Friday, February 5, 2016

Dawning Star: Fate of Eos and Red Truth

So I do still have the password for this!

I am still plugging away, slowly but surely, on Dawning Star: Fate of Eos.  Between kids, changing careers, and life in general, I don’t have a lot of time to work on it, thus the project is way behind largely due to the fact I don’t get more than a few hours a week to work on it.  

The other problem is I have been running into rules design issues I’m having trouble working through.  We’re doing a Fate Core game, but with a number of add on rules (more equipment focused, vehicle rules, psionics ala Red Truth, and some work making stunts more interesting).  Since I’ve been having trouble with some of these I figured I would run through some of them and see if anyone had feedback.  The main thing I’m concerned about is how I’m implementing Red Truth, which takes some setup to explain.  

Red Truth

In Dawning Star Red Truth is our pseudo-scientific explanation for psionics.  Red Truth is a layer of reality that humans can’t normally perceive that is thematically the programming code of the universe.  Or the blueprint of the gods, as some cultures call it. It is an incredibly information dense realm that overlays our level of reality and it is where everything about everything is stored.  Normally you look at a chair and you see a chair, but if you can pierce the veil into Red Truth you could see that chair’s exact physical dimensions with a glance, or dig deeper to see its history, where it was made, who last sat in it, etc, if you are skilled enough at interpreting what you see.  Most of Red Truth is about perceiving this information: Red Truth users are extremely hard to sneak up on, can read the minds of others, etc.  More advanced users can do things like block the flow of information completely (blindness, invisibility), disrupt information (erase computers with a touch, confuse people, disperse information ghosts which are created from people who lose their mind completely to Red Truth), and edit information (telekinesis via changing the velocity of an item, pyrokensis by changing the velocity of individual molecules, etc).  

Problem is the human mind was never designed to deal with Red Truth; humans can only perceive without assistance after exposure to Red Truth in a place where the veil between layers of reality have weakened.  This exposure causes mental damage that can allow a person to perceive Red Truth, but usually at some cost to their sanity.  Also each time a human uses Red Truth, they have a chance of suffering further mental damage.  Some species are better adapted for this but they are rare.  

The existence of Red Truth is a known scientific fact in the Dawning Star setting at this point, but that does not mean it is well understood.  It is still something governed more by ritual and superstition than logic and reason; there are several traditions of Red Truth users among various non-human cultures that have found means to stave off the negative effects of Red Truth through unusual mindsets or ritual.  The best example of this are the Grass Widows of the velin who use grief to keep their mind focused to avoid the dangers of Red truth.  

The plan currently is to have Red Truth inflict mental stress when used, filling in some number of the highest or lowest mental stress boxes depending on the strength of the power. Alternately they can use stunts to get Focus, which is a mana pool that can be used to power Red Truth powers instead of mental stress (focus comes back at minor milestones). This means some powers will force characters to take consequences to use if they haven’t bought up Willpower or some Focus feats.

There’s a lot more about Red Truth infecting our layer of reality, massive Red Truth monsters trapped between the stars where there is little information to be had, other layers of reality aside from Red Truth, but those aren’t necessary here.  Red Truth = psionics and they’re dangerous is what you need to know.  

Stunt Sets

Sort of stealing an idea from Atomic Robo, one of the ideas we’re working with in the new rules are stunt sets.  These are groups of stunts that are tied together thematically and represent a single resource, such as a handful of stunts that quantify the mechanical benefits of being a Republic Ranger (a deputy follower, resistance to Provoke, etc.) or having an awesome alien relic.  These have to be tied to an aspect of the character.  Most stunt sets are 3-5 stunts in number.  We mainly use them to help give players guidance as to how to build some of the pre-existing factions, special gear, etc, that exists in the setting.  

All stunt sets must have a Flaw, which is an aspect that is unlikely to be used to the characters advantage and comes with one free compel per session that can be used against the player.  Basically it’s an unhelpful aspect that can hurt you once for free.  For example, with the above Republic Ranger example they have Bound to Serve the Law of the Republic (so the character has to uphold the law even when it’s dangerous or counterproductive), or the alien relic may have Unreliable (so it may not work all the time).  Each flaw gives the stunt set one free stunt, so if a stunt set has four stunts in it and one flaw, it would cost three stunts for a character to take that stunt set.  

