Monday, July 8, 2013

Where are you going, where have you been.

Whew, long absence. Where have I been for 4 months? Well, work got crazy, and my gaming attention has been taken up by several games that aren't Apocalithic. I have ADHD, whaddaya want from me? 

What's more important is where the game is going. And it's coming along OK. I've got a tentative skill list, a character creation system, and a fairly good idea about how communities work and how you alter them. But what's really got me psyched about the game again is the system I'm working on for places. Using the Fate fractal, we're obviously going to represent the environment as a character. But what will that character look like? This is especially important because Apocalithic aims to have a lot more player vs environment than the standard tabletop RPG, and the environment is the GM's primary character. I think every GM knows the joy of drawing a map, so I wanted making the region the game takes place in more like drawing a map than stating a character. To that aim, regions in apocalithic consist of Sites and Paths. 

A Site is a distinct location. Perhaps it's the tribe's winter camp, or a windy canyon, or the ruins of a town. The point is that it has something to distinguish itself. Size-wise, a site needs to be large enough to hold an entire community. So a single clearing wouldn't be a site, but a valley could be. Sites are where things happen. So you can start your Region by coming up with the basic idea for a few interesting sites. 

Sites are described by their Aspects, Complexity track, Resources, and Fate point pool. 

The core aspects are the site's Biome, which roughly describes the landscape and ecosystem, the Landmark, which is the feature that defines the site, and the Trouble. Like any other Fate character Sites have a trouble. A site may also have more aspects, but not too many. You don't want to overload your site, keep it simple. Site aspects are scene aspects on any scene taking place at that site. 

The site's complexity is a measure of how interconnected the ecosystem is, how many checks and balances it contains, and thus how resilient it is. The higher this number, the harder altering the site will be. The value of this is equal to the number of aspects the site has. 

Resources are the site's skills. They are Water, Vegetable, Animal, Mineral, and Salvage. These are the base difficulties players are up against when searching for these types of resources. Thus, the lower the value, the more of that resource is easily found at that site. Rare resources would raise these difficulties. If a site has an abundance of a specific resource, this would be an aspect like Herds of Deer or Silver Mine. 

Finally, the site has it's own pool of Fate points. This is the GM's pool for any scene taking place there. I'm still working on the numbers here, but the idea is to relate it to the resources. Either you have a pool of points to buy up the resource values, and anything you don't spend is your Environmental pool, or the resources start out high, but each point you reduce them by gives you a fate point for the pool. I'm leaning toward the latter as being more intuitive. Mostly I'm trying to just let the GM pick stats instead of having to crunch numbers. 

Sites are connected to each other by Paths. Every site has 1 to 3 paths that connect them to other sites. Path are a lot simpler stat-wise. They simply have a Distance, which is how many victories you need to tally when taking that path to reach the end,  a Difficulty, which is the target number used on checks to take that path, and an Aspect that describes what kind of path it is, like Quiet Forest Trail or Raging White Water Rapids. This aspect will usually suggest what sort of skills are appropriate to the check, such as athletics, boating, whatever might be appropriate. 

So creating your Region starts with a single site, likely the site where the tribe is currently camped at. Then you draw one or more paths away from that site. Now at the end of each of those paths will be another site. Decide what's there, and give those sites some aspects and stats. Those sites will have paths coming off them, possibly connecting to each other, possibly connecting to other sites. Draw out as many sites and paths as you need to create the region you want, but don't forget to leave the ends of some paths undefined. You won't know where those go until the players go down them. 

At the start of any Apocalithic game, the player's tribe will be newcomers to the region. This is a world in flux, after all, and letting the players start settled in would rob them of that exploration goodness. Some Tribes will be the settling type. They'll pick a nice site and make that the location of their community. They'll get to have all kinds of stories about clearing the land, building community projects like walls or wells, and the like. They'll get to add or alter site aspects, resource values, maybe even create new paths.  Other tribes will be Nomadic, following the paths from site to site. Even they'll leave their mark on the places they stay. The system should work well for either playstyle. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Apocalithic Playtest #1

It's been nearly a month since I last penned anything here. Between work, Illness, and a new video game, I haven't had much time to write. And what time I have spent writing has been putting together Apocalithic's skill list, which has turned out to be a harder proposition than I first thought.

But in this last week, I had my first playtest of the game. So that's progress.

I had eight players, myself included. Which is two or three more than I like, but it seems gathering playtesters is feast or famine. This included about half my regular gaming group, and half were friends out of town who wanted a one-shot. So we ran through Tribe Creation, character creation, and then started a community change contest.

