Rebellion: Magic and those Blank Spots

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In the last part, I explained how the world’s Central Adventuring Area, which should totally be a term. What already is a term discussed in RPG circles is “blank spots”. Like when someone explain they want a world with blank spots where they can fill in their own content. Or explicitly in Dungeon World, when it says: Draw maps and leave blanks.

Now, when you make your own campaign world, “leaving blanks” is just a caveat not to over plan beforehand. The PCs after all are only in one place at a time, so you likely won’t need it. When you make a campaign world for other people to use, I actually doubt that leaving blanks is good enough. Because those people took to your world because it offers some content and themes they enjoy. And therefore they will likely want to add content in a way that fits existing material. So when you publish your own game world, you might want to provide an explicit formula that people may use to slot in their ideas.

I will develop such a formula for making magic in the Rebellion setting, then use it. Because as I explained in the first post, magic here is per community. A typical community the PCs might visit has some magic going on. So we need to insert more communities. Of course, some communities might lack magic completely or have lost it. That’s a statement as well. So this is it:

  1. The magic a person wields only ever does specific things. Magic as whole might do pretty much anything, but no single person or group can. So what does this magic do?
  2. All magic originated with the gods. A manifest god warps reality just by being there, but the gods are gone. So for the magic that remains, decide what god originated it from.
  3. How did people get this magic? Of course, the god might have handed it out willingly back in the day. Or maybe it was unintentional. Maybe it’s the result of some weird interaction. (Some examples of that below.)
  4. How does an individual use this magic? What actions do they need to perform? In general there these approaches can serve as a baseline. Several can apply at the same time.
    • The magic is inborn. Only people with right genetics can do it.
    • The magic is acquired. You need personally do something to get it first.
    • The magic must be regularly harvested in some manner from a location touched by the divine.
    • You must perform some action whenever you use it. Usually either some prayer to the god, even if they are not around anymore, or something physical.
  5. How does the community use this magic? What customs have evolved from it?
  6. How do they interact with other community? Do they trade their magic? Keep it secret? Weaponize it to conquer their neighbors?

These questions need not be answered in order. For the magics I did, I often worked backwards. So let’s do it. Remember the big storm that arose from the battlefield where several gods died, as well as how Father Sky really wanted to save his supplicants?

Storm Callers

Stormcaller is the name for people who stand in the way of the flesh-rending storm and shout out their devotion to Father Sky. It is said that if their heart is pure they will receive the power of healing themselves from injuries. Cynic people suggest that people looking like the majority population of the fallen empire have a better chance at survival.

Effects: Stormcallers have super regeneration. They heal from cuts, stabs and burns. Limbs do not regrow but can be reattached. They do not get sick from normal diseases and have an increased life expactancy. Decapitation and starving will kill them. Those who have called upon the Storm are infertile and cannot bear children.

Society: Calling at the Storm is generally considered a desparate act. Some groups in the Devastation have a tradition of sending people into the storm. They are mostly dressed in white, the color of mourning. They are usually males, because femals are considered too important. Of course, there are always foolhardy outsiders of any kind who think standing in front of a storm is their best bet in life.

Rain Smiths

One group in the Devastation travels after the storm. Coming into their compounds, you will see displays silvery figures that move in artistic ways. It is the same material they use as struts in their tents when traveling, or their collapsible weapons. Rain Metal.

To make this fabulous substance you need three things:

  1. Water from the Great Storm
  2. Jars to collect the water made from special earths.
  3. A Rain Smith to sing at it daily for one full month.

The Rain Smiths form a Line, a hereditary group with certain powers. Or to be more precise, two competing Lines, who each have settled one of the locations where the jars can be made. The third known spot is in a particularly nasty area within the Devastation.

The largely unknown origin of the Rain Smiths is a group of messengers in the empire who carried official pronouncements to the often capricious gods. The clay for jars was used in imperial seals. The divine essence in the rain basically still reacts to the messengers carrying a seal.

Effects: Freshly made Rain Metal is a silvery liquid. It has several effects.

