Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Bulldogs! Review Pt 1 - Species Creation

That cover alone tells you just about all you need to know.

Soon I'll be running a brand new game for my players, using Galileo Games' FATE hack Bulldogs! This will be a different review from the norm, as will jump around and look at different sections of the book.

I plan to take a very player-centric path for this system, and the vast majority of the elements that will make up the game will be done at the very first session, and primarily by the players. Going in there will be only a handful of elements predefined:
  1. The players are blue-collar stiffs making a poor wage under dangerous conditions. They move cargo around the galaxy, they have a boss that, at a minimum, is a pain in the ass, and are aboard a freighter.
  2. They are under contract to an organization (FedEx in spaaaaace).
  3. There's at least one zone of systems that has a frontier wild-west feel.
  4. There are all sorts of aliens.

Beyond these precepts, I'm going to leave all of the remaining details up for grabs, and have the players flesh the setting out, similarly to how Diaspora does cluster creation. I'll probably do a review after the game starts, but for now, I want to focus a bit on element 4: There are all sorts of aliens.

The book lays out ten core species, but we'll toss all of them out save for the Ursemenites, a despicable race of murderous teddy bears you can read about here
Snuggle THIS.

Besides these buggers, I'll have my players create the races they want in the game, save for one of my own, so lets look at the rules Bulldogs! has for species creation.

Bulldogs! Species Creation
The book breaks the process into several steps:

  • Phase 1: Physiology 
  • Phase 2: History
  • Phase 3: Psychology
  • Phase 4: Creating Abilities

Before creating a sample race, let's talk a bit about Phase 4: Creating abilities. Unlike most FATE games, Bulldogs! takes an approach that is half-FATE, half traditional RPG when it comes to how they differ from the baseline human*. Each species is built using a baseline refresh based on the power level you choose for the game. Fresh Meat (6 refresh), Trouble (7 refresh), Hard Boiled (8 refresh) or Serious Badass (10 refresh). From here, the player then selects a species, each of which has an number of aspects and abilities (which function like stunts) associated with them. The game recommends the player choose two of those aspects. The player then pays for all of the abilities from their starting pool of refresh. For example, the Urseminites have these listed to choose from:

Aspects: Cute as a Button, Short and Round, "Never met a vice I didn't try,” Vicious Little Bastard, “Empathy is for suckers”
AbilitiesThick Fur and Fat [–1], Hard to Kill [–2], No Natural Weapons [+1], Universally Despised [+1]

A Urseminite player in a game where the power level is Trouble would start with 7 refresh, then would purchase all of the species abilities, which total +1, thereby giving that player 8 total refresh to spend on standard FATE stunts..

Reviews and message boards tend to state that Bulldogs! is a great system for introducing players to FATE, and the species rules really do that well, as the purchasing of abilities mimics the mechanical balances of species in systems like D&D and Pathfinder well, while still retaining the abstract FATE method of defining a species.

Now that we've looked at the creation system, lets put it into practice.

Searching the internet a bit for good images to base a species off of, I came across this gem, created by Palladium on the forums:

Note the awesome shark-tooth boots
Phase 1: Physiology 
Based on the image, the sharkmen still breathe with gills. Since their heads are contained within a helmet of water, how do they communicate? Telepathy! The sharkmen excel as hunters and have powerful athletic abilities, including strong swimming skills. Their evolution as a deep-water predator makes them quite adept and withstanding pressure differentials and navigating in weightlessness. Being such an ancient species, the sharkmen have evolved into a species of various sizes, with a wide range of fin shapes, colors, and patterns.

Aspects: Aquatic TelepathAt Home In Adverse Environments

Phase 2: History
Lets name the species Charchodons. No one knows where the Charchodon originally come from, as they are ubiquitous in the galaxy. They tend to excel in professions that place an emphasis on hunting and physical ability, serving as mercenary soldiers, detectives, laborers and explorers. They evolved to be apex predators long ago, and are often found as the head of large organizations. They never appear to age at all, and some Charchodon administrators and rulers have been in power since before the invention of hyperdrive technology.

AspectsCredits Speak LoudestSurvival Of The Fittest

Phase 3: Psychology
Spacers are often overheard using the phrase "like bribing a shark" to refer to buying money one's way out of a jam, as its often easier to pay them off rather than fight them. As a result, they have a well-earned reputation for being venal and materialistic. They tend to ooze confidence, whether warranted or not. A Charchodon's enthusiastic nature, willingness to take on any task, and powerful presence make them a welcome ally throughout the galaxy.

Aspects:Cult Of Personality, Fired Up!

Phase 4: Creating Abilities
The core book provides many examples of these abilities and has a few guidelines and notes that no character can start the game with a refresh less than one. We'll go with these, for a total of -1 refresh.

Immortal [0]
Some species are extremely long-lived, perhaps to the point that they are effectively immortal. Members of
these species aren't affected by the ravages of age during play, and it’s possible they've been around hundreds or even thousands of years.

Environmental Immunity [-1]
Some species aren't affected by certain types of harsh environment, such as freezing temperatures, extreme heat, or vacuum itself. When taking this ability, choose one or more of these types of environment. A member of the species is immune to damage, consequences, or environmental aspects related to the chosen environment. To be immune to more than one or all of these environments, the ability costs –1. In this case we'll choose three environments: vacuum, high pressure, and aquatic.

Fast Healing [–2]
Species with this ability heal far more quickly than the norm. This healing ability does not apply to extreme consequences, but all lesser damage heals at a faster rate. Out of combat, members of this species recover physical consequences as if they were one level lower (a moderate recovers as if it were mild, etc.). Additionally, in combat once per scene a member of this species may clear away a mild physical consequence with a supplemental action.

Specialized Respiration [+1]
Some species must breathe a particular combination of gases that differs from the normal oxygen/nitrogen mix found on most inhabited planets and aboard space stations and star ships. Such species must carry their particular breathable atmosphere with them in some way or they will begin to suffocate. Water serves as the required breathable atmosphere here.

Telepathic Communication [-0]
You can communicate with others mentally, enabling you to broadcast your thoughts. You can use this for group communication when you are within visual distances, but those who receive such messages are unable to reply mentally.

Telepathic Link [-1]
You can establish a strong mental connection with someone, enabling you to send and receive mental
images. This allows for instantaneous communication over long distances. You can’t communicate words, but you can show what you see or send mental images of situations or objects to the other person. This is two way, and the other person can do the same even if he doesn't have this stunt or even if he has no psychic powers of his own. The link works over thousands of miles. If the two people are on the same planet, or even in orbit around a planet, it works fine. This link isn't powerful enough for interplanetary communication within a system, much less across space between two star systems.

Here's the species after creation:


Typical Charcodon aspectsAquatic TelepathAt Home In Adverse Environments, Credits Speak LoudestSurvival Of The Fittest, Cult Of Personality, Fired Up!

Charcodon abilities [-3 refresh]: Environmental Immunity [-1], Fast Healing [–2], Immortal [0], Specialized Respiration [+1], Telepathic Communication [-0], Telepathic Link [-1]

Art by Corrik, which you can see here.

All in all, the species creation system looks fun and varied, with a lot of flexibility. As per FATE, the system starts top-down, making story and flavor the key elements. I can't wait to see what weirdness my players come up with!

* There are no humans listed as default in the book, which is interesting, but rather several human-like species, fulfilling the standard sci-fi trope Human Aliens.

Bulldogs! Review Pt 1a - Species Creation