The Tribe took shape as a Polynesian-like tribe of Fishermen who lived near an abandoned resort arcology. The arcology held lots of good salvage, and also tons of malfunctioning robots and other hazards. The men of the tribe make runs into this arcology to get salvage and prove their manhood. So the high concept was Arcology Runners.  The Trouble was, last year all the adult men died running the arcology, leaving the tribe with A generation of young men lost. Other aspects included the genetic mutations Low-light vision and Aquatic Adaption, and the cultural trait of History in Song.

Players report they found the process of coming up with the tribe very fun. More than anything, I think I made the right choice to restrict the tribe extra to just aspects, because it turned tribe creation into a conversation. I think adding any more mechanics would have bogged down people's creative process here.

From there we made characters. To keep things simple, I'll stick to high concepts. We had the Elder and Loremaster come out of retirement to take up his old role. We had his son, the Loremaster in training. We had a Rebellious Tomboy who wanted to do the arcology run, and her Supportive Friend. We also had an Eager young scout, and a Skilled Boatmaker who had never made the run despite being old enough and thus was a Social Pariah.

Next we discussed what the conflict would be, and at first everyone assumed we would do an arcology run. I asked if there was any way we could do a tribe change conflict first because that's what I wanted to test. We decided to make the conflict about who got to go on the run at all. The only men of the right age were the loremaster's son, and the boatmaker who'd avoided it so far. The eager young scout was too young, the loremaster too old,  and the two girls weren't allowed due to gender. My favorite quote of the evening was one playtester exclaiming, "Yeah, actually, after all that conversation about the tribe, that conflict sounds way more fun!"

So far so good, except that it was getting late. We were only able to play out two scenes into the conflict, and both of them wound up being arguments. The fun thing is that I didn't have to provide NPC opposition to the players, because they split up into several camps over the issue by themselves. The Loremaster and the Boatbuilder became unlikely allies in arguing that they should skip this year's arcology run since there weren't enough eligable men. The two young ladies and the kid scout tried to argue that they should go. And the Loremaster's son was caught in between, as he wanted to have the girls come with him but couldn't be seen to go against his father.

However, the most useful information from playtesting is what needs to be improved. What I learned this playtest is that I need more solid mechanics for having arguments. Both scenes boiled down to people trying to get their way without being open to compromise, and trying either to get the other to back down, or to sway the crowd that gathered to their side. Intimidation checks and Mental stress worked OK, but felt like intrusions onto the scene rather than aids to the fiction. This is where I need to focus my attention next.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

More on Passive Skill Use.

So my last post ended with briefly mentioning the idea that characters could be considered to be using their skills at their base rating at all times. I knew there was some potential there, but that it wasn't a finished idea. The problem is that while for skills like notice it makes perfect sense, for other skills it's weird. How do you passively use craft? I just couldn't make it make sense for every skill.

Then I remembered that skill lists are the first thing you're supposed to rewrite for a FATE build. If the skills and the mechanic aren't meshing well, change the skills.

So here's the mechanic fully fleshed out. Each skill has a Passive Use, which is a constant effect of possessing the skill. Usually this means automatically overcoming obstacles with a difficulty less than your skill rating, but what that means will vary skill to skill. Broadly speaking, most skills fit into the following categories.

Knowledge skills: (Ex: Lore, any skill regarding related topics)
Characters with knowledge skills unsurprisingly know stuff. A character automatically recalls any facts related to the topic at hand with a difficulty to know equal to or less than their skill rating

Awareness skills: (Ex: Notice, Empathy)
Characters with these skills are always passively aware of their surroundings. Inform the character of any detail with a difficulty to notice equal to or less than their skill rating.

Grace skills: (Ex: Athletics, Piloting)
Characters with these skills move with better grace, balance, and awareness than others. They automatically overcome any obstacle to movement less than their skill rating. These skills also usually set the base difficulty to hit these characters in ranged combat.

Concealment skills: (Ex: Stealth, Deceit)
Characters with these skills are always more difficult to suss out, even when not actively attempting to hide. This skill sets the base difficulty of any attempt to notice something about this character.

Conflict Skills: (Ex: Fight, Rapport)
Characters with these skills are more on guard against people using these skills against them. This skill sets the base difficulty of any attack action against this character, even those they're unaware of.

Resistance skills: (Ex: Physique, Will)
These skills passively provide your character with extra boxes on their stress track.

Resource skills: (Ex: Resources, Craft)
A character with these skills never wants for the right tool. They can be assumed to have, make, or buy any tool with a difficulty/cost equal to or less than their skill rating, within reason.

