The 9P sample setting of Spyragia has fantasy and steampunk themes. Its economy and magic are intertwined.
These rules first describe how special items work, whether magical and technological. Effects are categorized by impact rating, which combines with other factors to determine the item's cost.
Then the technology skills are described: Alchemy, Chemstry, Machinery, and Transmutery.
There are four pairs of racial magical abilities: Tempering and Sapping, Musing and Fortunosity, Laboritry and Phantasmography, and Therianthropy and Semblancy.
Descriptions and pricing for mundane items are provided for those who wish to use them.
Finally, the design issues of genres and the costs of heroism that guided the economic rules are discussed.
Discuss the 9P core rules at the Story Games forum.
The main reward for successful adventuring is increasing skill and talent ratings. These measure how capable a character is when following the rules. A PC becomes more generally capable with experience.
Earning spendable wealth is a complimentary reward. Most PC wealth is spent on nifty equipment that allows characters to bend or break the rules. Adventures are even more fun when the PC has some tricks up his or her sleeves!
For the sake of simplicity, the 9P sample setting of Spyragia simply uses coins as the monetary unit: a small silver piece worth a half day's wages for unskilled labor.
During and after a successful adventure the PC usually gains wealth in coins about equal to 25 times the number of skills for which the PC has a skill rating of 4 or greater. (So a new PC probably earns 75 to 100 coins for finishing his or her first adventure.) The wealth reward is often partly found during the adventure as treasure and partly paid as a concluding reward for work done well.
Wealth Reward Example
A GM is planning an adventure for a PC who has five skills of skill rating 4 or higher. If the adventure is of average length and difficulty he PC will finish the adventure gaining wealth equal to 5 × 25 = 125 more coins.
The GM decides the adventure should include treasure worth about 85 coins as well as 40 coins the quest's patron pays the PC for finishing the assignment.
More About Wages
Note that because the wage for unskilled labor is 1 coin per five hours of work then a full ten-hour workday pays 2 coins. Continuing the math, a six-day work week of unskilled labor earns 12 coins and a fifty-two week work year totals 624 coins.
In terms of game mechanics, "unskilled labor" refers to a skill rating of 1. Skilled labor is, of course, more expensive. Each skill rating above 1 earns another coin per five hours.
A typical trades-person would have skill rating 3 or 4 in his or her crafting skill. (Often a skill such as farming, logging, carpentry, or pottery that is not among the usual list of character skills.) This person would earn 36 to 48 coins per week.
So a beginning adventurer gains two or three week's wages for completing a dangerous quest.
Other Types of Wealth
An adventurer deals with many types of spendable wealth. Money is obviously the most common kind. But other commodities exist: favors from influential people, access to pieces of restricted knowledge, hours spent in the baron's personal alchemy lab, etc. The GM should include these in adventures without attempting to assign them a value in coins. They are "extra" wealth beside monetary income.
In most "heroic opera" adventure games the main purpose of wealth is to allow the protagonist to purchase special items. In a fantasy setting like Spyragia a special item might be a magic potion, flying carpet, or dancing sword. In a science fiction setting a special item might be a nanotech restorative, a personal spaceship, or an electrified net launcher.
No special items should duplicate the effects of talents or the gifts from the Powers.
In Spyragia, special items created with the alchemy skill or with the racial abilities of tempering, musing, and fortunosity are magical.
The gifts given by the Powers also are magical.
Special items created with machinery skill and chemstry skill are not magical.
(The two other economic skills, transmutery and laboritry, do not create items.)
A special item's impact rating measures how intense and powerful an effect it produces. How much does this item allow its user to bend or break the rules?
Special items of impact 1 provide a 1-point special item bonus to a single skill. They only allow a character to "cheat" slightly by using a new kind of skill bonus that stacks with the more common equipment bonus.
A special item of impact 1 may instead cause a 1-point situational disadvantage penalty to a single skill.
Special items of impact 2 provide a 2-point special item bonus to a single skill, or instead cause a 2-point situational disadvantage penalty to a single skill.
Special items of impact 3 can provide a 2-point special item bonus to multiple skills, and also increase or decrease movement speed by half its normal amount. Alternatively, they can cause a 2-point situational disadvantage penalty to multiple skills, perhaps also altering movement speed by half its normal amount.
Special items of impact 4 can provide an exception to the rules about one of turns, successes, or losses. These items can grant extra movement at the end of a turn, provide an extra turn, cause skill use to have automatic success or failure, or make normally successful contested skill use automatically cause enough losses to defeat one opponent. An effect that causes automatic failure with certain types of movement may instead be more flavorably described as dramatically reducing movement speed.
Special items with impact 4 always have an effect that develops slowly and is interruptible. The special item causes a noticeable and gradually growing action that is easy to observe as it unfolds, and is easy to interrupt if noticed. The intended effect does not begin until the final tenth of the special item's duration of minutes or hours. The effect might be beneficial (a potion of quickness that takes a while to start working) or harmful (a potion of weakness that is similarly slow-acting.)
Special items of impact 5 have the same types of effects as those of impact 4, but the effect begins immediately and lasts for the entire duration.
Special items of impact 6 can provide an exception to the rules about both successes and losses. A special item this powerful can make skill use automatically successful and automatically cause enough losses to defeat one opponent. Special items with impact 6 again have an effect that develops slowly and is interruptible.
Special items of impact 7 have the same types of effects as those of impact 6, but the effect happens immediately.
Special items of impact 8 allow a character to do something he or she cannot normally do, as long as this new ability does not trvialize the adventure. Many impact 8 special items allow new forms of movement, such as levitation, flight, wall-crawling, or webbed fingers and toes for speedy swimming. Effects such as invisibility, gaseous form, clouds of darkness, and spheres of silence also would be impact 8. Special items with impact 8 again have an effect that develops slowly and is interruptible.
Special items of impact 9 have the same types of effects as those of impact 8, but the effect happens immediately.
Special items of impact 10 allow the user to break the GM-Player contract. A special item that causes mind control is an example, since it could allow the Player to make decisions for an NPC, or the GM to make decisions for the PC. Effects that completely dominate the encounter are other examples. (Sleep gas is impact 6 or 7 when it defeats everyone in its area who fails the elusion requirement. An intelligent sleep gas creture that prowls through the castle, putting everyone to sleep until it vanishes after an hour, would be impact 10.) A special item that summons a mystical helper for the PC is a third kind of example, since normally the appearance of NPCs is part of the role of GM.
Special items of impact 10 should be very rare, and their appearances should be foreshadowed. The GM and Player should discuss these items before they appear in the adventure to ensure that any potential threat to the GM-Player contract does not make the game less fun for GM or Player.
Why do Impact Ratings Go 1 to 10?
Crafting a special item requires skill use. The crafter's skill rating determines (among other things) the maximum impact that he or she can create.
The skills used for special item creation never benefit from an equipment bonus, situational advantage bonus, group bonus, talent bonus, or use of Press or Provoke. The only bonus that might apply is a special item bonus. So the most powerful crafters, with a base skill rating of 8, can use special equipment to give themselves the 2-point special item bonus they need to craft the very best special equipment, using an effective skill rating 10.
Categories of Special Items
These economic rules include many example special items. These are categorized for two reasons. First, the categories help make brainstorming examples more thorough. Second, an adventure could theoretically include special items that provide bonuses or penalties to special items of a certain category.
The categories used are: Antimagic, Burliness, Communication, Environment, Explosion, Finding, Healing, Heat, Immobilization, Influence, Lightness, Locks, and Sneaking.
This list of categories is not intended to be exhaustive, or restrict the creativity of the GM or Player.
Teleportation is Impact 8
Teleportation magic can be problematic in role-playing games. There can be too many obstacles the PC can bypass, and too little the PC can do to be safe from a powerful or wealthy enemy.
However, all the special items of these rules have very short range and are restricted by line of sight. Teleportation in 9P only travels a few meters to a place you can see. This is an impact 8 effect that can seldom wreck an adventure.
The type of magic allowed by these rules that is most likely to cause problems is "divinations". Many fantasy stories include objects or rituals that predict the future, or in other ways learn what is not normally knowable. Wizards scry with crystal balls, sages read the future in tea leaves, and necromancers make corpses answer questions.
Although this type of magic can work well in a story we read, it is difficult to do well in a two-person role-playing game. Plots about solving a mysteries or gathering information from an enemy stronghold get ruined by this kind of magic. It makes no sense to limit the kind of adventures the GM and Player can enjoy just because the PC has become highly skilled.
The basic special item has a retail cost of 10 × impact rating in coins.
Crafting any special item requires a skill rating at least equal to its impact rating. Characters that know how to craft special items can create them for half the retail price.
Characters that know how to craft special items may sometimes recharge used-up special items for one-quarter the retail price. Recharging a special item is efficient! But rechargeable special items have restrictions. They might require obtaining a recipe (alchemy batches), be especially succeptible to physical damage (machinery), be unable to create continual passive effects (tempering), or inflict vices on their user (musing).
A basic special item has the following four limitations:
Changing these limitations makes the special item more difficult to craft. For each limitation changed, the skill rating required to craft the item increases by one.
Changing these limitations also makes the special item more expensive, as described below.
The elusion requirement rating of harmful special items is always equal to its impact and cannot be changed.
A standard special item causes a reach effect. The crafter can give the effect range by increasing the retail cost by +5 coins per 2 meters (1 map square) of range. Ranged effects are still limited by line of sight. A magic wand could zap a foe standing on the other side of a portcullis or window, but not behind a stone wall.
The standard duration of non-instantaneous special items is as many minutes as its impact. After adjusting the cost for range, the crafter can double the retail cost to switch the duration to as many hours as its impact.
A standard special item has only one target. After adjusting the cost for range and duration, the crafter can increase the retail cost to make the item effect an area. For double the cost, the effect can affect everyone in a square 8 meters per side (a 4-by-4 square of map squares). Or, for triple the cost, the effect can affect everyone in a square 12 meters per side (a 6-by-6 square of map squares). Finally, for quadruple the cost, the effect can affect everyone in a square 16 meters per side (an 8-by-8 square of map squares).
A standard special item can be used once. After adjusting the cost for range, duration, and area, a crafter can make the special item usable many times by giving it charges. The crafter multiplies the retail cost by the number of charges.
Example of Calculating a Special Item Cost
A merchant is selling "a magic wand that makes slowness mist". The mist affects everyone in a square 8 meters per side, centered up to 8 meters away from the wand's wielder, causing a 2-point situational disadvantage penalty to Acrobatics, Dodge, and Exit/Escape unless they dive out of the way with an elusion requirement of [Acrobatics 3]. The wand has two charges.
The wand is an impact 3 item, since it causes a 2-point situational disadvantage penalty to multiple skills. Its effect has an elusion requirement of 3, for which Acrobatics is the appropriate skill.
What is the wand's retail cost? Start with the retail cost of an impact 3 item: 3 × 10 = 30 coins. This cost is increased by 5 & 4 = 20 coins for the range, for an adjusted cost of 30 + 20 = 50 coins. Then double the cost for how it affects a small area, and double again because it has two charges. The resulting retail cost is 200 coins. Expensive!
Removing the limitations to range and area increased the required skill rating to craft this wand from 3 to 5.
The GM could give an item this wand a more impressive name and backstory. Perhaps it is Prince Perly's Retreat Boon. Before Princy Perly began his famous crackdown on organized crime, he commissioned the famous crafter Hafold the Haughty to make this portable aid for fleeing from groups of assassins.
