USR Wednesdays: Money

Everybody needs it, and no one ever has enough… Even in a game with so much narrative abstraction like USR, money is something to consider. After all, it’s the most classic of roleplaying game goals (slay the dragon to collect its treasure). But in USR, heroes don’t start with money, and don’t have a “shopping list” of weapons or other equipment. Domino Writing-style USR does limit characters to 4 Combat Gear points of weapons and armor, though that’s pretty abstract too: it’s really about the bonus, not the actual item that the character is buying.

A simple way to represent money is as an Influence, a temporary Specialism with a bonus of +1 to +3. The bonus, in this case, is how much money the character has. The warrior and wizard splitting the dragon’s hoard get an influence of Treasure Hoard +2, at least until it’s spent on wine, women, and song (for the warrior), and valuable spell components (for the wizard). The thief who steals the rare diamond has an influence of Reputation +1 — he can’t sell the diamond, after all, but everyone in the black market community knows he pulled off the audacious caper. And the Billionaire +3 can do quite a bit with his money, though an enemy with the Corrupt Businessman +2 Specialism might try to instigate a hostile takeover, in the form of several Ego and Wits-based die rolls.

All about the Benjamins...
This is probably worth a +2 at least. (image: mokra)

Going Shopping

Now that you’ve represented the character’s wealth with a Specialism, what can you do with it? As mentioned, it can assist in Wits and Ego die rolls — for example, roll Ego to pay off the right people and smuggle goods over the border, or roll Wits to determine the value of a famous painting (it takes money to know money, you see).

It’s less common to use a money-related Specialism with an Action die roll, but you could transform a point of bonus into a Combat Gear point, if your game master allows. In that case, your character is buying a new weapon or item. Obviously, a Treasure Hoard +1 should purchase more than a single Sword +1, but it’s balanced by the guideline that the bonus granted by the treasure will gradually disappear, while the sword is more or less permanent. These extra Combat Gear points can even be translated into extra Narrative Points: when things look their most desparate, the hero pulls out his credit card and is back in action.

Financial Status

For a character whose net worth is a fundamental part of their background (i.e., an actual Specialism, not a temporary one), consider these.

Not Important: +5
This character is from a society that does not care about money, like an alien race, or has the ability to create money at any time.

Multimillionaire: +5
This character is head of a major multinational corporation or foundation, or is a member of a nation’s royal family, and has almost unlimited access to funds and technology. He or she has multiple residences and forms of transportation.

Wealthy: +3
This character is a self-made millionaire or celebrity. He or she has a large house and expensive transportation (like a carriage or luxury car).

Sponsored: +2
This character works for a government agency, army, or other organization that takes care of living expenses and gear.

Comfortable: +0
This character has a steady day job that brings in decent pay, or some other way of making ends meet without much worry. The character can occasionally afford a major expense. He or she has a house and access to typical transportation for the time period (horse, automobile, or starship).

Struggling: -2
The character has difficulty finding enough money to pay the bills at the end of the month, and has to skip some basic necessities from time to time. The character has very little money, few items and may be homeless or nomadic. The character depends on friends and family for support. He or she has a small residence (such as a wooden hut or apartment), and an inexpensive means of transportation (mule, bicycle, old car, etc.).

This (and Comfortable) isn’t really a Specialism, but helps give perspective on the other financial statuses, and could be an interesting roleplaying challenge… and it gives me an idea for next Wednesday’s post.

How much money does your hero have?

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:


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 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:


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?