In addition to the standard range of stunts, stunt sets can have some special stunt types that are only allowed with stunt sets (and thus have to have a flaw attached that can hopefully mitigate them being more useful than normal stunts).  Here we get into stealing from Atomic Robo.  Here’s some of those new options:
  • Armor: You get a point of armor, like if you have an alien force field relic.  
  • Focus: Give you a mana pool to power Red Truth instead of using mental stress.  Generally it’s two points per time this stunt is taken.
  • Invulnerable:  Choose one type of attack (bullets, lasers, melee, fire, etc).  You’re immune to that.  This is not such a big deal as in other games since so many types of attacks get thrown around regularly.  
  • New Skill: You get to make up a new skill, like having the Weather Control skill for your weather control relic.  
  • Permission: You get permission to buy from a special list of skills and stunts, mainly used for Red Truth.  
  • Personnel: You get followers.  More stunts make them better or more numerous.  
  • Scale: Your stunt set operates on a different scale than normal, such as having a relic that affects vehicle scale objects instead of people.
  • Skill Affinity: You can remove one fate die from your total when using a skill you have skill affinity in.  So it can’t help you roll higher numbers, but can help you not roll low numbers.  
  • Stress: Your stunt set has more stress.  
  • Superior Skill: Your stunt set is just better at something than normal people.  If it comes into a contest with something that does not have this stunt, the opponent loses.  

So one of the more extremes of this system is a stunt set that represents an alien underground base your character has claimed.  It has New Skill (Weather Control), Scalex3 (Planetary), Followersx2 (AI that runs the place with a skill upgrade), and the flaws (Not Totally Explored) and (Don’t Speak the Same Language) for the AI.  This base costs four stunts.  Sure, an alien base may not work in every campaign but is practically a campaign in and of itself (who knows what all is down there!).  

Some other examples:

Artifact of the Ancients (2 Stunts)
You have an alien artifact that you found in one of the ruins of Eos and have spent much of the time since learning its secrets.  Unfortunately you’ve had precious little luck aside from activating what seems to be a handful of basic systems, but one of these is a personal force field that has proven very useful.  It seems to be some manner of sensor and defensive system, but until you can find a velin or some xenotech expert to tell you more you’re stuck with a few very impressive tricks.
Aspect: I Will Discover the Secrets of this Alien Relic
·         Armor 1.  The force field provides some level of protection from all physical threats.
·         Invulnerable (x2). You are immune to non-energy melee attacks and bullets while the force field is active.
·         Early Warning System. +2 to Notice to Overcome and Defend actions.
·         Unreliable. You cannot reliably activate any of the artifact’s features.  

Republic Ranger (3 stunts)
You have found a place among the ranks of the Dawning Star Republic’s finest agents, the Republic Rangers.  Your authority knows no bounds within the Republic, enabling you to bring justice to the nooks and crannies where criminals attempt to hide their wicked ways.  You must not only be fast on the draw but also a skilled communicator and tracker as not every problem can be solved with bullets.  Not every problem, only most.
Aspect: Officer of the Law of the Dawning Star Republic
·         Follower (x3).  Your deputy or posse. You can make this one skilled individual or a variety of less skilled individuals.
·         Invulnerable. Provoke attacks from known criminals.
·         Skill Affinity. Provoke, Contacts, or Survival.  You are among the best at browbeating, working your informants, or tracking.  In any case, you always get your sentient being.
·         Bound to Serve the Law of the Republic. You must follow and enforce the laws of the Republic.  This includes no summary executions of criminal; while you are empowered to arrest criminals anywhere in the Republic and can act as a judge and executioner when called upon, you are by no means allowed to serve as a jury.
·         Big Damn Hero. You can’t turn your back on those in need.   

Red Truth is built using stunt sets with each tradition being it’s own stunt set.  For example, Grass Widows get Red Truth Permission, Focus, Beast Mind (Red truth powers focused on animals), Skill Affinity (Red Truth), and the Flaw (Grief Stricken).  Becoming a Grass Widow would cost three stunts.  

Red Truth Mechanics

Red Truth is its own skill that you can only purchase if you take the Red Truth Permission stunt.  In addition to letting you buy the Red Truth skill and stunts, the permission stunt also lets you do basic information gathering in Red Truth (i.e. look at the chair and know how much it weighs, but not the last person who sat in it).  The Red Truth skill is used to make Overcome actions to gather information, Defend actions against Red Truth attacks, and other uses as detailed in Red Truth stunts.  