Some items are more flavorful by being purposefully limited in scope. As examles, a weapon might only provide a bonus to the Melee/Press skill when fighting dragons, or a whistle might only help use the Animals/Wilderness skill to control dogs. These limited items do not have a lower creation cost. But they might appear in stories as exceptions to the rule that the retail price is twice the creation cost.
Examples of Limited Items
An Ogre-bane sword provides a 2-point special item bonus to Melee/Press and Disarm, but only when fighting Ogres. As a basic impact 3 item, it has an expected retail cost of 30 coins. Crafting the item costs half this amount: 15 coins. Because the sword is only special in rare situations, the person who crafted it sells it for 20 coins instead of 30 coins. Perhaps these swords are made in a city in which the king allows visitors to his castle to wear these swords but not other enchanted weapons.
A trap springer is a tool with many rods, loops, and wires that provides a 2-point special item bonus to Machinery, but only when disabling or bypassing a trap. As a basic impact 2 item, it has an expected retail cost of 20 coins. Crafting the item costs half this amount: 10 coins. Because the tool is only special for one type of Machinery skill use, the person who crafted it sells it for 16 coins instead of 20 coins. Perhaps these tools are sold in a town whose populace is distrustful of machinery, where people who build machines are scorned but adventures who explore trap-filled dungeons are respected.
Some special items have a purely cosmetic effect. They allow a person to do something he or she could already do (with typical resources) in a spiffier and more colorful manner.
When used creatively, a cosmetic effectsmight provide a special item bonus to skill use. For example, a helmet that sprays sparks might help its wearer act intimidating, a sweet-smelling chair cushion might help a visiting diplomat feel respected, and a torch that lights itself when commanded would work much better in pitch darkness than fumbling with flint and steel.
Is the helmet intimidating? Does the cushion help with etiquette? Would that torch also work in a rainstorm? Even "cosmetic" special items need impact ratings, to determine serendipitous bonuses, elusion requirements, and exceptions to the rules. So it is appropriate to use the rules described above to calculate the cost of even "cosmetic" special items.
How about cosmetic effects of special items that are expected to alter the game rules? Do the magic dueling gloves mentioned when describing special item bonuses merely grant the PC a bonus to Melee/Press without any noticeable effect? Or do they glow orange, release small puffs of smoke, and create a faint yet dramatic sound of drum beats? The GM and Player can improvise such details knowing the special item rules already cover create uses of cosmetic effects.
The technology skills are Alchemy, Chemstry, Machinery, and Transmutery.
These four skills seldom have any bonuses. Almost never does an equipment bonus or situational advantage apply, because using these skills at all already assumes a suitable laboratory or workshop. Group efforts never apply because "too many cooks spoil the broth". No talent bonuses are relevant. The GM should decide if the setting includes any special items that could grant a special item bonus.
The Alchemy skill is used to create special potions, gasses, and ointments. Most common are those which enhance a friend or incapacitate an enemy. Using alchemy requires a kitchen or laboratory. The products must be stored in glass containers. Throughout the adventure's perils the glass bottles, vials, and spheres must be kept intact.
Usually an adventuring PC creates or purchases all the alchemical items desired for an adventure before the adventure beings. Therefore investing in a PC's Alchemy skill allows the Player, based on rumors and guess about the upcoming adventure, to create a half-price "bag of tricks" to make the PC prepared for expected problems.
Alchemy is an old, diverse, and widely-studied art that many of its practitioners do not consider magical. However, the fact that semblancy ruins alchemical creations gives support to the claim that magic is somehow involved, even if unknowingly.
The history and recipes of alchemy have flowed together from many cultures. Alchemy itself is well-accepted everywhere. Yet some recipes remain carefully guarded secrets, and a few have effects considered illegal or taboo. However, alchemical healing has helped almost every family, and professional alchemists are respected unless their business practices are unethical or their prices are unusually high. Amateur alchemists are common: many folk know just enough alchemy to heal scrapes or help put a fussing child to sleep, and this knowledge provokes neither distrust nor stereotypes.
Alchemical healing has its limits. It must be applied promptly to be effective, and only deals with burns, scrapes, and lacerations. It cannot cure disease, paralysis, broken bones, missing limbs, or dementia.
All alchemy involves following a recipe. Characters should keep track of which recipes they know. There is usually no need to keep track of the ingredients required by the recipes.
An alchemical recipe fixes all the options about duration and area. Changing these requires a new recipe.
Most new PCs with Alchemy skill will know only a few common, inexpensive recipes that make use of inexpensive and commonly available ingredients. During adventures the PC will find new alchemy recipes and gather rarer alchemy ingredients. Thus the Player slowly gains options about how the PC can be prepared at the start of a new adventure, and the PC gains a different type of power than measured by skill or talent ratings.
A skilled alchemist can experiment to invent a new recipe. The alchemist works at an effective skill rating two less. This creates a recipe with correspodingly reduced potential. The cost for the experimental items is tripled. If the alchemist has a sample potion or gas to "reverse engineer", a partial recipe, or other incomplete assistance then his or her effective skill rating is only one less.
Alchemy follows most of the rules for special item costs. But it changes these rules slightly in three ways.
First, all potions and gasses created with alchemy have a shelf life. They lose potency after a few days. Use them quickly!
Second, alchemical effect cannot happen at range. The effect always happens where the potion or gas is consumed or opened.
Third, all potions and gasses created with alchemy have only one use and cannot be "recharged". However, an alchemist that creates a batch of identical products pays half price for the first (the normal crafting price) and then one-quarter price for all the rest (equivalent to extra charges).
As with any special item creation, an alchemist needs a higher Alchemy skill to create a higher impact item, or change an item limitations (about duration or area).
Skill in Alchemy also measures:
Note that for any specific recipe, a more skilled alchemist can make an item with longer shelf life without increasing the cost in coins. More experienced alchemists know how to use better ingredients or use the same ingredients more effectively.
A PC with a Alchemy skill of 4 wants to follow a recipe to create flash bombs that will dazzle nearby enemies when thrown and broken. The flash bombs will remain potent for four days because of the character's Alchemy skill. The GM and Player agree this is an impact 3 effect that will penalize Perception and other skills with a 2-point situational disadvantage, automatically affecting all enemies in a square 8 meters per side.
As an impact 3 effect, it has a duration of 3 minutes and elusion requirement rating of 3. The GM and Player agree the elusion requirement should be [Acrobatics 3]. The PC would need a higher Alchemy skill to also increase the effect duration.
The retail price for one flash bomb is 60 coins = 30 impact × 2 small area.
With an Alchemy skill of 4, the PC can make a batch of four flash bombs. The first costs one-half the retail price, and the other three cost one-quarter the retail price. The total cost is 75 coins = 30 + (15 × 3) for all four flash bombs.
The PC can create four coins worth of items per five minute's work. So creating that batch of five would require 94 minutes ≈ 75 coins ÷ 4 skill × 5 minutes.
Note: Remember that for all of these example items the number of days of potency depends upon the crafter's Alchemy skill.
This expensive alchemical gas drains away all active magical energies. It is sometimes used in courtrooms to ensure an important trial has no magical interference.
Effect (Alchemy, Impact 9, Antimagic): For nine hours the gas instantly ends all ongoing magical effects in a square of size 12 meters per side (magical items are not damaged) [Wonder 9]
Retail cost (one use): 270 coins = 90 impact × 3 medium area
When its vial is broken, this alchemical gas instantly fills an area with dense, fragrant smoke. The smoke is so thick that it interferes with sound and well as sight, smell, and taste. People who move more than one-quarter their usual speed might fall down. The smoke dissipates after five minutes.
Effect (Alchemy, Impact 5, Environmental): For five minutes, automatic failure for ranged combat skills [Perception 5], Perception skill [Perception 5], and movement rate is reduced to one-quarter [Acrobatics 5]
Retail cost (one use): 50 coins = 50 impact
Knock Knock Nodules
Black market alchemists prepare these tools by injecting an alchemical liquid into the nodules that grow on pea or bean roots. After a few minutes the nodules begin to flex and crack. This causes taps and creaks that sound remarkably like footsteps, for four minutes. Burglars and spies use knock knock nodules to distract people. They drop them from the rafters into a shadowy corner, or throw them under or behind furniture. Few guards have enough experience with these items to recognize that the noise is not footsteps.
Effect (Alchemy, Impact 4, Explosion): Automatic failure to the Perception skill for four minutes [Identify 4 or Perception 4]
Retail cost (one use): 40 coins = 40 impact
Most of the guild districts in Arlinac Town provide this alchemical gas to the officers of their district watch. The vials can be thrown. When they break they release dark gas that slows everyone it touches. After three minutes the gas dissipates and its effects vanish. The gas is too expensive to give to every member of the watch.
Effect (Alchemy, Impact 3, Immobilization): In a square of size 8 meters per side, causes a 2-point situational disadvantage penalty to Exit/Escape, Acrobatics, and Dodge for 1 minute [Acrobatics 3]
Retail cost (one use): 60 coins = 30 impact × 2 small area
Targeted Sleep Gas
Small vials of sleep gas can be thrown or used as arrowheads. Because they contain such a small amount of gas, they only cause sleep with a well-placed hit (represented by both a successful Shoot/Throw attempt and the elusion requirement).
Effect: Can be thrown, or used to modify a weapon attack, so that if a creature does suffers losses then it is defeated (at zero losses) by being made to fall asleep for 5 minutes [Dodge 5]
Retail cost (one use): 50 coins = 50 impact
Eailey's Sleep Gas
A Therion named Eailey is one of Arlinac Town's most successful alchemists, and one of the few who personally explores the caves of Theralin Island for a valuable alchemical ingredient named glow moss. Her secret-recipe sleep gas is often purchased by amateur Bounty Hunters pursuing a first-offense criminal, because the week-long shelf life and effect of unwakeable sleep is sufficient to allow them capture and manacle their quarry without a fight. The gas has the side-effect of staining people's skin slightly green for twenty-four hours.
Effect (Alchemy, Impact 7, Immobilization): In a square of size 8 meters per side, instantly causes unwakeable sleep for 7 minutes [Wrestle 7]
Retail cost (one use): 140 coins = 70 impact × 2 small area
This alchemical potion is slipped into a victim's drink. After about four minutes, the drinker becomes very agreeable to the next reasonable request he or she hears.
Effect (Alchemy, Impact 4, Influence): automatic success for whomever next makes a reasonable suggestion [Intuition 4]
Retail cost (one use): 40 coins = 40 impact
Shoes whose soles are coated with this alchemical liquid make silent steps.
Effect (Alchemy, Impact 3, Sneaking): 2-point special item bonus to the Sneak skill for two hours
Retail cost (one use): 40 coins = 20 impact × 2 duration of hours
This alchemical potion makes whomever drinks it invisible for eight hours.
Effect (Alchemy, Impact 8, Sneaking): automatic immunity to opponents' sight-based skills, such as most uses of Perception and Shoot [Intuition 8], and other appropriate benefits of invisibility
Retail cost (one use): 160 coins = 80 impact × 2 duration of hours
The Chemstry skill is used to create and control golems. It includes knowledge of golem construction and also the use of the papers (called chems) that give a golem animation and purpose. (Notice that there is no i in Chemstry!)
In Spyragia, chemstry is a science, not magic. Golems and chems follow specific rules, and part of the setting's willing suspension of disbelief is that those rules work without magic. The world is simply different from the real world. Effects that enhance or disrupt magic do nothing to golems and chems.
