Q&A Part 2: The Chronicles of Future Earth rules
In part two of The Chronicles of Future Earth Q&A, I'm looking at some of your rules-related questions. This means we're going to be getting into a bit more detail about how the Chronicles Fate rules work. Gird your loins - here goes!
Why did you change the dice roll mechanic in The Chronicles of Future Earth from standard Fate Core? Why did you make the other rules changes?
I get asked this one a lot!
In The Chronicles of Future Earth, I wanted a game that felt gritty, dangerous, and tactical, one where you didn't feel that hoarding Fate points would always win the day, one where PC death for goofing up was a very real possibility. I also wanted to have a somewhat gonzo feel - that Mobius-meets-Moorcock Metal Hurlant vibe always waiting in the wings. I wanted players to feel scared of combat, yet also to have the possibility for those "Elric at the end of the universe, devil take the hindmost" moments when you can be heroic and win the day. I wanted success not to be guaranteed, failure to hurt, and winning to really feel like you earned it. It's not grimdark - it's valiant, mind-blowing, occasionally crazy. Demons are everywhere. Planing machines connect to alien worlds. Cities explode.
Fate's a flexible and forgiving system, and to be honest I feel I've given it a real stretch in the Chronicles. I started from the Mindjammer rules, then completely redid equipment and treasure to fit the fantasy paradigm. Extras are now very much for extra-character entities you have a relationship with, not for common gear; they're legions, bound demons, your divine self (your avatar), and so on. Chunky stuff with a real game presence.
I dismantled the dice system. I started from the old D6-D6 of Legends of Anglerre, and called your "positive" die "the Hero Die", and your negative die "the Doom Die". I then made it possible to roll more than one of each. You have something called a Doom Aspect - Hell-Lost Rider of the Bloody Claw Clan, Cities Kneel Before Me!, etc. When you invoke your Doom, you roll an extra Hero Die, and suffer a mental consequence - it's one of those "looking death in the face and laughing" moments of anguish and defiance, but you can pull awesomeness out of the air and prevail. I introduced critical successes and failures, and a "bonus cap", fighting against the temptation to hoard fate points to get massive bonuses. You can get invoke bonuses, but there's now a limit, and you really don't want to chance re-rolling the dice unless you really mean it.
There are other changes, too: rules for advancing to close melee range, ranges for magic, rules for sorcery, artifacts, psionics, dimensions, demons, summoning, possession.
For me, the game feels detailed, gritty, and tactical in play. If you play by the rules-as-written, you'll find adventures are dangerous, consequences real and often permanent. In some ways it feels like RuneQuest - Chronicles had (one of) its origins in BRP, and I wanted to keep that dangerous feel, filled with jeopardy, but also build on Fate Core and the presentation of it we did in Mindjammer, to have a full blown Fate fantasy treatment. I wanted to see just how much of my own favourite fantasy tropes and feel I could replicate in the Fate Core rules, and how I could take advantage of the Fate fractal - the idea that "anything can be a character" - to really bring out special features of the Chronicles setting. So far we've been digging it, and I'd love to hear what everyone thinks.
What are the "feature cards" going to bring to the game?
They're multipurpose. First they're play aids - they feature artwork which you can show to the players of key locations, personalities, artefacts, creatures. Second, they're GM aids - they include statistics for these new gameable components. And, thirdly, they combine together into a nifty encounter generator. Do you want a quick pick-up game or a random encounter? Simply deal yourself a location, creature, personality, and treasure, and you're off! There are doubtless other uses you'll come up with at the table, but we're making the feature cards fun, easily usable, and providing cool insights and snippets into the setting and background.
Can you explain how Jri-Banbak's Tiridat Martial Arts works?
Jri-Banbak is one of the pre-gens in THE SWALLOWER OF SOULS free quickstart, downloadable at the Kickstarter campaign page from Drivethru or Modiphius.net. You can download that and take a look at his stats if you haven't yet. He's one of the Tung Mai Mantis Men - a non-human kindred something like a humanoid insectoid crabman. He's pretty awesome in combat - he's a "Tiridat" martial arts master - but he does have several major restrictions:
- First, Jri can only use his Acrobat Combat Tiridat ability when he has successfully closed to HTH range. A skilled warrior will try not to let that happen.
- Yes, he gets a +3 teamwork bonus thanks to The Six-Fold Way stunt, which applies either to his Great (+4) Athletics skill, if he he has successfully closed to HTH range and is using Acrobatic Combat, or to his Fair (+2) Melee Combat skill otherwise. He could also use The Six Fold Way with his Average (+1) Teeth, Claw, or even Ranged Combat attacks, but he'd only get a +2 due to the bonus cap.
- If he's using Acrobatic Combat, Jri also gets a +1 teamwork bonus from Krul the Apprentice, his extra.
