Hello again, today we’re taking a look at the basic mechanics that power Mindjammer and how it deviates from the standard FATE Core ruleset. We’ll also be tackling Character Creation as well with a sample character for a game.
Mindjammer runs with the FATE Core rules from Evil Hat Productions (http://www.evilhat.com) most of the readers of the blog will be familiar with FATE already, but for those new to the rules, I’ll try to run through the important stuff below.
The basic FATE roll involves rolling 4 Fudge Dice, specially made 6-sided dice that have two “+” faces, two “-” faces and two blank faces. While having Fudge Dice (or the nifty Deck of FATE) is certainly helpful, it is by no means required. Normal six-sided dice can also be used for FATE games.
The range of results for Fudge Dice can range from +4 (a result of rolling +,+,+,+) to -4 (resulting from rolling -,-,-,-).
The result of the roll is then added to the appropriate Skill rating of the character, and the final value compared to a difficulty number or an opposed roll. If a roll exceeds the difficulty number, then the action succeeds.
The degrees of success (or failure) of a given roll is measured in “shifts.” A shift is the difference between your roll and the opposition.
Fate points is an expendable resource in FATE games that allow for players to do three things: Invoke an Aspect, Declare a story detail or Activate a powerful stunt.
Aspects are one of the central building blocks of a character in the FATE system, and is often a sentence or a phrase that describes something about a character. Aspects can be good or bad, but ideally are a mix of both. We’ll get into further detail about Aspects later in this article when we’re putting together a sample character.
Whenever a character is attempting a skill roll and the player thinks that an aspect can help them, that player then spends a Fate Point to invoke it and gain either a +2 bonus to the roll, or an opportunity to re-roll the dice.
Another use of the Fate Point is to spend them in order to Declare a story detail. This allows the player to declare a fact about the scene and it becomes true, at the GM’s approval. This is usually used to give the player an advantage of sorts, but nothing too powerful that it will instantly win the encounter.
In order to recover Fate Points, a character may accept a Compel. A compel is sort of like the reversal of Invoking an Aspect. Compels make life difficult or dramatic to players. In exchange, they get a Fate point for their trouble.
The character Sheet
Mindjammer characters resemble FATE Core characters pretty much to the letter, except for a few extra bits on the Character sheet which we’ll go through here.
These are extensions to your character such as equipment, technological enhancements, organizations that you are connected with, starships and vehicles.
Most characters in the Mindjammer setting are connected to the Mindscape through a Mindscape implant. While connected, characters can access additional abilities, memories and other forms of information. The Halo is a virtual field of data representing these abilities and information.
A character’s culture dictates what kind of technology they’re familiar with and comfortable using. This determines their Tech Index.
Like the Tech index, each character is used to a given field of gravity. While many characters default to the Earth standard of 1G, other characters who inhabit other places such as colonized planets might have grown accustomed to higher gravity.
Alright, now that we’re done with the basics of FATE Core, let’s get to the fun part of Mindjammer: making characters.
Setting Up Your Mindjammer Game
One of the best parts of FATE Core games in general is the fact that it opens up the setting to inputs from the players right from the get go. In what is essentially Step Zero of character creation, the group is encouraged to discuss what kind of game they’d like to play.
In my experience, the GM usually has some sort of pitch to begin with, but the players get to throw in their preferences to further tailor the game to their interests. This achieves a greater buy-in from the players as the game is suddenly more about what they want than it is about what the GM has in mind right away. It’s a neat trick, and one that I recommend doing in any game regardless of system.
This portion maps out the scope of the game, the tone and mood, and the big issues of the campaign. Also constructed are various NPCs or locations that the players contribute to the setting.
For the purposes of this article, let’s go with a campaign concept that is near and dear to my heart while being dirt simple: Space Opera Police Procedural. The Commonality of Humankind is a big place, and with that many people, there’s a lot of crime to deal with.
Step 1: Choose your Character Concept
For this example, I’m going with Daniel Hayes, hardened detective with a soft spot for sob stories.
Step 2: Choose a Culture
Mindjammer presents a list of various cultures where characters can hail from. These cultures then determine the various other Genotypes and Occupations associated with this Culture. Characters also get to pick a Cultural Aspect from their Culture.
I’ve decided that Detective Hayes hails from The Commonality Culture.
Step 3: Choose Genotype
Genotypes are the “races” of the setting. I’ve decided to keep things simple for now and keep Detective Hayes as a Commonality Human.
In choosing this Genotype, I’m also required to take a Mindscape Implant as a Mandatory Extra.
Step 4: Choose your Occupation
Mindjammer has a large list of various Occupations and accompanying sample builds to suit various concepts in the setting. These Occupation picks also grant Permissions that allow a character to get otherwise restricted Aspects.
I’ve decided to pick Security as the Occupation for Detective Hayes. The Permissions granted by this is that I can take Special Ops Chip / Black Chip
Step 5: Determine High Concept
Okay, now we’re in familiar territory. A High Concept is an Aspect that sums up what your character is about.
For the time being, I’m going for:
It’s not much, but I think it sums up what Hayes is going to be about, and the kind of Aspect that will throw him in to all sorts of trouble, and yet serve as a source of strength when the chips are down.
Step 6: Determine Trouble
A character’s Trouble is another Aspect, this one focused on something that regularly puts your character in hot water.
for Daniel, it would have to be the fact that he’s got “A soft spot for sob stories” as his Trouble.
