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Author Topic: [In A Wicked Age ...] Particular strengths accumulating through the stories  (Read 2120 times)
Ron Edwards
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« on: April 22, 2010, 09:58:12 AM »

In hopes of generating more fun and useful discussion about In A Wicked Age, I decided to focus on a single detail of the system, and how it has been manifested and applied in our particular game. The GM has been only me so far, and the other people playing are Julie, Tod, and Maura. We've played three full stories over seven or eight sessions, and will be starting our fourth this weekend.

Not going to bother with Oracles, timeline, best interests, or even characters. Nor on resolutions, conflicts, and events. I want to focus only on particular strengths, and specifically the rules text which states:

Quote
When your character does come back:
Sort through and find her character sheet. You'll play it exactly as you last left it, except choose one:
(other options omitted)
- Give her a new particular strength, significance 1. You can create a new one or choose one that someone else has already created (provided that it's not unique and already owned).

That text applies to player-characters only, but since all player-character particular strengths are initially defined as having NPC forms as well, it seems to me that when I build NPCs for a later story, I can draw from the existing list of particular strengths too. "Can" meaning as opposed to making up new ones, which I can do as well. And in line with that, if a player makes up a new player-character for a new story, it seems to me as if he or she is free to draw from the existing particular strengths rather than make up a new one, if that's what the player wants.

I can't swear to these interpretations being correct or canonical, but that's what we've been doing, anyway.
 
So, here are our lists. After the first story:
Noble Blood, For Others/Maneuvering (consequential: For Myself/Self-Protection) 1
Absolute Self-Conviction, Directly/Action (far reaching) 1
Animating the Inanimate, For Others/Action (unique [Jila]) 1
Crush, Action (potent) 1
God, Action (consequential: For Others/Maneuver) 1
Visions, Action (far reaching) 1

I quite liked this list for the first story – it felt primal and Babylonian. I had six active NPCs, but only three had particular strengths (you can see those because no player forms are included). I did not find that this led to the other three NPCs being boring, quite the contrary, in fact.

The second story added or modified:
(modified) Animating the Inanimate, For Others/Action (unique [Jila], potent) 2
Set Fires, With Violence & For Myself /Action (broad) 1
Mendacity, Directly & For Myself/Action (broad) 1
Organizing, For Others/Maneuvering (far reaching) 1
A Great Man, Maneuvering (far reaching) 1
Weird, Self-Protection (unique [Ram Eil]) 1
Fearless, Action & Self-Protection (broad) 1
Stubborn, Self-Protection (potent) 1
Desperate, Action (consequential: Directly/Action) 1

We didn’t re-use existing particular strengths for this story (except for the returning PC) simply due to unfamiliarity with the system, but my take is that it was helpful to add lots of new items at this stage anyway. Also, only Julie re-used an existing player-character (Jila), so Tod's and Maura's new characters both introduced novel particular strengths too.

Looking over the whole list at the end of this story, I was struck by how thematic and characteristic our setting had become. The kinds of emotions, the skills involved, and the implications for setting and magic all present a distinctive look and feel for us. Whereas another game with, say, Beauty, Loving, Enchantment, and perhaps some non-unique magic item would carry a whole different connotation into later play.

Also, notice our rules error: we over-amplified the re-used character (Jila), so that’s Animating the Inanimate is too pumped-up in the new list. We did it again for two more of them in the third story, as you can see.

The third story added or modified:
(modified) Noble Blood, For Others/Maneuvering (consequential: For Myself/Self-Protection; far reaching) 2
(modified) Absolute Self-Conviction, Directly/Action (far reaching, potent) 2
Inflict Fatal Wound, With Love & With Violence / Action & Self-Protection (broad, consequential: Covertly and Self-Protection) 2
Hate, Self-Protection (potent) 1

In this case, we all studied the current list (i.e. the two above) as we made up the characters. I used a lot of existing particular strengths for NPCs, and it was fun to see stuff that had worked well for players in past games, like Mendacity and Organizing, used against them this time. A couple of existing items from older NPCs got picked up for PCs as well, most notably A Great Man, which Tod developed extensively in play.

It seems to me that the features of the particular strength rules, or rather, this particular rule about keeping the list running and drawing from it or adding to it as you go along, are apparent once you see them in action and pay attention.

