Saga-Style Campaign Play pt. 1: Setting Up a Game, Characters, and Moderating the Session-to-Session Story

So first, quick update:
  • The Cleric Replacement Project will be returning completely rethought.
  • Once I get more work done on my current rulesbrew, I'll be finishing Revelations of the Mononoke-Hime & the Psionic Wasteland.
  • Heaven Burned & Bless'd, my Dragon Bride project, will be huge for me and coming out sometime next year. So will my rulesbrew as an actual system.
  • The Exploring Characters Series is over. The next part of that project will be creating the overall structure of the game, as well as more classes.
This is just to update some people that've asked me if I'll finish any of these projects or not.

I did a post a few thousand years ago about playing RPGs in a style that produces Norse Saga-style stories.  I want to revisit this concept with more detail to make it something usable. I suggest reading the linked blog post, because I don't want to repeat a lot of what I already wrote. But to recap the most important points:
  1. The game takes place over several generations or is very episodic.
  2. Characters do not develop, but they do die or disappear.
  3. Characters die a lot.
  4. Characters are not nobodies, but instead chosen by gods or born special.
These 4 tenets can be clearly seen in a variety of Norse sagas. Let me clarify the 4th point a bit more.

art-shannonigans: Rebecca YanovskayaĆ¢†’Winged... | Pipistrella Felix
What I'd give to have Rebecca Yanovskaya do art for this project.

A saga is not a story about random people. In every saga, the start of it includes some godly interference or otherwise special birthing. The Volsunga are literally related to Odin, and he chooses them as a family to harvest warriors from.

This means sagas are not about:
  • Some bastards trying to get rich.
  • Some bastards clearing out dungeons.
  • Some bastards trying to reverse the Death Curse.
  • Some bastards randomly sucked into Ravenloft.
  • Some bastards trying to steal the painting of the Maze of the Blue Medusa.
A saga can and should include some of the above. But those situations are not the core of what Saga-style play is about. THIS MEANS THAT SAGA-STYLE PLAY IS NOT FOR EVERY TABLE.

I suggest you attempt Saga-style play if you meet any of the below criteria:
  • You and your table want to make an epic of some sort.
  • You and your table want to play lots of mid-high tier characters over a length of time.
  • You and your table want to do something like an alternative to a West Marches campaign.
  • You have a bunch of random modules you want to string together.
  • You want to explore a setting in a different and new way.
  • You and your table want to do a series of heroic tales.
In short, Sagas are the heroic version of West Marches. I don't expect everyone to enjoy Saga-style play, just the same as I don't expect everyone to enjoy reading actual Sagas. 

So then, how to mechanically play Saga-style? Below, an outline for this blog post:
  1. Setting Up the Game
  2. Creating Characters
  3. Session-to-Session dynamic
Keep in mind, I have not personally played all the content in this blog post, and this is an early draft. I plan on cleaning this up, testing it out, and making it into a booklet one day. Feel free to riff off of this material and to use it as is, but I do plan to make it into a product.

This is part 1 of the series. Part 2 will include a fuckton of plot points for different aesthetics/settings. If there are more parts in the future, they'll be linked here.



STEPS FOR SETTING UP THE GAME

Step 1: As a group, decide what kind of aesthetic you're searching for.

Saga-style play can happen in any setting, from cyberpunk to norse mythos to veins of the earth stuff. Where you decide is important for the next few steps.

Step 2: Choose or outline a number of very powerful and threatening beings to have in your saga.

For the Volsunga Saga, we have a dragon, valkyries, and kings. You need stuff like that. If you were to do this with Frostbitten & Mutilated you have 3 witches, an undead king, and two apocalyptic gods to use. If you were to do this with Veins of the Earth you have the anti-phoenix, weird nightmare elves, and the rapture to play with. Notably, this won't work with some adventures. The Tomb of Horrors or Against the Giants or White Plume Mountain won't work with this. But, these modules can be dropped into a saga as a portion of it, albeit shortened. Most adventure paths from Paizo or WotC won't work; they are completed stories and you have to butcher the story up in order to make it fit in a Saga-style game. Other than these major enemies, all other enemies require only one successful hit to kill. Your players will be cutting through great swathes of foes until they get to the Big Guy (TM).

