Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

Tabula Rasa (was Destiny Denied)

Started by pasoliati, May 05, 2005, 04:23:11 PM

Previous topic - Next topic


What if the only thing written to stone is your future?

I stand in the ancient throne room of the high king in the great city Altar.  Gathered with me are the great kings and queens of the land.  They kneel down and the greatest queen among them takes Darksbane, the holy sword, to give it to the new High King.  I hold my breath as she starts walking to me...

Water fills my lungs.  All around me a warm blue, welcoming and familiar.  I could stay here forever and perhaps I already have.  But there is light above me, a new world calling to me, so I will myself to the surface.  My head breaks through the water and I take what seems to be my first breath of air.

An old man stands by the Well and helps pulls me out. "Arise sir knight, you have a destiny to peruse."  I climb out of the Well armed and armored.

Last time in this thread I presented some stolen systems from other and better games.  This time, I'll talk about what makes Tabula Rasa (formerly Destiny Denied) more unique.  I would have just posted this in the old thread, but I like this name so much better.  There have been slight tweaks to the system (like only three stats instead of four and having the stats start at ten and not five), but I think this post will explain much better my vision for the game.

The issues of Tabula Rasa are identity and destiny.  On the one hand, you know nothing about yourself or the world around you; in a way the game is all about character creation.  On the other hand, you feel propelled to some future event and you can either fight it or accept it; each choice giving more meaning to that future event and also defining your identity.

Tabula Rasa takes it's inspiration from movies about heroes.  Movies like Yojimbo about a nameless wonderer without a past or The Bourn Identity where he starts out with no memory and must choose who he will become (the ending of The Bourn Supremacy may even be a better example).  King Arthur is another example of a movie that I'm going for, where they choose to be the brave knights of legend.

Since there is no one genre more specific than Action-Adventure for movies with heroes that make choices (and not all Action-Adventure movies are that way, a lot of them are about people in the wrong place at the wrong time or are so black and white that no choice is ever made) almost any setting is appropriate for a game of Tabula Rasa.  Using some of my favorite movies as color and the concept of seasons, I've made four myself.

The spring setting, if you will, would be in the Dark Ages when knights (as a symbol for a hero) are just starting out.  The world is chaotic, stuck between barbarians and a corrupt and uncaring empire.

The summer setting is what you would think of when I say knights, a romantic medieval setting with Divine Kings and Queens.  Knights are not new to the world, but have banded together in orders or in the service of a kingdom.

The fall setting is like the spring setting, out in the frontier and chaos.  But guns have replaced swords and the quick draw has replaced the duel.

The winter setting is a modern or near future setting.  Since many occult conspiracies involve the Knights Templar, the orders of the knights would be in focus again.  Also with almost cyberpunk evil megacorporations and nationalism bringing in mind the Divine Kings and Queens of the summer setting, without the Divine part.

The first thing a group must do is decide what sort of setting they'd like.  The above four should only be starting points to think about them, far future ala Star Wars or ancient past like Egypt are as equally possible.  A setting shouldn't be too detailed at this point; Tabula Rasa is about "discovering" (as in making up together) the setting as much as the characters.

When play begins, all you know about your character is one pivotal event in the future.  After the players and the GM have nailed down a vague sense of setting, it's time to work on defining that event.  Each setting has some ideas for destiny within, like a dark ages type setting shouldn't end with a gun fight and a western setting probably shouldn't be reinstating a divine monarchy.  Talk with the GM and your fellow players; see if they want to have a shared destiny (where there is one event that you are all leading up to) or more individual destinies.

The devil is the details.  When you are writing your destiny, you want to make three details that act as road signs for that destiny.  In the example that I started out with, "the great city Altar", "gathered ... kings and queens", and "Darksbane, the holy sword" all work well as details.  These are steps in that character's quest.  Even if a destiny is shared (like every character is going to be there for the crowning of the High King), the details should be different (although with the GM's approval, one detail may be shared between two characters).  Once the other players and the GM are all onboard with everyone's destinies, then play may begin.

