Monthly Archives: March 2014

BROTHERHOOD OF THE RAIL – Bonus: Running BotR


Brotherhood_of_the_RailRunning a game of Brotherhood of the Rail is similar in most ways to running any other FAE game, but there are some tips and tricks to getting the right “feel” to the game.

Hobo?

Paladin?

In a broad sense, hobos in Brotherhood of the Rail are paladins.  Like paladins, they have no more wealth than they can carry with them.  Like paladins they travel.  And like paladins they are always finding situations in which they need to help those in trouble, right wrongs, and do good deeds without any sort of expectation of reward or widespread recognition.  Their power and authority to do good comes from within themselves and is not necessarily recognized by either civil or religious authorities.  And like paladins they often have minor magical powers that aid and support them.

Morality in a Brotherhood of the Rail game should be pretty black-and-white.  Bad guys should be bad, and good guys should be good.  The only time grey areas should come into it are a) PCs Trouble or other compels, b) NPCs who have to make difficult choises in order to survive or protect others.  The former is necessary in order to make compels function correctly, and the latter to give an appropriate feeling of quiet desperation to the setting as a whole.  The Great Depression was a tough time and people were often forced by circumstances to make choices they would not make otherwise.  Both salvation and redemption should be major themes for any Brotherhood of the Rail campaign.

Minneapolis Teamsters strike of 1934

One thing that should almost never be a central theme of a Brotherhood of the Rail game is violence.  Unlike paladins in fantasy roleplaying games, hobos in BoTR will seldom if ever have access to magic swords – or tommy guns, shotguns, or even butterfly knives or shuriken.  In addition, having your hobos go around beating people to a pulp to solve problems reinforces the whole “Murder Hobo” stereotype common in roleplaying games – a stereotype that will quickly spoil any BotR game you run.  Real solutions to problems should come through interaction and problem solving, not combat.  But what about those characters who are combat specialists – the pugilists and palookas and veterans?  Leaving combat entirely out of the game will make them irrelevant and rob BotR of some important character tropes.  The answer is to make sure that combat is relevant and directed.  Beating up a night watchman to get into a warehouse – probably not OK, he’s just a mook who doesn’t deserve to get the tar beaten out of him, even if the owner of the warehouse might.  On the other hand, helping to defend unionizing workers against corrupt strike breaking police might work.  Combat against an evil railroad bull who has been murdering hobos is appropriate.  Supernatural creatures like vampires are certainly deserving of a fist to the face, and enforcers for the big bad are often (though not always) fair game.  What’s important here is to avoid putting PCs up against men and women (and even supernatural critters) that don’t fall into the black side of the setting’s black-and-white morality.  Poor working schmucks, even if they happen to be working for someone really bad, are best avoided as targets for violence.

Another major theme for Brotherhood of the Rail is scarcity.  Times are hard, and basic resources are frequently in short supply.  Infrastructure in rural areas is rare and ill-maintained, and often vastly overtaxed in urban areas.  This means that improvisation – and sometimes appropriation – are frequently the order of the day.  Hobos will often need to get creative in order to get together the resources they need to solve problems.  But again the black-and-white morality of the of the setting should preclude outright looting, theft, mugging, etc.  The occasional minor swindle is OK and a well accepted part of the folklore (as well as the reality) of the Great Depression.  For example, pretending to be religious in order to cadge a donut and coffee from the Salvation Army is probably ok for the genre.  Pretending to be religious in order to steal the donation pot from the Salvation Army probably isn’t.  It’s a matter of scale – as GM you should usually overlook a very minor swindle, particularly if it is pulled off in an amusing or clever manner, but any swindle that might stand to really hurt innocents or working class folks breaks the feel of the setting.

