Eager to check out a game of Fate Core, I attended two days of Kingdom Con. I’m still planning my Fate Accelerated podcast, but if I dive right into a rule set, I know I’ll make assumptions that will become bad habits. So I was looking to play with an experienced GM, but this wasn’t baseline Fate Core. It was Fate Freeport, incorporating elements from D&D; stats instead of skills and a simplified version of its magic system. But it was the only game in town.
I had Thursday off too, so I figured I’d also check out a game of D&D 5th Edition, having only played a little 4th and a lot of 3rd. Both games designed to simulate fantasy literature.
D&D started out the usual way; a cluster of mercenary 1st level characters with no particular connection to each other. I grabbed a human fighter out of the pre-gens. We might have been in the Forgotten Realms, but it could have been anywhere. Fate used Spelljammer for its setting. D&D in space on flying sea-craft. The pre-gens were the command staff of the ship, and one stowaway. I was invested right away. As the ship’s captain I knew who the engineer, bosun, and stowaway were and how we related to each other. In D&D, I struggled to remember which guy was the cleric. Fate encourages players to create the PCs relationships while they’re creating the PCs, rather than the default group of murder hobos.
D&D took place in an urban setting, but it wasn’t long before we were in an underground tunnel, lined with traps, which lead to a room of monsters. The Fate adventure was a spacefaring journey. Sailing through the ether, we crossed an elvish ship, destroyed and adrift. The few surviving crew driven mad, babbling about a blue asteroid. Reluctantly, we tracked the asteroid and found a mixed fleet of ships docked inside. Each captained by a Beholder who’d enslaved the crew with their minds.
A starting Fate character is more capable. My 1st level fighter could shoot arrows. That’s about it. Oh, and he could heal himself once, which did come in handy. In Fate, my ship’s captain carried two pistols. She could unload both at the target at once, and could Create a Strategy creating a pool of bonuses for the crew. When we boarded an enemy ship, I ordered “sneak up on them.” The bonuses supported our sneak attack.
I enjoyed Fate far more than D&D. Both characters were pre-gens, but I was far more invested in the captain than the human fighter. Part of that was the dynamic of the group, but the system had a lot to do with it. In Fate, you contribute to the story and rarely have to consult the rules. This is what I want out of a game, but I know some people crunch numbers and regurgitate rules for fun. In D&D, the guy playing the bard told me every way he was going to min-max his character all the way up to 7th level. Both systems supposed to simulate fantasy fiction. Fate’s design supports that inspiration. While the books and books of rules in D&D became else.
Beverly Bambury joins me for the second, and probably last, Learned it the Hard Way Podcast. Before she was a publicity agent, Bev worked in a call center. Listen to find out what she learned about herself, and how she built her career around her limitations.
My agent asked that I start writing another novel. One that’s unrelated to The Faith Machine. I’m writing up three, one-page outlines for her. Here’s the first. What do you think?
1930s New Mexico, when the headstrong young Beth isn’t helping run the family inn she’s butting heads with her mother, or pining for her beloved father. The man left almost two years ago, seeking his fortune. The inn’s done a good if grim business taking care of farmers escaping the Dust Bowl to California. Until a preacher shows up one day looking for her father. The preacher took a room to wait, but something about the man of God drove away the other customers. Beth hears a vile rumor her father’s in a jail two counties over. She takes the shotgun down off the wall and goes to clear his name. A week on foot, she reaches the jail and finds his no-good twin bother and con man in the cell instead. Her uncle knows where her father has gone and makes Beth an offer. He can’t get there, but if she springs him from jail he’ll take her to someone who can, the wild woman of the plains, Dorothy Gale.
Dorothy’s been wandering Western Kansas through the black blizzards of dust. She’s been trying to catch the wind. She returned to Kansas looking for love, but never found it. And she’s been searching for a way back to the land she left ever since. The land where she’s a princess. With a book from Beth’s father’s library, the three figure out how to cross through the winds and into the magical land called Oz.
But it’s a land torn apart by war, having fought off an invasion from below by the Gnome King’s forces and above by the Wicked Witch of the Night. A magical child again, Dorothy abandons Beth and her uncle to reclaim her place in the Emerald City. The remaining Americans travel alone across this strange and worn torn land. Past the Patchwork Girl and her nation of constructs. Through a shootout with a group of deserters of the Gnome King’s army. Across a narcotic poppy field and its gardeners. Trapped by the giants of Tartary, and more.
Beth and her uncle follow her father’s trail across the ruined land of Oz. Following her uncle’s lead reluctantly, they con help from locals. People who’ve crossed her father’s path, for good or for ill. They discovers her father in the adulterous company of the Wicked Witch of the Night. And he’s happy right where he is. Beth realizes her father’s as sinful as her mother told her, even more than her uncle. But family comes first. Beth makes a hard choice, tricks her uncle into taking her father’s place, and dragging her father back across Oz.
But the shortcuts and betrayals she and her uncle committed traveling here become new obstacles on her way back. And Dorothy’s return to the Emerald throne ignite her enemies who blame Beth for Dorothy’s return. Meanwhile, the Witch of the Night discovers her consorts betrayal and reignites her war on Oz.
Only when she stops taking the advice of her father and uncle and starts living by her own standards of honor and honesty can Beth stop the Witch of the Night’s war on Oz. Which allows them to journey home. When they return through the Dust Bowl to their inn in New Mexico there’s still the preacher. Dealing with him will force Beth to work with her two worst enemies, her parents.
Learned it the Hard Way was my first crack at podcasting. It won’t be my last, but next time I’ll build momentum with a series of interviews. Releasing the first show in the afternoon didn’t help either. I recorded one other interview. I’ll engineer that one myself and get it posted here later this month.
Miguel Rodriquez came to California with nothing but his wits and a love of films, both highbrow and low. Listen to his story as he poured sweat into his festival year after year, and appreciate what it takes to build a grassroots art scene.