Deatils are one of the ways that you advance as a character.  Your destiny score goes up to a two the first time you realize a detail (in this case, finding the sword Darksbane, making it to the city Altar, or getting all of the kings and queens to agree to gather).  Your destiny score becomes a three when you realize the other two details.

Character Creation
As I said before, Tabula Rasa is about character creation, but we do need some numbers to start out with.  Each character has three dice pools to reflect his or her effectiveness at different activities.  They are soldier, noble, and everyman, reflecting how good a character is at fighting, socializing, and everything else respectively.  They start at ten each (they can be changed at the end of each session so don't worry that there isn't any customization now).  But that's not all.  Each character has a destiny score (starts at one) and a list of accomplishments that starts empty (see below for how these work).

First Scene
The first scene for the standard Tabula Rasa game is your character coming out of a Well, a symbol of birth (popularized in baptismal rituals and cleansing rites around the world).  Usually, someone is there to help you out and give you a very brief orientation to the world.  He also gives your characters an opportunity to ask the Well for one item.  This counts as a use of Destiny (take a Fate token and right down what you asked for as an accomplishment).  Then he will send you and any other recent knights out on a quest (this is just to get the character's feet wet and can be skipped for more experienced players).

After that, hopefully the players will peruse their characters' destinies and all the GM needs to do is think up of conflicts that will force them to make choices about who they are and what they believe in and that will make realizing the details of their destiny fun but challenging.

Edited: changed the word Theme to Issue[/i]


After seeing Kingdom of Heaven this weekend, I'm not so sure I want my game to be about Knights.  It should be about finding yourself.  It should be more out there.

Maybe a more primative world-view.  A lot of cultures seemed to believe that there were great powers in Names (enough power to get me to capitalize it).  Maybe a game where the rewards system was building your Name (naming characters are sometimes hard, what if that was the purpose of the game).

A person would have at least two names, a true name and a deed name.  Maybe instead of a Destiny being a great act that will acomplish, it would be an Ancestor from the past that you want to borrow the power of his name.  So you try to do the same things that he did so that people start linking your name to his, and this linking makes you more powerful.  At the same time, you have to work on finding out your own true name, becasue while it wont give you the power that a great deed name will, it will give you more self-identity.

Setting wise, the highest technology I could see is bronze age, and it would probably be more primative than that, more tribal.  Some tribes will take their names from animals, others from a shared Ancestor, most will probably be an animal that was an ancestor.

Going down that route, maybe there is a conflict symbolized by the nameless animals and the named humans.  As a person or even a whole tribe loses their name, they become more animalistic.  They gain power from a lack of names, a lack of constraints.

The default beginning could be children losing their child names to obtain adult names and join the tribe.

A name knowed should give powers and constraints.  A person without an name has power, but it is wild and can hurt more than it can help.

I think it's obvious that I need to think about this more, but what do y'all think?  Is it more interesting than another frpg about being knights in shining armor?  Does it explore the idea of making up your character and changing him during play?  Does it feel like identity is brought more to the forefront as an issue for characters and players to deal with?  Would you be more interested in something like this?


I talked to my friend yesterday.  Most of the ideas for the setting I got from a short lived game that he ran (everyone playing Knights, coming out of a Well with no memory).  The system was homemade a quite bad at times (when he added knock-back rules my character would do better in a fight with a bunch of rocks in his pockets), but there was quite a bit good in it.  I don't know the difference between Narrative and Sim with a strong emphasis on exploring situation, but it was somewhere there.

But we were talking last night at Red Robin and in between talking about the Cult of Boba Fett and which Terminator was the best, we reminisced a bit about the game and I realized that that was the game that I wanted to work on.  The one about finding your True Name and being primitive and stuff was a great idea, but I think I'd like to work on it later.  When you start seeing posts for "Masks of the Nameless Ones" it means that I'm working on it.

