Alternate Changeling: Backstory

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Changeling: the Dreaming 20th Anniversary is out in PDF to the Kickstarter backers (and will probably be available soon to all). It is very good, and everyone should pick it up when they can. I think it’s the strongest 20th anniversary update of the ones I’ve seen so far (which, admittedly, is really just Mage with a light perusal of Vampire and Werewolf).

It’s good enough that it even has me thinking about whether I could actually try to run another Changeling chronicle. And that had me looking back at some of the old documentation I’d put together in college (when I’d made my own run at updating the material when no Revised version was forthcoming). To my surprise, I still approve of a lot of my decisions from fifteen or more years ago, so I thought I’d post some (lightly updated) sections from them.

This week is the summarized backstory I put together for new players. It takes some liberties with events (and references a few background elements that were highly relevant in the Changeling LARP I ran in college), and should prove a decent grounding for my own take on the setting (which is slightly idiosyncratic to the canon).

A History of the Fae

In the beginning were the first dreams. None know whether these were the dreams of the first humans, the dreams of the animals, the dreams of the spirits, or the dreams of Gaia herself. Nevertheless, these dreams spawned the Dreaming: a vast sprawling realm of ephemeral thoughts and transitory impressions.

Thence came the chimera: beings that mirrored the dreams of the sleepers, but which were merely figments, with little in the way of true form, following the script of the dreams that created them. These chimera were just another part, indistinguishable from the landscape of the Dreaming, save that they seemed animate because they represented dreams of moving things. In those days the realm of dreams was not far from the realm of waking, and the Mists were still very thin.

In time, reoccurring dreams crystallized into the first of the fae. Taking the themes of the Dreaming to heart, they represented the deepest thoughts of the dreamers. These first fae were Seelie and Unseelie, creation and destruction, hope and fear. Immediately, or perhaps later, these first fae became the Fomorians and the Tuathans. One represented the power of creation and the other the might of destruction. Yet which was which is far more arguable.

For unknown ages, they took turns governing over the dreams of mortals, being exalted as gods, becoming more and more powerful as their continued existence caused further dreams to come into being that included them.

Yet this could not continue forever.

The War of Trees

It is uncertain which side broke the cycle of Summer and Winter first. It is known that the Tuathans overthrew the Fomorians, but it is not clear whether this was a first strike or in response to former wrongs. Nevertheless, the Tuathans ruled unquestioned for longer than their share of time.

This event is retold in nearly every mythology. The Greek gods overthrew the Titans. The Judeo-Christian God and Angels cast the Fallen out of Heaven. The Norse Aesir defeated the Giants. Egypt’s Osiris defeated his brother Set. Finally, in the terms which have been most used, the Celtic Tuathans overthrew the Fomorians. Each culture places the event in a different era, and it is possible that the Dreaming, shaped and re-shaped by mortal dreams, replayed the event many times. In each instance, the Tuathans were victorious, reigning endlessly, or so they thought.

If the human conception of time can be trusted, iron began to be discovered near the time of the dark ages of Greece, at the end of the age of heroes. That this was an era surrounding the death of the Phoenix only placed more importance on the discovery. Fomorians that had long been re-building their power in the East noticed the importance of the metal ahead of their ancient foes. Humans ascribed great power to the metal that would not bend, and so it gained power from their dreams.

Lesser fae and chimera, those that had turned to the side of the Fomorians and which would later be called the Adhene, began to gather weapons of iron. When they struck the first blows of the Tessarakonta it was with an unbeatable edge. As iron proved its ability to slay the gods, it became even more potent when put towards that use.

The war continued through meaningless instances of time. Eventually, the Tuathans and their children recovered from the initial onslaught and began to bring weapons of their own to bear. Armies of fae and chimera clashed on the plains of the Dreaming and in the mortal world.

Many believe that the sympathies of the fall of Rome heralded the end of the war, for the participants in the fight were unable to truly deviate from the dreams of mortals: the fate of the gods would only be in question should the fate of the Roman Empire be at stake. Regardless, the final battle is remembered to have been on the Kureksarra plain, where the Red King of the Fomorians brought his final weapon, the Triumph Casque of Sorrows, to bear. Against impossible odds, he was defeated, or some say that he realized the folly of his actions and simply surrendered.

The Fomorians accepted the rites of binding, their followers were trapped behind the Silver Path, and the Tuathans also retreated to unknown locations. Some say that the Tuathans retired to Arcadia to heal their grievous wounds. Others say that the Tuathans were all slain during the War of Trees, and only their children survived to defeat the Fomorians. None can now remember the truth, but the war ended all the same.

An Era of Darkness

In the age that would later come to be known as the Dark Ages, the fae were without leaders and without power. The ranks of the fae nobility were growing as more mortals dreamed of what it would like to be a knight or lord, yet governing true fae turned out to be harder than the metaphor of herding cats. Without the power of the Tuathans or the Fomorians, nobles that had once been functionaries and priests now had to fend for themselves.

Adding to the trouble was the lack of enough sustenance to go around. The truly great hopes of mankind had dwindled to a mere desire to get by from day to day, with a distant dream of someday doing enough good deeds to avoid being damned to Hell. Were this not enough, the demonization of the fae by Holy Mother Rome made patronizing dreamers incredibly difficult. Many peasants still remembered the old ways, leaving out the remnants of food, placing small tokens at hidden alters, and other gestures, but gestures is all they were. The church grew in power and belief, and the mostly pagan fae felt the sting of lost worship.

Yet the end was not yet come. Gradually, the fall of Rome and the fallout of the War of Trees faded into memories. A new era of development started, and martial nations with the divine right of kings set forth to establish their dominance. Works of literature such as Beowulf and the Song of Roland found their dreams spreading across the face of Europe. Dreams which had once been comfortable with a king, priests, and a senate began to be re-molded into a feudal line. Urged to mimic the growing dreams of mortals, the fae began to arrange themselves in strict hierarchies beneath those claiming to have the Divine Right of the Tuathans to rule. Great works began to be possible, and the fae reached deep into the tales of mortals.

Yet things were soon to become much more complicated.

The Shattering and the Rebirth

The Black Death shook the very foundations of the Dreaming. Arriving from distant lands, it spread like an invisible spectre over the face of Europe. Some thought that it was another attack by the Fomorians, others thought that it was some weapon in the wars of the prodigals, while still others believed that it could only be a sign of the end of the world and the Second Coming.

