Timothy Carroll (codrus) wrote,
Timothy Carroll

Iron GM

Today I was up at Endgame for the first live "Iron GM" competition. The game in common was FATE, which of course I'm always up for. :)

The ingredients were:
Genre: Horror
Adversaries: Pirates
Place: Secret Temple
Item: Secret Weapon

There was some discussion of reducing this to 3 elements, but actually liked the four elements. In fact, Secret Temple and Secret Weapon are so close in concept that they potentially are too easy to combine into a single item.

The format was two tables of 4 players, with 2 GMs and 2 judges. The Judges occasionally piped in with commentary and questions for the GMs, particularly around the nuances of how they were using FATE mechanics in their game. That may sound potentially annoying but in practice everyone at both tables bought into the Iron GM format and took every such interruption with the proper amounts of levity.

Before I jump into a summary of our story, some quick comments about FATE and how it worked out in this game:

* When everyone is 100% "bought in" to the setting and characters, FATE is just so much fun to play. That's scene-appropriate compels (and never buying out of them because they are so right), and great use of aspect tagging.

* From the announcement of the ingredients to when we started was around 25 minutes -- with both defining th setting AND character generation. And we had four great characters with player-player connections and player-story connections.

Okay, as a group, our table decided on a post-WW II cold war era -- we were a private supernatural investigation company with a few government ties. We did a great pyramid (1 +4, 2 +3, 3 +2, 4 +1 skills), 5 aspects, and 3 stunts. Mechanics were loosely SOTC given the era we picked, with the major mechanical change being that stress accumulated more quickly (a 4 stress hit was 4 boxes marked off, not the '4' stress box).

We were also asked what was our "worst skill" and to make at least one aspect a pretty severe character flaw -- not too different from a DFRPG trouble. Sadly, I don't have aspects we took memorized, so these are rough writeups.

The characters:
The Pilot: A former flying tiger shot down during the war, he spent many years lost in the jungles, and may have discovered the Plateau of Leng. "Seat of the Pants Pilot", "Haunted by my Inner Demons" (This was me). My ties were mostly to the adventure/location -- the newest member of the team. My best skill was Resolve (I only made it out through force of will), and my bad skill was Gambling (without any awareness that I'm actually a terrible poker player).
The Spy: A former soviet spy turned by the americans, now working for the Society. I can't remember exactly if she was a double agent or just had a specific ulterior motive, but the expectation was that before the end of the adventure, she would betray us all.
The Scientist: The scientific part of our team, he was living in his father's shadow. Magical skeptic. He also was in love with Natasha (the spy) after a magical night they had together at some point. If I remember right, Natasha had a specific aspect for it, but I think she had "It was just one night!" aspect, and he was tagging a relationship aspect from his end of things, which made for GREAT banter.
The British Magician: Former partner of the scientist's father, he was british, and the most skilled Mysteries character we had. The scientist and magician tended to argue and debate.

For a 3.5 hour game, we roughly had 5 or so major scenes:

Opening Scene: Jake (the pilot) is in a poker game with his contact, Ing, in the middle of a seedy smokey gambling den, somewhere near Cambodia. Jake loses badly and unable to pay Ing, he's forced to accept a piloting job.

The rest of the team is watching from a nearby building. The rumors are that a number of Americans and their families have disappeared recently. Natasha makes her way into the dive and he and Jake have a brief conversation about the cargo, enough so that she knows to follow me when I leave.

Ing's employer shows up -- he's a Nazi with a cargo to move! He looks at Jake through some sort of mystical doodad compass-looking thingie, and decides I'll do fine as a pilot.

The nazi's mooks appear to be south asian pirates. I missed something here as to how they knew about the other players, but they went up and fired through the door of the observation room. The two had been making their way downstairs at the time. After failing to sneak up on the Nazi, the Nazi sicks his mooks on the party, while he, Ing and Jake leave to head to the airfield.

The pirates are more than pirates, they are magically enhanced flayed terminator-zombie-pirates covered by illusion and magic. One of the zombies is killed by the magician, who grounds his magic out using an piece of iron cutlery. The other zombie is killed, but not before infecting the scientist's arm. (A minor consequence that gets tagged and compelled so often by players that it becomes a HUGE part of the plot).

Scene #2: the Air Field: Jake sees an old cargo plane being loaded with American prisoners, including children. Jake has an aspect -- I wrote "protective of children", but it sort of got reworded to "think of the children!" which gets compelled.

Two quick things of note: Jake delays the take off as much as possible by insisting on inspecting the plane. (Lights a cigarette. "Ing, you KNOW I don't fly an unfamiliar plane without checking the maintenance records"). Second, when one of the pirate mooks pulls out a morphine syringe to use on a kid, Jake confronts the pirate and after a brief scuffle, punches him. The pirate backs down, but the Nazi is pretty upset with him. Jake points out that if he had another pilot handy, he would have used him by now.

Seeing the party's jeep pull up, Jake taxies the plane and holds its course smooth enough for the Jeep to come up behind the plane. After the scientist rigs the jeep to keep moving, the three jump into the back of the cargo hold. The jeep veers TOWARDS the plane at the last minute, strikes the side of the plane, flips and explodes just as the plane takes off. "Vass is dass?", says the Nazi.

Scene #3: The great airplane fight.

