Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Playing Fate Solo — An Experiment, part 2

Continued from here, this is the first actual play session of my "Playing Fate Solo" experiment.

Scene One: The Ledger

Scardale was a mess. Reinforcements had been called for from Sembia, the Dales, and by ship to other locales further. The cleanup of Shandorin’s plot would take some time. Two ships floundered in the harbor, and one had gotten away with the dangerous cargo. The Rapier was her name, but for where it was bound, none knew.

By this time, as word had spread of the deeds of the night, and the need for aid, so too had the name, Drowsbane, spread far and wide. It was now common knowledge of the malicious plot and emergence of the dark elves. It was known that not just one Drowsbane had surfaced, but two. And there were other members of that previously-thought obliterated court in Sullaspryn, for Dynas and Ara had stayed in the town to do what they could.

Tengrym was more than uncomfortable that his name was now the subject of standard tavern talk. So, too, was his naïve brother now at even greater risk.

Furthermore, The Rapier’s whereabouts weighed heavily on the principled half-elf. He wasn’t about to let that threat slip through his fingers. Shandorin — the fled villain and formidable lackey of the dark elves — was of secondary concern. Tengrym was sure he would confront him again soon enough.

He and Thedric headed to the harbor master’s house, a building that suffered great damage during the battle in the harbor the previous night. Much of the place was burned and scorched. It had suffered much in the aftermath of the mill fiasco. The two searched for any sign of the record book.

Carefully picking his way among the refuse, Thedric came behind, juggling a knife absently. Tengrym ordered him out, so not to disturb any of the precarious burned items. Gingerly stepping around, he found a plank concealing an area of less destruction. Carefully prying it away, he found a worn seaman’s ledger among the ruin.

He returned to Thedric, Dynas, and Ara with the treasure. In the sunlight, they put it on a pedestal and thumbed through the book.

With the elf and wizard helping pour over the pages, they found mention of The Rapier, the vessel now bound for open waters. It had come from Raven’s Bluff, another time from Tantras, and another time to points in the Moonsea, and even as far as Westgate. What it meant, none of the four knew.

“We have to find the harbor master,” offered Ara. “Hey may have more clues as to the whereabouts of this ship.”

They agreed.

Two: The Harbor Master’s House

Getting the harbor master’s name, Fendrel Marx, was easy enough. He was said to live just outside of town at the edge of a small wood at the base of the northern rim of the Scar. When they arrived at the cottage, they were shocked at what they found.

Although not burned like the harbor master’s house, the interior of the small cottage was overturned and ransacked. There was no sign of the man. Furthermore, the cottage sat on the banks of a swift creek coming down out of the hills. A small dock waded into the water, but there was no boat moored there.

“Either master Marx knows something and escaped, or he was taken, along with something they were looking for,” thought Tengrym aloud. The others agreed that the latter was more likely. An upstream escape seemed unlikely, given the terrain. Perhaps the man had some other larger seagoing vessel moored along the coast.

First, Tengrym risked a few moments to pry about. He found one credenza the subject of most of the destruction. In it were many scraps of paper, although one small drawer was completely empty. “We are looking for letters,” Tengrym asserted. “What they tell us remains to be seen. Let us go downstream!”

Three: The Ambush

The four continued along the creek as quickly as they could. So quick was their urgency, that they didn’t see the trap looming. A flurry of movement from Tengrym’s side alerted him just as Thedric was hoisted into the air and pinned by motes of lavender light. He screamed, but was magically pinioned to a tree. Shandorin’s grimacing scarred face appeared from out of thick foliage with his blade in hand, along with a handful of drow mercenaries and orcs. “Kill those two,” he ordered to his minions. “Disable the white-haired one only, though you needn’t handle him gently.”

Thedric screamed out. Tengrym turned and watched his half-brother go sailing through the air. He began chanting and summoned power crackled about him.

The dark elves drove the orcs before them, preferring the shaded areas of the trees. Many drew hand crossbows. Dynas, too, began chanting, building his own power through incantation. Ara advanced against the orcs, and steel rang. The swordsmaster cut a path forward, neglecting his own safety in order to pass beyond. His cuts did little actual harm, but he put the orcs into close quarters.

Then came the click of crossbows. One dart stung Tengrym in the throat, and he felt the potent sleep poison coursing through his blood. A grunt from Dynas told Tengrym he had been hit by the same sleep poison.

