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Author Topic: [SS] Ability Ranks Beyond Grandmaster?  (Read 13410 times)

Posts: 57

« on: September 14, 2010, 06:07:26 PM »

Hi All,

For those of you who don't know, I've been running a monthly Werewolf: the Forsaken (W:tF) game using SS for a while now and it is still going strong. I never seem to stop tinkering with it though, and asking for advice, and this is another one of those times.

In the W:tF fiction, werewolves often fight spirits, who are quite nasty and powerful. They are ranked from 1 to 5, from the lowliest spirit servant to a god-like spirit lord. In the original system, spirits are quite tricky to defeat, as they have very high stats and an automatic defence that means that a pack of werewolves has to work together to take them down. While they can be defeated, they are notoriously difficult to destroy - a spirit is only destroyed if its Corpus (body) as well as its Essence (spiritual power) is depleted, and while werewolves can attack a spirit's Corpus, they cannot directly deplete a spirit's Essence.

In my game I have toned down the spirits somewhat, but now I find that they are far too easy for the PCs to defeat. I made them pretty simple in a mechanical sense; one Ability, Power, which is linked to a Pool called Essence. The thing is that I made them quite weak. Their Power (E) is equivalent to their Rank -1. So a rank 1 spirit has Power (E) of 0, a rank 2 spirit has Power (E) of 1, etc. They tend to have a lot of Essence (rank 1 spirits have 10, Rank 2 spirits have 15, etc), but because they have fairly low Power (E) ranks, they aren't terribly threatening. This has made them a litte too easy to defeat and I think my players are getting far too complacent about fighting spirits.

My proposed solution is to boost their Power (E) ranks to Spirit Rank+1. So, the progression looks like:
Rank 1: Power (E) 2
Rank 2: Power (E) 3
Rank 3: Power (E) 4
Rank 4: Power (E) ?
Rank 5: Power (E) ??

As you can see, after Rank 3, I run into the dilemma of what Ability level I can assign beyond Grandmaster (4).

I have also experimented with giving spirits "Spirit Armour" equal to their Rank, but I found that this just made combat with spirits more frustrating as they don't usually hit hard enough to do Harm to a pack of werewolves and they are also hard to Harm in return.

Any thoughts or suggestions? How can I make spirits in my game menacing again?
Eero Tuovinen
Posts: 2775

« Reply #1 on: September 20, 2010, 12:35:27 PM »

It's a pretty common thing for people to desire more Ability ranks in Solar System; this and dropping Transcendence are the two favourite things to debate, it seems. Usually both of these changes are motivated by wanting to make the game less like it is and more like other games the person likes to play. Yours is a well-reasoned design problem, though, and I see a legitimate design concern here.

A couple of questions for you to consider: What is the dramatic role of the spirit confrontation in the narrative universe of Werewolf? What is the dramatic role of the spirit itself? Are spirits interacted with in other ways or for other reasons aside from fighting them? Do spirits want something proactive as dramatic actors? Do you want to increase the emphasis on spirit-slaying because that's how it goes in the original game, or do you have an inborn interest in this facet of the setting?

An extra question: should a spirit fight become an extended conflict, or do you expect the werewolves to sweep lesser spirits aside on a lucky roll of the dice? Also: are fights against spirits all-or-nothing affairs, or should they involve negotiated outcomes, partial victories and unexpected consequences?

If I read you correctly, we have two issues here: spirits are too easy to defeat and there is a thematic notion of pack cooperation in defeating spirits that is not carried out by the rules as they stand. Then we have a third issue related to the above questions: what purpose does spirit-fighting have in the dramatic arc? Keep these angles in mind as I run through some technical factors that we can use to build more robust spirits.

One thing to do would be to use the Ability check results range instead of the Ability rank range in describing the strength of spirits. You could say that material spirits such as humans and werewolves are "of Marginal (1) spiritual strength" while a rank 5 spirit-god is "of Ultimate (6) spiritual strength". Essentially, give all spirits an Effect that has to be defeated by a superior Ability check before threatening the spirit itself can be considered. Depending on whether a spirit is a dramatic actor in itself this might mean that a spirit "has" this Effect, or it might be that it "is" this Effect - check out One-Eye giants in World of Near for one way of handling fantasy monsters as Effects; One-Eyes are not characters, they're just particularly flashy Effects. A high Effect rating is mechanically a challenging but frail thing - if you can't roll the Legendary success or whatever it takes case by case, you're simply ineffectual against the Effect, but if you can, then it's a simple one-roll affair to sweep it aside; hard but fragile, which might not be quite the thing you want of your spirits. Giving the spirit a bit more strength while utilizing Effects might be accomplished by making the spirit itself a real character who just happens to wield these comprehensive, narratively abstract Effects that need to be shut down before you get to chew on the spirit itself.

Setting aside Effects for a moment, another thing that might be considered is the issue of how defeating a spirit can be made a team affair. I'm not really seeing this so much as an issue of strength as an issue of numbers - the crunch landscape related to spirits has to support the idea that strength is not enough in defeating a spirit, but rather you'll need to have multiple initiated warriors - a werewolf pack. Solar System extended conflict puts great stock in the idea that separate dramatic actors are a big deal in conflicts, as it's not just a couple of bonus dice you get out of an independent ally, but rather a completely independent action that the opposition has to account for legitimately in the fiction: if two characters are doing two different things on the battlefield, an enemy is likely to only be able to shut down one of them, meaning that the other gets to do their thing completely unresisted. This rules-feature works severely against the idea of a single super-opponent that a bunch of player characters attack simultaneously; most crunch landscapes do not include the capabilities a character like that would need to really oppose four or five other characters, no matter how much weaker they are. So we'll need to give spirits some explicit means of being not only a difficult solo opponent, but also a credible opponent for a whole pack of werewolves.

A third discourse might be had on the issue of setting veracity. I've gotten the feeling from your campaign that you like to respect the setting fluff of W:tF in your adaptation quite a ways - you often take care to bring in many facets of the setting that somebody else might ignore when making an adaptation. Every time we adapt something we need to ask some questions: is this thing this way in the setting because the original rules-system encourages it, or is it because it's a good idea? Do I want to keep this thing even if it has lost its original mechanical supports and might need to be modeled in a different way?

