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Family Matters

by Jon Peacock

You heard them. The old Lady’s not long for this world. Gather the others; it’s time for the game to begin…again.

Father Ernest Garrund, Family Ghost (23rd April 1552 – 14th November 1587)

The Garrund Family

The Garrund family’s origin is lost to time, but for hundreds of years—or at least as far back as anyone cares to check—they have been a notable feature on the world stage. The family’s plentiful money has bought the best education and opportunities for its progeny, making the family famous in many realms of human endeavor.

Until recently. Full of its own success, over time the family became careless with its wealth and didn’t notice soon enough that it was trickling away. As many prosperous members distanced themselves from the family, or married into others, it was only the actions of the current Lady Garrund—a clever and meticulous woman—that began to reverse its fortunes.

The Lady

Lady Edith Marguerite Garrund has been the head of the Garrund family for the last 27 years. Selected for her prudence when the family’s fortunes began to wane, she did much to turn the tide. But as old age crept up on her, so too have some of the old problems begun to resurface.

The Lady, now 68, lives in the family manor, alone but for her servants. Though she holds her staff to a high standard, she is well liked by them, and they know her so well that they often see to her needs before she’s aware she has them. She appreciates their attention; after half a lifetime keeping the family afloat, she looks forward to seeing out her last few years in relative comfort.

The Lady is a fan of life. She is eager to see her family perform for her, and is open to trying almost anything they suggest to impress her. However, this doesn’t mean that the Lady has forgotten what’s at stake should the family fall into irresponsible hands; she is still shrewd, and does not intend to see her years of good work go to waste.

Lady Garrund

Aspects

High Concept: Ageing Head of the Garrund Family

Trouble: A Sharp Mind in a Frail Body

Other Aspects: I’ve Come too Far to Lose It All Now; I Should Be Pampered in My Old Age

Approaches

Good +3: Careful

Fair +2: Clever, Forceful

Average +1: Flashy, Sneaky

Mediocre +0: Quick

Consequences

Mild (2) | Moderate (4) | Severe (6)

Stress

□□□

Notes

Lady Garrund uses Approaches instead of skills, as detailed on below.

The Garrund Family Legacy

Lady Garrund, accepting that her end is near, is looking to name an heir from among her descendants. After a healthy and prosperous life, she has many children, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and their spouses to choose from, and it’s up to each of them to demonstrate that they are worthy of inheriting the family’s ancient estate and being named the next Lady, or Lord, of Garrund Manor, the family’s ancestral home.

The Lady has called all of her potential heirs back to the manor. She plans on spending time with each of them to determine how successful they have been, and how suitable they would be to take over the family estate. Each of the relatives, knowing what’s at stake, strives to put their best foot forward in the hope of being chosen. The family is not in the clear yet; the Lady knows that another disastrous heir would spell the end of her hard-won gains.

Only, strange things often happen in the Garrund family when succession is on the line. Implausible accidents and unlikely mishaps plague the potential successors, with even the best-planned displays of worthiness coming apart at just the wrong moment. The hopefuls may bicker and point fingers at each other, but the truth is somewhat stranger.

The Ghosts of Garrund

The Garrund dynasty is haunted. Not by malicious spirits, but by the ghosts of deceased family members who can’t bear to let their descendants go. They watch from the afterlife and make a tweak here, a small change there, helping the family prosper and thrive. They also pick favorites and squabble—as all who spend too much time together do—and their differences come to a head when it comes to the matter of succession.

Whenever the Garrund family gather to pick a new head, the squabbling of the Ghosts becomes a competition, with each of the deceased championing their personal favorite. They stop making only small, beneficial actions and instead take a far more active hand in the fate of the family.

Each Ghost’s objective is simple: to ensure that their candidate is ultimately chosen as the new Lord or Lady Garrund. To do this, they follow their chosen successor and watch over their efforts to impress the incumbent Lady, providing assistance where necessary. The Ghosts also interfere with the efforts of their competitors, trying to make the other candidates look foolish or incompetent in front of her. As the time of choosing grows near, the Ghosts are more active than ever; who will emerge as the new Lord or Lady?

