Friday, January 23, 2015

NPC Spotlight: Agent 47

This is the second installment of NPC spotlight, where I detail the heroes of the Disney and Square-Enix alliance who will be the opponents of the player characters. Last time was one of my favorite minor Disney characters, and this time it's a Square-Enix guy. Of sorts.

Back in 2000, a small independent company named Io-Interactive released its debut, Hitman: Codename 47, which proved to be the first of a successful franchise. In 2006, Io was purchased by Eidos. In 2009, Eidos was purchased by Square-Enix. So Io is now a wholly-owned subsidiary of Square-Enix, and thus, the Hitman setting is part of the Disney/Square-Enix Empire in my campaign.

(It's fun to note, in passing, how the consolidation of entertainment companies in the real world parallels the expansion of the empire in my campaign, but that's an issue for another post.)

Except for their shared ruthlessness, Agent 47 has nothing in common with Captain Crocodile. The latter is a very prominent part of the Disney war machine, whether leading troops from the front, or heading the administration of a conquered world. 47, on the other hand, should be all but invisible.

As far as actually describing Agent 47, well, there's not that much to it. He's a mercenary assassin, a contract killer, a murderer for hire. He's genetically engineered (or something) for maximum ability. He occasionally shows flashes of morality, but never so much that it actually interferes with his job. His role in service of the Mouse Emperor is pretty self-evident. Once the player characters attract too much attention, Agent 47 gets sent after them.

The great thing about Agent 47, from my perspective as a GM, is that he could be anywhere, and can strike in any fashion. Any world that has humans could have Agent 47 skulking about in stolen clothes, ready to slip some cyanide in a drink or unleash a volley of .45 ACP bullets.

Possible Aspects (NPCs only get one):
The Contract is Everything
Impervious Calm

Important Skills:

(images copyright Io Interactive, or possibly Square-Enix)

Monday, January 19, 2015

Sample PC: Robot Unicorn

Learn by doing, right?

Reading through the FATE rules, I made a simple character as I went along. Perhaps you remember Robot Unicorn Attack hitting it big a few years back? I figured that's about as straightforward as videogame characters get, so here's what I came up with:

As far as I can tell, the Robot Unicorn has no name. I just picked "Rob" as a handy abbreviation.

The character's High Concept is totally already defined. Robot Unicorn: exactly what it says on the tin.

The Trouble aspect was trickier. At first I was leaning against having Priceless Horn as the aspect, because Trouble aspects are not supposed to be redundant with the High Concept. The book gives the example that a character with the high concept Lead Detective shouldn't pick the trouble aspect Hated By The Underworld, because that drawback is already implied by the high concept. But I thought about it, and attempted horn thievery is not as universal a plot complication as I'd initially assumed. Sure, Darkness wants unicorn horns, but the villains of The Last Unicorn want unicorns themselves, not the horns, and I don't remember Unico having to avoid horn-poachers either. That said, perhaps the aspect could be made more specific, like "Horn Coveted by the Cyberwizards" or "Horn Valued as Droid Aphrodisiac", but this will do for now.

The Genre aspect (remember, I'm not using the games default "phase trio" for the last three aspects) was surprisingly easy. Rather than try to define the genre of the setting (synthpop fairytale robo-fantasy?) I just picked the gameplay genre. Endless Runner can totally be invoked to justify bonus relating to movement or stamina or whatever.

The Catchphrase aspect seemed tricky at first, since Robot Unicorn doesn't talk at all. But even though there's no dialog in the game, there is a catchy and iconic theme song. So I took the most memorable line from that, which presumably reflects the character's intense loyalty, or something.

The Wild Card aspect was actually challenging to come up with. After going through the wikipedia page for Robot Unicorn Attack a few times, I settled on Pixie Collector after the game's bonus point mechanism. I'm not exactly sure what this entails, but one of the neat things about FATE is that the aspects invented to describe the characters can also contain details to help guide the GM's worldbuilding. And since at least one Disney film setting does include pixies, this character would motivate me to make sure those pixies show up in the campaign, ideally sooner rather than later...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

FATE and Aspects

After considering several options, I think this campaign would work best with FATE. In particular, I think the Aspect system is the most elegant way to differentiate between characters from entirely different genres.