- Yes, even with Acrobatic Combat, Jri is pretty much maxed out on his bonus cap when using the Six-Fold Way; he could invoke one aspect for +2 (or just +1 if Krul's involved), as his bonus cap with Acrobatic Combat is +5.
- He can make multiple attacks against up to 4 opponents; the skill he uses depends on range, as above. However, see below.
- His Whirling Defence lets him ignore multiple defence penalties, which is a really big deal. Being ganged up on in Chronicles is no fun - you'll go down fast and hard.
Now, while a lot of the above might seem awesome, that awesomeness is somewhat tempered. Remember that against Minor NPCs, all combatants are effectively attacking multiple targets. Jri's multiple target advantage really kicks in when he's squaring up against more than one Supporting NPC, in which case it's very much a tactical call as to whether he splits his attack roll result or not; if the opponents are armoured and uninjured, it still might be worth concentrating on one foe at a time.
But he has a lot of tactical options, and whirls around the place during play! Get him to close to HTH range, and he can tear through an opponent!
In THE SWALLOWER OF SOULS, the pregen Chenda Higira, priestess of Unthar, God of Time, can slow or haste a target by referencing the shifts she rolled on her power skill roll on the "time ladder". In a combat, that seems to mean a target might act much faster or more slowly than his opponents (depending on the spell). Does that mean a "hasted" character could deal several blow before his enemy gets chance to react?
This is a really interesting question, because it goes right to the heart of how Fate Core works, mechanically but also philosophically, where you first describe what happens and then work out what that means in terms of the rules. Using magic in Chronicles is very creative.
So, the first important concept: in Fate Core, every player can only make one dice roll on their turn per exchange. That's an axiom, a key game rule which is preserved everywhere throughout the game, it helps keep things balanced and manageable. If your character is accelerated or "hasted" (for example by magic), then it's totally true that you're zipping around, acting much faster than any normal human. If you achieve three shifts on your Wings of Unthar power stunt, then shifting up the time ladder by three steps tells us it only takes you a second to achieve what a normal person would do in 30 seconds! In a given exchange, however, you as a player only get to make one roll.
So what does that mean? Well, with Wings of Unthar, as long as you're not rolling the dice, you can describe your character zooming around, running rings around others, practically a blur. This is extremely useful - you can easily run away, put your armour on, string a bow and notch an arrow, reload a crossbow. I'd even let you move multiple zones in an exchange, based on how much you're accelerated.
The moment it comes to you making a dice roll, however, you just roll once - even if it's to represent your character striking multiple blows. Let's see how that works.
In pure rules terms, Wings of Unthar creates an Accelerated-type aspect on the target. The fact that it's an aspect can probably stay in the background - you probably don't even need to name it, except just to note that its first invoke is free, and that's what's going to count. (If the casting roll is a special success, remember you get two free invokes.) Here's what you could do with that spell. Remember that each of the following uses of the spell is actually an invoke, though you probably don't need to get all technical about it.
- The Accelerated character could act so fast that he'd get a bonus to hit on his next attack action, reflecting those multiple swipes at his foe. The normal bonus would be +2, unless you rolled a critical on your power skill roll, in which case it's a massive +4!
- The Accelerated character's opponent might be so overwhelmed they get a penalty to defend - again reflecting they're so slow to react to all the stabby zipping around. That's a -2 penalty.
- The Accelerated charater can confuse matters so much that it creates an obstacle which others have to overcome to act. "My helm's over my eyes, I can't see!" "That chair moved, hey what's going on?" It's a Fair (+2) obstacle, or a +2 increase to any existing obstacle, to the affected character trying to do anything.
- The Accelerated character could create chaos around his opponent so they're attacked by a Fair (+2) mental stress attack. You're the Flash - everything's a blur!
Now, bear in mind that the initial one or two times the Accelerated character gets those bonuses, what you're doing is making use of the free invokes of that notional "Accelerated"-type aspect. So, after that, even though the target is still Accelerated and can describe himself zipping about, you'll need to use fate points to get future bonuses. In my game, I'd let the sorcerer or the target of the magic use their fate points for this purpose, meaning this power stunt is potentially very powerful, especially on its first round or two when you can combine one or two free invokes with a fate point invoke for a +4 or even +6 bonus! But can you see what we're doing here? Yes, the Accelerated character is getting all stabby, zipping around and making multiple strikes. But we're still only rolling the dice once; that's the rules axiom we don't break.
So that's our first Q&A on the Chronicles Fate rules. I hope it's been interesting! The core book will contain heaps of examples of play, but the main take-away is that Chronicles retains Fate's scope for creativity, while introducing a perilous and tactical set of customisations to bring out that cosmic fantasy vibe.
For the Autocracy!