What I originally called the Primer for VSGP is not a true Primer. As I rewrite and redesign the game, I am working on a proper Primer for first time players. The following is a rough draft.
Violence Spells Gods and Politics is a fantasy role-playing game. In this game, the players play characters in pursuit of GLORY. Your character gains GLORY points by impressing fantasy world people with impressive fantasy world deeds. What these people are impressed by depends on each group or community of people, and incidentally on the kind of fantasy that the Game Master injects into the game.
Performing Deeds for Glory
Kinds of deeds or adventures your character may engage in for GLORY include:
- Slaying monsters,
- Recovering treasure,
- Mapping unknown regions,
- Rediscovering ancient lore,
but can be anything, so, may also include deeds like:
- Cleaning the king's stables in a single day,
- Romancing so passionately that the local Shakespeare is inspired to write you and your paramour into the next performance,
- Beating a giant in a drinking contest in the town square,
- Preparing a feast which attracts the demi-gods of sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll to party with the locals.
Your Game Master should make up more, and your suggestions to the GM might show up in play too. There are no rules as to what these have to be. The rule is that your character actually does a thing which that particular community finds impressive, and convinces the people that the deed was done. Sometimes your PC needs to hire a local bard or story teller to join the adventure, then keep them alive for the duration so that they bear witness to the locals back home. Sometimes your character just needs to bring back the dragon's head and drop it on the table at the king's feast. But sometimes a community is not impressed with the kinds of things your character is capable of or you want to do. In this last case, your PC should leave to find another group or community. Wandering around the game world to find communities to impress is part of play too.
Buying Power with Glory
GLORY is the currency of "heroes", and it is a stat on your character sheet ranging from 0 to 10. When your PC impresses the locals, they gain GLORY points. As currency, you spend these points to buy power for your character. Power comes in various forms. Early on your character is not powerful because they lack Talent so you will probably want to exchange points of GLORY for a point in a Talent. Like GLORY the Talents are stats ranging in value from 0 to 10. There are four, and they are:
- COMBAT which primarily measures the PC's capability with violence, but secondarily represents ability to perform action scene maneuvers like swinging on ropes, leaping chasms, etc...;
- MAGIC which applies to actions which invoke, manipulate, or investigate magic, but secondarily includes technology which can often be indistinguishable from magic anyway;
- FAITH which measures capability of currying divine favor, and the maximum number of wishes the gods may collectively fulfill for the character;
- and INFLUENCE which is used to attract attention, change minds, inspire loyalty, and otherwise get what you want from people;
Increasing Talents is part of the early game. Later on you will also want to increase what your character knows, and who they know. These are respectively Experience and Contacts, each a column or list at the bottom of your character sheet. Securing each item on one of these lists also costs GLORY. And with each knowledgeable contact, capable follower, magical spell, and skill your PC gains their power becomes broader opening up more opportunities along with more methods to overcome challenges.
Although gaining power enables your character to more easily impress the locals, this power comes at a cost. With each increase of power, your PC gains a point of HUBRIS, another stat ranging from 0 to 10, measuring how likely your character is to attract divine backlash. Thus as your character becomes more powerful, the gods take notice, and may also take action ranging from humiliation to killing to eternal torture. And in this game every region the characters travel in has at least one god, often more. Think of the world as a house of many rooms. In each room are one or more gods, and many mortals beneath their notice like insects or bacteria. But a character with HUBRIS is like a fly in the room which the gods notice, and the more HUBRIS the character has the more annoying the buzzing is to the god.
Gods are a difficult problem to solve if they do not like your PC. No matter how powerful your character becomes the gods are more powerful, so powerful that the challenge for a character facing a hostile god is not how to beat them, but how to survive. You can not win a one on one or even ten on one fight with a god. A god is not beaten with swords or spells. To beat a god you need to subvert their source of power, and this is usually something not on the scale of an electrical outlet or crystal gewgaw, but rather a volcano, or a star. Plugging up a volcano or concealing a star in the sky is a massive project undertaken not by a character alone, but lead by characters with entire communities united behind them in the work.
The take away is that gaining HUBRIS is dangerous, inevitable, and gradually transforms the focus of the game from picaresque fantasy adventures to marshaling community support in your cause against divine wrath. If you do not want to play the late stage game, you can always retire your character and make a new one.
