D&D: Political Alignments

Leave a comment

One of the many weird things about D&D alignments is that Law vs. Chaos tends to do double duty indicating whether you’re an orderly-minded person and whether you prefer a large, law-bound society or a loose, small-group affiliation. When elves tend chaotic, it’s because of their hippie-style small family groups based on respect rather than a deep legal system. Similarly, orcs tend chaotic because they form tribal warbands where there are no rules beyond those imposed through fear of the chief. So I got to thinking about ways to pull that political component out completely from whether or not you’re inclined to do whatever random thing jumps into your head.

Is a political alignment system actually useful? I dunno. Is the current alignment system all that useful?

Empire vs. Tribe

Individuals that favor organizing people into as large a social structure as possible have an Imperial alignment. Those with a benevolent outlook feel that wars and injustice would end if everyone in the world was bound by the same leaders and justice system. Those with less noble aims still prefer a world where you only have to learn and follow one creed and culture to get along anywhere.

Those that instead favor building society through direct ties of blood and respect have a Tribal alignment. They believe that society begins to collapse the moment justice must be administered by someone that doesn’t have personal knowledge of those being judged. “Impartial” is just another word for “uninformed,” and they’d rather stick with tight-knit groups of no more than a few hundred people with loose ties to their neighboring groups.

In between these two, some split the difference and consider themselves of the National alignment. They reject that you must have a personal relationship with your leaders and judges, but still feel that broader ties of race, religion, and culture can only stretch so far. At a certain point, a society would get too large for everyone to have the same aims and willingly agree to the same structures. They think empires fall not because of communication, but because of an unsolvable difference in subject peoples.

Obviously, all three types tend to have drawbacks.

Those that favor Empires, even without the ultimate goal of subjugating the entire world for their emperor, tend to ignore the personal in the legal. They’ll try to make rules apply when they’re clearly wrong for the situation, or to write laws so broad and well-meaning that they’re useless in practice. They tend to be blind to dramatic cultural differences in needs from the law.

Those that favor Nations can become the worst sort of racists: folk that are too different are seen as basically alien. Even the benevolent among them see many outsiders as unable to be integrated into society, and can easily ignore ghettos and similar injustices because they think “those people” deserve their own laws, even as an island in another nation. The worst among them regularly start genocidal wars with their country’s neighbors.

Those that favor Tribes are not just limited to the wilderness: organized crime, guilds, military units, nobility, and law enforcement can easily inculcate a belief that laws should apply differently within the familial organization than in the society at large. They all can grow to feel that the laws of the larger culture don’t apply to them, and only their personal rules should matter. Even in the wilderness, justice based on bias can easily become extremely unfair when elders are weak to favoritism or cupidity.

Republic vs. Monarchy

It’s really hard to get a democratic regime off the ground, but those that favor it have a Republican alignment. They feel that every person in a society should have input into its laws and governance. Annoyingly, many tend to draw a circle around “persons” that doesn’t include all individuals in the society, but they still prefer a broader base of power than in other forms.

Conversely, the most common beliefs in support of a single strong leader have a Monarchist alignment. For those that have actually thought about it, they think that a single decider is more effective than many special interests all pulling in different directions. Particularly in war, even a tyrant is better than confusion.

There are relatively few in the middle of the two extremes, and they can be considered Oligarchists for lack of a better term. They agree with the monarchists that the masses cannot be trusted with control of society, but they think the risk of a single bad leader is too great. They prefer a small group of powerful and wise leaders that are few enough to get things done but numerous enough to check weakness or madness in one of their own.

These beliefs can reach across all sizes of government.

Those that favor Republics expect rule by the many to apply in an empire as easily as in a tribe. Obviously a tribal republic can easily be a direct democracy, where all individuals in the group offer their input toward rulings. As the society becomes larger, republican sentiment requires more layers of coordination. True republicans are always wary of the representatives they’ve elected as proxies for a democratic nation or empire becoming oligarchs.

Those that favor Oligarchies tend to be happier with the reality on the ground in empires and nations. In a monarchy, the reality of governance falls to important courtiers, and in a republic, elected officials inevitably draw power. Oligarchists just wish these systems could go ahead and abolish the weak link at the top of the monarchy, or the confused desires of the masses of the republic. In a tribe, they tend to favor a collection of elders or deacons rather than a single strong leader, but may be happy with a much smaller number of oligarchs than they would need in a large society.

Those that favor Monarchies are often happiest in a tribal setting, where they can personally know their chieftain. The larger the society they prefer, the more their personal relationship with their monarch is necessarily abstract. Monarchic imperialists often see a narrow difference between emperor and deity: who could truly make laws for the entire world other than someone so abstracted as to have become divine?

Advertisements

D&D Premise: Lord of the Flies

1 Comment

Where do goblins come from?

