Ideas for "Descent" option in addition to Transcendence?

Started by jb.teller4, January 19, 2010, 06:06:05 PM

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I've been thinking about games or stories where there's the temptation to gain power or favors or whatever at the cost of "humanity" (I'm using that word very loosely here and it can be substituted with lots of other concepts depending on the setting).  For example, from the previews it looks like the upcoming Dresden Files RPG has a balance between power and free will (each stunt taken lowers Fate Point Refresh and if Refresh equals 0, then the character is no longer human enough to have free will and so isn't a playable character). 

In Solar System, there are two possible conclusions for a character's story: Transcendence or death (am I missing something here?).  What about adding a "Descent" option?  In keeping with SS philosophy in general (as I understand it), it would be completely voluntary and something the player chose to go along with.  Also, this isn't tied to a particular setting idea yet, so don't get caught up in my word choices.  Really I just am thinking about adding a Descent/"Fall into Darkness" option of character arc conclusion in addition to Transcendence.  I also want "Descent" and Transcendence to not be mutually exclusive right up until the end when you actually Descend or Transcend.  Also, I would want Descent to be just as fun and rewarding a conclusion as Transcendence and not a punishment or failure.  In fact, the narrative tension between the two possibilities is the main reason I'd find something like this interesting in play.

I have only very rough ideas how to do it and I'm very interested if: a) anyone's done something like this before, b) anyone has any ideas how to do it, and/or c) if this is really already covered by SS and what's needed is a perspective change rather than a mechanic.

So I'm thinking there'd be some benefit that characters could take that relates to whatever the campaign's theme of "descent" would be (like the Dark Side of the Force in Star Wars).  This could be Secrets that are easy to take (generally not requiring a teacher or other narrative justification) and can be taken at any time, even just before conflicts.  Or it could be something other than Secrets, like some one-time narrative or mechanical effect, a special Ability, a special Pool, or something else clever that hasn't occurred to me. 

Whatever they were, there'd be some sort of threshold that if you crossed it (got a certain number of these Secrets, rolled Transcendence on that certain Ability, depleted that Pool or raised it to a certain level, etc.) you'd Descend.  It would be similar to Transcendence, really, especially in giving great narrative control and world-changing authority to the player for that scene, with the main difference being that it would be your character's Fall. 

Anyway, any thoughts or suggestions?

John B.
John B.


My understanding of Transcendance is that it is mechanical rather than voluntary. If a PC gets a Transcendent result (7+) on a check, which is only possible if the PC has an ability at Grandmaster (4), then he Transcends. This happens either at the end of the scene or at the end of the session.

The general fictional effect of Transcendance is that the character breaks the reality of the setting in such a way to make an indelible mark on it. Whether that change is good or bad really depends on the circumstances under which the check was made, I suppose. Whatever the case, the character is out of the game. Whether than means he dies, retires or literally ascends to heaven depends entirely what is appropriate for the fiction of the game. Regardless, his part in the game is over.

Now, I suppose you could interpret Transcendance as a "Descent". For example, the character commits an atrocity with his Transcendant check result, an act so vile that he is forever warped by the experience and goes mad (i.e. becomes unplayable). I think this kind of Descent is fitting for certain settings (Anakin Skywalker's transformation into Darth Vader in the Star Wars saga comes to mind), but may not be for everyone.

In addition, a character who Transcended in the context of committing an incredibly good deed might "Ascend" in the fiction. Perhaps Anakin resists the temptation of the Dark Side and destroys the Emperor (like he eventually does). So you have the possibility of two outcomes on a Transcendance result.

I'd be cautious of tying unplayability to Pool depletion as Solar System is designed to have Pools fluctate during the course of play. You want to encourage the players to use Pool so that they can frame Refreshment scenes to get it back.

Otherwise, I suppose you could have some kind of Key that provides Xp when you do evil things (or are tempted to do evil things?). That wouldn't result in unplayability, though, just the temptation to do things that would lead to a Descent in the fiction. However, you could make the Key a prerequisite for purchasing evil Secrets. If you lose the Key (redemption?), you lose the Secrets.

Eero Tuovinen

Ha, I like this topic. Here's my take:

Transcendence is voluntary in that it is associated with a mechanical situation that cannot be enforced by any player except the character's player; you have to improve an Ability to Grandmaster (4) before it can happen. Furthermore, Transcendence is ambivalent: sometimes you might not want it for your character when you're acting for his "best interests". Also, it's up to the player to decide whether and how his character is aware of Transcendence as a phenomenon, based on the setting and fiction in general of course. In my play this has ranged from Transcendence being totally meta-game to characters actually having skills related to it. So in one situation a "Transcendence" might be little more than a severance of the player-character relationship, while the character continues in the fiction as a NPC, while in another scenario Transcendence might be a separate state of being in the setting, something the characters in the setting have given a name for.

Death, on the other hand, is ambivalent in the sense that in almost all situations, but not all, the player, again acting for his character's best interests, will have the character try to avoid it. Death is also involuntary in that the player does not have direct and absolute control over the conditions where it happens, except insofar as our choice of genre and the Story Guide's dramatic coordination never bring about a situation where the player would be truly coerced into having his character die.

The most fundamental difference between death and transcendence in the rules of the game is that the player of a dying character does not get to dictate the end to the story, while the player of a transcending character very much does. In fact, the two conditions are mirror images of each other in this way: by transcending your character gets supreme control and responsibility for the outcome of his story, while by dying he loses all control. Insofar as I'm concerned it's nothing but a minor change for the game to interpret a "dead" condition in the rules as a permanent retirement, given that it suits the genre; the important thing is not that the character has stopped breathing, but that the character no longer has agency in the situation and setting.

Now, I did a lot of twisting on these two basic endings in the World of Near. This is one of my favourites:

Moonman Secret
This character's death is always a valid stake in conflict, regardless of propriety. When the character dies, the player gets to narrate how one part of Near fails; might be right here, might be far away, but something was depending on him. A part of the setting is now dead. Treat this as a Transcendence narration insofar as the rest of the campaign is concerned. Requirement: only at character creation.

That's one of the more esoteric things in the book. I almost named it "Ironman Secret" (the inspiration here essentially comes from the Ironman mode prevalent in certain sorts of computer game) ;) Note how the Secret twists the death condition until it becomes almost singular with Transcendence, blurring the separation.

Also, I agree with Courage, he has good ideas there. A Transcendence doesn't have to be heroic and positive, it can be awful. I haven't seen the third new Star Wars movie, but I could see the creation of Darth Vader as a "Descent" Transcendence. I could also easily see crunch that opens up various types of Transcendence, just like the above Moonman Secret opens up a new (mandatory) type of death for the character who has it. For a stark, Faustian setting I'd definitely go with a trifold Transcendence: I'd say that the default Trancendence is just retirement from the faustian business, while a proper heavenly or hellish death scene is only available via appropriate crunch.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


I admit, I haven't really gotten across the concept of Transcendence very well. In my Werewolf game only one PC has an Ability at Grandmaster and we've discussed that if she does get a Transcendent result, we'd just say that she is able to earn a point of appropriate "Renown" and her Ability drops to Master again. I'm not sure if that is a good way to use Transcendence, but I haven't really turned my mind to what it means in the context of the game beyond that.
Quote from: Eero Tuovinen on January 21, 2010, 12:14:06 PM
Also, I agree with Courage, he has good ideas there. A Transcendence doesn't have to be heroic and positive, it can be awful. I haven't seen the third new Star Wars movie, but I could see the creation of Darth Vader as a "Descent" Transcendence. I could also easily see crunch that opens up various types of Transcendence, just like the above Moonman Secret opens up a new (mandatory) type of death for the character who has it. For a stark, Faustian setting I'd definitely go with a trifold Transcendence: I'd say that the default Trancendence is just retirement from the faustian business, while a proper heavenly or hellish death scene is only available via appropriate crunch.
Thanks Eero. Even if you haven't seen the third prequal movie, Anakin Skywalker's transformation into Darth Vader is pretty much ordained in the Star Wars setting - although it is well worth watching Revenge of the Sith to see how Lucas does it. In terms of the Solar System, I can certainly envision an ostensibly heroic PC like Anakin turning to the Dark Side out of desperation and Transcending into Darth Vader, a menacing but secretly conflicted NPC who haunts the Original Trilogy. Indeed, the orginal player of Anakin could then play Luke in a following campaign, who confronts the NPC Darth Vader, the Transcended remnant of the PC the original player played! Very cool!