Some say that the Shattering that followed was due to lack of dreams caused by the plague, but this is only partly true. Those beset by the plague were often struck with nightmares so potent that their dark Glamour could feed a faerie for days. The problem was not the lack of dreams, so much as the eventual lack of people to do the dreaming. Even the most conservative estimates tend to suspect that at least a third of the population of Europe died within only the briefest of spans. So many lives, ripped away in such a brief interval, began to tear away the building blocks of the Dreaming. Landscapes crumbled, the silver path stretched nearly to breaking, and everywhere the firchlis spun madly trying to cover up each rift left by a missing dream.

The fae did not know what to do in the face of the dilemma. Many thought that the Dreaming was finished while others thought that its heart was the only safe place left. A contingent formed; primarily composed of nobles, it contained many other fae as well. Some of them were abandoning the Earth like a sinking ship, others were hoping that, by reaching the gates of Arcadia, some magicks could be found that would halt the chaos, and some thought that they could find the Tuathans and beg them for help.

Later incarnations would claim that those left behind were cast off by the nobles and forced to their fate, but only in a few cases was this true. Those that stayed behind largely thought that retreat was a fool’s option, and so they remained.

Times grew very hard for the earthbound fae. As the last rath slammed shut behind those who fled so did the Mists rise to overpowering strength. Fae that had long depended on the constant revitalizing Glamour of the Dreaming realized that they would have to look for new sources or fade into nothingness. Some went into their freeholds and cocooned their last supply of Glamour around themselves, slowly becoming the mad lost ones. But this was not a course that many would choose for themselves.

Long had the fae known that they could incarnate themselves by replacing the souls of mortals, becoming a hybrid entity referred to as a changeling by European legends. This process, unfortunately, had the side effect of making the changeling as mortal as her host body. When the mortal body died, the soul disappeared into the Dreaming, possibly discorporating entirely. This did protect the fae soul, but it was a temporary protection at best.

The greatest remaining fae sorcerers began to work on the problem. Eventually, they reached a breakthrough, which they referred to simply as the Changeling Way. Vast sorceries empowered a series of oaths and simple rituals that could be disseminated amongst fae-kind. By undergoing the ritual, a faerie’s soul was reshaped and wounded, creating a rift that could be sealed by the compliment of a mortal soul. When such a faerie incarnated in a mortal, the soul was not replaced but incorporated. On the mortal’s death, the fae soul would be freed by the escaping mortal soul and could immediately seek out another mortal to bond with. By making themselves incomplete, the fae could continue to enjoy immortality.

The era of the Changelings began, as more and more of the remaining fae on earth underwent the Way. Protected from dissolution by their mortal hosts, they could pursue the sustenance of Glamour at their leisure. With the swiftly on-coming Renaissance, this process began to grow ever easier. Changelings across Europe began to steadily muse the growing mortal talents, increasing their efforts to works of true mastery. The Dreaming was still inaccessible to the changelings, but the dreams of mortals were overflowing with new ideas.

The Interregnum

The years passed and the world began to change. Having thrown off the yoke of the Catholic Church and of the other tenets of the status quo during the Renaissance, new ideas emerged almost daily. More and more discoveries were being made about the composition of the universe itself, discoveries that pointed out that it was, in fact, a mystery that could be solved.

The changelings were deeply conflicted about these changes. While the new dreams of progress and hopes of a better future inspired enormous amounts of Glamour, these dreams accompanied discoveries that more and more relegated the mystical and the religious to mere superstition and untruth. Some fae moved with the times, musing scientists and inventors across the world, while others continued to support the old ways, fading into the fringe groups that lived throughout the countryside. Great arguments were had over which was the best way, especially when the Industrial Revolution began to crush the dreams of its workers while spurring the dreams of those that fueled it.

These arguments became especially heated with the growth of a new force called Banality. Banality had existed in some form or another throughout human memory. Yet not until the modern era had it truly become a force of power against the fae. In the eyes of many workers at the new factories, a cold light of utter resignation burned. For them, there was nothing worth hoping for, no future to dream of, and nothing more that could be taken away to fear. Each day was the same, each minute was slavery to a whistle, and each night was a dreamless oblivion of rest for the body but not for the mind.

Amongst others, the case was growing as well. Some were left behind by progress, and became completely apathetic about anything as the world changed and left them behind. Some were jaded by the ease of production, and no longer bothered to dream, for they figured that the scientists would produce everything within a few years. Some became deeply nihilistic, following the new brand of philosophy that claimed that God was dead. Banality grew and the fae discovered a new enemy.

Yet there was hope as well. Gradually, the Mists of the Dreaming decreased to less impassable strengths. Changelings began to again be able to use potent arts of travel and dream to force their way through the Mists and cross fully into the Dreaming. The Mists were still high, the raths were still closed, and the Dreaming was still broken and dangerous, but it seemed to be under repair.

Enterprising changelings set out to clean up the dreamscape and to rescue chimera and chimerical materials from the Near Dreaming. Some never returned, but many came back with grand tales of adventures and beasts and resources long unseen in the waking world.

The changelings began to reorganize their forgotten associations. New ideas for government were taken from dreamers and put into practice. New works were made of chimera to create truly impressive freeholds and accoutrements. Changelings began to feel like a part of a society. Some even went on missions to the Deep Dreaming to look for their vanished relatives. The world was still much limited compared to the ancient days, but it was getting better.

The Resurgence and the Accordance War

The first two-thirds of the Twentieth Century had been of mixed effect on the fae. Two world wars had created a surge of Banality as the dream of heroic warfare was shelled in the trenches and burned in a nuclear blast. The Great Depression had crushed the lives and hopes of many. Yet technology proceeded at great speeds, and every day another creation that had been merely science fiction in the 1800s came into being. By the 1960s there was no doubt that there would soon be a man on the moon, and from there, to the stars.

Changeling sorcerers were certain from auguries and predictions that the actual event of the moon landing in the summer of 1969 would create a surge of Glamour. They planned to harness this event to achieve a long-anticipated goal: the re-opening of the raths to the Dreaming. Each freehold had a doorway that had long been shut to egress from the Dreaming, and with these raths reopened travel to and from the Near Dreaming would become much easier. As one man made his small step that was mankind’s giant leap, the ritual went off, blowing the doors into the Dreaming wide open.

It turned out that sorcerers on the other side of the Mists had received prophecies of this event as well. The first true fae stepped through the raths only a few hours after the moon landing. Large contingents of fae, primarily dreams of Nobility and their chimerical retainers, began emerging in freeholds across the world. These returning fae had lost much of their memory to the Mists, and could not recall whether they had been cast out of Arcadia for crimes or whether they came with an important message.