Step 3: Decide what your Saga is about.

A family being harvested for Ragnorak? A family trying to become great? A family trying to get revenge or get something back? Have a d6 table to decide if you can't think up anything:
  1. A deific being puts obstacles before the family in order to turn them into heroes for some other purpose.
  2. A family has had something important taken from them, and must deal with the consequences of losing it, and of getting it back.
  3. A family has been scattered to the winds and must regroup to bring order back to something.
  4. Some power has blessed the family, and that blessing will be stolen if not defended by completing different obstacles.
  5. A family wishes to become great rulers over something else.
  6. A family has been cursed and must, over generations, eventually break the curse.
Step 4: Generate a handful of plot points to start the game with.

Sagas are heavily plot-based. You should have a number of tables, or a nice d100 table, to roll plot points on. To begin with, you'll roll on this table 2-4 times. This will produce a number of plot points for you to build sessions around, and give you ideas for where to bring material in. This also means that Saga-style play has a slight railroad built into it. The fun is having a plot point, introducing it, and seeing how the party interacts with it, then introducing the next organically from that. For groups who don't prefer overarching plots, or for groups who want to do whatever the hell they want to do, Saga-style play is not for them. This is not to be confused for this being a full railroad or a novel or w/e. Plot points are things like "Odin puts a sword into a tree and one day a PC will pull it out, becoming a hero," or "A dragon will kidnap one of the PC's loved ones, and the PC will have to figure out a way to get them back." These plot points are basically adventure seeds being tied into a generational campaign. When you finish using your first 2-4 pre-rolled plot points, either roll for more or create them based on what's happening in the game.

Step 5: Create NPCs to randomly drop into the game. (Optional)

This part is more important than it sounds. While impromptu NPCs are perfect for all kinds of games, for a Saga-style thing, you should create a suite of NPCs to be able to drop at the ready. You don't need to introduce them all at once, or even introduce all of them, but it'll help you moderate the saga by creating NPCs already.

Image result for Rebecca Yanovskaya

CREATING CHARACTERS FOR SAGA-STYLE PLAY

If you are playing a game other than the one I am creating, follow the below points:
  • All characters should be mid-high tier characters. This means 9th+ for most kinds of D&D, etc.
  • All characters must be related to one another either through blood or some kind of favorable history.
  • All characters should be roughly special. Jarls, fallen Valkyrie, exiled monarchs, princes, demi-gods, what have you. 
  • No character should last more than 2-4 sessions if you are doing standard generational play.
  • Players should have whatever mundane equipment they want, from full plate to cool weapons to hirelings, etc. If you want to put a maximum on this, take whatever it is they start with in terms of currency and multiply that by 20.
The above 4 points are pretty simple. With these, be it Lamentations of the Flame Princess, B/X, D&D 5E, L5R, Traveller, the Witcher, etc, you should be able to make characters fitting for a Saga-style campaign.

Note This for Generational Play: Regardless of the system you're playing, expect to run through 5-10 characters each during the length of the campaign. Some will be written off. Others will die. Every 2-4 sessions though, everyone should be playing something else, and the timeline moved forward to accompany this.

If you do want to play with the rulesbrew I am creating:

Establish the following:
  • Saves & 4th Attribute.
  • A death mechanic, if any.
  • Keywords. You'll want around 50 instead of the normal 20, given the amount of PCs you'll be going through.
  • Classes
I'll be making a Saga-style Hero CAT (Character Advancement Table) at a later date for this.

There will be rewards for your characters.

Roll for the type of the reward below.
  1. A magical weapon.
  2. A magical trinket.
  3. A blessing of some sort.
  4. A reward in the form of castles, land, or hirelings.
You should create a number of tables for each one of these things. You will roll on them before the beginning of each session; these are potential rewards to give to your players.