1. Again, the list itself generates a particular atmosphere and a general ethical and thematic framework, which although it's not fixed in place (because you can add new ones), does inform the group's general understanding of what "abstract stuff" has already been established as interesting and important.
2. It establishes a physical and magical framework for the setting itself which I think actually creates setting as you go through the stories.
3. It offers fascinating potential for re-applications; I can't wait to see a PC take "God," for instance. Given different Oracles, different Best Interests, and different points in the developing timeline, that particular strength will be entertainingly "the same" (because of the mechanics) as well as different.

I do have a couple of questions for Vincent about this as well.

When making an NPC’s particular strength, do you name PC forms too? I suggest not. Rather, if a player-character chooses that particular strength from the list later, the player can decide what PC forms it encompasses at that time. Does that make sense?

If a particular strength was brought into the story via an NPC with the feature "unique" (as with Weird, for Ram Eil) it is limited to that character forever, right? If so, then it only comes back into play if the new story is indicated as contemporaneous with that character, and if the character-creation discussion or GM prep brings that character in. Do I have this correct?

Can an existing particular strength be utilized by more than one character in a given story? What worries me is the text in my above quote which says "provided that it's not unique and already owned," in which I think "unique" and "already owned" are referring to two different things. You see, I think it'd be cool, in a later story, to see more than one character (PC, NPC, doesn't matter) chose to use the particular strength God, for instance. Or really any of the non-unique ones, like two Absolute Convictions or two Inflict Fatal Wounds, in the same story. But is it allowed?

Oh yeah! And I've love to see anyone else's list of particular strengths as accumulated in play, preferably broken out by story as I did here.

Best, Ron
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David Artman
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« Reply #1 on: April 23, 2010, 11:36:11 AM »

Also, notice our rules error: we over-amplified the re-used character (Jila), so that’s Animating the Inanimate is too pumped-up in the new list. We did it again for two more of them in the third story, as you can see.
I don't see any errors: you added to the PSs' Significance, which gives them a second (third, fourth, etc) ... uh, scope... effect? (can't recall what the stuff like "potent" is called). Did you, perhaps, "choose a new Sig 1 PS that someone else created" AND add to its Sig? That's a boo-boo. You only increase a PS's Sig if the PC kept it (i.e. had it already) into the next Chapter and is still a PC (hmmm, or even NPC? Not sure!) in the next Chapter.

Quote
When making an NPC’s particular strength, do you name PC forms too? I suggest not. Rather, if a player-character chooses that particular strength from the list later, the player can decide what PC forms it encompasses at that time. Does that make sense?
IANAV, but I play one on TV. I'll try....

I like your approach--spread the fun out to those who will have to USE it.

However, I'm not sure if the rules explicitly specify what to do when making an NPC PS--if it says "choose all forms," then the GM gets the fun of choosing the PC forms. Although this is a BIT of a moot point, in my own play experience, because most PSs have a sort of obvious, "logical" set of forms, and we often establish them by a loose consensus (AKA the Bullshit Rule). More abstract ones like yours, though, could be open to debate; and thus it would be good to get a RAW call.

But consider this: even if the GM makes the PS (and doesn't make it unique) then the player could always just make a "new version" of it, perhaps with a synonymous name or some other trickery (if you just can't stand having "Crush Mk.2" or "Improved Crush" or "Crush, But Different" or whatever).

Quote
If a particular strength was brought into the story via an NPC with the feature "unique" (as with Weird, for Ram Eil) it is limited to that character forever, right? If so, then it only comes back into play if the new story is indicated as contemporaneous with that character, and if the character-creation discussion or GM prep brings that character in. Do I have this correct?
I'll bet "Yes" (tautologically) and "Yes" (per logical extension). There MIGHT be room, however, to interpret Unique as "Unique amongst present PCs" or "Unique at a given time" rather than "Unique in terms of the 4th dimension/all spacetime."

Quote
Can an existing particular strength be utilized by more than one character in a given story? What worries me is the text in my above quote which says "provided that it's not unique and already owned," in which I think "unique" and "already owned" are referring to two different things. You see, I think it'd be cool, in a later story, to see more than one character (PC, NPC, doesn't matter) chose to use the particular strength God, for instance. Or really any of the non-unique ones, like two Absolute Convictions or two Inflict Fatal Wounds, in the same story. But is it allowed?
I'll double down on "Yes," for these, also. If it is NOT unique, then every PC and NPC could have it (ex: "Highly Trained" for a game in which all the PCs/NPCs are Royal Guards; or "Spellcaster" for a Harry Potter-esque game).

