Midwest GameFest 2018, Pt. 2 (Fate Core)

Let me state for the record, I really wish I had some pictures of this one, since there was a lot going on in the middle of this table. Jenga blocks, board game tiles, a variety of pawns, glass gaming stones, and index cards with notes and numbers… For a guy who mostly runs theater of the mind or a simple white board, it was quite a shift.

Edit: One of my players snapped a shot of the island as it sank!

Photo Credit: Andria Osborne, 2018

Anyway, last weekend was Midwest GameFest. I discussed my experience with Bluebeard’s Bride yesterday, and today is about my Fate Core session, Rock Chambers & The Forbidden Island!

Rock Chambers is your classic two-fisted pulp treasure hound, traveling the world with a colorful roster of associates to discover hidden treasure and bring it back to the modern world (at a slight profit). Rock & Co. were developed years ago for a temple exploration board game I was writing and I have always wanted to revisit their adventures.

This session is written around Matt Leacock’s Forbidden Island. The board game follows unnamed explorers on a mystic island that begins sinking at the beginning of the game, making it a co-op race against time to secure the four treasures and make it back to the helicopter and escape the island as it disappears underneath you. It’s a favorite in our household, and plays like a more accessible version of Pandemic (written by the same designer).

My implementation is a bit different. I laid out the island in a specific way but hide which tile was what so the players have to explore this uncharted sister island to Atlantis. I added an elevation mechanic which complicates exploration and also attacks the deck such that lower parts of the island sink before the upper parts. And instead of a board game where things just work, I’ve reskinned all of the movement and actions in Fate Core, the big sibling of Fate Accelerated I described back in my writeup for ToonTown. The main difference is Core has a Skill list and FAE uses Approaches, which are more about how you do as opposed to what you do. Since I knew the puzzles in this adventure were going to be Myst-style ancient machinery, Approaches would have favored a particular style of play too much.

The characters are all pulp icon types: Rock Chambers is my Indiana Jones with a more damaged moral compass, crafty Olive Croco the big game hunter and navigator, British celebrity aeronaut Dash Cunning, boy genius Jimmy Sharpe, Egyptian mystic Sekhet El Masry, and the mercenary “Tennessee” Garrison, a demolition diver ready for anything. Rock has come into possession of a collection of notes regarding the Forbidden Island (given the name Debekatuta in this incarnation) and he gathers his team to explore the island and discover the mystic artifacts rumored to be concealed there.

The session ran well, with the players getting to decide their connections to each other rather than me forcing Olive and Rock’s on-again/off-again romance or Jimmy’s hero worship. My players opted for a bromance between Dash and Rock, with Jimmy playing a personal Mama Mia! as he tried to determine which of the three men in the party were his actual father. It set a tone that would hover over the proceedings, a lighthearted larger-than-life quality that kept us clipping along at a healthy pace once things started to go wrong.

And go wrong they did! The first treasure starts the island sinking (they’re all load-bearing mystic artifacts, you understand), hidden as they are behind gates with puzzles for locks and death traps concealing the artifacts within. Rock’s notebook provides hints for some of the encounters, and each temple switches from the more innocuous one to something darker as the artifact is removed, reflecting the worsening fate of the island and players as you insist on raiding the temples. For example, the Crystal of Fire is in the volcanic Cave of Shadows. The volcano lies beyond the Iron Gate, and becomes the Cave of Embers as the crystal is removed. (All of the imagery and location names come straight from the board game which is beautifully illustrated)

As the island sinks, they have to address the terrain, worsening conditions, and likelihood that the party will turn on each other for survival. That last one was less of a concern, since I thought I was up against a deadline at the con and started trying to wrap up the session early. As a result, I was not very aggressive about compelling aspects to get fate points back in my players’ hands. The compel process is usually one where I offer fate points with a pointed observation or question (“Are you sure you can leave that expensive whatsit behind given your Mercenary Spirit?”) that influences the player to complicate their own story. In a campaign, I know the triggers for the characters and steer them into trouble, but one-shots are so story driven that it’s easy to forget. I gave out very few Fate points, and it meant my players were tapped out by the end of the session and couldn’t power their artifacts to help them out. They survived anyway, but the mystic influence of the island was reduced to flooding, lava, and traps/puzzles. The spiritual experience fell short. I usually keep a slip of paper with everyone’s aspects written down so I remember what they are up to, but my prep time got away from me and my players got less of the Fate experience as a result.

End result? Lots of fun puzzles, racing against the sinking island and a last-minute helicopter rescue down the side of the volcano’s edge to rush the party to the final temple and working together to decide who would reach into the razor-sharp griffin’s beak to pull the handle and release the final artifact. I’ll tweak some aspects to up the stakes and opportunities for compels and get this thing up on the website some time this winter as I dig through my backlog of adventures to post. My players got some Indiana Jones adventure and I finally got to see Rock and his associates think their way through temple traps.

Up next: a different sinking feeling for Ten Candles on a cruise ship.