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A little learning

Here's my system for roleplaying in the world of HP Lovecraft. It is decidedly New School.

The Character Sheet
Each PC has 10 traits in 3 areas with a minimum of 2 in any area (so split 2,2,6; 2,3,5; 2,4,4 or 3,3,4)

  • What you do (Professor of Philosophy, White Van Man, Archaeologist, Hang-glider) - a bit like skills
  • What you are (Strong, Agile, Creative, Dextrous, Lucky) - a bit like stats
  • How you feel about things (Angry, Sad, Friendly) - emotional descriptors.

Inside each of the three areas, the traits are ranked from 1 to however many there are. For example, Julius, Professor of Philosphy at the University of Southampton has the following in What you do (shortened to Do): Professor of Philosophy (6), Sailing Enthusiast (5), Homeowner (4), Hobnobber(3), Arsenal Fan (2), Driver (1). His Are is: Creative (2), Anonymous(1) and his Feel: Argumentative(2), Romantic (1). There is a blank line under each list of traits to amend entries.

There is a final area on the character sheet, under the Do, Are, Feel sections called Corruption. This starts off blank.

In a scene, trait use is simple. Describe what your PC is doing in terms of two traits from different areas. Add two to the total score. Roll less than this on a d10 for narrative control of the scene. If you win control and narrate some kind of defeat for your character, and the GM thinks that this is significant to the story, then gain 1 drama point (DPs can be used to reduce shocks and change character sheets).

Note that you must use the traits in the scene to get the score. If you don't then the GM is free to reduce your score. This means that you can do things in areas for which you have no traits but the base chance is only 2 in 10 (Optionally the GM may introduce some kind of bar to trying very specialised skills if no previous experience exists, such as Vaulting or Piloting).

At the end of a session you may change your character sheet. This costs 1 DP. You may do any of the following:

  • Swap the order of two adjacent traits
  • Swap out the rank 1 trait for some new trait at rank 1
  • Shift a trait into an empty space (you can lose traits through corruption) - not sure about this rule.
  • Reduce the value of a shock trait by 1.
  • Some way of changing the initial trait distribution.

The Mythos
So what of it? This is a horror game after all! There are two kinds of horror events in a game, shocks and corruption. A shock is when your character encounters something nasty and has to react to it in some way. Corruption is when your PC encounters the mind, soul and body wrenching otherness that is the Mythos and is unutterably changed in some way.

Shocks: when the PC encounters something shocking, make a shock test against the shock level (GM decides). One of the traits involved must be from Feel. As before, the player must narrate the PCs approach using the traits employed. Success gives 1 shock point to the PC. Failure gives a number of shock points equal to the difference between the roll and the trait total. These shock points may be bought off with DPs. For each shock point, the PC must chose a trait worth that number of shock points. Write a new trait underneath it and transfer the points value to the new trait. Using DPs at the end of sessions, the points can be transferred back to the regular trait, one per session. For example, Julius fails a shock by 4, he could write Amnesia underneath Homeowner and change the points value to Homeowner (0) Amensia(4). At the end of a session he could spend a DP and change this to Homeowner (1) Amnesia (3). After 4 sessions he can reduce Amnesia to 0 and remove it from his character sheet.

Corruption: when the PC encounters the Mythos, there is invariably some shock involved, although this may not always be so. In any case, it is up to the player whether the PC understands something of the Mythos from this encounter. If they chose not to, then all is well and good and just the shock (if any) need be contended with. On the other hand, they may choose to let their PC understand what they have witnessed. This is called corruption. When this happens, the player crosses of a trait from Do, Are or Feel and writes a suitable trait under corruption. For example, Julius reads the Necronomicon, and far from dismissing it as harmless nonsense, he sees some truth in it. He crosses off Hobnobber(3) from Do and writes Necronomicon(3) under Corruption. Traits that are crossed off introduce a gap in that trait area. This gap can be moved around using the experience rules but cannot be swapped out of that area.

Once a PC has been corrupted, he can use the new strait to resolve scenes. In doing so he automatically has to resolve a shock with a rating equal to the total score just used.

If a PC loses all traits in one area, he becomes an NPC cultist and is no longer playable. In effect, a PC can lose at most 5 traits before becoming a cultist.

Options: In such narrative games there are always questions about the scope of a trait, a scene and resolution. I suppose I could write something about this but I'm tempted to leave this area to the players and GM to resolve on an individual basis. There is also the issue of difficulty levels. For example, Julius will always succeed scenes in which he is an argumentative Professor. You might like to introduce the rule that a roll of 10 is always a failure (or requires a reroll to avoid a fumble). You might like to introduce difficulty modifiers to stop PCs doing outrageous things.

My take on this is that I think corruption will always be the undoing of PCs, that players and GM should get together at the start to discuss scope and such matters to create the kind of game that they want to play and that if everyone is playing the same kind of game then there probably won't be any problems. I may revisit this section with optional rules in a bit.


( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 16th, 2005 01:56 pm (UTC)

Maybe tweaked a bit in practice, but still TOTALLY STOLEN!
May. 16th, 2005 02:09 pm (UTC)
Stolen from where? I'm happy to give credit.
May. 16th, 2005 02:12 pm (UTC)
No no, I mean "...by me." It's a compliment.
May. 16th, 2005 02:19 pm (UTC)
Phew! You had me worried. I thought that I'd inadvertantly nicked it from some small press game I've bought and not read yet. Panic over.