  • It reacts to emotions with whirls and wobbles and when you put in a hand, it becomes a rather effective lie detector. At least against people who do have not trained against it.
  • Food placed in jar of liquid rain metal doesn’t go bad. Although the taste may change somewhat.
  • A Rain Smith can sing the liquid into certain specific forms making the repeating displays of art or weapons that can be collapsed and extended even by people who are not of the Line.
  • Swallowing rain metal is one of the less painful ways of soul scraping, at least if you have Rain Smith on hand to get it back out. Soul scraped cannot use any kind of magic and seem less empathetic, but become invisible to augury and spirits and cannot be effected by most magic that works on living things. Giving someone rain metal to drink and keeping it in, is a particularly nasty form of torture, though.

Society: The two families of Rain Smiths are influential factions within theDdevastation. They have become rich from trade and each have a number of mercenaries at their compounds. Especially collapsible weapons have become a status symbol in the south and are traded at a high markup.

So this is it for now. Two examples of how to magic might look in this world. I will surely post some more. See you next time, where I’ll talk a bit about ways of using tropes.

Rebellion: The Devastation of Sky’s Empire

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Before the Rebellion the Empire of the Sky was the greatest realm on the continent. Under the aegis of Father Sky it had the greatest number of people and gods. And here were the problems. With the growing number of gods, reality in the core lands of the empire became increasingly unstable. The Empire was forced to demarcate no-god zones for the common people and likewise restricted sections for whatever the gods did. On the one hand they tried to reduce handouts to the people to curb population growth, on the other the shrinking number of intervention free areas interfered with classical agriculture.

It is in this environment the Rebellion grew. The Lord Red enlisted both common people and nobility with divine blessings. A number of gods joined their cause too, deeming the current situation untenable. For a time the rebels restricted their actions to outlying divine estates, gaining some advantages by collecting divine blessings. The Four Great Weapons were first heard of at this time (It is always good to have a set of cool ancient weapons, in case players like collecting).

Still, maybe the Rebellion would have run itself out, if it were not for the Allies, more on them at a later time. They came from the South and offered the rebels advanced magic and beasts of war, nowadays known as dragons. In exchange they wanted the rebels to acknowledge their claim to the south-eastern archipelago. The rebels readily agreed having little interest in lands far outside the Empire.

Then the war began in earnest. Provinces fell easily and Father Sky decided to take to the field himself. The loyalist troops fielding thirteen gods and twenty thousand men where thought to be enough to crash whatever the rebels could bring. Instead four of the loyalist gods where brought down in short order with methods that appeared tailor-made against them and dragons tore through mortal troops with abandon. Still Father Sky himself proved unassailable and might have turned the tide alone.

But it happened that a group of supplicants arrived by foot to sing their support for the sky god. By the traditional standards of divine warfare unarmed supplicants were not to be attacked, though the winner might claim their allegiance in case. The rebels cared not for tradition. Neither for the off chance that the prayers might give Sky another boost, nor for sparing adherents of the old order.

When Sky became aware of a dragon taking a pass at his supplicants, he diverted part of his power to protect them. Poets have composed songs of that noble deed alone. Because it was that one distraction that proved too much, and Sky died with the thought to heal his supplicants. The Divine Architect surrendered the capital but four days later. Probably the first time in history that a god knelt before mortals.

The center of the Empire is now known as the Devastation. The death of Sky and the other gods on the battlefield unleashed an eternal whirl storm that has been slowly crawling crisscross over the empire’s core lands for the last centuries.

The land is still riddled by divine estates, some of which have become unstable hazards. Others have been shut down by their former lords, but still attract treasure hunters. Still others that provide amenable conditions actually attracted settlers, because the great storm always passes them by.

So we have a big region with magic hazards, some towns in stable areas, ancient treasures buried. Next time we’ll talk a bit about people who made a living out of the great storm and magic in the setting in general.

Worldbuilding: Rebellion

Hi everyone. I’m starting a new series with some world building content that came out of my last Dungeonworld campaign. Really, most of the the details, I came up with after the game had wrapped up, but that’s where it started. So it’s a fantasy world.

One particular feature I like and find very rarely in fantasy is magic communities or community-based magic: It’s what we find in games like 7th Sea or Reign, where different communities have each their own kind of magic that only does very specific things. So in 7th Sea the pseudo-Italians can use fate magic and the pseudo-Russians are shapeshifters. In Reign the Empire has Smoke Formers what can produce temporary stuff out of smoke, while the Oblob have diviners. I really like that concept and wanted it turned up to 11.

Another thing I like is posthuman fantasy. That is, the fantasy races, insofar they exist, used to be humans and turned themselves into something else. Gladly, community magic and posthuman fantasy go well together.

