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Design Diary – Pulling Back More Curtains [Fate]

Yesterday when I wrote about the specifics of what magic can do, I held back some information. I do not know exactly why I chose to do this, but I did, and now I am revealing that information. If you look at the Ladder and what can be done at each step on the Ladder, you will (hopefully) notice the similarity to another, much more well-known magic system. You see, when trying to figure out what each step could do, I used the 2nd Edition D&D Player’s Handbook as a guideline. I do not know why I tried to hide this. As I said in the post, this Fate hack that I am working on is not a final system, so there is no harm in letting its bones show, especially since that is the name of the game I am playing here on the website. Being explicit about the mirroring of D&D spell effects will help for the session as well, because it will give the players a better idea of what they can do. I did alright with my list yesterday. However, in talking to Lenny Balsera last night, it was pointed out that once you get beyond High Magic, what you can do becomes fuzzy. Tacking on a spell list as a guideline will be helpful. A Few New Wrinkles I started working on the pre-generated PCs for Saturday’s game, and I came up with another Aspect type that I hope will work out. Whenever you see media, book or movie, … Continue reading

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Design Diary – I’ve Got the Power! [Fate]

I have not had a chance to write anything for Sand & Steam since last Wednesday, when I wrote an illustrative piece of short fiction called The Test. It is not the best piece of fiction in the history of ever, but it served to solidify what magic can do in the Collegium. The descriptions in The Test are a good starting point for what magic can do, but I think that for ease of use at the game table, examples need to be given for every step on the Ladder, since casting spells is linked to the Wizardry skill. That way players will a good idea of what a successful skill check at each step of the ladder will give them in terms of magical effects. As well, thinking of magic in this way prompted me to bring back my Tiers designation, as the number of tiers maps very well to the Ladder. This allows me to look to D&D and Pathfinder for inspiration, but not use those systems’ spell descriptions as limiting factors. Mediocre (Cantrips) The most basics of magics, a Cantrip is something that a non-caster could accomplish with a tool, rather than magic. Snuffing a candle flame, causing a small amount of damage, creating brief, imaginary noises, and altering a garment’s color are all examples of Cantrips. Average (Low) Low Magic is the first Tier that steps truly beyond the realm of what normal mortals can accomplish. Summoning an invisible servant, slowing your descent while falling, briefly speeding your movements, … Continue reading

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Design Diary – Sure, It Looks Good, But What Does It Do? [Fate]

I have been spending a lot of time recently working on the mechanics for magic in the Fate implementation of Sand & Steam. And with good reason. After all, you need to be able to cast spells as a wizard, right? And you need to know how to do that mechanically. So, everything is good? Not quite. I have not yet talked about what a wizard can actually do. I have talked about Spheres and Tier, skills and stunts, but I have not talked about how those mechanics will be used to actually, you know, cast spells. I have an idea of where I want to go, and I want to explore that idea in a different way. To that end, here is a story: The Test The Candidates stood, waiting for their final test to begin. They had passed all of their tests, and now needed only to demonstrate their ability to the Master. Time passed, and the Candidates began to grow nervous in their thinking. What challenge would await them? Would they have to fight? Would they have to recite formulae? Something else? Small murmurs grew in the air of the Testing Chamber. The thump of the door stilled the talk. The Master walked in, his cane adding a peculiar cadence to the rhythm of his footsteps. Following him was a group of mean laborers carrying a low stone table. They set the table down and left quickly, none making eye contact with the Master or the Candidates.  The … Continue reading

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Design Diary – How Wizarding Works [Fate]

In yesterday’s talk of skills, I outlined what the skill would look like, and I had it set up as a main skill with eight different sub-schools. In fact, it looked like this:  — This skill covers not only what a character knows about magic and arcane topics, but also the different Spheres of magic. Each Sphere is a sub-skill that must be taken separately. Abjuration — Magic that focuses on protections and wards Conjuration — The summoning of beings from other planes of existence Divination — Fortune-telling,luck, insight, scrying and seeing the future Evocation — The magic of energy. Fire, Ice, Sound, and so on Enchantment — The clouding of minds and the bending of wills Illusion — Figments, phantasms and trickery Necromancy — Death, decay and the power those things hold Transmutation — The changing of the basic nature of beings and things As sandchigger pointed out in the comments for that post, breaking down the skill into bits like that would have players in the actual game spending all of their skill points on , without regard to the other, still useful skills. It’s a valid concern. In reality, the work I am doing right now is designed to get me to be able to run an adventure at DC Gameday, but this work is going to form the foundation of the full-on Fate version of Sand & Steam, so I need to make as many good choices as I can. To that end, I am going to explore sandchigger’s suggestion for how to handle … Continue reading

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Design Diary – The Potion in the Motion: Skills in the Collegium [Fate]

This is a long post, so please bear with me. In my previous post on the Collegium, I talked about the skill set-up, and how that might work as a system of magic for the game. In the comments, Stephen Chast left an idea that I think is really workable for the magic system: just tie everything to skills. Make each Sphere of magic a discrete skill, and let the skill bubbles mirror the Vancian spell level of the effect that is to be generated. Thus, an experienced wizard could only generate 5th level spell effects without having to bring Aspects into play, and 9th level spell effects could not be used unless the wizard successfully worked his Aspects, or took consequences, to generate the appropriate number of shifts. I like this idea quite a lot, but I need to figure out exactly how that will work, especially for the DC Gameday adventure. The characters in the adventure are novices, seeking entrance into the Collegium. As such, they will not have a lot of magical power to throw around. In fact, I do not know if I want to let them have access to even Low Sphere magic. However, I also do not want to make the characters weak or un-fun to play. One of the neat things about Fate is how each character can be made to feel awesome. I do not want to ruin that by making the characters too unskilled. Existing Models The most readily available model … Continue reading

