Alternate Changeling: Lucidity

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Independent of the setting changes I’d made for my update, the major rules change was the introduction of Lucidity. I’ve always thought Banality is a very strange decision for the Changeling system: AFAIK, it’s the only character sheet trait in the WoD that you don’t want to go up. So my goal was to revise and replace the systems related to Banality to introduce a mechanic that could be much more analogous to Glamour and Willpower.

This has follow-on effects on several other systems.

Lucidity and Glamour

Changelings are two-fold entities, belonging to both the lands of dreams and of waking. As such, their abilities are determined by two contradictory traits. Glamour measures the power of their dreams: the amount of Dreaming energy that can be brought to bear to fuel the magic of the fae. Lucidity measures the strength of their waking minds: the amount of focus that can be brought to mortal pursuits. Without Glamour, a changeling would lose her fae self and become fully awake and mortal. Without Lucidity, a changeling would lose her mortal side, and her fae soul would spiral off into the Dreaming with no anchor on the mortal world. Yet changelings bring synergy to their two halves, the whole becoming greater than its parts.

By being partially wakeful, changelings possess a focus that cannot be achieved by creatures purely of the Dreaming. They can give the necessary attention to learning things, they can resist faerie magicks at need, and, perhaps most importantly, they can use mortal logic to transcend fae stereotypes and the force of narrative. True fae and chimera tend to act according to a theme and a script that drives their actions. A changeling is lucid enough to recognize this trend and to make plans to work around its limits.

By being partially asleep, changelings can reach a creativity that is not often seen among mortals. Overflowing with imagination, they can create beyond points where normal mortals would be burned out. This imagination gives them a spark of greatness that many mortals don’t understand, and which some fear, but which allows them to surpass mortals of great ability. A changeling is a composite being, half awake and half asleep, and made stronger for this fact.

Lucidity

Lucidity can be spent for the following tasks:

  • Fighting off Bedlam: One or more points of temporary Lucidity can be spent to restore sanity being chipped away by the Dreaming.
  • Resisting Fae Magic: A character can spend a point of Lucidity to subtract a success from an attacker’s arts roll, or to add a success to her resistance roll. Doing this too often might gain the character Banality.
  • Attention to Detail: A character can spend Lucidity like Willpower for a bonus success on any Perception-based roll because the waking mind is adept at noticing details that a dreamer might miss.

Lucidity can be recovered in the following ways

  • Natural Renewal: The character regains a point of Lucidity for every night of sleep in the waking world. This renewal does not happen in freeholds or the Dreaming.
  • Sobering Company: A character in the company of mundane but insightful individuals recovers one or more points of Lucidity per hour spent in conversation.
  • Force of Logic: A character at 0 temporary Lucidity can be talked back to reality by friends. Effectively, they must roll their Lucidity against her permanent Glamour, success restoring a point of Lucidity. Most mortals are assumed to have five Lucidity.

A character cannot use any abilities higher than her permanent Lucidity. Abilities can be bought as high as the character’s Lucidity rating (optionally, for more powerful changelings, characters with more than 5 Lucidity can transcend mortal limits to their abilities as another benefit of the hybrid souls).

A character that runs out of temporary Lucidity must roll permanent Lucidity against permanent Glamour (+1 to +4 difficulty in the Dreaming, depending on the depth). Failure on the roll indicates that the character has fallen fully asleep. She loses all access to abilities, forgets mortal commitments, and tends to act out stereotypical behavior for her kith as well as losing many inhibitions about proper behavior. She may slip into the Dreaming the first time the Mists become very low, and is in a lot of trouble should she already be in the Dreaming. This condition persists until at least one point of Lucidity is regained, possibly requiring the intervention of friends, at which point she returns to being half-awake. When in a lost one’s hold or when dealing with individuals already in Bedlam, the difficulty of the roll to resist this state may be increased.

Most mortals can be assumed to have Lucidity 5.

Other Uses for Glamour

Glamour can be spent to Inspire Creativity: The character may spend a point of Glamour to get an idea for an artistic creation (essentially +1 success to artistic rolls for each Glamour spent) or to get an idea/clue based on her current information as to where the plot of the story is headed, due to treating reality like a narrative.

A character cannot buy any fae Arts, Realms, or Redes to a level higher than her Glamour, though they are still normally capped at five.

Banality

Banality is the antithesis of dreams, representing the complete absence of creativity, hope, imagination, and fear. While it is not unusual for many mortals to build up a small amount of Banality when burned out, it is incredibly rare for anyone to have high levels of Banality for long periods.

Banality replaces temporary Lucidity, filling the Lucidity track from the bottom up. Points of Lucidity turned into Banality cannot be spent until the Banality fades. A changeling whose Banality exceeds Lucidity immediately loses all temporary Glamour, waking fully, and cannot recover Glamour until all Banality fades. Typically, one level of Banality is lost for every week in which the character got plenty of dream-filled sleep. Fae gain Banality by denial of dreams, permanently killing fae, dealings with very Banal individuals, and other methods (as per Changeling 20th).

All fae magicks have the target’s Banality in successes subtracted from their effect or are added as automatic successes to the target’s resistance roll (if applicable). They are automatic successes for the Mists to wipe the mortal’s mind.

