Demon Hunters RPG – Stacking Aspects

One of the mechanics I love about Cortex Plus games is the way in which the way complications rise and fall with the narrative. With the right rolls your d6 mildly irritating can step up to d12 mortal enemy and back down again over the course of an adventure or sometimes even a scene. The same is true of physical complications, a flesh wound could be aggravated all the way to bleeding out without the need to introduce additional complications. Coupled to this is the dice pool mechanic, if an advantage or complication is relevant to your roll you can always add it to your dice pool before rolling.

Demon Hunters incorporates elements of Cortex Plus but, at its core, is a Fate derivative. Because of this aspects, while always true, have a single value (d6) and require either a free invocation or a faith point to incorporate into a roll. 

The below draft rules modification shifts the mechanics slightly more towards Cortex Plus by allowing for the creation of aspects with die values greater than d6.

Stacking aspects

Aspects that are narrative associated can be stacked together, creating a single combined aspect. Physically link the individual aspects together by drawing a line between them or stacking them atop one another. When invoking stacked aspects choose from the following

1. Invoke each aspect separately as per the standard rules at the cost of one faith point per aspect. Each aspect invoked adds 1d6 to your dice pool.

2. Invoke the entire stacked aspect for the cost of one faith point. For each individual aspect after the first increase the size of your bonus die by one step.

For example during a scene the following scene aspects may be in play

1. Stampede of people

2. Raging fire

3. Choking smoke

4. Demonic hieroglyphs 

The first three of these are narratively linked to one another, the fire that was accidentally started (because no Demon Hunter would ever start it on purpose) has built to an all encompassing maelstrom. These aspects can, if desired, be linked to one another. The fourth aspect stands alone and cannot be linked with the others.

Doyl, our demon Hunter, is trying to escape from the cultists chasing him but he’s not particularly sneaky or athletic so it’s going to be difficult. With plenty of faith points he could invoke the first three aspects to add a mighty 3d6 bonus to his roll. Unfortunately he’s only got one faith point, having relied on them rather heavily earlier in the scene. He invokes the stacked aspect to gain a bonus d10, hopefully enough to make his escape.

At this point astute readers will be noting that the standard 3d6 bonus will average a higher roll than the d10, so why bother with the stacked aspect? The answer is simple – cost, a single faith point rather than three while still making use of a wider range of the aspects in play. 

During the playtesting I’ve done with this rules modification I’ve also noticed a secondary bonus – it encourages greater player engagement with scene aspects. Knowing they can get a larger bonus for the same cost drives both the creation of aspects and their creative use. It is also intuitively balanced, there’s nothing to stop the DM from creating or invoking stacked aspects using demon dice.

As always I’d be interested in anybodies thoughts or comments on this.

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RPGaDay 28th & 29th

28th) What film or series is the most-frequent source of quotes in your group?

So I forgot to schedule a post for this question, partially down to finding it a little meh. Amongst the groups I’ve played in quotes have generally come from either the source material for the game (such as Firefly) or from the latest favourite show. There’s also a general tendency towards in jokes / references to previous games and they’ll often predominate over external sources of quotes.

29th) What has been the best-run RPG Kickstarter you have backed?

Fate Core. Seriously, Evil Hat ran that campaign pretty much perfectly. Great product, great time management, brilliant communication and a level of openness that was above and beyond what was needed. The Fate Core Kickstarter was also the first I’d backed where the draft material was made available almost immediately, followed by regular updates. The combination of how well that campaign was managed, combined with a few terrible campaigns (looking at you Metamorphosis Alpha) has resulted in me being far more hesitant in backing games. These days backing something on Kickstarter generally requires one of two things for me, that I know the company and trust them to be able to run a decent campaign or failing that there should be an early draft of the game that will be made available not long after the campaign ends. I understand that for smaller companies part of the aim of the Kickstarter might be to bring on writers but if you can’t or won’t at least show me a draft of the central mechanics then there’s a problem. Too many campaigns seem to be a list of what the game might be, if you’re at the Kickstarter point already then that sort of planning and initial playtesting should be done.

RPGaDay August 26th

26th) Which RPG provides the most useful resources?

Quite a wide open question this. What should be defined as a resource? You could go the splat book approach in which case I would have to say Legend of the Five Rings and Corporation. For both of those games the extra books really expand upon the settings and provide (generally) useful additions to the rules. They’re also both systems where I really enjoy the style of writing so having extra books doesn’t feel like a chore to read through.

There’s also resources in terms of referenced information, such as depth indexes and system documents. In that case I’d have to go with FATE as both the core book and the SRD are thorough and easily accessible. Really handy when you need to look up something on the fly. The community for FATE is also really engaging and including Fred Hicks regularly engages with the games audience including commenting on blogs such as this one (See this post from when I was struggling with some parts of the game).

Finally there’s resources in terms of extras that add to the game without being necessary. Spell cards, custom dice, details character sheets etc. D&D and Pathfinder are the obvious answers for those games but they’re the big publishers, they rely on those sort of extras to entice players to keep spending. It’s even seen in the scale of their organised play, a great resource but not something that the smaller publishers could ever really contemplate.

RPGaDay August 24th

24th) Share a PWYW publisher who should be charging more.