Setting Creation

As a Quick Start Adventure, Family Matters has everything you need to jump right into a generations-old battle for succession. Family Matters is designed as a single-session, competitive game in which you and your friends play the Ghosts of Garrund, embroiled in a fight over whose chosen successor will become the heir of an ancient family, and it uses mechanics from both Fate Core and Fate Accelerated to create two levels of engaging conflicts.

At the start of the game, explain the current issue, The Inheritance, to your players and ask them to choose from one of the two available impending issues, The Lost Will or The Feral Spirit, which should be introduced by the GM during the game. You might also want to read aloud a few sections like “The Lady” or “The Garrund Family Legacy.”

Arguing Through the Ages

Family Matters walks you through creating a light-fantasy style game, but you could also adapt it to play ancient AIs manipulating a futuristic virtual world, meddling fairies disturbing an old wizard trying to pick from among his apprentices, or any other setting you can imagine in which the intangible players interfere with an oblivious group of competitors.

Current Issue: The Inheritance

The most pressing issue on everyone’s mind, and the reason they’re all gathered back at the family manor, is The Inheritance. The aim of each Ghost, and each potential heir, is to make sure that the Lady chooses the correct person as her successor, and all efforts initially go towards influencing her decision.

Impending Issues

To complicate the matter of The Inheritance, a number of other factors could come in to play, drastically influencing the family’s situation and distracting those involved. These factors include:

The Lost Will

On a rainy morning, Mr. Quarell, of Quarell and Sons, arrives at the manor. He asks for an audience with Lady Garrund as a matter of urgency and, when they meet, presents to her a will from Lord Bartholemew Garrund, the previous head of the family. In it, Lord Garrund leaves the entire estate to a local church. Mr. Quarell claims the will had been lost and has only just been uncovered, but that he will be relaying a copy of the will to the church shortly and suggests that the family should plan to move out very, very soon.

Mr. Quarell

Aspects

High Concept: Efficient Lawyer

Trouble: Butterfingers

Approaches

Good +3: Careful

Fair +2: Clever, Quick

Average +1: Forceful, Sneaky

Mediocre +0: Flashy

Consequences

Mild (2) | Moderate (4) | Severe (6)

Stress

□□□

The Feral Spirit

One night, the Ghosts of Garrund feel a strange presence enter their lands. Upon investigation, they find a wild, animalistic spirit stalking the grounds, which, upon spotting them, attacks! The Ghosts quickly find that the spirit cannot influence the corporeal world or harm mortals, but is perfectly capable of, and intent on, hurting them. When dealing with the Feral Spirit, the Ghosts use their Fate skills normally. In addition, when the Spirit comes into play, each Ghost gains three Stress boxes (see “Character Creation,” page 38). If their Stress is depleted, the Ghost dissipates and can no longer participate in the scene, reforming back at the Manor before the next scene begins. If the Feral Spirit’s Stress boxes are filled, it also dissipates, reforming elsewhere to return later in the game.

The Feral Spirit

Aspects

High Concept: The Feral Spirit

Trouble: Cannot Pass Through Corporeal Objects

Skills

Great +4: Fight

Good +3: Athletics, Physique

Fair +2: Notice, Provoke, Stealth

Average +1: Burglary, Deceive, Rapport, Will

Stress

□□□

Area of Play: The Grounds

The Garrund family have held power in the local area for generations and rule over much of the nearby land. Family Matters takes place in the lands owned by the family, through which both the mortals and the Ghosts can move freely.

The heart of the estate is Garrund Manor, the family’s ancestral home and the Lady’s current residence. The Manor is grand and spacious, but some wings stand empty and abandoned where the Lady has been forced to sell off the family’s artefacts to pay its debts. It’s located high on a cliff overlooking a grey sea, with a treacherous path connecting it to a small, private harbor at the cliff’s base.

The nearby settlement of Wedawyn, located on a costal trade route, is a town of two parts. Near the coast, the town is populated by surly, suspicious fishermen and farmers. They are generally content just to get through the day, hopefully with food on their plates when it ends. Moving inland, the town becomes less ramshackle, with establishments catering to travelers on the road and a busy market where passing merchants and the locals gather to sell their wares.

In the other direction lies the Davenwood, the Garrund family’s private hunting grounds. The wood hides many wild animals, and the occasional poacher, under its thickly leafed boughs and a mysterious atmosphere permeates its overgrown heart.

