The book landed on the table in front of me with an authoritative whomp. The cover art was kind of cool, but the slightly mad look of the person who had tossed it to me was a little...intimidating.
“You want to tell stories? This game will make you tell stories.”
I was intrigued, despite myself. I didn’t know three of the five people I was going to be playing with, and I really didn’t like one of the other two. Still, it had been a long time since I had sat down and chucked dice. I took a character sheet and a deep breath. Why not?
That first Exalted 3E campaign was not a hundred percent successful, but it opened my eyes to the possibilities intrinsic in the system. I read through the fluff (aka the non-mechanical bits) and got really interested. Sure, there was a base storyline to use, but like looking into a fractal, I saw so many more possibilities...so, despite the unsuccessful first campaign I tried a second, using the lessons I had learned.
That game worked a little better, although the DM was a little more dictatorial in his storytelling and at least two of us got really frustrated. It was itching at me - the system was so good, but the games weren’t clicking. It felt stilted, awkward, like it wasn’t firing on all cylinders. It was almost there. I could see what I was looking for, the glint of the diamonds in the dross.
So, like all people with my personality flaws, I decided to take the reins myself, and I haven’t looked back since. If you have a group of people who are roll-players and not roleplayers, this system will either infuriate them beyond belief or teach them how to breathe life into those character sheets.
After a year’s DMing, I come to you, in this season of giving, with a passionate avowal of my love for Exalted 3E. Without further ado, Gentle Reader, I give you: seven reasons you should be playing Exalted immediately, forthwith, and NOW.
1) If You Can Think It (And Rationalize It), You Can Do It
Want to be a mason or blacksmith who creates with the skill of a goddess and has a literal fire elemental powering her forge? No problem. The assassin with a tongue of silk and the blade skills of a Jedi on cocaine? Sure thing. A brute force murder machine for the forces of the Unconquered Sun who could probably beat the Hulk in an arm-wrestling contest? There’s a charm for that.
While there is a great story involving the Scarlet Empress and the Unconquered Sun, the Immaculate Order and primal Luna, they are merely jumping-off points, with the only exception being that someone Immortal (Unconquered Sun, Luna, one of the Abyssal Death Lords, one of the Great Dragons, etc.) has to be at the base of your Exaltation. Why is this? Because you’re an Exalted - a Chosen of the Unconquered Sun, Chosen of the Moon, a Dragon-blood, a Deathknight (chosen of the Death Lords, referred to as an Abyssal for short), or the like. That designation literally tells you what charm schools are open to you.
Beyond that, you can use as much or as little of the nominal setting as you would like. For example, my current game has a very Egyptian feel to it, with a Solar Exalted who happens to be the high priestess of a necromancer cult and her Lunar mate, who has traveled with desert shamans who bear a striking resemblance to Bedouins. None of that has a single blessed thing to do with the rest of Creation - the name of the world of Exalted.
2) Exalted Has A Built-In Mechanic To Reward Roleplay For Experienced And New Players Alike
We’ve all (hopefully) seen some fantastic roleplay around our tables in our time, and sometimes, no matter how good the roleplay, the dice just aren’t on your side, or it’s in a skill you don’t have a lot of dots in. If you roleplay well enough, and your DM and other players agree, you can earn automatic successes, extra dice, and other DM goodies through “stunting”. This is basically a process in which your tablemates reward you for good roleplay by improving your chance of success.
Look, I’ll be the first to admit, it can be hard to improv when the spotlight is on you. Exalted has actually helped me to get better at doing the talking with the mouth and not the fingers (the curse of the writer). It’s easier to practice when you get a little treat every time you do something well. For example, if one of my players does something cool, I will ask for a stunt vote from the other players. If they vote yes, the player doing something gets a treat. If not, they know they need to work a little harder.
3) The Stunting Mechanic Is A Fantastic Way To Get People Moving From Roll-play To Roleplay
If you don’t stunt well enough in certain situations (like a priestess praying to get the attention of the Unconquered Sun to save her from certain doom) the NPCs might not pay attention to you - so make it epic.
“I pray to the Unconquered Sun to help me. I roll eight D10 for performance and charisma, with an automatic two successes from my charm.”
Result: 4 successes and a facepalm. Your dice hate you. Those stupid monks are going to crucify you in the name of the Immaculate Order.
“O great and merciful Lawgiver, keeper of the warmth of Heaven, guardian of Creation, hear your humble servant’s plea in her hour of need. You, who imbue your Chosen with all of Your gifts to carry out the will of Heaven, hear our prayer for Your strength and guidance.Your illuminating light frees those unfortunate souls trapped in thrall to the Immaculate Order, You who granted Creation to humanity in Your infinite generosity and wisdom. Free these souls that they may find their reward in the Underworld and their mourners may heap prayers in Your name for Your endless purifying mercy.” (actual in-game stunt, voted as a Level 2 stunt - 2 extra dice and two automatic successes)
Result: 4 successes from dice and charm, plus 2 more dice to roll and two more automatic successes from stunt reward. Roll 2 new dice: 2 more successes, including two tens (which reroll, generating two more successes). Ten successes (and impressing the DM) resulted in the Unconquered Sun standing up from his game in the Jade Pleasure Palace and hurling his spear into a small city for no apparent reason except that one of his Exalts, a homely priestess from a wide spot in the road in a valley that no one had ever heard of, asked him to. This manifested as a massive bolt of divine lightning striking the Priestess and radiating outwards. When the light faded, his spear was visible for just a moment at her feet before it disappeared from whence it came.
The monks were obliterated (as was the temple the group was standing in and a fair bit of the surrounding countryside) and now the priestess can say “do you want me to pray about it?” and the other party members fall over themselves to “oh gods don’t let Bruna pray!”
Because my DM is a fair and reasonable person (and needed an excuse to make a time jump), at the end of the scene, Bruna was knocked into a divinity-inflicted coma for six months. That’s what happens when you channel a god, kids. Prayer is dangerous, m’kay?
4) The World Of Creation Is Infinitely Malleable
Need a desert setting? Head south, near the Elemental Pole of Fire. Pick any spot you like on the map, or create a new one. Want to be a privateer or pirate? Into naval battles, maybe? There’s plenty of ocean around the Blessed Isle. Forests so deep you could get lost forever? Head east, towards the Elemental Pole of Wood. The Elemental Pole of Air guards the frozen north, while the Elemental Pole of Water is far to the west, where the land breaks up into a nigh-uncountable number of islands.
There are cities held up by colossi, a lost city that floats in the air, trading posts and camps, and rarefied culture and traditional fantasy cityscape on the Blessed Isle, the residence of the Scarlet Empress.
In short, if you have an idea, there’s a landscape for that.
5) Lunars, Solars, Dragonbloods, Oh My
Want to be a man who turns into a direbear, a roc, a Siberian tiger, and, after some spectacular rolls and stunts, a large dragon? That’s a Lunar - if you can ritually hunt any kind of animal and drink its heartsblood, you can turn into it….IF you have the charms for it.
How about playing someone descended from the lines of the Noble Dragons? Someone descended from the Dragon of Wood, for example, might smell faintly of roses and have a very faint woodgrain pattern on their skin. Dragon-Bloods that are chosen by the Unconquered Sun are in in for a world of trouble, but they can be immensely rewarding to play.
(Author’s note: Exalted 3E as published in the base book does not provide stats or charms for Lunar players or Dragon-Blood players specifically, although Dragon-Blood can use almost anything that a Solar Exalted can use. We made do with adaptations from the 2nd Ed. Lunar book. Onyx Path has said they will be publishing a Lunar book, along with a Dragon-Blood book, What Fire Hath Wrought, but there’s no release date available yet for either of them. The Internet is full of useful make-do solutions in the meantime, many quite well thought out and eminently useable.)
Bear in mind, if a Lunar is the only Lunar in a Solar game, she is likely seeking her Solar “mate” - for every Solar, there is a Lunar, because Luna won’t let the Unconquered Sun (aka “that shiny bastard” in our game) get an advantage. The same would apply for the only Solar in a Lunar game - she may be looking for her Lunar mate. This does NOT necessarily mean consort/lover! In fact, the older Lunars often try to kill their Solar mates. Nor are the Lunars always of the opposite sex - a Lunar mate may be the best battle brother a Solar could ask for. It is a fun little wrinkle to play out, if you have a group that enjoys that kind of intragroup conflict.
6) Charms For Days
The Exalted 3rd Edition book is 659 pages, and a solid 250+ are pages of charms and evocations. There’s a charm for damn near everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING.
This is where you can really customise your game, DM, by choosing what charms your players can take. Playing with a bunch of kids? Super easy to keep stuff G-rated. War charms, Performance charms, Medicine charms, Martial Arts charms - all perfectly cool for the under 18 set or those who prefer to keep things in the G-PG range.
For the rest of us, there’s a small but interesting section devoted to sex charms, and an interesting supplement called Scroll of Swallowing Darkness that is DEFINITELY NSFW and not for those under the age of 18. Read at your own risk. It’s for Exalted 2E but has some things we have worked into our game as well. Remember the Red Rule and Rule Zero, but go forth and get as gloriously R-rated as you like. After all, this is a world where there’s a type of demon that likes to skin her victims alive, then make them watch as she carves beautiful designs into their flayed skin.
If you have the right group for it, go for it - even the Iliad and the Odyssey had sex in them, and there’s this little underground series of books called A Song of Ice and Fire...
7. Combat That Is Actually Interesting To Listen To
Look, I loathe sitting around in two-hour-long combats knitting and providing color commentary. It gets boring, okay? Seriously. Especially if someone just says “my character does x and y and z, then adds X bonuses, and Y feats, and Z weapons, so I roll infinity-minus-1 dice. What do I get?”
But, if everyone is on board with the stunting mechanic, and understands that they are playing god-touched characters, and has a reasonable grasp of their charm schools, it can be like listening to an audiobook narration of a character doing something awesome. At my table, we have gotten to listen to a Lunar hunt down a dragon with the help of his Solar mate, and I would almost swear you could feel the blood spatter as he ripped out the dragon’s heart and drank.
We had a trickster NPC Sidereal Exalted called Twisted Fate that used a pack of starmetal playing cards to turn a room full of people about to attack the priestess and the ninja (who had a problem with her dice not wanting her to be stealthy) into a literal thin red mist with occasional chunks.
I will admit that if you have a DM who insists on making all rolls separately (when attacking a group of low-level soldiers, for example) it can get tedious. In cases like this, I follow the Rule of Common Sense: make one roll, apply to all opponents, then split damage as the player would like. It lessens my paperwork and streamlines the entire process.
Gentle Reader, I was reluctant to embrace Exalted, but once I did, I haven’t regretted it for a moment. It’s an excellent introductory game for players who might not want the standard sword-and-board of D&D, or who aren’t fans of Star Wars, or, like me, intensely dislike most of the other options available because there’s too much crunch and not enough story.
You want to tell stories? This game will make you tell stories.
Georgia is a writer, editor, gamer, and mad culinary priestess who masquerades as a corporate employee while her plans for world domination slowly come together. She lives in Tacoma, Washington, with her husband and Feline Overlords. She can be reached through Facebook at In Exquisite Detail or on Twitter at @feraldruidftw.
Picture Reference: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/313563192789012620/ . Art is from the Exalted 3rd Edition core book.
6 Amazing Things About Faith RPG
In an RPG, it is expected that the events will be happening in the players’ imaginations, and that any visual reference will be there mostly for flavor. And then there are games that have art and ideas that seem to draw you in, envelop you, and make the world you were imagining that much more vibrant and real.
Welcome to the world of Faith.
1) ‘What Is It?’
Faith is a space opera-type game, published by Burning Games, set in the mid-future, a few centuries from now (human dates are not usually used for reasons that will be discussed below). Sentient races travel our area of the Galaxy using a naturally occurring network of wormholes called The Labyrinth, and there’s the usual trade/border skirmishes/hacking/sci-fi-ideas-of-the-day.
2) ‘That Sounds Interesting! Are There Aliens?’
Yes! There are 4 sentient races in this game, all with intricate backstories and incredibly detailed surroundings. They are (and this will be a MASSIVE simplification): The Corvo, rampant capitalistic Technocrats; the Iz’kal, telepathic and supporting, but ruthless to those who don’t follow the greater good; the Raag, big bulky aggressive space farers; and the humans, who blew themselves up in WWIII at some point in the 21st century and now live on a blighted Earth, (which is now a Corvo protectorate) and who mainly serve as mercenaries. From the start, the fact that humans are a weak minority in this space civilization is something that deserves a closer look. Also there are the Ravagers, pretty much a biological version of the Borg from Star Trek, destroyers and absorbers of planets (powerful but not invincible, at least so far…).
‘Ok That’s pretty interesting so far, but how is this different from a Legion of other similar RPG’s.’ Well, it’s down to two things really, the Cards and The Gods.
3) ‘Gods?? I Thought This Was Sci-fi?’
In the universe of Faith (clue is in the name) there are 4 gods. The authors make it clear these are not anthropomorphic personifications (Best. Words. Ever.) but rather sorts of entities (even calling them such is stretching it a bit) that arose due to sentient beings’ beliefs. Not only does every character need to believe in one of the Gods, this belief allows the character to access quasi-mystical abilities, IF they behave constantly in a way consistent with their God’s dictums. There are no religious wars and the Gods themselves don’t require worship, just that its followers behave in a way consistent with their commandments.
