Wednesday, November 19, 2014

NEW SERTORIUS RACE: KITHIRI

This is a new optional Race for Sertorius I've been tinkering with. 

KITHIRI
Advantages: 1 Free Skill Rank in Reason, Wits, and Empathy
Penalties: -1d10 to Persuade, Command and Deception rolls against Non-Kithiri. Multi-Ego. 
Gift: Flexible Mind
Common Homelands: The Free Cities of Eukos, Machaea, Polyra, Rapistos

Common Languages: Khubsi, Ronian, Agarian

This is a humanoid race found in isolated clusters or alone on islands in the Varian Sea. They look human except their skin is bronze in color with a vaguely metallic hue. Sometimes they pretend to be human, passing for Ronians or Agarians. Kithiri an be from any culture but tend to resemble Human societies found in the Southern Varian Sea. The few pure Kithiri settlements that do exist speak Khubsi, favor rule by council or even direct democracy of some kind. 

The Kithiri are not widely known and many regard them as a  myth or even a recently created race. They tend to blend easily and can go unnoticed by the other races. It is believed they were created jointly more than one god.  

The unique feature of the Kithiri is their minds are made up of six personalities or egos. Each ego is distinct but they all share the same memories and perceptions. The egos can communicate internally but express themselves as a single voice externally (though Kithiri use the pronoun "We" rather than "I").

Balancing the Egos is very important to the Kithiri. When one or more of their personalities dominate this is disruptive to their well being. It causes them to suffer (see Multi-Ego below). 

Flexible Mind: Because their mind is made up of multiple egos, each capable of thinking independently, Kithiri can perform up to six mental tasks at a time. This has a number of effects, the most important at character creation and for advancement during play is that Knowledge Skills cost them half the normal amount of Skill Points or Experience Points. But this also has a number of implications as well. It affects any Skill roll or Spell that involves thinking alone. So a Kithiri can make a Reason Skill Roll and an Empathy Skill roll as a single action. They can never cast two spells at the same time this way, but they can cast a Spell and make additional Mental and Knowledge Skill rolls during the casting. 

Multi-Ego: Each Ego has its own distinct personality and motivation. Generally the egos function collectively and agree upon courses of action. Sometimes one Ego manages to dominate the others and run amuck. Whenever a Kithiri experiences great physical or emotional stress check to see if the Egos become unbalanced by rolling 1d10 against the character's Resolve (examples of such stress include taking 2 wounds in a round, making an Endurance Roll. etc). If the result equals or beats the Resolve score, then roll randomly to determine which personality is dominant. The player should play that personality for the full day. 

If the result of the Resolve roll is a 10, then the personality is desperate to enact some sort of scheme or plot against the other egos. This isn't self destructive. The Ego doesn't try to harm the character but rather assert itself. The GM should determine what this is and explain it to the player. While in this state of inner conflict, Kithiri take 3 Extra Grim Points for Cathartic castings. 


EGO PERSONALITY GENERATOR
Players can make up the six ego personalities or roll on this table: 

Table One
Roll 1d10
1  Intellectually Curious and Inventive
2  Compassionate
3  Social and Friendly
4  Defensive and Wary
5  Aggressive and Assertive
6  Greedy
7  Reliable 
8  Heroic
9  Moderate
10  Roll on Table Two

Table Two
Roll 1d10
1  Dogmatic
2  Vindictive
3  Pretentious
4  Cowardly
5  Violent
6  Thieving
7  Obsessive 
8  Reckless
9  Reluctant
10  Roll on Table Three

Table Three
Roll 1d10
1  Zealous
2  Opportunistic
3  Manipulative
4  Paranoid
5  Cruel
6  Exploitative
7  Anxious 
8  Destructive
9  Disobedient 
10  Pure Evil


Sunday, November 16, 2014

THE IMPERIUM OF SERTORI

A player in my Sertorius campaign recently pointed out that some aspects of the game sneak up on you. Reading the rulebook it is not always immediately clear what a chaotic influence Sertori are on the world. This is discussed in the GM chapter, in key places of the Gazetteer and in the history section but it is somewhat buried. So a lot of players are surprised when they start their first campaign by how powerful the party is and how easily their characters can shake up the politics of Gamandria. 