A decent summary of the system is written up on wikipedia, What I'm mostly interested in right now is the five phrases (the aforementioned "aspects") which sum up each character, and can be invoked by the player for re-rolls, bonuses or other effects.

So, a sample character in the book has the following Aspects:

High Concept: Infamous Girl with Sword
Trouble: Tempted by Shiny Things
I've Got Zird's Back
Sucker for a Sob Story
Secret Sister of Baranthar

These aspects are defined during character creation. The default system in FATE is that your first Aspect is your "high concept"; literally just  a short phrase describing your initial idea for a character. The second is your "trouble", a sort of long-term flaw or complication that further defines the character. The last three aspects are the "phase trio", aspects derived from a specific collaboration between the players on the group's background/origin story.

The first two aspect choices are perfect, and I foresee using them as-is in Imperialist Hearts. The phase trio, while a really clever idea for forming a rapport between a starting party that might not otherwise have one, is not right for my campaign. Having wildly disparate characters thrown together for the first time against a common enemy should be too fun to be relegated to the backstory. Also, the players will need those Aspect slots to define the difference between their characters' original genres and settings.

I haven't figured out the specific procedure for this part of character generation, but I have a few ideas. Something along the lines of: Genre, Catchphrase, Wild Card. That is, the character has one aspect that describes their original setting/context, one derived from a catchphrase (or other dialog attributed to their character in their source material), and then the last one is free-form to fill in anything the player thinks is important that hasn't yet been covered. Some examples:

Bugs Bunny
High Concept: Wisecracking Rabbit
Trouble: Holds a Grudge
Genre: Looney Tunes
Catchphrase: "Ain't I a Stinker."
Wild Card: Looks Great in Drag

Sterling Archer
High Concept: Superspy
Trouble: Alcoholic Womanizer
Genre: Cold War Satire
Catchphrase: "Something Something Danger Zone!"
Wild Card: Walking Arms Encyclopedia

This is still very much first impressions/brainstorming. I'll need to reread the FATE Core book another time or two, at least skim the FATE Toolkit, and look around on blogs or forums for examples of FATE variants and gameplay, before I set anything in stone (or even a .doc file). I expect I will write many more posts in this topic as I delve further into the system and adapt it to my needs.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

How big is a world?

In Kingdom Hearts, each of the Disney cartoon worlds is set on a distinct planet. Obviously the planets, as depicted here, are just icons displaying the design style and basic concept of the setting, not literal representations of the physical layout of the world. But the actual gameplay of Kingdom Hearts missions doesn't necessarily suggest worlds much bigger than these.

So, given that I want my games to be a bit more sandboxy, and less linear, how big should these worlds be in my game?

Well to start, I'll take note that, while animated films never have to define the size of their worlds, many videogames do. The playable area of Skyrim covers about six square miles. Eyeballing Skyrim compared to the other provinces of Morrowind, it's reasonable to assume a total land area of 48 square miles for the whole continent. Similarly someone tried to figure the area of the continent of Kalimdor (in World of Warcraft) and put it at approximately 41 square miles. Since the other continents appear roughly the same size, I think it's reasonable to assume a total of maybe 150-200 square miles of land area on the World of Warcraft itself.

There's no reason to assume every world has to be the same size, but I think these provide good upper and lower bounds.

Obviously, these worlds will be pretty tiny compared to the real world. But the point isn't to build a world that replicates real demographics and food-supply chains and so on, but a world that feels like in can support the cities and populations and cultural variety shown within. Cyrodiil and Azeroth may be undersized from a rigorous statistical viewpoint, but they don't feel cramped when you're in them. Similarly, any animated story would presumably be set in an equivalently sized world without sacrificing any of the story elements.

Not that I expect to need to map out every world in its entirety, but if the player characters decide to mount a large scale military campaign or something like that on a given world, I'll use these numbers as guidelines to develop the needed map or set a scale for a map that already exists.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

invasion troops sketch

The basic infantry of the imperial forces:

I probably won't do *too* much original art on this blog, but if I can't illustrate an idea any other way...

Sunday, January 4, 2015

NPC Spotlight: Captain Crocodile

This will be the first of what will hopefully become an ongoing feature: NPC Spotlights to highlight nifty Disney or Square-Enix characters, or potential allies from other fictional worlds, and describe possible roles they might play in the expansion of the Empire. Once I settle on a game system, I might start to include prospective stat blocks for the characters, but that could be a while. For the most part I'll stick to lesser-known figures, but I may include some more famous ones if I can think of something clever to do with them.

