This post has been a long time coming. Feel like, in a way, I have been building towards it for the entire first year of The Action Point. Yes, that’s right—we’re a year old now!! Also, this post is written from the nation of Kuwait, as I am on my way back to Afghanistan. So let’s get down to business.
This is something of a compilation post—it’s the progeny of my nearly-fanatical reading of RPG blogs, reading of indie RPG material (thanks again, Chatty), and innate need to toy with, twist and tweak the rule system of whatever RPG I’m playing at the time. In order to follow along here, you need the following background information (Google can help you out if you’re behind the power curve):
- Working knowledge of 4E D&D (especially powers, feats, and the Rest Mechanic)
- Working knowledge of FATE RPG (invoking and compelling Aspects, mostly)
- Working knowledge of Burning Wheel/Mouse Guard RPG (Beliefs, Instincts, and Goals)
There are a couple of you reading this whose pulses just jumped a few notches just reading the pre-requisite material in anticipation of where I’m going with this. Believe me, I’m right there with you.
Let’s take this from the beginning—character creation for a new campaign of 1st level 4E D&D heroes. We gather our players (because I firmly believe in Group Character Generation) and everybody decides on what they want to play in a general sense. I decide I want to play a Human Warlord and I name him Caspian because that’s a neat name—Caspian is the character I chose to play when I was still stateside playing D&D Encounters. I build this character all the way through standard 4E character generation as per whatever campaign ground rules we decide on. I don’t bother with the Alignment block because we won’t be using it. Alignment doesn’t exist in this world.
The Stuff You Already Know
So we’ve got a filled out character sheet. Caspian ends up looking like the following according to his character sheet:
- Racial Abilities: Bonus Feat, Bonus Skill, Heroic Effort, Human Defense Bonus,
- Class Abilities: Battlefront Leader, Commanding Presence (Inspiring), Inspiring Word,
- Feats: Armored Warlord, Master At Arms
- Ability Scores: STR 16, CON 14, DEX 11, INT 10, WIS 10, CHA 16
- Background: Borderland Nobility
- At-Will Powers: Direct The Strike, Viper’s Strike
- Encounter Powers: Heroic Effort, Vengeance Is Mine, Inspiring Word, Battlefront Shift
- Daily Powers: Bastion of Defense
- Trained Skills: Athletics, Diplomacy, Heal, History, Intimidate
- Equipment: Longsword, Heavy Shield, Scale Armor, 3 javelins
Now comes the fun part. There’s this cool section on the Character Building Worksheet that the GM hands out. It has the following sections, with place for the player to write a small phrase or sentence:
- Character Name
- High Concept
- Background Aspect
- Power/Feat Aspect 1
- Power/Feat Aspect 2
- Equipment Aspect (Interchangeable for another Power/Feat Aspect)
If you’re familiar with the prerequisite material I mentioned at the beginning, a lot of this looks familiar. However, I want to stress that in the context of the House Rules I’m building, all of the above (except Character Name, of course) are going to be considered Aspects, and should be built in such a way that they are able to be invoked and compelled according to FATE rules.
High Concept, Trouble, and Background have been covered in other blogs extensively; I’ll leave you the reader to use your Google-fu to check out some of the great stuff other folks have written on those topics. For these purposes, it’s a good idea to integrate the 4E concepts of Race and Class into the High Concept.
Caspian’s High Concept ends up being “Warrior Heir of House Allyrion.” In my game world, House Allyrion is a human noble house famous for its magocratic rulership, so we already know something about how Caspian was likely raised and how he views the world around him. His Background Aspect becomes “Chosen Sword of the Silver Circle.” The Silver Circle is a crossbreed between the Tower of High Sorcery from Dragonlance and the Circle of Magi from the Dragon Age video games, and seeks to ensure that the potentially dangerous powers of arcane magic are kept in check amongst their users. For Caspian to be the Chosen Sword of this group—and especially for it to be his Background Aspect—tells us even more about him. I FIRMLY believe that Aspects should be as grounded in the details of the campaign world as possible. The more specific you get, the easier it is to compel/invoke. For his Trouble Aspect, I pick “More Duties Than Time” indicating that the social status and obligations around Caspian are always on his mind and part of his decision making process. It’s also an excuse for the GM to bring any of those background hooks and plotlines involving House Allyrion, The Silver Circle, or the fact that Caspian is Borderland Nobility into the game.
