This month we’re joined by GM Andante to talk to him about his awesome Warhammer 40k campaign using the FATE system. Sit down and grab read on, this was a great interview! Also, be sure to read the Adventure logs on this one, great stuff!
First off, feel free to tell us about the person behind the GM screen. Where are you from? What do you do both aside from gaming? Alter Ego’s? Wife and kids? Where can we stalk you on the internet? Let us know if you feel so inclined!
I’m from the cold white north that is Canada. I’m a graduate student working toward a PhD in computer science at the University of Waterloo. I do some pretty cool research at the university, and occasionally get to travel abroad for academic conferences. Aside from tabletop gaming, I dabble with video games as well.
Tell us about Fate: Warhammer 40,000 in a nutshell. How did it come to be and how long has the campaign been going on?
Fate 40k is a conversion of Fate Core to the grimdark future of the Warhammer 40,000 universe. Whereas Fate encourages games with a classic pulp tone, with dashing heroes leaping from biplane to biplane, and engaging in fisticuffs with giant undead gorillas. Fate 40k strives for something darker and gritter, closer to pulp noir.
Fate 40k came about after a fun round of board games at my friend’s place. It turned out that we were all tabletop gamers, and also familiar with the Warhammer 40,000 universe. I had heard some interesting things about Fate from the fantastic Gutterskypes podcast (http://www.anim5.com/IDDFOS/TGS/), and became convinced that it could be adapted to a more noir after listening to the Of Steam, Steel and Murder actual play (https://of-steam-steel-and-murder.obsidianportal.com/). I knew I wanted to run something with Fate, and I felt Warhammer 40,000 has the most promising setting for it.
The Nyx Infernus campaign itself was the fruit of our first session of setting generation. The bulk of the campaign takes place on Nyx Infernus, a tidally locked planet whose population are concentrated in a ring perched between eternal fire and perpetual darkness. Countless secrets slumber between night and day on Nyx Infernus, but the Inquisition is particularly keen on uncovering one of them. They have sent a team of Acolytes, who have been less than subtle in their investigations, stirring anger and fermenting resentment in the populous. As an unusual twist, the player characters are _not_ these acolytes; rather, they’re various dramatis personae on the planet, who become caught up in the wake of the Inquisition.
Why use FATE instead of one of the many systems already in place for WH40k, such as the Fantasy Flight ones?
That’s a great question. For me, Fate combines the best elements of narratively driven and mechanically driven games. The flexibility of aspects and stunts allow the players to “stat out” any character they can conceive of, without needing to worry whether or not it is viable in the system; character creation synergizes and rewards the creative process. Fate also gives the players a lot of narrative control, which enables a truly cooperative storytelling experience. At the same time, Fate provides enough mechanical structure that it still feels like a game rather than a narrative experience.
The Fantasy Flight books are wonderfully put together, with a lot of details about the setting incorporated into text and rules. But the system itself has a lot of elements that make it undesirably “swingy”, and randomized tables that produce outcomes that feel very gamy. When something calamitous is called for, I’d rather give narrative control to the player, Fate-style, and ask them to describe something dramatically appropriate.
How regularly do you play, and where do you play? (If you play online, do you use any certain tools to accomplish your gaming such as Google hangouts, roll20, etc.)
I game with a bunch of my friends, all students at the university. We run the game at a nice big table at my place. We aim for weekly sessions, but scheduling concerns sometimes get in the way.
What are your favorite aspects of the FATE system? What are some of its drawbacks (if any)?
I’ve mentioned the flexibility of Fate, and narrative control. The power of cooperative setting creation (borrowed from Dresden Files and Diaspora) cannot be overstated! It creates a lot of investment for the players. The best way to get the players to know the world is for them to help create it. Another bonus that we discovered was how fast and streamlined combat was. And how easy it was to have non-physical conflict.
Fate’s flexibility can be a drawback at times. One of the players mentioned it being harder to create a character concept without having a list of classes to choose from. I’ve also actively tried to reintroduce interesting crunch back into combat via the cover and weapon systems. The corruption & insanity mechanic of Dark Heresy et al. is something I’ve tried to recreate, but thus far haven’t entirely successful; right now, it’s certainly a looming threat that the players worry about, but they much prefer to improve corruption rolls with Fate Points, over taking on corruption consequences.
Custom aspects for Fate, did you come up with these yourself?!