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Design Diary – Mo’ Magic, Mo’ Problems [Fate]

Yesterday I wrote up a quick draft of what an Aspect-based approach to Fate might look like for Sand & Steam. In that post, I mentioned how I wanted the magic to resemble the implementations found in Dungeons & Dragons, and Pathfinde also mentioned the Vancian magic system as something I wanted to emulate, at least a little. I have given it some thought, and I have some amendments to make to those statements. In fact, I have some solid declarations of how I want magic to work in Sand & Steam Fate. Magical Declarations 1. I want the magic to be divided into distinct Spheres, based not only on what a spell can accomplish, but also how much ability is required to cast said spell. 2. I want Wizards to be able to push beyond themselves to cast magic from Spheres greater than they normally have access to. This must cost them something. 3. I do not want spells to disappear from a Wizard’s mind once cast. That is an aspect of Vancian magic I do not want in the Collegium. 4. There needs to be a distinct difference between Wizards and Sorcerers. The former use formulae and prescribed actions to cast their spells. Sorcerers can more properly be called Wild Mages, trying to bend magic to their will on the fly. Those declarations should serve, for now. As I said before, what I am working on now is getting something working for DC Gameday, not creating the final product. What needs to … Continue reading

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Design Diary – Magic of the Collegium [Fate]

Probably the single most important thing that I need to figure out about Sand & Steam as Fate is this: how is the magic going to work? I talked about it some yesterday, and I know that I want magic to be wrapped up in Skills, with Stunts adding special powers or access to certain abilities. I also want there the magic, and access to it, to be inspired by the Vancian spell system that was used in D&D from 1e all the way through Pathfinder. The problem with that is twofold. 1. There is a lot of magical history to sort through and adapt in the source material (all of D&D, really) 2. I have an adventure to run in about two weeks. The first problem is one that can be overcome with enough time and effort. I will have to sit down and go through the skills, trappings for the skills, and stunts to determine access to magic, and go through the spells to determine what level of access is needed for all the various types of magic I intend to have. It’s a lot of work, but it is doable. The second problem is created by the first. Sure, I can solve the first problem, but not in the next two week. So, the challenge becomes this: how do I communicate what I want to about the Collegium in a one-shot Gameday session while also presenting something that is more or less playable? Faking It Okay, so not … Continue reading

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Design Diary – Enter the Collegium

This week is going to see a change of pace for Sand & Steam. I’ve been hard at work on the Pathfinder side of things, but with DC Gameday rapidly approaching, I need to change gears. You see, I promised a friend that I would run a Fate game at DC Gameday, and I intend to keep my promise. Since I also intend to use Fate for Sand & Steam, it seemed like the perfect time to work on how those two things will fit together. There are a few roadblocks in the way, though. Namely, these: 1. I have never run a Fate game before 2. I have to not only write the adventure, but also figure out how magic (among other things) works in Sand & Steam Fate 3. DC Gameday is in a little less than three weeks. So, to tie up those gaping loose ends, I am going to be working on Fate stuff for the next three weeks, or so. I might get some Pathfinder work done in the meantime, but I think I’ll end up being pretty Fate-focused. And, as usual, I am going to put all of my design notes here on the website, for you to peruse and give feedback on. That begins now. The Core of Fate, Plus Sand & Steam Sand & Steam Fate will take place in the Collegium, as is evidenced by the title of this post. Every character, with precious few exceptions, will be playing a wizard of some … Continue reading

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Design Diary – Title Possibilities

Ryan Macklin, from the Internet, weighed in on giving a game a good name, and he used Sand & Steam as his example. I was really flattered to have him choose my setting as his example, even if I think the name will work pretty well for what I’m doing. I am always open to change, however, and I am keeping my options open. After all, what’s the point of doing open design and asking for feedback if you’re not interested in the possibility of changed based on that feedback? Ryan’s post is here, and I encourage you to read it, and comment on it.

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Design Diary – Organizing

I know there has been a serious lack of activity on the site this week, but trust me, I am working diligently on some cool stuff. Here is what I have been working on. 1. Organization — After talking with a good friend and fellow game designer this week, I have realized that I have been playing a little too fast and loose with how I am working on Sand & Steam. To start with, I have had no working outline of any kind. I had just sort of been keeping things in my head. That’s a surefire way to loose track of what is going on. To combat that, and at his suggestion, I have started using SuperNotecard from Mindola. It lets you organize your information into stacks of virtual index cards, re-order them, move them around, etc. It’s everything that you can and do do with regular physical index card, but no binder clips are needed. Plus, you can export your card, and all of their content, into an RTF file, which you can then drop in to Word to polish things up. Being able to track your flow of information, the order of your sections, all of your ideas, and work with that information makes SuperNotecard a great addition to a designer’s repertoire. 2. Website — I am really happy with how the current iteration of the website is working out so far, but let’s face it: Google Docs and a wordpress.com blog are not going to cut it long-term. … Continue reading

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