This is the kind of thing that would make any GM happy. Daniel’s quick to play a hero for any underdog, and that can put him into all sorts of bad situations.
Step 7: Name
Hmm… I seem to have come up with a name already. Let’s move on.
Step 8: Building Your Backstory
Backstory creation is another feature that FATE popularized. More than just writing stuff down, they provided a structure to it. This is known as the phase trio. Each Phase represents an adventure or event that has happened in the past to the character. Each of these phases are important in the sense that they generate aspects for the character.
The first phase is usually an interesting adventure that occured recently, while the second and third describe how the characters came to know each other.
Given that I’m doing this to sort of build a sample character, I won’t be able to go through the full Phase Trio. Thankfully there’s a sidebar in Mindjammer that gives me a few options. For this case, I’ll go with leaving phase 2 and 3 blank for now, and come up with a quick adventure for phase 1.
For the sake of this run-through, let’s give Detective Hayes a quick adventure involving a run-in with a local politician who is apparently pulling the strings behind a smuggling ring that Hayes has been after for a while now.
With that Hayes gains the “Enemies in high places” Aspect.
Step 9: Skills and Stunts
This is one of the more straightforward parts of character creation. Characters begin with:
One Great (+4) skill
Two Good (+3) skills
Three Fair (+2) skills
Four Average (+1) Skills
After a quick look at the skill list, I’ve decided on the following skills for Detective Hayes
Great (+4) Investigate
Good (+3) Empathy, Notice
Fair (+2) Rapport, Contacts, Ranged Combat
Average (+1) Athletics, Bureaucracy, Unarmed Combat, Will
Stunts on the other hand are little ways that the character can do more than most people can. Thankfully the book has a large section on stunts associated with each skill and to save time, people can just pick from the list, like what I’m doing. Characters may start with 3 free stunts, but they can buy up to 5 at a cost of reducing their Refresh.
With regards to our favorite Detective, we’re looking at the following stunts:
Investigate: The Power of Deduction – Once per scene, spend a fate point on an Investigate roll to discover or create one aspect per shift on the scene or person you’re observing. You only receive one free invoke from this roll
Notice: Danger Sense – Your Notice skill is unaffected by environmental conditions like total concealment, darkness or sensory impairments in situations where someone or something intends to harm you
Bureaucracy: Law – Gain a +2 Bonus to Bureaucracy attack or defend actions when fighting a legal case in court.
Step 10: Refresh
Given that I’ve stuck with 3 stunts, that leaves me with a Refresh of 5. This means that Hayes begins every session with at least 5 fate points.
Step 11: Choose Extras
Every character in Mindjammer starts with a budget for Extras. This budget is:
6 skill levels
Given that I have a mandatory Mindscape Implant, that comes out of my budget.
Mindscape Implant (Aspect)
Intimidate (1 Stunt)
Mental Resistance (1 Stunt)
Organization Skills (Police) Resources +3
Halo Skill: Knowledge +3
Step 12: Assign Extras to your Halo
As noted above, I’m tossing a Knowledge +3 skill into his Halo to represent a wikipedia in his head. Mindscape Implant goes there as well.
Step 13: Calculate Stress and Consequences
Hayes is a fairly average guy so he has only 2 Physical Stress boxes, but thanks to having points in Will, he gets an additional stress box for Mental Stress resulting in 3 Mental Stress Boxes. Given his Resources of +3, Hayes is blessed with 4 Credit Stress Boxes, making him pretty rich for a detective.
Step 14: Write Down Tech Index
According to his culture, the Tech Index for Hayes is T9.
Step 15: Write Down Habituated Gravity
I’m pretty sure he’s part of the vast majority of people who are accustomed to 1G gravity so let’s stick with that.
Step 16: Choose Starting Equipment
At this point you can round out your character concept by buying any relevant equipment.
FEEDBACK & OBSERVATIONS
Character creation in Mindjammer is rather involved compared to standard FATE Core. It easily pushes the game up to a level of complexity akin to Savage Worlds or even Mutants & Masterminds. I appreciate the fact that the game offers a lot of options to players. From Cultures to Genotypes and Occupation, this adds a layer of specificity to Mindjammer characters to fit them better within the genre being simulated.
Fans of equipment lists will enjoy going through all the options presented in character creation. There was however, a fair amount of page-flipping involved, as all the component parts and references were tackled in Chapters 3 to 8 of the book. Thankfully there’s a reference sidebar that guides you through all the steps, but as a first time reader of the book, it took me a good amount of time to come up with a character. I imagine that after a few tries and more familiarity with the setting, this should get easier. A part of me wonders if this will make character creation take a really long time given that players will have to go shopping through such a large number of options, but that’s something that seems to happen in many Sci-Fi and Espionage games where gear is a factor.
Overall, Mindjammer’s character creation is surprisingly robust, with enough flexibility to tweak things to make pretty much any sci-fi character concept. Don’t expect it to be light because it’s FATE though, as there’s a fair amount of complexity tacked on to the central mechanic that will eat up time in character creation. This is definitely one of those games that will require a session to sit down and go through with the team.
That said, there IS a quick character creation option in the book, but that’s more of the “Let’s get started playing now and worry about character detail later” option, in my opinion.