Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fantasy: Boons

Those character sheets I posted for the "Spirit of the Sword" game I ran at OrcCon generated a little confusion. Specifically, the question "What are boons?" was asked. So... here's an answer.

Boons (I'm not crazy about the name, but that's another issue) are my attempt to include something like stunts without actually including stunts. My only real problem with the fix I came up with before is that it's a little flavorless -- it's missing the cool names stunts have, like "Unsafe at Any Speed" or "Master of Disguise" or "Right Place, Right Time." But then I realized that the character sheet already has something like "cool names," in the form of aspects. So if PCs in "SotS" get one aspect per phase, and one boon per aspect, boons should have the same feel as stunts, but even more personalized to the character.

The process goes from phase to aspect to boon, each determining the next. In a sense, the same way that the aspect is the distillation of the phase, the boon is the distillation of the aspect -- or a concise, mechanical reflection of the phase.

Anyway, enough philosophy. Here's the current writeup on boons.

Boons are those qualities about your character which put him or her above the common crowd. They provide guaranteed situational benefits, special abilities, and can sometimes let you bend the rules in specific ways.

Boons fall into nine general categories:
  • Focus: +1 [skill] with ____ -- Fill in the blank with a broad-category use of the skill (+1 Melee with axes, +1 Art with music, +1 Athletics with climbing, etc.). No two Focus boons can modify the same skill (e.g., no matter how many times you take +1 Melee with axes, you'll only benefit from the first one). The Focus boon should reflect how you see the character when you picture her in your mind. If you were to paint a portrait of her, what would she be doing? Is she swinging an axe? Is she performing on stage? Is she crouched in the shadows?
  • Specialty: +2 [skill] with maneuvers or +2 [skill] with assessments/declarations -- This is pretty self-explanatory: a bonus to maneuvers or assessments/declarations with a particular skill. There's a list of maneuvers in the SotC SRD, but this applies to any use of the skill in question to put an aspect on someone else. From the SRD:
If the target is another character, the maneuvering character and the target make opposed rolls, using whatever skills the GM deems appropriate. Success is usually achieved if the maneuvering character generates at least one shift. A successful maneuver may add a temporary aspect to the targeted character; the target can either accept the temporary aspect, or spend a fate point to avoid accepting it. An aspect that results from a maneuver is temporary and does not last very long ... The temporary aspect may then be tagged for a bonus on a subsequent roll. The first tag usually doesn’t cost the tagging player a fate point, but subsequent tags usually do ... If a character is simply trying to increase the difficulty of another target’s action, this is considered a block action, and should be resolved as such....
  • Substitution: Use [skill] instead of [skill] when ____ -- Fill in the blank with a verb reflecting a specific condition or circumstance (Use Melee instead of Intimidation when fighting, Use Art instead of Rapport when dealing with other musicians, Use Athletics instead of Melee when attacking from surprise, etc.). In terms of the role it serves in fleshing out your character, Substitution is usually comparable to Focus, but with a different mechanical effect.
  • Ease: Ignore penalty to [skill] for ____ -- Fill in the blank with a specific, static penalty in the SotC SRD (Ignore penalty to Melee for using improvised weapons, Ignore penalty to Art for a distracted audience, Ignore penalty to Athletics for climbing a slippery surface, etc.). The "penalty" may actually be removing an increased difficulty to a static task, but whatever. It's the same basic idea.
  • Item: The character has some sort of special possession, along the lines of Weapon of Destiny, Personal Gadget, Prototype Car, etc. The item has three improvements that only apply when using or wearing the item in its intended manner -- generally bonuses to one or more skills. If two bonuses are applied to the same skill, or to the same use of one skill (if applicable -- e.g., +2 to attacks with Melee), then instead of a third improvement, the GM picks an aspect, preferably something detrimental (e.g., Slow, Unwieldy, Two-Handed, Dark Oaths, Glows Brightly When Activated, etc.), as the third "improvement." The improvements allowed are as follows:
    • +1 to a noncombat skill
    • +1 to attacks with a combat skill (Melee or Missile)
    • +1 to defense with Melee or Athletics
    • Use one noncombat skill instead of another noncombat skill in specific circumstances
    • Use one combat or noncombat skill in place of a combat skill (This is the improvement that lets you use a melee weapon at range or a missile weapon in melee, such a throwing a dagger or fighting hand-to-hand with a bow.)
    • An aspect
  • Companion: In general, I don't see this one as being all that applicable, with the exception of animal companions -- so we'll throw it in, using the revised companion rules from "Spirit of the Season" as a base. Animal companions start with four advances. Taking this boon more than once can add more advances to the same companion, though at diminishing returns. Taking it twice for the same companion nets you another three advances, taking it three times another two, and taking it a fourth time yields but one additional advance.
    • Quality: Every tier of skill quality costs an advance. Basically, you get one skill in each tier you pay for, up to Good. For example, if you spent three advances on your companion's Quality, you'd have an Average skill, a Fair skill, and a Good skill. Your companion can take a number of consequences equal to its Quality, as well, one per degree of severity: one Minor at Average, one Minor and one Moderate at Fair, and one Minor, one Moderate, and one Severe at Good. As long as your your companion is attached to you, its skills complement your own. Another example: If you had Average Melee and Good Athletics and your companion were a Fair-quality wolf with Average Athletics and Fair Melee, when your wolf's attached to you you get a +1 bonus to Melee from your wolf (because its Melee is superior to your own) but no bonus to Athletics (because its Athletics isn't).
    • Quantity: By default, you have one companion. With this advance, you have more than that: another one or two if you take this advance once, and up to three more if you take it a second time. However, your companions' maximum Quality is reduced by one each time you take this (Fair if you take it once, Average if you take it twice).
    • Independent: Normally, your companion can't act on its own without the expenditure of a Fate Point. With this advance, you don't have to pay the Fate Point.
    • Breadth: Expand the companion's skill pyramid by one degree, up to a max of two skills at its apex. For example, if your wolf companion's Quality is Fair, taking Breadth once gets it another Average skill, and taking it twice gives it a third Average skill and a second Fair skill. It can't get a Good skill, though, without another advance spent on Quality.
    • Communication: You can communicate with your animal pal somehow or other. Maybe you can growl its language, or it understands yours, or you just have some kind of empathic link.
  • Unusual: Spend a Fate Point to do something special not otherwise covered by the above three options (e.g., Enemies denied gang-up bonus when you're armed, Use Art in place of any social skill when dealing with other musicians, Ignore all penalties when climbing, etc.), as long as it's cool with the GM. Basically, take every stunt in the SotC SRD that requires a Fate Point expenditure and put it in this category.
  • Heritage: A collection of three very specialized benefits derived from your racial or cultural descent, and are most appropriate for characters who exemplify their race or culture. These are things like +1 Craft to stonemasonry for a dwarf, +1 Rapport when haggling for a city-dwelling sort, and so on. For balance purposes, they should not give bonuses to anything combat-related.
  • Magic: The gateways of magical ability. The four types of magic are Alchemy, Artifice, Incantation, and Summoning; the fifth type, Necromancy, is the purview of evil, and its practitioners are so hidden in shadows that many don't even realize they exist. Each different type of magic requires its own boon to learn. Thus, if you wanted to be both an alchemist and a summoner, you'd need Magic: Alchemy and Magic: Summoning.