4) ‘I’m Sorry, CARDS?’
Yes. Faith works with cards, normal poker deck. At the start of every scene (like you are playing in a sci-fi movie), everyone draws a hand of cards, usually 7. These are your ‘rolls’; these are the numbers you will have to play with. Like in most other RPG’s, to these numbers you add your stats, and you can only play a limited number of cards, depending again on your stats. But this is the key point: For every scene, you have all your ‘rolls’ in one go. Trying to do something simple? Play a low card. You might get away with it, no point using your high cards, you might need it for the big monster later on! Used all your cards? (you always draw one if you run out) Well, now your character is tired as heck (he/she’s been working hard all scene, and played all her 7 cards, no wonder!) and will not be as effective in gaming terms. There are other mechanisms, to do with suits, for example, that allow you to draw more cards onto your hand. Your hand is what your character can do in a scene. Lots of cards, lots of things. Lots of low numbered cards? Lots of small things. You get the idea. It is very much managing your luck as you go along.
5) ‘Oh I See! So What Can You Do?’
Basically, anything. Any action that is not opposed (by the GM or another player), is considered to be successful. Meaning, unless your clue is inside a box, under a pillow, inside a cupboard, on fire, on the Moon (inside a dome, I’d wager), the characters will probably find it, eventually. Now, if they were on a restricted time frame…. THEN you force them to play for it. Effectively, the GM opposes the players with a number of cards, proportional to the difficulty of the action. And who has the highest number wins. And things can get awesome. Due to a couple of high draws from my players, their ship (a pretty much weaponless cargo freighter) now has an improvised metal slingshot on top that shoots space mines, that out hacker character hacked, switched off, and decided to take with him. Our engineer then drew masterfully for the slingshot and here we are.
6) ‘Ok, So What Do You Think Of It?’
When I described the game to my players, I said the words ‘It’s like Firefly with aliens.’ Faith is probably the best RPG rule system I ever ran. It is fast, streamlined, and the card mechanics are inspired. It is a game that lends itself to roleplaying, as narrative details (called advantages and disadvantages) can give you numerical bonuses or penalties. It works really well for newbies, as cards are easier to wrap your head around than multi-faced dice, but veteran players will be able to tactic the heck out of the ‘managed luck’ system, once they realize that ALL of their ‘rolls’ are in their hand. And like I mentioned way up at the start, every scrap of art in this game could and should be framed and put in a museum.
Conclusion? Have a look, you’ll love it.
All you have to do is have Faith.
Free Rules: https://www.dropbox.com/s/xeqqa0h22kx7t9a/EN_FAITH_Core_Rules_2.0.pdf?dl=0
Free Abridged Lore:
Rui is a Portuguese scientist that, after ten years doing strange things in labs, decided to become a teacher. Then, three years ago, like he was bit by a radioactive D20, RPG’s came into his life, and he’s now juggling teaching, playing and GMing quite happily. He lives in the UK with his partner Joana, an ungodly number of potted plants, 4 to 5 RPG’s at various stages of completion (and across as many rule systems), and maps, cursed idols, evil necklaces, and any other props he can get his hands on. He’s been writing for HLG for a few months, and is one of the resident vloggers. He can be reached at @Atomic_RPG.
Artwork reproduced with the kind permission of the publishers, Burning Games.
6 Things To Keep Your Eyes Out For When Playing The Star Trek Roleplaying Game
You know how anticipation works. The daydreams are all a flutter. The mind is fixated. You eat, sleep, sleep, and breathe it all. You choreograph different situations including conversations, laughs, jokes, and actions. Waking in the middle of the night or not sleeping because your brain races with possibilities is not abnormal. I am about to begin two new games in the next couple weeks and both are new systems to me and both characters are going to be vastly different.
However, the one that holds my attention and catches my imagination the most is the new Star Trek Adventures game. If I were to track both my geekiness and my nerdiness back to one place, it would be Star Trek: The Next Generation. I watched that show with my dad and I was in love with the entire idea of exploration paired with science fiction. So in finding out that I would be playing in this universe, I thought about the things I want to see happen and things that are quintessential Trek.
1) Exploration And Science
Star Trek is the best at making science sound awesome. Sometimes science is just clever names and science-sounding terms. One of the things I am excited to come across is an anomaly, which is basically just something unknown in space (though temporal anomalies can GDIAF). There are so many spatial anomalies to explore with not all of them being what they seem. Maybe the anomalies are alive or maybe some are caused by old machines, abandoned by their makers long ago. How will the anomalies affect the crew, the ship, or the situation? The universe is still unknown and it will be our job to decipher the world we live in. To take it even further, I want us to name one of these things.
2) New Culture; Breaking The Law
I want to see the different cultures the Federation will explore. These cultures may range from being very similar to humans in their advancement to being much more technological, like the Caretaker or the Borg. Or less technologically advanced, like indigenous cultures and those without the technology of the Federation. One main theme comes when exploring the cultures, which is to say, looking to understand where they are coming from. The idea that we need to seek understanding first is a noble one and one that I personally gravitate towards in Trek episodes.
As we fumble through this world, we will break the law. Some member of the crew will not heed warnings, will not review protocol, will be too caught up in the world and we will screw something up. It will be up to us to defend ourselves using their laws or their courts or their systems of morality. I want one courtroom drama episode.
3) Crazy Disease
My position on the ship is Chief Medical, so I am anticipating what may afflict our crew or those around us. Will we cure entire cultures, save entire ships, manage to spread a disease amongst ourselves, or discover innoculations that will help others in the future? I have high hopes for our ragtag crew.
Along with ye old usuals for diseases and viruses, I am also hoping for some medical issues that push the crew into odd interpersonal interactions. I love a good “fish out of water” dynamic to add some levity to the situation. It will be through these points that our crew may learn to get along better and appreciate each other all the more.
Since we are all essentially ambassadors in space (which sounds unappealing), I am hoping to see some interaction with people that have far reaching implications for the entire Federation. Another thing that I would love to see is how other people in the Federation affect our daily lives on the ship. What falling outs has the Federation had or what battles have raged that makes our lives a little more difficult? How do we react to these things as an entire crew, as our own species, or as an individual? I want to see how actions have consequences that are far reaching. This will allow us to take things seriously for our missions.
5) Interpersonal Connections
This may be my favourite thing about roleplaying, but it is also of great interest to me in the Trek world. I love the interaction and the negotiation of roles within the cogs of the machine. With so many different personalities and cultures, we must find some common ground. We will not all be BFFs but we’ll all need to work together and that may take some time. How we achieve cohesiveness as a crew will be something I will look for during the game. I had an idea of my character and what I wanted her to be, but those connections were truly established when we made our characters.
6) Prime Directive Pondering
The Prime Directive of the Federation is the guiding principle for Star Trek. It is essentially a non-interference clause. It doesn’t allow you to interfere with the customs and development of other species that you encounter. If, for example, you come across a planet with two factions at war with each other and they both have rudimentary weaponry and technology; you would not (even with their urging) be able to provide those things for one side to gain the advantage.
As good as the rule is, what is a rule if not bent and massaged to your own liking? The interpretation of the Prime Directive has been, and will continue to be, debated. Do we allow the destruction of an undeveloped species ravaged by disease by intervening with gene therapy? Do we help the other side in a war, if the others have had the Ferrengi providing technology? It’s here that we look further into our philosophy and make decisions. Only then we will see our results for good or for ill.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of all things Trek that I want to see. There are so many awesome things to explore in this new world:
I want to see Worf.
I want to be terrified of the Dominion.
I want to see how the Bonaventure stacks up against foes.
I want to be a part of the “B” side crew.
I want all things Trek.
I am excited to play.
This article was written by Vanessa who is a sarcastic, 30-something wife and mother. She likes things and stuff, but not simultaneously. When she isn’t involved in things and stuff, she teaches and coaches debate. She thinks everyone should be roleplaying. She is also trying out this new twitter handle at @sarasma_nessa ...on second/third thought… I am terrible at twitter. Please send help! She also thinks you should support the writers here that are more clever and can figure out twitter.
Image Source: Modiphius
5 Final Things for “The Aether Sea”
This is the final entry for a series of articles where I share some of the detailed characters, places, and things created during a recent campaign. The campaign used Evil Hat’s Fate system, and took place in Edward Turner’s “The Aether Sea” world. We decided as a group to use Fate Core rather than Fate Accelerated Edition, so the things presented here will work better with Fate Core.
For easy playing, “The Aether Sea” has an adventure included, complete with detailed characters and backstory. Following that, it sketches out some possible adventures, but it really only gives you the bones; it’s up to the group to make the suggestions into full adventures. Here is the ‘meat’ that our group put on the bones suggested by Ed Turner. The game items presented here were spun out of an adventure prompt at the end of the Aether Sea book, which I will quote later. First, I’ll describe the setting of the adventure, then give a description of how the prompt might play out.
The descriptions and characters are our group’s take on the adventures suggested in the book. That being said, Fate lends itself very easily to creating your own characters and details. Take what I write here and play them as full-on adventures, or simply take some inspiration from them and build your own adventures from the suggestions!
In this article, I’ll continue adding some detail to the “Julian’s Bluff” adventure that I began sharing in my previous article.
1) The Rebel Forces
The rebels are classic freedom fighters, with a twist. There are two powerful families on Julian’s Bluff: the Graves, and the Millers. The Millers are more powerful, but corrupt. In order to defeat the Hegemony, though, the two families had to join forces. In a canny power move, the Miller family managed to put one of their own in charge of the rebel army.
General Sigmund Miller
One of the big baddies. Lieutenant Precious Graves is a good-natured thorn in his side in place because of political pressures, but the General can talk circles around him. The General reprimands a disobedient soldier while Graves is around, then welcomes & reassigns him when Graves leaves.
High Concept: Cruel Commander of Rebel Forces
Only the strong are fit to rule
I know what I'm doing
Undying devotion to my planet
+7 Fight, +6 Resources, Notice, +5 Provoke, Physique, Rapport
+4 Will, Shoot, Deceive Contacts
4 Physical Stress, 4 Mental Stress, Consequence slots as normal
Tactician: +2 to create advantages using Fight when directing loyal soldiers
I know people: Use Notice in place of Empathy to determine if someone is lying
Henchmen: can call on 2 additional Good NPCs once per scene.
Lieutenant Precious Graves
Lieutenant Graves came from the next county over as a military specialist in a gesture of friendly alliance. He is in command of much of General Miller's forces in the field. Has been referring bad soldiers to Miller; Miller reassigns them to a corps loyal to himself.
High Concept: Athlete-Turned-Soldier
Trouble: Easy Mark
Can't wait to be with Annabel again
+5 Athletics, +4 Shoot
+3 Fight, +2 Rapport, +1 Physique
3 Physical Stress, 2 Mental Stress, 1 Mild and 1 Moderate Consequence Slot
Honest Abe: Use Rapport to inflict mental stress on people trying to harm him.
2) Julian’s Keep: The Royal Hegemony Presence
The rebels outnumber the Hegemony five to one, but the Hegemony presence has better weapons. Nevertheless, the Hegemony has been pushed back to just one area, protected by a fortification known as Julian’s Keep. The rebels currently have Julian’s keep under siege. The Hegemony has long since stopped funding this war, however. The only thing keeping them there is General Tanner and his genuine concern for the population of Julian’s Bluff.
General Arcturus Tanner
Tanner is intended as an main opponent to the player characters, but should definitely be a sympathetic villain. He refuses to leave because he knows that General Miller will seize control and the population will suffer.
High Concept: Beloved leader of Hegemony forces
Trouble: Fighting in the Alamo
Death before dishonour
Sigmund Miller must be stopped!
Rich sense of tradition
+7 Rapport, +6 Fight, Notice, +5 Resources, Physique, Lore
+4 Will, Shoot, Deceive, Contacts
4 Physical Stress, 4 Mental Stress, Consequence slots as normal
Honest Abe: Use Rapport to inflict mental stress on people trying to harm him in social situations.
Rally the Troops: +2 to create advantages using Rapport when directing loyal soldiers
Loyal Troops: can call on 2 additional Good NPCs once per scene.
Lieutenant Harvest is the department head of the Royal Alchemical Society on Julian’s Bluff, whom, if you remember, the player characters were meant to deliver their cargo to in the first place. These materials are used to power and maintain the Titan Spiritual Anthroform, a weapon vital to the war effort at this juncture.
High Concept: Science!
Co-Workers tolerate my genius
+5 Investigate, +4 Lore, +3 Shoot, +2 Crafts, +1 Will
2 Physical Stress, 3 Mental Stress, Consequence slots as normal
Socratic Method: Use Investigate to create advantages in social situations by asking persistent questions.