One thing I dislike is gods walking around in fantasy settings. I want to see stories about people. So we might just have gods not exist. But having storis about what the gods did in olden times and them being real is cool too. So my third ingredient is: The gods are gone. Not like one day they just went away. Sudden inexplicable retirement on the gods’ part is everywhere from Mother of Learning to Powder Mage and it’s boring (both stories are great otherwise, mind you). If the gods are gone, I want to know why. So my refined third ingredient is: People evicted the gods. Firmly. That fits nicely with posthuman fantasy as well.

So in this first post I will tell a little bit, about the settings prehistory. I will then from time to time post one of the communities and their magic.

History starts pretty much like it did on our world. Humans came up and after many millennia they congregated in larger communities. They started organized cults and when the cults got large enough things changed. Because the gods got real. And having a anthropomorphic god as a defender proved a tremendous advantage. Suddenly the vagaries of weather and enemies where much less fearsome. So the early empires had a much better staying power than in our world.

But while the first gods were mostly projections of their followers at first, they became more individual and idiosyncratic over time. Some started ruling over their subjects in real theocracies, some instead wandered of. There are still structures found, that apparently were made by the gods with unknown purpose and withstood time unchanged (i.e. adventure friendly locations). The gods found that they could procreate, either alone or in groups, and so newer gods came up that had not been spun up by communities of believers.

But as the number of gods grew with the number of people things got chaotic. It wasn’t that the gods where actively malicious. At least most weren’t and many were actually nice to their people. But each god warps the world in its vicinity and multiple gods doing that can have ever stranger effects, not usually conducive to human wellbeing.

Now things likely wouldn’t have changed because the gods were powerful. But then the Warmaster clashed with the Lady Luck on the great high planes north to the central mountains. It wasn’t the first clash between gods and the Warmaster would likely take the win and the Lady’s territory. But instead the Warmaster was betrayed by his trusted lieutenant. It is not known what exactly happened on those mountains, but in the end the Warmaster was left for dead, the Lady flew in a crazed flight over the mountains and over the lands and barricaded herself on an island down south. She has not left in the centuries since and the island has turned into a dangerous territory. Brave or stupid people sometimes travel to find treasures on the Island of Crazed Luck even today (just in case we need a country sized mad house dungeon). Most never return.

Parts of the Warmaster’s body were later recovered by his followers who went west and founded the Obrimic Empire. The Lieutenant though brought from the mountains the sword known as God’s Death. He is known as Lord Red. (Color-coded for my players convenience.) And that is how the #Rebellion started.

Playbook moves

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I already made some general remarks about making Pbta hacks, and gave some opinionated advice about basic moves. These will be some suggestions about playbook moves, starting with a Do and a Don’t.

  • DO: Playbook moves should make characters feel special.
  • DON’T: Playbook moves should not encapsulate what any character might resonably try.

To give an example about the DON’T, I remember the first draft of my Star Trek hack (this is the current one). I had observed that from time to time, characters on the show redirect energy to change functionality of the ship. Now it is not so common, as to make it a basic move, but I thought it might be a nice move for one of the playbooks. Except, it wasn’t. The problem was that another player had seen the shows too and casually declared they would redirect energy. And you do not want to genitalia block your players. So this got wrapped into a basic engineering move as a potential requirement (dismantle something else).

There are special engineering moves on some of the playbooks, though. Like Belana’s signature move of percussive maintenance. That works fine, because most Starfleet engineers are not the type to kick a console in frustration. Nor do we usually expect it to work then. So characters without the move might certainly kick a console, but we wouldn’t consider it a reasonable attempt at anything.

As for the DO, we want the playbook moves to evoke some image. This might be some actual actions the character takes that others usually wouldn’t, like the Kick It above. These are other sources we can exploit though.

  • Iconic possessions, maybe they have a magic sword, hideout or special pet.
  • Past experiences. They might be Well Travelled, Friends with Dragons, or anything else a player might incorporate into their role-play.
  • Things that regularly happen to the character without them doing much, maybe they just happen to find magic items, or people always tell them their problems.
  • Changes that happen to character. Maybe they develop some new magic or grow wings.
  • Catch Phrases.

