Fun Crunch for Fate: Props and Tactics

Futuristic city and ships

Here are some work in progress rules for the core edition of  Return to the Stars. I’m currently play-testing these.


Gamers like getting phat loot, but one of the strengths of Fate is the way that Character aspects keep the focus on who the PCs are, not what the stuff the they carry or the inventory they manage.

Props are my attempt to square the circle–gear that you can have fun collecting but which are only used once for a dramatic effect in a scene.  Like an intriguing prop in a well made science fiction movie it provides a moment of cool that shakes thing up and advances the story, and then you don’t see it again.

In DnD terms a prop is like finding an old school Arrow of Demon Slaying, not trudging forward on the hedonic treadmill by snagging +1 shield.

Props are one use, and discarded after players use them.  However, if a GM has an NPC use a prop, it should be available for players to loot if they defeat their foe–turning a resource against the antagonists is a staple of space opera tales.

Props are found during adventures, they are never purchased.   The Convention is a post-capitalist post-scarcity setting, after all. A PC can keep as many props as they have refresh–if they exceed that limit, they can give a surplus prop to another player or discard it.

Players always know what the props they’ve acquired do.  Most of them come with FAQs, sometimes the characters just figure it out.  Struggling to identify your cool new toy isn’t fun, so we don’t waste any time that way.

Props often work in similar to stunts, but will often have a more dramatic effect. If a prop seems really in character for a PC, you might decide to make it a more permanent part of the game by converting it into a stunt, but the player and GM should have a conversation about potentially reworking the text to bring the power in line with other stunts.

Example props:

Black Ice When you achieve a special success with Scan detecting someone using Intrusion to break into a computer system, you may inflict a moderate consequence on them. discard after use

ECCM Missile When you use this, your special success with a Blast attack in Space combat doesn’t cause damage, but all enemy defense rolls will be a -2 for the rest of the combat.  discard after use

Fresh Paint When you have a special success in a competition with Make, add +1 to your achieved target. discard after use

Self-Destruct Sequencer Concede the conflict. An opponent must take a major consequence. discard after use

Surreal Filter When you tie attempting to create an advantage with Science, you do get a free invoke on the aspect created. discard after use

Quadcorder When you achieve a special success with Scan attempting to create an advantage to solve a problem, you may immediately use scan at +2 in place of Science to overcome the problem. discard after use


After a while, some players find Fate’s combat system gets a bit samey, and feel that they miss some of the mechanical crunch of more traditional RPGs.  Generally, this is best addressed by redoubling a focus on storytelling, and remember that Conflicts are only an optional tool to zoom in on something interesting, not something pulled out simply because someone is picking a fight.

Nonetheless, mechanical crunch can be fun part of a game, so you might want to try these optional tactics rules.

During a conflict, a player can choose to employ one tactic when their turn comes up in an exchange in addition to their normal action. All tactics end at the end of a conflict.

example tactics:

Let’s Finish This You take more risks, with the aim of dealing more damage and finishing this conflict quickly.  From here on out, during your attack, or whenever anyone attacks your character, treat all blank rolls on dice as if they had the plus symbol. You can’t chose another tactic while Let’s Finish This is active. You have the option of ending this tactic after you suffer a consequence.

Mise-en-scène You can only chose this tactic if there are more than six scene aspects in play. You may remove one scene aspect that exists, but doesn’t have a free invoke.

A Moment of Truth If you succeed in combat you can give up two shifts of damage to learn one character aspect that your opponent has.

Momentum After you roll your attack, you can choose to pay a Fate point to keep your roll to be used again in the next exchange. For example, if your unmodified roll is +3, you can pay a Fate point so that you simply receive +3 in you roll on the next exchange, rather the roll the dice. Of course, you have to live to the next exchange, and carrying this much momentum may make you a target. You cannot use momentum twice in a row.

This Will Get Ugly You have to chose this tactic before you roll.  Even if you fail in attacking you still cause one shift of damage to you target, at the cost of taking a shift of damage yourself. If the defender succeeds with style you take two shifts of damage instead.

Well, That’s Random This could get interesting. Roll 8 Fate Dice instead of 4 for your Attack or attempt to Create an Advantage. You cannot use well that’s random twice in a row.

Do you want more crunch in you Fate game?  What are your thoughts on these options?










The Convention Authority


Before the loss of the Mars Beacon, which ended galaxy spanning travel for over a century, the Convention Authority was an association of societies that celebrated and preserved speculative popular culture of the 20th and 21st centuries: fantasy, science fiction, and gaming. In the first age of galactic travel, it was a popular tourist destination, and it boasted some of the most skilled terraforming engineers in the galaxy.

During the Great Silence, the Convention Authority was able to maintain local interstellar travel, due in to a large and varied fleet of replica early interstellar craft.

In the modern era, the Convention Authority is the most significant political actor in the revealed galaxy both because it has the only shipyard capable of creating new vessels with origami drives, and because of the curious and cosmopolitan nature of its people who have been steeped in stories of exploration and discovery for generations.

