Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Blank space and mechanical fluff

Perhaps my favorite part of any character sheet is the 'appearance' section, especially if it has an area for drawing a character portrait.

People should be allowed and encouraged to engage in creative pursuits, irrespective of technical skill, and it helps them to explore the character. Likewise, when I'm having trouble fleshing out a character, it can really help to have some guidance or framework to start with. To this end, part of the character creation process in my game generates connections to the larger setting, along with open-ended questions inviting further worldbuilding on the player's end.

one million by Lois van Baarle

It's important to have this kind of blank space, and sometimes it's necessary to point players toward it. Some games try to make every part of character development mechanical, and I generally find that to be a very clumsy, unhelpful approach (generally mind you, there are exceptions) much like trying to mechanically simulate every physical element of a fight or adventure. Oftentimes it's best to just leave the relatively unimportant details up to the players, they can reason a situation intuitively or come up with interesting details for themselves.

Part of this is how magic users in Skies Below must keep an arcane focus to use their magic in combat. This can be any item they possess, such as a wand, tome, or lute, or even such items as a hat, flaming sword, or key. The arcane focus doesn't do much mechanically, besides adding some tension if it gets lost or stolen, its main purpose is to make the player think about their magic, what it looks like and what it says about their character. A character who casts magic through a musical instrument might think of their character as sort of a bard, or one with a blanket may think of that as a shelter the character has held onto their whole life.

Tavern Hijinks by Lap Pun Cheung

Now I'm extending this philosophy to some of the martial classes. In order to enter rage, a berserker must perform a brief, ritualistic action such as eating a certain food or calling out a warcry. Similarly, to use their cooperative abilities, the infantry must use a team name that the party has agreed on. These mostly won't impact actual gameplay, but will push players to add a bit of character building to their PCs, and the infantry's team name encourages them to talk to the other characters and really work together creatively.

Berserker rage ritual
  1. Shout out "For mount and stone!"
  2. Call out "Blood of the bloodmaker!"
  3. Declare "By the skulls power!"
  4. A quick, violent dance.
  5. Don a fierce mask.
  6. Remove a placid mask.
  7. Swallow a flame.
  8. Bite into shield.
  9. Devour raw meat.
  10. Drink personalized draught.
  11. Anoint in sacred perfume.
  12. Anoint in ash.
  13. Anoint in honey.
  14. Cut a rune into chest.
  15. Shatter a clay disc.
  16. Rip a sacred cloth.
  17. Crush a soul cricket.
  18. Crack knuckles.
  19. Tear off shirt.
  20. Clasp hands in a moment of meditation.
Holographic battle by Diana Tsareva

Saturday, February 8, 2020

Killers, competitors, and pursuers

Hunters of Blades

The greatest of warriors can only live in a river of blood. They must cut their way through any who would stand in their path, and must cut away all who approach in challenge. So it is for they who hold the Final Knife, a powerful dagger which can pierce any target, feed on blood, and sustain its bearer. To a Hunter of Blades, this bearer is known as the Quarry, the mightiest among them and also the target of their order. They seek to slay the Quarry and take their weapon, by any means possible. There are many hunters, and only one Final Knife, though within the order are a number of artifacts in their own right, each possessing that same preternatural ability to sever. Any who pursue Shekull, the current Quarry, may call themselves a Hunter of Blades, but only those who have killed and claimed one of these artifacts is a true contender.

Blood Armor by Alexander J

Honor Bearers

The stronger a foe you face, and the greater of their strengths you strike against, the more honorable your contest. Long ago, the Mail of Honor was rent, each ring of the invincible chainmail separated and scattered far across the realm by means unknown and unimaginable. Each of those rings holds a tiny fraction of the mail's incredible power, but those who have gathered them cannot wear it until the day they unite them all. There is only one way to do this, they have found; through fair duels. The Honor Bearers have long known not to kill their fellows, as the links they hold will only flee and become lost once more. When two knights challenge each other however, they find themselves encircled in golden flames, and wielding similar weapons. The flames serve to bar escape or interlopers into the fight, and the weapons do no harm save for taking a link from whoever's flesh they first strike, and granting it to the victor. One can enter into this order by either finding a Link of Honor in the wilderness, or by convincing a knight to duel them despite yet bearing no links. It is said that whoever finally wears the Mail of Honor will become truly invincible and unstoppable, but they have contested for decades and none are closer to success than years more of victory.

Duel of the Fates by Zezhou Chen


Speak no oath unless it may be the last thing you say. There is power to be had if one seeks an old Appellant and slays them, power to be drunk from their clay skulls and eventually bled back into the Hungering Well when the slayer becomes and Appellant themselves. The well's Pursuants each have taken up a cause, and proven themselves worthy of its gift by defeating one of those half-living hosts, the remains of another who has fulfilled their own final duty to themselves, in doing so giving up that self to the means of another. The worth of those who aspire to quest must be challenged, for the failures leave the well's power to trickle out unattended, into the world beyond it. Perhaps once the well itself was some god, spirit, or knight, driven by its own willful purpose, driven eventually to seek power and become an eternal cycle of purpose, power, and exploitation. Now there is no means by which it can be gleaned whether this was ever true, or even if it still is seeking out some hidden goal.

Noble Lord by Dominik Mayer