09 March, 2018

Dwellers in the Dark

Unlike this article by Zak S., I'm not going to claim that I'm a genius inventor of something. More often than not, I say that I'm riding a cultural zeitgeist, sometimes putting together the fragments out there in the ether before someone with a bigger profile puts together similar components and gets the kudos for "an innovative and original idea". (If you don't include the degree of arrogance and ignorance, it's actually a decent article, with some useful stuff in the one place that would normally be spread across multiple sources).

Many of the ideas in The Law are indirectly taken from the work of John Harper (where the rank die is akin to the "Hero Die" in Agon, and the connection to Ghost/Echo througn my own game FUBAR), and the work of D. Vincent Baker (most notably his abandoned Otherkind Dice, which many people believe were morphed into the Apocalypse engine).

One of the things I did first in FUBAR was more closely linked to Otherkind Dice  rolling a group of d6s, then allocating die results between options (in this case success, sacrifice, and story). I always had trouble with the idea of varying difficulties and character proficiency levels in the original set-up, but vaguely wandering through other system designs led to the current solution... a solution that seems elegant and has been working really well. So now we roll different types of dice, modify them and then allocate them.

As a game system it's been really easy for new players to pick up, but I feel like it can do more...

...which leads to the topic of the post.

In the random tower creation system I've been developing for The Law, there are a few tables with 3 columns and 10 rows. When determining results from the tables, you roll a d6, a d8, and a d10. This has the combined effect of making the first six rows on the table more likely as results, while also ensuring there may only ever be a maximum of one result of 9 or 10 (which would need to be allocated, if it came up), a maximum of two results of 7 or 8, or three potential results of 6 or less.

This means the random creation of settings plays out in a similar way to the mechanisms that drive play. It keeps the whole system coherent. I also like the idea that a character creation system should introduce players to the mechanisms of play that they'll be using to tell their stories.

Why not use something similar to generate our Dwellers in the Dark? A semi-random generation system with allocated results from 3 columns with 10 rows each. The first 6 rows on each column would be fairly common archetypal fragments, the seventh and eighth less common, while the ninth and tenth would be exclusive options. A base character would be made by combining the three chosen archetypal fragments to make a whole.

That gives our three columns, three distinct fragment types...like the old "tribe"/"auspice"/"breed" setup in Werewolf: the Apocalypse, or like the similar setups I've used in many of my other games over the years. In this situation, I might use "manifestation", "role", and "origin".

Manifestation - the character's essence, the catalyst that brought them into being.

  1. Ghost - your soul lingered in the dark places after your body perished 
  2. Figment - you were given life by the imagination of a mortal 
  3. Avatar - you were spawned from the fractured essence of a more powerful being
  4. Echo - your birth was the unexpected side effect of a spell/paranormal effect.
  5. Gaunt - you spontaneously manifested from the ectoplasm of the dark places
  6. Phantasm - you manifested in a dream or nightmare
  7. Mirrorkin - you began as the reflection of something in the physical realm
  8. Changeling - you were abducted from the physical realm and have become something else.
  9. Incarnate - you are a conscious manifestation of your first role with the potential to become a god
  10. Enigma - there is no rhyme nor reason to your existence

Role - the first role that the character had in the spiritual dark places.

  1. Sentinel - you protected something/someone/somewhere
  2. Patron - people revered you for your connection to a specific concept or ideal
  3. Muse - you inspired people to do a specific type of thing
  4. Valkyrie - you led the souls of the departed through the dark places to their final rest
  5. Companion - you were someone's imaginary friend
  6. Hero - you were called to perform tasks in the penumbra for immortal beings
  7. Angel - you were responsible for maintaining one of the universe's fundamental constants 
  8. Totem - you provided a service to a shaman in the dark places
  9. Familiar - you worked with a reality shaper in the physical realm
  10. Independent - you had no specific duties in the dark places

Origin - when and where the character first appeared in the dark places.
  1. Months ago, in the penumbra close to the mundane physical realm
  2. Years ago, in the penumbra close to the mundane physical realm
  3. Years ago, in (or near) one of the stable orbiting subrealms
  4. Decades ago, in the penumbra close to the mundane physical realm
  5. Decades ago, in (or near) one of the stable orbiting subrealms
  6. Centuries ago, but it's been so long that you can't remember where
  7. Centuries ago, in one of the lost subrealms of myth/legend
  8. Millennia ago, in a realm that has been lost to the mists and darkness of time 
  9. Millennia ago, but it's been so long that you can't remember where
  10. Before recorded history, perhaps beyond time and space entirely
Like everything, these ideas are very subject to change.
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