Also bearing in mind the idea of scarcity, BotR is best with no more than 3-4 characters.  There need to be some weak approaches in the party, and they shouldn’t be able to count on someone in the group having a +2 to throw out in any given situation.  A big part of the fun of the FATE system is letting players set up Advantages that allow them future bonuses – use this as a resource in BotR games.  Set your difficulty numbers high and make players come up with numerous different ways to set themselves up for success on that crucial roll to convince Boss Markham to give the widow Greely back the deed to her farm.  Occasionally, you may want to throw a character into a situation where they have to use their -1 approach.  Don’t overuse this, but be sure to keep it in your bag of tricks – while players often dread such moments, success will be a memorable occasion for the player and the group.  Hard work is a hallmark of the Depression – there should be no easy or quick victories.

So what ARE characters in BotR supposed to do?  In short they are supposed to help people, get into trouble, and get out of trouble.  In the Great Depression there are a LOT of people in trouble.  Millions have lost everything in bank collapses and the destruction of the Dust Bowl.  And for every person who has lost everything, there are 10 more who are just barely hanging on.  Workers struggle to gain better working conditions, often provoking violent reactions from police and corporate leg-breakers.  Epidemics of influenza, typhus, and polio can be devastating locally and sometimes more broadly.  Even the rumor of outbreaks can spread panic.  In rural areas diseases previously conquered by immunization, such as Diptheria, are making a reappearance.

In BoTR there are also supernatural threats to deal with – spooks and haints, malevolent faeries, werewolves, vampires and other nasty creatures prowl the night and threaten innocents.  These threats almost always fall onto the black side of the morality equation, and are a good opportunity for characters to take their white hats off for a time and really cut loose.  The local sheriff isn’t going to object to you burning Old Man Greevy’s house once he finds out that Old Man Greevy is a blood sucker.  Occasionally supernatural threats should provide wonder or opportunities for a different sort of plot rather than being simple evil.  Riding the Wabash Cannonball to the Yonder, visiting the Rock Candy Mountain, or having to mediate between Seelie and Unseelie fairies in a small Louisiana town are good examples of this.

And not everything in the Depression is dark.  Events are afoot that will provide for America’s rise to greatness.  Many of the large infrastructure projects that survive to this day such as electrification, dam construction, and the beginnings of a federal highway system, are underway or beginning.  As the Depression goes on, the federal government begins projects that will employ thousands of migrant laborers.  Bring characters in on these large-scale projects.  Can they find the source of the Gremlins that are keeping the first China Clipper grounded?  Help expose corruption in a Tennessee Valley Authority project?  Can they help police capture John Dillinger?  Perhaps they might meet with famous individuals such as Huey Long, Eleanor Roosevelt, or Woody Guthrie?  There are big, important events and history-making people all across America during the Great Depression, and these should be sprinkled into your plots to give players and their characters a sense of their historical place in the campaign.

One difficulty with the setting of BotR is the level of mobility of the characters.  The campaign can and should be moving around constantly as characters follow seasonal labor and good weather across the United States.  This can give BotR a very episodic feel and make it difficult to create any longer-term plots.  One solution to this is to make the main adversaries as mobile as the characters – a gang of yeggs, for example, that keeps popping up in the path of the characters like a bad penny.  Or place adversaries in places where the characters will have to go repeatedly, such as the “main stem” areas of big cities like New York or San Francisco.  If they establish close ties to a particular place then make sure there is reason for them to go there – not always, but repeatedly.  You can also build long-term plots around a character’s Trouble Aspect (well, any Aspect really, but Trouble works particularly well).  Personify their Trouble as much as possible – make it a “who” and not a “what”.  If a character is an alcoholic, personify it by having a Salvation Army or Temperance League member take an interest in them, or turn their craving for alcohol into a little demon that sits on their shoulder, whispering temptations.

Depression-era America is a fantastic place to set a game, and has all the elements needed for high drama.  If you draw on the historical setting, even just a sprinkling, while you run your games of BotR you will be repaid with happy players, hours of fun gaming, and some good stories to tell in future years about the great moments in roleplaying that you help to create.+

Tagged , ,

BROTHERHOOD OF THE RAIL


Brotherhood_of_the_Rail

Here are links to all the articles on Brotherhood of the Rail that I wrote – all in one place for completeness!