Because of the history of chemstry, people who use it and the golems they create are tolerated but not trusted. Golems were thought to be monsters that lived in ancient tombs and storerooms. But a few years ago archeologists discovered tablets under Arlinac Mountain whose inscriptions revealed the basics of chemstry. Golems quickly become a part of Arlinac Town's economy, helping with agriculture and industry. As explorers find more tablets, more chem symbols are understood (although most remain the secret property of an individual or organization).
As news of golem use and construction spreads across Spyragia, golems and chems have become trade goods exported from Arlinac Town. Within the town, golems are used cautiously. Still, rumors spread of golems with poor chem design ruining irrigation systems, furnaces, and doorways.
Golems are not "special items". The special item rules are not used for golems or chems.
No modern chems instruct a golem to aggression. Two ancient civilizations made warrior-guardian golems, but so far no one has been able to learn from their chems. (The chems of the first civilization use an ink that combusts when the golem is ruined. The chems of the second civilization use an ink that immediately fades when exposed to light.)
If anyone did learn how to make warrior-golems, then most people of Arlinac Town would quickly become opposed to all chemstry. However, people elsewhere in Spyragia might then take even more interest in purchasing exported golems!
Skill in Chemstry measures:
A golem is a hollow humanoid made from a single mass of material. Most golems, including all the ancient ones unearthed by archeologists, are made of clay. Only since the invention of thermometers for furnaces could sturdy metal golems be reliably created.
Golems are never intelligent. They have no creativity. Most are clumsy and not able to do any task requiring small-motor coordination. Talent with Chemstry is needed to make skillful golems.
Golems follow their instructions until they are destroyed, get stuck, or the ink of their chem fades with age (which may take centuries). Destroying a golem only requires enough damage to make it no longer humanoid (for example, loss of a limb) or no longer hollow (for example, filling it with water).
Due to limitations inherent on how a chem works, golems must be at least 18 centimeters tall. The smallest golems are usually "clockwork golems" used to power machines by turning cranks or pedaling.
Many modern golems open up so that the chem can be added or removed. The nature of this hatch depends upon the particular golem: many golems have small, locking doors to discourage tampering. Some modern golems are created without an opening. Note that the hatch is usually a second piece of material and thus not actually part of the golem. Damaging the hatch does not harm or disrupt the golem.
Within Arlinac Town, vandals called "hackers" make sport of using hacksaws to open golems working in public, such as those used to maintain public utilities, and replace the chem. The hackers are usually not intentionally destructive, but sometimes the sewer system is disrupted when golems that maintain it are instead found playing monotonous dice games or writing dreadful poetry with sticks of chalk.
A chem is a paper on which are painted certain symbols that give the golem step-by-step instructions. For example, a golem could guard a hallway with a chem whose symbols say, "Repeatedly walk straight forward. If you reach a wall, turn around 180 degrees. While somene who is not wearing a red hat is in view, stop walking and stomp loudly."
Golems become animated when a chem is put inside their hollow body. Putting more than one chem in a golem unanimates it.
Many chem symbols are carefully guarded secrets, requiring the golems using them to also be guarded.
Paintng a chem requires knowing the symbols and having the skill to paint them. To function properly, the symbols must be painted with a rare and expensive type of ink. Each chem symbol must be painted slowly and carefully: one second is required for each coin the symbol's ink cost.
Most known symbols provide one simple instruction. These all represent completely robotic commands: walk forward so many steps, turn so many degrees, raise your arms straight up, pick up the item in front of you, etc. The material cost for painting each of these chem symbols is 20 coins. (When designing chem commands, the word "and" usually means a new symbol is needed.)
More advanced symbols are part of a more complicated instruction. Two of these are required for a complete command. These all involve perception or comparison: walk until you reach a wall, pick up the largest item in the room, etc. The material cost for painting each of these chem symbols is 30 coins. (When designing chem commands, the words "if" or "while" show an advanced symbol is needed.)
The most advanced symbols are only a fragment of a very complex instruction. Three of these are required for a complete command. These all involve judgment: walk towards the most dangerous opponent you see, break the bar you expect to be most brittle, etc. The material cost for painting each of these chem symbols is 40 coins.
Small golems sometimes accompany adventurers, usually to carry lanterns or bags of equipment. Crafting an entirely new golem is usually impossible during the middle of an adventure, but an adventurer who knows chemstry can paint a new chem or add symbols to a chem if he or she has a little peace and quiet.
The word "chem" seems to be an invention of Terry Pratchett for his Discworld setting. I happily steal it to build an awful pun.
I think (but am not sure) that Pratchett also invented putting a golem's symbols inside the creature rather than writing the symbol(s) on its forehead.
I believe the programmable and re-programmable nature of 9P golems is a new twist on an old monster.
Yes, I had a Big Trak toy when I was a child.
The Machinery skill is used to create clever clockwork and steam-powered devices, toys, vehicles, lamps, and weapons. It also is used to create or bypass mechanical locks and traps.
There are no recipes for machinery: machinists are tinkerers. Clockwork and steam powered contraptions come in all shapes and sizes. These have splendid variety because the secrets of their construction are carefully guarded.
Most people of Arlinac Town do not trust clockwork and steam-powered machinery because of its history, and because it is clearly useful for evil deeds. Originally only Frosty Kostkey and his followers created machines, which equipped their conquering armies of Winter creatures. Slowly the use of machinery spread as those peoples who successfully defended themselves from Frosty Kostkey experimented with captured working machines. It was the Kobalts and Dweorgs of Arlinac Town who most appreciated machinery's potential, and using its principles they developed the first machines not dedicated to Frosty Kostkey—the town's few wind-up toys, music boxes, electric lamps, and steam-powered vehicles. But the militant history of technology is still foremost in most people's minds, and machinists are usually shunned as unpredictable and perhaps even unstable.
Nevertheless, machines can be found for sale in Arlinac Town and machinists can be hired to repair machines. A few of the town's wealthiest families even contracted machinists to install electric lamps in their mansion's basement, or build robotic turrets to help guard empty halls at night.
Adventurers normally buy or build their machines before the expedition begins. The Machinery skill provides flexibility in advance planning. It also helps a PC deal with locks, traps, and run-down machines. Working machines that need recharging can be quickly repaired by a Machinist of sufficient skill who has a toolbox and is able to tinker without interruption for a few minutes.
The Machinery skill uses the economic rules for special item costs. If the rules for mundane item costs are used, the special item cost is added to the expense of the machine's weight in metal, leather, wax, etc.
Machinery has no exceptions to the special item rules for impact, range, duration, area, or charges. But the rules do have a slightly different flavor.
The machines of 9P have the usual durations of special items. They actively function for only a few minutes or hours because their springs, valves, gears, and bearings wear out much more quickly than in real life. However, most machines are designed with an idle state in which they can wait indefinitely, their duration countdown paused, until again made to act.
Because most machines have an idle state, they need not be built with charges. Half-cost repairs may "recharge" a device built with only one use, as long as its duration has not completely expired. Machines with "charges" often function smoothly over a multiplied duration: they need not stop and start as the current duration expires and a new "charge" begins. Machines do break down completely when their final charge runs out of duration. A broken-down machine that is "repaired" is actually rebuilt, requiring the same cost and amount of time as when it was originally built.
Many machines take a little while to get going. Machines of impact rating 4, 6, or 8 usually "must warm up" or "must be set up each time" to explain the delayed start time of those impact ratings. Once such a machine is ready it could either start being active or enter an idle state. Traps and complex locks are examples of machines that possibly wait idly for years before being triggered into active operation.
Machines can be set to react to the world around them. Examples include a trap triggered by a floor plate, or a turret that can sense movement. But no machines can autonomously make decisions. They can move and aim—their springs and engines might propel them across a floor or along a track, and their turret might follow a moving target—but they cannot be set to make comparisons or choices. (However, some inventors partially bypass this restriction by building machines powered or guided by a small golem.)
Each turn, a machinist can build an amount of new machinery equal to his or her Machinery skill rating, in coins. A machinist can also each turn repair or disable an amount of machinery equal to five times his or her Machinery skill rating, in coins.
Working on a machine requires a toolbox weighing 1 kilogram per required skill rating to craft the machine. Thus most machinists carry a toolbox that weighs as many kilograms as their Machinery skill rating. Toolboxes are fairly simple because machinists have not yet invented either wet or dry cell batteries and thus do very little involving wires. Dynamos and capacitors have been invented, but are the closely guarded secret of military-minded machinists.
Machines with impact rating 6 or greater require a complete workshop for their initial construction (but not to repair).
Many machines are actually combinations of multiple special items. Apply the rules for special items to each component separately. Each component also suffers damage separately, and must be bypassed separately.
Disabling or bypassing a machine requires a Machinery skill at least as high as the impact rating of the machine.
Machines are destroyed after they suffer a certain number of major losses. The Machinery skill rating of the device's creator or most recent repairer determines the number of major losses required to destroy the machine.
Fully repairing a purposefully damaged machine costs the full original amount: the broken pieces are being replaced, not recharged. A machine partially damaged costs a proportional amount of the full price to repair.
Most mechanical locks are impact 4 machines that automatically cause failure to opening a door or container. A typical lock has a duration of 4 hours, which far exceeds the amount of time it would actually spend being locked and unlocked. When not being actively used it is a machine that sits idly with its duration countdown paused. (These locks would require a Machinery skill rating of 5 to craft because of the hours of duration, and cost 80 coins.)
Picking a lock is the same as bypassing a mchine. It requires a Machinery skill rating equal to the lock's impact rating. Expensive locks are also crafted with higher impact ratings, to be harder to pick.
As with other machines, the number of major losses required to destroy a lock depends upon the Machinery skill rating of the lock's creator or most recent repairer.
Note that Machinery (unlike Alchemy) does not require paying extra or working at a disadvantage the first time something new is created.
Also note that Machinery is too expensive to use for creating devices that are always active. Someone who wants to create a clock or conveyor belt should use golems instead. (This is why the upcoming economic discussion of raw material costs mentions golem labor but not technological assistance.)
In many ways Arlinac Town was inspired by the setting of the two Thief computer games created by Looking Glass Studios. Those games modeled well how a single protagonist could survive in fun adventures in a fantasy world. The flavor of steampunk I imagine in Arlinac Town strongly resembles that of those two Thief games, but I purposefully leave the details vague enough that other GMs could use a different flavor.
Note: All of these example mechanical items are designed with a single "charge", ready to use but idle for most of their existence. Multiples of their costs could be used to extend their duration of active time.
Note: Remember that for all of these example items the Machinery skill rating required to bypass it depends upon the item's impact rating, but the number of major losses required to destroy the item depends upon the Machinery skill rating of the item's creator or most recent repairer.
A plain box springs open as caltrops fly in every direction. May be triggered manually (if the user hides and pulls on a hidden wire) or combined with a Proximity Bell Ringer (see below).
Effect (Machinery, Impact 3, Explosion): In a square of size 8 meters per side, halve movement and any skill used while moving suffers a 2-point situational disadvantage penalty [Acrobatics 3]
Retail cost: 30 coins = 30 impact
This ornate but unreliable machine works like a dowsing rod, with the ability to follow a scent. A sample of the scent is placed inside. Then the device is wound up. For one hour it provides a small bonus when following that scent's trail. Many of these are decorated to look more like a hound. Some are disguised as fancy walking sticks. Frugal users repair the device for half-cost before its hour duration expires.
