D20: Advantage as Caution

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The mechanic of rolling 2d20 instead of one is very helpful in both the newest edition of D&D (where it’s used for Advantage and Disadvantage), and for other games that use an uncurved die for a single roll. By rolling 2d20 (or even more), you’re essentially adding a curve to a roll whose results would otherwise be linear. Particularly if you read the dice independently, you’ve made the results much more similar to a dice pool or iterated series of rolls. This serves to reduce swinginess, by further reducing the chance of fluke successes or failures (I suspect most players are more likely to try rolls on their high skills when given the option than their low ones, so are going to have a roll swing into a failure on a high skill more often than it swings into a success on a low skill).

Ultimately, there are a decent number of traits on a character sheet that get rolled far less often than others (e.g., you make attack rolls and perception checks all the time, but other skills maybe only a couple of times a session unless you’ve really built the character to make use of it as part of a combat mechanic). For frequently-rolled traits, averages are likely to kick in, but for something you roll once a session, you could wind up having a disappointing tally of failures over time on something that ought to regularly succeed. Particularly when something important hinges on your once-per-session roll of a high skill, it might be preferable to have some way to accentuate the curve.

This house rule adds the following options to a D20 game (particularly low-powered, high-whiff stuff like Beyond the Wall):

A player may roll a single d20 normally if not acting particularly cautiously.

A player may instead choose to act cautiously, rolling 2d20. The player can only do this in non-surprise situations (e.g., not on saves unless the source is obvious and the target is not flat-footed, or on rolls to notice something if the character isn’t actively searching).

When acting cautiously:

  • If both dice are successes, it’s a full success.
  • If both dice are failures, it’s a full failure.
  • If one die succeeds and the other fails, it’s a partial success/success with consequences (glancing blow for half damage in combat, resist the worst but not everything on a save, etc.).
  • Both dice must be a critical result for the action to count as a crit (success or failure).

Essentially, acting cautiously means that you’re lowering your chance of a crit (from 1 in 20 to 1 in 400), reducing the chance that you’ll fail outright, but adding in a decent chance of partial success. For rolls you’d normally fail 75% of the time, you drop total failure down to a 56% chance (but most of your successes are only partial). For rolls where you’d only have a 50/50 shot, you change full failure and full success to both be 25%, with partial filling up the middle 50% of results. For rolls with only a 25% chance of failure (which is still pretty risky on a roll that a lot hangs on), you lower full failure to only around 6% (but move 40% of your successes to partial ones).

Better Angels Rules Summary

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Better Angels is a One Roll Engine game where the PCs are conflicted supervillains: conflicted because the source of their powers is a possessing demon gleefully trying to get them to sin so it can drag them bodily to hell. It’s a way to justify classic four-color supervillain shenanigans. Of course you put the hero in a death trap and then leave the room rather than just shooting him, and make sure you commit crimes with high property damage in front of the cameras rather than quietly in the dead of night: it appeases the demon with your grandstanding without actually killing anybody.

I’m running this soon as well, so here’s the rules summary I put together for my players’ reference.

Basic Rules

Dice

Characters take actions by assembling a pool of d10s. Roll all dice and look for matches. In a matched set, the number of dice in the set is the Width and the number on the dice is the Height. For example, four 6s is a set with width 4, height 6, or 4×6.

The width of the set is the most important element, and indicates speed and power. Wider sets go first if timing is important, and have a greater effect.

The height of the set indicates quality, and is often used only to break ties or for miscellaneous rules effects. In many cases, a 3×5 is better than a 2×10.

Some powers grant Master Dice, which allow you to add a die of any value after rolling (essentially widening any set you rolled).

Contested actions use the defender’s set to remove dice from the aggressor’s set. A set must have an equal or greater height to cancel dice (e.g., 3×5 cannot cancel a 2×6). In combat or other fast-paced situation, a set must also have equal or greater width (or the attacker just goes too fast to be stopped).

You can make a Called Shot by dropping one die and setting another die to a fixed number before rolling, hoping to roll more of the same number as on the fixed die.

You can take Multiple Actions by dropping one die per extra action and hoping to get multiple sets.

If timing matters, players declare actions in order of Cunning (using Knowledge to break ties).

Extra Time, Weapons/Tools, Surprise, and Secrets can grant Advantage of up to +3. Advantage can be added as extra dice for your pool before rolling, or saved to increase the width of a rolled set (and you can split it between uses if you have multiple points of Advantage). The amounts of advantage are:

  • Extra Time: 2x as long (+1); 3x as long (+2)
  • Weapon/Tool: Small and concealable (+1); serious and noticeable (+2); really big and/or nasty (+3)
  • Intellectual Surprise: Circumstantial evidence (+1); conclusive evidence (+2); damning evidence (+3)
  • Surprise Attack: Cunning Greed/target’s Cunning Espionage; both get sets (+1); ambusher set 2x vs no set (+2); ambusher set 3x/no set (+3)
  • Secret: Minor secret (+1); Secret worth effort to conceal/deny (+2); Life-endingly horrible secret (+3)

Strategies and Tactics

Instead of attributes and abilities, characters assemble their dice pools based on Strategies (bolded green) and Tactics (italicized purple). These are personal virtues and sins that can and will frequently fluctuate in play due to damage. Permanent character abilities are limited to Specialties and demonic aspects and powers. In the examples, the sin is on the left, the virtue on the right:

Cunning/PatientGreed/GenerosityEspionage/Knowledge

These are generally used for mental conflicts. Running out of Patient makes you go berserk.

  • Patient Generosity: Making long-term investments
  • Patient Greed: Long cons, forgery, hacking, cracking
  • Cunning Generosity: Buying illegal goods, bribery, conspicuous spending
  • Cunning Greed: Petty larceny, lockpicking, hotwiring, shoplifting
  • Patient Knowledge: Research, knowing things
  • Patient Espionage: Investigating, casing, bugging communications, staking out
  • Cunning Knowledge: Defusing bombs, jury-rigging, quiz games
  • Cunning Espionage: Spotting ambushes, noticing opportunities, other quick perceptions

Sly/OpenCruelty/CourageCowardice/Endurance

These are generally used for physical conflicts. Running out of Open kills mortals (and isn’t ideal for hellbinders).

  • Open Courage: Making a melee attack against superior* foes or overwhelming numbers
  • Open Cruelty: Making a melee attack against equal or inferior foes
  • Sly Courage: Making a ranged attack against superior* foes or overwhelming numbers
  • Sly Cruelty: Making a ranged against equal/inferior foes, making any kind of attack from ambush
  • Open Endurance: Chasing, endurance athletics, bracing a door/wall, pinning a target in combat
  • Open Cowardice: Kicking down a door, outrunning someone, blocking an attack
  • Sly Endurance: Tailing, juggling/tightrope walking, disarming someone in combat
  • Sly Cowardice: Climbing, escaping from pins/bonds, passing an object, dodging in combat

* For hellbinders, foes only count as superior when they’re supernatural but the binder’s demon isn’t currently invoked

Devious/InsightfulCorruption/NurtureDeceit/Honesty

These are generally used for social conflicts. Running out of Insightful removes your base defense against manipulation.

