October Challenge: quadrangular destiny damage

When fate gets snarled, who or what is to blame? The antagonists of the “agents of destiny” game are deliberately left undefined as to their actual identity, but they need a mechanical framework. There are three main approaches we can take here.

The first is that they are an utterly passive condition, like an environmental hazard. This is pretty much the idea that was first floated in earlier posts – that the primary obstacle of the game is to overcome the divergent fate and replace it with the one assigned to the agents. Under this rubric, the protagonist agents never really see their counterparts at all, only their handiwork.

The second approach is to give the enemy agents mechanically identical means of imposing their will. This establishes that there is one cosmological means of imposing a destiny on someone, whether the actual nature of the opposing force is like or unlike the PCs. The two factions simply become analogous to competing political entities.

The third approach is to give the antagonists their own unique approach to tangling fate, with the understanding that this suggests there is more than one paradigm for manipulating a target’s destiny. The most important implication of this is that it requires us to define whether one method is “preferred” or “natural” – that is, clarifying whether the antagonists’ interventions are anomalous, or perhaps even the agents are artificially repairing damage that is a natural consequence of some metaphysical condition.

And how exactly do agents work their destiny-spinning mojo anyway? A few brainstorming ideas to throw out: let’s posit that there’s a rock-paper-scissors mechanic in play with the four suits/offices. Installing a destiny on someone who doesn’t have one is fairly easy; it’s a matter of dealing “hits” to the destiny that stands in your way first to clear it away. Thus, you use your skill to redefine the target’s life to make the undesired destiny irrelevant. For the sake of discussion, we’ll just have the interactions go like this:

Love (Hearts) > Leadership (Clubs) > Prosperity (Diamonds) > Heroism (Love)

(with the circle looping around at the ends)

It’s not entirely satisfactory, but I doubt any permutation of the list would be in some respect. The idea is just to get a feel for how this could work mechanically. So, for instance, if you’re an agent of Prosperity, you’ve got an advantage against a destiny focused on Love, but your talents are weak against a case where the destiny to be removed is one of Leadership. Against your own office, or the one on the opposite side of the circle, you’ve got an even chance – no bonus or penalty.

From a simulationist perspective, one might respond to that last bit with, “But why not have the greatest advantage against your own office?” My retort to that would be, “Why would you want to tear that destiny down?” And then I have a very intriguing spin-off thought: it does make a certain sense that, instead of just getting random cases to fix, you’re tasked with installing the destiny of your specific office in as many cases as possible. The tricky part there is that you’ve just opened the gates to inter-party conflict, as the agents are now competing to instantiate new fates in cases to further their branch of the agency rather than trying to cohere for a specific goal.

These may be fruitful thoughts, so we’ll put a pin in them for revisiting later. Let’s finish up the mechanical thought experiment first, though. A target case is just a card, with its office affiliation and numerical value giving us the “damage type” and “hit points” in a sense. Our imaginary agent of Prosperity uses their skills like different weapons against different defenses, and perhaps has to occasionally pull out some tricks from other offices to dismantle an obstinate destiny: your usual techniques are derived from your office, but if you’re dealing with that difficult Leadership destiny, then you might need to use that Love-related magic you picked up and hope it’s strong enough. I’m not entirely sold on the fictional interrelationships yet, but it seems like a servicable mechanical skeleton for further development.