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Sunday, June 29, 2008

Anezka's Journal 1

My excitement at moving to a land where the Blood of Vol was openly revered has faded quickly. This is nothing like what Skaina has taught me, and I see my contempt mirrored in her eyes. These are a simple, frightened people who believe that one can defeat Death, if only one lights enough candles on holidays.

They do not know the glories of Vol Herself, Queen of Dragons and of Elves and of Death, the exile, the banished one whom nations still fear.

The do not know her power. I will have to show them.

For the meantime, my days are taken up in this cold accursed land by pretending to be the simpering lady for "Milord". Our wedding was a cold, flaccid affair. Our wedding night was...regrettable. He commented on my birthmark, at which point any hope of romance ceased (and there was precious little). I will never love this man. In fact I loathe him already.

I spend most of my time with my dear Skaina. She is a treasure. Without her, I would be lost. She still has much to teach me, and with the appearance, at least, of worship of Vol in this land, my instruction can go much more quickly. To them, I am simply an eager convert to their national religion.

I have noticed that Kronan does not keep any Undead soldiers or guards. I will have to ask him why.

Friday, June 27, 2008

What Are Aspects?

Aspects are the heart of the Spirit of the Century system. They're simple to 'get' but hard to master.

On the one hand, they're just short words of phrases that describe your character that you use during play. On the other hand, they're 50 important descriptors that we'll all have to be keeping track of for your 5 characters combined.

Apsects will help you add to rolls when you need it. They will also get you into trouble, earning you Fate Points during the game, which you then use to activate your Aspects to empower you yet again. They're the fuel that runs the whole system, basically.

An Aspect could be part of your character's personality, or a relationship she has, or an item she is carrying with her, or a physical attribute, or a flaw, or an oath, a catchphrase, and so on. It can basically be anything, but there are still definitely some Aspects that are better than others. The way you know whether your Aspect is good or not is by keeping in mind how it will function in the game.

How Aspects function

The basic way that Aspects function in the game is through Invoking them. When a player Invokes an Aspect, the player spends a Fate Point and either gets to re-roll all of her dice on a single roll, or she gets to leave her dice as they lay but add +2 to the result. The GM needs to OK an Invoke, but most uses of an Aspect should be fine.

It is also possible to Invoke for effect. Instead of getting the re-roll or the bonus to your roll, you can Invoke for effect to basically add a fact to the game. You might Invoke membership in a secret organization to say that the organization has a chapter house in the city you're in, or you might Invoke an Aspect like "First on the Scene" in order to say that you arrive...first on the scene. Again, the GM needs to Ok these, but again, this is a lenient kind of game.

Using Aspects which are not your own is called Tagging. You can Tag an Aspect on a person, place or thing by spending a Fate Point. This basically functions the same as Invoking your own Aspects - but, if you guess an Aspect wrongly, you lose the Fate Point. (As long as your guess is close, no problem, but it has to be close). In SotC, anything can have an Aspect. A scene, a set-piece, a room, an NPC, an organization and so on. Listen to descriptions of these things for clues as to what Aspects they might have.

During the game, it is possible to inflict Aspects on other people or on scenes, and these Aspects can then be Tagged. If you are the one who caused an Aspect, you are entitled to Tag it once free of charge. This Tag must come immediately after the Aspect takes effect, however, or at the very minimum during the same scene.

It is also possible to pass off this right to a free Tag of an Aspect added to a scene or character, meaning player-characters can set each other up in combat for things like finishing moves or dramatic actions that would normally be impossible.

After the one free Tag, you can still Tag the Aspect, but you have to pay the usual Fate Point. (Well, as long as the Aspect is still there to Tag - more on this later)

Just like Invoking an Aspect for effect, you can Tag an Aspect for effect. This will normally cost the Fate Point, but if it is an Aspect you put on something, then you're probably entitled to Tag it for effect once for free.

GMs can use your Aspects as well, but don't worry, it benefits you. The basic thing that the GM can do is to Compel an Aspect. Basically, the GM offers you a Fate Point when an Aspect might get you in trouble in an interesting way. If you take the FP, then your Aspect is Compelled, and you must do what was agreed upon, or act in the way agreed upon. If you refuse the FP, then you have to spend a Fate Point of your own to resist the power of the Compel.

The Compel system isn't there to take your Fate Points away. Its there to encourage roleplaying of Aspects in a way that makes the game more fun, and also to provide you with a source of Fate Points. If you never accept a Compel, you'll be out of Fate Points really soon.

You can also Negotiate a Compel. What this means is that the player can mention an Aspect that might apply to the GM and see if they can get a Compel out of the GM. This is to help the GM, who (in my case anyway) can't keep track of 50 PC Aspects plus all of the NPC and scene Aspects.

"Accidental" Compels might happen - when you RP your Aspect to your detriment or to make the game more interesting but it isn't part of a technical Compel. In that case, the GM should note it and give you a Fate Point after the fact.

The GM can also always choose to Escalate a Compel. Basically, the GM holds out a second Fate Point and says "are you suuuure?" with a sly grin.

