Fatefully Yours

April 29, 2014

On Google+, Fred Hicks suggested that people post their submissions for the Fate Writer Open Call here. The following is my rejected submission along with some notes in italics.

Note: The submission required some formatting tags that won't make sense here, so I removed them. I also removed the "tell me about yourself" section. Lastly, Fate uses specialized dice that have a "+", "-", and a blank face, denoted here as "0".

1) Create a Relationship system

This romance-themed supplement comes with a deck of Relationship Cards. Each Card functions as an extra attached to your character and connects your character to another PC or NPC, hereafter called your "partner."

You can pick a card or generate one on the fly. Roll the fate dice and search for the result printed on the cards. This section uses the example Relationship Card titled Tsundere, i.e. I Love You So Much I Want to Kill You. In this case, when you roll the fate dice and come up with + + - -, you get the "Tsundere" card.

The +, 0, and - represent the emotional temperature of the relationship, for good and ill. For example, a + + + + relationship could mean someone so in love with her partner that she becomes obsessive or co-dependent. Each card has a description in the body as flavor with trope examples and suggestions for play.

The Title acts as the primary aspect. Each card also has a Secondary aspect that acts like a Trouble aspect. For instance, the Tsundere card has Bottled-Up Emotions.The GM or your partner can use this secondary aspect to compel you, while you can invoke the title aspect against your partner.

The card also has a stunt you can use when dealing with your partner. In this example, Tsundere has "Explosive Expression - Use Fight instead of Rapport to overcome your partner in social situations. If you succeed, your partner also suffers a 1-shift hit unless you spend a fate point."

At a major milestone, you can change the Relationship Card if you think the story warrants it. Discard the old one and pick a new card from the deck. Or use the emotional temperature dice from the original card as a guide. Change one of them warmer or colder. A + or - can change into a 0, or a 0 can change either into a + or a -. Note the new die combination, discard the old card, and search the deck for the matching card. This is now your new relationship with your partner.

Note: The Evil Hat team thought there was a good idea here, but that I needed to flesh it out and make it more understandable. Even with the above revised version, I agree with their critique. There is something I really like here, but it's clunky and needs something to make it "pop."

2) Create some new Combat Options

A hostile mind-controlling alien nanite swarm has invaded Earth. Some humans, the PCs, can resist the mind control but can also tap into their new physical enhancements.

Absorb: When you attack with style, the nanites in your body suck out some knowledge or ability from your target. Reduce the value of your hit by one, and copy one of your target's aspects as a boost. If you don't know your target's aspects, the GM will give you one that's appropriate.

Access Hivemind: The nanites temporarily reconnect to the alien hivemind. Ask the GM one question related to the nanites or the aliens. She must answer truthfully, but may ask you to tone down the question (i.e. "Who nearby has also been infected with the nanites?" is fine but "How can we permanently disable the nanites?" would be too much).

Infect: The nanites spread from your body to the target's, infecting them without their knowledge. Your target gets a temporary aspect. You choose what it is, as long as it has "Nanite-infected" in its name (e.g. Nanite-infected Eyes and Ears) and you get a free invoke.

Rebuild: The nanites reconfigure your body into a new form. Temporarily replace one of your aspects with something more relevant and badass to the situation like Not-Trademarked Retractable Claws and get a free invoke. At a minor milestone, either keep this aspect or switch it out for the old one.

Hidden Potential: Your character's mind opens for a brief moment as he or she sees another means to tap into the nanites' powers. You get a free single use of an Alien Nanite stunt in this scene and can now buy the stunt or swap for it at a milestone (e.g. "Alien Nanite: Everything is a Machine - Use Crafts to repair machinery or to make a recovery roll even if you are missing the appropriate tools").

Note: This was my weakest section. Evil Hat noted that I had no balance whatsoever with the above (revised) stunts. I realize now that I have an imperfect knowledge of Fate stunts. There is a big difference between reading a game, playing a game, running a game, and designing a game.

