Neithernor: RPG - The System

Originally published at: https://ackerlygreen.com/2020/05/04/neithernor-rpg-the-system/

Two weeks ago, I posted an update and commencement of sorts for our official, community-created tabletop roleplaying game called “Neithernor.”

Today I want to announce the underlying system we’ll be using to fuel the game, why we think it’s the right one for us, and then Mike is going to walk you through how a character from the Briarverse would be created using it!

First off, the name of the system we’ve chosen is called Fate Core by Evil Hat Productions:

It’s a Creative Commons award-winning roleplaying game that can be played on its own and is “genre-agnostic” but is also used to power other roleplaying games like The Dresden Files, Fate of Cthulhu, and many other excellent games.

Fate Core and it is essentially a tabletop roleplaying game where character is everything. The skills and abilities you choose, your backstory, strengths and weaknesses, and your relationships with your fellow players, all help to shape the narrative. Much like the Briarverse, you help build the story in Fate with your choices, actions, and aspects you bring to the literal and figurative table as your character. It feels like the perfect platform to expand on what we’re doing here at Ackerly Green to put character, choice, and creativity at the forefront of our official roleplaying game.

There is dice rolling (I love dice and the mechanics of uncertainty they offer, so don’t stress all you dice goblins and RPG veterans), but the system relies on a handful of six-sided die to help you overcome obstacles and make tough decisions. There are specific dice you can use, but also regular six-sided dice work too.

Now, if you’ve played other roleplaying games, what might stand out about Fate Core is that there are no built-in races, classes, or powers. In the vanilla platform, all of those are for the players and the GM to decide together. That might seem overwhelming and maybe even a little disappointing (as a Dungeons & Dragons players, I LOVE fiddling through the Player’s Handbook and poring over all the classes and skills you can level up to) BUT, fear not, because Mike and I have a plan—

Your character’s guild will take the place of race and provide all the unique skills, powers, and bonuses a race would usually provide in a typical RPG, and their guild-bearing will take the place of their class! So, instead of a half-elf wizard, you would be a Nautilore-bearing Ebenguard. And best of all, your character doesn’t have to share your guild! I can finally fulfill all my Flinter dreams!

Infusing the Briarverse into Fate Core is going to take months. Crafting character and class choices will be an undertaking, not to mention adding an official magimystic system, complete with affinities, and even spell sickness!

And if this is all confusing, that’s completely okay. We’re just beginning this journey together, and Mike and I are both frequently confused and overwhelmed by the prospect, but also insanely excited about the plans we have, both the ones I’ve detailed above and the ones we haven’t revealed yet. :cjtea:

Now, without further ado, here’s Mike to help walk you through turning an old familiar name into a playable character in Fate Core!

From @Mike

Hello all! I am so very excited to be helping CJ on this project. While creating something of this scale takes time, we thought it would be fun to give you a taste of what’s in store.

Before we go further, I want to say at the outset that I am operating under the assumption that many of you have never played a table-top roleplaying game before. While this certainly may not be true, if you are unfamiliar with table-top RPG rules systems, learning one can be daunting, especially in writing. Coming to grips with the terminology alone can often be headache-inducing. So if you are a veteran player or a quick study, I ask for your patience when I describe terms or concepts that you may already be familiar with.

At its core, an RPG is simply a game in which you pretend to be a character in a (usually) fictional world and use dice to introduce an element of chance and uncertainty to your actions. But to do this, we need a rules system in place that will allow us to navigate and interact with this world and its inhabitants.

As CJ mentioned, we’ve decided to use the Fate Core system as our foundation. There are a lot of systems out there, but we chose Fate Core because it does a wonderful job of focusing gameplay on character and story generation. And for us, the characters we create and the story we tell together is the reason we play RPGs. There’s nothing quite like it.

But, Fate Core is only a framework. I like to think of it as a set of instructions for building a house. Chapter One is how to pour a foundation, Chapter Two is on building walls, Chapter Three is all about plumbing and electricity. These are all the things you’ll need to know to build your house.

But how big will the house be? How many rooms will it have? How will it all be decorated? Those are the details that CJ and I are working on now. It will take some time before we’re ready for an “open house,” but there are a few things we can explore now, and maybe learn a few key concepts along the way.

So let’s take a peek at what is the heart of any RPG, the “kitchen” if you will: character creation.

The Character Sheet:

The first thing we’ll take a look at is the standard Fate Core Character Sheet. If you’re unfamiliar with what a character sheet is, it’s merely a document, physical or digital, that helps you keep track of your character’s attributes, abilities, and various vital details. Here, have a look:

The final Briarverse character sheet will undoubtedly look different than this as we add our own elements and adjustments, but this will serve our purposes for now. And if none of this makes sense, don’t worry. It didn’t make sense to me either the first time I saw it. But it’s not nearly as complicated as it might seem. I think the best way for us to understand what we’re looking at is to actually make a character.