Looking at the games out there now, the game that is closest to what I want is Paladin but without the distasteful moral absolutism.  Or perhaps with it, but a chance to grow and change.  It kind of reminds me of Nietzsche's The Three Metamorphoses

QuoteMany heavy things are there for the spirit, the strong load-bearing spirit in which reverence dwelleth: for the heavy and the heaviest longeth its strength.

What is heavy? so asketh the load-bearing spirit; then kneeleth it down like the camel, and wanteth to be well laden.

What is the heaviest thing, ye heroes? asketh the load-bearing spirit, that I may take it upon me and rejoice in my strength.

Is it not this: To humiliate oneself in order to mortify one's pride? To exhibit one's folly in order to mock at one's wisdom?

Or is it this: To desert our cause when it celebrateth its triumph? To ascend high mountains to tempt the tempter?

Or is it this: To feed on the acorns and grass of knowledge, and for the sake of truth to suffer hunger of soul?

Or is it this: To be sick and dismiss comforters, and make friends of the deaf, who never hear thy requests?

Or is it this: To go into foul water when it is the water of truth, and not disclaim cold frogs and hot toads?

Or is it this: To love those who despise us, and give one's hand to the phantom when it is going to frighten us?

All these heaviest things the load-bearing spirit taketh upon itself: and like the camel, which, when laden, hasteneth into the wilderness, so hasteneth the spirit into its wilderness.

So, the first part of the game would be about collecting these burdens in the form of Oaths from outside sources.  There would be a reward mechism to give xp or good karma for keeping the Oaths and take away xp or "reward" bad karma for breaking them (and like Paladin, maybe the bad karma could be spent to power up the character).

QuoteBut in the loneliest wilderness happeneth the second metamorphosis: here the spirit becometh a lion; freedom will it capture, and lordship in its own wilderness.

Its last Lord it here seeketh: hostile will it be to him, and to its last God; for victory will it struggle with the great dragon.

What is the great dragon which the spirit is no longer inclined to call Lord and God? "Thou-shalt," is the great dragon called. But the spirit of the lion saith, "I will."

"Thou-shalt," lieth in its path, sparkling with gold- a scale-covered beast; and on every scale glittereth golden, "Thou shalt!"

The values of a thousand years glitter on those scales, and thus speaketh the mightiest of all dragons: "All the values of things- glitter on me.

All values have already been created, and all created values- do I represent. Verily, there shall be no 'I will' any more. Thus speaketh the dragon.

My brethren, wherefore is there need of the lion in the spirit? Why sufficeth not the beast of burden, which renounceth and is reverent?

To create new values- that, even the lion cannot yet accomplish: but to create itself freedom for new creating- that can the might of the lion do.

To create itself freedom, and give a holy Nay even unto duty: for that, my brethren, there is need of the lion.

To assume the ride to new values- that is the most formidable assumption for a load-bearing and reverent spirit. Verily, unto such a spirit it is preying, and the work of a beast of prey.

As its holiest, it once loved "Thou-shalt": now is it forced to find illusion and arbitrariness even in the holiest things, that it may capture freedom from its love: the lion is needed for this capture.

I don't know how to make this happen.  I'm not even sure if this would happen in a game.  Would characters choose to let go of the Oaths that they made, to become Oathbreakers for freedom?  The players that would want to play Knights to play Paladins are usually idealist.  The game can't force them to choose this path.  It can't just hit a switch and suddenly all the oaths are painfully binding.  It's not like Nietzsche was always right.  Maybe that could be the point of the game, to see if this happens.

QuoteBut tell me, my brethren, what the child can do, which even the lion could not do? Why hath the preying lion still to become a child?

Innocence is the child, and forgetfulness, a new beginning, a game, a self-rolling wheel, a first movement, a holy Yea.

Aye, for the game of creating, my brethren, there is needed a holy Yea unto life: its own will, willeth now the spirit; his own world winneth the world's outcast.