3) The Hope’s End Standard
Per chevron advanced azure and argent, a cinquefoils vert in middle base…
If the characters agree to steal the Hope’s End Standard, here are the stats for it. Stealing the standard will require meeting a series of at least two Challenges that follow a progression of Easy (-2 to character’s stat), Challenging (+0 to character’s stat), and Difficult (+2 to character’s stat). To fence the Standard to anyone except General Miller without consequence (aside from losing the hostage) is a Superb (+5) Challenge. Here are the overcome difficulties that characters may face to learn more about the Standard using Lore, Investigate, or Contacts. Be prepared to make stuff up, or have the characters invent what they know:
Fair (+2) The name rings bell, and the characters have heard a rumor
Good (+3) The characters can identify the Standard, and have heard a rumor
Great (+4) The characters can identify the Standard and know one fact
Fantastic (+6) Comprehensive history
High Concept: Ancient Enchanted Standard
Trouble: No loyalty
Boon: Bestows the aspect Protected by the Hope’s End Standard on any one thing with a high concept that is carrying it. This could be a character, group, vehicle, building, sector, etc. Only one thing may have the aspect at a time, but it can be invoked by anyone that can be considered under the protection of that one thing (e.g. anyone in the vehicle, building, sector, etc.)
Lucky: The standard has its own refresh of three fate points that may be used to invoke aspects as if the standard were a character. These may be used to invoke Protected by the Hope’s End Standard.
Refresh: 3 (Cost: 2 Refresh. A character must give up 2 points of refresh in order to gain this extra. Refresh given up in this way may be regained by giving the Standard away)
4) Titan Spiritual Anthroform
I love steampunk. The Titan is a giant mech made of brass and rivets, powered by the spirits of the damned. It’s on loan from our friends at the Annular Necrocracy. If the characters agree to investigate the rumor about a new weapon, this is what they’re looking for. Getting information about the Titan will require meeting a series of at least two Challenges that follow a progression of Easy (-2 to character’s stat), Challenging (+0 to character’s stat), and Difficult (+2 to character’s stat). To steal it would be next to impossible (see the aspects below). If your characters are looking for a fight, look no further.
Small Ship Scale (+2 to Physique, Fight, Athletics, and Provoke)
High Concept: Used Combat Mech
Trouble: Where’d you go?/That damn blind spot
Fully customizable & customized
+4 Physique, +3 Fight, Athletics
+2 Crafts, Notice, Shoot, +1 Will, Deceive, Provoke
4 Physcial Stress, 3 Mental Stress, 1 additional mild consequence slot
Big Metal Body: Use physique to defend against physical attacks.
Flame Thrower: Fire Good (+3) fireballs at a target in the same zone.
Eject! Eject! Once per scene, the pilot may eject to safety and the Anthroform will collapse, triggering a Good (+3) attack on everyone in the zone as it falls to the ground and flails about.
These supporting characters can show up wherever you need them for a big fight. They might be a motley crew of mercenaries belonging to the Hegemony, or they may have defected to the rebels. Put them with whichever General you want when you need your characters to face some serious opposition. There is no backstory for them, except what is suggested by their aspects, so feel free to invent your own!
Brace (Dwarf; group leader)
High Concept: The group’s loud voice
Trouble: I want the boss’ job...
Pride goeth before all
I’ve seen that before…
Profitability over honesty
+4 Fight, +3 Rapport, +2 Notice, +1 Athletics
Rally the Troops: +2 to create advantages using Rapport when directing loyal soldiers
You Mad, Bro? Use Rapport in place of Provoke to cause mental stress.
Swashbuckler: +2 to create advantages using Athletics
High Concept: Registered SCU Evocation Expert
Trouble: Brace makes me unsure of myself
Cold (Empathy with Frost)
+4 Magic, +3 Athletics, +2 Fight, +1 Notice
Focuses on Frost in Evocation: Use Magic to cast Frost-related effects to attack, defend, overcome, and create advantages.
Dabbles in Evocation: Given enough time, can use Magic to create effects using fire, earth, water, lightning, etc.
Cast-Fighter: Once per scene, gain +2 when using Fight for the first time. Surprise!
High Concept: Enforcer
Trouble: These people move too fast.
Honesty over profitability
+4 Physique, +3 Empathy, +2 Athletics, +1 Fight
Shrug it off: Use Physique to oppose Fight.
Wise ways: +2 to create advantages using empathy
Tough as nails: Once per scene, reduce the severity of a physical consequence.
Vuzz Fletcher (Goblin)
High Concept: An actual fletcher.
Trouble: I ain’t no royal.
Something’s not right…
A name within the field
Just do the job
+4 Shoot, +3 Fight, +2 Notice, +1 Athletics
Coward: +2 to Athletics when avoiding harm.
Robin Hood: Create a lasting aspect instead of a boost on success with style using Shoot
Robin Hood 2: Use shoot to overcome obstacles where it usually wouldn’t apply (subject to gamemaster approval).
Hope all this was useful, not just tl;dr.
That was Julian’s Bluff; I hope that you can have fun with it, too. If you decide to make use of these resources, please leave a comment to let me know how it goes!
Landrew is a full-time educator, part-time art enthusiast. He applies his background in literature and fine arts to his favourite hobby (role-playing games) because the market for a background in the Fine Arts is very limited. He writes this blog on company time under a pseudonym. Long live the Corporation!
Image courtesy of drawshield.net
World tendency, put simply, is the usual outcome for a situation most often in reference to video games, board games, and books (e.g. Fire-breathing dragons exist in your fantasy world. Most likely, nearby citizens will build their homes out of something non-flammable, like stone). World tendency has a lot to do with cause and effect, and it can play a huge part in either making or breaking a game, despite not being addressed often. This goes doubly so for world builders. As a world builder and DM, you are responsible for crafting not only a convincing world for your players to romp around in but also for making your world mechanically harmonic with the paradigms of that world.
Sorry, let me give you an example. Your human ranger is caught in the smoldering maw of a tower’s highest chamber as, below, a drake continues to spit lashes of flame in an unequipped town. You vault from the tower into a swan dive, and your DM asks you to make a DC 20 acrobatics check (since most world tendencies would state that leaping gracefully from a flaming tower would be quite difficult). Now you say that you intend to brandish your scimitar mid-fall and plunge it into the beast’s neck. You are asked to make an attack roll with some significant penalties because, again, doing this in most instances would be quite a challenge. You make the rolls, slicing through the drake’s scales and deep into its vertebra.
Congratulations: you are a badass. But what if that acrobatics check was a DC 5? Or you didn't take any penalties for attacking the monster mid-air? The easy payoff would not be nearly as sweet as the hard fought one, and frankly, it would seem a little contrary to how the world usually functions.
All this is to say two things. First, mechanical harmonics in world tendency is just a fancy way of saying, “Make how you work with the world compliment how the world works.” Second, I have 4 tips help you get closer to mechanical harmony.
1) “... Because Magic.”
Magic is an important pillar of any fantasy world, if not the most important. It’s what sets the general foundation for what can and cannot be done. A lot of roleplay engines handle the mechanics behind magic very generally, because there is so much possibility to unpack. As a world builder myself, I would determine the properties and rules of magic very early on. You can borrow Skyrim’s approach and think of magic as a latent power that most people can conjure up given the practice whether by study or natural ability. You can treat magic as something a bit more draconian, something mysteriously hidden from most of the population. Anything in between is a valid choice too, but the point is MAKE A CHOICE!
Recently, I was sent some info for The Dragon's Horde concerning a campaign about a kingdom plagued by dark wizards. According to the author, magic was a “pretty sparse thing” that was seldom seen and condemned when noticed, yet in the starting village the PCs had met a fortune teller, helped a pyromancer, sold an enchanted crystal, and had an alchemist infuse a potion with frost powers because the players thought it would be cool. The world tendency is laid out pretty clearly as being low fantasy, but mechanically, we see something completely dissonant from that idea. While you shouldn't deny your players things they like to engage with, there is nothing wrong with making them work for it. If you tell them, “Hey, not much magic in this world, buckos,” and they ask you for a frost potion, you are completely within your rights to remind them that they are playing in a world where you can't just pick up that kind of thing from Walmart… but you may have heard an old rumor of a witch who stashed a trove of potions in a chest deep within the forest. Harmonic, engaging; Gygax would be proud.
2) Death And Taxes
Death is something that has to be handled carefully in role playing games. Players get attached to characters, and it can be tough seeing them cross over to the other side. Some engines handle this very well; while others really fall short. Personally, I have a strong distaste for D&D’s “three strikes, you're out!” method of death saving throws. It feels so gamey, and it is completely inharmonious with world tendency. When your hero gets gored with a broadsword, in no universe would they lie there in a pile of their own intestinal tract and manage to survive by, what? Willing themselves to just not be dead three times? I hate to sound harsh, but it’s honestly a let down given how seasoned D&D is. Now of the flip side of that, let's look at Pathfinder’s death mechanics. Again, your hero has been gored on the battlefield. In Pathfinder, instead of concentrating your large intestine back, you war and roll against a slowly dwindling constitution score. Your constitution represents your hardiness, your physical ability to withstand blows, and your capacity for vitality. It has this beautifully evocative mood to it, and it is harmonic with world tendency! Hardier people (people with higher constitution scores) are going to be able to stave off the reaper for longer.
As odd as it sounds, it is for a similar reason that I feel the board game Monopoly is trite. Monopoly’s world tendency is congruent with its objective, that is: ride around and buy properties to make lots of cabbage. Why then are you punished with jail time, randomly, for following world tendency? You weren't breaking any in-game law. There is zero mechanical resonance. It's a tax, and it always feels contrived and undeserved. Now oppose that with Catan’s robber mechanic! A group of settlers struggle to raise a kingdom from the ground up, and they hoard their resources. In comes a robber, and they lose up to half of their goods, all on the roll of the dice. Both the robber and going to jail are a random tax that definitely aren’t enjoyable when they pertain to you, but one of them feels so much more intuitive. In Catan, the robber is a negative stimuli that encourages you to play the game intelligently by using your resources in a timely, efficient manner. Going to jail just feels like a slap in the face by Hasbro for buying their game. Death can feel very similar, if it isn’t handled with grace. Make it mean something narratively and mechanically; don't be a Hasbro.
3) Deus Ex
Another thing world builders have to contend with is determining the spiritual side of their universe. Deities play such a vital role in many fantasy worlds, and really nailing a pantheon down can be a huge boon to a DM. Determining world tendency concerning your god or gods will be your biggest aid in finding fitting mechanics. Are your gods meddlesome? Do they frequently make contact with mortals? Rolling percentile dice, to pray, fits that's world tendency very snuggly, and you, as the DM, can adjust the percent of success based on how likely you feel their deity is to say hello! Percentiles are also easy to understand mechanically by players as well. Sometimes D20s can feel arbitrary to newer players, and they may not really understand why they need to roll a 14 and to add 2 to their roll to contact Pan. However, if you say, “You're a religious guy, and Pan is definitely cool with how you have been rolling. You have a 40 percent chance that he will reply.”
Less involved deities may need a ritual to contact or summon them. Maybe your paladin needs to perform a certain act to garner attention from the spiritual force of her choice. It feels more fleshed out to have a player make supplication to a deity than to have them just dial their fantasy phone. Deities are not genies in a bottle, they are powerful spiritual forces and entities that are usually quite engaged with doing… god things.
4) Pearls (and a Kukri) Before Swine
Loot is great. Loot is fun. What’s more enticing than finding a glistening, golden sword stacked haphazardly on a mound of coins in a dangerous cave? Well, a lot actually, because people don’t really do that. Too often do DMs throw loot around like candy from a mentally incontinent geriatric on halloween without providing any context for it. Obviously, it would be safe to assume that it was placed there, but why? If someone was perhaps defending himself against cave dwelling baddies, why would he leave his sword behind? And if he died there, why is there no body? While questions like these may seem nit picky, little details (even explained in an implicit way) help to flesh out the world tendency. ANY TIME there is loot lying around waiting to be pinched by a player, you as the DM should know how and why it got there. I once knew a DM who had us running through a mountainous region as a sort of gauntlet, and along the way, we stopped in cave. While we rested, a few people decided to explore the small cavern, and what did they find? PEARLS AND A +2 POISON KUKRI! They promptly ran back to wake the party, and thus begins 4 real-time hours of searching for whomever discarded the opalescent orbs. Long story short, there was no person. There was no quest. There was no story. Afterwards the DM tells us how frustrated he gets when we go off on tangents every time he tries to give us the goods. What followed was a heated discussion on world tendency (someone had to have placed that perfectly good knife there) and the ecology of oysters…
Mechanically, the pearls make sense in that they are a valuable item that can be sold for in-game currency. That checks out. That’s definitely a great incentive for money driven characters, but it’s shallow. If a spade was just supposed to be a spade, why not have us find something more harmonic with world tendency like a clutch of crystals or even some small semi-precious stone? On the flip side, why not build a short quest from the pearls and the small knife, even if it is just a quick “find the body” kind of mission? Since rewarding your players with loadouts is an essential part of roleplaying games, you could use them as another tool in your belt to help bolster the game mechanically and narratively by diving into your world’s tendencies. Loot should always mean something in that way. If you keep throwing piles of gold coins on your players, eventually money just becomes a gilded burden. So to answer my previous question of, “what is better than a gleaming sword on a stack of treasure?”: forethought.
World tendency is probably a DM’s most valuable tool at their disposal. It allows one to create logical, universal consistencies that are easy for players to interpret. It also aids you in being able to predict their next move, which can be immensely difficult even for the most seasoned DM’s. When world tendency and game mechanics begin to harmonize, players and DM’s alike are more free to create and adventure since the understand how the world works and how to work with the world. In my (almost) ten years of experience, players stop asking for rule clarification as well, and gods know how quickly rule checking can halt the flow of the game. While this list is by no means exhaustive in ways you can synchronize game mechanics with world tendency, I hope you have found a couple ways to make your sessions a bit more harmonious!