  • Insightful Nurture: Understanding someone’s better nature, resisting temptation/seduction
  • Insightful Corruption: Understanding someone’s weaknesses, temptations, and urges
  • Devious Nurture: Persuading (to do something good), inspiring
  • Devious Corruption: Seducing, cajoling, bewildering
  • Insightful Honesty: Defending against attacks on the truth, riposting against manipulation to sense what was true
  • Insightful Deceit: Resisting appeals to better nature, riposting against manipulation to sense motivations
  • Devious Honesty: Gaining Advantage from a difficult truth
  • Devious Deceit: Gaining Advantage from a believable lie

Damaging Strategies and Tactics

Conflict generally has an intention to reduce a targeted tactic or strategy. You pick a particular tactic to target (which is usually limited by the type of tactic you’re using), and do damage based on the result:

  • Width 2-3: Slide a dot of the tactic into its opposite tactic. If it’s already empty, slide a dot of the parent strategy into its opposite strategy.
  • Width 4: Remove a dot from the tactic. If it’s already empty, remove a dot of the parent strategy.
  • Width 5: Remove a dot of the parent strategy, even if there are still dots in the tactic.

Aspects and Powers

Aspects

Aspects are remnants of the possessing demon’s diabolical heritage strong enough to affect the body of the host. The player of the mortal will pick one and the player of the demon will pick the other.

They’re powerful but costly to activate. The demon half always controls activation, there must be at least one point in the aspect’s governing Strategy for it to work, and there are two ways to turn them on:

  • The mortal requests it, the demon agrees, and the mortal slides a point off a Virtuous Strategy in payment.
  • The demon makes it happen without request, rolls the aspect’s governing Strategy (no Tactic), and turns on the aspect for free if this roll gets a set. If there is no set, the aspect still turns on, but the demon must slide a point from the governing Strategy.

The available aspects are:

  • An Utmost Foulness* (Cunning): Turns you into an amorphous (and flexible) blob of nastiness
  • Aqua-Form* (Sly): Turns you into living water
  • Carapace (Sly): Grants armor that reduces attack Height
  • Cloven Hooves (Cunning): Lets you forge demonic pacts with mortals to give them a bonus and you a Tactic upgrade whenever they use it
  • Darkness-Shrouded (Devious): Swathes the area around you in inky darkness only your allies can see through
  • Flame-Wreathed (Devious): Covers you in fire that deals damage to melee attackers and improves your own attacks
  • Ghost Form (Cunning): Grants intangibility that you can selectively turn on and off
  • Giant (Sly): Makes you big and super strong
  • Glory* (Devious): Makes you incredibly beautiful/terrifying
  • Hell’s Engine* (Sly): Replaces a body part with a hellish contraption (chooser picks the contraption, non-chooser picks the body part)
  • Horned (Sly): Gives you an intimidating natural weapon
  • Invisible (Devious): Lets you turn invisible and get a surprise bonus on attacks
  • Legion* (Cunning): Creates unpowered doppelgangers of you
  • Non-Euclidean* (Devious): Turns you into a cloud of concepts, allowing shifts in which Tactics get targeted by attacks
  • Wings (Cunning): Lets you fly and also temporarily sacrifice the wings to negate an attack

Powers

Powers don’t necessarily have a permanent physical structure, and they’re under the total control of the mortal. However, activating them counts as invoking the demon (allowing it to start paying attention and talking for the rest of the scene). The player of the mortal will pick one and the player of the demon will pick one.

Powers typically have a (fixed dice pool) to activate them. The available powers are:

  • Alchemy (Greed): Turns items (or body parts) temporarily into gold (Cunning Greed), and grants a Master Die to use Generosity for bribery (if Greed is not less than Generosity)
  • Animal Control (Deceit): As Body Control, but affects animals
  • Animal Form (Espionage): Lets you turn into the form of a (usually terrifying) animal, with more powers the higher your espionage (Cunning Espionage)
  • Armor (Cowardice): Grants you a defense that reduces the Width of physical attacks (Open Cowardice)
  • Arrogance (Cowardice): Provides a passive social defense based on your Cowardice
  • Babel Babble* (Corruption): Lets you start a spiel of jargon that attacks listeners’ Knowledge or Nurture (Cunning Corruption)
  • Banish (Cowardice): Lets you send something (including a touched target’s body part) somewhere else within line of sight and thirty feet (Sly Cowardice), and grants a set of dedicated items you can send up to thirty miles away
  • Body Control (Deceit): Turns human targets into your puppets that you can give orders to (Devious Deceit)
  • Clairvoyance (Espionage): Lets you see up to miles away (Patient Espionage)
  • Crime-Time* (Greed): Gives you a minute pause in which you can move and everything else is frozen but invulnerable (Cunning Greed)
  • Dark Ritual* (Knowledge): Satisfies your demon to grant advantage for the rest of the scene (Devious Knowledge)
  • Dead Ringer (Deceit): Lets you copy the appearance of another person you’ve spent time with (Insightful Deceit)
  • Dominator Strike (Cruelty): Gives you a customizable ranged attack (Sly Cruelty)
  • False Memories* (Deceit): Implants a false memory into a touched target (Patient Deceit)
  • Hanging Curse* (Corruption): Curses a target with a ban that will damage a Virtuous Strategy if violated (Patient Corruption)
  • Impossible Beauty (Corruption): Gives you advantage to social rolls to influence people (Devious Corruption); could be artistic skill rather than physical beauty
  • Ineffable Defense (Espionage): Reduces advantage granted by surprises or secrets used against you based on your Espionage
  • Oracle* (Knowledge): Allows you to question the GM about the future or possible actions (Devious Knowledge)
  • Psychic Objects (Greed): Lets you create useful objects with size and complexity based on your Greed (Cunning Greed)
  • Regeneration* (Cowardice): Recovers damage or shifts to your Open and Sly suffered during a scene (Open Cowardice)
  • Retrocognition* (Espionage): Lets you see what happened in a location previously (Patient Espionage)
  • Soulless Materialism* (Generosity): Animates objects to fight for you (Cunning Generosity)
  • Summon (Greed): Lets you summon visible objects within thirty feet to you, including target body parts (Cunning Greed), and grants a set of dedicated items you can summon to you from up to thirty miles away
  • Telekinesis (Deceit): Allows you to move objects/people within line of sight and range based on Deceit (Insightful Deceit)
  • Teleport Self (Corruption): Transports you somewhere else within a few miles based on Corruption (Insightful Corruption)
  • Terror (Cruelty): Drains Courage at range (Devious Cruelty)
  • That Hideous Strength (Cruelty): Gives a melee weapon bonus and lets you perform feats of strength based on your Cruelty
  • The Evil Eye* (Cruelty): Allows you to apply a curse at range that reduces target’s dice for several scenes (Cunning Cruelty)
  • Wither (Corruption): Shrivels, wilts, corrodes, etc. a touched/grappled object/person (Devious Corruption)

Innate Abilities

The player of the demon controls access to several other innate abilities common to all demons:

  • Devilish Creativity: All hellbinders can make infernally cunning devices (often disguised as scientific inventions, but possibly just obviously magic items). These use a customizable system that costs points from Virtuous Tactics to create the item.
  • Appreciating the Numinous: The demon can recognize other hosts of angels or demons (special campaign rule: only when both possessing spirits are invoked).
  • Spying: If the demon’s primary Sinister Strategy is higher than its opposite, the demon can perceive all the time. If it’s not, the demon perceives only when invoked. The demon cannot talk to the mortal, even if it can perceive all the time, unless invoked by being given permission to speak or the mortal activates a power.
  • Sinful Perfection: The demon can turn one die in the mortal’s pool into a Master Die for a particular roll by sliding the related Sinister Tactic for that roll into the Virtuous Tactic (e.g., if the player is rolling Courage or Cruelty, slide a point of Cruelty).

