I’m hopefully going to get to run Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine (henceforth Chuubo’s or CMWGE) in the not too distant future, and I put this together as a handout for my players. So I’ll post it here so others can benefit as well. I’d also suggest this official example of play, this other official example of play, and this non-official explanatory one-shot.
This post is also available as a five-page PDF for easier printing.
CMWGE is a diceless RPG based on the rules for Nobilis 3rd Edition. It features resource-based resolution (i.e., you spend points from a limited pool and add them to your skill total to accomplish goals). The primary driver of play is a quest-based XP system that outlines various general tasks that player characters should accomplish to gain granular amounts of XP, and structures these tasks to attempt to provide a narrative.
Characters in CMWGE have eleven elements:
- Arc: A character can be actively pursuing one arc at a time, and retains a trait indicating how many completions of previous arcs the character has accomplished (e.g., a character just starting a Knight arc after three completions of a Bindings arc would be Bindings 3, Knight 0). See Arcs, under Advancement.
- Quests: A character can be on up to four quests at once, and this almost always includes a quest that’s meant to advance the current arc, and a basic quest that can be used to get any-time XP (leaving two slots open for incidental quests). See Quests, under Advancement.
- Issues: During play, characters will accumulate issues, which provide a short sequence of emotional or physical consequences to actions. Working through an issue’s sequence is a good way to recover spent resources. See Issues, under Advancement.
- Skills: The core of a character’s capabilities is defined by skills. A PC starts with eight ranks of skills (two to eight skills ranked 1 to 5), treats any other skills as 0 (except for possibly a single skill at -1 to designate amusing incompetence; no extra points are gained by taking a skill at -1). Skills are the primary advancement mechanic for completing arcs, and can also be improved by perks. See Types of Skill, below.
- Bonds: Player characters have at least one bond, which is a personal compulsion/ban so powerful that it can aid on related tasks and even overpower the miraculous. They are player-directed, and when fulfilling them the character benefits from various bonuses. Player characters start with a single, rank 2 bond, and can improve or add more via perks. See Tools, Bonds, and Strike, below.
- Afflictions: Player characters have at least one affliction, which is a truth about the character enforced by the universe and so powerful miracles might not even be able to undo it. Contrary to the name, they are not always negative, just outside the character’s control. They are GM-directed, and can accomplish related tasks as well as protect against miracles. Player characters have an affliction for each arc trait, and it shares the arc trait’s rating (e.g., a Knight-associated affliction would be rank 3 if the player was on Knight 3). See Obstacles, Edge, Afflictions, and Auctoritas, below.
- XP Emotion: Each player character has an XP emotion: the character gains an additional point of XP for inspiring this emotion in other players. Examples include pity, exasperation, thrilled approval, etc. See Genre, Emotion, and Any-Time Actions, under Advancement.
- Perks: Perks are the primary form of mid-arc character advancement; they provide bonuses to skills, special abilities, or the like. A PC will often get several of them for each cycle of an arc, but can only maintain eight at a time, discarding old ones as they become less relevant or as better ones are gained. Player characters start with a free perk for each other PC that grants a Connection 1 skill to that character. See Perks and Arc Levels, under Advancement.
- Miraculous Powers: Miraculous characters may accumulate miraculous powers (either as perks or as permanent upgrades), and even mortal characters may gain a few minor ones during play. These are generally one-off abilities that completely ignore the standard task resolution system. See Miracles, below.
- Health Levels: Characters can take wounds into health levels when suffering physical or mental harm, and often take wounds as a statement of, “I would rather be injured than allow the current action to succeed in its stated goal.” All player characters have two normal health levels and one tough health level, and miraculous characters add two divine health levels. See Suffering Wounds, below.
- Resources: Characters have permanent and temporary ratings in Will and Miracle Points, and spend them to accomplish intentions and miracles, respectively. See Basic Task Resolution and Miracles, below.
