Fate Solo RPG Thoughts

~ 900 words, ~ 5 min reading time

After my last entry, I decided to try out Fate, since I had recently bought the book, and kind of wanted a break from Starforged. Here are my thoughts:

(1) Tools I used: Fate Core and Fate Condensed for the base system. Fate is designed to be a “hackable” system, so the publisher has published a couple of their own hacks to show how one might do that. Fate Condensed is one of those, and I like the tweaks they made. For an Oracle, I used Kenny Norris’s Fate Solo. Fate Solo is a pretty standard yes/no oracle, but using Fate dice. However, it’s missing what Debra at geek gamers would call a “suggestive” or “generative” resource to answer more complex questions. For that, I asked my wife for some help. One technique I’d seen Debra use was to grab a novel and roll for a random page, and use that page as inspiration. So, I asked my wife for a suggestion – something either fantasy or sci-fi with quite a bit of action. She gave me a few possibilities, and after flipping through I decided Larklight looked promising. It’s a middle-grade book with lots of action in a spacefaring alternative Victorian setting. Every random page I turned to had something interesting on it. I also used the Fate Scenario Worksheet to help with the adventure planning, and UNE for NPC inspiration.

(2) Thoughts on the Fate system for solo: Fate is a pretty good system for a solo RPG. It’s quite simple, and I could have made it simpler as I think about it. The point that gets awkward is the GM use of Fate points for Compels. (Same problem I had with Threat in Star Trek Adventures – since Modiphius’s 2d20 system has a momentum/threat system that feels a *lot* like Fate Points in Fate.) But, this isn’t really too bad.

(3) Thoughts on Fate Solo as a GM emulator/Solo Guide for Fate: Fate Solo is really just 3 modules: a yes/no oracle using Fate dice – which works well, ideas for character creation – which I used about half of since I thought the other half would overpower the character for my taste, and a “surprise factor” – designed to trigger “surprises” of various magnitudes. This is incomplete, as mentioned above. But, that deficiency can be made up for in two ways – and I used both – Kenny Norris, in his other resources, suggests writing lists whenever possible, and then choosing from lists. So, if a surprise happens, you should write out a list of possible surprises and pick the one that seems like it would make for the best story – or you could use the classic “make a list and roll on it”. I did this at a significant surprise point, and it provided a pretty fun twist. I came up with 3 options, assigned them to the 3 unique sides of the Fate dice, and rolled. The other way I filled the gap was rolling for pages in Larklight. So, the lack of a complex oracle wasn’t a big deal. However, I didn’t think the surprise factor mechanic worked very well. In the 6 scenes I played, I only every encountered ONE surprise – and it was labeled as a “minor” surprise. I feel like there should have been more, especially since I managed to finish the entire scenario in 6 scenes – not insanely few for Fate (Fate Core suggests something like 2-9 scenes per scenario) – but I felt like I faced too few complications. Next time I play Fate, I might try using TOFU (The Tiny Oracle with FUnny dice) instead. It has a more Mythic-like “Mess factor” (like the Chaos Factor in Mythic), which will tend to create altered scenes and random events, though it is also lacking a generative/suggestive resource.

(4) Other thoughts: Fate Core has some really good tools for scenario planning. I particularly like the idea of building scenes around “story questions”. It provides for pretty good pacing without letting scenes drag on. “The purpose of this scene is to answer the question: Is Ronnie going to be able to infiltrate the lab and gather information about the experiments being done to increase the aggressiveness of dogs of war?” Once the question is answered, the scene is over. I also appreciate the idea of keeping scenarios fairly short – they suggest that having 8-9 story questions is probably going to end up overlapping into another scenario. With 1-3 story questions expected to be answered per session, they’re basically saying that you should be able to complete significant plot points in no more than 7 sessions or so, and probably 2-3 being average. One other nice thing about Fate: you can get the electronic version on a “pay what you want” basis – so you can try it for free to see if you like it. So, it’s easy to try out. Just remember that you’ll need to provide a setting. But, if you don’t mind doing that, Fate provides a really nice, quick, flexible system, and the ability to choose between Core, Condensed, and Accelerated allows for you to choose the level of detail you want.

Failing at a Solo RPG

~1100 words, ~6 min reading time

I haven’t posted a playthrough of a solo RPG for a while. So, I thought I’d share some of my recent experience, where I feel like I’ve “failed” a bit.

I know, it’s weird to think of “failing” at a solo RPG. Like, what does that even mean? I’ve had characters die MANY times – in fact, character death is how I generally know that it’s time to try a new game (the exception being the character I had that ended up with a life sentence in prison).

