Saturday, February 29, 2020

Fate of Krevborna Part I: Choosing a Fate Build

I've been thinking a lot lately about running a Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera campaign. Krevborna is an original Gothic horror setting with an Eastern European flavor written by Jack Shear and published by Dolorous Exhumation Press. It was inspired by some of my favorite media such as Castlevania, Ravenloft, and The Witcher in addition to the classics like The Castle of Otranto, Edgar Allan Poe, Dracula, and Frankenstein. The setting is also served well by the fact Jack is a university professor of Gothic literature at his day job.

Jack provides an introduction to the setting on his Tales of the Grotesque and Dungeonesque blog, and all of his blog posts about Krevborna can be found here:
I've mentioned before on several RPG message board sites and the now sadly retired Google+ RPG communities how I consider Krevborna to be a master class in campaign setting design and presentation. It's a refreshing approach and it works. Krevborna is an open-ended setting where everything is optional and allows the game master (GM) and players to customize and make the world their own without fear that some future supplement will come in to upset that freedom. There are no pages and pages of ancient history for the GM to read through before they can comprehend the setting and its themes, no historical timeline scrolling through the years and years before the player characters (PCs) come on the scene. Everything of interest from Krevborna's history that might affect the PCs in the current game session is presented as something immediately usable at the gaming table. And speaking of presentation, the setting makes excellent use of bullet point lists to concisely describe everything from locations, factions, and nonplayer characters (NPCs).

Now Krevborna: A Gothic Blood Opera is a system-neutral campaign setting; it doesn't come with any "default" RPG rule system or game stats. When I first read the book, it was those bullet point lists that got me immediately thinking about using Fate Core (or one of its many dial-tweaked builds) as the rule system—many of those bullet points could be used as Fate aspects as written! And not just character aspects but setting (theme), scene, and organization aspects as well. When the open-ended canvas that Krevborna provides is coupled with the narrative permission Fate Core games grant to players allowing them to contribute to building the campaign setting with the GM, Fate is a very attractive choice. So the question became, "Which Fate Core build should I use if I were going to run a game set in Krevborna?" This blog post will be the first in a short series exploring the answer to that question.

Fate Core is the current "main" version of the Fate roleplaying game, and all other Fate games like Fate Accelerated, Atomic Robo, Fate of Cthulhu, and the newly released Fate Condensed are considered to be different "builds" of Fate Core. At their heart, they all use the same underlying system. Fate Core is probably the most like "traditional" RPGs in that it has a default list with 18 skills. Fate Accelerated does away with that skill list (what things you can do) and replaces it with six approaches (how you do things). Fate Condensed is a slightly tweaked version of Fate Core but presented in a compact format like Fate Accelerated—you can just dive in and use them, much like the Kreborna campaign setting.

When the author was running his home Krevborna campaign, his group used the Dungeons & Dragons 5e rules. This made me think The Fate Freeport Companion might be a good choice of Fate build since this book is essentially a Fate conversion of D&D and a good one at that. Fate Freeport sits at a sweet spot between Fate Core and Fate Accelerated too: it uses skills like Fate Core but that skill list is much shorter with only six skills (similar to Fate Accelerated's six approaches) named after the six ability scores D&D players have known for years. It's definitely a viable option for the right group, but in the end I decided it was a little too like D&D and felt I might as well just run a campaign using 5e (or 3.5e or Pathfinder from the same era Fate Freeport was released).

Ultimately I've decided upon using Fate Accelerated for a Krevborna campaign. Krevborna is a campaign setting that gives players and GMs the permission and the freedom to play the types of characters they want to play. Fate Accelerated offers this same freedom especially through the use of aspects. Aspects are true and grant narrative permission in all versions of Fate, but Fate Accelerated with its use of approaches and tighter rules focus relies on this permission even more heavily than other versions of Fate do. It feels like a natural fit to me. You can download a pay what you want PDF version of Fate Accelerated from Evil Hat Productions on DriveThruRPG or view the complete rules online at the Fate System Reference Document (SRD) website:

*** Aside: Fate and Horror ***
There has been some discussion of whether or not Fate is a good fit for horror roleplaying ever since Fate Core first came out. Fate characters out of the box by definition are competent, proactive, and lead dramatic lives. If you are playing a horror game where the characters are Average Joes and Janes thrust into the horror possibly against their will, then yes, this is a legitimate concern and Fate out of the box would not be a good fit. If you want to play a Fate horror game with those types of characters, I highly recommend purchasing the Fate Horror Toolkit as well as reading The Horror Paradox section from the Fate System Toolkit online at the Fate SRD to see how it can be effectively done. Also of interest is the Fate Codex magazine article Sustaining Dread by Richard Bellingham available at the Fate SRD. Krevborna characters, however, are presumed to be actively fighting against the supernatural evil tainting their land and are thus competent, proactive, and leading dramatic lives.
*** Aside: Fate and Horror ***