Andrew Pendragon is the co-host and editor of The Dragon’s Horde where he puts over a decade's worth of role playing experience to work in his pseudo-narrative D&D advice podcast.
Image is courtesy of JESHIELDS: https://www.patreon.com/jeshields/posts
I’ve been playing D&D for a long time, including almost 3 years of 5th edition rules. In every edition, I’ve been tinkering and tailoring the rules to better suit my style as a Dungeon Master, along with the themes of the campaigns, and the types of players in my group. Included here are a handful of house rules which you may elect to use yourself.
1) Combat Attrition
Rule: Whenever you fall unconscious, you also gain one point of exhaustion, in addition to the normal effects.
I am currently running a dark-world campaign, and implementing this rule has really had a positive impact on my campaign. I’m not a fan of the fact that a hero can drop to 0 hp ten times a day, but after a goodberry they are up and ready for action in an instant. This rule adds an extra penalty for hitting 0 hit points. It also uses the exhaustion mechanics, which are otherwise barely touched by most dungeon masters. The only way to recover exhaustion is to eat, so rations come back into the fray too!
This starts to put a heavy weight on PCs who have sustained debilitating injuries in combat, which may impact their willingness and effectiveness for future combats before resting. Characters now worry about hitting 0 hp, even with some heals to get them back into the action, and this has made combat feel more thrilling and dangerous for my players.
2) Random Character Creation
Rule: Instead of choosing standard array, roll your stats IN ORDER. Then make your character based off where your good scores are.
This is an interesting setup that reminds me of the old days before D&D was even referred to by an edition number. With fixed stats stats, you might find yourself playing an interesting combination - salvaging what scores you rolled to build some unique race/class combinations.
Another variation of this rule with a similar result is to roll dice to determine race and class.
Rule: There is no longer a maximum number of spells that you can cast on your turn, provided that you have the required actions to cast them.
I know a lot of DM’s and players who didn’t even realise that there was a limit, but in my opinion this is one of those rules that just gets in the way, so I remove it. Remember, whenever a DM changes or removes a rule that causes the PC’s to have a higher amount of potential power, you may have to increase the difficulty of encounters to match! If I had a dollar for every time I hear the phrase “I’ve house ruled my game, but my level 5 party keeps beating my CR 5 encounters easily,” I’d be able to retire. Just keep in mind what you’re changing, rules-wise, and who it benefits. Then balance the scales accordingly.
4) Reverse Armour Class
Rule: Instead of the DM’s rolling to hit, the Players roll a “defence” roll, based on their armour class. They have to roll d20, and add their armour class to it. The DC is 20+ the monster’s attack bonus. So the players need to “beat” the monster’s attack threat DC in order to defend against the attack.
For example, if the monster has an attack bonus of +7, it’s attack DC would be a 27. A PC with a 15 AC would need to roll a 12+ to avoid the attack, while a PC with a 19 AC would only need an 8+. If the player rolls a 1, the monster gets a critical hit.
I personally don’t like this variant rule. However, I have heard that some groups enjoy it. For starters, it puts the players in a dice-rolling alertness during combat, and they really feel like they are getting attacked, even if they successfully defend against it. The physical act of rolling dice outside of the player’s turn can increase engagement in combat and decrease distractions. Finally, it also removes some of the work the Dungeon Master has to do.
Honestly I don’t mind rolling attacks for my players. But I appreciate that D&D groups do whatever they like in order to create the most fun game possible for their respective group.
5) Deadly World
Rule: All death saving throws are DC:15 instead of DC:10
This rule makes hitting 0 hp far less forgiving without magical/medical means at the ready. Under the standard rules, when a character falls unconscious there is roughly a 55% chance that the character can pull through. However, when you up the DC to 15 (succeeding on a 15-20 is a 30% success chance) a character has a much greater chance of bleeding out without medical or clerical assistance!
6) Modified Flanking Rules
Rule: Flanking no longer provides advantage, but instead provides +1d6 to hit, AND +1d6 to damage.
I mainly altered this rule so that flanking stacked with advantage - as there are at least 50 abilities or spells that confer advantage in D&D. Using this has made my combats much more fluid, and they rarely grind to a crawl now. It also makes swarms of enemies more dangerous. Goblin hordes will try and get into flanking positions, to get those juicy bonuses on to-hit rolls and damage. Being outnumbered is a very serious and realistic threat in medieval-themed combat (or any combat) and I find that this rule correctly illustrates this!
Just remember, as a DM, when you alter rules in favour of the enemies, take that into account when creating and balancing encounters.
7) Less-Swingy Initiative
Rule: Initiative rolls use a d10 instead of a d20.
Not a rule I use, but one that I’m interested in. A d20 has a large variation of numbers, meaning that even having a +5 bonus to initiative could have you going last a few combats in a row. By dropping it down to d10, it makes any flat bonuses more consistent, allowing the faster characters to be going first more often.
8) If You Miss The Table, You Fail.
Rule: If you roll your dice and it misses the table (and lands on the floor) then you count as rolling the lowest possible result.
Was it an attack roll? Counts as a 1. Rolling 2d6 damage and one dice falls off the table? That dice counts as a 1. I don’t mind this rule. Sure it’s a little silly, but I mean, how hard can it be? After all, if you can’t hit a huge table with a little dice from a 3-6 inch distance, what hope does your character have!?
Have you got any house rules that you use for your RPGs? Post them below in the comments.
Peter is an avid dungeon master, role-player, and story teller. When he's not running homebrew campaigns, he is creating new worlds, or he is reading and writing fantasy stories, forever immersing himself in the gaping black-hole known as the fantasy genre.
Image is courtesy of JESHIELDS: https://www.patreon.com/jeshields/posts
Dark Power Checks In D&D 5e
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Of all the things that make Ravenloft unique as a campaign setting, the most standout feature would have to be Dark Powers checks. The most tangible evidence for the existence of the Dark Powers, their system of moral judgement is by turns capricious, arbitrary, and cruel, but at the end of the day boils down to this: a codified system for identifying and punishing the most wicked of the realm’s inhabitants. Unfortunately, the system has yet to be translated for 5th edition.
It starts with a sin: the PC performs a wicked act which may attract the attention of the Dark Powers. The Dark Powers tables from the 3rd edition campaign supplement can give you a good idea of where they start, but the percentage chance that the Dark Powers will take notice of the transgression is usually small. Small crimes like gossip or petty theft can be safely ignored. A lie which actually causes someone harm might invoke a 1% Dark Powers check, as might threatening a bar patron with bodily violence. Actual violent crimes (excluding reasonable self-defense) might incur checks at a 2-4% depending on severity. Murder or other brutal and sadistic acts might cause a check of an even higher severity, up to 8-9%. Casting necromancy spells (or using spells which summon evil beings) should always provoke a powers check at a percentage equal to the spell level. Even owning a necromantic or evil magic item is enough to warrant a 1% check per week. If the target should roll over the check, there is no result. Should they roll equal to or less than the target, however, they begin to slide down the scale of degeneration.
If the sin has a victim, the victim’s alignment or relationship may modify the check. Evil victims or bitter enemies may halve the check number. Good (or apparently good) victims, or those who are close to the offender, may double the check number. Innocent victims should always result in a higher check number. (A full spread of Dark Powers transgressions can be found in the 3e Ravenloft Campaign Setting Core Rulebook, and is still entirely functional with 5e.)
As the character begins to be embraced by the Dark Powers, they develop additional abilities or powers. Unfortunately, these powers always come at a cost, invariably one that the character considers to be too high. Usually, the powers will seem to give the character exactly what they want, but inevitably the concomitant curse will actually deprive the character of the very goal they seek. Eventually, a character of sufficient depravity may be ‘rewarded’ with their own domain within the Mists.
When a character first draws the attention of the Dark Powers, it may seem at first as though they’ve been rewarded. The ‘gifts’ the Dark Powers give such people often overshadow the drawbacks at first.
Path of the Miser: Obsessed with wealth and its acquisition, the character gains a keen insight into the value of items. They gain advantage on all rolls to determine the value of an item. However, they must ingest 1 gp worth of treasure (non-food items) per week or begin to suffer the effects of starvation.
Path of Rage: Weak and helpless, the character finally gains the ability to fight back against those that would oppress them. They can rage once per long rest (lasting up to 1 round per level, which can be ended early), gaining +2 to melee damage rolls, but all attacks against them gain advantage during this time. (If they have rage as a class feature, use whichever damage bonus is higher.)
Path of Dread: The character finally gives in to their impulse to compel others through intimidation, and finds that they have a talent for it. The character gains advantage on Intimidation checks, but suffers disadvantage on Persuasion checks.
Characters at the first stage of degeneration may recoil or even repent at their evil, but those who descend to the second stage display a commitment to wickedness that will only deepen over time. The advancement of their curse reflects this.
Path of the Miser: The character’s lust for wealth deepens, and their curse begins to become a permanent part of them. They must now ingest 1 gp of treasure per day or begin to suffer the effects of starvation. However, they gain the ability to safely consume anything that they can fit in their mouth.
Path of Rage: The more the character vents their wrath, the more invulnerable they feel. The character gains resistance to bludgeoning, slashing, and piercing weapons in rage, but if they are injured and have rages remaining, they must make a Wisdom save (DC = damage dealt) or enter a rage involuntarily.
Path of Dread: The unexpected thrill from inflicting terror on someone begins to thrill the character even more, and they discover it is even easier to unsettle those around them. As an action, the character may cause a victim who fails a Charisma save (DC = 9 + the cursed character’s Charisma modifier) to be Frightened of them for one minute. The character can no longer attempt Persuasion rolls, and suffers disadvantage on Deception rolls.
At this point the hook is set, and the pernicious cost of the character’s curses are now becoming apparent. Relationships suffer, and the character’s unholy nature is much more difficult to hide.
Path of the Miser: The character now requires 1 gp per hit die per day in consumed treasure to stay alive. They learn to ferret it out with unerring accuracy however, gaining proficiency in Perception and Investigation and advantage on all rolls to ferret out hidden wealth.
Path of Rage: The character’s fury intensifies even as their self control withers further. The character gains advantage on all attack rolls while in rage, but they may no longer end their rage voluntarily so long as enemies or strangers are present.
Path of Dread: Fear has become the character’s stock in trade, so much so that they find they cannot always resist spooking those around them. Whenever the character succeeds at a roll that they had advantage on, all enemies or strangers within 15 ft. must make a Charisma save (DC as above) or be Frightened of the cursed character for one round.
Once a character reaches this level of depravity, there is rarely any going back for them. Few villains of this magnitude would even consider repenting, and fewer still are willing to commit to the work that cleansing their blackened souls would require. They often are forced to withdraw from any remaining close relationships, as their foul nature is almost impossible to hide from that level of scrutiny.
Path of the Miser: The blackhearted character’s foul diet affects them permanently, and their bloodstream is replaced by threaded veins of gold or silver. The consumption requirements rise to 5 gp per hit die per day. The character now has immunity to poison damage, and resistance to piercing and slashing damage. The veins in their body now bulge against their skin, giving them an unnatural appearance.
Path of Rage: Anger is almost all the character knows. They suffer disadvantage on all rolls they make when not in a rage, and cannot discriminate enemy from ally while enraged. They only require a short rest, rather than a long rest, to regain all their uses of rage.
Path of Dread: The character has become so feared that even their name takes on special power. Anyone hearing the character’s name spoken aloud must make a Wisdom save (as above) or become Frightened for one round. The character’s presence, or even knowledge, of this ability is not required.
At this point the character is well and truly a monster. Redemption is all but impossible. At the DM’s discretion, the character may become an NPC under their control, rather than let such a despicable abomination continue in the hands of a player.
Path of the Miser: The miser’s appetite is now voracious. They must consume 10gp per hit die per day to avoid starvation. In addition, any person the character touches must make a Constitution save (DC = 9 + the character’s hit dice) or be Petrified into gold, silver, or some other precious metal.
Path of Rage: Having failed to master their anger, the character finds that their anger has become their master. The character always suffers disadvantage on any rolls to resolve conflicts in any way other than violence, and their appearance becomes hunched and brutish. They gain advantage on all rolls while enraged, and can rage at any time without restriction.
Path of Dread: The character is now a horrific monster that inspires the utmost horror in all who see them. Anyone who sees the character’s naked visage must make a Constitution save (as above) or suffer 1d6 Necrotic damage per hit die of the dreaded character. Whenever a person becomes Frightened of them, the character regains 1d6 hit points.
In Ravenloft, rock bottom may not be the end for the most loathsome of evildoers. The Mists have a way of rewarding those at Stage Five degeneration with their own domains, making them true Darklords. Those in the broader multiverse sometimes find themselves sought out by the Mists, to be dragged to their new domain whether they wish it or not!
Jim Stearns is a deranged hermit from the swamps of Southern Illinois. In addition to writing for the Black Library, he puts pen to paper for High Level Games and Quoth the Raven. His mad scribblings can frequently be found in anthologies like Fitting In or Selfies from the End of the World, by Mad Scientist Journal. Follow him on Twitter @jcstearnswriter, or listen to Don, Jon, & Dragons, his podcast.