* from the No Soul Left Behind campaign book

Savage Star Wars Notes

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It looks like I’ll be running the Alternate Clone Wars game I outlined earlier this year, which requires finalizing the game system. I’ve chosen to go with Savage Worlds. I’ve looked into work others have done online, particularly this one, but I found them overly thorough for the pulpier game I want to run, and I would have had to change rules to fit my personal conception of the setting and desires anyway. However, I did find that the official Science Fiction Companion covers just about everything needed (with some minor hacks). So all the information below assumes you’re using the Savage Worlds Deluxe Core and Science Fiction Companion, and may not make a lot of sense if you don’t have those as a basis.

Setting Rules

For Star Wars, I suggest the following setting rules (from page 94 of the core book):

  • Heroes Never Die
  • High Adventure
  • Joker’s Wild
  • Multiple Languages

For Multiple Languages, I suggest charging the player for all languages out of the free ones (e.g., an alien with Smarts d4 spends the two languages on Basic and the cultural language of the race; essentially, you really only get bonus languages for higher than minimum Smarts). See also the Monolingual hindrance and Languages focus of Knowledge, below.

Races

The race-building options in the core and sci-fi companion books should be adequate to build pretty much any alien race your player desires. As examples:

  • Human: Gains the usual bonus Edge
  • Wookie: Strength Increase (2), Size +1 (1), Reach (1), Cannot Speak (-1), Hindrance: Outsider (-1)
  • Droid: As per the construct race, but see Droid Mods, below, and droids cannot be Force Sensitive nor can they be affected by mind-altering Force abilities

Most characters are assumed to be insensitive to the Force. They cannot buy the Force skill, but they get to use their full Spirit die to defend against any Force abilities that allow such a defense. For 0 points, any non-droid character can instead add the following racial option:

Force Sensitive (0):

  • Bonus Edge: Arcane Background (The Force)
  • Hindrance: You are more open to the Force than others. You may only use your Force skill die to defend against attacks that insensitives could use their full Spirit die against. You may find yourself targeted by effects and enemies that are drawn to Force users.

Edges and Hindrances

Most Edges and Hindrances from the core book are probably appropriate, except for those reliant on Arcane Backgrounds other than The Force. You may wish to allow Champion, Holy Warrior, and Wizard based on Arcane Background (The Force) and the Force skill, instead of their existing background and skill.

From the sci-fi companion, most of the new Edges and Hindrances seem designed for harder science fiction; Star Wars never seems to care enough about gravity and atmosphere to justify traits that affect interacting with them. Of the additions in that book, I’d only suggest using Low Tech/High Tech and Outsider as Hindrances and Cyber Tolerant, Cyborg, and Rocket Jock as Edges (you could also allow Geared Up, but it seems like a much worse long-term investment than the core Rich edge).

The following are additional for Star Wars:

Edges

Arcane Background (The Force)

Arcane Skill: Force (Spirit)

Starting Power Points: 10

Starting Powers: Special (see Force Powers, below)

Sensitive: The character sometimes receives visions and intuitions with a raw Spirit Roll

Jedi

Requirements: Arcane Background (The Force), Force d4+

You gain a lightsaber that does not count against your starting funds. Attackers must defeat your Parry score when firing blasters (instead of the normal base ranged difficulty) if you are using a lightsaber. You gain any allies and enemies of the Jedi order.

Additional Force Trick

Requirements: Force d8+, must be trained personally by the inventor of the trick

You gain an additional Force Trick (see Force Powers, below).

Additional Mods

Requirements: Droid

Gain an additional two points of Mods (see Droid Mods, below). This edge can be taken multiple times to gain further mods.

Hindrances

Monolingual (Minor)

You only speak Basic. You gain no additional languages for the Multiple Languages setting rule, and cannot buy the Languages focus of Knowledge until you have bought off this Hindrance.

Skills

Uncommon Skills

There are several skills that are unlikely to be used often in Star Wars (particularly in my conception of the alternate Clone Wars). Players should likely not take them at all, and should pay half cost for them if they do purchase them:

  • Boating (Agility)
  • Driving (Agility)
  • Lockpicking (Agility) (use Knowledge (Computers) instead)

Suggested Knowledge Focuses

The following are suggested focuses for the Knowledge skill:

  • Battle
  • Computers
  • Electronics
  • History
  • Language*
  • Planets
  • Science

* While using the Multiple Languages setting rule, this is taken as a single skill instead of one per language. Gain additional fluent languages equal to the die size, and roll the skill to interpret languages in which you are not fluent.

Etiquette (Smarts)

This skill works very similarly to Streetwise, but for the complicated politics of high society and Republic bureaucracy.

Force (Spirit)

Roll this skill to activate your Force powers and to defend against such attacks. At d8+, you originate your own Force Trick (see below).

Force Powers

For simplicity, I’ve chosen to frame all Force powers as modifications of existing powers in the core rulebook. They have the same costs and statistics unless otherwise noted. As a global change, any power that uses the caster’s Spirit or Smarts to set a variable (such as range) instead uses the caster’s Force skill die. Force powers do not generally have specific trappings (though their activation may be obvious to nearby Force sensitives).

Basic Powers

All Force sensitives can activate the following six powers:

  • Boost Trait (core page 110): This can be used on the caster only, and can only be used for Boost (not Lower). It cannot be used to boost the Spirit attribute or Force skill. It can only boost skills that the GM agrees are suitably athletic or intuition-based that relying on the Force for guidance would help. This power is essentially a catch-all for minor Force-user advantages, and a way to use up power points in combat other than Telekinesis.
  • Detect Arcana (core page 111): This can be used to Detect only, not Conceal (though adding in Conceal would be a good Force Trick).
  • Divination (core page 112): This requires a whole meditation period rather than just a minute. Answers are presented as a cryptic vision. Trying to learn something useful about an enemy or otherwise unwilling target may be opposed by that target’s Force defense (Spirit if insensitive, Force if sensitive).
  • Mind Reading (core page 115): This is opposed by an unwilling target’s Force defense.
  • Puppet (core page 115): This is opposed by an unwilling target’s Force defense (and may be hard-stopped if the target’s defense die is equal to or higher than the caster Force die, if you want to make the Mind Trick reliably ineffective against certain targets like in the films). It can only be used to convince the target of a fact, or compel them to take a simple series of actions, not to take combat control (as per the normal Puppet power).
  • Telekinesis (core page 118): The Telekinetic Weapon option can only be used for a single attack (i.e., saber throw) rather than an ongoing floating weapon. Damage of dropping/throwing objects is based on the caster’s Force instead of Spirit. To better reflect the movies, you might want to put the weight limits on an exponential scale rather than a linear one based on Force die size (such as die size squared, rounded down to the nearest 10 pounds, so the progression is d4 (10), d6 (30), d8 (60), d10 (100), d12 (140)); a raise still multiplies the allowed weight by five.

Force Trick

Once a Force Sensitive raises the Force skill to d8, he or she invents a unique Force Trick, and can train others in this trick if they take the Additional Force Trick edge. See the original post for more information on the logic behind this. In general, the player and GM should work together to come up with something that either expands an existing power’s capabilities, or adds a whole new power (likely based on unused Savage Worlds powers). Force Tricks that modify an existing power stack with one another; the caster can always choose to activate all relevant tricks.

Recovering Power Points

Force sensitives can recover power points in two ways:

  • Light Side: After a protracted meditation, recover all power points to full. The length of this meditation is whatever makes sense to the GM, and may require a Force roll to tune out distractions. As per the original post linked above, dabbling with the dark side should extend the time required to benefit from meditation. Jedi can, rarely, achieve this level of calm during conflict; if the GM and player agree that it makes sense due to roleplaying, the player can take an action to make a Force roll and recover two power points on success plus two per raise.
  • Dark Side: The character may choose to channel strong emotions into power, including anger, fear, and pain. Doing this is considered using the dark side, and affects time to meditate. The character may do this reflexively on any round he or she attempts to remove Shaken, and by taking an action otherwise. Wound penalties are flipped and become wound bonuses to this roll. The character rolls Force and regains one power point, plus one per raise. The GM may adjust the difficulty higher or lower based on interpreting how strong the emotion seems to be (stronger emotions have lower difficulties).

