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: The Eternal War

Let’s add a new setting to the USR catalog, a fantasy world that’s not quite traditional fantasy (like we see in Halberd and Swords and Sorcery), or the “light” fantasy of Tequendria: The Eternal War.

Thousands of years ago, the sages say, Miolte, the goddess of light, and Gurias, the master of darkness, made a wager, another confrontation in their endless battle. The goddess said a single powerful soldier was the best weapon. The master of darkess argued that a horde of troops could do more damage. So, in this battle of quality versus quantity, two forces were conceived: the Soldiers of Light and the Dark Army.

USR Wednesdays: The Eternal War
The Dark Army and Soldiers of Light in conflict. (image: kinyu-z.net, probably not originally)

Soldiers of Light are mighty warriors, crafty ninja and brilliant scholars. The Dark Army is made up of beasts, creatures spawned of hate and cruelty, that exist only to exterminate all life on the planet. Some are hideous fiends; others are beautiful and beguiling, seducing victims with their words. There are monsters like dragons and zombies in the world of The Eternal War, but only humans — no elves, dwarves, orcs or others of their kind, at least not that anyone has seen. There’s also no magic, no spell-casting except for the arcane gifts Miolte and Gurias bestowed on their warriors.

For every Soldier of Light, there’s 10, 50, maybe more of the Dark Army. But when a Solder of Light is killed, it is born again 24 hours later with the same strength and knowledge it had before death, with all the wounds it suffered healed fully. A Soldier of Light can never die (though clever members of the Dark Army trap Soldiers in boxes before killing them, or hang them from ropes: the Soldier is reborn in the same spot, trapped in an endless loop of death and rebirth).

A member of the Dark Army can be killed, torn apart with metal or wooden weapons like any creature. They aren’t born again after death; instead, leaders of the Dark Army can corrupt ordinary humans, turning them into servants of Gurias. In this way, by capturing innocents and giving hope to the hopeless, the Dark Army grows forever.

Archetypes

Warrior
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Strength, Weapon Forging, Battlefield Tactics
Suggested Equipment: Big Axe (+2), Heavy Plate Armor (+2)

Ninja
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Stealth, Sleight of Hand, Acrobatics
Suggested Equipment: Fencing Sword (+1), Throwing Dagger (+1), Smoke Bomb

Scholar
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Research, History, Herbalism
Suggested Equipment: Books of lore on monsters and the Dark Army, Herbs for healing

New Rules

This is a classic fantasy world — you’ll find swords, bows and chain mail here. There’s no magic, so no need for spells or magic items. And since heroes are Soldiers of Light, there’s also no need to create a new character if your old one is killed. Just move the story ahead 24 hours.

The setting is very action-oriented: note that both “warriors” and “ninja” have Action as their primary stat, and there’s no archetype for an Ego-based character. Soldiers of Light are focused on battling evil, not negotiating with it. There’s also little need for healers, since the Soldiers of Light are reborn, though it does take time for a Soldier to recover, and they can’t always wait around if the Dark Army is on the march.

The Dark Army is made up of monsters of all power levels. As in most games, the majority are level II or III, though leaders can be IV or V. Dragons, giants and similar creatures are at level VI, like in most fantasy settings (not every adventure has to be a battle against the Dark Army).

Adventure

Here’s a first adventure in the world of The Eternal War, using the Six-Step Adventure design concept.

1. Quest giver: The heroes find themselves in the city of Rivermoor, where Tykan, head of the guards, instantly recognizes them as Soldiers of Light, and asks for their aid against a band of Dark Army bandits. They have been raiding merchant caravans coming into Rivermoor, destroying the goods meant for sale and kidnapping young people to transform into more of the Dark Army. Tykan mentions an old stone watchtower a few days’ ride out of Rivermoor that can be used as a base of operations.

2. Early encounter: Soon enough, a horde of Dark Army minions strike at a horse-drawn carriage coming toward Rivermoor. There is one minion per hero (or more if the encounter isn’t challenging enough).

3. Clue to final confrontation: Whether by questioning a captured foe or following their tracks, the heroes come across the site where the Dark Army is making their wretched sacrifices.

4. Secondary encounter or challenge: The heroes arrive in time to break up a sacrifice, hopefully defeating the Dark Army cultists before the young man at the center of their circle is transformed into one of them.

5. Secondary challenge or encounter (the opposite): No matter what happens, the man will be saved in time. But now he has to be escorted through the wilderness back to Rivermoor while wild animals and more Dark Army troops follow.

6. Final boss: Hearing that Soldiers of Light are in Rivermoor, Rolzier, a Dark Army general, is waiting with his best warriors for the heroes to return.

What stories will you tell in the world of The Eternal War?

USR Wednesdays: More Archetypes

These are some of the most, well, archetypal kinds of characters found in role playing games, assembled in the Risus Companion and revisited here for USR characters in almost any setting; earlier I created archetypes specifically for modern-day adventurers.

