Let Your Ambitions Drive You to “House of Bards” for Fate Core

House of Bards
, part of the Fate Worlds of Adventure Patreon, is now available to one and all, for the price of whatever you want to pay for it. (Suggested $4. But it could also be $0. Or $0 first, then $100 after reading it.)

Here’s the capsule description:

House of Bards CoverIn House of Bards, the kingdom of Costracinni exists in a constant state of war. And war means turmoil, but for the ambitious back on the home front, that’s just another word for opportunity. Can you work the backrooms and stuff the ballot-boxes to get what you want? Play as an ambitious elven councilmember trying to get in good with the Emperor, an idealistic halfling candidate trying to break into the big time, or a human reporter trying to uncover the truth behind the news.

Now is the time to act! But many things stand in your way—rival factions, scheming politicos, and most dangerously… your friends. Swords and sorcery collide with politics and punditry in this political drama meets high fantasy by Dave Chalker of Critical-Hits.com and the Cortex Plus Hacker’s Guide.

House of Bards requires Fate Core to play. This 44-page supplement includes:

  • Character creation hacks that maximize political conflict, including a random generation system
  • Skill set adjustments that maximize Fate for a politically motivated campaign
  • Setting rules that help to create political intrigue and build upon it through the course of a campaign
  • Useful tools for political campaigns, including a social stress track and new rules for player-versus-player compels
  • A series of vignettes and sample characters to help get you started

Welcome to the House of Bards, where it’s always important to watch your back.

House of Bards is my first foray into official Fate publication, after running it a whole bunch and responding to an open call from Evil Hat Productions. However, it didn’t start with Fate.

Let Me Tell You About My Campaign. No, Wait, Come Back

Long time readers know that I ran a D&D 4e campaign for a few years, and during the height of the paragon tier, the heroes worked an election for the major city where most of the game took place. One of their regular villains was running for an influential position of the government, but being a near-immortal ancient wizard, made it difficult to do what adventurers usually do in those kinds of situations and just kick in the door to attack. Instead, they had to work their contacts and influence the election the old-fashioned way to make sure their rival didn’t get even more power and civil protection. In D&D, I used a larger skill challenge-style framework, combined with plenty of roleplaying, and a fight or two. In the process, they also got a hint that the previously off-screen Emperor might be more than they first assumed, leading into other parts of the campaign.

When brainstorming ideas for Fate Worlds of Adventure, in addition to including some of my go-to settings, I remembered how much fun I had planning that political adventure. I had also been watching House of Cards on Netflix, reading the Gentleman Bastards series, revisiting the Discworld, and putting it all into a politico-fantasy blender. Thus was born House of Bards.

Dwarven Kevin Spacey Not Included

The biggest changes from concept to development were in format and style. I had originally envisioned a hybrid setting/adventure (like many of the Fate Worlds) that had stronger narrative baked in. However, as I wrote it, I realized more and more (especially talking with Rob Donoghue, who was developing the product) that it really wanted a more toolkit approach. There are so many different character angles that it would be tough to put a politician, a reporter, and a rogue magician all on the same defined adventure path. Additionally, I went all-in on the idea that this was a dramatic game, that focused less on a traditional adventuring party getting together to tackle outside obstacles and more on getting a bunch of interesting (player) characters together and pointing them at each other. The Fate character generation framework provided a great way to start it: it just needed another spin. Many of the rules changes in House of Bards come from that idea, particularly in giving everyone an Ambition aspect, and the kind of compels that follow.

In terms of style, the original city from my campaign was called Fitzleon, and was heavily dark ages/Roman-inspired, and so that’s what I originally started on. Then I found out that one of the other Fate Worlds was explicitly Roman, and there was a bit more overlap there. On top of that, I had used Fitzleon as part of another RPG project, and didn’t want to cross the streams. Of course, the answer for an alternative was simple: go full Machiavellian. I did some research on Niccolò Machiavelli and Florence of his day, and used that as the initial inspiration, and added the backstory I had already developed of a continuous empire, a fantasy pseudo-democracy, and of course, the journalists, spies, and entertainers of the House of Bards itself.

Much later in the process, after the book was written and out of my hands, Fred Hicks worked on the layout, Marissa Kelly took over art direction and Tyler Clark created the art. The end result was a much more vibrant and interesting setting told through the art than I would have come up with on my own, giving the various fantasy races their own distinctions, and layering in setting details (like how newspapers look in the world, what the centers of worship look like, and so on.)

The end result is House of Bards. It’s a lot of setting densely packed into 44 pages. Even if you don’t play Fate, I hope you give it a look. After all, there’s an Empire yours for the taking.

About Dave

Dave "The Game" Chalker is the Editor-in-Chief and Co-Founder of Critical Hits. Since 2005, he has been bringing readers game news and advice, as well as editing nearly everything published here. He is the designer of the Origins Award-winning Get Bit!, a freelance designer and developer, son of a science fiction author, and a Master of Arts. He lives in MD with e, their three dogs, and two cats.