While only the most skeptical of city-dwellers, insulated from the terrors of the wilderness, would opine that there are no such things as goblins, those that have encountered them are largely at a loss to explain their origin. Though many a hero for law and goodness has worried about the ethical conundrum that would entail from finding innocents of the species, none know of such a thing ever happening. Occasionally, a nest or warren of them is found that, if squinted at, seems like a cruel mockery of a town, but there is no real evidence of a greater culture or interaction with other goblin groups. Most religions write them off as merely the sins of the kith personified, to be killed on sight.

They’re not far wrong.

Another great mystery of the world is the nature of heroism. If a city gets large enough, it begins to train advanced techniques in the pursuit of battle, craft, and magic. Those that spend years and years training at colleges and gaining experience in the world can become extremely competent. Most humans and similarly-lived kith may master complex techniques equivalent to the third circle of magic before they enter their dotage, but it takes the lifespan of the elves to truly master such techniques. Still, only the most ancient of the elves, sequestered deep in their lands, profess to understand magics of the ninth circle.

Yet, there are constant tales of small groups of adventuring heroes that seem to have mastered skills while still young that rival the eldest scholars of the land. They don’t like to speak of what makes them different, if they understand at all.

There is a theory called spontaneous generation. While learned sages with an interest in experimentation are convinced that flies work much like moths, laying eggs that grow into maggots as a larval form before eating enough offal to become flies themselves, most common folk do not have access to this science. As far as they know, maggots and flies are spontaneously generated from rotting meat. When they leave meat to rot, maggots appear as if from nowhere, and flies thereafter.

They think the same thing about goblins, and they’re missing the point in exactly the same way.

Goblin hierarchies don’t make much sense. If they didn’t look similar in general shape and work with one another when no one else will, none would believe that the cowardly goblin, organized hobgoblin, and bestial bugbear were of one race. Were any hero to ever find evidence of a goblin civilization, it would have to explain much about the processes that could result in such differentiation in both size and temperament. Why are there no cowardly hobgoblins or organized bugbears? Does growing past a certain size change their entire mental state?

It all comes down to the flies.

Goblin flies are distinctive, if you look closely enough: greenish and with a goblinish cast to their features. Few have made a study of the differences, because they come in a swarm unaware on small villages far from scientists, and few kith tend to survive to spread the tale. First, they bite the livestock and small animals they can catch. The beasts get sick, and many of them die from the strange pox. If you don’t burn the bodies quickly enough, the larval goblins within manage to eat enough to burst free, fully formed. Their first task is to try to add more offal to the piles of their nascent siblings, creating enough rotting meat to build a whole goblin. Some say, in the death throes of the illness, the smallest animals are driven to seek out piles of other dead to add their own meat to the stores. Deep in the woods, sometimes a big predator falls ill. While prey and vermin universally produce the small goblins, a big enough predator can result in a bugbear. Those that named it must have known better than any ever guessed what was going on.

Kith are harder to bite, and tend to resist the illness better, in the early days. But as the goblins kill the livestock, foul the fields and the water, and wear down the town’s guards with their attempts at incursions, it becomes harder and harder to stay healthy. Once the disease takes, the people fall just as ill as the livestock. There’s something about the minds of the kith that speaks to the growing goblin, and so the hobgoblins that burst forth from kith corpses share the kith tendency towards organization and structure that their brethren born of beasts lack. Never think of them as your loved ones turned into hobgoblins: that’s not your friend, it’s what ate her from within. Any similarities are just echoes of her mind that the larvae picked up.

Sometimes, though, an infection gets resisted. The healthy, or just the lucky, overcome the disease, purging it from their systems. But something of the magic remains. Perhaps it was the soul triumphing over the evil of the goblin plague, or the strange effects of magical fever dreams, but the survivors gain powers. For kith, this is one way that an adventurer is born: somehow, it’s much easier and faster to pick up the skills of battle, craft, and magic than for others. For beasts, this is often how the stranger magical creatures arise.

Adventurers don’t like to talk about it, because for many of them their first adventure was using their newfound strengths to purge the goblin infestation from what was once their idyllic village home. Often there’s not much left. They adventure because everything they know is gone and, if they’re honest, they’re seeking an answer to what happened to their families.

It’s clear that the goblin flies aren’t natural. They choose their targets. They come when those villages are least able to defend them. Somewhere, there’s a malevolent intelligence directing these swarms to bring ruin upon the lives of well-meaning settlers and peasants:

A lord of the flies.

Troupe-Style Secret Identity Supers

1 Comment

One of my favorite parts of comics and long-form supers stories (e.g., TV series) is the ability to spend a lot of time focused on the personal lives of superheroes, particularly out of costume. This tends to be completely lost in video games, and is hard to include in tabletop RPGs. It’s difficult to lavish a lot of spotlight on the detailed NPC interactions of one member of the team.

