RPG Mechanics Round-Up #12: D&D Again

Time = XP

In D&D and similar experience-driven systems, xp roughly represents time spent playing. This is true when WotC says that Adventure League standards should be about 4 hours to level to 2nd, and then 8 hours to 3rd and the same for 4th, etc. This is what it has always meant, and the way it functions is to incentivize certain behaviors and play styles.

Why not just have XP = time played? This would work equally well for your home game as for organized play, and would work better than every system for leveling in organized play I’ve ever heard of. It would be easy to track across games, including for players and DMs without consistent play-groups.

This system can be hidden behind a milestone leveling system, and just have milestones equal X time played. Honestly, it’s what most DMs and GMs who use a milestone system are doing anyway, and is the thinking behind xp going back to the beginning. In terms of design, experience points are a reward for the player, so why no reward the players for their time? This would also unhitch xp from certain behaviors. So PCs would not need to go out and kill things and take their stuff. They would level just the same for RPing, or shopping in town, or exploring new places, or doing upkeep on their holdings. They can do whatever they find to be fun in game.

Yes, this drifts D&D significantly from its design, but I don’t think that’s a problem.

Using 5E Exhaustion More Often

Exhausting is an interesting mechanic, and almost never gets used in games of D&D 5th Ed I run and in which I play. I think it was used for the fist time in the 10th session of our current home game, and it was funny because I was the only player who even knew about exhaustion rules. So here a few other times to engage the exhaustion rules, imposing a level of exhaustion for each of the following:

  • When you are dropped to zero hp, even if immediate raised back up (i.e. by Healing Word)
  • When you take damage in excess of a threshold (maybe that threshold = 2x your Constitution score) to represent a sudden, significant injury
  • When you roll a 1 on a saving throw
  • When you fail a high-risk skill check, but the DM wants to let you fail forward (you miss an Athletics roll to jump a chasm, so the DM says you cling to the far side and drag yourself up, but it costs a level of exhaustion)

Healing Potions

As written, healing potions in 5E restore 2d4 +2 hit points per level of potion (i.e. 4d4 +4 or 6d4 +6). Why not have a healing potion instead restore 2 hit dice +2 for each level? This would mean that higher-hp classes like Barbarians would benefit more from a healing potion. As it is, past level 1 or 2 a barbarian won’t want to use an action to restore 7 hit points on average, and higher level barbarians who have more powerful potions won’t bother using them either because they’ll make such a small difference.

  • Healing potion: 2 hit dice +2 restored
  • Greater healing potion: 4 hit dice +4 restored
  • Superior healing potion: 6 hit dice +6 restored

Stolen Skill Challenge Idea

This is an idea my friend Brett, who is our current DM, stole from another DM, and I’m stealing it as well. The idea is that for shared skill challenges (like the ubiquitous Dexterity (Stealth) checks made to let the party sneak around), you set a total that they have to hit with their rolls.

  • Relatively easy challenge: 10x number of characters
  • Opposed challenge: passive score x number of characters
    • Ex: if the PCs are all trying to sneak past a guard, and the guard has a passive Perception score of 14, then their Dexterity (Stealth) rolls would have to total more than 14x number of PCs
  • Normal (?) challenge: 12x number of characters
  • Really challenging: 15x number of characters or higher

RPG Mechanics Round-Up #11

Out of Combat Advantage

The scene is that your adventurers are taking a break from danger, hanging out in town. There is some kind of local festival happening, and they decide to enter the various contests. The ranger joins an archery contest. It doesn’t make sense to me that the ranger would roll the same thing that she would when she is in a life-or-death combat situation – I think of studies showing that the most accurate police officers, the NYPD, still miss 2/3 of the time when they use their weapons. These are people who know what they are in for, train regularly, etc., who probably do great when they are at the gun range. So it occurred to me that in a situation where a D&D-style adventurer is using an adventuring skill in a safe environment such as a local fair, she should roll with advantage. This is also a way to let PCs shine in comparison to locals who only shoot at stationary targets and the occasional rabbit or deer.

