USR Wednesdays: Tai-Rikuji

Tai-Rikuji, or Sun Land, is the home of the People, the farmers, merchants, soldiers and nobles of an island nation that rules the world — or at least all of the world they can see. For thousands of years, the great kingdom of Tai-Rikuji covered the length and breadth of the land, from the ice-covered mountains in the north to the dense, sweaty jungle in the south. They used spirit magic to control nature and sometimes settle disputes among one another, but nothing serious: there was never a revolution, nor civil war in the land. The Tai-Rikujin, the People, were safe, happy, and productive, until some 100 years ago, when the first ships of the foreigners landed on the eastern shore.

At first they seemed like friends, willing to trade goods and bring new learning to Tai-Rikuji. But the dream of peaceful harmony ended quickly. The strangers brought new weapons, deadly guns and massive tanks, but they weren’t necessary. The strange men and women from over the Great Sea had their own horrifying secret: they were half human and half beast. They called themselves werewolves and wererats, wereboars and werejaguars, shapechangers of every kind. The People just called them Yonaka, the Night Creatures.

Some of the Yokana slaughtered the Tai-Rikuji, while others tricked them, stealing their land or claiming thrones for their own. The People learned to fight back with the Yonaka’s own weapons and their own magical powers… though some find becoming Night Creatures themselves is the best way to win the war.

Tai-Rikujin Clans
The Clans and their symbols. That last one is the horse. (image: dreamstime.com)

Archetypes

The classic fantasy hero types all have a place in Tai-Rikuji, though there are no elves, dwarves, or any non-humans (except lycanthropes). The setting is a fantasy Japan, so the warriors are samurai and ninja, the sorcerers meditate to regain spells, and healers touch pressure points to cure wounds. Thematically, spells reflect the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac: a straightforward attack spell might be called “Tiger Claws,” while a spell that lets the caster see into the future could be named “Eyes Of The Rabbit.”

New Rules

The Tai-Rikuji setting uses the Influence rule in two ways.

Honor is something all characters and NPCs have. It starts at +1 for the Tai-Rikuji, and -1 for most Yonaka. It raises when a character does something helpful and good, and drops when a character harms another without reason, or takes an action that ultimately damages his friends and family — physically, socially, or otherwise. Deciding on what is and isn’t an honorable action is a big part of any adventure in the setting. Influence maxes out at +3 or -3, and a character at either of those ratings gains a special ability. Here’s a few examples:

  • Blast: The character can fire a pulse of raw energy, swelling with good or evil light (depending on the character’s Honor), that does 1d6 damage in addition to the regular damage applied when making an attack.
  • Aura: The character sends out a wave of mystic power, making allies stronger (+1 to their next action) or making enemies cower and fail at a die roll.
  • Elemental Control: The character can ask the spirits of the land for aid (for Honorable characters) or bend them to his will (for Dishonorable characters). He can walk on water, pass through fire without even a cinder, or crush stone into dust.

Influence is also used as Faction Specialisms; in the Tai-Rikuji setting, factions are clans of Tai-Rikujin, torn apart and suspicious of one another thanks to the plotting of the Yonaka. Like spells, the clans use the 12 animals of the zodiac — the Rooster Clan is reliable and firm in its decisions, while the Monkey Clan is clever and sly, sneaking and scheming to rid themselves of the Yonaka, and the other troublesome clans. A character with a +1 or more with a clan can call on its members for support: supplies, troops, whatever the clan can offer.

What stories will you tell in the world of the Tai-Rikuji?

 

USR Wednesdays: Influences, or Faction Specialisms

A Specialism has been defined in this blog before: “Specialisms are what a character can do, or how he or she does it, in a way that’s appropriate to the setting.” That includes skills like Computers, special abilities like Spellcasting, or traits like Charming. It can also include aspects that build the world the character lives in, like Captain Of The Starship Conquest (now the game world contains spaceships) or Former Member Of The Thieves Guild (now the game world contains enough thieves to form a guild). These kinds of Specialisms can lead to more things in the game — the Captain may own his own spaceship the heroes can use, if the game master allows; the Thieves Guild may be after the hero, a ready-made story hook for adventures.

But what if they’re not important enough aspects of a hero to be one of his or her three starting Specialisms, or won’t come into play in every single scenario? That’s when they become Influences.

Influences

Influences are “minor” Specialisms. While an ordinary Specialism starts at +2 and goes up to +5, at least in Domino Writing-style USR, an Influence starts at +1 and only can reach +3. It’s not meant to be an additional Specialism, just a bonus in certain situations that reflect the game world. The entire adventuring party could even have the same Influence.