A catch phrase might seem very similar to an action a character might take, except it can be used if there is not really a separate action to be taken. That’s because many playbook moves are not actually moves in their own right. Often they are modifications of basic moves. The most typical ones are +1 bonuses and stat changes (roll +Vanilla instead of +Chilli). As such the general consensus is that they should be used sparingly.

Usually those riders are connected with certain situations: When you trigger_basic_move and condition, [roll +Vanilla instead of +Chilli / take +1]. You can also add some further details to drive that point home, like on a move with choice you can have: … and you must choose X, or: …and you cannot choose Y.

Speaking of choices, you can also use a rider move to…

  • offer new choices (you may also choose…)
  • offer an additional choice pick on a hit.

Alternatively, you might offer a reduced effect / single choice on a miss as a kind of consolation price. That is, you incure what ever bad things happen on a miss, but you at least get what the playbook move offers. I found that people often have problems wrapping their heads around such consolation moves, so you might want to explain carefully how they work.

Of course, you can write completely new moves, including a trigger, possibly a roll and some effects thereafter. You have two options then, you can either do something that does something that is completely removed from what the basic moves do, or you can take something that is similar but more specific than what a certain basic move does or offer more control. Let’s compare the basic engineering move, with Belana’s.

When you work on a piece of tech, say what you want to achieve and the Prophets will tell you some of the following:

  • It takes seconds/minutes/hours/days.
  • You can’t do it alone.
  • You can’t do it from here.
  • You can only achieve a lesser result or a single shot.
  • You need some resources or you have to dismantle something else. (Can happen multiple times.)

vs.

[  ] Kick it: When a system shuts down, you may kick it and roll +Aggressive. On a hit, it will work one more time. On a 7-9, take Angry or something similar as a condition.

The Kick It move has more specific conditions and much more limited effect. It is also much quicker than working on some tech. The player also knows exactly what they will get on a hit, whereas the the basic move takes more negotiation.

Those green arrows

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I just had another read through of Vincent Baker’s Dice and Clouds series of blog posts, which is very good. The basic idea is that Cloud represents fictional game state and dice represent prop game state, including sheets, tokens and dice. The arrows represent the players enacting changes on fiction and props, taking hints from either fiction or props. The examples are quite good for a general overview, but I wonder: What kind of arrows are there? How do we enact those changes?

On typical mode of changing the fiction, named explicitly in many Forge and post-Forge games, is narration. A player narrates an outcome. But that is only one kind of arrow. When I move my miniature three squares towards the zombie miniature, there is a change in the fiction. My dwarven princess has just engaged the vile zombie. But I haven’t narrated anything. In fact, I do not even have to say anything for this part.

Other kinds of arrows include:

  1. Speaking and acting as a character.
  2. Uttering certain keywords like “Charge!” or “That shall not come to pass.”
  3. Talking back and forth until we have a new shared understanding of the new fictional state.
  4. Taking notes and keeping list of fictional elements up to date.

Those are simple examples. Curiously, a rather complicated one is rolling dice. The most simple example might be a coin flip. Before we flip it, we a assign an outcome to each side. Those outcomes are in a way little clouds, little fictions and we can manipulate them in any way that we manipulate the big cloud, our shared fictional world. We can have a single player state them, we can talk back and forth, we can rely on certain keywords and other props, like spending tokens for a better result on heads. Once the coin has fallen, one of the little clouds is disappears, while the other is integrated with the main cloud, our shared fiction. That integration can involve some explicit cloud work (narrating, acting) or it might be just as automatic as the idea of my dwarven princess engaging the vile zombie.

This is only the most basic form a random result might be used. With a more advanced form of dice rolling. We might calculate a total from existing values, assign bonuses based on the fictional situation, spend resources. In the end, we might take notes based on the dice’ shown results or move the dice physically to some area of the gaming table.

But bur dice or coin choosing between (resolving?) mini clouds is just one way dice can be used. Consider rolling on a random table with 100 entries. We do not imagine a hundred situations here. In fact we do not have read through the table at all before consulting it. I’m sure that analyzing some of the examples I gave in my first post here with these concepts, will yield very different results.

Of course, analyzing rules in terms of arrows between fiction and props, that is the players making specific alterations to either domain, is a very low level approach, but that might in fact be useful to approach certain problems like players complaining that certain rules are too “meta” or “disassociated”. The problem with such complains usually is that the same players have no problems with things that are even more “meta”. I’m still looking for some explanations that holds waters. Maybe you have one.