(Any game systems that currently reference Banality can either use the revised Banality total, which will usually be lower, or some other dice pool as the storyteller thinks is appropriate.)

Bedlam

A less dangerous, but more prevalent, counterpart to Banality, Bedlam represents a changeling’s tendency to slide towards madness when not spending enough time in the real world.

Bedlam fills the Glamour track exactly as Banality fills the Lucidity track, and also makes these points unusable. Bedlam is a penalty for all of a changeling’s social and mental dice pools when dealing with mundane situations. It is acquired when a character spends extensive amounts of time in a freehold or the Dreaming without dealing with anything in the mundane world, usually at one level per week. In the Deep Dreaming or a lost one’s freehold, this increases to one point per day. Characters that have sworn the Oath of the Long Road typically do not gain Bedlam if they spend their time in pursuit of that quest.

One point of Lucidity turns a point of Bedlam back into a point of Glamour. A character whose Bedlam exceeds her permanent Glamour must spend any remaining Lucidity to buy it back down to her Glamour or less. If the character has more Bedlam than permanent Glamour and no temporary Lucidity, the character goes completely insane, driven by her court and kith, and is controlled by the storyteller until other characters can rescue her and return her to the Waking world.

FATE of the Furious

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It’s not the car. It’s the driver.
-Dominic Toretto

In this fairly simple hack for playing a Fast and the Furious-style game using Fate, the major change to the normal rules is that automobiles are not really independent items, they’re just a template that allows characters to increase the scale of their actions.

The Drive Skill

You cannot purchase the Drive skill directly, only as part of a skill-replacement stunt (see below). The skill loses most of its normal trappings, even when purchased through a stunt. You can use it to:

  • Overcome: Use Drive to defeat someone in a straight-up race. This is often a simple challenge for a quarter mile drag race, but might become an extended challenge for longer and more complex races (with maneuvers as described below).
  • Defend: Use Drive to defend against attacks and maneuvers made against you while you are driving (assuming they come from outside the car).

Drive Stunts

Each skill in the game features a stunt that allows you to use that skill to accomplish the actions under Drive, above. Additionally, this stunt grants you a once-per-session free tag on an aspect of your choice, as long as you’re in an automobile that makes sense for the skill you’re using in order to make use of that skill. For example:

  • Dom uses Provoke to drive. When he’s in a classic intimidating muscle car, he gains a free tag to use for Provoke-related rolls, such as scaring someone out of the chase.
  • Hobbes uses Physique to drive. When he’s in a big, burly truck, he gains a free tag to use for Physique-related rolls, such as bursting through a wall.
  • The Shaw brothers use Athletics to drive. When they’re in agile, lightweight cars, they gain a free tag to use for Athletics-related rolls, such as ramping their cars off of things.
  • Tej uses Crafts to drive. When he’s in a high-tech car, he gains a free tag to use for Crafts-related rolls, such as explaining the features of everyone else’s cars to create an advantage.
  • Roman uses Rapport to drive. When he’s in a flashy car, he gains a free tag to use for Rapport-related rolls, such as boosting his friends’ moods to create an advantage.

The intention for this system is two-fold:

  • By using what is likely to be your top skill for driving, all of the protagonists tend to be fairly close to one another in ability to keep up with an ongoing chase, differentiating their driving styles by what types of maneuvers they make during the chase.
  • By granting a bonus when in the right style of car, it encourages players to pick vehicles that are evocative of their characters’ styles.

Other Skills in a Chase

A car chase is pretty much just treated as a moving battle. The GM can automatically force it into a new zone every exchange (as the chase moves into a different part of the city with different aspects), and the drivers in the lead can use a driving Overcome check to try to move ahead and into a zone of their choice (forcing pursuers to drive to keep up). Any normal skills you could use to maneuver and attack in a fight are used normally here, only described as affecting the other car. Using the general assumption that it’s stopping that’s unusual, the GM might introduce hazards that must be Overcome or Defended against which would be non-issues in a foot combat (such as an obstacle).

Unless specifically doing something that injures the driver (e.g., sniper on the route), all consequences (and Taken Out results) for the chase stay with the car and are lost upon exiting the car. Stress resets normally at the end of the scene (so exiting a car and finding a new one or continuing the fight on foot preserves any accrued stress, but just exiting the scene upon being taken out usually allows you to return the next scene none the worse for wear).

If you simply want to escape pursuers without making each of them Taken Out, this can be resolved as an extremely hard Overcome challenge with a difficulty based on the visibility distance, terrain, and suggested means of escape. Essentially, the difficulty should be hard enough that it will require a meaningful number of maneuvers to set up free tags in order to soundly out-drive the pursuers.

Differentiating Cars

Cars are mostly described as a set of bonus aspects you can use while in the vehicle. A terrible car might be a “Rusty Old Beater” while a high-end sports car might be “New Hotness,” “Twin-Turbo V10 Engine,” and “Computerized Traction Control.” This allows compels and tags to generate the small differences between a skilled racer in a bad car and a good one.