Effect (Machinery, Impact 1, Finding): 1-point special item bonus to the Track skill for one hour
Retail cost: 20 coins = 10 impact × 2 duration of hours
Proximity Bell Ringer
This alarm is used both as a stand-alone device and as a part of many multi-component devices. A common variation adds flashing lights. Detection could triggered by floor pressure plates, trip wires, motion detection, or more exotic means. Less expensive versions have a small area of detection.
Effect (Machinery, Impact 4, Finding): Everyone who can hear the bell (or see thel flashing lights) automatically knows that a person has entered a square 16 meters per side. Depending upon how detection happens, avoiding detection could require an elusion rating of [Acrobatics 4], [Climb 4], and/or [Sneak 4].
Retail cost: 160 coins = 40 impact × 4 big area
Herk's Heat Pump
This small machine raises the ambient temperature uncomfortably.
Effect (Machinery, Impact 3, Heat): In a square of size 8 meters per side, for three minutes, causes 2-point penalty to any skill use involving physcal exertion, and half movement rate if wearing armor [Wrestle 3]
Retail cost: 90 coins = 30 impact × 3 medium area
Electric Stun Hat
The Industry district watch hired an unknown machinist to build this "hat", to help when transporting dangerous criminals. The device looks like a colander laden with gears and wires. Attaching it to an unwilling person requires a successful Wrestle attempt. When activated, it paralyzes the person wearing it. After five hours of active use the hat must be repaired, which costs the district 50 coins retail cost. The hat takes five turns to "warm up" before the capacitors are fully functional.
Effect (Machinery, Impact 5, Immobilization): wearer is completely immoble (at zero losses) while the hat is on for up to 5 hours [Escape 5]
Retail cost: 100 coins = 50 impact × 2 duration of hours
The Transmutery skill allows the manipulation of an elemental material (earth, air, fire, or water) using only willpower and mental command. Concentration is required throughout the effect's duration: a transmuticist can only maintain one transmutery effect at a time. Transmutery is considered an art, not magic.
With transmutery the four elements can be detected, created, stretched, shaped, heated, cooled, purified, duplicated, softened, solidified, made to move around unassisted, and many other effects.
When the duration of a transmutery effect ends, the elemental material reverts to its normal state and properties, although if a solid it retains any new shape. Material created with transmutery vanishes when the duration expires.
Transmutery cannot cause material to disappear (neither rendered invisible nor uncreated into nothingness).
Transmutery is even more ancient than alchemy, and is viewed by most people as comforting and respectable. Its roots are so far in the past that they have been lost, and all that remains of the history of transmutery are legends that differ among the the intelligent races. Transmutery is widely used, with many people learning enough transmutery to help kindle a fire or to check if water is safe to drink. But the techniques of transmutery are so difficult to master that few people know more than the basics, and master transmuticists are often venerated as calm and stable individuals who have conquered the mind's flightiness and needless worries.
Skill in Transmutery measures what kind of material can be effected:
|1||rock and dirt||clean air||flame||clean water, steam|
|2||glass||clear gaseous solutions||smoke||clear aqueous solutions|
(copper, tin, iron, etc.)
|gaseous suspensions||sparks||liquid suspensions|
|4||gaseous colloids||liquid colloids|
(bronze, steel, etc.)
|any gas||any liquid|
Even though it normally does not create an item or cost wealth, the Transmutery skill uses the economic rules for special item costs in a special non-monetary way. The great mental effort of transmutery "costs" the transmutist mental fatigue called drain. The transmuticist suffers one-tenth the effect's retail cost in coins as a temporary penalty to transmutery skill that lasts for an equal number of minutes. (Round normally.) If the character's transmutery skill would be reduced below zero then he or she falls unconsciousness for those minutes and the intended effect fails.
Attempting to do great feats with transmutery quickly becomes exhausting! Skilled transmuticists know they can create minor effects repeatedly without strain but one large effect will cause problems.
As usual for special item creation, a transmuticist needs a higher Transmutery skill to create a higher impact item or change more item limitations.
Also as usual, the impact rating of a transmutery effect determines its duration and standard elusion requirement rating.
Because Transmutery does not create actual special items, the rules for making special items cheaper cannot apply, and there is no way to "recharge" a Transmutery effect.
A character with a Transmutery skill rating of 2 and Survival skill rating of 1 wants to use transmutery to help light a fire with flint and steel.
The GM decides lighting a fire with flint and steel requires a Survival skill rating of 2 (it is not hard, but not something most people can do well). So the character needs to create a 1-point advantage to one skill: an impact 1 effect.
The effect is beneficial, so it has no elusion requirement. The cost is 10 coins = 10 impact (without any modifiers). That causes 10 ÷ 10 = 1 drain. The character successfully lights the fire, but has an effective Transmutery skill rating one lower (temporarily at 1) for the next one minute.
A character with a Transmutery skill rating of 5 is in danger during combat and wants to kock a foe off a cliff with a tremendous blast of air.
The GM and PC agree that the effect has impact 4 (it can be described with the core rules about successes and losses) and uses Dodge for elusion. The foe is eight meters away.
The effect costs 60 coins = 40 impact + 20 range of eight meters. That causes 60 ÷ 10 = 6 drain. The character successfully knocks that foe of a cliff, but because the drain exceeds the Transmutery skill falls unconscious for six minutes.
Transmutery is the Technology skill that requires no advance planning. The player's creativity is rewarded instead of his or her preparedness.
Clever transmuticists use transmutery frequently to provide a special item bonus to skill use. As examples, a character is more intimidating when using Wonder if streams of fire swirl around them, or a lock can be more easily picked by solidifying and twisting the air inside of it.
Every character has one "extra" skill for using the character's racial ability. This skill has no associated talent.
In Spyragia, these eight skills are all magical.
There are four pairs of racial magical abilitiies: Tempering and Sapping, Musing and Fortunosity, Laboritry and Phantasmography, and Therianthropy and Semblancy.
As with the Technology skills, the racial ability skills seldom have any bonuses. Equipment is not used with these abilities. Niether situational advantages nor group efforts apply to using these abilities more successfully. The GM should decide if the setting includes any items that would grant a special item bonus to these racial magical abilities.
Tempering is a method of crafting a magically superior tool or weapon. Crafting the item with tempering does not take any extra time. A person using tempering is able to sacrifice his or her own morale to imbue an item with extra sturdiness, keenness, and minor magic. The crafter becomes gruff and grim, stuck in a state of grouchiness and depression for a number of days.
Most crafters who know tempering only use it to create their personal tools of their trade. A generous person sometimess uses tempering to create a gift that he or she hopes will become a cherished family heirloom for the recipients. However, a crafter desperate for money will sometimes create and sell tempered items. Also, during times of war a great number of tempered weapons are forged.
A person with a heavy heart (from having used tempering, suffering from depression, in mourning, etc.) cannot use tempering.
Tempering uses the rules for special item costs but the crafter has very limited options.
Only tools or weapons may be created with tempering. The value of the tool or weapon items must equal or exceed its per-use special item cost. Tempering does not cost additional coins: it is merely part of the cost of crafting an exceptional item. As usual, expended charges may be "re-tempered" with the same effect for half the cost.
The effect must be beneficial and help the character using the tool or weapon. Any bonus to skills is an equipment bonus, not a special item bonus. The effect may only happen while the tool or weapon is actively used for its normal purpose (not merely carried or worn) so it very seldom has extra range or the ability to affect an area. As with all beneficial effects, there is no elusion requirement.
If the effect has an impact rating 1, 2, or 3 then the item is priced as if it had normal duration (one minute per impact rating) but the actual duration is one week per impact rating. The duration counts down from the time the item is crafted or re-tempered, irregardless of how often it is used.
Tempered items with an impact rating of 4 or higher have the normal options for duration, and their charges do not start using up duration until the item is somehow activated.
Special items crafted with tempering are magically sturdy and nearly indestructible.
The crafter becomes ill-tempered for as many days as the impact rating. His or her effective skill ratings for Etiquette and Animals both drop to one during those days.
No tool or weapon can benefit from multiple tempering effects simultaneously. But a tool or weapon whose tempering duration has expired may be "replacement tempered" with a brand new tempering effect for the full crafting cost.
This small tool allows even people unfamiliar with lighting a campfire to be able to succeed in that chore (as long as they have dry wood and kindling).
Effect (Tempering, Impact 1, Heat): 1-point equipment bonus to Wilderness skill when lighting fires, lasting 1 minute
Retail cost: 10 coins = 10 impact
Mokte's Magical Magnifying Glass
The Dweorg merchant Mokte uses tempering to create a small hand lens that helps him recognize magical items. Once activted, the lens works for two weeks. Its metal handle is decorated with engravings of two Dweorgs exploring a crypt.
Effect (Tempering, Impact 1, Finding): 2-point equipment bonus lasting two weeks while using Identify/Lore about magic
Retail cost: 20 coins = 20 impact
The Very Big Axe of Vlod
A Dweorg named Vlod used tempering while crafting an incredibly imposing battleaxe. He wears it strapped across his back when shopping. It is actually too poorly weighted to provide an benefit as a weapon, but Vlod keeps that fact a secret.
Effect (Tempering, Impact 2, Communication): 2-point equipment bonus to Bargain/Wonder lasting 2 weeks while held, brandished, or worn
Retail cost: 20 coins = 20 impact
Sticky Grip Wrestling Gloves
The Park Runners of Arlinac Town use these tempered gloves to help their grip when scampering up walls or vaulting over railings, but they say the gloves were historically used for Dweorg wrestling contests.
Effect (Tempering, Impact 3, Movement): 2-point equipment bonus while using the Acrobatics and Wrestle skills for three weeks, with an increase to climbing speed of half
Retail cost: 30 coins = 30 impact
Horseshoes of Haste
These horseshoes magically help make a horse tame and obedient, as well as faster.
Effect (Tempering, Impact 3, Movement): a rider enjoys a 2-point equipment bonus to Animals for 3 weeks, and the horse's movement speed increased by half
Retail cost: 30 coins = 30 impact
This boomerang always returns to the person who throws it. Moreover, it can be used to pick up one item, as long as that item is not held or carried by anyone.
Effect (Tempering, Impact 9, Antimagic): For 9 hours after being activated it always returns and can pick up one unattended item [none]
Retail cost per charge: 90 coins = 90 impact
Most spell-sundering weapons are made by Dweorgs for defending their clan's home, but a few are available for sale.
Effect (Tempering, Impact 9, Antimagic): For 9 hours after being activated this weapon can damage magic effects, ending them after causing as many losses as the target effect's impact rating
Retail cost per charge: 180 coins = 90 impact × 2 duration of hours
Sapping is a magical attack that drains the morale of a nearby enemy. A sapped enemy temporarily suffers a 1-point penalty on uncontested skill use and a 2-point penalty on contested skill use. The person using sapping becomes giddy for the same duration that the enemy becomes demoralized (this does not affect skill use).
Skill in sapping measures:
If someone who is already sapped is sapped again, he or she suffers no additional penalties but will remain demoralized longer.
When using a battlemat, a character using sapping may only move 1 map square that turn. A character using sapping may sap any target he or she can see (because battlemaps describe small areas—the range of sapping is large enough to encompass normal combat situations but not large enough to include very distant targets).
Note that sapping is almost the opposite of tempering. People using tempering give up their own morale to create items that boost skill attempts. People using sapping lower somoene else's morale to hinder skill attempts.
Also note that sapping costs no coins, creates no items, and does not follow the rules for special item costs.