The A-Team: A Perfect RPG Party
A warrior, a driver, a charismatic and a noble plus lots of guns and a cool van makes for a great adventuring party. (image: iofabric.com)

Some of these archetypes overlap in their suggested Specialisms or in their role in an adventuring party. That’s fine; most characters have more than one dimension to their personality, and few adventuring parties have room for a dozen heroes.

Athlete (soldier, martial artist, jock)
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Endurance, Honest And Reliable (And A Little Dim-Witted), Strong, Fast
Suggested Equipment: none

Charismatic (bard, con artist, rock star)
Primary Stat: Ego
Suggested Specialisms: Inspire, Perform (music, rousing speeches, etc.), Charm, Seduce
Suggested Equipment: Musical instrument

Detective (private eye, seer, psychic investigator)
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Investigate, Interrogate, Sneak, Perception, Hard Drinking
Suggested Equipment: Trenchcoat, Revolver

Driver (pilot, knight on horseback)
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Driving/Piloting (multiple vehicles), Gunnery, Repair, Riding
Suggested Equipment: Vehicle — but only a basic model, one he can update and improve constantly

Mechanic
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Inventing, Repair, Research
Suggested Equipment: Tool kit, Several strange gadgets that nobody should touch unless they want to put a smoking crater in the wall

Medic (Doctor, Cleric, Therapist)
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Medicine, Psychology, Chemistry (or Alchemy)
Suggested Equipment: Medicine bag

Noble (CEO, King, General)
Primary Stat: Ego
Suggested Specialisms: Leadership, Resources, Inspiration
Suggested Equipment: An unlimited amount of money (temporarily)

Outdoors (Ranger, Hunter, Scout)
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Nature Knowledge, Perception, Survival
Suggested Equipment: Longbow (even for modern-day characters)

Scholar (Sage, Scientist, Professor)
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Research, Things Man Was Not Meant To Know, Ancient History
Suggested Equipment: Library (of books or material on an electronic device), A weapon that he’s mastered after reading about its use in a long-extinct culture

Sneak (Thief, Spy, Assassin)
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Move Silently, Observation, Remain Motionless, Lockpicking, Hacking, Agile Enough To Avoid Tripwires And Sensors
Suggested Equipment: Lockpicks, Black clothing

Warrior (Soldier, Fighter, Knight, Mystic Warrior)
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Weapon Mastery, Endurance, Spiritual Control, Athletics, Unshakable Faith
Suggested Equipment: A big gun or sword, Armor

Wizard (Sorcerer, Gadgeteer)
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Inventing, Spellcasting, Knowledge Of Other Worlds
Suggested Equipment: Spellbook, Devices that violate the laws of physics

Which archetypes did I miss?

USR Wednesdays: Slasher Films

It’s Halloween season, time for a look at this classic genre for role playing. There are many ways to mix horror and gaming — fantasy has plenty of horror-themed beasts, and no game is complete without a nod toward H.P. Lovecraft’s creations. But today we’re going back to the 80s and beyond.
Slasher films feature a supernatural creature attacking a bunch of nobodies. Think “Nightmare On Elm Street” and “Friday The 13th.” This is not about setting the mood for a look into the darkness of the human soul; this is about teenagers having sex and showers of blood!
jasonvoorhees 300x246 - USR Wednesdays: Slasher Films
Time to roll for initiative: good luck. (image: New Line)
It’s a perfect genre for a game like USR, because statistics are less important in a narrative game. No one in the setting can go toe-to-toe with Freddy or Jason; they’re much too powerful. Instead, the protagonists have to out-think or at least out-run their enemy. You could have a game where players are the monsters themselves, but that’s really just a superhero game (without the “hero”), and it’s not what we’re going for here. This idea was inspired by the Slasher Flick RPG.
In a slasher film game, each player creates three characters, using the standard Domino Writing-style USR rules (though without assigning equipment or spending Combat Gear points). Specialisms in this game should lean heavily toward stereotypes, like Cheerleader, Jock, Redneck, Naive, and Rebellious.
You can determine Narrative Points and Hit Points for the characters, but they probably won’t use them. And don’t forget to create a slasher — make sure it’s got a signature weapon (a clawed glove, a chainsaw) and a gimmick (attacks in dreams, possesses the body of a doll).
When the slasher is ready to start its rampage, roll a die to decide which of the characters is the first victim. If there’s three players, that’s nine characters; roll a d10 to decide which one is first. Other characters may be in the scene, but the current victim gets the spotlight.
Create a scenario for that victim: what they’re doing before the slasher shows up and what they do to escape or fight back. The scenario should have three die rolls built into it. Here’s a few examples.
  • Run away from the slasher (Action)
  • Build a trap from stuff around the campsite (Mind)
  • Try to explain the horror that’s just up ahead to the gullible county sheriff (Ego)
  • Grab a farm implement and start swinging it at the slasher (Action)
  • Summon magical powers you only have in your wildest fantasies to attack the slasher (Mind)
  • Talk the slasher out of fighting back (Ego)

Tell a story with those dice rolls mixed in. It’s a “best two out of three” situation: if the character succeeds at two or three of the rolls, he or she survives… for now. After each character has told his or her own little story, count up the number of survivors. If more than half are alive at the end, the players win, but that’s the end of that horror movie franchise — fans are there for the clever kills, after all. If half the survivors, or fewer, remain, the slasher joins the fraternity with Michael Myers and Ghostface.