Not sure I can really answer this one as there is only one PWYW publisher that I have purchased from on a regular basis. That publisher is of course Evil Hat, creators of FATE. I’m loathe to say they should be charging more as they seem to be doing well with their approach so clearly the model is working for them. Would I pay more if they moved away from the model? Yes, at this point they have a proven track record but at the same time it would reduce the number of items I did purchase. I’ve picked up a few of the Worlds of Fate products and overall had a mixed opinion of them, if they switched to a standard fixed price model I probably wouldn’t buy any more of that line.

RPGaDay 23rd August

23rd) Which RPG has the most jaw-dropping layout?

My immediate thought is Technoir, it really excels at having a minimalist future vibe that is clear, concise and easy to read. Those last aspects are particularly important due to nature of the information RPG books have to convey but where Technoir excels is that it achieves this while maintaining an appearance that suits the genre. Many books will lean heavily on one aspect over the other and at the moment there does appear to be a push towards more graphically complex books that lose clarity and readability. I’m of the opinion that this is partially down to the multi-facetted role that game books have.

tn-pageAt the simplest level they have to convey the rules of the game, in a manner that is logical and clear. Fate Core is a prime example of a game that achieves this, with a heavy lean towards the technical. It clearly lays out the mechanics of the rules in an unambiguous but also rather flavourless manner. The book is also well indexed and easy to flick through when double checking individual rules / aspects/

Which leads me on to what I consider the second level of game book design, enjoyability. Regardless of whether or not it impacts on playing a game I’m of the opinion that a game book should be enjoyable to read. Fate Core is an example here of where the writing puts me off, the first time I read the game I found it a slog, to the point that it put me off the system. The interesting contrast? I’d previously read the original Dresden Files RPG and really liked it, the style of that book helped me learn Fate because I was enjoying reading it. That game sacrifices a lot at the base level of clarity due to being heavy on the visual aspects of layout so I think somewhere inbetween is best. Amongst the Fate material I’ve read Atomic Robo probably achieves the best balance of clarity and enjoyability.

The final layer for me is inspiration. How well does the game get me to want to run it. A lot of this comes down to the writing and its ability to convey setting information (generally I’m not a massive fan of setting neutral systems) but the visual presentation also plays a part. I know there may be the argument of ‘well I can already use my imagination’ but to me that doesn’t really work. Just because I can imagine it doesn’t mean I will do so in the way that the designer intended. Having those visual elements is, therefore, important to me though once again it is possible to overdo them. It’s all about the balance.

Demon Hunters / Faith Corps: Tonal Conditions

Just a quick post to highlight a hack over at Spirit of the Blank, where Mike Olson has been sharing some details about using the Faith Corps system (aka the Demon Hunters system) for running Star Wars. One of the aspects he’s tweaked is the way conditions work, introducing the idea of predefined, character specific mild conditions. It’s a hack that I really like, especially for convention games where it provides players further insight into their character. This is especially emphasised by the fact that Mike has eschewed from the approach of describing physical harm but instead favours emotional responses to stress. For Star Wars it really fits with the tone of the films, where characters tend towards taking only a small number of moderate (or greater) injuries while also being constantly stressed by the scene or antagonists.

All in all it’s a compelling tweak and one that I’m likely to incorporate in future, both when running Demon Hunters and when designing my own systems.

Character Creation: I have never…

When it comes to character creation I’m generally in favour of collaborative approaches that involve both the players and GM working together to flesh out both the PCs and their connection to the world. Some systems explicitly incorporate mechanisms to achieve this, such as the relationship maps of Smallville or the ‘phase trio’ (shared past adventures) of FATE Core while many groups use their own approaches such as the group template espoused by theĀ  Fear the Boot podcast. Regardless of the approach I’ve found that they tend towards generating both a cohesive group and a more interesting world.

With that in mind I wanted to share an approach to this that I recently experienced during character creation for an upcoming FATE Accelerated game, which uses a variation on the drinking game ‘I have never…’ For those not familiar with the original game the rules are quite simple, as you go around the group each person makes a statement concerning something they have never done, for example “I have never been arrested” and anybody for whom the statement is true takes a drink. Should nobody drink then the person who made the declaration takes a drink. Pretty simple really.

The character creation version follows the same approach but with the ‘I have never…’ statement being something that your character has (probably) never done. Should any of the other players like the statement they simply take a (metaphorical) drink and incorporate it into their backstory. In the event that nobody drinks it bounces back and becomes true for the person that said it, ensuring that everybody says something interesting as it could end up being true for their character. The real beauty of the approach is that multiple people can ‘drink’, introducing not only shared backstory but organisations and NPCs for the game.

As an example for our upcoming game we decided only on a very bare framework before embarking on ‘I have never…’ Firstly that we would be in a western setting but that our twist to the genre would be vampires. That was it. Going round the group we then made our statements which included:

  • I have never shot a man in cold blood (made by the GM, with all players taking a drink).
  • I have never robbed the Pan Pacific Railway (which I introduced with the other 3 players taking drinks).
  • I have never been an Initiate of the Order of the Night (to which 2 players drank, we later decided this was a vampiric order).
  • I have never learned the truth about what goes on at Mallories Ranch (to which I was the only taker).

After a few rounds of this we took these statements and used them to build both our characters and expand upon the party connections through FATEs phase trio mechanic. By the end we had interesting characters with real depth and a viable reason for them to have come together for the short campaign, which will allow us to skip straight to the action when we get going.

All in all I can’t wait for either the game itself or a chance to use the approach the next time I’m a GM.