The Forge Archives

Inactive Forums => CRN Games => Topic started by: Troels on September 19, 2007, 05:40:20 AM

Title: Converting campaign to TSoY
Post by: Troels on September 19, 2007, 05:40:20 AM
Hi there

I was planning a TSoY campaign set in Near, but then something happened. My group got so fed up with the lack of dice in our Mortal Coil campaign that we decided to switch systems, and since I'd been selling the idea of TSoY and people had been especially fascinated with the keys, we decided to switch to TSoY. So obviously the game is not set in Near, it is modern occult fantasy based roughly on the Hellblazer comics. There is a number of practical problems that we need help with.

First, some of the characters are seriously powerful. One of the PCs is no less than Nicolas Flamel, a 700-years old kabbalistic alchemist. One is a semi-fallen angel that walked with Jesus. One is, perhaps, a human avatar of Wotan, and one seems to be a son of Mars, the roman god of war. So, how many advances are a lot? 30? 40? 50? How many have your characters racked up towards the end of a campaign? I had an idea for dealing with ridiculous amounts of life experience for really old characters via a variant of the Elf Secret of Past Lives, but they still need to be seriously competent.

Second, we need really flexible magic which fits the flavour of the campaign, and which can be pretty freely expanded on the fly. A good deal of it will be simply powerful but expensive specific Secrets, but for stuff that needs an Ability to take part in a mechanical conflict, I was thinking something like this: A central ability represents the magical tradition, be it kaballah, seithr (Norse style sorcery) or demonology. In purely magical conflicts, these can clash and fray directly, but when you are trying to do something practical that would tend to fall under the purview of some other general ability, you use the magical tradition to generate bonus dice for the actual skill. Example: Carl von Erzwald brews a magical potion that changes his appearance (a specific Secret), in order to use it as a disguise. So, he pays some Pool price for attempting the otherwise impossible feat of disguising a great big old man as a fifteen-years old girl, and then uses his Seithr ability to generate bonus dice for his Deceit ability, which will then oppose the Discern Truth ability of whoever he's trying to fool. Does this sound sensible?

I will probably come up with more questions soon.

Yours, and hopefully


Title: Re: Converting campaign to TSoY
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on September 19, 2007, 07:03:12 AM
There's been discussion of high-powered campaigns before... ah, here (

My take on it is that high power compared to mortal men should be modeled through the system, preferably by organically growing such a character. If we're talking really high levels like you're doing here, the trick is to elevate characters with individual Secrets and Abilities qualitatively above the mortal level. Make these Secrets cost serious Pool and make sure to not slip in any "general" auto-win stuff. The central theme of almost all American metahuman fiction is the conceit that the metahuman, despite his powers, can still be swayed in his heart by a mere mortal. So think carefully before putting in something like a Secret that makes the character immune to social Abilities.

Ideally the way you'd re-stat your characters would be a communal story-telling hour: sit down and start reminiscing about what you know of each other's characters. Add statistics to the characters as you go, inventing Secrets, Keys and Abilities as you need them. Do not care about the number of Advances, it's no big deal if one character ends up with more or less than another one. You will probably not be able to add more than around 50 advances anyway.

The only actual change to the rules I would do for a high-level campaign would be to make the cost of raising a Pool scale: +1 to the cost for each full ten points you already have, instead of topping it out at 2 per.