At the very high end, extremely nice cars may come with one or more free tags on their aspects available to the driver. These don’t generally reset: like our later-movie protagonists, you get the really cool sports car, you drive it for a scene or two, then you shed a brief tear when it’s blown up and you move onto the next one without regret.

As a stunt line, characters with a very signature car (like Dom’s main ride) might purchase a high-end car with free tags that actually reset between sessions.

Outcasts, Part 2: The Exodus

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You can do a lot with a supers setting featuring aliens, as described in the last article, but the real inspiration for these series was an episode of Supergirl from this season
(MILD SUPERGIRL SEASON 2 SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT FORWARD)
where Cadmus attempts to round up most of the Earthbound aliens, cram them on an old spaceship, and send them so far away that they’ll have a hard time getting back to Earth. I watched the episode kind of hoping they’d succeed, because watching our heroes try to shepherd a bunch of aliens through the galaxy while they searched for a way home seemed like a good time.

So this post describes a ship-based campaign organization for something in the vein of Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: Voyager, Stargate: Atlantis, and such. A bunch of disparate aliens have been forcibly placed on a ship that’s designed less as a means of travel and more as a means of getting rid of them, jumped to an unfamiliar side of the galaxy, and left with as much difficulty as possible to get home. There’s a diverse set of competencies in the ship, if you can balance the social issues, traumas, and politics and get people to work together. Rather than just drop people off at the first inhabitable world, you could try to get everyone to stick together, accrue resources by space exploration, slowly repair the ship, and figure out what you actually want to do rather than being unwanted refugees forever.

And the central campaign organization mechanic is making sure that the ship you’re on has a lot of potential, but needs a lot of work and customization to become a home instead of a prison. There are a lot of granular and obvious steps that can be made to improve it, so adventures can often hang on getting the resources to perform a particular upgrade.

This is based on the starship rules from the Savage Worlds Science Fiction Companion, though I’ve made a few changes in assumptions (primarily in how the engines and life support work; I’m also not 100% sure the math is perfect for the starship rules, but it’s close).

Ship Overview

Initially, the ship is a Huge cargo cruiser that was somehow salvaged and retrofitted by [the Conspiracy]. It has (cramped) quarters and life support for approximately 1,000 individuals. It can maintain basic life support and in-system travel more or less indefinitely, but expends fuel for travel between systems using the FTL/jump drive (and begins the campaign mostly depleted after jaunting across the galaxy). As part of life support, it includes a hydroponics and recycling system that can maintain minimal rations needs for an extended period, but which will be gradually depleted if not supplemented with additional resources (and which are not the most attractive foodstuffs). Rightly afraid of the ship being controlled by alien computers that the outcasts might understand better than [the Conspiracy]’s programmers, as much as possible of its original systems were ripped out and replaced with kitbashed Earth computers and control systems that are heavily locked down and provide the minimum inputs necessary to pilot the ship. The ship has no weapons, and a very small number of short-range landing shuttles

Quarters

  • Cramped quarters for 1,000 individuals (~60 of them required to act as crew; the rest are part of a passenger superstructure designed for maximum residence and lacking the typical passenger structure amenities)
  • Survivalist furnishings (cots, hammocks, surplus sleeping bags and pillows, suitcases)

Current furnishings and arrangements provide -# morale. Allocating more space and providing better furnishings can provide a morale bonus to individuals with enhanced accommodations.

Unallocated Space

  • Much of the ship’s non-quarter space is empty cargo area and completely unfurnished smaller bays
  • [The Conspiracy] clearly intended to build these out to fit even more exiles, but did not finish the construction (and balked at crowding in refugees; these areas are not currently fitted to be safe during FTL)

Vital capabilities could be installed as rooms in these spaces, or it could be easily fitted to haul cargo. It is a mild difficulty to fit it for safe quarter space, either increasing the maximum crew capacity or increasing morale by giving residents more personal space. The ship can take ~40 mods worth of improvements, per the Science Fiction Companion.

Life Support

  • Basic air and water recycling; most areas of the ship smell bad, and the water retains faint bad tastes
  • The system is currently at 90% efficiency, and has a 100 day reserve for 1000 residents (essentially 1 day of reserve are lost for every 10 days); damage to the ship could threaten these reserves
  • Basic artificial gravity provides a relatively stable 0.8g

Current life support provides a -# morale. Improving the filtering systems can provide a general morale bonus. Taking on more reserve water and air can provide insurance against leakage and catastrophe. Storing more than 100 days of reserve would require additional tanks to be installed.

Nourishment

  • The ship has an extremely basic galley (capable of heating food and boiling water) suitable to serve the residents with some difficulty
  • The ship’s recycling and hydroponics systems generate 500 hominid-days of basic organic foodstuffs per day (mostly reclaimed nutrients processed by bacteria and algae into cardboard-tasting food pellets); with current number of residents, it can maintain indefinitely on half rations
  • The galley is stocked with 100,000 hominid-days of cheap canned goods and MREs; with current number of residents, supplemented by the recycling, this is enough for 200 total days on full rations

Current food options provide a -# morale. Improving the galley’s cooking capabilities (including by identifying skilled chefs), upgrading the recycling/hydroponics systems to provide tastier output, and taking on better nourishment can improve morale. Taking on more nourishment may be required to extend the mission without going on reduced rations.

