Heroes of Karia Vitalus: Gems, Gems, Gems

As promised in this second post about ending games and what makes an ending to a game truly great, I will be talking about some specifics of the HoKV system that contributed to the goodness of our recently-completed campaign.

Gems, Gems, Gems

In HoKV, we use things called NeverGems, which exist both in the game-world and are sitting on the table. For our gems in this specific game, we used these crystalline counters that we picked up at our friendly local game store. Being a tactile person myself, I like what I call “fiddly bits” on the table to represent in-game resources. I also like using them when running a game – I’ve used the crystalline counters for things like Action Points in D&D or even vitae and willpower in Vampire or Glamour in Changeling. At a glance, I can look around the table and see who’s low on what, or who’s hoarding what, and modify what I want to do in the game accordingly.

The Gems had three basic functions. First, you could spend a gem to add a d6 to a 2d6 roll as many times as you wanted. So you could, if you want, in a system where 2d6 is the standard (we were using BESM…sort of) you could spend 5 gems and roll 7d6 and use the total. So, in short, they let you be baddass whenever you wanted to spend the gems on a given roll.

The second function they had was that you could save them up and spend them, in addition to character points, to buy Kata Kariana, which are basically superpowers. Your Kata were your go-to power for beating the crap out of enormous baddies or doing miraculous things in the game like making yourself immune to all negative effects or causing earthquakes that would collapse a city block. We’ll talk more about those later.

The third function of the NeverGems was that you had to spend them almost any time you wanted to use a Kata.

So, basically, they supported three kinds of fun at the table. First, you could almost always win die-rolls as long as you had gems. Second, you could horde them to buy new cool superpowers to use later in the game. Third, you could spend them on using superpowers you already had more often.

The way the game was built, it become clear that getting more and better Kata Kariana was probably the most fun use for NeverGems, but we had examples of all three kinds of fun all the time. We had one player who hates to lose, so he spent NeverGems on rolls pretty often. We had one character who wanted to buy up every level of every Kata he had access to, and so he hoarded them for that purpose. I was sort of a hybrid – I bought up the Kata I used the most, and spent some gems on dice-rolls that I didn’t want to fail, but I mostly spent gems to use Kata I already had, since I had a few Kata that kept other PCs alive.

Multiple kinds of NeverGems

As an added layer of complexity, we had three different kinds of gems, each corresponding to a different stat and a different kind of Kata. Red gems corresponded to Body and to aggressive, damage-dealing Kata. Blue gems corresponded to Mind and to useful, tactical Kata. Green gems corresponded to Soul and to protective Kata that could be used as defensive actions.

You could also only use red gems for Body-based rolls, blue gems for Mind-based rolls, and Green gems for Soul-based rolls, meaning sometimes you had a lot of gems, but not the kind you needed.

Earning gems

We started out with the GM giving out gems, and then nearer to the end of the game experiment with the present rule in HoKV, which is that players also give the gems to each other. Earning gems motivated almost all of the best roleplaying, drama, risk-taking and so on that the players did over the course of the game. They also helped guide decisions. If you needed red gems, then you’d spend a session being more aggressive and describing your attacks in more gruesome and dramatic detail.

The the players giving out a gems to each other (and the gems to give out were distinct from the ones you had to spend for your own character), each player got to reward the kind of thing they wanted to see in the game. We also had over-generous players (like me) who gave out all of their gems early, and more demanding players, who had higher standards and who sometimes didn’t give out of the gems they could have. This also meant that, at any point in the game, at least someone out there had some gems they were looking to give away when they saw something cool happen.

Right now, we’re putting final touches on how the NeverGems will work in HoKV, but their function in the game was brilliant, and definitely always served to push the awesome to the next level.

So what?

1. I recommend that you use fiddly bits in your game. Experiment with them – I think they do nothing but make the game you’re playing more intuitive and fun.

2. Give the players something they can reward each other with. Then sit back and watch them strengthen their group template, their social contract, and make the game more about what they want to see happen – all while you do less work. If you build your “fiddly-bits” just right, you can watch market forces interact to make the game better. Believe me, it’s really cool.

3. Make players make choices between immediate benefit or long-term benefit. Make the choices equally desirable, and then watch them squirm.

One thought on “Heroes of Karia Vitalus: Gems, Gems, Gems

  1. Amen. I've liked the gems for a long time. I really like that in HoKV they became such a central aspect of the whole game. Having 3 types and having a variety of significant uses for them really made them into an ever present aspect of the game. Not every game would be well suited to this, but I think it was a great choice for this campaign.

    Like

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