Over on G+ a member of the Fate Core community asked “How can I use Three Rocketeers to play TMNT?” and basically made my whole week. The main thrust of the question is, “How can I modify the swordplay rules to other styles of combat?”
It’s a great question! And particularly apt as the swordplay in Three Rocketeers grew out of my desire to have something similar to the kung fu in Tianxia but spun out into fencing. So I began the strange experience of hacking my own game and teaching others how to do it.
One thing to note at the beginning: the swordplay rules in Three Rocketeers are designed to work with no-skills Fate. The bonuses provided are smaller (generally a +1) and broader (each part focuses on a different action). I feel it works best with the no-skills Fate because they work in similar mechanical spaces, reinforcing one another.
Swordplay really consists of two things: an aspect and a stunt that consists of three or more elements.
Keeping the aspect is hugely important. This is Fate we’re talking about so keep in mind that everything on the character sheet should say something about who the character is. The easiest way to do that is with aspects. It also encourages specific types of narration. If your style is Crashing Wave Style you’re not exactly going to be subtle and will most likely rely on repeated heavy attacks.
That said, always be sure to work with your table so people know what the strengths and weaknesses are of your style. It’s no fun to play a style that has no weakness. Challenges create adversity, and adversity is where you can triumph.
Hack Idea: when using your style would be to your detriment, you can use it negatively when building your bonus. It provides a -1 to your bonus but if you fail, you gain a boost. (Yes, I know this goes against the Fate Core idea of no negatives but I like this better than giving your opponent a boost.)
Building Your Stunt Options
The swordplay stunt is where you can really change things up. Changing the elements that go into a swordplay stunt will help you model the fiction you’re going for. The default elements in Three Rocketeers are Weapon, Off-Hand, Edge, and Appearance. These are all focused on emulating swashbuckling fencing fiction. What sword you use in a fencing duel is important. Whether you have a dagger or a cloak matters. The little trick, your secret maneuver you know can win you a fight. The style, panache, and charisma you exhibit in a duel is core to the genre.
When hacking swordplay into something else, think about what’s going on in the fiction. What sort of violence is there? What’s important about those scenes? How are the fighters differentiated? Come up with three to five elements that speak to the game you’re creating.
For TMNT I suggest Weapon, Unarmed, Edge, and Teamwork. The most obvious one is Weapon because the turtles are defined by their choices in weapons. This would focus on attack and defense options. But! The turtles are also very adept at Unarmed combat and their styles change when they aren’t swinging sticks at you. This would also be focused on attack and defense. Edge is an excellent generic term. I wanted to keep it but refactored a bit for TMNT. These options make overcome actions easier – the idea that the trick you know helps you overpower your opponent at a crucial moment. The last element is Teamwork because a lot of the fiction in TMNT is about the turtles learning to fight together – they’re best when they’re a team and cooperating. There should be an element that encourages that behavior. This one is about creating advantages and offering assistance to the other players.
None of these proposed elements overlap. Weapon and Unarmed have similar focus but they are mutually exclusive. They also cover all four actions in Fate Core, which is some nice symmetry.
From here it’s a matter of filling in the options for the elements. Each one should have a good variety of options so players can feel unique. I’m not sure what the sweet spot is but five worked well for Three Rocketeers. This is where the real work comes in. I’m not going to go through filling out all the options, as it can be time consuming, but just follow the general idea that each option should give the equivalent a +1 bonus in a narrow field of action. Adding Weapon:1 or Armor:1 is totally on the table, as is improving the first invoke of a created aspect to +3. Get creative and keep it evocative.
Where to Go From Here
How do you apply this to your game? Honestly, I think it could apply to just about anything. It’s a matter of thinking about the themes, tropes, and beats in the fiction you’re modeling.
Want to play superheroes? Build your power set with an Origin, Attack, Defense, and Edge.
Wild west gunslingers? Build your duelist with your Draw, Pistol, Stare, and Edge.
Magicians? Design your arcane style with Elemental Font, Focus, and Signature Spell.