There is another reason I chose Fate Accelerated though. One of the themes I especially liked in Krevborna was the possibility of temptation and corruption of the PCs if they delved too deeply into the dark forces tainting the land, making Faustian bargains with fell beings, siding with a lesser evil to fight a greater one, or casting dark magic spells. This reminded me of an article from the Fate Codex magazine written by Clark Valentine (one of Fate Accelerated's designers) about corrupting Fate Accelerated approaches to model such things as giving in to the Dark Side of the Force (Star Wars) or the temptation of wearing the One Ring (The Lord of the Rings). Essentially, you can choose to succeed as a very serious cost on an action by corrupting one of your approaches: Clever becomes Arrogant, Sneaky becomes Treacherous, for example. You can read the full article online at the Fate SRD:

This article also suggests adding physical changes to the character's appearance that reflect their corrupted approaches, and the Krevborna campaign setting book even has a table for this! It's a perfect fit for Krevborna I would definitely include in my game—see the Evidence of Unnatural Contact table on p. 56.

I will do another blog post on creating characters for Krevborna with Fate Accelerated, but next up I want to settle on a Fate magic system for the campaign.

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Tempus Fugit: The Dark•Matter Campaign Setting Turns 20 This Year

Two of my favorite tabletop RPG campaign settings of all time have reached significant milestones this year, and since they both fall within the purview of Chilling Tales Horror Roleplaying, I though I'd revisit them both before 2019 comes to an end.

First up is Dark•Matter from TSR/Wizards of the Coast and designed by Bill Slavicsek and Richard Baker. Published in 1999, Dark•Matter is a "modern" day setting for the Alternity science fiction RPG system and celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. The setting was inspired by the conspiracy theories, occult studies, parapsychology, and alternative fringe science popular in late 1990s culture and explored on television shows like The X-Files and Millennium. In Dark•Matter, it's all true: every conspiracy theory, alien abduction, the Illuminati, demonic possession, cattle mutilations, the writings of Charles Fort, ESP, ghosts, vampires, werewolves, Mothman, and Bigfoot. All of this high strangeness correlates to high concentrations of dark matter particles and the ebb and flood tides of dark matter concentration throughout Earth's history.

Dark•Matter is a well-crafted campaign setting that provides tons of information and inspiration for creating fun to play characters and adventures for them to experience. Like the episodes and seasons of The X-Files, it has an underlying story arc to unravel but also provides monster of the week style interludes as well. The authors really did their homework to give us a comprehensive primer on real world conspiracy theories, cryptids, UFOlogy, and paranormal activity. One reoccurring and appreciated feature are the alternative motives provided for the secret societies and other elements of the setting that you could use, ignore, or have the truth be somewhere in between. The offerings for "real" world magic and psionics (what Alternity calls SFX) is comprehensive and compelling as well, with spells and powers for ESP, telepathy, telekinesis, diabolism, Hermeticism, Enochian magic, monotheistic faith magic, shamanism, and Voodoo.

Additional Alternity rule supplements for the game include a "monster manual" of additional cryptids and threats called Xenoforms: Aliens, Demons & Aberrations and the Arms and Equipment Guide featuring cool new weapons and tech. A supplement about one of the secret societies featured in the core rulebook called The Final Church was planned but never printed, although Wizards eventually ended up giving it away as a free PDF download. Several tie-in novels were released as well during the Alternity Dark•Matter era.

In Dark•Matter, the default campaign setting assumes the player characters are working for the Hoffmann Institute, a mysterious organization that publicly claims to be an alternative energy think tank but is secretly investigating all instances of bizarre and unexplained occurrences that come to its attention. Like the other secret organizations featured in the core rulebook, it is highly detailed with multiple possibilities to choose from for its true motivations. It makes great resource for the player characters to turn to for mission briefings, equipment, and backup.

My personal favorite adversaries to use were the extremely alien and nearly-incomprehensible Etoile and their Sandman servitor creations. In my campaign, I had an Etoile NPC who lived in the sub-basement of The Subway Inn (a dive bar I used to frequent when I lived in New York City). Known by the local street people as Geppetto, he had gone completely insane and was a concern not only to the Hoffmann Institute (as many homeless people in the area were going missing) but other members of his alien species as well. Rival NPC priest investigators from the Order of St. Gregory (another secret society featured in Dark•Matter ) were also investigating the case, and one of the priests was infected with lycanthropy and responsible for several recent werewolf attacks in Central Park. So many layers and players, but that was what made this game so enjoyable!

