In July I finished my first non-d20 campaign. Having played in and more or less enjoyed campaigns in Fate, Icons, and a Powered by the Apocalypse system, I wanted to apply that sort of narrative, rules-light feel to a campaign in the Eight Arms universe and see how it mapped to somewhat stereotypical D&D. We’d already been giving the rules a bit of a light touch in Pathfinder and I thought running in a system that actually supported it was the next logical step. I settled on Monster of the Week as the system because it matched the feel and the presentation I wanted; most PbtA systems I see are about settings more than anything else, and finding a system that worked in multiple settings was an unexpected boon. Our group applied one of the ideas we’d had while faffing about one week, of a group of low-level folks who begrudgingly dealt with a high-magic world, and gave it a whirl.
It didn’t go great. To put it pithily, the the campaign ended more than a month ago and I’ve only recently separated myself from it enough to have a logical opinion on what happened. It was not a crushing failure, but it wasn’t a rousing success either. I went through several rounds of blaming myself, blaming the players, and blaming the system, in that order, until I think I’ve come to a point where I can look at what we did, what went wrong, and how to handle it in the future, all without burying any of the people who decide whether my characters live or die next week. My general takeaway is that while the campaign might have had its good points, this confluence of GM, player group, and play style was not a good match and I’m probably not going to do it again.
We generally accept that what’s happening on the game board isn’t necessarily exactly the same as what’s happening in the game. The most common example of this in my games is usually when minis stand in for other minis, but there are several examples enshrined in the rules: creatures aren’t actually five feet wide, they’re moving around their space looking for positioning; monsters have reach based on their size, regardless of how long the arms on their figures are; attacks that deal hit point damage don’t always draw blood, etc. In our games we’ve added a principle to this pantheon to remind us of how the narrative is playing out and encourage more interesting, dynamic play.
We call this principle “static representation of constant motion”. Continue reading
Actually I think I don’t have anything to say about this one.
You live for victory. You constantly seek to improve yourself, and your greatest triumphs come at the expense of others in your field. Your focus may be on individual accomplishment like a master of games, working with allies as in a team sport, or proving yourself in combat against ever-more-deadly threats. You won’t rest until you’re not only the best you can be, but the best in the world, with all the recognition and perks that entails.
This is the only theme I’ve written where I really, really feel like it should have an alignment restriction. I have a hard time believing a character could have this theme and remain non-good, and that bears itself out in the class features. But it is theoretically possible to take this theme and be some flavor of neutral or evil, so I’m not putting any such restriction in the rules themselves.
It’s also my first foray into Paizo-style design, where you take some existing character and try to write rules for them. I didn’t go fully down the nonsensical well of “you can play the character we had in mind and nothing else, so I hope you like Sherlock Holmes/Harry Dresden/Batman/etc.” but you can see glimmers of the character I had in mind here and there.
You’ve hurt a lot of people. Through ignorance, apathy, or outright malice you have caused a great deal of suffering, and you’ve now seen the error or your ways. Whether you want to make reparations to the families of those you killed as an assassin, fight for the rights of a race you tried to oppress or wipe out, or help the people you used to rule as an evil overlord, your journey is fueled by a need to balance the scales. You may never be forgiven, and you may be a pariah until your dying day, but you have to try.
One thing I’ve really enjoyed about themes is that multiple themes can work for the same character depending on what the character’s focus is. Consider a person who grew up in a small farming village that was wiped out by orcs. That character could be a farmer, if they want to focus on their old profession; an epicurean, if they’ve recognized how fleeting life is and want to make the most of it; an expatriate, if they want to keep their small-town lifestyle and ideals alive even after they’re forced to move to a city; a pacifist, if they’ve seen enough death for one lifetime; today’s theme, if the orc attack itself drives them forward, and so on. Each sets a different tone for the character and provides wildly different powers. It’s not as simple as “I learned to farm, so I am a farmer”. It’s more like “farming is what I want to do with my life” and deciding how that fits into an adventuring career.
Your life is defined by disaster. Some natural, magical, or monstrous tragedy left it mark on you when you were young. Whether it left you an orphan, destroyed half your town, or only affected you deeply and permanently, it still haunts you wherever you go. You aren’t proud of your scars, but they do galvanize you and give you the focus and experience you need to help others in the same situation. If you can survive the worst of your past, there’s nothing the future holds that can stop you.