Sunday, November 30, 2008

And Back Again

Whew! I've been gone for the past two weeks in New Zealand, enjoying my honeymoon. It was awesome. I could go back there tomorrow. If it weren't so impractical on many levels, I'd even move there. If you aren't there already, go -- and if you are there, isn't it awesome?

Anyway, this isn't a "personal" blog, so I'll get to the point: Going to New Zealand has really had an effect on how I think about "the setting", a.k.a. The Unnamed Lands, as it's called when Andy isn't around (when he is, it's Aarde, because that's what he wants to call it). Maori culture is fascinating and criminally underused, if you ask me, in RPGs, and the landscape is... well, you saw it in "The Lord of the Rings," and yeah, it looks like that. Untamed temperate rainforest, imposing mountains, geothermal craters, glaciers... we took literally a thousand pictures. So out the window are all my narrow-minded ideas about European-style kingdoms in a European-style landscape, because New Zealand's is way cooler.

Before I left, though, I had this idea for swashbuckling FATE games that put a lot of emphasis on duels and fencing and that sort of thing, so I'll review that, run it by a friend or two, and post it later this week. I think it's pretty nifty, which leads me to suspect there's something dire and obvious about it that I'm missing.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Fantasy: Demonbound Items

Kuron's hulking blade sliced through his enemies as a scythe cuts wheat. The rank and file of the mountain dwarves fell back in chaos in the face of the enraged barbarian. Power coursed through the greatsword's hilt into his mighty thews, energizing him, changing him, and he drank it in like the dry earth drinking rain. His blows rained down ever faster on the fear-stricken dwarves. In horror, they looked over their shoulder as they fled at his eyes -- once coal-black, now they glowed an inhuman red.

"Nurzkalak hungers!" he roared, in a voice not entirely his own. "Nurzkalak thirsts!" He paused a moment for a blood-curdling, throaty laugh, then resumed his lusty butchery anew.

. . .

The most powerful magic items achieve their potency not through the skill of artificers -- not solely so, at any rate -- but through altogether more dangerous means: the binding of demons.

Centuries ago, demons freely walked the lands of Aarde, leaving evil and sorrow in their wake. Their physical forms could be destroyed, albeit at great cost, but their ancient spirits would live on, find a new host, and return undiminished to wreak yet more havoc. Banishment from the corporeal world was possible but difficult and taxing, and always there existed the very real chance that a power-hungry summoner, tampering with forces beyond his imagining, would pull it back into reality and inadvertantly unleash the beast on the world again.

After years of toil, a group of highly skilled artificers developed a means of trapping demonic spirits into physical objects, binding the two together inextricably. The process was one of both guile and force, first tricking the spirit into entering an object, then using powerful magic to keep it there. The weaker ones, the ones who still possessed some semblance of vanity and greed, could be lured into finely wrought trinkets such as rings or pendants, but the strongest and most violent specimens, owing to their natural tendencies, only had eyes for implements of war and destruction: swords, axes, cruel knives, spiked shields, and the like. As long as the item survived intact, the demon was helpless to escape, so the artificers forged these demonbound artifacts out of the strongest of substances to ensure their resilience.

And then they buried them in the deep places of the world, guarded by monstrosities and deadly traps, hoping to conceal them from prying eyes and mischievous intent. For the spirits held within these demonbound items made them powerful beyond reckoning. A warrior armed with a demonbound sword might lay waste to armies, just as one protected by demonbound armor might withstand them. Moreover, the process was not perfect: The demons within the artifacts could achieve some measure of empathic communication with their possessors, and could even, through prolonged use, come to dominate them. The artificers worked in secrecy, hoping to keep the knowledge of the demonbound items from the public at large, lest the demons turn the weak-willed or foolish into their unwitting pawns.

Of course, their plans were far from perfect. One or two greedy artificers kept the occasional ring or sword for themselves. Ignorant adventurers eventually stumbled upon the artifacts, claiming them as trophies of their heroism. Over the years, the true nature of the demonbound artifacts has been forgotten by all but a handful of artificers -- the remnants of the old order, all but faded away.

In Atwell, the capitol city of Brightmar, legend says that the king's line shall rule so long as the gleaming brightsteel sword suspended above the throne remains in place... but not even the king knows the true reason why, or the origins of the tradition.

All right, enough fluff. Gimme the crunch.

Demonbound items have, appropriately enough, a demonbound aspect of some kind. It could be something as vague and straightforward as "Demonbound Blade" or something as specific and flavorful as "Nurzkalak's Prison." (The most powerful demonbound items might even have two or three such aspects.) This can be invoked in all the usual ways (+2, reroll, effect), but without spending a Fate Point. Instead, when you invoke the demonbound aspect, the GM gives you a token: a Doom Point. Use something that won't be mistaken for a Fate Point.

Immediately after invoking the demonbound aspect, make a Resolve roll against a target equal to the number of Doom Points the character's accumulated.

For example, Kuron's player up there has invoked "Nurzkalak's Prison" three times so far, including this time, so he now has a pile of three Doom Points. His Resolve effort has to be at least Good (+3) to get through this scot-free.

If you make the roll, nothing happens. Congrats! I knew you were strong. If you fail, however, you take a mental consequence (Minor for 1-3 stress, etc.) reflecting the demon's hold on your mind, however temporary. The demon will always want to destroy, twist, or pervert the world around you in as cruel a manner as possible.

Treat these consequences normally. That is, Minor ones go away at the end of the scene, Moderate ones go away with a skill roll (in this case, your Resolve, or someone else's Resolve if they're trying to exorcise you), and Severe go away through the narrative. If you've sustained a Severe consequence from a demonbound item, forever will it, as they say, dominate your destiny. At the end of the story arc, alter one of your personal aspects to reflect this. "Incorruptible Knight of Brightmar" might become, say, "The Lingering Madness of a Demon."

You can probably guess that Kuron failed his Resolve roll, but not by much: Let's say he took the Minor consequence of "Bloodthirsty." The GM can compel that consequence to force Kuron to keep fighting when he'd rather not (the mountain dwarves are already fleeing in the example), kill helpless opponents, and so on. However, since it's just a Minor consequence, he'll regain control of himself at the end of the scene... but he'll still have those three accumulated Doom Points.

That's right: Doom Points don't go away. Not without effort, anyway. There are two ways to go about this:
  • At any time, you can lose Doom Points by spending Refresh on a 1:1 basis. Ridding yourself of demonic influence takes a lot out of you.
  • When the GM compels your demonbound consequence or the demonbound aspect, either one of you may choose to conduct the transaction in Doom Points instead of Fate Points. For example, if the GM compels you, Kuron's player, to chase down those fleeing mountain dwarves, instead of offering you a Fate Point, he might offer instead to take away one of your Doom Points -- or you might decide to accept the compel by paying him a Doom Point instead of receiving a Fate Point. Think of Doom Points as the anti-Fate Points: You pay them when compelled, and receive them when you invoke. If you do what the demon wants, you gradually reduce its influence. The downside to that, of course, is that you're taking orders from a demon.

So then.

What if a PC becomes the last recipient of the secrets of the ancient order of artificers?

What if a demonbound artifact falls into the hands of the party?

What if the PCs find out the true nature of the king's sword in Atwell?

What if the spells of imprisonment laid upon that sword fail -- or are countered somehow?

What if some crazy villain has dedicated himself to freeing a number of demons in a futile bid to to harness their power?

What if that villain succeeds (probably sacrificing himself in the process), and the PCs are a sort of medieval fantasy version of the Ghostbusters?