They did have, however, centuries of unbroken experience to draw upon, Glamour to burn, and a will to power, and thus many of them set about reclaiming freeholds that they had long abandoned. Many changelings were forced into oaths of vassalage that had not been used in centuries, while others were slain outright, and the Night of Iron Knives truly was an atrocity. The war of Accordance had begun.

Later talespinners would paint a very black and white picture of the Accordance War. Years of military conflict during the 70s did, in fact, promote an “us versus them” belief amongst both fae and mortal souls. However, things are never truly homogeneous amongst the chaotic fae. In some places, there were, in fact, epic battles between commoners and nobility with chimerical weapons on empty and appropriate battlescapes.

But in just as many places, there were commoner sit-ins, or changelings that called the mortal police when some noble with a sword was threatening their existence, and even changelings that were completely oblivious to the war. Many of the truly epic battles actually involved commoners and nobles siding together against thallain and nightmare chimera that had come pouring out of the Dreaming through the opened raths. There is even a tale of one “battle” which was decided by two powerful sorcerers playing a very involved game of chess with perfectly ordinary pieces and rules.

The Accordance war came to an end not out of some grand gesture, or the rise of David Ard Rhy, or any of the quoted reasons. The real ending of the war came from simple pragmatism. Most of the returning fae had become changelings to avoid dissolution (though few had undergone the full ritual of the Changeling Way). The vast array of changelings had mortal identities and mortal concerns and they began to treat the war as little more than a weekend event of sport.

Eventually, most commoners conceded that yes, dreams of rulership were probably better suited to being in charge, and the nobles conceded that yes, the commoners had done a pretty good job running the place while they were gone. The fae settled into a comfortable series of oaths and arrangements and only the most radical on either side really thought that the war needed to be continued.

The Age of New Adventures

The eighties and nineties saw an era of adventure come over the fae. Reconnected to the Dreaming and re-organized, their power became much greater than it had been since the ages of legend. Now changelings could contend with the prodigals for influence over the fate of the world. Old alliances were re-formed, old rivalries re-instated, and new friends and enemies were made out of factions in the world.

Banality was still a fear, and some doomsayers talked of a Long Winter, but few were truly worried about their chances of running into an Autumn Person or a Dauntain. High King David ruled with a gentle hand, realizing that his governance was most effective when it was non-intrusive into the very individualistic roles of the commoners. Some worried about prophecies of the future, but most were content to work on improving the present.

Then, in 1998, David disappeared and the Dreaming changed once more.

Vampire: Alternate Degeneration

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Yes, I’m still on a V:tM kick. This week: an alternate system for managing “Humanity.” It, like the influence system, is heavily inspired by the Mind’s Eye Theater rules.

For this hack, I’ve collapsed the Virtues into the Attributes to create something more similar to the nWoD power/finesse/resistance breakdown. That is:

  • Physical attributes remain the same, though Stamina gets involved in degeneration as seen below.
  • Social attributes compress Manipulation and Appearance into “Poise,” the social finesse stat. Charisma remains and becomes the power stat. The Self-Control virtue becomes “Composure” and represents social combat resistance as well as ability to hold out against anger.
  • Mental attributes drop Wits (its effects are spread between the other attributes). Intelligence is the power stat and Perception is the finesse stat. The Courage virtue becomes the mental resistance stat.

I’ve also simplified the Attack>Dodge>Damage>Soak mechanic universally such that Dodge is pre-subtracted from attack dice before rolling and Soak is pre-subtracted from damage dice before rolling. This should work about about the same statistically and speed up the oWoD combat round a bit.

If you prefer to use the rest of V:tM as written, you can sub in the Virtues for defensive uses below and slightly change the combat order to allow for rolling defenses rather than pre-subtracting them.

Beast Traits

A character’s humanity is measured in control over the Beast. As you commit monstrous acts, your Beast grows stronger and your Humanity fades… eventually it becomes easier to relent before the urgings of the Beast than to risk Frenzy and total loss of control. Each character begins with a single Beast Trait in one of three categories; the number of traits in a category is a bonus to the Beast’s attempts to drive the character to Frenzy in those situations. The more Beast Traits you have, the later you wake up after sunset (generally a quarter of an hour for each trait).

  • Rage: Invoked when hurt or otherwise provoked; resisted with Composure
  • Hunger: Invoked when spurred by hunger or greed; resisted with Stamina
  • Fear: Invoked when afraid or faced with fire or sunlight: resisted with Courage

Gaining Beast Traits

Beast Traits represent the strength of the beast within a Cainite. Even the most noble and ethical heart means little against a failure to reign in the Beast, while a near sociopath can still lead a blameless unlife if her violent urgings are kept in check. Thus, there is no real concept of a morality or hierarchy of sins, merely actions that cause the Beast to grow and gain more power over its host. You can be as moral or immoral as you like, as long as you maintain a leash on your inner monster.

The easiest way to gain Beast Traits is killing. While there is no hierarchy of sins, there is one of murder:

  1. True accidental deaths, killing in self defense (no quarter offered or given), killing an antagonistic supernatural
  2. Careless deaths (could have been prevented with some foresight but it was an accident), killing out of expediency (dangerous, untrustworthy, but inactive opponent)
  3. Killing a non-innocent during a Frenzy, killing a violent opponent (who was only threatening injury, not death), killing out of a sense of justice (the target wasn’t deadly but was mounting up small horrors over the long term)
  4. Killing an innocent during a Frenzy, killing a non-innocent in the heat of the moment out of anger, hunger, or fear
  5. Killing an innocent in the heat of the moment, premeditated murder on a non-innocent
  6. Premeditated murder of an innocent, cruel/unusual/torturous death, mass murder or serial killing

When your character kills, determine whether the motivation is out of rage, hunger, or fear (if it’s not obvious, as in a frenzy, the player chooses what makes the most sense). Find the type of kill on the chart and reduce the number by the number of current Beast Traits you have in that category (even the Beast gets jaded after a while). If the number is 0, you don’t gain an additional Beast Trait this time (though repeatedly performing the action may bump it up). If it is 1 or more, you gain another Beast Trait in that category.

While the Beast is less interested in actions that don’t involve death, a history of cruelty or otherwise unnecessary harm short of killing someone may eventually catch its attention. In these cases, the player will be warned after such an action that the Beast is waking and her character can feel that it will grow if the actions continue to be repeated.

