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Don't Tempt Your Fate: musings about a modern occult game

Started by Spooky Fanboy, June 21, 2008, 03:38:50 PM

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Spooky Fanboy

Let's say I want a tense game about modern-day magic, with a tight yet abstract system for my players to do spooky stuff in, and have spooky stuff done to them. And one day, it occurs to me that DRYH may have  the system I'm looking for. Suppose further it looks something like this:

Instead of insomniacs caught between worlds through a series of peculiar and distressing events, the player characters are magicians, wise-people, shamans, etc. But while there are few people who can do magic, mostly low-key stuff that won't even dent a special effects budget, there are a few of those people who are magic, who can do some pretty freaky bendings of reality. They don't, because once you use magic regularly, you knock the universe slightly off-balance, and reality has some nasty ways of correcting the situation. Some are damn fine people, who only whip out the heavy cannons when things are seriously out of alignment. Some are anti-heroes who exploit their gift...but have their limits, and aren't about to sell their souls to demons. And some are, of course, demons in their own right who simply won't bow down to a lesser evil.

Instead of Mad City, we have Off The Map. Off The Map is where the really wonderful, terrible, and outright weird things dwell. It's very much its own country, and the PCs (and a few lieutenant-level and almost all boss NPCs) can travel there. It goes on forever, and gets more hostile and bizarre the deeper you go in, but up close it looks like a funhouse mirror of our world. Actions taken in it have echoes in our world, and vice versa.

Instead of Discipline, we have Balance. The PC straddles the fence between Real and Unreal, and one push one way or another is a Bad Thing. They operate the same as Discipline dice. 

Instead of Madness dice, we have Blur dice. Blur dice are automatically rolled with Balance dice when the PC uses minor magic to unobtrusively nudge circumstances in his direction. This is for magic that doesn't look like magic, unless people look real closely, or are suspicious about coincidences. Problem is, the more you dip into Blur, the more likely you are to gain ticks on your Fight or Flight responses,  as your tampering with reality makes it tamper with you right back, triggering a murderous rage, or a panic attack, both of which negate the possibility of doing any convenient magic.

Instead of Exhaustion, we have Doom. Doom die are rolled with Balance to conjure up truly impossible feats of magic. Humans to toads, lightning from a cloudless sky, teleportation, conjuration, even bringing the dead back to life. But the more you do, the more you risk being Doomed, and how that happens depends on your character.

Who are you? Name, occupation, and current station in life.

What was done to you? What clued you into the unreality that practically next door to you your entire life? What did you see or experience that clued you into forces that no one sane believes in?

What the hell did you DO? No one who's stuck between worlds gets there by accident. There was something you did that made the impossible open its arms to you. Was it worth it? Or has it only brought more trouble than it's worth?

What's happening now?  What crisis has just been brought to your attention that won't go away with just a few bits of magic or by diplomacy? There should be a number of ways to handle it, instead of one obvious way.

What do you fear will happen? What scares you the most? How do you fear you'll end up?

What do you hope for? How do you hope this crisis ends? What are your long-term plans?

Instead of Exhaustion Talents, we have Blur Gifts: little excellencies your character has that are like mundane skills boosted to amazing effectiveness. Not quite supernatural, but nothing to scoff at either.

Instead of Madness Talents, we have Magic Style. How do you channel the voodoo that you do so well?

Now, if I were to do all that, what thresholds of success should I have for different types of effects? How do I make the magic system free-form, while making the thresholds challenging enough?
Proudly having no idea what he's doing since 1970!


Whuff.  Tall order there, man.  I'll try to break down some system innards for you.

Dice pools in DRYH and DRYH-derived stuff do a few things, as they work inside my head.

- There are Static pools, which do not change unless acted on under rare, special circumstances.  Example: Discipline.

- There are Slow Accretion pools, which you can only increase one at a time. Example: Exhaustion.

- Or, there are Fast Surge pools, which can flash up to maximum or anywhere in the range in a single action.  Example: Madness.

- Slow pools are almost always Sticky -- once they're established, they hang around and must be a part of every roll.  Example: Discipline, Exhaustion (and, to an extent, Permanent Madness).

- Fast pools are usually Ephemeral-- they're established for a single roll, but they don't persist afterwards.  Example: Madness.

Dominance of a given dice pool can have a few dominating effects:

- Any pool can have Graded Consequences -- when it dominates, some minor effect happens until you run out, at which point the next dominance produces a major effect.  Example: Madness and Responses and Snapping.

