Thursday, February 7, 2008

In the player's seat: my first SotC pulp adventure

I never thought I'd want to play any setting other than fantasy. The fantasy theme is what first made roleplaying attractive to me. I'm a huge fan of fantasy and I thought I'd never want to try any other option. But alas, I play with a group who wanted to test the waters of pulp. Pulp is still a somewhat nebulous genre in my brain. The SotC book highlights many examples, and I've kind of got the idea now, but I'm certainly not comfortable with the genre yet. Having recently finished GMing our first attempt at Fate 3.0 rules, AC volunteered to GM something before we continue the campaign I am running. He suggested trying something into which he can incorporate Spirit of the Season. So this is it - my first attempt at something other than fantasy. Fortunately, while learning the Fate 3.0 rules from the SotC book, I learned a lot about playing vanilla SotC and the using the pulp genre.

This time, AC is GMing, and Llama, J, and I are playing. AC is starting off with a small adventure he has memorized from past experience, and then he'll take us on new adventures if we like it when we're done. All of us players have been getting our characters pieced together over the last couple weeks. Today, I will share with you my SotC character. We did not strictly follow the character creation rules from the book, especially when it got to giving our characters novels and co-starring in each other's novels. That isn't happening. We just created our characters with all of our stats ahead of time. So here he is, my SotC character.

Name: Grey Five
Age: 40
Height / Weight: 6 ft, 170 lbs.

Background Summary: Grey Five grew up in Dartford, England, born in 1882. His given name was Anders Tanworth, son of a public transportation systems specialist. William, his father, offered Anders almost any experience he desired, hoping to open up many doors through which Anders could walk into life. Included among his interests during his youth were hunting, fencing, reading, etiquette, and art.

When he was in his teens, his life changed without him knowing it. A scout from the Century Club happened to be in attendance at a fencing championship, which Anders had won with apparent ease. Impressed with Anders' stunning reflexes and speed, the scout made note and thereafter, the life and goings-on of Anders Tanworth were tracked and observed covertly by the Century Club. They never lost interest.

Anders continued as usual for the next couple years, thriving in all of his interests. The Great War was now a reality. One Saturday, while heading home from an errand, a man pulled him aside into an alley. The man was the scout who had been tracking Anders' progress. He explained to Ander's that the Great War was drawing into itself more people and more resources. "It's only a matter of time before you find yourself registering for the draft like other chaps your age," he said. "But I know you, Mr. Tanworth, and I have an alternate path to offer you." Anders didn't say a word, but continued listening. "My name is Oswald. I've been observing your for the last few years on behalf of the Century Club. We are prepared to offer you a position as a Centurion."

Life was a big rush following this event. Anders accepted the proposition, unable to turn down what sounded like a fascinating adventure. It might be dangerous, but certainly more interesting to him than the soldier's life. Soon after joining, he was placed in Oswald's division, the Grey Division. This division specialized in spy / assassin / operative training. Anders was trained for a short time in England, then transferred to the USA. There are only a handful of Centurions in each Color Division (this is not in the book - I made it up). The Color Divisions strip them of their true identity and instead give them a new name consisting of their Color and a number. So, Anders Tanworth ceased to roam the earth when the Grey Division adopted its new member, Grey Five.

Grey Five stuck with his upbringing. He is a proper gentleman, always wearing a suit, preferring high-buttoning jackets. He wears a bowler hat, black gloves, and glasses. Years down the road found him stationed in Hawaii for a time. While here, he befriended a young man who had adopted a hobby Grey Five had never witnessed - surfing. This young man taught Grey how to surf and it soon became one of his favorite ways to spend time off duty. He approached the engineers serving the Grey Division and asked them to design a small board which would strap on his feet and allow him to slide on various surfaces. It would need to be lightweight, bulletproof, and small enough to fit under his suit coat. The engineers said they could try anything. The final product came out just as Grey had imagined. He named it the Stuntboard and soon began training with it at the Centurion facilities. This and his modified Luger, "Claire," are his main equipment. Here is the sketch I did of Grey Five, scanned from my character sheet.

Grey Five

I think my idea for the Stuntboard goes back to the late 1980s when I had a favorite G.I. Joe character by the name of Muskrat. He came in a 2-pack and got much use. He came with a long blue machete-style blade, a rifle, and a small "swampboard" which could fit on his back or plug into his boot. I also usually gave him a whip, which I think was an accessory belonging to Croc Master. I went looking and tracked down some pictures. Below is a picture of Muskrat, totally decked out. Below that is a picture of his swampboard. This had to be the subconscious inspiration for the Stuntboard. Ah, childhood.

Now, let's get onto the stats. For those of you who are familiar with the Fate system, the following will make sense. For those of you who aren't familiar with it, I will explain briefly what all of these things are.

Aspects are some attribute belonging to your character, usually central to their life or history. Aspects are created by the player and may take any form. For instance, you could give your character the aspect Always Hungry. But aspects are usually more fun, and easier for the GM to use if you add a bit more flavor to them. So, Always Hungry might be more interesting if, instead, you named it "Does anyone else smell food?" Now the GM really has some flavor to work with.

Aspects can be used to benefit you. If you roll poorly and want to add 2 to the result, or just reroll all dice, you can pay a Fate point to the GM to gain that benefit. But, your aspects can also be compelled by the GM. This means that he can use them against you, forcing you to make a decision. So, let's say your character is trying to focus on an important task, but someone walks by with a plate of food. The GM could compel your "Does anyone else smell food?" aspect and say, "What are you going to do? You need to finish this task, but someone just walked by with rich-smelling foods. You're having a hard time resisting the urge to follow the man and ask for a bite." Now you have to either go with your hungry nature, or you can fight it. If you goes with it, the GM gives you a Fate point. If you fight it, you have to pay the GM a Fate point.