Types of Skill
There are several different types of skill (each purchased from the same pool and with a maximum rank of 5):
- Standard: Most skills, particularly for mundane, mortal characters, will be standard skills. These can indicate anything in the normal spectrum of mortal capabilities. They are often very broad, such as a single skill for your whole profession (allowing you to use that skill rating to accomplish anything a member of that profession could do). They may narrow or widen over time, as the GM and player agree on what that skill means within context; eventually, players that initially picked very broad-sounding skills should reach an equilibrium with players that picked very narrow-sounding skills where all standard skills have similar utility within the narrative. You can define any profession, hobby, or even catchphrase as a standard skill: what’s important is that it’s clear to player and GM what types of task it should help you accomplish.
- Cool: The cool skill isn’t active. Instead, it serves as a penalty to any mundane action to harm you (for a wide definition of harm), because you’re just too cool to suffer that kind of thing. See Obstacles, Edge, Afflictions, and Auctoritas, below.
- Shine: The shine skill represents your ability to inspire and lead others. You cannot use it yourself, but anyone else can use its rank instead of their own skill when what they’re doing is explicitly for your benefit.
- Connection: Skills can specify another person or place. If it’s a person, you can use the skill on any task to work with, understand, or take a social action directed at that person. For a place, you can use the skill on most tasks that represent fitting in with, protecting, or maintaining that place. Connections are easier to justify raising more quickly than other types of skills, as they require presence rather than study.
- Superior: Any character that has powers that are supernatural/beyond human but not miraculous can represent them via superior skills. These skills generally have a defined list of what they can do at each rank on a conception level (e.g., Superior Strength rank 3 is as strong as a bear while rank 4 is as strong as a mountain). Practically, they grant edge to the use of another skill in an appropriate context, can be used as a skill (in situations broader than when they grant edge but narrower than a standard skill), and grant you a superhuman narrative ability. See Tools, Bonds, and Strike, below.
- Magic: Characters can also develop different types of magic. These techniques generally provide a list of general types of effects that type of magic can accomplish, with more powerful effects imposing an obstacle on the intention. Often, magic techniques include a few minor options that someone with a compatible standard skill might attempt, upon knowing they’re possible. See Obstacles, Edge, Afflictions, and Auctoritas, below.
Most PCs start with eight ranks of skills of any type (up to rank 5 on any individual skill), may take a -1 rank skill to indicate an amusing weakness (no extra bonus if you do), and start with a perk for each other PC that grants Connection 1 to that character.
Basic Task Resolution
Each character has a measure of personal energy and effectiveness called Will, and PCs almost always have 8 to spend when they are fully refreshed. Taking actions consumes 0-8 points of this Will, through phrasing an intention. This intention can be specific (“I want to dodge that attack.”), broad (“I want to escape from this fight without harm.”), or even ongoing for a whole chapter (“I want to just go one week without taking a wound!”). They are essentially a project that can go for as long as the player thinks is relevant, or until clearly successful.
If uncontested and not subject to modifiers, an intention’s total rating is equal to the relevant skill plus the points of Will spent (for a range of -1 to 13). You can only spend Will in binary increments (either 0, 1, 2, 4, or 8; you cannot spend 3, 5, 6, or 7 on a single intention). If uncontested, the effectiveness of an intention is judged based on the intentions chart:
|0 or less
||Attempt to do things, but only make things worse;
||Use your Skill in such a fashion as to please yourself and make you happy;
||Accomplish a task; have a tangible impact on the world;
||Do something “correctly;” impress people around you;
||Do something effective—something that moves you closer to your goals;
||Do something productive—something that makes your life better;
||Do something that looks dang good—impressive, dramatic, and cool;
||Do something really effective, moving you a lot closer to your goals;
||Do something really productive—it will make your life a lot better;
||Do the “right thing,” for some fuzzy definition of right.
If contested or otherwise in conflict, the higher intention “wins” (but the lower intention is still as successful as possible up to its rating if there is conceptual space “left over” within the winner’s intention). Conflicts often also involve skill modifiers (see Tools, Bonds, and Strike and Obstacles, Edge, Afflictions, and Auctoritas, below).