PART I:  INTRODUCTION

PART II:  SETTING

PART III:  CHARACTER CREATION

PART IV:  SAMPLE CHARACTERS

PART V:  ADVERSERIES

BONUS – RUNNING BotR

I hope you enjoy this setting.  If you do, please drop me a line and let me know!  If you try out a game, that goes double.

Tagged , , ,

FATE OF ALDIS – BLUE ROSE IN FATE CORE AND FATE ACCELERATED


Fateofaldis

Here are all my articles on conversion of Blue Rose to Fate Core and Fate Accelerated for ease of access.

INTRODUCTION

PART I:  THE BIG PICTURE

PART II:  GAME CREATION

PART III:  CHARACTER CREATION OVERVIEW

PART IV:  HIGH CONCEPT

PART V:  MAGIC

PART VI:  STUNTS

PART VII:  EXTRAS

PART VIII: BLUE ROSE IN FATE ACCELERATED

I hope you enjoy the conversion!  If you do, please post comments on my website!  If you take it out for a test drive that goes double!

 

Tagged , , , ,

Brotherhood of the Rail – Adversaries


Brotherhood_of_the_Rail

Below are a number of adversaries, both mundane and supernatural, that you can use in games of “Brotherhood of the Rail”.

Bad Actors

This represents a gang of opportunist thugs who beat and rob hobos.  They might be other migrants, local teens, deputized citizens, organized crime lowlifes, or any one of a variety of low level thugs.  They might also be gangs of predatory children, orphaned by the Depression.  They aren’t much of a threat in themselves, but will usually target lone (and preferably injured) hobos.

Skilled (+2) at attacking the weak, intimidating, running away

Bad (2) at stand-up fights, socializing with other hobos

They can come in groups of up to a dozen (6 stress boxes) but most commonly are 2-6 (1-3 stress boxes).

Pack of dogs

Dogs are a common threat to hobos, and this group can represent anything from a couple of junkyard dogs to an entire pack of hounds set on fugitives.

Skilled (+2) at chasing, smelling, running (sometimes biting)

Bad (-2) at climbing, getting into enclosed areas

One hit will take out a dog.  Give them one stress box for every two dogs in the pack.

Yeggs

Yeggs are far more dangerous than the Bad Actors they resemble – Yeggs are professional criminals who travel the rails in order to avoid the law.  They might be safe crackers, murderers, professional muscle hired by the railroads, etc.  Unlike Bad Actors, a group of Yeggs is sufficiently tightly knit that they take consequences before being completely defeated.  A hobo expecting an easy tussle with a few Bad Actors can be in for a very nasty surprise if it turns out that they are Yeggs instead.

Skilled (+2) at Defending, Attacking, one sort of criminal activity (robbery, assault, theft, etc.)

Bad at:  interaction outside their gang,

A gang of Yeggs will typically have around 3 stress boxes, and the normal complement (2, 4, 6) of consequence boxes.  Unless directly involved in their preferred criminal activity, however, Yeggs will generally give up a conflict after losing their stress boxes.

Gangs of Yeggs are typically led by an important Bad Guy, who should be statted up as appropriate.

Railroad Bull

These are police and security guards hired by the railroads to assure that hobos either a) pay for riding on trains, or b) don’t ride them at all.  A typical railroad bull should be a challenge for a group of hobos – they are usually armed with some sort of club and sometimes carry guns.  Some will simply do their jobs like reasonable men, but a few are sadistic monsters who delight in robbing or killing hobos.  Particularly vicious railroad bulls, such as the notorious Texas Slim, will be near to legendary figures, and extremely powerful and difficult to defeat.

Sheriff

Sheriffs are similar to railroad bulls, and should be created as major bad guys.  Unlike most Bulls, however, Sheriffs have access to a few deputies, lots of firearms, and the ability to call on the police departments of neighboring towns  and to deputize large numbers of people in case of emergency (such as an entire group of Player Characters arriving in their town and causing trouble).  Attacking any member of the law enforcement community, no matter how corrupt, dishonest, or evil, is generally a bad idea, and will usually instigate a massive manhunt for the perpetrator.  Defeating a Sheriff should involve outwitting him or convincing him to become an ally.