I think that a lot of the latest crop of supers media, particularly the Defenders-verse, points at a way to dig into this style of play a little more. You just need your players to be comfortable:

  • Having multiple PCs, most of whom are supporting cast for other players’ superhero PCs
  • Switching characters frequently between scenes (in the style of Fiasco or similar story games)

The possible benefits of this style include:

  • The GM can include plotlines where PCs aren’t just reactive to the problem of the week: investigations and personal life can be much more player-directed
  • Players are much more likely to have a PC they can bring into a scene, even if it’s not their main
  • There’s a much finer-grained level of risk than normal supers plots: it’s much easier to threaten and even kill supporting cast PCs without taking the player out of the game

Practically, this style of play means:

  • Each player has a main (superhero) PC with a full character sheet, and at least one secondary PC for each other player. The secondary characters likely have slimmed down character sheets (either just by virtue of not having powers, or actually stripped down to just their most salient traits for ease of reference; for speed of play, they might even start with just a few salient traits and gradually build to full sheets as they’re played).
  • The secondary PCs are fixtures in their associated main PC’s life. Some of them may know about the character’s heroics. Some may have reasons to be in her life due to strong secret identity ties. All of them are important enough to the main PC to want them around in many circumstances, but who should not just be totally on board with all the hero’s decisions (i.e., there should be tensions to play for conflict, but the secondary PCs will almost always stand by their main PC when it’s important).
  • The GM should switch viewpoints between main PCs living their lives apart from the other main PCs. Each switch to another main PC should be aggressively framed to draw in secondary PCs (e.g., “you’re just getting home from the fight and your wife is waiting up…”). The overall scene framing should probably try to balance out player screen time (e.g., if the first scene is Hero A and her wife, the next scene should be some combination of the players that weren’t playing Hero A or her wife).
  • As in most round-robin style play, I suggest having a strong social contract about metagaming, but allowing everyone to be present to watch scenes where none of their PCs are present (with an eye to letting them jump in if suddenly one of their PCs is relevant).
  • A session’s plots should probably be thematically linked to one another even when they don’t connect, and often should serve to draw the main PCs together (e.g., Hero A and Hero B were working the same case all along). Sessions, or at least story arcs, build up to team-ups of the full super group. Even when just a pair of heroes meet, they could include members of their supporting cast played by the other players.

For character generation:

  • Create a bunch of cards with common relationship tropes (suggestions below).
  • While making characters, have each player take turns to claim a relationship card from the pile for a type of relationship that makes sense for that hero PC (e.g., “I want my hero to have a sibling, a significant other, a police contact, and a mentor”).
  • Put the hero’s name on the card, and slightly customize the role (e.g., Player A takes the “SO” card and labels it “Hero A’s Girlfriend”).
  • Haggle with the other players to see who’s interested in playing which of your roles. Ultimately, each other player should have at least one of your supporting characters. (If you have a strong gender imbalance at your table, try not to force the one guy/girl to play everyone else’s SOs: that’s not cool.)
  • Work out some high level details about the secondary character between the hero player and the holding player so both players are happy with the potential interactions.
  • If it makes sense to all players involved, a player might combine two secondary character cards into one PC (e.g., Player B decides Hero A’s girlfriend doesn’t know about her lover’s alter ego, but is actually Hero C’s spy contact, and it will be a surprise to everyone once those connections and secret jobs come out).
  • Once all relationships are settled, come up with stats for the secondary PCs using whatever method the GM has set up.

Suggested relationship types include:

  • Parental Figure: A parent or guardian makes an excellent foil/support.
  • Dependent: If you have a child or ward, it’s likely a teen old enough to actually be meaningfully onscreen.
  • Sibling: Your brothers and sisters are going to find out you’re a superhero.
  • Crush: This is not someone that doesn’t even know you exist, probably, because the tension is hanging out with feelings left unspoken.
  • SO: Many heroes have the tension of whether they can ever have a committed relationship in the business.
  • Spouse: You’re married, but does your spouse know you’re a hero?
  • Ex-SO: You still interact regularly, so why did you break up and why are you still on good enough terms for screen time?
  • Best Friend: Have you told your best friend? If not, is she really your best friend?
  • Confidant: This may not actually be a good friend, but it’s someone who knows your secret and is, thus, involved.
  • Enabler: This is someone who knows your secret enough to cover for you while you’re heroing.
  • Work Partner: This is either a business partner, police partner, or someone that’s otherwise so close to you at work that your absences definitely affect her.
  • Employee: This may be your personal assistant who’s totally clued in, or one of your many employees that’s closest to you and may know your secret.
  • Boss: Your boss should probably have a little more relevance in your life than work, unless most of your secondary characters and secret identity plots are work-related.
  • The Help: Are you rich enough to have a butler or man/girl Friday? Is that nice?
  • Sidekick: You can certainly have a sidekick, as long as the relationship is such that she doesn’t come along on your big team-up missions for some reason.
  • Mentor: This is likely the retired hero that got you into the business, but may be a more mundane mentor figure that’s not a boss or parent.
  • Friendly Rival: This town may be big enough for another super that you encounter frequently, who you’re grudgingly friendly with and team up with sometimes, but who has no interest in participating in your big team-ups.
  • Tech/Gear Provider: Do you have a costume guy? Do you have a gadget lady? You should get at least one of those. They’re great.
  • Hacker/Operator: For many heroes, it’s useful to have a computer-savvy person in the chair/van that can hack things, research for you, and otherwise provide remote tech support.
  • Handler: If you’re heroing for a (quasi-)government agency or mega-corp, you probably have a handler/liaison.
  • Spy Contact: This friend probably shouldn’t be operating on domestic soil… unless at least one of you isn’t on domestic soil, and you’re friends anyway.
  • Law Enforcement Contact: Every good hero has a friend in the police/FBI to go to for procedural help and the occasional backup.
  • Criminal Contact: Some heroes cultivate a CI or are just bent enough to not mind the small crimes, and that kind of contact can get you useful illicit information, substances, or documentation.
  • Lawyer: Particularly on the street level and/or with a public identity, it’s important to be on good terms with your lawyer.
  • Medical Worker: You really want to be friends with some kind of plucky EMT or doctor that makes house calls and can fight a ninja or two in a pinch.
  • Investigator: If your own skills don’t bend toward investigation, a friendly gumshoe is a great help in finding information.