A suggestion: Spirit Masks

I'm totally not a W:tF specialist, so the crunch set I suggest here might not be even close to the feel of the spirits in the game. Also, I don't have your full crunch landscape to research here, so you'll need to adapt these ideas to what you have even if you like this. Hopefully this has some utility as a starting point for discussion if nothing else.

Spirit Pool (S)
All spirits have only one Pool, the Spirit Pool, depicting their integrity and conceptual clarity. Low Spirit Pool means that the spirit is ill-defined and non-purposeful, mostly being happy to exist, while a high-pooled spirit will be clear and active. Note that we're assuming that spirits really are characters despite their immaterial nature: they want things and fulfill various dramatic roles. The Spirit Pool probably corresponds with some Pool the werewolves have: if this Werewolf still involves spirit-walking and such, then you'll likely translate a werewolf into a spirit being simply by ignoring their other Pools when they're in spiritual form. No idea.

Spirit Pool is refreshed by spirit worship, I imagine. People have to prance about, play music and in general pay attention to the spirit.

Identity (S)
The Passive Ability related to the Spirit Pool. Identity is used by the spirit to collect their presence and establish an immaterial existence or a semi-material or material body (when enabled to do such). It is also used by the spirit to remember its purpose and retain its clarity against all sorts of pressures.

Note that a spirit by default is immaterial, insubstantial and non-present, making them rather non-pertinent without further venues of influence. Perhaps there is some sort of spirit reality where spirits can be directly encaged; if so, then spirits probably have a bunch of Abilities related to their adventures in the spirit world.

Secret of Locus (specify)
The spirit is associated with a particular place or thing; changing the place changes the spirit (an opposed check of Geomancy or whatever against the Spirit's Identity (S)) and destroying the place destroys the spirit as well, or perhaps casts it adrift. A spirit can perceive events happening within and around its locus, and it can spend its Spirit Pool freely as bonus or penalty dice for any actions that pertain to its Motivation Keys in the presence of its locus. A successful Identity (S) check allows the spirit to manifest an insubstantial presence that can use social and magical Abilities to interact with the real world; however, the check needs to be retained as an Effect to maintain it for more than a moment, and any further checks made to interact with the world are limited to a maximum effective result equal to the strength of the manifestation. Cost: 1 Spirit per bonus/penalty die, plus possible Effect costs.

Secret of Concept (specify)
A powerful spirit might not be bound to a locality, but rather to a more abstract concept such as a specific natural element or even cultural concept (spirit of America or whatever - no idea how the spirit metaphysic works in W:tF). Such a spirit can be drawn into a place by the presence of the symbols of its nature; make an Identity (S) check to establish the presence of the spirit. After becoming present the spirit may consider the locality a temporary locus for itself for all purposes, just like if it had the appropriate Secret of Locus. Cost: 7 minus the check result in Spirit to become present.

Secret of Full Manifestation
Activating this Secret in his locus allows a spirit to become fully manifested with a corporeal body and all. Insofar as spirits have some sort of spirit world existence, this would be the form the spirit takes in its own reality. Being corporeal means that the spirit is able to use all of its Abilities fully just like a man, not being limited to social and magical workings like in normal manifestation. Being corporeal also enables the spirit to utilize the seven spirit masks: activating this Secret allows the spirit to manifest masks instantly equal to its current manifestation strength as established by Secret of Locus. Roll the insubstantial manifestation result into the first spirit mask manifestation check as bonus dice when doing a full manifestation. The manifestation ends if and when all spirit masks are down at once. Cost: The costs of the various spirit masks raised.

I'm using the mysterious term "spirit mask" here, but that's just placeholder fluff to justify the peculiar mechanical structure I'm using - I'm sure W:tF has something to retrofit here.

Spirit masks are Effects created by the Spirit from Ability checks, representing the various manifestations of the spirit's corporeal presence in the world. Each spirit mask is created by a different Ability check, and the spirit can only maintain one mask of each type at once. By default the masks are just fictional color you shout out when rolling to establish the Effect - separate Secrets need to be taken by a spirit for it to utilize the full power of the masks. The masks (as named by Carl Jung in a lesser-known work on spirit-summoning) and their related Abilities are as follows:
ManIdentityA physical body capable of human action.
BeastBestialityAn animal body.
SpaceAthleticsMatter in geometric shapes.
PitchCharmNoise and spiritual dominance.
SiderealStory-tellingParticular space and time.
SilverCraftItems of substance.
EyeArtSenses and sensibilities.
In practice a spirit mask is a strong magical effect roughly corresponding with the chosen mask and described by the player of the spirit when the mask is raised. Most of the masks are not necessarily corporeal in any tidy sense, so a spirit that does not incorporate a Man or Beast mask needs to be interacted with as a musical jingle in the air, the color of all furniture turning green or whatever; werewolves have spirit sight that allows them to perceive even these sorts of mortally unintelligible spirits as their true self, so no big deal for them. In any case a spirit is just as much present wherever its mask is whether that mask is a glowing human body or just the fact that everything takes twice as long as it should; as long as as mask is active, the spirit is present in its mask. Destroying a mask does not harm the spirit, but it cannot raise the same mask again in the same scene.

Mechanically the point here is that a powerful spirit will quite easily manifest 3-4 spirit masks whenever it wants to do something in the world. Each of these is directly controlled by the spirit itself, and while it cannot make Ability checks to directly influence the world, its Effects are just as good: anybody trying to resist the flood of fire from the Space mask or penetrate the illusionary wall erected by the Eye mask has to be able to match the Effect value of that mask to evaporate it. (Good luck doing that if the spirit is working in its locus and matching its Motivation Keys, allowing it to push penalty dice down your throat.) Even if a given character should be capable of evaporating powerful masks made by strong spirits, the fact still remains that the masks are several while the character is one, and fighting the masks is actually doing nothing to injure the spirit itself; besides, the spirit may always raise more masks, although I'd judge that doing that outside the instant manifestation allowed by the Secret is an action that takes a few moments.

What does the spirit itself do with its action in extended conflict if it mostly acts through its masks? Mostly it raises new masks (one per action), defends itself from exceptional attacks with Identity (S) and perhaps supports its masks with Ability checks. Might even be that a particular spirit, depending on its build, can't do anything with its actions once it puts out its masks. Fine by me.

