Down to brass tacks: traits

So, at this point, I’m faced with an interesting dilemma: the nascent game is forming like a nebula out of vague ideas, and because the magic system is the most massive thing in the cloud, so to speak, everything else is coalescing around it. I don’t see this as necessarily a problem – if what I’m envisioning as the direction of the final product holds true, it’ll actually be rather appropriate – but at the same time, there has to be more substance to characters.

The idea I’m toying with so far is a mutation of FATE Aspects that appears in Freemarket, curiously enough, which is the idea of “tags”. Each aspect of a character comes with three keyword, such as your genetic background (your character’s inborn characteristics might be listed “Tall, Nimble, and Perceptive”), your gear (a field repair kit might get “Portable, Nanotech, Built-in Scanner”), et cetera. I want a little more crunch to the implementation, so I’m thinking of making them stats: you basically pick five, rating them 4-3-2-1-0 (because I’m kind of a math geek and like triangular number arrays). You roll against the most applicable one, but you get a bonus of +1 to the roll for each additional one you can pull in as relevant. Two of these will be mandated as Class and Social Status traits, which means they pull double duty: not just stats, but also, to use White Wolf terminology, Backgrounds. You can choose to define yourself as belonging to a noble house, for instance, but there’s a big difference between rating that at 4 versus 1 or even 0.

Numerically, we’ve also got a resolution scale coming into focus. If we use the time-honored “die roll plus stat” approach, then we have a possible scale of results from a lowly and unlucky -4 (stat 0, roll four minuses) to a very unlikely height of +12 (stat 4, four pluses, all four other traits somehow relevant).

As I’ve intimated before, I’m leaning in the direction of free-form magic, not unlike Spectrum, in which magic is simply a class of special actions, not a particular skill: the setting is pretty firmly going to assert that all player characters have magic, which all functions more or less the same mechanically, even though in the fiction they have different narrative explanations and can look pretty wildly divergent. I’m not entirely sure of what the linkage between these character-defining traits and what I envision as “the magic traits” will be, yet, but there’s a hazy vision slowly coming into focus.

2 thoughts on “Down to brass tacks: traits”

  1. This reminds me a bit of Lady Blackbird but with more granularity (perhaps).
    The only issue with completely free form games is über word combinations and sameness. I would suggest thinking about some submechanics for the free form magic system. Maybe have classes of magic that interact with the rules differently.
    Not to say that you aren’t already doing this. 🙂

    1. Lady Blackbird is a safe bet for inspiration, though I hadn’t consciously called upon it so much as it encapsulates a lot of the current mechanical zeitgeist that I like.

      I agree that certain clever choices of keyword could be abusive, although it’s always situational, not to mention that the GM acts as a check on abuse as arbiter on whether a given combination applies. I’m also considering whether hitting a keyword leaves it tapped out for a scene, or else having some sort of method of setting a threshold for how often you can call upon a trait before it becomes played out. If you go flaunting your high-born status all the time, it will quickly shift from being an advantage to being obnoxious, for instance.

      Schools of magic still lurk at the corners of my thinking, but haven’t found a convenient opening into which to insinuate themselves mechanically.

Comments are closed.