Comforts

  • The ship has no alcohol, drugs, snacks, or other ingested comforts beyond what was smuggled in luggage
  • The ship has no comfortable furnishings
  • The ship has no entertainment options beyond what was smuggled in luggage

Current comfort options provide a -# morale. Improving these options can raise morale.

In-System Engines

  • The ship currently has basic fusion propulsion that is largely self-sustaining (with solar power when deep inside a solar system and magnetic ramscoop assist when traveling)
  • The ship has essentially no maneuverability for a crisis; depending on current relative velocity, it needs seconds or even minutes to evade dangers
  • The ship’s acceleration is limited to 1g (both due to output and the life support’s artificial gravity compensation)

Current engines could be improved to make the ship much better at reacting to danger quickly. The engines and artificial gravity would have to be improved to increase travel speed within a system (going any faster without improving the artificial gravity would result in an increasing sensation of the floor being slanted in the direction of travel).

You can use this website to calculate non-FTL travel times, or the formula that Total Time in Days = 4 × √(midpoint distance in AU/acceleration in gs).

FTL/Jump Engines

  • The ship currently has FTL engines capable of extremely long-range jumps
  • The engines must be given extremely complicated and specific data to plot a jump
  • The engines require a massive amount of high-energy exotic fuel (and start with enough for # light years of additional jumps)

Improving the navigation computer systems could make FTL travel somewhat more efficient and much less finicky. Improving the engine guts could improve fuel efficiency. The engines could be switched to a hybrid or full-electric system by replacing the fuel tanks with batteries and capacitors; this would drastically lower the jump capabilities at one time, and require the system to slowly recharge off of the in-system engines, but would lower the fuel costs.

Controls

  • The ship currently has legacy consoles for in-system maneuvering, with much of their digital assistance stripped
  • The ship’s FTL engines are currently plotted by kitbashed Earth computer systems

Improving the consoles and reattaching digital assistance systems would improve piloting checks and require fewer units of manpower to be on the bridge to drive the ship. Improving the computer systems would decrease time to plot an FTL jump and jump targeting precision.

Computers

  • The ship currently has non-VI Earth computers patched into most control systems
  • Most systems have their native controllers at the various interface points (Earth systems handle coordination, but the technicians left any systems in place that they were confident would not retain data on Earth’s location)
  • There are no entertainment systems
  • All computer interfaces are *nix command line or extremely rough GUI; no voice control
  • There are limited voice alerts and other alarms

Improving the computers would make it far easier to command ship systems and get useful feedback and warnings. Installing a competent virtual intelligence (VI) would reduce crew requirements for many tasks. Increased terminals and entertainment software would raise morale.

Sensors

  • The ship has extremely short-range radar, cameras, and radio transmission
  • Slow software rendering data from passive radio telescopes can build a basic map of the nearby system over time (but cannot resolve small or fast-moving threats until they are very close)

Improving the ship’s sensor suite (including integrated computers) would make it much faster to get an accurate map of the current system and identify threats and opportunities at a much greater range. It could also improve range and quality of communications.

Armaments

  • The ship currently has no weaponry
  • Unallocated space could be used to mount weapons

Adding weapons would make it possible to fight in the ship, or at least repel attackers. Computer systems supporting the weapons would be necessary as well.

Defenses

  • The ship has a large hull standard to a cargo ship of its size
  • It has extremely basic magnetic shielding (mostly designed to deflect micrometeorites and other space detritus)

Adding additional physical or energy defenses would provide enhanced protection from attackers and other dangers.

Exploration

  • The ship has three basic six-hominid shuttles that are able to reach a planet from low orbit; they have no armaments or defenses, and are not particularly fast to re-achieve orbit, especially under load, but they do recharge off of the ship’s engines
  • There is an extremely minimal repair bay with only the most basic of emergency tools and materials to handle a hull breach or other catastrophe
  • There are only a dozen EVA suits which are aging NASA castoffs

The ship has space for additional and/or better shuttles or other vehicles. Improving the repair bay would make the ship much safer and quicker to respond to damage. More and better EVA suits would be extremely helpful in a vacuum.

Savage Worlds Stat Block

Huge Starship: Size 16, Acc/TS 35/400, Climb 0, Toughness 44 (10), Crew 60, Cost $88M, Remaining Mods 38

Notes: Crew Reduction x4, FTL Drive, Superstructure (Passenger)

Weapons: None

Outcasts, Part 1: Alien Superheroes

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I’m a big fan of the Supergirl TV show, and I’m particularly intrigued by the fact that its particular licensing limitation* implies a world where most of the superpowers are possessed by alien refugees. What follows is a setting take on how to justify this, followed by some design musings. The next part adds on an additional option for this type of campaign.

* Most of the non-alien DC characters were already in use on other shows or otherwise not available to the TV shows.

In God’s Image

A strange truism of sapient life throughout the known universe is that it seems bound to very similar forms. Through countless channels on countless worlds, evolution eventually settles on a bipedal hominid form for its pinnacle. Many look nearly identical to humans with minor cosmetic variations, the vast majority of the remainder are superficially different but structurally the same, and only the smallest fraction are truly alien in form. Nearly all of them drink water, breathe oxygen, are comfortable in a single G of gravity, and can derive nourishment from the same kind of foods.