Serial Numbers Filed Off: Streaming Sci-Fi

Leave a comment

Exalted Clay

(D&D, Scion, Nobilis, etc.)

The gods do not like to speak of the real reason for the punishment of Prometheus. “Giving fire to mankind” was the metaphor for his crime: teaching a collection of demigods and mortals the skills to make themselves a threat to the divine themselves, and selling them on the idea that for mankind to be free, there could be no immortal tyrants upon the mountaintop. The uprising was narrowly defeated, Prometheus bound, and the souls of his Dragon’s Teeth locked away in Tartarus for all eternity.

Or until today.

Someone nearly succeeded in murdering Zeus. He awoke, battered and bloody washed ashore of the river Lethe. He’d lost days of memory. But he was certain that the only explanation was that another god had tried to kill him.

His only choice was to free a handful of Dragon’s Teeth to attempt to solve the crime, with freedom their reward for success. After all, who else could he trust to be impartial, to hunt a murderous god, other than those who were formerly bent upon destroying all of the gods?

And will this hamartia of hubris finally bring low mighty Zeus, as it has so many patriarchs of the past?

 

Star Wars: The Force Meddles

Comments Off on Star Wars: The Force Meddles

This article contains spoilers for The Last Jedi (and likely other Star Wars films).

A significant difference, in my mind, between Star Wars and Star Trek is how many story-moving coincidences I’m willing to accept. If, in the course of Star Trek, a main character transports to a random planet and happens to land a brief foot chase away from other significant characters, I’ll be pulled out of the film. I reject narratives where things happen because they’re convenient to the narrative, even though they’d be extremely unlikely if the world operated on its own consistent internal logic. I don’t require much explanation for events, but a lampshade at minimum on the audacity of the coincidence is appreciated. Things that just occur for no reason other than they’re needed to advance the plot feel lazy.

Except, that is, in Star Wars. Both BB-8 and Finn happen to stumble on Rey within a foot chase from the Millennium Falcon? Sure. The Force did it. The Force meddles. It binds us and penetrates us. It wants interesting things to happen, and interesting people to get together. The Force is an extremely useful bit of universe physics for keeping your narrative lean. In general, the language of most of the films goes even further: the Force loves a hero*. If you try to do the right thing, even when things look bleak, it will turn out alright if you just stick it out. The Force is a great explanation for player narrative currency like Fate Points, Bennies, etc.

So it took me a while to pin down why The Last Jedi felt jarring to me. It ultimately came down to feeling like the film had suddenly forgotten the meddling Force. Poe and Finn were doing the right thing as hard and righteously as possible, and things were not turning out well for them. In fact, DJ showing up in Finn and Rose’s cell right when they needed one of the best slicers in the galaxy seemed like even more of an unexplained coincidence than the films have ever tried before, and it was not in their favor. Leia and Holdo berated Poe for his heroism as if he was not aware that he was living in a pulp universe where making the safe play was usually unnecessary. Why had the Force forsaken them? Why had Leia and Holdo missed that Poe, like the audience, was aware of his place in a universe running on pulp story logic?

And the way I came up with to explain it is meaningful for Star Wars tabletop games if it also makes sense to you.

What was different about The Last Jedi, as opposed to most other media in the series where we’ve seen strange coincidences abound in the support of our heroes was one simple fact: when everything was going wrong for Finn, Rose, and Poe, no Force sensitives were conscious and focused on their efforts.