In solo RPGing – rather like with any leisure activity, really – success and failure are highly subjective. Personally, I generally judge by whether the leisure “feels right” – and this is true whether I’m watching a TV show, playing a video game, or solo RPGing. At the end, there’s a sense of satisfaction (though not always the *same* sense of satisfaction!) when things went well. This is “success” for me.

Anyway, I have recently been soloing Ironsworn: Starforged, which I preordered. The physical book is expected in October, but we got the PDF immediately with the preorder. So, I read it, got a reasonable sense of the setting (which is cool) and the system (which is mostly Ironsworn, but with a couple of nice tweaks), and jumped in.

I followed the advice in the book for setting details creation and character creation, except that I tried to make everything that I could random. I rolled on tables for every detail about the universe and sector. I drew my character background basically at random (though I assigned the stats based on the randomly drawn “assets”).

Then, I started to play. For a few sessions, everything felt like it was going well. I mean, yeah, terrible things were happening (a temporal anomaly killed over half of the settlement I started at, since we failed to evacuate everyone in time). But, there was a clear forward action.

Then, I hit a wall. Things started feeling *wrong* – aimless. Not like I was *stuck*, more like I didn’t know which direction was forward. I wasn’t sure what was wrong. I did managed to regain *some* sense of direction, but things still don’t feel quite *right*. After some thought, I have a sense of what went wrong – and it’s really three-fold.

(1) Relying too much on randomness. Now, there’s nothing wrong with rolling on random tables – but what ended up happening here was that I created a universe randomly and then created a character randomly and then created an initial quest randomly. The result was that the pieces didn’t really cohere very well. The universe, allegedly, has wars happening all over the place as shipwrights engage in arms races to design more powerful ways of killing each other. But, the sector I was in had one obviously dominant planet, and a bunch that weren’t particularly interested in war, it seemed. Then, my character had backgrounds as a mercenary and diplomat – a cool background for the universe, but not the sector. The initial quest involved saving the settlement from this approaching anomaly. Again, a cool quest – more on that in a minute – but why in the world would a mercenary/diplomat be involved with saving people from a SCIENTIFIC problem. (Eventually, I figured out he could negotiate with a neighboring settlement to take them in – but it took a strange amount of time – and failing at scientific scans that he was no good at – for me to figure that solution out.) Anyway, I should have relied less on randomness – specifically, I should have paid more attention to the universe when creating the sector and the character. If wars are everywhere, and my character is a mercenary, then odds are good there should be war in the sector where play begins! In the balance of “logic” to “surprise”, I really should have used a bit more logic in setting things up. In addition, my poor initial design was made WORSE by the fact that I rely a lot on randomness when I play. In itself, not a problem – EXCEPT that I end up with a lot of disconnected elements. I need to do better keeping the number of elements a bit more limited!

(2) Poor character design – the player character is given a “Background Vow” – which is a background motivation. I decided that diplomat and mercenary are, fundamentally, about politically uniting people – either through negotiation or conquest. So, I made the background vow “Unify the Forge”. Apart from that, I was VERY lazy about character design – very little backstory. I skipped basically *all* the backstory exercises in the book. So, while I had a motivation, that motivation was so broad – and, frankly, impossible – that it really didn’t work in providing a sense of direction. While diplomat/mercenary is a weird choice for someone to solve a temporal anomaly, saving people from a temporal anomaly is a pretty clear goal that you can either succeed or fail at. However, the equivalent of “World Peace”, while a nice ideal, is a very poor motivation for action. It’s much too broad!

(3) Lack of time limit – the “deal with the anomaly” quest had continuous pressure on. The clock was ticking (though with a bit of randomness) – so I knew that I only had about 4-5 sessions (maybe a bit more, if I rolled very luckily) to solve the problem. And, in the end, I *didn’t* – at least not entirely. Not quite half of the population escaped. That was a pretty great dramatic story, even if the ending wasn’t happy. But, after that, nothing had a time limit any more. It kind of felt like I could just sit around and things would be fine – bad for motivation!

I have since tried to solve some of these problems. (1) I’ve cut back on how much I introduce new random elements a bit. (2) I’ve ignored some of the more incoherent parts of the universe design. I’ve figured out that my version of the universe is not one filled with wars – it’s one where settlements are very isolated from one another. So, unification is a combination of exploration and negotiation. (3) I recently added an “explorer” trait to the character, which goes well with the unification direction in the kind of universe I *actually* have.

At the same time, I’m engaging in a significant internal debate: is it time to put this character to rest and start over?