Picture Reference: https://www.myth-weavers.com/showthread.php?t=329013
I love the storyteller systems. I’ve loved them for many years and they are my go-to games. However, the element I dislike the most are combat mechanics. Over the years White Wolf, Onyx Path, and other variations on these companies have tried to establish effective methods of running combat. Chronicles of Darkness was a little better, but I think the dice pool system is inherently a little frustrating when it comes to combat. Dice rolls are usually pretty straightforward in WoD games, and they run smoothly in every situation outside of fighting. In combat, things slow down to a crawl, which is particularly problematic in games like Werewolf, where combat is an essential element of the storyline.
Here are a few ways I’ve streamlined combat over the years to make it run a little smoother.
None are perfect.
D&D and other fantasy RPG players are used to the idea that initiative goes from top to bottom. White Wolf games have introduced the idea of lowest to highest initiative in multiple games, but most people I’ve played with ignore this rule. So, let me give you two suggestions for the price of one for initiative.
Give players a set score – Wits+Dex+Attribute is my suggestion. This attribute can be different for mental, social, or physical. For example, a player could have three scores written down, Wits+Dex+Awareness (mental), Wits+Dex+Dodge (physical), Wits+Dex+Etiquette (social). These three scores are static; the player gets one based on which action they first choose to do in combat. If they use a social power or action, then they get that initiative order for the whole encounter. Same for the physical one, and the mental one. This saves everyone from rolling and gives the social player an advantage in certain situations.
Always run combat from lowest initiative to highest. Highest gets to react to everything else around them in the round. Have the entire group declare their actions, and then roll to see what happens. DO NOT DEVIATE FROM THIS. If you do, you actually throw a lot of the nuances of WoD combat out, and this actually slows down combat. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but getting into this groove will make things much smoother.
2) Soak And Damage
Traditional combat requires a roll to hit, a roll to do damage, and then various rolls to either dodge or parry, and then a roll to soak the damage. This could mean a back and forth of 4-6 dice rolls, depending on different factors, splitting dice pools… it goes on and on. I recommend using a standard soak amount. There is a roll to hit, then standard set damage from an attack or weapon plus any additional successes from the to hit roll. (2d10 to hit, both successes 3 damage standard +2 for the successes = 5 damage) Then soak is a static amount, half of Stamina+Fortitude or other similar power. I usually will arbitrate how much a specific discipline or gift will add to this number based on the way the power is written. That player then auto-soaks that amount of damage. This makes things more straightforward, and reduces confusion over what to roll, when, and for what.
3) Splitting Dice Pools
Usually, I just don’t. There is nothing wrong with splitting pools to have multiple actions, but it really does slow things down. Particularly if you have newer players or players that don’t have the best understanding of the mechanical systems work this out themselves. These are often amazing roleplayers and story folks, so I want to make things easy for them. I want them to engage in what they are good at in the game. I don’t want them to get frustrated with things that seemingly don’t make sense or are complicated for unclear reasons. So, I often eliminate the idea of splitting dice pools from the game. If a player wants to do something that would normally require this, I take it on a case by case basis. There are ways to storytell dodging and attacking in a thematic manner which I am comfortable with. I still allow the dice to play a part in the process, but I reduce the overall amount of rolls to focus on the important elements to the players and to the overall story.
What ways do you streamline your game’s combat? I’m sure you aren’t all happy with the reasons behind why I do what I do. I’m also sure some of you have come up with a better work around that is even more streamlined and effective. I’m thrilled to hear feedback from either side.
Josh is the intrepid Chief Operations Officer of High Level Games. With 19 years of playing rpgs, Josh started with Mind's Eye Theater LARPs and loves the World of Darkness. He runs, www.keepontheheathlands.com to support his other gaming projects. Josh is also the administrator of the Inclusive Gaming Network on Facebook. He’s currently running a Changing Breeds game and CHARIOT digital LARP. He’s a serious advocate for inclusive gaming spaces, a father, and a graduate from the International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate program at American University in Washington, D.C. You can also find Josh’s published adventures here and here.
Picture Reference: https://www.polygon.com/2014/5/2/5674352/World-of-darkness-cancellation-CCP-Fanfest
The Ravenloft setting uses “Powers Checks” to reflect the gifts and curses imposed by the mysterious Dark Powers upon those who transgress moral laws. This gives some structure for great stories of corruption and redemption, but the exact game mechanics of these checks have always been open to questions by fans. It’s even worse when the player supports their character’s decisions, and enforcement of the rules spirals into an argument about who has the correct moral compass. If you want to include temptation in your game, here are 4 optional rules to keep Powers Checks from going the route of politics and religion.
1) Whispering Shadows
Assign each player the “dark side” of another PC. During gameplay, these “shadows” entice their target to commit acts that are worthy of a Powers Check, and can actually offer specific boons that will come from giving in--the DM decides the corresponding penalty. If the controlling player accepts the offer, the player that offered it gets a token they can trade in at any time to turn one die roll into a natural 20. This is a great opportunity for players to roleplay temptation, as well as get to know other characters better.
2) The Burden Of Time
Ravenloft PC’s study tomes of forbidden lore, brave sinkholes of evil, steal cursed objects, and worse. Reflect that general attrition of the soul by having players roll percentile dice when they level up, 1% cumulative for every 1000 XP they earn (10K for higher level groups). When someone fails, go through their most recent actions and find an appropriate offense. If nothing works, consider foreshadowing (see below), or change the powers check result to a failed horror check.
If a player argues that their offense wasn’t that big a deal and shouldn’t be punished, let them look for a better opportunity. The failed roll becomes foreshadowing of what the PC is about to do, rather than what they have done. Of course, while the Dark Powers are interested in little things done for good reasons, such as white lies and grave robbing, it’s best to only share the results of these rolls with the DM in case the player is eyeing that “Betrayal, Major” column in the rulebook.
Some players look at roleplaying as a chance to behave however they want without any consequences. While powers checks can help discourage this, the system is not designed as a teaching curve. If one of your players is playing Chaotic Stupid, consider a probationary result. When they fail the roll, they don’t suffer the consequences immediately. Instead, the PC is on probation: anything additional within the next (in-game) week that warrants a check will cause them to fail.
So depending on whether you need some more structure or flexibility, one of these rules may give you what you need or inspire you to create your own tweak. Just remember that whatever rules you use should be applied consistently, so that the Dark Powers feel like an omnipresent moral hazard instead of the whims of the DM.
Leyshon Campbell has been playing and writing for Ravenloft for over twenty years, from the Kargatane's Book of S series, playtesting D&D 3E in a Ravenloft campaign, to the ill-fated Masque of the Jade Horror. He married his wife on Friday the 13th after proposing to her on Halloween. By tradition, the first story read at birth to each of their three children was The Barker’s Tour, from Ravenloft’s “Carnival” supplement.
Picture Reference: http://thecampaign20xx.blogspot.com/2016/03/dungeons-dragons-guide-to-curse-of.html
Sometimes the strangest titles are also the strongest. Anima: Beyond Fantasy, I believe, exemplifies this concept. It has odd origins, being of both Japanese and European design, and it never really got popular in North America, despite a competent translation and vivacious artwork. The game is pure fantasy, and its setting runs the gamut from high magic to weird tech. I recommend it to players and GMs looking for a more robust fantasy experience. Here follows four of its core systems, each of which make it accessible and fantastic.
1) The Basic System Is Solid And Familiar
Anima’s dice-rolling mechanic proves far more simple than it may appear. It’s a target number system, meaning players need only roll d100 and add it to their skill plus attribute bonus. Sound familiar? It’s really just an expansion of the d20 mechanic common in D&D and other Wizards of the Coast titles. While the addition is slightly more advanced, the system is easy to get used to. The expanded number system allows for more variation in bonuses (and penalties) that the GM can hand out. Want to give a -3 situational modifier, but add 8 for a cool action description? The d100 system can handle the additional specifics and variance. Most bonuses and drawbacks are in increments of 5, but they aren’t limited by this factor.
2) The Magic System Is Robust And Varied
Never have I seen a game that melds several separate systems together in one fabulous, interconnected package. Playing a psychic? Your powers operate using a separate mechanic from the wizard, so as to better represent your psychic nature. Want to play a martial artist with Dragon Ball Z-level powers? Your Wuxia madness will be wildly different from the psychic’s powers, and you get to create your own if you wish. Each player needs only to learn their own system and how their powers function. The GM does the rest, melding the results of each dice roll with the basic system. The fighter of the group could be swinging a massive two handed sword while the wizard collects magic, preparing to cause a catastrophic conflagration. The wizard’s unique system informs how long they need to prepare, how accurate their projection of energies, and how powerful a spell they can release. The psychic could be focusing on their own manifestation, using their unique stats to determine how many points they can invest in powers and how draining their usage is. Still other mechanics of supernatural expertise exist within this one grand system, and they all work together wonderfully. Each character truly feels one-of-a-kind.
3) The Critical System Is Wild and Heroic
With the capacity to cause earth-shattering consequences, the system has to allow for unconscionably high results. When you roll a 90-100, you achieve what’s called an Open Roll. You can roll again, adding the new result. You get to keep doing this, though your crit range shrinks by one each roll. While most starting characters will achieve results from 60-120 on average, the Open Roll system allows them to get 300’s or higher. The target number system is graded by 20-40. When you achieve inhumanity (that is, a state that allows you to transcend your mortal limitations), you can eventually roll as high as 440, called a Zen result. The examples provided for Zen skill checks are just as incredible and heroic as you might think. Zen supernatural power results let you annihilate cities or relocate small islands. Anima’s capacity for exciting (and sometimes hilarious) feats is near limitless.
4) The Combat System Is Rich And Complex
Most fantasy games are judged based on the strength of their combat system. While I don’t necessarily agree with this metric, I will happily report that Anima’s combat system proves to be very strong. Fighters can play defensively or offensively, as a defensive character can wait to be attacked and use the margin by which they were missed as a bonus to their counterattack. Agile fighters can incorporate acrobatics into their attacks, achieving back-striking bonuses. Stealthy combatants obtain bonuses for attacking from the shadows without needing to belong to the Thief or Assassin archetypes. Characters can be built in whichever direction players wish. Want to wield a huge weapon for clearing out large groups of foes, then switch to a dagger for precision work? You can do so, and will receive the benefits you’d expect for each type of weapon. Want to embarrass your opponent by parrying each of their strikes, then artfully place the tip of your rapier against their throat? You’re covered there as well. The system of benefits and drawbacks for combat is staggering in scope.
The greatest criticism I have of Anima: Beyond Fantasy lies with its complexity. It is not a game I recommend to new GMs. Players can get the hang of everything just as quickly as they would with D&D 5th, but the GM needs to be somewhat experienced in order to aptly and deftly weave all of the systems together. If you’re experienced with other games and want to take your fantasy roleplaying to another level, let me know and I’ll happily provide more info about this gem.
David Horwitz is a gamer and freelance writer with an obsession for exploring new forms of leisure. If you’re looking for an inquisitive mind and a deft hand, or just want to chat about gaming, contact him at www.davidhorwitzwrites.com/contact
Picture Reference: https://lustmordweltschmerz.wordpress.com/2013/06/27/critical-failure-your-character-has-died-anima-beyond-fantasy-character-creation-part-1/
Era: The Consortium has been on a roll. Beginning with successful Kickstarter three years ago and followed up with a slew of expansions last year, Shades of Vengeance has been rolling with their time-stretching science fiction universe and is continuing with yet another set of expansions on Kickstarter right now. Ed Jowett of Shades of Vengeance was kind enough to fill us in on what the new expansions have to offer.
For those who are not familiar with Era: The Consortium, what is the game about?
Era: The Consortium is an Epic Sci-Fi RPG with 500 years of playable history. It follows the story of a group of Humans who have left Earth and travelled for over 1000 years to reach a new region of space.
500 years sounds like a lot to read and understand, but the reason that this weight of history exists is that the core of the game is enabling the players to explore any sub-genre of Sci-Fi that the GM wishes to implement. If you’re interested in colonisation of a new planet, for example, you can start near the beginning where the colonists have nothing but the ship which crash-landed on a new planet. Alternatively, perhaps you’re interested in exploring space and encountering new species… again, the history allows that slightly later in the timeline. From facing an alien race hell-bent on the destruction of the Consortium to transhumanism, from cyberpunk to resisting an evil and corrupt government’s schemes, every form of Sci-Fi which you can imagine is available within this historical timeline.
Of course, it can also be interesting to experience multiple events! One campaign I ran involved the players experiencing the last of those, resisting the Consortium’s schemes, then had them jump 250 years back in time, forcing them to defend the same institutions which they had fought against so vigorously from an alien force so overwhelming that it looked like their ancestors would be destroyed.
These options mean that it’s very hard to explain in just a few words what Era: The Consortium is about! However, I hope that people who have read this understand what I mean when describe it as an Epic Sci-Fi RPG!
The new Kickstarter is offering at least three new expansions, the first of which is Free Trader which focuses on shipping throughout the Consortium world, including piracy and new trading posts. What’s your favorite new trading post?
Free Trader is a book which has changed a lot during its development. I think that if you’d asked me this a year ago, my answer would have been very different to what it is now! Of the 30+ Trading Posts, one in particular stands out to me from a roleplaying perspective, and that is the one in orbit of Nodens.
