Tales of Four Eyes

GM Blog

A Spirit of the Century Campaign

Session 1 Feedback

26th June 2008 

In some ways the first session of Spirit of the Century wasn't as awesome as it should have been. This is mainly my fault. Whilst I had all the details I needed to hand they weren't as well organised as they should have been. I'm not talking about the adventure. To a large extent that could almost run itself, but I should have had your character details more readily available.

More importantly I should have spent more time getting you prepared for a very different game. Its roleplaying - but not quite as you know it. So here goes. My little bit of player advice for session 2, mixed with a lot of information about how SotC works.

Do Dangerous Things 

Pulp heroes seldom take the safe option. They are men of action and will often use their fists to solve problems. Other game systems may have beaten an amount of risk-aversion into you, and this can be a good way to fight it in those other systems. The advice I'm about to give is probably overkill but it will get you acting more like pulp heroes:

Before your character does anything, ask yourself this question: What's the most dangerous thing that someone might barely plausibly do in this situation? Then ask yourself if there's any good reason why your character shouldn't take exactly that course of action.  

Once you've gotten over you risk-aversion you may want to tone this down a little.

Learn To Fight

Look, even if your character is the most bookish, nebbish, fragile pansy ever to have graced a pulp novel they are effective in a fight. Look at the top three slots of your pyramid. Figure out how you'd use at least one of them fairly regularly in a combat situation, either for a direct attack - Physical or Social - or to help set things up for yourself or other folks. There are precisely three skills (Resolve, Resources and Endurance) in the entire system that cannot be used in a combat situation and none of you have those three skills filling the top three slots of the pyramid.

Be aware that if all you're able to come up with is supporting acts, then in combat you'll still be effective and helpful, but won't be in the spotlight. (If that's not cool with you, now’s the time to adjust it). It is also worth noting that due to the way combat works a spotlight character and a supporting character (providing supporting actions) is actually more effective than two spotlight characters.

With the right application of stunts to one of your top three skills, and even with some of the core trappings of skills, every SOTC PC should have something they can do in a fight that will be significant to the action; and failing that, Aspects can be brought to bear that will take a lower-tier combat skill into a competitive territory.

Get Involved

You may, at a certain point, find yourself a little bored with how a scene is going. Find a reason to be interested. Invoke or Compel something into the scene to make it interesting, if you wish. You don't need to have the spotlight in every single scene, of course, so use your discretion.

Invoke Your Own Aspects

Invoking an aspect either Adds +2 to your effort, or allows you reroll a result (after the roll). After a skill roll is called, if the player can convince the GM a particular aspect is appropriate to the situation, the GM may allow the player to spend a fate point and either add 2 to the current effort (or reroll the dice). Multiple aspects can be invoked on one roll, but no single aspect can be invoked more than once.

Compel Your Own Aspects

If the GM decides that an aspect limits a character’s available choices in a situation (or the player can convince the GM of the same), the character must react in a way appropriate to the aspect. This gains the player a fate point. The player may also decide to not accept the limitation on his actions, but must spend a fate point to do this.

The GM (me) will do his very best to track aspect, but I have 7 player characters to track (with 10 aspects each), major NPCs (with 10 each), minor NPCs (with 5 each) and minions (with up to 5 per group).  As an example during the airfield scene I had two sets of minions, two minor NPCs and 7 players to track (or 90 aspects). As a result, although I will compel your aspects when I remember, you need to prompt me when I don't remember.  Say something like  "I'll sneak into the room to see what’s going on. After all I'm a 'notorious eavesdropper'" - with a slight emphasis on the aspect. I know I don't have to remind you to act in character (because your all good at that) but you shouldn't loose out on the reward just because I didn't spot it.

Invoke and Compel other Aspects

Scenes, People, Objects and Locations have aspects too. Iain got the hang of this. Where appropriate you can Invoke aspects which aren't your to gain a bonus. You can even make guesses about these and invoke aspects you think something may have. "I'll sneak through the warehouse. I'll try and keep to the dark corners" (said offering a FATE token). If the aspect doesn't fit I will refuse the FATE token. Otherwise you get the bonus.

Alternatively you can compel an aspect. Effectively you spend a FATE token and force an NPC to react in line with his aspect. This doesn't allow you to dictate how he reacts, but you know you will get a reaction. "I'll flick the lights off. I know Dr. Daylight is afraid of the dark." Again you can make a guess, but guesses on compels work slightly differently - the GM will always take the offered token, but will give it back at the end of the scene if the guess was off.

Make Declarations

Try asking less questions and making more statements. For example, instead of asking "Do I find the cultists' trail through the jungle?" try "Hey look! I found the cultists' trail through the jungle!" The GM will let you know if you go to far; it's more common for players to not go far enough.

For minor declarations the GM will probably let you get away with it. "As an engineer I would probably carry a torch" would be fine. Minor declarations are normally either free or cost a single FATE point (for example when Tim said he had kept the cigar case from the last person he was talking to, and was going to throw it, and invoked the "Call that a Weapon?" aspect, I gave him the declaration for free but gave him a +2 for invoking an applicable aspect (using something not normally considered a weapon as a weapon). However, players can make major declarations. There are two ways to do this:

The first way is to invoke an aspect and spend a fate point. "I'm did important engineering for the US Government. Of course I will know someone senior on this base. Probably someone I worked with during the war." If you bring an aspect into play as part of a declaration the GM will allow you to get away with a lot.

Use your skills - and this doesn't cost a FATE point. Don't wait for me to tell you things. Decide for yourself. If you are a respected Anthropologist and you discover encounter natives feel free to invent stuff. If the stuff is central to the plot and predetermined I will tell you, but 99% of the time it won’t be. Invent stuff that’s advantageous to you. As a hint - the rules give bonuses for facts that: 

  • advance the plot, 
  • are interesting, 
  • suggest a heroic course of action and 
  • have interesting consequences if you are wrong. 

So for example if Jenny announced "These natives are from the Chawabezee tribe. They respect strength above all else. When you meet the chief you want to immediately punch him to show your strength." she'd be checking all the boxes and probably be right.

Think BIG

The characters you have are incredible pulp heroes, capable of doing tremendous things, but will always be limited by what the players describe. If you try to leap a fence - you'll probably manage it but its all you manage, but if you try to leap the fence whilst shooting mooks mid jump you'll probably manage that too. You're description literally limits what you can do. On several occasions during the night I saw rolls that backed with the right description would have taken out two or three mooks, but was attached to a description that literally limited the effect to one.

Remember that mooks are there to be taken out quickly. You'll probably be able to sot the named characters quickly. One major named character may end up causing more problems that a very large group of mooks.

Change Things

You can change things. You can build stuff, destroy stuff and most important of all you can change things. This is represented on a game mechanic front as placing an aspect on something. So for example during a fight you might kill the lights (placing a dark aspect on the location), throw sand in an enemies eyes (placing a blinded aspect on the enemy), aim at someone (placing a  'In XXX's sights' aspect on him where XXX is the aiming character), confuse someone, fill an area with smoke,  cover things in chip fat... you name it, anything you can think of.

More importantly having placed these aspects you can invoke them or compel them (and the first tag is free). Against weak mooks the solo approach works best but against bigger opponents the most effective approach is definitely better. In fact with really tough opponents unless you are working as a team you’ll find them very difficult. So for example:

Fighting the 'Resurrected Mummy' - Andy might use his Science skill to declare that 'Mummy's are flammable' (placing a permanent flammable aspect on it), Bert may grab a rope and tie it round its feet (placing a temporary 'bound' aspect on it), Chuck might push it (to place an off-balance aspect on it), Dan might throw grease on the floor (placing a 'slippery' aspect on the location), and Ed might then throw a match at the poor Mummy (the actual attack). He doesn't have to spend any FATE points to take advantage of all those previous aspects (first tag on any aspect is free).