Many religions throughout inhabited space seek to explain this truism, and the cutting edge of xenoscience can only postulate some constants of physics and chemistry that cause life to converge in this way.

Perhaps stranger, mental acuity is similarly constrained. Few sapients are much smarter than humanity, and nearly all have understandable emotions and drives. This is also true of their machine creations. There is no such thing as a true general artificial intelligence that any sapient will admit, though many races have come up with quite sophisticated virtual intelligences that lack their own motives and creativity.

All these factors mean that cosmic society plateaus technologically and culturally. The development void between 21st century humans and any given alien species is much smaller than many scientists would expect, even for civilizations much older than those on Earth. Bright humans exposed to starfaring technology can often figure out how to work it, and even partially reverse engineer it: it turns out that very little technology is sufficiently advanced to become magic. While this technological wall is no doubt depressing to futurists, it means that humanity is poised to enter intergalactic society at far less of a deficit than might otherwise be expected.

Of course, scientific competence and cosmopolitan leanings are very different things. Exposure to the vast profusion of alien culture just waiting to embrace earthling neighbors may set off many of the worst isolationist tendencies of humanity…

Design

This uses Savage Worlds as a basis, but you could easily use your supers engine of choice (though the follow up post explains in more detail why I went with Savage Worlds).

  • Use the science fiction companion to build basic alien race traits (with humans keeping the free edge as their racial advantage).
  • Each race also gets a handful of power permissions from the super powers companion, and are built as supers (i.e., they don’t have to take the arcane background edge).
  • Characters receive a variable number of points to purchase these powers.

All characters, even the weakest NPCs, should typically get around 10 points for buying powers, to allow certain powers to be standard for the alien race (e.g., you can always assume Kryptonians can fly a little, and are stronger and tougher than humans, but they might not all be as powerful as Supergirl). Wild Cards and other important characters should receive more, at the power band you want for your game. They’re, for whatever reason, the exemplars of their race’s powers.

In general, unless you’re using an established setting, players can essentially make superheroes as they would for any other supers game, then reverse-justify their power picks to a race of which they’re an exemplar.

Example Races

Kryptonian:

  • Kryptonians have the Gimmick hindrance (require regular access to sunlight from a yellow sun) and the Power Negation hindrance (Kryptonite). They gain six additional Power Points to buy super powers beyond what is standard for the campaign.
  • Kryptonians are incredibly strong, and can buy Super Attribute (Strength).
  • Kryptonians are incredibly hard to hurt, and can buy Toughness.
  • Kryptonians have preternatural flight with no apparent means of locomotion, and can buy Flight.
  • Kryptonians can fly into space and survive for short periods, so may purchase the Resistance package required to survive in space and Doesn’t Breathe (with the minor Limitation of a finite duration).
  • Kryptonians can use heat vision and cold breath as expressions of Attack, Ranged.
  • Kryptonians have enhanced vision and hearing, and can buy Heightened Senses.

Green Martian:

  • Martians have the Weakness (Major) hindrance (Fire) and the Racial Enemy (White Martian) racial drawback. They gain +2 ranks of Strength and +1 Toughness.
  • Martians are psychic, and can buy Mind Reading and Telepathy.
  • Martians are shapeshifters, and can buy Chameleon.
  • Martians have preternatural flight with no apparent means of locomotion, and can buy Flight.
  • Martians can alter their densities to pass through solid matter, and can buy Intangibility.

Human:

  • Humans gain a bonus Edge (per the normal Savage Worlds rules).
  • Humans are stubborn, and can buy Resistance (Mental). With the lack of psychics on the planet, few even realize they are so gifted. As a whole, Earth goes mostly unknown on the galactic stage because long-range psychic probes for sapience are so globally resisted.
  • Humans breed faster than most other races, and form strong groups, such that many humans functionally have the Minions power. Aliens are often overwhelmed by human numbers and tendency to coordinate.
  • Humans are sociable, resistant to fear, and quick to overcome hardship and shock. They can buy Super Attribute (Spirit).
  • Humans tend to have an outsized share of prodigies, and can buy Super Skill (any).

Design Note: Humans needed to be designed to account for their stats being the Savage Worlds baseline, so power choices were made around things that the majority of humans could plausibly have to some extent without it being strange/noticeable.

Beyond the Wall: The Monk

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In the course of making what was initially one of several simple options for hirelings, I realized it would be very easy to hack in a workable monk variant for Beyond the Wall. The overview and playbook are below.

The Monk (Warrior/Mage Variant)

Basics

Monks follow all progression for Fighters (hit dice, attack, saves, XP, skills, and abilities) except as noted below:

  • Unarmed Combat must be your first level trait choice.
  • You must spend your initial Weapon Specialization on Unarmed Combat.
  • You may use your Dexterity bonus to determine attack and damage for Unarmed Combat (if your Dexterity is better than your Strength).
  • You cannot wear any armor.
  • You can learn special variants of rituals (see below). You automatically learn one ritual of your level or less upon obtaining each new level (including one first level ritual at character creation).