Works of art can be enhanced with magical properities using musing. A person can only use musing to enhance a work of art that he or she owns. Musing can only put a single enchantment on any particular work of art. Musing cannot enhance uncompleted works of art.
The enchantments created with musing can do almost anything but must always be appropriate for the topic or theme of the work of art. Common examples include earrings that aid the wearer's hearing, clothes that protect the wearer from dirt and water, gloves that provide the wearer with immunity to cold or heat, musical intruments that keep another instrument in tune, and a painting of a desert or tundra that will warm or cool the room.
Items enchanted with musing are magically sturdy and nearly indestructible.
The process of musing does not cost wealth. But the artwork to be enchanted must be expensive (of value equal to the half-price crafting cost for the special item). In other words, creating a more powerful enchantment requires a more expensive work of art.
Moreover, special items crafted with musing vanish after their last charge is used. In this way the Musing skill does use the economic rules for special item costs.
As usual, an item with charges may be "recharged" for one-half the original cost, which postpones having the item disappear. Using musing to recharge an item requires the same amount of trance time as when originally creating it.
The person using musing enters a meditative trance involving both concentrated willpower and slow, dance-like gestures. Remaining in the trance is exhausting. The crafter must maintain the trance for as long as the total duration of all charges of the item.
When powerful musing enchantments (impact rating 4 or greater) are created, the exhausting trance takes a further toll. The person doing such potent musing is beset by memories and regrets that highlight his or her most prominent vice or vices: most often vanity, greed, and over-confidence. Re-experiencing these vices taints the creation of the enchanted item. Whomever uses it (whether its creator or someone else) is plagued by the vice or vices for the duration of the enchantment as an unpleasant side-effect.
Note: All of these example special items crafted with musing are designed with multiple charges. This allows them to be recharged before their final charge is used and the item disappears.
A ring with a sparkly gemstone is enchanted to shine with a radiant inner light when the gemstone is squeezed. The gleams of radience sometimes appear to bend if the wearer is looking for something, as if pointing the way.
Effect (Musing, Impact 1, Finding): Provides a 1-point special item bonus to Perception, for one minute
Retail cost per charge: 10 coins = 10 impact
Cummerbund of the Careful Tongue
Bergtroll nobles use musing to enchant a piece of their young children's clothing to help the children remember their manners. If the child is about to make an egregious mistake in etiquette, the piece of clothing constricts slightly as a reminder. An astute observer can notice the clothing move to realize the "well-behaved" child is actually needing magical assistance.
Effect (Musing, Impact 2, Communication): 2-point special item bonus to the Etiquette skill for two hours
Retail cost per charge: 40 coins = 20 impact × 2 duration of hours
Springy Knee Wraps
These tie-dyed knee wraps are enchanted to enhance jumping.
Effect (Musing, Impact 3, Lightness): For two minutes movement speed increased by half, with a 2-point special item bonus to Acrobatics, Dodge, and Escape skills
Retail cost per charge: 20 coins = 30 impact
Felidia's Furious Fans
A wealthy Bergtroll named Felidia uses musing to give small, decorated, folding fans with the ability to make a room windy. She only uses the fans to get attention—she enjoys using the strong winds to anger the nobility at fancy parties.
Effect (Musing, Impact 5, Lightness): For five minutes, in a square of size 8 meters per side, the wielder automatically succeeds with the Provoke skill [Exit 4]
Retail cost per charge: 100 coins = 50 impact × 2 small area
A mischievous shopkeep has recently started making cursed confections that cause temporary clumsiness. This work is secret and known only to a few of Arlinac Town's young nobles, who find great amusement in sneaking a few of the "clumsy candies" onto the food tables at fancy parties and then watching those who partake try to walk elegantly or dance. But young nobles have trouble keeping secrets, and rumors about the confections and how to identify them are beginning to spread.
Effect (Musing, Impact 3, Immobilization): once eaten causes a 2-point penalty to all physical skills and half movement rate for 3 hours [Identify 3]
Retail cost per charge: 60 coins = 30 impact × 2 duration of hours
Prince's Charm Ring
The possibly debonair Bergtroll prince Kelin did not trust his own charisma but used musing to enchant a gaudy ring to ensure extra success in important social situations—and help him flee if diplomacy failed.
Effect (Musing, Impact 3, Communication): For three minutes the wearer enjoys a movement rate increased by half, and a 2-point special item bonus to the Bargain/Wonder, Intuition/Provoke, and Etiquette skills
Retail cost per charge: 30 coins = 30 impact
Not really a weapon, but a method of emergency defense: the creature struck by these darts are slowed enough for the user to (hopefully) defeat it or safely flee.
Effect (Musing, Impact 5, Immobilization): causes creature struck to only act every other turn for 5 minutes [Dodge 5]
Retail cost per charge: 50 coins = 50 impact
Selective Antimagic Molding
Banks usually have artistic architecture to provide features appropriate for musing. This decorative molding around the top of a room's four walls is enchanted to activate as part of the bank's alarm system. It causes a selective antimagic field that allows bank security items to function but cancels all other ongoing magical effects in the room, and suppresses all other magical items. The field lasts for nine minutes.
Effect (Musing, Impact 9, Antimagic): instantly ends unauthorized magical effects in a square of size 8 meters per side [Wonder 9]
Retail cost per charge: 180 coins = 90 impact × 2 small area (installing this molding in a larger room would be more expensive)
Kazoo of Mass Dancing
The most legedary of kazoos, this instrument has been enchanted to make nearby people who hear it (aside from the performer) dance until the music stops. People very knowledgeable about dancing may become immune to the enchantment when they sufficiently offended by the urges to move in brutish, jerky motions.
Effect (Musing, Impact 10, Immobilization): creatures within in a square of size 16 meters per side who hear it will take no actions beside dancing [Etiquette 7]
Retail cost per charge: 400 coins = 100 impact × 4 large area
Fortunosity is the ability to sacrifice other people's wealth to create a magic statue that can turn into a monster.
Using fortunosity requires precious metals that legally belong to someone else, usually coins or jewelry. Most often this wealth is stolen, plundered or unearthed. But the wealth need not be taken away from its owner: sometimes a wealthy person hires someone who can use fortunosity to change some of his or her savings into magical statues.
Fortunosity is very quick to do. It only requires one second per 10 coins of cost. People who can use fortunosity can be unpredictable during combat.
When the statue is created, its creator imagines a kind of monster (often a fanciful, imaginary one) and also picks a single-use magical effect.
The magic effect works exactly the same as an effect created by musing, with the exception that it can only have one use. The statue vanishes if this effect is ever used.
The statue can also turn into a small monster when its owner throws it down onto the ground. The monster is more skilled if the statue is created with a higher impact. The statue can only change into moster form a few times before its magic is used up. After the final time in monster form, the statue vanishes.
Like with Musing, special items crafted with Fortunosity are nearly indestructible. They vanish when their last use is complete.
Unlike with Musing, the single-use power of a special items crafted with Fortunosity may not combine multiple effects. Since they lack charges, they cannot be recharged.
The impact of the item's single-use effect also measures:
The monster will fight its owner's enemies, focusing first on any other statue-monsters. The owner can also touch the monster to telepathically direct it to attempt other tasks (in combat this uses a turn).
If the statue-monster is defeated in combat it immediately reverts to statue form, unless that was the statue's last use of monster form (in which case the statue vanishes). The statue is not otherwise harmed by the defeat.
When using a battlemat, a character cannot move when using fortunosity to create a new statue. Fortunosity happens during the "reach effects" timing of resolving the turn.
The word fortunosity pokes fun at how the English word "fortune" describes both wealth and luck.
Fortunosity can add an element of unpredictability to an encounter with a lone enemy. Since enemies might own statue-monsters then the Player cannot be completely confident about estimating how dangerous the foe is by studying his or her weapons, armor, and physical stature and behavior.
A GM who is careful not to abuse the plot device can have a statue's one-use ability provide a special item bonus (or even automatic success) to Exit/Escape. This helps the classic recurring villain to slip away to return and fight another day. Indeed, having some trick prepared can justify why a major villain would refuse to delegate and be personally present at the scene of the crime.
Note that fortunosity is almost the opposite of musing. Musing will eventually sacrifice a valuable work of art that the person owns. Fortunosity immediately sacrifices someone else's wealth.
Peacock Pendant of Magical Defense
The statues Barrowers create using fortunosity are sometimes small enough to be worn as necklace pendants. This one is shaped like a beautiful peacock. Once activted, it provides the wearer with some protection against harmful magic for one minute. Alternately, it may be thrown to the ground, which turns it into a life-sized peacock creature that can squawk loudly but is not very useful.
Statue-Monster (up to 1 use): the peacock creature lasts for 1 minute, and has Melee/Press and Block/Dodge skill ratings of 1.
Single-Use Effect (Fortunosity, Impact 1, Antimagic): 1-point situational disadvantage penalty to incoming magical attacks for one minute
Retail cost: 10 coins = 10 impact
Some treasure-hunters use fortunosity to create statue-mice with lockpick-shaped tails. These tools can help open locks, or can scurry about in search of the scent of animals or food. Either use lasts one minute, after which the item vanishes.
Statue-Monster (up to 1 use): the small mouse creature has Melee/Press and Animals/Wilderness skill ratings of 1.
Effect: 1-point special item bonus to Machinery when disabling or bypassing traps (including picking locks)
Retail cost: 10 coins = 10 impact
This statue looks like a horredously ugly dog, unless it is a disgustinly ugly rat. Difficult to really know. Its single-use effect creates a cloud of noxious gas that makes everyone but the statue's wielder fall unconscious.
Statue-Monster (up to 7 uses): the dog-rat-creature has Melee/Press skill rating of 7, an Intuition/Provoke skill rating of 5, and a Perception skill rating of 2.
Single-Use Effect (Fortunosity, Impact 7, Immobilization): For seven minutes all creatures in a square of size 8 meters per side fall unconscious [Wrestle 7]
Retail cost: 140 coins = 70 impact × 2 small area
A type of magic called laboritry allows multiple people who can use it to cooperate to accomplish a laborious task much more quickly than normally possible. Laboritry can only be used to create a gift or perform a service for others (for people besides the two or more who are participating in laboritry).
The Laboritry skill rating measures how many times per week a person can participate in laboritry. Also, when a group uses laboritry, the minimum Laboritry skill among them is multiplied by the size of the group to determine how much faster the work is done.
Each member of the team using laboritry sacrifices some of his or her age, becoming magically aged a week, month, or year. This corresponds to an additional multiplier of 1, 2, or 4 for how much faster the work is done.
Four travelers have Laboritry skill ratings of 3, 4, 4, and 5. Their journeys take them to a trading post threatened by bandits, and they decide to use laboritry to team together to build a wooden palisade around the trading post.
There are four participants and the minimum Laboritry skill rating is 3. Thus the team can do the work 4 × 3 = 12 times as quickly as normally possible. The Player and GM discuss the task and decide it would normally take four adults about three weeks to do this work, so the four travelers can complete the job in slightly less than two days. Each is aged one extra week.
If those four had all agreed to each be aged one month they could do the job in less than one day. If they all had agreed to be aged one year they could do the job in less than half a day.
Note that laboritry costs no coins, creates no items, and does not follow the rules for special item costs.
There are three steps to use the magic named phantasmography.