Frenzy

Rather than making a simple check to avoid Frenzy, it is a drawn out series of attacks against the character’s mental fortitude (represented by an additional mental damage track). It does not generally take place in rounds, but the Beast attacks when provoked, slowly wearing down the character.

The Beast attacks whenever the character faces a trigger event:

  • Rage: The character is provoked or threatened and Fight reflexes would kick in
  • Hunger: The character spends down to one or zero blood or is faced with an obvious chance to feed when low on blood
  • Fear: The character is faced with fire, sunlight, or something else that would trigger Flight reflexes

Actions

Characters can take an action to respond to attacks by the Beast. If a trigger comes in combat rounds, defending against the Beast uses an action similarly to Dodging (either the whole round’s action, or splitting dice pools between acting and defending).

When the Beast attacks, the sequence is as follows:

  1. The Beast declares a dice pool based on the significance of the trigger.
    1. A very minor stressor might only be 1 die, while a major event might be 4.
    2. The character’s Beast Traits for that stressor are added to the total.
  2. The character can decide to relent and do what the Beast wants (attack, feed, or flee). If this is chosen, the Beast deals no damage because it got what it wanted.
  3. The character decides whether to use an action to defend. If she does:
    1. Subtract Perception from the attacker’s dice pool. Willpower can be spent to reduce it further.
    2. If there are no dice left, the attack simply misses.
  4. If the attacker still has dice, roll them against difficulty 6. If there are any successes, the attack hit.
  5. Add the successes on the attack to the appropriate Beast Trait.
  6. The defender Soaks, subtracting Composure (Rage), Stamina (Hunger), or Courage (Fear).
  7. Roll the remaining dice against difficulty 6. The successes are the damage taken by the target.

Wounds

As with physical damage, most characters have seven boxes of Frenzy Levels. Most damage is normal, but a mental wound might be counted as “Aggravated” if the Beast is somehow being stressed by an external supernatural force. As with physical damage, the wounds carry penalties (to mental actions related to thinking clearly and social actions to act like a human with other mortals).

When a character is “killed” mentally, she enters Frenzy and takes actions related to the last trigger (attacking until the provocation is destroyed, feeding until sated, or fleeing and fighting anything in the way). At that point, all mental damage is healed as the beast is quiescent (but the player probably has a new Beast Trait). If not “killed,” the mental damage heals slowly (similar to the mortal healing rate). On rising for the evening, a player can choose to heal one normal mental health level instead of receiving a point of Willpower (Aggravated damage can only be healed with time).

Making Friends and Influencing People, Part 2

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Part 1

Using Influence

While watching numbers on the character sheet go up and quantifying friendships with NPCs is probably a lot of fun for your players, eventually they’re going to want to actually use their Influence to accomplish something.

When the character wants to call in a favor, the player makes an Influence roll. This is a number of dice equal to dots in the appropriate Influence rating that can’t be modified by external factors (but might be modified by difficulty, see below).

The difficulty of the roll is based on how many people will notice and oppose the action:

  • The favor is completely under the radar and nobody cares about it. (oWoD Difficulty 6, nWoD +3 dice)
  • The favor would annoy a few important people if they found out. (oWoD Difficulty 7, nWoD +1 die)
  • It will be obvious to some important people if the favor is granted. (oWoD Difficulty 8, nWoD +0 dice)
  • Important people are actively involved and will try to stop the favor. (oWoD Difficulty 9, nWoD -1 die)
  • It will be very obvious and dangerous to grant the favor. (oWoD Difficulty 10, nWoD -3 dice)

A number of successes are required equal to the magnitude of the favor (see examples below).

If insufficient successes were gained to obtain the favor, the player can choose to Burn relationships to push it through. For each additional necessary success, add a — next to a number of relationships that have total effective control equal to the oWoD difficulty. This can immediately reduce the relationship (and possibly total Influence) if there was already a — next to it.

For example:

  • A PC with Police Influence 3 is trying to close an unsolved murder (4 successes). The murder is mostly under the radar but it’s known enough in the department that questions might eventually be asked (difficulty 7/+1 die).
  • The player rolls and gets 2 successes, which is 2 short of the required 4.
  • The player must put a — next to 14 points worth of relationships. She picks a 5 point Thrall, a 3 effective-point Friend, a 3 effective-point Contact, and a 3 point Thrall. If she doesn’t spend Favor points to repair those relationships (or needs to Burn more influence soon), they could be reduced.

Apply a 1 die penalty to an Influence for each time it is used (successfully or unsuccessfully) during a session. This penalty is removed at the beginning of the next session (unless the GM feels that not enough time has passed).

Suggested success thresholds for different favors are below. As noted originally, most of these are based on the Mind’s Eye LARP rules.

Bureaucracy

  1. Trace utility bills, fake a minor license or certificate
  2. Disconnect utilities to a location, fake a major license or certificate, close a road or park for a few hours
  3. Shut down a business on a violation or close a public building/operation for a day, alter someone’s records within the organization
  4. Fake a deed, initiate a departmental investigation, alter a city-wide program or policy
  5. Rezone an area, obliterate records of a person within the organization, start an audit of a person or business

Church

  1. Get identification as a member of the clergy, look through church records/identify church members
  2. Track or suspend congregation members, open or close a church
  3. Identify and track a church-associated hunter, access private records
  4. Track or suspend higher-level members, organize a protest
  5. Access ancient lore, borrow sacred items

Finance

  1. Get a report on major transactions, economic trends, or financial events; get a small loan (under $4k)
  2. Get a car or other loan (under $12k), manipulate minor bank policies
  3. Get a small business loan (under $50k), foreclose on a target, shut off certain bank services (e.g., ATMs) for a day
  4. Get a business or home loan (under $200k), ruin a business’ finances
  5. Get a huge loan (up to $1 million), change major bank policies

Health

  1. Get a report on public health records, access a patient’s private medical history
  2. Get private reports (e.g., coroner’s report), get a bag of blood, get minor lab work done (e.g., blood typing)
  3. Corrupt a particular test’s results, get major lab work done (e.g., DNA)
  4. Acquire a cadaver, rewrite someone’s medical records, get a large supply of blood
  5. Set up a quarantine, shut down a business for health code violations, have someone institutionalized

High Society

  1. Get a report on current trends, get early news about events, get tickets to a popular event
  2. Track celebrities or luminaries, establish a minor new trend, get a rich friend to buy something for you (under $5k)
  3. Crush or advance a local celebrity’s career, get an invitation to an elite event
  4. Create a local celebrity (yourself or someone else), get a rich friend to buy a huge present for you (under $50k)
  5. Crush or advance a local event venue or festival’s status, blacklist a target from all society gatherings and careers