Note This for Generational Play: Characters do not level up in Saga-style play. They do not gain XP, they do not gain new class features, they only gain new rewards in the form of the above. 

Note This for Same Caste Play: Characters will level up every 2-4 sessions, or otherwise gain some new features to show their progress.

Writing Off Your Characters: If you need some inspiration or help doing so, roll on the table below.
  1. And so X ruled until their eventual death.
  2. And so X exited the story.
  3. And so X died soon after.
  4. And so X was no longer the center of the story.
  5. And so X married Y and lived peacefully.
  6. And so X was slain by Y.
It's simple stuff, really. The circumstances of the game can probably lead to more interesting ways of writing off characters.

If you want, you can also have a time-limit on characters. This is how many sessions you can play the character before having to write it off. If you go this route, then roll 1d4 when you make the character. The number rolled is the number of sessions before they are written off.

New Character Relationships: For determining how your next character is related to the rest, roll on the following table.
  1. The child of the player sitting to my left.
  2. The child of the player sitting to my right.
  3. The new spouse of the player sitting across from me.
  4. An ally of the original family.
  5. Someone in love with, awed by, or who greatly respects the player sitting left to the GM.
  6. Someone who owes a great debt to the player sitting to the right of the GM.
If a character ever dies mid-session: Roll up the next one and introduce it that same session.

There are some sagas that feature the same character or cast for a long time. Beowulf, for example, or the stories of Odin and co. For these types of sagas, you are basically doing episodic generations, where every 2-4 sessions the entire backdrop changes but the cast remains the same. 

Image result for Rebecca Yanovskaya

SESSION-BY-SESSION PLAY

Your game will need a starting situation. Use the plot points you rolled for this. Each subsequent session should be themed around another plot point. If you want, you can put multiple plot points into a session. That is fine, but keep in mind that for every plot point that the table decides is "handled," there will be a timeskip.

Timeskips are important. A Saga will spread outwards for generations. At the end of each session, the table has 2 options: timeskip forward, or continue playing in this same era. If you can't decide, roll a dice, evens being timeskip and odds being same era.

If a timeskip happens before a plot point is resolved, that plot point is now the problem for the next generation of characters. It's up to the table or GM to decide why the plot point was not resolved. Remember you do not have to timeskip in between sessions. However there should be a time-skip every 2-4 sessions. The goal is not to spend too much time with a specific generation.

Whenever there is a timeskip, characters should be written off and replaced. It is valid to keep 1 character around, if the table prefers. My suggestion is that during the campaign, each player can keep 1 character alive from generation to generation, so everyone has that opportunity.

How long is the timeskip for? Roll on the table below.
  1. 1d4+1 years.
  2. 1d10+2 years.
  3. 1d4 decades.
  4. The same year, but with completely different characters separate from the current cast.
Do not apply timeskips if using the same cast of characters

Once all plot points are resolved from the batch you already rolled them in, either roll new plot points or create some of your own. I suggest rolling, usually, because it creates a constraint of "how do I make this work?" and I like that constraint.

The purpose of plot points is to stretch out the original cast's goal over several generations. If there comes a point where the table wants the saga to end, don't roll more plot points. Instead, for the next 1 or 2 sessions, have this cast of character tie up their family's saga.

During each session, players should get some of the rewards you rolled up. Characters, by time they are written-off, will be kinda' loaded with new shit, but that's the point of their individual legend.

Note This: Sessions are fast-paced. In one-session, a lot should happen. Killing a dragon, marrying a queen, and losing the kingdom in one-session should not be a strange occurrence. Stretching these sessions into short chapters or arcs of 2-4 in length is the sole reason that generations tend to last 2-4 sessions long. But in that handful of sessions, an entire story, somewhat focused, should be played out.

Keep track of events in each sessions so you can bring them up later. A simple 1-sentence summary for each major event will go a long way in making the whole saga feel consistent.

Combat rounds, if your system of choice has that, should only exist when fighting something big, like a king or a dragon. If fighting minions and "going back and forth through their ranks" (a common Norse saga phrase), there's no combat round really, just attacking and dealing with the situation as it comes.

If you want to introduce other modules into a saga, you have 3 clear options. There might be more, but these are the 3 I'm thinking on.
  1. Shorten the module so that it can be completed in 1 session.
  2. Have that entire module be that generation's story for 2-4 sessions.
  3. Have that module be the entire backdrop for the saga.
The above frameworks should make Saga-style fairly compatiable with whatever modules you want t to run.

Image result for Rebecca Yanovskaya


SO that's it for part 1. A doozy, this post. I'll be testing this out a bit, but I'm always open to feedback.


Exploring Characters pt. 6: Sample Class - the Bastard

Alright, time to make a class. Or a role. An archetype? I'm not sure, but class works for now. First, the class, then below that I'll go over my thought process on why I made it the way I did.

The Bastard
You're not a good person. You might be compassionate, you might be kind, you might be gentle, but deep down, you will lie, cheat, and steal whenever you have to if it means getting what you want. Some bastards are thieves, and they do well. Other bastards are assassins, or wilderness guides, or snake oil salesmen all. But wise men the world round understand that bastards can be as useful as they are dangerous.

Image result for Harrison Ford art
If Harrison Ford has played it, that character has been a Bastard.

Roll 1d6 on the following tables.

What's Your Game?
Each roll on this table will give you a Class Ability from your Class Advancement Table (CAT). Reference the table with the appropriate # received. If no options fit, make up your own and choose a Class Ability from CAT numbers 51-70

  1. Thievery can make a man rich if he knows how to flip his wares fast enough. Start with Class Ability 57-58.
  2. Lead someone through the dark parts of a city, or some dank forest, and let fortune line my pockets. Start with Class Ability 55-56.
  3. This here vial, see how purple it is? A sign of God, surely. Drink it, it'll take all your ills away. Start with Class Ability 61-63.
  4. Fickle, life. Easy to take. Never cheap, though. Never cheap at all. Start with Class Ability 68-70. 
  5. No games, just good fuckin' times! I go in, see what I can shake up, and dip out. Start with Class Ability XX
  6. Daredevils like me live for the thrill. I don't care what gets in the way 'long as the adrenaline pumps. Start with Class Ability 59-60.
Who Wants Revenge?
The NPC rolled on this table is hot on your trail and wants nothing more than to even the score.
  1. I loved them, and I loved a few others too, and now those few others all want a piece of me.
  2. A whole town in an uproar, all over me? Best believe I'll never go back there.
  3. No, I didn't know they were the child of that crimelord. But I know now, and don't plan on ever seeing them again.
  4. It was a memento, but their lover was dead and I had a debt I needed to pay off. What's the harm of helping the living?
  5. Yeah, I killed them. Was a mistake--wrong target and all that.
  6. It was a lot of money, but there were two of us, and two shares is always better than one. They knew it was all business in the end.
Name Your Contact
Name the NPC you roll on the following table. This NPC is a contact you know will always help you with something specific.
  1. They trade in exotic insects from some strange place. Runs a whole den dedicated to getting bit and tripping out. Says you can see the future, for the right price.
  2. Not quite sure if they're human or not. Blue-green skin, black eyes all around. But they know ways I don't, ways into places and ways out too.
  3. Farmer turned warlord turned fucking city watch. Not the most illustrious career, but when muscle is needed, good hell do they raise it.
  4. Not sure if I'd call them a priest, a cultist, or a monk. Something different, I'm sure. But ask them three questions and give a special tithe, and they'll ask a god those questions and give you back three answers.
  5. I've betrayed this one catspaw more times then I can count. Each time, they help me still. Got a dirty favor and I'll pass it on.
  6. Top to bottom the whole organization is screwed. They owe me two more favors, so long as they involve a prized painting or a ring made out of saint bone.

