Thursday, 31 January 2013

Karth - Game Setting for HoF

Today we have another excerpt from the Hands of Fate Core Rules book. The game world is one of brutality and cruelty, where death is an every day threat. As many people die by sword and axe as natural causes, and bloodshed is everywhere.

Karth is a land dominated by two main societies – The Imperials and the indigenous Karthi. There are 5 main cities dotting the coast and inland, with many villages and town scattering in between. The majority of the settlements are clan holdings, governed by proxy from the nearest Imperial Outposts, forced to supply a tribute or tax to support the conquering Empire. The fierce, strong barbarians have fared well under Imperial rule and after a decade of peace they have nearly ceased to chafe under foreign leadership. Education is better than it has been in generations, clan warfare is not as prevalent as years past, and a centralised government has stabilised the chaotic lifestyle of the barbarians somewhat. The land itself is far from tame, however, and dangers exist that would curdle a man's blood, enemies ancient and new ready to begin their campaigns of terror and evil. It is a land ripe for an adventurer with the mettle and desire to make a name for themselves, a land of old hatreds and forgotten horrors. A land where the complacency of peace is a dangerous thing.

The Empire From far off over the seas came the Empire, conquerors and merchants all. Their advanced weaponry and disciplined warriors overcame the local Karth populace nearly 15 years ago, slaying the last Clan King of Karth and dissolving the ancestral ruler-ship of its people. Now, the High Magistrate governs Karth and manages its tribute and taxes to be sent back to the Emperor in the capital city of Corah. New Corah, once named Tir before the invaders, is the main outpost of Imperial rule. The barbarians of Karth, although resent being conquered have prospered under the Empire for nearly a decade.

Recently, there has been turmoil due to the latest High Magistrate’s draconian governance and the people are beginning to chafe. Imperial civilians are considered pioneers and profiteers. They have a natural knack for commerce and venerate the twin deities Loran and Lokan, mythical founders of the Empire. Karth Imperials are hardy folk not afraid to do hard work, although there is a large percentage of criminals due to the original plan to make the colony penal. Their penchant for trade grants all Imperial characters the Talent
Acumen, which allows them to add their Cunning to any one Manipulation based Skill check once per day. They must also receive the Talent Social Station which gives any opponent who is perceived to be of a higher social status a bonus equal to their Cunning to any Manipulation based Skill checks made against the character.

Karthi The Karthi is the collective term for native Karth inhabitants, who for hundreds of generations were the rulers of Karth. Millennia ago their ancestors overthrew the degenerate Alfari Ascendancy, and banished the survivors to the wilds. Their society is paternal and favours displays of strength and fortitude. Rule was ancestral and its kings could trace their lineage back through time to the original warriors who slew their Alfari oppressors. Having no outright ruler of its people meant they were naturally factitious and divided, which the Empire used to its advantage in conquering them. In general, most Karthi have accepted Imperial rule, as it has done a fair job of maintaining peace and allowed the Karthi to focus on pursuits other than perpetual clan warfare, although outlying settlements still engage in it. Taller and stockier than Imperials, but not as refined or ‘cultured’, Karthi characters have the Talent Might, which allows them to add their Power to any one Strength based Skill check once per day. They also gain the Talent Superstitious, which causes a -2 penalty to Total on any resist or defence Skill check against magic.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Game Play - 1 session

The session started out with the players building their characters. We had two Imperials, Dolus, a militant priest of the Imperial Cult of Duality - venerating Lokan of War rather than Loran of Commerce - and the other was Porthius, a Skorovian Imperial noble. Joining them was Kessen, an Alfari trickster and aspiring Assassin's Guild hopeful, who was sometimes employed by the noble's family. The noble and the priest had distant family ties, and were on equal 'Social Status'. This was important because Imperial characters start with the Negative Racial Trait that gives penalties when dealing with other characters of a perceived higher social status. Dolus opted to take the standard Imperial package, meaning he also starts with the Positive Racial Talent 'Acumen' which grants a daily bonus to negotiations and diplomacy checks. Porthius chose the Skorovian Racial Talent of 'All the Glitters' to receive a 5% increase on money earnt from trade or wages.