You can maintain a maximum of two intentions at one time. If you start a third intention, you have to drop an ongoing one.
PCs recover Will (to the maximum of 8) in several circumstances:
- Each PC recovers to full Will (and ends any ongoing intentions) at the start of a new chapter.
- Each PC gains a Recharge Token each time the basic quest is complete, and turning this in recovers Will to full.
- Characters often gain a partial recovery of Will at various stages of an issue.
- Whenever an intention succeeds or fails (rather than just being abandoned to free up a slot), the character recovers 1 Will (as long as that intention had at least 1 Will spent on it).
Some characters have miraculous powers. These are specific powers with a particular effect and often cost 1 or more Miracle Points (MPs) to activate. They automatically defeat any mundane intention trying to counter them (but may have to contend with auctoritas, see below). If two miracles are in direct conflict, the one with the higher rating tends to win (and this is the only point at which the rating matters; unlike intentions, miracles just do something and cannot be adjusted up or down on the fly).
Player characters have a permanent rating of 1 MP, can improve this rating through advancements, and can recharge and accumulate more temporary points in various ways (unlike Will, temporary MPs can exceed the permanent rating):
- PCs regain 1 MP (up to the permanent rating) each chapter, and recover to the full permanent rating at the beginning of a book (no benefit if temporary MPs are currently over the permanent rating).
- Issues often grant additional MPs at the same time they partially recharge Will.
- Bonds, Afflictions, and Region Properties can be “served” or get the character into trouble, rewarding MP in either case.
Obstacles, Edge, Afflictions, and Auctoritas
Several types of trait can provide a skill penalty, reducing a target’s effective intention rating. Only the largest penalty applies to any given intention, even if several sources are active. Obstacles, Edge, and Cool all provide a skill penalty.
- Obstacles represent practical/conceptual difficulties to achieving an intention. The GM usually assesses an obstacle of 0-5 to any intention based on how problematic it is to accomplish. Certain actions, like magic skills, have predefined obstacles.
- Edge is assessed in an unequal conflict, indicating that one side has an advantage that effectively lowers the other’s intention to make it easier to win. The side that doesn’t have edge takes the penalty, for purposes of resolving the conflict. Superior skills often grant edge, and strike (see below) grants edge that applies to conflicts between miracles.
- Afflictions are things about a character that are always true, and enforced by reality. Miracles must overcome their rating in auctoritas to contradict them (e.g., if the affliction is “I can’t be physically harmed” then a miraculous physical attack would have to overcome that affliction’s auctoritas), and the GM can assess a miracle based on their level to make them true whenever appropriate. PCs typically have one affliction per arc trait, with a level equal to the arc trait’s rank.
- Auctoritas is a flat rating that protects against miracles. It is provided by afflictions and might also come from other sources (such as being built as a protection on a location). A miracle, even an extremely powerful one, is unable to affect something guarded by auctoritas unless it has sufficient strike (see below).
Tools, Bonds, and Strike
There are several ways to gain a bonus to mundane and miraculous actions.
- Tools, when applicable, provide a bonus to an intention (generally only +1 or +2). Tools that provide a bonus are often perks, with player characters normally assumed to have any +0 tools they need to carry out their intentions.
- Bonds, when applicable, provide a bonus equal to their rating to an intention, but only when in conflict or against an obstacle. Additionally, applicable bonds provide their rating in additional strike for miraculous actions.
- Strike is necessary for a miracle to overcome auctoritas (see above). If total strike is less than the target’s auctoritas, the miracle cannot affect the target (even if it is a very powerful miracle and a very low level of auctoritas). In addition to the bonus strike gained from bonds, characters can spend MP to raise strike (on a one for one basis) for a single miracle. Strike also counts as edge for miracles (see above).