There are many other treats hidden in the family’s grounds, such as Farmer Jed’s horse racing track, set up after his crops failed for one year too many, or, rumor has it, a beautiful secluded cove hidden among the cliffs that young couples seek out for some private time, so long as they remember to get out before the tide comes in. The potential successors will likely know of a few secret or interesting places of their own to which they will wish to take the Lady.

Character Creation

Making a character in Family Matters is slightly different to making one in standard Fate Core. Each player creates two characters—a Ghost and the potential heir the Ghost wishes to see succeed—following the rules below.

The Ghosts of Garrund

Aspects

The Ghosts of Garrund have four aspects: High Concept, Trouble, and two Beliefs. Their High Concept describes who they were when they were alive and how they died, their Trouble aspect is something that complicates their existence, and their Beliefs are things about their character, or the world, that they hold close to their heart.

Skills

Family Matters uses the standard Fate Core skill list and pyramid, peaking for the Ghosts at Great +4. However, the skills don’t function in the same way for the deceased as they do for the living; look below for descriptions of the skills as the Ghosts can make use of them during play.

In general, the difficulty of a roll is determined by how irregular or unusual it is for an object or person to behave in the way the Ghosts wants them to behave: it’s much harder to make a calm person angry or to make a scary forest seem serene.

Athletics: Athletics allow a Ghost to force a mortal to take a brief physical action, such as throwing a punch or flipping a switch. If the action goes against the mortal’s wishes, it is opposed by the mortal’s Careful. If the action is complicated or difficult, excess shifts determine if the mortal’s actions succeed.

Burglary: Burglary can be used to mysteriously spirit items to another location within the grounds. Characters observing the object may roll Notice, Careful, or Sneaky to spot the item vanishing, opposed by excess shifts on the Overcome roll.

Contacts: Contacts can be used to draw NPCs of a specified type or temperament to a certain location. Shifts on this Overcome roll dictate how many NPCs are drawn, and how closely their temperament matches that which the player desires.

Craft: Craft can be used to make mundane objects perform their normal function. This ranges from making a clock chime or a door open to animating a mop and bucket to clean the floor. In the right circumstances, Craft can be used to Attack, such as when making an aimed gun fire or an explosive detonate.

Deceive: Deceive can be used to create intangible illusions to confuse and disorientate mortals. The GM may allow a mortal to oppose the illusion with Clever.

Drive: Drive can be used to make a vehicle—including horse-drawn carriages—operate without a driver. Shifts on this Overcome or Create Advantage roll work as if the Ghost were driving the vehicle directly. In the right circumstances, Drive can be used to make an Attack roll, such as when knocking someone down with a vehicle.

Empathy: Empathy can be used to haunt an area with a specific feeling, such as making a dark forest seem suddenly spooky or peaceful. Remember that it’s easier to make a rose-scented bedchamber feel romantic than it is a dung-filled stable.

Fight: Fight can be used to attempt to physically harm mortals through manipulation of the environment in a plausible way, such as having a window shut on someone’s fingers, a wagon wheel break and throw the rider, or a leaning tree finally give up and fall on someone. This skill can be used to make an Attack roll against a target in the same zone as the Ghost. Attacks made with this skill could always be construed as unfortunate accidents. By moving the scenery in useful ways, characters may also make Create Advantage, Overcome, or Defend rolls using this skill.

Investigate: Investigate allows Ghosts to uncover previously hidden details about mortals. Shifts on this Create Advantage roll are opposed by a difficulty set by the GM, based on how outlandish the new details are; for instance, uncovering that someone is left-handed would be easier than uncovering that someone is secretly the head of a worldwide criminal organization.

Lore: Lore can be used to provide mortals with a mental flash of inspiration, gifting them with knowledge they did not previously possess. Shifts on this Overcome or Create Advantage roll are opposed by a difficulty set by the GM, based on how improbable their insight is.

Notice: Notice can be used to focus a mortal’s attention on something specific or alert them to danger. If successful, the GM focuses the mortal’s attention on something of the Ghost’s choice.

