Monday, February 23, 2009

Mask of the Emperor - stats and skills, plus sorcery rules

Choose stats – these are your basic capabilities, or general-use traits in the event of a challenge not covered by skills. You have ten points to spend on your four stats, and any stats you leave at zero will merit an additional point you can spend on other things. However, your stats are constrained to a maximum of five points; going beyond that requires divine (or sorcerous) intervention, and will mark you as inhuman in some way. I recommend only achieving 6+ ratings in stats through game play, not at character creation; those are whole stories right there! Practically speaking, a rating of two is average for a reasonably physically and mentally healthy individual; a rating of five crests the limits of human potential. A rating of one is below average, while a rating of zero means a desperate lack of aptitude in that area of ability for some reason. If you take a zero, ask yourself: why is that? What does that mean for my character? Society is shallow, and those with obvious major blemishes in mind or body will not be treated with as much respect as those who are seen as more “whole”.

Strength – physical might, toughness, and wherewithal. Tolerating the effects of disease, injury, and fatigue all fall under this category; active applications of strength, leverage, or sheer brawn are covered by Strength as well. In social challenges, you might use Strength to intimidate or to show off.

Dexterity– agility, reflexes, and willpower. This measures how in-control of your body you are, how readily you can make it do what you wish it to. Dodging, withstanding torture, aiming an arrow, and most artistic efforts fall under Dexterity. When it’s very, very important that you choose your words with care or face reprisal, Dexterity could be used for that, as well.

Wit – quick thinking, mainly. How on-the-ball are you? How much reasoning capacity do you possess, and how quickly can you summon it up? In more physical situations, this also might be an indicator of how well you can anticipate an opponent’s moves, down to the blow-by-blow of a swordfight or alternately at what spot you think he might ambush you.

Wisdom– your education and general life-experience. Wisdom is honed by direct experience, in the classroom or in life, and it’s applied to situations where you have a few moments at least to stop and think. It also serves as a measure of how much knowledge you have at your command, what life-lessons and book-lessons you can bring to bear against an obstacle. It’s a stretch, but you could say that tactics, military strategy, and reading tracks on the ground could all be covered by Wisdom, in addition to social applications like the way a lover’s quarrel is going to go, or your favorite Go strategy. In conflict, it's how much information you bring to the table, not how quickly you can blurt it out.

  1. Choose skills – skills are things that you have trained in, a mix of social and physical fields of ability that focus and refine the broader strokes of your Stats. Consult your role’s list of skills (in the role's description) to determine how many points can go where; you get eight points to spend in total, but you can only spend a single point on skills outside the list related to your chosen role [maximum of 5, as with stats; again, only supernatural efforts can raise a skill above 5, but that could make for a sweet adventure] Keep in mind that you can use physical skills for mental or social challenges, and vice versa; they’re labeled as they are to give you a general idea of what they’re intended for, and if you want to twist them in another direction, you’ll have to flex your creative muscles.

Physical Skills

Dueling – ritualized sword fighting, a gentleman’s way of settling disputes through violence. Affronts to one’s honor or reputation might be settled in this way. The main point is this: Dueling is a method of declaring a challenge to another warrior of rank and then fighting him to prove you’re in the right. Social sniping is another way to get your point across, but to rely solely on gossip and argument is considered cowardly. You must use swords to do this, or it’s not Dueling.

Craft – decide whether you want to make beautiful things or useful things. From there, this skill reflects how quickly and effectively you can create what you want. This can be any kind of engineering, invention, craftsmanship, or artistic medium, and as such there’s a whole slew of things to choose from when deciding what your character might be able to make. The most Honorable use of Craft is sword-smithing for a bushi patron, or secondarily creating a suit of lacquered armor (helm-mask optional); these are the sorts of things a bushi would pass down through the generations. This skill can also apply to problem-solving, and not just through engineering; maybe all the crying child needs to coax the truth out of her is a beautiful origami cricket to play with.

Banditry – the entire gamut of illicit or unsporting behavior, from larceny to dirty fighting to sneaking around and hiding. When you want to use a fighting skill of some kind, but can’t Duel your opponent, this could be what you use instead. However, if you don’t want to be blatantly dishonorable in front of bystanders, simply use the relevant stat(s) instead, sans skill dice. Setting an ambush, running a scam on someone, or suchlike; all these things are uses for Banditry. Keep in mind that you use just Stat+Honor for a "neutral" fighting dice pool; Banditry only comes up when you're sneaky or disreputable in your tactics.

The Way – the monastic martial art form, emphasizing punches, kicks, throws, holds, and improvised weapons (farm implements, for instance). It’s not particularly Honorable to use this skill, nor is it Dishonorable. But for Honorable practitioners, it’s taken as a sign of eccentricity and even seditious leanings towards a classless society and sympathy for the plight of the peasants.

Social/Mental Skills

Face – appealing to someone’s emotions, either by schmoozing and acting chummy, or by getting in their face and barking orders. Considered mildly Dishonorable and an indicator of a certain weakness of moral fiber.

