Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Fate Convention Games - Some Thoughts

I was able to play four different variations on Fate at #gencon2014 and I enjoyed myself.  The experience, however, has crystallized some strong opinions on my part about convention games of Fate (although some of these apply more generally). For your amusement, here are my thoughts...
  • Spend less than 15 minutes in setting creation.  Yes, setting creation is fun, if you are going to use it to it's fullest over multiple sessions.  But in a convention game, no matter how cool you think your particular setting creation variation is for Fate, it is just getting in the way.  
  • Spend less than 15 minutes on character creation.  This means a number of things.  For example, have the players fill out just the first column of the pyramid, and let them do the rest in play.  Or just come up with the High Concept and Trouble aspects, and fill out the rest in play.  
  • Stunts are for the most part too complicated to come up with in a convention game of Fate Core. They don't seem like it, I know, but they are.   Especially for players who are inexperience with Fate.  Fate Accelerated can get away with it, because the Approaches take less time than skills, and there is no "Use Skill A in place of Skill B" option.
  • Extras are beyond the pale for creation in a convention game.  If your Fate variation makes extensive use of Extras, then you really need to bring pre-gens to the table.  
  • Coming up with this stuff (Aspects, which skills to pick, etc.) is hard work for some players, especially people new to Fate.   Some people just need to time to come up with character concepts, aspects, etc., that they are interested in and will enjoy, and making them do it quickly is a recipe for frustration and embarrassment.   You think you are providing a fun experience for those players, but you really aren't.
  • Pre-Gens are your friend.  Really they are and you should be using them.  Especially if your Fate version has some complicated extras, or a lot of setting specific stuff, pre-gens are actually much better at demonstrating how cool your setting is.  It's easy as pie to come up with customizable pre-gens for Fate, just fill in the High Concept and Trouble, the first Skill column, and give them three stunts.  People are playing much quicker, and can still make their characters their own.
  • Do not spend more than 15 minutes going over rules.  
  • That being said, make sure you hit the following explicitly: Invoking Aspects for a +2 or a reroll (and don't forget the reroll!); Compelling Aspects to earn Fate Points (and don't forget to mention self-compels); How to roll the dice and add a skill value; the four action types, and the four outcomes, briefly, but then say that you will explain these in more detail as we play; mention Stress boxes and consequences in passing, but don't bother explaining in detail until someone has actually been attacked.  That should not take more than 15 minutes is you are purposeful and business-like about it.
  • Make sure you have a clear cheat sheet for rules handy, and constantly refer people to it during the game.  If your variation has any particular extras that are important, make sure the cheat sheet describes them.
  • If your setting is in any way not immediately obvious, have at least a one page handout that describes it's major selling points.  
  • Make sure you explain, explicitly, on the first few actions of players, what they are doing.  Say the type of the action out loud ("sounds like you are trying to Create an Advantage, there, that means you are going to create an aspect, or discover one, here is how we do that..."), when the result is figured, say the outcome out loud ("ok, you have a tie on that Create Advantage, that means you don't get an aspect, but you do get a boost").  Use the actual words in the rulebook, and use them consistently.
  • Demonstrate by example!  Have your GM characters roll a Create Advantage as their first action. Compel a situation aspect on a player as early as possible.  Invite a compel on a GM character aspect at the earliest opportunity.  Examples in play, explicitly explained, are much better than any amount of rules explanation before play starts.
  • If you are not actually role-playing within 40 minutes of the start of the convention game, you are pissing off players.  Really and truly, regardless of how much fun you think they are having, they aren't. At least half of them are just angry that they are still talking about rules stuff and creating characters.  40 minutes is probably still too long.
  • For crying out loud, make sure everybody gets the damn spotlight every once in a while!  Jumpin' Jehoshaphat, it makes me so frikkin' angry when I see a player sitting across from me in a convention game and it has been at least 15 minutes since the GM has last asked them what they are doing, or given them a chance for some input.  This is GM'ing 101, my friends, it's an entry-level skill.  If you are worried that you can't keep track, literally play the whole game as one big conflict, going around and around and taking turns, because that is much better than leaving a player out in the cold.  
EDIT: added from comments - here is a rule of thumb for how much time setting and character creation can and should take in any game: no more than 1/8th of the time that will be spent playing.  4 hour game?  No more than 30 minutes.  Four session game?  No more than 1/2 session.  8 session game?  Use a whole session.  Obviously, one session is probably enough for any game, but I could see a long term game of something like Fantasy Hero/Champions needing even more time (although it probably isn't spent in the session).

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Born to Be Wild!

Benjamin Baugh's post about "TNMT and other strangeness" as his oldest RPG prompts me to go ahead an post a link to some rules I have been working on. He asks for a "retroclone". Pretty sure this doesn't count, and it's more about "Road Hogs" than TMNT, but it might be of interest to him or anyone else, so here it is.

Born to Be Wild! - a Fate-based game of beast-folk driving in cars in a post-apocalyptic wasteland blowing s&$# up

Some Points of interest:
  • Two dimensional approaches (Things you Do, and Ways you do them) (Page 15)
  • The idea of Rides, and the idea that If you Lose Your Ride, You have lost the Game (Page 29)
  • Vehicle combat rules, because of course (not much different from what I have already posted on this blog)
  • The start of a "Your Wasteland" section (Page 35)
Other than that, mostly standard Fate Core/FAE stuff repurposed and currently cluttered with Fate Core/FAE SRD reference because there are a few minor alterations to the basic mechanics, and I wanted to have the capacity to make more changes as the design progresses. If I continue to work on it, I will flesh out the "Your Wasteland" section.  Also, I would want to amp up the Wastemaster versus Beast-Folk vibe of the thing, make it more actively a GM vs. Player game, because I think that is a place Fate games haven't really gone.  Can they go there?  I don't know, but it would be interesting to see if they could.

Enjoy!

Monday, July 28, 2014

Everyone at the table should be a candy machine

My first rant post!  It's pretty weak as rants go, but it's preachy, dogmatic, directed at something that annoys me, most of the people who read it will think it is self-evident, and it makes me seem oh so much better than everyone else.  So, a rant, woohoo!

Let's talk about candy.  Candy is the affirmation, the laughter, the attention, that people playing a role-playing game give to each other.  When you say something cool, and someone laughs or gasps, that's candy.  When you describe your character being awesome, and people are raptly listening to you, that's candy.  If you are playing a role-playing game, you almost certainly want candy.  Otherwise I'm not sure why you are playing.

The GM can and should be a candy machine.  Piles and piles of stuff have been written as advice to GM's, and a lot of it is about how to give out candy to players.  That's fine.  But the GM is not the ONLY candy machine.  When I GM and...
  • ...someone is talking and all the other players are not paying attention, those other players are treating me as the ONLY candy machine, and it makes me mad.  
  • ...a player only ever talks to me, describes everything to me instead of to the other players, even when that player's character is interacting with another player character, that player is treating me as the ONLY candy machine, or worse, the only candy machine whose candy he cares for.  That makes me mad.
The fact is that everyone at the table should be a candy machine!  Everyone should be handing out the candy of joy to their fellow players, not just the GM.

