Fae’s Anatomy Review

I’m here today with a truly strange game. In Fae’s Anatomy: A Melodramatic Medical Mystery, or FAMMMM for short(?), you are a sorcerous doctor trying to solve complex medical problems while trying not to be overwhelmed by life’s chaos. It’s fast-paced, intense, and definitely worth checking out.

FAMMM is a medical melodrama in the vein of General Hospital, Grey’s Anatomy, House, or other shows where someone is writing diagnoses on a board and they say “Oh my god, it’s [obscure disease]!” A major focus in these shows is on medical professionals but is at least half about their (messy) personal lives and (complex) dating lives and only partly about the medical side of things. The added layers with FAMMM is that all the illnesses, procedures, instruments, and patients are as often magical as mundane. There is no separation between magic and science in this world and you will be treating things like sepsis and meningitis but with stigmatic, psychokinetic, and demonic variations.

Image © Hebanon Games

Gameplay consists of the Patient (sort of the GM but also a major character in the story) getting sick in some way. There are literally thousands of possible afflictions so the medical Providers get a briefing on intake symptoms and then roleplay through arguing out the possibilities. They spend uses of two currencies called Expertise (medical training) and Specialization (unique focuses) to narrow things down until they have a diagnosis and treatment plan. In between there’s medical drama, patient drama, twists and mistakes, and just general RPG nonsense. That’s the game in broad strokes so let’s get specific!

Sick Patients

As described above, Patients start a session by establishing the disease they are facing. This is player knowledge, of course, the group will be working to figure out what the situation is so the Patient will be communicating only in vague symptoms and the results of tests.To determine a disease for the session the Patient randomly rolls, purposefully chooses, or uses the game website to generate a disease by combining a Super- component with a -Natural component. There are one hundred different entries for each so that means a total of 10,000 possible maladies!

Each side of the equation is categorized in one of five categories (Circulatory, Nervous, Monstrous, Extraplanar, etc) and each of those is split into five families. For each step (category, family, disease) there are symptoms to nail down and tests to try so it’s a step-by-step process of presenting the disease as a Patient. Even after you’ve established part of the condition you still don’t necessarily know whether that’s the Super- part or the -Natural part. They provide roleplaying cues, though, so you (or a third-party player if you want to outsource it) needs to figure out how to convey the problem.

Image © Hebanon Games

Let’s try something out as an example. I’m going to roll randomly to get a Super- component of 06 which is Impundulu, magical lightning birds that can shrink down and influence the mental state of their hosts. This gets combined with a -Natural result of 27, narcolepsy. So as the patient of the week this session I’m suffering from Impundulan Narcolepsy, a dysregulation of my sleep cycle due to a tiny little bird nesting in my body and messing with my head.

Portraying the Disease

The Providers, of course, know none of this. All they know is that I came to the hospital with some symptoms that are defying easy diagnosis and so they’ve been called in to deal with it. As the Patient I’m supposed to follow four Vitals that will help me present a challenging but compelling medical narrative with my case. First of all, I can’t say the name of the symptom out loud so when my intake data is passed to the Providers it doesn’t say “patient has narcolepsy” it says “Doc, I just can’t seem to get up the energy and I keep falling asleep during the day.” To figure out that this is connected to my nervous system and not, say, a trypanosimiasis infection will require some work.

Image © Hebanon Games

The symptom for the influence of an impundulu is even more subtle since it’s listed as “extreme suggestibility.” The lightning bird is trying to compel me and that makes me more suggestible to everyone. This isn’t something I’m necessarily going to list as a medical complaint so if I don’t figure out a way to hint at it in the intake paperwork it will come up in roleplaying. Maybe the Providers suggest a treatment to see if it works. “That sounds great, Doc, whatever you say.” Then they mention to a colleague that they’re headed to lunch. “Oh, I’m pretty hungry too.” Eventually they have that aha! moment of realizing what’s been in front of them the whole time.

The second Vital is to keep track of Condition Trackers (more on those later) as the Providers try to treat this Patient, and the third Vital is to maintain the equally important Progression Track (also discussed below). The last Vital is to provide some Patient Drama to affect the story with a few really awesome suggestions provided in the book. Maybe the Patient tries to make a break for things and yanks out their IV, or their family shows up with some new problems while the Patient themselves is unconscious. The Patient might flatline and interrupt another scene while they temporarily stop breathing, panic when they hear how serious the Providers think their diagnosis might be, start to lose their nerve and demand reassurance, or refuse treatment in some way. Outside drama might also disrupt the case as a medical colleague or administrator forces their way in, law enforcement or a religious organization might insert themselves instead, some criminal activity (stealing drugs, tampering with records) needs to be dealt with, or the hospital has a brief all-hands-on-deck situation. These items can be rolled randomly or picked based on the story.