Now available: free quickstart edition of Return to the Stars!

The quickstart edition of Return to the Stars is now available for free at RPGnow!

Return to the Stars is a tabletop science fiction role playing game which helps players create their own stories in an optimistic space opera setting.

Return to the Stars is designed to allow the creation of characters that evoke the best elements of geek culture. In the far future hyperspace travel gave easy access to countless worlds, and humanity sorted itself into like-minded communities.  One such society was the Convention Authority, founded to celebrate the now classical arts of science fiction, fantasy, and gaming.

One day, without warning, the stellar beacon that illuminated hyperspace went silent rendering galactic travel impossible. The systems of the Convention Authority stayed connected thanks to a replica fleet of early starships. Now, after more than a century of effort, a long-range exploration craft has been built. Its purpose: to return to the stars and reconnect with lost civilizations of humanity!

We’re lucky enough to have some great illustrations in the game from artists such as Amy King (of the web comics Harlowe Vanished and the Muse Mentor), Yog Joshi (who has worked for Fantasy Flight Games and Alex Cutri, a colorist who has worked for Marvel and Image.

Download the free game today, and visit us at Pax East in booth booth #19135!

ship_bridge (1)


Compels and Aspects

A character’s trouble serves an important function in both Fate and Return to the Stars, it is designed to be compelled, which means the story gets more complicated and interesting, and also means that the player gets one of those shiny fate points, so they can be even more awesome in the future.

But it’s not just a trouble that can be compelled, any character aspects can serve that purpose.  One way to check and see if your character has strongly written aspects is to attempt to write examples of how they might be compelled.  As a bonus, you can share that list with the GM, so they have an easy reference for the type ways you’d welcome your character getting compelled.

Here’s an example of a 1920’s occult investigator, his aspects, and suggestions for how they might be compelled.

  • High Concept:  Wealthy Daredevil/Industrialist
  • Trouble: Manwe, his ward and sidekick
  • Calculatingly Ruthless Strategist in a Secret War
  • The Darling of the Press
  • Sorcerer of sympathetic magic with an magic amulet engraved with the words ‘Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto” and incorporating a bone of from the tip of his finger.

Potential Compels

Because Parker is a Wealthy Daredevil/Industrialist

He might be publicly challenged to do risky things.

He has rivals.

He has responsibilities

It makes sense that he’d attempt a difficult challenge.

He is subject to the jealousy and envy of others.

His playboy lifestyle may have broken the heart of someone the party needs to interact with, or he may have had a liaison with an NPC’s girlfriend or fiancée.

Working class people might assume he can’t relate to them.

He might mistakenly assume that it’s easy for someone else to do something that that requires wealth and privilege.

Because Parker has Manwe as his sidekick

It makes sense that he’d be concerned about what the welfare of her people.

It makes sense that he’d want to investigate what the why the British Fascists From the Future had were-sharks as test subjects.

She would get into some hijinks.

She might be jealous when she thinks he’s paying too much attention others.

She can appeal to a sense of youthful idealism that interferes with his doing a ruthless but necessary thing.

He might be enraged if someone threatens her.

The daughter of the witch king might get dragged into an occult occurrence.

Her enemies are his enemies.

He might decide to provide a good example for her, despite it complicating things.

He might be surprised by how less resourceful “normal” kids Manwe’s age are.

Racists dislike him.

Because Parker is a Ruthless Strategist in a Secret War

The person the party is meeting interacting with might turn out to be a foe he defeated in the past.

He might be asked to confront something that normal people couldn’t deal with.

He might feel compelled to learn what the enemy is up to.

He might go overboard in his tactics.

He might show contempt for people unwilling to confront scary threats to mankind.

Because Parker is the darling of the Press

Crowds of autograph seekers might impede his ability to be stealthy, or chase someone.

The enemy might know he’s coming based on media reports.

People who want to avoid the limelight might be reluctant to interactive with him.

He might be recognized at the wrong time.

Because Parker is a practitioner of sympathetic magic

He might arouse superstitious fears or religious condemnation.

He might have a distracting opportunity to acquire magical power.

He might draw the attention of magical foes.

To the extent his powers become public knowledge, scientists and reporters might be drawn to “discredit” him.

A ritual might have an unintended consequence or side effect.


Project Update: Return to the Stars!

progress update

With the game draft completed, and copy editing in progress, a game designer’s fancy turn to layout.  Here you can see a 6×9″ format, which seem to work well in print and on a tablet, and is even reasonably readable on a plus sized smart phone.

We’ll be at Totalcon next weekend, playing Return to the Stars on Friday and Saturday. Saturday evening is completely booked, but there are still slots on Friday evening and Saturday afternoon!


Stellar Beacon Digest #8


[Dateline: Hulon IV] Contrary to reports, a spokesperson for planetary authorities offers assurances the colony ship Ambrosias is not under a sustained state of mutiny.