Belief, Instinct, and Goal have also been written about copiously; however, I want to stress that in this system we’re looking for a concise statement that can be invoked or compelled just like any other Aspect. Keep them short and to the point.
For Caspian, I want to want to reinforce and expand upon the earlier Aspects, so I choose “I must never bring dishonor to House Allyrion” as his Belief. I want to turn up the drama a notch, so in addition to all these obligations, I choose as his Instinct “Make a decision and act on it.” I’m deliberately setting myself up by doing so, because with all the obligations Caspian has got, giving him an Instinct of quick decision making can (and likely will) complicate all of that. That’s okay. I’m grinning as I write this, thinking of playing this character, so I think I’m doing something right here.
It’s also important to note that as I’m choosing Caspian’s Belief, Instinct and Goal I’m keeping his 4E Ability Scores in mind as well. He’s a martial character, inclined to action, and both his INT and WIS are 10. He’s not particularly book-smart and not really all that introspective either. He is, however, very good with people. I think most of his formative years were spent with people telling him what to do and now he’s happy to be in a place of leading others and making his own decisions, so he’s not going to think too awful much about making those decisions beforehand. He’s going to observe the situation, make a decision and GO, and adapt to his circumstances as he sees fit.
If you’re familiar with FATE Aspects, you’ve probably got a great idea of where I’m going with this. I’ve got two Power/Feat Aspects to pick here, so I look through Caspian’s list to decide what I want to use. I’m going to be using the TITLE of an Ability, Feat or Power as the Aspect here, with the same rules of invoking and compelling as any other. I choose Battlefront Leader (consistent with his “make a decision and act” mentality) and Vengeance is Mine for these Aspects. I like the idea that Caspian’s high Charisma and sense of duty combine so that he tends to get VERY upset when someone hurts one of his party. He takes the phrase “a strike against my friend is a strike against me” rather literally.
If Caspian was higher level, I might pick one of his magic items (or Divine Boons, or Grandmaster Trainings, or Animal Companions, or Cavalier’s Mount…whatever) as an Equipment Aspect, symbolizing an item that was particularly important to him. However since he’s only 1st level, I go back to the Powers list and pick Bastion of Defense. This reinforces the interpersonal nature of the character and backs up the character traits of the last paragraph.
Gaining and Spending 4E Fate Points
So we’ve got a whole bunch of touchy-feely kinda fluff in the paragraphs above. Let’s put some crunch to it and see how it plays out. Our character looks like this right now:
- Name: Caspian
- High Concept: Warrior Heir of House Allyrion
- Background: Chosen Sword of the Silver Circle
- Trouble: More Duties Than Time
- Power: Battlefront Leader
- Power: Vengeance Is Mine
- Power: Bastion of Defense
- Belief: I must never bring dishonor to House Allyrion”
- Instinct: Make a decision and act on it.
- Goal: Defend the caravan at all costs.
Note that Goals are going to change each session, most likely. When the PCs get a new Quest, I as GM would allow the PCs to change the Goal aspect if they so choose. Likewise, Each time the character gains a new feat/power/ability, they can choose to swap one of those aspects at will. Also, for purposes of this article I am assuming that Caspian is playing the first session of D&D Encounters March of the Phantom Brigade, thus his goal of protecting the caravan.
Instead of Action Points, characters in this game get FATE Points (hereafter FP). They acquire FP in a hybrid fashion compared to “pure” 4E Action Points and pure-FATE rules. Characters get 1 FP any time they:
- Complete an Encounter. PCs get +2 FP for each encounter after the first without an Extended Rest. Thus, each PC gets 3 FP for completing the second encounter, 5 FP for the third, etc. It’s important for the GM to make sure that pure roleplaying encounters and Skill Challenges are figured into this as well, because the PCs will ideally be using their FP during these encounters as well.