In Sertorius, characters are strong out of the gate. They begin with abilities that would place them at mid-level in many other systems. This means they become important quickly, they rise through the ranks quickly, they disrupt the balance of the world quickly. It is not uncommon for a party of Sertori to begin seizing power for themselves very early in a campaign. 

This does depend on a number of things. There are considerations the GM needs to weigh when dealing with parties on the rise. Not every campaign will handle this in the same way. 

The party's spells are crucial here. Sertori begin with four spells, so the spells they choose matter. In a party of four or five characters, how their spells compliment one another is significant. Most parties, even if they do not possess obvious combat spells, can use their magic cleverly enough to work situations to their advantage. But there are some combinations that are better suited for taking crowns than others. 

Another important factor is location. The more civilized places of the world usually have institutions in place that keep Sertori in check. They simply have more experience successfully managing Sertori and have built on that (and these institutions are typically made up of Sertori themselves). For example The Caelum Republic has an order called the Caelcori. These are all Sertori and they function as a kind of secret police who enforce an ancient law preventing spell casters from holding certain offices. There is also the Fellowship of Promestus in Ronia, and the Phra Jao in Khata (a kind of governing body of Sertori). Frequently the Sertori themselves are in control (as one might expect). The ruler of the Mandaru Empire is a Sertori for instance. In these cases, there is a certain level of stability in the relationship between Sertori and non-Sertori.  Away from places like this, things get considerably more chaotic. Even where there is a Sertori in control, it only takes a more powerful Sertori or group of Sertori to buckle the established hierarchy. 

The presence of other Sertori is also something GMs need to consider. Many cities and kingdoms are ruled by Sertori. Where Sertori do not rule directly, there are Sertori behind the throne, supporting it and protecting it. Taking power is not usually as simple as killing a mortal king and his guards, it can be quite a dangerous undertaking. 

Non-Sertori themselves are still able to kill Sertori. While Sertori can cast spells and are physically more powerful than normal people, they are not invulnerable and they can still die. A hundred soldiers firing arrows at a Sertori will kill him unless he has a particularly appropriate spell to the situation. Six wounds. A Sertori can sustain six wounds before dying. Non-Sertori who plan ahead can easily manage that. 

The total population and distribution of Sertori is another key consideration, and this varies from one campaign to the next. The number of Sertori in Gamandria was left deliberately vague in the rulebook. We gave a possible range of 200-3,000 Sertori existing in the setting. Ultimately the exact number is up to the GM. If there are only 200, that means a lot of places won't even have Sertori (because the Caelcori and the Fellowship of Promestus alone take up about half that number). In a campaign with very few Sertori, there are more opportunities for PCs to wreak havoc but also a greater assumption of stability. In a campaign with more, there may be fewer opportunities and more impediments, but likely a greater degree of chaos (though perhaps not, this was a subject we debated a lot and the conclusion was not always obvious or agreed upon by all three designers). 

I encourage GMs curious about campaign power levels in Sertorius to read CHAPTER THIRTEEN: GAMEMASTERING GAMANDRIA and to take a very close look at CHAPTER NINE: PEOPLES AND PLACES. In particular I suggest reading the following entries to get a sense of the impact Sertori have on the setting (and their limitations): Trade Routes (235), Atroxis (257), The Caelum Republic (264), Donyra (274), Khata (281), Mandaru Empire (283), The Marite Kingdoms (285), Matruk (286), Midbar Valley (288), Ogre Gate (290), Phra Goa (291), Qam'ua (294), Ranu and the Ranu People (295), The Ronian Empire (298), Tajem (314), The Taksiri Pirates (315), Talyr (315), Traya (318), Tungat Oasis (318), and Ubara (319). Another section of the book worth examining closely is CHAPTER EIGHT: RELIGIONS, ORGANIZATIONS AND TEXTS. It includes many entries relevant to Sertori including The Children of Nong Sai (227), The Cult of the Emerald Serpent (227), The Cult of Karima (227), The Cult of Kwam Jao (227), The Cult of Sukat, The Caelcori (230), and The Fellowship of Promestus (230). CHAPTER TEN: HISTORY AND LEGEND also illustrates how Sertori have shaped Gamandria in the past. 

In the end this is your setting to use and tweak as you wish. Nothing beats thinking about the nature of power and deciding things for yourself. 