So, Captain Crocodile, designed (and I think animated) by Milt Kahl, and voiced by Candy Candido. A minor villain from one of Disney's less-classic features, this character is nonetheless one of the guys I'm most looking forward to including in the campaign. And not just because he looks and sounds awesome.

Captain Crocodile (henceforth CC) is, as his name suggests, primarily a commander. In Robin Hood, he leads the rhino guards, who I imagine would be on the front lines for any invasion or occupation of a medieval anthropomorphic-animal world (like, say, the Valley of Peace). Presumably he also has authority over the weasel/wolf(1) soldiers.

But he's not just some martinet leading from the rear. CC is clearly a formidable combatant, overpowering and nearly killing Robin Hood in one-on-one combat before being distracted by the incompetent Trigger and then trampled by a mob.

Later he wields an ax trying to stop the prison break, and manages not to embarrass himself even though he is ultimately unable to kill any prisoners or prevent their escape. And make no mistake, the former is clearly his priority.

But best of all, for my purposes: Captain Crocodile is not shown as a prisoner at the end of the movie. Prince John, Sir Hiss, and the Sheriff of Nottingham have all been arrested for their parts in the tyranny, but the two vultures are explicitly shown to be free and still in royal employ. CC and his soldiers are presumably in the same situation; King Richard can't very well disband the entire state apparatus on his return. And even if he could, he probably wouldn't want to. The Prince was guilty of treason against the crown, with Hiss as an accomplice, but all the other guards and soldiers and officials were just performing their feudal duties(2) to a member of the royal family whom they had no particular reason to suspect of foul play.

This is crucial for me, because Imperialist Hearts is not about the ambition of Disney villains. It is about the machinations and campaigns of King Mickey himself, and his allies and underlings, who are all typically the "good guys" of the worlds they inhabit and the stories we've seen. And there is definitely a place for a ruthless veteran officer like Captain Crocodile in King Mickey's grand design, even if he's a bit less cuddly than most...


(1) I'd always assumed they were weasels, but Andreas Deja (who knows more about drawing and animating animals than I ever will) calls them wolves.

(2) I almost wrote "just following orders", but it's a little too early to Godwin this blog just yet...

all images in the post (c) Disney, obviously

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Statement of Purpose

In 2002, the year I graduated high school, Square-Enix released a game called Kingdom Hearts. It combined elements of Square-Enix's Final Fantasy series with the Disney animated universe to tell an epic story of rescuing princesses and saving worlds. The various distinct worlds are presented as planets in a sort of galaxy, and the protagonist moves between them in a sort of spaceship (well, most of the time...), and adheres to a sort of Prime Directive in order to avoid "spoiling" the natives of each world with knowledge of the bigger picture.

Eventually, I got to wondering. What if this "galaxy" doesn't just include the Disney and Square-Enix worlds? What if it encompasses every animated world and videogame setting? And what if, after overcoming the existential threat posed by Xehanort et al., King Mickey resolved to expand his own influence in order to prevent such a scenario from ever repeating?

A few years later, I ran a Big Eyes Small Mouth (BESM) table-top role playing game, in which the players could play as any non-Disney cartoon character or non-Square-Enix videogame character. A party consisting of Nico Bellic (GTA 4), Zap Brannigan (Futurama), Luffy (One Piece) and Welkin Gunther (Valkyria Chronicles) arrived in the Kingdom of Duloc just in time to help Shrek and his allies defend against King Mickey's invasion. The campaign foundered due to scheduling issues, gaming system issues, and so on, but the idea remained.

In fact, what started as a silly spur-of-the-moment idea over a decade ago has steadfastly refused to leave my brain, and as time goes on I become more convinced that I ought to revisit the concept. Not just for fun crossover gaming, but also as a vehicle for exploring nostalgia, cultural and historical imperialism, and the economics of consumerism and mass entertainment. If that sounds a bit pretentious, well, you're not wrong. If that sounds unappealing, well, it'll be easy enough to not read those particular posts.

So that's what this blog is. In time, I hope it will focus on recording an actual tabletop gaming campaign, but until I get a group together for that, it will be a repository for all my campaign prep and any random thoughts that are at least tangentially related to the setting.

(future posts will be have more pictures)