Kessen took the standard Alfari Racial Talents of 'Agile' and 'Untrusted'. These granted a daily bonus to Reflex checks and an automatic -1 to attitudes of newly met NPCs. He also chose Enchantments as his primary vocation and used a bow to back him up.

Dolus equiped himself with heavy armour, a battle axe and shield. Porthius chose to dual wield rapier and main gauche, and wished to play a foppish scoundrel of a noble.

The story begins as Dolus learns of an ill-fated caravan that suffered many set backs on its way to Skoro from the desert cities of the North. They lost several guards in an attack by Waster bandits and more to a sandstorm that forced them to seek shelter in a ruin that was uncovered by winds. The shelter held hidden horrors and the remaining caravaneers fled, leaving behind their wagon of spices and silks and the remaining guards were killed. The Temple hierachy were interested to know if the ruins belonged to an ancient Alfari Ascendancy outpost that was lost thousands of years ago, and if there were any artefacts remaining inside. Dolus recruited his friends to assist in the task, and their first step was to talk to the surviving caravaneers.

They found the hapless fellows drowning their sorrows in the Broken Drum Tavern near the trade markets in Skoro, and Kessen approached them. He opened with a sympathetic comment, but his Alfari heritage betrayed him and the already Annoyed caravaneers became Angry at him, thinking he had come to gloat. The Dolus stepped in with a round of drinks to ease tensions and Kessen proved he had the gift of the gab, talking them down and calming them. When they learned that the characters were interested in finding the ruins, they assumed they had taken the bounty to recover their wagon. Ever the oppotunist, Porthius took the job and secured exclusive rights to the bounty by paying a guarantee of 50GC to the impoverished merchants. On top of losing their shipment, the caravaneers explained that the local Order of the Bear, the mercenary unit who leased the guards, expected immediate payment for the services of the guards. Without the shipment, the caravaneers could not afford to pay, however, and they beseeched the players to intervene by sweetening the bounty on the shipment by 20%. They agreed.

Kassen knew that the Order of the Bear runs it's business from the predominantly Karthi Winking Lizard Inn, and upon arrival were treated to a bareknuckle fist fight between two patrons. Porthius once again proved to be the oppotunist and placed a winning wager on the 'one with the blue sash'. After the fight the characters learnt that the chapter master was none other than the 'one with the blue sash' and celebrated his victory by buying him an ale. The big man and Kassen got right down to business, and Kassen had carefully disguised his features with his hood. With Dolus also discussing the terms of the caravaneers' contract, Kassen used his subtle enchantment spell 'Beguile' to slowly turn the chapter master's attitudes to Friendly, and soon the characters had a deal with the Order of the Bear to delay payment of the contract until the shipment is returned.

With horses borrowed from the Imperial Cult, and an official exclusive bounty writ, the party began the arduous trek through the desert, 6 days to the north. On the way they encountered another caravan, who neither knew of the ruins, nor of any bandit raids lately. Dolus used his benedictions to grant extended sight to Porthius, who found the remains of a previous bandit raid and they managed to salvage a locked chest buried in the sand. Inside were some coins, some gems and some potions that grant extended health for 1 hour.

At the end of the journey, Porthius gained a level of Exposure due to the heat, and they arrived otherwise unharmed. The ruins were mostly scattered buildings, with one tower mostly collapsed, and a larger complex still buried in a sand dune. There was no sign of the guards bodies, but there was footprints in the sand, and recent ones at that. They set camp for the night and set a watch.

During the middle watch, Dolus spotted a light flitting between some stone blocks and went to investigate. He spotted a glowing, diaphinous figure searching through the ruins, and snuck back to camp and woke everyone. Kassen readied his bow and went to scout their location while the others prepared their armour and put out their fire. It wasn't long before Kassen spotted several Haunts converging on the camp and he used a Ventriloquism spell to warn his comrades of the impending attack. With not a moment to spare, Dolus and Porthius avoided the first round of attacks, but learnt the hard way that their weapons were unable to harm the Haunts. Dolus called on Lokan to aid them and Porthius' rapier glowed with a faint aura of light. With his weapon suitably enchanted Porthius struck at the ghosts and was able to destroy one. Kassen meanwhile used a Fine Illusion spell to create an image of an attacking Dolus rushing at the ghosts. While the phantoms and phantasms battled, Dolus enchanted his own axe and together with Porthius they finished off the simple minded ghosts. The ghostly forms destroyed, the heroes witnessed the Haunts' wispy essence being sucked into a darkened entrance into the building half-buried by the dunes.

