Thursday, February 04, 2016

Sentinels of the Multiverse RPG - Fate Edition

If you've never played Sentinels of the Multiverse, I highly recommend it. It's a cooperative game in which a group of superheroes take down villains using powers and cards in their decks. The game takes place in the fictional setting of Sentinel Comics, an homage to the best characters and stories in comics. Or, as I like to think of it, it's Marvel and DC shoved together with the serial numbers filed off.
There's a unique story in there, but it's all told in the margins. 
My gaming group loves the game (both the physical game and the electronic adaptation), but when we ended up between RPGs, I thought, wouldn't it be fun to run a game in this setting?

The makers of the game thought so, too, which is why there's a Sentinels RPG in development. Still, there's no indication as to when that's going to be finished, and we wanted to run something now. So why not come up with our own solution?

Choosing a System

There are a lot of systems out there for superhero RPGs, and many other generic systems adaptable to the superhero genre. All the same, deciding on a system to use for a Sentinels RPG wasn't difficult.

The Fate system ended up being my system of choice. I already loved the Fate system, the mechanics it employs for players and GM alike to interact with the story, and its emphasis on descriptive rather than tactical decisions. It felt like a natural choice for the Sentinels RPG. The superhero genre is characterized by thrilling action, as well as larger-than-life characters and the drama that swirls around them. The Fate system seemed like a perfect match.

It also didn't hurt that I'd picked up copies of Fate Core and Fate Accelerated not long before this.
Superman Legacy, founding member of the Freedom Five

Fate Core vs. Fate Accelerated

Both systems play more or less the same, so you'd think deciding on one or the other wouldn't be a big deal. The most prominent difference, however, is in way skills are handled in each system. In Fate Core, you have the following skills from which to build a character:
  • Athletics
  • Burglary
  • Contacts
  • Crafts
  • Deceive
  • Drive
  • Empathy
  • Fight
  • Investigate
  • Lore
  • Notice
  • Physique
  • Provoke
  • Rapport
  • Resources
  • Shoot
  • Stealth
  • Will
This is the default skill list; you can see how some skills might fit better into different genres, but Fate Core is a generic system. You can change skills and add or remove from the list as needed. 

Fate Accelerated, on the other hand, uses "approaches" instead. They are:
  • Careful
  • Clever
  • Flashy
  • Forceful
  • Quick
  • Sneaky
It's not just that the list is significantly shorter. Approaches represent a very different paradigm in how characters accomplish their goals, with players rolling not for what they're doing, but how they're doing it. 

For example, consider three different characters. The first attacks his opponent by running forward and delivering a haymaker. The second feints an attack before slipping around the side and hitting him unaware. The third analyzes his foe's defensive stance before striking where he's vulnerable. 

In Fate Core, all three characters would roll Fight to accomplish those things. In Fate Accelerated, the first character would roll Forceful, the second Sneaky, and the third Clever. 

So, what made Fate Accelerated the system of choice here?
Lex Luthor Baron Blade, Legacy's sworn nemesis.

Proficiency Dilemma

Per the default rules, a character starts off with bonuses in as many as 10 skills (out of the 19 found on the list). They also run a range of proficiency, from +4 at the highest to +1 at the lowest. You can use the other skills, but you get no bonus to the roll. In short, you have choices to make and limitations to accept when making a character. Players might balk at the perception of having to choose between being good in combat, ostensibly a focus in a superhero game, and having good social skills.

It's a commonly accepted part of playing RPGs that the characters have complementary abilities, so usually players accept such limitations. All the same, superheroes tend to be well-rounded characters overall, so it didn't seem like a good fit.

Fate Accelerated approaches peak at +3, so the difference between a character who is really sneaky and one who isn't won't be insurmountable. The GM doesn't have to make challenges exceedingly difficult to actually challenge the skilled character, and it doesn't intimidate the unskilled character from trying something.

Personality First

With the approaches of Fate Accelerated, there is a stronger focus on the personality of the characters, rather than the specific skills. A character who uses stealth to slip between an opponent's defenses and exploit their weakness wouldn't have to focus on several different skills (Stealth, Fight, Shoot) to succeed in combat, possibly at the expense of social skills. That character can just use Sneaky, and that can apply to social situations as well, given the right application.

Of course, Fate always gave you means for representing your characters beyond skills. Distinguishing characteristics could also be built into the stunts and aspects of a character. All the same, I found approaches reinforced the personality of the characters, especially when you don't have many aspects available for defining the character.

Quick Builds

When I ran these games, I built all the characters myself. With only 6 approaches, Fate Accelerated makes it relatively easy to distribute points, while Fate Core skills are comparably more complicated. That's not a problem if you're only making one character, but I made 8 different characters for the Sentinels games; not having to agonize over where to distribute 25 skill points made the process significantly easier.

The stress tracks are also simplified in Fate Accelerated. Stress represents the amount of harm a character can take before they drop out of combat. In Fate Core, characters have to track both physical and mental stress (and some Fate systems have even more stress tracks to consider.) Certain characters skills are associated with those tracks, so certain characters will be able to endure more stress than others. This feeds back into the proficiency issue above.

Fate Accelerated characters only have the one stress track, and it's the same length for every character, so building a character was relatively painless. It also means that the characters all (generally) have the same level of endurance. This is helpful for a super hero game; you don't want players to be shy about action because their character might be squishy.
Freedom Tower, home of the Freedom Five

Wrapping Up

In the next post, I'll lay out the rules I used for creating characters, including how these interacted with an existing superhero game in using Fate Core, Venture City Stories.

Until then, here's the character sheet for one of the heroes in my stories, a young alien and the son of an existing hero from the Sentinels of the Multiverse:
I think the best part of making these was finding fonts for each character.


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