Don't Block Other Players

Sometimes games go nowhere, because players work against each other. By killing each others ideas, we spoil games without meaning to do so. Consider the following exchange...

Player 1: "I creep up to the tavern window, sticking to the Shadows."
Player 2: "I'll just walk up and knock on the tavern door, loudly."
Player 1: "I'll stop him! I'll grab his hand and pull him into the shadows."
Player 2: "I'll yell out in surprise and try to break free. If he tries to grab me again I'll hit him."

Maybe a little extreme, but I saw something similar but less extreme during the game. There is no such thing as a bad idea in a pulp game. Really implausible plans have a good chance of working, and even when they go wrong it just adds to the game.

In the example above the two players had each decided how they would like this particular scene to play out, and are trampling all over each others ideas. Left to its self this sort of thing can escalate, but right from the first negate (the second line) peoples feelings are being hurt. Either approach could lead to a fun scene, but this is going nowhere fast. Now consider the following alternative:

Player 1: "I creep up to the tavern window, sticking to the Shadows."
Player 2: "I'm not very stealthy. I'll stay well back and cover him with my bow. That way if he gets into trouble I'll be able to help."


Player 1: "I creep up to the tavern window, sticking to the Shadows."
Player 2: "I'll keep watch-out, and make sure no one approaches the tavern from down the path. If anyone shows up I'll use that bird call we practiced to warn him."

The two players are still acting in character, but aren't blocking each others objectives. When someone comes up with an idea run with it. If you can build on it and add to it - do something that makes it even better then do that. If you don't feel you can add to it, stay out of the way and let them shine for a bit. Then later they may return the favour.

If It’s Important, the GM will tell you

Pulp isn't about long investigations. It’s about action. When the central theme isn't about a mystery I will try to give you all the information you need to make decisions as fast as possible. For example at the end of the first fight there were three major routes to proceed (and any wacky ideas the players came up with).:

  • The light - I immediately had one of the NPCs tell you about the flashing light (if there hadn't been a survivor I'd just have told the highest alertness person on the roof).
  • The fake motors - as soon as your engineer entered the area I started telling him all the significant details. Enough so you knew 
      • that Rotherhyde was involved
      • where the air strip was
  • The woman (who's real name you don't know) - In this case I didn't immediately tell you because there was significant npc/pc interaction (or put another way, your interaction with her might have been plot significant - or may be in a future adventure)

So put another way - where I can I will tell you, so you don't need to spend ages searching for the extra clue the GM hid from you. 

If It’s Important, then you can roll

If its not important to the plot, it doesn't involve conflict, or there isn't an interesting consequence to failure you don't need to roll. As an example, had Bob McCloud been unable to figure out that the engines were fakes the plot would have gone nowhere, so I didn't bother to roll - he just knew. You don't need to tell me your skills because I know the characters are competent -extraordinarily competent, and unless there is something opposing them they will generally succeed in anything they set their minds to.

If It’s Important, Make it an Aspect

If you have a mentor, an enemy, a talent, or just about anything that’s vital to your character, that you think is cool, and you want to see in game, make it an aspect. It’s not enough for it to be on your character background sheet. If it’s not an aspect on your character sheet, it’s not important.

The Gamesmaster only has so much time and so much energy to devote to the game, and they’re going to generate their plots by looking at the aspects the players choose. If you want something to be a vital plot point… make it an aspect. If you want something to come up in game… make it an aspect.

Remember, this also means “important to the player,” not “important to the character.” Just because your character is the heir to the throne, or the enemy of the moon-men, doesn’t mean that you think that’s a vital part of your character. If you just want that to be a minor footnote in your character’s back story, just make it be that. If you make it an aspect, you will get embroiled in conflicts with rival claimants, or moon-men, and maybe that’s not what you want. If it’s not important… don’t make in an aspect.

You'll have spotted that this adventure produced based on an enemy aspect from one player, a background from another, and scenes specifically designed to bring other player aspects into play. That's the way all adventures would be written so your aspects let you decide what you want in the story.