In converting any previously published setting to another system, the first question that I ask myself is “What makes this setting attractive or interesting ?” I purposefully left out “to me” in that statement because while making the world interesting for yourself is important, making the world interesting to your players is equally important. If the setting is not interesting to you then you will soon tire of running it, and if the setting is not interesting to your players then they will soon tire of playing in it. In addition, having the setting be interesting in multiple ways will give you more handles to build plot lines on, which will result in a game less set on rails and more fun for everyone concerned. Blue Rose is designed to cover a certain genre of literature – Romantic Fantasy. The first thing I want to ask myself when beginning a conversion is “What IS Romantic Fantasy, and can FATE work well as an RPG emulator for this type of literature?”
Blue Rose has a good one-page description of Romantic Fantasy (pp. 6-7 of the main rulebook) and there are some online resources that also cover the definition of Romantic Fantasy in detail, including –
To sum things up, the Romantic Fantasy genre differs from straight-up fantasy in that it incorporates elements of the romance genre in addition to those of the fantasy genre. Specifically, there is considerable emphasis placed on relationships – not only romantic but also social and political. While characters may begin as loners or wanderers, they typically find a home very quickly, and it is the interaction between the characters in the fiction which is paramount, rather than the slaying of monsters, gathering of treasure, and gaining of power as in more typical straight-up fantasy. Blue Rose itself describes several characteristics of the genre that went into the design of the setting, including the following:
- Characters are usually members of some prominent group within society
- Developing a sense of belonging and finding comrades are central features
- Goals include becoming more fully integrated into the group or society, and protecting them from harm
- Society is highly egalitarian
- Heroes are environmentally conscious. Protecting wilderness areas from depredation is a common plot thread. Nature is a positive magical force.
- Magic is often an innate ability, and is generally viewed in a positive light.
- Traditional magic is often practiced only by villains, or is dangerous in some way.
Being true to the genre of Blue Rose is important – otherwise you just have Greyhawk with the serial numbers filed off and a new coat of paint. Giving the world the specific feel of a romantic fantasy series will be one of the big goals of this conversion, and is a subject that I will come back to on several occasions in upcoming posts, but for now we are looking at the big picture so lets start way at the top.
It may be that all my future players will be into romantic fantasy, and are all coming to the table with a good sense of what to do and how to play in a setting with that sort of flavor. Even so, there are a large number of romantic fantasy settings, and the amount of romance vs the amount of fantasy varies a great deal from setting to setting. One of the best and most versatile tools in FATE is Aspects – phrases that describe something unique or noteworthy about whatever they are attached to. Aspects are the primary means by which characters gain and use Fate points, making them powerful tools for influencing player creativity and shaping the sort of actions that characters perform. My first solution to the problem of enforcing the genre rules of romantic fantasy is to add what I call a Genre Aspect to the campaign, right up front. This will give the players tangible rewards for operating according to genre guidelines. Characters which behave according to the genre conventions (and get in trouble according to the genre conventions) will receive concrete benefits including extra Fate Points and the ability to use them to gain bonuses or rerolls. The Genre Aspect will be universal within the setting – it will operate anywhere and everywhere, whether the characters are in court in Aldis or sitting in a fetid dungeon in Kern. It is always available to be called on in any situation or circumstance. Because romantic fantasy plots evolve and develop along certain lines, it acts a bit like the laws of physics in the real world, constraining and guiding what is and isn’t possible – what sort of behavior gets the characters in trouble, and what sort of behavior allows them to go beyond their normal skill level and succeed where they might otherwise fail. I am going to start off with a simple, working title for my Genre Aspect – “Romantic Fantasy” I’ll write it on an index card and it goes out onto the table along with any other Aspect cards at the start of the game. It might be wise to write it using a different color of pen so that it can be distinguished from more temporary aspects. Like any other aspect it can be invoked by spending a fate point and explaining what the character is doing that allows for calling on this particular aspect, or it can be compelled to get the character in trouble and earn a fate point. But because it is so large and overarching, I want to write a few things down on the card with it (or maybe give a brief explanation to the players) that give examples of actions that are appropriate for invoking and compelling “Romantic Fantasy”. Actions appropriate for invoking “Romantic Fantasy”
- Agreeing to join an organization or fellowship
- Protecting innocents from harm at the cost of great personal danger or sacrifice
- Protecting an area of wilderness at the cost of great personal danger or sacrifice
- Attempting to negotiate or reason with your foes instead of just attacking them
Actions appropriate for compelling “Romantic Fantasy”
- Negotiating/interacting with your foes when fighting/fleeing is clearly the safer option
- Having to attend some organization event when a character you have a relationship with clearly wants you to do something else
- Having to choose between giving support to your comrades and achieving important goals for your organization
- Trusting someone you have no compelling reason to trust
These are just a few examples – during the course of play there will undoubtedly be many more. Such examples should serve as inspiration to the players, not as a list to choose from. In these examples I left out any sort of benefits for character relationships. That is because I want to handle them in a different way using character aspects. I will discuss this at a later date when I look at character creation. An important thing for any GM developing their campaign from a published setting is to know where they want to tweak things. Not every GM is going to find every bit of any setting equally compelling, and might want to play up some while downplaying others. For example one of the big tropes of romantic fantasy is egalitarianism. As published, the land of Aldis is fairly egalitarian, with exceptions to this considered to be inappropriate, backwards, and activities to be reduced or removed from society when possible. If this is something that I want to really play up in my Blue Rose, I might add example invoke and compels to my Genre Aspect such as Invoke
- When attempting to convince a prejudiced person to change their views
- When you must hurt or humiliate someone because they are different because you are under cover or must convince another person that you are prejudiced.
On the other hand I might want to make Aldis a little darker, a little less fair, and place a little less emphasis on egalitarianism. In that case I wouldn’t write any Genre Aspect guideline regarding egalitarianism – characters would then have slightly less mechanical impetus to treat people fairly and more freedom within game as to how to act. The important thing about a Genre Aspect is to make it lean, yet robust. It needs to be lean because players need to be able to understand how and when to invoke and compel it, and it needs to be robust so that players will be able to use it in a wide variety of situations. I suggest no more than one Genre Aspect to start out with – maybe two if you are going to mash together some genres that are less well understood together, like Emo Schoolgirls/World War II. For Blue Rose, one is almost certainly going to be enough unless you want to stray far into the romantic side of romantic fantasy. If you really want to push the genre hard, you might even consider giving everyone a single free invoke during the course of an adventure (or a session if you really want to hit the “romantic fantasy” button hard and often). Use different colored chips to designate the free invokes.