Next game - The heroes go to investigate the ruins further, and attempt to uncover what horrors lair within!

This game was played using version 0.555 of Hands of Fate, with part of the story decided upon by the players, as a result of their characters taking the lead when they pass Skill checks.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

First Peek - Introduction

To whet your appetites I present to you, the reader, the first page of the Introduction Chapter of the Core Rules book. More will follow, but for now...

What is this game?
This is a work in progress containing a core rules system designed with one thing in mind – Roleplaying. These rules are inspired by a variety of muses, pooling from experience playing many different game systems and playing styles. But enough of me, what's this all about? A roleplaying game is a game about telling stories. In that story are characters. The main characters, the stars, are played by the players. One player is designated as the Games Master, or GM, and their job is to guide the story and mediate the rules. The GM sets the scene, detailing what the players see, and takes the role of all the other characters and extras that fill the game world. Although the system was designed with a fantasy setting in mind, the rules are easily adapted to any genre. It's the players' and GM's choice if magic is available or not, or whether any religions are in the world. There is a stock game world supplied with these rules, but it's use is entirely up to you. YOU decide who the gods are, who the rulers of the kingdoms are, who the the villains are. This is YOUR story. Enjoy.

Throughout this rules set, we refer to cards using two letters or a number and letter representing the value and the suit. King of Spades, for example, is KS. Seven of Hearts is 7H. An Ace is always a 1. A Face card is a King, Queen or Jack, and is used to activate Talents. They hold a value of 10 and follow the same rules for Trumping as regular cards. To Trump a card is to match a card with another card of a lesser value, or a same value with a better suit. The Effect is the value of a card when compared to others, usually when attempting to Trump an opponent’s Play. The Play is the number of cards used in a Skill Check. A Total is the sum of all the cards in a Play. The highest value card in a Play is called the Lead. When referring to an Attribute we are talking about the 9 core abilities that every character possesses; Strength, Resilience, Speed, Deduction, Intuition, Retention, Reflex, Wits and Manipulation. Aptitudes are the root statistics tied to Attributes; Power, Intelligence and Cunning. The Forte and Weakness is the highest and lowest Aptitude, respectively. A Skill is a measure of a character’s expertise in different areas. The Pool is the deck/s of cards in the middle of the table, not being used for players’ Hands. As players and characters use Skills and play cards from their Hand, they are replenished each round from the Pool. Characters controlled by the players are called Player Characters, or PCs, and characters controlled by the GM are called Non-Player Characters, or NPCs.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