You want to be a candy machine, right?  When I play, I know I want to be.  So let us all join together and vow to be the candy machines we would want others to be for us.  It's the candy machine corollary to the golden rule.  Here are 7 concrete steps you and I can take to give our fellow players some candy.
  1. When we are describing what our character's are doing, we consciously look towards the non-GM players; they are our audience, not the GM.
  2. If our character is interacting with another player character, we look at that player during the interaction, not the GM.  They are our candy machine, and we are theirs.
  3. When someone else is talking, we freaking look at them, be quiet and listen.  This is like the minimal candy; it's the Starburst fruit chew of candy.
  4. We put our rule book on the floor under the table.  If we have to look at it, we always put it back under the table.  We cannot give candy while reading a rulebook.
  5. We put the *&$#^ smart phone away, at least three meters out of our reach to physically avoid temptation.  Tablets too, unless we are using them as rulebooks, in which case see point 4.  Trying to interact with someone who is looking at a phone is like anti-candy, it's like stinky asparagus (and if you reply that you like asparagus, I'm sorry, but you are just wrong).
  6. We pick the person in our group who we least want to give candy to.  We give them some candy at least once per session.
Be the candy machine.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Dark Salvation - The Purple Dimension


Been awhile since I posted any Dark Salvation material.  Here is a dimension my players never actually arrived at, but it is fun in it's obscurity.  I'm particular proud of the Slaves of Aggamon; dangerous via being pitiful.  For reference, here is the initial post on Dark Salvation.  This explains the Techno-Demonic Virus (TDV).  Dark Salvation related posts can be found through the Dark Salvation label.

The Purple Dimension

Ruled by the demon Aggamon, the Purple Dimension has "immense purplish mountain ranges [that] jut majestically from vast plum-colored plains" and "surreal geological formations". [1]  It is also the source of Purple Gems, immensely powerful sources of magical energy coveted by many powerful beings.
The Purple Dimension is only vaguely purple, and not a vacation spot.

Distinctions: Twisted and Tunnelled, Barren, Shadowy
Border: D12 
Gateway: Through a Purple Gem

Hooks pointing towards the Purple Dimension

  • The heroes need a power source capable of powering a cure for the TDV.  A purple gem will fill the bill.
  • Aggamon's business demons contact the heroes with a deal of some sort, to protect him from the TDV. 
  • The heroes find a purple gem infected with the TDV, and it exhibits strange properties.  Aggamon is the expert in such things.

Action in the Purple Dimension

  • The heroes arrive and see the typical slave driving behaviour that goes on there all the time.  Will they take steps to protect the slaves.
  • Aggamon's Demolisher Beam really is immensely powerful, and he really can't resist trying it out on anyone who shows up, just for fun.
  • The slaves are being infected with the TDV, and therefore are revolting against Aggamon.  A cure may return them to enslavement.

Hooks out of the Purple Dimension

  • The heroes get their Purple Gem, but they'll need something to channel the power.  Maybe some Uru metal?
  • Aggamon makes a deal with the heroes, and sends them through secret inter-dimensional tunnels to the dimension the TDV seems to be coming from.  Perhaps Sominus?  Niffleheim?

Denizens

Aggamon
Affiliations: Large Scale 3D8
Distinctions: Infernal Businessman, Greedy, Haughty
Power Set: Lord of the Purple Dimension Demolisher Beam D12, Superhuman Stamina D10, Sorcery Mastery D10, Enhanced Strength D8, Enhanced Senses D8, Enhanced Durability D8, Psychic Resistance D8, Mystic Resistance D8
  • SFX: Area Attack.  Add a D6 for each extra target and keep one extra effect die for each extra target.
  • SFX: Adaptable. You may add more than one power from Lord of the Purple Dimension to a roll.  Step back each die for every die beyond the first added.
  • SFX: “None can withstand the Demolisher Beam!”.  Activate an Opportunity generated in a reaction against an action that includes Demolisher Beam.  Opponent takes physical stress equal to the die that caused the Opportunity.  
  • Limit: The Extend to Sorcery.  When you add Sorcery Mastery to any action pool, you may only create assets or complications as your effect, unless the pool also contains Demolisher Beam.
Specialities: Menace Master D10, Business Master D10, Mystic Master D10, Psych Expert D8

Slaves of Aggamon
Affiliations: Mob 5D6
Distinctions: Pitiful, No Other Choice
Power Set: Desperation and Despair 
Improvised Weaponry D6, Wailing and Moaning D8, Get in the Way D8
  • SFX: Gruesome Conditions.  When using Wailing and Moaning to do emotional stress, add a D6 and step up the Effect die.  
  • SFX: Area Attack.  Add a D6 for each extra target and keep one extra effect die for each extra target.
  • SFX: Slaves, not Free.  Whenever Slaves of Aggamon are dealt physical stress, afflicted by a complication that might cause pain or anguish, or dealt emotional or mental stress that magnify their suffering, the hero taking the action takes emotional stress equivalent to the effect die being dealth.
  • Limit: Brief Rebellion. Add a D6 or step up the lowest die in the Doom Pool to make any Desperation and Despair power a Complication for Aggamon.  Spend a die equal to the Complication to remove the Complication and recover the power.
Specialities: Psych Expert D8

Aggamon's Guards
Affiliations: Mob 4D8
Distinctions: Without Mercy, Afraid of Aggamon's Wrath
Power Set: Demonic Guards
Whips and Chains D8, Enhanced Durability D8, Enhanced Senses D8
  • SFX: Masters of Restraint.  When using Whips and Chains to create complications, add a D6 and step up the Effect die. 
  • SFX: Area Attack.  Add a D6 for each extra target and keep one extra effect die for each extra target.
Specialities: Menace Expert D8, Combat Expert D8


Dungeon World moves as fortune telling

Haven't written here in a while.  I have lots of potential posts, but the energy has subsided.  Not surprising.  But I do have something I want to pontificate on today, Dungeon World moves.  Let's use Hack and Slash as the example.  Remember that the trigger for Hack and Slash is "when you attack an enemy in melee".

Over at a post on the Dungeon World Tavern on Google+, a poster talks about how he has had trouble figuring out how to model granularity in the difficulty of fights.  To summarize his concern, he feels that he cannot judge fine gradations in relative skill between opponents.  This is related to the advice given in the Dungeon World Guide on page 18.  If you are going up to an enormous giant, what you are doing with that giant doesn't count as "melee" for the purpose of the trigger.  Nor does stabbing some poor schlub of a drunken city guard in the back.    But what about conscript city guards versus normal city guards versus elite city guards?  The poster is concerned that the game gives him no, or at least very cryptic and difficult to use, tools to demonstrate these gradations.

I really hadn't felt this problem in my limited experience. But after thinking about why that is, I realized that since the first time I played Dungeon World, I have been treating Moves as fortune telling, not as modelling any process.  Here is what I mean.

Your Fighter (the player character) is going up against some city guards and their leader.  As the GM, I think the guard leader is a better fighter than your Fighter.  But in a very really sense in Dungeon World, I have no idea if this is actually true.  There is no metric (such as Qualities in Fate Core) to make this determination.  Whether this is true or not is contingent on the results of your Hack and Slash (and Defy Danger, and whatever else) Moves, and has a big whack of random chance involved in it.