Wizards of the Coast pulled the plug on Alternity and its associated campaign settings including Dark•Matter when they released Dungeons and Dragons Third Edition and the d20 System in 2000. Due to its continued popularity, it did see re-release in bits and pieces through the d20 Modern game system (2002) and supplements, was featured as a "mini" setting in DUNGEON 108/POLYHEDRON 163 Magazine (March 2004), and eventually got its own hardcover d20 Modern campaign setting book in 2006 at the tail end of d20 Modern's print run. While it was nice to have these d20 Modern conversions, they never really captured the same magic and feel of the original Alternity hardcover setting book.

And I think there are several reasons for that. Sure, the d20 Modern Dark•Matter offerings didn't quite match the production values and presentation of the original Alternity game. But remember, Dark•Matter was set two years into the future when it was first released; the campaign starts in 2001. September 11, 2001 was a major cultural turning point in the United States, if not the world, after the terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington DC. The world was now different and so was the way we perceived and consumed conspiracy. When Dark•Matter saw re-release after 2001, it no longer had the same impact. Fast-forward to 2016 until now where the ramblings of conspiracy nuts like Alex Jones get the same attention and consideration as mainstream media news outlets. Then again, maybe Dark•Matter was trying to warn us about something all the way back in 1999...

If I were to run Dark•Matter now in 2019, I wouldn't set it in the present day but keep it in that late 90s where it is definitely at home, a more "innocent" time to explore dark secrets, forbidden knowledge, and hidden truths as it were. I wouldn't use Alternity or d20 Modern either; instead I would opt for something like Fate Core or adapt and mash together several GUMSHOE games like Fear Itself, The Esoterrorists, and Night's Black Agents. It's still a great go-to if you are looking for something that feels like classic X-Files.

All in all, Dark•Matter still holds up today, and is worthy of a re-visit by longtime fans or a first look if you've never experienced it.
Mr. Sandman bring me a dream!

Thursday, May 9, 2019

Creepy Comic Conversion Issue 3 for Cryptworld!

The latest issue of Tim Snider's Creepy Comic Conversion series for Cryptworld is out in PDF and print on demand, and it's another winner! Each issue of the Creepy Comic Conversion series presents a pre-code horror comic and then converts it to a fully-stated Cryptworld adventure. Creepy Comic Conversion Issue 3 features "The Cave of Doom" from Chamber of Chills Magazine. I'm especially excited for this issue because some of my Chilling Tales Horror Roleplaying blog content is featured on the back cover in a very fun, novel way!

I wish I didn't break the lens on my smartphone camera recently so I could show you the print quality of these books. They are digest "zine" sized, with full color glossy covers and color interior pages printed on quality paper that do the reprinted comic book pages justice. DrivethruRPG's print on demand service really did a great job with Tim's excellent layout.

Back issues are available in PDF and print on demand as well:

Creepy Comic Conversion Issue 1 ("The Case of the Painted Beast" from Eerie Magazine)
Creepy Comic Conversion Issue 2 ("The Fleshless Ones" from Adventures into Darkness Magazine)

Sunday, May 6, 2018

Horror Set Pieces: Children of the Night (Fate Accelerated)

Listen to them, the children of the night.
What music they make!

- Bram Stoker, Dracula
As the release date of the Fate Horror Toolkit draws closer and my excitement grows, I decided to write up some more bits and bobs to use in a Fate Accelerated horror campaign. Animals forced to do the bidding of evil powers is a classic horror trope. Using the same idea behind the mob of angry villagers from last time, here are some of the children of the night ready to confront a party of supernatural investigators.

Pack of Wolves
Aspect: Pack Mentality
Skilled (+2) at: Nocturnal Hunting, Tracking by Scent, Keen Hearing, Howling
Bad (-2) at: Diurnal Activity, Resisting the Master’s Call
Stress: ⬜⬜⬜ (6 wolves)
For the strength of the Pack is the Wolf, and the strength of the Wolf is the Pack. - Rudyard Kipling, The Second Jungle Book (The Law for the Wolves)

Cloud of Bats
Aspect: Night Hunters
Skilled (+2) at: Flying, Echolocation, Obscuring Vision, Spreading Disease
Bad (-2) at: Light and Fire, Diurnal Activity
Stress: ⬜⬜⬜⬜ (50-100 bats)
Clip their wings? Man, could you just shoot their damn heads off? And don't miss. - Jimmy Sands, sʇɐ𐐒 (1999 Destination Films)

