The Independents: Ngen Mapu

The world is dying. Three times now Kaykayfilu, the Serpent Fish with a Hundred Feet, has arisen from the depths after growing huge on the energy of destruction, flooding the Land. Each time more reality has vanished forever, never to return. Each time the humans, lacking any kind of supervision, have caused the destruction that brought the flood. The fourth flood may very well be the last. It falls to the ngen, the Masters and Owners of Things and mighty preternatural beings from before the dawn of time, to infiltrate the dreaded cities of mankind. Not to strike the humans down, because that way lies corruption. Instead the ngen must convince the humans to turn aside from the path of destruction, one piece of the world at a time. Save the natural world from humanity (and humanity from itself) in Ngen Mapu, a new Fate World of Adventure of South American urban fantasy from Felipe Real and Evil Hat Productions!

So, what exactly are the ngen? To pull directly from the book, the ngen are “incorporeal, everlasting beings with complete control and power over a limited part of the natural world”. Each Master and Owner has a discrete part of the Land, or Mapu, that’s their responsibility. Ngenko is the Master and Owner of Water, Ngenpangi the Master and Owner of Pumas, and Ngentukulpan the Master and Owner of Memory, for a few examples. Ngen Mapu opens with this information on the ngen and more, a very helpful pronunciation guide, a history ranging from before time to the present day, and the ongoing troubles with the humans and the destructive beings known as the wekufe.

It’s an obvious question, but: why a game about the ngen? Why a game about peacefully changing hearts and minds to save the natural world? What gave Felipe the idea in the first place? Lucky for us Felipe was willing to answer these questions for us (among many others)!

“The basic idea of the ngen—mighty spirits in charge of a part of the natural world—I took it from Mapuche mythology. The Mapuche are the largest indigenous group of both Chile and Argentina (I’m a Chilean). I’ve been obsessed with Mapuche culture for a couple of years now, and over that time I’ve learned a few things about them. One of those things is that they put a huge value on nature and our relationship with her.

Using those ideas as a basis, I wanted to write a Fate World that provided players with something like Nobilis, where you play with powerful, nonhuman beings but your problems are really human. 

One thing that I’m worried about—as most of us are, I think—it’s our current, nearly apocalyptic climate crisis and the need for a new outlook on our relationship with the environment. If you add to that the concepts of shapeshifting and corruption, you have more or less the cocktail of ingredients I used to start brainstorming what would ultimately be Ngen Mapu.”

Before we get into the meat of the game, I noticed after clicking to the page right after the cover that Ngen Mapu was ‘made awesome’ thanks to Evil Hat’s Patreon, which made me really curious about that process, and how Ngen Mapu came about on the production side.

“Back in September 2017, right after I finished writing The Way of the Pukona (my first Fate World & Adventure for Evil Hat), I sent three pitches to Sean Nittner (Evil Hat’s project manager) to write a new Fate World. A couple of months after that, in January 2018, Sean wrote back and told me that they were interested in two of the three proposals and that I could choose the one that I was most interested in. 

After meditating on the situation for a while, I decided to write another Fate World based upon Mapuche worldview and beliefs, but this time in the style of urban fantasy. After that I signed the corresponding freelance contract, produced an outline, and finally started writing the first draft in May 2018. I did some playtest in August and September last year, and then the whole process came down to the usual editing, layout, and then the beautiful art by Joyce Maureira, which blew—and still blows—my mind every time I look at it.”

This is as good a time as any to put in the ‘production values’ part of the review, and the verdict is good. While I’m writing this under The Independents label because Felipe is the singular writer and designer, as a Fate World Ngen Mapu got the professional Evil Hat treatment when it came to things like editing and layout. As for the art, well, Felipe has the right of it. Maureira’s art is amazing to look at, evocative of the world Felipe is trying to portray, and plentiful. Honestly seeing this art in a Pay-What-You-Want product is something of a shock, which I imagine is where the Patreon (and the art direction of Brian Patterson) came in.

So, the first fact of Ngen Mapu is that it’s a setting. But it’s also a Fate World, meaning that the setting is built to work within the framework of the Fate system (in this case the Core variety). I asked Felipe to describe what the development process was like, including the differences in a Ngen Mapu game compared to a basic Fate Core game.

“Now I know, after writing three Fate Worlds, that the way I approach the process is very methodical. First, I look at the fiction I’m trying to emulate through the rules and, considering that, I decide whether it’s a Fate World with discrete skills (i.e. for Fate Core) or something that could better be modeled with broad abilities that all player characters should have access to (i.e. for Fate Accelerated).