To do more with Red Truth you have to buy stunts, which is my current stumbling block.  Characters have to spend at least one stunt to buy the Red Truth Permission stunt, though will likely spend an additional stunt or two on Focus or Skill Affinity (Red Truth), plus put skill points into the Red truth skill.  Thus players will likely spend two stunts and some skill points before they get any real meat from Red Truth.  To that end, my current plan is each Red Truth stunt has three facets, each of which is about as powerful as a normal stunt.  I figure between all the buy in costs and the mental stress costs for activating powers, this hopefully balances out but I am really not sure.  Also I wanted to make each power feel well rounded; using telekinesis to move stuff (use Red Truth as Physique to Overcome and Create Advantage) and using it as a weapon (use Red Truth to Attack) are two facets of the Telekinesis stunt rather than being separate stunts.  

Most of the Red Truth powers are currently balanced such that they are something like “you can use Red Truth in place of X skill for X and Y actions for one scene by filling in your lowest/highest 1-3 mental stress boxes.”  So using telekinesis to lift things is “You can use Red truth in place of Physique to lift things, using it carry out Overcome and Create Advantage actions for one scene but you must fill in your two highest unused mental stress boxes.”  These mental stress boxes can be paid off with Focus, but this does mean most characters may activate only one or two powers per scene unless they blow a lot of Focus.  Gathering information (psychometry, read mind) generally consumes your lowest unused mental stress box, blocking information (invisibility) consumes your two lowest unused mental stress boxes, disrupting information (deleting files, confusion) your two highest unused mental stress box, and editing information (telekinesis, pyrokinesis) fills your three highest unused mental stress boxes.  This means without some Focus or extra mental stress boxes from Willpower, characters can’t edit information without taking consequences.  

I like this cost structure as it drives home the fiction of Red Truth being dangerous, but I worry the individual stunts may be two powerful with the three facets.  On the other hand, it’s pretty non-standard Fate stunt design.  Thus the desire for outside feedback.

Some examples:

Telekinesis. You can alter the location and velocity of objects through Red Truth, allowing you to move items at a distance with little more than a glance.
        Move: You can move objects by editing their information in Red Truth.  You can use Red Truth in place of Physique when taking Overcome or Create an Advantage actions for the rest of the scene.  You can do this a range equal to your Red Truth skill in zones.  When you activate this power you must fill in your three highest unused mental stress boxes, or spend three focus.  Once active, Move remains active for the rest of the scene.
        Shield: You concentrate on deflecting any objects coming towards you, editing their velocity information to deflect them off target.  You can use Red Truth in Defend actions against any physical attacks made against one target each round; if you choose to defend yourself you cannot change your attention to defending an ally during that round. You can only defend targets within a number of zones equal to your Red Truth skill. When you activate this power you must fill in your three highest unused mental stress boxes, or spend three focus.  Once active, Move remains active for the rest of the scene.
        Launch: You edit the information for a nearby object to grant it sudden high velocity, launching it violently at a nearby target.  You can make Attack actions against targets within a number of zones equal to your Red Truth skill. These attacks should only have Weapon:1 or 2 at most. When you activate this power you must fill in your three highest unused mental stress boxes, or spend three focus.  Once active, Move remains active for the rest of the scene.  

Absorb Information. You can quickly digest information through Red Truth, allowing you to learn at an astounding rate and even notice the smallest details.
        Requires: Permission (Red Truth)
        Mimic Skill: You can look deep into Red Truth to gather information about challenges before you, allowing you deal with situations you have little training in.  You can use your Red Truth skill in place of Infiltrate, Investigate, Knowledge, Medicine, Science, and Tech.  When you activate this power you must fill in your two lowest unused mental stress boxes.  Once active, Mimic Skill remains active for the rest of the scene.
        Open Mind: You can glace into Red Truth to get a +2 bonus to one Infiltrate, Investigate, Knowledge, Medicine, Science, or Tech contest, but doing so fills your lowest mental stress box or consumes one focus.
        Read Data: With a few seconds you can look through large and complex data structures, such as computer networks or libraries, to find information you seek.  You can search all the information contained in the same zone as you, using Red Truth in place of Investigation or Notice.  You can search forms of data storage you have no normal mean to read, such computer files, but you cannot penetrate encryption or other forms of protection that scramble the information.  When you activate this power you must fill in your lowest unused mental stress box.  Once active, Read Data remains active for the rest of the scene