Monthly Archives: August 2009

The Basics of Marvel SAGA — The Fate Deck

Okay, let’s talk about one of the most controversial, if not the most controversial, aspect of this game:  The Fate Deck.  I say it’s controversial because this version of the game received alot of criticism for not using dice.  Most roleplayers love their dice, so to use a diceless system was a gamble.

Additionally, dice are easy to find and buy.  One of the problems with the proliferation of this game beyond its support by Wizards of the Coast is that the average person cannot find the original Fate Deck anymore.  People have proposed using amalgamations of normal playing cards for the pure numerical aspect of the Fate Deck, but there is much more on each card besides a number.

Each card has a number between 1 and 10, an aura (positive, negative or neutral), a calling and an associated event that matches the calling.

The original deck had 96 cards in it (four promotional cards were released later, bringing the total to 100).

There are five suits, corresponding to each of the four abilities (Strength, Agility, Intellect and Willpower), plus an extra suit called the Doom suit.  The full deck contained 21 of each suit and 16 Doom cards.

The numerical distribution is as follows: 5 1s, 5 2s, 10 3s, 18 4s, 22 5s, 18 6s, 10 7s, 6 8s, 5 9s, 1 10, creating an approximate Normal distribution around 5.  The average value is actually 5.08.

There are 30 positive auras, 40 neutral and 30 negative auras.

There are 24 different callings (4 of which are villainous).

The numerical value on each card was used in the resolution mechanics, which I’ll discuss in a later post.

The auras are used by the GM to make decisions that are arbitrary during the game.  Did the car slide over the edge of the bridge after being thrown by The Abomination?  Draw a card.  It’s aura is negative.  Oops, the car slides over!  Time for the heroes to act.  I feel this is a great and quick way to help GMs make decisions they may spend too much time stressing over.  It keeps the game moving.

Also, each round PCs and NPCs have a chance to heal damage.  If the GM draws a positive cards, the heroes heal.  If negative, the villains heal.  Otherwise, tough luck everyone!

The real magic of the Fate Deck, in my opinion, are the events listed on each.  You can use the Fate Deck as inspiration during the game to liven up the session.  For example, the heroes are doing research in the library, trying to figure out why Diablo stole a priceless urn.  The players are flipping through their 4th Edition D&D books out of boredom.  As a GM, you flip over a card and get the “Cry For Help” event.  Thinking quickly, you announce that the heroes hear a cry for help coming from outside the building.  There, they find a bus careening out of control!

And here’s where the calling come in…  “Cry For Help” is associated with the Responsibility of Power calling.  Any hero with that calling is pretty much obligated to attend to the bus and its helpless commuters.  Otherwise, they risk losing the experience bonus at the end of the adventure.

Okay, next time I’ll discuss using the cards during play…

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The Basics of Marvel SAGA — The Character Sheet

Let’s first talk about the character sheet and stat block. Here’s an example using a favorite character of mine:

Rocket Raccoon

Strength 4X
Agility 10A
Intellect 4X
Willpower 4D

Edge: 1
Hand: 3 (17)
Calling: Protector
Hindrance: Monstrous

Acrobatics, Marksmanship, Martial Arts, Piloting
Law Enforcement

Enhanced Senses (Smell and Sight) 8
Shrinking 2
Limit: Permanent

Laser Pistol 10
Rocket Skates (Flight) 8

Let’s start with the abilities.  There are four of them:  Strength, Agility, Intellect, Willpower.  And each has an associated color, as I’ve illustrated twice already.  These colors correspond to suits in the Fate Deck, which is the main mechanic of randomness and resolution within the game.

Each ability can be quantified from 0 to 30, which can be described as non-existent to cosmic.  The Core Book provides a nice framework of benchmarks to compare hero to hero.  Rocket, for example, is as strong as The Scarlet Witch, as agile as Captain America (mainly due to his small size), as smart as the Sandman and as willful as Siryn.

The letter code after each number represents the number of skills a character will have for that ability.  X means you have no skills in that ability.  D means you have one.  C means two.  B mean three.  A means four (or more, though rarely).  Sometimes, if heroes are evenly matched, the code be used to settle a contest, if one has a “higher” code.

Next, we have Edge.  Edge represents the ability of a hero (or villain) to defy odds.  In game play, if you hold a card with a value equal or less than your Edge, you can play it for free.  Rocket has an Edge of 1, but Captain America has an edge of 4, meaning he can add more free cards to his actions than the average hero.

A hero’s Calling represents their raison d’etre.  During the game the GM can invoke situation that “call” to a hero, and the player should address the situation if they are the hero they believe themselves to be.  For example, Rocket has the Protector calling.  During play, an escaping villain knocks down a wall in front of an oncoming bus full of people.  According to his calling, Rocket should save those people before pursuing the villain.

Sometimes, a hero might have a Hindrance, which causes them difficulty during play.  Rocket’s hindrance is Monstrous, which means he has a tough time interacting with ordinary humans (people end to freak out when an above-average sized raccoon, smoking a cigar, asks them for some change).  The GM may rule, however, than in outer space, this hindrance may not apply, since many aliens may have weird features.

Next come the skills.  As mentioned, each are associated with a particular ability.  Most skills reduce the difficulty of actions associated with that skill.  For example, Rocket can shoot things with more ease because he has Marksmanship.  Other skills have different uses.  For example, Rocket’s Martial Arts skill allows him to use his Agility to melee attack, as opposed to Strength (which is the standard ability associted with hand-to-hand).  Furthermore, though Rocket does not have one, heroes can have World Class skills.  These allow heroes to defy the odds when using the associated skill.  I will talk about this later.

Powers typically define a hero or villain.  Like everything else, they are associated with a particular ability and they have a numerical intensity, like the abilities.  Rocket has Enhanced Smell and Sight, each at intensity 8, as well as Shrinking 2.  His Shrinking power has a limit of Permanent.  If a power has a limit, the power is typically less effective under certain circumstances.  In this case, Rocket is always small; he cannot turn the power off.  Powers can also be more effective by developing Stunts.  Stunts allow heroes to use their powers in creative ways.

Lastly, let’s talk equipment.  Equipment is handled like powers.  They are associated with abilities and have intensities.  Rocket has a Laser Pistol (intensity 10) and Rocket Skates that give him the ability to fly at intensity 8.
That’s it for now.

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The Rebirth of Marvel SAGA

I’m actually not sure why I stopped playing this particular game.  It is fast-paced and fun.  It has a wonderful mechanic that helps GMs to come up with idea quickly.  It also has an interesting diceless resolution system that mixes resource allocation with randomness.

Just to be clear, I’m talking about the Marvel Super Heroes Adventure Game, published by TSR in the late-late 1990s.  It was prematurely dropped by TSR when it was bought by Wizards of the Coast and almost all non-d20 games were pruned from the catalogue.

I’m going to start posting about this game, my thoughts, short scenarios, houserules, game stats…  Whatever I feel is fun!

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