Horde of Rats
Aspect: Roiling Mass of Teeth and Claws
Skilled (+2) at: Squeezing through Tight Spaces, Seeing in the Dark, Swimming, Spreading Disease
Bad (-2) at: Light, Detecting Rat Poison, Cats
Stress: ⬜⬜⬜⬜ (50-100 rats)
For on every side of the chamber the walls were alive with nauseous sound—the verminous slithering of ravenous, gigantic rats. - H.P. Lovecraft, The Rats in the Walls

Swarm of Bees
Aspect: Hive Mind
Skilled (+2) at: Stinging, Flying, Pollination, Making Honey
Bad (-2) at: Smoke and Fire, Bears
Stress: ⬜⬜⬜⬜⬜ (~500 bees)
Nearby there was an apiary. Dozens of hives, filled with hungry bees. They smashed the hive and stole the honeycomb and smeared it over his prone, naked body. Candyman was stung to death by the bees. - Professor Philip Purcell, Candyman (1992 PolyGram Filmed Entertainment)
Not the bees!!!!!! - Edward Malus, The Wicker Man (2006 Warner Brothers)

Plague of Locusts
Aspect: Retribution from Above
Skilled (+2) at: Flying, Deafening Chirping, Blotting Out the Sun, Destroying Crops and Wooden Structures
Bad (-2) at: Birds, Pesticides, Ultrasonic Interference
Stress: ⬜⬜⬜⬜⬜⬜ (~1000 locusts)
Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them… - Revelations 9:3

Scourge of Mosquitoes
Aspect: Bloodsucking Parasites
Skilled (+2) at: Flying, Biting, Swamps and Jungles, Malaria
Bad (-2) at: Avoiding Getting Swatted, Insect Repellents
Stress: ⬜⬜⬜ (~100 mosquitoes)
It is astonishing how much worse one mosquito can be than a swarm. A swarm can be prepared against, but one mosquito takes on a personality—a hatefulness, a sinister quality of the struggle to the death. - F. Scott Fitzgerald, On Booze

Infestation of Flies
Aspect: Common Nuisance or Sign of the Devil’s Presence?
Skilled (+2) at: Flying Backwards, Biting, Dodging Fly Swatters, Landing on Food
Bad (-2) at: Windows and Screens, Fly Paper
Stress: ⬜⬜⬜ (~100 flies)
You never walk alone. Even the devil is the lord of flies. - Gilles Deleuze
Flies are the dead man's revenge. - George R.R. Martin, A Storm of Swords

Swarm of Scarab Beetles
Aspect: Flesh-Eating Defenders of Ancient Egyptian Tombs
Skilled (+2) at: Desert Environments, Stripping Flesh to the Bone, Spreading Disease, Rolling Dung Balls
Bad (-2) at: Fire, Cold
Stress: ⬜⬜⬜⬜⬜ (~500 scarab beetles)
All people who enter this tomb, make evil against this tomb and destroy it, may the scarabs descend upon them and feast upon their flesh until only their bones remain as a warning to others. - Ancient Egyptian Curse of the Pharaohs

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Horror Set Pieces: Angry Mob of Villagers (Fate Accelerated)

One of the things I like about Fate Accelerated(FAE) is the ability to treat a group of nameless mooks as a single unit effectively treating the group as a single character. In fact, many Fate Core GMs prefer to use the mook group rules from FAE instead of the rules for mobs found in Fate Core. These groups of mooks are comprised of a single aspect, a short list of things they are good at (+2 bonus) and things they are bad at (-2 penalty), and one stress box for every two individuals in the group. If you need more in the crowd, just use more than one of that group (although I suppose you could increase the number of stress boxes instead but then they would only get one action per exchange). It makes designing nameless NPCs easier and reduces bookkeeping.

One of the staples seen in classic horror films (especially Frankenstein movies) is the angry mob of villagers armed with torches and pitchforks. They find safety in numbers to go after someone (usually the monster) they would never dare confront alone and are usually more of a hindrance than a help if not an outright danger to themselves and others. Below is one such angry mob of villagers (lederhosen optional).

Angry Mob of Villagers
Aspect: Torches & Pitchforks
Skilled (+2) at: Starting Fires, Safety in Numbers, Shaming Others
Bad (-2) at: Planning Ahead, Dwindling Numbers, Being Shamed
Stress: ⬜⬜⬜ (6 villagers)