Gear

Lots of the gear in the sci-fi companion makes sense for Star Wars. Use your judgement as to what fits and what doesn’t. In general, the pricing for most items seems relatively close to the pricing in other Star Wars sources like Edge of the Empire, such that you can take the Savage Worlds dollar values and use them as credits. One specific exception is starship prices: Star Wars tends to think of them as costing tens or hundreds of thousands, while Savage Worlds prices them at millions or billions. The Savage Worlds prices are probably more realistic: a starship includes lots of expensive components, such that it should probably cost more than 100 times the cost of a blaster. On the other hand, starships in Star Wars aren’t really starships, they’re boats that haul the player characters between adventures. It makes sense to price them more like cargo trucks or luxury cars, so a player team can reasonably own and maintain one.

I would suggest coming up with a consistent monetary theory that makes everyone happy, and sticking with it. This is easier if you just give the players a ship, rather than making them purchase one, and include enough economics to drive interesting play (e.g., very little for traditional pulp heroics, more if your PCs are smugglers trying to save up enough money to get out from under a crime lord’s sluglike thumb). If you’re going to be more loose with available funds, pay careful attention to the prices of some of the items in the sci-fi companion, as they may be game breaking if they’re too affordable. In particular, if you use the basic robot rules you could purchase some pretty nasty combat droids for your party with only a few hundred thousand credits (see Droid Mods, below).

The following are my suggestions for specific Star Wars combat gear:

  • Lightsaber: Treat this as a Katana with the Energy Weapon template. It does Str+d12 damage, has AP 6, and its AP should probably counter the Parry of someone with a physical melee weapon (e.g., against someone with Parry 4 and a physical weapon, attack against Parry 0, break the weapon, and deal damage at AP 2 against any remaining armor on the target). The Savage Worlds pricing places it at 1,500, but you might increase that for the ability to chop through weapons, and just flat out make them only available with the Jedi edge during A New Hope era games.
  • Lightbayonet: A useful addition to Clone Wars era games where lightsabers are more common, treat this as a module that allows a blaster rifle to emit a short lightsaber from its barrel in order to defend against lightsaber-wielders cutting up your firing line. It takes an action to switch the weapon from bayonet mode to blaster mode. While in bayonet mode, it’s a melee weapon that does Str+d8 damage, AP 4, Reach 1, requires two hands, and can parry lightsabers (that’s applying the Energy Weapon template to the Bayonet stats; it may be too good with those stats, and might need to be reduced accordingly). Savage Worlds pricing places it at 525.
  • Blasters: A New Hope era blasters should use the Particle Accelerators (Blasters) stats on page 21 of the sci-fi companion. For Clone Wars era blasters, if you’re using my suggestion that they should be much more primitive, I would start out with drastically lowered range (or slightly lowered range and an inherent inaccuracy penalty), reduce the damage by a die size or two, and drastically lower the shots per clip.
  • Ion Weapons: These can probably just be statted as blasters that deal electricity damage, and have a die size lower damage. This means they’ll be less effective than a blaster against organic targets, and more effective against droids (since they take +4 damage from electricity).

Droid Mods

If you’re allowing droids as characters, I think the rules in the sci-fi companion (and the Savage Star Wars PDF linked at the top of the post) that link robot options to purchases and maintenance costs are very risky. It means the GM has to be very careful handing out monetary rewards to make sure that the party’s droids aren’t much better or worse than the other party members. So I’d instead suggest just handling droid modifications as customizable racial features. Each mod has a cost comparable to racial mod costs, and you can take them until you get your droid set up the way that makes sense to you and the GM.

Each droid starts off with one point of mods, and can gain two additional points for each time he or she purchases the Additional Mods edge. The following are the allowable mods from the sci-fi companion, with their mod cost in parenthesis (this may be different from the mod cost in the book, as it takes price into account, and any mod that normally grants more mod slots does not for these purposes):

  • Android (2)
  • Aquatic (1)
  • Armor (1)
  • Data Jack (1)
  • Flight (2)
  • Immobile (-1)
  • Magnetic Pads (1)
  • Pace (1)
  • Power Pack (1)
  • Sensor Suite (1)
  • Size Increase (2)
  • Size Reduction (-1) (also reduces Toughness by -1 as per the racial)
  • Stealth System (4)
  • Targeting System (1)
  • Trait Bonus (2)
  • Wall Walker (1)
  • Wheeled or Tracked (0)

The following are additional mod options (either taken from the other racial mods or invented for Star Wars):

  • Binary Communicator (-1): The droid can only speak in the binary language
  • Environmental Hardening (1): +4 to resist a single environmental effect (heat, cold, etc.)
  • Frail (-1): Flimsy construction imposes -1 Toughness
  • High-Speed Processing (3): Gain one extra non-movement action without a multi-action penalty
  • Integrated Equipment (*): Can have reasonable integrated weapons or tools; costs 1 mod slot per 500 cost of the items, and includes the purchase of the item
  • Noncombat (-2): The droid cannot buy the Fighting or Shooting skills
  • Restraining Bolt (0): The droid is disabled if it exceeds a designated range from the controller, or the controller is activated
  • Slow (-1): -1 Pace and d4 running die (cannot buy the Pace mod).
  • Specialized Appendages (-1): The droid has no generic manipulation appendages (like hands), and must use other mods (integrated equipment, data jack, etc.) to manipulate most physical items

Example droid configurations:

  • R2 Unit: Binary Communicator (-1), Data Jack (1), Frail (-1), Integrated Equipment (3; 1,500 credits worth of misc tools), Magnetic Pads (1), Noncombat (-2), Sensor Suite (1), Size Reduction (-1), Specialized Appendages (-1), Tracked (0), Trait Bonus (2; Repair)
  • Protocol Droid: Frail (-2), Integrated Equipment (4; Language Translator from sfc p. 15), Noncombat (-2), Slow (-1), Trait Bonus (2; Etiquette)

Chuubo’s Quest Sorter App

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One of the key interactions in Chuubo’s is that each quest fits into multiple arcs, but at different stages of the arc. Something that works for step 2 of a Knight arc (exploring a problem) might also work for step 3 of a Mystic arc (putting together a doomed plan to move forward). When you get to a new step of your arc, you need to figure out which quests make sense for that step. You could use a static index to figure out these associations, but that’s less fancy than an application. The app also lets you open a .pdf directly to the page with the quest you select, and add your own quests.

Quest Sorter Windows App

As always, I solemnly promise that this is doing nothing but what’s described in this post to your PC.

What It Does

Select an arc from the combo box. Slide the tracker bar from 1-5 depending on what step of the arc you’re on. Click Search.

All quests that match that arc step appear in the list, indicating their name, XP value, book, and page number.

Select a quest and click Open PDF to jump to the indicated book and page number (this requires setting up the right file names).

Click Copy All to Clipboard to copy the list so you can paste it into another application.

Installing the App and Editing Resource Files

Extract everything in the .zip file to its own folder. Run the .exe file; it’s looking in its own folder for the .txt files. It’ll save you effort if the .exe is in the same folder as your .pdf files for the various game books (or one folder down).

There are two important .txt files that you should edit:

FileLocations.txt

This file is essential to making the Open PDF button work.

The first line (that begins with //) explains what each pipe-separated entry means: the name of the book (that is included with the quest), how many pages the pdf’s page count is off from the printed page number, and the path to the .pdf file (“..\” means go up one directory from the folder where the program was opened; you could also just paste in the absolute path to your file).

