Last night, I read a post by Fred Bednarski over at Level 27 Geek about incorporating FATE Aspects into Savage Worlds. I’ve seen other articles and posts about this subject before, but I really like Fred’s approach. Most others that I’ve read try to change Savage Worlds as a system at a more fundamental level by doing things like removing Edges and Hindrances, changing the way Bennies work, or some other major surgery. Fred keeps things pretty much the same and appends FATE Aspects into the existing Savage Worlds system.
Truth is, I’ve been thinking about adding FATE Aspects into Savage Worlds for a long time. I tried using Emiricol’s Values of Survival in my War of the Dead campaign, but it just didn’t catch on because nothing else in the game depended on it. It is a completely self-enclosed system. What I mean is, as a player, if I never tap into my Values, it doesn’t really have a negative impact on the game. As a GM, I generally keep Bennies flowing, so those extra free Bennies are rarely needed. I think players have tapped into their Values using this system a total of maybe a half-dozen times over the past two years. Maybe that’s my fault as a GM. Maybe the players didn’t feel invested in it. I don’t know. What I do know is that I want to incorporate FATE Aspects into Savage Worlds in a way that makes it more an integrated part of the system, rather than just a “use it if I feel like it” appendix for the players. I want them to WANT and NEED to use the system.
Another factor in the approach I’ve been developing is the game I’m going to be using it for. I’m going to be running a modern cinematic neo-noir crime setting using Jason L. Blair’s Streets of Bedlam setting for Savage Worlds. This affects the tone and language I want to use, and the way I want to implement it. Remember, the game is going to be “cinematic” and I also want something that helps me bring out the characteristic elements of neo-noir as a genre. Yes, there are two links there. Finally, one of the greatest strengths of Streets of Bedlam is the archetype system. I definitely want this little rules hack to compliment that feature.
Finally, fairly early in my thought process about this, I discovered an article in Shark Bytes, vol. 3, issue #2 by Lucias Meyer called “High Quality Characters” that addressed adding FATE Aspects (then called qualities) into Deadlands. This is another excellent resource.
So, with all that said, here is my idea for incorporating FATE Aspects into Streets of Bedlam. First, here is a look at character creation:
- Choose an Archetype from the list of playable Streets of Bedlam archetypes. This is Character Creation step 1 in Streets of Bedlam.
- Swing a “Big Shtick”!
You’ve got your archetype, now take a few minutes and think of a sentence or phrase that describes what your character is all about. This, your character’s “Big Shtick”, is also the first of what we’ll be calling “Bullet Points.” Your “Big Shtick “ can be related to your character’s job(s) (but get creative and throw an adjective or two in there), or some other major role your character plays in life. This shtick should be directly related to your Archetype. Some examples would be: “Outcast son of a mob family” or “Beat cop on the take.” Get the picture? Now swing a “Big Shtick.”
- Follow Streets of Bedlam Character Creation steps 2 & 3 (“Go through the steps” and “Customize”)
- Get into “Big Trouble” (Little China optional)
Everybody’s got problems. Your character now has a few hindrances riding on his back like a pack of deranged monkeys. Take a look at your Major Hindrance, or maybe some aspect of your Archetype. Write a phrase that describes some major issue that will be dogging your characters. Something like “Vittorio Dinunzio wants me dead” or “I love the feel of a bottle in my hand.” Go ahead, knock yourself out. There’s plenty of trouble to go around.
- Follow Streets of Bedlam Character Creation steps 4 & 5 (“Fill out the bio” and “Describe your character”)
- Create “Bullet Points” (these are the equivalent of FATE Aspects)
“Bullet Points” are short phrases that describe certain aspects of your character’s life or relationships.
