Monthly Archives: October 2009

Shattered Vistas: Skills

Characters are defined by their skills- what they are good at doing, what they are not so good at doing, and skills are defined by their ruling Arcana. The more points you have in a skill, the more dice you get to roll, and the more dice you get to roll, the higher your rolls are likely to be.

Ruling Arcana

Every skill is defined by its Ruling Arcana. This determines both the flavor of the skill- what it’s good for, and how it’s used, and what Arcana can be played as trump cards to increase the skill roll.

Coin Skills cover “low knowledge,” anything involving cunning, real-world applications, or street-smarts. Skills that involve a combination of physical action and mental ingenuity often fall into this category.

Cup Skills involve the social arts and interactions with others. If a skill involves manipulating or inspiring other people, it’s a Cup skill.

Staff Skills cover “high knowledge,” such as academia, scholarly learning, and advanced topics. Sorcerous knowledge is also covered under the Staff arcana, though these skills follow special rules.

Sword Skills are based on combat, physical conflict, personal might and martial prowess. If a skill involves fighting, or physical action of some kind, it’s probably ruled by the Sword Arcana.

Default Skills

Animal Handling
Sleight of Hand

Court Contacts
Underworld Contacts

Arcane Lore
Natural Philosophy
Sorcerous Skill*

Hand to Hand

The Sorcerous Skill includes several different skills, such as Faustian Magic, granted by the different Magical Traditions. You may not have a Sorcerous Skill unless you have a Magical Traditions. Magical Traditions and their associated skills are explained in the chapter on magic.

Custom Skills

There’s no reason to be limited to this skill list. If you have an idea for a new skill, suggest it to your Gamemaster, along with what Arcana you think it falls under. New skills should be about as broad as the ones already in place, and fall under the same Arcana. It might be tempting to create a Dirty Fighting skill that falls under the Coins Arcana, but combat is the aegis of the Sword. (There are also other ways for characters to use their Coin cards in a fight.) A good example of new skills might be a different Contacts skill focusing on a different social class, or a Pirate Weapons (or Ninja Weapons) skill focusing on the types of weapons commonly used by Pirates (whatever you and your GM agree upon that those are.)

War for the Throne: Second Playtest

War for the Throne is now in playtest!

We chatted a bit about settings- 3 Kingdoms Wuxia, western Feudal high fantasy, some stranger things like modern day, space, Aztec and Bollywood mythic India, but we settled on 1900ish Mythic Russia. Crimea War era, folk rumors, mystic alchemy and mad-science, funny hats, that sort of thing. The player characters are the children of the dead Czar. The nation is at war with two other nations- the analogues for France and Germany. There’s no England- their nation (Thronovia) has the world’s foremost navy.

The heirs are:

The eldest daughter, a mystic alchemist and inventor, a soulless scarred atheist, reviled by the powerful Church. (Brendan)
The oldest son, whose political connections vaulted him through the ranks of the Church. He holds the position of Bishop and has the ear of the Council of Prefects, but he also associates secretly with heretics to increase his personal power. (Tim)
The middle son, a naval hero, and flirty gadfly. The only heir to be engaged- and his fiancee also has a flirty aspect- I see her as a bit of a Helen Tigh figure. (I hope Len does too.)
The youngest son, barely an adult, who killed his father the Czar in a fit of rage. Now haunted by his father’s ghost. (Abram)

So, we’ve got quite a cast of characters there. Who will reign supreme? Who will die horribly?

New Content Project

So, you may have noticed my previous post, essentially the first few pages from Shattered Vistas. What the heck is up with that?

Over on Story Games, there’s been a lot of talk of games following a webcomic model- free, serialized content.

So, I have a few things in the works. Obviously, both War for the Throne and Dungeon Delvers Ltd are in design for publication. I want to get some attention to them to drive playtests.

But at the same time, I have projects that aren’t going anywhere, that I want to get out there: Shattered Vistas has been tugging at the back of my consciousness for years as a Fantasy Heartbreaker, and I have a gonzo D&D setting to share.