Both Tengrym and Dynas had their spells interrupted — something that could potentially be catastrophic. Tengrym had the presence of mind to mentally dissipate most of the energy through discipline despite the pain, quelling the inevitable explosion. Raw energy crackled within him painfully. Dynas must have as well.

Tengrym willed his legs forward, but the poison made him immensely weary, but he was on his feet and moving. Dynas was made of stern stuff and shook off most of the effect, being only momentarily woozy.

End of Exchange 1

Tengrym forced himself forward, trying his best to close the distance to the nasty crossbow wielding dark elves. His plan was to force them into the sun. He leapt over the foliage into the shade, placing himself within their midst. Of course, they could still use their weapons at point blank range, but it would take them several moments to reload their arms. He made quick work of his blade, doing little damage but giving them something with which to contend.

His deft thrusts and counters forced them away from the foliage as they drew their weapons, their eyes into the sun.

Ara, meanwhile, used his momentary advantage and tore into the orcs’ ranks, dropping some of them where they stood. Dynas, too, wasn’t idle. He leapt into the foliage upstream, taking advantage of copious cover.

Thedric was squealing against the weight of the unseen force pressing his chest and crushing him against a tree. He tried to free his arm and draw a dagger, which he did, but not without getting a painfully wrenched arm.

End of exchange 2

Tengrym now had his back to his nemesis, but out of the corner of his eye, he saw what Thedric was planning to do. He couldn’t afford to leave the drow unattended.

With feints and thrusts, he kept on relentlessly, hacking into the dark elves’ ranks. His energetic, almost wastefully inefficient maneuvers serving also to keep him awake. He lunged recklessly, but managed to run one through, and knock another senseless. As Tengrym recovered, dizziness made his head swim.

The four remaining pounced, three of them effectively distracting as a fourth came around with a gleaming black blade. Tengrym couldn’t counter quick enough, and took a hideous gouge to the thigh. He swooned, nearly passing out as much from the pain as from the poison.

Thedric let fly his dagger, but a jolt of pain from greater force against his chest caused him to throw wide. He groaned in agony.

Ara doubled his efforts, working quickly to wear down his enemy and come to Tengrym’s aid. However, his speed made him careless and clumsy. An orc fell at his feet, but the remaining held a line and danced away from his slices.

Dynas observed the hopeless situation. His hope was to free Thedric by interrupting Shandorin’s spell. He began casting, but his dizziness made him falter.

End of exchange 3

Tengrym swooned again, but did not yet relent. His brother’s life, and likely the rest as well, was at stake. He slashed with what might he had left in his limbs, but his attackers were too many and too agile. His every slice was countered. The sun had put them on more or less even footing with the half-elf. However, the poison, working its way into his veins, and now his leg injury made them more than a match.

Tengrym fell. He found himself on his back sliding down the embankment into the swift waters. The icy flow gave him a start, but he had no strength to fight its current. He drifted away and darkness took him.

How the others fared, he could not know. Shandorin — evil nemesis and sworn enemy of Tengrym — now had his brother, Thedric, and perhaps Ara and Dynas were captured or killed. He could little grasp the reality of that sting. Everything he had fought for — to keep his name hidden from the drow, and those of his kin in exile that still drew breath.

He had failed.

End of exchange 4

Four: Edammer & Kaus

Tengrym awoke with figures staring at him from above. His head still spun and he felt very fuzzy and distant, although he knew he still lay in water. He was washed up (or dragged up) on a bank just on the outskirts of the town of Scardale proper.

He made out two voices. One was a slender whip of a figure. It appeared to be a young boy — perhaps a half-elf — with a gracefully curving bow. He had a pleasant face. The other couldn’t be more opposite — a scowling hulk of a man, with a mane as grey as a wolf’s.

“I thought you said it was Ara,” said the former.

“Quiet,” ordered the second. “We see that he is not. We should go…”

“And leave this man?” cried the bowman.

I rolled some cubes here to get some features about the two. For Kaus, I got a howling wolf from my enchanted story cubes...I’m making him a shape-changer for fun.Tengrym stirred and managed to prop himself up. When he uttered a groan and begged for water, the young one did as he pleaded. He learned that the slender lad’s name was Eddamer. When Tengrym mentioned he had just been with Ara and that they were ambushed, they seemed relieved to hear that Ara was near, but worried that he was in danger.

“We cannot linger here to help this man while Arafraulyn needs our help,” said the wolfish man.

“Kaus!” said Eddamer.

Tengrym sat up more fully. “I am Tengrym Drowsbane, sole heir to the throne of Sullaspryn. Ara was my mentor and friend — we recently met by chance here,” he divulged.