3) Design a Relatable Villain

Assassin and spy Victoria Adincourt remains a patriot at heart, absolutely dedicated to securing the safety and prosperity of her mother nation, Flora. She especially hates the upper class of Lapis, the PCs' homeland. She views the Lapisian military and royalty as corrupt and decadent, a weed to be cut out of the continent of Gaius. She sees Lapisian peasantry as misguided and in need of liberation.

In one hook, the PCs are sent to retrieve highly vital secrets, but discover that Adincourt already has them. The secrets prove that a Lapisian colonel in the Royal Army has forcibly conscripted the peasantry from both sides of the conflict to bolster his own military power. Even worse, he has ambitions to weaken the Throne and seize power as Regent. Adincourt intends to let Lapis descend into civil war, but the PCs must convince her to help them bring the colonel to justice.

In another hook, Adincourt sends the PCs a proposal - if they can secure the freedom of a Florisian political prisoner, she can lead them to a long lost sacred treasure, the Heart of Lapis, a stone with mystical properties. However, her detailed maps of the prison reveal secret areas unknown even to the Lapisian warden, and the political prisoner refuses to be rescued! These twists suggest that Adincourt has a larger plan in motion. Can the PCs discover her true mission, and what secret about the Heart of Lapis does Adincourt know?

Note: This was my strongest entry, and Evil Hat stated the same. Characterization has always been one of my strengths, so I was not surprised by this section.

Last Notes: The Evil Hat team's critique was far from discouraging. In many ways, it mirrored my own concerns, strengths, and weaknesses. The fact that I agree with their analysis means that I'm not far off from understanding my own strengths and weaknesses, which is the first step in becoming a better writer and game designer.

I'm glad they gave me a chance to submit and revise my entry, and I hope to try again when they call for writers again. On a more positive note, this open call compelled me to start up a Dresden Files game, which has hit three sessions so far!

Working Through Nihilism

April 21, 2014

Spoilers for the True Detective

The ending of True Detective did not upset me at all, unlike most critics online. In contrast, I found the ending fitting considering the themes of the show.

The strength of the show lies in the two principle characters, "Rust" and "Marty." While other characters such as Maggie, Marty's wife, have a strong solid place in the narrative and have incredible performances from their actors, the show's arc falls squarely on Rust and Marty. None of the other characters receive the same level of exploration and study as these two.

Such strong focus on the characters means that the plot had never really intended to be important in the overall scheme of things. The Who? What? Why? are never answered and are relatively unimportant. Note that the principle antagonists, Errol Childress or Reggie Ledoux don't receive much focus or exploration and the story actually doesn't depend on that. (Unlike other narratives, such as Spiderman I, Iron Man I or II, for example, which did need a strong antagonist in order to frame the protagonists' struggles.)

Both Rust and Marty are such damaged people, and it would be easy to believe that the show wanted to be a tragedy. Both of these men appear to be on the path of self-destruction. However, none of their flaws, Rust's nihilism and Marty's lack of self-reflection and hypocrisy, do not prevent them from performing their duties as police officers. In a traditional tragedy, these flaws would not only hinder them, but define them.

The survival of the characters allowed them an epilogue that illustrates the various themes of the show. Faced with overwhelming evidence of a cruel world, Rust changes and overcomes his nihilism. Faced with his family, Marty changes and expresses an honest emotion and a chance of self-reflection.

The audience may have expected a fatalistic ending because of the gothic horror and noir backdrops, but the fact that Rust and Marty had succeeded throughout the series via their strengths, through their work, means that it could only be through their work that they would achieve the positive resolution. It seems almost Buddhist.

A true Greek-style tragedy would have been to have Rust and Marty give up the work and sink into nothingness leaving nothing resolved. And I highly doubt the audience would have been satisfied with that ending.

Infinitely Nihilistic

March 2, 2014

Spoilers for the Bioshock Infinite

I found the original Bioshock interesting but missing something more. I pretty much agree with Yahtzee's review. The exploration of Objectivist philosophy in the context of a video game provides a lot of meaty potential, but I wish there had been more to do with the player instead of it being background and backdrop.