A quick guide to demonic patrons

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This is taken from an ongoing campaign where mages pact with entities called demons to gain power. Thus creating Class Techniques or Powers magic users.

The first thing to remember is that a potential patron always an angle. Demons want something. So even if they give something for free, you can assume it will somehow further the demons agenda.

Because demons have wants and urges, we can classify them by what they want. The main groups are Collectors, Directors and Markers. Collectors want something. Their pacts usually involve some quota of that thing to be delivered and the magic they hand out makes retrieving those things easier. For example, the Reading Eye collects books. They have read a lot by now, so don’t think they are easy to satisfy. Mages of the Reading Eye have ways of locating and securing books.

Directors want people and especially their pacted mages to act in certain ways. The Lord of Drink would have everyone engage in a drunken orgy. Their mages can heighten intoxication and lower inhibitions. There is no particular price the Lord of Drink requires for lending their power, but their mages rejuvenate when they party and feel exhausted and restless when they can’t party for some time. The bigger the party the better.

The Ashen Lady is on the other hand transforms her adherents into something resembling her preferred form. They have to act the part, with black dress and white mask, act courteous and proper at all times, and in exchange become slow moving juggernauts. An Ashen one can casually walk through wall – leaving a whole -, and become pretty much immovable objects. Directors who have their adherents emulate them, are sometimes called choragetes and their adherents choirs.

Markers want their mark left on the world. As much as possible. The Breath of Winter would have it coated in ice. Abilities granted by markers are usually direct and transform the world as the demons wants to. Not all such transformations are always hostile to human life. For example the Greener promotes lush forests and parks. Although even their work can become problematic in excess.

There is overlap between the three main categories of course. A typical mixture between the collector and director archetypes are Traders who want a certain thing, want it acquired through trade only. As with all collecting types, the thing they are after can get rather metaphorical.

Classifying magic systems: ICU/PT

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Magic systems have become a major part in fantasy worldbuilding. It is no longer enough to have a few mages in the world, how their magic works and how they interact with the world at large turned into one of the deciding questions. And of course, in such cases, we like to classify things.

First things first, the distinction between hard and soft magic, originated in this article by Brandon Sanderson, is not a classification of magic systems. The point is how magic is used in a story. Brandon’s first law states the reader has to understand enough about the magic in order for a character to use it to solve problems. Magic that is sufficiently discussed beforehand then is called hard. Magic that is more used to introduce mystery and conflict into the story, can remain unexplained and thus soft. Therefore hard and soft is not about how magic works in the fiction, how the characters think it works or what the author has planned beforehand. It’s how magic is presented in the narrative.

Here and now, I will present some observations about how different kinds magic can be distributed within the population of magic users within a setting and how that relates to different kinds of stories.

The first distinction is between powers and techniques. Techniques are magic that you can learn, teach, share, and invent. Powers are abilities you get and that’s pretty much it. You might make them bigger, more efficient or get a handle on them in the first place. But in powered systems gaining new powers is a rare event and something even most powered characters might never do. Whereas in technique based system new techniques might be invented left and right.

The other distinction is between individual, class or universal magic. These can be paired with both techniques and powers and I will therefore discuss the resulting combinations.

Individual Powers (Superheroes): In this scenario, a super acquires on power (or small set of powers) and that’s it. No two supers have exactly the same power. If groupings of powers exist those are usually made up by interested parties based on broad similarties, like Brutes or Fliers, not by any inherent mechanism. In fact there might not be any common denominator between superpowered individuals, though things like Power Nullification powers might exist.

Individual Techniques (Cultivators): In these stories, a cultivator might learn techniques from teachers, but at some point most cultivators will start inventing their own techniques and find their own paths. In fact, introspection and finding out what techniques you want for your personal style is very important in these stories, because once a character is on a path that usually precludes certain other techniques. If characters have very similar techniques this usually means that they have learned from the same teachers, hail from the same clan or sect.

Class Powers (Invested): This is what most of Sanderson’s magic is like, thus the name. Invested gain a each certain type of magic and certain abilities associated with it. There are different types, and while users of a type might differ in their skill level there is not much difference in what they can do in general. For example, if you are a Pewterarm from the Mistborn series, you can make your body tougher and stronger and that’s mostly it. If you are a Tineye you can sharpen your senses etc. If classes get several powers, there might characters who specialize, but each can access their whole class package.

