This article by Charles Franklin originally appeared in The Way, the Truth & the Dice issue 1 in the spring of 1999. It is reposted here with permission from the author.
I was watching a classic science fiction film this weekend with my four-year-old son and one scene in particular emphasized the way combat is portrayed in movies and in our games. In this particular scene an alien, accompanied by a starship pilot and a teenager, wander into a detention zone where a firefight erupts with the evil military police. Now granted, the threesome had the element of surprise, but when the shooting starts they calmly go about their business, zapping security cameras and bad guys with amazing accuracy. Meanwhile the trained military police cant seem to hit anything. Common sense tells us that this is a less than accurate portrayal of how this firefight would occur, and I think everyone realizes that Hollywood takes great liberty with reality in their action movies. This cinematic liberty carries over into RPGs that for the most part seek to model movies, not reality.
The purpose of this series of articles is not to open a debate about the glorification of violence in popular movies and role playing games. I do believe, however, that adding a dose or two of reality to our game mechanics will reduce the quantity of violence and increase the quality of role playing. I see this as a win-win adjustment.
In ages past, when the Harbingers made landfall at Cloudhead, they brought the GIFTS with them. Since that day, people in the solar system have discovered special abilities given to them. The GIFTS were to help the people thrive together and to fight against the evils which had implanted themselves into the solar system. People bearing similar GIFTS gathered together and formed what now are referred to as Houses. These Houses are not geographical distinctions, but rather talent distinctions. There are 12 Great Houses representing the most prominent GIFTS. There are unrepresented GIFTS, but they are exceedingly rare.
The Houses function like churches. The Houses are most like religious organizations and all share the same faith but pursue the tenets through the GIFTS they have. There are different sects within each House but they largely share the same principles and work towards the same goals. Read more
Now that we have good players, heroes, and villains, we have to put them to work. A campaign is an ongoing series of adventures in a game world, made up of several ingredients. First, the campaign’s premise must be sound. Good campaigns are consistent with the world you adventure in and have clear and worthy objectives. A good campaign is built from a good premise. “What if” questions are good starting points for finding a good premise. What if aliens secretly contacted Earth governments during the Wild West era? What if superheroes were all created by a single time-traveler? What if the barriers between dimensions begin to break down? Take the basic premise, and follow it through in as much detail as desired. Read more
SPIRIT is a new stat in LitC. Spirit reflects a character’s growth and presence in the spirit world. SPIRIT works much like CONSTITUTION except it applies to SPIRIT damage, which adds STRESS to a character. SPIRIT attacks seek to break a character (see FLIPPED OUT under STRESS). At that point the character is susceptible to manipulation and/or compulsion. A functional spiritual entity may be content enough to drive a character away. Malevolences will often seek to possess or consume a compromised character. A character with a high SPIRIT score has a hardness versus SPIRIT damage according to their bonus.
Similarly a character adds a bonus to SPIRIT damage dealt to spiritual entities.
Losing SPIRIT can happen through inaction in adventures. A critical event that a character chooses to avoid, most often having moral or ethical implications, will cause a loss of 1 point of SPIRIT. Much like an alignment shift in other games, it should be made clear to the player that a loss of SPIRIT will occur if they choose inaction in an important moment.
Playing good characters is another important aspect of role-playing games. Although a good GM and good players can have a good game with bad characters, it’s much easier to have a good game when the characters are good. When players create heroes, it is far easier to have fun and eliminate many of the conflicts that often arise as a result of good role-playing. A group should be well rounded with well thought out backgrounds and personalities.
Alignment in Lands in the Clouds is simplified with an optional rules mechanic of Soul Points and Rage Points. The other distinctions are left to the character in-game as benevolence or malevolence as defined by their actions. Every adventure has opportunities for characters to change their outlook. Aspiring towards benevolent goals in critical moments may reward characters with a type of bonus GRIT. In a setting where the spirit world is close at hand, the condition of a soul is harder to hide and is defined by action, not just outlook.
SOUL POINTS and RAGE POINTS are optional and can be excluded if the rules are cumbersome.
Characters that complete crucial SOUL POINT goals gain 1 soul point. SOUL POINTS can be used in place of GRIT for critical successes in most situations unless the action is knowingly evil in nature. They are also used to power GIFTS. SOUL POINTS are also first consumed in spirit based attacks before any other damage can be dealt, so they act as a type of hitpoint for encounters in the spirit world.
RAGE POINTS are generated any time a character suffers a critical attack or fails at a SOUL POINT opportunity. RP can be spent on critical successes as SOUL POINTS, but not GIFTS. They can also amplify damage, adding 1d6 damage per RAGE POINT to damage of successful attacks. The danger of RAGE POINTS are how they are amplified with STRESS and more vulnerable to manipulation.
Any time a character’s RAGE POINTS exceed their wisdom, they seek to unload the overwhelming emotional duress. Any time there is contention, make a Willpower saving throw based on the number of RAGE POINTS + STRESS. Success, the character keeps it bottled up. Failure results in the character in lashing out at the one with whom they are in contest. A second Willpower save that is successful means that the character can limit their anger to a verbal tirade or general insults. Thereafter their opponent reacts to them as 2 steps lower in reaction. That may result in a fight, which is ultimately what the character seeks. A critical failure on this save means the character has snapped and physically attacks their opponent. If their opponent is a friend, they may channel their anger to an inanimate object if a second will save is successful.
The Lands in the Clouds setting and the GRIT system are provided as a showcase of the work of a CGG member. The Guild takes no official position on the suitability or appropriateness of any game or supplement.
Previous Chapter: STRESS
D20 Open Gaming License
More than two decades ago now, before I’d ever heard of role playing games or Dungeons & Dragons™ or the hobby game industry, I took an undergraduate course in creative writing, specifically writing fiction. I suppose I had some distant dream of retiring and writing the next great fantasy novel, and I thought this would help. It was a wonderful class, and I gained much from it.
Periodically we were required to write short pieces which would be as fragments of a story—descriptions of scenes, action sequences, and similar bits. One of these was an internal character sketch. To explain, when we read books there is always a perspective from which we are told the story. It can be an external perspective, as we would have watching a play or film, seeing everyone’s actions from the outside. But books permit us to come to the story from the thoughts, feelings, and perceptions of one of the characters, to know not only what happened, but how it affected this individual. So it is possible to describe a character externally, telling what he looks like, how he dresses and moves and what he does; but it is possible to describe a character internally, considering how he sees himself, how he reacts and what goes through his mind that leads him to the choices he makes. Read more
Warning: Some generalized spoilers for Fallout 4 are ahead.
I am on my way through a second play-through of Fallout 4. While the settlement-building mechanics and the amazing Survival Mode (after the recent update) are stars in Bethesda’s crown, I feel like they’ve missed the mark on creating a role-playing experience. It’s a problem, actually, that’s been going on for a while across multiple games (and multiple publishers). It seems like every new iteration of Elder Scrolls removes a little bit of the role from role-playing game, and Bioware RPGs give you so little control over character design that they may as well not bother. I understand that they’re simplifying and streamlining for the benefit of people with shorter and shorter attention spans, and in response to focus group testing, but it’s gotten to the point where Fallout plays more like a shooter than an RPG. Read more
First, let me address the matter of the question. When talking about a designing a role-playing game and the role that magic in the role-playing game will take, we must first decide on what questions we are asking ourselves. Several questions come to my mind. First, what is magic? What is it, not only in fantasy and reality, but also in the role-playing sub-culture? What will it be in my game world or system? The second question is “Why do I want it in the game system?” Why do I need or want magic in the game I’m designing? Third, how does it work in my game system? How do I want it to work in my game? Read more