Bioshock: Infinite has a lot of interesting and meaty stuff to it too. The backdrop of a turn-of-the-20th-century America serves as a metaphor this new turn-of-the-century. It then provides some interesting commentary on free will when the game dives into a fully sci-fi twist.

But the game is rather nihilistic. The primary antagonist, Comstock, comes across as so vehemently racist and fundamentalist (as well as incredibly vague over what he wants with Elizabeth and Booker) that there is no way to emphasize or sympathize with him. You play the game to hate Comstock.

The alternative, Daisy Fitzroy, starts off as a revolutionary leader, but the game's other twist has her and her followers turn into murderous rioters across the board. This gives you and Booker more people to shoot, but doesn't give much in terms of sympathy. This game's society is messed up if you do nothing and messed up if you try to change it.

This leaves Elizabeth and Booker as the last sympathetic characters in the world, and then the last, final twist of her origins and Booker's character comes all at once that it doesn't give players much time to process. We don't get to see Booker come to grips that he and Comstock are the same person, and we don't get to see Elizabeth react to learning that Booker is her father.

In fact, the last 10 minutes is an interactive animation where all this gets thrown at the player, which left me dumbfounded but unsatisfied. At the end, I wondered what the point of it all was, which is a shame, because I liked Elizabeth and Booker, I liked the twists and turns, and I liked the game, but I couldn't help but feel drained and empty at the end.

The Doctor Will Be in the House

November 19, 2013

Spoilers for the new, revitalization of Doctor Who

Next week is the premiere of "Day of the Doctor" the 50th anniversary. Despite some personal disappointment with the storylines and characterizations, I still get excited for new Doctor Who. Is it leftover nostalgia, investment in the franchise, or vain hope?

Doctor Who is a show about time travel, but after 50 years, it is a show about history, the history of British television. And in a small way, the history of the modern world (at least from 1963).

Other television shows are a snapshot of history. The original Star Trek is very 1960s. Starsky and Hutch is very 70s. Knight Rider is very 80s.

But Doctor Who is a show that has continued on throughout five (non-continuous) decades and acknowledges its own history and its own place in history. It's a show that is traveling through time, forward to the future, one second per second.

I'm betting on the John Hurt Doctor being an older version of Paul McGann's Doctor. This has two advantages: 1) it finally acknowledges on screen the 8th Doctor, making a bridge from the old series, the television movie, and the new movie; 2) it's a clean explanation, without inventing anything new, no "in-between" incarnations, no "shadow" incarnations, no "alternate" incarnations.

No doubt, Moffat has a twist up his sleeve. Let's hope it is clever, but not too clever.

Edit: So I did not know that the BBC released a mini-episode, "Night of the Doctor", which pretty much answers where the John Hurt Doctor came from. At least we get to see Paul McGann...

Fully Animated

October 26, 2013

I've been watching a lot of anime lately.

Watamote, or otherwise known as No Matter How I look at It, It's You Guys'Fault I'm not Popular!, is pretty much the anime equivalent of Freaks and Geeks. Following a high-school girl named Tomoko, the show pretty much has her try, and fail, to make friends and not be lonely in high school. She's not picked on by anyone, and no one is really that mean to her (except for her brother), but it makes it that much worse. She's invisible. And this show is a comedy.

Madoka Magica is the inversion of Sailor Moon and other "magical girl" stories. This blog has a very in-depth analysis about the anime (and has some insights about why Pacific Rim isn't just a big, dumb movie). In short, if you think this show is a generic, saccharine rip-off of every magical girl story, you haven't gone past episode six or so. Be prepared for some unhappy endings.

Everybody and their talking cat is watching Attack on Titan, and it is a twisted mish-mash of teenage steampunk mecha (kind of) pilots, giant monster animes, and alternate post-apocalyptic fantasy stories, but it really does pull out interesting twists. The only problem is that it suffers from only-one-thing-happens-in-an-episode syndrome (e.g. Dragonball Z, Torchwood: Miracle Day). It feels like they are drawing out episodes to make a full season.