Starting Equipment
You start with 10d10x5 currency, all of it a loan from someone who wants it paid back sooner rather than later. Additionally, you start with the following:
  • (a) a false identity and supporting documents or (b) 3 vials of poison, one of which robs sight, another speech, and another their memories of a loved one
  • (a) a pair of gloves that make it so your touch can't be felt or (b) a pair of boots that make no sound
  • a dagger, knife, or other short-bladed weapon. you always have one, even when you lose it or are stripped of everything.
  • traveling gear containing the basics for your world, though missing either (a) a pillow (b) something to sleep in or (c) an additional set of clothing

THE BASTARD CAT
Below is your Class Advancement Table (CAT) for the Bastard Class. Spend 1 XP to roll on it randomly, or XP equal to the 10's digit/2 (rounded up) for a specific roll. If the option has more numerous slots on the table, choose the 10s digit of the highest number.

1-20: HD increases by 1. Roll again and add 20 to the roll unless you choose this option from #50.
21-30: Add +1 to all saving throws.
31-40: 1+your level of hirelings are attracted to you by reputation alone.
41-49: When you roll for a keyword, roll an additional 1d20.
50: Choose any of the options between 1-49, then roll again, adding +50 to your roll if it's 50 or below.
51-52: Secret Smeller - You got a nose for secretive and hidden things. When you enter a room, you spot a hidden door, secret chest or safe, or a trap of the Referee's choice. If you reroll this, you can spot 1 additional thing.
53-54: Contacts on Every Continent - You gain an additional contact of your choice every time you roll this option.
55-56: Dangerphobia - When something hostile or dangerous happens, you can escape it's attention so long as you have a reasonable way to do so and until it starts looking for you specifically. You can extend this benefit to an additional person whenever you reroll this.
57-58: Second-Story Work - When you see something you want to steal in a building, ruin, or otherwise guarded area, roll 1d10. If you spend that many days studying the thing's security, you learn both all the details about it and a single potential way to get around them. Subtract 1 from your 1d10 roll for every time that you reroll this.
59-60: Danger Sense - Whenever you enter into a room, street, or otherwise new area, you know one of the following details: if something is watching you specifically, if something is following you, or if something is dangerous is waiting for you. If you reroll this, choose 1 additional option.
61-63: Counterfeit Tongue - When talking to a specific person or an audience, as long as no one in that audience contradicts you, you can convince them that any one thing you have has one of the following properties: is worth a king's crown, was sanctified by a major religious figure, can cure any ill, or can bring good fortune to the buyer. This works 1d6 times on an audience and anyone in it, afterwards they no longer believe you. If you reroll this, it will work +1 additional times.
64-67: An Eye for Debauchery - When you meet someone new and talk to them for at least 10 minutes, you learn one of the following details about this: which of the seven deadly sins they most frequently commit, one vice they are addicted too, or one dangerous act they are willing to indulge in. If you reroll this, you can learn 1 additional detail.
68-70: Throat-Slitter - When someone or something is completely unaware of you and you know how to kill it, roll a Savvy Check. On a success, you kill that thing.
71-72: Bad Luck Bares Baby - Whenever someone rolls a 13 or a total of 13 on any check, you cause that person to fail their check. Every time you reroll this, you can choose one of the following numbers instead: 0, 3, 7, 20, 66, or 100.
72-76: Weird Stealer - You've stolen a single estoery of your choice.
76-80: Archthief - You gain one of the following benefits: you can scale walls or cliffs without rope or handhelds, you can hide inside of shadows as if they were utter darkness, you can open any lock, you can pick any pocket, or you can leave no trace of your passing. If you reroll this, gain an additional option.
81-82: The Bastard with a Thousand Faces - Create a new identity, complete with 2 keywords. When you adopt this identity, replace up to 2 of your keywords with these additional keywords. It requires at least an hour of makeup and focus to change identities. If you reroll this, gain an additional identity and another 32 keywords.
83-84: Lucky Flashback - Roll 1d4 at the start of a game session. During that session, you can have a flashback that number of times, explaining why you are prepared for whatever situation you are in. If you reroll this, increase the die size by 1 step. The flashback has to include screwing someone over.
85-86: Trap God - You can construct any trap of your choosing as long as you have 30 minutes and the materials on hand. Additionally, any trap you come across, you know how to disable it if given at least a single minute of uninterrupted work. If you reroll this, reduce the number of minutes needed to make a trap by 5.
87-90: 9 Lives Jack - You've got 9 lives, and you've used 1d4 of them. When you would normally die, you can instead fake your death and reenter any following scene in any manner that you choose. If you reroll this, ignore the roll and roll again on the Bastard CAT.
91: The Trick to Every Trick - Roll 1d4 at the start of your game session. You succeed on that many Savvy checks that you would otherwise fail during that session. If you reroll this, increase the die size by 1 step.
92: One Heist Under my Belt - You have already stolen a veritable fortune. Whoever wants revenge on you knows this, but no one else does. Roll a Savvy check whenever you spend from this endless well of money. On a failure, whoever wants revenge against you has gained 1d6 allies that know about your fortune. If you reroll this, roll again on the Bastard Cat.
93: Deal With a Devil - You've made a deal with something, not someone, very, very bad. Work out the details of the deal with the Referee. The deal must involve somehow involving the entire party. The thing will always uphold their end of the deal. If you reroll this, work out another deal with the Referee. 
94: They Shot First - When you attack, kill, or otherwise hurt someone or something, you can shift all the blame onto them if less than 1d10 witnesses saw you. If you reroll this, decrease the die size by 1 step.
95: Copycat - Choose another Class Ability from a different classes CAT that is 70 or lower every time you roll this ability.
96: A Twist of Fate - Whenever you die, you can twist the skeins of fate. As a result of your death, all other PCs at the table will critically succeed on their next roll. If you reroll this, they gain an additional critical success.
97: Death Stealer - When you see a someone or something do damage, you can steal that method of doing damage for yourself. You can use this method, dealing the same number of damage dealt, 1d4 times. Increase the die size by 1 step for every time you reroll this.
98: A Set of Royal Pardons - You have a set of pardons from a regional ruler that is well-respected. You can use these to commit 1d4+1 crimes without receiving punishment. If you reroll this, you get another 1d4 pardons.
99: Prayer From Their Lips - You've stolen a prayer from someone. When you recite this prayer, roll a d100. If you roll under your total number of HD + Keywords + Spent XP, that prayer comes true. If you reroll this, you get another prayer.
00: The Bastard's Bastards - You've established a syndicate, mafia, black network, or cabal of followers. You have 1d10+7 followers and a secret headquarters at a place of your choosing. For each follower, roll on the Bastard CAT twice and assign a single keyword. They will remain loyal to you until someone makes them a better offer. If you reroll this, you gain an additional 1d6 followers.