Here's a character sheet. (This is from a prior version and is a bit more complex than the revised version needs. Bear with me). You can ignore just about everything above the middle for now except for Name and Race. Fill the Name out when you want. Race is "Human".1
Most of the character sheet will begin as blank except for the following which you will fill out now. Rules related to the stat are provided as footnotes.2 The stats to fill out are:
- TOUGHNESS put a "3" above and below the slash so that it reads "3/3".3
- SPIRIT do the same but with 2's so that it is "2/2".4
- HUBRIS put "0" here.
- GLORY is also "0" for now.
To the left of these are three minor stats which can not be improved, but are included here for reference during play.:
Now you have your choice. You have 1 free point to spend on 1 of 5 stats: COMBAT, MAGIC, FAITH, INFLUENCE, and LUCK. When you spend the point, you will write "1" in the box for your chosen stat and "0" in the other four. In addition, you will receive a Thing, Contact, or Experience related to the stat you selected which is either TBD8 or rolled up at random (I have yet to make these tables so they are not shown yet). Pick one of these options.
- Thing: "One Handed Weapon TBD"
- Contact: "Friend skilled in violence TBD"
- Experience: "Training in a Combat Maneuver TBD"
- Roll on a table now.
- Thing: "Item from a table TBD"
- Contact: "Magic using mentor TBD"
- Experience: "Magic spell TBD"
- Roll on a table now.
- Thing: "Religiously significant item TBD"
- Contact: "Agent of a god TBD"
- Experience: (2) "Initiation into a religion TBD" and "Ritual granting access to TBD"
- Roll on a table now.
- Thing: 100 additional coins
- Contact: "Person with political power TBD"
- Experience: "A method of persuasion TBD"
- Roll on a table now.
- Roll on a table now.
Lastly pick one of the lists of starting stuff, or take 20 coins. Your choice. After this you are done. (Equipment lists will be made later to fit the setting.)
Game play is like most traditional role-playing games. The players describe what their characters do. The Game Master responds with what happens, and the game unfolds back and forth. The common structure to this involves taking turns, and resolution of uncertain outcomes involves rolling dice to see what happens. The Game Master will guide you through the specifics, but a few details are given here so that you know what to expect.
The Board and Pieces
While VSGP can be played theater of the mind style, it is easier to understand how play unfolds when described as pieces on a board. The board is best represented by a hex mat with the environment drawn on it with erasable markers, but could be a model or just a blank table top with props arranged on it, whatever. The pieces can be miniatures or tokens. Each hex on the mat or each inch of real world distance will hereafter be referred to as a "space" on the board.
I also recommend that each player have glass beads or coins for keeping track of things. You will want counters when your characters are higher level and more complicated. Beads are useful for keeping track of Magic points invested in maintained spell affects, and prepared spells each of which costs a point of magic. The remaining beads would represent the number of magic points your character has for investing in other magic related actions. Combat is also divided into a pool with points dedicated to defense and offense against different opponents for the round. Just starting out it is easy to keep track, but once you have more than 3 or 4 points in these stats you'll want counters. And lastly some players might need counters for keeping track of how they spend their speed each round between asking questions about their environment and spaces moved on the board.
Turns and Scale
Play proceeds in turns. In each turn a player character can move as many spaces as their current speed, take one action, and react to something happening to or adjacent them. Examining, and searching the environment represented by the board is achieved by the player exchanging one point of movement for each question they ask about something there. To facilitate keeping track of how speed is spent it is customary to ask question before moving, reduce speed for the rest of the turn, and then move the remainder. If a player wants to hold spaces moved in reserve for a reaction, they may do so, but again as mentioned above counters are useful for that.
The amount of game world distance that each space represents depends on the kind of turns that play is currently engaged in. In order to keep things simple, different aspects of play are separated into different kinds of turns based on what the PCs are doing. Each of these changes the scale of spaces, as well as the scale of game time elapsed per turn. The scales range from spaces of 3 miles or 5 km each with turns covering 1 day of game time for Overland Travel, down to spaces of 1 yard or meter each for 6 second turns of Combat.
Commonly play has an overland travel phase where the party of characters is represented by a single piece, and this piece can only be moved as many spaces as the slowest character. During these turns the players are often seeking out the location of communities as well as scanning the hexes for opportunities for heroic deeds that may impress the communities they find. If the players decide to explore something they find, like a ruin or a forest in a hex, then turns can switch to a finer scale. The Game Master will keep track of spaces moved in the higher scaled turn, and the smaller scale actions will cost at least one space of movement at the higher scale regardless of how much time is elapsed. Example: The party moves 3 spaces across a grassy plain and finds a rocky hill riddled with caves. They choose to explore the caves, so the GM switches the scale to explore turns of 1 minute each, and space distances of 5 yards/meters each. The player characters spend 30 turns exploring the caves which is only 30 minutes of game time, and then move on. One space of overland movement is normally an hour, but the GM rounds up to one hour spent in the caves, and reduces the remaining movement for the day by 1.