Some examples of the scale and type of stuff I might use to depict the character concepts you mention:
  • An immortal kabbalistic alchemist might have his Reason Pool at around 20, while all the semi-gods sound like all of their Pools would be around 20-30.
  • An ancient being with immense knowledge, like that kabbalist, probably doesn't have a specified, long list of known recipes or whatever. Rather, he'd have a Secret of the Ancient Master that allows him to set aside Advances for spontaneously buying any Secret of a certain type after a bit of perusing his library, a successful ability check and some Pool. He might also have another Secret that allows him to "remove" such a Secret to regain the Advance for investing it elsewhere. This way you don't have to pin him down at the beginning, and can just create any effect he wants when he wants it.
  • Less fiddly powers that need to have a qualitative feel that just sweeps over minor resistance can be done as flat-priced special attacks. I might consider a simple "Secret of Evoking Divinity" at 10 Pool that'd allow a character to strip the opposing stakes from the next conflict altogether (replacing them with "I stop this god-guy from immediately succeeding in whatever he's doing"). Perhaps another Secret called "Secret of Immense Power (Ability)" at 3 Pool that forces the opposition to resist with a Passive ability in any one check made with the named Ability. Just putting in those two and high Pools is pretty much enough for a given character to evoke a divine style without completely overrunning lesser folks. (Also consider what happens when two gods meet with those; pretty interesting.)
  • If your style is more earth-bound than the above might suggest, just use lower Pools. If a character isn't supposed to ever get crazy and call lightning, just put him down at around 5-10 Pool each, like a normal TSOY character. It's better to use Pool expenditure as a gauge of power scope than a Secret chain, say, because the latter is so much more difficult to balance.
  • Lots of interesting qualitative Secrets. I'd have a "Secret of Immortality" or perhaps several different ones, a "Secret of Having Walked with Christ", "Secret of Wotanhead" and so on, each with their own effects. This is what TSOY does as a system.

Ah, one important point: the default Pools work pretty well for your genre, but you might also consider using "Traditional", "Modern" and "Talent" as the Pools, or some such, depending on how you view the genre. TSOY will regardless be largely about the frailty of metahuman hearts, but picking the right Pools with their associated refreshment methods will color the topic greatly.

As for your suggested magic system, it seems solid to me!

Title: Re: Converting campaign to TSoY
Post by: Troels on September 20, 2007, 06:02:51 AM
Thanks Eero, thats really good!

The characters aren't four-colour superheroes who can flatten buildings with their bare hands. They probably could flatten buildings with a little preparation and ritual, though. Looking at your post, I guess I'd tend to put their high pools in the teens and their low pools in the ordinary range, though possibly in the high end of it. I like Evoking Divinity and Immense Power, and it creeps me out to think what our game master could do with it... Now, your remark about frail metahuman hearts is spot on. That's very much what we're going for. The Secret of the Ancient Master is a cool, and actually, that's the part of Mortal Coil that we'll keep. Hmm, I had thought of buying Secrets that you "really had all along", but a mechanic for getting rid of them again is a good idea, this should make it unnecessary to drown everyone under a flood of advances from the get-go, so thanks again.

Now, next question:

How do you handle characters of different power levels in the same group, when intragroup intrigue is a distinct possibility (I'd say that about a third of all conflicts in the game is PvP)? In the pre-conversion game, we had a house rule allowing the players of the younger characters more aggressive narrative authority, or a small conflict bonus after the tokens were revealed. Example: Josie March the businesswoman demonologist walks into her apartment and is jumped by cultists who want to kidnap her. The player expends a "plot point" and sets a brief flashback scene, in which we see the cultists falling afoul of subtle spells of warding that warn Josie of their presence. Cutting back to the action, we now know that she is aware of their ambush and has a plan. The oldies had one per session, the newbies had three.

Now, the characters don't have to be meticulously balanced, but sort of generally. Aggressive scene-setting is fun and I'd be inclined to recommend that the group keep that part. As for the conflict bonus function, how about this: Each point lets you give one side of a conflict (normally those opposing) a penalty die. The thinking here is that there seems to be lots of bonus dice floating around already, but not many penalty dice. Also, this will be specifically useful for conflicts, not for mere ability checks, underscoring the aggressive function and avoiding getting the rule tangled up with the friendly, back-patting Gift of Dice rule. Does this sound like it would be interesting and workable in TSoY?


Title: Re: Converting campaign to TSoY
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on September 20, 2007, 09:50:38 AM
How do you handle characters of different power levels in the same group, when intragroup intrigue is a distinct possibility (I'd say that about a third of all conflicts in the game is PvP)?

OK, this is something people will have different ideas about, but here's mine: when I play TSOY, what I like about the rules system is a sense of consequence and meaning in the bits of crunch characters have. It makes the game better for me when a god and mortal conflict and the mortal is left broken on the ground. And it also makes it more meaningful for me when the mortal, perhaps due to some benefits of mortality, triumphs anyway.

Now, given that the above is true, and given that player characters are a priori protagonists and also given that we have good intergroup communication: I don't, as a SG, care one whit whether characters are balanced towards each other or not. I only, solely, care about whether their crunch lines up with the rules and setting. If one player wants to play a beggar and another wants to play a god, as the SG I take this as a declaration of willingness to lose on the part of the beggar player. He wouldn't play something obviously disadvantaged if he didn't want to be disadvantaged. Usually we still begin the game with equal Advances, but that's just because usually we play characters who, at least at the beginning, are equal in heroism.