Nodens is a planet which is owned and controlled by a religious sect which is very private, very demanding and almost totally isolationist. Being posted on Nodens as a member of Hardcastle Haulage, the company which owns the Trading Posts, is considered the worst possible scenario. The people of Nodens have expectations about how they, and aliens who approach their planet - they are fiercely xenophobic - and they make frequent demands of the personnel there. The story which was written for that location is one I am particularly happy with… and I think it has a lot of possibilities for some awesome roleplaying to take place, if you’re playing as the crew members of that station!
Also featured is the Predictive Genetic Algorithm expansion, which provides a new system for designing new alien player species. What has been the weirdest alien you’ve designed with these rules?
Predictive Genetic Algorithm is something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. In the very first draft of Era: The Consortium (which only contained Humans, Eulutians and Ximians - no Vilithii!), I was given the feedback that more alien races were needed. I created the Vilithii as I expanded the storyline to a more complete history and I’ve since added the Pliangrathilon in “The Fifth Race” Expansion.
However, these are my visions of what abilities alien races should have. Predictive Genetic Algorithm allows you to create your own race with the abilities and drawbacks that you want to see. It offers 90 different options at the moment, and the book is not quite finished yet - it may reach nearer 100 by the time I am done!
I’ve made a few races, of course, to balance the points system properly. As a life-long Sci-Fi fan, I’ve enjoyed making the sorts of races you encounter in Star Trek - from enhanced health and violent tendencies like the Klingons to shape-shifting abilities akin to the Founders from Deep Space Nine.
The craziest I think I’ve made, though, is an ancient race of decadent, but fast-moving creatures. It was inspired by an image which Sophia, the artist for much of Era: The Consortium’s images, gave to me during my development of the book. These creatures have a decadent background, wasting their money on material pleasures, and are an ancient race with knowledge of the universe… with lightning-fast reactions and increased speed which will leave most species standing still! It’s a rather odd mix, but it comes out pretty cool, I think.
You’re also expanding the ongoing universe as part of the stretch goals. Can you provide a relatively spoiler free synopsis and perhaps give a teaser for what’s next?
The Fifth Race Expansion, which was unlocked a year ago by our last Era: The Consortium Kickstarter, gave an indication of what is to come: “Only the Seven Chosen Races can stand against the Titans...” says the Prophecy which caused the Pliangrathilon to leave their world and travel across space. We know of five races - it’s very clear that illustrations carried with them are supposed to represent the Pliangrathilon, the Eulutians, the Humans, the Ximians and the Vilithii. The other two races, for now, remain a mystery.
In the next 500 years, a lot will change. The conflict between the Resistance and the Consortium will not last for ever - it will end, and it will end through treachery, as you would expect from the Consortium. That said, it’s very hard to destroy a movement like the Resistance entirely. The technology discovered on Sirona also has an important part to play, as does the Caladbolg weaponry which is featured at the climax of the Core Rulebook.
These books which I am creating offer a huge amount of history and gameplay… but they are far from the end of the story.
Check out Era: The Consortium’s new set of expansions here.
5 Ways To Foster RP At The Table
So the day is upon you. The dice are packed, the books have been dusted off, your DM screen ready to be deployed. You’ve talked to your players, told them this campaign was intended for “more RP”. More role-play and less roll-play is the way you put it. But the warmest response you got was a “yeah, sure, whatever.” And you see the bloodlust in their eyes. They just want to roll dice and kill stuff.
You’ve got a choice, then. Do you DM another game of Diablo? Guide another pack of murder-hobos through the realms? Or do you put your foot down and teach these munchkins what the meaning of role-playing is?
If you’re one of those GMs who’s sick of the tyranny of the dice, or if you’d just like to create a game where people actually get into theatrics of it, live out their character’s lives and, ya know, actually bleedin’ put the “role” in role-play, here’s some tips to help you along. Whether it’s D&D, World of Darkness or GURPS, these might help you, or at least provide some useful ideas to play with.
0. The golden rule.
Remember this old chestnut? Every RPG book has at least a passage dedicated to it: “have fun”. That’s what we’re here for, after all. A corollary to this is “choose your party well”. If they’re so bloodthirsty that you’re worried they might actually be vampires, and it doesn’t look like they’re interested in what your story has to offer, best cut your losses and move on.
But, even if they come at it with the best intentions, some people don’t take to the acting quite as easily. Maybe they haven’t done this before. Maybe they’re shy, or if they don’t know the people at the table very well, they might not feel comfortable enough to get into it.
For those people, there’s a few ways to help them along.
Points. A little positive reinforcement to nudge them in the right direction. Cookie credits, brownie points, whatever you want to call them. In some games, it may take the form of bonus XP, in Cypher it’s Story points, in FATE it’s Fate points, Destiny for Star Wars, and so on. Some systems have this built into them, some require a little house-ruling. 5e D&D, for example, has inspiration, and it basically tells you in the Player’s Handbook, “the DM can hand out inspiration to reward particularly good RP”.
Generally speaking, these are tokens or valuable points that a character can use to influence the story in a meaningful way. A well-timed Deus ex Machina moment? Spend that Fate point. Feel like it’s the appropriate time to go full BAMF and dispense some indiscriminate justice? Use that Story point. While its uses can be strictly mechanic, it can also be used narratively. If a beloved NPC falls in battle, with a plot point spent, they can recover. Perhaps a PC would like to take over the narrative and introduce a story element that they think would be cool. By all means, give the GM a tribute in unicorn tears and they’ll make it happen.
But whatever their uses, it’s the way you earn them that matters. Hand these out judiciously and reward the type of behaviour you want to see at the table. If a party member takes time to get into the shoes of their character and be true to their nature, you should encourage that. If they seek to engage with the world you’ve created in a meaningful way – even if it doesn’t move the main narrative forward, if it creates a good role-playing moment, then give that player a cookie (an actual cookie would be nice too, mind you).
Of course, sometimes playing nice just won’t do. You glance wistfully at the poker tokens you were going to hand out as rewards in story-based currency, and not a single one has passed into the hands of this wild pack of Combat Wombats. Maybe it’s time to play a little rough.
Often times, a player character’s actions are summarised, rather than acted out. “I haggle with the merchant”, or “I negotiate with the noble to let us into their exclusive soiree.”
Ah, well, you don’t say, me chums. And how, pray tell, would you go about this remarkable endeavour? If they refuse to act out their character’s lines, it may be time to ask everyone’s second least-favourite question. Take a page out of the annoying child’s playbook, only instead of asking why, it’s… “How?”
“I seduce the priestess”
“I’ll intimidate the bouncer”
If their answer is not satisfactory. If it’s a particularly bad speech, or if they don’t even bother, just fail them automatically. No roll, do not pass Go, do not collect 200 coppers. It doesn’t matter what skills they have, or what they think their character is good at. If you can’t be bothered, it’s not going to work. You just fail and get a chance to think about what you’ve done.
“I convince the dragon of the error of its ways.”
“How? How in the Nine Hells do you do that? Tell me, how?!”
“Uh… I dunno.”
“Fine. Then, you don’t succeed.”
“You get nothing. You lose! Good day, sir. I said, good day!
Burn their favourite tavern because of a botched negotiation, that’ll put the fear of Tiamat into them.
3. Make it about the role-play
Let’s say the stick worked and you’ve got their attention. Or the RP-bunnies that took to the carrot are now hanging on your every word. But they’re still struggling. How to continue to push them along the path of role-playing? Or drag them kicking and screaming, if you have to.
A first simple step is to get them to say “I” rather than “my character”. It may not seem like much, but that third person narration on their part creates a divide between the player and their in-game persona.
Furthermore, and if you’ve gotten this far into this article, I probably don’t need to tell you this, but put some effort into it yourself. Rather than narrate all interactions, act out the scenes on the NPCs part. Lead by example. At the very least, if monkey see, monkey do. You might just trick them into role-playing, you devious little demiurge. If you can do the voices, by all means do. If you don’t think you’ve got the chops, maybe drop it. No-one likes the bad DM voice. You know the one.
Try to engage their characters at a personal level. Dig deep into that backstory, find something that personally affects them. If they’re at all invested in this story they’ve made up for themselves, then they’ll respond.
4. Pay attention to the table!
As a GM, you may have to play matchmaker or mediator.
Remember that your role is to make sure everyone’s having fun (there’s that golden rule, again). From your position at the table, you have to keep an eagle eye on the goings-on. The story’s there to facilitate interaction between all the people at the table.
If the players aren’t talking to each other (except to divvy up the loot), then there’s no hope for them. Try and ask the right leading questions to get everyone in on the discussion.
Let’s say one of your players is the rogue type, and he’s up to mischief. He uses some of his tricks in full view of the party to swindle some people. Let’s call him, Loki. One of the other characters has a slightly less chaotic outlook on life. You may want to ask that second player:
“Thor, what do you think about what Loki just did?”
“I never like what Loki does. I’m going to punch him till he apologises.”
“Odin, your son’s flown off the handle again.”
“Oh, for the love of – Heimdall, hold my mead!“
And there you go, family drama in your D&D by way of some Norse mythology.
5. Encourage deeper characters from the beginning
Right from the onset, goad, cajole, entice and coax your players however you see fit into expanding on their character’s stories, motivations and outlook. I’m not saying you need 5-page bios (though wouldn’t it be nice?), but expand on the usual “orphan with a thirst for adventure” baseline. Seriously, though, the orphanages in Fantasyland must be overwhelmed!
Maybe their parents are alive and they’re a rebel running from home to adventure? Maybe they’re doing it to impress their family. What is their relationship to their family in general? Their village/town? Any childhood friends? Siblings? Second cousins twice removed? Their first crush, their first major disappointment? Any early life milestones or significant moments in a character’s development – these are not just useful markers for understanding their personality (which should help the player get inside the head of their character) but can also be invaluable tools in a GM’s bag-o-many-tricks to bring up at any point in the campaign.
At some point, these points from their backstories should play a role in the main story. That old flame might show up and cause all kinds of trouble. Old rivals can become recurring villains.
It’s important to know what your players want from the story. Push those buttons and dangle the carrot of closure in front of them. Everyone wants to wrap up a quest, and if it’s a personal one they might all the more motivated. String these kittens along with the shiny lure of personal accomplishment and you may nurture their budding theatrical sensibilities.
Just have some tissues on hand for the emotional ones.
While not every game has to be Critical Role, the rewards of role-playing are richer when you can get into the hearts and minds of your characters. If you actively try to think as they do, and walk a theoretical mile in their fictional shoes, you may be surprised by how that can make you feel. The high of defeating a Big Bad is stronger, the pain of loss is real, and the closure from healing that hurt is all the sweeter, if a little bitter still.
As a Game Master, Storyteller, Dungeon CEO, it’s your job to create the fertile soil in which a story can blossom. It’s up to your players to pollinate and grow those stories to their full potential. If you can create an environment where role-playing is welcome and encouraged, you may find that both you and your friends have discovered new ways to have fun. And it’s all about that golden rule in the end.
Something of a modern day caveman, Ian fell down the rabbit hole of roleplaying games ages ago and has refused to emerge ever since. In his daily life, he wears many hats. When he’s not wearing the hat of the dungeon master, he studies cultural anthropology, writes short stories and occasionally posts on his own blog.
You can find more of his stuff at https://cavemanblues.wordpress.com/
Image is courtesy of JESHEILDS: https://www.patreon.com/jeshields/posts
Story is the main objective of a tabletop RPG. You sit down with a bunch of friends, play pretend, and make an awesome narrative while doing it. Some are better than others at this, and some only come to the table to mess around with math. The industry has started to adapt to this by incorporating rules into games that help the group collaboratively tell the story. They thrust power and agency into the hands of players, giving the GM more dough to knead before sticking it all in the oven for the final moments of a campaign. Since story is inherently system, and platform, agnostic, you can drag and drop some stuff to create a Frankenstein game! Here are some story mechanics that you could borrow from other games to make yours more cinematic, regardless of what RPG you play.
1) Skill Challenge (D&D 4e)
I wanted to get this one out of the way, just so I can stop hearing the moaning and groaning that comes with the territory. The fourth edition of Dungeons and Dragons had a plethora of problems, but the product itself had a few shining gems. This was honestly one of my favorite parts of that game. The basic outline of this mechanic is to mimic the passage of time; traveling from one place to another, performing a ritual, climbing a cliff while a battle rages below you, etc. In my opinion, it does that exceedingly well and is easy enough to translate to other games. The way it functions is that the GM determines a number of successful skill checks needed to complete the challenge before a certain number of failures. That scale can be tipped either way, depending on how difficult you want it to be. A house rule that my gaming group used when we played this game was that you couldn’t use the same skill twice in a row or the skill the player before you used, even if you failed. It helps force players (and characters) out of their comfort zone and into a creative one. Cleverly done, WotC.
The DMG one and two explain how to do this specifically for 4e, but the Rules Compendium is definitely the better route to look at. They all give you some example DCs, but if you’re putting this in another RPG, obviously those DCs probably aren’t worth much. The concept overall is easy to adapt, as most all games have some manner of a skill check system. Amp up the creativity and tension with this one.