Industry

  1. Get a report on industrial activities and projects, redirect/borrow minor industrial resources (e.g., one crew or a machine) for a day
  2. Have a minor construction project performed, embezzle petty cash (up to $2k)
  3. Organize a strike, borrow major machinery or a large crew for a week
  4. Have a major construction project performed, change corporate policies
  5. Close or revitalize a plant, cut off production of a locally produced resource

Legal

  1. Get “free” representation from a good lawyer, get minor charges dropped
  2. Access confidential legal records, get misdemeanor charges dropped
  3. Get “free” representation from one of the city’s best lawyers, get felony charges dropped
  4. Issue a subpoena, bog down a court case, cancel or arrange parole
  5. Have someone deported, close down a police investigation

Media

  1. Get early notification about breaking stories, get a small article or story run
  2. Suppress a story (moved to later in the paper or the news broadcast and given less length) or the opposite
  3. Get details on confidential sources, kill a story being run by only one news outlet, get a large article or story run
  4. Direct a thorough investigation at a topic or stop an ongoing investigation
  5. Kill a story being run by multiple news outlets

Occult

  1. Make contact with local occult groups, learn about local occult figures
  2. Purchase rare components, get an idea of other supernatural players in the area
  3. Learn basic rituals, identify the territory of a specific supernatural player
  4. Learn intermediate rituals, purchase minor magic items
  5. Learn advanced rituals, purchase extremely rare items

Police

  1. Hear police rumors, get a license checked, clear a minor ticket (speeding or parking)
  2. Get inside information/reports about a case, stop a minor investigation (misdemeanor or less)
  3. Get confiscated weapons or contraband, start an investigation, stop a major investigation (felony)
  4. Get evidence planted on a target, stop a murder investigation
  5. Have an officer fired, arrange a setup, start or stop a task force, stop an interdepartmental investigation

Politics

  1. Hear rumors from a politician or campaign’s staff, get a meeting with a small politician
  2. Learn about in-process laws and regulations, get access to a slush fund (up to $5k)
  3. Alter a political project (parks, renovations, etc.), minor law, or regulation
  4. Crush or advance a candidate with the establishment, alter a significant law, block a bill
  5. Create a new law, declare a state of emergency, call out the National Guard

Street/Underworld

  1. Hear rumors from the street, learn about a gang and its territory, protect a small area (haven) from most local criminals, hire a bodyguard
  2. Purchase clean weapons or other illegal goods, direct a gang to perform small crimes against a person or business within its territory
  3. Purchase rare illegal goods, declare a person or large building off limits to local criminals
  4. Direct a gang to attempt to kill or otherwise destroy a person or business within or near its territory/hire an assassin or arsonist
  5. Start a gang war, get gangs to mobilize fully to protect or harass a target in the face of serious opposition for a night

Transportation

  1. Travel across town quickly and for free, track an unwary target’s use of public transportation
  2. Arrange secret/safe travel (e.g., get a vampire moved safely during the day), cancel a target’s transit card
  3. Shut down a bus or train line for up to a day, alter a bus route for a day
  4. Establish a regular smuggling route, shut down a road for up to a day
  5. Keep all public transportation and cabs from entering/leaving an area

University

  1. Get and/or alter school records for a target, get access to labs or other facilities
  2. Fabricate school records for a target, cancel a class, change a target’s grades
  3. Get a student expelled, organize a protest or rally, steal lab supplies
  4. Get a professor/teacher fired, fabricate a degree for a target, cancel classes for the day
  5. Alter a curriculum/major, direct research toward a particular topic, close a school permanently

Making Friends and Influencing People, Part 1

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Last week’s post on a more downtime-friendly skill-based system got me thinking about the other thing you’d want in a heavy downtime WoD game: a way to use your downtime to grow your influence in the city. This is obviously most appropriate to a Vampire game, but could be relevant to Mage or non-White Wolf games as well. Everyone likes a system for quantifying favors owed and controlling events in the game world.

This system is largely based on the LARP rules for Influence, but with a lot more granularity. It requires a lot of bookkeeping because it’s meant to be a major subsystem: you could theoretically use it to run a game where the PCs spend most of their time garnering Influence and using it to solve problems without ever getting directly involved.

Categories of Influence

It’s up to the GM how granular influence is in a particular game. You might use the standard LARP categories (media, bureaucracy, finance, industry, etc.) or require it to target an actual contiguous organization (Channel 6, the DMV, Stonegate Bank, Excelsior Holdings, etc.). The latter will make more sense in a simulation-heavy game (as it becomes more clear how the character can turn favors into a result) while the former gives a much broader base of power to the PCs. If you want to have a more granular influence while giving the players city-spanning power, you may want to increase the downtime Favor points discussed later (as the system as designed makes it hard to maintain more than a handful of reasonably-effective influences).

Regardless, the minimum number of members of an influence organization is around 100: any smaller and the player could just control it directly rather than having to use favors. If you could conceive of a character having a Status background/merit in the organization, it’s probably big enough to support Influence.

Suggested broad areas of influence include:

  • Bureaucracy
  • Church
  • Finance
  • Health
  • High Society
  • Industry
  • Legal
  • Media
  • Occult
  • Police
  • Politics
  • Street/Underworld
  • Transportation
  • University

Influence is People

A character’s Influence rating in an area is the sum of individual contacts, friends, and thralls within the organization. The more people the character can ask for favors, the higher the Influence rating.

  • Each named individual has a control rating within the organization from 1-10.
    • As a rule of thumb, a character’s control rating in an organization is equal to Status (1-5) plus an applicable skill (0-5) that would indicate ability to direct the organization (Politics is the most obvious, but others could be justified).
    • For example, a politically minded-rookie (Status 1, Politics 5) and a clueless commissioner (Status 5, Politics 1) would both be worth 6 control rating. The former has little power but is really adept at using it, while the latter theoretically has a lot of control but can’t use it off-the-books very easily for the influential character.
  • Each such individual also has a relationship multiplier to this rating (based on how much she likes the PC).
    • A Contact knows the character and is friendly, but is unlikely to stick her neck out. However, having several of them an an organization certainly increases the chance they’ll at least look the other way when a better friend pushes through a favor. The contact’s control rating is quartered and rounded up.
    • A Friend either genuinely likes the character or owes her some serious favors and is thus willing to take more of a risk. The friend’s control rating is halved and rounded up.
    • A Thrall is willing to risk an awful lot for the character, either due to major blackmail, supernatural compulsion, or a genuine love. The thrall’s control rating is used without modification.
  • This generates the Influence rating.
    • All of the character’s relationship-modified control ratings are added together.
    • For every ten points of this total, the character gets a dot of Influence in that organization.
    • The character’s dots cannot exceed the highest relationship-modified control rating of any individual in the organization (e.g., if the character’s highest relationship is an 8-point friend worth 4 points, the character cannot have Influence higher than 4 until she improves that relationship or finds a more influential friend).

