Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Achtung! Cthulhu: The Book of Eibon (A Study in Fate)

Last week we had our first Fate Achtung! Cthulhu play session. None of the players had tried Fate before (well, one player had tried a sample combat in Spirit of the Century and was unimpressed). I have played and run several Fate games, but I have not run any Cthulhu or horror games prior to this one.

A Note on Nazis

I want to point out that the group has decided to play a team of researchers working under Germany's Ahnenerbe. The Fate Keeper's guide addresses this (p. 15 of the PDF, or p. 135 of the softcover) and suggests against it, but provides the resources to do so. As a group, we discussed it and agreed to tread lightly. To the players' credit, we ended up with two disgruntled veterans of the Great War and three civilians taking advantage of the German War Machine to further their own ends.

Character Generation

For the most part, we did character generation by the book. To facilitate this, Modiphius provides a handy character creation worksheet!

Although we did the phase trio (Life Before the War, Getting Noticed, and Crossing Paths), I asked the players to hold off on choosing aspects at that point. Ryan Macklin, who developed the Fate edition of Achtung! Cthulhu, wrote an article on Decoupling Aspects from Phases that basically says: Do the character creation phases, but don't tackle aspects yet. Once you have a character background, then fill in some aspects, with the option of leaving some blank to fill in during play.

Once we had full backstories and crossed paths, some of the players decided to use that information to create aspects. I did require at least the High Concept and Trouble aspects.

Here's what we ended up with:

Oberst Maximillian Loeb - The soldier
Maximillian started his military career almost missing end of the first world war, losing the opportunity to prove himself to the Fatherland. Between the great wars, he would take any assignment in order to further his career, even if that meant testing experimental weaponry. Unfortunately, one of those experiments backfired, scarring his face and derailing his plans of promotion. Despite his protestations, he now finds himself in charge of this rag-tag bunch of civilians.
• Grizzled veteran of the Fatherland.
• These scars keep me from claiming a soldier's glory.
Dorothea Bate –
The inspiration for Gerty.

Gertrude (Gerty) Hoffman - The archeologist
Gerty has been interested in the natural sciences since she was a child. Her fieldwork has only been interrupted by her studies. Her paper on Archaeozoology got her noticed by the Ahnenerbe. For better or for worse, she's found an outlet for her knowledge in the them.
• German pioneer of archaeozoology.
• I'm a woman in a man's world.
• I learned my social graces in the field.
• Science is my religion.

Gerulf Fuß - The veteran
Gerulf also fought in the first world war and was also scarred. However, his scars were more of the mental variety. He had witnessed some unnatural horror that wiped out the rest of his unit and left him with one eye that permanently peers into the Dreamlands. After several years of drinking, fighting, and therapy, he's sociable again, more or less. The alcohol seems to help.
• (Hard drinking) Great War veteran with an Eldritch eye.
• Don't take my bottle.

Klaus Heidelberg - The doctor
Dr. Heidelberg is well known in psychiatric circles, both for his understanding of the brain and his unorthodox methods. He is driven to know how the human mind works, particularly in the presence of occult phenomena – even if that means studying the brain directly. The Ahnenerbe seem to provide plenty of subjects.
• Neuropsychiatrist studying the effects of the occult on the brain.
• I won't let a little thing like morals or conscience get in the way of my pursuit of knowledge.

Yu Wong - The occultist
Yu started as a clerk in a warehouse cataloging artifacts for a national museum. What started as a passing interest in the occult turned into a full-fledged OBSESSION. During that period, the museum's curator was lost in an accident. Fortunately for Yu, he's just been assigned to Germany to protect Japan's interests in matters of the occult.
• Japanese Mythos Occult Enthusiast.
• Overenthusiastic to a fault.
• Always looking for an opportunity.
• Nothing is an obstacle.
• Blissfully arrogant.

Some post-character generation notes:
1. It's still difficult to explain exactly what aspects are, what they do, and how to use them. I find it's best to show though in-game example.
2. There's more fiddly bits and a longer skill list in Fate Achtung! Cthulhu than in Fate Core. It would be helpful if everybody had at least a digital copy of the Fate Investigator's Guide, which could be cost-prohibitive for some.
3. At least one player got the "role-playing comes first!" intent of the Fate system.

Sample Combat

I always like to start a Fate game with a quick conflict – it gives players a chance to become familiar with the rules and it starts the game off with a bang. This time, I tried to get in as many Fate concepts as I could.

So I had Oberst Loeb gather up the group and "extract" the last member needed for the team – a veteran of the Great War who was accidentally "gifted" with the ability to see into the Dreamland. Unfortunately, he's a fan of the bottle, was well into it by the time the team showed up at Die Milch Mädchen, and someone had tried to take it away from him...

Compelling an aspect (decision-based): To start things off, I compelled Gerulf with, "You have the aspect, Don't take my bottle. You've had too much to drink and the bartender is trying to cut you off, so it makes sense that you'd lash out at him. This goes wrong when a whole bar brawl breaks out." and offered him a Fate point (in this case an empty 9mm Luger shell casing). He took it with a grin.

Situation aspects: Then I established the aspects on the scene: Bar brawl, Broken glass, Wet floors. They were invoked once or twice.

Physical Conflict: Throughout most of this scene, Gerulf is going toe to toe with other bar patrons and making quick work of them. Since this is one of the more common situations, I'll leave it to your imagination to fill in the fight sequences.

Mental Conflict: Once Oberst Loeb and the team shows up, Oberst commands the German soldiers in the mix to quit brawling and stand at attention. I asked the player if he wished to make it an aspect on the scene or to directly affect the soldiers. He chose the latter. For simplicity, I made it an opposed check: Provoke vs. Will. With his Stand to Attention! stunt, Oberst Loeb gets a +7 versus the soldiers' -1. Eight soldiers immediately stop fighting. One of them gets smashed over the head with a bottle just as he clicks his boot heels together.

Create an Advantage: Since Oberst Loeb is now the center of attention, one of the more inebriated patrons decides to splash a beer on him to try to bring him down to the rabble's level. The drunkard rolls Fight and Loeb actively opposes with Athletics. The player decided the defense was an instinctual sidestep and didn't invoke any aspects. Unfortunately, he rolls low and the drunkard hits his target placing Looks Foolish on Oberst Loeb. He ignores the attack and marches his way through the brawl to speak with Gerulf. Sadly, I never got a chance to compel the advantage later.

Refused Compel (event-based): Once Gerty realizes Oberst Loeb is talking to a friend of hers (Crossing Paths phase), she crosses the room as well. Since the room is packed, I tried "You have the aspect, I'm a woman in a man's world and you just happen to be in a room full of drunk uninhibited men. So it makes sense that one of them tries to get his grubby mitts on you preventing forward progress. Damn your luck." She refused the compel, paid the Fate point, and responded with, "I knee him in the nuts." He goes down like a sack of potatoes, marking the beginning of a string of ball crushings.

Teamwork with NPC mobs: Since single individuals are no match for Gerulf, a couple of them team up and tackle him mid conversation with Oberst Loeb. Together, they were able to do five shifts of damage, which brings us to...

Taking a Consequence: With five shifts of stress coming at him, Gerulf decides to soak up three with his third stress box and take a Mild Consequence. I decide the brawlers inflict a Pummeled (Battered may have worked better) consequence on Gerulf.

Yu finally ends the combat with a well-placed karate chop, Maximillian convinces Gerulf to join the team through some lovely roleplaying involving duty to one's country, and the team returns to base where Oberst Loeb receives the team's orders...

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