Most previous film sequences of pulp derring-do feature at least one Force sensitive on the team, being rescued by the team, or both. Poe has experienced years of missions where reckless actions get supported by last-second coincidences in his favor, and he’s never once thought about the fact that Leia was on the comms willing his success. The Force is basically the Secret: Force sensitives put their needs as silent prayers out into the universe, and the Force does what it can to help out. During The Last Jedi, when everything is going wrong, the only Force sensitives paying a lick of attention to our heroes are on the First Order team. No wonder the one big coincidence isn’t in their favor. Leia would really like Poe to realize that the vast majority of people don’t see their heroism constantly rewarded, and he can’t count on her always being around letting him skirt the rules of causality. (Plus, things more or less turning out okay also doesn’t mean a bunch of people won’t die in the attempt.)

And this has obvious ramifications for Star Wars games:

  • In the strong form, you might limit narrative currency spends to only be available when fulfilling the goals of your team’s Force sensitives. If your Jedi doesn’t care, you can’t spend points to make it happen. This obviously makes Jedi even more powerful and more central, so I don’t necessarily recommend it, but list it for completeness.
  • In the moderate form, Force sensitives on the team increase everyone’s narrative resource refresh rate. This could be a good enough benefit that my previous advice to make Force Sensitive a 0-point trait is too cheap, and it should be priced higher. A Force sensitive on your team, even if she isn’t a Jedi, improves everyone’s access to convenient coincidences.
  • In the weakest form, the GM can simply consider the array of Force sensitive intentions surrounding an issue to affect the chance of favorable or unfavorable coincidences. When a lot of Force users are concentrating on something from multiple sides, things can get weird.

 

* To steal and paraphrase from a popular local LARP where it was Death who loved heroes

Assorted Game Seeds

Comments Off on Assorted Game Seeds

I tend to have a bunch of adventure ideas that I’ll never get around to running. This post is me putting them down in writing to maybe get them out of my head (with an aside of having a place to link to if I later ask players what kind of campaign they want to play short notice). They’re mostly tuned for various flavors of D&D. Feel free to steal them.

We Inherited a Magic Shop

The PCs were all low-level retail staff at one of those mysterious old magic shops run by an elderly wizard of great power. Maybe it was one of those stores that appears suddenly in a dark alley when you least expect it, and sells you something that changes your life and then is gone when you look for it again. Regardless, the boss’ vaults of miscellaneous items were impossibly deep, and the shop seemed to be less about turning a profit than giving the old man something fun to do in his retirement.

Then some high level evil adventurers showed up and tried to roll the shopkeeper to rip the place off. Turns out, they weren’t quite prepared for him to be as formidable as he was, and he died driving them off… for the time being. Now you’ve got this whole shop full of items, a dead mentor to avenge, and some much more powerful enemies that will probably be after you for the contents of the shop.

But, hey, you’re outfitted in gear valued for the greatest heroes in the land. That ought to let you punch above your weight class, right?

(I would essentially stock a shop with a random assortment of gear with a value appropriate for a party of 20th level characters, as generated by my magic shop app.)

Pacifist Apocalypse

The end of days is happening, and the gates of the afterlife have closed. Any souled creature that dies soon rises again as an undead of potency based on its power in life, and attempting to preemptively dismember or restrain the corpse tends to just have it come back as an incorporeal spirit.

Unfortunately, most of the rest of the world doesn’t seem to have figured this out quite as readily as you have. Can you work your way through the usual high fantasy tropes to try to save the world while trying really, really hard not to kill any of your living opposition? Every slaughtered goblin is just a zombie you’ll have to deal with in a moment, so it’s worthwhile to see if you can just talk out your problems before the walking dead truly outnumber the living.

Former Unwitting Hosts of Heroes

None of you started as anything special; you were just peasants scattered throughout the domain with no hopes of bettering your place in the world. The only thing interesting about you was that you were about to die at the right moment. Some epic heroes from another world needed to get something done on this one, and the ritual they used to travel actually had them possess the bodies of those fated to die at about the moment of travel. One moment, you were about to die badly, surrounded by brigands or facing down a monster or other impossible hazard. The next, you were someone else, suddenly merely a passenger in your own body.

The heroes had a plan. Easily escaping the hazard that would have proved fatal to you, they began to travel. Their wizard teleported to their rendezvous point and began creating some rudimentary magic items that they’d need in their quest (for their raiment had not traveled with them). As the others traveled over land, they did odd jobs throughout the realm for coin and miscellaneous useful magical trinkets. Reconvened, they did what epic heroes do: they marshaled armies, knocked over villains with resources they needed, and then, ultimately, saved their world and yours. The quest accomplished, their spirits returned to their home dimension.

And the group of you were suddenly standing around with a completely undeserved reputation, a decent but not exceptional brace of gear useful to skilled heroes, a strange smattering of adventuring experiences from your dreamlike time as the host of a hero, and… perhaps most importantly… a whole legion of enemies that the heroes made in their haste to accomplish their quest in an expedient faction. There are going to be a ton of people that expect you to solve the next set of major problems they face… and a ton of really pissed off bad guys that would just love it if you split up and tried to go back to your pedestrian lives. Good luck.