Conflicting Aspects can both be Compelled! Often this is a zero-sum situation, where you spend a FP and then get one to resist and act out an Aspect respectively. If you can come up with a way to play both conflicting Aspects well, then go for it! You get two Fate Points and bragging rights.

Tracking Aspects

Last note - on the SotC wiki, they recommend that players keep track of which Aspects are getting Invoked and Tagged and Compelled and which aren't, just as a way to see what the most effective Aspects you have are. If I'm consistently missing an Aspect you want to come up more, play it up and remind me.

Huh. I can't turn off italics. I've gotta stop doing these posts 1/2 on a Mac...

What is Pulp?

There's a great discussion of pulp to be found in the Spirit of the Century book. I definitely recommend that. Here's what I'm thinking:

The term "pulp" comes from the cheap 'pulp' grade paper that stories of this kind were printed on. They weren't considered worthy of quality paper, especially in wartime when paper was more rationed than it is now by a long shot. Pulp stories were not high literature about introspective characters whining to each other about the state of the world. No! Pulp heroes punch people like that in the face because they get in the way of saving the world from cackling, finger-steepling villains.

Pulp is a genre of action, heroes, villains, and if we're honest, stereotypes. There's a lot about square-jawed (white) heroes rescuing damsels from apes living in darkest Africa, or Martians, or whatever. The action is over-the-top. Being punched in the face isn't a big deal - only villainous mooks get knocked out by a punch. The best example of pulp that we're all familiar with is the Indiana Jones series.

In Eberron, you get a lot of the action, heroes, and villains without the troublesome stereotypes of the time period of pulp - around the two great World Wars to be exact, and a little after. You also get magic and goblins and creepy aberrations sleeping beneath the ground and undead and beholders and flying ships. So, really, Eberron wins.

Pulp heroes are larger than life. They are tougher, smarter, stronger and more resourceful than most people. They are courageous to the point of recklessness, and the story carries them forward anyway. Pulp heroes have to be larger than life - pulp villains are really villainous. They are powerful, sleek, ruthless, often insane, and are usually bent on nothing less than world domination.

Pulp is also about mysteries of a particular kind. These are not nuanced, complex, interwoven mysteries - these are Mysteries! They might be mysteries of the ancient world, or mysteries or lost Atlantis, or mysteries of Mars and its strange inhabitants, but they are mysteries that are more exciting than mysterious. They titillate without making you think all that hard. Why are Nazis after the Ark of the Covenant? Because Nazis were occult-obsessed and scary and the Ark of the Covenant is evocative and cool. Therefore, it made a good pulp Mystery.

Pulp heroes "fail forward". When Indiana Jones fails a roll, he doesn't fall to his death, his situation just gets more complicated. So you might get beaten up or socially out-classed, but the story doesn't stop there. Ideally, it shouldn't stop ever. This kind of game encourages risk-taking. You may very well be killed by someone who is bent on killing you if you don't figure out how to stop them, but you probably won't be killed by failing an Athletics roll in the rigging of an airship. That's because one way of dying is cool and dramatic, and the other blows.

But don't over-do it. Its easy to shout everything in a pulp game as if IT! ALL! HAD! EXCLAMAtION! POINTS! but that'll get old for all of us. Sometimes, yeah, its "Science!" and not "science", but the system will make things pulp-y without having to push it. Indiana Jones is interesting not because he is square-jawed and impossible to knock out with a punch, but in spite of those things. Indestructible heroes are harder to make interesting. Its harder to create an actual character in pulp who isn't one-dimensional and gimmicky - but its more fun if you do.

The Princess

It is three years ago.

The Last War has only recently ended, but as she steps onto one of her father's ships to sail to Karrnath, seemingly a world away, Princess Anezka isn't thinking about war. She is thinking about her soon-to-be-husband - some grim Karrnathi nobleman named Kronan, known only for his age, his military power, and his inability to find a suitable woman in his own damn country.

The offer of marriage arrived during the Last War, and Anezka had hoped that her father, Prince Rahn of Traglorn and Tempest Isles, had entirely forgotten about the offer.

Clearly, he had not.

Anezka is young enough, and more importantly, unpredictable enough, to still travel with her Nurse, an older woman of great faith and wisdom named Skaina. She is a common woman with an uncommon secret, which she has passed on to Anezka alone among Rahn's many children sired with many wives.

Tucked beneath a false board in one of the ornate trunks carrying her clothing, even now being loaded onto the Dread Spray, her father's fastest ship, is a dagger of mage-hardened onyx. Its pommel is a gaping, fanged mouth. Blood-thirst is its most recent name, thought it has borne many in the past. It is the symbol of the secret, handed down from Skaina to Anezka, many nights ago, when she was initiated...

Into the Blood of Vol.

Now the Dread Spray will carry her away to her intended husband, a man she has never met, but whose image, sent with a polite letter, left her quite cold. This Kronan is a powerful man, but one lacking ambition. Anezka is a Princess of Lhazaar, daughter of Princes and Kings before them, daughter of pirates and brigands and explorers.

She has enough ambition for both of them. Marriage or no marriage, she would make her father notice, make the world notice. She is not a prize to be handed off, a political favor, an offering.

If anyone is going to choose who the offering is, it will be Anezka. Blood will flow, and death will have dominion.