So let’s go through it section by section, using one of my favorite people in the Briarverse as an example: Martin Rank.

ID:

So we begin with identification. Pretty straightforward, right? Name: Martin “Marty” Rank.

As for description, this usually refers to the character’s physical description: age, height, hair color, etc. If I wanted to get more into Marty as a character, I could also include defining factors like “allergic to cats” or “won a sixth-grade spelling bee.” Some players like to describe their characters down to their brand of footwear, while others keep it simple. We can be as detailed or as minimalist as we want. Whatever helps you make the character resonate with you. I prefer to keep things simple, so I would describe Marty like this:

A rumpled, scruffy journalist on the wrong side of 50 who isn’t afraid to let out his inner curmudgeon from time to time.

This section could also be where you might want to record your Guild and Guild bearing. As we flesh out these concepts and how they inform your character, they will most likely go beyond simple description. But for now, let’s list them here. This is where we really get to begin thinking about who our character is. We know Marty is a Flinterforge, but what Guild bearing would he have?

This brings us to something we see in almost all RPG settings. Dungeons and Dragons calls them classes, Fate Core refers to them as professions, other systems as occupations. Basically, it’s your character’s primary function within the group. For example, in D&D, you can choose the role of a Fighter, a Wizard, or a Rogue (there are dozens of others). In the Briarverse, Classes/Professions will be the Guild Bearings. Since we know Marty is a Flinterforge, let’s look at their three Guild Bearings and some working ideas for how they behave in the Neithernor RPG:

Arcessor: Tech-Tinkering Artificer
Phantorist: Concept Conjurer
Corrilave: Warden of Ideas

We’re not ready to give away too many specifics on what any of these “classes” entail (yet), but for our purposes right now, we don’t need to. We’re just going to use them as ideas to help us get a better understanding of who our character is.

When I think about Marty, I think about his life-long obsession with journalism. He’s well-read across many different topics and most likely has a reservoir of knowledge he’s ready to tap into at a moment’s notice. To me, that would make him a Phantorist, a Concept Conjurer.

Refresh:

Now, the third box, “Refresh,” refers to the number of your Fate Points that refresh after each session. That has to do with the mechanics of playing the game and something we’ll go over at a later date. Basically, you can deplete and refill Refresh points in different ways throughout the game to do awesome things, but no need to worry about any of that right now. For now, let’s take a look at the bread and butter of Fate Core and what sets it apart:

Aspects:

Ah yes. Aspects. The beating heart of the system and why Fate Core is so geared toward storytelling. Aspects are precisely what they sound like. They are notable aspects of your character that you can use (or have used against you!) to have an impact on the game (they are also how you spend and gain Fate Points mentioned above, but that’s game mechanics we’ll get into later).

The idea of Aspects may sound nebulous, but that’s intentional. Instead of choosing from a long and detailed menu of specialized abilities and characteristics, you generally make up your own Aspects. That may sound intimidating (it certainly did to me the first time I read about Aspects), but the purpose is to foster storytelling rather than number crunching. Let me give you an example:

I’m playing a wizard in a D&D campaign and come face to face with five angry goblins. I need to get past them, so I decide to use Flaming Sphere to get them out of the way. The goblins will have to roll a saving throw against my spellcaster level plus Proficiency Bonus plus Intelligence modifier. If they succeed they only take half damage, but if they fail they take the full 4d6 damage unless I want to cast it at a higher level and then I’d add an additional 1d6 per higher slot but one of the goblins has a magic item that makes it resistant to fire damage which reduces the damage by…

My head hurts.

The GM and I now break out our calculators and spend five minutes figuring all this out. Don’t get me wrong. This can be fun, and I do absolutely love me some D&D. But this part of the game isn’t really geared toward storytelling. So let’s look at this example again from the Fate Core perspective.

My wizard comes across five angry goblins and needs to get past them. One of my wizard’s Aspects is Loved by All because people often look favorably upon her kindness, generosity, and disarming charm. I tell the GM I wish to Invoke this Aspect (and give them a Fate Point to do so). The GM tells me that I’m able to engage the goblins in wary conversation. And then the GM asks me, “Why are the goblins angry?” Perhaps they’re hungry or haven’t been paid in some time. Whatever the reason, the ball is now in my court. It’s up to me to decide!

That’s a quick and very general example of how an Aspect is used. But how do we come up with Aspects for our character?

Let’s take a look at Marty and find out.