Also, a sketch of how the crunch landscape might be deepened:

Secret of Favoured Mask (specify)
The spirit has a particular favourite memory or concept that has shaped its identity in the past and become a mask for it. When taking this Secret, shut down a particular mask and write it down under this Secret: mask type, Effect strength, what it looked like. Later on, the spirit can manifest this mask for free at the same Effect strength exhibited earlier when doing a full manifestation. The favoured mask is a free Effect in all ways. However, if the favoured mask is ever destroyed, the spirit suffers Marginal (1) Harm, regains the advance and cannot manifest masks of the same type before healing.

Example of a favoured mask could be a spirit that really likes lions: it carries around a Beast mask of "Legendary (6) Lion" that it can whip out to engage in duels with werewolves or whatnot. It's probably called the Lion Lord or something like that. The spirit does not need to pay for creating the Effect and does not need to make a roll on the spot to see how strong it's going to be this time around: it's always going to kick ass once it manages to score that strong mask from somewhere first. This helps make a formidable spirit reliably formidable, and it also gives a venue for the spirit itself to be harmed via those masks it has invested in.

Secret of (specify) Mask
The spirit has mastered a particular sort of mask. This allows him to raise several masks of this type at once, and it allows him to take any Harm targeted at this type of Mask for himself, instead. Additionally, each type of mask has a special power:
  • Man masks can seem like some particular person, indistinguishable from a mortal. The spirit can make Ability checks through the mask.
  • Beast masks can change shape from one beast to another fluidly, and the spirit can make Ability checks through the mask.
  • Space masks can get arbitrarily large to gain superior leverage or match the same.
  • Pitch masks can cause permanent change in the world.
  • Sidereal masks can get arbitrarily large to gain superior leverage or match the same.
  • Silver masks can become permanent yet mundane, and be of modern make as well as ancient.
  • Eye masks can engage in Pool refreshes with mortals and trigger Keys.

Secret of Ethnic Mask (specify)
This is totally an American uniculture urban fantasy idea - that there is a "generic" presentation of how spirits work, as established by the venerable Carl Jung, and then there are exceptions to the rule that you pay for. Fun! By taking this Secret the spirit shows influence of some particular culture in its seeming, ways and rules it follows; this causes one of its masks to change its associated Ability and definition into something else. For example, you might get a "Raven" mask associated with the "Flying" Ability and manifesting as somebody else's cleverness and flexibility, as a sort of mental demon. Whatever. Still only seven masks.


The above basic structure for spirits and how they interact with and fight against material opponents like werewolves is intended to hit the key points discussed at the start: spirits need to be formidable despite the game's rules not allowing you to simply hike up the Ability scores sky-high; spirits need to be largely invulnerable themselves while allowing for a fight to take place and for the spirit to get defeated; spirits need to have strong defenses that favour the spirit if a lone werewolf tries to fight it. I'm probably not striking the right tone of fluff here, but I hope that you get what I'm suggesting mechanically: give the spirit a bunch of Effects that enable it to essentially take several actions all at once while the spirit itself is hardly accessible at all - this will encourage an entire pack of werewolves to cooperate in fighting a powerful spirit while not making it all a given that they'll be able to do more than banish the spirit's external appearance. If this basic mechanical approach seems to fit, then you'll just need to reflavour this to taste.

Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Posts: 57

« Reply #2 on: September 22, 2010, 08:36:21 PM »

Hi Eero,

When I posted this question, I was hoping that you'd reply with a thought-provoking response and some nifty sample crunch, and you haven't disappointed. Thanks very much! :)

Before I respond to your crunch suggestions, I thought it might be useful to traverse the role of the spirits in the Werewolf: the Forsaken fiction. I will try to be as concise as possible:

Spirits are entities that naturally reside in the spirit world, known to werewolves as the Shadow. The Shadow is a spiritual reflection of the "real" physical world, also known to werewolves as the Flesh. Usually, if something attracts enough "spiritual resonance" (usually emotion, but can be any significant feeling or occurence) around it in the Flesh, it will appear in the Shadow as a feature of the landscape, such as a mountain, building, road or even a car. If the object attracts a lot of spiritual resonance, it might even create a spirit in the Shadow. Importantly, an invisible barrier called the Gauntlet separates the Shadow from the Flesh.

Thus, spirits are entities in the Shadow that are created from significant events in the physical world. The significant event can be almost anything - a particularly painful relationship breakup might create a sorrow-spirit or the mass culling of an animal species might create a potent spirit of (animal) death. Spirits can almost be anything - there are animal-spirits, plant-spirits, elemental-spirits, car-spirits, building-spirits and weather-spirits. There are even spirits of ideas, emotions and other abstract concepts (death-spirits, for example), so your spirit of America example could certainly exist (and probably does!). The only exception to this is that there are no human-spirits (or werewolf-spirits, for that matter). Instead, the death of a willful human leaves a ghost, which have nothing to do with the Shadow. Noone is sure what happens to werewolves when they die, although they are rumoured to "join their ancestors" in the Shadow somehow.

Spirits are largely autonomous - they are not stuck to the thing in the physical world that created them. Also, more powerful spirits (Rank 3 or above) can survive the complete destruction of the "physical" thing that created them. Spirits have their own ecology in the Shadow, which is highly Darwinistic - spirits of the same type feed on each other and their "natural" prey. So a tree-spirit could consume other tree-spirits as well as leaf-spirits or mineral-spirits, for example. The food chain here has nothing to do with physical biology and more to do with symbology.

The problem with spirits is that they often look for ways to escape the vicious dog-eat-dog world of the Shadow for the enticing world of the Flesh. If they can manage to get across the Gauntlet (usually at a spiritual gateway called a locus), they can enter the physical world in a state known as Twilight. When in Twilight, a spirit is immaterial, invisible and nearly undetectable. They can use their powers (called Numina) if they successfully manifest, which typically gives away their presence somehow (sudden drop in temperature, strange visions, etc). However, unless they latch themselves onto something in the physical world, they will soon be sucked back across the Gauntlet into the Shadow. Thus, spirits either attach themselves to humans and animals and subtly influence them (spirit-Urged), possess them and fuse with their souls (spirit-Claimed), or temporarily hijack their bodies for a short time (spirit-Thieves). Spirits can also attach themselves to inanimate objects like furniture and cars (called a Fetter).