That’s a major challenge of solo RPGing that I’ve not yet figured out – how to know when to stop. (Thus why my characters almost all end up dead.) But, it’s something worth thinking about.

Ironsworn/Starforged Progress Move Thoughts

~900 words, ~5 min reading time

I’ve not posted about my solo RPGing recently, though I have been doing it. I preordered Starforged (at least as of 8/31 you can buy the PDF but not the physical book – they’re doing an initial print run for Kickstarter backers and preorderers, with the physical book made available to others late this year), by the maker of Ironsworn. The preorder gave immediate access to a PDF of the game. The major mechanics are basically the same in the two games. Here, I’m going to focus on the “Progress Move” mechanic.

The Use of Progress Moves

“Progress Moves” are used any time you’re trying to accomplish something that isn’t “one and done”. Instead, you take actions to accumulate progress. The games formalize progress moves in 3 cases: quests (called “vows”), expeditions/travel, and combat. (Starforged adds “connections” to this list, where you use progress tracks to track relationship development.) Each case has “steps” you take – “milestones” for vows, “waypoints” for expeditions, “harm” for combat (in Ironsworn, just “progress” in Starforged – Starforged acknowedges the possibility of non-harm objectives in combat while that is lacking in Ironsworn). However, how many steps you have to take depends on the “rank” of your objective. One of the challenges of playing the game is picking an appropriate rank for a progress track. Let’s look at an example.

Suppose I’m exploring a derelict spaceship, hoping to find some useful supplies/technology. First, I decide the rank of this expedition – Troublesome, Dangerous, Formidable, Extreme, or Epic. The rank determines how much progress you make on a 10 box “progress track” with each step you make toward your goal. For a Troublesome expedition, you mark 3 boxes for each waypoint. For Dangerous, 2 boxes. For Formidable, 1 box. For Extreme, 2 “ticks” (basically, half a box, since a box requires 4 ticks). For Epic, 1 “tick” (1/4 of a box).

Some Statistics

When you decide you’re done, you roll 2 10-sided dice (2d10) and compare them to the number of boxes that are completed on the progress track. If both die show a number LESS than the number of completed boxes, then you have a “strong hit” – so some very desirable outcome. If just 1 die is less than the number of completed boxes, then you have a “weak hit” – you get what you want, but at a cost. If neither die is less than the number of completed boxes, then you have a “miss”. There are a couple ways to deal with a miss, depending on the context. For an expedition, you either just fail to accomplish your goal (nothing valuable in this derelict!), OR you renew your efforts by clearing some of the boxes, pushing the rank up a step, and then continuing. Doing some math, here’s a potentially useful table:

Boxes filledProb (strong hit)Prob (strong or weak hit)Troublesome StepsDangerous StepsFormidableExtremeEpic

Now, let’s apply this to the different categories.

If you complete 2 milestones on a vow/quest, you have a 75% chance of at least partial success if the vow was Troublesome. 51% for Dangerous, 19% for Formidable, and 0% for Extreme or Epic.

Or, put another way, to have at least a 50% chance of at least partial success, a troublesome quest requires 2 steps, as does a dangerous quest. Formidable 4 steps. Extreme 8. Epic 16.

Suggested Interpretations

Because of this, I suggest these interpretations for progress track rank:

Combat – rank captures the difficulty of the objective – by increasing the number of successful rolls required, a higher rank increases the length of combat and therefore the amount of damage (to health, stress, supplies, etc.) that the players are likely to take. In Ironsworn, rank also increases how much damage the opponent does.

Vows/Quests – rank captures complexity of the quest – not necessarily difficulty. You could have a Troublesome quest where the 2nd step is an Extreme combat (which, if successful, means the quest is probably completed). So, the quest is straightforward – but the 2nd step is quite hard.

Expeditions – rank captures the length of the journey or the size of the area being explored (speaking in # of rooms terms) – each progress step is the discovery of a new waypoint. Longer journeys have more waypoints, as do larger dungeons/derelicts/etc.

An Alternative Interpretation

Another interpretation suggested in Starforged is that rank should indicate how much time you want to spend on this vow/combat/expedition/relationship. Practically, this is likely the best approach. Troublesome goals tend to be finished quickly. Epic goals take a very long time to complete. However, I think it worthwhile to keep in mind the guidelines above. I have found myself “stuck” before when I decided a quest was “Extreme”, but quickly ran out of steps to complete after 4 or 5 – which meant the odds of success were basically zero, even though I couldn’t think of what else would need to be done to accomplish these goals. Keeping in mind the # of steps required to complete the progress track helps keep us from under/over ranking quests.