Fixing Call of Cthulhu Sanity (Again)

There are obviously problems with Call of Cthulhu’s Sanity system: all of the problems of any hit points style system for modeling trauma; it can be problematic with regard to real-world mental health; it is hard to get players to act against themselves when suffering a bout of madness; the madness that you suffer might come from a list or a table, and therefore feel arbitrary.

As a way to address three out of these four concerns, I thought that it would be interesting to just treat Sanity as hit points. When you run out you can’t play anymore. But when you lose Sanity, take Sanity ‘damage’, you can choose to ‘soak’ some of that damage by taking on a bout of madness. The player chooses the madness that makes sense, maybe from a list the Keeper provides. This way players who want to power through and keep control of their characters can do so, but they will take big hits to Sanity (and for this rule, I would basically double Sanity damage as written). Otherwise, players get a say in what happens, which hopefully gives them buy-in, which hopefully makes them more likely to actually play the insanity to the hilt.

In systems other than Call of Cthulhu, even like D&D, the idea I would use is to provide XP when a character suffering from madness acts against their own best interests.

This also makes me take a moment to consider my house rule for Hold Person type spells. Hmm…

Social Abilities and Hierarchy

I like the idea that social skills function differently when interacting across a social hierarchy (it’s why I designed Parsec that way). Taking D&D’s social proficiencies as an example (Deception, Intimidation, Persuasion), I might say that all three work best with someone who shares your place in the hierarchy; Deception works when dealing with someone higher than you (“Of course, m’lord”); while Intimidation is the default when dealing with someone beneath you (“You address me as ‘Your Grace'”). If you are using those social skills in other ways, you roll with disadvantage (a pauper Intimidating a Prince, a Prince trying to Persuade a pauper, etc.). I also like what this says about how differences in power shape (corrupt) all social interactions, even when the people in those interactions don’t mean to.

If you don’t buy the Deception rule – when was the last time you were honest with your boss? If you don’t buy the Intimidation rule – how do you feel when a cop pulls you over and starts asking you questions with a hand on his gun?

Passive and Active Perception (The Investigation vs Perception Problem)

D&D, even RAW, has an Investigation and Perception problem. The problem is that they are used inconsistently in the rules text. It isn’t clear what it means to use Investigation as compared to Perception. Both have a passive score on the character sheet. Both are used for searching. Perception is the far more useful of the two, honestly. In most games, there isn’t much reason to take either Insight or Investigation compared to Perception.

For my own games, if you are actively looking for something, I use Investigation, and when we are rolling to see whether you happen to notice something, it’s Perception. Investigation is something like active senses, and Perception is something like passive senses.

I had the idea to clarify this someday with abilities in a game. For active perception, I’d use Attention, and for passive perception, I’d use Sensitivity.

Bad Trope: Cruelty Is Magic

This is an awful, and common, trope – the idea that cruelty is the way to build the perfect soldier, or to reveal super-powers, or to get to the ultimate truth about a situation. The idea put forward is that cruelty is incredibly effective, like a tool or a weapon just waiting to be deployed, instead of something more realistic, where cruelty is usually the easy way out of a complex situation. I’ll mention a few examples that leapt to mind as I thought about this awful trope, and at the end I have a long list of more, for any of you who are thinking that this trope isn’t that common.

The Borne Identity

One of the things that I like about the Borne movies, especially the first one, is that they make a few attempts to actually deal with how traumatized Jason Borne and the other secret government assassins are. One of my favorite moments is when he is facing off against another assassin in a field, and asks something like “Do you still get the headaches?” At which point the other assassin says he does, with a suddenly pained expression. Its this cool moment of honesty in the midst of a fight.

But the whole premise of the Borne Identity is that the best way to train a super-predator is by traumatizing them. This cruelty gives them preternatural abilities.

Jack from Mass Effect 2

When you do Jack’s loyalty mission in Mass Effect 2, you get deep into this experimental Cerberus facility where, basically, children were tortured in order to develop their telekinetic (biotic) abilities. Basically, space-Nazis tortured children in order to create the perfect weapon, Jack. I like how they characterize her, actually – I feel like in a lot of ways she’s a plausible person who would have come from that kind of background. If anything, maybe higher functioning than one would expect. But again, we have the idea that cruelty is, literally in this case, magic.