Skills are 15 things you're best at. You will have 5 levels of skills, from Average to Superb. You have more skills on each lower level, and only one thing you're Superb at. You can make this skills up, or use those listed in the book. SotC has a very thorough set of skills which meet any need for the pulp game.

Stunts are a guaranteed way of doing something well. You can make them up, or use those listed in the book. Stunts are usually related to one of your skills. For instance, if you have a character who is good at the Guns skill, he can choose from several Guns stunts which will give him a guaranteed benefit. For example, the Quick Draw stunt allows a player to draw his gun as a free action. Usually, drawing a weapon counts as a supplemental action, which gives you a -1 to your roll for a skill.

So, here are Grey Five's stats.


  1. “This will have to do.” (Quick to come up with alternatives, use anything as a weapon)
  2. Fine English Gentleman (Proper and gentlemanly upbringing and behavior)
  3. “I’ll be in the library.” (Loves to read and study)
  4. “Leave me out of it.” (Prefers to avoid unnecessary conflicts and stay out of trifling matters)
  5. “Does he ever miss?” (Accurate with guns)
  6. Think Fast (Able to process matters very quickly under pressure for reasonably good outcomes)
  7. “I’m pretty sure he’s telling the truth.” (convincing speaker, good at deceit)
  8. Face to Face (Has a preference for doing things at face value, avoids sneaking and underhandedness if possible)
  9. Stuntboard (Qualified to use his Stuntboard)
  10. The Grey Division (covert spy / assassin training / athletics skill)


Superb (+5)Athletics
Great (+4)GunsRapport
Good (+3)AcademicsAlertnessResolve
Fair (+2)BurglaryEnduranceStealthWeapons
Average (+1)ArtDeceitFistsInvestigationSleight of Hand


(using gadget as a stunt)

  1. Bulletproof
  2. Lightweight
  3. Shoelocks
Quick Draw (Guns): Draw gun as a free action.

Acrobat (Athletics): Perform complex athletic maneuvers, like shooting while swinging on a rope. The difficulty of the task is decreased by 2 points. Rolls for falling get a +2.

Five Minute Friends (Rapport): Pay a Fate point to increase the chances of gaining good standing with a stranger in a few minutes.

Walking Library (Academics): I have knowledge equal to a library of my Academics skill level.

To close this post, I have the first session report for our SotC adventure!

We all sat down in the conference room after several weeks off. This time AC was in the GM seat, easily the most experienced of us all. We introduced our characters: Llama is playing as a young pyro-maniac demolitions expert named Nigel Wickston. J is playing as a big Russian special ops guy by the name of Igor Steel. One of Igor's arms is a gattling gun. J's Russian voice is fun, and a good compliment to Grey Five's British accent.

I'm going to try describing the session in present tense this time, for a change.

It's Christmas Eve. The scene begins with the three of us driving a Centurion car, receiving a radio communication from one of our commanding officers, a man who goes by "Father." He instructs us to go to the scene of a recent crime involving dynamite. The backstory is that our characters are in the middle of a larger mission to track a huge amount of missing dynamite. This recent crime could be a lead in our search. So, we head over to the scene of the crime, which happens to be the front of a pizza restaurant. In front of the building are the remains of a police car, partly blown to pieces by dynamite.

We meet up with an officer on the scene by the name of O'Malley, who happens to be an acquaintance of Nigel's. He gives us a rundown of the scene: some people with guns and dynamite are inside and there are possibly hostages. Looking through the windows we see a few figures. One shaky fellow is near the front door. He opens the door quickly, shows us a lit stick of dynamite and warns the police to stay back.

Grey Five walks up to the door carefully and prepares to talk to the shaky guy, but instead asks for a little help from Nigel - after all, dynamite fans are better at talking with dynamite fans. So Nigel pulls out a stick of dynamite and shows the guy in the doorway: "Look, I have one too!" Achieving a lucky roll on Rapport, Nigel draws the guy out the door and engages him in conversation about dynamite. While the crazy guy is standing there holding his dynamite, Grey ever so carefully reaches over and pulls the lit fuse from the stick of dynamite, rolling it up and stashing it in his coat pocket. He then slips quietly behind the guy and into the pizza parlor.

Inside there is a really big guy who points a gun at Grey. On Grey's heels, Igor also enters the parlor, gattling arm hidden from view within the sleeve of his big military coat. There is also a commanding lady behind the counter, yelling and holding the pizza parlor employee by his shirt. The big guy threatens Grey and Igor, telling them he'll shoot if they try anything.

Igor says something to the big guy. At the sound of Igor's Russian accent, the big guy stiffens up and yells: "She has agents everywhere!" Then fires a shot at Igor, which misses by a good margin. Igor then raises his gattling arm and fires a single shot at the big guy's arm, knocking him down behind the pizza counter and disarming him.

Grey runs at the counter and uses his Acrobat stunt to vault over the counter while drawing his gun, landing safely on the other side, gun pointed at the demanding lady, ready to grab the big guy's gun. The lady swings the pizza guy around and pushes him toward Grey, keeping herself hidden safely behind the pizza guy's body for a moment.

This is where the session ended. Igor and Grey are in parlor trying to deal with the criminals, and Nigel is out in the front talking shop with jittery dynamite guy. A couple guys will be out for some of the upcoming sessions. I'm not sure how we'll deal with that. We're also adding one more buddy of ours to the group. We also decided as a group to sit down when we're all available and figure out ways to tie our backstories together. J was pushing for this because it is built into the 5-phase character development as presented in the SotC book. We all agreed this would be fun, so that's coming up before too long. Who knows - maybe I'll change some of my aspects.

Until next time, thanks for reading!

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