[Dateline: Senior House] Scientists say they are one step closer to developing an cure for Oakeshott’s Affliction, a disorder of the brain’s ability to process novel stimuli.

[Dateline: Курск] This planet has no inhabitants; simply robots running, maintaining and extending a vast subway system modeled on the Moscow Metro.

[Dateline: Mossav II] Gargg music voted the greatest export of Mossav culture. Electric pipes now mandatory training across the board. Purists outraged.

[Dateline: Third York] Seven ways to improve and upgrade your cyberware cheaply without cancelling your warranty or frying your brain.

<Zek’s List> Mercenary team and black ops dropship available at a 1 hour’s notice, no questions asked, full plausible deniability implied.

Stellar Beacon Digest #7


[Dateline: Chapin] The Imana of Ishin has now been transferred into the Governance of Thar. All supplicants must now receive their datamind through the KoR.

[Dateline: Shinyuan] Ministry Notification: “The Gluch pirate vessel has been sold at auction. Each family of deceased miners will be given compensation of 10 REu from the proceeds, with the remainder of the funds being allocated to the system defense fund.”

Civil disorder strikes the puppeteer planet.

[Dateline: Ningyō] Explorers report that the puppeteer planet has descended into near anarchy because everyone suspects hidden manipulators.

[Dateline: Denub] Another Black Nebula pirate attack off the Denubian cluster costs passengers of Cyberian luxury cruise arms legs and more.

[Dateline: Leerhew] The second reading of a bill banning space debris because of the threat to orbital navigation of Kessler collisional cascading

Early stellar probes traveled at sub-light speeds!

<history> Historical mid-21st century probe now half way to Kepler 62e. Thanks to the end of the Great Silence we can be there in 600 years to greet it!

<Pop Culture Parade> Dark Matter festival planners claim latest a complete success. Authorities on the lookout for less than three hundred missing attendees this year.

Stellar Beacon Digest #6


[Dateline: Throt] Galtean pirate ship reportedly destroyed while attempting to slingshot around a gas giant in a desperate attempt to escape outriders from the CAS Mary Shelley.

[Dateline: Shinyuan] Foreign Minister Gaoba issued a statement “We are shocked to know that pirates who slaughtered our miners are from Gluch, once a paradise planet. We are establishing a REU bounty on Gulch ships.”

[Dateline: Roubaix] According to explorers, this society banned anti-aging technology, saying it goes against their beliefs. Now that interstellar travel has been restored, those who reject societal norms are desperate to leave

[Dateline: Convention Authority] Unusual stellar “structures” detected deep in Andromeda galaxy according to a new finding released by the Eta Carinae Observatory.

Interest in Everettian quantum mechanics increases dramatically by students in secondary education

[Dateline: Petram] Vatican officals announced the charity auction of a cybernetic implants once belonging to St. Chim of Dundas VI. Properly accredited buyers can bid on the relics next month.

[Dateline: Senior House] Celebrations of the anniversary of terraforming on Gliese 667cf included an activated carbon sorbet. As you may recall, the reshaping of the planet began with removal of thick blanket of carbon dioxide.

[Dateline: Haris] This small station orbiting a moon, inhabited entirely by androids since the Great Silence 120 years ago, is starting a bordello and casino, open to all. Early reports indicate extensive uncanny valley issues.

<Zek’s List> Selling one biosecure ticket for the Jask Ehorn concert at the Perrian Colonade. Regenesis required to integrate ticket into your microbiome.

Sports and Competitions in tabletop RPGs

vampire cheerleader cosplay
We’ve got evil spirits, yes we do!

Sports and competitions are significant parts of culture, from this weekend’s “Big Game” to the Olympic games of ancient Greece. Ōllamaliztli, the Mesoamerican ballgame not only had religious significance, it is speculated to have been a proxy for warfare, and later to have involved human sacrifice. And, famously, soccer was played in the trenches during Christmas Truce of the First World War.

Christmas Truce memorial
Christmas Truce memorial featuring a football

Sports and other competitions have often been featured in tabletop roleplaying games and in the stories of your characters. RuneQuest introduced “Trollball” in their ’82 supplement devoted to that race. It is sometimes played LARP style at cons, and was published as a standalone game in 2008, to support the Tentacles convention. Quidditch is sometimes played live, even though there is no official tabletop RPG.

Live action Trollball

Tunnels and Troll’s solo adventure Arena of Kazahn (1979) is one of many games focused on gladiatorial combat. From the roman Colosseum to giant mech sports battles, this has been a continuing staple of the genre.

Arena of Khazan

There’s an entire “powered by the apocalypse” game called World Wide Wrestling. Sports team management is a popular video game genre, but it rarely occurs in tabletop.

In our game Return to the Stars there are cosplay competitions, which include genetic engineering, because it’s a 27th century space opera, and maker challenges for skilled engineers. Anyone have any examples of less traditional contests–from chefs facing off in a kitchen stadium, to informal axe throwing contests in the local tavern or the like?