If a skill doesn't have an obvious passive use, look to these categories to see if one fits. If it doesn't, then rework the skill to include one. At the very least, any skill is potentially a knowledge skill.

What we gain from this, first and foremost, is less rolling. In general, if the difficulty is equal to or less than the appropriate skill on defense or overcome actions, your passive skill use will get you through. You only have to break out the dice when the difficulty is greater than that. This should speed gameplay, and make your characters that much more competent.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Paying attention to attention.

FATE Core has an entire resource allocation mechanic hidden in a sidebar on page 137 of the kickstarter preview. It's subtle, but I thought I would bring it to your attention. Because that's what the resource in question is; Attention. The sidebar in question is about passive vs. active resistance, and when to use it. And one suggestion it makes is that an NPC who is unaware of a PC should make a passive instead of active resistance. That makes intuitive sense, and I like it. I like it so much, in fact, that I think it can be generalized. In an information soaked world, there's a lot of interest in how we allocate our attention. And I think an interesting FATE mechanic can be found in that concept.

Here's the idea: Active checks are checks your character makes while focusing what they're doing. You roll dice for these checks, and may invoke aspects on these checks. Passive checks are checks you make when your character isn't paying attention. For these, you simply use your skill level and any stunts (or locked-in aspects, if using the stuntless rules) that might apply. Generally speaking, your character is paying attention to whatever they're doing. This means most actions you take will be active checks, and most passive checks you make will be defense checks. Regardless, you may only pay attention to one thing at a time.

Usually an active check is better than a passive one, if you've got an invoke-able aspect on hand. 40% of the time rolling is actually worse than not rolling, but having a single aspect to invoke changes the "worse than normal" range down to roughly 2.4%. Because being able to invoke aspects is the real advantage here, I'd probably want provide my players with slightly more Fate Points when using these rules. On the other hand, this does mean that if you don't have an aspect you can invoke, you may not want to actively defend. I'm OK with that, and wouldn't make anyone take an active defense if they didn't want to. You're giving up the ability to hit the high numbers in exchange for predictable results.

So what does this rule do? The first thing we get out of this are fairly clean surprise rules. If someone takes your character by surprise, then you'll defend against them with only your skill, no aspects or dice to defend you. Since your attacker is making an active check, and probably has an "Ambush!" aspect to invoke, you'll be at a sever disadvantage. It also covers being at a disadvantage when outnumbered. If you can only pay attention to one opponent at a time, then all other opponents get to deal with your passive check. Unless they're a mob, in which case the rules treat them as one entity.

The second thing we get out of this is a good way of handling Notice checks. If you're actively scanning your environment, that's a declared action and you roll. The rest of the time, however, you're not oblivious. You still have a passive notice check equal to your notice skill. You'll automatically see anything in your environment who's difficulty to spot is equal or lower than your notice check. If anything new happens, well, just let players know anything with a difficulty to spot below their notice skill. You'll never tip your players off by calling for a notice check again.

The same thinking applies to knowledge skills like Lore. Any fact pertinent to the situation with a difficulty to know less than the player's Lore skill, they know off the top of their head. Info-dump it to the player and move on. Any fact with a difficulty higher than that, well, they'll have to take the time to think about it.

Whenever adding or quantifying a new rule, you're also creating fertile ground for new stunts that allow you to break those rules. Perhaps a stunt called "appropriately Paranoid" allows you to always make active notice checks. Another, perhaps "Fighting stance", would let you actively defend against an additional attacker. But since I prefer stuntless rules, I like to add the following to general invocations. You may invoke an aspect on a character to immediately redirect that character's attention. So you would invoke an "appropriately paranoid" aspect to shift your attention immediately to the notice check regardless of what you were doing. Or you might invoke an enemy guard's "Tired and Bored" aspect to direct their attention away from the notice check against you.

Another possibility is that you might "actively" use passive checks when taking certain kinds of actions.  Certain kinds of training seep into your unconscious mind. Someone with good proprioception is less likely to trip and fall, and people trained in moving quietly do so even when not paying attention to it. This kind of unconscious training can be represented by passively using these skills anytime you move. So someone with the stealth skill, unless they say otherwise, is always moving with some amount of stealth. And someone with a high athletics skill will automatically overcome obstacles below their skill level when taking their free move. In fact, I'm tempted to generalize this to all skills. A rule like "A character is always considered to be passively using any skill they have ranks in" would have far reaching and interesting effects on gameplay. I haven't figured all of them out, but its something I'm certainly going to focus on as I work on my FATE hacks.

Monday, February 4, 2013

How to win friends and Influence People.