Quote
Oh yeah! And I've love to see anyone else's list of particular strengths as accumulated in play, preferably broken out by story as I did here.
I'll dig into my notes, though we play pretty fast and loose and I don't maintain much in the way or records--for instance, I don't even write out Oracles, instead just unpacking the locations and characters they imply on the fly, as that's what MOST matters (beyond the basic tone they can--but do not always--establish).

Hope this helps....
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: April 27, 2010, 06:41:48 AM »

Hi David,

One thing I'm not looking for is well-meaning rules clarifications. I'm not confused about the textual rules of this game. For instance, yes, in fact, we did screw up the 'advancement rules' for returning characters in story 1 and story 2 (three characters total). In each case, we applied all four bullet points at the bottom left column of page 26 to each character, instead of each player choosing one. I don't need you or anyone to clarify that that was a boo-boo - I know it already, which is why I mentioned it. I did not dissect it in detail because that's not the thread topic.

The same goes for your musings about particular strengths and NPCs. I wrote "questions for Vincent" for a reason - those are for Vincent and no one else. I've described how we've done it, for purposes of my thread topic, and all that matters here is to address that topic. The only part of your post which does that is the last sentence, and unfortunately, only to say that you don't have the information readily to hand. When and if you can summarize the particular strengths for your game, especially story by story, I would really, really like to see them.

Best, Ron

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lumpley
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« Reply #3 on: April 27, 2010, 08:22:06 AM »

When making an NPC’s particular strength, do you name PC forms too? I suggest not. Rather, if a player-character chooses that particular strength from the list later, the player can decide what PC forms it encompasses at that time. Does that make sense?
It makes sense, sure.

Quote
If a particular strength was brought into the story via an NPC with the feature "unique" (as with Weird, for Ram Eil) it is limited to that character forever, right? If so, then it only comes back into play if the new story is indicated as contemporaneous with that character, and if the character-creation discussion or GM prep brings that character in. Do I have this correct?
Yes.

Well, there's forever and there's forever. Some unique particular strengths can change hands as the result of a particular sequence of events in play. It's a technical process, and it's (intentionally) a chancy pain for a PC to accomplish. I'll tell you about it in just a sec.

Quote
Can an existing particular strength be utilized by more than one character in a given story? What worries me is the text in my above quote which says "provided that it's not unique and already owned," in which I think "unique" and "already owned" are referring to two different things. You see, I think it'd be cool, in a later story, to see more than one character (PC, NPC, doesn't matter) chose to use the particular strength God, for instance. Or really any of the non-unique ones, like two Absolute Convictions or two Inflict Fatal Wounds, in the same story. But is it allowed?
Oh yes, it's allowed. Absolutely.

It says "unique and already owned" because it's possible for a particular strength to be unique but currently unowned. Here's the technical, chancy process for seizing someone else's unique particular strength:

1. Get it off of their character sheet; get them to relinquish ownership of it. The only way to do this is as negotiated consequences, so they might always just take it to their grave with them instead. But if you manage, now it's unique but unowned.

You can't add it to your own character sheet, though, because of the rules for what you can win in negotiation.

2. When your character comes back, NOW you can give it to her, per the rule you quoted.

If someone else happens to recur before you do, though, they have the opportunity to seize it before you do.

So that's why that rule specifies both unique and already owned.

-Vincent
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: April 27, 2010, 08:42:44 AM »

Thanks Vincent. However, my primary concern is about particular strengths that are not unique. The unique issue is a red herring - it's the "already owned" that I'm asking about.

Let's take an example from my list: Set Fires, With Violence & For Myself /Action (broad) 1. This was a player-character particular strength, not unique, and now it's "on our list." Let's say we're beginning a new story and making up characters.

Here's my question. Two players want to use this particular strength for their characters. Let's also say that neither character is the one which originally introduced that particular strength ... in fact, let's make this really easy and say that each of these characters is an old (previously-used) character and that each player has chosen the bullet-point option which says:

Quote
Give her a new particular strength, significance 1. You can create a new one or choose one that someone else has already created (provided that it's not unique and already owned).

If I'm reading your post correctly, then the phrase "unique and already owned" is actually referring only to uniqueness and subordinate circumstances, and can be safely ignored in circumstances where no unique particular strength is under discussion. In my hypothetical example, that's the case. In which case, the bullet point reads:

Quote
Give her a new particular strength, significance 1. You can create a new one or choose one that someone else has already created.

All right, here's my question. Can both player-characters have Set Fires? I ardently hope the answer is yes.