If you look at the sheet, you’ll see five slots under Aspects. The first is “High Concept,” the second is “Trouble,” and the other three are blank. The High Concept aspect is one that really helps define who your character is. In Marty’s case, being an investigative journalist is a singular driving force in his life. He NEEDS answers and won’t stop at anything until he gets them. Couple that with his life-long pursuit of solving the mysterious tragedy that befell his son, and I think we have a pretty good High Concept Aspect. So we’ll call his High Concept:

“A dogged journalist haunted by a magimystic mystery.”

Next is Trouble. This Aspect is something that is problematic for your character. Everyone has flaws. And seeing those flaws occasionally manifest themselves within the game can create some exciting drama. One troubling Aspect that Marty certainly has is that he is a recovering alcoholic. Why don’t we call that Aspect “Straddling the Wagon Wheel.”

The following three blank slots are for other Aspects that may not rise to the level of High Concept or Trouble, but could certainly have an impact on the game. One Aspect of Marty is that, as a journalist, he must have a great number of sources that he might be able to call upon when needed. Let’s call that one “Source Code.”

Quite often, players will begin playing with only their High Concept and Trouble Aspects and discover the others as they play. It’s possible to discover ALL of your Aspects that way. The idea is that you find critical things about your character that will create interesting moments within the game.

So how would Marty use these Aspects? Let’s say Marty is helping his group find information about a magical artifact that was sold at an upscale and very underground auction. Only every clue the group has leads to a dead end. Marty could invoke his “Source Code” Aspect to reach out to an old source at a nearby museum, which is up to speed on unethically traded artifacts. That gives the group a clue they need to find it.

We’re just scratching the surface of how Aspects are used. Objects, places, and situations can all have Aspects. The GM and even other players can Compel those Aspects. They are the critical component of the game system.

While the system encourages you to come up with your own, we’re working on ways to help facilitate that part of the process if you find it difficult. And as we slowly fine-tune the mechanics of the system, we’ll get into more detail about their function. But for now, this is enough for the purposes of character creation.

After Aspects we have–

Skills:

Skills are a way to quantify your competency regarding certain, well, skills. Remember how I mentioned dice being used to introduce chance and uncertainty? Skills are a way to bend the odds in your favor.

You see, Fate Core uses four six-sided dice to determine if a specific action or conflict is successful or not. However, instead of using the numerical value of the dice like most other game systems, Fate Core uses six-sided dice that shows either Positive +, Negative -, or Neutral symbol rather than numbers (you can easily use regular dice, and we’ll discuss how at a later time). Whenever there is something you wish to do that requires a roll (i.e., walking a tightrope, skimming a book for information, convincing a guard to let you pass), you will need to roll the dice to determine if you are successful. Skills allow you to add several Positives to your roll, thus increasing your chances of success.

Want to jump from one rooftop to another? The GM tells you you’ll need to roll at least three Positives to make it. Rolling three Positives on four dice is going to be hard, and there’s a good chance you’ll fall to the alley below. But if you’re Great at the Athletics Skill, you get to add four Positives to your roll. Which means you make the jump!

Each game usually offers its own unique list of skills to use within the game, each one tailored for its particular world setting. So we will eventually be coming up with our own list of Skills to use in the Briarverse. But for this demonstration, we’ll use the list of skills from the Dresden Files RPG.

Their list consists of twenty-five skills:
Alertness
Athletics
Burglary
Contacts
Conviction
Craftsmanship
Deceit
Discipline
Driving
Empathy
Endurance
Fists
Guns
Intimidation
Investigation
Lore
Might
Performance
Presence
Rapport
Resources
Scholarship
Stealth
Survival
Weapons

For our character, let’s say we are allowed to choose fifteen skills from that list and put them in the “pyramid” chart. In the beginning, we can choose four skills in which we are Average, three skills in which we are Fair, two in which we are Good, and one in which we are Great. Optionally, we could choose 1 skill in which we are Superb. Thinking about Marty as a character, I’ve come up with this arrangement of skills he knows and his competence in each:

Average: Driving, Fists, Burglary, Conviction
Fair: Deceit, Rapport, Empathy
Good: Lore, Resources
Great: Investigation
Superb: Contacts

You’ll notice on the character sheet that there are numbers next to each level of skill (Superb +5, Great +4, etc.). What this means is that if Marty needs to do something, say drive quickly on a wet road in the middle of a violent thunderstorm, he can use his Driving Skill to aid him. He can roll his die and then add a Positive to his roll because that Skill is Average. This increases his chance of keeping the car on the road.

If he’s looking for some inside information on the new tech company that just opened in town, he can use his Investigation skill and add four Positives to his roll, significantly increasing his chance of success.