- Early Life: For the first Bullet Point, think about what your character’s life was like growing up. This can relate to childhood, teen years, early adulthood, it’s up to you. In about a paragraph, describe an incident or story from this stage of your character’s life. At the end, write down a single phrase from this story that has stayed with your character as a life lesson, habit, or tendency. Maybe as a teenager your character was treated rough by a crooked cop (hey, it happens) and spent the night in a jail cell with some truly unsavory types. In the morning, his grandfather came downtown and cleared everything up, greased the right palms, and got him out of there before things really got bad. Perhaps the lesson learned here is “Keep your back against the bricks” or maybe your character would “Do anything for Grandpa Joe.”
- Relationships: Your character has crossed paths in some way with two of the other characters in the group. Maybe this character complicated your character’s life in some way, or maybe your character complicated hers. Maybe your character helped this other character out of a tough situation or vice versa. Sit down with two other players at the table (one at a time, you don’t wanna give yourself a headache) and come up with a brief story about some interaction your characters have had. At the end of the paragraph, write a phrase that indicates a result of that interaction that has stuck with your character. This can be anything from “I’d take a bullet for Jackson” to “All she has to do is cry and I melt.”
- Fire a Few More Rounds: Now you and the GM get to take a look at your character. Pay special attention to Edges, Hindrances and the three categories of description from the previous step. Are there any other things that are just begging for a Bullet Point built around them? Hindrances with no mechanical effect are prime candidates for this. If you and the GM agree on any, write them down. You want to come up with 2-3 more Bullet Points at this stage, but no more and no less.
It’s that simple. Just a couple of steps and your character has a full clip of Bullet Points (FATE Aspects) that give you plenty of ammo for rich storytelling. Now, how do they work in the game? Funny you should ask. Here are the setting rules that allow us to implement these Bullet Points:
- Bullet Points: During Character Creation, you selected a Big Shtick, a Big Trouble, and some Bullet Points (they’re all Bullet Points, really). Here’s how those work:During play, if you are trying to accomplish a task that is related to one of those above Bullet Points (even the Big Shtick and Big Problem are just fancy Bullet Points, after all), you can spend a standard Benny and declare which Bullet Point you’re tapping and why it fits the situation at hand to gain the effects of a Blue Chip (see below).To make things interesting, the GM can also use your Bullet Points (especially your Big Trouble) to create an interesting twist on a scene or action. The GM can Trigger one of your Bullet Points that relates to the situation or task at hand and offer you a Blue Chip. You can choose to accept the Blue Chip and allow the GM to Trigger your Bullet Point, or you can spend a Benny (or even a Blue Chip, if you’re out of standard Bennies) to deny the GM’s Trigger. Think about it carefully. Accepting Triggers may complicate your immediate situation, but it gives you Blue Chips to spend. Denying Triggers may make your life run more smoothly in the short-term, but will dramatically cut into your Benny supply over the course of the game.Every time your character earns an Advance, you can change one Bullet Point. Every time your character gains a new Rank, you can Load another Bullet Point.
- Bennies and Blue Chips (inspired by Deadlands): Instead of just the single type of Bennies common to most Savage Worlds settings, this game adds Blue Chips to the mix:
- Bennies: These function exactly the same as standard Savage Worlds Bennies and are awarded and spent according to those rules.
- Blue Chips: These chips are awarded by the GM for very specific circumstances. Blue Chips are awarded any time a player accepts a Trigger of any of his Bullet Points (including the Big Shtick and Big Trouble). Also, they can be awarded for a dramatic Surrender! per that rule, below.A Blue Chip can be used to achieve any ONE of the following:
- To reroll ANY roll, including a Damage roll
- To add a d6 to your current trait roll (this roll can Ace)
- To reroll a Trait roll with a +2 added to the final total
- To reroll Snake Eyes! (Critical Failure)
- To Trigger an NPC or Setting Bullet Point
There you have it. It’s fairly simple and works smoothly. I also feel it allows you to bring out some of the genre elements of neo-noir. In neo-noir, characters are as much, if not more, about their flaws and weaknesses as their strengths. This allows those flaws to come into play in dramatic situations.