My intent then, is to make a post every week with some sort of free content- either a chapter from SV, a look at the rules from one of my games in development, or aforementioned D&D content.

What’s in it for you? Hopefully something cool to read.

What’s in it for me? Hopefully, readers. Hopefully, playtesters. Hopefully, even consumers- if you like what I’m working on, check out my finished games.

So that’s that. Add me to your blogroll, or follow me on Twitter.

Shattered Vistas: Overview and The Core Mechanic


Stretching out across the horizon are the Shattered Vistas, a washed out, deserted ruined landscape. Once, these were fertile, magical lands, full of hope and promise. Was that a strange memory of long ago, or was it just a fleeting dream? No matter, for today the world is a collection of broken wonders, dangerous ruins, and small communities of survivors trying to carve out a living in a world that has moved on.

Shattered Vistas is a post-apocalyptic fantasy heartbreaker roleplaying game, inspired by a variety of game systems and fictional settings. The setting is a fantasy steampunk by way of Stephen King’s Dark Tower series: a fantasy world with gunslingers, gizmos, fantasy relics, strange wonders of the past, and monsters to fight. The system comes from a variety of sources, but Deadlands gets special mention for a number of reasons.

What You Need to Play

Friends: You’ll want at least three more players, probably as many as six more. One of you will take the role of the Gamemaster, who does exactly what you expect the Gamemaster to do. The others will take the role of characters exploring, challenging, and emerging victorious over this hostile land.

A Copy of the Rules: You’ll want to have read them before play, and it will be handy to have at least one copy available for reference during play.

Paper and Pencils: Each player will need a sheet of paper for their character sheet, to record their skills and special abilities, as well as any notes they wish to take.

Dice: You’ll need a whole bunch of six sided dice- ten per player should suffice. Each player will also want a twelve sided die.

A Tarot Deck: One copy of a standard Tarot deck is needed; these cards are dealt out and used during play.

Some of the spellcasting traditions may require additional items for use in resolving spellcasting.

Rolling the Dice

Whenever your character tries to do something in game where the outcome is in doubt, you will make a Skill Check. To do so, pick a relevant skill from your character’s list of skills. (The skills themselves are explained in detail on the chapter on Skills.) Your character will have a skill level, which is the number of dice rolled when using that skill. The more dice, the better.

The gamemaster will set a Target Number for your skill roll. The harder the task is, the higher the Target Number.

Once you’ve got your dice and know what you’re rolling against, roll those dice, and add up the numbers showing. This is your Skill Result. If you equaled or exceeded the Target Number, congratulations, your skill roll was a success. If you failed to reach the Target Number, your skill roll was a failure. The gamemaster will elaborate on the result of all successful or failed rolls.

If your result exceeded the Target Number by ten or more, you have achieved a Critical Success. This is an exemplary success with some extra benefit! The exact effects of a Critical Success is up to the discretion of the Gamemaster.

But That’s Not All!

Don’t like your roll? At the start of each session of play, you will be dealt a number of Tarot cards from the deck. You can play these cards to modify your rolls after you see the result of the die roll.

Most cards are Minor Arcana. These come in four suits, Coins, Cups, Swords, and Wands, varying from one (the Ace) to ten, with four face cards (the Page, Knight, Queen, and King) in each suit. In addition, there are twenty-two major arcana, unsuited cards like The Hanged Man or the Wheel of Fortune.

Every skill has a related suit. For example, fighting and martial prowess is tied to the Sword suit. When you make a skill check with such a skill, a Sword card can be played to modify the result.

Numbered Minor Arcana add their value to the roll. So the Three of Swords adds a plus 3, and the Nine of Swords adds a plus 9.

Aces can be used to either add a simple plus 1 for a roll of the related suit, or cause the dice rolled to “explode.” That is, any dice that rolled a six are picked up and re-rolled, and the results added to the six. Roll another six? Add it on and keep going.

