Feshenga, they will still need to deal with all that deadly vegetation near the portal to the Underworld below.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Hari Ragat Playtest

Yesterday for International Tabletop Day, a total of seven players participated in the first U.S. playtest of Dariel Quiogue's Hari Ragat RPG. The game is set in an archipelago based on the ancient, pre-Hispanic Philippines, only it is a much larger island chain. Imagine tattooed, island-hopping Vikings in the tropics, raiding and trading on catamarans.  Monster and spirit-infested jungles. Wealthy trade cities on the northern islands, with a scribal caste experimenting with something new called "credit". That's Hari Ragat.

GM Marc Reyes shows off the vast archipelago of the Jangalan Isles

Legends of Anglerre co-author Marc Reyes was our GM, and ran the Hari Ragat setting using Dariel Quiogue's Vivid System. Hari Ragat is being published for both Vivid and Fate; I intend to buy both when they become available. One version of Vivid is already available as Dariel's Gods of Gondwane RPG. Anyone who is a fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs or Mike Grell's The Warlord should check that game out!

The version of Vivid we played yesterday is really optimized for play in an ancient Philippines-inspired setting. You can see my PC's character sheet above. Liwanag was a Babaylan, or shamaness. Her primary skill is just that, Babaylan; her secondary skill is Orang Dakila which is the warrior/noble class who have proven themselves in battle (or through other mighty deeds) and therefore get to wear the red. So she has two Roles or skills: her profession, and her caste/social class. Any actions which are not shamanic in nature (i.e., diving for pearls, fighting, reciting poetry) need to be done with the caste skill. Your rating in a Role is the base for how many dice you get to use in roll.

GM Marc Reyes shows off a still featuring Orang Dakila type heroes from Amaya
Skills get boosted with additional dice through Aces and Traits. Aces are spendable attributes, and include things like Bala (physical prowess and endurance) and Dulohan ("posse" or followers), as well as Wealth (non-unique disposable forms of wealth), and Bahandi (wealth in the form of displayable heirlooms which boost one's status).

Using Aces requires a point expenditure, just like skills do in Gumshoe. Heroes who had a lot of Bala were spending that and taking part in the action directly; heroes who had a lot of followers were often making Dulohan spends, and had the option of either taking action through their followers, or taking action themselves, or both. So there is a nice range of choices with respect to resource management. These can get even more interesting in the social arena - should one spend Wealth on an action, or cash in an heirloom to really close a political or trade deal?

Traits usually work by providing boosts in the form of additional dice; these don't get spent down, but only add a die to an action when their use is appropriate to the scene. For example, my Babylan has a crysknife that detects witchcraft. I could conceivably invoke it in combat to add a die to a roll in a contest against a witch.

So, a rich setting, and an interesting wager/resource management system in Vivid. The game mechanics could easily be adaptable to social systems like those in Tekumel, in which social status, honor/renown, followers, and wealth - especially the displayable kind - really matter,and define the social terrain of the game environment.

I look forward to playing Hari Ragat again!