And thus we return back to the name Tabula Rasa, blank slate.  Not only is your character a blank slate in terms of past and present, but in the end, morals become a blank slate as your character rewrites the fabric of the universe.  Ideally.  You can't force the characters to go there and I think that most of them will be quite happy playing "camels" or getting fed up with being "camels" would switch games.

Any thoughts?


Well, nodoby seems to object yet.  No news is good news, eh?

Some more brainstorming, this time on character and a more different conflict resolution.

Characters have three stats (noble, soldier, and everyman).  The have a pool of white and black mana.  And they have a list of Oaths that they have taken and Titles that they have been granted.

Along with the three stats, the player gets to work out a signature line (for his noble stat), a signature weapon (for his soldier stat), and a physical characteristic (for his everyman stat).  If the player works these into a conflict, he gets an extra die.

The player should also work out how he refreshes his stats (like a character who refreshes his soldiering by doing kata is different than one who refreshes by spending the night drinking with war buddies).

Conflict Resolution
Hash out with the GM what exactly your character is trying to do, Intent, and what the character doesn't want to happen, Consequence. (stolen from Snowball).  They should be on the same level so "I want to kill Sir Bad Guy and I don't want to break a nail" is bad while "I want to kill Sir Bad Guy and not be killed in the process" is good.  They also shouldn't be contrary because both may happen.  "I want to get away from the goon squad that is trying to capture me and I don't want to be captured" is problematic (although you could be captured by someone other than the goon squad).

Then the GM describes the difficulties that your character will encounter, taking a die out of his pool for every obstacle or twist that they will encounter (stolen from FATE twists) up to three now.  He places those in two piles, one to prevent your Intent and the other to support the Consequences.

Describe your actions, moving a die from your pool for each description (up to three now).  All of those things happen (if it isn't vetoed for being inappropriate by the GM or another player).  You may describe actions, but not the effects of those actions (yet) (stolen from Wushu with a bit from The Pool).  You put those into two piles, one to support your Intent and one to try to avert the Consequence (stolen from lumpey's blog's description of Otherkind Dice).

Dice come from pools made up of six sided dice.  Each player has a pool for each stat and two for mana.  If you take a die out of a stat pool, you have to describe your character acting in accordance with that pool (so if you are in a fight and pull a die out of the noble pool, that controls social interactions, then you should describe your character passing some witty banter or something).  If you work in one of your singatures (lines, weapon/fighting style, physical characteristic) you get to add a bonus die that one time only this conflict.

Roll the dice in both pools to see how overall effective your actions were.  All of the dice that come up fives or sixes are counted as a success (The Puddle).  The GM then rolls his dice in both pools and likewise counts successes.

If you have more successes in a pool, you win (your Intent succeeds and/or the Consequences (I need a better word) doesn't happen).  If the GM has more successes then you failed in some measure (either to achieve your Intent or to prevent your Consequence).  If there is a tie in the Intent pool, the player's Intent happens.  If there is a tie in the Consequence pool the Consequence happens.  If the player fails to roll more sucesses in the Intent pool and the GM fails to roll more sucesses in the Consequences pool, nothing happens?  Is it a push?  Should they roll again?

The person who put the most dice into the pool (wither they won or lost) gets to Narrate it (with ties in the Intent pool going to the Player and the Consequence pool going to the GM).

Somehow dice should be lost from the stat pools, but I don't know which way works best.  The Pool has you lose everything if you fail.  The Anti-Pool has you lose when you suceed.  The Puddle has you lose all dice that are 1 or 2.  An Anti-Puddle would have you lose all the dice that come up sucesses.  Maybe you lose a number of dice equal to how much you lost a conflict by?  I'm still trying to work this part out.  And if anyone has any ideas I'd love to hear them.

Ah well, it's just fun working on this.


Quote from: pasoliati
Along with the three stats, the player gets to work out a signature line (for his noble stat), a signature weapon (for his soldier stat), and a physical characteristic (for his everyman stat).  If the player works these into a conflict, he gets an extra die.

I can't edit it, but since the game is about playing knights, the "physival characteristic" should changed into a horse.  Every knights needs a good horse.