Friday, August 9, 2013

FtA: The World Is a Vampire... or an Angel

One of the original concepts for From the Ashes, and the one that I've struggled with most since I started down this path, has been how to create a system where the world reacts to the actions of the characters.  At the core of From the Ashes is the idea that the world is what you make of it.  As each game begins, the world is at its tipping point, and the actions of the characters will have a say in the manner in which it will develop.

But how to communicate that?

After wrestling with this for months, I've come up with a system that plots something like your alignment on a four quadrant graph.  Bearings, as they're known in From the Ashes, represent more than just an ambiguous moral code, they represent your ideas of how the world should work.  This is determined by a series of questions asked by your GM at the beginning of your character's first game.  Depending on your answers, your position on the graph moves up, down, left or right, until you find the place where you belong.

The X Axis represents Inspiration - from where do you draw your ideas?  It runs from Innovation on the left to Tradition on the right.  Someone heavily Traditional will look to the past when solving problems, seeking the wisdom of the ancients to help dig society out of the mess it's found itself in.  On the other hand, someone to the left will seek to come up with new ways of doing things and reject the old ways - after all, they were what got things where they are to begin with!

The Y axis represents Methodology - how will you implement your ideas?  It runs from Law above to Anarchy below.  Someone heavily into Law believes that only a robust (some might say authoritarian) system of government can properly check the natural, base impulses of its citizens.  If a character finds themselves at the bottom of the chart, they believe in promoting absolute freedom, where no-one tells anyone what to do, or how to live.

As the characters progress through the world, their Bearings may shift.  Not for everyday actions, but major decisions may shift a character's location on the plane.  Helping the sheriff capture some wanted murderers may not affect the Bearings of a moderate Anarchist, but helping a local lord to put down a peasant uprising would result in a shift of all but the staunchest Law-inclined.

How does this fit in with the development of the world?

Well, the world also has a character sheet, and a graph of its own.  This world (or area, or town, or whatever) starts out the game at 0,0 - tabula rasa.  The actions of the characters will shift the location of the world, but in a much more volatile manner.  While catching the murderers may not have a big impact on the moral code of the individual, on the societal level, it has a great impact, and will move the world towards Law.

Here's the thing, though - every character's mutations are slowly killing them, and it's because mutations are unnatural and their minds and bodies know it.  There is evidence that all the mutations spring from the mind, even if they are physical in nature, and the on some level, the character's mind and body realize that these things don't belong in a rational world.  They attempt to make sense of this contradiction by removing that which doesn't belong - themselves.  They push their bodies to the breaking point, and as the power of the mutations grow, so does the inner objection to their own existence in a sort of self fulfilling prophecy, until they reach a level at which it becomes unacceptable, and the mind shuts down the body - Level 9.

There is hope, though.  It's been found that by engaging with the world and focusing attention outward instead of inward, the progress of a mutant's mutations can be slowed.  By attempting to shape the world around it, the mutant is able to make the world make sense again.

In practical terms, each time a character reaches a certain point in its progression, there is a chance that they will level up.  This percentage is mitigated by the distance of its Bearings from the world's own Bearings.  The closer they are, the more in tune they are with the world as it exists, the less chance that they will find themselves inching closer to death.

I'm still working out the numbers and a less clumsy way to explain it, but that's the gist.

As long as I'm talking about it, this is really the last oddly-shaped piece of the puzzle to fall into place, and while there are a few more pieces to place, they are mostly large, and square (hit points, damage, that sort of thing).  Once this has been hammered into place, the system will be essentially complete, and ready for playtesting.

I really can't believe I just typed that.  It's been a long time coming, and hopefully some of you still have some enthusiasm for the finished product.  If you're interested in playtesting, drop me a line, and I'll shoot you out a draft once it's ready!

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