If the character has Status or otherwise works legitimately within an organization, she can count herself as one of her Thralls. This relationship doesn’t need to be maintained but also can’t be Burned (both explained later).

For example:

  • A character has several points of influence within the police force:
    • Detective Smith (Status 2, Skill 3), a Friend worth 3 points.
    • Captain Graves (Status 4, Skill 3), a Contact worth 2 points.
    • Officer Carmichael (Status 1, Skill 2), a Thrall worth 3 points.
    • Officer Jones (Status 1, Skill 2), a Contact worth 1 point.
    • Detective O’Brian (Status 2, Skill 2), a Thrall worth 4 points.
  • The character has 13 effective points within the organization, so has Influence 1.
  • If the character added a lot more points of contact, her rating still couldn’t go above Influence 4 without upgrading at least one of the relationships to at least 5 points.

Gaining and Maintaining Influence

If a PC meets and befriends/controls a member of an organization during actual play, that character can immediately be added to the character’s appropriate Influence sheet. GMs are, however, encouraged to enforce the logical consequences of players trying to get too many “free” points of Influence this way: a Contact isn’t just someone that the PC met once and using powers to create a bunch of Thralls in a short period of time has its own repercussions. This is more for situations like a player asking, “Do you think ace reporter Rob Stetson counts as a friend now that we saved him from a pack of werewolves?” And, indeed, if all the PCs could jointly count the NPC a friend, she can be added to all their sheets (though some might spend more time maintaining the relationship than others).

Other than NPCs met in play, a character can make friends and maintain relationships by expending Favor points.

Each PC gains a certain number of favor points per week:

  • One point for each dot of each applicable Background/Merit that could be used to do favors for contacts. Resources is the obvious go-to, but Contacts, Fame, and other such traits might be convincingly argued to give the character an easy ability to improve the lives of her contacts (either through gifts/bribes or by throwing them leads or other career upgrades).
  • One point for each dot of each Influence. It’s rather easy to call in extremely minor favors to keep people happy.
  • One point for each dot in an applicable die pool if the PC spent most of her free time that week working on scraping up Favor. This could be virtually any die pool that the player can justify (social pools to wine and dine the contacts, investigation pools to turn up leads or blackmail, etc.).

No favor points are gained for the week if the PC was completely off the grid/out of town for most of the week. Making your rivals go on the lam is a good way to bleed them of control.

For example, a PC:

  • Has Resources 3, Contacts 2 (5 points)
  • Has Police 2, Media 2 (4 points)
  • Spends the week turning up leads on mundane crimes with Wits 3 + Investigation 3 (6 points)
  • Gains 15 Favor points for the week.

This will change infrequently, so the player can generally write a passive/active total of Favor points gained each week somewhere convenient on the sheet.

Making new friends uses these Favor points:

  • You can add a new Contact by paying her total control in Favor points. For example, a Status 2, Skill 3 individual costs 5 points to add as a Contact.
  • You cannot add a new Contact with Status higher than your Influence dots (as you’re effectively using your existing friends to get you into contact with their superiors). This does have a minimum of one: you can start out a new type of Influence by scraping up contacts from the bottom of the organization.

Each month, you can maintain and improve your relationships with Favor points:

  • You must pay an individual’s effective rating each month to Maintain that relationship (e.g., a control 6 Contact worth an effective 2 costs two Favor points to maintain).
    • If you do not pay to maintain that relationship for the month, put a — next to the character’s name.
    • If the character already had a —, reduce that relationship by one step (Thrall>Friend>Contact>No Value).
  • You can pay double an individual’s effective rating each month to Improve that relationship.
    • If you paid double for the month, put a + next to the character’s name.
    • If the character already  had a +, improve that relationship by one step.
  • A — cancels a + and vice versa. If you neglect a relationship, you’ll eventually have to pay double to remove the risk of it dropping.
  • If a relationship drops to No Value, you can always pay the initial Contact cost to regain that character, even if her Status is now higher than your Influence (but it would have typically been cheaper not to let the relationship drop).

Actions in-play can also adjust relationships at the GM’s discretion. Players might want to direct resources gained during a scenario to favorite contacts, work to get their Thralls higher Status or train them to higher political skill, or otherwise improve a source of influence. If a target was made a Thrall by supernatural means, a reduction to Friend status either means the character was not maintaining the compulsion or, if it was permanent, the contact did something to make peers suspicious and cannot currently give the character full access to resources.

On-screen contacts might also get killed, removing them entirely. And, if you identify an enemy’s contacts, you can kill or suborn them yourself.

Next week’s post explains how to actually use Influence.

Skill Based: Scaling Exp into Scaling Time

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As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a fan of skill-based game systems that use a flat-cost system in character creation but a scaling-cost system for advancement. That is, something that costs 2 points per level in creation might cost current level x 2 with exp. It effectively penalizes players for not min-maxing at character creation, as it’s way cheaper in the long run if you start with several useful traits maxed out and neglect median ranks in traits.

What the scaling costs are meant to do is create a more simulationist curve to advancement: of course it’s harder to master a skill than to pick up the basics, so the first rank costs a small fraction of moving from the penultimate to ultimate rank. But even with that stated goal, in the latest White Wolf game I’ve been playing, we’ve started to notice flaws. We have a five-member party where everyone started out with a high degree of skill in at least a couple of areas that compliment one another, so we can usually field at least one person against any given challenge. Since there’s only the lowest pressure to shore up our weaker traits, it only makes sense to save up our exp until we can buy something really flashy (generally the next highest rank in our powers). The GM is stuck in a weird situation where our group can pretty easily roll over most of the opponents in his setting book, because even though those NPCs technically have tons more exp than us, they’ve diversified it across a bunch of traits. We’re magical idiot savants, fantastically skilled at a couple of meaningful areas and worthless at anything else. And the system makes that a great idea.