24 and Torture

I didn’t watch a lot of episodes of 24, but it was obviously a “ticking time bomb” kind of show, and there is an overwhelming mythology in America around the efficacy of torture in a situation like this. Torture is seen as a highly effective way of getting to the truth in a situation, especially when you don’t have the time to do the right thing because so much is at stake or whatever. 24 was out, of course, around the time of Abu Ghraib as well, and revelations about CIA ‘black sites’ used to torture information out of suspected terrorists (in some cases literally children, or random people kidnapped by mercenaries).

The Unsullied

The Unsullied are the ultimate military force of the World of Ice and Fire, and key to their training is horrific trauma inflicted on children. They have to attach to a puppy, and then kill the puppy. They have to go purchase a slave baby, and then murder the slave baby in front of the mother. Only 1 in 4 even survive the training. They are all castrated so that they will never have any desire other than to obey and to kill.

This…would not work. This in no way creates an effective fighting force. If it did, someone would have tried it in the real world, because every civilization ever has tried to find ways to train the best fighting force. Historically and in the present, the most effective fighting forces have been volunteer forces with plenty of quality equipment serving under ingenious leaders.

Abu Ghraib

As I mentioned above, the idea that cruelty is magic has real-world ramifications. I don’t know how much our fiction plays into this, but at the time I couldn’t help but see connections between how torture is portrayed in media and the torture that our government was using in the War on Terror. If you ask professional interrogators, they will tell you that torture does not work, but in fiction it pretty much always does. And we certainly keep returning to that method of truth-seeking.

US Border Policy

Right now United States policy on migration across our southern border boils down to inflicting trauma for no reason other than the belief that if we are cruel enough, it will solve the problems that are sending millions of human beings north. We believe so deeply in the magic of cruelty to solve our problems that we are willing to inflict it on tens of thousands of children, torn from their parents to be starved, sexually abused, given away to new parents; denied soap, toothpaste, medical care, even hugs.

There is something in us that desperately wants to believe in the magic of cruelty.

So What?

I suppose this is me asking fellow creative people to stop using this horrible trope. Cruelty doesn’t give you superpowers, and it doesn’t bring out the truth, and it doesn’t create super-soldiers. The pervasiveness of this trope is such that I can only imagine that it is contributing to our comfort with, and even support for, cruelty in the real world. Art mirrors life mirrors art and so on. I’m asking us to tell harder stories that reflect the truth of trauma – it isn’t magic.

Other Examples: (with thanks to my Facebook friends)

  • Artemis and Drizzt from Salvatore’s novels;
  • the Mord-Sith and Richard from the Sword of Truth/Legend of the Seeker series;
  • Hannah – the movie and the show;
  • the Sardaukar of Dune;
  • Carrie;
  • Ender’s Game;
  • the creation of the Orcs in Middle-Earth, as well as Gollum, and the Nazgul;
  • Batman;
  • Deadpool suffocated until his powers activated;
  • Eleven from Stranger Things;
  • the Maze Runner series;
  • Thanos telling Gamora that what he put her through made her strong;
  • the Kushiel series;
  • Asa Drake’s Bloodsong;
  • Cenobites from Hellraiser;
  • Trial of Flowers by Jay Lake;
  • the Wheel of Time’s Seanchan and damane/Egwene; Goetic magic;
  • Magic the Gathering;
  • Aberrant;
  • Divergent’s Dauntless;
  • Jessica Jones;
  • Game of Thrones’ Sansa;
  • Gundam;
  • the Broken Earth series;
  • Harry Potter’s Death Eaters;
  • Bioshock’s Little Sisters
  • Altered Carbon’s Emissary training, torture sims, etc.

 

RPG Setting Round-Up #1

I’ve done 9 or 10 RPG Mechanic Round-Ups so far, but in the same document I also have a bunch of notes that are focused on setting design and setting ideas. As with the mechanics, feel free to steal and adapt these, or just enjoy brief little excursions.

Are There Actually Good Monarchs?

This is a question that A Game of Thrones, and its source material A Song of Ice and Fire, ask frequently. The answer seems to be, generally speaking, “No, but kings are inevitable.” The best attempt at a good king comes at the end of the 8th season, and I won’t spoil it here, but they do seem to be trying to say what kind of person has a chance at being a good king.