I fully realise that others disagree on this, by the way; a pretty common complaint about TSOY I hear is that doling out experience based on what happens to characters is reprehensible, and real roleplayers will give equal shares to all characters so as to not deprotagonize a given character. I don't go with this school of thought because, frankly, I see no deprotagonisation inherent in losing conflicts and getting bashed in the head by the environment. If I learned nothing else from MLwM, at least I learned that a protagonist is a protagonist because he has the attention, the audience sympathy and narrative continuity, not because he has the bigger sword. A character's story may be absolutely gripping even if it's a series of losses and tragedy, and futile efforts at rebelling against greater powers.

Thus, my answer: when the game is predicated on PC vs. PC conflict, I would relish and ride the system of the game. When a young godling is outmaneuvered by the ancient alchemist who simply predicts the lust-blinded moves of the former with his Secret of Empty Heart, that's what the game is about. The game is not about giving the godling an unquantified PC bonus to bring him up to snuff against his greater adversary; if it were, conflicts could be ran by flipping a coin: after all, if we think that all players are equal in importance, as we surely do, and we think that importance = winning conflicts, as we might think, then what else can be do except give each side a 50% chance of winning? This is rather absurd in TSOY, but I want to emphasize that that kind of thinking is nothing wrong per se; my own, beloved Zombies at the Door! works exactly like this: each player always has equal resources to effect each conflict solely by the virtue of their being players.

Hmm... I'm ranting a bit, aren't I? Let me know if that train of thought just isn't working; there are other philosophies out there for how to handle character power levels. One is to simply start all characters as starting characters according to rules; there are certain benefits to that compared to restatting organically, but whether they're of any value to you depends on how long you're going to play and in what style.

Also, an important point: the bonus point system you described would in TSOY terms definitely be a matter of Secrets. If you want to balance characters with meta-rules, there's absolutely nothing wrong in giving all players the same number of Advances and just telling the players of weak, mortal characters to place more of their Advances of meta-level stuff that doesn't affect their own character directly. Like this:

Destiny (Instinct)
The character has a special role in the cosmogony of Gaia, and may even appear in ancient writings of prophecy. This ability may be used to be recognized by men wise in the ways of the cosmos, and it gives bonus dice to anybody trying to foretell the future of the character. The character may also use the ability for bonus dice in conflicts that the whole group deems as dangers to the character's unpronounced destiny. The character is often unaware of his destiny, mind, and players explicitly do not define it when taking this Ability.

Secret of Destiny
The character has a special role in the cosmogony of Gaia, depicted by a special Destiny pool. The Destiny pool is replenished by checking Destiny(I) in lieu of a refreshment scene; the scene is interrupted by portents that might be interpreted by the wise to find out hints about the character's destiny. The result of the Destiny check becomes the new Destiny pool. The player may use the Destiny pool to escape a scene in an unlikely manner and even against his own will, even in the middle of conflict, by paying one point from the pool. In this manner Destiny protects a character meant for greater things. Requirements: the character is mortal.

Secret of Mortal Coil
Being a mortal bound by destiny has it's advantages. The player of this character may frame the next scene for his own character. Requirements: Secret of Destiny. Cost: 1 Destiny point.

Secret of Pronounced Prophecy
The destiny of a character with Destiny pool is partially revealed by a seer. Either the seer or the destined character has to have this Secret. The seer makes a prophecy check and names the prophecy, which is written down with the result of the check. The check result may be assigned as penalty dice by any player against any Ability checks that threaten the prophecy's fulfillment. Requirements: Prophecy ability or Secret of Destiny. Cost: 1 Destiny point, paid by the target of the prophecy.

Secret of Revealed Glory
A character (perhaps misleadingly) aware of destiny may pronounce an oath against his opposition, declaring his importance in the universe. The opposition gains penalty dice equal to Destiny points spent by the player. Requirements: Secret of Destiny. Cost: 1 Destiny per penalty die.

