Designer’s Log – Borrowing From The Best

Designer’s Log – Borrowing From The Best


Scott Pyle, Play Unplugged

With the unfortunate end of the SuperSystem 4th ed. Kickstarter (we cancelled funding due to lack of support), we’ve had to retool our plans for the book and seek eventual publication via a print-on-demand model. SuperSystem 4th ed. will see publication later this year, likely sometime this summer, and be available both in hardcopy and as a PDF. In the meantime I have been considering what to work on next.

While Joe D. finishes the initial layout of SuperSystem 4th ed., I have a lot of time to think and to write. Whenever I finish a Goalsystem project, I find myself wanting to take a mental break from my own system and work on something completely different. Enter Space Fantasy Adventures! What the heck is that, you ask? Space Fantasy Adventures draws its genre inspiration from an unholy melding of Star Wars and Warhammer 40,000, with a bit of Jim Starlin’s Dreadstar thrown in for good measure, and in many ways it will act as my love letter to all three of these sci-fi universes. Let me be clear, I see “space fantasy” as any science fiction story or game that sheds the boundaries of “hard” sci-fi and freely mixes elements of pulp and fantasy with a futuristic setting. Some have also called it “techno-fantasy.”

SFA will be a FUDGE/FATE Core based role-play game that utilizes my favorite aspects of these two incredibly versatile open source rule engines. But why not just use Fate Core whole cloth?

While I dearly love Fate Core and long to both play and run a game at some point, I have had mixed results with running other Fate-based RPG’s. My primary block has been Aspects, and Aspects sit at the heart of any Fate-based game. Aspects comprise a group of five to ten character features that define who and what a player character is in the game. They can be anything from “A girl in every starport” to “Vengeance guides my hand.” Aspects really bring the awesome when it comes to uniquely defining who a character is, but in play they can be clunky as players sometimes don’t quite know how to use them for benefits, or accept the GM’s use of them to create negative issues that drive the story. Aspects remain a necessary part of any Fate-based game–they drive the Fate point economy and let players do cool stuff with their characters.

Clearly my game group and I need a little more work when it comes to getting the most out of this powerful and freeform game element. In the meantime, as a designer I’m not yet comfortable utilizing Fate Core for a rules engine of my own. But I love other pieces of the Fate Core rules engine, and coupled with Fate’s parent rule set, FUDGE, I think I’ve put together a really dynamic system that blends elements of both into an engine well suited to power a space fantasy game like SFA. My favorite piece of Fate Core is the Trait Pyramid.

Here’s how I describe it in the SFA rules text:

In SFA, players select and rate their characters’ most important abilities, their Traits, using a method we call the Trait Pyramid. This trait pyramid grants them their Traits in the following manner:

One trait at +4

Two traits at +3

Three traits at +2

Four traits at +1

In this way, a character’s most important ability stands alone at the top, and each tier of abilities below it contains one more trait than the one above it. SFA features thirteen distinctive traits that cover everything from combat to con artistry. Below we provide a complete list and describe what each trait allows a character to accomplish within the game. Each traits also includes at least three Trait Bumps. Bumps are improvements or extras that allow characters to use their traits in new and different ways. Every PC starts the campaign with one free bump for a trait of their choice, and they can add more over time as they earn experience. Chapter 6: Character Development fully describes this process.

Right now SFA features thirteen Traits that encompass a character’s inherent ability, skills, and training. This is all freely adapted and tweaked from the open source Fate Core.

But what about FUDGE? As the parent of Fate, FUDGE contains all sorts of RPG building blocks, and I have decided to use one of the injury and damage systems from it to handle the results of combat. Here’s how that will work:


These rules describe combat damage to a character at one of seven stages of severity:

Undamaged (no wounds at all)

Bruised (mildly hurt but no real game effect)

Hurt (–1 to traits)

Very Hurt (–2 to traits)

Incapacitated (only the most basic actions allowed)

Unconscious (out of the fight)

Near Death

Determining Damage Levels

SFA utilizes a dynamic damage system that always allows the player characters a chance to actively resist threats and the harm that comes from them. Players should list their characters’ most common attacks on their character sheets in terms of their ODF (Offensive Damage Factor–the total of modifiers, including any applicable trait, weapon, and advantage bonuses) and a DDF (Defensive Damage Factor–the total of modifiers, including equipment like armor, advantages, and the effects of strange powers, that reflects the character’s ability to withstand or avoid damage). If the attacker should hit, he can determine how much damage he inflicts by following this formula:

Attacker’s result level + Offensive Damage Factor – Loser’s Defensive Damage Factor

Damage#:              1-2           3-4           5-6            7-8           9+

Condition:              Bruise            Hurt          Very Hurt    Incap.        Unconscious

This process is simplified when the heroes face off against the nameless thugs and minions who often serve the main opponents of the player characters. We refer to these nameless hordes as minions in SFA. We explore combat, damage, and minions in greater detail in the Combat section later in this book.

There’s a little more to it than this, as each damage level will have a number of boxes that players fill in as their characters suffer harm, but the above provides the general idea.

I’ll also be adapting FUDGE’s Advantage/Fault system to handle special powers and other non-Trait abilities. As we get closer to playtesting these rules I’ll talk more about some of the other design aspects of SFA, and in the meantime, if you think you might want to playtest, let us know!

-Scott Pyle

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