As an anarchist, I am suspicious of all systems of hierarchy. It seems that hierarchy and harm go hand in hand in pretty much every area of human life, from the family to the nation. It isn’t enough to find a few examples of kings who were good compared to other kings. Here, I mean monarchs who were also good people. Have there been such people? How would they arise?

Can any of you think of a genuinely good monarch? Someone who would not only rise to such a position of power, but also use it well, for the benefit of others?

Maybe good monarchs: https://www.reddit.com/r/history/comments/3qkva2/were_there_any_objectively_good_monarchs/

Dark Ages D&D Style

One of my homebrew settings, Twilight of the Gods, is set in the ‘dark ages’, also known as the Migration Period or Early Middle Ages. Basically 800-1000CE in Scandinavia. The default setting for D&D is much closer to the Late Middle Ages or even the Renaissance era in some cases. Rewinding fantasy Europe 500 years has some interesting effects that change the assumptions a cliches – or should.

In a Dark Ages D&D setting, inns are rare, as are cities. There tend not to be great kings, much less emperors. There is no plate armor, few or no large armies, and it would make sense for there to be a looming threat of conquest from the outside. A Dark Ages setting would probably exist in the aftermath of the fall of an empire, or even an apocalypse. There would be significantly less long-distance travel, possibly limited only to adventurous merchants and religious pilgrims. Communities would be cut off from one another most of the time, making a wandering adventuring party even more interesting (and threatening, and unique). There would be no guilds, as those would flourish in large cities hundreds of years later. There would be no banks, and wealth would have to be carried around in the form of special items, rings and the like.

You wouldn’t meet in a tavern; you’d meet in a longhouse in a village where the chieftain sits. You’d have to win them over in order to be even allowed in. Traveling you’d pass farms and villages, and would probably have to approach people, win them over, and get them to share some food and shelter with you. You might take a job protecting a group of pilgrims or a merchant caravan, but the roads would be neglected and not well-traveled at all. There would be even less of a chance of finding a “magic item shop” than in vanilla D&D, and you might need to regularly barter for goods, as not everyone would even use coins.

Of course, this is the Dark Ages from the point of view of northern Europe. Empires still existed, as did large cities, and those would be more similar to a normal D&D setting.

Creation Story

In a class on music and religion in college, I learned about a Hindu concept: nada brahma, a kind of un-sounded sound that under-girds the cosmos. I thought it would be cool to have a dwarven creation myth of the great creator-smith striking the cosmos with a hammer, and the ongoing creation is the resonance of that initial hammer-blow. It might account for conservatism – the idea that the clear ringing fades over time, and was heard more clearly by those who came before. I also like the idea of Hindu-esque dwarves. D&D dwarves are often depicted as religious, and I like the idea that dwarven religion absorbs and accounts for other religions, and includes incredibly subtle and multi-layered philosophies building on one another over time. Supposed other gods are merely emanations of the originating hammer-strike that got the cosmos into motion.

Fey Reproduction Demands Kidnapping

European folklore is full of stories of the fey folk stealing babies and leaving changelings, or of people wandering into the Perilous Realm and becoming lost, or being seduced, or just kidnapped. Reading the 5E Monster Manual, it seems that many fey require humanoids in order to reproduce. It’s interesting to think of kidnapping as part of fey reproduction. It’s just how they have to make more fey. What is for mortals frightening and seemingly random is for fey the only way they can make more of their kind.

Weather Witches

All around the North Atlantic, basically in the lands that the Norse settled and in which they raided and traded, there was the practice of weather witches binding up the wind in knotted ropes. This seems to have been a particular practice in places like Finland, Lappland, and the Isle of Man. They would sell the wind to sailors. The cloth or rope or string would have three knots, and in order to release a stronger wind, you would untie more knots. For some reason, I feel like this is a compelling detail. There are of course other stories of other ways weather-workers stored up the wind (like the bag given to Ulyses).

RPG Mechanics Round-Up #10: All 5E D&D

10!? Really? Yeah, and more are coming.