(Play a short series of sessions with the PCs as 20th level badasses, using in medias res a lot to heighten the sense that the eventual PCs don’t really know the full scope of the intentions or capabilities of the heroes they’re hosting. Give them lots of no-good-answer choices to make enemies and upset the politics of the campaign setting. Then leave them drastically (but not completely; they did learn a little from watching after all) de-leveled in whatever state they were at the completion of the adventure.)

The Inevitable Sessility of High Level

This is more of a rules hack that implies a setting concept, but it’s been bouncing around my brain for a few days, so I’m including it.

Any XP awards gained from completing encounters are divided by your level. You can reduce this penalty (to a minimum of 1) by undergoing downtime equal to one day per Tier level per point of penalty. For example, an 11th level, Tier 3 character needs to spend 30 days of downtime to be back to no XP penalty (3 days per divisor point from 11 down to 1). After 15 days, the same character would be at a divisor of 6. (It’s left up to the math skills of the GM to rework the XP system so this is phrased as a rested bonus rather than an unrested penalty, because that’s often more palatable to players.)

At the GM’s option, having small one-off encounters does not reset this penalty, and a serious one-off encounter should bump it back up by a point. Normally, the penalty stays the same for the duration of an entire adventure (as long as there are not significant downtime breaks; travel to and from adventure sites doesn’t count). Basically, you spend some downtime, you go on an adventure, and then you’re ready for another vacation.

What qualifies as an “adventure” doesn’t necessarily change just because it’s trivial for you. If a high level party spends an afternoon clearing kobolds out of a mine, even though they’re in no real danger, it’s still an adventure. It resets their penalty.

The intention of this system on the setting is to create a natural explanation for why high-level characters spend so much time lurking in taverns trying to recruit newbs to do things (it’s a total waste of their time if they’ve been building up downtime for something worth their while). It should also encourage higher level characters to spend more time on domain play (spending a lot of time building strongholds, recruiting followers, and researching magic). Finally, it should introduce a system to slow down leveling to something that’s “reasonable:” one of my annoyances with D&D adventure paths is the tendency for PCs to rocket up to high level within a few months, which it’s heavily implied that most characters in the setting took years and years to become high level.

Ultimately, the setting that ought to emerge from this rule is one where up-and-coming adventurers are constantly on the road, building up their treasure base and taking the odd couple of days of downtime between adventures, receiving quests from semi-retired adventurers. Once they start hitting the mid-levels, they begin to need longer downtime, so start thinking about investing their earnings into residences that cut down on their costs (staying in inns every night is expensive) and sources of renewable income (like a tax or tithe base). At the higher levels, “adventures” mean dealing with threats to your domain (or your liege lord’s greater domain) no more than once a month that can’t be pawned off onto lower level adventurers, when what you really want to do is spend time getting that new tower built just right or that new spell researched.

Alternate Changeling: The Fae Experience

Comments Off on Alternate Changeling: The Fae Experience

(See the previous two posts for background on this series.) This section is a little more rulesy, and describes the experience and perks of being a changeling.

Chimera

The entirety of the Dreaming is composed of chimera, though most is inanimate. Rocks, trees, metals, water, and more all seem entirely real when in the Dreaming but are simply figments of the imagination to the waking world. Animate chimera represent dreams of living things, and may resemble animals, people, or mythic creatures of all kinds. These animate chimera typically come into being for a brief period of time and disappear after the dreamers that created them move on to other dreams.

Some learn to manipulate their dreamers for continued existence while others learn, eventually, to tap the essence of the Dreaming itself. They can exist until slain by some other chimera or fae. Chimera typically form in the Waking world, soon fade into the Near Dreaming, and eventually migrate deeper into the Dreaming, finding areas and realms that best suit their temperaments.

Chimera are deeply based in the dream that created them. Even the sentient ones have a kind of tunnel vision. While they can think, discuss, and plan within the scope of their personal theme, they are easily outwitted and confused by taking actions that are not part of their existence. Spider chimera are baffled by prey that watches carefully to avoid their webs, hunting chimera will never think to burn a settlement’s crops, and so on.

Chimerical creatures also tend towards chaos, even when they are dreams of order, and lack the ability to devote genuine focus to things not “programmed into” their natures. As such, they are unable to learn abilities. Many learn the Dreamer’s Skill rede to compensate for this weakness, while others build their attributes to mythic levels.

Most chimera that are slain die just as a mundane creature would die, and leave behind a corpse that can be used as materials or which rots into the Dreaming. Sentient chimera, when slain, can expend a permanent Willpower to reform elsewhere in the Dreaming, which may or may not leave behind some of their corpse (depending on the chimera in question). Potent fae rituals can sometimes trap these chimera before they reform.

Chimera cannot buy Arts and Realms, but many old chimera, especially dragons, tend to develop unique redes that can simulate the magicks of the fae.

