Character Abilities in Can of Beans

I've been digging through the archives of the unnamed "pirate/steampunk" boffer LARP system I developed last year, and with over a year of regular experience playing this style of game through Clans of Elgardt (CoE), most of my thoughts real haven't changed much. There are a few things that I'd change slightly based on my "experience in the field", and far more things that I'd change about CoE to get a happy medium. There's a certain naivety about the game, but that's to be expected since the original designers had never written a game like this before and generally worked from second hand accounts about what games like this could be. I'd love the rewrite that game from the ground up, because it has some interesting concepts in it, but now has too much baggage and too many other people trying to rewrite things about it (even to the point that one of our local spin-offs is basically a CoE heartbreaker).

A lot of CoE is about player ability, there are members of the group who practice swordcraft two or three times a week, and who vocally rebel against any attempt to make combat less of a game focus, because they rely on player ability more than character embodiment. CoE basically allows anyone to wield any weapons, as long as they've bought them. It takes as much character skill to use a shortsword as it does to use a pole-arm... the only difference is the out of game logistical concern of weapon expense. Which leads us to the whole idea that the winner is whoever has the most real world money, or the most real world time to focus on combat training. I don't think that's why we roleplay, I always thought roleplaying was about escapism and getting away from all that crap.

The magic system in CoE is pretty crude, but generally does the job of filling in gaps for a system where combat is almost everything, and the rest is left for the fruitful void. There are defined spells for use in combat situations (damage, freeze, fear, healing, insta-death), and everything else is left under a nebulous "ritual magic"skill that literally anyone could pick up.

Magic items...hell, even mundane items... are a vague concept in most cases unless they can be specifically applied to combat, and they have been in a state of flux since the game began. Something I've been trying to pin down, only to be sabotaged time and again by the other developers...but that's another story.

Abilities in CoE are divided into paths: Light [healing], Darkness [necromancy], Steel [combat], Magic [not light or dark spells], and Shadow [a catch all for thievery, archery and assassin stuff]. Using weapons is separate from these abilities, and covered in their own "Weapon Proficiencies" category, including special abilities that you might gain through expert training in specific weapon types. And then there are a mix of skills that are available for flavour purposes only, and skills that actually have mechanical advantages in game. The whole thing is a hodge-podge of the type I've shown disdain for (if not outright hatred) over the years at many times here on the blog and on various online forums. It is very easy to game the system to produce an adequate character, very hard to produce a good character regardless of what you do, and in the end it all comes down to howgood you are as a "player" when it comes to fighting, because if those combat types decide that you're gaining an unfair advantage over them using the rules...they just change the rules. (This has happened at least 3 times in the last 12 months when I exploited certain rule loop holes to promote story elements that didn't involve combat).

Generally everything in CoE comes down to gold expenditure, you pay money in game to train your stats, which opens new slots allowing more money to be spent on gaining special abilities. For the majority of the game so far, groups could pool their resources so that more powerful abilities could be gained. The problem here was analogous to the 1% in our world, where the leaders of various factions spent the lion's share of the money boosting their own characters to levels others could not attain, while everyone else in their faction picked over the scraps. The leaders didn't see a problem with this because they were only ever comparing themselves to the leaders of other factions who were doing exactly the same thing. 90% of the players ended up being support cast to these leaders, and left the game with steady turn-over. This was reinforced by the fact that no-one ever died.

There have been some changes to the way CoE does things, but it's feeling too little, too late.

I like coherent simple systems that regulate more than they restrict. I very rarely get them, even when I design them myself, but it's my aim.

For "Can of Beans", I'm not going for attributes as the defining element of characters, I'm simply using "expertise" and "edge" traits. "Expertise" traits will be skills, talents, personal quirks and roleplaying elements that anyone can acquire (but are more common among certain types of characters), while "Edge" traits will be specific mechanical advantages (that might require possession of specific expertise traits before they become available). Characters will start with less than half a dozen expertise traits, and maybe three edge traits.

Here's my work-in-progress text...

Starting Characters

Characters have a number of paths, the first path is their culture of origin, the second path is their childhood, and the third path is their starting occupation. Start by choosing culture, as this defines which childhood options are available. Then choose childhood, and finally the starting occupation. Any time a character encounters a path choice marked by an asterisk, they must spend two of their accumulated focus points to choose it. All characters start with a single filled-in box for each of their chosen paths, and they may fill in five additional boxes across their Authority or Focus paths.

Authority Path

Focus Path – Culture of Origin

Focus Path – Childhood

Focus Path – Starting Occupation

If a player is making a new primary character, they may spend any number of their focus points to fill in additional boxes. Each box filled in in this fashion costs a single focus point.  

Developing Characters

During the course of play, every time a character earns an experience point they mark off a box on one of their paths. A character automatically gains an experience point for every session they attend, and an additional XP for engaging in a storyline (at the discretion of the GM running that particular storyline). They may also gain a bonus experience point allocated toward a specific path if they fulfill a goal associated with that path. (For example: A character on the path of the healer gains a bonus experience point toward this path if they heal 3 people during the course of the session, while a character on the path of the crafter gains a bonus point if they repair or craft a total of three things during the session). Regardless of how many paths a character might have, they may gain a maximum of two bonus experience points each game session. Typically, a character will gain 2 to 3 experience points per session, they may never earn more than 4.

If a box marked on the Authority path is bold, the character may instantly choose a new focus path. This might be a new occupation they are interested in pursuing, or it might be a path of inner resolve, or mystical insight. Some paths have expertise requirements before they may be selected, and some may need to be found during the course of play. The first box is instantly marked on a new focus path when it is acquired.

When boxes are marked on the focus paths, if the box is bold they gain a benefit for their character. If the bold box is square (¨) they may choose a new expertise from those available to the path, if the box is circular (¡) they gain a new edge. Edges typically have expertise requirements before they may be selected. Edges are also defined by levels, basic, intermediate and advanced. Across all their paths, a character must always have more basic edges than intermediate, and more intermediate edges than advanced.

It might not make a whole lot of sense, because there are other parts of the documentation that I haven't revealed yet. For example, "Focus Points" are a resource earned by players (not characters), when they engage NPC roles for a session, or for other services to the game. These are a finite resource used to get something unusual in the game (with special approval). The actual edges aren't described here yet, but that will be covered in the next post.


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