Image result for grey mouser art
Grey Mouser is a Bastard too.

DESIGN NOTES

The Bastard is my replacement for thieves, rogues, and certain types of specialists. I wanted, in my game, for people who go outside the law and fuck others over to be the thing, as that has a lot of open space to explore and can allow for thieves, assassins, tricksters, daredevils, etc. The name comes from the idea of people seeing this character and saying to themselves "that's one hell of a bastard."

Narrative examples are Han Solo, Indiana Jones, the Grey Mouser, and even Conan if you just have a high Athletics attribute.

A big inspiration was the real life Julie d'Aubigny, who was a duelist-opera singer who slept with nuns and beat up nobles. She's pretty dope, and is the type of character I'd like to play.

The three tables are for building a compelling character pretty quickly, as well as giving the Referee some ideas to play with and your character an ability at start. They'll change for each class, but will follow a rough guideline of:

Table 1: An ability is given
Table 2: An immediate conflict with the external world
Table 3: An immediate ally or thing that can help them in specific situations.

For OSR games, this means starting characters, though still fast to make, have a little bit more oomph to them then compared to, say, a B/X or Into the Odd or Lamentations character. It's not enough, I believe, to push them into 5E territory, and most of it is circumstantial, but it's something to think about.

Starting equipment is an excuse to inject more flavor into a class. Options are given so that not every Bastard starts the same.