True Fae

The difference between true fae and sentient chimera is a hard one to judge. All true fae are at least partially humanoid in appearance, and all seem to have a somewhat broader focus than most chimera. Many point out the difference as one of creation, claiming that the Tuathans and Fomorians gave the first of the true fae some crucial spark of divinity that has been passed through their lines since the War of Trees.

Technically, the real difference is that true fae have two distinct advantages. The first is that they can develop Arts and Realms to enact magicks that chimera cannot perform without very unique Redes. The other is that they are intimately tied to humans. True fae worshiped by humans can regain Glamour, and they may become changelings to protect themselves from the detrimental effects of the Waking world. Some specialized Arts exist to possess a mortal without becoming a changeling, but these are very rare and little used.

True fae, like chimera, cannot buy Abilities and rarely have a Banality score, but can buy redes. If a true fae possesses and adult mortal, subsuming her identity, re-spend points spent on redes to buy abilities (likely ones known by the original mortal) and add a starting Banality score appropriate to seeming.

Possessing an unwilling or unaware mortal to become a changeling requires an extended, contested roll of the fae’s Glamour against a difficulty of the target’s Willpower. Each roll is a day of game time, requires the expenditure of a point of Glamour, and the fae needs one to ten successes (depending on how compatible the mortal’s personality is with her own) plus additional successes equal to the target’s Banality. The fae cannot recover Glamour or leave the presence of the mortal while this process is ongoing, and will fade back into the dreaming upon running out of Glamour. A fae trying to possess a differently temperamented, strong willed, and Banal mortal might wind up discorporating before achieving enough successes, and the process might be detected by clued-in individuals who might try to exorcise the fae.

Changelings

Changelings are true fae incarnated in mortal bodies, gaining strength and weakness from both. Changelings, protected by their mortal forms, are ideally suited to living in the Waking world, resisting many of the detrimental effects thereof.

Changelings that have not undergone the Changeling Way ritual eject their body’s soul on incarnation, possibly sending it deep into the Dreaming or onto reincarnation, keeping only mind and body. On death, their souls are lost into the Dreaming. Those that have undergone the Way bond to mortal souls and reincarnate on their body’s death. They do not roll to possess a body, but must bond with a soul that is either an infant or already similar in temperament. Typically, their soul remains dormant for a period, until their fae nature reasserts itself in the Chrysalis.

The Chrysalis

After incarnating in a new mortal, a changeling soul under the Way typically enters a period of dormancy similar to that experienced due to waking up due to chimerical death. This period can last many years as the fae and mortal souls integrate more fully with one another. Much of the fae’s old knowledge from previous lives is transferred in some intuitive way, which tends make children with fae souls extremely precocious. The mortal will typically understand that something is strange about her from the bonding onward, but will not usually realize exactly what it is.

Eventually, the character will experience some kind of traumatic circumstance that starts the Chrysalis. Possible events are: seeing another fae Wyrded, being Enchanted, puberty, the death of a family member, losing one’s virginity, or any other emotionally charged experience. Over the next few days or weeks, the fae soul will begin to assert itself and gather Glamour. Every night, the mortal will have very strange dreams. The character will typically accrue Glamour at the rate of one every number of days equal to the area’s average Banality (e.g., if local Banality is 7, the character gains one Glamour per week), but may absorb Glamour from other areas if it makes sense.

When the fae soul manages to gather enough Glamour to equal the mortal’s Banality, the sleeping mortal is surrounded by a corona of chimerical special effects, her fae mien develops, and her unconscious mind quickly replays all the former lives of her fae self (only some of which she will consciously remember). On waking, the character will now be a full changeling, and her personality and identity will be a composite of the two souls. If she had her dormant soul since birth the change will usually be incredibly minimal, while characters who acquired their soul more recently may be greatly changed. She is now in possession of all the traits bought by the fae soul on incarnation, and can begin to learn more.

The Chrysalis can be sensed by other fae creatures with a Perception + Kenning roll, at the difficulty of the local average Banality, up to [new changeling’s Glamour dots] miles away. This usually means that the new changeling will be surrounded by local curious chimera and possibly other changelings as well. Many changelings consider it their duty to track down and protect new changelings in dangerous areas and to bring them up to speed on any aspects of fae society they may have forgotten. Potent Soothsayers can often track down pre-Chrysalis mortals, and may take it upon themselves to accelerate their Chrysalis while they are in a safe location.

The amount of information the new changeling actually remembers about fae society depends on the Remembrance background. Most newly Chrysalised changelings will at least need some kind of basic refresher course from another changeling on various aspects of changeling existence, but will typically know intuitively when the tutor is being misleading about these facts.