Saturday, November 15, 2014

TIME TRAVEL IN GAMANDRIA

Time travel is possible in the Sertorius setting of Gamandria. It isn't something we draw a lot of attention to but it is an important assumption of play. It was a key development in one of our previous campaigns. 

There are two time traveling Thauma (miracles) characters can gain access to as they acquire more followers: Returning and Sending. Returning can send you back in time while Sending can take you forward in time. However there are some serious limitations on both these powers. 


Returning can send the caster and up to six other people back in time to a random date. The caster cannot control exactly when they will appear but is able to choose whether they go back years, decades, centuries or millennia. A character using this Thauma might decide to go back centuries, and the GM would roll 3d10 and arrange them in order to determine how many years the player goes back in time. A result of 3,6, and 8 would mean the characters goes back in time by 368 years. Had the character opted for decades the GM would simply have rolled 2d10 (if the results were 3 and 6 that would mean 36 years back in time). Sending works the same way, except it takes you forward in time. 

One major problem this presents for characters is you need both Thauma to have any hope of getting back to your own time (unless you only go back a few years and wait). Another hurdle is the problem of crossing your own timeline. Any character who interacts with him or herself risks being wiped from existence or suffering a major random change. The rules for this are relatively small and just part of the Thauma, but because time travel has factored into some of our own campaigns, I've been working on a new method for managing all changes characters make to history. 


This new approach is still a work in progress, I still need to hash out the final details and work through the tables. But here are the basics and here is the first result on the table. 

There are some basic guidelines for the GM to keep in mind first:


1. All significant actions have a chance of producing change

2. All changes to the past change the future in an amount equal to the distance in time

4. Obvious changes are determined by the GM, non-obvious changes must be determined randomly

5. Exception: A person cannot write themselves out of existence if they are operating within their own lifetime (they can cause their death though)


6.Special Rule: An obvious paradox increases the chance of large change, shifting the Outcome table by 1 to the right. 

Further Explanation
Anytime the player takes significant action in the past (significant action includes killing something, creating something, altering the outcome of an event, etc), determine whether it produces an obvious change to history or if it is unclear.

If obvious, simply decide how history is changed and if this affects any of the characters directly.

If it is unclear, then assign a percentage chance of how likely the change is to occur. As a general rule of thumb, the chance of change is arrived at by taking the distance in time between the two dates in the timeline and dividing that by 10. So a person who goes 100 years into the past and kills someone, has a 10% of changing the future, someone who goes 1000 years into the past and kills someone has a 100% chance of changing the future. Roll using this percentage chance, if the result shows change occurs, roll on the Outcomes table below. 

The further back in the past one goes, the bigger the change. Anything within 10 years, only produces Superficial Change. Anything that between 11-100 years produces Minor Change. Anything between 101 to 1,500 years in the past produces Massive Change. Anything over 1,500 years produces Catastrophic Change. This determines which column to use in the Outcomes table when you roll for change. 

2D10 Roll
Outcomes

Superficial Change
Minor Change
Massive Change
Catastrophic Change
2
A random person you know (an NPC) dies
You Die or no longer exist if possible
A random place in the world (major city for example) no longer exists
Open permanent gate between your time of origin and current position in time. Everything can move freely between these two points.

I am going to work these table results out over the course of my next campaigns and will post the final version of these rules at that time. Until then, I welcome suggestions and thoughts on the subject. 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

USING CHESS TO PLAY POLITICS

Don't worry, this isn't going to be a post about literally turning chess into a game mechanic. This is more about how you can use chess as a model for implementing politics into a campaign. It is a fairly simple and easy way to keep track of things, while having in game events matter and reverberate over the course of time. 

In a political campaign, whether the players are at the center of power or on the periphery, their network of personal connections and resources matters a great deal. Informants, vital contacts, advisers and other courtiers make-up this cluster of 'human' assets that extends the party's reach. It is easy to hand-wave or just wing it, but sometimes you want to give these things more weight so the players know that their decisions matter. 