The two exchanged quizzical looks. “Impossible,” said the man the younger one named Kaus. “There are no Drowsbanes alive.”

“It would appear there are,” retorted Eddamer as he gave Tengrym a closer inspection. “I can see the look of Lord Dergan on this man’s face.” Then, Eddamer furrowed a shapely brow. “But Ara is here to put to rest the prophecy of the…”

“Quiet!” hissed Kaus.

Tengrym demanded to know what their secrecy was about. They revealed that they were all working for a mysterious man. They could only say that some of their loved ones’ lives were at stake — to put to rest the Prophecy of the Moon by seeking the Star-Shard of Merillion, a relic they had tracked to this vicinity.

“Ara was working in Scardale itself, hearing rumors of a buyer of the fallen shard who had done business there.”

When asked what would happen if they found it, they only knew they were to deliver it to their mysterious employer in Thentia. What would happen then, they knew not, only that several innocents would be released in exchange.

Tengrym was troubled — both by the fact that Ara had not yet revealed any of this story to him yet. Anything regarding the prophecy concerned him directly — being a Drowsbane. Ara surely would have realized this. And remembering that Thedric had experienced some trouble in Thentia before compounded Tengrym’s misgivings. There were men there that still hunted him. Regarding the prophecy, Ara was putting unknown power into the hands of a potentially dangerous personage with likely malicious plans. But, it pained Tengrym that any innocent folk were threatened as a result of the whole mess.

“I believe we should work together to find Ara,” Tengrym said. He also mentioned Shandorin and his drow minions that likely had his half-brother and Dynas.

With Edammer and Kaus’s help, he hauled himself from the cold water. They dried him as best they could and found a shaded hollow at the edge of a wood for him to relax and drink as Edammer set to cleaning and binding his leg.

End of Session, triggering a minor milestone

Here is a chance to take stock of what has happened, and note the changes in terms of issues and aspects in play.

  • Ara’s issue changes from Ara’s Secret to Ara’s Plan
  • Thedric gains a new issue: In Shandorin’s Clutches
  • Thentia added as a new location with the issue, Lair of the Mysterious Employer
  • Star-Shard of Merillion added (no specific issue added until more is known)
  • No change to Tengrym’s aspects, but Clever (was +2) gets swapped with Forceful (was +1)

In addition, another Fate Point is retroactively awarded for Prophecy of the Moon (impending issue) for the new plot seed. Tengrym now starts session two with 7 points.

Also, here are the stats for some of the supporting characters that made appearances:

Story Questions

At the end of the session (triggered by a refresh scene or opportunity), it prompts me to summarize a few new story questions to help frame new scenes as long as a compel situation doesn’t derail that idea.

  • Where is Thedric hidden (and is Ara and Dynas with him)?
  • Is harbormaster Marx’s disappearance connected to Shandorin?


One of the things I was struck by was the odds of a compel appearing...I’m flipping a coin, but I don’t want anything more complicated or to introduce some sort of odds. Avoiding weaksauce compels, they can have the ability to totally dominate a scene...which is good, because it’s my instant plot twist generator.

However, what happens when I have too many loose threads in play? I think that’s a case where the Fate Point economy is a good thing. I will enforce the denial of a compel with a point. That way, when points are low, I will lose more narrative control. More twists will be introduced. When I’m stocked up, I can exercise more control and try to tie up loose threads by directly answering story questions.

I like the rules in FAE for creating mooks and groups of mooks. They're elegant with the Skilled At and Bad At modifiers. However, I ended up making the drow too nasty in the fight scene by stacking several things listed at which they were good. That was a mistake, although it created some stiff opposition, which was my intent. The negative side to the mook rules in FAE is that it is slower coming up with nice lists. I think treating mooks more like the Nameless NPCs in Core with only an approach or two will be the way to go from now on. It speeds things up, and still says a surprising lot about them.
The GM fate point pool felt off. I was using one point per scene, since I had one PC (treating the others as friendly Supporting NPCs). There wasn't enough points with which to do things. From now on, I'll include a point for every two friendly supporting NPCs involved (rounding up) to be used only for unfriendlies. I think that will balance things out nicely.

Lastly, during my conflict scene, I didn't flip coins asking lots of questions about what the baddies would do. I simply tried to give them full credit for doing the nastiest things I could imagine them doing. If I get into a bind in the future during one of these action moments, I may end up rolling some story cubes to inspire actions. However, in general, I don't think it will be needed.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Playing Fate Solo — An Experiment, part 1

We who play rpg’s solo get a chance to kick the tires of many systems, play with concepts, settings, or ideas in a way that we often wouldn’t with other groups. During our playtime, we discover things that don’t work, and sometimes stumble upon things that facilitate our lonely fun time.