The second line is the path to your Acrobat Reader installation; most people on Windows probably have the same path as mine, but if it doesn’t open the file, check to make sure your copy of Reader is where this path says it is.

The third and subsequent lines match the books as listed in the Quests.txt file (and which appear on the app’s output). I renamed mine from their defaults, so you have to change these entries to match whatever your .pdf files are named. Additionally, if you add any quests from books I don’t have listed, you need to add them as a new line to this .txt file (and remember to leave a blank line at the end of the file).

Quests.txt

This file is a summary of every quest. The first line shows you what each field means, but to expand on that:

  • The first field is the quest name.
  • The second field is the XP value of the quest.
  • The third field is the book name (and must match a book name in FileLocations.txt if you want it to open the .pdf file).
  • The fourth field is the page number of that book the quest appears on.
  • The fifth-ninth fields are the arcs the quest matches for steps 1-5. If the quest matches multiple arcs at a step, they’re separated by a semicolon.

If you want to add new quests, just copy the format (and remember to leave a blank line at the end of the file). If you want to remove quests, just delete the whole line.

Chuubo’s Rules Summary

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I’m hopefully going to get to run Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine (henceforth Chuubo’s or CMWGE) in the not too distant future, and I put this together as a handout for my players. So I’ll post it here so others can benefit as well. I’d also suggest this official example of play, this other official example of play, and this non-official explanatory one-shot.

This post is also available as a five-page PDF for easier printing.

CMWGE is a diceless RPG based on the rules for Nobilis 3rd Edition. It features resource-based resolution (i.e., you spend points from a limited pool and add them to your skill total to accomplish goals). The primary driver of play is a quest-based XP system that outlines various general tasks that player characters should accomplish to gain granular amounts of XP, and structures these tasks to attempt to provide a narrative.

Character

Characters in CMWGE have eleven elements:

  • Arc: A character can be actively pursuing one arc at a time, and retains a trait indicating how many completions of previous arcs the character has accomplished (e.g., a character just starting a Knight arc after three completions of a Bindings arc would be Bindings 3, Knight 0). See Arcs, under Advancement.
  • Quests: A character can be on up to four quests at once, and this almost always includes a quest that’s meant to advance the current arc, and a basic quest that can be used to get any-time XP (leaving two slots open for incidental quests). See Quests, under Advancement.
  • Issues: During play, characters will accumulate issues, which provide a short sequence of emotional or physical consequences to actions. Working through an issue’s sequence is a good way to recover spent resources. See Issues, under Advancement.
  • Skills: The core of a character’s capabilities is defined by skills. A PC starts with eight ranks of skills (two to eight skills ranked 1 to 5), treats any other skills as 0 (except for possibly a single skill at -1 to designate amusing incompetence; no extra points are gained by taking a skill at -1). Skills are the primary advancement mechanic for completing arcs, and can also be improved by perks. See Types of Skill, below.
  • Bonds: Player characters have at least one bond, which is a personal compulsion/ban so powerful that it can aid on related tasks and even overpower the miraculous. They are player-directed, and when fulfilling them the character benefits from various bonuses. Player characters start with a single, rank 2 bond, and can improve or add more via perks. See Tools, Bonds, and Strike, below.
  • Afflictions: Player characters have at least one affliction, which is a truth about the character enforced by the universe and so powerful miracles might not even be able to undo it. Contrary to the name, they are not always negative, just outside the character’s control. They are GM-directed, and can accomplish related tasks as well as protect against miracles. Player characters have an affliction for each arc trait, and it shares the arc trait’s rating (e.g., a Knight-associated affliction would be rank 3 if the player was on Knight 3). See Obstacles, Edge, Afflictions, and Auctoritas, below.
  • XP Emotion: Each player character has an XP emotion: the character gains an additional point of XP for inspiring this emotion in other players. Examples include pity, exasperation, thrilled approval, etc. See Genre, Emotion, and Any-Time Actions, under Advancement.
  • Perks: Perks are the primary form of mid-arc character advancement; they provide bonuses to skills, special abilities, or the like. A PC will often get several of them for each cycle of an arc, but can only maintain eight at a time, discarding old ones as they become less relevant or as better ones are gained. Player characters start with a free perk for each other PC that grants a Connection 1 skill to that character. See Perks and Arc Levels, under Advancement.
  • Miraculous Powers: Miraculous characters may accumulate miraculous powers (either as perks or as permanent upgrades), and even mortal characters may gain a few minor ones during play. These are generally one-off abilities that completely ignore the standard task resolution system. See Miracles, below.
  • Health Levels: Characters can take wounds into health levels when suffering physical or mental harm, and often take wounds as a statement of, “I would rather be injured than allow the current action to succeed in its stated goal.” All player characters have two normal health levels and one tough health level, and miraculous characters add two divine health levels. See Suffering Wounds, below.
  • Resources: Characters have permanent and temporary ratings in Will and Miracle Points, and spend them to accomplish intentions and miracles, respectively. See Basic Task Resolution and Miracles, below.

Types of Skill

There are several different types of skill (each purchased from the same pool and with a maximum rank of 5):

  • Standard: Most skills, particularly for mundane, mortal characters, will be standard skills. These can indicate anything in the normal spectrum of mortal capabilities. They are often very broad, such as a single skill for your whole profession (allowing you to use that skill rating to accomplish anything a member of that profession could do). They may narrow or widen over time, as the GM and player agree on what that skill means within context; eventually, players that initially picked very broad-sounding skills should reach an equilibrium with players that picked very narrow-sounding skills where all standard skills have similar utility within the narrative. You can define any profession, hobby, or even catchphrase as a standard skill: what’s important is that it’s clear to player and GM what types of task it should help you accomplish.
  • Cool: The cool skill isn’t active. Instead, it serves as a penalty to any mundane action to harm you (for a wide definition of harm), because you’re just too cool to suffer that kind of thing. See Obstacles, Edge, Afflictions, and Auctoritas, below.
  • Shine: The shine skill represents your ability to inspire and lead others. You cannot use it yourself, but anyone else can use its rank instead of their own skill when what they’re doing is explicitly for your benefit.
  • Connection: Skills can specify another person or place. If it’s a person, you can use the skill on any task to work with, understand, or take a social action directed at that person. For a place, you can use the skill on most tasks that represent fitting in with, protecting, or maintaining that place. Connections are easier to justify raising more quickly than other types of skills, as they require presence rather than study.
  • Superior: Any character that has powers that are supernatural/beyond human but not miraculous can represent them via superior skills. These skills generally have a defined list of what they can do at each rank on a conception level (e.g., Superior Strength rank 3 is as strong as a bear while rank 4 is as strong as a mountain). Practically, they grant edge to the use of another skill in an appropriate context, can be used as a skill (in situations broader than when they grant edge but narrower than a standard skill), and grant you a superhuman narrative ability. See Tools, Bonds, and Strike, below.
  • Magic: Characters can also develop different types of magic. These techniques generally provide a list of general types of effects that type of magic can accomplish, with more powerful effects imposing an obstacle on the intention. Often, magic techniques include a few minor options that someone with a compatible standard skill might attempt, upon knowing they’re possible. See Obstacles, Edge, Afflictions, and Auctoritas, below.

Most PCs start with eight ranks of skills of any type (up to rank 5 on any individual skill), may take a -1 rank skill to indicate an amusing weakness (no extra bonus if you do), and start with a perk for each other PC that grants Connection 1 to that character.