THE SUPERNATURAL

With a few exceptions, supernatural threats should always be major bad-guys.  They may be able to control more mundane threats (werewolves, for example, may be able to control packs of dogs), but any supernatural threat should be pretty tough to handle and not be easily defeated.

Gremlins

Often serving as independent minor troublemakers, or as the servants/lackeys of more powerful faeries, gremlins delight particularly in destroying complex machinery and/or stealing, pestering, and generally annoying people.  Virtually infinite in numbers, defeating a group of gremlins will provide at best a temporary respite before whoever or whatever is summoning them just gets a bunch more.

Skilled (+2) at:  breaking machinery, stealing, biting, defending against attacks other than cold iron

Poor (-2) at:  defending against cold iron, resisting milk

One hit of any type by a weapon of cold iron will defeat a gremlin.  They have two stress boxes against any other sort of attack.  Gremlins appear individually or in groups – sometimes very large groups.

HAINT

A Haint is a ghost or apparition.  It usually occupies a specific location, but it sometimes tied to a specific object or (more rarely still) a specific individual.  Usually a Haint is the spirit of a person, but it can sometimes be the manifestation of some great evil that took place in a particular location.  Haints vary greatly in appearance and abilities – some are no more than voices or cold areas, while others can visibly manifest.  Some haints can communicate, but urually in cryptic ways such as riddles, obscure references, gestures, or writing on mirrors or frosted windows.

Haints are usually impossible to defeat permanently unless the events causing them to manifest are dealt with.  Physical conflict with them is usually a waste of time, though characters with aspects like “Magical” and “Supernatural” can activate their aspects to affect Haints normally for one round.

ROUGAROU (WEREWOLF)

Gargouille Rougarou by PhantomCrowsA particular Louisiana take on the werewolf, by the time of the Depression the Rougarou can be found across America, though it is still most common in the Bayous (and Quebec).  Rougarou are typically loners, though some are able to summon and control packs of local dogs/coyotes/wolves.  They are humans cursed to take the form of a wolf-headed man (0r less commonly a supernaturally large wolf) and roam the countryside.

Rougarou are often associated with themes of obedience/disobedience.  Common methods for being transformed into a rougarou are failure to observe lent, being disrespectful to a witch, or chronically disobeying parents.  The curse typically lasts for 101 days, and is then transferred to another through a bite or consumption of the rougarou’s blood.

During the day the rougarou appears as a normal, though somewhat sickly, person.  At night they transform and haunt the area, killing anything they can catch.  Individuals frequently react with real horror to what they have become, taking extreme steps such as locking themselves in cages or chaining themselves to trees in order to prevent their murderous rampages.  These methods are seldom successful for more than a day or two.  The curse typically lasts 101 days, after which time the original rougarou may become free of it by passing the curse to someone else by feeding them some of the rougarou’s blood.

Defeating a rougarou in combat is extremely challenging.  They are not susceptible to silver.  Usually it takes something associated with the reason for the curse being bestowed in the first place (which may involve tracing the curse back through several incarnations) such as holy water, a parents tears, or a mojo bag from the witch who cast the curse in the first place in order to remove the curse, though it is also possible to simply kill the rougarou by chopping off its head if you can manage to put it down.

EXAMPLE ROUGAROU

HIGH CONCEPT:  Reluctant Rougarou

TROUBLE:  husband and children

OTHER ASPECTS:  Rotarian, Home town girl

Approaches

Careful:  Fair (+2) , Clever:  Average (+1), Flashy:  Average (+1), Forceful:  Legendary (+8)/Mediocre (+0),  Quick:  Fantastic (+6)/Mediocre (+0) , Sneaky:  Great (+4)/Poor (-1)

(When approaches have two listings, the first is for lougarou form, the second is for human form)

STUNTS

Because I am a rougarou, I gain +2 to defend against non-magical physical attacks unless they utilize my weakness

Because I am a rougarou, I gain +2 to physical attacks while in rougarou form at night.