A while back I began imagining my political campaigns a bit like chess. Not a perfect chess match, it may be a bit lop-sided with varying pieces in play and more than two opponents, but essentially each side would have things like a Bishop, Rook or Queen. Each NPC in their inner circle of connections brings vital skills to the table and has agency. They may have someone who is adept at acquiring information from the local population or a character who knows how to levy troops. These matter in a political campaign and players should know they matter. If such a character dies or is incapacitated, that should have an effect they can feel. 

I approach this very simply. I give each NPC in the inner circle (and here inner circle just means any NPC who is an asset to the party) one or two areas where they excel. So say the party has an adviser with a large network of informants. I might decide that they will learn of plots against them (or have a percentage chance of learning) before they happen. This is something that they can appreciate because there is a huge difference between the adviser telling them an assassin is on his way versus them finding out during the assassination itself. And if that adviser meets with misfortune later on, they'll understand why the assassin got through before they learned of his plans (maybe that is even how they learn of his demise).

This door swings both ways. Factions working against the party have these kinds of resources too. Part of playing the political game is eliminating the Bishops, Rooks and Queens from your opponent's arsenal. This is why in the movie the Godfather, one of the Turk's first moves is to kill Luca Brasi (he is probably a Rook or Queen). It doesn't have to be about killing or eliminating, it can be about influencing or inconveniencing. It can also be about putting someone in the right position to become that piece (like when King Richard IV makes Prince Edmund the Archbishop of Canterbury in The Black Adder). 

Usually how this looks in real terms is I have my roster of characters for each major faction in a political campaign with their key skill or skills listed next to them. Because I like the random element, I assign percentage to the skill as well. So if the party hatches a plot against the King where they try to undermine his relationship with an important foreign ally, I would roll the percentage on his chief diplomat to see whether he can block their efforts. But if they take him out of the picture first or keep him busy with something else, the plan will have a much greater chance of success. Also, some plots might be so good they have a 100% chance or working, or they may require roleplaying to resolve if any of the party is actually present for the plot's execution.

Of course as with any model or method, you don't want it to consume the game or get in the way. There is always the temptation to fixate on the procedure and lose sight of what is actually happening in play. As long as you are mindful of that it shouldn't be an issue. 

I have to say I quite like this approach. This is the sort of thing that works well for me, and I think it will work well for many other GMs too. 




Tuesday, November 11, 2014

WANDERING HEROES OF OGRE GATE (虛界 遊 俠 傳 The Mystic Realms-Wandering-Hero-Legend)

Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate
written in Chinese Calligraphy by Mak Jo Si
The calligraphy logo for Wandering Heroes of Ogre Gate arrived today. We have incorporated it into the cover but I wanted to put it on display here because I think it is so beautiful on its own. The calligraphy was done by Mak Jo Si of Chi in Nature and he kindly shipped me a copy. Mak also helped me with some of my research on weapons and Chinese culture. His feedback along with that of Chang Yaoyuan and Susanna Liang really helped us get beyond a surface level understanding of the genre. 

The characters in the calligraphy are: 虛界  遊 俠 傳. Mak informs me that this could literally be translated as "The Mystic Realms-Wandering-Hero-Legend." I think that is a nice nod to the difficulty of translation titles and concepts from the original material into English, except the question that arises with Ogre gate is which direction the inaccuracy is coming from: is it really 'Ogre Gate' or 'Mystic Realm'?


It is difficult to take inspiration from another place, treat it respectfully, but also be authentic to yourself. I've been watching martial arts movies from China, Hong Kong, Korea and Thailand for ages and it can take a long time to grasp some of the nuances at work that are built on cultural assumptions, language or history we have no experience of. Translations are necessary but inherently misleading. So I think the translation issue is symbolic of this broader difficulty. The difference in meaning between Ogre Gate and Mystic Realm is an acknowledgement of this. 

What we are really trying to say with that is, take our interpretation of the Wuxia and martial arts fantasy with a grain of salt. We are game designers and fans, not experts. Some things we may get right, some things may have better explanations than what we provide. I believe strongly in good research but I also know its limitations in the context of an RPG book. First and foremost RPGs are games and that always takes precedence over accuracy. If you want to know about history, read history books not RPG source books. If you want to know about wuxia, read about the subject, read wuxia, read Chinese history and watch wuxia films. A wuxia RPG book or history RPG book can give you some helpful tools for managing the genre or period, but it is simply no replacement for books designed solely to inform rather than entertain.