Basic Task Resolution

Each character has a measure of personal energy and effectiveness called Will, and PCs almost always have 8 to spend when they are fully refreshed. Taking actions consumes 0-8 points of this Will, through phrasing an intention. This intention can be specific (“I want to dodge that attack.”), broad (“I want to escape from this fight without harm.”), or even ongoing for a whole chapter (“I want to just go one week without taking a wound!”). They are essentially a project that can go for as long as the player thinks is relevant, or until clearly successful.

If uncontested and not subject to modifiers, an intention’s total rating is equal to the relevant skill plus the points of Will spent (for a range of -1 to 13). You can only spend Will in binary increments (either 0, 1, 2, 4, or 8; you cannot spend 3, 5, 6, or 7 on a single intention). If uncontested, the effectiveness of an intention is judged based on the intentions chart:

Intention You can…
0 or less Attempt to do things, but only make things worse;
1 Use your Skill in such a fashion as to please yourself and make you happy;
2 Accomplish a task; have a tangible impact on the world;
3 Do something “correctly;” impress people around you;
4 Do something effective—something that moves you closer to your goals;
5 Do something productive—something that makes your life better;
6 Do something that looks dang good—impressive, dramatic, and cool;
7 Do something really effective, moving you a lot closer to your goals;
8 Do something really productive—it will make your life a lot better;
9 Do the “right thing,” for some fuzzy definition of right.

If contested or otherwise in conflict, the higher intention “wins” (but the lower intention is still as successful as possible up to its rating if there is conceptual space “left over” within the winner’s intention). Conflicts often also involve skill modifiers (see Tools, Bonds, and Strike and Obstacles, Edge, Afflictions, and Auctoritas, below).

You can maintain a maximum of two intentions at one time. If you start a third intention, you have to drop an ongoing one.

PCs recover Will (to the maximum of 8) in several circumstances:

  • Each PC recovers to full Will (and ends any ongoing intentions) at the start of a new chapter.
  • Each PC gains a Recharge Token each time the basic quest is complete, and turning this in recovers Will to full.
  • Characters often gain a partial recovery of Will at various stages of an issue.
  • Whenever an intention succeeds or fails (rather than just being abandoned to free up a slot), the character recovers 1 Will (as long as that intention had at least 1 Will spent on it).

Miracles

Some characters have miraculous powers. These are specific powers with a particular effect and often cost 1 or more Miracle Points (MPs) to activate. They automatically defeat any mundane intention trying to counter them (but may have to contend with auctoritas, see below). If two miracles are in direct conflict, the one with the higher rating tends to win (and this is the only point at which the rating matters; unlike intentions, miracles just do something and cannot be adjusted up or down on the fly).

Player characters have a permanent rating of 1 MP, can improve this rating through advancements, and can recharge and accumulate more temporary points in various ways (unlike Will, temporary MPs can exceed the permanent rating):

  • PCs regain 1 MP (up to the permanent rating) each chapter, and recover to the full permanent rating at the beginning of a book (no benefit if temporary MPs are currently over the permanent rating).
  • Issues often grant additional MPs at the same time they partially recharge Will.
  • Bonds, Afflictions, and Region Properties can be “served” or get the character into trouble, rewarding MP in either case.

Obstacles, Edge, Afflictions, and Auctoritas

Several types of trait can provide a skill penalty, reducing a target’s effective intention rating. Only the largest penalty applies to any given intention, even if several sources are active. Obstacles, Edge, and Cool all provide a skill penalty.

  • Obstacles represent practical/conceptual difficulties to achieving an intention. The GM usually assesses an obstacle of 0-5 to any intention based on how problematic it is to accomplish. Certain actions, like magic skills, have predefined obstacles.
  • Edge is assessed in an unequal conflict, indicating that one side has an advantage that effectively lowers the other’s intention to make it easier to win. The side that doesn’t have edge takes the penalty, for purposes of resolving the conflict. Superior skills often grant edge, and strike (see below) grants edge that applies to conflicts between miracles.
  • Afflictions are things about a character that are always true, and enforced by reality. Miracles must overcome their rating in auctoritas to contradict them (e.g., if the affliction is “I can’t be physically harmed” then a miraculous physical attack would have to overcome that affliction’s auctoritas), and the GM can assess a miracle based on their level to make them true whenever appropriate. PCs typically have one affliction per arc trait, with a level equal to the arc trait’s rank.
  • Auctoritas is a flat rating that protects against miracles. It is provided by afflictions and might also come from other sources (such as being built as a protection on a location). A miracle, even an extremely powerful one, is unable to affect something guarded by auctoritas unless it has sufficient strike (see below).

Tools, Bonds, and Strike

There are several ways to gain a bonus to mundane and miraculous actions.

  • Tools, when applicable, provide a bonus to an intention (generally only +1 or +2). Tools that provide a bonus are often perks, with player characters normally assumed to have any +0 tools they need to carry out their intentions.
  • Bonds, when applicable, provide a bonus equal to their rating to an intention, but only when in conflict or against an obstacle. Additionally, applicable bonds provide their rating in additional strike for miraculous actions.
  • Strike is necessary for a miracle to overcome auctoritas (see above). If total strike is less than the target’s auctoritas, the miracle cannot affect the target (even if it is a very powerful miracle and a very low level of auctoritas). In addition to the bonus strike gained from bonds, characters can spend MP to raise strike (on a one for one basis) for a single miracle. Strike also counts as edge for miracles (see above).

Suffering Wounds

PCs have two normal health levels and a tough health level. Miraculous PCs also have two divine health levels. Losing all of your stronger health levels clears any damage to the weaker ones (e.g., if you take a wound to your tough level, any wounds in your normal levels are cleared). Worse wounds will go into a weaker health level if there are no stronger health levels remaining (e.g., a deadly wound will fill a normal level if all your tough and divine levels are gone). It usually takes a miracle or a level 6+ intention to deal a deadly wound, and lesser intentions can deal surface and serious wounds.

Wounds grant a bonus when you play up the wound. Wounds (and their bonuses) are generally divided into:

  • Surface (Normal): Minor problems that grant +1 Tool, Level 1 Bond, or a Level 2 Superior skill (heals in 0-2 chapters)
  • Serious (Tough): Bad problems that grant +1 Tool, Level 1 Bond/Affliction, or Level 2-3 Superior skill (heals in 0-2 books)
  • Deadly (Divine): Epic problems that grant +2 Tool, Level 2 Bond, Affliction with level tied to an arc or issue, level 3+ Superior skill, or a miraculous ability (requires a quest to downgrade to serious, or a harder one to heal completely)

You have multiple options upon receiving a wound including accepting it, focusing, it, living with it, avoiding it, resisting it, making it go back-and-forth, making it twisted, and making it metaphorical. Essentially, wounds represent your creative control over your character’s fate, and there are several options for taking a wound to turn a bad situation into something you can tolerate.

Advancement

Most of the storytelling of CMWGE is based on player-driven XP. Each PC has several types of advancement option for earning or spending XP, each with a particular story-driving fiction attached. Essentially, players are mechanically encouraged to perform actions that create a story and expand on their character motivations in order to advance their characters.

Arcs

Each PC is always actively pursuing one arc (from the set of Storyteller, Knight, Aspect, Otherworldly, Bindings, Shepherd, Emptiness, and Mystic). Each arc has an internal 3-5 step process that guides the character through a personal journey relevant to the theme of the arc, primarily through a linked quest (see below). For example, stage three of a Knight arc is about something trying to change you, resulting in you making a mistake, falling from grace, changing, and/or growing. Possible quests that fit this concept are Mental Training, Poisoned, Labyrinth Diving, The Belly of the Whale, or The Great Dread Witch Hunt.