The Bastard CAT has 25 Bastard-specific options on it in total. Options 51-70 are considered "basic" stuff for the class, hence their bigger weights. Options 71-80 are more advanced, with the 80s options being very advanced. Options 91-100 are all special; things that put your Bastard firmly in the "they have one really special" thing status as composed to the other 15 "common Bastard" things.

Most of the options aren't gamebreaking, and only a few require rolls. Most of these features are things the Bastard can just do, or things that give the Bastard some kind of material edge. With how their CAT is set up, a Bastard is not so much about combat but more about of multi-purpose tools they can approach situations over. Most of them will make them enemies; this is intended.

You'll notice HD and saves is missing. An HD for all classes is a d6, which can change from certain class-specific CATs. Saves are discussed in the previous blog post.

Let's roll up a sample bastard.

I roll for the 3d6 a 3, 4, and 6.

Let's say I start with 2 XP. I spend them and get an 83 and 88.

The two keywords I've chosen will be from the Cyberpunk list, and I rolled a 2 and 16.

Image result for female cyberpunk art artstation
This is a good pic for a Cyberpunk Bastard. By Adrian Dadich.

Name: B-TREY EL-Series #147, "Teresa"
Keywords: Back alley Doctor, A.I
HD: 1
Hit Points: 4
Saves:

  • Hacked: 2-in-6
  • Techno-Dooms: 1-in-6
  • Humanity: 1-in-6
Attributes:
  • Athletics: 8
  • Savvy: 10
  • Weird: 9
  • Punk (Cyberpunk specific attribute): 15


What's Your Game? 
I sell fake medicines and trojan horses to my consumers. I'm constantly changing shop for when the heat gets too high.

Who Wants Revenge?
Dataeyed Jones. I stole a meteor-gold locket of him and his dead wife while he was under the knife and sold it to pay off a freedom debt to the company that made me. He wants to break me apart and sell me now.

Name Your Contact
Wendigo Corp. They're corrupted and fucked top to bottom, but as long as I give them a ring made out of 100% organic bone (a fucking rarity) they'll do me any two favors I ask.

Loadout

  • A false identity as a human woman whom works as a tattoo artist.
  • A pair of gloves that makes it so my touch can't be felt.
  • Traveling gear missing a pillow.
  • A scalpel, laser-sharp.


Bastard CAT Abilities
Counterfeit Tongue - When talking to a specific person or an audience, as long as no one in that audience contradicts you, you can convince them that any one thing you have has one of the following properties: is worth a king's crown, was sanctified by a major religious figure, can cure any ill, or can bring good fortune to the buyer. This works 1d6 times on an audience and anyone in it, afterwards they no longer believe you. If you reroll this, it will work +1 additional times.

Lucky Flashback - Roll 1d4 at the start of a game session. During that session, you can have a flashback that number of times, explaining why you are prepared for whatever situation you are in. If you reroll this, increase the die size by 1 step. The flashback has to include screwing someone over.

9 Lives Jack - You've got 9 lives, and you've used of them. When you would normally die, you can instead fake your death and reenter any following scene in any manner that you choose. If you reroll this, ignore the roll and roll again on the Bastard CAT.


Took me all of 5 minutes to make what an experienced Bastard. Hopefully others find it as intuitive and easy to make characters as I did, and can use the prompts therein to make their games shine.

Exploring Characters pt.5: Saves

Saving throws are nebulous but I like them as categories because they help define the dangers players will face in the world. I operate under the following (common) school of thought:

  • A saving throw should only be made as a reaction to something happening.
  • A saving throw should only be called for if the players do not have time to come up with their own response to the danger.
  • A saving throw should always incur an extreme penalty, such as death or some other severe condition.
These three rules make saving throws basically the player's defense against insta-death, mind dominance, etc. They also are the results of split-second mistakes.

Not a saving throw!