2) Finding Clues (GUMSHOE)
Investigative campaigns can sometimes be the hardest to implement, especially if you depend on character stats to find clues. Look no more for the fix, because the GUMSHOE system has a way to make investigating easy and effective. GUMSHOE isn’t a specific game, but an engine that runs a few games (Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, etc.). The basic philosophy of this rule is that characters automatically find the important clue. Of course, you have to make them work for it through the narrative, but they ultimately find it. This eliminates the problem of characters bumbling around trying to progress through the story but not having the skill checks work in their favor.
In the GUMSHOE system, you would have to make what’s called a “spend” to get more information than the clue itself at face value. For example, you automatically find the candlestick, but you would have to make a spend to make the connection that it’s sitting on top of the book that Colonel Mustard reads every night before bed. Replace this spend concept with a skill check and voila, you can put it in any game. It helps keep things moving, prevents the players (and GM) from becoming frustrated, and keeps the players engaged. What’s there to lose here?
3) One Unique Thing (13th Age)
I talk about this game all the time, I know. I just can’t help it, I love it so much, and this rule is testament to that fact. Every character in Pelgrane Press’ 13th Age RPG has a trait called a One Unique Thing. Basically, it’s something that is unique to your character that nobody else in the narrative is allowed to have. It can’t affect stats, it can’t give you an unreasonable edge. So, no, your one unique thing can’t be that you can fly faster than a speeding bullet. It can, however, be that you’re the child of the story’s big villain who ran away at a young age.
It doesn’t always have to be that drastic, but I find that the more drastic and rooted the OUT is, the more fun it is to play with. This mechanic serves as a springboard and idea cache in my home game. I’m always adding story elements to my campaign based off of my players’ OUTs. Never before have I seen someone so invested in the main story of a game. Obviously, since this legitimately has no mechanical benefit, this one is incredibly easy to bring to other systems.
4) Character Questionnaire (Dread)
You don’t have any stats, just the deftness of your steady hand to remove that block from the tower. Dread is a fantastic game on its own, but the way player characters are created can most definitely be put into other games. The character questionnaire is all you have; the answers to those questions are the foundation of who your character is and what burdens they carry. It’s awesome to see a situation be presented, a player look down at their sheet, look back up at the tower, and make a nervous gulp when you ask them how they react to a situation.
The character questionnaire usually helps identify flaws in a character’s… well… character! The questions can help players think of traumatic experiences their character has been through, their pet peeves, their relationship with the rest of the party, and even some random personal quirks like a drug habit or a stutter. A perfect tool for a session zero, if you ask me.
5) Character Death (7th Sea)
This one caused the pot to boil a bit in the RPG community, mainly because it seems that most people like gritty, mechanical games. John Wick’s train of thought with this one seemed to be, “Let’s make a movie into a game!” Let me tell you, based off of what I’ve read in the book, he did it exceedingly well. In movies, you very rarely see an important character killed by a random environmental hazard, trap, or crummy happenstance. 7th Sea’s take on character death definitely mirrors that.
Player characters can only be killed by a villain or hero. That means if a building comes down on your head, the GM (or players, I suppose) has to think of a way to explain how this wasn’t the end for the heroes. It makes things incredibly cinematic, though some people would probably whine calling this idea “plot armor.” I disagree. It just makes death more rewarding when it comes to claim you!
I’m a little biased towards all of these, as I’m a GM that’s overly focused on story. These ideas help make a game more robust and fun; far more fun than rocks fall, everyone dies, methinks. Explore around games that you haven’t read before, as almost every single one has something fun to take from it. Maybe it’ll even inspire you to create a game of your own!
Sean is the Heavy Metal GM. He’s an aspiring freelance writer and blogger that loves the hobby more than life itself. Always up for a good discussion, his blog covers general gaming advice as well as specialized advice/homebrew rules for 13th Age RPG. You can find his website at www.heavymetalgm.com, join the conversation.
Artwork by Jeshields, whose work can be found and supported at https://www.patreon.com/jestockart .
Unfortunately, a lot of mechanics in Pathfinder are just numbers on the page. There isn’t too much difference in feeling between a Will save and a Reflex save, other than the name. Sure, each is caused by different circumstances, but in the end all a player is doing is picking up their d20, rolling it and adding a few numbers. This is the bane of Pathfinder in general. It’s much more ‘roll’-playing than roleplaying. There are a few mechanics that shine, hidden deep within some of the more obscure classes. These mechanics allow players to explore their class and create some fun roleplaying potential that goes beyond a simple roll of the die.
Here are 4 Pathfinder class mechanics with awesome roleplay potential.
1) Witch: Hexes
There’s no bigger home run in Pathfinder than the Witch class. This whole class revolves around the Hex mechanic. Witches can use a variety of different hexes against their friends and foes. Some are useful, such as Evil Eye; some, not so much, like Child-Scent. Most are relatively simple, but there is potential to really slip into the witch character through hexes.
Maybe a player wants to have their witch brewing potions over a cauldron? Hexes can do that: specifically Cauldron + Witch’s Bottle. Another player may want to fully embrace the idea of being one with the bog. Hexes can do that too: Swamp Hag + Swamp’s Grasp offer potential to embrace such a character. Luckily with Hexes, Witches are capable still being good in combat, cursing another creature and then madly cackling each round to ensure the curse stays strong: Evil Eye + Cackle.
A player can even further build their character into the roleplay with the Witch’s spell selection and patron familiar. They can be accompanied by a black cat that specifically acts as their spellbook, or even something more bizarre like a blue-ringed octopus.
2) Oracle: Curse
It’s not often when building a character that a player gets to build an actual mechanical weakness into their backstory. An Oracle’s curse does exactly that. The curse mechanic is something all 1st level Oracles are forced to have. It requires choosing an effect that is both a benefit and a hindrance. After choosing it, the curse cannot be changed without the help of a deity. Simply put, the bottom line: no if’s, and’s, or but’s, this curse sticks.
There is an abundance in the variety of curse effects that open the door to roleplaying potential. The options range from simple (such as being deafened or having clouded vision), to more fantastical (such as the promethean curse: the player’s body is falling apart and needs mechanical augmentations to survive). Scrolling through the Oracle curse page provides a collection of curses all teeming with backstory and roleplay potential.
In addition to the curse Oracles also have the choice of a mystery, that acts similarly to a domain in that it grants various abilities and spells as the Oracle levels. There is a good variety there, allowing players to choose a curse matching their mystery, or instead choosing to be the multi-faceted Oracle that’s ailed by various otherworldly maladies.
3) Alchemist: Alchemy, Bombs And Discoveries
The Alchemist provides a different and complicated form of spellcasting. They mix together a variety of ingredients (according to the formulae) to create extracts that, when consumed, trigger the spell. In addition to that, Alchemists are also very good at building bombs to create some chaos with.
These mechanics don’t scream normal. They seem to resonate more with a mad scientist or shunned genius. This fire is further fueled by the addition of Discoveries that an Alchemist can make as they level. Discoveries give an Alchemist a variety of strange, unique, and character defining effects to their potions and bombs. Holy Bombs allow for the creation of a Holy Hand Grenade kind of deal. The Syringe Stirge Discovery creates a small construct of a stirge (a giant, more evil mosquito) that carries one of the Alchemist’s bombs until it latches to an enemy and explodes.
I’ll say again: mad scientist.
Alchemists have another notable mechanic in the Mutagen effect, which allows an Alchemist to pump themselves up, boosting a physical stat and hampering a mental one. I don’t want to beat the mad scientist horse to death but: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?
4) Vigilante: Dual Identity
Let’s cut to the chase and introduce this mechanic as Batman. Yes, Batman. The Dual Identity mechanic for the Vigilante requires the player to design not only their normal character, but their masked counterpart as well. Of course it doesn’t require a mask specifically, but we are going to be building Batman here. There are a variety of rules and bonuses that come along with the Dual Identity, but they all revolve around a similar idea: the two sides of the coin style of Vigilante.
As Vigilantes level up they gain Social Talents. These talents provide deeper roleplay potential and various perks to the Vigilante. Social Talents all have a thematic feeling to them. Case the Joint, for example, allows players to visit as their normal identity, learn information about the location and use that to their advantage later when they come again as their secret identity.
On the flip side there are also Vigilante Talents that provide a huge selection of choices to a player creating this type of character. Many Vigilante Talents are combat oriented, while some are situational. Perfect Fall is an example that is beneficial to any superhero, as it allows falling players to take no damage if there is a wall or surface within reach while falling.
A vigilante also seems like a great class for a solo campaign with another DM. There’s also nothing wrong (actually, it’s incredibly awesome) with a group of players forming a super hero squad that fights crime in a city against other masked villains.
As for making Batman, it’s entirely possible. Scrolling through both the Social and Vigilante Talents reveals numerous choices to make a wealthy social figure who spends their free time putting fear into the hearts of villains everywhere. The orphan part may need to be added into the backstory though.
This is just a small selection of mechanics that I really enjoy in lesser known classes of Pathfinder. There are more, but those are all saved for another day. In the meantime I’m going to go build a few characters in these classes because I found myself getting overwhelmed with ideas as I wrote this. I’m probably going to convince the group to do a superhero squad for our Twitch channel.
Any other class mechanics you enjoy in Pathfinder or other roleplaying games? Let me know in the comments.
Justin Cauti is a writer and Twitch streamer. He plays board/roleplaying games on the internet at http://www.playingboardgames.tv. Follow him on Twitter for updates on his boring life and writing projects @LeftSideJustin.
Image Source: Pathfinder Alchemy Manual (from DeviantArt)
Before we get to what was advertised on the tin, I’m told I need to call your attention to our Patreon. What I would next like to bring your attention to is that this website currently doesn’t run ads. (It’s true! Trust me, turn off your ad-blocker for a second!) We don’t like to run ads because frankly, they can get really annoying, especially if they’re irrelevant.
Unfortunately, good web-hosting isn’t free.
So if you could find it in your heart to contribute to our Patreon, you would not only be helping us keep this site ad-free, but you’d also be helping keep it ad free for your fellow fans and gamers as well. There’s also some other neat stuff you’ll get access to if you contribute, too!
And now, our feature presentation!
Awhile back, I wrote about some of the games from Japan that we in the English speaking world now have access to. All of them were unique in their own ways, but none quite as much as Tenra Bansho Zero.
It has some of your standard fare you could expect out of most TRPGs. Things like dice pools, class based character creation, and combining attributes and skills together for rolls. But that’s all basic stuff: Tenra Bansho Zero offers a great deal more, such as a unique setting based on the Warring States period of Japan, as well as this set of really cool mechanics they call “The Karma System.”
Fates are simultaneously one of the smaller parts of Tenra Bansho Zero, and the heart of everything that makes it unique. In short, they’re what your character cares about, be they other characters, their attitudes regarding certain subjects, or things they simply refuse to do.
Every Fate is rated from 2 to 5, which signifies how strongly a character feels about the given Fate. Most importantly, each Fate is also known to all other players. Motives aren’t kept secret here.
This isn’t necessarily a novel mechanic on it’s own. In fact, many narrative-based games have similar mechanics to this. Though how it integrates with everything else is what makes it noteworthy.
Aiki are tokens given to players who roleplay well, either by being entertaining to the rest of the group, or following their character’s Fates. These can then be used for various temporary bonuses and effects, such as gaining extra dice or temporary skill points, or calling another character (player or NPC) into the current scene.
What sets this aside from similar systems in other games is that Aiki can be awarded by ANYBODY, not just the GM. Your aim when acquiring Aiki isn’t just to entertain the GM, you’re also trying to entertain everybody at the table!
Additionally, Aiki are used to acquire more Fates, as well as for making Fate Rolls, which is how you acquire our next topic: Kiai.
Kiai is functionally very similar to Aiki. Everything that you can do with Kiai, you can also do with Aiki. Though a character with higher rated Fates will be able to turn a few chits of Aiki into many times more points of Kiai, making Kiai a much more effective way of improving a character or gaining dice bonuses.
Fate Rolls are the only way to generate Kiai, and they can only be done under certain circumstances. The first of these being that the player needs to spend an Aiki chit to make the roll. The second being that either a character’s Fate must be immediately relevant to what’s currently going on in game, or it needs to be during the Intermission phase of the game.
The player then rolls a number of d6 equal to their character’s Empathy attribute, and each die that shows a number below the rating of the Fate being rolled for generates one point of Kiai.
While Kiai can be more numerous than Aiki, they do have one drawback: every spent point of Kiai eventually converts into Karma.
Karma is gained in many ways in Tenra Bansho Zero. First and foremost, it’s gained during character creation: every template for building your character has an associated Karma cost. Karma is also raised when acquiring certain weapons and equipment at any point in the game. (Most notably: Soul Gems. Powerful magic orbs used as ammo for certain weapons, or embedded into people to grant them mystical powers.)
Spent Kiai also converts to Karma during the aforementioned Intermissions; breaks in gameplay where major, off-screen developments can happen. It’s also worth noting that everything mentioned thus far easily makes it so that two characters, even at character creation, can have wildly different Karma values.
If a character’s Karma is ever 108 by the end of an intermission, they become a monster that is obsessed with their Fates known as an Asura. At this point, the GM takes that player’s character sheet, tells them to make a new character, and it becomes entirely possible that this character is now an enemy to everybody at the table.
This then begs the question: can one lower their Karma? And if so, how?
Once again, Fates are the answer.