Image © Hebanon Games

The Makings of Providers

Most of the players at the table will be Providers looking to diagnose and cure the Patient. To do that we needs some stats to have workable characters and the major one is your Specialization. Much like diseases these are a combination of Super- and -Natural components and the recommendation is that you randomly determine them for a very diverse staff. Let’s generate a few different doctors as an example. Dr. Emma Miller rolls 9 and 4 for her Specialty so she’s a Shamanic Administrator (a hospital organizer more than a hands-on Provider) and Dr. Maria Lanova rolls 4 and 1 so she’s an Angelic Primary Care Physician (PCP). Actually we rolled 1 and 4 for Dr. Lanova which is another administrator so I did as the book suggests and flipped it for variety.

To finish these characters up we need some Associate connections such as Bestee (we’ll say that Emma has a dead-beat brother living on her couch and Maria has a new girlfriend) as well as Rival character (we’ll say that Emma and Maria are each other’s Rivals since they used to date and now hate each other). You are also supposed to pick a Crush which in this case is easy: they still have feelings for each other under all that hate! Lastly, you pick a Deity that the Provider favors in their moments of crisis, since in this world gods are tangible and real forces. Emma is going to pray mostly to Diana, Roman goddess of the Moon, and Dr. Lanova makes sacrificial offerings to Shango the Yoruba Orisha of power and leadership.

Image © Hebanon Games

Solving the Case

A session starts with a little vignette of our Providers’ lives: Emma and Maria running into each other in the hall and trading barbs, or maybe Maria waking up with her new girlfriend while Emma gets into an argument with her brother. After they arrive at the hospital, both women are called into a Briefing for a new character who is suffering from exhaustion and frequent loss of consciousness. To solve this case the Providers can use their Expertise to take one of six actions. They can Diagnose the Patient by talking to them and trying to identify symptoms, run a Test to confirm a diagnosis, Treat to buy some more time, Revive a Patient that has flatlined, Cure the Patient if the Providers think they have the right diagnosis, or Consult with your Deity for advice. These are used with a Symptom Concordance chart to figure out what symptoms are being roleplayed and how to treat them.

The process of treating the Patient is represented by two different tracks. The Progression Track is secret from the Providers (except in niche cases) and some number of steps before things get worse again. To start, the Patient rolls 1d10 to establish a Progression Track according to a chart. There are between one and three steps for each Track, with many marked Patient Drama to prompt something intense, and every use of Expertise or Medical Drama (see below) ticks off another step. When the Progression Track is maxed out and you need to mark another step on it you instead add a step to the Condition Tracker which represents the course of the disease. There are six steps on the Condition Tracker: Healthy, Good, Fair, Serious, Critical, and Dead. In the world of FAMMM you can Revive people who have died much more easily than in the real world but it’s still not good to be at that end of things. Once the Condition Tracker is advanced, you roll a new Progression Track and continue.

Image © Hebanon Games

Once Expertise is spent the Provider is suffering Burnout and must reverse the Burnout through the use of someone’s Specialization power (Admins like Emma, for instance, can refresh a character instantly through rotation assignments) or do some Medical Drama (see below) to get their Expertise back. Other Specialization powers might be one-use or innate powers that can directly influence the process the ability of PCPs like Maria to just improve the Condition Tracker once while Shamanic Providers like Emma can curse themselves with one of the Patient’s symptoms so they don’t have to roleplay it.

In addition to the Patient Drama caused by the Progression Track, Providers also voluntarily start up Medical Drama to refresh their Expertise. There are ten of these to roll or choose including dealing with some addictions among Providers, yelling at another character, publicly arguing over the case, stealing away for some romantic tryst, a medical monologue, consoling from a friend or mentor, engaging in some gallows humor, being tempted to quit the hospital, dealing with annoying people, or dealing with a chronic disease suffered by a fellow Provider. All stuff that happens regularly in medical dramas… And when you have enough Medical Drama to power through the case you’re all set!