PCs have two normal health levels and a tough health level. Miraculous PCs also have two divine health levels. Losing all of your stronger health levels clears any damage to the weaker ones (e.g., if you take a wound to your tough level, any wounds in your normal levels are cleared). Worse wounds will go into a weaker health level if there are no stronger health levels remaining (e.g., a deadly wound will fill a normal level if all your tough and divine levels are gone). It usually takes a miracle or a level 6+ intention to deal a deadly wound, and lesser intentions can deal surface and serious wounds.
Wounds grant a bonus when you play up the wound. Wounds (and their bonuses) are generally divided into:
- Surface (Normal): Minor problems that grant +1 Tool, Level 1 Bond, or a Level 2 Superior skill (heals in 0-2 chapters)
- Serious (Tough): Bad problems that grant +1 Tool, Level 1 Bond/Affliction, or Level 2-3 Superior skill (heals in 0-2 books)
- Deadly (Divine): Epic problems that grant +2 Tool, Level 2 Bond, Affliction with level tied to an arc or issue, level 3+ Superior skill, or a miraculous ability (requires a quest to downgrade to serious, or a harder one to heal completely)
You have multiple options upon receiving a wound including accepting it, focusing, it, living with it, avoiding it, resisting it, making it go back-and-forth, making it twisted, and making it metaphorical. Essentially, wounds represent your creative control over your character’s fate, and there are several options for taking a wound to turn a bad situation into something you can tolerate.
Most of the storytelling of CMWGE is based on player-driven XP. Each PC has several types of advancement option for earning or spending XP, each with a particular story-driving fiction attached. Essentially, players are mechanically encouraged to perform actions that create a story and expand on their character motivations in order to advance their characters.
Each PC is always actively pursuing one arc (from the set of Storyteller, Knight, Aspect, Otherworldly, Bindings, Shepherd, Emptiness, and Mystic). Each arc has an internal 3-5 step process that guides the character through a personal journey relevant to the theme of the arc, primarily through a linked quest (see below). For example, stage three of a Knight arc is about something trying to change you, resulting in you making a mistake, falling from grace, changing, and/or growing. Possible quests that fit this concept are Mental Training, Poisoned, Labyrinth Diving, The Belly of the Whale, or The Great Dread Witch Hunt.
Each time a PC completes the 3-5 steps/quests of an arc, the arc trait goes up by one rank (improving related traits such as afflictions and granting skill improvements). In addition, for each quest completed that supports a step of the arc, the character gains a perk from those appropriate to the arc. A player that wants to improve the arc trait to a high rank will experience the same steps several times, but each time is represented by different quests, and generally the character’s story grows in scale with each iteration through the process.
You can only pursue one arc at a time, but can switch to a different arc at an appropriate milestone. You retain the rating of all previously pursued arcs, and can switch back to them at the same rank at another milestone.
A PC can have up to four quests at a time. Generally, one will be a basic quest (used for any-time XP and recovery tokens) and another will be the quest that’s currently supporting the current step of the arc. Two more are available to mechanically incent other missions the player might want to pursue.
Each quest requires 15-50 XP to complete. Each also comes with a list of actions the PC can take to acquire one or more of those XPs (and additional XPs can be gained from other actions, see below). Progress through the quest’s XP track is a rough gauge of progress through the story element represented by the quest; the GM and player will work together to bring it to an appropriate close as the XP track is fully filled.
Completing a quest grants whatever in-story reward makes sense from its completion. If it is an arc quest, it grants a perk from the current step of the arc. Non-arc quests may grant a Recharge Token or other reward. Once complete, its XP total is rolled into the arc: in addition to needing 3-5 steps, each arc has an XP cost for completion (based on the pacing of the story). For example, an arc that costs 150 XP to complete would require an additional 50 XP from miscellaneous quests to complete if the player completed each of the five arc steps with 20 XP quests.