Class Techniques (Attuned): Named for the magic tatoos in Andrew Rowe’s Sufficiently Advanced Magic, this category mostly pops up in stories related to the LitRPG genre, or RPGs in general. Going by the schema, an attuned belongs to a certain class and can learn techniques from it. They can devlop new techniques but only share them with other members of their class. Whereas the path of a cultivator can be lonely, attuned magic lends itself to mixed parties leveling up together. Benders from Avatar are somewhat on the edge between Attuned and Invested.

Universal Powers (Gifted): This setup is mostly is in rather low magic mystery or action stories. If you are gifted, you have one specific gift or set of gifts, and every gifted has essentially some one. A very common candidate is seeing monsters or ghosts, but Sense8 or Jumper also fall into this category.

Universal Techniques (Wizards): This is your typical Harry. Both Potter and Dresden. Wizards can theoretically use every spell there is and make new ones. Sure they might have favorite spells like Dresden is very Kaboom with his magic while his apprentice Carpenter specializes in illusions, she is both his apprentice and Dresden later learns better illusions partly from her. And likewise nothing but time and effort would stop Molly from learning Carlo’s disintegration ray.

Some further observation:

  • Universal types, both wizard and gifted stories, often involve some conflict between mages and non-mages. Whereas other types might not have non-magic people at all.
  • Class types, both attuned and invested, lend themselves to exploring how characters with these powers might fit into society.
  • Indiviual types, both superheroes and cultivators, often revolve around conflicts between mages, while non-magic individuals are mostly on the sidelines.
  • If the story is about an ensemble or party of characters and the magic is technique based, most if not all of those characters will be techique users. On the other hand there are stories set in worlds with technique magic, but none of the protagonists uses it.
  • The split between universal and class can shift with the focus of the story. Like we might see certain Gifted characters in season 1 and then in season 2 a new kind of magic user shows up and we get more of a class scenario.

Player tips

One question I encounter frequently is “tips for players”, instead of tips for GMs. Typical answers then include appearing on time and knowing the rules. That’s not a high bar. That is kind of the minimal effort one would expect in a team activity. Also for any team activity, not specifically for RPGs. So if your answer is: “Come on time and do some minimal personal upkeep before”, you really are not answering the question.

In a typical RPG, if you are not the GM, you will play a PC. And you job is giving everyone else at the table a good time doing so. You read me right: You are doing a show for them, and they are your audience. Everything else follows from that.

Play a character they might like

There are some questions here. What are the other characters like, if they already exist? How can I complement that? What can I play? It doesn’t help when I pick a character I know I cannot protray or would struggle with their special rules. The more you know about what everyone else is up to, the easier this will be. So ask them.

Communicate how your character feels

I like to tell an anecdote here. I once played with a friend and she was very quiet the whole evening. That was unusual for her, so I asked her, if she was alright. She explained that she was, her character were just a rather quiet guy. To be fair, to convey that right without speaking would have required some great acting skills that most people, me included, lack. Instead you are allowed so things like: “I look at you sceptically.”

Engage the other PCs

That is, talk to them. If everyone is only talking with the GM, but the PCs are not talking to one another, the game feels flat. If improvising is hard for you, you can prepare things your character would talk about. Or you can imagine how you character would react to certain things, then do so when the time is right.

Show that you care about their contributions

You are doing your best to make their play better. Show that you appreciate their efforts too. Listen to them. Give them thumbsup. Show what you like.

The Tinkers’ Tower

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I usually run people based adventures. People making requests, people having needs, people interfering and messing things up. For a game oneshot some time ago I wanted something different. A dungeon. Someone had requested Changeling: The Dreaming for our meetup (twas long ago afore the rona), so I thought about doing a dungeon crawl in Changeling 20. Of course, doing combat is painful under the WoD system, you really only want to it once per session max. My conclusion was that I want a puzzle dungeon. This is what we did.

The Pitch

The Tinkers’ Tower was well known in the land, appearing here and there and offering their business. Until one day, about 20 years ago, it disappeared. Now it has reappeared in that closed-down amusement park. The local monarch has assembled a team of adventurous changelings to find their parent’s crown which was given to the tower as collateral. Each of you is looking for some item or other in the tower.

