Tuesday, 17 January 2012

FATE: Monster Hunters!

To launch my gaming odyssey, I decided to run a FATE game over January and February, inspired by the Monster Hunter computer game franchise (not to be confused with the various Victorian-era monster hunters that seem so popular nowadays). The setting would be primal, with small communities of humans eking out an existence in the shadow of giant, terrible creatures. Among each tribe are those charged with protecting the community from the ravages of such beasts - the Monster Hunters! Using powerful weapons and cunning hunting techniques, these individuals could chase off or even take down the great behemoths.

I decided to make this world slightly more primitive than that of Monster Hunter; a neolithic world with no great towns or cities. The PCs would be part of a small group recently exiled from their tribe, seeking to establish a new community. The PCs were all Hunters, charged with protecting the dozen or so other tribespeople.
  • +Paul played Dezzi, a muscular engineer who wielded a great hammer.
  • Barb played Markel, a stealthy archer.
  • Rohin played Zeb, a shaman who preferred animals to people.
  • Matt played Bonoff, a loud-mouthed letch who also tended to act as distraction and bait.

The exiles trekked for most of a day, heading across a desert and reaching an area of mesas and canyons covered in lush jungle by the afternoon. The tribe was attacked by fast, man-sized raptors, but the hunters saw them off. They soon built some huts in a clearing by a stream, and settled in.

Axehead, an apex predator on the jungle floor
Over the next several sessions, the hunters dealt with a growing village and personal politics, eventually tracked down and cleared out a raptor nest including a Raptor King, hunted a T-Rex-sized Axehead (which Bonoff managed to intimidate by roaring back at it instead of running away), and saved the village when a giant Sky Serpent strayed too close and threatened to destroy everything!

Sky Serpent, a canopy predator
As our first attempt at playing FATE, it was a little awkward. There were some good moments, such as when Paul made a declaration that the rock the raptors were living on was actually a type of "flash-powder" conglomerate, simultaneously getting a free tag when slamming his hammer into it to make a small explosion, and also lining up a potential source of explosive powder for advanced weaponry (although he didn't actually end up working on any). Apart from that, though, there was very little in the way of declarations, invoking for effect, or manoeuvres to set up follow-on moves. I also struggled a bit to come up with decent ways to compel their Aspects, although this was probably a combination of my inexperience, and the Aspects maybe not meshing perfectly with the situations they found themselves in.

The setting was also probaby a bit ambitious for a first game. The unusual, primitive setting made it tricky for the players to think up good Aspects, or even Stunts - almost all of which were picked straight off the brief list of samples. As GM, I had problems balancing the difficulties of encounters. If I accidentally threw in too many raptors, the minion/mob bonuses made the enemy groups too powerful, and I almost overwhelmed the PCs a couple of times.

On the other hand, I was probably not experienced enough to be able to put together truly challenging large monsters as boss fights. I couldn't make the large monsters' skills too high or they'd be unbeatable, but even with extended Stress tracks they mostly got taken down in only a few rounds because they were being assaulted by three or four hunters at once. Having looked back and thought about it a bit, I could probably have a better go at designing such creatures - either with massively extended Stress tracks, higher armour, or figuring out a way that you need to disable them in stages before you can finally take them out completely. I doubt we'll be returning to this particular system and setting combination again, though.

Oh, I did find the Time Increments ladder to be very handy though! Basically, if you succeed at a task, you can choose to use any excess successes to either do it better, or do it faster. If you fail, you can sometimes choose to take extra time in order to gain a basic success. This was very useful when figuring out how long it would take to build parts of the village, and what quality they were. In general it prevents the need to make multiple rolls until a task succeeds, and is a mechanical approach I've become quite fond of.