Separated by a common language and all that.
May. 16th, 2005 03:57 pm (UTC)
By which, of course, I mean: thanks!
May. 16th, 2005 02:12 pm (UTC)
Here's some random thoughts that occurred to me:

- Making a trait's upper limit equal to the number of traits in its category seems a bit odd. How would I make a character who is driven by, say, one burning, all-consuming "Feel" (e.g. "thirst for knowledge") that overshadows (i.e., is higher than) everything else about me?
- What if two or more players want control of the same scene? Is there a way to roll competitively? Maybe whoever rolls lowest gets control, or whoever gets the largest margin of success.
- Rather than rolling low, you could get the same probabilities by saying "roll d10, add traits, beat a target number of 9". But that's more a matter of taste; I like rolling high.
- It's not entirely clear what you would gain by taking a corruption trait. In your example, "Homeowner" obviously has fewer direct applications to Mythos-related problems than "Necronomicon". But if I have a "Do" like "Archaeology" or "Folklorist", I might want to argue that they could apply to certain Mythos-related problems as well, and if the GM lets me, then swapping them out for a Corruption trait at the same level seems like a lose-lose proposition. Maybe certain scenes could be expressly tagged by the GM as "Mythos" scenes, in which players may only use one trait, unless the other one is a Corruption trait.
May. 16th, 2005 02:36 pm (UTC)
I see what you mean about trait limits. The way it's set up the score from two traits from different areas is never higher than 8 or 10 with the +2 bonus. It's got a certain mathematical elegance. To keep that and have high scores in different areas I'd need to organise the traits in a different way such as three arbitrary categories called Prime, Secondary, Tertiary (for example). You could do the same as the original chargen but then swap things around, so Julius could have:

Prime: Professor of Philosophy (6), Argumentative (5), Anonymous(4), Hobnobber(3), Arsenal Fan (2), Driver (1).
Secondary: Creative (2), Homeowner(1)
Tertiary: Sailing Enthusiast (2), Romantic (1).

Then you'd pick any two from three categories. Julius could never be an argumentative professor (which could make sense). I think I'd still like emotive traits to count for the shock checks. Maybe they could be underlined.

What a scene means is not very developed. You could just use this scheme like an Old School one and roll for every action with opposed rolls like you mention. You might have noticed that there is nothing about NPC stats at all, except for shock value. That's partly to fit my GM style which involves no NPC stat blocks (the writer's bane!).

I think the GM would indicate which are Mythos scenes through the presence of some beasty or nasty bit of kit. It's implicit (which is not good for a ruleset) that the introduction of a corruption trait (and shock too) should be justified through narration. So Julius loses his house because his obsession with the Necronomicon means he spends all his money on translation and can't pay the mortgage.

So yes, there is work to do. But I'm quite pleased with my baby. I've got a third system for a similar kind of game but I've promised that to small press publication so I won't be putting it up here.
May. 16th, 2005 02:52 pm (UTC)
Corruption traits would probably allow you to defer some of the shock value of the Mythos, do really nasty spell stuff, and as you say influence Mythos scenes.
May. 17th, 2005 02:32 pm (UTC)
Thinking about the issue of what the scores represent, I think there is some mileage in saying that they are the areas in which you would like to have some influence on the game, and not necessarily the skills etc of your PC.
May. 17th, 2005 07:36 pm (UTC)
Nice! I have some questions:

1) The first thing I thought about was also what would happen if two players roll in the same scene. Who would narrate?

2) In a player-driven game like this it's hard for the GM to actually have a prepared story. That makes judging whether a failure is significant or not kind of hard. Perhaps I'm just overly pessimistic regarding the judgements of GMs, though.

3) It would seem like the player describes part of what he's trying to do with what traits before rolling dice, but the question is how much. Is it enough to say "I'll use Friendly + Hang-glider" or do you have to describe how it's actually relevant to the scene before you roll?

4) You don't roll for success/failure but for narration rights. If the player wins, he gets to choose whether he wants success or a drama point but what are the options for the GM? Should he always narrate failure, or should he do whatever he feels like?

Oh, and I haven't even reached the Mythos parts, which would be what's really interesting in a Lovecraft game, but I really feel the base engine is promising.
May. 18th, 2005 08:16 am (UTC)
Hi! All good points; as you can tell, I've not fully thought this through yet.

1)I think that they could both narrate. They are probably using different traits and would influence the scene in different ways. I'm also starting to wonder whether I should go for task rather than scene resolution. On the one hand the former is more easily related to traits but I want to avoid lots of dice rolling (for which I have a personal dislike) and narrating at scene level gives more control. Perhaps I could instigate My Life with Master turns, which leads me to:

2)Given that this is a Mythos game. I think that the Mythos idea should give the game (which I've now called Necronomicon) more focus. I think there could be some mechanism along the lines of, "the game cannot be resolved until the PCs have collected enough corruption to understand the Mythos doings at hand". When running octaNe and MLwM, I've found that the GMs responsibilities are:
- setting the initial scene,
- making sure that characters are appropriate,
- framing scenes agressively so that there is some (obvious) conflict for the players to address,
- remembering the plot elements introduced by the players and making sure that they pop again later on.

In MLwM this is pretty easy given that everyone is focussed on killing the Master at the end of the game. In octaNe it's harder because there is much less focus. One of the big difficulties with Mythos games is that there is often not much to justify why the PCs don't just run away and call the cops. I think the Corruption total mechanism (which I could just call Mythos total) might provide enough focus to draw the players in.

3)I think what I'd expect is some narration from GM and players that sets the scene. At that point players would say what their take is and how they would like to influence the scene (I'm think about octaNe here). If each, as in MLwM, each scene has expressly one player as the lead then this wouldn't be an issue. All I'd need is some mechanism by which players could help (or hinder) the scenes of other players and I think DPs provide the answer.

4)I think the GM should narrate whatever he wants, although setting this up as a MLwM style game would indicate that the GM should rack the tension up a notch (with a squeeze of the tension weasel - one for Futurama fans) in some way.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )