The Extra Secret Service: Coming Someday


I’ve hinted at working on a weird Fate/Apocalypse World Engine blend, which started as a joke and turned into a genuine project as it wouldn’t leave my head. And it turned into the backdoor redesign of the Emerging Threats Unit, after my Big Bad Con 2014 playtests revealed too many fundamental flaws with my past approach.

I’ve been kicking around the silly, simple setting for the Extra Secret Service since Gen Con 2013—the premise that I used when I introduced Wil Wheaton to Fate. I used it for the original Backstory Cards demo and setting grid, and since then it’s been my go-to. The TL;DR of it: a cocktail of Fringe and Hellboy, or Delta Green by way of Ghostbusters.

Along with blending Fate and Apocalypse World together, the idea is to keep the build short by taking the Lady Blackbird approach of characters rather than archetypes or playbooks. Certainly playbooks can be reversed engineered, but this approach is seriously helping me understand ESS—it’s an catalyst method I learned making my Mythender Storium World. Lumina Murphy is one of six characters I have illustrated and written up.

Speaking of illustrations, the character above is from the talented hand of Jeshields. I normally don’t buy art this early, but Jeshields had quite a deal last month, so I went ahead. Turns out that buying art this early was a good idea, because it gave me an anchor point I didn’t have when my wheels were freely spinning. (The hasty Photoshopping job is all me, though.)

Back to what most readers will probably get a damn about: The thing about blending Fate and AWE together is that on the surface they seem super compatible, and there’s even some AWE DNA in Fate. But when you get deeper, the risk mitigation that Fate thrives on—as a method of encouraging freeform setting generation via aspects and non-hostile situations via compels—flies in the face of AWE’s risk utilization. I’ll share a few details:

  • First, the point is to blend the speed and resolution you get with AWE’s moves with the party-oriented adventure game setup like what Fate has. That sounds simple, but it’s quite the can of worms.
  • The basic moves are expressions of Fate’s Four Actions, though not one move for each action. It’s a little more split out, to respect the difference between conflict rituals and other moments.
  • The structure of conflicts feels more like Fate, with players going around to take action in exchanges.
  • The stats are rather like Modes from Atomic Robo or stylized approaches from Fate Accelerated.
  • The stress/consequence system is the driver for taking hits that have definite, non-nebulous impact, though they also borrow from my Cortex Plus Drama stress article. Addresses consequences is as you’d expect, more or less, from Fate.
  • The moves feel like AWE: strong hits, weak hits, and misses that create the feel of imperfect heroes. Weak hits aren’t simple successes, like they might otherwise translate into Fate. Sometimes they’re incomplete successes—which isn’t the same as success at a cost.
  • Success at a cost is an option instead of taking a miss. That’s around when the system started to click in my head.
  • There isn’t a separate fate point economy, though compels are still around. That would take more explaining to do than I have time for now, but I will say that my most recent post is a hint of what you’ll see.

I think that’s enough for now. Really, there’s not much I can say that isn’t pretty cagey, because the best explanation will be when I put the character sheets and other stuff out there, and I need to play it more before I know how solid (or not) the components are. Still, I recently got the six illustrations in, and they’re burning a hole in my mind, so I wanted to write up a post to share at least a little bit with you.

I have a bunch of freelance work to do, and I’m not letting myself get consumed with ESS right now, but I might do another leak later. If nothing else, I don’t just dig the ideas of the rules; I’m falling in love with these characters. I hope you’ll give them a chance.

Be well, y’all.

Edit: I leaked this work-in-progress teaser tweet on July 22nd.


– Ryan


One Response to The Extra Secret Service: Coming Someday

  1. Arashinomoui says:

    I’m curious to see what you do with weak hits versus success at a cost, and how much of that is transferable.