Unlike a Specialism, which increases when the character reaches a new level, an Influence changes when the story calls for it. A hero who performs a great deed may earn a +1 to one of his Influences, while another character whose behavior indicates that she’s turning away from the source of the Influence could lose a bonus (possibly even going into the negatives — another difference from Specialisms).

What is an Influence? Its other name, Faction Specialism, is one idea: a political or other authority in the world which can lend money, equipment or other resources, like a royal house (the Starks or Lannisters from “A Song Of Ice And Fire”), a military force (G.I. Joe or SHIELD), or a private organization (a mafia syndicate). A character with a +1 in the Sunburst Clan could use his Influence to impress members of the clan, or intimidate its enemies. A character with a +3 in Her Majesty’s Royal Air Force could use the bonus to try and requisition the best planes for himself and his men.

A little too conspicuous.
The official costume of the Sunburst Clan ninja? Probably not. (image: brandsonsale.com)

Powers

Another kind of Influence is a characteristic that powers a character, or a lot of characters in a certain kind of setting. This could be Honor or Sanity or even a pair of Influences — say, Light Side and Dark Side, where one increases when the other drops. Influence could also be more combat-related too, like the “power meter” a video game fighter needs to charge up to release his Ultimate Attack. Each time the hero performs a particularly cool move, his Power Influence goes up by one, making him more suave, tough and fast. When it’s time to blow away the bad guy, it’s all used in a single attack roll, and falls back to zero.

What Influences will be in your game?

USR Wednesdays: American Pantheon Part V

Teen Hero
God of optimism, enthusiasm, youth
Suggested Divine Domains: Good, Freedom, Movement
Favored Weapon: Switchblade
Colors: white, blue, yellow
Symbol: sunburst
He is the son of Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty, the one they count on to bring new worshipers to the pantheon. But most of the time Teen Hero is imagining himself champion of the world, the one who defeats all the villains and remains beloved by everyone while doing it. He wants to be a moody rebel like Lone Wolf or Independent Woman (though he’s a little frightened of her), but he’s too pure of heart and cute to make it happen. Some of his followers burn brightly, and flare out before their time. Teen Hero is what everyone wishes they could be, in a perfect world.

The green man is ironically not green.
Wildman is an ancient deity who has taken many forms. (image: marbleinspiration.co.uk)

Wildman
God of nature
Suggested Divine Domains: Air, Animal, Earth, Fire, Plant, Water
Favored Weapon: Staff
Colors: green, blue, brown
Symbol: Tree
Wildman doesn’t represent people, unlike most of the rest of the pantheon. He represents the earth itself, and often takes the female form of Mother Nature. But sometimes he needs to be more aggressive in defense of the earth, or more primitive for followers that want to test themselves against everything Wildman can throw at them. Wildman rarely speaks or acts unless he has to; he prefers to keep to himself and only reveals his true power to those who are quiet and peaceful in his presence.

USR Wednesdays: American Pantheon Part IV

Playboy
God of sex, money, and fame
Suggested Divine Domains: Luck, Wealth, Deceit
Favored Weapon: Dagger
Colors: gold, white, green
Symbol: diamond
Blonde Bombshell’s son is infatuated with himself, and how he looks and acts at all times. He manipulates his followers, and the other deities, to get what he wants, all the while insisting that any bargain he makes helps not just himself but the other person too. In his more positive aspect, Playboy encourages men to find their playful side, and loves interacting with mortals, the better to spread his message and gain more followers. Playboy’s priests are mostly male, with good grooming, the best clothes, and a lot of confidence.

Santa Claus
Father of imagination, god of children and gift-giving
Suggested Divine Domains: Good, Creation, Light
Favored Weapon: Quarterstaff
Colors: red, white, green
Symbol: Christmas tree
Santa represents not only commercialized Christmas but all holidays and special creatures, from the Easter Bunny to the Tooth Fairy. He represents the importance of children to families, and encourages good feelings in everyone. The dark gods of the pantheon dislike Santa’s joyful light, but mostly ignore him, since he’s rarely actively working to diminish them.

She blinded him with science.
A cleric of Science deep in religious ritual. (image: Universal Pictures)

Science
God of research
Suggested Divine Domains: Creation, Community, Healing, Knowledge
Favored Weapon: Needle
Colors: black, white
Symbol: computer
The Great God Science has introduced many amazing and helpful things to the world, but he’s also been responsible for some of its evils. He’s very independent, sometimes even insisting that none of the other deities deserve any attention. He’s been rising to a more prominent position in the pantheon over the last several decades, and his holy texts (science fiction) point to an even more lofty role in years to come.