Monk Rituals

Monk ritual variants are almost always self-only (even if the normal version of the ritual could affect someone else or the whole group). They do not have material costs, but otherwise follow the normal casting time requirements (performed in meditation, martial arts exercise practice, or other genre-appropriate ritual action). They always use Wisdom as their casting ability.

Suggested rituals include:

  1. Bind Familiar, Circle of Protection, Goodberry, Mage Armor, Naming Ceremony, Staff of Might, Wanderer’s Fortune
  2. Cleansing Ritual, Endure the Elements, Magic Stones, Traveler’s Blessing
  3. Bear’s Endurance, Friends, Nepenthean Drink, Skin of the Treant, Strengthen the Bond
  4. Augury, Heart of the Ox, Wizard’s War
  5. Arcane Sight, Dispel Magic, Greater Bond, Ritual of Healing
  6. Full Restoration, Shape of Stone
  7. Determine True Name, Master’s Bond, Word of Truth

The Martial Artist Playbook

While the other warriors of your village practice with arms and armor, counting on steel to save them from the dangers of the world, you rely only upon your own body. While your neighbors often don’t understand your decision to turn yourself into a weapon through discipline, practice, and meditation, they cannot help but admit the results.

You are agile and introspective. Your Dexterity and Wisdom begin at 10, and all of your other ability scores begin at 8.

What was your childhood like?

(Use the standard villager playbook charts for What did your parents do in the village?, How did you distinguish yourself as a child?, and Who else in the village befriended you while you were growing up?)

Somehow, you learned of the possibility to perfect your fighting ability without arms and armor, and began to practice. You become a level 1 Warrior/Mage. You gain the class abilities Weapon Specialization, Knacks, and Monk Rituals, and the skill Athletics. You gain the trait Unarmed Combat (this is your first level trait selection) and your initial Weapon Specialization is in Unarmed Combat. The tables below will further define your class abilities.

How did you begin your journey?

How did you learn martial arts?

  1. A fae trickster calling himself the “Monkey King” chose you as a special subject for torment. After months, you realized these trials were teachings. +3 Str, Monk Ritual: Staff of Might
  2. A strange traveler from far away wandered into your village one day and chose you as an apprentice after seeing your promise. +3 Dex, Monk Ritual: Mage Armor
  3. You were trapped in a deadfall and were not found for several days. A hallucinatory vision taught you secrets of how to survive and fight. +3 Con, Monk Ritual: Goodberry
  4. You uncovered an old book of martial techniques unlike any fighting manual you’d seen before, and diligently practiced its forms. +3 Int, Monk Ritual: Mage Armor
  5. You left home and wandered the world for several years with only the clothes on your back, learning to fight and survive without armaments. +3 Wis, Monk Ritual: Wanderer’s Fortune
  6. You felt at home in the wilderness around town, befriended a strangely intelligent beast, and learned to fight as it did. +3 Cha, Monk Ritual: Bind Familiar

How did you integrate your new skills into village life?

  1. You spar with the other young warriors, and they can rarely lay a blow upon you. +2 Dex, Knack: Defensive Fighter
  2. You man the town’s defensive perimeter, because you can respond to approaching danger faster than anyone else. +2 Dex, Knack: Fleet
  3. You tend to find yourself getting into brawls frequently, as the other youths of the town try to test themselves against you. +2 Str, Knack: Great Strike
  4. As part of your discipline, you take on the most grueling physical tasks without complaint. +2 Con, Knack: Resilience
  5. Your awareness of the world is uncanny, and you can almost shoot a bow blindfolded, making you an excellent archer. +2 Wis, Knack: Weapon Specialist (Longbow)
  6. You spend much of your time in introspection and meditation, knowing that you must only act when necessary, but then with great certainty. +2 Wis, Knack: Fleet

What inspired you to finally end your trials and meditations and go forth into the world?

  1. You have exceeded the challenges the village has to offer, and need to test yourself against harder problems to continue improving. The friend to your right has long been your friendly sporting rival and sparring partner, and gains +1 Str. +2 Str, Skill: Athletics
  2. You travel light and thus can easily move quietly and unseen, so the village has great need of you as a scout. The friend to your right helped you learn to travel without being detected, pointing out when you could be seen, and gains +1 Dex. +2 Dex, Skill: Stealth
  3. Your exercise and contemplation frequently takes you far into the wilderness around town, and you’ve begun to see things that could be threats if not dealt with. The friend to your right has been with you on some of these camping trips, and gains +1 Con. +2 Con, Skill: Survival
  4. You learned that, throughout the ages, there have been others that also practiced martial arts, and that you might find ways to improve yourself by visiting ancient and far-flung sites. The friend to your right found the first history book that set you on your path, and gains +1 Int. +2 Int, Skill: Ancient History
  5. Assassins with strange features tried to slip into town undetected, with deadly intentions for your village elders, and you saw them and rallied the town before they could strike. The friend to your right found a symbol they left behind that hints at the threat to the village, and gains +1 Wis. +2 Wis, Skill: Alertness
  6. The town’s leadership has long been intrigued by your ability to fight when arms and armor are not permitted, and have been encouraging you to do whatever you need to become a more effective envoy or bodyguard to diplomats. The friend to your right helped you practice your social graces, and gains +1 Cha. +2 Cha, Skill: Etiquette

Long ago, you found an item with hidden mysteries, that has long been your focus for meditation and a symbol of your quest. What is this token?