Propriety – appealing to someone’s sense of duty, obligation, and honor, by invoking the authority of law, rank, the Emperor, and so on. Makes you seem like a cold fish to those outside the Court and the aristocracy, and decidedly very “political”. Perfectly Honorable, however.

Philosophy – appealing to reason, logic, and intellectual insights. Also commonly thought of as a way to cut through the petty egotism of traditional courtly language. Peasants and other illiterates will still think you’re talking over their heads if you do this, but at least you’re assuming they’re your equals.

Command – the ability to lead a household, an army, a staff, maybe a cow-herd … the ability to mobilize people (or animals) and get them to act as a group, toward a common purpose. Your area of influence using Command is based, initially, on what kind of character you have, but in theory, you could use this skill as a general or a swineherd and, provided your minions would actually listen to you, it’ll turn out that you know what you’re doing.

Sorcery – the dark arts. [Important: this skill has no maximum value] Unlike other skills, Sorcery works on a spell-based system (as you might expect). Each time you use Sorcery, you’re crafting a spell, which can occur immediately, trigger at a later time, be channeled onto someone else, or be affixed to another being. The number of dice the spell is considered to have is equal to the number of successes rolled when you initially cast the spell. The exception is channeling, wherein the caster rolls Sorcery + (appropriate stat, the value belonging to the sorcerer if it’s mental/social and to the recipient if it’s physical).

Sorcerers can have a number of spells “waiting” at one time up to their Sorcery value; spells placed on other characters become their own property and are beyond the caster’s immediate control, so do not count towards this limit. Beyond that, the sorcerer is concentrating hard to keep them all in place, tapping into eldritch mental reserves; he can remove existing spells at a whim if they are fixed to him or to a physical location, in order to free himself to cast again. When a sorcerer is killed, all his active spells are destroyed; this does not necessarily destroy magically-created wonders, treasures, or monstrosities, but if the sorcerer was channeling the thing to keep it in existence, it will definitely collapse into its base elements.

Spells affixed to specific objects, animals, or persons, rather than the sorcerer himself or a spot on the ground, are tougher to remove, although they do not can be removed by a successful Sorcery+(appropriate stat) check, using the number of dice rolled to cast the spell initially as the opposing dice pool. It takes effort to undo magic once it’s left the sorcerer’s grip altogether; take care with that. Note: any sorcerer can accomplish this feat, so a lesser sorcerer’s works can be brushed aside with ease by a mightier spell-caster.

Immediate use – this is when Sorcery functions pretty much like any other skill. Use it to respond to any challenge you wish, and it may function as any skill; the only real difference is that it’s obviously a product of sorcery. If Sorcery mimics Craft to create a bridge across a chasm, it’ll be made of humming purple light with muttering inky faces in it, or something. Unsettling.

Triggering – when something in particular happens (the spot’s touched by the light of the full moon, or blood, or a footstep) or when a certain point in time is reached (often, daybreak or nightfall; gotta be thematic, so no time bombs), the spell takes effect. Its effect is equivalent to the caster being present and using a skill, even if, strictly speaking, it’s a bit of a stretch to call a blast of fire a use of Banditry, or to call hallucinations of a thousand biting bugs a use of Face. If you have a hard time figuring out which skill to say it mimics, decide which skill the target should use to oppose it. If you want to layer more successes into this spell than the initial roll provided, you can roll again some agreed-upon amount of time later; this simulates an extended ritual that gets the full force of your power imbued into the recipient [maximum # of successes = your Sorcery value; if this feels limiting, take note that Sorcery is not for dabblers].

Channeling – the sorcerer continually concentrates to keep a particular spell “open” on someone else, so that the target can use the caster’s Sorcery skill-value to replace one stat or skill. Once the channeling begins, the caster and the recipient don’t have to be in the same room together, or in fact very close by at all, but while this is going on, the caster is constantly centering his mind on keeping the spell going. Only one-word responses, haphazard stumbling about, and maintenance on active spells is possible while this happens. If disrupted, the sorcerer would probably use Self-Discipline + Sorcery to see if he can keep going, but it’s up to you if the situation seems to merit something else.

Affixed – this allows the caster to tie a charge of mystic power directly to some chosen person, animal, or object. You can do an extended ritual when affixing a spell, like in a triggering, but remember that it’ll be that much harder to remove, should things go awry. The spell gives a bonus equal to the number of successes [no greater than the caster’s Sorcery value] to the chosen skill or stat, or to the opposing pool against a chosen skill or stat (if you can’t come up with an old trunk’s Self-Discipline, for instance, or a white elk’s Wisdom). Each time the chosen stat or skill comes up, and the spell-recipient loses the challenge, take one point away from the spell. Each point-loss might be fairly obvious, as the spell’s bizarre energies crackle and strain. The last point’s loss could be a bit more dramatic, with a small thunderclap and a haze in the air, or some such.

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