Anonymous said...

It seems a little fussy that the things you can pick from for an Item are almost but not exactly the same as the list of boons itself. Have you thought about changing this any?

Also, I don't know if there's any way of getting around it, but not all the things you have under Unusual require a fate point expenditure in the normal stunt rules. I guess it's not too big a balance issue if it lasts for a whole scene, but it kind of weirds me out. Also also, how does this interact with the ability in the normal rules to spend a fate point to make a declaration related to your aspect?

Mike Olson said...

Yeah, I definitely notice the similarity, but I'm not sure what to do about it. I admit, I love skill substitution, so I'm reluctant to remove that as a possibility. We'll see if it's too fiddly for my players. Like I said, I expect things will change during this, the first extended playtest of the system.

It doesn't bother me that not everything under Unusual requires a Fate Point under the SotC RAW -- like Mix It Up. I just want a way to include those stunts (specifically, Master of Disguise, which I love) without making things overly complex, which is what I think the current stunts system is.

As for declarations, for me, those are generally limited to aspects, so I don't foresee a lot of overlap in that regard. But, y'know, playtest.

Anonymous said...

I've added a few of your posts to in the Extra Content section. I hope you don't mind, I've credited all content to you fully.

Gimmie a email if you want it pulled or have thoughts.

Anonymous said...

I really like this idea. I've thought the ginormous list of stunts in SotC slowed down character creation, using a meta-model like this makes it a lot easier to just create the effect you want without having to look through a hundred pages of rules.