OK, basic motivations and how the group comes together all done. I will not go over every event. After all I made several parts of the based on the items the players had requested. I want to discuss the principles I used in designing the tower as well as the general outline:

  • Each room contains one interesting or useful item.
  • There is no living soul left at the place.
  • For most of the skills and knowledges (char sheet), include a place where they might be used.
  • Include some things that can be done with Changeling magic.
  • For all problems, include at least one key in another place that can be used Point-and-Click style, when skills or magic fail.

We started right at the gates of the amusement park. One player opted to make their own character, the for the other three I built theirs to order. They first encountered a giant chimerarical snake from mechancial parts. They opted to approach it politely and after an Etiquette check, they learned that there is “Small Hunter” stalking the place.

The Hunter is a small mechanical T-Rex the tinkers build for a mostly human customer (probably a sorcerer), used as a hunting dog. I introduced it as potential endboss, that waited at the top of the tower. I decided that it hat 10% chance of investigating when the PCs made loud noises in the tower. It didn’t happen.

Of course the Hunter was also the reason that the tower disappeared. Upon demonstration to the client, the Hunter killed most of the people present. The clients body as well as the bodies of most of the tinker is still present. The Boggans housekeeper was not been found, I decided later. Mostly as a potential open end, in case there is a continuation.

Some rooms:

  • A tailor’s shop. Several rolls of textiles, a sewing a machine. A manniquin with a pumpkin head that wore a very beautiful ball dress. The investigating Pooka just had to try it on without checking it in any way, and was promptly turned into a Sidhe. (“But Sidhe abilities are totally useless in a dungeon!”) They didn’t manage to overcome the Cinderella dress’ magic. It would come off after the adventure on its own.
  • A room with banged in door and mostly broken chess pieces of various sizes. Looking through it, might have gotten them an undamaged black rook, about knee high, that would have been a good boy on an Animal Ken check and some resuscitation via Glamour. Looking at the heap and recognizing it didn’t contain the items they had come for, they left it alone.
  • An office. The desk, shelves and pretty much everything in it was barring the door. The characters manged to get through. On the far end one of the tinkers was apparently dead. They didn’t investigate the body, no one knowing much Medicine. They were very much interested in the documents that were all over the place, deducing there should be an inventory for the things they wanted. They got quite a few hints on fabulous Academics check. The dead could have provided an experimental magic glove they used to shift all the furniture in front of the door.
  • Most of the dead were in a small theater like hall. They were apparently attacked. One had taken a trident from a weapons wrack, including various items and used it freeze himself, the trident and weapons rack in ice. The apparent intent from his posture was that he wanted to ice something else, but it apparently backfired. The trident was what our Merman looked for, so they got to work with magic. I would have expected to use some fire to melt the ice, but they rather just teleported the trident out and let the ice melt on its own. We haven’t found out whether the frozen witness could have been resuscitated.
  • One of the searched items was in a library. A salamander chimera acting as librarian informed the PCs that books could only be taken out with a writ by the towers owner. I would have expected them to come back later, having forged a writ the owners magic pen, which was located in his private bedroom / study. Instead they just ignored the obnoxious chimera at first and tried to walk out with the book. Good thing it was the Troll, because that did hurt. Then they grilled the salamander and found that he could take out books for himself. He thus got taken out with the book.
  • The central elevator platform in the tower was held by a giant metal hand with a ring with a big ruby on a finger. Towards the end of our session, after they had a proper tea party with a porcellaine doll, having used that elevator all the time, they finally realized the giant ring was in the fact the crown the queen sent them for.

In the end, they went to the top of the tower and did beat the Hunter, mainly becasue the picked up the icy trident before. In the end, they did use the magic pen to draw a flag and planting it, the highest ranking PC unleashing Souvereign to claim the tower for queen and country, which I never had expected.

Things that didn’t work:

  • I couldn’t properly convey that the raspy voice speaking over the intercom was the dead customers ghost who would have liked a burial.
  • I totally forgot that Changelings, too, would like a bathroom from time to time. But that’s a problem of dungeons everywhere I guess.
  • I should have put in places where the Changelings could have engaged in their Reveries. A new rule in C20 to regain glamour based on kith.

In the end, I found the game a surprisingly good fit for this kind of adventure. The dreaming reality allowed me to just throw stuff in without much regard for background consistency. I don’t think I ever used quite so many varied skills in a WoD scenario, too. Changeling magic proved very colorful allowed for some creative applications.