Each time a PC completes the 3-5 steps/quests of an arc, the arc trait goes up by one rank (improving related traits such as afflictions and granting skill improvements). In addition, for each quest completed that supports a step of the arc, the character gains a perk from those appropriate to the arc. A player that wants to improve the arc trait to a high rank will experience the same steps several times, but each time is represented by different quests, and generally the character’s story grows in scale with each iteration through the process.

You can only pursue one arc at a time, but can switch to a different arc at an appropriate milestone. You retain the rating of all previously pursued arcs, and can switch back to them at the same rank at another milestone.

Quests

A PC can have up to four quests at a time. Generally, one will be a basic quest (used for any-time XP and recovery tokens) and another will be the quest that’s currently supporting the current step of the arc. Two more are available to mechanically incent other missions the player might want to pursue.

Each quest requires 15-50 XP to complete. Each also comes with a list of actions the PC can take to acquire one or more of those XPs (and additional XPs can be gained from other actions, see below). Progress through the quest’s XP track is a rough gauge of progress through the story element represented by the quest; the GM and player will work together to bring it to an appropriate close as the XP track is fully filled.

Completing a quest grants whatever in-story reward makes sense from its completion. If it is an arc quest, it grants a perk from the current step of the arc. Non-arc quests may grant a Recharge Token or other reward. Once complete, its XP total is rolled into the arc: in addition to needing 3-5 steps, each arc has an XP cost for completion (based on the pacing of the story). For example, an arc that costs 150 XP to complete would require an additional 50 XP from miscellaneous quests to complete if the player completed each of the five arc steps with 20 XP quests.

Genre, Emotion, and Any-Time Actions

In addition to the XP gained from your primary quest, there are three ways to gain XP:

  • The genre of the chronicle provides several actions (usually three to five) that support the correct mood. For example, in the Fairy Tales genre, the genre actions are Suffer Adversity, Suffer Corruption, Suffer Transformation, Suffer Trauma, and Never Say Die! while in the Pastoral genre, the actions are Shared Action, Shared Reactions, and Slice of Life. Each player can perform any two of these actions (or the same one twice) each chapter, and doing so adds an XP to the group pool. After performing a genre action, the PC is supposed to “fade” for a bit, allowing other PCs time to drive the story and work on their actions. The chapter often ends soon after each PC has accomplished two genre actions. At the end of the chapter, the genre XP pool is split evenly and distributed to the PCs (so, if they each did their maximum, they get 2 XP). These XP can be directed toward any active quest.
  • Each PC has an emotion that typifies how other characters react to them. When another player experiences this emotion due to something your character did, that player can give you an XP (which can be directed to any active quest). This can’t happen more frequently than once every 15 minutes. Example emotions are “Aww!” (for a character that makes others sad for how tragic he or she is), “Fist-Shaking” (for lovable jerks with impulse control problems that other characters shake their fists at for getting them into trouble), “Finger-Snap” (for natural minions who encourage other characters to tell them what to do), “Speechlessness” (for monologuers that leave others unable to form a response to their mad tirades), etc.
  • Each PC’s basic quest generally has a simple any-time action that grants an XP to the quest and supports the character’s core story. Like emotion XP, this can only be gained once every 15 minutes. After every 15 XP, the quest resets, rolling the XP into the arc and granting the player a Recharge Token.

Issues

Much like quests, issues come on cards with notes about what’s going on with your character while experiencing it. Unlike quests, you don’t choose your issues; the GM awards them to you based on things that have happened to you or decisions you’ve made in play. Generally, the GM will give a player an issue (or increase a current issue) once per chapter, based on the GM’s strongest impressions of what each player did, and any plots that were relevant.

Each step of an issue includes advice for how to play up that issue in your roleplaying. For example, In Over Your Head 4 suggests, “You’ve had a brilliant idea and you know how to test or implement it.” Issues normally go up as the GM thinks you’re still playing them, and at every odd step they give you bonus resources in Will and MP (so issues complicate your life, but improve your ability to handle challenges). Once they’re at step 4 or 5, you can attempt to resolve them (gaining another set of bonus resources and solving whatever in-story problem the issue represented). You can also lower issues that haven’t come up lately by one step at the end of a session.

The main issues are In Over Your Head, Hero, Sickness, Vice, Mystery, Complex, It Never Stops!, Calling, Something to Deal With, and Trust. Certain genres and campaigns introduce special issues like Hollow, Illusion, and Isolation.

Perks and Arc Levels

Most character advancement is ultimately awarded through perks and by going up in arc levels.

You get a new perk every time you complete a quest step of an arc (up to 5 perks per arc level). The available perks are based on the current step. For example, at Knight step 3, you can gain a defensive, support, or offensive aura, a rank 1 superior skill, improve a superior skill from another Knight perk by +1 (to a maximum of your Knight trait level), or, at Knight 2+, gain a new Bond with a rating based on your current Trust issue.

You can only have eight perks at one time; once you have eight, gaining a new one means retiring an old one. An exception is any perk that allows you to improve a previous perk (e.g., that +1 to a previous superior skill means the previous perk slot is now a better value) or otherwise alter something. In general, after you’ve been through a few cycles of one or more arcs, you’ll have all eight perks filled, some of them will be becoming more and more powerful, and others will get switched out as you lose interest in favor of new bonuses.

When you complete a cycle of the arc:

  • The arc trait’s level goes up by +1 and that counts for anything based on it (such as the associated affliction, and qualifying for better perks).
  • You can improve an existing skill or bond by +1 (or buy a new bond at rank 1).
  • You gain a new skill at rank 1.
  • You can lower an existing skill by 1 to improve the new skill to 2.

When you start a new arc:

  • You get a new arc trait at rank 0.
  • You gain a new rank 2 bond.
  • You gain a new affliction tied to the new arc trait.

Miraculous characters also get particular power upgrades based on their arc trait’s rank.

Immutable Time Travel

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I read Homestuck for the first time around the same time I rewatched Terminator (1 and 2), and it got me thinking about using travel through immutable time as a game concept. The upshot of immutable time is that it lets you send the players throughout time without having to figure out how the minor and major changes they make would alter the future (which, in any kind of non-predestined time, would be a lot). The drawback is that you instead have to figure out how to keep them from changing anything. The following is an overview of how this kind of time travel would work (largely patterned on how it works in Homestuck, so minor spoilers for that if you plan to read it), and includes several elements to try to keep the scope of attempting to change the past manageable within a game framework. (This is presented as in-character advice from a time traveler.)

1) Time is internally consistent

Time travel doesn’t actually let you change anything. Circumstances will conspire to negate whatever change you’re attempting to make. Killed your grandfather before your mother was conceived? Turns out your grandmother never mentioned her husband’s twin and his untimely murder. Attempt to travel back and tell yourself something on a day you know you didn’t meet yourself in your own timeline? You’ll never actually get to the meeting due to seemingly random accidents, or something will happen to erase your memory of the meeting in the past, or some other bullshit.

Your best bet, when time traveling, is to know as little as possible about any events you’re trying to interact with. Your ignorance doesn’t mean that things aren’t objectively true (you still can’t actually change anything, from the point of view of someone who does know what happened). But at least you won’t know for sure whether what you’re trying to do is futile.

2) Information ignores paradox

Sometimes information-based time loops become stable with no true cause. Brought yourself back the same formula for cold fusion that you gave yourself when you were young, and told yourself to pass on once you discovered time travel? No problem. Pulled a time-travel Oedipus and became your own father, creating a Y chromosome from nowhere? Gross, but not a paradox.

Maybe the information comes from the zeitgeist. Maybe it comes from the gods of time fucking with us. Nobody knows for sure. Maybe someone will pass the secret of how it’s possible through a self-generating time loop at some point.