I’ve heard it discussed numerously among soloists that Fate is one of those games that just don’t work very well (or at all) in a solo environment. Many of us wish it would, and I’ve made a half dozen or so halfhearted attempts. It’s just too much a collaborative system to be able to do it alone, among other issues.

However, I’m still convinced it can work...and I’ve picked up my old Drowsbane campaign to give an honest go of it.

In this first post, I’m discussing my approach, tools, and setup. I like things minimalist, so I’m letting Fate do most of the work for me. It already has its built-in Mythic-like plot builder in the form of aspects. However, I’m supplementing it with Rory’s Story Cubes and making sure I am using note cards.


GM Emulation

Believe it or not, there’s not a whole lot that Fate needs. I decided that if I get stuck, I can ask a yes/no question, always with 50% odds. I happen to be flipping one of my pretty copper Fate coins from Campaign Coins to determine results. Heads = “yes”. More commonly, I’m using Rory’s Story Cubes to generate some details by answering more open questions like, “What’s this guy like? What kind of talents does he have?” and so on.

Aspects is really where it’s at. I have been putting all my game aspects and important character aspects on note cards. Aspects tell us almost everything about a game of Fate. It’s already there to provide inspiration about what level of opposition to set, it’s there to provide options for compels, and the compel is the key to turning Fate into its own potent adventure/plot designer.

The most common question I have been asking during scenes is one at the start...unless there’s reason not to (such as there’s already too many fires to put out from other scenes). I ask, “Does this scene begin with a compel?”. If needed, I might clarify whether the aspect in question is a character aspect, a decision-based or event-based compel, or one of the campaign-level aspects. Once this is known, I take my cards and sort them into a stack. Shuffle, draw an aspect, and roll some Story Cubes as to how that aspect manifests into a relevant compel, and...


Instant event created. Now, it’s a simple matter of setting up the opposition in such a way that makes sense. Keeping in mind that characters face minor challenges along the way, and not every baddie needs to be at Main NPC level.



I decided to use Fate Accelerated as by baseline. The one decision I had to make was how magic was going to work, since I am doing standard D&D fantasy. I have the Fate Freeport Companion, but I prefer the more creative standard FAE Approaches to the standard six Skills (Strength, Dexterity, etc.), so that was out.

One of my favorite options for magic is one found under the Channeling option on page 131 of the Fate System Toolkit. Power is built through a Create an Advantage action to put some sort of flavored power aspect into play. I decided Carefully will be the standard Approach for this to occur. I also decided to use a spell list approach. Characters can start play with Careful +1 spells. Each spell is an aspect in and of itself, so it can be invoked or compelled when used. Characters can try to learn new ones through play. If casters want to get spells off quickly (using, well... Quickly!) in one action, they risk taking stress if they miss a higher threshold to cast (and open options for success at a cost).

Stunts can define schools of magic, specialties, or areas granting access to all flavored magic without the need to learn individual spells as discussed above. Area-affecting spells always work through splitting shifts, according to the rules in Core, but characters can also cast at a “declared level” to up their shifts, as well as use free invocations of their power-generated aspects.

Gear is listed, granting and denying permissions and establishing facts like aspects, but without the mechanical benefits of aspects (invocations & compels). Unique plot-point gear can be treated like regular aspects, but will be encountered rarely.



Game setup as per Core’s rules is the key to getting the Fate engine working for solo play. To do this, I’ve picked up my Drowsbane Campaign, which has been on hiatus since the summer of 2014. I got stalled in that one, getting some burnout just before tying up all the loose ends in the Hour of Dream.


What Happened Then?

Tengrym, our main protagonist, and Thedric, his half-brother sidekick, successfully tracked Shandorin, our main baddie so far, to Scardale in the Forgotten Realms. It was uncovered that the plot was to lace the deadly grains (enchanted with a potent slumber magic) among normal ones in the port. Scardale is one of the main hubs of trade in the Dales, so eventually, poisoned grain could travel in any of the four directions by land or sea. It appeared that the grain was then to be loaded onto ships and exported to unknown targets. Thedric successfully enlisted the local garrisons to help root out the evil while Tengrym sought his enemy, and a great confrontation took place in the port.