By qualifying this kind of stuff as rules, players can leave or take the benefits according to their own taste. One player might take the Secret of Evoking Divinity for his immensely powerful god, while another player takes Secret of Mortal Coil for his destiny-bound mortal. Both characters are mechanically balanced, even if narratively one is just human and the other is a god. This kind of softy protagonism is very common in American modern fantasy fiction; it's  a cliche how a "just normal boy" goes to have adventures and finds out that he is destined for greater things. As writers seem to have very little trouble with having the farm boy rubbing shoulders with fairy queens, I don't think we need to worry about it either. Just decide for yourself how much credibility you want to invest in the idea that this obviously weaker character "just happens to" conflict on equal terms with the more powerful party.

Also remember what I said at the beginning: superhumans in American fantasy fiction are often very human in social terms. Thus the simplest way of balancing characters is to make sure that they actually have facets that are simply human. Neil Gaiman's Sandman, for example, is often led by the nose by any mortal with sad puppy eyes, despite being in the top three of most powerful beings in Gaiman's universe. This might be because he needs the human vulnerabilities to operate in the manner he wants to, or because he simply is that way. Both approaches can be faciliated by TSOY.

Title: Re: Converting campaign to TSoY
Post by: Troels on September 21, 2007, 07:30:05 AM

This makes so much sense! The game is very much about destiny (and transcendence too, but that's for another day). And given how many advances these destiny-related matters can swallow, the oldies and the newbies might not even that far apart in number of advances. I heard your rant, mind you! The purpose of the plot point thing hasn't been to let the young ones slug it out with the ancient masters, and where that has happened so far, the young ones have tended to come out second best. The purpose is to keep them from getting sidelined, or from ending up in parallel kiddie-pool plotlines, and it does that. Your destiny rules integrate the function into the general rules, and hook up with the themes of the campaign rather better than what we already had, so like I said, yay!

We should have enough to get started, now. I may be back in a panic in ten days time or so...


Title: Re: Converting campaign to TSoY
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on September 21, 2007, 07:39:11 AM
Let us know how it goes. It's always fun to hear how people might field-test my musings. For all I know this stuff bombs horribly for you, but it's a lesson anyway, eh.

Title: Re: Converting campaign to TSoY
Post by: Troels on September 21, 2007, 08:04:14 AM
I will. And by the way, the campaign seems to have acquired a name:

The Shadow of Mortal Coil

Title: Re: Converting campaign to TSoY
Post by: Troels on October 03, 2007, 07:17:21 AM

So far, it seems to be working very well. My ageless seithr-master Carl may have 89 years and 20 advances on young Beatrice, but she's got me by the Key of Unrequited Love, and so far Carl doesn't seem to be the one wearing the trousers. But I'm getting very nice XP out of it, not to mention a quite decent roleplaying experience. Those Keys really focus the game in an amazing way.

So far, we haven't brought much of the destiny-related crunch into play, but when it gets up and running, I'll post some AP. We have had one Destiny Pool activated by a portent. Poor Josie, who had just been roughed up by her demon possessed loser ex, was having a pint or ten down at the pub (Refreshing Vigor), when Beatrice (another PC, a hot-tempered young Blood Sorceress) cursed whoever was responsible for getting her brother lost in dreams with a curse to change anything they drank into blood. And poor Josie's lager turned into blood in her mouth. Hey, way cool portent!  Even if it technically resulted from a PC action.

It's looking good.

Title: Re: Converting campaign to TSoY
Post by: Greis on October 30, 2007, 11:05:07 AM
I am a fellow player, and I must say, so far it has been quite satisfying using the TSOY-rules. The keys function rather well, allowing the players to add themes into the scenes, as they're being awarded by XP for it.

So far - second TSOY-based session - we still haven't used the Destiny rules much (besides the one scene, Troels refers to), but the ability to temporarily buy secrets and then buy them off functions rather well, and suits the campaigns style with creating new magical facts on the fly.

For example Troels' character Carl is battling two fly demons, and (since we keep using flashback scenes and interludes) it was possible for Beatrice's player to define her bloodmagic to create a scrying pool using the targets blood (in this case Carl's blod), and then influencing the target or the targets surroundings using bloodmagic, so she could make assisted rolls increasing Carls chances of succes.

With these positive experiences I gonna try and convert TSOY to the Transhuman Space-setting since GURPS ain't my cup of tea.