The Caffeinated Penguin

musings of a crackpot hacker

Spirit of the Century Play Review

Posted By on January 13, 2008

New Year's Eve, I ran a SoTC installment for and Liz, based on the Spirit of the Season characters. Liz was Blitzen and was Vixen. The basic story was that an evil scientist had lost his true love, so was attempting to use an ancient pagan ritual of the 12 days of Christmas (on which the song was based) to raise her from the dead. This was accomplished by sacrificing the items enumerated in the song in a clockface arrangement around the body of his dead wife on the proscribed days. Very pulpy, and exactly what you would expect.

I'm not going to go into a play by play of the plot and actions, but will instead talk about the system, impressions and how it ran.

Player Background:

had experience with online RPG’s, but no pen and paper RPG’s. Liz played a pen and paper RPG with us some years ago. I don’t recall which one, but it was something heavily stat-based, like D&D or Shadowrun. Her main complaints were that things tended to drag on, and we would end up arguing a lot about rules, which made it drag on even more. Bullet points:
  • The system and rules were picked up quickly. The fudge dice were easily understood, the adding/subtracting to skills based on rolls was quick and easy.
  • We used skills a lot, but hardly ever used the stunts. Explaining all of them tended to drag things down a bit, unlike aspects, which people tend to “own” more than the stunts, since they are more “fuzzy”. In the future, I think I’ll use the “going stuntless” rules (available at the FATE Yahoo Group), which supplant all of the specific stunts by expanding the rules for spending action points to allow you to use them to power the things which would be covered by stunts (which also may need action points in some case).
  • We didn’t tag aspects as much as we should have. I didn’t compel them as much as I could have, and the players didn’t use them. Since this was forgotten by both GM and players, it kind of evened out. Had they used more, I would have felt the need to hit them with more compels.
  • Liz had the complaint that combat dragged on – and it only lasted a half an hour for a 30 person combat (2 PCs, 2 NPC’s helping the PC’s, about a dozen NPC mooks, and a pile of civilian NPC’s trying to get away). The problem we kept hitting was that the PC’s couldn’t roll – they would be rolling a -3 on an +4 skill, netting them +1, and the mooks would roll +1 on a +0 skill, netting +1 – a tie so nothing happens. The irony here was that I was worried about it taking too long, so I had already streamlined the combat by having any type of straight opposition (gunfights, fistfights, etc.) being a “both roll, high result wins and loser takes damage”, rather than an opposed “attack/defense” roll, as described in the rules. In the end, they just declared what they wanted to do, we made some rolls, and I narrated what happened. While this worked in this one case, it was universally agreed upon that they didn’t want to run the whole combat like this. We also talked about it more, and there was some frustration because I had misunderstood what Liz was trying to accomplish with one of her attacks (she wanted to shrink a zeppelin and I narrated it as “the people inside the zeppelin shrink too”, where Liz wanted it to “squeeze” them out, so that they abandoned the zeppelin rather than be crushed. Her narration was actually better, but this largely came out after. We agreed that if she had been more clear with her cause and effect, this might have not been so frustrating. Further, if they had spent more fate points to bump up their die rolls, which would have upped their resulting scores. I should have mentioned this to them during the fight, but I forgot to.
  • We didn’t end up finishing the scenario (I planned it for a about a 4 hour run time split between two sessions). We didn’t play the second installment, because the rule I use is “I won’t force people new folks into another game, if they want to play again, they’ll come to me”. No one said “hey, let’s play, because I want to see how it ends”, so we never finished.
In the end, I have to say that I really like the Spirit of the Century system. It worked well for a pick up game, is good for fast and loose narrative flow, and is tremendously flexible. Liz didn’t completely hate it and want to stop playing after only half an hour, so that is something. However, because no one wanted to finish the game, I still don’t think it’s “good enough”, at least for this crowd. This is no fault of SoTC – I don’t think that there is a system which will actually work for this Liz – she just doesn’t enjoy it. In other news, I’ve been reading the Esoterrorists (which uses the Gumshoe system), and I really like the way they set it up for narrative flow of mystery-type adventures. Essentially, you have a set of investigative skills, and you can use those skills at at crime scene and automatically find all clues which can be found with those skills. Thus, the plot never stalls because you failed a roll. Aside from that, it is a pretty conventional stat-based roleplaying game. Had I not read SoTC already, this wouldn’t bother me, but now, I like the flexibility of SoTC. So, I’m thinking of a “mashup”.. perhaps “Spirit of the Gumshoe”? The idea here is that the big list of investigative skills from Gumshoe, but the general skills are replaced with the Skills and Aspects from SoTC. Further, the “investigative pool” (determined by the quality of your various investigation skills), is removed and will be powered by spending aspects, instead. The skills then become a boolean “yes/no”. This should, in theory, take the aspects I like of SoTC, but mesh well with the setting and investigative schtick of The Esoterrorists. Addendum: Liz feels that this post misrepresented her position on the game. The only source of frustration was the combat, which would have been helped by the use of fate points. Just because she didn’t bug me to play again doesn’t mean that she didn’t like it, just that she has other things to do.

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