I have to give credit where it’s due. Setting creation is converted from Diaspora and Dresden Files, and the magic system is heavily inspired by the latter. The initiative and cover systems I’ve modified from Of Steam, Steel and Murder (https://of-steam-steel-and-murder.obsidianportal.com/). The rest are stuff that I’ve come up with over time, trying to walk the line between “tactical and interesting”, and “fast paced action”, while staying true to the spirit of 40k. The weapons and armor, I’ve done my best to adapt them from the 40k RPG source books. The psyker and faith systems, I’ve tried to distil from the source material as well.
Where do you draw inspiration from when preparing your game? How much time do you usually take to prepare for a session?
I listen to a number of actual play podcasts that help inspire my games — aside from the ones above, I also count Critical Hit (http://majorspoilers.com/category/critical-hit/) and Fandible (http://www.fandible.com/) at the top of my list. The 3.5 Private Sanctuary (http://www.35privatesanctuary.com/) is a Pathfinder podcast that I still listen to, even though I don’t play Pathfinder anymore; I find the discussions germane across systems. The Warhammer 40,000 setting also offers a wealth of ideas to work from as well. I have several of their novels, and make extensive use of the wikis.
It’s hard to put a time on session prep. Sometimes I’ll think about ideas on the way to work, or when I’m out for a drive. But it usually takes me at least one evening to assimilate the ideas into a cohesive form that’s ready for the table.
Aside from FATE I’m sure you have played other systems too, if so, which ones?
Most of my gaming career has been with variations of D&D — 3.0 back in high school, and Pathfinder and 4e more recently. We dabbled with Star Wars D6 and Shadowrun 3rd Ed. too.
How did you get into tabletop gaming?
I started tabletop gaming when I was in high school, with the Star Wars D6 system and a bunch of friends from the CCG crowd (Magic and Star Wars were very much in vogue then). I stopped gaming when I started university, and have only picked it back up in the last few years.
How long have you been using Obsidian Portal? What brought you to the site and what keeps bringing you back?
I’ve heard good things about this site from many podcasts. I’ve actually used the site before for other campaigns, so I knew from the start I’d like to make use of it again. Using Wikis are pretty much second nature for us, and I had started laying out my ideas here even before the first session, over 6 months ago. The site keeps our campaign information neatly organized, and easily accessible. The players really enjoy writing the adventure logs, so that feature was very valuable for us.
Now that the Reforging has been live for a little while now, what do you think of it?
I like the new design quite a bit. There are a few more bugs to be worked out. It’s very slick and lets us access information very quickly, and also works great on my phone and tablet. Navigation is very easy, and I really dig the new search function. I’m really looking forward to when WYSIWYG editing gets rolled out!
What would you say the single biggest highlight from your game has been so far?
Without a doubt, I think everyone at the table would agree the highlight was the end of Season 1. (Major spoilers ahead for anyone who wants to read the adventure log!)
The party has single-handed sparked the Borer rebellion on the planet, leading the charge against their former Imperial Guard and Inquisition allies. They rally the dissident population into open revolt, and set out a plan to assault the Inquisition command post, and assassinate their leader, Sister Jorens. They are joined by a rogue psyker Riker, an anarchist who wants to see the habring severed.
The party concocts a plan, sending the main body of Borer troops in a frontal assault, while they sneak in behind enemy lines and attack the HQ directly. But alas, they are spotted on the way in, and are quickly pinned down by stormtrooper las-fire. The rogue psyker decides make a break and charge down the hill to unleash psychic fire at close range. His heroism is cut brutally short as the stormtroopers roll +4 (the maximum roll on Fate dice). The attack would kill him instantly, but I turn to the player and offer him an out: take up the calling of the Blood God, shuffle off your mortal coil, and don the blood-soaked demon mantle of Chaos. After a moment’s hesitation, the player agrees — pierced by las-fire, the body of the psyker becomes immolated by fire, and a demon-thing seethes forth to turns on his former allies! Bewildered by the sudden turn of events, Inquisition troops and the turncoat party suddenly find themselves united against this new threat.
I think everyone walked away from the table absolutely flabbergasted at the turn of events. Everyone had expected the battle to lead into some sort of “rebel alliance” civil war Season 2. But now they find themselves back in the good graces of their former allies (complete with an alibi that this was their plan all along). The stakes are raised with the confirmed presence of a demonic incursion. And a player character had died, and at their own hands. Truly a jump-the-shark moment, if I ever saw one!
Okay, before we get out of here, give us some of your best GM’ing pearls of wisdom.
When the players throw you a curve ball, catch it with your teeth. Roll with it. Embrace it. Learn to love those moments. These are the moments when _your_ campaign turns into _our_ campaign.
That’s it for this month folks, stay tuned next month for our annual Campaign of the Year contest, and be sure to keep the recommendations flowing for who will be the next Campaign of the Month straight into my inbox!