Therefore, when we play out the fight, the mechanic is forcing us to follow the Agenda "Play to find out what happens".  If you roll a lot of 6's, I guess that guard leader really was a better fighter than you.  If you roll a lot of 10's, guess I was wrong.  The Move is not a model of some action and how difficult it is, the Move is a checking of the fates, like consulting the I Ching.   Granularity just doesn't exist.  You figure out the real skill difference between the fictional participants after the fact, as a consequence of the Moves, not before hand.  

This is a different model of role-playing rules than almost every other game most of us have ever played.  This goes to what Rob Donughue said in this other blog post: Dungeon World may be best if treated "as a diceless game that happens to have dice".  The only game I can think of that explicitly treats the dice mechanic as a kind of fortune telling rather than modelling some kind of process is Four Colors Al Fresco, where dice rolls are interpreted as literally consulting the astrological  influences on a particular situation.  But Dungeon World is doing the same thing stealthily.

Therefore, I avoid any attempt to find or create granularity in difficulty.  Instead, I accept that I am just as uncertain as my players are as to the exact capabilities of the NPC's, monsters, and threats I create.  There really is a whole big grey area between enormous giants and drunken incompetent city guards, and the game doesn't want me to break it down into finer categories.  "Play to find out what happens".

EDIT: Spout Lore is an even better example.  The trigger is "When you consult your accumulated knowledge about something".  Now, like Hack and Slash, there are cases where the move would not trigger; cases where you actually have no accumulated knowledge (e.g. a Barbarian wondering about esoteric magic theory).  But everyone else?  The Move happens.  If you are just a novice in magical theory, or an ancient master...roll the dice.  Roll a 6?  I guess that means there was a gap in your prodigious knowledge, ancient master!

Monday, March 31, 2014

An idea for car chases and similar in Fate Core

In response to a thread on Google Plus Fate Core community, try this on for size, somewhat stream of consciousness.  Aspects are in quotations marks.

There are these zones:

Nearly Lost Them
Following Me
Right On My Tail
Right Next to Me
Cutting Me Off

All are presented from the perspective of the chased car. The chased car never moves. Instead, when the drivers of each car roll to move zones, they are always rolling to move the CHASE car, not the car being chased. There is no free zone movement, all zones have a "border" value of the Driving skill of the other driver, either as passive or active opposition.

So, on the Chase Driver's action, he might roll to move from Following Me to Right on My Tail. On the Chased Driver's next action, he might roll to try to move the Chase Driver back to Following Me, or alternatively move the Chase Driver to Right Next to Me, to let him get a sideswipe in or have his friend open up with the "Massive Double-Barrelled Shotgun".

This ends up being similar to a challenge between the two drivers, but also provides some description of the relationship between the two vehicles for actions by any other characters in the vehicles, and also to help frame the use of Aspects. "Big Ole 18 Wheeler" and "Sleek Small Sportscar" will be used very differently in the Nearly Lost Them versus Cutting Me Off zones. Finally, both determine the realm of other actions the Driver might take. When the Chase Car is in the Following Me zone, I may want to try to get some distance and move them back. Or, I might leave them where they are and instead roll Lore to try to navigate into some more favorable terrain for my vehicle, or roll Contacts to see if I have any friends in the area that I could ask for help.

If you can move the Chase Car back from Nearly Lost Them, then you have gotten away. Vice versa, if they are Cutting You Off, their next roll might be to actually force you off the road, or make you stop.

For an extra layer of complication, the GM could have a list of Scene Aspects that would get cycled or randomly chose each exchange in the Conflict. First exchange, the roads are "Tight and Windy", the next "Steep Grade", the next "Straight and smooth", the next "Massive Potholes". This gives the picture of cars travelling both compared to each other, and also in comparison to the surrounding terrain.

For one further layer of complication, assume that if you are braking (e.g. losing speed) as part of the move you are trying to make, if you succeed with style you can move the chase car two zones. For example, if I am the chased car, and the chasing car is in the Following Me zone, I could roll to move that car all the way up to Right Next to Me with a success with style, since I am braking and losing speed to do so.  As another example, if I am the chase car and I am the Cutting Me Off zone, I could move to Right on My Tail zone with a success with style if there is some advantage to doing so; getting out of the way of the chased cars "Front mounted machine guns", or putting my "Ram Plate" between the two of us for some cover.

Finally, it would certainly possible for the roles in the chase to change completely, depending on intent. I could be the chasing car, and have pulled into the Right Next to Me zone, and then suddenly the chased car's "pop-up laser turrets" and "side facing flamethrowers" come out of their concealed receptacles, and I'm thinking this was a bad idea. Suddenly, me in their Right Next to Me zone becomes them in MY Right Next to Me zone. It's all about who is chasing and who is being chased.

This could be fun. Or it could be way too much work.

EDIT: Credit where credit is due, the basic idea of moving the other guy instead of yourself is inspired by the system in Agon, by John Harper.  I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Spirit of the Garou: First Play

I had an opportunity to run Spirit of the Garou (click through for rules post), my love song to Werewolf: the Apocalypse written in Fate Core, on the weekend and it was very enjoyable.

The scenario was set in a Sept at the very mouth of the Mississippi River in 1924.  The player characters were part of a pack of that sept, and needed to find out what happened to some kinfolk rum-runners, who had disappeared.  At some point I will post the pre-gen characters and some of the other stuff from the scenario.

Things that worked well..

Fate Core as a system just sings for Werewolf as a setting.  Creating and using Aspects is like the thing you didn't realize was missing from White Wolf's system until you play a game with them, and then you can't understand how you ever lived without them.

One of the reasons for that is that it greatly expands the non-tooth and claw options that Garou have in the game.  It gives them a solidity and weight that in the classic World of Darkness (CWoD) ruleset was just not possible.  As an example; there was a moment in the game where one of the players playing a Lupus Garou named Sandpiper, not the most combat ready of the characters, is trying to save her friend from a dangerous bane-possessed axe-wielding crazy person.  She says "I want to try to grab the axe out of his hands and run away with it."  I say "Cool!  That sounds like a Brawn versus Brawn thing.  Getting your teeth on it won't be that hard, getting it away from him is the tricky part."  Moments later, and after laying some Fate points on the table and a bit of luck, Sandpiper has the nasty, Bane-soaked axe in her mouth, jumping into the murky waters of the bayou with the enraged crazy person with "Disarmed" as an aspect chasing after her.  I then compel her on her "Connoisseur of Aroma" aspect; "That Axe smells grotesque, it's covered in years old blood and filth and is steeped in evil.  There is no way you can keep that in your mouth, you have to spit it out."  She takes the fate point, and now the battle is really on, since the axe is sitting there in shallow water.  Would all of that have been possible in CWoD?  Sure, I guess. But Fate just makes it so much easier, so natural.

Another thing that Aspects make a major difference for are things like intimidation, enticement, etc.  In other words, any mental or emotional attack or control type action or power.  The power of compels and the utility of Well-Being (e.g. Mental Stress) as a venue for attack makes a big difference in the ease with which such things are handled.

Rage and especially Gnosis as skills in the skill pyramid seemed to work pretty well.

Gifts as stunts worked really well.  They seemed more flexible and interesting than they were in original Werewolf: the Apocalypse (W:tA).

The number and type of Aspects seemed just about right.

The Totem aspect was interesting, because all of the characters share it.  The pre-gens all had Coyote as a Totem, whose Ban Aspect was "Unwise Choices".  It would be fun to compel that normally, but the fact that all of the PC's had it made them seem more unified.  "Unwise Choices" was just who they were.

