February 10th, 2010


Design Journal: Bulldogs! and Aspects

One of the things that was very important to me when I was developing Bulldogs! under the d20 system was that players would be able to conceive and create alien species for their own characters. This is something that really defines pulp sci-fi for me—the diversity of alien beings. I hate to play a sci-fi game where I’m not allowed to come up with some crazy new alien species. A short list of 10 species just won't do, and I don't want players to have to wait around for me to publish more official species to play.

 I created a sub-system in d20 that worked pretty well to support this design goal. Luckily, as I am redesigning the game in the FATE system, this task is much, much easier. There were a lot of mechanical considerations in d20 that simply don't exist in FATE, and there is one rule in FATE that makes the whole process relatively simple: aspects. Aspects are a mechanic basically tailor-made for player-authored content, which is precisely what species generation is.

By way of example, let’s compare one of the core aliens in Bulldogs! between the two systems. The Ryjyllians are a cat-like humanoid species known for exporting mercenaries.

Here are the Ryjyllians under the d20 OGL:

  • Rage: Ryjyllians can enter a combat rage, gaining great strength, and durability, but losing self-control and caution. (References combat rage rules elsewhere.)
  • Low-light Vision: Ryjyllians can see twice as far in starlight, moonlight, dim light, and similar conditions of poor illumination. They retain the ability to distinguish color and detail under these circumstances.
  • Claws: Ryjyllians have retractable claws on their fingers and toes that inflict 1d4/x2/slashing damage. All Ryjyllians are proficient in their use.
  • +2 racial bonus to Climb, Jump, and Move Silently checks. Ryjyllians perform cat-like athletic feats with ease.
  • The Ryjyllian Code of Conduct: Ryjyllians adhere to a strict warrior’s code. They will not flee a battle (but will obey an order to withdraw). Fear is disgraceful, and a Ryjyllian challenged to fight may never refuse. Ryjyllians never use deception in combat; only a fair fight is honorable. They must follow orders from a superior without question. If ordered to violate the code, a Ryjyllian may commit ritual suicide after obeying the order. Suicide is expected if a Ryjyllian is humiliated in combat or breaks the code by accident. Breaking the code requires a Will save vs. DC 20.

Now, here they are under the FATE OGL: 

Typical Ryjyllian Aspects (characters usually have two):

  • The Ryjyllian Code of Honor
  • Warrior from a Warrior Race
  • Loyal to My Clan
  • Last to Retreat
  • Cat-Like Reflexes
  • Short Temper

As you can see, some of the features are mostly dropped. Low-light vision and claws can be covered in the species description, these are features that arguably don’t require any specific mechanics in FATE. The other traits are described fairly well by aspects. In FATE, not every member of the species adheres to all of the aspects, allowing for a bit more variation and player choice. I actually like this better as alien species are no longer so stereotypical.

Some of the features of an alien species are not fully represented by aspects. You sometimes need a bit of mechanical crunch to back up the feature of the species. The Rage ability of the Ryjyllians is an example of this, and I’ll talk about that in the next design post.