The first step happens when the phantasmographer touches a sleeping person to initiate a connection. When this first touch happens the phantasmographer makes two decisions. First, will the the phantasmography keep the sleeper from waking on his or her own? The phantasmographer can decide to allow the sleeper to awaken normally, or enter an enchanted sleep that can only be ended by someone else waking the sleeper. Second, will the phantasmography keep the sleeper from aging? The phantasmographer can decide the sleeper will not age and will not need to eat or drink.
The second step happens when the phantasmographer touches that sleeping person again. The phantasmographer harvests the mental visual energy of their dreams, which provides one vision point for every hour between the two touches. The phantasmographer can store up as many vision points as he or she desires. However, contact with iron disrupts mental visual energy and instantly removes any stored vision points.
Note that a phantasmographer can harvest mental visual energy from multiple sleepers.
The third step begins when the phantasmographer spends any vision points. Now the storage of vision points becomes more fragile. Touching any creature that can dream while asleep now will disrupt the mental visual energy and instantly remove any stored vision points. (This means the phantasmographer cannot harvest more vision points without starting over at zero.)
Mental visual energy can be used by a phantasmographer to create illusions or to make himself or herself invisible. Both uses require spending one vision point per minute per eulsion rating for how much Perception skill is needed to notice that something is strange and fake. For example, an effect that lasts 3 minutes and has an elusion rating of [Perception 4] requires 3 × 4 = 12 vision points. Illusions created with phantasmography can fill a room, but not extend through doors or windows.
Someone who perceives an illusion and exceeds the elusion rating by 2 not only notices that something is strange and fake, but can also partially see through the illusion as if the illusion was semitransparent. Someone who perceives an invisible phantasmographer and exceeds the elusion rating by 2 can see faint glimpses of the phantasmographer.
Phantasmography does not cause initial drowsiness or sleep.
Note that phantasmography is almost the opposite of laboritry. With laboritry a team voluntarily sacrifices its own age to accomplish real work. With phantasmography someone else's time is stolen to create illusions or invisibility.
Phantasmography does not create an item, so it costs no coins and does not follow the rules for special item costs.
The details of illusion creation are intentionally vague. The GM should adapt the size, scope, and effects of illusions as appropriate for his or her setting and adventures.
Therianthropy is the ability to change into the shape of a touched animal.
A person in an animal's shape has the animal's size and mass. Clothing and possessions are unaffected by the change: typically these are previously stored or hidden to avoid leaving behind an awkward and vulnerable pile of items. The shape-changer retains his or her own intelligence, mind, and memories but also gains the animal's abilities in perception and movement. However, these innate animal abilities are unpracticed unless the shape-changer has previous experience in a similar form. Therefore, many users of therianthropy keep one or more pets to provide easy opportunities for repeated practice in adopting those forms.
A person in an animal's shape may return to his or her normal form at any time, or may use therianthropy to change into the shape of a different touched animal without first returning to his or her normal form.
Using therianthropy causes temporary exhaustion. Special items may be used to alleviate this exhaustion. Someone who is already exhausted from therianthropy cannot use therianthropy again until he or she has fully recovered.
Skill raing in therianthropy measures:
Therianthropy only works with animals. It cannot be used to take the shape of a monster or person. Therianthropy also cannot copy the shape of an intelligent shape-changer in animal form.
Many stories warn about staying too long in animal shape. After a few days in an animal's form the shape-changer's own intelligence and personality begin to dwindle, being replaced by the animal's. Eventually the shape-changer becomes stuck in the animal's form. This is called becoming a Snag.
A shape-changer in an animal's form will revert to his or her own form if killed, but does not automatically change back if unconscious or asleep.
A PC has a Therianthropy skill rating of 4. The Player picks Ursidae (bears), Corvidae (crows, ravens, and related birds), Canidae (dogs, foxes, wolves, and similar animals) and Muridae (mice, rats, and similar rodents) as the PC's possible animal shapes. If the PC is touching any animal of these four kinds, then it can assume that animal's shape.
When that PC uses therianthropy his or her skills suffer a 2-point penalty for 10 − 4 = 6 minutes, and then a 1-point penalty for 6 more minutes.
Once the PC uses therianthropy he or she cannot do so again until after all twelve minutes have passed.
When using a battlemat, a character cannot move the turn he or she uses therianthropy. Therianthropy happens during the "reach effects" timing of resolving the turn.
Note that a user of therianthropy is either in his or her natural humanoid form or in the form of an animal; there is no possible "halfway" form of a bipedal monster as seen in traditional werewolf movies. The change is physical, not illusionary.
The rules are purposefully vague about whether a user of therianthropy uses his or her normal skills or a new set of skills derived from the copied animal. It is simplest to keep the character's skill unchanged. However, if both GM and Player agree it can be sensible for some skills to change because of the new shape. For example, a weak person who adopts the form of a large bear could reasonably have increased Wrestle/Disarm skill and talent ratings.
Therianthropy costs no coins, creates no items, and does not follow the rules for special item costs.
Semblancy is the ability to change form to exactly resemble a touched humanoid. Semblancy only allows adopting forms of equal or lesser mass than the user's natural state.
Using semblancy drains the touched humanoid's energy: the humanoid becomes extremely fatigued and collapses, unconscious. A victim of semblancy will sleep for several hours before waking (unless woken earlier using magic).
A person using semblancy may return to his or her normal form at any time, or may use semblancy to change into the shape of a different humanoid without first returning to his or her normal form.
Skill raing in semblancy provides a maxmum for:
The same number must be chosen for both the hours of sleep and the days of impersonation. Using semblancy requires draining the magical power from a touched magic item (an item made with alchemy, tempering, musing, or fortunoisty) worth at least ten times that number. All the item's magical power is permanently lost.
As with therianthropy, semblancy is an actual physical change (not an illusion) that does not affect clothing and does not give the impersonator the habits, memories, or skills of the copied humanoid. If someone using semblancy is killed, the corpse reverts to its natural form. Semblancy is not ended by falling unconscious or asleep.
When using a battlemat, a character can use Semblancy while moving two map squares. Semblancy happens during the "reach effects" timing of resolving the turn. Simply touching an opponent is easier than wounding the opponent: the target does not benefit defensively from any equipment or group bonuses that turn, and perhaps the touch attack also receives a situational advantage.
Note that semblancy is almost the opposite of therianthropy. Users of therianthropy give up their own energy to copy the form of an animal. Users of semblancy take somoene else's energy to copy their form.
Semblancy does cost wealth, but creates no items and does not follow the rules for special item costs.
Many GMs and Players simply ignore the price of "mundane" equipment that does not use the special item rules. After all, the PC is a hero or heroine! In most fantasy stories the experienced adventurers do not struggle to afford a sword, suit of armor, lantern, or even a horse. But some stories do require a more detailed economy in which mundane equipment has prices. These rules include price lists for those stories.
The only standard rule about equipment involves encumberance. As mentioned in the description of the Wrestle/Disarm skill: "As a rule of thumb, a character can comfortably carry a backpack and other equipment weighing at total of fifteen times his or her skill rating (in kilograms) without penalizing physical skills such as Acrobatics and Dodge." Beyond this guideline, an unusually bulky load (even if not especially heavy) could hinder skill use. The GM may impose a situational disadvantage for using physical skills such as Acrobatics/Climb, Melee/Press, Shoot/Throw, Wrestle/Disarm, Exit/Escape, or Stealth/Track when carrying an awkward burden.
The GM and Player should agree on how much detail to include about equipment choices creating situational advantages and disadvantages for skill use. For example, weapon and armor types can realistically affect combat: chain armor defends against cutting much better than impacts, and polearms are very effective against an enemy's mount. Some GMs and Players appreciate including more realism, whereas others desire simplicity.
Most fantasy settings have a few weapons or devices that do extraordinary damage (explosives, poisons, seige weapons, etc.). In 9P these are not "mundane" but are special items created with magic or technology. They are expensive and rare. Furthermore, extraordinary damaging items are probably illegal to own. Being seen with them triggers a cultural stigma that associates them with evil people who have no interest in survivors (hired assassins, butchering pirates, mad inventors, and so on).
This section is provided for GMs and Players who are wondering how the prices below are determined. Feel free to skip over the math.
The retail price of any mundane item is based upon a formula:
retail price = [ material cost × (labor hours / 5) ] × [ 0.5 + (minimum skill / 2) ] × scarcity
The material cost is zero for animals, metals, and some trade goods. These three categories serve as materials for crafted items. Subsequent categories of goods use material costs.
The labor hours is divided by five because unskilled labor costs one coin per five hours of work.
The minimum skill to create the item is a multiplier, incrementing by 50% of the cost of unskilled labor.
The scarcity is either 1 (normally available), 2 (somewhat rare), or 3 (very rare). It can represent either a material that is difficult to find, an item whose demand exceeds its supply, or a crafting specialization only known to a few crafters.
The descriptions of mundane items below provide sufficient information to reproduce this formula for any listed item.
Note: I have very little personal experience with animal husbandry, mining, and medieval crafting. If you have the expertise to correct my inadequately-researched conclusions about how much time and skill is required for certain items, please contact me and correct me!
|Donkey or Llama||90|
|Ox or Cow||120|
Lizards and songbirds represent wild animals that are caught in a snare with a few hours (six and twelve, respectively) of effort. The listed prices for livestock are the price to buy healthy animals that have recently reached breeding age.
Goats and sheep require no skill to raise. Donkeys, oxen, cows, and horses require an minimum Animal/Wilderness skill rating of 2.
Goats and sheep only require about 100 hours of individual attention to raise. Cattle require much more time: 300 hours for a donkey or llama, 400 for an ox or cow, 500 for a horse.
The only scarce animal listed is the horse, which is very rare in and near Arlinac Town.
So far no one has been able to use golem labor to help catch or raise animals.
|Metal (per kilogram)||Coins|
Mining is usually unskilled labor. The only exception is producing cast iron, which requires a Machinery skill rating of 2. (In Arlinac Town there is no market for iron ore or pig iron. Mining businesses turn these into cast iron before selling the iron.)
Copper, zinc, and iron are not scarce. Mines for tin, silver, and gold are very rare near Arlinac Town.
Copper is the easiest ore to mine. Getting one kilogram of copper ore takes half a month's work (120 hours). Iron is as easy, but creationg cast iron requires additional smelting and refining for a total of a month's work (240 hours).
Zinc is more time-consuming to mine than copper or iron, requiring 80% of a month (192 hours) to mine one kilogram. Tin takes almost four months (888 hours). Silver requires five months (1,200 hours). Gold requires 35 months (8,400 hours).
Golem labor is becoming more popular for moving mining carts. But golems lack the intelligence to follow an ore seam or mine it well.
As I mentioned earlier, I have no idea how long it really takes to mine types of ore. I researched a ballpark for copper. Then I increased the time proportionally to how rare the minerals are in the earth's crust. Someone must have better estimates for mining times!
|Clay (1 kg)||0.4|
|Wood (25 stove logs)||1|
|Wine (1 liter)||2|
|Flour (for 5 loaves)||3|
|Wax (for 2 candles)||3|
|Flax/Linen (for 1 shirt)||4|
|Honey (1 kg)||4|
|Paper (1 quality page)||7|
|Wool (for 1 shirt)||9|
|Soft Leather (for 1 shirt)||21|
|Brass (1 kg)||29|
|Wrought Iron (1 kg)||109|
|Bronze (1 kg)||126|
No trade goods are scarce. All but two are made with unskilled labor. Creating wax requires a skill rating of 2 in Animals/Wilderness. Creating wrought iron requires a skill rating of 2 in Machinery.