The questions for the different Auspices to determine Renown gains seemed to work very well, although a few need some tweaking or clarification.

The Form Modifiers seemed to work really well.  There was rarely any question as to whether the bonus/penalty applied or not as everyone at the table seemed to have a good concept of the forms and what they would excel at versus what they would have trouble with, and where there were borderline cases the conversation was actually part of the fun.

Things that need work...

The Anger Stress track and Frenzy rules are just wrong, or at least not creating the effect I was hoping for.  The idea is that Anger Stress should be something you are always worried about in a fight, it is constantly increasing and you have to manage it or Frenzy.  In practice there just weren't enough ways to hand it out, and the mechanic of erasing Anger Stress to get a benefit of an extra action worked against the goal.  One potential solution is to simply hand out a LOT more of it, for example, everyone takes one Anger Stress every exchange.  I note that in the original W:tA rules, you only Frenzy when you get four successes on a Rage roll, and that Rage rolls are really not that common, which jibes with my memories of running the game that Frenzy was never really that big a threat.  I would like it to be more of an issue in Spirit of the Garou.  But I also don't want to have multiple currencies; Fate points should be enough.  Already I have Anger Stress acting as an additional currency in the current rules.  This all needs some thought.

When I first created the Gifts, I removed the Rank requirement to learn them because it always bugged met that there was such a limited selection of gifts for starting characters.  Also, as I was translating the Gifts into Fate Core, many of the higher ranked gifts just didn't seem that powerful, they were easily just stunts. However, there were a couple of Gifts on the pre-gens that were originally high rank gifts that were VERY powerful, and probably need to cost more refresh. Examples were Geas and the Living Wood.  Part of the power shift is that for many of the Gifts that originally cost Gnosis I changed it to either a time limit (e.g. once per scene) or a Fate point.  As Gnosis could be pretty hard to come by in W:tA, spending a Gnosis point was a pretty big cost.

I really need to work on my Fate Core rules knowledge.  I was caught out several times forgetting a few things that have changed since earlier versions.  For example, did you know there are no free Compels on an Aspect you have created, only free invocations?  Did you know that you don't get a boost on a Create Advantage roll, you get two free invocations?  I didn't.  Thanks to +Marcus Morrisey for having better rules Fate Core rules mojo than I.

Things that really didn't get tested...

There wasn't much spirit interaction in the session.  Two of the pre-gens that were played had bound spirits, but they didn't really come up much.  

Character creation hasn't been tested at all.

Overall

It was awesome!  It was one of the most "werewolfy" sessions of Werewolf I have ever GM'ed, because Fate Core makes so much so much easier.   Aspects were hitting the table like crazy until it was littered with index cards.  No major flaws came up except for Anger Stress as noted above.  I really think the basics of the rule set are solid.  This has a lot more to do with the general brilliance of Fate Core and the general awesomeness of the Werewolf setting than any skill on my part.





Friday, February 28, 2014

Werewolf in my Fate? Fate in my Werewolf?

So, I've been fiddling around with something.  Call it a love song to Werewolf: the Apocalypse written in the language of Fate.  It can be found here:

Spirit of the Garou

I have comments turned on in the Google Doc, so feel free to comment on the rules.  The majority of the page count are examples of things from the W:tA rulebook.

It hasn't been playtested, but since I saw that Ryan Macklin and Dave Chalker were building a Mage: the Ascension Fate love song here:

Enter the Paradigm Project

I thought now was a good time to post this.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Dimensional Travel in Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

In the Dark Salvation Event I have been running, there is a lot of dimension hopping.  So, it seemed worth having an extra mechanic for that.  Because that's what you always need, right?  An extra mechanic?

Dimensional Borders and Gateways
Every Dimension has a Border value of at least two dice, that represents the difficult of getting in to the Dimension.  A very difficult dimension to enter may have 2D12 or 3D12 as it's border value, while a pathetically easy one to enter my have 2D4.   Most Dimensions have a Gateway, a "normal" (whatever that means in the context of dimensional travel") method of entering and exiting that dimension.  The Gateway need not be a "physical" (again, whatever that means) doorway of some sort.  It could be a state of mind, an object one needs to possess, a ritual to perform, etc.  Some examples:

The Dark Dimension
Border: 3D12
Gateway: The G'Uranthic Guardian
If you go to the trouble of having a dimension that is hard to get into, why would you make the doorway so obvious?

Muspelheim
Border: 2D8
Gateway: the Roots of Yggdrasil
Not the sort of all-inclusive resort spot you were hoping for.
Sominus
Border: 2D4
Gateway: Sin of any kind, the road to hell is wide
Sominus needs labor-law reform in a big way.
Dimension Travel
The character arranging for the dimension travel rolls against the Doom Pool of the new dimension.  If you are moving to a new Act as part of the dimension travel, that would be what the Doom Pool will be after the hop, otherwise it will be the current Doom Pool.  You add the Border dice of the dimension to the Doom Pool for the roll.  However, if you are already at the Gateway to that dimension, you do not.  

This roll is an Asset creation roll.  If you succeed, you can create an Asset that represents your successful arrival into the dimension.  For example, "Just where we planned to arrive" or "Thog is surprised" or "Dimensional Currents are Smooth".  

On a failure, it means you were not able to enter that dimension.  You will have to go somewhere else (usually a different dimension) and try from there, or somehow get to the Gateway if you were not there already.  However, the Watcher can choose to allow you to arrive in the dimension anyway.  If the Watcher does this, the Watcher can use his/her Effect die against you for free to create a Complication, Asset, Stress, etc.  

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Marvel Heroic Roleplaying House Rule Suggestions

I've played a lot of Marvel Heroic Roleplaying (MHP) now, both as a Player and as the Watcher.  There are a few minor tweaks to the rules that I have found make things a little better, or at least clearer.  Here they are...

Mob Affiliation
Any character with a Mob Affiliation is actually a group of "characters" that act together. It always uses it’s Mob affiliation.  The most Stress the Mob can take is it’s Mob Affiliation die size; whenever the Stress exceeds that value, remove an Affiliation Die.  For the purpose of Area Attack, you can treat a Mob as if it were a number of characters equal to it’s current Affiliation dice (although it probably represents many more individuals).  Unlike normal characters, you can do multiple effect dice of the same type to a Mob (e.g. multiple physical stress effect dice).  If that’s the last die, the Mob is taken out.  A Mob is still capable of acting as long as the total “sides” of complications on it are less than or equal to the total “sides” of Affiliation dice it has left, but if the “sides” of it’s current affiliation drop below the “sides” of it’s complications, it is immediately taken out.  For example, a 3D6 mob would have to have at least 18 “sides” of complications (for example, a D12 complication and a D6) to be completely taken out.  However, if it already has a D12 complication, and then loses one Affiliation die, it would be taken out immediately.
Mob Affiliation is really just Team Affiliation under a different name, but the bit about complications is the big difference.  I've found that it is just not fun to let a mob be complicated out of the scene on a single D12+.  This makes them tougher.