When the outcome of an action is uncertain the Game Master will require the player roll dice. The mechanics have many subtleties, but you can let the GM worry about them for now. The basic mechanic goes as follows:
- Player describes action
- GM determines which stat is applicable (usually a Talent), and the difficulty (usually a number more than 0 and less than 10).
- The player rolls two 10-sided dice. Adds them together. Adds the value of their character's stat indicated by the GM. And then subtracts the difficulty.
- The result compared with 11 determines how well they did. Higher than 11, and the higher the better indicates level of success. Lower than 11 indicates level of failure. And 11 is a mixed success.
This gradation of possibilities depends on what the GM decides, but the following is typically how I handle it and recommended.
- 2-: Everything that could go wrong does
- 3-5: No, and... and...
- 6-8: No, and...(risk occurs)
- 9-10: No
- 11: Yes, but...
- 12-13: Yes
- 14-16: Yes, and...
- 17-19: Yes, and... and...
- 20+: Yes, and... and... and...
Note: Race, Background, and Home are removed from the base game, only to be included as options for the GM. ↩
The rules about stats would be side bars in a book or pamphlet. You can skip them now if you just want to get through character creation ASAP. They follow below this note. ↩
Rule for TOUGHNESS: The number on the top is Current TOUGHNESS, the one on the bottom is Permanent TOUGHNESS. When your character suffers injury you will reduce this number. If it is an injury that you can recover from through rest only reduce the top number. If it is a permanent injury requiring magic or medicine to recover from, reduce both the top and the bottom. When the top number is "0", your character is physically incapacitated. If the bottom number is "0", your character is dead. The top number can never be higher than the bottom number. ↩
Rules for SPIRIT: SPIRIT is like TOUGHNESS except for your character's mind or soul instead of their body. In addition, SPIRIT can be spent to power magic spells. ↩
Rules for Size: Both of these figures express the same thing: your character is the middle or medium size relative to what they will encounter. Size is broadly representative of strength and weight, meaning that strength contests favor the larger character and bigger characters can carry more, and wield bigger weapons. ↩
Rules for Speed: The top number is current spaces your character can move per turn on a board, or for theater of the mind it represents yards/meters that they can walk in one combat round, 6 seconds. You can also exchange each space of movement for 1 question about what you see per turn. The top number will be reduced by 1 for each item that increases your Encumbrance beyond your limit. The bottom number is there for bookkeeping, and to be reduced if an injury warrants it. ↩
Rules for Encumbrance: The top number is a count of the number of "heavy" items your character is carrying. The bottom is the limit you can carry before becoming encumbered. The top number can surpass the bottom, but each additional point reduces current Speed by 1, as mentioned above. ↩
Rules for TBD Characteristics: TBD means To Be Determined during play. They are wildcards intended both as a one time ability for the player to define something they add to the game, and as a means for the player to define a portion of their character's background in play rather than spend time thinking this up before you sit down. Determining what a TBD thing involves a declaration by the player of what they want the thing to be. The hard restriction to this is that the thing has to fit the description of what it is. For example, a TBD one hand weapon has to be a weapon wieldable by the character in one hand like a sword or a gun. It can not be a non-weapon that is situationally dangerous nor can it be a complex stationary weapon like a howitzer or catapult. The soft restriction is that the GM can choose to reject a player's choice, but must also offer terms of negotiation that if accepted by the player, the player also gets what they asked for. Example: a player has a TBD Magic Ability on their Experience list. In play the player decides that they have the ability to fly, and hover in space. The GM rejects this unless the ability to fly and hover costs 1 SPIRIT per ten minutes to maintain and requires 1 MAGIC to use and also requires that this ability was given by a Magic Bird who is owed a favor. The player chooses to accept, and replaces "Magic Ability TBD" under Experience with "Magical Flight Cost: 1 per 10 Minutes", and adds under Contacts "Magic Bird who is owed a favor". The GM and the Player might have negotiated some backstory to this as well or leave it for later. ↩