Werewolves (or at least the Forsaken faction of werewolves) consider it their sacred duty to ensure that spirits do not interfere with the physical world and vice versa. So, if a spirit jumps across into the physical world and starts messing around with humans in the territory of a pack of Forsaken, they are obligated to do something about it. While it is very difficult to permanently destroy a spirit, it is not so hard to discorporate them in the physical world - usually by ripping them apart or otherwise using Gifts (spiritual powers) and rites (spiritual rituals) to banish them back to the Shadow. That said, powerful spirits (Rank 3 and above) can be quite a handful for a pack of werewolves to defeat, which is where the "tough to beat" thing comes in.

However, being half spirit themselves, werewolves can enter the Shadow at a locus and interact with spirits there, too. Again, they can attempt to discorporate them, but they can also bargain with them for information or resources (usually Gifts). A wise pack tries to regulate the spirits in the Shadow of its territory and keeps informed of what types of spirits are dominant there. After all, if unhelpful spirits gain power in the Shadow, they will eventually attempt to enter the physical world and wreak havok. Also, most werewolf packs have secured a pact with a spirit to act as their totem, and they have to perform certain duties on a frequent basis to keep the spirit happy.

I hope this answers many of the questions you might have about the role of spirits in the fiction. There is much, much more I could go into, but I'll leave it at that for now.

I'll comment on your crunch in my next post.

Posts: 57

« Reply #3 on: September 23, 2010, 12:07:04 AM »

The following is my response to Eero's proposed crunch for spirits and general answers as to their role in the fiction.

First, I think that I have already answered the dramatic role of spirits in the fiction above. While werewolves can and often do fight with spirits, they can also treat them as informants, spies, allies and even weaponise them by coaxing them into a specially prepared vessel (called a fetish). Spirits do want something proactive as dramatic actors; they want to thrive in the Shadow, carving out fiefdoms for themselves and their allies, and/or they want to romp around in the physical world - sometimes both. I like the emphasis on spirit-slaying (or at least, discorporating - spirits are very hard to permanently destroy), but I want to explore other facets of their nature as well, as I have outlined above.

Second, spirit fights have been extended conflicts as well as single opposed rolls. It really depends on the individual Rank of the spirit in question. Typically, a Rank 1 spirit is no match for a pack of werewolves and I would allow a single roll for the PCs to dispatch it, provided they have leverage (i.e. in the same location or can otherwise affect it) - or I wouldn't even bother rolling. Even a horde of Rank 1 spirits is not much in way of opposition of an experienced pack of werewolves - I'd probably allow a single opposed roll. The pack has Intimidated (I) groups of Rank 1 and 2 spirits into retreating before.

However, for Rank 3 and certainly Rank 4 spirits I'd want it to be an extended conflict. The fiction is quite clear that these spirits can slaughter an unprepared pack of werewolves and I'd like to keep them deadly.

In terms of outcomes, spirit fights could be all or nothing, depending on the stakes and the intentions of the parties. Determined spirits will often fight to discorporation - since they cannot be destroyed easily, they don't fear "death", although being discorporated is very unpleasant for a spirit and if it is too weak, it may be consumed by another of its kind. So other outcomes can be negotiated, depending on the spirit in question.

Spirits as Effects
The idea of spirits as Effects is interesting and would suit Rank 1 and maybe Rank 2 spirits, but I find it a little one-dimensional for more complex spirits. I like the idea of werewolves having to make an Ability check (probably something like Primal Urge (V)) to beat the "Spirit Effect" of a spirit in order to have leverage to hurt it, but I can't see that happening with the Rank 1 and 2 spirits. Perhaps only Rank 3 spirits have this Effect? Also, I am not sure what this would look like in the fiction. Some kind of shield or barrier? Perhaps the spirit is too slippery to Harm? Or too insubstantial? I guess it would depend on the nature of the spirit.

Team Effort vs Spirit
I really like the idea that defeating a powerful (Rank 3+) spirit is a team (pack) affair, I am just pondering how this works in the fiction. One thing that comes to mind are spirit broods. These are lesser of spirits of the same type (Rank 1 or 2) that hang around their more powerful cousins for protection. In terms of making it a team effort, perhaps a pack of werewolves has to deal with the brood before they can get to the more powerful spirit? In other words, they have to smash the brood of lesser spirits while the master spirit is lobbing potentially unopposed attacks against them.

Another idea I had was to give powerful spirits a "Defence Effect" that allows them to roll an automatic Defensive Action every round against all incoming attacks. Any attack that doesn't beat the Effect doesn't Harm the spirit at all - essentially a form of armour. It could also be a static number, equal to Rank+2 or something, which has a much stronger resemblance to armour as a mechanic. PCs would have to chain their attacks into support checks to have a chance of overcoming this Effect, although I have found that more than three characters in a support chain is counter-productive. Not really sure that I like this idea.

Spirit Masks et al
I have borrowed bits and pieces from the Spirit Pool (S) for my Corpus Pool (C), below. I am not sure about Identity (S) as a passive Ability - I have created three which are closer to the orginal system and add a bit of variety to spirits, but let me know what you think. The Secret of Locus resembles the Fetter Numen below. Spirits get the Secret of Concept as a freebie, due to their nature.

I really like the Spirit Mask crunch, but a lot of it conflicts with the fiction on spirits, so I am not sure I could use it without some major changes. I could use the Secret of Full Manifestation and the two Mask Secrets on a specific type of spirit that manifests indirectly and is tricky to defeat (probably a Rank 5), but this spirit would be an exception rather than the norm.

My Crunch (A Work In Progress)

Here is some crunch for spirits that I am currently working on. It borrows some of Eero's suggestions from above, but also from what I have been working with so far.

Corpus [C]
  • Spirits only have one Pool called CORPUS that reflects their integrity, general capacity for power and conceptual clarity.
  • A low Corpus indicates that the spirit is ill-defined and monomaniacal in pursuing its purpose (i.e. it pretty much is its purpose), while a high Corpus means that is well-defined and complex in pursuing its motives (it can pursue its purpose in multiple ways).
  • The amount of Corpus a spirit has determines its Rank. Lesser Gafflings (Rank 1) have 1 to 10 Corpus. When the spirit gains 11 Corpus, it becomes a Greater Gaffling (Rank 2). When it acquires 16 Corpus, it becomes a Lesser Jaggling (Rank 3). When it obtains 21 Corpus, it becomes a Greater Jaggling (Rank 4). If the spirit manages to obtain 26 Corpus, it becomes a Lord (Rank 5).
  • When spirits absorb Essence from their environment or from a werewolf, it converts into their Corpus Pool on a one for one basis.
  • More than just a Pool, Corpus is the “body” of the spirit. When a spirit spends Corpus on anything it is actually diminishing itself in the process, “consuming” itself. Should a spirit lose all of its Corpus and suffer Harm beyond level 7, it is permanently destroyed, never to return.

I wanted to give spirits a bit more variety than one passive ability locked at a certain rank, so I gave them three:

Passive Abilities (Power, Finesse, Acumen): Spirits only have three abilities: POWER [C], FINESSE [C] and ACUMEN [C], which also double as passive Abilities. Corpus is the Pool for all three Abilities.
  • Power [C] is used for any “physical” actions, such as attacking, defending and movement. Spirits use this Ability to deal Vigour Harm to non-spirits. Spirits also use this Ability to attack other spirits and devour their Corpus.
  • Finesse [C] is used for any social interactions, such as persuasion or subterfuge. It also covers the spirits attempts to cross the Gauntlet. Spirits use this Ability to deal Instinct Harm to non-spirits.
  • Acumen [C] is used for any mental actions, such as investigation or knowledge checks. Spirits use this Ability to deal Reason Harm to non-spirits.

Harming Spirits
  • A character must have leverage to affect a spirit in order to deal Harm to it. Usually, this means that the spirit has Materialised, the character is in the Shadow, or the character has means to physically attack the spirit in Twilight (if the spirit is in Twilight). Since most of these attacks are physical in nature, usually Vigour-based Abilities are used to inflict Harm. However, a character might also be able to deal Harm to a spirit in another way, perhaps by using its ban against it. For example, a werewolf who learns the ban of a particular spirit is to beat it in riddles might be able to inflict Harm through an opposed Academics [R] vs. Acumen [C] check.
  • Spirits don’t distinguish between different types of Harm – if something can Harm the spirit, then it is Harmed. However, when a spirit takes Harm beyond Incapacitated, they are not Insane, Catatonic or Dead. Their state depends on whether they have any remaining Corpus. If a spirit has some Corpus left then it is Discorporated. If it has no Corpus left then it is Destroyed.
  • Spirits don’t suffer Harm penalties, even when they have suffered Mortal Harm (level 6). They can continue to act unimpeded until they are Incapacitated, at which point they are out of the conflict.
  • Spirits can spend Corpus in the same way as physical beings spend Pool to heal Harm. Thus, they spend Corpus equal to the level of Harm to heal the Harm. They can pay Corpus in part if they don’t have enough Corpus to heal a particular level of Harm and note the progress. Normally, spirits can only do this in between scenes.

Here are some sample Numina that I have adapted to Solar System. They are essentially Secrets:

Blast (Type): The spirit is able to strike opponents at a distance. An electricity-spirit might hurl small thunderbolts at its foes, while a pain-spirit with this Numen might conjure spiritual knives. Usually, a Blast cannot be opposed with a Brawl [V] check – opponents may oppose with a ranged attack (such as Firearms [V]) or evade (Athletics [V] or Endure [V]). The spirit makes a Power [C] check and may purchase one bonus die per Corpus spent. Cost: 1 Corpus plus 1 Corpus per bonus die gained

Chorus: This Numen allows a spirit to speak to any or all other spirits of its own choir (type) within a radius determined by the spirit’s Power [C] in miles. The spirit makes an Acumen [C] check to determine how long and detailed a message it can send. A single success allows it to send an image or a short phrase. Three or more successes would allow a couple of sentences or a detailed image. Cost: 1 Corpus

Claim: This Numen is a more powerful version of Possession; if successful, a Claimed is created. The spirit initiates an Extended Conflict using its Acumen [C] vs. the victim’s Resist [R] between dusk and dawn, each round taking an hour or so. These are opposed checks for bonus dice and Harm (the victim takes Reason Harm). If the spirit wins, the victim becomes Spirit-Claimed. If the victim wins, the spirit fails to Claim the victim. Cost: 3 Corpus

Emotional Aura: This Numen broadcasts a general pulse of emotion over a wide area. The spirit makes an opposed Finesse [C] check vs. the React (I) of anyone within five yards of it. If the spirit wins, the subject(s) suffers Instinct Harm equal to the result as they are powerfully distracted by the broadcast emotion. If the subject(s) win(s), they are immune to this Numen for the duration of the scene. Cost: 2 Corpus.

Fearstruck: This Numen allows a spirit to cause an opponent to become paralysed by fear. The spirit makes an opposed Finesse [C] check vs. the target’s React (I). The target cannot move or speak (or even scream) for every round equal to the result. Cost: 1 Corpus per round paralysed.

Fetter: The spirit can secure itself inside an object in the physical world. The spirit must be in the physical world, be within five metres of the object and make a successful Finesse [C] check. The spirit remains in Twilight and cannot move more than five metres away from its fettered object without being forced across the Gauntlet. If the fettered object is destroyed, the spirit is discorporated and shunted back to the spirit world. A spirit may Materialise and move more than five metres away from its fettered object, but must return to that radius when Materialise ends. Cost: 1 Corpus

Finally, here is a table that shows the different Ranks of spirits in terms of their capabilities:

TitleRankNuminaPassive AbilitiesCorpus Range
Lesser Gaffling13One at Competent (1), the others at Mediocre (0)1-10
Greater Gaffling25One at Expert (2), one at Competent (1), one at Mediocre (0)11-15
Lesser Jaggling37One at Master (3), one at Expert (2), one at Competent (1)16-20
Greater Jaggling49One at Grandmaster (4), one at Master (3), one at Expert (2)21-25
Minor God, Lord511All at Grandmaster (4)26-50

A couple things I haven't properly modelled yet are Influences and Bans. Every spirit has Influence over something pertaining to their nature. A crow-spirit would have Influence over crows, for example. Depending on the situation and the relative power of the spirit, it might be able to influence a murder of crows in the physical world, making them stronger, controlling their actions, creating new crows to add to the murder, or even creating an entirely new murder of crows. I thought this could be modelled through a specialised Secret of some kind that relies on the passive Ability most appropriate for the situation.

In addition, every spirit has a Ban. This is a crippling flaw, a chink in their armour that can be exploited to overcome them. Wise packs often research the Ban of a powerful spirit to give them an edge over it before a confrontation. In general, the more powerful the spirit, the more obscure the Ban, but the more powerful it is. So a Rank 1 crow-spirit might have a Ban of "cannot resist the stench of carrion", which would be fairly easy to discover and exploit, but would only serve to distract the spirit, probably giving it a penalty die. However, King Bloodwing, a Rank 4 crow-spirit, might have a very convoluted Ban such as "Must obey the commands of someone who devoured the eyeballs of a warrior slain in battle." This Ban would be a very closely guarded secret, quite difficult to discover, and also difficult to carry out. But if a pack did carry it out, they would have a distinct advantage over the spirit which they could use to coerce it.

So, any thoughts or suggestions on the crunch? I apologise if this is a little overwhelming, but the fiction is quite dense.
Eero Tuovinen
Posts: 2775

« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2010, 04:48:48 AM »

WW fiction is pretty dense, but then that's totally the point of it. I hope you don't mind me taking my sweet time as I get around to corresponding on this. I'm a bit busy preparing for Essen Spiel, after all.

I'm not very fond of requiring excessively high Ability checks as a mechanic - referring to the idea of "spirit armor" here. It's whiff-based design to say that you'll need to roll a "5" to do anything and not making that threshold means that your roll does nothing. Perhaps support checks from other characters can help a character consistently reach high results, but that's brute-force design; bonus dice can come from many sources, and it's not dramatically very exciting to make obtaining a high amount of bonus dice a prerequisite.

Regarding the distinction between Discorporation and Destruction, I understand that this is important in the setting fluff. However, it might be that it'd be better to follow the SS internal logic in where you assign these fictional states in the mechanics. Specifically, it seems to me that when I beat somebody with Harm, they should be under my power - that's what getting knocked out of extended conflict means. Saying that a spirit is invulnerable even then cheapens the rather arduous and slow process of extended conflict. Besides, tying the well-being of the character to the state of their Pool feels quirky to me in that the opponent can't directly affect the state of the Pool the way they can cause Harm.

To address the above, you might simply say that spirits are just the same as anybody else if and when they're knocked out by Harm. However, also give all spirits the following Secret:

Secret of Discorporation
A spirit's player may discorporate it by activating this Secret and making a successful X Ability check. The spirit cannot re-enter the scene afterwards, but it heals Harm with the discorporation check. Cost: 3 Corpus

So that's technically a voluntary process, but it doesn't need to be that in the fiction if that's not the case in the fluff. This also keeps spirits within the structural bounds of the mechanics by not making their Harm tracks a secondary thing. Harm should always be relative to the being suffering it, it's no good to say that a given character is just so massively cool that they can take a full Harm track and not be in trouble. Better for technical robustness to make it more difficult to Harm somebody than to discount the Harm when it's been dealt. (Didn't we discuss this in relation to the werewolves themselves some time back?)

Aside from that, I like your technical base here - the Numina are robust basic Secrets, and the crunch in general seems workable. I'd probably make the mechanical reflection of the spirit ranks a bit more loosey-goosey myself, but that's just me; as long as the SG can work with it, no big deal. I also don't understand why I'd need to have more than one core Passive Ability for spirits, but if you feel that it's interesting, that's good enough a reason. A lot depends on whether spirits learn skills like people do - that is, does a spirit have a Brawl Ability and so on, or is it just naturally able to do everything well.

I would totally model Influences as Abilities! Like, you're the spirit of crows, and you have the Ability Crows (C) that you use to influence crows. Makes perfect sense and allows spirits to be a bit dynamic in how many influences and how strong they have. Then you can have crunch that allows the spirit to blow Corpus as bonus dice for the really massive blows in the right conditions, whatever those are in this setting. My take would be to assign the NPC spirit's primary Ability the value of their rank-1, of course, with secondary Influences at rank-2. (You'll note that this plays into the need for abstract Passive Abilities; I still think that you don't need more than one of those.)

Bans, on the other hand, can have a dual existence: on the one hand the spirit can (should the player desire) have a "Key of the Ban" that rewards them appropriately for keeping the ban in the game, but then there can also be adversial crunch, something like this:

Secret of the Ban (specify)
The character has discovered the Ban of a specific spirit. When the spirit is distracted by the Ban, it suffers its Rank in penalty dice to other actions but it also gains its Rank in bonus dice in fulfilling the Ban. If it breaks the Ban, it suffers Harm equal to its Rank. The character possessing this Secret can outright force the spirit to respect its Ban with a successful social Ability check. reminding the spirit of this core of its existence.

(I would, of course, allow a character to discover the Ban of a spirit with a suitable lore Ability check or similar in the more routine circumstances if I didn't feel like making an adventure out of it.)

Of course a NPC doesn't have much use for a Key of Ban in most campaigns (I don't usually track Keys for NPCs, for instance). No big deal, as a NPC doesn't need that sort of thing anyway; just play them according to their Ban and assume that respecting it is a motivation for them due to their inhuman nature that causes the Ban to exist in the first place.


All in all I think you've got the basic spirit pretty well in hand. The part that's lacking is the main punch that makes the spirit a fearsome opponent qualitatively above the might of a singular werewolf. I suggest that doing the sort of Effect-play I outlined before (tied to the Influences of a spirit, perhaps - do they use their Influences in fighting werewolves?) will take care of their offensive capabilities, while giving them an outright spirit armor will do for the defensive:

Boon of Spirit Armor
A spirit is by nature more robust than almost anything else; most attacks will just pass harmlessly through. When the spirit is attacked with arms not imbued with their Ban, any Harm the spirit suffers is shaken down to the lowest possible slot on their Harm tracker; the spirit suffers penalty dice equal to the shakedown to its next action. If the Harm is upgraded on the tracker from its nominal value due to pre-existing Harm, the spirit instead gains the equivalent in bonus dice to their next roll.

Just assume that all spirits have that, and I should think that it'll go a long way to make the spirit feel like a durable opponent. Then ensure that a bunch of werewolves can't gang up on the spirit too easily, and make sure that they'll have the upper hand via multiple venues of attack by doing the Effects trick:

Boon of Temporal Shaping
The spirit can use any of its Influence Abilities to wield their influence over the material world as a weapon. Make the appropriate Ability check and establish the result as an Effect representing the murder of crows or whatever it is that the spirit is influencing by its special skills. When the spirit uses the influenced entity or thing against their enemy according to the nature of the thing, use the value of the Effect in lieu of any Ability checks. Doing this does not hamper the spirit, and it may still act independently of its shaped influence. However, the spirit may only hold one shaping per Influence Ability it has at once.

I'd imagine that most spirits would only have one significant Influence, but even that should make it rather challenging for the lone werewolf to go toe-to-toe with the spirit. For example, the crow spirit calling down ravenous birds would surely have to spend one action in extended conflict for summoning the ravens, but after that the door would be open for all sorts of tactical moves where the crows take one action and the spirit takes another; a rather big problem for a lone opponent. Of course I fully expect that not all spirits would have this trick, and not all of them would always be consistently able to use this particular trick due to the vagaries of local tactical landscape (crows wouldn't do much in an underwater brawl, I imagine) - that's all part of the fun, as you don't actually need to establish all spirits now and forevermore as superior to werewolves as long as you do enough to make it credible for spirits in general to be respected as opponents.

Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Posts: 57

« Reply #5 on: October 04, 2010, 11:03:04 PM »

Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule, Eero. I really appreciate your continued feedback in relation to my monthly Werewolf game. It's been ongoing since 2007 and has come along way since I first started it. I feel that I could probably write my own system for it by now, but SS is working well and my players would probably lynch me if I suggested another system conversion.

I have a few comments in relation to your suggestions. I'm pretty happy with most of it, I just need some further clarification on some points.

Discorporation & Destruction
Your take on discorporation and destruction of spirits is interesting. There is already a Discorporation Numen which pretty much the same effect as your Secret of Discorporation, apart from the Harm healing ability. It wouldn't kill the fiction to give all spirits this Secret, though - I'd just have to narrate it that the PCs discorporated the spirit rather than the spirit only suffering discorporation if they are knocked out by Harm.

Alternatively, would it be kosher to rule that werewolves cannot destroy spirits through extended conflict - i.e. there is simply no leverage to do so? The best a werewolf could hope for is to discorporate the spirit, unless there are extenuating circumstances such as the pack's spirit ally draining the target spirit of Corpus during the battle, or the target spirit expending all its Corpus in the struggle. I understand that this probably messes with the extended conflict mechanic though, where participants can face death unless they win or negotiate out.

By the way, yes we did discuss the problem of the "auto-heal" mechanic that I designed for werewolves that was stuffing up extended conflicts a while back. Do you consider making spirits virtually immune to death via extended conflict to be in the same category?

Passive Ability - Power (C)
I agree that I should probably shave the three passive Abilities for spirits into one Ability. I'll probably make it Power (C), since that was the one I had before. For the record, spirits cannot learn Abilities like people do - they are too alien to "learn" something that way. They use their relevant inherent Ability instead, which is always Power (C).

I really like the idea of Influences as Abilities! I don't know why I didn't think of this before. I have some concerns about modelling them, however.

In the original system, spirits would have ratings in their Influences equal to their Rank. If they had more than one Influence, the ratings could be divided. For example, a Rank 2 Owl spirit could have Influences of Owls 2 or Owls 1 and Death 1, for example. Generally, the higher the rating, the more powerful the Influence was. So Owls 1 makes a pre-existing owl in the physical world stronger, Owls 2 provides control over minor actions of the owl, Owls 3 provides full control over the owl, Owls 4 could create a brand new (young) owl, and Owls 5 could create a parliament (love that word!) of owls. Also, the higher the rating, the longer the effect of the Influence, in seconds/minutes/hours/days/permanent depending on the rating. Usually, there was a balance between the effect and the duration, so with Owls 3 a spirit could control an owl for a few seconds, or strengthen an owl for several hours, etc.

Now, I can't remember if I ever used Influences in the original system and I haven't really used them under SS, so I am happy to get a bit more creative with them. I think it would be cool if a Rank 1 owl-spirit could instantly create a parliament of owls for a scene, but it would cost a lot of Corpus. Mechanically, I'm happy to say that as long as the spirit has Influence, it can do anything it wants with it, provided that the spirit makes a successful check on the relevant Influence Ability and the circumstances are favourable (summoning owls at the bottom of the sea, for example, wouldn't work so well). So that Rank 1 owl spirit with Owls (C) at Rank-2 (would this be Mediocre (0)?) could attempt to summon a parliament of owls if conditions are right, but would probably want to spend precious Corpus to do so in order to be successful. However, the Rank 4 owl-spirit could probably do it much easier with Owls (C) at Expert (2).

As for the number of Influences, I was thinking that different spirits could have higher ratings in certain Influences, depending on the spirit itself. As a base, a spirit has an amount of Influences equal to its Rank and all rated at Rank-2. It can then combine them into a higher rated Influence or two. For example, a Rank 3 snake-spirit might have the Influences of Snakes (C), Seduction (C) and Wisdom (C) all at Competent (1). Alternatively, the spirit might have Snakes (C) at Expert (2) and Wisdom at Competent (1). Or Snakes (C) at Master (3).

Animals as Influences are pretty easy to imagine, but what about more abstract concepts? How about death, sorrow, the colour yellow, iron, fire, darkness etc? In the fiction, spirits can invoke their Influences on things that already exist in the physical world. For example, a spirit with Fire (C) could increase the size of an existing fire. I suppose this could translate to other concepts as well. With Sorrow (C), a spirit could make a depressed person spiral into a deeper depression, or impose a depression on an upbeat person, or even inflict Instinct Harm with heart-breaking sorrow.

I like your thoughts on bans. Since all spirits have a ban in the fiction, I'm thinking of making it a given. If a werewolf discovers the ban of a spirit, she can use it against the spirit and all the conditions apply. However, the bans of high ranking spirits (Rank 3+) are difficult to discover. For a Rank 4+ spirit, the werewolf would probably need to purchase the Secret of Ban for the particular spirit.

Spirit Armour & Temporal Shaping Boons
I dig these - very cool! I like how Spirit Armour makes spirits a lot tougher to defeat by default - this is what I am after. Also, the twist with the bonus dice is interesting, but how would this appear in the fiction? The spirit takes a "hit" in the same place and this incites it? Or something like a "second wind" for a spirit in extended conflict? Or we don't map it at all in the fiction, it is purely a mechanical conceit?

I think that while Temporal Shaping may not always work in the physical world, it should always work in the Shadow. So a rat-spirit might not be able to summon a horde of rats in a... struggling to think of a place actually... er, an aeroplane (?), but in the shadow, it can always make an Effect out of its' Rats (C) Influence in the Shadow. This gives the spirit the "home ground" advantage of being in its natural environment.
Eero Tuovinen
Posts: 2775

« Reply #6 on: October 12, 2010, 05:55:42 PM »

Alternatively, would it be kosher to rule that werewolves cannot destroy spirits through extended conflict - i.e. there is simply no leverage to do so? The best a werewolf could hope for is to discorporate the spirit, unless there are extenuating circumstances such as the pack's spirit ally draining the target spirit of Corpus during the battle, or the target spirit expending all its Corpus in the struggle. I understand that this probably messes with the extended conflict mechanic though, where participants can face death unless they win or negotiate out.

Yes, this is feasible. Just say that werewolves do not normally have the leverage to destroy spirits, but only to discorporate them, and there needs to be a specific circumstantial reason for destruction to be possible, whatever it would be. I wouldn't tie this to the mechanical conceit of Corpus Pool, though, but rather would require the condition to be fulfilled in the fiction.

In the original system, spirits would have ratings in their Influences equal to their Rank. If they had more than one Influence, the ratings could be divided. For example, a Rank 2 Owl spirit could have Influences of Owls 2 or Owls 1 and Death 1, for example. Generally, the higher the rating, the more powerful the Influence was.

Yeah, WW is fond of using these supernatural attributes as qualitative grading; each dot gives you more things you can do as well as more reliability in doing it. There's no particular reason why you couldn't do that in SS as well; just say that a spirit can't create owls out of thin air without Grandmaster (4) rank in the Influence, for example. The main effect of this sort of thing is to make things more predictable and constrained, as characters are strictly limited to an enumerated number of abilities that come in a clean progression.

The more typical SS way of doing it is to simply make all the cool tricks into Secrets: have a Secret of Insubstantiation (Owls) that allows the spirit to make an Influence check to create owls. I find this preferable for many purposes due to the flexibility it leaves me with determining the actual Ability rating: I can have a mechanically weak character (low Ability) with plenty of unique tricks, or I can have a strong character constrained in the things he can do, or any other combination.

Also, as you say - if there's no reason to limit what spirits can try to do with their Influences, then don't limit it. Limitations might be interesting, but if they're not, then just don't do it.

One way to do this that comes to mind is a mechanical compromise between detail and general mechanics: you could say that all uses of Influence are either subtle, blatant or massive, and then price them accordingly in Corpus. Say 1 Corpus for doing something subtle, 7-[Ability check] for blatant and 5 points for massive effects. Then just make sure that the categories you have are sufficiently clear and sensible: creating owls out of thin air would be blatant, I imagine, while merely spying through owls would be subtle, and encouraging all owls in the state to flock to one place would be massive. Something like that. You could even require the spirit to have specific Secrets for doing blatant and massive effects with their Influences if you felt like it; perhaps they need to get a license to do stuff like that ;)

Animals as Influences are pretty easy to imagine, but what about more abstract concepts? How about death, sorrow, the colour yellow, iron, fire, darkness etc? In the fiction, spirits can invoke their Influences on things that already exist in the physical world. For example, a spirit with Fire (C) could increase the size of an existing fire. I suppose this could translate to other concepts as well. With Sorrow (C), a spirit could make a depressed person spiral into a deeper depression, or impose a depression on an upbeat person, or even inflict Instinct Harm with heart-breaking sorrow.

Seems pretty straightforward to me, just needs to use a bit of poetic logic. "Yellow", for instance: it's useful in making things yellow or non-yellow and in influencing things that are usually yellow such as oranges - although probably not as useful as it would be to have the Influence directly for the substance of the thing itself instead of just its color. Making yellow-haired people like you, certainly. Being invisible against a yellow background, too. Probably no summoning powers at all, as being yellow simply isn't that important for an orange or a New York taxicab. Not a very serious power all in all, so perhaps there simply isn't any spirit with Influence over yellow? Perhaps spirits only have Influences over things that make instinctive stylistic sense in urban fantasy, such as Owls, Sorrow, Fire and such? Perhaps the spirit of Yellow and spirit of Cowardice are the same thing?

I dig these - very cool! I like how Spirit Armour makes spirits a lot tougher to defeat by default - this is what I am after. Also, the twist with the bonus dice is interesting, but how would this appear in the fiction? The spirit takes a "hit" in the same place and this incites it? Or something like a "second wind" for a spirit in extended conflict? Or we don't map it at all in the fiction, it is purely a mechanical conceit?

I suppose you could explain the mechanical effect as representing how an opponent Harms the spirit in a place that "is no longer there" due to prior Harm, and this then disorients the opponent. That would make more sense as a source of penalty dice, though - perhaps the Secret should give penalty dice to the opponent who caused the Harm? Whatever, I don't usually worry about charting the mechanics to the fiction before play, as it's all the more fun to think up an explanation on the spot.
« Last Edit: October 15, 2010, 01:07:09 AM by Eero Tuovinen » Logged

Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Posts: 57

« Reply #7 on: October 14, 2010, 09:56:51 PM »

Thanks Eero, those comments are very helpful.

It has taken me a while, but I think I finally understand how I should be running a game under SS. This is not because you haven't explained it - you have, in the SS booklet and on here. The problem was is that I just didn't "get" it. In converting Werewolf: the Forsaken to SS, I have aimed for a very tight map of mechanics to fiction, but I see that is not really the strength of SS. If I had the chance to do it over, I'd definitely simplify a lot of the crunch of the built to model a more simulationist game when really I should have been focussing on the narrative intent of the system. In fact, this is pretty much what I am doing, piece by piece, and I quite enjoy it.

Anyway, I can see now that SS is pretty much designed to be run so you can modify it on the fly. There is no need to build oodles of crunch that you or your players are never going to use just because there was a mechanic for it in the original system.

So, thanks Eero. If we ever meet in person, I'll happily shout you a beverage of your choice!
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