19 Questions about Hands of Fate

This post is about answering some design questions that were posed in an older blog that I find still useful and informative. It’s helped me realize more about the system that I’m developing than a simple read through of the rules would, and the motivations behind some of the decisions I’ve made are revealed. I’m referencing an article found here and without further ado, the questions:
1] What is HoF about?   HoF is about struggling to survive and bring light to a brutal world of dark fantasy. It is also about creating a collaborative role-playing experience by getting the players involved in creating the story as well.
2] What do the Characters do? They work together to form teams strong enough to make a name for themselves and amass power and reputation.
3] What do the Players do? Manage the use of cards to represent the capabilities of their characters, and take part in steering the story by placing their characters in the limelight.
4] How does the HoF setting reinforce what the game is about? The setting describes a world where people live by the sword and there is little in the way of civilization outside of the cities. The protectors of the realm were not too long ago invaders, and they may be too spread out to make a difference. It is up to characters like the PC’s to try and stem the growing tide of evil.
5] How does the Character Creation of HoF reinforce what the game is about? Character creation allows the players to create any sort of role they wish to play, unfettered by archetypes that limit their capabilities. They can play a magic wielding, sword chopping, and armour clad hero if they wish. Their vision of what their character should be is what drives the development of the character during creation.
6] What types of behaviours/play styles does HoF reward (or punish)? HoF encourages participation, by involving the player in the story creation. When characters step up, their results are not just dictated by the roll of a die, or play of a card; they gain control of the storytelling itself. The GM moderates the telling and prompts for responses. Extra XP is awarded for good storytelling and interesting twists that develop because of player input.
7] How are behaviours / play styles rewarded or punish in HoF? As mentioned, XP is awarded immediately for great player created input, as opposed to generic awards at the end of a session or chapter. Players who choose not to participate, who stay back and just watch, trail behind the others in growth. Players who abuse the narrative privileges find complications and difficulties arising to compensate.
8] How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in HoF? The GM’s responsibility is to moderate the story, and to ensure that balance is maintained. The players must make a conscious effort to put their characters into the story, take action, and take a turn at telling how their actions pan out. The GM must create scenarios that ensure the players have a chance to enact their role.
9] What does HoF do to command the players’ attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?) Since the players have a measure of control over how events pan out, they become more connected to the story than in other styles. The lethal combat system means every encounter can be extremely dangerous and multiple opponents are bad news. Players must think carefully before committing their characters to a fight.
10] What are the resolution mechanics of HoF like? The use of playing cards as opposed to dice allows a broader range of modification to the results, to better simulate different effects and conditions. Comparing individual card values in a combat exchange is one example, defending against an attack is a conscious action that means counter attacks have pros and cons, such as weapon speed. Holding cards in the Hand allows players to plan for large or well executed attacks and actions, and the loss of these cards from the Hand represents more chaos in a scene.
11] How do the mechanics of HoF reinforce what the game is about? The ability to plan for actions by using cards held in the Hand allows the players to put themselves in the limelight and take control of the narrative. During combat it allows for more tactical responses to enemy actions, and outside of combat it allows for cinematic ‘coolness’ actions.
12] Do characters in HoF advance? If so, how? The awarding of Experience Points allows the players to spend these points directly on how they envision their character growing. The lack of character ‘Levels’ means the advance of each character is not linear, but growth is deliberate and exactly how the player envisions their character growing. XP is spent on Skills, Talents and Attributes to advance the characters, and increases derived statistics appropriately.
13] How does the character advancement reinforce what Hof is about? By giving more power to the players to steer their characters’ growth how they wish, it enables them to tailor the actions they wish to be good at, and thus have a greater chance of controlling the story.
14] What sort of product or effect do I want HoF to produce in or for the players? HoF aims at establishing a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that comes from contributing to a great story. Each player can add to the story elements that they themselves find ‘cool’ or fun. I also wish to ensure that players maintain a constant healthy fear of character death, as combat should always be a risky endeavour, not just a means to an end or sources of experience points.
15] What areas of HoF receive extra attention and colour? Why? The 4 magic systems, especially Sorcery, needed a lot of detail as the concepts behind them can be difficult to convey. The free-form style of Sorcery and Benedictions needed a solid framework to build on, and in trying to develop this there needed to be a lot of information put down. Hopefully in the future there will be supplements to build on the concepts, providing more flavour and examples of use to better illustrate how they can be used. Conditions play an important aspect to combat and gameplay, and it was important to provide a solid list of possible ways to hamper and disadvantage characters in play besides plain vanilla damage.
16] Which part of Hof am I excited about or interested in and why? I’m very excited to see how stories pan out when everyone takes part in it. There is bound to be plots that end up so whacky and twisted that they would make for excellent experiences for everyone. Players plotting against each other, or teaming up against the GM, there is potential for tension in almost every action taken. The brutality of the combat makes for fun, visceral encounters and already in play testing we’ve got favourite events that we mention again and again. Damn you archers!
17] Where does HoF take the players that other games cant, don’t or won’t? There is no road to create impossibly tough warriors, no fight that might not end up with the death of a character, there is no hand holding or nursing through early levels of play. With players investing so much in the story by being a part of it’s very creation the threat of it all ending at the point of a sword is very real. This makes victory that much sweeter, and glorious sacrifice meaning so much more.
18] What are my publishing goals for HoF? Publishing in Digital Media, in the form of downloadable PDFs and utilising a Print On Demand feature of the publishing website. I plan to take advantage of and their exclusive publishing offer and hopefully it will gather some interest. I am not building this game with the sole purpose of profit, but making a little cash out of it means the wife will let me play more games and spend time on my hobbies (instead of mowing lawns and washing dishes – unless she reads this, in which case yes, honey, I’ll do the lawn when I’ve finished this upload).
19] Who is my target audience? While it takes a certain person to be interested in RPG’s in general , we as a subculture have our own divisions and sub-subcultures. People interested in HoF I hope to be people who put the story telling aspect of a game above all else, and who enjoy tactical combat that does not involve hours of hammering on to  bosses and slowly witling away a pool of health. Obviously the more experienced players will understand a lot of the reasons why HoF is different, but I hope that newer gamers will also find it interesting.
Thanks for reading, I hope these questions have answered a lot of questions and piqued interest in more mind. If anyone wants to learn more I’d be happy to answer any questions you may have.