As a transhumanist, a social radical, and as someone with an antagonistic relationship with money, I'm fascinated by the concept of Social Capital and Reputation Economies.  Eclipse phase won my heart as a game that makes reputation economies a central part of the premise, but their mechanics are very gamist and not very realistic. In Apocalithic, of course, there's nothing BUT reputation economies. So I've been thinking about how to really model a reputation economy. And fortunately for me, FATE lends itself fairly well to implimenting my ideas on the topic.

I have no ambition  so great as the esteem of my fellow man. 

The first thing any FATE reputation system needs is a Social Capital stress track. This is the game;s measure of how much social capital you have built up.  You'll also want to link it to a skill that determines your length. I'd suggest making a new skill, Reputation, that serves as the social version of Physique. Mostly it serves to determine your social stress track, but it may have other uses related to throwing your "weight" around socially. In my games this skill usually absorbs all the trappings of the Contacts skill.

So what does Social stress mean? It means you're tapping into the social good will you've built up with the community. As long as you don't overflow your stress track, you're still in everyone's good graces. Getting taken out, however, is a problem. That means you're tapped out, you've been taking more than you're giving back, and everyone knows it. As long as you're tapped out, no one will grant you any favors. Unlike other stress, Social stress sticks around until you do something to heal it.

Listen, I need a Favor

But that's just the basis for tracking a character's social capital. What does a transaction in the reputation economy look like? The central idea here is a new type of task resolution, which I'm calling a Conversation. (Negotiation would be a more accurate term, but I wanted to keep within the alliterative naming structure task resolution has currently.) In a conversation, one character wants something from another character, a favor of some sort. We'll call that person the Seeker, and the person they're asking the Giver.  Both Seeker and Giver need to belong to a shared community, and the seeker may not have tapped out their social stress track. Like a contest, a conversation proceeds in a number of exchanges.

On the first exchange, the characters start by talking. Talking is a variation on Creating an advantage, and the goal is to learn something about the other person. The players make opposed checks with the appropriate skill. In Core, this is probably Rapport Vs Empathy, as the Seeker tries to make friendly and the Giver tries to figure out what they want. The Seeker might roll empathy if they're trying to figure something out about the Giver, like what they need you can offer. One or the other party might use intimidation if this isn't a friendly situation. The narrative will inform this part. The results of this action are below
  • Seeker succeeds with style: The Seeker learns of or gains an advantage related to impressing or learning something about the Giver, along with 1 free tag. 
  • Seeker succeeds: The Seeker gain a boost related to learning something minor about the Giver. 
  • Tie: Pleasant small talk of no importance. 
  • Giver succeeds: The Giver gain a boost related to learning something minor about the Seeker. 
  • Giver succeeds with style: The Giver learns of or gains an advantage related to impressing or learning something about the Seeker, along with 1 free tag. 
Talking can go on as long as both parties want, but sooner or later you have to get to the point. After the first exchange, either party may choose to proceed to Asking for a Favor. In most cases, this is an opposed Rapport vs. Rapport check. One or both sides of the check may be modified by the magnitude of the favor, see below. The following results are possible:
  • Seeker succeeds with style: The Giver now has an option. They either grant the Seeker their perfectly reasonable request, or word gets around and they take social stress equal to their margin of failure. If the giver chooses to take social stress, the Seeker may choose to do one less point of stress in exchange for a boost
  • Seeker succeeds: As above, but without the boost
  • Tie: The Giver grants the Seeker their request, and both parties receive a boost related to a having a mutually satisfactory exchange. 
  • Giver succeeds: The Seeker now has an option. They either don't get what they want, or the they get what they asked for at the cost of social stress equal to their margin of failure. 
  • Giver succeeds with style: As above, but if the seeker chooses to take social stress, the Giver may choose to do one less point of stress in exchange for a boost.
You may use boosts or invoke advantages like normal on this check. That's what all those boosts and advantages you gained making small talk are for! In fact, you also have an additional way to use aspects on this check. You may choose to add your invocations to the other character's roll instead of to your own. It's also worth noting that Consequences can be used to lessen stress taken just as you could in a conflict. 

The strategy here is complex. The best possible scenario for the seeker isn't succeeding with style, it's tying. But hitting that sweet spot is difficult, and dangerous because it's so easy for the other player to invoke an aspect to take you off the tie. So you might want to go for a solid win. But it's the loser of the contest who has the choice of how the contest turns out. Either they're giving the other person what they wanted (or not getting what they wanted), or they're taking social stress. It's lose/lose, but you choose the loss. Thus if you REALLY want that favor, you might want to actually lose the check in order to make sure that choice is yours. You can choose to play it cooperatively or more coercive.  Of course, if the giver is predisposed to give anyway, they may just pile their bonus on the seeker's roll and be done with it. 