Mundane/Crossover Backgrounds

I’ve been listening to Dungeons and Daddies, a mostly-non-BDSM actual play podcast. It’s hilarious and really well done. The conceit is that four dads are drawn through a portal into the Forgotten Realms, where they have to rescue their sons from some asshole in a purple robe. This is similar to some of my first games, where my friend and I would create ourselves as D&D characters and then drop ourselves into Krynn or the world of a novel we were reading at the time. I imagine lots of people have played games like this, and Fantasy Flight even put out four games that are specifically built around creating yourself and then dropping yourself as a character into some end of the world scenario.

So I was thinking about creating real-world Backgrounds that characters could take, followed presumably by D&D 5E classes. I would like for them to be very regular, not special forces or anything. I came up with: Cashier, Barista, Sex Worker, Blogger/Vlogger, Parent, Weekend Athlete, Supervisor, Manager, Driver, Grad Student, Teenager, Technician

Real-world backgrounds. Start a campaign with real-world backgrounds, and then you’re transported to a fantasy world. Dungeons and Daddies, basically. What would those real-world backgrounds be? Cashier, Barrista, Sex Worker, Blogger/Vlogger, Parent, Weekend Athlete, Supervisor, Manager, Driver, Grad Student, Teen, Technician, Teacher. What else do you think I should list?

Druid (Ranger) Spell: Beast Travel

3rd level enchantment

Casting Time: 10 minutes

Components: V, S, M

Duration: 8 hours

When this spell is cast, the caster entices up to six medium or large beasts native to the environment to approach her. These beasts are willing mounts for the next 8 hours. If a character tries to ride a beast into battle (or ride it through similar danger), she must make an Animal Handling roll at disadvantage to prevent her mount from fleeing the scene at its top speed. When traveling overland, the beasts travel about as quickly as horses.

Social Vulnerabilities

Often players will ask for lore rolls in ordre to discover vulnerabilities in the creatures they are going to face. Sometimes, as with dragons, there just aren’t any vulnerabilities. They’re freaking dragons. Others might be vulnerable to a particular kind of damage, like a Rakshasa. Others, like demons, might just have an element or two they aren’t resistant to, which is as close as they get to vulnerability.

The thought occurred to me that NPCs could also have social vulnerabilities – the idea that certain approaches would be especially likely to work, like flattery with the President, for example, or threats against Sam Tarly. These vulnerabilities can be a simple as choosing a social skill that will work especially well against them – just Deception for someone who is credulous or Intimidation for a coward. Or it could be more specific – if you threaten someone’s family it’ll work extra well, or if you try to get them to laugh your persuasion will go even better.

Recovery Through Place

I believe the game was called Song of Arda – it was a free RPG put out years ago that sought to emulate Middle-Earth, and it’s one of the more interesting attempts at doing that out there. One mechanic that it included was a “Wellbeing” mechanic – that is, a measure of how well a character is doing overall beyond whether they are wounded or fatigued. A high wellbeing is how one feels when visiting Rivendell or Lothlorien; a low wellbeing is how one feels crossing the Dead Marshes or the Dagorlad.

The idea to adapt here for 5E (or other games in similar ways) is to have recovery depend more on wellbeing than be determined by the player (rolling HD for a short rest) or full recovery (for a long rest). For a short rest, wellbeing could limit how many Hit Dice can be rolled. For example, if you are huddled under a rocky overhang in a driving rainstorm, maybe only 1 or 2 HD can be rolled, whereas if you build a comfortale camp in a cozy mountain vale, there might not be a limit.

For long rests, recovery would depend on wellbeing as a dice-pool to be rolled to recover.  Rivendell would provide 10d10, for example, whereas huddling in squalor in an alleyway might provide 2d10. I would leave it at d10s so that there’s only one variable, but I like this as an option to make recovery a bit more challenging.

5E Backgrounds as Zero-Levels

As was pointed out on the Dungeons and Daddies podcast in their first or second session, D&D 5E is something like survival horror at levels 1 and 2, before transitioning more to heroic fantasy. For many players, this is a feature rather than a glitch. For others, they just start at 3rd level.

