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Jan. 12th, 2010 @ 04:48 pm GRIEF system

I’m working on a thing that grabbed me by my throat and demanded that I work on it (I get that a lot. It’s becoming a problem). It’s a System design, independent of Setting, which is something I thought I’d never ever do, but I’m doing it, and I’ve already got two Settings in mind to apply it to (in case you’re wondering, one is the Dread Age of Sail that I blogged about, and the other is the Neverwood setting that I posted on Story Games about once). The working title is “the GRIEF System,” which is a backronym for “Gothic-Romantic Intense Emotional Fantasy” (but don’t hold me to that name). It’s the kind of fantasy where the emotions that motivate the characters are more powerful than their abilities, and are the gateway to the fantastic elements. The kind of fantasy where a character’s rage fans extant flames into explosive blazes, where a gun passed from father to son for generations is more deadly because of the heritage it represents, where a man’s sin against something he loves can spawn an unspeakable horror in an otherwise beautiful landscape.

I’ve got the basic mechanics in mind already, and there’s nothing in them that I haven’t seen in other games, so I’ll go ahead and credit them: The Burning Wheel by Luke Crane, The Shadow of Yesterday by Clinton R. Nixon, and Poison’d by Vincent Baker already contain all the pieces I’m using at the moment. Special mention should go to John Harper’s Lady Blackbird, which uses most of the same pieces in almost the same way (ok, so I’m given to understand that his Conditions are cribbed from Mouse Guard, which I haven’t had the pleasure to look at, but they’re really the same thing as the Cruel Fortunes and other Positioning+Resource mechanics found in Poison’d, which I have). I wanted a slightly different accent, though.

Here’s what I know so far:

1. Characters have a set of 4 “standard attributes” that are common to all. Presently their names are Vigor, Attention, Craft, and Persona. That’s strength/endurance/agility, awareness/perception, cunning/applied knowledge, and charisma/will, respectively. All ordinary, mundane actions are handled by 1 of these attributes. I’m not sure how these will be derived; it will probably be some sort of point-buy method.

2. Characters have one or more “special attributes,” and this is where the emotional and fantastical elements come in. These are chosen from a fixed list, and include such things as Rage, Heritage, Faith, Guilt, and Despair. All magical, supernatural, and fantastical actions must involve a special attribute. The starting values of these will probably be set arbitrarily by the player, based on his view of the attribute’s intensity in his PC. This is okay because these are both a source of power and a liability – they’ve got a bit of a life of their own. In play, I see the values as subject to change, but mostly in an upward direction, with the threat of peaking out in a manner that takes the PC out of play (similarly to Emotional Attributes in BW, or Transcendence in TSOY). Lowering the values will be difficult, and removing an attribute entirely even moreso.

Note that a PC without, say, the Grief attribute can still grieve; it just won’t have the special effects contingent on the Grief attribute.

3. Characters have one or more specific personal goals and motivations. These should of course be tied to their special attributes somehow, and, to start with, can be thought of as fleshing out the character’s special attributes – how did they get that way, and why. Think BW Belief-style writeups. I keep coming back to the terms Concerns, Convictions, and Commitments to describe these, but I don’t know if those’ll stick.

I don’t think these have any actual mechanical impact. They’re really just flags and roleplaying reminders. They’re subject to change at any time, and their changes should be tracked so you can see the change in your characters. But the changes should be in line with the character’s special attributes and traits (below).

4. The basic resolution mechanic is like this. When you endeavor to do something and something bad might happen as a result of the attempt and/or someone takes action against you, that’s when you roll dice. The dicing mechanic is basically BW. You roll the dice of one of your standard attributes, plus the dice of any special attributes that apply, looking to roll “hits” (4s or higher on d6s). You “spend” hits to address obstacles and dangers on a 1:1 basis. Obstacles are things that must be overcome in order to succeed, and dangers are unpleasant outcomes that might occur regardless of success or failure. You must address all obstacles in order to succeed in your endeavor (thus the number of obstacles is actually the same thing as the Obstacle in BW), and you must address any dangers that you do not wish to come to pass. It may sometimes be necessary to fail in order to address dangers, or to allow dangers to come true in order to succeed. (Ok, so there’s some Otherkind in there too, I forgot). Dice over the obstacle that aren’t spent to address dangers can be spent on special effects related to the action (for instance, damage if you’re trying to hurt someone, or quality if you’re making something), or else become a metagame resource called Edge that you can call on for help later.

Dice that come from special attributes will have special “fallout” effects when certain values are rolled; probably 1s or 6s, or maybe both. This is where the special attributes take on a life of their own, leak into the environment, and cause things to happen unbidden. This fallout works apart from dangers, and can’t be blocked by spending hits like dangers can.

Minor NPCs don’t roll dice; they only impose obstacles and dangers. When acting against someone, you can likewise spend hits in excess of your own obstacles to impose dangers and obstacles. The added bite there is that you can double up on them; if you commit 3 hits to imposing a single danger, then it’s going to take 3 hits to address.

5. There will be special subsystems for: highlighting conflicts (at a level of intricacy somewhere between BW’s combat systems and TSOY’s Bringing Down the Pain), sorcery (i.e. deliberate magic), binding oaths and vows, bearing personal animus, and perhaps a few other things. I’m still vague on these.

6. Characters have a number of “trait slots,” into which they put traits. These traits come primarily from fixed lists, and it’s these lists of traits that will primarily define and differentiate Settings using this System. These traits are basically BW’s skills & traits and TSOY’s Secrets & Keys consolidated into one mechanic.

Each trait functions in one or more of the following ways:

* Allowing you to use your attributes in special ways. For instance, someone with some sort of “Thief” trait would be able to roll Craft to pick locks – something which an ordinary person can’t do.
* Opening up constraints on declared actions. For instance, if your guy had a trait that said he was able to fly, then you can now include flying in your descriptions of your character’s actions.
* Rewarding you with “Growth” points for focusing on stipulated character qualities & motivations in your roleplaying & decisions, especially to the detriment of your character and others. Growth is spent to fill empty trait slots, and to get additional slots.
* Applying bonuses in stipulated circumstances.

All, or nearly all, traits can be “bought off” similarly to TSOY Keys. Unlike Keys, however, you don’t earn points for this. The only reward is making room for new traits.

Your traits should, of course, have some connection to your special attributes and motivations. Perhaps some traits will require that you take on certain special attributes. You can think of traits as the way to give your motivations mechanical effect, if you wish.

7. Characters can suffer conditions, which are the evil twins of traits. A number of conditions that are likely to come up frequently, such as injury, illness, madness, and exhaustion, will be prescribed by the rules. Others may need to be ruled on the spot by the GM. Any compromising position is a candidate for a “condition,” and can be applied as a condition if a.) it was a danger and you allowed it to come to pass, b.) it was stipulated as being contingent to failure in an endeavor, and/or c.) you acquiesced to it. For an example of that last one, that’s where someone says, “I sneak up behind you and knock you out,” and you decline to say, “Like hell you do!”

Each condition functions in one or more of the following ways:

* Constraining declared actions. For instance, if your guy is suffering from the condition “mute,” you can’t describe your guy speaking.
* Allowing the GM to dictate that unpleasant things are true. For instance, if your guy has been trapped by the royal guard and it’s applied as a condition, the GM can say, “Ok, so they clap you in irons and take you to the Tower.”
* Imposing obstacles and/or dangers (i.e. penalties) in certain circumstances.

Conditions aren’t exactly “bought off” so much as they are “overcome.” Unlike traits, this does earn you points (i.e. Growth). In case you were wondering why anyone would ever acquiesce to a condition.

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