Physique: Physique can be used to create impassable spiritual barriers. Shifts on this Create Advantage roll are opposed by a difficulty set by the GM, based on how large the desired barrier is, with excess Shifts setting the difficulty of the Overcome roll needed to pass through the barrier. These barriers can be invoked to block mortals from harm.

Provoke: Provoke can be used to implant mental suggestions in a mortal or a non-sentient being. Shifts on this Create Advantage or Overcome roll are opposed by the target’s Careful, Forceful, or Will, as appropriate.

Rapport: Rapport can be used to affect the emotional state of mortals and non-sentient beings. Targets receive an emotional focus, but the Ghost would need to use Provoke to plant a specific suggestion.

Resources: Resources can be used to provide a mortal with an item they need by forcing an item the Ghost owns through the veil and into the corporeal world. Remember that it’s more likely a Ghost would own a sword or pocket watch than a fighter jet.

Shoot: Shoot can be used to telekinetically throw objects at targets, such as causing a kitchen knife to wrench itself from the table and fly across the room, or hurling a stone from a riverbank at the passengers of a passing boat. This skill can be used to make an Attack roll against a target up to one zone away. Attacks made with this skill always seem unusual and unnatural to those observing them. By moving the scenery in useful ways, characters may also make Create Advantage, Overcome, or Defend rolls using this skill.

Stealth: Stealth can be used to render physical objects, or people, invisible, or at least make them harder to notice. Shifts on this Create Advantage roll are opposed by a difficulty set by the GM based on how large or obvious the item is; e.g., a theater ticket would be easier to hide than a building.

Will: Will can be used to counter the interference of other Ghosts. Used in response to another Ghost taking an action, shifts on this Defend roll directly subtract from the shifts that other Ghosts roll when using their abilities, even if the Defending Ghost was not the target of the roll.

Things That Go Bump in the Night

While mortals aren’t aware of a Ghost’s presence outside of any obvious physical manifestations, one caveat of Family Matters is that Ghosts are always aware of when another Ghost is using one of the abilities listed above.

Stunts

Each Ghost possesses one stunt, giving them access to a unique ghostly ability in addition to the abilities provided by their Skills. Stunts can do one of three things: add a new Action to a Skill, add a bonus to an Action, or create a rules exception. When creating your stunt, build it off the ghostly version of the skill, not the mundane one!

Stress and Consequences

The Ghosts of Garrund do not suffer Stress or Consequences; they’re already dead, how much worse can it get? Instead, they fight their battles through their chosen descendants.

Can’t Touch This

In Family Matters, the Ghosts cannot directly attack each other. Instead they work through their proxies—those in the running for the succession—by engineering situations to boost the prestige of their own chosen candidate while interfering with the efforts of their competitors. This is made possible by the ghostly twist on the standard Skill list, allowing Ghosts to create effects in the corporeal world.

Refresh

Each Ghost has three Refresh, which may not be spent on additional Stunts.

Additional Rule: Movement

Ghosts can float in three dimensions at normal movement rates and can pass through corporeal objects. They may also ethereally transport themselves to any other Ghost or any point within the Grounds at will, dematerializing from their current location and materializing at their chosen destination a few seconds later.

The Successors

Aspects

Each potential heir has only two aspects: a High Concept and a Trouble. These are created as per the normal Fate Core rules.

Approaches

Lady Garrund, the players’ chosen heirs, and other mortals in Family Matters are created using a cut-down skill system called Approaches, based on Fate Accelerated Edition rules.

Rather than possessing a full list of Skills, characters’ Approaches describe six ways in which they may accomplish any task, as long as their player can justify how it applies to the task at hand. The six Approaches are:

  • Careful
  • Clever
  • Flashy
  • Forceful
  • Quick
  • Sneaky

Mortals possess one Approach at Good (+3), two at Fair (+2), two at Average (+1), and one at Mediocre (+0).

Stunts and Refresh

The successors do not possess Stunts or Refresh.

Stress and Consequences

Each potential heir possesses three Stress boxes which are used for both Physical and Mental stress. They also possess the standard Mild, Moderate, and Severe Consequences.

Seeing Double

While each player gets to create two characters, they do not necessarily have to play them both. Discuss whether you would prefer to have the players controlling their own heirs or whether the GM should control all the mortals. Giving the GM control puts significantly more emphasis on the squabbling Ghosts than their mortal protégés.