As a way to add survive-ability to characters at low levels, I thought that it might make sense to treat the various D&D 5E backgrounds as 0-levels, similar to what has been present in some previous editions and D&D clones. This also puts a level 1 character on par with a basic NPC like a town guard, who usually has 2 Hit Dice. These 0-levels would still grant max hit points, and I think I’d arrange them this way:

6HP: (Scholarly) Acolyte, Anthropologist, Archaeologist, Cloistered Scholar, Hermit, Inheritor, Sage

8HP: (Skilled) Charlatan, City Watch/Investigator, Clan Crafter, Courtier, Criminal/Spy, Entertainer, Far Traveler, Guild Artisan/Guild Merchant, House Agent (Dragonmarked), Noble, Outlander, Pirate, Sailor, Shipwright, Smuggler, Urban Bounty Hunter, Urchin

10HP: (Fighty) Folk Hero, Gladiator, Knight, Marine, Mercenary Veteran, Soldier

I would probably combine this with some house rule that also limits how high hit points get over time – something like the old 3E house rule that you didn’t gain hit points past level 6 (while you still gained other abilities).

Mage the Ascension: PbtA Hack

mage card

This is not by any means a fully-formed idea, but it’s one that I kind of like. In a way, it’s interesting to  take a push-button mechanic like the core mechanic of PbtA and apply it to an open-ended, flexible game like Mage the Ascension. What buttons do you include? What must those buttons do? 

Design Goals

I want to focus on the flexible but costly nature of Awakened magic. I see mundane things being handled through conversation more often than rolls, to keep the focus on magic. There needs to be a harm mechanic and a Paradox clock – let’s say you are at -1 per harm taken. A certain points on the Paradox clock, the ST makes a Paradox move. As with my Fate hack, I’ll boil the Spheres down to seven: Correspondence, Forces, Life, Matter, Mind, Spirit, Time (eats Entropy). Prime can be cut because it is mostly concerned with meta-magic. Each Tradition is its own playbook. This is a work in progress

Character Creation

Distribute 3 +1s between the seven Spheres. You have -1 in any Sphere without a bonus. Circle one and describe your Avatar (Dynamic, Entropic, Pattern, Primordial). Choose your true Nature. Describe your Sanctum. Circle an advantage (things like a Node maybe). I can see different playbooks having different things to circle or choose – acolytes, thin places, cool gadgets, turf, etc. 

General Mage Moves

When a Mage does something mundane but dangerous or costly, roll +0.

  • On a 10+, it goes as well as it could.
  • On a 7-9, you succeed but there is an unexpected cost or problem – choose one of the following: 
    • You lose or damage something of value – the ST will tell you what
    • The cost was more than you expected – the ST will tell you what the additional cost is, including a favor or a debt owed forward
    • You succeed, but someone else pays the price. The ST will tell you who
  • On a 6-, the ST can make a move. Any resources you used in the attempt are damaged or lost.

When you use your magic to shape reality, describe your rote or procedure and roll +Sphere. The ST will tell you which Sphere applies if there is any question.

  • 10+ and you get what you wanted.
  • 7-9 and pick one mishap, otherwise you get what you wanted.
  • 6- pick three mishaps, otherwise you get some version of what you wanted. Or, you can flinch, distance yourself from your Avatar, and cancel the effect. You take -1 forward to magical effects you attempt, but the effect fails without other consequences. (With a 7-9 you can always mark Paradox to avoid other mishaps.)
    • Mark Paradox
    • The effect is not under your control
    • You draw unwanted attention
    • There are unintended consequences (ST move)

When you use your magic to inflict harm, describe your rote or procedure and roll +Sphere. The kind of harm will depend on the Sphere used, but harm is harm.

  • On a 10+, you inflict 1 harm in the way you intended, and have +1 forward to inflict further harm.
  • On a 7-9, you inflict harm but must mark one mishap from the Sphere move.
  • On a 6-, you inflict harm and also take harm in return.

When you use your magic to defend yourself against magic, roll +Sphere using the Sphere against which you are defending.