  1. A staff taken from the heart of a a lightning-struck tree, covered in subtle natural patterns. +2 Str, a fine quarterstaff
  2. A bow covered in intricate, interlocking carvings, hinting at the unity of the cosmos. +2 Dex, a fine longbow
  3. A platinum-and-gold ring, delicately knotted in strange runes in a language no one can read. +2 Dex, an ornate ring
  4. A belt of several strands of colorful leather, braided through silver and iron charms. +2 Con, a braided charm belt
  5. A strand of large beads of a variety of materials and colors. +2 Wis, a necklace of beads
  6. A tunic of a fine, silken weave, patterned with designs too complex for local weavers, obviously made in a far-away land. +2 Wis, a fine woven shirt

Pathways Fantasy World Creation

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This is kind of the opposite of my previous Pathways World Creation idea: rather than making characters first and the world to suit, this is an experiment in doing pathways creation without player characters involved. See the linked Smallville tag on this post for more information about doing Pathways creation, if you haven’t played Smallville or previously read my other posts on this topic.

As usual, start with a big blank sheet of paper for drawing nodes and connecting lines. Unlike usual, do not add the player characters to the map initially (you’re developing a world for the players to eventually create characters to fit). The goal of this is ultimately to create a world-first setting, where the player characters aren’t necessarily attached to anything from the start, but to still give the players buy-in to all the primary elements.

For every step in this process, I’d advise that the GM should be treated as a player (i.e., getting to add and connect things at least as often as the players do). Traditionally, the GM does not participate in the Pathways process, but that process is often in a framework of a greater setting that the GM has already bought into. Since this is generating so much about the world, giving the GM the ability to poke at the process to highlight ideas he or she likes makes it easier to roll with the game indefinitely.

Step 0: Theme and Conflict

This step is special: it may be done normally, with the players going around the table, or may be entirely pre-seeded by the GM to get some initial core input into the important elements of the world (i.e., this is set up so, if the GM already has some seed ideas for the campaign, it’s possible to just put them as the core for the whole framework).

  • Add a short theme (triangle) to the map. This should ideally be a single word, and certainly not more than a very short sentence: it will gain more definition as other elements link to it.
  • Add an antagonist (hexagon) or macguffin (pentagon) to the map. This should be a short but evocative name; the actual details of it will be generated from linking to other elements.
  • Draw an arrow from an antagonist or macguffin to a theme, and define the connection as an aspect-style blurb.

Step 1: Peoples and Places

  • Add a location (box) to the map. This should be a whole country or region. As usual, give it an evocative, short name, and allow details to come out from connections.
  • Add a race (double-ringed circle) to the map. The GM may veto any races from the rules that he or she doesn’t want to deal with, but this is otherwise a way to say that that race is important to the setting in some way. If your game system doesn’t have mechanical races, give a short, evocative name for a culture instead.
  • Draw an arrow from an antagonist or macguffin to a location or race and define the relationship.
  • Draw an arrow from a location or race to a theme, and define the connection as an aspect-style blurb.
  • Draw an arrow from a race to a location and give it one of three types of label: “homeland” (where the race is from), “Stronghold” (the race is politically dominant in that location), or a negative label (such as the race being banned, enslaved, or otherwise mistreated in that location). These can double or even triple-up if it makes sense logically (e.g., the elves are politically dominant in their own homeland, but are also widely feared by all other races in that land).

Step 2: Politics

  • Add an NPC (circle) to the map. This should be someone very politically important to the setting, but not directly villainous (that would be an antagonist). As usual, give the NPC a short evocative name and wait for details to fall out of connections.
  • Add an organization (star or double-ringed pentagon) to the map. This will become a politically important secret society, knightly order, wizard cabal, thieves’ guild, etc. As usual, a short, evocative name is important.
  • Draw an arrow from an NPC to an antagonist or macguffin and define the relationship.
  • Draw an arrow from an antagonist or macguffin to an organization and define the relationship.
  • Draw an arrow from an NPC or organization to a theme, and define the connection as an aspect-style blurb.

Step 3: Further Linkages

  • Draw an arrow from any (non-theme) element that is not currently connected to a theme to a theme, and define the connection as an aspect-style blurb. (If all elements are tied to a theme, tie one to a second theme.)
  • Draw an arrow from whichever (non-theme) element currently has the least connections to any other element, and define the relationship.
  • Draw an arrow from any (non-theme) element to any other element and define the relationship.

Step 4: Secondary Elements

  • Add your choice of another one of the following: antagonist, macguffin, location, race, NPC, or organization.
  • Draw an arrow from any element with no connections to any other element (except themes), and define the relationship.
  • Draw an arrow from any element (that is not currently connected to a theme) to a theme, and define the connection as an aspect-style blurb.
  • Draw an arrow from whichever (non-theme) element currently has the least connections to any other element, and define the relationship.
  • Draw an arrow from any (non-theme) element to any other element and define the relationship.