Best, Ron



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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: April 27, 2010, 08:46:52 AM »

Oh yes, and to keep the portrait of our play current - our prep session for our fourth story yielded these new particular strengths:

Handsome Devil 1: Maneuver (potent)
Our Mothers 1: Self-Protection & Maneuver (broad)
Chaos 1: Action (consequential: With Love/Action)
Not Easy to Deceive 1: With Love & With Violence (broad)
Pretty 2: Directly & For Myself / Self-Protection (potent, broad)
Cast Out Demons 2: For Others (potent consequential: Covertly)

This story also features the return of the Noble Blood particular strength (used for an NPC for the first time) and of course the original particular strength of the returning player-character, which happens to be Organizing.

Best, Ron
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lumpley
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« Reply #6 on: April 27, 2010, 09:29:08 AM »

The answer is yes. Consider your ardor fulfilled!

-Vincent
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Shawn I.
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« Reply #7 on: May 14, 2010, 10:40:40 AM »

I had not thought of having a list of the old particular strengths at the game.  I just compiled a list of our strengths from the last two games.  Since Ron asked to see such things, here it is:

First Story:
You Underestimate Me: Covertly & Directly (Broad) 1
Deflection: Covertly (Potent) 1
Intimidation: With Violence (Potent?) 1
The Severed Head of High Captain Natan: Directly (Unique) 1
Schemes: Maneuvering (Far-Reaching) 1
Infernal Allies: Action (Potent) 1

Intimidation might be off, because my only notes are after it was improved in the second story.

Second Story:
Intimidation: With Violence, For Myself (Potent, Broad) 2
Loyal Countrymen: For Others (Far Reaching) 1
You Can't Focus on Me: With Violence (Potent) 1
Infernal Shadows: Covertly/Maneuvering (Consequential: For Others/Action) 1
Network of Favors: Action (Potent) 1

We haven't been assigning NPC forms for PC particular strengths, or PC forms for NPC strengths.  I think I'll just say those are decided when needed.  The only case where we did was Infernal Shadows, because that particular strength was stolen by a PC from the NPC.  (That poor demon.  He was stolen from, kicked out a window, had his power bound into an amulet, got thrown down the stairs, and then had his heart cut out and eaten.  If he had been a PC, he would have been on the we owe list half a dozen times.)

Actually, one other question: I thought that Broad only applied to PC forms - that you couldn't have a Broad power have two NPC forms.  Is that right, or am I handicapping my NPCs?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: May 16, 2010, 11:37:49 AM »

See, that's what I'm talking about! It seems to me as if, merely looking over the list, that I have a sudden and intensely colorful (or in your case, charcoal and shadowy) window into your game, or rather, into your series of short stories. I hope others post their lists too.

Random thoughts:
- I quite like the fact that Infernal Allies and Infernal Shadows are two different things. Let's hope that they get utilized at the same time in a later story.
- Kind of a bummer about the Severed Head being unique; then again, Vincent's instructions about making a unique particular strength "unowned" seem like a golden opportunity as well.
- I've been treating Broad and Consequential the same for NPC forms as well as PC ones, although I even think there's some text saying not to for Consequential.

Best, Ron
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Michael Loy
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« Reply #9 on: May 21, 2010, 07:30:32 PM »

My main group has just started a game - we're two sessions in.  Note that we're doing a thing where we pull from one of the four basic oracles, then reapply the results to do urban fantasy set in modern Chicago.

Session 1:

Curses (s1; For Myself; potent)
  - trigger: loudly pronounce curses

Brother to Lions (s1; Directly; far-reaching)
  - trigger: ask something of another member of the Lions

Corrupt, and Filthy Rich (s1; Self-Protection; far-reaching)
  - trigger: talk to your people

Eyes of the Oracle (s1; Maneuvering; either far-reaching or consequential to Covertly/Maneuvering)
  - trigger: speak truths

Death-Eater (s1; Action; potent)
  - trigger: kill someone

As the GM for the session, 'Corrupt, and Filthy Rich' was ridiculously fun to use ... far-reaching and self-protection meant that the NPC who had it was very difficult to force into a direct confrontation.  He ended up shaking out as the villain of the session, so that worked out very neatly, making him an off-screen threat until the final scenes.

There were two NPCs with 'Eyes of the Oracle', each with a slightly different version.  Technically, they probably should be different particular strengths, but it made sense in context for them to be basically the same thing, and I think it'll be natural to combine them into far-reaching+consequential, should we see a Significance 2 version crop up.

Session 2:

• (repeat) Curses (s1; For Myself/Action; potent)
  - trigger: loudly pronounce curses

Shape-Shifting (s1; Directly and Covertly; broad)
  - trigger: adopt a different form

• (repeat) Eyes of the Oracle (s1; For Others/Maneuvering; far-reaching)
  - trigger: speak truths

All the Venoms of the Earth (s1; Action; potent)
  - trigger: inject, inhale, or imbibe

Vast Psychic Powers (s1; Maneuvering; far-reaching)
  - trigger: ?

That the last one never appeared in play ... we ended up just not using that NPC in the session, except as someone to be referred to.  I'm leaving the NPC and the strength in the notebook, but they had no screen time.

'Curses' belonged to the spotlit character, but it was also picked up by a new NPC.  The first session included Apollo, living as a rock star in the modern age, and we immediately grabbed the ability to curse people as a core characteristic of a Greek god.  The second session introduced Dionysus, so it only made sense to follow up.  On the other hand, 'Eyes of the Oracle' was picked up by a new PC, who was totally unrelated to the two previous NPCs who held that strength.

I totally agree that this helps develop setting.  The jump from 'Apollo can curse people' to 'gods can curse people' was downright obvious - I didn't even have to think about it when picking out a particular strength for Dionysus in the second session.  And the reuse of 'Eyes of the Oracle' says things about how oracular abilities work in this world (the two NPCs who had the strength were father and daughter, so in the previous session it was showing up only as a trait of the family).

We started out just kinda forgetting to assign NPC forms to PC strengths, and vice versa.  Second session, I deliberately left them off.  It does seem to make sense to leave that until it actually comes up.

...

Broad strengths still only affect one NPC form, I suppose because NPC forms already cover two dice.  Or, I'm pretty sure ... I'm not looking at the book, but it's come up at my table and that's what I remember.

I'm a little curious about how I'm seeing Unique used here.  I always thought of it as more like the Severed Head up there: objects, offices, and other concrete things that only one person can hold at a time.  What's the story behind the Weird and the Animating the Inanimate?  Why Unique?  For no particular reason, Unique has never actually shown up in one of my games, so I don't have any practical experience of how to apply it.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: May 25, 2010, 06:26:41 AM »

Hi Michael,

As with Shawn's post, your particular strength list is simply exciting to read as such and instantly highlights themes and all manner of stuff about the setting. As a minor addition, since I live in the Chicago area, it's especially fun to imagine what's going on in your group's story.

Anyway, starting with the last point first, about Unique, you ask "what's the story behind it," and there isn't any story, merely the way we utilized the rule and find satisfying. We didn't think of Unique or any other option for particular strengths as being necessarily tied to specific kinds of game content. I mean, upon making a given particular strength, then yes, then obviously the options chosen become integrated with the fictional nature of that particular strength, but we didn't see it as going the other way 'round. When Julie defined Animating the Inanimate as Unique to her character Jila, then that particular strength became simply Unique, no matter what else it is. Jila is now defined as a kind of Daedalus character, and that's that. As you can see from the above posts, we even read the rule as being pretty strict, for Jila always and forever, although above, Vincent clarified certain rules applications that provide some wiggle room.

I'm not arguing for or against either what we did or how you describe it. I'm merely talking about what we did, with zero interest in debating the rules. Just in case.

I've also been very generous to NPCs regarding Broad, naming two of their forms as you can see from my lists above. So in our game, when an NPC has a Broad particular strength, they do indeed get the extra die a lot. I had the impression that NPCs are a tad under-powered after play gets going for a while, although that was probably influenced by my error in not giving new NPC particular strengths Significance 2 (as we just saw in your thread [IaWA] NPCs After Chapter 2). Sadly, I even forgot to apply the real rule in our latest session when I should have known better.

Best, Ron
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Michael Loy
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« Reply #11 on: June 13, 2010, 10:18:17 AM »

Yeah, I used to live up in Chicago - it's been fun going back into my memory for concrete details.

We haven't gotten far enough along to really explore this theory, but I suspect that NPCs get their main advantage from being able to take damage a little more readily.  Players have to worry about how their characters will be looking next session ... they can always refresh their character sheet, but that requires forgoing an advance.  An NPC has no real reason to back down, and the Owe List rules ensure that they'll fairly often have a slight dice advantage over the PCs, so I've been speculating that the PCs wouldn't get too overpowering.  I haven't been there in play, though.
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