Large Scale Affiliation
Any character with Large Scale Affiliation is a particularly powerful and dangerous individual.  They always use their Large Scale Affiliation.  Treat their Affiliation in the same way as Mob Affiliation EXCEPT that the dice cannot be targeted individually or by
Area Attack SFX.  
The idea of Large Scale Threats like Galactus having Buddy and Team affiliations of small die sizes and fewer dice has always been confusing and unecessary to me.  This just clears that up.  Note that Complications work differently here as well.

Associated Mobs
Some characters have a multi-die power trait that has the phrase “Associated Mob” next to it.  This trait represents a mob of followers for that character.  They do not get a separate action, and do not affect the way the main character takes Stress or Complications.  However, they can be targets of an Area Attack as if they were a separate mob, and can be assigned effect dice to reduce their numbers.  To simplify matters in such cases, as long as the effect die is bigger than the die size of the power trait, it will remove one die from the trait; smaller dice have no effect and do not track stress and complications for them separately.   Lost dice are recovered in a transition scene.
This is really just a clarification of the rules found on such characters as Multiple Man and Doctor Doom in the later books.

Area Attack SFX
The most D6’s you can add is 5, but you can still add extra effect dice beyond 5 if you are targeting a lot of characters.  For example, if there is a 5D6 Mob and three normal characters in a scene and you targeted them all with Area Attack, you would only add 5D6, but you could use up to 8 Effect Dice.   
When you have multiple Mobs in a scene, Area Attack just gets silly very quickly in it's handling time.  This just makes it clear there is a limit.

XP for Resource
You may spend 5/10 XP to make a D6/D8 Resource last until the end of the event.  If, for some reason, the resource becomes larger during an action scene, it resets to it's "Natural" level at the end of the scene.

Watcher Stress-Changing
The Watcher may spend a doom die (any size) to change the type of stress being inflicted on a Watcher character.
I'm betting a lot of Watcher's play with this rule anyway, but I can't find it anywhere.  It clearly says Player Characters can do it.

D12 Max
An effect die can never be treated as higher than a D12.   You must first do a D12 (stress, complication), and then on a different action get at least a D4 to step it "past" D12.   Therefore, it is not possible to "one-shot" someone out.
When people have a lot of plot points, it is VERY easy to take a Watcher character, by getting multiples of 5 over their total and stepping up the effect die to D12+.  I've seen it happen a lot.  This rule slows this down ever so slightly.

Dark Salvation - the TDV Objective Tracker

In a previous post, I introduced the Dark Salvation event.  The key to this is...

The Techno-Demonic Virus Objective Tracker

I can hear your gasps of awe, really I can.
Basic Operation
The Tracker works like this.  There six Progress tracks on the Tracker: Scientific Understanding, Mystical Understanding, Synthesis!, Technical Details Determined, Occult Considerations Considered, Counter-measure Developed!  Each Progress track works like a stress track on a character.  If the stress on that track exceeds a D12, then the heroes have achieved that goal in the story.  For example, if the Scientific Understanding track is completed, it means at least one of the heroes now understands all that is important, scientifically speaking, about the TDV.  The tracks must be completed in the Order shown, and all earlier tracks must be completed before moving on.  So, to make Progress on Synthesis!, the heroes must have completed both of the tracks above it.

Progress Rolls Once per Transition scene, any player, but only one player, MUST make a Progress roll against one of the tracks.  This is instead of a recovery roll or creating a resource.  That player chooses which track to roll against if there is more than one option available.   This roll is opposed by the Doom Pool of their current dimension, that is the dimension where the immediately preceding Action scene took place. This is true even if the transition scene involves moving to a new dimension.   The other players may all assist in this roll by providing one relevant die trait from their own character sheets.  This will often be a specialty, but could be a distinction or a power if it seems useful given the circumstances of the roll and what has just happened.

Stating Facts about the TDV
If the roll is successful, the player should mark the progress on the Tracker.  That player also should state one important fact that has been learned about the TDV, in accordance with the concept of that track.  For example, on the Synthesis! track, the fact should have something to do with how the scientific and mystical elements of the TDV are or were combined.  This can be anything the player wants it to be, although the player is encouraged to discuss the fact with their fellow players before deciding.

If the roll fails, the Watcher states a fact about the TDV, but no progress is made.  The heroes are treading water or have experience a setback, but at least they learned something that might lead them to the next piece of the puzzle.

Some guidelines on facts.
  • The fact should, if at all possible, naturally lead to some next destination or activity for the heroes. "The TDV is constructed from dark matter" is a mediocre fact.  "The TDV is constructed from dark matter generated at the Arcturus Skrull Research Facility" is a great one.  You know where you are headed next.
  • The fact should naturally arise from what just happened in the story.  Don't stretch for it, or try to link in something totally unrelated.
  • On the other hand, feel free to point the fact towards something of interest to you.  Always wanted to roleplay in the Microverse?  State a fact that brings the Microverse into the story, and you'll probably get your wish.  
  • If the progress track that was rolled against is not yet complete, the fact should NOT resolve that track in any way.  It should be a piece of the puzzle but not the final piece and should leave something unresolved.
  • If the progress track IS completed by that roll, then the fact should be the final piece of that particular puzzle pulling together all the previous facts into some kind of harmony.
Write the facts down in the boxes on the right; Insights for the first half of the Tracker, Strategies for the second half, but you'll probably have to expand to the back of the page.  In the second half of the Tracker, the facts might be less about knowledge and more about concrete actions the heroes have taken, for example "The sliver of the Crimson Gem of Cytorrak obtained from Hela will be a crucial component of the countermeasure".

The final Synthesis! fact is very important.  This should be a summary of all the previous information, putting together all the knowledge created so far, into one, holistic picture of what the TDV is all about.  The final Counter-measure Developed! fact is even more critical; it should outline the actual strategy to bring about the end of the TDV's threat to the Marvel Universe.

The Finale
Once that final fact is in place, the heroes now have a game plan and the Event is nearing the finale. Executing the plan may take one Action scene or twenty, depending on how complicated it is and who might be opposing it, and there may not be a guarantee of success, but the heroes now know what they need to do.

The Doom Pool
In Dark Salvation, a new Act starts every time the players travel to a new dimension.  As long as they stay in the same dimension, they are in the same Act.  The initial value of the Doom Pool is determined by the status on the tracker.  In the first phase, it is 4D6, in the second 4D8, and once a counter-measure has been developed, 4D10.  If the Watcher is inclined to do so, he/she can track the value of the Doom Pool for a particular dimension, and reset the Doom Pool to that value if the instead of refreshing to the value on the tracker if the heroes return there.  This is most relevant for the "real world" dimension, which the players are likely to pass through multiple times before the Event is over.

Notes for the Watcher
Just to reiterate this point, the player(s) decide on the facts.  Not you, or at least not unless they fail the Progress roll.  As the Watcher, your job is NOT to figure out what the cause of the TDV is, or how to eradicate it.  Your job is to respond to the players as they solve it, and to provide furious opposition to them in the process.  You should be just as surprised as they are where the story leads because you are all creating it together in play.  You'll know you are doing it right when the players state a fact, and your mind is blown by how that fact is totally unexpected and totally right, exactly the right piece of information to move the story on to the next scene.