Ing is in the co-pilot seat and the Nazi and pirates in the cargo hold. Hilarity ensues as the Nazi Necromancer twists and morphs his pirate mooks into flayed-zombie-dogs -- he drains a prisoner to do so.

The zombies rush the scientist, who manages to push one of them out the cargo door, falling out after him. Natasha will save him! (This was one of MANY aspect tags that had some of the feeling of compels. The players were often willing to tag an aspect and accept some negative consequences to get a success. In this case, he tagged his Natasha-love aspect to get a success against the zombies, accepting that that he went out the door with the zombie.

Natasha ends up going out the cargo door, both of them danging from one of fire hoses. A couple of rounds go by with lots of seat of the pants flying and them scrambling to get to the wing cargo door. In the mean time, the magician fends off the remaining zombies with his impromptu cricket bat.

With the whole group finally together in the plane, the Nazi cackles and grandstands. He leaps out the other cargo door, his trenchcoat fluttering behind him.

Two problems result:

One, the remaining zombies cluster together, their flesh fluttering and merging. The thrum of their combined heartbeat fills the cargo, and more prisoners begin to age as the merged zombie nazi-ensorcelled pirate-dogs draw in their life force.

Two, there's an audible click in the cockpit as Jake draws his .45 and holds it to Ing's head. "Children, Ing...Children. Tell me about your boss". Jake is losing it, and having a hard time not pulling the trigger right away. (Unskilled intimidation check with tags on both "think of the children" and "inner demons"). Ing reveals that the nazi wants to restore the Third Reich. Jake can't hold back any longer, and blood sprays the side of the cockpit.

The zombie-dogpile draws in a bunch of energy and explodes, tearing a hole in the fuselage. The plane starts coming apart, and Jake barely manages to hold it together long enough to crash into the jungle.

Scene #4: The Jungle

The scientist's arm is starting to purple as it comes more under the power of the nazi. There was a brief scene on the plane when the Nazi occult's power was inadvertently affecting his infected arm -- yay more player compels! Jake suggests that the Nazi's connection to the arm might also work in the opposite direction. The magician whips up a spell using his silver ceremonial dagger, turning it into a compass pointing at the occultist.

Jake's sense of direction and skills learned in the jungle help the party make their way through the jungle towards the spot on the Nazi's map -- that also seems to be the direction the Nazi was traveling. On the trip, Jake is beginning to lose it -- the jungle is closing in around him, and he's remembering the terrible things he saw here. The scientist with his poisoned arm also is having problems, speaking out more often in German. To the magician's ear, the words and cadence are those of his father.

After some hours, they break out of the jungle and see THE LOST TEMPLE.

Scene #5: The ceremony

The team follows the scientist who takes an unerring course through the temple ruins, a ruin he's never seen before. They come to see the Nazi, his PIRATES and a circle of children. The children are connected to the Nazi by purple eldritch energies, and he is feeding on their power to to send a purple-ivory beam of energy into the heavens, towards Sirius, the dog star.

Lots of things happen more or less simultaneously: Jake interposes himself in front of one of the children and starts getting drained by the spell, disrupting the careful balance of the spell. The magician takes advantage of this and drags his ceremonial blade through the spell, electrifying it. Natasha goes completely cold and impersonal, and realizing that the Nazi needs the children, fires a slug from her personal-hand-cannon into the nearest child. The scientist calls out the Nazi, telling him he's doing it wrong! The great reveal: the Nazi is his uncle!

The pirates start pressing the party hard. One cuts off the scientist's plagued arm, and from the purple stump a new arm identical to the pirate zombie that infected him begins to grown in its place. Natasha sets off a couple of grenades, but was pressed enough that they do not kill the children. She begins to reach for the switch on her suicide-belt. This was the mission she came here for! THe scientist begins to slip into the pit at the center of the circle, and his boots begin to dissolve, one molecule at the time. Something is forming in the center.

Jake, pinned by the spell, sees his old dog tags lying on one of altars. He realizes that we were the SECRET WEAPON the nazi needed to finish the spell, and this was all a plot to get us here. His inner demons sing louder than ever, and drawing on the willpower that kept him alive, he takes a step, then another. The purple beams drag at his back, and he grabs his dog tags. His face finally calms for the first time since the crash -- the voices are silent. He comforts one of the children and flings himself into the pit. He's torn apart by the chaotic vortex and the magic reverses itself on the Nazi, killing him, but not before he yells to the scientist "You are our last hope!"

When the beam disappears, only Jake's dog tags remain.

Closing Scene: The scientist, muttering in German, seems to know everything his father and uncle knew. This is not the end. This is a new beginning.

So many aspect tags along the way, with so many of them turning into a success with side effects. VERY appropriate for a horror themed game. One should not tag "haunted by inner demons" without both the roleplaying and having it color the results. I've pitched that as an important part of playing aspects, but we definitely took that to "11" in this game. "I tag my xxx aspect and both myself and the zombie tumble out of the plane!" Awesome stuff.

For a off-the-cuff game, this was a heaping awesome set of fun. The more one-shots I play, the more I really appreciate the kinds of story telling you can do when you move away from the campaign format. There's less expectation that characters live. You can do shortened story-arcs for characters with a good payoff at the end.
Tags: fate, games, roleplaying

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