Wednesday, August 18, 2010

3 Days, 3 Games, 3 Different Styles (Part 4)

[continued from here]

The Doc decided to wander off into the jungle of this new and unknown island, despite Buddy telling her not to stray too far from the beach “while we’re working on repairing the plane!” (I made it clear that Buddy had absolutely no mechanical knowledge or engineering skill, and Jao was going to do the work while I checked on the “medicinal” cargo). Sulking because the Doc had disregarded his instructions (the GM tapped “doesn’t get pushed around by no dames”), Buddy decided to take a nap in the cargo hold…though first he recovered a service .45 from its hiding place, tucking it in his waistband. I did have to pay Ogre a FATE chip to keep from getting stinking drunk as he tried to activate my “heavy drinker” aspect.

Doc Walker, meanwhile, was hot on the trail of some purple-feathered whatchamacallit and had long ago lost sight of the beach. She blithely wandered into the typical rope-around-ankle snare trap and was left hanging in the air, until she was surrounded (a few minutes later) by a group of swarthy natives in masks with snake tattoos and spears.

“Mr. Jao? Mr. Jao!”

Using her academic skill, Doc discerned that they were members of an island Snake Cult consisting of outcast tribesmen from a number of different primitive island tribes. Preying on their superstitions, she decided to flash her lighter at them (being a 1920s socialite and “independent woman” of course she smoked!) and managed to completely over-awe them. They gently lowered her to the ground and then ran off into the jungle.

Walker walked briskly back to the beach. “How are the repairs going? Where’s Mr. Buddy? Look at this purple-headed whatsis I found…it’s a lot fatter than I thought it would be from my books!” This she jabbered at Jao as Buddy crawled out of the hold. She seemed stubbornly unaware of the gathering troop of Snake natives marching out of the jungle.

Ah, hilarity ensuing…Doctor Walker understood a number of languages, and after trying some out found one of the Snake outcasts spoke some Spanish, and was thus able to act as a translator between herself and the Big Chief. The Chief had decided he wanted to woo and wed this imperious temptress with her fire-making ability. Dr. Walker (thinking fast) told them that she couldn’t possibly wed anyone without the approval of her brother (indicating Jao despite the lack of family resemblance) and that the chief would have to best him in a test of skill (brawling) three days hence…only on the condition that the chief could provide her with a large enough hut to meet her opulent requirements. The chief agreed and she was henceforth known as Ula-Ani (“White Bride”) Walker.

Walker was hedging our bets, as it would take at least another day for Jao to fix the Monkey and hopefully we’d be able to get out of here before the contest day arrived. In the meantime, she also wasn’t afraid to use her newfound status to arrange for a tour of the island, especially the breeding grounds of the purpled-feathered bird species in which she was so interested. She would be accompanied by her “servant” (indicating Buddy), who surreptitiously hid the pistol in the back of his pants, beneath his shirt. Jao stayed with the plane.

Ogre then did a “cut scene” to narrate something “out-of-frame” and unrelated to what was going on in the player characters’ vicinity. Apparently, the chief’s brother was something of a rival and he had decided that the chief’s distraction with his new bride-to-be was the perfect distraction to stage a coup. He organized his own loyal warriors and sent them out with two missions: kill the “brother” at the plane, and kidnap the Ula-Ani Walker!

Back to the plane, then…two spear-wielding natives charge out of the jungle at Jao. Fortunately he has feet of fury and is unafraid to make like Tony Jaa and bust some heads. Combat is a little drawn out, though mainly due to a quick rules explanation (successes each round fills life boxes, eventually over-flowing and allowing the player to put a “temporary aspect” on the opponent…like “stunned” or “knocked cold.” Better successes or tapped aspects can be used to both speed this process and assign more permanent aspects, like “knocked into a coma” or “killed dead”). It’s a good warm-up to see how things go (especially as Jao is a fairly capable combatant), and then we move on to the dust-up in the jungle.

Buddy, Walker, and the Spanish speaking guide are on their way back to the jungle when 10 snake cult dudes pop out of the jungle and try to grab the Ula-Ani. The guide beats feet out of there and Buddy pulls his pistol and shoots a guy in the face…he’s not going to mess around with obvious hostiles, and he’s no great shakes in the athletics department. Ula-Ani tries to over-awe with her lighter again and scares one savage, but another grabs her. Jao is running pell-mell through the jungle but it’s going to take him a couple rounds to get there. Meanwhile, Ogre is rolling the outlaws as a single “mob” opponent (with a lot of life boxes!).