I'm intrigued by this "trifold" Transcendence idea of yours. Do you have any ideas for example crunch that would set up something like this?

Eero Tuovinen

Heh, that's one wussy Transcendence, Courage. My own inclination would be something like having the character become a powerful NPC spirit or some such. Alternatively, die and get reincarnated as a badger/whatever. Of course it's up to you, but it's notable that the mechanic you have there does the opposite of the traditional Transcendence: instead of gauging the progress and end-point of the character's story it's now an Advance sink a player can trigger indefinitely. This is why I made the suggested reincarnation Transcendence mechanism in the SS booklet so harsh, so that the transcendence would be a real new starting point instead of just a bumber to bump against; nobody would trigger that Transcendence lightly.

But anyway, that's all a matter of actual play, you certainly know better what works at your table. As for Faustian Transcendence crunch, I guess I'd go with something like this:

Key of Sin (specify)
The character is currently burdened by a particular mortal sin - use Catholic theology here for the traditional take.
1xp: Commit the sin again.
2xp: Angst about your sinful ways.
5xp: Hide your sin from a concerned effort to reveal it.
Buyoff: Make up for your evil deeds.

(I could see making separate Keys for each sin if I were to play this thing - good enough for our purposes now.)

The basic premise would be that aside from naturally sinning, a Faustian demonologist would pick up these from interaction with demons, whose goal as characters would mainly be to draw the foolish mortals to Hell by getting them loaded with sins. A character might gain a Key of Sin as a part of a demonic compact, or more incidiously, as part of the demon's service - a demon delights in giving mortals their wishes in ways that encourage them in sin. They also like to lie about salvation to make mortals believe that they're already irredeemably damned. I'd expect especially powerful demons to use things like the the Secret of Imposition to outright lure mortals into sin.

Secret of Christ
The protestant method for getting rid of mortal sins. The character gives himself sincerely to Christ, who washes away his sinful ways. The character loses all of his Keys of Sin without buyoff; however, should he ever gain another Key of Sin, all of them come back and he loses this Secret. Requirement: Sincere atonement.

Secret of Priesthood
A character with this Secret has been ordained a priest of the one Catholic Church, which allows him to do sacraments with his Ritual (R) Ability. There are a bunch of these, but the important one for our purposes here is the Sacrament of Penance: with a successful Ritual (R) check the priest may force buyoff for a Key of Sin from a confessing person. The priest decides the price of penance, and the Key only goes away if the penitent performs the task given by the priest. Cost: 2 Instinct to remove a sin. Requirement: A bishop is needed to ordain a priest.

Ritual (R)
An Ability concerning knowledge and experience in various rites of western mystic tradition, including those involved in priesthood. The Ability alone is mostly useful as a scholarly thing in recognizing and describing rituals; performing them requires the right sort of spiritual authority, such as that of a priest or a bishop, depending on the ritual.

Now, those are the set-up. For game end, here's the deal: if a character in this campaign dies while he has a Key of Sin, he's going to Hell as described in a colorful and blood-curdling manner by anybody sufficiently knowful of the grim medieval Hell imagery. If a character dies while he has the Secret of Christ, he's going to Heaven in a similarly over-blown fashion, angels with trumpets and all. If a character dies without either of the above conditions being fulfilled, we won't and can't comment on his afterlife, but we might expect that he's going to Purgatory.

For a Transcendence, on the other hand - first the player has to decide whether the character dies as part of the proceedings. If he does, then the above rules hold, except the player is in full control of the narration. If he doesn't die, then the player may still utilize overt Christian imagery of Hell or Heaven if the character is saved or damned, but for one scene only. (I'd play this campaign by having all other magic in the setting be low-key, so this is the only situation where you'd get to throw up flames from Hell or whatnot.) After that one scene of badd-assitude the player would get to describe how the character's story plays out normally, but he couldn't describe death and final judgment for him; it'd have to be left ambiguous.

Also: a damned character Transcendenting could use Hell-power to accomplish various things, but should he encounter the power of Heaven, he couldn't touch that in a properly Faustian crunch landscape. So I guess you couldn't kill a character with the Secret of Christ in your Transcendence narration or stuff like that.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.