Image © Hebanon Games

Example Case

Let’s try out an example of this using the Impundulan Narcolepsy Patient from before and our two Providers Dr. Miller and Dr. Lanova. Things start with a scene of normalcy, say our two Providers both getting coffee at the same time and sniping at each other, then they’re called into to diagnose the Patient. Out of sight of the Providers’ players, I roll a d10 and get a Progression Track with two steps on it. There’s a briefing where I tell the Providers (following the Vitals from before) about my condition and how I just can’t seem to stay awake.

This sounds like hypersomnia to Dr. Lanova which could be a few different things but is at least something they can deal with. She uses her Expertise to try to narrow things down: it could be a form of narcolepsy which would require a genetic test, a form of trypanosimiasis which would require a blood test, or pulmonary agenesis which needs a bronchography. Dr. Lanova decides to try a bronchography to test her pulmonary agenesis theory, the Patient ticks off a step on the Progression Track, and they have a negative result that can rule out agenesis. Dr. Miller tries her hand at things, using an Expertise to Diagnose the Patient and ask if they have any insect bites or other wounds (such as might convey a trypanomiasis infection). The Patient doesn’t (and ticks off another Progression Track step) but during the course of this conversation Emma starts to notice that the Patient is quickly agreeing with her on a lot of different things, even mirroring her motions as she adjusts her collar. I’m also hissing occasionally as the Patient which is a symptom of a Monstrous disease. Extreme suggestibility can be a few different things: an impundulu possession or hearing psychic radio waves through fluoride dosing.

Image © Hebanon Games

This is the end of the Progression Track, however, so the Providers work on their diagnosis as the Patient moves the Condition Tracker from Healthy to Good. The Patient rolls another Progression Track and gets another two-step result but the second step is marked with Patient Drama. Both Providers have used up their Expertise and so need to replenish it with some Medical Drama. Dr. Lanova’s player offers to use her one-time Administrator power to reverse Dr. Miller’s Burnout by moving her off of night shifts for a bit, but since both characters need a refresh they can share a scene instead. Emma’s player describes her character going to Dr. Lanova to say thank you for the schedule shift only to have Maria’s character dress her down for thinking this was anything other than routine hospital administrating. This scene of Medical Drama restores Expertise to both Dr. Maria Lanova and Dr. Emma Miller and it provides some simmering resentment as they move forward. Another Progression Track step gets ticked for this scene and Dr. Emma Miller’s player decides to try testing for impundulu possession (suspecting that it isn’t fluoride since that’s Emergent).

Testing takes up another Progression Track step but they find after a MCAT (a Magical Cryptozoological Admission Test) that it is indeed an impundulu! Of course, they don’t know that this next test has some Patient Drama so as the Patient I start to get nervous about what these Providers are doing to me. I begin to refuse further treatment (or is it the lightning bird that doesn’t want more treatment?) and a tense scene of trying to convince me not to check myself out ensues…

And thus the medical melodrama continues!

Image © Hebanon Games

Conclusion

There’s a ton of advice and guidance in this book, from acting advice to story crafting. Since there are no dice mechanics or many stats to track the majority of the Patient and Provider sections, in fact, are roleplaying advice and table management discussion. It’s also worth mentioning that I played things pretty tame in my character creation and scene depiction. The artwork, as you’ve seen here, has some pretty wild people in the world of FAMMM so Drs. Lanova and Miller instead of humans could be vampires or golems or sentient plants or transmogrified dragons… or more likely completely different things. Likewise, the Deities and living arrangements I described were pretty mundane when instead I could have had them worshipping the concept of Media and the Jolly Green Giant while living in a gothic castle and trippy pocket dimension respectively. The game accommodates all levels of wackiness… although not zero wackiness.

I think you can play the characters and situations of FAMMM fairly seriously but considering that the situations and inspirations are just so wildly varied it’s hard to keep a straight face. I love wackiness so I’m not dissuaded by this but it’s worth noting that this game strives for melodrama and I don’t think it makes players feel much drama or tension (unlike other melodramatic games like Pasion de las Pasiones or Good Society). Characters yes, but the players will be snickering at using “the ‘The Thing’ test” to diagnose a patient and not truly worried about the stakes (unless they’re vampires). Even letting your patient die is not that hard to fix and is even designed up happen about 10% of the time. It’s also a lot of information and the design of the book (let alone the PDF) is a little hard to navigate. Adding in some bookmarks (physical ones or in Adobe Pro) is a real must for this game and if you can use the online app then it’s much easier.

Even with these drawbacks, this is a really fun game. The moments of sudden revelation and the charades-like efforts of the Patient to present their condition without giving too much away… It’s all excellent moments of roleplaying

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.