Boosts that result from the outcome last beyond the Conversation. They represent the way the community at large regards the interaction. They aren't very long lasting, though. A day or two at most. Boosts like "you're so generous" or "I can't believe what a jerk he was to you" are appropriate here. In You may use these boosts in like normal for social checks within the shared community, but they have another use. If you have any social stress, You may spend a boost gained from an asking a favor check to clear the lowest ranked stress box you have marked off. This is how you recover your social capital. 
So basically on success with style, you're increasing your social capital at the expense of the other person, while on a tie you're mutually increasing each other's social capital.

How big a Favor?

One favor isn't like another. The magnitude of a favor matters a lot. But how big is a favor? Fortunately, we get to rate this on the ladder.  Once you've given a favor a rating on the Ladder, add that value as a bonus to the final Asking for a favor check at the end of the conversation. Of course, that assumes that the Seeker isn't offering a thing in exchange, which likely isn't true. The seeker may offer the giver something in exchange for what they're seeking, in which case the value of that favor is added to the seeker's roll.

The Giver decides what level they thing the favors in question are at based on how much each party values what's being asked for. There are several metrics you might use to judge value, but I like to think of it in terms of time. An Average favor is something the Giver can grant on the spot, with little cost to themselves. A fair favor asks for a few hours of the givers time, or something it would take them a few hours to replace. A good favor is about a day's worth of time. A great favor would be several days. A Superb favor would require a week or two, a Fantastic favor a month, and so on. Basically how much effort will you the Giver have to go through to give this favor, and how much effort will what's being offered save them? The key here is that a favor's value all in the eyes of the Giver, and not the Seeker.

In a society where Status is a huge deal, simply interacting with someone of lower status might be seen as a favor equal to the difference between your Reputations skills. I'm a little wary of this mechanic, though, as it seems like it's double-dipping reputation. Of course, if your higher status is expressed in an aspect, you could invoke as a fair favor (which grants +2 on your roll, like any other invoke.) Similarly, in a society where time and attention are of the essence, even taking time to have a conversation constitutes a minor favor.

We're old Friends, aren't we?

This kind of negotiation is for acquaintances, people who share a community but aren't close friends. If one or both parties have an aspect that describes a positive relationship between them, then you don't use this mechanic. Instead, the Seeker compels the aspect with a Fate point, and the Giver either accepts the compel and receives the Fate Point, or has to spend a Fate point to buy off the compel, costing both of you a Fate point. Do that often enough, though, and people might rethink being your friend!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Contest Fractal: A framing device.

A few years ago I really got into Indy RPGs, especially the game design theory behind them. I hung out on the Forge forums, read "Design patterns in RPGs," all that jazz.  And one of the game design concepts I took away from that is the difference between task resolution and goal resolution. The short version is this: task resolution is a system for determining if characters accomplish what they set out to do, while goal resolution determines if what the characters do gets them what they want. Most games, including FATE, really only deal in task resolution. They leave goal resolution up to the narrative, usually controlled by the GM. But I always have a soft spot in my heart for goal resolution mechanics.

In FATE, you have three different ways of handling task resolution: Challenges, Contests, and Conflicts. Interestingly, though, the challenge is the basic building block that the other two types are made of. You could say that a contest is really a number of back to back challenges, or that a conflict is made up of various challenges with many varied results. Lets take that line of thought further. If a contest is made up of a series of challenges, could it not be made of a series of more complicated tasks?

This is the Contest Fractal: each exchange in the contest can be resolved with either a challenge, a contest, or a conflict, depending on it's nature. It's a way of using a contest to frame not just a scene, but a whole story.

Start your story as you will, at some point your players will have a goal. Get them to clearly articulate that goal, like "we will save the princess." Excellent. Now figure out who opposes that goal, such as the evil duke who kidnapped the princess. They've got their own win condition, say marriage to the princess. Now that the opposition and goals are clearly stated, we can use the contest rules to give our story a framework. Each exchange in this contest is going to be a scene. Each scene will have a winner and a loser, but the nature of the scene will determine if that requires a challenge, a contest, or a conflict. The first scene might be sneaking into the duke's castle, handled with each player making a simple stealth challenge. If the players succeed in sneaking in, they tally a victory and we move onto searching the castle in the next scene. But let's say they fail. Then our Duke tallies a victory, and the next scene is a conflict with the guards. They players win or lose the conflict, tally the appropriate victories, and move to the next scene. Let's say they lose the fight against the guards, too. Duke has 2 victories, and the players are captured in the dungeon. The next scene is an escape from prison scene. If the PC's fail this one too, they're in trouble: the Duke will have tallied three victories and the players were too late to stop the wedding! However, if they succeed, they'll tally a victory, and hopefully succeed in the next two scenes as well.