Compared to 2nd edition, Changeling 20 has quite a few improvements, including more flexible rules for age, more foregiving rules for Banality, and a more narrative approach to many Kith abilities. Also the Unleashing of Arts also proved nice in the end.

Making moves

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Today I want to talk about designing moves for PbtA games. The originator himself has a very insightful series really showing what is possible under the move format. Today I will stick to the most common implementations, learning to warp before you gate and all that.

I assume you know the general setup and what a trigger is. Triggers are very useful to communicate the theme and mood of your game. When you go in guns blazing… is very different from When the bullets start flying… after all. I will mostly look at the rest, the move’s body today. So the first rule of thumb is:

Do not spell out the miss on basic moves.

I see this on many first drafts and my only reply is: Don’t do that. You see when you miss a roll and there is no specific miss entry, the GM is allowed to get creative on you. That’s good for evoking that feel of loss. You just lost your control of the situation whatever the outcome. Explicit miss entries are a good idea if you do not want to bother the GM with this thing. So mostly on supportive or setup moves that will be followed by something else or those that happen at the beginning or end of session.

So what happens on the 7-9 and 10+? First of all, moves are not necessarily success checks. Even a 10+ can be rather bad, if say your game is about kid detectives and the move is about facing monsters like the Demogorgon. The best we would expect here is damage mitigation. But that doesn’t mean it has to feel like a loss to the players. Unlike the the 6- the players should have some say about the bad things that happen on a hit.

Success at a cost

The minimal input you could have is, having the GM name a cost and condition and the player can accept it or not. This would be like Dungeon World’s Defy Danger. So there, you get what you want on 10+, but on a 7-9 the GM will throw in something. You take it or leave it. One thing you should be aware of is that you make the GM work. Just like on a miss the GM now has to come up with stuff with little guidance right now. Be sure you want to burden your GMs so.

You can of course give the player some option about the cost they want to incur. Either because you explicitely give several choices or word things so that the players can at least suggest the downsides. The moves quoted are all from my current project:

When you encourage, help or show kindness, roll +Heart. On a hit, choose 1.

  • They take +1 on their roll.
  • You ease their suffering.
  • You guide them through a spell you have mastered. They can use it right now.

On a 7-9, also choose one of these.

  • It costs you something.
  • You expose yourself to a problem or danger.
  • You reveal something you wish you hadn’t.

Of the potential downsides one is totally the players job. They should know what they might inadvertendly show. The problem or danger is mostly GM’s job, while the cost can be shared brainstorming. You can also defer problem to a later point. This can prevent a situation from escalating when you don’t want it so.

When you sneak after someone or go where you are not supposed to, roll +Ambition. On a hit, you learn or find something valuable. On a 10+, there are no complications on the way back.

The complications happen definitely after the juicy secrets have come out. The GM is of course tasked with coming up with those juicy things but those will hopefully be part of their preparation and do not have to be made up on the fly. Of course “success at a cost” is only one of the options to structure the 7-9 and 10+ parts. For even greater player choice you want to give them…

More or less choices

This includes the the “ask X question” types of moves as well as typically the most action oriented moves in the game, like fighting. In the latter case, often there is some good options and the option to avoid some bad thing, like not getting hurt. You can of course tailor the number of good and bad options to show how dangerous the thing is. Here are two more from my game to show the difference:

When you face an opponent, roll +Virtue. On a 7-9 choose 2, on a 10+ choose 3:

  • The GM will tell you something about either your or their abilities. Take +1 forward.
  • They concede something of your choice or suffer.
  • You impress someone else.
  • You come away clean.

When you address a problem with magic you have not mastered, make the necessary preparations and roll +Learning. On a hit, you can do it. On a 10+, choose 2. On a 7-9, choose 1.

  • You don’t have to break any rules.
  • There are no side-effects.
  • Gain Training with this spell.

Special: If you have Training with this trick, take +1. If you do break rules, remember to raise your Scrutiny.

Comparing the 4 moves shown, the help move has the most open ended downsides, on a hit. This is intentional, because it can be used in a variety of situations and it is optional. If the players want to provide that +1 bonus or whatever, they may well pay for that. Next in line is Magic You Have Not Mastered, because, well, magic is risky. Whereas Face An Opponent is comparably predictable.

There are some other common patterns and we haven’t even touched on typical ways to make playbook moves, but I think this should serve as a baseline.