  • On a 10+, you stop the magical effect from affecting you and can choose one:
    • You turn it back on the attacker, or
    • You can protect a group, or an area, from the effect
  • On a 7-9, you stop the magical effect from affecting you
  • On a 6-, you are vulnerable to the effect (the ST makes a move)

When you improvise magic to defend yourself against magic, roll +Sphere using any Sphere, describing how you use that Sphere creatively (use Correspondence to defend against Time for example). 

  • On a 10+, you stop the magical effect from affecting you
  • On a 7-9, you stop the effect from affecting you, but there is a cost. Choose one: 
    • You take -1 to Sphere moves going forward
    • The effect strikes a nearby ally or innocent bystander – the ST will choose who
    • You lose access to that Sphere until you have time to rest and meditate
  • On a 6-, the effect hits you full force

When you improvise magic to affect reality, describe the improvisation and roll +Sphere. 

  • On a 10+, you get the effect you wanted, but pick one: 
    • The ST tells you one strange side-effect
    • The magic affects one additional object or person of the ST’s choice
  • On a 7-9, the magic affects the wrong person or object – the ST will tell you who, or what
  • On a 6-, the ST makes a Paradox move

When you meditate at a Node, roll +0, or +1 if it is a Node where you are expressly welcome, or +2 at your own Node.

  • On a 10+, you are suffused with Quintessence and take a +1 forward on Sphere moves.
  • On a 7-9, you are suffused with Quintessence and take +1 forward on Sphere moves, but the Node is depleted and no one can draw from it until it regenerates.
  • On a 6-, the Node is depleted and must regenerate.

When you use your magical perceptions, choose a Sphere in which you have at least a +1. The ST will describe what you perceive through that Sphere.

  • All: you can sense the residue of powerful magic enacted recently – the more powerful the effect, the longer its residue lasts
  • Correspondence: you exact physical location; precise distances from one object to another; the presence of a portal to another location
  • Forces: ambient mundane energies (electromagnetism, heat, etc.); see using another spectrum (ultraviolet)
  • Life: the health and general condition of living things nearby, your own health and condition in detail, 
  • Matter: material composition of nearby objects; properties of unknown substances; potential or chemical energy stored in an object or substance
  • Mind: whether there are nearby minds; whether someone is awake or asleep or in a coma; basic emotional state of those around you
  • Spirit: thickness of the local Gauntlet; nearby ghosts or spirits; whether a nearby creature has a soul (i.e., could reveal an android)
  • Time: exact time (including the ability to set an internal alarm); any nearby disturbances in time

When you use mundane means to escape danger, roll +0.

  • On a 10+, you escape! Describe how. Also, choose one:
    • Your attacker leaves you alone for now, or
    • You can help your allies escape too
  • On a 7-9, you escape, but your attacker has not given up.
  • On a 6-, the ST makes a move.

Tradition Moves

I decided that each Tradition should have at least one signature move. These are what I came up with:

When an Akashic fights mundane people with her hands, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, she defeats even a large number of mundane people she’s fighting in flashy fashion. The player describes how she prevails.
  • On a 7-9, she defeats even a large number of mundane people, but takes harm in return.
  • On a 6-, she got herself in over her head. She takes harm and things escalate – the ST says how.

When a Cultist of Ecstacy seeks insight in a trance, roll +1

  • On a 10+, she can ask the ST up to three questions about herself.
  • On a 7-9, she can ask the ST one question about herself.
  • On a 6-, she gets a glimpse of a hard move the ST is going to make.

When a Dreamspeaker is solving a problem in her home territory, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, her knowledge of her land enables her to solve the problem.
  • On a 7-9, her knowledge of her land enables her to solve the problem, but the cost in time or materials is greater than she expected.
  • On a 6-, she has revealed a problem she didn’t know about before, or a problem she knew about is worse than she thought.

When an Etherite uses technology in an unusual way, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, the technology works just as the Etherite wanted.
  • On a 7-9, the technology works but there is an unintended complication. The ST will say what it is, or you can offer a suggestion.
  • On a 6-, the technology doesn’t work as intended, and there is a complication on top of that (the ST makes a move).

When an Euthanatos kills a mundane person, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, you kill the person exactly as you planned and get away with it.
  • On a 7-9, you kill the person, but draw the attention of either mundane authorities or a supernatural creature.
  • On a 6-, you kill the person but the ST can make a hard move.