- Any pool can be Lethal -- When it exceeds a limit (or causes some other resource to exceed a limit), the character dies or is otherwise significantly transformed.  Example: Exhaustion, Madness.

- Any pool can produce Erosion -- when it dominates, you can lose a die from another Sticky pool.  Example: Madness and Snapping reduces Discipline; Discipline can reduce Exhaustion or clear off a checked Response.

- Sticky pools can have Feedback -- they can self-increase (add a die to themselves or another pool) when they dominate.  Example: Exhaustion

- Sticky pools usually have a Pressure Valve that lets you slowly decrease their size over time.  Example: Exhaustion bleeds off when Discipline dominates.

- I may be missing some other ideas that exist in DRYH, and there may be some that could be added here that aren't in DRYH.

You've got several moving parts you could mess around with.  It's entirely possible (if potentially dangerous) to create a Fast Surge pool that's Sticky.  Such as: You could have a pool called Power that's Fast and Sticky.  You decide that you want 3 dice of Power right now, and you get it, but after the roll those 3 dice hang around -- you can't shake 'em, so each time you roll you're rolling those Power dice as well, and are subject to the dominating effects.  You could also add a Feedback effect to Power, saying that it increases another pool called Paradox whenever Power dominates. Or give it Erosion, having it eat away at your Stability pool, etc.

Lots of pieces to mix and match. :)

More in another reply.


To completely fuck with your design, consider this.

Ground dice are how you connect yourself to reality. 
Blur dice are how you smudge the line of reality.  You're still connected to reality, but the barrier between the impossible and reality gets smudged a bit, letting one leak into the other.
Sever dice are how you cut the tie between reality and the impossible entirely, giving the impossible free reign.

Blur dice are Fast Surge, Ephemeral dice that produce Feedback: when Blur dice dominate, you "Cut" a hole in reality -- increase your Sever pool by one.  By pushing dice into another pool like this, you could make a case that Blur dice also have a Graded Consequence system going on.

Sever dice are Static (you cannot voluntarily increase them) and Sticky (once established or increased they do not go away) and Lethal (they can kill you).  They have a Pressure Valve (see Ground dice below).  They have Graded consequences; when they dominate, you take a mark of Disconnection (when you run out of Disconnection boxes, you have a moment of Paradox as reality tries to reconcile the fact that you exist -- forcefully -- with the Erosion effect of reducing your Ground pool by one).  Each moment of Disconnection produces a scene of profound unreality that the character does not control; the impossible is bleeding in through the holes he's poked in reality.    Further, some effects (narrative powers and permissions mainly) that you want to pull off are impossible unless you have a certain number of Static dice already established.

Ground dice are Static and will let you reduce your Sever pool by one (a Pressure Valve/Erosion effect) or remove a mark of Disconnection when they dominate.  If your Ground pool is ever reduced to zero through Paradox, you cease to exist.

Taking this all together, this produces a staged series of effects. A player wants to do magic, but they can only do the minor stuff at first. It's still pretty effective, as they use their Blur dice to get some minor effects.  All the traffic lights turn green at the right time, and despite driving 120 mph down main street no cars or pedestrians get in your way.  Unlikely, but not impossible.  That's Blur in action.

But as they do enough Blurring, they pick up Sever dice.  As Sever dice increase, they can assert wider-reaching and more permanent effects.  At one or two Sever dice, you can only create short-lived, local impossibilities.  At 3 to 6 your can do broader-reaching effects (going beyond your immediate surroundings to a city block, a town, a city...) or longer-lasting local effects (shading towards permanence).  At over 6 dice, you start to be able to change large chunks of the world for a very long time.  Somebody with 10 or more Sever dice may be able to redefine reality for the world -- and make it stick -- assuming that haven't ceased to exist by this point (it should be very, very hard to avoid the more Sever dice you have, especially up at this range). 

When folks don't get enough successes to "win" using their Sever dice, magic still happens, and reality might still change -- just not necessarily exactly as prescribed.

Ties are things that help ground you and keep you connected to reality: relationships, ideas, possessions.  Characters have a limited number of these, and when they're involved in a scene in some way, they can temporarily increase the number of Ground dice rolled.  Sometimes when the impossible is making you bleed frogs out of your ears, it's good to center yourself by thinking of your daughter...

Improbabilities are methods you can use to amplify the successes you get from your Blur dice, the way Exhaustion Talents work.  No problem.

Impossibilities represent the style of reality-severing magic you do, like a Madness talent.  You need to define the continuum of effects you can do at various Sever levels: what's your 1-2 effect, your 3-4, your 5-6, your 7+?