You can finesse the framing here by using alternate contest rules, such as moving the goalpost, tug or war, or cat and mouse from the DFRPG. In this way, the GM can fine-tune the contest to produce the kind of story you want. Again, the basic idea here is that each exchange in the larger contest is one scene, with success in that scene resolved with a challenge, contest, or conflict of it's own.

What this gets us is a solid mechanic for determining when players achieve their goals, or when those goals become unobtainable. It also gives us a decent idea for when milestones should occur. Win or lose, the end of a story contest is probably a milestone. For episodic storytelling, it tells you when the episode is over too. This won't be everyone's bag of tea, of course. Many storytellers would hate being railroaded by these kinds of rules. But for others, having this kind of plot-framing guidelines makes running things so much easier.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Apocalithic: Tribe Creation

That picture you have of the Lone Survivor, who wanders the post-apocalyptic landscape with a leather jacket and a dog kicking ass and taking names? Forget him. He died the first time he caught a cold, and his dog ate his corpse before running off to join a pack. In the feral future, no one survives without a Tribe. Your Tribe cares for you when you are sick, shares food with you when you can't find any, and provides you with companionship so you don't go painting faces on volleyballs. In return, a Tribe expects you to pull your weight, abide by the rules, and generally play nice with others in the tribe.

So whether you like it or not, every character in Apocalithic belongs to a Tribe, even the so called loners. The default assumption is that all the players are part of the same Tribe. This gives everyone a reason to cooperate right off the bat. It's possible to make characters who aren't part of the same tribe, but doing so robs you of the best parts of the game. Because in Apocalithic we put the same emphasis on advancing your tribe that many other RPGs place on advancing your characters. Much of the game revolves around improving your shared Tribe.

(A note before reading ahead: Apocalithic uses the Stuntless rules, and Tribal change contests use the Moving the Goalpost variant.)

Tribal Traits

In FATE parlance, your tribe is an Extra shared by certain characters. The most important tribe will be the one the PCs all share. Belonging to a community requires and aspect that states your membership, and every character, even NPCs, will have one such membership aspect on their character sheet. Of course, that aspect can also state a few other things about your character, such as "Chief of the water people" or "Village idiot of Springville." 

 The Tribe itself has Tribal Aspects, which every member of the tribe inherits through their membership aspect. These aspects may be invoked or compelled as if the character themselves possessed the aspect. These aspects may sometimes be locked in for effect, but doing so costs the character a point of refresh as normal.  The decision to lock in an aspect and what effect is granted, is left to the character. 

Unfortunately, you have to take the bad along with the good, and each community has three consequence slots. These might get used in any conflict involving the community. 

Additionally, a community has a Complexity rating, equal to the number of tribal aspects it currently has. This rating is used when organizing your community, which will be discussed later on. 

Tribes don't have their own skills because tribes don't participate in contests or conflicts. Even conflicts between tribes are played out on the personal scale of it's members, because tribes are small enough that it's always personal. If the tribe is known for being particularly skilled, that's an aspect. 

For the same reason, Tribes don't have any sort of stress track. There are no tribal-scale conflicts, and any sort of harm the tribe can come to is represented by consequences. 

Community Building:

Core Concept:

The most important Tribe in the game is the one the players belong to. To design this community, get all the players together and start talking. What kind of community are you interested in? A hunter/gatherer tribe that follows the wild cattle across the plains? A group of horse warriors descended from Biker gangs? A bunch of librarian/farmers preserving books only a few of them can read? Try to get a loose group consensus about the kind of tribe you're going to create. This is your core concept, and it guides the rest of community creation. This will be your tribe's first aspect, so sum it up in a short phrase. If this also gives your tribe it's name, so much the better.

This is probably the hard part, because you're stretching your imagination to think about how people might live in the future after industrial civilization is gone. The iconic communities provide a good starting point for such thinking. You can look to apocalyptic fiction for ideas, but remember that we're well past the actual collapse. You could take a group and imagine what they might be a century later. You might imagine some society from history that interests you, like the Native American plains tribes or the romanov gypsies, and figure how you might find a similar society in the future. You could also grab a subculture from the present day, perhaps even one you belong to, and imagine how they might survive and change in the collapse. They key to this process is having an open mind. With communication and travel more difficult after the collapse, Global society is gone. In it's place are thousands of local communities, each in contact with only a few others nearby. Each society will have the opportunity to get very different from the past and from each other.