Tengrym confronted Shandorin, and a battle took place. With the help of Dynas Dundragon, an exiled court wizard of the Drowsbane court and now rival, Tengrym captures the evenly matched Shandorin.

In Scarsdale, Tengrym also has a chance encounter with Arafraulyn, his former fencing master, general of the Sulaspryn militia, and confidant of Tengrym’s late father...an elf he did not know still lived. Tengrym and Thedric rescued him from the clutches of an ill-tempered ogre (do ogres ever come in any other variety?).


The Aftermath

The aftermath of the story arc is as follows:
  • The villain, Shandorin escapes
  • The local enemies (drow, orcs, evil men) are routed
  • One ship loaded with cargo got away, bound for who knows where


First Story Arc

Using the advice in Core, I tried coming up with some story questions that might help direct the actions of our hero.
  • Will Tengrym discover for what land the one ship that got was is bound?
  • Where could Shandorin be, and what’s his next move?
  • Shandorin works for the drow. What’s their deeper plot?


Game Creation

With those things worked out so far, I used the standard game creation method found in Core to summarize the sorts of issues, faces and places that have already been in play from my previous sessions from long ago. It gives plenty with which to work.





Faces & Places


In addition, many of the NPCs have a few more interesting aspects that I’ve put on their own cards that offer more compel options. Each aspect that’s interesting for plot purposes gets its own card.


Tengrym Drowsbane

High Concept: Half-elf Swordmage Vagabond

Trouble: Bound by Principles

Aspects: Former Apprentice of My Evil Uncle; “I Work Best Alone”; Lone Heir To the Drowsbane Dynasty

Good (+3): Careful

Fair (+2): Quick, Clever

Average (+1): Forceful, Stealthy

Mediocre (+0): Flashy

Ara’s Lessons. +2 to Cleverly create an advantage actions when observing weaknesses in an opponent’s style when dueling one on one.

Danger Sense. You have an almost preternatural capacity for detecting danger. You may Quickly notice things unimpeded by conditions like total concealment, darkness, or other sensory impairments in situations where someone or something intends to harm you.

Quick Learner. +2 to Quickly overcome actions when learning new grimoire or arcana, even if exposure was brief.

Power of Deduction. Once per scene you can spend a fate point (and a few minutes of observation) to Quickly overcome representing your potent deductive faculties. For each shift you make on this roll you discover or create an aspect, on either the scene or the target of your observations, though you may only invoke one of them for free.

Refresh: 2

Gear: shirt of light elf-mail, magical sword
Grimoire: blink, light, magic missile, slumber spell, telekinesis, wall of ice

In my next post, I’ll give details of the first session of play, using aspects as the main driver for creating story with the aid of some Story Cubes and the flip of a coin.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Happy Tabletop Day!

As Wil Wheaton hath decreed, it's International TableTop Day! In so proclaiming, it makes me think about gaming and my corner of tabletop — role-playing games — and more specifically, doing them solo, without the input or involvement of anyone other than myself.

I've been quiet these days at No One To Play With...and not by choice (or at least that's what I usually tell myself). It seems being sick, going on trips, daily drudgery, and all manner of excuses manage to squelch my fun...well no longer!

I'm using TableTop Day as inspiration to recoup my time. It's mine! I'll jealously safeguard that precious commodity from this point forward, despite any excuses that threaten to stonewall me. I realize that I am my own worse enemy in this regard.

How many hours do I waste simply browsing the web, twitter, facebook, and all that useless junk? I like to be inspired by reading others' games — solo or otherwise. However, doing something alone lacks the benefit of feeding off of one another's energy, which is one of the things that make standard games so much fun. The main thing here is to take some initiative and simply do it...for at least  twenty minutes.

Starting today, I hereby promise unto myself to do some gaming every day, whether that be to play out a scene, sketch out a new adventure setup for a one-shot, stat a favorite character, jot down some musings, or whatever. Whatever it is, at least a bit every day. This is not to say that I promise to resolve all my games to conclusion, or try to drop less of them in favor of the next novel idea (that is my gamer ADD). Toppling those challenges is not realistic.

I've already played a bit today, and will dab at it a bit more. This week's fun has been picking up my longest-running campaign (the Drowsbane Legacy) that's been on hiatus for almost a year, and converting it to Fate. This is not an easy system to use in a solo environment, but it seems to go well for me currently. If I get a chance before I burn out on it, I'll write up what I've done that seems to be working well.

Again, happy TableTop Day to you all! Do yourself a favor — go play something today! ...and every day thereafter.