Now let’s take a look at–

Stunts:

The way I see them, a Stunt is like a specialized Skill. It’s a very specific characteristic that goes beyond the general ground that a Skill may cover. It is something unique to your character that reflects a special kind of training or experience. And even though it’s called a Stunt, it doesn’t have to be physical.

Since Marty is a journalist, physicality isn’t something he probably specializes in. He spent a lot of time in bars so it would stand to reason that he’s learned a few bar tricks in his day, like putting a penny inside of an unopened can of beer (it’s a really neat trick if you’ve never seen it). Fun little wagers that he used to pull to get himself a free drink. We’ll call it the Penny in a Can Stunt to encompass all sorts of little tricks.

When and how would he use this Stunt? Perhaps he’s trying to charm a reluctant informant or maybe entertain a child. The fun thing about this system is that it allows us the freedom to find exciting ways to use them, hopefully making for a more compelling story.

You usually begin the game with only one or two Stunts and gain more as you gain more experience.

Extras:

The Extras section is an area for taking notes, and the PHYSICAL STRESS and CONSEQUENCES are how you keep track of any physical or mental damage you might incur while you play. We’ll cover that when we go over the mechanics of playing. For now, let’s see what Marty’s character sheet looks like.

And there you have it. The Neithernor RPG character of Marty Rank. These are just the basics when it comes to generating a character. The thing to remember is that Aspects are the driving force of the game. They will tell you everything you need to know about your character and be used to shape the story you and your friends will tell together.

Thanks Mike!

Next time, we’re going to start getting into the mechanics of playing a game built on Fate Core, and we’ll also start enlisting you to help build the game!

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Very cool! Great system - thanks for the walkthough, @Mike!

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So much excitement!!

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As someone who has only picked up basic D&D info through observation and memes but never played, this was super helpful and I really appreciate having it broken down so thoroughly! Very excited to learn more :deirdreexcited:

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…well, if anyone needs me for the next week, I’ll just be reading Fate Core materials…

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One of the things I like about this is that it 1) limits the spread of skills, but 2) allows you to make “unskilled” rolls.

I remember tangling with the “unskilled” problem with White Wolf’s World of Darkness system. You were limited in the number of points you could allocate to Talents, Skills, and Knowledges (which were all different and had some vague distinction), but if you put the minimum 1 skill point in all of those life skills ordinary people accumulate (e.g., driving, swimming, running), you’d be bankrupt before you got to the level of anything fun. Various workarounds allowed you to make some rolls “unskilled,” but then you had to remember which attributes you could do that with (driving and swimming yes; firearms and “Vampire Lore” no), which became a further mess.

This has a relatively constrained list of skills (I remember seeing a list from WoD, including all of the expansions, that went over 300 or something like that), but solves the “unskilled” problem nicely.

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@Viviane I hope you’ve got room in your workshop for one more! Also thankyou for including a link! I love watching Geek and Sundries and any day I get to watch something with Felicia Day in it is a good day!!!

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This is a wonderful and highly edited intro to Fate Core. Please don’t feel intimidated by these talented, experienced actors and master roleplayers, but it will reinforce how character creation works in Fate, and how much fun we’ll be having in the NN:RPG!

All the other mechanics, like compels and Fate Points, will be discussed in future posts!

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UGHHHH! I adore Felicia Day. True story: the first time I took the MAGIQ Guide I was waiting in line to get her autograph at a con, and when we talked I told her the password to my phone. :sweat_smile:

@Skylad, always room for one more in the shop! Just make sure you’ve got appropriate safety gear. :wink:

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Oh absolutely! A wold without procedures and PPE is anarchy!

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I knew Tabletop had to have done at least one game related to it, it sounded so familiar. :spiritseergimme:

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Now I want AGP color-scheme Fate dice…

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:cjtea:

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I’m in love. Having been on a binge watch if Critical Role, I’ve been trying to get into a D&D group (without luck). This sounds amazing.

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Very exciting, Fate sounds like a core system to really have a good time in

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@Psychopomp :eyes:

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Over the moon excited :new_moon:

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I could DM another campaign, for sure, im tres excited to see the way you further adapt fate. The graphics are gonna be lit for sure :revolving_hearts::two_hearts::revolving_hearts:

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Well, let me know if you ever need a beta tester, or even want a little help with balancing! I’ve home-brewed for dnd, motw and a few other little experiments, so let me know if you ever need a hand! Although, with such capable hands on deck, I don’t reckon you will! :cherry_blossom: :cherry_blossom: :cherry_blossom:
(Also maybe I could offer a few spot illustrations once you’ve got the core pieces in place… I’m busy right now with uni work but by the time you’ve brought things together I’m sure I’ll be able to help out!)

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Wouldn’t it be cool if the plus was our guild symbol and the minus was the crest/emblem of the silvers :joy::joy:

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