Because Arlinac Town is near water, gathering pottery-quality clay only requires two hours. The nearby forests mean gathering and splitting enough wood to make 25 stove-sized logs takes five hours.
Golem labor helps with watering and milling grain, and with beekeeping. Flour for five loaves requires a total of fifteen hours of cultivation, harvesting, and milling. Wax for two candles requires ten hours. Honey requires sixteen hours of work per kilogam.
Grape vines and flax/linen are too delicate for golem labor. Making one liter of wine requires a total of ten hours work. Making enough flax or linen for one shirt (or one meter of thin rope) takes twenty hours. Similarly, paper-making cannot yet be done by golems, and takes thirty hours per page.
Wool is easy to work with. Shearing, carding, and spinning the wool from one-third of a sheep's annual fleece takes ten hours. Soft leather has a higher material cost (one-sixth of an ox, instead of one-third of a sheep) but only requires four hours to tan.
Brass is made with 70% copper, 30% zinc, and one hour's work. Wrought iron adds an hour's work to cast iron. Bronze is made with 80% copper, 20% tin, and one hour's work.
|Tavern Meal with Wine||1|
|Produce (5 kg)||2|
|Poor Meals (5, cooked)||3|
|Dried Rations (5)||4|
|Mule Feed (weekly)||5|
|Hard Sugar Candy (1 kg)||9|
|Fancy Confections (1 kg)||27|
Most food preparation is unskilled labor. Candy making is an exception: hard sugar candies, made mostly of honey and flour, require an Alchemy skill rating of 2. Creating fancy confections require a skill rating of 3.
Only fancy confections have any scarcity: they are somewhat rare.
A basic tavern meal includes a quarter loaf of bread, half kilogram of cooked vegetables, and a quarter liter of wine. Some taverns use their flour to make noodles instead of bread. On cold days the taverns, inns, and restaurants in Arlinac Town will have soup and stew on the menu.
Poor meals suffice for bare sustainance, and represent what people eat in the slums. Most people in Arlinac Town spend about 1 coin per day on food, and cook their own meals.
Dried Rations are biscuits and jerkey. They provide unsatisfying nourishment for hunters who do not want to light campfires. They are also eaten in small portions as snacks by people traveling with merchant caravans.
Growing produce requires about two hours of active labor. Preparing rations requires one hour. Producing mule feed requires two hours. Making hard sugar candies requires about six hours, and making fancy confections requires ten.
No clothing is scarce. Cheap and Common clothing is made with unskilled labor. Making Soft Leather requires a skill rating of 2 in Animals/Wilderness. Creating Fancy or Elite clothing requires a skill rating of 3 or 4, respectively, in Etiquette.
Making an outfit of cheap clothing requires sixty hours of labor (one week) and enough wool for four shirts. Common clothing requires 120 hours of labor (two weeks) and the same amount of wool. Both include a shirt, hat, either pants or a dress, and either a vest, bodice, or apron.
Soft Leather clothing requires 120 hours of labor (two weeks) and enough leather for four shirts.
Fancy clothing requires 720 hours (three months) of labor and enough wool for six shirts.
Cheap clothing requires 960 hours of labor (four months) and enough wool for eight shirts.
|Hard Leather, Unfitted||198|
|Hard Leather, Fitted||360|
Normally armor does not effect skill use, except for providing an equipment bonus if of excellent quality or beneficially enchanted. However, if two combatants have equal skill but different types of armor it is fair to give a situational advantage to the person wearing better armor. Consider the list of armor types: use a 1-point the situational advantage bonus if the armor types are adjacent in the list, or a 2-point situational advantage bonus if the armors are more different.
No armors are scarce. There is so little demand for the more expensive types that armorers are able to avoid creating any unwanted surplus.
Hard Leather armor is by far the most common armor in and around Arlinac Town. Enough soft leather to make four shirts is cut, shaped, boiled in oil and wax, shaped again, and dried. A full set weighs 10 kilograms, and includes arm and wrist bracers, cuisse (thigh) and greave (calf) pieces for the legs, a brigandine (vest) and helmet. Most hunters and merchants wear Hard Leather armor outside of Arlinac Town as protection against bandits and monsters. An armorer with an Animals/Wilderness skill rating of 2 can make "unfitted" Hard Leather armor that is bulky (as encumbering as if it weighed 15 kilograms) in 240 hours. Wearing a set of Hard Leather armor fit for someone else also counts as "unfitted". An armorer with an Animals/Wilderness skill rating of 3 can make properly fitted Hard Leather armor in 480 hours.
Ringmail is soft leather sparsely covered with metal rings. It provides equivalent protection to Hard Leather armor while allowing slightly greater mobility. Ringmail is worn by most of Arlinac Town's guards, bodyguards, and mercenaries. Because it uses soft leather it need not be carefully fitted; its expense is from the time spent creating rings from two kilograms of wrought iron. It weighs 12 kilograms. (Unfitted, it is as encumbering as if it weighed as 18 kilograms.) Creating Ringmail requires a Machinery skill rating of 2 and 720 hours.
Scale armor is a soft leather backing covered with overlapping metal scales of various sizes. Very much like Ringmail, it is not carefully fitted, weighs 13 kilograms (and is as encumbering as if it weighed as 20 kilograms) and its creation also requires 720 hours and a Machinery skill rating of 2. It proves better protection, with more weight and price. Usually only elite guards, bodyguards, and mercenaries can afford Scale armor.
Chain armor is an entirely metal suit of linked rings worn over wool padding. It provides equivalent protection to scale while being more comfortable and expensive. (It feels "fitted" but is not. It weighs 5 kilograms, and is not extra encumbering.) It is made from enough wool to make three shirts, and four kilograms of wrought iron. It only requires a Machinery skill rating of 1, but takes 2,400 hours to create. It is worn by rich nobles who want to flaunt their wealth while participating in tournaments.
Plate armor is solid plates molded to the body, held together by leather straps which are covered by metal. This is the most protective of armor, but is incredibly expensive. All Plate armor is fitted: it is impractical to try fighting in Plate armor made for someone else. It weighs 25 kilograms (and is not extra encumbering), requires 3,600 hours to create, and requires a Mahcinery skill rating of 3. It is only used by a few gate guards.
Scale and Chain armor hinders movement enough that its wearer suffers a 2-point equipment penalty when attempting tracking, jumping, acrobatics, sneaking, unarmed combat, dodging, or projectile combat. In Plate armor those actions are impossible. Furthermore, someone wearing Plate armor suffers a 2-point equipment penalty when attempting hiding, escaping, or throwing.
Sleep is not as restful when wearing armor. A character who sleeps in armor suffers a 1-point equipment penalty when using the Acrobatics/Climb, Melee/Press, and Block/Dodge skills until he or she is able to sleep properly.
Special items in 9P function much different than magical items in other role-playing games. This is because of the literary genres appropriate for "heroic opera" solo adventures.
No further economic rules will be presented. But the following discussion might help an interested GM or Player brainstorm new special items.
Frontier settings have many traits appropriate for fantasy adventures involving a single protagonist. The primarly location in the Spyragia sample setting is Arlinac Town, which shares many genre elements with locations set in the American West, Edo-period Japan, and other frontiers where a lone protagonist can make a difference.
On the frontier life is dangerous. Villages and towns are threatened by monsters and bandits. Nevertheless, most settled locations have a few loners living on the outskirts due to temperament, profession, or outcast social status. These loners are often in need of help from a single individual, or able to assist a single individual in efforts to clean up trouble in the nearby settled location.
Because of these dangers, most adults carry weapons. (Or perhaps only adults of one gender or social class.) Also, most people cannot afford the price or encumbrance of significant armor, and medical healing is expensive or rare. Thus a lone protagonist can often win a fight by being skilled enough to avoid being hit while injuring enough attackers to cause the remaining opponents to flee. A frontier hero often has special options for effective healing: rare medicines, foreign herbal remedies, or esoteric meditative practices.
Because so many adults are armed, society focuses on honor more than law. Mistakes are kept secret, and significant characters are haunted by one or more great mistakes from their pasts. Because is difficult to govern an honor-focused, armed society at the geographical outskirts, government does little. Big government is distant or nonexistent. Local governmen has insufficient money to do more than law enforcement and perhaps oversight of road building and utilities. When just and lawful leaders govern they are too busy dealing with intrigue to effectively promote social welfare. Most adults pay little in taxation and receive little in services. When big government does appear it interrupts normal life to install a trade route, chase a criminal, or claim a natural resource.
Because government does litte, other groups provide support in crisis situations. Clans, guilds, or religious congregations pool resources as insurance against medical problems, natural disasters, and urban fires. Families or gang members team up for protection.
Finally, because government is small and people are reliant upon social groups corruption can control a settled location. A social group that grows into a dominating organization can reign unchallenged until a wandering hero or heroine arrives.
Together, this means problems are obvious and local. A monster threatens a farming village, instead of an army of monsters threatening a kingdom. A tyrranical gang overtly runs the town, instead of a evil brotherhood secretly infiltrating every guild in the capital city.
The hardboiled genre, and its cousin the occult detective genre, are both refinements of the frontier genre. The story might happen in a big city, but that is merely window dressing. The real setting is life on the edge of society, where danger is imminent, government does little, and sometimes obeying the law is less important than honor, reputation, and who owes a favor.
Some aspects of hardboiled stories are not kid-friendly (gore, femme fatales, sexuality). But several of the genre elements refine the frontier genre in appropriate ways for a story with a lone protagonist.
First, corruption is pervasive. Enough influential people are corrupt that everyone has been hurt or helped by corruption. Everyone has short-term fears and long-term instability. Hopes and dreams are whispered, and goals and plans are kept secret. People have hidden agendas and contingencies. Trustworthy friends or contacts are rare and treasured. The need to protect secrets hinders clear communication and promotes misunderstandings.
Extensive corruption often makes people uncertain whether rumors, threats, or monsters are actually real. So the protagonist must shine by remaining pure despite the immoral and uncertain surroundings, and hold true to faith because nothing else is reliable. The protagonist's purity has real value in resisting corrupting influences and avoiding attracting the wrong kind of attention. When secluded or hidden evils make brief appearances to mock the hero, he stands strong and rebukes them. The advantages of remaining pure are often contrasted by the main villain, who was initially one of the hero's friends, employers, or loved ones, but who failed to remain pure and secretly becomes the villainous mastermind.
Much of the corruption stems from layers and layers of influence. In Spyragia, the central layer (which the PC may never actually reach) usually involves the Powers, who influence many things while being difficult to influence. A person who mistakenly believes that he or she is serving a Power can also be at the center of a plot. The middle layers involve entities that can be influenced, but more often or extensively do the influencing. These could be leaders in government or religion or business, a champion of a Power, the inner core who runs a cult or guild, or a powerful intelligent monster. The outer layers are only influenced, never an influencer. Examples are the servants and lackeys of political or criminal leaders, the devout followers of a religious authority figure, employees of a corrupt business, the innocent person who wears the public face announcing a guild's political decisions, insane low-ranking cultists, or unintelligent monsters. Most problems are still obvious and local, but their root causes turn out to be hidden and far-reaching.
So nothing is truly safe or secure. Old friends might become traitors. Respectable social groups might be corrupted. Monsters and violent criminals even lurk within the town or city walls. Powerful technology is unreliable or dangerous. The hero or heroine is never sure which characters are pulling which strings. Sometimes it seems as if every opponent is actually manipulated by someone else.