Now, I did NOT give Buddy a very high skill with pistol…only +2 which would be “low professional,” slightly better than amateur/hobbyist, but in need of practice. In order to actually beat the snake dudes’ defenses, I was tapping aspects right-and-left and making up new ones on the fly (though remember we were limited to 10), and tapping the natives’ aspects as well. For example, they had an aspect of “foolhardiness,” which was good for a shot in the face, and I added “twitchy trigger-finger” and “history of dealing roughly with natives” to my own character sheet. I could only tap an aspect once in a given round, but I was able to tap it every round if I wanted (provided I had the FATE chips remaining) and this helped me shoot down several foes.

The doc, meantime, was showing again that she was no wilting flower, grabbing a machete from one of her captors and making good use of that classical education (“fencing”). As Jao arrived and started kicking ass, and Buddy gunned down anyone that got too close, Ula-Ani Walker carved her way through the would-be kidnappers spattering herself with blood from head-to-toe! Hoo-boy! Jao and I exchanged a glance as the good doctor turned into some sort of meat-hacking butcher!

Running low on bullets, Buddy reversed his grip and belted one of the last few natives across the chin. My “fists” skill was no greater than my firearms so I tapped another aspect, “heavy drinker” (figured I’d been in some bar fights) to fell another one. Walker chopped down the last of them and tapped a couple aspects to enable adding a “severe” aspect to our foes. In this case, she tapped the snake cult’s “superstitious” aspect and deemed they had been cowed into worshipfulness at her battle prowess…basically that she was the warrior goddess whose coming had been foretold in prophecy! Thereafter, she was known as the Opti-Ula-Ani…the Bride of the Island…and the snake cult was pretty much putty in her hands.

The characters made their way back to the beach where they found that the plane had been stripped of several pieces…including a tail fin and the pilot’s chair…in order to build the Opti-Ula-Ani a suitably luxurious hut. Walker was actually pretty happy at how things were turning out, and had all but decided to take the chief up on his marriage proposal, but Jao and Buddy could see our hopes of getting off the island slipping away.

I added one more aspect (“can get down and party with anyone”) and spent a FATE chip to take control of the narrative. Over the years, Buddy had found he was able to adapt to pretty much any culture’s form of “low entertainment.” Despite the lack of common language, he was able to communicate that a victory party was in order to celebrate putting down the rival snake cultists and the upcoming nuptials…and he broke out the orphans’ “medical supplies” for the occasion!

Once the entire tribe was passed out stinking drunk, Buddy and Jao (who did not drink) were able to liberate the pieces of the airplane and get ‘em back to the Monkey. The next morning, a hung over (but apparently happy) Opti-Ula-Ani convinced her new husband to let us go, and even paid us a hefty bonus on our standard fee (including the cost of the orphans’ medicine), so long as Jao agreed to return some day and collect her memoires for publication (“Jao? Jao?! What about me?”). Jao of course agreed, and gave the bride-to-be a polite but firm handshake before getting into the Gold Monkey.

And then we flew off into the sunset!

*whew!* This has turned into a VERY long blog post and because of that I decided to break it up into two separate entries. Some random notes about the game:

- I, of course, had a blast and greatly enjoyed my cynical character. I left out some stuff (for example his Big Mouth almost getting him speared by the friendly natives while Buddy and the Doc were on their sightseeing excursion, and his chuckling every time Walker insisted he call her “doctor.” I did try to play him as a lovable loser who’d “just been raised wrong;” mainly selfishly self-interested rather than mean-spirited.

- The other players seemed to have a good time, too, and we all had good chuckling moments. There was plenty of give-and-take around the table, and more than a little laughter at everyone’s antics.

- I found Spirit of the Century great for this kind of character-driven pulp. The “aspect” mechanic really forced us to make our characters’ character front-and-center in the game. Especially when it came to tasks (like fighting) where we weren’t very good. Neither Walker nor Buddy were fantastic combatants, so we had to find ways to cleverly use our aspects in order to succeed at things.

- On the other hand, Jao was so capable at the things he attempted (flying plane +5, fists +4), that he really never needed to activate his Aspects…and his characterizations were thus a little less extreme than Walker’s and Buddy’s. It would have been interesting to see Jao get into some sort of social or mental conflict.

- The bribing with FATE chips was great fun, and it helped both Carol and myself that we were willing to put our characters in trouble (and often) based on various Achilles heels. We often suggested our own temptations to the GM, rather than wait for Ogre to issue them (though he did a fair share of issuing temptations himself). Making “flawed” characters helped in this regard…I don’t remember any temptations made to Jao by the GM.

