2010-08-02

[Wanderer] Muses - Optional Experience

The Problem
In modelling Wanderer on the Classic Traveller LBBs, we come to the inescapable conclusion that the original design did not provide for development of a character's skills after character generation. For the era, there was no precedent that advancement mechanics would be viable (or even popular). Modern RPGs are now an ecosystem of the descendants of games where character advancement was a means of making your character unique and fitting for the setting she was a part of.



Then, every once in a while, a fisherman off the coast of South Africa pulls up a coelacanth in his net and we get to see a game-system where character advancement wasn't the direction evolution trended toward way back then. Gems like Traveller, Dominion, and Dream Park where advancement takes a back-seat to running games immediately (Traveller), is not influential after initial roll-up (Dominion and Traveller), or games designed for newbies to cut their teeth on and leave behind (Dream Park). They don't fit the modern gamers paradigm and are often overlooked for systems that offer a character sheet where the numbers change over time.

Curiously, there are a number of new indie games which forgo having advancement schemes to concentrate on "the telling of the tale". These (to finally kill the metaphor) are cases of parallel evolution that have produced interesting things to sit and play for an evening. If they survive and create offspring, we might see more of this unique breed in the future.

So, how do I implement a system for classic Traveller that allows a character to become more closely knit to their setting and change from the time of initial creation?

A (Potential) Solution
I have the tremendous good fortune to play with a group that likes to try all kinds of different gaming systems. We've had all kinds of systems pass over our table, and I've learned a lot about game design from the exposure.

While the FATE system is not my preferred game science, learning it has planted the seed of Aspects in my head. During the creation of a character (or group, kingdom, starship, or magic sword), players choose key words and phrases as Aspects. For example, I created a Hyborean barbarian for a FATE game. His Aspects included "Bitten by a Demon", "The Spear Held", and "Kin Slayer". Any time my GM or players wanted to induce my character to react to one of these Aspects, the game provided a mechanic for them to do so.

This experience system for Wanderer was inspired by Aspects; I call them Muses. A Muse describes something the character has become familiar with, or is inspired by. They are created collaboratively between the player and the Referee, and tend to be short phrases. Things like "Fighting Orcs", "Badlands Affinity", or "Ancient Suel Culture".

How a Muse Helps

When a character goes to make a skill roll, she can apply any Muses to it that apply. For each, the character gets a +1 DM to her roll.




An example
Ikoun Llaredesh (an olven Knight of Selene) has Muses "Ulek Politics", "Fighting Hobgoblins", and "Hills Affinity". She is sent to convince the dwur of the County of Ulek that an alliance with Selene is to their mutual benefit. Ikoun has intelligence that Gu'trek Black Tusk and his hobgoblin legion are massing forces for an invasion, but she doesn't know where he'll strike.

The Referee rules that there are two stages to the diplomatic mission; 1) getting in touch with the correct faction within the County and 2) presenting the evidence of Black Tusk's legion and offering to show the dwur where it was found. Should diplomacy go well, Ikoun is authorised to commit (and lead) a Lance of Selene to the County of Ulek's patrols to help hunt them down.

For the first roll, Ikoun's experience with Ulek Politics is the only Muse capable of helping her narrow in to the right audience. Ikoun has Diplomacy-1, and applies her Muse for "Ulek Politics". Her player rolls the dice and gets a 7, then adds her DM +2 to the outcome. The 8+ roll succeeds on 9.

Finally finding a sympathetic ear (and more than a few who hate hobgoblins), Ikoun's task becomes an exploration of alliance. The Referee decides that an 8+ result will generate interest with a more aggressive clan leader (who will offer to work with Ikoun to confirm the legion's whereabouts). On 10+, Ikoun will create an official pact between the nations, and be incorporated into the normal Ulek patrols. Ikoun adds "Fighting Hobgoblins" and "Hills Affinity" to this final Diplomacy roll (total DM +3). Her roll of 6 becomes a 9, and she gets the attention of Thar BloodAxe. She will work with Thar and hope that the dwur will see for themselves how dire the situation is.

Gaining a Muse
Characters may have a maximum number of Muses equal to their Int + Edu. When the Referee approves of the Muse a player wants to acquire, a throw is made with these potential DMs:

DM +1 if Int 8+
DM +1 if Edu 10+


Like any other throw, an 8+ indicates the character has learned from the experience.

An example

The party was sent to the orc badlands to recover several villagers who were taken as slaves in a war-band's raid.

The party encounters an elf who had been injured and knocked unconscious by the retreating war-band; she has fallen into a gorge. Ollen the Mystic helps the elf by applying the Healing skill. Ollen's player aces the roll with 12 on 2D. The party's Scout Hellde must make more and more difficult Survival rolls to follow the warband's tracks over the stony ground. After 3 successful rolls in a row, she manages to lead them to the orc settlement in the caves. A fight ensues, and the entire group are caught up in the battle in the tunnels (Armed Combat, Brawling, etc).

Several of the captured villagers are liberated, but some are still missing. After investigation, Perna the Sage is called upon to sort out where the strange coins left by the slavers came from. The characters take the rescued people back home and Perna finishes her History research. The coins are marked with an evil mage's sigil, and the group begins preparations for an expedition to her keep in the north of the badlands.

Possible Affinities include: Ollen is a candidate for "Treating Elf". Hellde could take "Badlands". Everyone is eligible for "Battling Orc" or "Tunnel Fighting". Perna can take a Muse for the "Pallid Coven", or "Pados GraveDweller" the specific mage whose sigil she decoded and tracked.

Thoughts and feedback?