And, as a secondary concern (which is a problem with virtually every game that doesn’t require training time), we’ve gone from newly awakened nobodies to magical powerhouses in only a couple months of game time. There’s no reason for us to take a break longer than it takes us to heal up, recover mana, and refill willpower. So even though the GM would like us to spend some time in magical study, it doesn’t really make any sense for us to do so.

That’s a long intro to explain the background of the system below. It’s designed to:

  • Minimize the differences between buying something at chargen and during play
  • Encourage players to diversify spending rather than just buying the flashiest traits
  • Enforce a “realistic” time frame on learning skills

Fixed Costs

The following charts are tuned to new WoD (new level) and old WoD (current level), but should be applicable with minor modification to any game that uses a level multiplier for exp costs.

New WoD

New Level x 5 dots* 10 dots
1 3 6
2 5 11
3 8 17
4 10 22
5 13 28
6 15 33
7 18 39
8 20 44

* The fifth dot costs double as in character creation.

Old WoD

Current Level x* 5 dots 10 dots
1 2 5
2 5 9
3 7 14
4 9 19
5 12 23
6 14 28
7 16 33
8 18 37

* The costs are based on a fixed cost for the first dot equal to about 150% the cost of the second dot (e.g., skills cost 3 points for the first dot in oWoD and 2 for the second).

Examples

In oWoD, attributes cost current level x 4 for a five-dot progression. Looking at the chart above, they now costs 9 points per dot. Similarly, Willpower costs current level x 1 for a ten-dot progression. On the chart, that becomes 5 points per dot.

In nWoD, attributes cost new level x 5 for a five-dot progression, so they now cost 13 points per dot (and the fifth dot costs 26). Meanwhile, Willpower becomes a flat 8 points per dot, so that remains unchanged.

Enforced Time

Standard Method

Characters can spend one exp per week per trait. If they don’t have enough saved exp on hand at the end of the week for all the traits they want, they didn’t learn anything that week and don’t get to “buy the week back” when more exp is gained. But if they have lots of exp, they can be working on several traits at once. This is effectively paying for the trait on layaway: when the last point of exp goes into the trait, it is increased on the character sheet immediately.

The GM may additionally want to give out bonus training that is effectively extra exp that can ignore the time restrictions. This will generally be something the PCs were focused on during the adventure and could justify learning faster due to on-the-job training. For example, in an adventure where everyone learned a ton about the occult, instead of 4 general exp the GM might give out 2 general exp and 2 exp that went straight into the Occult skill (and the players could spend another point of exp into Occult for their regular weekly increases).

Players will likely either want a character sheet with room next to every trait to track exp spent, or a scratch sheet to keep track of which traits are being worked on. The GM will likely want to pick a day of the game week that’s exp day, and remember to call it out at the table (“It’s Sunday morning, spend your exp!”).

Slightly More Bookkeeping Method

The above method does make more expensive traits take longer to learn, but doesn’t capture the geometric feel of the multiplicative exp. That is, under this system, the fourth dot takes just as long to learn as the second. If you’d like to retain some of that feel, you can make lower point values take less time to pick up than higher.

The simplest way to do that is to let the players put two points of exp into a skill per week if they’re trying to buy rank 1 or 2 and only half a point in per week (or one every other week) if they’re trying to buy rank 5.

In nWoD, that means a character completely untrained in a skill (and with ample exp to spend every week but no bonus exp) gains rank 1 in four weeks, rank 2 after 8 weeks total, rank 3 after 16 weeks total, rank 4 after 24 weeks total, and rank 5 after 56 weeks total. Meanwhile, a x6 power gains rank 1 in 8 weeks, rank 2 in 15 weeks total, rank 3 in 30 weeks total, rank 4 in 45 weeks total, and rank 5 after 105 weeks.

If you have enough downtime that a year still seems too fast to go from untrained to mastery in a skill, you can slow the progression down even more. Do keep in mind that doing so will make learning more expensive traits than skills (i.e., attributes and powers) take even more time. Make sure that your time progression leaves enough room for players to bother getting the last rank in a power if it takes over a year to go from 4 to 5.

And if, as a GM, you want to keep track of all the bookkeeping yourself, you can simply ask the players what they’re trying to learn and then tell them when they can level it up. Just one day you’ll be like, “all that time you spent learning X has paid off, you may increase it by one dot.” Your players might even be amazed at the way their characters grow along with their intentions but without their direct involvement.

System Review: Mage: the Awakening, Conclusion

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And I Say It’ll Be Alright

I wonder if my issues with Mage: the Awakening aren’t my issues with the new World of Darkness in general.

In the 90s, the game lines were almost explicitly about taking everything resembling a horror or occult mythos and tossing it into a big melting pot. Original Vampire had pretty obvious influences from every major piece of Vampire genre fiction out there, and you could conceivably run a game where Near Dark collided head first with Necroscope by way of the Lost Boys if you had such a mind. Changeling made splats out of any kind of humanoid creature that could remotely be associated with a myth or faerie tale. And Mage was built from a lot of genuine occult beliefs attached to a substructure of the 1990s zeitgeist. The old WoD was, in many ways, set up so that you could just roll in with whatever mythology, horror, and pop culture background you had and find something relatable to build a character around.

Because of this, though, the old WoD lines could be considered a little immature. Drawing from every source imaginable for your setting introduces thematic dissonance, and it was hard to tell a player that she wasn’t matching the intended feel of the game line when she was clearly basing her roleplay on the obvious source material for her splat. The new WoD games, in addition to trying to clean up some of the metaplot bloat of the old lines, seem to have had a less explicit goal of homogenizing the character types so they could actually be directed at a specific story and theme, rather than being a strange amalgam of pop culture. The new WoD games are much more consistent in tone and intended direction.

Unfortunately, though, to my mind that makes them a little boring. While there’s a lot of stuff in these games, it’s all uniform enough that none of it pops out. Old Mage was all like “whoa, crazy kung fu monks and weird shaman guys and mad scientists and magical hackers!” New Mage is more nuanced, and asks you to have a strong idea for a character or game to impose on the setting, rather than those ideas popping out at you. There may actually be a lot more things you can do in the new setting without all the cruft from a few dozen other media properties fighting with you on what you want to do, but the text itself isn’t very exciting.

The rules are the same way.

New Mage has rules for magic that are all about minor bonuses and gradual upgrades in power. There’s much more consistency across different power types, and they’ve gone out of their way to make each arcana useful in as many typical game situations as possible. There’s less of a sense of odd imbalance like Life 3 giving you a huge bag of tricks from healing, to the best attack in the game, to shapeshifting, to stat boosting while Time 3 mostly just lets you get a few extra actions. There are clear and gradual paths to improvement, and a lot of fun to be had in figuring out how to get a few more dice for a useful effect.

But they’re lacking in the excitement of old Mage. That was a game that really wanted you to figure out the handful of incredibly unbalanced things you could do and make use of them as often as you were willing to soak up the Paradox. The first time I ever saw old Mage in action was a con game that ended with the macguffin pile of deadly toxic waste getting transmuted to water like it was nothing. I’ve had players cover themselves in frictionless force fields to escape at high velocity down a skyscraper’s stairwell. I’ve used that same one-trick Time speed power to take out enemies by accelerating just their heads so the blood rushed out of their brains faster than it could rush in. You could probably do some of these wacky, immature, exciting things in new Mage, but the rules are tuned to support a much more sedate and serious setting, so they’d be fighting you at every turn.

Ultimately, new Mage is a perfectly workable rules set. It’s got a lot of warts, but there aren’t any really glaring flaws to make it unplayable. Its only real sin is probably just being based on an updated but still aging 1990s rules set while dumping the idiosyncratic charm that made that rules set fun. That is, there are a lot of modern game engines in which one could more easily run a consistently toned and subtle modern occult game, and it’s weird to have dropped the gonzo 1990s tone of the setting while keeping all the cruft of a 1990s rules engine. New Mage is completely serviceable, but that’s not really high praise for a successor to a game that still stirs the imagination a decade later.

But I have to admit I could easily be succumbing to nostalgia, and, if Mage: the Awakening was the game I had played first, maybe I’d be just as excited about that.

System Review: Mage: the Awakening, Part 3

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Miscellaneous Rules

Welcome to Paradox

Earlier, I described this game as “Mages in Trenchcoats” with the intention that this game has a far lower gonzoness cap than old Mage. Superficially, it’s set up so starting characters don’t have access to the really exciting spells until quite a while into progression, and Paradox is easier to come by. The tone indicates that you’re meant to really try to keep all this stuff secret.

But then one might look more closely at the rules and realize that Highlander was big on trenchcoats, too: gonzo swordfights in trenchcoats. In particular, Paradox isn’t nearly as bad in this game as it was in old Mage. There are several ways to mitigate it outright (from magical tools to spending mana), and when you do take it you still have options. The first is to take it as backlash and soak up a couple of points of bashing damage; it can’t be healed with magic, but it will be gone on its own pretty quickly. IIRC, Paradox damage in old Mage lasted a lot longer. Even if you choose to let the Paradox flow into the world and cause havoc, it’s more on the order of cool special effects like electrical storms, temporary insanity to roleplay, and scary eyes than real drawbacks. For most characters, they only last for a scene. Eventually you start summoning antagonistic spirits, but the lower order effects aren’t actually that terrible.

So behind the surface caveat to avoid going vulgar whenever you can, because it will cause Paradox, there’s an actual realization that it probably won’t be too bad until you do it a lot. I’m not sure whether this is a case of the rules not supporting the intended feel of the game, or just the intended feel of the game being unclear from a superficial reading.

One Permanent Willpower

One thing the game does, just as an aside, that really bugs me is rely on “spend a permanent dot of Willpower” for anything that needs to be lasting. In particular, making a spell permanent or creating a magic item is based on this cost, as are other things like inducting apprentices into your magical legacy. This reminds me of the old joke from 2nd Edition D&D about the poor foolish wizard that used up all his permanent Constitution to make a bag of +1 sling stones: the enchant an item spell consumed a permanent resource there as well. Since restoring an expended Willpower is a fixed and fairly expensive experience cost, this system pretty much implicitly makes permanent items or effects not worth it unless they’re incredibly powerful. Cool little magical doo dads that perform one minor function can’t cost less to make than world-shaking items of power, so PCs are unlikely to fiddle with them. Which makes me sad.

Rituals, Durations, and Spell Limits

An area where new Mage has a pretty significant leg up on old is structure for non-instant casting. Old Mage likes to talk a lot about rituals, but I can’t recall much support for them since there wasn’t a real limitation against making an extended casting in regular combat rounds rather than over hours. The newer game has a fixed divide: if you want to make more than one roll toward a spell, you have to go to a ritual casting mode with some fixed timing (hours rather than seconds).

Even with the greater focus on the difficulty of a ritual, you could still build up a lot of successes with an extended casting. In particular, it’s not hard to make any spell with a base duration of a scene last a long time. To counter this, the game makes a big deal about how many active spells you can have at all, and how many buffs you can have on yourself before taking major penalties. To be fair, old Mage didn’t make having a lot of buffs nearly as attractive as new, but it was pretty easy to stack stuff up if you had a mind to, and that could have been troublesome. I still remember a rote concept of mine that I think would have been legal that would have allowed ritually building up a pretty obnoxious pool of aggravated damage blasts to be used at will. New Mage at least puts some structure on that kind of game breakage.

Organization

On reading back though the rulebook for these reviews, I have to admit that part of my problem with the game is just that there’s a lot of cool stuff that you may never notice if you don’t make a concentrated effort to read the book cover to cover again once you have a firm grasp on the basics. Old Mage, as I’ve noted before, had some teething pains for new players, particularly with grokking paradigms, but once you got over a few conceptual hurdles you’d have players operating at a pretty high effectiveness as far as being able to make full use of the available rules options. New Mage has a lot of cool stuff that’s just buried in the text. You can chant in the language of magic to make spells more potent. You can bind spells to sigils to make them last longer. You can weave spells together to cast a multi-purpose effect or have multiple minor buffs only count as one for spell limits. All of these are cool things that will probably drastically change how I interface with the game system now that I’ve found them, and they’re all mixed arbitrarily throughout a pretty dense rules chapter.

A large part of the problem is that the headings are in a hard-to-read cursive font in reflective bronze ink (and the sidebars are often in the same ink). But even were the text easy to read, the information is not at all organized well. There are several pages of charts for modifications to spells that are mostly a complete reprint (one’s for fast cast spells and one’s for rituals, but the only difference is that “drop 2 more dice” is replaced with “spend 1 more success” all the way across). Some things are called out in sidebars that break weirdly across pages. The spell effects listings are in three columns with minimal column breaks (the text wraps as it will for the most part).

If this game had been given to an editor and/or layout designer more focused on making a whole raft of fiddly but interesting rules easily accessible, rather than going for graphical style and dense prose, this could have been a better game. Even if it would have been technically the same game… layout is more important than a lot of people seem to realize.

Conclusion

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