- I liked the streamlined chargen process a lot (even though my Harry Dean Stanton aspect never got used). It was fun “discovering” aspects of a character IN-play, instead of creating the guy from scratch before-hand and then having to play to those expectations. You know what I mean? I had a basic character concept, and then added flavorful and useful aspects, as needed, all of which strengthened my character concept. That was better (for me) than just adding all those aspects ahead of time and MAYBE (or maybe NOT) finding ways to make them useful in the game.

- ALSO, because the character grew out of play, I have a much stronger idea of who Buddy Kowalski is, now, based on the experience of play. This is one of the things I really like about long-term Dungeons & Dragons campaigns (at least, when there is real “role-playing” involved), but it is more difficult as the D&D system does not support the creation of characterization. In SotC, the whole system is based on EXPLORING that characterization. And because of that exploration, I would have no problem playing Buddy again, hamming it up, getting in trouble, etc.

- Would the game be good for long-term play? I think I could get a lot of mileage out of “Buddy Kowalski” if we were to do a series of adventures, but I’d be a little afraid of Jao being relegated to “sidekick” status. Let’s face it…being good at fighting and flying is a lot more interesting in a movie or video game than in an RPG where combat is based on a handful of abstract dice rolls. But who knows? Maybe Eric had a kick-ass time taking those savages to town. Despite getting roughed up a bit, I was satisfied with Buddy’s ability to hold his own…and that was my only concern regarding combat anyway.

- And speaking of combat, I’m not sure I was entirely sold on the combat system, which Ogre raved about. Now, when we spoke afterwards he assured me that the full system was a lot of fun, with people using stunts and aspects to roll up big numbers on opponents and throw all sorts of cool aspects on them. However, I’m not convinced I can fully embrace this. I prefer standard rules for taking characters “out of action” rather than just “adding aspects” (temporary or not) to them. I’d also prefer to see all types of conflict do “damage” along the same damage track. We had a physical damage track, a mental damage track, and (for the natives that Walker was trying to over-awe) a social damage track. It would have been simpler and easier to have a single damage track where ALL damage (regardless of type) could be applied. Walker stopped trying the over-awe (and went for the machete!) so that we could “gang up” on the mob’s physical track. Personally, I think damage is damage is damage…but whatever, that’s not the way this game works.

- It was a blast, though, all around and I was well satisfied with my first play of a true pulp RPG. I wouldn’t mind playing again…though it’s hard to imagine I'm clever enough to come up with a character as fun to play as Buddy Kowalski.

; )


  1. We've been playing some Fate based games recently and had a similar experience. My only regret is that the Spitiy of the Century book is so damn thick.

    On a related note: I can't help but think that maybe aspects and fate points could be used for other systems as well -- such as D&D. They would grant re-rolls or a +4 bonus, for example...

  2. That sounds like a really fun game! Thanks for sharing it, and the other games you played at the con.

    Maybe next time you play, just play as Buddy?

  3. @ Alex: Or as re-rolls of some sort, yeah...I had a similar idea. They remind me a bit of The Riddle of Steel's "spiritual attributes" without the advancement mechanic built in. Definitely something to ponder!

    @ David: You're welcome! It was fun (though kind of long to write up).

    Um...I only played as Buddy during the game...the other characters (Walker and Jao) were played by other players (Carol and Eric).

    Though maybe you mean, play without my trusty pilot? I don't know who would fly the plane for Buddy. I wonder if you can have a "henchman" or "sidekick" as an aspect...then I could just make a Jao an NPC I suppose...

  4. You can actually get a sidekick as a stunt.

    Also, combat is not just about putting consequences on people. Once you run out of Stress, you can have up to three Consequences, but if you run out of those you are Taken Out. Later versions of FATE have you simply Tken Out when you run out of stress, but you have the option of taking a consequence to reduce the stress from a given attack. That makes thighs more strategic - press on and try to win with potentially ylong-lasting consequences, or let yourself be Taken Out (note that this is not necessarily killed!) and avoid the negative aspect.

  5. Wow, autocorrect really mangled that comment. (Strategic thighs, really?)

    Anyway, I wanted to add that you could have a sidekick as an Aspect as well, or have both an Aspect and a Stunt for your Sidekick if they were major part of your character. (I'd write up a certain Dynamic Duo that way.)

    You could do the same with your plane - Han Solo almost certainly has the Falcon as an aspect as well as a stunt.