Friday 27 May 2016

Foreground Growth and Becoming Odd

This series of posts has been pretty heavy going, but we're at the end now! Skip to the bottom if you want a summary of how to actually apply all this to your game.

Foreground Growth

Think of character change as Growth, rather than advancement. You're becoming more distinct, more interesting, and getting more options as you progress, rather than becoming more numerically powerful. Advancement can be carefully planned and is usually positive, but growth is messy and you don't always know what you're going to get. Advancement is a five-year-plan, but growth is a turbulent childhood. And we all want a repeat of that, right?

These changes happen in the Foreground of the game, most often the time spent on expeditions or getting crazy in Bastion. You don't grow during your downtime, you grow while you're scrambling around in some hole half-dead. Your changes are significant, and they happen in-game, not as an after effect of finishing the night's fun. As a general rule, if I describe some of the ways your character has grown since their creation (more HP, scars, oddities) you should be able to tell me the specific event that caused that change, not just see the change as a general reward for actions.

You didn't learn to rip out hearts when you hit level 8 in Ripper Monk. You learned it when the Ripper Monk nearly ripped your heart out but you just managed to pull your gun in time.

Unions are on the knife's edge here. It would be easy to look at them and say that they're a downtime activity. Well don't let them be. If the characters want to visit a Union, then make gameplay out of it. Make the characters engaging but difficult, and throw in some Dilemmas.

Remember the rules of Bastion:
Bastion has Everything.
Everything is Complicated.
Nobody Knows Who's in Charge.

Ability Scores

If your HP improves by getting close to death, then how do your Ability Scores improve?

I see them as quite innate. By the time you've decided to become a treasure hunter, and spent the last of your savings on the gear in your Starter Package, I figure you've gotten yourself into fairly good shape and mentally prepared yourself.

I like the idea of advanced characters keeping their weaknesses, but learning to overcome them. The STR 8 explorer learns that you can win the war without personal martial prowess. The WIL 5 expedition leader keeps his followers happy through careful choice of lieutenants and an over-filled war chest.

Some characters are more suited to greatness in certain areas, but the brilliant ones overcome the obstacles. 

So I'm not using a rigid system for improving Ability Scores. You can't bank on it happening, so work out how to deal with what you rolled. But...

The world is odd, so of course you're going to change. I could see Ability Scores getting permanently improved as a result of:

  • Union Rituals. The Wounded Legion have a secret means of turning old war injuries into physical strength, at the cost of some mental stability. 
  • Blessings. The Spirits of Red Lagoon each embody a maritime concept, and will lay rewards on those that further their agenda. They can take it away just as easily, though. 
  • Oddity Backlash. I hear if you kill a Screaming-Man of the Yellow Caves you inherit their disfigurement, but also their superhuman hearing and agility.

So if in doubt, put these effects out there in your game, but give them a cost and remember the cap of 18.

DEX 18, 7hp
Sonic Touch
(d8, deafened on Critical)

Keeping Things Simple

Becoming Odd is great. Becoming complicated is awful. 

You can imagine a character, after a handful of expeditions, carrying around a pack full of Oddities and having a dozen special effects bouncing around his system.

Creating Oddities is fun, but having so many can feel silly. If your expedition site has lots of Oddities, consider changing them up in the following ways:

  • One use only, disposable.
  • Limited number of charges.
  • Random chance of depletion on each use.
  • Large and clunky, or even immobile. 
  • A creature instead of an object.
  • Occupying a specific part of the body that can't hold multiple things, like goggles, or gloves. 
And remember that people want your Oddities. Have Patrons straight up offer to buy Oddities that the players are likely to sell, and allies offer to put them to good use. 

If you handle it well, and give lots of information, thieves might try to steal them. Make sure this is still part of the game, and present some choices in there. No perfect cat-burglaries between sessions while the characters sleep. 

Retirement and Successors

All growth has to stop eventually, turning to decay. We don't need to see your character's retirement years in detail, but we might see them hit the turning point once they've picked up a few Scars and Afflictions. 

The good news here is that you've probably noticed one of your hirelings, followers, or allies that shows some promise. Look at them, with their fresh, unscarred body. A blank slate that could really go places with your guidance and resources.

As far as I'm concerned it's totally legit to name this guy as your successor and have them inherit your resources and wealth upon death. If you've picked up Oddities that are bonded to you in any way, there's certainly a Union Ritual out there to handle such a transaction through surgery, legal document, or blood ceremony.

Anyone wealthy or influential dying without leaving the appropriate paperwork sparks a lengthy succession hearing between all parties with a claim.

I'm telling you, this kid rolled nothing below a 15. He's got potential!


Well, that was a sprawling set of posts. Time to summarise them into actual action points that you can do in your game.

Active Survival
  • Cap HP and Ability Scores at 18. 
  • Make Combat a choice
  • Make more one-shot Oddities
  • Create Unions with Rituals and Manpower
  • Tempt the players with expensive items and problems that money would fix
  • Present suitable successors for advanced characters
Foreground Growth
  • Put Treasure in your Expedition sites and tell the players about it
  • Create Patrons that will buy Treasure
  • Use the Scars and Afflictions system
  • Don't be afraid to add in ways to improve Ability Scores, but give them a real cost
  • If an Oddity is too crazy, use it anyway but make it immobile, one-shot, or a Union Ritual.  

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