Face Cards have a value of ten for augmenting rolls of their Suit.

There are other uses for the Face Cards and especially for the Major Arcana. These are detailed in the chapter on the Tarot.

Coming Soon: The Skills that define the characters of the Vistas.

That’s Not What Awesome Adventures Is

Just found this post about the Indie RPG Awards. Wish I had stumbled onto it earlier so I could participate in a more timely fashion.

And you know what, I pretty much agree: Awesome Adventures is not Award quality material. I didn’t nominate it for the award, and I don’t know who did. I wrote it for two reasons 1) I wasn’t 100% satisfied with SotC as written, and 2) I wanted to get experience as a game writer and designer.

And it’s also true that large sections of the text are taken wholesale from the SotC SRD, or simply restated in my own words, which is a decision, a year and a half later, I regret- well, regret is a strong way of saying it, but if I wrote it today, I present it quite a bit differently.

But it’s not fair to say Awesome Adventures has 85% of the test of SotC. It’s not even 85% of the size of SotC, which I think is a feature, not a bug. Awesome Adventures is a mean, lean, tight book, with the best parts of the FATE system, and everything else stripped out. And yes, it’s completely derivative.

Oshcon 2009 Report

Saturday morning Tim and I got up bright and early, packed up the car, and headed out to Oshcon. We took a wrong turn early on the highway, taking highway 26 a touch too early, driving through a podunk town, then resuming 26 towards Oshkosh. Once we got to town, we easily found the campus and our destination.

Tim and I checked into our dorm room- cheap but meager. Next year I need to remember to bring my own pillow. We came down and checked out the play space. The event organizers had us in the main room for visibility reasons, which is mostly board and card games, but let us move to the rpg room. (I think this was a key decision.) There were many sessions of board & card games, a few local gaming & hobby retailers, and a dedicated rpg room with a number of sessions scheduled. However, it seemed that at least half of the scheduled sessions did not occur. Adam, one of the organizers mentioned that con attendance was way up from last year, and the number of events had also increased.

Tim and I had reserved two tables for the whole con for Games on Demand. Two years ago, we had run it informally along with Daniel, and had a blast- that was probably my awesomest con experience to date. Last year was a little less exuberant.

Tim and I started up playing Race for the Galaxy between us, trying some variants, scoping out the place, and trying to rope people into games. I was worried no one was going to join us. But eventually, we found two brave souls willing to play Zombie Cinema.

Zombie Cinema
We quickly hit a cool setting- a Rob Zombie concert. Tim and I played single women looking for a good time, me trying to keep his character in check. The other characters were a 10 year old kid and his neighbor/chaperone. Zombies in the mosh pit! Everyone died trying to get to my character’s bunker. Good times.

Awesome Adventures
Sometime after lunch, we had three people come to our table, specifically looking for us, and to play Awesome Adventures. Sweet- my fliers were working, and people wanted to play my game. I chatted with them a bit- two were mostly into D&D, but the girl with them didn’t really roleplay. We tried to get into some character creation, and started with a Futurama inspired setting, where we had a cowardly military leader, a robot with an inferiority complex, Norman Rockwell’s head attached to a robot… and a crazy cat lady from the non-roleplayer. I tried very hard to get her to engage with the game further than that, to bring the awesome (I had some suggestions- maybe the crazy cat lady was the one who owned the spaceship everyone would be traveling on, and everyone else would have to deal with the cats- that seemed kind of cool), but she wasn’t really willing, or able to take it any further.

Having run Awesome Adventurers before for non-participants and having hated it, I couldn’t bring myself to take it any further. However, I talked briefly with the players, and was able to steer them towards Sign in Stranger.

Sign in Stranger
We set up our characters, wrote a pile of random words, and created three planets. Our cast of characters ended up colonizing a planet with sentient rainbows, working as potato farmers in a forced labor camp with the possible threat of summary execution hanging over our heads. Good times. Many laughs from the random word draws and the investigation rolls. I think playing this game instead of Awesome Adventures was a good call- it allowed the new player to collaborate, but not have to do so excessively.

Interestingly, Tim mentioned to me that she asked the rest of the table (while I was out of the room) “this is fun, but how do we win?” indicating to Tim that she had really no idea what all this was. We were both under the impression that she roleplayed, but didn’t Storygame.

Then dinner at the Thai place. Then In a Wicked Age

I asked Tim to run In a Wicked Age for me, and we got three more players, one from the Sign in Stranger game earlier, and two more from the con. I’m glad I did, because this is one of the best IAWA games I’ve played. The Oracle was a Nest of Vipers. Our characters were a Conjurer of Demons and Spirits, one of his Demons, seeking freedom and political influence, a Jaded Gladiator, and the Mistress of the Arena (my character). NPCs included a Rival Gladiator, another Demon, the Ruler of the City, and the Tax Collector.

What made this really interesting was that there were basically two teams of players, both with a master/servant relationship (Conjurer/Demon, Mistress/Gladiator), with tension between the characters within the team, and tension between the teams, but the main conflicts were directed at the NPCs. There was a complex web of shifting allegiances. When the dust settled, the Conjurer had strengthened his hold over his demons, the Gladiator had killed his rival and earned his freedom, and the Mistress of the Arena had completely dominated city politics and gotten the Conjurer to agree to serve her for five years. I pretty much got everything I wanted through sheer chutzpah and playing everyone else off each other. Everyone had a great time.

After that, the con rooms were closed. We went upstairs. Tim had bought 2 packs of the Giants minis (the ones with huges) and we pulled the Elder Red Dragon. Sweet! Then we went to the 10th floor lounge for a few after hours games. Tim went to bed fairly early. After hours games included:

ACTION CASTLE (Some people in the room loved it. Others hated it. The endgame is a little wonky, but it’s certainly fun. And they won, without even having to use a save or reload. ACTION CASTLE! I’m inspired to write my own Parsely game.)
Race for the Galaxy. I won twice. By large margins.
Jungle Speed. I almost felt dirty playing this. With new people it’s really not a challenge- I need Tim or someone to keep me reasonably in check.
Boomtown. Not my game. It’s an auctioning and dice-rolling game with mines. I had played it before. There’s a bit too much of a screw over mechanic to some of the cards, which is too bad- the core mechanic is very strong and interesting as-is.
The Great Dalmuti. We played the heck out of this game in High School. I was damn good then. I spent pretty much all but two rounds in the Great Dalmuti’s chair.

By that point, I was getting tired, and turned in.

Sunday Tim got us up far, far too early. We could have slept another hour, and still have been early for the events. We got smoothies and bagels. Mine was a chocolate chip bagel with chocolate chip cream cheese. I was recovering from a cold, but sadly, the cold weather had aggravated it quite a bit.

While waiting for the doors to unlock, Tim and I got our room checked out, and then played some Dominion. Dominion is one of the few games Tim regularly beats me at. I buy too many actions- they’re the fun part for me! But it’s money that wins games. We had a game with the Thief and the Secret Chamber in the game, and no 3-cost actions. I bought several Thieves, since there was a lot of silver buying. However, the Secret Chamber trounces the Thief most severely. My Thieves never stole a single treasure from Tim, quite the opposite, they let him tinker with his deck most effectively.

Around 10 they unlocked the doors, and let us in. We may have played a game of Race or two. At some point, I noticed non-gaming gamers in the room, sitting at a table waiting for a non-existent game to start. I invited them over to play Zombie Cinema with us.

Zombie Cinema
So, a short aside about these guys. They’re local students at UW-Oshkosh. Big into online roleplaying. Had played D&D (3rd edition) for what may have been the first time at the next table over the day before. One of them was on the couch a few feet away from me and made many snide comments during ACTION CASTLE. I’ll call him Tuff Guy. Tuff Guy and Buddy game together. They seemed to have a dynamic where Tuff Guy picks on Buddy and Buddy takes it. Tuff Guy was really into badass posturing. Buddy seemed to like to play wacky crazy guys. You know the drill. We also had the guy who played the Gladiator in IAWA with us- originally we were just chatting about games, I think.

Zombie Cinema
Anyway, our setting was Vegas, specifically a casino. I played Bruce, a Weak-Willed Macho, who was all fluster and tough-guy attitude, who quickly folded when presented with any actual human adversity (but was only too happy to fist-fight zombies.) We had a hooker, a mortician with a gambling addiction (played by Tim), the schizophrenic casino doctor (played by Buddy), and a weapon-fetishist paranoid casino-owner, played by Tuff Guy. Early scenes tended to involve the gambler and the hooker trying to get money out of Bruce, the doctor roleplaying how nutty he was, and the manager roleplaying how into guns he was. I guess it’s a legitimate way to use your scenes in Zombie Cinema, but it seems excessive. Pretty much everyone ends up in the manager’s office, where he continues to fetishize his character’s weapon collection- folding gun tables set into the walls. He offers my character a katana, and I refuse- “my Granddaddy didn’t die at Guadalcanal just so I could fight zombies with some Jap shit!” Ends up trying to offer me a grenade. (Who knows what he’s getting at.) Eventually the survivors scatter. Everyone dies. Bruce jumps on a grenade. Just like his Granddaddy.

We chat a bit about games. Tim suggests 3:16 for these guys- of course! Tim plays his experienced character- Sgt. Guido. Guido’s a badass. Like really badass. He started the session at FA 10, NFA 5. He’s almost plateaued for his advancement. Tim was worried he would overshadow the other characters, but in practice, it wasn’t an issue. Other guys made characters: Tuff Guy was Cpl. Shatter (which I gave him based on his NFA, rather than FA, since the Sgt slot was already taken), Buddy was Trp. Salty (actually named something else, but very close to Salty, and Salty stuck), and the guy who had been playing with us since SIS played Trp. Shitstorm. I love a good nickname like that.

Planet was an asteroid belt involving Shadow Beasts, tenebral creatures made of shadow. Alien Ability was Reduced Visibility- no damage at Far Range. As written, this says no side does damage at Far, but I somehow missed that- I had my Aliens doing damage at Far. However, the squad emerged quite victorious.

Narratively, Trp. Salty took the brunt of the damage, with the Black Dog/Hound of Tindalos-like Shadow Beasts frequently using him as a chew toy. After landing and digging in, the squad got a distress call from (sometimes PC) Lt. Brillo. Guido sighed, and led his squad to save Brillo, and then they took out an alien structure of some sort.

Next lunch. We had it at a nice Asian place with very good Crab Rangoon. (I order that everywhere I go. This place may have had the best Crab Rangoon I’ve ever tasted), and chatted with Gladiator/Shitstorm’s player.

3:16, Part II
For this, we had all our players from Part I, and three more, one who had played with us last year, though one dropped early in because he had to be somewhere else. Our fifth character was a clever NFA oriented guy, who saw every situation as an opportunity to use NFA, and he usually succeeded. I loved having this guy in the game.

So, what I like to do for 3:16 games is run them in batches of two planets- one pretty straightforward kill-the-aliens possibly-meatgrinder planet, and a more nuanced planet with more squad politics and emphasis on the NFA objectives. I did a couple of things for that.

One, my aliens were Corrupt Troopers. Theta Troop (the book calls them Companies, but I use the term Troop) had gone rogue, and settled on a planet and Beta Troop was sending in a small squad of badasses to deal with them. Mission objectives included taking the leader, Major Jung, alive. The Troopers had the ability of Armor which they used to good effect- the first round of every single combat, I failed, and every PC succeeded on their checks, so of course I used my Armor. Also, the players were keen to loot the bodies- I allowed them a NFA roll to either patch (recover) their armor OR gain a 1-round worth of usage for one of the weapons on the sheet. (Limited ammo packs, etc.)