Being a Changeling

The experience of being a changeling is very much like having just awakened from a dream. Changelings are fully in possession of rational mental faculties, but are also credulous and accepting of things learned and seen. Changelings are prone to following good ideas, no matter how nonsensical, and have a muted edge on their inhibitions. Many have dreamed of something that seemed like an excellent idea on first waking only to have its interest fade through the day. Many have dreamed interactions with friends and family that made them especially mean or friendly after waking. This is how a changeling exists all the time. The world at once makes perfect sense and is completely confusing. Ideas that are irrational are nevertheless the best course. Actions that would never be taken by a fully conscious and sane human are one step removed and thus can be pursued from a safe vantage point.

To outsiders, a changeling seems at once both insane and yet strangely in touch with the world. The following are other important factors of being a changeling and living in fae society:

Sense of Time

Each changeling is at least a little bit unstuck from the typical progression of time, the nobles even more so. While events occurring in the current time are easily followed, looking back on the past is confusing. Events precede causes, and linear narratives reshuffle themselves in the memory. It is hard to remember if the dream you dreamed last night was a continuation of another dream, or if the entire dream saga happened in one period of sleep. This is how fae feel about nearly everything in the past, having to really focus on the order of events. Characters with Glamour higher than Banality + Willpower are impossible to trust on the exactitudes of time, while those with higher Banality or Willpower are more able to put cause before effect.

However, since they are constantly confused about the progression of time anyway, fae are very hard to manipulate with temporal magicks. Altering a changeling’s sense of time requires extra successes equal to her Glamour, and a character can spend a point of temporary Glamour to ignore time acceleration or deceleration.

Aging’s Grip

Changelings age at the normal rate for mortals, but typically seem far more youthful than they actually are. Time spent in a freehold or in the Dreaming does not count for changelings or for mortals, and thus changelings active in the fae courts or in Dreaming quests may live far longer than they normally should.

Supernatural effects to divine the age of a changeling automatically fail. A careful changeling can live to be as physically old as any mortal, but many reincarnate before that time due to death on adventures or in order to avoid waking fully for extended periods.

Death’s Embrace

In general, full changelings do not really fear death. From the point of view of the dream, it is only partially real. From the logical point of view, it is only temporarily inconveniencing. Changelings may fear the abandonment of friends, family, and goals but they have no reason to fear the loss of their own life to anything but iron, for they will simply reincarnate. Those that have not undergone the Changeling Way are typically much more protective of their existence, but still often forget their mortality after centuries of living and due to the oddities of dreaming.

A changeling that is killed chimerically in the Waking world, a freehold, or the Near Dreaming loses all temporary Glamour, falls into a deep sleep, and fades into the Waking world if not there already. The sleeper cannot be awakened for at least a number of hours equal to her permanent Glamour, and will sleep a number of days equal to Glamour if not wakened by outside events. The fae soul becomes dormant, and she will not remember her fae nature until temporary Glamour is once more at full. The stronger the fae side, the worse a chimerical death. After this period, no further penalties apply.

The Bane of Iron

Many fae seem to think that Cold Iron is their bane because it represents the onslaught of Banality. This is only partly the truth. In most cases, iron harms changelings because mortals believe iron harms changelings. In all the tales of the fae for hundreds of years, iron has been their undoing, and so it is. This refers to any iron forged in the old way, cold or not, and excludes any alloys, such as steel. There are very rare creations of so-called “Cold Iron,” implements made by those without any creativity or joy in the craft whatsoever. These must be forged by a mortal with high Banality, and are especially harmful to the fae. Iron, cold or not, has several effects on changelings and other fae creatures.

Attempting to enter a location warded with iron, be it a wrought-iron fence or a horseshoe over the door, requires the expenditure of a point of Willpower (to force through) or taking on a point of Banality (to realize that there is no barrier). Cold Iron wards require two points spent or taken. This expenditure must be paid no matter how the character enters (even magically or by being thrown over the barrier) unless there are other unwarded entrances.  For example, a house with a horseshoe over the door could be entered by another door or by hacking through the wall, but a property surrounded by an iron fence would require the expenditure no matter how a fae creature tried to enter. A character that refuses to make the expenditure bounces off the entryway as if off of an invisible wall.

Touching an item of iron causes intense pain to fae creatures, imposing a -1 to a -5 penalty to all rolls (depending on how much of the character’s skin is touching the iron). Additionally, a character touching Cold Iron loses a point of temporary Glamour every turn of contact.

Being damaged by iron is terrible for the fae. All wounds dealt with iron weapons do an equal amount of chimerical aggravated damage. If the wielder of the iron weapon is attacking a chimera or true fae with no physical presence in the Waking world, the successes on the attack is the amount of damage dealt. A character hit with Cold Iron also loses a point of temporary Glamour. Any changeling, true fae, or chimera that dies chimerically from Cold Iron damage has her soul destroyed utterly. This effect does not occur from normal iron. Chimerical iron is incredibly rare, but has the same effects as normal iron except for the fact that it only does non-chimerical damage when Wyrded and is never Cold. Some believe that the rarity of Dreaming iron is because agents of the Fomorians have long been gathering and hoarding it.

Older Entries