In the case of Ngen Mapu, it was very clear for me, from the very beginning, that the fiction that I was trying to emulate here—mighty shapeshifters who had access to a wide array of abilities—fit perfectly in Fate Core. After that I immediately started developing a list of Skills. From my point of view, the best thing to do in this case is to write only a couple new skills, take the most unsuitable for the setting out, and change the name of the ones that fit but are not thematic enough as it is.”

As Felipe says, some of the skills are a matter of changing the name. For a pair of examples Lore is replaced by Humanity, since it’s knowledge of the humans that a ngen might struggle with, while Kindness replaces Rapport as a skill which only works on humans, since it’s less about building a relationship and more about, well, showing kindness when it’s needed. There are three entirely new skills, though: Heart (Piwke), Wisdom (Kimün), and Shapeshift (Kalew). Heart “measures the emotional and spiritual well-being of a ngen”, plus how strong their relationships with fellow ngen and other preternatural beings are. Wisdom is the other side of the coin from Humanity, the knowledge skill for all things ngen. Shapeshift is exactly what it sounds like, and more on that in a bit. Each of these new skills comes with Stunts of their own, as well as explanations on how each can (or cannot) be used for the different actions. 

An interesting change is that you’re not worried about a skill pyramid or columns: here’s 20 Skill Points, distribute them among the skills as you wish, with a maximum of Great (+4) for any given Skill. There’s another twist, but we’ll get to that.

Another big rule change is in the Aspects. Ngen have five . . . kind of. High Aspects function exactly as they do in normal Fate Core (Believer In Humanity), while the Free Aspect can be anything and can be chosen during play instead of at creation (One Of My Allies Is A Wekufe). Each ngen has a Bond Aspect to another ngen (Protective of Ngenaye [“Master and Owner of Laughter”]), and those bonds are never mirrored, tying the whole group together in a circle of relationships.

Things start to get particularly interesting with the Weakness Aspect, recognizable as a Trouble but being explicitly about a powerful attraction (and thus a dangerous one) to something related to humans (Fascinated By Computers). Things get completely unique, however, with the Form Aspect. As the Skills section might have given away, ngen aren’t limited to a single form. While they can only use one at a time, they can use the Shapeshift skill to switch between them, so they actually have four Form Aspects: Immaterial (A Wisp of Wind), Plant (A Flower of Chingekachu), Animal (A Cute-Looking Trewa [“Dog”]), and Human (Handsome Young Black Man).

“The forms were born out of something I read while researching the ngen. In Mapuche belief, some people reported that they encountered them in human form, and on occasion as animals. That really sparked my imagination and, together with my love for Werewolf: The Apocalypse, made me realize that I really wanted to include a shapeshifting mechanic. From there on it took a couple of tries, but I finally ended up on a system that was fundamental to the setting and, at the same time (I hope), one that’s easy to learn and use at the table.” 

From a mechanical standpoint the entire shapeshifting thing is easy to learn (simply use the Shapeshift skill to switch between Forms), and provides players with a very wide toolkit to use because you have so many available (changing to one form can often be used to overcome obstacles with ease that would be nigh impossible for another), and can also be used to create advantages by mixing them (an animal talking with the Throat Of A Human). That Skill twist I mentioned earlier is that Skills each have to be assigned to a Form, and each can only be assigned to one Form at a time, which encourages both shapeshifting itself and thoughtful choices.

Narratively? Yeah, this is a solid fit, and does a great job of really making a character feel like a mostly immaterial being.

The final mechanical change is Corruption. Now, a sort of ‘fall to the dark side’ mechanic isn’t new to the Fate ecosystem – Dresden Files comes to mind – but Ngen Mapu comes at it in a different way. Characters can gain Tainted fate points, and when those fate points are spent a character must change an Aspect into a Corrupted Aspect. As with Dresden Files and its Lawbreaker Aspects, it should be an inverted or negative twist on what the Aspect was originally. If a ngen gets five of their Aspects Corrupted, that’s it: they’ve fallen into darkness as a wekufe, determined to sow destruction and chaos instead of protect and nurture. The game actively encourages these former player characters being made into antagonists to take on the remainder of the party.

But how do you gain those Tainted fate points? Two ways. First, the Weight of Mutable Flesh: despite being shapeshifters, the ngen are individually the Master and Owner of one Thing, so jumping around too much or staying in a material form too long can cause problems. Beyond the first time you shapeshift in a given scene you gain a Tainted point, and the same if you stay in the same material form for more than a scene. Second, A Broken Heart: ngen cannot harm humans, period. Every shift of damage, intentional or otherwise, physical or emotional, caused to a human by a ngen nets that ngen a Tainted point. Inflicting consequences is even more devastating, immediately Corrupting a number of Aspects depending on the harshness of the consequence; inflicting a severe consequence immediately Corrupts a ngen into a wekufe. 