When a Hermetic speaks lore, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, the lore you speak is true and helpful.
  • On a 7-9, the lore you speak provides a helpful hint for the situation at hand.
  • On a 6-, the lore you speak reveals a new problem.

When a Hollow One tries to make a connection on the street, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, she finds just the person or information she needs.
  • On a 7-9, she finds the person or information she needs, but there is a cost. The ST will say what it is.
  • On a 6-, she’s made someone angry, or drawn unwanted attention, and didn’t find what she wanted. Or, she found what she wanted, but it’s much worse than she thought.

When a Verbena uses natural medicine, roll +1.

  • On a 10+, she is able to heal using mundane means.
  • On a 7-9, she understands what is wrong, but it will require awakened magic.
  • On a 6-, it is much worse than she thought – the ST will say how bad.

When a Virtual Adept is solving a problem using a digital device, roll +1. 

  • On a 10+, it functions exactly as the Adept needed it to.
  • On a 7-9, the device functions as the Adept hoped, but she has pushed her luck and used up resources or drawn unwanted attention.
  • On a 6-, she draws unwanted attention and the device fails.

ST and Paradox Moves

Your Avatar is displeased, or detached, or distant. -1 ongoing to all magic. You are plunged into Quiet. You have drawn the attention of the Technocracy. You have drawn the attention of the Nephandi. You have drawn the attention of a Marauder. You have drawn the attention of mortal authorities. Echoes of your magical effect follow you, causing problems. You are marked by your magic in a way that is visible to everyone who meets you. There is lingering harm that will fall on you (or someone near you or connected to you) the next time you try to use magic. You are cursed and everyday things will go wrong in embarrassing ways. 

Mark XP

When you get a 6- result; if your relationship with your Avatar deepened; if you expressed your true Nature; if you learned something new and amazing about the world; if your life was in danger. Every time you get nine xp you advance.

Advancement

Increase one Sphere bonus by one; or circle a new advantage; or reset your Paradox clock to zero; or mark a new option on your playbook. Will there be enough moves to warrant choosing a new move at advancement? Not sure.

Well, there it is. That’s what I have for Mage the Ascension, Powered by the Apocalypse.

 

RPG Mechanics Round-Up #9

I still have this 12-page Google Doc of little bits and pieces of game design, and I have this blog, so I thought it was about time.

Instead of Conditions or Disadvantages

A lot of systems, including many I have played – GURPS, Old World of Darkness, Dungeons & Dragons, and so on – include a system of conditions and/or disadvantages. These are effects that limit a character’s capabilities, but also provide opportunities for roleplaying, conflict, and interesting situations. The problem is often when the GM is forcing a limitation on the PC. It is more interesting for the player to be the one to inflict the limitation on the character. When they do, pay them with XP. Willful – when someone breaks your will or forces you to do something, gain xp. Enemy – when you get the shit kicked out of you, gain xp. Etc.

Skill and Risk

When writing a skill list, include what can be done with the skill without risk, and then what you can do with a risk. Generally speaking, only require rolls for uses of skills that involve a risk.

Character Main Plot and Sub Plot

A while back I was listening to yet another episode of Writing Excuses, and the topic of discussion was giving each character a main plot and a sub-plot. Not to say that this should be done merely by rote, but rather the idea is to mimic a lot of media apart from RPGs. It is common for a character to have a main plot, often the main plot of the story and his or her part in it, and a sub-plot, something with lower stakes that is important only to the character.

Superhero Collateral Damage

I was thinking that it would be interesting for superheroes to gain bonus dice for their abilities by incurring collateral damage to their environment. Ever notice how a fight involving supers will wreck a city? So the superhero can either work carefully, keeping others safe (like Spider Man) or cut loose and deal maximum damage (like Hulk) with little or no concern for buildings and people around you. I feel like every superhero game should have this option, one way or another.

Base Four Character Archetypes

I was thinking about core class archetypes, for games like Numenera and other D&D clones. They are some version of the Fighter, Doer and Knower. With the fourth addition of Speaker, perhaps as a subset of Doer. Given that Knower and Speaker will often come with built-in supernatural abilities.