The previous session of KantCon 2018 was covered here.
The only RPG session I ran all weekend was this one, a Fate Accelerated romp called “Forget It, Jake. It’s ToonTown,” a mashup of film noir tropes and Looney Tunes antics. It was Who Framed Roger Rabbit meets L.A. Confidential. A toon ingenue hires a human private investigator to look into threats made against her while filming a movie in Hollywood, with a fox toon journalist on their heels looking for dirt and the detective’s old partner from the ToonTown police force, a pig cop yearning to get back out there and solve crimes. Rounding out the team is the actress’s bodyguard, assigned by the studio to make sure she makes it through the production. These five will hunt through the back alleys of Hollywood and ToonTown, up against kidnappers and the toon Mafia, the White Glove. Each character also has a secret on a slip of paper which affects how the story unfolds. Familiarity with Roger Rabbit helps, but isn’t necessary.
A quick discussion about Fate, if you’re not previously familiar: the engine revolves around rolling Skills or Approaches with four specialized dice that are basically a d3-2, so the results are -1, 0, +1. Total it up, tell the GM, compare it to a difficulty or opposing roll. The system shines in how it handles literally everything else, which are Aspects. An aspect is a descriptive phrase like “Cluttered Maze” or “About to Black Out” or “Filled With Fury Hotter Than a Thousand Suns”. These aspects apply to a roll mechanically whenever the player spends a point from their pool (usually 3 in a session). However, these aspects can also be used against you, so if you are negotiating with a hated enemy and the GM reminds you that you are “Filled With Fury…”, they can slide you a fate point. If you accept, it’s time to jeopardize the negotiations and let your rage take over or you can buy off the compel with a fate point of your own and keep control. Big drama, all story based, relatively few specialized rules. My kind of system.
I ran it under Fate Accelerated because the skill list approach in Fate Core didn’t feel right to how loose I wanted ToonTown to be. Aspects are pretty freeform, and approaches let the dice rolls be more about style and how you do it rather than what you’re doing, if that makes sense. I personally struggle a bit with Accelerated, because it isn’t just an issue with a limited skill list, but a totally different approach to how you make things happen. “I look out for bad guys pulling up to the studio” isn’t an option because there’s no perception skill. Are you Carefully noting each vehicle as it approaches? Are you Sneakily tracking everything but trying to make it look like you’re just reading the paper? Or are you doing something else and Quickly taking a glance as you head into the lot? The difficulties might change depending on which approach you are using, or how much info I deliver on a successful roll, but subjectivity is the name of Fate Accelerated, even moreso than Fate Core.
The session itself went well, but completely different than my private playtest of it a week before. Different energy in the room, different players, different game. The MVP both times was the toon cop, Frank Bakon, played (excuse the pun) hammily both times and to great comic and dramatic effect. As a toon with relatively lower stakes, the character has a chance to flourish on the sidelines. The reveal of their secret in both sessions was great because it pulls them deeper into the story and also fundamentally changes their relationship with their former partner. Similarly, the ending is a noir twist of the knife that can leave the players victorious in solving the crime but hollow when they realize what it took to get it. My detective even said something like “We won, but I don’t like how it feels.” It’s a fun twisty little story with a lot of toon comedy (at the right table) that can still raise the stakes when it needs to. My players seemed to have a great time playing up the toon aspects and got a kick out of the ending.
My best tip for what I had going on is to build just enough character as you need for four hours and let players do the rest. I give a character sheet, a paragraph of backstory leading up to the beginning of the game, maybe an NPC name or two, and a secret on a slip of paper that references one of their aspects. They can allude to the secret by mentioning that aspect and I can adjust my response based on that. It adds a lot of depth without a lot of deep backstory or memorizing setting details. It unfolds naturally at the table when they need it and sometimes it never gets spoken out loud, which is fine with me! Someone doing something specific that I don’t understand is a mystery. Someone doing nothing because they have no motive is just treading water.
Now’s a good time to announce the Nerdhaus One-Shots Project where I write and release a four-hour convention-style adventure with pre-generated characters every now and again. They come complete with my notes on the setting, genre conventions, and hints on what to do if things go awry. If you want to collect some adventures for use when your regular group skips a week, or if you only have time to run unconnected adventures with a changing roster of players (like me!), then these might be a good fit for you. The first two I have finished are Fate games, and the next will be Dread. If you want to help guide the development of future projects, you can hop on the questionnaire right here.