Game Structure

A game of Family Mattersis broken into three acts. The bulk of the game takes place in the second act, which is repeated multiple times. This main section is bookended by an introductory and a closing act.

Opening Act: Presentation of the Candidates

The act of choosing a successor is a highly formalized affair for the Garrund Family. The game begins at a grand ball organized by Lady Garrund, to which she has invited all of her potential heirs so they may discuss the inheritance.

A few hours into the ball, the attendees break for dinner and are seated at the Lady’s table, where she questions them about their lives, successes, and desires. Her memory refreshed, she explains to them that she will be spending time over the next few days with each candidate to get to know them before making her decision regarding the succession.

During this act, the players are encouraged to show off their candidates, describing what they do at the ball before the meal and playing through the scene with Lady Garrund. If the group decided to let the GM control their candidates, this scene allows the GM to see how they behave before assuming control of them from this point onwards.

The Ghosts of Garrund, of course, are also present at the ball. During this act, their game also begins as they begin undermining and embarrassing their opponents’ candidates and promoting their own. During the scene, the Ghosts’ aim is to place Aspects on their and their opponents’ candidates to begin shaping the Lady’s view of them.

The Mad World

To avoid the candidates being dogpiled and overwhelmed by their opponents’ ghostly patrons, and to ensure they aren’t living in a world that’s gone totally haywire, the Ghosts must pay one Fate Point to make an action that affects the corporeal world. They may augment this action by spending further Fate Points as usual. The only exception to this is during the Middle Act, where the player whose scene it is does not need to pay Fate Points to actively defend their chosen. Fate Points refresh at the end of each scene.

Middle Act: The Competition

From this point onwards the game is divided into rounds. Each round, every player gets to set a scene for the GM to run in which their candidate, aided by their Ghost, tries to impress the Lady, with the other players interfering as they will. During the scenes, Lady Garrund should challenge her potential heirs about a character flaw she perceives, setting them a task to prove their ability to overcome it.

Scenes can take place anywhere on the Garrund family grounds. Unless the player’s desired scene seems unreasonable, the group should assume the grounds are large and well-equipped enough to accommodate their request. Once each player has had a scene the round ends.

There is no limit to how many rounds can take place, but an end point should be agreed upon before the game begins. Allow around 20 minutes for each scene and count your players to estimate how long each round will take and pick a number of rounds accordingly.

Once the scene is over, the GM should score how well the player’s performance was received. Taking into account Lady Garrund’s personality, as well as the character’s performance in the face of any challenges and interference, the GM should award the player zero points for a disastrous scene, one point for a poorly received scene, two points for a well-received scene and three points for an exceptional scene. Keep the scores secret, but adapt how Lady Garrund treats the participants based on their running total.

Playing Dirty

With the family’s legacy on the line, events in Family Matters can get a little heated. Sometimes this can result in the death of one of the potential successors—accidentally or purposefully—leaving the Ghost who had been championing the successor out of the competition.

Should this happen, the Ghosts of the deceased successors can make it their mission to ruin their rival’s chances. The players of the Ghosts continue in the game, either siding with one or all of the other players to help them win, or just victimizing the chosen of their rival. Players should be wary of killing another contender, as it creates them an unstoppable enemy for the remainder of the game and seriously damages their own chances of victory.

Closing Act: Choosing the Heir

Once the competition is over, the Ghosts and candidates congregate in the Lady’s hall to hear who she names as her heir. Should multiple players be tied for points, this scene becomes a tie-breaker; one final point becomes available for the tying heir who best keeps their composure before the Ghosts’ final onslaught. Play this scene in character, but keep the GM’s notes on hand as to how they scored each round so players are able to see how the Lady reached the decision she did.

What Next?

Family Matters is designed as a one-off game, but if your group wanted to, the story could easily be extended. Two suggestions of how to do this are presented below.

Over and Over

Once the matter of the succession is settled, the Garrund family falls back into its usual pattern. A short time later Lady Garrund passes away and the chosen heir assumes control of the estate.