- Compelled by the GM. In an identical manner to FATE, whenever the GM (or, for more advanced groups, even the other players) compels one of the PCs Aspects in order to complicate the situation, that PC gets 2 FP.
- Bloodied/Dying: The first time a PC becomes Bloodied and/or goes to 0 hp or below in an Encounter, they get 1 FP. This resets if the PC is healed back to full hp.
- Status Effects: The first time a PC is affected by a named status effect (immobilized, restrained, stunned, etc), they get 1 FP when the condition ends. If they are subjected to the same effect later in the same encounter, even if the condition initiates from another source, they do not get a FP. Note that ongoing damage and forced movement are not considered status effects for these purposes.
- Belief/Instinct/Goal: Any time a character would earn a Persona Point per Burning Wheel or Mouse Guard rules, they earn 2 FP.
A character can, as a non-action, spend Fate Points for the following Benefits. A character can spend Fate Points for only one Benefit per turn; this ability recharges at the beginning of that character’s turn.
- 1 FP: gain a non-attack minor action
- 1 FP: add +1d4 to any d20 roll. This must be chosen before the result of the roll is determined by the GM.
- 2 FP: gain a non-attack move action.
- 2 FP: recharge an encounter power. Usable once per encounter.
- 2 FP: add +1d6 to any d20 roll or damage roll. This must be chosen before the roll is made.
- 2 FP: Make a Declaration per FATE rules.
- 2 FP: turn a critical hit by an enemy into a regular hit. This must be chosen before the amount of damage is revealed by the GM.
- 3 FP: gain a standard action. Spending FP in this way triggers any effects that require a PC to spend an Action Point per 4E rules.
- 3 FP: reroll any 1 d20 or up to 2 dice of a damage roll. This must be chosen before the results of the roll are determined and the results of the second roll are final. Any other re-roll or dice affecting abilities cannot apply after this ability is used.
- 3 FP: recharge a daily power. Usable once per encounter.
- 3FP: Regain one healing surge.
Fate Bank and the Extended Rest
When the PCs make an Extended Rest, all Fate Points reset to 0. Tally the total number of FP the party has, and keep track of that number. This number is called the party’s Fate Bank. The Party can only choose to add points to the Fate Bank when they take an Extended Rest.
Also keep track of the number of Extended Rests the party takes, but only tally the Extended Rests that occur when the PCs go immediately from one encounter to the next. If the PCs are travelling in the wilderness, for example, their days of travel do not count as Extended Rests for FP purposes. If they back out of a dungeon, take an Extended Rest, and then walk right back in or if they go to town, do some shopping and then head back into the dungeon, that Extended Rest WOULD be tallied.
At the End of the Adventure or at a point when the GM would give the PCs Experience Points or Treasure, the party can choose to Cash the Bank. If they choose to Cash the Bank, subtract DOUBLE the number of Extended Rests the characters have taken (per the guidelines above) from the Fate Bank. For every 10 Fate Points in the party’s Fate Bank, they can gain EITHER a 10% bonus to awarded experience or a 10% bonus to awarded treasure. If there are Points left over after this is determined, the party can increase either percentage by 1% per 3 points. Any other leftover points are lost. When the party Cashes the Bank, the Fate Bank returns to 0.
Example: At the end of Chapter 1 of March of the Phantom Brigade, Caspian has 5 FP left. His other party members have 3, 7, and 4 FP respectively. They are taking an Extended Rest and the GM decides to award XP, so the party talks it over and decides to Cash The Bank. They bank 19 points, and subtract 2 because they are taking 1 Extended Rest, for a total of 17 points. They choose to use 10 points toward their XP, giving the party a +10% bonus to the XP the GM is about to give them, leaving them with 7 points. Adventurers are greedy bastards, so instead of giving themselves even more XP, they trade 6 of the remaining points for a 3% boost to the treasure the GM will be giving them, and the last leftover point is lost. At the end of this Extended Rest, the party’s Fate Bank is at 0 and each character has 0 FP.
I love the Small Press/Indie Press rules for codifying and augmenting in-character roleplaying, and I love the crunchy-tactical nature of 4E D&D. This is my attempt to meld the two into a relatively seamless whole. Let me know what you think; I hope you like it.