If your map is still sparse for your group’s tastes, repeat steps 3 and 4 until you’re satisfied with the map.

Come Buy, Come Buy (Part 3)

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Apparently, I had a lot more to say on this topic than I thought, and it’s taken me until the third post to get to the item list that was the core of why I started writing this series in the first place. So without further ado…

Types of Items for Sale

Trinkets

Not every vendor in the market has epic items that will change your life forever. Probably the majority of them are a lot like their mortal counterparts: selling the everyday things that visitors to the market might need. Depending on the weirdness of the average customer, this could vary from goods that wouldn’t be out of place at any mortal market to items that have similar functions but alien appearances. Mostly, for mortal visitors, this winds up basically being tchotchkes: the kind of slightly unusual token you bring back to show your neighbors that you’ve seen wonders they couldn’t even imagine.

They might even accept your own coin or unusual goods for trade, letting you dip your toe in the market without bartering anything you aren’t prepared to part with.

Snacks and Merriment

It wouldn’t be a fair without delicious food, drink, and revelry to part you from your coin. As mentioned previously, they’re probably not glamoured fruits that will make you sick to death or tricks that keep you from ever leaving faerieland. At least the reputable vendors don’t sell that kind of thing. But the foods are delicious, empty calories, often spun into daring shapes that can’t be accomplished in human ovens with mortal gravity, and the entertainments are… extremely memorable.

Many of them are even touched with magic and might give you a small bonus to something relevant for an hour or two.

Exotic Goods

Beside the trinket vendors are the merchants with the things that are truly beyond what you can get in the mortal world. They sell bolts of cloth or fully-tailored clothing better than anything you’ve ever felt, metals that mortal metallurgists wouldn’t believe could exist, gems made of captured light, and chemicals that would make a mortal alchemist or baker weep at the possibilities.

Many of these things don’t last long outside of the market, falling apart under coarse mortal hands or turning into leaves with the dawn. If you can keep them up, the maintenance requires care and/or magic almost (almost) beyond what it’s worth. But they still might be useful for as long as they last, particularly if you’ve been invited to an event and aren’t properly attired.

Some of them might last, of course, if it suits the whimsy of the GM for them to persist. In particular, raw materials might survive into the mortal world… what better way to vex mortal crafters that try and fail to work them?

Secrets

If you need to know a particularly useful and hidden bit of lore, the market is the place to ask around. As noted previously, information at the market changes hands like physical goods: you’re paying not just to know something, but to be the holder of an exclusive (or, at least, extremely limited) piece of data. You can get weaknesses of your enemies, quest hooks, lost histories, and even spells from the right vendor for the right price.

Of course, the fact that you were asking around for these things is strangely free of the limited nature of secrets… the fae might gossip about your desires to almost anyone. That might particularly include someone who desperately wanted to know a secret that you now exclusively own.

Enchantment Shifting

To mortals, “permanent” magic is static, but, to many of the fae, it’s much more fluid. Have a curse you need taken off of you? Have a magic weapon that’s not your specialized type? There may be someone that can help you move that enchantment to a home more to your liking.

Magic as Commodity

The standard consumables are just the start for the types of magic you can buy at the market. Virtually any spell could find a home in a crafted good: to the fae, it’s not enchantment, just their own particular brand of handiwork. As noted previously, these should often be much easier to get than the rules expect, because of the spoilage factor.

Memories and Talents

Of course, the core currency of the market can also be an end in itself. Need to boost an ability or skill? Someone else may have paid in the right qualities that a merchant could distill the draught for you.

These bonuses should range from the slight to the overwhelming, and from the momentary to the permanent. Maybe you only need the memories of a genius or the muscles of a troll for a moment to solve a problem, or maybe you’d like a slighter bonus for longer. The pricing for this should probably start similar to a potion that boosts an ability for a short period, adjusted for magnitude and duration, and discounted for drawbacks.

In addition to the normal drawback of spoilage, the hidden drawback of this kind of thing is the danger of taking in someone else’s identity.

Mental ability scores and skills tend to come from a constellation of memories and emotions, not all of them healthy. Is it worth it to be smart, if you suddenly have a genius’ pedantry and arrogance? Is it worth it to be incredibly charismatic and artistic, if you are suddenly wracked with depression engendered by a long-lost muse?

Physical ability scores and skills can be even more troubling, drifting into the realm of body horror. The muscles of a troll may come with many of the troll’s other physical characteristics. And sometimes the stories of being turned into frogs are just an offended merchant selling a particular distillation of a potion of agility…

Teaching a Mortal to Fish

Perhaps the most efficient purchase you can make, if you’re mystically inclined, are the secrets used to build containers and fill them with currency. With sufficient dedication, you can spend the weeks until the next fair gathering dross from your own home town out of dreams, emotions, and secrets no one will even miss, and save up for something at no cost to your own identity. For the patient and industrious, it’s the best investment you could make.

Of course, some people say that many fae were once mortal practitioners with a greed for faerie things and the right start down the slippery slope…

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