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

In the Beginning...

...there was nothing. Then there was something. That something became an Idea. An Idea that now reaches fruition, or soon will. This blog is to detail the progression, and eventual support of, an Indy Role Playing Game called Hands of Fate.

HoF is a homebrew project of mine that has been several months in development and playtesting, and is almost ready for actual publication. All the rules are in place, now there just remains tweaking and balancing, and I'm very excited to say that talks are underway to have it professionally illustrated.

So what is HoF?

As an avid gamer and roleplayer for many years, I've had the pleasure of using a wide variety of rules and systems. I played, in my early days, the great game that is and was D&D, when 2nd Ed. was new and everyone's parents thought it was the devils work. Since then I've played so many systems that to name them all would take too much time and effort to remember them all. I've been fans of many, and hated some, and been on both sides of the GM's screen. The last few years, however, has seen me becoming more and more disillusioned by the games I once loved, and I found it hard to get excited about the next new thing that came out, or the next well illustrated, glossy expansion for a game that already had too many options and rules.

I switched game systems several times in a year. Nothing seemed to hold my interest for longer than a month or so, and running a game started to become a chore. I began thinking "Is this the end of my gaming life? Am I finally growing up and becoming a full responsible adult?"

Well this project has been my way of answering that question to myself with a resounding "Hell no!".

The HoF project for me has been a way for me to nut out exactly what irked me about previous systems. I've been able to grasp onto what I truly loved about the games that I've enjoyed. I can say with my hand on my heart that although this game will continue to grow, at least locally, I have put all I can into producing a game that captures brutal combat, fantastical magic and story telling tools where everyone has control over the story.

In Hands of Fate, there is no ever growing pool of health or hit points. There are no levels that make growth a static progression. There are no rigid archetypes or classes that define a character. Every fight your character gets into could be their last, regardless of skill. The visceral nature of HoF combat means that a sword blow could end the fight as swiftly as a well aimed arrow, or a swift knife to the kidneys.

The main mechanic of the game revolves around the 'Play' of cards from a player's 'Hand', which determine how in control a character is, their composure and ability to remain in the fight. Damage, as health remains conceptual, is simulated by the removal of cards from the player's Hand. Skills become important as they determine how many cards may be Played, with the player selecting any amount of cards from their Hand to use to build a Play, meeting the remainder with cards drawn from a random Pool.

In this way, uninjured and unstressed characters can maintain control of their actions while those that lose cards to damage must rely more and more on random numbers drawn from the Pool.

The cards in question are regular playing cards, and their Suit and value are important. Suit's are matched to different actions and skills, and provide a mechanic to simulate 'criticals' or 'exploding dice'.

Magic is divided into 4 distinct systems, each independent from each other, while each able to mesh into the same system. The differences between different types of magic in other systems have always just been flavour and semantics to me, so in HoF I wanted there to be such disparity in the styles that all 4 are distinct and unique. Sorcery involves the free-form manipulation of the 4 elements, Benedictions are holy magics called down by a follower's gods, Enchantments are subtle and devious while Animism deals with spirits and assuming aspects of the wild such as growing claws and fangs like a wolf's.

Hands of Fate is about a collaborative approach to storytelling. The players have chances to be the story teller in each game, for a time, by succeeding in skill checks or becoming the centrepiece of a plot. HoF encourages the players to drive the story for a time by actively taking part in the action, rather than sitting back and reacting to stimulus.

Excited yet? I am.