This can be tough, don't get me wrong.  It will require a lot of improvisation on your part, even with all of the stuff I will posting here in future posts.  That's why Dark Salvation is more of a toolkit for an Event than an event itself. Your players could literally end up going ANYWHERE in the Marvel Universe. So, a few pointers...
  • Liberally throw plot hooks at your players that point in the direction of dimensions where you actually have prepared some opposition.  Throw lots of these, not just one or two, in off hand remarks by other characters and mysterious omens delivered by Odin's ravens and coded transmissions from Kree spies and whatever else strikes your fancy.  They'll pick up on some of them, maybe.
  • Prepare lots of stuff that won't, in the end, actually be used.  Enjoy the process.  
  • If you have a vision of something you do want to introduce, let your Doom Pool get nice and big, so that you can beat them on the Progress roll and introduce a tidbit of that vision.
  • While you'll mostly be reacting, occasionally you should sidetrack the players into something they didn't intend.  Lots of powerful entities in the Marvel Universe know something is going on with the TDV, and sometimes they will be proactive in their interference with or assistance to the heroes.  
  • Don't be afraid to admit to the players you've got nothing for them if they go where they want to go, at least until you have had a chance to prepare for it.  Ask them to consider doing something else to close out this session, and you'll have more ready for the next.  
  • If the players seem unsure where to go next, don't hesitate to throw some nastiness at them to get them moving in some direction, any direction.  To paraphrase Raymond Chandler, when in doubt, have a team of Skrull Mystic Commandos come through the door with guns in their hands.  


Dark Salvation - Niffleheim

I'm going to be posting more stuff about how Dark Salvation is structured in the near future, but I thought I would jump to some actual characters, dimensions and stuff first.  Some of this might not make sense at the moment, but it will.  The characters here use my Large Scale and Mob Affiliation house rules.

Niffleheim

One of the Nine Realms, Niffleheim is the realm of the un-honored dead, a cold and forbidding land ruled by Hela, and guarded by Garm.
Brrrrrrrrr!

Distinctions: Mists and Fogs, Rocks and Crags, Gloom and Doom
Border: 2D10 
Gateway: Roots of Yggdrasil

Hooks pointing towards Niffleheim

  • There are rumours that the TDV might have started in Niffleheim.
  • A message from Hela herself, requesting assistance.
  • Warlock remembers visiting this place, and consuming a large dragon to save himself.  Perhaps that is related to the TDV?

Action in Niffleheim

  • Garm is under attack by TDV infected fire demons.  Will he be grateful for help, or just try to eat the heroes.
  • Hela is trying to seal off a portal to some other dimension, but is having some serious trouble. Destabilizing the entire World Tree level trouble.
  • Hela herself has become infected with the TDV.  That is a bad scene.

Hooks out of Niffleheim

  • Hela is willing to help the heroes in some fashion, but only if they perform some task for her.
  • The Undead TDV-infected Dragon, below, has clearly been affected by the magic and/or technology of some other dimension or group.  Who and what?

Denizens

Hela
Affiliations: Large Scale 2D12
Distinctions: Proud, Cold Beauty
Power Set: Goddess of Death
Touch of Death D12, Levitation D8, Mystical Bolts D10, Teleportation D12, Illusions D10, Mystic Resistance D10, Psychic Resistance D10, Curses D12
  • SFX: Area Attack.  Add a D6 for each extra target and keep one extra effect die for each extra target.
  • SFX: “I am a Goddess!”.  Double or step up any Goddess of Death power for one roll.  If that roll fails, step down that power trait.  Activate an Opportunity to recover.  
  • Limit: Cloak of Night.  Add a D6 or step up lowest die in the Doom Pool to step down all Goddess of Death powers.  Activate an Opportunity to recover.
  • Limit: Curse of the Goddess.  Curses can only be used to create complications.
  • Limit: Astral Travel.  Teleportation can only be used to travel between dimensions. 
Power Set: Descendant of Frost Giants
Godlike Stamina D12, Godlike Durability D12, Superhuman Strength D10
  • SFX: Regeneration.  Spend a Doom Pool die to recover physical stress. 
Specialities: Menace Master D10, Combat Expert D8, Mystic Master D10, Covert Expert D8, Cosmic Expert D8, Medical Expert D8

Garm, Guardian of Hel
Affiliations: Large Scale 3D10
Distinctions: Massive, Vigilant, Ferocious
Power Set: Hell Hound
Godlike Strength D12, Superhuman Durability D10, Superhuman Stamina D10, Godlike Sense of Smell D12, Massive Jaws and Teeth D12
  • SFX: Regeneration.  Spend a Doom Pool die to remove physical stress.  Spend a D10 doom die to add an Affiliation, up to 5D.
  • SFX: Multipower.  Use two or more powers from the Hell Hound Powerset, step down each one step for each extra power added.
  • SFX: Berserk.  Add a die from the Doom Pool for any number of actions.  Step it up every time it is used until it is a D12.  You may only have one die at a time from the Doom Pool.
  • Limit: Chained. On a successful Action or Reaction Roll, instead, fail that Action or Reaction.  Add two Effect Dice to the Doom Pool.
Specialities: Menace Master D10, Psych Expert D8, Combat Expert D8

Undead TDV Infected Dragon
Affiliations: Large Scale 3D10
Distinctions: Mindless, Once Majestic, One with the Pandemonicon
Power Set: Undead Dragon 
Godlike Strength D12, Superhuman Durability D10, Godlike Stamina D12, Sulfurous Breath D10, Psychic Resistance D12
  • SFX: Regeneration.  Spend a Doom Pool die to remove physical stress.  Spend a D10 doom die to add an Affiliation die, up to 5D10.  
  • SFX: Area Attack.  Add a D6 for each extra target and keep one extra effect die for each extra target.
  • Limit: Huge. Turn an Undead Dragon power into a complication to add a D6 or step up the lowest die in the doom pool.  Activate an Opportunity to recover.
  • Limit: Stupid.  Undead Dragon creates opportunities on 1's and 2's, although only 1's are removed from consideration in the roll.
Power Set: Techno-Demonic Form
Stretching D8, Growth D6, Extruded Weaponry D8, Techno-Demonic Conversion D8
  • SFX: Recharge. Use an Effect Die from an Action or Reaction involving electrical or similar energy sources, or attacks causing physical stress against living creatures, to heal physical stress as long as the Techno-Demonic Conversion power is in the pool.  Either step-back or completely remove the physical stress depending on the relative size of the effect die and the stress die.
  • SFX: Infection . Any dimensional creature stressed out physically by use of Techno-Demonic Conversion steps up the lowest die in the Doom Pool.  This creature loses all physical stress and gains the Techno-Demonic Infection power-set.
  • Limit: No Normal Recovery. The infected cannot recover physical stress normally.
  • Limit: Exhausted. Shutdown any Techno-Organic Form power to gain 1 PP.  Recover with a transition scene or by activating an opportunity.
Specialities: Menace Expert D8, Combat Expert D8
Note: This is the dragon that Warlock "ate" in New Mutants Special Edition #1, should it matter.