Your idea doesn't have to be too detailed, a basic concept is enough to get started. You'll flesh it out as you go through the creation process, evolving the idea as you go.

For my Iconic community, I want something that hits the core of the game, that screams “Transhuman primitivism.” I also admit to wanting to take a friendly jab at the online community of primitivists. So I'm thinking of a group of people living like neolithic Native American hunter/gatherers, but who keep nanite cultures in jars. These nanites make solar-powered smartphones that form their own network, and the community uses them to coordinate. They've got a tribal version of facebook, a map of good hunting and gathering places they update in realtime, and a localized version of wikipedia. So Neolithic hunter/gatherers with wireless internet, that's my core concept. I sum it up as Children of the Web, decide that the spider is their totem mark, and I've got the first tribal aspect. I decide to most members lock it in to add computer use to the Lore skill of every child of the web. 


Like other characters, Tribes have their problems. These might be external, such as a war with a neighboring tribe or a drought that makes getting food a problem. It might be an internal problem, like a lack of skilled healers or two quarreling families. Maybe it's simply a common character flaw among your members, like "stubborn as a mule." Whatever it is, it's the greatest problem facing your community today. Name it and make it an aspect.

Like any character's trouble, make sure it's meaty and not easily solved. This problem should be a major driver of the plot, either because the players are confronting it directly or because it's making achieving their other goal harder. It's also much like the "setting issues" aspects of the core game, and benefits from the same advice. 

The children of the Web have one major issue: They spend all day playing with their comms and sometimes ignore their other chores.  They aren't going to starve to death from lack of hunting, but it sure makes organizing help for large tasks difficult. I call this tendency Comm Addiction. 

Other Aspects

In addition to the core concept and trouble,  each player at the table (including the GM) may add one aspect to the community. These aspects may be anything that further define the community, such as a well known specialty, relationships with other communities, or other problems facing your community (the GM's favorite thing to add, in fact.) Since each gets to pick an aspect, each player should have something about the community they like. Of course, each aspect you add also increases your community's complexity rating. For this reason a player can choose not to add an aspect if they don't want to. 

When choosing aspects for your community, think about what benefit you are giving community members. Are you adding a restricted trapping to a skill? Are you giving a bonus to a commonly used skill? Are you granting access to a resource that might otherwise be difficult to come by? Or are you giving members a way to earn beads by granting a compel-able aspect? Are you doing more than one of these? Is the effect of the aspect flexible or does it always grant the same bonus?

These aspects are going to further flesh out your community. Give special attention to answering the following questions
  • How does your community get food, water, and shelter? Are they hunter/gatherers? Fishermen? Farmers? Herders? Your primary source of sustenance has a great effect on your culture, determining if you're settled or nomadic, and showing up across your art and crafts in both material and subject. 
  • What Taboos does your Tribe have? What is forbidden? What is required? 
  • What rituals does your tribe go through to mark important passages through life?
  • What has your tribe preserved from the past?
  • What sort of relationships does your tribe have with it's neighbors? Are they friendly, or antagonistic? Do they regularly trade? 
  • What skills does the body of your tribe possess? Are you well known as the best weavers for a thousand miles? Have you preserved the secret of metalwork? 
The Children of the Web have several other Aspects. Their primary source of food is hunting dear in coordinated groups, and they respect the Spirit of Brother Dear in every part of their culture. The tribe also carefully tends to the Ancestor Jars, which contain Nanite cultures that produce the comms they all possess. Most members lock this aspect to provide themselves with a Comm. Finally, the tribe maintains a friendly relationship with a nearby murder of Corven Friends, who help scout for the tribe in exchange for handmade tools they can't produce themselves. 

Your tribe isn't just a list of aspects you inherit. It's also a group of people, who all share a culture, and economy, and a commitment to the tribe. They live together, work together, and deal with problems together. The tribe is a gestalt of the people who make it up, and you can't interact with the tribe except through it's people.

Faces are people in your tribe who exemplify one of the Tribal Aspects. They aren't the only characters that are part of your tribe, but they are important lynchpins of the community, the people that hold it together and make it function. Faces populate your tribe with interesting, motivated people to serve as allies and opposition to the player characters. They may be an important leader in the community, a troublemaker, or simply a definitively average member of the group, but they stand out as the person who has the most invested in that aspect.