You'll have to work out how the Pain-analogue for representing GM adversity works into all of this.  Adding Sever dice?  Going straight to the Disconnection?  Something else?


I kind of like a lot of this stuff.  How cool are you with me "stealing" some of the concepts that sparked off these ideas? :)

Spooky Fanboy

Quote from: iago on June 22, 2008, 11:08:31 AM
I kind of like a lot of this stuff.  How cool are you with me "stealing" some of the concepts that sparked off these ideas? :)

By all means! You've obviously got a better grounding in this game than I do. If you do make a modern occult game out of this, please print it. I'm in the mood for a new one. And, please mention me if you do, as I'm a whore for attention! ;) (Kidding.)
Proudly having no idea what he's doing since 1970!

Spooky Fanboy

Okay, to be serious:

Let's drift from my initial idea (please!) Let's say instead that you have PCs who should have died horrible deaths...but somehow survived, and are a bit changed from the experience. They're like Schrodinger's Cat: should be dead, but are still alive for the moment. And now they bend luck, to the point of causing the impossible to happen, but not without risk.

The Static Pool, I'm thinking, is Grace. Because the characters are in a state of grace. They're insanely lucky, almost to the point of being action-movie heroes. These are people who make bell curves go fetal and actuaries cry. This is a Slow pool, and is part of every roll. Three dice, max.

Okay, the next Pool is Risk. Risk is a Fast Surge, Ephemeral pool. When you activate your Trick (like an Exhaustion Talent), you need to take on Risk. Risk lets you do over-the top cinematic stuff, but you're still stuck at James Bond/pulp hero level. If it dominates, you add a check to your Blowout Meter. Like Fight/Flight, you have three boxes for two possible outcomes: Bad Karma (you the character get hosed, narrate how) or Reversal of Fortune (a lucky break happens for the opposition, although you are not directly affected; GM narrates). Either way, whatever you were attempting in that scene is fubar, and you have to go about accomplishing it in another way. If you let both meters fill up, you are SOL and cannot activate Risk dice until you clear at least one box on one side of the meter. Luckily, if you have a roll where Grace dominates, this can clear one box off the meter.

Okay, the next Pool is your Doom. Doom is a Slow, Sticky Pool. Doom dice allow the character to pull off weird shit, like convincing a swarm of rats to skeletonize a guard, or drop an anvil on someone from a clear blue sky, or change your physical form, or someone else's, etc. If Doom dominates a roll, add a die. You can convert one check on your Blowout Meter to a Doom die, or if you get hit by Trouble (the analog of Pain in this setting) you get a Doom die. Every time you add a Doom die, you add a check to your Doom Meter. Remember how your character almost died? Well, if he or she gets more than six Doom checked off (not counting Chaos dice, see further on), you the player have to narrate how he or she dies in a fashion similar to the first not-quite death.  At 1-2 Doom, you create something that lasts a scene, at 3-6 you can extend the weirdness or create a long-lasting weirdness like a ward, geas, or curse on someone, and beyond 6 you make a large chunk of the world look like a bad day for the Doom Patrol, until your luck runs out. In a roll where Grace dominates, you have the option of removing a Doom check, which of course removes a Doom die. You cannot remove a Blowout meter check and a Doom meter check with the same roll, it has to be one or the other.

If worse comes to worse, you can clear your entire Blowout Meter, or lose half of your Doom checks (rounded up), but one of your Grace Dice becomes a Chaos Die. Chaos dice are permanent, and add to any Doom dice rolls for generating weirdness. It is treated as a Doom die to see if Doom dominates, but does not require a check on the Doom meter. If all of your Grace Dice are converted to Chaos Dice, you become an NPC and go Off The Map. Five coins of Stability (hope) minus current Grace convert one Chaos die back to a Grace Die.

Off The Map is like Mad City, but it's worldwide and the barriers are a little more porous. Threats that the Doom Patrol or The Invisibles would square off against live out here, and they make tentative alliances with conspiracies in this world to rise to power and/or immanentize the Escheaton. The PCs will end up going against threats both surreal and mundane, either for personal reasons, or because they've banded together with the Strange Angels to help keep reality on track. Needless to say, anyone with all their Grace Dice converted to Chaos becomes an enemy NPC, whom the rest of the PCs should (and will be encouraged to) exterminate with extreme prejudice. 

No one knows how deep the Strange Angels go in regard to their influence in governments or religious organizations around the world, but they never have trouble finding or tracking down the characters.

Proudly having no idea what he's doing since 1970!