Many years later, the new Lord or Lady Garrund decides it’s time to choose an heir of their own. They summon a new selection of potential heirs to Garrund Manor, getting the Ghosts’ attention and beginning the new round of the game.

The winner of the current session of Family Matters becomes the GM for the next session, playing the new Lord or Lady, and watching over the next generation of hopefuls vying for attention. The new GM narrates how the family, and the world, has changed and designs some new impending issues to be introduced during the next session. Players keep their Ghost, but design a new mortal to compete for the inheritance.

All for One

Without Lady Garrund’s steady hand, the family’s fortunes once again begin to deteriorate and they are beset by new troubles. The family rallies around their new Lord or Lady and sets out to change their fate.

To the Ghosts’ surprise, they discover they are able to accompany their descendants outside of the family’s grounds so long as they stay reasonably close to them. The family, aided by their spiritual guardians, embarks on a series of adventurous and daring schemes to save their name and put the family back in the global limelight.

Players retain control of both of their characters and the game shifts to a more episodic narrative, following their exploits.

Sample Characters

Colonel Abyndon B. Gaffy

Colonel Gaffy served abroad, died fighting for his country, and lives on determined to tell anyone he can about it. He has a military love of order and discipline, but after dying a gruesome death, now abhors the overuse of violence. He values people with practical skills and thinks someone who has proven themselves a success already in life would be best suited to take over the family legacy.

Aspects

High Concept: A Soldier, Killed In Battle

Trouble: Seen Too Much

Beliefs: Show, Don’t Tell; Everything at the Right Time

Approaches

Great +4: Fight

Good +3: Notice, Physique

Fair +2: Athletics, Resources, Shoot

Average +1: Contacts, Provoke, Stealth, Will

STUNTS

Military Precision. Colonel Gaffey receives a +2 bonus to Fight when he makes the first roll of combat.

NOTES

Refresh: 3

Ms. Florence Harrington-Walsh, Gaffy’s Chosen One

Florence Harrington was born outside of the Garrund family, but married into the distant Walsh branch. While initially repressed by her husband, his untimely death allowed her to make her passion into her career and she used the money she’d been left to travel the world, becoming a successful botanist. She is well respected in scientific circles and has made back her money through her works—presenting her findings to learned circles and patenting new formulas and medicines she creates.

Aspects

High Concept: Famous Botanist

Trouble: I Wonder What That Tastes Like…

Approaches

Good +3: Clever

Fair +2: Careful, Sneaky

Average +1: Flashy, Quick

Mediocre +0: Forceful

Stress

□□□

CONSEQUENCES

Mild (2) | Moderate (4) | Severe (6)

Lady Louise Hartnett

Lady Hartnett is the incumbent Lady Garrund’s aunt. She was pleased to see one of the “close family” take the seat when the succession last came around, and is keen to see that the same happens again; she finds the idea of anyone who is not a family by blood taking her seat exquisitely distasteful. She enjoyed the finer things in life and deeply misses being able to partake of them. Time has only made her tongue more barbed, even after it got her killed.

Aspects

High Concept: A Socialite, Poisoned Over an Insult

Trouble: My Mouth Works Faster than My Brain

Beliefs: Only Trust Blood; Commoners Have No Value

Skills

Great +4: Deceive

Good +3: Contacts, Provoke

Fair +2: Empathy, Resources, Will

Average +1: Crafts, Investigate, Lore, Notice

STUNTS

Simple Minds. Lady Hartnett’s gains a +2 bonus when using her Deceive against commoners.

NOTES

Refresh: 3

Lord Woolf Garrund-Minnett, Hartnett’s Chosen One

Lord Garrund-Minnett represents the current peak of local nobility as one half of the happy (and politically fortuitous) joining of the Garrunds to the rich Minnett family through marriage. Very aware of how important his marriage to the Minnett heir is to the Garrund family, and how much wealth he now has access to through her, he lords his position over the rest of his family and treats them more like servants with each passing day.

Aspects

High Concept: Uptight Nobleman

Trouble: Tradition Is Tradition for a Reason

Approaches

Good +3: Forceful

Fair +2: Clever, Flashy

Average +1: Careful, Quick

Mediocre +0: Sneak

Stress

□□□

CONSEQUENCES

Mild (2) | Moderate (4) | Severe (6)