What does your slasher look like?

USR Wednesdays: Star Wars Part I — Classes

Now that we’ve looked at a lot of the basics to help expand your USR games, from Specialisms to vehicles and monsters, let’s turn to settings. And if the sales charts from ICv2 are anything to consider, the most popular genre after medieval fantasy is “Star Wars.”
For Domino Writing-style USR, “Star Wars” consists of the classic trilogy (“A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” and “Return Of The Jedi”). The prequels and sequels have new ideas to offer the “Star Wars” universe but nothing as indelible as the original films. I won’t be writing much about them, though I’m looking forward to someone providing stats for Qui-Gon Jinn and Kylo Ren.

star wars general 0001 300x300 - USR Wednesdays: Star Wars Part I — Classes
Everyone in this picture, too. In a few weeks there will be stats for one of them. (image: sonsofcorax.wordpress.com)

In most fantasy RPGs, a character has a race and a class. Despite appearances, that’s not the case for Star Wars, where a character’s species really isn’t that significant. A Wookiee might have Strong +2 as a Specialism, but a Rodian or Ithorian doesn’t have particularly strong “racial” characteristics. Droids, on the other hand, are nothing but special abilities. Consider Multi-lingual +2 or Computer hacking +2 (Specialisms droids from the films might have).

A character’s profession is best described using an archetype, like the ones we’ve seen for modern-day characters and in USR games like Somnium Void.

Scoundrel
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Pilot, Bargain, Hide, Charm
Suggested Equipment: Pistol, Huge debt
Note: “Rogue With A Heart Of Gold” isn’t really a good Specialism, since there probably aren’t many ways to apply the bonus this would provide if it was a Specialism. It’s a great description of the character’s personality, though.

Jedi
Primary Stat: Mind
Suggested Specialisms: Dedication, Leadership, Inspiration, Athletics, The Force*
Suggested Equipment: Lightsaber

Warrior
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Endurance, Military Tactics, Terrain Knowledge
Suggested Equipment: Rifle

Outworlder
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Invent, Survivalist, Riding, Bargain
Suggested Equipment: Droid parts, All-weather clothing

Sage
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Knowledge, Reference Tools, Etiquette
Suggested Equipment: Computer

Diplomat
Primary Stat: Ego
Suggested Specialisms: Negotiate, Leadership, Languages
Suggested Equipment: none

Technician
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Hacking, Computers, Repair, Jury-Rig
Suggested Equipment: Repair tools

*A note on The Force: To simulate the Jedi or other Force-users at the most basic level, the player simply makes a Wits roll against a target number determined by the game master, depending on the complexity of the power. We’ll get into a more involved (but still Unbelievably Simple) version of The Force next time.

What classes need to be added to USR Star Wars?

USR: Archetypes: Modern-Day Heroes

Last time we looked at the classic fantasy races and classes. Now let’s move into modern-day action and adventure settings. Everyone’s human (usually), but the range of skills heroes need to succeed is bigger. These archetypes cover a lot of ground; a sneak, for example, can represent a James Bond-style spy, a Jason Bourne-style secret agent, or even a Jake Gittes-style private eye.
fbi - USR: Archetypes: Modern-Day Heroes
Or these dudes. (image: YouTube)
Diplomat
Primary Stat: Ego
Suggested Specialisms: Charm, Negotiate, Language, Leadership, Etiquette
Suggested Equipment: none
Entertainer
Primary Stat: Ego
Suggested Specialisms: Art (music, oratory, writing, etc.), Charisma, Athletics, Hundreds (Possibly Millions) Of Fans, Target Of Paparazzi
Suggested Equipment: Musical instrument
Gadgeteer
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Repair, Invent, Hacking, Works Best Alone, Focused On The Task At Hand
Suggested Equipment: Miscellaneous Gadgets, Tools
Pilot
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Driving, Flying, Repair, Adrenaline Junkie, Team Player
Suggested Equipment: Vehicle (if there’s more than one character with a vehicle in the party, maybe they have one big vehicle, like a space cruiser)
Researcher
Primary Stat: Wits
Suggested Specialisms: Knowledge (in one topic), Dedication, Bravery, Support Of A University or a Military Organization
Suggested Equipment: Computer, Library Of Books
Sneak
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Move Silently, Sleight Of Hand, Hacking, Disguise, Hide, Spot Clues
Suggested Equipment: Lock Pick (possibly an electronic one)
Soldier
Primary Stat: Action
Suggested Specialisms: Endurance, Intimidate, Leadership, Toughness, Military Tactics
Suggested Equipment: Guns, Knives

Which archetypes are best for the modern world?