3) Matter, however, can’t get stuck in a time loop

Matter is much easier to degrade than information. Reality seems to be fine with the secrets to a better watch coming from nowhere, but the watch itself needs a provenance. If a time traveler gives you an object, you cannot give that same time traveler the same object to take back to you. You can take it apart and make an identical duplicate, as long as the matter for the duplicate came from somewhere real (or you can just find where the item originally came from, send that one back, and keep your version). It’s all down to a loop being infinite: a piece of finite matter stuck into it would gradually erode.

Don’t even try to mess with this, it can get really wonky, really quickly. Note that a really obnoxious exception is that immortal, ageless living things can actually come from nowhere, since they regenerate their bodies with new matter from the environment; they can just expect memory loss somewhere along the line before they start the loop over again.

4) You can fork a timeline, but you absolutely shouldn’t

In extreme circumstances, it is sometimes possible to change something. Despite the implications in rule one, there isn’t actually some kind of omniscient deity keeping you from changing things. Sometimes events seem weirdly contrived to try to keep you from making alterations, but if you had a god’s view of the situation it would all make sense as a series of interlocking causes. Reality’s defenses against changing the past are passive, and if you really, really set your mind to changing something in a way you know for a fact is a change, you often can.

Don’t do that. You are no longer a resident of the prime timeline if you do. Back in reality, you made a different decision, and things proceeded as they always had. You and the entire reality you forked off are now doomed; the universe doesn’t have enough energy to keep forks going for very long. If you stay there, you’ll start to notice that entropy is on overdrive, and everything quickly begins to fall apart, including your own cells. You can time travel back, usually as the special paradoxical exception that got you to reconsider making a change in the prime timeline. Then you’ll likely die. Gruesomely.

5) Because reality is sturdy, it’s worth it to try things

You will not step on a bug in prehistory and totally change the course of evolution (unless you already did). Your modern flu will not start a new plague that wipes out Europe (thought it might have started a documented one). You will not accidentally give Genghis Khan the future tech he needs to start the industrial revolution centuries early and conquer the globe (though he might have you burned as a witch). Really, unless you’re trying to fork a timeline by enacting something you know is a change, the worst things that can happen are that attempting to change things gets you hurt or killed with no alterations, or you find out that you were responsible for something that already happened anyway.

Want to save a loved one that died in an accident? Just be ready to leave a convincing replacement corpse and it might all work out. Need to find out a piece of long lost information? Wander around asking questions in your future clothes and it’ll be fine, in the grand scheme of things. Timeline predestination is freeing, in a way: if it’s possible to succeed, then you always did, if it’s impossible, then you’ll find out pretty quickly, and if you fuck up grandly along the way, the future was always a product of that catastrophe.

Just keep the rules in mind, try not to learn anything that makes you certain you’re going to fail because you already did, and experiment. A time traveler with guts and cunning can accomplish a lot of marvelous things… that were always destined to have happened.

Legacy Superheroes

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Season 2 of Young Justice finally showed up on Netflix, and got me thinking about one of the things that DC has always done extremely well: worldbuilding through character inheritance.

The DC universe has such a robust mythology of archetypal characters, it’s easy to introduce a new character that can rely on other characters for the heavy lifting of powers and such, and provide a foil to differentiate the character. For example, you don’t have to come up with a whole new explanation for how a new speedster works; that character is tapped into the Speed Force, which provides some interesting constraints and possibilities for development. Young Justice is basically all about this: nearly all of the characters are legacy heroes based on a Justice League member. The DC Universe MMO does something similar, providing character building blocks from established characters to mix and match.

There are a couple of interesting ways to profit from this in your own supers games: top down and bottom up.

Top Down

The first method is to use an existing setting or make your own with a lot of nailed down origin concepts. The players then pick from these origin types to control what powers they can access, and what baked in story tropes they’ll be part of. Obviously, stated that broadly, it’s something that lots of supers games do: are you a magic hero, a mutant, a scientific accident, and alien, a highly trained human, etc.?

What I’m advocating drills down from those broad classifications to actually latch onto the key setting elements of the universe. Using Young Justice as an example, players might pick:

  • Alien (Kryptonian): You can take some or all of the Kryptonian powers (invulnerability, super strength, flight, x-ray vision, freeze breath, etc.). You are vulnerable to kryptonite, and draw your powers from the yellow sun of Earth. You are likely related in some way to the House of El, and inherit its enemies.
  • Alien (Martian): You can take some or all of the Martian powers (telepathy, telekinesis, shapeshifting, phasing, etc.). You are vulnerable to fire. You are among the last of your kind, and hunted by ancient enemies from your home.
  • Atlantean: You can take powers related to living undersea (water breathing, swimming, strength and durability, marine animal control, hydrokinesis, etc.). You are part of the Atlantean feudal system, and beholden to its politics.
  • Clone (Copy): You are an exact copy of an existing character, and may take that character’s powers (possibly reduced or enhanced based on that character’s backstory and limitations). You may or may not have that character’s full memories, and may have been created as a sinister replacement. You will struggle to find your own place in the world.
  • Clone (Hybrid): You are a combination of two or more characters (and can mix and match other origin types), and can take powers related to either or both. You were likely created as an experiment in improving on the original stock, and may have in-built conditioning that you must overcome. You will struggle to find your own place in the world.
  • Human (Trained): You have advanced martial training from Batman, Green Arrow, the League of Assassins, or some other skilled teacher, and should particularly focus on the martial arts favored by that group. You likely have a conflicted relationship with your mentor, and often inherit his problems and enemies, but can also rely on your adoptive family for help in a pinch.
  • Human (Magic): You were trained in magic, likely in an idiosyncratic style common to a parent or other mentor such as Zatara. You are part of the small and eclectic community of mystics, and may operate under requirements and allegiances that are extremely arcane to your team.
  • Human (Tech-Enhanced): Your powers come from cybernetics, power armor, or other high-tech devices, and you should choose which company invented them. You will be beholden to that originator for replacements and improvements to your tech, which may create trouble for you.
  • Meta (Speedster): You gained your powers from a meta event or inheritance/transfusion from another speedster. Unlike typical metas, your powers are specifically informed by the Speed Force (though you may also feel an obligation to deal with any other metas created by the same event that gave you your powers), which earns you specific enemies and allies in other speedsters.

Essentially, you can’t take powers without in some way tying the character in to the larger narrative of the setting, immediately attaching allies, enemies, and potential problems before the start of play.

Bottom Up

The opposite method is good for getting a lot of player buy-in (and getting them to help the GM worldbuild): instead of picking from a pre-defined list, each player explains how his or her powers are actually in line with a setting archetype.

For example, a player rolls up a speedster, and then works with the GM to invent the idea that speedsters are somehow apart from other characters empowered by some meta event, and actually have more in common with other speedsters. The GM and player negotiate out the idea of a Speed Force, a sense of responsibility for other meta villains created at the same time, and invent various Flash characters from history that are well-known holders of the same powers.

The key difference in any other game where you pick powers and then try to justify them is the sense of the legacy. In the example, you’re not making The Flash, a character that, as far as he knows, is the first speedster in the setting and will gradually uncover thematic ties as the GM has ideas. Instead, you’re making a character with precedents that you’re going to negotiate with the GM up front: you get a say in elements of the setting that your character will be the focus of, and you help the GM by providing a whole bunch of setting ideas that you’ll be interested in. The GM doesn’t have to throw a bunch of ideas at you to see which ones you bite on, because you’ve already indicated that you’re into the meta events, Speed Force, strange relationship to other speedsters, etc.

Obviously, this method works better for players comfortable with taking that kind of ownership of inventing setting details so they can then happily interact with them in play.

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