So Major Jung decides that the 3:16 is being sent to worlds that pose no real current threat to Earth, pretty much just so the Xenotechnological arm of the Brigade (Xenos Troop) can do weapons research. So after one too many hell worlds and one too many worlds of slaughtering civilians, they give up the ghost and dig out a bunker somewhere under the desert.

While Lt. Guido is piecing this together and deciding what to do about it, I introduce another NPC-related arc: Trooper Johnson.

See, Tuff Guy had been accusing lots of things of being gay: Captain Perlman, their mission briefing officer, Cpl. Salty, and pretty much anything he the player didn’t like. So I wanted to see what he’d do confronted with an honest to goodness gay NPC.

Trooper Johnson was a fresh recruit. He was intelligent and well-trained, but a little naïve. He was also gay. Not flamingly gay or anything, but gay. He had a bit of a crush on his CO, Cpl Shatter (Tuff Guy’s character.) During Pod-Drop, Trp Johnson is awfully friendly, and idealistic. Trp. Shitstorm bets he won’t last. The pod is shot down. To everyone’s surprise, Johnson does not die in the crash. Cpl. Shatter pretends to be dead as a gag against the new guy, and Johnson shouts out “No! I never got to tell you-” but Shatter startles him before I can finish.

Later, Johnson is awfully helpful towards another trooper during weapons inspection. And that’s when Tuff Guy says “wait a minute, is he gay?”

There wasn’t another “that’s so gay” type remark from the player for the rest of the session.

Cpl. Shatter did pull off his fake-death trick again, and Johnson did get to tell him he loved him. Guido got to say “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, Trooper.” Guido did take Jung captive after a faked surrender/prisoner-exchange, though Jung tried to get him to tell the brass they were all dead. Trp. Johnson piloted their Drop Ship during the final fight to get back into orbit, and earned a medal. Good times.

I convinced the local game store owner to give us a good deal on bulk D&D minis. He also bought four of my books (2 Awesome Adventures, 2 Escape from Tentacle City) in exchange for store credit. We went to his store, went through a big box of minis (which we got a % off on the list price), and spent an additional $80 on some out-of-print sealed boxes. Tons of minis. We’re going to need a bigger boat.

Awesome Review

Here’s a short e-mail mini review I received of Awesome Adventures:

Having read through the book, I would like to offer a little feedback as well.


While some complain about nothing new being added to the FATE system, I do not see that as a bad thing personally. If something is not broken, then there is little reason to fix it.

Some things have been nicely simplified. While stunts may be a nice touch in Spirit Of The Century, they did not seem all that necessary when I was reading through that game, and their removal for Awesome Adventures was a handy step in streamlining it.

Also, by making it a multi-genre game, it really makes one look at the game as more than just Pulp; making it well suited to those who want to play it in another genre. You did a good job in that regard. I really do feel I can just tweak a few things here and there for one of my favorite game settings (or even a generic setting of my own.) I could easily see Awesome Adventures as the new SRD for the third edition of FATE.


Only one in my opinion. Character creation does tie a tad too closely to Spirit of the Century in that it automatically assumes prior adventures. While that is fine for Spirit, where everyone is part of the same club and probably gets in not only through Accident of Birth-date but also through possible recommendation (at least I can assume that), plenty of awesome characters began their sagas with no experience, and some players will want to play with inexperienced characters. In super heroes games, for example, I like playing the newbie.

Despite spending a lot of time on this con, I do not think it to be a huge problem. Phases can be reinterpreted. To use my superhero example: Phase one could be unchanged, Phase two could be Origin, and Phases three through Five could be any defining event: Problem solved. Newbies in other genres? Phases two through four could be past experiences and Five be where motivation is defined. Again, Problem solved.

Last Word:

Awesome Adventures is a good game, and it shows how awesome FATE can be. All in all, Good Job.

Thanks for reading this and taking in my feedback.


Adam Leisemann