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Apocalypse Whenever

Started by J B Bell, April 19, 2002, 07:54:39 PM

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J B Bell

OK, here I finally go.  I've stayed away form discussing this because this particular baby of mine has a lot of (unnecessary) emotional freight associated with it.  But maybe it's not really such a big deal after all.  Many of you folks certainly make it look comparatively easy.

So, Apocalypse Whenever.  This is my take on the ever-popular "believer-created reality" conceit.  In at least one incarnation, it could rather easily be a Sorcerer mini-supp, but I'm a little suspicious that it may want its own system, even if you can make Sorcerer do Robert Ludlum novels.

The Premise, as far as I can tell from my own actual play using the FUDGE version of the game, is Will your ideals made real redeem or destroy you?  The setting is (post-) modern, and the characters are actually somewhat ordinary people.  PCs in my old game included a children's book author, a professional psychic (she actually worked the phone lines, though yes, she was using Special Powers, at least sometimes), a truck driver, and a criminal computer hacker.  Oh, and a private eye, and a cop.  Ordinary except of course they all had weird magick powers and an inside line on at least some of the big conspiracy to re-make the world.

So, while the world looks like our own, of course Something Else Is Going On.  Namely, consensus reality is expressed as the interaction of the noumenal world, represented by Circuits, and human will.  Circuits are aggregate representations of human obsession.  There is a Circuit for the Flesh, for Technology (named Teknos in my game), for Roads Less Travelled, for the Fairyland as seen in Where the Wild Things Are, and so on.  Defining what can be a Circuit is probably something that will need to be worked out by a particular group before and during play.  Oh, and of course there are the usual traditional religious ideas, but probably divvied up differently from the way one normally reads about it (so e.g. there are actually numerous "God circuits" covering different forms of Christianity alone).

In my particular game, The Apocalypse was Coming Real Soon Now.  However, as implied by the game's title, it wasn't actually a very well-organized push.  I reasoned that conspiracies had been around a long time, but that they weren't actually particularly effective.  A friend (and one of the players) likes to say "there is no life beyond high school."  Congress looks like high-school drama; big business looks like high-school drama; occult orders particularly involve it; and therefore, why the hell would even the powerful, deep conspiracies really be any different?  So there are tons of conspiracies running around, their information is inexact at best, but unfortunately, a few of them have real occult power, and guns.  So it's a bit tongue-in-cheek about this aspect of things.

All right, JB, but what about the system?

Well, the "napkin-notes" for the FUDGE version are here.  In sum, there are two ways to do magic:  use your Will and Gnosis alone, bending reality by your level of "enlightenment" and sheer cussedness, or tap into a Circuit.  Circuits in FUDGE were cheaper and intended to represent a Faustian bargain.  A "rule" that was never articulated in the text was that a PC could take on a flaw (which I called "stigmata") in exchange for an emergency power boost.  The coin of power in the game was called Sanity.  This stat represented sanity in the usual way, as well as derangement from doing magic, which was special.  (Yeah yeah, it resembles Paradox somewhat--my excuse is, I thought of it first.)

The system shown had some notable failings:

1. People didn't get deranged enough.  I was trying to stack traits in an Ars Magica kind of way, and it works poorly in FUDGE.  You should see the way I was doing it initially, it was even worse.  Except for players who were into the Faustian trip to begin with, they were able to avoid any real consequences of doing magick.

2. There was no clear reason ever to want an obvious magickal effect.  Players were always able to use the subtle type that looks like coincidence.  Well, except when they went tromping straight into the dimensions ruled over by the Circuits.  But then obvious magick didn't carry a penalty.  (HW's system of planes--I forget what it's called--and penalties for being in an alien realm covers this kind of stuff rather well.)

Regarding 1., I like FUDGE's injury track.  It's rather elegant and handles the "shot in foot" problem, and seems directly applicable to other kinds of trauma like sanity.  But just switching to a "flaw currency" (as shown rather vaguely in Story Engine's "shaking injury") seems like a better bet now.  2., I think, shows the game's lack of currency to support Narrativism.  I think I wanted a strongly Narrativist game and just barely managed a good Illusionist game.  But it burned me out, I couldn't figure out how to deal with the two players who were not following the (totally implicit) social contract, and I essentially asphyxiated the game through neglect.

Now I guess this thing has a chance.  I welcome any and all comments, of course.

"Have mechanics that focus on what the game is about. Then gloss the rest." --Mike Holmes

Henry Fitch

So it's Mage with the Avatars and power groups from Unknown Armies? Nah, I'm just kidding, ignore me. Sounds very cool.
formerly known as Winged Coyote

J B Bell

What do I want to reward?

I want to reward clever use of classic "magical thinking"--applying the principles of contagion, association, perversity, polarity, etc.  Essentially, the poetic fallacy of magic.

The prime example was when Sam had his PC Marcus do a working trying to locate his daughter.  He got dryer lint from a load of laundry of their clothes he'd done, incorporated some hair from her hairbrush, and maybe other stuff I don't remember, made that stuff into paper, and typed out a wee story about their being re-united.  (His form of magic was "verbomancy"--what he wrote had a tendency to come true.)  Whoo!  Clever as hell.  Way neater than just staring fixedly.  He did get a hefty bonus on his roll, I believe, but I'd like to make this kind of weird thinking just about de rigeur.

I think I might make Gnosis itself into a pure reward mechanism--no matter how high I priced it, given the classic "PC behavior restriction" mode of limitations on the Circuit, someone would think it was worth it to just buy up Gnosis, since it was, in the long run, the way to give a PC more freedom of choice.  I want players to be able to pursue enlightenment or damnation for their PCs and have both paths be protagonizing, even unto death.  Actually I think protagonizing the Fausts might be more protagonizing--enlightenment is next to impossible to bring across in any medium, and tends to be bland.  (How do you run a crazy-master PC?)

"Have mechanics that focus on what the game is about. Then gloss the rest." --Mike Holmes