Examples of things that do not require a saving throw:
  • Stepping on a pressure plate-related trap.
  • A medusa's petrification.
  • Someone hurdling a fireball at you.
  • A curse being played on you.
Why?
  • A pressure plate can not only be discovered, but lots of common RPG traps mean that stepping on it triggers the moment your foot comes off. This leaves the player room to solve the issue.
  • A medusa can be combated a lot of ways--I mean, there is an entire legend built around it. Improper research into a threat is not grounds to require a saving throw.
  • Lumping this in with the curse: ways to counter magic, break spells, or otherwise defend one's self from magic should be built into any good magic system. These should not (usually) require saving throws.
So then, what does require a saving throw?
  • Someone surprise-assassinating you.
  • Poisons and diseases.
  • Doing something to save your life in a split-second, such as when falling off a cliff and grabbing the ledge, or when being sucked into something,

Why?
  • No matter what precautions you make, a skilled assassin will find a way in. It'll be down to luck and reflex to stop it from killing you.
  • Poisons and diseases are much the same. Though precautions can be taken against them, it's pretty easy for DM fiat to lead to some pretty unavoidable cases, requiring a save.
  • Falling off of a cliff or being sucked into hell or something like that requires a split-second reaction, regardless of what equipment you have in many cases. Thus, save.

The pattern here is that the first four examples don't kill you instantly. Or, if they do, they are well-telegraphed (the Medusa). The other three examples have little to any counterplay the players can indulge in, thus, saving throws.

Categories & the d6

As mentioned earlier, I prefer categories over stat-based saves. As there are only 4 attributes, I don't think having 5 save categories is the move. I suggest 3 total. These  should change depending on setting, and thus there are no "generic saves" like in B/X. Different saves inform the players of the world and the dangers/obstacles therein. Below are some examples of world-based saving throws.

Image result for boromir falls to shadow
Boromir failed his saving throw vs Shadow, got him killed.

Tolkien Fantasy
  • Shadow - Save vs Corruption/Evil of the Heart
  • Poisons - There are fell weapons, such as those of the Nazgul, which are poisoned.
  • Doom - Effects or things that kill you instantly, like falling off cliffs, etc.
Dark Sun/Psionic Wastelands
  • Hellscape - Sometimes Athas (or your wasteland of choice) gets stupid fucking hot, or some other grizzly aspect of the hellscape acts up. This is a save against these sudden, random evils.
  • Defiling - To resist having your life force sucked out and used as a spell.
  • Raid - To survive a sudden raid while sleeping, or an assassination attempt.
Revelations of the Mononoke-Hime
  • Hate - Hate can turn any man or god into a demon. This is a save made to rebuke that. Also to make things not hate you specifically if they become a demon.
  • Rifle - For defending yourself from a sure-kill rifle shot, or surviving the poisoning it spreads throughout your body.
  • Sudden Death - Some gods, like the Great Forest Spirit, can just kill you if they want. This is to avoid these dooms.
Related image
Lady Eboshi failed her saving throw vs Hate

Cyberpunk
  • Hacked - Sometimes hacking just happens and it's up to whatever defenses you got innately to stop it.
  • Techno-Dooms - Not things like falling off a cliff, but grenades, viruses, being hit by a fucking car, you know.
  • Humanity - Made whenever you receive a new implant. If you fail a certain number of these, your character is effectively no longer human/a PC.

So with the above set-up, you only have 3 things you know you'll have to save from, meaning that while rolling can get you out of some pinches, it's largely up to your own problem-solving ability + your own choices in-character to survive/navigate the worlds of your campaign.


Saving throws are made on 1d6. You start with a 2-in-6 chance for one save category of your choices and 1-in-6 for the other two. The referee chooses if saves are made ascending or descending (as in, 1-in-6 being a save on a 1 or a 6). When you roll +1 to saves on the CAT, you increase one saving throw of your choice by +1. If a save is ever raised to six, when you roll it, roll 2d6, failing on snake eyes (double 1's).

This is basically a slightly modified skill system as seen in Lamentations of the Flame Princess. I love the X-in-6 mechanic and think it works well for saves. I've been using the 2d6=snake eyes for my in-house A Red & Pleasant Land campaign to great success.