Genre, Emotion, and Any-Time Actions
In addition to the XP gained from your primary quest, there are three ways to gain XP:
- The genre of the chronicle provides several actions (usually three to five) that support the correct mood. For example, in the Fairy Tales genre, the genre actions are Suffer Adversity, Suffer Corruption, Suffer Transformation, Suffer Trauma, and Never Say Die! while in the Pastoral genre, the actions are Shared Action, Shared Reactions, and Slice of Life. Each player can perform any two of these actions (or the same one twice) each chapter, and doing so adds an XP to the group pool. After performing a genre action, the PC is supposed to “fade” for a bit, allowing other PCs time to drive the story and work on their actions. The chapter often ends soon after each PC has accomplished two genre actions. At the end of the chapter, the genre XP pool is split evenly and distributed to the PCs (so, if they each did their maximum, they get 2 XP). These XP can be directed toward any active quest.
- Each PC has an emotion that typifies how other characters react to them. When another player experiences this emotion due to something your character did, that player can give you an XP (which can be directed to any active quest). This can’t happen more frequently than once every 15 minutes. Example emotions are “Aww!” (for a character that makes others sad for how tragic he or she is), “Fist-Shaking” (for lovable jerks with impulse control problems that other characters shake their fists at for getting them into trouble), “Finger-Snap” (for natural minions who encourage other characters to tell them what to do), “Speechlessness” (for monologuers that leave others unable to form a response to their mad tirades), etc.
- Each PC’s basic quest generally has a simple any-time action that grants an XP to the quest and supports the character’s core story. Like emotion XP, this can only be gained once every 15 minutes. After every 15 XP, the quest resets, rolling the XP into the arc and granting the player a Recharge Token.
Much like quests, issues come on cards with notes about what’s going on with your character while experiencing it. Unlike quests, you don’t choose your issues; the GM awards them to you based on things that have happened to you or decisions you’ve made in play. Generally, the GM will give a player an issue (or increase a current issue) once per chapter, based on the GM’s strongest impressions of what each player did, and any plots that were relevant.
Each step of an issue includes advice for how to play up that issue in your roleplaying. For example, In Over Your Head 4 suggests, “You’ve had a brilliant idea and you know how to test or implement it.” Issues normally go up as the GM thinks you’re still playing them, and at every odd step they give you bonus resources in Will and MP (so issues complicate your life, but improve your ability to handle challenges). Once they’re at step 4 or 5, you can attempt to resolve them (gaining another set of bonus resources and solving whatever in-story problem the issue represented). You can also lower issues that haven’t come up lately by one step at the end of a session.
The main issues are In Over Your Head, Hero, Sickness, Vice, Mystery, Complex, It Never Stops!, Calling, Something to Deal With, and Trust. Certain genres and campaigns introduce special issues like Hollow, Illusion, and Isolation.
Perks and Arc Levels
Most character advancement is ultimately awarded through perks and by going up in arc levels.
You get a new perk every time you complete a quest step of an arc (up to 5 perks per arc level). The available perks are based on the current step. For example, at Knight step 3, you can gain a defensive, support, or offensive aura, a rank 1 superior skill, improve a superior skill from another Knight perk by +1 (to a maximum of your Knight trait level), or, at Knight 2+, gain a new Bond with a rating based on your current Trust issue.
You can only have eight perks at one time; once you have eight, gaining a new one means retiring an old one. An exception is any perk that allows you to improve a previous perk (e.g., that +1 to a previous superior skill means the previous perk slot is now a better value) or otherwise alter something. In general, after you’ve been through a few cycles of one or more arcs, you’ll have all eight perks filled, some of them will be becoming more and more powerful, and others will get switched out as you lose interest in favor of new bonuses.
When you complete a cycle of the arc:
- The arc trait’s level goes up by +1 and that counts for anything based on it (such as the associated affliction, and qualifying for better perks).
- You can improve an existing skill or bond by +1 (or buy a new bond at rank 1).
- You gain a new skill at rank 1.
- You can lower an existing skill by 1 to improve the new skill to 2.
When you start a new arc:
- You get a new arc trait at rank 0.
- You gain a new rank 2 bond.
- You gain a new affliction tied to the new arc trait.
Miraculous characters also get particular power upgrades based on their arc trait’s rank.