I’ve run across Fate games before where the Attack action can cause more problems than it solves (although wekufe are fair game) . . . but Corruption feels much more immediate and dire than usual. Why was it important to have potentially character-ending consequences in the game like this?

“My design philosophy—if I have one—is that you should try to encourage player behavior as much as you can, avoiding punitive mechanics. In some cases, however, you just can’t. I think the case with combat is one of those. It’s so ingrained in our play styles that even when we’re playing games in which other options besides combat are encouraged, we often end up fighting because it’s the most direct way to solve any problem.

In the case of Ngen Mapu, I decided to make the punishment to inflict stress on people so hard that players would know that causing any would have dire consequences for their characters. This, I think, it’s not only a good way of basically making combat against humans a nonstarter, but also it forces players to explore other, nonviolent routes.”

On the same note, challenges/contests are much more central in Ngen Mapu than head-on conflicts. How can players expect this to affect gameplay compared to what they’re used to?

“The intended gameplay of Ngen Mapu is one in which understanding the antagonist’s reason for destroying a part of the natural world (sometimes unknowingly) is the most important thing. This is a game where changing people’s minds—and hearts—is the only key to save a part of the world. 

Once you take combat out of the equation, there are no easy fixes or direct ways of solving that kind of problem. Instead, you’re left with an answer that may be uncomfortable, but closer to our everyday reality: you just cannot punch your way out of disagreements, even when you really need to change other people’s mind—especially when you need to change other people’s minds. The situation is even more dramatic (in other words, complex) when you add the fact that you need the change to be significant and lasting.

The result is, in aggregate, a game in which talking and walking a mile in somebody else’s shoes—somebody that you probably don’t like—is the key to succeed. I think that’s something we could use more of in roleplaying games. Especially nowadays.”

Ngen Mapu ends with an adventure, The Mother in the Doorstep. A group of ngen must save a little spring in the most beloved park in Concepción, Chile from the encroaching threat of a remodeling project. I’m not going to dive in very deep, because spoilers for players, but to me TMinD strikes me as a great cross-section of what Ngen Mapu has to offer: high stakes, preternatural beings both ally and enemy, complicated humans, lots of different ways to accomplish your goals.

I think the greatest thing this adventure shows off is its ‘Big Bad’, the human whose heart and mind the ngen must try to change in order to save the spring. The character isn’t just a sympathetic villain, she’s not even a villain in the first place: her secret motives would be recognized by most as, if not 100% selfless, morally good. She just doesn’t understand the threat to La Cascada and its ngen, who will vanish from the world forever if the project goes through. For prospective players and GMs wondering how complicated, challenging, and interesting the game could get, she is the perfect example.

What’s next for Felipe? Perhaps other projects he’s working on/have finished or more from Ngen Mapu?

“Well, I’m currently working on my Limbo for Afterlife: Wandering Souls (I was the first stretch goal on that project. Thank you, Liz!), as well as working on other projects I can’t talk about yet. Also there are a couple of other RPG books I’ve worked on that haven’t come out yet.

Besides that, I have a bilingual blog over at nuevafantasy.com and an associated Patreon. In there I write about everything I love—RPGs included, of course.” 

Final words for our readers?

“Thanks a lot for the opportunity to talk about Ngen Mapu! I hope you buy, read, and hopefully play it! If you have any questions or doubts, you can ask me on Twitter @FelipeRealH.”

Ngen Mapu is available on DriveThruRPG at the always-nice-price of Pay What You Want, with a recommended price of $4.00 (the cannibal halfling reminds you to support your hard-working creators). Thanks to Meredith Gerber of DTRPG for drawing our eyes to Ngen Mapu and Felipe Real for taking the time to answer my questions!

Take the form of an animal, a stream, a leaf, a person, an idea. 

Restore the Land as one of the ngen.

We were able to get a copy of Ngen Mapu by paying shiny money thanks to readers like you and our Affiliate relationship with Drive Thru RPG! Follow any of our fine and elegantly crafted links to there, do some shopping, and we get some credit to keep paying creators and get more games to review!

Like what Cannibal Halfling Gaming is doing and interested in other ways to help us bring games and gamers together? First, you can tell your friends about us! You can say hello on our Discord channel!  Finally, you can support us directly on Patreon, which lets us cover costs, pay our contributors, and save up for projects. Thanks for reading!

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