After looking over the document this late afternoon, I decided to release it. You can now download the first edition of Violence Spells Gods and Politics' rules primer.
One of the last additions to it was the list below.
Aspects of Play Baked into the Mechanics
- Dungeon delving murderer-hobos
- Tricksters subverting authority
- Heroes representin’ the community
- Divine intervention and inspiration
- Demons eavesdropping on your prayers
- Mortals made to suffer for their hubris
- Ostentatious displays of ill-gotten gains
- Defending the oppressed and the afflicted
- Accidental magical disasters
- Intentional decapitations, knockouts, impalements, and entanglements
- Characters with broken bones, severed limbs, and shredded souls
Yes, doing these things has always been possible in other role-playing games, but few elegant rule sets cover much beyond the first item, and so the referee slash game-master either makes it happen with the power of make-believe, or the rules are a pain in the ass to deal with. My game embeds these things in the mechanics of the game which means that the character's stats and qualities interact with player choices to do these things. I want my game to pull this off elegantly but so far I think I have failed.1 As I continue to work towards making an elegant game, the list above shows the direction I am going, and what I want my game to do well.
An aspect of the game that I particularly like right now is how I have incorporated the concepts of the Trickster and the Hero. "Hero" and "Trickster" are not labels that a player sticks on their character, but rather characterizations common to fantasy stories which I embedded as strategies for character advancement. A player can alternate between the two strategies fluidly which should make for some interesting story arcs. These two strategies relate to the character's relationship with the gods as well as with their community. The relationship between gods and mortals is an asymmetrical one. The game's mechanics put the characters at the gods' mercy, and highlights the fact that the gods are hostile to mortals rising "above their station". Meanwhile the relationship between a character and their community is the source of the character's glory and luck, and thus also their power.
Both of these factors together pose interesting problems to a heroic character. As the hero performs deeds which impress their community they gain glory, spend the glory to increase their power, but then in turn acquire hubris. The gods punish hubris in direct proportion to how much hubris the character accumulates. In order to avoid divine backlash, a character must also sacrifice a hefty portion of their glory to the gods. This not only ties the hero in obeisance to the gods, but also to their community. They need to remain in good standing with their people to maximize their acquisition of glory to both advance, and sacrifice to the gods. The hero is thus caught between two forms of authority, one which is far more powerful than they are and requires placation, and another which may be fickle requiring the character to maintain their reputation.
A trickster on the other hand is someone who subverts authority and gets away with it. To make this work in game, I have provided another path to success, luck, which neither the gods nor the character's community can impede. In fact luck is acquired when the character pulls off deeds which fly in the face of norms, laws, or other forms of control. And while a lucky character does not gain in raw power, they gain the ability to pull off remarkably difficult feats, perhaps even success in the face of the gods' efforts to thwart the action. Luck - good or bad - can potentially modify any die roll, and the character can spend luck at critical moments to roll the dice again and again picking the highest of the rolls. With enough luck a character could steal power from the gods themselves, and maybe even get away with it.
So now I finally completed the first edition of this thing. Someone could probably figure out how to play by reading it. The document is intended as a thing to hand out before play tests going forward. Maybe after another year of play tests and revisions I'll have a game good enough to publish.
When I started out, I had planned to make a better Dungeons & Dragons. I like D&D. It is fun to play fantasy characters crawling the halls of a dungeon, killing the monsters they find, and taking their treasure. But I wanted two other things. First I wanted a more elegantly designed game. After I had stepped away from the game for about a decade, I ran a game one night for friends, and the effort gave me a headache. That very night I swore off ever running a D&D game again outside of something like Searchers of the Unknown or some other similarly elegant dungeon crawling game. The second thing I wanted was a game that lent itself naturally to more than just the murderer-hobo style of play. I want more to my fantasy game. I want everything that I listed up above, and more again. Yes, these goals are at odds with one another. The tension between these goals has been and will continue to be my guiding light - well, I mean, as far as writing this game goes. For example, at present I am frustrated that it took me 32 pages to describe my game, and I am fairly certain that I need some more pages with advice and clarifications before it is good enough to prepare another referee to run this game as fluidly as I can. And on top of that, I have not included any actual content like spells, alternate races and backgrounds for characters, religions, gods, monsters, and treasure. The real stuff of a fantasy game. I've got some of this stuff in notes and scattered about, but including them would swell the document to the size of a book which is an absurd size in my opinion for a game. Board games have like 10 pages of rules at most. Yes RPGs tend to have 100's of pages, but I think that's ridiculous. There has got to be a way to explain how to play a game with less words. Anyway, in the future I may cut much of this material, sacrificing a number of the game's features. Presently however I like everything in the game too much to make such brutal cuts. ↩