Undifferentiated Lost Souls
Affiliations: Mob 7D6
Distinctions: Hopeless, Jealous of the Living, Amorphous
Power Set: Create Horror
Intangibility D10, Terrify and Oppress D10, Mystic Resistance D8
  • SFX: Ghostly Form: Spend a doom die to ignore physical stress, trauma complications, or other effects unless they are mystical in nature.
  • Limit: Phantoms. Earn 1 doom die or step up the lowest to change Intangibility into a complication.  Activate an Opportunity to eliminate the complication.  
Specialities: Menace Expert D8, Covert Master D10

Hopeful Lost Souls
Affiliations: Mob 5D6
Distinctions: Desperate for a Second Chance, Jealous of the Living, Amorphous
Power Set: Create Horror
Intangibility D10, Terrify and Oppress D10, Mystic Resistance D8
  • SFX: Ghostly Form: Spend a plot point to ignore physical stress, trauma complications, or other effects unless they are mystical in nature.
  • Limit: Phantoms. Earn 1 PP and change Intangibility into a complication.  Activate a Watcher Opportunity to recover, or recover in a transition scene.  
Specialities: Menace Expert D8, Covert Master D10
Note: These are some Lost Souls that the player playing Beta-Ray Bill paid XP to make into allies.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Dark Salvation - a What if? Event for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

This is the Event I have been running for a while now.  Thanks to +Kel McKay+Chris Sisson+Mikael Andersson, and +Derek Smyk for playing in it and giving such great feedback and fodder for the imagination.  I'll be posting bits of it over time; the Event is still ongoing.

This post is an overview of the thing.  In the future, you should be able to click on the "Dark Salvation" tag and see all the posts related to it.

Dark Salvation related posts can be found through the Dark Salvation label.  They are also itemized in a list at the bottom of this post.

Dark Salvation - a What if? Event for Marvel Heroic Roleplaying

"In every life there are moments when possibilities crystallize - after which nothing can ever be the same again!  This life, for example...
"A lost child in a very strange place makes a choice, to feed itself.  But what if that choice had had very different consequences?  What if forces were conspiring already, to make use of the raw materials this lost child, and his angry father, might provide?  Who can say?  Who can know what might have happened?  I can..."
"for I am the Watcher!"

Dark Salvation is an Event that focuses on the consequences of several things that were going on in the mid 1980's in Marvel comics, specifically:

  • Warlock's visit to Asgard in New Mutant's Special Edition #1
  • the interaction of Magus and Limbo described around New Mutants #50
  • the invasion of Midgard by Surtur and the Fire Demons shown in Thor 351-353.

the basics of the plot could probably be moved to another time period, but the premise would probably not make as much sense outside the context of the three events mentioned above.  Its an Event for people eager to delve into the more obscure and dark corners Marvel Universe, and at the same time to go all-out cosmic and Kirby-esque making connections between diverse dimensions, dimensional beings, space empires, evil masterminds, and whatever else might strike the players and Watcher's fancies.

Premise
The premise is that the Techno Organic Virus that is part of Warlock (and his father Magus's) biology has somehow mutated into the Techno-Demonic Virus (TDV).  This virus can infect dimensional beings of all varieties, but primarily demons, devils and all the other nasties that lurk in the dark corners of the Marvel Universe.   This is it...

Techno-Demonic Infection
Distinctions: Replace a Distinction on the creature with "One with the Pandemonicon".
Power Set:  Techno-Demonic Form
Stretching D8, Growth D6, Extruded Weaponry D8, Techno-Demonic Conversion D8
  • SFX: Recharge. Use an Effect Die from an Action or Reaction involving electrical or similar energy sources, or attacks causing physical stress against living creatures, to heal physical stress as long as the Techno-Demonic Conversion power is in the pool. Either step-back or completely remove the physical stress depending on the relative size of the effect die and the stress die.
  • SFX: Infection.  Any dimensional creature stressed out physically by use of Techno-Demonic Conversion steps up the lowest die in the Doom Pool. This creature loses all physical stress and gains the Techno-Demonic Infection power-set.
  • Limit: No Normal Recovery.  The infected cannot recover physical stress normally.
  • Limit: Exhausted. Shutdown any Techno-Organic Form power to gain 1 doom die/plot point. Recover with a transition scene or by activating an opportunity.

Dimensional creatures infected with the TDV take on traits very similar to Warlock's Technarch species.  They can shapeshift, stretch, grow, and shrink and have a similar, "Sienkiewiczian" quality.  However, this is NOT the same virus; it has mutated, altered, or otherwise shifted in a fashion that makes all those infected with it part of some greater, mysterious force called the "Pandemonicon" (note the Distinction).  Learning what the Pandemonicon is, and how to stop it, are the goals of playing the Event.

Characters
The Event was originally played with the following as player characters:
  • Warlock
  • Beta-Ray Bill 
  • Reed Richards (aka Mr. Fantastic) 
  • Doctor Stephen Strange
It could probably be played with other characters except for Warlock, who is a necessity.  However you will need at least one character to fill each of the roles of Richards and Strange.  That is, you need a scientific and a mystical expert.  You also need at least one character, preferably two, who can transport the group from dimension to dimension.

Plot
The basic plot-line is that, after being introduced to the problem of the TDV, the heroes have to figure out how to stop it.  To do this, they will wander across the Marvel Universe and it's many dimensions in three phases.
  1. Investigate, determine, and discover the origin of the infection, both scientific and mystical.
  2. Invent, locate, and/or identify some counter-measure(s) to the infection, both technical and occult.
  3. Implement this/these counter-measure(s).
There is no pre-determined plot beyond that, and there is no "secret" that the Watcher knows that the players are trying to find out about.  The causes of the infection and the means to eliminate it are completely in the hands of the players, through the use of the TDV Objective Tracker, which will be described in another post very soon.  There are no pre-set scenes, or particular events that are expected to happen.  Rather, the Event is presented as a Toolkit for travel among the Dimensions and across the cosmos directed almost entirely by the players.  

Knowledge of the Marvel Universe
While one or two players out of four with very little knowledge of the Marvel Universe would be just fine, this Event is really intended for players and Watcher who have a fairly deep knowledge of the cosmology and various dimensions of the Marvel Universe and its inhabitants.  Both the players and the Watcher will be asked to come up with all kinds of creative stuff, so the more they know, the richer the library of detail they have to draw upon and the more they will be excited about the details others are bringing in.

Dark Salvation related posts


Friday, February 14, 2014

Weird Dust Devils

I wrote this probably 6 years ago, and it was playtested two or three times, and a lot of fun.  Enjoy!

Weird Dust Devils
An explictly magical hack of Dust Devils.
Dust Devils was created by +Matt Snyder is available through DriveThruRPG; you should really buy a copy, because it is fantastic.

First of all, let’s be clear.  The existing rules of Dust Devils are really all you need to bring a weird, supernatural, or magical feel to your game.  The limits on the Dealer’s power in setting up situations, and the Narrator’s power in describing resolution, are really consensual limit, and thus as long as everyone at the table agrees that weird stuff is in bounds, it is.

However, many people might wish to have a bit more system to help them integrate weirdness into a Dust Devil’s game.  These rules are written to help those people out.