Another event that happens during Intermissions is that players can change and eliminate their character’s Fates, causing a decrease in their total Karma, as well as a shift in what the character thinks, feels, and believes.
And thus the cycle is complete: your Fates grant you power, that power grants you Karma, and letting go of your Fates is what releases you from the dangers of Karma.
So with all that said, we have the four components of Tenra Bansho Zero’s Fate System.
This set of rules is one of the things that makes Tenra Bansho Zero a truly unique game. It rewards players who use their character to affect the world around them, or to at least entertain those also playing. Additionally, it provides a vehicle for characters to be more dynamic.
The Fate System in Tenra Bansho Zero shows us, above all else, how even if we can identify and describe an individual game mechanic, it’s the sum of all these mechanics that make a game what it is.
Aaron der Schaedel isn’t really an expert on Japanese TRPGs, he just knows a lot more about them than your average person. He also wants to encourage people to try out and learn more games, and has compiled a list of helpful advice on the subject, which you can find here.
Pic Reference: http://www.tenra-rpg.com/
When you get to the heart of roleplaying, it’s all about the characters. Whether they are the stars of the show as Player Characters or supporting actors run by the Game Master, rich and believable characters are the key to the roleplaying experience. It is their story that draws you in, excites your mind, and makes you care about the fictional world you’re playing in.
Savage Worlds provides an excellent framework to build characters but it is the elements beyond the stats and edge lists that really tell you who this person is. I put the following guidelines to good use when I created twenty original characters in four common genres (haunted west, modern horror, historical fantasy, and space opera) in Savage Characters, Volume 1 (available on DriveThruRPG.com).
1) Make An Impression
Form a short scene in your mind as though you were watching a movie. This is the first time the audience will meet your character so think of how it might go. What characteristics are immediately noticeable: their hulking strength, head-turning beauty, easy smile, distracting talk, or haunted look? Do they shy away from contact or wade easily into the crowd? Do they move with the regal bearing brought on by years of tutoring and the right bloodlines, with the agile awareness of a veteran soldier, or with awkward stumbles as they adjust their spectacles? Is their speech flowery and intellectual or crude and street level? Does their accent betray their origins? Are they extroverted, wanting to join a celebration or more reticent, preferring to watch from out of the way?
You can set the scene wherever people could logically meet your character for the first time. A tavern or bar is pretty good for this but you could also meet them where their job or role normally takes them: the halls of a noble’s court, the traveler’s roads, sanctuary of their temple, or a craftsman’s stall. Picture them in a situation where they are expected to act rather than be passive so you can get a better feel for them. Leverage this preparation when you introduce your character to your fellow players or when meeting an NPC for the first time.
2) Develop Connections
Very few people live in isolation from the rest of society. In fact, it is often by our relationships with others that we discover ourselves and exhibit who we are for good or ill. No matter where a campaign might begin the characters have history up to that point. They have family, have friends and enemies, and live and work with dozens of others. While they begin to grapple with the Call to Adventure*, whose counsel would they seek? What favors would they call in? Who might make their life harder at the wrong moment?
These connections give the player more to work with both in deciding her character’s actions/reactions and in knowing what resources they can leverage beyond what is on their personal equipment list. All sorts of information can be gathered to better face the challenges ahead. Obligations and commitments, with their connections, will try to hold our hero back, letting them naturally Refuse the Call* or be bold and strike out for adventure.
3) Get Hooked
In Savage Characters, Volume 1, I created five different adventure hooks for each of the twenty characters so they could be easily used either as NPCs or as player characters. Each hook was aligned with a rank in the character’s development to show a progression of challenges. Some hooks tied together into logical sequences, almost like a micro-Plot Point for the character. Some hooks gave options to tie some of the characters together either as allies or antagonists.
Hooks present the ingredients for a conflict but don’t demand a specific solution. The motivations and objectives of other characters should be clear as well as what might happen if the player character does nothing. Would their own goals become harder or be put in jeopardy? Would their allies or innocents be hurt? Would evil claim some triumph large or small? Give the character a clear reason to act and let the player devise just what those actions will be.
If you're creating a player character, help your Game Master out. Try to think of adventurous situations your character might seek out or face. What threats, opportunities, or challenges would motivate your character to act? Would they pursue a treasure map, rumors of a village under attack, or a path to lost wonders? Providing hooks to your GM will make the game more enjoyable for everyone?
There are many ways to develop characters for RPGs. I think these three can provide easy hints for inspiration at the table-side, which is where we all need it most. We suffer plenty of l'espirit de l'escalier in our daily lives so everything that can help you play the character you want in the moment is worth time during character creation.
* See Joseph Campbell’s The Man with a Thousand Faces for an examination of the stages of heroic tales from around the world.
Jim founded Dragonlaird Gaming Studios in 2005 as a channel for his original tabletop RPG work. He’s an accomplished freelance writer with Knights of the Dinner Table Magazine (as a columnist) from Kenzerco, Margaret Weis Productions (Serenity, Battlestar Galactica, Cortex), and many others. He published Savage Characters Volume 1 a couple years ago and has plans to release a series of Savage Adventures soon. You can find his website at www.dragonlairdgaming.com.
Picture Reference: Artwork provided by author
The second edition of 7th Sea from John Wick Presents is best described right inside the book:
“7th Sea is a tabletop roleplaying game of swashbuckling and intrigue, exploration and adventure, taking place on the continent of Théah, a land of magic and mystery inspired by our own Europe. Players take on the roles of heroes thrown into global conspiracies and sinister plots, exploring ancient ruins of a race long vanished and protecting the rightful kings and queens of Théah from murderous villains. It is a world of sharp blades and sharp wits, where a cutting retort can be just as deadly as a sword’s point.”
I would like to make a point before we get into it; the rule book is a guide and not a set of rules that you absolutely must follow. If something here doesn't suit your fancy, rip it up and throw it away! Not literally though, don’t do that; it's a pretty book. Hoist the sails ladies and gentlemen, because today, we set sail for adventure!
1) The World And Lore
Théah is a wonderful world based off of Europe, the parallel encompassing both culture and environment. It isn't a carbon copy of Europe, but it helps you really grasp what the place you are in can look like. I’m not going to get into every country in Théah’s continent but I’ll use Eisen as an example. Eisen is a country that was obliterated during the War of the Cross, leaving the land to become inhospitable for farming. The people of Eisen are proud that they carved the path for the Vaticine Church. As if war and muddy farm lands were not bad enough, there are monsters too. The population was around 24 million, fallen to only around 10 million currently. Between people fleeing, starvation, and plague, the country has dwindled quite a bit since the war. The crest of the Eisen nation is that of a Drachen (dragon). There is so much detail to the countries that you can find information about topics ranging from politics to what kind of clothing people wear. Now depending on where your character comes from you gain certain bonus to skills and the opportunity to delve into magic. I have to admit, the amount of detail in this book is beyond inspiring. Have to hand it to John Wick on this one.
2) It’s A Big World For A Hero
One of the rules I found whilst wandering through the book was a very interesting mechanic that I’ve never seen in a tabletop RPG before. 7th Sea is more about storytelling than anything else, and it seems they took inspiration from Disney with how they tell stories about heroes. Heroes can't die unless the the villain kills them. I thought this was a strange rule at first glance until I’d really thought about it. It obviously makes it super fun for you and your players. As long as things are based in the realm of reality and physics, your heroes can be the swashbuckling, daring monstrosities they want to be. Why can't we sword fight along a wooden beam for the sail? The game allows you to become Jack Sparrow or the Three Musketeers. Now, this doesn’t mean your heroes can’t fail, because they definitely can. This usually means you get brought face to face with the villain to be killed, but don't worry you’ll make it out (I hope). Being a hero never felt so good.
3) Hero Points And Danger Points
Hero points are a currency out of character that gets passed around from GM to player. Hero points are obtained through story interaction or if the GM buys unused dice (dice that don’t add up to 10, a Raise). You usually gain them by roleplaying a certain way, such as invoking a character’s Quirk or Hero’s Hubris. Hero points can be spent to gain bonus dice, give dice to allies, or even to use special abilities. When you use them they typically force you to roleplay a certain way, adding a flare to the game. An example from a character I played was that he was a homewrecker. When I let a person my character was attracted to get away with doing bad stuff, I gained a hero point. I’m so head over heels for that person, I could look past it. My character was also very loyal and protective of his friends. During a fight I spent a hero point to use a skill called Flirting With Disaster; it allowed bad stuff to happen to me more and less to my allies. In this instance the bad guy wanted to punch me six times every round. In the end, my friends and I were able to make it out alive because of these fun quirks and skills. Thank you hero points!
Danger Points, however, are the nasty ones that the GM gets to use to make the heroes’ lives more (dare I say it?) dangerous! The GM starts each session with Danger Points equal to the number of players, so five players equals five Danger Points. In addition, you gain a point from buying unused player dice. So, by the end of it, buying dice leads to one Danger Point and one Hero Point per die! The Danger points can be used to activate the Villain’s (or his goons’) special abilities, make a check harder, or even murder a hero. Yes, a cruel, evil GM can use his villain and Danger Points to murder someone when they become helpless, which is when you have zero hit points.
4) Dice And Finally Getting That Well Deserved Raise
The dice mechanics in 7th Sea are really fun. They consist of rolling the dice and adding up what are called Raises. So we roll 10 sided dice equal to the stats we are using for the roll. Every point in a stat gives you one die, to a max of five. For this example let's say that I am trying to humiliate the character I am dueling. Everyone describes their actions and determine what dice they roll. I decide I want to use my Panache, which adds three dice because the stat is three, and Weaponry, which is also three. Since this is the first time I am using this particular skill this session, I get to add another d10. I roll my 7d10s and make multiples of ten out of what I rolled. For every ten that I have, it makes one Raise. I find out I have four raises (I rolled 40 as a sum) and the villain has a raise of five. The more Raises you have, the higher you are in the initiative order, which is determined after everyone both explains their action and rolls their dice. In this case, the villain gets to act first. In addition to being an initiative value in Action Sequences, Raises serve as a DC when a character performs a Risk (skill check).
5) “Hello. my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die”
So we talked about raises and combat lightly, but how can I talk about a swashbuckling adventure game without the meat and bones of dueling? Théah has a dueling academy that, upon graduation, gives you a pin granting you the right to initiate duels. It also lets you learn really interesting and flashy fighting maneuvers. An example is the good old Riposte, which prevents damage equal to your Weaponry skill and deals that much damage back to the opponent. Then we have dueling styles that grant even more abilities depending on what you choose. Such as the Aldana, which combines fencing and dancing into one fluid dueling style. It grants the hero the ability to use a skill called Aldana Ruse, which adds damage equal to your Panache skill. There are a ton more in the book and we could talk about this forever so let's slash our way to the next point.
6) Wait, There Is Sailing In This Game?
For those who are not sailing savvy, 7th Sea provides all the information you need on sailing. There are four types of Sailors according to 7th sea: we have merchants, naval recruits, privateers, and pirates. The section has awesome descriptions of different crew positions, what their duties are, and who they are in charge of. It even has superstitions that sailors whisper to each other that will foreshadow things to come. One example is the Green Flash that happens at sunset which is just an optical phenomena, but pirates used to say it was a soul returning from the land of the dead, or for those really superstitious types, Davey Jone’s Locker. Pirate battles are a little intense. They work just like rolling for Raises when doing a normal action sequence. These are on a much grander stage, giving the GM an opportunity to go wild. Maybe you can be fighting a villain and his goons while he tries to take control of the Kraken that is currently laying waste to everything around you; who knows?
7) The Villain
I have to say the villain mechanics make them fun for the GM to create and use. Villains have stats that make up their “level”. They are split into two, their Strength and Influence. Strength has to do with the body and mind of the villain, how smart they are, how charming or even how deadly they are with a blade. Strength also determines how many Advantages the villain has. Influence is money, resources, and allies, helping to change the world in their favor. The scale tips either way when it comes to Strength and Influence. Each rank you put into these you add up to make up the villainy rank. Let's say my villain is Influence four and Strength six, making a villainy rank of 10, which is decently strong. Villains get to pull schemes, revealing why villains are so much fun in 7th Sea. When a villain wants to pull a scheme they have to gamble. They invest Influence Points into the scheme, hoping it succeeds. Today we are robbing Avalon’s Royal Bank in order to kill the King, which we invested three of our villain’s Influence Points to do, split up in this manner: capture the banker and take the keys, look for an Avalon artifact, use the artifact to kill the King. If the villain succeeds she doubles the influence she gambled on the scheme, here we bet three so we would get six back. If she failed, well the points are lost; better luck next time. Villains can do a lot in 7th Sea from convincing an ally to betray you, hiring some thugs to rough you up or even introducing another villain.
If you want to try a game that is all about being Zorro or that Robin Hood-like hero... if you want to explore a vast and rich world ontop of seeing monsters and magic.... if you want to feel the breeze of the ocean and the slight salty taste in the winds as you cruise on the giant blue, then you want to try this game out.
“There is more treasure in books than in all the pirate's loot on Treasure Island.”
Benjamin Witunsky, artist, writer and nerd savant. Co-founder of the NerdMantle Podcast available on Soundcloud, Itunes and Google Play Music.
Picture Reference: http://www.7thsea2e.com/port/forum/official-maps-theah
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