Each tribal aspect gets it's own Face. Everyone participates when creating faces, not just the GM. This is everyone's tribe, after all. And if you have more than one good idea for a Face, go ahead and introduce them all! Each aspect needs at least one face, but nothing prevents you from having more than one face for an aspect.

Start by naming the character and giving a brief description of their place in the tribe. This core concept will suggest aspects during character creation later, most importantly describing their relationship with their community. This should put them in a position to represent their aspect well. The aspect “hidebound elders” would be well represented by someone with the concept “Obstinant chief of the tribe,” and when creating the character you'll have the aspects “Chief of the Tribe” and probably “Obstinant.” The same aspect could just as well be represented by a Shaman hung up on keeping the old ways, or the old woman everyone calls Auntie. It would not be well represented by a rebellious youth, even if he is defined by his opposition to the aspect. That character may exist in the tribe, but he's not a face.

Now ask yourself what motivates the character. Why do they represent their aspect, and what do they want? This is important because the purpose of the Faces is to provide allies and opposition for the PCs. In order to know which of those they'll be, we need to know what they want and what they are protecting. Then when the players start shaking up the Status Quo, they'll react appropriately. And if the players don't shake the status quo, your faces should be more than happy to do so, and the players can react.

For starters, a Face will want to protect the aspect they represent. If anything threatens to alter or remove the aspect they represent, they'll fight tooth and nail to prevent that from happening. Motivations may extend beyond that, however. The following stock formulas may help you arrive at additional motivations.
  • The Face wishes to expand their interests at the expense of another. 
  • The Face wants someone else to do something they don't want to do. 
  • The Face wants something that belongs to someone else, who doesn't want to give it up 
  • The Face wants to stop someone else from doing something they plan to do. 
The general idea is that these motivations should elicit conflict. Faces for different aspects may have conflicting motivations, or they may conflict with others outside the tribe. The best conflicts are those that directly involve the PCs. Therefore you may wish to alter motivations during character creation, or wait until after character creation to flesh out your faces.

In our Tribal community, we have the aspects Spirit of Brother Deer and Comm Addiction. Both aspects need Faces. Spirit of Brother Deer is represented by a wise elder, named Leaping Stag but usually called Antlers. Antlers is past his own prime hunting years, but excels at teaching tracking, archery, and the proper ways to respect the spirit of your prey. Almost all the current hunters have been trained by him. He wants to make sure his knowledge is passed on to the next generations, but he also has an additional motivation; He wants the younger ones to stop using their comms to slack off so much. He'd rather they spent more time practicing the hunt and honoring the spirits, instead of playing silly games and updating their blogs.

Meanwhile, Comm Addiction is represented by Stalking Wolf. Stalking Wolf is a layabout with little motivation to do anything but play various games on his Comm. He's got the tribe's high score on all the games, and considers that a meaningful accomplishment. He's not motivated by much other than the desire to play all day, despite being in his twenties. However, he can be very eloquent when it comes to convincing others to see things his way, especially if it gives him more time to play, and some of the younger generation admire him for his gaming skill. He'll fight any attempt by Antlers to limit the amount of time people spend online. So even without the PCs getting involved we already have a conflict brewing.

Complexity and Integrating Change.

A large part of Apocalithic is growing and changing your tribe. You'll have an opportunity to change aspects of your tribe at major milestones. However, this isn't as easy as changing or adding an aspect and moving on. Communities have a certain inertia, a resistance to change that makes it hard to progress. This is represented by a tribe's complexity rating, which is equal to the number of tribal aspects it possesses. 

Adding, changing, or removing a Tribal aspect requires an extended contest. The opposition to change is usually the Face of the aspect being challenged. If simply want to add an aspect, the GM will find a character in the tribe who will oppose this change. Usually the players will be spearheading change, but sometimes the players may be the ones fighting to preserve an aspect! Characters will compete to win the tribe over through whatever sort of contest you can devise, usually some sort of debate or other political activity to convince others to your side. 

Like any other contest, both sides describe their action and make opposed rolls, then tally victories. The first side to achieve a number of victories equal to the tribe's complexity rating wins the contest. If the active party wins, then they get to make the change to the aspect they desired. If the conservative side wins, no change takes place. 

However, if you lose, you don't have to lose graciously. So long as they were within 3 victories of the winner, the loser may chose to inflict a consequence on the community. If within 3 victories, this is a minor consequence. If within 2 victories, it's moderate, and if they were only one victory shy, it's major. This represents the difficulty the opposition causes the tribe in integrating the new aspect, or the rebellious feelings of those who wanted change but didn't get it. Once a consequence has been proposed, the winner has the option of going through with the change, or backing down to avoid the consequence.