Chapters in the story follow a progression as each adventure's dénouement includes a clue about a deeper layer (not always the next layer, some clues foreshadow distant revelations). This makes most victories only limited successes. The hero or heroine has meaningful and satisfying accomplishments, but also slowly learns about the setting's most entrenched evils. Usually the core layer is revealed climactically after the hero arrives home after traveling to a distant ruin or ancient temple. The returning hero witnesses that corruption has spread to a previously unthinkable degree (usually including a new traitor among old allies). Then the hero finally progresses from the small victories of saving people to a climactic finale of saving the entire town or city.
Because of the extensive corruption, money is tight. The rich are very rich, and everyone else feels poor. Most people have inescapable needs for money. People unwind and relax through their favorite expenses. Influential magic has limited uses and then needs replacing orrecharging. Changes of fortune are frequent. But the nobles will always own all the land.
Because money is tight, architecture is functional, not fanciful. Most cities and towns are not run down, shabby, or gritty. But neither are their buildings tall, airy, or graceful. Buildings are solid. Statuary in parks and town squares are substantial and sturdy. All ornate artwork is inside the wealthy homes rather than publicly visible. Roofs are made of shingles or tiles, not gilded domes.
Technology is expensive. Very few towns or cities have an industrial district. Outside of industrial districts, only the wealthiest neighborhoods or streets enjoy the newest technologies (in Spyragia this would be heating or lighting produced by machinery).
All this means quest objectives can be simple. The long-term plot might involve solving a complex mystery. But each layer is usually straightforward: gathering some key information, removing some corruption, protecting an invidual, exposing fraud, etc. Usually blades are only drawn after someone's desperate plan has failed.
Lastly, it is interesting to notice how the archetypical corrupt leaders of the frontier/hardboiled genre mimic the famous creatures of the horror genre:
I first read about the similarities between intrigue and horror settings at the website Roleplaying Tips. The excellent book Heroes of Horror helped me see still more similarities.
Note that most features of the horror genre are inappropriate for a kid-friendly game. Few kids enjoy an ambience of constant, looming dread. When children are Players, PCs should not be forced into moral dilemnas and no-win situations. The PC will never need to do despicable acts to survive.
The wuxia genre adds a few more traits appropriate for fantasy adventures involving a single protagonist.
Foremost, cleverness trumps skill. In the climactic final battle of a wuxia story, the hero defeats the main villain because he has researched the villain's weaknesses, is more quick-witted when taking advantage of circumstances, and often has recruited the right group of allies to work together according to a plan. Some enemies are even invincible until their secrets or weakness is discovered: these might visit the hero earlier to bargain or taunt, flaunting an sense of invulnerability to make their eventual defeat more satisfying.
However, skill and talent trump equipment. A wuxia hero is capable no matter what weapons or armor he uses. Victory depends more on how the hero fights than what weapons people use. Superior equipment might provide a slight advantage, but ultimately success depends on using skill and esoteric talents.
The protagonist has clear character development. He or she grows in maturity and moral depth, as well as in skills and talents. This personal growth usually happens as a side-effect while the hero is focusing on helping others.
Significant characters can exit a perilous situation. The hero can flee from any group of thugs. The main villain can always evade the constabulary.
The setting may have inexplicable wonders, much like a fairy tale. The protagonist will see or use the inexplicable, but will never need to tame or counteract it. (Why is a certain sword so powerful? Where did the ancient prophecy come from? Why does certain footwear not vanish at midnight? No one knows or cares.) Certain items are inexplicably useful or delightful. Enjoy them.
Many wuxia stories are frontier stories, so it is unsurprising that the genres blend very well.
Authors and illustrators are so creative that the phrase "fantasy steampunk" is nearly meaningless. Nevertheless, through the great diversity of settings that blend magic a technology a few themes are prominent.
Metaphorically, machinery and golems in a fantasy setting use urban contrasts to symbolize change, romantic scientific dreams, and tension between what is impossible and what is replicable. Some streets and machines are especially grimy and sooty, whereas others are proudly polished and spotless. Industrialization makes some buildings nearly lifeless despite their occupants, and other buildings almost alive despite being unoccupied. Everyone (even most criminals) exudes the genteel etiquette of Victoriana, valuing art and social propriety, yet the world is not prim and proper due to an undertone of zaniness: absurd gadgets stand beside (or fly circles around) stately machines of gleaming grandeur. The walls around the town or city have failed to keep out corruption, crime, and monsters—a new hope is created by symbolic walls of shining brass, rivets, boilers, gears, pipes, valves, and thin smokestacks.
Heroes must be more than warriors. Constructing or tinkering with technological wonders becomes an important method of problem-solving. Different types of technology each have their uses, and a solo adventurer should carefully plan, shop, and build. The hero develops a "bag of tricks" that includes both magical and technological special items, sometimes customized based upon rumors and guesses about the upcoming adventure. These special items have limited uses, to prevent the hero from being constantly so powerful that no conflict is challenging.
People need diverse help. Society needs help adopting, adapting to, or overcoming new kinds of technology. Economic issues can form the foundation of adventures. Specialist inventors allow any village to produce unique trade goods, allowing traveling merchants to thrive. (A hero might be an inventor or merchant, or help them by providing protective and diplomatic assistance.)
Buiding new technology focuses on skill not reverse engineering. New power is gained through apprenticeship and practice, not salvage. Also, technology does not scale. Villains cannot rise to power simply by making a bigger bomb, death ray, or golem. Significant examples of technology will be the private or pet projects of their creators, who are notable in having enough skill to maintain and direct such exceptional creations. (These truths make technology work like magic. Those who cast spells never can learn a new spell just by watching someone cast it, or simply decide to make a bigger fireball.)
The introductary chapter to the book Sorcery and Steam by Fantasy Flight Games (also reproduced at the end of the excellent City Works by Mike Mearls) was invaluable for writing the above summary of what "Steampunk" means. I have only minimal interest and experience with steampunk, and have not read many books nor seen many movies to personally gain an broad impression of the genre.
The 9P sample setting of Spyragia is not a fairy tale setting, except in the ways that fairy tales intersect with the genre elements already mentioned above.
Within fairy tales the plot is often illogical and unpredictable. Instead of the novelistic stages of exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, and dénouement, a fairy tale typically has a sequence of irregular episodes linked to a sequence of characters, challenges, or items. A role-playing game benefits from encounters with logical connections, so the Player can make meaningful decisions about where and how the PC will continue the story.
In fairy tale settings the protagonist can overcome all obstacles using observation, valor, cleverness, and the advice of good helpers. In a role-playing game, advice is less reliable so story remains focused on the PC, not the contributions of NPCs. The PC needs to also use planning, skills, talents, and decision about when to use valuable but limited resources. Being brave, perceptive, and shrewd might not be enough!
Finally, fairy tale characters usually fit into one of seven archetypes:
These seven roles are different in a role-playing game. Rumors often serve the role of patron. Companions are common but offer less significant help so the PC clearly shines as the story's main character. An NPC seldom gives the PC an unearned crucial item, since unearned help feels less rewarding. Fewer plots have a person as the prize.
The famous analysis of fairy tale character roles was done by Vladimir Propp. This list is strongly based upon his list, but reworded to be more accessible to role-playing game players.
Note that in many fairy tales a character fills more than one role. For example, a father could send his daughter on the quest and give her enchanted boots, acting as both patron and item-giver.
Many stories feature three villains of increasing power. The hero overcomes the first villain alone, and rescues the companion. The hero can then defeat the second vilain with the help of the companion, and this victory opens the way to the item-giver. With both a companion and gifted item the hero can finally overcome the third villain.
We can use these genres when brainstorming about the personality and history of a character.
What is a short phrase that would describe the character?
Pick two unusual features of the character's appearance: two details of smell, sight, sound, feel, or temperature.
Does the character have any false appearances? Does he or she suffer from any repeated misunderstandings?
What does the character habitually think about? What are his or her long-term dreams? What habitually motivates this character?
Which imminent events does the character think about or plan for? What are his or her immediate worries or fears? What is an upcoming cause for panic, despair, or desperation?
How has the character experienced sudden changes of fortune (quick gains or losses of wealth, status, or power)?
What was the character's greatest mistake? Is it secret? Does the character have other secrets to protect?
What is the character's source of income? Why is money tight? What are his or her inescapable needs for money?
Does the character pursue any particular recreational activity or hobby? What are the character's favorite expenses? Which vice or virtue does the character use to unwind? With whom?
How has the character been hurt and/or helped by corruption? Does the character have a hidden agenda, or unexpected contingency plans? How does he or she cope with commonplace violence?
Who are the character's trustworthy allies and sources of information?
Does the character own or yearn for a certain influential item?
What makes a deed heroic?
The dictionary gives us the qualities of a heroic deed: it is brave, noble, daring, extraordinarily, and altruistic.
In the 9P design philosophy, there is one more component to the answer. The PC's deeds are heroic when they help others at a cost to the PC. The cost might be peril: it is heroic to face dangers while helping another. The cost might be expense: it is heroic to use up your valuable special items while helping another. The cost might be hardship: it is heroic to accept suffering while helping another.
(Tangentially, fantasy stories often ask their protagonists to do deeds that are altruistic or extraordinary but are not heroic because they lack daring. On the road side a dying merchant asks, "The bandits got me: please, take the letter hidden in my shoe to my wife in Arlinac Town." Dancing around a campfire the Mad Hermit of Ythrul bargains, "Yes, I will give you the map of the abandoned Dweorg city of Karv-Vrakim that you need, but first you must shear all my eighty-three sheep!")
Here are a few types of costs to help a GM improvise how deeds can be made more heroic.
The GM shoud carefully ensure three kinds of deeds are always heroic.
First, redeeming failure should always be heroic. When possible the cost of failure is a new mandatory task, combat, social obligation, or expense.
(No GM is infinitely creative with improvisation. The GM should consider this "rule" a guideline and not stress to much about it. Adapting the story to the unexpected can be a challenge!)
What happens when a villain unexpectedly defeats the PC in combat? The story would be ruined if the PC is killed. So every hero from James Bond and Frodo Baggins knows that the protagonist will instead be captured, confined, taunted, and/or humiliated and yet somehow find a heroic opportunity to escape, heal, regather resources, and eventually foil the villain's plans.
What happens when a PC fails in his or her attempts to gather information or do reconnaissance? The adventure might become too challenging if the PC continued blindly without a plan. Perhaps the guard the PC could not fast-talk says, "Well, I've always wanted an enchanted sword like that..." Perhaps the healers at a temple would allow the PC to visit someone who recently escaped from the enemy-occupied keep in exchange for a "donation" of several healing potions.
Second, escalating the tension should usually be heroic. Whether or not it is the right choice, it can be daring and costly to stand one's ground instead of backing down.
Often an NPC does the escalating. A merchant's misunderstanding causes harsh words. A bully stops shouting and throws a punch. An assassin mistakes the PC for her target and shoots an arrow at the PC. When this happens the NPC pays the cost. (Perhaps the PC leaves the merchant without a purchase, defeats the bully in combat, and pursues the assassin through the city.)
When the PC does the escalating it should also cost something.
Third, activating powerful special items should usually be heroic. The rules for magic and technology already include how using very potent items may have problematic side-effects.
Two types of powerful special items always cause problems. Devices made with machinery take longer to start up as their impact rating increases. Enchanted artwork created with musing, if very powerful, will cause the person using it to be beset by the vice or vices most prominent in the personality of its creator.
Also, someone who uses transmutery suffers drain, which usually prohibits high impact transmutery effects.