The Deck
The first major change in Weird Dust Devils is the deck of cards used; WDD is played with a tarot deck, not a normal playing card deck.  Don't tell me you are surprised this uses a tarot deck, what else would it use?
Last night I stayed up late playing poker with Tarot cards. I got a full house and four people died. - Steven Wright
Characters
As Dust Devils, except –
  • The existing scores are associated with the Tarot suits in the following way: Heart (Cups), Guts (Wands), Eye (Coins) and Hand (Swords). 
  • Characters have an extra Score called Power, and represents the characters overall familiarity with, capacity for, and resistance to, magical stuff.  
  • Characters have 16 points to spend on scores, not 13.  NOTE: This isn’t quite right, because 13 is the perfect number for the other four scores.  However, it seems to work in practice.  Maybe just let people pick Power from 1-4, with some kind of trade off (ala the Devil)?
  • Any character with a non-Zero Power score must also have a Weird, a single phrase description of the way in which the character interacts with, uses, or avoids magic.  Examples: "Voodoo Houngan", "Aztec Mummy", "Jesuit Exorcist", "God of War", etc.
Conflict
Conflict occurs as described in Ch 2 of Dust Devils Revenged, except as follows.
  1. Any player may choose to add in their Power to the two Scores selected by the Dealer as relevant to the current conflict, thus giving them more cards in the initial deal.
  2. If a player uses their Power in a conflict, then they may only beat another hand with an Arcane hand. An Arcane hand is a hand where at least one of the five selected cards is a Trump.  If they do not play an Arcane hand, then regardless of how good their hand is, they lose the conflict and their hand ranks lower than all other hands.  In the event of two or more players in this situation, all are considered equal low hands.    Note, if you draw a Straight Flush having used your Power, it's pretty clear evidence that the universe hates you.
  3. If a player uses their Power in a conflict, then the Narrator MUST use that Character’s Weird in some way to describe the conflict’s resolution.
  4. The harm caused by an Arcane hand is always distributed as desired by the player taking the Harm, regardless of the suits it contains.
  5. Only harm from an Arcane hand can be applied to a character’s Power score.
  6. The player who plays the LOWEST ranked card in their hand may, at their discretion, choose a Twist.  They select from the available cards played in the conflict one card.  The Narrator must use this card somehow in the narration of the conflict.  It could be by using the name itself, some concept associated with the name, some element or aspect of the picture on the card, etc.  There is no standard meaning to any card.  Thus, the Twist is VERY dependent on the exact deck of cards you are using.  Typically, this card will be a Trump, but in some decks all the cards may have evocative symbology that might be worth using.
NOTE: The combination of points 1 and 4 means that, while using your Power will give you more cards, it also means that your opponent can spread the harm around more freely if they lose.  This seems like a good trade off to me.

Hands

Definitions
  • Trump – one of 21 cards, numbered 1 to 21, often called the Major Arcana in tarot decks designed for divinatory or occult purposes.  
  • Non-Trumps – One of the 56 cards, ranked from Ace (A), then 2 to 10, then Page (P), Knight (N), Queen (Q), King (K), in four suits (Swords, Cups, Clubs, Coins), that are not Trumps.
  • Run - A set of three or more Trumps in numerical order; a set of two Trumps in order do NOT form a run.   
  • Rank Order – All Trumps, rank above all non-Trumps.  Among the Trumps, the higher number ranks above the lower.  The suits of non-Trumps rank as follows, highest to lowest: Swords, Cups, Wands, Coins.  Within a suit, non-Trumps are ordered, highest to lowest: A (high), K, Q, N, P, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, A (low).   
During conflict, the following are the possible hands that can be constructed, in order of precedence.  The ones marked in blue are always Arcane hands; that is, they require Trumps.  The ones marked in green are Mundane hands; that is, they cannot contain any Trumps.  Other hands can be either Arcane or Mundane depending on the extra cards included in them.  Note that hands of higher precedence can incorporate lower precedence hands; always consider a hand to be of the highest possible precedence it can be.   This order of precedence is based on the probability of getting that hand with five randomly drawn cards.

Hand
Composition
Tie-breaking rule
Harm
Ordered Five
Any five Trumps in a run.
Highest ranked Trump in hand.
5
Straight Flush
Any five non-Trumps in sequence of rank order, all in the same suit.
Highest ranked non-Trump in hand.
5
Four of a Kind
Any four non-Trumps of the same rank, plus any other card.
Highest ranked non-Trump of the four matched Plains.
4
Ordered Four
Any four Trumps, in a run, plus any other card.
Highest ranked Trump in the run.
4
Balanced Three
Any three Trumps in a run, plus two Plains of the same rank.
Highest ranked Trump in the run.
4
Full House
Any three non-Trumps of the same rank, plus any two non-Trumps of a different rank.
Highest ranked non-Trump in the three matched non-Trumps.
4
Flush
Any five non-Trumps in the same suit.
Highest ranked non-Trump in the hand, followed by second ranked, and so on, with the Higher ranked Suit winning if all non-Trumps are of identical rank.
3
Straight
Any five non-Trumps in sequence of rank order.
Highest ranked non-Trump in the hand. Higher ranked Suit of highest ranked non-Trump if they are identical.
3
Chaotic Five
Any five Trumps that form no run.
Highest ranked Trump in the hand.
3
Ordered Three
Any three Trumps that form a run, plus two other cards.
Highest ranked Trump in the hand.
2
Three of a Kind
Any three non-Trumps of the same rank, plus any two other cards.
Highest ranked non-Trumps in the three of matched Plains.
2
Two Pair
Any two non-Trumps of the same rank, plus any two non-Trumps of the same rank different from the first set, plus any other card.
Highest ranked non-Trump in the highest ranked pair, followed by highest ranked non-Trump in the second pair, followed by the rank of the fifth card.
2
Chaotic Four
Any four Trumps that form no run, plus any one non-Trump.
Highest ranked Trump.
2
Chaotic Three
Any three Trumps that form no run, plus any two non-Trumps.
Highest ranked Trump.
1
Pair
Any two non-Trumps of the same rank, plus three other cards.
Highest ranked plain in the pair, followed by ranks of the remaining cards.
1
High Card
Any hand that cannot be formed into a higher precedence hand.
Highest ranked card.
1

The Fool is always wild, and has no value of its own; it is neither Trump nor non-Trump in and of itself.  The Wheel of Fortune is wild but can only count as another Trump, not as a non-Trump.  In any case where a hand with a wild card is being compared to an otherwise identical hand without a wild card, the hand without the wild card wins.  In any case where two hands are identical, and one has a Fool and the other a Wheel of Fortune, the hand with the Wheel of Fortune wins.

Tarot Decks
Your basic Rider-Waite deck from your local bookstore will do, but sort of sucks for a number of reasons for a Weird West theme:  the imagery is off, the cards are difficult to read when in a hand, etc.  You can probably do better if you are willing to shop around.
The Tarot decks from Europe designed for actually playing games, instead of divination, would be very good for Weird Dust Devils.  For example, this is a picture of some cards from an Austrian deck. Also, I think any of these Piatnik Tarock decks would work.  Be careful, though, some of these decks have different numbers of cards because they are designed for very specific games.  The order of precedence, above, is based on a 78 card deck (21 Trumps, Fool, 56 non-Trump).  You can certainly play with a different (usually smaller) deck with trumps, but this will make the order of precedence of the hands go squirrelly.
The suits on Tarot decks can be all over the map, depending on exactly which deck you use. See Wikipedia's article on suits for more information.  Just make sure you clearly map your deck’s suits to the four Attributes (Heart, Guts, Hand, Eye) and you will be fine.
There are some cool old school historical reproductions of decks from the 1800’s that seem to me to be a good match for a Weird West themed game, see…


Here are some other decks that aren’t historical, but might be cool…