October Challenge: busting destiny in the chops

An agent of fate gets his or her assignments in ways that seem like random chance to everyone else: today’s winning lottery numbers are the phone number to the anonymous dispatcher with your next case, or you stop in a used book store on vacation to find an envelope waiting in the front of the hardcover first edition of that novel you’ve been trying to find. Case generation at the meta-game level encourages the same sort of pareidolia: flip to a random page in a magazine, creatively interpret the fortune in your fortune cookie, and so on.

But what do you do when you’re actually on the case? The idea I had thrown out there before was that your abilities as a case worker for destiny are related to the four offices (heroism, love, prosperity, and fame), with a special emphasis on the office to which you work specifically. Character generation could be random or point-buy: there are any number of ways to approach this, including…

  • Draw four cards. If you get duplicates in a suit, add the values together.
  • Draw four cards. If you get duplicates in a suit, draw again until you have one for each.
  • Draw four cards. If you get duplicates in a suit, add +1 to the highest card for each duplicate.
  • Draw six cards, keep four.
  • Draw one card to determine your office. You get X points to distribute to the four suit/office/skills, with a 2:1 discount in your specialty.

…and so on.

We still need to nail down what these skills do, though. I’m thinking that it might be interesting to have tiered skills in two different ways: both on-specialty and off-specialty (agents who belong to an office get a different list of possible skill effects than other agents) and as skill rank increases (i.e., if you have a 2-5, you get one skill power, with another unlocked at 6-10, and a third skill power when you have a face card). Aces should do something neat: true to the name, I’m thinking that if you happen to get an Ace for an office, you’re a celebrity in that area, somewhat known to the greater population and able to reap the benefits thereof. While I don’t necessarily like relegating the Ace to a value of 1 numerically because it feels like a penalty, that might be a nice off-set: the agency isn’t going to spend as many resources on you in your own primary area of destiny because you came to the job with your own assets. To give a specific example, if you have an Ace of Hearts, you’re an international sex symbol with adoring fans; the agency of Love isn’t going to be allocating its fate-bending abilities to you, because you can do a lot with your own looks and clout.

I’d have to write up the specific agency/suit powers for playtesting, but it seems like a straightforward approach. I can see forming a sort of template: the lowest skill rank maybe allows you to recruit a number of mundane followers equal to your rank to do tasks for you, the second rank might give you material assets, and the third rank lets you do specific spell-like effects a la the Greater Powers in House of Cards. The key, I think, will be to balance how supernatural these powers become, particularly at the low levels: are they, to use the well-worn Mage terminology, “coincidental” or “vulgar”? I want to lean toward the former, but there should always be a bit of head-scratching involved, particularly when the agency itself becomes involved: they can do things that seem miraculous in nature, and not easily hand-waved away as not magical, even for agents who are in the know.

For the most part, I think solving a case is a matter of applying creative plans to the situation based on what resources you have at your disposal; knocking down an obstacle or alternate destiny is just a matter of ablating it with your storytelling abilities, then establishing the new story (the desired fate) in its place the same way. “Combat” as such doesn’t really occur – unless you cross paths with one of the aforementioned counter-agents.