Because I fear for my life if discovered, I gain +2 to resist any attempts to convince me to reveal anything about my rougarou nature or background

Because I hate my rougarou nature, once per game when in rougarou form I can transform back into a human for one round.  Players can spend a Fate Point per round thereafter to allow me to remain in human form for another round.  If attacked, I immediately transform back.

STRESS:  3 boxes

CONSEQUENCES:  2

4

6

REFRESH:  2

WEAKNESS:  Janet Ingles is a fourth generation rougarou.  The original recipient of the curse, Giles Wilson, was cursed because he beat up his elderly parents and stole money from them.  He now lives in a big house, while they live in a tarpaper shack with what remains of their possessions.  The curse’s weakness is exposure to any of Giles Wilson’s childhood toys (the parents have a box of them).

(Note that the rougarou is a good example of a statted up boss level bad guy.  The same general format can be used for other sorts of high level threat characters)

LEGENDARY ENCOUNTERS

There are plenty of creatures with phenomenal, legendary power that PCs can interact with.  Usually these creatures should not be statted per se and scenarios should revolve around a) using them as patrons and getting them what they want, b) discovering some specific way that they are vulnerable and using that to temporarily thwart their plans.

OLD MAN DEATH

The reaper of souls himself, Old Man Death is not specifically a figure of evil, though few would call him friend.  In the tough times of the depression, where poverty bred starvation and disease, and medical care was often lacking, it was not uncommon for those who were suffering an ailment which could not be cured to prepare themselves for the arrival of Old Man Death, and even speak of their upcoming encounter with relief as a release from the suffering and toil of the world.

When Old Man Death appears, either it is because your time has come, or because Old Man Death wishes to bargain for a life.  In some cases he may set a task for the Hobos, and spare the life of the one he has come to take if they succeed.  In other cases he may offer a wager, such as a fiddle contest or a game of chess or checkers.  Old Man Death will never offer a wager against any skill or ability that he is poor at (though very occasionally he can be tricked).  Most commonly he will have one approach that he is Legendary (+8) at, two that he is Fantastic (+6) at, one that he is Average (+1) at, and two in which he simply cannot be challenged.

Example:  Old Man Death challenges one of the hobos to a game of chess for his soul.  The GM decides that Old Man Death is Careful (+8), Clever (+6), Flashy (+1),  Quick (+6), and cannot be challenged at Forceful or Sneaky.  The easiest way to defeat Old Man Death at this chess game is with flashy, impressive moves and lots of banter or entertaining cross talk.  If someone decides to intimidate Old Man Death by knocking the board in his face or cheating, they lose automatically.

ANGELS

Angels are messengers and assistants to God, and will often appear in times of great spiritual trouble.  They can appear in any form they desire and will usually appear to hobos as another hobo (though one with a particularly noble or commanding bearing).

Angels have difficulty communicating with humans because they don’t really understand humans.  Angels do not experience time in a linear manner the way humans do, and see everything in terms of its moral, not physical consequences.  Because of this they often speak cryptically or symbolically, and it is extremely difficult to hold an extended conversation with them or to question them for details.

Example conversation with an angel

Angel:  Beware the tow-headed boy!

Hobo: Why?

Angel:  If you do not, the suffering will be great!

Hobo:  Suffering?  What kind of suffering?

Angel:  That caused by the tow-headed boy.

Hobo:  What will the tow-headed boy do?

Angel:  Cause great suffering!

Hobo:  But how?  Will he kill someone?  Die and break his family’s hearts?  Invent some kind of pois0n?  Be the cause of a terrible accident?

Angel:  Beware the tow-headed boy!

OTHERS

Other important legendary figures include such individuals as Johnny Appleseed, Paul Bunyan, and John Henry; encounters with legendary places and things such as the Wabash Cannon Ball (a railroad version of the Flying Dutchman), the realm of faerie, and even the Rock Candy Mountain.

Tagged , , ,
%d bloggers like this: