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Author Topic: [TSoY] Words of Zu, how powerful are they?  (Read 8493 times)
dindenver
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« on: November 10, 2008, 12:05:34 PM »

All,
  I am prepping for a campaign soon (maybe in about a month) and one thing I am not clear on is the relative power of a Zu (Or Uz) word.
  Part of me has this idea for a house rule that allows you to obtain words at an accelerated pace (e.g., each time you spend an advance on learning a word, it gives you a number of words equal to the advances spent on words - do 1 for the first, 2 for the second (for a total of 3) 3 for the third, etc.). Obviously, if one Zu word is equal in efficiency to one Secret, than this is a bad idea. But if it is not, this might balance it up a bit, no?
  Also, while we are talking Zu, if you know one language (Zu or Uz), can you understand the other? Are the words (apart from Zu and Uz) the same? Can you tell that someone is speaking Uz if they don't use that word (Uz)?
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Dave M
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #1 on: November 10, 2008, 10:26:50 PM »

Zu and Uz are not so much separate languages as just different forces powering the same language, or something like that - the language of Zu is the same regardless.

As for the power of Zu, my own feeling has always been that it's blatantly powerful. That is, however, largely because I prefer to play a relatively low-magic game where magic is an arduous process wherein everything has a price - threecorner magic, for example, routinely takes penalty dice with me if the magician doesn't have some ritual implements and time to work. In this context Zu breaks the rules: it's immediate and it has some outright blatant effects, and requires minimal exertion. Especially creating things out of thin air is just something that is either lame or awesome in the sort of Near I like to run. I know it might not be that drastic for folks used to D&D-style summoning magics, but just snapping your fingers and creating living beings or complex tools out of nothing is about as vulgar as magic can get from my viewpoint.

Regardless of whether that works for you, the mechanics themselves are fine as they are - the actual effectiveness of Zu is not so much dependant on the number of words a given character knows, anyway, so there's little reason to give more or less words for the same Advances. Then there is the fact that relative efficiency is not very important in TSoY anyway - if Zu is the tool you have to work with, then you don't really have a choice about it, whether you might perceive it as weaker or stronger or whatever compared to some other magic. The thing that's certain is that Zu is different from whatever you're comparing it to.
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dindenver
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« Reply #2 on: November 11, 2008, 02:15:55 PM »

Eero,
  Thanks as always for the thorough reply.
  OK, so we won't know if someone is speaking Uz or Zu until they use those specific words then, right?
  Also, while I have you on the hook, are there any syllables of Zu that are surprisingly powerful or weak?
  I hear what you are saying, I think I want to go for a mid-level magic. Not quite the gritty, low Magic of a Robert E Howard classic, but not quite the over-the-top everything is magic of D&D. Basically, I want learning to be a good magic user to be on the same level of difficulty to being an expert swordsmen or world class diplomat. I am obsessed with magic, so it will be hard for me to town it down much lower than that anyways, lol
  In fact, I think that is one thing that fascinates me about TSoY, it seems like each culture is defined by its magic. In fact, in the core book, every culture has its own form of magic.
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Dave M
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #3 on: November 11, 2008, 11:42:25 PM »

Yeah, you can only find out whether somebody is using Uz or Zu by asking them to pronounce that word.

As for powerful Zu... I'd say this depends a lot on how the SG interprets the Zu rules. You see, the way I play is that I handle Zu as a sort of evil genie - I twist the intent of whatever a character pronounces as far as it'll go, especially if the character's Ability check was anything but great. I do this to encourage using several words and to make Zu a bit more unexpected in use.

In that context powerful Zu is often the stuff you know will work, and the words that you can combine to known effect. More generally, though, powerful Zu is the stuff that is in concordance with what you know your character will be doing. Generally we're not thinking of power, though, when playing; we're much more worried about creating interesting Zu. I'll take something interesting like "twat/fuck/rut" over useful any day. Note that there is actually, when playing by the rules, any point in the play procedure where you have to care about the strength of Zu: in character creation you pick Zu words that make sense for your character, and later in play it's up to the SG to determine which words make an appearance. Where these words then end up is all up to the players in play - if your character perceives some word as so important that they need to get it, they'll do just that.

Also, I agree with you about the cultural magics, that is a very strong aspect of what makes TSoY itself.
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oliof
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Harald Wagener - Zurich, Switzerland


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« Reply #4 on: November 12, 2008, 08:44:08 AM »

The young Zaru kids huddled next to the Elder sitting at the long end of the hut they were ushered in after a long day in the rice fields. „Tell us the Story of Zu“, some begged, and the Elder, back broken from years and decades of work, blind from bamboo splintering a couple of years ago, began telling the story of Zu with her resonating voice.

In the old times, Zu was all-encompassing, peace-bringing and uniting. Everything that was said, was, and no wish went unheard and unfulfilled. If you needed to cross the ocean, you talked to the waves to carry you over, if you needed to plough the earth, you asked the stones to turn themselves over, if you wanted to give your loved-one a flower, it would be there when you whispered it to the rose bushes.

A man came into the hut, upright, his Zaru hat all but hiding his face – except for the gleam in his eyes. Ahhh, Elder, are you telling the story about cozy Zu again? What about Uz? Some of the kids startled, because they knew that man as a Life-Ender, Breath-Taker, Word-Stealer when he was uttering the Syllable of Destruction without breaking his smile, without his eyes losing the mad, moon-like gleam. The Zaru were tasked with keeping Zu safe, but we failed. Out-Siders stole the secret of Zu and built an empire that, in the end, proved to be too big for it's own good. And it broke the world – or so people thought. Truth is, Zu broke the world, by acknowledging it's other side, Uz – what had been created had to be undone, and this meant that everything has to come to an end…

The young man suddenly stopped talking, gasped for air and grabbed at his throat like the Overseer that had been stung in the face by a swarm of bees a while ago. The room reverberated with meaning, the elder had ushered only one word.

Silence.

The kids stared at the man in horror, whose gleaming stare broke, whose smile lead the path when he turned to flee.

They turned back to the Elder, looking at him. He coughed a bit, and blood swelled through his lips. Some of the older attendants hushed the other kids out, only a small girl with dark eyes staid with the Elder. She looked as if she were still listening inwards, and she knew now what it meant for the world to be quiet.

She put the Elders' body flat on the back, stepped out the hut, got a burning branch from the fire outside and set the ancient building on fire.



In other words, there is no measure for the power of Zu if you believe the back story. After all, Zu broke (or unbroke) Maldor – something being powerful enough to cause a gobal cataclysm (or avert it barely) is quite powerful IMHO. Still, it's a matter of applicability to a given situation and ability (in a mechanical and literary sense) of someone to use them. 
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #5 on: November 12, 2008, 10:35:55 AM »

Harald has a good point there. Looking at canonical Near, Zu is the only truly global backstory we get. Threecorner magic is clever and made by the best men of an empire, Moon-metal is alien and heralds the new age of the Moon, but Zu is what the world is made of. I'd say that in the Annual Geek Tournament it's the zu-wizard who's got a leg up on everybody else.

Of course, if your character believes all that jazz, my character has an old, completely genuine map he wants to sell to you...
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dindenver
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« Reply #6 on: November 12, 2008, 12:48:15 PM »

Harold,
  Yeah, I took the Zaru origin story to be a local phenomenon (as opposed to a universal truth). All the other magicks are local, no reason to believe the Zaru would be the exception. Its clear that Zu affects non-believers, but so does every other magic, Qek Spirit magic, Khale Music Magic, Ammenite Alchemy and three-corner magic.
  I was mostly asking if, in play some words proved to be more problematic than others. Like somehow the word for light seems innocuous, but when used like this, it becomes a nightmare to GM or whatever.

  Also, while we are discussing it, does anyone have a comments on Eero's interpretation of Zu syllable applicability. He seems to think to use the "magic wish" rule (meaning to use the most twisted version of the words application. This would promote the need for more syllables in order to prevent incorrect application of the syllables you have, but it seems kind of like giving a kid a toy, but not letting them play with it. Not trying to say you are overly harsh Eero, just trying to see where this philosophy comes from, my guess would be to limit the power of magic as you prefer low-magic campaigns, but I don't know). That is counter to my general style of play, but maybe others have experience running TSoY and feel that that is right on?
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Dave M
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shadowcourt
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« Reply #7 on: November 12, 2008, 02:45:55 PM »

I think I draw a bit from Eero's technique, if only in that I'm into the literalism that exists back in the early edition of TSOY (not sure if it translated over to the 2nd edition, but smart money says it did), which is to say that saying "beast" and hoping for a rampaging monster is nice, but if you say it in the middle of the rice paddies, you're more likely to get a lazy water buffalo. Zu is used for describing the world around you, and "beast" means different things in different places. In fact, there might even be some interesting subjectivity to the speaker, as well, if we believe that language is intentional. Would an Oranid, bound to a horse as if it were his own brother, really consider it to be a "beast" if he were lucky enough to learn the Zu word for it. Similarly, might an Ammenite not get a Zaru slave if he said "beast," which another Zaru never would if he spoke the same syllable.

I think I've had fairly cunning players in terms of their syllable selection, choosing things which were pretty broad and flavorful. We've also had the occasional theft of a convenient Zu word from an NPC now and again (I recall having one player who stole "blood/bleed/bloody" and had fun with it periodically). My feeling on Zu is that its syllables express ideas which are fairly elementary, which leads to the whole "knife-tooth hunting beast" necessity if you want your word to virtually guarantee a panther (an example which shows up in the old TSOY rulebook). That said, you could use that same syllable string elsewhere to get a wolf, or other big carnivore predator.

No matter how many syllables are strung together, my group has only done pool cost based off of effect. So, if you used "knife-tooth-hunting-beast" as a noun with a bunch of adjectives applied to it, you still pay the 1 pool cost for a noun (is it Vigor for nouns? I'll be damned if I can remember this right...). Ditto for using "big-bleed" to make blood geyser out of a person; it's still just a modified verb, so you pay the 1 Instinct (?) for that effect. It's just... more prolific. There's more than enough cost in that four Advances (!) you paid for the lucky shot of being able to get a panther when you wanted one, which STILL isn't a panther under your control, and might just maul you. Granted, you can do awesome things with those other three syllables independently, which might mitigate some of the cost of this. But you still spent four Advances on Zu syllables, and guaranteed you had 3 other miscellaneous Advances in between, so you've been waiting a 7-Advance-cycle for your damn panther. I feel like paying 4 pool points (from miscellaneous pools) is overkill. But Eero's a stickler for supernatural effects at a big price, so your (or his) mileage may vary.

Honestly, dindenver, Zu syllables are, like anything else, about their clever application. Some people wouldn't be able to make "flower/bloom/florid" do anything useful in a game, where I can see how you might end up being the immortal god-emperor of Ammeni with it. Encourage simple syllables with some utility; we've gotten the best mileage out of simple ideas which are almost elemental in their essence, but when anyone sits down to take a Zu syllable Advance, talk about its utility with them. It's powerful, but I'm not afraid of power in the hands of players, as long as it serves narrative growth in an interesting way, and neither should you be.

Honestly, I think discussing the utility of almost any Advance is worthwhile as it's taken, if it seems even remotely of concern in your eyes, and that goes double for supernatural stuff. If someone says, "I'm building a Secret where I can talk to rocks," it's a good time to clarify what happens when you talk to a rock. Does a rock only know about things that touch it? How much does it really understand about the world around it? Two very different Storyguides might answer that "Rocks really can only answer questions about things actually in the earth -- minerals, ore, plant growth, worms, bugs, etc etc." or "Rocks contain the ancient spirits of the earth, and so can tell you about anything that has passed over or nearby them, but naturally speak quite slowly, and holding their interest is a real trick, or else they fall back into slumber." Choosing how the flavor of these Secrets work, and what you can accomplish with them, helps you set pool cost, gateway Secrets, ability usage, and the like. And THEN you can start to get really improvisational and fun, once the foundation is built.

-shadowcourt (aka Josh)
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oliof
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Harald Wagener - Zurich, Switzerland


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« Reply #8 on: November 16, 2008, 08:34:13 AM »

Agreed with all of you. The only thing that speaks against the locality of Zaru is the story of Hanish, which also is local to Maldor. But we're geeking out here big time, either way is right.

Also, Zu has been broken by Absolon and Hanish, which means it can be as powerless as you want it these days. The fact that elves and maldorian mages lust for the words of power is an indicator that they aren't fully bogus, though.
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