Sunday, January 27, 2013

Review: White Picket Witches Preview

As part of the FATE Worlds Compilation in the FATE Core Kickstarter, Filamena Young from Machine Age Productions has developed White Picket Witches, a setting "inspired by paranormal cozies like Practical Magic and the Witches of Eastwick, White Picket Witches give the players magic and charms to deal with small town pressures... and sometimes, the forces of evil."

Yesterday, the preview arrived for the backers of the FATE Core Kickstarter. The setting is pure (sub)urban fantasy. You are playing a member of one of five family of witches who fled Salem in 1691, just one year before the infamous Salem Witch Trials in 1692. Five families fled and settled on Moon Island, a small island in Boston Harbor. In the next 400 years a small settlement grew on the island. The five families are still there and apparently influence the community.

Reading the book gives me strong vibes of the TV shows The Secret Circle, Eastwick (the short lived series based on The Witches of Eastwick movie), some Teen Wolf thrown in, as well as the movie The Covenant.
Filamena Young also mentions other influences in one of her design posts.

After a short introduction, White Picket Witches talks about the steps to create Moon Island. This essentially replaces the usual world building from FATE Core and offers steps to create a small community focused on the supernatural. The players get to create the five families (and learn about a mysterious sixth family that supposedly has died out), places of magical power, and choose two issue for the campaign to focus in the process of designing their very own Moon Island.

The next step is designing the player characters. They use five aspects called Canon, Tragic Flaw, Casting, Childhood and Heritage. Canon basically is the High Concept aspect from FATE Core, Tragic Flaw stands in for the Trouble aspect. Childhood is about childhood experiences on the island. Heritage is an aspect that ties you to your family of witches. The Casting aspect describes the looks of your character. You are even encouraged to name an actor, but you could also do it more abstract (I've been using this technique for years now in populating my Vampire: The Requiem game, but this was never that formalized into a game mechanic. Really cool!). The only thing I am not sure about is the "invokeability" (is that even a word?) of the Casting aspect. It seems to rather serve a descriptive function than as a full-blown aspect. But I am more than willing to give it a try.

After assigning your aspects, you get to distribute eight points among seven Assets. Assets replace the complete skill list in a game of White Picket Witches. They shift the focus from what you are doing to how you are doing things. Are you being dangerous, brilliant or treacherous? I like that idea (Vampire: The Requiem Chronicler's Guide had a similar hack called Monster Garage, where you used the Seven Sins as skills). Also, in setting the values of the Assets you are saying something about your character.

You also get a magical skill, presumably the one practiced by your family. The preview didn't specify how skilled you are at magic, but Filamena Young has given answer to that online: you start at Average (+1), but can spend points from the Assets to raise the skill.

When you are finished designing your character, you also get to design an Antagonist for your character, to be used by the GM (or handed over to a player for a short time).

The next big difference to FATE Core is the Face-Off mechanic. It completely replaces the challenges, contests and conflicts from Core. Mechanically, there are similarities to a conflict, but also some differences. In a Face-Off, you have to choose sides and apparently only the main two players (or a player and the GM) are allowed to take the Attack action. Your stress boxes increase by the number of people on your side. The other player characters present seem to be able to Create Advantages, though.

Face-Off simulates the things happening on-screen in the source material very well. The very entertainingly written long example provided fits right into shows mentioned above (especially Teen Wolf).

The next part of the preview deals with stunt-like spells. As Filamena Young clarified on the 'net, you cast a spell by rolling your appropriate magic skill against a Great (+4) difficulty. Then the spell takes effect. A spell should be about as strong as a stunt. It is paid for with Refresh. You start with one free spell (in addition to the one free stunt you receive).

The last section shows some example protagonists ranging from the restless dead to a deal-making devil.

Okay, what do I think about White Picket Witches? First, overall, I like it very much. It succeeds very well on emulating the current genre of supernatural shows. The setting creation could probably be lifted for other FATE games as well. Even for games not about Urban Fantasy. I am seriously consider taking White Picket Witches and simply use it as is for my own planned campaign.

Since I consider doing that, I was reading the rules rather thoroughly. The preview would need some clarifications, I think, before being finalized. There are some mechanics only hinted at that would be better served  by fleshing them out:

  • The long example implies that the magic skill cannot only be used to activate a stunt-like spell, but also to do something on the fly (seems a bit like Create an Advantage). This could be mentioned somewhere.
  • The GM is apparently suppossed to pass Antagonists to other players in order to lighten their workload. Not really explained in depth.
  • FATE points as fan-mail for genre-emulation by the players. There is a hint there that it is suppossed to work like that, just not explicitly mentioned.

Also, the long example actually suffers from hand-waving import parts of the game, thus actually obfuscating the rules in some places. Players create "a bunch of advantages", for example, or the mentioning of using the magic skill for something else than activating a stunt-like spell.

But all-in-all, White Picket Witches makes me want to play. To take the setting out for a spin. It's a kickass genre-emulation. I like the way the aspects are defined, the idea of the Casting aspect, the Assets seem like a very nice touch, and the setting creation rocks. The magic skills hint at interesting possibilities (therefore I hope, they won't be limited to using the stunt-like spells but also for some creative casting).

The preview gets 4.5 out of 5 stars for content. I deduct half a star for the issues listed above. An experienced GM can implement them him- or herself, but for a newbie the implied rules might get lost in the awesomeness of the rest.


  1. Hello!! First of all, thank you so much for the love. I'm glad you enjoyed this, and I'm thrilled you're looking to use it in your game! Eee! You ask some valid questions and let me see what I can clear up for you!

    As to the magic skills issue you're having, let me ask you this.. If I described them as Magical Assets, would it be more clear to you? That is, would you get that you can use them for on the fly stuff just like you can with the other list of aspects?

    I can put an example in of a player taking over an example, but it isn't really much more complicated than that. "Hey, Ted, will you play Marcy the Vampire for me this scene? Thanks dude."

    I have a break out talking about the players (and GM as audience. I can toss some comment about fate points in there, no problem. You aren't always getting fate points for being the audience, because that's your 'job' in this came, but occasionally you will if you're going the extra mile. (Say, picking up an antagonist, for example.)

    I did hand wave some of the more basic Fate Core mechanics (creating advantages) because I wasn't sure how supplemental to Fate Core this supplement needed to be. :D Word count on these things tends to be tight and I tend to underwrite when possible. But, it was a thing my editor called out, I'm still leaning on skipping them and letting you draw from the Fate Core book for those details, but I'll talk to my editor again and see what he thinks.

    Hope that helps.

    1. Yes that helps tremendously. Thanks for the reply!

      I think it doesn't really matter, if the magic skills are called skill or asset. As long as it is clear that they have a use beyond activating the spell. Maybe highlighting the four actions in regard to the magic skill will help? I saw post over at the Kickstarter (Update 26, by WuseMajor) who expressed a similar confusion in regards to the skills. But now it is clear to me :)